Escape from Tasmania

Tasmania is an island below Australia. The bottom of the island is half way to the North Pole and nothing else projects that far south except the bottom tip of South America. The winds down there are called the Roaring Forties and are strong and unpredictable. The weather forecasts are a bit of science and a bit of a guess.

Orange is 25-30 knots. We were in the orange bit.

In principle, when you wish to leave Tasmania with a sailing boat, you wait for a bad storm to pass and then sail north during the following calm “weather window”. But this principle only seems to work in summer. We were sat off Maria Island waiting for a window in May which is winter on this side of the world.

After lots of planning and just as much studying of the forecast, we set off against a light northerly wind to see “how far we could get”. Surprisingly the wind – which the weather forecast didn’t show – allowed us to sail out in to the Tasman Sea before leaving us becalmed. During the night the strong southerly winds came roaring up from the Antarctic and pushed us quickly straight up the coast of Tasmania. We kept reducing sail and were finally making six knots with almost no canvas out. It was pitch black, foggy and wet so we called the coastguard to ask if they knew of any other vessels at sea we should avoid. They answered that we could stop worrying; we were alone out there.

Avoiding granite reefs to lee

As the wind dropped the current across the Banks Strait increased and sucked us along at an extra four knots. By the time the current abated we were left with a few miles of absolute calm to motor to Badger Island where we anchored behind the island and fell asleep. The next day the promised west wind came in and we hid off the beach sheltered from the storm driven waves and enjoying the view of hundreds of miles of empty islands, reefs and mountains.

On day four and five the wind turned south so we sailed the seven miles to Trousers Point on Flinders Island and hid as well as we could. The howling wind derailed our mountain climbing plans but we managed a walk around the promontory and enjoyed the stunning scenery.

At anchor off Trousers Point

On day six the wind abated before turning west so we tacked up to Wybalenna Bay past the granite reefs for a nights sleep before we set off the following morning directly in to the twenty five knots of wind and the three meter waves. For five hours the journey was exciting and wet. We were alternately jumping the waves or powering straight through them. One huge wave caught Heidi sat at the tiller and she completely disappeared under the wall of water to appear seconds later still steering and still smiling.

Eventually we turned downwind and “Ciara” the wind vane could take over steering and we could sleep turn and turn about for the next twenty four hours as we passed through an oil field and onward to the Mainland.

We were heading for Lakes Entrance which has a tiny entrance from the ocean which you have to enter by exactly lining up two blue markers on the coast. The coastguard told us that in less then two meters of swell, less than twenty knots of wind and a rising tide it was all “do-able”. We were well within their parameters but still surfed huge waves that appeared from nowhere. Try steering directly towards two markers while surfing down the front of a wave.

Once through the entrance we eventually reached a jetty and made our lines fast to the pontoon. No wind, no swell and salmon for dinner from Jeremy who was fishing next to us. Welcome to Victoria!

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