Cruising Northern New South Wales and Sydney

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We sailed from Brisbane to Sydney in march of 2004 and spent about three months in the Sydney area. Regrettably, we didn't spend too much time in other parts of the NSW coast.

As in my Queensland guide, I'll try and limit myself to information not available in the guide book.

Charts, Guides and Useful Publications

Charts

Australian charts are very good quality and at about A$ 30 a piece, they're a bargin. Not all use the WGS84 datum. Those that don't seem to have very small correction factors (for example 0.06nm) which we usually ignored.

There are two sets of coastal charts, the 300-series and the more detailed large-scale 800-series. In addition there are very large scale harbour charts which usually have numbers in the 100s or 200s.

Since the coast is quite smooth, we went with all 800-series charts and large scale charts for Port Jackson and Broken Bay.

Boat Books is my favorite source of charts and can arrange delivery anywhere.

Cruising Guides

Cruising the NSW Coast Alan Lucas
This book is abosolutely worth the price. The charts are clear and we've always found the information accurate and recommendations sensible.

There are indeed cruising guides to Port Jackson and Broken Bay but they are apparently only sold in the Sydney area. By the time I found one it was too late to be of much use. The people at Boat Books in Brisbane looked at me like I was an alien when I asked about Sydney area guides there.

Other Publications

Afloat
A free monthly magazine covering the nautical scene.

Ship2Shore
A free directory of marine-related services for the entire east coast of Australia. Among other things, this is the best source of marina phone numbers. Available at most marina offices and chandleries.

NSW Marine Directory
Another free directory which seems to focus more on Sydney.

Weather

As virtually all of the weather comes across the mainland where it can be measured, weather forcasting along the coast is quite good. While the weather is more variable than in Queensland where the SE breeze predominates, one will generally observe a steady veering of the wind associated with the passage of highs and lows. The obvious strategy for moving along the coast is to wait for winds from a sector you can stand and then go like hell. Particularly for southerly changes, it is a good idea to stay in port until the changes comes through because the time of the change is much more predictable than the strength of the wind it brings.

Weather Forecasts

Australia provides excellent weather forecasts which are available on the internet at:

www.bom.gov.au

The forcasts are also broadcast on VHF by the local coast guard or weather bureau and on HF either via voice or weatherfax.

Schedules and channels for HF broadcasts are given at the Marine Weather Services web pages at the BOM.

Tides

Tides are semi-diurnal. Tidal ranges in NSW are generally less than 2 metres. High tide along the whole coast is within an hour of Sydney so tide tables are always relative to Sydney. I couldn't find anyplace to buy NSW tide tables outside of New South Wales.

Thunder Storms

The east coast has some of the most amazing thunderstorms I've ever seen. Very nice to watch from a distance and well worth avoiding if you can. The general advice is to head further east (out to sea) as they usually seem to move west. Our experience is that when they're big, they're too big and too fast to avoid.

Cruising Season

While summer (december, january, february) is the obvious recommended time, it can be very hot and crowded. We found march and april to be uncrowded. The weather was cool but sunny, delightful. May was just a tad chilly.

Communications

Radio

VHF

VHF is used for all shortrange communications except in Port Jackson and Broken Bay where cell phones predominate.

Unlike Queensland, there are no repeater channels on the NSW coast. Everyone talks to the local coast guard/coastal patrol on 16. It can be quite confusing at times particularly because Sydney Coastal Patrol has a zillion-watt transmitter which one picks up from Coffs Harbour south.

HF/SSB

Coast Radio Sydney and Penta Comstat maintain 24-hour listening watches on the usual HF frequencies: 2182, 4125, 6214 and 8291khz.

Both will provide radio checks and weather on request. Penta Comstat runs a radio sched. for boats on passage.

Telephone

For A$100 or so one can purchase a mobile phone and subscribe to a prepaid plan with one of the two major carriers, Telstra or Optus. As per-minute rates are expensive (A$0.70 or so), we try and use the mobile phone only to receive calls and use calling cards and public telephones to place calls. For international calls, calling cards can be purchased that bring rates down to pennies a minute. We use a card issued by a company known as "Go Talk."

Internet

None of the marinas that we visited had wireless internet but internet cafes, sometimes disguised as multiplayer computer game shops, are abundant and cheap.

Ports & Places

NSW Coast

The NSW Coast is a much trickier place to sail than Queensland: the weather is more variable and there are few all-weather harbours. Most of the river bars can only be entered on the top half of a rising tide with moderate sea state. "Running" for one of the river harbours is thus not a viable heavy weather strategy. While Coffs Harbour is theoretically "all weather," I've seen breaking waves across the harbour mouth with a 5-metre swell. If the weather really deteriorates along the northern NSW coast there are no true all weather harbours between Port Stephens and Moreton Bay. Fortunately, the odds of such weather occuring without advance notice are quite small.

Tweed River

ES was launched on the Tweed River and we spent our first few nights aboard in a pile berth in Boyd's Bay at the end of Terranora Inlet.

It is (was in 2002) also possible to anchor in the pond north of the river through the narrow channels (second is widest, watch current) just after running the bar.

Yamba

We spent a couple of days at anchor in Yamba and would have spent more but the weather was ideal for heading south. The town is very pleasant, and the marina came highly recommeded. And when you get sick of Yamba there's always Iluka, just across the river.

Coffs Harbour

Anchorage in the outer harbour looks miserable.

The quarentine buoy (yellow) is just north of the end of the warf in the outer harbour.

The inner harbour and marina is quite small but always seemed to find room for people.

There are some provisions available at the harbour, the fisherman's coop is quite good, and there's a small grocery store just inland. Serious victualing will have to be done in the town of Coffs Harbour 2 or 3 kms from the harbour.

Newcastle

The NCYC marina (just west of the giant FORGACS floating dock) is newly expanded, the facilities are very nice and the price can't be beat.

The quarentine buoys (yellow) are just south of the marina.

Newcastle is only a couple of hours drive from Sydney and has a lot to recommend it, particularly if you're intending to leave the boat to do some inland touring. There's a car rental agency just across the street from the marina. Provisions are just a few blocks away and bus service to downtown is quite good.

Greater Sydney

In the Sydney area (Broken Bay & Port Jackson), most boats are kept on moorings with the result that nearly every inlet in Port Jackson and Broken Bay is clogged with moored boats. Hopefully they will come to their senses, build a few marinas and reclaim most of the inlets for sailing or anchoring. In the mean time, there are remarkably few places to anchor.

Near parks there are some public moorings (for example in Bantry Bay) but generally one finds private club moorings. Private moorings may be picked up, but need to be surrendered (immediately) upon request so you can't really leave the boat.

The amount of boat traffic on Port Jackson or Broken Bay on a sunny weekend day is nothing short of astonishing. Sailing with that much company can be a bit nerve wracking. For that reason we tended to avoid the central bay on weekends and took our revenge by sailing languidly about within view of all the corner offices during the week.

We were prepared for some major expense, but found staying in Sydney to be oddly economical because very few marinas had a berth for us and the price for a mooring (up to A$ 35, plus extra for showers) didn't seem worthwhile given that we could anchor at more convenient locations for free.

Traffic in the Sydney area is unspeakably vile. For car-based touring you'll be much better off working out of some place like Newcastle.

Broken Bay

Broken Bay is enormously scenic but somewhat difficult as a cruising destination because it is so difficult to find provisions. While victuals can be picked up at Avalon, you're probably better off sailing down to Manly for any significant provisioning.

We found diesel at Church Point and Akuna Bay. There's also a fuel dock at the RPAYC.

Fisherman's Bay
Immediately around Barrenjoey Head is a wide shallow bay the norther corner of which has several club moorings. People routinely anchor here even though the bottom is sea grass.

Palm Beach
Aside from wine and gourmet food (rasberry vinaigrette, cornichons), there are zero victualling possibilities ashore. Evidently, the local diet is quite unique.

Careel Bay
There is currently plenty of space to anchor just north of the moorings of the Careel Bay Marina. While the dock is for marina tennants, a dingy can be landed on the beach just east of the dock. The beach town of Avalon (groceries) is a couple of kms walking through residential streets.

The marina itself provides fuel, showers, and a tender service for those renting a mooring. The owner is in the process of adding floating docks.

Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club
We picked up a mooring for a couple of nights. Very nice showers. It is several kms through suburban streets to the town of Newport Beach.

South east of the moorings is a public jetty which is a km or so from the suburb of Mona Vale, with a large Whitworth's (chandlery) various marine-relatd shops, and a Woolworths.

Refuge/America Bays
While you can anchor outside the moorings in either bay, we discovered that you can actually anchor inside the moorings in the eastern arm of Refuge Bay. The holding wasn't stellar (soupy mud) but it was good enough given that the shelter provided was excellent.

There's a beach with a waterfall and lots of hiking, climbing and exploring in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park.

Akuna Bay
Completely filled with a d'Albora marina, Akuna Bay is in the middle of Ku Ring Gai Chase National Park miles and miles from anything. Nice restaurants and facilities. Nothing else.

Much of the surrounding park has been burnt by wildfires and is pretty unsightly.

Port Jackson

Harbour control coordinates ship movements on VHF 13. Listening in can prevent nasty surprises such as finding an oil tanker coming out of the cove that you had earmarked for a leisurely spinnaker takedown.

While not constrained by draft, Sydney Harbour ferries have "absolute right of way." As in rugby, you're not allowed to complain when they crush you. In practice, they usually weave their way through the sailboats, but you're not supposed to force the issue. Keeping the ferry routes in mind makes it easier to decide what to do. The Manly hydrofoil and the river cats are really fast.

There is one rock in all of Port Jackson and it is clearly marked by 4 (yes all four) cardinal marks and a danger mark. I think that it would be cheaper just to dynamite the thing. The shore is generally steep to and the local racers make a point of proving that you can sail close enough to touch the edge.

All of the islands are national parks. Evidently, some of them may be visited by private boat but you have to get a permit. We didn't find out about this in time to take advantage of it but a picnic lunch on an island in Port Jackson could be spectacular.

Manly: Spring Cove
This is the traditional anchorage when landfalling at Sydney. Pass the heads, turn hard to starboard, drop the hook at the second cove and save the sail down the harbour to the bridge and opera house for the next morning when it can be fully enjoyed and photographed with the sun behind you.

Either arm provides reasonable shelter in a N'ly breeze. The key is to have a breeze which will old one's stern(s) to the ferry wakes.

The northern branch (Collin's Beach) has nice rocks for jumping off.

Manly: baths
Anchorage just off the baths well clear of the ferry warf is very convenient for victualling on the Corso and visiting the beach on the ocean side. As long as you have a decent N'ly breeze to keep the boat stern-to the ferry wakes, it is quite comfortable. We've even spent the night.

Enclosed showers are available at the south end of Manly Beach and there are outdoor showers at the baths and at the beach.

Rozelle/Blackwattle Bay
We spent many nights here, usually in combination with victualling at the fish market. While fish, produce and gourmet items are readily available, a grocery store visit will require a walk or bus ride.

Downtown is an easy walk across the Darling Harbour bridge.

Traffic noise from ANZAC bridge is pretty constant and lights on the various warfs can be bothersome.

Rushcutters Bay: CYCA
If you ask just after the start of one of the major coastal races, you may find a berth at the CYCA.

Staying at the CYCA was expensive, about $77/night, but when you factor in what you can save on ferry or bus fare it becomes quite reasonable. Also, you get to gawk at basically every really famous racing yacht in Australia.

Showers are inside the club and they want you to sign in every day and wear shoes.

Excellent gourmet shopping up the hill towards the posh suburb of Double Bay ("Double Pay" as the locals call it). Frequent bus service to downtown.

The fuel dock at the neighboring d'Albora Marina is the most convenient in the central bay.

Cammeray Marina
Reputed to be a "cruiser hang out" the Cammeray Marina (just moorings) was expensive didn't appear to have much of a cruising scene and the location, residential neighborhood, doesn't have much to recommend itself.

Bantry Bay
Up Middle Harbour, this bay has 5 or 6 public moorings and a derelict powder house. What more can you want? Around the corner is a nice little beach to picnic on.

On weekends, the capuccino boat sometimes puts in an appearance.

Cabarita Point
The marina here was very friendly and not too expensive. Sadly, there is no nearby shopping but it is only a short walk to catch a bus or ferry.

Lane Cove River
It was blowing a full gale (S/SW) out on the ocean and we had just come out of Middle Harbour and were looking for someplace new to go anchor. The second bend in the Lane Cove River provided a calm, mooring-free anchorage in 3 metres of water just west of the baths. This is upstream of the two places Lucas indicates. Holding was OK in mud.

There is a smidge of public shore right next to the baths where a dingy can be landed. Ashore is Woolwich, a posh bedroom community. No commerce other than a restaurant/liquor store at the top of the hill. There is a nice walk around the Woolwich dock, a drydock carved out of solid sandstone.

Balls Head Bay
Also known as the "international anchorage" this little bay is kept free of moorings for so that visiting cruisers can anchor there. The anchorage is about 1 km from the Wollenstonecroft train station, and 2 km from the suburb of Crows Nest and shopping, most notably Boat Books.

Birkenhead Point
This may be the easiest provisioning stop in Sydney as there is a gigantic shopping mall right next to the marina. The charge is A$15 if you just want to go shopping, we upgraded to a whole night for A$44. The marina staff were very helpful and the showers had recently been remodeled.

Anchorage just across from Birkenhead is supposed to be good but you'll have a lot of traffic noise from the nearby bridge.

Rose Bay
Anchorage is 3 cables from shore and troubled by ferry wakes. We did not go ashore here, but there is supposed to be a grocery store somewhere.

Balmoral Beach
Fantastic shelter in for winds S to W as long as the swell on the ocean is small. Warm and sunny. Nice beach, jetty. Cafes, etc. ashore.

Lord Howe Island

This is a place that many people want to sail to, once. I have to number myself among them. I'm really glad we went there, but I don't think I'd ever go back by boat. There's just too much potential for misery. At high tide, expect conditions on one of the moorings in the lagoon to range from merely irksome to downright vile. To put things in perspective, it should be noted that however bad the conditions in the lagoon are, they're not going to be worse than the Tasman Sea.

Timing a visit close to tidal neaps will help as there will be less water over the reef which shelters the lagoon at high tide.

The one advantage of a winter visit not listed by Lucas is the possibility of finding a room ashore.

Our weather strategy was pretty obvious. We hung out at Newcastle and jumped on the end of a westerly. The trick is to avoid the common situation where there is a regular freight train of small depressions moving east, and wait until you find an isolated depression (or the end of a train) with a significant high setting up in western Australia. The hope being that you get a couple of days of nice wind, veering W to S, followed by a long spate of nice weather (light variable winds) as the high goes over. A large high should also keep depressions far south. It took a couple of weeks for the right situation to show up, but it worked quite well for us. We waited out one light depression and then picked up the westerlies in advance of the second.

There is a met office on Lord Howe. They were very friendly and always happy to show us the latest forcasts.

Formalities and Officials

Generally, these should be the same as for Queensland.

We did not clear in in New South Wales and so can't really comment on formalities. We did clear out at Newcastle and, while they don't handle many yachts, they were very helpful and easygoing.

Customs ports in northern New South Wales are thin on the ground:

  • Coffs Harbour
  • Newcastle
  • Sydney

A lot of people like Coffs Harbour for clearing in. We checked in with customs there and you're not going to top their harbourside location for convenience. Conversely, many recommend not checking in at Sydney.

The recommended procedure for visiting Lord Howe Island (assuming you're planning to leave Australia thereafter) is to check out on the mainland, and then redo the check out at Lord Howe.

Coast Guard

The Australian coast guard (usually known as "coastal patrol" in NSW) is an all volunteer organization which maintains coastal stations. They provide weather forecasts, notices to mariners and other information via VHF radio. As a practical matter, they will usually have the latest information on the local river bar.

If you want to you can "log on" with the coast guard and they will keep track of you as you sail along the coast. They always promise to pass your details along to the next station, but that station invariably asks you for everything (number of POB, registration number, etc.) again.

The law enforcement functions corresponding to what the US Coast Guard does are handled by various separate agencies: water police, DOT, Fisheries, Park Service, Customs, pissed off commercial fishermen with shotguns, etc.

Notable Regulations

As always, it is unclear how local regulations apply to foreign flagged vessels, but it is only prudent not to force the issue. Theoretically, of course, all local laws apply, but people rarely throw the book at visitors without some sort of provocation. If the water police find you anchored in a breaking bar over seagrass while dumping your sewage without life jackets, you're probably going to cop it.

Lifejackets for Bar Crossings

NSW now requires that everyone wear a lifejacket when crossing a bar. There are rumours of A$200 on-the-spot fines. As I've never seen any sort of patrol boat anywhere other than in Port Jackson (which does not have a barred entrance) it is unclear how this will be enforced.

Sea Grass Protection

According to Lucas, sea grass beds are strictly protected and one is liable to be severly fined for anchoring in sea grass. We grabbed all the Waterways brochures we could find and found only a polite request to avoid anchoring in grass. Saw numerous boats drop the anchor in grass (fx. at Fisherman's Bay) and no sigh of enforcement action.

Zero Discharge

Port Jackson and Broken Bay are "zero discharge zones", and, unlike Queensland they actually do have a few sewage pump outs. As local boats are not yet required to have holding tanks, it is unclear exactly what is meant by "zero discharge," but that is what they say. NSW Waterways patrol boats stopped by whenever we anchored in Rozelle or Blackwattle Bays (where the Waterways docks are) and asked us if we had holding tanks and if they were closed.

Generally, we found it most convenient just to poke our nose out the heads every few days for a quick emptying of the tanks. ...so that's why they're called "heads".