Z E N I T U D E
Blue Water Dreaming
Lord Howe Island - Surrounded by the World's Southernmost Coral Reef
Once the tide had risen a bit, it was nice to see maritime services boat with Clive Wilson at the helm coming to meet us at the entrance of the lagoon. He guided us thru the channel to our designated mooring.
Exploring LHI - 25 April to 1 May 2013
A little later we receive the visit of Marine Park's boat to give us welcome greetings, a map of the lagoon and some more advice, like a definitely no-no to spear fishing in the lagoon. The pristine waters of the lagoon are part of the Marine Park.
We are admiring the scenery but need to hurry and go ashore before nightfall, the sun is setting when we finally have Zeni, our dinghy, all set up in the water. How are we going to comply with ‘do not go out with the dinghy at night’ I wonder. I guess we won’t comply. We need to go ashore, find a phone and contact family at home as there is no mobile service in LHI and we haven’t figured out what happened with our SSB sailmail yet.
There is just one more boat here, Ocean Star, and we dinghy over to ask them how to get to town. They say it's easy, just follow the road, when you see the post office and a couple of shops don’t go too far beyond them or you’ll miss it.
The moorings area
With daylight fading after sunset and founding nowhere to land safely with the dinghy we finally opted for the boat ramp, our hearts and backs aching as Zeni is not fitted with dinghy wheels and we had to slide her all the way up to a suitable place in the grass. Not a good thing for Zeni.
A short walk and we found town, a public phone (local call rates for calls anywhere in NSW) and a charming restaurant surprisingly crowded for what it looks like a very small town. As it happens, several hotels and houses nearby town are hidden behind trees and even when the island looks deserted it is actually full with tourists.
Not aware of that at the time, after sailing 420 miles and landing in an isolated island in the Pacific, we found it completely weird to be asked at the restaurant door if we had a reservation for dinner, which of course we didn't, but being the nice people they are, soon we were seated and ordering dinner. We couldn’t resist a lovely dinner in the busy restaurant.
Somehow we paid for not following Clive’s advice, not because it was night, the full moon was taking care of illuminating our way, but because we didn’t consider the tides. It was high tide when we finally came back from dinner. Waves were breaking in the boat ramp that is surrounded by rocks, a scary sight. We managed, somehow, dinghy in the water, engine running and both of us inside the dinghy, completely soaked but in one piece. Back in Zenitude we confirm, as we've read in Allan Lucas' guide, the lagoon is like a lake during low tide and very rolly during high tide when the swell makes it over the reef and invades the lagoon, really mean.
Waking up next morning we found another neighbor, Mustang Sally with Mark, Dianne and friend Roger on board. We are now three boats in the mooring field.
We decided to look for a better place to land with Zeni so we went on a dinghy ride and found there is a long beach on the other side of the big boats dock where it is easy to land. No more boat ramp for us. We can use the beach next to town as well as we can dinghy a bit farther down and land next to where the Museum is.
Ready now for exploration, we decide to take a tour with a member of the Thompson family. Same as with the Wilsons, this family is one of the first settlers in the island. Our guide tells many interesting stories and facts about the history of the people, the flora and fauna.
Weather balloons are launched around the world to diagnose current conditions as well as weather forecasting. Many locations around the globe, LHI being one of them, do routine releases, usually at 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC.
Among the many birds in this island there is woodhen, a flightless bird, once one of the rarest birds in the world. It was almost extinct but today, thanks to the protection from LHI residents their numbers are increasing.
We also learn that there are 300 permanent residents and just 400 tourists allowed at any one time. The control being the number of hotel beds.
Before leaving Clive gives advice. Do not go out on the dinghy at night is one of the few ‘do not’ advice, do leave your mooring light on, is one of the 'do' advice.
The weather was settled, the entrance channel well marked and the visibility good but our C-Map charts were a good distance off. The chart would have put us exactly on top of the reef. Logically you trust the marks and your eyes in a channel, but it was reassuring to have the little boat ahead of us showing the way.
Back to work and we found the cause of our SSB communication problem after a test showed we were transmitting loud and clear but we were not able to receive a reply back. This is most unusual and we wrongly assumed transmission or grounding problems, so we were all the time looking at the wrong end. Knowing where the problem was and after reading the manual we figured it out. It was only a problem with the radio settings that God knows how we managed to change. It is all working now.
With the communications problem solved we are now looking at the weather for our next leg to Noumea. There is a front coming and it is going to get nasty here. The question is if we leave ahead or behind the front. Ocean Star is going back to Australia but Mustang Sally is going the same way we are, and we are planning to leave together. Finally, after getting advice from our weather service Roger 'cloud' Badhan we decide to leave on Wednesday, ahead of the front. We'll have enough time to go North and get away from the worst of it.
Apart from beautiful scenery, the tour took us to the impressive recycling station and to the weather station just in time to see the balloon being launched.
The Museum is a lovely building and quite an important place as it is where the internet is. They have WI-FI to use with your own computer or you can use their computers as well.
The island is also known for excellent fishing as there is no commercial fishing and a great variety of species like whiting, trevally, emperor and bluefish. There are several fishing charter operators and the most famous fishing trip is to the Ball's Pyramid (the world’s tallest sea rock stack).
City centre - Walk too fast and you'll miss it
We spent a good part of the last day in LHI re-fueling. Fuel is bought with one of the Wilsons family and it needs to be brought in fuel jags in the dinghy. The good thing is that they take your empty jags and deliver them back to the docks. There, a really nice guy helped us to load them in the dinghy. After a couple of trips we are ready and can finally relax for the last night here.
After a week of fantastic weather in this amazing island we are ready to leave. Our local friends say it's going to get nasty in the lagoon when the low arrives on Thursday bringing strong westerlies. Having experienced the wild swell in settled weather, we are happy to leave before it gets vile here.