Saturday 3 May 2014

Shark Bay

Zuytdorp cliffs - 180km long, 300m high. Named after the Dutch ship
which wrecked itself against it in 1712. The anchors were still stowed
indicating they were taken by complete surprise in the night.

After failing to catch a single fish in the fish mad Abrolhos (had one good nibble) we packed up and set sail for Shark Bay. 140 miles to the entrance, through a pass called Steep Point. This is at the end of a particularly treacherous lee shore, the Zuytdorp cliffs. I heard they are really something to see but the pilot book advised to keep 5 miles distance from them to avoid confused seas. 

Two hours out a plane circled back and buzzed us, we dumbly waved at it, then flew away. Next thing we knew a call came over the radio for a “ketch with red sails which a plane just flew over”. It was the Australian Maritime Surveillance Service wanting to know who we are, what’s our next port and are we smuggling asylum seekers? (I made up that last bit.) Susie calls them the “Stop the Boats” Service, which is accurate enough.. I gave them the info but not sure if they received it, then we lost reception. Ah the advantages of a 5W handheld VHF.

This was a 2 day and 2 night voyage, we aren’t really used to overnight voyages, sleep is disturbed and doing things on a moving boat is hard work. Downwind is no fun either, as the boat rolls too much. But the technique I figured for the wind vane, is that it’s more about the sails than the vane itself. If the boat speed is kept to 4 to 4.5 knots, that is, the sails are reefed down enough and balanced, the vane can steer her. Ashiki ended up steering herself, via windvane, for 18 hours straight without either of us touching the tiller. At one point I thought we may arrive at Steep Point before first light, so we sailed with only 3 panels on the foremast to keep her speed to 3 knots that second night.

Zuytdorp Cliffs.. I can't imagine a worse lee shore.

Not long after dawn, with 10 miles to go, the wind died. We could see the cliffs on the horizon, and already they were impressive, being 300m high, but dark clouds were coming up from behind and I thought maybe we should motor in before it gets too hairy. I wouldn’t want a date with those cliffs. We motored for 40 minutes at 4 knots, the sky became darker, then the wind came back, so we raised a few panels of each sail and killed the motor since sail power is better, it steadies the boat for one. The main body of black clouds passed to the south of us, which was a relief, but then the grey body of clouds behind caught us, rain began to pelt down and visibility dropped to 50m. We could no longer see the point, nor those huge treacherous cliffs. All we could do is hold the course as dictated by the charts, 31˚, hoping for the best. This could be really scary if visibility doesn’t improve, we’d have to tack away, but the reason I didn’t do that right away was because many of these fronts in WA last only a short time, or so I hoped. Sure enough, after 5 minutes, the front passed, the grey veil lifted revealing the coastline and we were on our way to Shark Bay.

Steep Point, Australia's western most extremity
 and entrance to Shark Bay. Note the balloon fishing.
Steep Point after sailing through and entering South Passage.

The cliffs are huge, the point is huge, I would call them majestic, the true sense of the word if there ever was one. The gas balloon fishing is odd..  Susie was repeating several times “I’ve never anything like this”. Sure was something to behold, sailing our little boat through the great pass separating Steep point and Dirk Hartog Island.. As soon as we are in, inside the UN World Heritage Sanctuary known as Shark Bay, we are buzzed by fishing dinghies. This place is remote, 4WD (SUV or truck in USA) territory only, but remote is popular and this place is full of people. Must be the popularity of 4WD vehicles in Australia, it seems like every deserted little corner of this continent is no longer… deserted.

See the bloke fishing? Hoodie infront of the vehicles. He's is using a
gas balloon to carry his hook out into the straits. I'd heard of
gas balloon fishing up here but first time I've seen it.

Inside the South Passage, looking at Monkey rock.

Not all the fishing dinghy guys waved, one lot maybe were a little gobsmacked. Maybe our boat, the colours, the sails are beyond the their ken..  I don’t know. We headed for a bay recommended as pleasant in the guide book, a bay infront of a homestead. Dropped the anchor onto what appeared to be sand, powered back on it and noticed it seemed to skip along the bottom. At that point a large RIB had dropped a load of tourists off at the homestead and then motored out to us, asked how we’re doing. An American. I told him fine but I’m about to dive on our anchor because it doesn’t seem right, that’s when he let us know there’s no good anchorage here, thin sand over rock and yachts drag here all the time. I don’t believe he was trying to get rid of us, because the anchor wasn’t taking hold. We moved to the next bay back, Shelter Bay, our no.2 choice where there’s lots of sand, dropped the hook and backed up on it and it dug in. 

Typical dirt road up here.

At anchor in Shelter bay

View from our anchorage, Steep Point & Dirk Hartog Island on the right

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