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Monday, May 9, 2011

May 7th, 2011 – The Long, Long Day Out of Port Stephens

We departed Port Stephens at first light, around 5:45, intending to do an 8-hour stint up to Forster-Tuncurry. After getting through the bar and adjusting to the swelly roll, we settled into a perfect sail. Destiny was loving this one! We caught the wind just right and away she coursed, making amazing time up the coast. About 10 miles south of Forster-Tuncurry, Frank said to me; "Barb, we are making such great progress, what do you say to pressing on into Port Macquarie? I think we can make it tonight". I immediately began to stutter, "But, but, but what about the bar? What about timing the entrance? Won't it be dark by the time we get there?" I was terrified of this prospect, however, it wasn't even midday yet and we were so far ahead of schedule it just didn't make sense to stop, especially because Forster-Tuncurry is not much of an anchorage and most cruisers try to avoid if possible; it would just serve as a place to stop between jumps. So in the end I acquiesced.

We continued to fly for maybe another 2 hours and then the wind began to abate. It slowed and slowed until we dropped below 5 knots (of boat speed). Time to turn on the iron jib! Frank reluctantly cranked the engine on and we motor-sailed for several more miles until the wind dropped to 6 kts. Horrors! We met with a countercurrent and realized that this baby wasn't going anywhere fast the rest of the day. Hours passed and the winds never returned as we chugged along under power as all hopes of getting into Port Macquarie by dusk are fading away. The rest of the day was so docile that we both read books and just took it in stride. There was no point in worrying and the coast guard was tracking us as always. Daylight faded into night. We watched a beautiful sunset and saw disappointingly that the moon was just an eyelash skirting the horizon. We still had over 2 hours yet to go.

Finally at close to 8 PM, under full and complete darkness we approached the dreaded bar at the jetty entrance to Port Macquarie. We reported in with Marine Rescue to let them know we were on approach. They wished us well and we said a quick prayer for safety. Although the seas had been slight for our little voyage, they looked like a surfer's dream and a boater's nightmare when we reached the bar. I have probably stated this in previous journals, but it is a law that when crossing a bar (the river entrance into most of these ports) all persons on board must be wearing PFD's (life jackets) and should be tethered in. We of course were but I had to go outside the cockpit to give Frank a visual for approach. I sat, straddling the cockpit step, calling distances to Frank – distances from us to the rock jetty and any other obstacles that were lurking about such as buoys and channel markers, night fishermen. This bar is known for picking watercraft up and slamming them back down 90-180 degrees around. It is difficult enough when you have daylight, but really scary at night with no moon. We got picked up by such a wave and Frank masterfully got us quickly back on point as I was straining my eyes to see where we landed in reference to the jetty. All of a sudden a bright light flashed right into my eyes, blinding me. Someone on shore was taking pictures of us as we approached (probably thinking they'd get a good crash photo to send into the local paper for tomorrow's headlines, of the dummies who navigated the bar at night). I can't blame them really, but it killed my night vision in an instant and I was blinded for what seemed like an eternity. I blinked and wiped my eyes rapidly, mindful of our perilous situation as Frank held the helm waiting to hear my next report. I continued to blink furiously and prayed that no one else would snap a shot at us until we reached the shelter of the breakwater. Again we got twisted as though someone was trying to spin us like a top, but Frank recovered quickly and cranked up the RPMs enough to shoot us past the worst. Jut then I got another flash but was ready for it this time, I'd been covering that side of my eyes with my free hand. Now that we were past the rough and tumble, I stepped out onto the foredeck with the headset on and talked Frank through the channel. It was eerie to say the least. We had been in and out of here last December so we were familiar with the zigging and zagging of the channel and the shallow flats that flanked the sides. Eventually we made it into the anchorage area where the Port's lights shone brightly enough for us to spot the mooring ball. We tied up, reported a safe arrival to Marine Rescue and breathed a sigh of relief as Frank popped a top to celebrate our hair-raising success. We will NEVER do that again.

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