Return to Dover (After 41 years)

Monday 18 February 2019

Port Esperance, Dover

Mickey’s Bay turned out to be a wonderful choice for a still and tranquil night at anchor.

Leaving Mickey’s Bay on Bruny Island – lots of serenity and tranquility

There was absolutely no wind on departure at the relatively late hour of 9:15am.  And a quick look around revealed that most of the other boats had already gone, to who-knows-where.

For us, it WAS to be just a quick jaunt across the Channel to Dover on the mainland, located at the northern end of Port Esperance, which contains three small islands named, quaintly, Hope, Faith and Charity.

For Linda and I this would be a return, after 41 years.  There’s quite a story attached to this.  A story involving the innocence of youth, true love and, you guessed it, a sense of adventure.  But more of that later, right now the plans were about to change.

“We can’t go straight across to Dover”, insisted Linda, our cruise director … “we’ve got to do some sailing first” 

Admittedly, Dover WAS just a few miles across the channel, and there was only so much to explore on foot.

“How about we head down to Southport for lunch, and then come back up to Dover in the afternoon?” I volunteered

With the wind predicted to come in from the West and North West at around 20-30 knots and then 15-25 knots in the evening, both Southport and Dover would provide good shelter.

One extra bonus of Southport, as we discovered, was the Ida Railway.  That’s right a railway, ending at the anchorage of “Deep Hole” at the southern shore of Southport and going for several kilometres through the bush.  This we would have to see.

By 12:00 o’clock we were dropping anchor, lifting the big dinghy over the side and making our way ashore.  In this time the wind went from about 5 knots to 20 knots, but still it was sheltered in our little corner of the Deep Hole.  Our dinghy ride took as around a big sand bar and partly up the Southport Narrows, but pretty quickly we realised, as nice as the bushy surrounds were, there was another couple of miles of this before it opened into an inland lagoon and we’d probably seen enough. 

How good’s this … a railway line next to a beach … just like the island of Sodor! And here’s a point to move this way and back again
All of us waiting for a train that may never come again … Murray, Cathy, Matt, Linda, Liz and Rob
Is it the end of the line for the Ida Bay Railway

Murray, Liz, Linda and Cathy were dropped at the beach to walk back to where Chimere was anchored, leaving Matt and I in the dinghy to return via a deeper route outside the sand bank and nearby Pelican island.

It was around this time – while getting safely out of the dinghy – that the 126-page book called … “Cruising Southern Tasmania” found its way floating to the bottom of the sea, in half a metre of water.  I’d taken the book ashore to assist with locating some of the landmarks, specifically the railway track, and so most of the blame can be sheeted home to me.  It really should have remained on the boat.  But here it was, a sodden wad of paper looking very bedraggled indeed as it was picked up off the sandy sea floor.  

To paraphrase the comments that followed the book-dunking … “oh dear, bother, and blast !!” …  enough said. 

The Ida Railway turned out to be a real surprise and the fact is, for our son Matt, raised on a generous diet of Thomas The Tank Engine, this WAS something of a dream come true.  But who would have thought there’d be a railway meandering through a forest at the remote end of a lonely bay, in kind of a cut-down, poor-man’s version of the Island of Sodor.

The sad news, which we suspected, given the tinge of rust on the top of the tracks and the knee-high bracken, is that the railway is no longer running, even though a quick Google search confidently says that it will be operating in 2019.  A further search revealed that it is now for sale.

So, here’s your opportunity.  If you have ever dreamed of owning and operating a seven-kilometre-long, 2 foot gauge railway so close to the middle of nowhere it’s not funny, then form a queue.  You could become the Fat Controller of the Ida Bay Railway !! To borrow a few lines from some real estate adverts I’ve read in my time … “… first railway-owner’s dream” … “… original condition”  … “opportunity and potential abound”

Back on board for a late lunch, we up-anchored and set a course for Port Esperance and the town of Dover a short distance up the coast. 

Calm and sunny in the morning before it wasn’t in the afternoon.
Ample headroom for Matt if he just spreads his legs …
The famous FOUR … missing 25% of their complement … James
Matt and Cathy out front

Enter at this point Liz … wife of Murray. (And I only mention Murray’s name in passing)  As it turns out Liz has spent most of her working life as a paper conservator, and restorer of old things and archives at the State Library of Victoria, the National Archives of Australia and the Melbourne Museum. 

So it didn’t take Liz long to assume her “work-mode” at the saloon table, delicately placing sheets of paper towel between each of the dripping pages of the book, ensuring they didn’t dry out too fast, or too slow and making especially sure the individual pages didn’t stick to each other – it was like observing a Master at work.  (To complete the story … the good news is that the book, which is a pretty useful resource, still lives and has been restored to near-new condition)

Professional paper conservator, Liz, gets some unexpected work after the local cruising guide took a swim in the water
Linda stays cosy and warm while outside the weather closes in

As we’ve been travelling from place to place, Chimere and particularly her Perkins motor have been performing admirably.  I know it’s a risk saying things like that out loud, but it’s a fact.  One thing that had recently stopped working, however, was the engine rev-counter.  This tells us whether the engine is doing 1200 RPM (revolutions per minute), 1600 RPM, or more.  On its own it’s not really THAT important, because after nearly 13 years I pretty much know the RPM by the sound of the engine.  What IS really important is that the batteries were NOT being charged; as indicated on the battery read-out instrument.  Under “normal” conditions the motor should be putting around 25-30 Amps into the batteries after allowing for the 10 or so Amps we generally suck out of the batteries

This could only mean one thing … the alternator was playing up … actually NOT working to be more precise.  Now, whilst I’m pretty handy with most things, engine and electrical maintenance are NOT my super-powers.   But after turning OFF the motor (I know enough not to work on an operating engine) I lifted the saloon floor panels and as the captain did what was within my power … I directed Matt to inspect the alternator.  I remained close at hand of course in case he was to be electrocuted, or needed assistance/resuscitation.  But pretty quickly he had isolated the problem and had re-clamped a loose wire with the aid of some pliers.  These were replaced with one of his knitting needles (yes, you read correctly, he’s a very multi-skilled lad) after some SPARKS caused him to drop the pliers (very quickly) into the bilge.  Apparently the plastic knitting needles don’t conduct electricity like metal pliers … Matt’s an engineer, so he’s up with these things.

Shall I hold the torch … Matt diagnoses a lose wire, much to the relief of all
I think I’ll use my knitting needle this time …

The engine back in operation again and with lots of Amps now going into the batteries, (and the REV counter working again) we made our final approach to Dover, passing to the east of all three islands … Faith, Hope and Charity.  Then, from a long way out we could see lots of white caps on the water ahead, causing us to shorten sail in anticipation. 

What followed was a “very brisk” ride up Port Esperance to our night’s anchorage, healing over from time to time as the wind gusts descended on us from the surrounding hills above Dover.

The view from the cosy cockpit
Sunny AND brisk
Can’t have a rainbow without the rain
Murray held a good course, while the autohelm became “unreliable”
The final approach to Dover through Port Esperance just seemed to get windier and windier
More rain on the way
Another rainbow – sitting on top of a vessel entering port

The cruising guide (yep, the one Liz was trying hard to resurrect) showed where the preferred anchorages were, with some spots better than others.  We, however, had our sights set on one particular spot, just near town, close to the RSL Club high on the hill.

After much puttering around we finally found a suitable spot to drop the pick, in 12 metres of water, just outside the line of moorings.  The cruising guide, in describing this location said it was “steep to” … the translation being that it’s deeper than you’d generally prefer; which is probably half that at 6 metres, given the choice.  So after finding a reasonably level piece of sea-floor (by means of the depth sounder) we laid out about 50 metres of chain, plus the snubber and set the anchor alarm on the chart plotter as is our custom.

The black line shows our track in finding a suitable anchorage

It was then time to journey ashore in the dinghy, which we had been towing astern since Southport, for our dinner appointment at the local RSL club, referred to variously on a website as … “the social heart of Dover, with a wide range of facilities to welcome locals, tourists and travelers alike.”

After making it ashore, our Google Map App suggested it would take 10 minutes to walk to the RSL, round the road to the right then up the hill on the footpath.  But there was a boardwalk to the left, and we could see the club house with satellite dish on the roof on top, just above us.  How hard could it be?  We’d save minutes if we went that way?!   A few minutes later, having walked along the manicured boardwalk, we all crossed the road and looked up … “you can’t be serious??”  said Linda.  I’m not sure what Liz said, I was already bounding up the loose rock and grassy escarpment towards the foundation stumps of the RSL club.  Attempting to forge a path with visible ease in an effort to encourage the others to follow.

I’ve probably said enough at this point, but the good news is that we ALL finally made it up the steep embankment and through the line of bottlebrush bushes next to the bowling green to the front door of the RSL club … probably in no more than 8 minutes?!

It was Matt who suggested we notify Google Maps of this new, alternate route, they could perhaps incorporate it into future updates.

It should be noted that Murray was concerned about the dress-code after making our way up the cliff and through the foliage, but Matt assured him that if they didn’t let us, we’d already had a good night !

Dressed as we were in wet weather gear and life-jackets – sporting a fashion “Rescue Motif” – we looked very much like we’d landed from another planet. It took some time to disrobe in an attempt to look more presentable before going in, with Linda and Liz’s ear rings adding a certain sophistication I thought – real classy.

Heading to shore … Liz, Matt, Linda, Cathy and Murray
Tied up at the Dover launching ramp
The anchorage below the RSL club Dover
You don’t travel light when coming from a boat … especially when the weather is so changeable
Dinner at the Dover RSL, (again after 41 years) Cathy, Murray, Matt, Liz, Linda and Rob

But why the desire to have dinner at the Dover RSL? 

Well it goes back to February 1978, when as an eighteen-year-old lad, having just completed my HSC (Year 12) I was sailing with my father Bill and brother Andrew around Bass Strait and the waters of Tasmania aboard the family’s 29-foot yacht, Arawa

Then to my surprise, about 2 months into the voyage, my girlfriend Linda (now my wife), plus my mum and Andrew’s wife Nila, flew down to join us; each of us taking it in turns to either sail around the D’Entrecasteaux channel or tour inland in a car.  It was a wonderful time, full of great memories, one of which originates right here at Dover, when Linda, my father and I were by chance spending a night aboard the small yacht tied to the Dover jetty after a brisk day’s sail.

I remember saying at the time, something like … “Dad, Linda and I are going for a walk up to town to stretch our legs and see if we can find a public toilet” 

“Why don’t you use the toilet on board”, dad offered helpfully.  “I think Linda would prefer to use one onshore”, I replied … “Okay, I’ll mind the fort”, said dad, or something to that effect.

Stepping up onto the pier, Linda and I walked the short distance to the Caravan Park, and with hopeful expectations were informed that it was only for “guests”.  Not to be deterred we walked on and soon found a small boy who seemed a wealth of knowledge on the towns hotels and clubs and where we might find a toilet we could use.  His last suggestion was the local RSL and because it was the closest we headed off there. 

On arrival, we were approaching the side door, when we were met by an older couple (everyone seemed older when you’re only 18) who, unbeknownst to us, were leaving.  “Do you think we could come inside and use the toilets?” we asked innocently … “SURE, come inside, we’ll show you where they are”, came the reply.  Gee, they seem very friendly and welcoming I thought.  Little did we know.

As for Linda, the lady escorted her to the toilet, all-the-while feeding her marital advice and standing so close inside the toilet that she eventually lost the urge.  Meanwhile I’m “bonding” in friendly banter with the husband over a beer and it’s at this point I began to think … “this guy has had a little too much to drink … in fact I think he might be intoxicated”.  Being the good Methodist lad that I am, I had not experienced many drunk people, but the slurred words, loudness of voice and lack of inhibitions,were clues that even I could discern. 

Linda returned from the toilet making discrete faces to me suggesting we should LEAVE, and SOON, which after 36 years of marriage I can more clearly interpret now.

Then came the cross-examination … “So, where you from?”, said the man … “Oh, we’re off a yacht down at the jetty” I said … the wife then responded … “You run-aways then?  Nowhere to go??  That’s settled, you coming back to our place!!”

The man continued … “Yeh, we got a farm, I work at the mill, but we got country cooking, chooks, bacon, eggs, that’s settled, you coming back to our place.”  “You can have your own room” … said the woman.,

Looking back now, I can’t recall exactly what this chap looked like, but I know he was big and his wife was small.  He also kept ordering a lot of beers and on one occasion, and I swear this is true, he was talking to me while simultaneously pouring beer down the lapel of his jacket – I kid you not. 

I then discovered that RSL clubs have a ceremony each night in remembrance of fallen soldiers … “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning etc” … well I remember at some stage things went quiet and I was directed to stand along with everyone else and it was after this that the big man had to finally go to the toilet.  Linda and the woman also went again around this time, leaving me alone. 

“Have you been signed in?” asked a nice man, whom I later learned was the club president.  “What does that mean?” I asked innocently.  “Here, I’ll just write your names in the book, it’s just something we need to do for visitors … where you from”.   I calmly explained … “Linda and I are staying on a yacht down at the wharf and we seem to be stuck in here and can’t get away”

The man returned from the toilet at this time and seeing that I was being signed in by someone else … when clearly we were HIS guests … he exclaimed for everyone to hear – no inhibitions !! – “I COULD HAVE DONE THAT !!  I COULD HAVE SIGNED YOU IN !!”

Seeing that it wasn’t going to get any better for me and Linda, and probably knowing this couple more than most, the president, who I learned tonight by the photos on the wall of the RSL club was a certain Mr Swan, (the elder) said to Linda and I as he bustled us to the front door just next to the sign-in book… (which is still there in the same place) “Okay, it’s time to go, I’ll give you a lift in my car”

It was at this point things began to go even crazier … thinking we were being evicted and after deciding in their OWN minds that we were going back to THEIR place to enjoy good ol’ fashioned country hospitality … the couple went berserk, with the main focus on the woman who started yelling “NO NO NO NO !!!” at the top of her voice. 

Once out on the front steps … the same front steps Linda and I stood on tonight … the lady grabbed our wrists with each hand and squeezed as tight as she could, all the while yelling repeatedly “NO NO NO NO”

As I stood on the steps of the Dover RSL club tonight the memory came flooding back in all clarity, of prising each of the lady’s fingers from my wrist and the white marks it left from her grip.  Then we were bundled into Mr Swan’s Holden car while the couple cursed and swore their way to their car vowing never to return and that they would stay in Cygnet in future their local club … they weren’t even from Dover! Given their state of inebriation, I’m amazed now that they could find their car, let alone drive it.

I remember the President apologising and being so helpful as we stepped back down onto our boat – by now it was dark … “You’ve been a long time” said dad … he probably then said something like … “I’ve made dinner, it’s a nice curry … Maharajah’s Choice “

I remember at the time falling asleep soon after, Linda, however, woke at every noise on the wharf above, thinking it was the couple returning to take us away…

So, THAT’S why we just had to return to Dover, specifically the Dover RSL. 

As for tonight’s dinner, it was a magnificent meal, and it was a real thrill to return and relive some very strong memories from the legendary past !

The front steps are just as we remember them
The woman squeezed our wrists and yelled … “NO NO NO NO” … and would NOT let go. As far as she was concerned we were “runaways” and going back to her place … no question
We were innocent and concerned at the time but now we can laugh about the unique experience
A 17 year old Linda (Phillips), 41 years ago, aboard the Latimer’s 29 foot family yacht Arawa sailing with (boyfriend) Rob (that’s me) and dad (Bill) near Port Esperance and the town of Dover, Feb 1978 – the small islands of Faith and Charity in the background
Isn’t that a cute hermit crab ? Found and photographed at Dover 1978

Returning to Chimere, like most people rarely return home from a night out, we motored back in the dinghy in the near-dark to one of Linda’s lovely dessert creations …ice cream, chocolate brownies and peaches, a saving of $7:50/head!

Back to our dinghy for the return to Chimere
We made it back to Chimere before it got seriously dark

Meanwhile, on board Chimere, the wind just kept howling – all night – and while checking the anchor throughout the night I also checked the Met’s Wind Observations at nearby Cape Bruny, which showed gusts of up to 51 knots on several occasions in the early morning.  I could well believe it. 

Still, for us, the sea was calm, the anchor was well dug in and it was snug and warm inside, even though the wind howled outside.

Smooth seas, fair breeze and Return to Dover (After 41 years)

Rob Latimer


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