Saturday 31 May 2014

Chabjuwardoo Bay

Sailing past a camping ground near Chabjuwardoo Bay

It was an easy day sail, 10 miles in a nice wind, though overcast, the route was inside the reef within view of land so flat water all the way, weaving between two boats with some serious looking recreational anglers onboard (I trolled a line, got nothing) and dropping anchor at Chabjuwardoo Bay. The notable feature of this locale was the point nearby, about 1 Nm hike from the anchorage was a camping ground (accessible only to 4WDs) Susie and I had stayed before, but in a 4WD vehicle for our honeymoon.

Adventurous kayaker. Smart chap uses a sail!

Ashore at Chabjuwardoo
The other notable is the windvane held course on its first trial! Much better too. Real test will have to come later.

View of the land beyond the cliff, sheep pasture and giant ant hills.

Looking North, only 80 miles to the top NW corner of Australia, 
where we take a right turn. :)
1 mile hike to see the old campground


Hike back towards the dinghy
Moon at Chabjuwardoo anchorage

Monday 26 May 2014

Coral Coast

Town of Coral Bay

This anchorage is about a 2Nm or 3.5km hike from the holiday settlement Coral Bay, the closest holiday spot to Perth that is in the tropics, a 1100km drive and a favourite escape from the winter down south.

Nice swimming beach. No outboards allowed!

We did the hike to town, a place crowded with Aussie holiday makers and the ubiquitous foreign backpackers in two caravan park ghettos. Found some supplies at an understocked overpriced supermarket, sat around the bakery then headed back to the boat thinking how lucky we are not having to stay there. It is a beautiful little bay at the front of town though. 

It was different for us, in our young career as cruisers, to be in an anchorage with other boats whom we actually knew and had a good time drinking sundowners, boasting and telling tall stories no one sober would believe. I think this must be cruising!

Coral Bay shopping mall.

We stayed three nights here, one more than planned because a 30 knot gale hit us on our original departure date. So I took the opportunity to reroute the windvane lines. Direct to the tiller. No more trim tab. The vane was enlarged some time ago so should do the trick.

Sailing Mauds Landing

Saturday 24 May 2014

The Tropics

Today we crossed the Topic of Capricorn. A landmark event, and about time too! After 3 weeks in Carnarvon, extended because of nasty low passing over in the last week, we and several other boats, “the Carnarvon crew” set off on a Friday morning. To heck with superstition - something about bad luck to start a voyage on Fridays. We had bad luck on a voyage which we started on a Thursday, so much for that! It was 120 Nm to Coral Bay, and the anchorage at Mauds Landing so it was to be an overnighter, not our favourite distance.. The wind was a gentle 10 to 12 knots on the stern and Ashiki cruised along at 3.5 knots. A couple of catamarans and a large ketch who started half an hour before us were on the horizon and within 2 hours were gone from sight. I speculated they were motor sailing and found out later I was right. Motorsail to maintain a steady 5 knots. The big ketch I was told was motorsailing at 8 knots and "waited for no man".. Good for them.

Pair of cats motorsailing away (cheats!)

The wind did pick up through the day and it was a great sail. The wind vane didn’t cooperate much at all. More major changes on that front I think. We did entertain the idea to pull into Cape Cuvier, only a 40 Nm trip but on approaching, it looked more industrial than entertaining. Huge jetty, huge cliffs, massive lighting in the dusk. It is one of those Rio Tinto salt mining places and I didn’t want to spend a night in the salt mines… So decided against it. We continued on through the night, during Susie’s shift at 2am and myself asleep, the radio jumped to life. It was Kliff, one of the Carnarvon crew off our port beam, the only cruiser in a power boat, a trawler yacht. He sits on 6 knots so it was only a matter of time he would catch us, and was pretty cool having a chat out in the ocean with another boat. He had passed the “pirate boat” - a 60’ gaff rigged schooner 7 hours before, they had left after us and were sailing with their new square rig sail. Something they needed as heading northward up this coast the wind is mostly astern. They weren’t going any faster than us despite twice the waterline, because they appear to be quite under canvassed. 

Kliff said Ashiki barely came up on his radar, amongst the waves, which at that point were becoming boisterous. This is of concern, since I piled plenty of alfoil into the wooden portions of the masts, the bottom half of the them are large aluminium pipes too, so should be able to reflect some radar beam…  (on another day with less waves around, Ashiki came up clear is a bell, well, a solid blob on the screen. Nothing to worry about after all.) The trawler then took off on an oddly out to sea course, rather than our parallel to the coast course. Doesn’t he know in a SE’er the waves are bigger further out or maybe he knows something we don’t? 

At 4am, after already heavily reefed, the wind began to shriek, which to me indicates 35 knots or over. Looks like a another nasty gale to deal with and Susie uttered her displeasure of overnight trips. We dropped the foresail so we were bare poles, I lashed the tiller to the middle and Ashiki kept a straight downwind course, the direction we wanted to go, at 2 to 2.5 knots and we went below to sleep it off. This worked surprisingly well! Ashiki doesn’t need sails up to sail a good course. 

I had the pilot berth in the stern, as this one is designated for the off watch crew, the crew on watch gets the settee berth in the middle of the hull -  because it is easier to climb in and out of. But I think my berth is the uncomfortable one in a following sea. Some waves hit Ashiki square on the starboard quarter (right hand back of the hull) right where I was trying to sleep and I felt it!  

During the morning I heard Susie open the hatch to check the horizon a few times, next thing I know it was light, looked outside and saw Susie steering. She had raised 3 panels in the foresail by herself and we were cruising along at 4 knots in the still fresh breeze and swells. She didn’t want to waste the daylight hours bare poles and wanted to get to the anchorage sooner. Little while later I heard Susie exclaiming she got wet! It wasn’t a huge wave flooding the cockpit, more like lashed by a small bucket full.  But its so rare to get wet on Ashiki, she’s such a dry boat, high freeboard and light displacement always rising to the top of any wave. But it was still messy out there, winds 20 to 25 knots, waves steep and to 2m. I relieved her of her duties, raised more panels and soon Ashiki was blasting through the morning light at 5+ knots. After lunchtime we were rounding the mighty Ningaloo reef, with waves a crashing, and tacking up the bay to Mauds Landing, anchoring near two other boats, both whom we knew from Carnarvon, the cat “Calm Horizon” and the Kliff’s “Power Ready Spirit II”.

Comparing notes afterwards over a few cold ones, Kilff’s trawler had trouble with quartering waves, so tried running with them only to be hammered horribly by big swell by going too far out to sea - I get the impression motor boats have a harder time in swells than sailboats. David in the cat had also spent those hours in the early morning bare poles and thought it was leaving on a Friday was the problem. Nah, that night was nothing compared to a Thursday departure we made a couple months ago.. But our problem with last night wasn’t so much the sea, that was handled quite easily, its the fact is was a night sail and the windvane letting us down, which ruined a good nights sleep!

Note on speed, Ashiki made the 124 mile trip at 4.05 knots average (burned 1/4L fuel - only at the anchorages each end)  the 35' Cat would have done it at 4.75 knots (burned 10L of fuel). Compares very well considering a cat is the faster design.

Coastline north of Carnarvon
Muddy waters of northern Shark Bay

Safe at anchor at Mauds Landing

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Gasgoyne

Downtown Carnarvon
Carnarvon is not a big place, only 6,000 population. Its a banana plantation region with several other fruits too and is the hub of the Gascoyne, which is the name of the main river. It’s home to a satellite tracking dish which was used during the Apollo 11 moon landing. Buzz Aldrin even came here for the space museum opening 4 or 5 years ago. But Carnarvon is a much nicer looking town than when I was here 30 years ago. Royalties for Region’s $$ have has transformed the foreshore and there are nice places to sit on the main street for the numerous backpacker tourists and grey nomads (retirees driving camper vans). At night on the weekends you can hear live music wafting from the pubs. There’s something about North West towns, more relaxed, removed from the structured societies of the south, still every town has a sailing club, what’s not to like?

Murals in town

Nice foreshore park

One big difference here, from 30 years ago, is the race relations, here in the north Australia’s indigenous people are a much greater percentage of the population, in Carnarvon its maybe 30% (a guess, for Australia whole it’s 4 or 5%). Down south there appears to be angry young indigenous males around and we don’t see that kind of attitude here in Carnarvon. The locals are friendly & relaxed. Also many more of the indigenous are actually a part of the economy, which is a nice change from 30 years ago, when just about all of them were occupying the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Though, there are plenty of the less prosperous and many businesses close at 2pm as it isn’t all roses. The foreign backpackers are here in force and Spanish seems to be most heard language on the Fascine last week, French is it this week (they sit on the sidewalk talking facetime into their iPads, free wifi from the Target store…)

We were serenaded on Ashiki by this lot on the foreshore. Singing hymns on Good Friday. Not our thing really.


What we didnt see though, are the 200 to 300 backpacker Taiwanese, mostly women spending their GAP year, working the plantations and practising English, so I was told by one plantation owner at the yacht club "Couldn't do without them" he says. Taiwan TV (TBS) even came to Carnarvon to do a story. I lived in Taiwan for 9 years, but never would have thought of a Carnarvon-Taiwan link.

Park in town, no water in the pond. Water gets rarer in the north.

There’s a shopping centre near the foreshore with a Woolies, convenient for the intrepid sailor with a ship to provision. Further up the road there looks to be a large architectural marvel under construction.  Another shopping mall? It’s looking quite imposing, substantial from a distance, maybe something for the locals to behold…  a monument to their hard fought prosperity perhaps. By Thor this place is moving ahead! Getting closer we saw the sign on the chain link fence, “Carnarvon Police and Justice Complex - a State Government Project”. Umm…  ok.

Ashiki taking temporary residence at the Carnarvon Yacht Club, to take on water.

Cruiser in the Fascine, they built a pirate ship. Why not?!
"Hybrid Ark" is 60' LOD (length on deck), has a hydraulic keel which drops down, and in the shallows can actually lift the entire hull above the water! She can anchor in 80cm of water.

Another difference is the kind of boats the hard core cruisers use. Down south new production boats dominate and we are a clear minority of one, it seems. But here in the Fascine, of those doing either the whole coast (1,000s of miles), circling Australia or heading OS, older or home built boats rule (and one 40’er is even engineless). Interesting how things are in the cruising world.

Our neighbour is this smart Wharram cat with Bolger Nymph dinghy on the stern.

There is a cool bunch of cruiser’s who “summered” here, waiting for the end of the cyclone season (Nov-April) before moving north, they revitalised the local Yacht club during their stay. The club had a pile of derelict sailing dinghies and cats that no one was using. Every club we anchored near had kids flying around in racing dinghies on Sunday mornings, with adults coaching them from a RIB. Every coastal town is like this. Except, apparently, Carnarvon. The membership are quite old and the club wasn't doing much about it.  The facilities were there, but not the will. The live aboard cruisers repaired all the boats, canvassed the schools and started a sailing program on Sundays and changed the face of Carnarvon sailing. They charged a nominal fee for use of the boats and at the end of the season, spent the money on a booze up.. err BBQ. We were lucky, they invited us..  we hadn’t done any work so paid a small fee (a bargain) and got to enjoy the booze up and food. WHAT A NIGHT. Even became life members of “The Shark Bay Yacht Club”. Of course, most of them are heading the same direction as us, so it was a good opportunity to swap plans & ideas. Excellent. Carnarvon is easily our best port yet.

Fascine sunrise

Fascine sunset
Bike ride out to the jetty

At the jetty museum

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Carnarvon, new climate, new colours

From Louisa Bay it was a good 60 Nautical miles to Carnarvon. Daylight run if perfect wind, but more likely an overnighter. At 11am in perfect weather - standard Shark Bay fare, we set off, raised all 14 panels - standard Shark Bay trim, in a light but good enough breeze to push us 3 to 3.5 knots. Then 2 miles out the wind deserted us. Should we turn back to the anchorage, a 1/2 hour motor away? Or continue on at 1 knot? Not sure how we were doing 1 knot, it wasn’t the current, I looked down at the rudder and eddies were rolling of it indicating we were making weigh. A 4 knot breeze is hard to feel, its like a calm, but obviously the sails notice it.  The forecast was for a strong southerly at sunset. I reasoned there’s no difference sitting at anchor or sitting in a slow boat on flat water. In the end it was 6 hours to do 6 miles, but at least Shark Bay kept us entertained with the antics of its wildlife.

Where's the wind?
At 5pm the southerlies piped up and Ashiki lifted to 4 then 5 knots downwind. An hour later the waves increased too and Ashiki was holding 6 knots, then 6.5 to 6.8 knots the following hour still with most panels up. I kept at the tiller hand steering because we were really making time towards Carnarvon. After 3 hours of high speed surfing placing us 20 miles closer to our destination, I reefed her down and connected the windvane. With only 30 miles to go I calculated we’d reach Carnarvon before sunrise. Guess I was too eager. So reefed to 2 panels on the foresail only, keeping her under 3 knots.

Around 11pm lights up ahead separated as we drew nearer, to reveal several vessels, five in fact, which appeared to be moving in a weird random fashion relative to each other. I altered course using the windvane to pass well East of them. It took over an hour to get close enough to figure out what they were. Prawn trawlers and lit up like a football stadium night game. I’ve seen their standard operating procedure a week ago, they zig zag all over the place. One of them appeared to break away from the rest heading eastward out into the inky blackness, into our path. That was annoying, but it took ages to gain on them. I think they were zig zagging in the same northerly direct we were sailing. Thankfully the rogue trawler turned back westward to join his mates. After 2 hours we’d still not drawn level, I raised a couple more panels to speed up the process, satisfied we would pass them by a good margin I went below for some shuteye. By 2am they were still there, only just behind us, these guys were hard to shake. Still needed a slow pace from Ashiki so dropped those panels I had raised earlier and went back to sleep as she resumed her course at 2.5 knots.

Some time later, as pre-dawn light was making an appearance, Susie woke me to say the boat is pointing East. That’s not good, shallows and mangrove swamps are in that direction and sailing wildly at right angles to the course is plainly not on! Maybe we’re becalmed. I peeked out the hatch and no, there was definitely wind. A good 15 to 18 knots of it. With the only sail up being 2 panels on the foresail, and sheeted across the boat at 90˚, somehow Ashiki had turned herself 90˚ and assumed a heave to position! Took awhile for her to respond to the tiller to get her point downwind again, helps to have steerage for the rudder to work!

Since only a couple more hours to go we hand steered. The pylons marking the start of Carnarvon channel, which takes us through the shallows, was on the charts and indicated a course of 51˚. I had to take into account leeway, as Ashiki on a beam reach does blow sideways a little. The GPS tells us actual direction Ashiki is moving, the compass doesn’t tell us that, it only tells us where the bow is pointing, the difference between the two is leeway. It’s simple to figure out, I saw that pointing her at 57 to 58˚ by the compass, the GPS showed her moving at around 50 to 52˚, which is what we wanted. (Thus leeway was 6 or 7˚)

It’s always with some expectation and a little excitement when approaching a destination we hadn’t sailed to before. We love it. There were channel markers a few miles infront of us, somewhere, and who knows when they’ll become visible. I saw a pylon a long way ahead but slightly to port, and thought that was it, but no, that belonged to the mile long jetty further up the coast. We could see buildings on land in the distance ahead, it was Carnarvon alright. So no matter what, we were to hold the 57-58˚ (compass) course till something shows itself. Susie usually spots pylons and markers first, and this time was no exception. They were dead ahead, so I must have got that leeway figured correctly! It was like spotting a needle protruding from the top of a haystack at 500 hundred paces.

Carnarvon has long narrow navigation channel with a few turns in it, we must have taken the right turns because we ended up in the Fascine, the name given to that part of the Gascoyne River delta comprising the town’s foreshore. Avoided grounding, a popular occurrence for cruising yachts entering here, lucky for our shoal draft, and picked up one of the many red “Courtesy” moorings close to downtown. (I ground Ashiki everywhere else, but don't do it in a notorious area for groundings, go figure...)

Here we were, in Carnarvon, hub of the Gascoyne region, only 80 miles south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Not only a new climatic zone, the white sandy terrain is gone, it’s red soil all round. A result of being in a river delta, the dirt is from a 1,000km inland. We made it to the "North West”.

In the Fascine
Fascine mooring, Carnarvon skyline.

Saturday 10 May 2014

The Shark Bay Show

Looking Eastward, the spec in the bay would be "Small Fry".

After seeing off Goeff, an expedition ashore to climb a hill and get some phone reception (which worked) and a lunch of fresh fish, we weighed anchor and headed for the sailing tour of Shark Bay. Soon after the wind left us and I was cursing it. Not a great day to sail, I thought. After ghosting along at 1 knot, we motored for 45 minutes, then killed it. At least the glassy water looked nice, and the quiet (sans motor!) was very pleasant.

A day of ghosting, watching and lazing around.

We then started hearing “plop, plop” then another “plop, plop”..  they were dugongs, had to be quick to see them.  “Splash”  that’s a Sail Fish leaping in the distance! Never seen those before, with their sword nose and huge fan top fin. thought they remained on the continental shelf. There’s a large pod of dolphins, there’s another, then another, surrounding by them, some are leaping. Attacking a school from above.  What is that dark shape going under our boat? A hammerhead shark!  We were standing in the cockpit just gawking at our surroundings. Shark Bay is putting on a show, telling us the reason why it was given World Heritage status. We were crawling along silently on the glassy crystal clear water for several hours and didn’t care about 1 knot pace. The view was stunning, the amount of wild life was astounding.

All I could do to capture those dugongs..
View over the side, crystal clear.

The secret of Shark Bay was the sea grasses which are apparently unique and supports an extraordinary high concentration of micro organic life, which in turn supports a huge population of small school fish, which in turn attracts an abundant population of sea predators.

We aren’t getting very far so we chose a bay on the eastern coast of Dirk Hartog Island and anchored there. Only ran aground once…  I should keep a closer eye on the plotter. Got off by both of us standing to one side of the cockpit to heel the boat and powered the motor. Its an easy boat to heel over and easy boat to “unground”, knew that would be an advantage somehow..

This place is called “Red Cliff” and really was deserted. This is more like it!

Red Cliff
Dufus recorded. "DOH!" marks the spot where dufus runs
boat aground..

Dirk Hartog Island itself has history, us West Aussies have to learn about it in school. The first European to set foot on W.A. soil was Dirk Hartog and he nailed an engraved plate to a post on Dirk Hartog Island to proclaim his arrival there back in 1616. 

Aussie’s first European document.

80 years later Willem Vlamingh found the plate (in the sand, the post had rotted), took it back to Holland and replaced it with his own, nailing it on a new post. Over a century later (around 1822) English Navigator Philip Parker King found the post and reasoned the plate was taken by natives. On his arrival back in Britain he discovered the Frenchman named De Freycinet had swiped it 3 years previous.

First instance of plate theft in West Aussie history.

King then spelt his name and date with nails hammered into the post.

First instance of graffiti and tagging in Aussie history.

On the way home, De Freycinet’s boat then shipwrecked on the Falklands (he had smuggled his wife aboard - Neptune in those days disapproved of women on ships, thus the wreck - he has reformed his attitudes since..) but the plate was rescued. It ended up in a French museum, then over the next century they lost it. After WWI they found it and presented it to Australia as a gift for services rendered in that war and it (Vlaminghs plate) is now in the Fremantle Maritime Museum.

The post is still there on the Northern end of the Island. Those plates have seen a lot of action! The Hartog plate itself is in a museum in the Netherlands. But there is a replica in the museum in Denham, Shark Bay.

Between here, the Abrolhos and Rottnest we are travelling through the earliest of European - Australian history.

Dirk Hartog's pewter plate

Hartog reported the place was barren which discouraged further investigation by the Dutch, not that would have achieved much if he said anything else. Willem Vlamingh later discovered lush green land further south (Perth’s Swan River) and raved about it. Still the Dutch weren’t interested. They were after spices to trade and I guess the Willem didn’t report any growing.

Dunes of Dirk Hartog Island

Quoin Bluff, Dirk Hartog Island

A turtle!

After a nights sleep and a breakfast of bacon & eggs, we continued next day, but winds were light, so we knew we wouldn’t get far. Chose a modest distance, two bays up was a homestead with “tourist facilities on shore”, so decided to head there.

Approach to Meade Island (resort) anchorage

Off Dirk Hartog Island Resort
Ashore at the resort

It was actually the “Dirk Hartog Island Resort” and facilities were for resort patrons only. On the way in I saw something that gave me the shivers. A sea snake popped its head above the water and looked at us. I heard they are inquisitive creatures and this is the first one I’ve ever seen. Shark Bay must be the southern extreme for them. Looks like there be no more swimming for us. Rowing the dinghy into the beach at the resort I saw another, he cocked his head to one side and seemed to wear a smile then ducked back under. Rowing the dinghy back an hour later he was in the same spot, giving us another look. Must be the resort’s pet… 

We spent the night at the anchorage and decided it was too busy here. Crowds of people. I think I counted..  8 or 9 humans!! Perth central station! The winds were still from the wrong direction, northerlies. So it was going to be a another short sail. Six hours saw us drop anchor in Louisa Bay, still on Dirk Hartog Is. Beautiful spot and looked deserted, but noticed we had company later, the far end had a campsite of 3 kayakers.

Sunset at Louisa Bay

Louisa Bay morning - batteries need topping up

In the morning this guy (about 18" long, type of puff fish), and his mate bumped around
the boat, attacked the aluminium rungs on the ladder at one point. The 19th century English survey ship captain Philip Parker King couldn't get his crew to eat them, mainly because they are inedible. Of course the French, who also heavily surveyed this region, practically lived off them (aint that typical..).

One of the kayakers