Benign Banks Strait – Friday 1st March

Position: King Fisher Cottage, Binalong Bay

We’d gone to bed a little anxious about the building wind, and spent a few restless hours with it whistling in the rigging and the boat skewing on the anchor, until at around 11.30pm it gave a last gust and almost instantly all was calm. We were finally drifting off to sleep when the anchor alarm startled us out of bed! The anchor hadn’t dragged but as the wind eased the boat had drifted back on the anchor chain just outside the warning circle Derek had set. After checking all was ok we reset the alarm and finally relaxed enough to sleep peacefully the rest of the night.

In the dawn light we rose and made ready to cross Banks Strait. The weather looked good, the tide was right, and Derek had the prospect of a possible urgent trip to Singapore ahead for work. Now would be a good time to make the dash. We hoisted the sails in Thunder and Lightning Bay with a gentle breeze that was beginning to build. Soon we were skimming along in the sunshine under sail alone at a speedy nine knots, while sea-mist enveloped Cape Barren’s mountains and the pink-tinged far horizon.

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South of Cape Barren Island and north of Clarke (where we’d spent our first two nights after crossing Banks Strait) lies Preservation Island. This is really more of an archipelago as it’s surrounded by rocks and to the south Rum Island. This is the site of a dramatic tale of wreck and rescue dating back to 1797. It was here that the ship Sydney Cove, on the way from Calcutta to Sydney, was blown off course after coming around Van Diemen’s Land and with water coming in the captain beached it between Preservation and Rum Islands, naming the first for being their source of survival and the second for where they stored the cargo of rum out of reach of the crew! It’s a long and tragic tale, with few survivors, and has recently been turned into a novel by Jock Serong called Preservation.

This incident triggered the sealing and whaling industries which flourished in the Bass Strait islands for many years afterwards, as well as indicating to mariners that there was in fact a strait separating VDL from the rest of the continent. It was soon after that Bass and Flinders made their epic journey that lives on in the names of the waters and islands. The wreck of the Sydney Cove is now a historic site and many artefacts, including two huge anchors, have been retrieved and preserved in museums – the Furneaux Museum and the Queen Victoria in Launceston.

We passed Clarke Island’s west coast keeping on our track south-south-east until the white needle of the Swan Island lighthouse was visible through the mist. At no time were we out of sight of land, be it a hazy outline in the mist. We had actually had better visibility on our night crossing north under the full moon, when we could clearly see the outline of Ben Lomond in the interior.

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Next to appear was the lighthouse at Eddystone Point, and it was around here that the wind began to fade and the rest of the journey had to be made under motor with a preventer on the boom to stop it swinging around, and barely any assistance from the mainsail. The swell had built as well, and at lunch time I reheated some of last night’s Bolognese sauce to eat with toast. That’s about all the cooking I like to manage under way in a swell, with the gimballed stove swinging wildly and everything trying to leap out of the cupboards when opened! I was part-way through assembling this lunch when a dolphin came to visit. Sorry, lunch temporarily suspended!

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By mid afternoon we were nearing Binalong Bay and we needed to make a decision. The public moorings would be safe, but subject to quite some swell. A safe but only slightly less rolly anchorage could be found at the back of St Helen’s Island; we didn’t fancy tackling the St Helens bar-way to get into the protected bay; and the alternative of continuing on to Wineglass Bay for another 9 hours, arriving and anchoring in the dark was not appealing either. Plan E? Secure the boat to the Binalong mooring and find a B&B for a night ashore!

It was just after I’d secured us to the MAST mooring and returning to the cockpit in the wobbly swell that breakage number five occurred – the starboard side lazy jacks* broke, sending the main-sail tumbling out of the sail-bag on top of my head! That meant another job to do in the rolling swell – fold the main-sail, zip it into the bag then tie it all to the boom. We achieved this without falling overboard, but it’s going to mean a trip up the mast for me some time, though not until we get into much calmer waters! I don’t want to be swinging about up there like a mouse clinging to the top of a metronome!

We called Stay @ Bay of Fires and the incredibly accommodating Jan was able to offer us a night in King Fisher Cottage as she’d just had a cancellation. She even drove to the boat ramp to collect us and offered us her neighbour’s dinghy mooring in the cute and protected dinghy dock.

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King Fisher Cottage is literally over the road from the mooring and we watched poor old Ariadne’s Clew pitching and rolling on a confused swell. The rolling surf on the beach was too tempting however, and I raced over the road in my bathers for a delightful wallow in Ariadne’s shadow – the only way to enjoy that sea! After taking a work phone call, Derek stepped onto the cottage’s deck and I waved and beckoned him in from the surf. He joined me, complaining about the cold water, but soon we were frolicking in the waves just like we were teenagers again.

Next door to the cottage is the only restaurant in Binalong Bay, the Lichen, where we ate oysters with champagne on the deck as the sun set over the bay. From here we smiled to hear the squeals of a bunch of teenagers taking an evening dip in the surf.

*Lazy jack: a web of ropes that guides the main-sail into the sail bag on top of the boom when you lower it. I guess it makes Jack the sailor lazy!

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