How many people get to live their dreams? I am..........!

This is my story from the time when Capt'n John and I first decided to sail around the big block, to circumnavigate this great land of ours, AUSTRALIA.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Three Months Sailing the West Coast of Australia

Three Months Sailing the West Coast of Australia
28th July - 4th October 2013
The coastline south of Exmouth
Beaches, exotic marine life, national reserves and the bluest ocean you’ll see anywhere in the world, can all be found along Australia's Western Coast.
We had to sail round many oil & gas rigs
on our passage down the west coast
Western Australia (WA) is Australia's largest state (area: 2,525,500sqkm) is isolated by desert from most of Australia's population and eastern states cities. This enhances the feeling that Western Australia is somehow different from the rest of Australia, almost a separate country. Western Australia has the Indian Ocean to the west, the Southern Ocean to the south, the Timor Sea to the north and to the east South Australia and the Northern Territory. The state extends l62l km east to west and 2391km north to south.
Rough times at sea
Sailing down the west coast of Western Australia provided MrJ and I with a real cross section of conditions from 40-50knot gale winds lasting for days to hundreds of nautical miles of motor sailing while heading into light to rough conditions. We left Broome on the 28th July 2013 and arrived in Princess Royal Harbour at Albany on the 4th October 2013.
We were told to be in Geraldton by mid Aug early Sept to keep with the easterly weather but the weather didn’t know that and we got mostly SW weather. Hence the runners and waiting out at places. Than catch the SWerlies around the bottom before the SEerlies came back in, and that really didn't happen either.
Anchorage at 80 Mile Beach
The occasional flat calm seas enabled us to day hop at times; anchoring in three places off 80 Mile beach with a high tidal range and long shoaling meant that AR had to sit up to four miles from the shore.
There were times when fear and apprehension descended as we sailed through this wild coastline, sometime sailing through the night making runner after runner to catch the right weather windows. Then relief would kick in like a drug once we had settled in a calm anchorage with white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water. Making a runner on a short weather window we encountered very rough sea conditions two days out of Exmouth when leaving a great protected anchorage behind the reef at Mauds Landing. We had to bypass much of the Ningaloo Reef area because of the rough conditions. Some of the anchorages behind the reef would have been relatively calm in slight to moderate condition but in rough conditions it was risky business getting in and out of the narrow reef openings with the heavy swells crashing over the reef.
Sailing down the Ningaloo Reef with yacht Banyandah
Overcast weather, windy weather and glassy calm weather all make moving about in coral areas hazardous because of the difficulty in seeing into the water. In conditions of glassy calm water in the Abrolhos; bombies are sometimes detectable because of a faint ruffle on the surface above them. Usually the browner in colour the bombie is, the shallower the water above it is.
Big swells sailing into Geraldton
In another runner into Geraldton from the Abrolhos Islands we encountered big swells and rode them all the way in. Then there was the sense of adventure sailing this wild coast to find beautiful places that very few people have every ventured to. To sail into, to tread where the ancient mariner once discovered this land we now call Australia.

The history of Western Australia dates back more than 40,000 years to the original inhabitants, the Australian Aboriginals, making Australia one of the oldest lands on Earth. The Aborigines lived a nomadic existence, moving within fairly well-defined geographic regions as they followed the seasons and food sources. Many Aboriginal groups Shark Bay have strong cultural connections to the sea. There is good evidence that they and other groups fished and traveled over the water by boats. It is possible the Chinese and Arabs visited Australian shores in the l5th Century, perhaps earlier, as there were trading operations on nearby islands. Interesting argument has been put that the Portuguese had explored at least the east coast of the continent south to Victoria and the west coast down to King Sound by 1522. The Dauphin chart, if correct it is the first known chart of the coast.
Model of the Batavia with part of the actual hull which is
kept in the marina's Museum at Fremantle
European explorers came much later with the first recorded European visitors in Western Australia's history were the Dutch in the 1600s. Many of these visitors were sailors, employed by the Dutch East India Company, who regularly used the strong westerly winds to power their boats across the Indian Ocean to Dutch-colonized Indonesian ports, such as Batavia (now Jakarta). It is the Dutch who are credited with first exploring our coast and producing charts that are recognizable precursors of the ones we use today. They gave names to many of the coastal features. Dirk Hartog, a Dutch trader, discovered the west coast in 1616 and Thyssen accidentally found the south coast and explored east of Cape Leeuwin in 1626, giving it a reasonable report. The wreck of the Batavia is to be found in the Abrolhos Islands. You can read about the ship Batavia here
Vlamingh visited Rottnest and the Swan River in 1696 exploring about 10nm up the Swan River by boat and surveyed this area. He then headed north and discovered on Cape Inscription, at the north end of Dirk Hartog Island, a pewter plate left by Hartog in 1616. He replaced this with a plate on which he inscribed not only Hartog's words but some of his own. The French found and removed the plate in 1819.
Englishman William Dampier made contact with the coast in 1688 in the Cygnet and, although he was not a very effective cartographer, his report stimulated interest by the French and English.
An early mariner's chart of  Australia
1801, Mathew Flinders came with his great surveying skills in the Investigator and surveyed  the south coast. Flinders met up with the Frenchman Baudin who in 1801 and 1803 made a detailed survey of the west coast. Baudin's expedition spent over four years on the Australian coast and arguably made the greatest contribution which resulted in over one hundred and eighty coastal features being given French names. Phillip Parker King, an Australian and son of a former governor of NSW was given the task of filling in the gaps left by Matthew Flinders in the exploration of the Australian coastline. And so now, with the improvement of charting the great western Australian coast was open to many more others to explore, like ourselves.

Shipwrecks dot the entire WA coastline
South of Broome the coastline did not vary that much, from miles of rolling sand dunes to low rocky headlands and cliff faces but only a few off lying island groups. Added to the scenery were numerous turtles, dugongs, sea birds and literally hundreds of whales all the way down the coast. At White Banks in the Houtman Abrolhos Archipelago, moored with another boat, Banyandah from Tasmania, we encountered our first sea lions.

Six species of marine turtle are found in WA waters, the Green, Hawksbill, Flatback, Loggerhead, Leatherback, and Olive Ridley. The first four species nest on WA beaches.
The blue-ringed octopus occurs along most of the coast and is highly poisonous. Shell collectors sometimes pick one up when it is hiding inside a shell. Some cone shells can inject a paralysing toxin by means of a dart; a few of the larger species have a fatal sting. This kept my shell collecting to a very minimum and MrJ was happy.
There are more than 50 species of venomous sea snakes out there and many sharks occur along the entire coast, although attacks are rare. We saw very few or they were just hiding!
Whales are intelligent and sensitive mammals.
When playing whales leap out of the sea
The Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has certain rules for safe whale-watching.
“Only approach a whale (or a group of whales) from a direction parallel or 300m ahead and allow the whales to approach you. Do not separate what may be members of a tightly knit family group. When 300m reduce the speed of your vessel to a slow speed consistent with no wake. If you intend stopping the engine, allow it to idle for a few minutes before switching off. Whales become alarmed at sudden noises or at the sudden stopping of a noise. One hundred metres is the closest vessels may come to a whale, unless they are research vessels. If the animal approaches the vessel more closely, put the engine in neutral and avoid engaging the propellers until it has moved off. Relatively small yachts have sunk or suffered severe damage after hitting a whale. So perhaps the preferred manoeuvre is to stay well clear at all times! Swimming with whales is prohibited. It may cause stress to the animal and is dangerous for people, as a tail or fluke slap can render a swimmer unconscious.”
A Humpback Whale alongside the boat
This is not always the case when sailing at sea and many a time we have changed tack to avoid a whale or many whales travel the west coast. And I wish that someone would tell the whales the rules.
The whales can be seen coming south with their young from August to October. The humpback whales are the fifth largest of the great whales and can grow up to 19m and weigh 40 tonnes. They are black with white underneath and sides. The underside of the tail fluke is white with black patterns by which each whale can be identified.
We have had many a whale or more pop up beside the boat and even dive under the boat as we sailed along. This can be very frightening especially if you do not see where they come up. And then there is the night sail which we did try not to do but could not be avoided along this wild coast. I hoped that all the whales had found a nice little cove to retire to at night but know that this was not true.
Whales pop up right beside your boat
Bottle-nose dolphin

The common dolphin and the bottle-nose dolphin can be seen all along the Western Australian coast. They are a tourist attraction at Monkey Mia (Shark Bay), Bunbury and Cockburn Sound (Rockingham). We had many dolphins come and visit many times, to ride our bow wave for hours and then to disappear into the deep blue sea.

Sea lion on White Banks
Houtman Abrolhos Archipelago 

Australian sea lions were once hunted for their fur and meat but have been protected since 1892. They can be seen from islands off the southwest coast as far north as the Houtman Abrolhos and are among the worlds rarest of seals species. Unlike other seals, which breed annually, sea lions breed every 17.5 months, breeding at different times at different islands. Their coats vary in colour but are usually combinations of tans, cream and brown.

Anchorage at Monkey Mia
We had been ashore when the storm approached.

Some estuarine and marine areas are protected.  Ningaloo Reef, which extends from Bundegi just north of Exmouth around North West Cape and south to Red Bluff, the Montebello Islands (SW of Dampier), Shark Bay and Monkey Mia, Houtman Abrolhos Archipelago (NW of Geraldton) and Rottnest Island (out from Fremantle) are all Marine Park that we had the privilege of being able to visit. Moorings for recreational vessels have been provided and maintained in several of these locations.
There was also the sense of adventure and a feeling of being an explorer when we crossed a couple of more things of out Bucket List. The personal achievements like rounding Australia’s furthest most western point, Steep Point is the westernmost point of the Australian mainland, and the most SW point at Cape Leeuwin where by rounding this point it took MrJ, me and AR into the great Southern Ocean.

The fishermen on Steep Point.
We were back on the ocean side.
After anchoring off Monkey Mia in crystal clear blue water with pristine white sandy beaches but we had been getting strong wind and rain squalls that had kept us onboard for most of our stay (this was the main weather pattern for most of the west coast), we had anchored in Sunday Bay on the southern side of Dirk Hartog Island on the inside of Shark Bay; in a patch of good holding sand between all the seagrass. We were waiting with yacht Banyandah, waiting out for another weather window to get us further south. Two days later we were ready to make our move out through the narrow opening between Dirk Hartog Island and Steep Point on the mainland, out into big rolling swells that crashed on the shore creating a rebound against all other incoming waves steeping the seas. It was called Steep Point for other reason, the steep cliffs surrounding, but I know it for the steep seas. Two days later we are anchored at Pigeon Island in the Houtman Abrolhos group.
The fishing huts on Pigeon Island, Wallabi IslandsHoutman Abrolhos Archipelago
Diving to free the anchor in gale winds.
Than there was the time we go caught out anchored at Rottnest Island, when we had picked up a mooring line with our anchor and had to get a diver out to free the anchor. It was blowing a gale and we so did want to be in Freemantle. Mind you we ended up being stuck in Fremantle at the Fremantle Sailing Club for three weekswe were playing that old waiting game again, waiting for the 30-40knt rainy weather to clear to give us a good window to sail south. Maybe stuck is too strong a word as our stay with the sailing club and visits to Fremantle and Perth turned out to be quite lovely and interesting.

The Fremantle Sailing Club fingers.

Sundowners on AR with the SICYC "westies" members.
Race day at the FSC

with some helfp from Glen & Nigel

and we even got some work done

Dress of the day.
The further south we sailed the colder it became
even though we were heading into summer
The time became right to sail out; with one quick overnight stop at Bunbury we were once again on another two night runner this time it would takes MrJ and me around the bottom corner of Cape Leeuwin and on to Albany.
We had company on our passages around the bottom of WA
My track around Cape Leeuwin at night.

I was doing my usual midnight to dawn night watch when we rounded the cape. It felt good – I was on the helm, keeping out wide to avoid the rocky reef islands in the darkness. It was dark, very cold and wet from the sea spray with sails reefed, a fresh W breeze blowing and a big rolling 3mt swell to push AR around the corner. At 0215h heading down the western coast off Cape Leeuwin - 34’27.291S – 114’59.576E and into the Southern Ocean – there was only another 100n/m to Albany.

Here we go - sliding down the face of the big swell and on into the Southern Ocean.........................


  1. Thanks. Great story.
    We would like to do the same trip one day, but the other way, we live in Albany.
    Fair winds.

  2. Thanks. Great story.
    We would like to do the same trip one day, but the other way, we live in Albany.
    Fair winds.

  3. Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post. Thanks so much and let keep on sharing your stuffs keep it up.

    Exmouth Sailing