26 July 2015

Yahoo, finally a Wahoo!

Finally, Laurie caught a fish!
We caught a lovely wahoo fish while sailing on the way in to Exmouth this morning.  We have been day sailing the last 4 days between Dampier and Exmouth.  We have just arrived at the Exmouth harbor and have tied Katmai to a dock for the first time in two months.  Yippee, shore power and fresh water from a hose....aaaahhhh.

Exmouth is on the northwest-most corner of Australia and is about 730 miles from our ultimate destination, Fremantle.  The area is famous for the Ningaloo Reef and whale sharks, so we may spend some time here exploring before heading on to Fremantle.

During our trip from Dampier, we had three overnight anchorages, the first night at Eaglehawk Island, about 16 miles west of Dampier.  The second night we anchored at Great Sandy Island, which was about 67 miles from Eaglehawk Island.  The third day we sailed another 70 miles to Serrurier Island and then today, the last leg in to the harbor at Exmouth which was about 35 miles.

Sunrise departure from Eaglehawk Island
Ok, the story of the fish.  Our fishing success has become a bit of a joke as the only luck I had catching fish was to purchase them from local fishermen along the way :). 
But finally today, while sailing at nearly 8 knots between Great Sandy Island and Exmouth, we hooked a nice Wahoo, which is in the Mackerel family. This fish must have been desperate if he actually went for my lure, given I have trolled for hundreds of ocean miles with no luck.

Sunset from Great Sandy Island was brilliant.
Our fishing technique while sailing consists of 300 feet of 300 pound test line, then a long wire leader and a lure of some sort.  We caught this fish on a nice large and very pink plastic squid!  We tie the 300 lb test off on the boat with a length of bungee cord, and when that cord snaps tight (indicating fish on) we simply wind the free end of the line on to a winch and grind her in, not even slowing down.  This is definitely a fishing for meat sort of activity, not so much sport.  But we will enjoy the fish immensely.  In fact, Eric is making mackerel sushi for dinner, and I am sure we will be eating lots of fish in the coming days…but thankfully Katmai has an excellent freezer as well.

Thousands of seabirds on the northwest shelf.
Humpback whale spy-hopping in the distance
Our trip from Dampier was delightful.  I am so glad that we opted to day sail though the islands and reefs rather than go offshore and sail around the clock.

The second and third days we saw numerous pods of humpback whales, many of which put on a fabulous show of breaching, spy-hopping and flipper flapping.  I bet we saw more than 50 whales total.

We also saw our first sea turtles, both at sea and around our boat while at anchorage. And the bird life was fabulous, with hundreds seabirds of many species all around us.

We have not seen this sort of abundance of sea life since we left Alaska.  What a fabulous coast.

22 July 2015

Dampier, Australia

Desert Sturt Peas are vibrant signs of early spring.
This area of Australia’s northwest coast is the hub for Western Australia’s hydrocarbon, salt and iron ore shipping.  It is a very industrial area, with huge loading docks spread out over a long peninsula and with that an endless stream of large freight ships. 

It also is a very beautiful place and a very special place for the local indigenous peoples.  The countryside is very dry, almost desert like, but this time of year nature besprinkles the land with colorful wild flowers.  The topography is mainly low hills of red granite boulders with the occasional oasis of green trees and splashing spring water.  The coastline consists of a myriad of small rocky islands and reefs in a clear blue sea.

Katmai(distant center with tall mast) anchored
in Hampton Harbor, Dampier
We are anchored deep in a bay called Mermaid Sound in front of a small yacht club and the little town of Dampier.  The anchorage is full of moorings for the small work boats that support the industrial undertakings on the peninsula.  The anchorage also is the temporary home of four cruising yachts, including Katmai, that are looking for the next weather window to sail on to various destinations and dreams.
View from the upper deck of the
Hampton Harbor Boat and Sailing Club
The local sailing club, Hampton Harbor Boat and Sailing Club, has been very welcoming and we are fortunate to have access to a dingy dock, clothes washer, shower and lovely restaurant and bar with a fantastic view of the harbor.

A large kangaroo petroglyph near Deep Gorge
We had the good fortune of spending a good part of a day with a guide from one of the local indigenous tribes, Clinton Walker of Ngurrangga Tours .  This area is known for its aboriginal rock art chipped into the red boulders by local native peoples over a period of some forty thousand years. 

Lovely Ghost Gum trees stand in contrast to the red granite hills
A spring in Deep Gorge, the rocks have thousands of petroglyphs

The area is estimated to contain about a million pieces of rock art and is considered the largest collection of rock art in the world.  The rock art depicts the life of the local indigenous people and conveys what there is to hunt for food, how it is hunted and also conveys stories of life, creation and spirits.  To see the rock art one has to go into the ‘bush’ and explore the rocky hills.   Clinton painted a passionate story for us about the life of his people, from long ago before the arrival of Europeans to the present, as we scrambled up boulder strewn hills and valleys.  They had a hard life here, but understood the balance of nature and the food could supply.
We also had an opportunity to visit the historic village of Cossak, and the regional art festival last Sunday.

11 July 2015

Komodo Island, Indonesia to Dampier, Australia

Departing Komodo Island, Indonesia on the morning of July 5th.
We departed Indonesia from the Komodo Village area on July 5th and headed back to Australia. It took a couple days waiting in Indonesia to receive official confirmation from the Australia Border officials regarding our notification of intent to arrive in  the port of Dampier on or about the 10th of July. Once we got confirmation, we departed.

The 750 mile trip to the northwest coast of Australia would take 5 or 6 days of around the clock sailing, plus or minus.

We had been looking at the weather forecasts for the Timor Sea for several days, as it is important to pick a ‘weather window’ that avoids the ‘re-enforced trade winds’ if at all possible.  When a strong High Pressure system develops over Australia, it acts to compress the pressure gradient over the Timor Sea, and the normally 10-20 knot easterly trade winds can easily become twice as strong.  We found a reasonably good window for the second week of July, but knew the winds would be picking up as we approached the Australia coast.

Our first two days out were magical trade wind sailing.  Warm weather, clear skies and a nice 10-20 easterly wind made for a nice sail.  We skirted to the west of the large island of Sumba, (Indonesia) and saw several large squid fishing boats more than 40 miles offshore during the dark, moonless night.  Encountering local squid (fishing) boats at sea at night is difficult as they carry only large white lights, no navigational lights to indicate which direction they are headed.  As it was, we never came close enough to one to worry.  

Day 3 was nearly windless, with the wind dying at 6 am abruptly and not going over 2 knots until about 8 pm. Like magic, we motored through a small cloud bank and once again, the easterly trade winds started to blow.

The first 3 or 4 nights out were just jam packed with flying fish…The 3rd morning out, there were more than 20 on the deck after a night of jumping in our bow wake.

The 4th day, the wind slowly swung to the south, so we took the opportunity to sail to the southeast, as we knew the next day, stronger winds directly from the east were due.  Making easting now, in lighter winds would allow us to sail with a more favorable (comfortable) wind angle once the winds built.

Thursday night, we were once again headed straight south towards Australia and the wind slowly built.  By morning, it was howling pretty steady in the upper 20’s, gusting in to the upper 30’s (knots).  We were sailing under a double reefed main and staysail, hard on the wind (close hauled), going straight south towards the coast of Australia.  The seas were huge, breaking and coming at us every seven seconds or so.

At sunrise, we lowered the main entirely and turned down wind another 20 degrees, aiming right for our destination (Dampier) and sailed the rest of the way with just our smallest sail, a staysail alone.   I must say, it was a bit of a frightening experience for us both when Eric needed to go forward to the mast, climb up several feet to drop the main. Once finished, he needed to time his decent to wait for waves to wash over the boat, before dashing back in to the cockpit.  We spend most the next night and day with the washboards in tight, to keep water from the odd wave from splashing in below decks.

We needed to average 6 knots for the next 24 hours to get in to Dampier during the daylight hours.  We had no trouble making that rate, in fact it was a bit of a challenge to slow ourselves down in the high winds, despite hardly having any sail up.  It was a long night of high winds, we had about 10 minutes of 45 knots plus, and most of the night between 35 and 42 knots.  We took shortened shifts, to allow each other more rest as keeping watch was pretty fatiguing.  Even sleeping was a challenge, given the motion of the boat.

Katmai did fine, but we were sure glad to round the Burrup Cape at day break make our way down the Mermaid Bay, towards Dampier.  Twenty-five miles down the bay, it was still gusting more than 30 knots in the harbor when we picked up a mooring in front of the Hampton Harbor Sailing Club.

It has been a windy week here along the northwest coast, and we are staying put until it moderates.  Next Stop, likely Exmouth, about 200 miles to the southwest.  Until then, we will surely enjoy all that Dampier has to offer!

05 July 2015

Komodo National Park - There ARE Dragons in those hills

A big female Komodo Dragon, basking in the sun.
We spent a couple weeks in Komodo National Park, and enjoyed greatly the opportunity to get off the boat and hike a bit.  We took guided hikes on both Rinca and Komodo Islands.  They say it is not safe to hike on your own, due to the Komodo dragons, and it was of course interesting to learn about the area and wildlife from our guides.  It was great to get some time to explore on the shore. 

View from the Komodo Ranger Station

We were fortunate to see five ‘dragons’ during our hikes.  They are really quite impressive, and apparently hunt mainly deer, but also water buffalo, wild pigs and other prey.  On Rinca Island, we saw lots of wildlife, including monkeys, fruit bats, water buffalo and many birds of prey.

The Komodo Dragons are a very large species of monitor lizard, found on only five islands in the area. They are huge, growing up to 10 feet long and weighing up to 150 lbs.  Meat eaters, they lay in ambush of large prey.  Only four to five thousand dragons live in the wild.  Only about 350 breeding females remain in the population .  The Komodo National Park was formed in 1980 to address concerns of the declining population.

Local merchants ready to make a deal as we are trying to anchor
Once we moved on to the larger Komodo Island, we were near a village, so we had a lot of visitors trying to sell us pearls and wooden carvings of Komodo Dragons.  As we turned the corner in to the main bay near Komodo Village, we immediately received the attention of more than a dozen local boats and canoes.  There were no other foreign yachts in the area that we saw anyway, so the arrival of one was a big event for the local merchants.

More pearls and wooden carvings to sell.

Everyone was looking to make a deal, and they were mostly selling pearls and wooden carvings....although one  bright local entrepreneur was selling cold Bintang (a good local beer), chips and other food items.  One boat showed us the way to a local vacant mooring, and soon we had a dozen or more boats hanging on to our boat trying to make a sale.  A common refrain is 'one-by-one', which is a request to buy something from everyone, loosely translated as 'please don't spend all of your money with one merchant'"! Lynn, every time I hear the locals call out 'one-by-one' it reminds me of you and your business name.   Needless to say, we did end up purchasing more pearls than I could ever possibly wear...and we have a few wooden dragons on Katmai too (and a couple of Bintangs of course)!
Beautiful moon over Komodo Village from our mooring. 
Can't beat this view for a 'sundowner'.