Journey to the Dog Line

Thursday 14 February 2019

Eaglehawk Bay

In preparation for our big day of exploring ashore … or at least the morning … we emptied the “junk” that’s stored in the big dinghy and launched her over the side. 

This would have the dual benefit of ensuring more room and comfort (and less chance of getting wet) for the five of us as we trip to and from the shore, AND give me the chance to test the dinghy to ensure it was working satisfactorily. 

The big dinghy is usually a good place to store some “valuables”
Launching the big dinghy
The morning light made for stunning contrasts of dark and light

Not that there was likely to be a problem, after every part of it – including the motor, rubber floats and aluminium base – were recently given comprehensive services.  But for anyone familiar with Murphy’s Law, trust me, Murphy seems to have a bunk aboard Chimere … that’s why we tend to have so many spare parts and back-up systems … “just in case”.  TWO dinghies for example.

Chimere at anchor off Turners Point, Norfolk Bay

The morning was as still as the evening, with the wind still blowing at around 20 knots, offshore from the west.

We were ashore by 9:45am, and after securing the dinghy to a small public jetty and stacking our lifejackets inside, we set off in search of the Convict Coal Mine and the settlement ruins

Norfolk Bay
All aboard the dinghy and heading to shore for some exploring

There were a few houses clustered on the point, most appearing to be holiday homes, (with million dollar views if located anywhere else) with few signs of life.  The locals we did meet were friendly, with their small dogs raising the usual barking alarm.  But the sight of us five strangers could hardly have been a source of concern dressed as we were in a maritime motif; a mix of spray jackets, shorts and boatie shoes.

“It’s a long walk”, declared a woman behind a picket fence sporting additional blocks of wood and stone here and there, no doubt designed to keep her barking dog from straying.   The dog was a small, yappy thing, with a grey uneven coat.  In making conversation Murray came out with something like … “Your dog’s had a serious hair cut” … “Yes, it’s a bit uneven, the little fella won’t keep still.  I haven’t had a chance to finish the job”  

In the end it was only about a kilometre down the road, with serious tourist signs, information boards and clearly defined paths – apparently it was a “World Heritage Site”

“World Heritage” … apparently.
The dinghy safely tied and anchored at the public jetty

Whilst the bush has done a good job of reclaiming the site, most damage seems to have been done around 100 years ago when the long-abandoned buildings – some of which were substantial in their day – were ransacked and pillaged to build alternative structures elsewhere in the region.  Who wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to grab some free bricks, timber and building material?!

Clearly the appreciation of the site’s historically significant qualities is only a relatively recent phenomenon. 

As the photos show, this was a serious settlement – built to last in quarried sandstone and locally fired bricks – complete with gaol cells, bakehouse, military barracks, engineer’s accommodation, church, train track and coal loading facility.  In the timeline of Australia’s European settlement, this was all being built around 1838, just two years after Melbourne was established and only 50 years after the First Fleet had made its way into Sydney Cove

Location, location, location …
Nice to be free to come and go from the solitary confinement cells…
No chance to appreciate the stunning views ?!
They knew how to build …
More of the cell block
Talk about ya fix-er-uppers … the temptation to cart away free bricks 100 years ago was obviously too great for the locals … particularly from a convict past most at the time were happy to put behind them
“You looking at me?” … local wallabies or pademelons

Whilst the coal mined at the site was of a poor quality it was nonetheless transported for use in Hobart with  the convicts coming from nearby Port Arthur.  As the information signs highlighted, being sent to Port Arthur as a convict was bad enough, but to then be sent to “the coalmine” on the Tasman Peninsular was even worse. 

The gang … Murray, Rob, Mark, Linda and Liz, with the convict settlement ruins behind

One hapless convict, with a brief, but extremely useful, knowledge of mining back in the “home country” couldn’t escape being retained at the mine, despite committing a constant string of crimes that might have had a less “experienced” man hung. 

We returned by the coastal route
The geology looked like paved landscaping
“This way”
“No, this way”
The wind died off in the shadow of the land
Rob and Mark and more of the coastal rocks … or to quote Murray … “sedimentary my dear Watson”

After soaking up the history we were back on board for lunch around 1:00pm, after which we sailed east across Norfolk Bay, with the wind still blowing handily from the west.  Murray maintain a very able hand at the wheel, with our destination and intended anchorage for the night, being Eaglehawk Bay.

Murray holds a straight course

This spot has always held a fascination for me, and a quick look at the map will show why.  Because it is at this point that the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas are separated by a narrow, 100 metre wide, sandy strip of land called Eaglehawk Neck. 

The chart plotter tells it all … Hobart in the top left and our anchorage down the narrow Eaglehawk Bay over on the right – separating the Forestier Peninsular to the north, from the Tasman Peninsular to the south

If you look closely you might see the “1m” depth mark along the Eaglehaw Bay “channel” Eaglehawk Bay separates the Forestier Peninsular to the north, from the Tasman Peninsular to the south

In times past, to the south lay the convict settlement of Port Arthur and to the north lay freedom and the road to Hobart.  So it was that this narrow piece of ground became the home of “The Dog Line” … to prevent convicts from escaping.  The history of the infamous dog-line is worth a look, but these were no show puppies … these were seriously dangerous, ferocious canines with names like … Caeser, Pompey, Ajax, Achilles, Ugly, Mug, Jowler, Tear’em and Muzzle’em …  

Linda and I venture ashore at Eaglehawk Bay to do some exploring

Our journey across Norfolk Bay and down the long narrow Eaglehawk Bay was uneventful, however, there were a few considerations that might have been deterrents.  These included the westerly wind that was blowing up the channel, along with the possible shallow depth in one spot as indicated on the chart plotter.  Just like a land-based topographical map, sea charts show depth contours, with corresponding depths. So the chart plotter shows when you are passing the 10 metre line, or the 5 or 2 metre line … and a glance at Chimere’s depth sounder will confirm this is the case.   By way of background, we need around 1.8-2.0 metres of water to remain “safe” … that is, NOT running aground.  In reality we tend to stay in water that’s 4 metres and above, just to be sure.  That’s why the depth message of 1 metre on the chart towards the end of channel was naturally so disconcerting.  

This seemed strange because none of our cruising guides mentioned “shallow water” as a problem in this location.  In the end we decided to “go for it”, based on the rationale that we were entering on a rising tide, the sea floor was mud and that all depths shown on charts are measured at the very lowest of known historical tides … and this was NOT one of those.  So we were sure we’d be OK … at least as sure as Murphy’s Law would allow. 

This didn’t mean we weren’t just a bit anxious as we approached the designated shallow spot.  Six metres, five metres, four point five … three point five … three metres … and at this point I was wondering … do we reduce speed in order to have a better chance of backing off if we touch bottom … or do we UP the revs and go faster in order to plough our way through the small shallow spot and out into deeper water on the other side.

We kept Murray at the helm, so as to have someone to blame if we ran aground, but in the end the depth remained above 2.5 metres the whole way through.  Good news!   And in answer to the question of whether we slowed down or sped up … I’ll have to leave that one hanging.

Once anchored successfully, the second time (due to falling back the first time into water that was just too shallow for comfort) I went ashore with Linda to do some exploring … including the fascinating and thoughtfully restored Officers Quarters building, again dating from the 1830s

The blackberries next to the Officers Quarters were just too tasty to resist. I snuck out while Linda slowly ready all the information panels inside.
Nice puppy …
The view of Chimere with the Eaglehawk Bay behind

The wind kept up most of the night, but the water remained flat making for another very still night. 

I tried fishing again, but after catching so many small flathead (or the same one over and over again) I gave it up for another day and place.

Our plans tomorrow were to be away around 7:30am on our return to the marina where we’d be spending another night – saying good-bye to Mark, but saying hello to Matt Latimer who’d be flying in late in the evening from Melbourne.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Journey to the Dog Line

Rob Latimer

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