Saturday 28 June 2014

Of oil, gas, midges, A-bombs and Irishmen

Ashiki at anchor in Beadon Bay, Onlsow.

Not being able to identify anything about Onslow business on google maps, we went ashore and the first street corner we came to had a supermarket and over the road was a servo/fishing store. Everything we need. The big supermarket had one downfall. The prices! It’s an oil and gas town after all and being the only supermarket in town, what a rip off it was!  We noticed another big difference from Carnarvon too. Carnarvon would have small turbo prop planes flying low over the Fascine to land. This place had full size passenger jets zoom in, at least 4 times a day. A clear indicator of the economic activities of the two towns and the reason of the Onslow’s price inflation. They would be ferrying in what Aussies know as “FIFO” workers (FIFO = Fly in Fly out), a feature of this country’s booming resource economy.

Onslow was the town which the government moved, originally gazetted in 1885. After seeing the Ashburton River silt up too often and two cyclones levelling the place, they moved it 20km up the coast in 1923, on to Beadon Creek, only to be levelled another two times by cyclones, (130 knots - wonder how fast we could broad reach in that...). Also, it is Australia's southern most town to be bombed by the Japanese in WWII, by one bomb landing on the airfield (nobody hurt). On a happier note, three nuclear devices were detonated nearby on the Montebello Islands (by the British), in 1952 and '56, to much celebration and mirth at the Beadon Creek Hotel. Phew. 

Hanging on the wall in the pub. Have a read.
Picture of pom bomb, in the pub. Other towns up the
coast didn't exist back then, so Onslow was the nearest
"civilisation" to the bomb site, which would be the
Montebello Islands, which would be our next destination by the way..

Down the street was the only pub and we headed there on a quest for both beer and fish and chips. Well, the beers were good, if the selection was small, the dinner menu was too pricey so didn’t indulge. The Eagles football game was on the big screen and the locals, 95% men, were loud. They were losing to Collingwood and weren’t they bummed! Also, no backpackers in sight. Onslow must have missed out in the backpacking guide book. There was very good fast food to be had across the road and very nice it was too, I had chicken and chips, Susie had a burger. Can’t knock fast food, if had only once in a blue moon it tastes great, just what an intrepid sailor on an infrequent foray into civilisation needs, all the time might be different though..

While there we were mistaken for another cruising couple because of a story in the local newspaper, a couple whom we knew from Mandurah. They had built their catamaran in Onslow several years ago, took it south to Mandurah and recently we happened upon them in the Fascine in Carnarvon, they were finally on the cruise they had built the boat for. They left Carnarvon 30 minutes before us (with Calm Horizon) and had a tough time of it that night (when we were sailing bare poles in the gale), they sustained damage to both dagger boards and ripped a sail. They continued on to anchor off Onslow for a week for repairs, where the local reporter caught up with them. Having left a couple days before we arrived, we had to explain we weren’t the cat couple several times around town. I was quite funny actually.

The second night we were attacked by what appeared to be bed bugs. Scratching everywhere. Then we suspected it was midges that bit us, they're all over the beach where we land and launch the dinghy. We asked a local, who said when they first came they were itchy as hell and thought is was bed bugs. Then they discovered it were the midgies. They urinate on your skin, which makes you scratch like a madman. Life has these little discomforts in the North.. 

On a visit to the pub the next day, I started hearing Irish accents. Later at the dinghy, where the tide had left it high and dry, a couple who were walking along the beach offered to help us lift it over the rocks, speaking in their musical Irish accent. They’re here for work and said there were lots of Irish in Onslow. I suggested he picked the right place to make money and he grinned.

Nice foreshore area of Onslow

Beadon Bay pub, the only pub in town. Its a nice town actually,
they make an effort with trees etc. Just a little pricey.

Typical Onslow residence

Salt mine jetty and a quite pleasant swimming beach, replete 
with BBQ area. The beach at the anchorage in front of town 
is not for swimming, too many rocks.

Church in Onslow, this is Sunday. No takers apparently. 

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Of dog legs, tankers and prohibited zones

Table Island, on the way to Onslow

Day sail again, we like these, 24 miles to the uber metropolis of Onslow, Ashiki’s first Pilbara port. If Carnarvon was small at 6,000 people, try this place. 660 souls live here plus a few hundred more in the two caravan parks. We’ve never been here before as it is off the main highway and wondered if the local supermarket or general store is up to our high provisioning standards (Sour cream and chives 'tato chips?!). Onslow is a supply town for the offshore oil and gas industry and noticed large sections (3 mile radius!) of the charts are marked as “entry prohibited” surrounding oil and gas platforms, together with rounding several islands, of which the Pilbara coast has many, forcing us into a bit of a dog leg route.

Gas platform, from a distance they looked like sign posts
as several were lined up along the prohibited zone.

We got a good chance to observe the oil and gas industry too, because the winds died on us while squeezing between two large forbidden zones..  After setting a near 5 knot average for the first 3 hours (the four knot rule doesn’t leave us hanging about!), I can report it’s busy off the Pilbara coast. Tankers going in loading up on crude, and heading straight out. Pilot boats zipping all over. The wake from tankers is no laughing matter either. Short 1.5m square wave coming at us, first and only time Ashiki’s bow roller plunged under water! You know the Scottish highland sport the Caber toss? Ashiki almost did that with the foremast..

After awhile the wind came back from the west and we wing and wonged it at 5 knots around the long salt loading jetty and the reefs into Beadon Bay, anchoring in 3.3m and 200m off Onslow township. First piece of civilisation since Carnarvon over 2 weeks ago. I’d like an ice coffee milk, a beer, a bag of chips and steak for the fridge please - plus 20L of petrol and 80L of water. Wouldn’t mind some lures too, need to fix my luck with fishing somehow.

Passing Ashburton Island, one of the many along the Pilbara coast

Ship approaching the oil platform

Same ship leaving, a "Trailing suction hopper dredge".
Full to the gunwales.

 Another "Trailing suction hopper dredge" type ship
passing an anchored tug. According to the web these are 

used for dredging channels. Looks like the oil
company has decided to deepen the ocean...

At anchor off Onslow at last

Saturday 21 June 2014

Surrerier Island

Land Ho!

A nice short day sail to this one, 16 miles. The french survey captain, Baudin, named this island after one of Napoleon’s commanders, but the locals tend to call it Long island. Becomes obvious why when talking to other cruisers - 

“We’re going to seru.. surra… se..  Long island”. 

No one remembers how to pronounce it!

What's the name of this place again?
The sea gods blessed us with another fine day of favourable winds and Ashiki skimmed across at 5 knots, very satisfying leg. The new software for the phone, Navionics marine charts, a backup for the laptop, was working well and guided us around the outer reefs and dropped anchor 1/2 mile off the beach in 2 fathoms (4 metres, 12 feet, forget how many cubits..)

On the excursion ashore we see these shells. I never seen such huge shells, except in shops. Spiral shells, several, over a foot long. The place was littered with these monsters. Also there were large shallow holes pockmarked large sections of beach, were they made by turtles? Then we found several turtle shells/skeletons and that answered our question. It was  a beautiful place and we stayed 2 nights to recuperate, for the next stop was to be the hurly burly of civilisation..

The other side, a lone fishing boat.

We saw "craters" in the sand all over, and here are the
remains of one of the crater diggers

Metre long coral sculpture

Huge shell, saw several of these, no perfect samples though,
too damaged or eroded if you're thinking of making $$

We hiked all over this island
Surrerier sunset

Thursday 19 June 2014

Turning the corner & Muiron Island

NW Cape, note radio towers (US Military).

With a boisterous SE wind behind us we zoomed out of Tantabiddi and headed for the North West Cape, top left corner of the continent. We finished with the Western coast of WA, 800 miles from Geographe Bay in the South. Guess who holds lease on the patch of land that is the Cape? The good ole’ USA. They built their super duper radio aerials for their eastern hemisphere military comms during the cold war in 1967. The state government decided to gazette a new town too, so the thriving metropolis of Exmouth (pop. 2,500) came into being a few miles down the road. Now days it is a busy tourism hub for the Ningaloo reef with several charter companies based there. We’ve been to Exmouth by car and the marina is known to be overpriced with no known good anchorage nearby, thus none of the Carnarvon cruisers, including us, are stopping there.

Video of the rounding of the NW corner of Australia ^

Only a dozen miles beyond are the twin Muiron Islands, no great anchorage but had several government installed mooring balls which we intended to stay the night. Against the rules, but what can I say? We're anarchists.. Crossing from the cape towards the islands Ashiki’s course made good was 20˚ more upwind than her compass course (bows pointing 20˚ different to her GPS direction). Odd, leeway usually means drifting downwind, not into it! Then it occurred to me there was a big cross current pushing us to windward so needed to point her more downwind to maintain the course. Something I was not used to being from down south as currents and tides are much bigger up here. We were moored by 3pm a mile off the rugged islands after a fast sail (for a change!). 

Engineering structure being towed from the ocean north,
first of several we saw.

At this point you could say we entered the region known as the Pilbara, basically the heart of Australia's prosperity. The biggest mining ports in the world are around here and as a first indicator of this, we started seeing large industrial structures being towed from the direction of Asia. The bone of contention in Perth, mining companies opting to source fabrication in SE Asia where a welder may work for $20k/year (in Singapore) compared to a welder in Perth being paid approximately 5 times that.. 

Today was the beginning of the new sailing strategy. It's simple, if below 4 knots, raise a panel. In the past we were happy to loaf along at 3.5 knots but with still a panel or two left to raise, mainly through energy conservation (my energy that is), alright then, laziness. No more, to make each leg a day sail demands a certain minimum speed to get to anchor before sunset. It paid off, today we made anchor with a 4.5 knot average - this is fast for us.

Mooring off Muiron

Monday 16 June 2014


View from the boat, Cape Range

The next stop, to maintain the the system of day sails up the coast, is Tantabiddi at the northern edge of Ningaloo Reef. It is 35 miles and fingers crossed there are no calms today, as we’ll need all the daylight hours to get there. Bad luck, very light breeze from the beginning and gave our eardrums a battering with the noisy motor. Earplugs are in order I think.. When the wind did arrive we were able to sail at 3.5 knots, nothing spectacular. Not half as spectacular as what we saw on the horizon. Saw something breaching and crashing down causing a huge splash maybe 3 miles away, made me blink then saw it a again, a huge white bellied whale was horizontal, clear above the horizon and landing with a huge splash.

In the afternoon a catamaran chased us down, took hours to close the final mile, only because we noticed him late and we started to concentrate on sailing. We were doing little over 4 knots on a beam reach and the cat (looked about 38’ - correction 44' I later found out) had a good 1/2 knot on us in this breeze.  They were sailing with us for awhile, people lazing around the deck, staring at us and taking pictures. Don't blame them, any monohull heeled a little making way under sail can be mesmerising, not just a junk. Though I think a junk doing that would be even more spell bounding. Wish I had the same view. Don't get that looking at a cat. I might knock cats, that's in jest, they have their advantages too. Speed isn't necessarily one of them though, for the loaded up cruising variety, since a catamaran is two hulls, twice the work to build, so it not surprising a cruising cat of 44' is similar to a 55 to 65' mono in both materials to build and speed on the water - except to windward... Quicker than our small 35' boat - on 2 points of sail anyway. However, cruising cats are very popular on this coast, most appear to be owner built too. The fad really caught on.

The wind clocked around astern and we gybed the foresail about (two attempts at it, it can be blanketed by the main and drift back if done badly) to make Ashiki run wing on wong, her best point of sail. I saw the cat, which was only 40m behind us, take down her sail so I wondered what they were going to do with the following wind. Maybe haul up twin jibs? I saw what a cat does with a following wind. They motor. Sailing skills are out the window in this day and age..  We ran with the fading wind at 3.5 knots, later dropping to 2 knots and it was getting close to sunset and with 2 miles to go we turned on the motor and dropped the hook at Tantabiddi in near darkness (not far from the cat). 

Fellow intrepid sailors heading north, chasing us down..

This place is not particularly special, except it seems to be a boat moorage for Exmouth locals (about 20km away), being a dozen or so small motor boats in the lagoon. Set off to leave next morning, when I poked my head out the companionway three boats that were anchored nearby were already gone, we are the last to leave.

Sailed passed this guy, inquisitive creatures.

Tantabiddi, last anchorage on the western coast, before NW Cape.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Yardie Creek Gorge

View of Cape Range

Yardie Creek Gorge from outside the Ningaloo Reef

We are edging closer to the most north-western tip of Australia and this the first gorge on the coast. Norway has fjords, USA has canyons, in Australia we have gorge’s and they are worth seeing. This was our next stop, a 19 mile sail. It was glorious day with deep blue sky, too bad the wind died 3 hours into the voyage. We motored, for 10 miles, the most we ever motored in one day! Usually we’d just float around at 1 knot and maybe do an overnighter making another destination, but we wanted to make this particular anchorage and in daylight. We motored northwards to the waypoint opposite the reef entrance, the usual trick here on the Ningaloo coast, then follow the leadline in through the reefs. Careful not to deviate too much as there may be bombies to scrape our hull. The pilot book labelled the anchorage “Catamarans only” and “Tantabiddi is a better anchorage”. Considering our small draft we ignored that. Happens the bay was 4 to 5m deep all the way and it was a great anchorage, leaves me wondering about those cat sailing contributors to that tome..

Yardie anchorage

Yardie Creek with tour boat

Fish were everywhere out there, just not on my hook! Life’s not easy in the cruel sea I tell you. But all was not lost. Kliff who was still cruising with us, had caught a big juicy Blue Fin Tuna, about 3kg, and invited us onboard to help him demolish it. The fish was so big and with Kliff threatening to throw any left overs overboard, we had 3 steaks each, thrown in with baked potatoes canned veggies (cruisers’ staple). What a meal :)

The Gorge

Next day was excursion day, a 2.5 mile row in the dinghy up the lagoon to the entrance of Yardie Gorge, they don’t allow outboards in the gorge so rowing it was (not that we had a choice..). We wandered around the the Yardie car park, which was mostly full, hoping there was a shop. But no, must be further up the road - our memories were a little foggy on that point, as we had been to this gorge by car some years ago. That time we hiked the walking trail but this time would be different. It was an incredible trip, we rowed to the end of the Yardie Creek, winding between the deep cavernous walls of rock, then hiked over some rocks to the water further up, which was fresh. The lower portion we rowed in is mixed with salty sea. The day was completed by a fly over by four stunt planes (!). The state government here is all excited by Ningaloo winning some award for best Aussie tourist attraction (they were excited to beat Queensland) and maybe that was their idea of adding excitement.

End of the navigable part. 

The row back to the anchorage was a different story, the south westerlies had come in and gave us a chop to fight against, reducing our rowing to only 1 knot. Good thing we took lunch with us so had the energy, but the going was slow. With a mile to go, Kliff showed up with his outboard dinghy and towed us the rest of the way. He had kayaked with us and had paddled ahead to fetch the dinghy, kayaks being 3X faster than us rowing. Saved us another hour of rowing.

We're being watched..

One of the mornings was quite calm so took the opportunity to remove the trim tab, since we aren't using it anymore, it makes a racket at night anyway, from the currents playing with it. The operation involves undoing a couple small bolts below the water line, a snorkel and mask does the job.

The anchorage was ten times better than Norwegian by the way. Dave on “Calm Horizon” had texted a message saying as much, but we didn’t believe him, being a cat guy and all. ;) He was right.

Friday 13 June 2014


I was informed, by one of my readers, one of the army of grovelling fans, that this blog is not very comment friendly. I had no idea. Being down here in intrepid sailor land, I’m groping in the dark with this Blogger thing..  But belated news; I’ve fixed it! Anyone can now comment (even lubbers), no need to be a goggle+ member and I think that irksome word verification thingy is gone too.
So intrepid readers, there’s nothing here to stop the deluge of comments I’m sure will come…


Thursday 12 June 2014

Norwegian Bay

Anchored in front of the ruins of a Whaling Station

Not a great anchorage, a little rolly for us. But we stayed 3 nights because of the weather on our original planned departure date.  We made an attempt to head out, once outside the reefs there was quite a swell running, which would normally be ok since the wind, healthy as it was, was behind us, but would have precluded entrance to our destination, Yardie Creek, where the pilot guide warns about entering during high swell. So we tacked Ashiki around, two attempts at it, as she needs persuading to tack with reduced sail into waves, and headed back through the reefs to Norwegian. When the sun came out, we made another excursion ashore and checked out the inland country, which was well worth it.

While there we spotted a catamaran motor into the bay (he was motoring before a good wind, so why not sail?), anchored way over near the reef, about a mile away, then appeared to work on a sail laid out on deck. Hmm.. emergency repairs. He left the next morning, heading north.

Whaling station ruins. A Norwegian company (thus the name of the bay) 
set up three whaling stations in WA in 1912, bringing with them the new explosive tipped harpoons, enabling the capture of larger whales and revived WA's
ailing whale industry (oh joy!). This station continued till 1955.

Back country dunes and signs of life!

Country inland of Norwegian.

Monday 2 June 2014

Uncharted waters

Grey section on the chart hasn't been surveyed.

This was to be a 24 mile leg to Norwegian Bay. The charts and the pilot book didn’t show a route all the way inside the reef, expecting sailors to head out to the ocean for an extra 10 miles. But the old salts at the Carnarvon yacht club know better, the blank area on the chart, the last bit inside the reefs between Pt Cloates and  Norwegian Bay, our destination, has been sailed by these guys and say its perfectly alright at or near high tide. So we decided to go for it. This blank area on the chart, we’ll just call them “uncharted” waters. That’s right, avast ye scurvy dogs, UNCHARTED waters they be! I think further advice from the old salts was to stand on the bow to watch for coral bombies, but that bit is hazy, lots of alcohol drunk by then… But we’ll watch for ‘em anyway.

Approaching Pt Cloates. An unused beacon on the hill.

We like sailing inside reefs, as long as you know where you are and strictly following the course plotted, the water is flat, the sailing is fast, fun and in today’s case, is over within 6 hours. Approaching the uncharted section we saw a big catarmaran motor out of it, heading south, it was “Shore Thing” we recognised it as one of the charter boats hanging around Coral Bay. Big cats generally have the similar draft to us (1.3m), they were locals and did that section so it was encouraging.  We made the entrance at Pt Cloates with trepidation, but the depth never came to less than 2.5m, mostly a sandy bottom. 

The cat which came out of the uncharted waters
Ashiki wing & wonged glided over the crystal clear waters in a picturesque setting close to the shore in light winds at 4 to 5 knots, helped by a 1 knot current. It was easy and were soon rocking at anchor in Norwegian Bay opposite the ruins of an old whaling station. One of our most pleasant day sails ever.

Only 300m off Pt Cloates

Uncharted waters. Looking at the wake we were making 
I reckoned we were doing 3.5 to 4 knots. Susie said 5 knots
was on the GPS. So there must be a 1 knot current
helping us.