Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Gold Coast to Sydney - A Sail down Australia's East Coast

It seemed a little abrupt to leave so suddenly, but a weather window opened up, and if we wanted to be in Sydney for New Year, we had to leave the Gold Coast on Boxing Day (Dec 26th).  So we moved back onto Cool Runnings and early on Monday, December 26th, headed out the Gold Coast Seaway, into the Coral Sea.  It had been a while since we were out at sea, and the first couple of hours were pretty rough on us all!  The sea was confused and Cool Runnings was bashing and banging her way through it all!

We love seeing the kangaroo crossing sign...even in the water!
We saw this as we were leaving Coomera Waters Marina where we had kept the boat over Christmas  

Saying farewell to the Gold Coast

We had originally thought of doing the trip in one go, which would have taken 2 days and 2 nights, but after our rough start, we decided to stop for the first night (and, as it turned out, we stopped each night, enjoying experiencing a bit of this coast).  Our first stop was Ballina, and once again, we had to negotiate a bar entrance.  The section in the Cruising Guide that talks about the Ballina bar is as follows:  "...the navigator being warned that breaking waves can carry onto the end of both breakwaters, catching a vessel on her beam if conditions are not ideal"  (ref:  Cruising the New South Wales Coast by Alan Lucas pg 318).  Hmmm...great....oh well...we didn't feel like sailing through the night, so we radioed Marine Rescue Ballina, and asked about the condition of the bar.  The kind voice on the radio told us that the entrance was not too bad, and the swell was coming in at 10 second intervals, and that a vessel of our size should not have a problem entering.  We decided to cross, and Dave had fun surfing the swell into the river and it was not a problem getting across the bar!

Sunrise in Ballina
We spent a calm night in a lovely anchorage and set off early again the next morning.   We were escorted by dolphins early in the morning, surfing our bow waves. It never gets old, watching those dolphins just having fun, turning their heads to have a look and smile at us, looking down at them from the bow!  At around 6:00pm, we decided to pull in at Coffs Harbor, and were lucky enough to pick up a courtesy mooring buoy.  We had enough time to take the dinghy ashore and take a quick walk up to the head on Muttonbird Island and then treated ourselves to a burger at a little restaurant in the harbor.

Coffs Harbor at sunset.  View from Muttonbird Island.  

Gaby on one of the new concrete blocks they are placing along the breakwater.  The marina was destroyed a few years ago by a storm and is only just getting back on its feet
Another early morning the next day saw us motoring in the morning, but then we were able to put up the spinnaker, and we had a great sail most of the way.  With the assistance of the East Australian Current, we were doing speeds of up to 10 knots, and covered a distance of almost 100 miles this day!  In the evening, we stopped at Crowdy Head, the tiniest harbor we've ever been to!  The cruising guide had mentioned a visitor jetty, but we radioed the VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue), and were told to take a berth on the fishing boat jetty.  Unfortunately, we were just too wide to fit into the fishing boat berth, so we were wondering what to do.  This harbor is seriously small...no room to anchor...in fact, it is forbidden.  Locals on shore shouted to us to pull up to another jetty that looked newer and berth there.  They were very helpful in assisting us with docking, and soon we were tied up and set for the night!  We chatted with the locals, who obviously did not often have boats come in here, and then took a walk up to the lighthouse.  We've been delighting in seeing these beautiful, old lighthouses on the headlands that jut out into the sea.  There are 2 stories about how Crowdy Head got its name.  The cruising guide said that the headland was named "Crowded Head", by Captain Cook after noticing a crowd of aborigines on the headland, when he passed by on the "Endevour" in 1770.  The sign at the lighthouse said it was named after a gentleman (I can't remember exactly who it was) named Crowdy, but when I researched it, I could only find the reference to Captain Cook, so who knows how it really got it's name!  Either way, the lighthouse is beautiful, and is one of many built by James Barnet in 1870-80.

The Lighthouse at Crowdy Head

Gaby and Dave in the tiny Crowdy Head harbor.  Cool Runnings is on the right

We left Crowdy Head by 5:30am on the morning of December 29th, and as usual, spent the morning motoring.  Once the wind came through at about 11:00am, we were able to put up the spinnaker, and sailed the rest of the way.  Our stop this evening was in Newcastle, where we arrived at around 6:30pm.  Newcastle is the largest coal exporting harbor in the world, and from the sea, it looked terrible.  We saw a big, industrial port, and were not thrilled to pull in here for the night.  However, we were most pleasantly surprised, and, after tying up the visitor jetty, we found a delightful waterfront area with restaurants, bars and hotels.

Our floating home peacefully tied up in Newcastle

Leaving Newcastle at dawn

Another early morning saw us leaving Newcastle at dawn, as we headed down the coast, to our final destination, Sydney.  We had been in touch with Bruce and Lyn Savage, and so, as we approached Pittwater, they were able to pick us up on the AIS signal, and they left to sail the last 20 miles with us into Sydney Harbor.  We spent the first night anchored near Manly, and hooked up with Bruce and Lyn's friends, Joe and Belinda de Kock, who were there for New Year's on their boat, and then we all went over to Watson's Bay to rendezvous with Clynton and Lisa Wade-Lehman, another sailing friend of Dave and Bruce's.  In fact, Clynton was also on the 1996 South African Olympic Sailing Team, so now we had 3 out of the 5 team members together again after 20+ years!  We had a great dinner together, old friends and new ones, 14 people altogether with kids.

December 31st dawned with grey skies, and rain threatening all day.  We got up early and decided to take Cool Runnings over to Rose Bay, which is where we had all decided to watch the fireworks from.  As we rounded one of the headlands, we got our first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House and the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge!  Seeing those two landmarks, made it real for me:  we were actually in Sydney, Australia, and we would be watching the world famous fireworks that night!  Rose Bay was not the closest spot to the bridge, but we still had a clear view of it, and we had decided that we would rather be a little further back and enjoy the evening, than be right up close and have to deal with the masses of boats that were anchored closer up, along with the washing machine effect of the ferries that were zooming around between Circular Quay and the numerous ferry stops on the other side of the harbor.

One of our first views of the bridge, Sydney Opera House and a ferry!
This was pretty much our view for New Years Eve celebrations

A few hours after anchoring, JoliFou arrived with Lyn's parents, Keith and Merle, and Bruce's mom, Joliet on board.  JoliFou rafted up to Cool Runnings, and a little while later, Joe and Belinda arrived and tied up to the other side.  The kids were thrilled to finally have a raft up!  Around lunchtime, Clynton and Lisa arrived on "the Turtle", their beautiful, old wooden sailing boat.  In all the time they had owned it, they had never raised the sails, but decided that this was a good time to do it, so we were very privileged to be a part of the momentous occasion of the raising of Turtle's sails!  Ben and Gaby also got a chance to go for a sail around Sydney Harbor in the Turtle, impressing Ben so much, that he has asked if he and Dave could build a boat like it when we get back home!

The Turtle's sails go up...

And she's off!!

Benjamin LOVED his sail on the Turtle!

Dave climbed the mast to get this view of our 3 boat raft up!

Raft up from the front...see those dark skies?!!

The grey day continued and it looked threatening, but it never did rain!  The first show of fireworks came on at 9:00pm, and was spectacular in itself.  Then just before midnight, you could see the count down projected on the stone columns on the bridge ....10...9...8...7...6...5...4...3...2...1.....HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  We watched in amazement as one of the most spectacular fireworks shows played out in front of us.  The show payed tribute to David Bowie, Gene Wilder and Prince as Purple Rain flowed down from Sydney Harbor Bridge.  The display used 7 tons of fireworks, 100,000 pyrotechnic effects and took 500 hours to prepare.  Not only did the fireworks erupt from the bridge itself, but also from 7 barges around the harbor.  It was truly spectacular, a "once in a lifetime" experience for the Hibberds!!

Our beautiful Dancing Queen, Lyn Savage and Dave (excuse the hair), enjoying the festivities

Gaby and Ben get into the spirit of the evening!!

Pictures were difficult to take and you can't capture the amazing fireworks, but here are some attempts!

More fireworks...I also took some video...please see the short clip below

Once it was all over, it was a sight to see many of the estimated 4,000 boats on the water head back to their respective homes, marinas and anchorages, and the ferries carried hundreds of passengers back to their points of origin.  The water was alive and for us, it marked a new chapter in our journey...a whole new ocean to cross and more places to see!  What adventures lie ahead of us in 2017?!

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