Revised & Updated May, 2018 as many items in my original blog have changed with time plus it has become necessary to totally revise the whole issue relating to the negotiating of Swansea Channel.
Lake Macquarie is the largest coastal salt water lake in Australia.
Its area is approximately 100 sq kms – four and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour. The entrance to the Lake is approx. 36NM north of Broken Bay and 12NM south of Newcastle. Average water depth is 8 metres. The Lake is an ideal cruising area and safe anchorages abound for any wind conditions.
The entrance into Lake Macquarie is via Swansea Channel at GPS location 33 005.08’ S 151 039.93’ E
See the Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie website (https://www.marinerescuelakemacquarie.com.au/) for comprehensive details of the Lake including maps, Swansea Bridge booking details, bridge opening times, etc.
Bridge bookings are made by contacting Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie on Channel 16 or by phone on 02 4971 3498. A minimum of 1 hours’ notice is required.
The NSW Tide Charts for Swansea are applicable to the bar. Approximate time lag after Fort Denison is 0 -15 minutes for high tide and 15 minutes for low tide.
Local knowledge advises to approach the Lake entrance on a line about 2 boat lengths to the north of the line of the entrance leads, bearing 255.60. There is deeper water on this northern line. This also gives you more “wriggle room” as the bar shallows quickly to the south of the line of the entrance leads. It should be noted that a strong nor’easter generates a significant swell particularly when the tide is near low & still running out. This is less of a problem for keel boats aiming to cross the bar near high tide.
Our Hanse 385, “Elara”, draws 2 metres. I plan my departures from the Lake and my arrivals to the Lake based around the high tide within the Lake. Approximate time lag after Fort Denison is 2 hours 50 minutes for high tide and 30 minutes for low tide. I use the Willy Weather tide forecasts for inside the Lake. https://tides.willyweather.com.au/nsw/hunter/lake-macquarie–within-the-lake.html
Negotiating Swansea Channel
As can be seen from the photo above, Swansea Channel is a challenge for the safe navigation of a deep-keeled yacht because of the many shallow areas. And, because the sand moves every day, the shallow & deeper areas change rapidly and so, at present, it is impossible to advise on a safe passage unless one has transited the channel within a few days to a week.
Figure 1: Aerial view of Swansea Channel
The shallowest part of the Channel is generally between the airport runway & ”the dropover” with the area between Naru Point & Spoil Island in the vicinity of the southern entrance to Swan Bay being particularly shallow. Another area of recent concern is in the vicinity of the first port channel marker after passing through Swansea Bridge when entering the Lake.
The actual lake level is also influenced by significant east coast lows which produce high lake levels. Significant high pressure systems have the opposite effect which is more of a concern for negotiating the channel.
RMS NSW survey Swansea Channel from time to time & publish these surveys on their relevant website. These surveys are published approximately 6 months after the actual survey so they are next to useless for detailed navigation by the time they are published.
Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie no longer advise on the Channel depths because of legal considerations.
However, Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie have a duty rescue boat manned 7 days per week between 8:30 AM & 4:30 PM. For owners of craft with draft greater than 1.6 metres, Marine Rescue offer an escort service. It is necessary to book this well in advance. But, it should also be noted that the duty rescue boat might well be engaged in helping other craft at the time as there can be a number of yachts attempting to depart the Lake or enter the Lake on the same high tide. In these circumstances, the skipper can elect to go on a standby list.
Operating costs for the Marine Rescue boats are currently around $100 per hour even though manned by volunteers. Marine Rescue are not permitted under their Charter to invoice for services delivered. But, for non-members, they will invite a donation for services rendered and all donations are most welcome as the majority of their funding comes from fundraising by their own local volunteers.
During the past year Marine Rescue Lake Macquarie & the Cruising Division of Lake Macquarie Yacht Club have collaborated with practical exercises with our members yachts to develop procedures for the safe handling of yachts including appropriate procedures for pulling yachts over on their side to clear significantly shallow sections of the Channel.
Normally when we on “Elara” are transiting the Channel (and we do 3 to 4 times per year) Selma (The Admiral) is on the bow calling the water depths. She calls me to power through smaller ripples in the sand. When she says she cannot see deep water anywhere then it means proceed forward very carefully so that you have the ability to back off if & when you touch. And then you try to look for deeper water elsewhere. And the reality is that that deeper water may actually be outside the defined channel markers. This is always a hard decision the first time you, as skipper, are confronted with this dilemma.
A new member of our cruising club & recently new to Lake Macquarie summed up the current situation for navigating Swansea Channel: “There are the yachts who have run aground & there are those who are about to run aground.”
The two larger yacht cubs on the lake are Lake Macquarie Yacht Club at Belmont (alongside tie up & a few visitor moorings) and the Royal Motor Yacht Club at Toronto (alongside tie up). The current major marina on the lake is Marmong Point Marina at the northern end of the lake.
There are a limited number of public moorings around the lake. Public moorings can be found by looking at the website (http://www.rms.nsw.gov.au/documents/maritime/usingwaterways/maps/boating-maps/8a-lake-macquarie.pdf ) and the public moorings can be found represented amongst the “Navigations Aids” symbols on the chart. However the lake abounds with safe & secluded anchorages, many in the southern parts of the lake, on the south side of Wangi Point & around Pulbah Island, and in the northern parts in the Rathmines/Kilaben Bay area and along the foreshore on the east side of the lake between Belmont & Warners Bay.
If you go ashore in the bushland opposite our home you will find an excellent walking/cycling trail that extends north from Belmont and follows the foreshore all the way through Warners Bay and Speers Point at the northern end of the lake and finishes at Marmong Point.
Additional information about the facilities around Lake Macquarie can be found on the Lake Macquarie City Council website https://www.lakemac.com.au/
My wife Selma and I are long-time residents of the lake. Selma for 60++ years.
I have only clocked up 40++ years living here given that I was an out-of towner originally and met Selma during our university years.
We are happy to welcome visitors to the lake and to our home.
We have what we call a “revolving door policy” here at Coal Point.
Feel free to phone us if you are considering visiting the lake. Call by for a coffee, lunch, dinner or a shower & bed or all of the above.
Our home mooring coordinates at Coal Point are: 33 001.894’ S 151 036.700’ E
Our bay is sheltered from most winds except the nor’easters to south easters and very strong nor’westers that curl around into the bay.
Contact information for Mike & Selma Barry
Email: [email protected]
Swansea Channel – The Issues & The Politics
The given is that sand moves daily in all estuaries & channels everywhere including those in NSW. The other given is that most estuaries have been interfered with by man and Swansea Channel definitely falls into that category.
But then we, boat owners, wish to navigate these channels safely at regular intervals without running aground.
And how do we do that.
It is now virtually impossible to get accurate, up-to-date, information on the navigability of our waterways. The NSW Roads & Maritime published surveys of the waterways are instantly out of date when they are published at least 6 months after a given survey. No local boating organisation will give you advice because of the legal ramifications.
So, who is responsible. NSW Roads & Maritime are responsible for these waterways above the water line but the channel markers are rarely repositioned and, in the case of Swansea Channel, the channel markers rarely reflect the path of safe navigation for yachts drawing more than 1.6 metres. Sometimes navigable water is actually outside the channel markers. This is a challenge for the locals to be aware of but impossible for visitors.
But then who is responsible below the water line. In NSW, it is the Dept. of Crown Lands (Lands Department). This department belongs to the Minister “for almost everything” including Primary Industries, Regional Water and Trade & Industry. An unlikely department to be responsible for ensuring our estuaries & waterways are safely navigable.
And then there is Lake Macquarie City Council. They market Lake Macquarie as a tourist destination as “Australia’s Best Kept Secret”. But they routinely say Swansea Channel is not their responsibility and are not prepared to contribute to maintenance dredging of Swansea Channel. So they are not encouraging visits by boat owners. And then there are the local boat owners who contribute a significant proportion of the rates to LMCC who also wish to navigate Swansea Channel regularly & safely.
So all of these entities firmly rely on that one element of Maritime Law that says “the skipper (Master) of a vessel is responsible for the safe navigation of that vessel”.
What a cop out.
And nothing much has changed over the years. See the following link of an article in Afloat, August 2003. http://www.afloat.com.au/images/magazine-articles/MAGAZINE/2003/0803/0803_boa_nav_channels.pdf
In the case of Swansea Channel in recent years, an emergency dredging was carried out in early 2015 for $2.5 million dollars. After years of procrastination & politicking, a major dredging was carried out for $5.5 million dollars in early 2016. After each dredging the channel only remains really safely navigable for yachts for about 6 months. Another maintenance dredging was carried out in early 2017 at a cost of $666,000. Since the beginning of this year, 2018, the channel is again not safely navigable for yachts & boats that draw over 1.6 metres. A token maintenance dredging is about to happen as I write this blog but, on the information I have, the budget is only $100,000 & the program is for 4 weeks. This is not going to address the current problems in the channel.
The only real solution for all of our significant estuaries is that all relevant parties stop playing politics & passing the buck and take full responsibility for their mandate and work cooperatively towards the implementation of annual maintenance dredging programs.
And, dare I suggest it. Maybe it is high time to revisit allowing commercial interests to harvest the sand from a regular dredging program. This would be a win/win for boat owners & that commercial interest & also leave the responsible entity not having to find the funds for emergency dredgings.
No harm in wishing this.
Then, there is the opposing view out there amongst the public as well that believe that our estuaries should be allowed to return to their natural state & that us boaties should get rid of our current vessels and resort to very shallow draft craft.
Newcastle Morning Herald 28/04/2018
Letters to the Editor
DON’T DRUDGE AT DREDGING
I THINK Swansea Labor MP Yasmin Catley and Liberal Senator Scot MacDonald should take a step back when calling for year-round dredging of the Swansea Channel. The politicians should be calling for an independent environmental impact study.
Sixty years ago the council dredged Swansea South to make three deep canals, one along the shoreline and two deeper for a handful of boats. The canal along the shoreline destroyed a deep inlet into a large pristine basin that was full of sunlight, with a sandy bottom surrounded with rich mud flats where a host of marine animals thrived. The solider crabs and seashell habitats were lost overnight. All the dredged sand was dumped, making two islands along both canals. They stopping the tides from flushing and spreading the sand throughout the lake, the beginning of the mouth of the lake being choked with sand. Over time huge mounds of sand has been dumped around Swan Bay, off Coon Island and near Swansea bridge. The tides are fighting to sift it back to where it should be and the boats are getting stuck. I think the Islands should be slowly pushed back into the canals and sand mounds should be spread out into the dredged areas, allowing the tides to heal the entrance. Boats should be modified for lake use. A free-flowing channel and tides spreading the sand throughout the lake is what’s needed.
Maureen O’Sullivan Davidson, Swansea