It was a dark and stormy night.
Recently our entire club received an invitation from the Tasmanian Sea Canoe Club’s Commodore (the venerable Mike Emery, not to be confused with Laurie Ford of the Maatsyker Canoe Club,) to participate in a combined clubs paddle to the Furneaux Group, namely around Flinders Is. With due haste this notification was passed on to various members, the info-line and published in the following edition of the NSW Sea Kayaker. Despite interest from a number of people, the knowledge that Arunas Pilka and Gary Edmond counted themselves as ambassadors of the first order seemed to dissuade those initially enthusiastic. Obviously a month’s leave at short notice precludes many worthy potential paddlers, not just those from our own club. Access to the ferry and the logistics of transport both to Melbourne and then from Davenport to Little Musselroe Bay made the organisation formidable. Fortunately much of this was alleviated by the generous and facilitative nature of the inestimable Commodore Emery.
Gary arrived in Canberra on Friday, via a lift from his generous friend Sol Mendes, alias Goncalves. After some last minute purchases Arunas and Gary set off for Melbourne on Sunday, January 8. After a night of semi sober revelry in Eltham, where Arunas had arranged to store his car, we were dropped at the wharf. After some initial disquiet concerning the transportation of our kayaks we were glad to discover that they were safely catered for on board the yellow baggage trolley for the nominal fee of $25. The Bass Strait crossing was uneventful and Arunas commented that Lake Burley Griffin was often rougher than the Strait. We met the only other mainlander to make the trip, John “Romper Stomper” Stomps, in the ship’s bar that night.
Veronica and Mike watch a cray boat check its pots
When the ship docked in the morning we were dutifully met by the vigilant Commodore Emery and his crew the fair Veronica Steane, (not to be confused with Veronica Emery). After loading our gear and boats we headed straight to Little Musselroe Bay. The drive across north-eastern Tasmania provided our first insight into the paddling ensemble for the coming month. At Little Musselroe Gary loaded his reworked Pittarak expeditioner, Arunas delicately caressed his still virgin and incomplete Arctic Raider, John proudly displayed his ancient and almost sea-worthy ex-Frank Bakker Iceflow whilst the august Commodore Emery and sybaritic Veronica loaded all their worldly possessions into their ex-US Navy aircraft carrier, “Greenlander Double”. We spent a couple of moments on the beach as we waited for the resin in some of Frank’s repairs – from a number of years earlier, to harden. After a couple of hours of packing they reached a jelly-like consistency so we set off to spend our first night on Swan Is. about 5km offs
We had all heard of Bank Strait’s fearsome reputation: these included local accounts of up to 5 knot tides and standing waves up to 20ft high occasionally breaking when very strong winds worked against the swift tidal currents. In the morning we paddled around to the Swan lighthouse where we were hospitably met by the Island’s lessees who operate a small scale holiday retreat – real isolation. The sage-like Commodore, who had circumnavigated Flinders Is some 15 years earlier, demonstrated considerable respect for the 18km crossing. After careful consultation and checking of tide times and ranges, charts, bearings, astral projections and bio-rhythms we set off on our crossing. It proved uneventful due to ideal weather conditions.
After 2.5 hours under a warm sun we arrived at South Head on the southern tip of Clarke Is. The water was very clear and not very cold so we went for the first of our many dives. Within an hour we had enough crayfish and abalone for our modest appetites. We paddled on to picturesque Rebecca Bay where we camped and dined in surrounds which surpassed our cuisine. A pattern repeated for much of the 21 days.
John Stomps rounds Cape Frankland
The next day we headed to Preservation Is., site of the wreck of the “Sydney Cove” with its cargo of rum, then to Cape Barren and Long Islands. It should be noted that the inhabitants of Cape Barren have developed there own system of mathematics which they employ at their only store, the food co-op – be warned. We landed on Beagle and Badger Islands staying on the more remote Goose Is. From Goose we headed to Mt Chappel Is, supposedly dreaded home of the most concentrated tiger snake population in the world.
After an overcast day spent walking around the island and up its two hills, we eventually stumbled upon Terry Schwaner, herpetologist (snake-man). Terry’s initial reaction was one of amazement. Not at our presence, but at the fact that Arunas and Gary were wearing Tevas (sandals) whilst walking through the often dense scrubby growth in which the mutton-birds and tiger snakes were to be found. Before we met Terry the group was wondering if the apparently exaggerated claims about the snake population were merely stories. After we met Terry Arunas and Gary were looking for a piggy-back. Terry spent hours talking about snakes, snake bite victims, fools in sandals and the fine biological balance maintained on this unique island. He demonstrated his technique of catching and tagging the snakes and of determining what they had eaten by forcing the bulges in the bodies out of their mouth before sliding them back along the length of the snake.
After two nights on Mt Chappel Is. we headed to East Kangaroo Is. then on to Prime Seal Is. On the way a tail wind spread the group considerably. Gary got ahead and eventually paddled the eastern side of the island whilst the others paddled the western side. After some initial concern we met up again late that afternoon. The days remained warm and sunny. Paddling north we passed numerous cray boats and islands. We hit Flinders Is. for the first time expecting to camp on a beach but were hospitably put-up by Pat and Roo Blythe. They provided accommodation, water, good company, and, most notably, a warm shower. After an entertaining and informative night we continued our paddle to Killiecrankie. This was to be our furthermost port. We had intended to reach the Outer Sister Is. but two days of very bad weather changed this plan. It might also have been due to apathy, or contentedness. Killiecrankie had a shop with ice creams and chocolate and weather reports so we spent our days out of the rain or walking the local mountains or the route to the shop.
Tasmanians and Victorians at home under sail
Being always conscious of our return trip and the need to have a number of spare days to burn for the return crossing over Banks Strait we decided to head south along the western coast of Flinders Island. We paddled south to the tragic site of a nineteenth century Aboriginal settlement. Wybeleena had been the site of the attempted deportation of, what was then beleived to be, the last Tasmanian Aboriginals. The site of the buildings, chapel and graveyard appeared to offer a very interesting historical perspective. It was a picturesque location which must have hidden the great tragedy inflicted upon the relatively small group who were forcibly transported there. Eventually the very few survivors were returned to mainland Tasmania. As for the cemetery, it boasted only European graves, with the exception of a recent monument in dedication to the scores of unnamed Aboriginal people who perished.
Our next port of call was the largest city on Flinders Is., Whitemark. It is a small town on a very shallow bay. Get the tides right or walk your boat! Whitemark allowed reprovisioning from its bakery and hotel. South of Whitemark we camped at Trouser Point. So named because either a box of trousers once washed ashore or a survivor of a local shipwreck ran ashore without any. We dived and swam in the intense heat and the following day ascended Mt Strezlecki, the highest landform on the island. The strenuous walk was rewarded with showers and mist.
We decided to take an alternative course back to Rebecca Bay so we entered Franklin Sound and ran its currents to Great Dog Island. A night paddle led us across to the Lady Barron Pub for some dinner. Fortunately happy hour co-incided with our arbitrary visit. Returning to our camp at night across the 2-3 knot tide proved less challenging to those who had imbibed. Even if you are inebriated, trust your own sense of navigation. During the night Gary’s therma-rest was punctured. He recommends Gaffa tape for longer trips.
Arunas passing the granite boulders of Long Island
The channels between the islands were open to substantial tidal movements. Heading to the wreck of the “Farsund” on the sand shoals off Vansitart Is. we were paddling currents and eddies which resembled mild white water. The “Farsund” an early insurance job, was guarded by some large waves. It was too rough to board, but it cut a haunting image on a rather bleak day in the breaking waves.
Bad weather again forced us into our tents to re-read our various materials. Royal Commissions get boring after a while, and chocolate only lasts so long when its your easiest escape. Arunas and Gary decided that for the return trip to Rebecca Bay they would part company with the others and paddle the more challenging east coast. So into a mild wind and a large ground swell Arunas and I left the camp whilst the others waited to catch the incoming tide and rising wind, which eventually took them back down a serene west coast in very good time.
From Vansitart Is. there are sand shoals extending kilometres and producing an extensive series of breaking waves. Added to the 2-3m swell occasionally breaking over a kilometre out to sea, was a drifting sea mist, rain and an on shore wind pushing us into the break-zone. We paddled about 1km offshore but occasionally had to go much further out to detour around reefs. It wasn’t time to be running gauntlets. We had had our share of action with the occasional steeper swell breaking. At one stage Arunas was capsized but much to the relief of Gary and himself was upright almost instantaneously. The paddling was consistent but demanding. As we rounded Cape Barren we could see the waves standing up and some very rough water as wind met tide. We paddled around the Cape timorously but soon discovered that the water movement looked much worse than it was. it was entertaining being thrown around in large swell which didn’t break. It occasionally pushed the whole boat underwater up to our armpits!
Rounding the Cape we put in to a tranquil bay and ate and rested until the tide turned. We rode the tide and wind making the next 14km in an hour. When we arrived at the dreaded Sea Lion Narrows which has a reputed flow of up to 12 knots we observed very unusual water movements. There were dead flat areas next to 1-2m clapotis and large swirling whirlpools. This was shortly after the tide had turned. We camped on Forsyth Is. and the next day met up with the others at the bottom of Clarke Is.
We waited for two days on Clark before we had weather amenable to all the paddlers. We set off and slightly misjudged our speed and the tide forcing a demanding paddle for an hour or so to maintain some vestige of our course. We rested on Little Swan Is. and observed the young pelicans being raised there.
With the mainland only 5 km away we paddled with great relish. We arrived into the estuary at Little Musselroe against the tide and slowly paddled up to the boat ramp. The slow process of unpacking, and the journey back began as our paddling adventure closed. We had had over three weeks of exploring the islands and each other: an experience for which everyone felt much richer.
It would be inappropriate to conclude without sharing some reflections on group interactions on longer trips. We suggest that where the group consists of competent paddlers they should utilise some negotiation strategy once the broader aims have been determined. Honesty and accommodation are the most useful elements to reaching some acceptable consensus. Employing such strategies allows a good deal of diversity and enjoyment. Also don’t be too concerned about breaking the group up on occasions to maximise various paddlers’ adventure and satisfaction.
Finally, we thank the Tasmanian Sea Canoeing Club for their great company, hospitality and friendship. They are great people and any members down that way should not refrain from saying G’day.
||Greenlander Double, Iceflow, Arctic Raider, Pittarak
||Assorted, 3 spare
||Trangias, 2l fuel each
||on average 8L, sometimes 12. John – 27L?
||Tasmania – ferry; Little Musselroe – friends