Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Sea kayaking off Rottnest Island
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020
Kayak and paddle
Rock gardening
Les in Surf Zone
Sunset on the beach
Ningaloo, August 2020

Dirk Hartog Island

Dirk Hartog Island

By Helen Cooksey.

We all met at our booked cabin at the Caravan Park in Denham on Thursday afternoon. I picked up Judy on Wednesday afternoon after she’d done a day’s teaching and we drove as far as Dongara for the night. My nephew, who is a keen boat fisherman, warned us about shoals that extend out from the North East end of Dirk Hartog Island which sometimes have large swells breaking over them forcing boats to take large detour around if they want to get to Turtle Bay. He also mentioned strong north running currents that sweep around both ends of the island. We travelled on to Denham the next day after a stop in Geraldton for last minute supplies.

Jim had spent Wednesday night in Geraldton en route. Martin left home at 4.30am on Thursday towing the club trailer picking up Laurie, Matt and Kevin en route.

Friday morning we were down at the jetty at sunrise. The 10m twin hull fishing charter boat Jim had organised to take our boats, gear and us to Withnell Point, 10ks south of Turtle Bay, looked awfully small. How could everything fit on? No problem. Five boats were put crossways on the overhead canopy and one on top of the other lengthways on the deck beside the hold. Fortunately the sea was calm and there was no wind. We all piled on plus 4 or 5 paying fishing charter people and off we went. The Skipper off loaded us onto the beach around the bay a little from a fishing shack which had a large sea eagle’s nest on the flimsy looking roof. We each paid $170 for the ride over.

By the time we set up camp and had lunch there didn’t seem to be time to paddle the 10km across the bay and around to Turtle Bay and 10km back so we explored the bay on foot and by boat, surfed on some small waves on the point and practiced some Eskimo rolls and self rescue. I discovered an interesting minor complication when I tried to do an upside down re-entry and roll. I found it took longer to thread my legs into the cockpit under water with a 10 litre water bag strapped to the floor suspended in the water. The things you don’t know about until you practice! In the late afternoon the fisher people got their gear out. Kevin took to his boat with his squid jigger, Jim tried his luck with big hooks and heavy line and Matt and I used light gear and small hooks. We won the tally catching small whiting, flathead, bream and trumpeters on Friday and Saturday evenings. Fish was on the menu for the first 2 nights.

The most disappointing thing about our idyllic camp site was the amount of rubbish in the bush. It was everywhere we set up camp along the island. Everyone who camps on the island is charged $16.50 a night (we paid $50/head) but there are no services given for the charge. Behind our camp, among other things we found a toilet seat and a kitchen sink which was promptly put in Judy’s boat.

Kevin also found some drums and star pickets which he tied his tent to as he’d forgotten to take his tent stays. The only problem was they went bang in the night when he moved. After we went to bed the first night the camp site was over run by small crabs. They scratched around outside your tent and on anything metal like stoves that had been left out. Judy kept reaching out of her tent and shouting at them in murderess tones to go away as she attacked them with her shoe. I put my ear plugs in and tried to ignore Judy and the crabs.

Saturday the weather was beautiful again. Oily clear calm sea and no wind. We set off across the bay and rounded Cape Levillian close to the beach and into Turtle Bay. Fortunately there were no breaking waves on the sand banks but we could see swells rising on them further out. The Cape Inscription light house was visible across the bay above the cliffs. We didn’t stay too long. Gray clouds were building up and the beach had a high surge. As we paddled back Kevin was about 20mtrs from shore when he suddenly shouted excitedly that he had paddled over a 20’ Tiger shark. He said he could see the stripes and it was longer than his 5.8m kayak. Matt, who was paddling beside him also saw it and said it was as long as 2 doors end to end and as wide as one. That gave us all a reality check and put any thought of practicing Eskimo Rolls out of our heads.
A short while later we saw Martin’s kayak wobble alarmingly as a large Dugong dived under his kayak amid ship then headed straight for Matt amidships creating a huge bow wave. He also had to steady his kayak as it passed under him and headed out to sea.
As we paddled across the bay large black clouds gathered over our camp site. As soon as we arrived back the rain bucketed down. Everyone dived into their tents to sit it out except me. Some read and dosed, one person decided he might as well get stuck into his cask of port while he read. I sat out the storm having my daily ablutions in the warm sea, keeping an eye out for fins. The rain cleared, the sun shone and we emerged from our tents. Matt went around to the point for his daily feed of oysters off the rocks before returning to fish. Jim put his heavy fishing tackle away in disgust because he hadn’t caught anything although something big did take his hook, line and sinker the evening before when he left it set with a Trumpeter on it.

Sunday the wind was blowing from the South East strong enough to blow the dog off the chain. Kevin checked the bay south of the Point and declared the wind was too strong to paddle into. We gladly agreed to sit it out for the day. All of us except Martin set out to see how far we could walk across the island. We slipped and sloshed along a track across a birridah, a salt clay pan, that had water in it from the previous evening thunderstorm then up a rise for a while before deciding some people didn’t have suitable foot wear or long trousers to bush bash across the island so we returned to camp. Martin had his kite out and flew it successfully for a short while. The wind was so strong it broke a string so he had to put it away. We read and watched the sea life in the bay. A 2m shark with a long thin dorsal fin entertained us chasing fish on a sand bank not far from shore. Turtles popped their heads up to look at us occasionally. Judy and Kevin listened to the Dockers game on my little radio which always had good reception. At night we sat around Martins candles standing in sand in plastic sandwich bags and had a “show and tell” of our first aid kits.

Our 11 neighbours in the nearby fishing camp who had arrived on Saturday in 5 boats awoke on Sunday to find one boat missing from it’s mooring. They found it over the far side of the bay on the beach and towed it back with one of the boats. Apart from that we didn’t see them venture out in their boats all day.

Monday the wind was still ferocious but we packed our boats with all our gear which included water and food for the week, tent, chair, stove, fuel, repair kit, first aid, clothes etc. We rounded the point to be hit by 20 knot SE winds on our left front quarter. Judy’s shoulder started to give her terrible pain so Kevin quickly hooked up a tow rope and all the guys took it in turn for 10 to 15 minutes to tow her. By the end of the second rotation they were all really tired. We landed at a wide white sheltered beach for lunch beside a sheep loading race presumably used by the station owners to load their sheep onto the barge to take to Denham. We discussed various contingency plans of what to do about Judy and her sore shoulder. She had been paddling with a high bag on her fore deck with her sail propped up on the bag so her paddling action looked very awkward. She re arranged the bag to her aft deck, put the sail flat on the fore deck and fortunately had no more trouble. We asked some guys fishing off the beach for a weather forecast just as one pulled in a whiting as thick and as long as my arm. Unfortunately they weren’t forth coming with either a free fish or a forecast. The wind had eased slightly but we still made slow progress arriving at Louisa Bay at 5pm. We had started at 8.30am.We reckon we must have had a current running against us as well as the wind. We were all exhausted and in bed by 7.30pm.

Tuesday. We were on the water by 8.30 again. We rounded the point to be hit by 20 knot SE winds on our left front quarter again. We struggled along beside the cliffs with steep sharp waves over head high rising up on our left. You no sooner got over one wave and others rebounded back off the cliff on your right. It was like being in a washing machine. Kevin and I discuss turning back until the wind abated but it would have been too dangerous having those conditions as a following sea so we struggled on. After a couple of hours of these conditions we saw a small beach in a gap in the cliffs. Martin was the strongest paddler and always out in front with a bright orange hat. We were all very pleased to see the orange hat bob over the water towards the beach to investigate the possibility of landing. After careful inspection he waved us in. There were rocks on the shore line and rocks in the water so all the heavy boats had to be lifted out of the water by 4 people at a time onto the beach behind. It was estimated we had been going 2.5km/hour.

After refreshment and rest Jim, Matt and Kevin climbed the cliffs to check the way ahead and try VHF marine radios and mobile phones but there was no reception. There was no sign of the wind abating so we struggled on. We lunched on a beautiful sheltered beach at Quoin Head on the southern end of Herald Bay. Before we rounded the point Kevin paddled out to a luxury launch anchored in the shelter and asked them if they had a weather forecast but they didn’t. The wind had mercifully eased as we paddled past Egg Island over clear water where hundreds of cormorants took to the sky as we passed. Unfortunately we were down wind of their acrid aroma. We crossed the entrance to Tetrodon Loop and found a lovely sheltered camping area at Notch point. (In the dictionary tetra means four. The Loop does look a bit square on the chart. Maybe that’s how it got the name). [Tetrodon, which means 4 teeth, is an old Latin name for puffer fish, so the Loop was probably named for an abundance of them – Ed]

Wednesday. The wind had eased considerably the next morning as we paddled across the bay to the homestead. We were given a warm welcome by Ann and Tory Wardle with her 2 little boys. Geoff Wardle returned from the mill run joined us for tea and Anzac biscuits bought out by Ann. Tory printed off an up to date weather forecast from the computer for us. The weather was looking good for the following day so we decided to take the window of opportunity to paddle back to Denham the next day. We paddled from the homestead across to Cape Bellefin where we had lunch. Matt and I took childish delight jumping in the strong, cold, out flowing tidal current on one side of the point to be quickly carried around the other side. Then it was an hour to paddle to Cape Heirisson to camp the night. It was a nice sheltered camp site but the flies were thick until the sun went down. Some of us climbed the headland and had a good view of Denham and the aerial on the hill behind the town across the 19.5ks of water we had to paddle the next day. To the right you could see the super structure of the ship loading salt at Useless Loop we had seen passing down the channel during the day. Once again we cooked our evening meal together and dined under a canopy of stars by candle light with the last of our cask wines to help conversation and laughter and relax tired muscles. Laurie never ceased to surprise us with stories about his long and full life. We all agreed we’d be doing pretty well if we could paddle as well as him when we reach our three score year and ten.

Thursday. Once again we were on the water by 8.30. As we rounded the point we noted the tide was going out with a strong current sweeping from east to west around the point. There was a light Easterly wind on our right front quarter which gradually swung around to a south easterly by the time we got to Denham. We had to re group on several occasions because discrepancy kept developing between those who were following the compass bearing of 63 degrees and line of site on the aerial and wind turbine towers and Martin on the GPS course who we were instructed to follow. He had his head down watching his GPS screen and dropping down wind on a more northerly bearing. (I’m curious to know why the difference occurs. Maybe we could ask Les to give the club a talk on navigation)
The weather Gods were kind to us and we were back in Denham by 11.45. While Martin, Jim and I went to get our vehicles from the caravan park a Marine Parks Officer quickly pounced on our group unloading their boats questioning Kevin about where we’d been.

Thankfully a cabin had been booked for us for the first and last night so we didn’t have to put our tents up again as we did last year in the howling wind after the Denham to Monkey Mia trip. We had talked about having a soak in the artesian bore tank at Peron Station but somehow once you got out of your wet paddling gear you didn’t want to get wet again. We spent the afternoon replacing carbohydrates and fluids, visiting the new Heritage centre and relaxing before enjoying a final dinner together at a restaurant in the town.

It was a great trip. Kevin did a great job organising it and looking after us. Thanks Kevin.

Next time I must remember to take a detailed radio programme of times to hear the weather reports.

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Fully loaded – photo Martin Burgoyne

Helen in luck – photo Judy Blight

Everything and the kitchen sink – photo Martin Burgoyne

Camp at Heirisson prong – photo Martin Burgoyne

Strong wind and bad weather setting in – photo Judy Blight

Kevin praying for better weather – photo Judy Blight

– photo Martin Burgoyne

Shark circling near campsite– photo Judy Blight

Big flocks of birds – photo Martin Burgoyne

– photo Judy Blight