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Cruising Tasmania

By 11 Jan we were back in the water and in cruising trim. Evening drinks for our many hospitable friends rounded out our Hobart visit and the next day we sailed off with Fi aboard to explore the Channel of Vicky's namesake, Bruni d'Entrecasteaux. We had time to explore two anchorages before moving on to Surges Bay on the Huon River, where we picked up Hugh Garnham's mooring and the man himself kindly came to collect Fiona and take her to the airport for her flight to Melbourne. With Fi's departure we felt that our racing interlude had genuinely finished and it was time to settle down to serious cruising. Perhaps to emphasize this, we found out the next day, when we collected our email, that the Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) had awarded us their Rambler Medal for our 'meritorious short voyage', circumnavigating New Zealand. We were surprised but honoured.

Having seen Fiona away on the next stage of her travels, a change in the weather and the recurrence of Vicky's flu bug sent us north to the little marina at Kettering for a couple of days. We then made our way through the Dennison Canal as a short-cut toward the cruising areas of Tassie's central east coast. With the exception of the harbour at Triabunna, which gives fairly good protection from most directions, the anchorages in the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island area are not 'all weather', but there are a number quite close together. The strongest winds also generally involve a significant shift and the summer afternoon sea breezes from the easterly quadrant can also be pretty fresh. The result is what is locally called the 'Schouten Shuffle', involving as many as three or four changes of anchorage per day - or night! It may be ok for those who only go cruising for pleasure, but for we permanent cruisers it sounds like hard work.

However, the scenery as well as the company made up for most of the 'shuffling'. Maria Island, a former penal settlement was eerily grand and the crescent of white sand beach at Wineglass Bay was spectacular, especially when viewed from the the craggy cliffs of the Hazards, high above. Now that the Race was over, Vicky's desire for a fishing rod could be indulged and she celebrated by catching a couple of flat-head for a fish pie. Having visited most of the anchorages in the area, we headed south again toward Port Arthur, stopping for one night in Canoe Bay tucked warily behind the half-submerged iron carcass of a wreck. During the Race we had rounded Tasman Island with only the first glimmers of dawn to illuminate its 'organ pipes'. We had a better, close-up view on this second rounding, before bearing away for Port Arthur, whose variety of sheltered inlets make it an excellent harbour, despite its rather unsavoury past.

Next to the French Devil's Island, Port Arthur is probably the most infamous of the penal settlements. A wonderful job has been done in conserving the remains of the settlement buildings and in giving visitors both historical information and a sense of what the settlement was about in human terms. Despite its past the settlement is now very attractive when seen from the water and we thoroughly enjoyed the two days we spent there. On the chart, Parsons Bay appeared to be a small, quiet, nicely sheltered spot. When we arrived, we found that it was the local regatta weekend with a sizable visiting fleet of yachts from Hobart, all competing for limited space. Though there was a short yacht race, the premier event appeared to be the crab pot lifting, with appropriate handicaps according to the age, weight and gender of the pot-puller.

On our first visit to Hobart, Tom's immersion in spline therapy had given him little opportunity to see the sights, so we returned to Constitution Dock in order to explore the town, deal with our email and hire a car to explore inland a bit more. With Ed and Lynn from 'Constance', we drove to Mount Field National Park and clambered up Mount Field East, the boulder-clad heights of which give miles of views over the coastal plains. Hobart itself was delightfully sleepy considering that it is a state capital. The morning traffic reports relayed with concern the information that there were 50 metre queues building up at some intersections. Hobart abounds in shops selling local crafts and we became so enamoured of a 'rocking ram', complete with real sheep skin, that we could not resist sending as a present to our new niece, Elizabeth. Knowing that we would have several weeks in the wilds, Tom also stocked up on the cruising essentials of paperbacks, beer and Pringles. We were ready to head south again down Vicky's very own Channel. A long day sail took us down to Port Esperance, where we tucked neatly behind Rabbit Island. The whole area of the Channel is now filled with fish farms. It can't be said that they add to the attractiveness of the scenery. At the same time they are essential for the continued economic viability of the under-populated part of the state. For the fishermen there must also be a considerable attraction in not having to brave winter storms at sea and to be able to sleep each night in their own beds. Whether this has the same attractions for their wives is hard to say. Though the Huon Valley just to the north is a reasonably prosperous fruit-growing area, further south they have little but fish and timber from which to make a living. Things have changed very little in 150 years.

A short dart across the Channel to Mickey's Bay on South Bruny gave us the opportunity for a long walk out to Cape Bruny lighthouse. The original, now decommisioned, was built in 1836 and is still in good condition. Perhaps not surprisingly, the original lighthouse-keeper and his wife had twelve children. However, very surprisingly, no less than four went on to become lighthouse keepers themselves. Another quick dart back across to the mainland took us to Southport, where we were able to anchor close to the jetty which services the local fishing boats, from one of whom we bought a couple of large crays, which with the local blackberries we picked made a sumptuous feast. A brisk sail among the rocks and reefs surrounding Recherche Bay (locally pronounced 'research') took us to Coalbins Bay within the Harbour, snuggly tucked up to await favourable conditions to go around the 60 odd miles to Port Davey. While waiting we hiked the gentle Cockle Creek section of the much longer South Coast Track. This gave a us a glimpse of the swell conditions around the corner, with huge surf breaking on the black sand beaches. However, there was not much wind in the forecast and so, in what is fast becoming a tradition, we decided to follow up our day walk with a night sail - or rather motor, as there was little wind for most of the way.

The entrance to Port Davey in misty dawn light is impressive even in calm weather as we saw it. In one of the westerly storms which frequent this coast, it must be truly frightening. Though there is a good clear entrance and a 'breaksea' island, the surrounding area is thoroughly rock strewn and the chart encouragingly notes large areas which are inadequately surveyed or not surveyed at all. All of this is backed by some good sized, craggy mountains, almost entirely devoid of trees. Even in calm weather a 2-3 metre swell rolls in from the SW. However, once past the entrance there is a well protected harbour with an excellent variety of anchorages. For a relatively remote area, Port Davey is quite a popular cruising area, and we were lucky to have it mostly ourselves, while others recovered from the 'Wooden Boat Festival' held in Hobart. Wombat and Casilda Coves, North Inlet and Eve Point were all pleasant anchorages, though the holding was often little more than very thin mud over rock. The area also experiences the stronger aspects of SE Australia's 'southerly changes', so that we tended to sleep lightly and spent a pre-dawn hour setting a second anchor in Wombat Cove. Tom split open a toe during the latter exercise, which proved a blessing in disguise as it provided an excuse to avoid joining Vicky and the crew of 'Gundy Grey' in climbing Mt. Rugby.

We also visited Clayton's corner, one of the few places where a family lived permanently for several generations in a house now used for hikers. When we ventured up the long, shallow and winding Melaleuca Inlet, we met Clive Clayton the last member of the family to live there. For most of his life he worked Port Davey as a cray fisherman. Now in his 80's, Clyde comes round from the Huon in his Adeleide Pilot Boat, 'Matthew Flinders' for a few months each summer. Two other families have made an important impact on the area. Denney King was an environmentalist before the word was invented and moved his family to the Inlet in order both to enjoy its unspoiled beauty and to conserve it. Though Deny is now dead the family continues his traditions. From our berth alongside a rough staging, we rowed up the creek to visit Peter and Barbara Wilson, the other family in residence. Peter is a mining engineer and they operate a small tin mining operation. Peter makes virtually all his own equipment and twice a year they load several tons of ore aboard their yacht/ore-carrier, 'Rallinga', for delivery to Hobart. They are very self-sufficient, but also very welcoming to the intrusions of visiting yachties, plying them with Barbara's excellent home-brewed beer. The Inlet is also the home of several endangered species, prime among them is the orange bellied parrot. There are supposedly only 200 individuals remaining, though we felt like we'd seen most of them after a couple of hours in the area.

Once again, immediately after Vicky's foray up Mt. Rugby, we set off for the night passage to Macquarie Harbour, in the middle of the West Coast. Though we started with a fresh SWly, as we'd hoped, it soon petered out and we motored most of the way. We entered The Harbour in perfect weather, but with less than perfect timing, as the tide was sluicing out through the narrows, Hells Gates. Given the contrary tide we had plenty of time to view our first evidence of the bush fires which have badly affected a drought-stricken west coast. One house appeared to have been protected by a force field or some other act of god, as the land all around it was completely blackened, but the house was untouched. Apart from its very narrow, shoal-encumbered entrance, Macquarie Harbour is completely land-locked with a large number of sheltered anchorages and a single town, Strahan (pronounced strawn), at the north end, which is base for a considerable fishing fleet. The harbour also has large numbers of fish farms. Though the immediately surrounding land is relatively low, there are some sizable mountains not far inland, including the remarkably shaped Frenchman's Cap. Along the southwestern shore of the Harbour there is also Sarah Island, another infamous penal colony, to which those who were too rough for Port Arthur were sent! Though it is rather touristy, Strahan is also attractive and it was useful to be able to stock up on essentials, as well as sending and receiving email. We also met Frank Holden, who, when he is not sailing, is the captain of a Bass Strait ferry from Melbourne to Devonport in Tasmania. He had a wealth of knowledge about cruising in the area, which we gratefully absorbed. In contrast to Port Davey, Macquarie Harbour is easy on the eye. It is heavily wooded and the many anchorages are almost all well protected by trees. Though the winds can be brisk at times, sailing on the sheltered water s of the Harbour is almost always pleasant, except when the bush fires are re-ignited and a strong westerly covers the water in smoke, reducing visibility to a few hundred yards.

The jewel of the area is the Gordon River. Following a proposal to dam the river for a hydroelectric scheme, there was a successful campaign to halt the project and the area around the river was then declared a world heritage site. The downside of this is that it has attracted extensive tourism, with tour boats moving regularly along the river. However, the beauty of the river has been well protected. The tour boats only work during the middle hours of the day, so that for the remaining hours the Gordon belongs to its wildlife, some kyakers and campers - and a few adventurous cruisers. We took the boat up as far as we could, Warners Landing and then took the dinghy up through Big Eddy and another set of rapids to get into the lower reaches of the Franklin. The poor little outboard struggled a bit and we thought for a few minutes that it would not make it, but it did. Though it is well frequented compared to many parts of Stewart Island, the Franklin, nevertheless, had a real wilderness feel about it. However, motoring up and down the Gordon has its non-natural perils. Sea planes make regular trips around the area, landing along a stretch of the river to give tourists a closer look. Sometimes they also fly along the river and even around corners at about first spreader height. We couldn't find anything in COLREGS that was helpful in deciding rights of way in this situation.

As so often, though we have all the time in the world, we felt time beginning to press us, so we headed for Melbourne. An uneventful passage in delightful weather got us to the 'Rip' at the entrance to Port Philip. Once again we had mistimed it so that we had to enter against the full force of the ebb. However, despite the strong foul current, the overfalls were not kicked up by much breeze. Our Melbournian acquaintances from the Milford Track, Jim and Pam Yarra, had kindly arranged a berth for us at the Royal Brighton YC, where we found an overwhelmingly friendly welcome. Despite the presence of the Formula 1 circus for the Australian Grand Prix - with accompanying sound effects - we found Melbourne a really pleasant city, full of wide tree-lined avenues and an impressively rejuvenated river front. There were a variety of sentimental journeys and reunions for Vicky, who was born close to Melbourne at Queenscliff while her father, Ken, was seconded as an instructor to the staff college there. She had a reunion with Mary Haley who had taken care of her as a child and we drove out not only to Queenscliff but also to Ballarat, in gold-rush country, to visit with John and Jilly Hurley, the latter Vicky's cousin.

We briefly joined the Royal Brighton's cruising section for the start of their annual cruise, this time sailing to Queenscliff for a further visit. The yacht club there is a very convenient jumping off point to catch the tide through the Rip and east along the coast to the only really sheltered anchorage on the north side of Bass Strait at the well named Refuge Cove. After our relative isolation on the west coast of Tassie, the pendulum had well and truly swung with the social whirl which had engulfed us. When The RBYC cruisers moved on we stayed to catch our breaths, even though we were headed in the same direction.

In fact the relatively settled weather of the previous two months had broken and a series of lows threatened to dart through Bass Strait. We waited out one, which gave the RBYC cruisers a distinctly unpleasant time further east, with 50-70 knots of wind in anchorages with no better than moderate holding. We even had 40+ knots in the excellent shelter of Refuge. We took the next window for a very pleasant sail to the Kent Group, a cluster of four islands bang in the middle of Bass Strait. Deal Island, the largest is the site of the highest lighthouse in Australia and the second highest in the world. It is now disused and the only inhabitants, other than very large numbers of wallabies are temporary caretakers for the lighthouse and other buildings. Brett and Val Kitchener, with their articulate and artistic daughter, Priya, were in the last month of their stint on the island and feeling a bit sad that they would have to return to Hobart and 'normal' life so soon. However, they were running a little short of a few necessities like butter, sugar and tea as a result of entertaining an unexpectedly large number of visiting cruisers. As so often with 19th century lighthouses, the building and its works were extremely robust and as beautiful as functional. It is a good climb up to the light itself, in our case through the heavy low cloud that so often shrouds it, one of the reasons that it is disused. There are several anchorages among the islands and we sampled two. Before we moved over to West Cove, Vicky and Brett snorkeled for the abalone which abound there; only Brett was successful, but was generous with his catch.

We could see that two further lows threatened to envelop the Strait in the tempests for which it is renown, and so decided to make on an evening departure for our dart for Eden back in NSW, despite a forecast of 35-45 knots. We had hoped to visit the west coast of Flinders Island, but there is little good shelter there and we were cautioned by the difficulties experienced by the RBYC cruisers. In the event, we rode the shoulder of a developing low all the way to Eden, without seeing more than 25 knots. The forecast for strong winds continued, but we had to motor the last stretch from Gabo Island as we began to buck the south-going coastal current in little wind. With the help of the radar we entered Twofold Bay and picked up a mooring in its northwest corner in the early hours of 23 March, effectively ending our cruise in Tasmania and the Bass Strait.

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