Sailing Exmouth to Busselton 2014

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    Returning from the winter in the Kimberley, we sailed Dulcinea inside Ningaloo Reef from Yardi Creek to Coral Bay, I had two good crew assisting, Ray Major and Peter Lewis and this is Ray’s report.

    Cruising Off Season in the SS22 Section
    The story began over a quiet drink between SS22 owners after sailing one afternoon on Bernie Anson’s “P’s & Q’s” when I told Mike Smith, our SS22 Training Officer and owner of “Raconteur”, that I was keen to do more blue water cruising if the opportunity arose after a recent sojourn on “Blue Destiny”, a 40 foot junk rigged mono sailing from Perth to Shark Bay and beyond in June. In late August he emailed me to advise he had heard that there was a Seawind 1160 named “Dulcinea” heading down from the Kimberley’s who was needing crew. He put me in touch with the owner, David Buzzard, who often invites the Heydon’s or the Dunbar’s of SoPYC fame to join him, but neither were currently avaIslable so he was seeking able bodied sailors.
    After a few calls and emails I was welcomed aboard but David wisely felt an additional crew member would be of great assistance, so I contacted Peter Lewis, the owner of “Crossroads”, who was keen for the opportunity to join the voyage.
    We departed Perth Airport on a cold, wet, rainy 6th September and landed at Learmonth Airport near Exmouth to blazing sunshine and warmth. It was a good start ! We met our new Skipper David in the Exmouth Game Club bar for a drink with the crew we were replacing, then down the dock to board our new home, planning to make Mindarie in 10-14 days.
    The facilities aboard are luxurious compared to our little keelboats. Three double beds, two heads, showers with hot running water and a fully stocked galley ! The space a Catamaran offers makes a keelboat seem rather austere by comparison, and the stability of twin hulls means no constant heel at sea, and very little rolling motion in port.
    The next few days the winds were unfavourable, so I was able to Scuba Dive off the Navy Pier, which was probably the best diving I’ve ever done in WA. The size and quantity of fish was amazing – several varieties of Sharks and a huge Cod nicknamed BFG (Big Friendly Groper) which enjoyed a pat under the chin being highlights of the dive.
    On Tuesday 9/9/14 the wind turned East so we departed Exmouth in convoy with another Seawind 1160 “No Fear” with 3 souls aboard also heading for Perth. As we sailed towards Tandabiddi in beautiful conditions we saw many Whales, Turtles and Sea Snakes. When we arrived late afternoon we found another Catamaran anchored waiting for favourable winds, a Fusion 40 with a husband and wife team who were well known to our party. All were invited over for a few drinks and it was agreed all 3 vessels would travel together as we headed South as David had a lot of local experience and waypoints accumulated from past voyages. In particular we planned to sail inside the reef from Yardie Creek to Coral Bay, something not recommended for the faint of heart as maximum depths were simIslar to our draft of just over 1 metre, and in several places were only traversable on high tide.
    The next day we did the passage from Tandabiddi to Yardie Creek under motor, a tough day in rough conditions with strong headwinds and 1-2 knot current against us. By the time we anchored that night we had covered 41nm on the log, but only 28nm on the GPS, the rest being adverse current !
    We left Yardie Creek at 0700 on 10/9/14 for Chabjuwaron Bay, intending to traverse inside the reef following David’s prior GPS tracks of a few seasons ago as the winds at sea were unfavourable. With Peter and myself posted on the hulls to spot random Bombies we left
    in convoy with our companions glued to our stern like lemmings. We slowly picked our way between the reefs and on a few occasions lightly scraped our sacrificial hulls on the corals, and touched onto a sandbar. Fortunately our arrival at the shallowest section was planned to coincide with high tide, and despite my doubts to the contrary we made it ! The end of this leg bought some deeper water and a strong breeze, and the vessels took to sail in the flat waters beside the coast to our anchorage 12nm North of Coral Bay, arriving late afternoon after covering 44nm. Over the course of the day we saw so many turtles darting before us it was becoming boring, and a decent sized Shark cruising the shallows.
    The next morning we had one more extremely shallow passage to negotiate en route to Coral Bay which frankly looked impassable in the clear azure waters, but again David’s faith in his GPS track was rewarded with our safe passage after a few gentle scrapes. Once in deep water we dropped trolling lines and were rewarded with two immediate strikes – of NW Blowies ! After another two in quick succession the rods were stored as it was clear the Blowies were in plague proportions in these parts.
    As we motored through the convoluted North channel into Coral Bay we were struck by the water clarity – the visibility was amazing and it was extremely difficult to gauge the depth as even deep water was so clearly defined it seemed shallow. We moored at Coral Bay late morning and walked into the pub for a celebratory drink. Sadly all private craft are now banned from Coral Bay proper, and there is no taxi or public transport, so several kilometres of hiking are required to get from the moorings/boat ramp area to town.
    Over the next few days strong winds on the nose were forecast so a few snorkelling expeditions over the local reefs were arranged to pass the time. The weather was sublime with warm days and fresh breezes, so this was not really a hardship, and to be honest I could have spent another week there, but our Skipper was keen to get South as time was slipping away from us.
    On Saturday 13/9/14 we relocated the vessles to Maud’s Landing with plans to head to sea around 0400 next morning. We awoke to find the wind howling, so retired back to bed till 0600 when we weighed anchor, expecting the wind to moderate as forecast. Once at sea after some hours it became clear we were making poor progress in the adverse current and being hammered by the sea state. It is said Gentlemen don’t beat to wind, and in a Catamaran this is law ! With the next potential anchorage at Gnaraloo Bay closed out due to 3-5m swells, and no possibility of making Cape Cuvier before dark we abandoned our plans and returned to Coral Bay around noon having covered 20nm for nought.
    We were trapped in Coral Bay for several days, which wasn’t really a hardship in the lovely weather and crystal blue waters. After watching several days pass when the forecast strong winds did not eventuate we decided to go again on Wednesday 17/9/14. We headed out mid afternoon into a 15-20knt Southerly headwind, resigned to our fate of having to slog it out to make some headway South before an approaching cold front. Eventually the wind swung East and we were able to make Carnarvon by 1900 the next day, eager for a decent night’s sleep and needing more fuel for the trip to Abrolhos and beyond. We were now in a race to get to Abrolhos before the next weather front halted further progress.
    The forecast for Thursday 18/9/14 was favourable, so we left Carnarvon at 0600 hoping to make South Passage by nightfall for a rest before continuing. “Waterfront” stayed with us but “No Fear” decided they needed a rest so stayed at Carnarvon. Sadly we were again let down by weather and progress was slower than expected, but we reached South Passage
    before midnight and kept going. We had but a small weather window to reach Abrolhos before some extreme winds were forecast.
    The next day the wind swung NW as forecast and over the day rose from 3knts to 20knts by sunset, but as we were running before it we had smooth sailing into the Wallabi Group of the Abrolhos Islands, dropping anchor in the lee of East Wallabi Island just before midnight. We had covered 246nm over 36 hours since leaving Carnarvon, and we had beaten the foul weather, so a celebratory drink was shared before a well earned retirement aboard “Dulcinea” & “Waterfront”.
    We awoke on Sunday 21/9/14 to howling winds – a constant 30knts with gusts up to 43knts recorded on the instruments. We relocated deeper into a protected anchorage beside a fisherman’s settlement and bunkered down to a day of rest. Around 1700 however Peter noticed “Waterfront” seemed to have moved, and we all ran out on the deck to see her adrift sideway, swiftly heading for a shallow reef. In a squall “Waterfront’s” anchor had slipped and the owner Len was battling to turn the vessel head to wind to arrest her progress towards a shallow grave. Fortunately Cats feature twin propulsion widely spaced in each hull, which means with full ahead on the Port and full astern on Starboard he was able to bring her about so he could retrieve the anchor with some considerable difficulty with his not very experienced wife Isla at the controls trying to hold station into the teeth of a gale.
    The next phase for “Waterfront” was trying to catch a mooring in a 40knt squall with Len on the boat hook and Isla at the wheel, a feat achieved after several attempts with “Dulcinea’s” skipper David providing guidance to Isla over the radio. She did a great job under very difficult and stressful conditions, and we were all relieved when “Waterfront” was again secured. It had been a sobering reminder to all of how quickly things can go wrong, and how unforgiving the ocean can be around this dangerous coral outcrop a stone’s throw from the Batavia’s graveyard.
    The next day the wind abated somewhat so we hopped down to Morley Island in the Easter Group and spent another night safely moored in picturesque surroundings. As we passed the site where “Batavia” was shipwrecked we reflected how terrifying it must have been for the hundreds of survivors marooned on this desolate group of windswept islands on a dark stormy night. The subsequent murder and mayhem that followed is recounted in Peter FitSimons novel, which I highly recommend as a great read. We continued the slow slog South following day after lunch, anchoring in the lee of Post Office Island on the North side of the Pelsaert Group before nightfall.
    On Wednesday 24/9/14 we weighed anchors at 0600, headed for Jurien Bay. Once out of the Marine Sanctuary we dropped lines and very soon Peter had a strike, eventually landing a 1.2m Mackerel, the biggest fish he’s ever caught. The winds were light most the day and we pushed on, reaching Jurien 24 hours later where we had to wait till 0900 for the fuel facility to open. “Waterfront” managed to snag one of the many craypots on her rudder, fortunately it was removed without having to dive in the now icy waters.
    Full of fuel we motored on through Thursday, nearing Rottnest by midnight where we farewelled “Waterfront” who peeled off for the coast. We passed Garden then Penguin Island in the inky darkness of Friday morning, how did we ever navigate before GPS and chart plotters ?
    The wind was now NNW and forecast to ramp up over the day to 30knts, the race was on to reach our final port of call, Busselton. At 0800 the first reefing line snapped, so the main was promptly tied down to the boom and we continued hugging the coast as the winds strengthened. As the wind gathered we went faster and faster, we were averaging over 7 knots now and saw peaks of 10knots after Bunbury. However as we approached Geographe Bay Marina the winds were peaking 30knts and the sea state was becoming rather lumpy, thankfully we were still running with it. One wave broke over the Starboard stern, which was a bit of a shock, and a first in over 15,000nm on “Dulcinea”. When the Marina entrance finally materialised we were overjoyed, and the final turn into the sheltered waters was a great relief. Once safely moored a number of beverages were consumed to calm our nerves before a well earned rest.
    Over the 21 days at sea since Exmouth we had traversed over 850nm. We had experienced every sea state from dead calm to howling gales, and seen many amazing natural wonders along the way. Peter and I would like to thank our generous host David Buzzard for the opportunity to join him on the good ship “Dulcinea” for this adventurous voyage South. It was a very different experience to sailing an SS22 on the Swan River……

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