April 12, 2012, , "The Keyhole", Middle Island
More precisely, Middle Island, on the eastern edge of the Recherche Archipelago, our last stopping point before heading out into the Great Australian Bight. We left Victoria Bay Harbour at dawn yesterday with a stiff NE breeze, allowing us to cover the 36NM in good time, averaging 7-8 kts. Illusion just loves that 60-90 degree sailing angle and gallops across the blue paddocks like a thoroughbred, foam flying in her wake.
We were headed for "The Keyhole" on the south side of the island, well-protected from the NE winds and swell. And what an absolutely magical place it was, probably the most spectacular anchorage we've been in since the Kimberley region. It's a semi-circular bay surrounded by steep limestone cliffs, dotted with numerous caves. The water is clear turquoise with a sandy bottom (yes! No need for the admiralty anchor!) and there's even a little sandy beach that Widget was very thankful for. We were amused to see that someone had built a "Shrine to the Thong" on the beach - an elaborate driftwood structure containing a sole thong in its centre. Amazing what boaties will do to entertain themselves!
In the afternoon we made sure Illusion was ready for the Bight crossing, checking everything was well-secured, double-checking shackles and cotter pins on all the fittings, re-stocking our 'grab-bag' (the bag we hope we never need, full of emergency supplies should we need to abandon ship). And then we enjoyed a beautiful lamb roast courtesy of George on "Venture", who will also be heading across the Bight with us tomorrow. After a very pleasant evening we returned to Illusion and sat on deck with a glass of red wine, gazing at the breathtaking night-sky and listening to the chittering of the bats in the limestone caves above us. There were definitely some butterflies in the stomach at the prospect of the big trip across the GAB, but what a perfect send-off "The Keyhole" has given us.
|Round Australia 2011||
April 10, 2012, , Victoria Bay Harbour
At 7am on Sunday morning we dropped our lines off the wharf at Esperance and motored out into the bay, heading out into the Recherche Archipelago (pronounced "Resurge" by the locals). We were a little bleary-eyed, which probably explains why we were a bit slow to notice that one of the big cargo ships anchored in the bay - well... wasn't. Instead, it was steaming straight for us! After a rapid course adjustment we were well and truly alert AND a bit alarmed!
After that morning heart-starter, things settled down and we had a pleasant sail for the first couple of hours in a 10-15 kt nor-easterly breeze. But as always seems to happen, the wind swung to the east and the last two hours we had to tack our way into Lucky Bay, a beautiful bay with purportedly the whitest sand in Australia. There was a heavy swell rolling in from the south, so we explored both sides of the bay before settling on the eastern side. With fingers crossed, we dropped our normal Rocna anchor in a patch of sand amongst the weed and it set beautifully. What a relief! Sadly, the surf was too big to get Widget to the beach, so she had to be content with her back-deck "park", gazingly longingly to shore. We enjoyed sundowners with George aboard "Venture" before heading back to Illusion for an early night, ready for another short-ish hop of 20NM to Victoria Bay Harbour yesterday.
The wind had picked up to 20+ kts by yesterday morning and resolutely stayed on the nose all the way, so our 20NM turned into 30NM by the time we'd tacked backwards and forwards. The scenery is stunning, with myriads of islands offlying the coast, but requires careful navigation due to the many reefs and shoals. So while it's undoubtedly a beautiful part of the country, it's hard to relax and enjoy it fully, knowing there may be treacherous uncharted reefs around. Thankfully, our electronic charts seemed to be very accurate, and it was easy to spot most of the reefs due to white water breaking around them. I marvel at the early navigators, including Matthew Flinders, who charted their way through these waters in the 18th and 19th centuries.
George on board "Venture" had arrived in Victoria Bay Harbour about 3 hours before us (poor Illusion, last again!), and reported that there were plenty of sand patches and a nice beach for Widget. Perfect! We arrived about lunchtime and indeed, it's an idyllic little anchorage, well-protected from all winds except from the SW/NW, and no swell. In the afternoon we all hiked up to the top of Mt Belches, where we were rewarded with the most spectacular views over the Archipelago and the coastline. We'd originally planned to head out to Middle Island today, but the wind is still strong from the NE, so we've decided to have another 'lay day' here, and set off tomorrow morning when the forecast is for lighter and more northerly winds.
|Round Australia 2011||
April 7, 2012, , Esperance, WA
After arriving early Wednesday morning in Esperance, we had a relaxing day doing very little, although we did manage to find our way to the Pier Hotel for a counter lunch! It was a beautiful calm sunny day and we lapped up the holiday atmosphere of the place. Thursday was a bit different.....overcast and rainy with the forecast of a strong SW change coming through in the afternoon. We spent the morning provisioning and doing laundry (and then wheeling it all back to the jetty in a trolley, feeling like the bag-people of Esperance). Despite the lure of going to the movies, we decided to stay on the boat for the afternoon as the wind was picking up and we still weren't 100% confident that our anchors would hold. Within half an hour we were getting gusts of 30 kts and sure enough, before long we were off, dragging our two anchors across the bay towards "Venture". We then had to swap our normal roles as there was no way I could manhandle the admiralty anchor back onto the boat. So I took the helm and Bruce became anchorman, superhumanly heaving on the rode and chain to get the admiralty up, then bringing up the Rocna with the windlass. Round we went to try and set them again - this time just the admiralty with a lot more rode out. Same result. Poor Bruce giving himself a hernia bringing it back up again and taking a nasty chunk out of his hand in the process (something to do with me not understanding his somewhat idiosyncratic hand signals and turning the boat the wrong way. Oops, so sorry skipper!). We decided to call the marina and see if a berth was available and were directed to a suitable pen. However, by now the wind was howling and it was all Bruce could do to keep on course for the marina and not get blown onto the rock wall, let alone try and get into a pen with pile moorings and chains (and a very expensive Riviera in the adjoining pen which we would surely have rammed - as it turned out it belonged to the marina manager, so probably best that we aborted that plan!). So out into the bay we went again, to try once more with both anchors. Still no luck, despite putting out heaps more chain and rode. For the third time that day Bruce pulled up the admiralty by hand, and then noticed that the pin securing the crossbar had sheared off. Maybe that's why it wasn't setting?? We were now very close to running out of options - the southern side of the commercial jetty was free, but we had no idea if there was enough depth there. Too bad - we'd have to try it. I ran around the deck like ricochet rabbit trying to organize fenders and lines, praying we wouldn't do too much more damage to our topsides on the rough wooden pylons and metal bolts. The good news was that we got alongside and were secure. The bad news was that we took another chunk out of the toe-rail and dinged the fiberglass hull. So all in all, a bit of a brutal afternoon! But after that, things improved immeasurably. Bruce has managed to manufacture a new stainless steel pin for the anchor (see, anchorman really IS superman!) and we've been able to relax and enjoy the sights of Esperance. We had dinner at the yacht club on Thursday night, with George and Jess from "Venture", although it was apparently a very quiet night there - I think a lot of people have gone away for Easter. Today we visited the Esperance museum which has an incredible wealth of local history and artefacts, including pieces of the space-station Skylab which broke up over Esperance in the 1970's. Apparently the local shire demanded compensation from NASA - I think they got $400 in the end! I never did get the full story about the clock tower. It seems to have been built in 2005 and is modeled on the Big Ben mechanism, chiming on the ¼ hr and occasionally bursting into a full version of "Rock of Ages". All very bizarre. Thankfully it only operates between 8am -8pm otherwise we would have gone completely mad!
George and Jess came for dinner aboard "Illusion" last night, and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. Sadly, Jess had to fly home to Brisbane today, so it seems that George will be single-handing it across the Bight on "Venture". Both "Venture" and "Illusion" are planning to leave Esperance tomorrow morning for a short hop to Lucky Bay, and then wend our way through the Recherche Archipelago for another couple of days before heading out across the Bight on Wednesday, and then a run of approximately 600 NM until landfall at Coffin Bay, South Australia. Wish us luck!!
|Round Australia 2011||
April 4, 2012, , Glasse Island, Bremer Bay
After carefully studying the weather maps and talking to the locals, we decided that yesterday would give us an ideal 24 hour weather window to run to Esperance, before the swells increased to a forecast 5-6 metres. While we'd been reasonably comfortable on the mooring at Bremer Bay, we didn't like the idea of bouncing around in even bigger swells. Also, the only way we could secure ourselves to the all-chain mooring was to run our heavy-duty snubber line through the chain loop and then back to our cleats, but we were concerned that the line wouldn't hold up to the constant friction for much longer. As it turned out, we were right - when we dropped the mooring we discovered our line was almost worn through!
We left at 8am in a stiff norwesterly breeze and fairly rocketed out of the bay under a reefed main, past the large surf crashing against Glasse Island. Our friends on "Venture" had also decided to make the overnight trip to Esperance and they followed us out of the bay. Being a motor boat, they can maintain a steady 6kts of speed regardless of wind and wave conditions. But in the strong winds and following seas we had the initial advantage, surfing down the 3-4 metre swells at speeds up to 10-11 knots, yahooing as we went! Those of you who know us, know that Bruce and I are not the least competitive. No, no, not one little bit. So you won't be surprised to know that while the conditions lasted there were regular calls from whoever was on watch at the time - "10.7Kts!", "11.2 kts!", "11.5kts!!" (that last one from Bruce, who took the record this trip). We knew that it couldn't last of course, and eventually by the evening the wind had eased and the swell lessened and we were back to motor-sailing at a much more sedate 5-6 kts.
During the day we decided to try a spot of fishing - it had been so long since we'd put a lure out. But it seemd our lure was only attracting the seabirds, who wheeled and dived around it very excitedly. Reluctantly we pulled it in, worried that we would snare one of them, and we're very glad we did as later we heard from "Venture" that that was exactly what had happened to them.
The overnight passage was quite beautiful, with a bright moon guiding our way. When the moon set, the night sky was stunning, with Venus glowing brightly on the North-West horizon and a billion trillion stars creating a dome above us. Our only problem was that we were travelling too fast, and in danger of arriving in Esperance before dawn! So we rolled up the genoa and slowed the boat down, and eventually rounded Cull Island just south of Esperance as the sun was coming up. "Venture" had gradually gained on us during the night, so both boats arrived in Esperance Bay at the same time. We'd hoped to come alongside the jetty near the Yacht Club, but there was a large charter boat occupying half of it, and the other half was under repair. Instead we decided to anchor in the bay and try out the admiralty anchor. Bruce hauled it over the side and we reversed up in an attempt to set it. It seemed to bite, but then we started dragging. So up it came (sounds so easy doesn't it? The reality was Bruce hauled it up by hand over the side-rails with a great deal of effort). Try No 2 - we circled back around "Venture" (who were nicely holding with their marsh anchor) and dropped our normal Rocna anchor with plenty of chain, and then re-depoyed the admiralty as well with plenty of rode. Finally, we seemed to be holding! With the gentle sounds of the clock tower chiming across the water, it was time for breakfast, showers and then a snooze before exploring the delights of Esperance.
|Round Australia 2011||
April 2, 2012, , Bremer Bay
We'd planned to leave Albany early last Saturday morning, go to Two Peoples Bay for lunch (and test out our admiralty anchor), and then head off in the afternoon for an overnight trip to Bremer Bay. As it turned out, the wind picked up from west just about the time we were planning to leave, pinning us against the dock. We had one unsuccessful attempt to get off, and then decided that rather than cause more damage to our toe-rail, we'd wait until the wind eased before trying again. Eventually about midday there was enough of a lull for our second attempt. This time, using a bow springer and motoring forward against it, we were able to get enough of our stern out to then reverse off and be free!
By that time, it was too late to go to Two Peoples Bay, so we headed straight for Bremer Bay (approximately 90NM north-east of Albany). The wind, for once, was behind us. Glory be! On the down side, there was quite a big, confused swell running so it was still an uncomfortable ride for the first few hours. It felt a little akin to being on a giant ab-workout machine, as our upper bodies twisted from side to side to counteract the wave action! Eventually the sea state settled, and we too settled into our 3 hour watch system for the night. Prior to doing overnight trips we always prepare meals in advance and freeze them, so that all we have to do is defrost and reheat them in a saucepan. The less time preparing food in the galley the better, particularly when it's rough! At least this way we always have a hot meal in the evening, no matter how bad the weather. Saturday night's meal was beef stew with rice - even simple food tastes so good at sea.
The wind became quite light and variable during the night, but for once we weren't in a hurry, not wanting to get to Bremer before daylight. Normally we start the motor once our speed drops below 4 kts, but this time we were happy to cruise along with reefed main and genoa, doing 3 - 3.5 kts in 10-15 kts of breeze, arriving off Bremer Bay just after sunrise on Sunday morning. The forecast indicated two low pressure systems on their way so Bremer Bay looked as though it would provide a good haven to sit them out. We'd organized to pick up a mooring through one of Bruce's diving contacts, so we motored into Fishery Bay where the fishing fleet is located, only to find another boat on our allocated mooring! They offered to move, but there was another vacant mooring nearby so we picked that up instead (with a bit of difficulty, they make their moorings very strong in these parts!). Mind you, we were very glad of that strong mooring when the wind picked up to 30kts during the day as the first of the low pressure systems came through. Our neighbours on "Venture", kindly invited us over for drinks and dinner last night, so we enjoyed some fine red wine and delicious steaks with George and his crew, Jess, and admired his beautiful Nordhavn motor yacht. They're also headed East so no doubt we'll cross paths along the way. We plan to stay here today and possibly tomorrow, waiting for the 5 - 6m swells to settle to a more manageable 3-4 metres, and then we'll head off for another overnight run to Esperance.
|Round Australia 2011||
March 28, 2012, , Albany, WA
We've had a lovely time in Albany, despite the dramatic drop in temperature. Out of hibernation have come the jeans, woollies, socks and shoes! We'd originally planned to stay only a few days in order to do some maintenance and re-provisioning, but our wonderful hosts Garry and Jennifer Welstead from Southcoast Diving have looked after us so well that a few days have turned into almost two weeks! They've very kindly loaned us their work ute for all the errands we've needed to do (sourcing new zips for the mainsail cover, buying chain for our admiralty anchor etc etc).
Albany is a very attractive historic town, the first area to be settled in WA in the early 1800's. It later became a major whaling port right up until the 1970's. Now, mercifully, they make money from whale-watching trips instead. We've been able to explore some of the town, including the famous 'Dog Rock', the historic forts area and lookout, as well as the tourist drive out to Frenchman's Bay to see the Gap and the natural bridge. All quite stunning.
Last week Garry and Jen took us on a sight-seeing trip to Walpole and the surrounding areas, including the magnificent 'Valley of the Giants" treetop walk, and to the giant and ancient Tingle trees, only found in this part of WA. Wow, they are BIG!! I've uploaded some photos in the photo gallery - I especially like the one of Bruce propping up the giant Tingle!
Talking of the skipper, his hiccups finally disappeared after 3 days. Must have been me threatening to take him to the doctor that did it! Unfortunately he's now caught a nasty case of man-flu - the poor dear is falling apart! Just as well the weather isn't right for us to head out to sea just yet. On Saturday it looks as though we'll be getting a few days of WNW winds which should be just right for our next leg to Esperance.
Our biggest headache has been trying to work out how to deploy and retrieve our new admiralty anchor (the old-fashioned Fisherman's anchor) which apparently is a must in this area due to the abundance of weed and rock-hard sandy bottoms. We've sought advice from some of the local experts (thank you Mark McRae!) but none of the solutions are easy with just two people on board. One person would normally need to be at the helm while the other launches and retrieves the anchor, but this is such a heavy, unwieldy (and potentially dangerous) beast that we've been left scratching our heads as to how one person could handle it on the bow. Unfortunately Illusion is not set up well for this kind of exercise - we need a second bow roller and an accessible anchor locker for storage. We had a practice this morning, lowering it over the side while still tied up at the marina, but retrieving it was tricky even with both of us on the foredeck and using the spinnaker halyard to help raise it and keep it away from the side of the boat. Our thoughts now are to deploy our normal primary anchor, the Rocna, to keep us generally in one spot while we launch the admiralty. Similarly, the two of us can then retrieve the admiralty, and once it's stored bring the Rocna up in the normal way. Mind you, the thought of having to do this in the middle of the night if the wind changes or we're dragging doesn't bear thinking about! All things considered, we've come to the conclusion that our first and best strategy is to try and find weed-free areas to anchor!
The only negative thing about Albany is its' marinas. We're located on the south side of the inner harbour, at Princess Royal Sailing Club, about 15 minutes drive away from town, so not very practical unless you have transport. The fees are reasonable ($20 per night), but reflect the basic nature of the facilities. Provided they don't turn the hot water off on you, there are hot showers, toilets (very basic), and taps on the dock. There are power outlets, but we were told these were only to be used for power tools, and not for plugging the boat into, as it would overload their system. So we've been managing to maintain our power through a combination of the solar panels, wind-generator and diesel generator. The dock itself is covered in guano from the myriad seabirds that roost on it, and has broken poles and metal rings protruding from it, making it hazardous when the winds blows us on. We now have an impressive array of fenders and fender boards rigged up to protect out topsides from damage. All in all, not a very welcoming atmosphere for visiting yachties! Yesterday when there was no hot water in the showers we thought about treating ourselves to a couple of nights at the new marina in town. We knew it would be expensive, and thought for our size boat it would be in the order of $75-80 per night. We nearly fell off the boat when they told us it would $112.50!!!! So guess what? We'll put up with the bird shit and the facilities here for a few more days!!
We only have some last minute provisioning to do, and then provided the forecast remains good we'll head off on Saturday morning, maybe having a couple of overnight stops on the way (if our new anchoring system works!) and hopefully will be in Esperance by next Monday or Tuesday.
|Round Australia 2011||