A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2002 May 24, 12:02 +1000
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.