Saturday, June 25, 2011


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!

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