"Spirit of Tasmaina I and II" run between the port of Melbourne on the south coast of the Australian mainland, across the Bass Strait, to Devonport, on the north coast of the island of Tasmania. They run every evening all year round, but during the peak Summer months also do day runs several days a week.
Check-in starts at 6:30 AM, and I arrived at Melbourne's Station Pier just before 7:30 to see the ship already taking on cars and passengers. After an inspection for compressed gases, jerry cans of fuel, and other items that might represent a danger on board, the line of cars snake around the pier and climb a ramp towards the bow of the ship, then drop down into its gaping maw to parking belowdecks.
Lock the car, grab my camera bag, and then climb up to the passenger decks to watch the cast-off.
We depart Melbourne on time at 9 AM, and the Captain announces that we'll make Devonport at around 6:40 PM with an average cruising speed of 27 knots. It will be more than 2 hours before we even clear the mouth of Port Phillip, Melbourne's huge harbor. Once we do, 20-25 knot winds are expected for our crossing of Bass Strait, a famously treacherous 240 km-wide and 50-meter deep slot of water between the mainland and Tasmania. The number of ships wrecked along the Strait number in the hundreds and the Strait is said to be twice as rough as the English Channel.
11:40 AM: We sail beyond the headlands of Point Nepean and Point Lonsdale into Bass Strait. The seas are not rough, but there are some white caps, and the ship is shuddering and rolling a good bit more than in the protected waters of Port Phillip.