Escape from Iluka

Bronwyn’s homework assignment was finished and we were champing at the bit to move on. Pindimara was even growing roots, and I spent one morning scrubbing them off. We had enjoyed our stay in Iluka and had had some fun times with local people here and there and our friends on Pelagic, but it was a relief to catch the morning tide and sail across the bar and out into the open sea. It was a bonus to do it under a clear blue sky over glassy smooth water virtually unruffled by the perfect breeze.

The day continued as fun as it started. We were close-hauled and doing 5-6 knots, even managing to hitch-hike on a couple of the mystical ‘reverse currents’ that run sporadically and unreliably up the coast here. Pods of dolphins passed by, heading south. Fighter pilots flew training circuits around the boat, and one even waggled his wings at Bronwyn when she waved. The sun shone. We smiled a lot.

As evening fell, we found ourselves sailing across a wide bay south of Ballina. The off-watch prepared food, each according to their ability. I made Bronwyn a peanut-butter sandwich. She made me a warm chicken and cous-cous spinach salad.

Bronwyn went to bed to get some rest before the night passage, and I started to put in some long tacks to get around the Ballina headland. Out there in the deeps, my old enemy the Eastern Australian Current was lurking, robbing me of two knots and making the easterly tacks pretty hard to judge. For about half an hour, I’m pretty sure that I made no progress at all.

Still, there was a lot to be happy about. I was sailing again, and I’d just finished – thanks to Bronwyn – an excellent supper of home-made meatballs with freshly baked sourdough bread, hot out of the oven. An orange sliver of crescent moon sank slowly beneath the sea. I turned down the lights on the cockpit instruments and lay back on deck to admire the stars. The sky was packed with them. Not just in the Milky Way, which was gloriously spectacular, but also from horizon to horizon I was hard pushed to find the smallest patch of empty black sky. Both of the island galaxies were there, and big fat shooting stars were dropping from the north.

There were stars in the sea, too. Phosphorescent micro-organisms were being churned up in our wake, leaving a line of bright fairy lights in the water on either side.


Hello John, Got A New Motor?

Before we left Sydney, somebody – we can’t remember who – predicted that we wouldn’t make it far up the Queensland coast before I got fed up with rowing everywhere and bought an outboard motor for the tender. Up to now I’ve been happy to use the oars, but these last few weeks of wind and tide have forced me to reconsider. Having had some not so wonderful experiences with an old second-hand outboard, we bit the bullet and bought a brand new Yamaha 3 horsepower 2-stroke.

It’s been a ball. We drove it straight out of the shop and over the river to an uninhabited little island near to Yamba, just because we could.

That was yesterday. Today, while Bronwyn’s been working on her CAD assignment, I’ve been running back and forth to the shore, fetching water to fill our tanks, as well as going for the odd burn around the bay just for the absolute hell of it.

And I’ve had to learn new tricks. For instance, now that our dinghy has an engine sticking out underneath, I can’t just run it up onto the shore, jump out and tie it up like I’ve been used to. Instead, I’ve bought a small anchor, and the sequence goes something like this: Approach shore, avoid weed and rocks, look for a shallow bit, slow down, lift the engine halfway out of the water, chug inshore until my nerve gives out, throw the anchor, put the engine in neutral, and step out into the sea. If it’s too deep, I haul on the anchor rope until I float over to the anchor, pull it out of the water, throw it a bit further, repeat. This manoeuvre is called “kedging” and is remarkably effective. We just hope that we never have to do it with the yacht.

The motor is brand new, but doesn’t run very well at the moment because we’re using up the old and dirty fuel in our fuel can. We’re kind of stuck with this, as there isn’t a socially acceptable way of disposing of old fuel (chuck it in the sea and set light to it?), so we just have to keep using it up until it’s gone and then we can replace it with good stuff. Shouldn’t be long now.

Meanwhile, I’ll just pop over to the breakwater with the camera to see if I can photograph any lizards.

Still here!

We popped out to the heads yesterday to have a look at the bar. Even under what would normally be ideal conditions of tide, it was completely impassable. Enormous white-capped green rollers were breaking across the whole width of the channel. Great for a professional surf competition, perhaps, but not so good for our little boat. Even the fishing trawlers are staying in harbour. Looks like we’re not leaving the Clarence River any time soon.

Our Ampair wind generator started squeaking in the night. I took it down and disassembled it to reveal a worn bearing. I contacted the manufacturer in England, because it’s only nine months old and we’ve had some other problems with it before. They’re sending us a new unit, but we don’t want to have to wait for it in Iluka, so we’re getting it delivered to an address further up the coast in Brisbane (thanks, Kate) and in the meantime I’ve dropped our shaft into the local machine shop to see if they can source us a new bearing.

In other news… it’s wet, it’s windy, and it’s even a bit cold. We’re still here, but we’re getting a lot of schoolwork done. We’ve used up all our internet allowance for the month, so the last couple of blog updates have come to you via satellite. It’s nice to know that the technology is working, because we are likely to need it around the top end.

Gales, Water and Wine at Iluka

The next batch of weather has rolled in across the Tasman Sea, bringing heavy winds and rain. Although the ocean wind speeds are finally dropping to 30 knots, the gales have left a legacy of four-metre swells, so we’re staying put until either the wind or the swell dies down a bit. Since we’re now at the northern end of the Bureau of Meteorology’s New South Wales report, we have been peeking at the southern end of the Queensland report. We notice with some jealousy that the Queenslanders have perfect sailing weather; if only we could make it around that last corner!

After so long at anchor and unwilling to risk slamming up against hard 
fishing jetties in the high winds, we were running very low on water. 
We couldn’t use our water-maker because the bay is thick with eroded 
mud from upriver, so while Bronwyn explored the town, I spent an afternoon rowing back and forth in 25-
knot squalls to the nearest caravan park, repeatedly filling our 20
 litre jerry-can and emptying it into our echoing 150 litre forward 
tank. Pouring water from a jerry-can into a small hole in a pitching
 deck is exciting to say the least, especially when much of the working 
space is taken up by our emergency spare anchor (which is set up ready 
to be dropped in case the main one drags in the bad weather). Despite 
losing several litres here and there as the wind whipped the pouring
 stream over the side and into the anchor locker, I got the forward 
tank three quarters full before Bronwyn returned to shore with six 
bags of provisions and two sacks of clean washing.

Although the dinghy was quite heavily loaded, I reckoned that I’d be 
OK because I had the turning tide working for me, but half way back to 
the boat a headwind blew up and I found that I couldn’t make any
progress at all. The Walker Bay doesn’t row very well with weight in 
the stern, so Bronwyn suggested that we row side-by-side instead. We
 have often done this in the sheltered bays of Pittwater, and after
 some hilarious circular routes we have become quite proficient at it. 
Usually Bronwyn takes the starboard oar and rows with both hands,
 while I sit with one arm around her waist and one on the port oar, both
 stroking and steering. We hadn’t tried it in heavy weather before, but 
we quickly found that with all the weight in the centre and both of us
 pulling hard we skimmed across the wave-tops.

The reason that we so urgently needed water and supplies was that we 
were entertaining our Alaskan friends Alisa and Mike with their 
young son Elias from the neighbouring yacht Pelagic. We made it back
to Pindimara in the nick of time and were able to quickly clean up and
 start cooking before they arrived. After some initial excitement when 
Pelagic’s tender’s new outboard failed in the wind and rain just short 
of us, we had a great evening of laksa, wine, cake and conversation. 
One advantage of the continuous wind was that the wind generator kept 
on pumping out power and we managed to keep the cabin lights and hi-fi 
speakers working the whole time.

A night of rain brought the welcome sight of a dinghy full to the 
brim, so we nipped out in a gap between squalls and pumped all that 
precious sweet water into the aft tank.

Waiting at Iluka

The bay at Iluka is a pleasant enough anchorage, and it is but a short row to the local pub and shop. More northerly winds were forecast shortly after we arrived, and we had to catch up on some schoolwork, so we decided to stay a while.

The winds improved, but we had some more work to do both for university and on the boat, so we stayed a few days longer, and now we’re waiting out a 40-knot gale that is expected to last all weekend. Luckily the holding here is very good, because the boat is being thrown around like a child’s toy even inland behind two breakwaters.

It hasn’t been all work work work. Iluka has a very pleasant walk that leads you to the impressive sandstone bluffs via an unusual beach rain forest (“beware the shiny-leaved stinging tree”) and back via the very long beach itself. We’ve done the walk in both directions, and on one occasion came back through the rain forest at night. As our eyes became adjusted to the gloom, we realised that there were little scattered spots of fairy light both in the undergrowth and up in the trees. Thinking that they were glow-worms, we sneaked up on one with our trusty wind-up torch, and switched it on to reveal that we were actually looking at phosphorescent mushrooms. Very cool.

On the other side of the channel is the slightly bigger town of Yamba. As well as indulging in a bit of tourism, we needed to buy some items that weren’t available in Iluka, so we took the ferry over. It was possible to take the yacht, but we didn’t like the look of either the channel depths or of the anchoring options at the other end. This was the first time that I regretted not having an outboard motor for the tender. The tidal flow would have made for rather too exciting a row to Yamba and back, but we could have motored the dinghy over without any problem.

Still, the ferry was very pleasant, and we had breakfast in the excellent Pot Belly Pie Shop (the serving lass was wearing a tight little T-shirt reading “I got my pot belly in Yamba”). I also badly needed some shorts to wear, having torn all my existing ones to shreds, so we dropped into one of the many surf shops to buy some board shorts, thinking that they probably had the right durability in sea water. Once we’d made our purchases, I found that there was something hard in one of the pockets, which turned out to be a very unusual combination comb and beer bottle opener. Welcome to the surfer lifestyle!

We had a nice day clambering about on the rocks, watching the surf and the surfers, fossicking in chandleries, and yes, looking for second-hand 3 horse power outboard motors. We didn’t find a motor (apparently nobody hereabouts would be seen dead with anything less than 75 hp) but we did get enough other bits and pieces to finally allow me to add some finishing touches to the sewage tank in the head, and a replacement pump so that I can finally change the engine oil.

But not today. It’s just a little bumpy at the moment.