Australia 6 Carnarvon to Dampier
We left Carnarvon on 9th May with fresh SW winds making for a fast sail. The coastline was changing, so we were to adapt our techniques again. We were heading into reef country and, as with the pacific, we would need to time our arrival so that we could see the outer reef and passes to transit into the calm water for anchorage. You just can’t see the reef unless the sun is high and preferably behind you, so between 1000 and 1600 is best. With this in mind we broke our first passage, pulling up behind a bluff at Cape Cuvier. There was a massive salt export station there, with a gantry and buoys for shipping, but nothing else. We secured to a tugboat mooring just out of the swell with 30kts wind across the deck, thankful that we had found some shelter. Being only 40 miles S of our first stop on the Ningaloo reef, we knew we had our timing right and being on a stout mooring we slept soundly in the hostile conditions.
By morning the wind had eased and with 2 reefs in we set off up the coast for another fast sail N. By 1300 we were through the reef and looking for a place to anchor under the headland.
Although a bay may look spacious, usually there is only a limited area that provides protection from sea and wind, offers good holding for the anchor and is free from navigational hazards while swinging through wind and tide change. In addition, although this part of the coast is very remote, the Australians have a tradition of camping, and as we arrived we could see that there were 15 fishing boat temporary moorings right where we wanted to anchor. We call this the Tinnie brigade as most of the boats are aluminium, and have encountered them all the way up the coast in the most remote locations. We motored around Gnarloo point for an hour or two, dropped the anchor, and pulled it up again, until we found a suitable spot and a good hold. That sorted, we launched the dinghy and went ashore. We all needed the exercise and after a long walk and swim we felt better about our stop.
That night we noticed we had attracted quite a few moths. Well, there were millions of them, and I watched them marching up the sail cover and disappearing. With still conditions the following morning I had to raise the mainsail to get rid of all the moths that had taken refuge there. I had visions of them eating our sail and was glad that I evicted them successfully.
As our first stop on the Ningaloo reef we wanted to take a long walk and see what we could find on the beach. We set off early with a picnic and found a great spot for lunch and a swim. While there, another family appeared over the dunes! The boys made contact and we enjoyed the afternoon in company. It’s just so bizarre that you can be hundreds of miles from anything and suddenly people arrive seemingly out of nowhere! We found good treasure, 3 fishing lures and a Hawaiian sling (a sort of spear gun) for me, and Amanda found some beautiful shells. JJ has taken to finding lumps of wood to make things with, and insists that I carry the really big bits. This usually means that I carry it for a mile or two while trying to convince him that it’s too heavy. When achieved he will leave it as readily as it was picked up.
While walking 2 other sailing boats had arrived in the anchorage. Bruce from Lizard came over and asked us for sundowners on the beach. We planned to leave that evening, but not until last light (following our GPS track out through the reef), so we headed inshore for light drinks. We spent a good hour meeting Lizard and Kialana, two boats we would no doubt see again. The boys ran and swam: they would sleep well tonight.
With light winds we upped anchor at 1830 and motor sailed out through the reef and N towards our next stop, Norwegian bay. The wind stayed light overnight and backed to NE in the morning. We were making good way and at 9am we had a double strike on the lines. Yellow fin, 1 landed, 1 got off at the boat. By 11.30 we were anchored off the remains of an old whaling station. The water was clear and turquoise, and the bay secluded….a Tinnie appeared round the corner and there was a motorbike on the beach……where do they come from!
We went ashore for a long walk and made a plan for the following day. The wind was due to pick up and I wanted to find some protection from the S. It looked like Tantabiddi would be suitable. After an evening where we finally caught some squid….not quite enough for lunch… we set off early and by 0700 had cleared the reef heading N to our next reef pass. We had 55 miles to run and with 15kts from the SE we were going well. Great fishing. By 8.30 we had caught 3 small stripy Tuna, which we threw back, and at 9.30 we had a massive strike. I retrieved the line to see that the hook had been straightened.
Replacing the hook with a double stainless, we reset the trap to see what was striking. An hour later and another massive hit. Big tension on the line and looking back I saw an enormous Marlin leap from the water. Twang and the 300 lb hand line snapped like a piece of twine. The Marlin jumped again, then again and again trying to shake the lure clearly visible in its mouth. Our hearts sank. It had not been our intension to catch something that big, and on our gear we shouldn’t have attracted it, but there it was, and we could do nothing about it. We hoped that it would shake the lure and swim free from the line, but in our hearts we knew that this magnificent fish was now shark food. Oh dear! We felt drained and upset. There was nothing we could do. We pulled in the other line. No more fishing today.
The wind was picking up and after lunch of pate, cheese and Amanda’s bread we entered the pass into Tantabiddi.. The wind was now 30Kts on the nose as we motored slowly up to the boat ramp area looking for a suitable place to anchor. There were a number of charter boats on their moorings in the good water. These boats take charter guests out through the reef to see the whale sharks that congregate at Ningaloo reef at this time of year. They are pretty successful at finding them with the help of spotter planes, and when located the charter guests can swim with the sharks…must be a fantastic experience. We had hoped to see them, but as yet hadn’t spotted any. We would have to be pretty lucky to chance upon them.
We motored past the boats and tried to anchor, failed to get a good hold and dragged back. Passing astern a charter boat for another try, the crew directed us to a mooring that they owned and said we could use it. They had seen the forecast and knew that we needed a strong hold for a few days. We gave them some beer and thanked them, feeling lucky we had good protection for the forthcoming windy weather.
We spent 2 days on the buoy, with the wind blowing the tops off the waves, spume flying everywhere, but quite secure on board. I managed a few maintenance jobs, and on the 15th May the wind eased and we ventured ashore for a long walk and a swim. We were keen to move on, and after letting the sea quieten down we left early on the 16th to clear NW cape and start on our next section of the coast, the Pilbarra iron ore region.
With light winds we rounded the cape and sailed to Surrier Island, dropping the anchor before last light. Both Kialana and Lizard had been sheltering in Exmouth and we all arrived within 3 hours of each other. We were in a protected bay with a glorious beach so decided to spend a few days there. I managed a little more maintenance, and we went ashore to walk and swim. Surrier is quite narrow and it was possible to walk across the island to the windward side. It reminded us of the islands in the Bahamas. That first day we walked the south of the island and found some lovely shells. In addition there were loads of Turtle nests, and of course a dead turtle for the boys to poke and prod.
Back on board and we had an excellent evening with both Lizard and Kialana….many laughs. The following day we walked the north of the island, really quite a long way, and found some fantastic shells including a nautilus, most unusual and not seen since New Caledonia. We also found quite a few golf balls? and had great fun with the boys playing hockey with drift wood on the hard sand.
This stretch of the coast runs NE and for 175 miles is littered with small islands with the Montebello group to the north and the Dampier Archipelago to the east. It was our plan to day sail through the islands and stop in Dampier to restock before heading up past Broome and into the Kimberly’s, the main event, and the best cruising in WA and possibly Australia. We thought about going 80 miles N to the Montebello’s the site of the UK nuclear tests of the 1950’s, but we love island hopping, and we could definitely make Dampier without delay on a more southerly course. It would be easy to get stuck in the Montebello’s with strong Easterlies, and I wanted to push on to spend as much time as possible in the Kimberly’s.
We left early on the 19th and picked our way through the reef, islands and Gas platforms, motor sailing in light SSE winds. As the wind clocked I set the Kite, the first time in Australia and we had a lovely run up to Great Sandy Island arriving at 17.30. Up early and ashore. Fantastic sea life, loads of turtles, reef sharks and dolphins, strange blue spotted rays and some huge birds, which we thought to be Eagles of some sort. By 10.30 we had the anchor up and headed off to Scholl Island, a 20-mile hop. Toasted cheese sandwiches for lunch and a small mackerel caught (which we threw back) and by 14.30 we had the anchor down again.
With the islands being mostly sand and coral, I had changed our ground tackle. I stowed the faithful Admiralty anchor, which had looked after us so well in the rock and weed of the south and west coast, and had reverted to the super Maxsea, a claw type anchor much better in sand, mud and coral. We planed to use this all the way to Darwin and possibly through Indonesia.
More great shelling ashore, and away after walking the island. Again, great marine life with turtles, snakes, and sharks. We were headed up towards Dampier, but with the light conditions stopped at Steamboat Island in an exposed position. We went ashore and the boys swam in the surf and amazingly I managed to catch a crayfish, which we were all excited about. That evening was just magical. As the sun dropped the sky and sea turned purple and fish were rising all around the boat. They would come up in great boiling spheres for only 10-20 seconds then disappear to resurface again elsewhere. There were always 2 or 3 spheres visible over that hour or so. The Turns were feeding on the wing. They would dive at the baitfish, taking a jumping fish at the last split second. Timing and flight precision fantastic. Everything was feeding; even turtles were rising close to Pegasus. Really magical and unforgettable.
I was not happy with our mooring position and with the wind filling from the SW (unusual) I decided that we should push on overnight to Malus Island in the Dampier archipelago. At 2200 we raised the anchor and motor sailed up past Cape Preston. There appeared to be a big development in progress with lights and cranes, plenty of action as we slipped past slowly…nothing indicated on the chart.
By 04.30 we were within Dampier Port Control area and after a quick conversation headed up to Malus Island. Anchor down in Whalers bay by 08.30 and a hearty breakfast aboard. I felt relieved that we had made Dampier and now I could look at our next leg up to Broome, Cape Leveque and on to the Kimberly’s. With the wind predominately E, SE it is possible to be weather bound in Dampier for weeks waiting for good condition to make the 400 mile trip to Broome. Once in the Kimberly we could day sail through the islands making the 300 miles to Cape Londonderry, and wait for suitable weather for the final 250 mile passage to Darwin.
From Dampier we had a choice. We could sail straight to Broome or head out to 3 shoal/reef systems called the Rowley Shoals, some 250 NE of Dampier and 150 miles W of Broome. Having read about Broome, I was not convinced that this was going to be a great stop for us. The Tidal range is pretty big at 8meters (long way to pull up the dinghy!!) and the town is a few miles from any suitable anchorage. That would make restocking Pegasus difficult. In addition, Broome is 50 miles to windward to the Rowley Shoals, so in effect we would be backtracking.
No, we decided we would restock in Dampier and head from there through the Rowley Shoals and on to Cape Leveque and into the Kimberley’s. That would mean that we would need to provision for 6 weeks, the longest period away from any available resources of the journey so far. With Fuel and water and stores we would be heavy in the expected beam sea out to the Rowley Shoals. We would have to take it easy!
We spent a great day on the beach at Malus Island, and met a family with children who were spending the day at their beach shack. The children played and we spent an enjoyable few hours talking. Chris and his wife lived in Dampier and said we could use their car to go to Karratha, the main town some 20km away, to restock. Great, first problem solved. We decided to spend the evening in the bay and head into Dampier the following day, Sunday 23rd May.
After a long beach walk and a swim we made our way into the harbour and anchored off the Yacht club at midday. Dampier is an iron ore town (Rio Tinto), and has massive exports of iron ore, salt and petroleum. The only reason people live there is to work, and with the massive amounts of exports and associated shipping the various wharfs are pretty busy. Surprisingly there is very little in Dampier itself. A convenience store, post office, petrol station, café, Chinese restaurant and workers pub called the Mermaid. In addition there is the Yacht Club, Bowls Club and Tennis Club.
Very little was open on a Sunday, so we checked out the Pub as a possible dinner venue. No way! This was a bloke’s pub with the only girls in the place being on the stage! Not really family friendly so we decided that it would be dinner in the Yacht Club. We met some of the members in the bar and had another offer of a car for the following day. We were keen to get our jobs completed and start on the next stage of our journey.
Monday arrived and we started to service Pegasus as usual. Fuel, water, laundry, stores and a bit of real world for the boys. We picked up the car after completing the laundry in the morning and headed off into Karratha. We’ve never been to a working town like Karratha before, and it was strange to see 80% of the people, both men and women, in the standard workers wear of yellow and blue shirts and blue trousers. They looked like some sort of weird team, all with the various company names and their Christian names on the front. We found somewhere to fill our gas bottles, filled up 150lt of diesel ($1.50/lt) and headed up to the supermarket.
We stopped at McDonalds for lunch, a treat for the boys, and then set about emptying the bank account in Woolworth’s. It seems to be that each time we stop we spend $1000, and this was no exception! We arrived back at the Yacht Club after dark and r 3 trips in the dinghy later, finally had everything on board. We had broken the back of our jobs list and would stow the stores the following day.
On passage I had organised for our repaired radio to be delivered from Geralton to Dampier post office. We went up to collect it and looked for some boxes to start packaging excess items for shipping back to the UK from Darwin. I refitted the radio, and after checking that all was working, we headed off into Karratha again in the new, borrowed car. We only had a few things to get, and so after another hour or so in the supermarket we headed back towards Dampier on a bit of a sight seeing trip. There really wasn’t much to see that we knew about, so we headed back to stow Pegasus.
We planned to leave in the morning, so took the opportunity to go out for dinner at the Chinese restaurant. I have to say that it was the most expensive meal we have had out, and quite average, but it was a break for Amanda and we weren’t depleting onboard stores before our departure.
On Wednesday 26th May we pulled up the anchor and after filling with water at the jetty, and washing some of the iron ore dust from Pegasus, we headed back to Malus Island before our early departure the following morning.
Planning to go to the Rowley shoals, we had made contact with the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) who administered access to the group. There were a few buoys at the various reefs, which you were obliged to use and therefore booking was required. I knew we would have decent E, SE winds so our first stop would be Impeieuse reef, and there happened to be a Buoy on the west side. I definitely wanted to book this single buoy in the lee of the reef for a safe few nights, while we waited for the wind to ease. After a few e-mails and telephone conversations we had made our bookings for 9 nights at the 3 reef systems.
Malus bay, although a convenient start off point, proved a difficult spot to get a good hold and after dragging the anchor twice we finally found better holding. I was a little anxious about the weight on Pegasus, and dragging anchor just added to the apprehension one always feels before departing into the wilderness. We all went ashore for a good walk, the last we would have before we got onto Bedwell Island in Clerke reef. I didn’t sleep well and was up and at ‘em at 0345. Last e mails and download weather and at 0445 on 27th May we pulled up the anchor and headed N through the shipping channel then NE out past the Methane tankers anchored well offshore. With SSE 15kts and building, we had a good wind for the 220 mile leg.
We were on passage to the Rowley Shoals and had started our next leg deep into the Kimberly’s, one of the last wilderness frontiers available to the cruising yachtsman, and the main event in our three quarters circumnavigation of Australia, then on to Darwin.
(For reference, Impeieuse reef in the Rowley shoals is at 17.33.46S 118.54.64E and is the Eastern most shoal. Interestingly google earth only shows Impeieuse and Clerke reef. Mermaid reef is not shown but lies 15M NE of Clerke reef. For details about the Kimberly’s look at www.kimberlycruising.com.au)
See our photographs of Carnarvon to Dampier at