A Week of Chance Encounters and History Lessons

Sailing out of Sydney’s Darling Harbour, we could see our friends’ apartment building: the light-colored one on the left.

By Carla Sue Broecker

Our odyssey on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager was approaching two and a half months when we got word that a hurricane was crossing the Tasman Sea, and we were going to feel it as we headed from New Zealand back to Sydney, Australia. For two nights, we heard the banging of the waves on the side of the ship, but the very able crew nimbly guided the ship in a way that didn’t make it so bad. Thank goodness no one in our cabin gets seasick.

Once we were safely nestled in the dock at Sydney, we went ashore for a panoramic tour of the city. It is a fascinating city and there is a lot more than the Opera House and Harbour Bridge to see. What we really looked forward to on this two-day Sydney stay was seeing Rod and Margaret Kefford, a couple we met several years ago on a previous cruise.

The Keffords live in Sydney right on the harbor, and we visited their apartment a year ago. It is in a former hotel from the 1920s, and the view from their living room couch is astounding. You can see the Harbor Bridge with people climbing over the top and the iconic Sydney Opera House at the same time. Last year, we were their guests for a harborfront lunch nearby. This year, they joined us for lunch on our ship.

When they arrived, we enjoyed a couple of “Bloodies” by the top deck pool and then went to the main dining room for a leisurely lunch. Margaret had had both of her knees replaced three weeks before, so after lunch we sent her home for a nap. When we sailed away that evening, we went right by their building and we waved like crazy hoping they could see us.

Before the sail away, we had the routine boat drill, which means that all passengers take their life jackets to their muster stations to be taught how to put them on correctly in case of an emergency. Once taught, we are then paraded out onto the deck where the lifeboats are located and where we would board if there was a true emergency. During this drill, we were dutifully standing in rows on the deck awaiting final instructions when a hand tapped me on the shoulder. We turned to see who wanted our attention and happily found two smiling friends from Louisville – Al and Hazel Sullivan! We didn’t know they planned to be on the cruise. To our further surprise, they told us that our other friends, Ardi and Dick Wilson, were also on board. This immediately set the six of us up for some riotous dinners; there is not a shy one in the group.

An owl that was part of the greeting party upon landing at Townsville, Australia.

Discovering old and new friends while cruising is one of the joys of the “sport,” and we love it.

That evening, the tail of the hurricane that we felt coming in stirred things up again, but still no seasickness for us. We are hardy sailors, and we were headed across more of the Tasman Sea to Brisbane with one objective in mind: a visit to a wonderful manicure place that we previously visited.

The ship has all of the personal amenities you could ever dream of. The Canyon Ranch Spa is particularly nice, but the prices are astronomical. Brad was as happy as I was to visit the place in Brisbane since he wanted a pedicure and my nails were a wreck. My last repair was in Saigon more than a month before. We both walked back to the ship looking smart.

After dinner that evening, we were entertained by Ray Solare from Northern England. He is both an entertainer and the cruise director of the ship, but most importantly, he is our friend. Ray is the most talented person I know. We have sailed with him for years, and he has become like family to many of us who have sailed with him.

Ray is a bachelor, and with his bachelor brother he owns an 18-bedroom home in the Lake District of England near Windermere. They also have a number of restaurants and cinemas in that area and are quite the entrepreneurs.

Ray is known for his puppets, which he makes himself, and as a talented ventriloquist he becomes their voices as well. He is also a singer/dancer and performed in English music halls before he took to sailing. When he sings classics, including operatic pieces on the stage, he receives standing ovations.

Speaking of entertainment, I need to catch you up on a group that has joined us back in Auckland and will stay aboard through Bali. The group is called the Artful Travelers, and it is a joint venture between Artful Travelers Inc., Regent Seven Seas Cruises and PBS Television and Radio. The group includes performers, producers, writers and others. On the ship, they do lectures, hold Q&A talks with cocktails and some even perform on the ship’s theater stage in evening.

Included in this cruise are documentary film producer John Scheinfeld, whose credits include the critically-acclaimed 2017 documentary “This is Bob Hope.” He is also credited with a 2004 documentary on the life of Bette Midler. It turned out that his wife of five years is an old colleague of Husband Brad, and it was a nice surprise to see her on the ship.

Also on board is Lois Vossen, the executive producer of “Independent Lens” on PBS, where she commissions documentary films; David Zippel, a Tony-Award winning lyricist and director; and actress Christine Andreas and her husband, Martin Sylvestri. She has been on Broadway, and he is a major musical arranger and songwriter. Together, they gave two different and amazing concerts in the evening.

There is far too much to try to cover about Artful Travelers. It would fill several columns, so I’ll just say it has been a unique and wonderful experience having them on board, and they have given a most entertaining and different slant to our sailing experience.

Now, back to sailing. After crossing a placid Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, we arrived in Townsville, Australia and headed to a day at the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium. This fascinating museum has an underwater viewing tunnel, offering magical views of a living coral reef and the predators that prowl the watery depths.

Cairns, Australia was next up. We were lucky that historian Edward Barrack was on the ship since he was a wealth of information on the history of this part of the world, much of which he shared with us each evening during cocktail time.

We learned that Captain James Cook sailed up the North Queensland coast on his first voyage of discovery in June 1770 aboard his ship, the HM Bark Endeavour. He mapped the future site of Cairns, naming it Trinity Bay, but there is ongoing debate about Dutch explorers arriving on Cape York almost 170 years before Captain Cook. The journey down the coast by the H. M. Bark Endeavour was not a pleasant one for him since the Great Barrier Reef is one of the most difficult waterways in the world to navigate.

Brisbane War Memorial.

The Bark Endeavor was a small ship for the perilous journey it had undertaken. It ran aground on a coral reef and sustained serious damage. The crew managed to limp to shore, where they found a river mouth where they could beach the battered ship. This river was later named the Endeavor River, and the town that grew on its banks became known as Cooktown. Other geographical features were named to reflect the somewhat somber mood of the captain and crew; Cape Tribulation, Hope Island, Weary Bay and Trinity Bay.

The land belonged to the Walubara Yidinji people, who still recognize local indigenous property rights and interest in the area. Cairns was founded in 1876 due to the need to export gold that was discovered on the tablelands to the west of the inlet.

The swamps were gradually drained, and the sand ridges were filled with dried mud, sawdust from the local sawmills and ballast from the quarry at Edge Hill. A railway was constructed to Heberton and that opened land that was later used for agriculture on the lowlands (sugar cane, corn, rice, bananas and pineapples). The success of local agriculture helped Cairns to establish itself as a port.

During World War II, Cairns was used by the Allied Forces as a staging base for operations in the Pacific. After the war, Cairns slowly reinvented itself as a center for tourism.

Next week, we’ll see Darwin, Australia and Komodo Island, Indonesia, home of the Komodo dragons. VT