On occasions, the area is affected by the after-effects of cyclones originating in Northwestern Western Australia. Usually, this only results in an influx of moist tropical air into the area and a disruption of the usual series of cold fronts. However, on March 24th, 1999, Cyclone Vance was sufficiently powerful to cross inland Western Australia from the Exmouth Gulf area and to reach the Great Australian Bight in the form of a strong depression. This brought northeast to northwest winds of near storm force to the West Coast, along with much flying dust. It is suggested that the mariner should be especially alert if a cyclone is off the Western Australian coast. Its progress should be followed and plans made to seek shelter in good time if it looks likely to repeat the performance of Cyclone Vance.
Because of the repeated cold fronts and generally clear skies the temperature varies greatly. During the day near the coast it may exceed 40°C. and may fall below 10°C at night. Clothing suitable for this range must be carried.
After a strong blow a large swell becomes established in the open sea and this may take a few days to abate. If the wind shifts much in the meantime cross-seas will be set up and this combination of swell and waves makes for awkward conditions.
When considering a voyage to these waters it must be remembered the the return journey will be mainly spent beating to windward. Sometimes it is possible to make fair progress by motoring or motor-sailing into light head winds in the morning, then taking advantage of a moderate to fresh afternoon sea breeze. The sea breeze tends to blow at right angles to the general run of the coast, though seldom actually reaching an exact right angle. If a sea breeze is expected while you are working your way south-east, stand well to the south side of the rhumb line in the morning and gain the maximum benefit from the sea breeze in the afternoon. Flat calms are quite common and so is the complete failure of the sea breeze. The passage south-east becomes quite a test of patience and weather understanding.
Weather forecasts from the ABC have been somewhat reduced recently and should not be regarded as adequate for safe sailing. A relatively inexpensive way of obtaining regular forecasts is to acquire a portable radio capable of receiving HF broadcasts on the marine frequencies. It is essential to get one able to receive Single Side Band transmissions. Suitable radios are available from Dick Smith and similar sources. Since 1 July 2002, The Bureau of Meteorology has assumed responsibility for HF weather forecasts and new stations have been established. These are VMC Australia Weather West, at Wiluna WA, and VMC Australia Weather East, at Charleville QLD. Twelve South Australian Coastal Waters forecasts are transmitted daily and Warnings are transmitted hourly. For details of transmission times and frequencies, together with information on the most suitable frequencies to use, go to the Bureau's Guide to Marine Radio Services.
In the absence of an HF radio, weather forecasts can be obtained
from ABC Regional Radio. The station at Streaky Bay, which broadcasts on
693 MHz covers the entire West Coast. The broadcast times should be checked
with the ABC before sailing, but generally there are two detailed forecasts
per day during the week, with a rather reduced service during weekends.
The Port Lincoln commercial station, 5CC, on 765MHz, also gives weather
forecasts for the south central coast and gulf waters, generally on the
hour or half hour. Strong wind and gale warnings are broadcast on the hour
following their issue, usually accompanying a news bulletin. Although the
West Coast is undoubtably a rough one, it should be remembered that safe
anchorages are only about 50 miles apart. Should bad weather threaten,
sufficient warning should be received to enable one to be reached, even
if this necessitates abandoning a planned passage to make a strategic retreat.
For this purpose a good engine and plenty of fuel will be valuable, as
they enable good use to be made of the proverbial calm before the storm.
Tidal streams are important in those places where they run fairly fast and combine with the wind to create a hazard. In Coffin Bay and Waterwitch Channel the strong tides are no more than inconvenient, but at Venus Bay and Elliston hazardous breakers may be set up on the entrance bars in strong winds. To get to the West Coast, the tide races near Cape Catastrophe and in Thorny passage may have to be passed. These should be treated with great respect and if possible this area should be traversed when wind and tide are together. Take especial care to avoid the combination of a strong outgoing tide and a strong SW to SE wind. It was these factors which capsized Captain Flinders' cutter in 1802, giving Cape Catastrophe its name. As Flinders put it, "Nautici cavete!".
The tide tables published annually by Flinders Ports contain
all the tidal data available. For some ports it is a little meagre but
this need not cause concern, because of the small tidal range.
In daylight, it is common for the coastline to be much distorted
by mirages. This may make it very difficult to identify landmarks.
|Irene A working craypots about ten miles offshore, between Coffin Bay and Elliston.|
Various types of fishing vessels other than cray boats frequent this
coast. Beware of boats towing different types of nets and the large fishing boats
that tow tuna farms to and from Port Lincoln.
|The now scrapped Japanese long liner, D Three, towing a tuna farm off West Point. She is making one to two knots and plunging a good deal in a small swell.|
Because fishing vessels are liable to arrive in secluded anchorages at any time of the day or night it is necessary to show the correct navigation lights, including the anchor light. Places which seem remote to Adelaide based visitors are the usual work places for numerous fishing craft.
It would seem wise to learn from the fishermen as much about
their practices as possible.