Fish Rock  February-March  2017

Brigitte and I had left Ocean Child in Yamba on November 4 2016. With Brigitte pursuing her travels in Perth, and a halt on renovating my apartment in Blackmans Bay (Hobart Tasmania) I returned to Yamba and Ocean Child on February 10 2017.  Samantha and Josh joined me the following day, with Monique arriving the day after that. Ocean Child had survived alone in the marina for over three months without theft or vandalism, but when we tested her gear we found the anchor winch was not working. My favourite mechanic, Ben Thwaites from Coffs Harbour, seemed the obvious person to consult. We left Yamba, and arrived in Coffs Harbour, on February 15.

 

Sam and Monique packing up the small sun-shade.

Sam has the sort of figure every other girl in the world wants...

Sam and Josh looked after Ocean Child very well. They can do anything...

Sam cooked every day, without ever repeating the same meal!  As well as doing all the provisioning.

 

On the way south after leaving Coffs we stopped at South Solitary Island, using a public mooring on the west side. There was a lot happening. Before we entered the water, we could see yellow-tail kingfish swimming around the boat. Large schools of yellow-tail kingfish were once a common sight in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales; however overfishing has wiped out these schools, and even scattered groups of fish are now seldom seen. They are impressive fish, so it was good to see these animals again here at South Solitary Island. There were dolphins too, and turtles. On entering the water I immediately found a school of fish, bright blue and yellow, milling around the kelp-covered shoreline rock wall. And a little further on, a mating aggregation of a fish I did not at first recognise... I think now they were morwong. Again, mating aggregations are a rare sight, so I was pleased. How I wished I had my underwater camera... but temporarily lost somewhere on the boat...

 

Josh and I got badly stung by blue-bottle jellies. Sam returned to the boat without a mark on her, lending weight to my theory that she is masquerading as a human, but is really an alien from a distant galaxy.

 

There is a small sanctuary, a fully-protected marine reserve, at South Solitary Island.  Too small, I think, to have any lasting value, unfortunately. The yellow marker identifies one corner of the reserve.

 

Once we reached Coffs Harbour, Ben took the anchor winch to his workshop on February 15, but he was overloaded with other jobs. We got it back on February 28. That evening we set sail for Trial Bay, only 35 nm south.

 

During the night sail I saw one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. Glow in the dark dolphins! It was amaazzing!  It must have been around midnight... it was a relatively calm night, with a south-westerly wind of 7-9 knots. We were making slow progress, under sail. It was a cloudy night, very dark, no moon, no stars. Suddenly, we looked at the sea beside the yacht. About six small dolphins came to play around the sides and bow. Their entire bodies were glowing! Brightly! The brightest parts were their tail fluke, their nose, and their pectoral and dorsal fins, but the entire body was outlined. They played by the boat for about 15 minutes. Diving, surfacing, dashing to and fro under the bow...  It looked as though each dolphin was lit from inside with green-yellow neon tubes!  Samantha was so excited!  So excited she was jumping up and down, making little excited noises (in Brazilian of course!). I reckon the dolphins were nearly as excited as Sam...

 

I would NOT recommend Trial Bay as a stop-over for a yacht, except to shelter from a strong southerly or southwest wind. To cross the bar of the Maclay River, to get a river anchorage and thus access to the township of South West Rocks, is quite difficult except on a high tide under calm wind and swell. But this we did.

 

The next day, Wednesday, we had a look around the small town of Southwest Rocks. About 6000 permanent residents, but 20,000 at Christmas and Easter. Like so many of the coastal settlements in New South Wales, it is neat, clean, and in places real estate is very expensive. Rainforest, melaluca wetland, and mangrove wetlands surround the town. Surprisingly, there were only a few mosquitos and sandflies. I liked it. As in Coffs Harbour, I was able to hitch-hike and never wait long for a lift... I think people here are friendly...

 

 

On Thursday March 2, I signed on for a commercial tourist dive with South West Rocks Dive Centre, for twin dives at Fish Rock, just south of the headland where the lighthouse sits. Fish rock is a small granite outcrop. Under water there is a natural tunnel, maybe 120 to 130 m long. One entrance is at 10m, with the other deeper, 24m. at a natural sand gutter. 

 

 

The locals describe the dive as "one of Australia's best dives". And it is. Although not yet a protected area, there are abundant fish, of several different species. And not only fish... octopus, crayfish, and turtles. The octopus we saw was nervous, maybe that's just the way octopus are..?  But the crayfish and turtles seem totally calm with divers. We saw four small grey nurse sharks, quietly swimming around at between 10 and 20 meters deep. The scenery is of course interesting with the swim-through tunnel, which in its deeper section is quite dark. I was surprised by the lack of invertebrate filter-feeders colonising the rock walls of the cave. Generally speaking the fish here seem relaxed in the company of divers... some are inquisitive. One diver created bubble rings, like a big vertical "O", about 30mm in diameter. There were small fish who found this quite exciting, and would dash through the circle, only to immediately turn around and dash back. An additional attraction is that the site is relatively easy for tourist divers to access. The boat ride is about 30 minutes, the maximum depth is only 30m, and the water clarity is often good. On my dives visibility was about 25m... some days apparently it exceeds 30m. The water temperature at the surface was 26, and at 30m 22 degrees.

 

 

This is certainly one of the best dives of my life. Other notable dives are: the wreck of the Yongala (out of Townsville), the Navy Pier at Exmouth (Western Australia) and the Poor Knights Islands (northeast New Zealand). These are all fully protected areas, as Fish Rock should be.

 

 

I think the Wobbegong Shark is an ambush predator. It spends most of its time lying motionless. Around its mouth are tassels, which look like seaweed. The distinctive patterns of shades of brown look as though they have been painted by an aboriginal artist.

 

Although the Eastern Grey Nurse is a fish-eating shark, the fish in the tunnel show no fear. I asked why. The explanation given is that the shark only eats larger fish, so small fish know they are protected in the vicinity of the shark. We saw four Grey Nurse in total, varying between 2 and 3 m in length.

 

We left the Maclay River on March 3, around midnight, pushing through continually breaking surf at the bar, which was showing 4m at high tide.  Our next stop was Laurieton, at the west of Camden Haven Inlet. Here the bar crossing was deeper, with no surf. After staying one night on a public mooring, we continued south, reaching Port Stephens on the afternoon of Sunday March 5. With a poor weather outlook, we pulled into the D'Albora Marina in Nelson Bay, on the south side of the Port. We found, to my surprise and a little consternation, that all the three marinas in Port Stephens are up-market, and rather expensive.

 

Nelson Bay is Corella City. A large flock of white corellas comes to the marina in the mornings and evenings to practice acrobatics. They zoom around the boats, buildings and trees, screeching loudly. Although not so flamboyant, flocks of parakeets and starlings also contribute to the avian pandemonium. I wonder where they go during the nights and days, and why they come here in such numbers in the mornings and evenings?

 

On March 7 we moved from the marina at Nelson Bay to the Soldiers Point Marina. A '5-star' marina... rather posh, but the cheapest we could find locally... they are all posh here, like the houses and apartments.  Somehow I had thought of Port Stephens as having a low-key level of suburban development, but I was mistaken.

 

 

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