Australia+ Sep 2000 - Mar 2002

On 14 September we set off on the next leg of our travels. We headed for Coffs Harbour, about 250 miles north of Sydney on the New South Wales coast. However, we had it in mind that if the conditions were appropriate we would make a brief stop at Lord Howe Island, which is only a few degrees off the rhumb line and also a port of entry. We had picked our weather carefully, hoping to avoid the kind of unpleasant crossing for which the Tasman Sea is famous. In the end the weather was rather too pleasant. After three days of little or no wind we had a week of light to moderate NWlies - bang on the nose, with foul current to boot. The result was the slowest passage we have had in the Pacific, ten days to cover the 900+ miles from Nelson to Lord Howe.

The coral reef which fringes the western shore of Lord Howe Island is the furthest south in the Pacific. The Island itself has elements of the temperate and the tropical. We were guided in the northern pass on a Sunday morning by the harbour master and cleared in by the Island's lone policeman. There are only 300 inhabitants, and in the early spring very few of the tourists on whom the islanders depend for their economic survival. Our two days were a delightful interlude in the passage - apart from the discomfort of the mooring area. Even in calm weather some swell penetrates the lagoon for two hours either side of high water, rolling yachts on the moorings unmercifully. When we headed for Coffs, despite a forecast of moderate SElies what emerged were further, stronger NWlies.

Two and a half days later saw us in Coffs Harbour after a quick passage, marred only by one night of horrifically spectacular lightning and heavy winds. After a longish passage and having worked on the boat almost to the last moment in Nelson, we found ourselves longing for a bit of a holiday. Coffs was just the place. Perfect days succeeded one another. A succession of Aussie cruisers on their way south to Sydney made it a very social place and once we got out the bikes, we found enough in the surrounding countryside to keep us interested for a couple of weeks. We adapted to Aussie newspapers, radio, money and dialect, at the same time finding that we also required adaptors for gas, water and telephone sockets. Perhaps the most significant introduction to Aussie culture was watching the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games - the ultimate kitsch experience!

By 11 October we had itchy feet and set off at sunset twilight for Camden Haven about 80 miles away. As we left Coffs two whales leapt from the water together and simultaneously crashed back into the sea about a quarter mile away. It was an awesome display. After a pleasant night sail we arrived just in time to take the tide across the bar at Camden Haven and the last of the flood up river to anchor off Laurieton, with the North or 'Big' Brother looming up behind the town. Because it was there and supposedly the toughest track in coastal NSW, we climbed to the top of the Brother. We repeatedly found in our travels, well outfitted viewpoints on every eminence and 'barbie' sites, well fitted out with gas grills and covered tables. The Aussies take their out-door eating seriously. The river abounded in bird life and we made a start on a bird-spotting task much more daunting and varied than that in New Zealand.

Another night sail took us to Port Stephens, a miniature cruising ground in itself. Fame Cove, where we spent our first and last nights in the harbour, is particularly attractive as it is a bit smaller and thus more intimate than most of the anchorages we have visited in Oz. Here we also met again with some of the new friends we had made in Coffs. We then moved on to the only proper port in the harbour, Nelson Bay. For about a year, we had been trailing a few weeks behind the 'Endeavour', an Australian-built replica of Cook's ship. We thought we were fated to miss seeing her, but in Nelson Bay we managed it. Like all other replicas and restorations it remains hard to get a real feel for the experience of living and working on such a vessel. However, the 'Endeavour' does attempt to give this to those who actually sail on her - and they do so in all weathers all round the world. The tour of the vessel was interesting and well organised.

To maintain Vicky's fitness regime we hiked out to the southern of the harbour heads and from its peak found ourselves with a grandstand view of the Farr 40 fleet racing just outside the harbour. The next day we decided to go out with them and appointed 'Sunstone' as their specatator fleet, Vicky snapping photos furiously. There were a few waves and comments of recognition from those who had been at the Comms Cup in '96. The racing was very close and intense, but we were surprised to see boats taking major fliers on the first beat, when getting even slightly out on the wrong limb could send a yacht five or six places down the fleet.

Despite a daunting bar and a winding, shallow entrance channel, we decided that the attractions of being in Lake Macquarie probably outweighed the hazards of getting into it. A delightful and perfectly timed day sail took us down the coast. Despite a missing buoy, we were talked in by the watching Coast Guard, caught the opening of the lifting bridge with ten minutes to spare and then nearly ground to a halt in the one really shallow stretch of the entrance channel. Full power pushed us through the silt and past the 'drop over'. The scenery of the shores of the Lake range from the suburban to the north in the outskirts of Newcastle, to the wild in the south, where houses are much fewer and the only unfortunate intrusions on the skyline are the chimneys of several power stations. There are boats everywhere on the Lake as well as a very welcoming yacht club at Belmont and others closer to Newcastle.

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