One of the wonderful boat trips you can take from Hobart is onboard the SV Rhona H. Owned and operated by the not-for-profit organisation Heritage Sailing Tasmania, SV Rhona H is the oldest and smallest of the tall ships that call Hobart home.
Built in 1942 as a fishing boat, first for recreational fishing and then for commercial cray and abalone fishing, the beautiful Huon Pine and Celery Top vessel was converted for sail training and chartering in 1988.
Julie Porter and Charles Burns, the current owners, purchased SV Rhona H in 2014, and established the not-for-profit entity that focuses on using the ship for traditional sailing, ocean conservation, and mental health and wellbeing.
It is through ocean conservation that we first encountered Julie and Charles. Like DorkySon, they are big supporters of Sea Shepherd, and we have often noticed SV Rhona H sailing down the Derwent with the Sea Shepherd flag flying proudly from her mast.
Short cruises onboard the ship are a popular choice with visitors to Hobart. There are two- and three-hour trips available, as well as a 90 minute twilight cruise in summer.
However, when we boarded the ship last Sunday morning, it was for a spectacular full day cruise from Hobart all the way down to Bruny Island Quarantine Station.
Our day started on Elizabeth Street Pier at 9am, where the volunteer crew were already assembled and preparing the SV Rhona H for a day on the water. We already knew a couple of the crew through Sea Shepherd events, but after finding a seat and tucking our bags below deck, we were introduced to the other crew members and listened to a safety briefing and a rundown of how the day would go.
We couldn’t have been luckier with the morning’s weather. As we motored out of the harbour and started down the Derwent, the sun was warm overhead, the water was calm, and the skies were bright blue.
It was a real treat to see familiar parts of the city from such a different perspective. We made our way past Battery Point and Sandy Bay, sailing past the beach where we so often enjoy a walk at the weekend, and laughing at the sight of dogs tearing up and down the sand.
Guests onboard the SV Rhona H are welcomed as part of the crew, and once we’d left the harbour DorkySon was invited to take the helm for a while. He gave it a good go for about ten minutes, before deciding it was a bit too much responsibility. By the time we reached the Taroona Shot Tower, he had given up and was focusing on the view instead. No-one on the SV Rhona H gets off that lightly though, so instead he was put to work watching the time and ringing the ship bell every half hour.
Before long, Julie appeared from below decks with a tray of warm doughnuts and coffees for everyone. Refreshments are provided on all the available cruises – depending on the timing you’ll be treated to morning or afternoon tea, or in our case both of those plus lunch with wine or cider. Water and sunscreen were also provided.
It took a little over three hours to sail from Hobart to Bruny, with plenty to see on the way. We didn’t spot any seals or dolphins, although both are a fairly common sight in the river. We did see plenty of birdlife though, and there were other boats out in the morning, so lots of people to wave to! DorkySon was slightly bemused by the habit of giving cheery waves to every boat that passed, although he soon joined in with enthusiasm. He also loved hanging onto the side when we were caught in the wake of faster boats, like the Peppermint Bay Cruiser and the Pennicott Wilderness Journeys yellow boats.
Before long we were approaching Quarantine Bay, and as we had been watching the Above and Beyond seaplane taking off and heading back upriver to Hobart, the SV Rhona H crew had been busy assembling the inflatable tender. Once we’d anchored in the bay, we donned life jackets and climbed down the side of the ship on a rope ladder before crew member Roger rowed us across to shore.
There’s something about stepping onto Bruny Island that makes me breathe more deeply. Perhaps it is simply the silence, but its almost as though you can feel all your worries leaving your body. It is a truly special place, and it was fantastic to visit a part of the island we hadn’t been to before.
The Quarantine Station is on a 128-hectare site, on land that belongs to the traditional owners, the Nuenonne Aboriginal people, and is currently managed by Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. The station itself was built in the mid 1880s and has, over the years, been used for German prisoners of war and for plant quarantine, as well as for holding returning Australian soldiers in quarantine for several weeks before they could return to mainland Tasmania.
The history of the site is fascinating, but I will confess that I spent less time reading the interpretation signs than I did watching a sea eagle soaring above us and a couple of echidnas snuffling around for ants. It’s always a delight here when you see animals so unbothered by their human audience.
Back onboard the ship about forty minutes later, it seemed that Julie had been busy in the galley again, because lunch was ready. We scarfed down our baked potatoes, cheese croissants, and hot spring rolls in something of a hurry – we could see from the darkening sky that the weather was about to turn.
As soon as we left the shelter of the bay, turn it did. Heavy rain pelted down, and the wind had the SV Rhona H leaning at quite an angle. DorkySon disappeared down below with a book, while DorkyDad and I stayed in the open air, laughing but slightly regretting our choice of jeans over waterproof trousers.
Of course, this being Tasmania, it wasn’t long before it settled down and the sun came out again, casting the cliffs between Blackman’s Bay and Kingston Beach in a beautiful ethereal light. Yet again, Julie was on hand to make sure everyone was comfortable with towels and hot water bottles.
On the way back up the river, the crew cut the motors and set sails – Charles and Julie make a point of always raising the sails as it’s such a key part of what the ship is about, and reinforces the importance of teamwork – so we moved fairly slowly, between 2 and 4 knots. It was fast enough to keep us heading in the right direction, but not fast enough to prevent us from being overtaken by the Chinese icebreaking research vessel Xue Long, which was also making its way to Hobart.
By late afternoon, our energy levels were starting to drop. Even with an abundance of warm and waterproof layers, it was hard to get cosy again after our soaking, so afternoon tea arrived at just the right time. There were two birthdays being celebrated onboard, so a generous slice of cake covered with Federation Chocolate gave us the boost we needed to make it back to the harbour.
All in all, it was an amazing day. I cannot speak highly enough of the dedicated volunteer crew, all of whom took the time to chat, make us feel welcome and check in regularly to make sure we were comfortable. Charles was full of interesting chat about the restoration work that has been done on the SV Rhona H, and Julie – when she wasn’t passing hot food and drinks up through the hatch – was keen to chat about the marine conservation work that Sea Shepherd does.
Back in Hobart, we were each presented with a certificate signed by all the crew – a really lovely, thoughtful touch – and as we stepped off the boat an enormous rainbow stretched across the sky. Another reminder of what a beautiful, special place we live in.