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Map of Australia with Bass Strait marked in light blue


Bass Strait ( ) is a sea strait separating Tasmaniamarker from the south of the Australian mainland specifically the state of Victoriamarker.

Discovery and exploration

The first European to discover Bass Strait was George Bass in 1797. Governor Hunter subsequently named the stretch of water between the mainland and Van Diemen's Landmarker as "Bass's Strait", later to be known as Bass Strait.

The existence of the strait had already been suggested by the master of the Sydney Cove when he reached Sydney having been wrecked on Preservation Islandmarker. He reported that the strong south westerly swell and the tides and currents suggested that the island was in a channel linking the Pacific and southern Indian Ocean. The Governor of New South Wales, John Hunter thus wrote to Joseph Banks in August 1797 that it seemed certain the strait existed.

Conditions

Approximately 240 km wide at its narrowest point and generally around 50 metres deep, it contains many islands, with King Islandmarker and Flinders Islandmarker home to substantial human settlements.

Like the rest of the waters surrounding Tasmania, and particularly because of its limited depth, it is notoriously rough, with many ships lost there during the 19th century. A lighthouse was erected on Deal Islandmarker in 1848 to assist ships in the eastern part of the Straits, but there were no guides to the western entrance until the Wilsons Promontory Lighthousemarker was completed in 1859, followed by another at Cape Wickham at the northern end of King Islandmarker in 1861.

Maritime history

Strong currents between the Antarctic-driven southeast portions of the Indian Oceanmarker and the Tasman Seamarker's Pacific Oceanmarker waters provide a strait of powerful, wild storm waves. To illustrate its wild strength, Bass Strait is both twice as wide and twice as rough as the English Channelmarker. The shipwrecks on the Tasmanian and Victorian coastlines number in the hundreds, although stronger metal ships and modern marine navigation have dropped the danger sharply.

Many vessels, some quite large, have disappeared without trace, or left scant evidence of their passing. Despite myths and legends of piracy, wrecking and alleged supernatural phenomena akin to those of the Bermuda Trianglemarker, such disappearances can be invariably ascribed to treacherous combinations of wind and sea conditions, and the numerous semi-submerged rocks and reefs within the Straits.

Despite the strait's difficult waters it provided a safer and less boisterous passage for ships on the route from Europe or India to Sydney in the early 19th century. The strait also saved 700 miles distance on the voyage.

Islands

Map of Bass Strait including major island groups
There are over 50 islands in Bass Strait. Major islands include:

Western section:

South eastern section:

North eastern section:

Natural resources

A number of oil and gas fields exist in Bass Strait. The eastern field, known as the Gippsland Basin, was discovered in the 1960s and is located about 50 km off the coast of Gippsland. The oil and gas is sent via a pipeline to gas processing facilities and oil refineries at Longford, Western Portmarker, Altonamarker and Geelongmarker, as well as by tanker to New South Walesmarker.The western field, known as the Otway Basin, was discovered in the 1990s offshore near Port Campbellmarker. Its exploitation began in 2005.

Infrastructure

Transport

Major infrastructure connections between Tasmania and Victoria.
The fastest and cheapest method of travel across Bass Strait is by air. The main carriers are Qantas, JetStar, and Virgin Blue. Major airports include the Hobart International Airportmarker and Launceston Airportmarker; the smaller airports are serviced by Regional Express which generally flies only to Melbourne and the Bass Strait islands.

The domestic sea route is serviced by two Spirit of Tasmania passenger vehicle ferries, based in Devonportmarker, Tasmaniamarker. The ships travel daily in opposite directions between Devonport and Station Pier in Melbournemarker, as overnight trips with additional daytime trips during the peak summer season.

Australian Olympic Bronze Medallist Michael Blackburn sailed a Laser Sailboat all the way across the Bass Strait. This crossing is also made semi-regularly by experienced sea kayakers, usually by island hopping on the Eastern side.

See Transportation in Tasmania for more details.

Energy

The Basslink HVDC electrical cable has been in service since 2006. It has the capacity to carry up to 630 Megawatts of electrical power across the strait.

Alinta owns a submarine gas pipeline, delivering natural gas to large industrial customers near George Townmarker, as well as the Powerco gas network in Tasmania.

Communications



The first submarine communications cable across Bass Strait was laid in 1859. Starting at Cape Otwaymarker, Victoriamarker, it went via King Islandmarker and Three Hummock Islandmarker, made contact with the Tasmanian mainland at Stanley Headmarker, and then continued on to George Townmarker. However it started failing within a few weeks of completion, and by 1861 it failed completely.

Tasmania is currently connected to the mainland via two Telstra-operated fibre optic cables; since 2006, dark fibre capacity has also been available on the Basslink HVDC cable.

Other submarine cables include:

Date Northern end Southern end Companies
(Manufacturer / Operator)
Details
1859-1861 Cape Otwaymarker Stanley Headmarker Henley's Telegraph Works
Tas & Vic Govts
System 140 nm
1869-? ? ? Henley's Telegraph Works
Australian Govt
System 176 nm
1885-? ? ? Telcon
Australian Government
1909-1943 ? ? Siemens Bros
Australian Government
System 285 nm.


Was reused at Torres Straitmarker
1936 Apollo Baymarker Stanleymarker Siemens Bros
Australian Government
First telephone cable, failed after only six months
1995- Sandy Pointmarker Boat Harbourmarker ASN
Telstra
First fibre optic cable
2003- Inverlochmarker Stanleymarker ASN Calais
Telstra
2005- Loy Yang Bell Baymarker Basslink First electrical distribution cable


Popular culture

See also Bass Strait Triangle
The issue of planes, and ships and people being lost in the Strait over time has caused a number of theories about the reasons. Perhaps the most thorough list of losses and disappearances has been the oft re-printed book of Jack Loney however it is possible that most losses can be adequately explained by extreme weather events.

On the popular Australian soap Neighbours, one of its most dramatic storylines unfolded when a 1940s themed joy flight to Tasmania was sabotaged by a bomb. The plane crashed into Bass Strait in the middle of the night and many character's lives were put at risk, with some drowning.

In 1978, one of the most famous UFO incidents in Australian history occurred over Bass Strait. Frederick Valentichmarker was flying a small aeroplane over the strait when he reported to personnel at a local airport that a strange object was buzzing his plane. He then claimed that the object had moved directly in front of his plane; the airport personnel then heard a metallic "scraping" sound, followed by silence. Valentich and his plane subsequently vanished and neither Valentich nor his plane were ever seen again.

References

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