June 17, 2009
Leaving Coffs Harbour
Given our harrowing experience when entering Coffs Harbour, we decided to delay our departure until full tide to give us maximum clearance over the sand delta that had formed at the entrance to the marina. With 153 nautical miles to Southport our 1230 departure was expected to give us an ETA of 1600 Saturday. This was a good time to be crossing the Seaway Bar as it would be the last hour of the flood tide and this piece of water has a reputation for being unfriendly if you treat it badly. The only down-side of the trip was the lack of moon.
We settled into a pleasant sail with the northerly current lifting us along as well as the pleasant 15 knot SW breeze. There were two other yachts within sight, which is always nice to see as one sails along into the night. We tried to contact them on VHF radio, but there was no reply. Many yachties don’t use the radio unless absolutely necessary. On nightfall the sea state had, for some unknown reason, deteriorated considerably. An uncomfortable short chop had set up from the NE against the building swell from the SW behind us. We could find no logical explanation for this as our speed over ground still registered higher than our log. The only change was that the water temperature had increased to almost 23 degrees. Nice for swimming, but we weren’t tempted to give it a try. Alan Lucas makes the observation in his Cruising Guide that this area is notorious for uncomfortable seas at times, caused by rapid changes in the sea floor and counter currents making their way around the prominent headlands in this area.
Through the night
At 2100 we were abeam Iluka-Yamba and called the local coastguard to notify him of our position. Julia on “Hunk”, who was somewhere out there, called in to say that she was going to attempt to cross the bar into the Clarence River at Yamba. Without a moon, the wrong tide and a reasonable sized swell that coastguard said was “dumping” in the middle of the bar, she made her way in. She is braver than we were, but when you are on your own sleep is very important. Coastguard Iluka-Yamba passed on our tracking sheet to Byron Bay where we should be at daybreak. Although many of these coastguard stations are manned 24 hours a day, one doesn’t like to call unless necessary because one is aware that all other vessels and shore stations monitoring Channel 16 are always awakenend by the call. These men and women volunteers do an amazing job.
At 0320, Byron Bay coastguard called to check our position. We were indeed abeam his tracking station with a great southerly breeze, getting along at just over 7 knots. At 0640, just as the sun was rising, Coastguard Kingscliff, the next one up the line, called to ask if the yacht abeam of him was us. We were still 11 miles south and with a quick calculation he worked out that we would have had to be doing 20 knots to get there that quickly!! That did tell us that the boat that was ahead of us as we left Coffs was now 11 miles ahead after 18 hours, therefore travelling a little under 2 knots quicker. As the sun came up the high rise buildings of the Tweed Heads came into view and way off in the distance, the highrise of The Gold Coast. Whilst cities don’t excite us, when you have been through a cold dark night at sea, seeing your destination is a great motivator.
Drama in the Southport Seaway
Five miles from the Seaway we called the Seaway Tower to register our intention to come through at a little after 1200 hours. The coastguard seemed distracted and took a long time to answer our calls and when they did there was clearly a lot of activity going on in the communications tower. It’s funny how you pick up the nuances in people’s voices even over the radio. There was clearly some unexplained tension. Was the bar nasty, or worse still, had there been some incident? They asked us to call again as we were about to make our approach. As we got closer we noticed two or three helicopters flying back and forth across the entrance, one then making a swoop out over us. One begins to think what their television film commentary might be saying… “and with one accident on the Seaway Bar this morning another yacht makes its way towards the entrance to meet its fate…” At our final seaward waypoint we called and were let in on what was going on. A young whale calf had come in through the Seaway entrance and there were a lot of sightseers in all manner of craft from jetskis to large whale watch charter boats all milling around inside the bar. Seaway Coastguard warned us to make our approach carefully. We decided with all the craft about we would leave our mainsail up to signal that we were coming through, not just milling around. As we lined up the final leads, a large dredge decided that it was a good time to come through the entrance towards us as well. With all the boats around the whale on the southern side of the entrance it made straight for us forcing us, in order to pass port to port as required, to move much more to the northern breakwater than we would have otherwise liked. What with all the boats about, a potential whale, and a dredge, we doused the mainsail in a big hurry and while doing so noticed that the dedge was flying a ball, diamond and ball. Limited manouverability. Its starboard side also displayed two diamonds. Pass to the starboard side. Too late!! The dredge’s skipper gave us a friendly wave from his high up wheelhouse bridge seemingly unfazed by all the commotion in the narrow waterway. I suppose size helps!! What is it with our entrances to harbours? Then to top it all off, right on the southern entrance to the Southport channel a dredge with a marked outfall pipe narrowed the entrance way down even further, making it fun for those travelling fast to swerve it an out of, but for those of us more sedate creatures, it was just another thing to add to the clutter!
We made our way up the main Southport channel, which has speed limit of 40 knots. Many power boats and jetskis clearly relished using all of this limit to get out to see the young whale. A thill-seeker jet boat did donuts in the middle of all of the commotion just to add some extra spice! There was a flurry of white water akin to the beginning of a Sydney Hobart race with all the spectator fleet heading out to see the young visitor to Southport. Reaching the end of the headland we turned into a very popular anchorage for visiting yachts, known locally as Bums Bay (in the presence of children read “Bottoms”!). As you approach the bay it looks like a sea of boats all crammed together without any possible room for more, but as one gets closer, gaps start to appear, gaps big enough for us to drop our anchor in and rest awhile. We found a lovely spot, 100 metres off shore, beautifully protected from all but a howling SW wind and none were forecast. We slept well!
Marine Safety Queensland
The next morning we went ashore in the duckie and visited the local VMR to see if they had details of Queensland’s marine rules, regulations and requirements. They didn’t, but told us to go down the road on Monday to Marine Safety Queensland (MSQ). We had heard many horror stories of this body and their alleged standover tactics, particularly towards interstate vessels, so we were anxious to be doing the right thing. A visit to them on Monday was to be a bit of an anti-climax. Expecting a uniformed upstart behind the counter of MSQ, we found a charming woman who gave us a 90 page booklet of all the Queensland rules and regulations and answered all our questions. No, we didn’t need to register our boat in Queensland. No, we didn’t have to follow SA law in Queensland with respect to our duckie. Yes, an effluent holding tank was necessary in certain designated areas but a portaloo is OK. We were keen to read the 90 pages of regulations to check her very casual attitude. It turned out that the 90 pages were 90% advertising and the actul regulations took up about three pages. Maybe she was right, Queenslanders were friendly to strangers. We decided to do the right thing and reserve our judgment until we had been here a while.
Being anchored in Bums Bay was a unique experience because the local environment was a like a typical remote anchorage with sandy beaches and no buldings, but just a short stretch away; the skyline was dominated by highrise apartment buildings and offices and the air was filled with the sounds of cars, boats and planes and the screams of people riding the adventurous roller coaster at Seaworld a short step away. The “Aquaduck”, an amphibious craft, entered the water a short distance along the beach from where we were anchored. It was a popular tourist activity.
While in Southport we thought we would use the opportunity to visit a doctor to get a few suspect skin blemishes checked out seeing we were spending so much time in the sun. We made an appointement at a local clinic that on “Whereis.com” seemed to be quite close. We walked for about an hour in the pouring rain wearing our $2.00 flimsy plastic rain coats and then rang the clinic to check directions. The receptionist advised that we were on the right road; and yes we were to go down the hill, past the hospital and a lot of car dealerships, about 5 or 6 blocks. After 6 blocks and still raining we rang again because our appointment time was almost due. Oh yes….from where we sought directions we were at the top of a hill and it was down in both directions! There was also a hospital block in both directions and not surprisingly there were car dealerships there too! We had walked 6 blocks in the wrong direction, we now had 10 or 12 blocks to walk, and it was still raining! We arrived, wet and flustered about 25 minutes late, but the doctor was running late anyway so no-one seemed to care! Pauline got the all clear, had a flu vaccination, and a replacement prescription. I had a nasty lump on my chin under my ear. The doctor cut it out straight away and closed it with 3 stitches. We took a taxi back to the anchorage! The doctor rang two days later to say the piece he had removed was a nasty and he had got it all. A big plaster on my neck looked impressive, much to the horror of a little boy who asked what I had done. When I told him that the doctor was trying to take my head off, but he was unable to find a suitable replacement donor, he looked horrified!
Time to head off north
Before heading north we visited the local chandlery at the Southport Yacht Club to purchase a detailed chart or two of the Broadwater area, fill with diesel and water and refill the gas bottle. “Pretty Woman” who had turned up late last night waited around for us so that we could travel the Broadwater together.
We had enjoyed our time here very much.