Sunday, June 26, 2011

Abrolhos to Steep Point, Shark Bay

The depth sounder kept reminding me that we were in 24.5 m of water and I tried to reconcile that with the fact that we had an anchor down on the bottom and that this was the only thing holding us in the 27 plus knots of north easterly. 24.5 m is, I think, about 80 feet. So, imagine this dear readers, the anchor drops 80 feet to the bottom (nearly 3 times the top diving platform at Beatty park!!!) and then its seriously on its own. We pay out 60 m of chain, snub and wonder what is happening way down in the dark depths of 80 feet. Personally, in true Rob Manning worst case senario fashion, I knew it was the last we would see of beloved delta anchor and what a shame, only used it twice. You don't really sleep when anchored in 80 feet with 25 plus knots so we had an anxious night checking the gps coordinates and listening to gentle beep of the anchor alarm but we hadn't moved a centimeter. Next day, around lunch time we decided to get the hell out of this deep pool and head over to Pigeon Island. I approached the bow to winch up the anchor or what was left of it. Slowly.......slowly the winch turned and the chain began to emerge out of the darkness while the Nillson kept grunting her way around and around. I was desperate to see the 10 m mark on the chain because then I would know we had cleared the bottom and we were on our way up. There it was and there was our shiny new Delta hanging off the end. Clunk into the bow roller and we had our anchor back in one piece. I gave it a pat on its fluke and said to myself, that's why we bought a Delta.
The motor around to Pidgeon was quick and easy with the channel well marked and the wind easing for a change. We drifted down past the fisherman's houses and moorings till we found about 5 m over sand that gave us good protection in everything but due north. Pick in, snubbed nicely and for about the first time in weeks I felt secure and relaxed. Its amazing how moods change when you feel secure and have things under control. There was some weather coming but we would be fine here. We had to shift once when the southerly came in due to an overly friendly mooring and when the anchor came up it brought with it a mixture of sand and crushed shell grit. All we need was a shovel full of cement and we would have permanent holding. Kokomo V, our cruising buddies were making their way from Geraldton after getting some work done on their prop and they picked up a mooring nearby. I had a chook ready for a roast dinner so we asked them over. They arrived with some nice reds and we enjoyed a feast safely tucked up in this snug channel between island and reef. Pigeon Island is jammed packed with kit homes built by fisherman and they look like a dulux colour chart stretched over a flat rock. Most have jetties that stick out into the calm waters between island and reef. It's so weird to see these little communities sprouting on these barren limestone outcrops in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Some of the houses are quite substantial and have verandahs that extend out over the water. We didin't go ashore, it would have felt like you were walking through somebody's backyard. I wonder how they all get on, what the politics are and if they have the same niggles that we all suffer in the great suburban squeeze of city life.

Pidgeon Island

Pidgeon Island
Time to prepare for our run to Steep Point, the entrance to Shark Bay and then on to Carnarvon. We motored around to Turtle Bay and while a beautiful bay for getting ashore and stretching legs, any swell from the east, west or north rolls in and makes life uncomfortable. A lot of people are envious of of our lifestyle and when we say we living on a boat and sailing up the coast their eyes roll and they go all dreamy saying, wow, what a way to go, you're so lucky, I'm soooooo envious! You want the honest truth??.. Envy is not something any of you need to struggle with too often. Our first day in Turtle Bay was a 9-5er. Started with 4 loads of washing all done by hand in a Magic Wash barrel. Then Diana started repairing our mainsail after we had glued and clamped two patches the previous day. Hand sawing heavy sail cloth is not easy and she was at it for 5 hours. A beautiful job though and then we had to repack the main in rolling swells ready for 7 am depart next morning.

Turtle Bay. Wallabi Group
Looks peaeful enough, but turned into a very rolly anchorage.

Frank & Karen join us for sun downers at Turtle Bay.
Kokomo V and The Doctor
 The First NIGHT SAIL.....Turtle bay to Steep point. We don't like night sails. They're Ok if you have a full moon, a warm balmy night and consistent 10-15 knots on the beam with zero swell, lets say flat water to be really mad. What do you think we got from TB to Steep Point? Well, dear readers it wasn't the above. The winds were forecast to be 13-18 SE on a 2.5-3 m swell. The swell was an issue but the wind was perfect. What we actually got was 8-13 NE, right on the nose and the swell for most of the day. We could see the southerly change off to our port in the shape of big black squall lines that dumped their quota of rain at seemingly random spots on the ocean. As we sailed through them you either got the full quota, plus wind or just the tail end as you skirted the edges. This started just on sunset and continued through the night ind into the morning. Just before the sun set I was looking forward from the cockpit when a huge head rose out of the ocean followed by a tail that just as quickly disappeared not more that 20m ahead. Hi whale! Hope you can see us better that we can you. To cut a long story short, it was a shit of a sail. The wind was never consistent and we were pulling in jib, starting motor, letting jib out turning motor off all night, Then it dropped out and the main would flog from one side of the boat to the other with that bone jarring thwakkk that shook the mast and brought on suicidal possibilities. We tried to sail and eventually, as day broke and the Zydorrf cliffs rose eerily from the east we had some consistent SEasterlies and The Doctor was loving it. The seas were a mess and the crew by this stage had had about 30 minutes sleep and envy is not something anyone should be feeling right at this point. We got through Steep Point without too much drama but the potential for hell on high water was clearly obvious. In certain conditions, this entrance would be a nightmare and we were thankful to drop the anchor in Shelter Bay, gather our senses, open a cold beer and begin to look, just for a moment, at what beauty awaited discovery ahead in Shark bay. That was after we had done another repair on the mainsail........ahhhhhhh the envy the envy!!!
Motley taking it easy as we approach Steep Point

Inside Steep Point, Shark Bay

Yachts in company resting at Shelter Bay

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Well we can’t stay behind this island shelf forever. We have to get out there and see why so many people love the Abrolhos. We left Middle Island and ventured south into the rock strewn guts of the Pelsaert Group. We were warned to have someone keep watch on the bow for rocks and reef. We crawled southwards to the ruin of the Guano Jetty. In fact it wasn’t as treacherous as I thought and there even port and starboard lateral marks to lead the way. It still took us ages to creep only a few miles. The Pelsaert Island gave us a bit more shelter to anchor behind, but you could still see over the island to the open sea on the other side. An optical illusion made the ocean level look higher than the island which was a bit disconcerting. Looking over there we were rather glad to be anchored where we were on not in the mish mash of troubled seas to the east. I was still feeling anxious about whether the anchor would hold. It looked like we were anchored in sand, but it could just have easily been shallow sand over a base of solid limestone. Sleep was troubled as the wind continued to howl in from the north east. It did calm down slightly in the afternoons, but the respite was minimal. We are still not comfortable with this cruising life style. We just have to toughen up. (Princess) Even Motley remains doggedly (?) in her cupboard until the anchor is dropped.
We were able to get off the boat and walk over the coral strewn Pelsaert Island and look at the rough fisherman’s camp and the ruins of the old guano trade. It was great to stretch the legs and I walked along the beach to say hello to a basking seal.

West side of Pelsaert

East side of Pelsaert Island

There once was a tale of a cast away.....
Getting north was much easier now we knew the way and we headed towards beautiful White Bank where there were moorings. At last I could sleep without worrying that the anchor was going to drag, ending us up on the rocks. White Bank is the cutest of little islets about the size of football field. It has perfect little white beaches and some low green vegetation. Add a palm tree and you would have the classic cartoon desert island. We alighted ashore and claimed the island for ourselves, but found that we were not the only ones there. There we two families of seals sleeping nestled in the sandy hollows of the vegetation. Each group appeared to consist of a mother and calf. They are obviously used to strangers and they started cavorting in the shallows near us perhaps waiting for a hand out. They followed us back to the dinghy and escorted us back to the boat until they realized that we had no treats for them. A charted fishing and diving boat pulled up nearby and we watched as the seals and divers frolicked together. Rob did think momentarily about going in for a dip, but it was only a fleeting thought. It’s still too cold.....and WINDY!

White Bank Easter Group

Come and play!
We were pretty determined to keep heading north so we left our lovely big fat safe mooring to head up to the Easter Group, about a 15 miles sail to the north. Ugh! What a nightmare. With the winds forecast to ease in the afternoon and the need to approach any new anchorage in good light we set the bow north. The wind was still around 20 -25 knots, but the seas were like rows of brick walls marching towards the boat. The Doctor performed admirably and only fell off the back of the waves a few times. Rob steered like a pro surfer paddling up the waves and sliding down the other side. Down below was a shambles with cushions and books all over the place. Motley had chosen this day of all, to come out of her cupboard and stay up on deck. She was not happy and laid a big poo on the cockpit cushion. (New by the way. Paid a fortune.) Of course there was no way she would be able to use her tray which is up near the bow. Being in the plunging bow would be interesting in these conditions even if you weren’t trying to balance over a cat litter tray that was sliding all around. As promised the wind dropped down bit by bit and the seas abated. We were looking forward to an all- weather, sheltered anchorage, ringed by reef and with two lovely moorings available. As we approached the lee of the islands the seas smoothed out and we were feeling good. Maybe we have got this place sussed after all. We turned the corner into the anchorage. No moorings! We had got our information terribly wrong. We circled around and around the anchoring hole looking for some shallow water to anchor in. We found shallow water all right but it was only shallow because there was a bank of reef. Time and daylight were running out so we had to commit to anchoring in 20 metres of water, something we had never done before. We carry 60 metres of chain attached to our anchor and ideally you should have a ratio of 1:5 in strong wind conditions. We would have 1:3 if lucky. We were utterly disappointed. The anchorage was well protected with its ring of reef, but deep. Too deep. The anchor grabbed on to what sounded like rock but held fast even as we pulled back hard on to it using the motor. Bloody hell, another sleepless night coming up. We put on the anchor alarm on the GPS and bunked down for the night not knowing what was in store. With a limited mobile signal we managed to contact our family back at home, and friends, Frank and Karen on Kokomo. They were back in the water after being hauled out in Geraldton. The propeller shaft had been straightened and all made good. They were heading over to join us the next day. It would be good to have company. It has been a bit lonely out here.


It was with mixed feeling that we left the safe haven of Port Denison. It was just too easy there from a cruiser’s perspective. I wanted to see the Houtman Abrolhos Islands but it was with a degree of trepidation. They were supposed to be beautiful, but remote and sometimes perilous. Proper charts have only just been published for this archipelago that consists of 120 low lying islands. Up until fairly recently only hand drawn fisherman’s charts were the only guide into this hazardous group. The observations of a friend who had recently visited the islands and had a mixed bag of experiences there were ringing in my head. “It is not a place for the faint hearted!”
The islands spread over about 45 nautical miles north and south and are about 50nm north west of Port Denison, theoretically about an eight hour sail. Really most of the islands are under water as the ill fated Batavia discovered way back in 1619. Abrolhos can be loosely translated from the Dutch to mean “Open your eyes”. In fact you can’t even see the islands until you are about two miles off, they are so low lying.
Our first departure was a false start. About two miles out of the entrance the oil pressure alarm came on. Rob ran down to the engine room and discovered oil everywhere. Not a good thing when you are heading off into the remote blue yonder. There was no choice but to turn back. Amazingly we both took it very well. Usually it goes against the grain to turn back, but in this case we were thankful that if there was something wrong with the motor, it needed to be fixed in a harbour where we would have help, and parts available. With a bit of brilliant detective work by Rob discovered a broken ‘o’ ring on the gear box filler cap. He borrowed a car from a local cruiser and scooted into town and came back with one ‘o’ ring, plus spares. Luckily this time we had an easy fix. It was the first of many breakages and repairs to come.
The next day we set off again just on first light. Take two. It gave us enough light to see the cray pots that had been thoughtlessly set right on the entrance leads and the leading lights were still lit. Our friends on Kokomo V, Frank and Karen were setting off towards Geraldton to have their boat lifted after difficulty with their propeller. The conditions weren’t great. The wind was from dead behind us with a south west swell and south east seas. In other words, we were in a washing machine. We gybed over one way and then the other, but we couldn’t lay the course directly. The Doctor of course handled the conditions better than any of us and just plugged away at the miles doing 6 and 7 knots. There was a knot in our stomachs as we approached the jagged, reefy islands. When you look at the charts the anchorages look like protected little nooks, but in reality there is no head land to protect you from the weather, only low lying reefs and rocky out crops. As we navigated behind Middle Island the seas flattened out and there was a communal sign of relief on the good ship The Doctor. I think even the cat sighed. The anchor was in deep sand and the boat was sitting still and flat behind a slab of limestone rock no more than a metre or two high. The wind was still howling through the rigging disconcertingly but at least we could stop.
Beers all round. This is what cruising is about. Shitty sail, tricky navigation, fear of the unknown, but successfully getting there and knowing that you were safe. Motley came out of her customary hidey hole in the galley cupboard, sniffed the breeze and settled down in the cockpit to enjoy the companionship of an afternoon ale.
So this is the Abrolhos. The plan is to work our way north through the group, wait until there is a good weather window suitable to tackle the next tricky bit, the Zuytdorp Cliffs and Steep Point, the gateway to Shark Bay.

Anchored at Middle Island, Pelsaert Group, Abrolhos

Arrived safely!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Port Dennison

We arrived at Port Denison about a week ago, Friday night to be exact after a sail and motor from Jurien Bay. We came in just after sunset and got busy setting up some lines on a borrowed mooring. Port Denison is one of our favourite spots along this coast and this is our second visit by boat. The first was memorable. We had left the Abrolhos on our way home from a circumnavigation a few years earlier and we had been pushing it to get home before the summer winds set in. About two hours out we got a storm warning coming from the south and we had to decide to push on for a hidey hole further south or back track to the safety of Port Denison. Readers of our Norlee news emails will remember the weeping woman at the wheel who could only mutter between sobs" its not fair, its just not..........g fair, I just want to go home!!!!!" We detoured to Denison and picked up a cray boat mooring seconds before the wind and rain hit. Well it has been less dramatic this time. We have had 7 peaceful days hanging off another cray boat mooring with official sanction from Sea Rescue locals. Seems the some of the boats are over at the Abrolohos still filling up their quotas and these moorings are good to go. We jump into the dinghy for a 2 minute ride to a wooden gangway that leads up to a newish concrete jetty. About 50 metres along the jetty you will find clean toilets, a further 50 meters across the road a bakery, pub, small grocery store and take-away. The harbour is secure in all winds and it has ample water within the moorings. The sea wall takes in the natural contour of the headland and then extends along and inside the reef line. Today we drifted over to the service jetty and loaded up with water from a tap we could almost reach from the cockpit. Too easy!! We unpacked our folding bikes a few days ago a cycled in to town for mail, coffee, papers and a few items from the hardware. Too easy!!

It's been a good week for us in many ways. Just to slow down and get into the mood of a different time schedule has been therapy after our manic few months in Freo. Each day we have done little jobs that were left over from Freo.Tomorrow we head off to the Abrolhos and from there we'll make our way up to Steep Point and then inside Shark Bay to Carnarvon. So it's farewell to Port Denison, a safe harbour that will be fondly remembered. Till next time, Rob