Port Davey, April 2008

Since coming to Tasmania to sail, one of our dreams has been to sail to the west coast of Tasmania. We contemplated returning from Melbourne to Hobart via the west coast in 2006, considered participating in the RYCT's annual circumnavigation of Tasmania in 2007, but the circumstances were not quite right in either case. In 2008 we thought we might take Nahani back to Melbourne for the winter, going via the west coast. But after due consideration we decided that we would keep it simple, and just sail round to Port Davey and back to Hobart as our last major sail before winter. Where's Port Davey?

We allowed three weeks for the trip, from mid-April until the end of the first week in May, knowing that we might need to wait days at either end to get the appropriate weather window for sailing round the southernmost part of Tasmania. We flew down to Hobart on Wednesday 16 April, needing a couple of days in Hobart to get Nahani sea-ready and fully provisioned, so that the earliest we could leave was Saturday 19 April.

The received wisdom for making the trip to the west coast is to start out from Recherche Bay, the most southerly anchorage south of Hobart. You wait in Recherche for the appropriate weather, then you leave at first light and, provided you make good time, you reach Port Davey before dark the same day. However in April, when there are only about 11 hours from first to last light, few cruising yachts would make the 70nm journey in the light, so you have to be prepared to leave in the dark or arrive in the dark, or, in the worst case if you make a slow trip, do both.

As soon as we reached Hobart we started watching the weather, and realised that Sunday 20 April was likely to be the perfect day for the west-bound trip. This meant that we had to leave on Saturday to get to Recherche in time to head off early Sunday. We were very lucky to get an appropriate weather window at just the right time – we've heard stories of people spending weeks in Recherche waiting. So we were very busy for the two days after our arrival in Hobart ensuring that we were ready to leave on Saturday.

We managed to reshape the dinghy a bit in the process of filling with fuel (backed Nahani into a bollard on the fuel jetty and gave the dinghy a flared bow on one side), and after the Captain's seventh trip up the mast, the navigation lights were still not working. But we did get a minor repair done to the foresail, bought a chart and a new log book, filled up with fuel and water, restocked with human food, cat food and red wine. We also finally got around to registering with Coast Radio Hobart: Nahani is now RG631. Registering was long overdue as we have been using their excellent radio service for over three years. On Saturday morning we made an early trip to Salamanca Market to get really fresh vegetables, a stop at the German Bakery in Sandy Bay for bread, then we were ready to go. [Top]

Link to Picasa gallery

Going west

Saturday 19 to Sunday 20 April 2008

We sailed from RYCT to Port Davey in just under 24 hours (30 elapsed). Actually, a lot of it was motoring rather than sailing – we chose what we thought were ideal weather conditions for the journey but as usual the forecast wind speeds were overstated. The plus side is that we were in almost flat calm conditions all the way, which is not the norm for this part of the Southern Ocean.

We had some wind in the Derwent after leaving the RYCT at about 1000, but motor-sailed because Plan A was to go right down to Recherche Bay and spend the night there. There was no wind in the Channel, and while motoring all the way down we developed Plan B, which was to stop in Southerly Bight, just south of Partridge Island on South Bruny, cook and eat a meal, have a nap, then motor off again by moonlight at about 2300. We rounded South East Cape at 0230, and had one brief spell of sailing just before watching the moon set behind Maatsuyker Island, and then the sun rise behind us lighting up the whole group of rocks and islands around Maatsuyker. We had a beautiful beam reach of 6-7kt from there to South West Cape, but once round to the west coast we had to use motor-assisted tacking to progress fast enough against a head wind to reach Port Davey by 1600. We were comfortably anchored in Schooner Cove just in time for the moonrise . The scenery en route was amazing – unfortunately it's difficult to do justice to wide seascapes with a camera, but we did our best. [Top]

Link to Picasa gallery

In Port Davey

Monday 21 to Tuesday 29 April 2008

Port Davey is the southernmost harbour on the Tasmanian west coast. It is a fine example of a ria, or drowned river valley. A large river once flowed to a coastline much further west than the present day one. As sea levels rose when the last ice age ended, the coastline moved east and the river's main flood plain became Bathurst Harbour, a Sydney Harbour-sized expanse with four tributaries of the original river flowing in, one in each corner. Between Bathurst Harbour and the ocean there are narrow channels which must once have been river gorges, linking smaller valleys and plains which are now lagoons, coves and bays. At the entrance to Port Davey a granite ridge forms a natural protection from the westerly gales in the form of a chain of small steep islands, appropriately named Breaksea Islands. To the north is another large bay which would once have been the floodplain of another tributary, now the Davey River which is the largest of all the streams flowing into the Port Davey area.

Schooner Cove is one of the first small bays you reach after passing inside Breaksea Islands and heading into the Bathurst Channel. We spent our first and second nights there before taking Nahani on down the Channel to Bathurst Habour. For the next week we anchored just south of King's Point which offers good shelter from NW winds. On Monday 28 April we moved out of the Harbour to Iola Bay, a tiny circular bay on the south side of the Channel. From there we went out of the Bathurst Channel and up into Payne Bay to anchor near the mouth of the Davey River, and this was our jumping off point for the trip home.

The area surrounding Port Davey is part of the vast South Wests National Park that extends right across the south of Tasmania, and north to include the Gordon and Franklin River systems. Granite hills rise up from all around the harbour. Most have rounded contours, covered in a khaki blanket of button grass, threadbare in spots where the underlying granite and quartzite rock shows through. In some places individual rocks stick up from the grass like old tombstones in a neglected graveyard. The button grass grows on peat, damp and squelchy to walk across in spots, even half way up the hills. There are pockets of better soil where larger trees grow: eucalypts, melaleuca, occasional celery top and huon pine, although most of the latter were logged out before the area was protected. Alternating with the rounded slopes are sharp ridges crenellated like a worn lace edging, or like a coastline designed by Slarty Bartfast tipped on to its side. The whole area is incredibly photogenic, especially when the harbour is calm and the hills are reflected in the water, and when clouds form patterns of light and shade on the button grass-clad flanks of the hills.

At Melaleuca there is a small area alienated from the park where the King family's historic tin mine is still worked, now by the Wilson family.

There is no road access to Port Davey, no shops, and only a couple of houses and two walkers' huts near the airstrip at Melaleuca. Tourists fly in by light plane, and then spend the day being taken on an excursion round the Harbour in one of two large tinnies. Port Davey is also the start or end point for major walks through the National Park: walkers fly in and then walk across the South Coast walk to Recherche Bay. When you consider the prospect of walking all that way, sailing in is a very attractive alternative. One or two planes flew in on the sunny days and we saw the tourists, either passing in a tinny or walking to and from the planes at the airstrip. We were the only cruising yacht in the harbour for the whole time we were there. The only other boat we saw was a marine research vessel which came into the harbour twice. Most days and all the nights we had the whole place to ourselves.

We were very lucky in the weather. In the nine days we spent in Port Davey, only two were so wet and windy that we chose to stay aboard the boat all day, reading books. We had three lovely sunny days, and four grey days with showers, but we managed an excursion on each of these without getting wet. From King's Point we made two dinghy trips, one right up Melaleuca Inlet and the other round to Cameron's Corner where a track starts up Mt Beattie. On successive days we took Nahani across Bathurst Harbour to the other three corners and went by dinghy up the Old River, the North River and round Moulter's inlet and up the creek that leads into it, returning to King's Point to anchor for the night after each trip. The rivers and inlets are quite different in character, and flow fast enough and have enough snags to make navigation challenging in parts. There are wide lagoons and narrower creeks, some going through low button grass and melaleuca, others with high and overhanging foliage on either side.

Although we're not keen walkers, and prefer sedentary excursions in the dinghy, we did do two hill climbs: a fairly short scramble up to the ridge overlooking Schooner Cove and the longer walk up a proper track to the top of Mt Beattie. Our third walk was along the river bank past the rapids in Old River. We had a lovely lunch sitting on the warm rocks in the middle of the stream, then set out to walk back to where we'd left the dinghy. There are tiny tributary creeks to cross as you walk back, and we got ourselves bushed trying to find the right crossing point on the way back. We kept backtracking each time we seemed to be going through a boggy or impenetrable and unfamiliar area, and we'd retraced our steps half a dozen times, taking long enough for the captain to get anxious about getting back to Nahani before dark, when we finally found our incoming crossing point and followed our tracks back to the dinghy. The sun was setting as we reached the ship in the dinghy, but we were now sufficiently familiar with our King's Point anchorage to find our spot in the dark.

On our last day we headed up the Davey River, motoring through broad reaches full of black swans and then past wooded banks reminiscent of the upper parts of the Yarra. About 5nm from the river mouth the river turns abruptly into a narrow gorge with steep and tortured rock formations on either side. There are two more gorges beyond the first, but after several days of rain the river was very fast-flowing and we weren't confident of negotiating the rapids between the gorges. So we stopped at the head of the first gorge and let the dinghy get swept back down through the gorge and round into the calmer water below the gorges. Our return journey with the current took much less time, and we were back in time to pull up the dinghy which we'd been towing all week, put away the motor and generally prepare for the trip back to Hobart. [Top]

Link to Picasa gallery

Back to Hobart

Wednesday 30 April to Friday 2 May 2008

We arose at 0500 and weighed anchor at 0600 as the first streaks of light appeared in the east. It was a lovely morning coming down Payne Bay assisted by a light northerly, islands and land emerging from the gloom as the sky turned a lovely pale pink, and the mountains emerging from the mist, with more mist lying behind us in the Davey River valley. We motor-sailed with a gentle following wind past Breaksea Islands, Swainson, Big Caroline and down to the Pyramids, by which time we had enough wind to cut the engine and we sailed down to South West Cape goosewinged with the jib poled out. We took the pole down to round the cape and go on to a beam reach and had great sailing at 6-7kt across to Maatsuyker Island. Although the forecast was for the wind to strengthen in the afternoon from 5-15 to 10-20kt, it dropped out altogether at about midday, and we had to motor the rest of the way. If the wind had held we might have reached Recherche at dusk, but as it was we watched the sunset from the magic seat (getting away from the engine noise) as we approached South East Cape. However with the chart plotter and a lookout up front we had no trouble finding our way into Coalbins Bay at Recherche and we were anchored by 1900.

We didn't leave Recherche until about midday, by which time there was a good sailing breeze, unfortunately from the N to NE, not a helpful direction. But because there are large kelp beds north of Recherche we sailed all afternoon, tacking our way up to the south end of Bruny and only putting on the motor later to get to Dover before dark. We didn't quite make it and had to find ourselves an anchoring spot amongst the yachts and fishing boats in the dark and wet, as rain started just as we got into Port Esperance.

We were expecting to have to motor into a headwind all the next day to get back to Hobart, but in fact we had our best sailing day of the whole trip. We did some motoring in those parts of the Channel which always seem to be calm and sheltered, but for much of the rest of the time we were able to sail at over 5kt. We had a lovely run up the river, with the wind then conveniently dropping as we passed the Garrow light, so that we had a relatively easy entry to the berth, and we were in time to clean up and go and celebrate our safe return at dinner with Claire and Gösta. [Top]