Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. The boat is now on the east coast of Australia while we spend a summer back in Britain.

Friday, 15 December 2017

The Kindness of Strangers and Things That Go Bump In The Night

It's been a busy couple of weeks so here's a bit of a catch-up on life aboard Maunie. When we last wrote we were enjoying Port Stephens, with lovely, sheltered anchorages such as Fame Cove to explore:


We motored round to a little seaside township called Lemon Tree Passage where we joined in a very convivial BBQ with several local yachties and new-found friends Michael and Annick from the German yacht, Lucie. As we have found elsewhere in Australia, the locals are really friendly and eager to help in any way they can but we nearly had to call on that help a day or two later.

Watching the forecast, we decided to sail some 37nm down the coast to Newcastle on Thursday. Newcastle, unlike its namesake in the north east of England, is still a huge port exporting coal but, since the closure of the big steelworks in the early 90's, it has, like its namesake, had to re-invent itself. Once-redundant dockyards have been re-developed with bars, restaurants and apartments and it is becoming quite a trendy city in which to live. The mix of the new developments and the busy port sounded quite appealing after the serenity of Port Stephens but the clincher was the Hunter River on which it lies or, more specifically, the Hunter Valley wine region about an hour's drive inland.

We found on-line the last two seats on a minibus tour of the wineries, leaving Newcastle on Saturday morning, so booked them, thinking (wrongly as luck would have it) that we'd easily get a space in the 180 berth Yacht Club marina. Unfortunately there happened to be a racing regatta that weekend so we were told, firmly, that the place was full. Bugger! We couldn't find an alternative berth and, not wanting to leave Maunie at anchor in the fast current of the river whilst we did the wine tour, we asked our new-found friends from the BBQ if they had any local knowledge. Well, they sprang into action but couldn't confirm anywhere safe but we were offered the loan of a car (probably not a great idea after a wine tour!) and even a lift there and back! Such generosity was overwhelming, particularly when our little problem wasn't exactly a life and death situation. Far more serious, in Graham's view.

However, some more searching on the web suggested a possible but long-shot solution for a berth for Maunie; we read that there was a small, two-boat pontoon on the waterfront that was managed by the Maritime Museum and that it might just be possible to rent a space on it. Simple, we thought, let's phone the museum but, no, the phone rang unanswered, the emails bounced back and the website wouldn't work. Bugger, again! Di then had a stroke of genius: we used Google Street View to find the name of a bar just opposite the museum and she phoned it, talked to Brendan the manager and he kindly offered to walk over and give them a message. It turned out the museum's phone and internet system had failed but one of their kind folk phoned us on their mobile and, voila, we had a berth! 

Maunie's exclusive downtown pontoon, with bars and restaurants just to the right of the photo. Of course we went for a meal in Brendan's bar, Dockyard, and introduced ourselves to him
We had some time to explore the town and walk out to the headland overlooking the port entrance and really liked Newcastle.

One of the huge (up to 800ft) coal carriers leaving the port

The oldest NSW lighthouse (1853), with the newer port watchtower behind it, at Nobby's Head

Looking back from the lighthouse to the city. Nobby's Head was once an island so this is all a man-made causeway, built in the 1800's by convict labour

We sampled the delights of a Sydney icon, now with a branch in Newcastle. Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a converted tram-car serving a particularly Australian delicacy....
.... meat pies topped with a thick dollop of mushy peas, finished with a ladle of gloopy gravy. Cordon Bleu it isn't but tasty and filling all the same.
The ships (about two or three per day) coming in to the port were met by a helicopter which landed on their huge decks to deliver the river pilot, who would guide them in to the tricky entrance, and then three or four hugely powerful tugs would shoulder against the massive vessels to guide them to their designated loading berths. As the tugs returned to their moorings, just opposite Maunie, they would occasionally show off their amazing dual-drive propulsion systems that would allow them to spin on the spot:


The tugboat equivalent of doing donuts


Little did we realise that we would later be cursing some of these tugs... More on this below.

Meanwhile Graham was delighted to find a brilliant display of Porsches, past and present, outside the Newcastle Museum, organised by the local dealership and owners' club.

An immaculate 356 with 1970's 911 behind
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This one was a bit of a tear-jerker. The 968 was the last front-engine Porsche and we had one, a rare 1994 Club Sport in bright yellow, for about six years. Graham still misses it! 
Anyway, the real reason for our visit, the Hunter Valley wine tour, took place on Saturday and was excellent. Four wineries, from the huge McGuigan to the tiny Macquariedale Organic Wines, were visited with around 30 wines sampled. Plus there was a visit to a chocolate shop, a cheese and wine pairing session and a lunch at a craft brewery, with beer tasting, of course. Ish was a nabshulely magnifishunt day!

Di adopting the tasting position at Ridge View winery

The Macquariedale Winery
Matilda Bay Brewhouse menu
There had to be a downside to all this fun, unfortunately. At 4.00am on the Monday morning we were awoken to Maunie being tossed about like a toy boat - a huge wake from a tug in far too much of a hurry to return to his mooring had us roll and crash against the pontoon, in spite of our fenders. Quite an alarming way to be woken, it must be said. A phone call and email to the Port Manager responsible for all the tugs (at a company called Svitzer) resulted in a long letter of apology, telling us that he had forwarded our email to all 107 crew members in his team and that several of his skippers had responded in dismay on reading it. Hopefully no other yachts will suffer the same experience as a result and, thankfully, there was no major damage done to Maunie.

We have now moved on to Broken Bay where we have experienced the hottest temperatures of the voyage since we left England - close to 40 degrees C. We're in great company with Adam and Cindi aboard Bravo and will be in this lovely area up until Christmas.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Day-sails down the NSW coast

When we first sailed in these waters, a year ago, we were in a bit of a hurry to get south to Sydney so we did some long, overnight passages to cover the miles quickly. This year we decided to try to cover it in more relaxed and manageable day-sail chunks, partly for comfort, partly to see the coastline and partly because of the weather. We chatted to a semi-retired professional fisherman the other day and he told us that the weather patterns are becoming increasingly unusual (how many times have we been told that on our voyage?); the normal summer north-easterlies haven't become established yet this season and the south-going East Australia Current is much closer inshore than normal. 

We've certainly experienced some very light winds, which tend to die away to nothing at night (another reason not to do overnight sails) so we've spent time in some interesting places waiting for wind.

Port Macquarie was one such spot. A thriving holiday town on the mouth of the Hastings River, Port, as it's known, has a little marina which allowed us to replenish water, fuel and food but we really enjoyed the quiet anchorage up the river.

A photo of our chart-plotter - Port Macquarie is at the bottom of the picture and Maunie's river anchorage is top-left.

We were surprised to see this 125ft dredger being towed up river past our anchorage. There's quite a substantial shipyard upstream.
We left Port on Monday for the 35nm passage down to Crowdy Head, a tiny man-made harbour that interested us when we first read about it. Captain Cook first sailed past the place on the 11th May 1770 and, depending on which story you prefer, named it either because he saw a large crowd of Aborigines watching the Endeavour from the headland or because he had a crew-member called Charles Crowdy. The bay had a reef projecting northwards from the point so it was used by early European settlers as a relatively safe anchorage but the modern harbour was completed in only 1972.


Our pilot book, published in 2010, warned that there is often a swell surge in the harbour and that the long visitors' pier (visible in the middle of the harbour in the photo above) could be uncomfortable to moor against. However it said that it was sometimes possible to contact the Fishermen's Co-op to secure a berth on the busy fishing boat jetty on the east side.

In seven years, all has changed, we discovered. The fishing fleet (once around 30 trawlers) has gone, the visitors' pier has been condemned as unsafe and the whole place was almost deserted, with just a few holiday homes occupied. The helpful radio operator at the local Marine Rescue centre told us we could moor alongside the new unloading dock (pretty much the only sign of recent investment) and we spent three very comfortable days there, waiting for wind, doing boat jobs and exploring.

The Crowdy Head harbour. Abandoned fisheries co-op to the left, old pier in the middle and practically-empty fishing boat pier to the right

Calm water in the harbour, with just one catamaran for company
The cute Crowdy Head lighthouse, built in 1872

The view down to the harbour

Maunie on the new wharf with expensive holiday homes behind
It was hot in the still air - up to 32 degrees - so Maunie sported her full complement of sunshades.
Sunset with some rain in those clouds
A present from a local fisherman - two delicious Red Snapper

On Thursday the NE wind finally began to show signs of turning up and we had a lovely 77nm sail south to Port Stephens, a huge natural inlet that's bigger than Sydney Harbour but which has no industrial settlements, just a few little holiday towns. The Parasailor flew for about six hours and we picked up a free visitors' mooring in Salamander Bay just before dusk.

Heading into the sunset
Salamander Bay is handy for a big shopping mall so, since there were no shops at Crowdy Head, we did a quick supermarket run then sailed across, in a fairly brisk 23 knot NE, to the wonderfully calm Fame Cove.

We only tow the dinghy in flat water as we have heard too many horror stories of them flipping over in big waves.
Even in such tiny coves, there is a good sailing social life to be had. We went aboard the German HR35 'Lucie' whose owners Michael and Annick we met in the Boat Works when their boat was hauled out next to us. It turned out to be Michael's birthday so we joined them for cake, sparkling wine and a good laugh with more German friends.

There are lots of anchorages to explore in Port Stephens but we are watching the weather with interest. The big high pressure, mentioned in the last update, has stored up a lot of heat inland and further south and there are warnings of big thunderstorms and flooding in the state of Victoria (south of New South Wales) and the lower regions of NSW so we don't know how that might influence the timing of our plans to get to Lake Macquarie and then on to Pittwater.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Man Vs. The Elements

In spite of its title, this blog update isn't about us battling gale force winds as we head south; the weather has been quite the reverse, in fact. A huge high pressure system has been almost stationary over the east coast of Australia and is now only moving slowly eastwards across New Zealand.



This has given us light and not very useful SE breezes for a few days and so we've stopped for a few days at Iluka, at the mouth of the mighty Clarence River. It's here that we have taken an interest in the huge works that man has undertaken to try to manage the elements when the weather isn't so unusually settled.

This image of the entrance to the Clarence River clearly shows the way in which the river has been managed, since the early 1800's, to try to make it a safe, navigable waterway. Of course, until the first quarter of the 20th Century, road and rail links along this coast were pretty sparse so the ability to allow coasting vessels to make port safely was vital to the growth of the region.


The 'training walls' inside the entrance re-directed the river from its original meander at the bottom of the picture and the long breakwaters projecting out to sea were completed in the 1970's. Work camps, temporary railways, huge cranes and rock-carrying barges were all part of the story and it's still in progress;  repairs to the breakwaters are ongoing and there is a grass-seeding program underway to stabilise the sand dunes
We took a walk out to the end of the northern breakwater on a fairly gentle day:


Thousands of tonnes of rock, to be regularly maintained after winter storms

In between the breakwaters, you can still get sizeable, breaking waves so it's vital to exit or enter at the right stage of tide
Like nearly all the rivers on this coast, it has a 'bar entrance' which means that silt carried down the river is dumped, as the flow rate slows, at the entrance to leave a shallow bar. It's visible in the top photo as a crescent shape but is much more obvious in this photo, taken when the river was ebbing:


The bar at a dangerous time
 So the golden rule is to always arrive at the entrance when the tide is flooding inwards and not rushing outwards to meet the incoming wind and swell. Of course, sometimes even the professionals get it wrong!



Whilst we were waiting for the weather, we managed a few walks, some chores and even a session in a gym with a great view:


Lots of Australian parks have these brilliant kits so we use them whenever we can
We moved south again yesterday, a 60nm passage to Coffs Harbour - motor-sailing the whole way, unfortunately, due to the light wind but the trip was enlivened by ships making their way up to Brisbane, fishing boats, dolphins and quite the wettest rain squall we've experienced for quite a while. Coffs Harbour is another example of an artificial harbour, built in the 1920's, but this one isn't on a river so for once we didn't have to do the maths on tide times to arrive safely at a bar entrance.



The breakwater was built to join up to Muttonbird Island in the foreground. The Marina came a lot later.
You'd think that this huge structure would have made the harbour a perfectly-sheltered one but, only last June, there was a violent easterly storm which saw huge waves rolling over the top of the wall.



The marina was badly smashed, two boats were sunk with many more badly damaged and the repair work is still going on.


The crane is hoisting huge pre-cast concrete blocks onto new rocks already laid; the plan is to make the breakwater taller and wider
 It was nice to come into the luxury of a walk-ashore marina, giving us the chance to enjoy long showers and to refill Maunie's water tanks. We went for a refill ourselves at the marina bar and Graham was delighted to find Thatchers Cider on tap, only to be told it had just run out...



Thatchers Cider comes from Somerset in bulk tanks and Coopers Brewery (another family-owned business, based in Adelaide) fills it into kegs and delivers it.
We have managed to put that disappointment behind us and today have moved another 35 miles to Trial Bay, to discover a harbour where, for the moment, man has given up the struggle to beat the elements.



At the point are the remains of Trial Bay Gaol, built to house low-risk prisoners in 1886. Their job was to build a huge, 1500m breakwater from the aptly-named Laggers Point to create a safe anchorage in the bay. The project overran in time and cost and, even as the first 300m of rock wall was built, the waters behind it began to silt up so it was abandoned.

We had hoped to go into the Macleay River to the SW of the photo but apparently there hasn't been a flood to wash the river bar out for several years and now it is deemed too shallow and dangerous for most boats. So we're anchored in the bay instead and it's calm but a little bit rolly. Tomorrow we'll get the maths right to go through the bar entrance at Port Macquarie.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Maunie's ready to go again!

We're back in the sailing business! Maunie had fared really well under her covers for the past 7 months, with our great friend Brian checking on her periodically. There really wasn't any winter weather here this year so she was dry and well-aired and it didn't take us long to move back into boat life. Which means, of course, tackling a longish list of maintenance jobs. 

We'd booked in to the Boat Works yard for 5 days ashore to attend to the annual below-the-waterline jobs and, once again, the team there looked after us very well. The yard's reputation seems to be growing, though, as it was really busy with boats hauling out for their early-summer maintenance.

Maunie is guided towards Sid, the seventy-tonne travel-lift

In spite of 7 months of inactivity, the hull only had a light coating of slime so the Coppercoat antifouling is still doing well in its 7th year. Putting a plastic bag over the propeller while Maunie was moored up was a good move.

Teamwork and practice to avoid blasting your work-mate! 3000psi pressure washers quickly had the hull clean
The list of jobs didn't look too onerous but, of course, it's a boat so there are always surprises to deal with. The Brunton's Autoprop feathering propeller needed some extra attention to take up some slack in the bearings and we decided that our batteries, showing initial signs of losing capacity, should be replaced; last time we kept them too long and they began to fail quite dramatically in Tonga. Fitting them is quite a challenge - lots of cables to deal with!

The trick is to label each cable and take lots of photos before disconnecting!
Apart from these moments, it all went to plan and a $30 car polisher and a long day's effort in the hot sunshine resulted in a shiny hull and superstructure and saved about $400 compared to a professional polish!

Nice hat, eh? Note the reflection in the cabin top.
Once again we were able to borrow one of the courtesy cars for the full weekend and this year it wasn't the little city car but a mighty (and thirsty) 4-litre V6 pick-up (they are known as 'utes' around here).



So, as well as doing some shopping runs and dropping the old batteries off for recycling, we were able to drive an hour south to surprise Brenda, Di's aunt, for lunch. Her best friend Claire had once again arranged it so Brenda was expecting to meet some fictitious friends of Claire's when we walked in.


Claire, top left, is gaining a reputation for organising surprises!
So, on Monday afternoon, a clean, shiny and serviced Maunie returned to the water.


We're now anchored inside the man-made Sovereign Island off Paradise Point and, as we motored round the island to the anchorage, we could compare the architectural 'qualities' of the multi-million dollar houses:

Prime waterfront living for the hard-of-imagination

Not sure what the radar scanner's for but there's plenty of work for the window cleaners

This only has five bedrooms, apparently!

Italianate styling, anyone?

Looking in an estate agent's window this morning, we saw that a 485 sq m building plot on the waterfront was for sale for a mere $1.8M so we kind of understood the motives of the owner of this last example who clearly said to himself, "I'm paying for the view, so just build me a pre-fab barn and punch a few windows in it.":


Anyway it's absolutely great to be back aboard, in spite of a few sweary words this morning as we tried to pull a new VHF aerial cable through the mast. The mousing line parted at a critical moment so we had to do some hard thinking to resolve it but, thankfully, we now have a fully-functioning radio once again.

We plan to start sailing south in the morning; the weather is very settled and the sea-state is calm so we'll aim to do a long day (with a 5.00am start) to get to Ballina (some 70 miles south) by dusk.