Search This Blog

02 January 2011

Bass Strait Crossing Dec 2010/Jan 2011

For more of my trip reports -

(Last updated - 12 Jan 2011 - extra photos added)

27 December 2010 - relaxing drive up to Devonport with the kayak on my Subaru. TT-Line wanted to charge us an extra $200 because of the overhang of the double kayak (1m over each end) even though they always force you to park the car so that the overhang overlaps the cars in front and behind. Eventually they 'let me off' the extra cost - but that was only because the boat was about half full.

28 December 2010
- arrived in Melbourne and hit the road by 6am - heading towards the South Gippsland Hwy & Port Welshpool. We stopped at some small towns for last minute supplies and reached Port Welshpool by mid morning on a sunny, warm day. We did a practice packing of the kayak to sort out the gear and went for a counter tea at the Port Welshpool pub.

Day 1
- 29/12/10 (by Tony Watton) - saw them set out from Port Welshpool in Matt's heavily laden Mirage double kayak in perfect, calm and sunny conditions.
Destination for today's paddle - Refuge Cove, on the SE corner of Wilsons Promontory. 46km approx.
(by Matt) We headed out into the water of the dredged channel to leave Port Welshpool in the waterway called Corner Inlet. It was high tide which meant that we could take short cuts toward the entrance.

As we rounded approached the exit of Corner Inlet, there was a large barge with a crane on it that we later heard was preparing to lay a gas pipe in Bass Strait.


By the time we left the Inlet the current was helping us on our way. I phoned Dad who was waiting at Port Welshpool to hear that there were no major dramas before he headed back to Melbourne.

It was a beautiful day and to make it even better a tail wind picked up to help us down the coast towards Rabbit Island. We stopped briefly at Johnny Souey Cove for a stretch, catching a nice little wave into the beach - bracing on the wave as we surfed. Catching the wave successfully gave me more confidence in our skills together.


A short time after this photo, we had to paddle down along 5 Mile Beach. The light tailwind swung around to be a very strong south-westerly head wind. We had a very hard battle for the 8km or so and headed towards the base of the cliffs at the southern end for some shelter.

She had been getting a lot of water in her cockpit and we didn't know why. In the shelter of the cliffs it took about 150 pumps on the manual hand pump to clear the majority of the water out of her cockpit.

With the shelter of the hills, the s/w wind became more manageable. Crossing the entrance to Sealers Cove was an open section of 1km, with the wind blowing hard out of the bay. Once on the other side we rounded another point, following the cliffs closely. We spotted a half-cabin motor boat fishing and went over for a chat to confirm that we were approaching Refuge Cove and had a chat with the 2 guys on board.

It was only another couple of k's into the beautiful Refuge Cove. There are 2 beaches in the cove - north & south Refuge Cove. The north beach is steep and more exposed to s/w swells. The south Refuge Cove beach is more sheltered and has 2 campsites. The south end of the south beach is the bushwalkers camp and the north end of the south beach is the 'boaties camp'.

We were very pleased with ourselves indeed after a successful day. We initially stopped at the bushwalkers camp and as we slid the kayak backwards into the water the Mirage rudder hit my leg and cracked the rudder - and my leg didn't feel great either.

We moved the kayak to the other end of the beach near the boaties camp. That afternoon I used knead it repair putty for a temporary rudder repair and vowed to stop sliding the kayak into the water backwards because it causes the rudder to get pushed to one side - putting extra pressure on the repaired rudder. It would be fine when we are paddling forwards ... hopefully!

To try and sort the water in the rear cockpit, I put duct tape around the outside of the combing in case there was a crack there that I couldn't detect.

My sunscreen must have washed off early because by hands & face were quite burnt &  We hadn't noticed getting burnt with the headwind in our face.

Day 2 - 30/12/10 (by Tony Watton) - destination Hogan Island. Water tank had a rusted lid, resulting in drinking water being less than ideal. To conserve their own supply they filtered the tank water, boiled it and used sterilising tablets before using it. - 52km approx
(by matt) - The alarm went off at 5am at first light and we had packed and ready to go at 6.45am. It was another fine day and there was a light southerly breeze. Leaving Refuge Cove and heading out into the open ocean there was no view of Hogan Island. My gps was telling me that we needed a course of 102° (magnetic).
(If you are using a deck compass as well as a gps it is crucial to have the gps set to be working with the 'north reference' as magnetic north NOT true north - as there is can be a big difference)

After 1½ hours - at 8.15am we spotted Hogan Island.  During the crossing many large ships pass by as this is a busy shipping lane.

After 5 hours Hogan Island looked close, even though we had 16km to go. Earlier in the day we had aimed further to the south to allow for the change of tide as we approached the island and nearing Hogan we allowed it to sweep us back to pass around the northern tip.

With the moderate southerly wind the shelter of the northern bay was lovely. We were stuffed after 7 hours of solid paddling. A dive boat was putting around the bay after just putting some divers into the water. We had a quick chat and they said they were there for some recreational diving and were heading back tomorrow.

We continued down the eastern side of Hogan Island toward the sheltered cove near the hut. The tide was now pretty low and we had to negotiate the rocks to get to the beach in the cove. Upon landing it was a major effort to do anything. We struggled to pull the heavy double kayak clear of the water and unloaded to gear so we could get the lighter kayak above the high tide mark.

We had a look around the hut and were horrified when we saw that the top of the water tank had rusted through and the water was all green, slimy & with lots of insects on the surface. We had about 2 litres of fresh water left which wouldn't last us very long.

After a short swim and a rest we walked up to the lighthouse at the highest point on the island which is around 116m high. The island is approximately 1km wide and 3km long from north south. There are no trees and it is mainly different grasses and introduced plants.


I was happy to find that my next g phone had coverage so I could get regular marine weather forecasts when I was on the high points of the island.


Although we were felling very sunburnt and totally stuffed, the forecast for tomorrow might allow us to get to Deal Island. The forecast was for 10-15 knot n/e wind which would be a side on wind from our left side - increasing to 15-20 knots around midday. It would be a real challenge but the water tank situation was an incentive to continue. I was hoping that it would be light and we could make it to Deal Island before it picked up.

We found some dead cattle around the peak bog where the cattle's water trough was. They appeared to have become stuck and just died while stuck in there.


Upon dusk the island came alive with the sound of hundreds of little penguins and we could hear them all night.

Day 3
- 31/12/10 (by Tony Watton) set out for Deal Island but turned back to Hogan Island after about 30 minutes paddling due to very rough conditions and choppy seas. 6km
(by matt) We got up early at 5am again, still feeling weary from the hard day out to Hogan Island. The wind was stronger than I had hoped and it looked like it would be from the north-east which would be side on from the left.

We headed off, unable to see Deal Island in the haze. Very quickly we found that to avoid being pushed off course by the wind and current, we had to aim more into the wind. After 3km we had a quick chat and took the wise decision to turn around while it wasn't a life and death battle to make it back to Hogan Island.

As we headed back we could see that the wind and tidal currents were sweeping us and if we had continued we would have had no chance of making it to Deal Island.

We made it back to our sheltered cove on Hogan Island and had a 'debrief'. We would have to sort out the leaking cockpit before going anywhere.

The forecast indicated that we would be on Hogan for a few days. Our essential tasks would be to try and make to tank water safe and to sort out the cockpit leaks. I phoned dad on the satellite phone to let him know we were back on Hogan and safe and would be staying there for a few days.

Resigned to this fact we worked out a system for the tank water. We would filter the lumps out of the water through the nylon bag that my MSR cooker came in. We then put purification tablets in it for an hour and then boiled it for 3 minutes. This system was using our fuel more quickly than we wanted but it was the most we could do to make the water safer.

That afternoon we walked up the hill at the northern end of the island and watched a sea eagle soaring in the breeze. It was new years eve and we had a few drinks to celebrate.

Day 4 - 1/1/11 (by Tony Watton) remain at Hogan Island - enjoying their private island paradise - unable to get to Deal Island due to the strong winds from the wrong direction.
(by matt) - We awoke to 2011. It was another clear, sunny day on a small island out in Bass Strait. I swam a few laps across our sheltered cove at high tide. We 'processed' another day's worth of tank water and I used my solar panel to charge my next g phone.

Our afternoon walk took us to the hill at the south-east of the island. The wind was howling from the south-west and from the hill we could see that we were surrounded by white caps. There were ominous looking waves around the Round Islet at the s/e corner, where the depth went from 55m to less than 10m. The currents appeared to be savage with the wind and tides at that time.


Day 5 - 2/1/11 remain at Hogan Island still due to big swells & the gale. We found 8 recently dead cows that were trapped in mud whilst trying to get to water. A very sad and sorry sight. A further 37 cows sighted were still alive that seem to be grazing at the southern end of the island - away from the area that the cows became stuck and died in the boggy areas.

Day 6 - 3/1/11 - on Hogan Island - filtering our water, walking around the island, watching the hundreds of penguins, the sea eagles, cape barren geese, our resident blue tongue, the thousands of mutton birds, the friendly local pacific gulls, the black fluffy rats that come out at dusk (that didn't cause us any probs). We swam & snorkled in our 'private' cove - watching the changing views as the tide rose & fell, & then readied our gear for a possible departure tomorrow.

Day 7 - 4/1/11 - Another big day... You have to take every precaution on the open crossings and be as ready as you can be. We each had 3 litres of gatorade type liquid available (thanks to the 'Fierce Berry' Gatorade from the hut - 5 years out of date, and in solid form) and lots of high energy food bars. We headed out at 6.30 am. The wind was moderate 10-20kts from the n/e and the tide still had a 4 hours of falling to do.

We headed out to the north of the island and stayed on the sheltered side of double rocks. There was a clear line of current caused by the tide. We ferry glided across this, angling further to the right than the straight line back to refuge cove - because the wind and the current were both taking us to the left.

We had 52 km to do and we could see the distant hills behind our destination. There were swells from the west and also from the north-east making it messy. My spray deck was letting a bit of water in every time a wave broke over us and every 30-45 mins we would have a drink break and pump or sponge the water out. This system worked well.

After 3 hours we had make good progress and Hogan Island was long behind us. We had to cross a very busy shipping lane and about 6 large container ships passed by in both directions.

After 4 hours we were accompanied by a pod of dolphins - including some babies - who swam with us and played around us for about 10 minutes. This really lifted out tired spirits.

For the last 2 hours it looked like we were so close but it took forever to get there. We were thrilled to enter the sheltered & beautiful Refuge Cove - chatting to some yachties as we headed toward the beach (they gave us more good fresh water later).

That evening a family who were there on a fishing trip (one of whom hosts 'Catch and Cook' on Austar - friday night & repeated saturday morning) - who shared their bbq with us and also gave us some of their extra fresh water - very generous & friendly people.

Day 8 - 5/1/11 - Had a little sleep in to 8am because we were only planning to go about 6km to the cove just to the north - Sealers Cove. We packed the boat and got ready to leave but there was a surging 1 metre shore break and large rolling swells coming into the bay. We headed out to see what it was like.

By the time we got out into the 'ocean' it was a washing machine of 2-3 metre rebounding waves from all directions. It didn't take long to decide there was no point of paddling only 6km in this slop so we turned back to refuge cove. To make it a bit different we put up the tent a few metres away from the previous nights tent sight.

For the rest of the day we explored the beautiful Refuge Cove area - up the hill to the south and had tea with the ranger.

Day 9 - 6/1/11 - Got up at 4.50am and started packing. The conditions had settled dramatically from the previous day. Leaving Refuge Cove the sea was quite calm and there was virtually no wind.

We aimed north directly for Rabbit Island about 15 k's away and then a further couple into Johnny Souey Cove. As we were surfing a wave into the beach we saw 4 kayaks and paddlers on the shore.

They were from South Australia and were doing a trip on the Prom. They pointed out the best camp spots & the water & headed off. We spent the rest of the sunny day (& very windy n/e head wind) exploring, walking up the hills & along the beaches. - 20km


Day 10 - 7/1/11 - We got up at 6am, determined to make it to Port Welshpool and we were hoping to have some light dawn winds - and that is what we found. We paddled the 14 km up to the entrance to the Port Welshpool inlet. The tide still had 2 hours to run out but the wind was light so we decided to see if we could make progress against it.

We did a ferry glide across the couple of k's at the entrance, successfully and then followed the shallow water passing one island and then putting up a sail for a slow, relaxing cruise to the final turn towards the Port Welshpool pier and a few kilometres of paddling to the finish. 30km approx.


The tide was still really low at the beach between the long pier and the fishing jetties. We carried all of our gear up first, then the kayak. The generous lady at the caravan park let us have a shower in one of the cabins, and allowed us to hang out in there for the afternoon. We also recharged our batteries at the cafe.

Thanks to Shane's partner Nerida for the use of her vehicle to transport the kayak, and us, back to Melbourne. We will now enjoy a couple of days here before returning to Hobart.

8/1/11 - clean up day then lunch in Melbourne


Thoughts about the trip - It seems that everyone's first reaction is "Are you disappointed?"

While it would have been great to finish in north-east Tassie, we didn't want to take stupid risks & have to be rescued ... or worse!

The first 2 days went exactly to plan. On day 3 we headed off attempting to get to Deal Island and turned back because it was the smart thing to do with regard for the weather conditions combined with the tidal currents. It would have been foolish & irresponsible to go any further in such rough seas.

After that we waited on Hogan Island for conditions that would allow us to make a reasonably safe crossing - but they didn't arrive and if we had continued to wait on Hogan Island we could still be there waiting because of the unusual lengthy spell of easterly wind.

While we were on Hogan Island we had a ball! The only downside was that the water quality in the tank wasn't brilliant - but we explored every corner of the island and were entertained daily by the penguins and other abundant life on the island.

The hut has a resident Blue-Tongue Lizard who we named Russell because that was how we identified that he was coming along in the long grass. He (or she) sat next to me for about 10 minutes one day on top of a big old sleeper at the front of the hut. His home was under the edge of the hut at the opposite corner of the hut but it seemed that he would do a lap of the hut to survey his territory each day.

We sat in the sun, fascinated by the pair of sea eagles soaring in the thermals over the island and no matter how many times a quail takes off in front of your face you are still startled! It was sad to see the cows that had died when they became stuck on the edge of boggy ground trying to get to their water.

Eventually it got to the stage where we had been there for 5 days and the forecast indicated that the next 3 days would give us more strong easterly headwinds - and after those days for all we knew it could have continued in that direction for another week and after that we still had to wait for another opportunity in the weather for the longest crossing - the 60km from Deal to Flinders Island.

We then saw a possibility in the weather forecast with the wind direction and speed for 4 Jan, where we could get back across to The Prom in conditions that we knew would still be a challenge but not as risky as paddling the 40km to Deal Island into strong headwinds in open ocean.

At every stage we made the best of our location. We met some really interesting & friendly people at Refuge Cove and enjoyed the solitude of Hogan and other parts of the Prom.

To do the trip we did deserves a big thanks from my dad - Tony Watton who came over in my car and drove it back home - and did every possible thing to help us succeed with the trip.

Shane Nichols was great to drive for hours from Melbourne on a very hot day to pick us up with the kayak and for storing it until I can head back over on the boat to collect it.

Thanks to our families & friends for the support and interest in the trip.