Shark Bay 2015
A very early start for Tony Blake, Andrew Munyard and Tony Hubbard and a very clear freeway run, saw us knocking on Pel Turners door a bit early, We loaded boats and what seemed like a tonne of gear in and onto cars. We southerners thought it best to follow Pel out of Perth (it was his end of town) but when he missed the Wanneroo Road turn we wondered about his navigation skills. Later , there were mumblings of defence about tit being too early in the morning.
A coffee at Jurien Bay made sure we were all awake and we travelled in 2 hour blocks to get to Denham around 4pm. We were fortunate that a boat ramp very near to the Denham Seaside Caravan Park provided a launching site the next morning. That evening we had a meal at the ‘Old Pub’ where $20 steaks and Jimmy Barnes bellting out ‘working Class Man’ made us thinks we had gone back in time, however no years were shed from the paddlers gathered.
When planning this trip, the wind roses had told me that getting out of Denham could be a problem. The Saturday forecast had predicted SE winds for the morning which to the more optimistic seemed like we might be able to sneak sailing across to the Prongs. Unfortunately the reality was winds more southerly at 15 to 17knots meaning we had a head wind from the front quarter meaning a 5 hr paddle to cross the 20km open water crossing to Herrison Prong. Denham Sound is shallow and the wind created a steep chop which made the going pretty hard, especially as the kayaks were heavy with provisions for 7 days.
Slowly the Denham shoreline disappeared and the low features of Herrison Prong started to rise from the ocean, giving us something to set as a target. We over set the course to the south to allow for drift and then were able to sail the last couple of kilometres to our lunch destination. On landing, we staggered from our kayaks and really appreciated the lunch break. Refuelled and rested we sailed for about an hour towards Bellefin Prong but had to paddle the last kilometre or so to our campsite for the night. When we finally made the Prong we were pretty exhausted and with another strong wind day ahead we decided to have a rest day on Sunday.
As we unpacked our camp gear Pel unfortunately found the a large amount of water that had got under his hatch covers and changed the hydrodynamics of his boat. The water had found its way into his ‘dry bags’ wetting a lot of his gear. As he produced a saturated toilet roll our hearts sank…, then rose again as he found another that was dry, Hallaluhla! Gingerly Pel opened the dry bag containing his sleeping bag. There were threats of paddling back to Denham if he faced a cold wet night, luckily he found that it had remained dry and we did not have to restrain him from climbing back into his kayak! A lonely tree behind our camp suddenly burst into colour as clothing was draped over it to dry.
I used the rest day to sleep in and was greeted with comments like ‘just in time for morning tea’ and ‘breakfast is over’ from the others. We used the morning to investigate a sandbar at the tip of the prong which was showing at low tide and could prove a barrier the next day , however when we walked to the point a narrow shallow channel was evident immediate to the shore and could allow us to sneak around the point the next day. On our way out to the point, Tony H showed us tracks in the sand that looked a bit like a camel footprint and we wondered if there might be wild camels out here on the prong. The mystery was solved at the point where kangaroo tracks suddenly turned into possible camel tracks. It seems that as the kangaroo climbs an incline in the loose sand, it sits back harder on its legs leaving a circular/ elliptical imprint and hence our thinking it might be camel tracks.The afternoon was shaping up to be pretty warm so a shade was erected, held up with 2 greenland paddles and we spent a comfortable day reading and sleeping. Small sharks swam in the shallows, ducking and darting as they chased fish.
Lighter winds on Monday from the SSW allowed us to set sail for a couple of kilometres after sneaking around the point via the narrow channel. From Bellefin Prong we looked across to the low profile and drifting dunes of Dirk Hartog Island, Its massive extent (it is 80km long) stretching away to the horizon. I was struck by the scale of this area, it is truly expansive and amazing in this modern era that such a remote place exists.
We had lunch in a lovely cove where the explorers of the group climbed the low rocks surrounding the bay and found some bones. Whilst our imaginations ran wild of finding the remains of an ancient Dutch sailor, we had to contend ourselves with the likelihood of sheep remains from the days DHI was a sheep station.
We paddled south down the eastern side of the island using the lee of the bays and coves to make Cape Ransonet before crossing the 1- 2 km of south passage to our camp site at Steep Point. Our campsite, nestled into the low scrub, looked out to surf point and as the sun set, the pastel blues and greys of the evening light made the distant cliffs a beautiful sight.
We made a lazy start to Tuesday and just as we were about to head off to Steep Point, the ranger told us we had camped in the wrong spot and had to move up the beach 100 metres. We carried tents up in their pitched form, and during this period we found out why Tony Blake was having such good nights sleep as he carried his full size air bed , (thats 150mm high of pure comfort ) under his arm. We all marvelled at how on earth he was getting it into his kayak but Tony later showed us its compact folded form.
The move had not taken long and soon we sat beside Monkey Rock just short of the point. A forest of rods looking like defoliated saplings stuck out of the rocks at the point, helium balloons were being used by the fisherman to take their baits out away from the cliffs and it was now that Pel wanted to talk about the possibility of sharks due to the amount of baits and burley that the fishermen were putting in the water. On the mention of sharks our disparate group of paddlers were suddenly paddling shoulder to shoulder as we made our way out to Steep Point. The sea was essentially flat, and we photographed each other with the small swell crashing into the cliff beneath the point. Steep Point is the most western point of mainland Australia (Cape Byron the most easterly) and is proud to boast the most western dunnie in Australia. The dunnie, a simple structure of corrugated iron is easily identified it as this genre of architectural splendour. I did not notice which way the door opened but assumed it must be a ‘loo with a view’ and no doubt users would ‘pass ’ the time enjoying the distant cliffs of DHI.
As we paddled back through South Passage the water suddenly transitions from a deep blue to a tropical turquoise as the sea floor suddenly rises from 40metres deep to a few metres in a vey short distance. In a big swell, this area would be very, very dangerous as waves could suddenly appear from the deep to crash on the shallows of south passage. Pel, who has fished here over the last couple of years, had stories of waves breaking right the way across South Passage however there was no such excitement for us as we leisurely sailed back to our campsite. In the late afternoon we were transported back to an earlier time in our lives as the music of John Denver and Simon and Garfunkel wafted over our camp from the greying nomads nearby.
Tony Blake and I paddled to a very placid Surf Point on Wednesday while Pel and Tony Hubbard had a day relaxing back at camp. In the shallows of Surf Point I drifted over purple corals and green lipped clams. On our return a small turtle swum under my boat and I could see its front flippers madly propelling it along. In the evening light, cloud cover gave us a blood moon, silhouetting the moored yachts which swung from anchors off the beach.
As we sat having breakfast on Thursday morning, dreaming of scooting to the north under sail, the catamaran moored off the beach swung more and more easterly meaning sailing was not going to be an option to get to our destination of Bellefin Prong. (Where was the southerly wind when you wanted it?). As we paddled north, the wind died to a calm and the sea became flat. As we passed over the shallow waters we could see clearly to the bottom where sting rays and starfish could easily be seen.and turtles and dolphins were spotted at a little distance. With no wind, the quiet was astounding, here we were in such an expansive place, there were no speed boat noises just the gentle lapping of the water on our hulls. We camped on the prong and in the evening looked across Denham Sound to our destination for the next day.
Although Friday saw a light SE breeze hold sway, we managed to occasionally raise sails to make life a bit easier but we essentially paddled the 20 km back to Denham. in 2 hours less than at the start of the trip! After getting the boats off the water and the gear tidied up we wolfed down a hamburger and sat back very satisfied that we had pulled off a Shark Bay trip when all the data said we were in for a windy experience, we had been lucky.
Shark Bay is a wonderful place, it is harsh rugged country but the water and the range of wildlife is amazing. Cruising over the clear shallow water seeing to the bottom as if wearing goggles is a wonder to behold.