Not shipwrecked or mutinying, waving - from the Abrolhos Islands

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JohnM

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A few weeks ago, I tipped up the bucket and shook out the ever-mounting list of bits and pieces, looking for something to do. Ah-ha - a visit to the Abrolhos Islands has been sitting in there for quite a while but keeps getting forgotten. Better knock that off.

The Houtman Abrolhos Islands (usually just called the Abrolhos) is a unique island archipelago off Geraldton on the mid-west coast. It is the southernmost true coral reef in the Indian Ocean and has recently been declared a National Park: Houtman Abrolhos - Wikipedia

https://www.australiascoralcoast.com/destination/abrolhos-islands.

Geraldton is a cruisy 4.5h drive from Perth and this little tub can take me to the Abrolhos from there for five days The Eco Abrolhos - Eco Abrolhos.

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I expect most of the time out there will be without reliable mobile signal. I’m looking forward to escaping from the Covid-19 madness! Fortuitously well-timed!

The Abrolhos is famous for the Batavia shipwreck: Batavia (ship) - Wikipedia

The Batavia was the flagship of the Dutch East India Company. It was built in Amsterdam in 1628 and was on its maiden voyage to the capital of the Dutch East Indies, Batavia (now Jakarta) when it was wrecked. The wreck killed approximately 40 of its 341 passengers, then a mutiny amongst the survivors led to a massacre.

Batavia's History | Western Australian Museum

The central exhibit of the WA Shipwreck Museum at Fremantle is a section of the vessel.

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JohnM

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Replica of Dirk Hartog’s famous pewter plate from Dirk Hartog Island (Dirk Hartog Island - Wikipedia) off Shark Bay, further north of the Abrolhos, and a model of his ship the Roebuck.

And a couple of posters on William Dampier, the first Englishman to explore parts of Australia William Dampier - Wikipedia.

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To be continued upon my return…
 

tgh

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Oh my…I want to go…want want want…..
I Read Peter Fitzsimmons excellent book during 2019 and late in the year managed to set foot on Banda Island.
 

Major

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I have a mate in PER who used to take his boat to the Abrolhos every year to fish and catch lobsters. He just loved the place
 

Magoo

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I'm coming along too. Sounds fantastic!
Added to my list.

Seasickness???
 

JohnM

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I'm coming along too. Sounds fantastic!
Added to my list.

Seasickness???

I arrived back in Geraldton yesterday afternoon and drove back to Perth. I'll get into the TR once I've sorted photos and attended to other stuff that's going on.

Suffice to say, it was an incredible trip that I would highly recommend. The environment, biology, the crayfishing industry and history out there is fascinating and very eye-opening. Terrific crew and a very professional operation.

Regarding seasickness, the 4-5h voyage out was pretty rough. The vessel was corkscrewing quite a lot. I asked the skipper how it rated. His reply: "A good average." Make of that what you will.

Normally I don't get seasick but on this occasion I did bring up my breakfast about three-quarters of the way out, but had no lingering nausea. I retreated to may cabin when the rocking and rolling intensified as it was a bit difficult moving around. In retrospect, I probably would have been better finding a seat up top and staying there. Once out there, it's benign.

This was the first trip for the boat out/fly back system. It worked very well and is clearly the best way to do it as you get to see part of the Abrolhos from the air. It is a direct flight back from East Wallabi Island, not a sightseeing excursion, so it's mainly East Wallabi and a few islands in that part of the group viewable from the air, but it serves the purpose.

The crew have today off, then the next pax fly out tomorrow and boat back.
 

JohnM

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OK, rewinding back to Wednesday last week. I arrived in Geraldton at about 1500h and had to be at the wharf at 1700h.

I had aimed to visit the Geraldton Museum to check out more on the Batavia, including the real stone-built arch. Foiled! The museum shuts at 1500h. It would have to wait until return. But I did fit in a visit to the HMAS Sydney Memorial.

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Then to the wharf at the fishing boat harbour. The plan was to board the vessel at 1700h, get formalities sorted, then people who had driven there formed a convoy to drive their vehicles for storage at the company’s compound and were bussed back.

As most would be aware, the western rock lobster fishery (aka the cray fishery – ‘cray fishermen’, ‘cray boats’, ‘crays’, ‘cray industry’, ‘cray pots’ is still the vernacular) is at a standstill because of the inability to export product to China, by far and away the main market. Normally the harbour would be bustling with boats.

This was set to have good consequences for our ability to easily haul in our daily limit of crays, although we did not get to see the bustle of working boats in operation out on the islands. The industry is highly regulated and has been for many years, with Marine Stewardship Council accreditation. It is Australia’s most valuable fishery.

Panulirus cygnus - Wikipedia

Sustainable | Western Rock Lobster Council

Rock lobster

In the past, the industry operated in ‘seasons’ along the WA coast. That has now changed to a quota system. As is typical, the industry operates under a licensed pot system. I understand that the current value of a pot license is over $100K.

In the past there were numerous small operators but that has given way to consolidation and very much larger vessels. The large cray boat that was berthed behind ours has an annual quota of 60 tonnes. Apparently, they had harvested 57 tonnes from the edge of the continental shelf in deeper waters (c. 100m+ IIRC), about 20 nm W of the outer Abrolhos before the skids were applied. Laughing… Sadly not so for most operators.

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A casual drinks and pizza meet-and-greet evening followed before settling in to sleep dockside. The excellent pizzas prepared by Jonno, the chef, were a sign of food delights to come. Next morning it was up at sparrow’s for a 0600h cast-off.
 

JohnM

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The cray boat mentioned above, as we move away from the wharf to begin our 4-5h run to the Southern Group Islands.

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We were carrying two glass-bottomed boats, two similar-sized excursion boats, and towing what was effectively an older-type small by today’s standards cray boat. This was to be our education of how crays are caught – and the pathway to Cray Nirvana…

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Kingfish production pens outside the Geraldton harbour.

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JohnM

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First sighting of land. I knew that there were crayfishermens’ dwellings on the Abrolhos but I have to admit the number of them surprised me.

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The shore excursion group heading off. I opted to go to pull cray pots on the King Diver. I repeated that on the third day. I’ll combine the pics to try to build a picture of the procedure.

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JohnM

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Using a grappling hook to snare the piece of rope between two floats. Then pulling it over the tilting cradle, across the boat onto the winch and up it comes. We were in about 20m of water, so the length of the rope is chosen accordingly. The 100m plus sets on the edge of the shelf lead to a huge piled loop of rope as the deckies pull it in on the winch and circle it up. But one of the main things is to avoid excessive amounts of rope dangling in the water.

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JohnM

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There is, of course, rigid size restrictions and mated females or those with eggs cannot be taken. The vessel has a recreational license with a quota of 80 crays. Not 80 per day, but 80 on the vessel at any one time. We just topped up to the 80 mark each day after day 1.

The middle flipper had to be immedaitely removed in accordance with the license conditions to mark the cray as recreational catch.

(The Chinese live cray market requires a perfect specimen – all legs attached (some were missing legs – which they can re-grow) and with long antennae.)

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Male with claspers on the last pair of legs. Female with none.

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Mated female with ‘tar’ sperm-sac and female showing the fine egg-holding claspers.

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Pots are baited with fish heads, small whole fish such as ‘mulies’ and fish skeletons from filetting.

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The first three metres of rope is a yellow, heavy material that ensures it suspends vertically to limit entanglement problems for cetaceans. Pots baited, the boys start dropping them when the skipper, looking at the sounder, yells ‘go’.

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Cray enemy #1. Octopus. This one came up within a pot. Off with its head and an examination of it’s beak – and the damage it wrought. They feast on the cray innards first.

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On my second pot pull we hit a patch of ‘whites’ – crays that had recently moulted. After topping up our quota, the rest were sent back for another day.

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And that’s the wrap on how to catch a cray – or 80.
 
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