1994 Darwin to King George River WA

Introduction

A few years ago I was introduced to the yacht-cruising lifestyle when I’d formed part of a crew in a boat named Wuli (pron wool-eye). The boat had been sailed from Fremantle in Western Australia back to my hometown of Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. That journey was the fulcrum which turned me from keen offshore fisherman into a sailboat cruising sailor.

It was an eye-opening experience but even more so was a visit to the rugged and spectacular King George River in the eastern Kimberly region of Western Australia. It had fascinated me being reachable only by sailboat or helicopter, and it was only 36 hours travel time by sea at an average speed of six knots.

The previous year I had bought my own boat, a 30 ft steel, cutter-rigged, bilge keel cruising yacht. With the help of an experienced skipper and a friend we sailed her back to Darwin. Since bringing her home I’d undertaken a rather unfortunate overnight trip which had resulted in two crew members getting injured, which had taught me a lot about shipboard safety. And over succeeding months further honed my sailing skills in Darwin Harbour.

With the arrival of the Dry Season I felt it was time to revisit the King George River.

The following story is presented as a photo-journal consisting of notes taken at the time, complemented with captioned photographs.

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Chart of the voyage area from Darwin to King George Rv in the Kimberley Coast of West Australia.

Crew

Russ Swan Skipper Bill Hawker John Hawker Tamea (Tumma) Jeffreys

Image2 Image12 Bill Hawker
Russ Swan – Skipper
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John Hawker “Tumma” Jeffries at left front.

Wed 23/3/94

Commence organising boat for the trip. Start servicing of engine. Top up fuel and water.

Thur 24/3/94

Bill and I shop for non-perishable stores, eg packaged food etc. Load onto boat.

Mon 28/3/94

Finn Campbell (diesel mechanic) comes out to boat. Checks engine and shows me how to bleed the air in the fuel system. This proves to be a valuable lesson later on. Engine servicing completed. Pick up a new GPS, a Garmin 50 hand-held with a wall mount and attachment for 12v DC power.

Wed 30/3/94

Bill and I shop for fresh stores i.e. meat, fruit and vegetables.

Thur 31/3/94

0730 hours: All crew meet at Dinah Beach boat ramp. Personal gear and fresh stores taken out and loaded onto boat. Final check of engine and boat in general e.g. stowage, final inventory checks.

0930 hours: Leave mooring in Sadgroves Ck and move out into Darwin Harbour. Lift dinghy and secure onto davits. This takes some time due to testing a different system of raising dinghy higher than previously to clear following seas. Other final preparations e.g. bringing out and securing sails, crew briefings on safety and general boat housekeeping etc.

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On Darwin Harbour looking back at Darwin city. Sails hoisted, heading west.

1050 hours: Hoist sails off Talc Head and depart Darwin Harbour. Beautiful day, slight breeze, seas 0.6m.

1220 hours: Reach #5 buoy at Charles Point Patches under sails only. Wind dead aft, goosewinged sails. Have lunch of chicken rolls, tomato and onions.

Afternoon: Freshwater pump fails. Find surface rust on an in-line fuse. Clean off and all ok. Notice refrigerator not working. Find the negative wire has corroded and broken off the moulded plastic power plug. Have to cut it open, re-wire, solder and tape up plug. Get it working again ok and it continues to work with no problems for rest of trip. Temporarily install the new GPS to boat power and mount the antenna externally up on the targa rail. Stern gland holding well with very little water coming in and minimum bilge pumping required. Shear pin of the auto-helm beaks caused by binding in the planetary gears. The whole shear pin connection is torn apart. Hand steering from the time being.

1605 hours: Reach Fish Reef light clearing it by 2.5 nautical miles (nm). Set course 235 deg magnetic for King George River.

1800 hours: Have dinner of cryovac Silverside, mashed potato and peas.

2030 hours: Slow going. Only made good 16 nm since Fish Reef light. Average speed 3.5 knots. Seems to be an adverse current and no wind. Also beginning to wish I had cleaned the boats hull prior to starting out, although it had only been done a month ago and didn’t think it would be too bad. Motor sailing now.

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Sunset on first day in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf – aka “blown apart gulf”. Flat sea. Sea snake on the surface (circled).

Fri 1/4/94

0600 hours: Sight navigation lights of the Wuli, a 64’ timber cruiser owned by Don and Annette Ross who are also going to the King George Rv. Very slow progress during night. Little or no breeze so motoring along instead. Whatever winds we get are from dead ahead and have to tack virtually west or south. Take headsail down once as our own progress through the air was creating a headwind causing the sails to back, effectively holding us back! Fluctuating winds giving us a boost from time to time.

0700 hours: Establish radio contact with Wuli. We learn Don has another family onboard and altogether there are 5 children between the two families. Don has been getting 6 to 7 kts under motor while we are still struggling with 4 to 4.5 kts. He’s just as surprised as I am that he caught us so soon. He quickly leaves us behind after giving me a bit of stick over the radio. Let’s not acknowledge he has an 80hp motor and I have a 20hp motor!

0730 hours: Have a breakfast of cereal, a cuppa, scratch and look around. Water like glass. Boat is perfectly mirrored in the water which is a deep indigo blue. Loads of sea snakes, small ones around 2-3 ft long usually on the surface. They are a light brown colour with black bands and very small heads. Occasionally we see one swimming straight down, to get away from us I suppose. The day is brilliant with just enough of a breeze to keep relatively cool, if not enough to keep the sails filled.

Morning: Bill and Tamea set to work with the cordless drill and permanently mount the EPIRB near the wheelhouse door where it can be snatched up quickly if needed. They also mount the GPS bracket onto the hull above the navigation station. No one sick yet but we haven’t had any seas big enough to talk about.

1050 hours: Have had better runs. Made good only 98.1 nm for the last 24 hrs.

1300 hours: Lunch of chicken rolls.

Afternoon: Catch up on some sleep. Fix the auto-helm using some spare parts left over from a previous fault, and by degreasing planetary gears to get rid of the crud. Get it working better than ever before. No more problems with the auto helm for the rest of the trip.

1800 hours: Mince stew with pasta, fresh and dried veges for tea. Winds treating us very poorly all day, remaining dead on the nose for the whole of the time. This remains the same for the rest of the trip over.

Sat 2/4/94

Early Morning: Sight navigation lights of two yachts to our south. Later find out they were the yachts Hope and Rattle and Hum. They also slowly pass by. Breakfast of cereal and toast.

Morning: Another fine day. Slight breezes head on as usual. Hold a westerly course during the morning. Tack south for a while to get to a final approach position favourable to winds. Tamea occupying himself cleaning anything made of brass or bronze. Another disappointing run for the last 24 hrs. Expect 5 to 6 kts which I know the boat can easily achieve when motor-sailing but only getting about 4 kts. Definitely regretting not cleaning boats hull before departure now. Also seem to be strong adverse currents holding us back. Check fridge contents. All ok.

1745 hours: First sighting of W.A. coast. Watch it get closer during the ‘cocktail hour’. Have dinner of stew with different pasta.

Evening: Have to close with the coast in pitch dark. GPS’s are great gadgets allowing you to do this with careful use of waypoints.

Late Evening: Nose our way into Koolama Bay at the head of the King George Rv. Hope and Rattle and Hum are anchored just inside the entrance on the eastern side in a small cove with a sandy beach. Try to anchor just south of them in the lee of some cliffs but the newly purchased 35lb CQR plough anchor will not hold in 9m of the steeply sloping seabed. The large danforth (sand) anchor won’t hold either. Try a couple of times but it drags each time. Move about 1 nm further south around a bend and set the anchor in about 5m of water. This time successful.

King George Rv Map
Mud map of Koolama Bay at the head of the King George Rv.

Sun 3/4/94

0100 hours: Crew enjoys a couple of beers to celebrate and go to bed.

0700 hours: Easter bunny finds us. Bill and I present crew with choky and lolly Easter eggs. Going to need high tide to get over the sand bar at the entrance of the river but this won’t be until midday.

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Anchored in Koolama Bay. Heading towards the mouth of the river following a channel. Sand bank ahead at left.

0930 hours: Drop dinghy and get it ready. Bill and I take the dinghy and sound the sand bar with a lead line looking for a deep enough channel and take bearings to use when we make the crossing.

1130 hours: Negotiate sand bar and get inside river. Tamea climbs the mast to take pictures. Sip some white wine as we slowly motor up the river taking in the scenery.

Image31 Image34 Tamea up in the crosstrees.
Bill climbs up on the boom to keep us in the channel over the sandbar.
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First view inside the river on the western side. There is a small gorge immediately to the right off photo. Looking upriver. Higher cliffs begin to show.
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Cliffs begin to get higher. ….. and almost vertical. Some (but not many) sections have crumbled over the ages to provide a bit of greenery and good fishing.
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The head of the river around the next bend ahead.  It’s 6 km from the river mouth. SV  Wuli with the pick of the anchorages at the head of the river.

1430 hours: Meet up with other yachts at the waterfalls at the head of the river and anchor up. Tamea and I do some fishing. Tamea catches a nice trevally which he later turns into a superb nummis. Tide too high to get at the oysters. Change over in dinghy so Bill and John can get some fishing in. Have a sleep.

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The falls on the eastern side of the gorge. Falls on the western side of the gorge.

1800 hours: Crew all take a shower under a natural freshwater waterfall. It’s cold and it stings a little because of the height of its fall, but it’s beautiful. The children from the Wuli earlier had earlier climbed up to a rock pool and are calling and waving. Almost have to use the binoculars to see them from our boat.

Three people are camped on the rocks around the base of the waterfall. There are two men and a woman. They had come in two 16 ft dinghy’s from Kalumburu community about four hours travel time away across open waters.

Image55 Image50 A small waterfall and large rocks below provide for an excellent shower. The dinghy anchored out front has come from Kalumburu, an aboriginal community some 60 or so nautical miles away across open water.
Lowana takes up her anchorage a bit further downriver behind the other boats.

1900 hours: Visit the crews of the other yachts on Wuli for a few drinks and social intercourse. Have a great time. Very enjoyable indeed.

2300 hours: Get back to Lowana with a rosy glow and have some dinner. Simple fare, sausages and mashed potatoes. Get a good nights sleep.

Mon 4/3/94

Dawn: Tamea and John go fishing. Bill and I have a leisurely brekkie of sausages and eggs which Bill cooks.

0730 hours: John and Tamea return. No fish but a load of oysters in a bucket so we have oysters with white wine. They’re nice and big and we are pulling 2 or 3 loose ones at a time out of the bucket.

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Breakfast – wine and oysters! The way up to the top of the gorge to reach the head of the waterfalls.

Morning: Square boat away and go ashore. Climb to the top of the gorge and walk around to the top of the falls. There are actually two separate falls and the view is stunning. Looking up at the top does not look nearly so far as it does looking down. Skinny dip in rock pools at the head of each falls.

Image66 John and Russ at the top of the gorge working around to the head of the waterfalls. Image67
Looking down the gorge towards the river mouth.  The four yachts can be seen at anchor.
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Russ (top left) and Bill (centre) are dwarfed and almost invisible by the grandeur of the scenery. Bill at the edge of a sheer drop to the river below.
Image69 Image72 Skinny dipping in the rock pools at the top of the waterfalls.
Another view of the western waterfall.
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The top of one of the falls. Another view looking downriver shows the majesty of the cliffs.

Afternoon: Return to boat. Leisurely last afternoon. John and I go fishing. Catch a trevally and an archer fish which we use for crab bait. Set some pots. Have a shower under the waterfall. Leisurely evening aboard.

Tues 5/3/94

Dawn: Bill and John go fishing. Have breakfast on their return.

Morning: Up anchor and move back down river. Collect crab pots on the way but no crabs. Anchor in a bend near the mouth of the shallow eastern arm of the river. Reset crab pots then all troop off in the dinghy to the head of the eastern arm to visit the waterfall there.

This waterfall is not nearly so majestic or high but pretty in it’s own right. Someone has kindly left a thick corded rope hanging down the rocks to help climb up to the top. The going is much harder here. The cliffs and rocks appear to be much more eroded and there are a lot of loose rocks to catch the unwary. At the top the going is very slow while working around to the head of the falls. Big boulders laying everywhere.

We find no rock pools to sit in unless we wanted to work our way quite some distance inland so decided against it. The creek feeding the falls descends from the plateau in a series of levels with mini waterfalls along the way. At the head of the falls is a chasm about 50m deep with long, flat and wide rock plates. There is a very deep rock pool. As usual the trip back to the dinghy seems faster than coming in.

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The first waterfall from the river entrance on the eastern side. This section of river is geologically older and the cliffs are much more eroded. A rock pool at the head of the waterfall, but too difficult to climb down to it.

Afternoon: Get back to the boat. Do some fishing. John gets a trevally, his first fish on a lure.

Evening: A calm night. Some lightning about. Get some light rain overnight so we have to sleep indoors instead of on deck.

Weds 6/3/94

Dawn: Tamea and Bill go fishing. Bill cooks breakfast of sausages, egg and tomato on toast. Overcast day. Wind building up 15 to 20 kts. Up anchor and move to entrance of the river to explore the western arm. Quite bumpy at the entrance. Anchor just inside and at the mouth of the western arm. John and Bill go fishing. John successful again, returning fish to the water excess to requirements. Wait for the tide to change to cross sand bar out into Koolama Bay with an intention to explore the little coves along the western side of the bay.

1330 hours: Leave King George Rv and out into Koolama Bay. Very bumpy outside with huge waves driving up against the cliffs on the western side. Decide not to go over there to check out those bays.  Can see a Navy Patrol Boat HMAS Geelong anchored in the bay.

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Leaving the King George River. Patrol Boat HMAS Geelong at anchor in Koolama Bay.

Afternoon: Contact Wuli on radio. He tellls me all the other yachts are now anchored in the lee of the eastern headland.  We make our way over there and join them. Had some trouble again trying to get the large danforth anchor to set. Made a couple of attempts, laid 45m of chain before it seems to set. Finally anchored in 8m of water but can’t get closer to the beach due to position of the other boats. Connected a safety rope to the last 15m of chain as it’s pretty old and rusty. Two Navy blokes come over to each boat asking questions on behalf of Coastwatch. Very polite and friendly. Go ashore and climb the eastern headland. Take some photos.

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Rattle and Hum at anchor. Some people are ashore. All four yachts at anchor in the little bay behind Cape Rulhieres.

1630 hours: Weather forecast not nice. Tropical low in the Timor Sea expected to degenerate into a cyclone. It’s located 191 nm from us moving west at 8 kts. Winds locally quite strong.

1800 hours: Tamea cooks tea of rissoles, bubble and squeak. Have concerns regarding holding power of the anchor considering the strong winds howling through the rigging and rocking the boat. Set an anchor watch through the night of 2 hrs on and 4 hrs off. Night is pitch black and hard to make out bearings. Other boats turn off lights so it becomes harder to keep track of them. Have to use a torch occasionally to check their position relative to ours. Some anxious moments but GPS assuring me we’re still holding but swinging around a fair bit though. Wuli’s fabric canopy gets ripped and a hatch is thrown back during the night. Glad to see the dawn.

Thur 7/3/94

0800 hours: Everyone up. Problems with alternator. Pull it out, strip it and clean everything in sight. Re-check with manual to ensure all the connections are understood and how they work. Some electrical connections are a bit corroded and suspect so replace them. Also replace voltage regulator as I have had some suspicions about it for some time. Don Ross kindly loans me a spare alternator just in case. Check that it will fit if needed. Manage to refit own alternator and it appears to be working ok now. Batteries down to just over 12v. Overcast day and solar panels not providing much power to recharge batteries. Having to run the motor instead.

Midday: Coastwatch flies over and speaks to Wuli and gets details of all 4 yachts present. Mostly a social call according to them. Very polite as usual. Day still overcast and drizzly. Still only getting about 5 amps of solar power but it’s enough to keep the fridge going. Have to conserve fuel for the trip home so turn motor off. Used more fuel than expected coming over using just under ½ tank (about 120ltrs of diesel). Winds E to NE and still quite strong in gusts but eases a little from time to time. Coastwatch tells us the seas in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf are the same as locally. We could see they are quite big outside the headland and bashing up against the cliffs on the western side of the bay. Some of the spray is washing the tops of the cliffs over there. It had been my intention to leave this afternoon considering how slow we have been, but opt instead for caution. All yachts decide to wait it out to tomorrow.

Lunch: Frankfurts, bubble and squeak with Bills compliments.

Afternoon: Lay out a second anchor using the 35lb CQR with 3m chain and 100 m rope. Notice Wuli has also laid a second anchor. Feel a little more secure now but cautious just the same about anchor dragging.

Late Afternoon: Don Ross invites all crews from all yachts over to his boat for rum punch for the cocktail hour. Took some tinned fruit and two bottles of non-alcoholic champagne which adds a nice taste. Very pleasant social event but it breaks up on dusk when it starts raining. Back to Lowana for dinner. Bill cooks a stew and we all settle in for the night. Have to get up a few times to the call of the anchor alarm and for a particularly heavy rain squall but otherwise pretty uneventful. The anchors kept us pretty much in place overnight despite a rain squall and very high winds.

Fri 8/4/94

0730 hours: Everyone up. Lift dinghy, secure everything.

0845 hours: All squared away and anchors lifted. On our way. Set course 025 deg True. You wouldn’t believe it but the winds are coming head on from E to NE. Clear Cape Rulhieres then tack on southerly course 125 deg True (SE) for a couple of hours. Can see another long trip ahead as we can only tack virtually from N or SE. Have some more problems. A wire breaks loose on the foot switch to the fresh water foot pump and a wire also breaks off at the alternator so no charge is going into the batteries. Manage to fix these faults with some little difficulty as the seas are pretty lumpy.

1400 hours: Have been tacking SE but wind has been veering. Change tack northerly again. Able to get 053 deg True (NE) just 10 deg off our rhumb line to Darwin and making 4 to 5 knots. Good!

2245 hours: Wind swings again. Tacking easterly.

Sat 9/4/94

0035 hours: Storms about. One to our NE and one to our SE. Try to make for the gap in the middle and hope they don’t close up.

0210 hours: Hope advise us the storm showing on his radar to the SSW is severe.  He gives us its position and tells us it’s moving slowly on 270 deg True (W). Shouldn’t be a problem … maybe. We have been watching it and knew it had to be bad by the lightning and big black clouds but we didn’t really know what direction it was going.. Hope has also been tracking the local storms but has not yet located the one we can see to our NE on his 16 nm radar. Start heading NE away from the local storm which is only 10 nm away from our position.

0430 hours: Big black clouds and strong winds overtake us from the SW. Now running before the wind getting 6 to 7 kts. Get some associated rain and it passes over us by 0615 hrs. Great sailing while it lasted.

Morning: Most of the morning uneventful. Keeping company with Hope in sight all day. Both boats tacking the slight winds coming directly from NE. Can only tack north or almost south now. Winds very strong and seas are rough.

1120 hours: Engine fails.

Engine has overheated caused by a blockage of the saltwater intake. Give our position to Hope who passes it onto O.T.C. Darwin Radio by HF radio with a situation report. Some horrible scummy brown fetid smelly stuff comes out of the pipe feeding the water trap in the salt-water engine cooling system. Clean out the pipe and re-seal water trap. Allow engine to cool and re-start engine. Water system ok but engine again dies soon after. Attempt to start engine again but it won’t go. Check fuel filter. Only 1/3 full of diesel meaning either fuel pump or a blockage. Pull off all fuel lines and check for blockages. All ok. Put a reserve 20 ltrs diesel into tank and top up fuel filter. Air-bleed fuel system including pre-filer, injector pump and both injectors.

1800 hours: Get engine going again. On our way. Give situation report to Hope including our position and that we will be heading in a northerly direction towards the shipping lane.

1920 hours: Engine dies again. Find air in fuel system and unable to find out where it is being sucked into system. Wind has died down to nothing. Report that we are becalmed to Hope and give our new position again, and that we only have about 60 ltrs of water left. Plenty of food on board. Check engine again. Possibly sucking air through a faulty gasket on the injector pump but have no spare parts to fix it. Also locate a small water leak from the saltwater pump mounting gasket. This is no major problem and bearable so long as the revs are kept down. Unwilling to take the pump off in case the problem is made worse.

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Above: Becalmed in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf.  John watches as we try to get the motor started again.

2120 hours: Re-start engine and on our way again. Keeping revs down making about 2 to 3 kts. Unable to contact Hope any more.

Rest of Night: Engine continues to fail between 1 and 3 hours requiring air to be bled out of the system, then restarting motor. Using no power for anything except radio and GPS as fridge, fan, auto helm etc all putting too much strain on the engine. Headsail down and mainsail sheeted in hard. Heading directly towards Fish Reef light. Averaging about 4 kts.

Sun 10/4/94

1000 hours: Still 67 nm from Fish Reef light and out of Darwin Radio VHF range. Unable to contact anyone by radio. Scanning as many likely channels as possible in case someone talks on the radio.

1200 hours: Can hear Darwin Radio but unable to make contact. Finally manage to get sikaflex around the injection pump mount and water pump mount. This is achieved with some difficulty but I don’t expect it to work though.

Afternoon: Make a damper for lunch. Nice change. All the bread brought on board has gone mouldy. Hear Darwin Radio a couple of times but unable to get an answer. Keeping up regular calls.

1420 hours: Engine stopping between 20 to 40 minutes.

1600 hours: Notice engine heat goes up dramatically just before engine dies. Pull out water pump. Impeller looks ok but change it anyway. Cover plate gasket shot to pieces. Clean cover plate, reseal and coat surrounding join with sikaflex. Enjoy the cocktail hour while waiting for it to set. Set genoa headsail in the meantime and steering in a northerly direction. Only getting 0.02 kts but at least moving.

1915 hours: Fire up the engine. Heat shoots straight up. Forgot to turn on the seacock. Turn it on and try again. About 100 percent more water being pumped through the exhaust. Sight a vessel to our north but it won’t answer calls on the radio. Looks like a trawler. Continue as before making way then having to vent the air our of the fuel lines.

Mon 11/4/94

Midnight: Experiencing overheating problems. Find the saltwater pump mounting gasket has really blown out and nil spares on board. Am able to make some way by keeping the engine at idle. Slow but at least moving together with the sails. See a freighter or similar big vessel to our north but it won’t answer radio either, resulting in a caustic comments being made that we wouldn’t want to be dying out here.

0120 hours: Establish contact with Darwin Radio some 33 nm WNW of Fish Reef light. Give our situation report and position. Tell them nil concern for welfare at this stage. We are unaware at this time that M.R.C.C. Canberra has issued a look-out for us. So much for the vessels we had seen that ignored us.

0300 hours: Storms ahead. Nasty looking too. Keeping a close eye on them.

Approx 0400 hours: Get the side of the first squall. Some wind gusts and rain. Still another storm ahead which keeps getting bigger. Hard to tell which way it is going and its directly in line with Darwin. Unable to contact Darwin Radio to find out more about it.

0500 hours: Storm area now huge, covering a wide area and growing. Strong wind gusts starting up. Getting quite concerned. Still can’t determine its direction.  It just keeps getting bigger. Options to dodge it getting more limited all the time.

0600 hours: Decide to go south to get out of its way, but need to be careful because of Lorna Shoals and reefs to the west of Quail Island.

0630 hours: Path cut off by huge black cloud coming over. Reverse direction to the north and attempt to outrun it. Squall centre clearly identifiable through the thunder and lightning.

0700 hours: Don’t make it and we get hit hard. Seas pounding, wind blowing really hard. Have second reef in mainsail and storm jib set but unable to get sufficient headway to turn into the wind and seas. Unfortunately Lowana’s shallow draught doesn’t have much resistance to strong winds, and it’s overpowering the boat. Lowana almost parallel to the seas at times causing crew to literally hang on from being thrown into the sea. Engine of little use. Tamea working like a Trojan to keep the fuel vented to give me some emergency revs. It’s enough to get the bow around sufficiently to face the worst waves when needed. Dolphins having a wonderful time playing in the surf but no one seems interested just now. Somewhere during this we listen to Darwin Radio giving a gale warning. Do tell …….

Approx 0800 hours: Gale has passed through leaving severe seas and strong winds. Winds very fickle alternating in gust speed and direction. Unbelievably the wind has changed again and is now coming from the ENE generally 060 deg true, which is the exact course we want for Darwin. Unable to make any headway between 030 deg True (NNE) and 130 deg True (SE) i.e.. the western end of Bathurst Island and Fog Bay area.

Listen to radio forecast of strong wind warnings next couple of days. Debate retreating to Fog Bay and waiting it out but discount this due to danger of reefs and shoals. Fog Bay is a known bad water area anyway and not a very comfortable anchorage. Entry to Bynoe Hbr in is the no-go zone. Try for 030 deg True but unable to make any way over ½ kt and very uncomfortable. Able to get 2 to 3 kts on northerly tack but unfortunately the only progress we can make is north, then almost south, north then almost south etc. It is going to be a very long haul before we can get to a tacking position straight into Darwin Hbr.

By 0900 hours: Wind abates, short and sharp sea swells. Unable to make any way now due to almost nil wind. Seas pushing us back when attempting to make for Darwin Hbr by using motor alone on short bursts even with the tide running with us.

By 1000 hours: Wind entirely gone but seas still fairly rough. Find a fuel line has ruptured and sprayed diesel fuel onto the exhaust. Unable to fix this one. Listen as Darwin Radio continues giving strong wind warnings. Can’t sail and can’t motor. Admit defeat with a sinking heart. Call Darwin Radio and request a tow by the Water Police. Subsequently make a sea-phone call to the Water Police who agree to come out and pick us up. Don’t know what the cost will be but no other option considering there’s only about 50 ltrs of water left after 12 days.

Spent the time waiting for the tow by trying to square boat away. Put out a sea anchor in attempt to keep the bow pointed into the sea and smooth out the ride. It’s only partially successful. Keep getting bounced around and gear flying about. Everyone very, very tired so we try to get some sleep. Haven’t had much during this trip especially in the last 2 days.

1315 hours: MV Emma Lambreck arrives with one Water Police officer and two Task Force officers. They throw a line to us and by 1330 hours we’re off on a fast ride towards Darwin at about 8 to 9 kts. Won’t have to worry about cleaning the hull now. Taking spray as Lowana bashes into the waves. Manning the tiller to try and keep her directly behind the police boat.

Image119Left: Being towed by Police vessel MV Emma Lambreck.

1700 hours: Pass Charles Point.

1730 hours: You just wouldn’t believe it. Hit by another squall. Mother nature has not finished with us yet! Strong winds and short sharp choppy seas and wind driving stinging spray onto us. Emma Lambreck does not reduce speed. Hitting waves hard enough that waves are thrown up and drenching us. Dinghy rocks around furiously on its davits. Securing ropes begin to fray and finally part causing the dinghy to buck around even more. Start to have serious concerns that the targa itself will not stay in place and be pulled into the sea.

Emma Lambreck not answering the radio. Finally attract the attention of the two Taskies having a chat in the tower who get the Skipper onto the radio. Ask him to slow down which he does. Am able to secure the dinghy and probably save the targa from disintegrating.

1830 hours: Enter Darwin Hbr and the ride now mobs easier. We are all cold and wet through, eyes stinging from the salt.

Image120Left:  Sun sets over the Cox Peninsula as we get ignomiously towed into Darwin Harbour.

1900 hours: Emma Lambreck put us onto a mooring which I believe belongs to the Harbourmaster or Port Authority. Water police assure us Lowana would be ok here for at least the next couple of days. They kindly convey Tamea and John and all personal gear ashore to a loading dock at Stokes Hill Wharf. Bill helps me lower the dinghy and generally tidy things up.

2000 hours: Arrive a Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club and have a couple of welcome home beers. Very relieved to be ashore. Wife Delma is at work so Bill’s wife Claudia takes me home to Malak where I pick up my car and boat trailer. Return to DBCYC and pick up dinghy and get home by 2100 hrs.

Postscript

Tues 12/4/94

0800 hours: Go to work at the Police Communications Centre as usual.

1300 hours: Water Police inform me by radio that Lowana is at anchor in a precarious position in the middle of the channel. Apparently the securing rope has parted and she has come off her mooring. Arrange some time off. Contact Tamea and Lindsay Walkley (from work, also an experienced sailor building his own steel boat) and they kindly agree to come quick and help me.

1400 hours: All meet at the Dinah Beach boat ramp and make our way out to Lowana. Tamea has acquired a mate’s 12 ft dinghy with 25 hp Yamaha and I take along my own dinghy.

1430 hours: While making arrangements to move Lowana up the creek, a man in a dinghy stops by. It turns out he was the one who saved Lowana from the rocks behind the old power station. He had noticed her on the mooring in the morning and later saw her drifting. Lowana had bumped against a steel pike just short of the rocks and this man was able to wedge his dinghy between the boat and the rocks and bunt her back out into the channel. He had then climbed on board and set the anchor. I ask him to come to DBCYC in a couple of hours so I can shout him a couple of beers and a carton. He agrees but doesn’t show up later. Rough looking character with a bandana over his head and ear-rings. Just goes to show it’s not what you look like.

1500 hours: Meanwhile Lindsay explains to me a system of tying the dinghy to the side of Lowana and using the dinghy to drive the boat. This is an excellent system and a valuable lesson. It works perfectly. We get caught on a sand bar but manage to get ourselves free after about 10 minutes or so using both dinghies to tug her off. We lay Lowana against her mooring ropes further up Sadgroves Creek and tie her up. Tamea takes off to go to work while I set a secondary rope to the moorings to make her more secure. After ½ hour or so we head back to the ramp to find Tamea in trouble. He had taken water over the stern and the winch clip was bent. We manage to get the dinghy up the ramp, drained and winched onto the trailer. Tamea goes to work and Lindsay and I head for DBCYC for well earned refreshment.

Footnote: I think I’ll stay away from the boat for a couple of days. I’ve quite frankly had just about enough for the time being !

Equipment Faults

1. Freshwater pump (twice): a. dirty fuse b. broken lead on foot switch

2. Auto Helm: a. broken shear pin assembly caused by binding planetary gears.

3. Refrigerator: a. corroded and broken negative power lead to plug

4. Alternator (twice): a. direct contacts and connectors b. broken lead

5. Engine: a. blocked saltwater intake b. sucking air info fuel system c. water leak at saltwater pump d. ruptured fuel line connection e. fuel leak at injector pump, gasket and fuel filter.

Some months later I discovered a thick black sludge on the bottom of the fuel tank while cleaning it out. It’s probably built up over the years from adding biocides to the fuel. It had been stirred up due to rough seas and what was constantly blocking the fuel filters.

6. Radio VHF: a. Channel 16 – possibly intermittent fault which seemed to work ok, but there may have been a fault.

MRCC Messages

First – (issued approx 0030 hours local time 11/4/94) P 101501Z APR 94 FM MRCC AUSTRALIA TO MHQAUST HQNORCOM FAX COASTWATCH CANBERRA INFO DARWIN RADIO VID POLICE DARWIN BT UNCLAS SIC ICM MARSAR 94/184 – SLOOP LOWANA BECALMED 1. SLOOP LOWANA BOUND DARWIN WITH 4POB REPORTED BECALMED IN POSITION 1242.9S 12844.5E AT 090945Z BUT TRYING TO DRIFT NORTH INTO SHIPPING CHANNEL. 2. VESSELS ENGINE AND RADIO U/S 3. DETAILS OF SITUATION RECEIVED FROM MR. JEFF CHAD OF DARWIN WHO WAS SKIPPER OF ANOTHER YACT (HOPE/VJD2814) WHO HAD BEEN SAILING WITH LOWANA BUT HAD MOTORED IN UNDER POWER DUE TO POOR WINDS. 4. MR. CHAD IS CONCERNED FOR OCCUPANTS OF LOWANA BECAUSE THEY HAD ONLY 60 LITRES OF WATER WHEN HE LAST SAW THEM YESTERDAY. 5. MRCC WISHES TO ESTABLISH SAFETY OF OCCUPANTS OF YACHT AND REQUESTS AS FOLLOWS: A. FOR MHQAUST/HQNORCOM: REQUEST ADVISE IF ANY SURFACE VESSELS TRANSITTING THROUGH OR OPERATING NEAR YACHTS LIKELY LOCATION DURING FORENOON MONDAY 11/4/94. B. FOR COASTWATCH: REQUEST IF ANY SURVEILLANCE FLIGHTS SCHEDULED FOR AREA WHICH COULD ASCERTAIN YACHTS LOCATION AND SITUATION. C. FOR POLICE DARWIN: PASSED FOR INFO AT THIS STAGE. 6. DESCRIPTION OF YACHT: A. LENGTH APPROX 10M B. RED HULL WITH BLUE LINE AT WATERLINE C. WHITE SAILS D. WHITE DECKS E. ALUMINIUM DINGHY ON STERN DAVITS BT REPLY TO: MRCCAUS AA62349 NORLAW AA85020

Second – (issued 0151 hours local time 11/4/94) R 101621Z APR 94 FM MRCC AUSTRALIA TO MHQAUST HQNORCOM FAX COASTWATCH CANBERRA INFO POLICE DARWIN BT UNCLAS SIC ICM MARSAR 94/184 – SLOOP LOWANA BECALMED A. MRCC AUSTRALIA 101501Z APR 94 1. PLEASE CANCEL REQUESTS AT REFERENCE. DARWIN RADIO HAS JUST ADVISED THAT LOWANA MADE RADIO CONTACT ON VHF CH.16 AT 101544Z AND ADVISES POSITION AS 32NM WEST OF FISH REEF LIGHT (APPROX 1226S 12955E). 2. VESSEL IS MAKING WAY SLOWLY AT 1-2 KNOTS. ALL OKAY AND NO CAUSE FOR CONCERN. REGARDS BT REPLY TO: MRCCAUS AA62349 NORLAW AA85020

END

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