Cruising the Buccaneer and Boneparte Archipelagos
(4th Oct – 11th Oct 2019)
The waters along the Broome coastline contain many fish and pearl farms. We had not encountered any actual farms yet, but had been told that although they were marked with floats, they could be quite hard to see and it would be very bad to accidentally bump into one. We didn’t want to think about having to get into the crocodile-ed water to cut off ropes and netting wrapped around the prop, so we decided to go as far up the coast as we could in daylight and then pull in to the nearest anchorage for the night. We ended up making it as far as a place called Quongdong Point, about 30 nautical miles north of Broome. We anchored in around 4m of water and then endured a very rocky night, so much so that I now compare all anchorages to ‘the Quondong Point experience’ (there were no anchorages that were anywhere near as bad all the way to Darwin!). What this anchorage did do though, was continue to increase our faith in our big Rocna anchor, which seems to set solid first time, every time. I would make mention now that Peter slept all night at Quongdong Point (I swear the man could sleep through an earthquake). I sat up watching the depth sounder and the plotter making a lovely little arc around the anchor point. You may think this is heartless of him, as he knows I won’t be sleeping, but it actually works really well. Because he knows I’m watching in case anything goes wrong, he can get a solid nights sleep and I catch up with naps during the day (and Peter finds it difficult to sleep during the day). It’s all about working to our strengths.
Next morning we set off and saw our first fish farm. As you can see from the photo there is not much to show they are there, just a group of black floats. Some farms have radar reflectors on them, but not all. They may or may not be charted and even then they are moved regularly and who was the genius who thought black was a good colour? Peter came up with an alternative plan and we headed to deep water and overnighted straight to the Buccaneer Archipelago.
The weather and seas were good and we made excellent time, which meant I was having to navigate in the early pre-dawn through the ‘billions’ of islands of the Archipelago as sunrise approached. I do wish Peter could arrange to have us arriving in the daytime! I did have the little lighthouse to help keep a safe line (you can just see it on the right of Koolan Island in the photo).
We made our way to the east side of Koolan Island into a secluded little place called Silver Gull Creek. It was quite beautiful; mangroves, little bays of white sand between massive cliffs of limestone blocks (like giant leggo), wispy white clouds and blue sparkling water and, as we found for most of our time in the Kimberleys, we were the only ones there.
Now, some of you may be asking how did we know where to go, what to see and where was best to anchor? The official charts do show some anchorages, but most of our trip was advised by local knowledge from two sources. Before we left Perth, we joined a group called the Kimberley Coast Cruising Yacht Club. For a small fee we could access their maps, experiences at various anchorages, opinions about the best places to visit, even down to identifying the local crocs in each area. Ross tries to update the information each year and there is plenty of discussion on the website from fellow boaters. Peter printed out pages of information about various anchorages and tips on how to navigate around the Kimberleys. We printed out this little file of information as we suspected we would not get much reception once we left Broome; in fact, we had no reception until we arrived in Darwin nearly 4 weeks later! (A first world problem). We also had a copy of the Western Australian Cruising Guide, published by the Fremantle Yacht Club, that also contains excellent information on anchorages for the entire WA coast. For actual navigation we used two digital chart plotters each using a different chart source – the boat computer (Peter’s laptop) uses TMQ-Cplot and the boat plotter uses Cmap. We also purchased a complete set of paper charts. We were very aware that we were on our own on this next stage, and while looking forward to the adventure of travelling the remote Kimberley, knew we were totally reliant on the boat’s performance and our own skills and decision making – so the more information we had at our disposal the better.
Back to Silver Gull Creek. The fish life was prolific and we had fun catching lots of small fish including small Golden Trevally (GT) which became Neon’s tea. We stayed here for two very pleasant days to catch up on the necessities of travel; the never-ending cleaning, washing, de-furring the cat and Peter made another lovely fresh loaf of bread. We could fish in the evenings, sipping on a mojito (I have been growing mint since Perth and there is now a lot to get through). Lovely , until the sharks moved in and took more fish than us.
Bad Hair Sunset – what can I say, I was totally knackered. This lifestyle can be very demanding and tiring; it’s not all watery paradise and cocktails; sometimes it’s just hot, hard work. It must be agreeing with us though, as I am smiling, Peter is shedding cm off his waist and we are both sleeping well.
On the 8th we left for Montgomery Reef. For the first part of the trip we motored very close to the west side of Koolan Island. The geology was fascinating and of course coming from a mining background it was interesting to see the mining operation as well.
Koolan Island is an iron ore mine where the operating pit is below sea level and mining takes place behind a seawall.
I took many, many pictures of the geology of the area (Peter said I wasn’t allowed to put all of them in the blog – no matter that each one showed a slightly different aspect of rock formation). But I do love how the rocks of this coastline are a very clear demonstration of the powers that went into folding layers of rock as if it were toffee. There is also the bonus that these ones show how high the tide gets; the blackened area is about 8m high.
By the time we got to Montgomery Reef it was getting on to late afternoon, so we headed for the coast and anchored at a place called Raft Point. This was another experience of how quickly the depth can change – one minute we were in 14m of water and the next in 2m. So, we spent a bit of time motoring around slowly until we found our goldilocks spot around 7m deep and anchored up in time for the sunset.
As you can see the surrounding escarpments are very speccy. Later that evening another boat pulled up and anchored very close to us. ‘Kimberley Quest II’ is one of those small luxury cruisers that charge a fortune to take people through this remote area. They weren’t communicating, but she was a pretty looking boat and it was reassuring that we seemed to have chosen the same place to anchor. She would turn out to be one of only four boats we would see the whole time we were in the Kimberley.
I was having trouble adjusting to the heat and humidity; 32o and 70% at 8am! After continued suggestions from Beloved, not all of which I think was for the most virtuous of reasons, he convinced his quite conservative wife to strip down to bra and pants to cool off. It made a HUGE difference and pretty much became my uniform for the next four weeks (unless we were off the boat). As a result, there will be no photos of me onboard for the next few weeks, as I would not wish that on anyone, although again Beloved had a different view.
I am finding that our experiences aren’t necessarily the same as those of others we have read or what we expected. Montgomery Reef is a typical example of this. We were there at the wrong time of the lunar cycle for the spectacular waterfall, when the tide drops off 400 square kilometres of reef, but we thought we’d check it out anyway. We ended up having a really eerie experience that was wonderful. The sea was dead calm and a heavy fog sat over the water like in the opening sequence for ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ – totally awesome, even sounds travelled differently. We don’t necessarily get the touristy experiences, but if we wanted that we’d just pay to be on someone else’s boat. What we are getting is an increasing confidence in our ability to manage a boat, a massive respect for Mother Nature (the good, bad and ugly side of her) and the absolute joy that comes from experiencing new things together.
We found that this weather was to become the pattern for the next four weeks, with calm seas in the morning, becoming choppy in the afternoon and then the winds dying right off in the evening. This made for very pleasant travelling and I liked the predictability of it.
From Montgomery Reef we headed off to Sampson Inlet; what a lovely spot to anchor up. We wanted to escape the swells that were building up, so we anchored around the corner of the inlet; possibly a bit far around as we missed the sea breeze in the evenings, but the flopper stopper had nothing to do while we were there. It is obvious why it is known as a cyclone refuge.
We had a bit of excitement the first night with Neon going missing but I eventually found him up top sleeping under the dinghy. He was now feeling the heat as well and was furiously throwing off fur everywhere, all day.
The pantry is going well. I got a good deal on avocados in Broome and am keeping them at the back of the fridge with a tomato each, they stay hard until taken out. [We still had good avocados when we got to Darwin; and that after having guacamole with our fish every second or third night]. Some of the potatoes have sprouted, but there is no greening since I put them into a linen bag lined with black cotton (purchased back in Denham). And we seem to be a boat of limes; I found 2 extra bags that Peter had put into the eski back at Broome. I am making yoghurt and freezing it with tinned fruit into little icy poles. They make a lovely cool dessert for the evenings.
We ended up staying another two days at this anchorage. Our time was filled with exploring the place by tender. As can be seen from the photos it is a mixture of mangroves and cliffs.
Again, this place seemed to be a nursery for fish with many small types being caught, until the sharks moved in, and I lost count of how many of those we caught. We also put out some crab pots to see if we could catch any mud-crabs.
Heading back to the boat in late afternoon of our second day we were surprised to see another tender flying up the inlet with a larger boat behind. We soon saw that they were a Dept. of Fisheries boat. They were also quite surprised to see us as at this time of year they don’t see many boats, and we had parked in one of their favourite spots along the coast.
Being checked out by the Fisheries was a pretty interesting process. There were three officers in the tender and one left on the main boat. They were in a pretty substantial RIB and they were all wearing body cameras – obviously they must meet some pretty interesting characters on their patrols. One stayed in the tender, Shannon came aboard but stayed in the doorway and Jo came inside to see what we had in our freezer and to check our fishing licences.
We still had a bit of fish left from the Barracuda and also from a fishing trip at Shark Bay. They were friendly but very firm, and we were told that we had to eat the fish from Shark Bay today as it could not be identified. Jo then took us through what we should do with any future catches. Any fish we caught, that were not immediately being eaten, had to be cut into 300mm slabs with the skin left on so it could be identified. They also left us a crab measuring gauge, as ours was out of date, which was nice of them. At the end of the day, they could see were not trying to break any rules and were keen to do the right thing, so left us in peace and went back to their mother ship parked about 100m away for the night. What an interesting job, in a spectacular part of Australia, as they patrol between Broome and the Western Australian Border further North – I wouldn’t mind that as a job.
The next day we headed out in the tender for more exploring and fishing. A range of fish were caught from GT’s to snook and even a small barramundi, which got away, but a very fun day all round. Peter then spent some time route planning to our next destination the Prince Regent River.
This is a record of our experience/what we and not intended as a recommendation for others. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull of ‘Opal Lady’ (+1.6m for depth from surface of the water)
We found the tide predictions from TMQ (rather than XTides) were a better match to what we were measuring in this area. The amount of variation between the various tide tables was very noticeable.
Quongdong Point (04/10/19); Anchored at 17 35.253S 122 09.104E, in 5.4m at Low Tide rising to 10.5m at High Tide. 54m chain over sand and rock. Boat picked up a rock despite the flopper stopper, as wind coming off land but current parallel with shore.
Silver Gull Creek (Yampi Sound) (06/10/19); Anchored at 16 09.864S 123 42.384E. Very muddy bottom, chain needed washing as raised.
Raft Point (08/10/19); Anchored at 16 04.415S 124 27.011E, 10m water.
Sampson Inlet; (09/10/19) This anchorage is noted as a cyclone refuge. Anchored at 15 29.777S 124 29.355E, anchor chain needed washing as very muddy.