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?)