Mount Barnett Roadhouse
On 3rd July 2016 we left Drysdale River Station on the Kalumburu Rd reasonably early. Kind of felt a little strange driving along without the camper trailer behind. Was as if we’d left it behind or something. The trip to the turnoff at the Gibb River Rd was uneventful, we turned right and headed for our next stop at the Mount Barnett Roadhouse relieved by the better standard of the Gibb River Rd compared to the Kalumburu Rd.
The roadhouse is 253km east of Derby and is the entrance point for the Manning Gorge. There is fuel, hot and cold snacks, water, toilets & showers, laundry, take away and a general store. You might also be able to get some tyre repairs done. You pay the camp fees here but the campsite is about 7km away on a dirt track.
Mount Barnett Station itself is 700,000 acres owned by the Kupungarri Aboriginal Corporation, and sits opposite the Kupungarri Community. The station first started up in 1903 when a mob of cattle were brought over the King Leopold Ranges in the first drove across them.
Derby was the first official townsite in 1883 to be occupied unlike Broome which had already been declared but was still vacant. There was even a Government Resident and police detachment. Today the population is about 4,865 as of the 2011 census of which about half are aboriginal descent with three different languages. Many are employed by the government. Others are small businesses supporting local mining, pastoral and tourism industries.
The town is noted for having the highest tidal range in Australia of 11.8m. It’s main industry is pastoral, mining and tourism along with minor extras such as oil, diamonds, zinc and stone. It’s also the main base for the Royal Flying Doctor operations in the Kimberley’s since 1955. The first scheduled air flights in Australia started here in 1921 and it also owns a world record for the first longest passenger airline flight from Derby to Perth.
As isolated as it is, Derby has had outside world visitors for quite a long time. Certainly the Asiatics knew about a great south land long before Europeans. There has been conjecture that 62 marooned Japanese sailors sometime before the 12th century may have been instrumental in the design of various pieces of Kimberley rock art. The Chinese apparently knew of its existence by 1420 and Emperor Ying Tsung had a clear porcelain map of the Australian outline in 1477.
In 1688 Capt Swan of the Cygnet with the William Dampier onboard as crew – and who was to go on to become a famous explorer, spent 3 months in King Sound north of One Arm Point while the boat was being careened. Dampier wasn’t much impressed either by the country or the native peoples saying the area was useless for settlements and that the people were the most miserable human beings he’s ever seen or heard of. He came back 11 years late in 1699 but didn’t have anything better to say about it.
Matthew Flinders came by in 1803 in the Investigator while circumnavigating Australia but apparently didn’t land or note anything of interest. In 1818 Capt Phillip Parker King made an extensive survey of the Kimberley coast and named Cygnet Bay near One Arm Point. In 1838 Capt. Lord Stokes of HMS Beagle fame which had carried Charles Darwin on a previous expedition named King Sound and Point Torment because of the mosquitoes, and the Fitzroy River. In 1879 the land explorer Alexander Forrest explored the Kimberley area and it was his glowing report that prompted pastoralists to take up land. The first pastoralist J. Brockman took up a land lease with sheep in 1882. More sheep and cattle soon followed.
By 1881 following Forrest’s report, the land was claimed by the Western Australian Government and gazetted for lease by pastoralists. Skirmishes became frequent as the natives speared stock for food. Aboriginals got shot and settlers got speared. Many warriors and elders were arrested for stealing and murder. With them being removed from their clan groups contributed to the decline of the natives culture.
Aboriginals became a “part” of the cattle station that took over their land. Some became indispensable as stockmen or house maids and were paid wages with food, clothing and tobacco. Gradually with the introduction of technologies they became more and more sidelined. Others were born and grew up in Mission Stations, some of which were eventually closed by the Government. With the introduction of equal wages in 1968-69 they mostly became fringe dwellers in local townships like Derby, reliant on Government welfare.
But things have improved and today there are about 160 aboriginal communities and 30 different language groups. Many of the cattle stations have been taken over and being run by aboriginal corporations.
Camper Trailer Problems
We soon found our digs at the King Sound Resort Hotel, a name that sounds more luxuriant than it proved to be. First order of business was to find the camper trailer and see what was happening. After a bit of misdirection we found our man who showed us what was happening. He’d already stripped everything down even though no approvals for the quoted repair had yet been obtained. He was pretty confident because he was only one of two welders in the town who could do the job. We left him to it.
There’d also been a strange smell coming from the back of the car which we hadn’t been able to identify. After tracing some strange fluid marks up from the rear axle, over the springs and underbody we found the problem to be leaked battery acid. After taking the battery out we found several holes in the base that had been punched through the casing by the heads of the bolts securing the battery box to the floor while driving over rough roads.
It was annoying given this had been a new “house” battery installed by a professional tradesman back in Darwin, who had simply put the battery right on top of the bolt heads without any solid padding. Russie was not happy.
By 1883 there were several stations operating in the region but there was still no jetty. Pastoralists had to drive cattle over the mudflats to load them onto barges and then take them out to the ship. It was the same for any other goods to be exported. Yeeda station had a shipment of wool waiting on the shore for export when it was swept away by a tidal wave from the explosion of the Krakotoa volcano in Indonesia.
The first jetty was built in 1885 just in time to also service a gold rush to newly discovered gold fields further inland at Hall’s Creek. It was a 102ft (31m) which cost £3,000. The jetty also became useful to pearl luggers when pearl shell was found nearby. Another jetty was built in 1964, closed in the 1980s and reopened for barging of lead and zinc concentrate operations.
It stands as a popular spot for locals and tourists to watch the spectacular sunsets, marvel at the tides and watch the marine wildlife.
Note: Bottom right hand photo should read King Sound – not Cambridge Gulf.
Wharfinger House Museum
Wharfinger House is an example of the pre-fabricated buildings adapted for a tropical climate used around the 1920s. It was originally the home for the Derby Port Wharfinger, nowadays known as the Harbourmaster. It was built in 1928 and lived in until the 1960s. The museum mainly centres on local shipping, communications and aviation. A good place to spend a leisurely hour or so.
Boab Prison Tree
Aside from it’s historical significance, this is an impressive boab tree located 6km south of Derby. It’s believed to be 1500 years old with a girth of 14.7m.
Legend has it that the tree was once used by Police Constables in 1890s to lock up arrested aboriginals for the night either inside or attached to the tree, who were being brought to Derby for a court trial. However there’s no evidence this actually happened and is more likely a myth.
It may have begun when a prominent artist named Zanalis spent time in the area and his art works were later exhibited in Sydney NSW. A newspaper, the Albany Advertiser commented that the tree had been used as a “prison of a temporary nature”. There is another boab tree in Wyndham that was alleged to have also been used as a temporary prison.
Local aboriginals believe the ancient trees are ancestors with their own personality. In 1916 an anthropologist Dr Herbert Basedow photographed the tree. The caption stated the aborigines used it as a hut and burial place. He also claimed to have found bleached human bones inside the hollowed trunk, though apparently nobody knows where those remains are today.
Myall’s Bore and Cattle Trough
The bore was drilled in 1910/11 to supply water for cattle brought to town for export. It’s 322m deep. A concrete water trough was then built in 1916/17 which was later extended to 120m and could handle up to 500 bullocks at a time. It’s believed to be the longest cattle trough in the southern hemisphere. Unfortunately the bore water flow dropped by 1919 and has since been pumped up using a windmill. A bath house also once stood near the trough, presumably for the drovers.
One of the few reminders of WW2 still remaining is Frosty’s Pool. It was built by Charles L.V. Frost and a couple of other members of his unit, the 3rd General Transport Company in 1944. His idea was to to have a place where military people could cool off. It was filled with bore-water from the nearby Myall’s Bore. The pool had to be rather small due to a lack of available resources but was popular anyway. Officers got to use it during a specified period of the day and it was available to all other ranks for the rest of the time.
Note: Photo above left – the length of the trough may have been the original length before being extended. Windmill at top centre of photo pumps bore water into the trough
Annual Mud Crab Races
Time your visit to Derby right and you can spend a good family afternoon in your best thong footwear at the Mary Island Fishing Club for the price of a gold coin donation. Funds go to charity. There are several events so everyone has a chance. And when the final race is done it’s time for a cook-up. Enjoy a beaut mudcrab dinner with your favourite beverage. Pick your crab for a fee, get it’s name scrawled onto it’s back and your in it to win it.
Long Table Dinner
The annual Boab Festival Long Table Dinner is a charity event held under the open night sky and stars. Includes a 3-course dinner and live entertainment. This year it was held on the mudflats near the a local landmark, the One Mile Dinner Tree.
The One Mile Dinner Tree is located at the start of the Derby Pastoral Trail, and marks where drovers would bring their mobs of cattle from Myall’s Bore outside of town and wait there until their ship had docked and was ready to receive them. The drovers would usually have their dinners there while waiting and then walk their herds across the mudflats i.e. the Derby Pastoral Trail to the jetty.
Several artists, even from as far as Perth were on hand to entertain. Of particular note was singer, songwriter and guitarist Tracy Barnett (see photo). Armed with stomp box, acoustic guitars, harmonica and great singing voice she really pumps out some good music in a blend of folk, blues,l roots and country.
After dark, beautiful LED lights decorating the tables provided sufficient light to see. And as it happened planet Jupiter could be seen next to the moon as it wanders through the various constellations. In this case it’s Leo as seen from the UK. You might note that the planet appears on different sides of the moon depending on whether you are looking at it from our side of the Earth or the other side.
* Centenary Pavilion: Located at the Jetty. Geography and history of King Sound and Derby.
MORE TO FOLLOW
|map showing location of Wyndham, Gibb River
Rd and Kalumburu Rd WA.
Wyndham was where the first Australian Inland Mission Aerial Service – later renamed the Royal Flying Doctor Service began in 1935. These are some of the things to see and do as well as fishing and offroad driving:
* Warriu Dreamtime Park at the “Three Mile” – large sculptures of an aboriginal family with dingo and kangaroo;
* Big Crocodile sculpture in the main street;
* Wyndham Gardens Outdoor Cinema;
* Afgham Cemetery with tombstones over the early camel riders which face Mecca;
* Five Rivers Lookout aka The Bastion;
* “Largest Boab in Captivity” in a local caravan park;
* Wyndham Museum;
* Wyndham Port Heritage Trail;
* Crocodile Lookout;
* The Boab Prison Tree 23km along the King River Rd; and
* Moochalabra Dam along the King River Rd for picnics and nearby
On 30th June 2016 we left Wyndham heading south on the Great Northern Hwy. Just a short drive to The Grotto – a natural amphitheatre, basically a deep 122m gash in the earth. 140 rock steps down sheer walls to access the quiet but cold pool at the bottom. Water is estimated to be about 100m deep and gets flushed each Wet Season. Beautiful setting,
Gibb River Rd
“The Gibb” runs 660km from near Wyndham in the east to Derby in the west of WA. – It’s one of two major roads which dissect the Kimberley region. The other is the fully sealed Great Northern Highway which runs a bit further south. The Gibb is mostly unsealed but with sealed sections at either end and on some of the hilly areas.
Being a government gazetted road doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always in good condition though. It usually gets 2 gradings per year and it depends very much on how long after the grader you use the road. That should change in the future – we came across several sections of road being upgraded but for the time being, failure to give it some respect can be a costly and frustrating experience.
Despite all that, it continues to be an attractive proposition for the adventurous with it’s beautiful landscapes of coloured ranges, gorges, rock pools, waterfalls and ancient aboriginal rock paintings.
Up until WW2 beef cattle in the Kimberley’s had to be exported by droving the herds to markets overland or via Wyndham and shipped out. Provisioning of the stations was done by using bullock and/or donkey teams. It all started to change when in 1948 an Air Beef Scheme started between Glenroy Station and Wyndham.There was an abattoir, freezing works and airstrip built on the station and the meat airfreighted twice a day to the coast before being shipped to the southern cities.
Between 1949 and 1956 a road was built across the Kimberley from Derby under a Commonwealth Goverment “Beef Roads Scheme” and administered by two shire councils. It was pretty rough. Then in 1966 the WA Main Roads Department took over its control and upgraded it, but it was still a one lane road and continued to be pretty rough. Then from the mid 2000s it was upgraded further into a properly formed 2-lane road. And at times – it can still be pretty rough.
Load: Above all else watch the weight of your load. Pretty much all problems can potentially stem from your vehicle or trailer being overloaded. You could also negate your insurance if you’re exceeding your vehicles weight limit and it’s so easy to do. Bull bars, winch, hood rack and other off-road essentials eat heavily into your vehicle’s load carrying capacity. Look underneath your vehicle and trailer to see how much “travel”you have with your springs after you’ve loaded up. If in doubt go to a local weighbridge and get your rig weighed. Check with your local 4WD shop about getting fitted with a GVM Upgrade kit. Make sure the company you choose can get their upgrade approved by your State Main Roads Department.
Caravans: Saw a couple of caravans but generally they aren’t a good idea for this road. Even specially designed off-road vans might be okay but you’ll still need to be careful to look after it. A couple of people with caravans seemed to be doing okay, but then again the road had recently been mostly graded. Many so-called off-roads vans are NOT.
Campers: Off-road campers may be okay but with a couple of conditions. Not every camper trailer sold as an off-roader will be as tough as the sales literature suggests, or even tough enough for this trip especially if you start going out on the non-gazetted roads or tracks. We learned this first hand with our own supposedly upmarket off-road trailer which had breakages. One was a broken weld line that when exposed was found to be only 1mm thick.
N.B: Seriously consider welding supports onto the frame e.g. across weld lines on the wishbones of independant leaf springs both top and bottom, and maybe put four right angled gussets (brackets) where the plate holding the wheel is connected to a round axle, to prevent lateral movement.
Vehicles: You might be able to take a 2WD vehicle but you run the risk of badly damaging your vehicle. Plus you won’t be able to take most, if not any of the side tracks to access interesting places. Best to go with a 4WD vehicle with plenty of clearance underneath.
Fit good springs and shockies. Standard shockies and 5 leaf springs are not likely to be enough. Pay attention to hood racks. Even the well known brands can fail. We saw three of them – all Rhino’s, one of which resulted in the smashing of the back window of the vehicle. Be careful not to overload hood racks and upset the vehicles centre of gravity.
Regularly check holding mounts and bolts e.g hood racks, running boards, bull bars, towing gear – everything. They’ll definitely shake loose over time. A high-lift jack is essential to supplement a good bottle jack. Forget the piddly little “wind up” jack that sometimes supplied as standard. Their lift capacity is limited.
Tyres: Dropping typre pressure can be important. It helps to “sponge” the shocks to the car and trailer frame and help give you a smoother ride. There is no “one size fits all” with tyre pressures. It depends on the size of your tyres and the load you are carrying. Pressure too high and you’ll feel every bump and shock – too low and you’ll cut the tyre sidewall or damage the rim. Driving in sand or loose red dust needs an even lower pressure but you’ll normally only find this issue once you’re off the main road and onto some of the tracks or beaches.
Driving: While having sturdy gear is important, more depends on the driver. Finding the “magic speed” gives you a balance between a reasonably comfortable ride and hardship to your vehicle. Try to work it so your tyres are absorbing at least some of the shocks and at the same time your shockies aren’t “bottoming out” and the springs aren’t flattening.
Go too fast and you can lose traction. Your tyres won’t be able to get a grip on the tops of the corrugations and you’ll slide around corners – a common cause for fatalities and injury – and an overloaded hood rack can pull you over. Go too slow and your springs and shock absorbers will be pounding up and down to their limits and soon enough will fail. If you elect to go really, really slow then expect to be showered with stones by passing cars and broken windscreen/s by people who don’t slow down or pass by too close. Never take it for granted that other drivers know what they are doing or are even paying proper attention.
Spares: Its easier to get something fixed IF you’ve got the parts – otherwise expect additional expense and delay from getting parts air freighted in. Before you leave home consider asking your mechanic to replace all belts and filters, but keep the old ones as spares if they are still useable. Have emergency supplies i.e. water, food and fuel. You may need to put out a fire or stay unexpectedly longer somewhere or they may be used to help others. You’ll often find a lot of goodwill and co-operation among fellow travellers so be helpful if you can. Carry at least 2 spare tyres for the vehicle AND for the trailer. Some of the branching tracks literally have sharp rocks sitting up in the middle of the road. Carry a good air-compressor. Cigarette lighter types won’t cut it.
Map showing the Gibb River Road and the intersection of the Kulumburu Road to the Mitchell Plateau and Kulumburu further on.
Left: At the eastern end of the Gibb River Rd near Wyndham. Our rig is an Isuzu 4WD DMax and a Camp-O-Matic camper trailer. Nearly all our mechanical problems were with our supposedly upmarket offroad trailer. The vehicle hood rack carried 2 x spare tyres and recovery gear which proved to be just a tad too heavy for one of the rack mounts which snapped.
El Questro Station
Is 36km along the Gibb River Rd and 110km west from Kununurra. Our group had visited here in 2013 so didn’t go there this time.
Home Valley Station
Home Valley Station aka HV8 started in 1957 and is 114km west from Kununurra. It’s owned by the Indigenous Land Corporation and opened for tourism since 2006. We didn’t go in at this time but we did visit it on our return trip. More on this one later.
We’d read about the famous scones here so stopped for lunch. Ellenbrae Station covers a million acres of the Kimberley and is 230km west from Kununurra. Primarily still a cattle station it does have stop-over facilities for tourists. Lovely old rustic homestead built by hand with a beautiful though limited garden setting, including the remains of a massive boab tree which used to be used as a bathroom. It fell in May 2016 during a storm. There are basic stockmens cabins and camping facilities available if you want to stay for a while, rest up and maybe do some fishing, swimming or bush walks.
Runs north for 550km from the Gibb River Rd past the Mitchell River National Park to the aboriginal community of Kalumburu and some excellent camping spots on the coast further on. You will find a small camping spot at 16km on the eastern side of the river which is okay for an overnight stop.
This road would have to be the roughest major road I’ve ever travelled on, but to the adventure oriented this is as good a 4WD challenge as any. It’s managed by SWEK – Shire of Wydham East Kimberley though the adjoining cattle stations will occasionally drag a couple of big tyres along the road to smooth it out a bit – but don’t count on it.
There are four working cattle stations along the road, each being about a million acres or so. One of them is the Drysdale River Station at 59km which offers tourist and camping facilities. There’s also the Mitchell Falls National Park and the spectacular Mitchell Falls to explore. Make sure you have everything you need including spares as supplies and telephone facilities are limited.
Drysdale River Station
Has full camping facilities, store, fuel, licensed bar, beer garden and dining. You may be able to get tyre repairs done but you are highly unlikely to get any other mechanical repairs done here. You can also get scenic flights and there’s free storage for caravans or trailers if you need it e.g. if you’re heading further north to explore and want to travel light. We just stayed the one night.
On Friday 1st July 2016 we started out heading north. Miners Pool is managed by Drysdale River Station and situated about 5km north of the station offering only toilet facilities. Otherwise a pretty spot where you can take a swim in the Drysdale River just a short walk away. Great bird life. Stopped for a short while to paddle about.
Trip came to an abrupt halt just 6km up the road from the Drysdale River Station. We’d come around a particularly corrugated bend approaching one of the many creek crossings. I’d felt a jerk but put it down to the bumpy road but after stopping in the creek to take some photos there was a strong burning rubber smell. That’s when we saw the driver’s side trailer wheel had caved inward.
Too dangerous to stay where we were. No choice but to continue up the other side and get along the road a bit to a clearer spot where other cars could see us in time. Climbing underneath revealed that the independent wishbone leaf-spring had broken and was hanging down. The whole assembly just being held in place by the coil spring.
I stayed with the trailer while the rest of the group went back to Drysdale Station. We needed to find out about getting a tow, getting an insurance claim underway and what our next moves would need to be for tonight. Delma started making phone calls from the card operated Telstra phone provided by the station. Having a rented sat-phone was invaluable as it provided a number that people could call us back directly.
A fellow traveller had noticed Delma making the calls from the fridge (see photo), approached her and offered to help. He told her he’d had a lot of experience in rescuing broken down cars and so he came out with his family in his own truck to see what he could do. First we tried lifting the wishbone and strapping it in place with a couple of strong hardwood boards I used as baseplates for the vehicle winch. That didn’t work. Then our man went into the bush and cut out a strong looking log with his chainsaw. The idea was to strap this in place and use it instead of the wheel. That idea didn’t work either as the tree was too green and bowed. It couldn’t hold the weight of the trailer.
No other choice than to continue with Plan A and get a flat bed truck. Not going to be easy. The nearest towies were 360km at Kununurra and 470km at Derby. We were to find that no one in Kununurra would come out over the weekend but we found a bloke in Derby who was willing to come out straight away with a flat bed truck so we settled down to wait – me with the trailer and the rest back at Drysdale Station. Mark and Diane later on brought out some dinner and then stayed to keep me company.
It was getting late by the time our man showed up with his truck. It had no lifting crane so took us quite a while jacking up the towing eye and trying to skull-drag the trailer up onto the flat bed. By the time we’d finished there was even more unavoidable damage done. Once everything was secure the towie headed off back to Derby. In the meantime Delma had organised an overnight stay in one of the cabins back at Drysdale Station for the night. It’d been a long day so we decided to head for Derby after a good nights sleep and a breakfast.
MORE TO FOLLOW
Lake Argyle to Wyndham
On 28th June 2016 we continued our journey to the Kimberley’s of WA. Left Lake Argyle just inside the border with the NT and travelled to Kununurra where we took a day to restock then pushed on. Leaving Kununurra we took the Ivanhoe Rd north then Parry Creek Rd until it eventually hooks up with the Great Northern Hwy leading into Wyndham.
The crossing is a causeway over the Ord River. Is a popular spot for the Kununurra locals for barramundi fishing. Flows year round but often impassable during the Wet Season. Not recommended fishing on the causeway itself due to saltwater crocodiles.
|Map of the Kimberley region in NW Australia|
It’s believed the first humans, or human like bipeds arrived from the Asian side of the Torres Strait when the land separation between the respective land masses was much smaller – at about 100km or so about 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Certainly the aboriginal homo-sapiens as we know them today arrived around 40,000 years ago.
It’s thought they may have seen smoke rising possibly from lightning strikes and set off in bamboo rafts or log canoes. The Kimberley Region of today is a storehouse of hundreds of thousands of rock-art, much of which is simply being left to fade away. The most common forms are Bradshaw and Wandjina art.
Right: An example of Wandjina art. The main characteristic is a big head with big black eyes and a sort of halo or lightning strikes emanating from the head. The Wandjina is something like the creator of all things.
The first settlement by Europeans was attempted in 1837 at Camden Harbour near the head of the Prince Regent River. That attempt was disastrous because of the climate, distant markets, the harsh nature of the land and aboriginal hostility, so the Europeans withdrew. Heat, lack of water and natural obstacles hindered further exploration.
The inland area was later explored in 1879 by Alexander Forrest whose report created a rush of cattlemen into the region. The white people thought the land was not being “used”. They simply could not appreciate the aboriginal concept of spirituality of the land as opposed to ownership of it. To them the land was a living thing, not something to be used except for essential needs like food and water.
Thus by 1882 over 44 million acres of land had been leased to 77 people by the WA Government. More European settlement began with a gold rush at Halls Creek in 1885.
Aboriginal people simply became part of the cattle stations. Many of them became employed, were paid in food, sugar and tobacco and proved to be highly adaptable as stockmen and domestic help. Later, with the introduction of machines and later motor vehicles, the need for aboriginal workers dropped. Many moved into urban European towns, living as fringe dwellers. Disintegration of the aboriginal way of life was oddly enough help by the aboriginal people themselves. They had no concept of fighting as a collective force. Traditionally they fought opponents as one tribe fighting another. To them, if a white man such as a policeman wanted to arrest a man from one tribe, a native from another tribe would often only be too willing to help.
The Gibb River Road at first was just a cattlemen’s route to the markets. It was maintained by the respective cattle stations and ran for 660km from Wyndham in the east to Derby in the west. Even today it’s often closed due to flooding in the Wet Season. In the mid 2000s the road was upgraded to a two-lane gravel road and some bitumen sections.
The area it passes through provides for spectacular scenery, aboriginal rock art, beautiful awe-inspiring gorges and a wide variety of activities at many of the still operating cattle stations.
From late June to mid August 2016, Delma and I together with in-laws Mark and Di Gillam travelled to the Kimberley’s on a 4WD camping trip. The first leg was from Darwin NT to Lake Argyle WA.
We’d overnighted at Adelaide River in cabin accommodation the first night then made the jump straight to the Victoria River Roadhouse for lunch, then pushed on for Lake Argyle just over the WA border.
|Map – Darwin NT to Lake Argyle WA|
The Victoria River Roadhouse and caravan park is 194 km west of Katherine NT on the Victoria Hwy.
The Victoria River is noted for it’s saltwater crocodiles, barramundi fishing and scenic landscapes. It got it’s name in 1839 when Captain J.C. Wickham in HMS Beagle had anchored at the mouth of the river when a first European settlement was being planned for somewhere in the NW Kimberley area. He named it after Queen Victoria, the Queen of England at the time. HMS Beagle is the same vessel that some years earlier had carried Charles Darwin on his famous voyage.
The area offers excellent photography. escarpment lookouts, Victoria River cruises and the Joe Creek Loop walking trail including some aboriginal rock art.
Lake Argyle is Australia’s second largest man-made reservoir by volume and was created as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme to supply water for 150 sq km of farming land. The earth filled dam, at 335m long and 98m high was officially opened in 1972. The spillway was raised another 6m in 1996 to double the dam’s capacity. It holds more than 18 times the volume of Sydney Harbour.
A thriving eco-system has developed with 26 species of fish and about 25,000 freshwater crocodiles. Cane toads reached here in 2008. The area supports about 150,000 waterbirds.
The closest town is Kununurra but it is a bit of roundabout loop to get to it.
The first signs of humans here is believed to be 40,000 to 60,000 years ago by the Miriuwung Gajerrong aboriginal people. In 1879 the first European explorers came into the area. His name was Alexander Forrest and it was his glowing reports that lead to a rush by cattlemen.
Boat cruises, day tours, scenic flights, helicopter rides, off-road driving, canoeing, overnight island camping, fishing, bushwalking and an historic homestead. Not to be missed is the spectacular sunsets while sitting in the Infinity Pool at the resort.
NEXT LEG: LAKE ARGYLE TO WYNDHAM WA.
Weds 13 Jan 10
Morning: Mohammed comes down and waits while we siphon diesel from the jerry containers into the main tank. We order an extra 500 litres of fuel through him. Patch a small tear in the mainsail. Nice to see the house batteries holding a reasonable charge overnight. Arrangements also made to get access to an adjacent water outlet on the wharf. Wind has risen causing Jenzminc to bump and jerk against the wharf wall.
Left: One of the big timber ships leaves the harbour
Marks drops by. Tells us the wind is only recent and that normally there’s nothing. Also surprised to learn there’s a Wet and Dry Season. Lot of palm trees but the rest of the vegetation where it exists is a kind of thin leafy or thorny kind of low bush or plant. During the Wet Season the mountain ranges in the distance turns green. At least there are some kinds of vegetation on them whereas in Egypt and Yemen they are totally arid. Further south and in the town they only ever get a drizzle if it rains at all but it seems to be enough for a few thorny sort of plants to grow.
Mark points out one of the Pakistani lads. Pirates had captured him and the Oman Government paid his ransom. He now has to remain here working on the fishing boats until he can pay his ransom money back. In the meantime he has no passport and cannot leave the Port area. Poor bugger. He’s a nice young fellow with an interest in collecting bank notes from other countries, which is probably his only hobby.
But he’s not the only unfortunate around the port area. Mark says the Omani fishing fleet get their crews from Pakistan and Bangladesh through an agent and are supposed to be paid a share of the catch. But they either don’t get paid or their expenses are heavily deducted and they are confined to the port area. At the end of the season they’re given an aeroplane ticket home.
As a result the word has spread through Pakistan and Bangladesh and many of the fishing boats here can’t get enough crew any more. Without sufficient crew the boats don’t go out and the men assigned to the boat are left to languish there while their expenses keep mounting up. Hard state of affairs for our friendly little lad trying to pay off his ransom. It’s slavery, pure and simple.
Andy wants everyone off the boat so he can pull out and clean the whole of the fuel system and service the motor. Gives Roger a Yanmar fuel filter to go into the city to buy two more. Mark leads us to the Honda Centre which also supplies Yanmar parts. Their computer system is down so we’re unable to find out if any filters are available. They tell us they will ring Muscat to see if they have any there and if so it will be despatched today. We should get it tomorrow.
Next stop is laundry. Go to a little shop by the side of the main road where Mark gets his washing done. He picks up his washing and we pass over our three bags. We’re to pick them up tomorrow at 4 pm. Mark then leads us to a little bakery shop popular with western ex-pats near the local Air Force base. Beautiful fresh bread and cakes baked on the premises. As well as a bakery it also runs a little store containing several lines of western food including bacon that’s either hard to find or unavailable elsewhere. We decide we’ll come back here to do some final shopping before we leave Salalah.
Now to the local market and get pestered by some Indian men who wash the two cars. Highly persistent and don’t seem to understand the word, “No”. Fresh meat, fruit and vegetables are available but although not clean by western standards it’s clean enough. Didn’t go into the “wet” area which judging by the smell is a fish market. Meat is hanging in there but I’m put off by someone sorting through some guts with a large gathering of flies in a small skip bin nearby. Good quality fruit and vegetables. Buy a case of sweet Egyptian El Manar oranges for 3 Rials a case of 42 oranges. The Egyptians arguably supply perhaps the sweetest oranges in the Middle East.
Last shopping item is Kentucky Fried Chicken. Get three packs for 1.5 Rial each with four pieces of chicken, a bread roll and chips. Good value. Rear tyre still going down but not too bad yet.
1400hrs: Back at the boat Andy is still working away on the motor. Neither the water nor the fuel man has shown up yet. Sit down and have lunch. Large flocks of grey sea birds very much like seagulls gather and bicker around the boat, fighting for scraps of KFC thrown over the side. Andy tells me my wife Delma rang while I was in town. Says she will ring back later. She’s learned to use Skype and the internet to ring my mobile phone. That way it’s only a small cost at her end.
Andy returns to servicing the motor and lifting floorboards to see if there is any water under there. Roger takes off in the car to try and find the longest hose he can buy so we can run water directly from the ablution block to the boat. Phone call from the Honda people. We’ll be able to pick up our filters the day after tomorrow.
1730hrs: The fuel man arrives with 2 x 200 litre fuel drums through the afternoon. The water man also turns up to attach some pipes to the nearby water outlet on the wharf so that we can run some water. Andy finishes his work. We’ll fuel up tomorrow but right now the bucket, broom and detergents have work to do. The cement stains on the starboard side are stubborn. Roger gets down on hands and knees with a scrubbing brush and Jif cleanser to clean it off. Douse down the boom bag, both bimini’s, rails, decks and cockpit to get rid of the salt. Fill the main water tank. Lift the dinghy onto the foredeck.
Sundowners. Roger tells us that while he was in town there had been smoke everywhere in the area of our laundry. Fire engines milling around. Traffic stalled. He thinks that maybe it might have been our laundry but couldn’t be sure.
Evening: Andy has understandable concerns with security of the boat so I elect to stay onboard. Roger once again wants to attempt to get his emails sent so the boys head off to the Oasis Club. Don’t particularly want to go anyway. Work on some music files to upload to the iPod. At one stage there’s lots of noise going on outside. One of the huge 28-wheeled mobile cranes is moving along the road with flashing lights and warning beeps. Moves across the large yard area nearby and parks itself on the wharf next to the water down near the launching ramp, right alongside Quo Vadis. Lights off. Silence descends again. They use these cranes to lift yachts and other boats out of the water onto the hard.
Thurs 14 Jan 10
1000hrs: Mark confirms it was our laundry shop that burned down yesterday. There must be hundreds of laundries and the one we select burns down the same night. He suggests we may still be in luck, that perhaps they might have done the washing off the premises as they sometimes do. Roger starts cleaning inside the boat while Andy and I start to fill the fuel bladder which has been placed into the dinghy.
1330hrs: Refuelling completed by siphoning around 300 litres of fuel through 13mm clear hose. Tedious process. Roger has just completed all the interior cleaning so we all stop for a drink of cold water and cuppa’s.
Afternoon: Roger and I crash asleep. Andy stays up to fix the wind generator mounting. He also polishes the stainless steel pipes which had been starting to get some surface rust on them. Late sundowners.
|Pakistani or Banglideshi fishermen unable to leave the port area and unable to go to sea and work||Fishermen at work|
Left: Quo Vadis on the hardstand
Evening: Up to the Oasis Club where we meet Mohammed. Tells us the Alamic was heading directly for the Seychelles enroute to Phuket in Thailand. We’re a little stunned by this apparent stupidity. We’d been told that Somali pirates were now using big mother boats and ranging further out into the Indian Ocean, especially around the Seychelles.
Lot of Canadian Navy crew inside the club. Roger has a chat with one of them who tells us the current warning is to stay outside a 600-mile limit from the Somalia coast. Have dinner. Return to boat for cuppas.
Andy is unhappy with the way two of the four rafted but unattended fishing boats are hanging back and ready to collide with Jenzminc. On checking I can see the bow line connecting the third and fourth boats has parted. They’re hanging at an awkward angle and threatening to break clear with the wind and tide. Walk up to the next group of boats and call out to the fishermen there. After much hullaballoo a couple of the younger ones grab a line, run over to pull the detached boats back into line with the others and tie them off. Takes about half an hour to get it done. Back to bed.
Fri 15 Jan 10
Morning: Jump into the car to drive into town. A large cruise ship Costa Europa has come in overnight and Omani security is tight. There are additional armed security guards at the front gate in addition to the Canadian Navy Shore Patrol guard. Lots of tourists milling around and perhaps dozens of taxi cabs or mini buses parked nearby. Just along the road a bit further is another checkpoint with about a dozen or so armed soldiers. Two machine gun crews mounted in open backed vehicles are positioned further along the road at separate intersections.
First task is to check the laundry shop just in case they’d actually done the washing off the premises. No such luck. The Indian owner meets us with the sickest expression on his face I’ve seen for a long time. There is a pile of clothes reduced to a blackened, sodden heap on the floor inside. Poor fellow.
Leave him to his misery to check on whether we can pick up our fuel filters. No. Shop is shut. Over to our little bakery shop for some more shopping. Pick up some bacon, tinned potatoes and other items not readily available elsewhere. Off to Lulu’s where we buy a few more items we’ve thought of and I buy a replacement towel, two pillow cases and a small alarm clock.
We’re temporarily undecided how to proceed now. We have to get official clearances out of the country, return the hire car, pick up our filters tomorrow and fix the fuel bladder which has sprung a slow fuel leak. There’s maybe 20 litres of diesel leaked into the dinghy and we’ve no idea where the leak is yet or what we’re going to do about it.
|one of several tourist resorts||the laundry shop the day after the fire|
|street scene||street scene|
|street scene||Lulu’s Supermarket|
|street scene||street scene|
|The Hilton hotel, Salalah||street scene|
Approx 1200hrs: Set up a hose fuel feed line to siphon some of the leaked fuel from the dinghy into the main tank. In the process of doing this an unfortunate incident occurred that brought my involvement in this journey to an end. It is suffice to say without any finger pointing or laying blame that heated words were exchanged between Andy and myself. I spoke with Andy two separate times after that following a cooling off period of about an hour apart, but in the end we could only agree to disagree. Each of us was looking for an apology that they thought ought to come from the other.
Approx 1500hrs: During the last conversation Andy tells me it makes no difference to him whether I stay onboard or not. However it is obvious that a point of no return has been reached and I feel that further sailing with me on board could not work. It would only lead to awkwardness or even more conflict so I decide to leave the boat.
Pack my gear. Pass my bags up the companionway to Roger and then heave them up and across the lip of the wharf. We part amicably enough in the circumstances. Andy sticks out his hand. I shake it and wish him luck – and sincerely mean it. Roger grabs the hire car keys and drives me into town to the Salalah Hotel, a clean looking place with a Wi-Fi network available in the lobby and near to the airport. Tell Roger that I will not book an airfare until lunch time tomorrow. Also tell him that I hope they both have a pleasant and safe voyage to Thailand and that I deeply regret this moment had come to pass. I meant that from the bottom of my heart too.
|View from hotel window. Young people playing soccer.||a mosque at dusk|
Evening: Walk about the city centre. Find a nice, clean restaurant selling Indian and Arabian food. Cost just 3.2 Rials for a beautiful meal that I simply couldn’t finish because there was too much of it. Early to bed. Sleep does not come easy.
Sat 16 Jan 10
Wait until lunch time then start looking online for an airfare home. Book my flight. Spend the rest of the day resting. Nothing much to see or do in Salalah anyway. Perhaps I could go to see the tomb of Job who is mentioned in the Bible but my heart is not much in it. Have dinner at the same restaurant and then take a despondent walk through the local shops.
Sun 17 Jan 10
Relax in the hotel for most of the day. After lunch I take a taxi out to the airport and begin the long journey flying home Muscat, Doha, Singapore and Denpasar to Darwin.
On reflecting on this trip I have much to be thankful for to Andy and I am grateful. He offered me a trip of a lifetime during which I visited a beautiful area in Turkey, sailed the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. I saw the Great Pyramids and Sphinx, Luxor and Aswan in Egypt. Visited Aden in Yemen and Salalah in Oman and sailed the notorious Pirate Alley along the bottom of the Arabian Peninsula. Quite a list not to mention memorable adventures, meeting lots of nice people and giving me the most enjoyment I’ve had literally for many years along the way.
In closing I’d like to include this comment passed on by Roger when he’d been talking to Mark earlier. Mark had said something to the effect that of all the yachties that had passed through coming from the Red Sea, most if not all of the crews were bickering, even apparently slanderous of each other. Mark had complimented the Jenzminc crew on how well we were all getting on together.
In the light of this outside view of the crew it just makes it that much more sad that I now think of Andy and Roger out there now heading towards Galle in Sri Lanka – and turn my thoughts towards home.
| Sun 10 Jan 10
1000hrs: Everyone still in bed. A knocking on the hull. Alongside is a dinghy with a Caucasian man and two others with a weather-beaten appearance. We learn later the Caucasian fellow’s name is Mark and he’s a Kiwi. He owns a boat called Quo Vadis which is up on the hard stand supported by wooden poles. He’s about early fifties, number 1 crew cut, an average build and intense eyes that fix on you.
Mark is quite inquisitive. Wants to know all about us, who we are, where we’re going and details about the Vasco da Gama rally. He’s obviously deduced we’d been part of the rally because we still have the rally banner displayed along the stern rails. I had mistakenly surmised he was from the only other yacht moored here named Alamic, a Swiss registered yacht. Mark tells me it is supposed to be heading for Thailand tomorrow.
I’m still a bit fuzzy headed from having just woken up so don’t pick up immediately on asking more important questions such as how and where to get water or fuel, exact details of booking into the country and so forth. The little group moves off to shore with promises to catch up later. Mark gets off on shore and the others go over to Alamic.
Looking around in the bright daylight across our little mooring basin is an Omani warship, which to my limited knowledge of naval vessels might be a small frigate. At the end are a couple of small Police patrol boats. Further around to the left are several large, brightly painted, tall timber-hulled boats with relatively small topside superstructure and huge rudders. Just to our right is a concrete launching ramp and further along are several exotic looking fishing vessels with high prows and a long timber shade structure sloping along the poop. There are several men of Indian appearance working in and around them.
Beautiful day. Large shoal of fish up to around 20cm or so milling around the front of our boat, keeping a clear distance in a ring around the anchor chain as it drops down in the light green water to the bottom.
Morning: The others don’t get up for a couple of more hours. I settle in to do some computer work bringing my hand written journal notes up to date. After the men get up we spend time just leisurely doing minor odds and ends cleaning up after our last passage.
Late Afternoon: Go ashore. Climb a million steps up a concrete stairway leading to the Port Control Office on top of the hill adjacent to the yacht mooring area. Once up there we find the building also houses the Harbour Master. After knocking on a door marked with Arabic writing we find ourselves in the main Port Control room. Inside are a couple of men, one in an impressive white maritime uniform with lots of gold trim. He ushers us next door to a conference room then asks what can he do for us. After explanations he goes away and comes back with a form already completed with all our details and stamped with the Port Control Office stamp. They’d have recorded all our details when we got permission to enter the harbour last night over the radio. He tells us we now have to go to a place called CGT Finance to pay the port fees. Takes us outside onto a terrace and points out where the place is, hidden from view around the corner of another nearby hill.
As we walk down the hill a younger uniformed maritime man driving a big black Chrysler Jeep like an imitation Hummer stops and asks if we need a lift. He seems confused about where we have to go but drops us off near where we’d been told to go. In a nearby office we find a small cashier type booth but the bloke behind the counter. He’s wearing one of the common long white smocks and vari-coloured brimless caps that seem to be all the rage in Oman, but he doesn’t know what to do with us or what we want to do. Back outside we look around but can’t find this CGT place. There’s a little Police building with a sign saying Passports and Residence but no one is there.
With nothing else to do we start trudging along the main road. Trudging, trudging maybe a kilometre or so. The loose dust on the side of the road soon covers our lower legs like long white socks. A semi-trailer turns off the main road in amongst big piles of loose stones leaving a powder white dust storm in its wake. Wait for it to clear. No one stops to give us a lift. Reach the front gate manned by Oman Police. Inside are four men at the counter. They’re all dressed in the standard white smocks and all talking at once to a Sergeant, a Corporal and another unshaven man standing behind the counter with a dirty smock and towelled head. Everybody is talking at the same time without regard to anything the other is saying. It’s a real babble in there. Two of the police wear sidearm pistols, the other two do not. Quite a difference from Egypt and Yemen.
The staff don’t speak English very well so one of them eventually rings the Port Control Office who gives them instructions what to do with us. We’re led outside to a Police car.
Under a sign which says Passports and Residence, a Police Sergeant (three stripes) after some more apparent confusion and mucking about starts to process our papers. We’re beginning to learn that the officials here are not much used to handling cruising yachties, only the big shipping stuff. Several forms each with two carbon copies, much signing and payments made. That’s Customs completed. We now have to wait for the Immigration people to arrive.
Make enquiries back at the Customs/Immigration counter.
Outside at the main gate we ask for directions to the Oasis Club. From the guide books back onboard this is the place to go for a good meal. It’s apparently not too far away and alcohol is available. The guard directs us to another gate back inside the terminal but a man with crossed eyes tells us we have to exit through the road leading out through the work area.
Walking, walking. Come out on the main road near the front gate again. Show our passports to the Police guard and head out the gate, along the road, left at the intersection and up the hill. Long walk. Brightly coloured lights at the top of the hill mark the Oasis Club and we thankfully go inside. Pay the US$2 price for Wi-Fi access and send some emails off. Change some US Dollars for Oman Rials. US$20 equals 7.200 Rials. We have to multiply the price of things by 2.5 to get the roughly equivalent Aussie price.
Have a couple of drinks. Order a meal. Roger goes for The Challenge – a huge Kiwi steak plus two 500ml beers to be finished inside half an hour for an Oasis Club T-shirt?
Approx 1000hrs: Catch a cab waiting outside back to the port but the Police stop the taxi at the gate. We have to walk from here. Back onboard everybody is well and truly bushed. Off to bed.
Mon 11 Jan 10
Morning: I stay on board to finish updating my Jenzminc journal. The other boat Alamic had left early in the morning. Andy and Roger go ashore to find this place where we’re supposed to pay our Port fees. Roger is back after a few minutes to change his clothes. He’d slipped on the slippery surface of the concrete launching ramp and got wet.
They go first to the nearby Police building marked Passports and Residence. Unattended. Walk over to some nearby offices. Nobody knows where this CGT Finance place is. As they walk along the local docks next to the fishing boats a man says hello and makes his acquaintance. Asks what we want.
About 10 minutes later Mohammed arrives in a large Kia All Wheel Drive and introduces himself. He’s probably about middle age and black African appearance, although he later said he’d been born in Oman. Says he spent many years in the Oman military and then in the Royal Oman Police before becoming an agent. Takes the boys over to the Administration Building where we’d been last night and up the stairs out the front of the Customs and Immigration. This is the CGT Finance place. Mohammed had apparently been thinking we were leaving but on learning otherwise tells the boys that this port payment can all be done on the last day.
Mohammed drives them into town to hire a car for about 11 Rial per day. It’s a little four-door Toyota Yaris, small but suits our purpose admirably. They fill it with 35 litres of petrol for about three Rial. Mohammed then takes them to a place where they can pick up a map of Salalah. They also grab an Oman phone simm card so that we can keep in easy contact with Mohammed. Return to the boat.
Afternoon: All ashore again. We’re on a mission to buy two new house batteries having decided they’re on their way out and it would be best to replace them now. Find Mark on board his boat Quo Vadis nearby. Interesting man. Had been in charge of IBM in New Zealand some years ago but retired to go permanently cruising. Had left Salalah for Aden but had problems with his sail-drive and returned here. After lifting the boat to inspect it he found all the engine oil like mayonnaise treacle. It’s now been on the hardstand for about 8 months and he’s replaced the sail drive. Has seen a lot of cruising yachties coming and going since and is just waiting for a rally group to arrive in Salalah to tag along with to Aden.
Mark learns we want batteries and elects to show us where to get them. Climbs into his Nissan sedan and takes off towards the city centre with us following. It’s about 20 km or so. Beautiful roads lined with ornate black and gold painted light poles. Surprised to see speed cameras. Couple of big roundabouts. Clean roads and streets with workers using hand brooms. Most of the buildings look recently new. There tends to be a lot of vacant desert land between some of the bigger buildings. Very spread out. New multi-story buildings going up everywhere, mostly with a distinct Arabian Nights or Persian architectural look. They have a different but pleasant aesthetic appeal to western eyes. Well maintained. Some big tourist resorts and a couple of big hotels such as The Hilton. Almost no litter anywhere.
Mark guides us into an industrial area and pulls up outside a reasonable sized store. All the staff are Indian and don’t really speak very good English, but we’re able to get across what we want since we’ve taken one of the old batteries with us. They don’t have any deep cycle batteries in stock and don’t seem to be able to source them either. However we are able to get two 110 Amp Hour maintenance free, long-lasting batteries for 170 Rials after bargaining them down from 97 Rials each. Andy also buys a 5-litre container of diesel engine oil. Head uptown to change some Euro’s into Oman Rials at a Western Union office.
Dusk is coming on as we start heading back out of town. Get a flat rear tyre on the passenger side and pull over to the side of the road. Search high and low for the jack. Find it under the driver’s seat. The handle is under the boot cover and the tools in a little bag in a side pocket. Three young local lads take a keen interest in what we’re doing.
Approx 1830hrs: Meet with Mark at the Oasis Club. Wi-Fi internet not working tonight. Have some drinks and he joins us for dinner. During the conversations we learn that the fee to come alongside a jetty for fuel and/or water is payable only once and costs 55 Rial. From this we gain the idea that perhaps we might be able to tie up to a wharf for a few days until we leave. We’ll need to approach Mohammed about it tomorrow.
Approx 2200hrs: Back onboard Andy starts to replace the old batteries but strikes a problem with the terminals on the new ones. Makes a temporary connection but new clamps are going to be required.
2300hrs. In bed. Read a book for a short while.
Tues 12 Jan 10
Morning: Andy rings Mohammed to confirm arrangements with the Harbour Master for us to move over to one of the wharfs. Make our way over to the launching ramp where Roger slips again on the slippery surface of the ramp. Mohammed soon arrives down at the boat and takes Andy and I up to the Port Control Office. Roger stays down near the boat to dry out in the sun.
Under Mohammed’s guidance Andy writes a letter to the Port Operations Manager explaining that we need to do some repairs and will need around three days against the wharf to complete them. This isn’t entirely untrue. We do have to make some repairs to the wind generator mounting, a small tear in the mainsail and we need to service the motor. We also want to clean the boat, re-provision and take on water and fuel. Much easier to do all this when tied to a wharf rather than out on an anchor. The Operations Manager is at a meeting so Mohammed brings us back down the hill to the boat.
Mark arrives for a chat when we notice that the opposite rear tyre is now almost flat. Mohammed tells Andy and I to follow and leads us down to the container terminal. Pulls up in an area stacked with huge tyres and talks to the Indian man in there. We’re told to stay in the car. The Indian man pumps up our tyre while huge cranes shuffle back and forth just metres away. Head back to the mooring basin. Mohammed now leaves telling us he’ll call us on the phone when he’s heard back from the Operations Manager. His last minute instructions concerning the tyres are that it shouldn’t cost more than 1 Rial to get each puncture repaired.
Drive into town and pull up at a tyre place. Everyone seems to be Indian again and no one speaks English very well. One fellow eventually comes out to inspect our flat. He finds a cut and says the tyre will have to be replaced. Wants to replace all our tyres while we’re at it. No. Quotes four Rial to fix the slow leak on our other tyre. Andy tells him we’ll think about it. A visit to another shop gets some new terminal lugs for the new batteries.
We’ve learned there is a Lulu supermarket here in Salalah and find it marked on our map. Don’t have any difficulty navigating our way to it. Do some shopping but can’t use the ATM since its being fixed. Roger and Andy decide to take off and find a bank to get some more Rials to buy groceries, but as soon as they leave the ATM is working again. When they get back we finish the shopping, load up our groceries and head back to the boat.
Groceries ferried out to the boat. Andy sets about finishing the installation of the new batteries. New storage places have to be found for some extra groceries but it’s all duly put away eventually.
Afternoon: Mohammed calls on the phone to tell us we can now move to Berth 29 which is against a nearby wharf. Call Port Control to advise them. They tell us not to move yet and will call back. They soon respond saying permission granted. Rope untied from the rocks and pull the anchor up. Motor the short distance to the wharf and with the assistance of a couple of Pakistani fishermen standing around get Jenzminc tied up alongside. The fishermen continue to take keen interest in us. They squat along the wharf watching our every move. We were to learn they lead pretty hard and boring lives. The wharf is filthy with cement dust and the starboard deck is soon dirty from climbing back and forth. At least there are large rubber tyres lining the cement wall and with our fenders the hull is safe from damage.
Mohammed gives us a key to the “Royal Suite” which is a locked room to the nearby ablutions block normally used by the Harbour Master but is available to visiting yachties. It contains a shower, proper toilet, sink, mirror and cleaning brooms. It’s a much nicer facility to use than the public one which is used by the local Pakistani and Bangladeshi fishermen.
Late Afternoon: Everyone enjoys a shower. Late sundowners. There is some trucking activity in a large flat bitumen area next to our berth with some men walking around wearing reflective vests. Truck drivers are being trained in backing shipping containers with sharp right angled turns between 200-litre drums. One bloke is quite good at it and spins it in straight away. Another has all sorts of problems and keeps running into drums. More practice needed.
Evening: Visit the Oasis Club for dinner but don’t stay too long. Manage to send off some emails and do some internet banking. Everyone’s really bushed and return to the boat fairly early.
MORE TO FOLLOW
|Map of the Gulf of Aden – Yemen/Oman Coast
aka Pirate Alley
Tues 5 Jan 10
0630hrs: Rise and shine. Fenders out. Dinghy lifted up onto the foredeck, placed upright on a bed of fenders and lashed down securely. The empty fuel bladder is placed inside the dinghy ready to take on fuel.
Right: Local catamaran “Eldermer” anchored in Aden Harbour. Never saw anybody on this boat.
0730hrs: Motor over to the ABC Bunkering Company to fuel up. Wait while one of the workers uses a workboat to bang and clang against a steel hulk barge, pushing it out of the way for us to get alongside the pump. It’s necessary to order and pay for the fuel before getting it, so Roger steps ashore and goes to the office while Andy and I finish securing Jenzminc. Lots of standing around waiting while Roger travels back and forth between various clerks in different buildings. Lots of mucking about but at least they’re all very polite and friendly.
Roger returns and we’re able to take on fuel for seven jerry containers and 200 litres into the fuel bladder, plus top up the main tank with 210 litres. That makes 560 litres of fuel taken onboard.
1000hrs: Fuelling completed and we’re on our way. Call the Harbour Master at the Aden Port Control Office to report our departure on VHF radio Channel 16. They wish us a good voyage.
|fuelling dock||dock worker filling the fuel bladder stored in the dinghy|
1030hrs: Clear of Aden Harbour, still in the main channel.
|leaving Aden’s Inner Harbour||local fishermen|
1145hrs: Clear sunny day. Blue-green sea, bumpy. Wind easterly at 12 knots. Heading NE at just over 6 knots. Small pod of dolphins come by to visit. Open up our previously identified hiding places and put our most valuable items away as a precaution against piracy. “Bait” wallets with old credit cards and a little bit of money are left “hidden” where they can be fairly easily found. 590 miles to go. Both sails put up.
1630hrs: Heading NE to follow the coast at 7.3 knots. Winds easterly at less than 10 knots. Sea is that grey colour again. Coast at 10 miles appears as blue mountain ranges, dimly seen through the haze behind thin flat coastal strips and the occasional small town.
Weds 6 Jan 10
0615hrs: Uneventful night. Not many fishermen – at least going by the absence of any kind of light. Making good time. Seas slight for the most part but a little bumpy sometimes. Wind is up to around 15 knots. Half moon around midnight makes for pleasant sailing. There’s two of us on watch at a time to keep a sharp lookout. The VHF radio Channel 16 is completely silent. Not a squawk. No radio traffic means no shipping and probably no help if we need it. Check it a couple of times anyway just to make sure it’s actually still working.
With the dawn come the fishermen with their nets. Have to watch carefully and hand steer to avoid running over their nets they’ve already set out. Occupants of at least one of the little boats are just young lads. We’re running close enough to the coast to see the sun glint off cars as they travel along. Mountain ranges are giving way to low, flat coastal country with low ranges further inland.
0700hrs: Lots of birds of different types. Several flocks of little white bellied ones skimming over the waves with their wings pumping a thousand miles an hour. Andy has had two and a half hours sleep in the last 24 hours and talks about going to bed, but starts cleaning up the cockpit instead.
0900hrs: Town of Al Mabrak abeam to port. The sea is a minefield of fishing nets mostly unattended. Some have a small flag marking one end and there’s usually two floats marking the other end, but not always. Couple of times we run into a dead end where the net has been laid in a large “U” pattern and we find ourselves surrounded by floats. We then have to turn around, retrace our route to find the end of the net and get around it. Wind still easterly but less than 10 knots. Seas slight. Making good time around 6 kits.
1000hrs: Log at 145 miles. Distance Made Good for the 24 hours is 120 miles. It could have been more but it took time to get out of Aden Harbour and bypass all these nets, sometimes having to go way out to sea to get around clusters of them. Deeper water here at five miles off the coast but at least there’s no nets. Slight seas. Wind coming from the ENE which happens to be our desired heading.
1400hrs: Lots of nets again as we draw closer towards land. 180 miles from Aden. Low ranges have given way to isolated hills with just sand. It has a strange beauty of its own with light coloured sand, almost off-white but it’s just desert. Township of Al Irqah coming up. 145 miles to Al Mukallah marking the central point of Pirate Alley. Course 070 degrees True on a broad reach hitting around seven knots. Fair seas, not smooth but not choppy though there’s plenty of whitehorses.
1730hrs: Sun sinking in a big red ball into a haze. Log reading 195 miles. Wind and seas eased. Wind at less than 10 knots with only a few whitehorses around. Quite pleasant. Little bit cool.
Thurs 7 Jan 10
0100hrs: Pass a large oil drilling platform abutting an unmarked island on the chart. There are two of those big fires commonly seen at oil rigs. It seems to take forever before its astern and sinks below the horizon. Even then it leaves a high orange loom lighting the sky.
0200hrs: Pass our waypoint at Al Sikah Island. This island is charted but unlit, its high shadow sitting out there rising out of the sea like some big prehistoric animal.
0330hrs: Come around a headland and the island of Barraqah is about one mile off our port side. Rises in a sheer bluff out of the water shining whitely like a huge iceberg in the moonlight. Can see the Southern Cross constellation for the first time including the Pointers. Latitude 14 degrees 35 minutes North.
0800hrs: 25 miles from Al Mukalla. The coast is jagged mountains again but no change to anything else. Following the coast between five and 10 miles off. There’s been no phone signal since Aden but we suddenly get one. Andy and Roger phone home while they can to use up the credits on the Yemen simm card. By the time I’d woken up after my last watch the signal had dropped out again. The boys had refilled the main tank with about 150 litres of diesel from the fuel bladder. Took about 20 minutes to drain into the tank but there weren’t any problems.
1100hrs: Al Mukallah sighted about 10 miles off the port bow. A fishing trawler with outriggers comes past dragging its net behind. This is the biggest fishing boat we’ve seen so far.
1230hrs: Motor off. Under full sail up to seven knots with the wind abeam on the starboard side. Al Mukallah abeam to port. Lovely sailing. Andy manages to download a weather grib file from SailMail and tells us we have nothing to worry about. Prophetic words. Coast still rugged mountains.
Right: A small town with dust storm overhead
1730hrs: Dusk. Motor back on. Off watch and half asleep when Roger suddenly calls me to take the radio. Part of our response plan in the event of pirates is for me to issue a Mayday on the VHF and HF radio so I rush topside. Visions of balaclava’s and turban heads storming alongside fill my mind. A Yemen Patrol Boat is sitting about 20 metres off our stern. They directs us to change to Channel 12 where the make the usual enquires; last port of call, next port, name of yacht, details of crew etc. He then asks if there’s anything we need. Thank them kindly for their check on us. Nice to know these blokes are in the area. They pull away with a cheerio wave and head towards a large ship nearby.
Fri 8 Jan 10
Midnight: Quiet and calm. No moon yet. No shipping. Boring. Flat sea. Motoring.
0400hrs: Wind gradually comes around the bow to the port side. Andy still on watch. Roger has been on watch for the last hour. Wind suddenly starts blowing hard from the north at 30 plus knots on the port beam. Double reef the mainsail and pull in the headsail and we’re soon scooting along at seven plus knots but the sea is rough. This lasts for a couple of hours and leaves very disturbed seas.
0700hrs: Seas still very disturbed probably because the sea bottom has been shelving up from around 120 metres to about 50 metres. Wind has dropped off and now coming from the NE at around 20 knots. Our speed is up to just under eight knots. At least the waves have a bit more form to them now instead of the washing machine stuff we’ve just been through.
0830hrs: Wind gusting back up to 30 knots on the port beam again. Still got the two reefs in the mainsail and headsail pulled in. Big dust storms can be seen along the coast. Whitehorses everywhere in the sea. Speed around seven knots.. A large bird settles onto the water trying to take a quick rest but a much smaller bird darts by and plucks it on the head.
0900hrs: You wouldn’t know we were in the same ocean. Wind has dropped below five knots and the seas have flattened with no whitehorses. Clouds of dust drift along the coast ahead and behind us but not directly abeam. Must be in some kind of wind shadow from the shore.
0915hrs: Back into it again with 20 plus knots from the NE swinging to north. If the wind drops below 20 knots we consider it a bonus. This one lasts an hour before it drops enough to be confident in rolling out the headsail a bit. Dust storms continue all along this coast. Some are isolated like mini tornadoes rising high into the sky. Others are spread out for some hundreds of metres. 86 miles past Al Mukallah.
1130hrs: Calmer conditions. Sail sighted to seaward at about four miles heading west. No contact made.
1530hrs: Motor stops. Andy finds a loose clamp which may have been allowing air to be sucked into the system. Hopes that’s all it was. On our way 15 minutes later.
1600hrs: Motor stops again. Andy finds a small speck of crud in one of the fuel lines and clears it out. Back underway and motoring 30 minutes later.
1800hrs: Almost fully dark and working our way around a headland named Asses Ears. To us from a distance it looks more like a crocodile’s head. Conditions uncomfortable with 15-18 knot winds coming from the starboard side throughout the afternoon making it quite bumpy. Looks like its going to be a long night. Andy has had only one hour of sleep since midnight last night.
1900hrs: Conditions easing to 10-15 knots. Have worked clear of the Asses Ears headland and out into open water beyond.
Sat 9Jan 10
0300hrs: Turn the corner at Ras Fartak after midnight and start heading north, still following the coast at 10 miles due to the pirate threat. Situation becomes really boisterous. Winds swings from northerly to come around abeam from the west at up to 30 knots, making for very hard and rocking sailing. Impossible for anyone off watch to get any sleep with all the shaking and bumping. Usual sailing rig of two reefs in mainsail and headsail pulled in. Speed around seven and a half knots. Lots of spray coming over the boat with waves breaking over the bow. Spumes flood across the deck and under the dodger thoroughly wetting everything. Andy sits on the windward side determined not to leave anyone alone to deal with these seas alone. Time to get into our wet weather gear again.
0500hrs: Light enough to see a little. Turn the boat easterly a bit. Boat starts corkscrewing about in the following seas, but it’s much more comfortable sailing than before. Motor off. No change to the sails and still getting around seven knots using only the mainsail with two reefs.
0600hrs: Change course directly for Salalah bringing the wind and seas more astern. Still sailing at around seven and a half knots.
0715hrs: Turn the motor on and speed jumps to nine knots but it’s still highly bumpy and corkscrewing along. 43 miles to the Yemen and Oman border and 100 miles to Salalah to go.
0730hrs: Throttle the motor down. Move up to the bow and empty water out of the dinghy. Replace two fenders under the dinghy which had come adrift. Ropes had come loose due to deflation of the pontoons so tighten them up again.
0800hrs: Wind and sea abating. Wind coming around to the north. Heading around 060 degrees True.
1600hrs: Crossed into Oman 15 minutes ago and out of Pirate Alley. 42 miles to Salalah. Sea is flat with a slight wind. Motoring. A fisherman in a 20 ft dinghy holds up a large fish offering to sell it. 15 minutes later a huge pod of dolphins appear off the port side. Scores of them are leaping around out of the water feeding on a school of fish they’d rounded up. There’s a clear line in the water marking where they’ve penned the fish.
1630hrs: Pass a shark lazing on the surface right beside the boat with its dorsal fin sticking out of the water about 30 cm or so. Quite large. Disappears and resurfaces about 100 metres behind in our wake.
1700hrs: Pass a couple of good sized whales about 50 metres off the port side both spouting away. Probably a mother and calf given how close they are travelling together.
1830hrs: 24 miles to go. Orange lights of Salalah ahead emerging from behind a headland.
1930hrs: Lights of Salalah stretch out along the coast off the starboard bow. Breakwater ahead. We have to go around it to enter into the port. Pull out a star chart given to me by my wife Delma as a Christmas present. Identify the Pilaedes cluster sitting right above the mast and the topmost star of the Southern Cross as Crux, which won’t appear over the southern horizon until the early hours tomorrow.
2130hrs: Approaching the outer side of Salalah Harbour and breakwater working our way past several ships anchored offshore. It’s a blaze of orange lights inside the harbour. Can count something like 18 or so huge cranes all lit up along one of the terminals. Constant sounds of heavy machinery.
2200hrs: Call Salalah Port Control on VHF Channel 12 for permission to enter the harbour. They take all our details as usual. Tell us to proceed into the harbour and they’ll direct us from there.
2230hrs: Enter the harbour but it’s a bit confusing with the blaze of lights in there. Hard to make out the red and green flashing channel markers. Call the Port Control who tell us to watch for a pilot boat returning from outside the harbour and then follow it to where we will have to anchor up. Spot the boat, follow it and arrive at the mooring area. There’s another yacht anchored with a long stern line run to a rock seawall. We’re told to anchor up but to keep the area open so that a nearby Navy boat can get clear. Dinghy over the side. Andy drops the anchor and reverses to the seawall. Rope taken ashore and stern tied to a large rock.
2400hrs: Anchored in Salalah Harbour. We’ve completed the 605 miles in just over four and a half days. Local time is 2400hrs midnight – GMT plus four hours. Motor off. The boys enjoy a well deserved celebratory drink in the cockpit and I’m just happy to get to bed.
MORE TO FOLLOW