'A regatta in full flight' Sydney: From a humble beginning, Australia's largest city has prospered and kept its natural beauty.


SYDNEY, Australia - In 1770, English navigator Capt. James Cook became the first European to explore Australia's Pacific seaboard when he sailed his little bark Endeavour northbound up the east coast of the vast and mysterious continent, then known as New Holland.

On May 6, Cook was peering at the great sandstone cliffs through his telescope, when his attention was riveted by a vast and beautiful natural harbor. He fixed its position, named it Port Jackson, but kept sailing.

Eighteen years were to pass before the tranquillity of that place would be shattered forever with the arrival of the 12 ships of the First Fleet carrying more than 1,000 convicts, men, women and children, who, because of the revolution of 1776, could no longer be transported to King George III's American colonies.

Sydney, the modern city that now stands around the shores of Port Jackson, has grown and prospered since those humble beginnings. But when the Whitbread Round the World Race fleet sailed in through the huge sandstone cliffs that guard the harbor entrance, they found that enormous waterway much as it was in 1788.

Arriving in Sydney by sea is a breathtaking, never-to-be-forgotten experience. Within the harbor, with much of the foreshores still lined with ancient trees, bay after secluded sheltered bay open up to provide the city with one of the grandest public open spaces in the world.

When Joshua Slocum sailed into Sydney on the first solo circumnavigation in the 1890s, he found Sydney "bristling with boats of all descriptions. Everyone either had a boat or had access to a boat. The whole town seemed to be on the water."

In that respect, nothing has changed. Sydney's population now stands at around 4 million. By far the biggest, most vibrant, most cosmopolitan city in Australia, Sydney will be host to the Summer Olympics in the year 2000.

The Whitbread yachts approached Sydney from the south, turned left around the shelving sandstone cliffs of South Head and raced up the harbor into the heart of the central business district.

They finished just short of the famous gray hanger-shaped Harbour Bridge, crossing a line adjacent to the magnificent white sails of the Sydney Opera House. English poet laureate Sir John Betjeman described the Opera House as "a regatta in full flight, arrested at the water's edge."

There was no more appropriate spot for Sydney to welcome the Whitbread fleet.

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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