Sailing The Rowley Shoals

I find impeccable timing and subtle synchronicities to be a funny thing. The amount of times I’ve been in the right place at the right time is astounding & thought provoking to say the least. I don’t think its luck, but a mixture of manifestation & creating a reality you want to live, where all possibilities are open to the universe.

How does one always seem to fall into so many adventures & fortunate circumstances?

How does one simply find themselves on a Catamaran 260 kilometers offshore at one of the most untouched, pristine coral atolls in the world?

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 The journey there took 30 hours. We spent our time reading and getting lures prepared for the expectation of catching some gnarly fish. We stopped midway on a reef-shelf & ended up reeling in a Rankin Cod, Long Nosed Emperor and a Coral trout.

Line in, fish out, easy as 1 2 3. Absolutely stoked. Ash is an ex-chef so the meals we made from the fresh seafood were mouthwatering. Ceviche, fish curry, beer battered cod & chips… life on the sea.

As we entered the atoll I peered atop from the mast, the water was calm & exquisite with different shades of blue and massive coral reefs with over 230 different coral species & 600 species of fish. A thin, elongated island splayed in the shallows further along, the center as rocky and desolate as Mars, but pure white & home to Red-tailed Tropicbirds & Ruddy Turnstones. This was to be our playground for the next week.

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Each night I’ve been sleeping on a giant inflatable mattress that’s tied to the top of the Catamaran. The whole Indian ocean surrounds me, & above I’m looking at the trillions of galaxies, the deep milky way and a rare abundance of shooting stars. I seriously have a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree view of the sky, the soothing sounds of waves lapping against the hull and ropes swaying against the mast.

 

Bedwell Island may just look like a stretch of elongated sand- but it’s actually a whole beautiful little ecosystem with an abundance of life and natural patterns. I kayaked over to it one afternoon in a contentious 25 knot wind. The old blokes were wary I wasn’t going to be able to paddle back- and if you miss the island the next stop is legitimately Africa. I threw in my snorkel & mask, a few water bottles & a collectable bag- there’s many a treasure to be found on an island 300 kilometers out to sea. Plastic is still one of them unfortunately.

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As I walked further around the island, I felt so completely immersed in its utter simplicity & divine beauty. Hundreds of crabs would scurry their way into the rocks as I walked up the long stretch of rock or old reef. And Eels! Some sort of Eel like creature with cream skin and tiny black dots slithered their way through the shallows, absolutely terrified by the sight of me. The first one I saw I accidentally disturbed it sleeping in the shade of a rock in the shallows, I didn’t know what to think just as much as he did. I now know that they were Morays & not some alien creature from the deep. As the sun lowered over the desert stretch of land, I took everything in around me and fully appreciated where I was. My cornucopia of goodies consisted of driftwood in the form of sea creatures, dried corals, all the bottle-tops and micro plastics I could find, a beautiful glass bottle, broken lightbulbs (yes, lightbulbs) and a massive Nautilus shell which made me stop straight in my tracks. I was blown away when I saw it, half buried in the sand, its striped brown and white trunk just peeking out. Nautiluses usually inhabit depths of several hundred metres and are only found in the Indo-Pacific waters. In other words, a rare find.

The paddle back into the wind and towards the Catamaran was an enjoyable mission. With white tip reef sharks meandering in the shallows and a slow setting sun, the push back to the Galley Cat was on. Arrived back to a nice lamb curry simmering away on the stove top with jasmine rice & crusty Turkish bread. Cheers Ash!

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The waves on the outer reef of Clerke atoll have been pounding against the 400-meter-deep reef wall for the past four days. Currently out on the high seas trying to hold down the last hours sushi and seared chicken. We took a punt and headed towards the channel (the only way in and out). We secured everything down and packed bowls, cooking utensils, the dive gear, anything loose, inside the cabin. The dinghy is secured on the back with a pulley system that can hold one tonne. The caribenas have warped and torn their way open against the weight of the dinghy, which is getting absolutely pummeled by the rise and fall of the sea. Tumultuous to say the least.

Captain said Galley Cat is riding nicely- although after his daily dozen dose of greens and the thumps of great liquid mass knocking the boat from underneath, I’m in more unease than gallant enthusiasm.  Stew, Stew, Stew. I’d describe Stew as an experienced stinky old sea dog who’s constantly ‘pissed and stoned as a maggot’ but as harmless and affable as his Pitbull Honey. Ash is lying on the floor of the cabin next to the dog. He just vomited up about a litre of creamy liquid bile and this morning’s sushi. He’s at it again about 10 minutes later. I don’t think I was far behind.

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The anticipation between each swell is mighty. You can hear the power and rumble of the motors, working hard against the seas pushing us back towards the treacherous shallow reef. The rumble of the propellers as they spin in mid-air. Every creak and rattle and shake you feel down to the core of your bones- & your aching peace of mind. If one of the hulls was to break or warp under the pressure, and water started to cascade through the inside of the cabin, there would be no one to save us. I’ve prepared a plastic bag full of water bottles and my rash vest handy if anything happens. I’ve even glad-locked my hard-drive and am willing to put that and my plastic wrapped laptop case in the freezer for preservation if we do go under (life of a photographer- when you value your gear more than life). Hey we won’t be going under, but 167 nautical miles out at sea it’s an imperious thought. Not that a rash vest is going to help much but it will protect my fair skin from the sun, and hopefully the water bottles will float when I haven’t yet been parched of thirst.

Oh wow. *%# I feel sick. I do have a life jacket by my side if you were thinking the obvious.

 

Anyway, back to that channel. The plan was to scope it out and see whether it was doable getting through. The tide was getting lower and lower and we had hit a tiny coral bombie on the way out- the absolute death of me. One thing’s for sure, the Neap tide period was well and truly over. The past few days we’ve seen the coral almost fully dry above the water, Brain coral and harder rock corals emerge first. We left at about 1.30pm through the channel around mid-tide- pretty much headed straight out through it with no prior thought or consultation. Ash was on the deck pointing directions to Stew in the skipper’s seat below, navigating us between the 10 metre channel. Galley Cat is seven metres wide which left us an arm and a foot either side of the rising reef. The swells that pushed towards us as we neared the exit way were frightening to say the least. I remember the sight of it pretty clearly from above the cabin. Big rolls of white water leaped and bound towards us as we rolled left to right in between the coral sheath. Although this wasn’t even the worst bit; the worst bit was battling against the mountain like, unforgiving swell as it hit the edge of the atoll and pushed back with an unthwarted stubbornness. We were in the midst of its game, 12 or so miles out and the high seas were still prevailing. God it gave me anxiety, but I seemed to be taking myself out of the situation and kind of standing back from it all- like the early Indigenous people who would leave their bodies to look for wild prey on the valleys below- It doesn’t ease the rise and fall of my stomach, however. Now it’s just holding on tight for the next 30 hours from here and praying that Galley Cat can ease her way through the swell…

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We were halfway across the strait. It was just as tumultuous as it was seven hours ago. I woke up to catch a glimpse of the sunrise before passing back out for a few hours on the couch. It’s 8.30 am now. The fact that we made it through the night is hopeful, yet at a steady 1.6 knots we are still 107 miles either direction from land. Smack bang in the middle of the Indian Ocean and south of the Timor Sea. My only hope is that the hulls of the Galley Cat don’t concave against the massive thumping of the rise and fall of the sea. The number of dire scenarios that went through my head were quite funny actually. We shall chagrin with the conditions.

 

Last night the dive platform below the dinghy got crushed under its weight and broke off during the night. I’m surprised that thing is still on there to be honest. The metal structure holding up the dinghy with chains and multiple double knotted ropes has buckled with a quarter of the attachments from the roof disjointed. I can’t even describe the rest; I don’t want to put it into words just in case it comes true.

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After a solid struggle and many hours of not being able to stand up straight, I’m overlooking the fine Cable Beach once again. I am so relieved to be back on land and free from the constraints of the boat. My body still feels like it’s in motion, but I shall soon adjust. Man, that was an interesting few days. We celebrated the trip and our safe arrival with a homemade cheesecake haha. Stew called me a few days later saying the hull had numerous compression dings and the left propeller completely shut down, leaving him and the yacht in shambles in the wild weather and needing to be rescued just off the mooring. We were extremely fortunate to come back the day we did.

 

I was definitely keen to get out of Broome then, start heading back down the coast in search of waves and some solid surf. After that who knows, but I like to have a general idea so I’m not aimlessly meandering. However, that is often what leads you to meeting the best people and sharing the greatest experiences- meandering & general conversation.

North West Island Paradiso

The Great Barrier Reef is not just a place on a map; it’s a living and thriving ecosystem made up of billions of organisms and home to over 900 islands and coral cays. Just 75 kilometres off of Gladstone, Queensland, lies the Capricorn Bunker Group- the southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef consisting of eight biologically diverse, and exceptionally beautiful islands that are just a stone’s throw away from the mainland. As we boarded the boat headed to North West Island, this tiny strip of land that we would be living and camping on for the next 7 days, with our two cars worth of gear, boards and leisurely essentials (apparently, we packed light) we had little idea of what we’d be in for.

Under the stars. Our North West odyssey.

Under the stars. Our North West odyssey.

Australia, you're so wild and free.

Australia, you're so wild and free.

@danwilly and @indhi_ mid rapturous-delight in @willandbear

@danwilly and @indhi_ mid rapturous-delight in @willandbear

There’s just something about being in the open sea, with the wind on your face and a fine salty glaze glistening across your body. Watching the swell ease its way down the horizon, those gentle rolls that never cease to halt. Curtis Ferry Services have been dropping people out to North West, and the islands sprawled across the Capricorn Bunker region for the past 40 years. The trip out there is something in itself.

The first night we were there, our camp nestled amongst the Pisonia trees and only 20 steps from the soft sand, with those mesmerisingly translucent waters of the lagoon that shone the colour of a Moroccan gem. We were greeted with a warm cacophony from some of the islands local residents- Knoddy turn and Shearwater (Mutton) birds. Muttons are ever so graceful at sea, soaring freely across the high seas, but on land, well lets just say that’s another story. They nest and burrow under the Pisonia trees throughout the island, their rudimentary singing calls attempting to serenade us throughout the night- with little avail haha.

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The walk out to the reef // just a step off from the high reef edge into an oasis of large pelagic fish and corals.

The walk out to the reef // just a step off from the high reef edge into an oasis of large pelagic fish and corals.

Dinner done right. @micklatt @_sophiaanne_ @danwilly

Dinner done right. @micklatt @_sophiaanne_ @danwilly

Back in 1904, the island was actually used as the base for a turtle soup factory- the boilers still remain, in their rusted form today. The history of some of The Great Barrier Reef’s islands are flagrantly barbaric as much as they are intriguing. The turtles were caught, killed, butchered, ‘souped’, tinned and exported- the whole operation completed from sea to soup. It wasn't until 1950 that sea turtles became protected animals (thank god- I can’t imagine turtle soup being very appetising anyhow).

The days on the island consisted of waking up with the sun, that soft glow that slowly emanates its way through the trees and onto the side where we were camped. Stepping onto the beach is like witnessing the sands of time- every 5 metres or so there’s a new animal track lingering from the low tide and up into the soft sand of the foredune. Turtles. These guys come here to lay their eggs, swimming in after dusk on the low tide and leaving early the next morning before the predators lurk in the high water of the lagoon. Michael, one of the guys on the trip, has been doing turtle conservation work for the past few years- we counted 420 tracks encompassing the island in just the first night alone. 420- that’s wild man!

Slacklining and hammock hangs part of the daily rituals of island life.

Slacklining and hammock hangs part of the daily rituals of island life.

Watching the baby turtles make their way to the water. Pretty special moments in time.

Watching the baby turtles make their way to the water. Pretty special moments in time.

@danwilly braving the sharkies for the shot. North West is the largest coral cay in the Capricorn-Bunker region, you can meander around it in under an hour.

@danwilly braving the sharkies for the shot. North West is the largest coral cay in the Capricorn-Bunker region, you can meander around it in under an hour.

Absolute ledgie @_sophiaanne_ enjoying the afternoon sun.

Absolute ledgie @_sophiaanne_ enjoying the afternoon sun.

The abundance of marine and wildlife on the island is actually phenomenal. From the turtles laying their eggs on the beach to the Manta rays and small reef sharks swimming in the lagoon. One afternoon we were eating our stuffed spuds whilst watching the sun go down- the spuds filled with the previous night’s leftovers and marinated veggies (recommended easy and seriously delicious camp meal), enjoying the tranquillity of our surroundings and a cold bev, when all of a sudden about ninety loggerhead turtle hatchlings erupted from the dune behind us and came scurrying down between our toes in dire desperation to reach the waters edge. This was not a rare occurrence. In fact, after seven days, we had possibly become turtled out.

Australia seriously has so much to offer, it’s a country that’s beautifully wild and free. We yearn to visit those places overseas and tropical islands far out of our reach, but in reality, the best destinations and experiences are right here in our own backyard. North West Island, you were a real gem.

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