Cruise: Kangaroo Island to King Island

If medals were awarded for car-packing, my Boxing Day 2021 effort might well have qualified. I succeeded in squeezing in a three-week supply of food and beverages into the back of my Pajero while leaving enough room for four passengers. By 09:00, we were on the road to Marina St Vincent (Wirrina Cove). Ignoring pleas to stop for coffee en route, we were at the marina by 10:15 and loading supplies aboard Arriba. This included a heavy tub of rich soil growing my favorite herbs – coriander, basil, and mint. Dubbed the “boat garden”, this is the first time I’ve attempted on-board cultivation. Two hours later, Meredith, Vela and I were underway, headed for Kangaroo Island, while Cathie was driving back to Adelaide.

"Boat garden" on day one.

The southeasterly winds and seas continued to build throughout the afternoon with Backstairs Passage punishing us with 35-knot gusts on the nose. I should have reefed the mainsail sooner, as the strain on it caused the bottom batten-holder to crack in two, resulting in the luff violently separating from the mast track. The plastic part was clearly fatigued and would no doubt have failed eventually. It just meant that we’d be sailing reefed until it could be repaired. More annoyingly, two of the mast trucks also ripped out of the mast. That was entirely avoidable and I cursed myself for not checking their condition earlier.

We motor sailed to keep our boat speed above five knots and 7 ½ hours later we limped into Antechamber Bay, on the island’s northeast coast. The wide sandy bay located between Cape Coutts and Cape St Albans can be approached safely in all conditions. We anchored in the southeastern corner, known as Redhouse Bay, which is the best spot in southeast winds. Even so, a strong swell was wrapping around the cape that slammed our beam all night. A monohull would have responded by rolling but Arriba shuddered and wobbled.

I awoke before six the next morning and, while my crew slumbered, I replaced the broken mast trucks but the batten holder repair would have to wait. The southeasterly had strengthened overnight and our destination, Robe, lay 115 nautical miles directly upwind. Continuing as planned would require a very long day and night (or more) of bumpy sailing. Instead, I decided to sail for Victor Harbor, about 32 nautical miles away. Weighing anchor at 07:34, we slogged away barely managing 5 knots motor sailing, but it was all worthwhile when 6 ½ hours later we anchored in the lee (north) of Granite Island.

Granite Island causeway.

While the water was flat, Granite Island was not large enough to completely block the strongest gusts, which wrapped around the rocky island and assaulted us from time to time. Eventually, a particularly strong blast dislodged our hold on the weedy bottom and set us adrift. For peace of mind, I resolved to move to a mooring for the night and we hooked onto an excellent candidate near the jetty – except appearances can be deceptive.

Shortly before midnight, the anchor alarm started shrieking. Perhaps the wind had shifted direction causing us to spin around the mooring, as often happens at anchor. I went up to the bow and tugged on the mooring’s buoy and it came loose. The mooring had failed. I fired up both engines and re-anchored about 200m east of the causeway, this time letting out 30m of chain in only 4m of depth.

The next day, we enjoyed a leisurely day at anchor and a beach walk towards Port Elliot. Late afternoon, we were joined by our fourth crew member, Liam, and over dinner we discussed our options. By sailing to Victor Harbor we were now actually ten miles further from Robe, which was upwind 125 nautical miles to the south-southeast. Conditions were forecast to start to subside overnight so we decided to get a head start and sail through the night. Weighing anchor at 20:42, we enjoyed half an hour of twilight before settling into three-hour watches though the night. I took the watch from 12:00 to 03:00 then Liam relieved me till 06:00. The autopilot, which had been operating fine at the start of the trip, was now misbehaving so we hand-steered. Fortunately, the stars were out and guided us without the need for technology, as we sailed under mainsail and gennaker (screecher) in 20-knot winds.

The winds picked up again the following afternoon but we kept the gennaker up to maintain our speed. That proved to be a costly mistake as a poor tack resulted in one of the sheets snagging. The gennaker flapped so violently that a small tear would eventually develop, although it was not noticeable for another two days. In the past, I’ve attempted temporary gennaker repairs using tape but, in my experience, the damage is always worse by the end of the trip so this time I decided to take the sail down and store it. Its loss would seriously hamper our boat speed in the following days.

The wind and seas did not abate quickly and we eked out a mere 5.2 knots. A second bumpy night at sea was, by now, sorely testing the patience of Meredith and Vela, both of whom were seasick. Perversely, the following morning we lost the wind completely and so I took advantage of the calm conditions to attempt to re-calibrate the autopilot. The problem turned out to be more serious; the autopilot motor had failed.

After 41 hours and 42 minutes at sea, we motored into Cape Jaffa Marina. We’d consumed half a tank of diesel so refueling was my top priority. While there is fuel near the boat ramp, it is not a self-service bowser and requires a commercial fuel card. Fortunately, one of the friendly locals gave us a ride to a petrol station where we refilled jerry cans. 

Cape Jaffa campground, shop and petrol station.

At 16:20, we were on our way to Robe which we reached almost five hours later. The town has a small marina but the tranquil conditions made anchoring the more attractive option. Tranquil did not mean “quiet”, however, as ashore a band was playing very loudly, although not too badly. Their rendition of "Crazy" (by Gnarls Barkley) was particularly good. Some people might think that sailing to Tasmania is a little crazy but, as with most things in life, it all comes down to preparation.

After my crew retired for the night, I set to work on the autopilot. Arriba carries a veritable floating workshop of spare parts and I’d recently added a spare autopilot motor in anticipation of longer trips. Electrical motors are highly reliable devices but they work very hard in big seas. On the other hand, autopilot controllers, which are electronic – not electro-mechanical devices – are probably less likely to fail. Regardless, when I upgraded Arriba’s autopilot controller, I kept the old one as a spare as well as ordering a spare motor. I went to sleep content in the knowledge that we would not be hand steering for the next thousand miles.

The following morning we enjoyed a refreshing swim off the stern before departing at 08:40. Our next stop would be King Island, 270 nautical miles away. While it is possible to hug the mainland and break up this section, for example by stopping in Portland, I opted for the straight shot. This meant that for the second time in as many days, we would spend two consecutive days and nights at sea. This would also be my third New Year’s Eve on Arriba (described in my last post). Bass Strait, which is infamous for horrid conditions, was kind to us and the wind seldom exceeded 12 knots. I would have appreciated some more wind, especially on the beam, but most of my crew were not complaining. Consequently we motor sailed the whole time, averaging 5.5 knots. Also, for the first time since setting out, we avoided breaking any equipment.

Leaving the continental shelf, 40 nautical miles south of Port Fairy.

The second morning (January 2nd) at sea was particularly memorable. My reward for relieving Liam at 06:00 was a pod of dolphins serenading against the backdrop of a beautiful sunrise (top photo). Ninety minutes later, I spotted King Island on the horizon. I could imagine what the old seafarers must have felt when they sighted land – at a safe distance. For many, however, their first encounter with King Island was less pleasant as over 800 ships were wrecked in the island’s coastal waters.

Fifty hours after leaving Robe, we pulled into Currie Harbour and anchored in 2.8 m of water north of the wharf. Since leaving Wirrina Cove six days ago we had traveled 548 nautical miles and even managed to not spill the contents of the boat garden in high seas.

We excitedly piled into the dinghy and headed for shore where we were surprised to find two uniformed men waiting for us on the dock: a policeman and a biosecurity officer. Unbeknownst to us, since leaving South Australia two days ago, Tasmania had introduced new biosecurity rules and all arrivals were now required to pass a rapid antigen test (RAT). The officials were sympathetic to the fact that the rules had changed for us mid-ocean and supplied us with RATs to take back to the boat.

We all tested negative and an hour later we were back onshore. It was King Island Race Day and we were off to the races!


PS The story continues here.