Saturday 30 August 2014

Crossing the monster

From anchorage in peaceful Oyster Bay, that's Port Hedland in the distance, about 5 miles away.

We didn’t want to stop at Port Hedland, not particularly yacht friendly as its very industrial, we could see the dust over the town from the water. Susie with her asthma to think about was happy to see it pass by. The place is Australia’s busiest port in terms of tonnage and we’ve been there before by land, I having worked in the place in the 80’s. After an overnight at nearby Oyster Bay we streamed over Port Hedland’s shipping channel, giving way to one ore carrier, who at 5 miles away had given us a blast with its horn, and was heading in for his turn at the loading dock. If we thought Dampier and Port Walcott were big, both with a dozen of so ships waiting outside. Try this place. We counted 40 giant ore carriers anchored in the roads, these were monster ships, with a carrying capacity of 200,000 tons and up. A lot of dirt. We heard another was asking for anchorage on the VHF. The reply was, anchor anywhere, the roads are full. There’s talk of the boom levelling off, but from here, Asia still looks hungry for our dirt and hungry for the steel smelted from it.

Which place typifies the power of the Aussie economy more than any other? Here it is, Port Hedand. Doesn't look much does it?

Small portion of the road stead. I don't possess a lens wide enough to capture the entire breadth. Would be minimum 8 million tons of capacity floating out there.

Some miles before Port Hedland I heard a ping, then the main yard clanged against the mast. The yard hauling parrel was no longer connected as the little stainless saddle had pulled from the yard. I had used aluminium rivets, cheap me, monel would be doing it properly. I told Susie aluminium rivets were a tenth of the price of monel, so she asked how much monel rivets were. A dollar each, so..  “You skimped for two dollars?!” Umm.. yeah.  I made a temporary lashing to get us through, which was quick and easy. In fact a lashing would be more permanent solution as the current trend is, set by offshore racing yachts, is for webbing and high tech ropes like Dyneema and Spectra are replacing stainless steel fittings. So now the yard parrel block is lashed with a piece of 4mm Dyneema cord, that stuff has no stretch and a breaking strain of over a ton. Sounds enough to me.

That afternoon we made our 40 miles to anchor at Spit Point. The distance as the crow flies is 29 miles, but the zig zag at midday during the two hour stint by the easterlies had us going the wrong way.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Depuch and the Theory of Evolution

Depuch Island, morning after arrival

The winds continued their predictable pattern. SE’lies in the morning, when Ashiki can make good Easting. Followed by a period of on the nose Easterlies when we tack up and down hopelessly, and finishing with NE’lies where Ashiki can finally make her destination. At least the speed is good. Windward speed Ashiki depends on the sea state. A strong wind in the open sea always means waves, but for some reason do not go quite the same direction as the wind, which means theres a bad tack and good tack. The good tack is along the waves where Ashiki does 4 to 5 knots in a good blow. Unfortunately the “Bad” tack is usually the direction of our destination, where she consistently manages around 3 to 3.5 knots average. Light winds would be slower, but the seas are smoother, so the speed is still 3 to 3.5 knots. It seems to be her base windward figure. In the storm coming out of the Montebello’s going hard upwind she averaged 3.1 knots, she could have gone quicker, but that would have driven her too hard.

Really, the whole windward equation comes down to the hull, not the rig. Hard on the wind for us means, 45˚ off the wind on the compass or 50˚ on the GPS.

Sailing 40 miles to cover 27 miles as the crow flies, we dropped anchor off Depuch Island in the dark.

Depuch is a significant place, in 1840 maybe the most important sailing vessel in history, the HMS Beagle, visited the island.

The ship which carried a young Charles Darwin around the world from which he formulated his Theory of Evolution. This must have filled in a lot of gaps for a lot of people (and vehement denial by others), that life controls its own destiny, it’s own form. The captain of the Beagle discovered a treasury of aboriginal art on Depuch and they left their own graffiti, which we wanted to see.

Ashore on Depuch

Not sure where the repository is, we rounded the nearest rocky outcrop and there it was!

The early English may have repeatedly pointed out the "sorry state" of the indigenous inhabitants, but they could certainly draw!

Plenty of graffiti from visitors since too.

Climbing up that ravine and it's right there, near the edge, the Beagle. 
There are two Beagle graffitis here.

Depuch itself is a huge pile of loose stones, piled into a 180m high peak. These stones, all iron ore are small enough and ready for export, no need to send them through a primary crusher then a secondary crusher as the mining companies do. Could load a couple ton of the boulders in Ashiki’s bilges and set sail for China. Get $200 for them… hmmm. Makes for hairy climbing, they move when stepped on. Be careful not to dislodge one at the bottom, might collapse the whole joint..

The art depository cairn

Message to all future graffiti'sts, please include century. This guy be either 2008 or 1908...

A pile of loose bolders, this island is..

Friday 22 August 2014

Point Samson/Port Walcott

Due to popular demand (actually, only one whinger), a map! Dots mark the anchorages.

Next anchorage was to be Depuch Island, a tall order, against the wind, but its all to windward along this coast this time of year. Some cruisers sail across in the cyclone season when the winds are going the other way, as they think we, the majority of cruisers, are mad going in the dry season when winds are on the nose. We met both types in Carnarvon. Philip King explored this coast in the 1820’s during cyclone season without the benefit of weather forecasting nor cyclone warnings. Ignorance must be bliss, since their gear was crumbling in a mere 30 knots, I don’t think they would have survived cat 2 cyclone.

We had a ball trying to round Point Samson, both tide and wind against us. Judicious use of the motor helped us through.

Port Walcott

There’s another ore loading port at Point Samson, known as Port Walcott, owned by Rio Tinto, the same outfit who run Dampier not far away and I was surprised how big it was. Four super carriers being loaded at a time with another 10 carriers waiting in the roads. Iron Ore is still the hot commodity in Asia, even if the price is a little down lately. This compares with FMG (Twiggy Forrest’s) port at Cape Preston (where we were thrown out of..), no ships being loaded, one anchored in the roads. 

We heard Chinese language on the VHF, like in Dampier.

Cargo ship off Port Walcott

Our destination was still another 25 miles, at least 8 hours of sailing and it was getting late, the zig zagging in the middle of the day had slowed us down. I spied on the charts a small island a few miles away near the coast, Picard Island. Suggesting a night stop there and Susie was quick to agree. After two hours, just after sunset, we were anchored within the lee of Picard, about a mile off its shore. It was a rolly anchorage, but still worth it, to stop and make a hot dinner (Can of butter chicken with fresh potato and carrots thrown in) followed by dessert then sleep.

Picard Island in the morning sun.

Monday 18 August 2014

We the People Smugglers

Huge barge on Flying Foam Passage mooring.

Other side of Dolphin Island, after exiting Flying Foam.

After flying through Flying Foam, a passage heartily recommended when the tide is running the right direction. Tip, go with Dampier flood if heading North. We carved along to windward the other side of Dolphin Island to make anchorage at Dixon Island, near Anketel Mtn, the place our state premier wants to build yet another iron ore port.

Dixon Island

We dropped anchor 1-1/2 miles off the mainland behind the island, not far from a camping ground on the coast called Cleaverville (Sounds like a town of axe murderers…). 

Suspicious craft, crew carrying side arms. We were the suspicious ones, apparently..
The next morning in our anchorage was a small power boat with four armed men onboard sitting 300m from Ashiki. 

Eventually we could read the writing on the hull “Customs and Border Protection”. A camper at Cleaverville thought Ashiki was a refugee boat from Indonesia with a load of Afghan asylum seekers. They dobbed us in!  (We know this because later, someone ashore inadvertently admitted as much.)


The Customs guys were quite polite, I think they knew the call was a dud as soon as they saw the boat, maybe even recognised it as they were from Dampier, where we had spent 11 days at anchor, near another of their customs boats. I even remember waving to them while dinghying ashore. I recognised one of the “men”, a blonde woman with hair pulled back. A few minutes of standard questioning and they were gone. I’m sure they had a report to write, as obviously they had “kitted up” with side arms expecting something big, another controversial landing of asylum seekers, like the landing in Geraldton last year.

Maybe the reason why Border Protection wanted our itinerary was to field any more dud “reporting”. Its the cross we bare sailing a Badger, not even painting it white…

Dixon Island anchorage

Dixon Island itself was good, excellent hiking. We climbed the highest peak where someone had already built a cairn.

View from Dixon Island peak.
Industry never far away in the Pilbara, Port Walcott (Rio Tinto port), looking East from Dixon Island. We'll be rounding that cape, not looking forward to it, wind on the nose..

Pelicans, thinner than their southern counterparts, Dixon Island.

Thursday 14 August 2014

Flying Foam Passage

Natural gas port facilities, Dampier
Ominously named stretch of water we need to navigate to head north out of Dampier. It’s actually named after a boat which first surveyed it. Good thing about Ore carriers is that they take days to load and they wait days anchored in the roads so the actual traffic is not busy, we have a chance of sailing up the harbour, against wind and tide, without being run over.. It was another hard slog, making good only 2.5 knots for the day, anchoring in Flying Foam Passage.

Flying Foam passage ahead

The passage is a strait between some islands, one of them, named Dolphin Island has a dark history.

It started with a theft of a bag of flour from a pearling ship in 1868. The Dolphin Island/Burrup penninsular tribe had no contact with European settlers till only 3 years previous. As with most indiginous cultures around the world, the concept of property ownership didnt really exist, beyond everything is communally owned by the tribe, directly clashing with British law, which is mostly about protection of private property. The local constable found the perpetrator and chained him to a tree. His fellow tribesmen rescued him, speared the constable and two pearling ship crewman, killing both. As with most colonial settlers around the world, the townspeople from Roebourne feared being massacred by tribesmen, so when the call came to hunt and “arrest” the perpetrators, they shot them instead. The entire tribe. 60 to 100, many shot while fleeing on floating logs across the strait. Thus one tribe and it’s language wiped out forever.

Dolphin Island in the distance
Dolphin Island, iron out crops all over.

Sunday 10 August 2014


8 ton anchor, more than our entire boat.
This place is named after William Dampier who was one of the original pirates of the Caribbean and was arguably the first Englishman to set foot on Aussie soil in 1688.. (well, if you ignore John Brookes sailing "Tryall" who crashed into a rock in what later became Australian waters in 1622). He sailed down the straits we sailed 300 years later, he saw the Dampier Archipelago and said the rocks appear to be rusting and made some unflattering observations of the locals which basically set the tone of white man/aboriginal relations ever since..

This town, Dampier, pop. 1,300 is one of the picturesque towns on the Pilbara coast, believe me there aren’t that many, that is slowly being killed off by the mining industry and the state government. The old timers say the town was thriving 30 years ago, now the shopping centre has empty shops, most the families are gone, replace by FIFO (Fly in Fly out) single men, who don’t need schools, shopping or community. It’s the same story in mining towns all over Australia. These places are hollowing out. The State government has responded by closing the medical centre, closing the post office and removing public transport. Dead. The few “real” locals are keeping the yacht club going, at least, which is our base especially during happy hour (free nibbles!) and it appears a huge chunk of the membership are from Karratha, major centre 20 km away (15,000 pop.), which isn’t anywhere as nice as Dampier.  Well the mining companies have thrown back a pebble, they sponsor a “community” bus, so we actually have a way to get to Karratha, where there is a Centro shopping mall (woohoo!) with all shops of the big city…  After spells of remoteness, even Susie likes it.

Hampton Harbour Boat Club, our base - good food.

At the shops in Karratha, amidst all the provisioning hoo ha, I picked a spanking new $45 fishing rod for $2 from the local big box store. After many attempts, it scanned as “Toddlers pants $2” and the glazed eyed staff member assisting said, “it scanned” when I tried to tell her its wrong. It shall forthwith be known as the “2 buck rod” and I hope to catch many fish with it. Nice store, will shop there again - preferably with that same staff member from LaLa land. Should’a chosen a better rod…

We’re stuck here waiting for spark plugs to arrive, grrr…

Dampier was founded by a mining company in 1963. They built the causeway connecting it to the mainland where one of the employees working on the causeway, a young immigrant from Croatia, took to one of the islands in the harbour on a raft of oil drums. He was marooned there for 3 days by gales. He took a liking to the little island and later returned building a castle for his home, planting palm trees and where he lived alone for 40 years. The mining company granted him a 99 year “gentleman’s lease” and Sam became a local legend. They even helped him connect his castle with the towns water supply. They conduct tours of “Sam’s Island” now, where he is buried with his cat.

Sams' Castle
Dampier beach and Sam's Island background.

There’s another legend of Dampier. Some time ago an English writer took a drive from Karratha, while attending a writer’s festival, visiting Dampier and wondered why at the towns entrance, there was a statue of a dog rather than one of the famous buccaneer. He asked around the local pub, and the result was a short story about a dog, Red Dog. A Kelpie cross. Later it was turned into a movie, a hit in Perth (if nowhere else). The story of a dog in the 70’s who knew half the population of Dampier, got his meals from a different house each night, the locals demanded the council leave him alone, as he’s not a stray, he belongs to everyone. Then Red Dog adopted a truck driver (movie has him as a bus driver & American - gotta think of your market..). The truck driver died and Red Dog became a legend when he spent the next few years travelling far and wide looking for his master. (He knew how to hitchhike) Travelling as far as Perth and one story had him hitching a ride on an ore carrier to Japan (I doubt that one though). Now days in Dampier, you see Red Dog everywhere, there’s the Red Dog pizza (all meat), and the local soccer team are the “Red Dogs”.

Red Dog, and a bunch of mining company propaganda, yada, yada.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

Mermaid Strait

Pair of giants welcome us to Dampier
It was midday before the wind moderated enough to up anchor from NE Regnard, Dampier was 25 miles away, but with wind on the nose. We motorsailed for the first hour just to keep close hauled, but gave up on that. Sailing 2.5 knots upwind on flat water is quite peaceful. Who cares if it takes ages to get there. It was dark when we entered Mermaid Strait, the main shipping channel to Dampier. When wind and tide conspired to cut our progress to 1 knot, even when motorsailing, moving our ETA to Dampier to 2am, I decided to cut and run to the lee of the nearest island, which was West Intercourse Island 2 miles SE. We dropped anchor in 8m at 11pm after sailing only 20 miles in those 10 hours. Theoretically we were protected from the Easterlies, but waves came in from the NE regardless, so it was a very rocky anchorage. Philip King named it "Intercourse Island" because of a rarely successful communication with the natives here back in 1819. (By "communication" he meant kidnapping a native then showering with kindness & not accidentally killing him. Was able to speak with his tribe and learn where water could be obtained - not that they could get any, a different tribe threw rocks at them when they tried. Thus the West and East Intercourse Islands!)

We left after the earlier 30 knots blasts, around midday again, and battled adverse current and wind for the next 4 hours to do the final 8 miles into Dampier. We motorsailed to keep as close to the wind as possible as we were coming down the middle of the great Rio Tinto mining port of Dampier, with 200,000 ton ore carriers, salt carriers and LNG carriers everywhere and we didnt want to be the slow boat clogging the harbour. Maybe over did the motorsailing a tad, for when we dropped anchor and wanted to reverse on it, the motor had died and wouldn’t restart. 

Hampton harbour, Dampier

The next day I swapped out the spark plug and it started right away, looks like the running at near full throttle for half a day did it no favours. I think we need to go back to the earlier strategy and not be in a hurry to go places. Another boat of the Carnarvon crew was in Dampier, the pirate ship “Hybrid Ark”, at the yacht club bar the skipper recounted how they would sail, like we used to, at 2 knots, sometimes at 1 knot and not be bothered by it. I think we should go back to that, sounds far better than running a noisy motor all day.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Mary Anne Group - route to Dampier

After the 15 hour windward storm sail (at least 10 hours of it rough), we chose Long Island to anchor, it’s not in the pilot book as an anchorage, but we are using the time honoured strategy that when tired on a sail boat, find any island and anchor in the lee of it, if shallow enough and if surveyed we’d know the depth. 

Coming closer to land, lights started appearing on the horizon, one looked like a huge anchored structure. Susie and I disagreed as to whether this thing was moving or not. Making for our chosen anchorage, the structure loomed closer, too dark to see what it was. Then, from 1 mile away, he flashed a spotlight on us. Maybe someone is curious on that thing so we continued, overtaking it. Then it was 1/2 a mile away he again flashed a spotlight on us but this time more prolonged, then it occurred to me he was moving, at 2 knots! (with Susie giving me the “I told you so..”) It was a tug towing a huge 100m barge and he was crossing our path. We gybed around to head in a parallel opposite direction course waiting for him to cut across, where he appeared to speed up, thoughtful of him.

15 minutes later we were dropping anchor in 10m a mile off Long Island (there were 1/2 mile of shoals surrounding it). We had dinner followed by a peaceful sleep. (This is the “real” Long Island, not Serreriur Island which sometimes gets called Long Is.)

In the morning the tug was still around, 2 miles to the west of us, it’s job appears to be, to motor in circles at 2 knots day and night.

This tug pilot's job was to sail in circles day and night
towing a.. ah.... I have no idea what.
Next day was very easy, steady breeze on flat water, this time aiming for anchorage at Cape Preston, where there happens to be an Iron Ore loading port run by “Junior miner” Fortescue Metals Group. The founder of that company is quite a public figure here in W.A., where he is known as “Twiggy” Forrest. Also we were messaged by another cruiser that there was no trouble anchoring opposite where the causeway meets the mainland. After a short 25 miles we were dropping the hook, then a security boat raced over and kicked us out.. this being a port control area.  They weren’t rude about it, and a few minutes later radio’d to say ch15 is the port’s channel and suggested asking for permission, which I did. Permission denied.. Twiggy isn’t very hospitable. Anyway, the port was idle, no rocks being loaded today, business not so hot, eh Twiggy?

Goodbye Cape Preston..

Where to go now? Fortunately we had a couple hours of sunlight left. I didn’t like the look of the bays south, the shoals would mean anchoring the what appeared to be the middle of the sea. Looked on the charts again and identified an island 10 miles to the east, in the direction of our destination, called North East Regnard Island. We’ll anchor in the lee of that.

..hello NE Regnard.

Susie texted Dave, who was somewhere up the coast, other side of Flying Foam Passage I think, to ask how he managed to stay at Cape Preston. He replied “Maybe they like the cut of my jib”…..


The wind died close to sunset and we reluctantly motored the final 7 miles. We anchored in 5m off the SW of NE Regnard in the dark, with the SE (near) gale in the morning we weren’t very protected, Ashiki pulling wildly on her rode. The anchor had dragged about 40m that morning, across the sand/coral bottom, I went forward to do something about this. To release more rode* I first needed to winch in some to untie the nylon snubber**, which I couldn’t do as Ashiki was pulling too hard on it in the 30 knot wind. I should have used the motor to ease the tension but stupidly thought otherwise. I carried our my hair-brained plan of simply releasing the snubber from the cleat and let it go overboard, thinking it will remain attached to the chain with its triple half hitch knots. On releasing the winch brake, the chain started running out at a furious pace, coming to the rope portion of the rode, to which the winch brake had no effect, as it is a chain only gypsy and does not grip rope, so I was standing there on a heaving foredeck watching the anchor rode rush out of the locker at speed, the boat flying backwards and no way to stop it. 

This was not good.

The bitter end of the rode was tied to the stem knee (huge block of wood behind the bow), and we had 70m of total length, I shuddered to think what would happen if the shock on the bitter end causes it to break. At least I had the plough anchor untied and ready to be deployed. Trying to stop it with my hand only burned it, then quick thinking I grabbed the winch lever, a metre long piece of steel flat bar, and wedged the rope against one of the gypsy teeth and that held, held the whole boat in fact, then pulled some of the rode out of the chain hauser pipe and wrapped it around the cleat. Disaster averted. Now we had 50m of rode out instead of the planned 25 or 30.  This rope/chain combination isn’t so good, 30m of chain isn’t enough in the tidal northwest, I’m going to be more careful in future, and use the motor more in anchoring activities.

The snubber, 9m of quality nylon rope was lost, it untied itself from the chain. Silly me. Use a piece of silver rope now, not as stretchy but works. We have plenty of it on board of various lengths, used mostly for dock lines. Like buckets, you can never have too much rope on a boat.

* Rode: Name for the line attached to an anchor, could be chain, rope or steel cable or a combination there of. Ashiki’s main rode is 30m chain attached to 40m of rope. The secondary rode (like a spare) is 10m of chain and 80m of rope.

** Snubber: When anchoring with chain, the chain has no stretch and will jerk the boat too violently in a blow, so the solution is to tie a length of nylon rope to the last bit of chain and the other end to a cleat then release more chain to let the snubber take the tension, nylon rope is stretchy stuff and provides the shock absorption for anchoring.