The weather along the west coast of Tasmania can be unsettled, wild and often blowing a gale. It is unwise sailing there unless you have a good weather window, with enough time to to get to the few places where a yacht can safely shelter from a storm.
Mattsuker Island, off the south coast of Tasmania, on average, gets three hurricane-force winds each year. In 2019 we were keen to do the circumnavigation but were unable to do so because we could not get a good weather window. We are very pleased to report that we managed to circumnavigate Tasmania in January 2020.
We slept on board Nichola so that we could leave George Town early in the morning. George Town is at the top of the Tamar River. We regularly sail to Flinders Island and are familiar with the northern coastline of Tasmania. We have explored the east coast of Tasmania extensively by land and sea so planned to hurry down the coast to Hobart in order to catch the good weather window that was developing along the west coast and begin sailing the west coast in the most favourable weather possible.
The east coast of Tasmania is ideal for cruising as there are so many beautiful places to explore, but more importantly, there are safe anchorages where one can shelter in different weather conditions. The west coast of Tasmania has very few places to shelter from the weather so it is important to only sail in favourable conditions.
We often have dolphins alongside Nichola. They respond to my ‘words of encouragement’ aka ‘delightful whooping and cheering!
To see this video we took of dolphins when approaching Binalong Bay – click here.
We dropped anchor in Binalong Bay and enjoyed a good night’s rest before leaving early in the morning. Visibility was adequate, but the smoke from the bushfires on the mainland and fires on the Tasmanian East Coast did not allow us to see the beautiful coastline as we usually do.
We anchored in Chinamans Bay, off Maria Island on the second night.
The wind picked up and was blowing 30+ knots just as we got into Marion Bay which made conditions at the Dennison Canal unsuitable for us to sail through. The Dunnally Wharf was full and so we hung off the end of the wharf with a few lines. The wind was such that no fishing boats or other vessels for that matter, would be venturing away from the wharf until the next morning. Shane, who opens the bridge so that vessels can sail through the canal, came to check on us. He assured us that we could leave early in the morning if we felt the conditions suited us. More kindness was shown by Di and Barry, who had been working on their sailboat. They were going to a local shop and asked if we needed anything. They picked us up a loaf of bread, the one thing that I had forgotten in our haste to leave George Town as early as possible. The saying ‘time and tide wait for no-one’ definitely applies to offshore cruisers! Use this link for a video of us going through the Dennison Canal
Next morning the wind abated and we were able to get through the Dennison Canal without any difficulty at all. The conditions were ideal. We have been through on occasions when the wind and tide were making things very difficult for Ken to hold Nichola on course through the very shallow channel. Even on this occasion we only had 0.3 m under our keel. Nichola draws 1.7 m.
Sailing up the Derwent River was great fun as there were lots of Sydney to Hobart Vessels racing with the locals to entertain us. We arrived at the Prince of Wales Marina in the afternoon and enjoyed ‘Sundowners’ on SV Blythe Spirit, catching up with friends we had met on our travels. We had met Stuart and Sally from Blythe Spirit when we were in Minerva Reef in 2018, Nichola and Tony we met in Tonga the same year, and Barb and Rob from SV Zoonie we met in Vanuatu in 2019.
‘Sundowners’ is what cruising yachtsmen and women use for an excuse to get together and share sailing experiences. The norm is BYO drinks and snacks to share with everyone. Attendees of Sundowners are expected to also use their own glasses and remove any empty cans or bottles when they leave. This is particularly important when cruising overseas and in remote areas where rubbish removal is difficult. In remote areas, the provision of snacks can be interesting, especially as one begins to run out of provisions. I hide special ‘sundowner snacks’ in the nooks and crannies aboard Nichola so that we don’t eat all the ‘good/fun stuff’ early in our travels.
Barb and Rob White are circumnavigating the world. We buddy-sailed with them for a couple of weeks around some of the remote islands in Vanuatu in July last year. They arrived in Tasmania just before Christmas and it has been a pleasure to be able to show them parts of our beautiful state on land.
Three weeks of great fun was had whilst we explored the west coast of Tasmania together as we buddy-sailed from Hobart to Strahan.
We stayed overnight at the Prince of Wales Marina. Monday morning, Rob stayed aboard Zoonie to attend to some maintenance, Barb and I used the Prince of Wales Marina courtesy vehicle to top up provisions for our trip up the west coast of Tasmania. Ken borrowed a friends ute to fill up Nichola’s tanks with diesel. We left early afternoon and picked up a mooring in Alexander’s Bay, Bruny Island for the night. We continued down the D’Entrecasteau Channel and spent our second night in the Pigsties, Recherches Bay. Conditions were very sheltered on both occasions so we had Zoonie rafted up next to Nichola. To view, a video of us rafted up there click on this link
Rafting up is when two vessels secure themselves together and only one is either on anchor, on a wharf or a mooring ball. This can only be safely done when there is no wind or tidal rip.
Buddy-sailing occurs when two or more sailing vessels travel together for any length of time. When in remote areas it is safer to sail with another vessel in case one of you gets into trouble. Unlike the Australian East Coast, many areas of Australia do not have a sea rescue unit on standby to assist vessels in need. When sailing in the South Pacific Islands one is really ‘on your own’ so buddy-sailing there makes a lot of sense.
Buddy-sailing with like-minded people is great fun. Of course, Ken and I enjoy our own company or we wouldn’t be doing what we do, however, when you sail with another couple and go exploring ashore there is the added bonus of seeing things with different eyes, which adds to the whole experience.
When buddy-sailing with Barb and Rob, we take turns each night to prepare the meal. If we are rafted up together, it is simply a case of stepping across to the boat where dinner is being served. If we are on our own anchorages then one of us has to get into the dinghy and go across to the other vessel. Occasionally it gets too rough to use the dinghy to get between vessels and on those occasions, we eat on our own. We sailed together for almost three weeks and only on one occasion did we eat alone.
It was great fun sailing into the Southern Ocean and to begin our journey up the West Coast of Tasmania. We wanted to arrive at the entrance to Bathurst harbour when it was still daylight and made good time. Visibility was very hazy from the bushfire smoke, despite the wind. I was very excited to sail past Maatsuyker Island as we often hear their weather skeg when sailing in Tasmanian waters. Usually, we hear about gale-force winds, huge swell and high seas so it was wonderful to have the beautiful conditions we did as we sailed past. The man giving the skeg was rather funny, he said something along the lines of ‘and Maatsuyker Island has calm seas, they won’t know what to do with themselves there’. A few days later he gave the forecast and remarked about ‘the people on Maatsuyker will be astonished TWO calm days in the same week, unheard of!’. To see how calm it was, click on this link for a video of Maatsuyker Island.
We arrived in Port Davey, at the entrance to Bathurst Harbour just after 4 pm, the smoke from the fires was thick and limited our visibility but once we were inside the harbour things cleared up a bit.
On our first night in Bathurst Harbour, Zoonie anchored in Wombat Bay and we rafted Nichola up alongside.
We set off exploring in the early morning so that we could capture some of the beautiful reflections in the harbour. The wind had blown all the smoke haze away and we were treated to the full glory of this amazing place.
We anchored close to the jetty in Claytons Corner and went ashore to explore. As we walked along the path I was astonished to see rhododendrons growing in the wilderness, world heritage area. We then came across the house where Win and Clyde Clayton had lived and everything became clear. Stepping inside their old home gave us a wonderful insight into their lives during the time they lived there. Spending time looking at the photos, reference books, and memorabilia was delightful indeed. Win Clayton was a keen gardener and the rhododendrons were remnants of her original garden. For more photos and information about the Claytons follow this link.
We continued on to Horseshoe Inlet so that we could climb Balmoral Hill. We anchored the boats and went ashore in Nichola’s dinghy. The track felt ‘spongy’ underfoot because of the peat. We spotted evidence of wombats and saw many burrows from the burrowing crayfish that are so prolific in the area. These small creatures aerate the peat which helps the plants grow. Small creatures also live within the water of their burrows. There is one burrowing crayfish per meter, that is a million to a square mile. No wonder the plants are thriving in the harsh conditions.
The views as you walk up Balmoral hill was incredibly beautiful. For once I didn’t need to make up an excuse to take a photograph in order to catch my breath. The views themself were breathtaking enough.
We stopped for a picnic lunch and enjoyed the amazing views before walking back down the hill and taking the dinghy back to our vessels. To view a video taken from Balmoral Hill, click on this link.
Kings Point & Beach
We picked up anchor and returned to the mooring at Kings Cove, near Kings Point and we went ashore to check out the beach. For more photos from Kings Beach, click on this link.
We left our boats anchored in Claytons Corner and continued up the Melaleuca Inlet in our dinghies. We noticed a few commercial vessels bringing tourists from a cruise ship as we made our way upstream. Fortunately, the vessels and tourists had completed their trip before we arrived and so we were able to experience the Needonowee Walk, Deny King Museum and surrounding areas almost on our own. We met Shirley, a volunteer park ranger and a man who had walked in via the South Coast Track alone.
Exploring the Melaleuca Southwest National Park, Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is rather special.
There are only three ways into the area:
- By sea, as we did
- By air in a light plane, there is an airstrip
- By foot, literally, walking into the area via the multi-day South Coast Track or Port Davey Tracks, Melaleuca is the start, finish or halfway point of their walk.
The Needwonnee Aboriginal Walk was fascinating as well as beautifully situated along the edge of the water. The 1.2 km long walk gives access to the living and changing sculptural installations, made from natural materials Excellent information boards share the stories of the Needwonnee people. They would have lived a harsh life given the climate and terrain. The Dreamtime installation was fascinating, use this link to view more photos from the Needwonnee walk.
We stopped for a picnic lunch along the walkway before exploring the Deny King Museum.
Deny King Museum
The remote settlement of Melaleuca was home to Deny King – a well-known miner, bushman, naturalist and artist. Deny lived there for fifty years from 1936. His story and the story of other pioneers of the area is in the Deny King Heritage Museum located near the airstrip.
The museum was established after Deny King’s death. It contains heritage objects and information on the time he spent there and the impact it had on Melaleuca. The museum was constructed by volunteers who were enthusiastic about keeping Southwest history alive. The museum contains much information and brick-a-brack from Melaleuca’s tin mine, the geology of the area, plant life, family archives and historical records. It was fun to see that they even had a brewery during his time. (Rallinga Breweries) There was a great deal of excellent reading matter available in the museum, I would enjoy visiting again with more time to spare next time we are in the area.
Bird watchers usually visit this area between October and March each year in the hope of catching a glimpse of the critically endangered orange-bellied parrot. These small, beautifully-coloured parrots are on the brink of extinction. The area around Melaleuca is the only place in the world that they breed. Volunteers observe, monitor and record information about the parrots during their breeding phase.
I enjoyed the excellent display of bird photographs in the museum and liked the idea of being able to watch the endangered orange-bellied parrots if and when they came to the feeding table set up close to the museum. Unfortunately, it was not ‘feeding time’ when we visited. For more photos and information about the Deny King Museum, click this link.
Our return trip to the boats took less timeWhen we made our way back to the vessels in our dinghies I went with Barb and Rob and Ken took ours. Nichola’s dinghy only has a 2hp motor and Zoonie’s is 4hp so in order to make the return trip a little faster, I went with Barb and Rob and Ken took ours. The time saved gave me a chance to make bread for us to enjoy with a shared ploughman’s lunch before heading back into the Southern Ocean and on our way to Strahan.
Bathurst Harbour to Macquarie Harbour, Strahan
The entrance to Macquarie Harbour is, at best ‘tricky, and it is sensible to arrive during daylight hours. With this in mind, we planned our sailing so that we would arrive at the entrance with plenty of light.
The entrance is called ‘Hells Gates’, and it is a notoriously shallow and dangerous channel. The actual channel is between Macquarie Heads on the west and Entrance Island on the east with a lighthouse on each. There is a wider area of water between Entrance Island and Macquarie Head, but it is too shallow for a boat to cross.
The name dates back to the early 1800s. It was namedby the first convicts who arrived and were imprisoned in the Macquarie Harbour Penal Settlement on Sarah’s Island. The prisoners described their arrival through the channel as going through the ‘entrance to hell’. The dangerous conditions are caused by the strong westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere at latitudes of 40 and 50 degrees South. Otherwise known as the ‘Roaring 40s’. The strong winds, narrow and shallow channel cause great turbulence and make the entrance an exciting place indeed.
Our cruising guide book advised
If anyone on board is prone to seasickness, they are best advised to take whatever is their preferred precaution well before passing through Hells Gates
Macquarie Harbour is the second-largest natural harbour in Australia after Port Phillip Bay in Victoria and is six times the size of Sydney Harbour.
Macquarie Harbour was discovered in 1815 and within a year, the Huon Pine timber cutters arrived. Navigation of the channel was a huge shipping and boating hazard and a signal station was installed at nearby Cape Sorell in 1822. The signal station was manned by convicts and is the second-highest lighthouse in the Southern Hemisphere.
Silver and lead were discovered in nearby Zeehan the 1890s and the population of the area increased greatly.
As we left Bathurst Harbour we were delighted to have excellent sailing conditions and cruised along at speeds in excess of 7 knots. That is until we realised that if we continued with those speeds we would arrive at Hells Gates in the dark. It is a frustrating thing for sailors to have to reduce good speed, however, safety always comes first.
We sailed through the night and arrived in Macquarie Harbour just as the lighthouse stopped operating because of the light. It was very smokey and, once the lights no longer flashed, they were difficult to make out on the shore.
Conditions were amazingly calm and so Ken asked me if I would like to take Nichola in. Usually, Ken does all the ‘serious sailing’ for us so I was thrilled to be able to now say that I have sailed Nichola through Hells Gates.
World Heritage Area of the Franklin/Gordon Wild Rivers
We anchored in Strahan and went ashore. Our first stop was a visit to the local Infomation Centre where we discovered their display area. This is an area filled with unbiased information, photographs and memorabilia showing the history of the area. To see more photos from here click on this link. We then walked up the hill to the local supermarket to buy supplies, after which we enjoyed a great ‘pub lunch’ on the wharf.
To see a video of Strahan from Nichola’s anchorage – click here
Next morning we left Nichola anchored off Strahan and sailed in Zoonie to explore the Gordon River.
Sarah Island was a place of unimaginable deprivation and cruelty that I found it unsettling to be so captivated by the beauty of the place. I had to keep reminding myself about how awful it must have been when it was a labour camp. The site is well maintained, there are excellent information boards giving you a good understanding of what the ruins you are looking at represent.
They cut down all the trees on Sarah Island, only to discover that once there was nothing left to break the wind, they couldn’t grow any food. So a ‘Windbreak Fence’ was constructed all around the island. When you walk around the island, there are beautiful trees, man ferns and the like, it is encouraging to know that they have all grown back after mankind left the island. The sobering thought is that they took about 200 years to do so.
We took the dinghy ashore to explore the East Pillenger site and were fascinated by the place. For more photos and info about East Pillenger, click here
Pillinger is an abandoned town comprised East and West Pillinger. It is situated on the southeastern side of Macquarie Harbour on the west coast of Tasmania. It was constructed for James Crotty’s North Mount Lyell Mining Company. East Pillinger was the Company Town where the townsfolk lived. Bricks were made in the kilns in East Pillinger, while West Pillinger was a government town which comprised stores, a hotel, a police station and the train station. At their peak, the two towns provided for roughly 1000 people and the bakehouse and mess hall in East Pillinger was the scene for much of the town’s livelihood. In 1902, East Pillinger contained 80 houses, 25 businesses, three hotels, a church, a coffee shop and a shipping agent’s office. One hotel, the Shamrock, hosted balls and live music. The town also had a well-stocked library, an aquatic club and in 1901 the Pillinger Cricket Club was formed. Pillinger even had a school which contained 62 students in 1902.
Heritage Landing & the Gordon River
We sailed up the Gordon River enjoying the wonderful reflections, amazing forests with so many different varieties of trees. We had just arrived at the Heritage Landing Site when one of the commercial vessels that operate out of Strahan arrived. We contacted them on the radio and were advised that they only spend 30 minutes at the site so we waited until they had finished their tour. We then tied up and went ashore. As usual, excellent walkways, great information boards and amazing flora. For more photos and information go to this link
We left Heritage Landing and made our way downriver to Birches Inlet where we anchored overnight.
Next morning as we made our way back to Strahan we checked for changes in the weather as usual. We realised that if Barb and Rob left to sail to Portland, Victoria, as soon as they had dropped us off on Nichola they would get ideal winds for sailing. The same winds would assist us sailing up the west coast of Tasmania to Stanley. It was with heavy hearts we said our goodbyes and watched them sail away. We pulled up anchor, tied up to the wharf. Ken made Nichola ready for ocean sailing again and I walked up to the shop and collected a few supplies. We sailed out of Macquarie Harbour about twenty minutes after they did.
Macquarie Harbour to Port Stanley
We left Macquarie Harbour on the afternoon of 20th January 2020 and made our way up the west coast of Tasmania to Port Stanley, via Three Hummock Island. We had good winds until we ‘turned the corner’. Coming through the passage between Hunter Island, Three Hummock Island and Robbins Island we experienced strong tide against us.
It was an interesting phenomenon. Our sails were full, the engine was at full revs but we were only making 0.3 knots. Behind us, the sea created ‘standing waves’, which, fortunately, we managed to just keep ahead of. With waves chasing us, whirlpools created by the rushing tide and a narrow passage, I was very happy that Ken was at the wheel and not me.
Once into the Bass Strait, we were becalmed and had to motor sail into Port Stanley. We were entertained by thousands of muttonbirds/short-tailed shearwaters feeding and many dolphins joined us along the way.
We had visited Stanley before so did not plan to go ashore to explore. The Nut is great fun to climb or take the chairlift to the top. We put Nichola into one of the pens and stretched our legs with a walk around the port. Ken was delighted to see one of the vessels he had worked on in Flinders Island when he was much younger. To see a video of Port Stanley, click here.
We enjoyed ‘sundowner’ chats with the crew of SV Syntax, who competed in the 2020 Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. They were making their way home to Adelaide. We hope to explore the coast in ‘the bite’ next year.
Stanley to George Town
We woke early, as we do when sailing and got away at first light. We were excited to be almost home and to complete our circumnavigation of Tasmania.
What an amazing three weeks we have had. We now can add ‘Circumnavigation of Tasmania’ to our sailing experiences.
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