Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Is it getting better? Around NW Cape and into the warm.

Tantabiddi gave us all a bit of a shake up and it took a few good days before we started to feel comfortable again. There were anxious glances at any passing cloud bank and obtaining the scheduled weather report on the HF radio was like a regular prayer meeting. SE winds 13-18 knots for the next four days. Halleluiah!
Unfortunately, rounding NW Cape added another dimension to our stress. Being on the tip of the enormous Exmouth Gulf, the tide with its 2.5 metres ebb and flow creates great areas around the cape of overflows, whirlpools and swirling water. Of course Murphy stepped in (it had nothing to do with us not checking the tides) and we had to push against a massive tide. With engines near full revs and the boat being pushed off course we crept forward at 3 knots. We made it through but the 48 mile hop to Serrurier took much longer than we expected and much relieved we dropped anchor just before the sun set.
This lovely island may be a bit of a turning point. Serrurier Island, named by the French explorer Baudin is one of our favourite anchorages along this coast. It has long sandy beaches and easy anchorage in sandy bottomed turquoise waters. At last the winds had dropped and we could enjoy the simple pleasures of cruising. A long walk along a virginal deserted beach fossicking amongst the shells and washed up coral. We fired up the BBQ on the back of the boat for the first time and enjoyed a companionable evening with Frank and Karen eating and drinking in the cockpit as the sun went down. This may not seem like much, but it was the first time in nearly two months of so call “cruising” that we really felt like we were actually doing it. Cruising that is.

Moon rise over Serrurier Island
Another first was a snorkel on the fringing reef around Serrurier Island. The coral was pretty ordinary, but the numbers and colours of the fish were amazingly aquarium like. In actual fact it was a bit too cold really for snorkelling without a wet suit, but we had to do it, the water looked too inviting.  It took a good while to warm up on the beach before we could tackle the dinghy ride back to the boat in wet bathers. We spent two wonderful days at the island before we pointed our bow towards the coast and the dusty red town of Onslow.
Onslow is a mining town that services the oil rigs off shore and it has that real out back feel to it, with its red dirt, wide deserted streets and a few basic shops. We thought we would treat ourselves to a meal out. We had heard of a five star restaurant, of all things, that was a must do. Unfortunately, not open on Saturday nights. We had to settle for a meal at the pub. Saturday night at the Onslow pub, now that was going to be interesting. We took our place at the end of a long cue to place our orders and after ten minutes queuing wondered how long a wait we had in front of us. We were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the kitchen and enormous plates stacked high with good wholesome tucker were in front of us in no time. I had fish and chips the size of which would have fed three people and it was, I must say magnificent. In Perth you are lucky to get a bit of cheap fish, but here I got Sweet Lip which was to die for.  In the NW you do get the best fish. This of course was no candle lit dinner with white linen table cloths and attentive waiters. We sat at plastic tables and chairs in a rough court yard that got a lick of paint maybe 15 years ago. No muted jazz music wafted over the contented diners, but the raucous yells and barracking of a small crowd watching the footy.  With each point scored there was a huge uproar and with each loss, much yelling and swearing. I had thought about asking if there was anything else on the tellie, but maybe that would not have been wise. We left the Onslow pub, well fed, but early, before the entertainment got too carried away. (the eagles went on to lose against St Kilda by 21 points, probably a good to move to get out early before the tears started....RM)

Motley keeping watch

Motley manning the main halyard

I  give up.....I have to do everything around here!
At time of writing we are slowly picking our way towards Dampier where we will stay for a while and rest up while we wait for delivery of our new main sail. The weather so far has been very kind with light winds and sunny skies. A lot of motoring of course, but we will take a day of motoring over too much or adverse winds any day.

Just out of Dampier, a Mackerel Tuna.....gave quite a fight, the line nearly slicing Rob's fingers.
PS Arrived safely in Dampier. Tied up to a mooring (thanks Col) and loving the thought of having a rest and not having to move on for a little while.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Maud’s Landing to Tantabiddi....................the agony and a brief glimpse of something resembling ecstasy...........

The morning after our stormy arrival in Coral Bay was gloriously warm and windless so we declared a day off....or a day when you don’t sail but repair things that have broken in the previous passage. For us it amounted to a problem with a tight steering wheel that needed some effort to get it to turn. Ahhhhh perfect breeding ground for yours truly and his W C S (worst case scenario) affliction. Ummm let me think??? Rudder bearing seizing ...have to sail back to Carnarvon, get it lifted, replace said bearing, while we at it how about an anti foul to replace the paint scrapped off as we ploughed our way up the Fascine....should I ring the hard stand guy, organise a lift, crane....not much change out of 2 grand..........ahhhh boats!!!!!!
 Then Diana rang Brian. Brian McRae did most of the refit on The Doc and he is our “Go to Man”, a man who knows boats and a man who has intimate knowledge of the The Doc.
“No, I don’t think you’ll find its the rudder bearing” was the first thing I heard on speaker phone and I must say I had my doubts as well!!!
“I think it sounds like a problem in the pedestal, probably the bushes that hold the shaft getting a bit sticky, see if you can spray some CRC (Innox a far better product) into them and work the wheel till they free up. We did that with the help of Frank from Kokomo V who suggested the exact same remedy and eventually had the wheel moving much more freely. Cheers Brian and stand by your phone.
The next day was declared a day off as well and we did nothing more than loll about reading or just staring into the lolly green waters of Coral Bay......ahhh this cruising life....can’t beat it. Yardie Creek anchorage is about 50 miles away and again, it’s just a sandy patch on the other side of Ningaloo reef which you get to through a gap in said reef. The weather was behaving and we had a cranking sail from Maud’s for about 35 miles, full main and jib, beam reach and The Doc touching 10 knots. (OK it was once and we were surfing down a swell) The next day Diana and I packed a picnic lunch, topped up the fuel in the dinghy and motored our way to Yardie Creek Gorge. You have to drag your dinghy over a sand bar to get into the gorge and gee this would have been easier if we could have taken the outboard off, a pity we left the key to the padlock back on The Doc. Still we got it over and then launched it into the calm waters of the gorge.
Yardie Creek tranquility

The bar across Yardie Creek

You are forbidden to use any motor in the gorge so we rowed and it was like a scene from a Jane Austen novel. There I was, stretched out in the bow, feet dangling in the cool waters of the gorge as Diana gently pulled the oars while marvelling at the wild life on display. We tied up to a rock under the overhang of a rock face and enjoyed some cheese and chutney. There were no other boats and the silence was deep and serene. We both had flash backs to the Kimberleys as this is what you get on a daily basis up there. Something special happens when you remove people from these places and you allow yourself to simply sit and listen and watch, it’s like being transported out of one world and into another. It was fleeting though as just around the corner came Mum and daughter on kayaks screeching with laughter. School bloody holidays.....don’t these people ever do any work???

Pass the pims Charles

 Next morning we awoke to a grey, leaden sky and the signs of a nasty bit of weather brewing on the horizon. We had a couple of moorings organised at the next anchorage, Tantabiddi, and it was a short trip so the ominous sky didn’t seem so threatening. We made our way into the anchorage and picked up the twin lines of a big, solid, recently surveyed mooring and sat back with just a hint of complacency, thinking, “ OK you bastards, give us your worst, we’re ready.”
Approaching storm at Tantabiddi

Well, did we get it! It started blowing about midday, around 20 knots then quickly built to 20-30 by early afternoon. Wind direction was North East which meant we had swell protection but a lot of fetch (fetch is wind waves that build up over a stretch of water and can bury your bow and worse). By 4 o’clock it was steadily into the 30-40 knot scale and from 4 onwards it rarely dropped below 35-45. At about 5.30, Diana and I were sitting under the dodger watching  the bow dip and plunge into the fetch and saying out loud, OK, had enough of this now, time to ease.....(.it doesn’t work), when we heard an almighty bang and one of the lines was lying in the water. Our starboard cleat had snapped clean off the deck on a 40 plus gust. I grabbed the boat hook to retrieve the line while Diana went below and found a mooring line. We reattached the loose mooring line to the anchor winch and made our way back to the dodger.
Kokomo V along side us tugging at her mooring

Shit, was this ever going to stop and were we going to have to sit this through all night. Diana started the motor and left it in low revs just to give the mooring some respite and it was a good move. Then she had another great idea. The previous night we had rung our youngest daughter who was babysitting Alexandra, our granddaughter. She wouldn’t go to sleep so Diana sang her a lullaby on the phone she used to use on the girls when they were the same age. It didn’t work. Why not try it on the wind......”Hush a bye don’t, you cry....go to sleep little baby..........It didn’t work either.” The most unnerving thing is not the motion but the noise. At 40 plus knots it’s an angry relentless scream that rises in intensity and then seems to find and even higher pitch of venom. We were at least on a mooring and not out in a raging ocean but we sat there thinking what it must be like to get caught in a bad storm at sea and to have to sit it out for days. I suddenly had an even better idea. Let’s sell the boat and use the money to do all the great train journeys across the world, maybe throw in some canal trips in England and France. Well, just on dark it started to ease. We were watching the wind speed slowly settle around 35 knots with nothing above 38, then a sudden drop to 30, then a bit later something in the high 20s and then a bit later still our first sign of it going under 20 knots. We breathed out in a collective sigh of relief. The screaming had stopped and we were through the worst, we might even get some sleep tonight.  

Towards Coral Bay. The north’s tropical paradise....

We were expecting quite strong winds for our next leg towards Coral Bay so we thought we would try just flying the jib alone. Big mistake. At first it was wonderful. The sun was shining; the water flat, as was the boat, and all was right with the world. Rob and I said, “Why don’t we do this more often, rather than getting up the big main all the time? This is great! We should make life easier for ourselves.” Ha! Once out of the lee (protection) of the land the seas picked up together with the wind. Rather than floating on a nice stable platform the boat started to yaw from side to side so much so that it felt like we were in a washing machine. For the first time the books, normally stacked securely on their shelves, guided by an on board poltergeist, leapt out and onto the floor in a heap. We persevered and just hung on, as putting up the main in those conditions would have been really hard. At last the wind and the seas eased a bit and we had Maud’s Landing, the anchorage at Coral Bay well within out sites, only 5 miles away. Did I mention the big bank of black clouds that had been sitting on the horizon to our north? No? Kokomo ahead of us said that they had just had a big wind change and they were getting 30 knots of wind right on the nose. Great. We weren’t home free yet. The massive bank of black cloud enveloped both boats and before we knew it we had the motor on and we were crawling forward at a snail’s pace, making hardly any head way. Kokomo to add to their grief was having engine trouble and reported that they may not be able to make it in to the anchorage at all. After crawling along at a measly 1-2 knots, we gave the engine everything it had and were able to make forward progress at about 3-4 knots. The waves kicked up by the strong head wind stood up like brick garden walls and stopped the boat in its tracks. It seemed to take hours to inch our way around the reef and into the bay. To add to our predicament, the wind was strongly from the north east making the bay unprotected from the wind, with nowhere to get shelter. The moorings that I had organized for the two boats were right at the end of the bay and offered no protection. We tried to find a place to anchor but there were numerous shallow patches and each idea was thwarted. We were losing light and with Kokomo hard on our stern and worried about their motor that might conk out at any time, we dropped anchor right where we were in the middle of nowhere. At least the anchor dropped into good holding sand and we had enough water under the keel. What a day! After early misgivings about our choice of anchoring spot (I wanted to persevere to find something better) the wind dropped out and we had a reasonable night.
Approaching Coral Bay

Nerves were somewhat frayed on both boats and we needed a day or two to recover from our ordeal.  I don’t know about the others but I had a few things going through my mind. Why don’t we have rum on board? Why are we doing this? Is there a plane out of Coral Bay?
So many questions and so few right answers.

Gnarly Gnarraloo and Beyond

The anchorages, we may have mentioned, along this west coast are rubbish, and that is being very polite. The next available place for an overnight stop was behind a gap in the reef amongst numerous coral bommies and reefy outcrops. My mind goes back to the beautiful, safe and easy anchorages of the east coast, such as Mourilyn Harbour, where you could slip in, often night or day and drop your anchor in a calm and organized way. The roast would be cooking away in the oven ready to be served when the anchor was down.
Our entry into Gnarraloo was not quite that civilized I can tell you that right now.  We had been in there on our way south many years ago but could not recollect much about it. We only had our old log entry to go by, and it said, “Hate it here. Rocks everywhere.” The way in was to first identify a “conspicuous track” on the beach and take a bearing on it of 165 degrees. Then travel in on that bearing with someone on the bow to watch out for bommies. The conspicuous track being more camouflaged than conspicuous, was only readily identifiable when we were already well into the bay. This of course fills one with confidence that we will safely enter this rock strewn so called anchorage! (She says, yelling in her head) Rob was on the bow and found what he thought was a nice sandy spot to drop the anchor. The anchor hit the bottom and sounded like the gnashing teeth of some monster. We were obviously on rock. Frank and Karen on Kokomo had arrived by that time and had dropped their anchor 100 meters to the south, so we tried over there. Nope, same again. They subsequently dragged and had to re anchor. We tried another spot that looked like sand and yes at last the anchor held, and it didn’t sound like it was grinding away on rock. As the boat swung on its anchor the chain did drag disconcertingly over rock, but it was the best we could do. I checked our old log and amazingly we had anchored exactly in the same spot we had seven years ago in our previous boat Norlee.
Some people that we have spoken to have said what a beautiful place Gnarraloo is,  how clear the water, how great the snorkelling, blah, blah, blah. To me it is a rock strewn anchorage with dubious holding and questionable protection and I was only happy when we were on our way out of there.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Cruisy days in Carnarvon

Yes indeed, our few days drifting over the calm waters of Shark bay were a treat and it reminded us of our days on Geographe Bay, that fairyland of fair weather sailing. Just up with the anchor and casually motor/sail to the next 5m anchorage over sand and sit and marvel at nature's beauty. Well, it was a short lived respite as you will hear later. First we had to deal with Carnarvon and dealing with Carnarvon means dealing with the Fascine, a cute little waterway that winds its way from the main channel, over a sand bar and up towards the center of town. We've been up the Fascine before, in fact it was my birthday 7 years ago and we were on our way down to Fremantle. I remember that birthday well. I woke up on the 20th of September 2004 and noticed that Norlee was heeling over and we were not anywhere near an ocean. Yes dear readers, we were on our side in the Fascine, having picked the wrong hole to anchor in. You see the Fascine is shallow and anchoring depends solely on finding a hole deep enough for your draft. Anyway, back to this trip up the Fascine. We had planned our entry to coincide with high tide (1.09) and having bumped our way in before we were expecting something similar this time. I radioed Sea Rescue for any updates on conditions and they replied, Ohhhh, since the floods the bar at the point has got a lot shallower, take care! Great, take care, what was he expecting, The Doctor with full sail hitting the bar at 7 knots.....Not likely. Just as we were closing on the entrance, another yacht, Naughty Girl, a Swanson 42 radioed up and said they were coming back from 10 weeks up north and we could follow them through. This was appreciated as we had already made 3 attempts to get across and got stuck each time. Kokomo V, our sailing companions looked on and after our third attempt said bugger that and headed for the Fishing Boat Harbour. We watched Mark and Chris off Naughty Girl make their way, about mid way between the south cardinal marker and heading for the green starboard maker on the channel. Then they stopped. He put the throttle down and after much mud and froth they pushed through. He called up once he was through and said to go a little more to starboard. I did. The depth dropped to 1.6 m and we draw 1.8m but Doc never stopped, she just ploughed on through the mud and sand and we were through. The channel is pretty good from the entrance onwards but anchoring is where it gets tricky. We decided to find the deepest spot and stay. Unfortunately, it was right in the middle of the channel, just near the yacht club. Well, it was in the middle on a northerly but when the wind blew southerly were hanging outside the channel but sitting in 1.3 m at low water. The Water Police did a run through the channel one day to warn those boats sitting in the channel and Doc just happened to be on southerly swing and sitting obligingly just outside the channel.

The Fascine, Carnarvon
We had a week in Carnarvon and got a lot done. We had a bigger alternator (120 amp) put on and had the water maker rewired. The previous wiring job was dangerously undersized for the current draw despite being done by a so-called electrician. Frank, Karen and I had haircuts and as there are only 2 hairdressers in town we all ended up at the same place. As fate would have it we scored the butcher of Carnarvon who had obviously done her training circa WWII. We all looked the same. Diana actually booked an appointment and as she was the only customer for the day she enjoyed a 3 hour session staring at herself in the mirror. The Yacht club in Carnarvon caters for cruising yacthies so well and we made full use of the showers, washing machines, freezer, fine meals and friendly banter. It's worth the effort getting across the bar and on our way out we had a 1.4m tide and sailed over the entrance with nothing under 2.5m. Mark Darcy, the Cruising Commodore at Carnarvon Yacht Club lent us his car for a day and we did the big shop. 500 bucks at Woolies, Mitre 10, bottle shop, Post Office and we drove out and paid the Auto Sparkie. We left the Fascine Saturday morning after refuelling in the Fishing Boat Harbour and made our way towards Cape Cuvier, a dubious anchorage but at least a safe stopping point in daylight.
Carnarvon was a busy week but we got all those important jobs done and we could set off knowing that we were full of water, fuel and provisions, spare alternators and chocolate. We were ready to take on this West Coast once more and to see what little treats it had in store for us.............coming in the next blog...

"30 knot squall on sunset as we make our way into Maude's landing Coral Bay"

 ahhh you gotta love this west coast!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kokomo V leaving Cape Cuvier

Beautiful Shark Bay

Zofia, Urchin, Kokomo V and The Doctor in Shelter Bay, Shark Bay

At last, I can see glimpses of why we are doing this. Inside the protected waters of Shark Bay the sun at last shone and the winds dropped. The four yachts that travelled from the Abrolhos through Steep Point, the gateway into Shark Bay, dropped anchor in the closest available anchorage in order to rest, recuperate and calm frazzled nerves after a horrible overnighter. Shelter Bay, despite its name isn't the best of anchorages due to the strong tidal flows, but did we care? Nope. We were here, safe and the boat at last was still. Zofia, Urchin, Kokomo V and The Doctor nestled in the bay, a little flock of lost lambs safe from the gnashing teeth of the angry ocean.
We enjoyed the companionship of those who have shared an adventure and nights were spent sharing wine, food and stories. One of the joys of cruising I now remember is the immediacy of friendships that are made, some that last for years, some that are no less valuable for lasting for only a day or two. Sometimes connections are made beyond the moment, and the band of intrepid sailors agreed to meet again back in Perth to relive the moment and to share new stories.
Shark Bay continued to delight, and I could tell that Rob was thinking less and less of selling the boat and toying with the idea of caravaning. As we moved northwards we found pleasant beautiful anchorages and started to relax into the true cruising mode. It is amazing how mild weather, a swim off the boat and a sweet little Queensland Schooling Mackeral baked in the oven washed down with cold white wine can buoy the spirts.
Rob had been having a go at me for insisting on taking the surf ski along, lashed to the deck. Cape Peron was just the place to justify its presence. The sun was warm, the water blue and clear and the picturesque red cliffs overlooking the bay would be a great back drop to some exercise and a break from the boat. Rob stayed aboard to make some bread and I slid the surf ski into the water and paddled over to Kokomo to see if Karen wanted to join me. As I waited for her, a family of six or so dolphins came to play. They circled and dived under and around the ski, all taking turns to have a good look. There were mothers and babies and one, a big grand mama with a scarred and notched fin who seemed to be overseeing proceedings. I wondered if they would knock me off the surf ski, but that was just a fleeting thought and I enjoyed what was a rare and wonderful moment.
Shark Bay is a protected marine environment and the marine life flourishes everywhere. Later on our paddle Karen and I met a curious turtle and gave a wide birth to a small yellow and black striped sea snake. I think the ski has earned its keep, don't you?

Cape Peron, Shark Bay

Rob's bread is always a creative master piece! Unorthodox, but yummy.