June 05, 2009
Lake Macquarie “Not To Be A”
We had hoped to be able to get into Lake Macquarie, but a call to the local Coast Guard confirmed what we had heard from others – the channel in at Swansea was too silted up to allow us through into the lake with a draft of 1.7m. We were disappointed because Lake Macquarie was a place we had always wanted to visit since having attended numerous Bible Schools at Rathmines and we had watched the yachts sailing its waters out our bedroom window. But it was not to be – our boat is normally “Tibia” and this time it was “Not Tibia”!
Coal to Newcastle
Between Pittwater and Newcastle we picked our way through over 30 huge coal ships, of all nationalities, anchored along the coast, stretching over 30 miles south of Newcastle. We were to learn later from Coastal Patrol that the record number of coal ships to be out there at one time is now 98 and that there is normally over 50. Our trip through was light on coal ships! We also learnt that it is a common family pastime in Newcastle, and other coastal towns, to sit along the coastal stops and count the number of coal ships off shore.
At the Cruising Yacht Club a few days later we were to be invited to join three locals at their dinner table, one of whom was a commodity trader, who traded coal and gas out of Newcastle. We were to learn some of the complexities of this amazing industry and the fact that the recession was not really affecting Newcastle due to the robust trade. Each ship notifies the coal suppliers upon their arrival in the area and gets allocated a number like one does at a delicatesan at the supermarket. This becomes their biding number. Each coal lot has an individual quality and content analysis and ships barter for the lots they wish to buy. Depending on supply and demand, coal prices fluctuate, giving opportunity to “play the market”. Some ships remain on the anchorage at sea for months, waiting for their target price. Many ships wait outside the harbour on anchor, with their holds and water ballast tanks empty, suffering the rolling in the huge swells this area, known as the Stockton Bight, is renowned for, just waiting for a bargain. When they are successful in their bid, they must come in immediately and fill with coal, hence the reason that they cannot fill their ballast tanks. It is common for the ships to come in and fill with coal and then go back out to the anchorage and put their load on the open market for sale for anyone in the world who needs a ship load of coal, thus making a profit on the transaction.
Newcastle is a major working port and yet it has an immediate friendly welcoming feel as you sail in through the breakwater. Apartment houses line the southern banks of the harbour and give it a fresh, clean appearance. The seven year old marina is well set out and having taken our place on C-Row, we were welcomed by 5 or 6 of the locals who lived aboard on our row.
Heritage College – Cooranbong
Simon Dodson, Principal at Heritage College Cooranbong, a sister school to Heritage Adelaide, where I had been principal, came down to the marina and took us back to their home in Cooranbong, where we stayed for the next two days. Simon and Priscilla made us very welcome and even gave up their bed for us to sleep in! They also loaned us their car which allow us to reprovision and make a very pleasant day trip out to the Hunter Valley. We were also able to visit the local chandlery and reluctantly purchase a new pack of emergency flares as ours had past their use by date, a checked requirement, we are told, in Queensland waters. We also thought it prudent to purchase a new painter for our duckie, this time a floating number, as the last one saw its demise around our propellor!
We spent a day at Cooranbong School and then on a Friday we took the Year 9 and 10 students for a sail on the Newcastle Harbour in two groups, one with Scott and the other with Simon. This was a first time sailing for many of the students, and being with the kids again reminded us of the pleasant times we had enjoyed with the Heritage students in Adelaide. Simple, unsophisticated teenagers who were courteous, openly appreciative and with nothing to prove to one another. They were nice to be with.
We learned that our neighbours in Newcastle Marina, on the boat “Joktan”, had lived on a boat for the past 35 years and travelled extensively throughout the world including the Calendonian Canals that join east and west Scotland through Loch Ness and Loch Lockie to Argyle. This was an area that Paulne and I had visited a few years ago. It turns out that Dick was born in Fort William at the lower end of Loch Ness, a lovely town with a series of locks that drops into Loch Lockie. Now in their late 70’s Rene and Dick have many a tale to tell of their numerous and eventful sailing adventures around the world.
While in Newcastle we went for numerous walks along the paved walkway that extends out to Nobbys Beach, the site where the 76,000 tonne Panamanian coal ship the Pasha Bulker was washed ashore in June 2007, unable to battle the ferocious winds and waves that this area of the coast is notorious for. The local Maritime Museum has a special feature on this disaster. Almost 2 years later, while we were in Newcastle a storm of equal ferocity lashed the northern New South Wales coast. We were very glad to be safely tied up in a prtected marina while huge seas, set up by storm force easterlies, swept the coastline and accompanied with torrential rain, left much of the coastline from Newcastle to Tweed Heads under water. The marina was choaked with flotsam and jetsam.
Visit to Tamworth
We decided that given the forecast for the next few days it was a good opportunity to catch the train through to Tamworth to visit Pauline’s mum, who had recently been in hospital for a leg operation. Not having travelled any distance by train in Australia, this was to be very pleasant novelty. The train left mid morning and arrived in Tamworth late afternoon after travelling through some very picturesque countryside, albeit dry on the Tamworth side of the ranges.
Back a few days later to Newcastle saw us able to meet up with Garnett and Reneira Alchin, who showed us around the top end of Lake Macquarie and took us home for a lovely meal. On Sunday we were picked up and taken to the Boolaroo Ecclesia where we met up with a group who were keen sailors on the lake. We stayed there and enjoyed a typoical Christadelphian shared lunch and then returned to the marina to prepare for our departure. Monday was spent provisioning. A long walk with our much used “granny wagon” to the local Marketown shopping complex saw us ready to depart early Tuesday morning to begin the big jumps up this part of the coast. Due to the recent storms the river bars were dangerouis to cross and it seemed safest to miss out this part of the coast and keep sailing until through the area most affected.
A young surfie chap, Warren, on a home-built catamaran at the end of our row had a huge supply of charts of the east coast and as we had run off the end of our last one it was important for us to get the next supply. He gave us all of his charts to go through and find any duplicates, which he had, so we were able to purchase seven of them off him for a good price. The rest I had to purchase from a company out in the industrial park. I caught a taxi and bought what we needed and we were now all but ready to go.
On Monday night, after a very busy day for them at a combined Heritage Colleges sports day, Naomi Richards came and picked us up from the marina and took us to their home for dinner with David and their lovely family. This was to be our last home cooked meal for a while and we really enjoyed their company and the company of their great children.
A Foggy Departure
Tuesday morning we woke to a heavy fog enveloping Newcastle harbour. We could barely see the end of the marina pier, but we had been awake since 0400 and we weren’t going to wait for it to clear. Much to the consternation of the Newcastle Coastguard we left under cover of darkness and fog, guided by radar, a fishing boat and the clear channel markers, and slipped quietly out to sea undetected by the early morning coastguard watch overlooking the harbour in his watchtower. He was most indignant when we called VMR Port Stephens to log on and not only had missed him out but that he had not been able to see us go. By the time he was able to get us on the radio we were well out to sea in the clear and he could still not see us for the blanket of fog around the harbour entrance. When I assured him that we were using radar and there were no coal ships coming into the harbour, he seemed to settle down. Coastguard volunteers do a wonderful job but they can “defend their territory” very jealously!