Carnarvon to Dampier. May 2003
Is it the journey or the destination that is important?
Our departure from Carnarvon at 0900 was accompanied by a forecast of SE 13 –18 knots, with a swell of 3m once outside the lee of Bernier and Dorre Islands. The wind later swung around to SW 15 knots. As our run was only 120 miles to Maud’s Landing, our main problem was slowing down so as not to get there before first light. The wind did what it was not supposed to do and piped up to a 35 knot ESE. There was much discussion between the boats on VHF 72 as to what each of us was doing. We had first put one reef in, two reefs then dropped the main altogether and moseyed along at 4 knots under a little bit of headsail.
As our trip unfolded it appeared that a yet to be identified planet had constantly provided a little confusion. As it rises from the east, it looks like a mast light – mainly white with a little flash of red or green. What is that yacht doing? It becomes a little more obvious as it ascends the heavens – masts do not get that tall!
Cape Cuvier was a mass of lights, with two ships anchored in the bay to the north. As the moon was just passed full, Red Bluff could easily be seen on our starboard side. This being our first overnight trip with just the two of us, it was very comforting to have a near full moon. Our rather ‘loose’ watch system did prove to be a little tiring but at least the autohelm managed to stay awake for the whole night. We crossed the ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ 23.5 degrees South at 0445 and quietly slipped into Maud’s Landing and dropped anchor. First thing was to catch up on some sleep.
The afternoon breeze was very light and with a suitable tide we all took our dinghies across Bill’s Bay to Coral Bay. It was just as stunning and peaceful as ever, even more of a delight being outside of school holidays. A leisurely look around and a coffee was the order of the day.
As the top of the latest front was looming to the west, we collectively decided to head off down to Stanley Pool the next day, which offered more protection from the west. The forecast of NW 20 knots stayed in for a few hours in the afternoon and then died down. A reasonably quiet night at anchor followed. Not being people to hang around, we up anchored on Wednesday and continued our way north to Point Cloates via boat passage. A threatening squall encouraged us to drop anchor in Chabjuwardoo Bay. The heavens very kindly washed our boats for us without any wind! Now that we were all clean, we carried on to our destination. Stolen Kiss managed to land the first fish – a rather large mackerel. ‘Land’ is perhaps not quite the right adjective as we did not have a gaff and could not get the fish on the boat. A few sharks were following close by – it was not us that got a feed!
We joined Mahdi at the Point Cloates anchorage – not the most pleasant as the SW swell rolled over the reef, putting us on a lee shore. However it was good holding and it a place to stay for the night and a better option at thes stage. Not a lot of sleep happening, but at least a rest.
The swell risen come up to 3m again. Getting out through the reef was a little interesting as some of the waves were half way up the mast. Rod was a little excited as he went through and gave us a call to share this excitement with us. Once out into deeper water, the swell was its usual lolloping self. Whilst I was checking our drift through the reef I heard Peter exhale an expletive - unusual for him! I ducked my head up only to see the next roller as high as the first spreader. As it was not breaking, it was not a problem but it definately went down as the first pucker factor! Through all the tricky bits, Peter helms and I navigate. Not sure who gets the best job!!
Our plan (plan A) was to go to Yardie Creek for a night, then on to Tantabiddi for another night and meet up with Mahdi who needed to go into Exmouth to fix a high-pressure hose fitting from their water maker. As all plans need to be flexible, Yardie Creek proved too much a challenge with the swell breaking across the entrance. (We had thought of Norwegian Bay as well, but it did not look good. Another day on the ocean that was quiet and beautiful – so much so that you wonder what the pay back will be like. The wind and swell continued to drop and we had Cape Range to look at for the whole day.
Our contingency plan was to go into Exmouth marina with Mahdi. How could 8 knots of SW turn into 25 knots of SE rounding the Cape? We thought Rod was getting a little too excited when he radioed about the wind and waves after rounding! Not! As it turned out we came in a little too close and ploughed through standing waves that tried to rip the dinghy off the foredeck. At least we could not see them in the dark! A twelve-mile slog down the Cape, with wind against tide! We had 2-3 knots of current with us. A few long tacks with a full main and iron headsail did the trick. The saloon port window had been left open (which was not discovered until we were almost in the marina) soaking a chart and the saloon. At least it was not as bad as Mahdi leaving their fore-hatch open! A little more disconcerting for them, having water inside a steel boat! They had obviously shipped a little more water than us. We rounded the Cape at 2300 hours and arrived in the marina at 0200, with Rod and Becky to help us tie up in a pen. Coffee (and lots of rum for me) on Mahdi did the trick – went back to the boat and cleaned up. Could not sleep after all this excitement!
Whilst we were having all this fun in the wee hours of a new day, Miss Conduct had decided to sail on through the rest of the night to Serrurier Island where we would meet her a day later.
A women banging on Mahdi’s hull woke them up around 0715 hours (Rod thought it was me! As if!) and shouting, as there was much excitement with the cruise ship anchored outside. Mahdi was on the ‘T’jetty and had to move to make way for the lifeboats to bring the passengers ashore. We were to have much entertainment with the passengers coming and going down our jetty all day. Had a quick chat with Greg Hanson and wife but did not have the heart to tell him the radar still does not work, despite just having paid him $200 to fix it. How nice are we!
We ourselves spent the day doing the things we had to do. Dear Denise with whom I had worked with at Penrhos for the past 8 years had given me the name of her brother who worked in Exmouth. He just happened to be standing on the jetty when I asked if anyone knew where I could find him. Allan very kindly gave us a lift in and out of town. Just like Denise, a wonderfully kind, gentle person. In town it was off to the Laundromat, Internet café, a bit of fresh food and the great purchase of a gaff. A layday sitting in the hairdressers near the Laundromat looked as if she could do with some work so I went in to have a decent hair cut. I now am back to very, very short hair, but not quite a number 1! Peter thought I would pass for a boy except for some very obvious contours! It’s cool and easy to wash! Sharing a swim with a turtle, drinks and dinner with Mahdi saw the end to a busy day.
The strong SE wind had blown itself out so a day’s motoring to Surrurier Island to meet Miss Conduct was in store. At least we made it by 1430 hours. Does it get better than this? A calm anchorage along the beach on the SE side of the island and we thought we had found paradise (again!) A long walk in the evening, drinks, and a great sleep was the order of the day. Next morning saw the girls taking a long walk along the beach and the boys off fishing. Needless to say our walk was more productive! Leaving the anchorage at midday would give us enough time to do the 90 or so miles to the northern end of the Montebello Islands. Once again we had to slow the boats down. A very calm night with a following breeze – does it get any better than this? With clear skies, the heavens were ablaze again with the stars and galaxies offering enough light to see. Rod gave a ‘12 o’clock and all is well’ call over the VHF at midnight. Who was sleeping anyway? A little bit of poled out headsail allowed us again to cruise along at 4 knots. Although the south easterly piped up to 15 knots early in the morning, there were no tidal overfalls encountered where shown on the chart.
There was much discussion about where to anchor as the wind was blowing straight down Trimoulle Island and offering very little protection. Mahdi decided enough was enough and went over to Disraeli Point. Messages of encouragement flowed across Ch 72 so we followed suit. A good 360 degree protected anchorage, which was shared with the pearl farm station. At least we had someone to give our ripening bananas to and somewhere to dump our rubbish.
We needed to stay for a few days to have a rest and to wait for the 30-knot easterlies to pass. Our fist (and only at this stage) fish was a garfish – rather small! After initially deciding to keep it, we left it in the bottom of the dinghy to die. Peter very kindly encouraged me to take it off the hook! Thinking that keeping it was a little ridiculous, we gave it another chance to swim to freedom. Our decision was a little too late for the poor fish and Peter dived over the side to retrieve the sinking fish. As it was dead, we might as well eat it! Later we (Cheryl with Peter looking on) managed to clean and fillet a fish (Sweet Lips) Rod had given us. Rod kept us all in supply of fish and crayfish even though he was at risk of hypothermia at times! Meals were shared, sundowners, games of cards, boule on the beach, afternoon naps and reading passed our time. By Friday we were ready to leave and go to Stephenson’s Channel in the southern group in preparation for our departure. Friday breakfast was shared with the entertainment of a seaplane landing to swap crew and re-provision the pearl workers. I wonder what the pilot thought when he saw his runway littered with yachts and a launch. (Anastasia had arrived the previous afternoon). He managed to take off and land around us.
Stephenson’s Channel was beautifully protected. Wanting to be consistent, Miss Conduct dredged the same sandbar as on their previous visit a few years ago. Peter, John and I went off to visit the ranger station to look at the grave of the last cat shot on the island (cats were put there after the atomic tests and they survived!) and to walk to the test observation site. The walk through the Spinifex was well worth it in terms of the vista and the ruins of the observation post. Massive steel beams, steel doors and extra thick tin making the walls were still partially in situ.
As the wind had settled down to a very light SE, we felt it was the time to depart. Peter and I were leaving for Dampier and chose a southerly route out of the Monties. No need to eyeball as we had over 6m of water at high tide. Miss Conduct and Mahdi were planning to go to Port Hedland, where we would meet them later in the week. As we cleared the islands, schools of Tuna were leaping with gay abandon, a few of which leapt onto John and Rod’s lines. The other two cruisers had made a change of plan (as you do) and decided that given the forecast they too would come to Dampier. John made us a fish curry for our first dinner in Hampton Harbour! Yum! As it worked out the forecast was wrong – again! In order to make the 65nm journey in a least the same day we started, on went the iron headsail yet again. Although no moon, the heavens provided some light. We had seen Mahdi sail off over the horizon, only to come hurtling back again and be in the anchorage at West Lewis Island 1.5 hours before us! (They have a bigger engine!) We finally put our anchor down at 2300 hours, with Miss Conduct some 3 hours behind - a long day. In the morning the bay revealed barges and cyclone moorings strewn all over it. Where was our radar when we needed it? A quiet motor into the harbour the next morning – we just sat back and enjoyed the view.
Hampton Harbour and surrounds is very stunning. A magnificent contrast of colour between the land and sea. Peter considers that it is the journey that is important rather than the destination. I am yet to be convinced. The night sails with a gentle breeze and the heaven’s ablaze or sailing under a full moon – yes, it is definitely the journey. Bashing our way to Exmouth – definitely the destination!