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.

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.

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