September 10, 2010
The Big River – Australia’s Mississippi.
We were to spend over two weeks exploring the Clarence – but first to go ashore and see the sights of Iluka. Sedgers Reef Hotel! A sprawling Queensland style pub serving Four X beer (do you spell that XXXX?) and large steaks. Not surprisingly Iluka is a “south of the border” destination for Queensland families with much tourist accommodation and several caravan parks. We ventured into the rainforest walk and lookout and traversed the length and breadth of the town – meeting up with the new owners of the local take away – previously from Huonville Tasmania. Wanting to program our AIS (Automatic Identification Unit – a transponder that tells other vessels our details) I visited the local white goods shop, Crystal Solutions, where the owner knew exactly what I wanted when I asked for a USB to RS232 serial port adapter cable to program our AIS. He serviced the IT needs of the local fishing fleet as well as operating a video hire and fridge shop. He offered us the shop for the price of his stock! We politely declined.
We enjoyed a week at Iluka including a great Sunday Jazz Cruise on the local ferry before heading down the Clarence to Maclean. The passage under the Harwood Bridge involved two blokes coming by car from Ballina and lifting the span – a process that was done with great efficiency and ease. The harwood Bridge has just completed a significant makeover and had been closed for some time. We were met at the Maclean jetty by Peter – the local yacht welcomer and asked to sign the visiting yacht’s register. Maclean is a great town for provisioning – we filled up with water, gas, meat, groceries and all sorts of hard to get spares (like O rings for the gas bottle) before motoring to Ulmarra – a delightful village – the best preserved in NSW. As an onshore morning breeze spring up I was reluctant to get Wendy from the op shop – in her opinion the best she had visited so far.
Passing by Lawrence, we spied Peter and Kaye aboard Millifleurs and arranged to catch up in Grafton. We had first seen them on Constitution Dock, Hobart and caught up in Greenwell Point but never had the opportunity for a meal together as our plans were thwarted by a gale while anchored there. We made up for this by a great pasta meal aboard Charon and were to again catch up back in Iluka. Peter is a great raconteur and very experienced seafarer with three circumnavigations to his credit including many miles as master of Sundancer, a 104 foot schooner.
The hairdresser at Yamba had described Grafton as a hole – but we found it a very well preserved country town with an excellent city centre and cultural area. On out first dinghy trip ashore we were welcomed by the past Commodore of the Grafton yacht Club and invited to join them on their balcony for drinks. Our arrival had been heralded by my earlier call enquiring about moorings. We were supplied with fresh garden produce and they later joined us for a cuppa on board Charon. Wendy had returned with the groceries with her new sleek black vehicle – a shopping trolly. Excellent choice.
Grafton’s famous Jakarandas were not yet in bloom but the streets were spacious and locals friendly. Our highlight was a visit to the thousand-seat Saraton Theatre – just reopened from a $6 million makeover with the best Belgian digital sound and projection equipment, new seats and renovation. Now that’s three things the Belgians do well. We saw “Tomorrow when the war began” and the seats literally jumped with each explosion. Wendy had enjoyed reading the books by John Marsden and we both enjoyed the movie.
As we had committed to a return to tassie as I had been offered a few days work, we both felt the pressure was on and for the first time on almost a year we had a deadline. Not pleasant! We arranged a bridge opening for Monday 20th September and spent the day getting back to Iluka including a great lunch at the Brushgrove Pub recommended by the bridge-keepers wife. With good holding ground, the completely enclosed breakwater and being in a river, Iluka must be the ultimate anchorage. Being close to a pub and some shops doesn’t hurt either.
After backing and filling about the weather and numerous calls to VMR Yamba, Byron Bay and Ballina (we had several days of less than clement weather!) we decided to head to Queensland via Ballina Bar and Byron Bay – conditions permitting.