The Kent Group of islands is one of those mystical boating destinations that generates whispers amongst offshore sailors. It's the sort of remote cruising ground that few could pinpoint on a chart, and even fewer have visited and it's right on our doorstep, explains Fiona Harper.
The Kent Island Group (comprising seven islands and islets, all but one uninhabited) rarely even appears on conventional maps. Which is no real surprise given their location in the eastern corner of Bass Strait. It’s hardly the type of cruising ground that conjures up balmy sun drenched days and palm tree dotted beaches. What the Kent Group does offer however is gin clear water, superior diving and wildlife spotting (penguins, wallabies and migratory birds abound), along with the promise of secure, peaceful uncrowded anchorages. There’s also a fair degree of bragging rights associated with any sailor who has ‘done Deal Island’.
Perhaps the most critical aspect for any voyage to the Kent Group is to allow plenty of time, both to get there and to leave for the next port. Because of its remoteness, south east of Wilsons Prom and north west of Flinders Island, smack in the middle of Bass Strait, it is subject to often formidable weather conditions.
Mariners should be prepared to bunker down once securely anchored and patiently await the right conditions to depart.
According to Dallas Baker, a volunteer caretaker on Deal Island who, with his wife Shirley, is about to commence his fourth stint, meeting visiting yachties are one of the highlights of their three months of isolation. “We’ve had some of the best nights of our lives on Deal Island, around the BBQ on the jetty, eating, laughing and talking well into the night. Fishermen, sailors, even Customs sometimes call in to say hello,” Dallas says. “Many of the yachts are from Victoria, a few from Tasmania, while others are from all over the world.”
Yachts returning north from doing the Sydney Hobart yacht race often take the opportunity to explore the islands. “One skipper had won the King of the Derwent and was still celebrating when they anchored in East Cove,” Dallas says, recalling the impromptu party that lasted well into the night.
Managed by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife, the islands and surrounding waters come under either Marine Reserve or National Park, with craggy Deal Island the largest. Little known is the fact that, in the right conditions, it is actually possible to island hop between Victoria and Tasmania, through a chain of islands dotted between Wilsons Prom and the Furneaux Group in north eastern Tasmania.
Deal Island is host to historical sites, like the granite lighthouse (constructed in the mid 1800’s) along with the original lighthouse keeper’s residence, now used as a museum. There are also grave sites nearby as well shipwrecks located amongst the islands and reefs. Elevated 300 metres above sea level, the lighthouse keeper at Wilsons Prom, 75 km to the north reported in the past that the Deal Island light was visible on average, six nights out of ten. Today there is not even a navigation beacon on the island, though there are minor lights located on both Northeast and Southwest Islands.
The passage between Dover, Erith and Deal Island is known as Murray Pass and offers the best opportunity for seeking refuge. Running north south, the channel offers respite from ocean swells with a couple of anchorage options depending on prevailing winds. Because of their remoteness, few cruising guides cover these far-flung islands, though the Tasmanian Anchorage Guide, compiled by members of the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania, offers the following advice.
“Caution is required as the current in Murray Pass can run between 2 and 4 knots. West Cove on Erith Island is the prefer red anchorage in the prevailing westerly winds. It has good holding on a sandy bottom with some weed patches, but is subject to substantial bullets in fresh south westerlies. The alternative anchorage is East Cove on the Deal Island side close to the lighthouse jetty. It is more exposed to westerly winds but provides good shelter in the summer easterly winds.”
“Winter Cove on the north side of Deal Island provides excellent shelter in hard south westerly winds but can only accommodate a couple of boats.”
Curiously named west facing East Cove is the most convenient anchorage to visit the lighthouse settlement and museum. A path from the white sand beach winds up the craggy hill. Volunteer caretakers rotate on a three monthly basis.
There are no facilities at the Kent Group: mariners should be completely self reliant. The only infrastructure in the entire group is the Deal Island historic lighthouse settlement, manned by volunteer caretakers year round. A landing jetty is located at East Cove. Caretakers monitor both VHF and HF radios, and may be able to assist with communications in an emergency. But for most visitors, the caretakers are a great source of local and historical information, who welcome the opportunity to share a yarn with travellers over a cuppa and perhaps a fresh batch of scones.
Though the islanders are completely self-sufficient, growing their own vegetables and generating their own power, you can be sure that sailors arriving with fresh fruit and vegetables or freshly caught fish will be welcomed with open arms. Even more so if you also happen to have a fine bottle of Tasmanian Pinot stashed in the bilge.
According to Dallas, there’s a dormant lighthouse keeper in us all: the desire to escape to a life of simplicity, a life centred on nature, uncomplicated by urban burdens. Yarning with new found friends over an ad hoc meal and a bottle of red wine is part of the mystique of Bass Strait. It’s one of the reasons he and his wife signed on in the first place. “We find ourselves thrown together with strangers on this remote island, and make the most of it,” Dallas laughs as he prepares for his first winter in Bass Strait.
• AUS148 Kent Group
• AUS357A Bass Strait Oilfields
• AUS407 Bass Strait
• AUS802 Cape Liptrap to Cliffy Island
• Tasmanian Anchorage Guide (by Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania)
• Crawford’s Mariners Atlas Apollo Bay to Jervis Bay (out of print but still found in some libraries and second hand bookshops)
• Latitude 39d 25.5S Longitude 147d 15.5E
• Australian Marinas Guide www.marinasguide.com.au
Tasmania Parks and Wildlife www.parks.tas.gov.au
Friends of Deal Island www.wildcaretas.org.au