Great Australian Bight

Only a few yachts cross the Bight at all and very few go from East to West. However the old square riggers when they came out of either Melbourne or Adelaide early in the season used to head SW and see what was happening in the Bight. This was of course pre GRIB days! The reason being that the high pressure usually centred over the Nullabor plain sinks south from mid February until early April. While this is happening it is thus easy to cross from Cape Catastrofe to the Recherche islands and so round Cape Lewin. The ships then arced the southern hemisphere Indian ocean and came home via the Cape of Good Hope. Much easier and usually faster than the longer wilder way in the Southern Ocean round Cape Horn.
This route was not very often written about as it was a lot less dramatic than a Cape Horn rounding. I learnt about it from the late Michael Pocock (RCC). The year we did it, 2006, there was to my knowledge only one other yacht, a Frenchman and his wife, who did it. The following year when we were still in Fremantle no one came in from that direction. This is a pity as the south coast of Western Australia is very interesting and the welcome we received in Esperance was one of the highlights of our cruise. We had five days of fair winds for the crossing. I can only urge circumnavigators to consider the benefits of going south round Australia. We certainly found it very rewarding.

However one fact should be noted. The journey really requires an odd bit of equipment. This being an old type Admiralty anchor with the flukes filled off and the two points made very sharp. The reason for this is that Flinders island on the eastern side of the Bight and the islands of the Recherche archipelago which lie to the south and south east of Esperence need such a piece of equipment. A friend of ours who did this trip and like us did not have such an anchor gave up trying to cruise Flinders Island. We only went to one of the Recherche Islands. Middle Island. The reason is that the sea bed round these islands consists of about a foot of weed/grass and then a layer of very hard crust sand. The only way we managed to anchor in Middle Island was to find one of the few weedless areas and then snorkel/dive down with an axe and break up the sand and get our heavy Delta dug in. Chandlers in Tasmania, Portland and Port Lincoln could have supplied us with the needed anchor but only by ordering one which would have taken three weeks. Time we did not have. You will find all local yachts in both the ports to the east of the bight and to the west have these unwieldy items lashed to their pulpits.

Finally in 2006 the latest Australian Admiralty charts had most of the 1500 islands and islets marked as 'unsurveyed' or just 'partially surveyed'. Very worrying. We found our cmap electronic charts to be very accurate. The young naval officer who did the survey did a very good job in the 1880s. Read about these islands on wikipedia.

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