Sunday, 22 May 2016

Tweed to Grafton and back or Cap Rails to Hatch Covers, Groundings and Sunsets.

The Ivory marina at Tweed Heads is a top spot to hang around and fairly cheap for this area!  The pontoons are attached to a pub with cold beer and $10 rump steaks!  It has some disadvantages with some noisy nights but it really hasn't bothered us too much.  It's also a fairly short bike ride to a couple of shopping centres.

When Terry got back from Adelaide we got stuck into the cap rails.  They are the wooden (teak) bits that go all the way around the perimeter of the boat separating the dry from the wet.  The main rule in sailing is to stay on the dry area inside the cap rail as nasty things can happen if you stray onto the wet.

The cap rails had taken a beating over the years with nicks and scratches allowing sea water to the bare wood in places.  This caused the varnish to lift around the damage allowing more water to enter.  Then mould got a foothold and it was not possible to do repairs.  Yep, we should have looked after it better.

We stripped it back to bare wood which sounds easy but took much sweat and tears.  Some of it came off easily (fingernail underneath and pull) but other bits were very tenacious. A mix of scraping with a tungsten blade and a heat gun we found to be the easiest way to get the stubborn bits off.

Then sanding with 80 grit, 120 grit and finally 240 grit paper until it was as smooth and flat as we could get it.  It was all wiped down then on with 6 coats of Marine Spar gloss varnish (Feast Watson).  We stopped at 6 because we wanted to do some sailing :-)

We also tried an oil finish (Intergrain Ultradeck) on the teak handrails which worked really well and also left a glossy finish.  Three coats were enough and the beauty of this is that it is not a varnish so we should never have to go back to bare wood again!

So we went sailing...  And here's a link to the track we took.  It should open in Google Earth. Ballina to Grafton and back to Tweed Heads

When we initially came north, we wanted to stop in at Yamba and cruise up the Clarence river but the bar when we arrived at the river entrance, we hove-to on the leads and watched the swells breaking over the bar.  It didn't look promising and when we heard from the local marine rescue that the fishing trawlers were not going out, we chickened out and carried on overnight to the Gold Coast seaway instead.  But we always knew we'd be back as the Clarence is supposed to be well worth a visit.

So we headed out from Tweed Heads south for the Clarence.  The first leg took us to Ballina where we stayed for a couple of days.  The anchorage is on the opposite side of the Richmond River from the town and was a bit tricky to get into.  There was a dredge working and the outflow pipe was right across the entrance but we figured it out in the end and dropped the anchor.

Ballina is a really nice spot!  There's a public jetty right in the centre of town (supposed to be 2 hours only but we eventually found out it doesn't apply to dinghies) and the river front is a nice, peaceful place with some quite interesting sculptures.

We left Ballina behind us and headed down to Yamba/Iluka and the Clarence.

First stop over the bar was the Iluka boat harbour.  This is quite shallow but large enough to be able to find a spot pretty easily. We stayed for a couple of days before arranging for a bridge opening at Harwood and moving on up the river.

The Harwood bridge is a lifting span bridge which means a chunk of road is lifted vertically up to allow shipping through.  The road is actually the Pacific Highway which is the major road between Sydney and Brisbane!  I actually felt a bit guilty holding up all that traffic while we tootled along under the bridge at 5 knots.  Sorry folks. (P.S. Terry here... I didn't feel guilty at all.... THE POWER!!) :D

The first stop upstream from the bridge was Maclean. This is a really interesting town with a fervent Scottish heritage.  They provide a public floating dock right next to the main street with room for two 40' boats with water and free electricity where you can stay for a max of 24 hours or longer if there are no other boats waiting to get on.

A great facility and a credit to the town!  They are planning to build another one from what I can gather and good on them!

I'm sure Terry will tell you all about the bagpipes on Anzac day :-)

We moved on up the river to Brushgrove next.  On the way, we passed a few prawn trawlers and every single one of them seemed to have a heron on the arms holding the net!  Weird..

Brushgrove is a small village on a fork in the river and another public dock.  No water or power this time so we dropped the anchor instead and spent some time dawdling around before heading off again.  There was a quite spectacular sunrise on the second day with the river covered in mist.

Bridge at Brushgrove

Misty morning at Brushgrove
Sens de la Vie (Meaning of Life) floating in the mist

Next stop was Ulmarra.  This is a really nice town with a great pub close to the floating dock and some great people.  We anchored opposite the town for another couple of nights and noticed this nice looking boat anchored just up from us.  It actually belongs to Alan Lucas who wrote the definitive anchorage guide to the NSW and Queensland coasts.  The two books we own of his (Cruising the NSW coast and Cruising the Coral coast) have enabled us to get into some really nice spots and helped enormously with local knowledge almost all the way up the coast.  Both are really worth having!

You don't see this every day either!

From here we carried on all the way to Grafton which is as far as we could go due to the fixed span bridge there.  We anchored initially close to the bridge and took the dinghy under the bridge (about a mile or so) to a public dock next to a pub (of course!) by the rowing club.  Grafton is a big town and it even had a Bunnings.  We needed that because we noticed our anchor light at the top of the mast had failed and the lantern we use on the back of the boat at night had basically rusted away.  Bunnings had a good quality waterproof "indestructible" lantern which we've been using since.  And we actually remembered to keep the receipt because it has a 3-year warranty :-)

I climbed the mast and to check out the light but  no amount of cursing or percussive maintenance helped.  I've never seen this type of light before and for once, we didn't carry a spare (Jack?).  We'll make do till we get back to Tweed Heads and figure out what to replace it with.

Masthead anchor light

We spent about a week in Grafton all told with a few trips into town and some bike rides.  We also posted off our Nikon camera for repair from there.  It's the second time it's been in for repair and we are not happy about it.  Some of the photos were showing coloured artefacts at the top and bottom.  We noticed it clearly in Brushgrove after looking at the misty morning photos although Sarah had noticed it while we were still in Adelaide over Christmas.  Anyway, I hope this is the last time we have to get it fixed!

There's a power line just downstream of Grafton which was a bit scary..  Having worked close to power lines before, I did not want our mast anywhere near them!  We have a masthead to waterline height of 15 meters which I physically measured back in Botany Bay.  The charts showed the power line clearance at 19 meters but as we got close to it, the sign said 17..  I know you need to keep at least 2m away from 128kv lines so I was panicking a bit till I read the sign properly.  It said "Max vessel height" so we still had at least 4m clearance.

17m Maximum Vessel height

I don't want to get much closer than this to high voltage wires!

It got pretty foggy on the anchorage the last night we were there!

You can clearly see the artefacts in this photo!
We pulled up the anchor and headed back down river stopping at the same places as before but using the pontoons and sampling the pubs (when they were open) this time.

Back in Maclean, we took up the offer from one of the locals to have a walk through a remnant of temperate rain forest on his property.  He was a Pom and had bought the block of land a long time ago building a road up to the top of the hill and a house there.  He's actually selling the block at the moment as they need to move to a more manageable house but it's way more than we could look at.  It's an absolutely magnificent property though! Some red cedar trees for which the Clarence valley was once famous, large gum trees with a closed canopy above and lots of vines and ferns.  There's a couple of waterfalls and two spring fed creeks a dam and lots of birds and a great view from the house.  Awesome.

That's Maclean on the other side of the river

From Maclean, we booked another bridge opening (thanks again folks) and motored down to Yamba this time (instead of Iluka).  There's a training wall on the Yamba side of the river with two openings and they both look similar on the charts.  I decided that we would go through the first one we came to as the second meant doubling back.  That turned out to be a pretty stupid mistake!

As we approached it, we both started to get a bit nervous.  It was very narrow..  The main chart showed the depth through there at 2m, the navionics app on our tablet showed it at 1.5m and Lucas had it at 1.1m.  The tide was around 0.8m so worst case I figured the actual depth at the time would be 1.9m.  We draw 1.6 or so meaning we would have at least a foot below the keel.  Pretty tight but shallow water is nothing new to us so we slowed down and went through at about 1 knot.   We were nearly through with the depth sounder showing 2m when we both felt a thud.  The rock wall was obviously not fully removed in the gap and we had touched it!
Don't go through this gap!

Not a nice feeling I can tell you as we both listened for the bilge pump starting up.  We have a full keel with a very solid base so I was not overly worried but it did raise my heart rate up somewhat.  We were kept busy then as we felt our way through the very shallow channel into the Yamba marina where we had booked a night for a good shower.  I told the chap at the marina our story and he said "We really need to put a sign on that gap as it's caught a few people out".   At least I'm not the only idiot sailing around :-).  So I now have yet another scary "whoops" moment to add to the list of things my brain wants me to relive as I'm trying to sleep!

We'll get the keel checked out by Matt (the resident diver) at Ivory Marina when we berth there later this week.

We motored over to Iluka the next day to get a quicker start out through the bar heading back to Tweed Heads.  The other gap was much bigger!

We left Iluka through the bar at dawn the following day (sorry Terry) and headed back to Ballina.  Not much wind but it was in the right spot early on to get the asymmetric (reacher) out and we made good time under sail for about 3 hours.  Then the wind turned to much to the south and died so we motor sailed the rest of the day.

We had been into Ballina before and it was very calm when we arrived.  We turned into the anchorage and headed around to where we anchored last time but went a tad too wide and ran up into a steep mud bank.  Grounded again (a regular occurrence..) with about a 10 degree list to starboard.  The tide was rising so it wasn't a big issue but the wind was pushing us further into the shallows so I dropped the dinghy, grabbed the kedge anchor and took it off to windward as far as I could.  Terry got right onto the winch and like a real grinder, winched us off.  We sheepishly took off again and anchored for the night.

There are two types of sailors from all accounts.  Those who admit they have run aground and those that lie.

We left Ballina at dawn (sorry Terry) and motor sailed back down to Tweed heads and anchored on the river just north of the golf course.  It's a nice spot but very shallow on the way in.  I think we touched the ground again at one point.  Just a hint of hesitation with the shallow alarm going off and the sounder reading near enough zero.  Ho hum..

One of the jobs on my list is the cabin hatch covers.  They are all looking a bit sad so I removed the mid hatch cover the day and sanded it back to bare wood on the outside and cleaned it up on the inside.  I've now got three coats of varnish on it and I'll put another two coats on tomorrow.  Fixing boats in exotic places.  The very definition of cruising in a yacht!

So, we're back at Tweed and we have "done the Clarence"!  It wasn't really what we expected in the end.  It was a really nice bit of slow travel with good facilities and we met some very interesting people.  But the river passed through farming country when I think we expected national parks.  Maybe we were spoiled by Broken Bay which we would go back to again and again.

We go back into the Ivory marina in a couple of days before we fly back to Adelaide and head over to the UK.

Some more sunsets and sunrises on the Tweed River for your enjoyment :-)

Phew, up to date finally!

(Terry here again... HE'S up to date. I'm absolutely, sadly lacking in the old update department. I have this major problem with procrastination, something i really must deal with one of these days. :)  )

Location: Grafton NSW 2460, Australia
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