We're on the third anchorage of our Iluka-Tasmania tour.
We started our last day in Iluka wondering if the weather forecast was really right for us to leave, or if we should wait a few days for a better window. But then we had a get-together with a few of our Iluka friends at the pub, and said goodbye, and made ourselves feel completely awful, and then we were bound and determined to leave.
Nothing is so awkward as bidding a tearful goodbye to someone and then bumping into them at the grocery store the next day.
We motored down the Clarence River at dawn and took a right hand turn when we reached the ocean. Every mile we travel from that point on will take us further south than we have ever been on Pelagic.
We reached Coffs Harbour after a long day. Coffs is an artificial harbor, created in part by a giant causeway that joins Muttonbird Island to the mainland. "Muttonbirds" are several species of shearwaters whose chicks get so fat in the nest that they are a traditional food in the Antipodes. My Inner Biologist, the one who is no longer suprised at the conservation disasters of the world, looked at that name on the chart and said out loud, "Well, there won't be any muttonbirds there any more."
Wrong again! There are thousands of muttonbird nests on Muttonbird Island, and a nice paved walking track that takes you right through the heart of the colony. From the top of the island you look back over Coffs to verdant valleys disappearing into the rainclouds that occasionally drape the east coast of Australia this time of year. And the marina in Coffs Harbour has this nice flow through feature from the waves breaking on the causeway that keeps the marina so clean that we could stand on a walkway and look down on a sea turtle grazing on macro algae inside the marina.
All that, plus there was a great beach where Elias really rode waves on his boogie board for the first time.
We left after one day, the perfect length of a stay if you want to keep a utopian opinion of a place.
The famed East Australian current, which is supposed to make southward sailing an exercise in trying to slow your boat down, has been nowhere in evidence. So the 70-odd mile trip from Coffs to Port Macquarie took all day and then some.
We woke at 0430, made it out of the marina at 0500, and then motored south for eight hours, hand steering all the way. The wind finally came up, but so did the swell. With ten miles to go I took down most of the sail so that we'd reach the bar at the correct stage of tide. With little speed, we rolled viciously, dipping one side of the boat and then the other into the seas that came sweeping down on our beam.
Alisa was gamely trying to take on all of the Elias care so that I could concentrate on the boat, but reading "A Year On Our Farm" for the 18th time while fighting off nausea was nearly more than her maternal instinct could bear.
-Oi, she said to me. I can't remember a time when this kind of sailing was fun.
-Fun? I said. Never! This kind of sailing was never fun! I'm not pregnant, and it still isn't fun.
We reached Port Macquarie and went through the "stranger" cruiser routine: pick out the leads to the bar with binoculars, come screaming in past the breakwater with the full flood tide behind you, speeding over the bottom at seven and a half knots with the engine just ticking over enough to give you steerage, trusting that you've figured out the chart correctly and so won't hit anything, then follow the reticulate little channel that leads through shoals to a little anchorage at the head of a creek, all the while guarding against the hazards that the locals know all about, but which are all mysterious to you.
I didn't realize how much that took out of me until Alisa said "Um, Mike" as I was rooting around in a locker for a mooring line after we had reached the anchorage. I had completely let my guard down after the long day, and was letting Pelagic drift right into a moored cat as I dug through the locker.
Port Macquarie (from the water) appears to be one of those places that has crossed a certain threshold so that it is more of an economy than a community. We took a mooring for the night, then woke at dawn, motored the 13 miles to Camden Haven, a sleepy place that looks to be more our style, and here we are, snuggly anchored for the 3 or 4 days of rough weather that is currently forecast.
That's Elias and me at lunch in Camden Haven today.