During our stay in Yamba it became clear that the eastern Australian region had moved into a La Nina cycle with rain and southerly winds. The usual El Nino cycle at this time of the year would be dryer with N-W to N-E winds.
The rain and wind direction had us waiting in Yamba for a week, before we set off on the 30th November for Coffs Harbour beating into a 12-14 knot southerly. We were desperate to get out of the flooding and muddy Clarence River, colouring our recently polished hull brown.
After a wet 65 nm sail, at 9pm we picked up a courtesy mooring in Coffs Harbour where we stayed for four nights, enjoying the Muttonbird Island and Coffs Creek walks, as well as stocking up on provisions and visiting the coffee shops.
On the 4th December the wind turned N-W and we set sail enjoying a fast 38 nm sail to Trial Bay, hoisting the asymmetric spinnaker at 8:30 and tearing it during a gust, an hour later – bugger!
That was not the end of our dramas though. As we dropped our main and jib to enter the Macleay River in Trial Bay, we realised that the wind which had turned east, was creating breaking waves over the bar against the outflowing river. We had to enter the river though, as a huge black southwester with lightning was approaching us from ahead.
We donned our life jackets, upped the engine revs to 3,000 rpm and gunned it into the narrow channel, once hitting the sand bar and fighting to keep the stern square to the breaking waves. We twice had the boat surfing a breaking wave, managing not to turn her sideways and broach the boat. This was white knuckle stuff, with Michelle and I each on a steering wheel to maintain traction and Annie calling out the course and depth ahead. After what felt like an hour we motored into the river. Bliss!
No sooner had we anchored two miles upstream at 2pm, than the S-E storm hit us, with rain so heavy, you couldn’t see more than 50 m and the flashes of lightning around us – we had just turned all the electronics off. About this time I received an alert from the Bureau of Meteorology, warning us of extreme rainfall, hail and flooding in our area. Yes, thanks!
Unfortunately, there are no photos to support this thrilling account, as there were no free hands to record this. By 4:30pm there was just a light drizzle, allowing Michelle to dinghy ashore and hitchhike into South West Rocks to go and vote in the NSW State elections – thus avoiding a $55 fine for not voting. On reaching Sydney, we will inform the Electoral Commission of our return to the world of elections – ending a 6 year break for us in this regard.
During the next 24 hours the rain beat down relentlessly, with logs, branches and debris floating past us, with a river even muddier than the one we had left behind. Our regular Sunday weather update from MetBob (Bob McDavitt in NZ) stated that the Bureau of Meteorology has confirmed that it was the wettest November on record in Australia. The attached satellite photos from Windy shows that atmospheric rivers have recently been streaming clouds across the North Pacific, from the tropics to western US and Canada, bringing record-breaking rainfall.
We consoled ourselves with walks in the rain to monitor the waves coming over the bar and walking the 8.5 km round trip to South West Rocks and back. The Riverside Tavern next to our anchorage served generous meals at good prices. The tavern also offered Michelle good internet and a quiet spot to conduct a meeting with her colleagues in India on Monday afternoon, before we set sail with a northerly on Tuesday the 7th December.
The waves at the bar was substantially less when we departed at 8am and we set sail in a 7 knot easterly. By 2pm the wind turned to a brisk northerly and we poled out the jib to average 7-8 knots SOG downwind.
The plan was to do an overnight sail to Port Stephens, 150 nm to the Southwest, but a big storm with worrying bolts of lightning was bearing down on us, about 15 miles from Forster/Tuncurry at 9pm. We altered course and after the 100 nm passage, we entered the river at the Tuncurry, north side of the river, as the Forster, south side is too shallow.
The narrow navigable channel at the Fish Co-op anchorage on the Tuncurry side was also too shallow, so we went out again and anchored in the middle of the fairway channel in 5 metres of water at 11:30pm. I hardly slept as the rain was bucketing down and the strong out flowing and then in flowing currents tested our anchor and chain. All was still good the next morning.
During this passage, I became aware of a knocking sound coming from the rudder. The top and bottom Teflon rudder bearings/bushes have been replaced first in Langkawi, Thailand and later in Preveza, Greece. A scenario that worries me, is losing the rudder, so the following morning I checked the top bearing from inside the lazarette locker and Michelle went into the water with goggles to check the movement at the bottom bearing. The bearings needed replacing again.
It was a cold, wet and windy 50 nm sail down to Port Stephens, where we anchored in Shoal Bay at 6:30pm. The duty officer at the Marine Rescue base welcomed us on VHF 16 and informed us that another storm would hit Port Stephens in about 30 minutes. It rained solidly the whole night. We were now really over this sh1t weather, but at 7am the rain stopped and Annie and Michelle could go for a walk, while I cleaned the stove and scrubbed the cockpit floor.
The anchor was lifted at 10am, but there was very little wind, so we ended up motoring the 30 nm to Newcastle, where we tied up at the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club marina at 4pm. Karen and Evan arrived after work at 6pm for an emotional welcome and sundowners. They treated us to a tagine dinner at their favourite Moroccan restaurant.
We will be in Newcastle for the next month to enjoy Christmas and the New Year with our daughters and their friends. Karen and Evan Quinn recently got engaged, so we look forward to getting to know him and to meet his family.
Karen also received the news that she passed a masters degree in surgical education from Melbourne University with first class honours and will be graduating in March 2022.
We should be back in Sydney during January, after almost six years away and will keep you posted on our plans for 2022. If Covid restrictions allow, we want to sail back into the Western Pacific to see the islands we have missed due to Covid border closures. We are thinking Sydney to Lord Howe Island, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and back via New Zealand.
If this is not possible and the French borders are open, we will rent or buy a canal boat and explore the French canals. (Canal boats cost much less than a big 4×4 SUV for the wife’s shopping trips)
Watch this space, have a merry Christmas, a prosperous New Year and a Covid free 2022. It has to be better than 2021!
Cheers for now, Annie and Dirk.