30 August 2015

Whale Song Serenades: Carnarvon to Geraldton

We sailed the 290 miles between Carnarvon and Geraldton departing early morning Monday 24 August and arriving Geraldton after dark, about 8 pm on 26th of August. 

We stopped the first night on the passage, after sailing only 50 miles, at the northern tip of Dirk Hartog Island and picked up the mooring in Turtle Bay for the night and to wait for the weather (winds) to moderate as forecast.  Dirk Hartog Island is the western most point of land in Australia, and a place of great historic significance as well as a place of great natural beauty.  This is definitely a place we want to visit again.
A place in history was sealed in the year 1616 when the island was discovered by captain Dirk Hartog of the Dutch East India Company ship Eendrach. The names of senior people on board, including Hartog's were inscribed with the date on a pewter plate and nailed to a post as he claimed the land for the Dutch.  He was only the first of many early explorers to visit the prominent land mark on the western coast of Australia.

Today, a light house stands on the northwestern cape of the island, which forms the northwestern corner of Australia.

We arrived at Turtle Bay early, about 3:00 pm after an ideal sail across Shark Bay.  Shark Bay is more than 5 million acres and a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to seemingly boundless wildlife plus the world’s largest beds of sea grass.  It is a relatively shallow, huge bay, a popular tourist destination as well as a destination for humpback whales and the world’s largest concentration of dugongs, (manatees).  Without exaggeration, whales were in constant sight the whole 50 miles as we crossed the Bay from northeast to southeast. 

The cliffs and slopes of Dirk Hartog Island lit by the
warm light of sunset while we listen to the whales.
Frankly it was unbelievable to see that many whales all around us.  What a memorable experience.  It was also great sailing weather, with temperatures in the 70’s (F) and 15-25 knots behind the beam.
The abundance of humpback whales prompted us to pull out our small hydrophone to see if we could hear them sing.  Wow, were we glad we did.  We even recorded some of their vocalizations simply by holding the Ipad to the stereo speaker.  The hydrophone is a small unit originally marketed for kayakers.  It runs on a 9 volt battery, and has a 3.5 mm output jack that we plug in to the auxiliary input on our CD player.
Click on the white/red arrow by the whale's tail below to hear the whales we recorded.

Our hydrophone is from Aquarian Audio
and plugs in to the auxiliary
input to our onboard stereo

There were so many whales, and some so close to the boat that evening, after dark in the light of the full moon, we could hear them singing without the hydrophone!  That was a first for us, as we listened to their songs reverberate through Katmai’s hull.  Truly an amazing experience.  We have seen a lot of whales during our time in Alaska, but nothing that could remotely compare to the abundance of whales here in Australia.  By some estimates, the humpback whale population is growing nearly 10 percent per year in Western Australia, and is nearly back to pre-whaling population levels.  How good is that? Fantastic and rather amazing considering the harbor we stayed in while in Carnarvon was a whaling station that took nearly 8000 humpback whales alone, and it was only one of several stations along the coast.  The whaling stopped in the 1960’s. Whaling was, by some accounts, the first viable industry in Western Australia after the arrival of Europeans. Now days of course, Australia is very focused on conservation and protection of these gorgeous giants.
Whale spout mist in the air in front of the Cape of Dirk Hartog Island,
with a silhouette of the lighthouse backlit by the rising sun as we left Turtle Bay
for the run to Geraldton on Tuesday about 6 am.
All in all, we spent 18 days in Carnarvon waiting for that engine part, and then waiting for the proper weather to head south and continue our journey to Fremantle.  Fremantle is the main harbor for Perth Australia and where we will leave Katmai while we return back to the USA. Eric is holding the long awaited elbow for the engine exhaust manifold just after its arrival from Perth via Singapore.  Yeah, right part, phew!! 

17 August 2015

Shore Side Explorations

A brave crab trying to look fearsome on the shoreface
While we wait in Carnarvon for a boat part, we have done some hiking on shore.  It is late winter, and the spring wildflowers are starting to bloom and as always, the bird life in Australia is pretty amazing too.  Here are some highlights of our recent walks.

Sturt Desert Peas - A favorite
Sturt Desert Peas are brilliant and abundant on the western coast of Australia.  They are named after Charles Sturt, who documented  large quantities of the flowers while exploring Australia in the mid 1840s. 
The brillant scarlet-red flowers bloom after rain and are each about 2 inches (50mm) long. In the Exmouth area, we saw a local variety that has a white center rather than black like the more common variety shown here.  There are many pea family wildflowers around, but none as showy as the Sturt Peas.

This hot pink flower is called parakeelya.  The Aboriginal people used the fleshy leaves as a source of water.  The brushy desert around Carnarvon exploded in pink from these little gems a couple days after a rain.  The flowers are about 1" across and formed a pink carpet beneath larger shrubs.  Amazing considering we are on the edge of the central desert. 

The showy sky blue flowers of the Trichodesma zeylanicum, commonly known as Camel Bush or Cattle Bush, are standouts every place we have been between Dampier and Carnarvon.  Here they form a bushy display right behind the main dune of the beach.

While exploring the tide pools along the Ningaloo coast, we were lucky to see Oyster Catcher birds.  Just as in Alaska, they are noisy beach combers.  Here there are two varieties, the all black 'sooty' oyster catcher and the black and white 'pied' oyster catcher.   These are one of the very few birds of Australia that seem the same as we had back in the USA.

This photo has one bird of each variety.  There were a pair of each on the tide flats.

And below, a beautiful sunset from the Carnarvon Yacht Club.   The club members have been very welcoming and helpful to us. 
Sunset from the Carnarvon Yacht Club

15 August 2015

Waiting on Parts in Carnarvon, Australia

We are in the harbor of Carnarvon, on Australia’s western coast and waiting on an engine part for Katmai. An exhaust water leak developed in an elbow on the engine as we approached Carnarvon last week. Not a big drama, but when you have a Perkins engine that was built in England, and you are on the remote west coast of Australia, you are about as far away as you can be from a specialized part. Which means it will take some time, and expense to get a replacement part shipped to us.  Our stock list of spare parts that we carry is very long, but a new exhaust elbow was not in storage in the bilge, so we are WOP, waiting on parts.  We anticipate delivery mid week.  We can’t complain though, in fact just the opposite.  We have had really no significant failures in any of our systems, and we are safe in a nice harbor in a wonderful town.

Thumbs down for an exhaust flange with a pin hole sea water leak underneath. 
Note hose clamp holding a 'duct tape band-aid' so we could motor in to the harbor.
Carnarvon is a delightful spot and as always we make new friends in each new harbor.  Having a sailboat with a hailing port of Anchorage, Alaska while sailing in Australia is sort of like having a new friendly puppy in tow…many people stop by just to chat and ask about our adventure.   Often people will see our mast some distance off, while driving perhaps even a mile away and then come by and seek us out to chat and look at the boat.  Commonly, people ask if they can help and offer transportation, local knowledge and of course good sea yarns!  It is a small world, and we often meet the same people unexpectedly over and over. 

For instance, we meet a delightful man from Switzerland on the beach near Exmouth while exploring the tide pools one afternoon a couple weeks ago.  As Eric is from Switzerland, anytime we meet another ‘Swissie’, well it is instant conversation…in Swiss-German of course!  Wouldn’t you know it, as we were motoring around in the harbor with our dingy trying to determine where we could put Katmai (she was on a tug boat mooring about a mile out of the harbor), we are hailed from the roadside in Swiss-German!  Here was Danny and his wife, 250 miles and 4 days from where we last saw them.  None of us knew where the other was headed after Exmouth, and now we are in the same harbor at the same time.  Danny and Bente travelled by road in their caravan (RV) and us by sailboat.  What a coincidence!
New friend Danny was kind enough to take us to the hardware store so we could
purchase two fender boards to help secure Katmai to the seawall. 
That is Katmai's boom in front of the truck; she is tied to the seawall.
Danny was kind enough to help us get two large timbers to use as fender boards the next morning from the hardware store.  It would have been a long walk with a heavy load without his truck!

We are using the time tied to the seawall to do some chores, such as changing oil in the engine and generator, polishing stainless and the routine systems checks we perform (steering, hydraulics, electronics, engine, batteries, rigging)….the list is long.
Once again in a cockpit locker, Eric changing the oil in the generator.

The weather of course is gorgeous while we wait, and we very much wish we were on the sail to Geraldton.  Geraldton is our last planned stop before Fremantle, it is about 290 miles south and will be another two days or so of direct sailing.    

Slave to the stainless, Laurie polishes boat bits while Katmai is tied to the seawall.

We are just hoping the weather gods are in a good mood and that we do not have to wait long for a fine weather window once we get the part and get it installed.  Until then, there is more stainless to polish and other routine things to do.

02 August 2015

Swimming with Whale Sharks

We have been playing tourist here in Exmouth while we wait on a good weather window for our next leg, 250 miles south to Carnarvon.  One thing that I always wanted to experience in Australia was swimming with the whale sharks off the Ningaloo Coast.  While we were working in Perth, various colleagues did the tour and always spoke highly of the adventure.

Eric and a whale shark the size of a city bus

So, on Thursday, we ventured off with King’s Ningaloo Reef Tours and got to swim with the gentle giants ourselves.  What an experience it was!  We are so glad that we did this.  Here is a video from Kings , albeit not from our exact trip,  but it is a really a good summary of our day.

The group of 10 people jumped in the water and the bus sized whale shark cruised by, just below the surface, really oblivious to our presence. Swimming above the water, we could not see the whale shark, but once you put your head in the water, looking though your diving mask it was like being in an IMAX theater.  WOW, they are SO HUGE!  What an amazing animal...and we got to see two that day.

We saw many humpback whales on our day trip with Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours.
Whale Sharks are up to 60 feet long and the largest known fish.  Filter feeders, they live on plankton and other small sealife in the open tropical oceans of the world.  We also saw several humpback whales, turtles and several species of dolphins.  The team from Kings Ningaloo Reef Tours did a fantastic job, we really had a great day out on the reef.