August 2020: This is the Perfect Cruising Ground

I have been overwhelmed by the warm wishes everyone has been sending as they learned of Larry's passing. Many of you generously donated towards upgrading and ensuring the Larry Pardey Memorial Observatory at the childrens camp on Kawau island continues to thrive and introduce youngsters to the beauties of the night time skies. I am humbled by outpouring of support. As a small thank you,  here is something to entertain you during these difficult Covid19 times.



 This is the Perfect Cruising Ground

A matter of perspective


 A flight of pelican skim the sun-sparkled water just a dozen feet from where we lay at anchor. A flock of black swan waddle across the exposed mud flats a hundred yards to leeward. No sight nor sound of traffic or city life, no moorings, no other boats, nothing but us and the birds.

We’d sailed for hundreds of miles to get to know David’s first grandchild whose family lives near Melbourne, Australia and to partake in family holiday madness. Western Port Marina, just a dozen miles from his daughter’s home, proved to be the perfect location, one that let us invite family and a host of David’s cruising friends on board. Being secured alongside in the marina let us head off to lunches and evening entertainments without hesitation. But after three weeks of being tied cheek to jowl with 200 other boats and partaking of an overflowing social life, we’d needed a break and this felt like utter bliss.

It would have been difficult finding this isolated anchorage without the aid of a chart plotter. Called Chicory Cut, it is just that, a deeper cut in a vast area of mudflats which now, at low tide, lay fully exposed but at high tide would be hidden under three feet of water. The nearest visible land is almost a mile away and when David got on his paddle board to go ashore for a walk soon after we anchored, he found solid ground unreachable unless he was willing to wade  for half a mile through knee deep gooey thick mud. We’d chosen Chicory Cut as it is one of the few places in the huge expanse of Western Port Bay that offers protection from southwesterly winds and is, at the same time, away from swift currents and shipping channels. We knew we could only stay two days. After that we had to return to the marina or look for another cut on the northern side of the bay to have protection from the forecast northerly gales which would make this anchorage untenable.

“Sure looking forward to getting up to the Barrier Reef in a few months,” I commented when David set out snacks for sundowners. He nodded in agreement then added, “and after that be good to get back to New Zealand to enjoy meandering around the Hauraki Gulf islands. Talk about two almost perfect cruising grounds. Can’t see much to recommend this area.”

I had spent more than 4 decades exploring the world under sail before I met David, he had spent 11 years circumnavigating and I remember how, on our first meeting, we’d the begun the conversation by sharing our favorite cruising grounds. He had listed the islands of southern Turkey, I’d countered with Baja California, and the river estuaries of western Ireland. Our highly different lists grew as the evening lengthened. That had been the beginning of a relationship which saw us set sail together from New Zealand 18 months ago. We’d explored the islands of Vanuatu, then meandered through Australia’s Great Barrier reef area, south to Sydney and on to Tasmania.

Southeastern Tasmania might have added itself to our list of favorite cruising grounds except for the very short cruising season and the unreliable weather patterns which, even in the height of summer could bring week-long gales. But the local cruisers we met as we explored the hidden coves and rivers south of Hobart and around to the wild southwestern reaches of Tasmania, raved about their home waters. Perfect cruising, they told us.

Two days later, just ahead of the forecast gales, we returned to Western Port Marina for another round of socializing. That evening we joined Jan and Peter Metherall and their family for a leisurely lunch. I’d met the Metherall’s when we anchored near their Salar 40 in French Polynesia. We’d offered their three youngsters, at that time aged from 9 to 12, the opportunity to play around in Cheeky, Taleisin’s 8-foot sailing dinghy. Like many cruising friendships, ours had grown as we meandered further along the South Pacific Milk Run. Now their children had teenaged children. “Glad you found Chicory Cut, it’s our favorite anchorage,” Jan said. “Our kids couldn’t wait to go there. They loved getting covered in mud from head to toe, catching yabbies’ on the foreshore, fishing, swimming, exploring all the cuts. And then there is the anchorage at the end of Philip Island and...”

That opened a floodgate of stories about excursions taken first on a trailer sailor and later on the keel boat the family sailed throughout the big bays of Southern Victoria and from one end of the Bass Straits to the other before fitting out the offshore cruiser which took the them right around the world. “Never found a more perfect cruising ground than right here,” Jan stated. Her children seemed to agree. “Remember when we spent almost a month exploring the edges of Flinders Island?” one said. “King Island, that’s my favorite, never had a day without some kind of fun adventure,” said another.

Two months later, when we said our final farewells to family and friends then began sailing north away from the threat of winter I finally found time to look through the photos I’d snapped during the weeks it took us to navigate from the top of Tasmania, into the Bass Straits, then west to King Island to gain the weathering we needed to lay Western Port Bay. We’d been frustrated by the ever-changing weather plus the strong currents. The moment we made another safe anchorage, we began looking for the next chance of fair weather to move onward. Only when we were stymied by foul winds, did we settle in and relax for few days.

Flinders Island, our reception couldn’t have been kinder. Windswept and barren, vastly under populated, that was my impression. My photos from the 30 hours we lay in Lady Barron Anchorage show a different story. They remind me of the evening we spent at the fisherman’s pub overlooking the myriad of islands and channels south of the quiet main port. There we were offered long hot showers and very fresh fish platers. One of the locals who’d helped take our lines when we sailed in, offered us “a pint” plus an invite to join the local folks for a quiz night – if we were brave enough. Another local pointed out the crudely drawn map, hanging on the bulletin board. It showed half a dozen potential walks to various favorite viewpoints around Lady Barron Island.  A second hand drawn chart showed good landing spots on other islands. Now I can imagine we might have found a dozen fine anchorages to explore had we not been so goal oriented.

Then there are the photos from our six-day weather enforced stop on the Derwent River. Since we were delayed, we’d motored 20 miles up the river to Launceston and secured right in the center of this bustily little city. Though the clouds high above us scurried before storm force westerlies, the bluffs along the river sheltered. A leisurely walk along the riverfront board walk led us up through the Gorge, a dramatic jumble of rocks and river, to a Victorian garden wonderland complete with 150-year-old steel fretwork bandstand.  To keep from feeling restless we took this chance to rent a car and explore some of the mountains of northern Tasmania. Our reward, a chance to be in a snowstorm in mid-summer, warm hearted people, spectacular English style gardens and a glimpse of a rural lifestyle that is drawing an amazing number of people away from the cities to the north.

When fair weather returned we day hopped along the top of Tasmania, timing our departure to coincide with the west going current, arriving at a new anchorage and settling in for the night, never launching the dinghy, just eating, climbing into the bunk then getting underway again in the morning. Fortunately, after a few day hops, another blow was eminent with winds forecast to go right around the compass. I say fortunately as the nearest fully protected potential spot was Port Stanley.

From the moment we sailed through the 15-meter-wide entrance into the tiny stone rimmed fishing port I knew I’d like it. Well maintained steel fishboats filled many of the wooden pens lining one side of the port. Only two fishboats lay alongside the 300-meter-long shoreside wharf, both obviously undergoing refits. We motored slowly along the length of the harbor towards the quiet fish factory at its head and decided to prepare lines to go into one of the wood lined pens when a call rang out from a bright red trawler, “go alongside that white fishboat on the wharf. You won’t have to put out fenderboards that way. Friend of mine. Not moving for the next week at least. Harbor master? Gone fishing. No charges here, this is our harbor.” Off the beaten path, beautiful walking tracks leading up a steep bluff to a wallaby populated, birdsong filled, community restored native forest, friendly people who truly did want to know where we came from, why we were there, a picturesque and historic tiny downtown where only a few tourists meander other than during the hectic weeks of summer break. Definitely one of those stops that will spring to mind when I think of favorite ports.

We sailed into anchor at Grassy Bay on King Island, just an hour ahead of a westerly blow. Within a few hours a local had offered us the use of his car to get to a launderette in the biggest town on the island. “And while you are at it, better take in a few of the sights,” he’d said as he handed us the keys. On King island, big is truly relative as only about 1400 people live here, farming, fishing. Tourism is a very small fraction of the economy as transport from the mainland is expensive and limited. Yet when we explored further afield, we came across an amazing art gallery set right on the edges of the shore across the bay from the picturesque cray fishing port of Crissy. Large colorful paintings adorned the outside of the building. Big windows revealed a cornucopia of color inside. The door, closed but not locked, had a sign – Bring Your Own Lunch CafĂ©. And that is exactly what we found when we opened the door. No proprietor, just a big handsome dining table set amidst art and handcraft work from around the island. Another small sign asked that washing up be done at the outside sink and the table reset as found. “Please put money for art or craft purchases in the box and write down what you took in the guest book.”

In hindsight, I can see why Jan and her family call the Bass Strait a perfect cruising ground. How different our first impression might have been had we approached this area like they did, not as an obstacle in our rush to get somewhere else, but as our destination. Had we settled in and taken our time, we might have found dozens more treasures to savor. Instead of being frustrated by unfavorable winds, we might have used them as an excuse to explore different anchorages. We might have taken long walks ashore to experience the flora and fauna that are unique to this part of the world. And when we had slowed down, we probably would have found, as we did in Baja California or Southern Turkey that the local people invited us into their lives to add spice to our adventures.

Reviewing my photos from the Bass Strait has reminded me once again that perfect cruising grounds are a state of mind. A state of mind that can only be achieved when you set aside the desire to keep moving on and learn to enjoy just being.