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The Spirit of Tasmania - Review


Let the adventure begin! This review in unashamedly biased towards Tasmania and its wonderful ferries - we just can't get enough of the place and the ships leave nothing to be desired! Rather oddly we couldn't find any "nuts and bolts" info on the Melbourne to Devonport trip and what to expect - hence our slight deviation from the norm in doing this review. We have tried to cover all the info not on the TT site. If you troll through newsgroups, bulletin boards (Bushtrackers/MSN Caravanners Forum etc.) and some motorhome sites you will find bits and pieces, but nobody has compiled a total fact sheet as yet. Lets start with the boats. The ships really can't be called ferries being 194.3 metres long and 29.067 tonnes. You can make a booking directly online with TT Lines on this page. You can take a "virtual tour" if you have a fast link. We used Phil Higgins the extremely helpful manager at RACT Travel in Tasmania. The service was exceptional and we certainly got the keenest prices and spot on advice. He was the only one that clued us up on the advantages of Apex fares - we couldn't find any info on the TT site. The huge advantage with Phil is you can easily change bookings if the weather turns really bad - a few links on weather on page 3. The crossing takes around 10 hours in average conditions. Crossings are usually made at night departing at 9 PM. In summer there are also weekend daylight trips. The terminal gates at the Melbourne end open at 6.30 PM for night sailings and 6.30 AM for daylight sailings. Those with mobility disabilities must check in 2 hours before sailing.


 
 
 

There are several travel options. With night trips you can either opt for a cabin or seat similar to an aircraft seat. There is a photo of these latter in this story. The cabins are either inside or outside - all this means is you have a window. And yes these are dearer. Think about it though - what are you going to see at night? Cabins come in three varieties. Deluxe - a Queen size bed, TV, internal phone, porthole views and a bottle of sparkling wine. Twin cabins are inside or outside, and two single beds. Four bunk cabins - these are often uised as two berth. You MUST book a cabin or a seat - you are not allowed to sleep in the public areas during night crossings - although many do. Things are vastly different for daylight crossings. You are not required to book a cabin or a seat. If you can afford it, in our view it is a prudent move to book a cabin, if only to give you your own private toilet facilities. In rough conditions this can save you and yours a lot of discomfort, as the queues to the public loos are quite long in nasty weather. Some message boards advise you to take your own chairs on board. This is really daft as the seating provided is in plentiful supply, and most of it is very comfortable as you can see by the photos below. You cannot sit in the open, but you can stand outside as long as you like. Those taking nighttime crossings will have few problems finding parking as the best option is to time your arrival at the dock about 1 1/2 hours before departure. This is absolutely ZERO motorhome/caravan size parking in the immediate vicinity of the wharf. Even if you are in a car the council carpark cannot cope on weekends due to a nearby wedding reception centre. You can take your chances and use two or three metered spaces right on the waterfront. On our first trip there were three weddings going on! The actual siting of the wharf facilities leaves quite a lot to be desired. A relocation to somewhere near the heads could be a win win for TT and its customers and make for a much faster transit. The CMCA Website advised RVers to use the parking lot behind the BP right on the water next to the boat club. This area has a boom gate and it CAN be closed during hours of darkness and does not reopen till 9AM-ish - like after the boat has sailed! We do have friends that have stayed there without getting locked in. The best area for freebies is in the docks area to the west of the terminal or alternatively the caravan parks around Dandenong are only an hour away. Try to find one without a boom gate otherwise you could lose your key card deposit as you may need to leave before the office opens.

TIP: If you tow a vehicle behind your motorhome on an A-frame you can save heaps if you get a ticket for yourself in the motorhome and one for your partner in the car. Up to SEVEN METRES travels free. Most long wheelbase Coasters and most Winnebago Leisure Seekers travel free.


 
 
 

After booking you will receive your tickets, (can take up to two weeks - Tassie is pretty laid back!) and we suggest you thoroughly read all the rules and regulations. Check in is very organised and quite painless. If you have a gas fridge it MUST be off and the connected gas bottle turned off as well. This is rigorously checked at the Melbourne end.

YOU MUST NOT RUN YOUR GAS FRIDGE ONBOARD

Lots of confusion as regards to the second gas bottle. The rules say it MUST be permanently connected. In practice, as most vans/motorhomes have two cylinders they let this go, provided the second cylinder is clamped. It is good practice to have your second cylinder EMPTY and the cock open just in case it is queried. Any doubtful cylinders are transported on the back of the caged utility pictured at left above. This vehicle travels out in the open. Gas fueled vehicles are OK, as is any fixed fuel supply - for example the diesel tank for a Webasto heater. You MUST surrender any loose gas/butane cylinders. These are returned just before you exit the terminal in Devonport. All other fuels in containers WILL NOT BE TRANSPORTED. Jerry cans are strictly policed. There are no exceptions. The containers must be emptied and completely filled with water. You can be inspected by security up to four times, so it doesn't pay to tell any fibs! Talking about fibs - some RVers don't provide their true length. When you check in you will see length markings on the pavement. It is so easy for TT Lines to see if you have understated overall length.

TIP: If you have a gas fridge you don't really need to completely empty it of things like cheese etc. We found that ours stays under 6 degrees after the crossing, as it is quite cold below decks and of course there is nobody opening the door.


 
 
 

Quarantine is STRICTLY enforced at the Tasmanian end on arrival - you can be checked twice and believe us they are extremely thorough, and the fines are quite horrendous. Basically anything that grows in the ground is a no no! You can take what you like onboard in Melbourne, but you must eat it before berthing in Tassie. The return journey is totally different - bring back just about anything except lettuce (Feb 2005). Pets are most welcome on the Spirit and are well cared for by the wonderfully friendly staff. Our best advice is don't hesitate to take your pet! In May 2005 we were charged just $20.00 for our Border Collie. This is recorded on your ticket. When you check in, you are given a YELLOW card. Place this in your windscreen. This lets the loading personnel park you as near as possible to the kennels. Make a note of the deck you are on when leaving your vehicle. Be certain to take everything you need with you as under no circumstances will you be allowed back to your vehicle during the voyage. In fact the vehicle decks are all locked up. Be absolutely certain to apply your hand brake firmly and to leave the vehicle in gear/park. Sadly moving cars can cause extensive damage. In rough weather the crew anchor down all vehicles. You will notice the clamping points in the floor - photo below left. Don't be alarmed but you will probably be parked next to a row of semi trailers as these lanes are much wider! The lower decks are ventilated during loading/unloading.

 
 
 

The ATM and public phones only work whilst the ship is at the terminal. On mobiles, CDMA rather amazingly works up until about four hours out. Digital drops out very quickly after leaving the heads. THe ship has an excellent PA and safety messages etc. are shown on dozens of internal TV screens.

 
 

Safety is taken very seriously by TT Lines and they have a most enviable record. The crew for instance are regularly randomly drug tested without notice. There is zero tolerance. You should be aware that rescue in the middle of Bass Strait is quite iffy due to distance and lack of other shipping. For this reason the ships have excellent safety gear, as can be seen in these photos. Toilets facilities are very good - note the hand rails for "hanging on"!

 
 
 

Rather amazingly the journey out to the heads can take up to 2 hours, as Port Phillip Bay is a very busy port even on the weekends and of couse the ship does not travel at the normal 27 knots. The channel through the heads is VERY narrow as can be seen by the photo below. Yes you can see in the portholes. We were stationary for 30 minutes due to six incoming cargo ships. The photo below left shows the excellent pride shown in the ship by the crew - everything is spotless. No mean feat as salt water is nasty stuff. If you are into photography then the starboard side up behind the ship's bridge gives the most stunning views. Yes we were on the port side photographing all the other ships! The picture below left is the route up to the bridge area. You CANNOT get up there via the lifts or internal stairs. Be careful here as the steps can be pretty moist. They do ask you to be quiet on the stairs as the crew sleeps in shifts.

 
 


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