By Bruce Wieland (Cruise Captain)
Once again excessive rain with major flooding in Queensland and northern New South Wales since January has put a dampener on boating. The rivers and creeks are still flushing debris into Moreton Bay. There have been some good days but scheduling cruise events just now is a lottery. Let us hope that the weather will be kinder after Easter.
The only MYCQ cruise event which has been organised in 2013 was the Clarence River Cruise over the Christmas/New Year holiday. While only four yachts participated, the event was an outstanding success.
The weather for a change was good, particularly the series of good weather windows which allowed the four yachts to make their ocean passages at different times for both the outbound and return legs in good conditions. The four yachts were Purr-Fik, Ramjet, Shanda and Steppin Along.
Steppin Along Leaves the Southport Bar
The sail down was not without incident. Ray and Sue on Purr-Fik delayed their start as they had a funeral to attend, and then had to wait out a strong southerly at the Lazaret Gutter before having a great sail down the coast on New Years’ day. Peter and Allison on Steppin Along were first to leave home port Raby Bay on Boxing day with an overnight stop on the way to Southport, arriving at “Bums Bay” on the southern side of the Gold Coast Seaway early afternoon Thursday.
John and Eileen on Ramjet with help from crew members John and Bernadette left Raby Bay Thursday morning in a twenty-five knot southerly, requiring them to motor all the way to “Bums Bay”, arriving late afternoon. Lyn and I on Shanda planned to leave Manly on Thursday morning intending to meet up with Ramjet for the trip down to the Southport, but had a major mishap leaving the marina berth. I dropped the mooring lines and reversed out of the berth as usual but when I engaged forward drive NOTHING HAPPENED!! Luckily the breeze was still light at that time and the impact with the catamaran across the channel was minor. The anchor went down as quickly as possible and we managed to keep Shanda mid channel until help arrived and Shanda was maneuvered into a vacant berth. These incidents always come as a shock, particularly as I had been out on Shanda only two weeks before, and had run the motor in gear for fifteen minutes only two days ago. Investigation revealed that the locking grub screw had unwound, allowing the nut on the end of the shaft to also loosen, finally allowing the shaft key to fall out… thus no drive!! It took until 2.30pm to fix it. By then the southerly was gusting over 25 knots and the tide was in full ebb. I knew that the forecast was for a good weather window the next day for the ocean leg to the Clarence Bar, so with an unenthusiastic first mate Shanda left Manly somewhat behind schedule, making slow progress to arrive at the “Bums Bay” rendezvous with Ramjet and Steppin Along around 11.00pm. The new day brought new attitude. The three yachts left the anchorage at first light Friday the 28th, exiting a calm Gold Coast Seaway just as the sun rose. It was a stunning morning with the sun lighting up the tall buildings in Surfers Paradise, and with colour added by several hot air balloons ghosting above the buildings. Of course there was no wind so motoring was the order of the day.
Surfers Paradise At Sunrise 28 Dec 2012
As it had been many years since I had sailed along this coast (Queenslanders prefer to go north don’t they?), I hung in close to the beach to enjoy the sights. By mid afternoon several storm cells moved out to sea from Evans Head and Ballina. They looked nasty but we all avoided the worst of them. At least they finally provided a good sailing breeze and all boats made good progress until dusk when the breeze died out again.
Shanda arrived at the Clarence River Bar at 9.30pm, slightly later than anticipated, after having steered a slalom course through the trawlers operating north of the river. The bar was virtually flat and offered no challenges. We found a good anchorage in Iluka Harbour.
Byron Bay Lighthouse With Storm Building In The South
Fantanstic Sunset After The Storm Around 6:30pm 28 Dec 2012
John on Ramjet called on the radio to advise that he had started his motor outside the bar but could not engage gears. (I could relate to that!) As he was unfamiliar with the river and the light breeze was unfavorable, he decided to anchor outside until morning. Ramjet anchored on the southern side of the breakwater off Turners Beach. Conditions were calm so it seemed like a reasonable decision. Steppin Along arrived around 11.00pm and anchored near Shanda in Iluka Harbour.
Lyn and I were very grateful to climb into bed having had little sleep the night before, but were awakened around 3.30am by a strong southerly change. Shanda and Steppin Along were ok but Ramjet, anchored outside on a lee shore with no motor was in great danger!!
In the early hours of Saturday 29thof December, a strong southerly change moved up the New South Wales coast reaching Yamba around 0330 hours. John Hamarty and crew on Ramjet found themselves anchored off the now unprotected Turners Beach with a rock wall as a lee shore and with no motor. With the swell building, John called up the Coast Guard and managed to arrange a tow into the river. Ramjet was secured to a mooring in Yamba Bay off the Marina wall. ALL SAFE!
Following discussion, Shanda and Steppin Along, both anchored in Iluka Harbour, made the crossing to join Ramjet at Yamba. Shanda picked up a nearby mooring while Steppin Along anchored. It proved to be a beautiful sheltered spot while the southerly continued for the next three days.
Clarence River Bar
During those days we all spent time exploring ashore. Yamba is a beautiful place, with a sheltered beach somewhere, no matter which direction the wind is blowing. My favorite is Whiting Beach situated just inside the southern breakwater. Whiting Beach is a little exposed in a northerly but is heaven in a southerly. There were several yachts anchored in the crystal clear water including two large catamarans. Everywhere was just a short walk or dinghy ride from the mooring. Food, fuel and water were all available nearby. The beer at the Hotel on top of the cliff overlooking the ocean beaches was particularly tasty on those hot days, as were the scallop pies from the bakery.
Lyn Wieland At Whiting Bay
Meanwhile, John with lots of advice (and a little help) from onlookers, began to investigate his rogue gearbox. He and Eileen spent lots of time in the dinghy catching spare parts as they gradually dis-assembled the drive leg, mostly from underneath. Peter and Allison on Steppin Along, with less time available left on Sunday to sail upriver. Ramjet crew members John, Bernadette and Eileen hired a car on Monday and invited Lyn to join them for a day long drive through the Clarence Valley while I helped John Hamarty with the gearbox. The New Years’ Eve party was held on Ramjet. There were lots of fireworks from several locations, and of course we celebrated both time zones.
Ray and Sue on Purr-Fik celebrated New Years’ Eve at Bums Bay, exiting the Gold Coast Seaway around 0700 for the sail to the Clarence River on New Years’ Day. They enjoyed good sailing conditions, arriving at the breakwater around 1900hrs, and proceeded to the anchorage at Yamba. Ray reported that he had difficulty lowering his spinnaker outside the breakwater and was in danger of overshooting. Welcoming drinks were held on the party boat Ramjet..
Bruce Wieland Doing It Tough At Yamba
The next morning Steppin Along arrived back from their upriver exploration. They reported good sailing conditions on the river, the experience of watching the Harwood Bridge open, and had enjoyed their stop at Maclean. As there was a good weather window the next day for the sail home and they left at first light Wednesday.
John was making progress with the gearbox, having ordered parts on the first working day of the new year, but Ramjet was going nowhere for now. Purr-Fik and Shanda left Yamba that day to head upriver, having booked the Harwood Bridge opening the previous day. (they require 24 hours notice)
John Eileen And Rogue Gearbox
Purr-Fik and Shanda left Yamba on Wednesday the 2ndJanuary to explore upriver. The Harwood Bridge opening had been booked for 1400 hrs. Both yachts motor sailed the 23??? NM, passing through the more densely populated areas outside Yamba with some spectacular luxury homes on show. Rounding every bend of the river produced a new vista as the houses became more sparse giving way to cane fields and other farms including one which had an extensive irrigation system that we later established was an aquaculture industry. Along the mostly low banks were many old timber derricks used originally for loading cane onto barges for transport to the mill. Depth in the river channels averaged 10 metres, but many sand banks were present making navigation a necessity. There was one deep hole at the bend at Goodwood where depth reached 20 metres.
Ray And Sue Perry Arrive At Yamba
Shanda and Purr-Fik reached the Harwood Bridge early so anchored just downstream for lunch. As the booking time for the bridge approached anchors were raised and we stood by to watch the bridge rise. Protocol is to impose minimal disruption to traffic on the highway, so a quick passage is required. Maclean was only a few miles further on. Peter on Steppin Along had given me a briefing on anchoring at Maclean. The town side of the river is deep with rocky ledges on which many anchors had been lost in the past. Tidal over-falls gave evidence to this. There were ten or so boats already anchored or moored there already. I tried my anchor but it just bounced along the bottom. Ray suggested that we try the opposite bank where we found good holding in five metres just twenty metres off the reed bank. Very pretty, with cows grazing in front of a nice homestead. Ray and Sue visited Maclean while Lyn and I had a nanna nap, later enjoying sundowners and dinner on Purr-Fik. The next morning, following a peaceful night, we went exploring Maclean. There are lots of interesting places to investigate and we spent most of the day ashore. We stayed a second night to again wake to the sound of mooing from the grassy bank. I went for an early paddle in the kayak along the northern bank.
Clarence River Bridge
Shanda left mid morning to head up river as we were to meet Col and Di Graham. They had driven down to spend a few days on Shanda, thus allowing the girls to drive home while Col and I sailed Shanda home. They arrived early and managed to attract our attention from the road downstream of Brushgrove. Col and Di were friends with Chris Queenan, an ex yachtie from QCYC who now lived at Brushgrove.
Chris informed us that a new pontoon had recently been completed and that we should berth there. The pontoon was built as a visitors berth to attract boating people to the twin towns of Brushgrove and Cowper. It is situated just beside the Wingfield Bridge over the South Arm junction with the main river. What a lucky find. The pontoon was long enough to berth Shanda and Purr-Fik which arrived shortly after. The Brushgrove Hotel was right there so we all adjourned for drinks and some great country steaks served at their outdoor tables set up on the grassy bank of the river junction. The next morning we walked the few hundred metres to Chris’s house on the bank of the Clarence, where Chris provided a big fry-up of bacon and fresh eggs from his chooks for breakfast. Chris is a great host and he swapped many surfing stories with Ray, who grew up around that area.
We left Brushgrove mid morning and headed further up river, getting the timing right to cross the cables of the cross river ferry as they sank below the surface. The ferry moves fairly fast and it would be embarrassing to find yourself wedged on them. We considered stopping for lunch at Ulimaroa. Peter and Allison had given glowing reports of their meal at the Ulmarra Hotel, but we decided to press on to Grafton. All went well until we approached the high tension power lines just downstream of Grafton. The notice on shore stated that minimum clearance was eighteen metres. As Shanda’s mast height is fifteen metres including aerials I had no hesitation, but Purr-Fink’s mast height is eighteen metres with aerials, Ray and Sue were nervous. Ray stopped his motor to survey the situation, and guess what, it wouldn’t restart. Meanwhile Purr-Fik was drifting towards a rocky bank directly under the power lines. Ray quickly dropped anchor and managed to stop Purr-Fikjust three metres short of the rocks. Witnessing this from Shanda I dropped anchor and Col and I got in the dinghy to help. While Col and Ray worked on the motor, Sue and I, in separate dinghies held Purr-Fik off the rocks as it began to shear on the anchor with the wind gusts. Eventually the mechanics restarted the motor and I backed off some distance in the dingy to sight the clearance under the power lines. As it turned out there were at least two metres of clearance.
Crew At Brushgrove Hotel
Both yachts continued upriver to Grafton as far as the bridge. This was as far as it was possible to go. After a short conference it was decided to return to the anchorage at Elizabeth Island just upstream of the power lines. Ray and Sue came aboard Shanda. The water here is fresh on the ebb tide so the boys had a refreshing swim while the girls made an early start on sundowners. Yet another calm night followed.
Freshwater At Elizabeth Island
The next morning both yachts began the journey downstream, first negotiating the power lines and a little while later the ferry cables. Shanda called at Brushgrove where the car was waiting. Col and I said our goodbyes to the girls and resumed our journey downstream to the Harwood Bridge to await the 1800hrs opening. Purr-Fik arrived a little later to join the queue with us and two monos. Both yachts had a fast run down river to arrive at Yamba just after sunset where we caught up with news from Ramjet. John had booked Ramjet to be slipped the following week to install the repaired gearbox.
The weather report for the following day was good so the ocean leg back to the Gold Coast planned. As Shanda needed to refuel first, I was waiting at the local servo for it to open. Anchors were weighed at 0730hrs and Purr-Fik and Shanda crossed the Clarence bar without drama and set sail. Seas were slight with a light easterly breeze. We two sail reached until the breeze freed slightly enabling us on Shanda to set the spinnaker. The sail north was uneventful, crossing the Seaway around 2000hrs and anchoring at “Bums Bay” for the night. A strong northeasterly change came through during the night. Col and I breakfasted with Ray and Sue, then left, motoring into the strong head wind until we were able to sail from Blakesleys to Manly.
Both Steppin Along and Ramjet also enjoyed good sailing on the trip home although they were more than one week apart. In summary all agreed that it was a fantastic adventure despite the mishaps, and that the Clarence River Valley is a beautiful place. A return trip sometime is anticipated.