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from Rob Legg Yachts

The Monte-Bellos… The A-Bomb islands of the North West

Part 4 - THE MONTE BELLO ISLANDS

Anchorages in the Monte Bellos abound as the group consists of 70 or so small islands forming a protective ring around a sheltered area seven miles long and up to a mile wide, though some spots had distinct advantages.

An old favourite is the upper reaches of Hermite Lagoon, an L-shaped landlocked strip of water only a few hundred metres wide in places and beautifully protected, hence the cyclone moorings that have been placed there. Access is best near full tide following the port-side bank until the corner of the `L' then switching over to the starboard bank of the last leg.

Good holding ground makes this a fine anchorage although the rocky, low gorge-type banks makes landing a bit difficult and the spinifex grass makes things rather prickly.

Moderate weather anchorages are almost anywhere along the eastern shore of Tremouille Island. The channel between the shore and the middle shoal bank is up to 20 metres deep and more than wide enough for the largest yacht.

The normal marine chart gives very little information for navigation within the Monte Bellos but good fortune brought into my possession a copy of a Land and Survey Chart, Tryal 16-31. I have been unable to obtain an original but oh-boy, it's sheer gold, with soundings everywhere and showing easy passages throughout the group, unlike the marine chart which just shows everything in blue with a few rocks thrown in for good measure.

My dream anchorage on the west side of Alpha Island is reached by skirting the southern bank of the middle shoal making sure that the back bearing to Tremouille Light is not less than 90 degrees if approaching from the more northern areas and following the shoal along the eastern side of Alpha Island, through the gap between the little islands, hard-a-port and just a mile away is a sheltered white beach, with a clean sandy bottom and easy walking ashore, all this, with a least five to six metres all the way in.

The strange thing about the islands of the Monte Bellos is that although many of the islands are little more than rocks and in many cases only metres apart, each one has a completely different vegetation. Not that there's a lot of vegetation mind you.

There are no trees or water but there is something about the place that makes it wildly beautiful.

A-BOMB REMNANTS

Tremouille Island in particular is littered with remnants of the atomic tests. Blockhouses abound, each with its own decaying mound of machinery and scraps of wiring. Much has been cleaned up over the last few years but there is still the fuselage of an aircraft, mostly intact, though only a mile or two from one of the blast sites. We were expecting more obvious damage to the environment but the actual bomb sites were lacking the obligatory crater and fused sand. Apart from the cairns marking the test zones, there is little to make one believe that a bomb was exploded at all. It's worth mentioning that there is no longer a radiation hazard and the island, apart from some marked areas, is quite safe. However that has not stopped the Navy from declaring it a prohibited area. Permission to visit this outflung bastion of freedom may be obtained by writing to the Ministry of Defence. My chart doesn't show the area as prohibited but the very latest do and I have heard rumours of one gun-boat captain threatening a boat with ramming because they didn't have the required piece of authority.

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