Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Challenging navigation

From a navigator's perspective, this east coast sailing is fascinating - and at times a bit challenging. Most sailors recognise the wisdom of the saying "Your problems start once you can smell the land", the open ocean being a safer place on many occasions, and we've experienced all the challenges of tides, river currents and some extreme weather. It's fun, though!

Since we last wrote, we've been up the Clarence River, some 30km inland and discovered some charming country towns and coped with temperatures in the high 30's.

Maunie at the excellent (and free) public jetty at Ulmarra

This is no place to be if the river floods, however. The marker posts give some idea of the potential rise of the river level; the last major flood was three years ago

Sunset after another hot day
 Just as we were getting used to river navigation, we met another challenge: a fleet of small trawlers catching 'schoolies' prawns. They would suddenly change course with no warning so we had to be vigilant.

After 4 days on the river we stopped at the little seaside town of Yamba and then headed south on another overnight sail to Camden Haven - another river anchorage and a friendly little town of Laurieton. We spent a day doing some running repairs to the mainsail - replacing UV-damaged stitching at the head - and rewarded ourselves with a rare treat, a trip to the cinema. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" was terrific.

On-deck sail repairs...

.... we were able to just remove the top batten and three sliders to get the sail down to the sewing machine

And so onto today's passage - one that illustrates the particular challenges of coastal cruising in these parts. The main issue we face is that these river ports and anchorages are generally pretty shallow (maybe only 2-3 metres at low tide) and have bars at their entrances - bars in this case are shallow patches caused by silt washing out of the river and they pose a particular threat. If you arrive at a bar when the tide is ebbing (rushing out) to meet an incoming wind and swell, a tremendous (and very dangerous) surf can form.

Here's a video of a yacht getting it very badly wrong in a bar entrance: https://www.facebook.com/SailingMore/videos/881865391950076/

So, clearly, we treat these bars with a lot of respect and remember the golden rule, "If in doubt, don't cross the bar!". This meant, for example, that today we had to time our departure from Camden Haven just at the end of the flood tide (which, of course doesn't coincide with the High Tide time, because something known as the overrun keeps the water moving up to 2 hours later) and then work out our sailing time (about 6 hours in this case) to arrive at Forster at the beginning of the flood tide, about 2 hours after local low water. So the calculations included consideration of the weather forecast and wind speed, plus the south-going East Australian Current pushing us along. We started the passage with the Parasailor flying but, as the wind increased had to swap it for the yankee just to slow down. We did get some friendly dolphins playing with us, too.

As we approached Forster we called the Maritime Rescue base on the VHF for information on the conditions at the bar. Maritime Rescue is a volunteer organisation, run a bit like the RNLI but with lookout stations at every important point and river. The very helpful chap in the station told us that conditions were 'a bit messy' due to the strengthening NE wind blowing straight into the entrance; he confirmed that our tide calculations were correct so there were no standing waves but that there was a confused, lumpy sea for about 200m before the entrance. "It's not dangerous, it's just not very nice" he said.

Oh, good, we thought and prepared for the worst-case scenario - all hatches shut, lifejackets on (mandatory on all bar crossings) and pilotage directions double-checked. We came in at a reasonably fast speed to keep steerage way and good control (faster water flow over the rudder giving quicker steering response) and Maunie did her normal trick of shouldering her way through the steep waves as though they were nothing.

A bit of white water ahead

Close to the entrance between the stone piers. The Marine Rescue control tower is to the left

A big sea bursting on the left hand pier

And we're in! Safely anchored behind a sand bank, looking back towards the entrance

Boat berths along the river - but we opted for an anchorage
Once we were safely anchored we radioed the Marine Rescue tower to thank them for their advice and ended up having a long chat with the duty officer He'd Googled the boat name and found this blog so asked us lots of questions about our trip. 

Now all we have to do is get out of here in the morning!

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