Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Strahan to Cockle Creek Tasmania Trip

After paddling from Cockle Creek to Bathurst Harbour in 2014 I again found myself in Tasmania only this time with two new faces and a more ambitous plan to paddle a one way trip from Strahan half way up the west coast to Cockle Creek at the bottom of the Eastern side.

After a big drive from Sydney followed by a night on the ferry from Melbourne, more driving to Strahan and a punishing two day car shuffle across Tasmania by Stuart & Campbell, we were finally paddling out of Maquarie Harbour on a sunny day with a fair forecast.

Getting ready to head out to sea (Photo by Shaan)
The weather for our fist day seemed great, no rain, temperatures around the mid 20's and light NE winds which was all good. It was that underlying and pretty much constant South Westerly Swell that was going to be the issue as once we turned the corner and started to see bomboras (offshore reefs) explode around us without warning at least some of us, me included, got a bit rattled.

Discussions were had about what we'd do if we found ourselves on top of a Breaking Bommie as we constantly scanned the sea for the humps of water which might give a clue to the presence of one of these underwater hazards. Although I had the latest chart on my GPS, many of these reefs were not marked as much of this part of the Tasmanian coast remains unsurveyed. I'm told the most up to date charting in some places down there was done by Captain Cook!

After 41km we arrived at what was to be our first landing, Birthday Bay. After looking at the waves going into this reefy little beach I was steeling myself for another 40km to the next possible landing! Luckily Stuart Trueman had been here before and armed with that all valuable experience and a weatlh of intelligence gained from the likes of Matty Watton, Jeff Jennings and Laurie Ford, Stuart assured us it was going to be fine as long as we made a dash for a big rock, got behind that without getting cleaned up on the waves hitting the outside of it, wait for a break in the sets and go hard across some rocks before turning 90 degrees and going straight into the beach. The landing went well overall even though Mark got rolled and Campbell had to capsize to stop himself from a hard smash into some rocks on the North side of the beach.

The next day we paddled to a small cove on the inside of Hibbs Pyramid where we had lunch before heading off again to land at Hartwell Cove, which was about the only place I'd picked out from Google Earth that we could actually get into to! After negotiating a few rollers and breakers on either side we paddled through a small gap into a magnificent amphitheatre of a bay. This was a wild and pristine place - problem was there was only a very small clearing for our communal area and it was difficult to find tent sites. Despite this I was thrilled to be there.

Mark, Shaan, Stuart & Campbell - They didn't seem to have the same feelings for Hartwell Cove as I did!
The next day Stuart and I explored the option of paddling up The Wanderer River but like all the rivers down here there was a shallow bar and and it was a real mess with incoming swell against outflowing river with a smattering of rocks. It could have been done with a landing on the beach to the side of the river but would have meant a portage and with our heavy boats and lack of group enthusiasm for the idea we turned around and headed out to sea, destination Mainwaring Inlet.

Mainwaring Inlet, one of the best camping spots of the whole trip (Photo by Campbell)

As we'd only paddled 20km to reach Mainwaring Inlet we set up camp and went up the river to explore this magnificent area. A Tassie Devil ambled along the shore as we paddled almost silently to find the head of the river and collect some fresh water. The next day we did another 40km to Mulchay Bay but as usual the swell was big and most beaches were simply not an option so again Stuarts knowledge of a little slot was invaluable and so we paddled past a few reefs and breaking bommies to find an easy landing.

A good camp and safe landing in a slot that I would never have picked as a safe landing (Photo by Shaan)
We used an Eaton SSB short wave radio to get our weather forecast as of course the whole SW is totally off the grid so we were aware of a big blow headed our way so we had to make it into Port Davey before it hit so although the forecast was for strong winds to 30 knots they were from the North West and as we were heading South East we were all go - I was looking forward to this. We hit the water and soon had the sails up and were blasting along. This is the day that most of the paddling footage in my video was taken. The wind was building and we were making some really good time.
Unfortunately things got a bit too strong and Stuarts sail ripped at about the same time his rudder pedal failed. We had to down sails to keep together and so couldn't take full advantage of the conditions. It was exciting none the less and as we paddled passed The Coffee Pot things were really lively and just as I mounted my camera on the back of Marks boat I got picked up by a steep breaking wave and engulfed in the wave face, I braced hard. The wind, now at around 30 knots, just caught the tip of my sail and along with an almighty stroke I managed to bring the bow round and shoot down the face of the wave, the last thing I saw was Marks boat with the camera pointed right at me. This was going to be some awesome footage - too bad the memory was full and we got none of it!

We all dug deep, especially Stuart as he now had no rudder, and rounded Vincent Point into the shelter of Port Davey. Now with a head wind we plodded onto Bond Bay where, again thanks to Stuart's intelligence, there would be a hut complete with bath waiting for us. We pushed on into a strengthening head wind until we were about two k's away and then, into the full force of what must have been in the vicinity of 35 knot winds arrived to a beach which was supposed to be where our hut was. We split up and scoured the coast. I saw a horizontal line through the bush so got out to take a closer look. There I found the ruins of some shack and the burnt out vegetation of recent bush fires. All in all a depressing place that I didn't think much of. I got back in the boat and went down the beach to find the others who were still looking for the hut. "How was it?" Stuart asked. "Depressing. We'd be better off camping in the bush" I replied. "So no hut then?", "No" I answered. "No bath either then" someone joked. "Well actually yes, there was a bath".

The right Hut - complete with bath (upturned and discarded in the bush) Bond Bay
The weather forecast for the next day was for 50 knot winds and 8 metre swells with a 100% chance of rain. We weren't going anywhere. We spent the next day cramped in the small hut chatting endlessly about very little, occasionally reading from Shaan's kindle and cooking and eating.
The next day, still with strong winds we headed up The Davey River as far as we could.
Up Davey River towards The Davey Gorge
The wind took us up and the current helped bring us back but the last few K's were still a very hard slug and and I was really struggling to make any headway. With strong winds and big swells set to continue we set off the next day to the Bathurst Channel. We stopped at Balmoral beach and met some paddlers that were part of an organised tour with Roaring 40's. We were told there was another group staying at Claytons Hut and as everyone gathered up and prepared to head up river I made the decision to simply stay where I was as I'd already been to Melaleuca twice, and I'd been relentlessly socialising with our crew for over a week now and just felt like spending time alone. Everyone headed off and left me in isolation on my own little beach. I cooked up some mussels I'd collected earlier, got my MP3 player to work through the speaker of my short wave radio and sat down to enjoy my rum and get pissed in paradise!

Mt Rugby - backdrop to my solitary two days at Balmoral Beach.
The next day was raining and windy - a perfect day to sleep off my hang over. The day after that I packed up and headed up river to find the others. Turned out they didn't stay at Clayton's as it was full but today the other group had left so we all paddled over to Clayton's and moved in. A Melbourne based yachtie, Bill and his friend Edna were moored at the jetty and joined us inside. Bill was impressed with what we were doing and especially impressed when we explained that Stuart Trueman had gone all the way around Australia. Bill and Edna were good company. The next day, again with strong westerlies, we headed back out to Spain Bay.

The strom passed. Spain Bay.
We headed off for the big one around South West Cape. It's a big day but thankfully we had good conditions with little wind and although the swell was still up it was back to it's 2 to 3 metres and so we were able to have a break at McKays Gulch. Soon after we rounded the cape and not long after set up camp at Ketchem Bay.

Ketchem Bay
Things had calmed right down, not only weather wise but also because we were on the lee side of South West Cape and although the swells are still big it had a slightly gentler feel about it, also helped by the fact I was now in familiar territory. We busted out through the surf, (the surf exit in the video is from Ketchem Bay) and were soon heading to - Maatsuyker Island!

Seals have taken over the dilapidated landing spot on Maatsuyker Island
Was hard work getting the boats up
A truly amazing place and an absolute privilege to visit
After an exciting landing we walked up to meet the lighthouse keepers and learn a bit about this magnificent island. We had some tea and cake and then forced ourselves to leave as we still had a solid paddle ahead to make it to Deadmans Bay before dark. Instead of launching one at a time we helped Shaan get off the rocks (see video for footage of this) and then passed all four boats to her to hold onto which she did by tying them together with her tow rope. Once she had all the boats we jumped in amongst the hoards of seals and swam out to scramble into our kayaks. I think it would have been better to just tye the boats together, swim from one side of the bay to the other tying the boats off at each side and just leave them afloat in the bay rather than trying to get them ashore which was dangerous and caused quite a bit of damage to some of the boats including Stuart's which had a big seal land on it after a misplaced jump off a rock. Although I was filming this I had to abandon the shoot and run to avoid being trampled by a large seal myself!

In high spirits and feeling on top of the world we headed off past De Witt island and onto Deadmans Cove where we had one of the highlight meals of the trip - seven abalone that was given to Shaan by some fisherman we met on the way.

Good landing and excellent camping at Deadmans
The forecast recieved that night was not good. Another system was building and we needed to move. The next day we punched into an ever increasing headwind past South Cape, South East Cape and finally into Cockle Creek. A big day of headwind paddling of over 50 km's we were met by Raewyn and Neil Duffy who had kindly brought one of our cars back and before we even got out of the boats had a cold beer in our hand. The yachtie's we'd met a week earlier, Bill and Edna were also there to meet us and added to the celebration by popping a bottle of champagne. We were soon enjoying a fine BBQ again thanks to Rae & Neil.

Mark Schroeder, Campbell Tiley, Shaan Gresser, Stuart Trueman, Matt Bezzina
This was a great trip with a really competent crew. Everyone in the group had worked very hard on their fitness and was well prepared. As a result there were no allowances made for anyone and we all travelled at a remarkably similar speed and had a common goal to get along and achieve our objectives which is what we did. I look forward to our next adventure.

Strahan to Cockle Creek including side trips to the Davey Gorge and Melaleuca