Daw Island Southern Ocean


We’re guessing that you’ve never heard of this droplet of land that pops out the turbulent Southern Ocean twenty miles from Isrealite Bay in Western Australia. A few years ago, we sailed past it on our way west, but didn’t stop as we had wind for many more miles. So this time when going east, we were keen to explore Daw Island. Especially after Ted, our ex-tuna fisherman friend in Albany told us that Daw Island once had a tuna processing ship stationed there during the fishing heyday of the 70s.

Daw Island Location Map
Daw-Island_3Today Daw Island is an outpost of Nature, a lonely island at the very eastern end of the remote Recherche Archipelago, impossible to visit without a stout vessel and the courage to face Australia’s south coast. Very few visit, mostly fishermen and few yachtsmen, but hardly any pleasure boats venture out that far from help.

Wild creatures live on Daw Island. Cute comical sea lions, majestic sea eagles, plump geese, muttonbirds, penguins, and deadly snakes all coexist with a myriad of other birds and critters that living away from man and his needs. At Daw Island, these creatures raise their families unmolested, far removed from the human specie. At Daw, Nature dominates. And that makes this place special.

In our adventure machine we have traveled far and wide to find Nature living where man does not exist. Last year we sailed to the middle of the Coral Sea to observe thousands of sea birds undisturbed by man. This time we pitted our skills against the wild Southern Ocean that can often create gigantic waves from storms gathering fury in the freezing waters near Antarctica. Down here under Australia, far away from the built up centres of Albany and Esperance, there are a thousand islands, some just rocks partly submerged but still home for so many creatures.

The distance from Middle Island in the Recherche Archipelago to Daw required us to sail at the first hint of light. Jack slept lightly and arose still in darkness to ready the ship. His main chore, to download the latest seven day weather information from the internet as we’d be loosing contact upon leaving Middle Island. All went perfectly until we attempted to raise our Boss anchor. With our chain straight up, the winch could not budge it another inch, and with daylight fast increasing, his frustration erupted. Using power he manoeuvred the ship’s bum to shore in an effort to tease our ground tackle out backwards. But that failed in a sickening series of dips when all pulled up horribly tight.

Not for years have we jammed an anchor like this. Why on this day when we needed every minute of daylight! So frustrating.But like many things in life, one moment frustrating drama, the next all free and easy. A note to all, it wasn’t a stuck anchor, but our chain wrapped around rock.

Our sail to Daw was perfect. We altered course often to dodge rocks and tiny islands jutting out the ocean and we were somewhat frightened and in awe when great swells broke over underwater shoals we couldn’t even see. But the wind held, and forty miles on Daw became visible as a dull grey shadow with white water flashing high into the sunlight. After sailing forty-eight miles, and still flying full sail, we were conning our way into calmer water, Jack atop the coach house searching for hidden dangers. Daw Island, shaped like a boomerang has tall massifs, but it is not surveyed. Its sister island, New Year, is only marked by a pinprick on navigational charts. On the slopes before us the sun lit up the bright red, yellow, and orange colours of succulents.


Sunday 4th May – First exploration

impressive forces attack the landJack and Jude were so fortunate to have paddled the Green Machine around this Nature outpost and watched impressive forces attack the land. Every minute powerful swells were exploding somewhere against Daw’s solid rock before erupting into a plume of spray, or sending waves sweeping up smooth rock fronts to where sea-lions rested unconcerned.

daw island death adders

Death Adders reside in large numbers on this island.

Donning thick walking pants, boots, and wet weather gear we landed on the only sand beach and straight away noticed a sign warning of deadly snakes. We know a bit about these creatures, so Jack cautiously took the first track thorough the shallow bush that lead to another then another until we reached the saddle looking both to windward and into our anchorage. The Banyandah looked so beautiful all alone in the half cauldron, while on the weather side occasional white caps on the grey sea below a sludgy grey sky drew our attention to approaching black curtains of rain. Feeling the invigorating fresh breeze fired up our desire to reach the island’s highest peak and along the way our cameras captured gigabytes of this beautiful Earth and our moments upon it.

Rain came just as we reached a rock cave near the end of the main island, and ducking under its crude cover we watched several Cape Barren Geese honk and gesture while trying to figure us out.

WB_Sea_Eagle_PounceHigh overhead a pair of majestic sea eagles soared as if they owned the sky, they were using Nature’s forces to swirl and look down on everything just like the very best spy camera. What a life. No bills to pay. No bureaucratic red tape. Mating for life and sharing the same hunting range, in the morning and evening they’d roost together and sing, while at other times they’d soar on earth’s energy, maybe spotting a tasty treat, and then their super sharp talons would pierce and lift huge fish from the sea. They are indeed a talented unique creature.

A white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) catches a fish.

White-bellied Sea Eagles, Australia’s second largest raptor after the giant Wedge Tail Eagles, is listed as Threatened in Victoria and Vulnerable in South Australia and Tasmania. Their main threat, human disturbance to its habitat, both from direct human activity near nests which impacts on breeding success, and from removal of suitable trees for nesting.

The adult White-bellied Sea Eagle is a distinctive bird with its white head and breast, and tail. Their upper parts are grey and the black under-wing flight feathers contrast with the white coverts. Like many raptors, the female is slightly larger than the male, and can measure up to 90 cm (35 in) long with a wingspan of up to 2.2 m (7 ft), they weigh 4.5 kg (10 lb). Their call, a loud goose-like honking.

After the shower passed, Jack eagerly pushed up the last ridge connecting the two peaks with a part of his route following a rock ledge that fell sharply into the sea. That might prove dangerous for Jude’s wonky knee, so she took a higher route through scrub where upon putting an un-gloved hand down for support, a coiled snake struck at her. You can imagine her fright. Daw Island is a long way from help.

Tuesday 6th May – Preparations

HF-Fax_20140506_0900We’ve been busy today, non-stop packing, getting Banyandah ready for her battle with the oncoming “vigorous cold front” that is rushing towards us at thirty knots. A gale warning has been issued for Cape Leeuwin and we’re hoping that we’ll not be hit as hard as the forty knot winds predicted for Australia’s southwestern point.

A battle plan has been drawn up. We’ll leave tomorrow when the wind turns to the north or the sun starts to set, whichever comes first. We cannot stay at Daw tomorrow night because during that night the wind will swing to the NW and enter this bay and by early the following morning the front will strike and before it will come strong wet west winds. Best to be at sea, with nothing but open space and deep water around. Then, even if it gets really bad, bucketing rain and howling, we have options like hove to.

That first night we’ll sail due east, trying not to lose latitude and be forced into the more vicious winds. And then at daybreak after the front hits, we’ll hunker down with just two tiny sails up forward, the mainsail lashed tightly to the boom. That’s when we’ll head a bit more southerly, towards Investigator Straits because after the front a longish high pressure system will move in producing variable winds in the north of the Bight and mighty fine sailing conditions further south. That’s the plan. Let’s see how it turns out.

Tuesday 7th May – Waiting

Another 24 hours has past since writing the above and we are still anchored at Daw Island with upwards of twenty-knot winds coming over the sugarloaf. Going out into that would force us to lose latitude and push us further into harm’s way. So we’ve opted to stay put until forced out. When might that be is being seriously studied from the weather charts coming over our radio fax. The Cold Front has yet to reach Cape Leeuwin, but we know the wind will back NW before the front. The anchorage at Daw is not recommended for anything further around than NE, but we’re sort of hoping the anchorage will stand a bit of north. The NW is wide open, so we’ll have to be gone before the wind swings that far, and probably much sooner than that. But going out into twenty knot NE headwinds would mean we’d have to haul up tightly on the wind, putting ourselves and our lady under a lot of stress. Better to hang here and go out in the dark if need be.

Looking into Daw Island anchorage succulents, tea tree, and strange rock

Yesterday we packed away the kayak, putting the two main stringer frames into one bag and all the bulkheads, seats, backrests, and footpads in the starboard cockpit locker. Its Hypalon skin was folded into a neat bundle then taken below where Jude lashed it on top of the forward bunk along with the two paddles.

Our ten foot alloy dinghy, Little Red,has its own emergency bag containing water, food, a medical kit, and fishing gear and of course signalling flares. Some while ago Jude made a stout bag for those items that ties the bundle under the centre thwart. The oars we lashed to the seats as well.

Down below everything loose found a home. Jude made two loaves of bread and a nice tub of coleslaw. It’s amazing, yesterday was mostly bright and sunny, so she also washed our dirty cloths, and rinsed the salt out our kayak clobber so that it could be put away.

After that busy day’s work we enjoyed a libation or two then enjoyed a fried fish dinner. The fishing in this bay has been excellent. We can see squid in formations near the bottom, but Jack’s bait attracted two small trevally that when fried with ginger and chilli tasted heavenly.

It’s pasta tonight and then a nervous wait for the wind to shift. In the weather reports, we have heard this storm is rather gusty and so setting too much sail might create a big problem. Jack is thinking of going up to rearrange our reefing lines so he can put in the third reef in the mainsail. Our boom accommodates only two reefing lines which are normally set in the first and second reefing cringles. He’ll move the reefing line from number one up to the third cringle.

skeleton on succulents Sea Eagle supper
Skeleton amongst the succulents – All that remains from a Sea Eagle Supper

Wednesday 8th May – Our voyage begins

As darkness fell upon the sparsely clad islands forming this Nature stronghold, a few seal pups were crying for a feed while the honking of Cape Barron Geese echoed off the towering sugarloaf. Those massifs still held back the real wind from our anchorage, but that would change shortly. When? We did not know. In the dark night or with morning light, it was impossible to know. We only knew that when the wind found its way into our bay, fearing it might come in strong gusts we must be ready to leave in haste.

Sea Lion colony scattered around the bay

Sea Lion colony scattered around the bay

Sea Lion colony scattered around the bay

Jude made the wise move of going to bed soon after darkness fell, while Jack waited for the 8:30 weather report. He wanted to hear what wind strength the other stations would report so he could better judge when the change might reach us. He lay on the sofa listening to the wind rustle the bay’s waters and waited, fighting off edginess and fatigue by popping up topsides every few minutes to confirm that that wind still stole down over the massif that stood as a dark silhouette before us. When the 8:30 report told him little new, he chanced a lie down next to his sleeping wife, leaving his clothes on with the thought that he’d then only sleep lightly.

Several times in the next hour Jack arose to check the wind, but it still came from the sugarloaf. Thus calmed, he must have nodded off for next he knew Jude was climbing over him to check the wind. When she returned, she almost casually mentioned that the wind was now rather light and stealing into our bay from the open gap. Nearly leaping from bed, it took but a moment for Jack’s eyes to accustom themselves to the darkness and see his ship’s bow now facing an unbroken starry horizon well past north. The time was 11:00PM.

“Time to go,” came out hoarsely and from bed, Jude threw back the covers and began dressing in warm jumpers and wool track pants.

By the time she arose, adjusting her wool beanie, Jack had the engine ticking over and our instruments alight. The wind had subsided to a mild breeze perfect for picking up our anchor in the dark and with a hot drink warming us, we set to work getting Banyandah ready for sea with well practiced ease. Jude drove while Jack retrieved the anchor, followed by the more challenging task of navigating out of the rock bound bay which is not shown on our charts, and therefore not showing on our GPS. But we had our track in and skills enough to guide us out. Jack on the foredeck well away from blinding lights, searching the dark horizon for the smaller New Year Island that guards Daw’s entrance.

GME chart image

GME chart image
Note: Incorrect island shape and we anchored on land!

Jude at the helm, engine just ticking over in forward gear making way at a little over four knots. In fact the easy wind made our task fairly easy, and only once did we spy the deadly white of breaking surf while feeling our way around those islands into open sea. As we cleared the islands, the wind strength increased, allowing us to silence the engine and sail on without mechanical sounds. And then quite soon Banyandah was slipping through those dark waters towards South Australia while Daw Island melted into the night.

With Sir Aries now steering our ship and a fair breeze driving us towards open waters, the time an hour after midnight, Jack relinquished command and toddled off to our now rocking bed.

It rained during Jude’s early morning watch, and at first light our world was devoid of all but grey overcast light. The wind had found its feet pushing Banyandah along at a brisk speed accompanied by increased swell and motion. Jude was knackered. One quick kiss sent her to bed. Although the wind had stay in the northwest, the barometer had falling to 1005 mb indicating that the front approached. How severe would it be? The forecast had indicated gale force winds for all the south coast, one report indicated destructive winds and hail.

In preparation for running before storm winds, Jack setup our running backstays so that we could raise both headsails and lower our main. That’s our normal sail plan in storms. The two sails forward pull the ship, allowing Sir Aries a better chance of steering us straight and true down the increasing waves.

While Jude slept aft, from under the cover of our dodger Jack watched the thick heavens drop heavy raindrops. He had promised to keep dry and had gone to the trouble of donning full wet weather gear, tight as it was around his bulging waistline. Or could it be the passing years had shrunk his kit!

Most fronts bring an abrupt wind shift when the warmer air that has been lifted by the cold air passes overhead. Usually the wind changes in a blink from northerly to a west or southwest wind. But this front didn’t have an abrupt change. It just slowly backed as the clock ticked on. Menacingly though, each minute seemed to bring it a bit more power.

Jude was well awake and making a hot soup lunch when we spied a line of blue sky astern – grey clouds before, black rolls following. It seemed to take all day for that brilliant blue to catch us, by which time our barometer had fallen to 1004 mb and the wind had backed to the west, allowing us to set the twin headsails and lower and lash the mainsail. Under this rig we rolled heavily with sudden violent flips side to side accompanied by spray blown off wave tops and the occasional blue water crashing over our aft deck. Nature’s noise almost deafening.

Running downwind under twin headsails

We "hot bed" the hammock on this voyage

We “hot bed” the hammock on this voyage

After rigging the sails, Jack setup the hammock aft and wearily climbed in hoping for some rest. But his mind kept ticking over the words of the last weather report that had indicated hail and destructive winds. Cape Leeuwin had reported gusts of 45 knots. And so he lay in quiet repose, rocking side to side until a green wave hit and gushed through an aft porthole wetting our bed. This had to be fixed or we’d get be drenched below. So he put his mind to the task of finding a way to seal a hatch that was already fully tightened. Spreading thick Lanolac grease on the seal line from outside might close the gap, but that would require chancing a severe wetting. Nevertheless his mind played out the moves, readying the needed equipment in his head. After much time dwelling on this approach, he noticed two screws on the porthole’s rim adjacent to the offending leak and his mind’s eye saw that a bracket secured by longer screws using those positions would pull the porthole tighter. For the next hour while he rocked in the hammock, his fatigued mind metaphorically assembling the tools and supplies, and noted that he must first verify that we had the extra long screws in store.

A strange event came with the passing of the front. For although the wind increased and became violently gusty, turning wave tops into horizontal spray, the thickly clouded sky became cloudless . With less than an hour of light remaining that first day, Jack arose from his swinging bed, and in a well planned move instigated his plan for repairing on our leaking porthole. The next green wave proved his success.

Day two of our crossing the wind eased to a mild breeze and veered north allowing us to reset all sail and make fair miles in the lumpy left-behind sea. By day three, the cloudless sky brought ideal conditions for an easy passage with the night sky carpeted with stars and a waxing moon growing ever brighter. Only the last hundred miles gave us any hardship when our gentle breeze increased to a strong wind that veered till we had all sails in tight. Crashing through wavelets, a few washing over our foredeck made sleep hard to find amongst the swooping and diving as Banyandah charged through the attacking head seas.

Then came the crowning moment. With the rising sun directly ahead lighting the sky artistically in red layers, each a darker shade down to a odd black shape that was South Australia rising from the sea with the sun. No matter how many landfalls we make, each is special. Once again, working as a team we had overcome the hardships and dangers to achieve our dream. With thankfulness filling his heart, Jack looked up and smiled at a pair of graceful albatross gliding past his ship. Like twin brothers canvassing their world, they swung in unison to lock eyes with these other creatures sharing their world.

South Australia rising from the sea with the sun

South Australia rising from the sea with the sun