Friday, November 29, 2019

Coff’s Harbour & Dorrigo National Park

[Kyle]I was up early in preparation for a dawn departure from Illuka/Yamba when I noticed I could see through the smoke to an orange glow. I went on deck and discovered that I could actually see the flames on the hillside a mile or so behind the town.

Shortly after we left, Iluka Marine Rescue made an announcement on the radio that they were going off the air. They were evacuating because the flames were getting a little close to the town. That particular fire was the only one in New South Wales that was still being classified as out of control. They got light winds and a little rain in the next couple of days and with exhaustive efforts from the local (mostly volunteer) firefighters were able to keep it from reaching the town.

We had a fast spinnaker run down the coast, which was good, because Coff’s is a long way from Iluka. We even got a huge boost of up to three knots from the East Australia Current to help make sure we made it there before dark.

Just after we hoisted the sail, Maryanne spotted a Humpback whale. We tried to go see it, but it outran us. Then it started to snow in big, fluffy flakes. That was weird. It was baking out there.

The flakes turned out to be ash from the fires. It fell so gently that some were still identifiable as former blades of grass or pieces of bark.

Around the harbour
and from atop Mutton Bird Island Kyle gets a view of the marina
and a sighting of this cute 'Superb Fairybird Wren'

At Coff’s, we took one of the two free public mooring balls, alongside a Catamaran flying a Swiss flag. You don’t see too many Swiss flags out there and I had the vague feeling I had seen this one before. After a while, the owner came over in his dinghy and said he had recognized us. It was Hans Pieter. He had last seen us in Suwarrow in 2017 when we were the only two boats there. He lives in Coff’s now with his girlfriend Suzanne. Well, we have a lot of catching up to do! We promised to keep in touch so we could meet up before we leave.

Headwinds were in the forecast tor the next few days, so we decided to splash out and move to the marina.

We went grocery shopping and did a big load of laundry. We also managed to rent a car for the day from a local company. The proprietress was named Donna and she called us “Darling” every other sentence. That started as quaint, but quickly wore thin.

We had the usual car day of driving as far as we could get in the available daylight. Our first stop, because it was on the way, was the Big Banana. The Big Banana at Coff’s Harbour is the very first Big Thing that started the whole trend in Australia, so we had to see it.

From the 'big banana' in Coff's Harbour - to Dangar Falls in Dorrigo

From there, we went to several parks. Most of our time was spent in the impressive Dorrigo National Rainforest walking through giant gum trees dangling thick vines. We also stopped at Bongil Bongil National Park in the last hour before the gates were shut for the night. There is supposed to be a population of koalas there of which we were hoping to catch a glimpse. We didn’t.

Our next day was a lot less fun. Someone spilled wine on our PC laptop. We acted quickly, but were not able to save it. Maryanne spent the morning dealing with a repair guy who seemed enthusiastic where Maryanne had given up hope - while I bought a couple of jugs of fuel, washed all of the ash off of the boat and filled the water tanks.

Once the guy determined that he could not help us after all, Maryanne went to work on the internet finding a replacement. She found cheap one in a local store and even managed to get the computer guy to drive us when he brought us back our old one.

We then had a miserable afternoon of spending a lot of money we hadn’t planned on almost what we needed and then having to spend even more time and money to get it the way we want it. We were weary and sooo sick of the mall when we headed off on the long walk home.

Hans Pieter and Suzanne were coming over later, so we wanted to get ready. Maryanne went for a shower and I tidied up a little. I got done first, so I poured half a cup of wine and sat down at the Mac to check the weather for the next day’s departure.

You knew where this was going. Yep, I knocked the glass over, right on the keyboard.

This time, I moved so fast that I almost beat the wine to the computer. We have a silicone keyboard cover for the Mac and I managed to get the thing flipped over and the cover off before any wine ran into the keyboard. Whew!

Then the thing started acting twitchy. After the third reboot, it wouldn’t start at all. Some wine had made it in through the trackpad.

We have several spare Macs, which we now use for parts. It only took Maryanne about half an hour to remove the hard drive (fortunately undamaged) and create a FrankenMac that works normally.

I can’t believe it. Two in one day! We have learned our lesson now, I hope. Our new rule is that no beverages are allowed to occupy the same surface as a computer and cannot be any closer than the furthest part of that surface that can be reached with a fully extended arm, whichever is further. We’d much rather stain our salon cushions than short out another computer.

Anyway, we were able to enjoy a nice evening with Hans Pieter and Suzanne, all sat out at the cockpit table, far from anything electronic. After leaving Suwarrow, while we were doing the big Chile loop, Hans Pieter sailed to New Zealand, then did a loop through the tropics to Australia along about the same path we did this year. Since then, he has spent a year sailing up and down the coast from his base in Coff’s Harbour. He has citizenship here, so he can stay as long as he likes. He is a fount of good information about cruising in Australia, which we were able to use to firm up some of our plans going ahead.

Monday, November 25, 2019


[Kyle]In the morning, we managed to avoid smashing into either breakwater as we exited Ballina and entered the sea for an easy run to The harbor at Iluka/Yamba. We had elected to anchor on the Iluka side due to its being better protected from the forecast winds. We were now getting much closer to the many bushfires in NSW. The visibility was dropping and we could smell the smoke. It did make for amazing red sunrises and sunsets, though. {This small positive, of course, in no way counters the huge devastation and disaster for local communities and wildlife}.

Approaching Yamba/Iluka

Ashore, we took a medium length hike to Iluka Bluff on a path that led through the rainforest. The beach and rocks there were beautiful, but eerily quiet due to the parks all being closed to road traffic. We even spotted a family of kangaroos on the cliffs above the point. We were watching a couple of them from the path when I heard another bouncing through the forest towards me. He came around the corner behind a tree and landed right in front of me. He stopped for a second, did a double-take, realized he couldn’t get by me and bounced away the way he had come.

Exploring around Iluka
we are close to one of the many fires billowing smoke

That pretty much took care of all of the attractions in and around Iluka. We walked the long way home and stopped at the town’s only pub. There, we ordered and payed for two cold beers from a bartender who managed to complete our whole exchange without uttering a word to us or even to make eye contact. To be fair, he looked like he had already had too many himself and was really concentrating on not falling over.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


[Kyle]Continuing south from Tweed Heads, we left in the dark of pre-dawn (for the current at the bar) for an easy run to Ballina.

A gentle sail with dolphins joining us as we head to Ballina

Ballina has one of the more notorious bar crossings on the coast. This was mostly because the entrance silted up during a storm a couple of years ago. It has been partly dredged since, but the approach is still a little unnerving. The entire width of the entrance isn’t dredged, so it is necessary to come in at an angle, wait until it feels like you are about to hit the breakwater (all while in a swell with a fast current running), and then turn to angle towards the opposite breakwater until it seems certain that you’re about to smash into that big pile of rocks. Then you have to repeat the whole process all over again after that. I was more okay than Maryanne was because I was at the wheel and knew when each turn was coming. All she could see out front was a big wall of boulders rapidly approaching. I think she was worried that I had become distracted chasing a fly or something and thought I might be unaware that we were careening towards our doom.

Once inside, the river widened substantially as we approached the town waterfront. Tweed Heads was compact, with a narrow river and closely spaced hills. Ballina, by contrast, was wide and flat, like a sprawled-out East Texas town. Most of the homes there were ranch style (one floor), which only increased the effect. Everything looked like it would involve a lot of walking, but at least it was flat.

Deciding on our first order of business was easy. We were going to Bunning’s, Australia/New Zealand’s big box hardware chain, like Home Depot in the U.S. or Home Base in the UK. We always need hardware and spare parts for something, but this time we had no need to go into the store itself.

Australia has a love of Big Things. The tradition was started in the U.S in the 1950s as merchants tried pulling curious customers off of the freeways with outsized creations. I think it all started with a hot dog stand in the shape of a giant hot dog in Los Angeles. The fad passed and most of them are gone now, although I have seen a couple of five-story Paul Bunyans in my time on America’s roads.

Big Prawn & the big-ish pineapple

Australia took the fad and really ran with it. There are Big Things everywhere in Australia. Any road trip of more than two hundred miles (at least in the populated East) is bound to pass at least one of them.

The Big thing at Bunning’s was the Giant 'Big Prawn' and it was our first. It was apparently erected by the local fish co-op at 30,000/1 scale. They have moved on, but when Bunning’s bought the land, they kept it and even did a big overhaul.

It really is quite big. It stands over three stories high and they did a pretty good job of scaling it up without compromising the form. The antennae must be 15 meters long.

From the Big Prawn, we meandered into town, eventually stopping at the Maritime Museum. Here, they claim to have the world’s largest collection of ship models - big things rendered small. I think they cheated a bit by counting a whole case of little toy boats, but they do still have more of the giant table-sized ones than I’ve ever seen.

Las Balsas Raft on display - or one raft made up of the surviving parts of the fleet)

Central to the museum was the story of Las Balsas, The longest recorded raft journey in the world, sailed in 1973. They departed Ecuador in three rafts with a diverse international crew, plus monkeys and even kittens. They were heading for Brisbane, but they got becalmed in the East Australian Current and were swept too far south to land there. They finally arrived at Ballina to huge crowds, and were estimated to be within a week or two of their waterlogged rafts sinking. The museum had built a replica of the lead raft from the salvageable parts of all three for their exhibit.

A walk via the beaches and lighthouse, and a break for lunch at the Lighthouse beach cafe

It was hot and I was ready to go home, but Maryanne got it in her head that she wanted to walk to the end of the north breakwater at the harbor entrance. What the hell, it’s only a few more miles... She sweetened the deal with lunch at the Lighthouse Beach Cafe, which allowed us to rest and fortify before the long walk home. We arrived limping and sore, glad to have another sailing day off from walking.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tweed Head - Crossing the border between QLD and NSW

[Kyle]Next up on our trip along the East Australian coast was a stop in the Tweed River. The Tweed is shallow and fast running. The shallow part was good, because it allowed us to put out only a small amount of chain and thus we needed only a small space amongst the local rental houseboats.

Fast was more problematic. Our bottom needed cleaning. I managed it, but three quarters of my effort was spent holding myself against the current, which made a hard job four times as hard.

Kyle was put to work before going ashore
and back to Queensland for a fancy coffee

Tweed Head borders the town of Coolangatta. Coolangatta is in Queensland, Tweed Head is in New South Wales. The border runs right through many parks and businesses and terminates on the coast at Danger Point. One complication is that NSW observes Daylight Savings Time and Queensland does not. We ate at a cafe 30m from the border on the Queensland side. I overheard our waitress explain to another customer that they were still serving breakfast “because it’s morning here”. We’ve noticed that most of the signs specifying a time for something, like a town hall meeting or a church service, explicitly include the time zone on the notice.

We continued on up the Queensland coast until we were pretty sure we would be too tired to make it back. Every time we would get to our pre-agreed turn around spot, we would see something else in the distance and decide to keep going, but only to there. The highlight was the singing sands on Coolangatta Beach. Here, the sand is very clean and of just the right microscopic shape so that it squeaks when you walk on it, like freshly fallen snow.

More lovely coastline - also the beaches we've seen recently often have 'squeaky sand'

After walking most of the way back to the boat, we decided it was about time for a bit of tea and cake, so we started looking for a cafe. They suddenly became scarce on the street, so we ended up at the Tweed Heads (lawn) Bowling Club, which had a sign outside indicating there was one within.

This was our first experience with an Australian club. Australians love their clubs and almost every town bigger than medium size sports at least one of them. We were given free memberships for being out-of-towners (otherwise, it’s $25/year). After being granted access, we went in to find a decent-sized casino, a dance floor, a restaurant and our searched-for cafe. We ordered and took a seat by the big second floor window overlooking the greens.

The lawn bowling club here is by far the biggest one we have seen anywhere (with multiple indoor and outdoor greens). Well, it turns out Tweed Heads has a lot of world class professional lawn bowlers and the THBC is a major stop on the international circuit. I don’t know much about it other than that the goal is to get one of your big colored balls as close to the little white ball as possible, but it is strangely mesmerizing once you start watching, especially with a cup of tea in hand. I was especially impressed by an amputee below us in a wheelchair who had an amazing ability to curve his ball either direction around his opponent’s and stop a couple of centimeters away from the target.

It was with a warm feeling that we walked home through one of Tweed’s nicer neighborhoods, pleased with humanity’s ability to spend a nice day over a friendly game with friends. That ended when we came across a bunch of kids swimming in the river. At first, it also seemed like good clean fun. Then one of the elderly homeowners came out and asked a couple of the kids to please swim on the other side of the canal (which was public) so as not to trample the flowers in their garden. He was in no way rude about it, but in response, the kids he addressed unleashed a torrent of foul and abusive language at both him and his wife. The kids retreated grudgingly, but then made a point of being as loud and crass as possible afterwards. It reminded me of conversations we have had with many teachers saying that kids are getting harder and harder to manage. Neither of us could ever imagine speaking to an elder that way from when we were kids all of the way up until now, even if in our minds, we did think they were being unfair. Being kids, though, they got bored of the affair soon enough and left, leaving us peacefully bobbing on the river.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Coomera / Paradise Point

[Kyle]We were up our usual early for the next leg to Coomera. We are planning on hauling out there later in the Summer and wanted to get a good look at the yard there. There is also a pretty good marine industry in the area and we were in need of some hard-to-find engine parts.

Like Great Sandy Strait, the shallow passage on the inside of Moreton Island is defined by shifting sandbars and swift currents. As it was early on a Sunday morning, we had the whole area all to ourselves. At nine o’clock, the recreational fishing boats arrived. At Noon, the jet skis joined in. By late afternoon, there was so much traffic that there was no room to pass and all of the boats had to just funnel back and forth like cars on a freeway in rush hour traffic.

Moreton Bay to Paradise Point

We were so relieved to pull out of the line and find a spot big enough to anchor at a place called Paradise Point, near the mouth of the Coomera River. This area is an enclave for the super-rich, where giant mansions sit shoulder to shoulder on manicured lots. We read somewhere that the average home around there goes for $20M, although the same source said some homes could be had for under $5M. That’s perfect! That’s exactly what we have! Maybe we’ll pick one up.

It turns out most of the area was geared to our end of the scale. We got a nice meal ashore for under $5M, found a bottle of wine for under $5M and even found a whole store with every item priced at under $5M. The real estate store was a different matter, though.

As mentioned before, we were hoping to get a look at the yard we were planning on using later in Autumn. As far as we could tell, Our spot at Paradise Point was as close as we could get without forking over a hundred bucks a night for a marina. The Boatyard was only four miles away, but on further study, it looked like we were going to have to walk twice that far to get there, due to the inconvenient placement of bridges along the route. A trip by bus suffered from indirect routing and long connection times and would likely end up taking longer than the walk. The river was very sinuous, making the water distance much farther than the straight-line distance, so going by dinghy didn’t seem feasible either.

After studying the satellite pictures of the area for a while, Maryanne was able to figure out a shortcut along a local creek. If we did the trip right, we could even get a boost from the tide in both directions. This would allow us to use low enough power to make the long dinghy trip without exhausting our battery and forcing me to row a long way back.

We find another Athena (the same model as our boat) and a lunch place with vintage cars

A nesting swallow under the bridge, and a sea eagle soaring overhead

The kangaroos seemed surprised to see us

Our shortcut ended up being a nice little nature cruise. We saw kangaroos and plenty of different kinds of birds. In the Under $5M section, we even exchanged greetings with a man on a park bench on the riverbank behind his house. He was feeding a flock of birds at his feet. Instead of ducks or pigeons, he was surrounded by parrots; cockatoos and lorikeets who had flown in for a snack.

When we emerged into the Coomera, just upstream of the Boatyard, we were dismayed to find two boats anchored in a space big enough for four. We’ll remember that next time. They have a really nice facility there, if a little on the pricey side. We found most of the engine parts we needed and had a bonus at the cafe where we had lunch. Apparently, the owner of the Boatyard is a vintage car and motorcycle buff and has a whole big showroom of them that you can wander about on the proviso that you promise not to touch anything.

We were thinking our day had been long enough to just go to the boat and call it a day, but it was just too nice of an evening to not go ashore for a walk along the park lining the water’s edge. We even shared an ice cream cone for under $5M.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Peel Island

[Kyle]We left Brisbane into the teeth of a strong wind, which required a lot of tacking to get out of the river. Occasionally, we had to heave to on one side or the other to let an inbound ship pass. Once we were out of the river, we turned across the wind and flew down Moreton Bay.

The Saturday racers were out in force, which gave us plenty of practice determining which right-of-way rule applied to each vessel we encountered as they gave it their all to be the first to the yacht club cocktail lounge.

Sailing with plenty of other boats as we continue south

Peel Island has been described as “over loved”. As it was the weekend, we were certain, just from the subset of AIS targets, that the anchorage was going to be pretty full. That side of the island has a broad, shallow bay with no real hazards going in or out. That gave me the idea that we could redeem ourselves from all of our Brisbane River motoring by sailing in and dropping anchor without using the engines.

It worked well. There was enough space that all we had to do was sail up to the back row of boats, drop the hook and sail backwards until the anchor dug in. I counted thirty-three other boats anchored with us. It reminded us of Man-of-War Bay in New Zealand. It seemed way too crowded for a quiet Island, but it made for a convenient stop on the way south.