Schouten For Safety

Crocketts Bay, Schouten Island. Tasmania.
Thursday 28th Feb 2013

All I can say is WOW so this is Tassy!!

Foggy morning departure

Foggy morning departure

Here I sit at anchor within the well protected arms of Crocketts Bay, Schouten Island. Above, the 30+knt Southerly winds bustle and whistle among the wild craggy peaks. Carved out of the high cliffs and wild rusty rock outcroppings on North Schouten Island is two little white sandy bay beaches with clean clear water and rich vegetation. A magnificent and dramatic cove and a perfect refuge for adventurers and sailors to escape the sometimes gale force winds that blow up here in the deep South.

But I digress.

After 5 days in Beauty Point marina up the Tamar River I was ready to move on to the East coast and Hobart. By chance the next two boats berthed to mine were from Hobart and also planning to travel back that way. After a bit of a chat they asked me to join them.

With no knowledge of the route other than my usual guides and forecasts, the offer of company sounded like a good idea. A quick scan of the charts for this area will tell you that the dramatic tides combined with very few places to pull in and escape severe weather might benefit enormously from local knowledge. I had no offers of crew up to then so decided to sail solo again. This time at least I could stay in touch via VHF with other boats along the way, a nice change from being totally alone as I have been on some previous solo voyages.

Playing chicken with the Tamar traffic

Playing chicken with the Tamar traffic

Catching the tide just before it turned, I threw off the docklines in the foggy morning and headed out into the Tamar. The fog cleared before I’d gotten to Georgetown though the tide was slowing me down a knot or two. Apart from playing ‘chicken’ with a freighter on the way downstream there wasn’t much of interest on this short passage out to sea. The next 7 hours and twenty three minutes though were a pleasant sail and motorsail across Nolan and Anderson Bays to Croppies, a small anchorage on the Western side of Waterhouse Point. At many times I was in heavy fog where I could only see less than a hundred metres all around me.

Fortunately I had my trusty AIS to tell me where the ships were and so avoided a couple shortly after leaving the Tamar. Once at Croppies and in company with my new shipmates from Moonshine and Close Encounters a comfortable night was had at anchor beneath the full moon and calm water.
Next morning dawned dull and grey with wind building from the South East. Our destination today was to pass through Banks Strait and so on down the Eastern coast.

Croppies Sunset

Croppies sunset, red sky at night…..

There was a forecast North Easterly due to arrive later that evening and our plan was to get to Eddystone lighthouse against the prevailing South Easterlies to await its arrival.
Banks Strait is shallow and full of tidal rips, a dangerous place by any standards and we timed our arrival here for the start of the ebb to ensure a quick traverse and some helping hand on our set to the South. Apart from some disturbing boiling water places where the depth rapidly shallows we motorsailed harmlessly over into the Tasman Sea and thence passing Swan Island on our Southern heading.

Passing Waterhouse Island

Passing Waterhouse Island

For the next six hours we motorsailed into short chop and head winds eventually arriving at Eddystone around 7pm. Close Encounters managed to travel faster under motor than I and so was at the anchorage a good half hour before I eventually turned up. Moonshine left Croppies after us and made the decision to continue heading into the adverse conditions when Eddystone light house was reached. No sooner had I started to heat up one of my pre-prepared meals than Close Encounters began raising her anchor. I’d spoken to her skipper on VHF prior to arrival and the plan was to stay at this somewhat rolly anchorage for a couple of hours until the NW change had arrived then continue heading South.

Lumpy Seas

Lumpy Seas

The skipper had made a decision to up anchor and keep going as he suspected the wild Southerlies forecast for late the next day may come in early. The bolthole was Schouten Island, some 60Nm away and he wanted to get there as quick as possible. Doubling the urgency is that there are also very few places between Eddystone and Schouten Is where shelter may be obtained if a gale suddenly and unexpectedly blew in. The change we were concerned about carried winds in excess of 30kts (55+klm/hr) with big swells coming from the opposite direction. A disaster to be caught out in and every skippers nightmare.
After a hot meal I too raised the anchor and in the foggy blanket darkness as the clock struck 2100 hrs, headed South to beat the coming storm.

Freycinet Peninsular

Freycinet Peninsular

Shortly after departing Eddystone the expected North Easter arrived. Joy! I rolled out the Genoa and turned off the motor as we cruised along at a respectable 5+ kts. Too soon!! Less than 20 minutes later it died down to a gentle breeze, bringing with it the slap, slap, slap of the boom as Freespirit rolled uncomfortably in the swell without enough wind in the sails to stabilize our progress. Reluctantly I once more unleashed the ‘Instant Wind Generator’ and off we motored into the night.

A question I’m often asked as a single hander is ‘when do you sleep’ or similar. Its  obvious that you cannot keep a constant watch throughout the night, yet maintain alertness and the ability to make good decisions. My method is to head offshore early in the night, somewhere between the coastal traffic and the super tankers further out and take repetitious half hour naps. Setting my alarm for 30 minutes I fall asleep quickly, awake on the alarm… go look out my forward hatch for any activity then check my chart plotter and AIS for conformation that we are still on course and that no freighters, fisherman etc are close by. If all is clear I fall back in bed for a further half hour. If by chance there are some ships nearby I’ll stay up and make sure we are safely past before continuing my nap cycle.



This works pretty well with the tools I have on board. Without AIS to identify ships at great distances it would be decidedly more risky and you would need to make the naps a lot shorter to maintain some sort of visual continuity. Especially in the rain and foggy conditions that are prevalent in this part of the world.

Pacific Gull cleared for takeoff on runway 270....

Pacific Gull cleared for takeoff on runway 270….

Next morning was spent motorsailing along in the light Northerlies as our GPS signature slowly crawled toward our destination. Its the old thing about a watched kettle not boiling.. if you look at your chartplotter all the time the journey gets longer and more boring. I turn it off and enjoy the sights and sounds of being out on the ocean. There is always plenty to do if you are easily amused like me. Cloud and seabird watching are the things I do a lot of, eating too if the motion in the galley isn’t too suicidal.

By Midday I could see the Freycinet Peninsula in its foggy shroud. A welcome sight yet we were still a couple of hours away from closing with it. Ho hum, back to watching Pacific Gulls and shearwaters fishing nearby as we hummed along in the warm sunshine.

Schouten passage sentinal

Schouten passage sentinal

Finally as we closed with the Schouten Passage I began to get excited, well the most excited I’d been all day anyway, as the dramatic and deeply carved rusty rocks crept slowly by. Magnificently rising out of the turquoise waters to stand as silent sentinels to the safe harbours within, it is a startlingly beautiful sight to a newcomer such as I. My only wish would have been to better capture their magnificence, unfortunately the photo’s I did take don’t really do it justice.

Crocketts Bay, Schouten Island. Bear Hill in b/g.

Crocketts Bay, Schouten Island. Bear Hill in b/g.

At last I dropped anchor in Crocketts Bay, Schouten Island. I had arrived!
I drank in its beautiful environment with relish and a feeling of finally getting somewhere that I had planned and dreamed about for a very long time. Its simply stunning.

A great night of tall stories, laughter and imbibing of beverages was had by the crews of Freespirit and Close Encounters that evening before finally retiring for a most relaxing and satisfying nights’ sleep.
When the wind finally blows itself out I’ll go exploring ashore. Hopefully this should make for a more interesting post and photo’s next time.
Adios from paradise.

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2 Responses to Schouten For Safety

  1. John Kagi says:

    Wait for me there- I’m coming straight over!!
    Seriously I have an item for you re the motor but the email’s not going through – have you changed ISP?

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