There is something momentous about sailing down the West coast of Tasmania. It is committal as there are not many places to hide. You feel a little on edge, a little excited too. The movement of the boat is different. It is not Bass Strait anymore with its confused chop. It is the Southern Ocean with defined swell lines, even if they were not big for this part of our voyage.
We were lucky we had several days of easterly weather, so we were able to break the 120 mile trip from the Hunter Group of Islands to Macquarie Harbour and do it all in daylight, apart from a couple of hours of pre-dawn starts. We sailed part way to Sandy Cape on Wednesday 7 March, even flying past Cape Grim under spinnaker for the start of our West coast descent. We motor-sailed the last three hours when the wind switched to the southeast, thus on our nose. We stayed at Venables Corner, Sandy Cape the next day to explore ashore, while the southeast was blowing, then took advantage of a light and variable day to get to Macquarie Harbour, again motor-sailing.
What an experience! This is a very sparsely populated coast, with just a few frontier like settlements. The dawns at sea were colorful, the albatrosses were out soaring, and dolphins were escorting us in large numbers. And then there were the varied shapes and textures of the coast: sand dunes around Sandy Cape, and spectacular granite tors, like Neolithic sites, around the Pieman River Entrance. With the soft morning light and backdrop of the mountains emerging from the sea mist, the seascape looked like Chinese watercolours. It was just breathtaking and we experienced all this at the rhythm of the rolling swell – unforgettable!
The highlight was of course reaching Hells Gates, which marks the entrance of Macquarie Harbour. The name is ominous and daunting… not so hellish for us sailors, particularly in the calm conditions we enjoyed, but in the 1800s the entrance was so named to describe the gates to a life of hell that awaited the convicts transported here.
We are now half way down the coast and will be exploring Macquarie Harbour for a few days. It is a 20 mile long and 3 to 4 mile wide waterway, with the village of Strahan at one end and the iconic Gordon River at the other. It is lovely being in sedate and reasonably protected waters.