We set off early the next morning to get the high tide for the transit through the Denison Canal at Dunalley. This canal allows small boats passage between Fredrick Henry Bay and Marion Bay on the east coast, via the large shallow lagoon of Blackman Bay (not to be confused with Blackmans Bay in the lower Derwent!), and is a quick way to Maria Island without having to sail around the whole Tasman Peninsula (which would add a couple of days to our trip).
The canal itself is plenty deep enough, it’s the channel at the approach as well as the exit at the Marion Narrows at the other end which are extremely shallow. We need at least two metres of depth to clear our keel, and parts of the channel are only just over that depth at high water, timing is everything! As Derek helms, it’s my job to keep a keen eye on the depth readings another eye on the channel markers (port red- and starboard – green-painted pylons) and a third on the chart-plotter with our previous track displayed, to make sure we’re safe. (This is why I don’t have any of my own photos to post here!)
After we called up the bridge operator at the Denison Canal he received a flurry of calls on the radio from a batch of Launceston to Hobart (L2H) yacht race retirees who were waiting on the other side to come through on the high tide. They had been anchored at Dunalley overnight. As we approached, the operator opened the canal bridge, stopping a queue of holiday land-traffic on our behalf, and held out his bucket on a stick for his Christmas-New Year bonus. I had to quickly duck below and rummage around for some spare cash to deposit as we passed. I could have gone for beer, but it’s a scarce resource on our boat, and I wasn’t sacrificing a good bottle of wine!
The canal was running with a strong flow tide, eddies swirling either side of us, and we made good speed as we passed through. It would not have been so easy for the three L2H boats we passed in the leads as they waited their turn to come the other way. We waved and greeted the crews – some from our own club – who looked a little disappointed to have pulled out. We guessed it was because they had very light conditions, as they would have lost the northerly stream coming inshore and through the Mercury Passage (between the coast and Maria Island). About 20 minutes later, as we crossed the shallow water of Blackman Bay, we passed Silicon Ship, also a L2H retiree, and fellow BYC yacht – and our arch-nemesis in the twilight races (in a friendly way of course). Then it was time to tackle the Narrows – quite a swell was running into Marion Bay, but with my eagle eyes on all the markers and Derek’s dab hand on the wheel we made it through into open water without a hitch.
Luckily Susan had the forethought to down a couple of Kwells well before we reached the open sea, and managed to keep the seasickness at bay as we crossed the six or so nautical miles of open water on a one to two metre swell into the lee of Maria Island. We saw a few pods of dolphins at play though none joined us to play in our bow-wave, sadly. The swell flattened out as we motored up the inside of south Maria. We found the anchorage at Chinaman’s Bay quite quiet – only two other yachts in the whole huge bay anchored along the beach and at Deep Hole. We tucked in close to Encampment Cove and launched the dingy preparing to go ashore to explore. I had just attached the outboard motor to the back and got it going when a summer ‘shower’ (ie a torrential downpour) hit us. I quickly killed the motor and we all dived below decks and waited for it to pass.
A few minutes later, with the boat washed clean of salt and the dinghy floor full of rainwater, we made another start – first I had to bail out a few bucketfulls of water! We beached the dinghy and walked the short circuit to the remains of some brick convict cells – a sorry reminder of one of the Island’s chapters of history – and back via lagoons and the river, all full and marshy and croaking with frogs. I had forgotten to pack my walking boots and made the mistake of wearing my sailing shoes on the walk. These have holes in the soles, the idea being they let the water out when you’re on wet boat decks, however on a boggy track they serve to let the water (and mud) in, so I returned with wet socks. We did see plenty of wallabies and kangaroos as well as five huge wombats on our walk, but strangely no people. That was to change.
The weather was so lovely by the time we got back to the dinghy that Susan and I bravely decided to swim back to the boat. We had beached the dingy at a shallow weedy spot, so rather than wading out into it we hitched a ride on the side of the dinghy until it was deep enough to swim. We enjoyed a swim – the Tasmanian adjectives expressed were ‘invigorating’, ‘refreshing’ etc (ie it was really quite cold!). However, it was not to last, and the weather cracked up in the evening – chilly and windy but no rain – so we ditched our plans for a pleasant on-shore BBQ and walk and ate on board instead. It was pleasant enough with our little portable BBQ on the cockpit table under the awning – it doubles as a brazier once the cooking is done. Here we ate and toasted the intrepid campers on shore, who had arrived and set up their tents in the meantime.