A little time ashore for a walk (exercise) on Pulbah Island
We then had a day and a half of heavy rain, which we used to stay inside and work on “The List” for our upcoming haulout.
The next day, I had the craziest idea: we could go sailing...for fun! Now, it seems like we are always trying to get somewhere and frequently we have been having to put up with whatever weather we get while we do it. Today, I figured we could just sail around looking at stuff until we got tired of doing so. Then we could stop for the night. It sounds so simple.
Sailing the southern arms of lake Macquarie - we were not alone!
It was great! It was a beautiful, sunny day. Maryanne mostly steered while I mostly acted as lookout and winch-cranker (known as an ape in racing circles). There was enough wind to push us along with full sail, without needing to worry about reefing. Best of all, the seas were flat everywhere, so we had a nice, smooth, dry ride the whole time. We tacked from one pretty cove to another as the scenery slid by.
One highlight of the day was when we were barely moving with light winds a pair of welcome swallows kept flying around and landing on Begonia. After a while one tried flying through the tunnel between the hulls of Begonia, and after a couple of tries his friend joined him in the fun, over and over perhaps 50 times. When underneath the boat they would chirp and even we could hear the echo of their calls, they were clearly having fun and we were happy with their company too.
At one point, we happened to be rounding the same buoys as one of the Saturday races, giving us a chance at a little close-quarters action. We managed to stay just ahead of them all, which kept us from interfering in their actual race or having to worry too much about the collision avoidance rules. We are bigger than most of them were and we were the only catamaran, so it wasn't exactly a fair fight. Still, it was nice to be able to at least look fast to a bunch of gung-ho crews with brand-new high-tech sails.
As the afternoon waned, so did the wind. We gradually slowed from seven or eight knots to two, and then one. Then we ended up going so slow that the paddlewheel on our speed transducer stopped moving altogether. I measured our speed by walking along a twig floating by as it made its way from our bow to the stern: 0.7 knots. Time to pack it in for the day.
Since we had not needed to start an engine to release our last mooring ball, I was really keen to try to pick up another one for the night without resorting to using one. Maryanne steered us toward the two unoccupied public moorings at Murrays Beach and then handed it over to me while she got the lines ready. The wind shifted, bending us away from the moorings. Aaargh! The sun was going to set in twenty minutes.
We tacked, which must've taken a whole minute just for the turn. Then we picked up speed until we were cruising at well over half a knot. When we got about five boat lengths away, the wind shifted again. Damn! I needed to steer away again. Maryanne, at the bow with the boat hook, told me to just keep heading at it. We were now thirty degrees to the wind and the jib started flogging. “Keep going”, Maryanne said as I rolled it up. We were so close but so far and barely moving. Maryanne joked that she was tempted to swim over with a long line to pick up the pendant.
At twenty degrees to the wind, the belly of the mainsail collapsed and it lost its drive. “A little more”, she said, “Three meters.” I ran forward just in case the longer reach of my arms would be helpful. I got to her just as she got the hook through the pendant's loop. Maryanne then secured it as if she was in no hurry whatsoever. We made it! Now I had the rare luxury of both no wind and all of the time I wanted to lower the mainsail neatly into its bag and then to make sure the deck was tidied up just so. We did not swing until well after we had gone to bed for the night. That meant that when we picked up that mooring, we had zero extra inertia to run us over it and swing us a different direction. Close indeed!
Pleasant time with Begonia off Murrays Beach
From Murrays, we decided to walk across the peninsula to Caves Beach on the ocean side. There are no really direct routes over the ridge. Google had us walking north into the town of Swansea and then going south toward the beach. We chose instead a slightly longer route that went through a nature reserve to the south and then north to the beach. That way, we figured, we could either make a big loop out of it or we could even hitch from Swansea to Murrays if we were too tired by then.
Well, part of our walking route must have drifted a bit too far from one of our turn points and the thing rerouted us through Swansea without my realizing it. I was zoomed way in, trying to identify exactly where our next turn was, so we were just following the route. At some point, we noticed the roads were getting more congested and we seemed to be nowhere near a park. That's when we realized we were already in Swansea. That's fine, we'll just go back the other way and accept that getting a ride will be out.
We stopped at a cafe for conciliatory coffee and muffins. We were handed the wrong menus. One thing led to another and we were soon enjoying two whole big breakfasts instead. Now we HAVE to walk back.
We ambled across the peninsula to view Caves Beach at low tide
And the caves too (of course..)
Caves Beach was nice, although it was raining a bit by then, which detracted from the fun a little. The surfers didn't seem to mind, neither than did all of the kids climbing through the caves while their adults huddled under umbrellas and overhangs.
We took the park route back to Murrays, which was definitely more rustic than the paved bike paths we had followed to Swansea. After a long while, we had been sliding through enough slippery clay that our shoes had grown to double size. Crossing a freshwater stream at a turnoff, we took the opportunity to give our muddy feet and shoes a good rinse.
Walking back to Begonia via the cliffs and the Wallarah National Park gave us plenty to see
We then had another two or three kilometers of trail that only technically existed and did not seem to get much regular use. Eventually, we were deposited at the back of a pretty subdivision of custom houses with lots of glass walls and big balconies. Two more steep ridges later and we emerged at the shoreside park right in front of Begonia.
We had planned to give our legs, shoes and feet another once-over at the tap on the pier, but it was so full of fishoes trying to meet their quota for the week that we decided to wait until we were back at the boat instead. Maryanne went aboard first and returned with her shoes and a scrub brush for me to use to clean them. She does spoil me.
When I finished scrubbing the clay off of her shoes, I took mine off to do the same and was horrified to find a big leech feeding on my left foot. Now, I know the thing had already been attached to me for hours and so I should have had the patience to find some salt or rubbing alcohol or some other substance that would make it want to let go of me, but I just wanted it gone, so I yanked it out and flicked it into the lake. It clearly did not like the brackish water there. The anticoagulant the leech had secreted when it bit me was working well and it took me over an hour to stop bleeding. That was some of my favorite blood!
Later on that night, once my heebie-jeebies wore off, we accidentally discovered the coolest thing. The bioluminescence in the lake is unusually good. We had noticed this before, but this night, I went to throw a cup of accumulated rainwater overboard and was rewarded with a brilliant flash as it hit the lake. We then spent the next few minutes filling various containers at the galley with our seawater tap and then rushing outside to throw the water overboard. It was like we had our own fireworks show, except that all of the bursts were green and blue. We only gave up when it started getting a little too cold out there.
From Murrays, we decided to have yet another day of just sailing around for the fun of it. This time, we focused on the middle section of the big lake. We again picked up a mooring at Green Point, just as the wind started to abate. We were going a bit faster this time and had to work a bit more quickly to get the mooring pendant attached before Begonia swung to a stop, but we had another whole day without having to involve any pesky engines. They might not work, for all we know, but since we don't seem to need them, what does it matter? Oh, I kid, but I hate to break a good streak like this.
Sailing around the North arms of Lake Macquarie - again we were not alone!
Green Point is loaded with trails, so we were able to spend hours crisscrossing the park until we were sufficiently tired to not feel too lazy. We were really both coming up with excuses to avoid “The List”. For now, a little of it here and there, separated by hiking and sailing seems like a decent balance.
Some time ashore at Green Point
And aboard at Green Point, with the occasional blue sky
The time had come for us to leave the lake and resume our push northwards. We requested a 5pm bridge opening. We planned to go through, pick up a courtesy mooring for the night and then leave the next morning at dawn.
Our last day sailing about was made even brighter by our dolphin visitor
Before dark we joined one other boat exiting Lake Macquarie via the bridge
As we were approaching the shallow channel between the lake and the bridge, we were joined by a playful dolphin that followed us as we went. I imagine he was really using Begonia as a barrier to help herd fish between us and the shallow bottom, but he seemed to be having a lot of fun while doing it. He would swim along in formation with us, leaping out of the water and slapping his tail. Just before we got to the bridge, where we planned to pick up one of the provided courtesy moorings until our opening, he leaped clear out of the water until he was basically at Maryanne's height on the bow. He was probably no more than five meters from the boat. Maryanne was even quick enough with the camera to get a shot of it.
The fun didn't stop there. When we got to our mooring ball, the current was still around two knots. We turned upstream and lined up to pick it up. Waiting for us at the ball was our dolphin. He was swimming in place against the current as if to say, “Use this one!” Maryanne had to keep avoiding him with the boathook while she reached for the pendant. Once we were tied up and the engines were off, he came by a few more times to show Maryanne a fish that he had caught. When we were in Tin Can Bay, we learned that the dolphins there commonly bring people gifts of bits of weed or things they have found. Our little guy seemed to be doing the same type of thing, but when Maryanne tried to reach for the apparant gift he pulled away. He just wanted to show her, like a cat proud of his catch, and he swam by time and time again showing off his prize.