Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bass Strait Crossing

Both Mark and I admitted that paddling across Bass Strait was in the back of our minds since we began kayaking about five years ago. Last Wednesday at 1.30 PM we landed at Little Musselroe Cove on the NE tip of Tasmania 20 days after we began our trip from Port Welshpool, Victoria. As we had two false starts to Hogan Island as well as having to return to Port Welshpool for repairs before paddling back to the start again we ended up paddling over 430 km. This included meandering around some of The Ferneaux Group of islands off Flinders and taking cautious routes across the bigger crossings to allow for tides which added quite a few extra kilometres to the crossings.

Generally we had good weather. There were two big highs moving across Bass Strait but there were also a number of cold fronts associated with these especially between the two highs. These fronts were producing strong SE to SW winds which meant we had to do quite a bit of waiting which really didn't matter because although we were stranded we were in paradise and enjoying every minute of it.

Rabbit Island on route from Port Welshpool
We headed out to Hogan from Refuge Cove in calm conditions. We had a good forecast but there was no mention of the impending thunderstorm that soon began to engulf us. After about 10 km out, with sky darkening and lots of lightning strikes just ahead of us we made the call to retreat.

No go - we turned back and battled head winds, rain and a rapidly developing sea on one of the most committing paddles of the trip

Bare Back Cove - A beautiful and trackless cove
While at Bare Back Cove we fished in the morning and climbed the nearby peak in the afternoon from which we caught our first glimpse of Hogan Island. We fished again in the afternoon and then cooked our catch for dinner. That night I lay in my tent getting colder and colder but sweating profusely. I zipped up my sleeping bag which up until that point had been way to hot but was still freezing. I put on all my thermals and lay there shivering uncontrollably."This is not good" I thought. At about 4 AM I finally exorcised my demons and stumbled on to the beach vomiting violently. I'd poisoned myself I suspect by eating a fish that had been out for too long before cooking. Luckily the weather was not good for our crossing the next day so I had a day to recover and moped around feeling like I'd gone a round with Mike Tyson.

The afternoon after the first retreat Mark's mast snapped while on a fishing mission just outside the cove. We fixed this with a hose clamp and tent pole repair kit and then, after the front had moved on two days later and I'd recovered from my bad fish experience we headed to Hogan only to be thwarted again, this time by a snapped rudder.

We limped back to Refuge Cove in poor spirits and then spied a National Parks boat moored in the bay. With our friendliest faces we approached the National Parks guys and their contractors who were busy drinking tea and told our sad and sorry story. "No problem we're heading back there anyway" was their response. We set up one tent at Refuge and dumped all but our most essential gear and then loaded the kayaks onto the boat and got a lift back to Port Welshpool where we were greatly relieved to find Marks spare rudder in the car. We had a sombre meal at the same pub we'd eaten at almost a week earlier and went to sleep on sun set with little conversation.


We paddled out of Port Welshpool well before dawn to ride the outgoing tide. With the wind also behind us and being on a bit of a mission we didn't stop at any of the islands this time and absolutely fanged it back to Refuge Cove. It took 5 hours to paddle the 43 km there. As we entered the bay we now found four yachts who were also doing a Bass Strait crossing. We again said our cheeriest g'day's and spent a further half hour in the boats chatting to the skipper & crew of Lady Bay.

Time spent chatting to Skipper Dave and his crew paid off!Now on our 7th day we headed off to Hogan on attempt number three. The forecast wasn't great but the wind strength was low and the sea was dead flat. We got up early and blasted off, desperate to make a proper start to our crossing.

In our haste and enthusiasm to get going we didn't pay enough attention to the route plan and tides and together with our planning tardiness the slight head wind conspired to turn this days crossing into an 11 hour slug which I will never forget. In dead flat mercury still water, our speed routinely dropped below 5 km/h and made for one miserable day. We arrived on sunset exhausted but happy and despite the constant carrying on of penguins, shearwaters and rats we slept like logs.

We stayed on Hogan Island for two nights and did a lot of what this penguin is doing
From Hogan to Deal was the best crossing. We had a solid NW wind of between 15 and 20 knots and building sea. Although there were two opposing swell patterns that occasionally caught us off guard we made excellent time and got to Deal Island in six hours. On rounding the headland into Winter Cove for the final 1.6 km push we found out just why we had been going so fast. We battled a now channelled Deal Island willy waugh wind into a final shore dump to land at Winter Cove.

Happy to be on Deal

A series of fronts and storms were now forecast to roll through so we got to know Deal Island quite well and spent four nights camping at Winter Cove and exploring the island during the day.

View towards the lighthouse from the museum

East Cove

Skank - our pet wallaby who constantly hung around camp

Deal Island Light House

The remains of a Humpback in Winter Cove

Jan and Roger, The Deal Island caretakers. We have never drunk so much tea! These great folks made our stay on Deal Island all the better.

Leaving The Kent Group in our wake

The crossing from Deal to Killiecrankie was as one would expect - a long slug (9:47). We got no help from the wind or the sea - it was just pure forward stroke that got us there in the end.

Killiecrankie was just a place to camp although we did get a decent breakfast at JJ's cafe which is
an unexpected find.

Next stop was Prime Seal Island. Mark scored this Pike as we approached the island.

Pike is Delicious and easy to prepare

Crossing from Prime Seal to Chalky Island on route to Whitemark

Whitemark - we have never seen such a calm sea

Racing down the coast now - Mt Strzelecki

As we were a bit tired I thought we'd just do the 12 km from Whitemark to Trousers Point and call it a day. Mark had other ideas. "Theres two kinds of Bass Strait Paddlers" he pointed out. "Those who climb Mt Strzelecki and those that don't".

Later that day - on top of Strzelecki

well worth the effort

That night I caught a couple of squid by drifting the kayak over the weed with a simple jig

Trousers Point

Next day we stopped in at The Cape Barren Aboriginal Community where we were fed toasted ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches. The place had a great vibe about it and everyone we met was friendly and cheerful (except for one woman who reminded us we couldn't camp there without permission).

Next stop was at Spike Bay on Clark Island. Mark paddled out to this tiny unnamed island and began waving me over.

Last night in Bass Strait camped on a tiny island with the penguins, shearwaters and cape barren geese

We crossed Banks Strait in dead calm conditions but with very low visibility. We didn't see land until we were just a couple of kilometres out but once we did we had the tide shoot us eastwards along the coast and into Little Musselroe Bay.

Mark had used the Sea Kayak Forum to seek help at our finish and this angel, Cynthia came out of the blue and offered to help. Not only was she there waiting for us as we arrived but she brought champagne and lunch and most importantly a welcome smile and congratulatory hug (even though we were soaked from our victory roll). Having Cynthia meet us and drive us to Devonport was one of the really special things about the whole trip and we are forever grateful for her generosity. The sea kayaking community is great and perhaps more importantly the reception we received from people along the way as kayakers was very positive and supportive.

We hired a satellite phone and took a short wave SSB radio but didn't really need either as we got web access and mobile conection via Marks Next G phone at most places from high points and tops of hills. We also recieved weather via the VHF from Brim at Coast Guard Tamar and passing yachts as required. We kept everything charged from the solar battery system in my kayak which worked well.

Bass Strait and its islands are a remote and beautiful part of Australia and to explore these areas by kayak and make the crossing under our own steam was an extreamly rewarding experience which will long be remembered by both of us. Thanks to our wives and families who went it alone for three weeks and probably faced more challenges in that time than we did!

Trip data

Marks write up from NSWSKC magazine


Dee said...

Fantastic tale and wonderful photos! Thanks for sharing this. Many congratulations to you both!

Eastern Horizon said...

Very well done, Matt
An excellent journey full of determination and dogged persistence.
But did you catch any crays?

Matt said...

No crays Luke. We left them to fatten up for your visit!

Eastern Horizon said...

The Bass Strait ones are looking very safe ... for a while at least.
See you along the coast somewhere soon.

Sean Smith - Fat Paddler said...

Congrats fellas, looks like a great paddle by all accounts! Almost makes me want to attempt it myself. Almost.... ;)

Simon McGuire said...

Well done guys. A fantastic effort. That is what it is all about :).