Joining the Van Diemen’s Land Cruise: Strahan to Hobart


Our first introduction to sailing the south west coast of Tasmania was ominous. Barely an hour into our drive across Tasmania to Strahan we received a phone call from John Cain and Jenny Wright on Another Dimension. From their Sat phone. Sat phone calls rarely bring good news and this was the case.

We shared the drive with Don and Barbara Richmond who also meeting an RBYC yacht: Summer Wind. Summer Wind was also deep into the Gordon River and also could not possibly meet us in Strahan, catastrophic weather…..

We hastily booked a cabin at the caravan park and spent a night or two there as the weather raged. Plenty of good distractions though, many good walks, coffees and meals…and when our two wayward boats finally made their way back to Strahan, good meals on-board.

With this leg of the cruise most likely to provide unexpected delays in weather windows we provisioned well. Jenny has a fool proof plan which involves writing a menu plan for the expected cruise length. Each meal is listed with the ingredients beside it. Two or three emergency meals are put aside. The menu plan and ingredients list are kept so that all the expected ingredients will be used for each meal ensuring minimum wastage.  After several treks up the hill and with the sea state abating to below its 6m state we were ready to go.

We left Strahan at 4pm and made our way out with Andrew on the helm and John providing steerage guidance from the inward track. Hells Gates looked as it should have but we made our way through calmly and then set our course out to sea. The weather and sea state were pretty average until we cleared Cape Sorell and could set our course. After that the evening and night’s sail was a dream. It was quite lovely to sail with a veritable armada of yachts around us! Strangely enough the racing gene kicked in and I went off watch telling the Skipper that we were leading the fleet. On our second watch, pre-dawn cold seeped into out bones and the rain came in sideways. Wisely the skipper had slowed us down for a dawn arrival at Port Davey, 110 nm later. Looking at the formidable rocks guarding the entrance I was pleased he did.

Entering Port Davey was almost like sailing into a Tolkien world of geographic majesty. ‘Get out your Derwent’s’ was the catch cry and well called. The scenery was amazing and indeed many artists would have been inspired. Steep cliffs, Mount Rugby at 771 m and numerous other shorter walks surrounded us. In Port Davey the water is tainted black with tannin which runs off the forest. The fresh water layer is around 1 m deep which makes for poor visibility (you can’t see more than 30 cm deep) and a Coca Cola coloured spa bath when you turn on the outboard engine. It also means that this area is very specifically protected as there is little piscatorial life but many invertebrates such as Sea Pens survive in much shallower water than they are usually found in.

We spent five days in Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour, exploring all its corners. Our skipper John valiantly swam each day and persisted with his stand up paddle board each morning before breakfast despite our fears of hypothermia.

Two of many highlights: Travelling by dinghy up the creek to Melaleuca where Denny King made his home and enjoying wandering around his base and the airport.  It’s a 5 nm trip by dinghy from Clayton’s Corner and with a 25 to 30 knot headwind coming hone to the boat we were pretty happy to have John and Jenny serve us hot Milo’s and home made Pizza’s for lunch!   The Cain/Wright family affectionately call their dinghy the ‘Floating LiLo’ … after this trip … we call it ‘The sodden Wettex’! At this time my standard onshore outfit consisted of a 3mm wetsuit with a full upper ocean jacket ….and I was still freezing cold!

The other memorable experience was walking up Balmoral Hill after anchoring in Casilda Cove.

A short walk but a stunning perspective of the whole harbour.

We left Port Davey with the bulk of the remaining fleet at dawn for the sail under Tasmania to reach Recherche Bay on the south east coast.

What an amazing day! Beautiful big Southern Ocean swells, clear skies and wildlife everywhere! As we passed the South West Cape a big pod of dolphins joined us. They stayed for ages, but talking to people from the fleet later on I realised that they probably greeted every yacht. The seabirds kept us constant company as we sailed wing on wing inside of Maatsuyker Island and headed towards the South East Cape. I recorded the day’s speed record of 13.4 knots downwind with a poled heady and reefed main. Chuffed but white knuckled! That done we headed up into Recherché Bay and anchored for the night. A small glitch with the anchor brought the Summer Wind crew over for extended Sundowners whilst Guru Bryan Drummond fixed our broken circuit breaker.

Off the next morning and into a larger wind than we expected. A quick retreat had us placing the dinghy back on deck then heading off again. Annoying really as we only has 25 nm to travel, as opposed to the 65-70 of the day before.  38.4knots around the corner made bread baking and straightening the horizons of the day before’s photo’s strategically difficult. But the bread got baked and the photo’s uploaded.

The next few days were spent blissfully roaming the D’Entrecasteax Channel, catching flatties and visiting welcoming local yacht clubs.

We made our way into the Derwent and joined the rest of the fleet at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania for the presentation dinner. Many cruisers took this opportunity to visit MONA, the Salamanca market, Mawson’s Antarctic museum and to peruse the views from atop Mt Wellington…as well as consuming the odd Scallop pie!

The RYCT laundry was busy as were the supermarkets as the interstate yachts prepared for departure and the Victorian contingent prepared to complete their circumnavigation. A note for Jenny’s provisioning method… as we entered the yacht club we put a half of a lettuce and two rather sad carrots in the bin….. Everything else was where it should have been…… consumed!

The Van Diemen’s Land Cruise is run every two years and will next happen in 2017. If you haven’t been there but thought you should….put it on your bucket list!

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One Response to Joining the Van Diemen’s Land Cruise: Strahan to Hobart

  1. Sue Drummond says:

    Hi Karen, I was about to read the VDLC article but thought iD have a browse to reminisce. It was great to read from your point of view. Great writing! So many experiences I’d forgotten. Beautiful photos. Might need to borrow some for our RBYC talk.

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