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We meandered down the Tamar River, stopping overnight and taking in another couple wineries. As we walked to one nearby winery, we passed a couple out working in their yard who remarked "nice boat". The woman then went on to say "our chickens have just layed - would you like a dozen fresh eggs?". This is just typical of the treatment we have had throughout our stay in Tasmania. When we arrived at the winery, we met a German couple from a town called Flensberg, where we have some good friends. We struck up a conversation and they offered to drive us back to the boat. They were heading for Georgetown, the same place we were going, so I offered to drive their car there so they could enjoy a short cruise on Shear Madness.
In Georgetown we were joined by our friend John from New Zealand who would sail back to the mainland with us. Our last stop in Tasmania was to be Flinders Island, about 90 miles away. The weather was nice, but the winds were light and we ended up motoring most of the way. Upon our arrival in Flinders, we soon met Greg, who runs an abalone farm and also is a cray (lobster) and abalone diver. He offered to take us out diving that afternoon. Although it's a little warmer in Flinders than in other parts of Tasmania, the water temperature is still only 18 degrees (C) (64F), definitely the coldest water we have dived in! Bradley, John, and I dressed in our warmest wetsuits and jumped into Greg's tinny (small boat) for a wild ride out to a reef where crays are known to hang out. Rather than using scuba tanks, abalone divers dive from a boat that carries a compressor attached directly to air hoses. Greg's boat was set up with two hoses, enabling two people to dive simultaneously. Greg and Bradley were the first divers while I opted to snorkel so that I could watch them and John stayed in the boat. Within minutes, Greg had surface with a HUGE cray which he handed to John in the boat. Down he went again and up he came with another, equal in size to the first. I watched in awe as he went down again, stuck his head into a cave in the reef, and emerged again with another. In less than 20 minutes, he had caught his limit of five, with the largest weighing 3 kilos (6.5 pounds) and the small ones only about 2 1/2 kilos!
Then he said "do you want some abalone too?". When we said yes, he was off again, soon coming up with five large abs in his bag. That was it for the catching. Bradley and John continued to dive while I stayed and chatted with Greg in the boat. After discussing the ab and cray industry, and the relatively new ab farming operation, he said "do you like poetry", whereupon he began to recite various Australian poets! What a wonderful character this guy turned out to be. He and his wife Anne accepted our invitation to join us for dinner - abs and crays of course! Two of the crays fed all six of us, with leftovers! And two more would provide us with great chow for the upcoming passage back across the Bass Strait. Needless to say, we had a great night followed the next day by a tour of the abalone farm and a walk up Vinegar Hill, a local lookout.
Sadly, the time had come to said goodbye to Tasmania. What a wonderful place it has been, filled with adventures, fabulous scenery and incredible people. The friends we have made and the experiences we have had will remain with us forever. But now the Bass Strait awaits. So far, we have managed to experience only good weather in the notoriously fickle Tasman Sea, Southern Ocean, and Bass Strait. Could we possibly be lucky enough to have another smooth passage? What do you think? A front was just passing over and the winds were predicted to be 20-25 knots from the southwest, boding well for our northeasterly course. The tide required us to leave at mid-afternoon, as the winds were still blowing at 30-35 knots. This made getting off the dock in close quarters a little tricky, but after a few anxious moments, we were off. We raised out sails and soon were racing with the wind towards Sydney. As night fell and the stars shone brightly, the wind continued to blow a pleasant 20-25 knots and we enjoyed calm seas and a lovely broad reach (with the wind somewhat behind the beam of the boat). After a wonderful meal of crays we settled into our watch schedule and continued to make excellent speed, covering over 200 miles in the first 24 hours. Things continued exactly the same the next day and we covered another 200 miles. Soon, Sydney was in sight and the winds, while easing to 10-15 knots, continued to shoot us along at nice speed. For 440 miles, the seas remained calm and we had not need to motor, arriving in Sydney after a mere two days and nine hours. I would venture to guess that nobody has ever made two crossing of the Bass Strait and circumnavigated Tasmania in any better conditions than we had!
After meeting up with various friends in Sydney, it is time for me to return home. Bradley, Ron, and John will take Shear Madness north to her temporary home in Mooloolaba before Bradley returns home in a couple weeks. Then it will be time to prepare for our next adventure, another few months on the Great Barrier Reef.
On a somewhat sad note, Ron Carlson, who has been our wonderful yachtmaster for the past three years, is leaving Shear Madness at the end of May in order to spend more time with his girlfriend, Sarah. Knowing Sarah, we certainly understand this decision, but are sorry to lose Ron. Besides teaching us a lot about sailing, Ron has completely spoiled us and our guests over the past few years. Those of you who know Ron, know what a great loss this is for us. We wish Ron all the best and hope to have him onboard as a guest in the future!