St Francis Island

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 24 Feb 2023 07:31
Position: 32 30.04 S 133 17.52 E
At anchor Petrel Bay, St Francis Island
Wind: SSW, F4
Sea: slight Swell: negligible
Weather: overcast, mild
Day's run: 24 nm

Towards the middle of the afternoon, yesterday, the wind was fading, our speed was dropping and our sails slatting in the short swell. So at 1450 I flashed up the BRM, dropped the genoa, sheeted in the main and continued towards St Francis Island under power.
Here we duly arrived around 1650. Initially I motored in towards a yellow mooring buoy, hoping that it might be for public use. There was a yellow runabout near it and I was hoping it was on a separate mooring but as I got closer it was apparent that it was secured to the same mooring buoy I was hoping to use. I then continued motoring close along the foreshore looking for a sandy patch that we might be able to securely anchor in but, unfortunately, the weed continued to within 100 meters from the shore, too close to anchor in with any degree of comfort. Consequently, I found a spot slightly to the eastern side of the bay and at 1715 let go the anchor in 6.4 meters of water. I backed down on the anchor at low revs in the hope that it would dig in through the weed sufficiently to hold us secure for the night.
Unfortunately, this did not prove to be the case and a little after midnight I awoke to the sound of the anchor drag alarm. Sometimes the anchor alarm goes off with a wind shift and while the wind had picked up to about fifteen knots, the direction had not changed significantly. I went up to the bow and by feeling the cable I could tell that the anchor was bumping along the bottom. Bother! We will have to get underway. I cleared a few things away down below and started the engine then went to the bow to start cranking in the cable, but by this time Sylph appeared to have stopped moving. I checked the GPS and the chain a few times and pondered what to do. After some procrastination, I decided to reset the anchor alarm, shut down the engine and get a little more sleep. We were not on a lee shore and if we did drag we would simply move out into deeper water, allowing me plenty of time to weigh anchor.
I was awoken a couple of times during the night with the anchor alarm sounding but each time I determined that it was primarily due to the wind shifting (I like to keep the anchor drag radius set at a short distance, about 15 meters, in these situations so as to have early warning if we do start to drag).
This morning while having breakfast and a cup of tea I considered my plan for the day. Do I get underway and find another anchorage (likely no more secure than this one) or do I go ashore for a look around and hope that Sylph doesn't start dragging again while I am absent? Eventually I decided that the risk of Sylph dragging while I was ashore was minimal and that I could mitigate the risk by keeping her in view for most of the time while ashore.
Having made my decision, I got the dinghy in the water and found a sandy spot among the rocks to haul the dinghy up on. As I rowed ashore I was treated to a large pod of dolphins swimming close to the beach and within twenty meters of me, presumably feeding. Among them was one playful seal who, like his oppo on Kangaroo Island, porpoised around the dinghy as if to invite me in to join the fun. I declined his invitation and continued to the beach.
Once I had secured the dinghy I walked along the beach towards a timber pole sticking out of some rocks at the western end of the bay, where it looked like a path might lead up the hillside. I was keen to find some established paths if possible because Graham Scarce in his cruising guide advises that there are a lot of black snakes on the island living in disused shearwater burrows.
The pole turned out to be the ruins of a derrick that presumably was used to transfer stores from a boat to shore. The hoped for trail proved to be largely illusory and I carefully made my way among the low stunted salt bushes looking out for disused burrows and stamping my feet as I walked to ensure I did not surprise any snakes that might be lurking in the bushes.
There were a number of ruins on the island that I could make out through a pair of binoculars from on board Sylph, as well as a tent on the western side of the bay just on top of a sand dune, which I wanted to investigate. According to Scarce, the island was used for grazing sheep for a few years in the late 1880s, so presumably the ruins dated back to this period. My investigations tended to support this hypothesis. The first set of ruins I came across, a little way up from the remnants of the derrick, looked like it might have been a sheep corral, with low stone walls and no sign of ever being roofed.
The next remains of human settlement was a dry stone wall, much in the style of the stone walls to be found in Ireland. The wall ran from the northern coast of the island to about half way across its middle a distance of about 600 meters, where, from the remains of some timber posts, I suspect a wire fence may have taken over. I was quite impressed by the amount of labour that must of gone into the wall's construction.
The fence then led me to what appears to have been the main house, though very small, which was not surprising as it was also made from local stones packed on top of one another, carefully chosen so as to fit together like a jig saw puzzle. The walls had then been plastered over with some kind of cement though the plaster had fallen away in most of the wall revealing the stone work. Regrettably, what was left of the plaster was completely covered with graffiti scratched into the plaster, mostly of people's names and dates of their visit here.
Further along, continuing to thump and pick my way among the salt bushes, was another stone ruin. I took this to be a storage area as there appeared to be three relatively small rooms but with no adjoining doors. From here I found the remains of stone water tank dug at the bottom of a natural depression in the landscape. Then I made my way over a sand dune and back to the beach.
From here I walked along the beach and the low cliffs that line the
foreshore in search of the tent. Perhaps there was someone staying on the island. There were quite a few footprints in the dry sand, though clearly not very recent. I had to climb a steep loose sand hill to get to the tent. The tent was about five meters by three meters and open on two sides. It contained several 20 litre containers of water and other containers which, according to their labels, were full of food and medical supplies. The floor of the tent had a ground sheet which was clean and presumably had been recently swept out, otherwise I am sure it would have been buried under a lot of sand. Another smaller tent stood nearby elevated on a concertina stilt arrangement which I took to be sleeping quarters. It was zipped shut. I shouted out hello but received no response. I could only gather that if there were any people here then they were keeping a very low profile. The only hint as to what the tent might have been about were some signs pegged to the ground nearby, with arrows pointing to the tent, labelled, "National Parks and Wildlife Services. Photo monitoring point."
While my curiosity about the tent had been frustrated, I was happy that I had not seen a single snake. I decided I had seen enough of the island and, furthermore, that I would not push my luck with respect to encountering a poisonous black snake.
Back on board, a quick dip, lunch, and now again I ponder where next. It now grows late in the afternoon and with what appears to be a well dug in anchor and unfavourable winds forecast, I reckon I will stay put for another night (I hope).
All is well.