Not the cruise to the Gippsland Lakes
It’s sometime early in February and I’m sitting on Golden Haze, our 42 foot cruising yacht, anchored behind the sunken sand barge in Fortescue Bay, a few miles north of Tasman Island. I’ve just chased Vic around the barge, both of us fully kitted out in wets suits, boots, gloves and the rest of the antifreeze paraphernalia one wears to stop one’s proverbials icing over in Tasmania even in the middle of summer. We refuse to be daunted by the water temperature gauge telling us that at 17.8 degrees the abalone lurking in the bull kelp below are best left to their own devices. In fact, so Tasmanian are we that last winter we invented a new sport, extreme cruising, and yes with the water temperature a glorious 11.5 degrees we still managed to snag an ab or two. Nuts I know, although the pot bellied stove on board does help ease the pain somewhat.
But the Gippsland lakes. Well, some of you may be aware that the club had arranged a rally to the Lakes, leaving on the 23d of January and after a fair amount of slick persuasion I had convinced Vic we should join in. It went something like this. “Hey Vic, do you feel like a cruise across Bass Strait to the Gippsland lakes?” “When do we leave?” So the minor details out of the way and my knockoff date from work in Pt Hedland where I drive tugs for BHP was the next hurdle. I finished my swing on the 27th of January and with a day of travel back to Tassie thrown in we would be trailing the boys by 5 days, but, no problem. Terry (TC) Bower, of significant infamy around the club, along with his mate Dave Hall, volunteered to cart Golden Haze up the coast so that we wouldn’t get too far behind the mob, and provided the nor’easters left us alone we would rendezvous at Deal Island or some such.
I haven’t done Deal since Duncan Van Woden and I over-nighted there on the original Apollo, back when Noah was still building the arc (or was that Scotty Price?.... whoever) other than the one time I steamed between the islands on a voyage to hell on the Mathew Flinders, a 40 metre Bass Strait cargo ship, a couple of years back. But, I digress, other tales for other times.
TC cast off on the Tuesday before I was due to arrive home and as luck would have it, after getting around the coast and as far north as Schouten Island, with the fleet fleeing north a few days ahead of him, the nor’easters kicked in and he decided, after a couple of tries in the nasty big waves, that a retreat to Coles Bay where he would swap the boat for my trusty old red ute, was the better part of valour. I was at this stage flying south from 40 degree heat and having just missed a cyclone before leaving work, I didn’t really care where the boat was and had even less interest in banging into fresh northerlies. That cyclone, by the way, turned into a depression that wandered south east across Oz and contributed significantly and very unkindly I thought, to the ensuing weather pattern in Bass Strait.
Now driving tugs in PH is often described as 90 percent boredom and 10 percent terror. Imagine if you will, running a 400 tonne tug into a 150,000 tonne ship doing 11 knots then hanging around alongside while the crew drop a messenger line down from the ship’s deck 15 metres above so that you can, in turn, send up a 150 tonne breaking strain towline. They then loop the line over a bollard to make sure you can’t get away (I liken it to backing down the school yard with the local bully attached to the other end of your tie) until the ship is tied up alongside the nearest wharf, usually about three miles away. We do this little dance of the iron ore elephants anything up to 5 times a day. Well, the boring bit is the waiting while they tie the ship to the wharf and on a rough day the other bit can make wearing brown trousers de rigueur. The bottom line is that after four weeks driving tugs, a break is certainly on the agenda and when you knock off the last thing you feel like doing is a few hard days bashing to windward.
So, following the standard 14 hours of planes, airports and automobiles I arrived in Hobart, where Vic and I had a late Thursday night into the cot and an even later start Friday morning for Coles Bay and the freedom only cruising can bring.
Now Jimmy Mc Cormack, who has done a few miles with me over the years; the Atlantic on Helsal 4, the Indian Ocean on a leaky cat, etc, was coming along for the sail across the paddock, but also working to a tight time frame, needing to be back in the world of men and money the following Monday night. Rolled into this were two southerly weather windows smaller than those holes they push ships through into bottles, peppering the now fresh nor’easters forecast for the coming week. Not enough spice and too much breeze for my liking!
Did I ever tell you about my Bass Strait crossing stats? In the olden days when I used to keep count, the first 20 crossings saw us caught in full blown gales about half the time. The second 20 odd crossings were pretty much gale free, other than those silly Sydney/Hobart race things we do every so often when lots of wind, usually from the wrong direction, can’t be avoided.
So, was I really unlucky in the first bit of my Bass Strait career or really lucky in the second bit? Or perhaps old age and the wisdom to know when to wait may have kicked in. Either way, as Jimmy and I have discussed many a time, Huey sets the agenda, not humans, and faced with a forecast and a time frame that, combined, could quite easily have put us in harm’s way, I decided to pull the pin on the Lakes and revisit my favourite bay in the whole world.
And so here we sit, hiding behind the sand barge in Fortescue. Cold beers in the fridge, eye fillets on the barbie and the occasional mainland bushwalker wandering past musing at those mad Tasmanians swimming around in subantarctic waters. If only they knew. The nor’easters blew us down here from Coles Bay, with over nights in Bryans Corner and Riedle Bay, a comfortable run before the breeze. And as I look out at the ghosts of seafarers past racing the white horses south across the entrance of our own private little gunk hole, sipping a bundy and munching on a dolmati, in an anchorage that, like the company, is without peer I’m happy to let the Lakes wait for another day.
See you soon.