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Our next destination was Strahan, about 100 miles up the west coast. As we estimated it would take us about 14 hours to get there and we wanted to arrive in daylight, it meant a 3:00am departure. It was a very dark night with virtually no visibility so we had to depend on our charts and instruments to ensure a safe route out of the anchorage and back into the Southern Ocean. Unfortunately our first two hours were on a course due west into a west wind; not a comfortable ride. I had not taken my precautionary Dramamine as the rest of course was to be north and I expected a comfortable ride - a bad strategic decision! But after we turned the corner, everything was fine and we had a pleasant trip, arriving in Strahan by late afternoon.
Strahan is a picturesque little town situated on Macquarie Harbor, which reportedly contains six times more water than Sydney Harbor. As the only town on the west coast, it is a fairly popular tourist destination and like everywhere else we have been in Tasmania, the town has done an outstanding job with its tourist attractions. The first one we experienced was Tasmania's longest running play, called "The Ship That Never Was". It is based on the true story of ten convicts from the infamous Sarah Island who were employed in building ships. They managed to steal the last ship built at Sarah Island and sailed it to Chile where several of them lived peacefully for a year before being recaptured and returned to Hobart for trial on piracy charges. They managed to escape hanging based on a technicality - with the help of the master shipwright who testified in their defense, they were able to claim that the ship had never been built and that they were guilty only of stealing a bundle of wood. If there was no ship, they could not be convicted of piracy. Thus, they were convicted of theft, which carried only a sentence of a few more years, rather than piracy which was a hanging offense.
Our next adventure was a ride on the recently restored Abt Wilderness Railroad. It is Australia's only rack and pinion (cog) railroad built in 1896 to haul iron ore from Queenstown 35 kms (20 miles) west to Strahan where it could then be transported by sea. The mines faced bankruptcy if the railroad could not be built as there was no other effective way to transport the ore. Laying the track and building the bridges was an amazing feat given the terrain. When completed, the railroad also faced the risk of using an untested new train designed by a Swiss designer named Abt. Fortunately for the mines (but not the environment!) it worked and the railroad operated until 1963 when it was closed and fell into disrepair. It has recently been beautifully restored and re-opened and is a wonderful trip. Unfortunately the mining in Queenstown decimated the Queen and King Rivers and it is estimated that it will take 100-200 more years before anything can live in the rivers or any vegetation can grow along the shores. But somehow, they have managed to turn "the world's most polluted" river into a stunning tourist attraction! We took the train from Strahan to Queenstown, where the terrible effects of the mining were visible on the surrounding mountains. This was definitely a different view of Tasmania than we had previously seen. From Queenstown, we took a scenic bus drive, covering 296 turns, back to Strahan.
Next we decided to take Shear Madness up the nearby Gordon River, a gorgeous and pristine waterway deep enough for us to get about 15 miles up in the big boat. It would be Shear Madness' first foray into fresh water! What a beautiful trip it was. The river winds through pure wilderness. There are no houses along its banks and no roads that lead to its shores. Just unspoiled forests, beautiful rock cliffs, and thick, thick brush for mile upon mile. There are two docks well up the river where boats can tie up and we secured to one of them in the early afternoon. From there, we switched to the dinghy where our first stop was a cute waterfall near a campsite where a group of whitewater rafters was just finishing a nine day trip. They suggested we take a side trip up the Franklin River where we would encounter some small rapids but would enjoy some great scenery. So up the Franklin we went. Soon we encountered some small eddies that soon led to small rapids. Bradley reassured us that as a boy scout he had earned a merit badge for whitewater rafting, though negotiating rapids uphill in a fiberglass hull inflatable dinghy with a small outboard is not quite the same as rafting down the rapids. But our dinghy (named Insanity) was up to the task. Up the rapids we went, though the propeller did take a few hits. One simply could not imagine a more idyllic setting. Not a human or boat in sight, no sound but the rushing rapids and the breeze in the trees, seeing sights most people only dream of. Soon the strength of the rapids increased and the depth of the water decreased and finally we could go no further. All we had to do now was to turn around and negotiate our way back downhill through the rapids. As the river was moving quite quickly, we decided to turn off the outboard and drift for a ways, using our oars to try to keep the dinghy positioned for the rapids. Safely through one rapid, then another, then the next. The big one was next. We had had some trouble coming up it, but were confident we knew the best way to go down. Into the churning water went Insanity and we were through - well, at least we were almost through. Then, just as our boy scout leaned out to row the last few feet, we were slammed and Insanity stopped, but Bradley didn't. Into the 55 degree (F) water he went, almost in slow motion. Fortunately, it was the warmest day we had yet encountered in Tasmania with air temperature at around 80 degrees (F) so once he was back on board, he was fine. The rest of our journey was uneventful and we spent a calm and peaceful night back on the Gordon River. The next morning, we exchanged Insanity's beat up prop for a spare and headed Shear Madness back up the river towards Strahan.
We made a short stop at Sarah Island, a former convict settlement initially known as the worst place in all the colonies to be sent. Only repeat offenders were sent there and the work was hard, rations poor, and punishment worse than can be imagined. All that changed when a new commandant arrived along with a master shipbuilder who had a contract to build ships for the government. Using convict labor, he trained many of the residents in the various trades needed to build ships and Sarah Island produced large numbers of high quality ships over the ensuing years. We arrived just before a local tour boat and were invited to join the guided tour, which we thoroughly enjoyed. It is run by the same group that puts on the play and all the tour guides are professional actors, making it a delightful tour of the island.
The weather was looking good for us to finish our the last leg of our trip up the west coast and then east to Launceston - a trip of about 250 miles. Again we timed it well, leaving at mid-morning and enjoying a very pleasant sail, making excellent time and arriving at the mouth of the Tamar River by late afternoon the next day. From the mouth of the river to Launceston is a six hour trip so we decided to break it up into two days and see some sights along the way. But first we visited Seahorse World, a combination museum and seahorse farm where they raise seahorses for the worldwide aquarium. As seahorses are in high demand as aquatic pets, the farming prevents them being taken from the wild and also allows us to learn more about their life cycle and reproductive cycle. One of the most unique features of seahorses is that the males actually carry the eggs until they are hatched.
The Tamar Valley is the largest wine producing region in Tasmania and there are a couple dozen small wineries along the river. There are also some very nice public docks for boats to tie up to, making it possible to do wine tours by boat. The first winery we visited, Marion's, had its own dock with barely enough depth for us to get to it. We tied Shear Madness up and calculated that we had to be back within an hour to ensure the tide was still high enough for us to make it out. Then we happened upon possibly the most talkative person in all Tasmania! An eccentric character, he had moved to Tasmania from California nearly 30 years ago and started one of the first wineries in the Tamar Valley. He had some nice wines and after tasting them all and purchasing a few bottles, we managed to get away and head on up the river to a place called Rosevears where we stopped for the night. Rosevears is home to the oldest pub in Tasmania which of course meant we had to go in for a drink.
There were three wineries within walking distance which we visited the next day, culminating in a wonderful lunch and good wine at Strathlynn winery with great views of the valley. We were joined there by our friends from Launceston, Mike and Betty, who were going to accompany us on the final few miles up the river into Launceston.