Cruising Helmsman September 2016 edition: It is difficult to get much further west than Canarvon, Western Australia, so Condy Clark finds it is a good place to hang loose.
I have been up the Fascine Channel to Carnarvon a few times but never for long. It has been nothing more than a great place to get supplies on the way north and then on the way south. But 2015 was different. Several circumstances resulted in me spending quite a bit of time there. It was not planned. In fact, me being seen on the Fascine scene was unforeseen.
Change of plans
I had no intention of going north of the Murchison River in 2015. This I call the Murchison Malaise where I figure if I do not go up the Zuytdorp Cliffs I don’t have to get back down them. But a mate came to my rescue and would go up the cliffs with me. Of course there was no mention of him coming back with me. One of my best mates, Rookery who skippers a crayboat, was having a week off. We formulated a loose plan for an adventure that would end up in Carnarvon. From there Rook could organise a lift back to Kalbarri. I had absolutely no plan whatsoever for what I would do after that.
Up the cliffs
We left the Murchison River late one arvo for an overnighter up the cliffs in a strong SSE wind. We hoisted the main triple-reefed and unfurled the jib. Both daggerboards stayed up.
The wind got a lot stronger after sunset and I found out later there were some people in Kalbarri worried about us. This may have been because of the strong winds but more likely it was because of Jon Sanders. Only a few days before Jon was rescued from a sinking yacht off the cliffs. The rescue involved two ships and a rig tender and was simply brilliant seamanship by all involved. The ships formed a break wall while the skipper of the rig tender backed up to the yacht. His crew pulled Jon off the yacht onto their boat in a perfectly timed manouvre.
I saw footage of this rescue taken from a camera on the back of the tenders wheelhouse and it was very impressive. Our concerned friends missed the facts the yacht was unseaworthy and that she was going into the swell of the century. As they worried, we surfed north up what we started calling the Jon Sanders Cliffs and were having a great time. Rook is a great seaman but only just beginning the never-ending quest for sailing mastery. I explained the triple-reefed main and full jib would balance better and put less strain on Bender the auto pilot.
We started on port gybe, not only to get away from the cliffs but also to allow for a probable wind shift towards the east. When the wind did shift east a bit during the night we gybed immediately. In the morning we passed False Entrance and Steep Point and sailed on up the west side of Dirk Hartog Island. This is the very west of the country and the water is alive with just about every form of sealife.
Rook had a couple of lures out but only managed to nail some small tuna. While a worthy feed, they were not what he was after. He wanted a Wahoo. At the top of Dirk we pulled into Turtle Bay and spent the night on a convenient mooring. It blew up and shifted east in the morning making it pretty rolly, even on a cat.
We hoisted the main triple-reefed, dropped the mooring and unfurled the jib. We were soon beam reaching with about a third of the windward daggerboard down and the lee one left up. As we crossed the rough Naturaliste Channel towards the west side of Dorre Island, Rook nailed his much desired Wahoo on a lure with four millimetre Spectra attached to the leader and a surfboard legrope as shock absorber. He dragged it in to the back of HQ as we charged along at eight to nine knots.
It was a heavy fish and I had to give him a hand to haul the beast up the steps. In fact it was too big for us to eat so we struggled to get it up out of the cockpit and back in the water. It was still in good nick and took off to see another day. We were soon sheltered from the seas by Dorre Island and headed for Stinky Point. We anchored here for a few hours and then cruised slowly north under jib, passed the gap which we wisely decided not to take on and continued up the west side of Bernier Island. Here Rook nailed a mackerel of a more reasonable size that did not see another day.
We rounded Koks Island at the top of Bernier just before sunset and got ready for a night sail to Broadhurst Bight. We hoisted the main triple-reefed, put the windward daggerboard three quarters down and the lee one a quarter down, went hard on starboard tack and headed into Shark Bay. The wind was SSE 25 to 30 knots but forecast to go east during the night. I could now demonstrate for Rook a one tack strategy, as long as the wind cooperated.
We continued on starboard for three hours but still no shift and we were nearly in the shallows north of Carnarvon. We had to tack and were now heading to Dirk Hartog Island on port. Luckily the wind did shift east not long later and we could point up and sail straight into Broadhurst Bight.
We stayed a few days at this lovely spot though it was not that lovely for us. It was overcast with lots of drizzle for most of our time here. We finally got a nice day but we had to go to meet Rooks lift to Kalbarri. Before sunrise we hoisted the main double reefed, pulled up the anchor, unfurled the jib and sailed towards Carnarvon on a fun beam reach with the windward daggerboard half way down.
About 15 miles from Carnarvon the wind dropped and went on the nose a bit. We shook the reefs out of the main and put the daggerboard all the way down. The lee daggerboard was dropped as well as we headed up around the Gascoyne Flats and we managed to sail right up to the first cardinal mark.
We entered the Fascine Channel about 1400 and could easily see the shallow bits by the movement in the water. While the marks are handy guides the banks can stick out between marks and need careful negotiation. If your yacht draws much over 1.5 metres you probably do not want to come in on a low tide.
Nearing the yacht club I noticed what looked like a pirate ship anchored to starboard. I had never seen this unusual craft before, but I did recognise the catamaran Toucan anchored nearby. I had seen Toucan with Brian and Deb at several places up and down the coast over the years and I like this great pair a lot.
As we passed the yacht club I saw several yachts I did not recognise and one I thought I did. There are not that many turqoise coloured yachts around after all. As we got closer it was confirmed. It was Johanna and I had met her skipper Paul at Two Rocks Marina where he had been working to build up his cruising kitty for the past three years. We grabbed a vacant mooring that was fortuitously right next to Johanna and, after Rook left, Paul and I teamed up.
A very good team we were. We became great mates and shared a lot of laughs over the next few months. We were the Fascine’s funsters.
My first morning, Andy and Venus from Caprice paddled over on their skis. Andy is a doctor and had done some relief work in Kalbarri. He asked if I was Seahag and I said yes I am. He told me that Tracy, a nurse in Kalbarri and a very good friend of mine, had told him all about me. I certainly hoped not. Andy offered me a key to the showers at the yacht club and the use of his vehicle. This little bloke has a very loud voice and a very large heart. Though I did not need a vehicle or a shower (some may not agree) I appreciated the kind offer. A great welcome to Carnarvon.
Every Friday the Carnarvon Yacht Club opens the bar and, while I do not like drinking beer, I feel it is important to support the club. Paul and I dinghied in and I was able to catch up with a few old friends and meet some new ones. Brian, who I call Briny, and Deb were there and they told me about selling Toucan. They now live on a Spacesailer 22. She does not have a name but everyone calls her Onecan. The two do not seem to mind. In fact I would be very surprised if Briny didn’t come up with it himself.
Of course Romeo and Jan were there running the show but I do not think they remembered me. Maybe my luxuriant beard had them fooled. I said some funny things and they soon groaned in remembrance. They have built a Snell Easy catamaran and I gave them all the reasons they should have gone for daggerboards. They groaned in further remembrance. Another Paul was there and he remembered me immediately. Last time I had been there he had a Warram cat but he had upgraded to a very nice Kurt Hughs design called Queimarla. He was also now the club Commodore. I call him Pup and he is a top bloke.
Plus it was great to see Frank and Roz from Endless Dream and Big Mick and Beth from Site again too. I had met this great bloke, Don, a couple of times cruising around but over the next few weeks I was to realise our lives are interwoven. Don and I are a classic case of it being a small world. One of my best mates, Bert, knows Don. Don is one of his dad’s best mates.
Making new friends
Paul introduced me to some of the other live aboard cruisers like Brian from Y Ddraig Gock, ‘The red dragon, Wayne from Skirmisher and the owner and builder of the pirate ship which is called Hybrid Arc. This bloke has a heavy German accent and a very German name: Wolfgang.
On the way in I could not help but notice six Cherub racing dinghies sitting on the lawn near the clubhouse. I have owned five including two I designed and built myself so I recognised them immediately. I even wondered to myself if I would be able to organise a sail on one. Imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when Wolf asked if I’d be interested in sailing one of the Cherubs in the races held every Sunday.
Of course I answered in the affirmative and, despite my incredible modesty, decided it was only fair I warn the other racers that I had been a champion Cherub sailor. I think they all thought that I was full of it. I immediately started to regret putting the pressure on myself with my big beer-fuelled mouth. For all I knew they could all be dinghy racing wizards.
The race is on
I rocked up on Sunday to find that while the hulls were indeed Cherubs the rigs were not. A shorter mast with smaller sails and no adjustables. The boom vang was not only non-adjustable; it was non-existent. But they were all the same so it was fair. They were all sailed solo except for Wolf who had a young crew, Luka. Once on the water I slipped instantly into racing mode. As soon as I worked out how to tack without a third arm I was away.
No one was a racing wiz, though Wolf proved to be a sly old fox, but they could all sail well and showed good boat handling. I am no wiz either but I did learn some stuff in my twenty seasons of dinghy racing that must have helped. Barry and Kay Scott from Spindrift very kindly put on a sausage sizzle for the sailors after the races. Carnarvon just keeps getting better.
It was great fun racing dinghies again and I felt like I was 25 as I zoomed around trying to impress the fellas. Unfortunately for the next two days I felt like I was 95 and could hardly move. Despite the pain I only missed a couple of Sundays when my neck, which I had nearly broken in a jetski accident, felt too sore.
I could just manage to move again by 1700 hours on Tuesday. This is when Briny and Deb have a pizza night organised because the pizzas are cheap. I found this to be a great fun night as a heap of cruisers have a few drinks and chat while waiting for the pizzas to arrive. You can learn a lot on these nights as cruisers tell of their adventures. When the pizzas arrive things go quiet for a while and there is a feeding frenzy. Then the conversations slowly start again. On the dinghy trip home, Paul said they were a great bunch of people. I agreed and added that I was the only dickhead there. My great mate Paul agreed. Huh!
Every Saturday morning over winter there is a market in town and the plantation owners bring in their produce. This is the best place for stocking up on fruit and veg though this year the fruit was sadly lacking. This was due to a cyclone last March that scored a direct hit on Carnarvon. I would get some vegies, frozen mango and a chocolate coated banana at the least and sometimes some fruit leather and something from Mistress Spice. She has some great stuff to put with fish.
The Woolworths supermarket is good for stocking up too as it has Perth prices and the same specials. It is walking distance from the Fascine while the IGA is a very long walk. The library is an easy walk and a favourite place to visit for Paul and myself. I have never left a library yet without having learnt something. Fuel is not cheap but readily available, as is LPG. The water is not bad if you want to top up the tanks at the yacht club.
There is a couple of tackle shops and hardwares and, between Janice at the big blue shed and Craig at Craigs Marine just around the corner, you can get most things of a marine nature. If not, they will order in and are both very helpful. There are a few changes taking place around the Fascine that will improve the place for visiting cruisers. Three floating jetties along the new wall are very handy for dinghies and new floating pens at the club are underway.
The best thing
Carnarvon is a bit of a hub for cruising yachts on the west coast and I met a lot of very interesting people. There was Wolfs young crew Luca and his sister Lola with Mum Eva and Dad Hans from Kamiros on a round world cruise. The kids were born during their amazing adventure and know no other life. I was sad when they left but not as sad as Wolf. He lost his crew.
Another family I found to be incredibly nice is the Sula Sula crew. Ollie and Anna and their girls Nell and Rosie left Hobart eight years ago on their Easton 44 that they built themselves. The girls want to settle down on land and have a heap of pets including horses. Listening to Nell and Rosie talk about their adventures with crocodiles in the Kimberley I have my doubts that ponies are going to cut it.
It was also good to get to know some locals like Ted and Tina from On The Double, who make the best sausages I have ever eaten and Terry and Jan from Kawan who grow the best corn I have ever eaten. Actually most of the people I met here were great. The best thing about Carnarvon for me, besides the dinghy races of course, was definitely some of the people I met.
Pup’s catamaran was built with an open bridge deck and he decided to design and build a cabin. He put together a mock up in cheap plywood and he asked me to have a look. I gave it my approval and he priced it up in duflex. After he recovered from the shock he priced it up in marine ply. Not quite so shocked he went ahead and ordered the ply. Wolf, who had built his pirate ship, very kindly volunteered to put it together.
While I took on a supervisory role, I managed to avoid doing any actual labour due to my suspect neck. I was not prepared to risk worsening the injury and delaying my return to the surf. When Henry from Hewj arrived later on he did the fibreglass work. Wolf and Henry did a great job and as self-appointed supervisor I was very happy.
Fascine Fever is an insidious disease that is running rampant here.With no visible symptoms, it can sneak up on you. You can find you have developed a severe case without ever knowing you were getting it. Often the first sign is when you realise you have not gone anywhere for quite a long time. While rum may deaden the pain there is no known remedy except to get the hell out of there.
I also ran into a lot of surfing mates in Carnarvon. On their way north they all come in to get supplies and I seemed to have the uncanny knack of going to the supermarket at just the right time to run into them. As I dinghied into the club one day I was on a collision course with a Viking 30 also heading in and was surprised to see Bert standing on the foredeck. I told him I had Fascine Fever and was sailing north on an adventure. He said he would like to join me. Then he asked if I knew Don.
Off on an adventure
Bert and I left the next day at 1600 hours after a long lunch at the pub with some mates we had meet up with at Gnarloo Bay. El asked if I was worried about all the whales. I told her HQ had already been hit by one so the odds must be in my favour. The fact is, I know what a whale could do to HQ and it is something I choose not to think about if I can help it.
About 2200 hours I was off watch and woke up when I heard this incredibly loud noise that seemed to come from right under my bunk. I jumped up to find Bert at the back door looking perplexed. Turns out it was a whale that had decided to start singing right under HQ. It kept singing, along with several others, for the next four hours. There certainly was a lot of whales but we managed to miss them all and got to the Bluff and grabbed Reids mooring. Bert is a free diver and dove down to make sure it was OK.
There were a few waves and some surfers out. Too many actually. This time of year a lot \of surfers camp here and I do not like crowds. Next morning we sailed further north. We were on a mission.
Our great mate Dino, another experienced HQ crew, was having his 30th birthday party at Gnarloo Bay and we were going. We were actually picking up the birthday boy and a couple of other mates, Jay and Oscar, off Three Mile Camp so he could arrive at his party in style. We hove-to off Three Mile and they, along with a big esky full of beer, were delivered by jet ski and we sailed on to the bay.
We had two lures out and just before heading in hooked a Macky on the rod. Dino was given the honour of fighting the beast in which he did with great skill. A nice surprise birthday present. We sailed in around the bombeys, started the engines, furled the jib and motored through the reef and into the beach where we dropped the pick in front of about 50 people waiting for the birthday boy. Jetskis and dinghies came out and everyone went ashore, then they came back to HQ with heaps of crew, then everyone went ashore again. It was all happening. After Dino’s party it took me three days to recover before I could sail up to Cape Farquar.
The unnamed bay just south of Farquar actually and getting in was fraught with danger. The Columbus Syndrome will get me into real trouble one day.