Taking a Christmas Refuge

Taking a Christmas Refuge

Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria, Australia: The protective waters of Wilson Promontory’s picturesque Refuge Cove have become almost a second home for Port Phillip sea pilot Barry Cuneo.

The Cove, located in the Promontory’s National Park, is known for offering boaties a much-needed respite from the unpredictability of Bass Strait and is a regular and popular run for Barry, his family and friends.

“He describes it as one of the most spectacular bays in the world.”

He describes it as one of the most spectacular bays in the world and in the past Barry has been a frequent visitor to the Cove in his Riviera 48 Flybridge, Whirlpool, bought in 2007 from Sandringham Yacht Club member, Jeff Malley.

But this time round, Barry was trying out his newest acquisition, having traded in Whirlpool for a stylish Riviera 53 Flybridge, named Whirlwind. He had taken ownership of Whirlwind a year earlier and, with fishing mate George Tzilantonis and business partner Danny Spicer, took advantage of a short post-festive break over Christmas 2013 to introduce her to the Cove.

An average 27 knots cruise carried Whirlwind down to the Promontory, with a bit of ‘slow steaming’ spot fishing thrown in along the way, which despite their best efforts according to Barry, failed to deliver much of a catch.

With a north easter blowing up at the Promontory, Whirlwind was able to stop on the western side of Oberon Bay, a rarity given the normally persistent westerly wind and swell. “There were no other boats in sight so we made the most of the clear waters on the day,” said Barry.

Skull RockBarry and Whirlwind edged on, passing the craggy form of Cleft Island, also known as Skull Rock and manoevering around the south-east point. As most boaties will tell you, this is the point where you usually find a clear delineation of different weather patterns, and according to Barry, the skies did not disappoint.

“There was an eerie cloud formation covering Rondo Island, an indicator of warmer moist air cooling as it met with the colder southerly flow at the Prom,” he explained.

From there on in, it was a run along the magic white beaches of Waterloo Bay and into Refuge Cove to anchor.

Riviera agent Stuart Jackson, of R Marine Jacksons, Victoria, had fitted an 80lb spare anchor to Whirlwind, and its 30 metres of chain and long nylon line allowed the team to set a stern anchor and tuck right into the south east corner of the Cove, giving both boat and boaties the best of all protections.

But while the anchor allowed for a convenient positioning, the only drawback, according to Barry, was the need for a ‘burly crew to retrieve it on leaving’.

Barry’s wife Carey had bought her husband a power dive with two regulators, which was stored  neatly in the engine room. The guys put the equipment to good work exploring the clear waters of Refuge Cove and turning up an array of discoveries, including old whale bones,  remnants of a time in the 1800s when the area was a bustling and productive whaling station.

Barry recorded Whirlwind’s first visit to the Cove on the site’s existing Whirlpool name board, which has listed the previous boat visits for three out of four consecutive years, the only one missing being 2012 when Whirlpool stayed up north.

As most boaties familiar with this area on Victoria’s southern most tip know, weather-watching is a constant at Wilson’s Promontory and with Barry due back on pilot duties at Port Phillip on December 31, the timing of the group’s departure was vital.

With an anticipated south westerly gale targeting December 28, and only a slim window for return on December 30 closing in, Whirlwind’s crew played it safe. They headed back early on December 28, their departure timed to beat the encroaching front and leaving them enjoying what turned out to be a ride back in near glass-smooth seas.

“The beauty of this boat is that you can cover great distances very quickly,” explained Barry.

“We averaged 28.6 knots for the 100nm trip back, allowing us to safely beat the approaching front by about an hour.”

He said that considering the front delivered average winds of up to 40 knots, with gusts rising to 55 knots, the Riv 53 proved her value and flexibility of use.

“But I have to say the time we spent at Portsea and Sorrento with its overcrowding and noise was a stark contrast to the idyllic serenity of Refuge Cove,” added Barry.

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