2019 Choices Flooring Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation
Surfing down the West Coast, two tucks in the main, half a headsail, thinking aloud “how good is this?”
What a contrast to the previous Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation cruise where the fleet motored most of the way around Tasmania, in mostly warm, sunny and near windless conditions, this year we had the lot.
2019 marked the 14th time this event has been held, and with the exception of one year, has been held biennially since 1992. Conducted by the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania in conjunction with the Royal Geelong Yacht Club, and with Choices Flooring as the major sponsor, with Events Tasmania also a major contributor. A now iconic event, the Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation rates for cruising, as does the Rolex Sydney Hobart for premier yacht racing, and attracts participants from every state and territory in Australia, as well as from overseas.
The concept of the event, instigated by well known Hobart yachtsman, Dr Joe Cannon, is to enable all who have fulfilled the entry requirements to participate in a cruise in company in the safest and most enjoyable way. Cruising in Tasmanian waters, possibly one of the premier cruising grounds in the world, offers exposure to the scenic lower East coast contrasting with the rugged wild West coast. Historic Macquarie Harbour, including the Gordon River, and the penultimate experience of Port Davey and Bathurst Harbour were for many the highlight of the cruise. All this was followed by experiencing the Hobartians back yard in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, with its myriad of secluded bays, inlets and safe anchorages.
The organising committee, chaired by Tony Cowley, met every month to meticulously plan for all foreseeable possibilities. The Committee produce a cruise manual packed with almost everything that needs to be known. This manual, along with The Tasmanian Anchorage Guide, forms the backbone of the cruise. As well as these manuals, the Cruise Commodore, the Communication Officer and many of the previous participants were only too willing to share their accumulated knowledge and wisdom.
Following the Tasmanian Wooden Boat Festival, the skippers and crews gathered at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania to hear a comprehensive briefing about the event, where most of the known knowns were revealed.
The day after the briefing, most of the forty one confirmed starters departed Hobart. After a brisk sail accompanied by large pods of dolphins, the fleet rounded Cape Raoul for Port Arthur, with several opting for Fortescue Bay and beyond. A gale warning for the lower east coast the next day meant that it was an ideal reason to stay and explore. Shoal Bay, known locally as Chinamans, on Maria Island saw the majority of the fleet settle in, with walks ashore to Riedle Bay, the ruins at Encampment Cove, and fishing in the Deep Hole. Unsettled weather over the next few days led to some dilemma as to where to hold the first scheduled beach BBQ, but it was agreed that Bryans Corner in Schouten Passage was to be the location, and a good time was had by all, with many crews meeting others for the first time. Wineglass Bay, which regularly features in Tasmanian Tourist promotional material, didn’t disappoint, with many crews staying several days, to relax or enjoy the many walks. With settled weather, most of the fleet headed north, with Binalong Bay the preferred anchorage, before heading around the corner, through Banks Strait and to the Tamar River. The Tamar Yacht Club made a huge effort to accommodate the VDL-C fleet. This was shown when 130 sailors and guests sat down for dinner and a noisy and fun filled evening followed.
After refuelling, reprovisioning, laundry, repairs and exploring, the crews restless for the sea, headed west, some to Devonport or Wynyard, but most opting for Stanley or directly to The Hunter Group. A brisk sail Westward saw the fleet split, those in Stanley Harbour sat out the howling wind, whilst those in the islands chased calmer anchorages. By now the fleet from Victoria, which had left Queenscliff and experienced a very fast sail across Bass Strait, joined the Hobart fleet. In spite of the weather, they did manage to hold a well-attended beach BBQ on Three Hummocks Island.
By day 17, the long leg to Macquarie Harbour was well underway, and although the breeze ranged from low 20s to high 30s, it was from the North East, which allowed many vessels to break the trip by stopping overnight in otherwise untenable anchorages. The next day, following a magnificent sunrise, saw the majority of the fleet through the notorious Hell’s Gate and safely into Macquarie Harbour. Here the fleet spread out, some straight to Strahan, others exploring the Gordon River, and many others to the numerous bays and inlets. Trevor Norton from the Charter Vessel Stormbreaker, once again gave several very informative talks to many of the crews who benefitted from his immense local knowledge. Strahan offered many attractions, not the least being the Heritage steam train trip to Queenstown. Some enjoyed a night out at the longest running theatre play in Australia, ‘The Ship That Never Was’, while the pub dinners were well patronised. A BBQ at the Macquarie Harbour Sailing Club offered the crews a chance to catch up, regroup, and discuss plans for the next leg south to Port Davey.
Little wind and flat water accompanied most boats as they left Strahan and again ventured through Hell’s Gate to the Southern Ocean, with swells all the way from South America. Four metre swells made an impressive sight at Cape Sorrell, and whilst not threatening, made for a rolly and sometimes uncomfortable leg. Several boats stopped for a few hours sleep behind Hibbs Pyramid, whilst others slowed their progress. Most pushed on, and by early morning the majority of the fleet were safely inside Breaksea Island and turning in for a well-earned rest. Port Davey, along with Bathurst Harbour provided spectacular scenery aided by the diverse weather conditions. Everything from tremendous hailstorms with 40kt wind, to glassy calm and warm days. Crews took advantage of the opportunity to journey to Melaleuca, climb Mount Rugby, and explore the numerous secluded anchorages while many made the trip up the Davey River to the gorges. Fortunately the tides coincided with a warm day, enabling the customary beach cricket match and BBQ at Bramble Cove. It was an impressive sight to see almost the entire fleet nestled beneath Mt Misery in the late afternoon sun.
The BBQ signalled the time to leave Port Davey, and the following day saw the dawn patrol sail towards South West Cape, where the recorded swell height had dropped from more than 10 metres down to a manageable 3-4 metres, but even this was impressive enough for most. Grey skies with generally light breezes made for an uneventful passage, past the notorious Maatsuyker Island with its stark lighthouse catching the odd ray of sunshine, whilst looking north towards the mountains was a great example of fifty shades of grey.
As all but a few stragglers were now safely in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, boats spread out to do their own thing. The next stop was Dover, where unfortunately due to a few days holdup along our way, we had to miss the Dover Sailing Club’s Friday night knees up, which in the past has been a highlight of the cruise. After Dover, more than half the fleet made it to Cygnet, where the Port Cygnet Sailing Club held their special VDL-C dinner. Judging by the noise level it must have been a good evening as the clubhouse was packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. From Cygnet, the last scheduled BBQ was held at Quarantine in Barnes Bay, and in spite of many boats heading for Hobart, was well attended with lots of food to go around. The weather for the final leg to Hobart was kind, with most boats accommodated in the RYCT Marina within the next few days.
RYCT Commodore, Tracy Matthews, welcomed all crews and guests at The Cruise Dinner. This marked the official conclusion of the Hobart-to-Hobart 2019 VDL Cruise. Here, the skipper of each vessel that completed the circumnavigation was presented with a cast medallion. Tracy Matthews presented The Francois Visscher Vessel of the Fleet Trophy, chosen by popular vote by all crews, to John and Elysse Cole-Cook on Barcoo, who also received The Admiral Sir Guy Wyatt Trophy for the ‘best kept’ Log Book. Margaret Coulson, on board TaiLana received the Captain James Kelly Trophy for the ‘most interesting’ Log Book. The Mathew Flinders Trophy was awarded to Jeremy Firth on Rosinante for his role as Communications Officer. David Meldrum on Crispian, as The Cruise Commodore was presented with The Mac Forster Memorial Trophy. Tim Drew and Terry Triggs, representing our major sponsor, Choices Flooring, were presented with a Medallion Plaque and Flag in acknowledgment of their significant contribution to the event, and announced that their organisation would continue to sponsor the 2021 event. The Tasmanian Government through Events Tasmania was acknowledged for their contribution. Several other light hearted awards were presented, The ‘Bolter Award’ to Steven Spaulding on Sancerre for being the first boat home, the ‘Golden Microphone’ to Ian Ravenwood on Ariel for his radio relaying assistance. Bob Cleary donated a book for the last boat around South West Cape in memory of John Kennedy, and this went to Craig and Janette Hansen on board Napea.
The following afternoon, Bill Newman, Cruise Commodore of the Victorian fleet, conducted a thorough briefing for the continuation of their cruise.
After a few days of provisioning, repairs including several boats on the slip, sight seeing and the usual big city activities, the Victorian contingent headed off to Port Arthur and beyond. Once again, gale warnings prevailed. Consequently those who had left Hobart were holed up for several days, before breaking out to Maria Island. The fleet enjoyed a few sunny days at Maria Island before a mad dash to Triabunna to wait out the next front, complete with howling wind, thunder storms, lightning and heavy rain.
Eventually the conditions eased and the fleet headed north, with most opting for Wineglass Bay. After another howling night, the SW eased below 20kt and an early start saw all pointing north again, although the breeze did build to high 40s for several hours. Needless to say, a fast trip to Binalong Bay for another stopover, before heading to Eddystone and beyond. Here the fleet split again, with half heading to the Furneaux Group and the rest to the Tamar River. The Island group further separated, several heading to Port Phillip via Refuge Cove and others to Lakes Entrance or Port Albert. The Tamar River contingent spent nearly a week at Beauty Point, waiting on relentless strong wind and gale warnings, but they did manage to enjoy themselves with the local attractions. As soon as the conditions eased, they made a fast run to Queenscliff before heading to their respective homeports.
The RGYC had organised their Cruise Dinner for the 11th May, where The Francois Visscher Vessel of the Fleet Trophy was awarded to Allways Sunday, who also received the Captain James Kelly Trophy for the ‘most interesting’ Log Book. The Admiral Sir Guy Wyatt Trophy for the ‘best kept’ Log Book was awarded to Blue Lagoon. Cruise Commodore, Bill Newman, was presented with The Mac Forster Memorial Trophy, accompanied by a standing ovation. The evening was well patronised and deemed an outstanding success.
The number of interstate and overseas visitors makes this event a valuable and immediate economic contribution. It is also a showcase not only for The RYCT, but also Tasmania in general. One outcome of this is the interest shown for investment and relocation to the State. It was pleasing to see the recognition and acknowledgement that this event attracts from the Flag Officers and Management of the RYCT, as it justifiably deserves.
As the Cruise Commodore for the 2019 Van Diemen’s Land Circumnavigation Cruise, it has been a privilege to be associated with the event, the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, the Royal Geelong Yacht Club, the VDL-C Organising Committee, Choices Flooring the major Sponsor, and the hosting clubs. Most of all, my thanks go to the one hundred and fifty or so people who made the cruise the pleasure and fun it was.