Last night in Ballina….

After an incredibly windy day or two everything settled. Except the Ballina Bar.
A couple of yachts left early in the morning on the top of the high tide. We wished them well and worried for them.
Late afternoon a trawler left the river. We saw him again an hour or so later, anchored across the river. Without the VHF on we didn’t know he had been advised by the VMR to reconsider leaving the river.
At dusk the VMR towed him across to the public berth where we were tied up.
The trawler, whose bow is a clear twelve feet above sea level had taken a wave straight on and it’s entire front windows were blown out. A domestic fridge in the wheelhouse had it’s door torn off by the force of the water entering the cabin. It washed out of the back of the cabin, and the whole back wall of the wheelhouse was pushed out several feet.
The trawler broke it’s solid steering cable but was fortunate enough to turn and drift with the still incoming tide to a place where they could anchor. Amazingly with all the force of the water and crew who were out on the back deck, no serious injuries were sustained. Local trawlermen call this ‘getting waved’. According to one of the fisherman this trawler had only managed to cross the bar once in the last month, hence their need to head out as soon as they thought they could.
We had planned to leave the next morning, and slept little.
At 06.30 hrs the VMR calssified the bar as Caution – Extreme Caution.
We rolled over in our berths to get some more sleep. No going out today we thought.
At 07.30 hrs the call came over VHF to say the bar was passable, but to proceed with caution. I called VMR and asked re breaking waves. Their response was that there were none presently , but if I had asked five minutes ago, they would have said yes!
We decided to sail out for a look and elected to give it a go, with a plan for a fast bail out by the VMR tower if it looked too dangerous. Just at the most exciting point ( 2-2.5 m swell, sometimes breaking) our depth instrument decided it was confused and decided the depth was 0.0 m! We sallied forth…
At 08.18 hrs we sucessfully transitted the bar, getting a congratulations from the VMR on such a ‘tidy crossing’!
In fact we made it through with no green water over the bow, just very shaky hands and very dry mouths.
Remembering our last passage through Yamba bar some 18 months ago we dawdled along, expecting we wouldnt be able to get in before high tide, in the early evening. With only 35 nm to travel we weren’t rushing.
Fourteen nautical miles out from Yamba we heard Alchemy, a Buizen who had left Ballina an hour before us call up VMR Iluka Ballina. VMR stated the bar was calm and able to be crossed at any tide.
On with the sails and Fling more than doubled her speed.
A cruising yacht we had seen and admired many times during our time in Queensland hailed us on the radio. Kurranulla welcomed us and guided us into the Iluka pond, assisting us to avoid sandbars and find enough water to anchor in. We thanked them and their response?
‘Thats OK you owe us two now!’
Curious, we invited them over for sundowners. It turned out that they were the dark hulled yacht we nearly dragged anchor onto during the storm in Pancake creek on our way north! We had seen them in many anchorages since and they always waved to us, but we had never met. Good to catch up and apologise! Kurranulla are returning to their home port of Westernport Bay and it will be good to see them when we return.

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