Sailing holidays at Port Albert can be fantastic . . . or frustrating! We experienced both extremes on our most recent visit to this historical coastal village in South Gippsland. Established in 1841 by explorer Angus McMillan, Port Albert is the oldest seaport in Gippsland and once was the home port of several large commercial fishing vessels. These have now been replaced by large numbers of visiting recreational fishing boats, which means that facilities for small boats are excellent; the (free) 2-lane all tide concrete ramp with jetty and floating pontoon makes launching and retrieval easy.

Port Albert sits within the Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park that extends from Little Snake Island in the west to the start of the Ninety Mile Beach. Although there are no Rye-type swimming beaches to speak of, the entire area has a natural beauty that is hard to beat. The outer barrier islands provide shelter from Bass Strait and there are umpteen small islands that offer possibilities for exploring in small boats. Our ideal sailing day sees us heading off down the channel towards the entrance to Bass Strait, the islands changing in character from mangrove to scrub and tussocks to the beautiful sand stretches of Clonmel and Snake Islands, where a walk over the dunes takes you from calm inlet to wild surf. The decision about where to land for lunch (or for the day) depends on tide and wind conditions. Huge tidal variations keep us alert but usually we have an entire island to ourselves, power boats having to pay more attention to depth under prop than Talisman’s shallow draft allows us.

Changes to the landscape due to tide and wave are quite apparent, especially near the entrance where over the last three years, a negligible sandbar has built up into a sizeable island (named Tern Island and claimed by Penny for the Port Albert Yacht Club on a previous trip). The leading marks for the entrance have had to be realigned to accommodate this new feature. Elsewhere, large chunks of cliff have broken away, taking vegetation with it.

During our stay, the Batchelors (temporarily boat-free) arrived for a weekend, spent at the Port Welshpool SeaDays festival, exploring around the Long Jetty, watching the Yarram Camp Draft and looking for goodies at the monthly market. Chris MacDonald came with boat, but unfortunately his visit coincided with a period of very high winds and very low tides, so Thoura never made it off the trailer. Considerable time was therefore spent inspecting other craft in the pens, and better conditions one afternoon did allow Chris to try out Penny’s sea kayak in Macmillan Bay.

Strong winds did not deter a group of beginners attending Learn-to-Sail sessions with the Port Albert Yacht Club, thoroughly enjoying getting wet scudding about close to the clubrooms. The club, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in March, is situated a belaying pin’s throw from the boat ramp and is one of the most friendly you will come across, all boaties are made welcome and invited to participate in social activities like picnic sails. The area is also home to large numbers of migratory wading birds and other wildlife. Non-sailing highlights included: a kangaroo bounding past just metres away on the beach; thousands of bar-tailed godwits feeding up before their long migration to Siberia for breeding; the nest and favourite dining spot (complete with remnants of past meals!) of the white-bellied sea eagle on Clonmel Island; tawny frogmouths and little lorikeets in the grounds of the caravan park; a flock of over 20 yellow-tailed black cockatoos showing off their aerial acrobatics.

As always, our holiday at Port Albert was a time for relaxation and refreshment – of the spirit, not just of the food and drink variety. A club visit is highly recommended.

Penny & Jim

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Membership is open to all wooden boat enthusiasts. Many members own boats, others do not, but all enjoy the chance to get together and "muck about with boats". Their boats include rowing boats, putt-putts, radio controlled models, pond yachts, canoes, kayaks, steam-powered boats, sailing dinghies, dayboats and ocean-going yachts.

The Wooden Boat Association is based in Melbourne, with regular sailing days scheduled on Albert Park Lake, as well as other venues around Melbourne, and at least one weekend each year elsewhere in the state.

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