I've just returned from an 18-day sail up the coast from Fremantle to Broome on a 65-foot ketch with 8 others on-board. What an awesome adventure it has been and an experience and a half to say the least. It allowed us to take in the sheer beauty of our West Australian coastline as well as various weather conditions, from a completely glassed-out ocean to big seas, huge swells and strong winds including a mini tornado.
We left Fremantle on 1st May and headed straight out to the Abrolhos Islands where we arrived a couple of days later. After spending 2 days there exploring the islands, we set sail again to our next destination, Steep Point, approx 30 hours away, back on the mainland. It was on this leg of our journey we experienced some horrendous weather. We listened to the weather report before departing and expected to get some strong winds but nothing like what we actually got.
The morning we departed started out very overcast with next to no wind at all. There was some thunder and lightning about, but not much rain to speak of. By midday, the wind started to pick up and the sea was getting progressively lumpy. The wind started building up from the NW from 20/25 to 30/35 with gusts of over 40 knots. We put 2 reefs in the mainsail, got rid of the head-sail altogether and hoisted the stay-sail. The boat was healing right over with it's starboard gunwale in the water and lots of green water was coming up over the dodger and drenching the cockpit and all its occupants. It was a very uncomfortable ride indeed and, as I stood at the foot of the mizzen mast facing forward under the dodger, I pretty much had somewhat of a ringside seat to what was about to unfold.
The wind was blowing 35-40knots by then from the NW with swells of up to 5 metres. Then, all of a sudden from out of no-where the wind did a complete 180 degree about-turn to the SE. Nobody saw it coming! It was really weird and a bit scary I must say. Immediately the boat broached, dunking the stay-sail into the sea. Then she got knocked down to 70/80 degrees and everything that was on her port side unsecured ended up on her starboard side or overboard. From where I stood, I could see that the saloon windows down below where under water. This all happened in the space of about 10 seconds so you can imagine the fright we all got! Bracing ourselves for quite some time afterwards, we watched in awe the sheer size of the seas that were breaking around us, waiting to see what the wind was going to do next but fortunately it had just been a one-of. The storm abated soon after and conditions started to moderate as we got closer to the mainland.
It wasn't until we arrived at Maud's Landing in Coral Bay on 8th May when we heard that a 'mini tornado' had in fact hit the Abrolhos Islands on 5th May and that 2 fishermen's shacks were blown away and destroyed. Fortunately nobody was inside them at the time. As for the rest of us on-board, we were all a little shaken and stirred maybe, but none of us was hurt either and, apart from losing a gaff, a dorade box and a life ring overboard in the middle of that storm, the boat survived relatively unscathed and we went on to enjoy the rest of our adventure.
We had many glassed out days when we enjoyed BBQ'd meals while under-way. We could walk up and down the full length of the boat without having to hold on. We even did some yoga on the foredeck while under-way and often times, all around us were so much wildlife like dolphins, turtles, sea-snakes, flying fishes, and birds. We even caught a 30kg tuna and a 15kg mackerel. I had first go on the tuna but the fish put up such a strong and heavy fight, it took 3 of us to boat it.
Upon arrival in Broome, 4 of us got off the boat as we had our respective accommodations previously organised. I stayed at the Pinctada Cable Beach Resort and treated myself to a complete pampering session in their spa before flying home after 2 days in Broome.