Australian East Coast Weather 101
Anchored in Coffs Harbour, Australia
We entered Coffs Harbour at 10am this morning (Saturday, 16NOV), and are now anchored in front of the port, inside the outer breakwater. We will stay here until Monday morning and then go into the harbour for quarantine and customs/immigration processing.
The past 24 hours felt like an "Introduction to Weather on the Australian East Coast 101". The forecast for our arrival here had been changing almost daily over the past week. First a nasty looking low was expected to move off the coast at about 30S between 16NOV and 17NOV and that we needed to hoof it to make it into port before it hit. Then the low was off the menu, replaced by a succession of relatively benign looking troughs, suggesting that we could take our time. Yesterday afternoon's forecast then changed the picture again with a strong wind warning for the Coffs Coast with 30kn southerly winds for Saturday and Sunday - which would be on the nose for us if we lingered too long. So we started the engine when the wind died yesterday afternoon, trying to make it to Coffs before the strong southerlies set in. Lesson 1: weather can be very difficult to predict around here...
About 9pm last night we then hit a band of scattered squalls and thunderstorms (as expected from a passing troff) while we were in the south setting East Australian current. Nicky watched Namani's speed over ground on the GPS display peak at just above 10kn in a gust, within reach of our 11kn-record from the Gulf Stream off the US east coast in 2008. We then had the typical calm behind the squall line and saw some truly awesome bio-luminescence, with Namani pushing a bright neon green bow wave across the black water. About an hour later, when the sky had already cleared again, the wind started picking up in no more than 20 min from less than 10kn to a steady 30kn and stayed there until about 4am this morning. By 5am we were back to less than 10kn and motorsailing again. Things improved after sunrise and we sailed past the Coffs breakwater in a leisurely breeze under almost cloud less blue skies (and having been greeted by a pod dolphins earlier along the way).
We dropped the hook at 1030am, tidied up the boat, had some lunch, and took a nap - only to be woken up a short time later to the sound of hail pelting the deck. The hail was big and intense enough to literally shoot a few holes through our (admittedly aged) dodger. Since then the wind has been at a steady 20-30kn from the SSE and what had looked like a quiet and sunny Saturday has turned into a November day more typically associated with Europe or the north eastern US. We're glad we made it in in time. Lesson 2: The weather seems to change very quickly and decisively around here...
The weekend at anchor under the yellow Q-flag will give us a chance to finish off our fresh food supplies before the Quarantine Officer strikes on Monday. Not a bad thing either...
Overall, this has been a very beautiful passage to conclude our Pacific crossing. We had steady winds from abaft the beam, very moderate seas, and largely blue skies all along the way. And last night was a little reminder not to take those conditions for granted. We sailed a total of 916nm in just a few hours short of 7 days, making for an average passage speed of 5.6kn - one of our swifter ones :-)
We had great support along the way from Winfried and Ute on s/v Anna Maria who run a daily weather net on SSB and also from our friends on Victoria. They had arrived in Australia a few weeks earlier from Vanuatu and checked in on the SSB daily with valuable updates from satellite imagery and other internet weather resources.
PS: The picture above shows Nicky's rapidly melting hail collection after this afternoon's shower