A Bump in the Night

Three months had passed since we’d sailed from Nouméa to Sydney.  We’d enjoyed Sydney for a few days then sailed 52 nautical miles south to Shellharbour, where we’d berthed Arriba. Now, it was late November and with summer-like conditions and a fresh crew, it was time to resume our homeward voyage. Our first stop was the delightful town of Kiama, a mere eight nautical miles down the coast. The public jetty there made access to shore easy and we treated ourselves to dinner ashore.


The next day we pushed on to Eden, covering the 163 nautical miles in 22 hours, arriving at 03:30. Due to construction work at the main wharf, we anchored at nearby Weecon Cove (37°4.14’S 149°54.086’E). The abandoned jetty is fenced off but there is a sandy beach, which offers good dinghy access.

Eden is one of the finest harbors on the NSW coast and was once considered a potential location for the capital of NSW, being the same distance from Sydney, Melbourne and northern Tasmania. We’d enjoyed our stay there on our outbound voyage and were thrilled to be back to re-acquaint ourselves with the town. Once again, we sailed over to Nullica Bay for dinner at the magnificent Seahorse Inn in Boyd Town. Several days passed while we waited for the strong southerly headwinds raging outside the harbor to subside.

Arriba at Nullica Bay, Eden.

Eden's beautiful coastline.

By Day Five, we’d had enough waiting so at midday we departed for Bittangabee Bay, thirteen nautical miles to the south. More of a cove than a bay, and only big enough for one or two vessels, this is a delightful spot surrounded by verdant bush (top photo). That afternoon, we walked 2km of the Light-to-Light Trail in the direction of Green Cape and the following day we hiked 10km in the other direction to Hegarty Bay and back. That evening we celebrated Thanksgiving—a custom I picked up from US friends and family—with a feast of turkey burgers and homemade pecan pie.

The following morning we pushed on to Nadgee Beach, tacking our way upwind against 24-knot winds. It took us seven hours to eke out 22 nautical miles and we were relieved to be finally calm at anchor, in the lee of Nadgee Point (Black Head). The shorebreak was too rough to risk going ashore, so we enjoyed the rest of the day and evening afloat. Late afternoon, a power boat anchored a few hundred meters away. We introduced ourselves over VHF channel 72 and learned that they were bound for Tasmania and planned to depart at midnight.

We retired early as we had a long day of sailing tomorrow and I wanted to make an early start. I set my alarm for 3am and drifted off to sleep.

“He’s gonna hit us!”

Cathie was shrieking from her starboard cabin. Startled awake, I was barely upright before a tremendous thump shook the entire boat.

I glanced at the chartplotter and was reassured by the familiar dense squiggle of lines around our initial anchorage point. We hadn’t drifted; we’d been hit!

A bright white light pierced through the starboard saloon windows, most likely the other vessel’s stern light. It seems they’d accidentally backed into us soon after raising their anchor. It was too dark to determine the extent of the damage so, shouting across the water, we exchanged contact details. The other vessel then motored off into the darkness. 

How on earth could they have hit us? They knew our position and our anchor light was shining bright. Perhaps they had put too much faith in their radar.

It was 12:40 in the morning and I was too rattled to sleep, so I decided to make an early start while the others returned to their cabins. By 03:00 we’d crossed into Victorian waters and were off the northeast coast of Gabo Island. I anchored and snatched three hours of much-needed sleep.

At 06:10 we were underway again, motoring into a thirteen knot southwesterly headwind. An hour later the wind swung to the northwest and we were able to sail for a couple of hours, before the headwind returned. Past Gabo Island, the northeast corner of Victoria is devoid of anchorages so we pushed on motoring until we got a break at 14:30 and the winds finally swung to the east at thirteen knots.

The hull damage we’d incurred the previous night was along the waterline, so from time to time I checked the starboard bilge to check for water ingress. Fortunately, the bilge remained dry.

By 21:30, we were rapidly approaching the Lakes Entrance bar. Normally, this entrance is to be avoided in easterly winds, unless they’re light. In my judgment, the wind was light enough but the white water swirling around the breakwaters was rather disconcerting. The channel seemed ridiculously narrow so I aimed for the smoothest water in the middle and swept in on a flood tide.

Twenty minutes later, we pulled up to the public Flagstaff Dock and promptly crashed—asleep this time, not into the dock!

Inspecting the hull damage would have to wait for another day.

Lakes Entrance.


PS The story continues here.