Where did November 1st go?

The decision was made. The winds looked liked they had eased up, or at least weren’t forecast to be as bad as the next day. So, at 0600 on Monday November 1, we untied ourselves from the mooring and set off. We went through the very tricky bar at what was not the most suitable time and encountered very large swells. No waves just swells. Biiiggg swells! So we were comfortable that we could make it to Macleay River by nightfall. It was not to be, as we had not figured running against the East Australia Current (the EAC dude! – for all you Nemo fans) This current was running at around 3 knots southward. It was really fascinating to watch the sea temperature rise as we moved into the current. Form 19o C at Port Macquarie to 24.9o C abeam Smoky Cape (around Kemspey) where the current runs closest to the coast.

With the current drastically reducing our speed by the time we got to Trial Bay and the Macleay River at South West Rocks the winds were 25knot northerlies – no good for anchoring at Trial Bay and the tide was going out which was no good for the bar crossing at Macleay River. Our only option was to continue to Coffs Harbour – that meant a night sail. This was my first night sail and it is a bit daunting trying to keep watch for things you can’t see.

With so much beating into the wind, and after ten hours of solid powering our port engine gave up the ghost! Just what we needed. Another 5 hours and the starboard motor conked out. Yikes! Simple problem- ran out of fuel. The starboard one ran out about when we expected to, but the port one had us baffled. Even after we topped up its tank, it would only run a few seconds and then quit. When we got to Coffs, in the daylight we found the problem – there is a manual choke on the motor, not normally used because we have an electric choke on the starter console. This lever had some how worked its way forward, hence the higher fuel consumption plus its reluctance to start. We topped up the tanks with our reserve fuel and continue on our way. We have 100 litre in tank storage and a 20 litre Jerry Can reserve.

We arrived at Coffs Habour at 0530 on the morning of 2 Nov just at dawn. What happened to Monday?? What a nice way to enter an unfamiliar port – the navigation lights are still on but there is enough daylight to see the land mass and islands. Plus we could see the whale that crossed about one boats length directly in front of us at the harbour mouth!

So for now we are waiting to be allocated a berth so we can have a shower and go to bed – 20 minute cat naps are definitely not enough for me! And would you believe it – Coffs Harbour marina does not sell petrol – only diesel! This means a hike to the petrol station with our 20 litre can. We now have 2 x 20 litre jerry cans and enough fuel to get us to Yamba.

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Groundhog Day/ Run, Rabbit, Run

Well we were all set to go, the wind was to abate enough for us to head north to the Macleay river at South West Rocks. They are still nor’easterlies however we determined we were still able to make a heading 35 degrees off the wind. As well as the wind direction and strength we had to consider conditions for departing Port Macquarie whose bar is considered a dangerous one and entering the Macleay River at the appropriate times according to tidal flows. Having made the decision we readied the boat for an early 0530 departure. This timing also factored in the Port Macquarie Iron Man half marathon which was due to start at 0630 and whose swim leg passed by the bow of Ulysses. We had discussed our departure with the Marina management and the Swim Director for the race who agreed that we could make our departure by 0600 without disrupting the Iron Man event. As we had seen so many cyclists and swimmers training for the event we were interested to find out from the Swim Director, Tony, that the field for this event was close to 1000 athletes.

This event is a major qualifying event for official marathon and ironman series. Registration for the next Port Macquarie major full Iron Man race to be held later this year or early next year, sold out in 7 hours at a cost of $750 per entry so today’s event serves as an alternative qualifier for other Ironman events. This half marathon/ ironman event attracts both professional and amateur competitors, including Mr Rabbit, as he is known to our esteemed PM.

Rick was up a number of times during the night checking the weather forecast as we could hear the wind howling through the rigging. By the time the alarm went off, the latest forecast showed the winds at 20 – 30 knots, so here we are again – Ground Hog Day. We are conscious of becoming victims of Marina fever- we are busting to continue our journey, however we want to be sure we make sensible decisions and feel safe during our passage. While talking to our new friends on the Lightwave 45’s we discovered that they always sail off shore wearing life jackets. We decided that this was a very sensible position to take, so we will be applying that rule to our travels. In NSW it is compulsory to wear life jackets when crossing a bar regardless of the size or type of vessel. We were unaware of this until now.

We are moving from the fuel dock to a mooring this afternoon where I will try to entice some fish to make the ultimate sacrifice and jump onto my hook. I have been unable to do this at the fuel dock for fear of catching contaminated fish. We are hoping that the trough moves through sufficiently tonight to allow us to head off at first light tomorrow.

The coloured rocks of Port Macquarie

We awoke to another fine day but there’s a Strong Wind Warning in place. And it’s from the NE, so we’re not going nowhere. The marina have allowed us to stay on the fuel dock after all, which is a relief as I’m not too keen on anchoring up the river tonight in the forecast 30+ knot winds.
The people of Port Macquarie like their river and seem to use it for every possible sport. This morning we were centre stage for the nippers training, along with the dragon boat training, the surf skis, the stand-up paddle boards and the continuing stream of ultra fit triathalon swimmers. You would think they would be taking it easy today, with their big event on tomorrow.
After lunch we went for another walk into town, out along the rock wall, to check the entry across the bar and with it now blowing over 20 knots we convinced ourselves that we had made the right decision by staying another day.
The walk along the rock wall is interesting, in that almost every rock along the walkway, plus more further down the wall, have been painted by people. It probably started out as graffiti but it now looks as though it is condoned by the authorities, considering how widespread it is. The types of murals vary from the basic “we wuz here” type thing, to “in Memory of…”, details of family holiday groups dating back every year for the past 10 years, a couple of “Engaged at this spot” signs and even the evangelical, and very corny, “ feel the rock solid love of God”. I think it’s great that the local council hasn’t done the usual thing and painted them out – it would be a loosing battle anyway, and the rocks themselves now seem to be a sort of tourist attraction.
When we got home we saw that there was a wedding about to start on the headland of the motel next to the marina, adjacent to us on the fuel dock. It was fun watching all the ladies trying to control their hemlines in the 20 plus knots breeze. And Ulysses has just been used as a backdrop for the official wedding photo.

A whale with a sore back

Today was spent getting yet more modifications completed. We now have 240V power outlets installed in the galley, for use when connected to shore power. It is another one of those jobs that we were going to get done when we got back to Brisbane, mainly because Seawind wanted around $3000 to do it, so while we were still laid up here I thought we’d use the time productively and get it done. And for a lot less than $3000 I might add.
We’ve been for a couple of walks and are starting to feel like locals. We have to move out of the marina tomorrow as there is a major triathalon on Sunday and it is all centered around the very spot where we’re tied up. So we have had dozens, possibly hundreds, of wet-suit clad, ultra fit bods doing practice swims right past our back door. They look like human dolphins, or shark bait. It’s a shame we can’t stay as we’d have a ring-side seat.
For a number of days we’ve heard about a Riviera sedan power boat, limping into port, due to a whale strike. She arrived this morning and again we got a ring side seat of the proceedings. She is brand new, and I mean brand spanking – straight out of the factory at Coomera and being delivered to Sydney. She hadn’t even been Christened yet. She has the new IPS power drive installed, which is a fancy system where the power leg, with two contra-rotating props, sticks down from the hull and can rotate completely. So when we heard that one of the legs had been torn off we had all sorts images of a great big hole in the bottom. I reckon we may see photos of this boat in future boating magazines as the system operated exactly as promised. As you can see from the pics, the whole leg sheared off leaving just the base plate and a couple of bent bolts, and no hole in the hull.
I reckon the poor old whale probably has a bit of a back ache though.
This is the third major whale-strike that people here have heard about in three weeks, so our ideas of getting up close and personal with a whale or two are quickly fading.

How NOT to turn a boat around

Welcome to part two, in the continuing “How NOT to” series on Catamaran Cruising. Today’s lesson is about turning a boat around, a task one would imagine as being a relatively simple procedure. Not so, at least for this skipper.
As Ruth mentioned in the previous post, we were getting two holes drilled in the boat, one on the inside of the starboard hull and one on the outside of the port hull. As we were tied up port-side-to, I had to swap sides to face the port side out before drilling could be commenced. But before I elaborate further on my disastrous manoeuvre, I need to remind you of two things. First, Ruth was given a large loom of decommissioned rope in Sydney by Karl, with the intention of platting a couple of rope mats. This rope is off one of the big Sydney-Hobart race fleet that Karl looks after and was quite dirty so we had it hanging in a big bunch off the back rail to try and soak some of the dirt out. Point two – we were still awaiting our new motor for our auto-pilot George. Now George is a Raymarine Wheel Pilot, a simple design which is bolted onto the starboard steering wheel allowing it to directly turn the boats wheel. As George had been removed for repair, the steering wheel itself had also been removed, to allow access to remove George. The wheel had been placed back on the shaft for stowage, but remained disconnected.
Another thing I may need to explain to some readers is the superior manoeuvrability of a twin-engined catamaran, compared to a single engined boat, due to the availability of asymmetric thrust. When leaving or approaching a dock it is best not to use the wheel to steer but instead just using the throttles.
So back to the story. We left the dock reasonably painlessly, with Ruth ably handling the lines while I drove forward, using just the throttles. As I cleared the dock I went to turn the wheel, which is when I discovered that it just spun through my hands as it wasn’t connected to the rudders. Bugger. No probs I thought, we have two wheels on this boat (thanks Seawind!). Only problem is at the other wheel there are no throttles. OK, I can do this, it just means a bit of cross deck exercise, running from one helm to the other, steering from one side and adjusting thrust from the other.
So now its time to do the Seawind pirouette, a manoeuvre where the boat is spun on its axis, using forward thrust on one side and reverse thrust on the other. So into reverse on the starboard side and 10 seconds later clunk, the motor stalls. Remember Ruth’s rope hanging off the stern rail? It’s now wrapped itself around the starboard motor. Great. Now I have just one motor, one inoperative steering wheel and no throttles at the remaining “good” wheel.
Luckily, there was a mooring boy that we were quickly approaching, not to mention two 45 foot Lightwaves so I was able to gain enough manoeuvrability to get Ruth into a position where she could snare the mooring with a boat hook.
With adrenalin levels now back to a more reasonable level we now had a chance to think “what next”.
Unluckily, this whole event had been witnessed by our new friends Greg and Janie from their boat, so after they had finished rolling around their decks in hysterics, Greg motored over in his dingy to lend us a hand. This turned out to be rather fortuitous as we still didn’t have a dingy, so he was able to nose up to our stern, while I half raised the motor and he was able to untangle our lovely mess.
The re-docking proved to be only a little less stressful than the departure, with a reasonable stiff off-shore wind giving me another lesson for the day, this time on windage and large catamarans.
So who said this cruising life was a great way to relax?

Two holes in the Boat

Day 3 in Port Macquarie and it is getting dangerous! Our auto pilot was fixed this morning and Rick is finding ways to modify the boat already! Some NSW survey requirements not needed in QLD mean that we have to pump grey water waste from one hull to the other and into a holding tank to then be discharged. Usually hand basin waste water and dish water discharge directly out of the boat. So while we are waiting for the southerlies to come back – we are missing our opportunities waiting for parts – Rick is having two holes drilled into the boat to bypass the holding tank. This is a little scary so I have been sitting up the front on the trampoline reading while the modifications are discussed with the shipwrights. While I type this, Rick has just come up into the cabin to find the hacksaw. I am trying not to take too much notice. We, or more like I, have been attacked by sandflies and have bites all over my ankles. A trip to the pharmacy has me now stocked up with Vitamin B1, Cortisone cream and antihistamine and a visit to Big W means we now have an insect repellent burner. The Marine electrician advised that a good repellent is equal parts of dettol, methylated spirits and baby oil. So it may be back to the shops again! We need to head off soon just to stop spending money. The people here are very accommodating and are allowing us to stay tied up to the fuel dock (there are no berths for catamarans here) and are fitting our little jobs into their schedules. It looks like the winds will be right on Saturday morning for our departure – besides folk-lore says you don’ leave port on a Friday and we hope our next stop will be Trial Bay or the Macleay River at South West Rocks. We’re off to dinner tonight with some other catamaran owners (Lightwave 45’s) that we have met – the two boats are both heading south and were waiting for the southerlies to change into northerlies. Given that we are expecting southerlies on Saturday and I think we are experiencing northerlies now they might be off in the morning to beat the change.

Whale watching and fishing

We got away from Dunbogan at 0630 for an easy 3 hour hop up to Port Maquarie. Not much wind so it was a motor-sail with our small headsail out. It gave me a chance to try out my trolling skills. Nothing jumped onto the line, which is probably a good thing as I still haven’t worked out how we’ll land, kill and stow any large eatable catch – certainly don’t want blood stains on the FlexiTeek deck! We also continued with our whale watching tour, chalking up another 8 for the morning – one pair cruised 50 meters beside us while another gave us a great show with a full airborne display
Conditions were good for another bar crossing and we were lucky to jag a berth at the fuel dock – yesterday, when we were trying to orgainise a mechanic we were told the marina was chockas, with several boats rafted up due to so many boats pulling in here awaiting better weather, but luckily three had made a move this morning and we were able to be given a great spot at the fuel dock.
Terry the marine electronics man arrived to start pulling things apart and within half an hour he had found the burnt out motor – still smelling of an acrid electrical odour. George was taken away, to be given the last rites I presume, while one of his cousins has been ordered and will hopefully be freighted up overnight and with fingers crossed we might be able to get away by tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, we’ve stocked up on stores and Ruth is sitting out on the back deck trying to catch dinner.
7PM update. No fish, so it was a steak on the bbq. We had our first sundowners with another cruising couple, who are moored just behind us in their Lightwave 45. We reckon we could get used to this cruising life – unfortunately that is still 4 or 5 years away for us. Also went for a walk to look at Alan Lucas’ ketch Solares – for those of you unfamiliar with cruising in Queensland and NSW, the “bible” of cruising is called “Cruising the NSW Coast” and “Cruising the Coral Coast”, written by Alan Lucas. We are using his guide extensively so it was great to see his beloved ketch Solares moored here in Port Maquarie. I wandered over to try and strike up a conversation but he is away this week – if we’re still stuck here awaiting parts next week we may get to meet the guru himself.

George takes a sickie

We’ve done another day of hopping from one town to another, leaving Tuncurry at 0730 and now having arrived at Dunbogan, on the Camden Haven River. Most of today was hand steered, owing to George deciding to pack it in. After several diagnostic fault finding phone calls it appears that it may be the drive motor, so tomorrow we’ll be making a forced stop at Port Macquarie to visit a marine electronics man.
These little towns are all very picturesque , with oyster leases, people pumping for yabbies on sandbars and steep hills in the background creating postcard type vistas and we would like to explore a little more, however time constraints at home, plus the lack of a dinghy makes that somewhat difficult. But when we come back southbound one day, perhaps for a Sydney Christmas visit, we’ll have a better chance to look around.
Today’s sailing, apart from having to steer the whole time, was the best conditions we’ve had so far, with it all being done under sail alone for a change. We had a forecast for 15 – 20 kt SW’ly and that’s what we got. We raised the sails in rain and had the back covers down to keep it out, until George packed it in, and it remained overcast until we arrived. Another uneventful bar crossing under our belt and it has now cleared up so we’re currently getting our foulies dried out. Plus Ruth has decided to do some baking so we’re enjoying a pleasant cuppa with mini choc muffins. Yum.

Escorted through the bar

Sunday evening and we are tied up to heavily barnacled piles at the Tuncurry Fish Co-op. It is raining and we are wet. We departed the beautiful Port Stephens early this morning hoping to take advantage of southerly winds. A strong wind warning was current for the region immediately to the south of us and we managed to stay ahead of the rain squalls and the strong winds for most of the day until early afternoon when we donned wet weather gear and truly looked the part!   Early this morning we attracted the attention of a pod of about 15 dolphins who stayed with us playing in the bow waves for about half and hour.   We had two more escorts during the day with the final one being in through the bar into Forster-Tuncurry.  We enjoyed sighting 7 whales – all  but one was inshore of us, and were very easy to spot against the dark rocky backdrop of the coastline. Our first bar crossing was uneventful considering we were crossing it at the worst possible time – towards the bottom of an outgoing tide . Then tying up to the pylons was an interesting exercise. The top of the pylons stand 6 feet above the cabin top. I had to try to lasoo the pylons while Rick steadied the boat with the motors. I guess there is no career for me in Rodeo. But we got on – and don’t particularly like this style of mooring.  It is grey and cold and miserable and our most important decision now is Pizza, Thai or Noodles for dinner from the local takeaway joints whixh we can see from the boat. Tuncurry is a very different place to Port Stephens.

How NOT to replace an inflatable life jacket cartridge

We have had to replace one of the gas cartridges from one of our inflateable life jackets so when we saw one in the local chandlery for a whopping $30 we thought we had better grab it, in case we don’t see them again. So I followed the instructions, I thought, and screwed the cylinder into the fitting, only to have the whole jacket inflate in front of me. At least we know they work! It appears the firing mechanism, a sharp pin that is supposed to pierce the cylinder, hadn’t retracted, so I got the pleasure of watching thirty dollars literally vanish into thin air in front of me.