[Edwards, Hugh, 1983, Port of Pearls, Rigby, Adelaide, Chapter 10]


Chapter 10

Devil Winds


The Eighty Mile Beach was one of the worst places to be caught because there is no shelter there except for Bossut Creek. Only the small luggers could shelter in the creek, and these could only cross the bar at high tide. If the tides were wrong, they were trapped outside, on a lee shore. The schooners and mother ships could not enter at all.

In 1908 an April cyclone caught the main fleet anchored off La Grange Bay in this very situation. Captain Owen put to sea and lashed his wife to the mast of the schooner Anthon. Pat Percy did the same with his wife on the Gwendoline. The two larger vessels gained sea room and survived, but the smaller luggers trying to make shelter were dashed on the shoreward shoals and fifty men were drowned.


[Edwards quotes from Pearlers' Association's advice to its members]


Your Committee desires to draw your attention to the following observations (reprinted from the Annual Report of December 17th, 1908) that would, in their opinion, considerably reduce the disastrous effects of these hurricanes if attended to in time:

(1) To carry on no pearling operations between the 1st December and the 30th April, except in those waters from which shelter can be easily reached.

(2) To carefully note the barometer night and morning during these months, as it is an unfailing guide to the weather in the tropics.

(3) The barometer has two tides in the tropics, just the same as the ordinary water tides. It rises about 1-10th from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m.; falls about the same from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; rises again from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; to fall again about the same from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. High water by the barometer, 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. Low water by barometer, 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Any variation from the above pearlers should view with the greatest care.

The normal summer reading of the barometer is 29.90. A fall in the barometer of say 2-lOths below normal should always be taken as a danger signal, and this more especially if the wind is in the east. During the summer months - December to April inclusive - an easterly wind and a falling barometer is a sure indication of abnormal conditions in the weather, and pearlers should at once seek shelter.

The one great lesson of the last two 'blows', however, has been not to work away from the place from whence shelter can be easily obtained, and, secondly, not to seek the shelter of an open beach because the wind is in the east.

Owing to Broome's position, the centres of these dreaded hurricanes have invariably passed to the westward, and this means that as the storm progresses the change of wind will be from east to north-east to north to north-west to west. This places luggers seeking shelter of an open beach (merely because the wind is east) in a position of grave danger, and has undoubtedly been the cause of the great losses the industry has suffered during the past year.

Since the above was written Broome was visited by a severe 'blow' on November 19th, 1910, proving the necessity of extending the application of the above-set out precautions to the month of November.