Cable Beach may be rated as one of the best beaches in the world, but we rate it as one of the worst anchorages in the world. After a very uncomfortable night of being tossed around in our bunks, we arose to a light easterly breeze and a pea-soup fog; the fog delaying our departure for the more comfortable open ocean. We didn’t have to wait too long before we were able to hoist sails, haul in the anchor, say farewell to Broome, and head north for our Kimberley adventures.
We steamed along through the turquoise water under spinnaker, dodging whales and generally basking in the warm but humid weather, and paying homage to the weather gods who were once again blessing us with very pleasant sailing conditions. As we sailed past Willie Creek, I was at the helm keeping the spinnaker drawing nicely and reading up on places to visit in the Kimberley, when I became aware of a boat noise not far away. A tinny, well perhaps a little bit bigger than a tinny, with 2 men aboard came roaring up along side us and asked for directions to Broome! They had left Broome in the morning, their GPS had just stopped working, and they didn’t know which way to go to get back to Broome!! Had they not noticed which way they headed from Broome? As we were only a couple of miles off the coast, I was very tempted to ask what they were smoking, but decided to be very polite instead, and pointed south. Murray told them that a bearing of 180 degrees – if they had a compass - would soon find them in Broome, but that information just drew a blank look. We assumed from that response that they didn’t have a compass, or perhaps they didn’t know what one was. Some people shouldn’t be allowed out on the water, but then again they do provide us with quite a bit of entertainment!
We spent a night at James Price Point, not of any great significance in appearance, but very much in the news at present as the WA government’s preferred site for a new gas processing plant. From there we sailed onto Red Bluff – one of the many Red Bluff’s along the Australian Coast line - then into Beagle Bay, hoping to go ashore to see the famous church at the mission with the mother of pearl inlays. With the church being 5 miles from the anchorage by dinghy, and needing to keep moving, we decided to explore Alligator Creek instead. The crocodile waddie was the first piece of equipment to go into the dinghy before we set off, but none were sighted. From Beagle Bay we pottered around to Pender Bay, the most southern part of the typical rugged Kimberley landscape, and spent a morning exploring the beach waiting for the wind to pick up before setting sail for Thomas Bay.
The coast line from Beagle Bay to Cape Leveque is dotted with Aboriginal communities – each house complete with water tank, satellite TV dish, and who knows what else. To our advantage and surprise there is mobile phone coverage all the way up the coast from Broome to Cape Leveque. It was then onto Thomas Bay, and across the mouth of King Sound and into the Buccaneer Archipelago – what you might call the real Kimberley.
To get the right tides for crossing King Sound, which is famous for its racing currents of up to 10 knots, we had to leave Thomas Bay at around 3am. The alarm clock was not greeted with any enthusiasm as Thomas Bay have proved to be another very rough anchorage and neither of us had had much sleep. Our timing to cross King Sound could not have been worse as with a new moon, we would be experiencing spring tides for the next week, and spring tides mean horrid currents. However with time short, we had not fancied waiting around in Broome any longer to cross with the neap tides. We passed Cape Leveque as the east was getting bright and started to experience the first real tide races. I was on watch as we passed the edge of Alarm Shoal, and as I kept an eye on the very turbulent water ahead, my heart rate increased along with the boat speed. Soon we were doing over 8 knots, with my knees knocking just as fast. I was tempted to wake Murray so that he could see the water, but realized that we would be soon seeing a lot more of this, so let him sleep. Further out across King Sound we started to cross the current rather than go with it, and what a strange experience that was – at times the boat was facing 30 degrees and we were heading 70 degrees! The big girl was crabbing towards her destination.
A few course alterations were required to deal with the cross currents, but by lunchtime we were at our first destination of Silica Beach, Hidden Island. Well, you think that you are in one of the most isolated parts of the country, but think again. A cruise boat was anchored in the bay disgorging its throng of passengers onto the beautiful white beach, where they had their 5 minute swim before being bundled back on board the mother ship to roar off to the next anchorage and photo opportunity. We had a lot of trouble anchoring in the bay due to the coral and rocky bottom, but eventually got the anchor to hold in deep water (after shifting several times) and settled back to enjoy the location. It wasn’t long before another “runabout” came roaring into the bay with yet more tourists. These ones were really upmarket with their brightly coloured beach umbrellas, not to mention the runabout with four 150hp outboards across the stern – no worrying about currents for them. Again, after a few minutes we had the place to ourselves. More cruise boats passed during the day, followed by a couple of fishing boats after dark and a large barge the next morning. Silica Beach may be only a small beach, but the sand is very fine and white (somewhere between castor sugar and icing sugar) and squeaks as you walk on it. A very pretty spot.
In need of some more fish, and with a slack tide first thing in the morning we went out for a quick troll around the bay in the dinghy before breakfast – and well inside the bay so as not to come in contact with the horrendous current roaring past the mouth of the bay. Within a hundred metres of the boat, I landed a 93cm Queenfish on my little kayak rod and 4 kg line – end of fishing for a while! Murray then decided to put a few of the off-cuts from the Queenfish on a hand line just to see what was about, and within a minute he had a lovely Blue-lined Emporer on board. Definitely no fishing for a few days! “Salad Days” once again became a fish processing factory.
From Silica Beach we sailed around to Conilurus Island and helped ourselves to some very large black-lipped oysters at low tide and went scouting around for the World War II gun relics that are on the island. As we didn’t find them, that is one more “task” to complete when we are next through this way. Coppermine Creek was the next port of call, nosing our way up the creek and dodging the pearl farm, then spent a few hours exploring the upper reaches of the creek. It was our first experience of dinghy-ing through the treetops! With the high tides at close to 10 metres most of the mangroves were completely under water, and you look down through the water to the tree tops – very spooky!
So our lives are now dictated by the tides. Everyday involves deciding where we would like to go, working out which direction the currents are flowing, what time we need to leave and arrive to go with the flow, and then doing all the tide calculations to determine anchoring depths required. The complicating factor is that all the bays and inlets can have significantly different tide times and heights than the primary & secondary ports listed in the tide books - and those differences change depending on whether the tides are springs or neaps. So lots of observation is required, and hasty shifting of anchorages when the low tide ends up being a lot lower than we predicted! It is a beautiful part of the world, but it is certainly not without it stresses. The best places are always the hardest to get to.
The next mission was to tackle Crocodile Creek – but that is worth a story all of its own, so read on…….