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    Lord Howe
    From: Peter Fogg
    Date: 2002 May 24, 12:02 +1000

    John LeRoy wrote:
    > I must admit that I once deviated from the direct course from Aukland to
    > Melbourne to take a
    > look at that island!
    Lord Howe Island is well worth taking a look at. While the First Fleet
    established themselves at Sydney Cove in 1788 it left the biggest and best of
    their ships, the Sirius, a little at a loose end. Soon the Sirius was sent off
    to do a bit of exploring out in what was still a mostly unknown ocean. So off
    they went, evidently to the north east, and uncovered both Lord Howe and
    Norfolk Islands. Norfolk lies at about the same latitude as Lord Howe and twice
    as far from the Australian mainland, about half way to New Zealand, but further
    to the north.
    I don't know how much further they went before coming back but there is an
    awful lot of empty ocean out there before South America.
    Lord Howe, which was uninhabited, looks like your dream of a perfect little
    island in the South Pacific. It has two peaks at the southern end, cliffs to
    the north, and a plain in between which now hosts the permanent population of a
    couple of hundred. As you walk down the few roads you feel as though you are in
    a National Park as the buildings are all hidden behind foliage, so us tourists
    would greet each other, as you do, out in the wilds! The locals would drive
    around respecting the speed limit of about 10 mph and they too would make
    friendly gestures to any strangers they came across.
    The western coast is protected by a reef enclosing a large sandy lagoon which
    has 20 odd moorings only, no anchoring permitted. There is an annual yacht race
    to LH whose numbers are limited by the available moorings. The size of the
    lagoon is not appreciated until you are there, there may be a couple of miles
    to row in the tender to the beach, almost inevitably against the wind one way
    or the other.
    Thanks to the current sweeping down to the south the island boasts the most
    southern remnant of the Great Barrier Reef far to the north, and the current
    brings down tropical fish to mingle with the southern, colder species, making
    the island's waters, in Homer's phrase, 'a fish infested sea'. Both coming and
    going we were busy with strikes on our trolling lines. Most of them broke the
    lines, taking our best lures. One that didn't was coloured a brilliant and
    improbable yellow that faded with death to a dull and mottled blue, a Dolphin
    Fish, or Mahi Mahi. Neds Beach, on the eastern side of the island, is famous
    for the fish feeding that goes on every afternoon. Usually as you glide into an
    underwater coral garden the fish of many colours, shapes, and sizes discreetly
    move away, hide, remember urgent appointments elsewhere. But at Neds they move
    towards you. As you turn to scan the underwater horizon, keeping an eye out for
    unmentionables, you see that there�s a whole crowd of so many very different
    reef fish following hopefully. Its great family fun, the feeding sessions, the
    kiddies lie in the water and watch the spectacle through their goggles.
    Occasionally their parents are disconcerted to notice that among the fish
    lining up are sharks as big or bigger than their children, and just a short
    lunge (lunch?) away. In the lagoon where we were moored the water was so clean,
    and the bottom mostly sand, so that even at night we could clearly see sharks
    circling about our boat.
    In the days before the GPS was widely available some sailors have set off for
    LH with only a compass course to follow for over 400 nm through a strong and
    changeable current  (one bloke I know, perhaps more honest than most, told me
    he once did a course on celestial navigation; upon reflection he couldn't say
    that he had understood any part of it). What helped them was the twin peaks
    that first appear like two islands, visible for 50 nm or more. For our skipper,
    visiting by sailing boat was an ambition that had to be deferred for about 35
    years. Back then his father had a sailing boat in Sydney, used for ocean
    racing.  His brother must have been a few years older, as Robert was only 13.
    The two of them, in the school holidays, would wait for a southerly, which
    often means a storm, and set out for Lord Howe. Inevitably they�d break
    something, once it was the mast, and end up at Port Stephens. Probably just as
    well, I imagine the provisioning, let alone their navigational capacities,
    left much room for improvement.
    Our trip there was a little different. We left from the adjacent mainland and
    did the 315 nm in just 48 hours. What helped us was a strong northerly wind
    rushing to the south to fill an intense low down in Bass Strait that was
    wreaking havoc with the Sydney to Hobart fleet. We were down to a scrap of
    headsail only and were still charging through the night on a beam reach at 8/9
    knots, and occasionally much more: 12.4 knots for example, surfing down the
    back of a rogue wave. After the second night the third day came grey and
    heavily overcast. We were all on the lookout, but there was nothing to see but
    low cloud. 50, 40, 30 nm and still nothing. Tried calling the island on our
    radio. No response. 20, 10 nm, it was a worry. Rechecked the waypoint entered
    into the GPS (ah yes!), it had to be just in front of us, but it wasn�t. Then a
    side of Mount Gower coyly revealed itself, like a leg provocatively exposed
    around a curtain. Closer and the whole island opened up on either side of us,
    and the sun came out.
    On our trip back to Sydney we had little wind, so ended up going swimming in
    over 4000 metres of (appropriately enough) very deep blue water but that,
    having even less to do with navigation, is another story.

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