Frankly, I don't understand you. I'm offering you a plum. I'm handing you an opportunity in the heart of the city where the whole world's heading: journalists, corporate leeches, Japanese tourists, Greco-Roman wrestlers. It's on a boat bobbing on the earth's loveliest harbor. It's selling something everybody wants—why, they're out there right now, signaling from their skiffs, yoo-hooing from their yachts, braying from the beaches. Many of them are naked, or nearly so. Half of them are female. No, I don't understand you at all.
Look, I'll be blunt: Boat Boy needs you. He's handsome. He's friendly. He's 28. He's hurting. His partner, Michelle, the smart looker with the blonde hair halfway to her heels, just walked off his boat and out of his life. The busiest 17 days of his life are about to begin. And you just sit there, slack-jawed, staring at some magazine when you might really be experiencing the Olympic city. When you might be first mate on Matthew Rose's ice-cream boat.
Awww, good on ya, mate, just a trial run, hop aboard! Matthew'll do the maneuvering and marketing, you man the money and menu: buck and a half Aussie for a Paddle Pop, $2.50 for a Mud Puddle, a Gaytime or a Cornetto, $3 for a chocolate-covered Magnum. You still look doubtful. Never heard of an ice-cream boat? This is Sydney, mate. Paris you do by foot, San Fran by trolley, London by double-decker. Sydney by dinghy or doggie paddle.
Because this harbor is it, see. A place where God sank all 10 fingers into the land and scooped out coves, cliffs, bluffs, beaches, hills, headlands and inlets, so that every boatie would have a sweet place out of the wind to drop his anchor and his cares, so every beachie would have a crescent of white sand on which to lay her sweet bikinied bottom, so every poor bloke on foot or in car who couldn't quite make it down onto the stage itself would have another bend in the road, another rise, another perch from which to gaze down at the pageant of light, color and waterborne craft and hear his heart sing. Twenty-five liquid square miles of Main Street, mall, swimming hole, fishing hole, fairground and playground, all poured into one.
Here, if you're a Sydneysider, is where you'll come for all your big firsts: first kiss, first grope, first wedding. Here—if the number of sniffling customers cradling urns full of ashes that Matthew takes out in his second job, as Harbour Taxi pilot, is any indication—is where you'll come for your lasts, too. Your in-betweens? You'll spend those kissing arse and nosing grindstone just to stay nearby. If you can't mortgage $3 million to live on Sydney Harbour, you'll borrow 300 thou to sail it, grub 10 grand to putter it, drop $150 for a restaurant table overlooking it, fork over a five to ferry it or pinch a buck-twenty to bus to it with a ratty towel and a cooler full of greasy chicken and cold beer. But mogul or mooch, what you'll always lack, what you'll always need—what's a mall, what's a Main Street, what's a fairground without one?—is an ice cream.
Now that we're a hundred feet offshore, it's only proper to inform you: You're in a war zone. A half-dozen enemy ice-cream boats, not to mention the latest combatant—the cappuccino boat—are lurking out there. Strange but true: On a harbor so serene, amid a people so easygoing, death threats, sabotage, assaults and high-speed chases have all occurred during the Harbour Ice Cream Wars over the last 15 years, with few locals even aware of them.
But no worries, mate. Your skipper's been crisscrossing this harbor so skillfully for so long—in pleasure boats, sailboats, water taxis, ice-cream boats or his newest toy, his 10-seat rubber inflatable Harbour Duck—that Michelle's girlfriends called him Boat Boy. Besides, can't imagine anything dodgy happening on a beaut of a day like this. So clang-clang that big brass bell Matthew rigged on that thick wooden handle, in case Sydney dozes off and doesn't notice an aluminum 17-footer flapping with 10 pink-yellow-and-red Streets icecream pennants. Swivel your head and drink in the drama of Port Jackson, Sydney Harbour's rarely used proper name, on a regatta-rippling, sun-kissed Saturday. A natural amphitheater where a million people, if they so chose, could throng to view Olympic sailing races, as they gather on New Year's Eves and for any other excuse Sydney dreams up to spiderweb the sky and water with color and torch its annual $4 million fireworks budget. It's a state of mind as much as a body of water; a possibility, waiting there, glistening even when it isn't in sight. One of the first white people to set eyes on it, British naval surgeon John White, nailed it cold in his 1788 journal: "Port Jackson, I believe to be, without exception, the finest and most extensive harbour in the Universe."
Thank god Matthew's a master, because look what we'll be weaving through! Skiffs, sculls, subs, seaplanes, sailboards, freighters, frigates, ferries, fishing charters, wedding charters, canoes, container vessels, catamarans, tugboats, taxis, tall ships, kayaks, hydrofoils, ocean liners, Jet Skis, amphibious buses, racing yachts, rowboats, dinghies, destroyers, dinner cruises, disco cruises, coffee cruises, opera cruises, stripper cruises, booze cruises, barges, paddle wheelers and sailboats, oh, so many sailboats, all endlessly plowing this field of blue-green for its one sure harvest, the only one Sydney seems to need: the beauty of each vanishing moment.
Three hundred an hour! That's how many vessels hum past the harbor's center on a typical weekend day. If only half of them want Paddle Pops, you and Matthew are gonna be rich!
We'll start at the mouth, where the Tasman Sea surges through the mile-wide jaws of those two magnificent heads. Those cliffs on South Head, over at an area known as the Gap, are a sheer 100-yard Geronimoooooo.... It's a ripper view on a clear day: A bloke can corkscrew his head 270 degrees and sweep the Tasman, the froth on the rocks far below, the jutting heads, the heart-stopping harbor, the beaches, the mighty bridge and Sydney looming up like the Emerald City.