The Clarence river

We are now in Ballina, but first a report on the time we enjoyed on the Clarence River. If you look at the Clarence river on Google Maps, you will see that it is quite a river navigable all the way up to Grafton. We entered the river at Iluka and Yamba and after spending the first night anchored in the river, we motored upstream to Harwood where the bridge operator stopped the traffic on the Pacific Highway to open the bridge for us. Quite a bit of old world engineering!

The Harwood bridge over the Clarence river

The Harwood bridge over the Clarence river

Motoring through the opened section

Motoring through the opened section

We passed fairly big ships on the river on our way up to MacLean, a lovely town with Scottish heritage up the river.

Vessels on the river

Vessels on the river

We tied up to the public jetty in MacLean, where we were welcomed by Peter (with a strong Scottish brogue) and invited to sign the visitors book and given brochures about the town. We stocked up with groceries and bought fresh fish caught that day in the river. A relaxing evening with Van Morrison, fresh grilled fish and wine followed.

Esprit tied to the jetty at MacLean

Esprit tied to the jetty at MacLean

The following day was spent exploring this delightful town where all the lamp posts are decorated with Scottish clan tartans. A 5km walk up the hill above the town gave us good views of the area and the Clarence flowing back to the sea.

The MacLachlan tartan colours

The MacLachlan tartan colours

View out to sea, some miles away

View out to sea, some miles away

We then motored down river where an obliging Craig Knox opened the bridge for us again to allow us passage out to Iluka where we anchored in the river for the night. We were delighted to see “Now and Zen” on our AIS approaching the bar at the river mouth. Marty and Sue anchored near us and came over for drinks so that we could catch up with their travels since we last saw them in Port Macquarie.

 

Warmer climate? No!

We decided to stay in Coffs Harbour for two nights as I had to fit a replacement water level sensor to our number 1 water tank. The instrument showed half a tank (150l), but the tank was empty. Before departure in Sydney the agents replaced the number 2 tank sensor as it permanently indicated half a tank (100l). This has me a bit concerned about the accuracy of the 200l diesel tank sensor which shows 75% full.

Having learned our lesson on the passage to Coffs by arriving well after dark, we decided to make an early start to Yamba about 60 nm to the North. We left Coffs at 5:30, setting sails at 6:00 and immediately had a good N-W wind, allowing us to enjoy a beautiful, but cold sunrise, sailing past South Solitary Island. Considering this is Big Banana country we were surprised at how cold the wind was on this leg.

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Good day sunshine

Good day sunshine

We continued North making good progress in a freshening N-W, sometimes a bit wet, as we ploughed through a 1.5m swell from the North.

This is supposed to be warmer!

This is supposed to be warmer!

Wet sea conditions

Wet sea conditions

Check the video below:

IMG_1657

We entered Yamba harbour at 16:00 after a 10 hour passage averaging 6 knots. We anchored in the Clarence river off the town of Iluka and had a few stiff whiskey’s! Also note, you can check our progress on skipr.net by selecting the name Esprit in the drop down menu. This will show you our route and where we are at the moment. Today we plan to motor up the Clarence river to visit the town of MacLean.

Long haul to Coffs Harbour

The distance from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour is about 68 nautical miles, so in a fair wind we can easily manage 6.8 knots which equates to a sailing time of about 10 hours.

We therefore departed Port Macquarie at 7 am on flat seas with a predicted 15 – 20 knot wind – so all good. However, when we passed Crescent Head the flat sea suddenly built up to swells of 2.5 to 3 metres as a result of the 2 – 3 knot South flowing current fighting with the S-E winds.

Working hard in the following sea.

Working hard in the following sea.

As a result, we had to motor sail at about 2,000 rpm to counter the current and make headway. On passing Smoky Cape, the halfway mark, we realised we were running about an hour behind plan. The sea however reduced in height as we moved out of the current, but soon the wind turned N-E – on the nose, slowing us down. Back to the engine!

We arrived in darkness at 7:30pm at the Coffs Harbour Marina to tie up outside their office. We slept well after that. The next morning we climbed Muttonbird Hill which afforded excellent views of the town and surrounds.

View from Muttonbird Hill

View from Muttonbird Hill

Esprit at Coffs Harbour International Marina

Esprit at Coffs Harbour International Marina

We decided to stay another night at the Coffs Harbour “International” Marina (no less) because of the friendly staff and yachties. The day was spent filling the water tanks and chilling generally.

Adventure before dementia

A friend mentioned the above when we set out. Well, leaving Port Stephens last Thursday and hitting 11 knots flying past Broughton Island in a fresh South westerly, brought this saying to mind. We hope to have more exciting sails like this 45nm leg to Tuncurry and Forster.

Leaving Broughton island behind

Leaving Broughton island behind

We put down an anchor opposite the Fish Co-op and spotted “Now and Zen” who we have seen on the AIS over the last two days of sailing. We invited them over and met Marty and Sue from Western Australia who had sailed their boat from Adelaide in South Australia to this spot.

Esprit from Now and Zen

Esprit from Now and Zen

The next morning we set sail for Camden Haven and carried the spinnaker for half the 40 nautical miles and motored the rest as the wind died down. We made our way up the river and put down the anchor at the village of Laurieton. The next day was spent exploring this area on foot and attempting to climb Big Brother mountain behind the village – we gave up halfway up because it was much higher than what we expected.

At the RSL jetty in Laurieton

At the RSL jetty in Laurieton

We consoled ourselves over a couple of beers before sprucing up for a Saturday night at the local RSL club. We shouldn’t have bothered – the friendly locals go out dressed very casually. We had an early night.

Hiking up to Big Brother

Hiking up to Big Brother

 

The following day we did the relatively short sail to Port Macquarie beating into a freshening North easter. By the time we reached the harbour entry, the sea was probably 2-3 metres and we had a hair raising ride in over the bar, trying not to broach the boat in the breaking waves.

We found a quiet little bay next to the Fish co-op and at 4pm, had what Sue describes as a “calming red”. Graeme and Jenny Smith who happened to be in Port Macquarie for the week joined us and Marty and Sue on board for some extended sundowners.

Monday was spent exploring Port Macquarie, which is a delightful town, before joining the Smith’s for dinner.

Jenny, Annie, Graeme & Dirk

Jenny, Annie, Graeme & Dirk

 

Port Stephens

We are currently in Nelson Bay, Port Stephens having motored here on Monday from Lake Macquarie. The predicted Westerly didn’t materialise so we had to resort to the 54 hp. Yanmar to take us the 41 nm over 6 hours. We were in the company of another 44 footer, “Now and Zen”

Approaching Port Stephens

Approaching Port Stephens

We picked up a mooring in Shoal Bay and went ashore early Tuesday for a brisk walk along a beautiful beach, before Annie did her exercise regime and we went for a swim. A surprising number of retirees were swimming and walking along the beach. This was followed by a hearty breakfast.

Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay

Morning walk

Morning walk

We relocated to a mooring in Nelson Bay for Tuesday night. Annie, who is convinced she can feed us from the sea, then splurged money on fishing gear at Brent’s Tackle World. She got the inside info on how to trawl. The new tackle was put to use immediately and although the 500 mm long yellow tail we could see from the boat, didn’t take her bait, she managed to catch a small something which was returned to the water.

Fishing gear

Fishing gear

Success!

Success!

We are cruising around Port Stephens today and will set off to Tuncurry tomorrow, in what “PredictWind” says will be a good South Westerly.

Day 1: Departure!

Sunday 15th May 2016: After four days of packing up the house, loading the boat and a number of farewell dinners, we started the day with a hearty breakfast and had coffees with some friends who came to see us off.

We cast off the RMYC breakwall at 8:45am. There was a fresh Westerly blowing and after hoisting the sails, Esprit took off like a racehorse. There were a number of friends on their boats sailing out with us to the Barrenjoey lighthouse to wave us goodbye.

The beauty of a Westerly is that it blows off the land on the Eastern seaboard, resulting in an almost flat sea. The result is a quick passage and in the 15-18 knot breeze we were sailing at 8.5 knots. We had logged on to the Marine Rescue service with an ETA at Lake Macquarie for 7 hours later to coincide with high tide at 16:20, to cross the bar.

We had a school of dolphins following in our wake for about 30 minutes, which was a good omen. We logged off at 15:00 after 6 hours, to cover the 37 nautical miles at an average of 6.2 knots. A great day’s sailing which beats a day at the office. We tied up at a mooring in Lake Macquarie for a cup of tea and some Tim Tams.

Departure off Palm Beach

Departure off Palm Beach

 

 

Annie leaving Barrenjoey behind

Annie leaving Barrenjoey behind

 

Preparing Esprit for the trip North

We have been very conscious of safety measures for this trip. We are not getting younger or stronger as the years pass. Unlike our South Atlantic race from Cape Town to South America in 1982 and the Indian Ocean race from Mauritius to Durban in 1987, when we were younger, carefree and stronger, we are older and wiser now. So we set about ensuring safety as far as it was possible.

The first rule is: don’t fall overboard; second rule: follow rule one; third rule: guess what, follow rule one and two! Therefore, the first priority was manual self-inflating life jackets with built-in harnesses. These are attached to Jackstays running the length of the boat on both sides, to which we are hooked onto while sailing. Each life jacket has attached an EPIRB which is activated by water, to transmit an emergency signal to Canberra and Marine Rescue giving an accurate position of the person in the water by satellite to within 50m.

Each life jacket also has an AIS beacon attached which is activated by water, to transmit a position of the person in the water to the GPS on board, allowing the person on board to locate the one in the water on the GPS. We also have a self-inflating dan buoy to throw to someone in the water. Needless to say, there is a 4-person liferaft, flares, EPIRB and AIS.

AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a marvelous system which will replace radar in time. It gives an accurate description, position, heading and speed of any commercial vessel (compulsory) and yacht registered, on our GPS (chart plotter). We have the usual VHF radio for communication at sea and mobile phones when within reach of the 4G network up to 50km out to sea. Beyond that, when we sail out into the Pacific we will switch to satellite phones like the Iridium or Inmarsat systems.

The unpredictability of the weather is still the biggest threat to safety in sailing. Weather forecasting has improved dramatically since the blurry weather faxes of the 80’s. In addition to all the free Government meteorological websites, we have subscribed to “PredictWind” which utilizes complex algorithms to calculate optimum departure dates and weather routing for the areas we are sailing into.

Physical systems which require checking are numerous. We have had our rigging (standing and running rigging) checked and adjusted before we set off, as this has stretched and settled down over the last 8 months. We have bought a “SeaClaw” storm drogue for extreme conditions, added another 120m of 18mm rode and a spare anchor. Not least our own physical systems: Annie is as fit as a fiddle after years of gym and I have carefully calibrated my wine consumption to cope with the possible sea conditions.