Well, it’s been a while since I updated our blog. We pray our readers are safe and well in these uncertain times.
As I write this we are in Pt Stephens, north of Newcastle.
This post will focus on our journey across Bass Strait and our time in Lakes Entrance.
A lot has happened, so let’s go …
Back in Tassy, after leaving Launceston, we arrived at beauty point on the 6th February, after a long slog up the Tamar River. Although we had travelled the river on three previous occasions, this time she showed us a different personality. A stiff NE wind pitted itself against the outgoing tide, presenting us with nasty standing waves, surprisingly I estimate as high as 1 meter, but very closely spaced together. I learned an appreciation of what can happen in wind against tide conditions. We slogged it out, testing the motors, arriving at Clarence Point around 3 pm.
We tied up at the pubic pontoon, where Russell was waiting to collect Jody, Bec & Josh who had made the trip downstream with us.
We stayed our first night at Clarence Point, before making our way to West Arm, past Dark Hollow, a favourite anchoring spot with the locals.
We planned to base ourselves in the area, doing last-minute preparation jobs, plus reprovisioning from George Town or Beaconsfield as needed. There are public pontoons at Beauty Point and George Town, plus the Tamar Yacht Club marina.
I had originally thought it may take three to four weeks for a suitable weather window to present itself, little did we know that it would be closer to six weeks!
We had decided our landfall on the mainland would be Lakes Entrance. A spot we have always wanted to visit. The more orthodox method for locals crossing the Strait, is to use Flinders Island as a staging post, however, as this was our maiden voyage, and I was acutely aware of my inexperience as a skipper. I was not confident to tackle the challenging tide and weather often encountered there.
My thinking was to slip across as quickly as possible. As it happened, finding three days of benign weather, in February and March just didn’t happen. Locals boaties told us to wait until Easter, and they were right. Waiting is not easy, especially as a skipper, when you are constantly watching the forecasts. It made it difficult for me to relax and enjoy the moments. Fortunately, Beauty Point is a lovely spot, and there was a friendly community at the Yacht Club, who made us feel welcome.
We devided our time between swinging on the anchor at West Arm in NE conditions, or around the corner at Beauty Point when the winds swung from the West. One advantage of staying put for a while was that we got to know a number of the live-aboard community at the marina. They hosted Friday night BBQ’s sometimes with guest speakers. We met some amazing people. Christophe & Carina are a French couple sailing around the world in a tiny 25’ yacht. Stuck in Tassy due to COVID, they have based themselves on a swing mooring at Beauty Point where the Tamar Yacht Club have taken them under their wings. Due to the extraordinary circumstances, the authorities have relaxed the tourist visa regulations, and they are making a living fruit picking and living minimally. They hope to sail to Japan but are expecting to be in Tassy for some years before it is safe for them to resume their trip. We also met local yachtsman Ken Gourlay who sailed around the world non-stop, singlehanded in 1997, departing and leaving from Devonport.
Their blog: http://www.intothewind.fr/into-the-wind-english/
Finally, the weather window we were waiting for came, and at 1:30 pm on Sunday 28th of March we set off. Our excitement was high as we navigated our way out of the Tamar River. The compass bearing for Deal Island, our halfway point, was 000.00, exactly due North.
We had good sailing winds for the first six hours but were forced to start an engine and motorsail the remainder of our first leg to Deal Island. We had not had the chance to dial in our Autohelm, so we were hand steering. Although the wind was benign, Bass Strait lived up to her washing machine reputation, and the motion was lively. It was during this first evening at sea, not long after sunset that Deb was affected by seasickness. She was unable to maintain her watches, so I settled down for a long night at the helm.
Occasionally I would call on her help if I needed to adjust the Genoa or needed a pit-stop. We saw no other vessels by eye or on the AIS that night, reminding us of our remoteness. Pyramid Rock was just a dark shadow, we gave a wide berth as we passed.
Slowly the sun made its way above the horizon, and by dawn, we could see Deal Island ahead, and Flinders off to the east.
Surprisingly our mobiles sprung into life, and I took a call from my mother, enquiring how we were going. It was a surreal experience, chatting idly with mum, as we approached the imposing cliffs of Deal Island, in the middle of Bass Strait.
We made our way into Winter Cove, on the western side of the island, and dropped the pick.
After a short layover, we set off on the second leg of our journey, at 1:30 pm.
This was to time our arrival at Lakes Entrance Bar during a rising tide, the following morning.
This time we were better prepared for an overnighter. As we left Deal, there was a stiff 15 – 20k wind blowing. Stronger than predicted, which I put down to the funnelling effect of the island. The waves were also larger than expected, around 2M but on the stern quarter, and the motion was uncomfortable. I unrolled the staysail and left the windward motor running. Doing this I found we were making our target speed of 5 to 6 knots. Just before sunset, we were visited by dolphins, which is always exciting.
Deb took the first shift, and I tried to rest for as long as possible, before the night shift. After sunset, I sent Deb to bed and I settled down another night at the helm. Deb had made me a thermos of coffee and organised a stash of nibbles and munchies.
We stayed in this configuration until 3 am when I saw an AIS target on our navigation screen, indicating the presence of a ship converging on our course. This part of Bass Strait is populated with a lot of oil and gas rigs. We surmised the ship was a supply vessel, as it was not in a hurry, crossing our path at 7 knots. I stopped the boat and made contact on the radio, and they advised us to maintain our course and speed, and they would pass in front of us. It was all very unnerving in the dark, and we lost about an hour. To make up time, I rolled out the genoa and our speed went up over the 7-knot mark, as the wind increased to 17 knots. I hung on as long as I felt comfortable, then called Deb up so I could reef the genoa, once I felt we were back on track to reach Lakes at our desired time. Navigating by my plotted course, and by eye, we made our way through the oil fields, approaching the Victorian coast by dawn.
At first light, Deb joined me in the cockpit, relieving me from the wheel, as we approached the Lakes Entrance Bar. It was an emotional and special time together, we felt a wave of relief and accomplishment.
Traffic increased as the fishing fleet that had been working overnight converged on the entrance, at the same time outgoing vessels were heading out. Technically, at bars, incoming vessels have right of way in busy times. At Lakes, because the incoming boats are unsighted they radio ahead, to check there is no traffic in the passage. There is also a live WebCam. We waited until the rush was over, radioed to inform any waiting vessels, we were on our way in and made our way over the bar. Even in the calm conditions, the waves were standing up, but not breaking. Deb was busy on the phone, letting friends and family know we had arrived, and they could watch us on the live WebCams. It was all very exciting.
It was glorious. sunny day, and with the help of a friendly local, we tied up in an inner pen at Flagstaff Jetty. After phone calls and tidying up, Deb found her appetite returned with a vengeance, and we had a decent breaskfast before she sent me down to sleep. I was not feeling sleepy, probably due to the adrenaline, but she insisted, and within seconds of putting my head down I was fast asleep.
We spent 18 days at Lakes. We were also waiting for my brother Paul, who we had arranged to meet at Paynesville, to help us make the next leg to Sydney. The time was filled with meeting up with friends from Alice, Chris & Bek, exploring, and sitting out 8 days of bad weather with Chris & Michelle from Outback Dreamer, a sister ship, that arrived a week after us. Together, with Michael and Doug from Fat Controller, a Top Hat 25, who were making a delivery trip from Lake Macquarie to Hastings we created a small community. as we spent 8 days tied up at a free pontoon while a strong SE front passed over. Lots of chats and laughter. On cold rainy evenings, we hosted Michael and Doug for meals and movies, to relieve them from their tiny cabin.
Eventually, the time came for our little group to disband. Fat Controller headed south to Refuge Bay, on the Mornington Peninsular. The next day Selah relocated to Paynesville, further up the lakes system, and Outback Dreamer took a berth at Flagstaff Jetty, ready to head out the bar on the early tide.
We had a lovely day exploring Ramond Island, photographing the koalas, and on the 15th March, Paul arrived by train. Our dear friends from Alice Springs, Chris and Bek who had relocated to Bairnsdale a few years earlier, had taken us under their wings, showing us the local sights and transferring Paul from the train station.
I was very happy to have Paul aboard. After a stay at Duck Arm, we made our way back to Lakes entrance to reprovision. Our thoughts were on the next leg, an overnighter, around Gabo Island and towards ports further north.