Where are we

Sunday 31 December 2023

Iluka, Clarence River and Port Stephens

Our next hop down the coast to Iluka involved crossing a bar at the mouth of the Clarence River. We motored, motor-sailed and even managed to sail part of the passage to arrive at the right time with the right conditions to cross the bar sans drama.

It was a rather dull overcast passage. Hurrah for dolphins.

Iluka is a wonderful area.  We crossed the harbour river sand bar comfortably.  During a walk along the beach after we’d arrived, Tim was impressed to see dolphins surfing in waves not all that far from bar we crossed. Timing is everything whether you are a yacht hoping for a quiet life or dolphins looking for a little excitement.

The anchorage in Iluka Bay is spacious and well protected.

Tim dinghying to the dock with the forgotten insect repellent for a rainforest walk.

There are parks and forest walks all over Australia and Iluka has a unique coastal rainforest.

We really enjoyed the walks particularly under the shady canopies as it does get hot here.

Iluka residents.

The Insane Biology of the Kangaroo. 

Iluka Bay is where I baked my Mom’s Rhubarb Crisp.

This is one of my favourite recipes and results in a nutmeg infused baked egg custard with tangy rhubarb and a crisp oat topping. It is gorgeous and the recipe goes like this…

Rhubarb and Custard
For every 3 cups of rhubarb, you need 1cup of sugar.
For every cup of sugar you need 1 egg.
For every egg you need 1 tablespoon of flour.
For every tablespoon of flour you need 1/3 of a nutmeg grated.
My preference is to make a 9 cup of rhubarb crisp. This makes the rhubarb custard part wonderfully deep but at $6 Aus a bunch that gives a measly 3 cups chopped, I’ve been settling for 6 cups.

Mix 2 cups of rolled oats with 2 tablespoons wholewheat flour, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of simple syrup or honey or syrup of choice. 

Whisk sugar, egg, flour and nutmeg until frothy in a large bowl. Add chopped rhubarb and fold in. Transfer into baking dish. Sprinkle oats over the rhubarb and make a small hole in the middle of the crisp. Bake in a moderate oven until bubbles appear in the hole in the crisp, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Note: Cups are a way of measuring ingredients often used in North America. 1 cup equals 8 fluid ounces of wet or dry ingredients. Half a cup is 4 fl.oz, quarter cup is 2 fl.oz. If you want to use scales, either look up the conversion online or measure out 8 fluid ounces of the ingredients and weigh them. Make a note in your recipe. I do the reverse when I run across a recipe that uses scales.

Scales don’t work well on boats because of the constant movement. It’s impossible to be accurate unless conditions are very calm. 

While we waited for northwesterly winds to continue south, we travelled inland up the Clarence River.

The first step was to navigate two bridges.

Regardless of what I say in the video, this bridge is the same as one we saw on the Cape Cod Canal.

The motor up the river was very picturesque with wonderful open vistas.

The distant mountains make a lovely backdrop.

Along the way to our first stop, the town of MacLean, Tim’s eye was caught by something not quite right at the top of the mast. 

We had noticed on our way up the river that the wind speed was surprisingly light.  On closer inspection with binoculars, Tim discovered that our poor wind transducer had somehow become detached from the top of the mast and was dangling by its cable.

A wind transducer is not something that a sailboat in particular can do without. Knowing the actual wind speed and direction is quite important and I’m going to let Wikipedia tell you why - What is a wind transducer and what it does.

Once we arrived in MacLean, Tim went up the mast to see what the problem was.  The wind transducer was attached to a metal bracket bolted to the metal plate at the top of the mast. Due to wear and tear from to being lashed with rain and spray, whipped fore and aft and side to side on a pitching rolling boat for almost 12 years, the bracket had sheared off the metal plate resulting in the transducer and bracket dangling from the top of the mast by the cable.

This little wind instrument is shockingly expensive in the region of £500. When Tim established that the transducer was okay and just needed to be re-connected, we were quite relieved.

The skipper of the catamaran that came through the bridge with us kindly took some pictures.

We’ve quite a good system for getting Tim up the mast.  We use the anchor windlass, an electric winch, to pull Tim up the mast.  He sits in a ‘bosun’s chair’ that is attached to a halyard with a knot. A halyard is a line used to pull the sail up the mast. He attaches a ‘fall arrest’, which is a clever bit of climbing gear that attaches to the bosun’s chair and to a separate fixed line.  As he is winched up the mast, he slides the fall arrest up the fixed line.  If some part of the halyard failed, the ‘fall arrest’ would arrest his fall. 

The anchor windlass on bow with the tail end of the halyard that will pull him up.

The chain is disengage from the windlass and several turns of the halyard are taken on the drum. ‘Tailing’ the halyard is pulling the loose end tight so the halyard has purchase of the drum and doesn’t just slide. The aluminium sheet is for the halyard to slide over and the mats are to protect the windlass and surrounding area from the edges of the aluminium sheet. The windlass foot controls are just under the edge of the aluminium sheet.

I operate the windlass on the bow, using the button controls on the deck and tailing the halyard as Tim goes up the mast.  The halyard passes through a clutch at the base of the mast, which when closed will only allow the halyard to be pulled up.  It will not go down until the clutch is released. The clutch remains closed until Tim is ready to come down and I am ready to let him.

We now have a new bosun’s chair from the one which Tim is using in the photo. It is more like climbing gear and allows Tim to get closer to the top of the front of the mast.  The point where the halyard attaches to the chair is lower and therefore can get Tim a little higher. It’s also more comfortable to wear.

To get Tim down, I move the halyard to winch on mast, put a number of turns around it, hold tight and release the clutch. Once the clutch is released, I can then allow the halyard to slide slowly around the winch smoothly lowering Tim down.  As he descends, he moves the ‘fall arrest’ down the fixed line till he arrives on the deck. 

Tim was up and down the mast several times during the day figuring out what needed doing and what we needed to do it. It was good refresher for us in ideal conditions.

MacLean was a great place to stop as they have two docks with space for two boats and electric and water on the pontoon and they are completely free for one night.  It’s a great way to encourage visitors to their town. The summer dresses in the shops were very tempting, but I’m more likely to wear long trousers and long sleeves in the day against the sun and at night against the biting insects.  I have tried a long skirt as insect protection in the evening, but unless you stand on the hem, you will end up with a skirt full of mosquitos. 

Maclean is subject to flooding as so many low lying areas in Queensland and New South Wales. I was impressed by their flood defences/levee. They are quite formidable as Tim will attest to.

I had not communicated that he was supposed to exit stage right. 

This was the gas station closest to the river and the only way for us to buy diesel was to take the dinghy to nearest jetty with Jerry cans.  There was no break in the levee, duh of course, to save him the climb. 

This seemed like great protection but I could not remember seeing any type of barrier in the town. Once back to the pontoons we found two beautifully engineered flood gates in the open position. They were so attractively designed than I hadn’t noticed their functionality. 

This is a photo I found online of the 2022 floods. The owner of ‘The Fair Butcher’ across the road holds the key to the shower building by the pontoons for visiting yachts. It really is just across the road from the pontoons. I think the flood barrier is that grey line in front of the people watching the boat, which is well above street level, go by.

In the photo of Tim up the mast, you can see how tall the piles holding the pontoons are. The tops of the piles are either just out of view to the left or underwater.  The pontoons float so ….. I have some questions to ask the locals when we visit MacLean again on our way north. 

Ulmarra was the next town up river we stopped at. It came highly recommended by the couple of the catamaran. I can’t remember their names now but the boat was called, Better Than Shares. 

Larus is Latin for seagull. We were very lucky that Les, the previous owner, renamed her from Fair Lady of Lytham. A lovely name to be sure but I’d rather spell Larus phonetically in a Mayday call. Les also had the good sense to hang illustrations of gulls captioned with their Latin names in the main saloon. It was quite the moment when we first noticed that that Larus and our Larus were both seagulls. 

We haven’t a very good history of naming boats ourselves. Our first boat, Tristar was also the name of the Make of our trimaran. The pressure of coming up with an appropriate name was just too much for us.

Ulmarra proved a nice place to stop.

It was a quiet very well off town and very much a tourist destination.

Homes, particularly in the old part of the town, had charm and character and were beautifully maintained.

Passing a retirement home, I stopped to chat with Thelma who has lived in Ulmarra all her life. She was up early tending the raised gardens before the heat got too fierce.

The shops are full of the types of fruit I expect to see in summer as well as mango, pineapples and avocados. All are grown in Australia as well as almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans.  I don’t think there is much they can’t grow here.

Ripe peaches and pears and a lone sheet of puff pastry bought in New Zealand, found while defrosting the freezer made a lovely tart.

My family often bake peach or pear pies in the summer. A couple tablespoons of sugar and flour are sprinkled over the docked pastry. The fruit is arranged as you please and then sprinkled with the sugar and flour. Bits of butter are placed on the fruit and when baked will help the sugar and flour make a glossy covering. Bake till the fruit is soft.

One day in Ulmarra and then on to Grafton, which is as far a yacht with a mast can go up the Clarence River. 

The new and old bridges over the Clarence River.

We went to Grafton for the shopping at a big Cole’s supermarket to stock up on staples. It was a spectacularly hot day for a long walk to the shops. There is a small dinghy jetty before the bridge that we used. On the way to the shops, we passed the Grafton Sailing Club. Next time if we needed to do a really big shop we would ask them if they’d let us leave the dinghy on their beach.

Just up the path from the dingy dock was the impressive Fig Tree Avenue. We particularly appreciated how wonderfully cool it was in their shade.

Grafton is also known for its Jacaranda trees.  We had a long hot not particularly pleasant walk to Jacaranda Park, which was a little disappointing. It was full of parents and kids with inspired climbing frames and large brightly coloured xylophones to play with. There were a few Jacaranda trees but after talking to a group of parents I found that the Jacaranda Festival is held in the city centre where there are streets lined with the trees and they would have been at their best over a month ago. 

Shopping done we headed back down the river, under the bridge, over the bar and onward down to coast for an over night sail to Port Stephens.  

Dolphins at dusk seems to be de rigour for night sails.

This was the largest pod of dolphins that we’ve been approached by.

This is a continuation of videoing the same pod. Towards the end there is a moment when the their behaviour changes. From moving with us in our southerly direction of travel, their leaps and side splashes were now toward the east. It started with a few dolphins with more and more on catching on. Then suddenly, they were gone. Once I’d put the phone away, a lone dolphin arrowed out of the west straight under the boat and followed the pod east.  My guess is that ‘scouts’ found fish and called the others to come and get it.

Port Stephens was recommended to us by an Australian sailor.  

I do think that local sailors look for different things in their ideal places to visit. We like interesting walks, local places of interest and heritage and history; they like to fish. Fishing is strictly controlled in Australia and each State requires you buy their fishing permit to fish in their waters. If you do not have a fishing permit you are not even allowed to have fishing gear on deck. We’ve never been great fisher-people so no gear on deck isn’t much of a hardship.

Signs like these are common at popular fishing locations.

We also like reasonably priced places to buy food and Port Stephens had a good shopping area a short walk or bus ride from the beach where we landed the dingy. 

On my last shop before heading south again, I asked a local lady, Shirley, if there was anywhere to drop off the bag of recycling I was carrying. There wasn’t but she said I could bring it to her house which wasn’t far away and was a shortcut to the shops as well.  She told me how the area had changed as we wound our way through nautically named roads like Ketch Road and … what with Larus being a ketch that’s the only one I remember, down through a park to a dry flood plane, up the hill on the other side and along a path to the recycling bin at the side of her house.

We sorted my recycling from the things they don’t recycle and then she point to the end of the street and told me to turn right.  From the corner could see the shopping centre and I had a far more pleasant walk than along the street in the baking sun.

Coming back from the shops, a took the bus and while waiting at the stop I talked to a wiry old chap who had been a seaman in his youth and was very well travelled.  He spoke of sailing on a Wharram Catamaran, an often home built boat based on Polynesian design.  We’ve seen them occasionally in our travels. They are very distinctive. I was probably as pleased to know of them as he was to find someone else who knew about them. 

We also like koalas and visited Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary.  The hospital wasn’t open to visitors the day we went and there were no guided tours. As there were only about 6 people in the whole sanctuary we weren’t really surprised and enjoyed the quiet of the SKYwalk viewing platforms where you could see a koala in a tree at eye level. 


A enormous crocheted wall hanging at the Sanctuary’s entrance.

There were lots of koala facts and information throughout the site and these just give a taste of how hard being a koala really is.

They are smaller than expected.

They are just as cute as expected.

This photo and the one after we saw after learning about the problems caused by loss of habit, the dangers of living cheek by jowl with humans and by being really picky about from which eucalyptus tree you will eat leaves from.

I have little faith in this sign making much difference at all.

We’d taken a bus out to the Sanctuary and while waiting for the bus back we were entertained by the doings on the other side of the road.  There is a beach that is only accessible by 4x4 or UTE as they’re called here and in NZ. We watched while the girls hung out while the boys fussed about with their respective UTE. 

The guy black shorts brought 2 or 3 girls up from the beach in the black UTE. He spent much time shaking the sand from the floor mats making me suspect that his job was to take paying guests down to the beach and back. 

The guy in the gold UTE might have brought 1 or none of these girls up from the beach, though he might have brought other people before I noticed them. We watched him re-inflating the tires the workings of which was built into the truck. That’s one rough road if you deflate the tires to get down to the beach.

Anyway, my interest was piqued by the flat black thing over the flatbed. I thought it might be a pop-up tent and went to ask.  Turns out I was right. Then I asked if he this was his job taking people to the beach and he said ‘no’. His dad had bought it for him and he just liked to take his friends to the beach. I think said something like, ‘that must improve your calibre of friends.’ He nodded and smiled. I thanked him, and went back to the bus stopped.

Later on I found that the gold UTE was LandCruiser, the crème de la crème of UTEs and I suspect that the guy fussing over floor mats had borrowed the parent’s car.

I do love a good mystery, but I find the inequality I see as we travel about unsettling. 

In anticipation of leaving Port Stephens, I baked my family’s Holiday Fruit Drop Cookies. Recipe on request. :) 

I wanted to be ready to have them with guests in the run up the Christmas, but guests have been few and far between and we’ve eat most ourselves.

I’m writing this from Sydney Harbour anchored near the Harbour Bridge in anticipation of the fireworks tonight’s for New Year’s Eve.  We aren’t positioned to see the famous ‘waterfall from the bridge’ but we should see everything above the bridge. We didn’t fancy jockeying for position in the prime location and are perfectly happy with our spot. Luckily for me, there is an early Children’s fireworks as it’s not a given that I will make it till midnight.

We hope you are all enjoying this holiday season and are hoping for kindness and peace in 2024.

Much love to you all,

Nancy and Tim

New Year’s Eve 2024, Sydney Harbour

Thursday 7 December 2023

Heading South

There is a common plan for sailing between Bundaberg and Sydney.  Due to the consistently strong southerly current that runs down the east coast of Australia, many yachts choose sail quickly down to Sydney - 3 days at sea should do it -  and then make a more leisurely passage north by hugging the coast to keep out of the strong southerly current.  Hugging the coast is known here as having ‘one foot on the beach’ and you can day sail from harbour to harbour.

We had pondered a quick trip south, but people, places, weather and the odd wrench in the works meant that this is not to be. We left Bundaberg…. And are only halfway mostly because of short weather windows as well as places to see along the way.

K’gari / Fraser Island is a huge island and so, though we did little more than navigate our way down the inland route most southerly pass into the Pacific, there were lots of tiny tastes of what there is to see and do there. 

This is an excellent website for all things on this amazing island - https://www.fraserisland.net/.

And this is a terrific map - K’gari / Fraser Island map.  It is worth having a look at if only for all the warnings. 

I didn’t expect that our stops would be quite so short or I would have taken more photos, but I do know that we will spend much more times there on our way back to Bundaberg in May 2024.

We did go ashore with Claudia and Philip from Bruno’s Girl and checked out the resort pools that are free to all comers. Philip had a rather good looking meat pie at the outrageously expensive mini mart. On our way back from Maryborough we anchored near the ferry terminal to Fraser Island. The little supermarket there advertised/warned that it was the last shop with mainland prices.

With Philip full of pie, we went for a walk.  Whenever you leave the busy tourist areas there are warning signs laying out the safety advice concerning the native population of K’gari dingoes.  ‘Keep children close, if threatened by a group of dingoes behave like a wildebeest confronted by, well, a pack of dingoes - children in the middle,  adults facing outward’. Last but not least, call for help.

I can’t quite remember now but I think there must have been a fence and a maybe gate at the start of the walk. I do remember the ‘dingo sticks’ stuck in the sand near the entrance and a sign saying, ‘Please take one’ and a repeat of the rules to follow if approached by dingoes.

We saw no dingoes here, but we did see one on the bank near an anchorage further south on the island.  Two young couples were camped on the bank.  We were sitting in the cockpit with Philip chatting when someone noticed a dingo nosing around the campsite.  The couples were away at the time and we watched the dingo disappear into an area they had covered with an orange tarp (which matched the small orange trimaran anchored of the beach that they had arrived on).  The dingo soon reappeared and then disappeared into the brush. As Aussie campers, we were that they were well aware of the dingoes in the area.

Back to the walk…

Our walk started on the high land and wound through a forest, past a war memorial - Fraser Island Commando School  - and down onto the beach. All the paths we walked on were a fine white sand and exhausting to walk on.  Looking up from the beach, you could see under the trees and grasses only a thin top layer and then just sand. The slope to the beach with either freshly eroded sand or sand covered in scrubby growth.

The island is all sand; from its grassy and tree covered top, down its eroding brush covered sides where the water laps on a high tide is sand. 

An old boiler rusting on the beach.  

Each time the tide goes out, tiny sand coloured crabs roll sand away from their front door. They then roll more and and then some more until the beach, up to the high water line, is decorated with tiny beads of sand. Their front door and all their hard work will be washed away with each incoming tide.

Hmm, looks like rain.  

We met Grant, Kim and their 2 girls on catamaran Reva Reva at the marina in Bundaberg. While we were anchored together off K’gari Island, Grant radioed us to ask if we minded being videoed by drone.  Not at all, we said and this is the video he created for us.  

Once down to the bottom of Fraser Island there is only one thing left to do and that is to head out into the Pacific again via the Wide Bay Bar.

A ‘bar or bars’ forms at the mouth of a river by silt and sediment being deposited by the outgoing stream. Over time the sandbars shift and any permanent channel buoys would have to be relocated. As there are bars up and down the coasts of Australia, the marine agency makes use of AIS - Automatic Information System - which is what allows you to see our position on the chart at the top of the blog and allows us to see any vessel, yacht or AIS beacon. 

At some bars, than using physical buoys to mark the channel, virtual AIS beacons are used. These can be seen on a chart plotter if you use AIS and we do. All the green and red marks on the chart are AIS beacons. This is the first time we’ve run across this and it is very reassuring, particularly when the marine agency posts that they’ve just relocated them due to changes to the bar.  This happened the week before we were due to cross.

On the chart it appears that our route, the grey line, takes us over shallows, but we know to follow the clearly marked virtual AIS beacons.

For your information and amusement two videos about crossing the Southport Bar, which we successfully completed when we left Brisbane for Iluka.  (I will have to go cover Brisbane in the next post. We are stopping in so many places for quite short lengths of time that I cannot keep up.)

Choosing the right conditions to cross a bar is important.  We are very conservative in choosing to go or not to go.

How to cross the Southport Seaway.

How not to cross the Southport Seaway. Yikes.

This morning, when conditions are right, in about 10 minutes says the Captain, we will be upping anchor and heading out through the Clarence River Bar, turning right and heading a little further south.