Galley Wench Tales

Exploring the world through the people we meet
and the food they eat.

Camden Haven Bar and surrounds, viewed from Dooragan Park’s North Brother Mountain summit. New South Wales, Australia.
Pete, s/v Palmyra’s captain, alongside Journey in Laurieton.

Laurieton’s well protected, a nice town and not at far as Port Stephens,” Pete explained, regarding Camden Haven, a potentially viable next stop. Camden Haven was 83 miles from our current location.

We were in Coffs Harbour, aboard a trio of sailboats*, musing about our passage down to the Pittwater / Sydney area.  We’d tucked into Coffs for shelter from points further North – Gold Coast in our and Peter’s case.  

*Ozzie sailors Pete and Trevor on Palmyra, John and Andrea aboard Christine.

Trevor, s/v Palmyra’s crew, pulling alongside Journey in Laurieton.

A series of strong winds (20-30+ knots), sometimes moving in the direction we wanted, sometimes opposite prevailed; more were forecast.  Aiming for lighter winds, we were taking the passage more cautiously, breaking it into overnighters, rather than one longer multi-day trip.

Pete gave Wayne a long perusal of his chart book, showing the path past the bar, into Camden Haven.   The description was pretty benign.  We all decided to head out at 2 am, timing our arrival to beat the forecast upsurge in winds, and making it into Camden Haven before dark.

Away we all went, waking up the poor local Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR*) guy when we “logged in” at 2 am, reporting our departure and planned arrival details.

*Watch for more about VMR in a future post.

Winds were not too high, and both the wind and the Eastern Australian current, worked together in our favor, granting us a relatively fast passage (we averaged nearly 6 knots for the duration).  We arrived at the bar entrance right about when we planned to, though the winds were just starting to pick up a bit more.

“You might find it a wee bit rumbly when you come, but you’ll be alright” dryly quipped Michael, the VMR radio controller on duty for Camden Haven.

Camden Haven’s narrow bar and shallow spots as seen at a calm time, at high tide.

As we approached the bar’s narrow entrance, the waves were robust.  The waves were so robust, we were surfing them at 12 knots – our boat’s maximum hull speed is 7.1 knots! 

Wayne de-powered to slow down.  That tactic backfired, alarmingly!  We broached!  Losing rudder control, we got pitched sideways – fast!  For a sickening few seconds — though it always seems longer in the moment – there was no control.  

Just as quickly, Wayne regained control.  

In 18,000 or so miles we’ve travelled on Journey, we’ve only ever broached once before.  It was in our first year of out, before we discovered for us it was folly to outrun a squall.  The net result was several minutes out of control and a torn sail we were unable to repair for 400 miles.

The raked angle of this Camden Haven river buoy
gives an inkling of the current’s strength.

As we rode the current in, Wayne noticed the shallowest spots we’d ever travelled under — 3.7 feet – without grounding.  We are grateful for our relatively shallow draft, 4.3 feet (the depth reading we get are from below the waterline).

We’ve grounded a few times, the last over two years ago.  They were soft and brief groundings, in mud or sand (not coral or rock or anything else damaging).  No harm done. We did narrowly escape getting a fine for one, as it was in a protected portion of Florida’s intra-coastal waterway.   An official zipped by in their boat shortly after we came free.

Laurieton United Service Center (LUSC), artist’s rendition.  NSW, Australia.  Very Yachtie-friendly place!  
A welcome sign,
Laurieton NSW, Australia.

A few miles in, we arrived at and secured ourselves on one of the free mooring balls in front of Laurieton United Service Club.  Whew!

We learned… 

5 Vital Lessons Regarding Camden Haven’s Bar

  1. Don’t back off the engine on a wave.  Too much speed is preferable to losing control of the rudder.
  2. Avoid entering the bar at low tide.  Exiting at high tide, we still saw depths low as 7 feet.  As the sands shift, the chart depth data is not sufficiently accurate.  Camden Haven is not a good option for deep draft boats.
  3. Avoid entering the bar when the current is still running out, as it clashes with the waves, coming in.
  4. If you do enter Camden Haven Bar in low tide, don’t do it in a low neap tide, like we did, occurring around a full moon, when tidal fluctuations.
  5. Get some good local knowledge.  Marine guidebooks do not necessarily offer these cautions!  The one we looked at did not. 
Andrea and John, of s/v Christie.  John’s prodding kept us going
when the going was tough to North Brother Mountain summit.

It was only after-the-fact experience and local knowledge that taught us what we should have known up front. Camden Haven has been the site of some incidents; considering .  If you plan to take Camden Bar, do check tide and current as well as wind and swell forecasts.

Still, we’re glad we stopped at Laurieton.  

It’s well protected inside and free to stay (for a few days).  It’s a sweet town, populated with incredibly nice folks.  

Me, at Dooragan Park’s summit.  Fortunately the camera
doesn’t show how sweaty I got hiking up.

You can hike*, kayak, beach walk, bird-watch, fish, provision, gamble, watch the dragon boaters practice,  and catch a first run movie in a vintage theater.  You can even purchase oysters from the oyster beds a stone’s throw away.  Our weather-prolonged stay coincided with the 3rd Sunday market (6 am – noon), where I picked up some choice foodstuffs, like quince paste and spicy, gluten-free sausage.  Best of all, Laurieton’s exceptionally yachtie-friendly, with free showers and free unlimited wifi through the Laurieton Services Club (after paying a fully refundable $50 AUD deposit for an access key).  One of the locals offered us the use of his personal washing machine (which we did take him up on) and the use of his van (which we didn’t take him up on).

*There’s a somewhat brutal, but superbly worth it Dooragan National Park lookout point hike (which you can also drive to), as well as lots of flat walking trails along the rivers and lakes.

Kingfisher.  Australia’s famed kookaburra is part of the Kingfisher family.  Laurieton, Australia.

If you are lucky enough to nab a spot at Laurieton’s free visitors dock, rather than taking a mooring ball, go for the dock.  Between the wind, the tide, the current and the way the balls are constructed, there’s a lot of hull scraping and thumping while attached to their mooring balls.  We moved from a mooring ball to the dock when a spot opened up (there’s room for 2 boats).  While we gave up some privacy for the move, the conveniences and break from the mooring ball hull thumping and scraping was worth it.

The canny expression of this rosella reminded me of
their clever New Zealand cousins, the keas.

“Was it scary?” asked another town visitor, stopping by to check out the boats at Laurieton’s dock, after she found out we sailed to Australia from the US.  “More boring than scary, most of the time,” I replied, adding the caveat, “One of my few scary moments, however, was coming in here!”

We spent five pleasant days in Laurieton, waiting for the right weather window to continue South.  We planned our exit for the daylight high tide, knowing we’d fight the current on our way out, maximizing the odds of a daylight arrival into Pittwater, 156 miles away.  

This time, our bar crossing was a piece of cake. Resuming our speed as we escaped the bar’s counter-current, we still breathed a sigh of relief as we exited.

Exotic seed pods in a Dunbogan yard, the town across the river from Laurieton.  New South Wales, Australia.

Location Location
We were in Laurieton (S31.39.080 E152.48.094 mooring ball S31.39.034 E152.48.027 dock) December 15-19, 2016.  This post was written on upon arrival in Pittwater, New South Wales, Australia (S33.39.433 E151.18.051). 

Cruising By the Numbers

  • Our November 2016 sail from New Caledonia to Australia, 790 miles
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia, 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu, 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji, 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 – May 2016 if we weren’t cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand’s tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 – November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida’s Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • December 2013 – May 2014 we sailed 1792  miles from Jacksonville Florida to the Bahamas and back.
  • March 2012 we bought Journey in St. Lucia.  September 2012 we moved aboard, did some boat work, then sailed her to Jacksonville Florida by June 2013, 3762 miles.

Close up of orchid at Laurieton Sunday market.  There were an abundance of
exotic bromeliads and even carnivorous plants there as well.

Up Next
We just arrived in Pittwater, near Sydney  for pre-sale boat work.  We plan to see New Year’s Eve fireworks from Sydney Harbour, and to buy a used van, converted for camping to explore Australia.  There will continue to be catch-up posts, streamlining of the blog, short video clips to add, and road trip posts.