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_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Marcy home Walvis Bay Angling Club club AFASyn Ushuaia Marcy and crew

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ashmore Reef

Ashmore reef beach

Imagine a shallow spot in an ocean, where the waves pound coral into sand, and currents deposit the sand in a pile that forms a tiny island. A couple of coconut trees grow, birds and turtles nest, and rainwater pools underground in a freshwater reservoir. The tiny island is discovered centuries ago by Indonesian fisherman, who stop to gather eggs and replenish freshwater for the voyage south for trochus shells. Fast forward to the present, and now Australia administers the reef and island, called Ashmore Reef, with an eye to habitat conservation. The Aussies put in mooring bouys to keep anchors from destroying coral, and allow traditional sailing boats to stop for freshwater but forbid the taking of eggs. A military vessel is stationed at the reef to enforce regulations. The Aussies also encourage yachts to stop and moor, and publish a chart of the reef. After obtaining a copy of this chart we knew Marcy had to visit.

The passage from Darwin was notable only for light winds, a close encounter with a sleeping whale, and constant interaction with maneuvering warships. The spinnaker got a workout.

Flying Spinnaker Arafura

Australian patrol aircraft often flew over and wanted to know who we were and where we were going. We enjoyed these VHF conversations – a short chat with the very polite radio operators on these airplanes was a welcome diversion on uneventful watches.

coast patrol Arafura

Encountering the warships, in contrast, was frustrating. They seemed to use us and other sailboats making the same passage as elements in wargames. They would approach at high speeds, make sudden turns, stop in front unexpectedly, and dash off at the last minute. Then, hours later, after we thought we’d left their area of maneuvers, the whole group of five or six vessels would suddenly reappear and the fun would begin all over again. Often these encounters were at night, and they never answered the VHF radio when we tried to get an idea of what we were seeing. We learned just to carry on, never alter course, and just hope for the best as far as possible collisions.

When we arrived at Ashmore, the wind picked up. We found our bouy with a bit of drama in the dark, but were soon safely hooked up and enjoyed a few hours of sleep. The morning revealed a surreal scene: we seemed to be moored in the middle of the ocean with full wind and swell, and a small island, two palm trees visible, sits a couple of miles away.

Ashmore

Next to us, the Phoenix (who we first met at Darwin) is at a mooring.

Phoenix Ashmore

The motion was constant. We’ve never been moored in such big wind and waves. We were rolling very little, but pitching like crazy. It took some getting used to, but after a while it was kind of fun. Question: How long will a can of pop stay on the table? Answer: Eight seconds, or one wave crest.

Marcy plunges Ashmore

Another American yacht (Scooter, first met in NZ) arrived and since Bob is a single hander, Giff of Phoenix and Peter offer to help set up his mooring.

mooring Scooter

With every boat as secure as possible (we think) a shore party is in order. Giff and Patty motor ashore in company with us. It’s sobering to think that if a problem occurs with the outboard and we were blown downwind, the next available land was Africa some 2000 miles away. We were glad for company, and carried a VHF radio and an anchor. We also had oars, but rowing against “full on” trade winds in an inflatable is not a realistic goal.

Giff and Patty

We visited a couple of traditional Indonesian vessels on the way in. The first was a long liner, a tough looking boat with a rough looking (but friendly) crew.

Indonesian 1 fishing boat ashmore

Indonesian 2 fishing boat ashmore

Indonesian 3 fishing boat ashmore

The second boat we had enjoyed watching sail in earlier. The boat gracefully swept in the channel, jibed, and picked up a mooring with precise seamanship. The sails were perfectly furled. These boats find this tiny speck of land without GPS, sextant, or charts. The freeboard on this boat is about one foot. One of the crew was suffering from an eye problem, and we promise to return with eyewash.

Indonesian trader 1 ashmore

Indonesian trader 3 ashmore

Indonesian trader 2 ashmore

We passed the resident Australian Customs vessel also.

Aus customs ashmore

We eagerly waded ashore to explore.

Ashmore reef wading ashore

At the beach we discovered the remains of an Indonesian boat that had ended it’s career here. The boat was originally built with wooden nails, and repaired many times with metal fastenings. It is amazing how short the planks are.

wreck Ashmore

Low scrub and turtle nests cover the upper beach.

beach Ashmore

We were glad for the chance to stretch our legs, and climb driftwood.

driftwood Ashmore

The well is still an important reason to stop here. We were glad to have a water maker aboard Marcy, considering the warning sign.

well Ashmore

We returned to the dinghies, put on the snorkel gear, and explored the reef. We were rewarded with the amazing colors and shapes of an Indian Ocean reef.

Ashmore reef 1

Ashmore reef 2

Ashmore reef 3

Exhausted after exploring, we all headed back to the yachts. After a rest, Peter and Ginger headed back with sunglasses and eyewash to try to help the suffering crewmember back at the Indonesian vessel. We were invited onboard, tried to communicate instructions with gestures, and enjoyed a visit. The poor man eventually let us know that he also had a hernia! Ouch…. The boat was boarded by a wave or two while we were aboard – and they pumped out with a wooden pump exactly like the ones onboard traditional working craft of the last century in America.

Back at the moorage, the sun and wind had ensured that our battery banks, and thus our water tanks, were completely topped off. We were making so much electricity that we eventually had to put the wind generator away.

Marcy at mooring Ashmore Reef

After a final night, plunging at the mooring, we busied ourselves with preparations to get underway again. The good news? We realized that we could sail away without having to regain our sea legs – we had never really left the sea.

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