This cruise nearly did not happen. After so much preparation too.
As we motored through the Heads, the bilge pump alarm came on. On opening the engine hatch, John found that the hose to the seawater cooling system had blown off and water was gushing in! As he held the hose on as best he could, like the little boy with his finger in the dyke, I motored to a quiet spot and turned off the engine and we drifted. Amazingly, in 20 minutes all was secured, the hose clip tight and the bilge pump doing its stuff. We breathed a sigh of relief and began all over again. (It seems that this hose only has one clip unlike every other hose fitting in the engine!)
So now, 10 days into our cruise north, we are anchored in Iluka harbour and heading today for Ballina.
The winds have been consistently S or SW and the swell has been anything from 1-3 metres, but being on the stern quarter, this has been no trouble at all. We have surfed down some of the waves reaching 10+ knots.
Our cruising speed has averaged at 7.5 knots which makes the different hops from one safe place to another very manageable.
We have anchored or picked up moorings when available. Anchorages used were Brisk Bay, off Patonga in Pittwater, Pirates Point, just inside Newcastle Harbour – A lovely little beach on the north side with only the occasional roll from tug boats coming back into harbour. A good quick exit was the greatest advantage and the opportunity to walk the breakwater and talk to a few fishermen. We lunched in Fingal Bay, a delightful anchorage near Port Stephens and then onto the Broughton Islands, where we picked up the one courtesy mooring off Providence Beach. Up until this we had had 10 to 15 knot forecasts, but these were now about to change and become stronger so we headed off first thing for Forster/Tuncurry.
Using the new webcam system showing bar conditions is a great help in decision making. We entered the bar with no difficulty and found a good anchorage by the fish co-op as stated in Alan Lucas. Easy to go ashore and stretch the legs, although the wind was pretty wild on the breakwater.
Good to be off the next morning with an increasing swell building behind us – quite dramatic looking back. The only options we had for today were Crowdy Head ( not that appealing having been there before and tied up alongside their rickety jetty) or carry on to Port Macquarie.
We chose the latter. Again the bar camera was a great help and we entered without issue. There are 3 courtesy moorings not far off the wharf, but the skipper thought we would go for a look around first.
The tide was falling. We motored past the Marine Rescue centre and having decided that there were no more options, turned and ran firmly aground. The next high tide was 2am. A good lesson not to ditch crawl on a falling tide. Marine Rescue tried valiantly to pull us off, to no avail. So they laid a kedge anchor for us and left us to a long evening. At 12.30 she floated enough to move onto a nearby mooring. The mooring owner turned out to be the marina owner and his boat was in Pittwater. So he kindly lent us his mooring and we settled down for two nights. Port Macquarie is going ahead with lots of development and harbour landscaping. Excellent coffee everywhere and the best bakery I’ve found in a long time. The baker is there kneading as we eat his scrumptious Danish pastries.
A curious craze has emerged along the harbour wall – rock decorating! Some are celebratory, some commiserations for lost lives, some remembering family holidays in PMc over the years, some just plain quirky. We leave Port Macquarie at dawn and cross the bar with a bank of dark woolly clouds on the horizon giving the impression of land and obstructing the sun as she rises. The trip to Coffs Harbour was to be the longest we did in a day – just over 70NM. We decided to enter the marina and buy fuel and then pick up a courtesy mooring by the jetty. The fuelling berth was well fendered and was adequate with one pump operational 24/7. No one to explain the card system, but we worked it out. We were last in the marina 8 years ago and sadly it does not see to have improved much since then. Hard to understand why it is not a commercial proposition to have a smart marina in Coffs Harbour.
We are making good progress and tomorrow’s weather continues favourable and so we set off, turning north at the harbour entrance and heading for the Clarence River. Iluka has a delightful harbour, entered through a hole in the harbour wall, guarded over by a community of pelicans and seagulls, with frolicking dolphins making entry a little hazardous. Once in, there is ample anchoring and as the sun goes down total silence is all you can hear.
Our final bar crossing was to be Ballina – not the easiest of bars apparently and the bar camera was little help. We made enquiries of the Marine Rescue and they were reassuring that the bar was like a mill pond that morning. Alan Lucas gives very precise information about the ideal time you enter this bar and it worked for us, although a bit lumpy. A very cheerful MR volunteer waved as we passed their station and was pleased we accepted his suggestion of anchoring at Mobbs Bay, again accessed through an almost hidden training wall. Fortunately there were lit buoys showing the wall and a long line of resting sea birds decorating the almost submerged top edge.
This anchorage was magic – still and quiet with few other boats. High on a pole, specially constructed, were two nesting sea eagles and we watched them through binoculars as the light faded and the sky became burnt orange.
The next morning we left at daybreak, and with 66 NM ahead of us to reach Southport, we were a bit daunted by the confused sea once through the bar. Very soon it became an easterly swell and then as the wind settled down, south westerly. We were accompanied for a while by three whales – just cruising and not showing any inclination for gymnastics. Lovely to see these giants of the sea, particularly as I learnt that by the late 60’s only 100 had survived a mass post war slaughter, particularly by the Soviet Union, who allegedly took, illegally, 25,000! As the day progressed the sea calmed and the wind dropped and we watched as a Catamaran struggled to find enough to sail. He moved out to tack down wind, we moved in to smoother waters – difference of sail over motor.
Past the beautiful Cape Byron and watched over by Mt Warning right up to the Gold Coast, we entered Gold Coast Seaway nine and half hours later. The setting sun made it impossible to see any leads (this had been the situation on most of the bars,) but we found our way easily turning north to an anchorage on the edge of South Stradbroke island, opposite Anglers Paradise. A small tawny coloured wallaby watched us anchor and then continued on with his evening foraging. Another lovely spot unless one of those large cruisers goes by creating the biggest wash possible!
A couple of days in Southport Marina sets us up for the next leg. We headed off early for Broadwater and the challenge of navigating the shallow areas, concentrating on red / green buoys and other navigational aids. I had the Beacon to Beacon book in front of me – great tool for getting through this area without mishap. After four hours of concentration by both of us, we virtually were out of the most difficult part and we anchored for coffee and rest before setting off again for Peel Island and a safe anchorage off the northern side of the island. Following us through this morning were dark clouds and as we set the anchor and retired for a G&T the rain started. That night as the tide rose, we were rolled around and the wind blew, but as the tide changed everything changed and we slept soundly, waking to a grey and gloomy morning.