A Sea Kayak Crossing: Bass Strait [41]

The Diary

26 March 1999

Tidal River to Waterloo Bay, Wilson’s Promontory
Distance: 25 km
Time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Wind: 20 knots westerly
Sea: 2 m SW swell

After a long drive, we arrived at Tidal River in Wilson’s Promontory National Park around mid afternoon. After paying a $20.00 fee for beach access (recommended that at low tide you pay the fee as it is quite a long walk and carry from the camping ground to the water’s edge) we drove onto the beach and hastily loaded our gear into the kayak. With only a few hours of daylight remaining we undertook a short paddle around to Waterloo Bay on the eastern side of Wilson’s Promontory, both to allow us to check the set-up of the kayak. Waterloo Bay has a beautiful long white beach. Found great camp spot at southern end of beach, pitched our tent and settled in for the night listening to the AFL on Steve’s radio and dining on the first of many peanut butter and cheese sandwiches.

27 March 1999

Waterloo Bay to Hogan Island
Distance: 54 km
Time: 4 hrs 40 mins
Wind: 15 knots NW
Sea: 1-2 m W swell

Up before sunrise. Packed gear into kayak in half the time it took on our first go. We set off with a light north westerly breeze at our backs which made for easy paddling and steered by compass for the first two hours until Hogan Island appeared on the south eastern horizon. Hogan Island is a rugged windswept little island inhabited by hundreds of noisy penguins and some rather large cattle. We landed on the eastern side of the island near a small corrugated iron shack which despite its dirt floor and quirky neighbours was to be home for the next two days. Shortly after our arrival on Hogan Island the wind swung round to the south west and began to strengthen. Just before dusk a large trawler dropped anchor in the small bay in front of the shack which indicated that things were getting pretty rough out in Bass Strait. That night several strong gusts of wind threatened to lift the roof off the shack and when next morning the wind showed no sign of easing Steve suggested that we wait until the trawler departed before we continued on. After two nights of rowdy Penguins giving it to each other outside the shack we were more than ready to head off when we woke on day three to find a blue sky and no trawler.

29 March 1999

Hogan Island to Erith Island
Distance: 39 km
Time: 3 hrs 56 mins
Wind: 10-15 knots SW
Sea: 1-2 m SW swell

Quickly broke camp and headed towards Erith Island, which was visible from Hogan Island. Several types of sea birds were encountered on this leg. In particular a number of Albatross seem quite happy circling around us just above the waves on their 2 metre wings. Erith Island, home to the second highest lighthouse in the world, which together with Dover and Deal Islands make up the Kent Group. It was when trying to enter Murray Pass, the small passage between the islands that we made our first acquaintance with Bass Strait’s infamous currents which according to Steve were running at between 5 to 6 knots in mid-channel. The majestic beauty of the Kent Group with its magnificent albatross and rich history of whalers, lighthouse keepers and nudists (apparently a group of nudists from Victoria spend their summer holidays on Erith Island) made it a great place to overnight. We noted with interest that one of the entries in the Erith Island Hut Log Book concerned a party of sea kayakers which included Australia’s foremost multi-discipline endurance athlete John Jacoby who in 1997 were forced to seek shelter on Erith Island for four days while waiting for the seas to moderate.

30 March 1999

Erith Island to Killercrankie Bay, Flinders Island
Distance: 63 km
Time: 5 hrs 39 mins
Wind: 20-25 knots SW
Sea: 2-3m SW swell

From Erith Island it was a tough days paddling into a short steep sea driven by a 25 knot SW wind to the small fishing village of Killercrankie, on the west coast of Flinders Island, which is the largest of the eastern Bass Strait islands. It was on this leg that we really came to appreciate the seaworthiness of our Mirage kayak which never slewed on a run or even looked like capsizing when hit by a breaking wave. Killercrankie with its very nice white quartz beach is set in the lee of a large granite hill which protects it from the prevailing westerly winds. Judging by the addition of three new houses Killercrankie seemed to have recently doubled its population. Stayed in a comfortable guest house run by a local fisherman’s wife. Curiously, the locals seemed somewhat under whelmed when we told them where we had come from. In hindsight this attitude is understandable as it would have been their boats and lives on the line if we had required rescuing during the previous couple of days.

31 March 1999

Killercranky Bay to Trousers Point (southern end of Flinders Island)
Distance: 6O km
Time: 6 hrs
Wind: 25 knots SW easing
Sea: 1-3 m SW swell easing to calm

Shortly after leaving Killercrankie the next morning we encountered some very tricky seas whilst rounding Cape Frankland where due to the action of tide against wind, two metre standing waves were forming. These waves created a narrow zone of rough water which seemed to stretch from the tip of Cape Frankland out to the western horizon. It took quite a few minutes of deliberation and a couple tentative forays before this watery obstacle was negotiated. The remaining days paddling was uneventful as we headed down the west coast of Flinders Island stopping at the haunting Wybalena, the resting place of some of the last Tasmanian aboriginals and Whitemark, the “capital of Flinders Island” to restock on food before reaching Trousers Point, on the southern end of Flinders Island.

1 April 1999

Trousers Point to Preservation Is
Distance: 32 km
Time: 3 hrs 25 mins
Wind: 30 knots SW
Sea: 2 m SW swell

Another tough paddle. Had waves constantly breaking over the deck. From Trousers Point it was across Franklin Sound and around the western tip of Cape Barren Island to Preservation Island where in 1803 the survivors of the wreck of the Sydney Cove spent six months waiting for some of their shipmates to reach Sydney and return with a rescue ship. We had intended to only stop on Preservation Island for lunch but a strong westerly wind and incoming tide together with the reputation of Banks Strait to produce very rough seas under such conditions persuaded us stay the night.

2 April 1999

Preservation Island to Musselroe Bay
Distance: 36 km
Time: 3 hrs 55 mins
Wind: 10-15 knots SW
Sea: 1-2 m SW swell

The final leg of our trip was from Preservation Island across Banks Strait to Little Musselroe Bay and although the wind had abated from the previous afternoon a good westerly swell was still running against an incoming tide. We were amazed by the currents in Banks Strait which flowed like rivers through the surrounding relatively still water. Crossing one of these currents required care because every now and then a breaking wave would come through.

The Navigation

For navigation we used a deck mounted compass and laminated photocopied sections of the hydrographic chart for Eastern Bass Strait which were attached to the deck in front of us. Having a compass was very useful during times of poor visibility and for reducing unnecessary paddling by enabling the correct landfall to be made particularly when we were being carried by the tide on our approaches to Flinders Island and Little Musselroe Bay. We did not take a Global Positioning System because each leg could be covered during daylight and as there was always land visible, though not necessarily in front of us, we were able to take compass bearings for plotting our position. With regard to that critical paddling consideration, the weather, we found that the weather forecasts we received on Steve’s small radio were quite accurate concerning expected changes and wind directions but that the actual wind strengths and the timing of changes were often at variance to the forecast. We were very aware that rapid changes in the weather and sea conditions are common in Bass Strait and we made allowance for the possibility that we may have been forced to seek refuge for a number of days until the weather was calm enough for paddling. We were also careful not to let our pride get in the way when deciding whether or not to run for shelter or to abandon a day’s paddling. It was Steve’s hard won experience gained when he paddled around Tasmania in 1998 that made it easy for him to suggest sitting it out on Hogan Island while the westerly gale blew itself out.

The Food and Drink

With respect to food and water we started the trip with enough for five days and two days respectively. Water in the form of tank water was available at all the places we stayed at. We also noticed small freshwater springs on Hogan, Erith and Preservation Islands. We chose foods which basically contained something from the four main food groups and did not require refrigeration or cooking. In other words we ate a lot of muesli bars, peanut butter and cheese sandwiches and drank a lot of made up powered cordial. Whilst paddling had a short stop (2-3 minutes) each hour for a muesli bar and a drink. Noticed with this regime that our energy levels stayed high during paddling and that we didn’t feel all that hungry at the end of each day and consequently only consumed relatively small dinners.

The Safety

Our attitude to safety was basically one of not relying on the possibility of receiving outside assistance. We both had extensive knowledge of Bass Straight and did quite a bit of research into the trip. We considered ourselves to be fit and experienced ocean paddlers, we had the right equipment for the journey and from our view, the only wild card would be poor judgement. We carried life jackets, flares, a first aid kit, a fibreglass repair kit, a spare paddle and a mobile phone which worked on Hogan and Preservation Islands. We did not contact any authorities before we departed because that would have meant giving estimated times of arrival which may not have been achievable during bad weather. However we did inform a number of friends about our plans and contacted them throughout the trip. We minimised our risks by doing our homework and using good judgement with respect to sea conditions and the weather in relation to our capabilities.

The Craft

We used a Mirage Double Sea Kayak and found it to be very stable and fast in all conditions. It had great run either following the breeze or hammering into it and was surprisingly easy to catch swells. When actually riding swells it did not bog down and allowed us to achieve constant momentum, a very important aspect whether for paddling enjoyment or trying to achieve good mileage. The storage capacity of the Mirage was quite adequate for our journey and the hatches were large enough to allow the storage of bulky items such as our tent and sleeping bags. The pump, which Mirage designer and builder Paul Hewitson fitted for us was a Rule and although we hardly ever used it, pumping a thousand gallons an hour is not a problem for it. Highly recommended. The seats in the Mirage are comfortable without padding but for long day trips and overnight expeditions it is recommended that some form of foam padding be used.

Mirage

Fibreglass double sea kayak
Length: 24′ — 7.3 m; Width: 24′ — 60 cm; Weight: 35 kg
Bulkheads: 4, providing storage: 3 med to high volume storage hatches
Optional: 1100 gph ‘Rule’ pump
Retail cost: $2650.00

In Summary

Crossing Bass Strait was something that had stirred our imaginations for a long time and we were not disappointed by its physical challenge nor by its incredible unspoilt beauty. It was an awesome adventure and believe me when I say that the intensity of critical decision making in the middle of Bass Strait is more exciting than the day to day routine of an air-conditioned job.

This article and the accompanying images were originally published in ‘KC Magazine’ volume 11, 1999, and have been reproduced here with the kind permission of the Editor of ‘KC Magazine’.

Trip Summary
Day Leg Distance (km) Time (Hrs:Mins) Avg Speed (km/h)
1 Tidal Rover to Waterloo Bay, Wilsons Promontory 25 2:20 10.7
2 Waterloo Bay to Hogan Island 54 4:40 11.6
3 No paddling, too rough      
4 Hogan Island to Erith Island 39 3:56 10.2
5 Erith Island to Killercrankie Bay, Flinders Island 63 5:39 11.2
6 Killercrankie Bay to Trousers Point, Flinders Island 60 6:00 10.0
7 Trousers Point to Preservation Island 32 3:25 8.9
8 Preservation Island to Little Musselroe Bay, Tasmania 36 3:55 9.2
  Totals 309 29:56 10.3

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