FROM THE LOG #50

Scorpio in Australia 4
Sailing north again from Sydney

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Area covered in this report
(Click on any photo or map for a blow up - and remember to close it)
Our southbound track is in red, going north light blue.
After 6 interesting weeks in Sydney we started to sail north again. We had now decided not to round Australia clock wise, but instead take the traditional and shorter route "over the top". This means that we will be back tracking for roughly 600 nautical miles to the Fraser island and Bundaberg area before coming to "new" territory. However, when we sailed south in December we were in a hurry to get to Sydney in time for the New Year's Eve fireworks and therefore did the south bound trip in three over-night trips, stopping only at Mooloolaba, Iluka (Clarence River) and Laurieton (Camden Haven River). Sailing slower this time, we would have a chance to see more of the coast.
Palm Beach, ocean side of Broken Bay
The whole coast is almost one beach
Surfer's Paradise
As noted in a previous report, there are few sheltered anchorages along the coast except in the rivers. And to get into a river one usually has to cross a shallow sand bar, where the swell may brake under certain conditions and rouge waves can break in mid channel with little warning, particularly when an ebb tide collides with an onshore wind. Because the distances between anchorages are often around 50 nautical miles, it can be difficult to time your departure in order to arrive before dark. Therefore it is often easier to sail a longer distance over night.
Google Maps: satellite view of Broken Bay
Victoria fires.
Within 200 nautical miles north of Sydney are two of the main exceptions, the sheltered bays of Broken Bay and Port Stephens. Particularly Broken Bay, with it's several fiord-like bays, at the mouth of Hawkesbury River is a great cruising ground (at least for motoring, as the surrounding hills play havoc with good sailing breezes). We got stuck in this area for three weeks because of foul weather and northerly winds, but we anchored in a new bay every day. This happened to be the time of the devastating bush fires and a couple of days the smoke around us, even on the water, was disturbing. Luckily, however, we had nothing as severe as the poor folks down in Victoria, where 200 people lost their lives and thousands considered themselves lucky, just loosing their homes.
A pretty BIG spider...
.. and a disgusting jellyfish, the size of a 10 litre bucket!
The only problem with this area (and all along the coast in the inside waterways) was that swimming was not an option. We were surrounded by particularly disgusting looking jelly fish, the size of a 10 litre bucket! And ashore we encountered 15 centimetre long spiders, so we also quickly forgot about hiking. There had recently been reports on the TV about venomous spiders in Sydney! Add the extremely poisonous snakes that we are warned of in the cruising guide.

But the scenery was wonderful in the fiord-like bays, especially after it had been raining, with waterfalls abound.

Broken Bay shores
After the rains
Soon after we left Broken Bay we stopped for a few days in Cape Hawke Harbour, which we enjoyed very much. There are two towns, Tuncurry on the western bank and Forster on the eastern shore. We anchored on the Tuncurry side, just downstream of the bridge, where you can see a red dot on the satellite (Google) photo. On this photo (and the ones of Camden Haven and Clarence later) one can clearly see where the bar has formed around 200 metres outside of the breakwater.
At Tuncurry we are anchored ..
.. as indicated by the red dot above
.. and later at an empty dock.
The photos below from the Cape Hawke entrance show relatively normal conditions between the breakwaters. This is not the really dangerous area, which is further outside as mentioned above, but it looks pretty scary, particularly from the cockpit. But it's not too bad for a displacement vessel where steering capability depends on rudder area rather than speed.
A normal view ..
at the breakwater ..
.. this time at Cape Hawke Harbour.
We were the only transient vessel in Cape Hawke Harbour and even managed to tie to an empty dock. The shops are only a stone's throw away and it was convenient to go jogging in the mornings.

At Camden Haven River we entered a familiar harbour for the first time after leaving Sydney. We anchored at Laurieton, in the same spot where we spent Christmas two months earlier.

Wind against ebb tide creates breakers
The red dot is our anchorage in Laurieton
coffs
Coffs Harbour
Trawler fleet in Coffs Harbour
Avian visitor
Coffs Harbour is one of the few harbours with an all-weather entrance, but although it looks very sheltered there can be a considerable surge, probably because of a "bath tube effect" in strong onshore winds.
Clarence River
Iluka harbour is well sheltered
Mermaid at Iluka trawler harbour
Clarence River was the second familiar entrance on this trip, and we negotiated it in the dark, which was a somewhat hair rising experience. It was as dark as in a coal mine, with only the red and green lights at the ends of the breakwaters to guide us. Without our previous "local knowledge" we would never have attempted this venture.
Harwood bridge
The free courtesy dock at MacLean
Trawler at work in Clarence River
Clarence River is navigable for around 40 miles upstream and we motored up to the Scottish (!) town of MacLean (indicated by the red dot on the satellite image to the left, two photo rows up) to meet with our cruising friends Angela and Robert (sailing vessel Indali) There is only one bridge that needs to be opened, but they need 24 hours advance notice. There is a very active shrimp trawler fleet in MacLean operating all over the river that you need to watch out for. In MacLean we tied to a floating courtesy pontoon only 100 metres from the town centre, very convenient.
TC Hamish by satellite
Predicted path of TC Hamish
Back in the trawler harbour at Iluka we again got stuck for a week because of cyclone Hamish, which was traveling south along the Queensland coast. Iluka is one of the best protected harbours along the Australian east coast and we decided it was a perfect place to bide our time.

At this time we were equipped with mobile broadband and therefore enjoyed the luxury of being able to obtain plenty of information concerning the movements of Hamish and we could also watch the news on TV. The cyclone did not hit the coast directly but caused foul weather particularly along the Queensland coast, killing two fishermen when their boat was thrown on a reef. The container ship Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers over board and spilled oil that floated ashore on the pristine beaches of Morton island with adverse consequences for birds, turtles and other marine life as well as humans, allegedly the worst disaster of it's kind in Queensland ever. For us aboard Scorpio personally, the prospect of night sailing among floating containers raised some worries.

We also heard on the news that there again was a casualty from a shark attack in Sydney, the third in three weeks and that a crocodile had eaten a girl somewhere in the Cairns area. Remembering the recent, devastating fires in the south, and the record level flooding in the north we could only marvel at all the drama in this country.

A wild wallaby with a pup in it's pouch.
Nick and Suzie at Southport Yacht Club
The Ship Shop
A week later saw us on the Gold Coast of Queensland. We entered at Southport, which looks a lot like Fort Lauderdale in Florida, with suburb names like Miami Beach and Surfer's Paradise. From there we navigated through the shallow areas inside of the Stradbroke islands towards Moreton Bay, close to Brisbane. The inland passage goes through a delta of three rivers, whos mouths and interconnecting waterways are protected by large barrier islands of sand. The channels are sometimes very shallow and in places we had to wait for high tide to get through. It's almost unavoidable to go aground a couple of times, but be sure to do it on a rising tide! In Dux Anchorage we were invited ashore to the outback clubhouse of Southport Yacht Club by Nick and Suzie and enjoyed such a luxury as a hot shower.
And the beach goes on, on on ...
Traces of the oil spill
Anchored behind North Stradbroke - all sand.
On the western (Moreton Bay side) shore of Moreton island is a place called Tangalooma, where some bright fellow decided to build an anchorage formed by the scuttling of sunken vessels. We think it is a catastrophe, looking terrible and the anchoring being very uncomfortable in surprisingly bad swell. The next day we sailed across Moreton Bay among freighter traffic, to Mooloolaba, where we had to kill a couple of hours sailing back and forth outside the entrance waiting for the tide to rise. The sand had shifted after our last visit and at low tide there was now barely 2 metres of depth at the bar, and although the entrance opens to the north west and the wind was in the south east, the present large swell did not encourage an entry until around half tide.
Moreton Island from the inside
Tangalooma Wrecks
Containers close up.

By this time there was an other cyclone, TC Jesper out in the Coral Sea. Although it was several hundred miles away in New Caledonia it was generating a remarkable swell along the coast were we were. This swell also made conditions at Wide Bay bar, at the entrance to Sandy Strait, which would be our next entrance, dangerous and therefore we decided to wait in Mooloolaba for things to settle down.

And we waited indeed for almost three weeks, because the weather related dramas were far from over. The swell along the coast grew to record levels as did rainfall. Several areas close by were flooded, one of them Coffs Harbour where we had stopped recently. The water level rose in places several metres over the ground floors.

The synoptic explanation for the foul weather is shown on the chart below (left). An almost stationary through triggered widespread showers and storms over southeast Queensland and northeast New South Wales and easterly winds bringing moist air from the ocean caused rain all over Queensland.

Aboard Scorpio we had no problems, anchored in the sheltered canals of Mooloolaba, where no major river runs through, but it became a little boring with rain every day. However, we had the delightful company of a couple of Thorn birds who entertained us every morning with their wonderful singing.

When we finally decided to leave, the weather was not yet to our liking, the swell still high, little wind and grey skies with scattered showers, which resulted in motor sailing in very rolly and wet conditions. We crossed Wide Bay Bar without problems (although quite dry mouths) and then back-tracked our path four months earlier through Sandy Straits. Three days after leaving Mooloolaba we were back in Port Bundaberg where our trip to Sydney had commenced in early December 2008.

With hind sight I think that we would have chosen to go the other way from Sydney, south and across the Bight of Australia to the west coast. Much of the time since January the weather charts had looked similar to the one above indicating warm easterly winds and dry conditions on that route. But we still don't have a crystal ball aboard the otherwise quite well equipped Scorpio.

It was still two weeks before the cyclone season officially was over, but we now wanted to sail north, inside the Great Barrier Reef as soon as possible. Time was suddenly running fast because of our need to get to Darwin and also schedule a trip to Finland before September.

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