Port Lincoln – Smoky Bay 2020

9th February – We arrived from Coffin Bay around noon and settled in to the Port Lincoln Caravan Park. The main task on the agenda was finding the necessary mechanical help for our respective issues, the Dawsons for their non-operative electric trailer brakes and us for our persistent boat motor problem with regular stoppages until the engine is fully warmed up. The caravan park showed the signs of damage from a recent storm, when an unprecedented rainfall deluged Port Lincoln. Signs of severe erosion were evident around the park and there were lots of piles of road base and some earth moving equipment parked around showing restoration was underway.

Set u in Port Lincoln Caravan Park

We hit the supermarkets and stocked up on essentials before resting up, feeling somewhat bushed after a week on the water.

10th – 13th February – Bill and Mary managed a contact at the local caravan repair place who pronounced the electric hydraulic brake server as dead and in need of replacement. That pretty much sealed them up for 3 or 4 days waiting for parts. In the meantime, we had gone to “Sparks and Spanners”, a local mechanical firm with a name that sounded like they could deal with either a mechanical or an electrical issue with our boat. We were booked in for the following day for a diagnosis.

One day followed another, with one or the other towing our boats off site to visit the repair people. Ours failed to get a definitive diagnosis but then it failed to fail, running perfectly just when we promised it would fail. The Dawsons sat waiting on a courier delivery of the necessary parts. Each day we found some reason to visit the supermarkets, Bunnings or some place down town. The great joy of Port Lincoln is that visiting anywhere is relatively easy and parking is always available and free. It really is the perfect town. It has all the shops one could need, a traffic system that suffers a little from a rail line running through its centre but is otherwise very manageable, and plenty of parking. Add to all this, a glorious seaside vista and some picturesque hills surrounding the town and you have a little slice of heaven.

Port Lincoln Foreshore
Port Lincoln Foreshore

Wednesday  12th February was a lay day for both of us, so we organised a trip to the “Whalers Way”, a coastal scenic tour some 33kms south of Lincoln. The route is a private road beyond the National Park and a key is needed (along with $33 a car) from the Port Lincoln Tourist Centre. The road is unsealed, not really 4WD but still rough in places. Along the way are numerous well sign posted spots to take in a coastal feature, whether it be a high cliff, a beautiful bay or one of the many “crevasses” in the region. The coast here is limestone overlaying ancient basalt and the basalt has suffered significant fractures in places, creating spectacular crevasses. The waves surging through these formations makes for a great spectacle, the most amazing being Theakstone Crevasse with its perfectly straight and deep walls.

Theakstone Crevasse

At Cape Wiles, we overlooked the rocks far below and saw large numbers of fur seals dotting the rocks. We had packed a picnic lunch so we headed for the marked BBQ area, expecting a few facilities to be present. There was very little to attract, with only a couple of ramshackle toilets and a scattering of concrete picnic tables. The designers of the tables had forgotten to measure the length of the average human torso because, when seated, the table height was just under the chin. It makes it easy to shovel your food in.

The whole area is due to change in the next few years with a company called Southern Launch set to build a commercial rocket launching facility not far from the BBQ area. The Koreans have already undertaken to launch a series of low orbit satellites from the facility.

Whalers Way is a pretty little diversion with some excellent scenery.

Look carefully and you will see the fur seals

14 February – Eventually, the Dawsons had a new brake system on their trailer and we had a boat motor that appeared to be fixed. I say “appeared” because it was working but it was not definitively clear what had been wrong with it. It had been crawled over by a mechanic and a sparky from “Sparks and Spanners”, been hooked up to a diagnostic computer that only showed one non-fatal error and had a minor part replaced.

We organised to put to sea and test everything out with a relatively short trip to Spalding Cove, about 6nm from Port Lincoln. Depending on the boat’s performance and the weather, we could then venture further afield to the Sir Joseph Banks Group of islands offshore. Both boats were fuelled at the MoGas at the Lincoln Cove Marina which seems cheaper than elsewhere and is also the only reliable source of block ice we have found.

Once at the launching ramp, we had to wait a few hours for the tide to ensure the Dawsons had enough water. A car turned up and a couple unloaded a catch to clean at the cleaning facility. Hoping to get some fish frames for crab bait, Bill and I joined them and admired their catch of three large bluefin tuna, a large blue groper and a respectable nannygai or bight red fish.  They had caught the fish further up on the west coast of the peninsula, which was good because blue groper are protected around Port Lincoln. They generously gave us not only the tuna frames but some good slabs of tuna and all of the groper and nannygai. We suddenly had a surfeit of quality fish and crab bait. The couple told us to make sure we only washed the groper fillets in sea water, because fresh water would make the flesh rubbery. Later, it was to prove delicious and certainly not rubbery. The tuna too was really beautiful, a far cry from the tuna we have caught in tropical waters.

With the tide rising, our boat started and ran under idle at the jetty while Bill and I parked the vehicles up next to a couple of grey nomads that had taken up residence in the carpark. The general concensus amongst locals was that the vehicles would be safe enough.

The run out to Spalding Cove was easy enough with only light winds and our boat performed beautifully. Once around Surfleet Point, we pulled up on some likely looking ground in the hope of catching some whiting. The fishing was poor and the only action came from crabs, pulling slowly away at the baits. Bill managed to get one up to the boat before it dropped the bait. We decided to move to the southern end of the cove. Oh oh, a turn of the key failed to produce the usual rumble of the fuel pump priming and the engine just turned over without firing. We checked everything we could, sprayed a few contacts, unplugged a few things and plugged them back but … nothing. This time, it was not going to start. I checked further and pulled out the high tension lead from the coil… and it came out in pieces. Now the fuel pump didn’t matter. No wire, no fire.

We organised a tow and Bill towed us the 2 nm down to the bottom of the cove to set up an anchorage for the night. I dropped the plough anchor into the sand and hung back over the weed. Later, I used the dinghy to carry the marsh anchor into the weed, giving a little more peace of mind.

15th February – We all slept late, staying at anchor until late morning. We left our boat at anchor and joined Dawsons for a fishing trip, with whiting and crabs being the main targets. With the wind SE, Fishermans Point looked to be a quiet location so we headed off. A local had suggested that there was a professional crabber working the area and sure enough, we came across a line of half a dozen floats. He must have taken care of the crab population because we only managed one, admittedly a huge creature, but still only one. There were large numbers of a small rock crabs but no blue swimmers. The whiting were not much better, with only four across several hours. After lunch, we moved to the western side of the cove and put out the pots in 20’ of water. Here, the pots yielded a better return, with 4 enormous crabs, the biggest measuring 64cm across the nippers. Each crab was a full meal. The whiting also obliged and we ended up with 10 big fat king george and a flat head.

16th February – The next morning saw the wind had shifted from southerly to ESE, pushing us around to even shallower water. I spent an amusing half hour mucking around with the two anchors and the dinghy. It is interesting trying to drag a 20lb anchor with 30 metres of chain attached with an inflatable dinghy and 3.3hp outboard. The anchor wins every time. Finally, I got things established and Bill was able to drag us into deeper water.

Bill and I used the very low tide to go ashore and collect a big supply of cockles. The cockles here are very numerous and if we hadn’t been so well off for seafood, we would have collected some to make spaghetti vongole.

We then moved the boats to a location were the water was deeper closer in and prepared to fish once again. We fished the same location on the western side of the cove and caught consistent whiting, ending with a dozen. The crab nets didn’t go in but Bill still managed another monster crab on a line.

17th February – With the weekend over, the crowds had thinned and we figured the ramps would be quiet enough to allow a towed boat to berth easily without interference from other boats. The tow back took an hour and a half but when we got to Billy Lights Point the tide was low and there was not enough room on the finger jetties for two boats. We waited on the tide for a number of hours, relaxing at anchor and even catching a couple of squid. Finally, the water was deemed high enough and the wind perfect, it blowing straight down the ramp. The tow in and subsequent berthing went without a hitch, other than me dropping my glasses overboard (later retrieved with Bill’s long handled landing net) and we were soon ashore once again.

The mechanics suggested we bring the boat straight in but we held off for the night and organised an early morning inspection. It was back to the caravan park.

18th February – The early morning trip to the mechanic’s shed was becoming a ritual. The shed was an extra to the normal “Sparks and Spanners” address but here they could use water and run boat motors without flooding the auto shop. We had learnt to rise early, tow the boat to the shed then settle down to make breakfast. Alan showed up just after breakfast and starting in on the diagnostics again.

After the initial probes showed nothing but still no power to the fuel pump, Alan pulled the relay, jiggled it and plugged it back in. Magically, the fuel pump came to life. “Ah ah.. it’s the relay.” “Replace both relays”, we said with more than average confidence the problem would go away.

The rest of day passed with chores, a long walk and lots of reading.

19th February – It really was a matter of waiting on the plane from Adelaide to (hopefully) deliver our relays. We busied ourselves with a few tasks, shopping, and waiting for the plane. It was starting prove awkward for the Dawsons, who had solved their mechanical issues and were sitting in Lincoln waiting for us. We had organised to go to the movies at the historic Port Lincoln Cinema at 4pm. Thankfully, we got a call to say the relays were in around 2pm so we picked up the parts and fitted them. A turn of the key… still no fuel pump. We wiggled things and jiggled things but still no fuel pump. In a fit of deep depression, we headed for the movies.

The depression was hardly lifted by the movie. “1917” had won an Oscar for best cinematography, and rightly so, but the movie itself was two hours of utter terror. The main character was shot at, wounded, bashed, stabbed, cut and spent the entire story in a state of terror. So did I. It was an excellent movie but not one for the weak of heart.

20th February – It was back to the shed for breakfast. Alan showed up once again and went back into his diagnostic pattern. The computer again showed all normal and the testing showed power to the fuel pump, but the pump was clearly not coming on. In a flash of inspiration, he tested the final plug to the fuel pump. It had a good +ve connection but a very flaky earth. A quick trip back to the shop for a new plug and a fitting. Our sprits were lifting. This was a real find and even a simple visual inspection of the negative terminal showed it was a different colour and looked “dodgy”.

In the meantime, Dawsons had determined that they would press on for Streaky Bay, with their personal deadlines looming. On receiving news that we might be on a winner, they parked up at the boat ramp at Billy Lights Point to wait for us.

With the new plug fitted, the engine fired up immediately, no questions asked. We thanked Alan and headed out to join Dawsons at Billy Lights Point, where we spent the next couple of hours running the engine, stopping it, starting it again etc, until we were confident that this dreadful thing was finally behind us.

Fully assured of the fix, we all set off for Streaky Bay, a drive of around 350km, and settled in to the Foreshore Caravan Park. With camp established, we set off to explore the options for launching and anchoring up.

The Streaky Bay launching ramp is about 8km out of town at Shag Point. The best thing about the facility is its expansive car park, one that locals assured us was perfectly safe to use for leaving the car. A permit is required, at $5 a day, $15 a week or $30 a month obtainable from the Visitors Centre of one of the fuel outlets. However, the facility itself was in a sad state of disrepair, with one of two jetties having been removed pending replacement and the other looking like something out of “1917”. Shag Point gave only cursory protection from the afternoon strong southerly. It did not look like much fun.

21 February – We decided that we could afford to delay launching at Streaky Bay and explore further. With a picnic lunch packed, we set off with the cars to drive 70km north to Smoky Bay to check it out as a possible alternative. Smoky Bay is a tiny hamlet with only the one shop, a general everything type place. In contrast to Streaky Bay, it boasts a brand new four lane launching ramp deep enough to handle almost all tides, and protected from the south.

We talked to the fisher folk pulling boats from the water to hear tales that varied from “the fishing’s very poor” through to “we bagged out and left them biting”. Of course, we believed nothing anyway but it was good to see some helpful cheerful people.  After a delicious sausage sizzle BBQ near the jetty, we did a full tour of town (about 2 minutes worth) and headed off. Bill and Mary went exploring, which actually consisted of Mary pleading with Bill to turn back before they got bogged (again), while we stopped in at a quaint little caravan park just on the edge of town to enquire about storing our boat for our trip to Tasmania. We met a very helpful chap who assured us all would be well and we left with a feeling of confidence in the security and care offered.

Once back in Streaky Bay, we organised for another move. The Dawsons arrived, having seen many kilometres of sand tracks and mangroves but not much else of interest.

22 February – We broke camp and towed the boats north to Smoky Bay, arriving to find a crowded car park with lots of little dinghies out and about. We first had to drop in to the general store (the only store) to purchase a ramp permit. We chose to buy a week’s permit at $25. Launching went without a hitch, except for Bill forgetting to take his tie-down strap off. Our motor behaved itself and soon we were both off to explore and load up on fish. The local boats seemed to be dotted everywhere so we just picked some likely looking water and tried our luck. Over a few hours, we only caught a few king George whiting between us. Oh well, the fridges were still full of fish from Port Lincoln.

Smoky Bay Launching Ramp

Things got a little trickier when looking for a nice anchorage for the night. In front of town looked inviting in a southerly through to north easterly but the wind had freshened to the SW and it was a little sloppy. Bill and Mary anchored up in the lee of the jetty to wait for the wind to swing south. We went and docked at the ramp to collect something from the car and a small boat came in alongside. They advised us to headed into the small bay south of the town and seek the other side, where a series of estuaries offer great shelter. We were assured the depth was OK.

The next hour and a half consisted of slowly motoring around an impossible series of channels and flats, mostly running out of water and not managing the safe harbour we were promised. Eventually, we gave up and returned, to find the area in front of town was now far nicer, with the wind well and truly in the south. We put the plough anchor down and backed it up with our marsh anchor. As the evening progressed, the wind abated to produce a lovely evening, a pattern that was repeated for the next few days.

We anchored each night on the other side of the jetty.

23 February – We spent a fairly fruitless day searching for fish, the most difficult day we have had the whole trip. The whiting seemed to elude us. There were a lot of boats out and we sometimes even sat amongst a group but no one appeared to be catching anything.

We explored as far afield as Cape D’Estrees and fished a big variety of waters but all was quiet. You get days like that. Bill and Mary stayed down near Eyre Island and fared no better than us. Eventually, with the tide high, we went ashore at a pretty little white sand bay with an attractive headland at Saddle Peak. We decided to wade ashore, finding the water warm and refreshing. A short distance from the boat, Christine spied a nice big crab so I went back to the boat for the landing net while she kept herding it back towards me. It was into the net, for the crab. We checked out the rocks on the headland for oysters but there were none. We scraped the sands with our hands for cockles but there were none. Heading back to the boat with our crab, we came across a lone king George whiting sunning himself over the shallow sands. He seemed to be relaxing, so I scooped him up to join the crab. He certainly came to life once in the net. We at least had a lunch.

In the afternoon, the fishing improved a little and I caught a couple of KG whiting. Bill had more success with five fish.

24 February – We decided to try crabbing, having seen others with pots out and a few crabs in the shallows. Our boat was left at anchor and we headed off in the Dawson’s boat. All we had for bait was a few trumpeters from the previous day and the heads from the fish cleaning. Still, we rigged these up and found some likely looking ground, drifting for squid between pulls. Three runs produced only 1 crab so we moved spots. We must have moved to stingray heaven because as quickly as we put the pots down, the baits were eaten. We had to work hard catching herring between runs just to keep up but the baits were gone within minutes. Twice, we pulled pots to see a crab on the outside of the pot. Sadly, we ended with just the one.

By lunchtime, we had had enough and returned to our boat to relax for the rest of the afternoon. Bill and Mary were energetic enough to go ashore for a good walk but we just lazed around on the boat and watched the passing parade of dinghies and oyster boats. The oyster boats don’t seem to have any mode other than “flat out”. They are flat bottomed aluminium craft between 7 and 10 metres in length with an open deck and an outboard on the back. They arrive at the ramp on jinker type trailers, often hauled by tractor. We have seen some launched by a single operator, who just backs quickly down the ramp until the craft floats free, dashes off the tractor and out the jetty in time to grab the boat and secure it, tear back up the ramp to the tractor and hastily park it before sprinting back to the waiting boat. Then it’s off and racing. The same boats seem to come and go all day, sometimes carrying heavy loads of oyster cages and sometimes doing the same with just a couple of containers. Fuel must be a major expense. At $15 to $18 a dozen, I guess they can afford it. There are quite a number of operators in Smoky Bay, possibly 10 or more, and huge areas of beds scattered around the shallows. It must be a good employer.

Sorting Oysters
There are several streets full of oyster sheds. Oysters are big business in Smoky Bay

25 February – It was haul out day, our last on the water for this trip. With the tide very low in the morning, there was no great sense of urgency and we lazily cleared a few things away, retrieved the inflatable and stored it deflated on the front deck and generally readied the boat for the ramp. The Dawsons tried a spot of fishing but there was nothing doing and they followed us in around 11am.

We set up camp at Baldwins Caravan Park, on the road out of town. It is a basic place with simple but clean amenities and a great rate of $25 a night. Even better, they were prepared to store our boat for the three weeks in Tasmania for no charge, a very generous offer.

We made a small start to the job of preparing for life out of the car, had an icecream at the on and only Smoky Bay shop and had a rather lengthy afternoon nap.

26 February – Bill and Mary left today, on their way home with one last bit of boating at Ceduna, only 40kms to the north of us. We put in pretty much a full day’s work, changing a tire, reorganising food, washing clothes, cleaning the inflatable, spraying rust protectant over trailer brakes and boat motor etc etc. We were very glad we had allocated ourselves the extra day for organisation because we were surprised at just how much we had to do.  We did find time to nip out and buy two dozen fresh oysters at $12 a dozen. They are huge and, being live and closed up, will last quite while. We can have a feast on the road.

Our S.A. cruising holiday has come to an end. It was not quite everything we had planned because of the problems with the boat motor but we still spent a total of 14 days on the water. Bill and Mary were wonderful company and the alternate cooking arrangement meant that we each got to go out to dinner every second night. In a way, the motor problems were a blessing, because we were at least in an environment where it was easy to take it back to the water, test it, then head back to the mechanic. I learnt an awful lot about the motor and now have a large degree of confidence in it, especially the fuel system.

The final tally for the motor repairs is frightening. We had a new fuel pump and fuel cooler fitted for around $1000, an air temperature sensor was another $140 plus labour, two relays added another $95 plus labour and finally, the part that was actually defective, the plug, cost a mere $14. The first person we took it to in Perth and who had the boat for a whole day wanted to lift the engine out and charge us around $3000.  The horrible thing is there is just nothing one can do about it. In the case of the Port Lincoln mechanics, they worked with me alongside all the way and so I figure I at least got some excellent education for the money.

The $14 part that caused all the fuss.

Overall, the fishing was steady, though unspectacular. This also was good because we easily had enough to eat without having to clean and store more fish than we needed. The lack of squid was definitely disappointing, despite many hours of trying. The last time we were in this part of the World, we had lots of squid. I blame climate change and Donald Trump.

Next stops…Melbourne then Tasmania.