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.

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

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.

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