Cruise: George Town to Shellharbour

If you've been following the past few posts, you'll notice that we were now “commuter sailors”, that breed of cruisers that intersperse cruising life with “regular” life. You might think that time ashore would make it easier to stay on top of blogging. In fact, I found the opposite to be true as the demands of "regular" life tend to pile up in one's absence. I won't complain though, as it is a privilege to be able to take off so much time for sailing and travel.

Commuter sailing necessitates two things: first, having a safe place to leave your boat and, second, convenient access to transportation. In Tasmania, Hobart and the Tamar River satisfy both of these conditions. The main marina on the Tamar River is at Beauty Point but instead, we’d left Arriba at York Cove, George Town’s small marina. The advantage of the latter is that it is an easy walk into town with its shops, cafes and a historic pub. Its disadvantage is that it lacks a fuel dock, the nearest being operated by the Port Derwent Yacht Club at Beauty Point. The latter has no other amenities except for a waterfront pub.

While Launceston is the closest airport to George Town, there are no direct flights from Adelaide so once again we flew into Hobart. That gave us an opportunity to drive across Tasmania from south to north and visit some of the places we’d missed driving the other way one month earlier. Our first stop was Frogmore Winery, barely ten minutes from the airport, where we stocked up on delicious wines for the boat cellar. Next was the Ross Village Bakery, where we once again savored the self-acclaimed “world’s best vanilla slices”.

Ross Village Bakery.

We arrived at York Cove in time for sunset to find Arriba as we’d left it - well, almost. Three days earlier, our boat neighbor, Gunter, had alerted us to the fact that a saloon hatch was open. Someone had discovered an unlocked hatch and gained access in our absence. We were fortunate though, as the only things taken were a few gold coins and one of my fishing rods. The thieves had ignored thousands of dollars worth of boat gear, so it was not a professional heist.

George Town.

At 03:12, we slipped out of York Cove in glassy conditions. It was a moonless night but the entire cove was illuminated by the floodlights from the Woolworth’s car park. Our early departure was timed for the Tamar River’s slack water and thirty minutes later we motored past the Low Head Lighthouse at 7.5 knots on perfectly flat water. An hour later, we were clear of the shoals that litter the river mouth and set our course for the northwest of Cape Barren Island, motoring at 5.5 knots into headwinds. Our destination was Lady Barron, the maritime hub of Flinders Island. There we planned to pick up a private mooring that we’d been given permission to use by an islander we’d met on the dock just the previous day.

The first golden rays of sunrise made a welcome appearance at 06:12. Two hours later, we were five nautical miles due west of Ninth Island. We knew of this place for the Tasmanian wines that bear its name, but the island itself is merely the inspiration for the winery. Vines would struggle to grow in such a windswept and rocky place. The NNE headwind had increased to 9 knots, depriving us of another half a knot of boat speed. Lady Barron, lay 60 nautical miles distant and would take another twelve more hours at 5 knots. By 10:00, the wind had shifted to the north and we were able to motor sail.

It became evident that would not reach Lady Barron before nightfall and so, at 15:12, I altered course for Badger Island. Ninety minutes later we were anchored over sand in 2.3m in calm conditions. Crew member Cathie painted the view (top image).

Whitemark shoreline (by Cathie).

Grey skies, drizzle, and headwinds greeted us the following day. Our first stop would be Whitemark, the administrative center of Flinders Island. Rather than push on against the wind, we detoured to Kangaroo Island East to await the forecast change. While at anchor, we were joined by another yacht, “Ambler II”, which turned out to be a fellow South Australian from the CYCSA (our club). Its skipper, Jim, paid us a visit and we exchanged sail plans. He was planning to cross Bass Strait the day after tomorrow, whereas I was waiting an extra day.

After lunch we set out for Whitemark, arriving at 13:55. We anchored in 2m and took the dinghy to the town wharf, as the latter had barely 1m of depth. With its ramshackle and weathered buildings, Whitemark has the feel of a frontier town. Indeed, Cathie said it reminded her of towns in Alaska, where roads radiating out from town vanish into an empty and mountainous hinterland. We were keen to visit the distillery but, like most businesses, it was closed due to the public holiday. Instead, we decided to stop in at the pub, which we shared with only two locals. An hour later, we were back on board and at 17:23 we were anchored at Settlement Point for the evening.

The following morning was even more dismal than the day before. We went ashore in the rain at 08:47 to visit Wybalenna Chapel and the nearby cemetery, the foul weather matching the somber mood of the place. These structures are all that remain of a village where some of the last surviving Tasmania aboriginals were forcibly relocated in 1834. The story of their genocide is an appalling chapter in Australia’s history. Crew member Merri wrote a short story about our visit for Fresh Words Journal (page 52, July 2022 edition).

We were underway again at 10:37. Trip planning is essential when sailing around Flinders Island, as it is a place where swirling currents abound and the tide against the wind creates obnoxious conditions. I’d timed our departure to take advantage of a two-knot northbound current as we rounded the NW coast. By 15:55 we were anchored at Beach Cove on the north coast of Outer Sister Island, the last place of refuge before venturing into Bass Strait.

The next morning we spotted Ambler II on the horizon at the start of what would be a very bumpy Bass Strait crossing for them. The Arribans, however, were (mostly) happy to spend a day at anchor, catching up on our reading while awaiting smoother conditions. There were declined requests to take the dinghy ashore but one look at the menacing shore break convinced me it would be a one-way trip.

The following day we departed at first light (06:30). For several hours we enjoyed 15 knots of wind with 2~3m following seas, with conditions greatly subsiding by late afternoon. We crossed the main shipping lane before nightfall and then kept north of it through the night. This enabled us to avoid the bulk of the shipping traffic but oil rigs were still potential hazards, albeit well-lit ones. In retrospect, radar would have been beneficial for this crossing, as fishing boats seldom bother with AIS. Alas, our new Raymarine Quantum II radome was still sitting in its original packaging below decks waiting to be installed.

As the sun rose, I adjusted our course for the SE corner of Gabo Island and at 11:10 we crossed the Victorian-NSW border. At 16:20, we were safely moored on a public mooring in Eden. No one expressed any desire to go ashore right away, so G&Ts soon followed as we celebrated our second Bass Strait crossing.

The next day we tied up to the main wharf, where we caught up with Ambler II who had arrived two days earlier. Eden has two wharves but one is currently undergoing a major renovation and is not available to yachties. We enjoyed being on land for the first time in four days. Eden’s shoe store was a big hit with Cathie and Merri but the Killer Whale Museum was the highlight of the visit.

Rather than overnighting at the wharf where fishing boats come and go 24/7 (and may demand that you move on), we sailed over to Nullica Bay and anchored there for our second night. Our anchor light had failed, which required a quick trip in the bosun’s chair to the top of the mast to fix a loose connection. Merri and Cathie observed the action horizontally on the trampoline, claiming that was the best way to keep an eye on me.

After a sunset beach walk, we enjoyed the best meal of our trip at the delightful Seahorse Inn in Boydtown. Technically speaking, the inn is Boydtown, as the town established by Benjamin Boyd was later abandoned.

After a peaceful night at anchor, we were on the move again at 07:00 the next day. We glided across the mirror-flat bay on a single engine. Out in the ocean, we hugged the coast to avoid the southern-flowing East Australian Current, which can generally be minimized if you maintain a depth of 30m or less. The sails remained furled all day as the wind never exceeded 3 knots.

At 14:50 we were docked at Bermagui Marina, 40 nautical miles up the coast. Our first shore excursion was to the marina laundromat before setting out to explore the town. We later settled on the pub for dinner, which was bustling but the meal did not compare with our previous night’s dinner.

The following morning we departed at 06:40. Bermagui - which is situated upon a narrow section of the continental shelf - has a reputation for good fishing. Morning is always a good time to fish, so we immediately deployed two paravane lures and within minutes we caught our first bonito. Five more fish followed over the next couple of hours, a mix of bonito and salmon trout. At that point we pulled in the lures. Half of our bounty would be eaten over the next few days while the remainder were vacuum sealed to take home. (Having a vacuum sealer on board is a must for long trips).

That evening we decided to anchor off the beach at South Durras. Like many beaches on the NSW coast, such anchorages are only possible in the calm conditions. Once ashore, we enjoyed a pretty 3.5 km walk through the nearby park, which was topped off with ice cream purchased from the local resort.

South Durras.

Another early start the following day saw us in Ulladulla by 10:30. We took a public mooring and meandered around the town for ninety minutes. All of us stocked on books at the excellent second-hand bookshop. We got underway again shortly before noon and resumed motoring north in light to non-existent winds. By 16:45 we were anchored off Long Beach, at the southern end of Jervis Bay. There would be no shore excursion this time as large signs on the beach proclaimed: “Keep Clear. Range is Active. Live firing”. This warning was not to be ignored as Jervis Bay is the home of HMAS Creswell, which regularly lobs munitions from one side of the bay to the other.

Having survived the night unbombed (thank you Navy!), we weighed anchor at 06:30. It would be another overcast day of motoring in light winds. By 14:21 we were docked at Shellharbour Marina, just south of Wollongong. This affordable marina is so new that the shore amenities building is still under construction, but the location is secure and convenient, and the staff are wonderful. We wouldn’t miss the facilities or lack thereof, and there was little point in paying twice as much for a Sydney marina when we did not plan to linger. The following day we took the train to Sydney and flew home to Adelaide, thus ending the third stage of our trip.

Celebrating the end of the voyage.

PS This story follows Hobart to George Town. The story continues here.


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