There are many ways to get out on Sydney Harbour, all of them good. You can take a ferry ride to Manly or (my preferred option) Watson’s Bay. You can scream in a jet-boat, paddle a kayak or cruise on a party boat with DJ and bar.
Or you can do as I just did, and take to the water on a thoroughbred racing yacht designed to win the America’s Cup. Thanks, Sailing Sydney, for having this landlubber aboard.
AUS40 didn’t quite make it to the America’s Cup challenge in San Diego in 1995. It was commissioned by a French syndicate, but wasn’t ready on time – three years late to be precise. But it was then used as a trial boat by the Swiss FAST team for the 2000 America’s Cup in Auckland and now it’s been fitted out so that at least a taste of the America’s Cup Experience is available to everyone.
Sailing Sydney, an offshoot of a New Zealand adventure tourism company, takes guests around sparkling Sydney Harbour for a 2.5 hour jaunt, under the guidance of a very experienced crew. Along the way, we get to do our share of the work, and even take a turn at the helm. I last did this in a Mirror dinghy, ca. 1973.
Steering AUS40 is easier. The boat is incredibly responsive and less likely to bottle than the Mirror, though the helmsman does have the added responsibility of not smashing many thousands of dollars’ worth of elite racing yacht into Fort Denison or a Manly ferry.
We get a chance to work the grinders too. It’s fine for a few seconds, but in a race the guys have to do it for hours. No wonder they’re chosen for their muscle-power.
Our route began at Darling Harbour, from where we chugged slowly out before hoisting the sails to catch the wind under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Along the way we got our safety briefing from skipper Matty and his crew. ‘Here’s your life jacket with shark-attracting whistle. We’ve never lost anyone overboard but when we call everyone to the high side, move to the high side!’ ‘Aye, aye, sir!’
Our trip took us out to Manly, then across to South Head and along the shoreline of Watson’s Bay, Vaucluse and Point Piper. It may have seemed a quiet afternoon spin to Matty, Anthony and the rest of the crew, whose combined experience includes many Sydney-Hobart races, the Olympics and Volvo Round-the-World races. But to us it was exhilarating.
I confess to feeling a certain smug superiority as we slid effortless past some of the slower craft out there.
Two and a half hours also slipped easily past as we switched from concentrated efforts to get it all right to being relaxed enough to enjoy the spectacular harbour scenery. ‘It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?’ said my new mate Chris as we turned the grinders together.
I tried to think of something I’d rather have been doing at that moment. I drew a blank.
Two and a half hour America’s Cup Experience tours cost $129. Children 10-17 accompanied by adult $99. For those who find sailing too tame without a competitive element, you can race the Sailing Sydney boats on a Wednesday afternoon – cost $169.
The writer was the guest of Sailing Sydney.