Up the Mast – Monday 4th March

Position: Chinaman’s Bay, Maria Island

We had consulted charts and tide tables on Sunday night to determine our plans for today. To get through the Marion Narrows and the Dunalley Canal we need to arrive close to high tide, otherwise we risk running aground! From Schouten Island it would take us around 5 hours travelling at 6 knots to get to the Narrows. High tides today would be around 9am and 9pm. That made it a tad tricky, so our only real alternative was a lazy day with a short sail down to Maria Island, and an early start the next morning to get the high tide just before 10am.

While Derek enjoyed a Monday morning sleep-in, I was up on deck enjoying the peace and quiet of Crocketts Bay. Soon after dawn all the fishing boats had left and I watched a couple of them collecting and setting cray-pots along the nearby coast. It seemed the other six or so cruising boats were also enjoying a sleep-in on the calm waters.

After eating my signature bacon and egg scramblette (a scrambled omelette) we motored out of the bay and around the corner of Schouten Island. Our first challenge was to weave through the field of craypots laid around the coast and reefs by our fishermen friends of last night. I had sympathy for the poor crayfish, with so many waiting traps! We continued south to the Mercury Passage, passing Ile des Phoqes this time without getting close enough to see or smell the phoques/folks (seals). It was a mild day with little wind, and with that broken lazy-jack, well we just couldn’t be bothered sailing – so I guess we’re the lazy-Jacks today.

At Maria Island we turned in to Chinamans Bay to find another half-dozen cruising boats in the anchorage off Encampment Cove, as well as a few scattered along the shore to east and south. We found ourselves a patch of weedy sand in three metres of water and set the anchor. Maria Island is a beautiful spot to go ashore, and in the past we’ve done a variety of walks, a favourite being to French’s Farm to watch the wombats and kangaroos graze at sunset. This time, however, we stayed aboard. As it was so calm this was the opportunity we needed for a trip up the mast!

As I mentioned, the lazy-jacks are a web of thin ropes strung up each side of the boom to make the mainsail stay in the boom-bag as it is hoisted and lowered. Without these the excess sail tumbles out of the bag onto the deck (as well as any crew hovering its zone). When lowering the sail in a strong wind or rough seas it would get blown about, making the job of flaking (folding) the sail and securing it in the bag, or with ties, a difficult task. Our starboard-side lazy-jack had snapped a few days earlier, with the break near its highest point where it attaches to the top spreader, over two-thirds of the way up the mast.

So, the question is – who goes up the mast? Or more accurately, who wants to winch the other person up the mast? Yes, you guessed it – I go up the mast and Derek does the winching. Phew! And as I was going up, why not go right to the top of the mast and replace the masthead light globe with a power-saving LED? To get me up we attached the bosun’s chair to the main halyard (the rope that pulls the mainsail up to the top of the mast) with a second halyard attached for safety. This nifty little seat-harness has a pocket for all the tools you need, so in went pliers, screw-driver, globes, tape and my phone to take some pics. Then Derek got to work on the winch, and I helped a little by pulling and climbing where possible.

From the top I had fantastic views of the anchorage, and whilst I replaced the light-globe someone on shore sent their drone out to investigate! I gave it a wave, hoping they might share any footage with us later*.

I took photos of all the masthead fittings. Our problem number two this trip was the VHF radio – it has been flaky since we left Wineglass Bay on the way north, and testing and trying various connections it seems to be an issue with the aerial or its wiring. So, I took a look at the aerial up top. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong up there, but took photos for us to scrutinise later. And if you’re worrying about us out on the high seas without a radio, worry no more – we have two backup handheld radios which we used instead.

On the trip down the mast I repaired the lazy-jacks with my newly learned knot – a double sheet-bend. The rope is fairly worn so will need replacing before long, but this will get us by for a bit.

Later, once I was back with my feet on the deck and all was squared away, we pulled out and dusted off the little portable Cobb barbecue. Tonight was unbelievably our first opportunity to use it for the whole trip! Every evening it has been either too windy or too late getting to our anchorage, or we were staying on shore. I had provisioned us for a minimum of four barbecues during the trip and the tiny freezer was still bulging with steak and chops. We chose loin lamb with roasted potatoes, pumpkin and carrot, followed by golden syrup pudding, eaten on deck in the colours of another spectacular sunset to the accompaniment of a whistling gull. This is the cruising life at last – and literally last as this will be our final night on board.

*As we didn’t go ashore we didn’t catch up with the drone operator. It could have been someone from the next-door boat Close Encounters. If you know who it might have been do ask them to get in touch!

Wineglass Wobble – 17th February

Position: Wineglass Bay (wobble, wobble!)

 

 

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As we neared the Dunalley leads we could see a convoy of boats just heading into the canal as the bridge opened. We hurried to catch up with them and tagged along behind through the swing bridge opening and along the short canal that joins Fredrick Henry Bay with the east coast via Blackman Bay lagoon and the Marion Narrows. Gliding through the canal we waved at the long line of traffic waiting for us to pass. Many people had got out to stretch their legs and watch the passing parade.

We motored slowly through the lagoon, past oyster farms where cormorants and gulls perched, following the channel markers.

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With such a high tide, and a string of sailboats to follow we had no trouble following the channel. The lowest point we saw was 2.2m on the final stretch before turning north-east to exit. There was a light north easterly breeze and a little bit of swell which made it a slightly bumpy exit. On the way we passed a surfer riding the breaks beside the channel.

We saw a dozen or more small boats out fishing in the Mercury Passage as we travelled north past Maria Island. At Ile des Phoques we went in for a closer look at the seal colony. Along the shore the seals lay resting or frolicked with much barking and yelping. The island is also dotted with cormorants and other shore birds. A flock of gannets took flight off the water as we approached and we also saw a few dolphins playing in the waves.

We headed on north inside Schouten Island, then through the Schouten Passage, where at least a dozen boats lay at anchor in Bryan’s Corner, and around the outside of the Freycinet Peninsula towards Wineglass Bay. About half way along this coast we saw a pod of dolphins approaching, leaping through the waves. They surrounded the boat, dashing along with us, underneath the bow, crossing sides. There must have been at least fifty of them, and they stayed with us for half an hour. What a thrill! There was a bit too much swell for them to play in the bow-wave as the boat’s nose was heaving up and down erratically, but they leapt right beside us so that you could hear them breathe. All around us they surfed the waves, groups of ten or more to a wave crest side by side.

The dolphins had all headed out to sea as we rounded Lemon Rock to enter Wineglass Bay. The swell was coming from the north and the bay is open to the north-east so the swell funnelled right in with us. There were two yachts anchored at the east end of the bay and one at our preferred choice at the west end. With the wind predicted to come in strongly from the west in the next twelve hours we chose a spot off the beach at the west end and dropped the anchor in about 8 metres, letting out all the chain and some rope. And here we have sat, wobbling up and down on the swell all evening and all night.

First we watched the stragglers of the day trippers arrive by foot on the saddle track, and with amusement as some braved the cold waters for a quick dip. A wallaby hopped on the beach doing its best to evade the walkers. As the sun sank behind Mt Amos casting shadows on the flanks of Mt Dove with the almost full moon just risen we sat on deck with a drink and cheese listening to the sounds of evening – mostly drowned out by the gentle rush and roar of the waves crashing on granite boulders and sweeping up the sand in wide arcs.

For dinner I cooked Teriyaki beef and rice, which went down well with a glass of red. Cooking on board is a case of trying to make simple but tasty meals. I have vacuum packed all the meat to avoid that nasty ooze you get with plain plastic bags (nothing worse than diving head-first into the fridge to wipe up a sticky mess), so tonight’s pack of beef strips was marinated in a packet of sauce, then pop some rice on the two-burner gas stove (set to swing on the gimbal), fry up some veg and chuck in the beef – hey presto! A tasty meal. Eaten on deck with a view to die for – what more could one want for a birthday celebration?

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Note: I’m posting this while I have connectivity offshore of Bicheno on Tuesday. I’m having problems uploading all my ‘brilliant’ video footage of the canal, Marion Narrows, seals and of course the dolphins. So you may have to wait to see these but I will post them when I can!

Wildlife and the Picasso Coast

Tuesday 3rd, and after another uncomfortable night bumping up and down all the boats in Wineglass Bay voted with their propellers or sails and headed off for smoother waters early in the morning. We motored south along what I’ve named the Picasso Coast because of the amazing Cubist-like granite formations. As we passed I saw faces of people and creatures etched into the rock.

We were joined by a graceful albatross for a time, looping, dipping and shearing off the waves with barely a movement of its wings. I’d love to show you a photo, but they move so fast and swiftly that I’ve never managed it. We stopped at Schouten Island for brunch, and saw a juvenile sea eagle surveying the shallows – distinguishable by its mottled brown plumage. Here we also found another gathering of boats enjoying the sheltered anchorage, and plenty of tinnies out for a fish.

Later we sailed in close to Ile des Phoques (aka Fock Rock) to see the seals. As we approached two sea eagles were circling above. Our arrival was heralded with a chorus of barks from the seals, and as we got close they jumped into the water and swam out to get a good look.

Soon we neared the southern end of the rock where a colony of cormorants have made their mark in white, and the not-so-delightful aroma of seal and bird guano assailed us.

 

We sailed on to Maria Island and spent the night in Deep Hole where we counted seventeen boats at anchor – a stark contrast to our first night there.

A Beautiful Blue Day

Next morning after breakfast Susan and I were itching for some activity, so we took the dinghy ashore, landing at a less weedy spot this time! We walked to French’s Farm alongside the river which was brim full – almost overflowing onto the track. A couple from a nearby boat (quite a number had come in to anchor since we arrived) were paddling their stand-up boards up river and we exchanged pleasantries. The last time we were here Anne and I had kayaked up the river and found an excellent swimming hole, though today it looked a lot deeper.

At the old farm house we found a party of tents but no campers – off on a walk no doubt. The farm was only abandoned in 1976, when the family moved all their stock to the mainland. This means that when I first visited as a child they must have still been here, though I don’t remember coming this far south at the time. The old shearing shed is slowly weathering away, though it must have been a fairly makeshift construction to begin with, looking at the remains. It does make an interesting study for a budding photographer though – shame I’m not one!

We did meet quite a few campers at Encampment Cove this morning, and chatted briefly when we returned to the dinghy. Back on board Susan and I decided on a second (refreshing!) swim before it was time to leave for Triabunna where we would drop Susan off so she could get back home in time to host a New Year’s Eve party at her place!

Outside the bay we were met with a brisk breeze and hoisted the sails to skip across to Louiville Point. Susan helmed most of the way, and was getting the hang of it nicely by the time we entered Spring Bay. It was a beautiful blue day on the water and we passed plenty of tinnies out for a fish. At Louisville Point we ‘borrowed’ a mooring and offloaded Susan (along with a bag of rubbish – thanks Sue!) at the jetty via the dinghy. She was met by Sarah, Roy and a very muddy Stanley (fresh from the Falls Festival). We waved goodbye and motored further into the bay to look for somewhere to spend the night. After finding the shoal on the south-west side of the bay (oops, just a little kiss of the keel) we decided on the anchorage to the north-east side between Horseshoe Point and Deep Water Jetty. Hesitant to ‘borrow’ a spare mooring overnight we anchored hear the jetty in between the moorings and got a good grab on the anchor first time. Here we settled down for a quiet New Year’s Eve. The jetty is a favoured fishing spot and we watched as local fisher-people came and went all evening. We didn’t witness too many fish being landed, however they were keen as when we turned in for the night at least three were still out there at it.

Through the Canal

We set off early the next morning to get the high tide for the transit through the Denison Canal at Dunalley. This canal allows small boats passage between Fredrick Henry Bay and Marion Bay on the east coast, via the large shallow lagoon  of Blackman Bay (not to be confused with Blackmans Bay in the lower Derwent!), and is a quick way to Maria Island without having to sail around the whole Tasman Peninsula (which would add a couple of days to our trip).

The canal itself is plenty deep enough, it’s the channel at the approach as well as the exit at the Marion Narrows at the other end which are extremely shallow. We need at least two metres of depth to clear our keel, and parts of the channel are only just over that depth at high water, timing is everything! As Derek helms, it’s my job to keep a keen eye on the depth readings another eye on the channel markers (port red- and starboard – green-painted pylons) and a third on the chart-plotter with our previous track displayed, to make sure we’re safe. (This is why I don’t have any of my own photos to post here!)

After we called up the bridge operator at the Denison Canal he received a flurry of calls on the radio from a batch of Launceston to Hobart (L2H) yacht race retirees who were waiting on the other side to come through on the high tide. They had been anchored at Dunalley overnight. As we approached, the operator opened the canal bridge, stopping a queue of holiday land-traffic on our behalf, and held out his bucket on a stick for his Christmas-New Year bonus. I had to quickly duck below and rummage around for some spare cash to deposit as we passed. I could have gone for beer, but it’s a scarce resource on our boat, and I wasn’t sacrificing a good bottle of wine!

The canal was running with a strong flow tide, eddies swirling either side of us, and we made good speed as we passed through. It would not have been so easy for the three L2H boats we passed in the leads as they waited their turn to come the other way. We waved and greeted the crews – some from our own club – who looked a little disappointed to have pulled out. We guessed it was because they had very light conditions, as they would have lost the northerly stream coming inshore and through the Mercury Passage (between the coast and Maria Island). About 20 minutes later, as we crossed the shallow water of Blackman Bay, we passed Silicon Ship, also a L2H retiree, and fellow BYC yacht – and our arch-nemesis in the twilight races (in a friendly way of course). Then it was time to tackle the Narrows – quite a swell was running into Marion Bay, but with my eagle eyes on all the markers and Derek’s dab hand on the wheel we made it through into open water without a hitch.

Luckily Susan had the forethought to down a couple of Kwells well before we reached the open sea, and managed to keep the seasickness at bay as we crossed the six or so nautical miles of open water on a one to two metre swell into the lee of Maria Island. We saw a few pods of dolphins at play though none joined us to play in our bow-wave, sadly. The swell flattened out as we motored up the inside of south Maria. We found the anchorage at Chinaman’s Bay quite quiet – only two other yachts in the whole huge bay anchored along the beach and at Deep Hole. We tucked in close to Encampment Cove and launched the dingy preparing to go ashore to explore. I had just attached the outboard motor to the back and got it going when a summer ‘shower’ (ie a torrential downpour) hit us. I quickly killed the motor and we all dived below decks and waited for it to pass.

A few minutes later, with the boat washed clean of salt and the dinghy floor full of rainwater, we made another start – first I had to bail out a few bucketfulls of water! We beached the dinghy and walked the short circuit to the remains of some brick convict cells – a sorry reminder of one of the Island’s chapters of history – and back via lagoons and the river, all full and marshy and croaking with frogs. I had forgotten to pack my walking boots and made the mistake of wearing my sailing shoes on the walk. These have holes in the soles, the idea being they let the water out when you’re on wet boat decks, however on a boggy track they serve to let the water (and mud) in, so I returned with wet socks. We did see plenty of wallabies and kangaroos as well as five huge wombats on our walk, but strangely no people. That was to change.

The weather was so lovely by the time we got back to the dinghy that Susan and I bravely decided to swim back to the boat. We had beached the dingy at a shallow weedy spot, so rather than wading out into it we hitched a ride on the side of the dinghy until it was deep enough to swim. We enjoyed a swim – the Tasmanian adjectives expressed were ‘invigorating’, ‘refreshing’ etc (ie it was really quite cold!). However, it was not to last, and the weather cracked up in the evening – chilly and windy but no rain – so we ditched our plans for a pleasant on-shore BBQ and walk and ate on board instead. It was pleasant enough with our little portable BBQ on the cockpit table under the awning – it doubles as a brazier once the cooking is done. Here we ate and toasted the intrepid campers on shore, who had arrived and set up their tents in the meantime.