By Margot Rathbone
This year's cruise started with a strong show of discipline - a 4am departure on the second day of 2010 from Barrenjoey to fit in with a high tide for the bar and, in particular, the newly dredged but still very shallow channel into Lake Macquarie. Dawn brought good N/NE winds of between 10 and 15 knots and it was a very pleasant sail until we encountered the forecast showers as we neared our destination.
Our fleet of 24 yachts was split into two groups so as to give those with deep draughts [despite some advice by proofreaders, author and editor agree that draught is the preferred spelling over draft - ed] the later bridge opening and thus a slightly higher tide. With a total of about 30 boats circling in the basin east of the Swansea bridge, the first opening at 11am was a fairly stressful time with a tide of up to 3.7 knots. Two of our yachts hit the bridge and one required assistance from Coast Guard to allow it to continue the journey. The trip from the bridge to the drop-off into the Lake was quite fraught as we struggled to stay inside the very narrow channel which has only just been dredged to a depth of about 2.5 metres - some anxious moments for those yachts with deep drafts. The presence of a Maritime boat was much appreciated in case anyone did get beached. There was an audible collective sigh of relief as yachts eased themselves into the deeper waters of the Lake.
The first destination was Styles Point where the beach provided a very pleasant spot for "Happy Hour" in the afternoon. However, most sailors turned in quite early for a much-needed sleep after an eventful day.
The rainy showers continued all of the next day and most people enjoyed the peace and calm of the beautiful surroundings. The group met for dinner at a delightful but very noisy restaurant in Rathmines - a good time was had by all.
Our next destination was Shingle Splitter's Point, another beautiful bay about 5 nautical miles down the Lake. Calm waters and a delightful breeze of 10 to 15 knots gave everyone a good sail and clear air into the lungs. The afternoon was spent in a variety of ways with lots of kayaking, friendly chatter as people met on boats as well as those just relaxing. Just for something different our venerable Cruise Co-ordinator, Rob Starkey suggested "Happy Hour" on the beach that afternoon. A game of badminton had been planned but was abandoned due to strong winds. Being resourceful sailors and with our backs to the wind it proved not to inhibit any drinking activity.
Our Cruise Co-ordinator, in conjunction with Leon Wilson, announced, in broad detail, a new event to be held in two days' time - the inaugural "Giant Prawn Cook-Off". Judges and chefs were nominated and their assistants chosen by picking names out of hats. Instant consternation as husbands and wives realised they were generally in separate teams and therefore in serious competition. Six groups of chefs and their assistants very quickly formed with the deadly intent of out-doing each other with secret recipes and other not so noble ways of influencing the judges' decisions. These judges very quickly achieved a lofty status and the next two days saw them being treated with reverence and plied with compliments and more palpable bribes.
No sooner had the sun risen on the following day, the fourth day of our cruise, when the noise of outboards signalled a frenzy of activity as teams met to discuss what they were going to cook as the order for grocery and other items had to be handed in by 10.30am. Any thoughts of relaxation on this cruise went out the window. The delightful Shingle Splitter's Point bay was awash with whispers, innuendo and scare tactics designed to get the upper hand long before the first prawn ever hit the BBQ plate. Above all, however, a lot of laughter and a marvellous opportunity for lots of people to get to know fellow cruisers they hadn't spent much time with before. What hidden talents this competition brought out!
This was also our first day of beautiful sunshine and a brisk breeze to keep down the heat. The same breeze, however, was forecast to increase to the extent that our Cruise Co-ordinator advised a change of location for the next day - back to Styles Point for protection against the southerly change.
Regardless of what else was going on in the world, the meetings of the teams continued into the wee hours.....
The fleet motored back to Styles Point on a still and sunny morning. The teams engaged in more last-minute meetings necessitated by the lack of cooking facilities on shore. The plan had been to utilise the BBQ facilities at Shingle Splitters Point but this was quickly and very resourcefully changed to woks or fry pans on portable gas stoves.
Whilst not scheduled to begin until 3pm, most teams set up camp (in shady spots under the trees) at least two hours before. The judges kept out of everyone's way to try to avoid the bribes offered by chefs and their teams.
The official cook-off started at 3pm in a carnival-like atmosphere of high tension, lots of laughter, delicious cooking smells and a riotous combination of colours as teams dressed to various themes. The variation and imagination harnessed by each of the teams was simply stunning - the only constant being "PRAWNS".
After much lip- smacking, drinking and consultation, the judges awarded 1st prize to Roger Russell and his delightful red team. The people's choice award went to Donna Rhors and her team.
After much hilarity the inaugural Prawn Cook-Off was finally finished! One team was seen on the beach, happily finishing a near full bottle of Tequila, long after everyone had returned to their yachts.
We were fortunate, once again, to escape the forecast strong winds of the southerly change but awoke to drizzly rain again the following morning. Despite the inclement conditions, the Nuts Cup, the annual ladies' kayak race, was held in calm waters and an absence of wind.
Seven kayaks took up the challenge and after much shouting of encouragement, a dead heat occurred between Marilyn White, Donna Rhors and Ann Asker. Ann will hold the perpetual trophy for the next 12 months! The men, sadly, did not rise to the occasion and declined to have a men's race.
Many of the yachts, particularly those planning to sail home the next day, moved on to Croudace Bay and a huge crowd of 38 "yachties" had dinner at the Bowling Club. When instantly directed to our table, one of our Club members was heard to ask the waitress how she knew we were on that particular reserved table. She was very quick to respond, "Well, sir, you just look like yachties: those jackets, boat shoes and that torch - a dead give-away!" Another fun night and goodbye to seven yachts due to leave early the next morning to catch a high tide and a bridge opening at 7am.
Most turned right to sail home to Pittwater, a couple turned left to sail to Newcastle to join the YNSW get-together with CYCA, CCCA and Newcastle CYC to discuss general matters of interest to cruisers. It was flattering to learn that RPAYC's cruising activity is well regarded - even envied - by the other clubs.
Some stayed behind for another lovely day on Lake Macquarie.
What a wonderful week of pristine surroundings, some great sailing, good companionship and lots of fun and laughter. A big thanks to all those involved in the planning and execution of this great annual event of the "Alfred's Cruisers"!
Photo credits: Leon Wilson, Rob Starkey, Marius Coomans