Down to Port Macquarie

Fri 16 Oct 2009 23:00
Date: Saturday, 17th October 2009
Location:  MacDonalds McCafe, Settlement Point, Port Macquarie 31:25.2S 152:54.4E
Last week's southerly change blew itself out on Friday/Saturday, and we were by then keen to move on from Coffs Harbour. Port Macquarie, our next port of call, is on a river mouth, therefore a sand bar has to be negotiated. Two options were available: arrive in the dark at 2am, or arrive the next afternoon but with forecast winds of 30 kts. I finally (decisions are daily more difficult!) opted for the dark, and a combination of guess work and back calculation put our departure time as midday, Sunday. We couldn't see Coffs Harbour entrance from our marina berth, and when we got out there I was rather alarmed to find steep but not actually breaking 4metre seas between the breakwaters. What on earth would it be like over a four metre sand bar? Anyway, we were commited by this time, and so off we went. The predicted weather is enormously further influenced by local costal conditions, and so it was this day: no wind at noon, a later south easterly, finally swinging to the northwest in the late afternoon. We coped with this very well, rattling along in the late afternoon sun with the sails goosewinged and the spinnaker pole set.
I dearly remember buying my spinnaker pole from Allspars on Plymouth Hoe. Conny was with me, and sensing some unease, the rigging expert turned to her, extolling the advantages of a long metal pole on board a ship like ours. His sales pitch was met with with charming but utterly blank incomprehension! To be fair, he quickly grasped his problem: non sailing partner; and he was subsequently kind enough not to mention the absurd price that the Marine Industry manages to charge for said pole. Every time I have to go up to the fordeck to set this pole the story comes back to me: did he really believe that pole setting might become part of Conny's on board repertoire?
As on our last passage things happened after dark. We rounded Smoky Cape, a major headland so far as shipping is concerned, and we had to dodge a succession of north and southbound traffic hell bent on shaving bits of rock off said Cape! At the same time a thunder squall descended on us, with the usual visuals, a downpour, strong shifting winds, and confused seas. The crew had prepared supper too, not very adventurous instant chicken flavoured noodles (empty in saucepan, boil for two mins!). Problem with noodles is to keep them on a moving plate. Everyone did really well!  When everything had settled down we were left with another period of no wind, and it seemed safe to go forward and dismantle my pole and its associated rigging, in preparation for whatever the night might bring. Cussing to myself, as usual, as the pole was shortened into itself and stowed against the mast, I became aware of a pod of dolphins playing off our bows: always a calming influence, and I spent 30 mins with them. Although we have seen many dolphins out here they seem generally bored by small sailing ships, and it is a long time since they have shown such interest.
A SW breeze sprang up, and although it was again possible to sail, we motorsailed to keep up to schedule, and our date with the Hastings River Sandbar. We were half an hour late, but safely in the still flooding tide, and visibility was again good. The leading lights were clearly visible, and so in we went. An alarming few minutes: the seas quickly built up around us such that turning around would have been to risk a broach (side on the the breaking waves: swamping!). Ahead the waves appeared as solid walls rising up every few seconds to obliterate all of the shore lights. Down to leeward the waves were crashing onto the rocks. Charlie was calling out the depths: four metres, four metres, ONE METRE!!. We were at that moment in free fall, surfing down the front of a wave, and there was nothing to be done except to adopt the brace position, and wait for the oxygen masks to drop down, but there was no impact, and seconds later we were in the river mouth, everything settled down, and for a change we managed to sort the red coloured bouys from the green ones, avoiding yet another grounding, and tied up on a mooring at about 03.00 AM. All slept well.
Port Macquarie is pretty enough, and sports a pub that has James Squires Golden Ale on tap: our favourite!  A boardwalk runs along the river and sea front, and is set against the breakwater stones.  Visitors are encouraged to paint their family details and stories on the stones' faces and this organised graffiti is rather charming, and done with surprisingly good taste (or do they have good taste police with pots of white paint?) I cannot imagine an English sea front not being totally abused by such a practice. If as seems likely we are stuck here for a few more days we shall have to check out paint prices! There are great coastal walks, and the Koala Hospital was a good visit yesterday, with many photo opportunities. Mark's turn in the galley last night resulted in a humungous chilli con carne, complete with guacamole, salsa, sour cream and wraps. It was difficult to find room for our muffins this morning. Wednesday afternoon we went on a hike around a nature reserve, the highlight for me being the discovery of a huge colony of huge bats. My crew have assured me that these are commonplace in Australia, escecially in and around Sydney, but I was well impressed. Wednesdays forecast was yet again rather unfavourable with southerly winds until the weekend, and on Thursday I walked down the Coast Path to Tacking Point: an historical landmark where Mathew Flanders put his boat 'Investigator' about, having made a note of the Hastings river entrance before doing so, back in 1802. The Bar (that's the river bar I'm talking about) claimed many early victims, but a penal sttlement was finally established in 1820. Ex cons. everywhere you go, around these parts. Excellent walk, except I stumbled on a gay beach. 'Do you see the whale, mate?' one guy called out. Hardly a whale, I thought; but he had a point, for there were lots of Humpbacks close inshore, and I think I have respectable if blurred images of several of them leaping out of the sea; I think the camera was pointing in the right direction.
Friday I went down to the Camden Havens: villages on the next estuary south of here. Noted to be exceptionally pretty in the Pilot Book, but with the usual entrance warnings and restrictions which I circumvented by taking the No 344 bus. The purpose was to climb the Little Brother Mountain behind the Town. Well worth the effort, with great views from the top which I had to share with those who had driven up to the car park! Bus travel has its own restrictions, and I had to travel fast to catch the last bus home, just time however for an iced coffee and cake back in the Village, leaving just enough room for a schooner of Golden Ale with the kids at the Town Green Inn when I caught up with them back in 'Port' as it is known locally, and fish and chips!
Forecast is fair for Sunday: bit af a drift promised, but need to get going again. You can tell that by the length of this blog!