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Grafton Comings & Goings

Grafton Comings and Goings

(c) 2004 Dave & Penny Kerr

After great reports of cruising on the Clarence River, we planned Grafton as our cruising destination for January 2004. As usual complications arose fitting in with our children's holiday plans. By traveling along the Coast, we had plenty of choices of anchorages which crew could reach by train either from the North or South, so that there was less pressure of a deadline to reach a particular place at a certain time. Getting North was somewhat of a challenge with persistent strong Northerlies most of the time (at least, until it was time to come South again!)

Pastime set out from Pittwater on New Years Day- perhaps not ideal for the initial crew of (third) daughter and boy friend, who had let their hair down on New Years Eve, well into the following morning. A night spent in Newcastle Marina helped them to recover their spirits. This Marina is proving very useful in allowing a good Day- One sail to help crew find their sea legs. Before it opened, our Day- One trips were to Port Stephens, a bit too far for the comfort of any crew having an inclination to seasickness.

The next day saw Pastime making excellent time to Broughton Island for a most enjoyable few days at Coalshaft Bay swimming, fishing, exploring the island, and waiting for a good wind for the next leg to Camden Haven. Unfortunately, the Northerlies continued so we headed off once they got below 25-30kts. We tacked up well past Sugarloaf Point before the wind eased and gave us a better ride.

After an overnight stop at a very busy Tuncurry anchorage, Camden Haven provided a welcome chance for a quiet and convenient couple of days. We availed ourselves of the free facilities at the United Servicemens Club plus the good shops at Laurieton. Our first crew change took place- Penny arrived by train, after spending time supporting our youngest son who was competing in the 125 National Sailing Championships at Hervey Bay. Our daughter and boyfriend departed by train for Sydney.

We spent several pleasant days at Laurieton, then were fortunate to predict a short- lived southerly (totally missed by the weather bureau) which gave us a good trip to Coffs Harbour. Some days later an equally brief change allowed a fast trip to Yamba/ Iluka. With daylight left and a useful wind we sailed up the Clarence to spend the night in position for the opening of the Harwood Bridge which we had booked as we sailed towards Yamba.

We enjoyed navigating the beautiful Clarence. We had some concern that our draft of almost 2.1 metres could prove a problem, but with a careful eye on the very clear navigational aids, and on the tide, we experienced no difficulty. Some of the markers were different from those in the then- current but now updated Alan Lucas, but their replacements were quite clear. We made frequent use of the binoculars to allow early warning, and were most interested in one sign on the river- bank: TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT.  Fortunately, this was an aberration in an otherwise friendly part of the world.

Cable ferries, overhead power lines, a narrow channel which changes from one side of the river to the other, the Clarence has them all. Combine this with historical buildings and tranquil countryside, and the 40 nautical mile trip to Grafton is full of interest.

We anchored close to the bridge, off the public jetty near Girl Guides Place, in good time for the arrival of our eldest daughter and a friend, on holidays from Guernsey in the Channel Islands. They had come by train from Brisbane. We found later that they could have joined us at any of the towns along the river, as the train connects with a bus which serves the entire area. The water at that spot on the Clarence does not have much salt, though we discovered our LectraSan would still work, but on a much extended cycle (4 minutes per flush at 50amps). We noted that the frequent cows, bulls and sheep used the river without benefit of LectraSans or holding tanks!

The next few days passed quickly as we became acquainted with the graceful city of  Grafton, enjoyed a  Country music afternoon at the pub in Ulmarra, and discovered the Kerr tartan on a telegraph pole in Maclean. On our next trip to the Clarence, we will spend more time at Maclean, to explore its interesting background and to make more use of convenient facilities. With a jetty which allows boats to tie up for a couple of hours, a laundromat opposite, supermarket close by and a range of other shops, it is much handier than Grafton itself.

Our visitors left to catch their train to Sydney, and we set off on our return to Sydney. We had to motor most of the way back down the river to Iluka. We had a slight surprise when the bridge at Harwood opened 15 minutes early to accommodate a vessel under tow. We were in the area already, but were timing our approach to pass under the bridge at the agreed time, so had to put our foot down to get through. We went to Iluka where we were interested to note that Waterways have removed the public moorings (because of liability concerns). However we were able to anchor in a very snug spot. Pastime's waterline had become fouled with brown sludge and slime from the Clarence and it took some hours to clean it all off.

We had to wait at Iluka for favourable winds, and as on many of our trips suffered for the weather bureau's inaccuracies when we set out in pouring rain to take advantage of a predicted 15 knot Northerly and instead weathered a 35-45 knot Southerly. It was not  safe to recross the bar, so we hove- to for about five hours until the wind became manageable. We then tacked all the way down arriving well after our predicted time. We were pleased to reach Coffs Harbour safely and again waited there for the wind to come around. Once it did, we had a very fast sail. We had an excellent broad reach in over 30kts of wind. The belated strong wind warning arrived many hours after the wind itself. We averaged 7kts reaching Pittwater in less than two days with an overnight stop at Coalshaft Bay.

We spent eight enjoyable days on the Clarence, and were struck by how few other boats were there. This is a beautiful waterway, visited by several in our club but not, it would seem, by the general sailing community. It deserves a higher profile. Likewise, Coalshaft Bay at Broughton Island is a place we often skipped but is fantastic in summer North Easters.

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