Wednesday, March 30, 2016

King Island to Launceston 
28/3/16 – 31/3/16

Sliding out of Grassy Harbour presented few of the hurdles that we had faced on the way in. There were no rain squalls to impair our visibility, and although cloudy, the wind had softened and we had soon retraced our steps to the open sea. A warming coffee and two of Cookie’s peerless cheese and tomato jaffles, hot from the galley, had fortified us before we slipped from the security of Bear’s mooring.
Passing Frog Rock on our way out of Grassy Harbour

As King Island receded in our wake, our early hopes of a lively sail across the 47nm passage to Three Hummock Island were foiled by the light airs close to the coast, before in waters open to the pulse of the Southern Ocean we sensed the winds lift along with the swell. We were galvanised into activity as now it was time to unfurl our equipment and show how Calista could carve through the billows. If you could book an optimum sailing breeze, like the fabled porridge, not too much of one, too little of another, then this was it. Too good was this to be left in the hands of mechanical devices: it was a case of the crew scrambling for a “turn” at the wheel, with cool wind in our hair, and bumps rising on the horizon that became Hummocks as the day progressed. We had waited for a passage like this.
On approach to Three Hummocks

Our early plan was to make for the spacious and sandy anchorage of East Telegraph Bay, but Mary’s forecast update had a light southerly setting in overnight, so we settled on the Mermaid Bay anchorage on the northern coast of Three Hummock Island. As we drew near there were unmistakeable similarities between the coastline of Three Hummocks and that of the Jessieu Peninsula, stretching from Cape Donnington to Memory Cove out from Port Lincoln. Our ground tackle rattled out into excellent holding in the bay, and with shadows lengthening, we opted to enjoy the delights of this place from our cockpit vantage point, rather than marshal a hasty trip ashore. As the day became evening we had hoped for the beam of the Cape Rochon Light on the nearby headland to illume the gloom, but its beam is directional and we could detect no trace of it from the snugness of our anchorage. Into the evening and throughout the night Fairy Penguins pierced the air with their discordant carolling, and we wondered when they ever slept. Here there are many Fairy Penguins and few seals. At home there are now many seals and now few penguins. The lament about our disappearing penguin populations at home is explained by what we have observed here. We have joined the dots.

Securely anchored in Mermaid Bay

Again the redoubtable Mary’s weather report confirmed most of what we feared was about to unfold, along the North-West Coast of Tassie. The infamous Cape Grim where the wind always howls lay only miles away and approaching weather from the Southern Ocean would mean that for seafarers new to the area, it would be prudent to make for a secure mainland port before conditions collapsed. The good thing though, was that if we were nimble, we could fit in a whistle-stop visit to the historic port of old Stanley town before making for the security of the Beauty Point Marina on Launceston’s Tamar River ahead of the change to come.  All of this meant that a land exploration of Three Hummocks would have to be shelved, if we were to make it to Stanley in time to sup on its renowned delights. This meant, too, an early get-up and a hasty gulp of cereals instead of the preferred jaffles, before putting to sea.
Leaving Mermaid Bay

With Cape Rochon rounded, we set to sea into a wind that was niggardly of direction and a sea state confused by an ebbing tide. The currents around Hunter and Three Hummock Islands are well known for their contrary nature, and it seemed to us that on this morning the currents were every bit contrary as though they were issuing a cautionary message to visitors like us. What was clear however was that we would not need to deploy our arsenal of electronic equipment to find the port of Stanley on the map. The town huddles in the shadow of a long extinct volcanic plug, called “The Nut”, which is clearly visible for miles and miles away. There, to be sure was The Nut, like an inverted bowler hat, prominent and unmistakeable, off our bow, even though it was over 30 miles away. What we needed to do was to proceed with as much haste as we could muster so that we could tether in the harbour and see if a scaling of The Nut, plus a lap of the town could be achieved in daylight hours.

On approach to the Nut and Stanley
The Nut

Unfortunately, coming into the Stanley Harbour, carries with it some unique challenges of its own, which were likely to run contrary to our desire to tie up and quickly head into town. The harbour, cosy in nature, comes with a pinch of the random as a visiting yacht cannot see where a tie up to the wharf might be possible until actually in the harbour. This means that setting up mooring lines, either on the port or starboard side of the ship, might not suit what is on offer there. In addition, Stanley has significant tidal variation of at least three metres, so that mooring lines when in place need to be of sufficient length to accommodate all points of the tide. Then, because a tie-up to jetty piles is mandatory, a barge board to protect a vessel from abrasion is a standard requirement in this harbour. Whilst all this took precious time to manage when we arrived, tying up in Stanley was free, and there were good folk ashore happy to help with our lines.
Entering Stanley harbour & safely secured to the wharf

With the day in decline and Calista secure, we set about a Stanley reconnoitre, including an attempt on The Nut, minus crampons, ropes, and oxygen. After what had been, we will admit, a hurried passage and a convoluted arrivals process, we were off into town. Immediately we dropped back through some gears, captured by the unhurried pace of this historic and homely outpost.

Charming historic Stanley

There is more than a pinch of the frontier about Stanley, being as approximate as it is to Tasmania’s wild, Wild West. Care has been taken to preserve the character of the town and the streetscapes are a delight to behold. Stay away from Stanley if the modern world of pre-fab and glass stirs your curry. Come and enjoy if you like the feel of old-world charm, hounds asleep on doorsteps, the wisp of log fires and buildings chiselled from stone by hardened men from another time. We were drawn to the Stanley Hotel with its unique bottle shop in an ancient cellar, and the potential of a night out on the town, well a pub feed at least, in the well regarded Bistro.

No wonder there is a chairlift!

First, though, The Nut. Having scaled some uplands in our time, peaks in the Flinders Ranges, Volcanoes in Indonesia, and the like, we presumed that The Nut would be a doddle, and yet a doddle it was not. The Nut has a path that is steeply up, and up some more, not that we thought for a minute of opting for the chairlift to the top.

The walking trail around the top offered spectacular views to all points of the compass, giving us an eagle’s view of the vista away to the western wilderness, back to the isles from which we had come, over the harbour where our ship lay tethered, and away beyond the headlands where in the new day we would head. From atop The Nut it was evident just how tenuous was Stanley’s connection to mainland Tasmania, with only a narrow isthmus which provided links to the outside. From space, Stanley, and its Nut must appear as a dewdrop, stretched to breaking before falling to ground (a farmer might see a likeness to a bovine appendage, dangling from the coast!).

With our appetite honed by our afternoon clamber, we were as equally pleased by our dine-out at the Stanley pub as we had been with all other aspects of the town. The bistro menu extolled the virtues of Cape Grim beef – the place must have some redeeming virtue – and herself read no further than the promise of fresh fillets of local flake. Delish! With the sun having set, we enjoyed a sated stroll back to the harbour, musing that this must be some place when winter winds shriek in from the west and Stanleyites huddle over wood fires seeking shelter from the storms. Sales of local ciders probably go up as the temperature plunges. We think that we will be better off far to the north when all this transpires. We would be nervous about seeking shelter in Stanley in a tempest.

We have four fine cruising guides on board, providing a host of information about voyaging in Bass Strait waters and along the coastline of Tasmania. The latest of these publications, Cruising Victoria, an excellent publication by the Cruising Yacht Association of Victoria, suggested that between Stanley and Launceston, a distance of over 80 nautical miles, the number of “must visit” anchorages might be few in number. We adopted an approach of setting as close to the coast as we dare out of Stanley, to see for ourselves what the top portion of the Tasmanian triangle had to offer.

Dawn light under sail along the north coast

All this, plus a need to find overnight shelter as close to the Tamar River entrance as we could, meant yet another muster of the crew at dawn. We assumed that the northern coast of Tassie might present little to stir the soul but we were pleasantly surprised at what we found. Not far from Stanley, with the The Nut deflating, in our wake, Rocky Cape and then Table Cape appeared as eye-catching and challenging places where bushwalking was in the ascendant, as sweeping areas of natural forest clung to granitic headlands.

Rugged coastline of Rocky Cape

Both of these features have noble lighthouses, real ones and not the industrial structures of modern times. Abeam of the Table Cape lighthouse, our ship’s glasses showed something unusual - tourists, out on the parapet of the light, peering out to sea! Via Google we discovered that the Table Cape light, is Australia’s only working lighthouse that allows visitors to take a trip to the top of the tower. Tours run every 20 minutes, and if our visual evidence was to go by, it had become a very popular activity for visitors to the area. Being lighthouse tragics, of sorts, we were more than a little envious of those aloft in the tower. As we made our way past, we wondered if they were wondering what our view of them was like from our craft out at sea, because we were wondering what their view was like, of us, from atop the lighthouse. We sailed on, wondering.

Table Cape

Beyond Table Cape, smaller and larger towns dotted the coast, as Wynyard, Somerset, Burnie, Penguin, Ulverstone and then the City of Devonport slid by off our starboard quarter. We would have liked to have detoured in to the Mersey at Devonport, not to see the ferry across the Mersey, but more to see the ferry across Bass Strait that makes a daily passage to here from Melbourne. Being small ship voyagers we wondered – again – what this trip might be like in a Bass Strait gale. Then again, we might be better off just wondering,  

Our focus though, was more on finding a secure overnight anchorage. In Stanley Cookie’s sleuthing from the cruising guides had isolated a point in the lee of Point Sorell just past Devonport that should provide a sheltered stopover before the short distance in the new day to the entrance of the Tamar. The latest Central North Coast forecast confirmed the sense of this plan, with a morning calm to be followed by a rising north westerly in the afternoon ahead of a change. This coast is not a good coast to find one’s self exposed to a rising ‘nor wester, and we would be well advised to be in a secure place before this hit.

Finding a new anchorage in an unfamiliar coastline can sometimes be problematical, especially late in the day with no real “plan B” in place. Our anchorage was to be found in one of a series of coastal indentations under the headland of Cape Sorell at a place called Edie’s Point. To help us find the correct embayment, Cookie had located our anchorage on Google Earth and now had a screen shot on our iPad, to make sure we could be safely in before the sun had set. The last thing one needs on board is the anxiety borne naturally from uncertainty marring a seaward approach. It was good to be laying snug on anchor, knowing that we should be comfortable and safe through the night, but first, we were looking forward to the consumption of some fine fillets of flake, that had found their way aboard via the good fishmongers of Stanley.
Pt Sorell anchorage in the second bay past the island on north east corner

Having “done the distance” on the previous day to Point Sorell there remained only a three hour passage in the morning to the Tamar, via Badger and West Heads. The Tamar River is a substantial waterway, which can be plied for many miles to Launceston, and consequently, when the tide ebbs, a considerable volume of water flows down the channel and muscles its way out to sea. We had heard of treacherous conditions to be found off Low head at the mouth of the Tamar, especially if an outflowing river met opposing wind and swell. Being mindful of this we intended to approach the Tamar as close as we could to slack water – between the tides – although we could not afford to dally too long with the wind about to rise.

With the above in mind we made for the Tamar via Hebe Reef that guards the western entrance; the name Hebe being derived from the wreck of the Hebe on this reef in the days of steam and sail. Casting her eye on the swirling waters of the reef, the helm was of the view that Hebe Jeebie reef would be better terminology. No wonder that one of those industrial lights now steers vessels away from the horrid rocks of Hebe Jeebie reef.

Swirling fog beyond the Hebe Jeebie

Looking ahead to the Tamar though, there was more than just a reef to induce the Hebe jeebies. There it was, seeping, ghosting and slithering out of the valley of the Tamar. Fog. Apparently fog is a problem on the Tamar from this time of year, and on through winter. Happily it was not the Robe pea-souper of earlier in our voyage, because we could not have headed on into it, although now, there was probably enough visibility to see the lead beacons, marking the entrance to the river. Ahead, though, we could see enough to tell that, unfortunately, the outflowing tide was far away from being exhausted.

Plenty of tidal flow at the entrance

When tidal rivers flow out to sea, tides at their mouths are impacted by what the experts call overfall. An outrunning tide, depending on its volume of outflow, does not stop with the change of tide out to sea. It is like a runaway train that takes a time to grind to a halt. Because of the Tamar’s volume, we found the river to be still running seaward, well into the incoming tide.  Although large ships enter the stream, bound, for example for Bell Bay, our eight tonne vessel was gripped and thrown by the swirl of the outflow as we made our way upstream. Eventually, though, we were through the worst of it, and by following the beacons and leads we found our way upstream to the Beauty Point Marina, an offshoot of Launceston’s Tamar Yacht Club. Here, alongside the Australian Maritime College, we looked forward to a secure tie-up and making some new discoveries. True to his word, Lionel, the ever friendly and helpful retiree who manages the facility was there to take our lines. It was great to be in because, out across the Tamar, the nor-wester was on the rise.
Beauty Point Marina approach


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Port Fairy to King Island

 24/3/16 to 28/3/16

On the eve of our departure for King Island Brian and Maree joined us at the Caledonian Inn, known locally as “The Stump” for a meal at Victoria’s oldest licenced pub (1844). True to its heritage, it is adorned with sepia pictures of a younger Port Fairy, including one from the great flood of 1946 when you might have done well by setting a mullet net from the front door of The Stump, across to the other side of the main street. Our thoughts though were more on the passages we were planning to start in the morning. We were all keen to go, because yet another delay might mean missing the “window” of weather to King Island. Another frontal system was brewing in the Great Australian Bight with its tail set to flick the waters of Bass Strait in a couple of days’ time. But there was a problem looming.

Barometric isobars in Bass Strait that determine wind direction and speed had pointed to a light southerly for our departure, which was nigh on perfect for Calista. The late afternoon forecast prior to our leaving showed, however, that things had changed and that overnight winds would swing to a contrary Sou Easter that would last until the morning and could derail our plans. The return of the Devil Wind!

..........We certainly do!

At night on board we slept lightly, with the moan of the Sou- Easter in our rigging making us fitful and frustrated. In the wee hours of the morning the BOM site “Victorian Coastal Observations” showed that the Sou-Easter had dropped from nearly 20 knots at Port Fairy at 1am to about 12 in the pre-dawn with a promise that it would drop away further in the new day. We slid out of the Moyne with Urchin, before the coffee houses up the street had any steam in their Latte machines. Brian and Maree were making for Lake’s Entrance via Wilson’s Promontory, and as their fine cat headed in the direction of the Great Ocean Road, we watched them go, hoping that somewhere in the great marine outdoors our bows would cross again.

On board our little ship we felt all of the remnant slop from the Devil Wind in decline. It was lumpy, bumpy uncomfortable, and hard to get around on board. We set a reefed main and tried to find a sweet spot about 30degrees off the wind that would best provide comfort, speed and progress in our direction of passage. Our “way point” that we would reach in the early hours of next day was off King Island’s notorious Cape Wickham, Australia’s tallest lighthouse, which lords over a coastline that has claimed the lives of many a seafaring soul in days gone by. We were keen to not add to the human misery inflicted over the years along the King Island coast.
Great to be at sea again!

If we departed on the faith of a Sou-Easter in decline, by mid-day our faith was rewarded and the wind collapsed to the bottom end of the Beaufort scale. The sea state improved and the coastline to the north saw Warrnambool disappear and the craggy coastline near the Twelve Apostles appear indistinctly off our port bow. We were at sea again, with nautical sea miles sliding under our keel, converting diesel to distance. This was no time to wait out in Bass Strait, waiting for the wind, and an agreeable point of sail. A stiff westerly was due next day, and we wanted to get in to Grassy Harbour on the Eastern side of King Island before it hit.

As day became night, the routines of donning our life vests and illuminating our navigation lights followed a sumptuous evening repast, one of Cookie’s famous – famous to us at any rate – veggie pastas in cheese sauce. To hit the evening, when we start our two-hourly watches, with this delightful brew providing us warmth, succour and sustenance was worth being out of sight of land for. With Calista on autopilot, we purred our way south of east, with the light of Cape Otway winking away in the distance to the north, before it was finally doused by the unending curvature of the earth.

In the dog watch hours, I did it again. At 2am I headed below for some sleep leaving Cookie to come up for another jousting contest, between two big ships, which altered course in respect of their size, leaving our tiny vessel in the middle with the important job of staying out of their way. By the time I came up to the cockpit again the ships had grumbled away in the distance and the reassuring light of Cape Wickham away off our starboard bow showed us that, happily, we were on course to King island.

Dawn broke with us closing an unfamiliar coastline and we elected to give it some safe sea room. We mark our location on our paper charts about every two hours and the 0600 plot showed us 5nm to the east of Cape Wickham, and about to round Lavina Point and make south along the eastern side of King Island for Grassy Harbour, about 30nm away. Our departure from far-away Port Fairy was timed for us to get to Grassy for a day-time approach and hopefully to get in before the westerly filled in to spoil the show. From the village of Naracoopa on the Eastern side of the island, the coastline bears away to the South West, and any change in the weather would see us cop it fair on the bow.

The town of Grassy perched on the hill on approach to Grassy Harbour

As we made our way to Grassy, our radio crackled to life with the wonderful Mary of Smithton Radio on VHS Channel 21 providing the latest forecast for Tasmania’s rugged NW coast and giving small ships like ours the chance to check in or report any difficulties or emergencies. Mary like Carol on Kangaroo Island and Garry at Tumby Bay VMR, has been doing this invaluable volunteer work for an eternity. She is understandably held in the highest esteem by all seafarers in these parts. We logged on with Mary, whose distinctive tone we fondly remembered supporting us through Bass Strait on our 2010/2011 voyage to PNG.

Then, with clouds gathering, and a threatening curtain of black appearing to the South West, the wind filled in. By this time though we were abeam of Bold Head, and the town of Grassy was in sight, perched atop the surrounding hills. Heavy swells broke on Omagh Reef and Grassy Island as we picked up the beacons to lead us into the harbour, and as we  turned hard to starboard before Frog Rock, a lashing rain squall seemed to say to us….“welcome to King Island”.

Grassy Harbour

In entering little Grassy Harbour, we were grateful for a quality shared by seafarers that in other areas of the commercial and professional worlds is called networking. We were aware of three yachts from SA, Far Star, Astrid and Equanimity that were in the finishing stage of a circumnavigation of Tasmania. Knowing Royce and Delene from Far Star we had messaged him from Port Fairy about obtaining a mooring in the confines of Grassy Harbour. Royce had met “Bear”, master of the Grassy-based Cray-boat Johanna Cherie in the slip yard at Port Fairy and Bear – no one calls Bear by any other name, and no one uses his real name, including Mary – offered to find moorings for the visitors when they came to Grassy. We followed Royce’s lead and called Bear, to find him a generous and helpful mariner, only too pleased to help. He was out of port and directed us to his mooring, the one with the sign, Bear’s Mooring, Keep OFF. Bear let us know that he would be returning to port in a day or so but if necessary, he would pick up a mate’s mooring. “Don’t you move” was his recommendation,” the professionals are returning to port with the weather on the way…we’ll have 4-6 metre seas off here in a day or so”’. We were more than happy to settle back in Grassy Harbour, held by the stoutest of moorings, and put the kettle on to celebrate our arrival in King Island. The rain could lash and the wind could howl, but we would be secure in this delightful location.
Calista on the left secure on Bear's mooring

Next day with conditions having ameliorated, but still threatening, we set ourselves for the short dinghy ride into shore and the longish stroll up the hill to the modest township of Grassy. Just then, however, Sue and Kerry, off a large cat , also sheltering in the harbour, drew alongside to say hello and to offer to take us into Currie, King Island’s largest town, for a look around while they played a round of golf. We instantly scratched Grassy, inserted Currie and were soon off traversing the traffic-free roads across King Island. Sue and Kerry originate from Mackay in Queensland, and had just arrived from the West Coast of Tasmania. They, like us, are headed along the North coast of Tasmania, and eventually up the NSW coast before heading out to Noumea and Vanuatu. On the drive across the island we discovered that Sue and Kerry had been to Noumea several times before and might be an invaluable contact for us as we get close to departing Australian waters. Listening to advice from a couple who had circumnavigated the globe would be a very good idea we felt.

The town of Currie, Capital of King Island!

To arrive in Currie is to step back in time. There are only a little over 1700 souls living permanently on the island, enough for Currie to earn the status of town and for there to be three footy teams in winter. We are sure that on a windy day in mid - July, you’d kick with the breeze if you won the toss. Sure, King Island has the Internet but in all other respects the locals embrace older values and especially have discovered how to care for and about each other and how to slide back a gear or two in life. Pass a local in a car and they wave to you as though, even if they don’t know you, they’d like to. In Currie keys are left in unlocked cars and in the shops there are queues because everyone wants to talk to each other. It reminded me of Port Elliot when I was a kid. In Currie it appeared that locals lived by the old African proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Cookie had a local contact, a friend of her nephew who had recently moved from Adelaide’s bells, whistles and bright lights to laid-back King Island. We called him to say hello and got the word that his young family were loving life on the island where already they had more friends than they had in the city they had left behind.  

I’ll admit that I headed straight up for the King Island Bakery that promoted itself as being famous for its gourmet pies. How do you select a morsel from a gastronomic catwalk specialising in blending flagship local products like KI (locals call King Island “KI” just as South  Australians refer to Kangaroo Island)  beef, cheeses and yes, crayfish. I have never seen a crayfish pie until at the KI Bakery. Herself arrived back from the Supermarket, breathless, to report that a wheel of KI Brie, not a wedge mind you, could be procured for a $5 note. She fixed upon a KI Camembert and Broccoli pie, and wept with delight in its consumption. For me, what with the privations of our arduous voyage from Port Fairy in mind, I was unable to separate a local KI beef and mushroom pie from the asparagus and camembert, so, in a moment of weakness abetted by temptation, bought them both. If an asteroid was closing on earth, and there was time for a final nosh up, you’d settle on one of KI’s famous pies before signing off.

Leaving the KI Bakery was like leaving a half a bottle of Grange on the table, but then again we did want to see Currie Harbour. On the way we happened upon a Gallery, specialising in local artwork, dried seaweed ornaments and a host of other curiosities. Strangely, the door was open but after browsing for a while it was clear that not only was the gallery unattended but this was the normal practice. A sign said, “If you like an item, leave the money in the honesty box”. Honestly it did. Only on KI!

The "honesty box" Gallery

The harbour soon opened up as a panorama before us, and although fishing vessels were tethered agreeably to the town wharf, the entrance to the harbour looked challenged by rocky outcrops and open to westerly gales. We would only contemplate Currie as a destination in benign conditions or in an emergency. Those fishers who operate out of Currie and ply their trade along this forbidding coastline earn every scale or carapace that they collect. We always enjoy a stroll along a fishing wharf, looking at the paraphernalia that the boats carry on board, and mentally assessing what they would be like out at sea in a blow. They are hardened souls, the KI fishermen.

The wharf at Currie Harbour

The quest for crayfish at a price... the rough entrance to the harbour !

In the harbour precinct we found Heidi a delightful young lady from Naracoopa who runs a curiosity and condiments shop, called “Isle Inspired Providore”. Heidi’s card proudly declares that “this miss is made on King Island” – and well made, too, was my estimation. She was keen to show her iPhone pics, fresh off the net, of Naracoopa beach on sunrise. Seeing them made us want to drop our anchor there next time we are in these waters.

Along the harbour with an outstanding harbor side view is a unique restaurant, “The Boathouse”. It has no staff and no food, but the view is superb and free. Bring your own is its mantra, bring your friends, cook up a storm, clean up afterwards and yes, again, leave your money in the honesty box. Only on King Island! 

The Boathouse "restaurant" below the lighthouse.

Inside the Boathouse

On the headland overlooking over the harbour is the Currie lighthouse, which has shone out its welcome, and its warning since 1879. This imposing and impressive steel structure was prefabricated in England, and arrived locally to be assembled like the ultimate Lego challenge, here on KI. Its role was far more important than guiding vessels into Currie. In the days of sail, ships plying the great Southern Ocean and bound for Melbourne faced a deadly challenge relating to navigation. If you look at a map of the Southern Ocean, including Australia, you will readily see that to accurately steer for Melbourne between Cape Otway on the mainland and Cape Wickham on KI required pin-point accuracy, and indeed it was referred to by mariners of the time as “threading the needle”. On board, taking sextant “sights” on storm-tossed seas in conditions where visibility was often poor, often left mariners relying on “dead reckoning”, the process where direction of sail plus estimated speed gave some idea of location, in relation to the closing Australian coast. At night, some ships were too terrified to progress and hove to for the hours of darkness. Others simply got it wrong and paid the price.

The original light from the Cape Wickham Lighthouse

The carnage of wrecked ships off the Victorian coast led to the construction of the Cape Otway lighthouse in 1848, then the Cape Wickham light, Australia’s tallest Lighthouse at over 48m, on King Island, in 1861. This should have helped ships to ‘thread the needle” although wrecks still occurred when mariners mistook Cape Wickham for Cape Otway and sailed south of the light to miss it…slap bang into  the cruel western coast of King Island. The Currie light overcame this problem and saved countless lives in the process.

Currie lighthouse

Alongside the Currie Lighthouse sits the light station which is now a marine museum. It houses the original Cape Wickham light apparatus with its hand crafted French glass prisms as a flagship feature. Also to be explored there are fascinating relicts retrieved in recent years from local wrecks by divers, including memorabilia from Australia’s greatest marine tragedy, the loss of the Cataraqui, wrecked in 1845 with the loss of over 400 souls. The Cataraqui slammed onto rocks south of Currie in the dead of night in a winter’s storm. The terrible scenes on board as the ship broke up can only be imagined. 63 families were wiped out and only one passenger plus eight crew members survived, and the bodies of women and children dressed in night attire littered the coastline, draped over rocks and washed up on the tide without respect or ceremony. Another wreck saw a number of barrels of spirits “disappear” without trace, whilst yet another wreck saw armed patrolmen defend a similar cache (!) We could have lingered longer at Currie’s maritime museum. Back in town and waiting for Sue and Kerry to finish out on the links, it was de rigour to convert some currency to camembert for the ship’s stores before the trip back to our anchorage.

The following day saw us negotiating local walking tracks on our way up the hill to Grassy. The paths crossed the former scheelite mine site which, from out at sea looks somewhat like rice terraces in Bali, and brought prosperity and people to Grassy. Scheelite, a tungsten relative, adds hardness to metals but the closure of the mine in the 90’s brought hardness of its own to Grassy. It was sad to see the former mine buildings in forlorn disarray, roofs holed, gutters drooping and asbestos sheeting waving in the breeze. Grassy has seen better days.

The track from the harbour through the mines to Grassy

Up in town the retail sector took little time to digest. Marie Reed, an ornament to Grassy, runs a café come general store and gathering spot. We wiled away some time over a lunch that featured one of her famous hamburgers with the lot and two very fine coffees. Thus fortified we retraced our steps, this time with gravity on our side, back to the harbour. There the Grassy Boat Club was in full community and family mode with sailing races out to Frog Rock, a sausage sizzle and treasure hunt down on the beach keeping smiles on all faces.

The Grassy Harbour, by the way, and in spite of its limitations in size, is the berthing location of the weekly Melbourne – Devonport – Grassy ferry, known locally as “The Ship”. Whilst this vessel carries all manner of stores, requisitions, fresh produce, cars and the like, it carries no passengers. Sadly, if King Island is your destination, you need to fly there, or sail there like we did.

A night out at the Grassy Club

Up in town, across from the Café we had noted the Grassy Club which under the pilotage of Chef Stephen has built a reputation for fine food specialising in local produce. When in Grassy, do as the Grassy’s do we thought, so with eating out being limited to the Grassy Club, which meant  facing another trudge up hill, we settled on doing exactly that; dining out up in Grassy. We found the Club to be modest in appointments, but universally welcoming and with a most excellent cuisine to boot. The only drawback came at the end of our worthy night out when, with a mellowness borne of consumption, we stepped out into the dark of the night in a bracing air to confront the lonely and uncertain path back to our ship. We should not have worried, for the spirit of King Island was about to come to our rescue. “Do you two need a lift?” came the call from the open window of a departing car….”where are you headed?” We needed no committee meeting to resolve to accept the kind offer, as it turned from two ladies who came to KI and stayed for the lifestyle, and for the generosity of locals that now they were sharing.
Bear's lovely vessel Johanna Cherie

Back on board we noted that Bear’s fine fishing vessel Johanna Cherie, was back in port, and with us leaving at first light there was a real likelihood that we would not get to meet this really decent bloke from Grassy. The declining weather and swell looked like providing a welcome Sou-Wester of about 15 knots, giving us near ideal conditions to embark on a 47mile passage to one of Tasmania’s wild offshore features, Three Hummocks Island. From there if the weather predictions were right, a stopover in the historic port town of Stanley might be on offer before a “tourist sail’ along Tasmania’s North Coast to the Tamar River, Launceston. With the healthy colony of Fairy Penguins, in raucous voice ashore, we slipped easily into the slumber of sailors in contented anticipation of the day to come.