Albany to Esperance – waves, more waves and pyrotechnics

A wetter
A “wetter” on the wheelhouse windows

Saturday 2/11/13 We moved from the Albany wharf before the eagle eyes of bureaucracy could charge us, and moved to the courtesy mooring. What a delight that turned out to be… just a short dinghy trip to the shore of a beautiful quiet bay, complete with a clean, non-smelly composting toilet. We went for a leisurely stroll, enjoyed a picnic lunch, were visited by dolphins swimming past, collected a couple of shells. This is what this boating lark is supposed to be! Then Col did one of his routine maintenance checks, and to our group dismay discovered we had about a foot deep of water sloshing around under the floor for the length of the boat! Panic, pumping, bailing with a chain of bucket emptiers; and finally sponging – but where was it coming from. Rod did a taste test and it wasn’t very salty – so not sea water. We finally tracked the culprit so a leaking valve in the bathroom bilge system. Water from the kitchen sink was gradually seeping down into the bathroom bilge, and overflowed into the keel section. It’s a stupid system – the bilge pump needs to be turned on as required, a valve opened – then both these shut down again. Nothing that should be automatic is. At last, boat was dry and definitely not leaking. That evening the predicted easterly storm came in, and blew a beauty for 24 hours. Our mooring was sound though not like a nearby old crayboat which dragged its anchor a couple of hundred metres perilously close to an island shore before the anchor held fast. The weather report was accurate, and we dropped the mooring at first light and headed out of Albany in light(ish) easterly winds so we could catch a westerly break to Esperance. A minimum of 36 hours straight ahead of us. All day we punched “up-hill” as Col describes it, averaging only about 5 knots directly into the big easterly swell which has built up over the past consistent easterly pattern. Really hard work on all of us, but the Andante didn’t seem to mind – taking it all quite happily. She does give a real sensation of buoyancy, which is great – but mean you feel a bit like an ant on a cork, being bounced around. The only moderately comfortable place to be was on the bed, jammed in either side with pillows. Even then, you left the bed from time to time for a moment of levitation. Meals were impossible to prepare so we snacked on dry biscuits and cheese, and risked life and limb to make 3/4 cups of hot coffee, tea or soup. The crew was fantastic taking turns at the wheel, then retiring to a rock’n’roll respite on the bunks. At one stage, we were taking on big waves, and Rod got a dump of cold southern ocean on his feet! A very rude awakening indeed. I took a photo of one of the big “wetters” hitting the wheelhouse windows.   At 7.30 at night an electrical storm started up, in the east directly in front of us. It gradually increased intensity with huge waves of light spreading out from behind the clouds then multi branched forks coming right down to sea level. The Andante might be small, but as far as we could tell, it was the only bit of metal in a huge area, so we felt a tad vulnerable. Col changed course a couple of times to avoid the worst of it, but the storm lasted till 4am encompassing the whole 360 degrees around us with thousands of strikes in that time. At last the wind turned around and we got a few hours with the jib up, and a swell behind us. Its a bit weird seeing huge wet mountains well up behind the boat, so all you can see behind is a blue wall, then they slide under the boat which slides down the hill. For a moment we it 9.1 knots!!! Esperance was at last visible, and we sailed through the wonderful islands and into the harbour at night fall on Tuesday 5th. There was no room at the inn (yacht club marina) so we tied up to a charter boat wharf. Thank goodness for still water. 37 hours of beating against easterly wind and swell was such hard work.

The journey to Bunbury by road

We left Tasmania in good spirits on the good Spirit with Jim McLeod’s car crammed with our belongings, with just enough room for us and Roxy. We spent the first night in Adelaide, then began the journey proper. We needed to make good time to Bunbury so crossed Spencer Gulf in the ferry, and made it to the Nullarbor Road house. Our fears of being whalloped by emus or roos were unfounded, we were disappointed at the lack of wild life… with the exception of many stumpy tailed lizard we scarcely saw a thing. It was a very welcome bed, shower and meal; but not exactly 5 star, and the trucks roared past at irregular intervals. The next morning though was worth it – a dense cold fog with blasting wind surrounded us, creating a wonderfully eery scene. The cliffs were as amazing as promised, falling out of the fog into the crashing sea below. The name Null – arbor rang true, not a tree for mile upon mile, but loads of resilient dry country plants.

12 weary hours of driving later, and we found the first of the west Australian wild flowers blooming on the roadside. Purple, yellows and reds abounded; with many plants creeping along the ground only to reveal fantastic flowers. Banksias, dryandras, hakeas were especially bountiful and beautiful. We stopped about every 100m for Jim to leap out exclaiming superlatives, photograph a plant then delve in his books for the identification. He was a great travelling companion, and kept us entertained, educated and admiring of his botanical knowledge.

We followed this epic with another – from the beautiful coast area of Esperance through the Fitzgerald River National Park and on to Albany.  Absolutely fabulous wildflowers made more splendid with Jim’s expertise. The following morning was blowing a gale so we were able to view “The Gap” in truly awesome power. The wind was blowing the already ferocious southern ocean into a gap in granite boulders. It made us a little concerned about coming through similar seas in the Andante.

And then, on to Bunbury through the Stirling Ranges National Park. Perhaps we getting a little jaded, but this didn’t live up to the magic of yesterday. Had we had the value of hindsight… another week traversing this countryside would not have gone amiss… but we thought we had a deadline.

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