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!

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.