Thursday, October 22, 2009

Carnarvon to Geraldton

As we sailed across Shark Bay to Cape Peron (Thur 14 Oct) we encountered many whales heading south, breaching and slapping their fins in spectacular displays. Approaching the southern end of Dorre Island we observed whales holding their tails above the water. As we passed the first whale we were not sure if it was in distress so sailed a little closer to observe. The whale surfaced and took a deep breath – all was OK. After we saw the second and third whale doing the same thing it was time to do some research and we found that male whales do this mainly during the breeding season but also when singing. “They suspend themselves head down in the water with their tails pointing skywards and sing for up to 15 minutes at a time. The songs apparently change between seasons and are some of the longest and most varied of the animal kingdom.” (from Watching Whales published by Dept of Environment and Conservation, WA).

Our first overnight anchorage was on the eastern tip of Cape Peron, just in front of the lighthouse. Cape Peron has high red sand cliffs with white sandy beaches. The waters surrounding this cape full of marine life feeding on the sea grass beds or the small fish that live in the sea grasses. When had dropped our anchor we observed dugong, dolphins, turtles, sharks and sea birds swimming around our boat. All this and a warm wind blowing off the land with seagulls cruising the thermals catching insects in the last of the sun’s rays. In the distance we could see the Young Endeavour sailing south towards Monkey Mia. Quite a change from sunsets in the Gascoyne, with the lights of Carnarvon along the foreshore and the odd set of car headlights shining in to the back of our boat.

We awoke to very light winds and set off for Steep Point, motoring all the way with no wind and glassy conditions. We had a visit from a boat from the Marine Parks advising that the swell outside Steep Point was over 3 metres and recommended that we don’t go out today. Passing close to Dirk Hartog Island we saw large sand hills covered in low bush. It was hard to believe that this was once a sheep farming pastoral lease. A large motor yacht followed us up the passage and anchored near us in Shelter Bay in front of a stunning holiday home built of stone. We enjoyed a swim before lunch in balmy 24 deg water temperature. After lunch a yacht sailed past us and exited Steep Point and then the large motor yacht also left. Both appeared to have reasonable passage across the bar, so we checked the updated weather forecast and decided to follow them. The sea swell had dropped making the bar crossing not so daunting. As we left we could see fishermen high on the headland using helium balloons to take their fishing lines out over the cliff edge to deep water. It is amazing the lengths that some fishermen will go for the ultimate catch.

Surprisingly the swell on leaving Steep Point was 3 metres and manageable because the wind had dropped out over the day and there was no sea on top of the swell. We motored through the night and at sunrise we were off the southern end of the Zuytdorp Cliffs in calm conditions. This is a notorious stretch of coastline littered with many wrecks and well known for huge sea swells which bounce off the cliffs and come back out to sea to create difficult and confused seas. We were very fortunate to encounter this stretch of coast in relatively calm conditions. Late morning the wind picked up and we enjoyed about only 2 hours of sailing before it died off altogether. We were then forced to use a motor for the rest of the day and overnight to Geraldton in calm flat seas where dropped anchor off the town beach on Sunday morning at 6am. Coming into the anchorage we passed Seal Rocks and found them true to name. It was a surprise to find seals this far north. After breakfast we headed off to bed to catch up on some sleep only to be awakened by jet skies, ski boats, fishing boats and then sailing boats using our boat as a marker buoy as they headed out to the water sports area. Very different to our last overnight anchorage at Cape Peron. We gave up on the sleep plan and went ashore to explore.

Today is Thursday 22nd October. We have enjoyed a very relaxing and friendly time in Geraldton. The Western Australia Maritime Museum – Geraldton has an excellent display on the history of the Dutch ship the Batavia that was wrecked on Houtman’s Abrolhous Islands to the west in 1629 as well as the history of early settlement. Travelling along this west coast with all the French, Dutch and Portuguese place names highlights the fact that Australian could easily have not been an English speaking nation.

We have purchased a few Abrolhous Pearls, visited the HMAS Sydney memorial, explored the city and waterfront and enjoyed lunch ashore at local cafes. Tomorrow the weather is looking promising for a run to Perth / Fremantle so we plan to head off in the early hours for our first leg to Port Denison. If the weather holds to forecast we plan to do another day hop on Saturday then an overnighter Sunday/Monday arriving in Fremantle Monday afternoon.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Tantabiddi to Carnarvon

On Friday 25th September as we were enjoying a bottle of Friday bubbles Pioneer sailed into the anchorage at Tantabiddi. We had first met Peter in the Kimberley and we swapped travel tales of sailing the west coast of WA over a few evening drinks. Pioneer is on the final leg of its circumnavigation of Australia heading for Perth. On the leg Peter had Bob Emery as crew assisting him.

Our last night in Tantabiddi we enjoyed a beautiful meal of reef fish caught by Cran and left early the following morning for Norwegian Bay where we anchored overnight on our way to Coral Bay. Norwegian Bay is the site of an old whaling station now in ruins on the beach. The water here was crystal clear and as we swam off the back of the boat we could see many small star fish on the white sandy bottom, white with pink/red dots.

Our next destination was Maud’s Landing, just north of Coral Bay. This part of Ningaloo Reef is famous for the variety of colourful coral and fish. We spent 4 days here with very strong winds once again. Luckily we were able to use a Dept of Conservation mooring buoy. Cran cooked our dinner on the BBQ in 30 plus knots one evening – notice the polar fleece vest!

The township of Coral Bay was a half hour walk from where we could take our dinghy ashore. This part of the reef has many sanctuary zones where boating is restricted or prohibited. Coral Bay was very busy with school holiday campers and visitors. It has two small supermarkets, clothing stores, newsagency and post office, so all our shopping needs were met. There were many tourist businesses offering water related activities from glass bottom boat tours to deep sea fishing outside the reef. Situated behind the town are 3 tall wind generators visible from quite a distance off shore.

The reef is very accessible and we just had to walk in off the beach to snorkel. The water temperature not quite as warm as further north however the cabbage shaped corals were spectacular as were than many reef fish, some quite large as they cruised below us among the bommies. The turquoise water crystal clear and the white coral sand match all the superlatives on the travel brochures.

Time to head south again and Saturday 3rd October saw us heading towards Carnarvon. Just after we cleared the reef at the entrance to Coral Bay we caught a 1.3 metre Mackerel – well done Cran for landing this monster. We enjoyed BBQ Mackerel that evening for dinner at our overnight anchorage at Gnarraloo Bay where we dropped the anchor close to the beach where people were fishing. As the moon rose the sky filled with pinks and mauves above the sand dunes.
Leaving early the following morning for Cape Cuvier surf was breaking across the reef. As we approach and leave these anchorages we keep a forward lookout for isolated bommies as we motor through the passages in the reef. The reflection of the sunlight on the water adds an additional challenge and keeps the adrenaline pumping. The seas are lumpy with choppy seas and steep swells close together – not a comfortable ride. As we lurch around the boat making tea, coffee, lunch etc our balance and agility is tested. It is a relief at the end of each day to set the anchor and enjoy the view from the back deck.
Cape Curvier would have to be the biggest surprise on our trip south with 60 metre high limestone and sandstone cliffs rising up from the sea. As you can see from the photo we were anchored quite close to shore in deep water, with surf breaking on the shoreline. After weeks on low sand dunes and distant limestone ridges the change of scenery was appreciated. While enjoying sunset drinks a herd of goats made their way along the cliff top and down and across the precipitous slopes looking for food. We enjoyed a spectacular sunset that evening as it dropped over the horizon through the structure of the jetty where salt and gypsum is loaded on ships for export. That evening was full moon and as it rose over the cliffs the moonlight lit them to a creamy glow. This was a magic experience and when we left at 3am the following morning it was sad to leave such a beautiful location. We were fortunate to have the right wind and wave conditions to enjoy this anchorage.

We arrived in Carnarvon after a long day of lumpy seas however we did see many whales close to the boat as they make their way south. Carnarvon is a low flat town with a strong agricultural industry, growing bananas originally brought in from Queensland. We spent the last few days of Carmel’s time with us sightseeing, the historical precinct at One Mile Jetty with its Lighthouse Keepers Cottage and Rail Museum as well as the long jetty the was used for many years for the transport of produce and livestock and well as the people travelling this long coast before the road network was constructed. After lunch at the River CafĂ© on the banks of the mostly dry Gascoyne River, we drove up the coast to the Blowholes through low scrub and desert and visited some of the farms along the Gascoyne River to purchase eggs, chutneys and bananas. Water for the farms and the local residents comes from aquifers taking the water from below the dry river bed.

Today 14th October we depart Carnarvon after enjoying just over a week sitting out strong winds in the protected reach of the Gascoyne known as the Fascine. The Carnarvon Yacht Club provides facilities for a small fee and access to a small dinghy pontoon which makes life easier when going ashore. The town centre is a 10 minute walk along the river. We finally caught up with Mike & Chrisy off Ohmless, a Fusion 40 cat - we were in the Kimberley at the same time but didn't meet up and we were leaving while they were arriving at both Broome & Dampier. Mike & Chrisy sailed out of WA 29 years ago in a mono and after many shore based years are completing their circumnavigation of Australia in a catamaran. It was good to spend some time with them in Carnarvon. We have also met many other yachties who have generously shared their local knowledge of this part of the coast south to Perth, and beyond. Many thanks to them. We have made new friends who we hope to catch up with as we sail south or perhaps meet up again in other locations over the next few years. It has been an opportunity to catch up on boat maintenance, service engines, fix water makers and gensets, repair engine water pumps and an engine mount for the port engine as well as the usual cleaning and washing and shopping for provisions for the next leg of our journey. We have enjoyed our stay in Carnarvon and look forward to our next destinations.