Port Lincoln - Sir Joseph Banks Group

Sailing out of Port Lincoln 7 February

We a very low tide putting us under pressure for an early launch, we set an alarm, the first of the trip. After a quick breakfast, we hitched up and headed for Billy Lights Point, where there is an excellent four lane ramp with floating pontoons. Our host, Richard Mason, kindly offered to follow us down and then help out with the ferrying of car and trailer back to John Hookings’ place. The Port Lincoln hospitality is off the scale. John has looked after us so well and introduced us to Richard, who did a superb job of repairing the bow damaged sustained while docking in Coffin Bay.

Launching went without a hitch, as did the car and trailer delivery. John even saved me the task of backing the whole rig up his long drive, offering valet parking. Back at the boat, Christine had things ready for departure and we slipped away in a comfortable 10 knot Easterly breeze. This took us down the inside of Boston Island, past the township and North to Point Boston. We had to avoid numerous fish farms along the way, mostly tuna, but also one that looked more like mussels.

Then it was North through a gap between Louth and Rabbit Islands to Peake Bay. The breeze freshened as we sailed and was 15 knots SE by the time we stopped for lunch in our chosen anchorage. The small cove looked good on Google Earth and a good headland stopped the worst of the breeze but a long low swell came around the corner and made us roll uncomfortably so we headed off to cross Peake Bay and anchor behind Point Bolingbroke. With much of the trip into the wind, we motored with a bit of jib up to steady us and crossed to a much nicer anchorage, with a stunning white sand beach. It always a joy to land on a perfectly clean beach bare of footprints.

After a quick swim in the shallows, we got an SMS from John telling us that a large white pointer shark has been reported hanging around the area for the last week. We are actually anchored only a short distance from the scene of a fatal attack on a woman diving for scallops.

Richard had warned us about the presence of snakes on the islands of the Sir Joseph Banks Group and mentioned that the black tiger snakes have even been reported swimming in the sea. While sailing, we were listening to the chatter via VMR Tumby Bay on the radio and actually heard someone report three tiger snakes swimming offshore from Reevesby Island. We are used to sea snakes in Shark Bay but at least they are back fanged. I don’t fancy swimming with tiger snakes.

I tried a bit of fishing but had to content myself with the lamb chops Christine had defrosted. All in all, an excellent start to the trip.

Saturday 8 February - Peake Bay

What a mixed bag today! We knew it was a day to hole up and move anchorages as the weather dictated but it was even more crazy than willyweather.com suggested. In this part of the World, a change between two high pressure systems means a bout of strong North to North-West winds, followed by fresh to strong Southerlies. At this time of year. It often means intense heat and a nightmare for fire fighters. Today was no exception.

We woke late, having spent a very peaceful night in glassy conditions. By 9am, a light NE wind was starting to puff and move north, so we decided to get mobile, our anchorage being untenable if the winds ended up NW.

As we pulled anchor, an aluminium runabout appear and headed over to us. A lone fisherman introduced himself and we chatted for a while, Steve being a former owner of a trailer sailer (Binks 25). Steve too had heard the report of the white pointer. We swapped a few yarns then he headed off in search of fish and we headed north to the bottom of Peake Bay, enjoying a wonderful sail in freshening conditions. Eventually, the wind got a bit much and had moved to the NW so we anchored close to shore.

The breeze coming off the land was just plain hot. The radio was reporting temperatures of 40 plus in most centres and a February record of 45 in Adelaide. The cloud cover kept our temperature down from that but the wind was like something out of a furnace. I set up a berley slick to try my hand at fishing. After establishing a nice 50 metre long slick, I noticed a strange ruffle at the end, figuring it to be fish. No such luck, it was a new wind and within minutes, the wind had shifted from 15 knots NW to 15 knots southerly and at least 20 degrees cooler. I really can’t figure the science of that.

Since we were now in a potentially untenable anchorage, we pulled anchor again and headed south into the wind to seek a small cove behind Peake Point. We came across Steve fishing in a fishy looking spot and the breeze had eased a little so we also anchored. This was a signal for the wind to strengthen and shift SE, ruling out sheltering in the nearby cove. Steve came over to us and tied on so we could discuss the crazy wind situation and work out the best options. He is a Tumby Bay local and even he found the day’s weather bizarre.

Finally, we headed back all the way across Peake Bay to anchor close to where we had spent the previous night, but nicely in the lee of what was now a very fresh SE breeze. At first, we chose a very poor spot to head to, full of shallow rocks and reef. Steve suddenly showed up again and guided us to a lovely sand beach with good holding. His car and trailer were nearby so he hung around for a while, cleaning his catch of squid and a few fish. We swapped a few more yarns, once again amazed by the friendliness and collegiate approach of the people in SA. The VMR at Tumby Bay had been very active all day with radio contacts from people scattered around the many bays and islands in the area and the overwhelming impression we got was of one big cooperative family. Everyone seemed so willing to help others. Steve is the owner of the Seabreeze Hotel in Tumby Bay so it is now on our list of must visit places.

Steve departed along whatever tracks had got him to that isolated spot and we settled in for a restful afternoon. There didn’t seem to be any fish in close, so we eventually moved out a little, catching a couple of herring before noticing that the wind had dropped dramatically. It was now near 4 pm so we just had time to get out to the Sir Joseph Banks Group of Islands, our ultimate destination. However, I was worried that the calm was the precursor to yet another wind shift to the West, which again would leave us on the wrong shore. In the end, we decided to motor towards the far end of Bolingbroke Reef, which we would have to round anyway, and make the decision there.

We had covered half the 3.5 miles when a clear line could be seen on the glassy water ahead. It was the Westerly, a really fierce one. I have never seen seas rise so quickly, and we had to head straight into it. No boat likes heading straight into a big sea and trailer sailers hate it more than most. We laid off a little and were very glad that we didn’t have far to go. We had to get within 300 metres of shore before the seas settled, and we eased into a small cove with a sandy beach and a massive sand dune at one end. A family had set up camp under some trees and were having fun sand boarding down the massive slope, followed by much less fun climbing back up again.

We settled in over 8 foot of weedy bottom. I went back to the fishing and had fun playing with a school of small trevally and the odd herring. Christine tried squidding and was rewarded within 30 seconds. Three more followed easily and we soon had a delicious load of calamari to keep us happy. Cooked up in a spiced coating with some delicious noodles on the side, it was a wonderful meal, with more in the fridge for later.

During the night, the wind howled, then screamed then eased a little while it rained. After the rain, the wind came back with a vengeance. We were so glad we had moved. I found myself wondering how the people camped on the shore were coping.

In summary:
  • 7am       E              moderate
  • 9am       NE          fresh
  • 10am     N             fresh/warm
  • 11am     NW        strong/hot
  • 12pm     SE           fresh/cool
  • 1pm       S              fresh/cool
  • 3pm       SE           gentle
  • 4pm       calm
  • 5pm       W            strong
  • 6pm       SW         fresh
  • 10pm     SW         moderate/rain
  • 12am     SW         strong

No wonder we spent the day criss-crossing Peake Bay

Sunday 9 February

The fierce wind of the night had at least abated a little but was still on the upper end of Fresh. The anchorage was a little rolly, with the big waves on the outside sending a low swell around the corner of the point. Still, it was better than moving so we put up with it and sat at anchor. Going ashore was out of the question, with the low tide exposing a solid line of rocks on the beach.

By 11am, the wind had dropped to moderate from the South so we decided to cross the bay once again to anchor in a location that would be secure when the wind went to the East during the night. We enjoyed a great sail in some quite heavy seas using a reefed main and half the jib out. On a comfortable reach, we sailed steady and dry, a change from the dramas of the previous day. I gave some thought to trying to sail out the 10nm to the Sir Joseph Banks Group but a look at the seas outside the protection of Peake Bay ruled that out.

Once in a sheltered spot, I tried fishing but only caught a few Australian Herring. The wind was cool all day so we had few problems lazing around inside the cabin and enjoying a read or a Facetime link with the grand children.

From the look of Willyweather, we are probably here tomorrow as well.

Monday 10 February

The day was not quite as windy as forecast but it was still pretty blowy. Our anchorage was very comfortable with an off shore Easterly blowing. As we got up, up couple of small boats launched from the beach and headed off, giving a friendly wave as they passed by.

Later, we were thrilled by the sight of a large seal hunting along the weed line. This meant he passed right under our bows. He was a very large seal. I am familiar with sea lions and this one looked different, bigger and with a lot of grey on his head. Research suggested it was probably an Australian Fur Seal. He didn’t even stop to look at us, just slipped under us and kept following the bay around. 

By midday, we were encouraged to head out a little to find some fish to eat. Pickings were scarce but we did manage enough herring to give us lunch. More exciting fare eluded us.  As we set anchor in close to shore again, we were surprised by the sight of a lone black swan crossing the bay, looking a bit like that famous picture of “Nessie” in the setting sun. My field guide tells me that seeing a swan on the ocean is not that unusual but it was a first for me. I also had great fun playing "The Pelican Whisperer" A large pelican stood on the beach watching us in the hope of fish. I went ashore to get a photo but the pelican waddled off down the beach and would come close. I held out a raised hand at that got his attention and he was soon back, assuming I had an offering. Feeling rather guilty, I went and found some strips of squid for my new friend.

In the early evening, the boats returned. I spoke to one guy, a professional whiting fisherman from Tumby Bay. He had had quite a good day, catching 60 odd whiting. At around $7 a fish uncleaned, he had made a good day’s income, given that he had relatively low overheads running a small tinny off the beach.

Tuesday 11 February – Sir Joseph Banks Group

With the sea glassed out on awakening, we headed off to the Sir Joseph Banks Group under motor. We had breakfast on the move under autohelm and gave the Bollingbroke Reef a wide berth. Later, we found that not all charts show the long reef as being so shallow (ours said drying for 2 miles West of the point) and that it can be safely crossed not far out from Point Bolingbroke.

Heading towards Point Bollingbroke, I’d become so accustomed to the chart plotter that I pointed to the screen and asked Christine, “What do you think that formation is?”

She looked ahead and said, “Probably all those rocks.” It was a timely reminder to remember that electronics don’t actually take the place of LOOKING. We rapidly changed course and avoided disaster.

Then it was off on an Easterly heading past Point Bollingbroke out to the group. The seas were glassy, with not a breath of wind yet still showing the effects of the last few days. A regular SE swell kept Sandpiper lively. For a good while, a couple of dolphins kept company, playing in the bow wave. Eventually, they were joined by a mother and tiny calf. I was amazed that the calf could keep up.

We slipped past the Northern side of Kirkby Island and on to the gap between Partney and Lusby Islands to Home Bay on Reevesby Island. There was a large catamaran at anchor and three power boats fishing the lagoon. The lagoon offers protection for us from most winds from the S through E to NNW so we could see ourselves spending time here. As we motored towards a spot near a sand beach, I picked up a snook on the troll line, so we had a quick spot of early lunch, after our very early breakfast.

During the afternoon, we explored parts of the lagoon area, trying unsuccessfully to catch some whiting over a variety of sand bottoms. It was at least encouraging to observe that no one else seemed to be catching anything so it wasn’t just us.  We resumed trolling and caught a good sized salmon. We’d always distained salmon, being told they were worse than old boots but we had this one for tea, filleted, grilled and covered with a spicy tomato salsa. Excellent.

Later, we backed onto the beach and walked the boardwalk and track through the sandhills to the ruins of the old homestead. Despite the hot weather, we put on stout long trousers and wore full booties for the walk, the island being heavily populated with black tiger snakes. We stuck carefully to the boardwalk. Eventually, we had to cross a samphire flat and it is this area that is reputed to be populated with death adders. We jointly decided that we could see the ruins perfectly well from the safety of the boardwalk and left exploring the buildings to others.

As the evening fell, we enjoyed drinks watching several pelicans feed on the many large schools of baitfish. The pelicans would approach quietly, neck hunched down into the body before lunging forward at full tilt, then swallowing the captured booty. Another unusual sight was that of a large flock of pink and grey galahs right down on the water’s edge. The night was mostly calm and warm, the peace interrupted only by the antics of a large seal that decided to hunt something just off the bow.

Wednesday 12 February

We woke late, to glassed out conditions. By the time breakfast and dishes were out of the way, a light to moderate SE breeze had established itself and so we up anchored and used a jib to do a lazy 2.5 knot glide North along the inside of Reevesby Island , trolling a metal sliced lure along the way. We rounded the NW corner of the island into Douglas Channel, separating Reevseby and Winceby Islands. The troll line had had a couple of solid hits but nothing held.

Richard had told us of the beauty of Moreton Bay and he wasn’t exaggerating. It is a half moon bay with wonderful white sands and numerous clean sand banks. Rocky points define each end. The water is sparkling clean. In shore, a series of shallow sand banks run parallel to the beach and each held a heavy population of various sea birds, Pacific gulls, hooded plovers and silver gulls. A truly beautiful bay.

We anchored up on the weed line and fished for a while, catching 3 King George Whiting and a couple of Herring, more than enough for a good lunch. With the wind dying off to nothing, we motored around into McCoy Bay, on the Eastern side of the island but found the seas to be uncomfortably lumpy from the winds during the night. So we headed back to Moreton Bay, trying for a few more fish without success.

Eventually, a catamaran and ketch that had been anchored in Home Bay motored into Moreton Bay. The wind was light to the SE and we elected to head back to Home Bay. This proved to be a mistake, a few hours later when the wind freshened from the SW and made our anchorage lumpy. We tried using Lusby Island as a shelter from the SW wind but spending the night there did not appeal so we elected to return to Moreton Bay. Under a reefed main, we made a steady 5 knots back North. By sundown, another keeler and power boat had joined us, making five in the anchorage.

I picked up one small squid to add to the larder and we used VHF Tumby Bay forecasts and the Internet to try to make sense of tomorrow’s weather. The two forecasts seemed at odds. If the 20-25 knots forecast by VMR Tumby Bay proved correct we would be seeing a lot more of Moreton Bay. As the sun set, we watched yet another seal (this time a sea lion), hunt along the weed line. This seems to be the preferred haunt, patrolling the line between weed and sand. We seem to spend quite a bit of time there too.

During the night, the winds eased somewhat, but the rain started.

Thursday 13 February

We woke early to check the wind and found that it had swung to the NE and was only 5-10 knots. Willyweather suggested that this would be the best opportunity to get back to the mainland for 4 or 5 days. An extreme rainfall event was forecast for the next few days with some strong winds and thunderstorms . After a quick breakky, we hoisted a main and motor sailed off towards Tumby Bay, a distance of just over 11nm. Progrees was steady at 6 knots, 95% due to the motor with the light airs swinging E through N to SW. We chose Tumby rather than Port Lincoln (20nm) because we were unsure of how long this small window would be.

Our decision proved well founded. Just as we reached the town, the wind freshened from the SE. We anchored right in front of the Seabreeze Hotel, intending on talking to Steve White (who we met in Peake Bay) but found the conditions very rolly due to the persistent swell. I rang John Hookings in Port Lincoln and he advised going into the marina and trying to find a berth.

The marina entrance is a very narrow and rocky channel, with the low tide making it even smaller. Depths were all over 6’ so we had no issues there but I was very glad that no other vessel came along the channel. Just as we came alongside the unloading pontoon, the heavens opened and our wet weather gear got a good workout.

John had said he would be able to bring the car and trailer down from Port Lincoln later in the evening so we busied ourselves with taking the mast down and generally de-rigging. The sign on the pontoon said that stays were limited to one hour, so Christine rang the Shire to find out about possibly using another berth for a bit. The very helpful person at the Shire took our number and soon rang back, giving us another contact. She put us on to Damian Modra at Modra Apartments, who came straight down to the marina, lent us a key to the pier gate and let us use his empty berth free of charge for a couple of days. This is yet another example of the amazing hospitality we have experienced here on the Eyre Peninsula. People are so happy to share not only their time but also their possessions. With the motor still cutting out at low revs, manoeuvring from the loading pontoon over to the berth was nerve racking but we managed to avoid damage and settled in to make a home fit for the coming deluge.

Then we donned the yellow gear again and walked the kilometre or so along the foreshore to town, where I bought a pair of thongs, my only other footwear being booties. Then it was in to the Seabreeze Hotel to catch up with Steve and have an absolutely enormous Schnitzel lunch (Thurs is Schnitzel day). The trade was steady but once things quietened down a bit, Steve offered us a lift back to the boat and lent us a power cord so we could use the shore power. On the way he gave us a guided tour of parts of the town, pointing out useful anchorage areas. One in particular looked good, a creek system to the South of Tumby Island that would accommodate good sized vessels with a shallow draft. Tumby Bay looks quite prosperous, with a mix of modern homes and older stone dwellings. The farming areas inland has experienced a better season than in recent years and everyone seems quite positive.

In hindsight, we did not do justice to the Sir Joseph Banks Group but at least we got a feel for the place. From all accounts, April gives a much more reliable weather pattern and would be the ideal time to visit. The many bays afford good anchorages in most winds, but the constant moving with the very frequent wind shifts are wearing in a slow sailing vessel. We are used to steady winds slowly backing through the compass as the day go on. Here, we have experienced 180 degree shifts three times in four hours.

Once the heavy rain is over and we have organised the car and trailer, we will return to Port Lincoln by road, re-launch and use it as a base to explore areas South of the town.