Shark Bay Trip Report. A Tale of Headwinds and Lost Sunglasses. By Geoff Palmer

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Denham, Shark Bay. A Tale of Headwinds and Lost Sunglasses.

We rounded Cape Peron early in the morning, and the three sea kayaks headed for the shelter of the small headland, the one with the navigation light on a pole. The clouds were black and moving fast from the south, with them came the wind, so we decided to wait for it to abate.  Everything was grey, visibility was down to a few kilometres due to the rain showers and the sea state was rough, each wave had it’s own white cap and the scene resembled a snow field rather than the ocean.

Ahead of us lay the eastern side of the Peron peninsular, with it’s ten kilometres of red cliffs, a lee shore with no get out should we have difficulties.

Finally the clouds turned from black to dark grey and we decided to start our journey south, towards Monkey Mia. We paddled for what seemed to be an age, a rough sea state tends to concentrate the mind and you loss track of time, but in reality it was probably only a few minutes, and we all decided that it wasn’t going to be. Carefully turning our heavily laden kayaks round, on the cresting waves, we surfed back to the safety of Point Peron.

For the second time this trip we had to change our plans, on this occasion to head back to Denham and hope for some shelter from the strong southerly and south easterly winds predicted. Our original plan to paddle across the Denham Channel to Dirk Hartog Island had been scrapped on the eve of the trip, as we sat in the tavern drinking a beer admiring the wonderful sunset and balmy conditions, we looked at the weather forecast and realised we could reach the Island but it would be a week before we were able to get back, due to the strong winds. Sometimes it’s necessary to take the hard decisions and at the end of the day, safety is the most important factor.

Even on our first day we had encountered increasing headwinds, which were near gale force by the time we reached the Lagoon entrance. We walked our kayaks around the point in shallow water to reach our campsite in the mangroves. It was late and the light was fading, so we unloaded the kayaks and pitched our tents in the shelter of a mangrove bush, as quickly as possible. The rain came just as we got the tents up, but all our gear and food was still in the open on the tarpaulin. The rain turned to a torrent, at least our paddle gear was getting a fresh water rinse! Without warning a huge squall hit our camp, rocking the tents violently and sending some of our equipment and food into the bush. One of our party threw themselves onto the tarpaulin to save the rest of our belongings. It must have been at this stage that Gill lost her prescription sunglasses, not that we realised it at the time, as they must have been on the tarpaulin. Later we saw a yacht passing on the horizon and learned on our return to Denham, that they had reported 43 knots of wind over their deck. How lucky were we, that we got off the water when we did!

On the second day heading north we had gentle to moderate tailwinds and sunshine, which enabled us to surf up the coast and we covered 36 kilometres.

After turning around near Cape Peron we headed back south and encountered headwinds, but found by keeping in close to the cliffs we were able to keep out of the worst of the wind. On our way south we called in at our first camp site, to see if we could find Gill’s lost sunnies. We left the kayaks by the mangrove bushes and Gill searched the area where the tarpaulin had been, to everyones amazement, in the seaweed above the high water mark were her sunnies!

We covered the return journey in three and a half days, stopping early in the afternoon for our last night, just north of the Little Lagoon. This gave us a 12 kms easy paddle back to Denham the next day and a relaxing time in our last camp for the trip.

On the chart the sea area around the Little Lagoon to Denham is marked in green. This signifies that the area dries at very low tides, and whilst we did have water for the final leg of our trip, it was very shallow and with an increasing wind proved hard work. The wind pipped up as we rounded the point and had Denham in our sights, which made the final leg a slow one. Very frustrating when we could see the bakery but weren’t able to reach the espresso and pie we so longed for.

So the trip was over, it had been hard work, but rewarding. We camped on deserted beaches which gave us great sunsets and early morning views. We saw sharks, turtles and rays around our kayaks, as we paddled. One day, two Pelicans followed our kayaks for a long period, as we made our way south, intrigued no doubt with the interlopers in their territory. One night we saw an Osprey circling our bay as we prepared dinner, probably hunting for it’s own meal.

There is a wind farm just north of Denham with huge wind turbines, obviously put there because there’s a lot of wind in the area. Worth bearing in mind if you’re planning a visit.

Thanks go to my paddling partners Gill Palmer and Colin Priest for their good humour and company. We spent evenings watching the sunset and talking about kayaking and life.

Special thanks go to Caroline and Clinton Marshall of the Bay Lodge Backpackers, for their assistance and friendliness. The Lodge was the starting and finishing point for our trip as it’s located right on the beach.

Also, thanks go to Wende and Noel Smith from the ACRM base at Denham, the local volunteer marine radio base. We felt safe in the knowledge that someone locally knew we were out there. You can log on and off with them by calling on VHF CH 16 “ACRM Denham”. We lodged our Float Plan with them.

We covered 118 kms on our trip, mainly into headwinds (did I mention that?).

Each paddler carried:

  • Full safety equipment, including EPIRB and VHF radio.
  • 30 litres of water.
  • Food for up to 8 days.

Gill paddled a P&H Scorpio LV

Colin paddled a Horizon 580

Geoff paddled a Valley Etain