Thursday, 29 May 2014

Lollygagging around the Gippsland Lakes - Part 1

A gorgeous heron at twilight standing on the dock right outside the porthole.

The night sail from Refuge Cove to Lake's Entrance, apart from being smooth and relatively gentle, also felt huge and lonely and silent. On my watches I played music and played games and tried to take my mind off of the cloying darkness. We sailed the entire way and I was so happy about that because we didn't have diesel smell and noise for the first time in a while. Yet even without the noise and smell we slept fitfully and couldn't wait to arrive at our destination. The next thing we had to worry about was... THE BAR at the entrance!

We had heard tales about the dangers of the bar and Dave had had experiences with sand bars on the way back from Queensland when he initially picked Venture up. No one took them lightly. They sounded scary and dangerous and being the less-than-heroic person that I am, I was anxious long before we got there. Luckily they had a live video feed of the entrance, so we could see it in real time on the laptop, which was actually pretty awesome. It looked okay but we'd have to see when we got there.

Approaching the bar, there seemed to be no discernible danger with low waves and no swell, but still we advanced with caution as we knew there would be a rip or undertow. Sails down and engine on, we made sure that we had lined up the leads correctly and then made up our minds to just go. Fortunately, apart from a gentle sideways push, we had not a single problem with it, which was a huge relief. I'll be happy if they're all as easy. Because of the caution we had to take, we didn't take any photos of the bar.

Inside Cunninghame Arm

Just inside the entrance we turned right and headed up the Cunninghame Arm to the Cunninghame Marina. The piers are all colour coded within the river system, red, blue, yellow, white and. Red are private moorings generally with power and water that need to be pre-booked, blue is for 4 hours between 8am and 8pm, or overnight after 8pm (unpowered), yellow are loading zones and white are 48 hours (some powered with a small fee). By 10am we were tied up at a red berth at Lakes and putting the kettle on. Paying for just one night initially, all we wanted right then was a nice, hot shower as there'd been none at Refuge Cove. Though we were hoping it was close by, Mel, the lovely woman who ran the pier and ran Eco Tours from it with her husband, had bad news. The nearest hot showers were almost 2 kilometres away, were public and mainly used by fishermen and were 'hopefully okay because they'd been vandalised recently'. Oh.... joy. At least the way there was right along the esplanade so that was okay.

Dave figured that he should do a full engine oil change before having a shower and whilst we're hooked up to power. It's not his favourite job and for some reason this particular oil change came with difficult nuts and stubborn filters, and lots of grunts and grumbles and swearing but eventually, after several hours, he arose triumphant, grimy, oily, sweaty and more than ready for a shower. 

You see the strangest things...Dog in a doggy bag
Luckily the weather was nice, if a bit chilly, so we decided to walk it (plus I was scared to ride as my tail-bone still smarted and I was still using the blow up cushion) and have a little look about at the same time. Lakes, we discovered, is a beautiful little town with a manicured foreshore, spotlessly clean streets, smiling, friendly people and fishing boats galore, some of which sold their catches directly from their vessels. It is, in a word, quaint. The added fact that it has a McDonald's, KFC, awesome fish and chip shops and a Target, along with loads of interesting little shops within walking distance of the berth is just a bonus.

On the way to the showers we dropped into the large tourist information centre, where we were looked after by a really grumpy middle aged guy who didn't seem to want to be there. Suffice to say that, although I would have liked to buy some locally made jams or pickles, I just wanted out of there away from the grouchy man.

Finally at the public showers in the toilet block, I was pleasantly surprised to see that not only had they been repaired but they were really very nice. Ah, I couldn't wait to feel that hot water. The air was quite brisk, so the warmth would be wonderful.

At the perfect temperature I stepped in and washed my hair but as I rinsed it felt as though the water was a tad cooler. Nah.... couldn't be. I'd been in less than a minute and a half. It must just be the cool air. I turned the hot water up a bit, the cold water down a bit and added conditioner to my hair as the water temperature crept slowly south despite turning the cold water down even more. No, no, no.... not already! Where I would normally keep the conditioner in for a short time, I began to scrub at my head and rapidly wash while the water became tepid then cool, then cold, then glacial. Bloody hell! I could hear Dave and asked if his was wasn't. I was not happy. We decided that, because it was a public shower and obviously had a storage hot water service rather than an instant one, the best time to come again might be in the morning.

The following day, after finding the laundrette and doing some shopping, Dave decided to move the boat from the more expensive red dock around to the free blue ones on the other side of the jetty. It was all good until we were backing out. I was pulling in ropes while Dave backed us away from the berth when I felt an almighty lurch and almost fell over as he suddenly threw the engine into forward. After my initial shock, I looked at Dave and he was uncustomarily rattled. It seems that he had inadvertently reversed into a huge separation pole that sat approximately 10' behind the boat, hitting it with the dinghy and davits. BIG OOPS! Expletives flew around like flakes in a snow storm and continued until we had properly backed out and moved around to the other side where damage could be assessed. Luckily, we could see NO damage at all, despite the thump we'd had. It took a while before Dave placated himself but it became another valuable lesson. ALWAYS look around!!

The Shell Museum - I just loved the octopus
The night view from the boat at Cunninghame Marine Pier

The Bicentennial Clock Tower
It looked to be another quiet day on the boat just doing a few bits and pieces, cleaning... the usual. The day was beautiful but we had no plans except staying aboard, but who'd have thought that the Mad Hatter would visit town? 'Not I.' said Alice! I was in the bowels of the boat and Dave was tapping away on his keyboard up in the cockpit when he alerted me to some rather unusual goings on along the esplanade. When I popped my head out I could see a procession of brightly coloured children led by gigantic butterfly-fairy thingys. I grabbed the camera and trotted up to where they were, snapping away. One of the butterfly-fairy ladies pose for photos, which was very obliging of her, before striding off and leading the procession to its destination. It was totally cute! That was the thrill of the whole day. :)

The Mad Hatter's Picnic/ Tea Party.
First sunset at Lakes.
Monday June 2nd
I know that Dave has already put up a post about going to Metung (pronounced meee-tung) so I won't linger on it and besides, there's really not a lot to say. The journey itself was quite interesting, with islands either side of us on the way and lots of shallow bits to avoid but all in all, it was pretty okay. However, when we got there it was cold, raining, miserable, the pub was empty and we had no power at the jetty so the next day we went back to Lakes. 

Heading to Metung. It was a soggy old day

Such and empty pub!!
I think we're going to need a bigger umbrella Cap'n
I think Dave's put on weight!! Metung Pub carving  :)

Saturday, 24 May 2014

A little R & R at Refuge Cove... and a whole lotta photos!


Leaving at 10am was great as it gave us time to pop across to the Queenscliff boat club jetty to fill up with water. I, for one, was grateful that slack water in the Rip wasn't at 5am. Some may not be aware that I'm not much of a morning person, especially when it means waking up and almost instantaneously being  bobbed about on the ocean waves even before I've had my third cup of tea. There's no civility in that.

This was going to be a 24 hour sail to Refuge Cove and so it was important that the wind be right, and according to the forecast, it was. It looked as though we'd be in a nice reach for most of the way. However, true to form, the forecast was shite!! What was meant to be 10-20 knot N/NW winds at times, with a bit of easing and strengthening thrown in just didn't happen. I've blown my nose harder than the wind blew. and yet the swell was just blergh! Dave doesn't like me having a dig at the weather bureau but it sure would be novel to actually sail because they got it right. It did make for a glorious sunset though.

Sunset in Bass Strait.

And sunrise over Wilson's Promontory
  As we motored along the coast, we both napped every now and then in readiness for the overnight. I took the first shift from 8pm until 2am and even though the seas were rolling and choppy and really uncomfortable, it went really well. I got heaps of '4 words-1 picture' done, killed a few zombies and smashed panda houses. Dave actually woke at one to take over so, after a cup of tea, I left the helm in his very capable hands and tried to sleep, 'tried' being the operative word. In the roll and toss of the swell and waves, and the less than lulling chug of the engine. I may have managed 20 minutes in the few hours Dave was in charge. It really kind of sucked. I was up to see the dawn in... eerrgghh! There was one compensation though. We were that much closer to our destination and the scenery was really pretty as we approached Wilson's Promontory. We were running ahead of time and there was a slight breeze, so we decided to give our jangled nerves a break, cut the engine and raise the drifter as we headed closer to the Promontory. 

Dave getting the drifter up

Wilson's Promontory in the early morning light
Another view of Wilson's Promontory with the back view of skull rock on the far right

Rounding Skull Rock (seriously, does anyone else think of The Phantom when I say that?) and heading in a more northerly direction also stopped some of the swell so as the morning progressed, it became a lot more pleasant. I had hardly eaten over the past 24 hours. 

Aptly named Skull Rock
Closer shot of Skull Rock. Woooooooooooo.... spooooooky!
We took in the views and the sudden quiet and basically tried to stay alert. The shoreline was stunning as huge ochre coloured boulders rose above the sea and the eerie calls of Fur Seals filtered across the water from rocky outcrops and the scene was made weirder with what looked like a crude Easter Island statue on top of one island. Bear in mind that on the lower left hand side, on the slope, there are seals, so it may give a little perspective of the size of the anomalous rock 'head'. After a short time the wind finally dropped away completely and so the drifter was brought in again and the engine fired up once more. The peace was nice while it lasted.

Odd rock formation on top of the island. The dark dots on the lower left slope are seals.
Wilson's Promontory light house

Beautiful coloured shoreline.
Close up showing the different coloured ochre in the rocks

We snapped photos until we got to Refuge Cove but as soon as we'd finally anchored we slept for a couple of hours. Then, with the dinghy dropped, Dave went exploring to try and find the toilets. After about half an hour I was starting to become worried because I couldn't even spot the dinghy on the beach in front of us. Where was he??? I scanned the cove through the binoculars but was unable to see it anywhere and time was slipping away. I was imaging all kind of things, broken limbs, snake bite, drowning. Then, from the southern beach I saw a movement and watched as the dinghy grew in size. I had been watching the wrong place the whole time. Oh d'oh!

View from the front of the boat. We could have got a lot closer
Panorama of the southern shore of Refuge Cove.
“You have to come and see this” he said as he pulled up alongside Venture and so I hopped aboard and we scooted back to where he's just come from. Alighting from the dinghy onto the pristine sand and looking back towards Venture, it struck me that the cove was much larger than it looked. Venture looked like a tiny toy against the backdrop of rising, tree studded hills. I followed Dave up a short set of steps and read the interesting snippets on the large information board at the top, then further followed him along paths and beautifully maintained board walks, though forests of tall trees and swathes of native grasses that eventually led to a tent/camping site near a creek. It was beautiful. Here there were toilets in the form of long drops which, although not beautiful, were very well maintained and so not totally gross. 

The dinghy on the southern beach
Looking towards the opposite shoreline
Trail to the main camp ground, through fern filled gullies.....
.......though the native grasses....
.....through a forest of gums.....
....and along the board-walk. Across the creek is the campsite. Tents and swags only. No fires
View along the creek towards the beach. Late afternoon.
Where the creek widens out to meet the sea.

Creek meets sea.... the other way.

Dave's lone footprints in the sand. I began to call him my Man Friday.
View from Southern beach to opposite shore, with heron. (sounds like modern art :) )
 Dave then took me to a second camping area (this one being the yachties camp-site) and the 'Wall of Fame' where many a yachtie from way back (at least to the sixties) had left their mark. It was simply amazing to read all of the names and dates. There were even old whale bones leaning against it, apparently from a whale that had died in the cove a long time ago, and whose remaining bones can be seen at low tide. After spending a good half an hour reading the names, we knew we HAD to leave our names there too! 

The Yachtie's Wall of Fame
A smaller wall with whalebones in front of it
Looking back towards Venture from the raft. Tiny in comparison to the hills behind.

Similar but not quite.We were almost tempted to change the A to and E
Over dinner we planned the little plaque we'd make and decided to perhaps make the walk along one of the walking trails from the northern beach where we were, through the hills and over to the southern beach. Excellent!

That night was still and quiet and calm and as dark as we'd ever seen it and we slept like the dead

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
We woke to a fairly grotty and grey and drizzly morning and so the decision to stay aboard today wasn't a difficult one. Dave went over to the south beach to use the facilities and that was about as much as we moved that day until early afternoon when I looked out and noticed something coming across the water from the cove inlet. I pointed it out to Dave and we were both amazed to see a man in a kayak heading our way. 
A lone sea kayaker heading towards us.
The guy paddled up alongside and said hi and so we immediately invited him aboard. His name was (and incidentally still is) Jason Beachcroft and it turned out that he was a sea kayaker who was coming to the end of a most awesome solo circumnavigation of Australia, including Tasmania, that began on January 12th, 2013. He had paddled around 16,000 kilometres and only (only?!) had about 1,000k to go before his epic journey finished up in Sydney. We chatted for a while and shared a beer with him before he left to go over to the south beach camp site to set up his tent and dry off a bit, but not before I'd invited him to join us for dinner, which he kindly accepted.
Welcome aboard Jason Beachcroft... you legend!
In the afternoon we temporarily hauled the anchor and headed out of the cove and into the open sea to find some Internet coverage as we had to get a weather update. With that done, we once again anchored where we'd been. Such a long winded way of doing it but unfortunately it was the only way.

That evening Dave popped across and picked Jason up and for the next few hours we were absolutely enthralled and stunned by what he had done. His encounters with high seas, storms, sharks and crocodiles, the many hundreds of hours of paddling, the fabulous things, the wonderful people and the beautiful places he'd seen were amazing. He played down the dangers but to me it takes a special person to do something that monumental. 

After taking him back to his camp, Dave and I couldn't help but talk about what an amazing guy he is.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Well, what can I was cold, wet, miserable and just plain yucky weather which was not very conducive to exploring and so we did the next best thing.... not a lot! We read and watched stuff on the media centre, napped and having neither phone nor Internet was a slight pain. The seas had begun to roll as the swell changed direction and pushed straight in from the cove inlet towards the north beach. It rolled all day and only got worse during the night. I hate when I have to take a seasick pill when we're not even sailing!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Today was the day we were leaving for Lakes Entrance and we suddenly realised we hadn't done the plaque yet so, since we weren't leaving until mid afternoon, Dave got stuck in and carved out a small piece of teak that we had on board. After we'd painted in the black and oiled the board, we went ashore and trekked the long way from North to south beaches along the side of the hills. The north beach was vastly different than the south in the the beach didn't consist of sand but of tiny, round pebbles that slid inside your shoes, if you happened to be wearing Crocs, which Dave was. 
Gorgeous pebbly beach
The view back towards the inlet to Refuge Cove.
The weather had let up a little so it was merely occasionally drizzly and cold instead of constantly raining and cold but the views were spectacular as we wound our way along the bush path to the Yachtie's Wall of Fame. It seemed as though a different view presented itself every few feet and there were a couple of surprises along the way, like an enormous termite mound, well over 1 metre high, and the broken trees with wood that looked the colour of flames. 

Bush hiking path from northern beach to southern
View from the trail
A little further along...
One pretty big termite mound!
The gorgeous colour in the wet timber of broken trees
Native fuchsia,
Venture's mast just visible above the rocks
When we got there we looked for a likely spot for it and Dave whipped out his trusty hammer and screwdriver and fixed it permanently in place. It felt like an achievement. Now we have to make a few more plaques because apparently there are a couple of other places that have similar walls. Excellent!

On the Wall of Fame!
Proud to be a part of it.
Jason's tent was set up nearby and he wandered over and snapped our photo as we posed with our little plaque, then we snapped a couple of him standing with his kayak and chatted a while before we finally bid him goodbye and good luck for the rest of his journey. I was looking forward to following his story. 
Jason and his sea kayak near the camp site
Packing up was quick and come 2pm we were once again on our way for another overnight trip. For a change, we were actually in luck with the weather. The wind was in our favour, the seas were calm and we had soon hoisted all of the sails and didn't use the engine at all. No diesel smell, no noise, no chop, no swell, just the quiet swish as the bow cut through the water. It made such a pleasant change. As night fell it was obvious that it was going to be one of the darkest nights we'd had, with no moon and a cloud covering that smothered the pin prick light of the stars. It was like sailing in an ocean of ink under a black velvet canopy, with the only light being that from the muted gleam of the instruments in the cockpit and the red night light inside the boat. Only occasionally did we see a distant glow of another vessel. The only other thing that glowed in the dark was the bioluminescence in the wash off of the bow. The eerie blue-green flashes were gorgeous but at the time, very difficult to photograph. Yet even with the smoother seas, neither of us slept well. It was another long, long night.