Fame Cove, Port Stephens.

Fri 11 Dec 2015 10:09
32:41.017S 152:03.676E

Just South of Coffs Harbour, note the white horses!

We left Coffs in a hurry. We were doing well; we’d made friends with some local boats and we were starting to feel it was time to look for a weather window to go South. I had a hair appointment (my first one for 6 months) at 9am and at 8:30am there was a knock on the hull. It was a lady from the marina. They’d booked out our berth to someone else, who was waiting outside the inner harbour, would we leave, please? It would have been nice if they’d told us the day before. Well, I wasn’t going to give up my hair appointment so we said we’d clear by lunch. We thought we’d go and anchor overnight in the harbour, check the weather and maybe move on the next day. Well, when we got out into the harbour it was blowing a hoolie, we didn’t feel safe to anchor in the confined space available so we decided to head to sea. We quickly bent the sheets onto the sails, stowed things below to avoid breakages, got rid of mooring lines and fenders, tied up the anchor, raised a reefed mizzen and staysail and headed out. 

It may sound strange to leave a harbour when the wind’s strong but we didn’t know how good the holding for the anchor was and we’d be surrounded by hard things like breakwaters and piers. We’d have bounced around in the swell and had an uncomfortable night. Out at sea we could get safely away from the coast, get into deeper water to avoid the worst of the waves and, if it got too bad, we could heave to and wait it out. We used the last of the 3G signal to download some weather information and headed South. There was going to be Northerlies to blow us down, quite strong winds but at least in the right direction. Off we went. We didn’t know where we were going, as we’d not had time to make a passage plan but we had a pilot guide to the coast between Coffs and Sydney so we figured we’d work it out as we went along.

Going slowly enough was a problem. We were going at over 8 knots so we swapped to the smaller storm jib and held a steady 7.5 knots through the night. We decided we’d see where we ended up in the morning and make a plan from there. With the morning light the wind dropped. We had thought we might go into Camden Haven but we were too far South so we decided to go into Port Stephens, we wanted to enter on a rising tide and low tide wouldn’t be until 2pm, so we slowed right down as we rounded Sugarloaf Point and let the light winds bring us along at 3 or 4 knots. Bottlenose dolphins came to join us for a while and all was calm - in marked contrast to the first half of the passage.

Approaching Port Stephens, Boondelbah Island in the fore ground.

The weather forecast said that the winds were going to be all over the place, boxing the compass, over the next few days so we wanted somewhere we could hole up to wait for it to settle down. Port Stephens had lots of options for shelter from winds in all directions so would suit us well. As we approached we were hailed by the Port Stephens Volunteer Marine Rescue. There is a network of these stations all down the coast as boats on passage check in with each one as they pass, estimating when they’ll be arriving at the next station. If they don’t hear from you they’ll give you a call on VHS radio, and if they still don’t hear from you they’ll ask all boats to keep an eye out for out, and if they still don’t hear from you they’ll send out a search party. It’s a good system. They had spotted our AIS so they knew we were approaching and wanted to warn us that their rescue boats and helicopter were practising in the entrance to the Port. 

We hadn’t quite realised the scale of Port Stephens. It’s a huge estuary, with lots of bays and creeks and islands and sand banks. We had picked out a little bay on the North shore called Fame Cove to stay in because it looked to give shelter from three out of four directions, just being open to the West. It turned out to be a good choice, we passed bays filled with hotels and jet skis on the way there, but found ourselves in a little haven when we arrived.

Looking back towards the entrance to the Port, not even half way across - it’s a huge bay!

Fame Cove is on the entrance to a creek, surrounded by wooded rocky shores and with a natural breakwater coming out across the mouth of the creek. There are 5 pink courtesy moorings and we were glad to pick one up, pour a glass of wine and take in the view.

Looking over the ‘breakwater’ into the creek entrance.

When we arrived the cicadas in the woods had been deafening, with each bank seeming to compete with the other to be the loudest. Pelicans flew overhead and the bird chatter was constant, including the cackle of kookaburras. But very soon they fell silent: a massive thunderstorm started up to the West, a wonderful light show to watch as the clouds were lit up in a different way each time a strike came, sometimes zigzagging from cloud to cloud, sometimes striking the ground, but each time awfully beautiful. We could hear the quiet rumble from across the water but no more than some heavy drops of rain reached us. It was only the biting of the mozzies that forced us below and away from the show.

Next day we set off up the creek on our kayak, letting the wind blow us slowly along in the shallows at the top of the tide as we watched the birds flit from bush to bush. Eventually we reached a ford and the way ahead was too rocky to travel much further up, with out serious portage sessions, so we headed for the middle of the stream and, enjoying the rhythmic exercise, paddled back to the Cove in time to see a pod of bottlenose dolphins feeding.

Stopped at the ford and looking upstream.

Bottlenose dolphins in the shallows.

There were thunderstorms again that night, this time closer but less impressive. What a place to stay: dolphins in the day and light shows every night!

Looking West across the estuary at the sunset.