Crookhaven River

Position: 34 53.9 S 150 43.7 E
Moored Greenwell Point, Crookhaven River
Wind: west, F5 Fresh
Sea: slight Swell: Nil
Weather: sunny, mild
Day’s run: 75 nm

I had originally intended to leave Sydney for the Crookhaven River on Friday when a fresh nor’ westerly breeze was forecast but this would have meant arriving at Crookhaven Heads during a gale. As I did not want to negotiate a narrow unknown entrance in extreme conditions I decided to leave Sydney on Saturday as the gale was abating, to arrive off Crookhaven Heads on Monday at slack high water around 1100. The wind was forecast to be from the west sou’ west so I figured that if we hugged the coast, while it might be a bit windy, the seas would be flat and with Sylph reefed well down we should have a brisk but comfortable passage down the coast. Perhaps needless to say this is not quite the way things panned out.

All went according to plan initially, clearing Sydney Heads with two reefs in the mainsail and the new number two headsail partially furled, we beam reached in the lee of Sydney’s southern cliffs. We were making good seven knots at which speed we would have arrived off Crookhaven a little after midnight. However, south of Cape Bailey the coastline drops off to the south south west and as we passed it the wind also backed into the south west. This had Sylph close reaching and being slowly pushed away from the coast. Not to worry, I thought, come evening the wind is forecast to ease and we can come harder onto the wind and close the coast then. Sure enough, at around 1700 the wind abated as expected and I was able to tighten the sheets a little and get Sylph to start regainig the planned track. However, the respite did not last long and an hour later the wind freshened again, if anything stronger than before. I furled in a little more headsail and pushed on.

At 1920 the wind freshened further to a near gale so I furled the headsail completely and jogged along under the double reefed mainsail, patiently waiting for the wind to eventually conform to the bureau’s predictions so that we could get moving again – Aeolius had other ideas. At 2000 the wind increased still further and I was worried that Sylph’s recently repaired mainsail would rend to the strain. I considered my options: set the trysail, a lot of messing around for what was hopefully going to be a short burst of wind; put a third reef in the main, also a lot of messing around and would not solve the problem of stressing the aging sail; or drop sail and ride a-hull until the wind eased. The last was by far the easiest and safest and I figured if the wind did not ease than we could fall back to Port Hacking and seek shelter there until conditions allowed us to continue south.

Under bare poles Sylph lay comfortably abeam the wind, drifting nor’ nor’ west at a knot and a half, pretty much retracing the ground over which we had just come. Fortunately, eventually, the wind did ease and at 0130 Sunday I reset the double-reefed mainsail and unfurled 50% of the headsail, allowing Sylph to make good a SSW heading at four knots. As morning wore on conditions continued to improve but with the wind in the SW we were still not closing the coast and regaining our planned track, so at 0815 I tacked onto a WNW’ly heading. By 1050 we had closed the coast to a distance of less than a mile, the wind had eased significantly and the seas this close into shore were almost flat. We tacked and were now able to shake a reef out of the main and set the full headsail. We came hard onto the wind so as to stay close in under the lee of the coast’s green hills and low red cliffs. The sun was shining and the bashing of last night was quickly forgotten as we careened alongside the white sands of Shoalhaven Bight’s Seven Mile Beach.

By 1230 we were approaching Crookhaven Heads. I furled the headsail, prepared the anchor for letting go, then dropped the mainsail and started the engine. The leads into Crookhaven, two tall white poles with the customary opposing orange triangles, were clearly visible and they guided Sylph into this new and enchanting waterway. We motored past the elegant looking Volunteer Coast Guard Station situated in the trees on the headland, its Australian flag proudly standing out in the breeze, picked up the back leads under the wing of the hillside and altered course to the west, watching the chart plotter and depth sounder closely to ensure we did not stray into any shallows on the now falling tide. We motored past the village of Greenwell Point where two modest sized white hulled fishing vessels were berthed alongside a jetty on its extreme point. Cormorants and pelicans adorned the many piles along the Rivers bends and marking numerous oyster beds in the shallows. Continueing up the Crookhaven River past the village I scanned the water in search of a mooring that Brett, a friend of a friend, had offered for our temporary use while Sylph was in the Crookhaven region. The mooring was duly identified with the aid of Brett’s mud map and, at 1335, after one unsuccessful run, the mooring was picked up with the minimum of fuss.

The phone rang. It was Kate, waving from the shore.

All is well.