Dirty dash to Newcastle
Friday 22nd April 2016 – Happy Birthday Steve!
Distance run: 57 nmiles
No cooked breakfast for Steve’s birthday this year as we had to be up at 0500 ready to drop the buoy at first light. The sky was beginning to lighten as we set off past Scotland Island, and as we approached Barrenjoey Head the sun was just peeping above the land.
As we were about to call Marine Rescue Sydney to give them details of our passage, we heard another boat call and ask them if they had the details of the rally that was about to leave the Royal Motor Yacht Club for Newcastle. Uh-oh. That’s where we were heading and as we had only decided late yesterday afternoon that we would definitely leave today, we had not been able to book a berth at the Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club. We looked at each other in surprise as the guy gave his ETA as 0900! Less than three hours to do a trip that would likely take us twelve. As motor boats began to zoom past us in Broken Bay, we pondered how many visitor’s berths NCYC had!
The late decision to leave today resulted from a conversation with some locals at the marina yesterday afternoon. They knew we were waiting for a weather window, so asked if we were off tomorrow. We said we weren’t keen to beat into northerly winds forecast for the morning, but they were fairly certain the wind would have turned west by the time we left. They recommended a website that shows much more localised wind forecasts, and sure enough this showed light westerlies in the morning. It seemed the strong southerlies coming through should not reach us till midday, and bigger seas would take a while to build, so conditions would change en route, but shouldn’t be too bad before we made it to Newcastle.
The clincher for us was that this southerly change was a baddie, with a squash zone causing much stronger winds for longer than usual, and if we didn’t go today we would not be able to go for at least another week. We had been keen to leave a week ago and the thought of yet another week here just didn’t appeal, particularly if we were to spend the next few days dancing around our buoy in 30 knots of wind! So we decided on what Skipper calls a ‘dirty dash’ to Newcastle.
There was indeed a light wind from the west as we headed out into open sea, a small, gentle swell and no waves. We put up the main and headsail but kept the engine on to keep our speed up. We had 50 nmiles to go, and wanted to get there as soon as we could, a) to avoid worsening conditions and b) to avoid darkness!
A birthday pose from the Skipper as we leave Broken Bay. Light winds, calm seas and blue skies as we head north along the coast.
We called NCYC as soon as we thought someone would be there to answer the phone, and requested a berth. James, the dockmaster said he knew they were going to be busy, but would call back. Oh dear. We kept our fingers crossed for an hour or so, and then James phoned back to say he had a berth for us. Excellent.
The wind moved round to the south and began to build around 1100, and by midday was blowing anything from 15-30 knots. We were making an average of 7 knots and had passed the halfway mark when the seas began to pick up, and by now we were ‘Threading the needle’ between the anchored ships waiting to go into Newcastle harbour. By the time we passed the last one the wind was steadily 25-30 knots and the seas were big and confused, and we thought we would be tossed sideways as we turned broadside into them to make the approach into the river entrance. Instead, though, the waves seemed to lessen in size and force, as if running off onto the beach at Stockton Bight took the steam out of them, and we rounded the breakwater and entered the channel into Newcastle with barely a rock or roll.
As we passed inside Nobby’s Head lighthouse, the wind was still gusting 30 knots, and it wasn’t until we reached the lee of the town that we rounded up to take down the main and prepare the boat for berthing. The fenders and lines had not been needed since we left here back in early December, but I made sure every fender was out as we had no idea how tight the berth entry was likely to be in this wind. In the end Steve made easy work of the docking which fortunately turned out to be straight into the wind, and all the lines were tied by 1500, a good two hours earlier than anticipated.
Grey skies and sea as we turn towards Newcastle town wharf. The ‘David Allen’ never seems to stop its dredging work.
James appeared on the dock to welcome us, apologising for not being there to take the lines, and gave us the necessary paperwork and gate cards. It felt good to be back in Newcastle CYC, and a nice dinner in the yacht club seemed a good way to celebrate a good passage, the beginning of the next phase as we make our way north, and of course Steve’s birthday. Cheers.
Cheers, birthday boy!