Blog Post 37 by Jon Sanders: Leaving Tasmania – West Coast bound
I depart the Tamar River – North Coast of Tasmania. It is near 2000 nautical miles to transit the Great Australian Bight, from the East Coast of Australia to Perth/Fremantle on the West Coast.
In years past one would depart on a due date and time. Say, 11am, as long as a gale was not blowing.
Get up when I feel like it; buy the newspaper and breakfast in the cafe and then casually depart.
Something I learnt yonks ago and decades back departing Gibraltar. “Gotta leave with the tide”. That is what the Cruising yachtsmen were saying and doing. So we departed 10pm at night, like the rest. Nuts!
The next time we left Gibraltar we were more sensible in our decision. So what if we were going 2 to 3 knots slower (head current).
In a low powered yacht like my then S&S34, one cannot get thru the Strait before the tide changes anyway.
In the old days of Ocean Liners.
Ocean Liners being Cunard type Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary taking scheduled passengers from Southampton UK to New York or the P&O ships to Australia.
Modern cruise ships (are just that) they do the coast to coast, port to port, town to town stops.
Sometimes I see them going around in circles at night just killing time; sometimes they are stopped and drifting (Caribbean).
In the days of the Liners, the UK to Australia, the passenger talk was the reputation of gales (the rough regions): The Bay of Biscay and the Great Australian Bight.
The Great Australian Bight is a bloody longer distant.
I can remember that chat.
In the early 1950s, my brother, sister and I (with our parents) travelled to and from the UK on the passenger/cargo ships Moreton Bay and Larges Bay (no air conditioning in those days). There were a lot of British troops along the Suez Canal.
The Jumbo Jet hadn’t happened.
In other words, we knew at a young age of the Bay of Biscay and Aussie Bight.
Today, by yacht travelling across the oceans one can get weather reports by satellite, wind Grib and other weather predicts.
Surprisingly I am not quite up to date with all of that, and I do not have enough resources to have everything fitted.
But nearing Australia, it gets better.
About 1000 to 1500 nautical miles from the Australian coast I get the Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) on my Barrett 2050 high-frequency radio.
On BOM, one can receive all deep ocean (far ocean) gale warnings – everything over 33-knot wind. Easily understood. Latitudes and longitudes as the weather moves towards.
Separate to this, the BOM forecasts coastal weather and warnings around the Australian coast (coastal – I.E. to 60 NM off the coast).
Sailing from the East Coast of Aussie to West Coast (south about), one knows the weather comes from the west, goes east.
Sailing from the Bass Strait in the east to Cape Leeuwin (west) on a direct or Great Circle route the ‘land’ sneaks further and further north, and further and further away.
To the north,
South Australian/ Victoria border is 50 NM north.
Kangaroo Island. 150 north.
Head of the Bight 360 NM north.
Blimey, my Club Marine Insurance is only covered to 200 NM from the coast including any Islands. I’m not insured that far off.
Not for long. As one progresses West, the land once more draws closer.
Before departing Tasmania, I got an 8-day forecast on my iPhone app. 8-days is a bit far, as the weather can often change, somewhat.
However, on the Barrett Radio, I pick up the Leeuwin coastal forecast, – a long way off. It’s an excellent clue as the weather comes from the West. If one hears ‘a weak front’ I can be reasonably confident that in two or three days I will get a mild to moderate westerly change. It won’t last long. Westerlies (usually southwest), means headwinds, and the Barometer drops before it happens.
In late spring and summer along the South Coast of Australia, the prevailing winds are day after day, I.E. Leeuwin, Albany, Esperance, Ceduna, Port Lincoln are easterly winds (SE and East) and are often somewhat fresh. This is an extension of the trade winds. About once a week, sometimes a bit longer one gets some sort of front (SW).
Anyway, things looked good to leave Tassie. I left with a favourable easterly wind. Not a lot, but there was a strong wind warning on the other side of Bass Strait (NE). No effect.
Bit more wind on day 2 & 3. Ran out of wind on day 4. Some wind, then no wind for two more days – a high-pressure system.
Wind backed to the northeast, slowly-slowly, but inevitably increased to 30 knots. Sometimes gusting 30/35 knots. It started to rain; lots of rain. Then the sea got bigger and rougher.
And then it happened!
What? Break something?
The wind stopped. Just like that. Nothing, no wind at all. Zilch.
But the rough sea didn’t stop. It threw the boat all over the place. Everywhere. Gosh. It was night time too. Vertical up, vertical down. Boxing the compass, doing higgledy-piggledy. Great!
Come dawn the wind began to creep in, west and southwest. The sea continues to be all over the place. Plus the wind was the wrong way.
My Aunt used to say. “Worse things happen at sea”. (Talking to the converted she was).
By night it was 16 knots. By midnight it backed to the south and I was on my way.
Approaching Cape Leeuwin the wind was typical strong southeast (favourable). Turning the corner the wind direction followed. Now going north and wind south pushing me and my boat. I ran with 2 reefs in the mainsail.
Destination: my beautiful Island of Rottnest.
Rottnest Island is only 10 NM northwest of Fremantle. Not going to Freo just yet. Continuing north 550 NM to Shark Bay. That is where the Carnarvon Yacht Club sent me off solo, to do the 10th circumnavigation of the world (one year and two months back).
At primary school age, my parent’s idea of somewhere to holiday (each year) was Rottnest Island. Not wrong. We got there from Perth by the steamer Zephyr.
Bays, coves, translucent water, a myriad of limestone reefs, corals, and lighthouses. Not much tide. No swirling currents result in magnificent clear water.
In the 1960s, I bought a mooring in Thomson bay Rotto from the Fremantle Port Authority.
As leisure boats multiplied in Western Australia, it became obvious only a few owned moorings at Rottnest, (including the ground site) – forever.
The state parliament changed the legislation. We now hire the site and own the mooring.
We must share the mooring with 5 in all. If by chance, I do not nominate all 5, the Rottnest Authority can appoint the additions. I have priority and can say which of the users have next priority.
The Authority laid many more moorings throughout the bays; well-ordered patterns and all with environmental ground tackle.
The primary owner of the moorings must have and show that the moorings have been surveyed each year and meet any corrections required, or lose it.
Today, as moorings become available, the Authority is now changing to day or week hire. This is similar to other moorings in the rest of the world.
In the British Virgin Islands, there are 100s & 100s of moorings for private and chartered yachts.
So time to drop the mooring.
Go north to Shark Bay and Carnarvon.
The prevailing summer wind for Perth/Fremantle and Rottnest Island is a land breeze in the morning (easterly) and sea breeze (SW) in the afternoon. The foreign and eastern state press like to call the sea breeze the Fremantle Doctor (it cools the suburbs). Still a sea breeze.
The stretch of ocean from Rottnest to Shark Bay is frequented with southerly winds. southeast and southwest (SE/SW). The more north one goes, the more south the wind (SSE/S/SSW). Frequent strong wind warnings. The more north, the more frequent.
Between the coastal town of Geraldton and North West Cape, a distance of 450 NM the southerly (30 kts) strong wind warnings can be daily; day after day…
Between the coastal town of Kalbarri and Shark Bay are 90 NM of untenable and incredibly dangerous cliffs. The Zuytdorp Cliffs. Some 300 to 400 ft high.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, maybe millions, massive surf has been pounding them. As one sails by, the spume from the surf can be seen blowing 100s of feet into the air.
A vessel to hit these concave cliffs is to be smashed to smithereens. Little chance of survival.
The strong south winds, headed by the 1 to 1-1/2 kt Leeuwin Current together with the effect of the cliffs, makes for a rough ride going south. Yucky poo! Through spring and summer it is hard to avoid.
A major Western Australian industry of more than 60 years (as a serious business) has been the rock lobster fishing. Known locally as Crayfish. The rock lobster boats, Cray Boats, are uniquely WA designed, fast and very seaworthy. Heavily subjected to regulation.
John Fitzhardinge Jnr, from the fishing and rural town of Dongara, is probably the best known in Australia for what he has done and doing. John is a respected boat builder and designer of these vessels, fisherman, leader and former Shire President.
I left Rottnest Island, 3 deep reefs in the mainsail. Wind as forecast SW to 30 kts. Going downwind. Running with it. Rough but OK. My Aries wind vane self-steerer is perfect with lots of wind and small sail.
Better than a helmsman; it doesn’t get tired.
At 3.30am, in the dark of the morning, I heard the unmistakable sound of lobster floats hitting the hull. Bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp.
Crickey. I looked at the B&G screen.
Blimey! I had just gone from 7 kts boat speed down to 1.8 to 2 kts. Probably caught on my propellor (in neutral). I am tugging a cray pot (they are not small).
Been there, done that before. You get that!
I made centre the fully reefed mainsail and slowly turned the yacht into the wind until it stopped. (sort of anchored on a cray pot). Then turned the yacht downwind. Still snared. Gybed and turned the yacht into the wind the other way. Then back downwind, gybed and into the wind the other-other way. All of a sudden a float popped out and seemed to drift away.
Ooooh, might have done it.
Turned the yacht downwind while watching the B&G.
Bomp, bomp. Speed went to 1.5 kts, 3 kts, 4 kts going up, I eased the mainsail out.
I was on my way.
It did not seem to have damaged the prop or whatever.
There was lots of wind for next two days.
Rounded Steep Point. Passed thru the not-wide South Passage between Steep Point and the long Dirk Hartog Island, (Surf both sides).
Thus I sailed into the World Heritage area of Shark Bay.
Anchored, all alone, in near Shelter Bay.
Steep Point is the most westerly point of all of the Australian mainland.
Hey everybody, I will tell you about Shark Bay next blog.