Wild West and Other Stories

Hells Gates was a millpond, only the Wild West lived up to its name.

Strahan Bay

Strahan Harbour

This weekend past Dini and I played tourists at Strahan, drove through beautiful temperate rain forests to the West Coast’s Arthur River then home after an overnight stay at historic Stanley. This trip completes my road circumnavigation of Tasmania.

The Eagle

The Eagle

On Saturday Dini and I took a tourist trip on Macquarie Harbour. Six times bigger than Sydney Harbour it was named after Scottish Major General Lachlan Macquarie, 5th Governor of New South Wales. This huge inland waterway is home to multiple fish farms, some interesting convict history and a dangerous narrow entrance into it from the Southern Ocean.
First discovered on 28 December 1815 and given its name by convicts being transported to Sarah Island as the ‘entrance to Hell’, Hells Gates is as feared by sailors today as those who passed through it in chains.
It was calm as a millpond the day we visited although it doesn’t take much imagination to see it as wild and dangerous with huge Southern Ocean swells and swift tides running through it.

Hells Gates

Hells Gates

Macquarie Harbour has two major rivers emptying into it, the King and the Gordon. Under normal conditions both empty huge amounts of fresh water into the harbour resulting in a terrifying tidal race as it all tries to rush through Hells Gates at once out into the ocean.
As luck would have it, our captain took us outside Macquarie Heads to visit Cape Sorell. This is unusual as normally rough seas make this excursion impractical for the tourist boats. With calm seas we were treated to views of Cape Sorell and its famous lighthouse before re-entering Hells Gates from the sea.

Entrance from the sea.

Hells Gates entrance from the sea.

At 42 degrees South this latitude is shared only by the most southerly tip of South America, Cape Horn. It is so far South it misses the Africa continent altogether. Such a wild and dangerous place has been the site of many shipwrecks and even with all the fancy navigation gismo’s we have today it is still feared and given the utmost respect by today’s sailors.

Following Hells Gates we visited Sarah Island, the home of the hardest convicts in the colony between 1822 and 1833. Only the worst convicts and those who had escaped from other settlements were sent here. The isolated island was ideally suited for its purpose as it was separated from the mainland by treacherous seas, surrounded by mountainous wilderness and was hundreds of miles away from the colony’s other settled areas. DSC00071

After a guided tour of the island and its history it was time to enjoy a leisurely lunch back aboard the big cat. A delicious repast of smoked salmon with all the fixn’s, taken as we gently travelled up the majestic Gordon River. Tour boats can only travel 14 kilometres up river due to their size and draft, however we pulled into shore at the furtherest point and enjoyed a stroll along the board walk to admire the South Wests’ unique flora. Of particular interest was the Huon Pine tree. A native to this area and much exploited for its unusual and remarkable qualities, Huon pine is Australia’s oldest living tree and is one of the oldest living organisms on earth. They live for an incredibly long time, the oldest so far discovered in South West Tasmania was 3,462 years.

Sarah Island looking NE

Sarah Island looking NE

The rich creamy yellow wood is soft, smooth, oily and light weight. It is very easy to work with and takes a high polish. Yet it is also the most durable of all the timbers available with examples of Huon logs which have lain on the ground for several hundred years now being harvested and milled as perfect timber. Truly remarkable.

Next day we drove North through beautiful temperate rain forests and scenic mountain landscapes, finally reaching the coast by early afternoon. It was decided to stay overnight at Stanley so we booked a room at the pub and then continued our travels down to Arthur River. A beautiful scenic spot facing the Southern Ocean. Here, waves that have travelled halfway around the world crash upon the rocky shores in magnificent spumes of white water pushed along by the ever present Westerly winds. A wild and beautiful place and well worth a visit.

Albert River entrance

Arthur River entrance

Stanley, home of the famous ‘nut’ hill promontory was a port I was considering paying a visit to whilst stopping over on King Island. Looking at the facilities now I am glad I didn’t. Adequate perhaps for a small fishing fleet, Stanley harbour is quite unsuited to the needs of the visiting yachtsman. Large tidal range combined with lack of floating piers means that going ashore (and returning) via long ladders would be a memorable experience!

The Nut, Stanley

The Nut, Stanley

Those considerations aside the small Stanley port would provide good shelter in all but gale force South Easterlies and those thankfully are relatively rare here on the far North West coast. The township is quaint Victorian style and quite pretty providing plenty of good walks around the Southern parts of the peninsular. There is a chair lift and walking track to the top of the ‘Nut’ though time and medical considerations ruled that out for us.

Harbour @ Stanley

Harbour @ Stanley

On the return journey we dropped into a delightful bay called Boat Harbour, just a few short k’s from Burnie. The weather had once again turned sunny with gentle breezes ruffling the turquoise bay. If it wasn’t for the cold water I could (almost) be persuaded to jump in for a dip.
Returned home to find that Kettering had come in for some severe weather causing much damage. Winds of 70 knots (130 klm/hr) had come crashing in to Oyster Bay downing the Telstra tower and taking out the power, not to mention 5 boats being yanked from their moorings. Of these, two were dragged up on the rocky shore and suffered extensive damage, one (catamaran) was dragged out into the main channel and flipped over whilst the rest were saved by heroic fishermen before being damaged.

Boat Harbour (which isn't) NW Tassy

Boat Harbour (which isn’t) NW Tassy

It was a scene of carnage back onshore as one builders shed was demolished by the strong winds, the roof being propelled into a parked car then slicing through a wooden mast and then crushing the cabin of a nearby motor boat. Thankfully Freespirit was unharmed and my sun canopy survived in unthinkably strong winds and stinging rain.

Sail workshop

Improvised sail workshop

On the side of good news I have had a breakthrough with my leg wound. A visit to the doctor followed by an ultrasound examination revealed a occlusion in one of the major arteries feeding the wounded side of my left ankle. This blockage of the feeder arteries has led to the ulcer appearing and been a contributing cause of its resistance to heal right from the get go. From here it will be a visit to a Vascular Surgeon and hopefully an operation to ‘unblock’ it and once more allow healing oxygen to be delivered to the damaged area.

I have a appointment with the wound specialist this coming Thursday so will know a lot more then also. In the meantime I’ve been working on my sails. Repairs to my mainsail plus sewing the new maroon sun sacrifice strip onto my Genoa. Big job but it went well and I’m happy with the result. More news on these developements later.


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2 Responses to Wild West and Other Stories

  1. Greg Shakeshaft says:

    What a fantastic collection of photos from what must be one of your busiest trips. It sounds like you had a wonderful time and your descriptive comments make it feel as if I am with you almost every step of the way. I’m pleased that your leg problem has been properly diagnosed and my fingers are crossed that you have a speedy and uneventful recovery.

    I guess this is going to set your onwards trip back a bit but I shouldn’t worry as it sounds like there is lots to see and do still in Tasmania. The storm sounded shocking but a great test of all your hard work on Freespirit. Better to find out if something is likely to rip away now rather than when you are in the middle of the ocean 🙂

    Regards, Greg

    • freespirit52 says:

      Thanks for your feedback Greg, Tassy is one amazing place and I guess my leg problems will allow me to see more of it now. Funny that. The South Pacific will still be there when I’m fit again to enjoy it.
      The storm certainly sorted out the chaff, I’ve had a little work come my way because of it so I guess its true that every cloud has a silver lining!
      Hope you and the family are all well and happy and that you are getting plenty of sailing in this summer.

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