Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scarborough Marina to Noumea. 
18/6/16 – 30/6/16

In part 1 of this blog we shared our voyage to Noumea and Vanuatu on the very big ship Pacific Pearl. Now on our small ship Calista we were about to follow in her wake. With Marcel, his son Phillipe and two other crew, on Diddys we are about to clear Border Security and make our way out of Moreton Bay and head east by north east for Noumea, 770 nautical miles away as the gannet flies. We suspect that Diddys with greater length and a crew of four will not be with us for long.
Dining on Calista with Marcel
Sorting the charts to Noumea
Our preparations have been extensive, and when space and internet permits, we will share a little of our voyage across the Coral Sea to Noumea, and our travels in the islands, and atolls. We look forward to bringing this to you, and will publish when we can. Our final few days have been challenging in analysing the weather models that relate to this passage. We are hoping that fair winds will prevail.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Coffs Harbor to Scarborough Marina
10/6/16 – 18/6/16

( 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.)

Leaving Coffs Harbor was a necessity born of the need to reach the Gold Coast for repairs, but also because the fuel wharf and unloading dock to which we had been tied was the property of the Fishing Cooperative and not the Marina, and the Coop wanted yachts off their wharf so that commercial activities could return. This was totally understandable: so on the morning of Friday 10 June, we released our lines, and before dawn, made our way out of the Marina and then the harbour. The forecast for fine conditions and a low swell might mean an easy over-nighter to the Gold Coast, although we were leaving port against the old adage that you do not do so on a Friday.
Morning light, South Solitary Island

As we turned our head to the north, with the light of South Solitary Island flashing off our starboard bow, it was good to hoist sails again, and settle into a day at sea, leaving all that had happened at Coffs Harbor receding in our wake. There was no water egress into the bilges, the motor and rudder were functioning as they should, so we set a course between the islands and reefs that dot the seas to the north of Coffs and made for our waypoint off Wooli. We were not the only ones making north, as in the afternoon; Cookie’s sharp eyes spotted a pod of Humpback Whales, making north like so many voyagers on yachts, for the warm seas of the Whitsundays. We wondered how they had gotten on in the storm. Later the pines ashore on the skyline marked the headland at Yamba, and into the dusk and evening Evans Head was seen and passed to port. Closer to midnight with us hugging the coast, allowing the plethora of big ships their space out to sea, we slipped past the surfing mecca of Ballina and before long the powerful light of Cape Byron indicated that we were approaching Australia’s most easterly point. We are acutely fond of Cape Byron, with its iconic lighthouse and light station, although our fondness for Byron Bay itself has crumbled over the years under the relentless pressure of people; too many people for our liking.

Splicing new mooring lines
Sunset over Evans Head

Cookie knows that on occasion I can be accused of being a person of habit. Before, when passing Cape Byron, I have celebrated this geographic milestone in an entirely philistine way. I have a bowl of Weetbix. Knowing this, and knowing me, as we changed watch on midnight, and I completed our scheduled radio check-in with Marine Rescue Byron Bay, she looked at me curiously until, with nary a word, I reached for the time honoured bowl, the biscuits, the milk, and abandoned a portion of my off-watch time in the interests of a time honoured tradition.

As the revellers lurched and swayed in the hotspots of Byron, we slid past unnoticed, whilst I slept and Cookie duelled with a fishing boat ahead that held an erratic track, causing us to change course to port, then starboard, because although we are well lit at night, we can never be sure that the other boat has seen us. In the pre-dawn we kept the reefs of Point Danger on the Queensland border well off to port, as the loom of the Gold Coast morphed into high rises aplenty and the keenest of the fishers made seaward in their boats. We are not fond of the Gold Coast: its glitz, its brassy pretence and its hubbub do nothing for us, although as the sun peeped above the horizon in the east, and ruddy light danced on the myriad of windows on the high rises, like a mirror ball in an 80’s disco, it was a flash sight to behold.
Gold Coast skyline

So many of our legs of this journey have been governed by the time we needed to arrive at our destination, and arriving at the Gold Coast seaway was a prime example of this. Back in Coffs we had calculated the sea miles to the Gold Coast, examined the tides at the Seaway, and worked out that if we wanted to arrive at the Seaway, on a rising tide, with a low swell, then departing Coffs at 0530 was what we had to do. If counting back meant leaving at one am, then this is what we would do. Gentleman’s Hours, with a light breakfast, a sip of Earl Grey and a look at the morning papers before setting sail might suit weekend sailors, but cruisers march to a different drum.
Entering the Gold Coast Seaway

We have seen photos of yachts risking all, making seaward from the Gold Coast Seaway, but this is something we try to avoid, at all costs. As it was a gentleman in a 1920’s clinker dinghy, in striped blazer and boater, with lady and parasol reclining in the stern, might have dibbed and dabbed in the seaway on this most salubrious of mornings. We passed through without challenge, except from a mixed grill of craft, which flitted hither and yon with little reference to safe passage procedures in a confined waterway. One guy had anchored in mid channel to fish in his tinnie. We were now in Queensland!

Anyone wanting to do a refresher on marine marks, buoyage and safe working indicators should spend a morning plying the waters of the Gold Coast’s Broadwater. They are all there, lateral marks, special marks, isolated danger marks, cardinal marks and safe water marks. Then again, you could do as many of the locals seem to do, hold down the throttle, ignore the navigation beacons and go like the clappers. When we turned into the Coomera River, with mansions on the left and mangroves under threat on the right we hoped that we might be free of the boat-jocks in the Broadwater until we heard a high pitched buzz from a host of motors, all screaming at the top of their limits. Then they roared toward us, tinnies, a brace of them and more, each helmed by a teenage maniac, with wild eyes under the twin impacts of testosterone and benzene. What on earth were these kids doing, tearing along a public waterway, on the brink of losing control, with the obvious risk that, in the event of a capsize,  a lad could so easily be chopped to pieces by a following boat before anyone knew what happened. The Gold Coast! You can stick it we think. It is not our cup of anything.

Luxury lifestyles on the Coomera River

Having made good time up the Coomera River, we arrived at Boat Works in time to see the faces of two old friends, Cran and Ann, who were about to leave for Brisbane, but had allowed enough time to show us “the ropes” of Lettin Go before they departed. It was such a bonus to see them again. Then, Craig from Signature Yacht Services arrived with more good news. Due to a cancellation on the slipway, we would be able to be hauled out on Monday morning, first thing, and lose no time in getting our hull inspected and a plan put in place to repair Calista. So far, so good, in fact so far, much better than good we thought.

Tropical garden facade on one of the Boat Works sheds

Boat Works on the Coomera River advertises itself as Australia’s Greatest Boat Yard, and it would be hard to find anyone who would dispute this. It is the doyen of boat facilities, and we had never before seen anything like it. On cue at 8am on Monday, a lift out crane, crawled toward us like a Stegosaurus on wheels and plucked us from the river as a sea eagle might snatch an eel from a sluggish stream. Calista disappeared under the care of a host of boat paramedics whilst we were ushered into the hotel-like foyer to complete our arrival formalities. We were made comfortable, presented with our welcome pack, and given vouchers for coffee and muffins at the Boat Works Café, just in case we were shy of nutrients. “Go and get a coffee, we’ll look after your boat” was the word from the delightful Amy, who is as friendly a face of an organisation as one could imagine. “Do you need a car” she continued, “If you do, I can have one of our courtesy cars available for you this afternoon if you need it…and by the way, this key will get you in to the en-suite bathrooms that are there for our guests. We’ll show you where they are…maybe after you go and enjoy your coffee.  We can recommend the blueberry muffins…”  All this in a boat yard!
One of the hardstand areas at the Boat Works

Outside another boat was plucked from the water by a mechanical monster, and disappeared in the direction of the biggest repair sheds we have ever seen. ”Amy, the yard looks pretty busy, so how many boats would you haul out here in a year” we asked. “Over 2000” she replied, without so much of a blink. Yes, this was some boat yard. The Galley is far more than a boat yard cafeteria, and with its charming aspect, marine décor, diverse menu and ever friendly staff, for us it was manna from heaven. The only things stressed here were the boards on the Indonesian style tables, that were so attractive that Cookie, in a moment of weakness, spoke about “borrowing” one for our outside setting at home, although home, for us, felt far more than a half a continent away.
Being lifted out

The amazing remote controlled travel lift for large catamarans

After the pleasure cometh the business, and with the welcome processes at the Boat Works having worked a treat, it was time to find Craig, and our ship. She had been cleaned below the water line and, now, on a hard stand outside Craig’s work sheds, it was evident that, yes we had been lucky to save Calista at Coffs Harbor. Her port-side had suffered significant above water abrasions, and below the water, where the finger had threatened to breach her hull, the deep lacerations, showed how our intervention in the tempest had come in the nick of time. We found Craig deep in thought, and wondering how best to get us repaired, in a reasonable time frame, and with an end result that was satisfying for us and acceptable for his devotion to professional excellence. We knew that the last thing that Craig needed was Calista to repair: his crew were booked solid for weeks and we knew that he was already turning away work from other vessels damaged in the storm. Craig was doing us a favour by offering to help us out.

Calista outside Craig's shed at far end of one of the many rows of sheds.

Repairing the gouges with a layer of fibreglass

Craig painting the final coat

The final gelcoat patchwork

On the face of it, the necessary repairs looked reasonably simple to achieve, but there were complexities and difficulties that we had not foreseen. Fibre-glassing the gouges were the easy bit, and applying gel-coat for a “finish” was not hard, either. From there though, things got tricky. The gel-coat could not match the rest of Calista’s port-side and the best outcome could only be achieved by painting the entire side and not just the 40% that was damaged. Going down this pathway though required our boat in a shed to meet EPA spraying regulations, and that involved taking down Calista’s mast and dismantling all of our stays, ropes, mast fittings and the like. As Craig explained it… “spraying gives our best outcome, but the mast has to come down, and my experience is that with the mast down you will find a host of other things that are needing to be done, and you are likely to still be here in August.” He could see the looks on our faces, and continued…”and then there is the problem of a shed. We don’t have one and can’t get one at present, even if we decided to go that way.” Our fine morning was now tarnished and the blueberry muffins, which had been nestling agreeably within, might easily be making a second appearance. Then Craig continued….”but there is another way. If the insurance company agreed that a haul out, mast out, and paint was the only way to achieve an agreeable outcome, they might approve of us doing a structurally sound fix for now, getting you back on the water and on your way on your trip, and agreeing to do the ‘proper fix’ later, maybe even when you get back to SA.” We remembered the words of Michael, the Marine Surveyor back in Coffs Harbor. “Get yourselves to Boat Works if you can and we’ll be guided by what Craig says is needed to repair your boat”. Then, Craig continued, “if you want to go that way, this gets us a practical outcome in a reasonable time frame, and with a bit of luck, you’ll be back on the water by the end of the week. I’ll talk to your insurers, about the sense of this plan if you like”. Now we knew why Cran and Ann had so strongly recommended Craig as being one of the best in the business, whose bottom line was not just dollars, but about good folk like us who needed the help of a caring professional. Craig had been a sailor too, and had an idea what we were going through.

The only sticking point was the potential for our insurers to baulk at Craig’s plan. When other repairers confirmed the “mast down” pathway as having no alternative, our insurers agreed that if we were ok with a “functional fix now, proper fix later”, then we should proceed with this as soon as we could. In truth, Craig was already underway with repairing the hull, which had to happen, whatever the outcome with the insurers. This gave us the opportunity to get a courtesy car, courtesy of the good Amy, and head into the Gold Coast to get some things crossed off Cookie’s never-ending list. Whilst Craig glassed, gel-coated and faired our hull we took the opportunity to attend to Calista’s undersides, by changing an anode, and applying some antifoul paint to some trims and leading edges. She would look as good as she possibly could when the Stegosaurus arrived to return her to the brine.

Touching up the antifoul

We took the opportunity on Thursday night, the eve of our re-immersion, to dine at The Galley to celebrate an outcome that, thanks to Craig, Cran and Ann, was beyond our expectations. The week had seen the edge of winter arrive, and patrons at The Galley were understandably thin on the ground. Our desire to carouse was truncated a little by the decision of management to shut shop early, and the staff was deeply apologetic, at having to hustle us off into the chill of the evening. The following morning, with Calista afloat, Craig came down to see that our backstay was correctly re-fitted and to see us on our way. We were deeply grateful for all that Craig had done for us. Cran and Ann had been spot on, in their estimation of Craig and Signature Yacht Services.
Dining at the Galley Restaurant at the Boat Works

Just before we released our lines and headed off down the Coomera, Cookie was passing The Galley, and the Manager rushed out to say farewell. She had a parting gift of three muffins, just to see us on our way and to say sorry, again, for the early closure the previous night. Then the very good Amy arrived with our departure pack, yes, departure pack, including a host of goodies, a Boat Works stubby holder and a fine Boat Works cap. On the side of the cap is the claim, Australia’s Greatest Boatyard and this is a claim that few, ourselves included, would challenge.

The adage about time and tide waiting for no man, applied also to us as we made our way down the Coomera River. With us free to resume our voyage, we had a decision to make. We were now at a point that apart from a range of achievable tasks on Cookie’s list, we could ready ourselves to take advantage of the next weather window, and following Customs / Border Security clearance, leave Australian waters for Noumea. A key question, was, from where did we want to manage our final preparations? We could have headed for the nearby Gold Coast, but we needed to be in a marina to get best access to provisioning and, for us the Gold Coast was expensive and undesirable. Our other alternative was to make for one of the more agreeable marinas on the shores of Moreton Bay just outside the port of Brisbane, and with some internet sleuthing and a phone-call or two we had set our sights on the Scarborough Marina, near Redcliffe, just north-east of the city. Besides, accessing Border Security officials was easier from here as the port of Brisbane was not far away.

Getting to Scarborough could be done by exiting the Gold Coast Seaway and making by sea via the outside of South and North Stradbroke, and Moreton Islands, or by taking the inland waterways that snaked their way from the Gold Coast and emerged on the shores of Moreton Bay. With unpleasant weather on the way, we opted to lose no time in taking the rising afternoon tide and from the Broadwater, make our way up the up the main stream, and over a set of shoals, to drop anchor in the vicinity of Jacob’s Well on sunset.

Our anchorage near Jacob's Well

The Gold Coast to Moreton Bay region contains a labyrinth of channels, a number of islands, some riverside towns, and is a mecca for boating and fishing enthusiasts. Our evening on the edge of the channel not far from Jacob’s Well was interrupted by runabouts and tinnies, piloted by weekenders we assumed, making their way up and down the river, setting crab-pots and getting in an evening fish in the calm of the Friday night. We set an extra anchor light and hoped that the fishers kept their eyes open as they made their way up and down the stream. It was good to be afloat again and to have our anchor and ground tackle deployed, to give us security throughout the night.

The maze of channel markers near Karragarra Island

Shallow drafted vessels heading north, like catamarans and houseboats, can take the Canipa Passage, abeam of South and North Stradbroke Islands, and the delightfully named Jumpinpin Bar that separates the two, whilst for us, being deeper of keel we are best served by taking the Main Channel to Jacob Wells and beyond. Our early morning rise and departure, was designed to pre-empt the crab-potters and we were soon making our way beyond Jacobs Well, to Steglitz and the Horizon Shores Marina, Cabbage Tree Point and upstream where a vehicular ferry does a busy trade in conveying cars and people to Karragarra Island by the boatload. By some dint of fortune, we have charts for these waterways, and luckily we had included these in our chart portfolios, before leaving home. This passage was both interesting and comfortable, and being well marked allowed us to make our way to Moreton Bay, easily and in good time.
Hazy, glassy conditions in Moreton Bay as we pass the Fairway Beacon

Beyond Macleay and Peel Island the waters of Moreton Bay open up with a glimpse of Brisbane’s distant skyline appearing off the port bow. The day was fine, the waters mirror smooth and a number of boats, both large and small were out to take advantage of the Saturday and the delicious conditions. Passing St Helena and Mud Islands, the Fairway Beacon of the Brisbane Ship Channel came into view, with beyond it the Redcliffe peninsula and to starboard, the outline of Bribie Island to the north. To the north-east we had a clear view of Moreton Island, where to its north, and around Cape Moreton, we would make our way seaward to Noumea.
Scarborough Marina Basin

Afternoon light on the fishing fleet

In no time, it seemed, we had picked up the leads to the Scarborough Marina, and found our way into the extensive basin that accommodates the Scarborough facility, along with the Moreton Bay Boat Club and the smaller Compass Marina. We tied up, met Brian the cheerful weekend manager, and immediately felt at home. The Scarborough Marina is a convivial and laid-back facility, which we felt would suit our needs perfectly. With the weather about to change and some further complexity in the extended outlook, it was likely that we would be at Scarborough for several days at least. Then, in returning to Calista, we noted a figure emerge from a boat on another row. We had last seen Marcel Didelot, who we had known when he lived at Middleton, next to our home at Port Elliot, on his newly acquired yacht, at Wirrina before his departure for a new life afloat somewhere on Australia’s East Coast. We strolled around to Marcel’s 42’ Dufor, “Diddys”, and Marcel was as surprised to see us as we had been to see him. We asked him about his plans and he said that as soon as possible he was heading for Noumea! Marcel was hoping to have his son Philippe, and brother of Robyn, his late wife, join him for this passage, which would be his first beyond the coast of Australia. We quickly agreed that provided the weather and our respective programs aligned, we could travel in convoy. That would be a win-win for us both.

In the meantime, having travelled 1881 nautical miles from Wirrina to Scarborough Marina, since March 1st, we would have time to prepare for the long haul across the Coral Sea to Noumea in New Caledonia. We had missed good windows of weather whilst under repair, and now we would have to be patient in waiting for another window to arrive. It was a good time to pause and reflect on what had been a truly remarkable one hundred and twenty days at sea.

When the weather permits, our last blog before departure should give our departure details and an indication of how this blog can be posted given the restrictions that we will have in accessing the internet.

Sunset Fish"n"chips Scarborough Beach

Monday, June 20, 2016

Coffs Harbor
3/6/16 – 10/6/16

( 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.)
Those out at sea in cruising yachts normally head for safe places like marinas when weather forecasts turn sour. Those in marinas, normally stay there until bad weather passes. Marinas tend to be built in places that are by nature protected from the elements, and readily provide comfort and safety for those who come in to seek shelter. By comparison, the Coffs Harbor International Marina has been fashioned from a coastal landscape where human constructions face the brunt of the elements, and sometimes the elements win. In Coffs, past engineers noted the proximity of Mutton Bird Island which lies just offshore and sought to protect local and visiting vessels by constructing a breakwater from the shore out to the island, and building a further wall from the southern headland, leaving an entrance alongside the island, leading to the town jetty and the “outer anchorage”. From abeam of the end of the jetty a gap is provided in a third breakwater wall that encapsulates the marina, and within this is found the home for the local fishing fleet, Police and Emergency Vessels and always an array of visiting craft, coming, going or sheltering from weather. In spite of the efforts of man, though, the Coffs marina protrudes out into the open sea, and its north-easterly flank lies exposed to weather that is brewed out in the Coral Sea.  
Coffs Harbour Marina

The marina at Coffs is a key link in the safety chain for smaller vessels plying the north coast of New South Wales. In dirty weather, Coffs is the only safe refuge port for boats at sea over the long haul from Moreton Island out from Brisbane, down to Port Stephens or Newcastle, just north of Sydney. Other potential refuges are not an option in heavier weather, especially where a bar entrance to a river, such as the Hasting at Port Macquarie, or the Clarence at Yamba is involved. This is why crews of yachts and to a lesser degree power boats heading along this coast, so often  build in a Coffs stopover to refuel, re-provision, and to take a break from the long hours out at sea. Passage planning for vessels heading both south and north, often involves Coffs as a vital mid-point in managing the long distances at sea.

 Coffs Harbor is also a clearance port for vessels arriving from or departing for overseas, and one of our first things upon arriving there was to meet with Border Security officials at the port office registering our intention to see off the coming storm, and in its wake, find an appropriate weather window to set sail for Noumea.

First, though, there was the problem of the gathering storm. In our brief foray into nearby shops everyone was talking about the coming weather in Armageddon like tones. The checkout girl, the butcher, the baker, and the maker of candles were all engrossed by it…the coming storm. We sauntered into the local bottle shop to find it hard to get served. The strongly built and extensively painted local lad and two burly mates were immersed deep in the outlet’s computer screen. “Look at that” the billboard declared “it’s going to blow like s…!...take a look at that!’ He wanted to show us the blobs of pink on the BOM Marine Wind forecast for Saturday through to Sunday. Pink means 40-50knot winds, which in Beaufort terms is a severe gale not far short of hurricane in strength. He might have saved himself the trouble of showing us the evidence of the looming cataclysm. We had already seen the weather charts, and realised that we had never before faced conditions like those that were on the way. We felt it better to not tell him that we were off a small yacht in the marina, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. We could easily have changed our purchase from wine to whisky. We could need it.

If we slept uneasily, it was from knowing that the gale was to hit us from the north – east, the soft underbelly of the marina; from the direction of vulnerability that was due to be tackled by the planned works to strengthen the breakwater. Too late, we cried…but there was more. When we tied up in berth D42, the confidence we had in sheltering in the Coffs Harbor International Marina, was eroded by the state of the cleats and fastenings to which we would secure our mooring lines and thereby entrust the security of both ourselves and of Calista. Mooring cleats wiggled when shaken, and appeared to be set in wooden trims that had seen too many winters and too many summers. Then, there was the “finger” to which we would be tied: sitting between D Arm and the securing pylon at its seaward end, it moved unsteadily when we stepped off our boat onto it. It just did not “feel” right. Fingers should feel more secure than this one. Surely.
Brewing storm conditions on Saturday

The morning dawned under a leaden and uneasy sky, and it was not long before the wind began to lift. We were up early, laying out extra mooring lines, until our port side was secured by no less than five stout ropes, and everything on deck was stowed below or held down as never before. Upwind of us, and tied to the opposite side of the finger was the 16 tonne Amber, a Swanson 42, currently under restoration and renovation. Her owner, John, had an awning erected over the deck and soon he and his partner arrived to capture the shelter that was threatening to be ripped from its stays and be blown away into the harbor. They got there just in time, because just as their canopy was captured, the wind lifted in intensity and spindrifts were plucked from the waters of the harbor. John had his instruments on and called out..”42 knots!..45knots!”. We were in the teeth of the gale….and then the rain started to fall. Driven by the storm, the rain drove in horizontally, pelting us as though the drops were gravel, and driving us into our cockpit to seek shelter. The harbor entrance, only 80 or so metres away, was scarcely discernible in the maelstrom. Conditions like these were truly awesome to see, but unlike storms at home which are often short lived in nature, conditions this day showed no signs of relenting and it was clear that whatever happened, we would just have to sit it out. To this point, above the whine of the wind, the lash of the rain and the spray leaping over the breakwater, we were secure and snug, held by more fastenings than an Everest climb, and could settle back and even feel a pinch of thrill as the elements delivered their entrée. Storm Chasers would pay a ransom to be on board with us!

Heading below to check the weather on the internet though, confirmed that the worst was yet to come. East Coast Lows are mainly regional in extent, but this sausage shaped depression was sliding down the entire length of the NSW coast, and north of us at Byron Bay the winds were gusting to over 50 knots, and heading our way. By now waves out at sea had built alarmingly and at regular intervals a whoomph from the breakwater and a fan of spray hurled aloft, hinted at the seas that were building. It became clear that an escape to shore, along D Arm and to the walkway that ran alongside the breakwater to the security of the Yacht Club was now out of the question. The walkway was often awash and soon the angled ramp connecting the walkway to D Arm was swept away by an enormous sea. Like it or not we were now trapped on D Arm, and there we would have to see out the storm.
Access to D Row gone and a trimaran badly holed
Huge seas constantly pouring over the breakwater

Then, for us everything changed. It was late in the afternoon, with us having resolved to cook an early meal and prepare for the night to come, when we had a visit by a foul-weather clad visitor, Gary, from the steel yacht Zephyr, a little further down D Arm. We had met Gary and his wife Anna on arrival, and they, too are planning a “first-timer” trip to New Caledonia, but leaving a little later than us, in July. In the sailing fraternity, there is an unstated common bond, and casual connections easily become friendships that can last for years. Gary had beaten his way down D arm to “see how we were getting on” and was standing on the finger alongside Calista holding her rails. Just then, there was a sudden crack and the entire finger holding Calista tilted at 45 degrees. Gary ran for his life for the D Arm walkway, and astern of us the collar containing the rollers that allow the finger to rise and fall with the tide, broke free and disappeared down to the bottom of the harbor. The marina, with us attached, was breaking up!!! Marinas should not break up like this!!!
On Saturday night add......darkness, driving rain, 30-50 knot winds and a king tide !

With no idea what was about to happen and with hours of the tempest to come, urgency had arrived and we started to think and plan for the worst. Gas went off on the stove, and we moved to put as many of the irreplaceable things that we could in a sealed dry-bag. As the wind howled, we contemplated, for the first time, that we might be overwhelmed by the elements and that Calista could be lost. It was a sickening contemplation. Everything on our precious floating home was irreplaceable. She has taken us some 20,000 miles over some of Australia’s most challenging seas; she is part of us, and now we might lose her….in a marina!!!

In the scheme of things, especially in tough times, the priority, always, is: people, then things. At the end of D Arm, furthest from the madness of the breakwater, were two large sailing catamarans. If things went crazy and the marina started to unravel, our last refuge was there. By now, parts of D Arm, nearest the breakwater were breaking free under the pounding of the seas and there was no way of telling where all this would end.  Night had fallen, and in an hour or so there would be a new concern to face. With a plunging barometer comes a rising tide. The high tide due in mid-evening was already a “king tide” and with the level on the pylons rising, it was not far short of reaching the top, where the structure of the marina, all arms, fingers and boats would float free to a tangled oblivion against the far breakwater. This was the doomsday scenario but out on the pylons, where lines around them provided our last level of security, this was not out of the question.
First it  broke free & tilted ...(example of another finger next day) 

..... then rolled over to become a barnacle encrusted battering ram

To secure our valuables, we climbed off Calista and headed for Zephyr, which was bigger, steel and less at risk. Gary and Anna welcomed us aboard and we took off our wet weather gear and took some time out below. Shortly though there was need to check on Calista and not planning to be long I stepped outside in underwear, t-shirt wet weather coat and crocs. I could not believe what I found – the entire finger had broken from the arm and the pylon and had turned upside down taking our mooring lines and the electrical pedestal with it! The bottom of the finger, tonnes in weight and encrusted in barnacles, was hard against Calista’s port side and grinding at her fibreglass hull. It was like a grinder and a battering-ram rolled into one. With this pressure, Calista’s hull would soon be breached and she would be lost.

Somehow, something had to be gotten between the grinding finger and the side of Calista, and in a HURRY. By a stroke of planning or luck, we had on board what it would take – barge boards, TWO of them. A barge board is a stout plank designed to protect the hull should we have to tie up alongside a gnarled jetty. The barge board, lowered horizontally over the side, takes the scraping of a jetty pile, and behind it alongside the hull, we place the ship’s inflated fenders, for cushioning. On this trip we have used the barge boards at Stanley on Tasmania’s north coast, whilst in marinas they stay lashed to our rails. Our stoutest board, a 6 foot slab of laminated Blackwood, is as hard as nails. Co-cruisers have often smirked at this board and its varnished visage, saying it would be better off in a lounge room or a library. Now, in the maelstrom, it, and its less salubrious partner could save Calista.

Our fenders & barge boards saved our boat

There was no time to go for help because I knew that in time, with my non return to Zephyr, help would come. The finger was hard against Calista’s side, and prising it away was not possible. By tying each board vertically and dropping them into the slots between the curve of the boat and the straight -side of the finger they were jammed into place. Luckily, at intervals the surge in the marina saw the finger move slightly away, and every time it did I slid a board closer to the centre. When the “weight” returned, it was impossible to move the boards. I just hoped that they would take the pressure, and not get smashed.

Then, just in time, the cavalry arrived. First it was Cookie and Gary, and, with combined efforts, shouted above the scream of the wind, we soon had vertical boards between Calista and the battering ram. Then others arrived; John and his son, tall and laconic Steve from a boat nearby, and Suzie, a nautical whiz, who clambered on board, agile as a marmoset, and sharp as a razor. “Hi I’m Suzie…what’s your name?” she yelled into the gale. “How can I help?” she wanted to know. Help, she did, and some. There were others too, drawn by the flurry of head torches, having got the impression that something serious was up. None of these folk were known to us, and most we never saw again. Soon the joint efforts of these good souls were put to getting lines between the smashing finger and the piles fore and aft of our boat. By triangulation and grunt, there was soon a gap between the battering ram and ourselves, and we joined the two of our barge boards for strength, slid them down horizontally to protect our sides, and with deft coordination, our fenders were dropped in place to protect our hull. The chances of saving Calista had risen, but although the high tide was now past, we were by no means out of the woods.

Our new style pontoon

With midnight approaching, rain was cascading down by the centimetre, not the millimetre, and the wind appeared as a thousand banshees, screaming in torment. The seas in the ocean outside had built to a dimension beyond that in living memory, in Coffs Harbor, and the billows swept over the breakwater with disdain. In spite of the darkness a careful foray along D Arm showed the breakwater walkway in disarray, a trimaran lying fractured with a hull akimbo, sails ripped from their furlings and blown away, and evidence that other arms apart from D had suffered their connecting walkways being destroyed by the seas. Back on Calista, regular wooomphs resounded from the breakwater and walls of water were flung high into the heavens. We were 80m from the breakwater; yet spray rained down on our decks in a deluge and sand trickled down our scuppers. There was a surreal feeling to it all and we wondered what would happen next.

It was not long in coming. First, though, we had been on deck in the storm for hours, running on adrenalin, apprehension and salt spray. We had not dressed for the occasion, and a shivering chill told us that we must pause for a while to either attend to this need or suffer hypothermia. We could not afford for our thinking and our ability to act to be compromised by the cold. We were now cold, very cold. Happily, amongst our on-board kit was our a-grade thermals, and now they came unerringly to our rescue. We re-emerged to the fray from below dressed warmer than Amundsen, and better able to tackle whatever came next - with the first priority being the state of the lines holding the finger away from Calista. Cookie had seen that the finger, with its barnacle encrustations, had worked at the lines that were staying it: one was broken and another was at the point of giving way. Then, there were signs that the finger, composed of three sections, was at the point of disintegration, with the pulse of storm surges that caused the marina to heave. If it broke up we would again be in peril. When the finger originally overturned it took with it our port side mooring lines, and all of our other lines, short of our anchor rode, were already employed. We were running short of options in re-staying the battering ram. We needed help.

Although our needs were local, we also thought global and felt it time to contact the outside world re our situation and how, provided we were still afloat at dawn, we needed to get out of our ruined berth for somewhere more secure. In the wee hours we called Coffs Harbor Marine Rescue, who re-directed us to the head of Coffs Water Police, Sgt Don Stewart. Don was pleased, and maybe relieved to take a call from us and wanted an assessment of our own situation, plus any information that we might have re numbers of souls marooned on the fingers and whether there was a need for a risky intervention aimed at extracting people to an area on shore. The forecast to dawn was still alarming with the intense low far from finished in its ravages on the coast. “It could get worse before it gets better…”was the message fron the Sergeant, although we could not imagine it getting worse than it already was. With Gary’s help, though, we found that those on D Arm were largely ok, in spite of marina damage everywhere, and, to many of the boats. Conveying this to Don, we quickly opted for a stay put policy re those on D Arm, given that the catamaran option was still there if events turned really sour. To try and get people off D Arm now was too risky to contemplate.

More ropes had enabled us to lasso the pontoon to the pylon

Turning to our needs, Don offered that given 15 minutes, he and a fellow officer might be able to get the stout lines that we needed to stay the rogue finger, plus a couple of large pink buoys that would be invaluable buffers for Calista both now and in the event that the finger broke apart. The hard part would be for us to make our way in the dark down the disintegrating D Arm as close as we dared toward the breakwater, and for the officers to get as close as they could with seas regularly breaking over the walkway, to connect with us. For us the last part down D Arm was a precarious balance for us both on what was like a moving ice floe, and for the courageous officers, between holding on like limpets, and sheltering from torrents of spray they yelled… “if we throw, can you catch!?” A test cricketer at deep square leg under a skied hook in a swirling wind could not have been keener to take the catch. The police threw two large buoys, and two coils of rope and we took the four catches perfectly with no need for referral to the third umpire. Incentive is a wonderful thing! Fear is a great incentive!

Returning the "boat savers " to Don

Soon we had the battering ram tethered as never before and with the large buoys in place we could surely breathe a little easier. But not yet. We had been watching the weather radar and real-time wind figures from Coast Stations in northern NSW like raptors eyeing a mouse, and finally Cape Byron was gusting at less than 50 knots. Then up the coast, the wind collapsed, although it refused to relent off Coffs Harbor. I admit that at one point on board in the early hours, yelling into the gale…”will you not effing go AWAY!” Then, on cue, it did. The wind fell away to an eerie calm and we said to each other…”it’s OVER!” As we slumped dripping and weary into our cockpit we were about to celebrate the saving of Calista …when….BANG…the wind screamed in, again, to 40 knots and above, from the opposite direction! It was as though we had passed through the eye of a cyclone. Now there no time to lose in getting stay-lines from the adjoining yacht Maskali to our starboard side, this time to prevent us from being blown onto the errant finger, and causing it to disintegrate. This time though, the elements had played their last card, and after a little while the wind fell away, the rain reduced from a torrent to a drizzle and all we could hear was the roar of the ocean and its constant collisions with the beleaguered breakwater. Car headlights pointed to a flurry of activity ashore as the first shades of sickly light penetrated the lowering skies to the east. We were soaked and weary, but thanks to the efforts of many, we were still afloat.

Huge wild seas still rage outside the breakwater wall on Sunday

D Row...Sunday morning
Boardwalk access to marina -Gone!

One of the many damaged spots on our hull

As morning broke, seas still breached the breakwater, turning the marina into a lake of foam, tearing at portions of the infrastructure and flinging them into the harbor. With the wind and rain gone, it was now possible to edge along D Arm and see the destruction that had occurred during the night, and was now continuing into the day. The walkway from the marina office had been demolished, portions of pontoons floated without attachment or purpose, debris was everywhere, many boats had been damaged, some had sunk, and now, in ones and twos the storm survivors on D Arm staggered out as if they had returned from a war zone.  For one boat owner the event had been too much and he collapsed, to be taken away for care by Marine Rescue and a retrieval team. Considering what we had been through and the risks that had been taken in tackling the storm, it was probably lucky that none of us had been hurt, or worse. I wondered why my hands were sore and realised that they were raw from hauling on ropes through the night, sometimes against the odds. I was worried how Cookie’s knee had survived the night, having recently recovered from surgery,  because when the finger turned turtle, the only way back on board was via a precarious climb back over a wet, slippery and heaving bow. Then I remembered big Steve…in the middle of all the madness he had seen Cookie getting help over the bow of Calista, and yelled out “wait a bit”… before returning with a milk crate…a wonderful step…saying “this might help”. Help, it did…it was that kind of night.

Soon, though, our D Arm comrades gathered for one last time: to help us free from the array of ropes that had held us through the night. The Marine Rescue boat had arrived to tow Calista away from the clutches of the battering ram, and what was left of berth D 42. We were concerned about our propeller; drive shaft and rudder, and whether any of these had sustained damage during the night. The Rescue crew were taking no chances and soon we were under way on a tow to the fuel wharf, normally off-limits to yachts, but now to be a place where we could tie up, while we assessed damage, and thought about what we might do next. In a way we’d have liked to stay with those we left behind on D Arm, but practicalities at this time far outweighed sentiment.
Being towed to the wharf

As we drew alongside the wharf there was a host of willing hands to take our lines. Locals had flocked to the dockside when the storm faded, and amongst the throng were film crews, police, emergency service personnel, and even fire officers. Apart from copping a belting from the wind, and the ongoing belting from the sea that raged beyond the breakwater, Coffs had been inundated by over 270ml of rain - nearly a foot in the old money - and how anyone might have lit a fire during all this was beyond imagination. Then we realised that the phenomenal tide that nearly lifted the fingers from the holding pylons, had flowed out over the jetty and wharf area to swamp surrounding port buildings, like the Fishing Coop. and nearby café. The fire crews were now at work pumping the salt water back to where it normally is found.

On board Calista in spite of being winged, we were incredibly fortunate not to be facing the unthinkable prospect of having our floating home at the bottom of the harbor. It had been a very near thing. Although we were hungry, tired, and emotionally dented, there were some crucial things to do, such as letting family and friends know where we were and that we were ok; and the pressing need to alert our insurers that we would need their assistance. Up on deck we strung up lines and hung up some very wet, wet weather gear to dry.  The swells were still pummelling the breakwater not far away, and cameras and iphones were doing overtime. The Marina Office, part way along the breakwater walkway had suffered some serious damage, and as the seas continued their remorseless work, the office was left in ruin. Off the coast, a swell buoy measured one monster wave at 11 metres in height, and we hear that later down the coast off Eden seas were measured at an incredible 17 metres. This is beyond comprehension. This was some East Coast Low.
Coffs Harbour International Marina the skip bin!

As the morning progressed other boats were towed in or came by their own power to “raft up” at the fuel wharf. All over the marina, pens for boats lay in ruin and places for them to now go were at a premium. If the Coffs Marina has a floating patron it would be without question, Eric Burrows. Eric, now in his mid-80’s lives on Vega Jack, a black-hulled 30-odd footer, and although he wisely sought on-shore shelter during the storm, he was back at first light and was on board as he was towed in to be alongside Calista. Eric, whose background includes years of motorsport rally driving, and a life of mixed adventure, is an internationally recognised photographer whose works can still be seen in cities such as New York and London. He gets around on deck as nimble as a fiddler crab, and we were delighted to have Eric as a neighbour. Like Calista, Vega Jack had suffered extensive hull damage and was fortunate to survive, afloat.
Eric our new neighbour and friend on board Vega Jack

There is a nautical saying that cruisers head to sea for the lure of faraway anchorages, but stay cruising because of the people they meet. Certainly, the people of Coffs, now lined up to prove this as true. Good folk peering off the wharf, now wanted to know what had happened to us and how we were. “Can we take you anywhere…do you need anything..” they asked, time and again and one dear soul, probably watching me hang out jeans and sodden thermals offered…”do you need any washing done?” Their genuine goodwill was a delight to behold and we thanked them heartily for their offers. When you experience things like we had, it would be easy to feel a long way from home. Below, we started making phone calls, sending texts and fielding others from friends who knew were we were and, rang because of the people that they are and that they care. We were not aware, but Coffs Harbor, and the damage wrought on the marina had been front and centre on the national news services. There had gone our chance to sell our “inside story” to the national syndicates. Next time we would get Go Pros, film what happened and watch it go viral. We hoped there would be no next time. Once had been enough.

We became media celebrities ! (Pg 3 The Australian,6/6/16)

 Our dear friends Jonathon and Wendy, and new friends John and Ann on Essex Girl, who had stopped over at Coffs, and were now well north into Queensland, called to see how we had fared. During their stay here they had noted the poor state of the marina fixtures and wondered how the wobbly cleats and rickety fingers would stand up in a storm. Amongst the people on the wharf, those who lived aboard their craft in the marina, the sailing fraternity, and even our insurers, it was common knowledge that the Coffs Harbor International Marina was class in name only and that over the years it had been poorly maintained, and that the outcome of the storm just gone was the disaster just waiting to happen. Now although, yes, we were relieved to have survived, the damage to Calista would cost us at least $2000 in insurance excess, and see us heading somewhere for repairs instead of across the seas to Noumea. Yes, this had been an incredible storm, but no, marinas should not fall apart under you as this one did. Apart from everything else that we felt, about the lack of a credible standard of maintenance at Coffs Harbor Marina, we felt cranky.

Rotting timbers, loose cleats and rusted steel....didn't stand a chance of holding together.

That night, when we should have been comatose in our stateroom – our forepeak bunk would feel like a stateroom given the dramas of the previous eve – we were up past midnight constructing a full report as requested by our insurers.  Apart from reporting our damage and what we had done to avert a “total loss” we wanted to send a clear message about the management and maintenance failures at Coffs and how the facility should not be returned to service in its flimsy state, patched up and poorly repaired, only to imperil others sometime in the future. We were concerned that management would want to put their hand out for “emergency relief money”, patch up the mess in the marina, blame “the storm”, and get on with making money from unsuspecting clients as they had been doing for years. This was a prospect that, yes, we felt cranky about.
Marina fingers washed up on the outer harbour beach...note the waves closing out across the entrance.
Close up of the surf at the entrance we had come through 3 days earlier.

The next and subsequent days were, we will admit, a blur. Here we were in charming Coffs Harbor, but apart from getting a lift into town to fill our gas bottles and taking the chance to have a plunge in the surf by the jetty, the storm and its aftermath consumed our entire time. On Monday we joined John and Anna and Steve and his wife Valinda at the Yacht Club for some special time away from the madding crowd, as survivors of D Arm. Steve admitted to me that because he was so ruined with weariness, “going out” was the last thing that he felt like doing but that sharing some quality time with new friends was the very best thing that he could have done. Besides I got the chance, over a beer, to thank him for the milk crate. Yes we were all the better for this fine occasion out together, where we could talk about an experience, that we had shared, but for which we could have never prepared.
Dining with new friends who rallied to help save Calista

Eric, bless his soul, had been the recipient of a batch of the finest rock cakes known to humankind. Given his sweet tooth, he was also making heavy weather of a chocolate cake, which was gifted to him, and was now threatening to overwhelm his inner resolve. He came on board, bearing examples of the stellar rock cakes, and we had a wonderful morning tea, hearing a little more about his truly remarkable life. We asked Eric about the rock cake recipe, but he had already tried to prise it out of the lady who makes them, who guards the recipe with an encryption that would rival that of Coca Cola. No wonder those who call Coffs Marina home, like Suzi, regard Eric so warmly, and dropped by with regularity to see how he was going. He was upbeat about what had happened and his attitude was a tonic. What did we say about cruising and the people that you meet?

Morning tea with Eric

Other contacts now saw our plans beyond the storm fall into focus. Michael, a marine surveyor who had flown up from Sydney, on behalf of our insurers, to inspect the damage to ours and other boats, called by to see how we were faring. Provided an under-water inspection of our drive and steering mechanism, and a check for unseen damage to our hull proved to be negative, we were cleared to make our way to another port for repairs. He recommended the facility at Boat Works on the Coomera River off the Gold Coast, where anything that needed doing could be done. With this I dropped over the side with mask and snorkel, being wary of the adjoining wharf pylons, which were encrusted in razor sharp oysters and were to be avoided at all cost. Happily the drive and steering gear looked sound although given the murk in the water, and the proximity of hull and pylons, it was too risky to get near the underwater section on the side of the boat. There is now no haul-out facility at Coffs Harbor – the facility was condemned a year or so ago – and Michael calmly put it to us that in the event of any significant underwater damage, we would get hauled out here by crane and trucked to where we would get repaired!
Chatting with another Calista saviour...Susie

Then we got lucky. In 2010, we had met a wonderful couple, Cran and Ann McLean on their 52’ Chamberlain Cat, Lettin Go, first by pure chance at Antechamber Bay on Kangaroo Island, and later as co – passage makers up the coast to Queensland. They showed us the way to the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show, and we were with them off the Scarborough Marina, near Brisbane, as they completed their Australian circumnavigation.  We had stayed in touch, and knew that they had recently had extensive works done on their cat at Boat Works. Naturally, we rang Cran and Ann, who were about to depart for overseas, leaving Lettin Go on dry land in the Boat Works “hard stand”. They listened with disbelief to our Coffs tale and then about our plan to head for Boat Works on the Coomera. Their practical advice was crucial, for they connected us with Craig from Signature Yacht Services, who came with their highest recommendation, as being not only a consummate boat repair professional, but a thoroughly decent bloke into the bargain. Craig sounded like our man, and a call to him confirmed all of the above. In spite of being fully committed work wise, his message was that when we got to Boat Works, somehow he would fit us in. Then Cran called back to say that, as they were heading overseas, and we might not find it easy staying on board in the boat yard, they would leave us the keys to Lettin Go and that we could stay on board, for as long as we needed. What did we say about the people that you meet?

Underwater inspector found no damage

Time to cast off the bowlines & leave the crowded Coffs Harbour wharf.

Then happily, following the storm came the calm. We needed benign conditions for over 30 hours, to make our way out of Coffs Harbor, up and around Cape Byron, and then on to the Gold Coast Seaway and up the Coomera. This was not what we wanted to do but was what we now had to do. Our Voyage to Vanuatu had hit a hurdle, but with a little luck, we would incur delay and not defeat. As we prepared to go we helped Eric move to another berth and wished him a sincere good luck in what happened for him next. He might have to head for Yamba on the Clarence to get repaired, and to find a new home, but there were good souls at Coffs who had offered to help him get Vega Jack there. For us, the dawn of a new day would see us put to sea and head north from Coffs Harbor.  Whatever happened next for us, we would never forget the experience that had been Saturday 4th June and Sunday 6th June at the Coffs Harbor Marina. Nor would we forget the wonderful people that we had met.