2020 Aus American River Kangaroo Island
Position update 35:47.35S 137:46.41E
The Weather Calls the Tune
In more ways than one
It is time to bring you up to date with our progress as it stands now and before we move on again. I cannot send photos with this blog because here on fire torn Kangaroo Island the internet signal is too weak to make it across the water to us from the nearby phone mast, so blogs about Macquarie Harbour and our time in Portland will have to wait until I can send them intact.
We arrived here in American River on Kangaroo Island the day before yesterday after a 50 hour motor sail from Portland in light winds that were barely in the right direction for sailing. Knowing our weather window would be short lived, it was important to maintain five knots of speed at least and this we did by finely tuning the engine revs to what we could get out of the sails which was fun and really worked, saving fuel where we could.
There was plenty of wildlife about under the blue skies, hundreds of dolphins feeding with the diving birds and our dear friends the dignified sky masters, shy albatross watched over our modest progress all the way and settled in groups on the water in the evenings, their watery roost.
We are sailing without paper charts from NW Tassie right around to Dampier on the NW coast for the first time in our entire circumnavigation, unless we can procure some in Ceduna or Albany which is pretty unlikely. Some cruising friends now in Phuket, whom we met in Whangarei gave us the address of a friend of theirs who lives in Albany on the west side of the Bight and loaned them paper charts of the Bight, but we have not been in a place long enough to receive them by post so we are reliant for the first time solely on the Navionics Charts on the chartplotter. Which is how many seagoing vessels do all their navigation nowadays and so far has served us well. Although I do miss the instant overall picture a chart gives without recourse to altering the visual display on the screen of an electronic device.
The continental shelf along the coast we were sailing drops from 150 metres to over 500 metres very quickly and along this steep wall Giant Crabs and Rock Lobsters thrive and so the chartplotter display describes this entire area as a fishery for those two species which meant we could expect to come across vessels fishing in the area with pots going down hundreds of metres. We were under engine and of course at night one cannot see the water ahead. I humbly asked Neptune if he would kindly pull any such dangerous buoy with its attached line out of Zoonie’s path and unbelievably he agreed.
We had fishing boats all around us the first night and so moved out to sea beyond the 500 metre line and then met lots of ships who also avoid the working area and make use of the current over the precipice, which was against us at one knot, but better that than a fouled propeller. By this time the wind was too weak to lift a leaf.
So the night watches went quickly with copious cups of tea and dozens of trips up and down the companionway ladder for an all round check. At one stage the fishing boat lights appeared to be travelling with us as if we were towing them and one vessel appeared to be towing numerous illuminated lines, we kept well clear of him. He may well have been one of the two seismic vessels testing for oil, towing twelve 4 mile long cables behind it and harming most sea creatures around it with its sonic blasts.
In the afternoon we had headwinds and a current against us of 1.2 knots and even at 1700rpm the engine could only push us along at 4.4 knots over the ground. The temperature was nice and warm, the skies all over blue, no clouds allowed, the marine entertainment was great but what we needed most was PROGRESS. It seems at the moment that the weather windows are short and lodged between extreme weather patterns.
We were not sure of our destination and were open to it being determined by the weather calling the tune. The forecast told of a powerful front coming in on Saturday followed by a big Low passing to the south bringing rain and westerly winds so we would need to be somewhere protected by then. Kangaroo Island it would be.
I got in touch with the Adelaide couple who were then on holiday in the States and they told us of a sister who lives in American River and her friend Carol who is a volunteer on the VHF American River Station, she was to prove invaluable once we had gained entry to the estuary.
The final day of this short trip was a long one of motor sailing on calm seas in the company of different types of dolphin, the short beaked common dolphins with their ochre thoracic patches, a much bigger and darker common bottle nosed dolphin and a pod smaller than the short beaked but the same colour and maybe a group of youngsters tasting independence from their family. They always bring joy and humour to us in an oceanic wilderness.
To get nearer the island we had to cross back over the continental shelf but the chart information said we were entering an ESSA, Environmentally Sensitive Sea Area where marine activities are strictly limited, maybe no more fishing boats then.
Throughout our last day on passage the barometer was dropping continuously so we knew we could trust the forecast, the question was would we make the narrow river entrance before dark or have to anchor in the bay outside overnight, slotted in between the fish farms?
Kangaroo Island appeared low on the horizon within a strange mirage that looked like a wall of water along the horizon all around us. A smoke haze Rob thought but it seemed to be the wrong colour, more like a reflection of the ocean, an approaching tidal wave? Thankfully not. We had planned our arrival approaching the channel between the island and mainland carefully to coincide with the start of the rising tide as the ebb can produce a tide rip which runs at 4 knots against us, just like the Needles Channel between the Isle of Wight and Hurst Spit.
We had a welcome video chat with Richard and the boys as we crossed the Eastern Cove with the sun setting, giving us a race against failing light. Still the mirage continued making out-lying rocks look as if they had a waist and the shoreline quite indistinct. The chartplotter showed a well-marked channel dredged to 3 metres so with a height of tide of at most one metre we could expect 1 to 2 metres below the keel as the keel it two metres below the water surface.
I hugged the numerous red channel marker posts a little too tightly as at one stage the depth went down to 1.3 below the keel and that was on high tide, so mental note, on the way out I will give Zoonie’s black line a little space to our right and be on a nearly full tide.
We found a nice spot amidst some moored yachts in the channel to anchor and had supper in the cockpit amidst the beautiful setting you may well have seen on Rob’s Facebook page. But it was soon to change, as expected.
The next morning Rob discovered that the engine was 145 hours overdue for an oil change, “Oooh, that’ll be black oil then babe” I commented as he disappeared aft clutching the pump and looking like a man on a mission.
Outside I could see the wind was rising and opposing the strong tidal flow out of the harbour. The neighbouring yachts were pressed forward over their mooring lines despite the strong tide pushing them the other way. I started to think. Zoonie had 15 metres of chain out to the anchor in only 2.9 metres of water. If she were to change direction when the tidal turned, with the chain creating such a shallow angle with the seabed her keel could easily catch it as she swings and lift the anchor out. We had gone through the night ok because there was little wind.
It was 11.45 and we had three tense hours ahead to Low Water at 14.30 during which I kept regular lookout using the moored yachts nearby against the shoreline as transits.
This combined with the fact the engine was now empty of oil and unusable created a degree of tension in my mind as you can imagine. Rob did the fastest oil and filter change ever which included fitting a new water cooling pump impellor and making a rather worrying discovery. Not only had one complete flange on the impellor come off and disappeared into the system, and hopefully out the other end, but the inside surface of the pump was not the regular smooth surface it should be and would have to be replaced asap.
Later in the morning Rob called Carol on American Radio and she immediately asked where we were. “You’re not safe there under anchor, pick up the buoy marked Cotton opposite the jetty, it will take 50 tons and you’ll be fine there.”
Carol also told us how the beautiful island has lost 50% of its bush, 90 homes and the fires have consumed so much wildlife they are still assessing the damage. As we approached we saw intact countryside so the damage must be on the western side. The residents must be in a state of shock. “With Big fires come big rains.” Carol said, the voice of experience.
A quick look through the bins showed me the buoy was right behind us but it was low water and we were surrounded by sand banks, so where to safely take Zoonie without grounding? However all’s well that ends well and after a few sweaty moments Rob did a great job of picking up the line lying on the water from the buoy after I directed Zoonie gradually nearer with the tide pushing her one way and the wind the other.
But more fun was yet to come. Carol was right, the thunderstorm arrived in the afternoon and lasted overnight bringing that phenomena feared by all mariners, fork lightning. With Zoonie’s mast being the highest in our area we decided prudence was in order and ‘cooked’ three IPads, two phones and the handheld VHF in the oven hoping they would be spared and still give us the means to navigate if the Chartplotter really did get ‘cooked’. The rain was generous and welcome by all except perhaps the chap on the operating table in Port Lincoln Hospital where the storm had outed the electricity and he lay helpless but reassured when the theatre sister said to him “It’s alright we’re using the light on my phone.” For us it washed the salt off a treat
So that is where we are now, feeling mighty safe and comfy and waiting for our favourable weather window to arrive on Monday so we can set out and head for either Streaky Bay or Ceduna with the weather again calling the tune. The forecast if for a Southerly backing to Southeasterly with a 5 metre sea state at the start dropping gradually as the High spreads over the Great Australian Bight. Nice offshore winds. I wonder if we will be in time to use this one to cross over to Western Australia? We shall see.