Leg 14 Melbourne to Hobart
The trip to King Island
Guinevere left the cosmopolitan Docklands Marina in Melbourne for the
slightly less cosmopolitan destination of Grassy Harbour at King Island on
Saturday 12th November.
Crew were of course Captain Paul, Dave, Paul and Brett.
After negotiating The Rip at Port Phillip heads we were on our way into Bass
Straight. With a forecast of SW winds slowly swinging East and then North
East we were hoping for a quick passage during the night and we were not
disappointed as the wind slowly backed and built in strength.
By the 3 am shift we were obliged to reef the main even though we were
enjoying the sometimes high speed rides, the swell in Bass Straight in the
dark can seem a little formidable as the yacht roars into the night, with
just the glow of the red and green nav lights to light the way, white foam
hissing past on the leeward side illuminated in the ghostly glow of the moon
and disappearing into the night behind us. Thankfully, the reefing operation
on Guinevere is a slightly less daunting task than on most yachts with a
very good in mast furling system, with the two people on deck being able to
handle it rather than the all hands on deck situation most race boats have
to contend with.
The loom of the Cape Wickham light told us that we were getting close to the
northernmost tip of King Island even though there was some discussion as to
what side of the yacht this should have been appearing on, until our "light"
resolved itself into two fishing boats. The real Wickham Light appeared as a
loom on the horizon about an hour later, on the correct side and even in
agreement with our chartplotter! Later that day by 1.00pm we were entering
Grassy Harbour on the south east side of the island. Captain Paul managed to
negotiate a very comfortable mooring.
The Island and Attacked by Leaches
While anchored we were surprised to see a couple of Cadet dinghies sailing
around the small harbour and for a short way out into the adjacent bay and
once ashore we soon discovered the King Island Boat Club. Apparently they
don't get that many visiting yachts and we got a fantastic welcome with hot
showers and even their kitchen area if we wanted it. After a while Dave and
Paul decided to go for a walk up to the old mine site with myself tagging
along until I decided it was all a bit too steep for an old bloke like me.
Returning to the club ramp, Captain Paul was having a chat with one of the
locals when he asked if having three or four leaches attached to my lower
legs were a normal feature!! We're not talking little either, these things
were big...about an inch long and fat feasting on my blood! Of course the
age of political correctness ensured there wasn't a smoker in sight to burn
the ghastly things off with, so wading into the less than balmy waters of
Grassy seemed the only option. People tell you never pull a leach off you;
well I can confirm this is correct advice as I got back into the duck to go
back to the yacht looking like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Captain Paul took it all in his usual unflappable stride, even when I
managed to flood the engine to the duck and row back to shore for that hot
shower and possible blood transfusion. (I've never seen a shower block
created out of a concrete water tank either by the way, but I suspect on
King Island it's so it does not blow away!)
A look at the weather map and we decided to stay Monday and Tuesday as
(hopefully) the next cold front blows through. Captain Paul arranged a hire
car for us, with the built in challenge of getting to Currie 30 kms away to
pick it up. The friendly folk at the club had advised us to see if we could
hitch a ride to Currie on returning truck from the Grassy Seaport depot
(Supplied every Sunday by The Southern Mersey) so we gave it a go.
Within 15 minutes of walking into the shipping office we were on our way to
Currie with the Port Manager who was making his regular trip into town
(there is no such thing as a taxi on King with 1500 inhabitants).
Arriving at Currie we thought we'd buy a paper from the local newsagent and
learnt another key thing about King Island.....news travels fast....the lady
behind the counter asked if we were the boys from the yacht that arrived in
We picked up our very sleek Magna (only 250,000ks on the clock) from one of
two car rental businesses on the island that just to be owned by the same
bloke, and set off on our first tour of the island.
Our second lesson on local life is that if you pass another car on the road
going the other way, you wave. I don't mean a fully fledged royal wave, but
a kind of one finger lifted off the wheel acknowledgment of the other
vehicle. I think road rage is a seldom event down here and I wonder how
Sydney drivers might benefit from such a practice.
King Island is of course famous for its dairy and beef. The centre of the
island has lush green pastures with some very well fed livestock with the
occasional paddock occupied by flocks of wild turkeys which can be a little
disconcerting. Pheasants also roam wild and are regarded as something of a
pest which means there are three hunting seasons.
Magna in full flight we, we set out on our first days tour and discovered
that all roads indeed lead to Currie. Highlights of the day were a visit to
the Currie Museum and a personalised tour of the newly refurbished light
room by Don who proudly showed us the original Wickham Light lense and prism
recently put back together by local volunteers. This was to coincide with
the opening of the Wickham Lighthouse by Her Excellency, Quinten Bryce the
week before, albeit 150 years late after the light first opened!! Apparently
she cut a rather nice ribbon......
We also experienced the Boathouse or Restaurant with No Food as it's
referred to by the locals, a fantastically beautiful boat house set on the
edge of Currie harbour, where anyone can come and cook on the BBQ there and
eat in the eclectically decorated restaurant that looks out over the
harbour. The whole place is left open with an honesty box set discreetly in
the corner to help cover costs.
The, same lady, Caroline Kininmonth, that started the Boathouse also has a
gallery a short distance away that operates on the same principle....open to
anyone to walk in and have a look around and the works, paintings, ceramics
(made out the back) and other sculptural pieces created from the kelp that
surrounds the rocks of the island. Another honesty box sitting in the corner
plus a cat on the couch that likes a pat!!
All in all, a pace of life that seems to include no need to lock your car
and a public toilet in town that has soap on the hand basin and paper
towels. The cultural shock from leaving Sydney airport 48 hrs earlier
couldn't be greater.
Later......note to self, always replenish the beer supply in the fridge
before you leave to boat for the day, otherwise disappointment may ensue in
King Island Day Three
Another bright sunny day on King Island as we waited for the gale force westerly to expend itself further south before we set off for mainland Tasmania (as the people on King Island refer to it).
So, what to do?
Go for a drive in the mighty Magna of course.
So we set off for Cape Wickham at the northern end of the island. This is the tallest light in the southern hemisphere with a range of 24 miles and protects the western entry to Bass Straight where the old sailing ships used to “thread the needle” between the Victorian coast and King Island. The cruel irony however was that a number of ships mistook the Cape Wickham light to be the Cape Otway light further north on the Victorian coast and changed course to the south only to be wrecked on the rocky cliffs of the King Island coast. The lighthouse at Currie (“Capital” of King Island) further south was built a few years later to solve this problem.
Standing next to the Wickham lighthouse that was guiding us only 48 hrs before was a strange feeling and I think we were all glad it was still there doing its job after 150 years despite having every modern navigational aid that the old time sailors could only have dreamt of.
The return trip to Currie was punctuated with a close encounter with some dairy cattle being herded across the road, unfortunately they seemed to decide they were more interested in the Magna wagon rather than the next gate so they headed down the road toward us despite a lot of encouragement to do otherwise by a couple of dairy farmers. The cows ended up surrounding the car as they ran past and the farmer’s dog appeared to be on strike as it sat on a quad bike keeping its paws dry. It struck that it would be fairly unusual to be trampled to death by cattle on a yachting trip and could make for an amusing life insurance claim!
Fortunately the farmer regained some control and we regained our composure as we made our way to the King Island Diary for some serious cheese tasting.
A quick trip to the Laundromat in Currie (I’m sure some inadvertent clothes swapping took place here amongst the crew) and a trip to the local cultural centre while the clothes were drying revealed another King Island exclusive product......feral cat skin hats..... after trying a few on we realised that perhaps these may not be the perfect gift item to take home, so sadly they stayed on the shelf.
The Trip to the West Coast.
Wednesday was our “perfect” weather window so we were under way by 7.00 am.
As we cleared King Island to the south the Southern Ocean asserted itself with a long rolling swell from the west of about 4 metres with a 1.5 metre sea on top with the occasional much larger wave rolling through.
The predicted westerly filled in to around 18 knots so Guinevere was in her element loping along at about 7 or 8 knots as we sailed roughly SSE, now below 40 degrees south.
Late morning we passed the ominous looking Black Pyramid at a safe distance to windward and then on past Cape Grim staying well offshore on the 100 meter line to protect against the prospect of any of these southern ocean rollers starting to break at the top. This meant the Tasmanian coast was not visible at this point but we all knew this was a lee shore and the Halley Bally Shoal projects a fair way out.
Saw a number of Albatross gliding effortlessly over the swell that rolled our boat as a beam sea from time to time, hardly exerting a flap of a wing as the cushion of air keeps them just above the water. We also came across something that looked like a shark fin convention until it resolved itself into a couple of fur seals with their flippers in the air sailing downwind steering with their tails....fellow sailors on the sea!!
By dinner time we had run nearly 100 miles and it became apparent that we were going to arrive at Hells Gates (entrance to Macquarie Harbour and Strahan) in the early hours of the morning. By this time I had actually stopped reading the official pilot description of this harbour entrance as it basically says don’t do it except in a flat calm. The slightly more pragmatic Anchorage Guide however did say never attempt this entry in the dark unless you have “intimate local knowledge” and even then with a heavy NW to W swell “it is most unwise to be in this vicinity as there can be dangerous breaking seas”. The option being to stand off until daylight in Pilot Bay if the swell wasn’t too big from the west and if there was no NW component in the wind and if there was slack water......the if’s went on and on.
Over one of Captain Paul’s superb dinners (cooking at sea ain’t easy!!) of quiche, potatoes, peas and corn served in bowls in the cockpit, we discussed the long list of if’s as a group.
Only another 70 odd miles past Macquarie to Port Davey with an (almost) guaranteed safe entry and safe anchorage and most likely in daylight.
Guinevere was still making good progress.....so decision made, lets skip Hells Gates and the bright lights of Strahan (well, maybe not so bright, but there are lights there at least) and go for Davey.
Of course the wind progressively died overnight.....however we were rewarded by one of the clearest nights at sea with all the stars on the star chart easily identified (after Captain Paul explained how to do it of course, it’s only on this kind of trip that you realise you’re a bit of weekend sailor after all !)
During the night we saw a fishing boat in the distance and passed about a mile behind.
By late next afternoon we were approaching Port Davey.
Described in the Anchorage Guide as the “Ultima Thule” of cruising in Tasmanian waters (whatever that means, must look that up)
It is a wild and lonely place with no roads to it. The only way in is by boat or walking in through the south west wilderness area world heritage area. There is a rough landing strip some miles away suitable for light aircraft at Melaleuca Inlet.
We entered as per the sailing directions staying well outside the imposing West Pyramid and associated reef with a rock called the “Coffee Pot” and headed straight for the Breaksea Islands, which do exactly that, break the rolling westerly swell into the Bathurst Channel. The paper chart showed a rock to the north of these islands, Boil Rock, which we had to path south of. Unfortunately it wasn’t on our electronic chart but some sharp eyesight by the crew kept us away from this hazard and dropped anchor in Bramble Cove in flat water under high rocky mountains.
Any tree here only survives by being in a gully; everything else has been blown down to grass height.
We picked up a weather report on HF radio (only communication here other than sat. Phone) which told us there would be a westerly gusting over 30 knots the next day.
So after the night in Bramble the next day we moved further into Bathurst Channel and followed a winding route into Bathurst Harbour through “The Narrow’s”, which is a good description. The Anchorage Guide warns that no anchorage is completely safe in Bathurst Harbour in westerly gale conditions and also that “very strong gusts” can be generated between Mt Rugby and the steep ridges on the south side of the channel....... within minutes of entering the wind started to build behind us.... 25...30....35, then 45 knots directly from behind with driving rain.
We were doing 6 knots with no sail up and there were some rather anxious glances at the depth sounder as it started to get shallow. We turned right up into Clayton’s Corner and gained some shelter from the wind and laid our now standard 50 metres of chain in less than 5 metres of water.
At the head of Claytons Corner is of all things, a wharf. This is where Clyde Clayton and his wife Winsome lived for many years in absolute isolation. Their cottage still stands a little way up the hill, open to yachtsmen and hikers in case of emergency with tank water available from a hose on the wharf (after checking it for wrigglers according to the sign)
In the wind and the rain we thought we’d go for a stroll up to the hill behind the house which presents a good view over Bathurst Harbour and Mt Rugby to the north.
The weather was just too bad to climb Mt Rugby so 75% of the crew decided to do Mt Beattie instead. I started but realised quickly that the others would just pass me on the way back down so I retreated back to Clyde and Winsome’s cottage to dry out and read the library left by visiting yachts over the years, plus peel the inevitable leeches off (although these were just your garden variety ones, not the mutant monsters that inhabit King Island that have probably emerge from the disused Schellite mine)
Captain Paul had identified another weather window for us to do the run around the bottom of Tasmania the next day, so we moved back down Bathurst Channel to an anchorage closer to the exit of Port Davey. We used our reverse track on the chartplotter to find our way back through the twists and turns of the channel and wind was a little kinder to us in the way out.
Our selected anchorage was Wombat Cove under the rocky heights of Mt Misery (somehow I don’t think Club Med are going to stake this place out any time soon)
The Anchorage Guide talks about gusts of wind twisting your anchor chain up with the solution of taking a stern line to “the obvious tree”. Despite close inspection of the twisted relics near the shore, we couldn’t see anything obvious let alone strong enough to tie a 9 tonne yacht too, so, you guessed it, 50 metres of chain, although this did leave us quite close to a rocky shore. So Captain Paul, reluctant to leave his rudder behind on a rock, took a GPS position on the anchor and that of the yacht, so we could see what was happening swing wise during the night.
Dave and Paul decided to climb Mt Misery so I thought my contribution would be to run them to shore in the duck.
Picked them up a couple of hours later.....they looked slightly windswept and interesting to say the least.
While the weather was somewhat wet and windy while we were there, the late evenings and early mornings revealed the fierce beauty of this place, with the colours on the water and on the sides of the hills, the ever present bull kelp fringing the rocks. To know that we were the only people in such a special place was certainly a privilege that not many are likely to experience.
The Run Around South West Cape to South East Cape
The pilot book talks about timing the run around South West Cape before the arrival of the next westerly front but not so late that you might meet a south to south west change anywhere along the coast. The next line says that discretion should be the better part of valour when deciding whether or not to put to sea. Our HF radio only communication for weather gave a consistent forecast for the last 24 hrs, so the vote was to leave early next day.
Left Pt Davey early the next morning with about 70 nautical miles to cover around the bottom of Tasmania and the mighty South West Cape. Leaving Port Davey we cleared the East Pyramids and the other rocks down the coast that resemble sharp teeth.
The wind was NW and Guinevere was hitting 7 to 8 knots boatspeed and sighted another yacht heading into Port Davey. Around South West Cape the wind picked up a little gusting to 30 knots and by late morning Maatsuyker Island was in sight. This is Australia’s southern most lighthouse at 43 degrees south and is of course a place I have only read about.
We had several interesting gybes (thank heavens for the boombrake is all I can say) sailing between the islands behind Maatsuyker to clear Flat Witch and Big Witch (De Witt Island). The Anchorage Guide suggested this course for those with no local knowledge which sounded like us.
The Mewstone was off further south sticking up out of the ocean like something out of a Disney movie.
With just a few hours we thought we’d pulled it off when the wind turned west and picked up to 35 then to 40 knots, so we were running dead square. Some quick work with the mainsail had us sailing under reefed jib only with Dave at the helm keeping us straight down the waves......when we spotted the first crayfish trap....two buoys with about 5 metres of rope in between, perfect yacht catching material.
Dave steered a slalom course between the traps as a large fishing boat stood off to windward to seemingly admire his handiwork.
After a while the wind backed off a little and we soon in sight of south East Cape, although the GPS dropped out on various occasions along this isolated coast. Fortunately Captain Paul has a rigorous system of hourly log entries and position plots for this very situation.
The destination for the day was Recherge Bay which is the first safe anchorage at the beginning of the D’Entrecastreaux Channel and by early evening we had dropped anchor in Coalbins not far from where D’Entrecastreaux obtained water for his ships when the bay was first discovered.
We spent two nights sheltered in this beautiful bay. On the second night another westerly front swept through, with the occasional gust sheering the yacht around on her anchor and a couple of fishing boats also anchored in the bay, a sure sign that things were bumpy out to sea. Maatsuyker Island recorded gusts to 70 knots that day, so we had certainly picked our weather. The next morning I noticed a couple of snow drifts on the mountains to the north west which may have accounted for my cold feet during the night!
Recherge Bay to the Huon River
A tale of Bull Kelp, moving fish farms and hard to get into shallow marinas.
After sitting out the westerly it was time to move on north up the D’Entrecasteaux Channel.
As with all passages on Guinevere, the course was planned the previous night and waypoints loaded into the GPS. Captain Paul has a very democratic system when it comes to navigation where everyone gets a go. It was my turn to plot the course, so after studying the official pilot with all the usual dire warnings I did what every responsible yachtsman would do..... Disregarded it completely and picked up the trusty Anchorage Guide and also the Cruising Guide from the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.
These suggested a course directly towards Sterile Island avoiding Blind Reef to the north with a 90 degree turn to the north between Black Reef on the left and Actaen Island on the right while at the same time avoiding the kelp beds and also George Rock III to the north (George III was a convict transport that was wrecked on this submerged rock, the guards refused to unlock the hatches so the convicts were drowned below deck)
The chart also showed floating fish farms further to the north, so we carefully laid a course between the red rectangles on the charts.
So off we set, 30 something miles to Port Huon in the Huon River. With the now standard 25 to 30 knot headwind we elected to use the 54 hp iron topsail given we were now in the comparatively protected (compared to the southern ocean)waters of the D’Entrecasteaux channel.
Just was we arrived between Black Reef and Acteon Island, Dave noticed some vibration from the engine.....not a good spot to lose an engine. Autopilot off, engine in neutral vibration disappears, back in gear it reappears. Something around the prop. Anxious glances all round at the thought of going into the somewhat less than tropical temperature water to clear the problem.
Captain Paul suggests a backdown when we are in a bit more space with regard to reefs and islands, so after a few more minutes, we put the engine into reverse, higher revs then bits of shredded bull kelp start appearing at the side of the boat. Although Guinevere is equipped with a rope cutter on her prop shaft, this would be no match for this tough kelp. Kelp beds are shown on the guide, but this piece must have been a stray. Shredded kelp left behind in our wake, Guinevere is motoring smoothly again.
All going well motoring to each way point, push button on the plotter to acknowledge next way point (it buzzes at you), push track button on autopilot, yacht changes course to next waypoint. Pretty simple if you disregard the network of satellites and navigational algorithms programmed into the chartplotter required to make the whole thing work.
I’ve often wondered what Cook and Bligh would have made of these electronic devices. Anyway, this form of pushbutton motoring is actually more economical than handsteering as the autopilot allows for set and drift (by wind and current) and makes the required course corrections with the yacht under power.( Sailing offshore is a different matter of course with a live helmsman better able to anticipate waves etc.)
So with our pushbutton course and everything lining up we were feeling pretty relaxed, until we noticed our oh so carefully plotted waypoint ahead had a problem....there was a floating fish farm directly on our route. Expressing some mild annoyance at this “not on the brochure” navigational issue, we noticed that in fact there were two fish farms on our track. These things are not little, with the associated anchor marks and other paraphernalia they are probably a 500 metre long hazard.
Autopilot off, 30 degree course change, binoculars out.... obviously floating fish farms can, and do move.
Having cleared this obstacle we then set off to the corner of the next fish farm, cleared this one to the right then spotted another on our track, plus a trawler clearly going flat out but only doing about 1 knot a few hundred metres from it.
After a couple of minutes it became obvious that the fish farm and the trawler were related in some way. In fact, upon closer inspection this relationship turned out to be a rather thick green towing line a few hundred metres long. No towing flag, no shape hoisted on the trawlers mast...I was indignant; until I realised he was probably just towing it to our next waypoint!
After another couple of hours heading up the Huon River into another 30knot headwind (we were getting used to it) we arrived at Port Huon. Captain Paul had arranged a two night stay at the local marina which promised the twin benefits of a hot shower and the ability to step off the boat without having to all pile into the duck to get to shore.
Captain Paul had advised the marina of our draft, 2.2 metres with of course the answer “you’ll be right”.
A gaggle of yacht masts announced what must be the marina off to the left, but with no obvious way to get to it, until we spotted a red and a green mark about 20 feet apart at the head of the bay, marks being a generous term, they were actually thin sticks. Acutely aware of the falling tide and the ever decreasing numbers on the depth sounder we crept in, a curving path very close to a rocky shore with a gumtree, a paddock and a shed.
We got down to 2.6 before the numbers started to climb again (but only temporarily), and Captain Paul executed a 180 degree turn to get alongside in the allotted berth. Fender material must be expensive in Tasmania as the Kermandie Marina has none, just boat destroying aluminium box section frames on the floats. Numerous fenders out and Guinevere was safely alongside, in 2.6 metres of water on a tide that had a further .6 to fall (you can do the maths!)
Captain Paul and Dave trudged across the dirt carpark up the hill in red wet weather gear and seaboots, to the Kermandie Pub to search out “she’ll be right” Tom, the marina manager.
Apparently after a few blank looks, the lady behind the bar said “oh, you mean Thommo”.
After some calculations we reckoned we’d sink into the mud a little around midnight, but Captain Paul took it as an acceptable risk. (As it was, none of us felt anything during the two days, so it must have been very soft mud on the bottom)
It was good to be on a marina with the prospect of a shower in the building on the side of the hill a couple of hundred metres away. We discovered early on they’d only splashed out on a 50 litre hotwater system, so several races were held to the shower, generally won by Dave who seemed to be the fastest runner. (A cold shower in Tasmania can be a life threatening experience!)
A trip on the bus up to the Wooden Boat Building School at Franklin and the Living Boat Volunteer Centre was a great day out and an education on the intricacies of timber boat building. A 17 metre wooden gaff rigged ketch “Yukon” was also visiting from Denmark, with David and Ea and their two children. It was surprising to see a boat (ship really) this far up the river.
In the afternoon we decided to walk the 3 kilometres to Geeveston from Kermandie. A Laundromat was beckoning and we were nearly all out of clothes.
Paul and yours truly started walking with Dave leaving a few minutes later. After about 50 minutes Paul and I arrived in Geeveston to find Dave reading Who Weekly and his washing machine about 40 minutes into its cycle. Apparently he hitched a lift but as it was a ute he was allegedly unable to stop to pick us up, although they were able to blow the horn at us pedestrians.
We made him walk back!
The Last Leg (for me) to Hobart
We bade Kermandie Marina a fond farewell and also made sure we left at high tide!
The Huon River was in a much better mood this day with not much wind as we motored down.
Left turn and up the channel as we watched Bruny Island slip by to starboard, past Kettering and the car ferry.
Soon we could see the Iron Pot out on Storm Bay and it wasn’t long before we were surrounded by houses down to the water’s edge. Quick detour to the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania to top up diesel and water, then we were on our way to Constitution Dock.
In the end we elected to stay on Elizabeth Street Pier just a few metres from Constitution Dock as the proposed berth had us right next to the road.
So here ends the journey (for me at least) as Captain Paul prepares for another Bass Strait crossing and trip up the east coast to Sydney.
Reflecting upon the whole trip (from Melbourne) it’s about 500 miles in total across Bass Strait and down the west coast of Tasmania and around the South West and South East capes. 40 degrees south was left long behind in King Island, so we managed to pick appropriate weather windows (successfully!) to get through what are generally regarded as sometimes challenging waters.
In all that way Guinevere never let us down (in fact we didn’t have a single breakage as far as I can remember) and better shipmates than Captain Paul, Paul and Dave would be hard to find.
It was during our night passages getting up to go on watch at 3.00am, pulling on the fleece thermals, fleece mid layer, wet weather outer layer, polatec inner gloves, amara outer gloves, wool socks, sea boots, thermal beanie then finally PFD harness and tether, that I recalled the opening lines from John Masefield’s poem, Sea Fever:-
“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by”.
Thank you Captain Paul, Paul and Dave.