Launceston to Eden
7/4/16 – 9/4/16
The BOM Bass Strait weather bulletins said it all. Above the daily wind wave and swell forecasts for the areas through which we were planning to sail, under Weather Situation, is found a description of the main weather features impacting a region. The advance of a “vigorous cold front”, for example, would see one heading for refuge or staying in port until it passed. The Weather Situation notes had been daunting, pointing to a large area of low pressure off the Antarctic coast (!!) that had spawned a series of cold fronts, to impact Tasmanian waters; a bit like a Mafia Boss sending off his goons to rough up those not paying their dues. Also in marine forecasts is found the disclaimer that “wind gusts may be up to 40 per cent stronger than the averages given here, and waves may be up to twice the height’. Those who know Bass Strait think that this disclaimer was born in these waters.
We use a number of BOM tools to guide our passages at sea. They include Marine Wind, MetEye, Interactive Weather and Wave Forecast Maps (for a 7-day isobar pattern analysis) , the specific 3-day area forecasts as above, and a valuable tool called Coastal Observations, that gives up to the minute wind readings for key coastal locations around the Australian coastline. Safely anchored in the Tamar, for example, we could watch a system pass through and see the winds that were actually generated out at sea, in places including: King Island, Hogan Island (middle of Bass Strait), Flinders Island, Gabo Island off the Victorian / NSW border, Low Head, at the head of the Tamar, and our notorious friend, Cape Grim, on Tasmania’s remote NW coast. Watching wind readings at Hogan Island, with the passage of a front makes for sobering viewing for small vessel operators like us.
|Interactive weather chart|
Then, out of the grey, not blue, an opportunity emerged. Between two systems a dedicated westerly was predicted for Bass Strait that should allow us to leave the Tamar “on the back” of one system, ride it for two days, and then sneak around Gabo Island and up the southern coast of NSW to Eden before the next burst from the Southern Ocean. That was the theory, anyway. So, we readied Calista to go and slept on it, or rather slept lightly on it because out in the strait at Hogan Island, on the eve of departure, winds were still gusting to gale in ferocity. The forecast was for the winds to settle, so, having to wait until mid-morning to manage the tide, we would have the chance to double and triple check the observations before we put to sea.
So after farewelling Lionel and casting a longing look at the Lady Buick, we made our way out into the Tamar, and then on to Low Head and the open sea. We were not the only ones making for Bass Strait, as just behind us a big ship was heading out from Bell Bay, and making for the Eastern States. We wondered if their crew sweated on the morning forecasts as we had!
|Farewell Low Head & the Tamar River|
There is nothing like wind and swell to remind one that you are at sea. True to the forecast though, the westerly was in, giving us a chance to set a friendly sail pattern, one that gave us good boat speed without being overpowered. The “balance” is felt through the helm, and if the helm is hard to manage, then the sails need adjusting. We found that a reefed main and about a ¾ headsail gave us a good “feel” at the wheel and allowed us to engage our Fleming Wind vane, to steer us on a prescribed course whilst we sheltered in the cockpit. If the wind held from the west, and the Fleming (we call the vane “Kev” after Port Lincoln’s Kevin Fleming, the marine genius who invented this self-steering marvel) did its work, we should be free of duties on the wheel as we set up our “watches”. There were other benefits as well, as out to sea the top-sea was unfriendly in the wake of the recent weather, and with thumping regularity a wave hit our side and anyone at the wheel would have scored a drenching. Moving around, and making or getting things from below was not easy, and protracted activities below such as fixing a plot on the paper chart could bring on that feeling of feeling “odd”. For the record, whilst we have both been seasick before, and know that this is an awful affliction, we have not been ill on board our ship, and whenever we feel “off” we take, as recommended by a sailor we met at Bustard Head in Queensland, an off the shelf medication called Avil. So far Avil seems to work for us, and may it continue to do so.
With the coast of Tasmania disappearing as though it was punctured and losing air, and with the boat sailing nicely, there was little scope for complacency because there were dangers laying ahead. Our original plan was to sail from the Tamar to the Furneaux Group of islands off Tasmania’s NE coast, of which Flinders and Cape Barren islands are clearly the largest, with a range of potential anchorages to boot. The vagaries of the weather however did not permit this although sailors with local knowledge might have gone there anyway. Further out lay the more desirable Deal Island in the Kent Group, which is manned by volunteers on behalf of Victorian Parks. We might have headed there but, in theory, one needs permission from the Victorian authorities to go ashore. Given the brevity of the weather window we resolved to pass between Flinders and Deal islands, before bearing away to the eastern end of Bass Strait. This path however left us with the task of negotiating our way between the scattered islands and rocks that dot this region, and to do so at night.
|Great to be sailing!|
With a greater reliance on electronic charts in this era of technology linked to voyaging, it would be easy to make piloting errors on the electronic chart and imperil both ship and crew in the process. The speediest way north of Flinders Island, for instance leaves one exposed to the danger of hitting Frankland Rock which would lie directly on this path. On the electronic chart, this nasty obstacle appears on some scales but not on others, but we were mindful of it because it is apparent on the paper chart, and looked for it on the electronic version. Because we were cautious about currents that beset the coast of Flinders Island we selected a passage a little further out to sea, leaving Warrego Rock to starboard, Bass Pyramid and Wakitipu Rock to port, before dodging between Beagle Rock and Craggy Island, in the early hours of the new day. Craggy Island, at least, is lit and this would give us some form of reassuring confirmation that we were where we were supposed to be, as we passed by. Besides, with our pattern of two-hour watches in place, Cookie would have to manage the piloting between Beagle and Craggy before we were free of the islands and making for the open waters of Eastern Bass Strait. I would be asleep, below.
With the dawn, and with the faint outline of Flinders Island and Outer Sister islands away to starboard, the westerly had softened, the sea had settled and there was evidence aplenty that the selection of this passage was working in our favour. Because we were remote from the services of either Tasmanian or Victorian VHF Marine Rescue services, we had instigated a daily connection with VMC Radio Charleville via HF Radio to report our position, status and progress, just to ensure that an official body knew of our passage and were monitoring our progress. We plan to have a daily contact or sked when crossing the Tasman and to us crossing Bass Strait was a good time to test this service and our HF equipment. As the day progressed, however, there was a growing need to be alert to the presence of big ships, making their way both east and west through Bass Strait, tracking around the restricted areas of the Oil and Gas fields. As the airs softened, our apparent wind reading (if the wind is behind us at 10 knots, and we are travelling at 5 knots the ‘apparent’ wind is 5 knots over our deck) fell and “Kev”, lost interest in steering our ship. By late afternoon we had squeezed all we could out of the breeze and as Cookie’s fine veggie pastas slid into our oven we engaged the motor plus the wheel autopilot and settled in to our second night at sea.
|Traffic at sunset|
Just when we wanted the wheel autopilot to work like a charm, it failed. This left me steering whist Cookie headed for the Pilot Manual, and soon diagnosed the problem as a slipping drive belt. With manual in one hand and allen key in the other, the belt was adjusted – how it had come loose we will never know – and piloting machinery and motor were again in equilibrium, along with the crew. Our course through the night was to the inside of the New Zealand Star Bank, a rocky shelf that according to the chart “breaks in heavy weather”. We have no desire at all to see the New Zealand Star Bank in its foaming fury, unless it is from the deck of a ship that is far greater than 36’ in length.
The 2am to 4am watch can be harsh, but with big ships around and the loom of fishing boats with their bright lights over the horizon there were things aplenty to occupy one’s mind. On this watch, though, I was scouring the horizon off our port bow until, there, faint at first, it was. Point Hicks was the first land spotted on the Australian coast by the crew of Cook’s Endeavour, in 1770. Here, 246 years later, it was not the good Midshipman Hicks, but a crewmember of Calista to record the sighting. The Lighthouse at Point Hicks flashes twice in 10 seconds, and there it was, where it should have been, with us set to see the coast of the mainland at dawn, off Rame and Little Rame Heads in the new day.
|Great to be passing Gabo|
There is a sense of relief we think, for all seafarers in small boats when Gabo Island draws alongside and Bass Strait is left astern. The gales that this sturdy pinnacle and its clutch of keeper’s cottages have endured over time defy contemplation. What it must have been like in the tower during a fully- fledged tempest can only be imagined. Ahead, as the bow is turned to the north, lay the windswept dunes of Cape Howe and the regal Lighthouse at Green Cape before the famous sea port of Twofold Bay emerged from the haze. The southern coast of New South Wales is a delight to behold, and especially from out at sea where the vistas are uniquely the province of sea-voyagers like ourselves. Unlike in South Australia, where, the business of growing crops led to whole scale land clearance, and an arboreally challenged landscape, the dappled forests of the NSW coast flow down to caress the capes, garnish the hinterlands and bedeck the bays. Much of the coast remains as Midshipman Hicks, his famous Captain and the great botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, would have seen it all those years ago. May it long remain so.
|Entering the anchorage at East Ben Boyd Bay|
|Cheers! We made it safely across Bass Strait!|
The truth was, however, there was something else on our minds that had been causing us unease, a problem on board that urgently needed attention. Seeking a solution to it might mean us not lingering to enjoy the attractions of Eden and Twofold Bay. It, plus the forecast of some obtuse weather on the way, had us doing the last thing that was on our mind, the setting of an early alarm to head north, out to sea and away from Twofold Bay.