Jumping through the weather window

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Wild night at sea – between Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour

The “weather window” opened just briefly, enabling us to make our way up the coast with the wind more behind than in front; always a good way to go

There is a thing in the sailing world called … “the weather window”.  I’ve mentioned it before.  Well, it opened ever so briefly for about 24-36 hours and we decided to jump through

It’s only possible to jump with confidence as a result of reliable weather forecasting, which it mostly is these days, but when you decide to commit you just hope there isn’t a subsequent update or revision from the Met. Bureau that you miss.

In our case the wind had been blowing from the north west for some time.  The product of a High-Pressure system moving across to the east, sending warm winds down from the deserts on the mainland. 

This High was being closely followed by a Low-Pressure system which was also sending wind from the North West as it approached, with the gap between the two systems somehow creating winds from the  West and South West for just a short period of time. 

Given we had around 100 miles to travel in a roughly northerly direction, from Port Davey to Macquarie Harbour, we felt this was an opportunity we had to grab.

So it was that we made our way out of Schooner Cove – our wonderful anchorage for the night – and into Port Davey proper where we anchored in Bond Bay for lunch; but not before dropping into the very tight Lourah Island anchorage – just to tick it off our list.    

Our tacking course out of Port Davey awaiting the wind change from the southwest – finally when the change came through we could set our course to the northwest. Note the areas marked as “UNSURVEYED”. No sailor wants a rock named after them, so it’s wise to keep a good lookout

As we crossed the bay we were radioed by the catamaran K’Gari, who could see us on the chart plotter (and in the distance) saying good-bye as they were grabbing the remains of the brisk North Westerly to shoot DOWN the coast and eventually back to Hobart.

Once at Bond Bay, for us, it was a waiting game.  We stowed the big dinghy back on deck, lashed everything down that could move, and Isabel and Jacqui even prepared the evening’s meal in advance so it could easily be dished out.

Our dolphin escort out of Port Davey – there was more than one

The forecast talked about the wind change coming through in the late afternoon so we left it until 4:00pm to head away from our anchorage, the west to northwest wind pushing us quickly down Paine Bay and into Port Davey.  From here we tightened up for the northwest course, rounding Point St Vincent and North Head, making sure to stay well clear of Sharksjaw Reef.

By now the full strength of the southwest swell could be felt, with a northeast swell and a breaking sea thrown in for good measure.  The wind change had clearly not come through and so in full confidence we made the best course we could.  Not even west, but something like southwest.  This was certainly NOT going to get us to Macquarie Harbour.   After a couple of miles of this we “went about”, in a manoeuvre known as “Tacking”, onto a new course in a northeastly direction – back to the coast again but slightly further north of our starting point.

It’s a tedious process and why cruising sailors choose NOT to tack if they can possibly help it.  The rocky coastline was fast approaching on the bow and so naturally we dropped in another tack, back in a southwesterly direction, looking closely for signs of being able to steer a course closer to where we wanted to go – North-ish

To their credit, all on board remained positive and upbeat.  And there were no signs of cracking, as the seas sent white-water over the deck and the night began to descend making things feel even colder and more alone 

It was around this point, after tacking for a third time that I asked John to check the distance back to Spain Bay … less than 10 miles and still time to make a graceful retreat and await the (by now) mythical wind change.     

Thinking, thinking, thinking … all the while looking to the wind gauge at the top of the mast and the red wool attached to the stays on both sides for any sign of the wind shifting more OFF the bow … onto our beam … or even onto the stern quarter. 

Then it happened.  The arrow suddenly pointed at right angles to the boat, off to the left.

“Bring her up 10 degrees John … now try another 10.  She’s holding. Up another 10 degrees”. 

And with each slight course change we found Chimere could hold her own – with no flapping sails – as the wind moved further and further around; to the south west. 

Soon enough, we were onto our north westerly course.  The wind was where it should be and the swells and waves, instead of pounding the bow, were now mostly coming onto our stern quarter.  I say “mostly”, because the north easterly swell, meeting the south westerly swell created a confused sea of a corkscrew nature that would send us one way and then another, with the occasional wave slapping the side sending spray up and over.

Are we having fun yet …?
Sitting on the low side takes advantage of gravity and the forces of nature … you also get a good view of the breaking seas down the lee side

Inside our sheltered cockpit all was dry and relatively comfy, but funny… there was no interest in dinner as we began taking it in shifts to sleep, knowing it would be a long night and we would need to remain alert.

For much of the night we carried a single-reefed mainsail and just a small jib, maybe 40% of its normal size.  This was enough to give us around 6-7 knots of speed, although there were times when we’d keep the engine ticking over, its regular thrust helping to combat the competing forces of the waves and swell.

John and I led the shifts through the night with Isabel and Ray offering great support – monitoring the course, the speed, set of the sails and the horizon for any sign of lights or other vessels.  Not that you could see much outside.  At one point I remember the sky was clear and briefly revealed the stars, but the regular rain squalls and the noise it made on the canopy was the norm.  “The rain helps flatten the seas” … I volunteered at one point, no doubt trying to put a positive spin on things.  Not sure I got a response to that one?!

A long night at sea, with sleep the only casualty
This Mutton bird landed on the deck in the middle of the night and just waddled into the cockpit. We released him upon arrival at Macquarie Harbour

At one point I’d been in my bunk about 30 minutes and whilst exhaustion finally puts you into a type of sleep, the noises and movement of the boat are constantly being processed somewhere deep within.  The act of actually staying in my bunk finally had me wide awake – the heal to starboard becoming just TOO great.  My mistake had been taking off my wet weather gear, so after finally kitting up again, I made it into the cockpit to read Chimere’s “vital signs”.

Speed – 9 knots, heal – too much,  course – good, sails – no change …

“I think we need to reduce sail, we’re going a bit fast” I suggested to John and Isabel.  “Let’s ease out the main and spill some wind…”  … Still we got faster … 10 knots … touching 11 knots … “we need to reduce the jib” … I said while unzipping the starboard side of the cockpit cover to cop a face full of rain and spray … “The jib is FULLY OUT” … I said with a tinge of surprise … “I can’t have fastened it tight enough in the cleat, and it all ran out”

“That would explain the noise a short time back bro, when it let go” said John

No harm done, but we now know Chimere can crank up some serious speeds if you choose to pile on the sail … which we try not to do where possible.

It must have been around 2:00am, when things are generally at their lowest on rough overnight jaunts, when an object came running into the cockpit, under the flap of the starboard cover, stopping right there on the floor.  “It’s a Mutton Bird”, I said to Ray … “I wonder if Isabel has any recipes for Mutton Bird??!!” 

“Oh the poor thing, it must have been attracted by our light and hit the sail perhaps?”, continued Ray.

“Maybe we could put it in a box till morning, then let it go?”

Baby it’s cold outside …,
I suppose I should have nicked outside to get a better shot, but there are times when there are other things on your mind

This is kind of what we did … into a big bucket with a blanket on top … but not before discovering something that I probably already knew. That Mutton Birds have sharp claws and beaks!  Doesn’t it know we are trying to help?!

So the night continued … cold and lumpy but made far LESS miserable by catching a wind that was going our way.  In the end the biggest casualty being sleep.

More rain squalls, at least now we can see them as dawn breaks over our destination – Macquarie Harbour

Smooth seas, fair winds and jumping through the weather window

Rob Latimer

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More to come …

Strahan, Macquarie Harbour, Gordon River

Thursday 7 March 2019
Wednesday 6 March 2019
Tuesday 5 March 2019

The overnight “hop” up the coast from Port Davey to Macquarie Harbour turned out to be a more tiresome affair than was originally anticipated; made less so by the eventual arrival of the southwesterly change

We left Port Davey on Tuesday evening and sailed through the night to Macquarie Harbour, 100 miles up the coast.

Sounds pretty straight forward and sometimes it is.

Except in this case the south west change took a while to come in and in the meantime we tacked up the coast into a 30 knot northwester, with 3-4 metre swells coming from BOTH the south west and the north east. Plus some breaking sea thrown in for good measure

I still have the last three days’ Ships Logs to write, but we arrived at Strahan yesterday morning and I think we are just getting over the lack of sleep.

We’ve been a week without internet communication, so we apologise for the lack of contact. Just goes to show there are still “primitive places” with no web coverage out there in the world, and it IS possible to survive 7 days without checking texts and emails every 14-16 minutes.

We are currently in Macquarie Harbour and will probably be out of radio range again as we head up the Gordon River – later today and tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve included a few photos below of the past three days …

Dolphins seeing us out of Port Davey
Ray and John strapped in for the ride …
The low side and gravity is your friend … no look of apprehension at all as we start the night sale to Macquarie Harbour …?!
Cold and miserable outside, snug inside
Finally approach Cape Sorell and the harbour entrance as dawn breaks
More rain to go with the gale force wind … helps clean the decks
Just miserable outside, but hard to capture on “film”
Don’t know why I’m smiling … habit I suppose
Been a long night
Then all of a sudden, out of the dark at 2:00am, in waddles a mutton bird into the cockpit.
Cape Sorell lighthouse somewhere out there
Grey on grey on grey on grey

Then the sun breaks through like a Turner landscape
“Where’s my hat” calls John … “No problem” says Isabel, “wear mine”
Entering Hells Gate at Macquarie Harbour
Hells Gate light
Strahan
So this is a scallop pie
Peak parking
Through a friend of a friend of Isabel’s we managed to obtain tickets to a local theatre production that has been running since 1985 … not the same actual performance you understand … but the same production. “The Ship That Never Was” … A truly excellent performance, based on a real event that occurred in the harbour – the stealing of a ship by convicts in the 1830s and its voyage to Chile !! Well with a visit !!
One of the two actors … also takes the money and hands out rugs
A nearby workshop and a wall of history

A hilltop experience

Monday 4 March 2019

Schooner Cove (Port Davey)

Up and away by 9:00am … which is pretty good by current standards ! 

And there on the horizon what do we see … but a TALL ship, anchored way down at the southern end of Bathurst Harbour, behind Celery Top Islands.

“Got any egg cups?” , asks egg-boiler-expert-John … no problems … I’ll make my own …

A quick glance at the chart plotter reveals her to be Windward Bound,
https://www.windewardbound.com.au/ which we’d seen close-up in Hobart during the Wooden Boat festival … is it nearly a month ago ?!

There’s something very special about seeing these ships out in their natural habitat and so we couldn’t resist the temptation of doing a drive-by, a gawk and a wave; since it was already on our course, although I’m sure we would have deviated if she wasn’t.

We were saying good-bye to Bathurst Harbour and as we headed into the Bathurst Narrows, past where we’d anchored two nights before, we couldn’t help but noticing that there were still about ten or more vessels at anchor. 

Windward Bound at anchor in Bathurst Harbour
The sea and sky keep drawing out attention
Can you have too much serenity ?

Could it be they were all friends, maybe waiting for the right wind, sheltering from the strong nor westerlies (and passing showers) or possibly part of the Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation rally? 
https://www.ryct.org.au/cruising/vdl-circumnavigation/vdlcruises2019/

We never really found out.  Fact is, with most vessels in the area snug at anchor, we pretty much had the place to ourselves

There were so many anchorages in the cruising guide, you’d need to be here a few weeks to check them all out, but we were keen to check out as many as possible for future reference.  There was … (tiny) Iola Bay,  Ila Bay, Frog Hollow, Parker Bay, Joe Page Bay and around lunch time we stopped in a very small indentation just before Casilda Cove, within Horseshoe Inlet. 

The wind by now had really picked up from the north west and whilst our little cubby hole was just wide enough for us to anchor, if the wind should deviate too much there was little room for us to swing from side to side.  A change of wind wasn’t expected but to be sure we extended a line from the stern to a large tree on the shore to keep Chimere in place for the short time we would be there.

The fab-four make an assault on Balmoral Hill – mountain really
Getting higher
On top of Balmoral Hill looking down on Chimere at anchor below on the edge of Horseshoe Inlet
Like a miniature bonsai-world – so remote and amazing. There’s Chimere anchored down below, with a stern line to the shore for added security
The passing showers and constant gale-force winds kept us on our toes. Here’s John trying to take a photo

It was now time to do some exploring ashore, and with Ray agreeing to stay aboard as “caretaker”, (his dodgy knee kind of sealing his fate) and with a new squall just taking effect, John, Isabel, Jacqui and I headed off in the dinghy, out of our small cove and around Danger Bluff, a couple of hundred metres further up Horseshoe Inlet, to a small beach and the start of a bush track.  The track would take us to the top of the nearby “mountain” … very modestly called Balmoral Hill in the cruising guide.  Admittedly Balmoral was a small peak, nothing like Mount Rugby which dominates the region at over 2,200 feet, but it was our opportunity to gain some elevated perspective on the region in what was described in the cruising guide as being … “the best value for effort” 

Selfie from the top with Chimere down below – with Ray aboard as caretaker

Whilst we were blasted by the wind and drizzle, and the undergrowth was a bit scrubby and scratchy … for sailors … it turned out to be a stunning highlight of the day.  As the photos show, the views … even through the cloud and mist … were amazing.

Ray described the country as “Bonsai”, but on a grand scale.  The trees DO seem small, a form of miniature, no doubt a product of the cold weather, howling winds and hungry soils, but the remoteness just goes on and on, with ridgeline after ridgeline extending to the horizon in jagged saw-tooth formation.

Back on board it was time for a late lunch and away up the Bathurst Channel just another 2 miles to our chosen spot for the night … Schooner Cove.  It was now around 4:00pm, we had the place all to ourselves, and in disbelief we watched as the sky revealed some blue patches, the sun began to shine and many of the surrounding peaks looked down with a kind of washed starkness.

There was just enough time to do a quick circuit of the bay, to look at the small streams that flow into the bay, and visit the cave a short distance away that contained an aboriginal midden and ochre deposits

At anchor for the night, Schooner Cove, before 4 other boats suddenly turned up at dusk
A quick explore ashore at Schooner Cove
The cave at Schooner Cove showed signs of early aboriginal occupation

Then, just when you thought this truly was an isolated part of God’s creation, four other boats turn up in quick succession to anchor a short distance off our stern.

The HF radio again delivered a weather report tonight, confirming our decision to leave Port Davey tomorrow, heading north to Macquarie Harbour.  Our plan is to make good use of the predicted southwester.

Isabel and Jacqui impressed again tonight in the dinner department in what they referred to as a “scratch” meal … it even included the flathead caught by Ray and I the other night … but we weren’t so sure about that.  On the food front … it was revealed tonight that the beer and ice-cream are running out so it’s a good thing we’ll be in Strahan (Macquarie Harbour) in less than two days’ time.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and a hilltop experience

Rob Latimer

A very quiet day


Sunday 3 March 2019

North Inlet, behind Black Swan Is.  (Port Davey)

The morning saw a shroud of mist, drizzle and smoke on the surrounding hilltops as we up-anchored and departed Forest Bay around 9:30am

If yesterday was summer, today is much closer to winter … or at least a cold day in spring.

Carefully following the “breadcrumbs” left on our chart plotter on the way in, it was now time to explore Bathurst Harbour, with our sights set on cruising past Eds Cove and onto Black Swan Island at the entrance to North Inlet

Leaving Forest Bay it was very misty and considerably cooler than the day before
It might have been smoke, mist or a mix of both
Beautiful scenery at every turn

It was only a matter of a few miles but once we’d dropped anchor and turned off the engine in the isolation of North Inlet – surrounded on all sides by sea and rocky-green mountains – we found ourselves silent and just staring at the stillness.

The birds were chirping in the trees close by and there was barely a breath of air or ripple on the water.

There were few words spoken, then someone said … “why are we whispering?” … it was just that kind of place.

The water is brown from the tannin in the rivers and leaves a sudsy wake
The water’s surface sometimes broke up into what we called Alphabet Soup noodle shapes
Quiet at anchor behind Black Swan Island – at 10-15 degrees it was quite a bit cooler than the 35 degrees of the day before

In one sense there was very little done today.  Besides soaking up the vibe of the surroundings.  I went back to sleep for a couple of hours … as did Ray at some stage during the day.  Isabel and Jacqui made a lovely soup for lunch, then a spinach pie for dinner.  Both up to their usual, amazing standards !!

John and I went for a spin in the dinghy after we’d figured it wasn’t going to rain anymore and after John did a more permanent soldering job on the HF radio aerial I was able to pick up two forecasts today covering the next three days. 

John and Rob take a spin in the dinghy and land on tiny Black Swan Island
Black Swan Island
Is that a patch of blue?!
Look !! It’s starting to clear

There was much less communication on the VHF radio today – in fact none that I can recall.  Some yachts have grabbed the opportunity to head up the coast before the north west wind and swell start up again, and another we suspect has gone south before the south west wind takes over in two days’ time

A day of relaxation aboard – Jacqui rugged up with a book
Isabel and Ray fill in the evening at anchor

Our current plan is to explore Port Davey further tomorrow (Monday) and half of the next day, before sailing for Port Macquarie through the night of Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  The key objective being to arrive at the entrance of Port Macquarie – known affectionately as “Hell’s Gate” – during daylight hours!!

Other than that, there’s very little to report, other than we probably had more morning and afternoon teas today than usual, Isabel is progressing well wither her knitting and we all read more today than average

Smooth seas, fair breeze and A very quiet day

Rob Latimer

Summer came on a Saturday


Saturday 2 March 2019

Forest Lagoon (Port Davey)

After feeling the warmth of the land since entering Port Davey, as opposed to the coolness of the sea, things cranked up a notch today with the temperature rising significantly. 

We heard indirectly, through one of the Melaleuca volunteers, that it was going to get to 35 degrees and it certainly felt like it, when combined with the predicted 30 knot wind from the North West.

Admittedly, we still had the cooling effect of the sea while aboard Chimere, but the short dinghy ride across to the small wharf at Clayton’s Corner, along with the walk to the historical home and old garden, plus the short trek up the nearby hill, really brought home the fact that the sun was really baking.  Pity the poor walkers and kayakers who couldn’t escape it all.

” Now I’d like you to lie on the couch, relax and tell me what this diagram represents to you…?” … nothing mysterious here, just two night’s track at anchor, as the wind and tide had their way with us
A useful schedule of automated weather broadcasts, once John had our HF radio back and working again
Smoke from bushfires does brighten up the sunsets

That said, the changeable nature of the wind and weather down hear means that you don’t have long to wait before things are turned on their head – even blizzards in February we were informed.

Amongst the various boaties in the region, a recurring topic of discussion has been the lack of reliable communications and the craving for accurate weather forecasts.  It’s brought many, otherwise independent, folk together in order to share what each of us has been able to glean from the airwaves and those onshore

The catamaran K’gari, (mentioned a couple of days ago in this blog) is currently anchored off our stern and they called up on the VHF radio, inviting me over to listen to the recent forecast they had recorded via HF radio.  In doing this I was able to learn that tomorrow (Sunday 3/3) will be a bit calmer, with variable winds, followed by a return of the north westerlies on Monday and Tuesday.   

Since returning from Vanuatu in 2017, we haven’t had much need of our onboard HF radio.  In fact, the backstay-aerial-wire had broken off at deck level six months ago and had simply been tied up out of the way.  Now that the HF radio was our only form of communication, it was a strong incentive to get out the electrical repair kit and solder it all up again.  Which we did.  And after a brief re-familiarisation with its various knobs and dials I soon had my own forecasts crackling through on the designated channels.

Lots of boats in the one bay made it look a bit like Sydney Harbour

Another yacht we got to “know”, anchored in the bay, was Kelbec II.  I’d known this yacht as our neighbour on Row A at the Westernport Marina Hastings.  It’s previous owner, affectionately known as “Johno” even came sailing with us on Chimere in early 2017 with a view to possibly volunteering as a skipper in Vanuatu.  I was aware that Johno had sold the boat so as we motored to shore in the dinghy we met the new owner, Alex and his crew, Terrence.  Alex had actually hailed us as we passed by and after chatting about the boat’s history and his plans for the future, it transpired that Alex had broken his anchor snubber (which absorbs the strain and forces exerted by the wind and tide on the anchor chain) and was in need of some assistance.  So, after dropping John, Isabel, Ray and Jacqui ashore it was then a simple thing to return to Chimere for a suitable, old, stretchy rope that would do the trick – and show Alex how to do a rolling hitch that would enable the rope to grip the chain and still be easy to undo when it came time to up-anchor.

Back at the Clayton’s Corner wharf we chatted with a couple off the Melbourne-based yacht, Aquaholic, which I’d seen at the wooden boat festival a few weeks earlier.  The woman was from the northern part of New Zealand and when John Land returned, they had a long chat about all the places and people they knew in common.

The sun was still baking down and so our gang was keen to get back to Chimere for a cool drink … and second afternoon tea – with talk continuing about the weather over the next few days and what our plans might be.

Peter off K’Gari called up again on VHF Channel 16 inviting me to come over and record a copy of the latest forecast.  Having heard the call, Jackie off another yacht called Hansel, (whom we very briefly chatted with in Spain Bay as we departed on Friday morning – was that really just five days ago?) called up and asked if I might pass the forecast onto her; which I was happy to do after my brief visit to K’Gari.  Whilst our Smartphones are absolutely useless in Port Davey for making calls, sending emails or searching the web, they ARE very useful for taking photos AND recording radio messages and weather forecasts.  Maybe it’s my brain getting slower with age, or an inability to write quickly enough, but being able to playback a recording of the forecast several times really helps in fully understanding the message and making suitable plans.

Isabel with everyone’s friends … Tim and Tam

Around mid afternoon a general “All Ships … All Ships … All Ships” … message came over the airwaves and we were half expecting it to be an important message for mariners … and in a way it was … but it was then followed up with, “… this is Patriot X, anchored near King’s Point and around 5:30 this evening we are planning a cheeky little game of Jenga on the deck, plus a gin and tonic … and everyone is invited”

We were familiar with this vessel because we’d sailed near her on the coast coming up to Port Davey.  She was handsome motor “yacht” of about 65 feet and at the time we saw her she was humming along at around 10 knots.

Several boats responded positively to the invitation and it seemed another boat was planning a party centred around a “raft-up” of dinghies – all in keeping with the warm, balmy, and extremely still, summer  evening. 

Being in a different bay, we chose to ignore the kind invitation, not because we wouldn’t, or couldn’t, have gone, we were just content to see the evening in with our usual routines and the culinary adventures dished up by Isabel and Jacqui.

We were amused by the radio traffic, which to everyone’s credit was quickly transferred from Channel 16 across to Channel 10.  Then out of the blue, Patriot X, who had obviously heard us chatting earlier with the other vessels on the radio about the weather, put out a call, (in a rather slurred voice and with the distinct sound of a party in the background) … “Chimere, Chimere … why aren’t you over here … explain yourselves?” 

Feeling compelled to answer, I responded in a similarly slurred voice … “Beecos wees got ouwwr ooowwn pardee over ‘ere, hic!  But thank yoos for da kind invitation all da same ”

In the end it turned out to be a very lazy day aboard Chimere, befitting the hot temperature and strong north westerly, which died off to almost nothing by late afternoon.

The forecast talked of light conditions tomorrow, with a strong North Westerlies establishing itself on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a change from the south west. 

It was the south westerly that grabbed our attention because it was going our way.  This was something we could catch to our next major destination, Port Macquarie and the town of Strahan 100 miles up the coast.

For now we would just enjoy the remote isolation and beauty of the amazing Port Davey

Smooth seas, fair breeze and

Rob Latimer

Oh Melaleuca!


Friday 1 March 2019

Forest Lagoon (Port Davey)

It was a great feeling to finally have made it to Port Davey. It was now time to explore and after dropping anchor at Forest Lagoon (near Clayton’s Corner) it was a dinghy ride the rest of the way to Melaleuca

Getting away from Spain Bay after a lazy breakfast – and a walk ashore and up the nearby hill for Isabel and Jacqui – not to mention swim – we were soon making our way into South Passage.  To our left lay the Breaksea Islands as we took a hard right into the Bathurst Channel.

There was a brief encounter with several very large bottlenose dolphin before they raced off to play with another passing yacht, leaving us wondering what they had that we didn’t !?

You don’t get to do this very often … tie up to a cliff to obtain water from a waterfall
taking a short ride while we fill the tanks from the waterfall
A view from the waterfall

The sun was warm, the wind was slight and the sea was flat calm.  Despite the tidal flow against us we were making a steady 5-6 knots, just puttering along and we didn’t have long to wait for our first point of interest.  It was the enticingly named Waterfall Bay. 

Really?  A waterfall?  In summer, here in southern Australia?  Surely in name only.  Certainly, the photos in the cruising guide looked intriguing, so we were keen to check it out.

Here was a place where you could parallel park your boat, against a 25-metre cliff, down which a waterfall tumbled and cascaded.  Not only that, someone had built a wharf-style arrangement with fenders and ropes to make the tying up process easier.  Plus, a large collection bucket had been suspended part way up the cliff with a long hose running out of it to fill your tanks, have a shower or simply wash your decks.  

The fenders are already tied to the cliff to make for an easy tie-up
John climbs the waterfall for that full immersive experience
Washing day at the waterfall
Dual tasking … drinking coffee while hosing each other down … right ??!!

This proved to be a fun excursion and after having a good taste of the slightly amber looking fluid, we were quick to poke the hose into our tank inlet.  Given the warmth in the sun, we also enjoyed a very generous cold shower and there was even some overdue washing of clothes undertaken.

There were no other boats looking to take our place and so lunch was declared – a tasty combination of cup-a-soup and home-made (boat-made) bread topped with lashings of jam, peanut butter and honey.

On our way again we were met by a woman in a dinghy out of the blue motoring from her anchored yacht around the point.  As she approached, she called out … “…is this the Chimere that takes doctors around the islands … I knew the previous owner of Chimere?”  Appearing so enthusiastic, we invited her to tie up alongside as we motored along, and pretty soon she was on deck introducing herself as Jo. 

It was a real out-of-the-blue experience and after hearing about the previous owner and how she occasionally sailed with him, and showing her through Chimere, she was soon on her way, back to her yacht, K’Gari … which by now was just off our starboard beam anchored quietly in Schooner Bay.

And I thought we were the only ones here … Coral Discoverer drops anchor in the near Bathurst Channel, Port Davey
Our track from the south, into Spain Bay, then through Bathurst Channel and Bathurst Narrows and into Bathurst Harbour

From the Bathurst Channel we progressed into the Bathurst Narrows, past the occasional yacht at anchor in a side-bay, past the 200-foot-long tour ship Coral Discoverer, the waterway becoming narrower and shallower the further inland we progressed.  By mid afternoon we’d dropped anchor in Forest Lagoon at the start of the, extremely narrow and shallow, Melaleuca Inlet.

Making our way up the Melaleuca Inlet, then into the Melaleuca Creek was high on our list of things to do in this region.  Isabel had read a book years ago about the early pioneers to this region, mining tin and carving an existence from the beautiful yet harsh environment.

The last few miles were naturally covered in the large dinghy, in a three-hour excursion that was truly a highlight of the whole trip.

Despite the remoteness of the place on the map called “Melaleuca” it sports an airstrip, a ranger’s hut, toilets plus a collection of buildings old and new.  In addition, there was an extensive collection of machinery-relics – looking a bit like a scene out of the movie Mad Max  – associated with the early years as a tin mining region.

A rare day at Melaleuca – warm and still
The board walks help preserve the environment
John, Jacqui, Rob, Isabel and Ray next to the air strip at
Melaleuca

The quiet vastness of the surroundings gave new meaning to the word serenity, but it was the presence of the extremely endangered, migratory, Orange Bellied Parrots that was a real thrill.  As we sat next to a volunteer observer in his shelter busily recording each foraging bird by “name” (via a coded band on its leg) through a spyglass he commented … “those 7 birds on that feeder-shelf represent 8% of the known wild population in the world” 

Even if it was 1% of the wild population, it meant that this small greenish bird, that flies from here to Victoria and back each year, is extremely rare.  The volunteer continued … “There is a breeding program and these ones are the babies.  Their parents will fly north and eventually these ones will follow.  It’s amazing that even the birds bred in Victoria and released into the wild here, manage to find their way back to Victoria.  Just seems to be built into them”

The extremely rare and endangered Orange Bellied Parrot, which migrates to and from the mainland (almost said Australia) – they say there are less than 100 or so birds living in the wild
Looking like a scene from Max Max the movie … John’s creative DIY New Zealand mind is trying to figure out how he could get it running again using only 8-gauge wire … he might need another hour or so with this one
It was a tough and rugged life … they even had their own smelter to refine the tin into ingots

The air was still, the sky was clear and the warmth seemed to seduce the senses as we wandered around the boardwalks – built just above the scrubby ground cover – soaking in the surroundings. 

Isabel, Ray and Jacqui eventually returned from their more extensive stroll, taking in the Needwonee Aboriginal discovery trail, and the old walkers hut which Jacqui used way back in 1980 while walking the South Coast Track … surely as a little girl?!  Jacqui reported that it still smelt and felt the same, as the fond memories all came back to her. 

The reflective experience was stunning
It was hard to put the camera away
Back at anchor and it was still … “still-as bro”

I should mention that we also visited the Deny King museum, which was of particular interest to Isabel who had read and researched the man and the region more than any of us

Hard to know where the real world started and finished
We had Forest Bay to ourselves … apart from all the other yachts … that’s K’Gari to the left

Eventually, as afternoon showed the first signs of becoming evening, we clambered down into the dinghy for the 30-minute chug back to Chimere.

It was here that the stillness, seen in the amazingly clear reflections of the inlet, really came into its own.   It seemed for a while there we were traveling in two worlds, one the reflected image of the sky, hills and trees in the water before us and the other that represented the real world, rising from an indistinct line in the middle-distance to the sky above.  The photos hopefully do it more justice than my words.

Back aboard, the evening routines began – dinner of tacos, an early nap, some book reading, photographing the sunset and advancing night, plus discussions about possible plans and possibilities for tomorrow.

Maintaining sufficient charge in our bank of batteries is a constant consideration and whilst the motor and wind generator help top it up, our constant drain of around 10 Amps needs us to run the generator for a few extra hours – which we’ll need to do tomorrow.

Having entered the bay close past the stern of three other boats in order to remain in the deeper part of this lagoon, the numbers on our depth sounder got below 2 metres for a time, which is always a source of concern.  Admittedly it was low tide, but no one likes to run aground and particularly when others are watching !  As surely they are when the delicate task of anchoring is taking place anywhere close by, with accompanying thoughts such as …  “they’d better not anchor too close to us” … “do they know it’s shallow over there?” … “are they going to turn up into the wind?” … “have they considered the expected change of wind?” … “they’d better take into account the swing if they put out too much chain” … you get the idea

In the end the depth went from 1.8 metres to 4 metres and with a sign of relief we rounded up and dropped the anchor along with 20-30 metres of chain. 

For now … to quote our on-board kiwi lad John … “it’s as calm-as bro…” 

Time for sleep

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Oh Melaleuca!

Rob Latimer

North to Port Davey


Thursday 28 February 2019

Spain Bay (Port Davey)

We were finally making our way up the South West coast in the direction of Port Davey

Having enjoyed a diet of perfectly calm anchorages, last night at Louisa Bay was something of a rolly affair.

Ray takes in the rugged coast line
Jacqui checks the next anchorage
Isabel finds a quiet spot to knit out of the wind

It’s generally not too bad when there’s a steady pitching motion – the bow and stern taking it in turns to go up and down – but throw in a roll to the left, then to the right, then to the left, then to the right, and it can have you packing pillows around you just to stay in bed.

Whilst the sea movement might have been a small annoyance, the dramatic phosphorescence in the water at night, plus the brightness of the stars which were also reflected in the still water, more than made up for it.

Ketchem Bay behind Ketchem Island – just not quite big enough for Chimere (although the idea was seriously considered)

There was also the walk along the lonely beach nearby, which we all voted was worthy of special mention.

The morning was misty and damp, and there was barely a zephyr as we made our way out of the bay under power around 8:00am. 

Our first task was to check out nearby anchorages – up the coast in the direction of Port Davey – just to see how they would rate in a blow.  It was also fun to compare our experience with the pictures in the cruising guide.  Cox’s Bay was first, then New Harbour, followed by Ketchem Bay. 

It was Ketchem Bay we were most keen to see, mainly because of the small island that sat maybe 50 metres off the land.  The sheltered side of the island was accessed via a narrow channel to reveal a perfectly formed, crescent-shaped sandy beach.  We initially entertained the idea of parking Chimere in the sheltered bolt-hole, with an anchor out front and a line to the beach; being the image shown in the cruising guide.  But after taking the dinghy in first and sounding the depth the ol’ fashioned way – with lead and line – we thought better of it.  Instead, we anchored out in the main Ketcham Bay, where the remains of the SW swell could still be felt.

Ketchem Bay turned out to be a brief lunch-spot between Louisa Bay and Spain Bay at the entrance to Port Davey

There was just enough time before lunch for us all to venture ashore to marvel at the gorgeous little Gilligan-Island-esque beach, hidden behind the small island’s rocky exterior.  There were even plans to return for a swim later in the day and remain here overnight.  However, after weighing up all the factors and variables it seemed prudent to keep moving on.

A picture-perfect scene – behind Ketchem Island
Behind Ketchem Island – beautiful from an angle

Southwest Cape was just a further 5 miles down the coast in a south-westerly direction.  Once we’d turned this corner it was then only a 20 mile hop up the coast in a north-westerly direction to Port Davey and given the brisk easterly wind was soon to move northerly – and on the nose – we all agree, it was time to go!

Views of the dramatic shore-line and mountainous interior did not diminish once we rounding South West Cape, in fact if anything they increased.  We passed coastal features such as … Mckays Gulch (we’d really wanted to stop in here), Cliff Point, Window Pane Bay, Flying Cloud Point and the East Pyramids (which were really well named).  There were also large sections of the coast marked with a thick purple-dashed line with the words “UNSURVEYED”; also written in purple ink.  It’s hard to think that all rocks and obstacles haven’t already been found in the last 200+ years, but these are certainly areas for extra caution

The wind moved to the southeast as predicted and so our romp up the coast in a northwesterly direction put it right up our tails with the mainsail almost out at right angles.

Judging by the number of other yachts we spied, it seemed we weren’t the only boat with the same idea.  Of the five yachts seen, four were making a dash for Port Davey.

We made good time and by 5:45pm we were dropping anchor in Spain Bay, at the southern end of Port Davey. 

On entering Spain Bay we’d half expected to be sharing the anchorage with a gang of other yachts, but as it turned out we had it all to ourselves.  Except for one other, named Hansel …  that turned up on dusk.  Most other boats presumably heading further up into one of the many Port Davey waterways that extend inland many miles.

Isabel and Jacqui set about implementing their dinner plans, Ray returned to his fishing and John and I dashed ashore in the dinghy to check out if there was evidence of penguin and mutton bird activity.  As it turned out, John and I also went for a walk to the top of a nearby hill after finding a track that led from the beach.

Jacqui gets lunch ready for all
Finally arrived in Spain Bay at the entrance to Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour
Rob and John climb to the top of the hill above Spain Bay
A rare summer’s day

The sea was flat and calm, which pointed to a comfortable night at anchor.  Within a few hours, however, the wind drifted from the south east to the north east, causing the bow of the boat to swing accordingly.  It was all done in whisper stillness, barely noticeable, but clear evidence that the earlier forecast was correct. 

In two days’ time the wind was predicted to blow at 30 knots from the northwest, before turning once more to the southwest – as the high pressure system moved across – but by then we would be long gone, sheltering in one of the many other hidey-holes in this expansive waterway.

Ray waits for the fish to bite and John starts another book from the ship’s library
Isabel and Jacqui know what to do once the fish is caught

For now it was time to soak in the surrounding serenity and the changing colours from pinks through purples as the sun slowly went to bed.  And we were soon to follow.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and north to Port Davey

Rob Latimer