Lilliput Cruise

It would not be proper, for some reasons, to trouble the reader with the particulars of our adventures in those seas; let it suffice to inform him, that in our passage from thence to the East Indies, we were driven by a violent storm to the north-west of Van Diemans Land. By an observation, we found ourselves in the latitude of 30 degrees 2 minutes south. Twelve of our crew were dead by immoderate labour and ill food; the rest were in a very weak condition.

On the 5th of November, which was the beginning of summer in those parts, the weather being very hazy, the seamen spied a rock within a half a cables length of the ship; but the wind was so strong, that we were driven directly upon it and split. Six of the crew, of whom I was one, having let down the boat into the sea, made shift to get clear of the ship and the rock. We rowed, by my computation, about three leagues, til we were able to work no longer, being already spent with labour while we were in the ship. We therefore trusted ourselves to the mercy of the waves, and in about a half an hour the boat was overset by a sudden flurry from the north. What became of my companions in the boat, as well as those who escaped on the rock, or were left in the vessel, I cannot tell; but concluded they were all lost.

For my own part, I swam as fortune directed me, and was pushed forward by the wind and tide. I often let my legs drop, and could feel no bottom; but when I was almost gone, and able to struggle no longer, I found myself within my depth; and by this time the storm was much abated. The declivity was so small, that I walked near a mile before I got to the shore, which I conjectured was about eight oclock in the evening. I then advanced forward near half a mile, but could not discover any sign of houses or inhabitants;

Extract from Gullivers Travels by Jonathon Swift


Head of Bight 31 28' S : 131 08' E

Nuyts Achipelago 32 30' S : 133 17' E (St. Francis Island)

Franklin Islands 31 27' S : 133 39' E

North-west from Van Diemans Land and 30 south latitude puts Lilliput in the Nullarbor Plain! Given the navigational limitations in Jonathon Swifts time, then we can say that Nuyts Archipelago is a good approximation to being the mythical Lilliput. Hence the title for this cruise. Nuyts Archipelago is a group of islands in the Great Australian Bight, between Streaky Bay and Ceduna.

Participating in the cruise were the following trailerable yachts and crew:

Skye (Young 7.8 Water Ballast) - Allan McDonald, Ray and Vaughn Partridge

Go-Jo (Timpenny 670)  Ian and Isobel Tilley

Electra (Ross 780)  Mal Pearsons and Tom Gluyas

Lorelei (Timpenny 670) - Lloyd Cushway and Terry Boyce

Being trailer sailer people our travel to and from the cruising grounds was by road, commencing on Sunday 28th February, 1993 and reaching the caravan park at Streaky Bay by late afternoon. With no more driving ahead of us the counter meal at the local could be fully enjoyed. However, we did not know that a bug was amongst us. Sometime during the night it struck Mal. Hearing Mals tale next morning, we were inclined to attribute his condition to the previous evenings indulgences. It was somewhat humorous to rest of us to hear about his urgent exits out of the boat during the night and not knowing which end to point first. We didnt know then that the virus was highly contagious and eventually we all fell victim one by one. Appropriate justice you could say. Luckily the symptoms only lasted 24 hours.

The town of Streaky Bay is on the shore of an almost entirely enclosed waterway called Blanche Port. There are two launching ramps. Between the four of us we tried both, one on the eastern side of the port and one on the west. The latter proved the better choice because the ramp extended far enough to be serviceable in all tides. We grouped after launching and moved out of Blanche Port with a following breeze of about 10 knots. Sailing northwards along the coast of Streaky Bay we came to Eba Island, which is connected to the mainland by a sandy shoal. In Lorelei we managed to cross the shoal by raising our underwater foils and drifting with the wind. Skye in following us was not so lucky because of its greater draft. Entertainment provided by the crew of Skye in getting free of the stranding was enough to convince the other two boats to take the longer route to seaward of Eba Island. Continuing to coast northwards we passed the little jetty at Haslam and reduced draft to cross the bar into Acraman Creek. Acraman Creek is just east of Point Lindsay at the northern end of Streaky Bay and is by far the most suitable anchorage hereabouts for trailerable yachts.

Exploration of the creek the next morning, combined with inattention to what the tides were doing caused departure to be delayed until after lunch. (We were high and dry!) With the wind building into an afternoon sea breeze from the south, we sailed with sprung sheets towards a reef out from Point De Molle, still inside Streaky Bay proper. At the reef the south-west swell was making an awesome display. By now it was getting quite late in the afternoon and there appeared to be no anchorage in the offing. We ran off downwind following Skye towards the coast. We reached a position just east of Point De Molle, open to wind from the south-west through south to north-east. Of course this was the sector most likely to show wind for the night. However, we were in a location where there was a long fetch of shallow water with deep weed to windward and seaward. We were pleasantly surprised to discover that these bottom conditions had the effect of completely attenuating the swell and the chop.

The only problem was next morning when it was a little too shallow at dawn, which was the time we had agreed to depart. With the sun just breaking the horizon it was necessary to hop over the side and tow the boats a couple of hundred metres through waist deep water until there was enough clear water to just run the motors on the shoal draft setting. A little further and we had enough clear water to lower the centreplate and set sail. Not the best way to start the day, wet, cold and fearing being nipped by crabs.

With a steady south-easterly wind, we reached across Gascoigne Bay to Point Brown, which marks the northern end of Streaky Bay. Turning northwards to follow the coast, we sailed in the biggest swells we were to see on the trip. Images captured on video show boats in adjacent swells completely disappearing to view, mast and all, as the swells swept through. Further north the bottom begins to shoal with numerous underwater reefs, shown by the breaking waves of the south-westerly swells. These appear impassable until at closer range passages can be discerned. At times we seemed to be surrounded by white water on the reefs and adjacent coast.

The next feature to be rounded is Cape Missiessy, but first it is necessary to locate the channel between the cape and Eyre Island. After bumping along the sandy bottom a few times we found our way into the quite deep Missiessy Channel and anchored by the sandy bank for lunch. It was a lovely sunny day and the crews were charged enough to make a race of it into Smoky Bay. This was our anchorage for two nights because the intervening day was spent moving the vehicles and trailers from Streaky Bay to Ceduna. This was facilitated through the agency of Ray and Vaughn who had relatives in Ceduna. The drivers were transported back to Smoky Bay in the cab of a refrigerated truck.

The bug was on to Mac by now and he had spent the day in his bunk, interspersed with frantic rushes to the transom, heads or tails? By evening it had passed to me and observers commented how in a few minutes my colour drained away and I retired to my bunk and successfully sweated it away by morning. Thankfully, in view of some fragility on my part, sailing conditions were perfect in the morning.

Sailing northwards out of Smoky Bay, we left Eyre Island to port and turned south-west to view the seals on Goalen Rocks and on to Franklin Islands. This was an easy mornings sail of about 10 nautical miles. The two major islands in the group are joined by a sandy spit, which covers at high tide. With a little imagination this can be seen as Lilliput. In Jonathon Swifts story he has at one stage Gulliver aiding the Lilliputians by wading across to the island of their enemy and capturing the enemy ships. It seems that the Lilliputians have been reincarnated as tiger snakes. We had heard stories about snakes on the island and that they cohabited with the mutton birds. When we went ashore it was plain that the place was popular with the mutton birds as their burrows were everywhere. About 200 metres inland we saw our first snake slithering across a small salt bush. We gathered around to watch at a safe distance and to take photographs. While this was going on, one of our people noticed another snake off to the side and only a pace away. From then on everybody was seeing snakes everywhere! Wed never seen so many snakes. The situation was made all the more exciting by occasionally falling through into mutton bird burrows and not knowing what might be residing within. Snakes were sighted in bushes right on the high water mark. Consequently the beach barbecue that night was moved nearer to rocks and away from bushes. The main dish was oysters that couldnt be faced the previous night in Smoky Bay.

The Isles of Saint Francis are away to the west-south-west, distant about 15 nautical miles from Franklin Islands and with a maximum elevation of 86 metres they were over the horizon from our viewing height close to the water. Again a morning south-easterly meant an easy sail on a compass course until the islands came into view. We sailed around the southernmost island (Fenelon Island) and then to the next island north (Masilon Island). The chart shows a nearly fully enclosed bay open to the north-west and we held high hopes for this to be an overnight anchorage. However, while at anchor for lunch, we found that the swells rounding the point were reflecting off the cliffs, which dropped down into deep water. The wind whirled around in a similar fashion. So, in the afternoon we sailed on to the main island in the group, which is Saint Francis Island, from which the group takes its name.

The northern side of Saint Francis Island has a large sandy bay measuring about one nautical mile across the headlands and we spent two nights at anchor here. At one time there used to be a farm on the island and it is interesting to wander around to figure out how the place worked. Again, plenty of mutton bird burrows but only one snake seen, this time a large carpet snake. The bay is the home territory for a pod of dolphins, which the locals claimed were friendly enough to swim with. Although we didnt take the opportunity to do this, we did see them fishing. Their technique was to have one of their number thrash the water with its tail to drive the fish ahead where the others in the pod ambushed the fleeing fish.

Our return to the mainland was on a course to the north-east, threading through some small islands close to Saint Francis Island and then on past Evans Island to the lee of Goat Island. On the north side of the latter island is the wreck of the 7000 tonne wheat carrier Elen K which had loaded bulk wheat at Thevenard, only to break her back and sink shortly after leaving port. We could see a wreck buoy as we came up to the spot. However, this is not located next to the highest point of the wreck. It was only a slightly different colour in the water that warned us, only a couple of boat lengths off. Less than a metre below the surface we could just make out in the turbid water some part of the ships superstructure. The lack of clarity discouraged us from anchoring and going over the side for a closer look.

Goat Island and its larger neighbour Saint Peter Island mark the southern entrance to Denial Bay, which leads in to Ceduna. We sailed across Denial Bay and into the smaller Tourville Bay on the northern side. A tidal stream known as Davenport Creek was our anchorage for the next three nights. The creek is separated from the ocean by some sand hills. We swam in the ocean for refreshment in preference to Davenport Creek because we discovered the latter was full of sea lice. Local knowledge has it that after a couple of days a body in the creek becomes something pretty disgusting.

The only time we had to beat to windward on the whole trip was on leaving Davenport Creek and we had to tack out of Tourville Bay for a couple of miles. The course into Denial Bay took us past Thevenard to Ceduna, on the shores of Murat Bay. Lorelei and Electra retrieved immediately on arrival at Ceduna so that an early start could be made for home and also to break up the 800km journey into two parts.

The remoteness of this area is an attraction because so few visit. The anchorages we used in the creeks on the mainland were a surprise and they were well suited to our situation with trailerable yachts. The islands offshore are close enough to be less than a days sail away, yet rarely used by local fishermen, or any others for that matter. This was one of our most memorable cruises.

Lloyd Cushway