Brisbane to Sydney, November-December 2007

Manly (Brisbane) to Southport

Sunday 18 November 2007

We arrived back in Brisbane with Sake on Friday 16 November and spent Saturday provisioning the boat and getting ready to go. We toyed with the idea of going across Moreton Bay and round Cape Moreton on Moreton Island as our exit from Brisbane, but the tides were all wrong, so we decided to retrace our route through the inland waterways to the Gold Coast Seaway. We made an unprecedented effort on Sunday morning and got up at 0430 (yes, I know that's only 0530 Melbourne time and yes, it was already light, but we still thought we were heroic) to get out of the marina on a reasonably full tide – even then we touched something as we motored down between the pens. As seems to be standard for our northern NSW and Qld sailing, the wind was dead on the nose in Moreton Bay, so we didn't even consider sailing, and we are much too nervous of running aground to sail through the inland waterways, although we saw a few other boats with sails up. All went smoothly and we arrived early at the shoals near Jacob's Well, so we anchored for a zizz while we waited for an almost high tide (you go through shallows on a rising tide so that if you get it wrong, you can float off). But as on the way up in September, we didn't touch anywhere. We'd planned to anchor just past the Jacob's Well shoals in a backwater near Tulleen island, but couldn't find our way past the shoal which separates it from the main channel, so we pushed on down to the Broadwater, and anchored off Roe's Kamp, at the south end of South Stradbroke Island. A few big powerboats came past and disturbed us slightly with their wake, but we were very comfortably anchored, and enjoyed a 12 hour sleep after and early dinner.

Our new chartplotter was wonderful in the inland route to the Seaway. The helmswoman could see the terrain for herself while wheel steering, instead of having instructions shouted up from the Captain at the laptop below while she stood up at the tiller. Much more restful for both parties – no more arguments over what exactly "a bit to the right" might mean, nor problems arising from the Captain's tendency to mix left and right occasionally when tired.

South Stradbroke is skinny at Roe's Kamp so you can hear the surf from the ocean as you look across to a sandy beach and ti-tree. Helen swam ashore on Monday morning and discovered that the foliage hides civilisation – roads, cars and wheely bins came into view – later we saw the garbage truck drive past. But the houses aren't visible from the water and you could almost be down the Bunga arm in the Gippsland Lakes. That is, provided you don't look behind you, to Donclestowe by sea at Runaway Bay and Biggera Waters, or to the south to the skyscrapers of Surfer's Paradise. It's a very strange combination. [Top]

Southport to Yamba

Monday 19 to Tuesday 20 November 2007

We made a leisurely start on Monday. Helen went for the abovementioned swim, and we did some more preparation to ready the boat for sailing, rather than just motoring. At about 1400 we weighed anchor and went down and back up the Broadwater to fill up with diesel. Embarassingly we ran aground again (something about the Broadwater) by not taking our navigation as seriously as we do when we know there are tricky shoals. In this case we cut a corner we shouldn't have and grounded quite hard, but were able to reverse off without too much difficulty. Much sobered, we took more care coming in and out of Runaway Bay Marina, where we picked up our fuel. Then a last trip down the Broadwater and out into the open ocean, which looked pretty good after all that shallow stuff, and it was lovely to put up full sail in a light breeze. We did some motor-assisted tacking to round Point Danger (unfavourable winds again) but then had a good sail to windward down past Byron and Ballina, getting up to 8kt with the strong current that runs down the east coast there.

We had decided to push on from Southport because the forecast was for 10-15kt SE to NE wind, and we were looking forward to a tail wind when the NE bit came. But at about 0030, on the Captain's watch, the SE wind changed abruptly to a 10-15kt SW wind. This wasn't too bad as we headed due South between Byron Bay and Ballina, but it was a real pain when we turned more westerly toward Yamba. Surely we weren't going to have wind on the nose all the way down the NSW coast as well as all the way up?! But although we put the motor on to keep speed up, we stuck to our sails and our patience was finally rewarded with the promised ESE wind in mid-morning. We had a lovely sail in warm sunshine the rest of the way, arriving on schedule at the Clarence River Bar at about 1430. Came in on the tide, negotiated the entrance to Iluka Bay, had some trouble finding a deep enough spot to anchor until some friendly locals in a dinghy took pity on us and came by to provide advice.

Anchoring was not helped by the depth sounder choosing to play up at the critical moment – kept turning itself off. Technology can be very irritating. We may have to go back to swinging the lead. Various other instruments have played up on this trip, but overall we are finding the 2007 additions of wheel steering, a reliable autopilot and an on-deck chart plotter have made our sailing very easy and comfortable.

Safely anchored in a deep spot opposite the pub, we enjoyed a beer watching a Clarence River sunset. [Top]

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Exploring the Clarence River

Wednesday 21 to Friday 23 November 2007

Research revealed that the tides and opening times for the Harwood Bridge were incompatible on Wednesday. So we went ashore in the dinghy and took the cat for a walk on the Iluka foreshore (to the entertainment of the natives) and bought fish and chips at the pub. Sake found an admiring family to pet him while we ate. The Captain and the cat then amused each other in a park while the mate trudged off to the supermarket for provisions. By the time she returned Sake had had enough activity and retired to the blue holdall he favours as a travel bag. We carried him back in it to the dinghy and returned to Nahani.

When the tide had risen enough to allow us an easy exit from Iluka Bay we weighed anchor and let the rising tide take us up river. For once the wind was favourable and we were doing 5kt with just a handkerchief sized bit of the jib unfurled. It was lovely being able to sail up the river to the bridge, where we anchored for the night off the old sugar mill, an ancient structure which dates back to when the cane was brought in by barge, rather than by trucks as it is today – the mill is still going strong, belching steam into the atmosphere and frothy scum into the river.

We'd booked a bridge opening at 1100 (earliest that they open), so at about 1030 we started motoring toward the bridge. As we approached we saw two guys in safety jackets walking out, who we figured were the bridge openers. The arrived at the bridge centre and one began undoing things while the other climbed up to the little shed which houses the controls. We did one circle in front of the bridge as we saw that traffic had stopped, then the centre of the bridge slowly rose, the light went green, we gunned the motor and headed through. We got a big wave from the operators, we thought because we were right on time and ready to go through when they opened, unlike the vessel waiting to go downriver on the other side, which was still in mid-circle as we passed them.

Motoring against the tide brought us up to Maclean, where there is a public pontoon. There was already a large yacht moored there, and it was a bit tricky getting in behind them with the current driving us toward their boat, but the wind blowing us off the jetty. But with the help of Robert and Angela from Indali, the other boat, we brought Nahani in backwards and tied her up. We went ashore for lunch, coffee and a stroll around Maclean which is a very likeable old town. Its attractiveness is enhanced by a hill rising up from the river, and a main street with an S-bend instead of the usual Australian ribbon development. Maclean has decided to capitalise on its Scottish name by putting tartans around the base every lamppost in the town – a different one on each pole. We weren't convinced it enhanced the townscape. We found a bookshop (always dangerous – we've exceeded our available book storage again), bought and read newspapers. We returned to the boat with the intention of heading further upriver when the tide turned, but about the time we should have set off, rain set in, so it seemed a bit pointless. We read our new books instead and had a quiet night.

The next morning Robert and Angela offered to lend us their car so we could go to the laundromat at the caravan park about a kilometre down the road from the jetty. We accepted gratefully and did a huge pile of washing before heading up river. We were booked to go through the bridge again at 1400, so we only went as far as the Broadwater (another one) before turning back. The scenery is lovely and extraordinarily green (no drought conditions here) – see the photos. We made quick time back down the river with the current and tide and arrived early at the bridge, so we put up the jib and sailed round in circles until once again the bridge men arrived and did their stuff. Again we were first through, with a catamaran coming the other way. We tried to do some more sailing as we went on from Harwood to Iluka, but the wind was unfavourable. We anchored for a while to wait for high tide coming back into Iluka Bay, and it rained again, but cleared as we headed into the harbour. It took us about 45 minutes to find our deep spot to anchor in, but we were finally happy that our ship wouldn't ground at low tide, and could open a beer and enjoy the sight of dolphins cavorting in the harbour (watch the video!). [Top]

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Iluka Bay (Yamba) to Coffs Harbour

Saturday 24 November 2007

Early start (0530), anchor up at 0645 and headed out of the Clarence Heads in heavy rain, as usual dodging incoming prawn trawlers. The forecast was for ENE winds (again) but the wind was actually coming from the south (again). And it was raining and the swell was heavy enough to make the ship's cat unhappy. We tacked for a bit, but realised we would never make Yamba by dark, so reluctantly put on the motor to allow us to sail very close-hauled, more or less straight down the coast. The rain stopped at about 0800 and the weather improved. We saw a pod of dolphin go past mid-morning, and every now and then the wind eased a bit to the east, Nahani would heel over a bit and start to really sail. Finally at about 1430 the wind shifted to its forecast position of ENE but only at about 8kt, still not giving us enough power to get to Yamba in daylight. Half an hour later the wind increased and for about an hour and a half we had a great sail, doing 5kt on a beam reach. But then the wind went round behind us and dropped right back so we had to motor assist again. But it was a lovely day, the southerly flattened the swell and it was pleasant if boring and noisy for much of the trip.

We arrived at Coff's on schedule, at about 1930, motored into the marina where the Captain did some very skilful manoeuvring to turn Nahani in a very constrained space. We did have a brief encounter with a very long bowsprit sticking out from one of the pens, but no damage and we eased gently on to the end of a jetty behind a huge catamaran. The four blokes on the cat were very helpful as we berthed, and we spent an hour or so talking to them, first on the jetty then on their boat, then on ours. Finally at about 2100, we were free to turn on the laptop and enjoy the election results. We were so busy and excited trawling the web for the results as they happened that all we had for tea was a tin of sardines, biscuits, some salad and a bottle of champagne to celebrate the Labour victory. [Top]

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Coff's Harbour to Laurieton, Camden Haven

Monday 26 to Tuesday 27 November 2007

At about 0930 we motored out of the Coff's Harbour marina, through the harbour and out into yet another southerly (seems the wind gods and the weather forecasters don't communicate in this area). We tacked out to sea at a good speed, but making only slow progress towards our destination. On the reverse tack the wind slowly became more favourable and strengthened from 8-10kt to 10-12: by early afternoon we were achieving better than 4kt towards our destination and by mid-afternoon we were doing 6kts on a beam reach. It was warm and sunny, calm seas – beautiful sailing conditions.

By late afternoon the wind had pulled behind us and weakened and as the sun set it dropped out altogether. We put the motor on and were resigned to motoring all night. But by 2200 there was an 6-8kt westerly blowing off the land and we could sail again. Although it was slow going in such light winds, we didn't want to arrive in Camden Haven too early, so we just slid along at 2-3kt in a beautiful warm moonlit night.

Lighter winds shifting more northerly gave us ideas about poling out the jib, but just as Peter got the pole up the wind strengthened, went back to the south and we were tacking again. We finally gave that away, took the sails down and did the last hour to the entrance to Camden Haven under motor.

Camden Haven was the first place we've been that has a really shallow bar at the entrance. Although the conditions were ideal, we still experienced acceleration from a couple of larger swells that rose up as we came in. It is a quite narrow entrance, and we met the mandatory prawn trawler coming out as we came in, but we had no real trouble. Coming up river was challenging as there was about 4kt of current. We found we needed quite a bit of drive to keep steerage way in the strong eddies in the narrow river, so we were travelling at over 6kt, which isn't that comfortable when there are shallow patches to avoid and your depth sounder is being temperamental. But we reached the recommended anchoring spot without incident and parked near other yachts that are doing the same journey south, and which we are gradually getting to know.

We were in need of some rest after our overnight sail, but after a short snooze, showers, clean clothes and lunch we felt strong enough to launch the dinghy and go ashore. Laurieton is a very pretty little town. One of the other boaties said it was the sort of place you would seriously consider retiring to, but we pointed out that it seemed everyone else had already done so. The town is immaculately kept, both public spaces and private houses and gardens. We walked about 5km back down the river toward the entrance, finding further evidence of the demographics: two bowls clubs (one of which belongs to the Laurieton United Services Club, which is enormous and currently being extended yet further) and two funeral parlours. One of these advertised "pre-paid and pre-arranged funerals". Peter commented he thought the latter only happened in places like Griffith. There are also public loos at very regular intervals throughout all the riverside parkland.

We took our walk in easy stages, stopping to enjoy shady benches, eat icecreams, and read a newspaper to catch up on the latest election news, which was all about the struggle for Liberal Party leadership in the wake of Howard's defeat and Costello's withdrawal. On our way back to the boat we explored Laurieton's main street and bought some fresh supplies.

As we headed back in the dinghy, a shouted offer of hospitality came from the trimaran Mareli, which had been berthed beside us in Coff's Harbour, but which arrived at Camden later because they stopped overnight in Trial Bay. As we were tying up to their boat they heard a radio call from VMR Laurieton to us to tell us that we'd anchored in the middle of the navigation channel used by the prawn trawlers coming in and out of harbour. We were mildly peeved because we'd been told to anchor where we were by VMR Laurieton as we came in, and we'd taken the trouble to walk down to their shed to check we were OK where we were. But we were given to understand that this was not the case, and since the prospect of being run down by prawn trawlers in the middle of the night was unattractive, we left Mareli before Peter had even got aboard and went back to move Nahani. By the time we'd done that it was dusk, time for tea and an early night. [Top]

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Camden Haven to Newcastle

Wednesday 28 to Thursday 29 November 2007

We left Laurieton slightly later on the tide than our inward journey so that we had less incoming flow to push against. We successfully negotiated the shallows, eddies and the odd tinny in mid-channel and headed out of the harbour, for once without having to dodge anything coming in. And the weather gods finally smiled, giving us the forecast ENE wind. We motored into it to clear Camden Head and put the sails up, during which time a large pod of dolphin came past. Then we turned for Crowdy Head and made good speed, starting at 4.5-5kt and gradually increasing as the wind strengthened during the afternoon until we were doing 6.5-7.5kt. The weather was beautiful, the sea calm, it was champagne sailing.

The wind began to ease and go more northerly later in the afternoon. We readied the MPS when the wind was still too strong to put it up, but by the time it would have been appropriate it was getting close to dark and the captain wasn't keen on having it up overnight, so we poled out the jib instead and continued at 5-6kt with the wind now coming from the north behind us. At about 2000 we dropped the main as the easterly swell on the beam had increased and it was slatting (for non-sailors, this means that the boom is banging back and forth on each wave - noisy, annoying and bad for the sail). As on previous nights the wind eased and our speed dropped until around 0230 we were doing less than 3kt. If the afternoon was champagne sailing, this was flat beer sailing. We started the motor.

We now had a problem. During our rapid progress in the afternoon we thought we might be in time for the high tide at Port Stephens at about 0045, but as a result of slowing down after dark we were now an hour or so too late to make a safe entry over the bar. On the other hand we were much too early for the next high tide at around midday Thursday. Our options were to try and find an anchorage in the dark in one of the bays on the Broughton Islands and wait there until daylight, or to give Port Stephens a miss and carry on further south to Newcastle or even as far as Broken Bay. We decided on the latter option, and at one point thought we might make Broken Bay before dark on Thursday. But after sunrise we found ourselves making slow, uncomfortable progress with the wind dead aft and so turned and sailed toward Newcastle instead. The winds remained very light and variable and we eventually got tired of constant sail adjustment to little benefit, struck the sails and motored the last hour or so into Newcastle and up the river to the marina, where we made an easy entry into an empty double berth.

Newcastle is a big ship port, very easy to enter: the markers and leads are all huge and bright, the Hunter River wide and deep. Because of this we stopped there both northbound and southbound, staying in the large and spacious Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club marina. The facilities include very posh bathrooms and a laundry above a commercial restaurant, the Rocksalt.

On our southbound stopover the restaurant was no longer serving coffee by the time we were ready to go ashore, so we went across the road to buy newspapers and have a coffee in the Wickham Hotel. When we walked in the male-female ratio went from infinity to 98% male and there were a few odd looks. But we found a quiet corner to peruse the papers and the coffee was excellent.

In the evening we went back to the Rocksalt, which is a prizewinning seafood restaurant. We enjoyed good barramundi and wonderful mussels, washed down with a local Hunter semillon. It was nice to have a posh meal after lots of good plain food aboard and occasional fish and chips ashore. Since the marina laundry is conveniently located above the restaurant, we were also able to get our washing done at the same time. After dinner Sake came for a walk to the laundry to help collect the washing, and we had a long chat with an Irish couple from Whimsey while we waited for the dryer to finish. She was a cat person, and got her "cat fix" by petting Sake while we waited. He of course was very happy to oblige.

Adverse weather meant that we decided to stay a second night. It rained most of the morning, but when it cleared in the afternoon we caught the bus into town to explore Newcastle city. [Top]

Newcastle to Broken Bay

Saturday 1 December 2007

A proper sail, real wind and real waves for the first time this trip. We left Newcastle at 0930 and made good time for half the journey doing 6kt on a beam reach with a brisk easterly. At about 0230 there was an ominous roll of thunder, and we could see stormy weather ashore. Fortunately it didn't come out to sea, and we had only a brief shower. But the wind went round to the south, so we motor sailed to windward the rest of the way to the entrance to Broken Bay, donning wet weather gear for the first time since Brisbane. When we turned west into Broken Bay we sailed again for a while, but as we got further in and more sheltered from the southerly we put the motor back on.

We decided to head for America Bay rather than go down to Pittwater as we expected it would be full of yachts sailing on a Saturday afternoon. As we approached the bay entrance we could see a big 3-master with square sails, which on closer inspection proved to be our old friend James Craig at anchor with the Hawkesbury Explorer rafted up alongside. It appeared to be an Event, rather than a standard cruise: people aboard were all dressed in nineteenth century sailing gear. We took photos as she looked most impressive, black against a leaden sky.

We entered America Bay in the last of the daylight, unsurprised to find it fairly full of boats. But there was a conveniently placed unused mooring which we decided no one else was likely to claim so late. We picked it up quite expertly even though we haven't been on a mooring for ages. Peter says that using moorings feels like cheating - none of the effort associated with anchoring or coming into a berth. [Top]

In Broken Bay

Sunday 2 December to Wednesday 5 December 2007

When we moored in America Bay on Saturday evening we felt we had left the warm north for the cool south. It was grey and overcast, and we had to shed our shorts in favour of long pants and sweaters. However summer returned on Sunday morning, hot and sunny. We started our day with a latte from the Cappuccino Cat, which toured all the boats in America Bay offering freshly made coffee, newspapers and snacks. Coffee 10/10, newspapers 5/10 (only the Sunday Telegraph), and the snacks offered were in plastic from a piewarmer, so we passed on those and had our own breakfast in the sunshine.

There were lots of boats in America Bay and a fair amount of boating activity: large boats arriving and leaving and people poodling round the bay in their dinghies. But no one roared past and no jetskis, so pretty peaceful. We alternated lazing and reading with boat chores. Helen combined a swim with some hull cleaning, trying out her new goggles and weight belt. She was pleased to find that so equipped, she could hang out under the hull for long enough to prise barnacles off the prop and rudder with an oyster knife.

Warm and sunny again Monday, but sadly the Cappucino Cat only comes at weekends, so we had to make our own coffee. The Royal Motor Yacht Club (RMYC) in Pittwater didn't have room for us, so we spent another day enjoying America Bay, relatively empty compared to the weekend. Later on Monday afternoon there were major thunderstorms. On Tuesday after Helen had a quick swim, we motored around to Pittwater and berthed near the fuel jetty at about lunchtime where we were welcomed by RMYC marina manager Peter Moxham, friendly and helpful as usual. We had a visit from John Witchard of Witchard Marine, to discuss options for upgrading Nahani's engine. When he left he had to borrow a jacket because there were thunderstorms again, this time much closer with heavier rain. Helen took advantage of the fresh water to scrub the decks (hosing the boat is prohibited in most marinas these days).

More thunderstorms and southerly winds on Wednesday so we spent our time generally getting the boat shipshape for the next leg: cleaning, doing the washing, going into Mona Vale for provisions. The butcher and veg shop in Mona Vale are very special and wildly expensive - we expected to eat really well as we sailed south. On our return we spent some time exchanging visits with Brian and Jan Leonard from Cat-tankerous, berthed behind us. They were "reclaiming" their big catamaran after one of those sagas of disasters which began with a rigging failure and involved much work having to be done and redone. We hope the bad chapter is closed and they are off on a new beginning. [Top]

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Broken Bay to Sydney

Thursday 6 December 2007

We were delayed at the RMYC by yet more thunderstorms, but eventually shed our mooring lines at about 1000, picked up some more fuel, and headed up Pittwater. Although the storms brought thunder, lightning and plenty of rain, they weren't accompanied by much wind, so we were motor sailing again, with a light breeze on starboard beam going up Pittwater and on the port side as we headed south after clearing Barranjoey Head. After Long Point the wind increased enough to do without the motor down to North Head. We dropped the main while still out in the ocean, and came in through the Heads with the wind behind us filling our headsails.

We put the motor back on in case we needed to get out of someone's way in a hurry, but our journey through the harbour was much easier than we anticipated. We stayed close to the North Shore and kept a sharp eye out for ferries, particularly the big Manly Ferries which really move. We dodged a dinghy race, a couple of maxis doing tacking practice, several harbour cruise boats, but nothing really big and threatening. It wasn't as tricky as coming up the channel in Port Phillip dodging the Bass Trader and other big merchant ships on our way into the Anchorage Marina in Williamstown. We passed the zoo, Neutral Bay, Kirribilli (onya, Kev) and finally sailed past one great icon, the Opera House and under the other, the Harbour Bridge. Another dream achieved.

We crossed to the south side of the Harbour near Goat Island, headed down into Darling Harbour, then turned right toward the Glebe Island Bridge. First you go through the narrow gap in the old bridge, now permanently open as the road it carries is unused, then you pass under the bridge that some yachtie described as resembling Madonna's brassiere. After Glebe Island Bridge Rozelle Bay is to the right, Blackwattle Bay to the left. There are a couple of small designated anchoring areas in each bay. We turned left, and inserted Nahani neatly between two of the four boats already at anchor there.

Such is the small world of cruising that we knew one of the four boats: Peter Pan. We had got to know it and owners Ian and Gary in Lindisfarne in Hobart. They were going to sail to Sydney at the same time as us in March 2006, but came later and the boat hadn't left Sydney since. Last time we had seen Peter Pan it was on a mooring in Cammeray. When we hailed them from the shore they were suitably surprised to find that our paths had crossed twice since Lindisfarne.

It always seems a little unreal to be afloat at anchor in the middle of a city. Nahani was looking east across Blackwattle Bay, Pyrmont and Darling Harbour to the towers of the CBD. To the right are the fish markets, to the left Glebe Island Bridge providing a constant traffic hum. Behind are trendy new waterside apartments with older flats behind in Glebe. There is a much frequented path along the edge of the Bay through Blackwattle Bay Park: joggers, power walkers, dog walkers, pram pushers, strolling seniors go by. We rowed the dinghy ashore and joined them, walking down to where parts of the old incinerator designed by Burleigh Griffin have been preserved, then up the hill to Glebe Point Road for a Thai meal. Glebe Liquor obligingly delivered a slab and 6 bottles of red to the bottom of Cook Street, from whence we ferried them back to the boat.

When we got back to the boat there was a big fireworks display, probably on the bridge. We could hear it, but only saw the flashes and the occasional stars from an extra big rocket over the top of the CBD skyscrapers. If Sydney was putting on a welcome for us, they were a bit late!

And so we reached the end of another voyage. Next comes Sydney to Hobart, December 2007. [Top]