Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Bermagui - 36° 25' 35" S 150° 04' 17" E

Last week, Gabby received a call from her friends Allan and Vicki.  They were having their new catamaran delivered from Perth, Allan had fallen ill and they needed crew.  Would Kate and Sean be able to help out by crewing from Portland to Bermagui?

It didn't take much pondering and we found ourselves on two trains and then a bus bound for Portland. Portland is in the SW of Victoria and Bermagui on the south coast of NSW. Therefore our route was to include a transit of Bass Strait. Bass Strait is the passage of water that divides Tasmania from mainland Australia. It has the reputation as one of the world's most treacherous waterbodies due to shallow water, currents and weather systems. Indeed, the coastline from Port Fairy to Cape Otway is known as The Shipwreck Coast. 

"I have seldom seen a more fearful section of coastline." 

- Captain Matthew Flinders

What were we thinking?!

Our route

Fortunately due to improved navigation and weather forecasting, a transit of Bass Strait is no longer the crap shoot it once was. That said, there was a very nasty system blowing through and we needed to stay in front of it.

"Red sky in the morning, ... " (Portland Sunrise)

We arrived in Portland to discover that Keshi was more an apartment than a sailboat! At 46' long and 26' wide, she was as big as two Popeyes lashed together. And she is fast; we would need to be fast if we were to stay in front of the weather. We met the skipper - Mark, the most delightful chap - full of excellent stories and sailing adventures.

And off we went!

Keshi - on the wharf and ready to go.
For a size reference, that power stanchion is as high as Sean's ribs. 

The salon

Able-bodied crew, ready for cold and wet weather

We past Cape Otway at sunset - we had survived the Shipwreck Coast! We rounded Wilsons Promontory, the southern most tip of mainland Australia, at sunset the following day.  We weaved through the oil rigs, recalling horror stories of 70kn winds at The Prom and the Tasmanian Ferry pounding into 11m waves.  The system was just behind us.

The Spirit of Tasmania pounding through the waves

Keshi's well protected steering station (not dissimilar to a ferry!)

We rounded Gabo Island and within half an hour, the lighthouse was recording huge seas and 50kn winds.  Gabo Island is the eastern gateway to Bass Strait and once around, we headed north and into more protected waters. Phew!

Looking out 'the back porch' towards Gabo Island lighthouse

We arrived in Bermagui after a voyage of 541nautical mile taking us 65 hours, 13 minutes - averaging over 8 knots with a maximum speed of an impressive 24.2kn! We enjoyed a few days exploring around Bermagui before flying back to Melbourne. What an adventure!

Safe in port with Captain Mark


Keshi's galley

Bermagui sunrise

Keshi's Owner's cabin

Not all champagne and sunsets - Mark and Kate doing some engine maintenance

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Portland (AUS) - 38° 20' 46" S 141° 36' 39" E

Having accomplished the task we came to Australia for (Graham's memorial service), we wanted to get back to some 'normal' routines.  As autumn is surely on its way, preparations like cutting and stacking firewood for the winter are things that need to be done.  As all the Findlay girls and their husbands were available, we jumped into this task with both feet.

Susan and Graeme turning logs into bite-sized pieces

Log-splitting fun!

The two properties have no shortage of firewood, having at least 50 acres each that rolls down to Main Creek.  Graeme and Wendy headed down to cut up the bigger deadfall at the creek and put it on the trailer.  It was then brought up to the shed, where we had a hydraulic log splitter waiting.  If you've never had the opportunity to play with one of these marvellous toys, I enthusiastically endorse the satisfying and effective work that can be done with it.  We all finished the work with our fingers and toes attached and working (except for Graeme, who started with half of one missing).

We also had the opportunity to help out on one of the neighbouring farms - Nazaaray Estates.  The farm (vineyard, actually) is owned by Param and Nermal Ghumnan, a lovely couple that sometimes put out the call for assistance when it is time for grape picking.

Gabby, Marcia, Sean and Tom picking 

Immigrant workers (shhh!  Don't tell the Immigration authorities!)

Many hands are needed for a short time and farmers are used to jumping in to help on these occasions.  Kate and I get to be part of the fray for a day and were involved in the 2021 Pinot Grigio harvest.  We had a lesson on how to cut the grapes from the vines without including a finger or even quantities of blood in the harvest.  Nermal made scones for an afternoon lunch and we got to have a look at the combined fruits (literally) of our labour after lunch.

Labelled Tupperware - Kate was here!

Not just work, though - we were invited to join the early morning swimmers at the Flinders Jetty - fun!

Swimming amongst anchored yachts - extra fun!

Other little tasks are getting accomplished, too: handrails firmed up; flyscreen replaced on screen doors; pantries re-ordered and stocked for winter.  Having these things to do helps to ease us back into the rhythm that brings a longer-term perspective to life after a big loss.  And then, suddenly ... the call came.

Gabby has some friends that she and Graham met while sailing.  In December, Vicki and Allan purchased a beautiful, big catamaran that they plan to use along the stunningly-beautiful cruising grounds along the east coast of Australia.  They are in the process of sailing from Perth, where they purchased it, to their home on the Sunshine Coast.  They made it as far as Portland when Allan became quite ill and needed to be hospitalized.  They had put out a call for crew to help the hired captain to bring it across the bottom of Australia and partway up the coast.  A sailing adventure ... on a catamaran!  We were very excited to do it!

Kate and I had never sailed on such a big catamaran and wanted to understand the pros and cons of this type of vessel.  This experience would help us to determine if a catamaran would be a consideration when the time came for us to purchase a vessel.  The need to get there and get moving was urgent - a weather window would be open between Wednesday and Saturday ... and it was Tuesday.  We hastily confirmed with Vicki and Allan, booked train and bus tickets, packed that night and get a ride to Frankston with Gabby first thing the next morning.

Masks on, we boarded the trains, then the bus and ten hours later, stepped onto Percy Street in the town of Portland.  It looks like a very quaint spot, but we won't have much time to explore before we cast off the lines tomorrow.  Captain Mark, whom we have not met, is arriving by bus tomorrow.  We'll make sure the boat is provisioned and ready to go when he arrives.

Wish us luck.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Flinders Icebergers - 38° 28' 31" S 145° 01' 30"

There is a group of intrepid folk in Flinders who get together each morning for a swim from the pier to the yacht club and back. Sean and I joined in the fun, meeting at 7:30am.  Although we did not swim every morning as do some hardy souls.  With the tide out, the swim to the yacht club was very shallow.  On these days, we swam out to the boats, around the pier and back to the beach.

When the weather is calm, the water is very clear and swimming is like flying.  The seabed is rippled sand, seagrass and kelp. Over the sand, we kept a watch for the odd crab or a sting ray.  The seagrass is home to Victoria's marine emblem, the Weedy Sea Dragon.  Shy and well disguised, they are hard to spot but we kept a sharp eye our nonetheless! 

A great way to start the morning!