Catching the wind

Saturday 9 March 2019
Chimney Corner, Three Hummock Island
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 lens” 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


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