Back to Brisbane – through the narrow and shallow – November 2019
11 November 2019 | Brisbane, Australia
We had arrived in the Gold Coast early morning of Wednesday 30th October. Having had a good night’s (well what was left of it) sleep we were up fairly early. Paul had some work to continue with his old company. The weather was kind with a little bit of cloud to cut back the heat of the sun. Helen had a bit of a virus and so spent the day chilling out watching the goings on in the anchorage. As usual there was plenty to see with lots of craft coming and going, and people enjoying the beach. The day ended with a barbeque, cooking with a cool wine watching the world go by in a pleasant environment is, well, pleasant.
Thursday 31st October was a bit like Ground Hog day as we repeated Wednesday; Paul had a little work to finish off, and Helen still had a bit of a virus. We even completed the day with a barbeque. Well, it was very pleasant.
We knew that the inland waterway up to the south end of Moreton Bay is narrow and shallow. Coming down at the end of September we had been caught at mid tide near Jacob’s Well and had even touched the bottom. So this time we were determined to go with the tide. Fortunately, on Friday 1st November high tide at the Gold Coast was forecast as 1.56m at 1113, with Brisbane Bar 2.33m at 1224. This suited us as the narrowest, shallowest part was some 10 nm or so from the anchorage.
So, Friday, 0845 we weighed anchor and set off. It was cloudy with the many bushfires in the region further restricting visibility with a persistent smoke haze. There was a hot, gusty wind blowing from the East to North East; the wind was varying both in strength and direction. Given we would be in restricted waters we elected to motor with the Main on the first reef.
We made good progress up the Broadway. The water was wide, especially as the high tide covered all the mud flats and sand shoals; however, we still had to keep to the well-marked channel. At the top of the Broadway we reached the junction. Narrow and shallow, we wound our way around the marks. It was pretty much high tide, and had plenty of water under the keel. An interesting moment was actually at the sharp turn to port around a cardinal mark (post). We had been watching a large tourist cruise boat following us up the Broadway. She had been keeping some 200 metres or so behind us, so no problems. At the junction she decided to overtake. It was a bit of a shock to Paul, who was concentrating on the marks ahead to look to port to suddenly see the cruise boat passing, complete with tourists waving! Still we slowed down, and let him pass. Realising he probably drew about the same as us we then followed as closely as we could in his wake.
We passed the shoal area with a minimum 0.9m of clear water (to our relief) and pushed on past the small settlements of Jacobs Well and Steiglitz into the hinterlands. The high tide ensured we had plenty of water under the keel and, with a clearly marked channel, there were no problems. The only issue was that we were pushing against the tide from Jacobs Well onwards. This was at least one knot, and at times two knots, so really noticeable. However, the gusty beam wind allowed the Main to develop some drive, and the rest … well that is what the iron topsail (aka engine) is for .. more revs!
We exited the waterway via the ‘slalom’, a narrow winding channel between mud banks. Fortunately this is used by the ferries and so very obvious with marker posts almost every 50m. Out of that and we could get a sailing angle on the wind; Yankee out and tight to the wind we were motor sailing; the engine revs dropping nicely as we caught the wind.
We passed Cockiemudio Island and were able to enter the open, deeper waters of Moreton Bay. Even better, we could get the wind beam on. It was now early afternoon and the usual sea breeze had steadied the easterly wind to a nice 15 to 20 knots. So the last 15 nm or so took a couple of hours or so as a well-balanced Tai Mo Shan with (now) full sail easily made 6 ½ to 7 ½ knots. This was sailing at its best!
We had provisionally booked a berth at the East Coast Marina. Unfortunately our target long term berth was not available, but the marina did have one for us on the end of one of the piers. We dropped sails outside the marina and motored in. A tight turn between the end of the pier and the rock wall of the Moreton Bay Sailing Club section saw us nicely lined up on the end of the pier and at 1640 we were soon secure.
Pictures clockwise from top left. Gold coast (hotels by the sand), Pelicans on a sand bank, the Broadwater (wide with mangroves), shoal sign (yes, they mean it!), remote backwater (wide, shallow, with mangroves), Marine Rescue Centre at Jacobs Well.
Passage back to Gold Coast – Oct 19
05 November 2019 | Australia
Sunday 27 October saw us in Shoal Bay experiencing a very rolly night. The motion was constant and annoying. It almost spoiled our enjoyment of the England vs New Zealand match in the Rugby World Cup. Talk of split loyalties, but it was good that England won! So after a late bedtime, it was actually a relief to get up at 0400!
We wanted to head north up the coast. We had had pretty much a week of constant northerly winds. The long range forecast also showed a long spell of northerly winds ahead, after a small gap. And the gap was small. Where we were, the Hunter coastal region, the forecast for Sunday was for southwest winds of 15 to 20 knots turning north to north east 10 to 15 knots in the evening and then continuing northerly Monday. The next coastal region, Macquarie, had southerly 15 to 20 knots, turning North to North East late evening, with northerlies on Monday. Further north, Coffs had variable 10 knots Monday, turning south to south east 15 to 20 Tuesday. In short, we had to get clear of Macquarie by Monday! So, 0535, first light and we weighed anchor.
Unfortunately the tide was against us, and the incoming tide ripped through the entrance to Port Stephens. There was no wind this early, so it was a case of engine on and a hard push through with the Main up as a steadying sail. The sea at the entrance to Port Stephens was confused with an incoming tidal current of 1 to 2 knots and (as we found out) a south setting current along the coast of about 1 knot, all topped up with a reasonable 1 to 2 metre swell. It was a bit of a wild ride. And there were whales about. We saw a very clear whale tail dive about 200m off our starboard beam, and several large splashes further away.
A couple of hours out and the sea had calmed somewhat, with only the swell to contend with. A light north easterly blew up which allowed us to get the Yankee out and sail. To avoid the northerly wind change we had to keep to about 5 knots speed over ground. We had an adverse current flowing down the coast, even though we were only about 1 nautical mile clear of headlands. As a result we had to keep some 6 knots water speed. The light wind and sails alone were not enough so it was a case of using the engine to assist; a necessary evil.
Our spirits were lifted between about 0745 and 0815 when a small pod of 4 to 6 dolphins joined us. They did the usual bow ride, but also seeing us in the centre cockpit, dropped back to the middle of the boat to show off. Indeed, several of them had fun riding down the surf in our wake.
The day continued with us motor sailing, adjusting the sail as the wind angle and strength changed. The current was a constant adverse factor. This was typically one knot, but around the headlands could increase. Sugarloaf Point some 25 nm north of Port Stephens saw us motor sailing with full Main and Yankee, engine at 2500 rpm, and still only making 4 knots over the ground. Still we pushed on.
There was a lot of whale sign, usually the ‘snot’ in the water and large splashes a little way off, although Helen heard (and smelled!) a whale blow alongside us! We also had occasional visits by pods of dolphins; presumably they passed the message along to their friends! Ashore we could see the smoke from several bushfires. The smoke trails were extensive, and even at a few miles range we could occasionally see flames. Australia certainly has big fires.
Overnight the wind dropped and we were back to motoring with the Main up. 0600 saw us closing on Korogoro Point, which is some 10 nm south of Smoky Cape. Smoky Cape is significant as it is at the southern end of the Coffs Coastal region. As we passed the cape the forecast of south to south easterly winds proved true and by mid-morning we were sailing in a moderate beam wind. The wind angle allowed us efficient sailing and we were making a good 5.5 knots over the ground.
Our spirits were lifted even further as early afternoon our trolling lines clicked. One line was empty as the fish had escaped, but the other had a nice large mackerel on it. That would go down well; literally!
We were approaching Coffs Harbour and decided to go in there. We would top up our diesel as we had used the engine quite a bit since our last partial fill in Sydney. It would also be nice to have a quick look around this famous stop; not least as it was the only non-bar harbour between Port Stephens and the Gold Coast (although even the Seaway is technically a bar!). The diesel is from the fishery cooperative pump, and they had a fish and chip shop, and who know there might even be nice ice cream!
1430 and we heard a broken radio ‘Securité’ message from Coffs Marine Rescue. They mentioned low tide and restricted access. We could not get the whole message so we called back on the VHF radio channel 16. Unfortunately we could only get a broken contact with Coffs and so no communication. However, a few minutes later Coffs came through, could we go up to channel 80. We did so and got crystal clear communication as the VHF radio repeater did its job. Coffs explained that they had ‘seen’ us on AIS and realised that south of Coffs the reception is better on channel 80; well done the Marine Rescue people! We asked for a repeat of the Securité, which Coffs did. The message referred to restricted access to the boat ramp due to a very low tide. Entrance to the fuelling dock in the marina was still fine. Good news, clearly delivered. We were impressed with the Marine Rescue staff’s professionalism.
Coffs harbour is famous, even notorious, for prone to the swell. The harbour is sometimes closed with a big easterly swell. In fact, not long ago the sea had overtopped the impressively high harbour walls. Even with a moderate one metre or so swell we noticed the harbour entrance had decidedly rough water and Tai Mo Shan took some handling. Once inside the outer harbour things calmed down and the inner, boat harbour was flat calm. So, 1625 saw us secure alongside the wharf at Coffs Harbour.
There was a fishing boat taking on diesel (some 1500 litres), so Paul took the opportunity to check out the harbour. The marina part has perhaps one hundred or so boats berthed. Most are recreational launches and yachts, but there were also perhaps a dozen or so fishing boats of 10 to 20 metres length. As noted the harbour walls were substantial and made of large stone blocks piled quite high. The marina part had a large concrete blocks on top, and, the locals assured us, even these had been moved at times during heavy seas. Mutton Bird Island forms the north east part of the harbour and is quite a tourist attraction. We saw a steady stream of people walking along the harbour walls to then ascend this substantial headland. The harbour itself had a pleasant feel. It was clearly a working harbour with the fishing fleet restocking with ice and fuel, and landing their catch at the cooperative. However, it was also recreational with the yachts and launches, and many people walking enjoying the view or jogging along the waterfront. Most importantly there was a good ice cream shop selling delicious home-made ice cream. Of course we had to support the local economy by trying some.
The fishing boat completed refuelling and we topped up with a 177 litres of diesel whilst we ate our ice creams. It was then a case of more support to the locals as we got fresh fish and chips. We cast off at 1725 and enjoyed our fish and chips dinner as we motored out.
There was still a reasonable breeze and we were able to get Main up and Yankee out to sail close to the wind dodging the small islands in the bay. We saw more whale splashes in the distance and dolphins close to. As night fell we kept sailing, and then had to weave our way through the half dozen fishing boats working a little way offshore. As we have noted before the boats are all very well-lit and so easy to spot. As they are fishing though their course is less easy to determine. Still, we got past them under sail without incident.
As the Monday night progressed to Tuesday the wind dropped and we had to use the engine to keep progress. Now we were north of Coffs, the weather window had opened out somewhat with easterly winds forecast through to Thursday for the next two sea areas (Byron and Gold Coast). However, we still wanted to make reasonable progress. Early morning and the wind dropped further so we were now motoring with only the Main up as a steadying sail. Fortunately the dawn brought a gentle north easterly breeze and we were able to motor sail again.
1600 and we were off Cape Byron. This is the most easterly point of Australia and a place where the coastal current tends to change from the southward set. Even 2 miles off, we found a confused sea and an adverse current of about 2 knots. We were sailing at a respectable 6 knots through the water, but barely making 4 knots over the ground. The adverse current lasted a good hour or so; pretty much half was to Tweed Heads.
Going around Tweed Heads we held off, well clear of the ‘Danger Rocks’ reefs. As we cleared the heads we had a favourable current (at last!). Our water speed remained at about 5.5 to 6 knots, a good speed. However, our speed over the ground increased to nearly 7 knots. It was a good feeling, sitting on a balanced boat making easy and rapid progress, watching the bright lights of first Tweed Heads, and then the Gold Coast slide quietly by.
We now had a slight dilemma. Low tide at the Seaway was forecast for 0258. Going through at low tide would give us the minimum current. In fact at our planned 4.5 knots (our speed approaching Tweed Heads) we would have arrived at the Seaway at about 0330, after low tide, and so could have experienced a favourable current. As it was our much increased speed meant we would now arrive at about 0100. Ah well, the Seaway had good navigational lights, and bright blue leading lights. In addition, the swell had dropped to about one metre. We decided to carry on.
We dropped sails just outside the Seaway and safely crossed the shallower shoal with plenty of water under the keel. The leading lights were bright blue and highly visible so it was a simple case of lining up and motoring in. Well almost. The outgoing current was strong, 2 to 3 knots, so it was a case of full engine power. In addition, the current swirled as it went along the Seaway, so holding Tai Mo Shan’s bow on course took a lot of effort. The swell was also just about breaking causing a lot of roll as we entered. The wheel was swinging almost full lock, but we kept true to the centre of the channel and safely made the inland waterway.
Once on the waterway the current reduced and we could follow the navigational marks to the entrance to Bum’s Bay (correct name The Stadium). As usual The Stadium looked full, but the entrance area had lots of clear space, allowing us to be securely anchored at 0130.
We had completed the 316 nm in 2 days 19 hours and 35 minutes with a stop of one hour at Coffs Harbour. Our average speed over the ground was some 4.75 knots. Most importantly we had avoided those nasty strong northerlies.
Pictures clockwise from top left. Bushfire ashore, the smoke is enough to give a great sunset, dolphins abeam, Coffs Harbour looking to Muttonbird Island – note the big seawall.
Port Stephens October 2019
30 October 2019 | Port Stephens, Australia
Port Stephens is some 75 nm from Pitt Water. This is an awkward distance as it means approximately 17 hours travel at our nominal cruising speed of 5 knots. In short, we had to plan to either leave at night to arrive in the day, or leave during the day and arrive at night. We weighed up the options. Port Stephens has a good wide deep entry. However, it has a shallower shoal extending across half the entrance that could, in heavy seas, trigger breaking waves, and also could give us a fright as the bottom leaps up to only a couple of metres under the keel. To counter this, the entry is well charted and has a port entry light to guide boats in past the shoal. Our selected anchorage, Shoal Bay, was just south of the entrance. This was large, fairly shallow but, as the guide noted, subject to a constant roll. We were confident of getting safely to anchor in the dark and so elected to go with our body clocks and leave in the morning to arrive late at night.
And so at 0830 on Monday 21st October we weighed anchor. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology weather forecast showed light variable winds through to Tuesday afternoon when 10 to 15 knot East to North East winds would develop. Our Predict Wind long range forecast showed the ocean as having 10 knot Easterly winds all day. Looking at the weather charts we expected minimal overall wind, but local effects such as the sea breeze to dominate. As we were heading up the coast, parallel to the coast, the sea breeze should be on our beam, a good sailing angle. As we weighed anchor there was a very light Westerly wind and we gently motored out of Pitt Water with the Main sail up to steady us in roll. The wind was not enough to support the Yankee, and soon died down to a flat calm. (This wind was probably the remnants of the night-time ‘land breeze, a local effect). We motored on, seeing the occasional sign of whales i.e. whale blows and the flat oily area of water with orangey whale ‘snot’ (the remains of plankton etc. in the whale blow) but, fortunately, no whales came closer than perhaps 500m
By midday we had a gentle breeze from the North East. This was very fine on the bow and not enough to sail alone. However, it allowed us to use the Yankee and Main with the motor to motor sail. The motor at low revs kept us going as the sail collapsed due to mast roll, whilst the sails gave good thrust when they filled, so we have a fuel efficient way of making progress. Early afternoon saw a slightly stronger wind, still not abeam as we hoped, but enough for us to sail close to the wind. It is always nice to turn the engine off and sail; Tai Mo Shan balances nicely under sail, and with only natural sounds and movements we feel at one with the ocean. Unfortunately, the good wind only lasted a few hours and by late afternoon we were motor-sailing again. Surprisingly the sea was not flat and maintained a short chop that caused some pitching motion for us.
As darkness fell we turned on our navigation lights. Looking forward something looked wrong. Sure enough on closer inspection we could clearly see the port (red) light was working well, but the starboard (green) light was dark. Fortunately our NZ Category One insists we carry emergency navigation lights, so it was simply a case of finding them in amongst our multitude of spares. A bit, well a fair bit, of rummaging around and out came our battery powered set. All good, but did we have the large, U2, batteries? No one uses that size anymore! Fortunately our draw of mobile power (i.e. batteries) had two packs. One battery was old; a check using the voltmeter showed it was too old and was not producing enough power. The battery went straight in to the bin. One pack left … and this battery still had enough power. It was then a case of clipping the harness onto the jack stay and going forward on the pitching deck. And of course, the bow is pitching the most! Still, torch under chin, we soon had the light fitted (securely attached with a cobweb of cable ties) and operating.
As midnight came up we could see the navigation light of Mount Stephens, some 3 nm south of the entrance. This light is a very bright flash, indeed, exceptionally bright and seems to use a different technology to other lights. Still, it makes for a good navigational mark.
We dropped the Main sail abeam of the Mount Stephens light and motored on northwards. A little while later we could see the red light showing Tomaree Head which makes the south side of the entrance. 10 minutes later and we saw the green coloured sector of the Port Entry Light, followed a few minutes later by the bright white sector. We were now lined up on the entrance and just had to follow the white light in. This lined up perfectly with our chart plotter; great. And so we entered Shoal Bay with no problems. The shore line had street lights that shone enough light into the bay for us to make out the few boats close in on moorings. We anchored some 300m off shore in a comparatively shallow 3.7m of water at 0115. The 74 nm passage had taken just under 17 hours.
Morning showed us that Shoal Bay was a large bay fringed by a beautiful yellow sand beach, with hotel developments just behind in the centre, bush and occasional houses to the headland and lighter bush and houses as the coast went further into Port Stephens. With a flat calm sea, blue sky and bright sun. It was a pleasant outlook. Indeed, unusually, we could see the sea bed beneath us. We had anchored away from the extensive patched of sea grass and could clearly see the sandy bottom, along with the occasional fish including a small ray sitting on the sand.
Port Stephens is a sizeable inlet, reaching some 12 nm inland, and averaging some 2 nm wide. It has extensive shoal areas and mud banks to the north. The middle is marked by a narrow area where ‘Soldiers Point’ extends northwards to within ½ nm of the north shore, and has a small island in the middle. West of this area the inlet is dominated by shallower patches of water. The land north of the inlet, and to the west, appears sparsely populated bush land. By contrast, the area to the south is well developed.
We were keen to move further into Port Stephens, not least to try to find a chandlery to replace our navigation light. The battery powered light was fine, but would use up batteries rapidly. We had Internet access through our mobile phone. This showed that there were three marina, all on the southern side of Port Stephens. However, the only chandlery was in the town of Nelson Bay. A review of our chart and cruising guide led us to conclude that the best anchorage for us would be some 5nm further in on the edge of the moorings at Salamander Bay. Indeed, Google Earth showed that the only extensive moorings were in Salamander Bay and further in past the narrows, in an even narrower, shallower river.
So at 1145 we raised anchor and, taking advantage of the incoming tide, headed to Salamander Bay. The large area of Port Stephens and extensive shoals means that the tide has a significant effect. The water flow is concentrated in the fairly narrow deep channels. We were therefore able to cruise majestically at 5 knots over the ground along the southern bank making no wake in light winds with the Main up as a steadying sail and the engine in fast tickover.
Salamander Bay was a southerly cut back in the shoreline, giving good shelter from winds from the north east round south to the north west. Indeed, even the northerly quadrant only allowed for a fetch of a couple of miles across Port Stephens. It was no wonder most moorings were here. As we approached we intended to anchor on the edge of the mooring field. However, Helen spotted a nice gap in amongst the moorings. Our depth sounder confirmed there were no obstacles (e.g. old moorings) on the sea bed, and so we dropped anchor.
The aspect of Salamander Bay was, again, very pleasant. Most of the shore line is, again, beautiful yellow sand beach. A public reserve with car park, grassland, toilets and trees forms the middle. To the east established housing extends around to the rocky headland. To the west, relatively new housing sits on the sand to the beach until it reaches another reserve of bush which continues around the bay to the rocky headland of Soldiers Point, which has more housing scattered amongst the greenery. The backdrop of rising land is a mixture of greenery, houses and rocky areas.
We soon had the dinghy in the water and, after lunch, Paul set out, landed at the reserve and secured the dinghy to a convenient tree. The chandlery was in Nelson Bay, a 5km walk away. The walk was pleasant enough. Initially along the roadside past moderate sized nice houses with well-tended gardens, and then along a footpath and cycleway through reserve bush land next to the sea, before heading back on the roadside footpath over a ridge in a suburban area and down in to Nelson Bay. Nelson Bay was typical Australian sea side tourist town. The marina was reasonably sized and formed the sea front. Back inland across the main road consisted a collection of small to mid-sized shops and eateries. It had pharmacies and bottle shops but, surprisingly, no supermarket. But, it did have a chandlery. This was collocated with the jet ski hire/ tourist trip office, and very small. Still, amazingly, the small selection did include LED navigation lights. Just what we needed. So $50 later and Paul had them in hand. Of course, he talked to the shop owner about, well most things. The owner also had some commercial boats, and was considering buying more in Queensland as they were going cheap. The reason? Well, the marine economy was surprisingly shaky. It used to be the case that the whale watching trips from Nelson Bay were always fully booked in advance, but now one could walk up to a departing trip and easily get a seat. There had been an increase in Asian tourists; however, they tended to book a package from their homeland with a dedicated boat and restaurant. The local economy therefore experienced limited benefit. Having put the world to right … Paul walked back to Tai Mo Shan. The navigation lights were soon fitted.
We had noticed there was a significant shopping mall only 1.5 km from the reserve in Salamander Bay. So Wednesday morning we set out with the rucksack full of shopping bags ready to resupply. The walk to the mall was flat and pleasant through the fairly new, reasonably affluent housing. The area was still developing with a number of large warehouse type shops such as Harvey Norman and Beds R Us, and sites being prepared for several more. The mall itself was large with a number of the usual mall type shops; clothing, food hall, ‘value’ shops, Kmart and Target. We had a quick look around followed by lunch in the food hall. It was then a case of restocking at Coles and then heading back with full bags.
Paul had been contacted by a former employer with the offer of some consulting work. He had accepted the assignment and had worked around the shopping trip on Wednesday. However, the work would take all day Thursday. Helen took the opportunity to have a better look at the shopping mall, spending most of the day there. Naturally she saved us lots of money on special offers!
Friday was another working day for Paul, and a gentle relaxing day for Helen! We had also been looking at weather windows for the trip back up north. This would be a long leg of some 320 nm to the Gold Coast (we would then use the inland waterway to travel the 40 odd miles back to East Coast Marina), or possibly even some 450 the full distance back around Morton Island direct to East Coast Marina. Given a cruising speed of 5 knots we were looking for a gap of 3 to 5 days. Unfortunately Australia seemed of have a succession of high pressure systems, all of which slowed down and stayed in the south part of the Tasman Sea for a while. The result was long periods of north winds, just what we did not want! However, the long range forecast showed a gap of a couple of days of sort of southerly winds around Port Stephens, with more easterly winds as one moved up the coast. The gap would start Sunday, after some strong northerly winds and, for Port Stephens, close soon after. We had decided that we would let the strong north winds pass by, and then let the equally strong southerlies abate before starting out early in the day. With this in mind we relocated on the ebb tide back to Shoal Bay on Saturday 26th October.
The day had been calm until we weighed anchor at 1100. Then the wind kicked in, and how! It went from calm to a northerly of well over 20 knots in less than 15 minutes. As a result we sailed down the channel to Shoal Bay under a reefed Yankee. The GPS recorded our speed over the ground reaching 9.3 knots – the effect of favourable wind and current! That night we had the definition of mixed feelings as England took on the All Blacks in the Rugby Union World Cup. England won, to Paul’s delight!
Less good, was that we experienced significant roll in Shoal Bay all through the night as the sea built outside Port Stephens. We were actually pleased to be up at 0400 ready to sail at first light!
Views of Port Stephens, including the roadside lily pond.
Ku Ran Gai Chase National Park – October 2019
26 October 2019 | North of Sydney, Australia
We cast off from our berth at the Royal Albert Yacht Club Marina at about 1240 on Thursday 11 October. There was a gusty Westerly of 10 to 25 knots blowing, so we had a good sail the length of Pitt Water, albeit with several sail trims! As we approached the entrance the large bluff to the west all but blanked out the wind and, given that we would be turning into the Cowan Creek that headed west, we furled our sails and started the engine.
Around the bluff and we headed up Broken Bay to Cowan Creek which led some 7 miles or so into the National Park. However, first we had to push into the bay and past the entrance to the River Hawkesbury. And then the wind really blew! We had over 30 knots on the nose, with the outflow of the Hawkesbury to contend with as well. There was nothing else for it but full power! And so we battered our way into wind and current. The scenery was continuing to be nice, but we were concentrated on the spray erupting from the bow and holding course.
A mile or so in and we could smell a strange aroma from the engine. It was that sweet smell of antifreeze. And sure enough the water temperature gauge was rising rapidly. It was a case of engine shut down, and quickly. Helen then stayed up top, helming to hold our bow as best into wind as we could to reduce our drift rate. Fortunately there was plenty of sea room; still a fast fix was needed. Paul headed below into the engine compartment, which was unpleasantly hot and humid, with fluid pooled under the engine. It took far longer than normal to check all the engine freshwater pipes as Tai Mo Shan was very mobile in the strong wind and the engine was still hot. Still, after a few minutes he noticed that one of the hoses at the front of the engine had the marks of a hose clip, but no hose clip; the source of the leak. It wasn’t long before he had a spare hose clip out of the locker and was fitting it to the hose. All done, the freshwater topped up, and it was a case of starting the engine to check for leaks. No leaks, and so back to full power into the wind and current. We had drifted back about ½ mile in the 15 minutes it took to fix the leak.
We pressed on past the entrance to the Hawkesbury River. This is a large, wide river that extends many miles inland. Unfortunately there is a railway bridge with a clearance of only 11 metres miles or so in which limited us to that stretch. As we passed we could clearly see the semi-circular arches of the bridge, and many boats moored to the side of the river. We would view the river from this distance and not push up it. Instead we had 7 miles or so of Cowan Creek to explore!
It was still blowing a gale; literally! As we approached the Cowan entrance we passed an inviting bay. Our guide informed us that the park authority had laid some 50 mooring buoys in the park. These were yellow in colour, rated to some 20 tonnes and 14m boat length and free to use for 24 hours. As we pressed on the inviting bay proved to be two bays; America Bay and Refuge Bay. These bays had lots of yellow buoys, almost all were unoccupied. A simple decision, we headed into Refuge Bay. Well named, Refuge Bay was sheltered from the wind howling down Cowan Creek, with only the occasional strong gust diving down from the surrounding steep hillsides. We spotted a well-placed mooring buoy and headed straight to it, rounded up and secured ourselves to it, using engine reverse to ensure the mooring would hold. Great, we were secure in a good anchorage. The only problem was that the buoy had boat names on it. We were not in the park yet, and so these were private buoys. Ah well, we decided to stay. If the owner came along and asked us to move, we would, to another mooring buoy! Of course, given the season (winter), the time (1520) and weather, we were pretty sure the owner would not even know we had used the buoy.
Friday 19 October was a different day. It was bright, sunny, and not a breath of wind! What a difference a day makes! We cast off from our (borrowed) mooring at a sensible 0950 and motored out of Refuge Bay and into Cowan Creek.
Cowan Creek pushes right into the Ku Ran Gai Chase National Park. The main arm is navigable for some 7 nm. Along the way there are three arms that extend at least 1.5nm from the main creek, and several small bays and inlets. The information boards at the marina at Bobbin Head at the end of the creek were useful. They noted that some 20,000 years ago sea levels were some 120 metres below their current level. (For those concerned about recent global warming and sea level rise – the maths show an average rise over 20,000 years of 6mm a year). Cowan Creek had been just that, a river flowing through the land, eroding the rocks as it flowed and forming a canyon. Over time the seas had risen flooding the creek and forming the waterway. Apparently one of translation of the aboriginal word ‘Cowan’ is big water; fitting. The result is that Cowan Creek is a stunning waterway. The creek is some 0.1 to 0.25 nautical miles wide, with steep crags rising up steeply, indeed almost vertically in many places, to a height of 50 or so metres along most of its length. There are a few small settlements; we counted three. These had large houses perched precariously on the hillside, with Bobbin Head also having a small marina, park and visitor centre. The rest of the park is native Australian bush. The north side of the creek has a walking track, which the information boards mapped out, complete with warnings of a steep climb in places. The south side was just bush, no tracks.
We motored gently down the creek. The entrance and the area outside the Hawkesbury was some 8 metres deep. However, the creek itself was between 10 and 25 metres deep. It seemed that in most places the sides simply continued down past sea level. It was winter and so there was very little traffic on the creek. The settlements had several private moorings nearby and these were mostly occupied by a range of boats.
We found the creek to be one of those places where the scale of the landscape just seems to make everything else small. The occasional yacht we passed at anchor seemed tiny against the magnificent backdrop. This was Australian natural bush at its best and we found ourselves reducing engine revs to the minimum allowing us to make progress with barely a sound or ripple to disturb the peace.
In due course we came to what was charted as the last bay before the ‘civilisation’ of Bobbin Head, some ¼ mile or so around the corner. There were two yellow park buoys in Houseboat Bay, one of which was already occupied by another yacht. We were soon hooked up and secure on the other one. The 7nm trip had taken 1 ½ hours.
We stayed on board the rest of Friday just enjoying the scenery. The bay was small and so, at only a couple of boat lengths away, the cliffs seemed close. Still the mooring was secure and we were safe. At night the stars came out and the lack of light pollution made for a great display. The bush had that spicy aroma that wrapped around us. The only strange part was the sound. Yes there was the sound of many birds in the bush, and the occasional splash of fish breaking the surface. But below it all was a distant rumble. We checked our charts and maps. We were in the national park, but the main Pacific Highway up the east coast of Australia was only some 5 km away.
Saturday saw us put the dinghy into the water and take a tour. First was to the head of our small inlet. A few hundred metres in and the water suddenly got shallower; just enough for the dinghy. We continued on up and after another hundred metres or so came to the rocky end. There was evidence of a reasonable sized waterfall dropping some 3 or 4 metres. However that was dry. Instead the stream had worked its way through the rocks and exited under a large slab. This produced a small waterfall dropping a couple of metres in to a grotto formed by the large slab overhead. Very nice.
We headed out of Houseboat Bay down to the end of the navigable part of Cowan Creek at Bobbin Head. Here the creek widened a little and split. One arm was shallow and crossed by a small road and pedestrian bridge. Prominent in the middle was a sign declaring that no motorised vessels could proceed past that point. The other arm carried on past the marina. The chart indicated that this arm got very shallow just past the marina. The headland where the channel branched sported a jetty with the ferry moored on it. The inner side had a dinghy attached and we headed there and our dinghy soon joined it.
Ashore we strolled to the marina. Along the way we talked to man with 3 fishing rods set up. Apparently there were sizeable fish here including Kingfish. Most fish were smaller, Bream sized. The man firmly stated that the fish were here (despite us not catching any!), and then stated he had not caught any yet. And so we strolled on the marina. In addition to the half dozen piers with perhaps 20 boats on each, this had several small businesses along its front including a café selling commercial ice cream. They were not the delicious scoops of homemade ice cream we love, but the ‘Trumpets’ were still very nice on a hot day.
Our stroll ashore continued as we walked over the small bridge to the visitor centre. We talked to the shop assistant, explaining how we travel. Suddenly her manager came out. The manager had also sailed and cruised a bit offshore. Needless to say the next half hour or so passed quickly! And so back to Tai Mo Shan and a quiet beer and barbeque in the peace of dusk.
Sunday saw more gentle winds in the park. We dropped off the mooring and motored gently back up the creek. Being the weekend there was a bit more traffic, but it was still a very pleasant experience motoring gently through the impressive beauty. As we reached the end of the park at the Hawkesbury the creek opened out into Broken Bay, and the wind increased to a moderate easterly. We would have to tack up the bay but this was a nice wind, so we decided to use it and sail. Well Paul did, Helen shook her head and went below! Of course the fact that there was another yacht also sailing out didn’t feature in the decision. Game on! An hour or so later we turned into Pitt Water again. Paul had a big grin, a nice sail upwind with several tacks, and we had beaten the other boat by at least a quarter mile!
And so we sailed back into Careel Bay and anchored up. The next day we would head north up the coast to Port Stephens.
Photos. The park. Clockwise from top left. Tai Mo Shan on the mooring. The waterfall grotto. Next two, the scale of the scenery – spot the yachts! Next two, just beautiful bush and water.
Trouble at Pitt Water – October 2019
22 October 2019 | Sydney, Australia
Saturday 12th October was a cloudy day with a moderate south easterly wind blowing. The wind would be good for our passage to Pitt Water some 26 nm north up the coast.
We weighed anchor at a reasonable 1005 and headed out of Rose Bay. We quickly had the Main and Yankee sails up and were soon sailing at a reasonable rate. The water in the harbour was mostly flat. However as we neared the entrance the ocean swell and onshore (south easterly) wind pushed against the ebb tide. The result was a confused sea with quite significant waves forming.
We pushed through the seas sailing close to the wind. It looked like we would clear the steep bluff of Quarantine Point forming the northern part of the harbour entrance. However, the swell and waves were crashing against the rocks at the cliff base throwing up spray several metres high. We decided to give the point a wide berth and so started the engine to give us an additional 10 degrees to windward. That worked well, and we easily cleared the point well clear of the surf and the white water ‘washing machine’ backwash.
Once away from the point we eased off the wind to a more comfortable sailing angle. As we did our heel increased and the engine low oil pressure alarm and light came on. We rapidly turned shut down the engine. A bit of thought and we decided that the low oil pressure was due to the boat heel and perhaps a low oil level. We would check when we anchored in Pitt Water.
The sail up the coast was pleasant. With a beam wind we were making a good 5 to 7 knots in only 10 to 15 knots of breeze. We held about a mile off shore which allowed us a good view of the coast line. The high rise buildings of Sydney’s North Shore were easily visible. These soon changed to more modest (but still very pleasant) houses. The amount of green space was noticeable, as were the yellow sand beaches interspersed with rocky headlands.
As we neared Barrenjoey Head at the entrance to Broken Bay (and so the entrance to Pitt Water) we saw a fleet of racing yachts heading to Sydney. They were holding a tight line to the coast to minimise the amount they had to push into wind. As a result they only just missed the rocky headlands. That was far too close to a lee shore for us; however to win a race … Just as well they had no mishaps and passed safely by.
We turned off the wind and rounded Barrenjoey Point to make the near 180 degree turn into Broken Bay and then Pitt Water.
Pitt Water is a long narrow natural harbour, some 5 nm long and about 0.75 nm wide. It heads south, parallel to the coast, which is only about one mile away. The coast line is developed and forms part of Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Further inland is the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, an extensive area of bush that includes the Cowan Creek. The coastal area is very pleasant, and exclusive. A quick bit of research showed that the median house price in the area is some $1.6M. As we sailed in we could see the golf course near the headland, and then the many large dwellings perched on the steep, green rocky bluffs forming the shoreline background. The coast line in the harbour alternated between rocky headlands and yellow sand beaches with occasional deep inlets with mangroves at the head.
Interestingly whilst Pitt Water is generally quite deep, mostly 15 to 20m, the first ¾ nm is over a shallow area, charted at 3 to 4m. We could easily pass over this depth, but still kept a good eye on the depth sounder. Of more concern, our engine low oil pressure alarm sounded again as we started the motor to head to the anchorage in Careel Bay, a mile or so inside the harbour. The alarm muted as we increased our rpm to over 1000. However, we were concerned and aimed to minimise the use of our engine. We therefore quickly found a clear patch in the extensive moorings and dropped anchor, relying on the wind to push us back and dig the anchor in rather than using the engine in reverse. We were secure at 1435, having sailed the 26nm in 4 ½ hours.
At anchor we checked the oil level in the engine. It was about normal. Just in case we topped it up and started the engine; the low oil alarm sounded! Fortunately the anchorage had good mobile phone coverage and so we had access to the Internet. Pitt Water is well served with marine engineers and one, Lacey Engineering was the main Yanmah dealer for the region. Great, they would know the engine and have good access to spares. Less good, it was Saturday and, as seems to be the way around the world, marine tradesmen do definitely not work weekends (the cynic in us says that is because they make so much money during the week!). Still, we called the listed number, and left a message. We would have to wait until Monday, and not use the engine in the meanwhile. Fortunately, our batteries were fairly well charged from the limited motoring, and it was now sunny with a moderate breeze so our ‘green’ solar panels and windmill would keep them topped up.
And just to add to the fun, our inverter (which changes 12V ‘battery’ electrical power to 240V mains power) decided not to work!
Sunday we decided to head ashore and explore. The township of Avalon was some 2 to 3 km away, and had several shops including a Woolworths supermarket. We therefore hopped into the dinghy, navigated through the mooring field and landed on the public wharf next to the Careel Bay Marina. This marina was a small affair with very few berths, but did have a boat yard with haul out facilities and a boat builder, as well as a café. The narrow road was sealed, just. The road ended at the headland to the right, so we turned left and started walking. The road soon widened to a normal suburban road with pavements and verges, and nice houses, with nice gardens, cars and often boats; did we say the area was affluent?
Along the road we saw an older couple. We stopped to ask directions and chatted a while. Their directions included moving a few roads over and up the hill. Good old Google Maps on the phone said follow the road! We elected to trust Mr Google. And so we followed the road to the road junction with the main road, turned south and reached Avalon.
Avalon was, like its suburb, pleasant. We strolled past the green spaces and parks into the shopping area with wide mostly shaded and covered pavements, pedestrian crossings, plants in planters, café seating, traffic calming and mostly smaller businesses. The shops were varied but seemed to focus on high end clothing and cafes, as well as wholesome food and pharmacies. It also had an ice cream cafe that sold very nice ice creams, which we just had to try! The Woolworths supermarket was at the northern end. However, before shopping we decided to cross the main road (which went east of the shopping area) and head across more parkland to the beach. Sailing up, from the sea, we could only see yellow sand beach with a large building set back in the centre. Now, from the shore, we could see that the large building was the surf club, with café, lifesavers etc. The swell was rolling in and the surf was up. Several surfers were showing their considerable skills, riding the more than 2m high (i.e. over person high!) waves with aplomb. The headland to the south had a tidal swimming pool. This large pool was constantly refreshed by the waves breaking over the rocky foreshore, providing a great, safe swimming area. Helen had seen a documentary on these pools; apparently there a many around Australia, and we were impressed at how well they worked (and were being used!).
The Woolworths was as we expect of the chain, well stocked at a reasonable price. Aware that we would have to carry our purchases back to Careel Bay, we topped up with a few provisions and returned to Tai Mo Shan.
Monday 8am saw Paul on the phone to Lacey Engineering. Peter, the manager, had just heard our message and was about to call us! Yes, they knew Yanmah engines and could help us. However, they were based at the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club (RPAYC) Marina, and we would have to come into the marina. Peter would try to arrange a berth and would call us back when they had done so. Peter did call back that afternoon. They had a berth arranged and we could come alongside 1000 the next day.
The day aboard Tai Mo Shan was not wasted. Some investigation showed that our inverter had not failed, instead the positive heavy duty electrical cable supplying it with battery power had started to fail. This cable took a large heavy current. The inverter is rated at a constant 1500 Watts so at 12 Volts, this is 125 Amps! And it can take a peak load of double that! As the cable had failed so its resistance had increased causing a heat build-up, which had warmed the inverter poles, and so it had automatically shut down. Fortunately there was an electrician at the marina. The new cable would cost less than the $400 to $1000 to replace the inverter.
Tuesday morning saw us sailing gently the 5 nm down Pitt Water to the RPAYC Marina. We dropped sails outside and motored in; an interesting exercise of keeping the revs high to avoid the low oil pressure alarm sounding, whilst also trying to moderate our speed. Fortunately we had phoned the marina, and a couple of staff were at the berth ready to take lines. We docked safely and saw the pleasant Liza on reception and then Peter at Lacey Engineering. His mechanic was busy but would be back that afternoon. Ah well, we had the marina facility card and so long hot showers followed.
The afternoon saw the Lacey Engineering mechanic, Donnie, come aboard. He checked out the engine, which seemed fine, but noted that the oil pressure sender units seemed rusty. He believed that Peter had already ordered some spares, so the fix would be to replace them and see what happened. The afternoon ended with Donnie going to check on the spares. Paul then went to look for the marine electrician, who was out. Paul left a phone message.
Wednesday morning, and the Lacey mechanics were busy until the afternoon. Paul tracked down the electrician, Marty Anderson. Paul already had a spare cable, and the correct end fitting was soon swaged on; cost $10, cash. The inverter was working fine half an hour later!
Wednesday afternoon and Frank the mechanic arrived. He was an old hand and had an interesting life history, originally from Italy, he had worked helicopters (very poorly paid), the mines (very well paid!), and boats. Along the way he had acquired houses, boats (in Tasmania and the Mediterranean) and his Tasmanian farm (and mountain!). Unfortunately his wife had died and he was only working with Lacey as a bit of a favour to the old boss (who had died!), and the boss’ widow (to keep the business going). Frank also knew his Yanmah engines! The pressure senders were soon replaced. He also diagnosed corrosion in the wires as an issue and cut back one wire to remove the problem. The engine ran, the pressure reading was fine, and the alarm only sounded as it should (i.e. at key turn).
As it was getting later in the afternoon we decided to stay another night in the marina. Like a hotel, there is a last booking out time, usually late morning, and we passed that. So, Thursday morning, ashore for showers (best to get full use of the facilities!). Paul headed to Lacey to settle the account. The bill came to some $550, including spares. Helen to reception to let them know we were leaving. Helen mentioned that we needed some supplies, and Liza had said for us to stay a bit longer, walk to the nearby shopping centre (which had a Coles supermarket) some 1.5 km away and Uber back with the shopping. We did so. The walk was pleasant; over the ridge; more nice houses etc. – did we say this was an affluent area? The shopping centre was quite commercial with more larger shops than Avalon. The Coles supermarket was, as usual, large, well-stocked, with some good special offers. The bottle shop was over the road (the supermarkets did not sell alcohol), stocked lots of expensive wine and, fortunately, a few bottles of reasonable, sensibly priced wine. The Uber cost just over $10. Sorted! And so back to reception to drop off the facilities card and pay the marina bill. Good news; Lacey had an agreement with the marina, so there was no bill for us to pay; definitely sorted!
And so at 1240 Tai Mo Shan was off berth C29 at the RPAYC Marina, engine running smoothly with no alarms, ready for the run up Cowan Creek.
Pictures – clockwise from top left. Big breaks on the big Quarantine Head, big surf at Avalon Beach, Pitt Water – big houses and boats, and Pitt Water lots of moored boats.
Sydney Harbour – Oct 2019
14 October 2019 | Sydney, Australia
We remained at anchor in Athol Bay from the 3rd to the 9th October. During that time the wind swung from being a gentle breeze in the northerly quadrant to a much stronger blow from between south west and south east. Indeed, there was a strong wind warning for a couple of days. Athol Bay is very sheltered from northerly winds but fairly exposed to the south. We therefore remained on board during the southerly blow. As it was the harbour provided significant protection and, with only a mile or so of fetch across the harbour, we did not experience any significant waves. Whilst the wind blew at up to 30 knots we were therefore quite comfortable. However, Sydney Harbour is very busy with frequent ferries and water taxis, many recreational boats, and the occasional cruise liner and even freighters and tankers passing by. These did create a noticeable wake, which became a feature of our stay in the harbour. Whilst not dangerous, the wake could be annoying.
Athol Bay is very pleasant and clearly is a popular stop off for Sydney’s resident fleet of recreational boats, and the numerous hire boats. On fine days the 2 hour limit moorings were used almost constantly with boats changing over frequently. Indeed, bank holiday weekend featured fine weather and we had very many boats come and anchor for the day near us. The affluence of Sydney was clear in the size of these boats. We saw many launches in the 60 foot class, and loads of smaller ones at ‘only’ 40 foot or so. Whilst we experienced many examples of great seamanship, we also saw several case of appalling boat handling. On more than one occasion we did not know how boats missed our anchor chain as they passed close to our bow! Some also seemed to think that having big engines entitled them to blast through a mooring and anchoring area, despite the shouts and waves of protest from the other boaties.
We also noticed the large number of party boats that came to visit for a few hours. These tended to have loud music and ‘happy’ people on board. However, they also clearly had sober professional crew and so were not a problem for us at all.
Athol Bay is right next to Taronga Zoo. There is a ferry stop on the rocky western headland which provides a frequent ferry service to the centre of Sydney. Unfortunately we could not land on the ferry wharf. Instead we could land at a beach close by, walk up some steps across a reserve and then down the roadside footpath to the ferry, a total distance of perhaps 600m. We used the ferry on several occasions. The fare to Circular Quay downtown Sydney was $1 per person each way, so very affordable. Even better, as we tended to be going in the opposite direction to those going to the zoo we missed the crowds swarming the ferry. The whole public transport system had just introduced contactless fare paying, so we did not need to buy an ‘Opal’ card and were able to use our bank debit card instead; a really good improvement to travelling convenience.
We found Sydney to be modern and pleasant. One day we walked the 1km or so to the Westfield shopping centre in the CBD. This is a huge centre with some 4 levels of shops and a large basement food court. We had just celebrated Helen’s birthday and with Myer having a sale on Helen took the opportunity to ‘save’ us lots of money as she got her birthday present of clothing. Still, the day was not a total loss as the centre also hosts the Sydney Tower, a 250m tall structure which still towers (just) over the city. Of course, we went up the tower and saw the magnificent views. Even better we were able to take advantage of the free half hour guided ‘tour’. As well as buying post cards, we could post them from Sydney’s highest post box!
The CBD also had a few supermarkets. We found the Woolworths to be pretty well stocked at reasonable prices, even if the multi-floor layout felt a little odd.
We decided to be tourists for a day in Sydney and take in the sights. These included the outside of the opera house, probably most impressive for the open spaces, the catholic cathedral with its stained glass windows, and the hauntingly emotional ANZAC memorial. We also took the mini train tour around the Botanical Gardens which was surprisingly good fun and value. Like much of Australia, Sydney has retained at least the front of several older historic buildings, which retains a certain ambiance, and contrasts starkly with the ultra-modern tower blocks being erected.
Another day we decided head up river to Parramatta. Why Paramatta? Well, it’s there and means a nice river trip. Whilst we could go perhaps 2/3 of the way in Tai Mo Shan, anchoring further up the harbour and into the Paramatta river gets tricky as the water is more confined, full of moorings and shallow. We therefore went to Circular Quay and caught the River Cat. The quay at Paramatta was closed for maintenance and so we had to get off at the penultimate stop, Rydalmere, and catch the complimentary connecting bus to Paramatta Wharf. The ferry trip lasted an hour and a quarter, with the bus taking perhaps 15 minutes more. And the cost, was some $12 or so for the return trip; not bad at all.
The river trip was very interesting as we covered the middle and upper harbour, cruising at some speed past all the sights. Of note, all the bays and inlets were full of moorings. A great many of the houses we passed also had their own jetties, complete with boats attached. Boating is obviously popular! As we entered the upper reaches of the Parramatta river we passed a channel marker stating that only Rivercats and authorised vessels were allowed past that point. Initially we were surprised, but then realised that a hundred metres later the channel was only just wider than the Rivercat!
We had chosen to take the river trip on the Bank Holiday Monday and so most, if not all, of the centre of Parramatta was closed. Still we found a reasonably priced Asian restaurant and settled in for a leisurely lunch at a table overlooking the river. Barbeque meats, kofta, dips and Lebanese bread; a great birthday treat for Helen!
By Wednesday 9th October we were over the frequent wake and so decided to relocate. Another southerly blow was forecast and Rose Bay offered much more shelter from the south, as well as being further from the main harbour traffic. En-route we stopped at Rushcutters Bay Marina and topped up our diesel tanks. As with seemingly everywhere else, the bay was full of moorings and the marina berths full. Still, there was good access to the fueling pier. Payment was by automatic machine and bank card, making the whole process quick and easy. In Rose Bay was dropped anchor in a nice gap on the edge of the moorings.
Rose Bay is a pleasant suburb of Sydney on the southern peninsula forming the harbour entrance, opposite Bondi (of the beach fame). Going ashore was easy as there is a public wharf that we could tie the dinghy up to. This was close to the ferry terminal and a pleasant waterfront park. Of interest, there was also a float plane terminal. The float planes took off and landed in the bay with some regularity. It was interesting seeing the plane take off and then immediately bank away from the land to turn and gain height over the water. We noted with some interest the history of the terminal; it had been a seaplane terminal in the 1930s. We walked around the small town area, with its collection of shops. These tended to be higher end clothing and cafes. However there was a useful local supermarket allowing us to replenish some stores. There was also a good fish restaurant which provided a nice lunch, including a rare treat of fresh oysters for Paul.
A couple of days we sufficient to see and get the tenor of Rose Bay. (Yes, a very pleasant affluent suburb) and so on Saturday 12th October we raised anchor and headed north to Pittwater.
Picture: Clockwise from top left. Sydney Cathedral, Sydney Tower, ANZAC Memorial, The Opera House, The Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge.