Gippsland Lakes in the Winter
by John Snowdon
Excerpted from Ocean Spirit Magazine

My son, Richard, and I had planned a winter cruise in the Gippsland Lakes (southeastern Australia) at some earlier and warmer time of the year. Richard is working at a camp which takes groups of people at Mittagundi in the Victorian Alps. He had the month of June off and could take the alpine road from Omeo down to the Lakes at Bairnsdale.

When the time arrived, the weather was shocking with gale warnings, thunderstorms across most of the state and snow down to low levels. Despite this, we cautiously negotiated the traffic and weather conditions and towed the Sea Bita "She" in to the caravan park at Johnsonville by the river Tambo for the night.

We were grateful for the cabin which we hired that night even though the heating consisted of an inadequate single strip radiator operated by a push button timer.

The next day (Sunday 20th June) saw a bright and sunny morning with chill winds off the snow. "Not as cold as Mittagundi", said Richard.

The forecast contained a strong wind warning for the Lakes with north westerlies prevailing, gusting up to 35 knots and accompanied by occasional showers. Although the river is protected and looked fantastic in the morning sun, we decided to go for a drive to the town of Lakes Entrance and tour around before heading to Paynesville. There is a canal system at Paynesville which features houses and apartments with private jetties. A caravan park also features in this system and we decided to launch and leave the trailer there in case we needed to return to a safe, warm and comfortable spot.

Monday 21st saw clear skies with north westerlies to 25 knots predicted. Once clear of the canals and out past Raymond Island the wind was behind us for our planned sail to the village of Metung, about 8 n. miles east of Paynesville.

Richard did well to work the jib and hop up front in the 2–3 foot waves to untangle it from a wayward spinnaker halyard. It was an exhilarating run apart from a "gee, it's cold" expression which seemed to have stuck on my face. "Not as cold as Mittagundi", said Richard who then went on to say that he was feeling a little sea sick, poor bloke. "Hang in there" I said as we were not far off Shaving Point which completely shelters Metung from westerlies.

Richard felt better in the gentler conditions around the point and into Bancroft Bay which were accompanied by sunshine.

The public harbour in front of the hotel was a great place for lunch and a stroll along Shaving point. Gnarly white caps to the west, smooth and sunny to the east. We sailed around the bay and met up with a Farr 6000 (the only other boat on the water) during the afternoon before finding a brilliant spot on the sunny side of Boxes Creek, one of two inlets at the northern end of Bancroft Bay.

Not bad at all as Richard played tunes on the guitar whilst I opened a bottle of wine and put the dinner on.

The Sea Bita is reasonably comfy for a couple of big blokes and it's good that I, for one, have never felt too cold when sleeping on board.

The morning saw a great deal of condensation, however, and the sun wouldn't come to our side of the creek for some time.

I know, " .... not as cold as Mittagundi" although we decided to cruise back to the harbour at Metung for brekki in the morning sun.

Mid morning, Tuesday 22nd June, saw us leaving Metung alongside the Farr. "Is She a Careel?", "Sea Bita", "A what?" went the conversation. They were sailing around Bancroft Bay and we were heading west along the southern side of Raymond Island to find an overnight anchorage.

The wind was less than 10 knots and still coming from west to north west so we popped up the genoa and made reasonable time until the breeze dropped to nil. We continued to Sperm Whale Head under motor and took in the sights and smells of winter on the Lakes with sea birds and a pod of dolphins.

The name Sperm Whale Head conjures up memories of one of Noel’s jokes around the campfire at Wathumba Creek last year.

The headland itself is very beautiful in the sunshine of a still winter's day with walking tracks and picnic facilities all over the place. We had lunch and decided to head towards Bunga Arm under spinnaker.

This was not to be, however, as there was not sufficient wind to fill the sail and we ended up cruising through the channel under motor.

Very slowly past the low lands of Rotten and Barton Islands with birds on each marker post and light structure, pelicans gliding and swans holding raucous meetings. "Why go so slowly?" asked Richard. "Well, what's the hurry" I replied.

We motored to the jetty at Steamer Landing for the night where I proceeded to run aground.

Not looking out!

Easily done, however, with the keel half down. I contemplated hopping out to push She off the shallow bottom but the water did look cold and we drifted off again without drama.

There was plenty of room on the ninety mile beach as the only footprints were our own. Glassy waves of 2 to 3 feet peeled in from Bass Strait.

Back at the jetty we met up with Steve and Linda who had tied up their cruiser "Currawong" for the night.

After dinner Steve demonstrated how most of the songs in his repertoire were made up of only three chords. That was fun - even though he could only remember two of those chords sometimes.

Wednesday morning 23rd June was sunny and cold, at the same time, with light winds again.

I surfaced from my berth to find a gaggle of swans performing some kind of punk version of Swan Lake with a great deal of flapping, commotion and neck curling in the early morning mist.

Over the dunes, sets of small waves rolled onto the sand and shells. From the top of the dunes, the view to the north stretched to the hills and mountains beyond. "If that's where Mittagundi is.... it's gotta be cold" I thought as a paddle in the Tasman had already turned my legs to a purple colour.

The sun began to provide warmth during breakfast and a cup of tea as well as light to top up the batteries via our little 20w solar panel.

The morning forecast suggested that another front was on the way, which made us think that we were lucky to have had a few good days and it would be wise to head back to

After saying goodbye to Steve and Linda we cruised along the channel to Ocean Grange which is a small settlement with a large house and tower by the public jetty. It also features good facilities and walking tracks to the beach. From here we hoisted the sails and proceeded out through the channel markers to take the slow route to Paynesville by circumnavigating Raymond Island. Richard went below to make coffee and get some Anzac bikkies to eat as I tacked several times between the southern side of the island and the shallows of Carstairs Bank. By the time we had cleared the south eastern head of the island the wind had dropped out again. The sky looked ominous to the high country in the north and we decided to motor back to Paynesville to spend the night at the caravan park and retrieve She to her trailer.

This time, when the sound of the iron sail broke the tranquillity of the lake, Richard looked up from his coffee and said, "I can see what you mean about not being in a particular hurry to get anywhere around here".