Having left Dampier early on the morning of 27th May, we were well offshore before the wind started to build. We were heading to the Rowley shoals, 3 reef atolls some 200 miles NE of Dampier.
The Rowley Shoals are a marine park controlled by the DEC (Department of Environment and Conservation) and as such one is required to inform the DEC of your plans and book mooring buoys of which 7 are available throughout the 3 reefs. We had made our booking, and understanding that the wind was building, had reserved the only Buoy on the W side of Imperious Reef, thereby offering some protection in the lee of the reef.
By 6 am the following morning we had 30-35Kts and 3 reefs in the main. The sea was rough and confused with a 2m swell from the SW and a 2m sea from the E, creating 4m holes, and difficult driving conditions. We were very glad to find shelter behind the reef and by 1500 were tied up to a strong buoy in relatively flat seas. It was pretty impressive with the sea crashing 50m in front of us and the wind howling, yet being in flat water with a long SW swell lifting onto the reef.
The following morning the wind had eased and we set off to look at the E side of the reef. It became apparent early that the sea was still too big to stay on the E side so we headed back to our buoy. We popped a lure over the side and within 1 hour had caught 2 Yellow Fin and a Mahi. Just fantastic fishing, but enough for one day. We would forsake the E side and head up to Clerke reef the following day, some 30M NE.
Secured on the Buoy we all went snorkelling off Pegasus. As we jumped into the crystal clear water we could clearly see 2 manta rays directly below us. We all watched in wonder at these marvellous creatures as they swam in circles below us. Needless to say there were no other boats around but at 1500 we were buzzed by the Customs / coast watch plane who asked us a few questions and bid us G’day.
After a quite night we set off early for Clerke reef. With 2 reefs in the main we rounded the head of the reef and were pleased to see the conditions much improved. The sea had calmed and after 5 hours we rounded the N of Clerke reef. As we approached we could see the pass as calm water with the sea breaking either side of it. This pass is quite narrow at some 20-30m, and snakes through the reef a little. We approached with caution and after 20 nervous minutes were inside the lagoon and in calm water again. We were both a bit shaky after the pass as, once started your committed and you cant see the end when you start!! Not for he faint hearted!
We spent the afternoon snorkelling the various coral heads and reef structures. Fantastic reef variety and colours, and an abundance of marine life. We saw a number of giant clams just 3-4m under the surface…..i have never seen them that size at over 1.5m wide, and could imagine a diver getting his leg caught, having to cut his way clear to freedom. Plenty of sharks, but nothing too sinister. Later we landed on Bedwell Island, basically a sand bar, but home to the Red Tail Tropic Bird. We saw many of these beautiful birds that have a single red tail feather some 40cm long. As this is a sanctuary and one of only 2 nesting sites in WA, we built a couple of nest sites, as others had done before us, and left the island after the boys had enjoyed a long swim.
After waiting for the sun we exited the pass at 11am on 1st June headed for Mermaid reef and another, hopefully less tricky, pass into the Lagoon. With light winds at SE 15kts we headed slowly up to Mermaid reef, enjoying a lunch of Pate and cheese and Amanda’s fresh bread. Customs buzzed us again, just checking our details were the same? And by 1600 we were on the buoy in the lagoon after a much more pleasant experience. We swam off Pegasus and planned to get to the small sand Cay the following day.
Waking up early the weather had changed and with a short nasty chop we found it difficult to reach the Island. We abandoned our plan and returned to Pegasus. The Weather looked good to push on to Cape Leveque with light SE and E winds.
I had been worried about this leg of the passage. It is not unknown for boats to wait many weeks in Dampier trying to get to Broome and further N to Cape Leveque. We had opted to miss Broome as it didn’t appear to offer easy access or comfortable conditions for Yachts, so with plenty of stores, water and fuel, our next stop for supplies would be Darwin, some 600 miles NE.
We cleared the pass at 11am on 2nd June and close hauled with 2 reefs in headed NE in the hope the wind would clock to the S. The conditions were favourable and when the wind died we motor sailed E, slowly making our way to Cape Leveque. The passage was unremarkable other than we caught 5 small Yellow Fin in 1.5 hours and I was told to stop fishing!!
At 4.30am on 4th June we finally dropped anchor just to the E of Cape Leveque. It had been a slow passage but we were relieved, as the really difficult and exposed section of Australian coastline was now behind us and we could look forward to the main event, the Kimberley. We planned to spend a night at anchor before crossing York sound and heading deep into virgin country. We were excited about the remote Kimberley region. It looked like we could find many anchorages, beaches and bays, fresh water pools, waterfalls and exciting, challenging navigation. On the down side were Crocodiles, 12m tides and NO Swimming in the sea!!!
We went ashore and took the opportunity to have a last swim, before walking up to the campsite to try and find an ice cream for the boys. Another swim and back on board for an early night. We would be off on the morning tide to our first anchorage some 40 miles away on the E side of King Sound.