Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Northern Tasmania

It is nearly two weeks since our arrival at Three Hummock Island on the North West coast of Tasmania. We had a mix of conditions for our crossing of Bass Strait Leaving Port Fairy in calm conditions at 7 am a sea mist came in which by 9:30 am developed into thick fog with visibility down to 100m and no wind. We had the fog for most of our trip along the Great Ocean Road coast – a coast littered with shipwrecks. Thank goodness for our modern navigation aids; GPS chart plotter, radar and AIS. The fog lifted and the wind picked up to a nice 15 knots as we entered Bass Strait so it was up with the sails and off with the motors. We had relatively good sailing conditions until around midnight when the wind and seas increased which made for a lively and uncomfortable run across the rest of the Strait. We motor-sailed down the eastern side of King Island to arrive at Mermaid Bay on the northern shores of Three Hummock Island in a protected anchorage around 4 pm. A 33 hour trip. After a good night’s sleep we headed off for Stanley on the northern coast of Tasmania.

Stanley is an all weather anchorage and would provide us with a safe anchorage to sit out the strong wind warning on its way. As we sailed along the coast in the lee of The Nut, a high volcanic outcrop, the boat harbour appeared and the narrow entrance did not look very promising – we were not sure if we could fit between the channel markers into the harbour. After motoring passed the entrance three times we decided it was wide enough for us and committed to go in. A swell from the north east was breaking at the entrance just to make things a little more interesting as we entered, but thankfully there were about 2 metres to spare each side. (Entrances to harbours, reefs or locks always look smaller the first time you encounter them and the boat looks wider.) Once inside there was room to maneuver and we were able to tie up alongside the main jetty between a large cray fishing boat and a tourist boat.
Bruce and Naomi from Scrimshaw took our lines and helped us to tie us then kindly invited us aboard their yacht for dinner. During dinner another yacht, Finesse II, arrived and rafted off the fishing boat behind us.

Stanley has a 3 metre tide range and it was near low tide when we entered. We had to lengthen our ropes and deploy all the fenders in a horizontal position to protect the boat as it rose and fell with the tide against the wharf. During the first night Cran had to get up a few times to reposition fenders and adjust ropes as the strong winds and tidal surge pushed us hard against the wharf. It rained most of the night and the following day. We enjoyed morning coffee with our fellow sailors before Finesse II departed for Strahan on the west coast and the following morning Scrimshaw followed.

Monday we awoke to bright sunshine and no wind. We spent the day in Stanley firstly walking to the top of The Nut up a very steep pathway where we could view the surrounding countryside and bays looking back to the mainland, as Stanley is at the end of a peninsula.

Ann takes the chairlift back down from the Nut.

After lunch at the Stanley Pub we visited a few art galleries, purchased some local produce – cheese and octopus and had a look around the cottage which was the birthplace of Joseph Lyons, Australian Prime Minister 1932-39.
Tuesday 16 Feb we sailed across to Devonport in clear weather and light winds and were fortunate to obtain a berth at the friendly and welcoming Devonport Sailing Club on the Mersey River. Here we met Peter & Len who are both catamaran owners and were waiting at the dock to help us tie up. They were a great source of local information about sailing and anchorages along the north and east coast of Tasmania. Peter & Len are both going cruising this year. Peter is heading north with his wife on their catamaran Plan Four and Len & his wife are doing a lap of Tassie then across to NZ on their cat Jalen, we wish them well on their adventures. The sailing club is a few hundred metres up river from where the Spirit of Tasmania docks and it was quite a spectacle to see it turning in the river as it departed each evening for Melbourne.

Our next destination was the Tamar River and we sailed across from Devonport then motored up the river. The Tamar River is quite industrial at its entrance with wood chip loading facilities, a coal wharf and power station. As we progressed up stream towards the Batman Bridge we passed many small villages with stone buildings and churches as well as a few modern homes constructed to catch the most of the sun and views along the river. Our destination was Rosevears where we were able to dock at a public pontoon which just happens to right outside the Rosevears Riverside Tavern (c1831) where we enjoyed dinner and a few drinks with the locals.

The following morning we motored to Launceston where we tied up at Home Point pontoon near Tamar River Cruises, in the middle of town. Saturday we enjoyed a beer tasting tour at the James Boag Brewery, a seafood lunch at Hallam’s Waterfront restaurant, a quick look at the British Car Rally in the park then back to the boat to prepare for Sherrie and Bernie to arrive. Bernie was celebrating a significant birthday so we went out for dinner at Mud restaurant on the waterfront. Sunday we walked the Cataract Gorge and after the walk enjoyed a guilt free breakfast at Stillwater (a restaurant in an old water mill on the banks of the river at the entrance to the gorge).

As Sherrie & Bernie still had their hire car we were able to explore some of the surrounding countryside. After a nice drive out to Deloraine and Great Lake we left the sealed roads for a picturesque drive down through a national park along a very narrow gravel road to Liffey Falls walking tracks. The Liffey River valley cascades down the mountains out of the Western Tiers and is filled with myrtle and sassafras trees as well as tall tree ferns, it was a most enjoyable experience especially after spending so much time in the salt water environment.

We departed Launceston Monday and anchored in the Tamar River just west of the Batman Bridge in pouring rain and strong wind squalls and awoke the next morning to bright sunshine and calmer conditions. This set the scene for a good trip up to the mouth of the Tamar River and a great sail east along the coast to St Albans Bay where we anchored for the night. Unfortunately during the night the wind shifted 180 degrees and blew in at 20+ knots with a change in swell direction, none of which was forecast. Needless to say, we all had an uncomfortable night with broken sleep.

Today there are light winds so we are currently motoring east along the north coast towards the North East corner of Tasmania where we plan to overnight before heading down the east coast. Tomorrow we will leave early to catch the tide through Banks Strait to make the most of the current flow. Sherrie & Bernie are flying out of Hobart on the morning of 5 March, hopefully we will have suitable weather to get them there in time otherwise it will be road transport for the last leg.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Portland & Port Fairy

We arrived in Portland on Thursday Feb 4 after an overnight sail from Robe. We encountered a plague of crickets while about 30Km offshore, plus couple of stormy squalls during the early hours of the morning and rain for most of the day until we arrived in Portland. We had nice surprise when friends Brian and Margaret off the yacht Vagabond decided to come across and meet us in Portland. Brian was down staying with Margaret at her property in eastern Victoria and they decided to hook up the caravan and come visit. They were there to greet us as we sailed into the bay, waving from the retaining wall. After we anchored they came aboard and it was good to catch up with all their news. They collected us on Friday morning for a day of sightseeing in beautiful sunny clear weather. Near the boat ramp there were seals waiting for the rejects from the fishermen who were cleaning and filleting their catch.

We drove out to Cape Nelson Lighthouse high on the cliffs above the sea, which we could only just see from the water the previous day through the misty rain.

Our next destination was Cape Bridgewater where we enjoyed a cliff top walk to view the Petrified Forest which has been exposed through the erosion of the limestone. The Great South West Walk, a 250 km round trip from Portland, traverses this section of the coast and we walked a few kilometres along the track to view the spectacular coast line and waves breaking over the rocky shore and kelp beds below. A large wind farm spread across the hills behind the headland and we could hear the whoosh of the blades turning in the breeze. At Cape Bridgewater beach we enjoyed a leisurely lunch at the local kiosk before returning to Portland.

Portland is a busy regional hub with a selection of shopping facilities which we used to re-provision before heading off again. Brian and Margaret were a great help as we could use their vehicle to transport our shopping back to the jetty and our dinghy. They joined us for dinner that evening on the boat and we enjoyed some local entertainment put on for the Make a Wish foundation that was holding a ball – a display by the RAF aerobatic team, the Roulettes and fireworks. From the boat we had a front row seat to all the action.

The Maritime Discovery Centre in Portland provided an excellent coverage on the local maritime history including the sad stories of the many shipwrecks along this coast and the brave rescue efforts by the local Lifeboat crews. When we left Portland on Monday for the half day motor across the bay to Port Fairy we were able to pass close by Lady Julia Percy Island a sanctuary and home to over 10,000 Australian fur seals.

Port Fairy is a very picturesque seaside town built along the banks of the Moyne River. We were able to tie up along side the wharf on the eastern side of the river surrounded by stone cottages now mostly let as holiday accommodation and B&B’s. Many of the public buildings and homes have been preserved and restored. It is a tourist town with many cafes, art galleries, restaurants as well as clothing and book shops. The local IGA supermarket is very well disguised behind the fa├žade of a row of old shops in the main street. We enjoyed our stay here; there are walks along both sides of the river, out to Battery Hill or the Lighthouse. The town centre was a 10 minute walk from our boat. We were lucky to have Brian and Margaret in town at the same time so that we could enjoy their company and visit a few of the local coffee shops. On Tuesday they headed off back to Margaret’s home in Eastern Victoria via the Great Ocean Road. We plan to see them again when we return to Queensland later this year. River houses at Port Fairy

We departed Port Fairy this morning for our journey across Bass Strait to Tasmania. It is raining and we have a dense fog surrounding us at present. This means that we are motoring as the wind is very light and variable at present. We hope this will change later today so that we can sail through the night – much better without engine noise for the person off watch and trying to sleep.!!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


What a different experience from our previous attempt to leave Kangaroo Island. The first time we had 28/32 kt of winds and waves breaking over the boat, this time we had very little wind for most of the way. The 150 Nm trip took just over 26 hours and we were only able to sail without a motor on for the last 5 hours, but what a good sail it was with 15 kt winds at a good angle. A nice bonus to a magic sunrise complete with an aircraft vapour trail.
Crayfish pots were a problem for the last part of the trip. We saw our first ones just after dawn 35 Nm (65Km) off shore and realized we would have past plenty before then as we could see the lights of the cray boats from 4:30am. In that situation we run one engine in case we hit pots and get their lines caught around the prop. The number of pots increased as we got closer to Robe so we had a lookout on the bow. I know it is cost driven but I can’t understand why they only put small white floats on the pots. Once the wind gets up you can’t see them amongst the whitecaps. I’m sure they wouldn’t lose as many if they had one bright coloured float in the set of three. We heard a bit of local news that was poetic justice – the cray boats also get caught in the pot lines regularly.

We arrive at Robe just after midday on Sunday before a strong wind warning front came through. It blew 20/30 kt from Sunday evening to Monday afternoon but we were in a very protected anchorage off the town beach. There is a small boat harbour here but we didn’t attempt to go in as we had been told by a number of people that it was unlikely there would be room for us as it is full of moorings and piles for the cray boats. A search on Google Earth confirmed that so we just found a good secure anchorage outside the harbour. When we went ashore on Monday we discovered that the harbour has been redeveloped in a marina style with floating pontoons, gone were the moorings and piles. The main part is still taken up the commercial fishing fleet but there is also a section for yachts that could accommodate us. Not to worry, we had no need to visit a marina and our anchorage is comfortable with a fantastic view of the town and beaches. It is also cheap !! ie free.

It has been good to spend a couple days here, Robe is a historic town with a lot of the old stone buildings from the mid 1800’s beautifully restored. It is a small coastal holiday town with some pleasant surprises. Ann found a quilting shop, The Secret Drawer, which had a very comprehensive range of fabric and accessories, so she has all she needs for her next quilt project. The Providore was another surprise, it is a deli that does great food for lunch as well as having a full range of produce. We discovered it on Monday and needless to say we were back there for lunch again today. After a filling lunch on Monday we decided a light dinner on local produce was in order – fresh crayfish & scallops with a crisp South Australian white wine. Very nice..!
Today we took advantage of the lighter winds to do the headland scenic walk. It is a spectacular coast but one we’d hate to get into trouble off. The limestone rocks would tear the bottom out of your boat in no time. This part of the coast is exposed to the predominant SE weather and the limestone rock has been sculptured by years of storms, so different from the sheltered bay we are anchored in around the corner.

Local cray boat taking a short cut between the point and outer reef.

It was hotter than normal here today, mid 30’s instead of mid 20’s and the flies came out in force. Unfortunately I found out too late that the flies were attracted to dark colours. We had to keep brushing off my back on the dinghy run back to the boat so that we didn’t bring them on board with us.
We have favourable, but again light winds for tomorrow and Thursday so we plan to leave mid morning and go down to Portland just over the Victorian border. It will be about 160 – 180 Nm as we will have to go out the edge of the continental shelf for the overnight part of the passage to stay out of the cray pot areas. Expect to get into Portland mid afternoon before another strong wind warning front comes through. Sailing friends from Qld, Brian & Margaret off Vagabond, will be meeting us there. We last saw them in May 2009 in the Sandy Straits where they helped us beach the boat and do some out of water maintenance. It will be great to catch up with them for a few days.

From Portland we plan to go across to Port Fairy where we will wait for a weather window to cross Bass Strait to King Island and Tassie.