Take the word ‘Tasmania’: what do you picture? Pristine wilderness, stunning white beaches, clean environment, great local food. Now try the words ‘Tasmania and cruising’ or ‘Tasmania and multi-day boat trips’. Most people seem to jump straight to the hype of the Sydney to Hobart yacht race: discomfort, foul weather, huge seas, danger, fear and dramatic sea rescues! Well, maybe that’s all a bit rich. In fact, often it couldn’t be further from the truth.
writes Braye Sutherland
Of course, I’m biased and there’s no hiding it. Tasmania is hands-down Australia’s, if not one of the world’s, best cruising grounds. It offers a multitude of protected waterways and anchorages that are often empty and always pristine and beautiful. What’s more, many of the great Tasmanian cruising spots are relatively close together and linked up by fantastic short coastal passages. If you plan well and take your time, you can cruise here staying in calm weather, going from one stunning anchorage to another, all within protected waterways. Yes, you have to work the weather and plan your cruise. Local knowledge helps, but sound seamanship and common sense linked with today’s great weather forecasts makes cruising here more attainable than ever. The beauty of Tasmanian weather is it that it does change so quickly, so an area that is foul now can be sublime shortly after. Worked properly, you should never have the horror story experiences we so often hear the visiting cruiser spouting at the yacht club bar. Those stories are more often than not the result of poor planning and impatience. These are not good traits for cruising in Tasmania, or anywhere else for that matter.
But what about getting here? Bass Strait, the Terror of the South! This is the barrier that keeps so many away. If that’s true, why is it that every time I’ve crossed Bass Strait over the last 15 years, I’ve met light breezes, calm seas, schools of dolphin like you’ll see no where else and little other marine traffic? If anything, calms have been more common than not, a cruisers dream! But more than 15 years ago, I did get a dusting or two, for three reasons:
First, I didn’t know how to interpret a weather forecast. ‘Early’ doesn’t mean 10am. The forecast day starts at midnight, so an ‘early change’ is probably what’s happening outside while you are still tucked up in your soon-to-be-uncomfortable anchorage.
Second, forecasts in those days ran for no more than 2 days, maybe with an outlook, depending on what time of the day I received it. In my early days I was always trying to go too far without stopping, always pushing the weather window.
Third, way back then I had no way of receiving a forecast once we were out of VHF range. Often the forecasts changed while we were underway, seeing us carrying on into less-than-ideal conditions rather than altering our passage plan. Today, most boats have a multitude of ways to receive BoM forecasts and they are generally so reliable I think the crew at the BoM must be practicing Voodoo Magic.
On top of that, modern forecasts look forward 7 days, with reasonable accuracy. So, learn the terms and pay attention. Plan each day carefully and make the most of variable weather to get you were you want to go with the best conditions. Here in Tasmania, there are so many protected waterways that you can cruise around safely (with a steady eye on the forecast) to find calm, all-weather anchorages where you can chill out and relax for a while.
Recently, I had 8 guests on board for four days on a commercial pleasure cruise. Two of the days saw NW – SW winds up to around 30 knots but averaging 20 – 25. We anchored in 6 different locations in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and the Storm Bay side of Bruny Island, never seeing more than a few knots at anchor and nothing more than a couple of feet of chop between anchorages, with a fine sailing breeze or calms in the lee. During the wind peaks, we stayed put. It was pleasant, easy cruising that could have been quite unpleasant had we planned poorly.
So how do you plan properly? Don’t aim to go from well known iconic anchorage to anchorage. Get a Tasmanian Cruising guide and match your anchorages and passages with the weather. In Eden, we once met a group of Sydney yachts cruising in company to Tasmania. They were dead set to go from Eden to Wineglass Bay to Hobart, just like that. Despite us trying to offer alternative routes and stopovers, they departed Eden for Wineglass Bay in a stiff Nor’ Easter and had an unpleasant passage followed by a night anchored in Wineglass with a stiff NE wind piping in – more adventure than they were looking for. We stopped at Babel Island, waited for the bulk of the breeze to go and then had a very pleasant run to Eddystone Point and on to Schouten Island. It was a great trip, plenty of great anchorages and ideal weather. So don’t hurry, make time to jump across Bass Strait. Eden is a nice place to stop, particularly on the Southern shore when waiting for the wind to come round to the NE. Some friends of ours sailed down from Sydney earlier this summer and exclaimed they had to wait a ‘long time’ in Eden – two days. To my mind, they were lucky. We spent ten days waiting in Eden once, and a few days’ wait is the norm. The Furneaux Group is magic. Use these islands to your advantage. Work the anchorages, break up your passages and take advantage of shorter windows. The weather can change quickly here, so a 24 hour window can be useful. Wait too long and you miss your opportunity to visit the next cracker little spot.
So don’t hesitate, don’t wait for the next organised cruise-by-committee with deadlines, just go. Give yourself time to get down here and take a good look around. You can easily leave your boat in Tasmania over a summer season and if you need to fly home a few times it’s not hard. If you’re still apprehensive, there are a several charter operators now, offering skippered charters. Book one, so that you can get the low down and see what it’s all about. Then come down yourself, knowing what to expect. Queenslanders say ‘Beautiful one day, perfect the next’. Here, it’s different every day – and they are all beautiful!
Braye Sutherland and his family have lived, worked and cruised internationally but now call their native Southern Tasmania home. Braye has built and sailed multiple small cruising yachts and now operates Southern Cross, a classic 62 foot timber motor sailor operating multi day cruises in southern Tasmania. www.cruisetasmania.com.au