Friday 27th Feb
Course: Stringers Cove, Dover, to Waterhole Cove, Recherche Bay
Wind: not much
A quick breakfast and we set off in the early calm at around 7.30 am. Heading south into almost no breeze we motored into a long slow half-metre swell. The surface was oil-slick calm and we gently rose and fell. We passed fish farms and a few fishing boats out early about their business.
In the Channel we were soon joined by a pod of playful dolphins. The three of us stood on the bow looking down on them playing in the bow-wave. Such graceful nonchalant creatures they seem to do it purely for the fun. They came and went, zipping off, and back, leaping and cavorting, for about half an hour. Fiona enjoyed the fun, standing right at the bow with her camera. One thing ticked off her wish-list already!
The weather stayed calm as we passed the beaches of Southport and rounded Eliza Point inside Actaeon and Sterile Islands, keeping clear of Black Reef and Blind Reef, where a big surf was breaking. A bunch of fishing boats was busy at work on the reefs. We passed outside of the Images and turned north-west to enter Pigsties Bay, where we found a calm spot to anchor just off Bennets Point.
In the middle of morning tea we were joined by a friendly local in his dinghy. He was off to make soundings for a mooring. We discussed the new development proposal for the area – a floating hotel, a string of pontoons made in the shape of aboriginal bark canoes and the hulls of the sailing ships of the D’Entrecasteaux expedition, with a shore-based visitors’ centre at Moss Glen. He was not averse to the idea, aware that the plan was well conceived, but wary that though the architect’s vision took into consideration the needs and rights of locals and sailors like us, that it all depends what the backers want – will they discourage people like us from anchoring in our lovely little cove because it’s where the sea-plane moors, for instance?
He was somewhat of an expert on the area, and showed us where to find petrified wood, and named half a dozen birds just from their call. He said Derek was lucky to have a wife who enjoyed sailing. His wife won’t come out on his 27 footer – he takes his daughter instead. It was my turn to be envious when he described visiting France and having afternoon tea with Bruni D’Entrecasteaux’s descendant at the family home in Aix-en-Provence. He has also spent time travelling around Brittany and recommended we go when the sailing festival is on. I’ll be packing as soon as we get home!
Then it was time to head ashore. We ferried ashore in the kayak and went in search of the petrified wood – finding many pieces strewn on the shore where he told us. Then we all headed into the bush to find the remains of the French observatory – a long drystone wall, all moss and lichen covered, with huge gums growing out of it. The French built this construction during their visits in 1792 and 93, to test the earth’s magnetic field. Their experiments proved that the magnetic field increases further south as well as north.
As well as the observatory, they built a garden, where Felix de la Haye planted a variety of vegetables, hoping this would provide sustenance to sailors and interest the aborigines as well. During their second visit when they had contact with the local people, they showed them the garden. I wonder what they thought of this activity – when they obviously enjoyed the natural bounty of the area.
We didn’t go in search of the garden. The scrub is thick. The insects are voracious. And we were ready to go back for lunch. The kayak only takes two at a time, and when I suggested I paddle Fiona back to the boat first, she volunteered to swim. Of course I said ‘me too’ and the two of us braved the bracing water while Derek kayaked back alone with all our gear.
We ate lunch on deck, then moved the boat into D’Entrecasteaux’s Waterhole Cove – where the expedition first thankfully refilled their empty water casks at the creek. There we undertook a few boat maintenance jobs – re-tensioning the headsail furler and fixing the deck-wash water pump. These sort of tasks provide Derek with endless hours of distraction from the stress of his job.