Monday 27th November 2017
‘Hang on, I’ll just get the phone out of the oven’ is not a phase one uses every day, nor luckily is ‘Rick come quick we are dragging’. Port Stephens has not been one of our best stops.
The sail down from Southport was really enjoyable, we could have done with a bit more wind but the days were warm and sunny and the nights starlit. Dolphins, birds and the beaches and mountains of the New South Wales coast provided distraction. Also keeping us on our toes, whisking us southwards at occasionally over 4kts, was the Australian East Coast current. Unfortunately, this was not part of the passage plan, we were aiming to get to the entrance to Port Stephens on slack tide at first light on Saturday. We needed to slow down but still had to keep just enough boat speed through the water to give us steerage, so sails were reefed within an inch of their lives and when motoring the revs were kept as low as the engine would run. Our efforts were not in vain, after two days of fine tuning we arrived exactly as planned at 8am but we were left with the worrying thought of the more difficult job we will have when trying to get back North in the spring.
Four knots of current as we sailed south down the Australian East Coast.
Friday afternoon the sky had been streaked with high clouds, these horse tails may be beautiful but are a sure sign that the bright, calm weather, brought by a large high pressure system lingering over the Tasman sea, would soon be coming to an end.
And indeed the next day the wind began to increase as did the cloud. The combination of strong north easterly winds and shallow water made Port Stephens, with its predominantly north facing anchorages, difficult for our deep drafted boat. We had been told of a small secluded bay, that looked as if it would be protected, unfortunately it too was a bit shallow for us to anchor in very close and we remained in the outer bay exposed to the winds. However it was nice enough and we settled down for the day. We took the dingy around the wooded shore and spotted reef herons, a cormorant and oyster catchers, we ate a nice lunch and then went below to read. I couldn’t quite explain it but I began to feel something was wrong and went to investigate, shocked I realised we were dragging our anchor, slowly drifting out of the bay. Why our anchor, which has not let us down even once right across the Pacific, would suddenly after five hours holding us steady in the 20kt winds, start to drag is a mystery. Suspecting weed or a soft muddy bottom we inched into the bay as far as we dared and re-anchored putting out an absurd amount of chain, set the anchor alarm and enjoyed sundowners with our friends on Moonshadow.
As is our habit before going to bed we checked the stern light to see what it might have attracted. Sunday night we were delighted to find a large pelican lurking around our stern. With his ludicrously long beak, the fish, star struck by the light, were easy pickings.
Pelican fishing around the back of the boat
This morning the change in the weather continued, the sky was overcast and the air humid, we took Raya to look at a couple of other anchorages. We motored laboriously through the shallow channels that run between the sand banks that fill Port Stephens, but didn’t really feel happy in any of the targeted spots. Once the north winds on the back edge of the high pressure pass by, southerly winds will arrive, trapping us inside the Port for possibly a week, we decided to move on while we still could.
We lifted the dingy and in pouring rain, with thunder and lightening threatening in the distance, moved out of Port Stephens to Fingal Bay. Fingal Bay lies just outside the entrance, deep and protected it will give us a fast get away in the morning for the seventy mile trip down to our next stop Pittwater. As the storm moved off, we rescued the small electronics from the oven, where they had been put, in the hope that the oven, working as a Faraday Cage, would save them if lightening did hit and were treated to a fabulous sunset. It was a stunning spot and it was a real treat to have such a bright end to a rather dull day.
Moonshadow bathed in the amazing light of the setting sun