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A stroll up the Tamar

Posted by on December 3, 2011

We had a miserable start to our trip up the river to Launceston. It blew a cold 15 to 20kt southerly and we completely stuffed the tide calculation. That meant doing 2 to 3 knots against the outgoing tide in the pouring rain and biting wind… The trip should have taken two hours but it ended up being four. Thankfully we had put a roast in the oven, so by the time we droppped anchor in a place called Devil’s Elbow, just downstream from the Batman Bridge, we could go below to a warm cabin and tuck into a tasty dinner.

The picture below was taken between the rain squalls, but somewhat captures that rather drab and wet nature of the journey:


We set off from Devil’s Elbow the next morning, making sure to check our tide times and waiting until it was obviously in flood.

Going through the chase under the Batman Bridge was exiting. The current flow is strong; we saw 9 knots over the ground, making it about 4 or 5 knots of current. There was a clear “V” of the current, demarcated by eddy lines on either side… It took me back to my old white water kayaking days! However, helming a full keeled yacht massing 12 tonnes is quite different to taking a Dancer through a rapid.

It was wonderful to slowly motor up the Tamar. It really is a beautiful river, very pretty in the lower reaches. We planned to anchor just around the corner from the Batman Bridge, in a place called Spring Bay, but it was such a nice day we decided to keep going. We passed a very pretty H28 motoring up river under headsail. Herreschoff certainly knew how to draw a nice bow.

We continued up river, past Gravelly Beach with all the moorings, past the pub at Rosevears with it’s dedicated jetty for pub-going boaties, past pretty Windemere and into the upper arches of the Tamar. The river narrows after Nelsons Flat, and sticking to the navigation aids becomes critical. There are a few markers missing, as the electronic chart shows more markers than where actually there. As an additional challenge, there are two red markers (numbers 16 and 17A) that are well into the channel these days, and there’s more channel room inside them than on the outside, where you are supposed to go.

With the tide sweeping us up the river, we ventured past Mowbray and the UTAS and AMC campuses, up past the Tailrace, Kings Wharf and finally found a side tie at the Launceston Seaport Marina.


We had minor mishap on our trip up from St. Helens; the cap on the autopilot that engages the tiller partially unscrewed itself at 0315hrs on my watch, and with only a couple of threads engaged, broke itself off. I removed the small remaining piece screwed in, and there was enough thread left on the cap to screw it back in, but clearly we needed to replace it… That meant a trip to the most amazing and awesome chandlery I have yet visited: Tamar Marine!

The walk around the end of the river was very pretty, they have a boardwalk along the water, past the Tamar Yacht Club and through the slipyard there. The wooden gaff ketch PREMIER was hauled out there. She was constructed to be the Governors yacht, from what I understand. She was in Police service for a time, before being sold to a bikie that used her for a range of undesirable activities. She fell into some disrepair until the current owner bought her and replanted and reframed her, then rebuilt her accommodations. She’s quite the impressive boat with a very pretty stern.

The trip took me through a park towards the Stillwater restaurant at the old grain silos. I went under the new bridge…


Then over the old bridge….


And had a splendid view of the boats moored at the top of the Tamar… A very bucolic scene at high tide, distinctly less appealing at low tide.


We needed to reprovision, and had some business with Centerlink in town. Larissa was keen to catch up with some writing friends so we had lots to do… launceston has some amazing architecture hidden away:


This is the old customs house, facing the river. It’s now on the outskirts of the city, but the city used to be based on the river, with ships arriving with goods to load and offload.

I went and had a chat to Callum, the manager of the Seaport Marina. The berths there are quite cheap long term, but he charges $20 a day short term. Power is extra too, billed at $0.40 per kilowatt hour, and although you can plug in, Callum needs to come down to switch it on, and he takes a meter reading at the same time. Callum and I had a good chat about the marina and the costs, and he’s a really nice bloke to boot and really laid out the welcome mat for us.

Initially we had planned to visit the marina with a view to leaving the boat there long term when I picked up some contract work. I had a good interview with a potential employer in Western Australia early in the week, and was confident I would get the job. It turns out the Seaport Marina isn’t that inviting… The mud berths mean that at low tide you cannot drain the sink. The facilities block is good, but has only one washing machine, two toilets and two showers. The gates are locked from the inside and outside, and one set of keys means that the kids need to be accompanied to the facilities block. None of this was too bad, but Callum called and said that con tray to what he had discussed earlier, we weren’t welcome to stay anymore. Not just here, but also at their other facility in Georgetown. The welcome mat had been pulled out from under us.

Then the employer from WA called to say they weren’t going to hire before Christmas and would revisit it in the new year. Bugger. Then the kettle rusted through. Not a good day.

I called Callum back to try and get an understanding of what the problem was beyond the “we are rethinking our live-aboard policy” but he was unenlightening, beyond explaining that we had arrived at the end of two or three weeks of issues in the marina, and it was nothing personal.

Some subsequent digging and chatting with others revealed that the marina isn’t making a profit, the current live-aboards have caused some complaints from the owners of the very expensive apartments that overlook them, and there is an alcoholism problem with some of the tenants. Callum wasn’t keen on the idea that I would leave my wife and kids in that environment while I worked interstate.

So we left the marina behind after we were given use of a free mooring at Gravelly Beach until January. Richard Philips, a dear friend of mine, had organized it, and even gone so far as talking with the Tamar Yacht Club on our behalf. The Tamar Yacht Club marina at Beaty point would be happy to have us, but all their berths are allocated with the upcoming yacht racing events at Christmas (the Launceston to Hobart and the Melbourne to Launceston).

So we headed up the river to Gravelly Beach. The Slipyard is under new management, with Mark and Tanya taking over from the old bloke who used to run it. They are a nice couple, and really enthusiastic. We offered our services to give them a hand, as we would be in the area for a while, and had a sticky beak through the slipyard.

This old whaling boat that has seen better days, on the hard at the Gravelly Beach slipyard.

My Dad had attended an event at Highclere on the North West Coast, and had kindly detoured on his way home to Dunalley to have dinner with us and drop our mail off. We also invited Dick Massey and his wife Brenda from the good ship ANNIE over for tea. They were with us in the Marina, and accompanied us up the river to Gravelly Beach. their 34ft passage-maker is going up on the hard at the Gravelly Beach on Monday.

Tomorrow we will attempt a reprovisioning expedition to Exeter via Stony Creek at high tide…

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