Saturday, April 30, 2016

Port Hacking 
26/4/16 – 1/5/16

( 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.)

The ports of greater Sydney area, of which Port Hacking is a gem in its south, are geologically, as recent as the internet, and addiction to coffee. Indeed, we were headed for Cronulla, where outside one of four thousand coffee houses a sandwich board declared that we should “save the planet – it is the only one with coffee”.
Happy Birthday Colin!  26th April

 There is evidence aplenty to suggest that about 12,000 years ago, the same rising of the seas that cut off Tasmania from the mainland and marooned its peoples to a life of isolation until sails appeared on the horizon, also drowned the valleys of the Hacking, Georges, Parramatta and Hawkesbury Rivers, and in the process created some of the world’s finest harbours and playgrounds for those who enjoy a life afloat. Back in Bermagui, Marina Manager, Keith put it to us that to sail on past Port Hacking to higher profile locations to the north was to miss one of New South Wales’ finest cruising destinations. Because Port Hacking requires some skill in working around troublesome sand bars, and managing the tides in the process, many cruisers fail to make the most of the delights that are to be found here. We were happy to take Keith on his word, or as he put it to us….”would I lie to you?” So Port Hacking bound we were.

Still though, the problem of the batteries, the regulators and the solar panels irritated us like a prickle in a sock. Every day was compromised by this issue and it looked as though more time and money would have to be thrown, or thrown away, at this before it was resolved. BOAT! Bring out another Thousand!, is the line said sometimes in jest although it is not funny at all to those who have to pay for any service labelled “Marine”. In common parlance the battery and solar issue was doing our heads in.
The channel into Cronulla Marina

Whatever we yearned to do may have been one thing, but what we had to do was to was to head for the Cronulla Marina, tucked away at the head of Gunnamatta Bay, where another SA cruiser, Jim Shepherd had found a local marine electrician who he could highly recommend. In the meantime, though, we had our first significant breakthrough in our power systems problem courtesy of Phil from Solar 4 RV’s, the Victorian company who had supplied the panels and regulators. Phil was puzzled by our power surge problem and provided excellent assistance as we tried to troubleshoot a number of potential solutions. It was Phil who suggested that we start again with our wiring connections, by disconnecting everything and then re-connecting it all following exactly the procedure in the instruction manual. This we did, with Phil providing expertise on the phone, a little like a station owner setting the broken leg of a stockman over the radio via the Flying Doctor. Phil really was outstanding, giving us his personal phone number and saying, “call me if you get stuck, anytime over the weekend is fine”. Now, that is real after sales service, above and beyond the norm. We did as Phil suggested and waited…. Touch wood! The panels were making power, the regulators were regulating it and the batteries were storing it, but not to excess. Maybe, just maybe…
Secure amongst the Bull Mastiffs again
A sea of masts behind us in Gunnamatta Bay

Arriving at Cronulla, via a well-marked channel through the bar, we were concerned that here in Sydney’s southern suburbs, we would lose the friendliness that is a hallmark of most country destinations. Not so. The Cronulla Marina is oh so convenient and the staff was excellent from every respect although the attraction of the marina, for us, had not to do with the railway station, only a five minute walk away, the shops beyond or the fine cafés and eateries that were dotted all around. Cronulla is perched on the Cronulla Peninsula, and Gunnamatta Bay curves back into it so that the Marina is but a short stroll from the beaches of Cronulla, North Cronulla, Elourea and Wanda. Yes, from our boat to the surf was just a couple of minutes across the peninsula! We were in seventh heaven!
Cronulla Surflifesaving Club & Pavillion, Cronulla Beach

There are a small number of marine places where one can park a cruising yacht within easy walking distance from the sea and the surf. Mooloolaba is one, where at the Wharf Marina the beach in front of the surf club is so close that when we were there in 2010, a pre-breakfast bodysurf or long swim along the bay was a daily treat for us both. On this voyage we have shared how at Port Fairy, especially, and at Bermagui we often left the boat with towel across the shoulder. We should have listed Robe as well in this category, for its proximity, although the water temperature was fiendishly unfriendly. When not at sea cruising folk do many things, but we are never happier than when in the ocean, taking in our daily dose of vitamin sea!
Laps in the Cronulla Ocean Pool .....
...then a bodysurf at North Cronulla

Now, as we hoped, we could add Cronulla to the above list of surf ‘n sail destinations. Maybe we need to write a guide to this. To our delight we found that at Cronulla, a walk through the train station tunnel, and down the main drag had one with sand beneath the toes at Cronulla Beach in a trice. What is more, there was a free beach pool available for laps, an indoor heated 25m pool next to the surf club, and for some bodysurf with some more grunt, the North Cronulla beach was only a stroll around the headland away. If one adds a brace of fine shops for reprovisioning, and a selection of good value eateries to provide a variation from our on-board menu – we eat really well on board Calista it must be stressed – then Cronulla ticked many boxes. Indeed, when the recommended sparkie came on board to check our electronic work, and to see that the wiring for the solar panels was linked in sympathy with our wind generator, he gave us the much longed for thumbs up!! “You should be fine now I think” were the magic words, “everything seems to be working well now” were what he said, words as sweet as Tasmanian Leatherwood Honey. Could we really get on with enjoying our voyage now? We were greatly encouraged but preferred to wait and see before sliding the champagne into the fridge. There is old adage about not whistling at the helm lest you bring on a storm.
Should have brought the surfboards !

Back at Bermi, Keith had stressed to us that, even if time was pressing, no sojourn in Port Hacking was complete without plying the waters upstream past the sand bars on the tide to South West Arm, where, in midweek especially, solitude in a sheltered backwater of Royal National Park was an experience not to be missed. With an afternoon high tide scheduled for the next day we hastened to refuel and head to the shops before departing the Marina for the South West Arm. First though, there was one other Cronulla treat to enjoy before we slipped our lines. Surprisingly, this did not involve hopping on a train out of Cronulla for a trundle on Sydney’s extensive rail network, or boarding a ferry from the train at Circular Quay, or as good friends Brian and Maree found, that the Cronulla train linked directly to the airport, for an oh so convenient way of getting home to WA to see family. Yes it was a ferry, but not one of Sydney Harbour’s famous fleet, rather a unique Port Hacking vessel, that we had seen depart and arrive every day, from no more than a stone’s throw from our stern in the marina. M V Curranulla is a beauty, and built in 1939, she is the oldest Australian ferry to be still serving the route for which she was purpose built. Lovingly cared for and resplendent in her wattle livery, she is the Grand Dame of Ferryism.
MV Curranulla

A number of times each day she departs from alongside the Cronulla Marina for the suburb of Bundeena, across Port Hacking, alongside the Royal National Park and Jibbon Beach where we first dropped anchor from Bermagui. Should some upwardly mobile boffin in a remote office push for a service upgrade and putting old Curranulla out to pasture, there’d be riots on the streets of Cronulla, for sure. Fax us; we’ll hold a banner too. The trip to Bundeena on MV Curranulla, needs to be written into the must-do list for visitors to Sydney, who have a nautical pulse in their bodies. Forget the Bridge, forget the Opera House, go MV Curranulla.

Aboard MV Curranulla

From Gunnamatta Bay, the passage up the Hacking River to the South West Arm required strict adherence to the river markers and close attention to pilotage.  On the way out of Gunnamatta Bay, if not maintaining a hawk-like watch on the beacons and shoals, a highlight is the period river-front houses, some of which perch up on the peninsula and have regally layered gardens spilling down in descending contours to ancient boat houses, that give exclusive river access. Ratty and Moley would have loved life here, messing about in boats Soon we needed the NSW Waterways buoyage update, provided by the good marina folk to sharpen our focus on staying afloat and not fetching up on a shoal near Lillli Pilli and Gorgeley’s Points. In the end, the slalom course through the sand bars was worth the effort, and as we rounded a curve in the deep waters of South West Arm, all signs of suburbia disappeared, and surrounded by the forests of the Royal National Park, we were in a wooded fjord of great natural beauty. A sea eagle wheeled overhead, cast an inventorial eye in our direction and glided to roost in a nearby tree. Keith was right, South West Arm really need to be visited.

Entering South West Arm

Our free accommodation at South west Arm

A feature of this remote place, on the doorstep of suburbia, was the voyage up the arm in our tender to reach the Winifred Waterfall, deep in the forest. Again, only high tide provides access, and again, careful negotiation of shallows and sandbars was the order of the day. The creek meets the forest in an expansive pool and from there a trail leads upstream to a fine cataract with plunge and swimming pool to boot. In our coastal naiveté, we assumed that the falls, as remote as they seemed, were rarely visited by man. We were wrong.  At the falls there were a number of people, none of whom had sailed from South Australia, and chanced their arm amongst the shoals by boat and by duck to get here. Up on the ridge there was apparently a car park, and any Thomas, Richard or Harold, could put on their scuffs and tolerably wander down to the falls, or so it seemed. Some, we noted, had done just that. Few however, shunned the evidence on their Certificates of Birth as we did, by plunging in the pool, swimming its perimeter or perching beneath the torrent, in the buffeting shower of all time. Carrying on like a pork cutlet should not be the sole province of the Gen Y’s or Zedders. Too much fun to be wasted on young people we figured. And, it was too!

Checking out our swimming pool & spa

Lovely walk through the bush to the head of the creek

Our way back out of the Arm and back into suburbia via the labyrinth of watercourses was uneventful, partly as we had our track on our plotter to guide us along the way. Cookie handed me the helm, figuring that the hard work had already been done. Abeam of Gunnamatta we cast fond glances to port, hoping to see old Currunulla doing her thing as only she could do.

Safely through the sandbars and back to civilization

Our last eve in Port Hacking was spent in the cosy confines of Jibbon Beach with wilderness to the south and the murmur of a city that never sleeps to the north. Jibbon Beach is not far from the runways of Sydney Airport that protrude into historic and industrial Botany Bay. Sipping on an evening coffee in our cockpit, we played a game for a while to see how many planes, we could see in surrounding skies, either leaving, or on finals for Sydney. They were lined up like kids for free ice-creams at the Sunday school picnic. A plane-spotter with the destination app going into overdrive would have a field day here. Would not be a Flight Controller at Sydney for quids. Across Bate Bay, beyond Cronulla to Cape Bally, the final sail up to Sydney would commence. Sydney! Going through the heads! Sydney Harbour, all the way from Wirrina in our little ship! Wow. The forecast for the next day promised a pearler and sleep, for all the right reasons, might be challenged by the thought of the forthcoming sail up to and into the Great Harbour. Bringeth on the dawn.

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