Around the Bottom

Sat 28 Feb
Course: Waterhole Cove, Recherche Bay to Wombat Cove, Bathurst Channel – South-West Wilderness World Heritage Area
Wind: nil to 20knots north-westerly

With a north-westerly change forecast for the afternoon we made an early start on our passage across the bottom of Tasmania to Port Davey. Shortly after 4am we upped anchor in the dark and motored slowly out of the quiet of Recherche Bay, using GPS and the lights of Cape Bruny, Sterile Island, Fisherman’s Point, and then Whale Head and Maatsyker Island in the distance to navigate. Derek and I harnessed on to the boat while Fiona slept below in the forward cabin. Soon we felt the ocean swell, coming in from the south-west, a long gentle rise and fall. As we rounded South-East Cape the sky began to lighten, a low bank of cloud in the east gradually changing colour – grey, gold, pale pink, orange – as the sun rose behind us.

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With the dawn we began to see birds – gulls, capped terns peeping as they flitted overhead, gannets soaring, stalling and spearing the water to capture their breakfasts, graceful albatross and flocks of shearwaters skimming the sea’s surface. It is only as it flies past the smaller birds that you realise how huge the albatross is, its wing-span almost matching that of the boat. Usually alone, they dip and glide, wheeling effortlessly over the ocean. They seem to find us interesting, and glide around the boat watching us curiously. At one point an albatross honed in on us and came to land on the water just metres behind the boat.

Fiona appeared from her cabin annoyed that she had missed her alarm and slept past sunrise. Derek and I were amazed she had slept so soundly as the swell was not insignificant and the forward cabin must have been bumpy. But Fiona is resilient. We watched and tried to name the many peaks of the south coast – Precipitous Bluff the most spectacular with its razor-back striped with mist resembling a thylacine. The Ironbound Range too looks formidable and we spared a thought for the walkers on the south coast track.

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Precipitous Bluff

 

We threaded our way through the Maatsuyker group of islands – Flat-top and Round-top (original names!) De witt, Flat Witch, in the lee of Maatsuyker, white houses visible on the lee slopes, the lighthouse concealed on the south side, and the Needles. The sea here was uncannily calm, and the wind dropped out to almost nothing, so that we furled the flapping headsail.

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Maatsuyker Island

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Flat-top and Round-top Islands

 

As we neared South-West Cape I could see the change approaching, the water ruffled and dark as it swept around the point. I roused Derek who had gone below and we prepared for the weather change. The last two hours we bashed into short choppy north-westerly wind-waves, but still the underlying swell was low and slow from the south-west. It was slow going into around twenty knots, but eventually we made it past Big Caroline Rock and into the calmer waters of Port Davey. We headed into the Bathurst Channel and found a nice quiet anchorage at Wombat Cove with a couple of other boats. Here we had a late lunch and relaxed for the afternoon.

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Big Caroline Rock

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Ariadne’s Clew and Vardo in Wombat Cove

 

To Recherche Bay

Friday 27th Feb
Course: Stringers Cove, Dover, to Waterhole Cove, Recherche Bay
Wind: not much

A quick breakfast and we set off in the early calm at around 7.30 am. Heading south into almost no breeze we motored into a long slow half-metre swell. The surface was oil-slick calm and we gently rose and fell. We passed fish farms and a few fishing boats out early about their business.

In the Channel we were soon joined by a pod of playful dolphins. The three of us stood on the bow looking down on them playing in the bow-wave. Such graceful nonchalant creatures they seem to do it purely for the fun. They came and went, zipping off, and back, leaping and cavorting, for about half an hour. Fiona enjoyed the fun, standing right at the bow with her camera. One thing ticked off her wish-list already!

The weather stayed calm as we passed the beaches of Southport and rounded Eliza Point inside Actaeon and Sterile Islands, keeping clear of Black Reef and Blind Reef, where a big surf was breaking. A bunch of fishing boats was busy at work on the reefs. We passed outside of the Images and turned north-west to enter Pigsties Bay, where we found a calm spot to anchor just off Bennets Point.

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In the middle of morning tea we were joined by a friendly local in his dinghy. He was off to make soundings for a mooring. We discussed the new development proposal for the area – a floating hotel, a string of pontoons made in the shape of aboriginal bark canoes and the hulls of the sailing ships of the D’Entrecasteaux expedition, with a shore-based visitors’ centre at Moss Glen. He was not averse to the idea, aware that the plan was well conceived, but wary that though the architect’s vision took into consideration the needs and rights of locals and sailors like us, that it all depends what the backers want – will they discourage people like us from anchoring in our lovely little cove because it’s where the sea-plane moors, for instance?

He was somewhat of an expert on the area, and showed us where to find petrified wood, and named half a dozen birds just from their call. He said Derek was lucky to have a wife who enjoyed sailing. His wife won’t come out on his 27 footer – he takes his daughter instead. It was my turn to be envious when he described visiting France and having afternoon tea with Bruni D’Entrecasteaux’s descendant at the family home in Aix-en-Provence. He has also spent time travelling around Brittany and recommended we go when the sailing festival is on. I’ll be packing as soon as we get home!

Then it was time to head ashore. We ferried ashore in the kayak and went in search of the petrified wood – finding many pieces strewn on the shore where he told us. Then we all headed into the bush to find the remains of the French observatory – a long drystone wall, all moss and lichen covered, with huge gums growing out of it. The French built this construction during their visits in 1792 and 93, to test the earth’s magnetic field. Their experiments proved that the magnetic field increases further south as well as north.

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As well as the observatory, they built a garden, where Felix de la Haye planted a variety of vegetables, hoping this would provide sustenance to sailors and interest the aborigines as well. During their second visit when they had contact with the local people, they showed them the garden. I wonder what they thought of this activity – when they obviously enjoyed the natural bounty of the area.

We didn’t go in search of the garden. The scrub is thick. The insects are voracious. And we were ready to go back for lunch. The kayak only takes two at a time, and when I suggested I paddle Fiona back to the boat first, she volunteered to swim. Of course I said ‘me too’ and the two of us braved the bracing water while Derek kayaked back alone with all our gear.

We ate lunch on deck, then moved the boat into D’Entrecasteaux’s Waterhole Cove – where the expedition first thankfully refilled their empty water casks at the creek. There we undertook a few boat maintenance jobs – re-tensioning the headsail furler and fixing the deck-wash water pump. These sort of tasks provide Derek with endless hours of distraction from the stress of his job.

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