Bin a long day getting to Binalong Bay – 19th February

Position: Binalong Bay MAST public mooring

After another wobbly night I’ve become an adept stomach sleeper – in a sideways swell it takes too much attention to balance on your side. On your stomach you could at least get some sleep – if it wasn’t for that thing on the other side of the cabin wall that tap-tapped with every rocking motion! In the morning I sought it out (the clip on the shower door) and took to it with a screwdriver.

Up at dawn we nosed out of Wineglass Bay at the front end of the fleet – yes, we’ve found ourselves in the middle of another cruising group, this one of about 20 participating in the Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation Cruise. It was them we had seen at Bryan’s Corner on our way through Schouten Passage on Sunday, and whilst we were anchored in Wineglass they came and joined us in dribs and drabs. With half a dozen other boats there as well, it made for a rather crowded spot.

It was perfect weather for sailing as we headed out past the red granite mountains glowing in the dawn light. We put up the main sail, shortened with one reef just to be on the safe side, and the stiff 15 knot westerly breeze had us skimming along. Once we rounded Cape Tourville we had an 80 km leg in a straight line to St Helen’s Point. It’s a stretch of coast with many good memories for me, from family holidays since I was very little. I feel that the granite rocks are part of my being. That might sound strange, but I feel that I grew up rock-hopping first around Bicheno, then Coles Bay, Mt Amos, the Saddle, Cape Tourville and surrounds as we visited at least once a year on our family holidays.

The wind dropped out around the middle of the day and we had to furl the headsail, drop the main and revert to motoring for a few hours until it picked up enough for us to unfurl the headsail for some wind assistance. All along the way we saw seabirds – gannets, cormorants, short-tailed shearwaters, terns and albatross. I love watching the distinctive flight of the albatross as it uses the lift of the wind and loops with elegant carelessness, dipping a wing almost to the water, its white underbelly catching the light as it turns. Twice we saw the most interesting creature – a tiny dark bird or a fish perhaps? – skimming along the surface of the water and tapping it with its ‘feet’. We also passed three or four dolphins, but they weren’t interested in playing with us today.

Three of the boats that left Wineglass ahead of us stayed in our view all the way and we expect the fleet will all be heading for Binalong Bay tonight, but we are not sure if they’ll also follow our plans for a midnight getaway. We will do this to catch the low tide at Eddystone Point, 2.5 hours north, to give us a flood tide that will provide a boost of up to 4 knots as we cross Banks Strait.

At Binalong we grabbed a MAST public mooring and settled down for dinner and a few hours rest. Another bumpy spot but probably not the last one for this trip! Can’t really complain when the sky is blue and the sun is shining, and we will have a full moon tonight to light our way north.

A day of exercise – 18th February

Position: Wineglass Bay (still wobbly)

After two days confined to the boat we were happy for the chance to stretch our legs ashore. Today’s forecast was for quite strong westerly winds so although we are keen to get up to Flinders as soon as possible we took a day off from travelling, and what better spot to do it than Wineglass Bay? After breakfast we inflated the kayak and paddled towards the rocks at the west end of the beach, not far from the boat. The beach is steep and with the swell running in the break is sharp and we didn’t fancy getting ourselves soaked. We’ve just had the kayak repaired as it sprung a leak during our last trip, so we were not happy to find that the pontoons were rather soft and deflating halfway to the shore! Nevertheless we found a weedy gulch and a helpful wave lifted us lightly onto a nice flat landing rock. We lifted the kayak high onto another rock ledge and let some more air out to avoid further strain on the seams when the sun’s heat expanded the air inside and then off we went for adventure.

The first thing was to try out Derek’s new drone. From a flat rock ledge (far from any other people) we flew it up and above the boat. This was its first proper flight apart from over the house.

That fun over, we backed our pack and climbed over the rocks to the beach, startling a few tourists on the way. The beach was sparkling white under a brilliant blue sky, and the Hazards, Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet shown in all their beauty. Lots of walkers had reached the beach by this time and we heard many squeals of surprise or delight as some raced into the sea for a quick swim.

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We took the track over the isthmus to Hazards Beach and were surprised to find the wind here was really quite strong – a testament to how sheltered is our anchorage in Wineglass. Hazards Beach too was really turning the views on, and we were again reminded how lucky we are to live on this beautiful island.

We chatted briefly to an elderly American couple enjoying their holiday, and then watched with astonishment as the Freycinet Water Taxi beached itself sideways and proceeded to offload its passengers into the shallows. They all struggled ashore thoroughly wet both from the paddle and the spray of breaking waves. The crew clearly had a problem with the anchor, and spent the next half hour pushing and trying to swim and lay the anchor off shore again so they could winch the boat off the beach. We hope they managed it in the end – they were still working at it when we left the beach to return to Wineglass Bay. On the way we passed a party who were on their way to meet the water taxi at Hazards Beach. We kept mum.

We recovered the kayak, pumped it up and paddled back to the boat. Again it deflated on the way. We have a repair job ahead tonight – otherwise that will be the end of our kayaking adventures for this trip. Our view of the kelp gardens from the kayak did inspire us to try some snorkelling, however, and when we got back to the boat we dug out our wetsuits and proceeded to squeeze ourselves into them. I’m pretty sure I’ve gained a few kilos since we bought a matching pair, and Derek has gained a little too. It took us about a quarter of an hour with much pulling and grunting, and a few breaks to catch our breath and wipe the sweat from our foreheads, but we did it!! After all that effort we had to swim a good distance to the shore.

We swam and floated over the amazing fields of kelp and weed in all sizes and varieties. Some of the kelp fronds were over 30cm wide. It was so beautiful to watch them stream out and back on the surges between the rocks. At one point we let a surge take us with the kelp over a shallow rock into the gulch where we landed the kayak. Beautiful little fishes, and a few big ones, swam below us in their underwater gardens. It was all too soon that we had to muster our last remaining energy to swim back to the boat.

Sadly it looks like the kayak is beyond our ability to repair, so we packed it up and stowed it below where it may remain the rest of the trip.

Worn out from our day’s activities we packed up all our gear and after a simple meal turned in for the night ready to head off at first light tomorrow.

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.

An Unscheduled Swim (or diving with the cormorants)

We woke to a grey and overcast start to the new year. Planning on an early start for our trip to Wineglass Bay, our plans hit a hitch at the first opportunity when the anchor, so nicely set the night before, refused to come up the final 5 or so metres. We had hit a snag! Jiggling up and down did not good, so there was nothing for it but an unscheduled swim. The chosen diver – me! I stripped off all my wet-weather gear and put on bathers. Equipped with mask and a torch I plunged into the not-so-pristine waters of Spring Bay (notorious for the introduction of the North Pacific Sea Star, amongst other things, with the ballast water from Japanese freighters in its past heyday as a wood-chip mill). Here I began my impression of a cormorant.

With the first dive, pulling myself down the anchor chain, I could see we had collected a huge chain, no doubt the anchor to a mooring, with links about 15cm long, and it was firmly wedged in our anchor flukes. After reporting the situation to Derek, he lowered the anchor a little and I dived again to wiggle it but couldn’t budge the chain. I realised the best approach would be to pass a rope under the chain, tie it firmly to the boat to relieve the pressure on the anchor, then lower the anchor to free it. Down I went again with a rope, which I passed under the offending chain, all good – only on the way up I ran out of rope! It was too short. I had to let go and return to the surface. Derek pulled that rope back in and went in search of a longer rope while I waited at the bow and got my breath back!

Down I went again with the longer rope and this time I looped it around and was able to bring the end back to the surface where I passed it to Derek and he made it fast to the cleat. With fingers crossed he dropped the anchor down, then pulled it up again – but alas, no luck, it was still stuck fast. So down I went again, to find that the rope had jammed in the anchor as well. I tried to pull it free but it was jammed tight at the point where the anchor swivels on the chain, as well as around a fluke. Back at the surface I suggested Derek drop the anchor a bit to see if this helped, but when I dived down this time it was a good few metres further than before. The water got murky and I was worried about going down that far – I bailed! Derek pulled the anchor up and tried again, but it was still stuck. So I went down for another look – I really was feeling like a cormorant by now, but without the fishy treat! This time I could see that the rope was partly freed, but looped around the anchor. At the surface again I got Derek to give me some slack on the rope and with another dive I moved it to the other side of the anchor getting it clear. He then tightened the rope again, dropped the anchor a bit and with a final dive I managed to pull the anchor free! Hooray! Now we were just held by the rope. I swam back to the ladder while Derek pulled in the rope. We were all free with no damage – just me a little cold and with ears full of water!

As we motored out of Triabunna I warmed up with lots of clothes and a cup of tea. We motor-sailed north for a few hours then dropped anchor in a clear sandy spot (I watched it land to be sure!) at Crocketts Bay on the north end of Schouten Island for a slap-up lunch. Though my friend Rachel is doing a stint as volunteer ranger on Schouten Island I wasn’t about to go for a swim to say hello, sorry Rachel! The water looked much more inviting and the sun came out – but even so… As we ate a beautiful schooner anchored next to us and dropped of ten passengers who headed off into the bush for the walk up Bear Hill. Sadly for them as we left the anchorage the sun went behind the low cloud had drifted in from the east and covered the tops of the hills. We hope the clouds parted for them to enjoy the stunning view from up there.

At Wineglass Bay we found another four boats at anchor in the corner. Once again we dropped the pick onto a sandy patch in amongst them; not as far in as we would have liked to be as the easterly swell was wrapping around the corner making the anchorage a little lumpy. But who can complain when you can stop here at one of the world’s best beaches? We enjoyed the view for the evening, once again attempting a BBQ on board. This time however, we had run out of those handy coconut-fibre bricks and tried the charcoal, which didn’t burn nearly as well. The vegies didn’t roast at all, so it was steak, corn and reheated spuds and a bumpy night’s sleep.