Dramatic Skies

Monday 23rd April 2018

We lie anchored a couple of miles up the Burnett river watchful of the depth gauge. It’s high tide and reading 2.3m under the keel. If this were a spring tide we would be on the bottom at low water but today we have a neap tide and in theory we shouldn’t drop below a metre. We are inexperienced at playing the tidal range rather than using the absolute chart datum, we wait with baited breath as the river gently ebbs.

We are here because tomorrow we are off to Lady Musgrave Island and her surrounding reef and hopefully back to clear turquoise water. Needing to enter the atoll in good light we require an early start. All the motor sailing we have done lately means we were low on diesel. Not wanting to fuel up at five in the morning we left the marina for the fuel dock at lunchtime and now sit ready to go.

Last week continued with a flurry of maintenance jobs and more cleaning, if we say it ourselves Raya is feeling very spick and span. For the time being at least, Rick’s ‘to do list’ is nearly fully ticked off.

Besides all the hard work, one thing that will stay in our memories of Bundaberg is its incredible skies. The combination of flat surroundings and changeable weather has led to dramatic vistas day and night. Wednesday around midnight, woken by the light coming through the hatch above him, Rick was treated to a spectacular display as distant lightening illuminating far off clouds . The next day as I walked out along the coastal path, with rain threatening, I think almost every type and colour of cloud was present in the huge sky above me.

Dramatic Bundaberg skies

And streaked with the last of the morning haze and dotted with building fine weather clouds, across an intense blue, again Friday the sky was amazing. We had hired a car for the day and driven a short way down the coast to Elliot’s Heads. After the dark reddish beaches around Port Bundaberg it was refreshing to suddenly find some white sand. At the estuary of Elliot’s river extensive sand banks are exposed at low tide, stretching right across the wide river mouth. Clear, warm streams of sea water run in the tangle of gullies that form between them. It made for a perfect hour or so of walking and paddling.

Paddling at Elliots Heads

Invigorated from our beach walk, we shunned the normal tourist stops at the Rum Distillery and the Hinkler Aviation museum and instead opted for a stroll through the Botanical Gardens. In delightful contrast to the coast, a shady boardwalk wound us through stately palms and across large ponds full of water birds. It seems that even in the smaller towns Australia does an extremely good job with these gardens.

Back onboard a flock of noisy kookaburras arrive to perch up in the rigging and the tide continues to recede, we play a game of Mexican train as the setting sun turns the sky a burnt orange. Still we have half an eye on the dropping depth, but less worried as our decent slows. As the tide turns we still have the theoretical 1m below the keel, we take to our bed, we have an early start in the morning.

Pottering in Port Bundaberg

Wednesday 18th April 2018

The moment we walked up the steep marina ramp we knew we were somewhere different. The sweet perfume of grass confronts us, a smell previously so familiar but rare to us now. In front of us are neat fields of uncut grass, the seed heads shimmer and wave in the breezy sunshine. And it was not just the scent of our surroundings that felt foreign, it dawns on us that here for the first time in a long time, the land is completely flat. Even the normal hills and mountains, that are forever on the horizon, have gone.

The occupants of the marina are different also, instead of being almost exclusively full of local boats there are plenty of cruisers here, including one Irish and three UK yachts. It is back to sundowners and ‘where to next’ conversations.

Having arrived in Bundaberg a week or two earlier than planned, we have no pressure to achieve anything in particular. So when we discover that the chandeliers can organise to get our rusty anchor delivered to the hot dip galvanising unit, we jump at the opportunity.

That looks a bit better.

Rick settles in, with relish, to potter around the boat, fixing all the little things he has been meaning to get around to for ages and in some cases since we left Southampton. He boxes in the new freezer compressor, services the Davits, washes the sails, properly wires the nav lights, cleans and sorts the dingy………

I tackle the ever present paperwork, work on the navigation for the next part of our trip and clean. How is it there is always so much cleaning to do?

The marina runs a courtesy bus the 15km into town each day, so Monday we hop on and head for downtown Bundaberg. The road in reminds us of a tidy Fiji, fields and fields of sugar cane line each side of the road. This is the sugar capital of Australia and famous for its large distillery producing Bundaberg Rum. In recent years crops have diversified, what at first glance we assume is a vineyard turns out to be rows of tomatoes vines, we spot a field of melons but not the macadamia trees that are also in abundance here.

Bundaberg City was mostly just an urban sprawl, with most buildings being of indifferent late twentieth century architecture, we search in vain to find any character. We wander uninspired for a while before abandoning our quest and heading for the supermarket. The branch of Coles here is large and as always full to bursting with fresh food. We stock up and take a taxi back to the boat.

I have continued to ‘power’ walk each day when I can. I’ve been enjoying the exercise as well as the side effect of getting to explore the local area. Leading from the marina there is a riverside path that run’s out towards the sea. Unlike the pathways I have been using all the way up the coast from Sydney, here I am alone in my lycra and trainers, just meeting the odd dog walker or angler.

On the surface it’s rather a featureless walk with the wide brown Burnett river one side and the dead flat meadow like fields the other. However, of course, the more you look the more you see, the sky is huge and ever changing, the river has small bays of dark sand and at low tide there are mudflats full of birds.

Dark beach at the mouth of the Burnett River

Around our pontoon are the normal groups of cormorants and flocks of gulls, on the mud flats I spot a tall elegant white heron, which google tells me was probably a Great Egret and perched on the marker above him what I think is a type of Kite.

Amongst all of these are the huge, ever present pelicans. We took the dingy for a run up the river and while on a crocodile hunt amongst the mangroves on the far bank, (probably still a little south for crocodiles but thought it was never too early to get some practice in) overhead a flock of pelicans, Jurassic like with their oversized beaks, gave us a magnificent demonstration of formation flying.

A flock of Pelicans always remind us of pterodactyls.

Barred From Mooloolaba

Thursday 12th April 2018

We wake this morning after 12hrs of solid sleep, a little further north than expected. The decks are covered in salt, damp clothes fill the laundry basket and two shattered plates languish in the bin. Our attempts to enter over the bar of our planned destination of Mooloolaba thwarted, we sailed through the night and all the next day in uncomfortable and tiring conditions to reach the Marina at Port Bundaberg.

Still at last, lovely sunrise over Bundaberg marina

Tuesday had started with us happily wending our way through the sand banks that litter Moreton Bay, the sun was shinning and the sea was calm. We were taking advantage of a small window of good weather to move 35 miles north to Mooloolaba. We had been looking forward to a few days in Mooloolaba and not just because it has such a brilliant name, other cruisers reports had all been good, the town was close by and it had a great beach just a stroll from the marina. Also it was to be our gateway to explore the Sunshine Coast and the Noosa Everglades.

The entrance to the river and it’s marinas has another of the notorious East Coast bars and is currently being dredged to try and combat the effects of shifting sand across the river entrance. We spoke with the marina, who assured us it would be fine and we downloaded the map that charted the new depths that had recently been posted in the Notices to Marinas published by the Queensland authorities, we timed our entrance towards the end of the rising tide. However we hadn’t reckoned with the swell. As we approached what the charts had as the beginning of the shallows, with an apparent high tide depth of 4m, the swell picked us up and then dropped us with a thump onto the bottom, we ventured a bit further this time we stayed on the sand long enough for another wave to hit us and cause Raya to give a loud, rig rattling, shudder. We reversed quickly and spoke to the dredge master working in the channel, a lot of sucked teeth, he seemed very unsure about our 2.4m draft, depths were obviously not as reported. Probably with a bit of local knowledge or at least some lat/long calibration which strangely was not on the downloaded new Mooloolaba bar chart, we might have tried again. But after a bit of deliberation and watching other boats with much less draft than us struggle, we decided to push on.

Unfortunately pushing on meant an over 200nm sail further north to Bundaberg.

It felt like a long trek north around Fraser Island

I quickly put together a new passage plan, there was another entrance about 6hrs on but we would arrive after dark and it was quickly rejected. The weather forecast was for winds to strengthen and with it the seas to get rougher, not a delightful prospect. And this is the problem with sailing in this part of the world, with weather windows so tight and safe havens so far apart, often needing critical timings and conditions for entry, Plan B’s are always going to be difficult.

The first few hours were fine as we sailed away from Mooloolaba. We smiled in response to a surprise comment on sailraya.com, received from someone who spotted us sailing past. However as the winds steadily increased in strength it turned into a laborious 24hrs, in troubled, often beam seas. Sleeping, eating and everything in between became hard work and the cockpit began to be splashed enough to make everything damp and salty. At least it was warm and not raining we kept telling ourselves. With the odd gust up to 40kts, Rick gradually reefed and further reefed the sails until, still sailing fast, we only had up a small amount of main sail and a reefed stay sail. To add to the fun I was kept entertained during my 11-2 night watch by a dozen or so fishing boats, some with AIS, some without. At one stage one came so quickly towards us I was concerned he hadn’t seen us . Luckily we have good deck lights that light up the sails and make us very obvious. I flicked them on and he turned away.

With such messy seas we had to sail right the way around the 25nm long sand spit at the end of Fraser Island, so for a frustrating few hours we were actually sailing away from our destination. We arrived at the marina just minutes before they left for the day, two very tired and happy sailors. Our traditional ‘got here beer’ was enough to knock us out and by 7.30 we could stay awake no longer.

On the upside we are now far north enough to be in the region termed the Southern Barrier Reef which is rather exciting and after spending yet more money on our continually ailing freezer, that would normally give out after such a bouncy sail, I am pleased to report it is still working, hooray!

Freezer cold – hooray

Nearly Ready for the Tropics

Friday 6th April 2018

For a few hours on Tuesday afternoon, it felt almost like we were back in the Pacific Islands. The sun was shinning, the sea was calm and turquoise, two large turtles swam around the boat, it was deliciously quiet. We realised that we were well and truly ready to be back tropical island hopping. However we have at least another month to wait before the cyclone season clears, as was well demonstrated by Cyclone Iris, that last week reformed and continues to hang around the Central Queensland coast.

Last weeks forecast for the Whitsunday Islands five hundred miles to our north

Easter weekend in the Broadway continued to be manic, despite the showery weather everyone was determined to make the best of the holiday. We did brave the choppy waters to go ashore and stretch our legs but plans to cross the narrow wooded South Stradbroke Island were thwarted firstly by the lack of a clear pathway and tales of snakes buried in the sand but mostly by the sight of our anchored dingy being swamped by the wake of every large motor boat that stormed past.

The beach at South Stradbroke Island with the Gold Coast high rises in the distance.

The East Coast of Australia is constantly at the mercy of the Pacific Ocean swell. This makes for the great surfing conditions it is famous for but also makes entering rivers and ports difficult. Entry and exit across the shallow bars that form at these openings has to be timed carefully, especially in the rough conditions that are around at present. So it was that 3.30 am Tuesday morning found us, with the dangerous surf warning cancelled and slack low tide upon us, heading for the Gold Coast seaway and open ocean. Conditions were still rather lumpy and with up to 3kts of current against us we were yet again having to motor sail to keep speeds high enough for us to enter Moreton Bay at high tide. At least the forecast showers held off.

We rounded the top of Moreton Island and headed for the Inner Freeman Channel. At first the sea calmed, the shallower waters turned to hues of turquoise and the tall dunes of this sand island, shone white in the sunshine. However the nerves were jangling, we knew we had a shallow area to cross and although every chart I could lay my hands on said at high tide we would have no less than 2m under our keel, the sight of white, churning choppy waters ahead was frightening. Luckily a small local fishing boat was in front of us and led the way through the narrow channel of deeper water and with a huge sigh of relief we were in Moreton Bay.

We dropped the hook off of South Tangalooma and despite a few other yachts, after the industry of Boatworks and the bustle of the Broadway, it was incredibly peaceful. The sea wasn’t crystal clear but after the inner waterways and muddy creeks it looked lovely. Sitting in the cockpit, behind me I heard a familiar sound, the hufffff of a turtle surfacing for air. We had two large loggerhead turtles feeding around the boat. It was as if they had come to say welcome back.

Moreton Bay is nearly 75miles long and twenty miles wide and separated from the ocean by North Stradbroke and Moreton Island to South and East and by numerous sand banks to the north. It is a shallow area of water and is not only home to turtles but dugongs, dolphins and visiting whales.

Unfortunately it was just a one day break in the weather so the next morning we had to head back into a marina, promising ourselves that as the weather improves, hopefully next week, we would return. A cracking sail took across the bay to the Manly Boat Harbour. On the Western coast of Moreton Bay just south of Brisbane, a convenient place to visit the city.

Sitting on the muddy, meandering Brisbane river, the city is a vibrant combination of a glass clad high rise business district and fun green spaces. The South Bank Parklands with its big wheel, Pagoda and jungle walk and the fantastic man made city beach was buzzing with visitors, many here for the Commonwealth Games being held close by on the Gold Coast. We jumped on the City Hopper Ferry and zigzagged down the river before walking through the crowded central district into the quieter Botanical gardens.

Brisbane ferries and Highrises.

While we wait for the finer weather, it’s back to the marina for the last few bits of boat maintenance. Nearly ready for the next stage of our journey, tropical Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Rain, Repairs and Reunions

Friday 30th March 2018

I’m sitting below in the stuffy atmosphere created by high humidity and closed hatches. Excyclone Iris is just NE of us and is bringing squally winds and heavy showers. Up and down the coast of Queensland the ocean beaches are closed due to extreme high tides and dangerous surf conditions.

We are anchored off South Stadbroke Island back in the protected inner waterway of Broadwater just north of Southport. It’s Easter weekend so again the area is crowded with craft big and small. It doesn’t really feel like we are anchored as not only are we being continually buffeted by the wake of passing speedboats, we are also not facing into the wind. A two knot tide is flowing past us and we are laying with the current rather than with the wind, this in turn means the rain is coming straight into the cockpit and if not closed down through the hatch.

Mad motor boat drivers coming from all directionsi

Last weekends confinent on the hardstand in Boatworks, turned out to be better than expected. The frenetic whirling sanders, polishers and drills and the continuous loud engines of the lifts, that set such a stressful pace to life, all fell quiet. The noxious fumes from the antifouling and painting of dozens of boats dissipated and with no contractors busy around Raya, it was easier to relax. On top of this we had a car. Boatworks not only have good toilets, showers and laundry facilities they also have curtesy cars and we managed to get a set of keys for the weekend.

We used this rare opportunity to hit the nearest shopping centre. While Rick investigated the DIY Warehouse and tool shops, I went into the supermarket and filled a trolly with as much heavy stuff as I could fit in. We restocked all our dried goods and cans, cases of wine and beer and bags full of cleaning agents. Rick bought the biggest adjustable spanner in the universe. Never again would he have to struggle so hard against recalcitrant seacocks or any other ginormous nut for that matter, how have we got this far without one?

Ricks new spanner

Having a car also made it easy to join some friends for a bit of a reunion. Phil and Lynn who we linked up with on the Gold Coast last November, had a couple of other mutual friends, Kieth and Dianne, from our time living in Bahrain thirty years ago, visiting from Spain. We all met up at Sactuary Cove, a typical glitzy Gold Coast Resort, golf courses, gated communities, a marina and dozens of restaurants. We couldn’t work out why all the car parking spaces were so small, until it dawned on us that the people living in the resort mostly get around by golf cart. Real cars, such as our Boatworks Ute, were banished to the car park on its outer edge. Finally seated it was great to catch up with each other’s news, the food lost in the exuberant chatter.

Dinner with old friends

Tuesday morning, finally, Raya was lifted back into the water. The relief from the overheating fridges and freezer, that are water cooled, was almost audible and the comfort of having our sinks and showers back, a delight. A downpour however evidenced a blocked cockpit drain, we poked and rattled and finally blew it out with a hosepipe. One of the rags used by the antifoul team to prevent dripping from the drains during painting is the prime suspect. Luckily the problem was found sat at the dock not while waves were breaking over the boat as we battled a storm at sea.

The tide dictated that we leave early on Thursday morning despite the showers. We motored down the Coomera River observing the huge waterfront houses, so large and ornate were some that they were best described by a phrase coined by an American friend as Starter Castles. In the whole hour we saw nobody actually living in them, sun loungers were stacked and blinds were drawn. The rain turned into a deluge and by the time we had anchored we resembled a pair of drowned rats.

Motoring down the Coomera River in the torrential rain.

As Good Friday comes to an end, the weather has improved a little, the tide has turned and the stream of motor boats has stopped for the night. No doubt tomorrow they will be back but for now all is tranquil.

High and Dry

Friday 23rd February 2018

We are feeling rather frustrated. After we and the antifoul crew have worked our socks off, dodging showers and running from pillar to post, to ensure Raya is ready to return to the water at 3pm today, we have just been told that they have messed up and our berth in the marina is not available. So here we are stuck high and dry, 15ft in the air until Tuesday.

Ready to be lifted back onto the water

I think it’s fair to say it’s not been one of our most restful weeks. Things started well with a drama free overnight passage up from Coffs Harbour. There was little wind, the large swell, lingering from last weeks storm, undulated gently across a calm sea. Stars shone brightly in the dark moonless sky and as we are gradually creeping back north, the night watches have become pleasantly warm.

The easterly swell did make the Gold Coast Seaway entrance a little lively however and things were not helped by having to share the constricted space with a fleet of racing sailing dinghies, several returning small fishing boats and a group of mad jet skiers. We headed expectantly into the calm of the inner channel – the Broadway, only to find it full of more jet skiers and dozens of fast motor boats. It was Saturday and everyone and their dog was out enjoying the sunshine. The anchorage, just north of Southport Marina where we five months ago had checked in to Australia, is charmingly known as Bums Bay. It was also very busy, especially the blue buoyed area directly in front of us, that turned out to be a jet ski practice course!

We were tired from our trip, we put on the anchor alarm, turned on the cabin fans to block the noise outside and went to sleep. We only had to cope with all the activity until Monday morning when on the high tide we would make our way up the Coomera river to Boatworks, Raya was to be hauled out for her yearly once over.

Sunday morning dawned fine and bright and soon the crowds began to reappear. We had anchored next to our friends from Paw Paw and decided to go ashore together to escape the noise and increasingly choppy waters for a few hours. It’s nice in our transient life to revisit places occasionally, having a bit of local knowledge from our previous stop in the area. We returned to the waterfront Thai restaurant for lunch and walked back along the expansive Main Beach.

Walking on Main Beach with Elaine and Roy from Paw Paw

At seven the next morning while doing his normal pre-trip engine check, Rick noticed a leaking coolant pipe. While lifting the anchor I discovered the anchor down switch wasn’t working and with a very tight schedule on the tidal river we had the potential of the perfect storm – an overheating engine, no ability to anchor and quickly swallowing waters. Our normal cautious selves nearly abandoned the trip but we really wanted to make our hard won appointment with Boatworks. With the judicious use of tape to slow the leak, I steered us through the shallows of the river while Rick worked to sort out emergency use of the windless so if necessary we could drop the anchor. Two hours later with a sigh of relief we tied up to the dock and prepared Raya to be lifted.

We were last antifouled, just over a year ago and were hoping the hull might be in decent condition but it was definitely in need of redoing.

Dirty hull!

Our time on the hard was tight, particularly with plenty of rain in the forecast, it was full speed ahead. As Rick fixed the leaking coolant pipe, checked the seacocks, replacing one, greased the prop and investigated the windlass. Complete Antifoul services, cleaned and repainted the bottom, cut and polished the top sides and replaced the cutlass bearings. I organised for the life raft to be serviced, battled to keep the water cooled fridges from over heating, started filling the numerous forms required for entry into Indonesia and ordered new lenses for my damaged varifocal sunglasses – who knew that eyelashes could be so abrasive.

Watching the life raft being checked

So here we are clean, shiny and ready to go back into the water but with no berth to go into it looks like it’s going to be a further few days of washing up in a bucket, lovely.

Charming Coffs

Thursday 15th March 2018

As Ex Cyclone Linda continues to ease and turn SE away from the Australian Coast, we sit under clear blue skies with just a light cooling breeze, the only sign of the strong weather to the north of us is the sound of crashing waves on the northern breakwater.

We have been tied up in Coffs Harbour Marina, since Saturday, enjoying the forced break as we wait for Linda to pass by. Well known amongst cruisers as an entry port into Australia, people have been surprisingly dismissive of Coffs Harbour being anything more than a place to go through customs or a stop off conveniently placed halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. Fair enough the pontoons and docks are a bit rickety, there is quite a bit of noise from the work going on to build up the breakwaters and to get into the town centre is a forty minute walk.

But we like it here, the place has a charming small town feel, an active fishing fleet occupies one half of the inner harbour and the green of Mutton Island dominates our view to the east. Mountains form the backdrop to the town and traffic noise is minimal. Walkways spread out in all directions and three great beaches are within easy reach. The marina itself has a friendly quaint quality, with most activity best being summed up as pottering. There are all the essential services, restaurants, laundry, showers and brilliantly the local Coles supermarket will deliver your groceries right to the side of the boat.

Climbing to the top of Mutton Island, a nesting sanctuary for migrating wedge tailed shearwaters, gives a great overview of the area.

View of the harbour from the top of Mutton Island.

The town of Coffs Harbour started to grow when it’s long jetty was built. Projecting into the harbour it enabled large ships access to the timber cut from the rich forests that cloaked surrounding hills. As roads and railways spread into the area and shipping timber by boat became less profitable, the focus switched to the growing of bananas. Although the largest crop produced now is blueberries and the economy is dominated by fishing and tourism, this area is still known as the Banana coast.

We were hooked on our first morning, we sat at the yacht club eating breakfast overlooking Park Beach, the sand stretched a mile or so to the north, the sun shone and the surfers played, the week of waiting ahead didn’t look so bad after all.

Rick enjoying the view

Wanting to get a few jobs ticked off, Tuesday we set out for the shopping centre in search of new trainers, wine glasses, pillows……

We took the path that runs along the back of Park Beach. Shaded from the midday sun by trees, the bright blue of the sea and sky invaded through the gaps. We love theses glimpses through the tree trunks, the tantalising hidden promise of the world beyond.

Turning into the town we came across the bowls club, the greens sat right on the road and we stopped to catch our breathe and watch for a while, the teams were surprisingly good and as the final bowl smashed all other contenders out of the way, it was almost exciting. The shops were disappointing as they often are, no suitable footwear or homewares, but we did find a box of Mexican Train. A game we have enjoyed on many other yachts, we snapped it up, another way to pass those evenings when anchored in paradise.

Keeping up my campaign to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I walked the couple of kms to take a look at the beach to the South and was rewarded yet again by a spectacular view.

Miles of beaches run South from the harbour

As I paddled back along the calmer inner Jetty Beach, groups of school kids arrived to have surf lessons. Rick is hugely jealous, this is not how he remembers PE at his school. What a great life these Ozzie kids lead.

The water was warm and waiting for the schools to leave at lunchtime, we were tempted back down to Park Beach for a swim. The onshore wind was flattening the waves from behind, the surfers were struggling but for playing in the shallows it was perfect.

Enjoying the tumbling surf

In between the fun we have been keenly watching the weather, firstly to make sure the storm didn’t decide to turn SW and arrive on the coast too close by to us and secondly once it had past to find a narrow window to sail up to Southport. We need a twenty four hour period when the large swell produced by the storm has reduced but before the northerly winds set in. Tomorrow looks like the day, thanks Coffs we’ve enjoyed our stay.

Newcastle

Saturday 10th March 2018

Newcastle city centre

Our short stay in Newcastle was extremely pleasant. As well as a convenient stop on our way north it is the home of our friends from Toothless. Their cruising life is on hold for the time being, Toothless sits moored in Lake Macquarie awaiting her next adventure. Having chatted on email and Facebook we realise that the last time we actually met was over eighteen months ago in Tahiti, it was a shock to see the boys so grown up, school bags in their hands and shoes on their feet. Our timing was particularly lucky as Chris was home for a few days in between legs, he is back competing in the Volvo Around the World Ocean Race. All our tales of extremes at sea pale into insignificance compared to what these guys, and increasingly girls, go through as they battle their way across the oceans. It was great to catch up and the main bit of local knowledge Chris and Megs imparted was to make sure to turn left not right out of the marina.

Like it’s English namesake was a hundred years ago, Newcastle, Australia is a large coal exporting port. At the estuary of the Hunter river, it’s northern banks house the docks and wharfs for the massive tankers that transport the coal and other goods around the World. On the southern side sits the marina and the city centre and sure enough directly outside and to the right of the marina the city is quite run down. However, this situation looks about to change, building is going on everywhere. Hoardings, adorning the building site fences, promise not only a brand new light railway network but also glass covered corporate office blocks, upmarket apartment buildings and wide open manicured public spaces. And sure enough as you walk left towards the city centre, that is what you find.

Wednesday, leaving Rick head in the computer, ear to the phone trying to sort out arrangements to lift Raya out of the water when we get back up to the Gold Coast, I joined the lunchtime joggers, cyclists and other walkers on the the foreshore walkway. Everywhere we have been in Australia these superb public paths and surrounding spaces are a revelation, such a great resource and although not crowded, all are extremely well used. I pass the many waterfront restaurants, glossy offices and apartments neatly fitting with the old buildings of the city centre, I was heading for the beach that we spotted as we sailed in.

Foreshore walkway

I walked on until I found the ocean, as the pathway entered the sand dunes this sign greeted me.

I hesitated for a moment, until the sight of dog walkers, mothers with buggies and strolling retirees, assured me that this was probably just a case of the Port Authority covering its back. Still I carefully watched my step as I walked through the dunes out to yet another magnificent almost deserted beach. The surf crashed in and with the lifeguards red flag flying the only people around were a few brave kite surfers. It was fantastic.

Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle

Back in the marina, in the laundry as is often the case, we found some more friends, last seen in Sydney, fellow Brits Dianne and Graham had arrived to ready their yacht Maunie to be shipped back to Southampton. We joined up for dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants, tales were swapped and too much wine was drunk. We spent Thursday recovering and preparing the boat to set sail, the marina was hosting a fishing competition at the weekend we needed to free up our berth by midday Friday.

We knew conditions weren’t ideal, the wind wasn’t bad but the swell was bigger than we would have liked, however, it was the current that was to be the killer. The Australian East Coast current that had whisked us Southward so quickly last November was now against us. Being bashed by the waves as we did 8-9kts through the water but achieving only 5-6kts over the ground towards our destination was really depressing.

On the upside we did get a great sunset, our first for a while.

Sunsetting behind the big swell

Sayonara Sydney

Monday 5th March 2018

After almost three months, on Friday we sailed out of wonderful Sydney Harbour and started our treck north. We have until mid July to cover the nearly 2000nm up to the very northern most tip of Australia, experiencing as much as possible of the East Coast on our way. This is, we realise, the start of our journey home. We can’t quite decide whether to be excited or downcast by this fact but it’s hardly relevant we’ve a long, long way to go yet.

Thursday evening we picked Sheridan and Daisy up from the Fish Market dock, for an early start the next morning. We were headed up to Broken Bay and into Cowan Creek. We motored for the final time under Sydney bridge. The iconic views and frenetic ferries were all very familiar to us now and it didn’t really sink in that we were leaving this fantastic city behind us.

Sayonara Sydney

Until, that is, we left the protected harbour waters and were back out in the ocean for the first time since our arrival last December. I was glad of the seasickness tablets I had taken, it was a grey and lumpy sea that met us and at only ten knots not enough wind for us to sail, we were in for a rolly trip.

Luckily it was just a short hop and within a couple of hours we were motoring in the calm waters of Cowan Creek. We returned to our favourite spot of Jerusalem Bay, glad to see the Ospreys were still soaring above us, a little less pleased to see the hundreds of jelly fish that again drifting past on the tide. After so long in the city the silence was wonderful and the surrounding bush enveloped us like a comfort blanket.

Jerusalem Bay, early morning calm

The Cowan Creek area is part of the large Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Saturday morning Rick dropped Sheridan and I at some makeshift steps in the rock and we climbed up to the join the Great North Walkway, a trail that runs, for a short part of its length, through the bush above the bays shoreline. With tree roots to climb over, tree trunks to dodge and rocky outcrops to negotiate, it is just rugged enough to seem like an adventure. The spaces between the eucalyptus and pines gave us glimpses of the bay and as we walked further the deep creek that feeds into it. Rich woodland smells filled the air, bird song and the piecing sound of cicadas filled our ears but the only physical sign of animal life were strange deep holes in the ground. Could land crabs be living up this high or were they home to something more sinister?

Sheridan on the Great North Walk, in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.

The day was fine and we met quite a few groups of walkers out enjoying their weekend and when we returned to the bay our quiet spot was busy with small fishing boats, kids jumping from the high ledge in the rocks and jet skiers churning up the calm waters.

We however were moving for a few hours to Looking Glass Bay around the corner, after a too brief a visit Sheridan and Daisy had to get back to Sydney. The plan was for us to have lunch at the one populated area of the park, Cottage Point and then for them to get a taxi back to Sydney, a 40min drive away. This turned out to be rather more difficult than anticipated. When asked, the owner of the charming Cottage Point Kiosk where we sat eating, with a sharp intake of breath said “oh, you won’t find it easy to get a taxi out here”. The problem was compounded by no internet and a phone signal that could only be found up three sets of very steep steps and a climb up the hill. After a rather breathless and anxious hour or so, with the help of numerous kind locals, who even offered lifts, we finally had no less than three taxis vying for our trade and Sheridan and Daisy were on their way.

Guests dispatched Rick and I returned to Jerusalem Bay for one more calm day before setting back out to sea. Having yet again had to motor, today we are 45nm further north and back in the City, this time the centre of Newcastle. We are safely tied up in the Yacht Club Marina awaiting another set of friends. The crew of Toothless who travelled on and off with us from Europe to Tahiti, live locally and are joining us for sundowners.

Frustrations

Wednesday 28th February 2018

Nice to see the evening sunshine finally glinting off the tower blocks.

It was with relief yesterday that we finally saw some sunshine. All day Sunday and most of Monday it didn’t stop raining. Boats are not great places to be for extended periods of rain, a feeling of damp pervades everything and as so much of life is spent outside, with all hatches tightly closed, it feels rather confined below. Evidence of how bad things got was the appearance of the Scrabble box.

In fact it’s been a rather frustrating week all round, after a promising start to our return to Sydney things went rapidly downhill. The electronic charts I had organised before we left for Perth had not been ordered, the sprayhood we had sent off for repair was untouched and even with the new engine alternator we still needed to replace the batteries.

Never mind we thought, that evening we had tickets for a performance of Carmen at the Opera House. Unfortunately that was a little disappointing too, the production wasn’t in the expected flamboyant style we were hoping for. The set and costumes were ‘realistic’ ie rather drab and the main character Carmen, who in our minds should be sexy, larger than life and command your attention, was, well, rather mousy. The music was fantastic however and it would be difficult to beat the view from the bar.

We decided to delay our departure from the marina for a day so Rick could sort out the batteries and for the electronic charts to arrive, which all went to plan. The sprayhood however couldn’t be fixed until the end of the week, we put it back up unrepaired, a job to go back on the list. So half satisfied we headed out to Blackwattle Bay. Typically for this week, our favourite spot in the middle of the anchorage, with plenty of depth, was taken. We had arranged to pick some friends up here, we needed to stay, so we anchored out on the edge. This turned out to be problematic in the changeable weather. If we positioned ourselves so there was enough depth when the NE winds pushed us towards the shore then when the wind changed to the South we ended up outside the bouys that marked the anchoring area and were politely ask to move by the marine police. If we anchored inside the bouys for the southerlies then when the wind went back to the North we swung worryingly near to the shallows. Unusually, the wind has reversed three times this week, so yes we have reanchored three times also.

We persisted with this anchorage because our good friend Sheridan arrived in Sydney to see her daughter Daisy for a couple of weeks and they, plus some more friends, came for lunch on Friday. At the far end of Blackwattle Bay is the large Sydney Fish Market, we all met up there to select some goodies for lunch. Fish and seafood of all kinds adorn the extensive market stalls, there is a posh deli, a wine store, fruit and veg shop and a bakery. Particularly around lunchtime it becomes jammed packed with Chinese’s visitors, so actually getting what we needed was a bit of a bun fight but eventually we returned to Raya bags full and put together a great spread.

This wasn’t so good for the start of our new healthy life style. Heidi who has visited Sydney many times, informed us that we weren’t alone in our issues with weight gain, the food is so good here that this phenomena is quite common and has been nicknamed the Sydney Stone. Lettuce and water for lunch today.

With another wind change we have re-anchored yet again, but the central nature of this spot and the easy access to shore make it worth while. We pick Sheridan and Daisy up tomorrow and if the weather finally decides to play the game we hope to sail the few hours up to Pittwater on Friday.