Australia 3 Port Lincoln to Fremantle
Port Lincoln is a fascinating place. I guess it has a population of only 20-30000, but it has great resources shared between the few so it has the feel of a wealthy country town. It is a major export area sending Grain, Oysters, Abalone, Shrimp and Tuna globally. We all enjoyed the seafood, and to end our time in South Australia it was a great place to depart on our passage west.
They have developed their Tuna fishing into a fine art. Sending boats deep into the southern ocean, they net tuna, put it in pens and slowly tow it back to Port Lincoln for fattening up. When ready they harvest it and send it to the processing plant for dispatch across the globe. It has turned into a scientific business and I believe they can now breed Tuna. The advantages of this hybrid fishing are obvious and, not only being a major source of employment; it guarantees a consistent product 12 months a year. Its big business in PL.
We wanted to head south to be were ready for an early departure, so on the 20th February we pulled up the anchor and headed south to Memory cove in the Thorny passage, just 5 miles from open ocean and our westerly course. As we sailed south the wind picked up so by the time we reached the Cove the wind was blowing 35Kts from the West. We planned to leave early the next morning when the wind eased and backed to the SW then S then E giving us a head start before strengthening from the East.
Mathew Flinders, responsible for charting much of South Australia, anchored in Memory cove on 22nd February 1802 after crossing the bight from the West. He named the Cove in memory of the 8 seamen who died in the straight when their boat sank in tidal eddies. That afternoon the wind howled and we dragged anchor, so deployed the big guns deep into sand and got a good nights sleep. The morning of the 21st Feb saw clear skies and little wind so we pulled up the anchors by 7 and headed off round Cape Catastrophe and West Point into the Southern Ocean once again.
Our passage looked about 650 miles so we planned on 4 days, which was great as in 5 days it looked like the wind was increasing from the East and could cause big seas as it pushed the water up against the ever present SW swell and East flowing Leeuwin current. I was quite anxious, this is not a place one should normally cruise and its best to limit the exposure as much as possible.
The wind was light from the SW and due to back, but we were making good way. At 1600 we hit Southern Bluefin Tuna. Both Lines, Both landed, I was putting the line out again and another hit. Within half an hour we had 60KG of Tuna aboard. Wow. It took 4 hours to clean up and for Amanda to process the fish and bag it for the freezer. No fishing for a while. 40KG of meat in the freezer. Great.
We saw less sea life in the Bight than we expected, but were pleased to see Dolphins and the graceful Albatross again. Unfortunately it was just the wrong time of year for Humpback Whales, although we could have seen Sperm Whales had we been further South…(no thanks)
The morning bought bigger swells and 25kts from the SW, so quite close to. At about 11am I saw a Tuna boat and by chance spoke with the skipper on the VHF. I hadn’t seen that he had a Tuna pen 300M astern and was towing it back to Port Lincoln. Lucky… they are difficult to see. I altered course to come astern and was relieved to learn that although 3 more boats were around, they were not on my course.
We pushed on and after a squally night the wind backed to SE, as did the sea, which made for a better motion on board. Louis and JJ had been pretty sick the day before and the new motion helped them recover. We caught another Bluefin but it was lost around the rudder, and later that day caught 2 small Albacore for the freezer.
Day 4 and it looked like we would make Middle Island in the Recherché Group late afternoon. We altered course and came onto the plate at lunchtime seeing the depth change from 3800m to 70m in just 10 miles. I was very glad the swell was only 3m and not 6 or 12 as is not uncommon in this region.
The Recherché group is very isolated and only really accessible if you are crossing the bight, as only a handful of yachts do each year. We knew we would see no other boats, so had to be careful in this dangerous archipelago.
On our approach to Middle Island I suddenly noticed that we were in an area of the chart with no soundings. On closer inspection it cautioned that it was unsurveyed. Great! Only 10 miles to go and we were in an area that Flinders described as “a mass of uncharted dangers”. After a nervous hour or so with the sun in our eyes we got back into the soundings and made our approach around NE point and into Goose Island Bay. We found a protected spot behind the headland and dropped our Admiralty anchor, which bit hard into the sand and weed. Well hooked and secured before last light….fantastic.
We had crossed the Great Australian Bight and could look forward to some remote day cruising in the Recherché group whilst heading slowly towards Esperance some 80 miles away. I felt relieved that we were finally in Western Australia and a great sense of relief that the Bight was behind us.
After a lazy morning we made a landing through the surf and explored the deserted beach hopeing to find some unusual shells. Often you are rewarded with one or two great finds, and here we found a large Bailer shell, some 30cm long. The wind was up and backing so we returned to Pegasus and made our way round to a more protected bay we has seen from high ground ashore. Although with rocky patches and shallows, we found good shelter, and as this was un named, and in the spirit of the explorers, we named it Lawrence bay and had a fire on the beach to celebrate, our first in Australia.
We had planned to go to the South of the Island and find the caves where Black Jack Anderson (Australia’s only? Pirate) lived with his harem, but the weather was such we couldn’t get there, so walked up to Lake Hillier, a pink lake in the middle of the Island. The water really was absolutely pink and quite extraordinary.
The wind was due to increase, so the following day in a fresh breeze we headed off to Cape Arid, some 30 miles, to find shelter. We found a beautiful bay, and as the it was tight with little room to drag and blowing hard we laid 2 anchors. After the seclusion of the past week we were surprised to see a 4WD off in the distance. We spent the day on the beach and walked the cliffs. We all swam, but at just 20 degrees it was a little fresh.
The following morning on route to Lorraine bay I picked up our E mail and was surprised to see a warning from my brother of an expected Tsunami on the East coast of Australia generated by an earthquake in Chilli. I spent an hour trying to find out more details but decided that we were fairly safe to make our way on to the anchorage, as the expected time of arrival had passed and there was no sign of it. That was our second Tsunami warning, the other being in Fiji from the Samoa earthquake
The 1st March saw us up anchor and head off to Lucky Bay some 20 miles west. This is reputed to be one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches, and with that notoriety we were not surprised to see half dozen 4WD at the distant end of the beach. It was blowing old boots so we tucked up under the headland and made for the beach in an area of low swell. Once ashore a long walk and swimming for the Boys. Tomorrow Esperance. It has to be said, that even though the boys swam, it was pretty fresh and both Amanda and I wore jumpers. We were both looking forward to sailing into the Indian Ocean and out of the Southern!
The morning saw NE 20 kts easing so we pulled up the anchor early and had made Esperance by lunchtime. On the way in we passed another cruising yacht, the first we had seen in WA.
After anchoring we had a call on the VHF from Customs who invited us in to say hello. We were only the second yacht to call in that year and the first to visit them so they gave us a few freebie coffee mugs etc and told us about the town. We walked into town, via the play park. It felt strange to be in company again after our 10 days in the wilds, but good to be in WA.
Esperance was a friendly place and with the use of the Yacht Club facilities we felt quite at home. The town was close to the anchorage and offered all the local services you could want. We made friends with the local dive shop owner who happened to be a serious shell collector. He gave us some advice, but in order to collect the serious shells you really have to dive for them. Some of the specimens he had found were worth many thousands of dollars and he was an active trader to collectors.
We were keen to push on before it became difficult to get round Cape Leeuwin. After 5 days the weather looked good so on 7th March we headed off early for Albany, some 230 miles away. 2 small Bluefin by 9am, wind aft port quarter light. The wind stayed below 20kts and at midday on 8th March we arrived in Albany. After messing about a bit in Princess Royal sound we anchored opposite the town in an exposed spot. The sound is shallow and it looked difficult to find any shelter for when the wind picked up which was forecast. Coming into the harbour we had an engine failure, and the no1 reef line had snapped so I had a few jobs to do. After a quick lunch I dived on the engine water intakes and managed to clear some barnacles and weed from both. That did the job and we had 2 engines back working.
Albany is a pretty town and after spending the following morning walking around we decided to head up to Hanover bay to anchor behind a headland out of the increasing wind. We finally got a good hold but after a couple of hours we started dragging. We moved again, further offshore, and found an area of good holding as the wind picked up to 30+ kts. After 2 nights the wind eased and we headed back to town to buy some stores and get ready for the next leg round Cape Leeuwin and up to Fremantle.
We wanted to take the boys to the whaling museum in King Georges sound, so pulled up anchor and by 10am were parked outside the whaling station. We had a fascinating tour and watched a few interesting movies about whaling. After lunch we went back to Pegasus. We had planned to set sail on Sunday morning, but conscious of the possibility of a foul current and the wind heading us before rounding the cape, we decided we were ready and should leave. We knew it wouldn’t be that pleasant for the first 8 hours or so, but I preferred that than it to be unpleasant around Cape Leeuwin or Cape Naturalist.
We motored round Bald Head in light winds but with a big swell running. The wind was in the West, and with the swell and some rain it was slow progress. That evening we caught 2 Bluefin which was a welcome surprise..
WE had a few issues along the way. We lost part of the Burgee on the wind instrument so that was not really working properly, then at 4am, the burgee halyard parted and the staff came crashing down to deck, but the good news was that the wind was backing and freeing us off so we could turn the engine off and start sailing. The wind was now SSW and cold but we were making 8 kts so all seemed well…another Bluefin caught…
At 2000 on 14th March we rounded Cape Leeuwin and started heading more in a northerly direction. We were now through the Southern Ocean and into the Indian Ocean, Hooray.
During that night we passed Cape Naturalist and the wind eased to light from the SE. We were now heading E of N and the sun was out. We caught another 5 small Bluefin and put a further 20kg of fish in the freezer, so were fully stocked for our time in Fremantle.
It was looking like a late arrival in Fremantle. I had studied the charts and it was not a straightforward entry. There is a narrow pass with leading lights south of Rottnest Island, then a 5-mile motor up the sound before entering the marina. By 9pm the wind was up at 25kts and increasing. We approached the pass at midnight having dropped our triple reefed main, and after finding the transits motored into the Gage Roads. Just past the last transit the port engine failed….no cooling water. I went down into the engine room and after a few minutes managed to get the salt water feed working. Phew…we motored up the sound but something wasn’t right. We had good revs but a slow speed and were motoring into an increasing wind. The steering was difficult and we were just slowing down. I contacted Port control and advised them of our situation. The Water Police called and asked if we wanted volunteer assistance, but thinking that was not yet necessary we worked on freeing ourselves from the unseen snare. After an hour thinking we were caught on something, and trying to back out of it, not really knowing what to do I decided to head away from land back towards the reef and sail out of it.
We set the staysail on port tack and headed for some shallow water to anchor. I guess it took a while to make that decision as we could see the marina entrance just 2 miles away, but couldn’t get to it. How frustrating.
After an hour or so we were in 8m of water, so dropped anchor and luckily we found good holding. At 4am we both went to bed exhausted. I would dive the props at first light and see what the issues were.
7 am, wetsuit on and into the water. It was fairly rough, but I could see that we had a mass of weed around the propellers. It took only 20 minutes to clear and after some coffee we pulled up the anchor and headed the 5 miles to the marina entrance. At 8.30am on 16 March we tied up alongside at the Fremantle Sailing Club with smiles on our faces and thoughts of a hot shower.
We were relieved to be alongside after a frustrating passage, and with the worst behind us looked forward to a month in Fremantle and the hospitality of the FSC. We planned to carry out an extensive schedule of maintenance and get Pegasus ready for the next leg up to Darwin, some 2000 miles through pretty rugged and spectacular country.