First Port of Call in Western Australia

We headed out of the Hammer Head anchorage just after sunrise for the final leg of the passage to Esperance, our first port of call in Western Australia. It was calm after a blustery night and all was fine as we started our 42nm run until we noted that the bilge pump was on (not unusual) … and stayed on for a rather long period of time (unusual). David added an LED light panel in the cockpit which alerts us to several occurrences that we might otherwise not notice. This was one of them. What was up?


sunrise at hammerhead


I took the helm while David went to investigate below. Up came floorboards. Yes, there was definitely quite a bit of water. Where from? More floorboards came up. It was a leaking shaft seal and it was spurting water “rather copiously”, as David put it. The bilge pump could keep up with the incoming flow, but the problem shaft seal needed attention post haste. It appeared the shaft seal coupling had slipped out of place on the shaft and needed to be repositioned and secured. An hour later, all was handled and good, no more leaking and we continued on our way to Esperance, a bit more frazzled than anticipated.


leaky shaft seal


The last town of any size visited was Streaky Bay on the other side of the Bight, a couple of weeks ago, and so we were looking forward to Esperance with pleasant anticipation. As we made our way closer and closer to the port, wonderfully magic things started to happen. We had an internet signal, for instance. We heard some ship radio traffic. We saw a wind farm on the hills. Hallelujah!

Heading into Esperance Port, there were several big ships at anchor. The port was originally developed during the gold rush years of the 1890's and today is the largest nickel concentrate exporting port in the southern hemisphere. The Port is also a major grain exporting hub and handles bulk imports such as fuel and fertilisers.


big ships at anchor


Back in Streaky Bay, friends aboard Zofia had given us some contacts for the Esperance Bay Yacht Club and I'd sent a couple of emails to suss out the area. I received responses within hours of sending the emails. On arrival, Mark and Del on the local yacht, Norlee, were waiting for us and guided us via VHF to the yacht club mooring to which we are currently tied and sitting comfortably in the bay.


esperance bay view


Tomorrow, we'll take an exploratory walk into town, but tonight … we've given a tot of rum to honor Neptune and now we'll relax and enjoy the champers that's chilling to celebrate our successful crossing of the Great Australian Bight.


tot of rum to neptune

Middle Island - An Aussie Pirate's Hideout

daw keyhole  

I'd call the run from beautiful Daw Island to Middle Island, a lazy kind of run. We were wing-on-wing, with 5-7 knots apparent wind behind us, doing 4-5 knots and feeling fine about it. It was overcast again … even the sea lions seemed to be sleeping in this morning although they woke up with the sound of the engine and swam over to bid us farewell … probably glad the intruders were leaving.


sea lion says goodbye


Though you Northern Hemisphere folks are celebrating the arrival of Spring, it was just the autumnal equinox here. The days are getting shorter and since Western Australia does not acknowledge Daylight Savings Time, it gets light before 0600 and dark before 1800. Right now, it's a 12-hour day which has me heading to bed around 2000 (8pm for you non-sailors), just because it's dark out. The good news, of course, it's easy to get up at dawn for an early start.

There were lots and lots of birds around today, mostly shearwaters flying low over our wake hoping we'd churn up some breakfast nibbles. One lone mollymawk would soar around for awhile, but she/he was lazy, too, and would land more frequently than fly. She obviously influenced the shearwaters which also landed quite frequently, just enjoying the day, despite its greyness. The western horizon looked promising with light blue skies, but like the end of the rainbow, we never quite got there.

As we passed several small islands, I was thinking about Matthew Flinders whose job it was to chart and name all these places. Every bay, inlet, islet, island, cape, mountain, hill, strait, passage or other topographical descriptor had to have an identifier. The biggies were probably easy because there were enough royals and dignitaries back in Britain to choose from. But the little places must have been difficult as evidenced by some of his name choices. Round Island does look sort of round and Dome Island, well that's the shape of a dome; and Kangaroo Island, they killed lots of kangaroos there and, of course, on Goose Island, yup, they killed lots of geese. We're at Middle Island … which is somewhere in the middle of the Recherche Archipelago. Mt. Belches … a gastric distress day?

We anchored and spent the night in “The Keyhole”, legendary treasure hidey-hole of the infamous (and only notable) Aussie pirate, Black Jack Anderson. Located on the south side of Middle Island, this anchorage is rarely a good anchorage because of the prevailing swell from the Southern Ocean, but because of the week of E/NE winds we'd been having, it was pretty ideal. It's tucked into a deep inlet with an entrance between two rather formidable sets of shoals. Hundred foot high limestone walls, riddled with caves and crevices, towered around us and kept out the ENE winds that we could hear howling, but that wouldn't even turn our wind generator. We bobbed around in flat calm water, while watching white caps and breakers at the entrance only a couple hundred meters away. Late in the evening, when all was calm we could hear thousands of birds peeping, cliff swallows we assumed. Their sound reverberated off the canyon walls until it was nearly deafening. Sometime after midnight, the clamor stopped and not a further peep was heard.


limestone cliff caves


So back to Black Jack Anderson. He was, indeed, black … a black American man, no less ... a whaler/sealer gone bad. Along with his motley crew, he terrified, ravaged and pillaged along the southern coast of Australia from Adelaide to Albany in the 1830s until being murdered by his crew. We're assuming he did not have good leadership skills. He is purportedly buried somewhere on Middle Island.


blackjack anderson


As we looked around the anchorage, we wished the walls could talk. Did he bury his plunder here? Some think so. In fact, they're doing archeological investigations to see what they can find. Do these caves have long-lost tales to tell? Is the anchorage haunted? Will we hear the voice of Black Jack or his mutinous crew mingled with the howling of the wind tonight? Arrrr!

A Day on Daw Island

sunrise at daw  


Unlike yesterday's grey day, this morning was glorious and sunny. We woke to a spectacular sunrise, light easterly breezes and the shrill pre-dawn whistles of little (aka blue) penguins bidding farewell to their families as they headed to sea for the day.

We headed to shore early, looking forward to exploring the island a bit. We took long jeans, socks and heavy walking shoes with us and changed on the beach. We could see a sign higher up on the hill as we walked along the shore, but couldn't make it out. Even as we got closer, it was hard to read the worn, faded lettering, but we got the gist: “Death Adders reside in large numbers on this island”. That was certainly food for thought.


death adders sign


There were no distinct paths to the top of the hill. Dense bush and lots of bird nests and critter holes had us lifting our feet high, stomping and testing each step before the next. Falling into an adder pit was not on the day's activity list. We climbed up to the first ridge for good views and then, wimp that I am, I was uncomfortable about venturing any further and descended quickly, but cautiously. David uttered nary a complaint.


view of cups


We walked further up the beach, approaching the sea lions cautiously and giving them plenty of ground.


sea lion pair


They headed for the sea, but kept a wary eye on us as we continued along the shore. They followed us up and down the beach, daring to come a bit closer at times until we made eye contact and then they'd dive under the surf and surface several yards further out.


curious sea lions


We beachcombed awhile, with our audience watching every move. Limpets, turrids and abalone shells littered the wrack line. Other than a small iridescent abalone shell, we left the rest behind. We could see penguin nests in the bush closest to the beach with clear tracks leading to and from each nest.


shells on the beach


We walked the beach till we could walk no more … big boulders and deep water occluding our path. Our sea lion buddies still kept us in view. Some climbed onto outlying rocks for a sunbath and others maintained sentry duty.


sea lions on a rock


We launched the dinghy and began to explore the rocky coast from the seaward side. We thought the engine noise would deter our friends, but they swam around, under and behind us with alacrity, and though still a bit timid, they were more comfortable in their own element and a bit braver.


sea lions following


Ashore we saw tens, if not hundreds, more sea lions. Sooty oystercatchers, Pacific and silver gulls and terns sat on rocks or stood at the shore's edge, avoiding the waves and looking for a snack. We saw a small flock of Cape Barren geese flying low over the water, then spotted several more walking higher up in the bush, their size and lime green ceres identifying them immediately.


cape barren geese


The other side of the bay was inaccessible for landing, but offered some interesting rock formations. One huge boulder looked ever so much like a huge dinosaur egg, broken open. As we dinghied closer, we noted it was a “window” rock.


window rock


We were back to the boat by midday. David made a celebratory “Crossing the Bight” pizza to go with our home-brewed Australian Pale Ale for dinner. The dinghy's hauled, the pole is rigged for a downwind sail, and tomorrow we head to Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago. We are getting closer to civilization (Port Esperance) and low on granola bars.