Home to Hazy Hobart – Tuesday 5th March

Position: Home!

During Monday evening, as they returned from trips ashore, the occupants of most of the boats in the anchorage pulled up their anchors and pootled across the bay to the far south-eastern shore. This was because the wind was forecast to change to the south during the night, exposing the anchorage to a bit of fetch, but as it was only forecast to be very light we couldn’t be bothered moving and settled down for our last night on board.

In the wee hours of the morning we were gently rocked about, but after so long at sea we barely noticed it, and slept peacefully until the dawn, when we got up and got going so as to reach the canal close to high tide. The sky was hazy and we could smell bushfire smoke, something we hadn’t experienced in the north at all, and a sage reminder of the devastating fires still burning in our precious wilderness areas.

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After setting us on course with the auto-pilot Derek sneaked back down below for a bit of extra sleep leaving me keeping a lookout. Once again, we barely met another boat until we neared the Marion Narrows and I kept reading my book, The Secret Life of Whales, a memoir by Micheline Jenner about her nearly 25 years researching whales around the Australian coast and into Antarctic waters.

Beautiful blue-green breakers were rolling onto Marion Bay Beach right beside the entrance. It’s a little disconcerting to be sailing towards the beach, but we had the chart plotter as well as the leads to line up and follow into the narrow entrance. As usual I called out depths and directions based on the chart-plotter’s record of our out-bound track two weeks earlier, while Derek steered us through.

 

We were soon overtaken by a fast vessel used for mooring installation and maintenance, and we were still quite a distance from the leads to the canal when we heard him call the bridge operator on the radio. We weren’t going to be able to get through at the same time and by the time we got to the leads and called up, the bridge operator had reclosed the canal to let the waiting traffic through. It wasn’t long, however, before he reopened it for us and we were able to glide on through without waiting.

Through the bridge is another very shallow channel, indicated by red and green channel markers, and negotiating this we found ourselves back in our home waters of Fredrick Henry Bay. There was barely a ripple on the wide bay and we motored past Fulham Island, Lime Bay and Sloping Island before nearing the sculpted sandstone cliffs of Cape Deslacs, at the end of Clifton Beach. Here is another short-tailed shearwater rookery and hundreds of birds were rafting on the water. As we neared the flock, birds took flight streaming off to either side of the boat.

Along Hope Beach, we passed another yacht with the crew on the foredeck hoisting a spinnaker. By the time they had set it in the light breeze we had passed between Blackjack Rocks and Betsey Island on our way to rounding the Iron Pot. I always look fondly on this little lighthouse at the entrance to the Derwent River. I remember as a child going up Mt Wellington with my grandfather, from where he pointed it out and told me, with straight face, that it was the south pole.

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We ate a simple lunch of cheese and crackers, and with the city looming up in front of us through the smoke haze our thoughts drifted to home and we began to pack up the boat. Our trip was almost over.

Our son Ben was waiting to meet us as we pulled into our marina berth at Bellerive. We tied up and began to unload, and whilst Derek and Ben took loads to the car I began washing two and a half weeks of salt and grime off the boat. By late afternoon we were home, tired but grateful for a wonderful trip. It had not been without its challenges, but also full of rewards. And we have tomorrow’s twilight race to look forward to!

Cape Barren Caper – Thursday 28th Feb

Position: Thunder and Lightning Bay, Cape Barren Island

The wind didn’t let up all night, so we pulled up the anchor soon after sunrise, hoisted the sails and turned south. It was time to begin the long trip home. This doesn’t mean our adventures are over though – ahead of us are at least four days of travel, probably more.

We were soon skimming along with 15 to 20 knots of wind on our beam, the tide behind us, a reefed main and short headsail, and making good progress down the west coast of Flinders Island, weaving our way between islands, islets and rocks. Which got me to wondering what’s the technical difference between them all? When does a rock become an islet, or even and island? The answer it seems all about human habitation. According to expert Ian Storey: ‘Technically, an island under international law must be above sea level at all times and capable of human habitation.’ [see ABC article here] The definition has been under scrutiny since China started colonising the South China Sea and turning rocks and islets into habitable islands…

South of Roydon Island we passed the Pascoe and Chalky Islands, Mt Chappell, Badger, Goose, East Kangaroo, Big Green, Prime Seal and a host of little ones such as Ann Islet (which looked like a bunch of rocks and definitely not capable of human habitation).

We thought we were alone on the sea today, until I spotted a sail way down south. For a long time I was wondering which way it was travelling until I realised that it was actually the lighthouse on Goose Island! All along the way we saw thousands of short-tailed shearwaters circling, rafting and wheeling on the air currents. Hard to spot as they’re black, here’s a photo of them surrounding the boat:

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Big on the horizon loomed truwana/Cape Barren Island, the second largest in the Furneaux group, with the imposing heights of Mt Munro (715 m) at its centre. A large portion of this island has been handed back to the Tasmanian aboriginal community, and in my past life at the Tasmanian Writers Centre I’d got to know Jim, an aboriginal elder, poet and philosopher, who is a permanent resident. I had let Jim know we were coming, but when we were unable to reach Cape Barren on our sail north I thought we might have missed him. I sent him a message this morning on the off-chance. As we approached the north west corner of the island the wind was peaking at over 25 knots from the east – there was no way we could attempt to enter the shallow channel between Long Island and the harbour at The Corner, the main town on Cape Barren, so we continued around to the relative shelter of Thunder and Lightning Bay on the south-west coast.

This wide and beautiful bay, surrounded by orange lichen-covered granite boulders, was out of the swell and wind-waves, but the wind still whistled over the low, lightly vegetated ground. A catamaran, Portfolio, which we’d seen two days before near Emita, was anchored off the southern end of the beach. We anchored nearby, being careful to find a sandy patch on which to drop the anchor, and I concocted a salad from the last of our lettuce and fresh veg and a few eggs courtesy of the feathered ladies at Partridge Farm. After lunch we debated the idea of going ashore to explore the beach. The wind was still whistling around us, but it was sunny and the beach was inviting, so we launched the dinghy over the side and set out to explore.

We were dragging the dinghy up the beach when our neighbour Roger, from Portfolio, came to our aid and we got chatting. He and his wife are on their third sailing trip to Tasmania from the Gippsland Lakes. I looked over and saw a vehicle at the end of the beach and someone approaching – it was Jim! He’d got my message but we’d been out of range and I hadn’t seen his reply.

What a thrill to be personally welcomed to this amazing island. Jim chatted to us about the island, its wildlife and its history, the best way to cook a mutton-bird, and his boating and fishing experiences until Roger’s dinghy began floating on the tide and he took his leave. Then Jim took Derek and I for a personal tour of Cape Barren Island.

Just near the airstrip (2 flights a week from Launceston) there is a very appealing golf-links course – it must be one of the most remote courses in the world! The tidy little township houses around 75 permanent residents, though Jim is worried that this is an ageing population and the younger generations don’t spend a lot of time on the island. There is a school (around a dozen students in both primary and secondary schools) which has two staff and is administered by the Flinders Island District School at Whitemark. There’s also a general store and Community Centre. There are two farms on the island: one on the east end which is privately owned, and one on the west which has recently been handed to the community, but is currently not being farmed. This could conceivably become a community enterprise providing work and skills. The Fuglsang (or Fullshanks in Island slang) farm had cattle running on a community pasture near the township today as the cattle-boat is expected in soon to ship them to market. We saw these healthy-looking black cows munching away as we drove past, though Jim says the island is currently in drought which has probably meant the farm are reducing stock.

Jim drove us along the rutted gravel roads along the north coast to see the Devil’s Tower, an impressive granite stack, as well as some beautiful pockets of eucalypt forest where he regularly walks. On the way we he tenderly showed us the sad fate of the Molly, Jim’s own 31-foot steel yacht. After spending years restoring her in Hobart he sailed her up to the island and tied her to a mooring he had prepared, but he hadn’t secured a shackle-pin with a mouse (rope tie) and it broke in a storm, sending her up onto the rocks (a sad case of ‘for the sake of a nail the war was lost’!). Now she has an irreparable hole in the hull and all he could do was drag her up into the bush. At his home, where he then took us for a cuppa, he has repurposed a few salvaged items – a coffee table made from her galley table, in which he’s mounted the compass binnacle, and the stern-light used as part of a nautical wall decoration above a beautiful print of Molly at anchor on a misty morning.

We chatted about his new project – a master’s degree in aboriginal philosophy at UTas – and he gifted us a bottle of his very special home-brewed Worcestershire sauce. As the evening drew close he drove us back to Thunder and Lightning Bay (named, incidentally, not for the weather, but after wobberertee, one of his aboriginal ancestors –her name translates as ‘thunder and lightning’ – quite a woman I’m sure!) where he waved us off, staying to ensure we made it safely aboard in the windy conditions.

Later, I added a dash of Jim’s special sauce to our spaghetti Bolognese for dinner (not quite the Italian condiment, but I couldn’t resist). The sauce has quite a bite, with chili and a secret combination of native herbs and spices! This was a day we’ll always treasure – a real highlight of our trip so far. Thanks Jim!