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Sailing the Australian West Coast - The Ultimate Experience Part 1 Perth - Broome1996
...an extract of my travel diary 1996, unedited / unfinished edtion, plus images from 1996

Black Magic
The crew
sea sick
dreaming of a yacht
Steep Point / Shelter Bay
Turtle Bay, Hartog Island
Coral Bay
Long Island ,Onslow
Steamboot Island, Dampier
Cossak
Nina jumps on board
my first race
Conflict reef, a real conflict
Angel Bay,
80 mile beach
Broome
...to be continued

Armed with a harness I was hanging out of the ports side and shoot a few pictures with a disposable camera

 


What is black magic ? The only thing I know about black magic is Black Magic a beautiful yacht Bowmen 47. She is a 47 ft yawl, sleeps 6 comfortable and even more, 2 heads, 600 liters of water, 90 hp engine, freezer, fridge, all the expensive electronics 2 GPS, radar, plotter, HF and VHF ..., TV, Video, stereo... you don't miss anything on it. But the reason I went on board was - she sails beautifully.
A brand new main, a genoa that went all the way back to the cockpit, staysail and a mizzen... ..Actually, I did not know one thing about sailing when I stepped on board. My only experience was to sail a beach cat in the Perth Swan River ones and I even than managed to flip it.
This time I wanted to do the Darwin Ambon Race. Nina, my than girl friend ( and now wife) was going back to Yogyarkarta, Indonesia, where she wanted to have some time for herself and our baby, she was awaiting in 7 month. I put her on the flight to Bali and there I was..after 6 month of traveling with Nina, alone again. I was still in Darwin, when I heard about the opportunity to get on Black Magic. The sailing yacht was about to leave Perth and was scheduled for the Race n August. What a great way to explore Western Australia for the second time, learn to sail and see the untouched Northern Kimberleys. I was in great hurry to sell my "backpackers car" a Holden Station Wagon. The day I got rid of it I jumped on a Greyhound bus and drove non stop the 3500 miles south to Geraldton. Black Magic was already sailing and I had a chance to catch up with her in this little industrial city 450 km north of Perth. Geraldton, is not a place you need to write about. It is the last place for some time to have the advantages of civilisation, north of Perth. Shopping Malls, hotels, even a backpacker hostel and a museum...The museum was actually quite interesting and it told the story about captain Pelseart a Dutch sailor whose ship run aground onto the close Umbrella Islands... But I concentrated on my new world. Yachting!


There were 4 of us. First the skipper and owner of Black Magic, Peter Sykes, a retired banker from Perth.
Second there was Jeniffer Watson, who was well known among the Perth Yacht Club, and did sail the Perth to Darwin leg, when she was a teenager with her father. I knew Jeniffer a little from a short stay in Perth in 1995.And I happened to know her brother Gary quite well, when we did some trips around Perth on my first australian encounter in 1994 / 1995 for about 5 month, where I spend some 6 weeks in Perth, Scarborough.

.
Third there was Philip Douglas from Melbourne, who happened to know Peter and wanted the same as me - to learn how to sail. There were two other yachts who sailed with us in convoy. Capers a 42 footer, owned by Phillip and Carol and Grace a 42 ft sailor owned by Joan and Peter, with Joy as crew. These guys where heading for Darwin too and planned to sail to Europe! There was a week to waste in Geraldton, because the Capers crew had to attend a wedding somewhere near Melbourne and Grace and Black Magic needed some work done. There was a leak in Black Magic trough hull fitting, the shaft seal and Peter had major concern about it. It appeared to be a problem with a too long key way near the stern gland which was kind of pumping water into the bilge. It was quite impressive to see a powerful travel lift take Black Magic, a 18 ton yacht, on the dry dock. Within 2 days the problem was fixed and Black Magic put back into the water. Meanwhile I enjoyed the marina, the interesting tales of the "yachties" and had an opportunity to see Gary, Jeniffers brother again. I hitch hiked to Perth and spend the weekend in Fremantles pubs. Gary had another of his ideas, to buy a cheap open catamaran and sail it to Darwin. Since I am always ready for a crazy idea I was prepared to go half into this project. We had a look at a 32 ft Crowther INTERNATIONAL catamaran. It looked bad, from sitting in the water all year long but was easy to fix. Gary wanted to sail this thing even to Europe and I dreamed about having this cat at home, in the lake of Zurich... but more about this project a bit later... I enjoyed the international flair in Fremantle Nina was in Indonesia and I was worried about the situation there. Tension built up in among the Indonesian students in Yogyakarta and there was talk about a the military taking over the government. We both wanted to separate only for 2 month, but it looked like we would not see for at least 4 month. I faxed her the situation and she was not happy with it. Me likewise. So we decided to meet in Darwin within 2 month. It was time to finally leave Geraldton with Black Magic 2800 miles to go to Darwin. I had visited all museums and sight of this place, but now I could not wait any longer for my first cruising experience. We left early. With only coffee for breakfast I hoped not to get sea sick, but soon I was not very comfortable and wondered how long that will go on this way. Luckily after some awful hours I "fed the fish" and was all right after. In fact I did not feel sea sick for the rest of the trip.

The easiest way to get rid of the sea sickness was to take the helm. The motion of the boat, the sea and yourself become one unit and you feel like riding a horse in slow motion. That was very much fun. I was happy not beeing the only one who felt sick. Philipp and even Jennifer had to get used to the motion as well
But after the first 2 days I was very comfortable
.


We did take shifts on the helm. It was a night sail and we knew it will be a bit choppy when we came along the steep coast line south of Steep Point. The waves get thrown back from the up to 90 m high coast and mix with the seas rolling in from west. The morning brought a clear sky but wind speeds up to 45 knots. We had to reef the main, but still there was a lot of weather helm.I had a break sleeping in the saloon, when I was waken up by the seas. Black Magic was almost knocked down, I flew onto the starboard side and found my self catching the TV flying towards me. We furled in the genoa and put the small storm stay sail out. There was no danger what so ever, because with the reefed sails we had a comfortable sail again. We could see the Steep Point light house already since the morning break and finally we came closer to the entrance of the South Passage of Dirk Hartog Island. Once we managed to get into this passage we would have some nice sailing in the shallow waters westerly of the island. -We anchored at Shelter Bay. The later afternoon was spend on snorkeling and fishing. I walked along the beach and search for a telephone booth. Yes, its right. In the middle of nowhere was a public satellite telephone. The rangers house of this wildlife park was nearby. But that was all of civilization for another 100 km. We had fun watching bottlenose dolphins and two manta rays playing in out shallow bay. Even some turtles put their head out of the water now and seen. It was impossible for me to get them in front of my camera. -The next day was called champagne sailing, as we had a perfect breeze with no swell within the south passage. Our destination was Turtle Bay, a known place for turtles breeding. But May is not the season to watch this natural wonder. We climbed up the hills and walked toward the lighthouse of Dirk Hartog Island. The island is named after the Dutch sailor Dirk Hartog (Hartich) who left his footsteps here some 380 years ago. A Back on the beach I went swimming and found myself in middle of a "sea" of thousands of small black fish. It felt like being in electric loaded water. There were sea gulls going nuts on top of us, diving into the black sea of fish and had no problem to get a catch of course. I saw a big Queensland Grunter fish who was as same as curios as me. At the evening which was spent on board a fishing boat and we were told the usually stories of sharks patrolling all day our favorite swimming spot... My disbelief of their fishing stories was proofed by the pictures they have taken and the showed me to their freezer, where huge snapper, mackerel and some eatable sharks where stored. Our next destination was Coral Bay, a little tourist place where we wanted to get some fresh vegetables, do some snorkeling and I wanted to contact Nina about a great idea I had..... (back to top)
 Phillip decided to leave Black Magic at Coral Bay He had his reasons to leave and was not happy with his situation on board. But because he left, we needed another crew member. There came my idea into place.

I wanted Nina on board. When I told the others about my plan..Peter and Jeniffer did not hesitate to say "Yes, bring her on board" Wow, I was so happy to see Nina much earlier and could not wait to find a fax machine. I skipped my diving afternoon and went to the the only post office that was available for the next week.


Nina was to fly to Broome and step on board BM. The flight was booked with in a few phone calls. When I got back I met some friendly yachties with their ketch "Narage" Mikel and Sue where living on board already some 10 month. Mikel and Sue wanted to head North as well, but their pretty old yacht was not the fastest around. When we lifted the anchor to sail on to Long Island, there was a quite evening, mirror flat seas and a clear sky. On one of these evenings I enjoyed writing my dairy or just watching the stars. There was Orion, Scorpion and even the Great Bear, a star sign from the Northern Hemisphere was shown upside down. But there was still enough time to think about Nina and hope she would come on board. We motored into an awesome sunrise in sight of the old Navy radio towers,a deep frequency radio station for transmission of signals to submarines. When a little breeze picked up we set sail and stopped the engine. We shaked a reef out of the mainsail that was necessary for the night sail. Once we were all set, the wind picked up to a moderate breeze and we struggled with all that sail area. So we furled the genoa to half. Done that the wind dropped again. But the moment we furled out there was to much wind. Someone played with us... When we sailed a little with all sails up, we suddenly got knocked down by a gust of wind. Black Magic almost turned 360 degrees. That was to much. The 18 tons of the hull were just shaken like a wet dog. There was a big mess in the galley and in the salon. It was little late for us to prepare ourselfs for a uncomfortable ride. The wind gusted to 40 knots. Not dangerous but a little much for the light air sails. Armed with a harness I was hanging out the ports side and shoot a few pictures with a disposable camera see above picture Unfortunately we had to change course right into the wind and therefore the fun was over for now. For five hours we were bashing into the waves until we finally got rid of the sight of those radio towers. I though we would never get passed them. I got a little seasick and swore myself never to have chocolate while sailing again. I learned for the first time the big enemies of sailing. One should never get cold, wet and tired. It draws so much power of your body. There were 10 hours to go until Long Island. I grid my teeth and went for the helm. The best spot if you don't feel like sailing. The crew and the other yachts were thinking about another harbour, but there was no choice. Instead we decided to take a short cut through a little reef area to make some time good. -Long Island was a good shelter from the wind. The night was calm, but early in the morning the wind speeded up again and we decided to stay in this sheltered bay for another day. It was a lot of fun to be ashore on a island with nobody but a few sailors. We went snorkelling close to a reef and Philip managed to catch some dinner, a big red lobster. We had a terrific clear night on the beach, with BBQ and salad. No words can describe the feeling of those moments. I think it was than that I finally felt ready for my dream- to sail around the world with an own yacht.

above-King George Waterfalls , Kimberley Western Australia,

left-Black Magic and Narage in Crocodile Creek, Kimbereley western Australia

I did not have a clue than how to fulfil it, but it was there and present in whatever I did from than on and I did not stop dreaming about it. I looked at yachting magazines, compared hulls, made new plans and thought of all the money I would need. No way I would EVER sail around the world. But it was a very nice dream , indeed. After another gusty ride from Long Island, we stopped by in Onslow. It was here that I had another chance to speak with Nina. Yes she would come on the yacht. I could not have been happier. It was a fairy tale. We would have this whole sailing world for us and Nina would learn about my idea. I prayed she would love sailing as me, but actually I had no doubt about it. We motored from Onslow to Airlie Island and went on to -Steward Island. There was high pressure system keeping the wind directly on our nose and there was no chance to sail at all. Steward Island was not a very attractive island, but when we set our feet on land. Well an island as big as two soccer fields. There was a whole new world to it. Two big sea eagles were circling above us. We could see their huge (cage, what is the right word in engl)) on top of a hill. Peter from the yacht Grace, was busy collecting oysters. There were plenty of them and Phillip was once again lucky with cray fish. He catched 3 good sized species and our dinner was saved:-) The afternoon was spent with a little 8 nm trip to Steam Boat island. This island has its name from water "steam" that foams up, when the waves pound into caves below the island. The water than is pressed through little holes and the island looks as if a steamboat or a big whale steams in the distant. It was time to finally make it -Dampier, a mining town and industrial area. Here we would solve some technical problems and we would come close to a disaster for Black Magic. There is not much to the town, but I met very friendly people here and had my first experience of a sailing regatta. But more about it later. First I enjoyed to have feast as lunch. I did a lot phone calls and was happy to speak to my family in Germany. There was a lot to tell, but I promised to send my next version of the diary soon. (Instead of writing everything a few time to all of the family members. I was writing books of a travel diary, which were send home and got passed on.
"Thanks to the Internet I now in 1998 have out new adventures for them pretty up to date on the web") But I was as well happy to be off the boat. There was some tension between the 3 skippers and this sort of reflected on us as crew as well. We, Jeniffer and me were hoping of splitting with the other yachts, because we only were hold up by their many problems and whenever we would bring in one of our suggestions there was no way in listening to us. Peter was sort of changing is mind about this weird situation on and off. So okay, we Jennifer an me spent the days at best on land and explored the countryside. There was Cossak a historical town from the days when here was a pearl diving centre. We rent a car and spent a day there. A little museum about the past life here was visited and we had another afternoon in Karatha, a pretty boring town, but it had a cinema. On the weekend there was a regatta planed in the Dampier harbour. A good chance to learn something about sailing. Jeniffer was THE pro in regattas and she got us introduced to the locals who were taking part in the race. I learned about Jeff and Paul. The had a little 23 ft day sailor. Paul told we everything about the rules and how to handle his boat. It was a pretty relaxed race, so there was plenty of beer on board
"Sailing around sticks" is what the offshore racers call it, But I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about sailing during this little reggatta. There were 3 runs.>The wind was almost zero, but that did not hold anyone up to race. Paul said "sailing with good wind is what every idiot can learn, but harvest the little wind to your advantage on a weekend race is much more interesting". Paul was right. There was now and than a little breeze we picked up with a spinnaker and we were able to take over all other yachts sitting in an air hole.We were third after the first run. The next time we missed a good start and fell far behind. Again the wind dropped to nothing. Some participants had a swim and were pushing their yachts. We enjoyed another beer. It wasa social race, not the olympics.
After we drifted past one mark we could jibe and had a run down wind. I was amazed how easy such a little yacht reacts on the changes of wind, weight and crew. We could get half a knot more by balancing the hull into a good position. Another beer was due - I fell in love with the sport :-)
Jeniffer told me how a Spinaker works and how to handle it. Jeff and Paul told me some more about sailing in light airs.The evening was spent with BBQ at the yacht club. I finally got the hang on Dampier.
3. June was Nina days to arrive. I hitched to Karratha, the little air port. After 3 month of seperation there was a lot to tell and kiss.... ... ( curtain falls, happy end, standing ovations...to be continued.
Nina quickly got the hang of sailing and was soon font of my idea to have an own yacht!
Conflict Reef was the name of a rock. And we soon learned what it all was about.
The night Nina got on board, we decided to split from the others and sail by our selfs. It was a decision by Peter and we as crew were happy with it. To much differences in how to play the route etc have built up between the three skippers and now Peter had enough. But his decicion would soon change.
We lifted anchor very eraly in the morning an waved good bye to the others. Mikel and Sue, from Narage had spent the last week in the same anchorage and we enjoied their company very much . Now again we said Good Bye to this fine fellows. There was something in the air and we would soon discover what it was. The night before Peter came on boad explaining that we would leave Dampier despite the weather. There was still a strong wind warning south of Broome, but we could not imagine to sit tight another 3-4 days . While Jenniffer and me got Black Magic ready for a rough ride once we would leave the protected bay of Dampier Peter was watching the channel, the GPS and his map and he seamed very nervous. We were ready for this, had 2 reefs in the main sail and wanted to use the protection of some islands as long as we could. Usually the lately strong winds would drop in the afternoon and the night were sort of calm. Our plan was to sail one tack and motor another tack back when the wind would calm down. In order to leave dampier harbour we had to take quite a zig zag course out of all the rocks and reefs scattered in the bay. There were a few channels marked by boys who would lead us out of the puzzle. When we sailed closer to the entrance of the marked channel we felt a "bump" and Black Magic was shaking. Peter sreamed "We hit something" and left the helm. "Bang" another hit and we sat tight. Looking over the stern side we saw the water stir like within a wirl pool.
Peter face was white and for a moment I though he would not move at all. I jumped to the dingi and untighened the ropes. We had to hurry. "Is the tide going out or coming in" Peter was not sure... I jumped in the dingy and fastened the two stroke quickly. The idea was to take the anchor and move it far away from the yacht. We would than pull Black Magic with the anchor windlass off the rocks. The cranking noise was painfull to listen to. At first I had trouble to lay out the chain from the small rubber dinghy and pull the anchor as far off the boat as possible. But the distance was okay and Black Magic was pulled quickly away from that dangerous area. What a relive to be in deep water again. Peter's face was white and he wanted to be back at anchor as soon as possible. We had no reason to object, since we would have to lock at the damage under water.
After as first dive we saw that there was only little damage to the keel. Peter called his insurance and they advised us to repair the damage as soon as we would arrive in Darwin. Thank God ,no further delay for our planned voyage.
Of course now Peter changed his mind and we joined with SV Capers and SV Grace again, a situation our crew was not all happy about.
After two days more in Dampier we finally set sail and went up the coast to Angel bay. What a beautiful spot. Many yachtsmen from Dampier spend their weekend here, but after sunset we had the bay for our self. We met the yacht "Narage" with Sue and Michael again and had a lovely time together. We were spear fishing and dived for crayfish (langouste). Late at night we heard big fish hunting and went with the torches on deck. What a spectacular show we saw. Half a dozen dolphins were chasing flying fished and played with them. All crew of the 3 boats were on deck and set their spot light at the show that was going on between our boats. The dolphins must have felt honored by the audience because they begun even more spectacular jumping and one even went backwards standing on his flippers. It was like in a Holiday resort dolphin show, but with the difference that we saw wild dolphins.
After two days we left Angel bay. For the first time I experiences rain and fog while sailing. We played with the radar and exercised some navigation.
The weather turned rough once again and after 6 hours sailing along the coast line Peter decided to return to Angel Bay. Actually we turned back because SV Capers and Grace turned back, but it was Peters decision to stay close to this yachts, not ours. "Narage", kept on sailing northwards. I mean I personally had no problem with the crew of Capers and Grace, but there was constantly tension between Black Magic and them. Peter seemed much more relaxed to be alone, but he just was not ready to make a move by himself. He kept saying, how nice it is to sail with a group and how each boat can be of help to the others. That was something I had to accept, even when I would want to understand while Peter was prepared to give up his own plans only to keep waiting for decision from others.
Anyway we left Angel Bay once again and had a long trip along the west Australian coastline.
About 200 miles south of Broome we visited the 80 mile beach. What a beach! Fow as long as you walk, no people, only desert behind and the beach is not a sandy beach but contains billions of billions of intact white shells. Nina and me did a walk along the shore and searched for shells in order to built a back gammon game.
We had to leave with the outgoing tide. The yacht "Grace" had an engine problem and "Black Magic" towed "Grace" in the open sea for some miles. When we got some wind we parted again. At night we had VHF radio contact with Narage who was already in Broome. Amazing to receive them of the VHF more than 95 miles away. Sue advised us where to anchor in Broome and we exchanged information where we would meet again. The night sail to Broome was eventless, just easy and beautiful.
After more than a month in the outback and at sea I was really eager to sea a city again. Broome offered shopping malls and the oldest open air cinema of Australia. Nina and me went through the crowded street and had trouble to adapt to the none moving environment. In a café we sat at a table and realized that we kept rocking our bodies in a wave like motion. That must be land sickness. Jeniffer who lived in Broome before showed us around and soon we had explored most of the city.
The beach where "Black magic" anchored was open to the Indian Ocean and a long swell kept rolling into the bay. The dinghy rides to the land was always an adventure and more than one we got soaking wet while surfing with a wave to the beach.
We moved the yacht into a southerly located low water bay of Broome and now had to calculated the tides in order to reach the dry land with the dinghy. The tides can be here up to 8 meters and sometime we had to carry the dinghy for more than half a kilometer to the water.
While we enjoyed Broome we had more contact with the crew of "Narage" than with "Capers" and "Grace" and Peter was much more relaxed. We rented a little Jeep and visited the area. The day we were about to leave town I was driving the little jeep on the tideland as close as possible to the dinghy where Peter was waiting. We saw a big American stuck in the water trying to
Escape the incoming tide. The driver came to us and as if would help pulling him out. When I saw the big Jeep compared to my Japanese car I was sure we would only waste time by trying that. Instead I offered him a fast ride into town in order to get professional help. With more than 60 miles/hour we rode into town and I dropped him off at a work shop.
When I handed the car back I was told by the office clerk that it was not allowed to drive the rented car on the mud flats. So I did not mention the Jeep episode. After 2h hours I was back at the bay and the water had returned to a full tide. Peter told me that there were two Jeeps trying to pull the stuck car out of the mud. One of the helping jeeps got stuck too and was submerged by the water with the first jeep, while the third helper was pulled by a windlass back on the dry land.
With the dinghy we sailed above the car wracks, which where visible in the clear water and returned to "Black magic".
We set sail and sailed into the afternoon. Alone without company we would finally be free to make our own decisions and visit the remote Kimberley, a sailing district that is only visited by about 30 yachts per year.
to be continued....with the story of the 3 weeks vist of the Kimberleys , the most remote sailing area I have been so far and the Darwin to Ambon, Indonesia Race
.16th September (excerp of my travel diary 1996)

 

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