Saturday, September 26, 2009

Onslow to Tantabiddi Anchorage (Ningaloo Reef)

The past week has been spent sitting out strong wind warnings then taking advantage of breaks in the weather to make passage along the coast. We spent 3 days anchored off the township of Onslow. It is a small holiday town that also provides support to the offshore gas and oil facilities. We were able to purchase the weekend papers and replenish our fresh fruit and vegetables while ashore, and visit the local Goods Shed Museum which houses an eclectic display of local memorabilia. We enjoyed lunch at the pub on Monday after investigating the boardwalk which joins Sunset and Sunrise Beaches through the sand dunes at Beadon Point. From the walk you can observe the salt loading facility at the end of a long jetty. The dunes are home to an interesting range of plants that somehow survive the dry conditions. At the start of the walk is Onslow War Memorial depicting a Diggers Badge. It was designed for the sun to rise through the centre every Anzac Day.

On Tuesday 22nd Sept we set sail for Serrurier Island, a spectacular long sandy island with good snorkelling and fishing (21.36S 114.41E). We enjoyed a lazy day there on Wednesday before heading south to Ningaloo Reef and our present anchorage at Tantabiddi. We left Serrurier at 3am and had a good sail until we were abeam of North West Cape where the seas were very confused with large waves coming from all directions. The tall communications towers on the Cape (built by the US Navy) were visible from 5 miles offshore. No longer operational, the site has become a tourist attraction and a few of the towers are taller than the Eiffel Tower.

We are anchored inside Ningaloo Reef surrounded by sea grass beds with large waves breaking on the reef about 2 kilometres away (21.54S 113.59E). On shore we have a back drop of limestone ridges – the Cape Range National Park. There is a boat ramp with a tourist information shed and a bitumen road regularly traversed by cars towing caravans. We are experiencing very strong winds 25 to 35 knots with several gusts over 40 knots and a maximum of 48 knots. This morning at 2 am we were woken by the sound of the anchor chain grinding on the anchor winch. The chain is normally connected to a bridle that takes the strain off the winch; however the stainless steel shackle that connects the bridle to the chain broke as a result of the hours of straining against the winds and the currents. So there we were in the early hours of the morning on a pitching deck doing repairs in gale force winds. Fortunately the anchor didn’t drag nor the winch clutch let go so it was a good outcome. As we say “Cruising is an adventure everyday”

The conditions are forecast to ease off for the next 3 days before the next set of strong winds arrive. We will use that weather window to travel down to Coral Bay before heading for Carnarvon late next week. The weather is quite warm with the winds blowing from the south east and the humidity is 28 %, so it is time for a quick swim off the back of the boat before lunch, then a snorkel and walk along the beach this afternoon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dampier to Onslow via the Montebello Islands

Dampier is a port for the iron ore mines of the Pilbara and natural gas from the North West Shelf. Karratha is the main township providing housing and services for the workers and their families. Dampier is located on a peninsular and separated from the mainland by a vast salt pan from which salt is mined and exported. We were surrounded by mountains of iron ore and salt when anchored in Hampton Harbour in Dampier and the boat was soon covered in red dust.

We hired a car for 2 days and were able to shop in Karratha for supplies as well as collect Carmel from the airport on Tuesday 8 Sept after her long flight from Sydney. We had not seen Carmel since March when she left to start her new job with the ABC in Sydney. It was great to see her and to catch up on all her news over a bottle of bubbles in the cockpit watching the lights of Dampier and listening to the rumbling of the conveyor belts as they transported the iron ore out to the stockpiles next to the wharves.

We enjoyed dinner at the Dampier Yacht Club on Wednesday evening before heading off to Enderby Island on Thursday. We decided to sail out to the Montebello Islands, 60 nautical miles from Dampier and left Enderby Island at midnight to arrive in not very accurately chartered waters in the middle of the day. It was a lively crossing with strong headwinds and very lumpy seas. We sailed between two large gas platforms and were pleased to enter the calm waters inside the outer islands of the Montebello’s. (20 27.5S 115 32E) Our chosen anchorage was Brandy Bay located at the entrance to a lagoon on Hermite Island. Many bays are named after alcoholic drinks eg Champagne Bay, Claret Bay, and Vermouth etc etc. We read an article by a yachtsman whose dream is to drink a bottle of each beverage in its namesake location!! There were two yachts anchored in the bay and a third sailed in on our third morning - an unusual sight, 4 yachts in the one anchorage. One of the things we often comment on is the low numbers of cruising yachts in this part of the world. We saw a few in the Kimberley’s however along the west coast we mainly see yachts in harbours, not during our journeys between major towns. There were also a few fishing boat charters cruising around the islands.

These unique islands are low lying rugged limestone covered in spinifex and termite mounds. They are also the site of British atomic testing in the 1950’s. We decided not to venture into that area as our cruising guide recommends not going ashore for more than one hour per day – we did not want to glow in the dark. The waters are home to many sea creatures including stingrays, turtles, dolphins and reef fish as well as sea birds and small finches (Zebra Finch) with red/orange beaks and striped black and white tail feathers, who visit us each morning. We enjoyed four beautiful evening reef fish meals provided by our keen fisherman – Cran, as well as some fresh oysters collected from the rocks near our anchorage. Many of the channels are shallow and best navigated at the top half of the tide. We have experienced strong winds during our stay however were able to enjoy swims off the back of the boat crystal clear waters and today off the beach in our new anchorage in Manision Bay. We have used our kayaks for the first time since leaving Queensland. We did not want to have a close encounter with crocodiles in the NT or Kimberley so the kayaks have not had much use to date.

Today Friday 18 September we are underway from Great Sandy Island to Onslow, a township on the coast. We left the Montebello Islands on Wednesday and have a lively sail to Barrow Island, zigzagging through the shallow reef, around gas platforms and around low lying islands that are off limits to visitors because of the gas and oil extraction. All the islands in this area are low lying; some have large storage tanks on them which stand out from a distance, often being visible long before the actual island itself. We have been fortunate to see many whales during our travels, many surfacing not far for our boat rolling on their backs and flapping their tails or flippers on the water’s surface, or just broaching creating an enormous splash. Yesterday we came across a large whale sleeping on the surface, at first it looked like a large shiny black log but as we came closer the tell take shape of its back alerted us – so altering course we watched as it floated past in the current sending the occasional spume of water and air skywards.

Barrow Island is a nature reserve and it is not possible to land there. There are some unique plants and animals living on this island that require vigilance to protect them from extinction. We had a visit from the survey vessel and another from a shore based worker to advise us not to go ashore. It is good to see the Chevron employees taking an active interest in looking after this island and proud of the fact that they have the opportunity to help protect it. We were fortunate to be able to secure a safe overnight anchorage here as we made our way back to the coast.

We are all keeping well and enjoying Carmel’s company. Our time is spent reading, doing normal boat maintenance and creating interesting menus for our evening meals. We are lucky that all our friends enjoy cooking - much fun is had in the galley each evening. The IPOD gets a good work out however there is no TV reception most of the time. We watch the odd movie or music DVD and have been fortunate to be able to pick up local ABC Radio in some pretty remote locations – thank you Aunty!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Broome to Dampier

It is Monday 7 September and we arrived in Dampier this afternoon after spending a few relaxing days at Dolphin Island just to the north east. We had a slow sail from Broome south without much wind for much of the time, so it really was a motor/sail for most of the time. When we left Broome we headed out from the coast to avoid the pearl leases close to the coast. The bonus was sighting whales every day as well as many sea snakes, who sun themselves on the surface during the day. The water heading south is inky blue quite a change the milky blue of the Kimberley area. Off Port Headland we started to pick up many ships traversing the coast and our AIS system came into its own providing vital information as to the route and destination of these large ships. There is nothing quite like being on watch at 2am and seeing bright lights appear over the horizon coming towards you.

Our first landfall was Dolphin Island just north of Karratha and north west of Dampier. A spectacular anchorage surrounded by red cliffs and small sandy bays which provided a brilliant backdrop to the full moon.
It was a good opportunity to catch up on domestic duties and boat maintenance as well as kicking back and having a few relaxing swims and a few glasses of white wine and some cold beers. We were able to smoke some of the Mackerel that we caught in the Kimberly with Peter and Susan which we have enjoyed. We had our anchorage to ourselves for a couple of days until the weekend when some local boaties and fishermen were out enjoying the bay.

Tonight Dampier provides quite a contrast as it is a large iron ore and liquefied gas port with many ships and conveyor belts thundering around us in our anchorage in Hampton Harbour. This port operates 24/7 with bright orange work lights on shore and a busy airport just over the hills to our south east. Tomorrow Carmel arrives from Sydney, what a contrast for her.