The Great Escape

Sunday 7th June was our great escape day: a thrill, tinged with apprehension after so many months stuck in limbo. If you need the downs to appreciate the highs, we really are ready for huge highs!

This is us leaving Cunninghame Quay after a busy Saturday spent finishing off the installation of the signal booster, re-provisioning the boat, topping up the water tanks and all those chores prior to departure.

Photo by Ronda Butt on Viva la Vie

We left at first light. Boy it was cccoold!

Leaving Lakes Entrance at first light

We both looked at the Entrance with its line of rough water: “Yikes, do you like what you see?” “Not much!” Oh what a bumpy exit out of the Lakes: lumpy seas, Anui rocked her way out… Quick puke overboard but then all was good. The sea smoothed out, the day warmed up for a brief period, we were rugged up, thankful we were underway and ready to reignite our drive to go places.

Lakes Exit!

It did not take long for the dolphins and albatrosses to join us, and we have spotted our first whales for the season. The dolphins in particular are behaving as if they have been missing some company with no one out there to play with. They come in great numbers repeatedly, staying with us for ages too. They are speed demons, converging from all directions towards Anui and obviously having fun!

Dolphins charging alongside!
Immature Shy Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
One of our first Humpback Whales for the season

It is such a pleasure to be surrounded by wildlife. Nature is uplifting. The sea is beautiful and brings such energy to us. We missed that very much.

First stop: The Skerries

Coming around the back of the Skerries to anchor

When you tell people you are going to anchor at the Skerries, they look at you strangely. “The Scaries, this does not sound very safe?” But the Skerries are not scary. It is just the Scottish name for small rocky islets! They are a handy stop 75nm from Lakes Entrance when you want to avoid an overnighter to Eden. They comprise three rocky islands, 100m offshore of the mouth of the Wingan River. These give a little bit of shelter from swell and wind in a light southwest and are the site of a large fur seal colony. An estimated 14,000 seals call the islets their home, and don’t you know it when you arrive: lots of barking, bellowing, a few even come close to investigate… and the smell!

Australian Fur Seals… we are losing light already.
Sunset is at 5pm in winter!

From here on, going further east towards Mallacoota and Gabo Island, this part of the Victorian coast is where you notice the devastation from the summer fires: the vegetation, most likely tea trees as well as eucalypts, is burnt right to the beach.

Evidence of the fires
Gabo Island, last Victorian mark!

Second stop: Bittangabee

Monday’s sail was gorgeous: nice breeze, sunshine, no need for the engines. And the big milestone: we officially turned the corner and started heading north, now in NSW! Bittangabee Bay was our goal, a shorter 45nm passage. Once more the dolphins were in a party mood: dozens taking turn at the bows!

Dolphins leading the way!
Sailing past Green Cape

Bittangabee is another little frequented anchorage: a bit tricky to get in because of low rock shelves that force you to S your way in carefully and there is not a lot of safe swinging space, but once settled it is a real treasure. We used to get into the side inlet at high tide but the deep channel has silted up and it is now too shallow to enter in anything other than a dinghy. However the main bay is scenic, protected and it is so much nicer than joining the crowds in Eden.

Bittangabee Bay Aerial – We are anchored in front of the beach

Bittangabee is Wade’s special spot: some of you will know of the Shag Island Club membership where every member is the commodore of an anchorage they choose somewhere along the Australian coast. Well Wade is the commodore of Bittangabee Bay!

With a couple of days of northerly breeze forecast, we stayed there for three nights, went for walks, although the tracks have been affected by the fires and were hard to follow. We saw areas which burnt so hot that six months later there is no regrowth. But then other parts are regenerating and bright green shoots are sprouting from the carbonised trunks.

And the highlight of our wanders… look what we came across:

A superb male lyrebird
Same one showing us his bottom and beautiful lyre
Here is a female, with its long tail, but no lyre.

It is so astonishing they were spared by the fires. Being ground dwelling birds they were very much at risk so we feel very privileged. We saw and heard half a dozen lyrebirds. They are normally shy birds, difficult to approach, but these were just too busy foraging in the leaf litter to worry about us. We were amazingly close and able to get many unobstructed shots. We watched in awe at the striking beauty of the males with their huge tail and listened to a couple mimicking other birds, notably the bell bird and whip bird, right in front of us.

So as you can see, we are enjoying ourselves. Early mornings are very chilly at 50C, but the colours of the sunrise, with mist rising over the water are worth getting out of a warm nest for.

See the mist over the water along the rocks?

The temperature drops quickly in the afternoons and we lose daylight early, just before 5pm, but the sunsets are pink and mauve.

Swirls of pinks and mauves for sunset

Third stop: Bermagui

With the return of the southerlies, we left our sanctuary at Bittangabee and motor-sailed to Bermagui in very light conditions. It was just as well we had the engines on as the whales were active. Two adults in particular breached right next to our port bow and one just about landed on the deck! I was too shocked to think of taking a photo of them trying to climb on board, but these are the culprits, by then behind us!

We like our whales at a distance… this is more acceptable!

Contrary to our usual habit when we come to Bermagui, we did not go inside the fishing harbour to raft up at the fishing co-op jetty to Volution, a long line fishing vessel who accommodates us! We have always found it a bit tight in there with Take It Easy… and it would be even more so with Anui. Instead we opted to anchor at Horseshoe Bay, just next to the harbour entrance… a first for us. We like trying new spots and this was quite reasonable for a night. We took the opportunity to dinghy in for some fuel and treats! The cloud cover was interesting as we got back to the boat.

Horseshoe Bay, Bermagui

It might be cold, but we feel good. There is such a huge difference between living onboard tied up to a jetty and sailing to secluded anchorages, anchoring on your own, exploring, and feeling free. Now that’s cruising!

Next stop: we sail to Broulee as we post this and will be there for a few days catching up with friends.

39 thoughts on “The Great Escape

  1. Great pics Chris! Taking note of these protected little anchorages for when we eventually bring the Bossa south. Not sure I’d be too keen on those whales being so close either!

    • There are quite a few nooks along the way. Most people would rather the ‘official’ anchorages, but you know us! We are trying different spots this time to add a bit of interest! And yes the whales… got to keep a look out at this time of year… that and floating containers!

  2. Well I was feeling a bit anxious for you after a scary puke and a Scary stopover!! Oops Skerrie stopover 😃

  3. Lovely account of your journey so far, nice shot of the sky at different times. I just love the shot of the Lyrebirds, but you knew I would love them as well of the whales and dolphins

    • Thanks Sue – we were so lucky. The wildlife has really been plentiful so far. You don’t realise how much you missed that part of cruising until the beasties all come to join you!

  4. I’m breathing your air and enjoying it but you know where my feet need to be :-)》

  5. Thanks folks for a most enlightening post. We are trying to get an answer on whether we need a quarantine exemption or not before we follow in your wake. We had no idea Bitangabee Bay was an anchorage until we read your earlier (2017) post and the Horseshoe Bay anchorage at Bermagui also sounds good.

    • Hi guys, if you go to our previous post, “outta here nearly” the regs are clearly explained. At this stage, yes you do need an exemption. Glad we gave you some ideas for some nice anchorages when you are able to go.

  6. Gorgeous photos as usual. How exciting to have the whales breaching so close! Safe travels 💖

  7. What a fantastic virtual journey for a landlubber like yours truly ! Love the photos naturally alongside everyone else. For me there is an additional bonus . . . as I have always been interested in meteorology names like ‘Green Cape’ are forever in daily news . . . what fun to see what such really look like ‘on the ground’ . . .

    • Hi Eha – yes some of these landmarks are interesting to see from the ocean. I remember the first time we sailed past Gabo with its pink granite lighthouse, quite an outpost!

  8. I can already tell by your photos that you are enjoying your freedom again. Good to see. happy days

  9. Thanks for sharing your adventures guys! Good to be able to vicariously share your experiences through your words and pictures ,,,,,, could almost feel the dolphins and whales slipping through the water …. sigh ….

    • Hi Aletta. Thanks for saying hello. Sailing again is quite a mix of feelings: contemplative, reflective, but also exciting. We are renewing our love of nature and wildlife as you can see. Glad you appreciate the photos. Lyrebirds are special. We had never seen them so close and unafraid. And the dolphins are really social and playful. We never tire of seeing them.

  10. Congrats on your escape. Still cant get over the sheer size of Anui: that shot of you leaving Lakes! I love your thoughts about the dolphins, missing us. I’ve always wondered why they seem to enjoy interacting with vessels. Do we know? In the desert, some birds follow human activity, as our movements flush small reptiles and such out into the open. I wonder if it’s similar for dolphins. Or do they use the bow wave to cover more territory, or perhaps like dogs, for some reason they just enjoy our company. Whatever, it’s pretty wondrous isn’t it?

    • Hi Pete, nice to get your comment. Ah the dolphins! We love them and never tire of them. They are very social animals and respond to our voices. When we call out to them at the bows they most definitely look up and ‘perform’. They seem to have fun and compete with one another.

      When they are feeding in a pod they really are focused on that and not interested in joining the boat. But when they do join us it’s definitely play and fun! They are fascinating to watch. We think it is the mix of social and playful behaviours as well as speed that attracts them. If we are slow poking it, they don’t hang around, but if we are really zooming along, they seem to call each other over and converge around the boat, taking turns at the bows by the dozen! They can still speed ahead and leave us far behind when they want to so we don’t think they get much advantage from the bow waves. They also seem to have fun doing figures of eight in between the hulls under the nets…. special bonus with cats!
      We have really noticed much bigger pods staying with us longer than before. So yes we think they missed us as much as we missed them! Bet you can’t wait to experience all this on Selah!

  11. Amazing, thanks for sharing. Yep, can’t wait to experience this for ourselves. When I was a boy sightings were special, but rare. They seem to have an increased. I wonder if it’s related somehow, to increased whale numbers.

  12. Having run aground on the lakes entrance bar in a fishing boat then hopped with each wave crest back to the main channel I understand the stress of crossing that bar. Nice to see you on your way. Good luck.

    • Thanks Phil – have crossed that bar many times but it was not one of the smoothest exits. Still, all good and it feels great to be out after six months!

  13. So glad you are finally able to be on your way and the photos say it all. It must be such a wonderful sense of freedom being out in such a wild and beautiful environment again.

    • Hi Lindy, it is really special. We are taking our time enjoying quiet coves, beautiful scenery, the wildlife we so missed, and reconnecting with friends along the way! We should be at Port Hacking on Thursday night just in time for another bout of northerlies. We’ll call you to see if we can catch up in Pittwater after that!

  14. I am delighted to see that you are on your way at last, Chris. It was so cool to see your photos of the dolphins and whales and I was amazed by your images of the lyrebirds. The colorful skies and wide scenic views across the water were so incredibly beautiful.

    • It has been such a relief, Mike. We were missing so much in lockdown even if we made the most of it. Nothing compares with the freedom and wonder of being at sea again!

  15. So many gorgeous photos of your trip. I particularly like the ones of morning first light and the forest. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with a photographic tour.

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