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..