Eyre Peninsula – Coffin Bay 2020

The grand plan consists of towing the boat over the Nullabor Plain to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, meeting Bill and Mary, whose boat (Larsen Cabrio 27) is currently in storage in Gawler SA, and spending a month exploring the many beautiful coastal locations that dot the triangular shaped feature. We have sailed many of the locations on our trailer sailer, Sandpiper, back in 2012. This time around, we have a power boat in the form of a Whittley Cruisemaster 700 called Lesueur, a seagoing caravan with lots of mod cons. The ability to move quickly when the southern coast’s fickle weather takes a turn for the worse will be a huge advantage.

We had a planned leaving date of January 27th, after cooking an Australia Day breakfast for 46 at the caravan park in Kingsley. However, a huge heat wave cell developed and the projections were to make the entire 1900km trip to Ceduna in 40 degree plus temperatures. No way!

We made the 150km trip to Dowerin and holed up for three days, staying inside and watching the Australian Open Tennis for most of the time. To go outside was to get a lung roasting, the temperature on the back patio peaking at 47 degrees.

By January 30th, we were able to set off, cutting through to Great Eastern Highway at Merredin and then heading east to Coolgardie and south to Norseman. The first night was spent in a woodland camp about 15km east of Norseman.

Our overnight camp outside of Norseman.

The second day was one of admiring the Western Woodlands, for hour after hour. These huge extensive woodlands  To quote DPAW, “It is regarded as the largest remaining area of intact Mediterranean-climate woodland left on Earth and contains about 3000 species of flowering plants, about a fifth of all known flora in Australia. It includes nearly a quarter of Australia’s eucalypt species, many of which grow nowhere else in the world, and its varied habitats are home to a diverse array of mammals, reptiles, frogs and birds.” Wow! We actually saw no wildlife; drove through many kilometres of burnt out woodland and saw huge piles of human rubbish in every roadside stop we utilised. Despite this, the Woodlands are beautiful, the variety of vegetation and the enormity of the area demands acknowledgement.

We pushed on, putting in a 700km+ drive for the day and over nighting in the Eucla Caravan Park for the princely sum of $25 a night. Along the way, we were “entertained” by an idiot in a light coloured 4WD towing a large van who passed us (80km/hr) at a considerable rate and proceeded to lose control when pulling in front of us. We kept up the conversation of “Oh Oh.. they’re gone.   Oh no, this is it!!”  as we watched them fish tail down the road trying to regain control. They managed once, before returning to the fish tail dance before finally backing off the speed and getting control. Idiots!! I really think we need a special licence for towing.

Our third night on the road was on the SA side of the Nullarbor, in Streaky Bay. Bill and Mary had picked up their rig in Gawler, SA and headed to Port Pirie to wait out the heat cell that had preceded us across the Nullarbor. They suffered 46 degree heat, 50mm rain storms and more before heading west to overnight in Tumby Bay ready for a rendezvous with us in Coffin Bay, at the bottom of the Eyre Peninsula.

On day four, we pulled into the caravan park at Coffin Bay to find Dawsons parked up at reception, having beaten us by only 15 minutes or so, an amazing rendezvous after a four day drive across the continent. We spent the rest of the day checking out the launching facilities, changing a tyre, swapping anchors to the locally favoured “Marsh Anchor”. This anchor is designed to dig into the weed beds that are so predominant in SA waters. Bill and Mary had our 8kg model that we had bought in 2014 when we were here with Sandpiper, as well as a new 13kg beast that Bill worried was too big. I looked at our Marsh anchor and worried it would not be enough.

By February 3rd, we were ready to launch, although we rose late, fluffed around getting fuel and topping up water tanks. It was around 10:30am by the time we actually got to the ramps and launched. Bill and I drove the cars back to the caravan park to a fairly secure location out the back and a very kind chap camped nearby drove us back the 1.2km back to the ramp.

We motored off to the shelter of a small headland strangely named Point Misery at the start of Mount Dutton Bay and anchored up to fish. Between us, we caught enough for dinner, with 4 nice King George Whiting and a dozen or so herring. Then we headed north up Mount Dutton Bay to seek an overnight anchorage in Little Mount Dutton Bay, a shallow but fairly protected inlet. On our first night on the water, we dined on Dawson’s boat with Bill cooking up the day’s catch. As the wind picked up, it was obvious that our 8kg Marsh Anchor was not up to the job of holding a Whittley 700 and we swapped out to our normal 20lb plough anchor. Bill’s 13kg marsh proved more than adequate for the job on his big Larsen. That night, we had a grand feast on the proceeds of the day in wonderful surroundings with good company. What more could one ask for?

The sun setting over the Dawson’s Larsen

February 4th – The boat motor, which had previously given trouble by cutting out on a regular basis, decided to revert to this annoying behaviour when we went to raise anchor. After about four restarts, we were underway and things went beautifully for the rest of the day. Still, it is a worry and we are grateful that we have company.

We spent the day fishing, mostly in Mount Dutton Bay. The King George Whiting proved elusive, although Bill and Mary managed one big one each. I contented myself with collecting a bag full of mussels and huge oysters. Coffin bay is famous for its oysters and their cultivation forms the main industry of the town. Wild ones are not common but can be found in enough numbers to make collecting a dozen possible without a great deal of effort. As the afternoon wore on, the wind tended to shift away from SE to more S and we headed away from Mount Dutton Bay to seek a more protected overnight spot between Rabbit Island and the back of the township. It was our turn to host dinner and Christine cooked up Spaghetti Chilli Mussels so it was another night in paradise.

February 5th – Today was another day of trying to find the King George Whiting, but not before we had a repeat of the engine issues when first raising anchor. It seems the engine is not happy when cold. The fishing didn’t go much better, with plenty of herring available but only one whiting. Bill tried crabbing but he had no joy, feeding all his bait to a seal that happily followed him around as he dropped his nets. We spent most of the day in the Port Douglas area. There were quite a few other boats around and we tried fishing near them, but without luck. It is still wonderful to be out on the water and we certainly don’t lack for food. As the wind came around to the SW we shifted and made our way around all the oyster farms and on to anchor off Little Port Douglas, a small hamlet surrounding a tidal inlet. It was a big bouncy but had good holding.  An afternoon nap was definitely in order but I snuck in a catch of two good sized salmon before retiring.

However, the bouncy part increased as the wind shifted to true S and so we pushed on towards the open ocean and around into Farm Beach, where there were a half dozen or so boats moored and a scattering of small buildings on the beach. We anchored over what looked to be wonderful squidding water but the squid were either elusive or missing.

6th February – We woke late and had a lazy breakfast. We were all feeling the effects of life afloat and needed a walk somewhere so we decided to go back to Little Mount Douglas and explore the village. With the tide low, we had to take the long way around and so the trip took longer than expected. As we anchored up off the tiny mouth to Little Mount Dutton Creek, a couple of oyster boats appeared and charged towards the inlet at a huge rate. We were anchored a couple of hundred metres out because the water is only a foot and a bit deep but the oyster boats simply tilted their huge outboards and hit the throttle. Spewing an enormous rooster tail, they belted over the shallows and found the sanctuary of the slightly deeper water of the creek. It was an amazing feat.

The lagoon at Little Mount Dutton

Meanwhile, we putted in with the rubber ducks scraping the bottom, anchored them on a pretty little beach and wandered up into a surprisingly large collection of well made beach homes. At the top of the pathway we met a local bloke, a retired whiting fisherman who was born and raised in Little Mount Dutton. He bemoaned the coming of the oyster fisherman and suggested that they were responsible for many of the things that are now wrong with the place but we saw little to agree on and remained silent.

We walked for a bit and explored the limited area. There are no shops or pubs or anything of that nature but there is a whole heap of evident pride in the little location. Everything is incredibly neat and tidy.

Back on the boats, we decided to head back into the confines of Coffin Bay and followed a path around the massive oyster leases. The sight of some long stretches of white beach over towards the Black Springs area beckoned and we changed course to explore. With the wind in the south, there were any number of possible anchorages to try and fish and to settle in for the night. We settled on one small bay that was fine unless things went too far east. After a wonderful meal of fresh salmon with basil peso (don’t let anyone tell you Australian Salmon are poor eating), we settled in for a long game of “Phase 10” (an addictive but frustrating card game) with Dawsons.

By the time Bill finally won, it was starting to get a little rolly. By the time we woke up around 11pm, it was extremely rolly. For some reason (probably a tide flow), both boats hug across the waves, which were bigger than expected because of the ESE wind. We swung, lurched, banged against a wave, rocked then settled to a brief calm, before repeating the whole process. It was horrible. Both Bill and I separately considered the merits of a midnight move and rejected the idea. It was really horrible, but not dangerous so we all put up with a night from hell.

7th February – The wind and waves finally abated around 4am, and everyone got such much needed sleep. That didn’t stop me getting up at 7:30 and announcing that it was a quick breakfast and leave to seek the comfort of numerous anchorage choices closer to town. We motored off through Port Douglas and back to Point Misery for a short fish. Only the herring were biting so we didn’t stay long, electing to go to town for a spot of shopping and a pie (such indulgence).

Anchored off the Yacht Club at Coffin Bay townsite

Both boats anchored off the yacht club, the tide being far too low to contemplate using the jetty, and we went ashore in the rubber ducks. Unfortunately, the supplies of block ice at Beachcombers had not been replenished so we made do with bagged ice and a few other supplies. Then we all sat outside and devoured some truly wonderful pies. It’s not as though we aren’t eating well on the boat but somehow the thought of purchased food made it all the more exciting.

On the way through the channel, we noticed a local fishing alone right on the edge of the channel. He seemed to be pretty cagey about us seeing whether he was catching anything so we decided that spot was worth a go.

Sure enough, it yielded quite a few king george whiting, of which four were size for us and five for Bill and Mary. Plenty of quality fish.  At 30cm size limit, a legal sized king George is a respectable fish and yields a lot of flesh. We settled back into the shallows between the back of town and Rabbit Island for the night, which was very comfortable and quiet.

8th February – We had a fairly lazy day, getting up late and lingering over breakfast until around 9:30. Bill and I headed off to the sand flats on the falling tide and collected some cockles for whiting bait, easily managing enough. Once we had them opened and ready for the hook, we headed back to the spot on the edge of the channel and picked up some more nice fat whiting. Served as crumbed fillets with some fried rice they should do the trick.

It is almost time to consider pulling out. We have explored a lot of Coffin Bay and pretty much experienced what it has to offer. As with our last visit, finding enough seafood to live on is not hard, the water simply teems with life. Water supplies are holding out but need watching, fuel is still good, with about 100 litres of 200 litres used having covered around 65nm. The toilet will need emptying soon, not something that can be considered in a big inlet where oysters are cultivated. Perhaps we will go to Port Lincoln tomorrow.

9th February – We did our homework on the tides and found that we had two key timeslots; either pull out by 9:30 or wait until after 2pm. We rose before sunrise at 6:30 to make sure that we had time to prepare for haul out at 9am. The cars and trailers were at the caravan park ($3 per day storage in a secure spot) which is about 1.5km from the ramps so we devised a plan to drop the girls off near the caravan park so they could drive up to the ramps with the trailers while we motored back. All went well, although the tide was already very low and getting the inflatable ashore with the girls was touch and go.

The tide was hammering out, creating a strong current across the jetties at the ramps. The current was assisted by the breeze so coming alongside was tricky to say the least. I messed up the first approach and even the bow thrusters couldn’t rescue me so I pulled back and went about for a second shot. Bill’s approach looked spot on until something happened at the last minute and he ended up broadside across the space between two jetties. I managed to slip straight into a berth on the second attempt and went to help Mary haul on the lines to straighten their boat. By the time we had that under control, the tide had dropped more and finding enough water for the trailers was getting harder. I sank mine as much as I dared and drove on but only got half way up before there was the horrible grinding of the prop hitting the ramp. Christine backed the trailer even deeper and with the motor heavily tilted I got the boat onto the trailer, the prop showing signs of needing a good filing to reduce the scars. Bill managed his onto the trailer with the help and advice of a couple of locals.

We spent about an hour at the excellent wash down facility, cleaning some of the salt off, emptying Bill’s holding tanks and our Porta Loo and generally readying the boats for the road trip to Port Lincoln. There was also quite a lot of chatting to other boaties around us, something  that always seems to happen when blokes and boats get together.

By the time we had crossed the 47km and booked into the Port Lincoln Caravan Park it was around noon, so we had been pretty efficient in our work.  Coffin Bay had lived up to expectations.

Days on the water – 7

Distance covered   ~70nm / 130km

Fuel used  ~120L

Water used ~ 100L from tanks + 20L additional

Issues – Ongoing problem with fuel supply cutting off until engine reaches operating temperature of 150°F /  66°C.

  1. Lois Cope

    A great read Terry – thanks for sharing 🙂

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