Saturday, April 30, 2016

Bermagui to Port Hacking
24/4/16 to 25/4/16

( Blog readers please note - by left clicking on  photos you will see them full size and a photo gallery below. The same applies for previous blog posts..see blog archives below.)

Dawn Departure... Farewell Bermi

When you leave port on the heels of a change and a strong blow, you can be left with a remnant and messy sea, even if the wind has eased. As we made our way out of the Bermagui harbour it was clear that there was plenty of “top sea” outside and a fair swell to boot. All this made for unstable conditions for moving about on board, both out on deck and below. The wind had dropped to a direction friendly sou-wester of 8-10 knots, but with a stabilising main set (the main sail helps to combat roll aboard and makes for greater comfort in passage making), and our course in place between Montague Island and the mainland, our “apparent wind” fell to a less than a handful of knots: too few to sail. We engaged the motor, hoisted a headsail when there was useable wind, and headed north.

As Bermagui subsided into the southern horizon, the forested heights of Mount Dromedary stood proud to port and would be a landmark ashore for hours to come. When Captain James Cook came this way in 1770, on board the bark Endeavour his crew no doubt found their gaze drifting to this mountain, which as one makes north takes on the unmistakeable profile of another ship, a ship of the desert. You have to feel for Cook and co, given the number of gulfs, bays, capes, islands and uplands that they were called upon to name. You have to wonder whether this was the sole province of the Master, or whether the officers, over a draft of ship’s rum, had some input in the process. The dubbing of Mount Dromedary was another case of the great mariner getting it right.
Mt Dromedary

Unlike Cook, as we made northing, we had the enormous benefit of Alan Lucas’ premier guide Cruising the New South Wales Coast, which is essential for visiting cruisers, and the endless information available via the internet. Abeam of Mount Dromedary, for example, we read a fascinating blog from a walker who had ascended the mount, albeit after a significant struggle, and as Montague Island drew near, the web info was abundant in content; about its flora, fauna, marine life, and about the light keepers cottages which can be rented by souls who want a taste of island life and would prefer that the ground underneath did not dance and sway.. We eagerly glassed Montague as we passed and concluded that it would be a stellar activity to be marooned there for a few days, with good friends, good food, and selected vintages to ease one through the evenings. Not sure if you can pick a stormy night or two when you book. Montague in a gale would be some experience.


Off Narooma we logged in with Marine Rescue, advising them of our passage details together with an estimate of our passage time and our likely arrival in the Sydney area. Yes, Sydney! Soon Dalmeny, Tuross Head and Marouya drew alongside and fell astern as we approached the wider expanse of Bateman’s Bay, the playground of those seeking respite from the National Capital. We had not sailed in to Bateman’s Bay before, and it now has a refurbished marina that we were keen to see. Entering Bateman’s Bay in a vessel like ours though, comes with some cautions. There is a sand bar entrance in the Clyde River, that falls to 1.4m at low tide, and considering our draft of 1.8m we would need to enter on a fuller and rising tide, just to be sure. The problem for us was that high tides were in the mornings, and in planning a passage from Bermagui, there was not sufficient time to leave Bermagui in the post-dawn and make it to Bateman’s Bay before we were on the “wrong” side of the tide. To counter this we had considered making instead for an anchorage under Broulee Island, just to the south of Bateman’s Bay, from where accessing the bar at the right tide would be easy. This plan however was derailed, with the unscheduled length of our Bermagui stay, and now the approach of a batch of northerly days beyond the current window of calm. If we undertook the Broulee and Bateman’s plan, which we were keen to do, we might get “stuck” in Bateman’s Bay for several more days when we really needed to be making to the north.

Black Rock off Bateman's Bay

There was one more reason why we wanted to tie up in Bateman’s Bay, and it was to do with an old school mate from my Victor Harbor High School student days, Frank Bottomley, who now resides at Broulee and works at Bateman’s Bay. At a school reunion in late 2014, I re-connected with Frank after many years and we discussed the possibility of meeting up at Bateman’s Bay when next plying the NSW coast. We contacted each other again during our Bermagui sojourn and discussed the “Broulee – Bateman’s plan”, which met with Frank’s approval given that he is a keen boater and fisher in the area.. It would be a fine thing to “raise one” with Frank, just for old time’s sake, and for now as well. Now, unfortunately, with the changed circumstances, a stopover was not possible, although the ever creative Frank had a plan. On our day making north past Bateman’s Bay, Frank and a mate would go out fishing, and as we passed the area we could at least connect at sea, and maybe hove to for a while for a ship-to-ship yarn. So, with us heading north, we texted Frank our progress with a notion of ducking behind the Tollgate islands at the mouth of the Clyde, where in tolerable shelter, we might have been able to have Frank come alongside and come on board for a time. Frank was hinting at talking champagne for a toast, and we felt that the significance of the occasion might override our normal dictum of Calista being a “dry” ship whilst at sea. We agreed to use the VHF radio to fine tune this scheme, based on a ship to ship link established off Burrewarra Head, south of the Clyde entrance.

Frank and Rod "all at sea"

At our first call, Frank was ebullient, confirming that the Tollgate Islands plan was ON, all was in place and that he had a fish for us. Approaching Black Rock, just shy of the Tollgates, our radio again crackled to life. It was Frank, this time sounding not his upbeat self, and meekly advising that he was a couple of miles out to sea, with a flat battery and drifting with a motor that could not be started! He had called Marine Rescue Bateman’s Bay and help was on its way. We took directions and after steaming seaward for a time we eventually spotted the hapless fishers, wallowing in a sloppy sea, but like Mr Micawber, waiting for something to turn up. As we drew near, it was clear that coming alongside in this sea, without Frank’s manoeuvrability, was fraught with peril and things were bad enough as it was. As we slid alongside, but at a safe distance, Frank confirmed that apart from feeling crestfallen, they were and would be fine, and did not need a tow. Then Frank held up THE FISH! It was a glistening snapper, a catch of the day, more like a trophy than a catch. Frank, what a legend….now to get close enough to poke a boat hook across ….to manage the transfer. No champagne, to be sure, but think succulent snapper fillets, tossed salad, and minted potatoes. I was prepared to shun the Bull Sharks and swim across for a delectable offering like that. We failed to photograph the fish because our wide angle would not encompass it! At sea size does matter.

We were Frankly......disappointed!

And just then, just at that miserable moment, with a siren and flashing lights Marine Rescue arrived. No entreaties about old mates catching up carried any currency with these businesslike officials, and in a trice we were shooed away, Frank was taken in tow and our last image was of Frank holding his arms wide in appeal and totally defeated. So too were we. As we watched them go we turned the head of our ship again to the north, and set a new waypoint for a point off Ulludulla. Maybe, just maybe, later in the year we will get our chance to have Frank on board. By that time we will be able to re-tell the tale of the flat battery and the one that got away. Battery problems! They were haunting us even out at sea…..the cruel sea.

Sunset north of Bateman's Bay

By the time we reached our Ulludulla mark, darkness had fallen, and on this voyage of disappointments, there were two more to come. We had longed to detour to port beyond King George’s Head, and make our way into Jervis Bay where, in from Bowen Island,  lies the Hole in the Wall anchorage, one of New South Wales’ finest. We had fond hopes of overnighting there, and proceeding back out to sea in the shadow of the Point Perpendicular Cliffs, which viewed from out at sea are a truly remarkable natural feature. On our voyage of 2010, darkness had fallen when we were making north, and when heading south later in the year, yes it was day-time but the entire coast was blanketed in fog, and we stood well clear and proceeded away from the area with caution. One day we will see these magnificent cliffs as Cook, who named them, saw them, and no doubt we will be as impressed as he was in his time here. This time, in spite of the glorious full moon that had risen, and the cheeky wink of the Point Perpendicular light which seemed to taunt us, we passed on to the north, and when out from nearby Beecroft Head; the unmistakeable loom of lights from the Illawarra Coast became noticeable off our port bow.

There were other lights as well. At some distance out to starboard, carrying the lights of a city, but making next to no knots was the cruise ship, Pacific Aria. Our AIS confirmed her name and that in the new day she would get going for Sydney. In the wee hours though, she was a ship alight, but going nowhere. This was one of the cruises where the liner heads out to sea and without any particular destination, they return a day or two later. Give us a destination every time.
Calling Island Chief to avoid a collision !

Of more concern though was a bulk carrier, coming up rapidly from behind but with few of the luminescent adornments of the Aria. As the Island Chief closed on us, the AIS confirmed that with her destination of Port Kembla, she would cross our path, and on current heading, her CPA (closest point of approach) was a miniscule 0.01nm;a way, way too close for comfort. It was time to communicate with the Island Chief, so that we might pass each other in safety. At sea Channel 16 VHF is used for this purpose, and in no time the Officer of the Watch on the Chief came up in response to our call, and with great politeness and consideration offered to alter course to ensure that a one-mile separation between our ships was maintained as they slid by. It feels strange that an eight tonner like us would have the radio officer of a many thousand tonner like Island Chief  ask us “Calista, what would you like us to do”. We know that big ships appreciate little ships like us communicating in regards to safety at sea, especially if courtesies like referring to the officer as “sir” on call up are followed. We thanked them and continued on as the sky in the east turned peach, then apricot in the advance of the new day. It was Anzac Day and on board Calista, and via the national broadcaster we tuned into the dawn service from Canberra.  In the morning, on Calista we did remember the fallen. Lest we forget…..lest we forget.

....And in the morning....lest we forget.

Back at Port Elliot our Surf Club has a sister club relationship with Wollongong SLSC that dates from the 1950’5 and lasts to this day. Last year we travelled there for the centenary of lifesaving celebrations at our sister club. Now, picking a slalom course betwixt a raft of ships anchored in the area awaiting their turn to disgorge at Port Kembla, we spied the seascape of Wollongong via our glasses and scanned north as the coastal suburbs of Bulli, Corrimal, Coledale, Thirroul and Austinmer came into focus. A direct line to Port Hacking would have taken us well out to sea, but we had altered course to view these fondly held shores and to take a seaward look at the coastline of the Royal National Park that stretches north along the Illawarra coast to Port Hacking. When at Wollongong in February 2015, we returned to Sydney via the coast road, and like everyone who sees it for the first time, marvelled at the amazing Sea Cliff Bridge that curves out from the cliffs at Stanwell Park and has been the understandable focus for advertisements, travel shows, Sydney and Illawarra travel promos and the like. It truly is impressive and whilst travelling over it we longed to stop the car and get out for a bridge – eye look as it were.

Great view of the Sea Cliff Bridge from the sea

Alas this is not possible although one can view the bridge from afar at a viewing point a little up the coast. At the time, traversing the bridge and gazing from the lookout we wondered what this scene would look like from out at sea. Last time heading north off this coast we had awful conditions with rain squalls rising winds and darkness to contend with and we arrived off the Sydney coast bedraggled, sleep deprived and just wanting to get inside the heads. This time we had picked a calm and with a warm April sun it was a peach of a day to divert, and yes, to see the Sea Cliff Bridge as she was built, at our leisure from a sea perspective. It was worth committing this to our wish list because now the chance had come to convert this wish to a reality.

Yes, the Sea Cliff Bridge was remarkable from out at sea and yes to be able to putter along the coast as the coastline of the Royal National Park drew alongside was a pure delight. We commented on how Sydney, sprawling Sydney, benefits from being located alongside fabulous National Parks to the north, south and west and adds so much to the quality of the city. These are natural treasures that in another time were set aside and protected, from what we curiously call “development”. We hail those who with great foresight had these places preserved for all generations, and on behalf of the living things that call these parks home. There are lessons here aplenty for the decision makers of today. Maybe we need to take them on an excursion along the coastline of the Royal National Park on a day like we had, and they might draw conclusions about the value of conservation that, seem so abundantly clear to us.

Coalcliff  with the Royal National Park behind.

Wonderful wilderness coastline
Marley Beach

Beyond Marley Beach, a delightful nook that had drawn a host Anzac Day visitors, we could discern the headlands off Botany Bay and it was time to bring our wider thoughts back to the navigational reality of the present. Sliding along this pristine coastline, with our ship on autopilot, and us lying like iguanas out on the deck in the kindly autumnal sun, had been a moment to remember, and yes, as historic planes flew overhead from Nowra bound for the Anzac march in Sydney, we did not forget. We felt that the air crews of these magnificent machines were probably enjoying their coastal flyover as much as we were enjoying our time out at sea. What freedoms we enjoy…yes…lest we forget.

Headlands of Port Hacking then Botany Bay

Sydney is remarkable. You can go from wilderness to mayhem in a trice, and the suburb of Bundeena that backs upon the Royal National Park is a case in point. As we rounded Point Hacking, giving the Jibbon Bombora discreet space to port, the elite coastal suburb of Cronulla, Burraneer Point, Bonnie Vale and Lilli Pilli hove into view and with the expanse of Port Hacking unfolding one enters a different world. For one, the rise and fall of the ocean swell had gone. We called Marine Rescue Sydney to record the safe arrival of the yacht Calista in Port Hacking and thought back wistfully at signing off with Carol from American River VMR when we had arrived safely, say, at Emu Bay on Kangaroo Island. Carol and Emu Bay were an eternity away. Yes, Marine Rescue Sydney!

On approach to Jibbon Beach

Back at Bermagui, Keith had promoted Jibbon Beach, tucked away in the lee of Hacking Point as the place to head to drop our pick, to rest and regroup. There were courtesy moorings in this cove and with Bundeena at one end of the beach and the National Park at the other, this was quintessential Sydney. This was, however, a stellar day and we were not the only ones to be drawn to the delights of Jibbon Beach. With our arrival this made 20 boats, mostly sleek harbour craft that rarely feel an ocean swell, and with a casual glance it was clear that each vessel had arrived with larders brimming and eskies overflowing. So this was boating Sydney style. Wow, maybe we needed to adjust, from our oceanic behaviours to a latte land afloat.

Not such a remote and desolate place!

We longed to launch our duck and launch ourselves into the waters of Jibbon Beach, or maybe to take a stroll through the bush on one of the trails heading off into the park. Alas! Batteries! With us on anchor, the voltage in our batteries, egged on by our new solar panels spiralled to 14, 15 volts and beyond. Something was terribly wrong with our charge controlling system and no, it was not ok. If we left the boat with the batteries charging like a runaway train we ran the risk of both our batteries and our boat being cooked. Frank had no charge. We have too much. We are living the dream…..and going from port to port fixing out boat. We disconnected our charging system and slumped down in dismay. At least, with the sun setting, the other boats left as though on cue, and by the time we settled back in the cockpit with dip, biscuits, olives, sliced gherkins and tomatoes to review this quite extraordinary passage, it was time to reach into the ship’s fridge to raise a glass to our arrival on Sydney’s shores. Batteries are one thing, and yes we would have to devote even more time to this nagging problem. Today, though was Anzac Day, and as the sun set on Jibbon Beach, we were a solitary ship in a solitary cove, and all was well.

All the same, fresh baked snapper, salad and minted potatoes would have been nice….

Lest we forget.


1 comment:

  1. So sorry you didn't get to have much of a catchup with Frank. That'll teach him to check his batteries before he heads out to sea!