Guess What Happened On Our Way To Dirk Hartog Island?

Peter on Dirk Hartog Island with 'Opal Lady' anchored in the background
Peter on Dirk Hartog Island with ‘Opal Lady’ anchored in the background

With a happy serpentine belt (and two spares – just in case) we left Geraldton on Saturday 10th August for a 30 hour cruise to Dirk Hartog Island. You may recall my trepidation about doing our initial 17 hour introduction trip, but how can we eventually cross an ocean if we don’t work up to longer passages?  We also have the basic problem that the WA coast has no places where you could stop safely, so we just have to get used to doing longer legs. Anyhoo, it seems to work out quite well for Peter and myself, as we have always operated best at different ends of the day, so we know at least one of us is fully functioning at any time of the day or night when we are moving.

But back to the opening question… The answer is quite a lot more than I expected. The seas were certainly a bit choppier than we had experienced before, but not uncomfortably so.  We just had to wedge ourselves behind the dinette table when sleeping so that we didn’t roll off the settee.  We sleep in the salon when ‘off watch’, so that we are easier to get if needed.  The alternative is to manually turn on the high-water alarm to wake whoever is sleeping downstairs. But that is a shocking way to wake someone if you just need to pop to the loo, as that alarm goes off when there is way too much water in the bilge (one of those ‘we might be sinking’ alarms).

Again, back to the opening question…Answer?..I caught a bird! A Wedge Tailed Shearwater to be exact (I bought a bird book to check).  He/she was a bit stunned coming into the spotlight through the railings at the front of the boat and landing on the deck, but after I turned off the spotty, he settled himself and headed off half an hour later – I guess we were going the wrong way.  There is certainly a lot of bird action out here, day and night

Hello birdy

That was just before midnight when I handed over to Peter.  Then at about 1am Neon and I did fall off the settee! According to Beloved the seas had picked up a bit (no sh** sherlock).  What we didn’t know until the next morning, while checking out an odd sound in the bathroom, was that we had also broken one of the hydraulic arms for the stabilizers (the starboard side stabilizer lives under the seat in the shower).  The actuating arm inside the boat had come free and was no longer ‘actuating’ the fin on the outside of the boat (which was still fine, it just didn’t know what it was supposed to be doing, so it wasn’t being terribly useful; in fact until we got it ‘pinned’ in neutral and not moving, it was probably being actively ‘not useful’).  We had read that you can get about 70% stabilization effect with just one fin, and using a totally empirical ‘feel’ analysis we would agree with that – I’m quite happy about that (not the finding out, but the having found out). 

A Humpback whale breaching off the coast
A happy Humpback – truely magnificent

The next morning, we had a personal Cetacean Performance as a pair of Humpback Whales had some very splashy fun about 100m from the boat. There was a stark counterpoint as the blue, watery ballet was backdropped by the rugged cliffs of the coast.  The whales had a great time breaching and slapping the water as if they were clapping their own performance.  I certainly was, it was magnificent

Arriving at Dirk Hartog Island that morning we anchored just south of Cape Ransonnet in 3m of sparkling, crystal-clear water and just to top it off a pod of dolphins came over to check us out.  Breakfast, nap, swim, lunch, footy-snooze, tea, sleep; I think I am picking up bad habits from the cat.

Peter on 'Opal Lady' off Cape Ransonnet
What more could you want?

On Tuesday we moved to anchor off the Dirk Hartog Island Eco Lodge run by Kieran and Tory.  We weren’t actually guests at the lodge, but Kieran had invited us to anchor there when we met him at last year’s Boating Show in Perth. Dirk Hartog is a huge island (according to the guide book it is the biggest island in WA at 80km long by 5-15km wide) and it took us 3 hours just to motor around this end to the homestead (mind you we are pretty slow).  Between the island and the mainland there are a number of shallow sand fingers and channels, so I studiously followed the judiciously placed red poles around the island’s coastline. During my final approach into the little bay in front of the resort, the chart plotter moved to grey – it had no data for the area.  It seems the software that the plotter uses doesn’t include details about the very shallow, narrow passage, with optional sandy bar bits for that approach!  My faith in modern technology was to be sorely tested.  There I was, with my not great ‘sense of distance’, holding a paper chart and watching the depth sounder show smaller and smaller numbers. We got in ok and anchored in the deepest bit of the bay (all 3m of it).  I am still not talking to the CMap plotter and Peter has arranged the purchase of a different navigating package for the ship laptop (one that he found using his phone while I was dripping sweat on the paper chart).

We were parked off a small island (Meade Island) that was completely covered in birds; Cormorants, Terns and Pelicans, like something out of a David Attenborough doco.  Lots of action and noise, but we were upwind so we were spared the smell.  The lodge has good phone reception so we popped over for a cuppa and to phone for yet more repair advice.

The day after we parked up, the little catamaran ‘Tucanu’ came in to anchor.  The captain was standing at the front throwing out a leaded line to check the depth – old school style.  Grey area’d plotter notwithstanding, I prefer my technology.  But as with most everything on our boat it is backed up with a manual option (such as the paper charts we carry for the entire WA coast) – just in case ‘Skynet’ takes over (a ‘Terminator’ movie reference, for those non-scifi of you).

A view of the WA Gascoyne coast
Our view of the Gascoyne coast

Looking out at the coast, which was pretty accurately described by the early Europeans as “inhospitable and appearing good for nothing other than sinking boats” (I paraphrased), I am in awe of what the early explorers achieved.  The leaded line and their knowledge of how the water should behave for different depths, was all they had to keep them off the bottom.

Neon’s Notes: I have discovered that I don’t get ill if I sleep up in the pilot house – who knew that keeping an eye on the navigation would be so therapeutic.  I think I am finding my sea paws.

Peter on watch with Neon resting on the pilot house settee
Finally a place a cat can rest easy

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. Hey Suz. Just worked this blog thing out. Will now keep looking. I am doing the “marine tracking” though. Stay safe. 🥂

    1. I’m still working it out myself Keren. I’m hoping that eventually the posts will reflect where we actually are on Marine Traffic. At the moment they are more historical records. Thanks for following. Hugs to you and your PB

  2. Wow! Great excitement on the high seas! The whales sound amazing! So jealous. I am heading to Monkey Mia in the hols to volunteer with the dolphin experience. Stay safe and dry! X

    1. Volunteering at Monkey Mia Lisa! How cool.

  3. Hi Suz – big catch up read tonight, loving your posts and it sounds like you’ve had an awesome start.
    Anne x

    1. Good to hear from you Anne. So glad you are enjoying the posts thus far. We certainly had an action packed start, but it is all good learning. Feel free to pass on any questions anyone at Q has – as I was telling a lovely lady the other day when she was asking about the boat, “there are no silly questions” and everything she asked me I had also asked my self at some point. Best to you and yours.

  4. Your blog is awesome Suz, and your travels incredibly good fun with a toss of this and that now and again. Where are you off to next? Matt has seen a bit of Taylor and he seems happy enough. Happy travels looking forward to reading more. We have decided now not to build and are looking at buying in the hills. Take care chat soon again.

    1. Lovely to hear from you. Dear me Jenni awesome” is going to be pretty hard to maintain – I’ll see what we can do (hopefully I can at least stay up to date). There are some lovely houses in the hills – have fun finding your new home. Hugs to you and Dave.

  5. Great to read that you’re finally north. Whales, dolphins, birds and other marine life, sounds fantastic, but no, I’m not convinced that being thrown off the settee while sleeping is the life for me. Best I get back onto the bike so I can race you around Australia! Big Hugs! Carolyn xx

    1. Great to hear from you Carolyn. Generally speaking the settee is a lovely place to sleep. You get on your bike and catch us up anytime. May your chickens lay plentifully.

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