Sat 18 Jun 2011
Kiwis, Aussies, Ambassadors, Rugby and Rico Gonzalez
We have had quite a voyage down under. Having just completed the two most anticipated port calls in recent memory and recalling the massive amount of work it took by so many to make both Wellington and Sydney happen – you could easily say that both port calls were a smash success!
We arrived Wellington under bright sunny skies and it stayed that way during the entire visit. The entrance into Wellington is beautiful with its green rolling hillsides and rough coastal terrain. As you round the corner into the bay and see the city gleaming in the early morning light you realize you are looking at a jewel of a city. Having read of Wellington’s rich history, from the native Maori tribes, the early English pioneers and today’s modern financial center; mixing the ancient with the modern seemed to blend beautifully as we anticipated taking our first steps ashore.
As we pulled alongside the Overseas Passenger Terminal, the United States Ambassador David Huebner and his staff were on the dock waiting for us. Talk about an arrival party!! Once we cleared NZ Customs, the Ambassador and his staff came aboard for a small welcome reception and graciously welcomed us to Wellington. I can tell you that the Ambassador is a warm, personable, and very funny guy and made us feel right at home. Shauna Mendez was also there to meet us. I mention her as she is on the Ambassadors staff and was instrumental in all the organization it took to arrange the events of our visit. I think she and I exchanged hundreds of emails – at least it seemed that way. There are many more on his staff that helped us out but special mention has to go to Michael Layne. Michael worked very hard getting us cleared through the State Department and the Maritime Administration to even get us here. To those of you that follow the voyage – if you had any idea what it takes to make Cruise happen – it would make your head spin.
Our academy President Bill Eisenhardt had flown in to meet the ship and to attend the Ambassadors reception we were hosting the following night. After our small arrival reception, Bill and I had the afternoon free. As a small world story would have it – I told a friend of mine that I was hoping to tour the New Zealand north island wine country. Turns out a guy that works with him was from Wellington and his brother lived near the Martinborough wine region. That is how Bill and I met Ross and Vicki Waller. They joined us for lunch on the ship then off we went. They both grew up in Wellington and answered all our questions and pointed out many sights. Talk about local tour guides and great hosts!! Over the mountain and into the wine country we went. The countryside was beautiful and reminded me of the Napa Valley in the 60’s. We stopped at three wineries and the Ata Rangi Winery was our favorite. Ross and Vicki then welcomed us to their wonderful home where they surprised us with quite the wine collection of their own. We then went into Greytown for dinner before they drove us all the way back to the ship. It was a great day thanks to our new friends. Ross and Vicki – thanks again!!
The following evening was the Ambassadors Reception. Over 100 guests and many of our senior cadets attended including three VIP’s from the New Zealand government. They were greeted by the Wellington – Scots College Band playing American tunes as our guests arrived. In another twist: It turns out that a California couple had relocated to the town of Mapua on New Zealand’s south island and opened a brewery – the name of their brewery is: The Golden Bear Brewery. I am not making this up! They heard we were arriving Wellington and insisted on supplying the reception with Golden Bear beer; who were we to argue. The beer was excellent and our sincere thanks go out to them. Ambassador Huebner welcomed all our guests and humored us all with his warm wit and personality. Our galley staff put on a spread that you would expect from a five star hotel. Many guests could not get over how such a grand reception could take place on a training ship. As we all know – this is not any ordinary ship! The reception was a smash hit and no doubt cemented Kiwi – American relations for years to come.
The next afternoon brought us the much anticipated Rugby game between CMA and Victoria University. Our Rugby coach Steve Hiatt flew in to get our team ready for the game. Over one hundred cadets, officers and staff, as well as many locals and Ambassador Huebner, came out to cheer on the teams. Having spent the last 30 days on a ship the Keelhaulers played very well regardless of the 34-3 loss. It was a much closer game than the score reflects. After the game our team was hosted by the VU rugby club with the Ambassador and CMA Pres. Eisenhardt in attendance.
We departed the next day in perfect weather saying good bye to many new friends and great experiences, vowing to come back as soon as possible. The passage through the Cook Straits was post- card perfect. Two days later we were in gale force winds and twenty foot seas. Please see our ‘Follow the Voyage’ reporter Steve Hellman’s story and pictures of that day.
The weather cleared and as sailors luck would have it we arrived to Sydney harbor with spectacular weather. Folks – many years ago I counted over 100 countries that I have arrived at by ship. I can tell you that coming into Sydney harbor may just be the most beautiful harbor I have ever seen. The sheer sandstone cliffs known as the “Heads” greet you as you enter. Once inside Port Jackson, numerous bays, coves and inlets open to port and starboard; the green hills are dotted with houses and various structures new and old. You proceed through the narrows and once you pass Bradley’s Head and turn to starboard – nothing prepares you for the stunning beauty of the Opera House and Sydney Harbor Bridge with the backdrop of the city skyline. You could feel the excitement building from the cadets as they lined the rails to salute the Aussies.
The Royal Australian Navy were our hosts, not only supplying the pilot that brought us in, they allowed us to dock at their Garden Island Naval Base which was right down town. We were within 30 minutes of just about anywhere you wanted to walk in the city. The Botanical Garden Park was to our right and the Kings Cross area to our left. We could walk to the Opera House in less than 15 minutes; which is exactly what Bill Eisenhardt and I did as soon as we got off the ship. Bill has been there several times before and led the way. Past the Opera House and over to Circle Quay where the ferry terminal and Customs House are located, then over to The Rocks; upon entering The Rocks it was like stepping back in time. Some of the oldest buildings in Sydney are there and wonderfully preserved.
Having wandered around for nearly two hours we were getting a tad thirsty. We both share a passion for wine and wondered if there was a place nearby that featured an Australian wine “tasting room”. We were directed to the Odyssey Wine Bar which did have a tasting room but it was closed. The wine store next door directed us to the Russell Wine Bar; which is where ladies and gentlemen we met – Rico Gonzalez! It was 3pm on a Monday and Bill and I were the only customers.
Rico was behind the bar and there was a table of staffers over in the corner. We noticed several bottles of wine on an adjacent table so it was not too hard to figure out that a wine salesman was having a wine tasting session for the staff. We started asking Rico questions about the wine bar and Aussie wines. He pointed out that the bar specialized in local boutique wineries and he had a very large selection; that he was the manager and had opened the bar eight months ago. So I don’t turn this into a very long ‘sea story’ let’s just say that Rico, Bill and I hit it off famously. We explained our close location to the Napa Valley and Rico told us about Australian wines. He understood our keen interest and the next thing we knew Rico was sharing the staff wine tasting session with us. As we soon discovered the Russell Wine Bar also had excellent food served as Tapas. The mussels were out of this world. Rico became our new best friend and in return for his gracious generosity we invited him to the Ambassadors reception aboard the ship the following night.
Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Consul General Niels Marquardt arrived aboard the Golden Bear in grand fashion, with staff and on time. As mentioned before, organizing a reception like this requires a massive amount of planning and my hat is off to Alexei Kral for dozens of emails we exchanged in putting this event together. Being as we were at the Royal Australian Navy Base, an invite went out to the Captains and XO’s and they all showed up. Special thanks go out to Commander Christine Clarke, the CO of the Navy Base for being our host and giving us such a great berth. The President of the Australian Maritime Academy was also present. Our new best friend Rico Gonzalez also arrived, looking sharp in his coat and slacks. After the Consul General, Ambassador and President Eisenhardt all made their presentations; I introduced Rico and told the crowd how generous he was to Bill and I the night before. I presented him with two bottles of wine, one from New Zealand (as Rico is in fact a Kiwi!!) and a great red from California. I think Rico was a little shell shocked to be in the company of the American Ambassador but that is the beauty of traveling – making new friends at any level.
It was a stellar event that no doubt created much good will for years to come. Our Stewards Department blew everyone away with the spread they put out. The guests were amazed that it all came out of the galley. The Aussies Navy officers told me “we do not have receptions like this.” I took that as a compliment.
The next day Rico had invited Commandant David Buckey and I for an early dinner at the Russell Wine Bar were Rico treated us to a wonderful meal. If anyone reading this ever makes it down to Sydney – stop in and see Rico and tell him I sent you.
David and I had to eat early because up next was the much anticipated Rugby game with our Keelhaulers playing the University of New South Wales. Over 60 cadets, officers and staff came out to cheer our team on. The boys did us proud by nearly wining as late in the game we were down 27 to 24 and moving into scoring range, but the Aussies grabbed a loose ball and made a quick score that sealed their win. What an amazing experience to play Rugby on foreign soil being cheered on by your countrymen and being so warmly welcomed by your opponent. There is no sport quite like Rugby and the comradery between teams.
As many of you know we spent an extra day in Sydney. As some of you readers probably know, it is not all fun when we enter port. This is the time the engineers have to perform needed maintenance and repairs to the engines. The repair they had to make on the starboard main engine was not easy. It took two full 14 hour days to complete. They could use a little down time. The weather was perfect and let’s face it – Sydney is a heck of a long way to go for only three days.
That afternoon Commandant David Buckey and I went shopping for our families, which is always fun. I get my kids a little something from every port we visit. We also toured around the city some more and enjoyed the sights, sounds and perfect fall weather. We made a more extensive tour around the Rocks area of town as the history of this area is so interesting and made for great picture taking. We stopped at the Russell Wine Bar to say goodbye to Rico and to meet his friend Caro. It was a great visit and we thanked Rico for his generosity and making our Sydney visit so memorable. Rico has an open invite to come and see us any time in California.
David and I had been talking about dinner and during our tour around the rocks we found the Harbor View Hotel and Restaurant. We were spoiled with the most perfect lamb shank we have ever had. On the way out of the restaurant we met the chef and thanked him for such a great meal.
We departed Sydney the following morning in excellent weather with the feeling we had all experienced something extraordinary with a touch of magic. Perhaps it is what they mean when they say “the land down under”.
We are now back in the heat of the tropics and enjoying the sun. The buzz going around the ship is the event that will happen as we cross the Equator and the Dateline at the exact same time. Or zero and one eighty as some say. That’s right folks – this rare occurrence means that every living soul aboard this ship will become……………….a Golden Shellback !!!! Arrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!! That means many aboard the ship became Shellbacks and Golden Shellbacks all in the same voyage. Talk about salty dogs!
Next port is Lahaina Maui, truly one of our favorite ports as we get to anchor just off the town and run our own launch boats ashore. This will be my last post for this cruise and I want to thank our Follow the Voyage reporter Steve Hellman for the excellent work he has done this cruise bringing the cruise story and experience as well as pictures of your cadets to the families, friends and fans of follow the voyage.
Captain Harry Bolton