Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall charting our adventures as we sail around the world. We're sailing up and down the east coast of Australia after a summer back in Britain.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Island Life, Shallow Water and Wartime History

We are regularly reminded of how little we British know of the events in the Pacific during the second world war. Sure, Pearl Harbour and some of the major Pacific Island battles are common knowledge but we had no idea that Sydney and Newcastle were shelled or that Japanese submarines actually got into Sydney Harbour and sank one ship. Our education on these events came about by accident, so we thought we'd share some of it.....

We anchored a few days ago on the north side of Dangar Island in the Hawkesbury River. Today the island is home to about 200 people who commute to the shore by ferry or in their 'tinnies' (aluminium open boats) and we went ashore to the General Store / Cafe / Social Hub for a coffee.

The main wharf at Dangar Island is currently dominated by a huge barge installing new piles to extend the ferry dock into deeper water. 

There are only two vehicles on the island - a battery powered 'taxi' and a council-owned pickup truck which home-owners can rent by the hour for transporting heavy loads. For everything else, there are the wheelbarrows..

Whilst we drank our coffees we picked up a copy of a booklet produced by the local historical society and discovered that this sleepy island was once a centre of industry. The beach in front of the General Store was where the huge riveted-steel spans for the nearby railway bridge were constructed by an American company back in 1878.

The bridge construction site
The main railway bridge linking Sydney to the industrial city of Newcastle, to the north

The steel spans were built on floating rafts and towed into position, at high tide, between the stone pillars (which, incidentally, required foundations over 50m deep to find bedrock) and, as the tide dropped, they settled into place. Quite a feat of engineering in 1878! The original bridge began to suffer structural problems in the 1930s so the new bridge was built along side it and opened in 1946. 

WW II saw another dramatic change to life on tranquil Dangar Island. A substantial military presence, including anti-submarine nets and anti-aircraft gun emplacements, arrived as the military realised that the vital rail bridge might become a target for Japanese attack. This belief was confirmed when charts recovered from a midget submarine, sunk in Sydney Harbour in 1942, showed it marked in red ink; this discovery sparked a new programme of construction of coastal defences. We'll come back to the submarines a little later.

From the Hawkesbury we headed back out into Broken Bay and decided that Brisbane Water looked like an interesting place to explore; it's a huge expanse of inland water, accessed via a very narrow river entrance, with the city of Gosford at its northern end.

We'd read the Pilot Book details which emphasised that some of the river channel is shallow and subject to silting so we arrived just half an hour before high tide and motored gently in. The alarm bells rang when the depth at the river bar was only 2.1m, rather than the 2.9m indicated on the chart (which meant we had only 30cm beneath our keel) but worse was to come as we turned around Wagstaffe Point and we watched the depth-sounder show 2.4, 2.1, 1.9, 1.8 ..... "Full Astern!!!" The yachty equivalent of a handbrake turn and we were out of there; we had no desire to hit the bottom just as the tide was starting to ebb! We later phoned the Marine Rescue base at Gosford and they confirmed that the channel had silted and that our draft of 1.8m was definitely 'marginal'. With a local guide we'd have probably got in but this river is definitely a place where you'd want a boat with a lifting keel.

So, we headed back out towards Pittwater and noticed, on West Head, evidence of wartime coastal defences.

Above the observation post there seemed to be a new staircase giving access to the site so we decided to anchor in Americas Bay and, the following morning do the 8km hike over to West Head to investigate.

Americas Bay
The track through the forest

This way's always easier!
A tree straight out of a Harry Potter film!

Local wildlife
After a hot walk, the viewing platform at West Head

West Head looks out across Pittwater to the entrance to Broken Bay just north of Barrenjoey Head

Looking down at the Observation Post and one of the two gun emplacements

The view from within the OP

The 4.5" naval gun would have a range of about 10km
The new ladder allowing access to the site
The wartime access to this rocky cliff site was pretty ingenious - a 50 degree cliff railway, with a 3-tonne counterbalance, would allow men, materials and ammunition to be lowered to another horizontal railway which connected the gun emplacements and a subterranean ammunition store:

This hugely expensive military emplacement never fired a shot in anger but the threat was very real. So, back to those submarines in Sydney Harbour; here's a summary from Wikipedia:

In late May and early June 1942, during World War II, submarines belonging to the Imperial Japanese Navy made a series of attacks on the cities of Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. On the night of 31 May – 1 June, three Ko-hyoteki-class midget submarines, each with a two-member crew, entered Sydney Harbour, avoided the partially constructed Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net, and attempted to sink Allied warships. 

Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and killed themselves. These submarines were later recovered by the Allies. The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors. This midget submarine's fate was unknown until 2006, when amateur scuba divers discovered the wreck off Sydney's northern beaches.

An I-Class midget submarine. It carried a crew plus 2 torpedoes and was capable of speeds of up to 19 knots submerged. It was launched from a larger submarine, three of which approached withing 7km of Sydney Heads to release their midgets
The subs were difficult to control and the first hit a post securing the then-incomplete submarine net before becoming entangled in the net itself. Depth charges were dropped on it but failed to explode and, whilst the Australian Navy were planning their next move, the crew detonated a scuttling charge which killed them both.
The second sub was damaged by depth charges and was hauled to the surface the following day. Its propellers were still turning but the crew were found dead, from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

Only one sub managed to fire its torpedoes but it missed its target, the USS Chicago. One ran aground but the other hit the seawall in Garden Cove, the explosion sinking a requisitioned ferry, killing 21 men.

The wreckage of HMAS Kuttabul
The events of that night were a typical wartime story of good and bad luck, questionable leadership and judgement, poor communications and general confusion. If you're interested in this sort of thing, the full story is a fascinating read - here's the link

The outcome of the attack could clearly have been far worse. As it was the mother-ship submarines waited in vain for their midget subs to return and departed after firing 9 shells into Sydney. Only one shell exploded, amazingly, but the effect on the Australian government and people was significant.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Farewell to Sydney, Hello to some wonderful hiking

We are heading north, the beginning of the journey home and we are very sad to leave Sydney Harbour. However, we can't complain about our new location...

After our anchor-dragging-in-the-night experience up the Parramatta River, we headed to Rose Bay to wait for the last of the rain and high winds to clear before we sailed out. The wait gave us the chance to see a few new sights and bid farewell to some old favourites:

Minesweepers at HMAS Waterhen in Balls Head Bay - we anchored opposite for a lunch stop

Waiting for a very large cruise liner to reverse out of Sydney Cove

Our final sail past the Opera House - we never get tired of seeing it

Rain closing in at our Rose Bay anchorage
Rose Bay was once the Qantas seaplane base, in the days when flights to Britain had to involve landing on water, and it's still the operational base for a much smaller seaplane business that runs pleasure flights. Tragically, Sydney Seaplanes hit the headlines a month or so ago when one of their planes crashed, shortly after take-off, up in Broken Bay, killing the pilot and all five passengers. Whilst we were at anchor, one of its sister planes did a taxi and engine test very close to us.

The following day looked just perfect for the 3 hour sail up to Broken Bay and Pittwater - sunshine and a 15 knot southerly wind. So we flew the Parasailor from the anchorage and, just as happened in Auckland a couple of years ago, an ex-America's Cup boat doing pleasure trips around the harbour came for a closer look at our sail. Parasailors are clearly a novelty in these parts!

Unfortunately, as all sailors will know, spinnakers have an evil sense of humour and love to make fools of you. We had to snuff it into its sock for a little while as we motored out of Sydney Heads but then the washing-machine seas just off the perpendicular cliffs managed to tie the sail in knots and we had to drop it to the deck to be untangled later. Ah, well, we still had a pleasant sail north but it was a frustrating moment.

So we are now back in Broken Bay, whose main sailing waterway is Pittwater; it's full of boats and is backed, to the west, by dense eucalyptus forest and steep hills.

Part of Broken Bay - we are currently anchored at the blue dot in the Hawkesbury River
With the sightly cooler southerly breeze still in place we set off on a bushwalk along a seldom-used and barely marked path in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Thankfully we'd followed Cindi's advice and downloaded the 'Handy GPS' app onto Di's phone because, without it, we'd probably have turned back before we reached the most stunning outlook for fear of getting lost:

Looking East across Pittwater towards Newport

An annotated Google Earth image of roughly the same orientation. The photo above was taken on the hillside to the right of the 'Morning Bay' caption

A closer view of the millions of dollars worth of boats on moorings and in two large marinas

Nearing the end of the hike - a really superb walk, complete with wild kangaroos in the forest!
Today, by contrast has been a gentler affair, though productive. Thanks to a tip-off from s/y Lucie, we used the excellent laundry facilities of a very nice, council-run campsite at Patonga for roughly half the price of the Chinese laundry in town (oh, the return to a plumbed-in washing machine at home will be such luxury!) and we've now found a new anchorage from which to watch the sun go down. A glass of wine or beer would be lovely, but we've decided to do Dry February - at least it's only 28 days!

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Straya, Groans and the Grumble of Doom

Here's a little update, after a week or so of very varied experiences; we are still in Sydney Harbour and finding new places to anchor - some less successful than others as you'll hear..

Friday the 26th was Australia Day - or 'Straya Day' as they say around here. It commemorates the date of the arrival of the First Fleet in Botany Bay in 1788, though the first ship, HMS Supply dropped anchor on the 18th January. Staya Day is a public holiday and another opportunity for families to hit the beaches or fire up the barbies but it's not a celebration for everyone. Indigenous groups call it 'Invasion Day' since it marks the beginning of the end for the land rights of Aboriginal people. This year there were huge protests in major cities where campaigners are calling for a change of date to make the nation's celebration an event that all can share.

However, for the moment, Straya Day is a big event for most Australians and in Sydney it's another excuse for a party and some fireworks in the Harbour. They do like a good firework in Sydney. So we returned to Farm Cove next to the Opera House for a day of Navy ships, air displays, boat parades and flags - it was another opportunity to consume delicious prawns in the cockpit, too.

The start of the 'Ferryathon' - a race of the new catamaran harbour ferres

HMAS Canberra with yacht escort

The day finished with a firework display in Central Quay, between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, which was, of course, nowhere near the scale of the New Years Eve show but still impressive when viewed from the anchorage of Athol Bay, near Taronga Zoo. 

Our proximity to the zoo meant that we heard strange yelps and groans from the animals throughout the night so we decided to visit it the following afternoon. The 70-acre site occupies some beautiful (and presumably hugely valuable) real estate and, like most zoos, it has gone through a process of transformation from a place of entertainment to a centre for education and species conservation, with still plenty of entertainment. Overall we thought that the balance was achieved pretty well and the two Sumatran Tigers (the wild population in Sumatra is now less than 400 due to deforestation and the development of palm oil plantations) were a highlight. 

Quite disconcerting when they make direct eye contact!

Of course the Koalas are always a crowd-pleaser:

Add your own caption here!
After this burst of mass tourism we were back to exploring new anchorages of this huge harbour. We picked up a visitors' mooring in Watson's Bay, just inside South Head and had a great walk around the reserve, some of which is still off-limits as a military camp.

A Google Earth image of Sydney Harbour. Watson's Bay is north of Rose Bay in the eastern side of the harbour.
Looking south at The Gap, on the ocean side of South Head

Watson's Bay. Maunie is next to the sailing boat at the top left of the photo

The lighthouse at South Head.
North Head (from where we watched the start of the Sydney Hobart Race) is in the background.
From here we returned to Manly for re-provisioning and a laundrette run and then decided that we'd sail back through the bridge to ride out a couple of days of strong southerly winds. We had a perfect spinnaker run and decided to have a go at something of a 'bucket list' event - to sail under the Harbour Bridge and, what's more, under spinnaker. It's not a straightforward proposition as the wind gets very flukey and the water can be very disturbed by the wakes of passing high-speed ferries and pleasure boats. Anyway we were delighted to complete it safely and here's a short video:

So we've ended this latest tiki-tour of the harbour at Hen and Chicken Bay (the blue dot at the left hand side of the earlier Google Earth image). It was recommended to us as being shallow (only 2.5m where we anchored) but offering 'good holding'; non-sailors might appreciate an explanation of this feature. Well, for those of us living on land, we can pretty much expect that, even in the wildest weather, we'll wake up in the morning to find the house in the same spot as when we went to bed. This, unfortunately, is not always the case when at anchor on a yacht as the combination of wind, waves and currents can sometimes cause the anchor to drag - this is usually No Fun At All. Thankfully, the combination of our over-sized Kobra anchor and plenty of heavy anchor chain has meant that we haven't had many problems but it's all about the make-up of the sea bed. 

Lots of weed can cause problems and a rocky bottom can make things difficult; this is when you hear the 'grumble of doom' and you hear and feel the anchor and chain moving. Usually a muddy sea bed is brilliant for a secure anchorage; you just let the anchor settle for a few minutes, apply some engine power in reverse so set it deep into the mud and that's it. Well, not quite, we always set a GPS anchor alarm that will wake us if the boat moves outside a circle of safety (usually a radius of about 40m). 

Unfortunately it seems that the mud here is so soft that, as the wind increased to around 25 knots in the night, the anchor just slowly and steadily dragged through it. The alarm went off, waking us both up and then Graham spent the night in the pilothouse on anchor watch, re-setting the alarm for a doze only to wake as the alarm sounded again. Thankfully we had anchored well clear of the shore and boat moorings and the anchor finally found some mud it was happy with but we'd dragged about a thousand feet through the night!

The wind is forecast to stay between 25 and 30 knots all day today so we have moved to a NSW visitor's mooring further down the bay. Hopefully a better night's sleep lies ahead of us.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

We've finally reached Plan Z!!

Hello from Sydney Harbour, where we have been exploring some of the more remote corners of this huge waterway - mainly to find shelter from a southerly gale over the past week which brought 5m swells up the coast. When we did return to the main harbour a couple of days ago, the seas were still pretty impressive so we certainly wouldn't have wanted to venture outside the Heads. The big ferries were doing their heavy-weather route to try to avoid side-on waves that would have made them roll even more:

Please use the sick bags provided

These are the swells inside the harbour!
We are now anchored close to Manly Beach but just off a quieter swimmers' beach, with a stern anchor holding us close to the shore and with the light wind blowing from our port beam. We like this trick as the wind keeps a steady pressure on the mast and rigging which reduces Maunie's tendency to roll when the wakes from the ferries reach us.

Anchored off Delwood Beach
Added entertainment to our port side...

.... yoga class on paddle boards!
While we have been here we had a superb bbq with Sue, Adam and Cindi at the house in Manly where Kerry is looking after Dennis, the energetic dog:

Dennis' best trick is to leap into the air when you throw him a length of rope (which he usually misses!)
The lunch party served also as a farewell to Adam and Cindi who set sail yesterday morning to head to Tasmania. We first met them on the SSB radio net about four years ago and then in person in Savusavu, Fiji and they have become great friends so we were sorry to see them leave, particularly as we had originally planned to be sailing to Tassie with them.

Bravo motors off through much calmer water towards Sydney Heads and the Tasman Sea
So, patient reader, this brings us on to our latest change of plan. The long-termers among you will know that our plans have become more like guidelines by now and that our original, rather naive, idea of completing a circumnavigation in 3 years was binned as soon as we arrived in the Pacific. After returning to England, for Graham to start working for Thatchers Cider for 5 months and Di to salvage the garden, this (northern hemisphere) summer, we decided to repeat the process in 2018 and go back for another six-month stint in May. However Graham has been offered a full-time role at Thatchers - the new role of Supply Chain Director - and it's just too good an opportunity to turn down, so our plans have been re-written again.

The logistical challenge of having Maunie in Australia led us to consider selling her here (but that would involve importing her into Australia first and paying 15% of her value as tax, plus the not-insignificant issue of shipping our personal belongings back home) but the additional significant emotional ties to her quickly had us discount that option. Instead we’ve found a company which will ship her from Newcastle (just north of Sydney) to Southampton, via NZ, Tahiti, Panama and Florida so almost retracing her outbound route) with about 20 other yachts on the deck of a specialist freighter. It’s an expensive trip but, considering the running and maintenance costs of the 18 month sail back via South Africa, not prohibitively so and we are lucky with the timings since it only runs once a year.
So we will load Maunie onto the ship in early March for the 8-week voyage home and then have a month or so of land-travel in Australia before we fly back on the 17th April. We'll meet Maunie in Southampton, re-rig her (we have to remove all the sails, canvas covers and running rigging before the shipping) and sail her back to Dartmouth before Graham starts work at the beginning of June. Oh, and we'll have to move back home, unpack all of our belongings, buy a car for Dianne and generally get ready for some serious work that doesn't involve boat maintenance on a daily basis!

We're of course disappointed that we won't be completing our circumnavigation but we have benefited from three wonderful bonus years aboard Maunie in some amazing places, so we really can't complain! Our return will also give us the time (and the money, of course) to do a bit of a refit on the boat. Maunie is 20 years old with 45,000 nm on her log so it'll be great to treat her to bit of serious tlc, the sort of work that would be impossible while we are living aboard. Re-varnishing the interior, replacing the teak decks (but not with teak!) and repainting her are the three big jobs on the list. 

We'll make the most of our remaining few weeks of sailing in Australia and look forward to sailing into the beautiful River Dart in May.