Above: "Spirit of Tasmania II" alongside Melbourne's Station Pier.
"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.
1:50 PM: We pass "Spirit of Tasmania I" heading in the opposite direction, back to Melbourne from Devonport, about a mile west of our track. The wind on deck is very stiff, but it is a clear sunny day with scattered clouds.
5:00 PM: We are advised over the ship's intercom that our arrival time in Devonport will be 7:00 PM. I am glad we will still have a couple hours of daylight after we arrive.
6:15 PM: Disembarkation procedures are announced.
7:00 PM: We tie up alongside the pier at Devonport, and after an hour waiting in line to drive off the ship and get through Tasmania's quarantine inspection, I make for the motel, drop my bags and rush "downtown".
At Sharky's restaurant, they were closing the kitchen, but the Mom/waitress out front gets an approving nod from the Dad/chef back in the kitchen - and I'm able to get a late dinner.