Friday 13 March
Course: Wombat Cove to The Quarries (about 70 nm)
Wind: North-westerly to westerly, 10-20 knots
Friday 13 March
When the alarm roused us I was not nearly ready to wake up. All was calm, and a waning moon cast enough light to make out what was land and what was water. We geared up and pulled anchor. As we nosed out I said a quiet goodbye to Wombat Cove – we had spent a fair share of our time nestled here, but despite my best efforts with the binoculars at dusk we still hadn’t seen any wombats.
The swell had abated quite a lot since we put our nose out on Tuesday, but still there were streaks of sea foam between the Breaksea Islands and the south-eastern shore. A fair amount of fiddling with the instruments, first to get the radar working properly – an extra warning as to the location of any rocks or other vessles – and then to follow the course Derek had carefully plotted in the previous night, got me feeling a little queasy. Then, once we had emerged into the open sea from between the Big Caroline and Hilliard Head we felt the full effect of a three to four metre south-westerly swell. It was fine whilst we pointed into the swell, but once we turned with it side-on the boat rolled uncomfortably. The north-westerly wind was right behind us, making sail-setting a bit tricky, so we put up a small jib which helped minimise the roll.
We motored along the coast – keeping well clear of the East Pyramid rocks, which soared out of the water like a dark row of vicious teeth just waiting for a boat to pass too close. Rugged up and facing backwards, snuggled under the dodger, I dozed on and off, each time I opened my eyes the sky was lighter, and soon we could see the quartz-grained cliffs of South-West Cape getting closer.
It was almost light as we closed in on the first of our capes for the day, but heavy cloud blanketed out any view of the sunrise. A fishing-boat passed us heading in to Port Davey – he had probably been out all night and was heading for shelter and rest. Our instruments also announced that one other sailboat, Marni, was ahead of us and travelling south-east. As the light grew we could see her on the horizon, sails up and heading south into the open sea beyond the Maatsuyker group. Aside from these two vessels we seemed to be the only ones out so early. There was no sign of the rest of the Armada.
We rounded South-West Cape, and with a better angle to the wind Derek decided it was time to put up more sail. Just a little bit of activity pulling and winching ropes with my head down was enough to undo my fragile equilibrium, and I succumbed to sea-sickness. Better out than in proved true, and I sat in the fresh air watching the scenery and dozing until my stomach settled. For a time we sailed without the motor, which always feels better, especially without the diesel fumes being blown at us by a following wind. We watched Marni getting further out to sea, but we chose the shorter path, to weave our way through the Maatsuyker group, Flat Witch and the Needles then Maatsuyker itself, with the houses and lighthouse, no longer flashing in the daylight, kept to starboard, and De Witt to port. As we neared Maatsuyker the Spanish Armada announced their presence on the radio and we listened in to their sked – most of the forty-odd vessels were following on our heels, though some had already made the dash around the bottom to Recherche Bay or the Channel in previous days, and at least one was staying behind to enjoy some peace and quiet. They reported that the volunteer lighthouse keeper at Maatsuyker was looking forward to watching the fleet pass, and had already sighted a few yachts, one of which was obviously us. We waved to the houses on the island, little white boxes perched high in a sea of dense green vegetation, and spotted a helicopter hovering.
The sea was teeming with life. As soon as it was light we saw birds – moonbirds (short-tailed shearwaters or mutton birds), gannets, terns, cormorants, and albatross – as distinguishable by their flight as by their appearance. Most mesmerising are the albatross, which glide with barely a wingbeat, wheeling and pivoting by almost touching wingtip to water, and circling the boat, their curious eyes fixed on you. They are huge, and in flight it is difficult to gauge just how big they are, except to say that when the fly with other birds, the moonbird for example, then you can see that they are at least three or four times the wing-span.
Near South-West Cape we encountered a pod of dolphins. As an escort of dolphins is guaranteed to cure seasickness I got excited, however we were obviously too boring and too slow for them as they leapt towards us and then kept going, looking for breakfast. After we passed De Witt Island we discovered where they had been heading – a huge melee in the water, with birds wheeling and diving, and fish leaping. Large tuna were leaping right out of the water, and a few larger fins appeared amongst them – either our speedy dolphins or perhaps sharks – all obviously busy feeding. I wondered who would come off best in an encounter between a gannet and a tuna…
As we turned the corner, first around South-East Cape, then Whale Head, the wind dropped and the sea flattened out. Here our course intersected with Marni, and we passed them – us motoring under headsail only, and them still sailing with two sails. As we passed, and waved, we both lost the wind and after a bit of sail flapping they dropped their sails and fired up the motor, turning to head in to Recherche Bay. We continued further out, passing Recherche, we decided to head up the Channel a bit further to make our next leg shorter, and enable us to reach home on Saturday night.
We threaded our way through the maze of shoals and islands at the north opening of Recherche Bay and headed north into the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. As we motored along the wind dropped, the sea flattened and the sun came out. We sat squinting in the sun for a while until Derek had a bright idea – he went below and collected our sunhats! Sunhats! We had forgotten what they were for. It was like we had finally returned to paradise. And then, to cap it all off, the dolphins joined us, leaping along behind and around. I went forward to watch two play in our bow-wave. Old scar-back was obviously the dare-devil, used to getting too close to boats for his own safety, but his younger companion was learning fast. They wove under the bow and surfed until they were joined by a few of their elders, one of whom gave the order in a series of squeaks and off they all went for a feed on a school of fish near the shore of Partridge Island – it was obviously time for dinner!
We motored past Great Taylors Bay and ducked around the corner of Ventenat Point into the Quarries, a beautiful little bay surrounded by stunning sandstone cliff formations, once the site of a sandstone quarry. Here we dropped anchor alongside a couple of other boats and enjoyed an idyllic evening on deck, squinting into the sunlight, watching the reflections and eating salmon from just around the corner, cooked on our barbeque. The perfect final night of our holiday, and we did wonder why we hadn’t just stayed in the Channel for the past few weeks… though it would be just our luck that the conditions were similar in Port Davey that night, just as soon as we had left.