Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Wild and Windswept Abrolhos Islands

As many of you may know, we had intended to spend the summer cyclone season based in Carnarvon. However as with all our sailing plans we are in the hands of mother nature and these are really just an ‘idea’. We need to be ready to roll with plan B, C or more. 

Our Abrolhos Island friend - read on!

The high tide we needed to get through the shifting sands that guard the entrance to the lovely Fascine at Carnarvon happens in the middle of the night at this time of the year. That, coupled with the news that the sands seem to be closing the entrance and it is now even more shallow than when we went through a few months earlier meant that our stay in Carnarvon would be short. We wouldn’t be going into the shelter of the Fascine and Yacht Club for summer.

For the first time we took a spot in the Small Boat Harbour outside the Fascine for a couple of days. This is a Department of Transport harbour with no facilities for yachts but it did enable us to take on board some supplies, diesel, water etc. We also collected our Mirror Dinghy sailing rig which was waiting for us at the Yacht Club and we are very pleased with.  It should work well in the new dinghy which we'll build over the summer. It was great to catch up with everyone at the club and sad to say that we wouldn’t be staying this time round after all. We are now heading south with Plan B to be around the Fremantle to Dunsborough area over the summer months.

It was great to set off from Carnavon heading south at dawn on a day promising a brisk south easterly wind. The breeze stayed in at about 20kts all day and we made good time to Broadhurst Bay, a little spot sheltered from the south on the west side of the Peron Peninsular in Shark Bay. Our mate Pete in Zadena 2 left with us and arrived a few hours later just after the sun had gone down.

Shark Bay shags checking all is 'right' with the starboard marker and 
obliterating the solar panels in the process. The wind generator must be plan B.

As we only intended to stop for a night to have a rest, we set off the next morning for Shelter Bay which is just inside the Dirk Hartog Island channel at Steep Point and is the arrival and departure point for boats coming from or going south from Shark Bay. It was great to be back in the relatively sheltered waters of the bay again and covering familiar ground. The wind was light and variable in direction, we even had the spinnaker up for a while, but in the end we did a couple of hours motoring to finish off the day.

Happy birthday at sea to Mr Lee!

Tasty mackerel birthday treat

We had been pushing on quite quickly to get to the southern entrance to Shark Bay because there was a good weather window opening up the following day for us to do the 150 mile leg down to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. As it happened the wind was perfect for us and our wonderful Upstart, a fairly strong westerly wind all day allowing us to make really good time. We had chosen Turtle Bay in East Wallaby island as our destination because it was closest and had a good uncluttered approach and lots of government moorings. A good choice as it turned out because we arrived at 4am in the pitch dark.

Turtle Bay, East Wallabi Island, Abrolhos

It is always lovely to wake up somewhere we haven’t seen yet and this was no exception. A very pretty bay with a perfect sandy beach all to ourselves. It soon became apparent that the air strip we had seen on the chart was very much operational as several small planes flew close over the mast every day bringing a few tourists to our beach. It was a great few days we spent there exploring on the land and doing a 7km walk one day right around the island. This gave us a good opportunity to see where we were in this place of scattered islands, rocks, reefs, coral bommies and wreck sites of ill-fated sailing ships. The most notorious being the Dutch ship Batavia in 1629 with its gruesome tale of mutiny and murder.

Plenty to explore and see

East Wallabi Island's busy airstrip

West Wallaby Island is right next door and is the site of successful resistance by Weibe Hayes and his soldiers to the attacks of the mutineers from the Batavia. Then further around are Little Pigeon and Pigeon Islands and behind them can be seen Beacon Island, Long Island and Morning Reef where the Batavia struck and sank.

Bearded dragons

Island old growth

Precious shelter

Island circumnavigator

Being the history lovers that we are we had to do a self-guided tour of the places where the Batavia crew lived and died,  so we anchored and moored at all those islands while the wind wasn’t too strong. The islands for the most part are made of coral rubble which washes up with the waves. There is evidence everywhere of human habitation, shelters made from the pieces of plate coral placed around scraped out hollows in the rubble. We had no way of telling whether these were a few years old or a few hundred. There was industrial scale mining of the guano layer on the islands in the 20th century scraping the surface back below the level of the coral rubble so it is unlikely that any of the shelters are very old. The WA Museum has been doing excavation on Beacon Island where there are a lot of graves but we don't know what else they have been finding.

Long Island
Tubular textures

 coral rubble

Shipwreck shelter

It was a lot colder than we had been used to [in fact we were a bit shocked] so swimming didn’t seem that appealing but Jenni did go in the water once and reported that it was not too cold once she was in. 

Our interactions with the wildlife were interesting even though they were not under the water. It is nesting season for many of the sea birds and whenever we went ashore even keeping to the water’s edge as we walked we were still shrieked at by hundreds of birds who did not appreciate our presence. So many beautifully agile terns and larger soaring gulls and sea eagles.

White bellied sea eagle

White bellied sea eagles' nest

One good tern deserves another 

and another...

and our favourite the stylishly "punky" terns (crested)

The highlight of the week was an interaction we had with a gorgeous young Australian sea lion. We were doing a circumnavigation of a small island about 100m across, walking along the shoreline, when we noticed the sea lion sitting in the shallows with head and shoulders out of the water watching us intently. As we moved around to the other side of the island where we had left the dinghy, we noticed her following us and as we reached the dinghy she was right there waiting for us. As we began to pull the boat into the water she darted off and we both assumed we had scared her off but no, she did a barrel roll high speed turn and came straight back at us. She was excited that we might play with her and as you can see from the little video Jenni managed to capture, she kept going with her enchanting antics for quite some time.  We drifted out into deeper water and the sea lion seemed to want us to go play in the shallows some more.  Sadly we kept going back to the boat and afterwards we wished we had stayed longer with our beautiful new mate.

 Our very playful sea lion friend doing the crocodile look.
(scroll to the end for the little video)

After about 10 days or so we had a forecast for very strong southerly winds up to 30 kts so we went to a known anchorage just inside Pigeon Island which turned out to be very sheltered from the swell and waves and had nice deep sand for anchoring. Pigeon island is one of the islands occupied by commercial cray fishing houses and is festooned with jetties and bright lights. There was really nowhere to go within reach of our little dinghy in such strong weather so we settled in and didn’t leave the boat for the next 4 days.

 Blustery days baking

It had been possible for us to get a data phone signal all the time we had been in the islands by hoisting one of the phones up the mast. It was by this means that Chris discovered  he needed to go to Geraldton to do some signing of documents. So we set off as soon as the weather had moderated, bound for the biggest town we had been in since we left Albany in February. Once again it was a great sail and we covered the 50 miles easily in daylight arriving in the marina at Geraldton in the mid-afternoon.  After a week we find ourselves still in town, enjoying the fantastic foreshore, eateries, museum, gallery and other sites whilst we wait for a break in the strong winds to head out to sea again.

Here is the little video of our lively sea lion friend. If you are receiving this blog by email and don't get the video then head to the blogsite:


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Red rocks, red dust, red dog - exploring the Pilbara coast

Our voyage from the Montebello Islands to Dampier was a bit unusual. We left the Main Beach anchorage on Trimoulle Island nice and early at 4am to catch the best of the day’s wind for the 70 mile sail as it was forecast to die out during the day. As it happened the wind had gone by 7.30 and we did the rest of the trip with the sails up and the motor on very low revs. Extracting every drop of energy we could from the fickle breeze we began to round the southern end of Enderby Island in the Dampier Archipelago in the early afternoon.

 The famous Red Dog of Dampier 

This was a gentle introduction to the crazy industrial activity of the Dampier region as bits infrastructure and vessels gradually unfolded before us. We were aware of being in or on the edge of a shipping lane which some service vessels were sharing with us and others came into sight on moorings between the islands as we made our way along. As we came closer to the main action we could see a huge ship heading towards us around a corner. We didn’t know where she was headed but we could see she was empty so presumably going to one of several wharfs. As the gap between us closed she began to turn across our path churning up the silt from the sea bed with her rudder and propellers, the equivalent of wheel spin in a car. This was one of the numerous 300 metre long iron ore ships which are in and out of Dampier all the time. We slowed right down as we waited for this monster to cross in front of us and tie up at the loading dock to our right. Welcome to Dampier!

Monster iron ore ship

Crossing in front of us - busy shipping lanes

Upstart found her way into a little backwater which contained a few dozen support vessels on moorings and the wonderful Hampton Harbour Boating and Sailing Club. As we anchored and switched off our own motor we became aware of the rumble of the massive conveyer belt a few hundred metres away on a bridge over a kilometre long which was moving iron ore to the ships. Some sort of deep rumbling is the constant sound track of Dampier and together with a fine layer of iron ore dust you certainly know you are in mining country.

Hampton Harbour Boating & Sailing Club, Dampier

We stayed there for 4 days doing laundry, eating at the club, filling water tanks and doing a full day’s mission into the main town of Karratha 20km away for diesel, gas and provisions. The shopping trip was made possible by the generous provision of a loan car from the club for visiting boats.

Karratha shopping expedition results

Jenni was excited to meet up with Carol an old mate from school she hadn’t seen for many, many years. We had a lovely gourmet dinner at her house and met her partner Pete who also had a yacht in the harbour. A few days later we met them both out at Marnie Bay and enjoyed an evening on the beach playing Finska and drinking champagne.

Three amigos - friends at Marney Bay

Sunset champagne and Finska games

We then spent the next week exploring the islands in the area. None of them are permanently inhabited but many of have shacks which people use for holidays. Every family seems to have a boat with a large outboard motor and the weekends are busy. We realised what a great thing it was for the people living and working in such a filthy environment to be able to escape to the pristine waters and beaches of these islands.

Rocks and shacks, Dampier Archipelago

Rocky rocks

Ragged rocks

Rock study

Stunning Sturt Desert Peas blooming all over the islands

More bloomin' rocks

and beautiful blooms

leading to someone's front door

We could have stayed for longer than we did of course and there are a couple of spots we want to check out next time we pass. However there was a nice weather window for us to go south west and we set off for Onslow leaving Rosemary Island at 3am and anchoring in Onslow bay at 8.30pm. The wind was once again very light but we shot through the notorious Mary Ann Passage at speeds up to 9 knots with a big tidal flow under us and made good time covering the 113 miles. We were happy to have seen 4 sea snakes and many energetic whales on the way.

Mary Anne Passage tidal whirlpools

Crab sand art - Onslow foreshore

After a couple of nights in dear old sleepy Onslow we set out again for Tantabiddy at the north end of the Ningaloo reef. We had a beautiful day on the water, flat seas, gentle wind and lots of whales.  It seemed to us that  the North West Cape was a big meeting place for the whales on their journeys, there were a lot of them and a lot of breaching and tail slapping.

Humpback action

Our journey north past the Ningaloo Reef had enabled us to see some of the more accessible places along the way but on this trip we wanted to check out some of the more hidden gems. Luckily for us we met up again with Syd on his cat ‘42’. Syd is a Ningaloo old timer and was happy to help us both with marking our charts and allowing us to follow him inside the reef through some of the many completely uncharted areas.

We stopped at Yardie Creek picking our way through a rock strewn area to anchor at a lovely beach about 5 miles south of the creek. Then south to Maud’s Landing for a night then a short hop to Monck Head at Coral Bay a few miles further on. We then followed ‘42’ inside the reef to Warroora about 10 miles south, threading our way through the coral ‘bombies’ and passing some of the many small openings in the reef where waves were just peaking in the area we needed to cross. If the swell had been half a metre bigger it would have been breaking and not passable. Very exciting!

This time rather than anchoring on the beach side we dropped the hook in a sandy patch just inside the reef. This enabled us to do a really lovely drift snorkel along the spectacular reef. We saw giant clams, turtles, loads of brightly coloured fish and some of the prettiest coral we have seen.

Yardie Creek beach

Ningaloo outer reef

Underwater colour - nudibranch

The following morning we left through a gap in the reef and had a beautiful fast sail for the 110 miles south to Carnarvon. Along the way we enjoyed seeing the capes and headlands in the lovely afternoon sunshine that we had missed seeing on the way north as we had sailed up in the dark. The Cape Cuvier salt loading dock is a particularly fascinating piece of industrial infrastructure, seemingly tacked on to a nook in the wild cliffs exposed to the vast Indian ocean.  Apparently, it is one of a handful of open ocean loading docks in the world that only a small number of certified ships can use, and requires specially trained tug and wharf crew.   

Cape Cuvier salt dock

We arrived in Carnarvon at about midnight, anchored in Teggs Channel  and were welcomed by cold temperatures and warm greetings from our Carnarvon Yacht Club friends.

Skipper and mate.
A pair of white bellied sea-eagles surveying the fleet at Tantabiddi

Skipjack tuna for tea

Farewell humpbacks!

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