Friday 12th April at 4am the alarm starts screaming. It’s up, out of bed, get the coffee brewing and hitch the trailer. I head over to Big John’s by 0430 to pick him and his gear up. Tossing the stuff in the car we head to the rendezvous point to catch up with the others for the start of the Steep trip for 2013. When we get to the meeting place, the others are not to be seen. Giving them a call, they are about ½ hour behind. As I am towing the Ulti, Ron and Mary their Jayco and Garry, Chuck and Fran towing Garry’s Seaquest 6.5M, we wait till they arrive so we can safely travel in convoy.
A couple of hours up the road, we stop at Jurien for breakfast. There is not a lot of choice in this fishing town at that hour of the morn so the bakery it is. What’s wrong with pies for breakfast I ask??? After munching a pretty ordinary pie, a couple of us go for seconds. Garry gets a smokie, I get a quiche. We both regret the decision.
Then we on the road again to Geraldton for a fuel top up. I don’t really need it, but decide it might save me a couple of bucks from the unknown price of Overlander Roadhouse’s diesel. I take the lead this time as I’m struggling to tow at Ron and Garry’s speed. We decide to meet up at Overlander.
We arrive at 1430, top up the fuel again, I have a pre made sandwich, John being a Geordie, has a cup of tea. Then we wait for the others to arrive. The first drama of the trip comes to light. I planned on having dinner here. Dinner at 1430 is just a wee bit early. Nothing on the menu looks suitable for bush cooking. So we have a dilemma. Then John hits the jackpot.....get them to make us a burger, less cooked beef pattie and onions. We can cook this up our self at camp. Brilliant Idea John. About an hour later, we hit the road to Denham. At the useless loop turn off, the adventurous Ron and I head the inland route. Garry, Chuck and Fran take the luxury of sleeping in accommodation in Denham, the plan being to launch the boat and come in by sea. We should be in before them and can set up their sleeping quarters........Wrong!
Ron/Mary, John/I find a nice secluded campsite well off the road some 50K’s from Overlander. We set up for the night. Ron empties his Jayco to set it up, I get soft and roll out a swag, forcing John to set up his tent. So much for having a 40K camper!
We cook the burgers and I have to say, it was just the best roadhouse burger to be had in the bush. It was pretty warm and after dinner when the rain fell, none retreated to keep dry, we just sipped our red.
In the morn, John being a relatively new Aussie citizen, was coaxed into his first foray of vegemite on toast. Suffice to say, he won’t be venturing down that road again in a hurry.
We packed up about 9am for the road trip to Steep. Then the dramas begin. Ron took the lead. I had to stop occasionally, as I kept catching up with Ron’s dust. Then, bang, flap, flap, flap.....I look in the wing mirror and see flapping from the left hand rear. I call Ron on the radio and tell him I think I’ve done a sidewall. I will update him when I know more. As luck would have it (or not) I’ve picked up a rubber bungee. The “S” hook is embedded in the tread and the bungee is flapping round trying to wreck everything underneath. I remove the bungee, call Ron to say all’s ok, and continue.
10 Minutes or so later, Ron calls up to say he has lost a wheel. Insert expletitive here. When we catch up, it’s worse than losing a wheel. I tell Ron he needs a good wheel aligner. He chuckles and fobs off the seriousness of the situation. Upon investigation, it’s a serious concern, a trip breaker indeed. The Steep point road lives up to its trailer killer reputation.
We assess the situation. There is nothing we can do on our own. Ron heads off for the nearest local station, Tamala. He is in luck. The boss Cocky was about to leave for bore maintenance, but a bit of monetary persuasion and he rocks up onsite with welder, trolley jacks, stands etc.
The view was awesome whilst we waited for the cocky to arrive.
We need to fully lift the Jayco off the ground, to remove the wheels and jack the suspension back into place before any welding can take place. The station owner is a trouper; we all work together as a group and finally get Ron’s van back on the road. Fingers crossed it will handle the rigours of the Steep Pt road. We haven’t hit the rough yet. Disappointingly, cars just fly past with the Jayco precariously hung up in the air with both myself and the station owner underneath welding her up. What is it with some people??
A good 4 or so hours after failure, we are back on the road. Then we pass the windmill and get into the corrugations. Radio com’s between vehicles became difficult over the noise of the rattles. We get to the air down point – Dune country. I note to Ron water pouring out the rear seam of the van. He says it’s his overfull water tank. I respectfully keep my thoughts to myself. We get over the first hill, but I only get ¾ of the way up the second, and after a couple of attempts, let another 5Psi out the tyres. I climb the hill without issue. The hardest part of dragging nearly 5T of vehicle and trailer up the dunes is momentum. You can’t get a lot due to the uneven holes in the ruts, which throws both vehicle and trailer violently side to side and up/down. After the second hill I notice the water leak is now a milky substance. I subtlety forget to mention this to Ron, he has endured enough so far. We eventually make base camp at 1530. The boat crew has been there for hours but knew of our troubles as the cocky had called the ranger to let him know we would be late.
Hats off to you, Barry (the cocky from Tamala). You are the epitome of the Aussie spirit. You saved our trip with your selfless help (and earned a decent pay packet at Ron’s expense)
Ron discovers more damage when the jayco is opened. Collapsed shelving and burst food containers. UHT milk, Casks of red, jam jars and biscuits are amongst some of the casualties. Our thoughts go to both Ron and Mary who over the coming days clean up the mess created. So two days down, it can’t get any worse can it?
Or can it?
Sunday morning and we are up for breakfast. Looks like a beautiful day. The boys decide to go for a dive. I decline as I have too much stuff to do to get camp set up for the week. Now I know why the fella’s bring their spouses! Some hours later, I’m trying to diagnose a low output issue from my solar. Back to the water and Garry’s boat rocks up. John shouts against the wind in his best accent something about boiling the kettle. So you can imagine my best two fingered reply. Then above the breeze I hear something about a sting. I drop the solar and get straight to getting the billy on gas.
It turns out Garry had an unfortunate and somewhat unlucky encounter with a stone fish. In lots of pain and swelling in his hand and arm, I leave Garry with the others to administer some first aid and head for the Rangers quarters. The ranger is out so I leave a note saying where we are and are in need of assistance. When I return Garry seems a little better, but still needs medical attention. I head up the beach and ask the next camp if they have VHF. They do and I ask they call Shark Bay Sea rescue. The guy puts out a few calls on a few channels. I tell him to call on VHF16. He does and the Ranger responds immediately. He tells us to get Garry to Denham by boat.
John and Chuck take the boat and Fran goes along in case CPR is needed. They arrive in Denham, met by Sea Rescue and the local Nurse. Garry is dosed with Morphine, antihistamines and anti-biotics. The Nurse is in contact with RPH. They are trying to decide if they airlift him back to Perth. The Ranger drives to our camp a few times throughout the day to to inform us of what is happening. Later in the afternoon he tells us they won’t be home tonight. He is known as a cranky old bugger, but he has been remarkable during this incident.
Back at Camp, Ron, Mary and I have a quiet afternoon and night. Not much is done the next morning either. The Ranger swings by again to keep us informed. He tells us Garry stayed in Denham over night and they will all be back at camp sometime during the day. Ron checks his battery status and finds his batteries are depleted. His solar can’t cope with the demand of two older generation Engels being run as a freezer. So we fire up the genny and monitor the battery status occasionally. An hour or so later and there is no change in the batteries. So I do some investigating. His Ctek appears to be working, so I trace the loom into a junction box full of spaghetti. I have no way of checking the output of the charger in this bundle of wires. I tell him I think his Ctek is buggered. After all the good spirits Ron has shown to date, my news is the last straw. Ron has what could be considered a mild dummy spit – something along the line of spending coin on the best equipment only to let him down when he most needs it. He has endured so much so far, and copt it on the chin. I think about it some more....then the penny drops. I tell him to unplug the freezers for ½ hour. The battery charge goes up. The two Engels will be drawing 10 amps, but the Ctek only puts in 7. Therein lies the problem. Ron switches to a 16A charger and the batteries are now going up with both freezers running. Phew, about time we had some luck.
About 3pm the boat arrives back from Denham. Everyone seems in good spirits, but Garry’s swelling hasn’t got any better and now he is sporting enormous blisters on his fingers and palm. Garry’s diving for the week is over.
Tuesday and we are blown out from diving. We all laze about the camp. John grabs his Ipad and walks up a dune for coverage. He brings back a screen clip from Seabreeze. Looks like it will only get worse throughout the day, peaking about 9PM. I had to double peg and rope my annex as during the day, the gusts were bending my 500mm sand pegs and poles kept falling over. This turned out to be a wise decision. Ron attempts to fire up the genny again but to no avail. Will our luck ever get better???
I pull it apart and determine it’s due to crud in the jet from running the tank dry. So we pull it apart, clean the bowl, blow out the jet and reassemble. Success. The genny fires and both freezers are kept running. The genny had to be field serviced about 3 times over the duration of our stay.
After a blustery day 9pm comes along. Not much different to the last few hours really. So we retire about 10pm for bed. At 1115pm, I’m being thrown all around the bed on the Ulti like I’m riding a rodeo. The peak has come late and it’s wild to say the least. I keep a vigilant ear open for any issues I may have to deal with, or anyone outside requiring assistance. The wind storm continues throughout the night and we all get little sleep.
Wednesday morning comes around and we assess the damage. I feel we were very lucky, the only damage was to John’s tent. One of his poles collapsed at the knuckle and folded in on itself. Unfortunately for John, the pole ended up on his chest. So for the rest of the night, he had to hang onto the pole to prevent a total tent collapse. Unfortunately for him, with the blustery nature of the wind, the pole spent the night thumping on his chest, he described it as having had CPR performed for hours. With a bit of duct tape and clever rope work, he was back in business.
A slow breakfast was had and lots of sand was swept away from our respective living quarters. This included the inside of tents. Its amazing how fine sand can get everywhere with bit of wind. Chuck even complained of sand in his eyes when he woke, he was in a closed tent all night.....Mid morning and the breeze was dropping off a little, so we decided it was time for a dive. Garry was kind enough to let us use his boat, he would stay on land with the girls. A bit of ginning around in the bay off Dirk Hartog, and we dropped the pick. I was freediving and was first in the water. There were a few fish around, but nothing out of the ordinary. I saw a couple of blacktips cruise through. Eventually I spied a Baldchin of decent calibre, and placed him on the float. More time swimming around, watching the others on scuba below ping a few specimens, I took another. 1/2 hour or so later, I decided to come back to the boat and wait for the others. We made a decent haul between us all, a number of species now in the kill tank.
When John returned to the boat, he told us he had yet another challenge with a wobbie. It had stolen his catch bag and retreated with it under a ledge. It took some persuasion from Big John to get it back, but he wasn’t coming back without it!
So we head back to camp. We had fish to clean and process. Afterwards the afternoon was spent doing what one does.....chewing the fat over a few ales and nibbles in preparation for dinner. We decided collectively that Big John required a name change. Owing to his recent wobbie encounter on his knee in Perth, and yet another here, it was unanimous. Big John was now to be formally called Wobbie John.....
Another relatively milder windy night and it was goodnight all......
Thursday dawns to a much lighter wind. We are all on holidays, so we don’t rush. But we have Breakfast and do what ever one does at camp for a bit (like Wobbie John performing some more Dodgy Bros. Engineering, this time on his chair that broke the previous night)
Then we head out in the boat for the day. Garry skippers the boat today. Not that his swelling or blistering has changed, but he feels confident he can handle it and the weather is calmer.
A little bit of a breeze is blowing, but we find some ground in about 8 meters. Again, as I didn’t have the encumbrance of scuba gear, I was first in the water. Talk about fish in a barrel. Lots of fish life on this dive. I ping 2 Baldchin in quick succession. Then I get very selective in what I was to take. The others are now in the water and you can hear a multitude of shots going off. But not long after and the fish life is disappearing. I think 4 divers on the one spot firing off shots left, right and centre is spooking the remaining residents. I spied a 6ft shark on the bottom. I still have two fish on the float so I head over to the boat to offload the feast and head back out. Not long after, I take another fish then I spy 2 sharks about the same size as the first cruising the bottom. I decide I have enough fish and head back to the boat. On the way back I spot Chuck on the bottom....I try to grab his attention to no avail to let him know about the cruisers.
On the boat, Chuck comes up. He saw the two sharks not long after I tried to get his attention. Then Ron returns. So we wait for Wobbie john.....and wait. We fire up the boats engine (our signal for divers to return to the boat) and wait some more. Eventually Wobbie John comes up the boarding ladder. He was stuck on the bottom below the boat. Ron had a catch bag of fish clipped off to the hull about 3 meters below water line. Unfortunately Wobbie John couldn’t get off the bottom until a 9 footer had finished munching on Ron’s bag...... I don’t freedive a lot myself, so trying to identify a species from above (rather than side on) was a bit of a different concept for me. But referring to some images off the net from above and below, I believe these were probably Tigers????
We do a second dive back at the site we dived the previous day. Fish were taken, Wobbie John met his counterpart once again, but all in all, it was pretty plain. We do a bit of sounding around on the way home for tomorrow then head in to clean yet more fish, eat more nibbles, drink more beer and wine and have dinner......Its a tough life, but you know what they say! It should probably be mentioned that evening meals was a novel concept this time around thanks to Ron’s planning and inventiveness. We planned on 7 nights at Steep. Each unit (there was five units in the group) would supply one meal for the 7 participants. That meant we only had cook one meal for 7 people and fend for ourselves for the remaining 2 nights. Certainly novel for me and I think it worked quite well.
Back to camp to clean the days proceeds, nibbles and dinner before retiring for our (what was to be) last full day at Steep.
Another lazy morning on Friday having breakfast and contemplating the dive plans for the day. A couple of fella’s drive into our camp and come up for a chat. “Are you clearing out by 10am?”.....well no we’re not, we are here till tomorrow. The ranger had told them our camp would be free today. So we send them back to the Ranger, he obviously made a mistake. 1/2 hour or so goes by and the Ranger comes to camp. Now we get to see his reputation come to life........
He tells us we are due to leave at 10am today. We argue we are not, We paid for seven days and are due out tomorrow. Ron offers to pull out his paperwork. He tells him not to bother, he has it here....He shows us the exit date. Ron makes a comment about the exit date not being very clear, his wife used to manage holiday homes and they never used this system. The Ranger didn’t appreciate or want Ron’s wife’s experience in managing holiday homes. Then Wobbie John offers him the use of his glasses.....That went down well.
I tell him to do the math on his hand and eventually he does. When he gets the 7th night, he clearly sees we are due to depart on Saturday, mumbles under his breath, offers no apology and takes off without a word......
I’d hate to be in his wife’s shoes when he gets back to the house!
So Ron discusses the prospect of leaving a day early. Garry doesn’t have issue with it and I state I will be travelling out with Ron whatever day we leave. The decision is made to leave a day early. I state we need to get on the road as early as possible, considering all that happened on the way in. Chuck and Wobbie John go for a dive. I am all but packed when they return. John still has to pack his gear and the guys are modifying plugs in Ron’s cruiser so he can take chuck’s Engel back home. We don’t depart till 3.30 pm....Sadly, even with all the misadventure this trip has brought us, we are now on the way home.
At the air down point after we passed the Dunes, we reinflate our tyres for the 100Km’s of corrugated limestone track to get back to the overnight camp we used on the way in. Arriving very near dark, I start to pull out dinner and cooking gear, John sets up his tent and Ron/Mary set up the jayco for the night. Our bush weld repair has held up to the vigours of both going into and out of Steep. All I can hear is Wobbie John swearing and cursing...His tent has now completely failed and looks like he will be having a rough night. I lend a hand. We remove screws from here, place them there, use lots of rope and duct tape and get some semblance of an upright tent for him for the night.
Phew, now I can get on with dinner. I had enough to feed all 4 of us. It wasn’t flash, just steak, sausages and lettuce (thank goodness I left the spring onion in the camper fridge John!) but it was a feed for the night. Afterwards, we finished off the last of the red and Wobbie John brought out a nicely concealed flask of whisky he had hidden all this time. In the morning I remembered why I don’t drink the stuff!
We passed up on breakfast in favour of a roadhouse meal. We bid Ron and Mary farewell (they were going onto Denham for a few days) and hightailed it back to Perth.
And thus, Steep Point 2013, a trip of drama and personal challenges was over. Now I’m back home, I wouldn’t change a thing...except for broken trailers and personal injury.