Sailing to Bunbury

Part One – Fremantle to Port Bouvard

Recently at Rottnest, Rob and I sat cosy and warm in the cabin of our yacht, Dusky Dolphin as a storm raged outside, as I realised that I have now lost a lot of the fear of being out on the ocean (although I will always respect her). I wish I could say that for the Easter Cruise to Bunbury – our first ocean voyage with Rob as navigator and me as skipper.

Ably masterminded by Zac and Keith, we could not have asked for more thorough, professional and caring guidance. Rob and I decided to do the “Full Monty” and sail right through to Bunbury, rather than to Warnbro Sound with Zac’s group. As well as gaining maximum ocean experience, we would be able to visit the birthplace of our yacht and her builder, Peter Bielby, in Bunbury.

We both attended the 7:30am briefing at the club on the day of departure (Easter Friday), determined not to show how nervous we were. Rob having shared his preparation reading with me, such as “Surviving Storms at Sea”, we had a lot to hide! We were glad to learn that our sailing teacher, Peter Robinson, would be sailing with us in Prince Regent.

Despite our nerves, we set of from our pen with the rest of our group:

– led by Keith and Ann on Ketchup II;

– Patrick and his group on S K Pee had already left;

– Peter, Lorraine and their cats on Credence;

– Peter Robinson, Jan and their group on Prince Regent;

– along with Zac’s group

going to Warnbro Sound.

Our first challenge in Cockburn Sound was like a movie – dead calm with a fog. We had never motored or sailed in a fog before so, fog horn at the ready, we kept to our course and tried to keep sight of our fellow yachts, praying that no big ships would be around!

By the time we reached Parmelia Bank east of Carnac, the fog was clearing as the breeze picked up a little. We followed Ketchup II through Challenger Passage, including Keith’s shortcut (which we will remember for next time).

My log for 0922 hours reads “Engine off!” as we rounded the west markers of Challenger Passage, and celebrated by raising the jib and main. The ocean greeted us with a slight swell and gentle westerly – we couldn’t ask for better!

Still very nervous and keeping close to our group, we gingerly made our way south along the west of Garden Island. We had never seen it from the ocean side, and the ocean birds came to welcome us – gannets and shearwaters sweeping their way effortlessly around Dusky Dolphin.

South of Garden Island and no mishaps yet, so we raised the staysail to catch more wind. Nearing Ketchup II we looked confident – I supposed confidence inside will come…

Our large group broke up as Zac’s group turned east into Warnbro Sound. Rob navigated us expertly between the rocks and reefs as we sailed south, both feeling a little more relaxed now. This was a good thing as we handled the gusts of an incoming south-westerly and increased swell, and tacked to avoid James Service reef.

By 1400 hours the south westerly was 15-20 knots and swell about 1.5 metres, so we were both concentrating very hard, and we were very glad to be sailing in company. Keith’s sched calls were very welcome!

It was good that we had a bite of lunch then, because we were soon tacking to avoid strong (to us) cross seas as we approached the Dawesville Cut. Nasty seas near the entrance from south-westerly swells and wind, AND outgoing tide, made our passage tense and just a bit scary. We dropped all sails and motored through – a rolling, zigzag course to avoid the worst of the cross seas and lumpy, unpredictable swell.

We were both very relieved to reach the channel safely. I was shaking as I held the wheel – that whisky and soda promised by Rob was beckoning!

Keith had already worked out our next challenge – would our mast fit under the bridge? The emails had been running hot the previous week as Keith calculated that the outgoing tide would make it safe for us (good thing too, as we recovered from the tidal effects at the entrance). As we motored gingerly towards the bridge, our mast looked higher and higher and the bridge looked lower and lower. I had the engine in neutral well before, ready to go into hard reverse if we needed to. We were both so tense that it seemed like an anticlimax as we glided safely under – phew! Thank you Keith.

Our excellent briefing notes helped us to find the entrance to the Bouvard Marina. A slow motor journey brought us to the registration jetty where Harvey (the Manager) threw us our keys and yelled out the number of our pen, as our boat seemed to gain in length by the minute. Turning her around in the narrow harbour was nerve-wracking, but we made it, and managed to dock her at 1545 without any mishaps.

Once she was safely moored, Rob produced our whiskies…

Keith and Ann kindly held an “open yacht” on Ketchup II for all of us to join them for drinks – a lovely, friendly, relaxed ending to a challenging day which we followed with dinner as a group at the excellent cafe at the marina – Cafe Bouvard. Bob Pierce, who had sailed down independently in his yacht Felice Landry, joined us with his wife for dinner.

To say that we slept well that night would be an understatement.

Notes on Port Bouvard marina: Floating docks, each with fresh water and power. Each jetty has key access and there is also key access to toilets and showers (with hot water). Only one shower in each block meant that we had to be efficient with our showering, but a hot shower is a hot shower… And Harvey the Manager is extremely helpful.

Contacts Harvey Ritchie, Marina Manager, 08 9534 6444, 0417 966 171.

Cafe Bouvard 9534 6200. Next – On to Bunbury.

Part Two – Port Bouvard to Bunbury

There was a wonderful feeling of being really ALIVE, as I woke up in our cosy cabin. We had completed the first day of our first ocean voyage yesterday, and arrived here at Port Bouvard safe and sound with the other members of our group.

An orange sunrise made the perfect start to our day, as we braved the cold and walked across for our morning showers. Lorraine and Peter were stirring (maybe woken by their two cats?), on Credence opposite us.

I enjoyed getting breakfast for Rob and I in our galley. I was more relaxed today, although apprehensive about venturing out into the ocean again. We tidied the cabin as we ate, with charts out on the table as Rob outlined his navigation plan for the day, and the radio forecast in the background. Our excellent briefing notes made the day ahead a lot less daunting then it would have been otherwise – thank you Zac and Keith!

Above deck, there were sails to be readied and gear to be put out as I attempted my first radio log-in outside Cockburn Sound. No luck with the HF, so I called Fremantle Sea Rescue on my mobile. They were very helpful (as usual!), giving me call signs for stations down to Bunbury, and telephone numbers in case I needed them. Eventually Keith Morris on Ketchup II responded to my attempts to log in by offering to log in for the group. Then the airwaves went quiet.

Ketchup II, S K Pee and Prince Regent left before us, then Credence set off as we let our ropes go. We waved “good bye” to Harvey, the Manager at Port Bouvard who had taken such good care of us, and followed Credence out of the marina. We watched Credence motor under the bridge, and noted again the span under which we should go. The early morning fishermen challenged my plan – I seemed to be aiming for their favourite angling spot! However, we worked that one out amicably, and motored slowly under the bridge, with no collisions (with the bridge or with fishing boats).

We enjoyed the calm waters of the channel, as Rob talked through his navigation plan for the first leg of our day. The entrance was pretty choppy, making Rob grip tightly to the main sheet as he raised the main sail. Then we turned south. There was a feeling of freedom in this today, of getting away, with much less fear than yesterday. We could see Credence some way ahead, and Ketchup II and S K Pee further on, giving us comfort that we were not alone.

South to Cape Bouvard was a joyous ride, setting up Mildred (our wind vane) to take the helm in the moderate NW wind. We knew that we should enjoy this part, and we did, because we could see dark rain falling south of Cape Bouvard. As Ketchup II and S K Pee disappeared into the rain, we put on our rain jackets and prepared the boat for possible squalls.

A radio check with Ketchup II told us that there was no wind or lightening under the rain clouds, so Mildred was disconnected and we abandoned our plan to take in all sails. All this was a little disconcerting – outside our range of experience to date. So we really appreciated the company of the yachts sailing with us, especially as the GPS became temperamental. A challenge for Rob’s navigating as we entered the rain with trepidation, just south of Cape Bouvard.

Apart from getting wet and having to motor, our journey through the rain was uneventful (thank heavens). We took a course inside Bouvard Reef, and Rob spoke firmly to the GPS to get it “on board” again – loose connection, that was a scary learning experience. We motored out of the south end of the rain wet, but wiser.

Once we had a good course set inside the reef, George (the TMQ underdeck autopilot) was put into action. We motored south through calm seas in the SUNSHINE as we dried out. We could see small breakers on the reef to the west of us, and cray boats outside the reef. This was lovely, calm scenery, yet I could not quite get rid of the butterflies in my stomach – would we hit swells once we left the protection of the reef? Keith and Ann held regular radio scheds with all of us, which were very reassuring.

My log for most of the journey reads “Motor, no wind”. We had expected windy conditions for the day, but the wind stayed in bed, I think.

Late morning, Rob called out “Dolphins”. He took the wheel so that I could race up to the bow and watch, knowing my passion for these amazing creatures. A dolphin surfing under the bow in the sparkling sea, now THAT is a joyous experience. I am not sure if it was my imagination, but was he looking at the picture of the dusky dolphin we have painted on the bow?

Then Rob tried out some techniques with the sails, which we had learnt in our training on Prince Regent. He set the jib, main and staysail to increase the aerofoil effect. It worked a treat and we increased our speed to around 7 knots. My log notes that a shearwater flew around us soon afterwards – must have been the aerofoil!!

As we motored closer to Bunbury, we saw what looked like a sail a long way to the south of us – were we catching up to S K Pee? No. After some time, we realised that it was a water tower at Binningup. This is such featureless coastline that a good landmark should not be wasted, so Rob noted it on our chart.

Motoring on south through the glassy sea, we came out to the south of the reef. My concerns of being exposed to the ocean were groundless – it remained glassy!

The next feature was a huge “sail” way to the south again, looking as if it was heeling over. We thought, again, this must be S K Pee and there was a lot more wind further south. So plans were made to take in sail. This was very confusing as we felt no wind, until we realised that the “sail” was actually a tall white angular-roofed building in Bunbury. So it looked like we would make it in one piece to our night’s mooring.

I set course for Bunbury harbour. This was easy from a distance, but as we came closer its width made the task of finding Casuarina Harbour a challenge. We followed the cardinal markers with TOTAL focus, Rob following our progress closely on the chart. It was quite daunting coming into Casuarina Harbour – quite a busy one.

Before long, we were motoring slowly into our pen for the night at the South West Cruising Yacht Club, extremely grateful to Patrick and his crew for being ready and waiting to catch our mooring ropes. The pen was a lot larger than our boat, so we all had to try various angles before we were happy that we would be able to get off our boat onto the jetty without swimming! They gave us a great welcome, which we very much appreciated, sharing drinks with us on the S K Pee. We were honoured to also be greeted by the Vice Commodore of the SWCYC.

We had made it safely to Bunbury, the birthplace of our yacht!

We all pitched in to help Ann and Keith berth Ketchup II, and Lorraine and Peter berth Credence, when they arrived a little while later. Unfortunately Prince Regent had had to turn back due to the lack of wind, so would not be joining us.

Then we commenced a happy two hours of progressive drinks, from yacht to yacht as we shared stories and the things we liked most and least about our floating homes. Dinner together in town, swapping stories of past and present adventures, finished with a walk back to our boats under the waning Easter moon.

We SLEPT IN the next morning, and made good use of the showers (lots of hot water here!). As was becoming our habit, we listened to the radio weather forecast over breakfast, and decided that a night sail back to Perth was not on for us. There would be no wind, so we would be motoring. Bearing in mind that this would be our first ever night sail, AND we would be motoring through all those (invisible at night) cray-pots which abound inside Coventry and Bouvard reefs, AND only one of them tangled around our propeller would be NOT FUNNY – we decided that staying an extra night in Bunbury was the wise decision.

Ann on Ketchup II invited us all for morning tea with Hot Cross Buns which were very welcome (as I had completely forgotten about such luxuries in my victualling). We were touched to be presented with our “Elite OUTSIDERS Club” certificate by Ann, as were Lorraine and Peter of Credence, for our first journey to Bunbury.

Patrick of S K Pee then arrived to let us know that his plan to leave before lunch for the return to Perth was in jeopardy – his fuel was contaminated. Rob and I were amazed at the generous offers of assistance from all of us there, including the permanent tenants of the South West Cruising Yacht Club. The warmth and friendship helped to calm the situation, and to find a solution that worked a treat. Patrick and his crew left mid afternoon, and arrived safely back at Fremantle, tired but relieved.

Rob and I spent the afternoon on a cruise in a paddle steamer around the Bunbury Harbour, skippered by none other then Peter Bielby, who had built our yacht in Bunbury and spent many happy years sailing her before we purchased her from Peter in 2000. The three of us share a common interest in this yacht, which makes for quite a strong friendship. I am very grateful for this relationship and will always feel that, in some ways, we are taking care of this yacht on behalf of Peter, her creator.

Drinks on board Ketchup II at dusk ended the day with friendship again, in the lovely cosy lounge room which Ann and Keith have created. We parted having shared our plans to leave the next morning for home with Ketchup II and Credence. I was determined NOT to worry about this trip, as we had already covered the route on the way here.

Part Three – Going Home, Bunbury to Fremantle Sailing Club

The alarm woke us from our slumbers at 6:30am – too early, and it took a lot of will power not to go back to sleep. As we lay there, not going back to sleep, we heard Ann and Keith on the deck of Ketchup II next to us, quietly chatting as they went about their tasks to prepare their lovely craft for the voyage home. The guilt set in and we were UP and busy!

Radio on to catch the morning forecast, prepare breakfast, take the covers off the sails and set them ready. Even though we were fairly new to sailing, we were starting to be able to swing into these preparations with some composure. Although I must admit to using a detailed checklist before we set sail, just to make sure that everything has been done.

We farewelled Ketchup II, as she sailed gracefully up the harbour into the sparkling, gentle morning. Then Credence, with Lorraine, Peter and their two cats, set off with their usual flair. Finally, we let go the mooring lines only to be blown onto one of the pylons (so much for being composed!). We were very lucky that Hank, one of the kindly live-aboards who had helped S K Pee so much yesterday, was there to help. He pulled us away from the pylon so that we could moor again. Second time was wonderful, and we set off with a farewell from a pair of dolphins as we sailed nostalgically past the shed where our yacht was built.

I was very grateful that I had steered Dusky Dolphin along the channel once, because I was “navigator-less” on our journey out. Rob was having a lengthy altercation with the mainsail for most of the passage, which took his total focus.

They worked things out, and we sailed from the harbour mouth into a gentle south-easterly with all sails up. We were hoping that our journey north would be under sail, after our motor journey to reach Bunbury. That happened for a while…

By 10:00am, we had all sails up to catch any wind, but there wasn’t any. So-o-o-o motoring it was to be. We kept all the sails up though, just in case… A slight northwester came in over the next couple of hours, and then my log for noon reads “SAILING – good north west wind”! Now THIS is what we had trained for.

As we came closer to Ketchup II, we realised that Ann was taking photos of us. We responded in kind, and caught some lovely shots of Ketchup II, as she maintained her grace. We even took photos of Ann taking photos of us, but it didn’t matter!

Rob remembered that S K Pee had sailed close to the shore, inside the Bouvard Reefs and seen lots of dolphins on the journey south. So we decided to take the same route north. By 12:30 we had one reef in the main as the north-wester was increasing – absolutely wonderful sailing!!

We had our reward some time later. Racing (for us) along at 7 knots, a large pod of dolphins came to play around the whole boat, racing round to the bow to surf, then dropping back to jump up at the stern. Rob was very understanding when I had to let the helm go at this point. I LOVE dolphins, and to see so many… Rob kindly took over and I raced up to hang over the bow. I could almost touch them, and look them in the eye as they checked us out. My tears of joy took some time to subside.

Rob navigated us expertly through the reefs, as the north-wester died and a light westerly came in. Our final sail to Port Bouvard was on a beautiful 6 knot broad reach with a 15 knot westerly racing across the sun-sparkled sea – so much joy today, I felt grateful and humbled as we waved farewell to Ketchup II sailing off into the sunset (to return home that night).

The main had the last word when Rob went to drop it – a batten flew out in a graceful curve into the sea! Then we did a man-overboard procedure in the channel (thank you for the training, Peter Robinson), to retrieve a dropped fender, with much merriment from the onlookers. And Rob’s generous offer to allow to me to steer into the pen backfired – I really lost the steering and he had to leap off the bow onto the jetty and haul us in by the bow rope (with amused help from more onlookers!). Good thing he has done all that training for mountain climbing.

Phew – drinks on board with Lorraine and Peter of Credence were very welcome to sooth my shattered confidence as we toasted a most magnificent sunset.

Next morning we were up earlier than yesterday, to get home in time for the cleanup. We left the pen very smoothly (thank heavens – no-one else was up yet to help us!). No man-overboard procedures in the channel, so it was a quiet leave-taking of this place which had given us food and much-needed rest.

We headed to just west of the James Service Reef as we raised sails to catch the early wind. This did not last long, and it was back to motoring. There was one advantage though. With no wind and only a slight swell there were lots of sea birds around us, mainly shearwaters and flying fish. They make great sailing companions.

There are lots of features on this run, such as the rocks and markers outside Warnbro Sound. This allowed us to remember more clearly than yesterday, our passage south some days before. We motored past, gaining some sort of confidence that we had now found our way safely through all these rocks, reefs and shoals on both voyages past them.

By 11:00am, a south-westerly wind had began. So we put all sails up to catch it. Soon afterwards, the wind was picking up well so we “took the plunge” and turned the motor off! Oh peace, and so lovely to just hear the sails and the sea. Past Cape Peron, past the west side of Garden Island, as the wind picked up all along.

By the time we reached Challenger Passage we were managing 7.5 knots with a 15 knot south-westerly and all sails up. Our best sailing yet – yippee!!!

It was a strange feeling to sail into Cockburn Sound again. We had left some days before in calm seas and a fog, very nervous about our first ocean voyage but determined to enjoy it. And we did enjoy it. We are still revelling in the newness of the friendship, with which we are so generously showered by all with whom we sail. We are eternally grateful to those who have taught us (Peter Robinson, Keith Morris, and many others). And last, but definitely not least, we are enormously grateful to Peter Bielby for creating this beautiful yacht which we have called our home for the past few days.

We were treated to a perfect sail across Cockburn Sound before we reluctantly turned on the motor to enter the Fremantle Sailing Club harbour. As we entered the pen, having completed 167 nautical miles with 20 engine hours, we relaxed, and said “Thank you”. Our first ocean voyage was completed and we now felt much more at one with the Dusky Dolphin.