When we were preparing the house for sale earlier this year, we moved on board Samos, thinking we’d be at Kettering in Little Oyster Cove for several months. We planned to spend that time cruising the D’Entrecasteaux and Norfolk Bay but within a matter of days our lovely mountain home had found itself new owners and we barely had time to tackle our list of boat tasks before we were home again packing boxes.
Travelling in a small van as we did last year and cruising in a small yacht proves that truism of life being richer as possessions get exfoliated and waste gets reduced. But moving house is not good for the environment. You may give the Red Cross Shop your library and St Vinnies the clothes off your back, but the recycling and refuse bins fill exponentially and zero waste targets shatter alarmingly.
We went down to the marina on a sunny day and stepping on board Samos I noticed a swirling black ring beneath the water, just behind the yacht’s transom, and an overlapping circle of silver, moving that little bit quicker. A cormorant was hunting a school of bait fish that panicked into a leaping confusion as the bird downed its catch while rising to the surface.
Relaxing beneath the boom tent with a g&t on a blue day before summer’s lease expired, we watched a puffer fish slowly inspecting the seaweed attached to the floating marina and each time the black swans came visiting the dogs were transfixed.
Life in the marina spools out slowly. Those of us working on our boats shared tools, suggestions, advice and meals while in the background yachts slipped quietly through the marina, the Bruny Island ferries came and went where once the Nuenonne paddled their bark canoes, where Bruni D’Entrecasteaux sailed – sealers and whalers too – and the constant sound on the boat, in the quieter moments and most noticeably in the silence of the night, was the idle clicking of tiny beings feasting on the hull.
The super blue blood moon rose over Bruny Island, the Channel and the yachts while the dark hills slept and we looked up at the moon and also down at its reflection, snagged in the riggings of yachts impressed by its light on the water.
There have been other times at the marina when nature has gifted us a surprise or two. We’ve been astonished by flocks of about 200 black cockatoos swirling around the pine trees. We’ve stopped to watch the parade of crabs along the marina shallows. Kayaking this cove I once followed a ray as it made its way around the north east corner. I like rays. The ones I have encountered all seem capable and full of purpose.
We were at the marina long enough to enjoy several coffees and breakfasts at the café beside the ferry terminal with its views of Bruny Island and to enjoy the pub up the hill. Really, the marina is for me the heart of Kettering and Kettering the link between mainland Tasmania and Bruny Island. For a small place it’s pretty amazing that along with the pub it has three cafes as well as artistic credentials and links, some believe to planets elsewhere. This extra terrestrial history inspired the Kettering Incident.
We walked the short track through coastal woodland around to Trial Bay, lazed at Kettering Point and in the evening took the short walking track below the cricket oval on the northern side of the cove. There are houses on the hills which were once entirely forested, that therefore drew timber cutters in Kettering’s early days, and tucked away in the valleys behind the village are farms producing organic produce for which Tasmania is rightly famous.
Marinas can be tough on the watery world but this one has achieved some recognition for its environmental efforts and living on board proved so enjoyable that we agreed that while small is beautiful if we want to live on board all summer long then a yacht a little bigger would be more comfortable. And so our lovely yacht Samos is on the market and a new adventure is about to begin.
Betsey is a hump of island, the largest of the three in the Betsey Island Group and although it is visible from a number of Hobart suburbs, because of the hilly landscape and the peninsulas that surround the city, it often disguises itself as just another bump in the landscape. Like Tinderbox Peninsula, its reefs were shaped by volcanic activity and on three sides cliffs rise steeply. It has a small pebbled beach, Black Jack Reef lies between Betsey and Hope Beach and if Tinpot Island, also a member of the Betsey Group, is the sentinel for the Derwent River, then Betsey Island in Storm Bay is a sentinel as you sail towards Frederick Henry Bay.
I was pretty excited the first time I took part in one of the 29 nm races from its start at Castray Esplanade in the Derwent River, out around Betsey Island and back to start on a Trad 30. It remained a favourite race because it left the confines of the river and took in a stretch of coastline I walked but rarely sailed.
It was on race that I discovered that Betsey Island had a tiny companion, Little Betsey Island, tucked under its southern shoulder and that this little island trails a reef too. On the lovely Birngana, we came in tantalisingly close beneath Betsey’s eastern cliffs on one race (seabirds swirling above), seemed just behind Hope’s breaking waves on another and, each time I’ve done this race, it’s proved long enough to glide to a halt on a mirrored surface in the river, to enjoy a reach exhilaratingly heeled, to watch the sea state change time over time with the arrival of catspaws or wild gusts. Spinnakers up, or reefs in, maybe romping back up the river or stuck at the back of the fleet, the sailing on Birngana was always convivial, the rounding of the two Betseys full of curiosity and wonder, and the fun of the race always continued through drinks and snacks back in the berth.
Names come and go and play a role shaping identify. For the longest time Betsey Island is understood to have been called Teemiteletta or Lore.by.larner.wa. There is a record of both names, presumably given by different tribes – the latter name seems linked to the Moomairremener, who had a myth about a group of girls who went across to Lore.by.larner.wa to enjoy themselves, but were chased by some men. To escape them they leapt into the sea and a spirit, Rageoropper, who judged in favour of the girls, turned the men into rock, while the girls swam back to rejoin their tribe. (Go girls! #metoo.)
Those name givers that made their way over the water to the island as wild swimmers or in their bark canoes left memories of their journeys by way of scatters of shell and stone. They’d have been seeking mutton birds, shellfish and penguin eggs. Bruni D’Entrecasteaux, the French explorer, called the mountain in the sea Willaumez Island after Jean Baptiste Willaumez, who was on board the Recherche with him.
In the 1800s the British came with a heavier footstep and in short succession the island gained a string of new names – Lady Franklin Island, Franklin Island and these days Betsey Island. It’s possible it may have been named after Betsey, the daughter of Sergeant MaCauley and his wife Maria, who farmed in the Clarence area and were friends with the Reverend Knopwood.
The island was still being used by the Moomairremener in the first years though, because in 1804 an aboriginal man was taken from the island into Hobart and the governor ordered him to be dressed in European clothes. Luckily he was able to escape that night (Nicholls, cited by Clarence City Council).
In 1814 another group of aborigines were found sitting around a fire on the island and encouraged to visit Hobart. Again they were inspected by the Governor and given clothes. After being offended by a local it is unclear whether they were taken to Bruny Island or drowned as they tried to reach it.
Betsey’s Many Uses
In the early days of the colony two convicts were placed there to signal when a ship was sighted, either by firing a gun by day or lighting a fire by night. It was used as a lookout by whalers.
It also became the home of the offspring of five rabbits who were on the First Fleet to Australia. In the 1820s, when the island was bought by a Mr James King, he built himself a stone house, took his water from a couple of fresh water springs and set about breeding rabbits for the Chinese fur trade, a profound shock to the island’s ecosystem. His endeavours were quite successful but he sold the island on for 470 pounds to Captain John Bell and Mr Crombie, who continued this business … and while the men sold rabbit pelts to China, the rabbits nibbled steadily through Teemiteletta’s pelt.
By the 1840s the dishevelled island had been bought by Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin for 910 pounds and one of her many creative notions was to establish a botanical garden or game reserve there. The plan never came together and the island was left to itself, although it was visited occasionally by fishermen and was the temporary hang out of a handful of deserters, feasting on rabbits and birds, no doubt, while they patiently waited for their ship, the Cicero (American) to leave Hobart.
Then, in The Mercury of 24 May 1876 there’s this intriguing report:
Land Slip at Franklin Island.
A letter received by Mr. J. W. Graves from’James Alexander, better known as ” Old Alick,” who has for some years resided on Franklin Island, recorded an interesting occurrence that occurred there on the 18th inst. Alick states that himself and the boy who resides with him were at the back of the island about four o’clock in the afternoon, when they had a narrow escape of being buried alive.
They had just crossed the flat ground at the back end of the long hill, when the land began to move steadily, ” the same as a ship being launched.” In a few moments an immense mass of earth,’ the best piece of land on the island, fell into the water, leaving, as the writer describes it, “a great gulf.”
Alick seemed very much concerned about it, probably from an idea that at any moment the whole island may disappear in a similar manner.’ He says it does not look like the same island, and wants Mr. Graves to go down and see it. Franklin Island, as is well known, was named after that noble lady who passed away last year; but the native name of it was Teemiteletta, or, mountain in the water. It was given by Lady Franklin to the people of the colony, and has always been looked upon with great interest. It would be a thousand pities if it was swallowed up in the Derwent.
The Real Owners
Forget the affairs and acquisitiveness of men. These two islands and the Betsey Reef are now part of a 176 ha nature reserve which somewhat protects its natural owners. On its rocky dolerite cliffs, with outcrops of sandstone, on its scree slopes, sedgeland and saltmarsh life exists. White’s skink and the she-oak skink live here. Birds add colour and music to the open eucalypt woodlands and burrow into the sandier soils but there is only one mammal – the silver-haired rabbit – that erodes Teemiteletta still – well, at least up until 2002 – but let’s hope the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service has rectified this by now.
In 1985 and 1999, when Nigel Brothers and David Pemberton surveyed the island there were over 15,000 little penguins living there, joined in summer by approximately 150,000 shearwaters. The penguins, arriving and departing the island risked their lives because both professional and recreational fishers set nets just offshore. It is outrageous that nets were not been banned decades ago.
232 black-faced cormorant couples also lived on Betsey then. Kelp gulls were outsiders – only 3 pairs and 11 individuals set up home here.
They saw a white-faced heron. A pair of sea-eagles had a nest in the eucalyptus forest but wedge tailed eagles also had a presence. Other raptors included swamp harriers and the brown goshawk and in the Eucalyptus globulus woodland there were spotted pardalote, noisy miners, various honeyeaters, the grey butcherbird, the forest raven, the nankeen kestrel and silvereyes.
The thunder of the human footprint also exists in the weeds that limit Teemiteletta’s life giving generosity. Boxthorn and Cape Leeuwin wattle restrict the natural habitat available to the amazing diversity of species this small 175.13 ha island supports.
I didn’t know when we sailed by Betsey that beneath us lay wooden and metallic corpses, now bejewelled with marine flora. Old ships need graveyards and since 1916 they’ve been dragged out to Little Betsey Island to create vibrant underwater gardens frequented by divers. Two of the ships are flattened 1930s freighters now lying off Little Betsey Island reef and a number of harbour vessels lie out to the west. There’s even a section of Hobart’s old pontoon bridge there.
Black Jack Rocks, closely associated with Betsey Island snared a nautical prize in 1994. Incat, Hobart’s ferry making success story, had been contracted to build Condor 11, a 78 m vessel, but on its trial in Storm Bay on 8 October 1994, there was a navigational slip up and in the darkness of the night the ferry rushed a full boat length on to the semi-submerged reef – and stayed there for a good two months, its stern and portside hull clear of the water, while repeated rescues were attempted until finally it was freed.
Change is coming again to the mountain in the sea. Conscious of the damage done to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and Macquarie Harbour, fish farms are moving out into Storm Bay. The proliferation in this area will have a negative environmental and recreational impact on the bay and the island.
Brothers, Nigel; Pemberton, David; Pryor, Helen; & Halley, Vanessa. (2001). Tasmania’s Offshore Islands: seabirds and other natural features. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery: Hobart.
South Arm is Calvert country. The name is everywhere and at the eastern entrance to the river the Calverts once had fruit orchards on a farm called Pleasant View. In September 1939 they sold it to the army and in 1944 the army built Fort Direction. The military base extends across both Cape Deliverance and Cape Direction.
Even down at the bottom of the world, the idea of falling to the enemy made people jumpy. That’s why, from 1804, shortly after the colony was established and on into WWII, a network of batteries and bunkers was built down both shores of the Derwent to where in Storm Bay the river merges with the Southern Ocean. Standing right at the river’s mouth, Fort Direction and the Pierson’s Point battery were the first line of defence against enemies arriving by way of the Southern Ocean (Tasmanian Times, 25 Feb 2011).
Seacroft Bay and Fort Beach
On one of summer’s more perfect days, Cathy and I set off on a walk along Fort Beach, Seacroft Bay’s only beach. It was low tide and our ambition was to walk across both capes and on to Hope Beach. But the army had not responded to my request for permission to traverse military land and we anticipated that our walk would be a brief one that would end abruptly where the beach gave way to military land.
The low dunes backing the beach are infested with marram grass and the river had been nibbling away at them. Blessington Street runs behind them and the houses here enjoy superb views over the estuary. We chose to walk along the swash, stopping to consider an outcrop of rock emerging from the sand and remarking to each other that we had finally reached the last beach on the Derwent River’s eastern shore.
There was a woman with a dog quite a distance ahead of us. Beyond her a man took a path up from the beach and disappeared into the bush on to what had to be military land. If he’d gone that way then so would we.
The dog owner had stripped down to her bathers and was about to plunge into the perfectly transparent water by the time we reached her. We got chatting and she told us it was possible to continue on via the rocks, or alternatively by way of the path the man had taken. We quickly decided that the rocks would be more adventurous and walked on, undeterred by the sign we saw on the beach.
Passing four pied oyster catchers, I wondered about the impact of toxic waste on the birds who call by and unwittingly spread toxicity further afield and on those birds who make their summer residence here and possibly bury into it.
The rocky platform at the base of Cape Deliverance was beautiful, the pools rich with kelp and seaweed. It was tessellated in places and there were dropstones and small formations that the geo later suggested were probably remnants of an earlier rock platform.
Soon we came to the kind of risky gulch that has you wishing you’d remembered to bring a first aid kit along, just in case. A little later we walked around a point and were elated to see the Iron Pot lighthouse right ahead of us, at the end of the low lying reef.
This was not the only surprise. In Pot Bay, tucked between the two capes, there was another beach. While Fort Beach gives every impression of being the last beach, this secret beach appeared to hold that honour. Obviously I hadn’t been too observant when sailing passed this area, perhaps because it’s not possible to sail between the capes and the Iron Pot. There’s that dodgy reef and sometimes there are cray pots off it, so it pays to have ample sea room.
Marram grass hadn’t made as much of an inroad on this beach’s dunes. Native vegetation still owned them. Cathy pointed out that we were not the first to have visited that day. There were footprints: human, dog and bird.
Tucked away beside the dunes we found a structure made from driftwood and plastic debris and after enjoying it we carried on walking along this largely litter free beach.
The Last Beach on the Derwent
Beyond Pots Beach we found another, even smaller beach (T 414, Short 2006). Although little more than a 80 m cove below Cape Direction, it is the beach that actually has the honour of being the last beach on either side of the river.
Tackling Cape Direction
That small beach was so protected we couldn’t get all the way around the rocks because of a fairly dramatic drop off and so we decided to do like mountain goats and scramble up the cliff. I was still picking my path upwards when Cathy disappeared from view. Although I was sure I’d have heard her if she’d fallen over the edge, I tried peering over the edge to make sure she wasn’t spreadeagled on the rocks below. I called her once and then I called her again, this time a whole lot louder.
She appeared above me and said she’d found a path. Trusting that no snakes were sunbaking in this vicinity, we made our way through tall grass and scrub to a path that led around the headland, taking cover when we noticed a Toyota 4×4 heading towards us. Behind us, and way up on Fort Hill, there are Defence Dept buildings and houses. The Toyota must have seen us but as no one accosted us we continued on our way.
Ahead we could see signs and a small concrete building. Later I read that:
‘The naval command [lived] on the hill at Fort Direction. These men had to carry out watch over the entrance to the harbour. A small weather board building of four rooms was constructed on the top of the hill with the adjacent flag pole for the raising of signal flags. A watch was maintained 24 hours a day from 1940 – 1945. As many as fifteen naval personnel lived in quarters just below the top of the hill.’ (Potter, RSL website)
The signs warned about asbestos in this vicinity but beyond them there were cliff top views to die for, so as a vague protection I held my phone in front of my nose. The sea breeze hadn’t yet roused itself and we figured any asbestos left on the surface was dormant today and must surely have been blown far and wide by now, or was beneath ground lining shearwater burrows. It was easier to simply not think about the other nasty chemicals we might be exposing ourselves too but instead to focus on the quite dramatic views of the Iron Pot and Bruny Island from this high vantage point. They were heady, and so we lingered.
As we searched around for an onward path we discovered that there were middens up and a steeply plunging cliff face on the north eastern side with a pebbled cove beneath it. We could now see all the way along the cliff line to Hope Beach. Hope looked so close yet so unattainable.
Headlands are tricky for walkers because the way can be barred by private land, but being military land we didn’t want to find ourselves in the middle of an explosives test. There were fences and box thorn and no doubt moon bird burrows, and although it was conceivable we might find a way, we decided on balance that we would turn back. I wondered about kayaking the capes and then I remembered one particular time I’d sailed them.
The Capes by Sea
The fleet stretched out ahead of us one balmy Saturday on the return leg of a long distance race around Betsey Island. We were towards the back of the fleet, the conditions favouring lighter yachts and we were sailing excitingly close to the surf break off Hope Beach.
We were off Cape Direction when we observed that the boats out ahead of us had heeled dramatically. The big blue Beneteau liked rough weather. When lighter yachts heeled, she’d barely lean, but this southwesterly was intent on causing havoc. Much earlier in the day the frustration had been a long period becalmed while the rest of the fleet sailed a sneaky breeze.
We hadn’t even considered reefing before the wind whammed into us and the yacht heeled like I’d never experienced her heel before. Suddenly the cliffs and the Iron Pot, on what was now a lee shore, seemed exceedingly close and the normally laid back crew leapt into action with alacrity. There was a cacophony of yells to ‘down traveller!’ ‘main out!’ and ‘reef!’ And where there were usually one pair of hands on a line there was now the urgency of many, some at cross-purposes.
As we made it around both capes and the Iron Pot with sufficient sea room to keep us safe, the wind swung behind us, the crew grew animated with unanticipated hope and the yacht, now sailing in far more favourable conditions, began to power up steadily through the fleet.
Making Like a Ghost
Cathy and I turned back (but If you’re planning to walk further than us then see below for a couple of tips.)
This time we took the path that ran along the cliff top passed the shearwater colonies and in so doing bypassed the Lone Pine Memorial where a dawn service is held each ANZAC Day. At various points we tried short cuts but we didn’t want to damage burrows and the hollows behind the dunes roared ‘Snakes!’ at us and so we kept out.
There was something quite old time about taking the neat path we found over a fully mown hill as though we were on a clear road to somewhere, like walkers between villages in the olden days. The sweep up Fort Hill was devoid of people until we crested a rise and saw not very far away from us the same white Toyoto we’d seen earlier. Three people were bent over, working silently at some incomprehensible task, apparently just as eager to ignore us, while we, trying to avoid them, searched again (but more frantically) for a short cut off military land and on to the beach.
They were only about 10 metres away from us anyway, and we were beginning to feeling foolish. Tired of feeling like ghosts we called out, ‘are you conservation volunteers?’
‘Army,’ they said, avoiding eye contact, and turned back to fencing a tiny tree (a lone pine?) behind a small monument while we stood about a metre away photographing the little memorial in front of the tree with its engraving of the Dardenelles. Then, feeling as though we had transformed into ghosts again, we carried on down the path back on to Pot Bay Beach.
Au revoir, timtumili minanya
We had stood at the mouth of the Derwent (known before settlement as timtumili minanya to at least some of those living along its banks). Ocean beaches and headlands stretched out to the east. Our walk had included two capes and and had taken us from the river to the meeting place on the eastern shore of the Derwent River, Frederick Henry Bay and Storm Bay with three of the Betsey Island group of islands – Betsey, Little Betsey (hidden from our vantage points) and the Iron Pot just off shore. From this point on we’d be walking ocean beaches all the way to the mouth of Pittwater Lagoon, but we thought we might just have a go at seeing if we could walk Cape Direction from the Hope Beach side.
‘Thu 17 Aug South Arm to Cape Direction Grade: Easy Map reference: Blackmans Bay 1:25k Book by: 8:00pm Wed 16 Aug Start at: 10:45am at car park opposite South Arm War Memorial Group limit: 20 Bring: The usual daywalk gear This is an easy walk from South Arm to Cape Direction opposite the Iron Pot Lighthouse along a newly made track and the fore shore. We will do it `out and back` rather than as a circuit, avoiding the steep box thorn and mutton bird burrow ridden climb up from the western end of Hope Beach and precarious cliff top walk to the cape. It is an easy 4 hour walk with time for coffee at `The Sand Bar` on the way home. There are magnificent panoramic views, especially from the cape.’
* This is an Aboriginal name for the Derwent River, found in the Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Interestingly, the spelling for the people living along the western shore is given as Muwinina, which is different to the spelling I’ve found in other sources.
I’m writing in defence of the ocean and the shore, not something I’d anticipated when I first set out to explore the coastline. Back then, the idea was to log the diversity and beauty of all that I saw, but in the 21st century it’s not so simple.
That’s why this blog is a Tasmanian take on that ubiquitous tale of industry and the powers that be colluding to rob the public of their common wealth while holding out jobs as a carrot and blindsiding the environment that sustains us.
But carrots are quickly nibbled away and environments don’t always recover.
It may be uncool in the strange climate we inhabit these days, but I would go so far as to frame this story as one of elder abuse. That elder is Mother Earth who nourishes billions of people (and all those other species we largely couldn’t give a rat’s arse about). The irony, of course, is that each time she’s bashed we’re bashed too except so many of us have become anaesthetised to what’s happening. We forget that
we are the protectors,
We are the thing it needs protection from
We are that which needs protecting
(Quoted in Murphy, 2012)
Okehampton Bay: Big Fish Snaffles up the Lure of Profit and Expansion
The desire to get bigger, to generate more profit and to be the best has Tassal, a Tasmanian salmon producer, angling to put 28 pens in Okehampton Bay on the East Coast. There will be 800,000 fish at full capacity. That’s a whopping amount of poop, streaks ahead of that expelled by the whole of Triabunna (the closest town) after endless nights of food poisoning and infinite days of giardia.* I’m sure you can easily visualise the soup of nutrients that will combine with the currents and the tides flowing into Okehampton Bay and along Mercury Passage of which it is a part.
Whales migrate through here, dolphins and seals regard it as their hunting grounds and habitat and divers collect abalone from these ostensibly pristine waters for the export market.
Tasmania benefits from its clean and green brand, but Tassal has recently been trashing it for themselves and for others. The company has acquired a reputation for being a heavy users of antibiotics, for overstocking, for damaging the sea floor in Macquarie Harbour at a distance further than anticipated out from their pens. They’re also responsible for a significant amount of debris that washes up on the shorelines. And this is a shame. Tasmania needs clean and green. It needs sustainable industry. It needs long term, permanent jobs. I’d like to be honouring them for their contribution to the economy but the cost to the environment is just too high.
Their lease in Okehampton Bay is 80 hectares and stretches to within 530m off Lords Bluff, it’s northern headland. So close, and not much room left for boating.
It’s 700m from the shore at the other extreme. And it’s 7 km from the Maria Island Marine Reserve, which is seriously ouch. The island is a much loved national park. There’s a marine reserve there too, and it’s one of Tasmania’s most iconic views, visible from different points along the east coast south of Freycinet Peninsula.
Understandably, Tasmanians who have warm memories of blissful days on this vehicle free island rich in wildlife and 360 degrees of scenic beauty, are dismayed. For some of the sailors I’ve discussed this with, it makes for a waterway ruined. Tassal says it isn’t fish farming in Mercury Passage (Tassal Sustainability report 2016) and here’s the actual quote:
When investigating potential sites for expansion of farming, Tassal will examine various sites, some which may be suitable from an environmental and social perspective, and some that are not. Mercury Passage, located adjacent to Okehampton Bay, is one such example. We will not farm in Mercury Passage. A rigorous stakeholder engagement process is undertaken to ensure our social licence to operate.’
But this is downright sneaky. Mercury Passage includes bays and embayments, of which Okehampton is one. It’s part of the passage’s shoreline after all! That statement, plus a temperature graph without a key in Sustainability report 2016, the debacle in Macquarie Harbour with no apparent contingency plan beyond charming the regulator were enough to make me particularly curious about this fishy business, the focus of local debate and protest.
Actually, one other thing. The local council claims that the last time Okehampton was pristine was ‘when Aboriginal people fished there in canoes’ (The Mercury, 23 Nov 2016), so here’s what it was like when the French explorer Peron visited in 1802: “The marine animals were very abundant on these shores, and we saw huge troops of dolphins, cetaceans and innumerable legions of seals” he wrote ( Plomley, 1983:72). But hey – isn’t that how we want the oceans to be?
A similar abundance of seals was seen around Ile des Phoques [Island of the Seals] in 1987. (Ranson & Brown, 1987). And the Maria Island National Park and the Ile des Phoques Nature Reserve Management Plan 1998 states that around Maria Island there is still a rich marine flora and fauna representative of a variety of Tasmanian east coast habitats (Edgar 1981). That’s why a stretch of coastal water around the north western shore was added as a marine extension to the Park. And it’s also considered the most significant representation of the Maugean biogeographic province reserved in Tasmania (Kriwoken, 1991).
The plan notes extensive seagrass beds which act as fish nursery areas. According to locals, sharks breed here too. Tassal, heedless of the precautionary principle and disrespecting the possibility of damage, are shrugging off known unknowns, have experiments up their sleeve and will ‘monitor’ what happens to this environment.
So, regardless of their poor record in Macquarie Harbour (and IMHO the D’Entrecasteaux) they’re telling us they respect the environment (only not as much as profit) and are asking us to trust them I really, really want to. But I think Mother Earth is up for another bashing.
Seeing It for Myself
I’d Google Earthed Okehampton Bay, checked it on maps, viewed the Tassal lease on paper, read reports (see below) until I could no longer see straight, but as I’m not particularly familiar with Triabunna and Spring Bay (although they once provided the yacht I was on safe harbour from a storm) I thought it would be insightful to go and actually see the lease so I knew what I was writing about.
Just as the kayak was going up on the roof rack, a friend who is also concerned about Tassal’s expansion plans rang to say he’d arranged for me to go out on a yacht to view the lease. ‘You’ll see much more of it this way,’ he said.
So on one of those stunning winter days when there is no breeze and the sky is impeccably blue, the geo, the dogs and I stepped onto one of those ‘I wish it was mine’ sort of yachts and, with its equally concerned owners, motored out passed Bricky Point and Horseshoe Shoal, Sappho Spit, Windlass Bay and Point Home. Once around that headland we were into Okehampton Bay.
But as we crossed Spring Bay we passed by the shed that had once housed fishmeal, causing a stink, literally. We passed the Tasmanian Seafoods building and the jetty where the super trawler would have been based if community outrage had not put a halt to this massive fishing trawler’s plans to operate in Tasmanian waters. The concern then was overfishing. The new concern is overstocking.
Tassal have planned a long jetty here and a start has been made. It means the local yachties need to roll over because one of the racing buoys has been a fixture here, so the jetty means a course change. This may not seem important if you don’t sail, but it does demand that one community gives up the rights it has enjoyed for a company project destined to use the common wealth for its own profit. Racing here is a pleasurable activity, avoiding large boats is not. What offset is Tassal offering, I wonder?
Just a hop across the bay’s entrance there’s still the old wood chip infrastructure. It used to provide employment for Triabunna. A tourism venture is planned here but if Tassal is given the go ahead then noise, lights and visual impact could be problematic.
All the Profligate Beauty
On this perfect winter afternoon Mercury Passage shimmered blue and silver and Bishop and Clerk stood tall against the sky while the dogs snoozed on deck and we all chatted. No aquaculture wins beauty points. Spring Bay Seafoods, Tassal’s new partner, farms in this vicinity too but it has struggled because warmer waters have caused algal blooms and DST [Diarrhetic Shellfish Toxin] disease.
As we rounded the headland and Okehampton Bay came into view I was thinking about how salmon producers state that the ocean’s resources are fast running out, and they are therefore providing a community benefit. But as the oceans succumb to acidification, microplastics and warming, so will salmon. Also, it’s beginning to seem that fish farming with its explosive expulsion of nutrients locally accelerates the ocean’s distress. It seems to me it would be better by far better for us as a species with our habits of overconsumption and waste, to focus our attention on ocean health and behaviour modification so that the ecosystems we depend on continue to sustain us. And their argument is all a bit of a furphy really, because when it comes to salmon farming wild fish still end up down the gullets of farmed salmon by innocently swimming into pens or ending up ground into food pellets.
Tassal, we could see, that beautiful afternoon, is leaping enthusiastically into developing this lease. The lease marker buoys are in, pens are being developed and we were gobsmacked by how huge this lease is in the landscape. It stretches out across the entrance to the bay and deep into it, appearing to shrink the dimensions of the coastline. Truly, it’s scary vast!
The skipper put the boat in neutral and we gazed sombrely at the loveliness of the mainland and the Maria Island coasts. We watched the ripples of baitfish on the water, seagulls so full they look laboured taking off. Okehampton’s beach is enjoyed by locals in summer, our companions said. I turned to look at Maria Island. It looks so close here; you can see Darlington. No worries, according to Tassal. Tourists love to visit fish farms. (Who are these peculiar people, I had to wonder. It’s like paying to visit a battery hen farm, is it not?) And I’m not disputing that people are keen to visit big black pens, but is that not truly bizarre?
Tassal say that 5 independent studies (2006-2009) suggest that nutrients can occur out to 500m from the source. I don’t believe in a fluid environment that nutrients screech to a halt at the 500m mark. Look at the way litter finds its way independently across oceans -airoplane wings, for heaven’s sake – and how nutrients consumed are transported to other reefs inside avian and piscean bellies. Tassal’s big dump may well contain antibiotics, if they don’t get their act on and stop this bad behaviour. Good luck whales. Good luck dolphins, seals and birds, in avoiding entanglements and antibiotics. Good luck all you other species we don’t really give a rat’s ho hum about either but are destined to encounter poop soup.
To counter watery rises in temperature, Tassal are breeding heat tolerant salmon and will experiment with integrative farming, growing seaweeds, urchins (both feral and native) and mussels beside the pens to sop up nutrients and help out the reefs. Who knows, perhaps they’ll introduce their brand new but not adequately tested waste management system, developed belatedly and in a hurry (reactively, in other words) when nutrients from their pens in Macquarie Harbour spilled past the scientific estimates of the impact zone. It’s success is still questionable. And again, if only all this were possible without an unsustainable impact.
But Tassal, it’s not!
I hope like hell that this farm doesn’t go ahead. Worse case scenario, I hope like hell that integrative farming is the success Tassal expects it to be. But it’s got to be a definite yes before many Tasmanians accept the notion. At the moment it seems more like fingers crossed.
When I talked about this issue with friends, I discovered a growing distrust about decisions made behind closed doors. The fact that DPIPWE and Tassal share a building in the city centre leads to a perception of a snug relationship, the kind of relationship that at least one of its competitors seems concerned gives them preferential treatment. Huon Aquaculture are taking the regulator to court for not heeding scientific advice and mismanaging stocking limits in Macquarie Harbour with devastating consequences for the environment. Tassal have jumped in to support the regulator.
Around Spring Bay
On our return trip we headed across Spring Bay towards the Eastcoaster Resort. Close by a proposed 350 mm water pipe will enter the bay, heading out and around to Okehampton Bay and if you’re wondering why a water pipe, fresh water is needed to wash down salmon in order to prevent disease. But the East Coast is drought prone. To support Tassal (as well as a golf course and potentially some farmers), the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council is planning to build dam. The dam will be on the property of two council staff, a lucrative arrangement. But Tassal will have a long wait to get this water and let’s hope the rains fall. Let’s hope the promise of additional water to the community holds good and it’s not the community sacrificing water to Tassal, kind of easy to imagine.
And for what? This company turns over a huge profit already. It’s an industry roughly thirty years old. They don’t yet know their full impact on the environment. Far better for them to perfect their techniques rather than expecting the planet to accept getting whacked while they work things out.
For a start they could take their fish farms out of bays and out of sheltered waters and leave the East Coast alone. They could work towards minimising their oceanic footprint with real integrity so that they stop impacting on the disappearing species all about us.
Socially, this farm has split the community. Jobs are needed here, no one disputes this, and with a park on their doorstep and tourism on the rise, Triabunna could enhance its appeal as a choice destination. That’s one of the reasons those opposed to the fish farm believe the site is inappropriate, that the environmental impacts will be significant and that this is salmon farming on the edge.
This from the EPA’s own website:
The Tasmanian salmon industry is one of Australia’s largest and most valuable aquaculture industries. Increased sea surface temperatures may present challenges for the production of this cool-water farmed species as they are currently farmed near the upper thermal limits of their optimal growing temperature. A temperature rise of 3°C may result in severe stress to Tasmanian salmon. Warmer temperatures are also likely to increase outbreaks of disease in aquaculture operations and changes to rainfall and changes in salinity, nutrients and sediments may also have a negative impact. (EPA, 2017)
Let’s Grow Tasmania’s social media and television campaign from LGTF (see video) began in late December 2016 depicting a fisherman defecating over the side of a boat, claiming “farming 800,000 salmon in Okehampton Bay is about the same as 10,000 people taking a dump in the bay every day”.
That’s a hell of a lot of poop soup.
Mother Earth is drowning in our waste. We’re throttling her.
So hand’s off Okehampton Bay.
Some further reading:
For the planning documents relating to Okehampton Bay, check this DPIPWE page.
Once, in Alaska, poking about a waterway, we watched the first salmon return to breed. Their life cycle begins in the gravels of the home river where they are born. They leave it for the ocean but return to it to breed, recognizing it by its scent, along with other cues. The icy chill, the glacier, the clear stream and the salmon (now more ruby than silver) made for a moment of mystery and magnificence.
Those were sockeye salmon, but the Atlantic salmon farmed in Tasmania are not native here and these days there’s a lot of conversation – protest even – about the environmental impact fish farms are having. Resistance has been growing against their planned expansion in Tasmanian waters.
That luscious pink steak on a plate had grown extremely popular because it was regarded as a gourmet choice – healthy, sophisticated and quick to prepare. Ethical, even, with many believing that farmed fish take pressure off wild piscean populations. That’s turned out not to be true (although the ratio of wild stock in feed has diminished somewhat) and farmed salmon are not naturally pink fleshed, people have learned. It has also become more commonly known that controlling disease outbreaks in pens is a difficult management issue that sometimes involves the use of anti-biotics. Seals still die seeking salmon in the farms, although not as many as in the early days but search through the relevant agency’s right to information index indicates that relocations are still frequent. Hundreds of birds get entangled each year. It’s a young industry leveraging off being clean and green but environmental sustainability, especially in a time of climate change, is tightly constrained by environmental factors, such as warming oceans, and the perception many have is that they have betrayed public trust about their practices and could do a whole lot better. They say they’re trying and the three companies have chosen different ways of improving but the chorus is growing that fish farms do not belong in bays.
Sailing, the sight of pens in an otherwise beautiful location that would normally elevate one’s spirits has quite the opposite effect. They can be noisy, spoiling the serenity of otherwise quiet anchorages. There is a particular one that is always in the way when I want to tack. Debris can mess with propellers and cause injury and it’s not always apparent when there’s a tow underway. These are situations that can be dangerous. Fatal, even. On the other hand, they have brought much needed employment to Tasmania and generate considerable wealth for the state.
GREAT TAYLOR BAY
Great Taylor Bay is off South Bruny Island with Partridge Island protecting its north western entrance. There’s a popular anchorage off the island. We ducked in here to escape bad weather on our way down to Recherche Bay this last summer. South Bruny National Park is at the southern end. Jetty Beach, also down south, is probably the best known beach in this bay because of easy public access. Too easy maybe. When we were last here there were five vehicles spread along the beach and this in a national park. There are anchorages along Great Taylor Bay’s eastern flank at North Tinpot Bay, Tinpot Bay and Mickeys Bay.
Great Taylor Bay, like all the D’Entrecasteaux bays, is really beautiful – the moody water, the forests, beaches and the islands. It can feel wild and remote, approaching by boat, so long as you ignore the dark farm with its caged salmon secured near the entrance of the bay. Tassal has a 30 year lease here and there were seven or eight pens that I counted as we sailed passed making for Mickeys Bay.
Mickeys Bay, an embayment off Great Taylor, can’t be accessed by road. It’s surrounded by hills and forest, has a lovely serenity and offered good protection from the prevailing wind one day in February (2017) when we decided to anchor here. It has a fairly narrow entrance, guarded on each side by the other two islands in the Partridge Island Group – Seagull Rock, a tiny islet, and Curlew Island, somewhat bigger. There are a few properties around the edge of the bay, although they are set well back and are relatively unobtrusive.
There was a yacht already there and by the time the stars were out we were nine overnight.
The next day, once all but two other yachts had sailed away, the geo decided to do a spot of fishing from the tender. Flathead were plentiful in 2005 when the Lady Nelson overnighted here, I later discovered, and he was hoping to catch us dinner. Another couple had also decided to put fish on the menu. They’d spread a gill net between Curlew Island and the shore. Just putting it out there, but in my humble opinion these should have been banned decades ago. Along with a fish for the plate, there’s the by-catch factor that can include seabirds of which Curlew Island has a few.
I decided to circumnavigate Mickeys Bay from Seagull Rock around to Curlew Island. It was sunny, the water was still and clear. There’d been a full moon the night before and the tide was way out. The conditions were perfect.
I kayaked over to Seagull Rock and began to work my way back along the bay, kayaking over and beside a fringe of seaweed, mostly those beautiful strappy canopy forming brown macroalgae, like kelp. I was expecting to lose myself to the beauty, but beauty wasn’t what I got. They lacked the variety and robustness of the ones I’d seen in the Tinderbox Marine Reserve. That’s not surprising in a quiet bay like this one, but their vivacity was frequently lost within the dirty brown miasma of a brown filamentous species, similar if not the same as one I recollected seeing at Baretta. It looked to have attached itself into the thallus of the seaweed like a parasite and seemed to be successfully suffocating everything it encountered. On the few occasions that I found something still vibrantly alive, the brown miasma was right up beside it, rocking and rolling with the movement of the water, just waiting to pounce. Or so it seemed to me, a novice in the world of seaweeds.
I was doodling along but often I stopped and floated, trying to figure out what I was seeing. I wondered if my perception was skewered somehow, if maybe Tasmania just happened to have some dead ugly reefs. If maybe a species as dominant as this ugly miasma could be normal. But what kept coming vividly to mind was my favourite Eastern Cape (RSA) river, the Kwelera, and how over the course of one summer we watched grey water from an ablution block turn a happy rocky shore into a soapy, slimy one where nothing grew.
Each time I reached one of the beaches around the bay I walked, collecting plastic and other litter. I was disappointed at just how much of it there was. Some was fish farm debris, the lines entangled in old washed up branches or caught up on the wrackline, which, I noticed, on the longest, sandiest beach, had spilled over the low bank, with plastic sometimes caught up in a tussock or lying in a thin line on the grass.
The day I had thought would be wonderfully spent on the water was turning out to be a dispiriting experience but I expected that on the deeper, eastern side of the bay, in shadow cast by the forest that afternoon, the seaweed would be healthier.
I walked this pebbled northern shore. I floated above the seaweed. It seemed to me it was an opportunistic seaweed invading the space where others should grow.
In the distance I could hear the rumble which we’d earlier concluded must be coming from the fish farm. I thought about its possible impact – the faeces, the unswallowed food, the way the debris accumulates beneath the pens before it is picked up by the currents and tide and I wondered if anyone knew how those currents might move around Great Taylor Bay. It seemed to me entirely feasible that if fish farm debris was washing into Mickeys Bay, then nutrients were making it in here too and given its shape they might be having a hard time flushing back out.
Observing this bay of dismay I wondered if what I was seeing was the result of a seasonal trigger, climate change, the impact of habitation or the passing parade of yachts that might have poor waste management strategies.
Or all of these things combined.
I hadn’t noticed anything amiss when I’d first paddled from the yacht to the shore. The water was clear. I’d seen ripple marks in the sand and down beneath me what I took to be seagrass standing upright, all at a distance from each other. But later, when I studied the photos I had taken, I noticed that in the little hollows small clouds of that miasmic seaweed seemed to be resting like brown cotton wool. Studying my photos later I couldn’t decide if the seagrass was healthy or not. Searching the web I struggled to identify this filamentous alga.
CURLEW ISLAND: BIRDS AT RISK
Curlew Island is 0.415 hectares of non-allocated Crown Land, and at least in 2001 was home to Pacific and Kelp Gulls, Sooty and Pied Oystercatchers as well as Caspian Terns who have (and possibly still do) use it as a breeding site, along with Black-faced Cormorants, Little Black Cormorants, Great Cormorants and Silver Gulls (Brothers et al, 2001).
On the point near Curlew Island there were a whole lot of pipes and what looked like a fish farm pen in the process of being built. The land just there had a most unpleasant vibe because of the mess lying about in what had seemed at first glance to be a lovely wooded area. I looked at that island and noticed some birds. I considered that net. I thought about that fish farm, about 5 km away, and how, when you sail by, you often see birds hanging about the pens. No place for a net, I thought. And I didn’t like the idea that birds from Curlew Island might get entangled in fish farm netting.
Until I’d noticed the mute trouble the bay is in it had seemed stunning. I’d paddled around it, drifted, communed with it. I’d walked it. I’d seen two tiny groups of minuscule silver fish (less than a dozen in each) and I’d seen a ray.
‘Good paddle?’ the geo asked when I got back. I told him about the trouble I’d seen.
‘How was the fishing?’
‘Two little flathead too small to eat.’
But now, months later, I wonder if I was entirely wrong about what I saw.
The more I read the more it seemed that studied opportunistic species associated with fish farms are green, like Ulva and Chaetomorpha and they weren’t on my radar as I kayaked. On the web I finally located a look alike species to the ‘miasma’ called Ectocarpus, found in New Zealand and elsewhere in Australia. There are two varieties in Tasmania (one also found at Eaglehawk Neck) and they are migrants from the UK that have grown resistant to anti-foul and heavy metals like copper. This species hasn’t been studied much from what I can see and although to me, a rank amateur, it looks opportunistic, I haven’t noticed it linked to fish farms.
Which begs the question – why is it so abundant in this bay? If my identification is correct, then is it thriving on heavy metal contamination here?
Tassal’s baseline environmental monitoring program doesn’t cover Mickeys Bay but they do have a monitoring spot in the middle of Great Taylor Bay, M8, that has indicated higher than average chlorophyl readings and Oh’s thesis also notes increases in opportunistic * green algal species in Great Taylor Bay. She monitored just outside Mickeys Bay.
I would really like to see Tassal include Mickeys Bay in its broadscale environmental monitoring program (BEMP) because both boats and fish farms use anti foul, although fish farms are apparently trying to phase it out. Tassal is farming a waterway they do not own, a waterway in which the public, marine mammals, birds and other species have a vested interest and it would be a way of returning the favour that both the community and the environment are extending to them were they to increase their monitoring stations.
In 2014 the Aquaculture Stewardship Council auditing team identified areas where Tassal could do better. Principle 2 (Conserve natural habitat, local biodiversity and ecosystem function) related to feed testing and making lethal incidents publically available within 30 days. Principle 3 was about protecting the health and genetic integrity of wild populations through the development of an area based management plan (my italics) and Principle 4 (Using resources in an environmentally efficient and responsible manner) related to the feed ingredients used at the farming sites. Tassal also has to abide by Principle 5 (Manage disease and parasites in an environmentally responsible manner) and was also advised it could do better in relation to Principle 7 (Be a good neighbour and conscientious citizen).
Tassal holds Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) salmon certificates for the Tin Pot Point and Partridge Island farm sites, according to WWF’s the Aquatic Stewardship Council scheme, but there is concern about bias in this regard.
Changes in the Channel have been noted by many, including abalone divers and recreational fishers. The fact is, that since the first species let go their grip on the hulls of the boats of the first explorers from Europe, the D’Entrecasteaux has been disrupted by a multiplicity of different activities, visitors and the like. It’s just been growing ever more intense, to the point where it’s health is of growing public concern.
The more I read the more interested I became in fish farms, concluding that they do not belong in bays at all. But I also began to consider the impact of my own sailing on the environment and the things I could personally do to reduce this. If there are heavy metals in Mickeys Bay then less damaging anti-foul needs to be considered.
This report notes: ‘Opportunistic species should not always be considered bad, they are a natural part of an the functional ecology of an estuary and serve a very useful role in “mopping up” excess nutrients. Consequently their presence can actually help ameliorate/ remediate the effects of nutrient fertilization. It is when they actually alter the structure and function of communities that they should be considered undesirable.’
I’d planned to limit myself to the Tassie mainland on this blog, but if you have feet, a bicycle, a kayak or a yacht, Bruny Island’s beauty exerts so strong an allure that it’s impossible not to acquiesce to it. And so, just as I’ve allowed myself to be distracted from the coastline by rivulets, the Derwent River and its beaches, I’ve done it again. Bruny, a substantial part of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, as its name implies, just has to be included.
Of Waterways and Islands
The D’Entrecasteaux Channel, or ‘The Channel’ for short, is a magnificent but fickle waterway – just ask any sailor. It feeds into the Derwent River and is separated from Storm Bay and the Tasman Sea by long, thin Bruny Island, making it a sheltered waterway, a definition it is keen to dispute, because stormy weather can make sailing it an adrenaline pumping experience on dark, wind fuelled nights when it whips up waves and gales gather strength as they hurtle through the tunnel formed by the island and the Tasmanian mainland. On calm, sunny days, it’s a completely different experience. Light breezes might arrive from unexpected directions and you may be rewarded by visits from penguins or dolphins as you enjoy the views, all sails up.
The island’s original name is Lunawanna-allonah, named by the Nuenonne, who over thousands of years came to know this island intimately. Its name is so musical and redolent with eons of past history that I wish we’d restore it. Instead, it was given a pseudonym; named again after Bruni d’Entrecasteaux, who visited in 1793 and made some judicious observations about the coastline.
This island off an island off an island, apart from being much loved because it’s so undeveloped, ensures you never go hungry. As you cycle along you can stop for coffees, buy local cheese and wine, make a meal out of the oysters farmed offshore or fill your pannier bags with local fudge and cherries. The population on Bruny is small and seems smaller still because so many properties are tucked away behind hills and forests. What you particularly notice if you are sailing, is that Bruni D’Entrecasteaux was right; there are stunning anchorages, and these are often bays within bays.
There are also coves and headlands and although on the D’Entrecasteaux side of the island the beaches are low energy, on the ocean coastline the surf gets up. On the channel side it’s adorned with islands (Satellite and Partridge) and on the outside it has The Friars, part of the Actaeon Island Group, a popular haul out for seals. It also has a beautiful peninsula with a fabulous name – the Labillardiere Peninsula, which lies within the South Bruny National Park.
North Bruny Island
It takes the best part of a day to cycle around North Bruny and longer for the south. The ride takes you past quiet bays (like the Duckpond and North Simmonds), Dennes Point with its jetty and Nevada beach, which has beautiful cliffs at the southern end, and then, if you choose the ocean route, it’s up a climb from where you can look out over Bull Bay and across Storm Bay to the Iron Pot lighthouse in the Derwent, to Betsy Island and Frederick Henry Bay, and further to the east, Norfolk Bay and the Tasman Peninsula. It’s a long time since I did this ride, but it was unforgettable and these days there are bicycles for hire, which makes it that much more accessible to cyclists.
More recently we sailed into Bull Bay, then explored the coastline a little way south, getting a feel for Samos’s liking for a big ocean swell. Getting the view from water level as opposed to high up a hillside felt a privilege because you need a boat to enjoy this otherwise hidden perspective.
North and South Bruny, 362 sq km in all, are tied together by an isthmus (the ‘Neck’), home to penguins and shearwaters, and sitting out on the dunes beneath the moon and stars, watching them return home is exhilarating. The ocean beach is lengthy; I’m looking forward to walking it. The channel beach is quiet with vast stretches of sand exposed at low tide and limitless shallows on the high, making it popular with waders of the avian variety. The road across is a narrow strip at the base of the dunes and there’s not height separating it from the beach itself.
It’s definitely worth stopping to climb to the viewing platform because the sight of the isthmus and the coastline beyond is mesmerising.
South Bruny Island
From the ferry, it’s a longer cycle around South Bruny Island and as you head down North Bruny towards the isthmus it’s worth taking a break at Great Bay to sample the oysters and cheese before you reach the isthmus.
South Bruny is the larger end of the island and if you keep heading south down the quiet road, your bike ride will take you to a T-junction. Cycle to the left and you’ll reach Adventure Bay with its rich exploration and whaling history. It’s a picturesque choice. There’s a lovely beach walk to be had, the opportunity to take a boat trip to The Friars (I did this as an annual pilgrimage before getting my own boat) and there’s another lovely walk out along the headland with its whaling history and the opportunity to encounter a white wallaby or two. Bruny is rich in wildlife. At night it’s a kindness to travel as slowly as you would in a national park – 40 km, IMHO.
Cycle to the right and more vistas will open up as you ride through a number of tiny communities, like Lunawanna and Alonnah. It’s a steep ride up to the lighthouse with its fantastic views. I haven’t actually ridden up there, but the views are definitely worth the uphill haul. Alternatively, there’s Cloudy Lagoon and vast, wild Cloudy Beach, and the Labillardiare Peninsula. Or hoist a tent at Lighthouse Jetty beach with its more protected waters.
It’s a lovely but brief kayak trip from Tinderbox on the mainland to Nevada Beach at Dennes Point, but you can kayak across from any point on the mainland side of the Channel, depending on the type of distance and conditions you’re up for. If you possess courage, stamina and kayaking expertise, you could consider kayaking the Bruny coastline in a day – or go the whole hog and kayak the entire coastline of Tasmania like these kayakers did.
I visit the island mostly by yacht these days, with a kayak on board. It’s a great way to explore stretches of coastline that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Several years ago I went on a weekend course to learn to sail. There were four teachers: the skipper, the yacht, the wind and the river. I made some good friends and the wind, which until then I’d abhorred, was one of them. ‘Learn to feel it on your face,’ the skipper said and I realised that the wind was really a stranger to me, in part because I struggled to tell west from south and north from east. The wind also presented a very different personality depending on what quarter it emerged from.
If it blew from one direction it blew consistently, right? But no. Focus on it against your face and you’ll see how much it flickers around, how much its strength can vary. A prevailing wind is not a single tone; there are plenty of other notes in there too and there’s no better guide than the windvane (aka masthead fly). When you sail you spend a lot of time looking up because the wind on your face and the wind at the top of the mast might well be behaving differently.
I learned that what the wind is doing above the Tasman Bridge might be different from what’s happening further down the estuary. It messes with the northerlies rampaging down (and vice versa the southerlies heading up). Betsy Island, the South Arm Peninsula and the Eastern Shore contrive to block the south easterly but wind spills in through the valleys. I learned from the geo that landforms can bend and twist the wind, spread it, funnel it (North West Bay is notorious) spin it, like in Sullivans Cove, deflect it, like at Sandy Point, block it as does Pierson’s Point so that suddenly the sails flap and you’re pooling around in a wind shadow.
There are the winds caused by the big weather systems, like the prevailing westerlies that cycle eastwards in these middle latitudes and then there are more local winds like the sea breeze that arrives in the afternoon on those summer days when the island has warmed enough, and it sometimes arrives gently but often it barges in with its muscles flexed. It may stall for a while at the entrance to the Derwent – you watch that dark blue line of indecision, and then the wind rushing across the water towards you, it’s speed and power influenced by the ‘fetch’ as it begins to fill in and in so doing it might ‘knock’ you inconveniently or give you a ‘lift’ to where you are headed. One thing is for sure, on the Derwent the wind takes a different guise diurnally, a different speed depending on where it happens to be (stronger in the wider zones, milder in sheltered bays) and it differs depending on the season. Katabatic winds prevail, blowing in from the NW and the temperature inversion that takes place as wintery cold air sinks to the valley floor gives rise to the Bridgewater Jerry that moves magnificently south down the river, a beautiful white snake of a cloud, its belly down low on the water and awfully cold to be stuck in.
You and your yacht become that pivot point between the wind and the water, their dance made manifest. You learn to read the wind in the water. It might be barely perceptible where you are, about Force 4 on the Beaufort scale for instance, but further away those yachts all heeled over to starboard? The wind is coming your way and it means business. And so you reef because two of the arts of sailing are observational skills and, as my partner on Birngana’s big mainsail used to say ‘Anticipation’.
There are other skills to be learned by the wind out on the Derwent. There’s patience when it deserts you and there’s staying grounded when it thrashes you, so that you’re all heeled over, hanging on and staring directly down into the water, the boom dragging through it, the headsail ripped, the person on the winch knee deep in the river coming over the coaming.
True wind is the wind au naturel. Apparent wind is when the wind made by motion combines with true wind to change its angle and speed. The more you speed up, the more the apparent wind slips ahead of you, streaming through the ‘slot’ between your mainsail and your headsail and powers you along. In effect, it’s your yacht’s most local wind.
When you’re close hauled and the wind is strong, the sails in tight, it’s a bouncy ride, sometimes tense, maybe exhilarating and then when you come about and the wind slips behind you, you can spread your sails out wide, kick back and relax, and the breeze that seemed to have it in for you when you were up against it, becomes a friendly zephyr following behind you. Yet it’s the same breeze and the way you experience it depends on the way you approach it – much like life.
By the same token, it’s easy to let your defences down and wonder why others have their life jackets on when you’re reaching for your bikini because its glassy out there and your boat is going nowhere. But it could be into a vacuum like this that the south westerly roars, attempting to break its own speed record, taking you and the Met Bureau unawares.
The wind lifts sand from dunes and spreads it along beaches. It might take from one beach and deposit elsewhere. It may work with a high tide to push waves harder and higher up dunes and cliffs, or it may lose its territorial battle and be shoved aside by an opposing, more powerful wind from another quarter.
The interplay is dynamic and affects you whether you’re walking, kayaking, cycling or sailing and the Derwent is a brilliant playground to learn all about it’s subtle idiosyncrasies and its full and merciless fury. While conscious of the wind that fills the sail there are other breezes far higher in the atmosphere that pass overhead unregistered. Aeolian drift in the highest reaches carries tiny beings – small spiders, for instance – as well as seeds over vast intercontinental and oceanic distances, making a mockery of quarantine services. And out on the ocean birds, like sailors, yearn for a favourable wind to support their trip or exhausted from flying head on into stormy conditions, might hitch a ride on a yacht, trying to regain the strength to carry on.
On the river in the bleakest of weathers, the world becomes magical, the rain in one’s face exhilarating, the shoreline intoxicating as powered by that beach making and breaking wind we make our way.
In January last year I bumped into E at the top of the road and pretty quickly the subject turned to boats and sailing – a shared passion. I told her I was camping out on boatsales.com.au and that day the boat of my dreams was a classic S&S 36. I wished I was in a position to buy it.
‘Don’t!’ she said. ‘Let’s buy a boat together.’ And just like that the decision was made.
You might ask, ‘why not buy with the geologist?’ But although the geologist was sure he’d like sailing he hankered not for a boat but a motorbike.
E and I began holding boat meetings, and I continued to indulge my passion for reading about long distance cruising, preferably solo, like Tania Aebi’s Maiden Voyage. After all, if there were teenage girls adventurous enough to take on the seven seas with just their autopilot for company, then surely I was capable of sailing the D’Entrecasteaux Channel by myself, if it came to that?
We easily agreed on a small yacht we could sail on the river and in the Channel, one that would be kind to us while teaching us skills.
And then we started looking. We looked at the cheapest of boats and boats that would stretch our budget, small yachts and, because they were there and the tide was out when it came to the boat market, yachts so big they extended our criteria far away from our brief.
We learned about the secret foibles yachts don’t exactly announce to the world and crafted a checklist, and because the more we looked at boats the more a little bit of luxury appealed, the budget we allowed ourselves crept up and up – and then we’d remember ourselves and shackle ourselves more firmly to our criteria.
We looked in Launceston and Hobart and we put in an offer on a lovely Cavalier. We enquired as far afield as Melbourne and Sydney.
Right at the beginning of our search we’d encountered a Catalina 27 swinging on her mooring on the other side of the river. We fell for her immediately and discussed her excitedly over a cup of coffee at The Aproneers. But it was only the third boat we had seen. We decided it was just too soon.
I was in Botswana some months later, when I learned she had come down in price and with nothing new to look at we took along our experienced friends and paid Samos a second visit. A little bit more knowledgeable now, but still with a lot to learn, we liked her just as much the second time around.
The negotiations began. We arranged the survey and bought the boat, acquiring at last that long desired status: Poor Bloody Boat Owners.
We enthusiastically listed and ticked off our tasks. E sailed, I sailed, we sailed together. With the exception of a little bit of coastal cruising, most of my sailing at the time we were searching for Samos, was around the buoys, racing on a beautiful Beneteau with a fabulous crew but the week before we took delivery of our yacht the boat owner, a most gracious, kind and generous friend, died unexpectedly and that era came to an end.
My focus turned solely to boat ownership and cruising, and racing was put to one side.
One weekend, shortly after buying Samos, the geologist and I piled the dogs on board and set sail for Barnes Bay (Bruny Island) on our first cruise. Trimming sails to win began not to matter quite so much. It was a thrill of a different kind to have Samos catch the wind, to sit back and occasionally let Tania the autopilot (but aka Raeline when sailing with a different crew) strut her stuff.
Sometimes it’s enough just to sit back in the cockpit and discover new beaches and sometimes a long reach down the river, the surf flying and the boat heeling is totally exhilarating. We coaxed her to 7.9 knots, then E got her to 8.1. Samos is ready to go racing!
Meanwhile, this week, high above us in the night sky, another Catalina -the icy comet, Catalina – with its dusty split tail is whipping across the heavens, visible near Venus and the crescent moon.
The sailing season officially opened last Saturday, the 10th October and Hobart’s recreational sailing fleet turned out in good numbers for the annual sail by the Governor’s vessel Egeria, moored in Sullivan’s Cove. Some boats adorned themselves in nautical finery. We forgot to take off our fenders but by the time we realised this we were relaxing at the rendevouz off Nutgrove Beach and having imbibed a wine or two were feeling too mellow to care that we had not kept up appearances.
The geologist and I had invited three friends along, one an able seaman of the four legged variety, our sole adornment in his coat of yellow. The sky was blue, the sun shone and there was a breeze strong enough to fill sails. As this was the first time I was skippering on an opening day we stayed on the edge of the fleet, detouring under the bridge, confusing ourselves over the instructions until order was established in the fleet. We snuck in towards the rear, trying our best to keep ahead of the Beneteau and MONA cat bearing down on us as we headed into the tight conditions in Sullivans Cove, more alarming last year on a larger boat.
We dropped our anchor at the back of the fleet, by now mostly rafted up together off the beach, and I lined us up with a group of large boulders off Maning Reef, clearly much loved by cormorants. The tide was low and the coastline had a surprise for me. Lords Bay had spread itself out. It wasn’t a little beach at all but a long, thin sandy beach running along the back of Maning Reef all the way to Red Chapel Beach, validating my belief that in earlier days this coastline was one long stretch of sand, at least between Short and Long Beaches, if not beyond. As we drank wine and picnicked and the talk turned to rugby, I discussed its changed appearance with E who knew this stretch in all its variations better than me.
Later I quizzed a friend who lives above this beach for a bit more information, and then, when the tide was low yesterday afternoon I went walking, hoping to find bouquets of sea tulips waiting for me on the jetty pilings.
And here’s the thing. I didn’t find a single one, but I did find numerous other little squirts who looked remarkably like pyura Doppelgangera and squirted just to show me how it’s done.
Despite their name they hadn’t contrived to look anything like the elegant sea tulip I was beginning to believe I’d conjured up. They’re squat, rotund, pustular and a mucky colour, probably impeccably beautiful for blending into their surroundings but a challenge for the human eye to appreciate aesthetically. A Tasmanian native, it’s well travelled, having hitchhiked on boats since ships first came here, making a pest of itself in New Zealand and the mainland.
I walked on, from stormwater drain to jetty piling to rocky outcrop musing about what it really was I’d seen on the hull. Had it really had a stalk? Had it even been red? Chances are it wasn’t a tulip at all but one of these doppelgängers given they are particularly captivated by artificial structures, according to the literature.
While thinking about how dramatically we have changed the ocean and the locations of its denizens, I located Maning Rivulet (I think) which gave me a small thrill. As I reached the little cove I’d seen from Samos when sailing with my friend the sky filled with tiny floating seeds like small white butterflies. They made drifts on the sand and laced the rock pools, and the next day, around in New Town, the same phenomenon took place beside New Town Rivulet and I saw that they came from tall graceful trees whose name I still need to find out.
Here are some more photos of the Maning Reef section of the walk that I took with my trusty iphone 5s.
Last Monday I roped a salty seadog into helping me to slip Samos because it was six months since she’d been anti-fouled and time to check how this was bearing up. ‘It shouldn’t take more than two hours or so,’ I said, basing my assessment on remembered past experience.
There was a delay. For a couple of hours we sat on board, then sailed around in circles just outside the marina, trusting that the forecast gale force winds would not eventuate and actually, we were lucky with the morning. It was relatively calm, except for the little gust that pushed us lightly into the jetty as opposed to the cradle as we approached the slip. Yay for fenders. It makes a nothing out of something that could otherwise lighten your wallet.
We scrutinised her as she was slowly lifted on to the hard. She was looking good; very good. But then I saw an unassuming squishy little red thing stuck to her side.
‘What’s that?’ I asked a person more authoratitive than me.
‘I think an Ascidiacea,’ he said, squashing it with his finger. ‘You know, a sea squirt.’
Samos had acquired a pet, or, more to the point, the squirt had acquired Samos.
I recalled the yacht I’d seen washed up on Nutgrove Beach, bearded with seaweed, weighed down with mussels, oysters and plump polyps– a sorry sight in one way, an octopus’s garden exposed in another. It’s a rich and diverse community that eye out a yacht’s hull and from one little squirt whole ecosystems grow. We washed her down and thought we’d put her back in within a couple of minutes.
‘Maybe by 4,’ the men in the boatyard told us. ‘Or else tomorrow.’
Given our heavy hearts, a new strategy required (me) and a sense of impending doom (the seadog) I decided to stand her lunch and over coffee we considered the gathering winds.
‘I’m not too happy about those winds,’ she said.
‘We’ll be sheltered in the marina,’ I encouraged, well aware that not having sailed on Samos with me before, she had every reason to suspect the boat might get the better of me, smash us up against moored yachts, or rocks on the far side of the river, or that, once in the marina, we might crash about, unable to squeeze ourselves into the berth. This salty seadog has been witness to some mistakes I’ve made that no one, not even a landlubber who has never sniffed the sea breeze, should ever make.
Back at the marina we discovered that Samos’s descent back into the the salty brine was being impeccably timed for the arrival of the gale. We’d no sooner past the jetty than we were clobbered by its full force and my attempts to get the boat into reverse for our entry into the marina were thwarted not once but time over time as the gale messed with the bow. We gave up, and did some circles waiting for a lull, and when one came I was just quick enough to whip her into position. Within minutes we were trundling down the channel and securing her in her berth.
‘I can see you’ve got that bit down pat,’ said the seadog generously, given I had wasted her entire day. But after she had gone and I was tidying up the boat, I reflected on the winds that blew, the pirouettes we made, one or two contingency plans I’d mentioned and I sadly realised that it might be a long time until that most excellent seadog chose to come on board Samos again. I guess the lesson is that if you can’t control the winds be careful when you sail, but then again, in the Roaring Forties you’d never go sailing at all if you weren’t prepared to partner the wind and tango on the water.
I came home and opened my trusty guidebooks, keen to know a little more about Samos’s recently deceased pet. I discovered two Asciddiacea in my pocket guide, Cunevoi (pyura stolonifera), the sea squirt, green and somewhat shapeless IMHO and the Southern Sea Tulip (Pyura australis), both belonging to to the phylum Tunicata, so called because they wear an extra ‘tunic’ to protect their sac-like bodies. Going solely by the pictures, I figured that Samos had gifted us an unwanted sea tulip. Chai, from Perth, has a blog with some good pictures of this interesting creature and The Atlas of Living Australia is a fine authoratative source, but there really isn’t all that much literature given it was first described in 1834 by Quoy and Gaimard. We’ve largely ignored it, but, yachties, it’s not ignoring us.
According to my more comprehensive guide, a sea tulip is actually an animal that enjoys a good wharf piling and is sanguine about turbidity – and you really would have to be tolerant of mucky water to thrive in a marina or harbour. The pyura are all sea squirts and you’d have seen them in rock pools or washed up after storms. Instead of legs or floating free like other ascidians, it has a single stalk and its body looks like a lumpy jelly because it has rows of raised tubercles. This compound ascidian is actually a colony of tiny individuals and it has spread itself far and wide through the subtidal fringe zones, from southern WA to Tasmania and up the eastern seaboard by releasing gametes into the water for fertilisaton and by hitching a ride on boats and ships. In their larvae stage they look like tadpoles.
Sea tulips are filter feeders, sucking in water through an inhaling siphon and exhaling through another siphon expressly for that purpose. It’s a simple and elegant lifestyle.
Our tulip was gone before I could photograph it but as well as the pages listed above, a Google Image search will display a range of different sea tulips. It’s worth a look.
And it’s also worth noting that amateur identification can often be wrong. Who knows – perhaps it was a doppelgänger and not a tulip at all. I had reason to question my perception when I took a little walk.