Shark Bay August 09


Day 1


We arrived in Shark Bay to find a similar situation to that in Exmouth; no accommodation. The Shark Bay Caravan Park offered parking on the vacant block next door with use of facilities and permission to run a generator. This enabled us to fill up with water and charge the batteries prior to heading out. After topping up the rear water tank by carrying a 20L container over from the park three times, we found to our horror that I had filled it with bore water. We eventually managed to pump all the water out and began the process once again, this time using a tap connected to the town's desalinated supply.

The weather was cold, unbearably cold after the warmth of the North. We waited for a couple of days for the weather pattern to change and eventually the forecast proved correct and we awoke to light Easterlies, although still with grey overcast skies. The rigging all went well and we waited a short time for the pharmacy to open so we could fill a script. By the time we motored down the channel, the wind had freshened a little and gone to the South. Our destination was Quoin Bluff South, approximately half way along the Eastern coast of Dirk Hartog Island, with a stop at Bar Flats along the way for a bit of a fish. The tide was falling and it combined with the breeze to flatten the sea so we enjoyed a wonderfully calm crossing of Denham Sound, a distance of around 22nm, motor sailing at a steady 6 knots.

Arriving at Quoin Bluff, I checked out a couple of interesting coral patches picked out from Google Earth and had some terrific fishing, keeping some black snapper for dinner. From here, we motored in light conditions South to Notch Point, an interesting headland with a distinctive "notch" cut on the end, isolating the final tip. A pair of huge white-breasted sea eagles love this perch and their nest is one of the largest around. We navigated the narrow and shallow entrance to Tetrodon Loop to find an anchorage for the night. The loop is a narrow inlet giving excellent protection from all quarters bar the North. It was named by the 17th Century explorer William Dampier after one of his crew reportedly died from eating a poisonous toad fish of the genus tetrodon. Having caught lots of these repulsive fish I wonder at how anyone could even consider eating them.

We had a beautiful night, bottomed out in an area of clean sand.

Day 2

The weather remained grey and bleak and unusually cold for Shark Bay. The forecast was for moderate Westerlies so we elected to sail North, hugging the coast and exploring possible landing beaches. Dirk Hartog North of Herald Bay has few good anchorages, the best being Withnell Point which is still very exposed to the North through to East. We motor sailed steadily Northwards, stopping over some likely looking corals in Herald bay which produced some fast and furious fishing action. I caught a rather large pink snapper on light gear, which we released. A hard fighting mackerel was kept to provide some tasty cutlets for lunches and bait to keep the fishing going.

Despite the abundance of beautiful coral and relatively clear water, the cold and grey weather kept our enthusiasm for swimming well down. We had a lunch stop over some corals at Louisa Bay. The wind had certainly freshened, but the promised Westerly failed to eventuate and we faced a Northerly breeze instead. This meant a total lack of protection on this stretch of coastline, so we decided to use the breeze to do a run back and spend the night on the Southern side of Quoin Bluff.

 

We enjoyed a good run before the breeze, holding a steady 5.5 knots. We came within 200m of a pair of whales. I guess they were humpbacks but we didn't see the usual elongated flipper and they seemed a bit on the small side. They were almost black in colour but with the same creamy patterns on the undersdie of the tail fluke that humpbacks have.

Rounding Quoin Bluff, I anchored for a while over some more coral to fish. I suffered badly with bust offs. Pink snapper normally fight quite cleanly, but these were big and tended to head straight for the nearest coral bombie. I landed a few, all released and kept a couple of smaller blue lined emperor for dinner.

With the light fading and the tide at a near low, we eased in behind Quoin Bluff to find some clean bottom for the night. The small bay was filled with sharks, mostly less than a metre long but with a few big enough to respect. They did not appear to be feeding but just swam in almost regular figure of eight patterns around the shallows. Perhaps it is some kind of breeding behaviour.

 

Shark Bay Aug 09

 

Day 3

The bleak grey of the previous two days was replaced by a series of visible rain squalls. One that was heading our way looked quite menacing so we were glad that we were in a protected spot. Even so, the wind was now in the South, so while we were in reasonably calm water, a move to the Northern side of Quoin Bluff was suggested. We motored around the bluff to the sanctuary of Herald Bay, where we anchored stern on to the beach and went for a walk ashore.

In 1850, Quoin Bluff was the site of a small garrison fort set up to protect nearby guano stocks from French Whalers, who were suspected of pillaging the supplies. Amazingly enough, a small squad of soldiers was dispatched by the Governor to the area and set up a gun on the top of the bluff. The remains of the hastily built armoury can be still seen on the side of the hill. The other amazing sight is that of a long stone causeway ramp that was built across the flats to the beach. This was used to run the gun in. How they got the gun to the top of the bluff is a mystery. There does not seem to be any evidence of the gun ever being fired in anger. Certainly, the guano stocks on Egg Island (within an easy canon shot) have built up again but just passing by the island downwind should have been protection enough. Our forebears were made of stern stuff.

For some really interesting reading about the fort garrison at Quoin Bluff go to  http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/collections/maritime/march/DHI-site/quoin-01.html

For research into the large pearling camp at Notch Point in the 1890s go to  http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/collections/maritime/march/DHI-site/notch-01.html

After the walk ashore, the weather had cleared a lot and we even had some patches of blue, the first for days. We eased around Quoin Bluff once again and anchored up for a while on a large sand patch. Here I caught a nice pile of whiting for lunch. We motored South, past Notch Point, the Hartog Homestead and Mead Island to Tumbledown Point. The sun was out and the water didn't feel too cold so we had our first swim of the trip over the extensive coral patch under the point. The whole area was alive with fish, snapper, emperor, cod, trevally, tusk fish, sweetlips and a host of smaller reef fish. The surface was jam packed with mullet. They filled the water in all directions. I grabbed a hand spear from the boat and speared four lovely mullet that would make a wonderful dinner.

A keeled yacht around 10m long had crossed in front of us and anchored in Tumbledown Bay. We joined them and anchored close by. As the tide dropped, we went ashore to explore the exposed reef, finding it to be covered in the biggest and fattest oysters we have encountered anywhere outside of the Kimberly. Armed with screwdrivers, we gorged ourselves to the point of feeling a little ill. The couple from the other yacht made similar inroads into the stocks. Just to top things off, the cleaning of the mullet had attracted some sand crabs, and we scooped up four nice crabs for lunch the next day. We enjoyed our meal of grilled mullet with tomato salsa and noodles feeling like kings. 

Day 4

We decided to stay another night at Tumbledown (the oysters were definitely an attraction), after sailing South through Blind Strait to South Passage then back North again. On the outward leg, we hugged the coast, pushing our nose into any likely looking cove or bay that might serve as a future anchorage. We only found one new patch, a small bay just South of Tumbledown that we dubbed 2 Post Bay because it had two lead markers on a bluff at one end. It would make a good lunchtime or overnight spot if the wind wasn't too much in the East. Most of the time was spent motoring into a South Westerly breeze with a jib to give us a bit of stability and some assistance. Once past Cape Ransonnet, the wind strengthened and went to the West. A number of camps were scattered throughout Shelter Bay and around Kel Wright's camp. The tide was full and with the strengthening wind there was much activity as fishermen tried to anchor their boats securely.

The wind was welcome and we raised a main and ran before the wind through the main channel North along Blind Strait back to Tumbledown. We used 2 Post Bay as a lunch stop, eating the crabs we had caught the previous evening.

Once back in Tumbledown Bay, we found our anchorage again and had a rare but much needed afternoon nap. Later, we gave the oysters another go but were rather more restrained than the previous night. By nightfall, the overcast conditions had returned, heralding the return of the drizzle. We drifted off to sleep listening to the Aussies hurt the Poms in the 5th Test at The Oval.

Day 5

It seemed to rain most of the night; not heavy but more than the drizzle of previous days. Dawn was very late as the sun struggled to make an impression through the solid sheets of grey and white that obscured the view in most directions. The wind was brisk and hanging a little East of South. Our anchorage was comfortable and we spent a few hours just lazing around, Christine with her puzzle books and me with this log and other computer related tasks. By 10am, we suddenly realised that the sun was making a showing and that the sea was looking good.

We tossed up whether to stay one more day or to move on, crossing over to Cape Bellefin and into Useless Inlet. We decided on the latter, deciding to sail the length of Useless Inlet down to the rock-fill bar that blocks the inlet some 12nm down its length. The Salt Works uses this bar to control the tidal flow of water and feed its salt ponds. The crossing to Bellefin was undertaken in glassed out conditions and bright sunshine, a huge contrast on the gloom and wind of the early morning. With the tide high, we eased over the shallows of Bellefin flats to save ourselves the trouble of heading North to the channel and turned South into Useless Inlet.

We stopped on a favourite reef for a spot of fishing and to have lunch. The pink snapper were in a feeding frenzy and I failed to catch anything but snapper, one every drop. Many were small but some were quite a good size. They hit baits, feather jigs and soft plastics with equal enthusiasm. A lone dolphin was working hard over the coral, obviously feeding on something. As I pulled in a snapper, he swam over and hung under the boat. I released the snapper and was amazed to see the dolphin swoop on the disorientated fish. I continued to catch snapper and the dolphin gorged itself. I can't believe just how many snapper a single dolphin could eat. It was clearly capable of catching its own because we had watched it but it was very quick to take the easy way out and eat those I returned.  I think I grew tired before the dolphin did and after a while we moved on.

After 6 of the remaining 12nm to the bottom end of Useless Loop, we grew alarmed by the wall of grey we were facing. The blue skies were gone again and the wind was now a piping Southerly. We might as well be in Melbourne, the weather was so fickle. Little shelter was on offer so we tried to settle over a shallow sand bank for an hour while the rain and wind settled in. With the tide falling fast, we were in serious danger of staying in a rather exposed spot so we eased out into the channel once again and ran before the wind under a half furled jib. The tide helped and we did a 6 to 7 knot run all the way back up to find a sheltered anchorage on Cape Bellefin. The rain continued unabated and the temperature dropped to the point where Christine decided to leave the fish dinner and cook a stew, just so we could heat up the cabin with the stove. Friday night football and the 5th Ashes Test took care of the evening.

Day 6

After a cold night with drizzle and fresh Southerly winds, we awoke to glassy conditions and a large area of blue sky. Unfortunately, we were still aground and we had to wait several hours before we floated in enough water to set off. Our destination was Cape Heirisson on the Eastern side of Useless Inlet. From here, we would get access to phone and Internet, enabling an assessment of the weather for the next week.

As soon as phone came in I pulled up the next 4 days of isobar charts. The picture was pretty clear and consisted of lots of fresh to strong Southerlies, low temperatures and periods of either drizzle or isolated showers. After the cold and rain of the last few days we were not in the mood to hole up somewhere for 3 or 4 days so we decided to keep going and make the 12nm crossing of Denham Sound back to Denham.

All went well. We managed to sail for half the trip before the wind died and we ended up motoring into Denham in almost glassy conditions. The weather while we retrieved was some of the warmest yet experienced but we were not under any illusions. By the time we had lunch and got ready to drive out, light rain threatened. We drove South in worsening conditions, finding a spot off the road South of Overlander Roadhouse to spend the night. The sound of rain during the night vindicated our decision to leave.

 Our trip was not one of our best experiences of Shark Bay. We were lucky with the winds, allowing some good sailing but not dominating our lives too much. The overcast conditions and cold were a disappointment, however, and spoilt what could have been a fantastic week. The upside of the wet winter in the Gascoynes is the wonderful display of wildflowers that is emerging. We enjoyed some amazing displays as we drove home to Dowerin. I am already planning a resumption of our around Oz trip in 2010. We were pleased with the way in which we got back into a life on the water after a forced break of a few years. Identifying lots of little "tweaks" and adjustments to Sandpiper was one reason that we decided to bring her home rather than leave her in the North for the Summer. I have a long list of jobs to do and can't wait to get started. I sometimes think that getting ready for a trip is as much fun as the trip itself.