Wednesday 9 September 2015

Salty sketchbooks and seasickness: a winter trip to Flinders Island...


Leaving Hobart, heading for Dunalley

I'm recently back from a month long trip, back on the cray boat, ‘Climax’. This time, to Flinders Island and the Furneaux Group, off Tasmania's north east coast. Randall, Matthew and Jacob once again put up with the landlubber on board, with enough drawing equipment, cameras and general crap to sink the boat! I went, to again observe and draw everything that was going on, including the boys working.  As well as taking my usual sketchbooks, pencils and watercolours a collection of action cameras and sound recording equipment was also part of my ‘toolbox’. My aim was to capture moving image and sound, above and below the water, to see how this might be used in conjunction with my drawings back in the studio. It was another amazing trip, with so much to tell I'm not sure where to start!

Past Clifton Beach
Heading for Dunalley

Looking back towards Hobart and Mount Wellington

We departed from Hobart on a lovely sunny, but crisp afternoon at the end of July. I was out on deck, super excited (and a little bit nervous) to be back on the boat and again with ‘the boys’ for a repeat adventure, this time heading north, rather than south. Standing on top of the rope baskets filming as the Victoria Dock bridge was opened, the gentleman from Tasports stopped all the pedestrians and cars, with everyone watching as we made our passage out of the dock. I felt like it was my fifteen seconds of fame! There was also a vague impulse to rush up to the bow and stand with arms outstretched for my Titanic moment, but fortunately good sense prevailed and I refrained from making a dick of myself!

Heading past Clifton Beach, South Arm, Iron Pot, Betsey Island and onwards to Dunalley, we passed through the canal just on dark, then out the other side and through the narrows. We motored on, straight up the east coast, with no need to anchor overnight, the weather being on our side.

Approaching the canal at Dunalley

This changed late the next day as we continued on, shooting the pots before stopping for dinner in lumpy seas. We anchored out at sea on the Morris line and had a very bumpy, rolly and pitchy night ahead. My land legs and stomach suffered through dinner, but I was determined to enjoy my stripey. I got it down, every bite chewed very carefully and slowly swallowed. It’s always nice when you have to concentrate (really hard) to enjoy your dinner and keep it from revisiting at an un-opportune moment. I managed to sit at the table for a wee while after helping with the dishes, but soon decided to retreat to bed, thinking that being horizontal might be the best way to deal with my wooziness.

Descending the ladder down to my bunk, more concentration was needed and I quickly stripped down to my thermals, awaiting relief in my bunk. Much to my dismay as soon as I lay down, dinner thought it might like to head in a vertical direction. I got up, thinking that I was going to need to make a very quick leap to the toilet, not having enough time to make it back up the ladder and on deck. But with supreme iron gutted will power and sheer bloody mindedness, I managed three deep breaths and kept everything where it was. Wiping my brow and gingerly making my way back to my bunk I very slowly laid back down, hoping all would be better in the morning. Sleep stayed away as the boat rolled around all night, with me wishing there was a seatbelt to hold me in. I decided that lying on my back was the most stable position and drifted in and out of sleep until the boys awoke to pull the pots as the sun came up.

The wharf at Lady Barron

The wind had mostly dropped out by morning, making for a much more comfortable stomach and a really spectacular sunrise. I was even able to look forward to breakfast! On we travelled, crossing Banks Strait and towards Clarke and Cape Barren Islands. After anchoring again overnight, this time in a sheltered spot, not too far from land, we motored into Lady Barron after pulling the pots first thing. It was Friday and we had an invite to the Whitemark pub for tea! Conveniently also, the weather forecast said that a howler was on its way, so we sought shelter at the wharf for the next few days. We tied up to the Lady Barron wharf, Matthew’s sister Toni greeting us with a warm hello. We all piled in the car (some of us showered and smelling nice, others not so much!) and headed for Emita, about halfway up the island, to Toni and Richard’s place.

On the way to Settlement Point
Way back from Settlement Point
Tussock grass near Marshalls Beach
Ahhh, cray pots...
Whitemark golf course
Bowmans, Whitemark
West End
Road to North East River
North East River

Mt Strzelecki
Looking towards Mt Strzelecki from Trousers Beach

At the Whitemark pub

Friday night I was introduced to the Whitemark pub. Without going into sordid details, a good night was had by all, with a semi-respectable photo to show for it! For the next few days as the wind howled we all spent some time exploring the island by car, jumping out at North East River, West End, the Patriarchs, Wybalenna and a local birthday BBQ, just to name a few highlights. The Flinders locals made us very welcome, with wild man Mick taking us turkey and wallaby watching. Matthew proved to be an expert wallaby and turkey spotter, while the rest of us weren’t paying nearly enough attention apparently! Mick’s lovely wife, Christine cooked up an amazing feed of curried mutton bird for us - this was my first taste of mutton bird and I have to say it was absolutely delicious!

Wybalenna Chapel
My mate, Sheldon, looking attentive and ready for instructions...

On our last day on land before jumping back on the boat…that’s right we were up there to catch crays after all…Toni took me over to her neighbours - the local wildlife rescue refuge – specifically for wombats, of which there are many on Flinders Island. Growing up on Kangaroo Island, I didn’t see my first wombat until I went to the zoo (the only wombats on KI are the pre-historic mega fauna, Diprotodon – in the fossil record)! So, naturally I was a little bit excited to have the chance to cuddle a wee little womble!! He(?) did not disappoint! Yes, that is most definitely a smile on his furry little face (and mine – but not quite so hairy). They certainly liked their bellies being scratched.

Yes, he is smiling!!
My wee little womble!!

With the wind a little less gusty than it had been for several days, we left Lady Barron, heading south-west to Preservation Island, lying between the south western end of Cape Barren Island and north west end of Clarke Island. Preservation Island is a low lying jumble of granite boulders and beautiful little sandy bays. We worked off the western side of the island for a couple days, anchoring back in the lee over night. One day, after shooting the pots in the morning Randall decided it was time to take the tender off the back of the boat and go for a closer look around the island. Did I mention that Climax’s tender is not your typical aluminium tinny, but a jetski?! Woohoo!! So cool!! Yes, I managed to pick the only cray boat (probably in Tasmania, and perhaps anywhere) that has a jetski on the back! What can I say, I aint stoopid!!

Working on deck
Roydon Island
Clipping the crayfish's toenails! To keep them from damaging each other in the tank (boys like to fight)

Deciding whether or not to toss the annoying artist over the side?

More looks serious, so it was probably about what we were going to have for breakfast

Matthew with a conger eel 

Horseshoe leatherjackets

Jacob getting ready to 'shoot' a pot over the side

Another sunrise, yawn...

A somewhat 'painterly' early morning photo

Matthew with two Flinders Island thumpers
Preservation Island

On the jetski off Preservation Island

We went for a circumnavigation of the island and it was breathtaking! We mooched in around the rocks, up to the sandy beaches and marvelled at the crystal clear turquoise coloured water and then….thump! We hit something like a marine speed hump. WHERE did that rock come from?? What was I saying about crystal clear water? Apparently the sun was in Randall’s eyes…
Oh well, these things happen. Better on the jetski than in the big boat hey?! Hmmm, that’s a story for another day.

The lovely lady, 'Climax' off Preservation Island

Anyway, back to circumnavigating Preservation Island. After a couple of circuits we landed at the beach and went for a bit of a walk, noticing that there was no rubbish to be seen anywhere – very surprising, but good! A courting pair of Cape Barren geese could be seen off in the distance with two young chicks, so we wandered around in the shallows, leaving them be to their little island paradise.

We had a couple days of beautiful sunny weather, then headed north, past Prime Seal Island. We worked around the Pascos, Roydon Island and Cape Franklin. The weather, wind and rain were intermittent with night time anchorages in the lee of Prime Seal and Roydon Islands providing refuge when things got a bit blowy. A few days later we started pulling the pots early at 4am in readiness to spend most of the day flathead fishing off Prime Seal. Having picked up Toni (Matthew’s sister) via jetski the evening prior, the girls were out on deck trying to show up the boys. Despite having rubber hooks, us girls did pretty good!! I am now an accomplished flathead filleter and skinner – practice makes perfect! Oh boy did they taste good!

Up early, working in the dark


Yes, I caught some!!

Sunrise, working near Roydon Island

The idyllic Prime Seal

Sunset looking back towards Prime Seal

Mt Strzelecki in the distance

Calamari for tea!!

We continued working off Prime Seal, the Pascos and Roydon for several days. On good afternoons the jet ski was again taken off the back and we went exploring onshore on Prime Seal and Roydon. Our afternoon on Prime Seal was another absolute stunner, with bright sunshine and blue skies. We walked along the beach and rocks northwards, admiring more turquoise waters and the brilliant orange lichen on the granite boulders. You can see from the photo, just how orange the lichen is, especially in contrast to my blue booties.

My feet, and the amazing orange lichen

Back on the boat, fishing rods were out with squid lures at the ready for dusk. In the meantime Randall headed off on the jetski to try a few spots we’d eyeballed from our walk along the beach and rocks. An hour or so later I came out on deck hearing much laughter as Randall returned, tossing a squid up on deck as he idled past and round the stern to climb back on board. With instructions from Matthew to, “quick, get your camera,” I wondered what was going on. As Randall climbed up over the back rail and onto the deck, we were faced with a slightly sheepish looking skipper, face, legs, arms, in fact nearly everything covered in inky black goo. Apparently that’s how “professional” fishermen catch squid….

The skipper showing the results of his squid catching he doesn't have black hair normally

That one will be remembered for a while methinks, not to mention being posted on here (probably much to Randall’s dismay) ! Hee hee hee – ahh the shame of being caught on camera. It should also be said that several more squid were caught on various occasions throughout the trip, but none of us used Randall’s “professional” technique and strangely stayed free of the inky black goo!

On Prime Seal, with 'Climax' in the distance

We worked again off the Pasco group and Roydon Island with some stunning sunrises and sunsets. I took soooo many pictures of the amazing skies and water! As beautiful as they are, seeing it all in person was definitely better than the photos.

Sunrise near Roydon Island

Are you sick of the amazing sunrises and sunsets yet???

Moody seas off the Pascos

Working off the Pascos

A Butterfly Latchet, coughed up by a flathead

After being out for several weeks, our trip was drawing to a close and so we picked a good day to have one last picnic ashore with our Flinders friends. Crayfish mornay, beer and all of us were delivered to shore via jetski over several trips. A fire was built and we all sat back, ate and drank with an amazing view of Roydon Island to admire.

Roydon Island from our picnic spot

The happy picnickers

A special little note stuck to the wall in the Roydon Island hut

West End, looking back to the boat and Roydon Island in the distance

Up the hill on Roydon Island looking back to Flinders Island and the tiny white speck of the boat

On the 21st of August we headed back to Lady Barron through the straits past Anderson and Tin Kettle Islands with almost glassy conditions. On past Little Dog and Great Dog, then round Little Green into the wharf. After refuelling with assistance from wild man Mick, we filled up the water tank with lovely brown bore water – but really, who cares when you haven’t had a shower for too many days to mention?! We all showered (lucky for the locals) and headed up to the pub. It was quite a send off. First, a lovely dinner with Toni, Richard and Alison and then a few bevvies. Again we wont go into sordid details, but it was a fun night – the skipper lost at pool, I was almost married off to a local farmer and we all made it back onto the boat and not in the drink (most importantly).

Me with my grumpy face on - hangovers and boats don't mix well!

We left painfully early the next morning, untying ropes in the dark – apparently (I was still in bed). I learned that hangovers and boats don’t go well together, but was assured that hangovers went away, eventually, unlike seasickness. I’m not so sure…but it did make me feel better to know that a certain deckhand had hung over the side a few times as he untied the ropes leaving the wharf.

With another couple stops to shoot pots around Goose and Badger Islands on the way, we crossed Banks Strait and then tried a couple spots off Cape Portland and Swan Island. On our last day before heading for home we went out to a secret stripey spot, determined that this trip I wouldn’t go home empty handed. Out came the giant reels and we plunged the lines down into 62 fathoms of water, which I felt every metre of when it came time to wind back in! Weighted with a lead diving weight and hefty sinker the line was plenty heavy enough to wind in without any fish on the end!! After rugging up with beanie, jumper and jacket to keep warm in the wind and rain, I soon found myself overheating and turning into a portable sauna when I got a bite and actually appeared to have something on the end. Winding, winding, huffing, winding, puffing, winding, huffing, winding, puffing – you get my drift. Eventually, up came two striped trumpeter and four gurnards – not bad Rex! But alas the stripeys remained elusive and so after a few hours and being wet and cold, Randall pulled anchor and we started our 25 hour trip home.

Stripey fishing

We motored all through the night, passing the Bay of Fires, St Helens, Bicheno and Schouten Island in the dark. Around 7am the next morning and with the sun up, we passed the northern end of Maria Island with its stunning high cliffs. On past Marion Bay and then through the narrows, not long after low tide, just scraping through (literally). On through the canal once more at Dunalley, we tied up at Margate at 2pm to unload, where I left the boys once all our crawlies had been trucked away.

Northern end of Maria Island

A supersize Flinders Island crawly, unloading at the Margate wharf

As with my last trip, and perhaps even more so after a month away this time, it felt strange and I was again sad to be leaving the boat. My little floating world was left behind as I returned down the windy road to Nicholls Rivulet and ‘home.’ Opening the back door and stepping inside, I just stood there for several minutes, happy to be back home, but also feeling completely lost and wondering what to do.

It took me several days to readjust to ‘land’ time, catching up on everything after being out of phone range and hence internet and email for a month. It left me in a spin after the easy routine of life on the boat, not to mention the land sickness! My head was in a real fuzz for several days, feeling like I was still rolling when lying in bed at night and having to recalibrate myself to my ‘normal’ schedule.  Oh, to be on a boat at sea, away from the rush of time, hook dangling over the side, sun setting/rising and the salty wind in your face and nostrils!

Well, it wont be long until I am out there again. I’m determined to get in control of this seasickness thing. The boys tell me that eventually I wont get sick anymore. I hope that’s the case, as I’ll be ‘proper’ working next time. Did I mention that they got me a job with Fisheries as a Field Sampler?

Last time I went out with the boys, down Maatsuyker way, they mentioned that they take out Fisheries observers to do tagging, measuring etc of the crays. These observers get paid quite well apparently, and me, ever on the look out for something new and exciting to do, asked how one went about getting a job like that?

So, apparently the boys gave me a good reference, “she’s not an idiot and her feet don’t stink.” Probably one of the best job references I’ve ever had!  My stormy seas jacket, overalls and shiny new, white deckies boots are on order!! My job trial this trip was to take samples from 100 crays. This involved trimming their pleopod, recording the sex and measurement of each cray. Sounds like my first official job will be assisting with the translocation of 10,000 undersize crays that are moved into more nutrient rich and less populated areas on the west coast. They will all need tagging and measuring – and yes, I do know how to tell the difference between the boys and the girls! I’ve been paying attention!! 

I walked up to the boat a stranger, and a year later I’ve come away feeling like part of the crew. Randall, Matthew and Jacob have not only put up with me, and all my crap strewn around the boat (it rose several inches higher in the water after I unloaded all my gear), but have done so with the utmost good humour and minimal fuss. They made me feel completely at home in their little floating world. Each morning I'd get up and find a cup of tea waiting for me in the wheelhouse, a steaming bowl of porridge for breakfast after our morning shot was complete and I'd have to insist on helping with the dishes after dinner.  They have shown me some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery, fed me like it was my last meal – every day, explained the intricacies of cray fishing, showed me how to tie knots, splice rope, fillet fish, how not to catch a squid and be decorated with ink (but I think I actually already knew how to do that, it’s not me who needs the lessons in that department it appears)answered all my silly questions and all the while acted like it was no big deal. They are the most humble and unassuming of fellows and have even shared secret fishing spots and their beer with me – just amazing! These experiences at sea, will stay with me forever, as will their kindness and generosity. 

Fortunately for me, more sea adventures are to come. I’m doing my coxswains ticket, which means more time at sea as well as learning more about navigation, marine diesel engineering and ship board safety. I'm going to be let loose in the engine room next!! I’ve completed my marine radio operators license – and so can now officially talk over the radio waves. There are some discrepancies between the type of language my instructor told us to use and the descriptive and slightly more ‘creative’ language I’ve heard over the airwaves out on the cray boat, but I guess I can refer back to the handbook if any confusion arises. Actually, in regards to language, I learnt a whole new technique this trip that I believe stems from an African practice of ‘talking’ to the fish. Sometimes the crays need coaxing into the pots and require encouragement. Randall kindly demonstrated this technique when we kept pulling up blank pots. I haven’t found a handbook for that yet, so will have to refine it next time I’m out. Who would have thought that fishermen were so encouraging and were such good motivational speakers! I might have to try it out on my students who don't do their homework!!

Oh, and I was drawing too! More sketchbooks have been filled, hundreds of photographs and many hours of video. I’m having an exhibition in a few weeks time, showing some of the drawings and videos from the two trips. It's an experimental show, testing out new ideas in the gallery space. Come along if you’re in Hobart. There are rumours the show may be travelling interstate and visiting little old Adelaide next year, so stay tuned! Until my next post….stay salty!!

Pages from my sketchbook

The Deckhand, graphite on paper

Looking out (looking in), graphite on paper

The Watcher, graphite on paper

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