It’s Cold up here :-((

We managed to talk to a few locals at the yacht club last night.

Skipper Brad even showed us a picture of him with buzz aldrin at the Carnarvon get together last month.

But what was really interesting was that this is the coldest (and windiest) its ever been up here.

And the fish don’t seem to like it.

The locals also reckon its getting cooler in summer as well. Only a couple of days last summer over 40 degrees. Whereas in the old days there were days and days of 45 degrees.

Interestingly the mining boom is having an adverse effect on the community. Dampier is loosing shops at a rate of knots. No more woollies, fishing and tackle shops, bakeries. And no more apex, rotary etc. – no one has any time for these community clubs any more. The sailing community is in serious decline – they can no longer even fill all the positions on the committee.

And to top it all off, there’s hardly any cruisers up here this year. Only one other – Tony who’s returning from Malaysia and has been here nearly a month and has seen just one other cruising boat besides us (he got quite excited to see us). He must have missed Smiley.

Dampier Archipeligo

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Everyone was relieved to pull into the lee of West Lewis island. We anchored in 6m of water, which was really 2.5m of water – as the tides were now 4.5m at high and 0.7m at low.

After a bit of a rest after lunch, we hopped in the dingy and headed into shore. As it was now low tide, it shallowed up fairly quickly and we had the walk in from the dingy about 20m.

The scenery had certainly changed – the low lying limestone of the Montebello’s has been replaced by reddy brown outcrops of iron ore. There were a couple of fishing shacks up from the beach to wander around and a memorial to someone who had lost their life in the archipelago in 2000.

Having taken all that in, we wandered back to the dingy, which was now well and truly out of the water – you can actually watch the water recede up here.

Back on board Camelot, Kate was in “let’s catch a fish” mode. Unfortunately she should have been in “let’s catch a fish so long as its not another f@@@ing Ramora” mode.

There was that initial excitement followed by a Kate expletive. It’s amazing how quickly everyone else on the boat made themselves scarce. and then she caught another one!

Kate the Ramora Queen 😦

The next morning we woke up to Michael cooking apple pancakes AND it was his birthday. How does that work?

After a yummy breakfast, we thought we’d try something different (from West Lewis Island) – East Lewis Island. Nice to have islands named after your gorgeous girlfriend 🙂

We tried a bit of trawling – we were now desperate to catch a fish – having not pulled in anything exciting for the whole two weeks Kate and Anthony were on board. Even though we saw a school of very large fished being chased by something even bigger, it just wasn’t our day.

The anchorage at East Lewis was past a whole heap of moorings holding a variety of barges and tugs. We even had to dodge one that had sunk. It was a really nice beach, again with a fishing shack. Anthony talked me into a snorkel but it was really cold. How does this work – the further north we go the colder the water gets? Uh!! No coral unlike west Lewis, just rocks. Anthony got himself a feed of fresh oysters – raw – and I saw a huge ray – and that was about it.

Back at Camelot, we played a bit of Machine Gun F. and a bit of Frank Zappa for Michael’s birthday and drank some nice red wine (anthony had finished off some very average NZ red previously thank goodness).

Friday (today)

Friday was the day we needed to return to civilization – well Dampier anyway. We pulled up anchor and headed across Mermaid Sound into Hampton Harbour. We crossed a couple of shipping channels to get there but there was no need to dodge any large ships. Once at Hampton Harbour we headed for the fuel dock and topped up our tanks with 164 litres – not too bad considering the amount of motoring and genset running we’d done.

Then it was off to explore Dampier – Anthony had inside knowledge from his son as to the best burger spot in the north west and that was our first stop followed by ice creams and an apple Danish and coffees.

Tonight it’s off to the yacht club for showers, beer and even more food. Tomorrow kate and Anthony leave and it’s off to Karratha to do some provisioning.

The weather looks excellent next week for the 500nm sail north east to Broome so we should make good time and have some time to spare to have a good look around Broome and get some boat jobs done in preparation for the Kimberley’s. Can’t wait.

 

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Having a Blast in the Montebellos – part 2

Monday

The good news was the high tide was getting later each day so we no longer had to get up at the crack of dawn to catch it. This meant we could get going at the reasonable hour of 10am, headed for the mooring that Allan suggested we could use.

We headed down Bunsen channel and across to the southern entrance of Faraday channel. Again some tricky navigation was required, but we seemed to be getting a handle on moving about this rabbit warren.

We’d punched in the GPS coordinates for the mooring, but as we approached it there was nothing floating on the water to indicate its existence. Mmmm. All of a sudden Michael said there it is, as he pointed to it about a foot underwater as we motored straight past it. Thank goodness the coordinates were spot on. It took us a few minutes to turn around and head back and find it, and then we had to grapple hook it and get it on board. Thank goodness for the grapple hook – a recent purchase on the suggestion of Allan.

Safely anchored between home lagoon and champagne bay, it was time for a bit of exploring. Kate, Anthony and I took off in the dingy and headed into home lagoon and up to a nice beach just inside the entrance. Then back in the dingy and down to the end of the lagoon, where we tied up to the mangroves and had a short walk along the flat limestone ridge to Willy Nilly Lagoon, which is divided by a small strip of limestone from Home Lagoon.

Back on Camelot we surveyed our snorkeling options. They didn’t look all that good as the tide had now gone out and we were surrounded by mud banks and not much coral. We jumped in off the back of Camelot and it didn’t look any better with goggles on – quite murky from the current running across the mud. We quickly hopped out and called it a day. Or more correctly : beer-o’clock. Or even more correctly – time for a champagne as we were right opposite Champagne Bay.

Tuesday

After consulting the weather forecasts a million times, we decided Tuesday was the least worst day to sail to Dampier. Saturday would be ideal, but we were on one of those horrible schedule things. Our plan was to do it in stages. First stage was to use the high tide to extract ourselves from Faraday Channel and get across to the top end of Trimouille. We even managed to have enough confidence in the water depth to fly a jib and turn the motors off as we flew up Bunsen channel. We anchored at the top end – at Gladstone beach – and had a walk to the top of the cliffs to see what we would be faced with going out the north passage. The passage itself looked ok but the sea looked pretty messy as the 25kt winds whipped up short Mateo waves.

We also walked to the cairn marking the first British fusion test, which was more a physics test than a weapons test, with a yield of 15kt.

After walking the beach, we took to the water with our snorkelling equipment. With the current along the beach, we found that we were swimming on the spot as the current matched my poor swimming technique.

Then it was back to the boat for an afternoon nap before taking on the passage to Dampier.

We set off at 3.30am to catch the winds as they started to die off (a bit). The north passage was okay with a reasonable amount of water even though it was approaching low tide, which was not ideal. We got out of the channel okay, but it was still quite shallow outside (7m or so) and we were getting hit by quite steep waves caused by the 25kt wind roaring in over the shallow water against an outgoing tide. We had a very uncomfortable 20 minutes as we bashed our way out into deeper water where we could put up the sails.

Once underway, it wasn’t too bad with the wind at around 20kts but still on the nose. We needed to tack around the oil rigs that sat off to the east of the montebello’s. These had a lighted exclusion zone around them so someone wanted us nowhere near them.

It was a luxury having 5 crew who could do a night shift so we had 2 hour shifts, the 5 of us covering 10 hours – and we had a full moon. Kate did her first solo night shift and did really well.

The wind behaved itself right up to about 5.30am when it started to pick up. By 7am we had to put the second reef in and the seas were starting to get messy. By this stage we had sighted land and we soon approached the 42 islands of the Buccaneer Archipelago off Dampier. The sail in was a real pain as we had to tack up a channel in increasingly messy seas. The saloon hatches started to leak (an easy boat job to tighten them up) and we had to deploy some towels.

Everyone was quite happy when we finally dropped anchor on the west side of West Lewis Island (I like that name) just before 11am.

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Having a Blast in the Montebello Islands

The 75NM sail across to the Montebello’s made a pleasant change from our last venture out to sea. The seas were very calm, with little swell and the wind was mild. So mild, it wasn’t until 2am that we finally were able to switch the motors off and go for a proper sail – albeit at 4kts. By this stage, the wind had swung right round from NE to SW, putting it right behind us – not the absolutely best angle – but a hell of a lot better than a few days ago when it was on the nose at 25kts.

Everyone really enjoyed their night watches – the time seemed to go quickly – as we passed various oil and gas rigs and the facilities at Barrow Island, which were lit up like a Xmas tree.

By day break, the wind had shifted round to the SE and we were sailing beautifully at 7.5kts on a nice reach. We were treated to a wonderful whale show as Humpback’s seemed to be all around us. One got quite close to the back of us – 200m – before flicking up its tail and diving down – not far mind you as it was only 25M deep as we approached the Montebello’s from the SW.

We decided we’d head to an anchorage on the West side of Hermites Island, as this looked the most navigable – the charts and the cruising guide saying the waters around the islands are poorly surveyed and eyeball navigation (with polaroid’s) is essential. So down came the sails and everyone took up a station around the boat as we headed up the west coast of Hermites Island. In the end, we were all good with the water never dropping below 4m, even though it was low tide.

We headed past Wild Wave lagoon northwards and anchored opposite Turtle Lagoon in 3m of water.

After resting up and eating lunch, it was time to go exploring. The Guide book said Turtle Lagoon was full of life – so off we went in that direction. The lagoon is hidden away with a narrow entrance right near the beach. If we hadn’t seen it on the charts, we would not have known it was there.

We took the dingy through its narrow mouth and into quite a large shallow lagoon. We saw turtles and fish darting around the entrance, and a little way inside we crept up on a medium sized ray that spectacularly leapt right out of the water just in front of us. Wow!!!!

After doing a bit of a circuit we headed for some mangrove trees to see what the mud crab population was like. On the way in we saw turtle after turtle and small colourful spotted rays in the shallows. There were some holes in the sand that may have indicated muddies, but nothing really to get too excited about. As we all went for a walk, Kate decided to stay in the dingy and fish (without luck). On the way out of the lagoon, we also stopped in a couple of places to fish as we’d seen some nice big fish darting about, but again with no luck.

Back to the boat and it was time for some more crayfish hunting. Michael, Anthony and I took the dingy over to some rocky limestone outcrops. Whilst the snorkelling was good, the crayfish were all tiny, no more than 2 inches long at best – Crayfish 3, Camelot 0.

The snorkel ling had got Michael quite excited about the chances of catching fish and off went Michael, Kate and Elaine to try their luck – but once again luck was not on their side. Meanwhile, I was SMS’ing Allan picking his brains on how best to navigate through the rabbit warren to get to the Eastern side of the Islands where we have a mooring waiting. It appears we can pick out way across near high tide provided we go on slack tide to avoid the overflow and keep a good look out.

Friday

We woke up Friday morning to strong ENE winds, which set in for most of the day. No stand up paddle boarding today. High tide was at 5pm so we set off at 4pm to make our way around to the other side of Hermites Island and then to the bottom end of Faraday channel to where a mooring was waiting for us. With Michael, Elaine and Anthony upfront and Kate calling out the depths we successfully made our way through the sand banks, through the narrow channel past Crocus Island and around the south side of Alpha Island. The charts showed some shallow water near Disraeli Point but what they failed to point out was all the shallow water as we tried to cross Haynes Peninsula. As we headed East it became progressively shallower to the point where we only had 1.4M of water to play with. I think I felt us touch the bottom a few times at which point I decided that caution was the better part of valour and an honourable retreat was chosen.

But we didn’t want to give up all the ground we’d made up, so in the end we only retreated round to the north west side of Hermites Island where we were out of the wind, and dropped anchor there. By this stage the sun had called it a day and the wind had dropped away to nothing.

This was a pattern we would see every day. 25-30kt winds in the morning dropping away to nothing at night. Someone had suggested to Kevin on Sojourn that they ended up doing a lot of sailing at night up here as that’s when the winds were kindest. Seems like sensible advice.

Saturday

Following a pow wow on friday night, we had decided that we would head round the West side of Alpha Island and into Chianti Bay the next morning. High tide was at the inconvenient time of 6.30am so we decided to get up then, have breakfast and then head around as soon as we had enough light to do our eyeball navigation. It turned out we got away at 7.30am in 30kt NE breezes and raced west along the southern side of Alpha Island with not much engine required. There were some tricky bits along the West side that took us ten minutes or so to navigate and then we turned east to negotiate two narrow (and I mean narrow) gaps that separated Alpha and Bluebell Islands. We had a 30kt wind against us and the current was starting to run out so we had both engines going pretty well full tilt and were only making 2-3kts at times. Got the adrenaline going as we motored through two small gaps into Chartreuse Bay and then onto neighbouring Chianti Bay, where we dropped anchor.

Chianti Bay was a lovely anchorage (protected from both the wind and any sort of mobile coverage). We hopped in the dingy to a nice beach, and then walked over the hill the where one of the nuclear bombs was exploded. It was the largest and last of three blasts, at 98 kilotonne (much more than the british government fessed up to as they told the australian government they would limit any blasts to 65 kilotonnes) and we found a very non-desript cairn marking the spot where it was exploded.

Anthony and I went off snorkelling that afternoon and couldn’t find any two headed crayfish (unfortunately we couldn’t find any one headed ones either). Michael and Kate tried fishing later, also without luck, and one of the fishing charters came in later with nothing also – we were starting to doubt everyone that said the Montebello’s were a great fishing and crayfishing spot.

But at least the red wine was good – and appropriate given we were in Chianti Bay. Had thoughts of doing a wine and spirits tour round the Montebello’s drinking the namesake of each bay. You could get quite paralytic visiting Champagne Bay, Moselle Bay, Vermonth Lagoon, Claret Cove, Rum Cove, Sherry Lagoon, Brandy Bay, Stout Bay, Hock Bay, vodka beach and Carnation Island (with Baileys of course).

Sunday

High Tide was at the much more reasonable hour of 9am, when we set out for Main Beach on Trimouille Island. Trimioulle Island is where they set off the other two atomic bombs, one on HMS Plym anchored 400m off the beach and the other on a 31m tower at the top of the island.

We’d gone out in the dingy on Saturday afternoon to have a look at where we had to go and seen a fishing charter enter the bay so we had a bit of an idea of where we needed to go. Again the wind was up – 25 to 30kts again. Again we had to go through a tiny opening between “Man On a Rock Islet” and a small unnamed islet off Alpha Island and then negotiate some shallow stuff off MacDonald Point before heading West to Bunsen Channel and Main Beach.

We hadn’t had a long walk on a beach since Long Island and Anthony and I headed down to the southern end skipping from bay to bay, whilst Kate leave us at the end of the beach and head north again. Anthony and I made it to a hill at the end of the island, where there was all sorts of paraphernalia that may have been left since 1956. The view from the op of the hill was spectacular, with a string of islands stretching southwards. To the east, they were spectacular cliffs with a choppy and confused sea, whipped up by the strong easterlies. Our strategy for getting to Dampier is to leave in the late afternoon when the wind drops and hopefully get close to the Buccaneer Archipelago (off Dampier) before it blows up too much in the morning – let’s hope that works.

We plan to stay in the Montebello’s until about Tuesday or Wednesday when we will make a run across to Dampier – 70NM away.

Serrurier Island

Sojourn – living up to their name!

After hanging around Exmouth for a bit longer than we wanted, and reading numerous weather reports, we decided Monday was the day we were going to sea. Even if the wind was coming from exactly the same direction we wanted to go!

We got away at 7.30am and headed out of the protected marina and through the channel. The seas were very messy and Janey from Sojourn told us they could see us going over the waves and then just disappearing into a hole behind them. On board, we found that the waves, although small (1-2M) were really close together with an interval of no more than 5s (as opposed to 15s when we are in deep water) and we just kept dropping off them as they appeared to have no back to them.

The gulf is quite shallow and there is a lot of water flowing in and out with the tides and hence a lot of current. This, along with the wind coming from exactly the wrong direction made the going slow and it took us a full day to get to Serrurier. We pulled in just before sunset to join a tug, a dredge and two other cats – Sam and Sasha. Sasha quite kindly got on the VHF and told us where best to anchor. Unfortunately they both left the next day before we had a chance to say hello.

Cray Hunting

Who Took This???

The trip to Serrurier turned out to be the roughest of our journey north so far and both trampolines were looking a bit worse for wear. In Exmouth, I’d got our the needle and thread – a nifty device Brad and Bec gave us years ago – and stitched up the tramps and replaced the lines that attached it, only to see the trip across to Serrurier completely rip the tramp to threads making my stitching job a complete waste of time. One new set of tramps on order from Barracudda Sails, to be delivered to Broome.

After a good night’s sleep where everyone slept really soundly – amazing how a rough trip can take it out of you even though you end up doing not much at all – Michael, Elaine, Anthony and Kate decided a walk was in order and proceeded to do Burke and Wills proud by walking around the top end of the island. I on the other hand, had some stuff to do on the boat, so I paddled over to the beach much later and walked around the bottom end of the island – still a good 30 minute walk – and they still weren’t back when I go back from my walk. Kate got herself a nice set of blisters and Elaine went out in support so Michael and Anthony needed to backtrack in the dingy to pick them up. The rest of the day (afternoon) was spent snorkelling around the southern end looking for those elusive crays – Crays 1, Camelot 0.

Next day the wind had dropped right off and it was one of those magical days. Out came the stand up board and I showed Anthony how easy it was; and then Anthony showed me how difficult it was. In fairness to Anthony (did I just write that!), he could have done with a slightly bigger board.

Then more snorkelling and cray stalking. This time Anthony decided to mine for crays. I found his shifting boulders and rocks, one after the other, as he pursued one particular cray. Crays 2, Camelot 0. But the snorkelling was good – the water was nice and clear and the fish life plentiful. As Michael, Anthony and I all snorkelled, Kate and Elaine took to the beach for some sketching and photography.

Sojourn, having waited for decent weather, rocked up in early afternoon after a 5 hour motor (as opposed to our 10 hour tack-a-thon) and we shared a cup of coffee and bid our farewells as we left for an overnight sail at 5pm to the Montebello’s.