Lorne – A Place of Natural Beauty… and Easterlies!!

If you have been in Lorne over the past couple of weeks, then you’ll know that the weather has not been Lorne’s best feature for the Summer of 2020.  February, and into March is usually a wonderful time to be in Lorne but this year we have been treated to one of those Easterlies for which Lorne is notorious.  For ten days, the humidity stayed between 85% and 100%.  In that same period, apart form two minor variations, the temperature remained between 17C and 20C – 24 hours a day!  

Ten days of virtually no sun, a temperature/humidity combination which left people wondering what to wear.  And yet, just a short drive north to Geelong, a completely different climate.  Many years ago, one of Lorne’s respected elders and a man who had spent time at sea, Henry Love, told me that when an area low pressure settled over southern New South Wales, Lorne would get an easterly.  This latest has lasted longer than most and was entirely consistent with the weather patterns occurring in NSW.

During this recent Easterly, the waters of Louttit Bay were churned up; grey and frothy white, churning waves crashing on the beach.  It was enough to disrupt the recent Surf Carnival and to prompt the closure of the beach on a number of occasions.  In this day and age, the impacts of these Easterlies are relatively minor, probably the most inconvenient impact being that house windows facing east, probably cleaned and polished for Christmas are now crusted with salt.

However, the Easterly has been a cause of far more dramatic incidents in the earlier days of Lorne when the town depended upon ships visiting Lorne to deliver supplies and take on cargo.  One of the regular visitors to Lorne was the supply ship, ‘Henry’.  In 1878, the ‘Henry’ was wrecked on the front beach.  The ketch, which was Lorne’s chief link for many years with the outside world prior to the construction of the track from Winchelsea, carried provisions and building materials, and it was usual to beach her on a rising tide, and use kedge anchors to haul her onto the beach.  After unloading its cargo, wattle bark and timber was loaded on board as ballast and she floated off on a rising tide.  But during the 3rd week in August 1878, on one of her periodical visits, she was driven hard ashore by a strong wind, and efforts to refloat her were of no avail.  Then a strong easterly sprang up, and the 32-ton ketch was soon reduced to battered wreckage. 

This was just one of the ships brought to grief by the power of the Easterly.  The local press of the day wrote this account of the loss of the ‘Foam’.

“The ketch ‘Foam’ a coasting craft of about 30 tons, while on a run from Louttit Bay to Melbourne on the 30th January 1880, is supposed to have foundered or capsized in one of the terrific easterly gales which periodically visit that part of the coast.  These gales often spring up with scarcely any warning, and such is their tempestuousness, that the space of a few hours suffices to change the aspect of the ocean from a state of extreme placidity to a roaring and foaming mass of billows.  On the morning of the day above mentioned the ‘Foam’ weighed anchor, her crew consisting of William Anderson, Joseph Gay, William Collins, and a little boy Harris, who was a passenger.  Till noon the sea was beautifully calm, but about three o’clock the treacherous east wind sprang up.  Soon the sea assumed a troubled appearance.  Gusts of wind ruffled its surface, and momently massive billows, hurrying shoreward with foam upon their crests, became more and more frequent.  As the evening drew on, the fury of the storm increased, and when night set in, it seemed to have reached its height.  

For three days there was little or no abatement, the ocean during that time resembled a boiling cauldron rather than a sea disturbed by the wind; but on the morning of the 4th day the gale sank on a sudden.  Meanwhile the friends of the crew of the ill-fated ketch, apprehensive of their safety, had been communicating to all points where information was likely to be had.  

From what could be gleaned, it appeared that the ‘Foam’, making all possible headway to reach the heads and thus avoiding weathering the gale with the disadvantage of a lee shore, had upturned through carrying more sail than was safe, considering her light ballast and the fitful blasts of wind.  On the coast were found, a few mornings after, the boat, a lifebuoy, the hatches – sad relics, which tell in their silent way the fate of the craft and her hapless crew.”

Another report in January 1890 highlighted again the impact of the dreaded Easterly.  

“Nothing very exciting or remarkable to report during the past week, a large number of visitors left after enjoying their Christmas and New Year’s holidays, to make room for newcomers who feel glad to escape the draining heat and sultry atmosphere of the inland to embrace the cooler climate of this locality.  On Wednesday the Cutter ‘Rover’ came in from Melbourne with a small cargo of merchandise for Lorne and Apollo Bay.  The wind was blowing strong from the Southward.  She discharged a portion of her cargo at the jetty and remained at anchor all next day.  But owing to the heavy sea tumbling in and the Easterly wind she had to slip her anchors and stand out to sea.  As the weather has moderated, no doubt, the ‘Rover’ will return in the course of the day.”

The much maligned “Easterly” has been a feature of life in Lorne since the early days of settlement. The effects these days are more inconvenient than disastrous.  Today, it is no less welcome when at last, the wind drops off, the sea returns to its usual state and the skies of Lorne are blue once more.

Peter Spring
Lorne Historical Society