Saturday, 27 April 2013

Starved of kids!

We've met only one other boat with kids on it in the more than 3 months since leaving Hobart. So the kids have at times been pretty starved of time with other kids. This situation has been firmly defeated in the last few weeks in Port Macquarie however.

Ava takes Sam for a row
The kid drought breaks on Aratika 2
Purely through serendipity Em's sister and family were holidaying at nearby Bonny Hills for a week so we had a great time hanging out with them. The kids surfed, played games and generally carried on with their cousins. Also visiting Port in the same week were some great friends from Canberra and Coffs Harbour so we enjoyed the company of adults and kids alike.

The continuing theme of meeting really nice friendly people along the way has also continued in Port Macquarie as we were befriended by a local cheese maker and his family (Em's idea of heaven). So not only did we get to try some awesome local soft cheeses from the hills of nearby Comboyne but we also enjoyed some really great company. Ray, the cheese maker, is also a shipwright and has just brought a yacht down from Coffs Harbour to do up and sell.

More importantly they have three great kids that our girls have enjoyed playing with. They also introduced us to the locally brewed Black Duck beer, for which we are grateful. It's terrific to see small boutique cheese, beer etc being made here in Port Macquarie.

Of course the girls continue to be spoilt by grandparents, great grandparents and great uncles and aunts. Their Gran has had them building ginger bread houses, finishing school assignments and swimming at the local pool. They even scored a tennis lesson this week from their Great Uncle Peter.
The house just seconds before being devoured

Tennis Coaching
D'Arcy reads to her Great Grandparents
We also took the time this last week to do a fantastic walk here in Port Macquarie that runs about 10km along the beaches from Lighthouse Beach to Town. It must be one of the better day walks in Australia for sure.  Forest, beaches to swim at and a blue sky day made it a great outing.

Whomping Willow

On the walk
So we are really enjoying the fact that it is school holidays at the moment and the weather here is just superb. Blue skies, light winds and warm ocean days. We are looking North again now though and hope for a window to sail the 70nm up to Coffs Harbour in the next week or two. When we can line up tides, wind and swell we will set sail again. From there we will continue North and East to stay ahead of anything resembling winter.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Wash down, a new craze, koalas and school

For over three years now, which is as long as we've owned Aratika 2, I have promised Em a wash down pump. This would allow us to hose mud and gunk off the chain and anchor before it came on deck. Instead we have been using a bucket and mop and enduring a mud bath on deck in places like Bathurst Harbour and Recherché Bay to mention just a few sites of horror. So about 6 months ago we bought a pump from the US when our mates on Galactic did a big gear order and since then the pump has sat in its box in the bilge where it wasn't very effective!

Well at last this week I fitted the pump and to my relief it even works when we turn it on (an achievement for a technically challenged engineer such as myself!). So now we just need a muddy bottom anchorage to give it a really good test. Since leaving Hobart I've been pulling the anchor up while Em helms the boat as an incentive for me to fit the pump, but now I want to stay on the bow so I reap the rewards (and Em is probably a better helm anyway).

Wash Down! 
We've seen people on stand up paddle boards in places all the way along on our trip and Em has been coveting them, so while in Port Macquarie we've given it a go. A very generous local paddle boarder lent us his board for a week after we struck up a conversation with him (how's that for nice!) and since then we've embraced this new craze on Aratika 2 with gusto. Em even went and did a lesson which she really enjoyed.  So we are thinking of getting one as a second tender and fun craft.

A new tender? 

Which way?
We took a break from paddle boarding, doing school, wrestling with a myriad of boat jobs or swimming at the beach to visit the local koala hospital here in Port Macquarie. It was a great place, run by volunteers, that takes in and cares for injured and sick koalas. Many are returned to the wild after recovery and a few remain at the hospital if they can't return to the wild. We really enjoyed the daily guided tour and being able to see the koalas up close. Though it is sad to see that loss of habitat due to urban expansion, cars and dogs seem to be having such a negative impact on the koala population.
Koala hospital feeding time
It's been nice to be in a bit of a routine this last week and alongside a dock so the kids have been able to get off the boat each morning to do "daily fitness" before classes start. This week skipping has been the daily fitness activity of choice. Keeping up the girls schooling is certainly proving to be one of the biggest challenges of the trip for us so it was great to have a guest lecturer in the form of Gran to help out for the week. Particularly as she is actually a professional teacher, unlike us. Ava worked on rocks for a science project while D'Arcy focussed on spelling and learning to tell the time.

Daily fitness on the dock
Geology with Gran the guest lecturer
We will be here another week or so we think and are looking forward to friends and family visiting from Sydney and Canberra next week.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Port to Port

Sitting in the cockpit on our first morning in Port Stephens we were amazed to see a school of bait fish beside the boat being herded by what we think were Albacore Tuna. The Tuna were herding and eating the bait fish with whole Tuna jumping out of the water at times to dive down on their prey. At the same time terns swooped and dived to grab the hapless surviving bait fish from above.

Our first day in Port Stephens was one of fantastic weather so we took the opportunity to walk up Tomaree Head to be rewarded by great views up and down the coast. We also visited the old WW2 gun emplacements designed to defend the port from invasion. We always take the opportunity to grab a Geocache when we can so also picked one up on the headland as well. We spent the afternoon swimming in Shoal Bay before moving around to Nelson Bay before the next few days of forecast rain arrived.
Steep climb 

Shoal Bay anchorage

The view North from Port Stephens
The next few days were spent largely on the boat in wet weather with the girls doing school, playing games and the odd trip ashore for supplies and a run in the park. It was actually nice to go slow for a few days. We also had a great afternoon with a really nice British cruising family who anchored near us. The girls loved the short but fun play with their two boys after a long period of being playmate deprived. We are certainly finding a paucity of kids on boats as we cruise the coast.

Rainy day entertainment

We had our eyes on the weather as usual looking for a chance to make the 90nm passage to Port Macquarie. The Port Macquarie bar can be nasty so we needed to time our arrival with a high tide during daylight and good conditions, which meant the end of the day for the next few days and then dawn after the weekend. Em and I spent a bit of time debating the forecast, aware that good sailing conditions may not mean good bar conditions due to swell etc, but we wanted wind to sail! At 10:00pm Thursday night we made the snap call to go now for a Friday afternoon arrival as the weekend looked to be too calm and would mean motoring all the way.

We moved the girls from their berth up front back into their sea berth in the middle of the boat, stowed the dinghy and set out at 10:30. It was pitch black and the run out tide at Port Stephens Heads made it a very lumpy exit into some steep seas. Once out we turned North and sailed for Seal Rocks while Em and I settled into our three hours on, three hours off watch system.

Ava slept in the cockpit with me on watch until about 3:00am as it was a bit lumpy for her downstairs while D'Arcy snored through the night in her bunk below!
Ava on watch! 
We had some great sailing on the way up but also some periods of dead calm (requiring some engine assistance to meet the tide time at the bar) and the odd passing shower. The wind was from every direction through the 17 hour trip which kept us busy in the cockpit. When I got up for my watch at 6:00am Em had the sails set well and the boat sailing beautifully in a nice breeze as the sun rose (she's a champion!).

Dawn and we are sailing North in good conditions

It was exciting to sail past Tacking Point lighthouse with great grandparents and grandparents waving to the girls from shore as we passed.

With some trepidation we lined up to cross the bar and surfed the swells in to the narrow entrance with breakers either side. It was a good day on the bar, though for us novices on Aratika 2 there were still some elevated pulses!

Crossing the bar

In the river.

We are snug in the Hastings river now and the girls have already been spirited away by their beloved grandparents for sleepovers and endless treats!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Lazing on the Lake

Lake Macquarie was well worth a visit. Negotiating the bar and the channel into the lake could put people off but it was really no drama and well worth it. Once through the bridge and at the end of the long entrance channel we reached the "drop off" into the lake where depths were good throughout and the anchor stuck wherever we dropped it.

Through the bridge.

The lake is Australia's biggest coastal saltwater lake and is a big expanse of water. Lots of little bays and coves and a very nice island in the middle (Pulbah Is) which is a nature reserve. Most houses on the lake have a boat shed and jetty making for a great aquatic lifestyle.

Lake Macquarie shoreline
We made a direct course for Coal Point when we arrived and anchored off my Uncle and Aunt's house where we were met with overwhelming hospitality. We landed in force with two kids, bags of dirty washing and rubbish, all of which didn't seem to bother Bruce and Jill at all! The kids had a great time swimming in the pool and being spoilt rotten.
Anchorage right out the front of the house. 
We also ventured down to the South of the Lake to anchor at Emma's friends Pete and Corrie's house and had a lovely lunch while again the kids enjoyed a swim in the pool. We are now trying to explain to Ava and D'Arcy that not everyone we know lives on the water, with a pool and good anchorage!
A swim with Aratika 2 below.
Pulbah Island was a great anchorage and ashore the kids found swings and balance beams to play on.

Balance beam

Bush Swing

From here it was back to Coal Point and more time with Jill and Bruce. We ventured out to the most amazing public park we have visited with flying foxes, giant slides and all manner of other apparatus to keep kids, and parents, entertained.
Super Park

Once again the Easter Bunny was successful in reaching us at anchor as in previous years and the girls managed to overload on chocolate for the day on Sunday.

Despite imploring her Great Uncle and Aunt to adopt her so she could stay longer we tore D'Arcy away and this morning we sailed up to Port Stephens. It was a good trip though the winds were frustrating (10-15 kt Southerly became a 10kt northerly) and I got to dance on the foredeck for about 40 mins in the beam swell with a jammed spinnaker pole!

The entrance to Port Stephens is very scenic with peaks either side and steep rocky cliffs at the entrance. Famous for the resident dolphins we haven't been let down with a pod playing around the boat just after we pulled up in Shoal Bay.
Approaching Port Stephens

Through the Heads

So now we are looking forward to exploring Port Stephens for the next few days.