2009 Heaven Can Wait 24 hour race and the Swansea channel dredging

Swansea Channel and Lake Macquarie
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Skippers with boats from outside Lake Macquarie who are considering doing this year's Heaven Can Wait 24 hour charity race have been concerned about silting of the western end of the Swansea Channel, which has caused problems for some keelboats entering and exiting the lake.

Silting of the channel's western end, to the south of Swan Bay, and right at the 'Dropover' into the lake has meant that boats with a draft of more than about 1.5 m may need assistance getting across.

This document looks at what's going on with the channel, and options for skippers looking at bringing their boats up to the lake for the HCW race, which will be held on October 3-4.

What is happening with dredging of the channel?

In its June Budget, the NSW state government allocated $300,000 for emergency dredging of the channel to overcome this problem, before implementation of a permanent solution -- which may take another year or two to put in place.

The NSW Department of Lands has called tenders for this emergency dredging, with tenders closing on July 27.

Craig Abbs, director of coastal and estuary infrastructure at the Department of Lands (and based at Newcastle) said the successful tenderer should be announced in mid-August.

He said it would be 'touch and go' as to whether the channel would be dredged in time for boats coming up to the lake, but that the situation would be clearer in mid-August.

'How quickly dredging proceeds will depend on who the successful tenderer is, and how quickly they can deploy a dredge to the channel,' he said. 'If we get a bid from someone with an idle dredge, they could be on site very quickly.

'However, I would imagine that work would certainly be underway by the time of the race,' said Craig.

Obviously for the race, by far the best option will be to have the channel -- or at least the most troublesome spots -- dredged by the time boats come up for the race. It is likely that a number will want to come up at least a week before the race starts, around the weekend of September 26-27.

What are the options if the channel is not dredged in time?

Even if the channel is not dredged in time for the race, there are still options for boats looking to come up and participate in the race. The Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol's Lake Macquarie division -- which is one of the beneficiaries of the HCW's fundraising efforts -- is very supportive of the event, and will provide any assistance required to boats participating.

One of the RVCP's rescue boat skippers is Ron Calman, who is a former water policemen, and very experienced in assisting boats transit bars and shallow water. He has undertaken to be on the rescue boat for any skippers coming up to the lake, and who have concerns about their ability to transit the channel prior to any dredging.

Depending on the depth of water at the time, and a vessel's draft, there are three options for boats:

1. The RVCP vessel can guide them through the deepest parts of the channel, steering them around the shallow ridges that have formed

2. The RVCP vessel can motor alongside the yacht, forming a bow wave to lift it a bit higher in the water

3. For deeper keel yachts, the RVCP vessel can take the yacht's halyard and tip it over at enough of an angle to clear the bottom, while the yacht proceeds through under its own power.

Skippers wanting to learn more about these options should contact RVCP Lake Macquarie on (02) 4971 3723 and ask to talk to Ron Calman.

In addition, RVCP Lake Macquarie will escort any yachts requesting assistance in entering the channel from as far out as Moon Island. Skippers requiring such assistance (for example, those who have not entered the lake previously) should contact RVCP in advance of their passage, and discuss planned dates, conditions, vessel type, draft, etc. They should also log in with RVCP Lake Macquarie once underway, to confirm any arrangements, and advising of their ETA at the channel entrance.

Ultimately, any decision on whether or not to traverse the channel rests with the skipper.

What is the situation for out-of-lake keelboats entering the HCW race?

In view of the uncertainty over the channel dredging, and the fact that some skippers may opt not to bring their boats up if the channel is not dredged, we have incorporated an 'interim entry' option on the HCW 24 hour race entry form. This applies only to boats from out of the lake, and which have to sail up.

Skippers can enter all their details (crew, credit card details, etc) and click on the 'Provisional out-of-lake boat entry' button. Their credit card details will then not be charged until there is certainty that the channel will be dredged in time. This will allow the race organisers to plan for the numbers of boats planning to come up to the lake for the race, and to organise moorings, berths, etc.

Skippers who would definitely participate in the race if the channel is dredged in time are strongly encouraged to enter as soon as possible, and use the 'Provisional entry' option. Note that this option is only available to out-of-lake boats who have to sail up to Lake Macquarie.

What if our boat is unable to come to the lake, but we still want to participate?

For skippers and crew planning on doing the race if the channel is dredged in time -- but who may then find themselves without a boat if it isn't dredged -- the organisers are offering a crew/boat matching service. Working through co-hosts the Royal Motor Boat Club Toronto, organisers will do their best to match up crews looking for boats with boats and owners looking for crew.

Skippers and crew from out-of-lake boats that have entered Provisionally will be given first priority when matching them to any local boats looking for crew.

For more information and updates, please visit the HCW website at www.heavencanwait.com.au, or email info@heavencanwait.com.au. The site will shortly include channel charts (as of May 2009) and links to tide times (go to the Documents section for both of these).