We encountered almost every form of weather while we were in the Kent Group of islands. After strong icy winds through our first three days on Erith Island conditions calmed down (in comparison) – once ashore and out of the wind, it was t-shirt weather. On Monday 28 October 2019, M, Small DB and I walked across Erith Island from West Cove to Wallabi Cove – a very easy straightforward walk with park-like grasses and only a gentle incline.
Over on the actual beach there were probably more rocks than sand – big, small, smooth, rough – some impossibly rounded, looking as if they’d escaped from a landscaped garden somewhere. Rubbish count? Three Peppa Pig empty helium balloons , a couple of single use water bottles, nylon rope and various plastic bottle caps. Not great, but could’ve been worse.
We clambered around admiring the driftwood and surprising the fat little skinks that had been sunning themselves. After the warmth of the sun on our walk over, it was time to put coats back on because the wind was coming onshore.
Incidentally, we need to find out the name of these bushes – they are the new favourite of Small DB and Bunny. (Yes, environmental bush-crushing vandals both of them.)
M wanted to show us the cliffs. The cliffs. Almost stomach-droppingly high. Almost. Because heights, unlike balloons, are not something that really bother me.
From the top of the cliffs we could see Dover Island, the beginning of the Swashway and down to South West Isle – which looks far bigger than the map seems to indicate.
Small DB had not worn long trousers and struggled walking through the spiky grasses that covered the ground further up the cliffs. We abandoned that idea and wended our way back, with scratched ankles, to where the grasses thinned out. Stopped and snacked. Small DB was fading… we coaxed her and the recalcitrant Bunny back up the hill to flatter ground, where she perked up and found us pathways through the undergrowth.
Back on the beach, with feathers in Small DB’s backpack and stuck in my hair, we went back up to say goodbye to the hut, and write in the visitor’s book. One of my wishes is to return to Erith Island during February one year, have the boat at anchor and spend the majority of my time swimming and reading – with occasional rock scrambles.
The Smalls and I spent the day (Tuesday 22 October 2019) pretending Jean’s house was ours. Washing clothes, baking a lemon and yoghurt cake and making chocolate chip biscuits. (Oh it is excellent to have an oven!) I diligently fried the many zucchini I’d bought on sale into fritters. Tidied our bedroom, had a bath, oversaw sibling savageries… and thoroughly neglected my intention to ravish the lemon tree and the garden greens. I fear there may be some kind of mutiny in the Kent Group when our ‘fresh food’ is found to be largely carrots and frozen peas…
Down at the boat ramp, Jean and I saw M, ever the labrador, sitting in the backseat of someone’s dual cab ute. Everyday he seems to be getting on better with the locals, but this raised it more than a notch or two. Then the driver turned his head – it was a different version of M – his older brother Graeme. What the?! Such a surprise to see him, but also not so much. A (now retired) legendary abalone diver, he knows the underwater terrain of this section of coast better than almost anyone. We caught up with him for a couple of hours – it was lovely to see him and his wife. We took them up to Jean’s house and had a cup of tea.
Later we dined on burgers on the back deck and followed dinner with a weather meeting. It was decided to leave at daybreak and head to Erith Island – with Plan B being Lakes Entrance. We left at 6am. Ermahgerd – there was SO. LITTLE. WIND. Never have we motored for so far for so long. Inside my secret head I had wanted to stay at Kianinny until Thursday morning when there was a definite northerly, but unfortunately, a massive low from the west was predicted to move through and munch us up if we dared to try it.
We motor-sailed and motor-sailed. Then sailed. Then motored. Ford St Clair was somewhat disappointed in the benign conditions throughout. He felt cheated of the experience of ‘real sailing’ – completely oblivious to how lucky we were. We arrived at West Cove on Erith Island at about 3am on Friday 25 October – it took about two days for me to recover from the night-watches and sleep debt, which was fine – because the weather was BALLISTIC.
Williwaw: in meteorology, a williwaw is a sudden blast of wind descending from a mountainous coast to the sea. The word is of unknown origin, but was earliest used by British seamen in the 19th century. The usage appears for winds found in the Strait of Magellan, the Aleutian Islands and the coastal fjords of the Alaskan Panhandle, where the terms outflow wind and squamish wind are also used for the same phenomenon. On Greenland the word piteraq is used.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williwaw
The williwaw results from the descent of cold, dense air from the snow and ice fields of coastal mountains in high latitudes, accelerated by the force of gravity. Thus the williwaw is considered a type of katabatic wind.
Ford St Clair was the most adventurous of our crew – though M wasn’t far behind him. For the first couple of days, other than visiting the hut, the Smalls and I ventured out for one Big Walk and Climb each day. The wind stole our breath. This is what a williwaw looks like:
Imagine an arctic slashing slice of wind periodically scything through whatever happens to be in it’s path. Kind of like being run down by an angry ghost. Obviously we dug out our ‘Tasmania clothes’ – which have lain long-neglected in the back of the wet-weather cupboard.
The hut remains intact and I was so happy to see it – just as we all got inside for the first time, it began to rain, and we had shelter – as well as the potential for a fire in the woodstove and a few tunes on the resident guitar.
DB finally loses her snaggle tooth, mid-whinge. I no longer feel like I am living with a Small Nanny McPhee… The tooth fairy made it to the middle of Bass Strait – amazing!!
After breakfast we motor back to the shore. I have lost a part of my heart to West Cove on Erith Island and the little shack there. I go back inside and leave a bottle of champagne and a little knitted heart. We read the visitor’s book again and take a 2016 copy of the ‘Erith News’ and information about the Kent Group National Park. The visitor’s book has not been signed since May 2016 – we are the first in over four months. M tunes their guitar.
We climb up behind the shack, up past the cairn and plaque dedicated to Stephen Murray-Smith – he and his wife Nita began visiting the island every summer from 1962, and his family continue to make the annual pilgrimage. There is something joyfully poignant about the continuing use of the shack and the tradition carried on by friends and family. I think of my dad, and how he would have have enjoyed it here.
We climb further up the hill. The view is a marvel. Way down below us on the beach is Foamy – pulled up near the rocks where we found five fairy penguins snoozing in sheltered nooks. We are up among dense thickets, rocky outcrops, tightly clinging plants and spangles of magenta wildflowers.
Small DB finds half an empty eggshell and we guess that it might be from one of the Cape Barron Geese we have seen wandering about. “I am going to start a museum when I get back to the boat.” She picks a leaf full of seeds and a small downy feather to add to her collection. “Aunty Kaye will know what that plant is,” I tell her. “We’ll send her a photo.”
Back down at the shack, we fill our 10L water containers from the tanks – which are full to brimming. The water rippling along the shoreline is as clear as freshwater and it would be so easy to slip in for a swim…if it wasn’t quite so cold.
On board the catamaran, M and I get things ready for the next little trip. I’m surprised how reliant we are on our generator. Our boat batteries were given to us and are, in batteryland, quite elderly. We have been using our generator to raise and lower the anchor, and also to get the stove started. Before we set out, I’d thought we would use it once or twice a week when I needed to whizz things up in the Thermomix.
Once we get to Tasmania, we need to take a few days to recalibrate – test the batteries, the generator – and I need to spend some time making friends with the Ubiquiti Bullet aerial – a whizzbang accessory that has not had any use at all so far.
The sail over to Garden Cove is short and we only use the jib. It looks bleaker than Erith – the greenery looks quite different. We anchor and again I struggle under pressure to make a reliable rolling hitch. I practice several times after the boat is secure and get it right each time. I need to be able to do the same thing under pressure!!
The beach is lined with beautiful rounded stones in graduated greys and muted pinks – they are lovely to clamber about on.
Up at 6am, underway by 7am – M having fixed a blockage in one of the outboard motors that was stopping it cycling water. He had been right (WHAT THE?!) – the conditions were excellent. We pointed at 100 degrees – Deal Island – skirting around Hogarth Island.
The Smalls had benefitted from the baptism of fire that had been our first long sail. Small DB stayed in bed listening to audiobooks (and, as I found later, gently coating my bed in a soft layer of Weet-Bix) and only came out after about two hours when she began to feel ‘rotten’. Once out on deck, she recalibrate.
Small Z eventually found herself a spot in the cockpit where she could curl up with her iPad, and was, apparently, perfectly happy.
I did a lot of steering and my anxiety about a hell-sail gradually abated. I even managed to strip off my layers and go to the toilet without wanting a general anaesthetic. Huzzah!
While steering, I hit 11 knots – the wind was our friend! We saw one ship on our way, that seemed to be coming from either Port Phillip or Westernport and heading to who knows where. It was very distant – which is always a comfort. We sailed around Hogarth Island, deviating slightly from our course, and could see Deal Island in the mist ahead.
Islands/land/navigation markers are so duplicitous at sea – it’s impossible to tell exactly how far away they are. It can seem to take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to reach them. However, we made such good time – we reached Winter Cove, on Deal Island, in five hours. An EXCELLENT outcome.
What was not excellent, however, was Winter Cove. It had been recommended to us as a great anchorage by several seasoned salts. We dropped anchor (getting better at that whole process each time it’s required) and looked about. It was like we were anchored out beyond the breakers at Bondi. There was NO way we were going to be able to motor to the beach in Foamy.
This was disappointing – and there was no way we were going to cope with staying aboard the boat for three days until the weather window for us to try for George Town arrived. We pulled the anchor up and headed back the way we had come. The wind was still up and thus it only took an hour or so to get to West Cove on Erith Island.
Oh my fickle heart. Refuge Cove was immediately replaced by West Cove – it is picturesque in quite a different way. We were enchanted at the site of a green shack over on one side.
Anchoring was hard. M had read that the only spot that was secure was on the left hand side, but for some reason, we tried to anchor in the middle. Several times. And basically just dredged weed from the bottom – each time we raised the anchor it was like looking down at the top of Hagrid’s head – a Huge Weedy Mass. We motored over to the left side where the bottom became sandy. The anchor held.
We motored ashore to explore. There were Large Bird Footprints. “Oh my gosh!” said M. “Emus!”
I was, and remain, smitten with West Cove. It is so beautiful. We went walking up, following a track worn into the undergrowth and found ourselves in a kind of meadow… Cattle used to graze there…
It was getting late, so we headed back to the boat. Or tried to. The outboard on Foamy wouldn’t start, and M had to row us…