Surviving the Vansittart Shoals – Friday 22nd February

Position: Lady Barron

Well, we enjoyed our flat night at Moriarty Bay… until 2am when the wind shifted. And it was not the predicted shift to South-west, but easterly! This meant we turned around 180 degrees on our anchor with the wind blowing us towards the beach, putting us on a lee shore (not a term any sailor likes to hear!), and with the tide now half way to low, and with only about 4 metres of water underneath us… well, it didn’t look good. With no imminent danger we lay in bed hoping that the wind would change, but by 4am we had had enough and got ready to get out of there. We had planned to leave soon after dawn anyway, so we were just a few hours ahead of schedule.

We had already plotted a course for Friday to take us around the far eastern end of Cape Barren Island and into Lady Barron, the best port on Flinders Island, and where the weekly ferry docks. We’d planned to get to the eastern corner in time for high tide so that we’d be approaching the very tricky entrance to Franklin Sound, the waters between Cape Barren and Flinders Island, on slack water – now we’d be getting there on a flood tide, potentially giving us some assistance. The contrary wind meant that we couldn’t use the sails, but the sea was relatively calm and we cruised along under the moonlight with the autopilot doing the steering for us.

Soon the sun began to rise spreading dawn light along the horizon and catching the puffy clouds that flew like rags across the sky. As we rounded the eastern end of Cape Barren Island it lit up the granite flanks of Mt Kerford. We made good time along the north-eastern shore and soon the tricky entrance was before us. Here began a hair-raising half hour. Franklin Sound only has a small entrance at its eastern end with Vansittart Island lying over the opening. To the north east of this opening are the notorious Potboil shoals – last year a friend of mine was crew on the Lady Nelson when it cracked its keel attempting to cross and spent 9 months on the slip in Devonport being repaired! And to the south-east are the Vansittart Shoals. Between Vansittart Island and these shoals is a very narrow channel and that’s the route we took.

First we crossed a wide shallow section where long stripes of turbulent water indicated the sandbars below – some scarily shallow. Then when we entered the channel we were bobbed around like a cork in the rush of incoming tide. Our normal cruising speed is around 6 knots, but here, with the tide behind us, we were making 8 without trying. We held on and went for the ride, sobered a little by the sight of the rusting hulk of the Farsund, a freighter that ran aground in 1910 on its way from Buenos Aires to Sydney.


Having GPS, electronic charts and cruising guides full of advice and local knowledge sure does help. Speaking of which, it was right about here that we experienced the third of our major breakdowns for the trip – the screen backlighting on the chart-plotter in the cockpit decided it would stop working, making it almost impossible to see in daylight. More than a little disconcerting when this is your main means of navigation. Fortunately we have a repeater screen down below in the main cabin, so for the next few minutes of intense navigating amidst the shoals, races and rocks we made good use of those radio headsets with me below relaying instructions to Derek at the helm:

‘You need to stay a bit to the left!… That’s good… a bit more left…’ etc

Then I grabbed the iPad and brought that up on deck for Derek to use – we have electronic charts of all Tasmanian waters downloaded with all sorts of bells and whistles, so we were able to use this for the remainder of the journey.

We charged up the channel past Great Dog and Little Green Islands and straight up to the wharf. We rang the fuel depot on the way and when we got there Michael the BP man was there to meet us. Or at least that’s who I assumed was at the end of the jetty. We blithely asked him where we should tie up and got him to grab our lines and help make us secure. The BP truck pulled up alongside, and it was then we realised that we’d commandeered a willing stranger – Tony the electrician – to help us tie up. Michael the BP man handed us the fuel hose and we filled up. Must have been running on the smell of an oily rag as we pumped 134 litres into our 130 litre tank! Either that or there’s something fishy about his meter, especially as our fuel gauge indicated we were about ¼ full. (We did still have 90 litres in jerrycans by the way). We very politely asked Tony to help us cast off, thanked him and went over to grab a MAST mooring.

Then we had to inflate the dinghy for our first trip ashore in the Furneaux! Yay! We packed our bags and headed to the nearby boat ramp. The wind was still quite strong so we had to putt slowly into the little wavelets, but we made it to the ramp without getting too wet. I almost kissed the ground in gratitude.

We tied the dinghy up to a fence, hoping we could trust the locals, and went off to get some lunch and a room for the night at the Furneaux Tavern. A few minutes later we were eating calamari and scallops on the verandah overlooking the beautiful Franklin Sound. So much prettier when you’re not concentrating on avoiding running your boat aground! Oh, and then our friend Tony turned up at the bar and we shouted him a drink.

After dumping our bags in our room we went off to explore the town and finally found the general store where we bought a few provisions. Then we followed the track up to the lookout on Vinegar Hill for an even more spectacular view.


We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, ate dinner in the Tavern and slept all night in a bed that didn’t move. Mind you the mattress was rather soft and saggy and the pillows too puffy… (or am I just too hard to please?)

7 thoughts on “Surviving the Vansittart Shoals – Friday 22nd February

  1. rohanpace says:

    A well earned spot of island luxury, and no finer than the Furneaux Tavern, I had my first taste of mutton bird here on Alice and my honeymoon in 2016. The sunrise looks amazing, what a treat.



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