Home to Hazy Hobart – Tuesday 5th March

Position: Home!

During Monday evening, as they returned from trips ashore, the occupants of most of the boats in the anchorage pulled up their anchors and pootled across the bay to the far south-eastern shore. This was because the wind was forecast to change to the south during the night, exposing the anchorage to a bit of fetch, but as it was only forecast to be very light we couldn’t be bothered moving and settled down for our last night on board.

In the wee hours of the morning we were gently rocked about, but after so long at sea we barely noticed it, and slept peacefully until the dawn, when we got up and got going so as to reach the canal close to high tide. The sky was hazy and we could smell bushfire smoke, something we hadn’t experienced in the north at all, and a sage reminder of the devastating fires still burning in our precious wilderness areas.

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After setting us on course with the auto-pilot Derek sneaked back down below for a bit of extra sleep leaving me keeping a lookout. Once again, we barely met another boat until we neared the Marion Narrows and I kept reading my book, The Secret Life of Whales, a memoir by Micheline Jenner about her nearly 25 years researching whales around the Australian coast and into Antarctic waters.

Beautiful blue-green breakers were rolling onto Marion Bay Beach right beside the entrance. It’s a little disconcerting to be sailing towards the beach, but we had the chart plotter as well as the leads to line up and follow into the narrow entrance. As usual I called out depths and directions based on the chart-plotter’s record of our out-bound track two weeks earlier, while Derek steered us through.

 

We were soon overtaken by a fast vessel used for mooring installation and maintenance, and we were still quite a distance from the leads to the canal when we heard him call the bridge operator on the radio. We weren’t going to be able to get through at the same time and by the time we got to the leads and called up, the bridge operator had reclosed the canal to let the waiting traffic through. It wasn’t long, however, before he reopened it for us and we were able to glide on through without waiting.

Through the bridge is another very shallow channel, indicated by red and green channel markers, and negotiating this we found ourselves back in our home waters of Fredrick Henry Bay. There was barely a ripple on the wide bay and we motored past Fulham Island, Lime Bay and Sloping Island before nearing the sculpted sandstone cliffs of Cape Deslacs, at the end of Clifton Beach. Here is another short-tailed shearwater rookery and hundreds of birds were rafting on the water. As we neared the flock, birds took flight streaming off to either side of the boat.

Along Hope Beach, we passed another yacht with the crew on the foredeck hoisting a spinnaker. By the time they had set it in the light breeze we had passed between Blackjack Rocks and Betsey Island on our way to rounding the Iron Pot. I always look fondly on this little lighthouse at the entrance to the Derwent River. I remember as a child going up Mt Wellington with my grandfather, from where he pointed it out and told me, with straight face, that it was the south pole.

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We ate a simple lunch of cheese and crackers, and with the city looming up in front of us through the smoke haze our thoughts drifted to home and we began to pack up the boat. Our trip was almost over.

Our son Ben was waiting to meet us as we pulled into our marina berth at Bellerive. We tied up and began to unload, and whilst Derek and Ben took loads to the car I began washing two and a half weeks of salt and grime off the boat. By late afternoon we were home, tired but grateful for a wonderful trip. It had not been without its challenges, but also full of rewards. And we have tomorrow’s twilight race to look forward to!

Up the Mast – Monday 4th March

Position: Chinaman’s Bay, Maria Island

We had consulted charts and tide tables on Sunday night to determine our plans for today. To get through the Marion Narrows and the Dunalley Canal we need to arrive close to high tide, otherwise we risk running aground! From Schouten Island it would take us around 5 hours travelling at 6 knots to get to the Narrows. High tides today would be around 9am and 9pm. That made it a tad tricky, so our only real alternative was a lazy day with a short sail down to Maria Island, and an early start the next morning to get the high tide just before 10am.

While Derek enjoyed a Monday morning sleep-in, I was up on deck enjoying the peace and quiet of Crocketts Bay. Soon after dawn all the fishing boats had left and I watched a couple of them collecting and setting cray-pots along the nearby coast. It seemed the other six or so cruising boats were also enjoying a sleep-in on the calm waters.

After eating my signature bacon and egg scramblette (a scrambled omelette) we motored out of the bay and around the corner of Schouten Island. Our first challenge was to weave through the field of craypots laid around the coast and reefs by our fishermen friends of last night. I had sympathy for the poor crayfish, with so many waiting traps! We continued south to the Mercury Passage, passing Ile des Phoqes this time without getting close enough to see or smell the phoques/folks (seals). It was a mild day with little wind, and with that broken lazy-jack, well we just couldn’t be bothered sailing – so I guess we’re the lazy-Jacks today.

At Maria Island we turned in to Chinamans Bay to find another half-dozen cruising boats in the anchorage off Encampment Cove, as well as a few scattered along the shore to east and south. We found ourselves a patch of weedy sand in three metres of water and set the anchor. Maria Island is a beautiful spot to go ashore, and in the past we’ve done a variety of walks, a favourite being to French’s Farm to watch the wombats and kangaroos graze at sunset. This time, however, we stayed aboard. As it was so calm this was the opportunity we needed for a trip up the mast!

As I mentioned, the lazy-jacks are a web of thin ropes strung up each side of the boom to make the mainsail stay in the boom-bag as it is hoisted and lowered. Without these the excess sail tumbles out of the bag onto the deck (as well as any crew hovering its zone). When lowering the sail in a strong wind or rough seas it would get blown about, making the job of flaking (folding) the sail and securing it in the bag, or with ties, a difficult task. Our starboard-side lazy-jack had snapped a few days earlier, with the break near its highest point where it attaches to the top spreader, over two-thirds of the way up the mast.

So, the question is – who goes up the mast? Or more accurately, who wants to winch the other person up the mast? Yes, you guessed it – I go up the mast and Derek does the winching. Phew! And as I was going up, why not go right to the top of the mast and replace the masthead light globe with a power-saving LED? To get me up we attached the bosun’s chair to the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up to the top of the mast) with a second halyard attached for safety. This nifty little seat-harness has a pocket for all the tools you need, so in went pliers, screw-driver, globes, tape and my phone to take some pics. Then Derek got to work on the winch, and I helped a little by pulling and climbing where possible.

From the top I had fantastic views of the anchorage, and whilst I replaced the light-globe someone on shore sent their drone out to investigate! I gave it a wave, hoping they might share any footage with us later*.

I took photos of all the masthead fittings. Our problem number two this trip was the VHF radio – it has been flaky since we left Wineglass Bay on the way north, and testing and trying various connections it seems to be an issue with the aerial or its wiring. So, I took a look at the aerial up top. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong up there, but took photos for us to scrutinise later. And if you’re worrying about us out on the high seas without a radio, worry no more – we have two backup handheld radios which we used instead.

On the trip down the mast I repaired the lazy-jacks with my newly learned knot – a double sheet-bend. The rope is fairly worn so will need replacing before long, but this will get us by for a bit.

Later, once I was back with my feet on the deck and all was squared away, we pulled out and dusted off the little portable Cobb barbecue. Tonight was unbelievably our first opportunity to use it for the whole trip! Every evening it has been either too windy or too late getting to our anchorage, or we were staying on shore. I had provisioned us for a minimum of four barbecues during the trip and the tiny freezer was still bulging with steak and chops. We chose loin lamb with roasted potatoes, pumpkin and carrot, followed by golden syrup pudding, eaten on deck in the colours of another spectacular sunset to the accompaniment of a whistling gull. This is the cruising life at last – and literally last as this will be our final night on board.

*As we didn’t go ashore we didn’t catch up with the drone operator. It could have been someone from the next-door boat Close Encounters. If you know who it might have been do ask them to get in touch!

Finding flat water – Sunday 3rd March

I got up for an early morning walk on the beach. As I left I wasn’t sure whether the sun was up or not as thick sea mist hung low in the sky. I walked the lagoon path enjoying the birds and the rumble of surf over the dunes. When I emerged onto the beach I went barefoot, skipping the waves’ hungry tongues that rushed up the beach. I got wet of course. And greeted Ariadne’s Clew that was still bobbing wildly on the mooring.

When I got back to the bungalow the sky was clearing and I sat outside to upload the latest blog posts with the phone propped up on the water tank for the best reception. Then we packed up ready to leave. As we paid the bill the owner offered us a lift back to the boat ramp. It wasn’t far to walk but with all our bags we gratefully accepted his offer.

We had intended going back to Lichen café for breakfast, but they weren’t yet open when we arrived at a quarter to nine, so we decided to give it a miss and get on the water as we had a lot of sea miles ahead of us.

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Getting into the dinghy was a piece of cake in the quiet little dinghy dock, and we made it out of the opening without getting swamped by a wave, but things got more interesting as we encountered the swell. Derek handled the tiny inflatable expertly, keeping us nose-into the metre-high surges and travelling perpendicularly towards the yacht in the troughs between them. The real challenge came when we got to the back of the yacht, which was pitching up and down quite alarmingly. I grabbed the handy grab-handle and held on, trying not to let the dinghy get squashed underneath the transom. Next I had to scramble out in a most unladylike fashion, whilst holding on to the dinghy’s rope, then make it secure and catch all our bags as Derek, pitching around like dice in a shaker, handed them to me, followed by the oars and the outboard motor. I grabbed it all, he didn’t fall overboard, and we then managed to pull the dinghy up onto the foredeck to make our getaway. All to the amusement of the various families who had emerged onto the beach, and the first customers at the café, no doubt. I had feared the scene down below, but was happy to find only one thing on the floor and no disasters in the fridge. I guess that we pitch around a lot whilst sailing anyway; perhaps it just looked worse from the shore.

All the way down the east coast, from Binalong Bay to the Freycinet Peninsula, we had a following sea and a tail-wind. With a missing lazy-jack we decided it was too roly-poly to hoist the mainsail, especially if we had to take it down again in this rolling sea, and the headsail would have been too hard to set, so we motored all the way. In the end the winds were light, only reaching 15-20 knots for an hour or so of our nine-hour journey, justifying our choice!

A sea-mist clung to the coastline in places, and cloudy skies made for a palette of soft greys. We saw a scattering of birds: gannets, cormorants, terns, another of those tiny fairy prions skipping the waves, short-tailed shearwaters and eventually an albatross or two. And we were visited by curious dolphins now and again, though we didn’t get an escort this time.

As we neared the entrance to Wineglass Bay we looked at the swell running straight in there, and looked at each other. It would add another hour and a half to our journey if we were to continue past to Schouten Passage but it would be worth it if we could find a flat anchorage for the night. After spending two roly-poly nights at Wineglass Bay on our way up we didn’t fancy another – and I’m sure Ariadne’s Clew agreed with me (even if, as Derek reminds me, she’s an inanimate object!). A warm breeze blew off the land and we began to anticipate an idyllic evening.

We rounded the corner between the tip of the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island and the swell immediately petered out to nothing. And presto, here were boats! We hadn’t seen another boat the whole day, and only one during the previous leg. I always wonder what we’re doing wrong when we find we’re the only boat on the water. In the quiet anchorages of Crocketts Bay and Morey’s Beach were half a dozen yachts and another half-dozen fishing boats. We putted around and found ourselves a spot to drop the anchor in five metres of crystal-clear water, calling out greetings to all the boats as we passed.

We were all settled before sunset and sat on deck eating the last of our oysters in the pink hues of evening. Bliss!

Lolling at Binalong Bay – Saturday 2nd March

Position: Binalong Bungalows, Binalong Bay

After lying awake thinking of the mess we’ll find when we get back on board – books and charts all over the floor? Will anything in the fridge smash or leak? I did manage to relax myself enough to sleep.

Over a poached egg breakfast in the Lichen café we consulted the latest weather forecast, and didn’t like what we saw: strong northerly winds, increasing over 30 knots towards Wineglass Bay in the afternoon – just when we’d be getting down there. Sunday was looking a better day to make the passage, and just out the window was our little boat bobbing about on the swell. We rang the redoubtable Jan to see if we could get another night’s accommodation. She had nothing available, but very obligingly rang around the town and secured us a night at Binalong Bungalows, managed by friends Marie and Colin, also boaties, and sympathetic to our plight. Jan also offered to take us in to St Helens for a quick shopping expedition, stopping on the way at Lease 65 oyster farm where she’d arranged to collect a dozen oysters – and we asked for another dozen for us! It transpires that Jan herself is a seasoned sailor having competed in a few Melbourne to Hobart races, including the tragic 1998 race when they rolled the boat before they even got it to Melbourne for the start!

Marie then picked us up with our belongings to drive us the short trip up the road to the bungalow, which is tastefully decorated in retro style, complete with video player and a library of videos from the 90s. Marie said she’d been at the café earlier looking at our boat and hoping the poor sailors weren’t staying on board. She supposed we were on shore somewhere – perhaps King Fisher Cottage?… I guess that’s small-town life.

We settled in, Derek did some work while I wrote and then, after a lunch of cheese, crackers and tomato with a few fresh oysters thrown in, we headed off to the beach via the lagoon track. The wind was blowing strongly onshore, the waves were pumping, and there was our boat still bobbing and swaying on that mooring. Marie had recommended a series of gulches past the boat-ramp as a good sheltered spot for a swim, so we wandered down to one of these delightfully secluded natural swimming pools where I swam and floated in the warm sunshine.

After a lazy afternoon we scrubbed up and walked back to the same restaurant for dinner. The staff all recognise us now as if we’re locals! We both ate the market fish tonight – delicious pink ling – and I indulged in chocolate pudding for dessert, but no coffee! The swell was beginning to settle down as we walked back to the bungalow in the dusk. I don’t think I’ll be worrying about Ariadne’s Clew so much tonight.

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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!

Cape Barren Caper – Thursday 28th Feb

Position: Thunder and Lightning Bay, Cape Barren Island

The wind didn’t let up all night, so we pulled up the anchor soon after sunrise, hoisted the sails and turned south. It was time to begin the long trip home. This doesn’t mean our adventures are over though – ahead of us are at least four days of travel, probably more.

We were soon skimming along with 15 to 20 knots of wind on our beam, the tide behind us, a reefed main and short headsail, and making good progress down the west coast of Flinders Island, weaving our way between islands, islets and rocks. Which got me to wondering what’s the technical difference between them all? When does a rock become an islet, or even and island? The answer it seems all about human habitation. According to expert Ian Storey: ‘Technically, an island under international law must be above sea level at all times and capable of human habitation.’ [see ABC article here] The definition has been under scrutiny since China started colonising the South China Sea and turning rocks and islets into habitable islands…

South of Roydon Island we passed the Pascoe and Chalky Islands, Mt Chappell, Badger, Goose, East Kangaroo, Big Green, Prime Seal and a host of little ones such as Ann Islet (which looked like a bunch of rocks and definitely not capable of human habitation).

We thought we were alone on the sea today, until I spotted a sail way down south. For a long time I was wondering which way it was travelling until I realised that it was actually the lighthouse on Goose Island! All along the way we saw thousands of short-tailed shearwaters circling, rafting and wheeling on the air currents. Hard to spot as they’re black, here’s a photo of them surrounding the boat:

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Big on the horizon loomed truwana/Cape Barren Island, the second largest in the Furneaux group, with the imposing heights of Mt Munro (715 m) at its centre. A large portion of this island has been handed back to the Tasmanian aboriginal community, and in my past life at the Tasmanian Writers Centre I’d got to know Jim, an aboriginal elder, poet and philosopher, who is a permanent resident. I had let Jim know we were coming, but when we were unable to reach Cape Barren on our sail north I thought we might have missed him. I sent him a message this morning on the off-chance. As we approached the north west corner of the island the wind was peaking at over 25 knots from the east – there was no way we could attempt to enter the shallow channel between Long Island and the harbour at The Corner, the main town on Cape Barren, so we continued around to the relative shelter of Thunder and Lightning Bay on the south-west coast.

This wide and beautiful bay, surrounded by orange lichen-covered granite boulders, was out of the swell and wind-waves, but the wind still whistled over the low, lightly vegetated ground. A catamaran, Portfolio, which we’d seen two days before near Emita, was anchored off the southern end of the beach. We anchored nearby, being careful to find a sandy patch on which to drop the anchor, and I concocted a salad from the last of our lettuce and fresh veg and a few eggs courtesy of the feathered ladies at Partridge Farm. After lunch we debated the idea of going ashore to explore the beach. The wind was still whistling around us, but it was sunny and the beach was inviting, so we launched the dinghy over the side and set out to explore.

We were dragging the dinghy up the beach when our neighbour Roger, from Portfolio, came to our aid and we got chatting. He and his wife are on their third sailing trip to Tasmania from the Gippsland Lakes. I looked over and saw a vehicle at the end of the beach and someone approaching – it was Jim! He’d got my message but we’d been out of range and I hadn’t seen his reply.

What a thrill to be personally welcomed to this amazing island. Jim chatted to us about the island, its wildlife and its history, the best way to cook a mutton-bird, and his boating and fishing experiences until Roger’s dinghy began floating on the tide and he took his leave. Then Jim took Derek and I for a personal tour of Cape Barren Island.

Just near the airstrip (2 flights a week from Launceston) there is a very appealing golf-links course – it must be one of the most remote courses in the world! The tidy little township houses around 75 permanent residents, though Jim is worried that this is an ageing population and the younger generations don’t spend a lot of time on the island. There is a school (around a dozen students in both primary and secondary schools) which has two staff and is administered by the Flinders Island District School at Whitemark. There’s also a general store and Community Centre. There are two farms on the island: one on the east end which is privately owned, and one on the west which has recently been handed to the community, but is currently not being farmed. This could conceivably become a community enterprise providing work and skills. The Fuglsang (or Fullshanks in Island slang) farm had cattle running on a community pasture near the township today as the cattle-boat is expected in soon to ship them to market. We saw these healthy-looking black cows munching away as we drove past, though Jim says the island is currently in drought which has probably meant the farm are reducing stock.

Jim drove us along the rutted gravel roads along the north coast to see the Devil’s Tower, an impressive granite stack, as well as some beautiful pockets of eucalypt forest where he regularly walks. On the way we he tenderly showed us the sad fate of the Molly, Jim’s own 31-foot steel yacht. After spending years restoring her in Hobart he sailed her up to the island and tied her to a mooring he had prepared, but he hadn’t secured a shackle-pin with a mouse (rope tie) and it broke in a storm, sending her up onto the rocks (a sad case of ‘for the sake of a nail the war was lost’!). Now she has an irreparable hole in the hull and all he could do was drag her up into the bush. At his home, where he then took us for a cuppa, he has repurposed a few salvaged items – a coffee table made from her galley table, in which he’s mounted the compass binnacle, and the stern-light used as part of a nautical wall decoration above a beautiful print of Molly at anchor on a misty morning.

We chatted about his new project – a master’s degree in aboriginal philosophy at UTas – and he gifted us a bottle of his very special home-brewed Worcestershire sauce. As the evening drew close he drove us back to Thunder and Lightning Bay (named, incidentally, not for the weather, but after wobberertee, one of his aboriginal ancestors –her name translates as ‘thunder and lightning’ – quite a woman I’m sure!) where he waved us off, staying to ensure we made it safely aboard in the windy conditions.

Later, I added a dash of Jim’s special sauce to our spaghetti Bolognese for dinner (not quite the Italian condiment, but I couldn’t resist). The sauce has quite a bite, with chili and a secret combination of native herbs and spices! This was a day we’ll always treasure – a real highlight of our trip so far. Thanks Jim!

Amongst the Animals – Tuesday 26th February

Position: Port Davies, Flinders Island

Partridge Farm has a curious collection of livestock. I ate my breakfast on the deck overlooking a paddock of deer, complete with sproinking fauns and the odd sheep or goat, whilst fending the rather bold and vocal partridges off my food. All around on the grass scampered more than 30 guinea-pigs, ducks and chickens, all watched curiously by Jess the sheepdog. We packed up and before we left the owners entreated us to help ourselves to the Nashi pear tree. As soon as I entered the orchard the pig began to squeal in excitement – so of course I had to share the pears!

We drove the short hop back to Lady Barron, piled everything into the waiting dinghy and re-boarded the fair Ariadne’s Clew. It was time to see if the new motor was going to get us out of our pickle. It took a while for Derek to get it lined up and onto the mounting screws, a bit of puzzlement with the wiring, and a couple of bouts of testing with a spare battery. It wasn’t until we disconnected the cables from the battery in the back cabin, gave them a blow, wipe and reconnected them with an extra twist, that the thing finally burst to life. Yes, we now have an operational anchor winch! Hooray! We’re very thankful to Andrew, who arranged the delivery and talked us through getting it going again.

It was after 1pm when we motored out of Lady Barron for (hopefully) the last time! With our cruising time in the north cut short by our troubles we decided to push on up the west coast to Emita, the location of the museum we’d visited by car on Monday. Again we had the flood tide pushing us west in Franklin Sound, but the easterly wind was barely enough for sailing, and as we went further west the wind dropped to almost nothing. The sea was glassy, the early morning cloud had burnt off leaving a blue sky. We saw a flock of gannets resting on the surface, the odd little penguin paddling about, a couple of lazy seals with their flippers in the air and then, three or four dolphins joined us to play. One spent ages surfing our bow-wave and we went right to the prow to watch. Through the crystal clear water we could see it swimming along with its tail almost resting on the bow. From time to time it would put its head on the side and look up at us. After a good while it would swim off to the side to take a breath then return.

We didn’t see any short-tailed shearwaters until we came further north and into some wind. Then we could see flocks of them wheeling around using the wind-shear off the water to keep themselves aloft.

We pushed on north, passing Mt Chappell, Big Green and East Kangaroo Islands, then the Chalky Islands and inside Prime Seal. There are several nice anchorages around Settlement Point but by this stage the wind had picked up so we continued around the point to Port Davies hoping this would be out of the wind. It wasn’t, but we grabbed the MAST public mooring and here we stayed for the night. There was one other yacht anchored closer to the protection of the dunes, plus a rusty fishing boat, and we all wobbled about in the wind.

Swapping keel for wheels – Monday 25th February

Position: Partridge Farm, Badgers Corner, Flinders Island

Today we left Ariadne’s Clew tied to a mooring in Lady Barron harbour and arranged a hire-car from the cabin park. Mike delivered the car to us at the Tavern and drove us to Whitemark to drop himself back home. On the way we filled him in on our predicament and he gave us a few suggestions of things to do on a day with wheels instead of sails. Our first stop was the main street of Whitemark and a café for brunch. The only one open was doing a roaring trade and we sat in the dining room eating delicious food and making arrangements. Derek on the phone for work while I phoned around the island looking for a night’s accommodation.

I rustled up a room at Partridge Farm, in Badgers Corner back towards Lady Barron. The owner, Lorraine, asked for a bit of time to make up the room so I wandered the town while Derek kept working. The Taste of Flinders Island gourmet café that I had hoped to visit was closed as they are moving into premises at the new pier which is still under construction. We had discounted visiting here by boat as the jetty is only accessible at high tide, while the bay is wide and unprotected and the only other option is to anchor well out and ride in by dinghy – so it was good to be here on wheels! The other must-do in Whitemark is Bowman’s Store, established almost 100 years ago, and still going strong. Here you can find most things including clothing, books (my trap – but I only bought one for my grandson), haberdashery, kitchen utensils etc. They also have a history room, set up as it was in the 1920s. I had a good chat to the friendly owner who recommended the pub for dinner.

Andrew in Hobart let us know he’d sourced a replacement motor and was arranging to have it shipped to us, hopefully on the afternoon’s flight from Launceston. Pretty impressive! We dropped our gear at the farm and began some sightseeing. Walker’s Lookout is roughly in the middle of the island – definitely somewhere we couldn’t get to by boat – so we drove up the rutted gravel road for spectacular 360° views and ate our picnic lunch under a bright blue sky (well, it was actually a bit windy, so we ate in the car!). It would have been a perfect sailing day…

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Then we drove north past the airport and stopped at Blue Rocks, an unmarked gem we found mentioned in Walks of Flinders Island. So secret that Mike at the cabin park hadn’t heard of it! Apparently so named by Flinders as he sailed past – they are blue, and must have been twinkling in a burst of sunshine at the time as they’re not huge.

I had a paddle and quick walk, but when a call to Sharp Airlines confirmed the freight had made it onto the flight due at Whitemark around 4.30 we pushed on to see some more sights before we had to return to the airport.

At Emita is the fantastic Furneaux Museum where we browsed a photography exhibition, then the permanent exhibits housed in a collection of buildings: police cells; a telephone exchange; a Nissen hut full of shipwreck relics and industrial machinery including from the once famous Flinders Butter Factory;  an old mutton-birding hut displaying the processing steps; and the original house with amazing collections of shells, eggs, minerals, photographs, ships’ collectibles and much more. We also had time to visit Wybalenna, the site where around 200 Tasmanian aboriginals, from 9 different nation groups and languages, were gathered and exiled after the Black War in the early 1830s. The settlement operated for 17 years under various forms of management and mismanagement, with a terrible toll on the people from disease. On the way here I’ve been reading Me Write Myself by Leonie Stevens, an in-depth study of the writings by aboriginals at Wybalenna. It reveals a proudly independent people who always insisted they were free and did their utmost to document their pleas (even petitioning the Queen) whilst tenaciously trying to retain their cultural practices under the oppressive colonising forces.

We arrived at the airport as they were unloading, and happily paid the $20 freight cost for flying our precious parcel across Banks Strait. I was itching for a swim and with a few hours of this beautiful warm afternoon still lingering we drove back to Blue Rocks where I braced the cool Bass Strait waters for a wallow. I had a swim for my Mum, who at 88 regularly swims in a pool and yearns for the sea!

We grabbed an early dinner at the Flinders Interstate Hotel – scallops and flathead, yum. The Lounge Bar was booked out, so we ate in the quaintly decorated Dining Room, where I sat next to a circular saw draped with a lace tablecloth (ongoing renovations perhaps?). We made it back to Partridge Farm without hitting any wildlife. I was on spotting duty. We did stop at the side of the road to admire the wedge-tailed eagle sculpture cut into an old tree-stump.

A beautiful day at last – Sunday 24th February

Position: Furneaux Tavern, Lady Barron, Flinders Island (again)

By the time we woke the wind had blown itself out and the morning was still as the sun rose above the peaks of Strzeleki. After breakfast we were the first boatload to put a dinghy in the water to head ashore. We grabbed our bathers and walking gear and a good supply of water and putted across to the end of the point for a good look a the interesting rock formations. The tide was almost right out, and we soon encountered patches of weed, having to scout out a safe passage ashore. Eventually it was too shallow to use the outboard and we paddled the last 100 metres before having to hop out and tug the dinghy into shore.

We pulled it well up the sand and were anchoring it to some rocks when a friendly local appeared and concerned it could be damaged on the rocks, offered to help carry it further up to the beach steps, as the tide comes in pretty fast and far. We chatted and when he heard our predicament offered us a lift to the airport at Whitemark when he will be heading there on Wednesday.

After trying out the drone from the beach we headed off on the walk. The walk around Trousers Point is one of Tasmania’s ‘60 Great Walks’ and is only around 90 minutes return. We clambered over the spectacular granite boulders, amazed by the variety of colours and formations, including gnammas (pools in the surface caused by chemical weathering), rock pools, fissures, boulders, lichens and delicate lace-like formations of calcarenite (a product of re-dissolved lime from ancient shell deposits).

Before we arrived at Trousers Beach the crystal clear waters quickly lured me in for a swim. I climbed down the rocks, over the weedy edge and shallow dived into what looked like a metre of water – but turned out to be over my head!

We enjoyed the walk back along the road, with birds, plants and wallabies bouncing everywhere. There were multiple sites of animal crossings with well-worn tracks heading into the bush either side, and sadly a couple of road-kill.

Back at Fotheringate Beach we found the tide hadn’t quite made it to the dinghy. We had met and chatted to various other boaties on the walk. At the beach we met parties from two boats heading back to Melbourne after visiting the Wooden Boat Festival and they helped us carry it down to the water. Once we were back on board the wind had begun to puff from the north-east. Still keeping our options open we thought we’d consider travelling north for another night before heading back to Lady Barron if it wasn’t too difficult to winch the anchor up by hand. I sent Derek forward to the winch this time and operated the helm, the trick being to motor gently towards the anchor giving him some slack making it easier work. After 15 minutes of hard grind (Derek) and gentle manoeuvring at the helm (me) the anchor was up! Derek came back to the cockpit and the decision was made: back to Lady Barron. The boat won’t be going anywhere until the new motor is in place and operational. Winching a 25 kg anchor and 30 metres of heavy steel chain is hard work in favourable conditions. If we have trouble getting a hold and have to drop and raise it more than once, or there’s a swell and lots of wind, it could all become too hard, and totally unsafe.

We turned back to the south and rode the falling tide back into Lady Barron, where we grabbed the same mooring and went ashore for another night at the Furneaux Tavern. We tried to arrange a hire-car for Monday and left the amazing Andrew in Hobart in charge of sourcing a replacement motor and getting it shipped up here via courier and Sharp Airlines in to Whitemark as soon as possible. So we’re landlubbers again for a little while at least.

Tide Surfing & Broken Bits – Saturday 23rd February

Position: Fotheringate Bay/Trousers Point, Flinders Island

After a quick instant coffee in the hotel room, a phone call to wish our daughter a happy birthday, and a dash back to the General Store to buy a stubby-holder for our son-in-law (who lost his prized one obtained during the honeymoon), we were gratified to find that we could indeed trust the locals – our dinghy was still there with the motor in place! We pushed off into a headwind (well, what’s new) and made it back to the boat with all our luggage dry and intact.

According to the weather forecasts (obsessively checked, and re-checked at every available opportunity in this most hostile of regions) it seems the strong easterly winds have set in for a while now. So we carefully plotted a course through the hazards of Franklin Sound and around to the west coast to begin what we hope will be some pleasant cruising – fair winds and all that. The sun was shining, the tide was flowing in (we’d missed the slack water, but also the shallowest water) so we set off blithely choosing the deeper channel around the eastern side of Great Dog Island (or Big Dog as it’s usually called). Both Little Green and Big Dog are short-tailed shearwater rookeries, and also areas where the tradition of mutton-birding is practiced. We could see a scattering of huts nestled into the bare hillsides, which brought to mind Nathan Maynard’s brilliant play The Season set here during a mutton-birding season, and performed by an all-aboriginal cast to wide acclaim around Australia. [See ABC news story] The story of the short-tailed shearwater is as interesting as the story of the families who hunt them. There were no muttonbirds on the menu at the Tavern, but I did see capsules of mutton-bird oil and various lotions for sale in the shop – full of omega 3s.

For boats approaching the port of Lady Barron there are a multitude of leads to follow – each for a different point in the approach. These consist of a pair of huge coloured triangles offset so that they will align only when you’re on the correct heading. But beware, as they will only take you one stage of the journey, before you will have to find the next pair and turn again when these align. We passed beside the leads on Big Dog used by boats coming in from the east.

Once we’d turned west around the bottom of Big Dog the tide caught us and our speed rose from 3 knots to 8 without us changing a thing. Then, with the wind behind us we unfurled the headsail and killed the motor and soon we were flying along at 10 knots! Now to the non-sailor that may not seem a lot, but our boat usually does 6 to 7 under motor in good conditions, and sailing with all sails up we rarely reach 8. We were speeding! We sat back and enjoyed the ride all the way past a myriad of little islands to the bottom south-west corner of Flinders and around to Trousers Point a the foot of Mt Strzelecki, the highest point on the island.

 

[Aside for the non-sailor: a knot is not just a tangle in a piece of rope, but also a unit of speed, being equivalent to around 1.8 km/hour]

The easterly was wrapping around the corner into Trousers, so we kept going around to the other side of the point for the more sheltered anchorage at Fotheringate Bay. We were fourth in a series of nine yachts that anchored here for the night. And sorry, but I need to talk about anchoring once again…

First we circled around the anchorage looking for a good spot, with me up front keeping an eye on the bottom for nice patches of sand amongst the weed. It was mid- on its way to high tide when we arrived and knowing the big tidal variations we didn’t want to anchor in anything less than 6 metres. Two of the boats were in about 4 metres, and we were not surprised in the morning to see that they had had to move in the middle of the night. We chose our spot well out and I dropped the anchor. We have a winch to raise and lower the anchor but this is not one I have to turn by hand – except in an emergency – instead I hold a little electric switch attached to a motor which turns the winch either up or down. Well, I had let out the anchor and around 30 metres of chain, and was just finishing setting the snubber (a rope which I attach to the anchor chain to stop clanking and strain on the anchor winch so we get a good night’s sleep) when the motor just stopped working. That was it. After 10 years of good service it decided its time was up. It took us several hours of investigation to ascertain this: pulling panels off to access the motor, switches and relays below; consulting the boat’s extensive manuals and circuit diagrams; an hour on the phone to electrician Sam; another hour on the phone to mechanic Andrew and lots of diagnostics with me up on deck trying the switch while Derek adjusted the electrics below. All to no avail. The winch motor was dead. Maybe the battle with the sea monster (see post from Moriarty Bay) was its undoing. A lot of rude words were uttered followed by ‘I hate this place!’ and ‘Why do we do it?’

We were, however, very thankful that we had set the anchor securely – avoiding too much weed! Derek was able to complete setting the snubber using the winch manually, and we sat down below making plans for how to get ourselves out of this pickle while the wind continued to blow easterly at around 15 to 20 knots – too strong for us to venture ashore in the dinghy. We devised and evaluated plans A (continue our trip using moorings where possible or winching the anchor by hand with our iron-man strength), B (return to Lady Barron and get a replacement motor flown in), C (return to Hobart non-stop) and D (head to Beauty Point for repairs). At first we thought that as the boat was made in France it might be hard to source a replacement, but Andrew assured us it there should be a standard equivalent available in Hobart so we decided that B was probably the most sensible option after all. Being a Saturday we couldn’t find out or order a part until Monday so while we were safe here we’d stay at least overnight and see what the morning brought. We tidied away all the tools, maps and manuals, pouted and grumbled and then distracted ourselves with honey-soy beef stir-fry and a glass or two of red wine while we watched the lowering sun set the flanks of Mt Strzelecki afire..