Blog Post 38 by Jon Sanders: Shark Bay to Home
My last blog was yonks back. So, before I forget where I went I better complete the journey’s end (well Kelly Scott, my boss at Royal Perth Yacht Club told me to, she is a bit like that – just as well or nothing would get done, not today or tomorrow).
I last described sailing non-stop from Tasmania to Shark Bay. To do that one must pass Rottnest Island (Rotto) without stopping. Rottnest is 10 Nautical Miles west of Perth’s Port of Fremantle. Bad idea to go past Rottnest without stopping (not good for Rottnest’s economy). If one does accidentally pass Rotto, there is only one thing to do. ‘Slam the skids on and turn back.’ I did that!
All that aside, October 2016 I sailed with my crew from Fremantle to Shark Bay (Dr. Robin Morritt, Gareth Owen-Conway, Vera Walby and me).
It was a race, though I shouldn’t mention that because we won nothing at all (we were a bit heavy). Broke nothing too. Others did…
Shark Bay is situated on the mid-west coast of Australia. Windy! Trust me, it is windy. Especially in spring and summer (near enough – blows south to north).
You don’t need a compass along that coast; for starters, trees grow bent, surprisingly, south to north.
No person in his right mind should be sailing a yacht the other way (spring and summer), north to south. We do; although not anymore for this black duck – I hope. There are daily strong wind warnings against the Leeuwin Current, with the added sea confusion caused by the dangerous Zuytdorp Cliffs.
I entered Shark Bay between Steep Point and Dirk Hartog Island (1 NM apart). Steep Point is the most Westerly point of mainland Australia. I anchored under the lee of the land.
The next day I continued to the town of Denham, mid-Shark Bay.
Before I left Fremantle, Bowe Wilson (a long distance motorbike desert rider) gave me two thick historical books by renown historian Hugh Edwards, on the Shark Bay region. One named “Shark Bay through four centuries: 1616 to 2000”.
Shark Bay Shire gave me a third book.
Shark Bay was named by English explorer extraordinaire William Dampier in 1699. A self-taught scientist, adventurer, Privateer – kinda licensed pirate – botanist, journal and log keeper of oceans and lands.
He didn’t call it Shark Bay but Sharks Bay. Somebody, somewhere along the line, changed it to Shark Bay. Somebody either blind or could not count above one.
I think (note think), no one in the last several hundred years has been taken by a shark in Shark Bay, but they are there. I have seen them in the shallows near Tamala Station – better things there for sharks to eat.
The three books on the history of Shark Bay the region all make mention of three pastoral stations (ranches): Murchison House, Tamala, and Carrarang Stations; all sheep stations.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, I was a wool-classer overseer and manager, and later owner of the shearing team. We worked those three stations, shore the sheep, classed, baled and weighed the wool.
I was fascinated by the region. The inland seas, peninsular’s, prongs, islands and the view of wind on the water in 8/8 blue sky.
Now I have just circumnavigated the planet, Shark Bay to Shark Bay solo, this being my 10th circumnavigation of the world, carrying the books. I donated the three books to the Shark Bay Shire Archives.
Getting back to Denham, I have to say, it is not a lot of fun tying the boat or taking a mooring at Denham notably for the wind exposure. Might get damage! It was best I stay on the yacht rather than accept the kind invitation to stopover at the seaside Heritage Hotel.
Leaving Denham, I overnighted to the town of Carnarvon that is to the north of Shark Bay. For near on 20-years I managed my shearing team out of Carnarvon.
The town of Canarvan is built alongside a fascine. What’s a fascine? (Don’t you know?) A fascine is a structure to prevent erosion of a stream or river bank.
A young French landscape architect who (some years back) sailed with me, described a fascine as a level (perhaps grassed) leading to a wall (not high) then a short beach; somewhere I read a fascine is a river of the sea.
The Carnarvon fascine is a structure high enough to prevent a surge entering the town. Beautifully constructed with a long walkway (boardwalk) and some floating docks tied for locals to fish, or dinghy type boat tenders.
Carnarvon folk refer to it all including the water as the fascine. The water is a sheltered inlet of the sea. Their fascine is part of the town and the Gascoyne region economy.
When I departed in 2016, one knows to steer one’s boat in or out of the narrow channel at half or higher tide. Well-marked posts are winking and blinking green and red at night so one can find one’s way in. It’s better by day as the sand shifts. I have been able to do that for years and years. Could! I just wrote it.
The State Department of Transport (DoT) Marine, manage the Canarvan inlet: the fascine. There are some moorings there for permanents and others for passing visitors – the cruising yachts and power. It’s flat water, and it is very nice! The Carnarvon Yacht Club manage its own floating marina in a substantial dug out basin with an entrance to the fascine.
A couple of kilometres by road is a commercial (very commercial) small boat harbour with a separate entrance, it is home for trawlers, fast crabbing vessels with Aussie friendly crews, big ship tugs, and commercial fuelling docks. Managed by DoT Marine. Most waterways in the state come under DoT.
So, it was one year and two months back, in 2016, the Carnarvon Yacht Club gave me a send-off from the Club Marina within the fascine.
Alas, it was not the club’s marina nor fascine I could return to, but the nearby commercial Boat Harbour, organised by a willing lady Manager at DoT Marine. It was a nice birth on the Snapper Jetty. Thanks DoT for your courtesy.
The fascine was blocked, silted up, so it was. Outboard boats on trailers cannot safely transit the channel that once was.
Guarding the fascine against the ravages of the ocean is a line of sand hills; the ocean breeches the lowest line of the sand hill. The sandhill is beyond the financial resources of the Shire and yacht club to fix. They do try, though it needs the State Government to help.
It was December in Carnarvon, and the strong south winds were keeping the coastal temperature comfortable. I had an excellent Christmas brunch with the yacht club members and locals. In the group was Nic and Donna Cuthbert. The Cuthbert’s and I met at the club, dinner in their home, etc. They could do and have done everything I cannot, or ever could: around Australia by bicycle; Singapore to London by motor Bike; across Mongolia by Horseback; overland thru Africa; Los Angeles to Buenos Aires by bicycle; Antigua to Australia by yacht. I’d better not write – “is that all!”
On my original departure, the Carnarvon Yacht Club gave me a send-off. A year and two months later, I had an arrival function in the Club House, officiated by the Shire President Karl Brandenburg, the CYC Manager Jim Williams and Club Rear Commodore Dave McCreedy. In return, I presented the Club with their Burgee (Club pennant) that I kept hoisted on Perie Banou II for the whole voyage. It was now tattered to rags and thread. The Club reckoned they would frame it. Gosh!
I departed Carnarvon for Steep Point. The forecast was moderate; it was a good day to leave. Leaving in the dark of the early morning I used the engine in low gear – with low revs – to help the yacht point high into the wind so to make easy progress. Nearing and sailing south along Dirk Hartog Island was pleasant. This beautiful space is a World Heritage area.
I arrived at Steep Point after dark and dropped anchor; my Hercules anchor made by Rocna. It is a bit of overkill, but I like it! There was a strong wind warning the day after I arrived, so I thought it best to act my age (78) and wait for moderate conditions. The wind and sea to the west of Steep Point and south along the coast are seriously yuk! Been there, done that before… Mind you, months back off South Africa (sailing from the French Island of Reunion to Cape Town) I fetched a gale from the west, it was 40 to 50 knots, as forecast with a storm warning.
South African Marine Radio constantly broadcasts dangerous sea conditions in the Agulhas Current during Westerly gales. Guess where this goose was hove-to? Yacht and I rode it out safely, but how long can you keep on, keeping on, doing that?
Day after day I waited at Steep Point. I advised Royal Perth Yacht Club I was unlikely to arrive on their preferred date and that I would need to slug it out. If I wait and wait, the weather will do something, because it always does.
I was acutely aware of the extreme weather events happening in other parts of the world. Not too many months before I had stopped in the British Virgin Islands (Caribbean). Since then those islands received a direct hit in the eye of two hurricanes: category 5 and category 4. 2000 yachts were destroyed, and likely more.
Shark Bay is not immune to cyclones. As it happened, a cyclone came ashore in the Kimberley. It didn’t change my weather, it just seemed to make the southerly winds stronger. Then there was another, Cyclone Joyce. Joyce was coming more my way. Pooh.
The southerly winds toned down – that’s new – nearly to nothing.
Up anchor and off…
Joyce crossed the land and caused it to decay. I like that sort of decay.
It then came out on the coast, just about opposite Perie Banou II. By then I was more than 100 miles to seaward.
Now Ex-Tropical Cyclone Joyce was bringing rain on the coast. The weather began following the shoreline southwards. It rained and rained and rained, eventually causing Perth to get 60mm (2 1/2″). More rain elsewhere (I wonder if anyone has ever worked out where elsewhere is).
Where I was, the wind had shifted to a mild-reach. That’s OK. Then broad-reach, then 18 to 22-knot run. I reefed down, and I had an excellent ride. Breakfast and flat white coffee. Superb. No rain where I was. Not a drop.
Now I am early, very early, for Royal Perth Yacht Club’s new date, 11 February, for me to arrive. Oh dear, I will have to stop at the Rottnest Island Pub. Maybe no one will notice. Don’t tell. Off course, I am on my way to the Mandurah Offshore Fishing and Sailing Club. Here I wait for my Fremantle arrival date. Everything about Mandurah was ever so good.
Sunday, 11 February came. I am due to enter the Harbour at 2 30pm. Organised by Kelly Scott, Stuart Walton, Rohan Lewis and co. Everything is going like clockwork. I reach towards the Harbour in an ever-freshening southwest wind. Sunny and whitecaps; plenty of yachts surround, joining my sail into the heads. Stuart Walton is the controlling Officer on the day. The nearer I got to Fremantle the more and more yachts came out the Fremantle Sailing Club Marina. Blimey!
Bluebell fully dressed with bunting. An S&S 34 being sailed by Peter Nevard, nephew of the late Max Shean (who’s yacht it was). Max’s portrait hangs in the wardroom of HMAS Stirling (probably the Southern Hemispheres largest Naval Base). Max Shean took a midget submarine into Tokyo Bay during World War 2.
Rohan Lewis in his 50 ft luxury Power Vessel (with Kelly Scott on board) was the official vessel on the day.
Amongst the yachts was Barry O’Toole’s 60 plus Heritage, a Herreshoff design ketch, all newly painted. Bravo!
Stuart Walton’s Kerrie Anne came out of Royal Perth Yacht Club Fremantle Annexe Marina alongside other vessels.
I was scheduled to arrive at the Harbour 2 30pm – I’ve told you all that – with an armada of yachts heading that way. This alarmed the Fremantle Port Captain as a large cargo ship due to arrive same time.
I got a message from Stuart Walton to arrive half an hour sooner. Did that!
Gosh, imagine, Peter Joyner’s mast on his Sir Henry Merkin – or my yacht, – hanging on the anchor of this 60,000-ton ship. It is too dreadful to contemplate! – hi Peter.
I entered the Harbour, and the Channel 9 TV crew came on board, as well as my brother Colin and some of my old crew (sometimes I crew for them): Cameron, Gareth, Paul and Robin. They quickly downed the sails and connected the mast lowering gear.
Swan River Yachts are unique worldwide, able to raise and lower their masts to go under the three Fremantle Bridges – I reckon universities should teach bridge makers how to make tunnels – two spinnaker poles are connected in an A. Fore-stay attached to the top of the poles and a block and tackle beneath. The mast pivots at the base on deck.
My crew had the mast lowered without stopping. Colin steered under the bridges, then my crew had the mast re-hoisted before I could think that just all happened.
In the Harbour were friendly people on the wharves and the bridges, all giving a wave.
Several miles up the river a fleet of Royal Perth sail and power yachts, including my Cousin Julian Wright’s heritage 50ft Halvorson wooden Launch – immaculately varnished, all escorted Perie Banou II to Royal Perth’s principal Marina and clubhouse.
Garden Party scene. Members and personal friends going way back.
Commodore Mark Hanson and General Manager Stuart Walton gave eloquent speeches. Bit embarrassing to me.
Stuart concentrated on the sponsors, their equipment and time.
I’m home. Again.
A good place to stay.
Thanks. Heaps of luck to all. Like I got.