Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Launceston / Tasmania

31/1/16 – 7/4/16

On board Calista we seem to live by maps, charts and the like, so it is a shameful admission that snugged securely in at the Beauty Point Marina in the Tamar, we had not really appreciated that instead of Launceston being “just down the road”, in reality it was about 50 km away, making a bus trip into town into an expedition, and leaving us, in a sense, marooned. A check of the weather patterns suggested that a series of fronts would impact Tasmanian waters, either fleetingly or significantly, so we would be in Beauty Point for a few days at least. With this in mind we started to look at options beyond the marina compound and consider some possibilities.

Misty sun rise at Beauty Point Marina

In truth Cookie was already on to it. A hire car, a cheapie if we could find one, would fit the bill, just nicely, and might give us a chance to see a bit of Tassie while we were in port, certainly more than we could experience from the marina. In a trice, armed with the local bus timetable, and armed with the results of her vehicular sleuthing, she was off on the omnibus, trundling into “Lonnie” as the locals refer to their city on the Tamar. I mused about what she would re-emerge with, because in terms of putting our show on the road, Cookie is the ultimate wheeler dealer.

In the meantime I had some personal nostalgia to attract my attention. In the 1950’s the remote and rugged South Coast of SA’s Kangaroo Island was a last frontier for fishermen, as they were called before the correctness of politics.. My mother was Dorothy (Dolly) Buick, from the pioneering KI Buick family, and my uncle Nigel, had plans to go cray and shark fishing beyond Cape Willoughby, in his 42foot boat Emu Bay. Our family ran a seasonal Guest House, Maryland at Port Elliot, and my father Joe, being a seafarer to his core, was persuaded to join Nigel to head south of the island. Dad fished with Nigel for some years, before returning home to full time employment, and Nigel continued on to become a leading figure in the KI fishing industry, as a fisher and fish processor for diverse local and overseas markets. Nigel was truly one of SA’s fishing pioneers.
Lady Buick

In the late 1960’s Nigel embarked on the ambitious project of constructing, at Port Adelaide, the grand Lady Buick, which, when launched, became the undisputed queen of the KI fishing fleet. Later, Nigel’s retirement from fishing saw the Lady Buick sold and sadly move out of SA waters. Now, to my great surprise, as we eased into Beauty Point, there she lay, the Lady Buick, in new livery and looking as grand as ever. Although now for sale, she was still at work in the crayfish industry, with her heavy wooden frame having withstood decades at sea, and looking good for many more sea miles to come. When we had left Backstairs Passage and with Cape Willoughby astern of us I had cast a long look down the KI coast to Cape Hart and beyond and thought of Nigel, dad, the old Emu Bay and the Lady Buick. Dad would have loved what we are now doing on Calista.  About that there is no doubt. Now here she was at Beauty Point, the Lady Buick, having stood the test of time as Nigel had always intended that she would. It was wonderful to see her and to go aboard once more.

My thoughts of other times were put aside, when, with a flash of white, if not a scattering of gravel, Biggles was back. Cookie had scooped the pool. She was stepping out of an incredibly svelte VW Polo, complete with more bells and whistles than any car we had ever driven, and all for a smidgin’ over $200, if we wanted it for a week. “You could drive it to Mars on a cup of cooking oil” was the message. Cookie the wheeler dealer! Now we could lift our eyes to the horizon, and Tasmania was at our mercy, provided we could bear the parting from our vessel for a couple of sunsets.

On the ship’s table we lay out the map of Tassie and realised that we were only a couple of hours down the highway from Hobart, where we could call in and see our ex SA friends, Craig and Margie off Force Majeure, take a look at their fine new home overlooking Storm Bay, check out the marine possibilities in the D’entrecasteaux Channel area south of Hobart, and take a whistle-stop whip around the East coast on our way back to Launceston. Wow. This would give us a chance to connect with some fine friends, and gain some appreciation of some places in Tasmania that were on our “list to see” when we headed for southern Tassie waters, hopefully, in the longer days of the summer coming. Neither of us could claim any personal knowledge of the Apple Isle apart from our appreciation of its unsurpassed wilderness areas, its stunning coastline and its ever challenging weather. We have a fondness for capturing the possibilities of the unplanned moment. How long did it take to call Margie, throw some things in a portmanteau, and hit the road? If this was an event at Rio, we would have medalled.
Our new friend Lionel

On our way out we called in to see caretaker Lionel about our plans, and he shuffled, with something on his mind. He confessed that we’d be seeing more of Tassie than he has in his lifetime. Then in a lowered, conspiratorial tone, he admitted that he avoids “going south”. “There’s northern Tasmania and southern Tasmania, you see, and we don’t always see eye to eye” was his confession to us both. Yes, they make Cascade beer in Hobart and you won’t find it “on tap” up north.  They make Boag’s beer in Launceston and you won’t find it “on tap” down south – for reasons best known to Tasmanians. Blame isolation in another era. Blame human nature. Blame too many hard winters.

At one time in our lives we found it hard bypass a surf shop, and now we are the same with marine chandleries.  Being fond of chandleries is an expensive habit but we are impossibly fallible in this regard. In our incredibly sprightly Polo we were southbound on a mission but still found time to be tantalised by the offerings at Tamar Marine, on the outskirts of Launceston, and one of the finest chandleries we have seen, anywhere. It is fortunate that we were shy of time because a longer stay might have seen us putting an urgent call to our fund manager!

Not far out of “Lonnie” we came to a curious halt. A large number of people dressed in the livery of motor companies but apparently not being paid to do so, had gathered in a paddock that now had sprouted tents and a grandstand for what the official informed us was a V8 Supercar event. The attendees in their red and blue uniforms were apparently there to watch cars drive around for two days .With not a Polo in sight we figured that we were out of our depth and should keep heading south.

About half way to Hobart we passed through Campell Town. We wondered if there was a pub there that had both Cascade and Boag’s on tap, but did not stop to see. A couple of aged towns and historic bridges later the looming shadow of Mt Wellington assured us that Hobart Town was indeed not far away.

Constitution Dock Hobart

There are many things that one can and maybe should do, or see in Hobart, but we were focussed on just two. How many times had we seen footage of the finish of the Sydney Hobart Yacht race, when the steeds of the sea finally extinguished their sails and with fanfare to match eased up to Constitution Dock? We wanted to go to Constitution Dock, just to see it for ourselves, albeit minus the spraying beer and the volleys of champagne corks. Strolling along the gnarled and famous pier we had to pinch ourselves, as not only were we actually here, but the day was a clinker and the good folk of Hobart plus a legion of visitors were celebrating the warmth of the autumnal sun, and had retrieved shorts and t-shirts from deep in cupboards to celebrate.

View from Mt wellington before it disappeared !

Overhead, though, Mount Wellington both loomed and beckoned. We wanted to head to its lofty summit from where one can literally see for miles and miles, way out to the rugged Tasman Peninsula and almost to lands where you can find Boag’s on tap. Compared with The Nut at Stanley, our ascent of Mt Wellington was both soft and luxurious, as thanks to some astute engineering in the 1930’s, we could now drive up, up, and up some more all the way to the top. We have a healthy respect for the changeability of Tasmanian weather, and maybe the Weather Gods, were keen to send a message to us, underlined, bold and in italics. No sooner had we alighted from our fatherland conveyance, than a rolling and ominous curtain of clouds threatened the peak from the west and, sensing its malevolent intent, sought immediate shelter. From a hardy glass conservatory, the view that we had so eagerly sought was lost; in cloud, then rain, then hail, then sleet…then…snow!!! Yes, cotton wool flurries scattering in the wind and scattering the tourists. The temperature had plunged to 2degrees C atop the mountain. We have received the message about Tasmanian weather. Yes, we have taken serious note.

Later at Craig and Margie’s, just a half an hour away. We looked back at the summit and all was clear in the afternoon sun. We could feel the mountain mocking us, warning us maybe. Come and visit, but be warned! Don’t take Tasmania for granted.
Wonderful view from Craig & Margie's house

Blackmans Bay from Craig & Margie's balcony

Craig assured that owing to the topography of Hobart shores, many Taswegians enjoyed a spectacular view like the one they now enjoyed. All the same, their picture perfect panorama across Storm Bay and the fabled Iron Pot to the Tasman Peninsula more than made up for what had disappeared into the clouds up on Mount Wellington. Then as we noshed over some succulent home grown curries, Margie announced that, if we placed ourselves in their hands, a tour on the morrow to the waterways abeam of Bruny Island, including the magnificent D’entrecasteaux Channel, the port of Kettering and much, much more might be a fine way to fill in a Sunday. Indeed! Indeed!

We will let our images from this stellar day tell its story, except to add there were two circumstances from back in SA waters that we found in the superb harbour of Kettering. First, was that we got to see Sara 2 , the fine Duncanson 35 yacht, that Craig and Margie had spruced for sale with the arrival of Force Majeure. Sara 2 was looking a treat and would make a worthy purchase for anyone keen on embarking on a cruising life. We had shared some fine times on Sara 2 and Calista, especially in Port Lincoln waters, and it was great to see Sara 2 again. May she find some new owners just like Craig and Margie.
Great to see Ray again!

Serendipity, serendipity of the sea! Deny it at your peril. There, to our astonishment was an old friend from another time, Ray Snook, afloat on his boat, next to Sara 2 right there in Kettering. We had known Ray when we first took our 26’ trailerable yacht Crystal Voyager to the blue water at Wirrina from the brown of Goolwa. We tried at the time to reassure Ray that, with care, he could sail the seas. Well, he did, and here he was, here in far off Kettering. Seeing Ray again was a highlight in a day that had too many highlights to calculate.

Here are some images from our Sunday, south of Hobart.

Our day starts with a swim at Blackmans Bay

One of the numerous wonderful anchorages in the D'entrecasteaux Channel, Charlotte Bay

Endless rustic charm


Franklin on the Huon River,home of wooden boatbuilding

A coffee at Mt Nelson lookout with Craig & Margie at the end of our tour

Next day as Craig and Margie headed to their new places of employ, and with our grateful thanks for their kind hospitality, we hit the road. Our goal was to see as many anchorages and places of marine interest as we could, up the East Coast of Tasmania before sunset. If we could, we’d try and squeeze in a lap through the Tasman Peninsula, and then on up to Triabunna, Swansea, Bicheno and on up to St Helens, taking in the Freycinet Peninsula and Maria island just for good measure. We doubt that a barnstorming US politician could have kissed more babies and licked more ice creams than the coves, embayments, marinas, wharves, jetties, headlands and islands that we saw that day. Making St Helens just on nightfall, and securing some modest accommodation for the night capped a day with many images. Here is a selection…

The Dunalley Channel
Ocean side view from Eaglehawk Neck

Inland waterway view at Eaglehawk Neck

The Freycinet Peninsula
Modest accommodation but nice view ( & nice car ) over the harbour at St Helens

The new day presented us with the opportunity to see a little of the hugely popular Bay of Fires coastal area, north of St Helens before we literally headed for the hills. The main drag over the ranges through to Scottsdale and to Bridport on the NE coast takes in a slice of Tasmania’s extraordinarily beautiful temperate forest country. It is not possible, in our view, to emerge from these dappled and exquisite forest glades without a conviction that these special places are national treasures that must be preserved. Surely their staggering natural beauty must place them beyond the needs and the grasp of us humans. Surely.

Bay of Fires

From the sea to the forests

Beyond the town of George Town, which did little, we admit, to quicken our pulses, we found the fascinating Low Head Light station and Pilot facility, steeped in history and thankfully well preserved for all to enjoy. The Pilot and Light Keepers quarters can now be rented, much as some of the facilities at some light houses in SA. On another occasion it would be fascinating to take digs out at Low Head, maybe in the depths of winter with a blazing fire warming the cockles of the heart.

Low Head Lighthouse

Seeing Low head, and remembering our passage into the Tamar just days earlier, was a salient reminder that it was time to get back to our ship, and think carefully about our next passage, back out of the Tamar and across Bass Strait to Eden in New South Wales. This was a voyage that would require us to be on our mettle in guiding Calista through these complex waters. The first thing was to identify a window of weather that would allow us to complete a safe crossing of this notorious waterway. Then, we would embark on two days and nights at sea, with no moon to light our way. Enough, maybe, to give anyone the Hebe jeebies!



  1. Beautifully written Colin - I'm always impatient for the next installment!

  2. C&C when next in PL, you should look at a "history of wooden cray boats that fished KI", Ross Haldane showed me as my uncle knew the Rumbelows in Victor