Homeward Bound

Thursday 14 March 2019 (Home at Western Port Marina, Hastings)
Wednesday 13 March 2019 (At sea in Bass Strait)

The weather was mercifully calm for our final leg, across Bass Strait, home to Western Port Marina

After several days of strong, cold winds and overcast skies, Wednesday dawned calm and sunny with the arrival of a slow-moving high-pressure system.

Around breakfast time, John’s inquisitiveness with the “slackness” of Chimere’s steering led him to crawl into the back of the boat to inspect the mechanism.  This soon resulted in a request for spanners and a hammer to be passed in, which in turn led to the removal soon after of a large metal pipe that connects the rudder with the steering wheel.

Another trading ships enters Grassy Harbour

Whilst still functional, four bolt-holes in a vital universal joint had become flogged, creating excessive looseness that translated into there being half a rotation of the steering wheel BEFORE the rudder actually began turning. 

It now seemed imperative to get it fixed before we headed back out to sea and so it pushed its way to the top of the current “To Do List” … even higher than visiting the Cheese Factory.

Who could fix such a thing?  There was only one thing to do … call our fisherman friend Russell, he would know …

“Yeh, ya need to go to Williams Engineering, they’re on the road down to the Currie Harbour”, said Russell, “They can fix anything”  

So it was that our first stop off was Williams Engineering … on our way to the Cheese Factory … but the reality was, if we couldn’t get the steering column fixed, we weren’t going anywhere.

As it turned out, we must have looked a rather pathetic sight … quite obviously out-of-town sailors, walking in with a vital piece of equipment in our hands, asking nicely … “do you think there’s anything you could do to fix it??”

With plenty of work already in progress, it’s not as if they were waiting for us to drop in, but with a wry smile the first thing the engineering-bloke asked was … “… when do you need it, when are you leaving?” 

“We were hoping to leave this afternoon, all being well”, I replied.

In addition to the flogged-out universal joint, Ray was also able to point to a lack of lubrication between the shaft and the sleeve, which created excessive friction that no doubt contributed to the first problem.

“OK, leave it with me.  Can you pop back after lunch?  Give us a couple of hours”  

There was nothing more we could do.  From here it was up to the engineering-bloke to weave his magic.  We were totally in his hands

Next stop, the King Island Cheese Factory … https://www.kingislanddairy.com.au  I’d been here on our previous trip in 2014/15, so I knew what to expect, in particular the “Cheese Eating Room”.  Some referred to this as a “Tasting Room”, but it’s hard to restrain yourself when they put plates of cheese out with generous supplies of cracker biscuits to boot.  They even have a “Tasting Notes” sheet, with pencils, for you to keep tabs as you work your way around the tables.
I did my best to find fault, but in the end I had to give them all a ten out of ten.

Hard to find fault with any of the King Island cheeses … or maybe I’m just a generous marker
Isabel can’t say no to … “just one more” … pack of cheese
Kelp drying near Currie … useful in over 200 different products, kelp would have to be described as a wonder product. It’s in everything from food, to clothing.
John gets stuck into his Wallaby Pie

Whilst the King Island Dairy might have lost money on my “tasting” habits, they more than made up for it with our crew’s eventual purchases at the counter.      

Time was getting on and after a relatively quick drive down the coast to view the drying kelp, and stop off at the garage to fill the car with petrol, we had the car back at the hire place around midday.

Lunch at the King Island bakery, just a short walk away, was next and it is here that John ordered a wallaby pie.  We jokingly referred to the profusion of “road-kill” – mostly wallaby – we’d seen, but were quickly assured that these wallaby pies had nothing do with those wallabies.  But there seemed something symbolic in John, our only New Zealander, eating a wallaby pie when his fellow kiwis,  The All Blacks, have been eating up our national rugby team, the Wallabies, for years …

Our next biggest hurdle, apart from picking up the (hopefully) fixed steering column, was getting back to Grassy Harbour, 30-odd kilometres away on the other side of the island.  Nothing seemed to be jumping out of the woodwork and so I called the only taxi on the island.  The chap who answered was a really nice bloke, but he admitted that he was currently “hanging kelp”, then he had to pick up the kids, before going out to the airport and wouldn’t be available till after 5:15pm.  “Oh, we were hoping to get a lift before that, if possible, maybe we’ll give you a call if nothing comes up,”  I concluded, having learnt that it was likely to cost around $50-$60 for the ride.

Williams Engineering came through with a repaired steering mechanism, and in wrapping up payment I casually asked the engineering bloke … “don’t suppose you know anyone who might be driving over to Grassy this afternoon?”

I could tell he was racking his brain to think if there was a possibility, but each time he thought of an option, he had to think again.  Finally, he reluctantly said, “no, sorry, can’t think of anyone”.  Then, as we were about to leave, he said, “I’ll give a bloke a call”   After some small-talk with the guy on the phone he turned to me and said, “are you ready to go now?”  

“Sure,” I said, “from the car hire place … cos we’ve left our gear there … tell him I’ll pay $60” 

That’s how it was we received a lift from Currie to Grassy, with “Chris”, a long-time resident of the island and font of knowledge about the place.

Back at the boat, the steering gear reassembled and the latest weather forecast downloaded, it was time to look seriously about the last hop home; the 125 mile leg from Grassy Harbour to Westernport Marina. 

In the back of our minds we also had the “issue of the autohelm”.  Due to the excessive magnetic deviation message received on the way up from Hunter Island three days before we were left hand steering for the last 5 hours.  We certainly didn’t want to hand steer the 20 hours home, but there was always the chance that just maybe, it had corrected itself through having been turned off for a few days; the mystery of electronics!

Ray keeps an eye on the rocky headlands as we exit Grassy Harbour, King Island
Our wind gauge up close. Whilst the batteries never need replacing, the elements can have an impact making it necessary to reach for a new length of wool; preferably red. The added bonus is that when the wool gets wet we know it’s been raining
After some apprehension the Auto Helm decided to start working again, making the 125 mile final leg back from King Island a real dream run

Around 3:30pm we made our way out of the Grassy Harbour with a course set first for Naracoopa, up the coast. But before long we all agreed that we should continue on to Westernport.  Miracles of miracles, the autohelm started working again and in the end we surmised that the fixing of the steering column must have helped in some way. 

The wind was slightly off the starboard bow, making it almost northeast, but the sea was very calm, even though there remained a steady swell.  The combination of all the factors meant we could maintain a speed of around 7-8 knots for a lot of the way in what could only be termed “extreme comfort”.  We each took it in turns to sleep and apart from watching out for shipping, it was a most uneventful night.

Our final sunset at sea … that way, Cape Town, 6,000 miles away
Our track leaving Grassy Harbour, King Island was a straight line north to Westernport, compared with the jagged, tacking, line up from Hunter Island a few days earlier
John and Isabel look at the dolphins soon after leaving King Island, as the sun goes down
Hard to photograph on an iPhone in the fading light, but you get the idea
John getting as close to the dolphins as possible
The best I could do on my iPhone, but you get the idea … a beautiful still night with the moon and the stars reflecting in the water.

Morning had us off the Nobbies at the entrance to the Westernport Channel, with about an hour of Flood Tide still going our way.  Pretty soon, however, the tide turned and there was about 2-3 hours of Ebb Tide working against us, reducing our speed by around 2-3 knots.

The sails were dropped just prior to entering the Hastings channel, with the only thing left to do being the final turn into the Westernport Marina and our berth on A-Row.  The crew secured the lines quick enough, with the easterly breeze helping to keep us against the pontoon, and not the boat next door, as the engine was finally turned off.

Entering Western Port around the tip of Phillip Island showing us crossing the outward bound track from 45 days earlier
A welcome sight … the familiar tip of Phillip Island – The Nobbies and Seal Rocks, in the early morning
The sun sneaking up behind The Nobbies
Hard to do the scene justice with a small iPhone
Smoke? Smog? … we were back to civilisation?!
Not far now … the masts of the Westernport Marina
Time to focus as we make the final turn into the marina berth … without doing any damage
Westernport Marina ahead
Helmsman’s view, including the charplotter to left

We’d returned three days early and so our 45 day “Freedom Sail” was at an end.  

My thanks go to John, Isabel and Ray for their contribution throughout the last few weeks – all the way from Hobart on 23 February.  Thank you to all the other crew, Jacqui, Bill, Rosie and Alistair for your contribution, and a very special thank you to friends Liz and Murray who took charge of the “Land-Based Team” – complete with willing vehicle, plus my brother Andrew with his car-assistance while we were in Hobart. And of course, last but not least to my amazing wife Linda, who has been involved and supportive at every turn.

The Fabulous Four … Isabel, Rob, John and Ray
The Famous Five … as above, including Jacqui who had to leave us at Strahan 10 days earlier

This amazing adventure would not have been possible of course without “the other woman” … and I speak now of Chimere our trusty vessel.  She has protected us, transported us, housed us and taken care of us all the way.  And in mentioning Chimere I also include my ever-supportive and understanding boat partner Barry Crouch, who acquired half of Chimere six years ago in order to ensure the work of Medical Sailing Ministries in Vanuatu continues. (www.msm.org.au)

It all ends on the clothesline with a freshwater hose-down

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Homeward Bound

Rob Latimer

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King Island Tourists

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Grassy Harbour, King Island

There was some serious rain over night, causing me to finally shut my cabin deck-hatch completely.  The 5mm gap of the “small-air-space-partial-setting” was letting in just too many sprinkles, making it hard to sleep.

The rain was still off-and-on around 8:00am when we all made our way ashore for a hot shower at the public toilets that are attached to the end of the Boat Club. 

The promise of a hot shower – not together you understand – can cause people to do some funny things. Here we are between (cold) rain showers, before taking our turns.
The cargo vessel, King Islander docked while we were there to offload and pick up goods … mostly truck loads of cattle it seemed.
Chimere on her mooring, just off the Grassy Boat Club

Whilst we DO have a hot shower on board Chimere, these onshore ones had the obvious attraction of using someone else’s water and enabling you to stay under longer without getting a guilty conscience.   

Being bore water, the others said it smelt of sulphur.  My sense of smell isn’t good enough to detect that, but the brown colour did bring back memories of Port Davey and Macquarie Harbour.

Hot showers complete, Isabel and I managed to secure the promised lift with Marie across the island to Currie.  Marie turned up around 11:15am with her four-year-old grandson Tyson in the front seat and we chatted freely for the half an hour drive across the island.  To support Russell’s fishing income, Marie does cleaning and catering jobs, while also taking care of Tyson for several days a week. It didn’t take much reading between the lines to appreciate that grandma-Marie, (and grandpa Russell), were doing some heavy lifting in the “family support” department; all without a word of complaint or regret.

The car turned out to be a Rav-4 and before driving away Isabel and I received the usual pre-hire talk from the friendly co-owner, Anna … including … “no driving on beaches”, and “careful about wildlife that tends to jump out in front of the car”. Anna highlighted some of the key sights and places of interest, plus an amusing, if not pejorative  reference to the town of Grassy as being  “aesthetically challenged”.  To Isabel’s questions about the “calcified forest” and whether it was “worth seeing”, Anna answered that is was “geologically interesting”. An answer that was accurate as well as diplomatic.  (I’d been there before and I’d need to be studying geology or pre-history to want to go again)

Couldn’t help stopping and taking a picture of these dogs – there were five of them – and the wooden chainsaw sculptured dog behind. They looked friendly, and probably would be if proper protocols were observed, but there was a audible growl as we opened the car door to take a shot
The roar of the surf on the west coast of King Island seemed relentless

In our absence, John and Ray went for a walk out on the Grassy Harbour breakwater and discovered that the many penguins that lived there make noisy chirping noises,  even during the day – worthy of a return visit tonight perhaps.

The time was around 2:00pm before we were all in the car heading back in the direction of Currie once more, although it would have been 20 minutes earlier if I hadn’t taken a wrong turn on the way back to the Harbour.  A wrong turn?  There’s only a few main roads on the island!  And without realising it Isabel and I were doing a grand circle BACK to Currie.

Hunger, and a desire to support local enterprise, saw us pull into a local farmhouse that had established a place called “Brewers Café”, way out in the boon-docks.  They’d done so by enclosing a back porch off the kitchen.  “Who would ever visit?” I thought, as we made our way down the private driveway, noticing that they also sold potted plants and other things … very resourceful.

Spot the birds … notoriously tricky to photograph on the run, but there were wild turkeys, peacocks, pheasants and quail

Apart from being given flack for wanting tomato sauce on my sausage roll and meat pie, which included being handed the actual sauce bottle when I asked for a bit more than the small red dollop in the small white plate that I was issued … I’d say it was a really good café.  It really was a great place for travellers to drop in at, along with the local mothers and kids who simply wanted to socialise over a coffee without making the trek to Currie – and the coffee was very good !

Our hunger satisfied, (for now) we completed the drive into Currie, where we visited the local museum and light house. 

John managed to take a quick shot of a local fishing boat entering the Currie Harbour through the surf … not for the faint-hearted
The harbour of Currie would seem the best place to have your boat, just down the hill from the main town, but it provides little shelter from the prevailing west winds and is full of shallow patches, rocks and obstacles. Most serious shipping is conducted from the sheltered Grassy Harbour 30 kilometres away on the east side of the island
The Currie museum is well worth a visit … these “Rules For Teachers” from 1872 certainly speak of a different era, although some rules just don’t go out of date!

We also marvelled at the force of the crashing waves on the rocky shore, plus the rocky reef a mile further out.  This truly was a dangerous place for shipping, as the 100 or more wrecks testify.  One of these wrecks, the Cataraqui, in 1845, still holding the tragic record for loss of life in the one peacetime event – over 400 deaths. http://www.environment.gov.au/shipwreck/public/wreck/wreck.do?key=6982

There have been dozens of wrecks around the King Island coastline, many suffering massive loss of life. What a captain would have given for a GPS position and a chartplotter on a dark winters night!

It was then onto Cape Wickham at the top of the island, along the way seeing the profusion of wild life, particularly wallabies and would you believe it … flocks of turkeys (yes, like Christmas turkeys) peacocks, pheasants and quails

The Cape Wickham lighthouse was stunning and while we were there we also dropped into the Cape Wickam Golf Course for a coffee – apparently voted the 24th best golf course in the world by some authoritative source somewhere.

https://capewickham.com.au

Million dollar views … approximately 16 million when it last changed hands, if the newspapers are to be believed
Built in 1861 to reduce the number of ship wrecks and loss of life, the Cape Wickham light, at 48 metres tall, is a grand sight, not to mention Australia’s highest. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Wickham_Lighthouse
During preparations for the 150th anniversary of the lighthouse, it was discovered that it had never been officially opened. To rectify this oversight, Australian Governor-GeneralQuentin Bryce officially opened the lighthouse in a ceremony on 5 November 2011.
That’s John demonstrating just how thick the walls are at the base of the Wickham lighthouse – about 3 metres thick
It’s a stunning structure, simple in it’s form and function.
This was on the wall of the cafe at the Cape Wickham Golf Links … no need for translation here

On the way back to the boat we stopped off for dinner at the King Island pub, where three of us had fish and chips … no doubt caught by our new fisherman friend Russell who had kindly organised our mooring in the Grassy Harbour.

Before going back to the boat for a night-cap and sleep, we decided to stick around onshore for the arrival of the penguins. This time we made our way out onto the Grassy Harbour breakwater where numbers appeared to be greater.  https://www.kingislandaccommodationcottages.com.au/king-islands-little-penguins/

With the car due back tomorrow around 12:00 noon we planned to make the most of it, specifically by checking out the Cheese Factory, just out of town, and the Kelp Centre.

There was also the matter of sailing the final 125 miles north to Hastings and assessing the weather forecast for the best time – taking in to account wind speed, direction and sea conditions.  The “Sailing Plan” talked about arriving home on Saturday, but with little more to do in the way of exploring and adventuring, there was no reason why we couldn’t return ASAP if possible. Our sights were looking homeward.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and King Island Tourists.

Rob Latimer

Private Penguin Parade

Monday 11 March 2019

Grassy Harbour, King Island

The short hop to King Island marked the start of our Bass Strait crossing. Our eyes were now set on our return to Western Port Marina while the weather remained favourable

“Up at six, away by six-thirty”, was the mantra for today and in the darkness of the pre-dawn we went through the well-rehearsed routine … alarm, dressed, kettle, engine, coffee, course, anchor, sails, chart plotter, steering (Doh!!… should have turned OFF the anchor-drift alarm!!) … and away … oh, plus toast with peanut butter and honey.

We managed to fluke the tidal flow north out of the Hope Channel, Hunter Island on our left and Three Hummock Island on our right, with our speed topping 8-9 knots at times.

Pretty soon we were laying a course for King Island, or more specifically, the east coast harbour of Grassy.  To our port lay the small rocky island called Albatross Island, where we suspected many of the graceful birds of the same name we’d been watching, had originated.

John gets into the toast, looking back to Three Hummock Island on our 40 mile hop to King Island as the sun appears for another day
Cold morning sky in Bass Strait … not what you expect for summer
Our rather sad and belated attempt at catching crayfish, crabs, lobster, dumb-fish … anything!?

The wind was still pretty strong, with the advancing swell coming in on our port side, and not on the bow, which was a blessing    

Around lunch time, however, the wind moved more to the west-northwest, causing us to put in a few tacks in order to lay a course for the entrance to the harbour.  With communications restored I called Duncan from the King Island Boat Club, who turned out to be busy on his farm, so he put me onto Russell, a local fisherman and boat club member, who he thought could fix us up for a mooring.

This indeed turned out to be the case and he remembered my previous visit here four years ago, when the mooring I’d been allocated by someone else had actually dragged.   Certainly NOT what you expect from a mooring !

Albatross Island … a lot easier to photograph than the birds themselves, which effortlessly soar around us with barely a sign of effort
Ho hum, another sunrise photograph … as we sit snug in our enclosed cockpit
The entrance to Grassy Harbour requires a bit of concentration as we thread our way past rocks, headlands and breakwaters, making sure to remain on the correct transits
Breaking sea to the starboard side as we enter the harbour

So, after a brief stay on a short anchor in the crowded confines of the harbour, Russell soon had us on a big fishing boat mooring – the same one he arranged for us in 2015 AFTER the earlier one we’d been given had failed.

As it turned out Russell was a very helpful guy.  As was his wife Marie, who kindly drove us the 30 kilometres across the island to Currie the next day so we could pick up a hire car.  (a saving of $100 in a car “drop off” fee!)

After a brief stint on our own anchor, local fisherman Russell arranges a suitable mooring for Chimere
It was a big mooring, capable of holding a boat larger than ours

One rather frustrating thing that occurred on the way up from Hunter Island, was the “Max Deviation” message we received on the Auto Helm.  This had occurred before and resulted in us having to hand steer the boat for extended periods.  Thankfully, each time it DID finally correct itself … and YES, I did turn it OFF, then ON again … several times.  But this time it seemed a more permanent situation that would have to wait for another day.  For now, no amount of button pressing and re-setting would put it right – we’d just have to hand steer the old-fashioned way.

From “working” to “not working” … we certainly came to rely on our autohelm, but we still remembered how to hand steer?!
Whilst the sign pointed to the Penguin Colony down the road, we actually saw more right in front of the Boat Club near the boat ramp
Chimere is just visible in the background … and the little fellows were SO cute
After some initial apprehension and pushing from those coming up the rear it must be said, pretty soon there was nothing stopping the little guys
Coming home to the kids after a long day out at sea
“Hey look guys, there’s a sign with a picture of us on it, maybe we should be crossing down there?!”

After all of the anchoring and mooring activities it was getting late and time for dinner.  Then once the sun had gone down, we made it ashore for the unofficial penguin parade.  This consisted of sitting at the top of the boat ramp, 50 metres off our boat’s stern, and watching the little creatures emerge from the water only to cross the carpark and road to their tunnel-homes in the grassy hill behind.  They were so cute, and you’ve got to respect their stamina, commitment and focus, going out each day for fish, only to bring them back again each night for their babies.

The south west wind was starting to really howl, rain was threatening and it was a great relief to make it back to the warmth of Chimere for an evening hot drink and a secure bunk.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and a Private Penguin Parade

Rob Latimer

Where’s the Fleurieu Group ?

Sunday 10 March 2019

Shepherds Bay, Hunter Island

Being largely forgotten and out of the way are the key reasons for these island’s attraction and charm

Some people can place the Furneaux Group on the map at the eastern gateway to Bass Strait, with Flinders Island at its centre. 

But how many can point to the Fleuieu Group ? 

It’s not likely to come up in a game of Trivial Pursuit, unless I’m writing the questions of course, so in case you don’t know, its off the north WEST corner of Tassie.  Just above Cape Grim and south of King Island. It’s major islands being Three Hummock and Hunter; named after the second Governor of Australia, John Hunter

Anchored off the southern end of Shepherd’s Bay, Hunter Island
Another lovely sunset, this time at Shepherd’s Bay, Hunter Island
An artistic shot up the rigging

It’s a rarely visited corner of the world and that’s one of its key attractions.  Depending on the wind and swell conditions there is generally a place to hide and our current visit brought back very fond memories of my previous stop-off back in 2015.  At that time the ship’s crew consisted of me, Matt, James and Eva and we stopped at four of the anchorages, including Spiers Bay where we rode out a brisk gale.

After a delightful night at Chimney Corner we up-anchored around 9:00am to explore the anchorages around the eastern side of Three Hummock Island, with our first stop being East Telegraph Bay.

Another wind change was forecast – from the current direction of east, way around to the west – and so we figured some protection could be had around on the east side of Three Hummock Island later in the day.  This might have been so, eventually, but right now the swell that had already built over the previous couple of days from the northeast did not bode well; at least in the short term 

Isabel serves up another cup of tea from the galley

This proved to be right and after a very rolly lunch-stop in the northern corner of East Telegraph Bay, we made our retreat, initially to Cave Bay on Hunter Island, and then a bit further up the coast to Shepherds Bay, where three other boats were already sheltering (generally a good sign) including a big motor launch called “Patriot X” which we had encountered a week ago down at Port Davey.

Last night we learnt a lesson about always turning the anchor light on when you stop for the night.  Not that we’d forgotten to do so, (we usually forget to turn it off come morning !) but around 6:00am, I was up on deck and noticed another yacht had anchored in the dark a couple of hundred metres away and there was a red navigational light slowly moving in our direction, confirming another boat was on approach and likely to also drop anchor soon.

At breakfast John and I were talking about the stars in the clear sky last night and I mentioned that I’d initially thought … “Wow, Venus is very bright tonight” …  and before I’d finished the sentence, John said, “Yes, I was up at 4:00am and it was really bright, off our starboard side”  … As it turned out, the “bright Venus” was actually the masthead anchor light of our new neighbour!!   

The problem with forgetting to turn on your night-light is of course that if another boat turns up they may not see that you are already there.  There’s also the small comfort in seeing from a distance that if another boat is already there, it might just be a good option for you.  Assuming of course that the other boat had made a good decision in the first place?!

This lazy seal didn’t even bother putting his flippers back in the water as we sailed by. We thought he might have been pretending to be a shark
Approaching Cave Bay at Hunter Island
Well named, Cave Bay, with evidence of aboriginal occupation from around 6,000 years ago and 20,000 years ago during the previous two Ice Ages when dry land was about 30 miles away
Ray spies the coastal cave as we approach

So, apart from a bit of a sail around the region very little else was done.  We ate, we slept, we reported our position to (the amazing) Mary who is (and has been for decades it seems) the voice of Smithton Radio. But most of all we assessed the weather forecast in order to determine travel plans for the next few days.

John had a go at fishing and within half an hour had caught a rather large flathead … known as a “lizard”, Ray said.  I even dug out a couple of collapsible cray pots which I’ve had stored onboard for a couple of years, using the fishhead as bait … short story – I didn’t catch any crayfish!

With the wind still blowing hard from offshore and the gentle roll of the boat letting us know that despite being the best pick of the neighbourhood anchorages, the current swell was finding its way into everything, I exclaimed,  “I think we should head off to King Island in the morning”.  According to the latest forecast, the wind (and sea) was going to come in very strong the day AFTER tomorrow, with tomorrow being simply “strong” and the seas levelling off from the previous few days of gales.

With internet and phone communications partially restored, if not very reliable, we took the opportunity to answer emails and update the website and also make contact with King Island to hopefully check out the possibility of obtaining a safe mooring for a couple of days, and also a hire car in order to check-out the local sights.  Things looked promising, but we would need to confirm specifics upon arrival tomorrow

Whilst we’d filled up the water tanks just a few days ago with 1,000 litres of Strahan’s finest, we nonetheless fired up the onboard water maker at Three Hummock Island, knowing that the sea water there was very clean and the machine needed to be exercised.   With new filters installed I was very pleased to be able to make the BEST water yet, like EVER, as measured by the very low salt reading of just 100 parts per million. 

Smooth seas, fair breeze and where’s the Fleurieu Group ?

Rob Latimer

Catching the wind

Saturday 9 March 2019
Chimney Corner, Three Hummock Island
AND
Friday 8 March 2019
At sea – West Coast Tassie

Once out through “Hells Gates” at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour we began our night & day dash up the north west coast to The Hummock Island in the Fleurieu  Group

Our stay in Macquarie Harbour, Strahan and the Gordon River was all too brief.  But the weather patterns and forecasts for the next week made it clear that if we didn’t make a move up the coast in the next 24 hours, we’d be stuck here for a week.  The predicted succession of nor-westers and big seas making any later move, a very wet and uncomfortable thing. Herein lies one of the big differences between racers and cruisers … cruisers can pick and choose their weather, while racers take what they are given at the appointed time.

As it was, the nor-wester kept blowing for the first half of the day, making our trek back up the Macquarie Harbour, (once we exited the Gordon River), to the Hell’s Gate, a steady, slow experience.

After five hours plugging into the elements, we finally dropped anchor inside the entrance to Macquarie Harbour, at a place called the Back Channel in about 3 metres of water. 

Our stay in the Gordon River was all too brief
Having raced down the Macquarie Harbour yesterday before a howling Nor-wester, it seemed appropriate that we would be bashing back into it the next day. This bird thought better of flying into the wind and landed on the deck where it sat for a good hour – long enough for us to feed it some toast

Our task now was to await the predicted sou-wester; our time filled in with sleeping, relaxing and preparing.

Whilst the wind-change would be going our way, the one thing that DID give us cause for concern were the 4-6 metre swells left behind after 2-3 days of strong, on-shore winds. (A quick look online showed that the maximum swell for the day off the nearby Cape Sorell had been 8 metres !)

Big swells are one thing, but the thing that gave us confidence was that the 1-2 metres of breaking seas – which effectively add to the height of the swells – were predicted to quickly diminish,as the wind change-swept through. 

Then as if someone had flicked a switch, the change came through.  One minute Chimere was tugging at her anchor in a north westerly direction, the next we had swung around to the south west.

The Hells Gate entrance is made easier to navigate with the aid of the chart plotter
The onshore “leads” help guide boats in and out of Hells Gate
The south west change came through with rain and reduced visibility, but at least the wind was going our way
The “before” shot … setting out from Macquarie Harbour, bound for Hunter Island on another overnight run

“The change has come through” said John quietly as he walked down the centre corridor past my cabin.

It was 4:30pm and by 5:30 we were passing through Hells Gate and out onto our chosen course, the breaking seas on the Kawitiri Schoal to starboard and the long seawall on the port.  For the first few miles the advancing swells looked ominous as they rose up before us in the shallows seas, but as time went by and the sea deepened, the steady rise and fall took on a predictable feel.

Our destination on this leg of the journey would be Hunter and Three Hummock Islands, forming what is referred to on the chart as “The Fleurieu Group” located off the north West corner of Tasmania.  Reaching these islands would officially mark the beginning of the homeward leg.  It was a place I’d visited before – with Matt, James and Eva – back in January 2015, and it was a place I was keen to visit again.

But first we had to get through the next 22 hours, half through the night and half through the day in conditions that were MUCH better than the trip up from Port Davey, but still pretty average. 

There are some night-sails you just have to endure
This is the last sort of message you want to see on the chart plotter at two in the morning … in summary we lost GPS signals and had to work through the menu buttons to restore our location, course and speed. One of the reasons you regularly keep a written record of your location in the Ships Log, and paper charts as a back-up.

Whilst the south westerly wind change formed the key part of the forecast, it also mentioned “variable winds”. And the further up the coast we travelled it became clear that we were moving from the West Coast Region to the North West Coast Region. It might be just 50-100 miles on the chart, but the difference was pronounced, including a return to north-westerly winds for a time, then pouring rain, then north-easterly winds, then westerly for a time, before settling back into the south-west.  All the while the south west swell, which peaked at around 8 metres according to that day’s records off Macquarie Harbour, kept rolling on; albeit in a diminished form.

Our good ol Perkins motor was our companion for the duration, enabling us to maintain a constant 5.5 to 6.0 knots at all times.

The depth of the seas along the coast averaged around 80-100 metres and our depth sounder confirmed this with the numbers changing roughly in line with the contours on the chart.  Then John calls out … “the depth has gone to 14 metres … check the chart plotter for depths … are we going into shallow water?!”  

I looked at the depth sounder and sure enough we were reading 14 metres.  I looked at the chart plotter screen and the actual depth was around 95 metres and NO sign of the words … “INADEQUATELY SURVEYED”

“Oh, hang on, it’s gone back to 100 metres … 98 … 96 … it’s back to normal? 

Naturally our thoughts began speculating as to WHY the depth sounder had given a strange reading of 14 metres … then 10 minutes later it happened again, reading 15 metres, followed a short time later with 17 metres. 

“It’s a Chinese submarine passing under us” … said Ray in a confident voice

“What about a whale, maybe it was a whale passing under us ?”

“Or a school of fish?”

One thing I could almost 100% guarantee is that depth sonder was, and is, working correctly.  The mystery remains … and we’re nowhere near Kettering?!

The night dragged on, as it does, but with only a few bursts of activity – when stronger than normal wind gusts hit, or when the wind died altogether and it was necessary to roll up the jib – mercifully, there was time to get some serious sleep between watches.

Rounding the north west corner of Tassie was timed for daylight hours.

As we drew closer to the north west tip of Tassie, known appropriately as Cape Grim, the wind died off completely and the swell, which was probably still in the 2-3 metre range, became just a steady rise and fall, briefly propelling us forward at 7 knots, then holding us back to 4 or 5 knots soon after.  All the while our buoyancy helping us to ride like a floating bird.

By early morning we were negotiating the winding track of Hunter Passage, then it was up the coast of Hunter Island to our chosen anchorage – Chimney Corner, off the group of buildings that sit at the south-west corner of Three Hummock Island.

Our course up the west coast from Macquarie Harbour … not quite a straight line as we’d expected … even some zigzags indicating the need to tack and a break in the line indicating loss of satellite connections
Hunter Passage around the bottom of Hunter Island was certainly made easier by means of the chart plotter
Travelling up the coast of Hunter Island … just reward after a night at sea

Unlike most windswept islands of Bass Strait, and there are probably more than 100 of them, people actually live on Three Hummock – it even has a Facebook page, airstrip and B&B, making it a wonderful place to enjoy a remote “island experience” – fly in and fly out. (While we were there a photographic group had booked the accommodation and were documenting the sights)

The first thing on our agenda after dropping anchor, was to have a sleep, after which John, Isabel and I went ashore for a walk and to meet the caretakers.

The weather from the north east was warm and settled and the anchorage, which can sometimes be rolly, was up to our usual calm standards.  Wandering around the settled corner of the island there was a 100-year-old building that once served as a telegraph station, old sheds and a homestead now used as a B&B accommodation, a wharf in need of repair, plus kangaroos and Cape Barren Geese wherever you looked.   

Back on board we enjoyed another still and peaceful night with a clear sky and sparkly stars closing off another wonderful day at sea.  But after the previous night’s activities afloat we slept very soundly to be sure.

Around 22 hours after leaving Macquarie Harbour we finally drop anchor at Chimney Corner, Three Hummock Island – Saturday afternoon
Rob, John and Isabel go ashore to explore in the balmy, still evening
Talk about ya fixer-uppers … the wharf and launch facilities speak of an earlier time
Look closely and you’ll see a “baby” in the pouch of this kangaroo, which climbed in there after seeing us. It tried to get in the pouch a bit later when it was startled by a vehicle and its mum boxed his ears – a quick left-right with her paws – and hopped away … talk about tough love.
This is the Three Hummock Island B&B … quite the place for a get away retreat. Isabel and John soak in the moment with Chimere in the background
Cape Barren Geese, kangaroos and Chimere …
Apparently this bay, known as Spiers Bay on the chart, is also known as The Five Sisters
John got this far and assured me that his sons would have made it to the top in a matter of a few minutes … I have no doubt he is right … after all, John is now 60?!
Spiers Bay, also known as Five Sisters Bay
Isabel “works the lense” as we make our way back to the dinghy
The evening light, natural surroundings and the rustic structures combined to create some stunning scenes
This boat’s best days were definitely behind it
The sun sets over nearby Hunter Island
Gone for another day

On the communications front, I managed to score “three bars” on the iPhone, enabling me to make emails and upload information to this website, but only if I first hung the device upside down from a string in the middle of the cockpit?!

With our sights set on “home”, our next objective will be to explore the local region tomorrow before grabbing the next “weather window” north to King Island.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and catching the wind

Rob Latimer

Farewell Jacqui

Thursday 7 March 2019

Heritage Landing, Gordon River

After seeing Jaqui off on the early morning “milk-run” bus to Hobart, the remaining four made our way down Macquarie Harbour and then up the Gordon River 5 miles to Heritage Landing, where we stayed the night

It was an early start after a much-deserved sleep, in a mercifully calm anchorage, just off the Strahan township.

Our first task of the day was to run Jacqui ashore to catch the 7:30am bus to Hobart where she would be catching a plane home.  Sadly, Jacqui’s time aboard had come to an end and Chimere’s crew was now going from the Famous Five to the Fabulous Four

For Jacqui, as a friend of Ray and Isabel from Fish Creek, the trip to Melaleuca and the Port Davey region was a return to where she had bushwalked as a girl, or young woman, many, many years ago.  Perhaps I put one too many “manys” in there, but whilst Jacqui is an adventurer she is also a realist and I’m sure she won’t mind.  After all, 35+ years ago is a long time in anyone’s language.

Jacqui about to board the bus for her 7 hour trip from Strahan to Hobart
Isabel and Ray making the most the new-found communications after 7 days in the “wilderness”

Whilst Jacqui was cutting her voyage short, there was a time in the days before joining Chimere on the 23 February, that Jacqui needed to pull out all together.  A change of circumstances then enabled Jacqui to re-join Chimere, (in scenes of jubilation at home, I am told), and so we have all been fortunate to have her aboard. 

Fortunate, because Jacqui showed herself to be cheerful, willing to try anything, stoic in the face of trying conditions, an enthusiastic helper, plus a really great companion – full of stories and life-experiences.  Thank you, Jacqui, for contributing so positively to Chimere’s “Famous Five”.

In booking the bus ride to Hobart, Jacqui’s husband Tim was told that this route – Strahan to Hobart – would be closed down in a couple of days.  It seemed hard to believe, but it was confirmed by the driver who told us that buses would instead only head north to Queenstown and Devonport.  Presumably future trips to Hobart would need to be via Queenstown.  As it was, Jacqui’s ride to Hobart would be taking 7 hours, (from 7:30am to 2:30pm) making it something of a milk-run through all the towns and villages along the way, and NOT on the way, as the case may be.

Speaking of small Tasmanian country towns, anyone who’s seen the ABC TV series “Rosehaven” would identify with Strahan.  I don’t think Rosehaven was filmed here, but it could have been.  This was made evident a few times in our short stay … the first was the bus driver himself.  He was a cheerful, engaging fellow, (as bus drivers often are), and when Jacqui showed him the image of her official ticket on her iPhone, he gave it a look in a vague kind of … I-left-my-glasses-somewhere-else way and said “looks good to me!” 

Around this time school kids were also making their way onto the bus, waving their term passes … “Hey, that kid hasn’t waved his pass?”  I jokingly said to the driver as he loaded a couple of small bags into the hold.  “Oi, haven’t you got a pass?” the bus driver called in an off-handed way.  “Yeh, of course”, called the kid as he climbed the stairs.  “Well don’t forget to bring it next time!” he called back.

We then walked up the steep hill above town to the grocers to buy a few essentials – including bread and ice cream of course.  And while Ray and Isabel cruised the short aisles I listened to the great music – Rod Stewart, Beatles, Elton John – and eventually I called to the lady on the check-out … “I love your music!” 

“Civilisation” … as defined by a supermarket
Friendly checkout “chick”, Di, bagged it all up, then gave us a lift down to the boat in her own car
Here’s a good idea …

“Yeh, that’s my play-list”, she cheerfully responded. 

Then, once everything had been tallied and bagged, the lady said, “You wanna lift down to the waterfront with this lot?  I’ll bring by buzz-box round the front and I can run you down now” 

“Wow, that would be great, thanks so much.  How did you know we were off a boat????”  we said.

Down on the wharf, the TasPorts “Representative”, Shane, was also very helpful.  Having spoken with him as we approached Strahan the day before, he phoned me out of the blue today to see if I needed anything and I mentioned that we’d like to load up with water; our tanks being either empty, or full of the brown (but still very safe and tasty) water from Port Davey.

“No problems”, said Shane, “I’ve got permission from the owner of the blue fishing boat at the wharf for boats to raft-up.  Sing out when you’re ready and I’ll give you a hand”.  When the time came an hour later, there was Shane to give us a hand, even suggesting we could use the fire hose if necessary … “everyone does” he confirmed. 

The Strahan railway, just across town and not far from where we were anchored
One day in Strahan and we already have a favorite coffee spot … a toast to Jacqui

Our tanks full, and the river cruise boats gone, we later moved up and tied to the wharf-proper, making way for another yacht next to the fishing boat, that needed to take our place.  Rather than move us on because … “this is where the River Cruise Boats dock” … all Shane said was … “the big boats won’t be back till around 2:30 this arvo, so you’ll be good till then”

Ray amongst the pots while we were rafted up next to a fishing boat loading up with water
Tied up at the wharf and keen to get everyone in the shot
“The big boat gets back around 2:30, so you’ll be right till then” …

Having been without internet access in the South West, we made good use of the local connection to catch up on 7 days of emails, texts, calls, messages and website uploads and by around 2:15pm we were away down Macquarie Harbour in the direction of the Gordon River. 

The 20-30 knot Nor-wester was still blowing and we made good use of it as we raced down the bay at around 8 knots.  There was a thought to stop briefly at Sarah Island, home of a rather severe penal settlement back in the 1830s, however, after making a brief foray into the lee of the island we decided that the wind was still just too strong.  Coupled with this was the fact that the “INADEQUATELY SURVEYED” note on the chart proved to be very accurate. 

Isabel in command as we head down Macquarie Harbour to the Gordon River
A brief sunny moment

We know this because an area marked as 3-5 metres deep on the chart, actually ended up being around 1.5-1.8 metres deep – confirmed by our depth sounder plus an ever-so-brief bump on the bottom of our keel … something we aim to do as little as possible!!

The wind was howling from the north west … we were very pleased it was going our way!
Once in the river the detail on the chart plotter diminished significantly

Once in the Gordon River, with depths of 20-30 metres, we wound our way upstream around 5 miles to Heritage Landing; where the river cruise ships tie up and disgorge their tourists to walk the circular boardwalk through the overgrown forest. 

The forest really was amazing, coming right down to the river’s edge on both sides and closing-in the further upstream we travelled.  Our real desire was to travel inland around 20 miles, to where the Franklin River flows in, but time and the weather were against us.  We would have to be content with having the Heritage Landing and the connected forest-walk all to ourselves, tied up as we were to the bush wharf, surrounded by the quiet solitude 

The forest came right down to the water’s edge
Nature walk at Heritage Landing – where we tied up for the night, and where the river cruise boats take their passengers
Here we are in the forest !
Not a bad spot to tie up for the night
Just like back in Strahan … just got to leave before the river cruise boats arrive; in the morning

In the night we were boarded, unknowingly, by a small animal.  I realised this when I got up in the night and startled it while I was climbing the stairs. I’d barely got half way out when this little black blur of something raced up next to me making it out the door in just two bounds.  With torch in hand the last I saw of it was dashing under the dinghy on the foredeck. 

It wasn’t just the small animal … probably a possum … that was startled!!   We just hoped the next day that it made its way off the boat the same way it got on BEFORE we came to sail away.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Farewell Jacqui

Rob Latimer

Rest and Recovery

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Risby Cove, Strahan

In a way, yesterday merged into today, with our departure from Port Davey yesterday afternoon and our arrival at Macquarie Harbour and the town of Strahan this morning, being just one continuous “event”.  An event we had to simply endure in order to catch a wind going our way and, in some way, meet our sailing itinerary.

The approach to Macquarie Harbour was made around Cape Sorell, then into a shallow channel known as Hell’s Gate – so named by the convicts who were transported there – and Sarah Island – in the 19th century. After a night at sea it was a welcome sight despite the passing rain squalls
As we veered starboard to line up the channel, the swell was taken on the beam, passing underneath us and creating a painful roll aboard
Despite the conditions it was such a special moment, observing and actually feeling the elements which had no regard for presence whatsoever.
Then the sun broke through !!

There is no doubt that the greeting of the dawn at sea is a wonderful thing.  I think all sailors would agree with that.  Particularly when the night is full of rocky seas, rain, howling wind from the wrong direction and cold.  Not a winter sort of cold, on the zero to five-degree range.  But still a summer sort of cold at 9 degrees but accompanied by a wind that makes it feel like four degrees.  It seems strange that this should be happening just a short distance from land where bushfires are the current concerns.

Once in the channel we even encountered some blue sky

After our initially slow start, in the end our arrival at Macquarie Harbour, and the narrow entrance known as “Hells Gate”, took the expected time of around 16 hours.  Leaving Bond Bay in Port Davey around 4:00pm yesterday and arriving at Hell’s Gate around 8:00am this morning; a distance of around 90 miles at an average of approximately 5.5 knots … approx. 10kph.  Not a fast time, but any faster and it would have been dark when we arrived at the entrance and we certainly didn’t want that.

Once through Hell’s Gate, which seemed little more than 50 metres wide at its narrowest,  it was a case of following the navigational leads, markers, buoys and channels for another 1-2 hours, north into Macquarie Habour to the town of Strahan.

The actual entrance, named Hell’s Gate, really only had room for one vessel to traverse at a time
Bonnet Island at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour
With wind from the south west the entrance was sheltered, in a northwester the cruising guide says … “it would be most unwise to be in the vicinity”

Making contact with the TasPorts helpful “Representative”, Shane, I was informed that with 30 or more boats in town for the Van Diemans land Circumnavigation rally, there were no spots against the wharf to tie up, or even raft up, and also no moorings.  So, we anchored in Risby Cove, a short distance off town, as originally planned.

John sporting the new look in courageous, independent cruising helmsmen
More rain to clean the deck !

There was a great deal of relief in finally dropping the anchor and turning off the engine, as we soaked in the scene before us – the township of Strahan, the hills behind, dozens of other anchored vessels, the wharf, the fish-farm infrastructure and the tourist railway station a short distance across the cove.

After a week without modern communications … other than an HF radio to receive automated weather forecasts, it was a strange sensation to again be receiving and sending texts, emails and messages … just like before.  And it didn’t take us long to realise that the world had continued on without us 

Despite our sleepiness, we soon had the dinghy in the water and were exploring ashore, the south westerly wind having also brought rain and cold temperatures, which had us rugged up like … sailors.  With so many boats in the bay, we certainly weren’t the only ones walking around wearing lifekackets drifting to and fro, as we slowly tamed our legs to walk in straight lines on straight pavements.

I think a “real” coffee was first on the list of things to do ashore, followed by a look at the waterfront timber mill and shop.  Not to mention the Parks office in order to get a National Parks pass because we intended to travel up the Gordon River which is a World Heritage Area.  The helpful lady on the desk not so subtly asked me if I, or anyone on our boat had a Seniors Card … because it would be cheaper … in fact FREE.  Apparently one person’s admission covered the whole boat, and if that person was a “Senior” (ie over 60) (Thank you Ray for being senior enough) then it was NO COST … at a considerable saving.

When a workshop wall becomes a work of art – Strahan waterside timber mill and shop
Main street, Strahan

As we wandered around town Isabel made contact with a friend of a friend who was connected with a theatre company in town that had been performing a production called “The Ship That Never Was” since 1985.  Isabel knows this person through her Fish Creek connections, and it turns out that the lady’s father originally wrote the play back in the early 1980s.  The long and short of it was that we had five free tickets set aside at the door !   The content of the play is well worth researching and proves the notion that truth really is stranger than fiction. http://www.roundearth.com.au/

https://www.discovertasmania.com.au/attraction/theshipthatneverwas

John samples the local delicacy … scallop pies
The local dinghy park shows there were a lot of boats in the harbour
The Ship That Never Was … http://www.roundearth.com.au/ an absolute MUST See for anyone in the area … in fact it’s worth going there just for the performance. It’s based on a true story of convicts from the nearby Sarah Island who stole a ship, sailed to South America, were caught and lived to tell the tale – in the 1830s !
Two actors with heaps of ability – lots of audience participation and rugs to keep everyone warm

John and I tried one of the famous scallop pies for lunch and before everyone collapsed with exhaustion, we made it back to Chimere for a sleep before coming back to town for the performance of the play at 5:30, dinner at the pub at 7:00pm, then once again back to Chimere for sleep – and this was supposed to be a day of Rest & Recovery?!

Jacqui would be leaving us tomorrow morning; catching the 7:30am bus to Hobart (via every other town in Tasmania it seemed because the trip would be taking her 7 hours !) and from there back to Melbourne, so it would be an early start

For now it’s time to sleep and recharge our batteries

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Rest & Recovery

Rob Latimer