2001 Darwin to the Kimberlies WA

A photo-journal of a sailing voyage from Darwin to the King George River and Napier Broome Bay in Western Australia June 2001

001 voyage area


Since doing a trip to the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia to the north of Darwin in 1998, Lowana IV has filled her time having to be content with local Wet Season races, day sails in Darwin or Bynoe Harbour to the west, and a short trip to Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula being an overnight sail to the north-west of Darwin .

The improvements and preparation for another major trip has been extensive over the last couple of years. There’s a roller-furler fitted to the headstay so that sail changes no longer need to done manually. New floorboards have been installed down below. Swinging gates have been mounted into the side rails adjacent to the cockpit, each fitted with a lifering and a weighted throw rope. Additionally an access hatch has been installed into the floor of the cockpit to make it easier to get down behind the motor, and large storage shelves have also been put down there aft of the engine. Previously bolted side rails are now welded to the hull, and a mounting on the bow rails now holds the heavy danforth anchor.

Plus an inflatable dinghy has been acquired, along with new cockpit awnings, a cockpit sail shade and a new Navico tiller autopilot added to the inventory.

002 lowanaRight: Lowana IV out sailing on a calm day in Darwin Harbour. Russ in the cockpit – Delma standing at the bow.

It’s time my wife Delma and I take a good break from work.  Having been to the King George River in WA I’m keen to show her the majesty of the place, plus explore a bit further west into the fabulous Kimberley Coast. So that’s where we’ll go – just the two of us. Early June would probably be the best time. There is always a chance of a late cyclone in May and the waterfalls at the King George River should still be running.

But even with all the work that’s already taken place there’s always something else to be done. Among other things I want to check the state of the antifouling on the hull.  A different brand of anti-fouling paint had been professionally spray painted onto the hull last year and I want to see if it’s been effective.

At the same time I’d hired a marine consultant anodic protection of the hull. Basically this means that lumps of metal called anodes are placed at strategic points on a steel hull.  Over time they are supposed to erode away instead of the steel hull itself, thus they are commonly called sacrificial anodes.  Following the advice he’d given me, several anodes had been attached to metal studs welded to the hull at various places.

On the Poles

Catch the high morning tide to take Lowana IV onto the careening poles at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club – DBCYC. Along with the antifouling, I’m also really curious to see if the anodes are doing their job …. or not. All being well I should only have to wipe off a bit of slime from the hull and I shouldn’t have to replace any anodes, at least not for another year or so.

As soon as the tide goes out enough to reveal the hull I can straight away see some very disappointing problems. There are large areas of small rust bubbles breaking through the paint. Fist sized flakes of paint are coming off the hull around the anode connections – bugger!

003 lowanaLeft: Lowana IV against the careening poles at DBCYC low tide. The club’s wharf is to the right rear and Sadgroves Creek in the background.

The painter comes down in a day or so to take a look. After some discussion he agrees to supply the paint and redo the job at his cost, if I pay the haul-out and yard costs.

The marine consultant also comes down eventually. He’s non-committal but suggests the anodes have been placed in the wrong places … really?   I point out to him that they’d been installed and placed according to his advice.  He finally admits he doesn’t really know what’s causing the problem and agrees to do more testing once Lowana IV is taken back out onto a mooring in the harbour.

It’s work I hadn’t expected to have to do but it’s time to start repairing the damage. With a large degree of reluctance I begin the awful, tedious and awkward job of grinding away the problem areas of flaky, toxic paint and rust bits.  It takes several days with the tide limiting the amount of time I can actually do any work on the hull. Every day it’s hard to get motivated but I find that once work is underway the job progresses smoothly enough … even if it is accompanied with a bit of sotto voce cussing.

004 lowanaRight: Working on the hull and keel usually means kneeling, sitting or laying in awkward positions.

Finally all the problem areas are primed and treated with 2 coats of epoxy sealer,  then covered with several coats of hand painted antifouling paint. A job I was only too glad to see completed.

During this process there were times such as a high tide or when circumstances allowed, that I could turn my attention to something else. Another issue has been a persistent oil leak from the motor.  Mechanic Finn Campbell identifies the problem as a failed gasket seal between the gearbox and the motor.  Not an easy or cheap fix.  Lucky me.

While he’s there I ask Finn to take off the head and inspect the cylinders and general condition of motor insides. The report is good.  No undue corrosion or wear anywhere and the motor is actually in quite good shape. A relief considering there’d been 3 days where saltwater had sat undetected in one of the cylinders a couple of years ago.

The gearbox is removed. All is in order inside here as well which is also good news. Finn finally manages to replace the leaking seal and re-attach the gearbox to the motor.

Time to look at the ship’s radios. The VHF radio won’t show the selected channel and the squelch – which dampens the background noise, doesn’t turn off. It’s not economically repairable so I get a new one.  The HF radio tunes up okay but can’t receive any transmissions. Deadly silent. It turns out this is repairable and I also buy a new speaker and hand microphone for it.

One fairly small job that has been waiting for a while to get done is to check the anode in the homemade refrigeration cooling condenser.  This is just a largish PVC cylinder lined with coiled copper tubing inside. The copper tubes carry the refrigerant gas for the freezer and fridge and can get quite hot, so raw seawater that is keeping the motor cool is also used to cool the tubes and carry away the refrigerant heat.

The cap comes off the end easily enough and am surprised to find quite a bit of mud inside. All the copper coils look okay but the anode definitely has to be replaced, as well as the electrical ground strap.  While soldering connections on the strap I manage to burn the same finger that got zapped by the grinder a couple of days ago – unmentionables.

Turn my attention to a newly obtained, though old inflatable dinghy which needs repairs.  The floor had been torn off during the last Wet Season when carrying a 9kg propane gas bottle in heavy surf. The hard rubber mount supporting a straddle seat for rowing has also come off and needs to be re-glued. This is not a job that just means slapping some glue down.  It requires careful preparation and proper materials, but with as much advice as I can get I manage to reattach the bottom and the seat mount.  A carpenter friend also makes a slat timber floorboard to support heavier objects, and fashions another straddle seat to replace the worn, cracked one.

The trusty – though old small fibreglass dinghy also needs some attention with a worn keel and large crack on the side. Someone had used it as a step when it had been up on the foredeck. Fashioned and attached an aluminium strip along the rubbing keel and repaired the crack with several coats of fibreglass. Sanded it all back and finished the job with a couple paints of paint. All looked pretty good once it was done.

Last but not least has been a persistent rattle coming from the stern area. Carefully check the rudder pintle (where the rudder is mounted on the hull) and find a small bit of movement there. To attack this job the whole rudder assembly has to come off. After a bit of thought and several unsuccessful attempts, a slim stainless metal sleeve is curled around the pin and the rudder put back in place.  Hopefully this will stop it vibrating while under way.

Thurs 24/5/01

It’s been a week of pretty solid work but today Lowana IV has to go back out into Sadgroves Creek. While waiting for Delma to show up I take down the two intermediate aft backstays. These will be taken away to a marine shop be shortened and converted to running backstays. Also grab the staysail which has become quite stretched and needs to be recut by the sailmaker.

When Lowana IV starts to float with the incoming tide, the mechanic comes down to do a final check on the motor. Everything works fine except that the temperature sender has to be replaced. Easy enough job for me to do though. Get a shock at the bill he gives me.

Delma arrives to help take the boat off the poles and move her over to the adjacent dockside. Lowana IV has no reverse steering. She has what is referred to as a starboard ‘walk’ i.e. the action of the propeller pulls the stern of the boat to the starboard side. However I’m used to it and can often manage it to advantage when moving the boat around in tight places.

Unfortunately the rudder rattles even more than before but at least I definitely know where it’s coming from.  I can sort it out a bit later.  Although it’s annoying I don’t think it’s going to cause any major problems for the time being. The whole rudder system is a poor design which will probably require major welding surgery to fix, but maybe I can try a putting a piece of plastic into the bracket or something to shut it up in the meantime.

The boat is a mess with gear everywhere – tools, paint stuff – you name it. The fresh water in the water tank has a bad taste. Another previous job had been cleaning out the tank. Some rust pits had to be welded and the interior of the tank had been painted with epoxy paint.  The tank now needs to be drained and refilled. Also replace an inline carbon water filter to help minimise the taste and kill any bugs in the water.

Take the boat away from the dockside and anchor up nearby in Sadgroves Creek in front the DBCYC. Delma has a little practice using the dinghy with the outboard motor to bring us back to shore. She does a good job but by the time we get back to the loading pontoon I think she could probably do with a bit more practice.

For at least the next 24 hours Lowana IV needs to be left on her anchor away from other potential electrical interference from outside sources. The marine consultant will be then be coming out in a couple of days to test her for any stray electrolytic currents or galvanic corrosion.


Fri 25/5/01

Look around town for a new water temperature sender unit but they aren’t a readily available item. One of the local auto and marine shops is quite helpful and sends away for one to be delivered air express on Monday.He also tells me how I can modify the exhaust system to include a “tell-tale” in the cockpit. This constant trickle of water can not only tell me if cooling water is actually going through the motor, but also if it is too hot simply by putting a finger under it.  Discuss the anode problem with him. His advice runs contrary to what I’d already been told and only serves to confuse me.

Delma graduates with a Bachelor of Nursing degree tonight. The Chief of the Australian Army Lieutenant General Cosgrove is presented with a doctorate of something or other and is the guest speaker.  He was the man who led an Australian Army force into East Timor when they voted to secede from Indonesia.  Local militia loyal to Jakarta started killing people. Afterwards we have a celebratory dinner with family friends Colleen and Bob at their house.

Sat 26/5/01

0800 hrs: The marine consultant comes down to the pontoon and we go out to Lowana IV anchored in the creek. He runs tests right throughout the boat but is unable to find any stray electrical current anywhere. The procedure involves turning on every electrical item in turn on the boat but nothing is found. He isn’t able to give me any direct answer as to why the anodes aren’t working.  If that’s true then the problem must be galvanic corrosion such as what happens when two dissimilar metals are joined.

He makes a number of suggestions including:
1. That the anodes aren’t properly attached to the hull (they’re bolted to welded studs).
2. That there was 30 percent copper content in the antifoul paint (there are two coats of known good sealer between the paint and the hull).
3. That the anodes should be taken off the keel and placed on the hull more outboard towards the sides. This he declares will improve the situation.

His last observation is that the boat is almost into the over-protected zone (too many anodes), but not enough to cause the paint to blister. This is confusing.  If I follow his formula for placement then I can’t really reduce the number of anodes. But I’ll take the last suggestion about moving the anodes and slot the job into the “must do” mental file.

Delma is waiting back onshore. She comes out to the boat and helps me take her back into her usual berthing spot inside Tipperary Marina. We haven’t been here for a couple of weeks and some of our local yachty liveaboard friends drop by. Sit around for an hour or so drinking coffee or tea and catching up with the local news.

Delma leaves to go home while I pick up the modified backstays from the marine shop and bring them back to the boat. For the rest of the day I climb the mast and install the running backstays, touch up all the cockpit timberwork, fix the head which has been leaking, put the canopy back up, reinstall the HF and VHF radios and test them.

Also check the tillerpilot works properly, install the new siphon break system, clean out the safety locker and check all the contents reacquainting myself with what is actually in there. Put some new flares into the locker. Make notes of what extra stores and stuff I will need to buy.

With all this done I start the motor and turn the fridges on. Strangely when I rev up the motor to check the siphon break is working properly, I notice the tachometer and the water temperature gauge both suddenly start working! There must be an electrical short somewhere in the engine. Will have to look into that tomorrow.

The rudder is rattling worse than ever, even when the motor is at idle. I don’t know what I’ll do with it just yet. Will have to look at it tomorrow as well I guess. Still a fair bit to do.

Speak to a couple who had previously been our neighbours in the marina. They’d headed off to WA with another couple on board and during the journey also had rudder problems. Then to compound the situation the motor failed and they couldn’t fix it. Added to this were rough 4 metre seas and strong winds with big tidal pushes, and they were very uncomfortable.

To make matters worse the male guest started getting panicky and aggressive. Our lady friend said all she wanted to do was get off that boat until she learned she’d have to jump into the sea before she could be winched up into a helicopter. She quickly changed her mind and decided to stay with the boat instead. A navy boat came along and helped them get the rudder lashed enough so that the boat could be towed back to Darwin. Our chap’s sailing season is now over since he’ll have to build his sailing “kitty” again and get the boat fixed.

Left the boat feeling that I had achieved a reasonable day’s work, but concerned about the rudder. It was to plague me throughout the night and drive me out of bed the next morning wondering what I could do with it.

Sun 27/5/01

Catch up with Fred from SV Nanbeth, an old friend and liveaboard yachty at the marina.  Fred is getting on in years but as mentally fit and sprightly as many full time yachties are. Collect the dinghy oars he’d repaired for me, and pay him for a welding job in the aft engine compartment. Fred came over to Lowana IV to have a look at the rudder hinge problem and we have a cuppa while discussing it. While we work out what we can do in the long term to fix the problem, we’re a bit short on ideas in the short term – like today!

005 lowanaLeft: Lowana IV at her berth at Tipperary Marina. Fred standing at the stern.

It suddenly occurs to me that if I put a rubber gasket on the hull top mounting bracket, it might force the stock against the hinge more. Fred suggests that he tap and drill a grease nipple into the bracket so that I can get some grease in there now and again.

The first gasket proves to be too thin and the rudder continues to rattle, although not as bad as before. This is encouraging so a thicker gasket is used – voila the rattle is gone! The rudder is a little stiffer to move but later on after a grease nipple was installed and some grease pumped into the bracket it moves a little better. Am much relieved. Had been worried about going to WA at all. I simply didn’t think I could put up with that pounding rattle all the time – but now we can go.

Delma comes down with some welcome lunch and orange juice. I think it helped me work through until late in the afternoon without feeling I wanted a “nanna nap”.

Next problem – the anodes. Fred agrees there has to be an electrical short. A quick check at the rear of the alternator finds the primary earth wire has broken off at the alternator terminal. Fred gets busy putting a grease nipple into the rudder while I install a new connector onto the wire, and reconnect it to the alternator. Turn the motor on and presto!  Tacho and water temperature gauges are working properly.

Of course it does cross my mind what effect this might have had with the readings taken by the marine consultant?  My confidence in that guy has been taking quite a nose-dive.

Filter 80 litres of diesel into the main fuel tank then start working out where all the bits of paraphernalia will be stowed away. Bulky spare sails, spare timber, bulky engine parts, storm boards, fenders. Pack up the inflatable. Do some vacuuming along the hull interior to ensure the limber holes don’t get blocked.  These are small holes in the steel frame that allow water to pass through into the bilges instead of collecting and causing rust holes in the hull.

By the end of day I’d packed the aft lazarette and the boat is starting to resume some semblance of its normal order.

Mon 28/5/01

Down at the boat again. Fred turns up and puts in a different grease nipple into the rudder system because the other one was too big. Another liveaboard yachty named Don from SV Aspro comes over for a chat. His boat is only a small thing – about 26 ft or so and I understand he’d actually circumnavigated Australia twice in it. This was one bloke I am going to listen to.  He’d been to the Kimberley’s before and as we pore over charts of the region he shows me several good anchorages.

More sorting out on the boat. Remove all the extra paint gear. Lots of other gear still needing to be put into a home somewhere onboard. The pump in the head is still giving trouble and needs a new rubber ‘o’ ring seal. Time to go shopping. Pick up the recut staysail and other parts ordered from the chandler. Install the self-tacking staysail system. Hoist and secure dinghy. Fold up and lash the inflatable to the top of the targa rails. Get the gas bottle exchanged for a full one. Vacuum out the boat again.

Spoke to the marine consultant about the broken earth strap at the alternator. He says he’ll come down in about half an hour and do some more tests.  He doesn’t turn up.

Chap named Dan? from SV Tasha drops by to let me know that he and Marilyn are going to the Kimberley’s tomorrow. We will hopefully just be a day behind them so they should be in radio contact for the run across the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf.  Delma comes down with non-perishable stores. Has to make two separate trips. Topped up the fuel tank and run the motor to get the fridges cooled down.

One more day to get everything ready. Delma still has a lot of other things to finalise, and there are a number of smaller finicky details that I have to attend to as well. The plan is that we’ll board the boat late tomorrow afternoon and leave the marina early evening, motor around to Fannie Bay and anchor up for the night. We will then have an early start for the crossing of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf on Wednesday morning.


Tues 29/05/01

Lots of little things to do today. Delma gets me working early at home cleaning out the spa that’s filled with fallen leaves and twigs.

Buy a hand bearing compass which will double as a night steering compass. The existing one is too dull to see properly at night and just a little bit too far away from the tiller. Bought all the spare fuel and get it onboard together with some extra water containers. Lots of fiddly little shopping. Get a haircut, some books to read and stationery items.

Delma and I take down the perishable and cold stores and get them stowed away. Time is getting away. We’re scheduled to go out of the marina lock at 1800 hrs.

1700 hours: Everything seems okay. Haven’t been able to get any lagging to wrap around the exhaust elbow. It’s meant to help prevent accidental burns and keep the heat down in the engine compartment. Delma still has unfinished things to do so I’ll be taking the boat by myself out of the marina. Complete some last minute tidy up details.

1800 hours: Cast off lines and back out of the marina berth without colliding with anyone, then make my way to the lock gates. Inside the lock I decide to put a temporary hitch line amidships onto a vertical steel pole to keep the boat against the lock wall, while I’m getting the bow and stern lines ready. Unfortunately I forget to untie the damn thing.

Peter the Lockmaster starts pumping out the lock and the water level drops. Unnoticed by me the midship line slides down the pole but catches on a bracket. A grinding noise alerts me and immediately I can seen the starboard rail beginning to bend.  Yell out to Peter to stop. He acknowledges but it takes time for the machinery to stop. Grab a knife but by now the rail has buckled and Lowana IV beings to hang against the side walls of the lock. The line is under tremendous stress and it’s like trying to cut steel. Finally manage to get the line cut and the boat thuds down into the water, but not before some of the stanchions have broken wholly or partly off at their base.

Quickly decide I can effect enough repairs to the rails by cutting off the bent bits and lashing timber to the rails. Leave the marina and motor out to the front of DBCYC. Anchor up, put on a night light and dinghy ashore, walk the 200m back to the marina, get the car and drive home feeling just a little pissed off about things.

1930 hours. Get back home and take a shower. Finalise last minute items on the job list around the house then leave with Delma for DBCYC. Have tea with daughter Karen at the club then Delma and I head out to the boat. Raise the anchor and motor around to nearby Doctors Gully in Darwin Harbour for the night. We’ll head out to WA in the morning.

Festive lights at the wharf. Half moon, calm water, slight breeze. Delma unpacks and stows groceries whilst I re-secure the dinghy. We wrap as much of the fruit and veges as we can in newspapers and sling them into netting in the forward berth area, which helps keep them useable for longer.

2245 hours: Must be almost ready for bed. Very tired. Calm anchorage. Have a hot chocolate drink. Listen to weather forecast. Its winds up to 30 kts and 2m seas. Not the best but we’ll see what it’s like in the morning before making a decision to go.

Weds 30/5/01

0400 hours: Boat rocks suddenly. Jump up and dive outside to see if we’re adrift. We aren’t. Quite cool though so jump back into bed.

0730 hours: Leisurely rise. It’s obvious from the sound of the wind and motion of the boat that we won’t be leaving today. Climb outside into the cockpit for a look around. Whitecaps everywhere in the harbour. The wind has a chill to to it. Fresh from the SE. Good direction but a bit strong.

007 breakfastLeft:  Delma prepares some breakfast.

0800 hours: Listen to the marine forecast. Strong wind warning is cancelled but the winds will remain fresh over coastal waters and very slowly moderating.

0815 hours: Try to take a photo of the bent rail and broken stanchions. Camera won’t work despite having only just got it back recently from being repaired.  It’s at this point we decide to return to the marina, get the rails and camera fixed and maybe install a new deckwash pump and a cockpit light if time permits. It’ll also give the weather a chance to moderate a bit and maybe we can leave tomorrow.

0845 hours: Contact Peter to arrange a time to return inside the marina. He has some line handlers ready by the time we arrive back at the marine gates including Don from Aspro. Don jumps down onboard to help handle the lines. Shows a certain camaraderie amongst cruising sailors.

0930 hours: Berth beside Rasa who had such problems in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf recently. Fred is waiting at the berth ready to catch the first mooring line and get straight into fixing the rails. Apparently Peter had told him of our problems. Delma leaves to get the camera fixed once the boat is secured.

First he cut off the bent bit and straightened it. Then with some pushing, pulling and bashing we manage to get the stanchions lined up again and everything reasonably straight. While Fred starts the welding job I begin installing the night steering compass.  Long overdue job involving pulling out the panelling in the wheelhouse to run the electrical cable through.  Fred also applies some two-pack epoxy paint primer onto the new welding for me.

006 bent railRight: Bent rail and broken stanchions.

Don is all doom and gloom about a Low pressure system coming up to the SW of WA. Might be a bit premature. The current High pressure system is 1029hp and I believe it should be strong enough to keep the Low down south. But Don’s advice is always worth listening to.

1330 hours. Guard rails are done. The day is beautiful and sunny, cloudless but still a bit too windy. Delma is back and we have some sandwiches she made for lunch. She’d walked all the way into town to the camera shop and got our camera fixed.

Afternoon: Get the remote steering compass installed and working with its red night-light. Manage to find different sized hoses for the deckwash pump. Get it all sorted with alligator clips to the battery bank. Turn it on and am pleased that it works well with good pressure. Will be able to keep the decks clean when raising the anchor without Delma having to lift buckets of seawater.

Redistribute the jerry containers around the deck and lash then down, top up the main water tank and scrub the decks. Delma manages to find more places to store more fruit and veges away, giving us a bit more living room below.

1700 hours: Everything all done. We go for a walk, have a chat with other boat owners, take a last shower and a final cuppa with Fred and his wife Beth from Nanbeth.

1840 hours: Peter has the lock gates open. Pull away from our day-berth and enter the lock. We only just have enough water under us to get the boat outside. Barely afloat we leave the marine into the open waters of the shallow tidal creek outside. Motor around to Doctors Gully again in the fading dusk. Similar conditions as last night. Pass the massive ship Hotel Olympia which is 4 stories high. It’s not normally docked here and must be passing through Darwin.

2000 hours: Anchor in Doctors Gully again. A dolphin keeps circling the boat as we’re taking soundings preparing to drop the anchor but leaves before anchoring is finished. We’re sitting adjacent to Parliament House with it’s pretty lights shining on the water. There’s an oil or gas drilling platform further out in the harbour with motors going all night. Otherwise it’s very peaceful and calm. Tomorrows forecast is looking good with 15-20 kts E to NE winds and up to 2m seas.

Delma is cooking rump steak, choko, potatoes and carrot with fresh fruit salad for desert. I’ve tidied up the boat putting away fenders, spring lines etc. After dinner we sit peacefully out on deck listening to the various activities ashore. Very smokey atmosphere – must be a bushfire somewhere.

2200 hours: Go to bed. Definitely heading out to WA tomorrow.

Sharks, Snakes and Ruff Seas

Thurs 31/5/01

0700 hours: Calm morning, almost cloudless. Slight breezes but falling off. Have a cuppa. Hook up the deckwash and Delma hoses the chain of sticky mud while I manually winch it in. The new pump gets rid of most of the mud.

0730 hours: Delma continues to wash down the decks while I get the boat underway leaving Doctors Gully, heading towards the Number 6 Buoy at the entrance to Darwin Harbour.

Cruising Note: Engine hours at 930.

map 2 outward leg

Above: Map of the outward leg from Darwin to Koolama Bay in WA.

0800 hours: Put the auto-pilot on. It’s a Navico TP30 Tiller-Pilot which is connected to the tiller instead of the steering wheel. We’ve named it George and it’s lovely to have an auto-pilot system again. They save an outstanding amount of human energy, making it completely possible for boats to sail short-handed as we are doing.

0815 hours: Furl the headsail right out to full size. Seas slight with the odd whitecap in the harbour. Nice SE breeze and turning into a very nice day. Delma is down below making breakfast and the smell of toast wafting up into the cockpit smells nice. Tide running against us at the moment but it doesn’t matter. we’ll have tidal influences right across the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf anyway.

008 sail to waLeft: Calm sea and motor sailing and on our way to the WA coast. On a full beam reach here with the sails well out to starboard. The orange cylinder at left is a dan-buoy used to mark a spot if one of us were to fall overboard. The line running across the cabin top is a jackstay to which a harness can be clipped in rough weather.

0845 hours. Darwin lies behind us in a smokey haze as we pass the Number 6 Buoy on 330 degrees Magnetic. Seas slight but the breeze seems to be fading.

0915 hours: Tack westerly WNW to 280 degrees True towards WA and to clear the Charles Point light. Seas running slightly higher outside the harbour but still only about 1m. I’ll continue to motor-sail for the time being and get the ships batteries up again to full charge. Had to top them up with water yesterday as they’d been empty and run down. They seem to be charging up okay though, especially with the added input of the solar panels.

1015 hours: Delma sits with me at the chart table for some lessons on using the GPS and basic chart position plotting, and how to use the various radios. Demonstrate how to tune the HF radio and do a test call to Darwin Radio over the emergency channel. Reception both ways is Loud and Clear.

1100 hours: Passing Charles Point lighthouse and change course WSW on 250 degrees True to clear the shallows and reefs around the Fish Reef light.

1230 hours: Well past the Charles Point lighthouse and out of the slop around there. Delma hands me some small hot bread rolls, corned beef and tomato for lunch.

Still motor-sailing. Wind astern but not much of it. Seas have calmed with only an occasional whitecap. Sun is hot so we put up our low cockpit canopy. Won’t be long before the land sinks under the horizon behind us. Looking for the Fish Reef light which is basically just a thin pole stuck out in the middle of nowhere. The ammeter gauge obstinately seems to be stuck in the same spot. It should be coming up to a zero reading indicating that the batteries are charging. Everything else going well so far.

1400 hours: Fish Reef light is abeam and change course West to 240 degrees True. Wind variable but mainly from astern. Try to goosewing the sails, which means placing the sails on either side of the boat to catch a following wind. Turn the motor off but the sails just flap around as the windvane at the top of the mast hunts for a breeze. Take down the mainsail  and Lowana IV settles to a speed of 2.5 to 3 kts under sail with the tide running with us. This’ll do.

1500 hours: Try sailing for a little while longer but our speed keeps dropping below 2 kts. Turn motor on, put the mainsail up and take down the headsail which gives us 5 kts.  Until the wind picks up we’ll be motor-sailing with George working to keep us on course.

Pull out the passage chart showing the whole voyage area. Have passed Quail Island and nothing but open water ahead. Very hot with 31 degrees Celsius down inside the boat though this is cool compared to the outside. Seas are slight with no whitecaps. Set the self-tacking staysail as well which gives us a slight boost.

1730 hours: Not much change to conditions with hardly any wind. Seas are only slight and have turned a deep cobalt blue.  Delma and I have some nibblies and a cold drink. She’s just been cleaning up one of the Diet Coke cans which had frozen and burst in the freezer.

A small shark of about 1m has been following us for a while now. Usually sits under the hull but occasionally comes up to the surface along the side.  Change back to just sails again but can only get between 2 to 2.5 kts.

 Must apologise for the sub-standard images from here on. Our expensive “wet” film camera had not been properly fixed and most photos were affected. We didn’t find out until after they’d been developed back in Darwin.

009 travel companionRight: A small shark travels alongside the hull with us.

1830 hours: Nice red sunset. Marilyn from SV Tasha calls on VHF radio Ch16. Change channels and have a chat. They’re only a few miles away from us. We could see each others sails in the distance earlier, just didn’t know who they belonged to. They’d delayed their departure yesterday as well and and had been anchored up at Tapa Bay in Bynoe Harbour to the west of Darwin. We agree to keep in contact with each other as we make the crossing to WA.

Wind has dropped right away so turn the motor on again. Sheet in the mainsail and raise the staysail. Furl the headsail.

2000 hours: Have been trying to get a little sleep but can’t. Get up and try sailing once more. Start to get 2.5 to 3 kts so stay with this.

2130 hours: Wind has completely gone again, and we’re down to .7 kts.  Turn the motor back on.  See an occasional sea snake close by illuminated on the surface by the cabin lights through the portholes as we pass by. They’re fat ones about 1m long, fawn coloured with a small head. No sign of our shark.

2300 hours: Wind seems to be picking up so put the sails back up and turn the motor off. Lowana IV slowly builds up to 4 kts then 5 kts. Seas slight. Take George off the tiller and hand steer for a few delightful hours under bright light of the moon.

There’s another ship off to starboard in the distance showing all white lights. Later learn that it’s the Coral Princess, a large tourist vessel. It slowly passes by finally disappearing off to the West. Our heading at the moment is more WSW on 250 degrees True.

Fri 1/6/01

0230 hours: Tired and starting to see double so put George back to work. Sailing conditions still very good. Won’t be long before the moon goes down.

0240 hours: Get Delma up and go to bed after giving a handover brief and letting her get settled in for a while.  Am only there for 10 to 15 minutes during which the wind and seas pick up appreciably. Delma calls me out as we start to take the odd hard thump on the side from waves.  The sails will have to be reefed, so I put on a life-harness and clip onto the jackstays.

With Delma on the tiller we point up into the wind while I furl up the headsail to a smaller size, then put 2 reefs into the mainsail. This brings us down from around 6 kts to a more sedate 4 to 4.5 kts. Put Lowana IV back on course and go back to bed.

0530 hours: Delma calls me again. We’ve really got a rock up and the seas are a lot more bumpy. It’s actually quite a rough ride. Change course 10 degrees to point up into the weather more which happily gives us a smoother ride. Try to get some more rest but unable to.

0600 hours: Delma goes to bed and I watch the sunrise. Conditions haven’t changed but the seas don’t actually seem quite so bad when you can actually see them.

0700 hours: Seas look to be building even higher. It’s quite blowy with Easterly winds. Waves are coming from the port quarter and we’re rocking and rolling quite hard. No wonder local sailors call this the Blown Apart Gulf!

0730 hours: Our 24 hours plot position is 12 degrees 57.25’S, 129 degrees 17.50’E. We’ve covered 100 miles on the chart and the Log instrument reads the same. There’s been a metal clanging during the night and I’m finally able to work it out. The rudder is banging as we roll to starboard and it seems to be getting worse.

1130 hours: Following seas around 2m with whitecaps everywhere. Turned the motor on a little while ago to charge the batteries and run the fridges cold again. Boat is yawing uncomfortably all morning with the wind dead astern, so take down the mainsail. Decide to run with just the headsail for the time being though it’s taking us a bit too far south of our rhumb line to Cape Rulhieres, but we’ll wait and see. Listen while a Coastwatch aircraft challenges Tasha  over the radio.

1300 hours: The wind has changed direction which allows me to put up a goosewing rig and change course 30 degrees to starboard. This’ll bring us back closer to our rhumb line and bring the wind and waves directly astern. Our course is now due west at 240 degrees True and we’re about half way across the gulf.

1500 hours: Wind and waves have moderated and we’re down to between 3 and 3.5 kts. Almost too little breeze now. Sails flap and snap.  Hate it when it’s like this as it causes the rigging to shudder.  The whole boat vibrates and it won’t be doing much good to either the sails or the rigging.

1600 hours: Fed up with the sails flapping. Show Delma how to check engine oils and start the motor. Furl the headsail up and sheet in the mainsail and staysail. Ammeter gauge shows the batteries are getting charged up thank goodness. Speed build up to around 5 kts. Very hot. Very little breeze. Put the cockpit canopy up.

1700 hours: Tasha calls. Can’t copy them very well on VHF so change to the HF radio for a chat. They’re about 15 miles behind us to the NE at position 13.04S and 128.57E. All’s well with them. Hardly a cloud in the sky and very little breeze.

2000 hours: Have been having a rest and missed the Coastal Waters forecast at 1800 hours. Still motor sailing. Seas are just slight swells. Hardly any breeze. Brilliant moonlight. Almost back on our original rhumb line with 75 miles to our waypoint, which is at 1 mile off the WA coast. Not pushing the motor at 1300 rpm and just doing 4 kts at present.

Sat 2/6/01

0300 hours: Delma lets me sleep for a badly needed 4 hours after the roughness of yesterday. Conditions are now calm. Seas are just small swells and there’s only a slight breeze. Brilliant moonlight. Think we’ll try to try just the sails anyway.  Turn the motor off and pleasantly surprised to start getting 2 to 3 kts. Tweak the sail trim and the speed slowly moves up over 4 kts. Beautiful sailing conditions.

0630 hours: Lovely dawn sunrise. The good sailing continues, getting 5 kts and sometimes up to 6 kts. The noise of the rudder banging away in its bracket resonated through the steel hull overnight. Don’t think it’s going to cause any problem except that it’s annoying when trying to sleep. The rattling happens when the boat rolls to starboard then goes quite as the boat rolls back – like clockwork.

0720 hours: Just 25 miles from Cape Rulhieres marking the entrance to Koolama Bay at the mouth of the King George River which is our destination. Change to the large scale chart of the area to get a closer look at the bay and the entrance. The winds are building again. Have been getting 6 kts over the last hour or so but it’s now time to reef in the mainsail. Put in two reefs and collapse the staysail bringing us back to a comfortable 5 kts.

0800 hours: Starting to get 6 kts and more even under the shortened sail. Seas continue to build with the occasional whitecap on a beam reach. Waves are also beam on. There’s an obvious high pressure cell in the sky to the ENE indicated by high streaking cirrus clouds radiating out in a fan shape.

1000 hours: First sighting of land with the cliffs of Cape Rulhieres emerging from the haze on horizon. Do a position fix that put us 7.5 miles from our waypoint.

010 wa landfallLeft: First sighting of the West Australia coastline. Cape Rulhieres is the most NE point of the Kimberley coast.

Seas continue to be boisterous with whitecaps everywhere. An occasional biggy comes through which makes us slew a little bit until George can get hold of it. No auto-pilot can anticipate this kind of yawing motion so I take it off and start hand steering.  With a speed of between 5.5 to 6 kts the land quickly begins to take shape out of the haze into a long line of high cliffs.

1130 hours: Coming around Cape Rulhieres. Bit sloppy as can be expected around any cape. Have to hold Lowana IV to keep her on course as she constantly tries to yaw in the following seas and surf down the waves, which are quite good sized.

1200 hours: Enter Koolama Bay under sail. The 3 story high Coral Princess that had passed us at night out in the gulf is nearby, but oblige us by staying clear and behind us as we negotiate the choppy water in the entrance.

Once inside the entrance I turn the motor on, Delma swings the boat up into the wind and I start taking down sails.  The Coral Princess continues to wait patiently.  It must be visiting the King George River and has a load of tourists on board, some of whom give us a wave when we start to motor further into the bay. Well done Coral Princess – certainly appreciate the good seamanship and consideration for a small sailing vessel. It’s still a bit blowy inside the bay which is relatively protected by cliffs. Start taking soundings and prepare to anchor in a little cove just inside the entrance on the eastern side.

011 koolama anchorageRight: The headland at left is the NE point of Koolama Bay, at the head of the King George River. Behind it is a little sandy beach and an anchorage which is sheltered from easterly winds.

1245 hours: Anchor is down and set in 7m depth. Put the kettle on for a nice celebratory cuppa.

Afternoon: Have some lunch of corned meat and salad. Delma makes some soda-bread which consists of flour, bicarb of soda, milk and onion flakes. It’s very nice. We often use this as replacement bread whilst out sailing somewhere.

Square the boat away by stowing sailing equipment to give as much living space as possible. Put up the big overhead shade canopy and bring some mattresses up on deck. Catch up on some sleep while Delma reads sailing stories in magazines and books of all things!

1730 hours: Tasha comes into the bay and motors close by to exchange mutual pleasantries before going off and anchoring about 100m away.

Inflate the Sevylor inflatable dinghy and drop it over the side. Go ashore for a walk on the little beach in the cove and to look for some oysters. However the tide is too high and we only find small ones, which we leave to grow bigger. Get back to Lowana IV just before dark.

012 oyster huntLeft: Russ looking for oysters ashore in the late afternoon at Koolama Bay. ‘Lowana IV’ can be seen at left, ‘Tasha’ to the right. ‘Coral Princess’ is at the far left.

Put some dirty clothes into buckets to soak overnight with a dose of hair shampoo which works very well in saltwater.  We then have a saltwater bucket bath ourselves using shampoo. At this point we can’t spare any fresh water to rinse off with, so have to be content with drying off then applying moisturising lotion to counter the drying effect of salt on the skin.

013 delma on rocksRight: Delma looking back into the bay where ‘Lowana IV’ is anchored. This is an area of concern if our anchor should drag in any high winds. Note the unusual rocks, almost like paving stones.

A boat called Sally Lightfoot calls on the VHF radio. She’s just come out of the river and now anchored just around the next corner. They tell us the waterfalls at the head of the river are still running and give us some details about the local tides and the roughly where the current channel is located across the sandbar at the river mouth. This channel moves around from season to season. We learn they will be leaving for the Berkeley River to the SE tomorrow.

I’d once heard reports that crocodiles are particularly partial to chewing on inflatable dinghies if left to trail astern at night, so the Sevylor is lifted up onto Lowana IVs bow for the night.

Manage to pick up a Darwin commercial FM radio station 104.9 with the popular national music program Jukebox Saturday Night, but it fades in and out. News comes on. We hear that a member of the Nepalese royal family has killed his family with a machine gun.  Turn it off. Don’t want the outside world to intrude right now thanks especially bad news like that. Unfortunately my HF radio only has 10 dedicated marine channels and none of them are music stations. Will just have to rely on cassette tapes for music. Unfortunately a whole pile of them have been left back at home and there’s only an odd dozen or so on board.

2030 hours: Chicken Stir-Fry for dinner. The freezer is holding almost everything frozen. Excellent! Have to rearrange some items in the fridge though. Stuff like milk or water that was sitting against the cold-plate has frozen.

Can’t last too much longer and get into bed.

Gorges and Waterfalls

Sun 3/6/0/01

0820 hours: A bit slow getting out of bed. Both of us slept well last night. Go to check the tide tables but find they aren’t applicable for this particular area, but it’s obviously High tide at present.

Cruising Note: Engine hours 959. Total fuel usage 42 litres. Log reading 226.9 miles. Chart distance 245 miles.

1000 hours: Do some calculations. Have used the motor roughly for 29 hours of the trip. The 42 litres of fuel includes the 2 trips to Doctors Gully and running the refrigeration system for 2 days plus the 29 hours on the trip. Not too bad on fuel consumption. Good in fact.

The stuffing box is leaking a bit more than it should and the bilges have to be pumped fairly regularly. Fill the grease gun and pump more grease into the stuffing box.  Yucky job. Delma is doing some washing so I’ve rigged up a drying line.

Lovely morning. Feeling the sun bite already. Wind starting to pick up but the day is glorious if you can keep in some shade. Delma’s got the busy bug – cleaning the galley stove and washing the saloon floor. Hate it when she gets like this ‘cause I tend to get caught up too!

1030 hours: Delma helps to put a patch on a small leak in the floor of inflatable. Have lost one of the wooden seat supports somehow yesterday whilst going ashore so we’ll just have to sit on the pontoon sides from here on.

Sally Lightfoot comes around the bend and anchors near us. She’d come out of the river last night, and being a catamaran was able to anchor in the shallower waters near the sandbar. Got the correct tidal information from them when they came over to have a chat with us and Tasha. They leave for the Berkeley River about midday.

Spend the rest of the day reading books, sort through food stores, do some small clean up jobs, some more washing, napping, reading books again …

1803 hours: Listen to the weather forecast. Receive it quite clearly on the 4 MHz frequency.

1815 hours: Tasha calls on the radio and invites us over for sundowners. Finally get to meet with owners Des and Marilyn, Des’s brother Andrew and his wife Mary. Spend a good couple of hours having a sociable chat and drinkies.

2110 hours: Return to Lowana IV for dinner after which we enjoy a hot chocolate drink before going to bed.

map3  king george rv

Mon 4/6/01

0530 hours: Wake up. Something wrong. Noises? Boat movement? Something … go outside. Canopy is catching the wind and pulling the boat side on to the wind. This sort of thing has occasionally caused the anchor to drag before so I start rolling it up. Delma comes out to help. With this done the boat lays properly to the wind and we can get back into bed.

1000 hours: Had planned on getting out fairly early in a dinghy to take soundings of the sandbar across the entrance to the river this morning. Was going to be looking for a deep enough channel to try and take Lowana IV across into the river proper. Delma had let me sleep in because it’s been fairly blowy.

Check engine oils. The gearbox oil still seems to be running into the main engine sump, and it’s supposed to be a separate sump. Puzzling.

Have a quick brekkie and a cuppa. Decide to take Lowana IV closer to the sandbar, which is about a mile away.  Maybe we can spot a channel by a change in the water colour without having to use a dinghy.   Move back and forth across the entrance but can’t find any obvious channel. Unfortunately the water is consistently murky having been whipped up by wind and waves earlier this morning.

Anchor up in 3m of water. It’s still quite blowy and the bay is quite choppy but I’m going to have to get out there in the dinghy and take soundings. Be nice to have one of those portable depth sounders but I don’t.  Will just have to use a basic lead line, try to identify some useable landmarks and take compass bearings.

I know there should be another channel on the western side of the bay so if I can’t find anything here I can always go over there to search. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

Glad we’ve got the inflatable for this work as the old fibreglass dinghy would easily get swamped. As I motor away in the dinghy I notice Delma signalling frantically in a rowing motion. I’d forgotten to take the oars and with this the outboard motor inconveniently coughs and stops. It usually starts on the first tug of the starter rope but not this time. It takes a few minutes but by the time I get the outboard started again I’vebeen swept about half a mile past Lowana IV out to sea.  Good one stupid

Retrieve the oars and set out again. After much to and fro-ing finally locate what seems to be a shallow channel and am able to take marks off the sandy shoreline against the backdrop of cliffs. The shallowest area over the sandbar is close to where we’re anchored and it’s about 50m wide to get across.  During this process I’m totally soaked and obliged to regularly bail the water out of the inflatable because of the choppy sea. It’s something I have to do to stop the fuel container from floating away.

The lead line shows a depth of 2m but since Lowana IV draws 1.2m we should be right … theoretically, Not an easy ask to keep an 8 tonne boat that’s being pushed by wind and waves inside a narrow channel.  I’m confident it’s workable but if not, then we’ll just to wait it out for the next high tide.

Return to Lowana IV.  Tasha has come up and now anchored nearby so I motor over to show Des my landmarks. Des has a 2m draught so decides to stand by while I make the attempt, and if I do get stuck then maybe he can help pull me back off the sandbar.  That’s Plan B. Plan C is to use the dinghy to drop the anchor back into deeper water and winch myself off so set about preparing the big 60 lb danforth anchor up on the bow ready to quickly throw over the side should we get into difficulties

1300 hours: Give a wave to Tasha as we pass by and commit ourselves to crossing the bar. Line up my landmarks and almost immediately run into shallower than expected water.  The depth sounder starts alarming at just 1m. The sounder is offset to the keel by 1m so it means the keel will be touching bottom. Watch the sounder anxiously. We’re sitting still so give the throttle a small boost and we again move slowly forwards. Sounder seems to be stuck on 1m forever but finally hovers between 1.0m and 1.2m for a few minutes then shows deeper readings.

014 approach KGR Right: The bar at the entrance is very shallow and about half a mile wide. The keel scrapes at least once as we dog-leg slowly forward following a channel. There is a sand-spit to the left and rocky cliff to the right. We need get closer to the rocks to get inside the river.

I knew that provided I kept my marks ashore lined up we would get into progressively deeper water, but am surprised to find we start crossing another shallow bank. This causes no problems though and we soon find deeper water as we approach a sand spit marking the eastern side of the narrow entrance.

We’re through!  Once inside the entrance to the river the strength of the wind increases and the current is really surging.  The depth shallows again down to 3.0m as we cross a series of underwater sand ridges over the next half a mile but we’re at least moving forward even if it is a slow headway.

015 inside KGRLeft: Just inside the entrance. Area to the left is shallow so following a deeper channel to the right near the cliffs. The slanting object in the foreground is one of the mast backstays. The hat might look a bit dorky but it keeps the sun off.

Call Tasha on the radio to tell Des what we’d found. He replies he’d been watching us like a hawk anyway. My opinion is that with his deeper draught I don’t think he’d make it where I went through.  Maybe he could try the western side. Moe likely he’ll probably wait for the high tide tomorrow morning. That will give him more depth and hopefully some flatter water to get inside.

016 majestic kgrRight: The river gets narrower and the cliffs start to hem-in closer as you go further in. At places the cliffs drop sheer straight into the water. There is some excellent fishing right at the base of them. Good oysters too.

The King George River is about 6 miles long and ends abruptly at 2 waterfalls. It’s beautiful scenery with majestic cliffs that often plunge vertically 60m or more directly into the water. A white breasted sea eagle soars above the cliffs keeping pace with us for a while checking us out.

Afternoon: Slowly make our way up the river admiring the view. It’s Delma’s first time here but although I’ve seen it twice before it still strikes me as a spectacular river. On arriving at the end we find we’re the only boat there. Depth sound around to find a spot out of the direct line of the falls where it’s noise  is more muted. Anchor in 7m of water. Square the boat away of no longer needed sailing gear.

017 kgr waterfallsLeft: Anchored at the navigable end of the  King George River which finishes abruptly at the two waterfalls in the background.

Due to the presence of crocodiles we won’t be using the inflatable  so decide to bring it onboard and deflate it. We’ll use the red fibreglass dinghy instead.  Climb down into the inflatable to start passing stuff up to Delma such as oars, water etc. Suddenly feel something whipping against my left ankle. Glance down and see something like a light brown piece of rope flicking violently around. Doesn’t make sense at first then am startled to see it’s alive. In the space of a heartbeat I jump back onto Lowana IV and glance down to glimpse a rather long snake in the dinghy. It’s about 2m long, fawn coloured with a burnt orange section at its head, and it dashes over the stern of the dinghy to start swimming furiously for the nearest rocks on shore.

This hasn’t done much for my heart rate. Am concerned about potential bite marks but hadn’t felt a bite and there doesn’t appear to be any marks. Delma decides it’s hilarious and starts laughing – much to my disgust.   I ask her tartly whether she thinks she could take the boat back out over the entrance by herself. She smugly tells me she thinks she can. Yet underneath the comedy we both know the need for her to know what to do if there actually is an emergency. It’s important that she could do something positive for me or even just herself, if something happens to me. There’s no ambulances or quick treatment here.

After my heart stops yammering we finish getting the inflatable onboard and drop the red dinghy from the stern targa rails. Head off to make a closer inspection of the two waterfalls. They’re not running as hard as I’ve seen on other occasions but they’re still impressive nonetheless.  About 100m further downstream we find a place where we can take a fresh water shower. It takes a bit of effort getting over the large boulders and rocks but against the cliff wall is a natural stone ledge, with a small waterfall sprinkling down the cliff face. The water is cold but feels marvelous. Good to be free of salty skin.

022 shower fallsRight: The black vertical section of the cliff wall just right of centre marks a small waterfall. a rock ledge at the base provides a handy place to take a shower. The rocks on the foreshore make it a tad difficult to get in there and some climbing is required.

Return back to Lowana IV for some nibblies of olives, Camembert cheese, rice biscuits, asparagus spears and soft drinks.

2000 hours: Dinner is over and the washing up done. Kettle is on for a hot chocolate drink.

2030 hours: Am sitting in the cockpit admiring the gorge being lit up by bright moonlight. Stars are thick and bright in the narrow corridor of sky showing beyond the cliff walls. The muted but constant noise of the waterfalls is being reflected around the corner off the gorge walls. Fish jump along the edges of the river. The setting is simply beautiful in the calm night air. Scan the river with a high powered torch but don’t spot the pink eyes of any crocodiles reflected in the light. The thing is with these animals however is that you can never really be certain where they are. It’s always best to assume they’re nearby somewhere.

The Bush Camp Comes In

Tues 5/06/01

0545 hours: Delma hears a thump on the hull but it’s doesn’t wake me up.

0845 hours: Cloud haze to the east is subduing the sunlight. Clear sky elsewhere. Delma sorting out brekkie. Placing tomatoes onto opened egg cartons has proven a good way to keep them. It helps too if perishables can be stored as low in the hull as possible below the waterline. We also individually wrap vegetables like onions, carrots, potatoes and zucchinis and sling them in netting up in the forward berth area. They keep well like this if kept aired but out of sunlight.

1000 hours: Delma sits in the dinghy beside the boat casting lures while I fix the other fishing rod. It needs 5 new runners and the reel hasn’t been used for a long, long time.  It needs some tender loving care too. Later on we work out a rough itinerary to include a visit to Napier Broome Bay to the west and return home.

Surprised to see a charter fishing boat Bush Camp come up the river. Bush Camp has some charterers aboard and pokes its nose right under one of the waterfalls. Delma and I jump into the dinghy to go over and say hello. They invite us aboard for a shower but we decline. We learn they operate from a tourist camp called Faraway Bay about 9km from here. I hadn’t heard of this place but it’s new and remote enough that it’s not yet marked on the latest marine chart of the area.

018 end of kgr  019 eastern falls
Above: The King George River ends abruptly here. Note the black stain around them showing the extent of the torrents in the wet season. The fishing boat ‘Bush Camp’ is sitting under the western falls. Over time both of these falls have chewed back into the rock making their own separate little ‘rooms’. The cliffs are maybe 30 metres high. Above: The eastern falls. It’s like an amphitheatre in there and it echoes when you talk. The current can be a bit strong and care must be taken.  There are nice relaxing rock pools at the top.
020 western falls  021 bush camp
Above: The western falls divides into two after falling onto a rock ledge about half way up. The ‘Bush Camp’ is about to back up to the waterfall and give its clients a shower. Above: The water coming down is cold. These people don’t stay under it for long.

Civilization is starting to intrude even into these very remote spots. People are now flying into these camps then taken fishing, sightseeing and hiking. It must be just a Dry Season thing though. There’s no roads that I’m aware of into this particular area. Travel is likely only by air or sea.

Afternoon: After lunch we go fishing for a couple of kilometres down the river and back. A cormorant stands guard on a rock with its wings spread at the entrance to a little shallow mangrove inlet. As we enter we start casting lures about and Delma catches a mangrove bush. The lure goes in so deep it’s impossible to retrieve and have to cut it loose. We later learn there is supposed to be a resident crocodile in here but we didn’t see any sign.

Not even a nibble or a touch on the lures until we’re almost back to the boat when Delma catches a nice golden snapper about 40cm long, which will be good for our dinner. The sun goes down below the level of the cliffs. Keep the dinghy away downstream to clean and fillet the fish in order not to attract crocodiles around Lowana IV. Tasha appears around the bend. They’d come into the river this morning and spent the day down there. By the time I’ve cleaned the fish Tasha is looking for a spot to drop her anchor.

The dinghy leak is really bad now. Lift it onto the stern davits, drain it and apply a 2 pack epoxy mix called Ferropro, which has the capability of hardening underwater. Awkward job to get at the leak site and it requires a balancing act on the targa to reach the floor of the dinghy, but eventually get it done. Leave it to set overnight.

1830 hours: Tasha has anchored about 100m away. Delma and I sit in our cockpit having nibblies and drinks. The motor is running to cool down the eutectic refrigeration plates, since this hasn’t been done today yet.

2100 hours: Have had our fish for dinner. It was nicely crumbed. Wash up and then have our usual hot chocolate drinks.

We take a bucket wash on deck to the opposite side of Tasha in the moonlight with the strains of some rhythm and blues playing downstairs. Delma goes first and is trying to tell me how wonderful the water is.  I think she’s trying to set me up because I know how cold the water is. Its’ more brackish than briny here because of the fresh water coming over the waterfalls. Despite the gasps the wash is really refreshing.

Delma decides to do some washing. The night is lovely, not warm or cold – just a nice coolness to it. The ships batteries don’t seem to be holding a charge. They were up to full yesterday but right down again today. This might be a problem and will need watching. I think I might also have a small refrigeration gas leak in the fridge system since there are bubbles in the sight glass underneath the floorboards.

Weds 6/6/01

0740 hours: Get up relatively early this morning beating Delma for a change. The morning sun is shining straight down the gorge lighting the walls and the falls. Fish are flicking on the surface all around the boat.

0800 hours: We’re going back down-river today to visit the waterfall at the head of the eastern arm near the mouth. Listen to the scheduled radio weather forecast and it doesn’t seem too bad for tomorrow. The plan is to head towards Napier Broome Bay on the other side of the peninsula.  This will include an overnight stop at Butterfly Bay and then rounding the potentially nasty area around Cape Londonderry.

0830 hours: Dip the main water tank. We’ve used 50 litres over the 7 days aboard purely for drinking and cooking. Our water usage rate might not sound much but we’ve had other sources of fluid like juice, milk and soft drinks. Seawater is also used for some cooking.

0930 hours: Fix a diesel leak at the secondary filter. It’s been slowly losing diesel fuel into the bilges through a perished fibre washer on the retaining bolt at the top. Also fix a water leak around the fuel breather tube on the deck, which has been allowing water to leak through onto the quarter berth mattress below.

Delma checks the freezer and a couple of items of food are starting to thaw out. We’d only run the fridges for an hour yesterday so must be more attentive to this.

1030 hours: Des has been ferrying his crew across to the spot where it’s possible to climb to the top of the waterfalls. They drop by with some letters for us to post when we get back to Darwin. They’ll be staying in the Kimberley region for another couple of months yet.

1045 hours. Prepare to weigh anchor. Des has stayed on board Tasha but the rest of the crew have reached a rocky outcrop halfway up the slope. Give them a cooee which echoes around the gorge walls in the still air. An answering whistle echoes back. Wrap and stow the inflatable into it’s place on the stern davits rack. Set up the deckwash pump and get the anchor in. The sediment mud brought up by the chain is thick and black.  Am glad now I’d decided to replace the old broken down pump to keep the decks and chain locker clean.

024 leaving fallsLeft: Looking back as we leave the waterfalls at the head of the river. ‘Tasha’ can be seen at anchor at centre photo.

1130 hours: Motoring down the river. Fridges are cold and the batteries are at last showing a good charge. Glorious day with the canopy up. Nice cool breeze. Not a cloud in sight. Water colour is almost an emerald green and flat. Can’t get over just how beautiful this place is and it’s ever changing aspect. Delma offers me an orange as a big shoal of fish shows up on the sounder halfway to the bottom, just over 7m deep here.

1200 hours: Anchor near the entrance to the eastern arm about 2 miles from the entrance to the river. Have a light lunch of damper, dry biscuits and avocado or vegemite. There are fish showing on the sounder and Delma is keen to try fishing again. Set up a rod and she fishes off the bow for a while. Get the dinghy ready to explore the eastern arm. It’s just a bit too blowy to be setting out crab pots or doing any oyster hunting right now, but it does look to be a promising area for it. Set off to explore the eastern arm waterfall.

025 approach east arm falls 026 close in east arm falls
Above: The falls are just around the corner. They’re at the end of the eastern arm closer to the river mouth and accessed only by dinghy over a shallow inlet. Above: This flows over a large rock pool up on the ledge above. There is a cutting to the right of photo which is climbable and comes out above the falls

1515 hours: The waterfall is still running but it’s not in full flight. Scenery is just as pretty though. Lots of fish activity on the surface of the inlet splashing about but we haven’t brought our fishing rod with us. Can see lots of oysters on some rocks on the southern bank, but the tide still a bit too high to get at them. No sign of any crocodiles but I know they’re here. Both of us are feeling a little uneasy and I’ve learned to trust the feeling no matter how illogical it may seem. We don’t stay long. There’s still a small leak in the dinghy which requires bailing and sopping with a sponge from time to time. Not as bad as before though. Return to Lowana IV.

1600 hours: Having a cuppa. Delma has claimed a shady spot on deck up forward. Very pretty spot up that eastern arm.

Spend the rest of the afternoon lazing on board. Read a book. Delma persists with fishing though there’s no fish activity around or showing on the sounder. The yacht isn’t really sitting in a spot suitable for fishing but full marks for effort.  Decide to move Lowana IV to a better potential fishing spot but the anchor doesn’t grab and we settle back past he point where I want to be. Not going to do it again so we both have a little rest for a short while.

1830 hours: Raise the dinghy onto davits and secure it for the night. Have some nibblies. Can hear loud swishing noises in the water coming from the mangrove area on the opposite shore. We would later hear this same noise again being made by a large crocodile we knew definitely to be in the area.

It’s been a very pleasant day despite the wind being a little bit too blowy. Funny how pleasantly tiring it can be on board a boat even if nothing much is being done. Steak for dinner.

2015 hours: Hot chocolates in cockpit. Moonlight is shining on the flat water. Wide expanse of water where the eastern arm joins the body of the main river. Moonlight is reflecting all the way back to the boat. The surface looks like it is lit up with thousands of little flickering candles. Lovely cool of evening.

2100 hours: Perfectly still. Water flat. Moonlit cliffs perfectly mirrored on the flat surface of water. Occasional fish jumping. Willie Nelson singing love songs on tape. All’s well with the world. Good forecast for tomorrow.

Butterfly Bay Retreat

map4 butterfly bay

Thurs 7/6/01

0730 hours: Sun not yet coming up over the rim of cliffs on the other side. Faint breeze. Scattered clouds. Going to be a nice day I think.

0830 hours: Anchor up and on our way under motor to the river mouth. Lovely day still.

0910 hours: Clear of sandbar across the river mouth and out in Koolama Bay. Set “George” the tillerpilot to steer us towards the western side of the bay. Want to check out a couple of small coves or inlets over there.

The two small inlets on the western side of Koolama Bay are lovely looking sites but unfortunately exposed to any weather from NE to SE. The southern one is a small cove with a nice little sandy beach at its head. There is a small waterfall maybe 20m high. It’s only a thin stream with what looks like freshwater pools at its base, going by the foliage in there. If we had more time I’d definitely go in there to check it out.

The northern one is bigger. It also has a sandy beach at its head but with mangroves behind it, and is guarded by reefs at the entrance. It would need careful sounding before entry could be gained, and probably only accessible by dinghy.

0935 hours: Have finished squaring away ready for for sea. Canopy has been taken down and everything secured. Ammeter needle is stuck off the scale on the right hand side of the gauge. Check the batteries with a hydrometer but they’re charged up okay, so it’s the gauge that’s giving problems. Give it a tap and it bounces into its proper place.

1040 hours: Reach a point 7 miles NNW of the King George river entrance. Still motor sailing and heading for Butterfly Bay. This bay is in an unsurveyed area of the marine chart so extra care is going to be needed getting in there. There’s some dispute in the information provided by three different pilot books on board as to its actual location. One has the position as 8 miles SW of Cape Londonderry and the other two have it 6 miles SE of the cape. The rough drawings in one of the books appear to be the same as on the chart but the description of features around the area differ. Will just have to go and see for myself.

Currently doing around 6 kts with tailwinds but not much of it. Get the headsail out but it flaps most of the time. Can see other large bays to the west of Koolama Bay. I assume the closest and smallest of them would be Faraway Bay. The area definitely looks promising and invites more exploration but not for us this time.

Cloudless sky. Seas with just a slight swell and still calm with a light green colour. Batteries almost fully charged. Staying motor sailing until sure I’ve got time to check another bay further up towards Cape Londonderry. This one is 4 miles north of Butterfly Bay and lined with cliffs. Can’t see Leseuer Island yet.

1120 hours: Motor is off. Try goosewinging the sails but the wind has died. Still getting about 3.5 to 4 kts under sail though.

1200 hours: Still under sail. We are 4.8 miles from our Butterfly Bay waypoint. Koolama Bay is just a smudge on the horizon to our rear. Harry Bellafonte cassette tape adding to a jolly atmosphere. Wind has come up lifting small whitecaps on the sea. Doing 6 to 6.5 kts using a goosewing rig. Wind maybe 15 kts from dead astern. Light green seas with swells. Really enjoying this sailing, simply great. Would like to keep going around the cape and head for Napier Broome Bay. However it’s not prudent to navigate unsurveyed waters at night, or to arrive at unfamiliar anchorages at night and try to close with the shore.

1230 hours: Wind springs up from nowhere catching us by surprise. Head up into the wind and furl the headsail in a bit, then put 2 reefs into the mainsail. Decide against checking the northernmost bay now and start heading directly for Butterfly Bay. Seas choppy on 1m swells. Whitecaps everywhere. Rocky and rolly. Down to a more sedate 4 kts for a while.

1300 hours: Mainsail down and reef the headsail. Change course to port and heads towards Butterfly Bay at around 3.5 kts.

1400 hours: Slowly creep into the bay under motor, keeping a watchful eye on the depth sounder for shoals and reef. Manage to work our way into the SE corner and drop the anchor in a spot out of the worst of the swells, but which is still affected by them. Unfortunately the winds are easterly and fresh, sending the swells directly into the bay. So much for the accuracy of weather forecasts. Position is 13 degrees 48.4’S, 127 degrees 02.2’E anchored in 4m of water.

1415 hours: Finish setting the anchor. Delma is a bit white faced and shows me her right foot. Her big toe is bent upwards at a funny angle and looks broken. She’d slipped on a small patch of deck which didn’t have non-skid on it, and has cracked her toe on the starboard dorade box. I’m impressed with her bravery to wait until we’re safely anchored, but now we have to determine whether the toe is broken or not. A tentative tug on the toe results in a small crunch and the toe is back in place. Thankfully it had been dislocated and not broken but even so, Delma is not a happy chapette just now.

1430 hours: A plane flies over us heading towards Cape Londonderry. It’s quite blowy outside and the boat is constantly rocking to the 1m swells in the bay. Despite the discomfort we’re in a better place than if we’d pushed on around the cape further north.

1800 hours: Have a read and a sleep during the afternoon. Was going to put the inflatable dinghy into the water for a spin around to explore this place, but the wind has stayed too strong. Listen to the weather forecast which predicts 10 to 15 kts easterly winds.  That’s the same as forecast we’d got for today, so who knows what we’ll get tomorrow.

Winds are easing but it’s getting too late to take out the inflatable. Delma says her toe is feeling a bit better after having been rubbed with emu oil – magic stuff that. Try to find why the ammeter is playing up. It goes weird at times but the batteries seem to be okay. After checking behind the gauge I find a loose connection which is probably the reason.

Resecure the automatic bilge pump hose which takes excess water from the bilges out to one of the drains in the cockpit.  It had fallen off the bilge pump. Nearly stand on Delma’s toe while turning the gas bottle off and get the evil eye.

027 butterfly bay sunsetLeft: Butterfly Bay sunset. A good jump off point for the run around the potentially nasty Cape Londonderry to the north.

1900 hours: Just getting dark outside and we’re getting dinner ready. Wind is persisting but much reduced in strength. We’ve been sitting in the cockpit enjoying the quiet with a UDL and a coke respectively. Actually getting a bit nippy outside. Inside the boat is 26 degrees celsius.

Swells still coming through but not too bad. Not brave enough for a saltwater bucket bath tonight. Just using wipes from a box of disposable wet cloths on the face and smelly bits. A couple of birds fly overhead arguing furiously between themselves. Perhaps they were scolding us. Gathering gloom.

2030 hours: Turn the motor on to run fridges. Ammeter working properly. Very nice outside in the yellow moonlight. Been sitting outside in cockpit having hot chocky drink. Will be washing up then early bed I think.

2130 hours: Lovely cool light breeze, but very rolly due to swells that still keep coming into the bay and curling around the southern headland. This looks like lasting all night. Hope we can sleep ok.

Anchoring is a Bitch

map 5 cape talbot

Fri 8/6/01

Overnight swells continue all night. Fairly uncomfortable anchorage but at least it provides a convenient jump off to get around Cape Londonderry, around the extended reefs across the top of the peninsula to Cape Talbot and Napier Broome Bay to the west. Delma hasn’t slept much but I’m told I slept soundly, though I wouldn’t have thought so.

0645 hours: Pre-dawn and the sun still not up. Early start for the run today. Feeling a bit stiff. Have a relaxed cuppa. Check motor oils. Still draining from the gearbox into the main engine sump. No problem though. It’s all the same type of oil. Suck out some excess oil out of the main sump into a container and use it to top up the oil in the gearbox.

0720 hours: Sun comes up over the low hills. They’re supposed to be cliffs according to one pilot book description. Turn motor on and the ammeter gauge works properly which is satisfying to see. Pull up the anchor. No mud here. The chain is clean all the way so must be a sandy bottom. Good to know these things for selection of the right anchor in rough weather. If I come back this way I’ll change to the danforth anchor as it holds better in sand.

My anchor inventory is a 35 lb plough, a 60lb danforth and a reef or grapple anchor. Wish I had more but I don’t.

0820 hours: On our way nosing carefully out of the anchorage towards the open sea and taking soundings as we go. Easy nonetheless. Lovely day again. Cloudless, seas slight swells with rippled surface. Not much breeze yet.

0840 hours: Clear of the rocks guarding the north and south entrances to the bay, turn left NNW towards Cape Londonderry.

0930 hours: The sumlog reads 5 kts of water speed and the GPS is reading 7 to 7.5 kts ground speed. Means we’re getting up to 2.5 kts of current helping to push us along. We’re about 1.5 miles from our waypoint off the Stewart Islands, which are two small islands off Cape Londonderry and mark the turning point around the cape. It’s a very reefy area and we’ll have to go out a long way to get around this cape.

There are long, low swells coming through from the SE. Not much breeze but raise the still reefed mainsail to help steady the boat from rocking in the swells. Cloudless sky. Sun starting to bite. Put on my Arafat hat with its protective flap at the back to protect my ears and neck. They’re fairly sensitive since being sun damaged on a previous trip to the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia.

0940 hours: Water is calm though very disturbed with an upwash from surrounding underwater reef areas, swirling around a bit. Just giving ourselves a bit more clearance around the islands. Don’t want to be washed onto them by a sudden hard current. Cape Londonderry would have to be a nasty place if there were rough weather here. Almost at the waypoint. Have been getting up to 8.5 kts which is really good considering the hull speed is just 5 kts.

0945 hours: Make our turn heading WSW. This area is a kind of meeting place of tidal runs, and as expected the seas get quite choppy to weather as we turn. The wind has swung to the SSW building and pushing the waves head-on to us. Still doing 7 kts over the ground but it’s very bumpy as we pitch up and down through the bumpy seas.

1045 hours: Take the reefs out of the mainsail and also put up the staysail. Get over 6 kts motor-sailing. There’s about 6 miles to go before our next turn around Cape Talbot and into Napier Broome Bay. Weather is beautiful. Cloudless still. A little cooling breeze has sprung up with sufficient strength to make the flag try and stand out most of the time. Really nice. Would try to sail but I don’t want the tide to change against us in this area. Wind has swung around to the SSE and helping for a change.

1140 hours: Next to last turn to port before we make our final run at the northernmost anchorage at Cape Talbot. Come onto a beam reach and the boat jumps to 6 to 6.5 kts. Late afternoon winds kick in.  We’ve just about beaten them which is what I was trying to do. Heading SW with 3 miles to go before the last turn.

1215 hours: Almost on the last waypoint. Call the small mining community at Troughton Island on VHF radio trying to contact a friend there. No answer. Coastwatch aircraft call us, polite as always wanting to know who we are and what we’re doing. They offer to contact Troughton for us but no thanks. It isn’t urgent – just a social call. Coastwatch wish us well and say they’ll probably see us again over the next couple of weeks.

1220 hours: Make the turn into our intended anchorage. Seas are now flat in behind the lee of the land. Not much wind. Flag barely flapping. Lovely. Bit warm though. Close with the land and check out the northern anchorage.

Once again there is much contradiction between the information in the 3 pilot books I have on board. What might be defined for example as a ‘sandy beach bounded by rocks’ might be anywhere from 50m to half a mile long, since the drawings are not to scale. Can’t say I’m particular happy with this first anchorage area so go looking for another spot.

028 checking chartRight: Checking the chart

1435 hours: Finally find a likely looking place at the mouth of a small creek with a sand beach 2 miles further south. There are sand dunes and rocks to the north and south of the beach.  Delma’s choice of a spot to anchor is near some ‘pretty’ rocks which look a bit like stone ruins from a distance. No rocks look particular pretty to me when I’m considering an anchorage. Onshore there’s lots of blackboy trees, crows and even butterflies flying around. Unfortunately the depth is too deep for this spot so it has to be skipper’s choice.

Pick another area and circle around taking soundings and looking for possible underwater obstructions. Drop the anchor in position 13 degrees 50.54’S, 126 degrees 45.98’E in 4m over weed and sand with some of the weed standing up over a metre from the bottom. The tide will be running just under 3m tonight so we should have a minimum of 1m under the keel which should be enough. Let the motor run while the boat settles to her anchor before selecting reverse gear and digging it in. Keep a careful check of our position on the GPS while doing this but the boat is not moving.
029 cape talbot
Left: Cape Talbot anchorage

1530 hours: Get the inflatable dinghy out and pump it up. Go ashore for a little walk but don’t see any sign of oysters. There’s a little brackish creek which doesn’t hold our interest for long. Check out the ‘pretty’ rocks.

Lots of outlying rocks scattered around at different depths in the sea as we head north in the inflatable. Motor around for a while to check them out. Most will be submerged at high tide and invisible at night. The tide is going out right now. Check out the previously selected northern anchorage site more closely but don’t actually go ashore. Nearly out of fuel so return to Lowana IV.

Refuel the outboard then go back ashore nearby for another wander around. All rocks now exposed by the outgoing tide. Delma finds the oysters. Tell her to watch her footing as the large rocks are slippery. Words hardly out of my mouth when she slips and falls right on her bum. There’s virtually no tread left on her sandshoes. Luckily she isn’t hurt and just sits there for a moment chuckling to herself.

Spend the next hour cracking and eating oysters. The oysters aren’t particularly large but certainly big enough to make it worth the effort. Beautiful! Lowana IV looks a pretty sight as she sits in the gathering dusk as we return back toward her in the dinghy.

030 cape talbot sunsetRight: Lowana IV at dusk on anchor at Cape Talbot

1900 hours: Get a bucket, shampoo, towel and fresh clothes out. A bit chilly having a bucket wash when the cool night breeze is blowing. The bucket handle breaks and it starts to drift away. Don’t have a boat hook to retrieve it because it had been stolen and not noticed until we’d left Darwin. I had nothing except my legs to reach it but on trying, only manage to push it further away. Goodbye bucket!  In the meantime Delma had also reacted at the sudden loss of the bucket, slipped and fell into the cockpit adding to her collection of bruises.

1930 hours: As expected there’s only 1.1m under the keel. Another low tide tonight but it will be .20m higher than last night so should be all right. Notice a big rock by itself now exposed by the tide and sticking up further out due west. Will have to avoid that on the way out so take a compass bearing on it.

2000 hours: Tide should have changed by now but no difference yet. I’m a bit disturbed that we’re being pushed around too much towards the beach as the tide comes in. There’s always the possibility of adverse winds and being stranded on the beach on the low tide tomorrow.

Decide to put out a stern anchor to stop us being pushed into the shore. The plan is to drop back on the main anchor and pay out the chain as we go. When back far enough the danforth anchor is to be dropped. We’ll ten motor forward while paying out the stern anchor rope and re-secure ourselves back onto the main anchor again.

It’s a good enough plan and have done it plenty of times before. Set up the stern anchor ready to drop and with the anchor rode ready to pay out. Delma is in the cockpit watching the depth sounder while I take up position at the anchor winch.

Start to let out the main anchor chain with Delma calling the depth. Suddenly I can hear and feel the main anchor dragging! Damn! Delma calls depth 0.8m. Even as I realise there is not enough water under us there is a thunk and a judder through the boat as the keel hits the rocks. Going by the way we’re lying to the anchor chain we’ve been swept to the southern side of the bay, where it’s dangerously shoal and rocky. I’d underestimated the strength of the current in here.

Call to Delma to throw the tiller hard to starboard and motor forward with low revs to try and get us back out into deeper water. Hope to high hell we don’t hit an outcrop. Cast a furtive glance once again to the standby anchor ready by the port bow then furiously start winding in the anchor chain as we move up on it.

Delma starts calling depths again. Slowly we get 1.5m then 1.7m but I can see submerged objects everywhere. It takes a moment before realising it’s just tall weeds and not rocks. Of course there’s still the danger of sucking the stuff into the raw seawater cooling intake and clogging it.

Throw the anchor again with the motor at idle. Lowana IV settles back onto the hook and thankfully it holds with 1.7m under the keel. We’re okay for the moment but I can no longer trust that the anchor is going to continue to hold us properly, especially if the wind picks up. I could put out another anchor but it might drag or even snag on something so I think it’s best if we just get out of here.

Pitch black outside. Full moon hasn’t risen yet. Decide to sit here and watch our position until we get some more water under us, then attempt to get out into deeper water without hitting that large rock we saw earlier. Just as well I’d taken a compass bearing on it while we still had some light.

Have our dinner of pork chops which Delma had cooked earlier while waiting for the tide. Don’t really feel like it and can’t finish it. Notice a light off Cape Talbot which must be another vessel. Call it up on the radio and surprisingly we get an answer. It’s the fishing boat Christine. Let him know we will be attempting to get out of our anchorage and there might be a possibility of grounding. He tells us he isn’t going anywhere for a while anyway.

If we make it our plan will be to return to the waypoint I’d entered earlier today at the first anchorage. Having checked it earlier I knew it was clear of obstacles in the swinging circle to the anchor. And being about 8m of water  it will give me an anchor scope of 6:1 chain length to water depth ratio.  I’ve only got 50m of chain and if the water gets any deeper I’m not sure whether the anchor will be able to hold position if the wind or currents get stronger. And this is not a good place to be if the anchor does drag with reef laying close by to the north and south of the little bay. But if it comes to the worst, we’ll just have to push on for Mission Cove in the dark which will make it a long night for us.

While considering the situation and while waiting for more water to get under us we decide to set up a better anchoring system using 50m of nylon rope and 20m of 8mm chain. If we have to I will set my two anchors in tandem or else spread them at 90 degrees angle off the bow depending on the situation.

Late PM: Sounder shows 2m and its time to go. Deep breaths. Delma noses Lowana IV forward under motor while I again furiously winch the 50m of chain onboard. As the anchor clears the water it brings with it the biggest clump of weed ever seen. No wonder it had a hard time trying to dig into the ground down there – it couldn’t get down through the weeds! The best anchor here would be of the admiralty type but – none on board.

With the anchor up we turn 180 degrees hard to port and start heading out WNW on a calculated bearing to miss that isolated rock and clear the onshore fingers of other rocks jutting out. The trawler is still sitting stationary and this helps with visual navigation as we can use his lights out to starboard as a guide of progress as we head out. Depth drops reasonably soon to 2.2m then 2.5m and keeps dropping. Breathe a sigh of relief. We’re out of there without hitting anything. Start heading north towards the next anchorage. Call the trawler to let them know we’re clear with thanks for standing by. Not long that it heads off to parts unknown.

The incoming tide slows us down. It’s very late when we get to a position to make a safe turn towards the land. Sneak in on an easterly bearing of 079 degrees True using the GPS. Eventually we can faintly see some of the white beach framed between outcroppings of rocks on either side. These are a bit of a worry so extra care will be needed to stay exactly on our bearing line.

Sat 9/6/01

Approx 0100 hours: After what seems like ages we eventually find 7m of water and start circling looking for underwater obstacles. The shallowest area is 5.5m on the southern side. There’s no obstacles that we can see on the sounder so drop the anchor in 7.7m depth. The tide is really running quite fast and it’s difficult to set the pick, especially with a SE breeze holding us against the current. Delma gives a touch of reverse gear but this just causes the anchor to drag once more among the weeds. This is getting monotonous. Bide our time and just let Lowana IV settle herself. This takes ages before we try to set the hook again but the anchor refuses to dig in amongst the weeds.

Winch the anchor in  and head back offshore to find our bearing then come back in again. Drop the pick and this time let the boat take its own time. It eventually settles on the chain at an awkward angle but seems to be holding okay. Give a touch of reverse and according to the reading on the GPS holds us properly in the one place this time. Anchored in position 13 degrees 48.65S, 126 degrees 44.98’E.

0130 hours: By now we’re both feeling pretty bushed. Would like nothing better than to go to bed but I’m still a bit concerned about why the anchor keeps dragging. Decide to stay up for a while and watch to make sure we are holding.

The forward berth area is a bit higgledy piggledy where we’d been pulling out extra rope and chain from the lockers underneath the bunks. Delma tidies all that up and thoughtfully makes my bed for me before going to bed herself in the little quarter-berth where she can look outside and see the sky.

0200 hours: Relax in the cockpit. After all the action it’s now all calm and peaceful out there. Birds are calling on the shore and it’s a pretty scene, contrasting with the ominous sound of low surf running on the reefs and rocks nearby.  Even so the weather has been good to us and I’m thankful for the moonlight that’s now come up to be able to see things.

Do a final check of the second anchor with its rope and chain making sure it’s ready to throw out quickly if we need to. We haven’t moved on our main anchor at all so I am reasonably confident as I head off to bed myself after setting an anchor light. But I know I won’t sleep soundly.

 map 5 mission cove
Cape Talbot to Mission Cove

0330 hours: Woke up and quickly check our position of GPS. Go outside and check as well. Everything seems to be fine so head back into to bed.

0500 hours: Keep waking up. I know I won’t be able to sleep until I’ve done another check so might as well get up and do it. There’s a very heavy dew on deck and everything is wet.

0600 hours: Check again in the pre-dawn. The tide has turned and coming in fast but we still haven’t moved.

0830 hours: Delma has tidied up inside and cooked brekkie. She laughingly presents me with a Bacon and Egg McWrap without the ‘Mac’. So far I’ve combed my hair, had a scratch and a look around, made some notes and had a cuppa.

A turtle keeps surfacing around the boat at various places, startling me once with a sudden whoosh of air right next to the boat beside me. Over on the southern side of the beach is what looks like a small stream. We are to to learn later there’s a big crocodile stays in there and he’s quite aggressive.  Apparently has been known to chase people along the beach but some stories do tend to get better with the telling.

It’s another nice day out there. Seas are calm, thankfully with a nice cooling breeze. It’s time to sort out the upper deck.

1030 hours: Finish squaring away top decks. Sort out the rope and chain for the second anchor and place it into a locker ready for next time. Put the inflatable dinghy over the side to trail astern. Clean the muddy decks with the deckwash. Check the fuel and we’ve used 85 litres so far.

1100 hours: Weigh the anchor and wash the mud off the decks. Set a SW course to clear the western side of Governor Islands.

1145 hours: Put up the mainsail and the staysail since the wind has died and the seas are flat. Quite hot again. Doing 4.4 kts motor sailing which creates a pleasant cooling breeze.  Located 4.5 miles from the NW point of Governor Islands. Sir Graham Moore Island and Scorpion Island lay off on the starboard bow.

Delma has been busy cleaning the cockpit. Nice to have a clean vessel. Freezer is working well. The chicken down the bottom is frozen solid. Batteries are charged up. Nice to have a proper working ammeter again.

1300 hours: Little bit of breeze comes up steady off the starboard bow. Put up the headsail and turn motor off. Getting 3.5 kts. Nice and quiet. Cool breeze. Flat seas. Passing western side of Governor Island  off the port side. Have set up a trolling line half an hour ago but nothing yet.

Have a lunch of dry biscuits, nuts, tomato, pickles, onion, avocado and sausages.

031 passing red bluffLeft: Passing Red Bluff cliffs off to port side.

1400 hours: Wind coming around past mast. Take down the staysail. Slower going but progress is still a reasonable 3 to 3.5 kts given the conditions.  Nice relaxed sailing. Entrance to Mission Cove 5.27 miles. Consider anchoring off off Red Bluff but it looks a bit exposed and a bit too deep for me at around 12m depth, although we could quickly set up an anchor system to do it if we particularly want to.

1445 hours: Going far too slow at 2 kts. Change to a goosewing rig and slowly build up speed to 4 kts. Waypoint to entrance of cove at 3.32 miles then another 1.5 miles in from there. Nice sailing.

1500 hours: Just 3 miles to go. Can see a yacht in Honeymoon Bay outside the front of a caravan park. There seems to be a repeater of some sort on the point to the west, but our mobile phones definitely not working. Will try to make some telephone calls through the HF radio Radphone facility later on.

1510 hours: Being called on VHF radio Ch16. It’s Paul from Always who was my neighbour back in the Tipperary Marina in Darwin. Decide to go to Honeymoon Bay instead of Mission Cove for the night and meet up with Paul.

1520 hours: Wind has picked up so take down the goosewing. Doing 4.5 kts still under sail and continuing to build speed.

1540 hours: Take the sails down and motor into Honeymoon Bay.

1600 hours: Drop the anchor in 5m about 150m off the beach. Position 14 degrees 06.05S, 126 degrees 40.93E. Paul comes over in a dinghy, climbs aboard and has a cuppa. His dog Davit also springs onto the deck so feed him a bikkie. Takes a little while but he finally remember who we are and gets almost beside himself with excitement. Paul leaves after an hour or so saying he’ll meet us ashore later.

032  davit beggingRight: Davit begging for a biscuit. He’s actually well known at various hospitals around the country doing tricks for sick kiddies.

1715 hours: Go ashore and meet up with Paul who introduces us to Les (Frenchy) and Ruth French, an aboriginal couple who have the lease and run the caravan park here. After a long chat we’re given access to a phone and are able to make a reverse charge phone call to one of our daughters, just to let her know we’re okay. Couldn’t contact our other daughter.

033 office at honeymoonLeft: The caravan park office and workshop

Some more of Frenchy’s family come home. They’d been to a Fun Day at Kalumburu, an aboriginal community 27 km away up the King Edward River. Lots of activity going on for a while.

The park itself is nothing special but seems to be well patronised. There is an ablution block which supplies flushing toilets and cold water showers. The only other facilities are fresh water taps and a portable stainless steel tub for laundry.  Frenchy allows us access to the shower block for a nominal fee and although it’s only cold water, it’s feels like heaven to be properly clean again.

Despite the lack of conveniences there must be a dozen or so separate campsites with a 4WD at every campsite. One of the attractions here must be the excellent fishing.  Speak to some of the campers, one of whom promises us some fish fillets tomorrow. There’s a certain friendliness and openness in these sorts of places away from civilization that you just don’t get in cities.

By now it’s completely dark. Paul waits for us because he’s got a torch and leads us down the rocky path through the bush to the beach. Play the light around for a quick check of the beach to make sure none of those big unwanted saltwater lizards are present. Help each other get our respective dinghies down to the water since the tide had gone out and they are high and dry. Paul keeps the torch shining on Lowana IV until Delma and I are back aboard.

2000 hours: Stow the outboard motor in its proper place on the pushpit rails and lift the inflatable to the foredeck. We’ve been warned that crocodiles have a tendency to attack rubber ducks at night especially if trailing astern. Everyone ashore seems to be eating fish, but we’re cooking pasta since our trailing lure this afternoon didn’t catch anything. There’s a bit of swell coming into our little bay. Both boats are hobby-horsing a bit but not as bad as they were earlier.

After supper a big yellow moon rises above the low lying land to the east. Sit in the cockpit with a cuppa admiring the setting. Water has stilled even more.

Sun 10/6/01

0815 hours: We’re still on Darwin time but the local time is actually 0645 hours. Water in the bay is mirror like. Tide running out and both boats are pointing towards the beach. Beautiful day again. Paul  gets into his dinghy and goes ashore. Sunlight reflecting off the water is creating dancing lights on the ceiling inside the boat.

1000 hours: Go ashore with a load of washing. Bit of a queue waiting since there’s only one tub. Water is discoloured but at least it’s fresh and okay for washing. Must be okay for drinking too since no one in the camp seems to be sick. The ablution block consists of two toilets and two showers with separate enclosed cubicles all in the same room.

Frenchy and Paul are down at the power plant looking at the generator which is not running. Meet up with people returning from fishing. They’d caught about a dozen fish including queenfish, mackerel, mangrove jack, stripey, barracuda and rock cod. All had been caught in Mission Cove. Sit down for a chat with some more of the campers.

1200 hours: Back to Lowana IV. Day is getting cloudy and it’s very hot and still. String up a washing line and hang out the washing. A shoal of reasonable sized, diamond shaped silver fish pass underneath the boat about 1m down. Done a lot of fishing around Darwin but never seen these before. Have some lunch. Delma gets keen to do some fishing.

Afternoon: Delma and I jump into the inflatable and head around to Mission Cove. Fish the eastern side of the spit separating Honeymoon Bay and the cove. Get hits straight away and lose 2 lures in quick succession because I’d made the mistake of using old fishing line. Peel off about 5 metres of line from the reel and try again.  Immediately get 2 good sized barracouta’s and a mackerel, plus some small stripeys which we throw back. Excellent fishing.

A crocodile about 8 ft or so shows itself about 100m away but isn’t being aggressive. It just swims slowly on the surface away from us but it’s enough to give Delma the heebie-jeebies. She’s not used to seeing them in the wild. Back on Lowana IV we offload the fish fillets into the fridge for dinner tonight.

034 anchored honeymoon bayRight: Lowana IV at left and Always far right off Honeymoon Beach.

Storm clouds and thunder happening to the SE and it’s gotten a little blowy. Frenchy tells me later it rained on the road into Kalumburu. The storm goes around us and the winds calm down again where we are so we go back our fishing. Unfortunately the tide is right out and there’s too much weed around so we give it up.

1745 hours: Back at Lowana IV we collect our gear for a shower ashore. Delma does some more washing and we visit Frenchy again for a chat until dusk. He begins to tells us a story about a monkey but is interrupted and has to wait until all his kids are gathered around to listen to it again.  They never tire of listening to it apparently. He insists the story is true and has been handed down through the local aboriginal generations of which he and his family are a part. It goes like this:

Spanish missionaries came to this area late last century. There was a mission established at a place named Pago which is in Mission Cove at which there is still evidence of the old mission today. At the time Makassan’s from Indonesia used to come down at the start of the Wet Season and collect trepang, also known as sea-cucumber. They would then leave at the beginning of the Dry Season.

In 1908 one of these visitors gave the priest a monkey as a present. It was a terribly annoying pest but the priest would not get rid of it saying it was one of God’s creatures. Among other bad habits it copied whatever the priest was doing. At the time the priest lived in a straw hut built in the Indonesian style until one day the monkey was playing with matches and burned the house down. Everyone thought that would be the end of the monkey but the priest could not bring himself to have it killed.

One day the priest set out a couple sets of mirrors and shaving gear then proceeded to shave himself. The monkey took up a razor and began copying every movement as usual. On an impulse the priest whipped the blunt side of the razor across his throat.  Monkey did the same but it wasn’t the blunt side. Problem solved.

Frenchy tells me there is a stone that marks the resting place of the monkey over at the old mission ruins at Pago. The mission was moved from Pago during WW2 to its present site at Kalumburu.

Dusk: Return to the boat in a beautiful sunset. Paul comes over for a dinner of steak and fish fillets. Have a yarn sorting out the problems of the world – as you do.

2200 hours: Paul returns to his own boat while we wash up.

2230 hours: Moon is only just starting to come up. Sit outside and enjoy the scene. Bay is glassy and the boat is sitting completely still on the water. A bit humid, almost hot tonight.

map 6 honeymoon bay and pago
Map: Mission Bay, Honeymoon Bay and Pago

Mon 11/6/01

0800 hours: The tide is right out and the day is very still. Only small ripples on the surface of the water. Quiet ashore. Watch a jabiru walking along the waters edge and three brolgas flying along the beach calling out.

1000 hours: Been busy. Have checked the fuel and water. Have used 85 litres of water and 90 litres of diesel since the start of this trip. Pretty good for the 11 days we’ve been away so far. Top up the main fuel and water tanks. o ashore and fill the empty water jerries with fresh water from the tap. Label them so they’ll only be used for washing or emergency drinking water.

Catch up with Paul in the workshop and make our farewells since we’ll be taking off soon for Pago in Mission Cove.  Back onboard Lowana IV the empty fuel jerries are stored down below in the aft engine area.  Rearrange the rest of the full containers so that their weight is evenly distributed around the boat.

1145 hours: Motor out of Honeymoon Bay. It’s hot and still . Water is like glass. Leave the big shade canopy up since we’re not going far.  See some fish feeding on the surface so Delma trails a lure but no luck. Round the spit of mangroves to the east and enter Mission Bay. Plenty of deep water. Identify the area where the original Pago Mission must have been and nose our way into Mission Cove.

1330 hours: Drop the anchor in 5m of water at position 14 degrees 07.03S, 126 degrees 42.76E. Anchor seems to drag a little at each new spot but it seems a little harder than usual to get it to dig in. Letting the boat settle for a while by itself seems to do the trick. Afternoon winds are kicking up.  It’s probably about 15 kts at the moment but small whitecaps are starting to appear in our little cove. NNE breezes.

1430 hours: Cloud cover building. Wind about the same. Water further  out in the bay the same. Wind comes in bursts rather than gusts. Cloud almost covers the sky with blue sky in patches. Both of us feel like a nap. GPS tells me we haven’t moved so secure the anchor chain to its bollard. Have lunch. Very glary. We decide we might stay a couple of days here.

A white helicopter comes over and circles the area of ruins before heading off towards the north.  Although the NE Kimberly region is in a pretty remote place tourism is alive and well.

1600 hours: Have a little read and a little nap. Put the rods and other fishing gear, spare fuel and water, camera and binoculars into the dinghy and head off to explore the old Pago Mission site. As we approach the barge landing we can clearly see the sand bottom and scattered small rocks in a bit of a metre of water. A stingray measuring about a metre across suddenly takes off leaving a swirl of sand.

The gap in the mangroves where the supply barge used to come ashore is still not overgrown.  The beach shoals very slowly and it’s all sand. Once on shore the first thing noticeable are the scores of old rusting 44 gallon drums lying around, mostly in clusters with others sitting in isolated groups in the nearby bush.

035 pago barge landingLeft: Pago Mission was founded by Benedictine Monks at Mission Cove. The cutting through the mangroves allowed barges to bring supplies to the mission.

There is scant information as to where the actual ruins are supposed to be. All we have is a rough mud-map and it’s not to scale. Wander around the immediate area but don’t find much. There is a 4WD bush track leading inland and further around towards Dominic Creek at the head of Mission Bay.

We follow the foreshore mangroves back northerly until we come across a little inlet, then turn easterly and start following that. We’ve been told there’s a big crocodile lives here, and it’s not long before we hear loud swishing noises a couple of times coming from the inlet. Decide it’s sensible to put a bit more distance between us and the water as we push on.

Eventually find the mission cemetery which is an area marked by broken posts and rusty wire.  In the middle of the cemetery is a rather large, rotting timber cross with a path bordered by stones leading to and around it.

036 graveyard crossRight: A large timber cross still stands in the middle of a square graveyard. The small rocks in the foreground form a path leading up to and around the cross. The wooden stumps of the surrounding fence also still remain.

In one corner is the gravestone of a Gunner Davies which is also marked in it’s own square patch by stones. He’d come ashore from HMAS Geranium that had been visiting the mission in 1920 and a crocodile had taken him. He’d been buried here and the monks had tended his grave faithfully until the mission was later further south the Kalumburu, which is now an Aboriginal community.

037 gravesite 038 gravestone
The gravesite of Gunner H. Davies who got taken by a crocodile. The site is located in a corner of the mission graveyard and neatly marked with a border of rocks. A closer look as the pre-cast concrete headstone.  It reads “I.M.S. in memory of Gunner R.H. Davies, HMAS Geranium Died Oct 1920”

After finding the graveyard we  head inland through the bush thinking that the old mission ruins must be nearby. After a couple of hundred metres we come across a cluster of galvanised iron huts alongside the 4wd bush track we’d seen earlier at the beach. This is the residence of the aboriginal traditional owner of the land consisting of a house, power plant, raised water tank and a small workshop.

Not finding the actual ruins of the old mission itself we decide to push on further up the track. We haven’t gone too far before we’re surprised to see two 4wd vehicles rocking and reeling as they head towards us down the track. Can hardly believe it. The occupants are a man and woman in each vehicle and they stop for a chat. Delma asks one of the ladies if she’s seen the ruins on the way in. She replies good naturedly that she’d refused to take her eyes off the road! Pretty rough road apparently.

We learn later that if we’d kept going just a little further we would have found the ruins. Apparently all that remains is just a concrete pad marked by two conspicuous palm trees -conspicuous because they’re not native to the area.

It’s starting towards dusk and will be dark soon so we call off our search and head back to the dinghy. It’s best to be off the beach and out on the water when the sun goes down with that big croc only a few hundred metres away.

Down at the beach the tide has gone out … and I mean right out. The water is a good 300m from where we’d left the dinghy.  We’re obliged to unload it, take off the outboard motor, then push, shove, pull and carry the dinghy through the soft sand to where it can be floated. It becomes a race against the quickly receding tide.

By the time we’ve managed this the water has receded at least another 25m or so. And by the time we’ve loaded everything back on again we have to go out another 100m before the dinghy can float freely. After much huffing and puffing we finally get into water deep enough to get into the dinghy and paddle away.

Dusk: The sun is dipping behind the low hills when we climb tired and relieved back onto Lowana IV  feeling very sweaty and smelly. But for now we just sit on the deck and have a cold drink and nibblies.

039 lowana at duskLeft: The sun sets on Lowana IV at Mission Cove. The other side of the spit of mangroves in the distance at left is Honeymoon Bay.

Looking back towards the inlet  the tide has drained out leaving nothing but sandbanks.  In the fading light a big crocodile moves on a sandbar then stops near an isolated mangrove tree. Put the binoculars onto him. He’s a big one at maybe over 5m.

A smaller one lays about a hundred yards or so further away on a sandbar. This one is maybe just under 4m. Assume this must be the big one’s mate.  They’re probably the reason for all the swishing noises we’d heard earlier. Normally crocodiles don’t make it a habit to announce their presence. They must have been either fighting or being very friendly. There’s no in between with these particular animals!  We’ll keep a lookout tonight. It’s likely the big fellow will come and check us out because we’re in his territory, but so long as we don’t get into the water we’ll be safe.

It’s nice and relaxing  in the cockpit. Both of us are stiff and sore but it’s time to get active and have a saltwater bucket bath. Follow this off with a rinse of the fresh bore water from Honeymoon Bay. It’s bloody heaven to feel properly clean again.

Fish for dinner. Barracouta cooked with flour and butter in a frypan and oven cooked vegetable wedges. Lovely!

2020 hours: It’s almost pitch black outside. A black smudge indicates the shore but nothing else can be seen. Plenty of animal life. Birds are calling and fish are popping on the water surface all around the boat. A torch beam creates severe splashing where ever it’s aimed. No sign of any pink eyes betraying the presence of crocodiles yet.

Delicious smell of cooking fish. Low tide is due to bottom out in around 20 minutes.

2200 hours: Too tired to wait for the moon and go to bed.

Tues 12/6/01

0830 hours: Late rise again. Pure decadence. Bay is like glass. Hot already. The sea and sky to the north blends seamlessly and it’s kind of weird not being able to see a horizon.

0900 hours: Paul calls on the radio and will be coming around to Mission Cove later. Tasha also calls to tells us they’re anchored at Cape Talbot after arriving there last night. It had been a bumpy ride for them yesterday around Cape Londonderry with the big winds and tides. Not surprised. They’ll probably stay up there for the day.

Delma is busy again. She’s cleaned out the fridge already and is now cooking a brekkie of bacon, eggs and pancakes.

Both of us seem to be hardening up well to the lifestyle after a couple of weeks.  You sometimes use muscles you wouldn’t otherwise have known existed. I sometimes think about the old maxim, “Use it or Lose It” and apply it to the cruising lifestyle. You certainly have to exercise both mind and body. It’s important to think about things carefully or you may face bad consequences, especially if you’re in a remote area or way out at sea somewhere. And you are likely to experience a range of emotions from fear to exultation.

Approx 1000 hours: Always has anchored about 100m off us and Paul comes over for a chat. Has a cuppa then later on some morning tea of soda bread and maple syrup. We watch as a 4WD Landcruiser pulls up over on the shore behind some rocks. Three aboriginal men get out, t Two of them with spears and they walk out into the water. Eventually the disappear around a bend, probably looking for stingrays. We wonder where that big crocodile is today.

040 always mission coveRight: Paul from Always anchored up nearby in Mission Cove.

1200 hours: Paul leaves to do some washing and to fix a water pump. A pod of dolphins enter the cove and pass by both boats. They’re too quick for us to get a photo of them. Davit the dog barks at them until Pauls tells him not at all politely to shut up.

1230 hours: Not a lot of energy today. Delma’s done some washing but I think it’ll be a lazy day today. Shoals of small fish are sitting underneath Lowana IV. Some of them are those silver triangular shaped ones that Paul tells me are known locally as butterfish. They’re supposedly good eating.

041 washday aboardLeft: Delma with a load of washing hanging out to dry. Clothes have to be washed in salt water since fresh water needs to be preserved for drinking.

Big puffy white clouds overhead give occasional respite from the sun. Nice breeze springs up. Delma hands me a beautifully cold can of coke. Rig up a handline with bait and leave it hanging over the side.

1300 hours: Coastwatch flies by and asks the same old questions  but I don’t mind answering. They’re doing a good job and they’ve been helpful to me in the past.

1330 hours: Afternoon inshore NW sea breeze kicks in. Clouds hide the sun which is a relief from the heat. Nice at the moment.

1400 hours: Paul has problems fixing his freshwater pump. I offer my spare inline pump and he comes over to collect it.

1530 hours: Paul gets the pump installed which will keep him going for now. He’s okay for water. Has got spare jerries of freshwater as well.  Comes over for an afternoon cuppa. |Tells us he’s been thinking he may return to Darwin in company with us when we go back.

1630 hours: Breeze has died down a little. Still a little bit of sharp swells coming but okay enough to go fishing. Load up the dinghy and take off to the southern side of the cove. Troll around the bend and then almost as far as Dominic Creek. Not a nibble or a touch. It’s far too shallow and too far out from the shore with this low tide. Waste of time. Delma doesn’t want to go inside the creek even though there’s a fair chance we could get a barramundi in there, which is the premier eating fish in tropical Australia.

Instead we head off towards the northern side of the cove which is a few miles away so it takes a while to get there. As we approach the first rocky point the water starts to boil with feeding fish. Send out my first cast and a nice sized trevelly immediately takes the lure. By the time I bring it in the school has vanished. Meanwhile Delma’s struggling to make her fishing rod and reel behave properly.

Move further inshore closer to the rocks where there’s a lot of weed around. Send another cast out and as I retrieve the line a hungry mangrove jack grabs it just next to a line of weeds. The fishing is really starting to look promising when the outboard motor conks out. Refuel but on starting it again there’s no telltale cooling water coming through. Obviously the saltwater intake is blocked with weed.

Nothing for it but to row back to Lowana IV. Thankfully the seas have fallen to just low swells. My rowing method is less than artful and Delma gets a good splashing as she sits up front. She’d mistakenly thought being rowed about on the water in the dusk should be romantic, but my romancing skills complete with grunts and curses aren’t quite there yet as I strive to get back before we lost Lowana IV in the dark.

1845 hours: Make it back to the boat with just enough light left to unload and clean the fish. Hand up the fillets to Delma then set about cleaning the dinghy.

042 mission cove sunsetRight: Another beautiful sunset.

1930 hours: Delma already has the fillets in the pan and also a handline over the side ready to grab if it starts spinning with a fish on. Mangrove jack is in my opinion a particularly nice tasting saltwater fish so its the first one on the plate. Beautiful!

2030 hours: Call Delma up to the bow of the boat. There’s a very big shoal of fish darting around down there in the inky blackness of the water. We can clearly see individual shapes by the almost eerie phosphorous glow as they charge around in the water. Larger streaks flash through causing a mad scatter. Even the anchor rope can be traced down into the depths by its uncanny glow as the tide runs past it. It’s all too much for Delma who gets out the fishing rod and starts casting lures at them. Gets nothing but full points for effort again.

The Relics of West Bay

map 7 west bay
Map 7 West Bay and Deep Bay

Weds 13/6/01

043 always at dawnRight: ‘Always’ anchored up at Mission Cove with us in the early dawn. Picture taken by Delma as Russ rarely surfaces at this hour.

0630 hours: It’s dawn and Delma gets up. She tells me later that the morning was just beautiful and she’d enjoyed the animal life. Dolphins had been playing around and between the boats. There’d been a chorus of birds singing, being led by crows and joined by wild donkeys who were out of tune with their harsh hee-haws. The water is flat like a mirror and it will be another nice day.

0810 hours: Fish popping on the surface all around the boat. Water quite clear down to 2m or so and can clearly see them swimming about down there. There are brolgas out on the sand flats.

0830 hours: Paul comes over to help fix the outboard. Together we pull the lower leg off to check the impellor and find a bit of grunge in the small water feed hole. Paul had brought Davit over and now decides to take him back to Always. On the way back he spots small 6ft crocodile sitting just off  Lowana IVs bow.

044  fixing outboardLeft: Paul from ‘Always’ at left helping to fix the outboard motor that had become clogged with weed. Tedious job getting it out.

Paul returns and we have a devil of a time trying to line up the gear rod and water pipe to put the outboard leg back on. Also find some more grunge blocking up the telltale outlet.

1100 hours: Put the outboard onto dinghy and test it. All okay. Paul leaves. Discuss our next moves with Delma. She really wants to go to Kalumburu, an aboriginal community further inland. I want to check out West Bay. We’re running out of time so we decide to go to West Bay. Paul decides to follow in Always.

056 crocodile visitorRight: Photo courtesy of ‘Tasha’ of a crocodile hanging around the stern of their boat.

1130 hours: A little bit of wind springs up as we pull up the anchor. Very hot again.

1215 hours: Clear of Mission Cove. Raise the still reefed mainsail ready for the afternoon sea breeze. Wind at the moment is right on the nose. Water is rippled with no swells. Heading NNW to clear Bluff Point which needs a wide clearance because it had been a mined area in WW2.

1300 hours: Turn WSW to cut across Napier Broome Bay. Our waypoint is to the south of Pearl Shoal then more westerly towards West Bay.

1310 hours: Headsail up. Motor off and sailing around 3.5 kts. Lovely day. Small wavelets. On a starboard tack with slight NW breezes. Go to put the staysail up as well but have to climb the mast to free the halyard. It’s twisted behind the spinnaker pole which is stowed vertically against the mast. Paul sees me up there and tells us on the radio that he’d had to climb his mast as well. His headsail halyard had caught on something right at the top.

1400 hours: Holding perfect course for our waypoint under full sail. Wind no change. Speed 3.5 kts and sometimes a little bit more with small puffs. Approx one third of the way across the bay. Small swells now  with small wavelets on them. Always about a mile astern.

1445 hours: Been hitting up to 4 kts south of Pearl Shoal. Change direction almost due west and start approaching Guy Point at just under 2 miles away. Wind a little stronger. Wavelets a little bit bigger but it’s just lovely sailing.

1530 hours: Going past Guy Point hitting 4.8 kts. Nice afternoon seabreeze of about 15 kts. Perfect. Turn around and head back to Always where we take photos of each others boat under sails.

045 sail in company 046 lowana passing
‘Always’ under sail ‘Lowana IV’ under sail.

1600 hours: Nosing into the anchorage at West Bay. Chart shows shoaling a fair way offshore.

1700 hours: Anchored in 5m depth on a falling tide at position 14 degrees 04.90’S, 126 degrees 27.55’E.  Start preparing to go ashore and have a look around.

1800 hours: Arrive at a very slippery concrete ramp to take a look around onshore. A large sign warns that this is RAAF Truscott property and a WW2 heritage site. There are large stocks of empty avgas and jet fuel 44 gallon drums stacked up. There’s also large white tanks of diesel fuel. Littered around the road leading into this landing area are several relics from WW2, all rusting badly. There’s a steam roller and several trucks including tippers, double axle troop carriers, a blitz truck and chevy lorries.

047 old and new 048 steam roller
A WW2 tip-truck lies beside a new fuel tank. Another forgotten relic. This was either a wood or coal fed steam-roller. 
049  troop carrier 050 lorries
The brake pads on this troop carrier are almost still intact Plenty of these lying around in the bush

1900 hours: Back on Lowana IV. Nice red sunset. Long streaks of cirrus clouds overhead. I’ve seen these formations before and they usually herald strong winds. I think we might be going to get hit hard in the next couple of days. Must listen to the weather forecast tomorrow. No signs of anything at the moment though. Leave the canopy down just in case something comes up overnight.

2100 hours: Chicken schnitzel for dinner. Paul comes over as a dinner guest and he’s even put on a shirt for the occasion. Lightning flashes to the SSW. Very still here. Water flat. Water is thick with fish swimming the edges of light shining from the portholes into the water.

Thurs 14/6/01

0745 hours: This morning there is a ground mist through the trees. Brolgas are flying overhead and calling. West Bay is fairly typical of others in Napier Broome Bay. From the south to SW are low mountain ranges around 170m high. The rest of the country is low country ranging from 10-15m in the coastal areas to around 50m a few miles inland. Mangroves are interspersed with stretches of sand beaches.

There’s a stream entering in the SW corner and sand dunes along the shore to the south of the barge landing, but otherwise there’s not much else to hold our interest.

0800 hours: The weather forecast is predicting a high pressure system of 1029 hp in the Great Australian Bight at the south of Australia, sending fresh to strong easterly winds into northern waters by tomorrow. This will probably affect our plans somewhat.

Paul has started having some battery problems and decides he’ll make for Cape Talbot today, then start making his way back towards Darwin when weather permits. He’ll probably sail in company with us when we make the crossing. In the meantime we’ll quickly visit Deep Bay then return to Honeymoon Bay for a visit to Kalumburu tomorrow. Lowana IV will be secure there when the expected strong easterlies arrive.

0930 hours: Anchor pulled up. Pass around Always to exchange goodbyes for now. Head off on an ENE course towards Guy Point. Little bit of breeze. Not worth putting up sails and just motoring. Have to use the motor to run the fridges cold anyway.

1045 hours: Guy Point is behind us as we make a SSE course towards the mouth of Woppinbie Creek in Deep Bay. Perhaps we can get some mudcrabs there today. Birds are working the area indicating that fish schools are active. We’ve been trailing a lure around the point but no luck so far. Sea is flat and it’s glary.

051 approach deep bayLeft: Approaching Deep Bay. There’s no wind as we motor along. Beautiful morning.

1100 hours: Wind still holding off despite the forecast. Maybe it’ll hit later. Only 2.75 miles from the anchorage. Water is very clear and flat. It’s hot with very little breeze. Flag barely flutters. A sea snake is laying lazily on the surface barely moving as we pass by.

1200 hours: Drop the anchor near Woppinbie Creek in 5m depth at 14 degrees 08.75’S, 126 degrees 31.55’E. The day is hot! No breeze.

1230 hours: Jump into the dinghy and head across to the creek to do some trolling. Lots of baitfish active and we get a couple of hits. Delma catches a spotted mackerel but loses it next to the dinghy. This creek only goes for about a half mile and ends abruptly at a rocky shore. We’d wanted to catch some fish to use as bait for the crab pots but no luck. Return back to Lowana IV before the tide runs out and leaves us stranded inside the creek.

It would have been nice to stay here for a couple of more days and explore this promising looking area but time is against us. We have a timetable to keep and must head off.

1400 hours: Pull up the anchor and start heading NE to clear the danger area off Bluff Point. Delma puts up the staysail on her own. The wavelets in this bay are starting to get a little choppy and there are occasional whitecaps. A moderate northerly afternoon wind is coming up promising something stronger later.

052 russ on tillerRight: It’s a bit bumpy as Russ works the tiller. The hat might look a little goofy but it protects the neck and ears from skin cancers. The liferings are protected by their own cover. Velcro fastenings make for quick and easy access.

1500 hours: Wind is getting much stronger at an estimated 25 kts. Waves have built up to 1.5m and some are bigger slowing us down.

1700 hours: It’s been a long slog to get to our waypoint but we’re finally there. Very bumpy ride but also pleasant in a way. It’s been windy but not overly strong and the waves not overly bad. Several biggies come through now and again sending spray over the bow and cockpit, plus there’s a bit of bucking about.

1800 hours: On the final run into Honeymoon Bay. We can see two boats in there. Surprised to see Always there and the other boat is Tasha.

1830 hours: Anchor put down in 5m depth away from the other boats. It’s taken us 4.5 hours to do the 15 miles. Swells are coming into the anchorage but we’re partially protected by the spit of mangroves extending a little distance NE from us.

Always had blown out his exhaust pipe between the Governor Islands and Cape Talbot causing a rather bad mess inside. He couldn’t use his motor because the engine cooling water was being pumped through the hole into the interior of the boat. It was also filling the boat with diesel exhaust smoke. He had to sail back to Honeymoon Bay for repairs, and Tasha had towed him in the final leg into the bay so he could safely drop anchor.

1900 hours: Go ashore and meet an aboriginal man named Richard who had just returned to the office. He’s an employee of the park and runs fishing trips for the campers, as well as a general hand around the park at other times. He makes arrangements for another aboriginal man named Eric to drive us into Kalumburu tomorrow.

2100 hours: Don’t shower ashore tonight as there are too many people lined up. Lots more campers have arrived. Frenchy is away for a couple of days grading roads. Return back to Lowana IV via Always and Tasha.

2200 hours: Conditions have calmed considerably with just a small night breeze and small swells coming in that are still left over from the day’s blow. Have dinner and a wash on board before going to bed.

Fri 15/6/01

0800 hours: Weather forecast not good. There’s a strong wind warning covering the whole of northern Australia. The high pressure system in the bight has built up to 1034 hp and only moving slowly eastwards. The broadcast informs us that there is a man-overboard off the vessel Bunga Delima in the Java Sea at 5 degrees 59’S and 113 degrees 31’E. Ships transiting the area are requested to keep a lookout.

0930 hours: Paul comes over and shows me the blown out exhaust pipe. I thought my spare exhaust elbow might be adaptable but the fittings are the wrong size.

Wind has blown up fairly briskly inside this sheltered little bay but it’s obviously much worse outside. Lowana IV is swinging to her anchor rode but hasn’t moved her position. Estimate the wind gusts at maybe 25 kts at times. It’ll probably get worse later as the day wears on.

Delma will go into Kalumburu but I think I’ll say and watch the boat. String out a washing line we hang out some washing to dry. Thread the line through the clothes so as not to lose them over the side in these winds.

1015 hours: Almost caught out. Have to be ashore in 15 minutes to catch the ride into Kalumburu. Big rush. Load 2 empty water jerries and go ashore. Richard has the battered Nissan 4WD ready to go. He’s not going fishing today because of the winds and decides he’ll take us in himself. All the crew of Tasha are going into town so I change my mind at the last minute and jump into the car.

The road is rough, sandy and washed away in places. This is definitely 4WD country only. There’s no way conventional vehicles would be able to travel along here. The trip takes about three quarters of an hour. Mostly there’s only bush and rocks to see except near the community at the top of a hill there is a scenic vista with low mountains in the distance.

Kalumburu has an aboriginal population of around 600 and caters for tourists. It’s on aboriginal land and a permit is required of non-aboriginals to enter. You might get away with that requirement if you are a yachty and only getting supplies and fuel but not sightseeing.

The township is a rather nice looking place nestled in among the low mountain ranges. It boasts a motel which is simply a demountable, camping round, museum, cafe, general store and the mission itself. The very first mission was actually established at Curran Point near Cape Talbot before it was shifted to Pago in Mission Cove.

053 kalumburu mission 054 chapel mural
Part of the Kalumburu Mission Part of a mural inside the church

Collect our supplies and fuel and an ice cream before coming home again.

1400 hours: Back at Honeymoon Bay Richard kindly drives us down onto the beach next to where we have our dinghies. We were not to know but we’d been lucky to get back at all. We found out later that the steering failed in the Nissan that very afternoon. Collect my refilled water jerries then deliver Paul’s small grocery bundle to him. He’s managed to fashion an exhaust pipe in the workshop but it’s still leaking.

055 back at beachLeft: Richard kindly drives us right back to our dinghies on the beach. The steering failed shortly after this.

1430 hours: Wind is still blowing strong as we get back to Lowana IV. Our red dinghy has sprung a serious leak again. Hoist it up on the stern davits and will use the inflatable from here in.

Delma starts making yoghurt with special pack mixes we brought along. This one is mango flavour … yum yum.

1800 hours: The winds have abated thank goodness as usual in the late afternoon Lowana IV is gently hobby horsing but we barely notice the movement. It’s almost calm in the bay. Delma takes down the washing.

The strong wind warning persists with the high pressure system almost stationery down south. Pump up the inflatable and put the outboard on.

1830 hours: Pack up for a BBQ on the beach and head ashore. Everyone else from the boats are already there waiting as we bring a cooking plate. A fireplace is soon built using rocks and a fire is started. We sit and chat until enough hot coals have been generated to start cooking. Since there’s only one plate we’ll have to cook in two lots.

The wine flows and the laughter gets louder and longer as the night progresses. No moonlight. The only light we’ve got is from the fire but it’s enough and use torches for cooking. Stars brilliant in the black sky. It’s a late night before we return to Lowana IV. The phosphorous trails like green fire behind the dinghies as they make their separate ways back to their own boats.

It’s Bumpy Here, Bumpy There

Map 9 Return to Koolama
Map 9 Return to Koolama Bay

Sat 16/6/01

0800 hours: No change with the weather forecast. It’s going to continue blowing up by day and easing by night so we’ll probably make a run to Cape Talbot with the outgoing tide early tonight.

The man overboard alert has been cancelled due to no sightings over the last couple of days.

1330 hours: Lazy morning on board reading and resting as Lowana IV jerks back and forth to her anchor in gusts interspersed with relative lulls. The female native onboard is getting restless so for something to do we decide to go ashore and stretch the legs. Several brolgas fly over the beach preparing to land as we motor in towards the beach. From a distance they look like parachutists with their legs extended and wings spread.

Frenchy and his family are around the office. We also find Tasha’s crew there for a chat. Stay for a while. Helen is one of Frenchy’s daughters and she offers to take us mud crabbing and get some bluebone, a parrot fish named because of the colour of its bones. She also knows where to get some oysters but we have to pass it up since we’ve got to start making our return back home.  I want to be at Cape Talbot and in a good position to get around Cape Londonderry as soon as the conditions allow. Have a shower then return to the boat.

1530 hours: Wind dies down and the water becomes quite calm again in the bay. Time to go. Bring up the inflatable, deflate it and stow it away. Lash down the red dinghy and jerry containers on deck.

1615 hours: Pull up the anchor and start motoring out of Honeymoon Bay passing by the other two boats.  Make some quick arrangements for radio schedules. Bid farewells as we clear the bay.  Kind of sad in a way to be returning home. Ah well … some people have a timetable … bugger it!

1645 hours: Outside the bay about 2 miles. See another boat poking into Mission Cove. Put up the mainsail with 2 reefs and motor sailing getting over 4 kts. Gentle wind. The seas are only small wavelets with just scattered small whitecaps. Wind coming from the NE putting us on a close reach on a starboard tack. We are heading slightly west of north to clear Governor Island on the west side again.

Quite pleasant as we go along. Have some late lunch of chicken and soft drinks. Notice the motor temperature gauge flickering for the first time but the water at the siphon break is not any hotter than it should be.

1700 hours: Headsail up. Full main and headsail. Motor off and sailing up to 4.6 kts.

1845 hours: Just clearing Governor Island at the NW point. Still sailing and getting 4 kts close hauled still. Wind has sprung up a bit and starting to get swells as we enter the more open waters.

Go to turn the motor on and the oil pressure alarm simply won’t shut up and the temperature gauge is still quivering all over the place. Check the engine oils. All okay.  Take the steering wheel off to access the back of the instrument panel.  Can’t find anything behind there that seems out of the ordinary. Take the engine instrument panel cluster out and fiddle around with it. The alarm goes silent and the temperature gauge goes steady. Must be an electrical short behind there somewhere. Put everything back together relieved it’s not a real oil pressure problem.

By now the sun has just gone down and will be dark soon. Maintaining this course almost due north to clear a shoal patch, then we’ll head NE to Cape Talbot. It’s a bit cooler now too. Lowana IV has a nice lean at 15 degrees and travelling well, still sailing close hauled.

2000 hours: Have to change to motor sailing not long after making the turn off Governor Island. We’re now punching directly into the wind and 1m to 1.5m waves. Speed has reduced to only 2 kts. Speak on radio to Des on Tasha who delights in telling me how calm it is in Honeymoon Bay.

Located two miles off Ila Point on the West Governor Island and heading NE. Flock of birds gather around the mast light scolding us for intruding on their privacy. Waves have moderated and we’ve picked up speed to around 3.5 kts. Conditions begin to ease more as we get further into the lee of the land to the east. Working to clear some more shoal areas to our north before making a last turn towards our proposed anchorage at Cape Talbot.

2330 hours: It’s been a slow run getting to our offshore waypoint and then easing in slowly towards the land. Am glad I have the knowledge this time that the depth shallows then deepens again as you head towards the beach and that it’s possible to anchor quite close in.

Drop the anchor in 6m of depth at position 13 degrees 48.62’S, 126 degrees 45.02E.  Our 19 mile trip has taken just over 7 hours but for the last hour we’ve been carefully and very slowly coming in on a bearing using the GPS. There’s a fairly strong current running, and even though its a neap tide I’d been forced to add another 5 degrees rudder to counter it.

Kind of eerie if not scary when moving at night so close to rocks. You can smell the land and hear the surf but not actually see it. You must rely on your instruments such as compass, GPS and depth sounder.  It can be a bit hard to do when your own human senses are alarming out.

It’s pitch black and we can hardly even see any land so we anchor a little bit further out than we probably need to. The anchor just drags again as usual when we try to set it using the motor in reverse so we just let it dig itself in. Take note the GPS position and monitor it for an hour or so before going forward and checking again. Even though we’re in the shelter of the land there is still a fair bit of wind pushing us around, so we’ll move closer in towards the beach tomorrow in daylight.

Sun 17/6/01

Overnight: Get up and check our position on the GPS several times during the night at 0110hrs, 0330hrs and 0540 hrs, but we hadn’t moved, apart from swinging around to the winds and tides.

0745 hours: Wind has been blowing an estimated 15 to 20 kts throughout the night moaning through the rigging. It hasn’t been restful with Lowana IV hobby horsing in the waves and straining at her anchor.

It’s actually quite cool too with the temperature inside the boat at 23 degrees C but it’s much colder outside with a wind chill. It’s usually quite calm at this time of day but the wind and swells have remained constant.

0800 hours: Weather forecast once again is not good. The high pressure system is still near Adelaide in South Australia causing fresh to strong winds here and up to 3m seas offshore. I’m not going out into that especially around Cape Londonderry, so we’ll have to hole up here until the system decides to move on eastwards.

0820 hours: Just looking outside the boat now and the winds are strong at around 25 kts. There are whitecaps everywhere. Yuk!

1000 hours: Decide to try and get a bit closer into shore out of this slop. Start to raise the anchor but it snags on a rock which brings us up short with a jolt. Every choppy wave coming through gives us another jolt. Delma noses the boat forward at an angle of 45 degrees and we manage to get the anchor away from the obstruction. Delma tells me later she could see a rocky outcrop quite clearly on the depth sounder as we passed over it.

Nose further in closer to the shore. The water gets deeper and we’re able to get to within about 300m from the beach. Drop the anchor in 5m of water well out of the chop and swells.  The wind is still driving through the rigging but we’re relatively comfortable to what we were. Now that we can relax a little bit better I’ve started to feel rather tired. This is a little frustrating for Delma who’s been seeing plenty of fish on the sounder and is all fired up to catch a few.  Instead we have some mangrove jack fillets that Paul gave us yesterday in exchange for yoghurt deserts Delma had made. Maybe we’ll go ashore later but will have to take care to watch for that crocodile in the small stream on the southern side.

1030 hours: A flock of about 16 brolgas fly over near the rocks on the beach. Dip fuel tank. We have 255 litres in the main tank plus 20 litres spare in a jerry container. Engine hours stand at 1017. There is 230 litres in the main freshwater tank plus 160 litres clean water in jerrys plus 65 litres of fresh bore-water for washing and emergency. Looking good.

1500 hours: Just get up from a nap to find Delma’s been busy cleaning the deck and sorting out our food stores. She’s also pulled apart the fishing tackle box and washed everything in there with clean water. Get into trouble straight away because I’d been greasing the anchor winch earlier. Seems I’d gotten some grease on my foot then walked it all  around the place.

Have a late lunch of saveloy sausages. It’s pretty hot sitting here. Can’t put the big shade canopy up due to the strong winds still blowing outside. Delma tells me it had lulled a bit around 1300hrs while I was resting but it’s picked up again.

1800 hours: Weather broadcast tells us there will be a slight easing of the high pressure system to 1030 hp and it’s moved to western Victoria. Winds are predicted fresh to strong with 2.5m seas and 20 to 30 kts offshore easing to 15 kts late afternoons and evening. Doesn’t sound like it’s easing too much to me.

1840 hours: Speak to Tasha by radio. They’ve moved into Mission Cove.

1845 hours: Contact Darwin Radio on the HF radio to give our position and tell them our intention to lay up here until tomorrow night.

1900 hours: Speak to Always on radio. Paul has fixed his exhaust and all is well. He plans to make for Governor Islands tomorrow.

1915 hours: Delma and I enjoy the sunset in the cockpit with a cool drink. It’s a nice 27 degrees Celsius inside the boat but still a bit brisk for us outside, bearing in mind that we are used to tropical heat conditions. Conditions have eased for the night.

2030 hours: Nice curry and rice for dinner.

Mon 18/6/01

0800 hours: The news that there is another high pressure system coming in from the west is slightly deflating. The first one is down to 1028 hp and is still only moving east very slowly. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get a weather window between the two systems and we may have to wait until both of them have passed through.

0900 hours: Finish a breakfast of cereal, toast, butter and vegemite. The wind has started already and is whistling through the rigging. Lowana IV is starting her little dance to the anchor once more even though we’re only 300m from the beach.  The wind is strong enough to kick up small waves. Tide is due to ebb at 0930 hours.

1230 hours: Paul Always tells us he is now anchored at the NW of West Governor Island. He has a couple of Honeymoon Bay campers with him and will be going back there later today.

Make a decision to head out for Koolama Bay. It’s going to be a long haul tonight because Butterfly Bay will be too affected by swells to use for a stopover anchorage. And I’m not sure I’d want to go in there in the dark anyway. Koolama Bay is further away but it will be much easier to navigate to and enter at night.

Unfortunately the tide will be against us but they are neap tides and won’t be as strong. The wind is coming through in gusts. I know it will be rough at the start and bound to be bumpy offshore out of the shelter of this bay. But if we move now we should be off Cape Londonderry at its calmest between 1700-1900 hours.

1300 hours: Have strung up the jackstays and checked the engine oils. Engine hours noted at 1019. Anchor coming up and the boat is squared away for sea.

1350 hours: Came out of the anchorage with no problems and are now off the NW point of Cape Talbot and it’s extensive reefs. As expected its quite blowy on the nose but the waves are not too bad yet. They’re about 1.5m but very choppy. It will get worse yet.

057 leave cape talbotLeft: The last view of the beach at our anchorage just behind Cape Talbot.

1445 hours: Position is due north of Cape Talbot and the going is difficult. We’re meeting 2m seas on big roller swells with surf on top. Have been holding a NNE course but will be changing more easterly now.

1900 hours: Still 6 miles from Cape Londonderry. Conditions have been fairly hard with seas around 2.5m with an occasional 3m or so wave hitting us. Even though the tide range is only about 1m the current really runs fast through here and is severely holding us back. We’ve been tacking back and forth across the wind and have been forced to apply an extra 10 degrees on the tillerpilot to allow for leeway. Can’t make any course higher than 150 degrees True on a southerly tack because of the tide, so we’re unable to make much progress to the east when on a port tack.

Put up the staysail for a while and get an extra half a knot but Lowana IV just gets overpowered with it up so take it down. In the last couple of hours I’ve bumped up the revs a bit and we’ve continued to make way with a reasonable 3 kts under motor with the reefed mainsail sheeted in hard. As I’d hoped the seas have dropped to between 1m and 1.5m with a moderate 15 kts wind on the nose. Hope we can get around the cape while these relatively better conditions last.

Saw a ketch to seaward about half an hour ago. No sails up and it showed an all round white light meaning that it was anchored. That couldn’t be right since they’re facing the wrong way for a start and at over 30m its pretty deep to be dropping an anchor. They must be moving.  Call on the VHF radio Ch16 several times but get no answer. Watch closely for a little while but there’s nothing to indicate they’ve got problems.

2030 hours: Have been making fairly good time except for these last few miles. Just one mile from the waypoint and we have to battle until the last. The seas have become very sloppy with the boat bucking up and down, pitching forward and down then up again. See a light off the starboard bow which must be another boat.

2100 hours: Reach our waypoint at last! Have a minor anxious moment with that other vessel just as we come up to our waypoint. It’s approaching directly towards us and I can see both its red and green lights glaring right at me. Call it on the radio and they identify themselves as the MV True North. This is a large cruise type boat working the Kimberley area.

We arrange for a green to green pass, meaning we’ll pass with each others vessel on the starboard side. Bear away to port a little bit to give her a bit more room away from the offshore reefs. We make the pass without incident but I continue on the same bearing for a little while to get out of this slop around the cape before turning southwards. Time to celebrate the moment with a cuppa tea.

Tues 19/6/01

0100 hours: Making good time with 10 miles to go to our waypoint off the entrance to Koolama Bay. Conditions have been much better since making our turn to the south. Delma has been on watch with the George the tillerpilot doing the work. As I take over the watch Leseuer Island light is off to port several miles back. We’re exactly on track in the inky blackness.

0415 hours: For the last couple of hours we’ve slowly converged with the land until it can be seen as a faint blacker mass off to port. It’s impossible to judge visually how far away the cliffs are but it certainly looks forbidding. The last few miles are pretty scary as we’re literally navigating by instruments only.  Once again we have to trust our instruments to tell us where we are but we don’t have any problems as we enter Koolama Bay and make our way towards a final waypoint set further inside.

Anchor has been set at position 13 degrees 56.40’S, 127 degrees19.63’E and I can turn the motor off. There is a nasty hissing noise coming from the engine and I’ll need to have a look at that tomorrow. Can see a couple of yachts anchored in here but they haven’t got any anchor lights on. It’s not a problem though because I was able to pick them up using a spotlight.

It had taken 15 hours to do the 50 miles. Not too bad considering the area we’d just been through with headwinds and tide against us. Even in hindsight I reckon we’d picked the best time available to do it. Conditions weren’t good as expected but not excessively bad around Cape Londonderry and that was the main thing.

The wind is moaning and we probably just got into the bay before it builds up again. We’re a little exposed where we are out in the open here but we’re in only 5m of water over good holding ground with 40m of chain out. Should be okay until the morning. Am not silly enough to try and get closer in towards the cliffs in the pitch dark or into the little cove just tucked in behind the easterly headland. Sit for a little while to watch that we’re holding position before getting into bed.

0800 hours: The weather forecast has worse to come. We have to face it that we might be holed up here for the rest of the week.

0930 hours: Dip the fuel tank. Have 225 litres of diesel plus 20 litres in a jerry for emergency spare. We’ve used 30 litres for the 50 mile trip from Cape Talbot so not bad after all. Run the fridges. Feeling a bit wooley headed this morning. Tired of course but headachy and have a runny nose. A cold is just what I need and Delma has a sore throat too.

That pulsating and hissing noise I heard last night from the motor is no longer evident. It was most likely just a little hotter than usual since I’d been running it at higher revs. I should have run it at idle for a bit longer before shutting it down.

The wind is really powering today. Stronger than any we’ve had so far and really moaning through the rigging. There are two other yachts in the bay nearby. Heard them talking on the radio. They’re the Third Horizon and Ferrocity. The tourist vessel Coral Princess is also anchored back near the eastern headland at the entrance. There’s a group of tourists heading off in a small inflatable boat across the windswept waters of the bay to explore one of the small coves over on the western side. Later on they head across the sandbar and up the river itself.

Afternoon: Another yacht Dog On Cat enters the bay and is speaking on the radio to another boat called Applejack, which is apparently anchored just inside the mouth of the river. Dog on Cat is a catamaran and with its shallow draught is able to go straight over the bar and into the river.  Applejack mentions it’s very blowy up inside the river as well.

058 bumpy anchorageRight:  This is what the water was like in our anchorage even though sheltered behind cliffs. It’s still quite choppy.

1630 hours: Move from our exposed position and drop anchor in 5.5m depth in the little sandy cove down at the eastern entrance of the bay. Coral Princess has gone from here. This spot is much more protected by the cliffs and out of the worst of the sloppy water. It’ll be much more civilised if a little boring while waiting out the weather here.

1700 hours:. Wind has continued to moan all day, gusting to an estimated 40 kts but has calmed down now as usual. Having a cold drink in the cockpit. Both of us feeling a bit bushed. Delma has been sleeping on and off all day but I haven’t been able to. Lots of fish activity around the edges of our little cove.

Waiting, waiting …

Weds 20/6/01

0345 hours: Wake to a rocking motion and get up to check we’re not drifting. All okay, just swinging at the anchor. Wind has piped up again which is a bit unusual for this time of day and is coming in bursts. Set an anchor alarm on the GPS at 0.02 miles. If our position changes by more than this the GPS will start beeping. Also set the depth sounder for low water and deep water so that it will start alarming if we start moving. Climb into the quarter berth to be near the alarms.

Steel hulls magnify the slightest noise. Spend the next half hour hunting down a persistent creaking noise with no luck. Get back into bed. Now the kettle starts clanking against the metal rails fiddles on the stove as Lowana IV rocks harder in the building wind.

0800 hours: This marks the day we’d planned to return home from Seaplane Bay further to the SE along the coast. The place is named because of two German aviators who crashed there in the 1930’s. They’d been eventually rescued by a land based search party believed to be from Pago Mission after having been spotted by an aboriginal. The German Government had presented an organ to the mission church and ironically, anecdotally the organ was damaged by Japanese aircraft during WW2.

Weather forecast is gloomy until at least Sunday. Very cloudy day out there today which just adds to the gloom. In the daylight we can see how much we are protected in behind the bluff in our little cove. Even so we’re still bumping about a fair bit. The sea further out in the bay is almost a carpet of whitecaps. Big waves bash into the base of the cliffs opposite with some sending spray right up to the top.

I spare a thought for the other two boats further up in the bay because they’re in a much more exposed position. Can’t see them though since they’re around a bend.

We’ve got to get word out about our position if possible. Unable to contact Darwin Radio so they’ll probably still have us listed as being at Cape Talbot. Our plan for now is to wait for a couple more days and hopefully the winds will abate enough for us to brave the open water.  The forecasts have been consistent for 30 kts winds in the mornings with gusts exceeding that by up to 40 percent.

We’d experienced this yesterday so it must be really nasty outside in open water. Lowana IV does not sail very well to windward under strong wind conditions. She gets overpowered and blown off course due to her shallow draught. But on the bright side she’s very seaworthy, and a survivor too having been in gales and up to 6m seas before.

1030 hours: Another nasty day. Worse than yesterday if anything. Gusts laying the boat over and swinging her around. Rig the big danforth anchor ready to throw out if we start to drag on the current anchor. Cloud cover has thickened. No sunlight. Grey day. Reading books.

1130 hours: Have a chat with Dennis on Third Horizon and share what knowledge I have about the sandbar and entrance to the river. Conditions are still yucky.

1145 hours: Speak to Ian and Judy Potter of Ferrocity. Ian offers us the use of his satphone if we want to pass any messages to Darwin. The offer is greatly appreciated.

While talking to Ian he paints a picture of what it must be like outside.  While crossing the gulf there’d been following seas as high as the lower spreaders on his mizzen mast. They’d broken a whisker pole and their yankee jib had been shredded. A yankee jib is one which is shaped to allow large waves to pass underneath it when the boat is leaning over under sail. And they’d also taken water into the cockpit.  One of the drain hoses from the cockpit had come off so the water had drained straight into the boat.

1230 hours: Make contact with Darwin Radio on the HF radio and request a telephone patch to our next door neighbour back in Darwin. He agrees to pass a message about us being delayed to both our daughters, Delma’s Mum and both our work places. The message is simply ‘Delayed by bad weather in W.A. at King George River. Unknown return date’. We both feel much better about our forced delay knowing loved ones won’t be over-concerned.

1800 hours:. No change to the weather forecast. Speak to Tasha on our arranged sked over HF radio. They’re at West Bay and conditions are apparently better there than here.

Speak with Ian of Ferrocity later on who tells us the Osprey is leaving Darwin on Saturday. The word there is that this system will clear up by then. Osprey is another cruising boat that recently had a hard time trying to get to Indonesia. She’d been bashed about bad enough that she had to return to Darwin.

Both Ferrocity and Third Horizon are going to attack the sandbar for access to the river early tomorrow morning. The tide will be at its highest then.

1930 hours: Just turned dark and conditions are nice and calm now.  The boat is just rocking a little bit in the slop left over from the day. Enjoy this while we can. Not quite so cool tonight.

2330 hours: Get up to check that persistent rattle again. Still can’t find it. Lash down everything in sight. Notice another vessel’s light outside the bay to the NNW coming from the direction of Cape Londonderry. Watch as it approaches our little cove where we’re anchored. Call it on the VHF radio to ensure it’s seen our anchor light and are assured we’d been spotted. This vessel identifies itself as Kimberley Escape which is another quite large tourist vessel big enough to sport 3 dinghies hanging on a rack at the stern. After a little while they anchor up in deeper water away from us.

Thurs 21/6/01

0800 hours: An uneventful night although another cloudy day. It’s still blowy with just a couple of strong gusts. Forecast doesn’t give us much hope for change. In fact there are now gale force warnings to our west associated with the second high pressure system. Hope these don’t reach us here.

1100 hours: Sun has been trying to peep out among the clouds most of the morning and we’ve actually had a few snatches of welcome sunshine. Unfortunately it’s closed in again drab like yesterday and the wind has come on strong again. Surprising how a little bit of sun can lift the spirits and drop you when it goes.

Kimberley Escape has made its way over the bar into the river. Their next destination after they come out will be the Berkeley River further to the SE in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf towards Wyndham.

1230 hours: Feeling the odd spit of rain. Strong winds are one thing, but rain and cold are a nuisance adding to the tedium of waiting for a weather window. Had thought earlier that we might as well go into the river but the tide has gone out too far now to attempt the sandbar crossing.

Looking for things to do around the boat but there isn’t much besides reading books. Put some gap filler into a new crack in the floor of the red dinghy. Delma’s doing some washing. A cassette tape starts acting funny in the player and as it’s being removed it wraps itself up in the inner workings. So now we can’t even play any music old as it is.

1430 hours: Decide to go ashore despite the choppy water. Pump up the inflatable and motor over to the beach. Don’t like the look of Lowana IV bouncing about and swinging around out there. The tide is out. Climb over rocks. Find some very small oysters but not worth bothering with. Climb the hill on the eastern entrance and look out over the gulf. Walk around aimlessly for a while longer.

060 waiting 061 the way home
Taking a quick opportunity to get ashore and stretch the legs until it starts blowing again. Day after day after day just waiting for clear weather. Standing on the cliffs looking back NW towards home, past Cape Rulhieres at the right.Photos taken at relatively calm periods.

1630 hours: Return to Lowana IV. Wind has picked up if anything and it’s quite cool, so it’s good to get back inside. Have a cuppa tea. Delma later does a bit of surgery on the cassette player. Manages to extract the torn tape and get the player working again.

1800 hours: No change in the weather forecast except that conditions are expected to ease on Sunday. Decide to go into the river tomorrow morning for something to do if not for anything else. It still seems to be trying to rain.

Have a simple sundowners of diet coke. Speak briefly with Tasha on our radio sked. They’ve got battery problems and are unable to chat. Try to talk to Ferrocity but reception is intermittent. I don’t think they went into the river today after all. Fairly depressing just waiting here with nothing to do.

Lamb chops for dinner. Yum. Too cold to have a bucket wash topsides so just use some wet wipes on the face, hands, armpits and unmentionable bits.

Fri 22/6/01

0130 hours: Half asleep and hear a noise. No idea what it is so get up to investigate. It’s been reasonably calm up until now but the winds have kicked in quite strong once again. Can see the lights of a fairly big boat out in the bay but can’t make it out. Notice that my kerosene anchor light lamp has blown out so quickly relight it.

0530 hours: The anchor alarm goes off. Lowana IV is swinging fairly quickly around on her anchor. Tide is pushing her back into the bay against the wind so it must be a strong tide given the strength of the wind. Not surprised by the strength of the tide though. There’d been a new moon last night and this would be the top of the spring tide. The sky is lightening to the east.  Can see some stars so there’s a promise of a bit of sun later.

Reset the alarm but it keeps sounding off, obviously confused by all the constant movement. Then the depth sounder goes off showing zero depth.  Throw a lead line over the side to double check but there’s plenty of water under us.  I suspect the transducer might have been brushed by a bit of seaweed floating by.

Climb back into the quarter berth to be close to the alarms but there aren’t any more. Even so it’s not very restful with long bursts of wind estimated at 40 kts or more. At least the GPS coordinates keep coming back to the same position so we’re not actually moving, just swinging around on our chain.

0800 hours: No change to the weather forecast. Gales continue to lash the coast to the west of us. A fishing trawler has anchored only about 100m away.  The other vessel I’d seen earlier is a navy patrol boat. They’ve probably came in to get a bit of shelter from the seas outside which are currently running 2.5m seas on a 2.5m swell. That makes for the odd nasty rogue waves.

Cloud cover is fairly consistent but not thick and patches of blue sky peek through. Looks better than yesterday anyway. The tide is really high this morning. Rocks that are usually exposed on the sandy beach are completely covered.

0900 hours: Breakfast of soda bread, fried tomato, onion and eggs. The tomatoes have lasted well. They’d been bought at a just ripening stage, placed onto cardboard egg cartons and stored in a cooler bag low down in the hull. We’re using the last of them today and they’re delicious.  We’d put our eggs into plastic egg trays so they’d be protected.

Our home made soda bread is still quite edible up to about 3 days but it does start to get a bit dry. We just add a little butter and it’s okay. At least it’s quicker and easier to make than bread.

0930 hours: Ferrocity calls on the radio. They’re still outside the river in the bay and had some problems yesterday with a starter motor.  Third Horizon had been working on an anchor winch. Both had spent most of the day working on their respective problems.

There’s too much tide run and wind to attempt a sandbar crossing right now so we’ll wait a couple of hours. Thankfully the sun keeps peeping through the clouds occasionally and we can feels its warmth.

1045 hours: Kimberley Escape is back out in the bay heading towards the entrance. I hadn’t noticed it being engaged in satisfying an urge of nature over the side when I look up. Several people are lined on the rails with binoculars staring back at me. can’t they look at something else? Quickly cover up and retreat back into the cockpit. As the boat starts rounding the seaward point she starts punching heavily into the waves.

We both set about cleaning the galley and saloon areas. After that Delma begins putting furniture polish onto anything standing still long enough. Lowana IV resumes its rich boatey smell again.

1100 hours: A Coastwatch aircraft flies by and challenges us. They estimate conditions outside at 3m swells and 30 kts of wind so we’ll just stay here. The fishing trawler is the FV Surefire. Don’t know the name of the navy patrol boat but they are probably doing coastal patrols looking for illegal immigrants of which there have been plenty lately, or else fishing or other illegal activities such as smuggling.

062 porthole viewRight: Attempt to photograph a fishing trawler that came inside the bay for a bit of shelter. Not easy to focus because of movement of our boat. The trawler dragged it’s anchor a couple of times quite near to us.

1130 hours: Contact the patrol boat on radio and request a wind speed reading.  She identifies herself as HMAS Gawler and advises that winds are currently 30 kts with gusts to 38 kts inside the bay. The conditions don’t seem as bad now as they had been earlier before dawn so it was probably gusting over 40 kts or more then.

1500 hours: The day has become a reasonably sunny one but the wind continues particularly strong. The fishing trawler drags its anchor about 100m or so while we watch closely. Thankfully it drifts parallel to us so we aren’t  in any danger of a collision – this time. Notice that the patrol boat has departed and not sure what time it left.

I’d wanted to get into the river today but with the wind and outgoing tide it wouldn’t have been especially safe to try. Watch the trawler slowly dragging it’s anchor again until it ends up abreast of us only about 50m away.

1700 hours: The trawler has taken in it’s anchor and is heading back out to sea where it wanders back and forth off the entrance for about half an hour before disappearing towards Cape Londonderry.

The wind is usually abating by this time but certainly doesn’t seem to want to slacken off tonight. A weather front has gone over us marked by a strong line of thick clouds and clear sky behind. It might mean either stronger or weaker winds to come but will just have to wait to find out.

1800 hours: Nothing promising on the forecast until after Sunday. The sky has mostly cleared of cloud which makes a nice change. Thankfully the wind has calmed down at last but is still making its presence felt.

2115 hours: Delma and I have been playing a card game of Solitaire taking it in turns. The night has turned nice except that it’s black as coal dust out there. Gentle breeze. Stars out. Quite nice.

Sat 23/6/01

0750 hours: Last night was a much better night than we’ve been getting. The winds were much weaker with odd puffs to about 10 kts and occasional gust or two at around 15 kts. The bay water is relatively calm. Sky is clear and we have sunshine.

Third Horizon tells us they’re heading up the river. I can see them coming out past the point towards the centre of the bay, before turning south towards the sandbar and the entrance to the river.

0800 hours: Ferrocity heads out into the bay as well. Have been re-considering whether we should stay or go upriver as well. I’ve definitely had enough here so decide we’ll make the move later on and catch up with these people. Besides, spending a day up there will allow the seas offshore a chance to settle down before we tackle them.

Weather conditions might seem better here but the weather forecast continues to be gloomy as ever.

0830 hours: The wind suddenly starts to pick up and it galvanises me to get underway.  Will finish breakfast and a cup of tea later because we have to make our move quickly while we still can.  It becomes a scramble to get ready.

0845 hours: Seas already picking up under pressure of the wind as the anchor comes up and we head off for the river entrance. Whitecaps are everywhere already outside in the bay.

0900 hours: The going is hard and I’m wishing I’d not been fooled by the calm conditions earlier. There are 1m waves and spray coming over the bow being whipped clear across the cockpit forcing us to duck. Sometimes we’re a little bit too slow and cop an invigorating slap of saltwater on the face. Even with the revs on the motor pushed up we’re still only pulling 2 kts as we work towards the entrance.

059  kgr bar againLeft: Heading back inside the King George River again. It’s very windy making it a bit of a struggle to get in there across the sand bar.

0950 hours: Through the entrance and turning up into the river proper. It’s been a slow process going over the sandbar but at least there was plenty of water over it.

The hard slog continues against the tide stream which narrows at the entrance and whips through the narrow gap. We can barely make between 1 or 2 kts. After the entrance the river widens appreciably and there are more underwater sand banks for around half a mile. Deliberately make for the shallower water where the tide stream is not quite so hard. Not that it makes much difference. This part of the river is more exposed to the wind and we face very slow progress copping the full brunt of it.

1145 hours: As we reach the eastern arm down near the entrance we pass Opal Shell. The skipper comes out to wave after being alerted by a barking black poodle.

Make our way past the two catamarans Dog On Cat and Apple Jack. Exchange greetings with Dog On Cat as we pass. Tell the skipper that we’re waiting for a weather window to get back to Darwin. He responds by saying there’s a small one coming but is being followed by another high pressure system. Just what we need.

Finally make it to the head of the river with conditions progressively getting easier as we pushed further in. Ferrocity and Third Horizon are already there enjoying the scenery but haven’t anchored yet. Drop mine in 6m of water.

Now that we’re here it’s time to reflect on our timetable.  We hadn’t originally intended coming back into this river but at least we should be more comfortable from those damned winds and whipped seas.  Plus there’s some company for a while.

1500 hours: Shelter from the winds is not going to happen. Strong blasts of wind funnel up the gorge alternating with periods of calm. This wind is frustrating and depressing. I fear we’re sinking into a lethargy that will take an effort to snap out of.

The people off  Third Horizon had gone ashore earlier to climb to the top of the falls but the skipper Dennis remained with his boat. They’d asked us if we wanted to go but we declined.

1700 hours: Although its been a sunny day we’ve continued to be lashed by the strong winds and it hasn’t been much fun. I’m impressed with Delma’s stiff upper lip attitude but the situation has caught up finally with her. One of our daughters lives in Perth but has returned to Darwin for a friends wedding. We haven’t seen her for 12 months and were due to get back to Darwin either today or tomorrow. Now it looks like we won’t be able to get back in time. Delma is of course feeling very down. Help her with some washing to try and keep her mind off it.

1730 hours: Ian and Judy from Ferrocity invite us over for sundowners. Delma grabs some nibblies and makes up a vodka and orange mix. Drop the red dinghy ready to go over there and have a bit of a clean up.

1800 hours: Over on Ferrocity we meet Dennis and Kitty from Third Horizon with their crew Chris and Andrew. We enjoy a very nice sociable chat and drinkies. I think it did much to revive Delma’s sinking spirits.

2030 hours: Return to Lowana IV and sling the dinghy up back up onto the davits but not secure it. Still has a leak.

2200 hours: Listen to the weather broadcast and get the first inkling of a weather window. Conditions are expected to ease after 18 to 24 hours. Still need to give the offshore seas time to settle though.

Sun 24/6/01

0800 hours: The wind warning is still current but expected to ease in the next 12 hours. Heartening news. Decide to stay here at the falls for another day and leave tomorrow after the weather broadcast. Depending on what it says we’ll decide whether to continue on or wait in the bay a bit longer.

Lovely morning. Very light breeze. Sun nice and warm. Clear sky. We go fishing and lose 3 lures due to heavy strikes but no fish come into the boat. Meet up with Ian and Judy in their dinghy. They’ve just had a shower at the little waterfall and Judy say’s it’s beautiful. They push on to do some fishing themselves.

We motor around the base of the 2 main waterfalls enjoying the scenery and weather. The falls are definitely not running as hard as they had been a couple of weeks ago. Stop by Third Horizon for a quick chat.

1045 hours: Back on Lowana IV and hoist the dinghy since the leak is pretty bad now. I’d had to keep my foot on the hole while we were fishing. It’s become so bad that the only way to properly fix it now is by fibreglassing, and it would need at least a couple of days to dry before doing that.

Take down the washing and have some breakfast. Delma seems to be feeling a bit more relaxed today.

1700 hours: Easy day aboard. Do little jobs. Read and take a nap. Get ready for our trip. Top up the main water tank and store the empty jerries below. Lowana IV is sitting a little down by the stern so we’ll put the red dinghy up on the foredeck later. Dip the fuel tank. We’ve got 205 litres in the main tank plus the 20 litres emergency in a spare jerry. Change the engine oil and filter. Delma makes some bread rolls and bread.

The wind has been as strong as yesterday. Now that the time to make a decision to go is near I am getting a little anxious. There are still forecasts of 3m swells with up to 3m seas on top. That is big seas in anyone’s language, and of course we’re still getting strong winds even here in the gorge where you wouldn’t expect any to be.

1920 hours: We are not happy campers. Our expected easing of conditons on the weather forecast doesn’t happen. It’s been prolonged another 48 hours and the wind warning is still current. Our only consolation is that the seas and swell has dropped marginally but the winds are as strong as ever. There are times I guess in every cruising yachties lives where the ‘For Sale’ sign appears large in their thinking about their boat. Right now it’s bordered in neon lights.

I’ve been having problems with the oil pressure alarm going off again. I’m certain it’s an electrical fault but haven’t been able to isolate it yet. It’s best not to be too casual about these things. We don’t want to end up with a cooked motor. That’s the last thing we want.

Bring the red dinghy alongside and lift it onto the bow. As we work it into position Delma kicks her sore toe again  giving her up to 5 minutes of agony. Eventually she shakes her head, gives a brave little laugh and says it can only get better … I hope so.

Small sliver of moon tonight and it’s calm again at last after the dying gusts finished only about half an hour ago. Having the last of our lamb chops for dinner tonight and the freezer will be empty except for a few vegetables and water bottles.

2000 hours: Have our dinner then we play cards until 2200 hours.

Roughing It Home

map 10 return leg
Chart of return leg to Darwin
(route approximate)

Mon 25/6/01

0800 hours: Wind warning is still in effect but expected to moderate in 6 to 12 hours from Kuri Bay to Cape Fourcroy which is our region. Conditions Cape Fourcroy to Groote Island including Darwin are expected to persist for 48 hours. This last stretch happens to be our last leg home but it should be okay by the time we get there. Decide to head down river and poke our nose out the front of the bay to see what’s what.

Beautiful morning. Very faint westerly breeze here at the waterfalls but that of course will change.

0830 hours: Anchor up and motoring on our way towards the river mouth. Both Third Horizon and Ferrocity call with best wishes for our trip. Note down the engines hours at 1044.

1015 hours: Uneventful trip down the river. Opal Shell, Dog On Cat and Apple Jack are anchored just inside the entrance.  They both weigh anchor and fall in behind as we make our way through the entrance and safely across the sandbar.

Conditions are nothing like the other day when we came in. The winds are fresh but the waves are not so big. Plenty of whitecaps in the bay but better weather definitely looks promising. It’s decision time.  Do we anchor up for another day or head towards home?

1045 hours: Reach the entrance to the bay with fresh following SE winds. The seas inside the bay are about 1.5m which isn’t so bad. Decide to keep going a bit further outside the bay to check the outside conditions.  Raise and sheet the mainsail and put in 2 reefs.

1130 hours: Arrive at a point just 1 mile from our waypoint off Cape Rulhieres. As expected the seas are very lumpy but we’re still making about 2 kts over the ground in a NNE direction. Continue on.

063  heading outLeft: Outside the entrance of Koolama Bay and heading home. The water is well churned up but worse is to come.

1200 hours: Reach waypoint position of 13 degrees 52’, 127 degrees 20’E. Our CMG – Course Made Good has been NNE on 036 degrees True and our average speed has been 2 kts. Given the conditions this is better than expected and I expect it should improve as we draw further away from the cape. There is also the promise of better weather coming so we make the decision to keep on going.

1500 hours: Continuing to motor-sail and over the last 2 hours we’ve been able to come around 20 degrees to starboard towards home, and still making around 2 kts on average. This has brought us pretty much on course for our interim waypoint situated on a rhumb line directly to Fish Reef light.

There are much bigger swells and very sloppy seas on top of them, but there doesn’t appear to be quite as many whitecaps. Perhaps it will moderate as it’s been forecast to do after all. Let’s hope so.

1520 hours: The seas have become rough and confused again. Travelling over a wide stretch of dirty muddy water. We’re in roughly 65m depth so it must be sediment swept by the tide from a relatively shallower area to the SE.

1800 hours: Cape Rulhieres is 18 miles behind. At position 13 degrees 48’S, 127 degrees 34’E. CMG has been ENE at 085 degrees True with average speed of 3.6 kts. That’s reasonable. A tidal run setting to the SE is helping to push us along quite well in the slop. Unable to get any reception on the HF radio so miss the weather forecast.

Tues 26/6/01

0200 hours: Position 13 degrees 41’S, 127 degrees 57’E. CMG has been ENE at 068 degrees True, speed at 2.75 kts and DMG – Distance Made Good has been 22 miles. Feeling the effects of the tide which is now setting to the NW and slowing us down, as well as pushing us a little sideways further to the north. Sea and wind conditions are still rough but not as bad as earlier during the day.

0300 hours: There are lights of a vessel off our starboard side heading SW. Call it on radio but get no response. Seas still bumpy but no real problem. Just a little uncomfortable.

0400 hours: See two more vessels off our starboard side going SW. Call them and Mediocrity answers. They’re travelling in company with Jezebel and we learn the wind warning has been cancelled.  Expected winds are E to SE at 15 to 25 kts and easing inshore during the afternoons and evenings. This is excellent news and raises our spirits.

0530 hours: Making reasonable progress between 3 to 3.5 kts but the seas are getting boisterous again.

0600 hours: Taking greenies over the bow with lots of spray coming over the cockpit and dripping off the mainsail all over us. Put the small canopy tarp over the cockpit. It’s quite cold even though I’m wearing a jumper, waterproof jacket and trousers.

0800 hours: Still no radio reception. Looks like the HF radio has gone on the blink. Our position is 13 degrees 41’S, 128 degrees 18’E. CMG 090 degrees True, DMG 20miles since last plot, speed 3.3 kts. This puts us 60 miles NE of Cape Rulhieres and it’s been very slow, very rough going. During the last 6 hours we’ve managed to go due east. This suites me as that gets us into the lee of the land on the other side that much quicker.

Am concerned about whether we’ll have enough fuel. I need to make an allowance of 40-60 litres of fuel in the main tank, otherwise we could start taking air into the diesel motor as the low fuel in the tanks sloshes about. If we strike rough weather around the Cape Fourcroy area we’re going to have to push the motor a bit harder to get through there against the big tide runs. And it can be an especially nasty area as I found out once before.

0900 hours: It’s severely rough. One of the wall cupboard door hinges has pulled out of the woodwork under pressure of the contents inside. Delma is feeling a bit sick but nevertheless helps to put the contents into a locker before I nail the hinge back on. It’s all I can do for now.

I’ve seen some rough water before but this is pretty much as bad as any I’ve been through. We’re right out in the middle of the gulf.  There’s no protection and no choice but to keep plugging on. We’re feeling the full brunt of unrestrained wind and seas but at least we are making some progress forward.

Some dolphins have been playing around in the surf off the bow and right beside the boat. They’ve been there off and on all during the morning.

1200 hours: Seas are horrendous. The dinghy came loose on the foredeck earlier so had to spend about half an hour getting it back into position and lashing it down. An acrobatic act.

Agonisingly slow progress. Every couple of hours represents about 1 centimetre or half an inch on the chart. There’s a lot of empty chart space left yet. Can only hope it calms down enough to that we can sail and save some fuel. With the radio out of action we don’t know what to expect either. Have to assume it’s going to continue like this so will just try to get eastwards as much as possible. Will worry about getting back up towards Fish Reef later.

1530 hours: Thankfully conditions have eased somewhat at least enough to try sailing. Shake out the reefs in the mainsail and roll out the full headsail. Speed between 2.5 to 3 kts on an ENE course of 060 degrees True. That’s more than good enough and turn the motor off. We’re still heading more easterly away from our waypoint but expect the winds should shift when we get closer to land over there and allow us to sail more northerly to Fish Reef.

1730 hours: Position 13 degrees 25.60’S, 128 degrees 44.25’S. CMG 074 degrees True. DMG 7 miles. Speed 3.5 kts. Sailing has been good and pleasant under full sails. At last we’re making good progress in the right direction.

2300 hours: Position 13 degrees 22’S, 129 degrees 08’E. CMG 081 degrees True. DMG 23 miles. Speed 4.2 kts. Lovely bright quarter moon. Sailing is wonderful at a steady 4.2 kts. Have hardly touched the sails and have let George the tillerpilot do all the steering. However the wind has started to pick up so put in a single reef and shorten the headsail. Sails are nicely balanced and George not working hard at all.

Weds 27/6/01

0400 hours: Position 13 degrees 12.48’S, 129 degrees 24.84’E. CMG 060 degrees True. DMG 19 miles. Speed 3.8 kts. Still sailing well. This is making up for the bad bits. Moon went down at 2330 hours.

0500 hours: Wind picking up some more. Wake Delma and put in the third and final reef. This results in too much lee helm and can’t get the sails balanced.  Lee helm occurs when there’s too much wind pressure on the headsail and if the tiller is not held the boat will fall away from the wind. Unfortunately if I put up more mainsail the wind overpowers the boat and lays it too far over to the side. Frustrating. Back to motor-sailing. Furl the headsail and sheet in the mainsail.

0700 hours: Conditions haven’t turned out as bad as I expected them to be. Still heading easterly towards Native Point on the NW coast of the Cox Peninsula. There’s a caravan and camping ground there called the Lodge of Dundee and we’ll be able to get more diesel fuel if absolutely necessary. Waypoint off Fish Reef light is 63 miles away. Big red sun coming up.

0730 hours: Better looking day than yesterday. Put the sails back up and turn the motor off.

1000 hours: Position 13 degrees 03.54’S, 129 degrees 42.62’E.

1100 hours: Position 13 degrees 01.15’S, 129 degrees 43.85’E. CMG 042 degrees True. Wind sprung up during the morning but no where near as bad as yesterday, so we double reefed the sails and continued sailing. If we can make the Fish Reef light under sail we’ll have enough fuel to push around the tidal areas off Bynoe Harbour and the fickle Charles Point areas. Averaging about 3 kts overall.

1315 hours: Have been hearing the faint booms of gunfire in the distance for some time.  Must be a naval exercise going on out there.

Delma is just about to take a shower in the cockpit when a thunderous noise startles both of us. A RAAF fighter plane roars over Lowana IV at mast height and as we look up it’s pulling back sharply up into the sky. No warning. These things fly so fast you don’t hear them approach. In an unthinking reaction I snatch the radio microphone, “Hope you got a good look you bastard!”  as he disappears towards the horizon.  He didn’t respond. Reckon we might have been target practice … or just plain fun for the pilot. Fish Reef light is 43 miles away.

1330 hours: The weather is going from one extreme to the other. Hardly much wind at all now. Struggling to make way. Sails flapping around. Barely able to make 2 kts. Turn motor on. Check fuel and we have roughly 145 litres but hard to measure exactly when underway as the fuel slops around in the tank. Might be less. Engine hours at 1079.1.

064 motoringRight: On the last day the wind drops away forcing us to motor. But at least it’s pleasant. A nice change from being bashed around.

1400 hours: It’s hot! No air or breeze. Decide to use some of our spare ‘fresh’ bore-water from Honeymoon Bay for a tub to try and liven up a bit. Both of us are tired. Delma has been searching for her towel until I remember using it to pack one of the cupboards in the rough seas. Feels so much better after having a wash with the fresh water.

1630 hours: Sea calm. Not a breath of air. Still motoring at 4.9 kts and making good time. Waypoint is 20 miles away. Did I say it was hot?

1830 hours: Have sundowners of smoked oysters and mussels on dry savoury biscuits. Watch our last sunset on this cruise. The afternoon has been really pleasant motoring along on a calm sea for a change. See a navy patrol boat off to port in the  smoky haze on the horizon. Assume they’d probably the ones towing a target for the fighter pilot who buzzed us earlier.

065  last sunsetLeft: In the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf off the western coast of the NT. The wind has dropped during the day. We’ll be home tomorrow. This is the last sunset for this trip.

2100 hours: Reach our long awaited waypoint off Fish Reef light. The light is to the NE and we’ll need to keep an eye on it in case the currents sweep us toward it. Conditions are still. Flag is hanging limp at the stern.

2315 hours: Pass along the outside of the shoals and the reefs off the western side of the Cox Peninsula and make our last turn past the light. Conditions are still calm. Lot of boat activity around but nothing close to us. Can see the glow of a bushfire off to the SE.

Thurs 28/6/01

0050 hours: Moving across the gap between Fish Reef and the Charles Point light. Wind blows up suddenly quite strong from the SW. Almost like a farewell shove. Luckily we’d reefed the mainsail earlier. It gets  a bit rocky and rolly but at least we’re going with it this time instead of against it. Set a new waypoint a little further out to seawards off Charles Point. There are extensive reefs around there and it can get quite nasty when the weather turns bad. The tide is running against us so we have a wind on tide situation. Even with a tailwind we’re only getting 3.5 kts.

0150 hours: As we get further east the conditions ease more. Delma wakes me up concerned about all the lights everywhere. There’s a few fishing trawlers around but most of the lights mark the main shipping channel lights into Darwin Harbour. She’s never done a night entrance into it before and it can be a bit confusing for the first time.

0250 hours: On the last leg across the top of the Cox Peninsula. As we start to get near to the harbour a fishing trawler is heading on a converging course with us. A quick call on the radio confirms that he’s seen us and he passes by without incident.

0600 hours: Approaching the Number 6 buoy marking the entrance to Darwin Harbour. I’ve slowed us down to allow the tide to push us into Darwin Harbour. There’s a bit of time to spend anyway before the tide has risen enough to let us back into the Tipperary Marina lock inside Sadgroves Creek.

066 arrive darwinRight: It’s early morning as we enter Darwin Harbour. The sun is coming up over Fanny Bay.

0630 hours: A couple of small recreational dinghy fishing boats are heading offshore to some fishing grounds in the early light. They deviate off course to come close by and give a wave.

0700 hours: Delma’s cleaning out the fridges and galley. Clothes are also being sorted to take ashore. While she’s doing that I’m sorting stuff out topsides and in the wheelhouse.

0745 hours: Contact Peter Dermoudy the Lockmaster of the Tipperary Marina to arrange access inside to our berth.

0815 hours: Enter the lock. Peter tells us he’s reserved my usual position and we make straight for it.

0830 hours: As we berth Lowana IV several inquisitive boat owners come over to welcome us and find out about our trip. Cups of coffee all around.

0930 hours: There’s a family reunion as our daughter from Perth comes down to the marina. Hugs and kisses. Delma’s day is made after all the despondency at the thought of missing her. Luckily she can stay in Darwin for an extra few days.

1000 hours: Dip the fuel. Have 140 litres in the main tank still. Surprised by that considering the constant motoring since yesterday afternoon. Give Lowana IV a fresh water hose off . She’s managed the trip in good shape with minimal damage and proven once again what a solid seaworthy boat she is. There are a few slight surface rust bleeds that will need attending to later. Give her a fond silent farewell and leave her to rest for now. Perhaps I won’t sell her after all …

067 till next timeLeft: It’s nice to be home again. All our reception visitors have now left. Lowana has just had a quick clean up at this stage.

Load clothes, rubbish and some perishable food into our car which our daughters boyfriend had driven down for us. Take off for home and the tedium of starting work again on the morrow.

First thing we do when we get home is to have a HOT shower. Two days later whenever we stood still long enough we ‘d could still find ourselves swaying around like drunks.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s