B-log ~ February 2024


Jack and Jude have just returned from a fabulous escape in Tasmania’s wilderness, which began with a blast of a “You can’t turn back” northerly wind draped in threatening black clouds, ready to drench us. Straightaway, upon releasing only our headsail, with so much power behind our floating home, we raced out of Strahan at a blistering pace, leaving a broad white wake slicing the building wind swells behind us.

Jude, eagerly yearning for the feel of power in her hands once again, took the helm to guide her magnificent beast under sail. After her shocking year in and out of hospitals, enduring so many procedures and weakening days in bed, she valiantly tried her darnedest to control Nature’s immense power, swinging the wheel right and left, struggling to keep our lady running true to our course in the downwind conditions. She did well, but soon tired. So we took turns at the helm where quick decisive action is necessary to avoid veering too far off course, collapsing the sail, threatening cloth and stitching.  

Our fast run took just four hours to reach the far end of Macquarie Harbour and a marvellous quiet cove under the might of Mount Sorell, where promptly after securing our ship, those black menacing clouds unleashed their fury of heavy rain. So, we went below with happy smiles to enjoy the calm security of our home on the water.

Exercise is what Judith needs most to help reconnect body to mind and rebuild her strength and balance. Having handled catastrophic events before, we know the drill. Care, patience, and determination are the tools used to battle those foes.

Leisurely Paddle ~
After our two days of enjoyable rest while rain fell upon us, when the sun reappeared, brightening our magical surroundings of forested hills and mountain peaks dotted with exposed white granite ridges, we launched the Green Machine for a leisurely paddle around the calm waters. In idyllic conditions, a few strokes, then we’d drift in the silence, listening for bush wrens and the calls of the black swans that inhabit that vast enclosed waterway, while the soothing sun eased our aging muscles, and enhanced the dreamlike experience of being alone, surrounded by Nature’s glory.

Access Track to Mount Sorell and Plateau ~
When the next day began just as silent and calm, under a cloudless blue sky, we put into action our plan to paddle across to an access track that our Wildcare group maintains. This short access track cuts through the thick shore growth that’s laced with cutting grass, whose innocent looking tall blades have sharp serrated edges. On the track, walkers can reach open terrain on nutrient-poor soils sparsely vegetated by button grass, low tea tree and stunted banksia that reachup the great mountain range of Mount Sorell with its twin peaks 1144 metres above the sea, and also up the slopes of the flat topped Sorell Plateau, a modest 376 metres. We find the up and back day walk to the plateau, a pleasant outing with grand views over the Harbour and as far as the Southern Ocean.  

Our lunch spot after clearing the track

Working together, I cut away the intruding branches and button grass needles and Jude clears them off the track behind me. Cleaning that couple hundred metres in less than two hours, we sat in the warm sunlight at the top of the run, admiring the track and very pleasant view over the cove while munching cheese and tomato sandwiches.

We had planned to walk up the Sorell Plateau if there was time, but we just hadn’t the energy. So instead, we paddled off across the bay to continue our search for signs of where timber was loaded in the early nineteen hundreds.

At the beginning of last century, there were two companies competing for the copper wealth located around Queenstown. In a race, both had built smelters and railroads to export their treasure. One exported their product from Strahan via the rail line still in use today. The other built their rail line alongside the Bird River, landing it at a new port they built in Kelly Basin, where the two towns of East and West Pillinger appeared almost overnight. In a twist of fate, a couple of years after all these hectic activities, the major shareholder of the second company suddenly died, and the two companies were amalgamated, making the second rail line and port redundant.

Trees were felled to fuel the smelter

Trees were felled to fuel the smelter, and poisonous gases killed regrowth.

Copper was no longer shipped to Kelly Basin on the Bird River rail line. Instead, the men there worked at harvesting timber to fuel the smelters, which was shipped to Queenstown up the Bird River rail link. It took a lot of timber to fuel those smelters. With the hills surrounding Queenstown denuded, the area around Kelly Basin soon ran out of fuel, so the workers shifted around to cutting the forests covering Farm Cove’s hillsides. Some of those harvested logs went by barge to the port and rail line at Kelly Basin; while some went overland on a road cut between the two waterways. It is this road that intrigues Jack and Jude.

We are wilderness explorers. Our decades exploring Earth’s wild places have created a passion to be surrounded by her beauty and wonder. Be they open ocean, coral atolls, mountain ranges, expansive deserts or forests, we find solace connecting with the creation. It’s a simple life. No stop signs or traffic lights. Just survive. We connect with Earth and read her telltale signs, and have been doing this since we married in 1968, and we say the telling signs of Nature have become a worry.

Maybe its a Test ~
Say you are the creator, and everything works like the most complicated timepiece, inter-related, inter-dependent, and magical. So you throw in an oddity to see what happens. Does this far more intelligent oddity look around in wonder and admiration of the creation, or does it look in a mirror with a smug, aren’t I the greatest smile and go about creating deities in its own image. So, instead of being united by a love of Earth, the tangible proof of a creator, the masses became divided by various entities accepted only by faith. And there the race begins. Who’s better, who’s got more? Who’s smarter? And the magnificent creation of Earth is downgraded to an insignificant resource store.

Maybe it’s a test the creator has put before us. If so, we are failing. The store is nearly empty. The magnificence of Earth life depleted, and humanity cannot control its numbers, nor its growth. Too soon there’ll be little of the creation remaining.

Wilderness Grave ~
Back in paradise, on the other side of the bay, after exploring the area near an old corduroy ramp of non-rotting saplings, we pushed the bush aside to wander inland toward a small stream and came upon a large flat camp area. This forest is quite open and the ground thick with forest litter, so it’s easy walking while listening to songbirds and the breeze rustling the top branches. The ridge we were strolling along is the same we take over to the gravesite of Joseph Brown near Kelly Basin, and so, instead of climbing the Sorell Plateau the next day, we decide to pay our respects to Joseph, who died a few days after Christmas 1900.

Next morning, it having been several years since our last visit to Joseph Brown, with all the goings-on in our lives, we couldn’t remember where our crude track started. So we paddled back and forth in the vicinity until we relented and dug out the iPad stored behind a seat.

Ah, things had changed. Fallen trees made it look different. But once we landed, old landmarks reassured us. On such a beautiful calm sunny morning, instead of changing straightaway into bush gear, we wandered the shore, captivated by our other passion—finding fish farm trash. In Macquarie Harbour, being surrounded by land like a lake, there is always farm trash littering the shores. Plastic ropes are the primary culprits. They break down under sunlight and wave action into micro plastics, and some of those tiny particles find their way back into the waterway, where heaven knows, those captive farmed fish may ingest them. We won’t eat fish farmed here in Macquarie Harbour, and don’t think anyone should because when breaking down into micro plastic, the poisons added during manufacture to make the plastic more flexible and resistant to UV are released and coat the particles. These poisons are Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), and they never go away. Instead, they lodge in the fatty tissue of animals, building up, causing cancers experts say.

Our passion, and the lovely day, delayed our start and it wasn’t until the stroke of twelve that we finally disappeared into the wilderness. Straightaway we wished we hadn’t dallied. The place didn’t look quite as we remembered. Going up the ridge, the ground was soft with thick forest litter, sparking alarming thoughts of a lightning strike.

Finding the first pink tape eased our concern, and the second made us feel even better, and then we came upon the land bridge we remembered connecting the shore side ridge to another going south-eastward inland. We could still make out the telltale signs from our earlier traffic, our boots sort of polished the path, but we lost them in the many gullies which slowed us, having to search for the track again.

All up, it’s about a two kilometre trek under the forest canopy, basically heading southeast towards Kelly Basin, but skirting around the thick green stuff and patches of razor grass. When at last we pushed through the final barricade of Bauera, a tiny leaf plant that grows in an interwoven net, we burst into a scorching sun. About 2 o’clock and time for lunch.

Munching our sandwiches, I became a bit concerned by the time we’d taken. Jude isn’t moving as fast she did before her stroke. Her balance wasn’t so confident, and neither of us wanted to fall on a forest floor littered with twiggy spikes. Taking more time, a lot of the way was up over or under fallen rotting branches, or down slippery slopes of loose litter, all requiring extra care. When we broke out into the open, we still had a kilometre or more of waist to shoulder height tea-tree and other stuff before reaching the grave. And of course, we still had to return, with less energy and the worry of losing the light. Talking this through, we resolved to press on, and reserve the critical decision whether to turn back for thirty minutes at 3 o’clock.

Pushing hard under the naked sun made it hot work that put our water supply under threat. Knowing that near the gravesite lay an intermittent stream gave us another reason for carrying on. So, off we trudged, hoping the recent rains had kept it wet.

Those last thousand metres weren’t as easy as we’d remembered either. The scrub was thicker, higher, and sometimes we didn’t choose the easiest route, but we carried on—a team as fast as the slowest member.

Diving into the tall growth lining the tiny creek, my heart fell on seeing a dry streambed. But with Jude’s encouragement, I looked a little further, pushing aside more scrub, and found a tiny trickle of flowing water. Kneeling down, I scooped out a basin, using the removed clay to form a little dam downstream. Leaving that to fill and clear, we pushed through the last thirty metres to Joseph Brown’s last resting spot next to a lone Eucalypt towering above it.

So much had grown up since we had cleaned the area a few years earlier and today, looking through our records, we know why. Searching our photos and diary notes, show our last visit to Joseph Brown was in March 2018.

Cutting grass now encircled the gravesite, and the foliage of a new tree gave Joseph some respite from the hot midday sun that cast dappled light upon a host of pink and white native flowers growing around his grave. Sitting next to Joseph, we brought him up to date with the world’s sorry state. Time being critical, we didn’t tidy up his resting site. Instead, after catching our breaths, we said adieu, then went to fill our drinking bottles from the tannin stained stream before turning back up the hill homeward bound, making faster time to our forest entry.

Back in the cool, pleasant forest shade, we made good time walking with no mishaps, and only getting lost twice, which saw us emerge from the last tricky slope at around 7 o’clock. A fairly easy return, taking it slow to be careful, rather than spend the night on the ground nursing an injury.

The light of Venus in the evening twilight guided our way during the kilometre paddle home to Banyandah, where, after a late dinner, we fell asleep with lovely thoughts of spending the next day in bed. On this wild west coast of Tasmania, open to the Roaring Forties, weather events build as they cross the Indian Ocean, and we knew another rain event would greet us the next day. Perfect for lazing about, reminiscing, regaining strength, and tending our few bush cuts properly.

African Honeymoon ~
A wistful, smoky grey, few days of misty rain drifting across the peaks kept us company as we returned to a writing project delayed by floods and medical events of the last couple years. Once again, we experienced the drama of crossing the world’s largest desert in a clapped out VW van and felt the fear of armed guerrillas hiding along the slippery mud track through one of the largest jungles.

Meandering One Interesting Rock to Another ~
Then, all too soon, a bright yellow sun radiant in a clear blue sky rallied us into another outing. Packing our lunch and bush gear in the Green Machine, we then paddled across calm water to the access track we had cleared. Having no destination in mind, we tootled off up the hill until reaching the rim overlooking the lowland between us and the Plateau. Trekking to its flat top did not appeal. Not on such a warm day when a dark emerald green copse of trees descending along a stream enticed us with visions of a luncheon under cool shade alongside a babbling brook. Setting off with no exact route, we dawdled and stopped at whatever took our interest after reaching broken ground, meandering from one interesting rock to another. That fascinating field of scattered rocks had us wishing we knew much more about geology. Clearly, several cataclysmic events had affected this area. We found polished pebbles embedded in what looked to be sandstone, along with other polished pebbles bound into a hard reddish conglomerate material. Collecting a pocketful, we spoke about buying a polishing drum because our collection of stones has grown ginormous.

Our hunt found a tree-lined stream, a bit overgrown, but we managed to clear a large enough spot to sit in cooling shade overlooking the babbling stream. Observing several flattened animal paths to our platform had us think this must be a common destination for local inhabitants. And so, we kept an alert eye open for a passing wombat or Tassie Devil while we enjoyed our sandwiches, thinking if we had a hammock, what a lovely place for a nap.

Storm Coming ~
More bad weather approaches. A strong cold front is on its way, and we are hoping it brings us favourable winds to return to base. Often on the tail end of these systems, the wind backs to the south, perfect for our twenty-two mile run back to Strahan.

During the afternoon of our thirteenth day away, our barometer dropped like a lead sinker, and the wind dramatically increased, each blast bigger than the previous one. That’s a sure sign of a severe storm. Rain pelted down after dark on wind blasts that flung us sideways, forcing us to close up tight. Understandably, neither of us got off to sleep, and I kept thinking whether the wind would back from northwest to southwest as predicated in the evening weather broadcast on VHF channel 67. It had announced strong gusty winds reaching 35 knots with heavy rain tonight, followed by 15 to 25 knot west to southwest tomorrow, with upwards of 30 knots in the morning. Our course back to base is 310 true, making it close-hauled on the wind if westerly. Banyandah and its crew are not fond of anything over 20 knots on the wind, and so, during our lurching and jerking in the loud rain squalls, I was thinking we should hang around for a better system to take home.

Next morning, Banyandah was still facing north when I got up, but the sky looked amazingly clear. After making a brew, I listened to the morning weather broadcast, which restated the night before forecast exactly; 15 to 25 knots SW to W, changing to NW in the afternoon. I was still thinking we should stay put and return to our writing project for however long it takes to get a south wind, when the report ended with station reports. Hearing Cape Sorell reporting wind SW 22 knots, I instantly shook Jude awake. “Wake up, we’re going.” My change of mind surprising us both.

Naturally, we’re pros at getting going, been doing so since 1974. Check engine, add oil, grease pump, and then warm up engine while rolling up awning and removing sail cover. After that, up anchor and away. While I’m driving towards the cove’s exit, Jude sorts below, stashing loose items, closing valves, making another brew. Then we swap about, and I sort the stern cabin, then secure the kayak, and raise the mainsail. Within a half hour we’re in the main harbour under full sail, close reaching up towards the first line of fish farms to gain the weather edge. And it’s a beautiful morning. We’re flying along in smooth water at 5 to 7 knots. Pretty good for having a dirty bottom. All of last night’s doubts evaporated. No 25 knots on the nose, no water cascading over the bows, just a quiet sail with a clear sky, sun warming our backs and arms, and our ship steady as if still anchored.

In a few scant hours, we reached the narrow neck into Strahan. Here, the wind often follows us in and we’ll be wing’ n’ wing that last mile. This time we had to keep well over to the east to keep the fading breeze close along that abrupt shore, and still finding twenty metre deep water.

Journey Completed ~
We often carry sail to the very end, just because we can, and it’s fun. But, you’ve got to be patient, as the breeze has to get around several bumps of land to fill the sails. One second we’re almost aback, the next, water ruffles dark and we’re heeling over going at speed. In a puff, take a luff, is an old sailor’s saying meaning when you get a blast, follow the apparent wind up. That way, we gain ground to reach the narrow channel into our anchorage. This time though, the light, fickle breeze faded a tad too often. Maybe we could have reached the sand spit, but not worth the risk of drifting onto the downwind submerged poles from an old jetty. Plus, we didn’t want to fuss, so the iron topsail came on with a roar. Journey completed, time to tidy up and relax secured to our mooring.

Till next time, wishing you fair winds feeling the sun’s warmth on your back and shoulders.