Leg 9 Exmouth to Freemantle
Hello landlubbers! Here is an overdue blog update. We are waiting for our
longest serving female crewmember to finish the blog update to Exmouth. This
is the longest serving crewmember elect Peter reporting on the first stage
of our Exmouth to Fremantle leg. It would appear the downwind legs that
Guinevere has had since leaving Sydney are coming to an abrupt halt as we
round NW Cape and head pretty well due South for a few weeks. Exmouth saw us
enjoying 3 days with a Getz on steroids, being an upgrade to an Outlander as
all the cheapies were out. Oh well same cost so we enjoyed touring Cape
Range, and bushwalking in the Yardi Creek Gorge. We also sampled the
bodysurfing available near the old lighthouse. Our first night on the NW
Cape saw us at anchor at Tandabiddi for a couple of nights. We had a
"secure" anchorage there with our anchor wedged under a rock. We did not
realise this til time to depart after the second night with winds up to 25
knots during our stay. Departure was delayed by Paul diving down the three
metres to determine why we could not raise the anchor. The outcome after
much power from the engine was a raised but bent anchor (bends to shaft and
one of the flutes). Farewells were made to Christine Clarke and Richard
Urquhart as they left the yacht at Exmouth. There was more than a hint of
sadness for all as they departed. Now Paul's cousins Jim and John have
joined us for the leg Exmouth to Freemantle. As this leg will require
several night's of night sailing we have elected to have the motor ticking
over whilst travelling in the dark. Advice appears to be that this is an
improvement in the notice whales receive of our presence. For the 120
nautical miles from Exmouth to Coral Bay we departed 4.30pm in a light SW
wind, going around NW Cape (for the third time) this time inside the NW Reef
as the swell had subsided over the last few days. Now at Coral Bay where we
have spent a beaut day ashore. Yesterday we saw the first clouds in 18 days,
since I joined Guinevere in Broome. But today has been cloudless - good, as
this is to what we have become accustomed. Strange, we have not caught a
fish in 48 hours. We are on a mooring at Coral Bay - this is a sanctuary
zone so we just look at 2 to 3kg spangled emperors swimming around the boat
in sensationally clear coral reef conditions. This place is special. Today
has included long walks on the beach and snorkelling, as well as an ice
cream and coffee from the bakery. Dinner of roast lamb and vegies last night
is about to be followed by corn beef vegies and white sauce. Desert of
strawberries and custard will be repeated. As well we shall prepare a bread
for baking in the morning, and cook a John Clarke special one pot spaghetti
brew for tomorrow night's dinner when we shall be underway. So after dinner
tonight we shall commence the 190 nautical mile leg to Denham, which is near
Monkey Mia due south of here. Our estimated time to arrive at Denham is by
midday Friday. We plan to spend at least one night there before proceeding
to Steep Point before venturing again into the open ocean to reach Houtman
Abrolhos Islands. Books about Abrolhos include" Islands of Angry Coasts" by
Hugh Edwards, and "Batavia" by Peter Fitzsimons. We have both on board.
Reading either or both of these whilst we are at anchor at Turtle Bay, with
wind whistling eerily through the rigging may be a source of sleepless
"A Night's Sail"
(not to be confused with "A Knight's Tale")
"Gather round lads" said Captain Paulie, his moustache bristling with
anticipation, "we've got a tough night's sail in front of us." It was 4pm
and we'd just crossed the tropic of Capricorn and passed the Cape Cuvier
salt mines at about latitude 24 degrees. The "Guinevere" was scooting along
at 7 knots with its spinnaker grabbing a good hold of a 10 knot westerly.
The crew was a fine blend of youth (Jim "cabin boy" Clarke), experience
(Peter "Sir Francis Chichester" Doyle) and brash versatility (John "piece of
cake" Clarke). "Get your night gear ready" barked Captain Paulie. "Shark
Bay is a treacherous bit of water. We have to clear the Fitzroy Reef, the
Darwin Reefs, the Bejaling Shoals, shallow water and those goddam whales.
And we need to reach Denham before the southerly comes in tomorrow morning."
Pete decided he'd take an immediate 40 minute kip. Jim went below to find
his life jacket. John needed to take a pee in the milk carton (an ingenious
system designed to avoid pissing into the wind from a height.)
Two hours later the spinnaker was furled, the foresail was unfurled and the
headsail let out. Or had we furled the foresail, filled the headsail and
headed the spinnaker? A couple of hours earlier Pete had been at the helm.
He'd held it with one hand, and with his other hand holding the spinnaker,
had sailed the vessel in "champagne" fashion, parallel to the coast, winning
the admiration of a bus load of tourists at the Quobba blowholes.
The crew donned their night gear. Pete wore boxer shorts, tracky dacks,
heavy duty wet weather pants, shirt, jumper, heavy duty coat, beanie and
Dunlop Volley shoes. (He did sail round the Cape in '78 you know.) Jim was
in his best dairy clothes. John put on his boardies and a clean tee shirt.
Captain Paulie donned his Helly Hansen designer clobber from Sydney. John
then heated up the "sailors' spaghetti", a stodgy brew cooked up the night
before in anticipation of a big night. Plenty of carbs for energy and no
need to spend too much time over the galley stove at a 30 degree angle in
At 8pm the first night shift started. Pete and Jim took control while Paul
and John hit the hay. It wasn't hard to fall asleep. Paul was in the
stateroom. John took one of the lounge bunks with protective barrier
clipped in place to avoid falling on the floor in high seas.
Safety was paramount. The two sailors on duty wore life jackets fitted with
inflatable cylinder, strobe light, whistle and crutch strap appropriately
tightened. The life jacket was then connected by a 1.5m heavy duty nylon
strap, using quick-fix sliding carabenas, to similarly heavy duty straps
strategically connected from one end of the boat to the other. In addition,
the crew was drilled in man overboard procedures. In short, this means
hitting the MOB button on the GPS unit, tossing over the Dan buoy, yelling
out to the sleeping sailors to wake up, slowing or stopping the boat, and
having one person watch the person in the water like a hawk.
At about 10pm Paul and John's body clocks somehow made them wake from their
slumber and a shift change took place. "Guinevere" had travelled 14
nautical miles in two hours under a fresh WNW wind. That's hiking. Pete and
Jim had done well. With safety gear on, Paul and John seamlessly took
control and the vessel continued on its planned course towards Shark Bay and
Denham. Pete and Jim were asleep within two minutes.
As "Guinevere" sailed directly southwards, Captain Paulie noted the position
of the Southern Cross and pointed out the location of the South Celestial
Pole. The stars were bright in the sky, but there was no moon. Apart from
the Point Quobba light, which had been passed some time ago, the only
visible lights were two fishing boats well to the east, and a small weak
flash every 2.5 seconds from the Bernier Island light away to the WSW.
Basically Paul and John couldn't see a thing in front of the boat. It was
all black. The sky was as black as a new tyre. The sea was as black as a
squid's ink, with just a small change in blackness at the horizon. They
were relying on the "Guinevere's" considerable instrumentation. That
included a "Raymarine" system which provided continuous latitude, longitude,
true wind speed, apparent wind speed, direction of wind and current,
position of boat on chart and distance travelled. All this was provided on
several brightly coloured computer screens between the twin helms at back
(sorry, aft) of the boat, as well as on the laptop computer inside.
Every hour, on the hour, the ship's log was completed - a hand written
record of weather conditions and the boat's progress. These details were
plotted meticulously by Paul on his charts.
The Captain was happy. The wind continued to blow favourably and progress
was better than expected as we sailed into Shark Bay. This moved him to
reach into a pocket and produce a harmonica. After some soulful renditions
of old Aussie ballads including Botany Bay, Waltzing Matilda and The Dying
Stockman, Paul and John then talked about home projects like woodwork and
vegie gardening. We didn't see or hear the squall.
At about a quarter before midnight the wind suddenly jumped from 12-14 knots
to about 25 knots. That's level 6 on the Beaufort scale, close to gale
force. The boat lurched forward like a racehorse on steroids, leaning to
port alarmingly. Rain whipped our cheeks. "Pull the yellow rope!" yelled
Paul as he switched from auto steer to manual. John unclenched his hands
from railings and lurched towards the ropes. Which was the yellow one? In
the gloom the red, black, yellow, black and white and blue ropes, and a few
others, all looked the same. Captain Paulie was cool under pressure. He
pulled a rope or two, the sails flapped madly and noisily, the boat spun
around... we were tethered like cattle dogs. We couldn't fall in. The
melee woke Pete and Jim. They appeared wide eyed at the hatch. "What the
f....'s going on?" enquired Pete. "I think we've just done a 180" replied
Paul. "I think the lighthouse has changed sides" added John usefully. Pete's
initial query was followed by: "What's the wind speed; what's its direction;
which way's north; where's my beanie?"
As quickly as it hit us, the squall abated, although it was quite amazing
how a clear black sky with stars turned into a black soup of nothing. The
boat's instruments don't tell lies and within a couple of minutes we were
again heading south on our planned course with sails reset. Half an hour
later, with eyes squinting and tired bodies, Paul and John fell onto their
At about 3.30 am another shift change took place. The wind was still a very
fresh 18-20 knots from the west. Once again Paul and John donned their coats
and life jackets, climbed the hatch stairs and tethered themselves to the
safety straps as Pete and Jim took their next well earned rest.
The Southern Cross had long before disappeared below the south west horizon,
but the milky way stretched majestically overhead and Saturn shone brightly.
Conditions were again excellent for sailing. "Guinevere" continued to belt
along at a very healthy 6-7 knots and once again Captain Paulie pulled out
his harmonica. "Oh Suzanna..", "When the Saints..." ... Then, oh dear, we
were hit by another squall out of nowhere. It must have been the top end of
a cold front down south. This time we had just the one sail up, the
foresail, or was it the headsail, or the forehead. Whatever, despite John
letting go the foreskin, sorry foresail rope, a bit quick, resulting in more
mad sail flapping, there was no great drama or holdup. The weather was
however definitely turning for the worse with the wind having shifted from
WNW through west to WSW. By the time Pete and Jim had clambered out of
their cots to relieve themselves, then Paul and John, there was a hint of a
glow to the east and Denham beckoned. Paul and John once again collapsed
onto their bunks and slept like dead men. The night's sail was almost over.
An afternoon at Abrohlos.....
We arrived here at Midnight on Monday 5th September 2011. It was at this very place where the horrific events associated with the Batavia occurred 382 years ago, in 1629. This is nearly 150 years before Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay. Our mooring is secure as the 25 to 40 knot winds continue unabated. We are expecting better weather for our planned sail south on Saturday. There would be few who would have read Islands of Angry Ghosts by Hugh Edwards, and/or the more recent Batavia by Peter Fitzsimons, whilst at East Wallabi Is . As we wait for better sailing conditions, we four may be among those.
Now I shall recount my yesterday “Afternoon at Abrohlos....”, as penned on the beach.
“The world is an amazing place. I just climbed a hill above Turtle Bay on East Wallabi Island in the Houtman Abrohlos group of islands. The highest hill in this whole group of Islands, (covering a 50 mile stretch of the Indian Ocean, 200 to 250 nautical miles north of Perth WA), is 15 metres. So here I stood 40 miles off the coat of WA with one bar on my Telstra i Phone. I was able to do some banking, finalise some Christmas holiday booking matters back at Forresters Beach on the East Coast, check the stock market, speak with wife Lorraine (message only), son Tim, mother Joan, brother in law Graham, brother Bob etc etc.
From that viewpoint, where the wind was howling across a cloudless sky at around 35 knots (force 8 for those familiar with the beaufort scale), I walked the 50metres down to the shore of Turtle Bay where I sat in my bathers writing this account.
I sit on pure white sand in a U shaped amphitheatre of about 20 metres width. There is no noise. The amphitheatre consists of pitted limestone walls 2 to 3 metres high. The tide is low and there is barely a ripple on the water for the first 20 metres of the bay in front of me. The water’s edge is about 8 metres from where I sit. The only noise is from the crested terns (in full breeding plumage with vivid black crest and beautiful lemon yellow bill – quite a large tern characterised also by forked tail). They used their own language to let their mates know of something a little different in their environment – I am on their beach! The other 3 crew of our yacht Guinevere are doing a walk circumnavigating this island – about 4 miles circumference. They will look less than one mile across the reef to West Wallabi Island where the non mutineers of the Batavia fought battles with the mutineers. More the 100 Dutch lives were lost in the events of Winter and early Spring 1629 – right here – within a Tiger Woods tee shot of where I sit! I did most of that walk yesterday and am very content to sit here and write a few notes before kicking back and reading “Islands of Angry Ghosts” by Hugh Edwards (a pre Peter Fitzimons account of what went around here in 1629 – in short mutiny, murder, rape and torture). And as I pen I am accompanied by an Osprey soaring above his 40 year old nest lying within 100 metres, a pair of pied oyster catchers beachcombing to my right – they look like a happy married couple of the grey nomad variety. And then there is always the red capped dotterels (sometimes called red capped plovers). They examine the sand for snacks. These dotterels walk between morsels of interest with feet movements that are so fast their number of steps is impossible to count – just a blur, then stop.
In the bay there is Guinevere and the 62 foot long steel work boat “Abrohlos Enterprises”. No other boats have been seen since our arrival here a few days ago. We are both sheltering from the gales around the corner and beyond.
And I have just heard a coo-ee indicating the boys have completed their round island walk...”
And now back to Hugh Edwards book, and a fresh loaf of bread and baked prunes and apples out of the oven...