A Furlough in the Furneaux [24]

By John Stomps

(See another article by Gary Edmond on the same trip)


  • Mike Emery Greenlander Double: Hobart
  • Veronica Sterne Greenlander Double: Hobart
  • Arunas Pilka – Arctic Raider: Canberra
  • Gary Edmond – Pittarak Expedition: Wollongong
  • John Stomps – Iceflow: Melbourne (VSKC)

After some frenzied bursts of activity; packing, buying food and numerous phone calls I was finally on the “Spirit of Tasmania” headed for Devonport and the start of a 23 day paddle through the Furneaux Group of Islands from the northeast corner of Tasmania.

Two of my co-paddlers were apparently on the same boat. I left a message on their cabin door to arrange a meeting. Hovering around the reception area they picked me out of the crowd, luckily not too many others showed up matching my clothing description of “white T shirt and blue shorts”. Seeing their two compact bags made me wonder about my five large bulky bags and if I could shrink them down to a similar size. Luckily, Mike and Veronica had outpacked us all. This was especially reassuring as I figured this would slow them down to my likely cruising speed.

At Little Musselrow Bay my hopes proved short lived. After crashing out through small waves the double cruised on at a very respectable speed. Following much gear jamming I left with my tent, Thermarest, dry bag with food and five days supply of water stored in my cockpit, both bulkheads being crammed full of seakayaking “essentials”.

After a 6km paddle we camped overnight at Swan Island to allow the best timed crossing of Banks Straight. We met the lighthouse settlement inhabitants and stocked up on fresh water before crossing Banks Straight to Moriarty Point on Clark Island. The 18km crossing proved straight forward with just the usual lumps and bumps. Hot weather called for cooling off so out came the diving gear and before long we had a nice feed of cray and abs for dinner. This proved to be a very reliable way of supplementing our diet with a variety of fish on the menu. In fact, such was our success that “fish free” days were declared later in the trip to give the taste buds a rest.

After a relaxed camp at Rebecca Bay we cruised on to Rum and then Preservation Island (so named because of the survival of the crew of the “Sydney Cove”) a heavy sea mist surrounded us once we landed and led us to ponder navigation possibilities in those conditions – luckily we never had to test them

The next day we continued on around the west coast of Cape Barren island and into Thunder and Lightning Bay – an Idyllic spot with a freshwater spring at the northern end and large creek running to the sea at the southern end. We continued on around Cape Sir John to our first encounter with civilisation at Cape Barren Township.

Cape barren has a population made up of descendants from the Tasmanian Aboriginals and early sealers. They ran a small Co-operative store where we hoped to realise our dreams of…eating icecream. After a long trudge up the hot road our hopes were dashed when we saw the store was closed. But we soon found that things aren’t always as they seem in this area when a local made “arrangements” on our behalf and we found the store operating busily behind closed doors – before long we had “heaven on a stick”. On return to the boats we discovered the tide had deserted us and left us with a long trudge out through knee deep mud and muscle beds to relaunch the boats – another lesson in tidal movements!.

Camp was made on long Island and calm hot weather again made for good diving. After spotting some big fat crays we experimented in stretching our arms into rock crevices where they were hiding but discovered after half an hour they were big and fat exactly because they knew how to stay out of arms reach.

Goose Island was the next destination and Beagle and Badger Islands proved interesting stopovers. Throughout the islands we explored many of the small huts owned by the lease holders (often with fresh water tanks) – these were used whilst shearing the resident sheep and maintaining the property. We often found no one home and could only stare longingly at the red wine and other food sitting on the shelf through the window.

Goose is the most isolated island and has an old abandoned lighthouse settlement on the southerly tip. Landing on a small beach we found enough drift wood to build several small houses. A good sized mutton bird rookery lay amongst the dunes which provided some rousing wake up calls around dawn each morning and made sure we caught the maritime weather forecast at 5.55am. It was a short hop from Goose back to Badger but a strong easterly made the going tough.

My heavily laden Icefloe proved more than a handful in these conditions with steerage taking most of my energy. I swore I would fulfil my plans to fit a rudder after the trip. But knowing that every arduous crossing has a golden sandy beach at the end helped me push on. In this case a nice little cove and grassy slope on Mt. Chapel island. It was an island with a fearsome reputation developed over the years by its major inhabitants 3,000 Tiger snakes. They seemed pretty scarce as we set up camp so we presumed the stories unfounded and went diving. With a good fish curry brewing we watched the mutton birds soaring and swooping against the sunset sky. Next day was a good opportunity to explore and we set off to scale the mountain and cross the island. On reaching the summit we saw a small hut and airfield. Working our way through the scrub we walked down and knocked on the door to our surprise someone was home.

In fact it was a man called Terry Schwaner – an American snake researcher – and our introduction to the local tiger snake population. After an afternoon catching and tagging snakes and discussing snake population numbers we decided the stories were probably true and spent most of the trip back to camp staring at the ground in front of our feet.

Prime Seal Island was next in our sights and after a short stop at East Kangaroo Island we turned with the wind and hoisted sails (the double and Iceflow that is) for a breezy 20 km run to the south west tip of the island. Despite its name there were no seals to be seen. The sealers were obviously very thorough and succeeded in wiping out the entire population.

We thought our own population was starting to diminish when we failed to meet up with Gary as arranged. The alarm was short lived as he walked up the beach to the proposed camp site. Never the less, the cray fishermans radio network had already been set abuzz by “Kathleen Maree” for all listeners to be on the lookout for one of the “paddle people” last seen heading north in a white Pitarak.

The next day we awoke to grey skies and lumpy seas – what I envisaged to be ideal rest day conditions – Unsure of what to do we walked across the island to the farm settlement catching glimpses of paddymelons along the way and odd feral peacocks. A quick chat to Craig on board “Kathleen Maree” via Mikes UHF confirmed the weather would continue.

Back at camp we reassessed the seas and decided to press on. After experiencing steerage problems Mike and Veronica “kindly” offered me a tow. But I soon realised this was not going to be the easy way out I had hoped for, instead I became the “human slingshot” being catapulted forward by the double on the breaking swells. After 10-15mins the fun started to wear off as I realised my low support stroke was getting weaker and we had only covered a fraction of the crossing. Luck was on myside and the tow line snapped as a large wave passed. I turned and surfed with the swell happy to be independent again. The crayfisherman turned and raised their stubbies to us as they passed – not at all anxious to trade places. In the lee of the Pascoe chain of islands we had respite from the wind and headed for Flinders Island mainland. After some coastal contouring we landed at Boat Harbour Bay.

Camp sites proved scarce along the sand as threatening clouds loomed overhead. However, the fickle finger of fate was on our side. In this case a kind offer to stay in a vacant holiday flat. Hot showers washed off our newly acquired “tans” and comfortable chairs made us appreciate what relaxing was all about.

Next morning was back to reality as we paddled to Killiecrankie in a stiff head wind. Knowing it had a shop gave us the extra will power to push on. Before long we were rewarded with icecreams, chocolate and fresh bread. This was a welcome change from the standard vita wheats with peanut butter and cheese.

After the feast it was a short trip across the bay to a pristine campsite at Stackies Bight. Sheltered from all sides we weathered a storm for the next 3 days. Mike and Veronica’s tent became the “community hall” hosting card games, strategy meetings, etc. A trip to the summit of Mt Killiecrankie showed us exactly how low rain clouds really do go, and our boats discovered how much sand they could collect in a blow. It was however, a good rest and maintaining a more permanent camp provided two hours extra leisure time each day.

The weather had washed away plans to paddle the north coast to the Sisters islands. So the return journey began the next day with a hop to Settlement Point. (It was here a disastrous attempt was made to re locate Tasmania’s last aboriginals inthe 1880’s.) But like old nags heading back to the stable our nostrils flared at the scent of the bakery and pub in Whitemark (the “big smoke” of Flinders Island) which we reached the next day in very respectable time. Thankfully the pub’s dress codes weren’t too strict and I slipped through with my thermals thongs and board shorts unnoticed. We stayed until sunset so we could sneak back and camp on the main beach.

In the morning we awoke to find the supply ship “Lady Jillian” unloading on the dock nearby. We quickly packed up our camp to avoid being so conspicuous. Another trip to the bakery gave us the luxury of fresh bread for the next day or so and a good “carbo loading”. On our way we stopped at Big Green Island and inspected the settlement. Finally we stopped at Trousers Point in Strzelecki National park. Here we dedicated the rest of the day to sleeping, something we were becoming relatively good at. We made the summit of Mt Strzelecki the next day but found low cloud swamping our views again. The afternoon was again dedicated to sleeping.

Franklin Sound was next in our sights, our slow progress confirmed its reputation for strong currents and big tides. A rest on Tin Kettle Island recharged the batteries and we cruised onto Little Dog Island. As we approached a lady on shore waved us over. Before long we were sitting down to cups of tea and cake as Celia (mother of a family staying on the island) told us what we were doing was “just wonderful”. Afterwards it was a short paddle to Great Dog Island. Here we camped in front of an old settlement and made preparations for a night out on the town at the Furneaux Tavern in Lady Barron township. After a pleasant 3km paddle we wasted no time in looking over the menu and our meals were “wolfed” down in record time as they arrived but, some how it never seemed quite enough.

Luckily it was “happy hour” and potato wedges, party pies and sausage rolls poured out by the platter full. Some subtly was required in “carbo loading” on snack foods neatly laid out to cater for 50-60 people. But by circulating between the platters and retiring to our table for short rests we had a very “happy hour” indeed. Our return paddle proved interesting as we headed off in fading light. An informal race ensued between myself, Arunas and Gary so we reached Great Dog Island in record time except it was the wrong bay!!! A fairly hectic search followed and we found our camp 2km further north.

Next morning we made the short crossing to Vansitart Island where a large cargo ship (the “Farsund”) lies wrecked off the coast. Cape Barren Island lay a short distance away across the channel. To paddle south around the exposed east coast or back around the west became the point of contention as conditions became unsettled. We solved the problem by splitting into two groups. Mike, Veronica and myself headed west as Gary and Arunas headed east. West proved fast and relaxing as we sailed around Cape Sir John with a following sea. Gary and Arunas found what they were looking for, challenging conditions plus a sea mist to match. After a pleasant camp on Preservation Island and Gary and Arunas on Cape Barren we met the next day at Rebecca Bay on Clark Island. Only Banks Straight lay between us and the end of the trip so we made sure to squeeze in one last fish dinner. A strong south westerly greeted us the next day, big white rollers covered the main channel and gave us another rest day.

A radical change in weather brought perfect conditions in the morning and we made good progress across the straight but persistent westerly currents swept us almost 6km off course forcing us to change course almost directly east on a slight ferry glide. Finally, we made Little Swan island. We stopped to look over a pelican rookery and then made the last hop to the mainland. An exiting finish was made by shooting up the tidal rapids of the inlet at Little Musselroe Bay.