Mindarie-Stark Cruise 2001

Here we were again, sitting down for dinner in the Galley with friends from the Cruising section. Unlike our first time last year, we actually KNEW some of our fellow diners quite well. Keith and Ann, Kim and Annette, Frank and Lucinda to name just a few of the generous souls we have come to know over the past year.

Kim’s briefing notes, reflecting his attention to detail, advised us to stay home and “polish our pet budgie” if the weather was against us. The weather must have been listening, because the first day booked for the cruise to Mindarie was DREADFUL! As Rob and I don’t have any budgies any more, we stayed home and polished our cats…

Sunday was overcast and showery, but not too bad, so we all met for breakfast at 0900 in the Galley. Generous serves of bacon and eggs and we were brave enough to agree on Kim’s suggested departure time of 1100 hours, despite the showers. And so we all drifted off to make our yachts ready for the journey.

As Rob and I went about our routine of readying the Dusky Dolphin for the ocean, I reflected on our first ocean journey this time last year. We were preparing to leave Mindarie then, having sailed from Fremantle Sailing Club the day before. We had been terrified for weeks about this, but had enjoyed a perfect sail north from the club. Berthing at Mindarie was a different story, but fortunately the crew of the Merlin threw ropes across to us and hauled us into place. AND they didn’t tell everyone else about it. We were so grateful for their kindness.

We must have made good time with our preparations, because my log reads that we set sail at 1100 as promised. My “Comments from the helm” record “Showers coming”, so we started with spray jackets on and sails “battened down” for a windy sail.

After some time, Panache passed us, then Cool Change, then Degrees of Freedom, then Shiraz II. Whatever we had done to the sails, we seemed to have put the brakes on our usually speedy Dusky Dolphin. And then the wind died, rather than increased, so we gave up and motored up to Kingston Buoy.

At about the same time as a small power boat capsized at the Stragglers (as we sadly learnt next day), we were hit hard by a strong south westerly AND big swell. Our experience so far has been that this is a nasty place for such conditions, and we leapt into action to lessen the sails. Once the adrenaline settled, we held a nice course for Stark Bay and managed to keep our place in the fleet (last, but not losing speed any more!). I was hugely grateful that we didn’t meet the same conditions last year – we were becalmed then, a much easier situation for probationary sailors.

Next test – lining up for the leads at Stark Bay. As we settled on our course, Rob spotted a whale just off our stern. That was so exciting that we lost our course for a bit… Coming into Stark was one of those “Getting back onto the horse who threw you” experiences. Last time we came here, in autumn, we ended our season on one of the reefs and had to call on Fremantle Sea Rescue to pull us free. Not a good way to end our first season, so we were hesitant (to say the least) about our return. My log notes “Moor Stark Bay, didn’t hit any reefs!”.

So we could relax then (I slept, I must admit), before sharing drinks on the beach with our sailing companions. Having been last to arrive at drinks last year, we were first this year, which was great because we had more time to meet everyone. The children of Shiraz II were a joy to meet, and to share stories of their sailing with their parents. We were most impressed at their cool approach, so we didn’t let on how nervous we were when we first did this trip. A beautiful sunset ended our conversations, and we headed back to our own boats for dinner.

Next day, the weather was lovely – fine, light winds, low swell according to my log. A delightful morning tea with Kim and Annette on Panache, was followed by the “traditional” walk across the island to Green Island. It is such an idyllic spot that we decided to sail round there later in the day, and anchor for the night. We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get to know Kim and Annette better. And the island graced us with a little kingfisher singing to us by the path.

There were only the four of us on the walk, the other boats having decided to head back to Fremantle. Just before the first one left, Rob caught a great photo opportunity of all the Club yachts at anchor in Stark Bay. We spoke our gratitude to Kim for organising us so well.

Rob and I had planned an extra day for this trip, and we were so glad for that. Leaving Kim and Annette with Panache II at Stark Bay, we left and motored round the West End. I must be getting braver these days, because I could actually feel some urge to keep going west! A gentle breeze came in, so we had a magic sail round Cape Vlamingh and on to Nancy Cove. Now THESE are the times that we long for back at the office…

We got into Nancy Cove without any damage (although it appeared imminent) and looked for a spot to anchor for the night. We dropped the anchor in the only possible place, then looked at the potential movement if we swung round or the anchor dragged a little. Those reefs looked awfully close, so we upped anchor and went on to Porpoise Bay (dare I say an “old” favourite, where we have spent a few nights now). Must have been a good choice because were shepherded by a small pod of young dolphins for part of the way.

We spent a beautiful evening there, gifted with a fantastic sunset followed by the full moon rising – does it get better than this?

Next morning, after a short walk on shore where we met Trevor and Sue from Araminta, we sailed south. Way south (to us), to enter Cockburn Sound by Challenger Passage. Reminders of the forthcoming war in Afghanistan came when the GPS was scrambled for a couple of hours. So Rob had to navigate through the reef by dead reckoning – thank heavens to Peter Robinson for our training!

The sea breeze came in as we approached Challenger Passage, and we decided not to stop at Carnac. Instead we had a dream run up Cockburn Sound and lunched along the way. Gentle swell, quite a few seabirds (including one of my favourites, the gannets), dolphins in the distance, sunshine sparkling on the water – enough said in my log entry of “Dream run”.

When we berthed at our pen after 7.5 hours sailing, we were sad to get back. Now this is a BIG step for us, when we used to return absolutely exhausted from just a few hours sailing. And we had not “pranged” our lovely boat on a reef.

We may not be ready to take off round the south coast with Keith, Zac, et al, but at least we can now think about longer journeys. We gave out messages of gratitude to all our patient teachers and supporters as we cleaned and stowed the Dusky Dolphin until next time.