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.
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.
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).
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.