matty's tasmanian adventures - index


Bass Strait Crossing – Feb 2001

Trip paddlers-
Jeff Jennings - Dean double kayak (2 sails)
Jamie Fergusson - double with Jeff
Ian Johnstone - Greenlander (2 sails)
Phil Barratt - Sea Leopard (1 sail)
Matthew Watton - Necky Looksha IV (plastic) (1 sail)

The plan was to get our kayaks shipped from Devonport to Melbourne.  They would be collected by a friend of Jamie’s.  Ian and Jamie were both flying over to Melbourne before Jeff, Phil and I.  We would eventually all meet up to collect our kayaks.  Jamie’s friend Grant and members of the Victorian Sea Canoeing Club were going to drive us down to Wilson’s Promontory where we would start our adventure.

Saturday 10/2/01 – Tidal River to Waterloo Bay – 37 km

The weather was overcast.  There was a moderate s/w wind and the tide seemed to be going out at Tidal River.  We finished packing our kayaks and Ian set the scene for the trip as he leisurely packed his kayak.

The double weighed a tonne lifting it onto a ute to take it out onto the beach.  We unloaded the boats next to Tidal River, took a few photos (for the coroner’s file) before hitting the water.  We waited for Julian, Tina, and their American friend who were paddling to Waterloo Bay with us.  They were members of the Victorian Sea Canoeing Club.

We waded and dragged the boats down tidal river.  I was a little apprehensive about the trip, mainly due to the unknown area.  We had attracted a group of about 20 onlookers to farewell us from Tidal River.  I started out through the 2 foot surf first, just before Phil as Jeff and Ian filmed us and Jamie held the double.

As we left Tidal River (Norman Bay) our direction was initially south as we paddled past the opening of Oberon Bay.  Phil mentioned that he had a cockpit full of water and he was quite concerned about using his pump battery up too quickly.

From Oberon Pt to the south we encountered many rebounding waves from the s/w swell against the cliffs.  The swells were 1-2 metres and we were all popping up and down in & out of view.

Once we reached South-West Point we were able to put the sails up and made better progress with less rebounding waves also.  As we passed between the coast and Wattle Island, which is only about a 600m gap, we noticed our first tidal flow for the trip.

We all stopped in a narrow gulch in Fenwick Bight right at the bottom of the Prom and had a break.  There isn’t a beach in this narrow bight but it was sheltered enough that you could get out of your kayak onto the rocks and stretch your legs.  Phil investigated his leaking cockpit and concluded that the water was coming in his pump outlet hole.  He found something to use for a bung and then we continued.

We were sailing quickly and catching some small runs as we rounded South-East Point where we had spectacular views of the lighthouse.  We were paddling into a slight current but the tailwind easily made up for it.

After we rounded South-East Point, the water was calm but we still got some strong gusts swirling around the cliffs.  We stopped at the southern end of Waterloo Bay for a few minutes.  There is supposed to be a good campsite here but Jeff had already agreed to meet the Victorian’s who were walking over to see us.

Ian had fallen behind a bit and we could see him a few hundred metres behind as we crossed Waterloo Bay.  We later found out that he had capsized while sailing with 2 sails up.  None of us noticed him come out.  It was very lucky that he was able to sort himself out.  This was the first hint of the lack of cohesion and teamwork between the group.  The problems were increased by the following:

-We didn’t have a trip leader
-We didn’t stick together well enough

Sunday 11/2/01 – Waterloo Bay to Hogan Island – 50ish km

Overcast again, no breeze, 6am start.  We started the day off by sticking together well.  Clouds of mutton birds surrounded us in the early morning light.  We paddled for about an hour and a half before we caught our first glimpses of Hogan Island as a faint bump on the horizon.

It seemed to take ages to get away from the coastline of the Prom and ages once we had first seen Hogan for it to get closer.  Ian started feeling a little seasick halfway out to Hogan but the feeling passed.

I fiddled around with different settings on my spinnaker in the light breeze.  It was pointless having sails up because the wind wasn’t strong enough to keep the sails full or assist us.

As we got within the last 10 km’s from Hogan Island the overcast skies were parting.  We ended up arriving at Hogan Island with a cloud-free sky.  Closer to Hogan Jamie and Jeff disappeared off ahead and I was trying to stay up with them.  I made the mistake of assuming that Ian and Phil would stay together.  Ian and Phil both went their separate ways and when we arrived at Hogan, Phil was about 10 minutes behind.  He was feeling tired and we had all made the mistake of thinking he was with someone else.

We encountered strong tides close to Hogan Island that were running from our left to right (north to south around the thin island).

We headed around to the eastern side of Hogan and into a calm bay with crystal clear water.  There is a small beach with a hut at the northern end and a small beach with a cattle-holding yard at the southern end of the bay.  We could already see a tent at the southern end and we decided we would set up camp near the hut.

We all went in for a refreshing swim to wash off the salt and found it to be a couple of degrees cooler that the water at Waterloo Bay – but it was still great.

Hogan is a thin island a few km’s long with a hill about 150m high.  There are no trees on the island and there are cattle, penguins, native rats and lots of flies.  We all visited the other end of the bay and found that there were actually 2 groups there.  There were 3 girls from Sydney and a group of 4 guys from NSW and Canberra.

We spent the afternoon walking up the hill, exploring the island, reading the logbook in the hut, and fighting off the flies.  Around dusk the rats came out and would come right up to you and run around your feet.  They were round and fluffy and would eat anything.

The next morning Jeff found that one had eaten through a dry bag and then through lots of layers of fresh plastic bags – none of which had ever had any food in them.  He was baffled.


Monday 12/2/01 – Hogan Island to Erith Island – 43km

We planned to head off to Erith Island the next morning, as did the other 2 groups.  We had aimed to start at 5.30am ish but ended up starting paddling at 6am, just as the sun crept above the horizon.  It would be unfair of me to say that once again we were waiting for Ian to get packed – so I won’t – except to say that Ian seemed to have every item of gear in his kayak wrapped individually in its own plastic bag and he unpacked his whole kayak each day.  The result of this was that Ian spent a lot of time surrounded by small plastic bags.

Before we left Hogan Island, I had programmed a route into my GPS from our start point to the northern entrance to Murray Passage (between Erith and Deal Islands).  The plan was to head on a consistent compass course and let the tide take us to the left of our course and then it should start bringing us back at about midday.  This would also give us a following current as we entered Murray Passage.

As I watched the gps, I could see that we were taken 7.5km out to the left of the straight course to Erith Island before the tide changed and took us back.

Jamie and Jeff veered off as they approached Erith Island to what they thought was a kayak close in to the rocks.  When they got closer they realised that it was just a large section of bird poo.  Phil was following them.  Ian and I had stayed further out to make sure that when we were affected by the stronger currents near Erith Island we would get sucked down Murray Passage rather than down the outside.  It worked like the treat and I found there was a strong current sucking us down the passage.

We landed on Erith Island and explored the hut and the track around the beach for the best camping position.  We ended up setting up camp about a 100 metres up the track that diagonally climbs away from the dunes.

Within half an hour of our arrival, the 4 NSW guys arrived and they set up one tent next to the hut and 2 of them slept in the hut.

Later that afternoon we all climbed up to the highest section of Erith Island and soaked up some magnificent views across to Deal and Dover Islands and to Hogan in the distance.  I was surprised to find that once again I could get a signal with my Telstra CDMA phone.

We relaxed in the Erith hut later and read the hut’s logbook.  There were lots of other interesting stories from yachties and kayakers.  There were some beautiful egg casings of the paper nautilus in the hut.

Later that evening we discovered that there were thousands of rats (rattus rattus) on Erith Island and they would try to eat anything.


Tuesday 13/2/01 – exploring day on Erith

Tuesday was very blustery from the south-west.  We hadn’t planned to paddle but we wouldn’t have paddled anyway.  The wind was picking up the water and swirling it in funnels.  Some of the group walked over the hill to the gap between Erith and Dover Islands.  It was a sunny day and the colour of the water in the bay near the Erith hut was a lovely greeny-blue.

I went for a paddle across to Deal to experience the currents and have a sail in the good breeze.  I was also checking if the 3 girls had stopped over on the beach at Deal.  They were no-where to be found.  I had a go at fishing in the Murray Passage – with no luck but caught quite a few parrot fish in the bay on Erith.

As I approached the Erith hut again, I stopped to get some photos and I managed to let my paddle blow away.  It was very lucky that my Necky kayak was very manoeuvrable so I could turn it and hand paddle over to the paddle – before I was blown right out into the passage.

Most people from both groups had a go at fishing of some kind that afternoon.  Whether it was diving for abalone, or with a spear, or with a hand line from a kayak.  Most people had some luck.


Wednesday 14/2/01 - exploring day on Erith

We all paddled across to Deal Island with the intentions of looking in the Deal museum and walking up to the lighthouse.  We went to the house of the island caretaker where lots of people took advantage of the electricity to recharge batteries.

After a cup of tea and biscuits, we walked over to the airstrip and farewelled Wendy from the all-girl NSW group.  She injured herself when she slipped over on Hogan Island and bruised her tail bone so she couldn’t sit in a kayak any more.  While we were waiting for the plane to arrive Ian amused himself by throwing rocks at a wallaby that was sitting on the side of the airstrip.

We all had a good workout on the walk up the 4wd track up to the lighthouse.  There were 10 of us that walked up there.  Only Phil didn’t come because he had walked up there before.  We were lucky that we had the key from the caretaker and were able to get up the lighthouse.

The view from the top was sensational.  We had views of the Prom, Hogan in the direction that we had travelled.  We could also see the path to Killiecrankie, with Wrights Rock and Craggy Island in between.  We could also see the Curtis Group out to our west.

We stayed up the lighthouse for about an hour – until everyone had taken all the photos that they needed to.

We walked back to the caretaker's house and had a good look through the Deal Island museum at its fascinating history.  Upon our return to Erith, everyone got back into fishing mode for the evening meal.  We found that there was a regular visitor to our bay.  A large ray kept coming in to within a metre of the beach in the area that we cleaned our fish.  Ian was able to get some great footage with his underwater video of the ray and he was quite nervous as it turned around and waved its long barbed tail at him from a foot away.


Thursday 15/2/01 – still on Erith

We awoke to sunshine and more blustery s/w wind.  Jamie went diving near Dover Island with a mask, snorkel and spear.  He caught a few nice fish and wrestled a good sized crayfish out of a hole.

We cooked up a really good feed that afternoon using just the seafood that we had caught.  We had planned to go the next day, as had the NSW guys.  They decided to paddle around to Winter Cove on Deal Island that afternoon so that they cut down the next day’s trip by 6-8 km.  We decided that we didn’t really care about the extra distance (either that or we just couldn’t be stuffed paddling that afternoon).  We decided to get up at 4am the next morning and be on the water by 5am.  Everyone packed up their tents to sleep in the hut and packed as much of their kayaks as they could.  I think we all had a pretty restless nights sleep with the anticipation of out biggest crossing ahead of us.


Friday 16/2/01 – Erith Island to Killiecrankie – 67 km

We got up just after 4am and dressed into our paddle gear in the dark.  It sounded windy outside and it was eerie as we paddled off into the darkness at approximately 5.00 am.  Jeff & Jamie hit the lead as we headed out the southern end of Murray Passage.  Ian stopped briefly and Phil stopped for Ian and I just slowed down so that I could still see Jeff & Jamie and back to Phil.  Within a couple of minutes Jeff & Jamie had moved further ahead.  As we left Murray Passage, we spread out even more because Jeff was the only one with a light on his kayak and we were all disappearing behind the large swells into deep troughs.  We could see the light on Wrights Rock in the distance until it became lighter.

As it became lighter, Phil and I were close together and continued on.  We saw Jeff & Jamie further out with Ian behind them.  We all grouped up again and had a little discussion about our ‘night’ paddling.  We decided that we should all have had adequate lights and whistles.  We should also have stayed close enough to communicate if we needed to stop so that we could stay together.

We decided that we would stop on the hour each hour after that and group together and we would all paddle the bearing of one designated person at a time rather that all paddling our version of 120 degrees.  This plan worked really well and we made good time and it gave Jamie the time to have a nice swim around the kayak while they waited for the 3 single kayaks to catch up.

We made good progress to the first landmark – Wrights Rock.  We actually passed well to the south of it as the early morning tide took us to the s/w.  For the rest of the morning until 11.30am the tide swept back in a n/e direction – taking us back on track with Craggy Island.

By the time we arrived at Craggy Island the tide had changed again and it was flowing strongly past Craggy Island from n/e to s/w.  We struggled to get past it but we were able to get some assistance from the fresh south-west breeze that was counteracting the tidal flow.  We were able to sail directly towards Killiecrankie with the wind holding our course against the tide.  We didn’t exactly plan that but we realised that it was happening as we were crossing the final stretch and I could confirm that we weren’t getting swept away thanks to my GPS.

Everyone had grins on their faces and I could feel the excitement building as we sailed closer to the rugged hills of Killiecrankie.  It’s nice when you have been on the water for a long day to get close to land again to smell the plants again and see green colours instead of blues and greys.

As well as getting back into familiar territory and completing the biggest crossing, everyone was really excited about getting a meat pie from the Killiecrankie shop.  The pies were on everyone’s mind when we landed at 2pm.

About 15 minutes after we landed one of the NSW guys turned up by himself.  We expected the others to turn up shortly after but he eventually opened up to tell us that they we split up in the dark early this morning when he had to duck back to Winter Cove on Deal Island to get his sunglasses.  When he paddled back out, he couldn’t find them in the dark so he left without them expecting to see them when it got light.

About an hour later, we were sitting up on the grass at the shop when we spotted the other 3 kayaks approaching the beach.  We had plenty of time to watch them because the shop wasn’t open for a few hours.  We just lay around outside it waiting for pies.  Alan Wheatley (shop proprietor and fisherman) did a roaring trade when he finally arrived to find 9 hungry kayakers.

Everyone’s spirits were up as they relaxed at Killiecrankie that evening.  Phil and Ian had a visit from a friend, National Parks officer and paddler – Karen Ziegler who was working on the island.  She intended to join us for a paddle over the next 2 days.


Saturday 17/2/01 – Killiecrankie to Allports Beach - 34km

It was a beautiful, sunny morning and I headed off early at 7am.  Jeff & Jamie, Ian, Phil and Karen started later at around 8am after practicing some rolls at Killiecrankie.  The NSW guys paddled across the bay to climb up Mt Killiecrankie.

I hugged the coastline because I was paddling against the current.  None of the points were too hard to get around – including Cape Frankland.  There was no wind and I was just soaking up the atmosphere.  I noticed some fairly strong currents in Marshall Bay as the current swept around it.  Jamie, Jeff, Phil, Ian & Karen stopped on Roydon Island to have a look around.  Jeff & Jamie continued down Marshall Bay while the other explored Roydon Island further.  As I arrived at Allports Beach there were a couple of families with their children enjoying the white beach and clear, warm water.

While I waited for the others, I explored, swam and took some photos.  Jeff & Jamie arrived an hour later.  They received a big welcome from a bunch of oldies that were on a bus tour after flying over from the Welshpool area that day.

Jeff, Jamie and I wandered up to the museum at Emita.  Jeff was frustrated by the woman running the museum because she wouldn’t let him take any video of the museum contents.  She claimed that it was due to copyright on some of the material.  We could have spent days reading through the maritime history of the area.

Later that evening we sat around a fire at the camping area at Allports Beach.  Phil and Ian cooked up some flathead that were given to them by a friend of Karen’s.


Sunday 18/2/01 – Allports Beach to Whitemark - 33km

We left Allports Beach at 8am.  There was a moderate n/e breeze and we were all looking forward to sailing.  As we paddled to the west out of Marshall Bay towards Wybalenna Island there was a strong tidal flow heading north at Settlement Point and continuing around Marshall Bay.  We all had our sails up and were enjoying ourselves at we cruised along in the sunshine.  We were hoping to head out to Prime Seal Island but we had a date for tea at Ken & Sue ??? Stonehouse’s for pizza.

We headed south to Chalky Island and had a swim and caught our quota of green lipped abalone as our offering to our dinner hosts.  Jamie and I swam around on one side of the bay and Phil, Ian and Karen on the other side.  Jeff climbed up the small hill and was causing a big stir with a few seagulls who must have had something to protect nearby.  Jeff came back down to water level to collect up the abs that Jamie and I collected and once we had cleaned them we headed off for Whitemark.

The tide was low and it was a hard slog past Long Point and into Whitemark because the water was less than a foot for about 4 kilometres.  The coke tasted wonderful as we reached the beach.  We changed into some of our less smelly clothes and went up to pub for a couple of thirst quenching beers.  Ian spent an hour on the phone and then joined us at the pub.

Ken arrived down at Whitemark and took us back to his house for home made pizzas and salad and then a magnificent pavlova for desert.  We were all quite full when we arrived back at our tents down at beach.  Everyone had put a tent up except for Phil who though it would be pleasant enough to just sleep in his sleeping bag under the picnic shelter.


Monday 19/2/01 – Whitemark to Preservation Island - 54 km

I crawled out of my tent at 6am to ‘stretched my legs’.  I spoke to Phil who said that he had a miserable nights sleep because he was harassed by mozzies all night.  He regretted not sleeping in his tent.  There was a beautiful pink and grey sunrise pattern over Strzelecki.

We left Whitemark at 7.30am (we told Ian that we were going to be leaving at 7am so that he would be ready by 8am).  We cruised down to Trousers Point with no wind and glassy seas.  It was very peaceful.  Just off Trousers Point we had a kayak race (with hands only) while we were waiting for Ian to arrive.  He had been travelling slowly because he was filming and fishing.

We stopped on the beach just to the west of the camping ground beach on the southern side of Trousers Point while we waited for Ian.  I went for a swim in the crystal clear water and swam back around the point to try to ambush Ian as he appeared around the corner.  As he appeared I dived under and swam to his kayak but it was impossible to sneak up to him when the water is so clear.

After a short break on the beach at Trousers Point, we headed off again for a 16km stretch across Franklin Sound.  There wasn’t even a breath of wind and the water was glassy.  We could see groups of penguins gathered together on the surface.  They just seemed to be having a chat and enjoying the calm conditions.

The calm conditions weren’t helping us at all so I decided to slipstream behind the faster double of Jamie and Jeff and Phil slipped in behind me.  Jeff seemed to take this as a challenge so he cracked the whip and he and Jamie started putting in the big ones.  They initially opened up a gap of 15 metres, that gap stayed the same for a couple of kilometres as Phil, and I hung on.

Eventually it got to the stage where I wondered why the hell were we bothering to kill ourselves when we should just be soaking up the views and the atmosphere.  Phil and I stopped for a drink and looked around for Ian.  He was no-where to be seen.  We waited for about 10 minutes on the glassy water – watching the birds that decided it was far too much effort to fly without the added lift a breeze provides.

Eventually we saw a speck in the distance and we decided that it must be Ian.  When he arrived, he told us of his encounter with a pod of dolphins.  He managed to get some of it on video as he followed them around.

We all continued to cruise gently towards the eastern end of Long Island and then encountered a slight current as we crossed from there to the Cape Barren township.

Jamie and Jeff had already visited the shop and stocked up on all the main food groups - pies, coke, ice cream and chocolate.  It didn’t take long for us to catch up.  Jeff stopped us before we walked into the shop and joked with us that they had bought the last meat pies.  As a group,  meat pies were the first treat we would give ourselves as we reached each shop.

After treating ourselves and stocking up on enough coke to power us along to Little Musselroe we continued south, heading for Preservation Island.  It was overcast but still very calm.  The water at Cape Sir John was dead flat.  When we paddled around it on the last Flinders trip (Jan 2001) there were big n/w swells and Graeme Soden nearly parked his kayak up on the rocks when he was caught out by a reef.

As we paddled closer to Preservation we could tell that the tide was coming in and we had a short crossing against the current to get Preservation.  We pulled our boats up for the second last time this trip - at the house on Preservation Island.  Jamie, Jeff and I walked over to the old signal fire that was made by the survivors of the Sydney Cove wreck.  From that site we could clearly see the coast of Tasmania.  It was overcast but the clouds were high and the air under it was amazingly clear.


Tuesday 20/2/01 – Preservation Island to Little Musselroe Bay - 41 km

We left Preservation Island at 8am.  There was a moderate e/n/e wind that would help us back across Banks Strait if we first drifted to the east with the outgoing tide.

As we paddled across Armstrong Channel to the north-western corner of Clarke Island I realised that I didn’t have my 1.5 litre bottle of ‘tang’ in my cockpit for the Banks Strait crossing.  I found a narrow gap in between the huge boulders of n/w Clarke Is.  I stopped and quickly found the drink that I had made up for the final crossing.  The ‘tang’ powder was light and compact to carry and it made the tank water a lot more pleasant.

I paddled hard to rejoin the group.  The tide was going out and there was current flowing in a south-easterly direction – towards Lookout Head.  I caught up with Phil and Jamie/Jeff in the double.  We all had sails up and were making good progress south - without paddling.  We were all looking around for Ian.  He had disappeared into Spike Bay and fallen behind again.

We sailed around in circles for about 10 minutes and then saw Ian heading towards us.  He had stopped to change his masts over because the sail that he wanted to use had a bent mast.

When we got underway again we tried to work out the best direction to aim.  The factors that we had to consider were :

We could possibly make it to Little Musselroe to before the tide changed
OR did we want to stop on Swan Island or Little Swan Island or just head directly to Little Musselroe Bay.

Normally we would time our departure so that we did the 6 hour trip from Preservation Island to Little Musselroe with 3 hours of outgoing tide to take us down towards Swan Island and then when the tide changed paddle back south-west across the final stretch to Little Musselroe.

After some discussion on the water we didn’t really decide anything and we continued in a loose group on a variety of bearings – all roughly towards Tasmania.

During the trip across a large cruise ship honked his horn at us a few times.  We weren’t sure if he was saying ‘hello’ or ‘you have no right being out here’.  Anyway we waved and kept sailing towards our final destination.

We ended up paddling between Swan and Little Swan and then used the n/e breeze to get back across the current to get up to Little Musselroe.

Jamie and Jeff arrived first in the double and Jeff filmed the rest of us as we finished.  I decided to put up the spinnaker for the final kilometre and as a result I couldn’t see a thing as I tried to negotiate the low tide sand bar at Little Musselroe.

I don’t think that I was the only one that felt finishing was a bit of and anti-climax.  I had my feeling of elation when I arrived at Killiecrankie.  After that we were in familiar territory.  This was my third trip to Flinders this summer.  Flinders was still beautiful but it wasn’t as big a sense of achievement crossing Banks Strait as it was the first time.

I should be careful of this feeling because you shouldn’t take Banks Strait too lightly or it will come back to bite you on the arse.

We packed up and wrote a few things in Liz Ponting’s log book.  Upon our arrival at Bridport we picked up some fish and chips and a carton of Boags Premium’s and had a relaxing debrief about the trip.

We then took Phil back home to Launceston and picked up Jeff’s car as well.

The next day I went back to Little Musselroe and picked up Hudson, Graham, Ian and Rod from NSW and the 2 girls.  We all went back to Jeff’s house with a slab and then a counter meal at the local pub.  Everyone was happy and relieved and had great stories to tell.

Later that evening Jeff’s house looked like one of the Overland Track huts with bodies in sleeping bags all over the floor.  Everyone was pleased to have the luxuries of life - electricity and running water.

The next day I farewelled the NSW guys at Georgetown where they were catching the Devil Cat from and I headed for home.


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