2020 Aus North West to Ceduna

Fri 14 Feb 2020 02:50

North West to Ceduna

A Town for All Seasons

In the blog entitled A Sunday Drive with Friends and Portland to American River the final picture shows a cormorant fishing to feed a pelican. We watched amazed as the busy little cormorant fished around just beneath the water surface while the domineering (both in size and attitude) pelican kept a close eye on his fisher. The cormorant would then raise his head above water while presumably holding the fish in its feet as the pelican grabbed and swallowed it.

This went on for a long time all the way down the edge of the sandbank just a few metres away. It reminded us of a you tube video we saw a few years ago when a fisherman in either Japan or Vietnam tied a line around a cormorant’s neck so it couldn’t swallow its prey, instead the fisherman relieved him of it making sure the bird had his daily quota. Interesting that these skilled birds are willing to work on behalf of others.

Matthew Flinders explored the island back in 1802 and made two interesting discoveries. First the vegetation that was growing was young and all the old trees were lying on the ground leading Captain Flinders to believe they had recently fallen foul of a bush fire caused by either two branches rubbing together during the dry season or by lightning strike. Secondly he came across many old pelicans sitting on the beach of a lagoon he named Pelican Lagoon. They were surrounded by bones, those of young pelicans which may have been caught in the same engulfing fire. This led him to think the pelicans were past the peak of their existence there in any great numbers. A different set of circumstance would have led to our finding the lagoon to see if he was right. At least there were a few in American River.

We were ready to leave the next morning and had a brief chat with Carol via VHF, “You’ll be ok until you’re nearly out and just by the second marker post in you’ll touch bottom, (pregnant pause) ah but it’ll be all good.” I wondered what she meant by that, was there a secret solution to lifting grounded yachts off the bottom, we were about to find out.

Rob let go the buoy that had kept us safe and secure and this time I motored out a little further away from the markers in what the chartplotter showed to be the deep channel. The high tides here are much higher at night, I guess the air pressure, wind and temperature combine to suppress the rise during the day. Gingerly we progressed with comfortable depths of 3.4 metres plus for most of the passage out to the bay. Approaching the second red marker the depth gauge dropped until it read 00.00 measured from the bottom of the keel to the seabed. A rare occurrence that and Zoonie slid gently to a stop. Where else could I have gone, we were right in the channel and I knew that on my route coming in there was even less water, so I didn’t want to take her over there.

I turned the wheel so when she did move she would be lying across the channel, Rob was hanging over her low side, the engine was on 2000rpm and with a little help from waves and the wind against her side lifting her, after a few minutes of gazing at my transits of the marker posts against the shore Zoons literally and very gently bumped her way across the sand until she was clear and that was by far the most nerve-wracking part of the journey. I don’t think we’ve been aground since Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight and then Rob gave Zoonie some more revs and she slid nicely through the mud.

We left behind us a distraught island with 50% of the bush burned, 90 homes lost and some tragic tales of the suffering of the animals. One farmer had spent decades building up his sheep station. When he drove out after the fires to see how his stock had fared he turned a bend to find 8000 sheep burned alive. Carmen we were yet to meet in the Ceduna Red Cross Office said she had been doing some volunteer work there the week before and down every road she drove there where blackened trees at the sides of the roads.

Somehow it didn’t seem right to go ashore there even if the waves had been small enough to make it a dry journey. We didn’t have time to stay and help and I am averse to rubber necking at road accidents unless I can be useful, so the same principle was applied here. Kangaroo Island has been a cruise liner stop over for a number of years and we wondered how this will affect that money earner.

The fires to the south of Canberra were raging through the Namadji Reserve which is Tyronne Bell’s mob’s country (I use the term ‘mob’ because that is how Archie Roach, himself one of the lost generation, describes the aborigine groups), and if it’s a good enough term for him then it’s good enough for me.

Braced against mal de mer we had both taken two sea-sick tablets as we had found from the last trip they worked well, or we’ve just got our sea legs back.

Zoonie sped along Investigator Strait with her full genoa and reefed main, in the opposite direction from whence we had come to the island through Backstairs Passage, named by Captain Flinders. Adelaide and Port Lincoln were to our right. Rob had set Waypoints quite close inshore that would have us altering course to avoid islands and reefs, so we decided instead to set them further offshore and clear of obstructions.

Captain Flinders went in the opposite direction on his voyage of discovery and just south east of Kangaroo Island that he had thoroughly explored he met up with the French explorer Nicolas Baudin by sheer co-incidence and the congeniality of their conversation aboard Baudin’s ship La Geographe was in stark contrast to the way he would be treated by the French Governor of Mauritius as I will tell you when we get there.

They met again the next morning on La Geographe and as they were travelling in opposite directions common sense reigned and they exchanged much information, both verbal, written and drawn about what they would each encounter and what to be aware of like dangerous rocks. Considering the national rivalry in their tasks and the fact the two countries were on the brink of war, the meeting was generally professional except for the words of the French first lieutenant Freycinet,

“Captain, if we had not been kept so long picking up shells and catching butterflies at Van Diemen’s Land, (Tasmania) you would not have discovered the south coast before us!” Which could have been taken as a witticism I guess.

You will see in the photo of Thorny Passage and Thistle Island on the left is Cape Catastrophe, well there is a tragic and unusual tale to tell about why Matthew Flinders used these names along with seven others of his crew members for the landmarks in the area.

On the 20th February 1802 Mr John Thistle and sis crew members from the Investigator went ashore on the mainland in the cutter in search of water and an anchoring place where they could safely anchor the ship. Matthew had known and liked Mr Thistle for many years. A master mariner himself he was the Master of the investigator and was a valuable asset aboard ship. So were the able seamen with him, all loyal volunteers to the ship’s compliment.

At dusk the white sail of the cutter was seen heading for the ship but then it suddenly vanished. Lieutenant Fowler set off straight away by himself to see what he could find in the darkness while the crew shone a lantern for him from the ship. He returned alone noting the dangerous rip tide he came close to on route that could have accounted for the loss of the cutter. Over the next few days searches were carried out. The up turned cutter was found battered by the rocks and when the Investigator eventually sailed away the mast and sail were spotted floating in the water, but of Matthew’s valued master and crew nothing was ever found. Today charts are marked with the little wavy lines in that area to warn of the dangerous riptides, up currents and whirlpools. Their loss bore heavily on Matthew’s mind and no doubt on the rest of the crew.

On our voyage by the next morning Zoonie was surfing down the waves of the Southern Ocean swell with a bubbling bone in her teeth and we had started our journey across the Great Australian Bight when we turned by Linguanea Island and Cape Carnot, which are seen as either the stepping off points or the arrival point from the Bight depending on which way a vessel is traversing it. Going east to west we needed to have a High moving across beneath us with its anti-clockwise winds from the east sector. The current one would run out before we could really use it so it was a case of waiting in Ceduna, which would have the advantage of shortening the journey and give us a better sailing angle for the winds.

Captain Flinders was sent by the Lord High Admiral of the UK to chart in depth this area along the south coast of Australia and it was while the Investigator was anchored off Spithead in Portsmouth before leaving the UK that Mr Thistle decided to while away some of the waiting time by visiting a wise old man, a clairvoyant named Pine. In Captain Flinder’s own words from the compilation ‘Matthew Flinders Works’ published by The Perfect Library,

“The cunning man informed him that he was going out a long voyage, and that the ship, arriving at her destination, would be joined by another vessel. That such was intended, he might have learned privately; but he added that Mr Thistle would be lost before the other vessel joined. As to the manner of his loss the magician refused to give any information. My boat’s crew, hearing what Mr Thistle said, went also to consult the wise man; and after the prefatory information of a long voyage, were told that they would be shipwrecked, but not in the ship they were going out in: whether they would escape and return to England, he was not permitted to reveal.

This tale Mr Thistle had often told at the mess table; and I remarked with some pain in a future part of the voyage, that every time my boat’s crew went to embark with me in the Lady Nelson, there was some degree of apprehension amongst them that the time of the predicted shipwreck was arrived. I make no comment upon this story, but recommend a commander, if possible to prevent any of his crew from consulting fortune tellers.”

Many local names; Port Lincoln, Sleaford Bay, Boston Island, Spalding Cove, Grantham Island  and Mere, for example, were given by Flinders from locations near where he was born, others in honour of high status men he knew like Sir Joseph Banks who you may remember sailed with Cook on his expedition and by now was the Right Honourable President of the Royal Society. Then also he used the names of his crew, The Taylor Group of Islands being just one, to commemorate the loss of promising midshipman William Taylor who drowned with Thistle off Cape Catastrophe. Such acts of generosity must have done a good deal for the level of morale and self-esteem aboard Investigator. Other location names might be based on experience like Avoid Bay and my favourite, after an uncertain night the Investigator spent anchored there, Anxious Bay.

Zoonie had a bone in her teeth and a 16 knot wind up her stern, so with her genoa poled out she was rocking along. That night the wind increased and starting gusting over 30 knots. At 1.00am Rob was out on deck taking in the genoa pole ready for a course change and the next morning found us 31 miles from the Ceduna seaward Channel Marker romping along under full genoa and reefed main with a ship, the Darling River shadowing us. We were effectively between him and the channel marker and it was reassuring to see him do an early and significant turn to port so he could cross our stern before making for the estuary entrance.

She overtook us and then anchored outside the fairway for two days before she could reach her berth and collect a load of Gypsum.

The moon was up and ready to guide us in along with the well-lit ship channel and with daylight gone we enjoyed the easy approach, meandering around sandbanks to the waypoint that Rob had put on the chartplotter for me. It was the exact location where Jeannie and Merv had anchored Meridian Passage 18 years ago to the day, taken from our copy of their log. Down the anchor and chain went at 11.50pm. A good night’s rest was called for.