Lord Howe Island

and

Middleton Reef 

October 2003

This was our first trip after having bought the Ada Hardy.

I brought the boat from Tasmania back to Sydney six months earlier, cleaned out a lot of redundant fishing gear and assorted junk, installed Naiad stabilizers and was itching to get an adventure underway.

I have sailed to Lord Howe Island, which is in the Tasman Sea approximately 400nm NE of Sydney, on a few previous occasions and heard much about, but never visited, Middleton and Elizabeth reefs located about 100nm to the north.

Middleton Reef has a lagoon accessible to shallow draft vessels and a relatively sheltered deep water anchorage on its north western side. Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs are a much talked about sports fishing destination. Middleton Reef also has a notorious reputation as a transfer point for illicit drugs coming to Australia by sea. It also appears to be a magnet for ships and fishing vessels of which more than a dozen have been wrecked on the reef. 

Lord Howe Island and the nearby reefs' remoteness but yet reasonable proximity to Sydney made this an interesting but not overly ambitious maiden excursion with some decent passages out on the open ocean to put Ada Hardy through her paces. I quickly attracted the interest of 5 mates ( one very experienced sea faring buddy and four others who had never been to sea before!) to join me for a 10 day "Boys Own" adventure.

1934 Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales Map

We set a departure date for early October with some flexibility to adjust timing if the weather didn't look suitable. As it turned out it was almost flat calm on the day we left and stayed under 15 kts for the next 7 days which is very unusual for the Tasman Sea at any time of year. It was so calm on the 48 hr trip to Middleton Reef that I took the opportunity to get the angle grinder out and jettison two large rusty steel vane stabilizer arms into the ocean deep. 

The outrigger stabilizer system (sometimes referred to as paravanes) had been installed by the previous owners. They work by towing a delta shaped metal "fish" or "bird" off each outrigger arm, which drag out wide acting to minimise roll whilst underway. The "bird"is attached to the arm by either a heavy chain, or in Ada Hardy's case a heavy duty length of 2"steel tube. I used them on the delivery from Hobart back to Sydney earlier in the year and found them to be very effective, however the drag caused about a 1/2 kt reduction of speed.

Jettisoning outrigger arms in the Tasman Sea.

They are easy enough to deploy and recover in flat water but near on impossible (and dangerous) to try and do so in any sort of sea way. The thought of one of the "birds"becoming airborne in storm conditions is frightening! I had already installed Naiad hydraulic active fin stabilizers so the arms were redundant. Dropping them off in over 3,000m deep water to rust away did not seem too irresponsible - plus it kept the crew busy for a few hours!

We arrived at Middleton Reef just after sunrise 48hrs after having left Sydney Harbour to be greeted by the extraordinary site of half a dozen rusty wrecks on the horizon. The reef only dries in patches at low tide and with no other land in sight the wrecks appear to rise mysteriously out of the ocean. We found our way to the 'The Sound' and anchored in approximately 10m of crystal clear water. 

The boys were keen to chuck out a line and within seconds landed an 18" kingfish. The excitement of this early catch and the prospect of endless fresh fish ended just as abruptly when the sharks immediately moved in. We never caught another fish in the anchorage as every line was immediately taken by a shark. Later that evening, whilst barbecuing on the aft deck, I turned on one of the large fishing flood lights still fitted which illuminated the sea right around the boat. Within moments the water was that thick with sharks attracted by the light that you could have walked across their backs off into the darkness! Many were well in excess of 3m long.

We left Middleton Reef late the following afternoon for a 100nm overnight passage to Lord Howe Island. Within 1/2 an hour of leaving, the VHF radio started squawking away with a station repeatedly calling "Motor Vessel Ada Hardy" - which was strange as there were no vessels in sight and we were well out of range of any land stations. Being pre-AIS days it was even more perplexing that the calling station knew our vessel's name.

Approaching Lord Howe Island early on Day 5

It was soon revealed that the calling station was an Australian Border Patrol spotter plane that had moments earlier passed by unnoticed in the distance and, using high resolution imaging equipment, been able to read the boats name. I spent the next 20 minutes being interrogated about our bona fides. The coppers in the air obviously regarded this scruffy looking fishing vessel, milling aimlessly around a renowned drug transfer point with some suspicion. I was clearly not able to put their concerns to rest, because they signed off by saying they would be tracking us through the night and to report in to the Lord Howe Island police on arrival!!

 

Later on that evening we trawled a couple of lines as we cruised past the edge of Elizabeth Reef and landed half a dozen beautifully sized kingfish. Three went into the freezer for another day and the other three went onto the BBQ for a magnificent meal served with creamy mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus with hollandaise sauce. (Two of my non-seafaring buddies who had been specifically selected for their culinary skills earned their keep that day!)

We arrived at Lord Howe Island the next morning and contacted the local police on VHF radio as instructed. They were completely disinterested in our arrival and simply wished us a pleasant stay on the island. So much for border security!

 

We spent a very relaxed afternoon on the local 9 hole golf course playing barefoot with a five iron and a putter apiece. That evening we had dinner at a local guest house only to find to our amusement that the set menu for the night was grilled kingfish, mashed potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise sauce - exactly what we had prepared on board at sea the night before!! It was unanimously agreed that ours was better!

An unfamiliar sight on the passage home - waves!

That evening I phoned Roger "Clouds" Badham (meteorologist and weather router to the stars) for an update for the passage back to Sydney. Roger confirmed that there was a fairly strong SE front on the way which would mean a very uncomfortable beam sea for the trip home unless we got underway fairly soon. His recommendation was to leave early the next morning and head due south until we hit the front and then turn for home. That way we would have a quartering sea to ride home on. We did as told and hit the front within 30 mins of the time forecast by Roger 48 hrs earlier and had a reasonably pleasant run back to Sydney in 25 - 30 kts of following breeze.

We arrived back in Sydney on the morning of Day 9 ( a day earlier than planned) and pulled into Quarantine Cove (just inside Sydney Heads) to stop for breakfast and clean up before heading back to the marina. Well .... breakfast extended into lunch which extended into dinner and a peaceful night at anchor before arriving back at the marina as planned on Day 10!

Breakfast... or was it lunch or was it dinner .. on Day 9

Lord Howe Island is an extraordinarily unspoiled wilderness which can be accessed by air from Sydney. https://www.visitnsw.com/destinations/lord-howe-island?.