Holed Up In Exmouth

After 10 days back in Perth, celebrating Alex’s 21st and catching up with Cas, Family and Friends, its time to get our skates on and start making some miles North. Unfortunately the weather gods don’t quite see it this way and have decided that we are not going anywhere for the time being.

Exmouth Marina Entrance

Instead Michael, Elaine, Anthony, Kate and I are sitting in Exmouth Marina watching the wind blow up to 32 knots from the NE, exactly the way we wish to go. And being the gulf its nice and shallow with waves coming really close together.

Which means I have lots of time to catch up on my blog writing.

Since I last put finger to keyboard, we rode out the storm at Yardie Creek and headed off the next day to Tantabiddi, a full days sail up the coast. The wind was from the SW so we did really well. The order had gone out from Elaine – no more mackerel – want some sashimi producing Tuna instead. Michael obliged with a change of lure and two stripey tunas were soon landed.

We made it to Tandabiddi and in through the leads at 4pm and found a spot to anchor. The holding wasn’t great – a teflon bottom made it difficult but lots of chain and the anchor managed to jag around a small piece of coral – good enough for the light winds that night but next day we moved onto a mooring that a local had pointed us to.

Next day we went out to the reef and had a nice snorkel with turtles and lots of fish. Then it was time to pack up and head into Exmouth. It’s a bit of a problem catching any sort of transport from Tandabiddi to Exmouth – a taxi costs $80 and Exmouth bus service doesn’t come out that far. So in the end I got a lift into Exmouth with a young couple who had taken their boat out whale spotting from the boat ramp. I stayed the night at the Potshot Inn and next morning I caught the shuttle bus out to the airport.

Perth was busy catching up with everyone and getting some back in the city stuff done.

In no time at all it was back on Qantas and back to Exmouth. In the meantime Michael and Elaine had sailed around the Cape and into the marina – being hammered in the gulf with three reefs in as they sailed down the shallow gulf.

So here we sit in the marina which is a long walk out of town, next to Sojourn, a Mahe Cat with Kevin and Janey on board. We had them over for a mackerel dinner and discussed when we thought the weather would die down long enough to go the 37nm to Long Island. We are aiming for tomorrow (Monday) but may need to wait until Tuesday when the wind starts to die. The rest of the week is looking particularly pleasant so we just need to be patient. Icecube, a very sleek looking Schionning is a permanent resident at the marina and we are going over there tonight for a drink. At least life is very social as we wait for the right weather to leave!

Back at Yardie Creek

Friday

After spending the night at Maud’s Landing after a days snorkelling and beach walking, Michael, Elaine, Kerry (Elaine’s sister) and I  set off just before sunrise to make the long trek to Yardie Creek (bypassing Norwegian Bay). We wanted to both get there before the weather turned as well as making sure we were there for Saturday’s Boat Trip up the gorge (as it doesn’t run Sunday or Monday).

We got there in time for a nice sunset and anchored back in the same spot.

Saturday

Next day we hooked up the paddle board to the back of the dingy and headed into Yardie Creek. The anchorage is a fair way south so we needed a 30 minute dingy ride to get there. We made it just in time for Elaine and Kerry to hop on the 11am DEC boat trip up the gorge. Meanwhile Michael hopped on the paddle board and did his on private tour up the gorge, whilst I went for a walk along the top of the gorge. Half an hour later I swapped with Michael and paddled up to the end of the gorge and back.

Our timing was pretty good as I got back just after the girls had finished their boat tour. At this stage the wind had swung North and was strengthening. So back to Camelot we went. The Seas had picked up by the time we got there and timing was required to get back on board as the back steps of Camelot were swinging up and down quite a bit in the swell.

On board, we let up more anchor chair until we had about 90m out and got the spare anchor ready to deploy just in case as there was a gale warning out. We set up a anchor watch schedule taking it in turns to wake up every hour and check all was well. The wind through the night was 20-25 knots so it wasn’t too bad until about 7am when it got up the 35kts, touching 40kts at one stage. This made it the strongest winds I had ever anchored in and its reassuring to know that Camelot handled it well. We swung right around we went from NE winds through to SW and we built a semi circle of way points (making sure we didn’t drag).

Well now its Sunday and the winds are starting to drop and the seas are starting to flatten out. Should be all good for a sail up to Tantabiddi, where I get off for 10 days to return to Perth.

Leaving Coral Bay

After a couple of beautiful weeks with Cas at Coral Bay, its time to start heading North again.

Cas and I had a wonderful time in Coral Bay, spending half our time at Monck’s Head and the other half at Stanley Pool.

We filled our time with a quad bike sunset tour (so much fun), a glass bottom boat tour, sunbaking and swimming at the beach, swimming off the back of the boat in crystal clear water and snorkelling (yes- Cas went for a snorkel!!!)

Not that you actually need to snorkel here. There a long windy channel into Monck Head from the North Passage (with an interesting twisty start at the northern end- beware!). We came back from Stanley Pool at low tide and you could just lean over the side of Camelot and see the fish (and the bommy heads that were quite close). Then when you get to Monck’s Head you can get acquainted with Merv, a huge (and I mean huge) groper who hangs around the boat ramp and dingy dock. Merv is so big that he’s now turned into a girl – Mervette – gropers evidently go from boys to girls when they get to a certain size.

Whilst in Coral Bay, Cas and I celebrated our first year together as a couple (we’ve known each other as friends for years) with a visit to Fin’s Cafe, which was brilliant. It’s a bit of a chameleon , Fin’s – as it’s a pretty casual non-descript coffee shop during the day , and then turns into an exquisitely romantic restuarant at night with a real Mediterranean feel.  Given that the chef is from Louisiana,  we had a Cajun Seafood Gumbo, which was really tasty; along with soft shelled crabs, the obligatory (!) oysters, homemade Gnocchi, and then finished it all off with a couple of Aussie faithfuls – apple pie and sticky date pudding with homemade butterscotch sauce. I was under the impression that with all this food in our stomaches we would waddle back slowly to the boat, but Cas, with images that would do the Wolf Creek film justice, made it a real dash along the moonlit track that leads back to Monck Head.

Stanley Pool was also fun – we had the place pretty well to ourselves – bar a couple of small tinnies that tranvelled out past us to the reef from a fishing camp on the beach. Cas had it in her head that Stanley Pool would be nessled up near a shore somewhere – but it’s really about a mile or two off the shore. She was a little surprised when I said “We’re here!”.  “What do you mean we are here??? – we are still in the middle of the ocean!!!”. Stanley’s Pool is about 15m deep, surrounded by shallow sand and we anchored off to the side in about 2-3m of water – which is just as  well as I had to once again retrieve Cas’ sunnies after she got buzzed by a wasp. Snorkelling around the back of the boat, there were absolutely no fish – excepting the starfish. But out in the pool we were treated to a real nature show – Minky Whales jumping through the air, lots of turtles, dolphins and regular visits from groups of Manta Rays that drifted past.

We put out 50m of anchor chain just to be sure – and we managed to swing through 270 degrees just about every night as the wind changed direction. We had some truly beautiful nights and days with the moon shining through the water at night right down to the sandy bottom below.

For photos from our time at Coral Bay see https://plus.google.com/photos/102682012477798724273/albums/5749707541824295345

Back at Coral Bay on one engine

After an overnight stop and a walk to look at the old light house (which was too fast – we just looked at it from afar from the top of a sand dune), we went back to the boat to start our journey back to Coral Bay. Firing up the engines, the port engine started then stopped as soon as we got the anchor up and wouldn’t start again. Bummer.

Ducking into the engine room we located a leak in the engine exhaust, where the salt water that is mixed in with the exhaust had leaked all over the now quite hot starter motor. Hence why the starter motor wouldn’t start the motor.

With our spare motor – catamarans have a spare everything – we set off on the 25nm trip back to Maud’s landing. The wind was on the nose and there were quite a few shallow areas to contend with but we’d gone up on the outside of the reef and now we wanted to explore the calm inside reef passage. We tried to keep to the green bits but there were a few time where we had to go over darker weeds and at one stage we were zipping over coral in 4m of water. But we made it – the lowest the water got was 3.5m and after a few tacks we got back to Maude’s just after 5. A long tiring day with lots of concentration, pushing into a light southerly with all the dramas of the engine problem.

The other strange problem we were having seemed to correct itself. Our battery capacity was showing 358AH, which is 55%, however the voltage was 12.7, which indicates 100%. And when we tried to charge them with the genset, the charge would quickly move from bulk to absorption to float – again indicating they were full. We’ve got a lot of charging capacity on board – 3 solar panels and a wind gen plus we’ve been running the genset a lot. Spoke to peter from maritime electronics and he thought like us that the AH capacity meter was not right. Anyway motoring back today the Ah suddenly jumped to 620 (100%) as itvhas done a couple of times before. Mmm.

At Maud’s we caught up with tony and rudi who were there on rudi’s Lagoon 38. They came over for drinks and dinner and it was good to catch up.

Up Ningaloo Reef

Manta Ray

Big Mack

Sunday 13th May

After the excitement of seeing Whale Sharks, the focus shifted to Manta Rays. A bit of research suggested that the Manta Rays hung out 1nm north of the old jetty at Maud’s Landing so off we went in Camelot to the spot in question. We could see two charter boats in the same spot so knew we were on the money. We anchored a little way off the charter boats who had people in the water with the manta rays and took off in the dingy to find them – without success. Meanwhile Smiley had followed us down and they had spotted a couple from the decks of their cat.

So we decided to do the same. We pulled up anchor and managed to pull up beside a small one and a really big one. After following them around for a while, we decided to anchor where they were and go for a snorkel with them. That was easier said than done. I don’t think they liked the sound of the dingy engine because we couldn’t really get in front of them – they kept veering away. Elaine and Michael tried to swim over to them whilst I stayed in the dingy but they kept veering away. Oh well, we gave it a try. Then it was back to Maud’s Landing where Smiley had invited us over for sunset drinks and dinner. Pulling up the anchor, the anchor chain stripper on the anchor winch broke (AGAIN!!!).

This one was new just before we left Perth. (I’ve ordered two this time – Cas is bringing them up next week). Had a great time on Smiley – after a champagne, bottle of white and a red, Stuart and Magda broke out a bottle of Captain Morgans. Now I’m not in the habit of drinking rum straight but after the first few shots I got into the swing of things. Talking about getting into the swing of things, I have observed over the last couple of weeks that a combination of a not insubstantial amount alcohol and dance music has an interesting effect on Elaine. In no time at all both Magda and Elaine were dancing on the back deck to Magda’s Gym music track. It turned out to be a great night and there were a few sore heads on Camelot the next morning. (Note that we also had to fill Elaine in on a few details – like how she got back to Camelot!)

Monday morning was a slow start as we pulled up the sails and headed for Norwegian Bay. We were crawling along so up went the spinnaker. For the first couple of hours there was barely enough wind to keep it up but then as the day progressed it started to blow at 12-15kts and we flew along doing 8’s and 9’s. Whilst all this was going on Michael managed to pull in a huge Spanish mackerel, enough to feed us for 8 meals we worked out. Half an hour out of Norwegian Bay, we needed to drop the spinnaker as the wind was approaching 20kts. Then in through the breakers, turn left and anchor right next to the old Whaling Station. Tuesday, we did some exploring around what’s left of the Whaling Station which shut down in 1959. There was a lot of old boilers and steam driven winches lying around, together with some concrete pads but that was about it. Looked like 20-30 people worked there. Once again there was nobody else in the bay. It seems like Smiley and ourselves are the only yachts going up the coast, which is a bit disappointing. One of the joys of cruising is meeting other yachties and swapping stories over a beer or two.

Wednesday saw us heading to Yardie Creek. We were up early after a good nights sleep and headed outside the reef. It was one of those sails you really enjoy. We started off at a brisk pace witha nice 10-15kt breeze off our back quarter. Then it died away to 5kts and we meandered along at hardly any pace as Michael cooked bread and muffins and we read and fished (and wrote blog entries).

We got into Yardie Creek at lunchtime and the entry was quite okay. We couldn’t work out why the cruising guide said catamarans only as we had 4m of water under us at low tide. Mmmm.

Snorkelling with the Whale Sharks – F*********** AWESOME !!!

Saturday was bucket list time – a dive with the Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Reef.

Up early and Michael dropped me off at 7.30am on Skeleton Beach, which meant the hour walk into the settlement was reduced to half an hour. It was a really still morning with fog engulfing the windless windmills on the sand dunes. And the tide was out meaning the walk along the beach was a walk along the beach.

I got to the dive shop at 7.45am as requested and from there we hopped on a bus to Monck Head where the dive boat left from.  The first stop was a introductory snorkel to make sure everyone’s gear etc was okay. It was nothing to write home about as the reef sharks who were supposed to be visiting a cleaning station turned out not to need a clean that day. However the Spangled Emporer underneath the dive boat on the way back looked big and juicy but the dive leaders mentioned something about them being their pets. And besides it was well inside the sanctuary zone.

Then it was off to find some whale sharks. The spotter plane was in the air at 10am looking in a search area 50kms by 10kms. As we travelled we were briefed about the whales sharks and how to approach them. Evidently female whale shales have a production line going on with a whole series of fetuses in verious stages of development from single cell embryos right through to when they are born live after 18 months or so of gestation.

The sea was like glass – what a day to pick – and we saw heaps of wild life along the way – sea snakes, turtles, squid, minky whales, schools of tuna jumping out of the water and someone even saw a hammerhead shark.

Then the roar of the engines signified that a whale shark had been spotted. 3 Boats were in pursuit. In the end, they had spotted two. We got to one first with 7 snorkellers on the manta board ready to jump in quickly. We had 20 snorkellers on board and we were split into 2 groups of 10. The boat got 50m in front of the whale shark and then there was a call of “go, go’ go” with everyone scrambling into the water following a dive leader. You then swam either side of the whale shark keeping 3 m away and then followed it keeping 4m away from the tail. You did this for a couple of minutes until you were called away to let the next group take a look.

We ended up doing this 6-7 times with three different sharks, ranging from 4 to 6 metres long. Huge fish but very gentle and graceful swimming slowly through the water as it filter fed.

After swimming with the last shark, we thought that was finally it for the day but instead it swam right up to the back of the boat. It obviously wanted to play some more.

We were pretty exhausted – hadn’t done that much exercise in a while – and lunch was welcome as we sped back to Coral Bay. After lunch, we stopped off at Point Maud just up from where Camelot was anchored and went for a snorkel across some nice coral. we were looking for some resident tiger sharks – yep you heard it right – tiger sharks – who according to the dive masters are not a problem. Having 20 other snorkellers in the water at the same time felt like the ideal scenario to see a tiger and I must admit I was a little disappointed not to see one. They evidently see them all the time on their manta ray snorkels.

But we did see lots of turtles, puffer fish and a large variety of brightly coloured reef fish including a couple of spangled emporer and some large cod.

Then it was back to the boat ramp where we unloaded and saw Merv, the gaint cod. And Merv was a gaint – he looked like he weighed in a lot more than even Merv the ex-cricketer.No moustache though (By the way, I’ve had to ditch my two week beard – the one I grow when Cas is not around – because it made my mask leak – oh well).

Finally back to the dive shop to order the video – after a day like that it was kinda obligitory.

Then the bakery and the walk back, which luckily turned into a drive back as I ran into someone that was going fishing at Maud’s Landing.

What a day !!!!

Check out the photo album from today’s adventures at https://plus.google.com/photos/102682012477798724273/albums/5741585518880607489

Check out Smiley’s photos at:

http://www.roundthetop.com/i-did-it/

They are awesome – much better than my GoPro photos.

Coral Bay

Friday’s anchorage

(Wednesday – no Tuesday)

Its been a while since I’ve been to Coral Bay – the last time I was here was in 1992 just before the Eagles won their first GF. Before that I came here with Mum, Dad and Brad as a kid where we had fun on surf cats with the Hawke Brothers.

This time I came by sea on a slightly bigger cat. We set off from Gnarloo at 8.30am after dislodging a gaint piece of coral from our anchor chain – the legacy of swinging off two anchors. We got a nice SE to push us up the coast. We thought about going in the Southern entrance (Yalobia Passage),  but were put off by the warnings even though Royce (sans me) took Camelot through on his way down to Perth.

As we neared Coral Bay we started to get mobile and internet access back. Very exciting. Interesting how you get dependent on it after a while to stay connected.

So it was off to the northern entrance (Cardabia Passage) and then down to Maud’s Landing. The wind had increased to over 20kts at this stage so our choice was to reef or to motor the last couple of miles in. We took the lazy option. It made quite a long day by the time we anchored at 5.30pm.

Next morning we took the dingy into the beach and headed into town. We took the beach route (there’s a dirt road as well) and it took us an hour to get around to the settlement. It was just past high tide so a lot of the beach was under water and we had to wade our way around bushes and over rocks at times. Its a bit of a pain that you can’t even get a dingy within one a half kilometres of the settlement. There’s an exclusion zone for non-authorised vessels right around Coral Bay, and the nearest moorings/anchorages are at Maud’s Landing and Monck Head. And then there is only one suitable mooring and no anchorage at Monck’s Head and Smiley had that.

Coral Bay has changed quite a bit since I’ve been there. One caravan park is now two caravan parks. And holiday units – one and two storey everywhere. One shop has become two – one of which is called a supermarket. The prices however haven’t changed. 95c for a potato! So one mocha, one pie and sauce, one apple turnover, one gaint sandwich and one iced coffee later suggested my sweet tooth had kicked back into action.

Next stop was the Dive Shop where I booked a whale shark dive with Stuat and Magda from Smiley for Saturday (tomorrow). Looking forward to that. If the spotter plane doesn’t find one then we get another trip for free.

Thursday was designated a boat job and snorkelling day. We re-attached the ceiling that had parted ways with the velco that was holding it up and came crashing down, narrowly missing a bottle of champagne. Disaster averted by mere millimetres. In order to ensure our champagne would be safe in the future, we added 5 screws to make sure it definitely stayed there in the future. John would be pleased – he thought we should have done this last time rather than adding extra velcro.

The afternoon snorkel was very exciting. We took the dingy out to an interesting bit of channel and off we went. The coral initially looked very disappointing with much of it dead but then we swam out to a point and the fish life was incredible. Heaps of snapper, emporors, parrot fish and a shark. Michael saw a second but Elaine and I both missed it. Great place to fish except it was a sanctuary zone so dinner wasn’t coming from here.

Today (Friday).

Time for a bit of exploring, snorkelling and fishing so off we went North to Stanley Pool. What a beautiful place. A deep (15m) pool surrounded by shallower sandy bits. And really clear water. Beautiful to swim in (we jumped in as As I write, Elaine and Michael have taken the dingy off to the reef (about 1nm away) and I’m hoping they will come back with a dingy load full of snapper and emporer.

I know some people who will love this sign