Tasman Island

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Despite the fact that I've never landed on, or lived near, or even had my parking spot taken by Tasman Island, I've held a grudge against it. Let me tell you why..


In the summer of 87/88 I was preparing to start my first year of Fine Art at UTas (or Ye Very Olde University of Van Diemons Land as it was then known). I was also preparing to participate in the Tall Ships race on my Grandfathers boat, the Delphis.   

The preparations generally involved a great many alterations to the boat.  One of which was the addition of a figurehead to the bowsprit.  This was a dolphin shaped thing that extended an extra foot or so from the existing bowsprit. It wasn't just decorative, it was also so that we made the minimum length requirement of an official tall ship - 40 feet.  

So we were the littlest of  boats, in a fleet of giants.   We weren't alone though, Grandfather had a group of cohorts, all in various states of decrepidness, and all captaining their own quaint, elderly wooden masterpieces.   

Sailing with Grandfather was always a very shouty experience. As kids, we'd always be sent down below decks when we were heading out of, or into port, but as we grew up we were expected to contribute in more active ways. This meant occasionally having to help repaint the anitfouling on the boat (a dreaded task), but it also meant knowing what the hell grandfather meant when he would command us to do various things with great urgency as the boat careened sidewards towards Constitution Dock.  I am pleased to say that by the time of the Tall Ships race, I could understand roughly half of his instructions. It's not that I didn't know how to sail - I'd sailed my own little boat for four years, it's just that Grandfather and I seemed to speak a different sailing language.  

Anyway - after a summer of intense preparation which included a fair bit of actual sailing, the "race" day arrived and we coasted down the River Derwent amongst a huge fleet of participants and spectators.  To be honest, it wasn't really a race, it was really just a way of getting a whole lot of elderly boats up to Sydney, in a semi supervised fashion, in time for the Bicentennial Celebrations on the 1st of January 1988.   

Our progress was good down the Derwent as we had a stiff tailwind behind us. Unfortunately  this was actually the worst thing that could possibly have happened.  What we had was a Northerly. What we we needed to in order to make it to Sydney with the least amount of effort, was a Southerly.  

And if there's one thing Grandfather's striking huon pine schooner couldn't do very well, it was sail upwind.  In fact most of the fleet couldn't sail upwind very well and we all found ourselves being pummelled by high seas and headwinds.  By the time the sun set  on the first night of the race we'd made very little progress up the coast of Tasmania at all.  I remember  darkening skies and Tasman Island looming above us and a scary looking section of coast nearby. In fact we were  told during our recent tour from Port Arthur that there were no known survivors of the hundred or so shipwrecks which had occurred of the so called "Black Coast".   I can easily believe that.


So we headed out to sea and into the darkness.  Despite my many nights at sea, this was my first night out in the real Southern Ocean and boy did I feel it.  It was the first and only time I've been really sea sick in my life and it was horrible. Horrible and dark and scary.  The northerly was relentless so we were forced to head west-north-west and we tacked at about midnight to head back towards shore, ideally east-north-east, and ideally further up the coast.  


The above photo is from a different trip, but it's what I imagine we looked like that night.. 


After a long and sleepless night, dawn finally came, and what did it reveal? Tasman Bloody Island.  In the exact same spot it was before - of course I wasn't expecting it to have moved, but I was certainly hoping that we'd made some progress.  But we hadn't - not a bit.  Words can't express how disheartening that was.  I was sick, the toilet was blocked up,  we were going no-where, and to top it all off, Tasman Island was just sitting there mocking us. Stupid, hateful Tasman Island. 


By midday that day we'd made no progress north despite a succession of tacks and me and my cousin Rohan leaving a trail of berley in our wake.  By 3pm almost the entire fleet had abandoned the race and had turned on their engines so they could motor north to Sydney in order to make it on time. We also turned on our engine but the Delphis' engine had all the horse power of a miniature pony so we knew our Sydney adventure was over.  We pulled out of the race we'd been preparing for for months, after only one night of sailing. One very memorable, and truly horrible night but only one night.  It was really disappointing.  None of us wanted to return to Hobart straight away so we sailed up to Maria Island and spent some time relaxing and recovering.  I remember those few days as really good fun actually - our intergenerational 6 member crew got on really well and my cousin Rohan, my boyfriend Philip and I had a good time playing cards and enjoying our thwarted adventure.  It wasn't all bad, but that's why I've always shuddered when I've heard the words Tasman Island. In my mind it was just a big black looming hulk of an island with an extremely bad attitude.

So I was really glad that the Tasman Island I encountered when we did the seal tour a few weeks ago was a whole different place. With the sunny skies, calm winds and seals frolicking at he base of the sea cliffs it looked more like a holiday destination than a harbinger of doom.

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