Sunday, May 22, 2016

Broken Bay to Lake Macquarie
13/5/16 – 17/5/16

( 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 russet hues on the new day were apparent in eastern skies, but we had beaten the sun to it with our cabin lights radiating a warming glow below, the kettle simmering; and with a last check of the BOM website underway before we ventured outside to ready the ship for sea. Days were measurably shorter now and as the breeze had lost it purpose in the late evening, the settling airs off Little Patonga Beach had gifted their moisture to the decks of Calista which now glistened with dewdrops in the dawn. Bare feet gave way to ugg boots, and a warming windcheater was required to deflect the chill of the air and underfoot.

Another beautiful sunrise - Little Patonga Beach

We were far from the first up though, as across Broken Bay to Flint and Steel Point, a runabout with its ruby light to port was hurrying at pace in the direction of Pittwater. It had been good to anchor in Patonga Beach after the regimentation of moorings in Cowan Creek; undertaking the process of selecting an anchoring spot, considering the swing on the chain that could be required at night and the joint efforts of the bow and the helm in seeing the chain laid in accordance with the wind, and tackle set to provide reassurance through the dark hours. Picking up a mooring is secure we admit, but anchoring out is real cruising to us.

Lion Island

With our chain and anchor retrieved we rounded the port light at the entrance to the bay, and made for Lion Island and the entrance to Brisbane Water, before keeping a watch for East Reef, a shoal that might provide a challenge for an unwary crew making to the north. We reflected on the diverse and extraordinary experiences of recent times, of Port Hacking, Sydney Harbor, and now the waters accessed via Broken Bay: a trilogy of destinations too fulsome to see in one autumn, one year, and maybe in a lifetime on the water. You could live in this region from a callow youth to a seasoned salt and still be discovering special places.

First Second & Third points

These were fleeting thoughts though as upon rounding Third Point, and with Second and First Points in view, the sandstone cliffs so typical of the Sydney coast were duplicated, except where they had been breached by nature to gift us the beaches of Killcare, McMasters Beach, Avoca, Copacabana and Terrigal, and there was much to see. Sailing had been challenging to this point with some steady breezes from the WNW giving us the chance to hoist everything and romp along, followed by failing airs which saw us ignite our motor to assist, before, as the zephyrs tended northerly, we doused our headsail and made distance by motor and main alone.

Wonderful to be sailing!

Perched atop Norah Head, the major coastal feature before Lake Macquarie, is its impressive lighthouse and clutch of former light station cottages. Happily, like other lighthouse precincts elsewhere, Norah Head has a new life today, via “getaway” accommodation and functions, for weddings and the like. In the season, the headland is a popular whale-watching location as the Humpback whales make their annual migration from the Antarctic to tropical Queensland and return. Now fully protected, these leviathans are seen these days in ever increasing numbers. There is some similarity in the annual migration of the whales as far as the Whitsundays and the annual migration of cruisers and yachts from NSW and southern Queensland waters to tropical climes north of Fraser Island. Humans and cetaceans both prefer warmer seas to cold ones it would seem.
Norah Head lighthouse

It is not far from Norah Head to Moon Island off the entrance to Lake Macquarie where entrance to the Lake, for keelboats such as ours – we draw 1.8m – is governed by the tide, and gaining access to the Lake is via a pre-booked opening of the Swansea Bridge. The wind, that had been sluggish at best, had now disappeared and the last portion of our journey from Broken Bay required the motor for us to keep up our schedule. Bridge openings are arranged via Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie, and with a 1400hrs booking in place, we needed to arrive in time to pilot our way down the channel following the lead beacons between the breakwaters, and arrive in the basin out from the bridge for the opening. When last in the area, in 2010, we had hired a car and driven to see the entrance, and visit the Marine Rescue station which perches above the channel, in driving wind and gale force winds. Our arrival this time could not be a greater contrast, with a calm sea, azure skies and no swell to speak of. In no time at all it seemed, the wings of the bridge creaked open, and with dozens of cars with their disgruntled occupants banking up on either side, we slid through into the channel leading to Lake Macquarie.

On approach to the Swansea Bridge
Safely through the the channel & "The Drop-over"

So far, so good, we thought, but the greatest challenge still lay before us. Locals call it “the drop-over” which in truth is a nasty, shifting sand-bar further up the channel, that at low tide would prevent our passage, but now, with a rising tide nearing full, we should be able to scrape through. Understandably, this troublesome impediment requires frequent dredging, and sometimes sand accumulation closes off the lake for keelboats completely. We had been at pains to study the tides at the Lake Macquarie entrance in detail and although we came close to nudging Calista’s bottom in the shallowest part of the channel, soon “the drop-over” was behind us and the lead beacons deposited us into the broad expanse of the lake where depth was not an issue. Curiously, in spite of the tidal flow in the Swansea channel, such is the volume of water within the lake that there are hardly any tides in the lake to see. We could have literally headed in any direction because at 104 sq km, Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest sea-water lake, and with a host of bays to choose from, the options were nearly endless. All of the vessels in the greater Sydney area could be accommodated in Lake Macquarie, although getting them all in would create great angst for those waiting at the Swansea Bridge!

Negotiating the well marked channel, keeping red to port ( left)

On our way up the coast we had considered our options upon entering the lake, and now it was but mid-afternoon and there was plenty of time to find our way across Lake Macquarie to the town of Wangi Wangi, blue-collar to its bootstraps and stridently parochial, even on a good day. Alan Lucas’ guidebook had referred to the fine anchorage available in the bay off Wangi Wangi, and that if one was lucky; a visiting yacht might tie up on the pier outside the Wangi Wangi Worker’s Club, the social and cultural hub of Wangi. Considering this, we crossed the Lake in good speed before feeling our way into Eraring Bay, where the worker’s club jetty was already accommodating a motley selection of vessels, some sleek and expensive, others modest and functional.  Our arrival saw a couple of blokes off a house-boat sit down their stubbies, and rally to catch our lines. Their cheery and easy going welcome was typical of Wangi Wangi. This is not to say that blue singlets totally ruled the day for nudging into the jetty was the opulent motor cruiser Debjohn, that we recalled taking pride of place in the Bobbin Head Marina, Cowan Creek. We had seen them earlier in the day, low down and heading north in torrents of spray, off Norah Head and would never have guessed that Wangi Wangi was where they were headed. It would have been Sanctuary Cove for them we thought. Not so.

Secure at the Wangi Wangi Jetty

After a stroll into town and making a $10 payment to the Club for our overnight berth, we dressed for dinner and made our way into the redoubtable WWWC. The Club was well patronised; “meat tray night” was how one local explained it, but for us the day had been a long one, and we settled into a fine meal with blue-collar prices, before wending our way back to our ship, to plan some excursions to the far reaches of Lake Macquarie in the coming day or two First though, we wanted to take the opportunity to catch up with some old friends who had urged us that next time we passed through these waters, we must come in and see Lake Macquarie.

In 2010, in the Coomera River, just upstream from Sanctuary Cove on the Gold Coast, we met Kel and Helga Korsman off the fine catamaran Mojo, who, like us were headed to take in the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, and like us were headed north to Townsville and out to the Louisiade Archipelago, across the Coral Sea, in the waters SE of Papua New Guinea. We connected with Kel and Helga on a number of occasions up the Australian Coast, in the Louisiades, and on our return to Australia. We shared some wonderful and some challenging times, and came away liking Kel and Helga, both for their approach to life and the fine people we found them to be. Down on the southern portion of the NSW coast we had called them declaring our intention, weather permitting, to make good our declaration, that next time in waters north of Sydney, we would try to include Lake Macquarie in our list of destinations. They live overlooking a waterway, not far from the Swansea Bridge, and we arranged to head back across the Lake in the morning, following Kel’s directions, to anchor off the lakeside suburb of Belmont, and to spend some time reconnecting and reminiscing. It was great to see Kel and Helga again, and although we had not crossed paths since 2010, it was as though our shared experiences in a faraway place had happened only yesterday.
Kel & Helga's waterside home

Lake Macquarie has been home to Kel and Helga for many years, and because we have similar interests, we took the opportunity to have them mark a number of features on our map of the Lake, and quickly realised that, like in many places, we would only have time to take in some of the highlights. The good thing though was that the weather was holding at the stellar end of beautiful, and with blue skies and light winds Lake Macquarie was presenting herself in the finest possible light.

There are times, we will admit, when surrounded by fine vessels in different places, we think longingly of other yachts, that are different here, bigger there, grander there and so forth. This is not so much the grass is greener syndrome, as the water being bluer; on some other boat, in some other place. Mostly we feel this way when we come away from looking at other boats in marinas, which we routinely do, but we soon come back to our own faithful ship, feeling grateful for what we have. She is home to us, but in reality she far more than that. On the morning after seeing Kel and Helga, we came ashore at Belmont where dozens of yachts lie tethered in the anchorage, and were approached by a gent out walking his dog, who approached us saying… “Is that your yacht out there, the one with the black trim?” “Yes, she’s ours” was the easiest reply we could give. There were lots of yachts in the bay and we had anchored somewhat out from shore. We were surprised that he noticed Calista, amongst the rest. “Looks like a Swanson….yes they are fine sea boats…she looks great, one of the best I have seen….I was just admiring her. I wish I had a boat like her…” Then, just like that, responding to his errant hound, he was away, and we did not get the chance to tell him that Calista had indeed taken us across just on 20,000nm of ocean and that yes, we were very fond of her.

Public Jetty & anchorage area at Belmont

Anchored at Wangi Point

Back on board, it was an ideal day for a gentleman’s sail, which could be described as a drift down wind with headsail unfurled, and marine stressors at the lower end of tolerable. Crossing the lake again we made for Wangi Point where a reserve provided an opportunity to get ashore and stretch our legs on a wooded trail. The walk in the forest was passing pleasant, in spite of some contradictory signage that had had us making our way by guesswork. Contained on the end of the peninsula, though, with downtown Wangi on its western perimeter, we had to eventually find our way to our minor, then major boats. We were never in peril.

With the sun past the yard, we hoisted sail again and made our way past the forested Pulbah Island and leaving Fishery Point to starboard, make our way to a bay along Bird Cage Point, where a completely secure anchorage was available in the lee of the bush, and tranquillity was likely in that southern portion of Lake Macquarie. The night provided serenity and sanctuary, and in the morning, having glassed the wooded shoreline we made our way ashore to a walking trail that Kel assured us would be easy to find. Again our hours ashore were highly enjoyable, and provided a welcome opportunity to get some exercise, to avert a feeling of sloth, that would come from purely lounging on board. To us, a layabout life in the cockpit or below decks was more reserved for foul weather, than the fine that had been gifted to us on this extensive body of water.

Sunset at Bird Cage Point

By day’s end, with a light overnight northerly predicted, we made our way north again and found our way to Goonda Point on the southern side of Wangi Wangi where the NE to NW conditions would be easily deflected and we would ride easily on our chain. It would be fair to assume that we had developed a wry fondness for Wangi Wangi, for the next day had us again ashore in its modest retail precinct, with the lame excuse of needing some grocery items, although our plimsoll line was mostly awash, what with the tonnages of grocery items that we already have on board. Maybe it was the coffee milkshake at the popular Wangi Cafe that had drawn us out of the wilds of Bird Cage Point.

Our travels on Lake Macquarie could have continued for weeks with each night delivering a different vista, but weeks we did not have, and considering the state of the afternoon tides, and the weather that was forecast, we could delay in the lake no longer, although, following another recommendation from Kel and Helga, we would just have enough time for a third walk on the wild side, this time north of Belmont in the Green Point Foreshore Reserve. Having dallied a little ashore in Wangi, we made our way across the lake with some haste, dropping anchor south of the Reserve, not far from the Port Macquarie Yacht Club haul-out slipway. Kel and Helga, as it turned out were spot on and the walking trails through dappled forest, mangrove boardwalks, and to a lookout affording fine vistas of the lake was excellent from every respect.

Lovely forest walk at Green Point

Vista of Lake Macquarie from the lookout

We would later find that this reserve, the home of a diverse population of creatures in the lower story, and Kookaburras and Tawny Frogmouths, in the rainforest above was under threat from developers who eyed the land, not as a home for a raft of creatures without a say in the “planning process”, but as an opportunity to cash in on the population squeeze pushing north from Sydney. To us the remnants of Port Macquarie hinterland in its natural state were now hard enough to find and in years to come areas of natural vegetation, there to be enjoyed by all, would become priceless assets, if they are not already Happily, public agitation to save the Green Point Foreshore has deflected the bulldozers for now and the Kookaburras and Frogmouths can rest in peace in the forest. We left this delightful place, thankful that we had seen it whilst it remains. Back on board, on the starboard side of our companionway is pinned a memento, drawn from an old Cree Indian proverb. It reads…

          Only when the last tree has died

and the last river has been poisoned

and the last fish has been caught

will we realise that we cannot eat money.

At least in Lake Macquarie waterways,at least, the importance of sustaining populations has taken hold. Locals tell us that with fish stocks plummeting a few years ago, netting in Lake Macquarie was banned and now, many areas teem with fish. Maybe “developers” need banning too.

Farewell Lake Macquarie

With the tide brimming in the late afternoon, we took the opportunity to book a five o’clock “bridge”; and make our way back to the leads in the Swansea Channel, to pass through to courtesy moorings beyond the bridge in fading light. These moorings are just abeam of the Swansea RSL Club, and heading there involved little more than a short duck ride and a tie-up at the courtesy jetty. Kel and Helga joined us at the Club and were keen to hear of our travels on Lake Macquarie. It was great to see them again and to share the many things that we have as common interests. Soon though, it was time to go, to prepare for the short haul to Newcastle in the morning, where at the Yacht Club we could meet some fine people who had already been of invaluable assistance to us in our plans to sail to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. We looked forward to meeting them after contacting them some months ago, and with the weather still presenting a sanguine face, we looked forward to the short trip up the coast, and entering one of Australia’s most important ports in the new day. Yes, our visit to Lake Macquarie had been all that that Kel and Helga had promised.

Secure on the mooring with the Swansea RSL in the background


No comments:

Post a Comment