B-log ~ January 2016

January 2016                                                                    December 2015 >>
Blog of Jack and Jude
explorers, authors, photographers & videographers

Wishing you a safe and healthy 2016

P1100214 (2)It’s a tradition to wish family, friends and just about everyone a Happy New Year because we are brethren in this sometimes joyous, often daunting journey through Earth life, and so Jack and Jude sincerely hope life is good for you in 2016.

The year 2015 was kind to us for which we feel extremely grateful and considering how much pain is being felt around the world at the moment, we figure most of you will also be grateful that your lives are relatively untouched by the madness gripping the world. We’ve always believed in fairy tales. We believe if we hold good values, respect all life, and work hard our dreams will come true. But there are errors humans make in managing our progress forward. Errors that lead us down dark roads which lead us to even darker and cruel consequences. Dare it be asked that if we could turn back the clocks, would we still be so swayed by the rhetoric of certain western leaders post 9/11? There was hope and dreams before that tragic turning point. We spoke of curtailing our pollution and we had plans widely accepted to correct our mismanagement. And even though our world was imperfect, we had tolerance for each others beliefs.

Looking closer at our own situation, against the best advice from experts, Jude’s broken knee seems to have miraculously cured itself. While on the other hand Jack’s knee has developed a sometimes painful “clicking” that is probably nothing more than an aging joint that’s endured too much off-track bashing. Other than that, we’re in peak health and keen to continue our exploration of the glorious Earth.

ausmapWe sailed very few miles in 2015, just over a thousand, which is the fewest since relaunching our lady in 2005. Blame that on the magic of Tasmania and in particular it’s spectacular west coast.

It was about this time last year that we bashed against headwinds from Adelaide to Tasmania for the Wooden Boat Festival, and we’re still here! Mind you, we’ve gone up and down Macquarie Harbour a number of times and travelled the twenty odd miles of navigable water of the Gordon River a half dozen times in a quest to find and mark a lost historical track. That meant plenty of difficult work in thick southwest forests. Hmm, maybe that’s why Jack’s knee is complaining? Nevertheless it’s grand to have a mission in life and this last year ours has been to find the track cut by Tasmania’s first Geological Surveyor, Charles Gould in three expeditions undertaken in the 1860s that unlocked west Tasmania’s vast mineral resources. He did this by hacking through the World Heritage jungle we so cherish today. Well, now that we’re back on board, our first mission is to finish that work – more on that later.

Further reading: Doing a Bruce   —  Continuing the HuntThird Time Lucky

We had to get away

After six months idle, underway down harbour with a single reef

After six months idle
underway down harbour with a single reef

After so much effort finishing off the house projects then hassles with travel plans, and then being in limbo living out a bag while wondering how our precious lady had coped with the southern winter, what a relief it was when she was found to be all good, her systems coming back to life like a spacecraft left dormant drifting through space. So, we just had to get away, to reconnect and thank the almighty who looks after us so well. And how better to do that than to be alone with our dearest one surrounded by Earth’s magical beauty. We’re so fortunate to be able to do that.

Storm coming

Underway – Storm coming

We jumped back into the full force of Nature just as a cold front approached bringing blowy rainy conditions that we’d just have to endure or else we’d be motoring, something we hate. It would be a test, of us and our boat. A wise sailor once told us after building his dream ship that straight away he set out for high latitudes. Crazy we thought then, but he was right. If something’s going to fail, let it fail near help. And so, after not sailing for six months, we set off just when the big winds were ready to strike. Geez, running with the wind we got drenched and became ever so cold after our stint near the tropics. But we survived; our Lady and us, blasting down harbour at a million miles a second, worrying about everything, checking and looking, letting out yelps of relief even though we did do some things backwards.

Kelly Basin
Summer storms in Tassie usually pass in a day, and our second day of freedom dawned clear and bright with Swiss like Mount Sorell commanding our view. Eager to test our legs, we landed in Little Red then headed for the nearest hill, pushing aside sharp tea tree and tripping over lumps of button grass tussocks. For the first time I used one of those telescoping walking sticks, newly acquired, and promptly lost its rubber tip in some soft mushy peat. So much for their claim of being the world’s finest. That aside, its steadying support helped my nagging knee, which in one position must be bone on bone. Nevertheless Jude and I relished being in the “thick stuff.” Not sure why, maybe we’re crazy, but up close to Nature always gives us a thrill.

Out for a bush bash at Farm Cove

Azure Kingfishers seemed to be everywhere

Azure Kingfishers seemed to be everywhere

After one of our best sleeps in months we up anchor then motor-sailed around the corner into Kelly Basin to hunt for a tombstone dating back to the heyday of East and West Pillinger. Now there’s an anomaly, a town cut out the thickest rainforest that was occupied for just a few short years. Crikey, at the same time a massive work force built a railroad through the forested mountains, all this around 1898 to haul copper from the Mount Lyle mine near Queenstown. The reason that all was abandoned soon after completion is that their competitor, who had built a railroad to the port of Strahan, bought them out! The redundant Bird River Railroad eventually had its rails taken up and is now a wildly wonderful walk through a rich and diverse wet rainforest. But I digress.

Reindeer Lodge Kelly Basin (fishing hut)

Reindeer Lodge Kelly Basin (fishing hut)

Area of Man Ferns indicates human disturbance - this was a homesite circa 1900

Area of Man Ferns indicates human disturbance – homesite circa 1900

fireplace hearth and bricks of chimney circa 1900

fireplace hearth and bricks of chimney

cache of bottles and keetle

cache of bottles and keetle

Wolfe's Aromatic Schnapps from late 1800s

Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps from late 1800s

Once in Kelly Basin, we landed at the derelict dock near the fishing shack oddly named Reindeer Lodge, and were soon back in the thick stuff following instructions friends had given us. It sounded easy enough when hearing them, but somehow we never found the lone big tree in a buttongrass plain. Having tramped through waist high bracken up a narrow ridge clad in huge eucalyptus, both sides falling steeply into thick ravines, we finally found an open buttongrass plain. But it was obstructed by short scratchy tea tree that finally thinned to leave a clear view. Alas, no single large tree in sight. There were several copses of small ones, which we investigated for an hour or two, but no headstone. Oh well, sitting down for a bite of lunch with a grand view back to Farm Cove and mountains, Jude kept saying she thought we were on the wrong ridge. To amuse her and prove her wrong, I plotted our GPS on the topo map. Hmm, dang she was right. Good news I guess. It meant we could go back through new country. Down the steep side tested our lame knees until we found a lightly timbered plain. Still no “Big Tree” in sight, plenty of small ones again that made way for an open space and the cool shade of lovely Man Ferns, what the mainlanders call “Tree Ferns.” These large areas of Man Ferns usually indicate human disturbance and it did here too as we soon discovered some bricks, then a hearth made from stones and concrete, a cache of bottles, a kettle, and an old water tank all spread out in not one, but two or three separate house locations. History tells us there were many dwellings built circa 1900 that have been taken over by today’s forest.

Birches Inlet
Being the only souls for many miles is fun. Where to next, we pondered, picking up our hook next morning to motor across to the other side of Macquarie Harbour and into what is thought to be the original river mouth of the famous Gordon River. Called Birch’s Inlet, it’s named after Thomas William Birch (1774-1821), a surgeon, whaler, and the shipowner who financed James Kelly’s exploration of Tasmania’s west coast. During that short passage we picked up a phone signal using our newly installed “Smoothtalker,” and spoke with the family for the first time since sailing away from Strahan. Obviously with no one living beyond that tiny hamlet, phone reception usually only stretches a few miles down harbour, so we were delighted that our Smoothtalker, which is connected to our broomstick antenna, dramatically increased our coverage.

Once in the flat water of Birches Inlet, next morning we hooked our outboard onto Little Red for a jaunt around the lower harbour. First stop the pebble beach stretching towards the Gordon River that’s always encumbered with logs which have floated downriver. There are heaps of tree there, many specie, including the beautiful Huon Pine, as well as Blackwood, Stringy Bark, and probably a bit of Celery Top – but they all pretty much look alike, bleached bone white after their long journey. Huon is salvaged from this beach by licensed operators and since it’s in the SW National Park, souveniring is strictly forbidden. We found and took a few special rocks instead.

Special stones for our Grandchildren

Christmas present of special stones for our Grandchildren

Next stop, Dead Man’s Island, actually called Haliday’s Island, the previous being more descriptive as that tiny knoll was the burial site for the convicts of Sarah Island, a place of internment for the worst of the worst during the 1820s. Sarah Island had no walls, none were needed for the hostile and very isolated west coast was a prison itself. Needless to say these desperate dead didn’t rate tombstones, so we tippy-toed quietly fearing we’d be overwhelmed by malevolent ghosts. It may seem senseless to visit such a place, but peering through the scrub past the struggle of low trees, with Sarah Island near in sight, our minds imagined the convict burial parties. At least we have some idea of the horror put upon the unfortunates sent through Hells Gate to such a forbidding place.

Dead Man's Island with Sarah Island in the distance

Dead Man’s Island with Sarah Island in the distance


Max and Marie's hidaway near Birches Inlet

Max and Marie’s hidaway near Birches Inlet

The breeze sprang up during our mental excursion, bringing moans of the dead from the trees and sending chills up and down our arms, so we vamoosed pronto. Now under a clear blue sky over slightly ruffled nut brown tannin stained water, we sped along with virgin shoreline close aboard. Jude, bless her, gaily turned round at the bows, stretched her feet out and her gleeful face became our figurehead. Like being kids once again without a care in the world we nipped into little inlets and imagined setting up our tent on the sandy shore next to creeks spilling cool water into the harbour. Under the naked sun, it became hot enough for a dip before we landed at hut, one of a few dotting the shores of Macquarie. This one we knew from visiting Max and Marie who often spend a few nights at that lovely spot. Max rebuilt this hut after some hoons burnt it down. They keep it spotless and impeccably organized with the ground a la natural, the wood hut comfortable and the bunks clean. Anywhere else, this would cost you heaps, but not in Macquarie where it’s free. There’s even a magnificent wood heater donated by Parks.

The old Bird River railway - now a walking track

The old Bird River railway – now a walking track


Bird River Bridge, Christmas Day

Bird River Bridge, Christmas Day

Christmas Day cool off

Christmas Day cool off

Christmas was fast approaching and we needed something special to mark the day, plus we also needed a phone connection to hear the happy glee in our grandchildren’s voices. Therefore early next morning we motored out, then drifted when we found our phone connected. Wouldn’t you know, another front was coming; apparent by the wispy clouds drifting in from the northwest. During the first hour we were connected to our family the harbour was mirror smooth making it so much fun hearing their excited young voices that we lingered on and on until our quiet drift got a bit lumpy. Popping up for a look, way up the harbour an army of white soldiers were on the march south. Tis amazing how quickly things change down here. By the time we could say our goodbyes, Banyandah had strong winds laying her over with cold spray flying across her decks. Geez, we left it too late. Little Red was taking a pounding attached by her painter, but we just had to put on the power to reach the safety of Kelly Basin, which is where we’d planned a Christmas Day walk up that wonderful Bird River Track. I short scoped Little Red and kept watch fearing she’d be flipped and become a dangerous situation. Loosing the timber oars would be a catastrophe. I dreaded having to retrieve them with a lee shore close at hand. But all turned out OK. Just another lesson learnt. Laziness had gotten the better of good judgement. In hindsight we should have heaved the dinghy on board. But that’s living life afloat.

Bird River

Bird River

P1100758-001Our walk up the old Bird River rail-bed track in blustery conditions will always be remembered for lush forest swaying madly, leaves fluttering, limbs groaning, making us cast watchful eyes upwards. There was plenty of tree fall from winter storms blocking the track and when seeing the size of the root balls disrupted we appreciated just how wild a winter it had been. The delightful five kilometre jaunt took us under two hours. Winter may have been the coldest on record, but spring had been the driest on record, therefore the usually soft mosses were hard and the forest foliage looked stressed. Even worse; the fuel on the ground was brittle, ready for fire. If this is global warming then these world heritage forests could be gone before mankind takes action.

Betsy’s Bay
Well that brings us to our last adventure on this round robin test of our wings. It began with a slow leisurely sail back up harbour to a special place called Betsy’s Bay. Not sure who Betsy was, but she’s surrounded by white granite bluff headlands with names like Table Head and Liberty Point.

Betsy's Bay

Betsy’s Bay

West Coast shows signs of small bush fire

West Coast shows signs of small bush fire

She's actually racing the waves across that gap

Racing the waves across that gap

Deep pool to try for a fish

Deep pool to try for a fish

We went there to walk across the narrow peninsula to Tasmania’s Wild West coast. A track of sorts begins there, running up and over the button grass plains to the scrub and stunted eucalypts of the west coast. Being out of fresh protein we carried two fishing lines anticipating a feed of fish, which reminds me to mention that we caught our very first fish here in Macquarie Harbour as we sailed into this bay. A nice plump trumpet. A good omen we thought. The jaunt over to the coast was another good workout filled with expansive views that culminated in the sad sight of fire burnt hills along that coast. Fortunately it wasn’t a very hot fire. New growth was already pushing up through the black cinders.

Another adventurous ten days has ended, leaving us feeling more confident in ourselves and our vessel. It may be like riding a bike but routines set by many years still need to be refreshed. A skinned knee, or in our case skinned knuckles is a blessing when far worse can be the outcome when you change hats after such a long time.

Till next time,
Good health, enjoy life, be a devil and take a chance, but be prepared to look after yourself.