A crazy plan – a middle aged woman who hadn't paddled for 7 years and a septuagenarian who wasn't sure if he still wanted to paddle let alone go to Flinders Island again.
But crazier things happen and the result was an absolutely amazing paddle to one of my most favourite regions of Tasmania – the Furneaux Islands. Nine days of magical weather, exhilarating sailing and great vistas.
After quitting paddling many years ago due to osteonecrosis of my AC joints my Greenlander has sat under the house gathering dust. While walking past it on numerous occasions I have had fond memories of previous adventures but thought that I would never get back on the water again. Living at the beach I must admit that I have found this hard at time and have longed for that feeling of being in my boat again and setting off for another adventure. One thing led to another and with encouragement from my good friend Laurie Ford (alias Old Man) I started to test the waters again so to speak. I reviewed the old paddling videos taken by Jeff Jennings and realised that my paddling style left a lot to be desired. Way too shoulder dominant. So with our training paddles started to modify this and slowly felt that finally I was doing it the correct way. As a result my shoulders didn't seem to complain – only my abdominals! The plan was hatched.
Laurie spent many days fixing all the problems on my boat prior to leaving. The usual saying is that “with age comes maturity”. Unfortunately a larger bottom does too and so Laurie managed to lower and adjust my seat accordingly. He also completed a variety of other jobs on foot pedals, rudder and replacing stretchy cords on the deck. We were ready to go.
I had organised to have a personal EPIRB called a SPOT (first recommended to me by my cousin) for keeping in touch with friends and family. It not only allows one to send a SOS but also to be tracked. An amazing and small, portable and waterproof device. It allowed us when we got home to look at our daily progress and keep a record of our trip.
Sunday February 23 – Little Musselroe Bay to Swan Island
OM and I drove to Little Musselroe Bay via the east coast. The former had changed hugely since I was last there – a sea of large wind turbines dot the landscape and the farm of Cape Portland has expanded with healthy looking paddocks and cattle. Met with Liz Ponting and her husband who came to tell us about the latest sea kayak departures to Flinders Island. My assortment of camping stuff and food easily fitted into the kayak which I was happy with.
We left at about 4pm and paddled/sailed with the outgoing tide to Swan Island and landed on the SE corner. We then set up camp for the night after a walk to look at the light house and surrounding buildings. Apart from a short sail in light winds in the channel this was the first time that I had put my large go-fast red sail up and surprisingly enough it felt easy.
Monday 24th February – Swan Island to Preservation Island
After an early awakening I went for a walk back to the lighthouse and had a look around. There was a large sea eagle which hovered above our bay and a huge skate doing its own style of flying in the shallow waters.
Tides were right for a departure at midday for Preservation Island. This meant a morning of angst for me worrying about the weather and sea conditions given my lack of preparation. It was low tide at midday so the incoming tide (and paddling magnetic north) was to carry us across Banks Strait and up the western side of Clarke Island to Preservation. I lost count of the number of times that I asked OM if we were ok to paddle that day owing to the wind and conditions that I could see just out from the bay but his reassurance meant that we left on time. The waves were a tad steep around the eastern side of the island and within the first 10 minutes I had to brace into a breaking wave – surprisingly enough I did this without thinking, so was relieved that my skills hadn't been totally lost in the 7 years of not paddling! Also was relieved that my shoulders felt ok with this. As usual I set off paddling like a maniac (as I do when anxious) but it wasn't too long after that I settled into the rhythm of being on the sea once again, had my sail up and was mostly enjoying the conditions. The bird life was as remembered with an albatross, numerous gannets and Caspian Terns coming for a look. One of my problems on crossing Banks Strait in the past has been sea sickness but there was no hint of it this time. Maybe with age comes less reaction to the lumpy seas!
We quickly passed lower Clarke Island and scooted up the western side. The current seemed especially strong past Spike Bay and if we had wanted to stop there or Rebecca Bay, I think it would have been a struggle. Clarke Island has recently been devastated by a fire that has burned most of the island and as we paddled past the smell of smoke was still strong. As we entered Armstrong Passage we kept to the eastern side before heading across to Preservation and landed there 3 and a half hours after leaving Swan Island.
On the beach we met up with 5 kayakers from the TSCC who were spending a month in this area and were expecting some more kayakers across the following weekend.
Needless to say we were both absolutely rapt at getting to Preservation Island. Not only with the time but how had we felt physically. Both of us expected to feel exhausted but actually felt pretty good. I went for a walk around the island and revelled in the surrounding views. The plan for the following morning definitely was to depend on the weather and how we recovered from this first day.
Tuesday February 25 – Preservation Island to Old Township Cove
We both felt good the following am and as high tide was at 0600 Laurie woke me shortly afterwards to leave just after 0700. The wind was E-NE and therefore perfect for a sail against the outgoing tide to Thunder and Lightning Bay. This took approx. 1.5 hours and when coming into the beach were greeted by piles of seaweed and heaps of hungry March Flies. The Rid was promptly found and liberally used on any exposed flesh. The big buggers could bite though thermals and shorts so our stop there wasn't an overly pleasant one. We explored and Laurie found the old campsite (sheltered in Sheoaks) and a natural spring on the beach. I filled up with water there despite not having used much at this stage. We had to wait there till just after midday for the outgoing tide to slow somewhat before heading around the western side of Cape Barren Island.
At 1215 we set off around Cape St John which on previous trips I remember as a notoriously lumpy stretch of water due to current flow and lots of rocky outcrops. This time the seas were pretty flat and apart from a 15 knot northerly headwind, the conditions were easy.
OM remembered a little cove west of the township on Cape Barren (which he had stopped at previously with Elli) and so we landed there for the night. It is called Old Township Cove.
It is a lovely north facing cove with sandy beach and wonderful rocks surrounding. OM pitched his fly on the beach next to his kayak and I pitched my tent up on the headland above. As usual I went for an exploratory walk and swim before settling to have dinner on some rocks on the beach. Shortly after going to bed there was a short storm with thunder and lightning – I must admit I felt a tad exposed up on the headland with the light illuminating my tent and the thunder claps shaking the rock under my tent. Despite this managed to easily get to sleep.
Wednesday 26th Feb – Old Township Cove to Big Dog Island
Woke at 0400 with the sound of the wind and crashing waves onto the rocks and beach below me. As a result lay there fretting until daybreak so I could see what it actually looked like. From a tent it often sounds much worse than it is but when I did, realised that there were breaking waves in the bay and the wind was rather strong. Mistaking the time I went down to OM's campsite to see when we were leaving, to be reassured that I was early and we would be fine heading off that day. So I went back to bed and fretted some more.
We left just after 0800 and paddled through steep breaking waves to leave the cove. As usual I set off like a bat out of hell and was reluctant to turn downwind (wind was westerly) as this and the following seas usually make me feel unstable.
Finally I managed to do so and after getting my smaller sail up we sailed past Cape Barren Township to Ned's Point.
From there we cut across to Anderson Island where we saw a large flock of pelicans. As we set off from there towards the southern side of Flinders Island the wind picked up to approx. 20-25 knots and I noticed that after our little break Laurie had not put up his sail. I paddled over to him to ask why we couldn't sail in these conditions to be told that he thought I wouldn't want to sail in such a strong wind.
Blow that! Soon enough we both had our sails up and were hurtling up Franklin Sound. For the first time on the trip I felt like the 7 years of not paddling was a million years ago. I was back to feeling like a teenager high on adrenaline whooping with glee as I surfed and sailed up the sound. There were moments when I felt totally out of control and knew that the worst outcome would be a swim, so had to comfort myself with this fact. From Badger Point we headed across to Little Dog Island and from there the wind increased to about 30knots. The waves were small but steep so the front of the kayak was regularly burying itself up to the cockpit which was a tad unsettling. Just around the NE corner of Big Dog Island I finally took my sail down as couldn't handle this and the surrounding seas and was relieved to see Laurie doing the same. We stopped on the eastern point of the island and decided not to go on to Vansittart Island as planned due to the combination of strong outgoing tide and westerly winds and paddled back a short distance to find a campsite for the night.
Looking back on the trip this was my most favourite day. One in which I revelled being back in my Greenlander and out in this amazing location. Really there is nothing more exhilarating than a day like that one. It did wonders for my confidence that I could paddle in these conditions again but know that without a supportive paddling partner that I wouldn't have tried. OM definitely knows my skill level but also how to push me to do things that I wouldn't otherwise attempt.
After landing I had a wander up to the main house on the island and then to the south eastern side to have a look back up Franklin Sound. We had dinner on the foreshore with a small campfire that only lasted a few hours before being extinguished by the incoming tide.
We had wonderful views of hundreds of shearwaters coming in to roost for the night. As the beach was going to be non-existent at high tide we had to drag the kayaks up onto the foreshore for the night. A sound night's sleep was had after such a huge day.
Thursday 27th February – Big Dog to Vansittart Island
We left at 0800 for the short paddle to Vansittart Island. The seas were lumpy but we managed to sail most of the way. OM remembered a good camping spot south east from Ross Point so after landing we scoured around for a good location. Finally found a heavenly spot under a stand of Sheoaks looking north to the Patriarchs. A small pod of dolphins swam passed shortly after we arrived.
After finding my way through dense bush to the paddocks behind I made my way up the hill to check out the view. Every time I have been to Vansittart Is the group has always done this walk. The first time there I can remember Jamie catching a young Cape Barren Goose and carrying it to the top so that it could look at the view! Other times we have gone there for the sunset and view over the wreck of the Farsund. On my way up I was worried about the prospect of meeting a tiger snake (or two) but was only given momentary heart palpitations with groups of quail flying out of the tussocks.
On my way back to the campsite I managed to make heavy weather of getting through the bush on the edge of the beach and finally managed to find a way through. As I stumbled onto the beach I met with a fellow who was staying on the island with a group of friends. I am not sure who was more surprised to see each other. He turned out to be a farmer from Victoria and he and a group of other blokes meet there for a weekend/week of shooting, fishing and talking. One of their group was apparently suffering from the end stages of cancer so they were all there to support him. Good mates indeed. I asked if the owner would have minded us being there to which he replied not – apparently he has had the leasehold for the last 7 years and loves the place and has done a lot of work on revegetating and weeding. Certainly the island looked much better that the last few times I have visited.
With the right tide just before 1500 we set off for the short paddle for the wreck of the Farsund. It was much smaller than I remember from previous trips owing to the fact that the stern has broken off. It was then back to the campsite for a swim, rest and then dinner. Again a magical evening with flocks of shearwaters on the horizon.
Friday 28th February – Vansittart Island to Trousers Point, Flinders
An early start at 0630 this morning due to the tides – high tide due at 0945. However the tide made it quite difficult getting between Green Island and Flinders Island. We paddled with the shearwaters and occasional fishing boats both heading out for food. It took about 1.5 hours to Lady Barron. Unfortunately I found my boat really uncomfortable on the way there for some reason and when we landed discovered that my footrests were too close to the seat. OM managed to move them forward a peg which relieved a little of this – more on this at Trousers Point.
The plan there was for filling up with water at the harbour but were greeted with fencing around the whole facility. This was very different to last time I was there. However the caretaker allowed us to come in and fill up bottles from their tanks. I went up to the shop for some fresh bananas and coke – yes I do drink this on trips courtesy of Laurie Ford. Never touch the stuff at home but do find that on long days on the water it gives me a boost (caffeine and sugar – what a combo!). Also unlike a variety of other drinks I have tried especially on the long crossings, it doesn't make me feel sick. Am I rationalising here???
We left again at 0915 fully expecting to camp somewhere on the southern side of Flinders Island as the tide was going to be against us for most of the day. Our luck would be with us though with a great easterly wind which was strong enough to paddle/sail to Trousers Point in just over 3 hours. I must admit I was tired/tired/tired when we arrived but arriving on this fabulous corner of Flinders totally outweighed this! We were greeted by a tour group with AWA (Australian Wilderness Adventures) who appeared to be most interested in our paddle and over the following 2 days that we were there lovely chats were had. I was most impressed with the tour guides who not only seemed well travelled but also easy and friendly to talk to.
The campsite there was just as I remembered from years ago but with a lot more sheoaks uprooted – there must have been a lot of strong winds to cause that degree of damage but needless to say we found a great campsite in which to relax for a couple of days. We spent some of the afternoon doing a couple of repair jobs – one on my large red sail that wasn't “setting properly” due to the cords not being tensioned correctly and the other on my sail holder that was too loosely fastened on the deck. As per usual OM had all the sewing and repair equipment that was needed.
The sunset to the west over Chapel and Badger Islands was magnificent.
Saturday 1st March – Trousers Point
I cadged a lift with the tour group to the base of Mt Strzelecki and enjoyed the 3km/700m climb in 1:15hr. I had the place to myself for over an hour and relished the view below.
It was then back to the road and the 3km walk back to Trousers Point. Then swim and sleep! OM had a busy but restful day charging up batteries and doing odd jobs (like moving my foot pedals forward another notch).
While I think about it, my food was an endless source of mirth for Laurie who ate practically nothing for the whole trip. Breakfast has always been an issue for me paddling due to sea sickness and so OM made some great cheese biscuits – lots of cheese, butter, a pinch of Cayenne Pepper and other secret ingredients. Good calories and easy on the stomach. Needless to say they will be my breakfast on all future trips.
Lunch – cheese/hummus on Pumpernickel. Snacks – dried bananas (which definitely taste better than they look!), nuts, muesli bars and sesame snaps.
Dinner – rice, curries, beans etc. I think I ate rather well but each nights meal was greeted with a “yuck” from the OM. Oh well, better than Saos and peanut butter or Kraft cheese!
Sunday 2nd March – Trousers Point to Preservation Island
Flat calm seas with not a breath of wind - a millpond in fact. After the exhilarating sailing so far on this trip I was a tad disappointed but at 0900 set off for the 14km paddle to Long Island. This took about 2 hours and then stopped on a picturesque beach for 20 minutes to wait for better tide conditions to paddle south.
We then had a harder paddle into a stiff headwind arriving at Piano Point at 1400. Again we stopped for a break to get the tides right. Below is a photo of my “paddler's hands”- with wearing gloves to protect against blisters I get these lovely wrinkled hands with brown fingers!
From there it was 1 hour further to Preservation Island. The SW corner of Cape Barren Island is incredibly beautiful – there are rocks shaped like whales, the birdlife abundant. There were fish galore jumping out of the water trying to escape from the marauding seagulls! The final paddle to Preservation diagonally across the wind and current was lumpy in the channel as usual but nothing untoward.
We had dinner together in the house and enjoyed the usual banter while OM had his favourites for dinner!
I was going to camp outside the hut due to it being the last night. I must admit I was enjoying the sound of the waves, winds and birds. However shortly after getting in the tent and getting settled I started to hear chomping noises from outside. Thinking it was just wallabies I stuck my head out for a look. Nothing!! I settled down again and it started again. I then got out of the tent and wandered 10m away with my torch and waited. From the grass next to the house emerged a few rats and then mice!! I quickly made the decision that sleeping inside was a much better (although softer) option and packed up my sleeping bag and the tent and headed inside. Of course this was much to the amusement of the OM who had seen my torch flickering around outside and had been wondering what on earth I was up to!
Monday 3rd March – Preservation Island to Little Musselroe Bay. A relaxed morning before heading off.
We left 1 hour before HW and headed south – initially we had a light NE wind but this soon dropped and instead we were paddling. Unfortunately I started to develop a left sided headache (different to my very occasional migraines) and took some aspirin. This soon started playing havoc with my stomach and as a result wasn't feeling too good. I was nauseated and not able to paddle as my usual speed to keep up with the OM. Luckily the Aspirin worked, the wind came up and we paddled/sailed south. I must admit that I was tired after our big day yesterday and Swan Island and the wind towers at Little Musselroe Bay looked a very long was away! Due to the strong tide we landed on Swan Island just west of the lighthouse and waited for an hour or so for this to abate.
It was then an easy sail to land at our destination – the tide was very low so we had to drag our kayaks into the bay. We were greeting by Liz Ponting and her husband again who were interested in how our trip had gone!
We then drove via Launceston (for the obligatory pie) to OM's place. Then another hour back to mine. A long day indeed from Preservation Island to Coningham!
So, am I going to do this again?
Of course – next year but for longer.
Huge thanks to my wonderful friend OM for not only motivating me to even consider this trip let alone to do it!
One happy and salt-encrusted paddler!
To quote one of my most favourite authors:
The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always
beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth
which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the
only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see. . . . No, wilderness
is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, as vital to our lives
as water and good bread.
Edward Abbey (1927 - 1989)
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