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!

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Castle Rock – Wednesday 27th February

Position: Roydon Island, Flinders

We had hoped to go ashore a little further north to walk along Marshall Beach to Castle Rock. This is a huge granite monolith that stands about 12 metres high on the shore, easily visible from our mooring. We thought we’d try anchoring a little closer but neither Allports Beach nor Old Jetty Beach offered more protection. A catamaran, Portfolio, was just leaving as we nosed into the latter, where we anchored just long enough to pull our dinghy on board. We decided the more prudent option was to motor along the shore and get a good look at the rock as we passed by on our way north.

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We didn’t expect enough protection around to the north of Cape Frankland from the fresh easterly wind that didn’t look like letting up any time soon, so we aimed for the anchorage inside Roydon Island and found a spot out of the swell, if not the wind, off West End Beach. I was about to drop the anchor when three friendly dolphins came to investigate us. I didn’t want to bonk them on the head with the anchor, so I waited until they’d left and swum out of the bay, arcing out of the water as they went.

My book detailed a couple of walks nearby so we went ashore, pulling the dinghy high up the wide sandy shore and anchoring it above the high-water mark to be safe. We decided to walk north, towards the intriguing-sounding Egg Rock Beach. At the end of the beach we could see brown forms among the piles of seaweed, which, as we got closer were obviously a herd of wallabies. They were all nibbling away at the seaweed, but bounded off into the dunes when they saw us coming.

We rock-hopped for quite a distance, along the way observing rock-pools, interesting granite and calcarenite formations. In a secluded cove we found the rusted remains of mooring rings cemented into the granite where someone had once tied up their boat! A little further on a bush track ends at a large smooth granite slab obviously used as a boat-ramp, with the bumps and fissures in the granite filled with cement.

We stopped in a little cove where I considered a swim, but the wind was still too fresh, so after a paddle we headed back. The wallabies had returned and approaching from upwind we were able to get quite close before they took fright.

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We hurried along the sand to the dinghy, which was almost being lapped by the waves as the tide rushed in. It saved us having to drag it back to the water at least! As we putted back to the boat we noticed a fine cabana constructed at the top of the dune, belonging to a nearby house or shack. This would be the perfect vantage point for watching the sun set over Roydon Island and the Bass Strait. We did watch the sun set from the boat as we ate dinner.

Talking of food, after almost two weeks at sea we’re running low on fresh vegetables. I vacuum-packed all our meat, and this time tried some vegetables as well, doing mixed packs in meal lots. This hasn’t been such a success – the onions obviously create some sort of gas as the packages eventually swelled up, and this flavoured the carrots and anything else inside. The zucchini didn’t keep, and went soggy, contaminating its neighbours. Ironically the unpacked carrots and onions have kept much better. So, I have one more serve of salad (baby cos keep very well!) and aside from a cupboard full of potatoes and an uncut pumpkin we’ll be looking at tinned veg after tomorrow.

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..

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.

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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?)

Wind, waves, weed and more wind – Thursday 21st February

Position: Moriarty Bay, lungtalanana/Clarke Island

We had spent a teeth-gritting 24 hours sitting tight in Rebecca Bay with 30 knot winds whistling in the rigging and the boat slewing and rolling enough to make everything squeak so that I wouldn’t have noticed that tap-tapping of the shower door at all! We were both feeling a bit blue so today we discussed moving to another anchorage where we could get out of the swell at least, and be better protected from the forecast south-westerly change. Our two best options were Moriarty Bay, on the eastern side of Clarke Island, about 1 hour away, or if that was no good, Burgess Bay on the east end of Cape Barren Island about 5 hours away. After debating the wisdom of moving when we were safe versus the risk of staying in the SW wind, we decided to go.

Once again we donned all our safety gear, lifted the pick and nosed out of the bay. All four crew on board the neighbouring boat watched us – with incredulity or simple curiosity I’m not sure – and as soon as we’d left they pulled up anchor and moved to where we had been!

The wind and waves were a little less scary than on our arrival, and this time both were at our back; however, the strong tides were flowing against us so our progress was very slow – about 4.5 knots where we would normally be doing 6.5-7.

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At Moriarty Bay we found one other yacht anchored off the beach. We nosed into the corner of the bay hoping for the best protection, and dropped anchor.

Now I should explain a bit about this process. Our preferred roles are Derek at the helm and me at the pointy end of the boat operating the anchor winch. There are lots of details I won’t go into, but in order to do the job properly it requires good communication. We’ve developed a system of hand signals, but often this isn’t enough and we have to yell to one another over the noise of the engine and the wind. One of our pre-trip investments was a pair of radio headsets which we use for anchoring – amazing! Now we can instruct, discuss, debate and suggest to our hearts’ content. No, really it makes the job so much easier. I insert this here as after we arrived and ate breakfast our new neighbour, a white two-masted yacht, pulled up anchor and came over to chat. Unfortunately the wind was too strong to converse easily and we couldn’t get them on the radio, so that was in vain. Anyway, they then went off to anchor nearby and I watched them having trouble. Soon I saw why: they had a huge bunch of weed attached to the anchor preventing them from getting a hold. Then I looked at our position, and the position of those rocks that had been over there, but were now looking a bit too close for comfort! Oh no, we’re dragging anchor too! I yelled to Derek and he rushed back up on deck – with the headsets.

Now I was able to easily let him know which direction the anchor was laying; that the rope was jammed sideways in the bow roller (grr!) and which way to drive to get it to pop back; how I was progressing removing the snubber; how the splice that joins the anchor chain wouldn’t wind back onto the capstan; how much chain was left to pull up… all before those rocks got too close! Perhaps I’m making it sound too dramatic? Anyway, when I did get it up, yes, we also had a lump of seaweed attached! As Derek motored us into a safer position I used the boat hook (a very important piece of equipment – make sure that doesn’t fall overboard!) to poke off the seaweed and then we came around for another try.

Through the clear waters it is possible to see the patches of weed on the bottom, but only when the sun is shining and the wind isn’t ruffling the surface too much. I directed him to a clear patch, but then came the trick of lowering the anchor through six or so metres of water just at the right time to land in it. Well, this time I didn’t quite hit the spot. I laid out all the chain and it was quickly evident that it was dragging again. This time when I pulled it up there was a veritable sea-monster attached. Huge ribbons of seaweed were meshed into a ball so that you couldn’t see the anchor at all, and they wafted away like long tentacles. It also made the anchor so heavy I couldn’t get it up and tripped the windlass motor (dash down below, reset the switch, dash back up, while Derek does circles). It took me about ten minutes to unhook the sea-monster and return him to the deep and he left a trail of straps and ribbons of weed all over the deck.

Next time we were sure to find a big clear patch of sand and all went smoothly, so that we are now sitting secure in a windy but FLAT anchorage, awaiting the change. We will set an anchor alarm tonight and hopefully get a better night’s sleep. Tomorrow the winds are forecast to drop to a much more respectable 10-15 knots and we plan to make our way east and north to Lady Barron for a taste of civilisation. Internet, shops, a top up of diesel, a walk ashore and maybe the holiday will begin in earnest!? I think showers are in order for all of the crew tonight followed by spaghetti bolognese.

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Oh what a night! – Wednesday 20th February

Position: Rebecca Bay, lungtalanana/Clarke Island, Furneaux group

After snatching a few hours of sleep at bumpy Binalong Bay we woke and prepared for our night-time sail donning waterproof pants, thermal tops, windproof jackets, beanies and safety yokes. The moon was glistening on the calm waters and there was no wind until we got a little way offshore. We unfurled a short headsail to get some wind assistance and balance the boat, then I left Derek in charge for the first two-hour watch and went below to get some sleep.

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I woke at 3am and joined Derek for my watch as the Eddystone Light flashed its warning abeam. We shortened the headsail a bit more as the wind was picking up to 20 knots. Then he refreshed my memory on using the autopilot and navigation chart plotter – I don’t think I inspired him with confidence. I know the basics but get lost in the sub-menus.

“what do you choose to find the route if you accidentally stop following?

“Ah, ‘Go To’?”

“No! It’s Tracks & Routes”

And so it went. Anyway he eventually decided I’d be OK and went below for some well-earned rest. When I arrived on deck the moon was shining golden sparkles on the sea and the stars were bright overhead. I spotted a bright light on the horizon – a ship perhaps? It was a red star rising from the east (maybe Venus – any astronomers out there?), with another smaller star directly above it, which I imagined was the string pulling it upwards.  Over the next two hours I watched them rise 30 degrees into the sky. I managed to follow the correct track on the chart plotter without any issues.

The wind dropped a bit, then as we neared the light marking the end of Swan Island at the south of Banks Strait it began to build again, and the brilliant night sky was slowly darkened by clouds. The swell began to build as well, and with the strengthening west wind meeting the tide flooding in from the south it made sharp lumpy waves.

Derek came up for his second watch around 5.30 am and we shortened the sail a bit more, then I went below with a hand-held radio he could use to call me if things got hairy, and tried to get some sleep. I dozed for a bit, but then the swell got really sharp and nasty, and by 7 I was being bumped around so much it was impossible to sleep, and I was feeling rather queasy. I struggled back into my gear and made it up on deck just in time to quell the sickness. Sharp 2 metre waves were breaking over the bow. Before I had time to pull the hatch shut, one broke over the whole boat and dumped a bucketful of water down the companionway, where it splashed all over the stairs, stove, floor and trickled away into the dry goods compartment under the floor!

We were nearly at our chosen anchorage of Rebecca Bay on the south side of Clarke Island. All that remained was to get the last half a nautical mile and we were in safety behind the granite boulders of Rebecca Rocks out of the swell, and some, though not all, of the wind. We dropped anchor in the lee of some huge rocks and when we were sure we had a good hold, went below for some breakfast and then some rest. The furthest out of these rocks looked to me like a tortoise so I named her Rebecca.

When we awoke we found one of the VDL Circumnavigation fleet had anchored beside us. The clouds blew over, but the wind didn’t abate all day. We sat tight slewing on the anchor chain and rocking in the little bit of swell that wrapped around into the bay. We evaluated our options for tomorrow when the wind is supposed to shift southwesterly in the evening.

lungtalanana/Clarke is a beautiful island, with amazing rock formations, and Rebecca Bay is one of the most intriguing. It is sometimes nicknamed ‘Easter Island’ as some of these resemble the Easter Island standing stones. We had obtained permission to visit from the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania (ALCT) who manage this island as well as Big Dog Island, Badger Island, truwana/Cape Barren Island and Babel Island. Unluckily for us it was far too windy to hazard the short trip ashore in our inflatable dinghy so we were stuck on the boat.

How do you pass the time on a boat when it’s too windy to go ashore? Reading, knitting, writing, watching movies, playing games, eating… oh and mopping up, and tidying the boat. So far not really the holiday we had hoped for.

Note: Thanks to blog follower and fellow sailor Ian, who has identified the tiny bird skipping on the water as a fairy prion. Apparently this is how it feeds, picking food from the surface of the water. A few days later I did see a flying fish though!

Bin a long day getting to Binalong Bay – 19th February

Position: Binalong Bay MAST public mooring

After another wobbly night I’ve become an adept stomach sleeper – in a sideways swell it takes too much attention to balance on your side. On your stomach you could at least get some sleep – if it wasn’t for that thing on the other side of the cabin wall that tap-tapped with every rocking motion! In the morning I sought it out (the clip on the shower door) and took to it with a screwdriver.

Up at dawn we nosed out of Wineglass Bay at the front end of the fleet – yes, we’ve found ourselves in the middle of another cruising group, this one of about 20 participating in the Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation Cruise. It was them we had seen at Bryan’s Corner on our way through Schouten Passage on Sunday, and whilst we were anchored in Wineglass they came and joined us in dribs and drabs. With half a dozen other boats there as well, it made for a rather crowded spot.

It was perfect weather for sailing as we headed out past the red granite mountains glowing in the dawn light. We put up the main sail, shortened with one reef just to be on the safe side, and the stiff 15 knot westerly breeze had us skimming along. Once we rounded Cape Tourville we had an 80 km leg in a straight line to St Helen’s Point. It’s a stretch of coast with many good memories for me, from family holidays since I was very little. I feel that the granite rocks are part of my being. That might sound strange, but I feel that I grew up rock-hopping first around Bicheno, then Coles Bay, Mt Amos, the Saddle, Cape Tourville and surrounds as we visited at least once a year on our family holidays.

The wind dropped out around the middle of the day and we had to furl the headsail, drop the main and revert to motoring for a few hours until it picked up enough for us to unfurl the headsail for some wind assistance. All along the way we saw seabirds – gannets, cormorants, short-tailed shearwaters, terns and albatross. I love watching the distinctive flight of the albatross as it uses the lift of the wind and loops with elegant carelessness, dipping a wing almost to the water, its white underbelly catching the light as it turns. Twice we saw the most interesting creature – a tiny dark bird or a fish perhaps? – skimming along the surface of the water and tapping it with its ‘feet’. We also passed three or four dolphins, but they weren’t interested in playing with us today.

Three of the boats that left Wineglass ahead of us stayed in our view all the way and we expect the fleet will all be heading for Binalong Bay tonight, but we are not sure if they’ll also follow our plans for a midnight getaway. We will do this to catch the low tide at Eddystone Point, 2.5 hours north, to give us a flood tide that will provide a boost of up to 4 knots as we cross Banks Strait.

At Binalong we grabbed a MAST public mooring and settled down for dinner and a few hours rest. Another bumpy spot but probably not the last one for this trip! Can’t really complain when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, and we will have a full moon tonight to light our way north.