Days 7&8: Ulmarra to Grafton to Home

Our last day on the river dawned a little cloudy and a little windy – but nothing I could complain about. Grafton is just around the bend and won’t take us long to get there. A bit of wind again, but once more coming from the wrong direction.

The Clarence River has flooded 74 times in the last 150 years. This was problematic for the agricultural interests around the river as it would take weeks, sometimes months, for the waters to recede. A series of drains and floodgate structures have been constructed which now allows the water to drain off within a couple of days. Levee banks have also been constructed around the urban areas. These are all visible from the river as you travel along.

Flood mitigation.

Flood mitigation.

There’s no pontoon at Grafton! Quite surprising considering the fabulous pontoons we’ve been on all the way until now. We tied up to the jetty at Corcoran Park – ropes around poles and figuring how much to leave to allow for changes of tide. Have I been spoilt?

The jetty at Corcoran Park, Grafton. Quite disappointing after the excellent pontoons we've had everywhere else on the river.

The jetty at Corcoran Park, Grafton. Quite disappointing after the excellent pontoons we’ve had everywhere else on the river.

Anyway here we met up with our friends Derrick and Gwen who have been travelling Australia for the last three years in their motorhome towing their Farr trailer sailer. We first met them at Hervey Bay. After a morning tea catch-up we returned to Top Shelf for lunch and general fluffing around before walking to the caravan park where Derrick and Gwen are staying. They sailed the Clarence a month or so ago, taking 3 weeks to do it – much better idea than our quick trip. Before we left the boat a lovely gentleman  and his little dog Minnie dropped by to say hello – a keen sailor for many years. Lives near Brushgrove and we chatted for quite a while about boats, as one does.

It's ALL MINE! at the Village Green Tavern, Grafton.

It’s ALL MINE! at the Village Green Tavern, Grafton.

Off to dinner with Derrick and Gwen at the Grafton Village Green tavern. Between us we bought enough raffle tickets in their meat trays to support the local sporting clubs for the rest of the year (no wins), had the most enormous meals you’ve ever seen and generally had a good time.

Day 8: Grafton to home

Steve was up early to catch the 7.30am bus back to Yamba to collect the car and trailer. I stayed with the boat – chatted with the (?) Commodore of the Clarence River Yacht Club who came over to welcome us. He tells me we could use their showers, toilets and park the vehicle and trailer there if we wanted – must remember that for next time. The Clarence Classic, a combination of racing and social sailing to Yamba and return, is on in the next few weeks. We can’t make it unfortunately, but I’m sure it would be fun.
Also watched the crew training in their dragon boat. And I believe they often exercise the horses in the river from this ramp too, though I didn’t see them this morning.

The Dragon boat crew out for early morning practice.

The Dragon boat crew out for early morning practice.

Steve got back around 10.30 – unfortunately the trailer was missing a rear wobbler. The local chandlery came to the rescue. We retrieved the boat, packed her up and were on the road by 1.30pm and home by 7.30pm. I write that so glibly, but as anyone who has a trailer sailer knows there’s a fair bit of work involved in the retrieval.

Nearly finished packing her up - just the mast to go.

Nearly finished packing her up – just the mast to go.

On reflection it was an excellent trip. If we were to do it again I’d take more notice of the tides and the wind direction – we left in the mornings most of the time which coincided with the river flow being against us, and the winds were only useful to us once. I’d also take at least 2 weeks so we can have a few days off at some of these delightful villages. And I’d choose a time that wasn’t soon after heavy rains upstream – would be nice to see the river clean.

The track we took, as recorded by the software iSailor. 39nm in 6 legs.

The track we took, as recorded by the software iSailor. 39nm in 6 legs.

 

Day 6: Brushgrove to Ulmarra

Today we went to Ulmarra. As we poked our bow out of the little tributary we were in we faced 7 – 10kn winds on the nose. That was a surprise as we’d spent a perfectly still night onboard. Not fancying tacking despite at last having wind we motored on. The river banks continued their lovely green interest for us, with sugar cane fields, lovely fat cattle and homes varying from old farm houses to very flash homes.

Riverside homes.

Riverside homes.

There was a dredge working the river – quite near to another cross-river ferry. These ferries look like fun – I’d like to return in a vehicle to get the experience from all angles.

The Ulmarra pontoon (another excellent facility) would hold maybe 3 vessels. The wind was still being a problem and the water was quite choppy. We took great care securing Top Shelf in view of this. Once more we were the only ones on the pontoon, though anchored off Ulmarra were 5 yachts. A couple of the sailors from these yachts stopped to chat to us on their way to or from Ulmarra. One told us that last night was really rough on the river with winds up to 25kn – what a surprise when we didn’t experience more than a ripple on the pontoon at Brushgrove. Such interesting stories everyone has, and so friendly. Made me start to hanker for a life on a keel yacht sailing the coastlines and oceans … but no, not for me. Love my little trailer sailer, and have a campervan too – so the best of both worlds.

Looking upriver from the public boat ramp in Ulmarra.

Looking upriver from the public boat ramp in Ulmarra.

The morning was spent reading and catching up on emails, etc sitting in the cafe that adjoins the Ulmarra pub – just at the top of the jetty, as usual. Sometime around midday the breeze dropped completely and the river once more assumed the glassy surface we’ve come to expect.

The Ulmarra Hotel also has a very good cafe with lovely lawn area to sit facing the river. The pontoon is just a very short walk down the riverbank between those two trees.

The Ulmarra Hotel also has a very good cafe with lovely lawn area to sit on the river side. The pontoon is just a very short walk down the riverbank between those two trees.

I took a walk around the village – the whole town of Ulmarra has been classified by the National Trust and it’s definitely worth a few days exploring and enjoying this piece of well-preserved history. I found several arts and crafts shops, which were unfortunately closed at 4pm on my rounds, several ‘bed and breakfasts’ and renovated apartments, and a well-tended park with BBQ facilities and play equipment for the children. The hotel has quite remarkably intricate wrought iron lacework – pity it didn’t show up better in my photograph. The public boat ramp – hmmm, definitely not designed for trailer sailers to launch – has a power line going right across the ramp descent to the river. I didn’t see a grocery store – the petrol station looks like it might carry some commodities.

Another BBQ onboard for dinner, a pleasant night sitting out in the cockpit (granted we were wrapped up) and the anticipation of a quiet, restful night. We definitely have to plan longer trips. I’m finally beginning to relax into the lifestyle and our trip is over tomorrow.
If you’d like to see more photos from this leg of the trip click HERE.

Another magic sunset.

Another magic sunset.

Day 5: Maclean to Brushgrove

Despite the concerns expressed by our previous pontoon neighbours there was not a sound from the park beside us last night. We slept well, though woke to find logs and branches caught up around us – all coming down from the flooding experienced last week. We’ve got a longer day today and wanted to maximise use of the tide so left Maclean as soon as we were dressed.

There are 100 charted islands on the Clarence River. Harwood is on Harwood Island and today we are heading for Brushgrove which is on Woodford Island. Woodford Is is the largest inland island in the world, it even has its own mountain range – good to remember for your next trivia night.

There’s no wind, perfectly blue skies and the river is glassy. So idyllic, if not that great for sailing! After about an hour we decided to stop the engine and drift while we ate our breakfast and had a coffee. I can tell you it was very nice.

These gantries were used to load the cut cane onto river barges once upon a time. The birds have now taken them over- see the sea eagles nest on top.

These gantries were used to load the cut cane onto river barges once upon a time. The birds have now taken them over- see the sea eagles nest on top.

Not far up the river we passed the little township of Lawrence. There’s a jetty there that you could tie up to I assume, but we didn’t stop. There was a very unusual round house though that took my fancy.

Unusual house at Lawrence. Looks like it has the machinery underneath it to turn it as they wish.

Unusual house at Lawrence. Looks like it has the machinery underneath it to turn it as they wish.

We motored on (no wind) to Brushgrove. The pontoon is just off the main Clarence, on the South Arm. On one side is Cowper, which is where the pontoon is, and Brushgrove is on the other side – a bridge joins them (too low for us with our mast up). We tied up at the pontoon, had our lunch and went for a walk around Cowper. It’s a quiet little place – no shops, just a couple of churches and the school. One of the churches has been taken over by a very talented craftsman. We wandered in to have a look – couldn’t find anyone there – the dining chairs on display are exactly what I want! If you’re around here make sure you drop in for a look. On our walk we found the Cowper Bus Crash memorial. On 20th October 1989 about 4am a semitrailer crossed to the wrong side of the road and hit a long-distance bus, killing 20 people on the bus and the semi driver.  It was found that the semi driver had 80 times the normal levels of ephedrine in his blood stream (an upper, commonly used by long haul drivers back then). As a result of the investigation into this crash these drugs were banned, rest periods mandated and a divided highway between Sydney and Brisbane was begun.

5n_church

We crossed the bridge and enquired at the hotel if we could have a shower here – yes, $5 for both of us. So just before dinner we returned and enjoyed a lovely hot shower. Until now we’d been having cockpit showers, which are good, but just not the same. Dinner at the pub was very good – I had garlic prawns, Steve the chicken parma.

At the beginning of the 19th century Brushgrove was a thriving town due to its location on the Clarence when the river was the chief form of transport  Red cedar, sugar and other agricultural goods were transported to southern ports and even New Zealand  in the late 50s the bridge was built, truck transport increased and Brushgrove declined. Today sugar and beef cattle are the major industries – and I guess, tourism. The Brushgrove Hotel, built as a single story in 1868 was raised and renovated in the early 20th century.

The Cowper-Brushgrove bridge from the lawns of the Brushgrove hotel, with Top Shelf on the pontoon on the far side.

The Cowper-Brushgrove bridge from the lawns of the Brushgrove hotel, with Top Shelf on the pontoon on the far side.

Back home to bed and a very peaceful night.

Top Shelf all prepared for a very peaceful night.

Top Shelf all prepared for a very peaceful night.

For more photos from our trip today click HERE.

Day 4: Harwood to Maclean

Despite our proximity to the bridge, and the noise the semi’s make as they cross it, we slept very well – maybe the traffic decreased after about 10pm.

Today is a short trip, just around the bend really. Maclean is known as the ‘Scottish Town in Australia’ due to the large number of Scottish immigrants that settled  in the area. It’s taken its theme to heart and with tartans and bag pipe music around every corner. Many street signs carry the Gaelic translations and 200 of the power poles have been decorated with the tartan of specific clans. The old buildings are well-preserved and the town has plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars to while away the hours.

One of 200 tartan painted poles in Maclean.

One of 200 tartan painted poles in Maclean.

Maclean, the Scottish town, streetscape.

Maclean, the Scottish town, streetscape.

There’s also a self-guided walking tour which we’d thought we might do, but indolence overcame us and after our lunch we remained aboard. Though Steve did pop up to the fishmongers for prawns (and oysters) for our wine o’clock.

A cabin cruiser pulled up on the pontoon just before we arrived. They’d motored down from Surfers Paradise yesterday, then Yamba to here today. Nope, I don’t envy them – they missed so much along the way that we saw. Anyway after talking to one of the locals who said the park beside the pontoon can become ‘noisy’ at night they moved on to Brushgrove. Oh well, we’re staying. The pontoon is excellent, like all we’ve been on so far. It’s only 50m to the Spar for groceries and even closer to the nearest cafe. There’s free power and water on the pontoon should you need it.

A lovely man from the Cruising Yacht Club came down to welcome us and asked us to sign the Visitors’ Book and gave us some local publications. Had a chat with him. People are so friendly.

Sundowners on the Clarence at Maclean. Local prawns - from the many trawlers we've seen on the river.

Sundowners on the Clarence at Maclean. Local prawns – from the many trawlers we’ve seen on the river.

The pontoon at Maclean. This one has free power and water too.

Top Shelf on the pontoon at Maclean. This one has free power and water too.

For more photos from this leg of our trip click HERE.

Day 3: Iluka to Harwood

The big excitement for today is that the bridge that carries the Pacific Highway across the Clarence River at Harwood is too low to allow masted vessels to pass underneath. Hence the bridge can be raised with 24 hours notice. So today at 2.30pm we have the supreme power of stopping all the traffic on that very busy highway while we float graciously past. Should I be lazing on the bow with wine glass in hand as I simulate the Queen’s wave, or not?

Leaving Iluka was easy – I took her out, and though I was nervous the careful instructions given to me by the Skipper were followed to the letter and worked a treat. We just needed to round a couple of bends in the river to get the ‘fare winds’ from the right direction and up went the sails. Ahhh the bliss of turning off the motor and sailing – it’s pure joy. The winds were gentle and we probably didn’t exceed 3Knots but that took us at the perfect pace to enjoy the river and river bank as we went. Lots of lovely homes were built close to the banks – mostly on built-up pads. I wonder how they go when the river floods.

Classy riverside homes between Iluka and Harwood.

Classy riverside homes between Iluka and Harwood.

There were various industries along the riverbank too, such as slipyards, sugar cane farms and the sugar mill. The majority of other river traffic was prawn trawlers – and there were a lot of them! It was interesting watching them working. The river at the moment is the colour of chocolate with lots of flotsam from the recent heavy rains the district experienced. The locals tell us the river is much higher than usual and flowing very fast. Apparently the trawlers can’t work as far up the river as usual because the current is too strong for their nets.

Bit hard to see, but there's at least 7 prawn trawlers working the far side of the river in this photo.

Bit hard to see, but there’s at least 7 prawn trawlers working the far side of the river in this photo.

Wasn’t long before the Harwood Bridge came into sight and we had about an hour and a half to put in before it opened. We looked around for a place to pull over and found the Big River Sailing Club just before the sugar mill. No jetty, but a lovely little sandy beach beside a well-tended lawn leading up to their clubhouse.  We pulled Top Shelf in and had a picnic lunch on the lawn.

Whiling away an hour before the bridge is booked to be opened for us. Prawn trawler in river. Harwood

Whiling away an hour before the bridge is booked to be opened for us. Prawn trawler in river. Harwood

Eventually it was time for the bridge to open for us so we motored on over, the bridge man waved hello, stopped all the traffic and waved us on through. No I didn’t have the glass of wine in hand!

And up she goes! When the light on the control room turns green we can go under that part. Harwood Bridge

And up she goes! When the light on the control room turns green we can go under that part. Harwood Bridge

The Harwood island pontoon is just the other side of the bridge so we were tied up securely in no time at all. Took a walk around this delightful little town (doesn’t take long), back for a drink at the Harwood Hilton and a delicious meal onboard.

 

Sunset view of the Harwood Bridge from our mooring on the pontoon.

Sunset view of the Harwood Bridge from our mooring on the pontoon.

For more photos from today’s sail please click HERE.

Day 2: Yamba to Iluka

Mother’s Day! If I can’t be with my beautiful children today (which I can’t) then here is the next best place to be. The weather is perfect and the river looks magic. High tide isn’t until about midday, so we had the morning to fill in. We went for a lovely walk, about 5K, to the end of the breakwater and back again. Nothing quite means sailing more than dolphins frolicking in the waves – and they were there aplenty, if not very photogenic!

Lovely views of the Yamba boat harbour on our walk out to the breakwater.

Lovely views of the Yamba boat harbour on our walk out to the breakwater.

Mid-morning we rigged – hmmm bit rusty – thankfully Steve thinks out every step carefully as we go and the mast went up without a hitch. The boat ramp was pretty average – no ramp pontoon, and no easy place to pull her ashore once in the water (so we can board) makes life difficult. However we managed and pulled her over to a nearby jetty where we tied her up before heading to the marina coffee shop for a well-deserved coffee.

Then off we set! Yay – on the water again! Not far to go today – 2.25 nm to be exact, which took us all of 50 minutes motoring. There’s an artificial ‘wall’ in the middle of the river which is only just above water level – you have to be on the ball following the navigation aids and charts to go between the two towns.

Iluka is another fishing village, as is Yamba. The fishing trawlers were all moored over in one section of the marina, with the yachts anchored randomly within the marina walls. However, for we lucky ones who can pull up our keel, there’s a nice new pontoon with mooring available for at least 6 vessels in about 1 meter of water. I love being able to just step off  the boat!

Moored securely for the night at Iluka

Moored securely for the night at Iluka

The biggest surprise was the pirate ship anchored in front of us as we came in! Turns out it is the Notorious, a replica of a 15th century caravel which has been handcrafted over 10 years by its owners. The builder was inspired by the legend (or history) of a sunken Portugese ship which had been visible until the mid 18th century off the coast in Victoria near where he lives.

The caravel, Notorious.

The caravel, Notorious.

As it was still early afternoon we went for another walk around the foreshore along the river. Lovely homes, lovely parks, great caravan park with river frontage and a fabulous walkway – a credit to the local council. There’s also a World Heritage Listed walk around the headland which takes about 3 hours return, but after our walk this morning we weren’t up for it – next time!
Back to Top Shelf, cook a BBQ for dinner on our Magma BBQ which is attached to the back of the boat and then off to bed for an early night.

BBQ at sunset. Iluka

BBQ at sunset. Iluka

 

This fabulous protected harbour at Iluka is just perfect for us. Top Shelf is on the pontoon. Notorious, the caravel, is anchored inside the walls.

This fabulous protected harbour at Iluka is just perfect for us. Top Shelf is on the pontoon. Notorious, the caravel, is anchored inside the walls.

For more photos from todays adventure click HERE

 

Pugsley is on guard protecting us from pirates at Iluka

Pugsley is on guard protecting us from pirates at Iluka

Day 1: Home to Yamba

Today we finally left to begin a cruise Steve has wanted to do for several years now – cruising the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. The Clarence is Australia’s second largest river stretching 400km from source to sea. The area navigable by yachts is the final 100K, from Grafton to Yamba. The Clarence tourism association has produced a booklet titled Sailing and Cruising Guide Yamba to Grafton, which we have found useful – though I could give them some suggestions on improvements if they asked.

Between our last sailing adventure and this one Top Shelf has received new underwear – a new trailer. We finally have a trailer that keeps us legal regarding brakes and weight distribution – and Steve assures me it’s now a pleasure to tow her. I, unfortunately, have yet to do a towing course and don’t have the confidence to tow yet. The new trailer has meant we can pack the boat ready for launch before we leave home – previously everything with any weight was carried in the car and needed to be transferred on arrival.

It’s a 400K drive from our place to Yamba – not that far, but far enough when you’re towing a boat. We choose not to launch unless it’s high tide, and as there was no chance of us catching the high tide today we left about 10am and took our time driving down, arriving about 3pm.

The parking area at the Yamba Boat Harbour Marina was pretty good, and quiet, so we decided we’d park the night there and sleep on board in the car park. Went for a walk around the marina, then back to the Yacht Club clubhouse to meet up with a fellow Noelex owner, off to the pub for a counter meal and back to the boat for a good night’s sleep.

Leaving home on a beautiful May morning.

Leaving home on a beautiful May morning.