After a hard 33-day crossing in the Roaring Forties from Cape Town, South Africa, Jeannie, my wife and shipmate of over four decades, and I arrived to kiss the dock in Albany, a small but well-serviced Victorian town on Australia’s southwestern coast. We were glad the trip was over, but after repairing and provisioning Onora, our 62ft, Chuck Paine-designed, Kelly Archer-built aluminum cutter, I was excited at the prospect of following in the wake of Matthew Flinders, the English naval officer who surveyed these shores 200 years ago in competition with the French captain Nicolas Baudin—the two of them leaving various English and French place names in their wake.
The distance from Cape Leeuwin in the west to Tasmania’s South East Cape is 1,600 miles. It’s inhabited by many kangaroos but few people and noted for its challenging sailing. We would cover long stretches of uninhabited sandy shoreline broken by the Recherche Archipelago, the Spencer Gulf, Kangaroo Island, Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay and finally, Tasmania, on the far side of the Bass Strait. In the middle also lies the Great Australian Bight, which captures the deep lows that swirl up from the Southern Ocean to break upon its barren shores.