RCC Newsletter Feb 2011. Australia (Full Version)
Below is the full version of the article that appeared in the Feb 2011 RCC newsetter. They published an edited version.
Australia…a three-quarter circumnavigation (If such a thing exists!)
Arriving in Bundaberg from the Pacific in October 2009, we were unsure what our plans were. With the seasons demanding that the summer months, October through April, be spent well south of Brisbane we had a number of options for the coming 6 months. We could haul Pegasus and fly home, cruise slowly to Sydney and back, or keep sailing South and then West. With Family in South Australia, we decided it would be altogether more exciting to sail to Adelaide and then take a view on direction depending on the conditions.
With the pacific fleet dispersed, and our friends heading home to Sydney, we decided to meet in Broken Bay for Christmas. Slowly making our way south we had a wonderful time in Mooloolabar, and spent 10 nights right in the heart of Brisbane. The sailing south was pleasant and forgiving allowing us time to master the “Bar” entrance, a feature of the East coast. With many harbours being river mouths, sand bars form at their entrance, and with the offshore swell often breaking on the shallows combined with tidal effect, technique and timing are essential for safe entry and exit. It seems the optimum time for a pass is at the end of the flood in low swell conditions, but often this is not practical for passage planning.
Heading down the New South Wales coast the sailing became a little more boisterous. There is a change in the weather pattern and leaving with northly winds can mean arriving with southerly winds. This was the first time we were to be affected by the passing fronts that are a feature of sailing in the southern half of Australia. The fronts seem to pass every 3-4 days, becoming stronger and more defined the further south one travels. On the E coast they are preceded by weakening N winds before a strong SSW shift. Sailing S from Brisbane we just managed to enter Camden Haven before a strong frontal pass, and spent a memorable few days in this quiet country town.
Pushing south we spent Christmas with our friends and we all sailed to Sydney for New Year. With 10 of our Pacific friends anchored together in Athol Bay, we watched the fireworks and welcomed in the New Year. After a glorious day in Manley we said goodbye to our friends for the last time as they headed N back to Broken Bay and we contemplated our passage S. Leaving in fine weather we headed off, arriving in Eden on 10 Jan, before another weak frontal pass. This is where it all started to get interesting. With few safe havens and a convergence of current and wind we could expect lively conditions with little warning.
Looking at the grib files all seemed quite still and settled. We had learnt that if the prediction was for 15kts of wind then it was likely one would get 25-30 kts. Indeed, the Australian forecasts state that wind strengths can be 40% greater than predicted and wave height double, which is quite a large disclaimer for a small boat!
We set off on flat seas, committed for either 120 miles of Bass Straight, or if the swell was running, 220 miles to a cove behind Wilsons Promontory. We had fair winds and flat seas, and made the shallow entrance into Lakes Entrance in Victoria in building conditions. Staying a few days we let the front pass and prepared for our next leg. We were now in cold water. As the wind came round from the NE through N the temperature rose and there was something vaguely Scandinavian about being in 36 degree winds and diving into 16 degree water!
When the weather settled we left the narrow entrance and approached Wilsons Promontory heading towards Portland, our next scheduled landfall. 15 miles N of king island it was apparent we would not quite make it. The forecast was for headwinds with strength, and with the likelihood of big seas we aborted and sailed 30 miles N to the small town of Apollo. We tied up along the fishing wharf and enjoyed exploring the small town.
There was one other yacht in the harbour, from Fremantle, so we said hello and talked about their trip across the Great Australian Bight. They had had a pretty bad trip. Having been “ripped “ out of their anchorage they decided to start their passage. With estimated 18m waves they had a really rough time, being pooped, loosing their dinghy and other stern gear. They then spent the last 6 months repairing their 48ft boat in South Australia and recovering from the ordeal. Didn’t sound too promising.
Amanda and I discussed our plans over two huge crayfish and decided we still had options….. We could always head back east after cruising South Australia if we didn’t get a clear weather window to cross the Bight.
Our nest leg would take us up into the Gulf of Saint Vincent, and wanting as much time as possible before the next frontal pass, we decided to leave when the wind had abated from the W and should start backing to the S and E. We had been warned by the local Cray boats to stay well off Cape Otway. They were right. The seas were large, short and confused, but as we bore out close too the wind started behaving and backed SW as we tacked and headed W. Some light winds and then a strong SSE winds saw us through the Backstairs passage and into the lea of Kangaroo Island. That was only the second time we had used the 4th reef, and I really felt that we were entering hostile territory. I wrote in the log “Unexpectedly the wind built up all morning so by lunchtime it was blowing some 35+ kts, just aft abeam with 4 meter seas. For only the second time since leaving the UK I had to put 4 reefs in the main. For the very first time since leaving the UK I was struck by the strong feeling that this was really the wrong place for small children”
In the darkness we edged our way through the Backstairs passage and into a small, well-protected bay and dropped the hook. After 3 attempts we managed to get a good hold in the Tap weed and sand…..i would have to address that issue. We were just in the protected waters of Gulf of Saint Vincent and within striking distance of Adelaide and achieving our first objective on our trip round Australia.
On 24 Jan we arrived at the Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron (RSAYS) and settled in for a memorable stay. Along with the usual maintenance, we spent time with family and enjoyed the hospitality of the club and its members. I had been watching the weather and although fronts were passing with regularity, the conditions looked favourable for a crossing of the Bight.
A still Monday morning, just glowing on the pre dawn, saw us slip lines and glide out of Adelaide on dark glassy seas. We wanted to get south early, as the sea breeze sucks the air up the gulf, giving strong southerly winds from midday onwards. Further south there is less effect. Keen to sample some of the great cruising in South Australia we headed back to Kangaroo Island and found a beautiful anchorage in Emu bay, on the North side of the island. Having spoken with many members and walked the dock of the RSAYS it was apparent that all cruisers use an Admiralty or stockless anchor. I was lucky enough to find a second hand Admiralty anchor in Adelaide, and as we set it for the first time it bit into the seabed hard, and we felt relieved that we had appropriate ground tackle for the South coast.
White sand under crystal clear, turquoise water. Fantastic, the only drawbacks being that these waters are the breeding grounds of the great white shark, so absolutely no swimming off the boat or in deep water. The Beach looked safe enough, (watch out for the snakes) so we went ashore, all swam and took a long walk down the beach. It felt great to be back out there.
The cruising in the 2 gulfs is wonderful, and on route to Port Lincoln, our departure point for the bight, we spent 8 nights at anchor in 6 anchorages and 3 islands. We reprovisioned in Port Lincoln and, while waiting on weather, headed out to the Sir Joseph Banks group to see the islands and spend a few days on the beach.
All through SA the sea life was plentiful and visible, with daily sightings of dolphin, shark, fish, sealion and plenty of birds, although no Albatross. We had last seen them approaching KI in late January. I was hopeing that we would see them again when we returned to the fringe of the southern ocean, on our immanent passage to Western Australia.
We wanted to head south to be ready for an early morning departure, so on the 20th February we pulled up the anchor, left Port Lincoln and headed south to Memory cove in the Thorny passage, just 5 miles from open ocean and our westerly course. As we sailed S 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 the winds strengthened from the E.
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 the wind was forecast to increase 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.
With light but strengthening SW winds we made good way and were delighted to catch 5 Blue fin Tuna on the first day. With the freezer full and fresh winds we put the lines away and concentrated on the sailing. On the second day after a squally night the wind backed to the SE making for a more comfortable passage, and we pushed on to the Recherché group, our first land fall.
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 the 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 that 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. It felt great that we were finally in Western Australia and a massive sense of relief that the Bight was behind us.
The wind strengthened from the E and over the next 4 days we slowly made our way through the group and along the coast to Esperance, arriving on 2nd March. After dropping the hook we were called by customs, who asked us to pop in for a cup of tea. We were only the second boat that had visited in two years, and they gave us a few mementoes and colouring books for the boys. We liked Esperance, and with a friendly Yacht Club and accessible town we enjoyed our time there. Keen to push on and round Cape Leeuwin, we made our way to Albany and spent a few windy days waiting for the weather to clear.
Leaving in fresh winds we made our way from the Southern Ocean into the Indian Ocean, by rounding Cape Leeuwin, and arrived at the Fremantle Sailing Club (FSC) on 16th March. Of course it was not a straightforward entry. Arriving at midnight on the 15th we had engine failure (tap weed round the props) in 30kt southerlies so had to anchor just off the shipping channel until daylight when a quick dive cleared the issue. We were delighted to be in WA and enjoyed the great FSC and facilities of Fremantle. We hauled Pegasus over Easter and completed the underwater works (5 coats of antifouling etc) and spent another couple of weeks preparing for our trip up the coast to NW Cape, into the Pilbarra and on to the Kimberley, the highlight of the journey to Darwin.
We said our goodbyes and left the FSC on 18th May for a shakedown to Rottnest Island. It felt great to be back on the beach again and to be able to swim off Pegasus. We didn’t delay and set off after a couple of days to Shark Bay, some 360 miles N of Perth. With the region becoming more remote as we headed N, and with worsening weather, we decided to stop in Geralton to replace a faulty diode bridge. I had completely forgotten that it was failing and was keen to have all systems operating, if only at the beginning, for this next leg!
We spent a memorable Friday night in the Yacht Club, and before leaving on the Saturday, the stewardess bought 4 Crayfish down to Pegasus as a gift. Crayfish are plentiful in the region and the Abrolhos Islands, just 30 miles offshore, are renowned for the quality and volume trapped for export. (Incidentally the Batavia was shipwrecked on the Abrolhos Islands in 1629. It’s a pretty gruesome story. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batavia_(ship) )
Departing in fresh reaching conditions, we had a good run, and with a following 4m sea made the S entrance to Shark bay the following afternoon. Inside the sheltered, shallow waters of the bay we explored some outer Islands, enjoying shelling again and spent a few nights at the Monkey Mia resort, where the Boys hand fed the Dolphins.
Shark bay was the site of the second European landfall in Australia by Dirk Van Hartog in 1616, on route to Batavia (Jakarta). He only spent 3 days there, nailed a pewter plate to a tree and set off again. The outer Island of Shark Bay is known by his name. We very much enjoyed cruising in the protected waters with its abundant sea life and protected anchorages. We made our way N to Carnarvon to victual and regroup before heading up the Ningaloo reef to NW Cape, and took the opportunity to have our final Rabies inoculations, organised in Perth, as we prepared for open ocean once again.
We were entering a different weather pattern and cruising discipline. We could expect the wind to be less violent and anchorages to be protected by reef, a more Pacific experience! Not to be…. After a day at sea we took shelter from the large swell behind Cape Cuvier, and tied to a tug mooring, waited as the wind topped 40kts. The morning saw more benign conditions and we pushed on the 70 miles to our first stop in the Ningaloo national park at Gnarraloo. In a protected anchorage we enjoyed snorkelling and walking the extensive beach. It was the 11th May and we were aware that we still had some 1500 miles to sail before Darwin, and had to be there by 10th July. We would really need to push on. Before we left, 2 other boats arrived, and we all had drinks on the beach and introduced ourselves. We would see more of Kialana and Lizard on our passage up the coast.
Heading up the coast we had a few night stops along the way before heading into Tantabiddi to sit out 3 days of ferocious winds. When things had settled down we managed to spend the afternoon off the boat before heading round NW Cape and on to Serrurier Island.
The Island between NW Cape and Dampier are just beautiful. Being S of the Montibello group they are less explored and we spent a memorable week making our way slowly up to Dampier. The weather was peaceful with still evenings and the sea and bird life magnificent. While the Ningaloo reef had been disappointing, this un noted area was just fantastic.
Arriving in Dampier on 23rd May, we decided we would victual there, avoiding the necessity of stopping in Broome. We filled with diesel, water, gas and supplies. It would be another 7 weeks before any available resupply due to the inaccessibility of our next cruising ground. This next leg from Dampier to Cape Leveque was the one we could get stuck on. With the prevailing winds being E, we would be hard pushed to have any easy sailing. We had decided that heading up to the Rowley Shoals, 3 reef systems some 250 miles NE of Dampier, would give us the best route to Cape Leveque a further 200 miles ENE, hoping that the wind would clock SE.
It was a pretty windy trip and we arrived on the W side of Imperious reef as the wind was blowing E 35kts. We were well sheltered from the sea and spent 2 days on a Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) buoy waiting for the wind and sea to ease. We swam off Pegasus and saw Manta rays and a myriad of tropical fish as we waited. Customs and Coast watch were ever present and at 3pm ever day they over flew us and asked us the same questions.
The wind eased and we spent nights at Clerke and Mermaid reef before heading up to Cape Leveque in mild SE winds. Arriving on the 4th June, we were through the most difficult part and could enjoy 5 weeks slowly cruising the Kimberley, the highlight of the trip for me, a worry for Amanda. We took our last saltwater swim off the beach at Cape Leveque. From here on in we were in crocodile country, absolutely no swimming off Pegasus.
The Kimberley is a wild and remote region of Australia stretching 300 miles from Cape Leveque to Cape Londonderry. It has been home to aboriginal tribes for thousands of years and possibly other peoples before them. The wildlife is abundant and spectacular, and the country dramatic and truly Australian. Everything about it is big. Tides range up to 10m, crocs can be 8m long, the plains, with rivers cascading down, can be 200m above an anchorage….its just magnificent. However, the sailing is not so great as with strong tides and little wind it is best to motor sail to arrive in good time. We had planned to motor most of the way, and with our diesel stocks intact we had plenty of mileage in the tanks.
There’s just too much to say about the Kimberley. Suffice to say we saw Pilot Whales, Dugong, Dolphins, Sharks, Eagles, Snakes, Spiders and plenty of Crocs. We swam in fresh water creeks, climbed cliffs to sacred aboriginal sites, found cave paintings, and Bradshaw art, copper in Coppermine creek, Iron Ore, Uranium. We travelled to a DC3 crash site and the boys played in the cockpit of the well-preserved wreck. Teaming up with Lizard for 2 weeks, we cruised in company enjoying many good evenings aboard Pegasus and Lizard. All in all, a truly rewarding cruising experience and well worth the effort. (You can read a full account of the Kimberley adventures at www.sailpegasus.com/new-page-26.htm )
We rounded Cape Londonderry our last Kimberly cape on 30th June, and made our way S into Koolama bay and up the King Georges River. Making our way 15 miles up the gorge we anchored at the head of the impressive river in a truly dramatic location close to the two 150m waterfalls. Scaling the cliffs we swam in the fresh water pools and marvelled at the scale of this impressive country.
With just 300 miles to Darwin we were nearly there. Our next passage would be open water across the Joseph Bonaparte gulf, round Charles point and into Darwin. Looking at the grib files the conditions were not ideal. We had strong winds from the E, SE and with a course of 060, we would be close too most of the way. With no window showing over the next week we decided to make passage and get to Darwin.
4 reefs in the main and a slip of staysail, and still making 6 kts over the ground, too fast for the conditions. I can only describe the sea as filthy. 3-4m seas depending on current direction, with a frequency of 14m. With Pegasus at 14m LOA this was most uncomfortable. When the bow was up, the stern was down. And we see sawed across the gulf for 24 hours before conditions moderated. The boys were terribly sick, as was Amanda, and as the seas subsided in the lea of the Arnhem Land we all felt relieved. The wind eased as night fell and rounding Charles point we found a suitable anchorage for the night.
Motoring against stiff headwinds and current we made slow progress, but at 11am 3rd July we dropped anchor in Fannie bay, opposite the Darwin Sailing club. This would be our base for the next 3 weeks as we prepared Pegasus for the next leg of our journey, N across the Arafura and Banda seas through Indonesia and up to Singapore.
Dinghy down and ashore to the Club for Beer and Cigarettes, the only two items we ran out of in the Kimberley and our 6 weeks bush! It felt great to be back in civilisation.
Both Amanda and I felt a terrific sense of achievement, having finally completed a three-quarter circumnavigation of Australia (against the prevailing winds) During the 9 months in Australia we had sailed through the Coral Sea, Tasman Sea, Bass Straight, Southern Ocean and Great Australian Bight, into the Indian Ocean, and on to the Timor Sea and finally the Arafura Sea. We had logged some 7600 miles and added 550Hrs to each engine! Of the major Australian cities, we had taken Pegasus to Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth (Fremantle) and Darwin. We had seen Tropical Queensland, through the wild, cold South, to the deserts of WA and back to the tropics. We had caught Mahi Mahi on the East coast, Blue fin Tuna on the South Coast and Yellow fin on the West coast. We had seen the fantastic museums in Brisbane, sailed under the Sydney harbour bridge and seen ancient aboriginal art in the Kimberley……..
All across the Pacific, Amanda had been excited about seeing Australia. Since her Father had served there when she was a little girl, it had been her dream to travel in the continent……….AUSTRALIA? ………DONE!
Below are a few photos of our trip round Australia. More photos can be found under the original log entries.