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.

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..

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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Morning Musings

It is early morning and I’ve come up on deck to enjoy the view. We are anchored off Simpsons Point, South Bruny Island. The water is glassy, and I can see the passage of the slightest puff of wind as it travels across the surface. Sounds travel from the nearby bushland. Occasionally a fish surfaces with a splash.  I’m reading when I hear a thrum approaching from the south. I turn to see a huge flock of cormorants approaching low on the water, their white under-parts glinting in the sun. The flock parts around the boat, then re-forms, slows and one by one the birds splash into the water close to the point.

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A movement in the nearby trees catches my attention. It’s a white-bellied sea eagle come to join its mate perched less than a hundred metres from where I sit. The two of them sit so still in the treetops that they merge into the grey trunks. I pull out the binoculars for a better look. It is so still I can hear bird calls from all along the coast. In the grass I see a tiny flash of sunlight reflected, perhaps in a bird’s eye as it forages on the ground. A snap in the tree-tops makes me look up and it’s a sea-eagle I’ve heard launching into flight from its perch. It soars below the tree-tops, perhaps surveying the water for breakfast, and alights in a tree further along.

This is one of the reasons I love sailing – waking in a still anchorage right in the middle of nature. We had arrived late in the afternoon and found more than twenty other boats anchored along the shoreline. This is crowded for Tasmania, but to be expected during the Easter break, as everyone with a boat tries to get away for their final escape before winter sets in. Despite this every boat has plenty of room and thankfully none of our neighbours were loud party-boats. Before dark I had an essential task to perform. Our anchor light at the top of the mast wasn’t working, so Derek winched me up to replace the globe. A better scenario than me trying to winch him up, and thankfully I’m not afraid of heights. The view from the top is quite something I can tell you – though I didn’t take a camera up to get a photo.

Soon boats are beginning to make a move, rattling up their anchors and motoring slowly away. We’re assured a stunning day on the water, even if we don’t find enough wind to sail.

An Unscheduled Swim (or diving with the cormorants)

We woke to a grey and overcast start to the new year. Planning on an early start for our trip to Wineglass Bay, our plans hit a hitch at the first opportunity when the anchor, so nicely set the night before, refused to come up the final 5 or so metres. We had hit a snag! Jiggling up and down did not good, so there was nothing for it but an unscheduled swim. The chosen diver – me! I stripped off all my wet-weather gear and put on bathers. Equipped with mask and a torch I plunged into the not-so-pristine waters of Spring Bay (notorious for the introduction of the North Pacific Sea Star, amongst other things, with the ballast water from Japanese freighters in its past heyday as a wood-chip mill). Here I began my impression of a cormorant.

With the first dive, pulling myself down the anchor chain, I could see we had collected a huge chain, no doubt the anchor to a mooring, with links about 15cm long, and it was firmly wedged in our anchor flukes. After reporting the situation to Derek, he lowered the anchor a little and I dived again to wiggle it but couldn’t budge the chain. I realised the best approach would be to pass a rope under the chain, tie it firmly to the boat to relieve the pressure on the anchor, then lower the anchor to free it. Down I went again with a rope, which I passed under the offending chain, all good – only on the way up I ran out of rope! It was too short. I had to let go and return to the surface. Derek pulled that rope back in and went in search of a longer rope while I waited at the bow and got my breath back!

Down I went again with the longer rope and this time I looped it around and was able to bring the end back to the surface where I passed it to Derek and he made it fast to the cleat. With fingers crossed he dropped the anchor down, then pulled it up again – but alas, no luck, it was still stuck fast. So down I went again, to find that the rope had jammed in the anchor as well. I tried to pull it free but it was jammed tight at the point where the anchor swivels on the chain, as well as around a fluke. Back at the surface I suggested Derek drop the anchor a bit to see if this helped, but when I dived down this time it was a good few metres further than before. The water got murky and I was worried about going down that far – I bailed! Derek pulled the anchor up and tried again, but it was still stuck. So I went down for another look – I really was feeling like a cormorant by now, but without the fishy treat! This time I could see that the rope was partly freed, but looped around the anchor. At the surface again I got Derek to give me some slack on the rope and with another dive I moved it to the other side of the anchor getting it clear. He then tightened the rope again, dropped the anchor a bit and with a final dive I managed to pull the anchor free! Hooray! Now we were just held by the rope. I swam back to the ladder while Derek pulled in the rope. We were all free with no damage – just me a little cold and with ears full of water!

As we motored out of Triabunna I warmed up with lots of clothes and a cup of tea. We motor-sailed north for a few hours then dropped anchor in a clear sandy spot (I watched it land to be sure!) at Crocketts Bay on the north end of Schouten Island for a slap-up lunch. Though my friend Rachel is doing a stint as volunteer ranger on Schouten Island I wasn’t about to go for a swim to say hello, sorry Rachel! The water looked much more inviting and the sun came out – but even so… As we ate a beautiful schooner anchored next to us and dropped of ten passengers who headed off into the bush for the walk up Bear Hill. Sadly for them as we left the anchorage the sun went behind the low cloud had drifted in from the east and covered the tops of the hills. We hope the clouds parted for them to enjoy the stunning view from up there.

At Wineglass Bay we found another four boats at anchor in the corner. Once again we dropped the pick onto a sandy patch in amongst them; not as far in as we would have liked to be as the easterly swell was wrapping around the corner making the anchorage a little lumpy. But who can complain when you can stop here at one of the world’s best beaches? We enjoyed the view for the evening, once again attempting a BBQ on board. This time however, we had run out of those handy coconut-fibre bricks and tried the charcoal, which didn’t burn nearly as well. The vegies didn’t roast at all, so it was steak, corn and reheated spuds and a bumpy night’s sleep.