Bass Strait Crossing, Year 2000
This is an account of the 14 day trip from Tidal River to Little Musselroe Bay, Tasmania, via Hogan group, Kent group and Flinders Isle.
The information, thoughts and views are from my personal notes taken daily and is not necessarily the views of other trip members whose accounts I’m sure you will find in other articles and future sea kayak newsletters.
The month before going, hundreds of hours were spent on gear and kayak preparation, including the fitting of a rudder to my Selkie, which is a horrid looking abomination as are most rudders, however I’m not completely stupid as it will save a lot of energy which is important. A new sail was also fitted and provisions for extra water storage in the cockpit.
Day 1 – Saturday 19-02-2000
We arrive at Tidal River 9:30 am and catch up with Peter’s friend Mick the ranger who allows us access to the beach with Peter’s vehicle and trailer. We pack the kayaks in front of an increasingly inquisitive crowd who must be thinking the next time we hear of these 4 people will be the evening news. The weather is hot and sunny with a northerly wind. 11 am sees us on the water with a rising tide, lunch is at Fenwick Bight before striking a north headwind around Lighthouse Point with moderate rebound from a small swell. We land at Waterloo Bay 3:30 pm feeling a bit dehydrated.
Along the way we spoke with the water police who weren’t overly concerned with our trip plans and were pleased we all had EPIRBS, GPS and VHF radio. We also spoke with fisheries who were slightly more shocked about our plans and wished us well, both authorities were very interested in the sleek racing hull type vessel that had waved to us at Norman Bay, they seem to be concerned about their activities. Set up camp at a shady spot at the quiet end of the beach and are immediately set upon by rampaging march flies, which even follow you in the water. Spent rest of the day body surfing and resting. Weather forecast indicated SW change delayed till late tomorrow, get early night for tomorrow as it will be a big day, first leg to Hogan Isle which can just be seen from beach.
Day 2 – Sunday 20-02-2000
Up at 6:45 am, packed and on water at 8:00 am. No wind, slight swell forecast for weak SW change. Hogan visual after one hour. Peter feeling very seedy 29 km from Hogan. We tow Peter a short distance before he recovers slightly, we then stop, raft up, Peter vomits. This helps and he makes good recovery. Last 15 km becoming sore and uncomfortable. We finally land in bay in front of hut built by Alf Stackhouse on eastern side of Hogan Isle. Total distance today is 53 km. Fresh SE wind soon comes up, could be here for a while, Peter’s problem seems to be his drinking water or container. We check water tank at hut, is full to the top, tap not working inside so we repair it.
Decide to camp in valley near hut as we heard about the native rats that bite.
Day 3 – Monday 21-02-2000
Up at 7:00 am, realize we are not going anywhere today, forecast is strong wind warning upgraded to gale warning for all coast from Cape Otway. Walked all over isle checked out the solar lighthouse and disused weather station. Went fishing, caught only parrot fish, most by Tina, tasted as I remembered – like salt water carp. Swell increasing all day, wind 20-30 knots, watched penguins come up beach at night, in tents by 9:00 pm.
Day 4 – Tuesday 22-02-2000
Long sleep, up at 8:00 am, sea moderated a bit, Ian thinks we will be out of here tomorrow, nothing to do on this isle any more except find and eat mutton birds, but seems to be out of season. 4:00 pm wind up again, gusts to 50 knots on wind meter at top of hill. Penguins seem to have stayed in today. Tried to plug VHF and marine radio into disused weather station but no success. Wind dropped off late today, swell no longer crashing into bay, raising our hopes to get out tomorrow.
Day 5 – Wednesday 23-02-2000
Up at 5:00 am, wind all but dropped off, forecast gale warning east of Wilsons Promontory. Make last entry in log book in hut; entries in log include many sea kayak crossings over last 15 years – it seems Tina is the second female to paddle across Bass Strait. On water 6:30 am, light wind swell up to 3 metres and sloppy, make good progress at 7 km/h. Erith Isle visual but Peter doesn’t look well and feeling sick again, spots shark about 8 ft which swims under my rudder. 3rd hour Peter vomiting, raft up, after a bit of towing he comes good again, within 8 km of Erith Peter is violently sick. Tina rafts up and supports Peter, Ian and me tow both of them, Peter now cramped up and cannot paddle, SW change hits, Erith Isle disappears in low cloud and rain, navigating now only by GPS. Things getting very serious now, sea is getting big and we are worried about missing entrance to Murray Pass.
Getting very exhausted and paddle is tripping on Ian’s tow rope when surfing down swells, followed by a violent snap when slack takes up. Finally make it into Murray Pass fighting a gale force headwind into a small bay for shelter. Peter recovers enough to make it into Bulli Cove where we find a hut and fresh tank water, set up camp. Distance today 39 km. Tina and I paddle across Murray Pass to Deal Isle, meet caretakers Bob and Peter at homestead, help catch wallabies in compound and throw them over the fence. We are given a bag of tomatoes from their 100 year old vegie garden, paddle back, make dinner, watch rats, possums and penguins. Rest day tomorrow, explore islands and phone home.
Day 6 Thursday 24-02-2000
Awoken about midnight by the familiar sound of a V12 engine. Peering out of the tent I can just make out in the moonlight a shape of the black and grey suspicious looking vessel we saw in Norman Bay slowly cruising around our bay then disappearing down Murray Pass. Slept in today, perfect weather, no wind. Bush heritage people, whose organisation leases these islands, turned up today with equipment and new water tank for the hut, they plan to stay for 4 days. Girl gave Peter a tablet for stomach bug, hope it works. Visited Bob and Peter at Deal Island, had tea and biscuits, walked to lighthouse, 2nd highest lighthouse in the world, decommissioned because it was often shrouded in clouds. Spoke to crew of ‘Mezaire’ in bay. Tina talked 4 cans of drink out of them, showed us some huge lobsters, gave us some abalone, tried it and gave it to the bush heritage crew, prepare for crossing tomorrow to Killiecrankie, forecast no swell, light winds.
Day 7 – Friday 25-02-2000
Crap night sleep on angle, 2:00 am wind came up. Most depressing sky, now overcast, low clouds, up at 5:00 am anyway, doesn’t seem any hurry to pack. On water at 7:30 am, paddle east to Garden Cove, decide wind too strong at 20 knots plus from East. Head back to Deal Isle, catch forecast from 3 yachts, SW change tomorrow – hoping Sunday is the day to go. Peter and Ian head back to Erith to make a new camp in foreshore forest campsites, Tina and I sit on pier half sleeping while a wallaby sits next to us waiting for something maybe. Go up to visit Bob and Peter and get offered soup and muffins. Wander through museum again.
Weather now warm with light winds, could have gone today but who was to know. Police speak to us on the caretakers phone want to know about suspicious boat who we know is Cam Strachen from Hastings. He is banned from entering Tasmanian waters and is a bit of a pirate type character wanted for illegal fishing, but they cannot catch him as his boat is a converted ocean racing hull fitted with hi-tech electronic gear and a V12 turbo engine and a two foot diameter surface prop – very fast so they can’t catch him with evidence on board.
Day 8 – Saturday 26-02-2000
Up at 8:00 am, SW change here, heavy rain. Starting to feel we are running out of time and food, discussion with Peter clears up a few issues. Visited Bob and Peter for last time, got more tomatoes, said goodbyes and rang Bill Robinson. Got forecast, paddled round to Winter Cove on other side of Deal Isle, which is 1 hour paddle time closer to Flinders Isle. Experienced gale force gusts, strong currents and some big seas, landed in small surf. Found very nice sheltered campsite. Went snorkelling – lots of big reef fish but can’t quite spear the bastards, caught small salmon on beach – very tasty cooked in foil. Good to eat some protein. Wind abating, sit round fire until 9:00 pm.
Day 9 – Sunday 27-02-2000
Awoke to light winds, clear skies. Cook porridge on fire again – I won’t be eating this crap again at home. Getting bored now, made lure from tin foil, caught more salmon, ate for lunch with tomatoes. I am eating a spoonful of Promite daily – think this is important, other’s don’t realise this (fools!). If I am on this island much longer I will kill a wallaby and throw it in the fire, haven’t seen one today, maybe they know something? Slept all afternoon, how good is it to do this! Weather looking good for early departure tomorrow. Salmon and tomatoes for dinner.
Day 10 – Monday 28-02-2000
Up at 4:00 am – this is the big one. Everyone running off up the beach trailing toilet paper this morning. On water at 5:15 am, seas flat, sun rose after one hour. 7 km/h had us at Wright Rock in 3 hours, photographing a seal colony and having a snack. Taking off cags as warming up now, ½ way to Craggy Isle. Ian and Tina spotted a dorsal fin of a shark much bigger than the previous one, very sinister looking according to Ian, this brought the group together. Rafted up at Craggy Isle, got out of cockpits, had stretch, sea calm. Set off on last 22 km to Killiecrankie Bay, arriving just after 2 pm. Feeling sore but very pleased with ourselves 10 days after leaving Tidal River. Directed to campsite by Mrs Stackhouse who runs the little camping ground. Also found the general store and off-loaded $150 between us which covered most food groups as you can imagine. Also found big tiger snake about 7 ft long, seems they grow up to 9 ft on and around the islands surrounding Flinders. Waited for Peter and Ian to have cold showers, then lit fire and had hot shower myself, felt fine now and have not worn gloves. Distance today 61 km.
Day 11 – Tuesday 29-02-2000
Casual start today, SE wind up, overcast, can’t believe how well we did to enjoy yesterdays conditions. After raiding the general store again we were told by the shop keeper that her mother lives at Allports Beach where we were heading – if we see her we may get some eggs. My thoughts at this stage were if we don’t see her we may just get the whole chicken! Sailed out of Killiecrankie Bay all the way to Cape Frankland, then turned into headwind of 20+ knots, struggled across Marshall Bay then along beach. Had a late lunch with 8 or 9 km remaining. Spectacular huge marble-like boulders line this part of the coast. Arrived at Allports Beach in small bay at 5:00 pm, found picnic type area with BBQ site and table.
Went for a walk after dinner along rural dirt road and met eccentric old fellow named Jim, who is a technical book writer for Penguin books, looked exactly like the Professor out of the movie ‘Back to the Future’, and behaved rather similar – apparently he’d had a few before we arrived. He showed us the old bush tennis court where Laurie Ford’s group camped during their return crossing in 1987. We took Jim back to camp to meet Ian and being both into astronomy and having spent time at the CSIRO they got on like a house on fire.
Day 12 – Wednesday 01-03-2000
Casual start again, off at 9:00 am. Sailed around Settlement Point, met headwind from SE again, few aches and pains from yesterdays effort. Cut across bay, rounded next cape and paddled last 8 km in shallow reefy water into 15-20 knot headwind. Arrived at Whitemark in time for mixed grill in pub (recommended by Stuart Trueman on his crossing), and excellent it was! We were now almost too fat to fit in the phone box, rang Bill Robinson to report in, and Bob and Peter at Deal Isle to say thank you for all their help, and that we were safe.
Looked around town, Tina and Ian each purchasing some Killiecrankie diamond earrings from the shop. Loaded more supplies in kayaks and set off to Trousers Point, 10 km away in calm conditions. Took photos of Mt Strezlecki. Local copper advised us of the best campsite, met crew of recreational fishing boat ‘Fly Fisher’ out of Hastings, returning to Lady Barron from continental shelf chasing marlin. They gave us a bag of fillets for dinner. On board was Laurie Ford’s ex-brother-in-law – small world. Caught up with 3 yachts from Deal Isle moored in bay, received forecast 20 knot NW turning SW up to 30 knots tomorrow.
Day 13 – Thursday 02-03-2000
Up at 7:00 am. Possums been busy at night – ate whole fish fillet off BBQ. Sand flies also bad here. Away at 7:50 am, crossed Franklin Sound (16 km) in two hours, flat seas. Spoke to Flinders Isle copper again on his shark cat – a flash unit with 500 hp hanging off the back. Ian spoke with crew on ‘Furneaux Explorer’, NW wind up now – fast sail down to Preservation Isle. Had lunch on lee side, people in cabin here gave us some water. They had flown in earlier that day as this Isle has an airstrip.
Wind now quite strong – fast sailing with 1-2 metre sea. Having already passed Thunder Bay and Lightning Bay on Cape Barren Island, our destination for today, we headed for tomorrows destination – Rebecca Bay on Clarke Isle, arriving mid afternoon. The hottest day of the trip. Beautiful little bays but no water. Campsite at the top of a steep sand hill, however the snorkelling here was the best I had seen so far. Can see SW change coming in. Now had option of going across Banks Strait today but decided to rest here the night, think everyone is wondering whether we made the right decision.
Day 14 – Friday 03-03-2000
SW change came through early morning. Up at 8:00 am. Forecast 20-30 knots. SW sky a bit dark but we decided to go 2-3 hours before low tide and ferry glide 7 km to the right of Swan Isle lighthouse allowing for current on water. 10:30 am lumpy sea 2-3 metre plus right hand beam head wind 10-15 knots. After a while turn on GPS, realise we are making good progress. Peter out in front on compass bearing of 240, pass lighthouse after 3 hours, not bad for 18 km. Have lunch in bay on lee side, trawler skipper tells us stronger SW change expected soon, time to go as soon will be slack water for last 4 km crossing. Have heard of strong currents to 5 knots here. Front hits us with wind to 50 knots. Can’t make headway, paddle close to shore to tip of Swan Isle. As we plan our blast across, the wind moderates making ferry glide possible to Little Musselroe Bay.
Enter creek mouth and are greeted by Jeff Jennings (Maatsuyker Canoe Club) and Mrs Ponting, who welcomes us to have a hot shower. Jeff just happened to be dropping of a NSW Sea Kayak Club member, David Whyte, who had become sick after leaving Launceston to paddle to Hobart with Mike Snoad and Dirk Stuber, who had arrived here this morning. They all now planned to head off in the next couple of days to Swan Isle then continue on to Hobart. After a few cold beers we wished the 3 NSW members well. With a full loaded kayak trailer we then headed to Jeff Jennings place at Bridgeport. Our trip now over, it feels like we only left Tidal river yesterday – almost feel like turning around and paddling back. Could we be as lucky with the weather again? Might have to wait ’til next time to find out…
There are many people we must thank, for without their help this trip would not have been easy to put together or complete.
- Bill Robinson – base communications. Bill had to deal with everyone from worried wives and mothers to water police – sorry about the extra grey hair Bill!
- Lionel Wishwell (Mercy Radio) – Radio communications expert, knew where we were before we did!
- Yacht and fishing boat crews – for their help and weather info across Bass Strait.
- Bob and Peter – the caretakers at Deal Isle. Without their supply of tomatoes and tea with biscuits we would have starved!
- Jeff Jennings – prior info, transport and accomodation – our Tasmanian connection.
- Steve Vegh (Canoe Innovations) – for his amazing craftsmanship once again in altering and repairing our kayaks.
- Sea To Summit – for supplying their wonderful, lightweight, indestructible dry bags for all of us.
- Laurie Ford – for information prior to trip which was invaluable, however we never did find that water that just bubbles out of the sand.
- Canoes Plus, The Yacht Shop (at Frankston), and anyone else we forgot.
- And of course Ian Dunn, Peter Provis and Tina Rowley, for without them this trip would not have been possible.
- Ian Dunn, Raider X
- Peter Provis, Selkie
- Tina Rowley, Artic Raider
- Julian Smith, Selkie