Photos & Story by Maxine Holman,
It was mid April. Brian and I had left
Albany in mid March and sailed up the west coast, this our first
season cruising. Arranging to have friends join us we found difficult.
There was always the problem of where to get on and off and we
found it hard to commit ourselves to a definite time frame. The
Abrolhos Islands presented a perfect opportunity. A days sail
out from Geraldton and easy sail back.
Geraldton is a major port and offers everything a boating person
might need including the necessary crayfish licences and fishing
information. We waited at the jetty in front of the Maritime
Museum to welcome Trevor and Liz aboard. They arrived loaded
with enough food for us all to live like kings for the two weeks
we planned to be away. At first light next morning we were off.
The Abrolhos Islands are approx. 32nm. off shore. By early afternoon
we were enjoying the turquoise coral waters and had many islands
to explore. For much of the trip we were escorted by a school
of dolphins and never tired of watching them as they rode the
bow waves dipping and turning with so little effort. We dropped
anchor that night off Pelsaert Island in the Southern Group.
The spot popularly called The Yacht Club.
The fishing at the Abrolhos was exceptionally good. Liz excelled
with catches of large pink snapper. The best measured 69cm. Trevor's
specialty was Blue Bone, an excellent eating fish. We couldn't
identify Brian's catch, it was always big and it
always got away!
(I was cook, not catcher.)
I walked a good length of the island. There were floats, rope,
lures and footwear galore washed up along the shore. I even picked
up a matching pair of reef walkers. I had passed the first one
about a kilometre before I saw it's mate, then back tracked to
pair them up. What a find, they fitted me perfectly!
Each evening at sundown the sky turned black as literally millions
of Lesser Noddies swarmed to a stunted stand of mangroves to
roost for the night. I had seen their precarious nests during
the day. Brian and I decided to take a closer look at nightfall.
We crawled into a tight space under the mangroves and waited.
It was damp and smelly with rotting seaweed and guano. In the
gloom we realised that we were not alone. There was a snuffling
noise, then a deep sneeze sprayed across my foot. We quickly
found we were almost sitting on top of a big bull seal! He didn't
want to be there with us, we certainly didn't want to be there
with him. He moved first and lumbered across me to the escape
exit. I thought I was going to be his dinner! In the meantime
the Noddies were roosting all around us. It was an incredible
experience and ended another perfect day.
Diving on coral that equalled anything I had seen before, the
blue staghorn was particularly beautiful. We snorkelled over
some colourful drop-offs at Morley Island and found it all very
satisfying. Swimming with the seals was extra special. They are
such copycats! Whatever acrobats you can dream up under the water,
they watch and copy
then do it with such grace, a thousand
times better! It was nose to nose and flipper to fingertip, they
were so willing to play. On one occasion we and a seal played
catch, would you believe, with a fish head! Such
great mimics. A favourite digital shot of this animal now serves
as our computer screen-saver.
The Abrolhos has a colourful history of shipwrecks, mutinies,
murder and more recently, guano collection. It is also a home
base for many Cray fishermen. In order to be able to appreciate
the background it is well worth doing some research before venturing
out there. We explored all the sites and soaked up the local
history. We just couldn't get enough of it and could easily have
spent another two weeks there. We had feasted on crayfish, squid
and groper. In the end Liz and I threatened to mutiny if the
boys brought up one more Blue Bone!
We sailed back to Geraldton on a strong sou' easterly. Not exactly
comfortable for our guests but nothing could diminish the great
time we had at the Abrolhos. Fresh back from two weeks at the
Abrolhos we did a quick re-stock, keen to be heading north again.
For the short hop to Port Gregory we invited Paul, a family friend
from Geraldton, to join us. A keen fisherman he also manages
a camping and fishing goods store in town so came well equipped
to hang a line over the back. It was only a day's sail on a light
westerly. Mid morning we were all feeling rather dozy in the
lazy conditions when suddenly the line screamed off the reel.
Paul, bounding with instant energy reeled in a 1metre Spanish
Mackerel. In quick time it was photographed, cleaned, filleted
and in the pan for lunch!
As we approached Port Gregory we were faced with the quandary
of which entry to take. One was called Hero Passage
we didn't feel like being heroes! We opted for Gold Diggers
Passage and anchored off the sandy beach where our happy
guest had a lift waiting to take him and what was left of his
Next day we had a decision to make. Will we.. Won't we.. Will
we.. Won't we.. Kalbarri is not favoured by so many of the yachties
we had spoken to. The seas seemed reasonable so we ventured in
where others had feared to go. It was very nearly our undoing.
Arriving at midday we felt fortunate to strike the Kalbarri Sea
Rescue's inflatable just outside the entry. They offered to guide
us in and we were most grateful, all we had to do was follow,
they said. The narrow passage ran along between two parallel
reefs. It was a bubbling mish-mash of steep pitching water...
and this was the good day! Half way along the treacherous passage
the sea rescue guys moved over close to the reef edge and following
their instructions we stuck close to their transom.
Fortunately they glanced back to observe. A horrified look came
over their faces just as our depth sounder screeched out an alarm
loud enough to pierce eardrums! There was only inches beneath
us and the rugged reef . We learned later that they had moved
aside to watch us go through, forgetting their instruction for
us to follow. They were nice well meaning fellows but it sure
was scary and could have been disastrous.
We left Kalbarri at 3.30 next afternoon, keen to be away and
headed towards Shark Bay. It was our first overnighter. By moonlight
we sailed along the awesome Zuytdorp cliffs and passed the site
where the Zuytdorp had foundered with her rich cargo in 1712.
At sunrise, nearing Steep Point, the sea turned silver as acres
and acres of small fish showered the surface chased by voracious
Spanish Mackerel. Many dedicated fishermen were fishing from
the top of the high cliffs, their lines buoyed by balloons as
they tried to hook a mackerel.
Resting at Monkey Mia caused us to appreciate things we take
for granted. Tourists by the hundreds flock to the area in the
hope of seeing dolphins in a natural environment. Contact with
these fabulous animals on the west coast is almost an every-day
experience for yachties.
We had read so much about CALM's success in ridding the Peron
Peninsula of foxes. It is very different country so we spent
a short time hiking ashore. Further up the coast we met with
sailing friends and were entertained by their experience in the
area. Sitting quietly at anchor one dark evening they became
aware of a boatload of people drifting by. Their intrigue was
heightened with the chatter of foreign voices when someone called,
'Hey Mister!... Which way to Carnarvon?' Our friends told them
Carnarvon was 50 miles away! (South of their position.) As the
conversation continued it transpired that they were out of fuel,
very hungry, tired, and a long way from home. As you can imagine,
our friends thought they had a boat load of refugees on their
hands and became a little cautious. They were comforted when
the weary sailors asked our friends to 'Please contact an authority.'
and advise of their plight. Carnarvon Sea Rescue was called,
they advised the Shark Bay Sea Rescue who responded by sat. phone
that they would deliver fuel and oil next day.
As it turned out the eight on board were Vietnamese tomato growers
from Carnarvon who had set off in a tiny boat to go fishing at
Bernier Island for the day. (35 miles to the west.) With just
a store bought compass and a general idea of the direction, coming
back they failed to sail a reciprocal course and got lost. Friendly
Fay turned her pantry upside-down and handed over all the muesli
bars, snacks and crisps she had on board and watched amused as
the little fishing boat anchored close by. The party then went
ashore, lit a fire and settled down to keep warm for the night.
Next morning Fay, short of food herself, found a kilo of rice
and cooked it up in a pot of gourmet soup stock then
divided it into 8 take-a-way containers she had on board. (How
is that for a role reversal?!)
There was a happy ending to the drama. An invite to a barbeque
in Carnarvon was issued. Our friends arrived to find tables laden
with food to feed an army and declared the night they spent with
their newly adopted family was the best they'd ever had. They
were escorted very merrily back to their boat along with a mountain
of fresh fruit and vegetables, including two huge stalks of bananas!
It was May, the breezes had moderated and
were mostly from the N.E. at 10 12 knots, at times dropping off
to a mere whisper. Gliding along on the glassy sea we spotted
a sea snake basking on the surface. At first I thought it was
dead, or sick. Brian gave it a prod with the boat hook and the
horrid muscular thing nearly climbed up the stick! I was ready
to leave the deck, I would have liked a photo, but not that badly!
Visibility was good so we dropped the sails to motor along inside
Ningaloo reef and were amazed to encounter a whole squadron of
manta rays feeding along the tide line. Like graceful Stealth
Bombers, they dipped and turned, their wingtips just breaking
the surface. Clearly visible beneath them were the accompanying
Cobia, which from experience, we had come to expect. We anchored
that night in Stanley's Pool just north of Coral Bay. Coral Bay
is a popular camping and holiday destination but not yachtie
friendly. Access to the beach is restrictive and ashore is very
commercial. If in need of supplies it is better to wait till
Exmouth. Being no stranger to the area we continued north inside
the reef to our own favourite part of the coast.(For 12 years
in succession, (prior to cruising) we camped on the beaches of
Ningaloo Station and enjoyed the fishing, snorkelling and discovery
of some of the many wrecks that dot that part of the coast. We
know the place as good as our own backyard! Unfortunately we
had never been there at the right time to see a Whale Shark.)
It was one perfect day after another! We
did many curlicues as we investigated anything that captured
our attention and dropped anchor for the afternoon in front of
the shearing shed on Ningaloo Station. On shore a team from the
W.A. Maritime Museum was packing up after having discovered a
new wreck close to where the Stephano had foundered off Black
Rock in the 1800's. It was located by aircraft using a magnetometer
which detects metal beneath the sea surface. Divers had retrieved
many artefacts including the ship's bell encrusted with coral.
It is hoped that when cleaned it will confirm that the wreck
is the Spanish ship Coroli. (Meaning: mail run.)
Silver coins that had once been in a chest had melded together
in one solid lump. Where visible the coins were dated pre.1816
which also helped with identification. Sounding leads, ballast
and a rudder gudgeon was raised. The cannon was left in situ
to be dealt with at a later date.
Here we also met a group of scientists
and university students camped in the old shearing shed. Among
them was a fellow was from the University of New Hampshire U.S.A.
who had been returning to Ningaloo for 6 years in succession
to study Whale Sharks. Another, a scientist who works for N.O.A.,
based in Honolulu and involved in developing tracking systems
for marine animals. Their mission was to locate and tag 15 Whale
Shark. The tags are attached by dart and designed to fall off
after 3, 6 or 9 months. When the tags float to the surface they
are discovered by satellite and downloaded. The history of the
animal's voyage is identified by the time and length of daylight,
from this they establish longitude and latitude.
It was because of this interesting group of people we were able
to experience an event that will live with us forever. It all
began when they invited us to tag along with the team next day.
They had a spotter aircraft hired to locate the whales sharks.
The opportunity too good to be true, the day clear, blue and
perfect! After a few false alarms where the spotted shark dived
and didn't surface again, we were directed by radio to the location
of a likely candidate. My incoherent diary entry of the event
tells how we felt about the encounter
WOW! WOW! WOW!!!! Today we fulfilled a
dream. Today we swam with a Whale Shark and she, (yes, She.)
swam with us! She was 8 metres long. Forgive me, I'm lost for
words - but it was FANTASTIC! After she was tagged and measured
we were given the O.K. and participated in a long, long swim.
What a magnificent creature! We were euphoric and remain, much
later, on a huge high. Still speechless, it was a
most exciting and awesome experience! I find myself unbelievably
lost for words!
We were so lucky. The tagging team said
it was one of their best too. Later we went back to their camp
with a thank-you carton of beer and learned so much
more. This cruising lifestyle certainly opens the door to some
Next stop, The Montebello Islands
good we went twice!