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Byron Shire
February 25, 2021

‘The Brunswick bar could kill you’

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A Byron Shire councillor has warned that the Brunswick bar is ‘not a safe bar under any circumstances,’ but has ruled out dredging to improve access.

Cr Tabart, who used to moor a 48-foot boat in the harbour, told Echonetdaily that dredging ‘was done around 20 years ago, and it went back to where it was within months’.

Local yachtsman Bob Martin is advising all big boats to avoid the notorious bar after a four million dollar yacht lost its rudder in shallow waters a few days before New Year’s Eve.

Thankfully no-one was injured when the 48-tonne sloop, the Bellatrix, hit sand at the river’s entrance, but it proved inconvenient for its captain, Dutch multi-millionaire Kommer Damen.

Mr Damen is heir to a worldwide shipbuilding empire based in Holland.

Mr Martin said Mr Damen and his family stayed at the harbour for two weeks, waiting for an opportunity to cross the bar to sail – with an improvised rudder – to the Gold Coast for repairs.

‘We finally got him through the bar, and then watched them for an hour doing circles,’ he said.

‘Kommer asked Pete, the owner of the local trawler, to tow him to Coomera. Pete agreed and was taking me and big Mal back in through the bar to get food and water when Pete snapped his rudder off!’

Mr Martin says that he then volunteered his yacht, the Nord Sjarna, to tow the vessel. ‘Luckily my son Allan and his mate were at the boat when this happened and they came and helped.’

After an exhausting tow, he says both crews arrived through the Southport seaway at 10pm.

‘Interestingly, Kommer says he has sailed all the world’s oceans, twice over, and never got a scratch on his boat until he came here.’

Dredging not cost effective: Cr Tabart

The incident – along with others in recent times – raises the issue of dredging; however, it would not be cost effective according to Cr Tabart.

Nor will it make a difference, he says, as there is a rock shelf at the mouth of the river and the angle of the walls is not ideal. ‘Securing state funding is also a difficulty,’ he says, and has been a ‘merry-go-round issue’ for years. ‘It’s not a safe bar under any circumstances,’ he added.

Owen Danvers from Brunswick Marine Rescue agrees with Cr Tabart on the bar’s design.

‘The angle of the south wall does need modification by being extended and angled more to the north-east.

Mr Danvers says that a similar design can be found to the entrance at Evans Head.

Other dredging works in the state

Dredging works commenced in the Swansea Channel, Lake Macquarie, on December 5, 2011, according to www.lakemac.com.au.

Then-MP Tony Kelly said in 2009 that the $300,000 funding was part of the $2.9 million for the minor ports and river entrances program.

Echonetdaily asked the minister for primary industries what plans the state government has for the Brunswick bar vis-a-vis the minor ports and river entrances program.

A Crown Lands spokesperson responded and said, ‘Coastal conditions on the far north coast are complex and the rate of sand movement along the coastline is high’.

‘The Department has no current plans to undertake a dredging campaign at the Brunswick entrance but will continue to monitor conditions at the entrance bar in conjunction with local stakeholders. Boat users are reminded that the crossing of coastal bars is always potentially hazardous and skippers should carefully follow the safety advice provided by NSW Maritime.’

Mr Martin concludes, ‘We have one of the most beautiful little harbours on the east coast of Australia and yet despite this even on a good day, without much wind or swell, the Brunswick bar could kill you.’


Image: Leon ‘Bumpy’ Mclean aboard the Nord Sjarna, which towed the Bellatrix from Brunswick Heads to Southport after losing its rudder on the Bruns bar.

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