Stepping across the Huon Valley boat shed threshold the heady earthy scent of Huon Pine invades my senses. I’m immediately transported back to the sawdust-rich floor of my grandfather’s workshop where my siblings and cousins would tumble in the dust during our annual holidays. Grandad’s lathe, along with his ubiquitous gemstone tumbler, created background harmonies to the squeals of a generation of carefree kids unconstrained by today’s micro-managed playtime attitudes.
Walking around the workshop at Tasmania’s Wooden Boat Centre, it feels as though I’ve stepped back in time to my Grandfathers era. Dominating the large workshop amidst the sawdust strewn floor, bathed in light from overhead skylights, is the elegant hull of a handcrafted Huon Pine motor cruiser. With her beguiling lines, I run my hands along her sensuous curves, bending close to immerse myself in her raw timber aroma. Incomplete now, it’s evident she will eventually be a head turner on the water.
The Huon River
Outside beneath a drizzly autumn sky, I wander along the rustic timber dock of the adjacent marina. On the Huon River at Franklin south of Hobart, classic wooden boats are tied alongside, many with similar features to the Cloudy Bay 36 vessel under construction inside. Graceful clinker dinghies, lines secured ashore beyond the reeds, bob beneath the open-sided boat shed. Far from the bustle of Hobart just 15nm northwards, the silence is intermittently broken by machinery sounds emanating from students inside the boat shed working towards their Diplomas in Wooden Boatbuilding.
With a strong and proud tradition of boat building the Huon River region has much to entice boat owners. The shoreline holds a plethora of protected coves and bays dotted with picturesque uncrowded anchorages. While the western skyline is dominated by the sometimes snow-capped craggy peaks of Hartz Mountains National Park, down at sea level, fruit orchards and vineyards tumble down to the shore. Bruny Island to the east provides protection from offshore swells, while the D’Entrecasteaux Channel allows access to the Huon River.
Port Cygnet and its village offer an interesting deviation upon leaving the Channel behind and heading upriver. On the Huon River itself near Shipwrights Point at Port Huon, the Kermandie Marina and Hotel provide an enticing destination for sailors. The River View Gallery and Wine Bar overlooking the marina and Huon Valley beyond has a terrific selection of Tasmanian wines. Here you’ll find the sort of wholesome old-fashioned food and service the region is renowned for. Owned by yachtsman and Sydney businessman Sean Langman, the marina operates a delivery service for sailors who don’t have the time or inclination to sail their own yachts south across Bass Strait. It’s a clever idea that allows time-poor boat owners to enjoy cruising southern Tasmania without having to deal with the logistics of actually sailing the coastal passage themselves.
The Huon River is navigable for shallow draft vessels all the way to Huonville, with appropriate caution and local knowledge. A more realistic option however for most yacht owners, would be to load the dinghy for a day trip upstream beyond the aforementioned Wooden Boat Centre.
Northwards of where the Huon River and the D’Entrecasteaux Channel meet, Little Oyster Cove and the town of Kettering offer sheltered anchorage and marinas. The Bruny Island car ferry departs from here.
Southwards, and Port Esperance has the town of Dover at its centre. The Port Esperance Sailing Club has an active membership base, holding a well supported sailing regatta each April. Further south at Southport, with Cape Bruny and its historic island based lighthouse visible, shallow draft vessels can navigate the Lune River, a location regularly featured in Tasmanian Archibald Prize winning artist Geoff Dyer’s work. A monument at Southport Bluff commemorates a shameful episode of the convict era, when a transport ship was wrecked and guards refused to release convicts from their shackles, allowing all to drown.
Southern Tasmania weather
According to Cruising Tasmania author J Brettingham-Moore, Tasmania’s weather is largely controlled by the passage, from west to east, of low-pressure systems. During the summer, which is the best time to cruise, the cold fronts associated with these systems generally pass south of Tasmania, causing predominantly westerly winds. Brettingham-Moore quotes a soothing statistic to ease a cruising sailors anxiety levels: during summer and autumn, winds in excess of 35 knots occur less than 4% of the time.
Though for sailors who don’t mind a little crispness in the air, calm winter days between low pressure systems offer glassed-out water and calm conditions. With the auxiliary engine doing double time as cabin heater, southern Tasmania in winter can also reward the cruising sailor. Tucked deep into a forested cove, with a hearty pot of soup on the stove wafting through the cabin and a bottle of Tasmanian Shiraz on hand, it’s just how I imagine the future owner of that Cloudy Bay 36 whiling away many enjoyable years.
Kermandie Marina at Port Huon is accessible by a marked channel. Recently upgraded with floating docks and a haul out facility, there’s an indoor heated swimming pool next door. The art deco styled Kermandie Hotel overlooks the Huon River and marina, serving breakfast lunch and dinner.
Huon Hwy Port Huon Ph 03 6297 1052
Wooden Boat Centre at Franklin is upstream from Port Huon, approximately halfway to Huonville, requires local knowledge to navigate the river. Visitors are welcome to call into the Wooden Boat Discovery Centre. Ph 03 6266 3586
Oyster Cove Marina at Kettering expanded their marina facilities a few years back. Ph 03 6267 4418