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Saturday, May 7, 2011


Could it be that Zeus spoke harshly to Aegaeon after he’d blown us to smithereens and wetted Banyandah so severely when we crossed the Southern Ocean, because since landing in Portland, Victoria we’ve had one of our most delightful cruises.

It began shortly after landing at the Portland Yacht Club dock where a key to the clubhouse was bestowed upon us by its commodore. Hot, voluminous, lengthy showers were followed by copious washing of seawater out our bedding and clothes. Then a romantic candlelit dinner for two, to celebrate Judith’s 66 years exploring this planet. Followed by a bottle of pricey red to herald the start of her next year’s adventure, which put us in bed, with fresh, dry, soon to be hot sheets. Oh la la, the ups and downs of a cruiser's life!

Portland, Victoria with Banyandah in the centre furthest out

We had a grandstand view of all the port activities which seemed to go on non-stop. Ship movements numbering the second greatest for Victorian ports were complemented by a bevy of fishing boats steaming in with their catches, some of a traditional design that compelled us to grab our cameras. A family of seals kept marauding round the anchored yachts searching for tucker, amusing us when they found a tasty cod and began chucking it back and forth as if playing school rugby. Table manners begone! - they sure seemed to have fun.

100kg bluefin tuna wins game fishing competition
The Portland Game Fishing Club held their annual tuna fishing contest the weekend before Easter and it was blessed with fine weather. We only fish  for what we can eat straightaway so did not partake, but saw that the catch was extreme. And this grabbed our attention when we read that Southern bluefin are over fished globally with low likelihood of recovery under current catch levels. The report indicated an increase to over 500 fishing boats targeting tuna during last year's contest, more this year. Now, we love being hunter-gatherers, and think it's an essential part of life, but we worry when we hear our population is set to double in the coming future. Less resources for more people means increased restrictions. See Counting the catch

Couta Boat flies past Banyandah
Departing Portland on Good Friday, apologies to Jesus Christ, but we knew he’d understand that a new high pressure cell was entering the Bight and generating the westerly winds required for our voyage to King Island off the northwest tip of Tasmania. With black and drizzling rain the anchor came up; weather more suited to a crucifixion than a harbinger of a pleasant crossing of Bass Strait. Squalls straightaway sent me forward to shorten the mainsail, so within an hour of departure we were hunkered down; leeboards slotted in position and us wondering if we were going to get slugged once again. However Poseidon and Zeus seemed to be keeping an eye on our tiny craft as we raced at record rate into the black unknown of one of the most dangerous shipping channels. Thanks to the gods, the sea only splashed Banyandah’s sides, never wetting her cockpit. Albatross and pretty golden head Australasian Gannets frequently eyed our fishing lure, but thankfully they didn't dive bomb it. Then late that afternoon, when the wind eased to under twenty knots (36 kph), a passing rain shower created a colourful rainbow that landed a pot of gold on our cabin top. It left behind a night sky so crisp and clear we could reach out and touch a zillion stars, and for the rest of my watch we dallied at walking pace while I watched Orion’s belt fall astern.

(24 more photos 2000 words 10 minutes reading)

So different from Jude, who attracts the wind. Maybe she has a secret allure that calls to Zephyrus whenever she’s on watch? I often wonder. But soon after midnight he came and raised the tempo beyond our previous best. After twenty-two hours of sailing, with still another two hours of darkness, Judith recorded seeing the wink of Cape Wickham Lighthouse marking the north tip of King Island. Then at first glow, the white stone structure lay abeam, surrounded by those grand rolling green hills that make this island so famous. The light structure, constructed in 1861 after one of Australia's worst maritime disasters, the wrecking of the Cataraqui with the loss of 402 lives, is 48 metres high, Australia's tallest. It’s also the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere.

The treacherous waters surrounding King Island have claimed hundreds of ships and more than a thousand lives. Filled with strong currents and strewn with sharp rocks well off its coast, to these dangers was added a strengthening gusty wind that lifted the sea in wet clouds of white spume. Thankfully we had timed our journey perfectly as we now slipped into the island’s lee. Jude declaring, “how good is this,” as we flew tucked close along the black rocky shoreline with Banyandah pressed by wind gusts that forced her gunwale under while vacant green hills quickly flew past. That night, sheltering close under the cliffs at Naracoopa, a sleepy enclave halfway down King Island’s east coast, we were rocked to sleep by a moaning west wind. Then after a slow start next morning we motored ten miles without wind to Grassy Harbour, a former scheelite mining port.

King Island’s population is approximately 1,600 permanent residents with 700 residing in the township of Currie on the west coast. It stretches 64 kilometres north to south and 27 kilometres east to west, and enjoys a reputation for excellence in the production of fine beef and superior dairy products as well as magnificent seafood.

When we visited King Island in 2010, we made lasting friendships with several Islanders. John and Lynette, who own a beef farm as well as a Westsail 32 production fibreglass sloop, are friends who were off island at the start of this visit, but had arranged for our use of their Land Rover in their absence. First day ashore, Jude packed a picnic and off we drove to tour this beautiful island hideaway. First stop, Seal Rocks overlooking the island’s southwest shore, where the wind had long vanished leaving a smooth blue sea gently breaking brilliant white upon the many jagged rocks. There was not a soul in sight when we lay upon the grassy hillside to let the sun warm our weary bones while we pondered the long miles just sailed from far beyond that distant horizon.

Seal Rocks overlooking the island’s southwest shore on such a pretty day

Gosh, we’ve been so lucky. We’re still fit and well-balanced, and still with a will and desire to continue exploring this magical Earth, and blessed with a growing family, who might think we’re a tad mad, but support our crazy notions.

Lightkeeper’s daughter Sheila Burn remembers climbing up to see her father at work one night in the 1930s:
“It was dazzling bright, and I was awestruck with the enormous plate glass windows revolving in opposite directions.
At precise intervals they would meet and dim the light, then they would completely separate and the light would flash its brilliance far out.”

The original Currie Light is being restored for display - Each triangular leaded glass is worth $10K

In the few days that followed we toured the island from bottom to top until John and Lyn flew in. Hey presto, we then changed into party hats. That very same morning, when Judith rowed over to purchase a scale-fish, the fisherman gave her a rather large, red crayfish instead which John cooked up Thai style. Yum! That was our first feast. The next night we filled up on island beef. So rollicking a time was had, we were delighted when they accepted our invitation to sail with us to the Three Hummocks Island and beyond.

This was to be Lynette’s first sail ever. In fact at our first meeting, John had whispered in my ear, “You’d do me a great favour if you can think of ways to enthuse Lyn to sail with me...” Well, we just had. Picking them up from the dock near Banyandah as the morning sun poured molten gold upon the eastern horizon, before Lyn could have a change of heart we raised sail and ran towards that quickly rising orb.

As I said to her, “You’ll find the passage rather bumpy,” because between King and Tasmania the fast currents meet the rather huge southern ocean swell. But Lyn handled it well, almost like a duck to water, and we had the anchor down in front of the Hummocks homestead before she could even think of being sick, chalking up her first 45 nm under sail.

Banyandah off homestead in Chimney Cove
Three Hummocks lies in the lee of Hunter Island and the anchorage off the homestead at Chimney Corner was mirror calm with a quaint rusty iron jetty fronting a windmill and period house in sight.

For many centuries this island was the summer hunting ground for the aborigines of the North West tribe who reached it by swimming across five kilometres of open water from nearby Hunter Island.

Its European discoverers were Bass and Flinders who in 1798 named it for the distinctive volcanic hummocks that rise from scrubland. Farming took place from the mid 1800s, but in 1978 the majority of the 7,400 hectares was declared a Nature Reserve, with about 40 hectares remaining a pastoral lease.

The following morning we rowed ashore to explore what we thought were abandoned buildings. We yoo-hooed at a rather nicely restored period building, but heard not a peep. Then rounding a line of scrub, an extensive flat of finely manicured grass spread before us, dotted with upwards of a hundred Cape Barren Geese not the least disturbed by our sudden presence. In fact many that faced another just kept bobbing their heads in courtship while our video camera whirled and digitals clicked. Then we discovered a hen house full of chooks. Hmm, someone must be around. So we approached a second building yoo-hooing again when noticing a large telescope dominating the picture window facing Banyandah and the other islands of the Fleurieu Group. This time our calls were answered by a gruff, “just a minute.”

Hundreds of Cape Barren Geese courting and getting ready to breed
Looks passed between us as we made our way round back where we met a well tanned outdoors man, a beefy hardworking type sporting a very welcoming grin. “Sorry. The wife’s still in bed. Not so well this morning after staying up all night watching the royal wedding,” he said shaking his head.

Cape Barren Geese mate for life
Well, that was just the start of one of those fabulous meetings in far flung out of the way places. With a shuffle of feet, Bev was quick from her bed, and far from looking ill was smiling ear to ear and fussing over us, straight away showing the girls her collection of island wonders. While true to Aussie style the boys hung back in the kitchen babbling over a wide range of subjects, for example, the caretakers’ predecessors: The Nichols family, Bill and Amelia ("Ma") who had leased the island from 1933 till 1950, grazing cattle and sheep; and the Alliston family. Eleanor Alliston wrote two books about her family’s island life: Escape to an Island and Island Affair.

We got the full tour, through each and every building, heard all the stories, got all the goss. John, that’s Bev’s husband, was a wealth of knowledge. A man of many skills, he’d rebuilt several of the old buildings for the two businessmen who now owned the lease and who were in the midst of developing it for tourism. More than that, he and Bev had built one of the finest gardens we’d ever seen using goose dung, kangaroo droppings, and several other naturally occurring ingredients including ground-up Bull Kelp that they harvest off the beach. Their half acre garden had to be fully enclosed or the roos would eat it clean. So much information, no wonder I had to wander off and sit quietly for a half hour. Nodding off, I heard Bev suggest seeing the island by Land Rover and quickly jumped up to join the rest. Our ride bumped through scrub forests to the island’s airfield then up to the highest point at South Hummock, 237 M above sea level. Here we were shown the geodetic point established in 1943 by the placement of an Australian copper penny.

Three Hummocks organic garden

Accommodation overlooking Chimney Cove

Highest point, South Hummock 237 M
Geodetic spot marked by 1943 penny
According to caretaker/resort manager John, who'd been a wood turner in another life, much of the island is composed of dense scrub dominated by Leptospermum scoparium, Melaleuca ericifolia and Banksia marginata, while 25% of the area is covered by Eucalyptus nitida woodland.

This is one of the purest environments on the planet. Crystal clear water, white sandy beaches, inland lakes and forests remain largely untouched while twenty kilometres away a Baseline Air Pollution Station consistently measures the air as the cleanest in the world. All this, absolutely free if you’re aboard the good ship Banyandah. For more info: Three Hummocks website

Next morning the wind turned south, making Chimney Corner a lee shore, so we sought sanctuary across the channel at Shepherd’s Cove on Hunter Island. Here we played Robinson Crusoe, fishing for our dinner, wandering the rocks looking for shell fish, setting traps for one or more of the spiny crabs whose shells dotted the vacant sandy shore. Crumbed kelpies filled our dinner plates, a delicacy flown live to Asia, but heck, we didn’t have to pay that exorbitant price.

Day three of our wonder cruise found the fab four sailing back to Three Hummocks and into Coulomb Bay at the top end of the island. Here we walked some of those miles of uninhabited beaches that sprout huge granite monoliths coated with orange lichen. Cape Barren Geese honked from the tussocks, Forester grey kangaroos stretched tall to gaze at us, frozen as if statues while we explored the Nature Reserve. Lyn’s John even bared all to dive under the waves to search for that yummy delicacy - black lip abalone. Funny to see him hobble out just in his undies. He was really brave; must have been very cold, but in those undies bulged much more than his manhood!

During our stay the winds had been light and contrary, nothing useful for completing our last hop of a hundred miles to George Town on the Tamar River, which would require an overnight run. I’d kept an eye on the weather, watching a cold front approach, planning to use its westerly wind to complete our passage to mainland Tasmania. Each day the front came closer, and our plans solidified into a Tuesday afternoon departure. During our last morning we investigated several more bays on Three Hummocks northern shore then enjoyed a big fish meal, thanks to Lyn's prowess, before packing our clobber and cinching down all loose items.

Right from the very start this passage became one we’ll always remember. Now that we were in the lee of Hunter and Three Hummocks those nasty big swells from Antarctica were blocked and we slipped nearly silently through an aqua sea till the western sky melted into gold that cooled to deep red. Then a clear frosty night blazed with stars, and we four sat mesmerized watching our sails cleave a path across the heavens.  Seemed perfect to reminisce on our perfect cruise; the fine food, good friendship, Natural wonders, and we thought; isn’t this how life on Earth is supposed to be. To explore and learn, to wonder and help one another, and not be jealous, or what’s so detrimental, greedy.
We even outraced a container ship up the Tamar!Sailing the last mile into George Town
Lynette got her baptism of sail. She crossed the thorny passage and explored nearly uninhabited islands before her final challenge of sailing through an inky black night. She even sailed the Roaring Forties! Did she enjoy being miles offshore upon an icy cold sea, did she feel fear? Here’s what she wrote in our guest book:

“Thanks Jack and Jude for a most fantastic first sailing experience. I had a brilliant time, loved Judith’s amazing cooking, our time on Hunter, Three Hummocks, walking isolated beaches, meeting John and Bev, catching fish, and seeing the sun rise at sea. The overnight sail was great. Thank you for sharing your boat. You are obviously such in tune sailors, wonderful seeing you work together. Enjoyed the last six days immensely."

John added this footnote, “A great way to introduce my bride to sailing. A special gift. Thanks Jack and Jude”

Au revoir on a chilly morn at George Town

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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful experience and wonderfully writen....thank you.

    Happy, happy birthday Judith.