Flinders 2017 – Mac’s trip

10th March – 18th March

 I’d just been out across Banks Strait in February on an aborted trip to Flinders Island with 4 others – the weather was too bad to go past Cape Barren Island in the time we had.

 But now the anniversary of Elli’s passing was coming up and I was wondering what I would do for it this year. Elli Tappan did 3 trips to Flinders Island in her Greenlander when she was 63 + years old, and I decided to take her kayak out there again on a trip to celebrate her life. No-one else was interested, having just been out there. But in a paddle with Arthur down the outside of Bruny Island the week before we had run into Ian MacDonald – a person I’d paddled a lot with in years gone past. I hadn't seen him for maybe 20 years but one of our memorable trips had been a double crossing of Bass Strait in 1987. (http://www.laurie-ford-kayak.net/maatcm87.htm).

 I’m sure that Elli’s family and friends in America used to think that paddling to Flinders Island was just like paddling to Maria Island – little realising that it is a serious challenge to even experienced kayakers. Banks Strait has serious strong currents and strong winds that can take you miles off course. It can be relatively easy with the right conditions, or it can be exhausting at other times – but it is never taken lightly. The number of people paddling to Flinders Island from Tasmania is very small compared to the number of sea kayaks in Tasmania. Most owners would have a heart attack if you suggested that they paddle across Banks Strait in their kayak. Not only has Elli paddled across Banks Strait 6 times at the age of 63+ but one time she did it in darkness – landing at Little Musselroe Bay at 10.30pm. This will quite likely never be done again, certainly not by anyone her age. This photo shows Elli in the middle of Banks Strait in gentle swells. And to quote Elli “Those swells out in the Strait truly seemed like mountains – about 5 meters high. I was on top of a swell and looking down on Laurie in the trough and it was like looking down a crevasse. What an exhilarating ride!”


By 2004 Elli and I had paddled to Flinders Island 3 times, and then decided that was enough as it was getting too hard at our age to keep paddling across Banks Strait. Therefore I must be slightly crazy because I was dragged back into paddling again and in 2014 did yet another trip to Flinders Island and return. Since 2014 I have now crossed Banks Strait another 9 times, and this trip will make it 11 since 2014 - a grand total of 39 crossings in a sea kayak since my first crossing in 1982.

So I invited Ian (Mac) on this trip and he jumped at the chance with about 3 days notice, and we drove to Little Musselroe Bay in his car on Thursday 9th to be able to paddle at midday on Friday. I hadn't been sure if I was going to do a 4 day trip, or a 2 week trip – at 77 I wasn't going to push into any gales. We discussed destinations on the drive up and both agreed that Killiecrankie would be good to get to if possible. We camped in the grounds of a shack near the boat ramp with Liz’s permission, and the next day after loading the kayaks left the car in her property for safe keeping. Liz is the only permanent resident and basically caretaker for the area.

 Friday 10th
Midday was 2 1/2 hours before low water at Swan Island and the forecast was for no wind. It was a long paddle across under these conditions and the tide took us east of Cygnet Island as it had done 3 weeks ago, and to near South Head on Clarke Island. The tide just turned as we got near Clarke Island and it was a relatively easy paddle along to Rebecca Bay and then round into the campsite in Spike Bay – 5 1/2 hours from Little Musselroe Bay. We could have gone onto Preservation Island fairly easily but thought we’d done enough for one day. Had a pleasant night here with a good campfire.

                                                                                Spike Bay

 Saturday 11th
Left very early to make use of the last of the flood tide towards Cape Sir John. We landed briefly on Preservation Island (they now have NBN connected) for water and then continued across Thunder and Lightning Bay to Cape Sir John – the tide turning against us before we got there. But there is not a lot of strong current here so kept going towards Long Island but landed on a beach halfway for a long lunch break.


Then into Franklin Sound where the current was with us again and a steady paddle to Ned’s Point – a bit of a long day at about 6 hours but bad weather was coming and I wanted to be in the good sheltered campsite at Ned’s Point where the old farm house used to be. I broke a tent pole here. I was a bit tired and Mac collected nearly all the firewood and kept the fire going in the evening.

                                                                 Strzelecki from Ned's Point

                                                 My tent (my tent fly has finally disintegrated due to years in sunlight).

                                                    Mac's tent fly.                      

Sunday 12th
Fairly light consistent rain all morning, and a strong easterly wind. Mac went for a walk along the road all the way to the township – 4.9km each way. The weather cleared in the afternoon.

 Monday 13th
We left about 10, a couple of hours before high water so as to have it right up the beach at Trousers Point when we got there – and it was.

                                                                    Sailing across to Trousers Point

There was a very large double kayak on the beach and 3 single kayaks – members of the TSCC. We had lunch there for 3/4 of an hour and chatted to them before we left to continue to Whitemark.


We wanted to keep pressing north a reasonable distance each day. At Whitemark we checked out the camping possibilities and decided no-one was going to worry if we camped right in the BBQ area just near the wharf – and landed there. Today was a public holiday and only the pub was open – where we had a cider or two before going back to the kayaks for a rest before dinner. We had booked while at the pub.


The meals were huge and I could only eat half of my Parmigiana – I’d forgotten that you can order half meals. I was pretty tired when we strolled back to camp and retired fairly early.



Tuesday 14th
Walking to the hardware shop to look for something to repair the tent pole with (temporarily fixed with a ball point pen taped across the break) I walked past a gentleman who looked vaguely familiar, going in the opposite direction. I asked him if he was a Walker, which he was. It was Leedham Walker who I had met on my 1982 double Bass Strait crossing – he and his wife Judy had invited me in to their house for the night. He didn't remember me.

 The hardware store didn't have any aluminium or brass tube the size I wanted but I looked around and noticed some Dyna bolts and found one exactly the right size to slip over the tent pole which I’d taken with me. I bought two. Then a potato pie from the bakery for breakfast and back to camp where a nice young lady was cleaning the BBQ’s and the toilet. A trip to the supermarket to replenish low stocks and we left at 10 – heading south. The forecast for the next few days was for strong NE to N winds and I didn't feel up to bashing into headwinds so we called it a day and headed for home. I had basically done what I intended which was to get Elli’s Greenlander to Flinders Island one last time. And I’m quite sure that Mac may have got a bit sick of me extolling Elli’s virtues every evening during the trip.

 The wind just let us sail all the way to the "End of the Road" campsite near the township on Cape Barren Island – another very sheltered campsite in view of the coming strong winds. Two ladies drove to this beach in the late afternoon, with a man and a dog. The ladies went swimming for quite a while – I chatted to the man and found that he knew the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s surgery at Triabunna. She is known as “Harry” at the surgery but I knew her real name was Sandra – and the man referred to her as Harry/Sandra. He visits her sons when he is down Hobart way. Sandra owns property on Cape Barren Island. The larger of the two ladies gave me a hug and a kiss and said if we had any problems to go to the shop and ask for Jemarla. They all knew Harry/Sandra.



                                        Very nice beach at “End of the Road”

We had a small campfire and late in the afternoon just before dark another car turned up with Lil and Neil. Neil is second in charge at the fire brigade and said there was a fire ban but he wouldn't make us put ours out as we needed it to keep warm. Lil and Neil were both carrying a can of beer and had obviously had a few before they arrived here – they were just cruising around. Lil had lived at Thunder and Lightning Bay for 3 months when she didn't have a house.

 Wednesday 15th
There was a strong wind warning for NE so in view of this we decided to run with it without sails to Long Island and down to Thunder and Lightning Bay where we knew it would be a struggle back into the beach there but I wanted to be there to make it easier to get to Preservation the next day when there was supposed to be NW to W wind – also a strong wind warning. And strong it was – going into Thunder and Lightning I’ll swear I was going backwards in some of the gusts, and barely making headway at other times – it was a grueling paddle into the beach. But it was worth the struggle and we set up in the extremely sheltered campsite there, and Mac filled his water bottle at one of the springs flowing across the beach. One was flowing so fast as it came off the bank you could hold a bottle under it to fill it – a small waterfall.

One of the springs, very cool clear water

 A lovely beach and we both at different times walked right along it. A big cruiser came into the bay during the day and made many unsuccessful attempts to anchor – the wind was so strong it kept dragging its anchor. Eventually the wind dropped a bit and it did anchor while having lunch, and then motored off – to come back in the evening to anchor for the night. I wasn't surprised to hear its motor start up in the middle of the night and it was not there in the morning.

 Thursday 16th
The wind was supposed to be strong NE till the middle of the day and then go NW/W. but early in the morning it was already NW so we quickly packed up and headed for Preservation Island. We mostly sailed all the way (inside Key Island) but the wind got stronger and stronger going across to Preservation Island and kept going round to the west. I noticed this and in a bit of a lull managed to jibe the sail across to the left side. Mac didn't and a bit later on we were spearing down some big waves and he came perilously close several times to capsizing because the sail was on the wrong side. The wind was so strong it bent the boom on his sail. He eventually un-cleated it and just let it flap out in front like a flag for a while before managing to get it down and put away. All very touch and go for a while, but not far from the shack which we were glad to get to. The forecast for the next day was for strong easterlies so we planned a rest day tomorrow – the following three days all looked a possibility for crossing back over Banks Strait.

 Three weeks ago I’d caught 14 mice with a modified mouse trap, and left it set when we left. There was one in it now – so make that 15.

 Friday 17th
At nine a plane landed with one of the owners and a couple of workmen to do some urgent plumbing repairs where the cattle had broken some pipes. Mac and I quickly tidied our stuff out of the way and sat outside most of the day to be out of their way when they had morning tea and lunch inside – it was quite windy but not actually too cold.


 Just before they left the owner did have a bit of a chat to us about using the shack – but did realise we were stuck there till the weather improved. He did mention that he wouldn't want us paddling out there every couple of weeks just to holiday in his shack. Mac and I had a bit of a chuckle about this later with the thought of paddling out there every couple of weeks. His wife is a cousin of Toby Clark’s. When we were here three weeks ago I’d found a hole in the toilet wall where mice were getting in and I’d left a note about this. He asked if we had left the note and was grateful that we had and they would fix it next time out. In the two nights that we were here we only saw one mouse in the lounge room each night, and it avoided the mouse trap.

 We rang Liz to say we would probably be back there tomorrow – maybe late in the afternoon. She told me that the others (TSCC) were due back about lunch time. The forecast for tomorrow was easterly, but going NE about the middle of the day. Mac and I were planning to go then, to use the wind. I checked the tide tables and announced that if in fact the forecast was wrong and the NE was early we could go early – like first light and have a speedy run across Banks Strait. Although most paddlers go back across Banks Strait from Rebecca Bay on Clarke Island because it is the shortest distance I rarely do, quite often leaving from Preservation Island an hour or two before high water at Swan. This hopefully puts me near Cape Portland as the tide changes and the current sweeps you along to Little Musselroe Bay. It depends a lot on the difference in height of the low and high water in Bass Strait. If the difference is near 3 metres then the currents off Cape Portland will be very very fast and may sweep you out to Swan Island. But if the difference is less then the currents are less strong and you make a lot less sideways travel. Tomorrow the difference was less than 2.5 metres so I decided to try a method I’d never tried before and leave Preservation on a falling tide – maybe 2 1/2 hours before low water at Swan Island. By paddling magnetic south the whole time we should end up out towards Swan Island when the tide changed and be able to paddle across the current into Little Musselroe Bay.

 Saturday 18th
I was up quite early and the wind had gone NE so I went back to bed again till Mac got up about 6. He had a look outside and said he would be happy to paddle in these conditions so another quick pack and we were on the water at 6.20 – just light enough with a nearly full moon to see each other easily. The sun rose about 7.10 and the light wind let us sail all the way across the strait – with the falling tide acting like a slingshot to speed us on our way down along Clarke Island. We headed magnetic S all the way and the tide took us right between Cygnet and Little Swan Island, where I asked Mac how long we had been paddling. He had seemed a bit doubtful during the trip when I had told him that Sue and I had gone from Swan Island to Preservation Island in 3 1/2 hours a couple of years ago.

So he looked at his watch and said 2 hours 50 minutes and I asked if he now believed you could go from Swan to Preservation in 3 1/2 hours. “Yep”.

 I repeat that again – Preservation Island to Little Swan Island in 2 hours 50 minutes. The tides make a great slingshot – helped by the right wind.

 As we crossed towards Little Musselroe Bay the tide was just starting to flood east to west but we were able to sail straight into Little Musselroe Bay and right to the boat ramp – 4 hours 13 minutes and 38 seconds from Preservation Island. I absolutely enjoyed paddling with Mac again after all those years.          Laurie Ford

                                                                Mac sailing into Little Musselroe Bay

 Low water at Swan was at 9am and we left Preservation 2 hours 40 minutes before that.

Our track: 23 to 32 – heading magnetic south the whole time till past Little Swan Island. 29 was somewhere near Little Swan.

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