Gwen Roberts – Christmas Cruise 2009-2010

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By David Roberts

clip_image002Just after midday on 30 December, Janet, our friend Graham Wells and I departed RPAYC for Port Jackson. The wind was about 12 knots from the south at the time of our departure and the barometer was reading 1026. By the time we arrived at Barrenjoey the wind had increased to 20 knots and so we had the wind on the nose all the way to the harbour. After anchoring at 17.20 hours at Quarantine Beach we settled for the evening and had a pleasant meal.

We decided on an early start, particularly for Janet, at 07.00 hours. The wind direction had turned to the north but because we were only getting 4 - 6 knots, we were destined to motor to Wollongong Harbour, where we arrived at 14.30 hours. The Harbour at Wollongong is in reality, very tiny and packed with fishing boats being a mixture of long liners and trawlers both large and small. We chose to raft up against a long liner. Fortuitously, being the Christmas/New year vacation, we were informed it would be unlikely we would need to move in the very early hours.

clip_image004New Year's evening was spent pleasantly, in the harbour. Later in the evening immense crowds lined the foreshore. We walked down to the sea wall and joined the locals for their fireworks display. It was a stunning display, may be because we were so close. The festivities concluded much earlier than in Sydney and we were grateful for that. We had a comfortable night in the harbour and it was not too noisy.

On New Year's day we departed at 07.30 hours. The wind was fickle, although the barometer was lower. Our early morning reading was 1018, but at 17.50 hours the glass had dropped to 1013. Our original intention was to travel to Jervis Bay, where we proposed anchoring for the night. Nevertheless, we had reached Sir John Young Banks by 13.00 hours, so we decided to continue on to Ulladulla. By this time the wind had increased to 15+ knots and at one point actually reaching 25 knots from 010M. Consequently, we had a brisk sail in the afternoon, at which time it became necessary to shorten the main. We were aware that a cold front was expected late on New Years Day and it was clearly visible as we arrived at Ulladulla.

The scenery down the coast, particularly approaching Kiama is magnificent. There are rolling hills of vividly green pastures sloping down to the cliffs above the shoreline. This is prime diary country. Further south there are the beaches, including Seven Mile Beach near Geroa. Passing Jervis Bay there are dramatic cliffs and of course Point clip_image006Perpendicular at the entrance of Jervis Bay standing out boldly. Continuing our route south from Jervis Bay, Pigeon House Mountain stands out conspicuously and we noted this was one of Captain Cook's famous landmarks.


Upon our arrival at Ulladulla Harbour, the only place for us to moor was just inside the Southern sea wall where a significantly large long liner and a small ex Navy ship, which bore the name, M.V. Banks, were already moored. Also, when we arrived, the tide was at its lowest ebb. The tides this time of the year are considerable in magnitude and so we found it necessary to climb a significant distance up a vertical stainless ladder from our deck, onto the apron extending from the sea wall. The piles adjacent to the apron and the sea wall are fitted with a stiff solid black compound, with the result that scuff marks on the hull were inevitable, even with barge boards. There is significant movement in Ulladulla Harbour, notwithstanding the break walls. Furthermore, when mooring during the night, sufficient len gths of warp need to be extended to allow for the rise and fall in the tide and so during the night our yacht drifted fore and aft of the piles.

During the evening it rained quite heavily. I fitted our side curtains to our bimini, thus keeping the wet weather well and truly outside our saloon. The rain did not seem to deter the multitude of fishermen on the seawall. They seemed oblivious to everything but their futile need to fish. For example, when we first berthed, we clearly represented a total inconvenience to them, even though we were berthing at a wharf. Not one soul offered to help with our lines, even though we were many feet below the wharf apron.

clip_image008During the next two days, the weather had set in from the south, so we remained in Ulladulla. To our relief the long liner which initially was moored between us and the M.V. Banks departed and so we moved from our exposed position on the northern end of the southern breakwater, to where the only other vertical ladder was situated. Some friends of Janet's and mine happened to be visiting Mollymook at the time, so it was a good opportunity to catch up with them for a tour by car around Ulladulla, King Point and Mollymook, before having afternoon tea with them at their holiday flat. The next day we shopped for some provisions and Janet had her first experience shopping at Aldi's.

Our cruising plan contemplated visiting Eden, if we could achieve this in our travelling time. Accordingly, we were anxious to continue south. The sea, we knew was a little unsettled and so we thought it best to make an early start. At 06.15, the glass was at 1025 and the wind seemed to be from 300 at 03 knots. Once we were at sea, the wind was variable from SSE to NNE at 10 - 15 knots and about a 2 metre swell. It was overcast and foggy towards land; not a nice day. By 10.00 hours our spirits were raised when a pod of dolphins decided to join us. They were so skilful, in the way they darted in and around vessels.

At 12.30 hours we arrived at Batemans Bay Marina. We were fortunate, we were told, to obtain a berth at the marina, as we had chosen the busiest time to arrive there. The marina is of an old fashioned style with fixed piles. No floating wharves here. I was told there are plans to upgrade in the future. We enjoyed the onshore showering facilities and walked into town, about a kilometre away. Graham and I continued to walk two or three kilometres south because I was seeking to replace a fuse we had blown while operating our computer through an inverter. We were directed to an automotive store but we were unable to obtain what we sought. Upon returning to town, we decided to visit "Dick Smith's". To my absolute astonishment I was informed that this store did not stock fuses.

On 5 January we looked up BOM on the net and it seemed the weather was continuing from the south. Accordingly, we considered Batemans Bay to be a most pleasant place to remain. Furthermore, I had always wanted to visit Nelligen (pronounced with a hard "g"), to the west, up the Clyde River. This is a quaint little village, where the population multiplies enormously on the weekends, especially in the summer, when water skiers visit. At Nelligen, there is a road bridge constituting a barrier for masted vessels such as Gwen Roberts. This bridge however constitutes an eastern boundary beyond which the water skiers are not permitted to pass and so vessels can anchor on the eastern side in some comfort.

clip_image010There are two obstacles to masted vessels travelling west of the Princes Highway in Batemans Bay; firstly, the Princes Highway bridge and secondly, overhead high voltage transmission lines about 1.5 km upstream, which at their lowest point on hot days and at spring tides give 15 metres clearance.

clip_image012We arranged our bridge opening at 11-50 hours after contacting the bridge operator, details of whom are provided in "Cruising the New South Wales Coast"; Lucas. The bridge duly opened at about full spring tide. I don't think the operator opened it sufficiently and so we were warned off. I then telephoned the bridge operator and a further opening was arranged at 14.00 hours, so then we passed through. Incidentally, the bridge operator advised that the bridge opening height differed from that published by Lucas, and was 52' above the road height and one should allow a further 3 metres below the bridge span.

As to the next obstacle, the transmission lines, I recalled from my visit to Batemans Bay in 2000, a colleague from MHYC sailed his Jutson designed yacht having a taller rig than "Gwen Roberts", upstream to Nelligen . On this trip I naturally spoke with the locals, particularly the Marina operator. I was assured that provided I maintain a course as close as the depth of the river would permit, to the southern shore, there would be ample room to navigate safely under the transmission lines. We were also advised that as we spoke, a 50 footer had just passed through the Princes Highway bridge and was at Nelligan. To be sure, to be sure, we then returned to Gwen Roberts and perused the yacht's data from maintenance manuals. All I could locate concerning the height of the yacht, was the "I" measurement. Not being a racing sailor, I had long forgotten the definition, even though it was so basic. I telephoned a friend, who didn't k now but suggested I ring a rigger we both had used. But it was Christmas vacation. I then phoned a couple of sail makers but could not get an answer, so having the computer on board, luckily at that stage with sufficient battery power, I Googled sailmakers and a kind gentleman from Rolly Taskers explained to me that the "I" measurement is the distance from the deck (as opposed to the top of the trunk cabin) to the top of the mast. Our "I" measurement was 14.65m., so by adding another 1.5m. from the water, we decided our height was 16.15m.

Accordingly, we ventured up the Clyde and were pleasantly rewarded for our efforts. The Clyde is sufficiently deep for most of the RPAYC cruising vessels. An indication of depths is published by Lucas. Much of the land on either bank was national park with isolated farms. Numerous oyster leases were situated in the shallows on either side of the river.

In the evening of 5 January, it had turned cold and we had a considerable down pour of rain. As always it was very cosy in the yacht. Janet and Graham did some fishing while I relaxed and continued reading a book in which I had become quite riveted. At about 22.30 hour there was quite some excitement when Janet caught a silver bream. It became a nice meal for her and Graham and I watched her, jealously.

clip_image014After spending time in Nelligen village on 6 January, we motored in the inflatable dinghy under the road bridge at Nelligen past a number of camps where groups of water skiers had gathered. The Clyde River continues to be navigable for some considerable distance as a wide and significant river. We only travelled up river for about one hour, when we decided to return to the yacht to relax and read.

We had another relaxing night in Nelligen and departed down river at 07.15 hours in order to ensure we had as much clearance as possible under the transmission lines near Batemans Bay, at low tide. We then anchored just west of the Princes Highway bridge, at 08.05 hours to await the bridge opening at 11.50 hours. It was a cool overcast morning. We all went shopping in town and I continued my unsuccessful attempt to locate a fuse for my cigarette socket.

clip_image016After passing through the bridge at 11.50 hours, there was still, we thought, insufficient water over the bar, so we anchored again on the eastern side of the bridge until 13.00 hours. We passed Tollgate Island at about 13.30 hours in a breeze from 90M @ 10 knots. The breeze, as we headed north, remained on the nose at between 10 and 12 knots, so we had a pleasant motor sail, reaching Ulladulla Harbour at 18.30 hours. It was overcast and cool as we headed north. At Ulladulla we fitted our barge boards and were able to berth against the same place on the wharf, from which we had left a few days earlier. It seemed all the fishermen were continuing, with futility, their endeavours to catch fish.

We spent two relaxing days in Ulladulla, while the outside sea was a bit lumpy. Three Sydney/Hobart yachts also came in and sheltered while we were relaxing. Janet and I walked to Mollymook beach from the harbour and visited the Mollymook Golf Club. The following day we visited the Ex Servos where thongs seemed to be fashion of the day.

On 10 January we made a start at 06.00 hours, having breakfast on the way. Meanwhile, there was much activity, dockside, while the locals were setting up a market. The wind was variable @ 3 knots and there was a swell of about 1 metre. The wind was quite fickle throughout the morning from about 130M ranging from about 4 - 9 knots, So our trusty Volvo sail moved us along quickly but not necessarily efficiently. At midday we were met by a pod of dolphins at Werri Beach. From about 14.00 hours the wind increased to about 10 - 12 knots, so we motor sailed. We passed Wollongong at 16.00 hours, when the wind finally strengthened sufficiently to sail without the assistance of the Volvo sail. We passed Scarborough at 18.00 hours and arrived at Jibbon Beach at 21.00 hours after 3 hours of quite exhilarating sailing into a fresh nor easter. Visibility was poor during the afternoon with a haze limiting same to about 4 - 5 miles towards land. It was also overcast, so after end of daylight, it was very dark. Because of the dark, we furled our sails well out from Jibbon Beach. As we motored in towards the beach the cardinal mark stood out and we could see numerous masthead lights from vessels which were variously moored on the 6 moorings provided and others were anchored. We quickly anchored and Janet rustled up some warm food, and so we felt somewhat revived. It had been a long day, so we all slept soundly.

On the morning of 11th, we awoke to a relatively clear sky. The glass was at 1022, just slightly higher than the previous day. Jibbon revealed itself to us for just what it was, a snug safe and picturesque shelter from southerly seas. We had experienced a very comfortable night. Should we have wished to swim and relax further, this appeared to us to be the perfect spot. Nevertheless, we were not very far from home and home does beckon after a period away. Accordingly, at 7.00am we weighed anchor and headed north under the Volvo sail with the main to give us some stability. The sea presented a lumpy swell and some short little waves. Southerly winds had been forecast and we would really enjoyed them, but our wind persisted in coming from the north at between 10 and 15 knots. We passed Coogee at 09.00; Port Jackson at 10.00 and rounded Barrenjoey at 13.00. After rounding Barrenjoey, we finally had a brilliant sail to America's Bay, where we arrived at 14.30 hours.

While we missed the company of other RPAYC cruising colleagues, we wanted to embark on our own adventure south. One can be well rewarded for heading in this direction. The scenery is completely different but facilities for cruising yachts have not caught up with the facilities available as one sails north from Sydney. For example, such marinas as exist are archaic and our experience was, berthing facilities are not necessarily readily obtainable. All this, in my view means that it would be a challenging exercise for a large group of yachts to cruise in company in a southerly direction, if ones objective is day sailing with stopovers each night.

On the other hand, to venture south either alone or in company with one or two other yachts could auger for an awesome yachting experience.

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