Monday, December 10, 2012

Pinned Down in Yamba

Lighthouse at Clarence Head

We hadn't originally planned to sail this far south - we thought we'd sail to Brisbane and spend the summer's typhoon season there but so many people we talked with said, "You've got to spend Christmas and New Year's in Sydney.  You've just got to."  Ruthie was dubious as we'd once again be sailing into higher latitudes (high latitude weather comes at low latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere) but I promised that we'd just 'harbor hop' and we'd stay put if the weather wasn't great.  Me and my big mouth.

We left the protected and shallow water of South Port, destined for Coffs Harbor, which is almost halfway to Sydney.  It was going to require an overnight passage but, hey, we've done lots of those.  About an hour before sunset, an Emergency Weather Bulletin was broadcast on the marine radio calling for severe thunderstorms right in our course.  Fortunately, we were just about 6 miles from Ballina, a small port where the Richmond River enters the Tasman Sea.  We hadn't even considered it as an anchorage as it's very shallow but, under the circumstances, we decided to take a chance.

We had good local information:  All up and down the coast of Australia are Volunteer Marine Rescue stations, most of which are staffed 24 hours per day.  They provide weather information, bar conditions (no, not that type of bar.  Where a river empties into the ocean is called a 'bar' and they can be extremely hazardous if you get the tides and seas wrong.  Crossing a bar can be benign or hair-raising.) and other information that is helpful to boaters.  If you're making a passage, you can file a 'float plan' with the VMR and they'll keep an eye on you the entire trip, passing your information on to the next VMR station who has jurisdiction over the vicinity through which you're passing.  We don't need any hand-holding but it's kind of fun to check in with them on the radio.  Everyone we've spoke with has seemed very eager to help.

We entered Ballina (pronounced băl' ĭ nă) just after sunset and found our way to a small anchorage that the VMR told us was deep enough for our 2-meter draft.  Two boats were there already and we slowly tried to maneuver around them so as not to be too close but not too shallow either.  We ran aground.  With Rutea's powerful engine, we freed ourselves and made several more attempts.  After dropping and retrieving the anchor four times,  we finally settled down for the night, albeit almost in the entrance to the anchorage.

Early the next morning we were underway again, this time our destination was a more modest Yamba, where the Clarence River empties.  We easily found a spot to anchor (a whopping 8-feet of water under our keel!  Woohoo!) and the holding is excellent.  A quick tour through the town finds it to be an interesting cross between quaint fishing village and resort get-away.  And here we sit.

Rutea at Anchor in the Yamba Channel with the Yamba-Iluka Ferry in the Background

The winds have filled in from the south - not that they're horrendous - they're not.  But they would make sailing uncomfortable and I had promised Ruthie that we'd only sail south under good conditions.  The trouble is that there's no break in the weather forecast.  We could easily have southerlies like this for the next 30 days.  So, we're steeling ourselves to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve in our new favorite port, Yamba, New South Wales!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Neal, we came S. from Coffs to Sydney in early Dec- it is all about the WX for sure! We a window of no wind and just motored down. I really hope you make it to SYD for New Years Eve because it is simply spectacular- please tell Ruthie it really is worth a bit of uncomfortable boating to be there for the amazing fireworks!

    We've just gotten to Indonesia- little fireworks in the harbor here at Jayapura, but nothing like what's ahead of you.