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Dampier Archipelago

Trip Reports -  Dampier, June 2009

Dampier is a small town in the Pilbara that services the Port of Dampier which is in turn the main export facility for Hamersly Iron and Dampier Salt. It is one of a series of towns in the Shire of Roebourne that make up an area with a population of more than 20,000. Other towns include Karratha, Roebourne, Wickham and Port Samson. The area is rich in tourist attractions with the Millstream National Park and Karijini National Park in relatively close proximity (at least by Australian Outback standards). The main attraction for trailer sailers is the Dampier Archipelago, a group of 42 islands. The archipelago lies just off the coast of Dampier and provides an abundance of good sailing water and many secluded bays to anchor in. The area is also famous for its fishing opportunities.

Launching

There is an excellent 4 lane facility situated in Hampton Harbour which is usable in all but the lowest tides and offers protection from sea breezes via a rock wall. To the West of the ramp is the Hampton Harbour Boat Club. On a previous visit, we were able to use their ramp and leave the car in their compound. Enquiries via http://www.hamptonharbour.net.au.

Shopping

Little shopping is available in Dampier itself. The local shopping centre houses a small basic supermarket, liquor store, a Post Office and not much else. Full shopping facilities, including some well stocked marine service shops, are available in Karratha, approximately 20kms away.

Accommodation

Dampier has a small caravan park called the Dampier Transit Caravan Park. It allows stays to a maximum of 3 nights only. It is a well run facility with a very friendly and helpful manageress, who allowed us to store our car and trailer up the back while we were at sea. The park is less than a kilometre from the ramp so it is an easy walk. It is advisable to book to ensure a spot. Alternatively, Karratha has a number of caravan parks, although these can be rather full at the height of tourist season.

We have also taken advantage of a good overnight spot at Marree Pool, approximately 35kms West of Karratha on Highway 1. There is also an extensive camping area at Cleaverville, approximately 25km East of Karratha. Small fees are collected daily by a camp supervisor. Both spots are suitable for boat trailers. 

Tides

The tides at Dampier can be up to 5 metres so the day revolves around tidal movement when cruising the archipelago. With the abundance of rock and coral to be found, accurate assessment of depth when selecting an overnight anchorage is essential.  We also found it necessary to take into account the direction of tidal flow when planning a sailing leg. We encountered some quite nasty seas when sailing with wind and tide opposed and some unusually flat seas when the tide ran in tandem with even a fresh breeze. 

Seasonal Winds/Climate

Summer is the calmer time of the year (cyclones excepted) but a close watch needs to be kept on all low pressure systems. These can generate some serious localised storms, best avoided. The heat is also a consideration. The early part of Winter (May to June) will give the best weather, with cooler temperatures and light to moderate South Easterlies rather than the fresh to strong South Easterlies of the mid to late Winter. The dry season (Winter) wind patterns are controlled by the flow of High pressure systems across the Great Australian Bight. A High setting in the Bight brings a strong pressure gradient across the Pilbara and fresh winds which reach a peak around noon and ease  in the mid to late afternoon. To break this pattern, look for a strong front coming through to the South. A front as far North as Shark Bay or even Exmouth can produce several days of light winds and ideal "easy cruising" weather but watch for the over enthusiastic front that pushes the rain as far North as Dampier.

Anchorages

This list is by no means complete, being limited to the Western part of the archipelago. We have yet to explore the Eastern group.

(A) Enderby Island - A shallow area with sand and scattered small coral lumps. We eventually found an area of clean sand and dried out for the evening. We had good protection from all but a South Easterly.

(B) Karratha Bay - West Lewis Island. Numerous shacks dot the beautiful sandy beach. A number of good moorings in bay over sand with some small corals. Excellent protection from South Easterly breeze but open to North West sea-breeze.

(C) Norbill Bay - Rosemary Island. Excellent protection against all but a fresh South Easterly or Southerly. Good depth of water right to beach with very clean sand bottom. A delightful spot.

(D) Malus Island SE - Good depth of water in bay opposite long sand spit. A little rolly during the night from a long low Easterly swell.

(E) Whalers Bay, Malus Island SW - Good depth near small mangrove creek at Eastern end of bay. Suit an overnight. Protected against all but Southerly.

(F) Marney Bay, Malus Island NE - listed as a good anchorage in Fremantle Sailing Club Cruising Guide but we have always found it to have a big swell surge and be exposed to North.

(G) East Lewis Island SW - A protected little bay opposite shack affords good depth and clean bottom. A good last night stop before heading in to Dampier.