The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert

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seasquirt
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The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert

Post by seasquirt »

I have been there many times over 50 years, and am always learning new things.
The Coorong is no place for vessels with dagger boards or deep keels, I personally think. Swinging rudders and centre boards are a must, and even then you may get into trouble so easily. The Murray River flow is so depleted that 2 dredges operate at the mouth area all year round to keep it open for navigation and environmental flows, otherwise it would fill with sand and close over, turning the coorong and freshwater lakes into stagnant brackish salty lakes, from the inland salt coming down the river. The sand makes banks, and fills channels, which are then not so deep keel friendly.

Between the Goolwa Barrage / lock, and The Needles further south, about half way down, (Goat Island and Needles Island), there are the usual mud banks, and rocks, and tube worm bommies hidden in the murky polluted Murray River / Coorong waters, with water deep enough for a modest shoal draught fixed keel or deep centreboard in many areas along and around the marked channels. Deep keels must stick close to the marked channels or risk grounding or becoming stuck.

The over 100Km long waterway can have strong, swift flowing tidal flows around the mouth, and south to The Needles, which is a tidal flow restriction. There are still ocean influenced tides further south, not so fast flowing, but the water levels do change, as noted by the drying and flooding of the Tea Tree Crossing roadway, further south. The south end water level is also influenced by wind strength and direction, with a strong south easterly wind pushing water out lowering the depth, and a westerly pushing water into the southern end, flooding the samphire flats.

South of the needles, the 'deep' water channels are much narrower and less deep, and there are very few channel markers, if any; mostly sticks and posts placed by locals to indicate mud banks and channels, but no indication as to which they are marking, so assume they are all mud banks, unless in a row heading to shore. And even then they may mark the edge of a bank, rather than a landing. The further south you go, the sharper and nastier the rocks seem to become, especially around islands; some rocks poking up separately in rows like pointy teeth, or needles, waiting to impale a hull or disfigure something. Lines of rocks sometimes stretch between some Islands, preventing going between them. The tube worm bommies don't grow so big this far down, but the rocks are harder and far worse.

I did have to slow down to scrape and bump over some rocks many times in my small dinghy, but I was island hopping, well away from deep water and marked channels. It's not called 'The Limestone Coast' for nothing. I had no chart, but I took computer screenshots of satellite photos of the area in low water and clear conditions, and downloaded the pics to my mobile phone, to zoom into on in the boat, for visuals of the rocky features. Invaluable in avoiding nasties and finding the 'channels'. I'm sure an Admiralty / Naval chart would have had much less useful information of the bottom conditions, of where I went anyway - off the beaten track.

Water turbidity (visibility) conditions change as you travel south, with northern parts close to Lake Alexandrina, barrage, and the lock being very cloudy, full of eastern states' mud, giving a light creamy tan Murray River complexion. Depending on the tides coming in or out of the Murray mouth bringing in clear sea water from the Great Southern Ocean, or not, the water may be a bit clearer in places, but still cloudy from the mouth to The Needles.
From The Needles continuing south, the water seems a bit clearer, and darker, with no Murray mud influence seen, but still far from clear. Further south of the Cattle Island, Coorong village, and Woods Well area, the water is clearer; but by no means clear, and taking on a dark orange reddish hue, not quite a red tide, but full of similar looking bacterial clouds. There is very little deep water here, or channels, and mostly 1 - 2 feet deep, flat bottomed across the waterway, with the centreboard ploughing the bottom mud at the same depth fairly consistently, in that, every time I tried to get more board down, I couldn't.

The southern most reaches have very little bird life; mostly emus in the sand hills, and small birds at the water's edges. The water there seems dead, some crab holes, and probably worms in the mud, wheras closer to the incoming river mouth sea water, and north of The Needles, bird life is much more abundant and fishing is better. The far south end is interesting if you are into geology, with lifted mud layers and rock strata; and ancient dunal environments. The fish are on the other side of the dunes - in the sea, not in the coorong down here. In times past, before Europeans draining the surrounding wetlands for farming, the freshwater flows into the south end of the Coorong would have produced a rich fresh water / brackish estuarine environment full of fish and birds; such a shame it's so sick now.

Using wildlife as depth indicators:
Look for flotillas of birds congregating by species on sections of water. They usually indicate shallow depth.
If any bird is standing still and not floating / bobbing = very shallow water - inches deep. Forget Seagulls.
Swans eat grass, and have long necks and short legs = water between 6 inches deep and 2 feet max.
Pelicans have long necks and long bills, and short legs = water between 1 foot and 2.5 feet deep, maybe 3 feet max.
Diving birds from the air need some depth, estimate minimum 2 feet, possibly deeper but don't count on it.
Cormorants and wet diving birds can use 2 feet or more.
Seals need 3 feet or more depth.

At some point I hit something, not unusual for the area, but then I was having unusual trouble lifting and lowering the centreboard, and had to get violent with it. My centreboard pivot pin was sheared into pieces by hitting a rock or worm bommy at speed. Bad enough in a small dinghy, but in a bigger boat it could be a very damaging and expensive strike, and also possible dramas getting the boat back on a trailer, or even a weighted centreboard dropping out to get jammed not quite fully out and stuck in mud, or completely dropping out and lost. Mine is wooden and floated in place, despite me being able to lift it out while underway. A very disconcerting feeling. Cordage tied at the handle prevented it from disappearing down the slot completely.

So if planning an extensive coorong trip, a shallow draught is preferrable; take running repairs gear; oversupply food and drinks and fuel; much more than a 2 HP outboard is needed - or recommended anyway; mobile phone reception can be a bit iffy, so another backup method of communication is recommended; don't think it is like a river - there are swift flowing parts, long fetches to generate massive choppy waves, and large standing waves in some conditions, and the weather coming off the Great Southern Ocean isn't much abated by the intervening dune systems, it gets full gales.
In summer, biting flies and midges and mosquitos can be annoying.

On the good side, when the weather is nice, it is magical; take camera gear to capture the wildlife and beautiful scenery. Bushwalking to the ocean is very interesting, and in season you can dig up fresh cockles, or pipis, if you find the right spots.
Fishing can be very good too, where the sea water mixes, so take assorted fishing gear.


lakes Alexandrina and Albert are both relatively shallow, with muddy bottom and banks. In low water conditions rock strikes can occur. I was told that quarry boats bringing stone to Goolwa and lake towns many decades ago, had hatch bottoms, and when the weather and waves got too much, they would dump their load and head for shelter, leaving a pile of stone in the lake somewhere. I've not verified this, but having sailed in the Goolwa - Milang Classic race, and Milang - Goolwa races, and many camping trips on the lakes, I can attest to the unusually violent short steep choppy waves that can make things very uncomfortable on both lakes, even on a big boat. The lakes are classed as open ocean almost, they are so big and dangerous. Many people have drowned there, so be warned, and prepared.

There is nice rural scenery, good food and hospitality in the towns, (excellent wine), not as much wildlife as in the coorong, several creeks to explore, good local maps, and a huge area to cover if your boat is equipped to the appropriate level, according to S.A. boating regulations. No joke, those waves can pop up quickly, and are extremely bad when a storm, and a long fetch of shallow water combine; that's when you head for shelter, or the reeds, which then grind away at your gellcoat.

If in the South East vicinity already, a bit further south is Robe, with clear ocean waters and excellent fishing, if the weather is good.
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Grith
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Re: The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert

Post by Grith »

Hi Seasquirt Thanks for the informative descriptions. We are about to head upstream for several weeks from our new home in Wellington East in company with friends in their Court 750 but will be going south into the Coorong perhaps later in the year.
My yacht has both swing keel and swing rudders but the rudders do draw just under 1 metre when fully down.
Thoughts?
The main hull draws just on 30cms and the big outboard can still operate in about 45cms in shallow water mode.
PS If in the area please call on 0418907110 as you would be welcome to use our sheltered northern side floating pontoon jetty and showers and the like. 🙂
Grith
Wellington East South Australia
Imexus 28
Hobie Adventure Islands (sailing trimaran kayaks)
Isuzu NLS AWD with Beyond Slide On Camper
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seasquirt
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Re: The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert

Post by seasquirt »

Thanks Grith for the most hospitable offer. I won't be going anywhere myself for a while, at least not until winter is well over.

You should have depth for full rudder down for most of the time, except if beaching or exploring. Don't clamp the cheeks too much, and let it ride up and over things easily. Overnight put it up high to avoid wave slap from changing winds, opposing tide flow, and sometimes fast boats. But get used to diving for your centreboard winch or hydraulics controls.

Another thing you should know is that, now, bureaucracy rules in The Coorong, and you need to pay online for days spent in your boat in the park, and if you want to camp on land, you have to pre-book and pay online, and only stay in the allotted site for the paid time. Easier maybe to get a year's pre-paid National Parks permit, which works for all parks all year, boat, and car, I think.

The DIY boating lock at Tauwitchere, on a small island on the barrage, about 10 Km SE of the river mouth, is your quickest way into the Coorong from Wellington. Is not fun in bad weather on either side of the lock, or inside the lock either, so pick your weather to go through.

The further southeast down the Coorong you go, the more motoring and less sailing and tacking you will be doing, since mud banks and rocks will be either side of the marked channels, so allow for much more motoring, slowly, in case something to be avoided looms into view.

With care and good lookouts, your 1 foot draught should get as far south as Tea Tree Crossing on a high tide, if you were game, and got out to deeper water before the tide receded. I have sailed across Tea Tree Crossing with the roadway's water height stick measuring 0.9M. Realistically though, you could maybe get as far south as Policeman Point if careful, without 'asking for trouble'.

The tides can be a couple of inches to a couple feet, so be aware of the tide if beaching, stuck in the mud on a beautiful glassy day . . .
Where there is no tidal rush, I sometimes have anchored in 3 feet, with the boat's eye on a rope loop through the anchor, and a screw in anchor on shore at the other end of the loop, to hold the boat out in deep water, or bring it back in shore to board; in a tidal flow I use a third anchor up on land, in case the screw in or other anchor fails to hold.

Reminding me of another Coorong joy - weed. It wraps around and sticks to any ropes in the water, and is an outboard motor cooling hazard, which you need to keep an eye on. Blasting along it's no problem, but putting about in shallows especially, is the dangerous time, so keep an eye on your engine's telltale. Occasionally I have had to lift rudders and centre board, to clear streamers of clumps of weed slowing me down. The swans love it.

Low tide, and anchors may mean getting out in the mud. Bare foot is usually best on the southern side, because the sometimes deep mud will suck your laced up shoes off, and thongs, socks, and boots. The mud washes off fairly easily though, and usually there is nothing too sharp hidden in it to cut or stab you. On the mainland - northern side it is often rockier, so foot protection is probably best if getting out.

Most important - Have Fun.
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Grith
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Re: The Coorong, and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert

Post by Grith »

Hi Seasquirt Thanks again for all the information. Shouldn’t have too much centreboard trouble as it’s lightweight glass and has a multi purchase rope to deck winch control and just slides up when it hits something. Due to its light weight it isn’t pinned down against sliding back into the case in extreme broach or worse.
The rudders are my biggest concern but may create and fit a short one for use in shallows as I have two, one either side of my outboard. It would be easy to swap one temporarily for a very shallow trip.
I use tight fitting whitewater kayaking shoes for sojourns into mud or unknown surfaces. They have thick rubber soles with rock grips and are pull off proof being designed for walking in raging waters.🙂
I have done a fair bit of extended camping off my Hobie adventure Islands and read with interest your micro yacht camping details. I can actually rig my tent across the trampolines and have done so exploring extensive swamps where landing is impossible or just yucky!
Don’t have one with tent erected as couldn’t<br /> get off the Hobie when it was up.:)
Don’t have one with tent erected as couldn’t
get off the Hobie when it was up.:)
Grith
Wellington East South Australia
Imexus 28
Hobie Adventure Islands (sailing trimaran kayaks)
Isuzu NLS AWD with Beyond Slide On Camper
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