29 January 2018

The Capes

Cape Leeuwin, photo from Wikipedia
Where the Indian Ocean meets the Southern Ocean
The time has come to round the two notorious capes on Australia’s southwest coast. Cape Naturaliste takes you from the pleasantly quiet waters of Geographe Bay to the windy and cliff infested lee shores of the Margaret River wine country. That shoreline finally terminates 90 miles south, at Cape Leeuwin, where the Indian Ocean meets the Great Southern Ocean. From Cape Leeuwin it is a very long way to the next land mass.  It is about 2000 miles south to the Antarctica, or 1900 miles east to Hobart, Tasmania, or 5500 miles west to Cape Town, South Africa. No matter how you look at it, there is a lot of ocean in all but one direction and that is back to Fremantle. That is why Cape Leeuwin (Australia) is called one of the world’s three great capes, in company of Cape Horn (South America) and Cape of Good Hope (South Africa).
Gentle sail from Busselton Port Geographe Marina
to first night's anchorage at Quindalup. 
Still in protected waters of Geographe Bay

Cape Leeuwin is named after the first ship to have visited the area, a Dutch ship in 1622. Today a grand lighthouse warns mariners with its beacon of light that there are dangerous rocks and islets ahead. The lighthouse was commissioned in 1896 and produces a beam of light that still can be seen for 25 miles out to sea. The massive lens that gives focus to the light beam floats on a ‘bed’ of liquid mercury, virtually eliminating any rotational friction. Today the lens rotates through the power of an electric motor and the light is generated using electricity. Until 1982 the lens was rotated by a counterweight clockwork mechanism and the light was generated by kerosene that the light keepers had to hoist by hand crank daily to the top of the lighthouse.

In the modern age of navigation with GPS and electronic charting, navigating around the cape has become much less risky than in the days of old. What has not changed with time is the influence of the weather on navigating these seas safely. For us this meant a long and careful eye on weather patterns. Laurie read hours of blogs from sailors who have made that passage to glean every bit of weather strategy she could. We spent months studying weather models and historical weather patterns, all to improve our odds at having a safe and pleasant sail around the capes. Predominantly, a very strong wind blows from south to north along the coast between the two Capes. This wind pushes against the Leeuwin current that flows south along this shore making for a nasty sea mixed with the big swells rolling in from the Southern Ocean. Then once you round Cape Leeuwin and the offshore islands and rocks and sail east you will likely again face a head wind against a strong current.

Our view of Cape Leeuwin from 6 miles offshore, early evening
of January 25, 2018.  Finally the wind has turned southwesterly.
During one of our previous shore based visits to the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, the wind was so strong from the east that it blew Laurie’s prescription eyeglasses right off her nose, they flew down the cliff never to be seen again! Ideally when picking a weather window to sail around this cape we look for a Southern Ocean low with associated frontal system to approach. We timed our Cape Leeuwin rounding to occur a day ahead of the frontal passage. This scenario often creates a light southerly along the Margaret River coast and a westerly once around the cape. Such was the case as we departed Geographe Bay on January 25th.  For once the wind forecasts held true.
 It was the ‘perfect’ weather window.

As a result, we had a delightful 300-mile sail to Albany. By the time we made landfall at Albany the evening of January 26th, the frontal system was breathing down our backs, the air was cooling off and clouds filled the sky, spitting the first few raindrops. Perfect timing, only wish that the weather gods were always so accommodating, but we all know better…

The day prior to rounding Cape Naturaliste we left the marina and anchored closer to the cape at Quindalup. At 2 a.m. the next morning with the Southern Cross overhead we hoisted our anchor and Katmai’s sails. We sailed northwest towards the cape in a light breeze, then rounding Cape Naturaliste with the first rays of the sun poking over the horizon. With the sails trimmed tight we began our sail south, first towards the southwest, then tacked back to the southeast, then back to the southwest, back and forth we went as we made our way south towards Cape Leeuwin. It was a lovely beat south, warm, sunny and comfortable. As the sun settled in the west for the day the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse stood proud and bright just to our north. We have sailed into the Southern Ocean and the capes are behind us!  It was a very good feeling.

Sailing with a following wind in the Southern Ocean
Being in the Southern Ocean, the swells became noticeably bigger, but with a very long period. Katmai liked that as she became a bit livelier with an occasional surf down a wave and a slightly building breeze. Also, very noticeable was the birdlife, lots of Shearwaters began to trail us and even a lone Albatross stayed with us for an hour or so. Both birds are phenomenal experts in gliding. Rarely do they beat a wing as they skim with their wingtips inches above the waves, then rise on a wind shear only to repeat their glide down over the waves.

100's of shearwaters glided around us as we sailed
As day broke the next morning, we watched their seeming impossible flight for hours. With the new day the wind strengthened, but remained behind us. We finally dropped the mainsail to depower the boat in the rising breeze and continued under genoa only, still making 7 knots or better towards Albany. As the day progressed a distinct band of clouds moved over us, it was like a flat sheet with very sharp edges. The frontal system was not far away, but neither was Albany and our safe-haven. With night fall we rounded into King George Sound and were greeted by a band of bow wave riding dolphins.  
Katmai in Albany Water front Marina.
We made our way towards harbor using the navigation beacons the commercial ships use as our guide. By 10 p.m. we coasted into a slip in the marina and heard a kind call from a fellow sailor to throw him our mooring lines. As we tied-off Katmai and greeted our new neighbor he handed us the key to the marina’s hot showers. Ahhhh, a hot shower, there is not much more enjoyable than a hot shower after a 300 mile, 44 hour sailing journey around two notorious capes!
Now the wait begins for the next weather window to head to Tasmania.  In the mean time, we are going to enjoy some sight seeing around beautiful Albany.
King George Sound from the top Mt Clarence above the city of Albany.  Spectacular!


  1. What a journey! Glad you all made it safe and sound. Loved reading about all your adventures! Good luck on your next leg to Tasmania!

  2. Many congratulations on your timely arrival and safe passage. Your lean and understated descriptions belie much gritty determination! The D'Entrecasteaux Channel is sheer poetry. A sailing friend of ours in Nelson is Vicky Jackson (of Sunstone, quite famous cruisers and racers) whose maiden name is D'Entrecastaux and is a distant relation of the explorer for whom the channel is named. Have a great time in Tasmania and a well deserved rest.