Underway at last - Newcastle 32 55.192S 151 45.651E

Mike and Liz Downing
Tue 18 Jun 2013 12:07
Underway at last, but not that far - a 56 mile passage up the coast to the city of Newcastle. The forecast was definitely a bit iffy - winds of 25-30kts, seas of 2.5 to 3m combined with a south south east swell of 2.5 to 3m. But the one good point was that the wind direction was from the west or southwest, so an offshore wind. That, we thought, made it a possibility. The forecast for the following 2 days had similar winds, but going round to the south, and swell increasing to 4m or more. So if we didn't go it looked like we would have to wait another 3 days. Fitting the trisail (storm sail) in the hope it would ward off the worst of the weather, we left at first light yesterday, keeping around the 50m contour line which cleared all dangers and kept us about 4 miles off the coast. This proved to be just about right. As we were to find out, further out the winds were stronger and the sea definitely quite ugly. For most of the passage along the 50m contour the winds were 15 to 25 with occasional gusts in the early 30s, and the seas stayed around 2 to 3m from the south. With this we set our outer genoa poled out to windward and the inner genoa sheeted normally (both reefed as needed to keep the boat balanced and going at a comfortable speed for the conditions) and that combination (and no main) kept our speed over the ground (SOG) at around 6.5 to 7.5kts. The current was against us, but with our log not working we didn't know how fast the boat was going through the water. (New Zealand and Australian waters seem to kill the log with fouling within a few days if we don't move. In warmer waters I would have dived underneath the day before we left to get it working, but it's far too cold for that down here! At these times I think fondly of our walkers trail log that attaches to the pushpit. It's accurate, easy to clean (as it's just a spinner on the end of a line that we trail and at home!)    
With 15 miles or so still to go we encountered the first of several anchored ships. It was in fact directly on our line so we could roll away the poled out sail (losing speed) and change course to go inside it or keep the sails as they were and go outside it. We chose the latter to keep the speed up. It didn't take long before the wind was up and the seas breaking and confused, with Aurora B surfing down the waves. And it didn't take long once well clear of the ship to roll away the poled out genoa and change course to go back to our nice 50m line. Once there, it was back on course and the genoa poled out once again. And to welcome us back, a pod of 20 or so common dolphins surrounded the boat, taking it in turns to bow ride or leap from the water. They stayed with us for a good 30 minutes and it was wonderful to watch. They were so close that when the bows went down in the swell you could reach out and almost touch them. We've seen so few dolphins in the Pacific and nothing to match this since 2010.
Newcastle is largest coal exporting port in the world. Large (700 to 900ft) ships arrive empty from Asia (mostly China from what we could see) to fill up with coal and return home. On AIS we could count 10 ships waiting for their turn to enter the port. Having arrived we discovered that these ships are so large (with deep draft) that they can only get into the port around high tide, so that's a busy time with ships coming and going, each ship often accompanied by 3 tugs. And what time did we arrive? You guessed it, high tide. Having called Port Control to find out what movements were scheduled we decided to wait outside a while and let the commotion die down before going in. Once in we also found out why ships are anchored so far out to sea. The winds along this coast can be severe and are often from the east or southeast, making it a lee shore. When empty the ships are often not heavy enough for their propellers to be fully submerged, making them much less effective. So if they get caught in severe onshore winds and their anchors drag, they can't be sure their engines will be able to get them back out to sea and they end up dragging ashore. It's happened to a few and now the port authorities insist that no ship should be anchored closer than 3 miles from the shore. This presumably gives them enough time to get tugs out to help should this situation develop. We found this out listening to the Port Control telling one of the ships that it was anchored within 3 miles of the shore and must up anchor and re-anchor further out. It's not that nice even for a big ship (900ft in length) when anchored in big swell. The ones we past, all being empty and high out of the water, were pitching and rolling from side to side, much more than we were (but then we had the steadying wind in the sails and Aurora B is now far from empty, as we add more and more each year she's getting heavier and heavier).  
Leaving at first light it was very cold so today the priority was to go shopping for thick socks!
The marina at Newcastle. With no obvious place to anchor and, much more importantly, with
our dinghy deflated and packed away for passage, and so no way to get ashore, we opted for
the marina. In by book 'Showers of the Pacific' they will get 9.9 out of 10 (excellent, but there's
always room for some improvement!). The tram way over the water is for the travel lift (crane)
to lift boats in and out of the water.
Looking the other way, with cargo terminals in the background and palm trees along the
developed walkway in front of the marina.
An unusual sculpture we passed when walking in to the city. They do
have a small fishing fleet here.