The tourism promoters like to call the Gippsland Lakes “Victoria’s Riviera”. It could be a triumph of optimism over reality on their part, but there are attractions that drew us back to Paynesville this year after last year’s successful trip. The weather could be counted as one of those attractions as long as you are prepared to experience a Mediterranean climate on about one day in three.

Chris Kelly and Alan Chinn were first to take up residence at Allawah Caravan park on the Thursday and made a successful circumnavigation of Raymond Island in Chris’s outboard-powered punt before the rest of us made our appearance. Jimmy Baillie was there soon after with Bluebelle kindly loaned to him by Geoff Carroll. David and Jan Gibson had arrived earlier in the week to stay in their house on Raymond Island.

Jim and Penny launched their Drascombe lugger on Friday and forayed into the lakes to tune the rig and hone their skills in handling their “big boat”.

Friday night dinner was fish and chips from the Paynesville takeaway shared by all arrivals to this stage around the table in Jim and Penny’s cabin.

As forecast, Saturday was the day that the weather met all our Mediterranean expectations and a plan was developed between Bernard O’Kelly and myself as OOD for our group to sail to Johnsonville for lunch. The navigational instructions were minimal and the communication arrangements sketchy, resulting in the advance party in the Drascombe, the punt and Andrew and Hanh Campbell’s tugboat Mars having a fine trip to... Nicholson. The bird watching and wildlife were a highlight so we were told.

With a later start, Bernard O’Kelly and Graham Holmes in Nellie motored across Lake King to the Tambo with Blue Wren, my Hartley 16, in pursuit. Arriving in Johnsonville with plenty of empty space on the wharf, we received a phone call from Chris Kelly informing us of their whereabouts. Tickety-Boo with Gary and Margaret Stewart aboard arrived at Johnsonville soon after. Andrew Cohen arrived by car and we had a lunch party around the BBQ shelter.

The afternoon sea breeze made for great sailing on the return trip to Paynesville after motoring out of whichever river your boat had settled upon. Chris and Jimmy had a slightly wet and bumpy trip back in the punt – particularly Jimmy sitting up in the bow. Tony O’Neill helmed Blue Wren on a fast reach across Lake King with Kerrin and I as crew.

On our return to Paynesville we discovered that there had been some additions to our group. The Batchelor family were on the water in Kirsty Ann, Frank and Konrad arrived with Konrad’s Enterprise dinghy and Tom McAdam had his Skerry Rosalie on the trailer as well as a rowing scull on the roof.

Saturday evening saw us at the Motor Cruiser Club for dinner. We had a table about as long as an America’s cup contender, seating our Melbourne group plus the East Gippsland representatives. It was a great opportunity to talk about our boating experiences and build friendships that keep the WBA active.

Rain rattled on our cabin roofs and the wind set halyards slapping against their masts all around Paynesville on Sunday morning. Boating was out of the question so a plan to explore Raymond Island by car took shape. The Batchelor’s VW van and Jim and Penny’s Forester took the ferry across McMillan Strait for a drive to the relatively sheltered side of the island. Kerrin and I took Jimmy in the same direction and we also walked the Koala Trail through the streets of Raymond Island village. The Sunday evening BBQ went ahead as planned but with our brave seafarers huddled in a couple of cabins sheltering from the gales outside.

There was one other Mediterranean touch on Monday morning, when we had a look at the Riva Aquarama being restored in James Frecheville’s workshop. James told us that Brigitte Bardot owned five of these 40 foot Italian built “runabouts” over her career. Kept at the Paynesville end of the French Riviera no doubt.  Powered by their twin 354 cubic inch V8’s they slip across the water very easily, so we were told - at a prodigous rate of fuel consumption. James’s restoration work is extensive, meticulous and very expensive, including special varnishes imported at $800 a tin. We were pleased to be joined by Jon Hansen, a member from North East Victoria, for the visit to Frecheville-Heaney’s boatyard.

Jim and Penny left to return to Melbourne early on Monday morning after a call from a family member. Chris and Alan, Andrew and Hanh left after the visit to Frecheville’s. As the weather improved Tom ventured out into the canals and the channel in his rowing scull and his Skerry, Frank and Konrad sailed the Enterprise, Jimmy rowed Bluebelle, and Blue Wren went for a sight-seeing tour of the waterside Paynesville real estate.

By Tuesday morning Allawah Caravan Park was emptying rapidly. Frank and Konrad continued their work on the Enterprise while Jimmy made ready for a departure that afternoon. This weekend proved why Paynesville draws us back again and again; secure berthing in the worst weather, protected waterways as well as access to reasonably open waters in the lakes, interesting places to go whatever the wind direction, interesting boats to see and a boat building/repairing industry that is at least surviving if not thriving. All that and convenient accommodation and trailer parking as well.

Our East Gippsland members have a magnificent area for cruising and are surrounded by a boating community with all the services at hand. The weather is Mediterranean - at times - and the waterways rarely get overcrowded. It may not be the French Riviera but it is our Riviera.

Leigh McNolty

Photos by Peter Batchelor, Leigh and Kerrin McNolty, and David Gibson.