2003 Darwin to Croker Island NT

September 2003
A photo-journal of a sailing voyage
from Darwin to Croker Island, NT

Map 1 Voyage Area

Map 1: Voyage area from Darwin to Croker Island, NT

This story follows the journey of my wife Delma and I when we travelled from Darwin to Croker Island of the Northern Territory in Australia, via the historic Cobourg Peninsula.

These are the journal entries and photographs taken at the time.

01 Lowana IVLowana IV under sail on Darwin Harbour.
Delma standing at the bow, Russ on the tiller
back in the cockpit.

Sat/Sun – 13/14 Sep 03

Last week I’d taken our yacht Lowana IV into the careening poles at DBCYC – Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club, and gave her hull a wash down. Broke a stanchion in the process which our good friend Fred from Nanbeth fixed. His wife Beth has sewn new v-berth cushion covers for us.

Serviced the motor – oil changed, filters changed and fuel bled. The inflatable rubber ducky dinghy required lots of patches to cover bits that had perished during the last Wet Season. The gearbox of the outboard motor was blocked and had to be pulled apart. Found a bit of rubber seal blocking the passage of oil inside.

This week the the liferaft has been serviced. Rust patches on deck fixed. Painting completed to a presentable stage. The old 10 channel HF radio has been replaced and radio calling schedules have been arranged with Allen Riches of Brunei Bay Radio. Relatives have been emailed advising how to contact Brunei Bay Radio should they wish to pass a message.

Back at our house we’ve been getting a new front fence put up and it’s been causing delays. Contractor has cut a water pipe three separate times putting our departure timetable on hold.

Took Booze the pet cat out to the Cattery on Sunday. Today our non-perishable stores are being brought on board. Delma “bombs” the house with cockroach pesticide and makes arrangements with the neighbours to collect our mail, water the garden and feed the pet fish in the ponds. Pet bird Stolly is taken to daughter Karen’s place to be looked after.

Mon 15 Sep 03

Have some morning tea with friends. Last minute shopping and house cleaning. Take frozen food down to the boat and pack the boat freezer and fridge. Pick up fresh fruit and veges and take them down to the boat as well. Head off home, take a shower then drive down to the boat. The new fence is still being put in so Delma has to stay at home to finalise things there.

1700: Last minute stowage of stores and other stuff, fill the water tanks, raise and stow the dinghy.

1800: Finally get out of the marina lock. Motor around from Sadgroves Creek to Fannie Bay in Darwin Harbour. There’s strong headwinds, choppy seas and it’s pitch black. Have some difficulties finding a spot to anchor among the many boats already there, but finally get the hook down. Go ashore surfing the waves in the inflatable. Onshore waves are big at about 1.5m. Delma’s waiting there after Karen dropped her off.

2100: Instead of going out to the boat we end up ctching a taxi home for the night. Original idea was to stay on board but conditions out there aren’t too pleasant. And it would have been difficult trying to negotiate the shore breakers to get back out there anyway.

Tues 16 Sep 03

0800: Back at Darwin Sailing Club. Got some more ‘d’ shackles from the chandlery store. Seas still a bit choppy. Also brought another gas bottle and on the way out to Lowana IV it rips and almost falls through the floor of the inflatable dinghy. Other stores stacked on the floor were fortunately okay and we’re able to get them out to the boat. Despite the choppy sea conditions it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Afternoon: Blowing strong. Big waves are breaking through the anchorage. The anchor drags and the keel starts bumping along the bottom. Pull up the anchor and motor back around the harbour to Doctor’s Gully for the night.

1730: Drop the anchor at Doctors Gully. Conditions still slightly bumpy but much better.

1800: Pete from Kajan turns up and anchors nearby. Take the dinghy over for a chat and a drink. We discuss having a meal at the nearby Darwin Wharf but decide the distance is too far to go by dinghy. Return to Lowana IV and it’s early to bed.

Weds 17 Sep 03

map 2 voyage area

Map 2: Route taken

0100: Pull up the anchor and get underway. Conditions nice. Half-moon, some swell left over from yesterday but no wind. Motoring.

0300: Clear of Darwin Harbour. Pete is having problems with his auto-pilot and it’s taking some time to fix.

0600: Had an hour’s sleep while Delma stood watch. Located off the Vernon Islands. Pete calls on the VHF radio suggesting we hug the Melville Island coast due to expected W to NE moderate winds later today.

1025: Well along the coast of Melville Island. Still motoring with the mainsail up. Not much wind which is on the nose anyway. Pete calls again to suggest stopping for the night at Cobham Bay on the SE coast of Melville.

1400: Approaching Cobham Bay. Land is low-lying, interspersed with sandy beaches and rocky patches on the foreshore. Creep towards Cape Keith to check for an anchorage there. Myriads of fish showing on sounder. Pete has problems with his autopilot gear again while we’re exploring. He hangs back while we continue closer to shore. By the time we come back Pete has found a 3m pinnacle in a 9m deep hole, and anchored on top of it. We go back inshore until we’re about 150m from shore and anchor in 6m over mud.

1430: Anchoring completed and start our radio sked. Manage to contact BBR – Brunei Bay Radio but we’re not readable again. Finally figure out how to operate on DX – duplex frequencies. My manual refers to the system as “splitting” whereby stations transmit on one frequency but receive on a completely different one.

1500: Pete and I work out the tidal patterns over the radio to get around Cape Don tomorrow. Decide to get a good nights sleep here and leave at 0930 hrs tomorrow. Am feeling a bit jet-lagged at the moment due to the early start this morning so lay down for a nap.

1700: Delma is fishing over the side with a strip of bacon and a hook big enough to catch Moby Dick. She says there’s three of us to feed.

1800-1900: Spend an hour with fishing roads and lures. Have three rods. Lose half of a fishing reel over the side rendering the reel useless. I’d owned it for 15 years. The second reel doesn’t work properly so I’m left with just a game-fishing rod. Don’t catch any fish although there’s plenty of fish activity between Kajan and Lowana IV; a distance of about 400m .

No sign of Pete over on Kajan. No light on boat and it’s getting dark. Calm conditions, balmy breeze. Red sunset. Boat sitting still on the water. One or two birds start calling along the tree line. Occasional splash of fish. Clear sky. Commercial radio not working too well here so playing music from the CD stacker including The Beatles and the Dixie Chicks.

No TV, no computer and no phones tend to promote interaction with your spouse. Some of our best bonding is on these trips. No outside distractions.

Evening: Conditions remain calm. Still sea. Dark after dusk with a late rising half-moon.

Thurs 18/9/03

Dawn: Water flat/silvery. Horizon to the south merging into the sky with no visible horizon. Kajan sitting serenely seemingly suspended in mid-air where the horizon should be. Glorious dawn. No breezes.

0730: Nothing heard from BBR during the morning radio sked.

0800: Clean down the motor and check oils. Tighten the fridge compressor mounts which have come loose. It had been rattling around yesterday. Have a nice brekky of bacon and eggs with hot tea.

0900: Clouds coming up. Breeze starting. Small ripples on sea. As usual we’re looking for things we’d bought on board but can’t find now. Delma had brought sunglass clip-on’s and I’ve been looking for a package of string. Other stuff has mysteriously disappeared during our packing haste. Get underway.

02 Lowana IVRight: Motoring out of Cobham Bay. Conditions still calm and haven’t yet put up any sails. Extra water and fuel containers lashed on deck. The yellow object is an inflatable dinghy.

1030: Bright sunny day. Small breezes. Sea flat and light green. Patches of wind showing ripples. Clouds have cleared except for some scattered on the horizon to the west. Hotting up. Kajan is off to starboard approx 150m. Clear reefy patches near Cape Keith heading North 021 degrees, motor sailing with full mainsail giving us a lift. Boat heeling only slightly at about 2 degrees. Apparent wind only.

Delma reading a book. Fridges seem to be working okay. Delma fixes a cord and a toggle to an old broad brimmed straw hat so it won’t blow off to combat the already fierce sun. Slowly overtaking Kajan at 5 kts. Melville Island off to port as a line of low lying trees, but it’s too far away to see any beaches.

03 KajanRight: Kajan motor sailing.

First small swells reach us from the Arafura Sea up ahead, although it’s still 20 miles away yet to Cape Don at the entrance to this gulf. No land can be seen to eastward or down south. Thinking about putting up the cockpit shade canopy.

1430: Late lunch of corned meat and salad chopped up in a bowl. Conditions are hot. No breeze. Cape Don light clearly visible abeam at 3.5 miles to starboard. Water current swirls around here even on a calm day. Almost cloudless sky. CD playing. There’s a small column of smoke coming up from one of the bays to the east of Cape Don. Birds are sitting on a small log as it drifts by. They give us the eye as they flap their wings.

1500: A small 5 to 6 kts breeze springs up from NW filling the mainsail. It gives a small lift to our speed. Getting 6.7 kts motor-sailing with an ebbing tide flow of approx 2 kts helping us along as well.
1515: Breeze builds quickly to something like 20 kts. Put a first reef into the mainsail and speed falls back to 6.3 kts. Whitecaps everywhere. Position is almost due north of Cape Don but past the turbulent area NW of the cape known for tide rips. Two headlands appear up ahead slightly to starboard. Extensive reefs jut offshore up to 3 miles in places along this coast so we’re maintaining a course giving a 2-mile clearance of them. The tide is due to turn soon and will be slowing us down substantially.

1530: Seas very choppy. Pitching hard. Successive waves often bringing us almost to a standstill.

1615: Distance Made Good over the last hour was 4 miles. Doing better than I’d thought. Bump up the revs on the motor to 1500 rpm. The ride smoothes out slightly and Lowana IV starts powering better over the waves but it’s still hard going. Change to starboard tack (wind on the starboard side) looking for smoother water further offshore. Can only achieve a northerly course of 016 degrees (NNE) but find the water is slighter calmer further out.

1645: Change tack again only to find we’re going backwards and the only way to progress forward is on the northerly tack. However we’ll just have to keep going on this tack until we can see breakers, then change back northerly.

1750: Change back to port tack when we come level with the entrance to Trepang Bay. Am able to get 080 degrees (ENE) this time. Call Pete and suggest over-nighting at Trepang Bay but he wants to push ahead. He makes the point that it’s not sheltered from westerly winds and the land is low lying. Agree with that and decide to keep going although it will mean getting in late at Port Essington. It’ll probably be between 2300 and 0100 hours depending on the tide now running hard against us. Only getting an average of 3 kts at the moment.

1800: A yacht is passing the other way and calls on the radio. She identifies herself as Delicate Gypsy and is heading to Darwin from Gove. They’d intended staying at Port Essington but since the wind is favourable for them they’ve decided to keep going. They tell us their eventual destination is Bali but are concerned the they might be too late for the seasonal SE trade winds. We agree there seems to be an early start to the Wet Season with it’s early NW monsoons this year but wish them luck. Give them contact details for the Tipperary Marina where we berth Lowana IV.

Look around for Pete and he’s a long way behind. Call him up and promise we’ll provide a hot mince stew when he gets into Black Point.

1830: Breakers ahead indicate reefs off the eastern side of the entrance to Trepang Bay. Change tack to port and start heading back out to sea once more. We’re actually getting a reasonable speed despite the conditions but it’s the tide that’s really slowing us down. Bump up the engine throttle again to 2000 rpm so as to maintain a good speed. Heading NNE, but even with increased throttle can still only manage to cover less than a mile in 20 minutes.

1850: A larger vessel appears on the horizon in the fading dusk. Turn on our navigation lights and as it gets closer call it on the radio. It’s the coastal barge Frances Bay returning to Darwin. Talk for a short while to a pleasant chap. Mention that Kajan is following behind and to watch for him. He says he’s seen both of us for the last hour on his radar and also visually for the last 20 minutes.

1945: Covered less than 4 miles over the last 1.25 hours. The waves seems to be calming down a bit but the tide is still running hard against us. Turn back towards the coast again. Am hoping this last leg will clear the reefs around Vashon Head at Trepang Bay before a final run into Port Essington.

2050: It’s obvious we’re not going to clear Vashon Head. Wind has sprung up once more and swung slightly. We can only achieve a course of 100 degrees (ESE) compared to our previous leg of 80 degrees (ENE). Turn northerly again. First sighting of the lights from the Black Point Ranger Station in the distance at 11.5 miles as the crow flies, but our zig-zagging tacking route will take us much further than that.

2120: Slow going trying to get around this headland. Only got just over a mile in the last hour.

2155: Covered 1.5 miles over the last half hour and finally come to a point where we can get a direct run into Port Essington. Change to port tack and a run into the port with 10 miles to go.

2345: Just one mile from our waypoint off the Black Point Ranger Station. We’ve done 9 miles in just under 2 hours and sometimes hitting up to 5.5 kts. Moon isn’t up yet and it’s pitch black. Pull out the spotlight but unable to see any land although the shore lights look close. Distances can be deceptive at night. I know there are rocks out from Black Point and ease the throttle as we close with the land.

The spreader lights illuminate the deck while we pull down the mainsail and secure the boom. Point the bow towards land and start creeping towards the shore with the motor just ticking over and using the spotlight occasionally. A mud bank appears suddenly at the extreme range of the spottie, maybe 100m or so. Still in 8m depth which is still too deep to use a 6:1 scope on the anchor chain. The rocks off Black Point become visible under the spottie as we turn away. They’re too close for us to anchor here.

Head further down into the port until the light at the end of the jetty comes into view. Scout around using the depth sounder finding between 4m to 8m depth. There’s room here for Kajan as well when she gets in. Put out 35m of anchor chain and snubber while Delma stays in the cockpit to handle the motor and watch the depth sounder. Wait for Lowana IV to come around and settle to her anchor but she doesn’t seem to want to move. A little bit of persuasion from the motor finally gets her anchor to bite into the bottom and hold us there.

Secure the anchor and return to wheelhouse. Note the GPS position at 11.09.867S and 132.08.658E. Set the anchor alarm at 60m to allow for swinging on the tides.

An Ancient Trade

map 3 table head
Map 3 Port Essington: Black Pt to Table Head


Fri 19 Sep 03

0045: With the anchor down I can finally secure Lowana IV for the night and then relax. Turn the spreader deck lights off. Big yellow half-moon just breaking the horizon and starting to light up the bay with a faint orange light. Both of us remark on how beautiful it is.

Let the motor run for a while longer in neutral to stabilise temperature before turning it off. The silence is lovely. Look again around the bay. Water slightly ruffled. Silvery shoreline in the moonlight. A peculiar barking noise signals the presence of a crocodile somewhere nearby. Call Kajan on the radio. Pete is just about to clear Vashon Head. Still going hard out there but making better time against the tide. He’s got loose shroud stays on the mast which is wobbling under pressure of the wind, so he has to keep the motor speed down. He also hadn’t cleaned Kajan’s hull prior to departure and he thinks there’d be growth on it which would also be slowing him down.

Feeling very tired. Delma wants to wait for Pete but it’ll be a good couple of hours before he gets in. Lay down some storm boards in the cockpit to make a bed for Delma. She can’t stand being closed up inside and prefers to sleep outside when she can. Put up the cockpit canvas cover to keep the night dew off and bring up a spare foam canvas covered mattress from the quarter-berth.

Delma quickly makes her bed and is soon on it. She says she’ll be awake when Kajan Pete arrives but I doubt it. She’s tried to sleep whilst underway but couldn’t so I reckon she’ll be as tired as I am. Contact Pete again. He says he’ll probably head directly for Table Head which is another 5 miles further in.

0500: Get up to a call of nature and see Kajan sailing past further out. It looks to me like he’s just got in so I get onto the radio to direct him into our anchorage. Switch the spotlight on and off.

0530: Kajan finishes anchoring 100m further out. We both say goodnight and go to bed.

0930: Both of us sleep in. Glorious morning. Fine, sunny day with slight wavelets and a light breeze. Mildly surprised to see we’re actually anchored further out from the shore than I’d thought last night. We’re about 400m from Black Point itself but I’m not going to bother shifting unless I have to.

04 on deckLeft: On deck. At centre left is a life ring in a blue bag which is attached to a dan-buoy – a floating pole with a flag on top. They’re used to mark where someone has gone over the side. A home made light slung over the boom is used for external lighting and anchor light at night.

Delma says that Kajan had actually arrived a couple of hours earlier than when I’d seen her at about 0345 hrs. Pete had first set his anchor off Black Point and Delma had wondered what was taking him so long. Eventually he’d pulled up his anchor before coming to anchor ner us.

Pete later tolds us he’d been unable to pick out my anchor light against the back drop of other lights onshore. Unfortunately for Pete my anchor light consists of a low-current home-made light, connected to the batteries by alligator clips and slung underneath the boom. It throws a good light but if it had been at the top of the mast then it would have been easier for Pete to pick it out. When he’d first tried to anchor he’d been a bit concerned about the chain rumbling over rocky ground and decided to move rather than getting snagged up.

1100: Set about putting up the main shade canopy. Wind blowing from the north directly down the port. No sign of movement over on Kajan. Enjoy a lovely cooked breakfast of sausages and eggs. There seems to be a problem with the top layers of food in the freezer not freezing. A visual inspection finds frosting along the suction line reaching onto the compressor itself, indicating overcharging of refrigeration gas. Vent some of the gas then clean up the motor and check the oil levels.

Look out across the water towards Kajan. All is quiet and no sign of movement there yet. Pete would probably still be sleeping in. Suddenly Delma gasps when a loud splashing, popping noise causes her to look past Kajans bow. There’s a big splash about 200m further out where something big is feeding out there. It happens again a few minutes later. Probably a large pelagic fish or shark maybe.

With the housekeeping done we drop the little red fibreglass dinghy off the stern davits and get it ready for a trip to shore. Call Pete on the radio to inquire if he wants to go ashore. He’s just got up and wants to have some breakfast first but asks us to ring his wife Avis to tell her he’s okay. Motor over to Kajan where he gives us the phone number.

1130: Once ashore we make the necessary phone calls to Pete’s wife Avis and to our daughter Karen. Delma also has the phone number of an aboriginal man named Andrew who works at the Royal Darwin Hospital. Arrangements had been made to meet him here and we were to ring him once we’d reached Black Point. However there’s only an answering machine at the other so we leave a message.

The first white people understood to have been in this area are Peter Pieterzoon in 1636, Abel Tasman in 1644 and Matthew Flinders in 1803. And the whole of northern Australia has been visited by Makassan’s from the Celebes in Indonesia since the 1600s. Signposted historical relics tell of their ancient trade. They’d been coming to collect trepang, also known as beach-de-mer or sea-cucumber which are soft-bodied marine animals, which was put through an extensive boiling, drying and smoking process. Their market was China who used them for medicines and food. The Makassan’s used to sail here at the start of the Wet monsoon season with its NW winds and return home at the start of the Dry season with it’s SE winds. It was a pretty good feat of sailing. Having sailed both the Arafura and Timor Seas myself I can say it can get pretty nasty out there! Many must have been lost at sea.

12 ancient tradeRight: Old woks used for boiling trepang. The sign says the trepang was boiled for 10 hours with bark from mangrove trees for flavour, then buried in sand for 24 hours, the skin removed, boiled again, dried in the sun then slowly smoked over a low fire under bamboo and woven palm huts.

At the Park Ranger’s office we find a small museum where Conservation Commission Ranger John Williams (Junior) meets us. He’s the Assistant Manager of the national park. It’s generally known as Gurig but it’s proper title is Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. John is a well built young aboriginal man of about mid-thirties, well groomed and clean cut. He’s a traditional owner of the land and is one of about 17 members of his clan, but he and his brother are the only members actually still living here on their tribal land. Like so many other clans and tribes since the 1950s, most of them have left for the cities and towns where there are more facilities.

John says we won’t need a permit if we sleep on board and don’t camp ashore, but we can visit ashore as much as we like. A water tap is available behind the boat-shed where we can get fresh water and privacy for a quick wash. He advises us to avoid going out to the actual Black Point itself since it’s a sacred site. He mentions there is a walking trail we can follow if we want to do a bit of hiking. Plenty of bird life. Most tourists here come to look at the birds or for the fishing. He says that fishing charters are available for booking at the park store.

Inside the museum we find exhibits of an early British settlement which had been attempted further down the port. And at the back of the museum is a small canoe in which a man had drifted from Indonesia and survived to land ashore here. Unfortunately I don’t have much more detail about this now but it apparently something of an epic survival feat.

05 office and museum 07 diorama
Park Rangers Office and Museum at the Gurig National Park A diorama of the Victoria Settlement probably circa 1840s. There was a hospital, officer’s quarters, 24 cottages a baker’s oven, fortifications, a graveyard and a jetty, which was rarely needed.
08 dolls 09 survivor boat
Settlers made little concession to the tropical climate. They persisted with thick woven clothes e.g. the marines still wore full uniforms including chokers. An Indonesian fisherman believed to be from Roti Island went fishing one day probably in the 1960s? He finally ended up landing at Black Point.

The idea of the settlement was originally to establish a major trading port along the lines of Singapore, in competition with the Dutch who imposed high import costs. There were also rumours in 1837 that the French were planning a colony in the region. Two previous attempts on the Tiwi Islands to the north of present day Darwin and at Raffles Bay to the east had already failed.

Victoria settlement named after Queen Victoria was established late 1838. Just in time it seems because in February 1939 two French warships entered the harbour looking for another ship La Perouse. The first year went fairly well with good crops planted. The place got demolished by a cyclone and storm surge later in 1839. Shipwreck survivors joined the small population in 1843 bringing some skilled people but otherwise the place was rarely visited by traders or anyone else for that matter. It got pretty boring. Disease and fevers became endemic and the place started to deteriorate. Nobody came and it all got pretty pointless, not helped alegedly by at least one commander who was a bit of a martinet.

Ludwig Leichardt the explorer arrived on foot exhausted and bedraggled in 1845 after exploring the Gulf of Carpentaria. His arrival delighted the settlers and indeed, the nation itself. However the lack of trade and the cost of maintaining the place led to its abandonment in 1849; the settlers were taken away and the buildings destroyed by ships shelling.

One other attempt at settlement in northern Australia was made at Escape Cliffs nearer to Darwin in 1864 just north of the mouth of the Adelaide River. It was from here that a explorer/surveyor party explored the Darwin/Palmerston area. Escape Cliffs derives from the settlers being driven out by hostile aboriginals. Darwin was then established at a place they called Palmerston in Darwin Harbour in 1869 but moved to it’s present location later on.

After a quick wash at the tap behind the shed we return to the boat. The water is calm and it’s a beautiful day so the trip back out is relaxing and pleasant. Motor over to Kajan to find out how Pete is doing. Find him sitting on an upturned milk crate with a solar shower bag slung up on the boom and having a wash. His main job for the day is going to be assembling his new 12ft fold-up dinghy. It later proves to be quite a task. Return to Lowana IV for a lunch of salad and the last of the corned meat.

1435: Do a radio sked and establish contact with Brunei Bay Radio but it’s not good enough to pass any information. Delma’s reading a book. I’m feeling a bit tired so lay down to have a rest. Can’t sleep so get back up after half an hour.

1615: Pete calls by in his newly assembled dinghy and proudly shows it off. It’s 12ft long with three bench seats and made of a plastic material used in the aircraft industry. It’s pliable but appears strong, He takes us out for a spin but I find it a bit disconcerting at having a floor in a dinghy that bends, buckles and moves under the feet whilst underway. A sticker announcing it can take a maximum of three persons in only in calm water doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm for it. However Pete’s as pleased as punch with it so I guess that’s the main thing.

Go ashore again but this time with Pete in his dinghy. The water is quite clear on approaching the small sandy beach, and there are lots of hand sized starfish littering the bottom. A small stingray of about dinner-plate size suddenly jumps out of the water nearby as we pass, quickly does a flip and lands back in the water with a solid plop.

On landing we help Pete pull his dinghy up past the high water line before setting off towards the little store. It consists of a single square room with a back office and stocks rudimentary stores … and there’s not a lot of that either. Buy an ice cream, dry batteries and coffee which are a bit pricey but to be expected. The store only opens between 4 and 6 pm.

10 black pt ramp 10 gurig store
Landing area behind the Black Point jetty.
“Lowana IV” anchored out to the left.
The Gurig store.
11 furphy 12 furphy cart
BBQ made from an old Furphy Water Cart An example of a portable Furphy water cart.

Go with Pete to have another look at the museum. Later take a walk along a track to the shoreline where we’d first approached last night. Small oysters line the rocks in abundance. We make our way down towards them making sure to keep away from the nearby black rocks sacred site which give Black Point its name. Pete, a 62 year old man who says he is 50, slips and falls on loose rocks while climbing down to the waters edge. He receives a slight graze on his upper right hand thigh. Not much of an injury but one does need to be careful of infection around oyster beds in remote areas.

Since we don’t have any oyster gathering tools with us we return to the dinghy and head back to Lowana IV. Have some sociable drinks and a chat in the cockpit. After dark Delma serves dinner of goulash before we participate in yet more drinks, and a few more…

2230: Pete departs singing a sea shanty as he slowly progresses in his dinghy towards his own darkened boat. We hold a spotlight for him. Suddenly his outboard motor runs out of petrol but he continues singing and cackling as he takes up his oars. He finally reaches Kajan and a cheery goodnight floats across the water. Delma cleans up while I run the motors to cool the fridges and set up our beds.

Sat 20 Sep 03

Another glorious day. Calm. Delma says that around 3 am some black clouds came over and the wind sprung up but I was blissfully unaware.

Not a lazy morning. Run the motor to cool the fridges down. Have a brekky of sausages and eggs then clean up. Change the CDs in the music stacker. Delma and I are both a bit stiff and sore from unaccustomed exercise. Air our bedding. Delma reads another 10 pages of her book then conducts an unsuccessful hunt for some cans of iced tea.

So far on this trip Delma has been unable to get the manual flushing system on the Lavac toilet to work properly. All she can pump is air, being unable to get a good seal on the toilet seat. This shouldn’t have been a problem since I’d made two new rubber seals and fitted them before the trip and I’ve had no problems. Finally figure it out that if she sits on the closed lid while pumping the handle it’ll work properly for her, and much more quickly too. A relief for me since up to now I’ve had to do all the flushing.

1100. Delma’s hankering for oysters so with a look at the chart we pick a place called Table Head and decide to go and have a look there. Start getting ready to go. I’d better come good with finding oysters or as cruise director for this voyage I’ll need to open up a complaints department. Though I do happen to know where a tin of smoked oysters sits in the food box which I can “find” should the need arise.

Anchor comes up easily enough and the radio crackles into life. A catamaran entering Port Essington is calling the Black Point Ranger Station. Pull away and start heading south pointing to clear Reef Point before turning into Berkeley Bay. As usual this trip under motor is at about 4 kts. Slight breezes. Sunny and hot. Almost cloudless and only small wavelets. Keep the canopy up and tow the dinghy. Relaxed motoring.

1230: Cover a distance of 5.1 nm before turning to close with the shore where there’s two red cliffs to the north of a little creek called Caiman Creek. The northern set of cliffs are not as prominent as the ones near the mouth. Sandy bottom shelves gradually. There are sand bars across the mouth of the creek which later become exposed at low tide, but they can be clearly seen in the light green water as a soft brown colour.

Afternoon: Dinghy over to the creek. It’s hard to work to make our way around to the southern end of the sand bars to gain access into the creek proper. The channel leading in is also shallow. Pete elects to take his dinghy between the sandbars on the northern side and drags it through the shallows. He’s got a cast net with him to get some fresh bait but there’s little activity in the water and he only manages to catch one bait fish.

Delma and I motor further up the creek to find that after the first bend the water deepens. Lots of mangroves and small oyster patches along the roots. Promising spot for mud crabs. Will come back tomorrow to fish and crab. Return to where Pete is and take a walk along the shore but no oysters on the rocks facing the bay. However we do manage to find some small ones exposed on mangrove roots. We hadn’t brought any tools to open them since this little expedition was only intended to be a recce.

14 on sandbankLeft: Delma standing on a sand bank with Lowana IV in the background.

1500: Return to Lowana IV. Have a few nibbles, a quiet read and a quick nap.

1730: Over on Kajan for sundowners – a few drinks, nibblies and chat. Whilst there Pete supplies us with some Turkish coffee and we inspect some old sun sights which he’d kept from the days of using a sextant before GPS devices became available.

2015: Back on Lowana IV Delma starts cooking tea. Fridges on. Have let out a fair bit of refrigeration gas. It’s not frosting on the compressor any more but it’s taking longer for the fridge and freezer to cool down. Have a late dinner. Fail to establish communications with BBR. Clean up. Have a hot chocolate drink and put a fishing line over the side since there are fish showing under the boat on the depth sounder. Catch a smallish trevelly suitable for bait tomorrow plus a couple other nibbles but nothing serious..

Read for a while in bed before a breeze springs up. Small wavelets start thumping the boat and Lowana IV begins wandering a little to her anchor. Not too serious since we’re sheltered from NE winds by the cliff but I set an alarm on the GPS anyway before putting out the light and going to bed.

Sun 21 Sep 03

0715: Another lovely day. Water calm like a mirror. Light green colour. Schools of fish shoaling around boat near the surface. Hot cuppa.

0745: Pete offers some fish for bait but is not going fishing himself since he’s not feeling too well. Said he was knackered because he went to bed late.

0750: Called BBR. Establish comms on the 8 Mb frequency. Try to pass a position but don’t know if it was successfully received. He gives me another frequency to try at 12 Mb. After changing I can hear him calling but he can’t hear me. Go back to the 8 Mb frequency but by now have lost him.

0810: Decide to fix the fridges instead of fishing. Pull out the pressure gauges and hook them up. Run the fridges and spend the next hour fiddling with settings on the low pressure temperature switch. Fridge eutectic plates all satisfactorily frozen up but it becomes pointless to keep trying. Anyway I’m reasonably happy with it and venting some more refrigeration gas finally solves the undesirable problem of frosting back onto the compressor.

1000: Have spent some time resetting the memory channels on the HF radio for music. Pete gives me a frequency of 4.835 Mb for Macca, a popular ABC radio program on Sunday mornings. By the time I’ve dialled it up the frequency is too noisy and the signal fades in and out too much.

1030: Pete has decided to go fishing and is sitting near a sand bar closer inshore fishing. A yacht arrives and anchors to the south of Kajan and Lowana IV. Will probably introduce ourselves later. Delma finishes cleaning up and is now reading her book again. A little while later Pete starts rowing about out there in the blazing sun. Must be hot work.

1100: A dinghy pulls away from the newly arrived yacht and starts heading our way. Shortly after a young French couple come alongside introducing themselves as Laurent and Regine (pronounced Regina). They’re quickly ushered aboard and Delma busies herself preparing some nibbles and drinks while they settle in.

Laurent and Regine had originally come from Toulouse in France but had sailed from New Caledonia. They’d bought their Jeaneau yacht named Itaipu there and are working towards the Indian Ocean where there are some small French islands. Their next leg is to Darwin, then on to Bali and possibly Malaya and Thailand to escape the Wet Season with its cyclones. As we talk it’s generally agreed the signs are there for an early Wet Season and they express a desire not to linger too long in getting to Indonesia and above the equator.

15 sv itaipu 16 laurent and regine
SV Itaipu Delma at left, Laurent and Regine from New Caledonia

Laurent is a geologist and Regine a radiographer. They’re a friendly couple both in the mid 30s. He speaks good English but while she is able to follow most of the conversation, Laurent often translates to her what’s being said. We discuss tides and passage past Cape Don and through the Dundas and Clarence Straits. As it is they should encounter little problems given the current good weather and the neap tides. In any event I give them all the tides for the area for the next couple of days, plus a contact number for Tipperary Marina and the name of an electrician who does work on Lowana IV from time to time. They work out the tides and figure it would be best to leave this afternoon to be off Cape Don in the early evening so catch the tidal run through the Van Dieman Gulf to Darwin.

1330: Our new acquaintances depart for their own boat. I took around to find that Pete is back on his own boat. Lazy afternoon reading and sleeping.

1600: The yacht Itaipu departs.

1700: Pete comes over for sundowners. Make some loose plans for future activities and he returns to his own boat before dark.

Evening: Have a BBQ dinner of port chops and sausages before settling down with fishing lines over the side. Masses of fish have now gathered around the hull attracted by our cabin lighting on the water surface, and no doubt from occasional food scraps thrown over the side. Catch a few small trevelly suitable for bait tomorrow in a crab pot or on a line.

17 sunset cookingRight: Russ cooking on the BBQ at dusk.

2130: Try a radio sked with BBR but no good. Have a hot chocky drink and chat with Delma for a while. Check fuel and water levels. Have used 60 litres diesel which is more than I’d anticipated, plus 40 litres of water which is less than I’d thought.

Pete informs us by radio that he’s catching a few fish including a couple of small sharks. One has wrapped the fishing line around his propeller shaft where it proceeds to keep banging the hull while it tries to free itself.

Historic Victoria Ruins

 

map 4 victoria
Map 4: Table Head to Victoria Ruins

Mon 22 Sep 03

0700: Water surface shiny. Light cumulus clouds around the horizon and a few scattered overhead. Weather calm. Check motor oils. Levels are down a little bit but okay for today.

0730: Finally manage to contact BBR Radio on 8.710 Mb and get a position report to them, but it was probably only our latitude and Port Essington. BBR wants to change frequency again but when we do that I lose him and can’t find him again.

0815: Clear up and start pulling the anchor in. Once the anchor is stowed we turn for deeper water out in mid channel. Pete isn’t answering his radio so I call out as we motor close by and this time get a response. He’s doing something on deck with a cast net but will be underway soon.

0900: Both boats clear of anchorage and slowly motoring south further into the port. The sea is like glass. Cloudy. Light breeze.

0930: Sight the catamaran from the other day up ahead coming our way. The name on the side is Freyja and it passes on our port side. Listen to the ABC using the HF radio during the trip. Good to be able to listen to something while underway using the motor. Live cuttlefish pass by occasionally just under the surface. Generally they’re a grey colour blob but now and again the sun reflects on lines of bronze and gold. Shoals of small fish feeding on the surface bubbling the water similar to the way tarpon do in fresh water.

1015: Follow Kajan into Barrow Bay around Record Point which is a spit of sandy beach and trees. Close carefully towards the beach where the bottom rises sharply from 12 metres, then from 6 metres rises almost within two boat lengths to 2 metres. Even as I turn Lowana IV at 3 metres depth the bottom rises to 1.8 metres giving me a keel clearance of about half a metre during the turn. Drop the anchor at 6 metres and put out 40 metres of chain. By the time the chain is fed out the depth is 8.5 metres.

1045: Anchor set and reverse checked. Engine off. The new CD stacker is proving to be excellent for our music. It’s a marked difference from our last trip to Western Australia where a lack of music contributed heavily towards boredom.

Day still calm and hot. Very light breeze. Sweaty. The land here is low lying with casuarina trees lining the foreshore and stretches of beach between. Further inland appears to be mangroves. Low cliffs on the southern side of the bay. Across the bay on the opposite side is a white slash of cliff marking where the old Victoria Settlement had been attempted over one and half centuries ago, but now there’s only ruins.

18 anchored boats barrow bayRight: Lowana IV far left and Kajan anchored in Barrow Bay across from Adams Head, which marks where the old Victoria settlement used to be.

Surface of water lightly rippled. Delma trying a bit of fishing with rod and reel but the reel isn’t working properly.

1055: Kajan Pete tells us he has a smoker and invites us over for coffee and smoked fish. The fish is delicious though it takes quite sometime to get working properly. The mentholated spirits burner keeps going out. Eventually the burner is repositioned further down inside the cockpit and wood smoke and cooked fish smells soon fill the air. Turkish coffee is brewed in a copper cup. Nice chat. Take our leave back to Lowana IV.

Spend the afternoon checking into the fishing tackle box. Find a couple of old reels which could be salvaged for parts and fix two fishing rods. We end up with one rod of medium strength and high ratio spinning for mackerel and trevelly, and a smaller casting rod for closer work chasing barramundi using minnow type lures. The big rod with its small game reel will be used for trolling when needed.

1430: Radio sked. No contact with BBR at all. Since the motor is running to provide extra power for the hungry HF radio, I connect the fridge gauges again for another adjustment. Fiddley work. Eventually turn it off and go back to my bunk to read.

1545: Pete must be bored. Calls on the VHF and wants to move down to East Bay further down the port. The wind has sprung up from the northwest and there are lots of whitecaps out there. Short choppy seas have been whipped up by a strong afternoon sea breeze. I tell him, “Okay, let’s go.”

1600: Pull up the anchor bringing up lots of mud on the last 20 metres of chain. Very sticky too refusing to wash off by sluicing with water from a bucket. Allow it to go straight into the chain locker mud and all. The anchor locker will just have to be cleaned out tomorrow. Head out southwest to clear Middle Head. Pete going very slow for some reason.

1700: Travelling within 50 metres of Kajan with her just off my port bow. Both boats wallowing slightly as the following seas overtake us. Pete decides to go over to the western side to anchor in West Bay. However on the way a clump of black rocks about half a mile off Mangrove Point bars our way making it a longer trip to get around them. These aren’t marked on Pete’s chart but can be seen exposed by the low tide. The agreed decision is to return to East Bay.

1730: Anchored at 10 degrees 23.168 minutes South, 132 degrees 11.064 minutes East with mud holding in 3 metres depth. It’s a couple of miles across at the entrance to the bay and the bottom gradually shallows. The tide only has a one metre range tonight. Tidy up the boat. Take the main canopy down as a precaution against dragging on the anchor. North-westerlies still blowing straight down the anchorage and it’s a little bumpy but okay otherwise. Expect it will ease later when the land cools.

1745: Pete comes over for sundowners. Ask Pete his opinion on the use of computers on board since I’m planning to build a PC computer using a tower case. At the end of the discussion we agree that a laptop would be a better way to go.

Pete has previously done a circumnavigation of Australia going west about i.e. anti-clockwise, and since I’m considering the same seek his opinion and advice. After some discussion we decide it would probably be better to start off heading easterly and go clockwise. Pete indicates an interest in taking Kajan along in company with Lowana IV. He’s a very knowledgeable man and his experience would certainly be handy.

We’d probably be looking at leaving Darwin in September next year. That would get us plenty of time to get to Thursday Island off the tip of Cape York before the short window of northerlies kick in to help get us down the east coast of Australia. Preferable we should be well down the east coast by the onset of the cyclone season, but if not there are more cyclone bolt-holes on the east coast than in the Gulf of Carpentaria. That place is a breeding place for cyclones.

Talk turns to passage making and Pete tells us about the Lombok Strait in Indonesia. He said its been rough water the five times he’s passed the southern entrance, and has heard of large standing waves there. Thought briefly about the French couple Laurent and Regine since they’d mentioned going that way.

Pete regales us with a story of a Canadian crewman he’d once had onboard off the West Australian coast where the continental shelf comes up. Water wells up and breaks the surface like a big standing bubble. They were sailing at night and the moon was shining on the water.

The crewman starts and suddenly calls out an urgent, “Reefs ahead!”

Pete’s confused for a moment then realises it’s only the upwelling water and says, “Steer a straight course. Don’t deviate, not even one degree. I think we can fit between those rocks. Anyway, they look slippery so we should be able to slide over them.” The crewman gets increasingly concerned as Pete continues to urge for tighter steering, “Half a degree left,” and “just a bit more”. The boat suddenly starts bucking around but soon it’s all over. The fellow found out the truth about the “reef” later when the reached port. I thought to myself it has to say something about the man’s confidence in Pete, in that he continued into what looked like a possible disaster.

Pete set off back to Kajan but runs out of fuel again. This time he has to row against the small wavelets pushed by the wind still blowing 10 to 15 kts.

Have a nice stir fry dinner of spicy chicken and vegetables. Do the radio sked but nothing heard … again. Still a little bumpy outside when I finally get to bed. Lowana IV is bobbing her bow to meet each small wave but it’s not uncomfortable. Hardly noticeable below.

Tues 23 Sep 03

0715: Usual beautiful day. Water shiny. Complete the radio sked but nothing heard as usual.

0815: Already getting hot. Sea is rippled and a small breeze has sprung up already from the east. Bring our bedding up topside for airing.

0830: Put the big shade canopy back up and have a breakfast of steak and eggs. The anchor light apparently wasn’t working last night so pull it apart to find blown bulbs. Probably blew them when connecting its clips to the battery. Change the clips for a 2-pin connector and also fix. Also fix a broken wire in the spotlight. The negative lead on the multimeter device has broken off so re-soldered that too.

Load the dinghy with fishing gear and head off towards shore. Very shallow. Bottom featureless with just sticky mud and it’s only about 30 centimetres deep next to the mangroves edge. Very little fish activity much like the neap tides around Darwin. Troll around for a while but the outboard motor keeps conking out so went return back to Lowana IV.

Change the spark plug on the outboard motor and set off in another direction. Bloody hot and glarey! Sun streaming down. No breeze at all. Water flat. Go for a mile or so before reaching the southern side of East Bay. It’s the same as before, shallow and featureless with even less fish activity here.

A breeze starts springing up from the NW about 5 to 6 kts and the water surface begins to ruffle. Had intended to go a couple of more miles over to the rocks off Mangrove Point but change my mind. Probably more prudent to go back to Lowana IV given the small freeboard of the dinghy.

1215: Back onboard Delma sets about making some soda-bread, a kind of damper that uses flour, milk and bicarb of soda. She’s trying a gluten free flour this time in deference to a problem I have with my tummy.

1430: Radio sked no good. Pete comes over because he hadn’t heard from us on the VHF radio. I’d turned it off during the HF radio sked because of bleed interference and forgotten to turn the VHF back on. He stays for a feed of fresh soda bread, syrup and coffee.

Read books and sleep during the afternoon. Sea breezes come up again at approx 15 kts. Takes longer to calm down at sunset then it springs back up again after dark.

Evening: Have been running the fridges for one and a half hours but it still hasn’t pulled down cold enough. The eutectic freezer tank has iced up so turn the motor off. We both have a wash by drawing salt water up from alongside in a bucket then rinsing off with fresh water. Bit brisk in the breeze. Go to bed early.

Wed 25 Sep 03

0730: Usual weather conditions and hot already. Pete comes over for coffee. Delma cooks sausages which we have with tomato sauce in a bowl.

Pete is always an invaluable source of information and ideas so I ask him how I might go about extending the aft cockpit area. As it happens he’d done a similar modification on Kajan so we go over to his boat for more coffee and to take a closer look what he’d done.

1115: Return to Lowana IV and run the fridges. Wind coming up from NW already at 10 to 15 kts.

1400: Wind continues to blow and the sea has become choppy. High tide. Take the dinghy out to pick up Pete’s crab pots but only found one of them, and there wasn’t anything in it.

Don’t do much else through the rest of the afternoon. Read books and doze while the boat bucks about in the freshening winds. These would be the strongest we’ve had here with gusts up to around 20 kts. Boat pitching a bit. Spend some more time on the fridges. Connect the refrigeration gas bottle but it doesn’t seem to be adding any refrigerant. Move some stores around to make them more accessible since our original packing stores system hasn’t been working well enough.

1730: Over at Pete’s for coffee and a chat for about an hour. Conditions much calmer. Breeze has dropped right down to just sloppy seas. Anchor holding well.

Dusk descending. Not a particularly bright sunset. Some streaky cirrus up there hints at higher winds on the way.

Thurs 25 Sep 03

0730: Fire up the motor for the radio sked and finally establish reasonable communications on the 16 Mb frequency. Allan at the other end seems to want more to test frequencies rather than take a position report from us. Change to the 8 Mb frequency where we can hear him but he can’t receive us, so we change back to the 16 Mb frequency. Now it sounds as if someone is jamming the radio with loud noise. Unable to establish contact again. Very disappointing.

0800: Connect a small water pressure pump to the batteries so that we can hose the mud off the anchor and chain when we’re pulling it up. It doesn’t work so will have to check that later. Try to wind up the anchor but it’s stuck and have to use the motor to break it out from the bottom. Pull up the anchor and the chain comes up as a solid blob of gray, sticky mud. It takes numerous buckets of water and scrubbing to get the mud off the deck.

Head across the harbour for a couple of miles towards the old Victoria Settlement ruins. Kajan follows while Lowana IV forges ahead.

0930: Finish anchoring. Scrub down the decks of the last of the persistent mud. Sun already has some bite in it. Sweaty work and getting hotter. Strong glare. Surface of water like glass.

19 at anchorLeft: Kajan at left and Lowana IV at right anchored off Adams Head near the old Victoria settlement.

Pretty spot. Big splash with a flash of white 100 metres off the starboard side. The small cove south of Adam Head and the settlement is shallow, fringed with a sandy beach and backed by trees with rocky outcrops and mangroves either end. Around Adam Head itself is a white cliff maybe 6 metres high, white on the bottom but more reddish at the top. Another stretch of beach leads to where the old rock jetty used to be but it’s now overgrown with mangroves. The setting is just gorgeous.

A small catamaran power-boat about 18 ft arrives from the direction of Black Point loaded with about 6 to 8 people. They land in the little cove and we soon see the group walking along the cliff above Adam Head. No doubt they’re tourists. Another small dinghy takes off from the cove. Probably taking a tourist fishing somewhere.

Later on another dinghy arrives from Black Point. This is another powerboat of about 18 ft with a black hull and shade canopy rigged and pulls into that same little cove. Obviously a charter boat with 5 people onboard this time plus skipper.

Kajan is anchored about 50 metres away. Delma decides to get active pulling seawater up using a galvanised bucket and washing her hair over the side. She’s using shampoo because it works okay with salt water but normal soap is useless. Unfortunately she gets salt water in her eyes which stings a bit but she valiantly continues anyway.

The water is beautifully cool. Lots of cumulus clouds and bright reflecting glare. Birds are screeching ashore probably protesting the presence of humans. An easy listening CD is playing and we relax with a latte coffee.

Do some more reading before climbing into the dinghy to explore. Head for the nearest point of land with a rocky outcrop, then motor back and forth looking for oysters but don’t see any. Fish jump here and there but it’s otherwise very still. No activity in the water at all anywhere. Work our way around the little cove to the south for a couple of miles. Check several oyster possibilities but none seen.

Flick a lure out at a couple of potential spots but get nothing so start heading back towards the boats. From a distance they both appear to be suspended between the sea and sky with no obvious horizon. The masts of both boats reflect like a track on the still water towards us even at this distance.

As we come back near the little cove a couple of men return to their dinghies so we turn around to go back for a chat. One is a stockily built fellow with tattoos and is well burned from the sun. He had the temerity to call our little dinghy a bath tub but was friendly enough. The other fellow was lean, black haired and younger. We learn that both Port Bremer and Raffles Bay further to the east are closed to yachts now due to the pearling industry there. High security and they don’t like visitors.

1130: Back on board. Have some lunch and another read of a book. Lay down for a rest. Listen to some chatter on the VHF radio. There seems to be some sort of problem with the shore party calling their other boat. Seems they’d forgotten about lunch. Kajan and Lowana IV offer them some lunch and drinks but are politely declined. Eventually the other dinghy goes past, then turns back and goes over to them.

Afternoon: Blowy and bumpy. Pump up the rubber ducky inflatable before collecting Pete and going ashore. There’s no way the red fibreglass dinghy would be able to handle the choppy water. Pull the inflatable up onto the beach where the other dinghies had been before and start walking in a counter-clockwise direction around the site of the old settlement. A signpost tells us it’s a 3.7 km walk starting from the south. The first site is a kiln constructed of ironstone bound in clay. Above Adams Head is a magazine which originally contained ammunition and I suppose gunpowder. Then follows the ruins of Government House, the married quarters for the soldiers and their families and a smithy.

We also came across an old aboriginal midden. According to NT Parks and Wildlife service the traditional people who lived here were the Madjunbalmi clan. They generally lived in harmony with the garrison trading turtles, hearts of cabbage tree palm and shellfish for metal implements, clothing, tobacco and bottles.

20 magazine 23 blacksmith forge
The magazine had been built into the ground to reduce the risk of explosion. There was also a large square timber tower and blockhouse. The blacksmiths forge made iron implements for the settlement.
21 cornish cottages 22 chimneys
Some of the married quarters for the soldiers. These cottages had shingled or thatched roofs. Next to each cottage vegetable gardens were planted with pumpkins, cabbage and fruit. A singular feature of the cottages are their large fireplaces and chimneys as demonstrated by Delma standing next to the first one here. Hard to understand why they’d want these in such a hostile, tropical climate. An example of how the settlers failed, or refused to adapt.

Following a little trail down the short cliff takes us down to the old jetty but it’s now just rocks covered in mangroves. On resuming the walk we find the old Quartermasters store which must have been an imposing place, the hospital and hospital kitchen. Of special interest is a memorial plaque at the cemetery which lists names of the people who’ve died here, or from visiting ships. Sad to see the names of so many mothers and babies who had apparently died during or soon after childbirth.

24 jetty rocks 25 old jetty
All that remains of the original jetty is a pile of rocks. The jetty, now overgrown used to be 43 metres long. The first one built in 1839 was destroyed by a cyclone and a second one was built.
26 hospital 27 hospital and kitchen
Foundations of the hospital. The small population suffered from dysentery, diarrhoea, influenza, scurvy and malaria. Sometimes the hospital became overcrowded. At such times very little work could be done. The hospital and kitchen
bakehouse in background.
28 hospital kitchen 29 graves
The kitchen bakehouse. Part of the cemetery. Malaria affected most people accounting for about a quarter of the residents.
30 grave obelisk 31 plaque
A more elaborate obelisk tombstone. The names listed on a plaque of those who died. Quite sad to see so many mothers dying either in childbirth or soon after.

A garden established adjacent to the cemetery was one of a series to supply bananas, oranges, lemons, tamarinds, sugar cane and guavas. Poor soils produced poor crops and rats eating unharvested food were a problem.

They certainly had it hard poor buggers!

Return to Lowana IV in the late afternoon for sundowners. Seas still choppy with swells coming through but it appears to be dying down slowly.

1800: Take Pete back to Kajan. Have dinner and a wash then read our books. Looks like I’ve let out too much refrigerant from the fridges since it’s taking two to three hours to bring them down cold again.

Intend to go back to the little Caiman Creek tomorrow. Plan is to fish and crab for a day or two, return to Black Point and re-water, and have a meal at the holiday resort at Seven Spirit Bay across the port. Also decide to start returning to Darwin. Big headwinds are forecast and with both Port Bremer and Raffles Bay closed to us, it would make it too long a trip to get down Bowen Strait inside Croker Island since there doesn’t appear to be many suitable anchorages.

Moving On

 

map 5 pt essington
Map 5 Port Essington – Victoria Ruins to Black Point

Fri 26 Sep 03

0700: Calm again this morning. Had rolled up the shade canopy last night as a precaution but not needed. Water slightly rippled and just a zephyr of a breeze.

0730: Radio sked useless again. Every frequency is too noisy and haven’t heard from BBR. Continuing to have problems with the refrigeration. Pull the port v-berth locker apart again to get the refrigeration gas bottle out. Put more gas into the fridges. Still can’t get the low pressure setting right though both cold plates are properly icing up. Adjust the cut-out switch to turn off at zero psi but it’s still not right. The suction line is still frosting up right to the compressor, but at least not on the compressor itself which is a no-no. As well, the sight glass still isn’t clearing but I don’t dare put any more gas into the system. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the sensor bulbs on the output side of the cold plates.

0930: Get underway for Caiman Creek again. Hot. By the time we reach Record Point we’ve unrolled the shade canopy,

1230 Leisurely motoring. Anchor up in 4 metres a bit further out than last time. Pete anchors off a good 200 metres away. Starting to blow from the east across the land. Having a cold drink.

37 motoringLeft: No wind and motoring slowly.

Afternoon: Pete busy fishing. Worked on a hoist system for lifting the outboard motor and other heavier objects e.g. a jerry can of water or fuel out of the dinghy.

Delma and I take a walk along the beach to a cliff face at the southern end of the bay. The cliff is mostly ironstone and crumbling sandstone. No evidence of oysters. Have learned that little sea life or marine growth occurs on or around ironstone. Pete tells me that ironstone will kill fishes in an aquarium. Lots of seashells litter the beach, most of them undamaged. Human visitors here would be limited. Lumps of beached coral probably tossed up here during storms. Thousands of small hermit crabs. Come across the decaying head of a large tuskfish literally covered with these crabs, which use a succession of empty shells for homes as they grow in size.

Back near the dinghy we find an empty pink plastic fishing hand reel. Useful for a roll of fishing line I’ve got on board. Wind has abated somewhat. Go over to Kajan for sundowners, coffee and olives in a small bowl. Chat until dusk before returning to Lowana IV.

Fridges working efficiently. Only needed half an hour before both the cold plates iced up. Tonight is the first time we haven’t had to eat food from the freezer in case it spoiled. Have ravioli for dinner. Usual wash up on deck in the breeze is a bit chilly. Still blowing but the water is relatively calm. Nights are black. No moon. In fact tonight is a new moon.

Sat 27 Sep 03

JASDIP – Just Another Shitty Day In Paradise. Water flat. Sea horizon blends seamlessly with the sky. Fish are back shoaling around the boat. A full-grown box-jellyfish swims by with its venomous tentacles streaming back about 30 centimetres, but they can extend for a long way when they are feeding. These are a dangerous sea creature with a poisonous, vicious sting alleged to feel like being burned by a thousand hot strands. Usually hard to see in the water and can potentially kill babies and scar people for life.

32 box jellyfishRight: Box jellyfish for their size are among the most venomous creatures in the world. Death from stings can occur between 2 to 5 minutes. Use of vinegar is a good first-aid method.

0730: Turn on the HF radio without much enthusiasm. Set it on the 8 Mb frequency to find Allan from BBR talking to another yacht and I can hear both quite clearly. Call BBR when they finish and get contact immediately. Reception of BBR is quite good at about strength 3 of 5 and the readability is good. He says my signal is low but quite clear. Pass our position report as Port Essington and tell him we’ll be staying here for a couple of days more before taking a few more days to return back home to Darwin. Thank Allan for his patience. He will not be available over the weekend since he’s taking his own boat from one end of Brunei to the other. Close down communications.

Pete wants to know what time we’re going fishing. We’ll have to have brekky first.

0900: Find a bait jig buried in the tackle box and make up a jig line using the recently found hand reel. Put this over the side and immediately pull in three small trevally but it makes a mess of the jig line in the process. Collect a dozen or so for breakfast. Delma puts them into a tray on the BBQ while I take a spare 20 litre jerry of diesel, a full water jerry and 5 litres of outboard fuel over to Pete who is running low on these items.
33 hull fishLeft: Fish sheltering under and around the hull of Lowana IV

1030: A little crab drifts by clinging to a stick which keeps rolling. Our little chap valiantly keeps trying to stay on top like a lumberjack rolling logs downriver. His attempts aren’t always successful and he’s often upside down before managing to get back on top momentarily.

Pete goes ashore. I’ve got a couple of small jobs to do here. Fill the grease gun, fix a switch on the water pressure pump, clean out the anchor chain locker and finally grease the anchor winch. Decide to stay on board for the time being. High tide will be late this afternoon anyway. Have lunch.

1600: Wind abates a little. Short waves are coming through but not choppy. Delma and I load up our fishing gear and head over to Caiman Creek. Sandbars at the entrance are now covered so we’re able to go directly into the creek. Plenty of fish activity. There’s schools of pike, a long silvery round fish with formidable teeth in the fashion of barracuda but much smaller at around 40 to 50 centimetres. Schools of baby mullet plop around.

34 goin fishinRight: Setting up to go fishing in the dinghy.

Anchor in mid-stream. The tide has risen up into the mangroves. Use some of the fish caught this morning as crab-bait. Tie them into pots and set them against a likely spot near the mangroves. Do some trolling first upstream then back towards the mouth. On the return journey we get a strike on a faithful old lure I’ve owned for many years, an old pale blue minnow with many a battle scar from previous fishy tricking trips. There’s some weight on the line so we move out into the centre of the creek to try and keep the line clear of the mangroves. The line starts peeling out against the drag of the clutch. Tighten the clutch a little but although the line is strong enough, the old reel isn’t up to it and the clutch releases suddenly. Lucky for the fish, unlucky for us since he would have been dinner.

Check the crab-pots. Nothing. Move them further up the creek to another spot. Do some more trolling but no more strikes although there’s plenty of fishy activity. We really should have been here when the tide was just beginning to lap the bottom edges of the mangroves. Shadows getting longer. Check the pots again but the bait hasn’t been touched. Clear the pots and stow them away. Refuel the outboard but the fuel is too full of oil mix. Blue smoke erupts everywhere and the engine keeps conking out.

Contemplate rowing home but finally get the motor running cleanly enough to start heading back. Beautiful sunset. Red and orange glow of the big sun sinking into the horizon. Kajan is a black outline against a red, orange and purple sky with streaks of wispy white and orange clouds makes for a picture perfect postcard scene as we motor along.

The water has calmed down to gentle short swells. Reach Lowana IV just as the sun sinks below the horizon. A bare sliver of orange moon peeks up over the horizon to the east. Put the anchor light on and open cold cans of drink. Sit in the cockpit enjoying these when Pete calls to ask about the fishing and if everything is okay. Assure him everything’s okay and exchange mutual goodnights.

Evening: Stir ourselves into a bit of activity. Delma cooks tea while I check the boat, bilges and the lashing down of gear on deck. Stow unnecessary items away and then run the fridges.

Have our dinner in the cockpit. Do the washing up. Put long cushions in the cockpit and read our books together under the cockpit light. Pitch black outside despite the rising moon.

Sun 28 Sep 03

0400: Mossies buzzing furiously around my ears. We’d left a citronella oil lamp burning last night in the saloon but that area seems to be thickest with them. There’s at least a dozen or so on the wall near the lamp itself. Pull out some mozzie spray and give them all a blast. Dig out some mozzie coils and holders, and set one in the saloon and one in the wheelhouse near Delma. Go back to bed but the mozzies still furious. Spray around the boat again then close the windows and hatches to allow the coils to work properly. No more problems.

0800: Dead mozzies everywhere laying thick on top of the wheelhouse and decks around the portholes.

Casual breakfast. Delma does some tidying up and re-arranging of small lockers in the galley. I quickly check the anchor well and see that I am going to have to do some more work in there soon.

1000: Anchor up. Breeze blowing. Anchor comes in clean with only a little mud. Turn to deeper water. Breeze about 8 kts. Still got about an hour of outgoing tide which is good. Reach the deeper water then turn north towards Black Point.

1110: Breeze picking up. Coming abreast of Reef Point at the northern end of Berkeley Bay. Black Point about 2 miles ahead. Water ruffled. Cloudy day. Cumulus but nothing ominous about them. Plenty of sunny patches.

1120: Wind blowing heartily at around 20kts. Roll up shade canopy.

1150: Pass close by Pete’s boat and exchange greetings whilst approaching anchorage near Black Point. We pick a spot closer to the point itself but about 50 metres from Kajan and in about 2 metres of water since it’s now low tide. Anchor takes a little while to settle with the wind blowing Lowana IV against the force of the tide. The wind wins and she slowly comes around. Dig the anchor into the bottom using reverse gear.

1210: Motor off. Put the small cockpit shade up and sit down to enjoy a coffee latte.

1530: Pete already ashore and waiting for us. Store is closed on Sundays so we have a chat under the shade of the trees and make some phone calls home. Our friend Marg Hines tells me that Dave got an email from Allan of BBR this morning with our details. Good to know the contact system works. However BBR hasn’t put anything about us on the Yotreps website so far since I haven’t been able to communicate to him that well.

Take a walk along the beach before returning to Lowana IV. Pete follows and comes aboard for sundowners but leaves soon after dark.

Delma and I cook up a mince stew for tea. Usual washing and cleaning up chores. Have a saltwater tub on deck followed by a cup of hot chocky. Put the cushions in the cockpit to do a little reading before going to bed.

Mozzies hardly noticeable tonight. Too much wind for them to fly out from the land I suppose. Delma says she’ll try to sleep in the saloon berth tonight but in the morning is back out in the cockpit. I’d made her bed up out there just in case anyway.

Mon 29 Sep 03

0730: Contact Allen at BBR. Nil change to Posrep – Position Report. He’ll be unavailable for the next few days since he’s running a yacht-master’s course. Tell him we’ll be heading back towards Darwin tomorrow, taking about a week and stopping at places of interest along the way.

While Delma does the washing I fill the main water tanks with 130 litres of water from jerry cans. The diesel fuel tanks take 60 litres. The grease gun has developed an air pocket and isn’t working properly and requires repacking with grease. Always a dirty job. Re-grease the stuffing box which is dripping a bit too much. Get out the water hose and pressure pump then pull out the remaining chain in the anchor locker. Give it a good hosing then wash down the decks while Delma prepares some deserts for tonight.

1030: Back ashore to meet Pete who tells us he’d seen a big fish in a rock pool and that he’d dived in and wrestled it. Shows us a nice turrum about 60 cm long.

“Dinner for tonight,” he exclaims.

When asked for the real story he confesses he’d gone over to another dinghy for a chat and been given the fish. Pete had been along the rocks at low tide and tells us where an oyster colony is. We agree that tomorrow we’d leave Port Essington in the morning with the ebb tide and go to Trepang Bay, which is the next bay along the coast westwards towards home.

Set out on an oyster expedition. Walk a couple of kilometres and reach the spot. Loads of oysters. Rocks exposed well to seaward. Sit down and feast on them. Isn’t necessary to hunt for them. Just sit in the one spot and chip the tops off. Delicious.

35 oyster beds 36 oyster hunt
Oyster beds exposed by the low tide Delma prising an oyster loose

Return to the Ranger’s Station and visit the museum to get some photos. Ring my sister Vicki about my Dad who’s been having some health issues. All okay so far with Dad. He’s got a specialist appointment today and tomorrow.

The tide has gone out by the time we return to the dinghy so the outboard has to be taken off and the dinghy dragged several metres down to the water. It’s then necessary to paddle carefully through the rocky shallows until the leg of the outboard motor can be put down and start the motor. Pretty blowy.

1315: Cold drink before some lunch back onboard Lowana IV.

1530: Finish a second book. A white motor-cruiser yacht was coming in while we were going ashore earlier and is now anchored about 150 metres away. Has an extended pilothouse from the mid-section almost to the stern. Estimate the length at about 40 ft with a hard covered foredeck and a rubber inflatable on the roof of the pilothouse. Her name is Ariel. Doesn’t look like anyone is onboard now. From previous radio transmissions I assume they’ll probably be ashore with some children at the museum. Boat looks set up for charter work and probably some diving as well.

Two dinghies are powering across the port towards us from the direction of Kennedy Bay, which is directly across the other side of this port. Spray from their bows is rearing up in a “v” either side when viewed head on so they look like they’re moving pretty quick. They politely slow down near our anchored yachts and pass within 100 metres or so.

Wind coming from the east at about 15 kts. Short seas but not choppy. Pete is on his way over to take us ashore to the store later on. We need some eggs and dry cell batteries for a torch and Pete wants to make a phone call. This is probably the only phone box within 200 miles. Settle in for hot cuppas and nibbles.

1630: Suddenly Delma urgently says that Pete’s dinghy is adrift. I barrel topsides. Delma is already in our dinghy and turning on the fuel tap and opening the air vent. We chase after the other boat which by now is about 150 metres away. Catch up with it to find the painter – a rope attached to the bow had snapped. Grab the anchor rope and secure it to a cleat on my dinghy and return under tow to Lowana IV. Ariel motors past and a big well-tanned guy at the stern gives a friendly wave.

1700: Bought two dozen eggs and two ice-creams on a stick at the store which cost $18.00. Ice-creams are eaten slowly with great concentration so that it can be savoured the more. Leave the batteries on the shelf. Pete makes his phone call.

Delma meets up with a man named Paddy Bade, a surgeon she knows at Royal Darwin Hospital. He’s a friendly chap and stops for a chat. Both he and his son have just been fishing and are staying at the Black Point rental huts. His son had speared a couple of painted lobsters in the shallows earlier in the day.

1830: Wind has calmed but the sea is still a little bit bumpy on the return back to Lowana IV. Pete pushes off immediately we climb aboard. It’s at this point I notice that I’d put my black shorts on backwards before going ashore and hadn’t noticed. I’d been wandering around Black Point oystering and sporting a dirty patch from sitting down on both sides of my shorts on the green slimy rocks.

Bacon and egg on pancakes for dinner.

Tues 30 Sep 03

0700: Weather report is good.

0730: Pete calls. Has changed his mind about going west to Trepang Bay and is heading east to Palm Bay on the northwest side of Croker Island. Doesn’t want to go back without achieving something worthwhile – not having a good look around.

I can only agree. I’d like to check out Bowen Strait and Malay Bay and inspect the ruins at Raffles Bay. Decide to go too. Will leave tomorrow just before ebb tide at 0630 hrs. Checking this later find that the ebb tides actually flow westerly so we’ll be going directly against the tide.

With that decision made, jump onto the HF radio to advise Allan at BBR. Contact him almost immediately on the 8Mb frequency and tell him of our change in plans. Give him the latitude and longitude of Palm Bay and he reads it back correctly. He advises he won’t be available until the Friday morning sked now because of that training course he’s running. Close off comms.

Spend the next half hour studying charts and planning alternatives in event of the weather turning or unforeseen problems. Black Point to Palm Bay will be about 30 miles. The trip to Trepang Bay would have been 20 miles. If we do need to seek shelter early we should be able to anchor behind Danger Point which is 18 miles away.

0830: The wind blows up. Quite gusty at times. Doesn’t bode well for tomorrow. Decide to leave a bit earlier at around 0530 hrs on the slackening tide when it should be calm. Should also give us a bit more distance during daylight.

1030: Delma has been busy doing the washing and hanging it out. They were just a few things from yesterday but she likes to keep on top of it. She’s now pulling stuff out from the first aid lockers in the head – all six of them and is combing through the items in there. She’s finding lots of stuff I’d forgotten including a sealed pack with morphine in it to be used in event of serious injury and pain. A short pile of excess old bandages, ointments and other out of date medicines is put together to be kept in one place for emergencies, but which need to be replaced when we return home. It’s worthwhile to go through these stores from time to time so you know exactly what’s in there when you need something immediately.

Pete comes over for a visit. Heaps of activity around Black Point boat ramp. Lots of dinghies over there. Must be 8 or 9 of them plus other boats heading out to do some fishing. Some are charter boats. A catamaran comes in and anchors just off Black Point itself but about 300 metres away from us. Has kept radio silence and flying one of those aboriginal flags.

Afternoon: Go ashore once more to the store for an ice-cream. A government catamaran Gunyanah belonging to Department of Primary Industries arrives and refuels at the beach.

1800: Back on Lowana IV and raise the dinghy on the stern davits. Deflate the inflatable. Prepare the boat for sea tomorrow. It’s been quite blowy all day and only just starting to ease a bit now.

The wind drops right down at dusk. Sunset has some streaky clouds in the west with just some occasional cumulus in the darkening east. Perhaps we’ve seen the tail edge of the higher winds now. Hope so. In any case tell Delma that if it gets too hard tomorrow we can always come back here. That doesn’t mean if it’s comfortable, just that if it gets too hard to bash into the winds or if we cannot make reasonable time.

1900: Listen to the weather forecast. Nil warnings. Forecast is one metre seas with variable winds at 10 kts and inshore afternoon sea breezes to 15 kts. Sounds good enough.

After dinner place some cushions around the cockpit and read our books. Sea now calm and even hearing the odd fish plopping around the boat. Waxing moon provides a little bit of light, enough to have a saltwater bucket bath. Normally the water is fairly warm but the breeze makes it a quick affair due to the chill, but tonight the water is colder.

Some last minute preparations before bed. Check engine oils. Takes a long time to get to sleep. Fireworks being let off from one of the Ranger’s houses.

Raffles Bay

map 7 raffle bay

map 6 location map
Right: Location Map

Weds 1 Oct 03

0500: Alarm stridently calls me from my bed. Sleepily get up. Had been enjoying a lovely dream but it’s already fading. Kettle on.

Call Pete on the radio. Responds, “Good morning,” with the emphasis on “good”. Cockpit canopy down. Make hot cuppas. Put away bedding. Hook up water pressure pump. Calculate some waypoints and put them into the GPS. Turn the spreader lights on and lift the anchor which comes up clean not needing to be hosed down. Tie off anchor as Delma steers us out to deeper water past Kajan who is now showing a light.

Put up mainsail and secure it. Kajan underway too and assumes the lead. Get ready for sea: last minute check of stowage on deck. Dog down the for’rd hatch although the water is calm and just small puffs of breeze. Turn the navigation tri-light and both compass lights on and the cockpit light off. Set GPS to first waypoint and head out to sea towards it. Steering manually for a while.

First grey of dawn lighting the eastern sky. Tinges of red that later turns into a lacklustre dawn. Sky doesn’t look too bad at all with only scattered cumulus clouds. There is a line of them overhead but they pass by. Shouldn’t be any change associated with them that would bother us. Short swells coming into the port and Lowana IV’s bow is lifting to them.

0645: Outside port and nearly time to turn. Pete calls. Says he’s had enough and is going to go to Trepang Bay and then home. Wish him bon-voyage and he responds same. Wishes us a pleasant voyage. We turn to starboard. Pete keeps heading on towards Vashon Point.

0705: Miss the weather forecast while laying out lines and them through blocks back to the cockpit for a boom preventer system. The idea is to hold the main boom so it doesn’t accidentally gybe across and hit one of us on the head.

Swells larger and longer now. Breeze builds slightly as we clear Smith Point before we turn directly east into the sun making just over 4 kts motoring under mainsail. Think about putting up the staysail but the wind is on the nose mostly so it’ll just flap about. Some fishing dinghies power out of Black Point to fish the reefs nearby. They ignore us.

0730: Kajan’s sail recedes into the distance. Couple of other fishermen in dinghies about. Wind holding steady directly from ahead. Once we get out of this reef area and into deeper water the sea should flatten a little.

0745: Smith Point off our starboard quarter at 2.5 miles.

0815: Abeam Sandy Islet #1 which is marked visually by breakers on its reefs, otherwise it’s lost against the backdrop of the coastline and sandy beaches behind. This little island marks the western entrance to Port Bremer, a closed area to yachts because of commercial pearling activities.

Breeze still light and variable with occasional stronger puffs but still from directly ahead. Sea surface is ruffled and showing a darker green colour at 15 metres deep. A dolphin fleetingly surfaces 50 metres off the starboard bow before going under again but don’t see it come up again.

38 delma on watchLeft: Delma on watch

0900: Put out a fishing line over the stern using a rubber bicycle tube to cushion the shock of a big fish strike. Has been quite effective in the past.

Sandy Islet #2 appears ahead at 1.5 miles and more off to starboard with Danger Point behind it. The islet is only a low thing of sand and low scrubby bushes but has a certain prettiness with different coloured green water indicating depth and small reef shallows. It’s quite exposed here and wouldn’t offer much protection in any kind of blow but might take the edge off any heavy seas.

39 sandy island 2Right: Sandy Island #2 in the distance off to starboard

0930: Round Sandy Islet #2 and head towards Palm Bay on Croker Island. Just one more course adjustment to do in an hours time. Ariel has come out from behind Danger Point and looks like it going to anchor off the islet. They will probably do some diving there since they apparently picked up some air tanks at Black Point. The diving here today would be very nice I think.

Warm day, faint breeze. Low sea swells with the surface faintly rippled. Depths of 7 to 8 metres as we pass by. Depth sounder shows lots of fish feeding on the bottom. Cast an expectant eye on our trailing line from time to time. This is just glorious. Not enough wind for sailing and what is there, is from the wrong direction so we’ll stay motoring with just the mainsail up for now. Averaging 4 to 4.5 kts.

40 russ on railsLeft: Russ sits on the rail while motoring along.

Late brekky of rice cereal and soy milk. Actually this soy brand of milk happens to be quite palatable which is unusual and the rice cereal is surprising filling and tasty. Delma hands me another hot cuppa.

1030: Weather calms down even more. Wind is just zephyrs and the sea has very low short swells of about 30 cm. Lowana IV slices through the water barely rocking or pitching. Sun getting hotter. Danger Point is now abeam. Decide to try for Raffles Bay.

There’s a sail in the distance behind us off to the left of Sandy Island as we look back. Would most likely be the catamaran we saw back at Black Point. Beautiful day.

1100: Starting to push against the tide with speed down to around 3.7 kts. Raise the staysail and get the speed back up to around 4.1 kts. Calculate a series of waypoints into Raffles Bay. Read up some information about the place in a sailing guide book.

1200: Turn into Raffles Bay after giving a wide berth to Campbell’s Reef which has claimed two ships in the past.

1230: Heading into Raffles Bay. Hot. Pull in the trolling line and immediately a flock of birds start attacking a shoal of fish feeding on the surface. Might have been mackerel or trevally. Am fitting a lure to a rod when there’s a huge splash off the starboard bow about 100 metres away. Line flicks out and the lure skims and glints irresistibly over the surface but nothing happens. Dead. Birds are gone. No splashes.

Gunyanah is heading out of Raffles Bay. Call them on the VHF radio and ask about going ashore. They tell me it’s aboriginal land we need permission. Give me some sound advice about accessing this bay as there are pearl rafts and lines everywhere. Follow a marked channel down the eastern side to find an anchorage off the site of some old ruins from an abandoned settlement once called Fort Wellington.

Raffles Bay was named by Captain Phillip Parker King when he sailed along the Northern Territory coast towards the west between 1818. Captain James Stirling who later founded a Western Australian colony at Perth established a military outpost here with a small company of soldiers, marines, sailors, a surgeon, convicts, a surgeon and a storekeeper in 1827. Problems of disease, hostile aborigines, lack of expected trade with the Malays and isolation forced the abandonment of the outpost in 1829.

Call Raffles Bay on VHF radio channel 16 and 72 but get no response. We see several dinghies come out and work the pearl lines later.

41 raffle bay pearl lineRight: A line of pearl nets in Raffles Bay

1320: Anchor down in 2.5 metres depth. Low tide should be at 1400 hrs. Northerly sea breezes spring up whipping the surface of the bay with whitecaps. Hot. Take an ice cold soft drink from the fridge which is working exceptionally well now. Tidy up. Put up canopies against the sun but not the big one because the wind is still a bit blowy. Have a lunch of rice biscuits, sardines, tomato and pickled cucumbers.

1430: Wind alternately gusting slightly then dying. Water is easing. Would love permission to go ashore and inspect the old ruins but can’t raise anyone on the radio.

Distance today was 32 miles. Bay is wide and shallow. Low lying land with long stretches of beach interspersed with rocky headlands and occasionally low cliffs.

1730: Spend the afternoon in the cool breeze blowing through the front hatch shaded by a blue plastic cover. Wonderful. Both of us fall asleep at one point. Get cramps in legs so have to get out of bed quickly to stretch it away.

Hardly a cloud in the sky as the sun sinks to the low western horizon. A third small tree-covered island lies to the south about half a mile away. The white slash of cliff-face marks the site of the old settlement and some rocks extending off the shoreline earlier are now covered by the tide. Sea is flat and rippled. Northerly afternoon sea breezes are dying down to about 6 to 8 kts.

1835: Watch as dozens of large seabirds circle and wheel slowly across the bay in the fading dusk. They appear to be a black colour with a white breast, built for speed with forked tails and slender wings with sharp wingtips. Not sure what they area. A dozen or so descend to the surface of the sea and wheel about 150 metres behind us.

2000: VHF radio crackles into life with a staccato call for any vessel on the western side of Croker Island. I respond to the call identifying ourselves and that we’re anchored in Raffles Bay. Unable to identify the caller as it’s too intermittent. Can just hear snatches of the call though the voice doesn’t sound urgent or in distress. Try several times but can’t copy anything at all. Consider going back out into Bowen Strait but decide it would be difficult, even dangerous trying to thread through the lines of pearl rafts and lines in the dark. . Call a couple of more times over the next hour or so but nothing more is heard.

Raffles Bay to Mission Bay

Malay Bay

map 8 malay bay

Thurs 2 Oct 03

0600: Alarm goes off. Light grey outside heralds the coming dawn. A soft noise like a low wind is coming from the little island behind us. Listening carefully we establish that it’s the nesting sounds of birds, lots of them softly calling their mates. The sky lightens whilst checking the engine oils. Have to use the pressure pump to hose the thick, sticky mud off the anchor chain as it comes up. Good thing having this pump and hose. Glad I’d fixed the pump but it’s heavy on the power so the motor has to be run when using it. With the anchor secure we turn the boat to thread our way back out to sea.

0645: Plenty of light. Sun just below the land and starting to peep over. A pearling workboat speeds along the lines of pearl buoys and drops someone off at other small boats which seem to be some kind of work stations anchored along the lines. Assume that’s where they check the oysters for pearls. The first boat crosses our bow and the morning sun lights it up with a dull orange colour. The driver gives us a wave as he or she speeds off.

Am finding it easy enough to make our way back out to sea now that we know where the marks are, but this is not a place I’d like to enter or leave at night and especially not at low tide.

0815: Delma sights some dolphins ahead but they soon disappear. Reach the first waypoint in Bowen Strait. Careful navigation is required inside the strait due to shallows which run right down the middle. Occurs to me that the Makassan’s who once came here looking for beche-de-mer must have lost some people from time to time to crocodiles while they splashed around in the shallows.

42 bowen straitLeft: In Bowen Strait heading south

Virtually no breeze. Sea like a mirror reflecting blue sky with only wispy clouds around the horizon. A small dinghy is moving along the coast also heading south like us but closer in towards the coast, which is less than a mile away. Slowly overtakes us. Open water at both ends of the strait can be seen ahead and behind us.

0830: The horizon is barely discernible. Just enough breeze from our own forward movement to provide a bit of cool relief. All the land is low lying especially on the mainland with long stretches of beach and backed by trees. Croker Island on the other side has occasional cliffs jutting up along its length that provide some measure of scenic attraction and nicer to look at.

0840: Another pod of dolphins swim by unconcernedly, bobbing slowly through the water maybe 100 metres away. The dolphins here seem to be either very shy or disinterested in boats. I can see plenty of evidence of shallow water further into the centre of the strait, with ripples in the smooth surface of the water indicating the danger areas.

0845: Two-thirds of the way down. Chart says thickly-wooded country and it does look very forested. The trees seem bigger, greener and thicker.

0850: Am startled as we almost run aground. The depth suddenly rises 2.5 metres up from 11 metres then slows as the boat is turned back to deeper water. GPS tells me we’ve arrived at our waypoint. Have to be careful working through here because the only available chart I’ve got has a scale of 1:500,000, so the thickness of a pencil can mean the difference between clear and foul water.

0920: On the last leg to clear the shallow mid channel. There’s a couple of buildings on the mainland at the top of a low cliff, and another on Croker Island on the port beam. Each of these has a communications tower which is no doubt part of the trunk communications system for Croker Island itself. Water still flat. Occasionally a small, long fish bursts out of the water and tail-walks across the top at speed away from us, maybe to escape from some predator.

Our trolling line hasn’t taken anything yet either. Mainsail not much help in the breezeless air but we’ve made good time at 5 kts. Earlier we’d been getting close to 6 kts. Hot again. Have brekky of rice cereal again and coffee about half hour.

Two big fishing trawlers appear ahead. One red and one blue travelling side by side, one with an outrigger extended. Hard to make much more out due to the glare.

43 trawlersRight: Fishing trawlers heading north in Bowen Strait

0945: Trawlers approach. Contact one of them on radio. They’d come from Gove and say the weather has been good over that way. Very friendly sounding fellow. Wish each other a nice day and arrange a port to port pass.

First small swells push up the strait from Mountnorris Bay up ahead. Breeze also picking up slightly. Still doing 5.1 kts but it’s getting shallower and tighter so special attention is needed for navigation here in the narrow channel. Sandbanks also extend further out into the bay from Point David on Croker Island for some distance so a good lookout will also be needed. There are a couple of houses on the spit of land ending at Point David with some lines of pearling buoys here too.

Water slightly ruffled now. Might actually get to sail and turn the motor off.

1100: Finally break free of the long narrow channel at the base of Croker Island. Approx one mile wide and 3 miles long. Point the bow towards the northern end of Valentia Island at 7 miles showing on the horizon.

Gentle swells deepen as we push into the Arafura Sea. Wind coming directly from the front causing the mainsail boom to wobble back and forth. Pull it in tight with the traveller and the speed drops down to around 4.5 kts. Listen to weather forecast. No change. Delma makes a nice little bowl of nibbles with mixed nuts, sesame seed biscuits and low fat chocolate muffin. Nice – plus a cup of strong tea. Shame we can’t sail. Well we could if we really wanted to make about 1.5 kts and arrive at our anchorage in Malay Bay after dark. No thank you.

Delma stirs. Mumbles something about, “If you gotta do it, you gotta do it,” and goes below. I think she’s about to make some bread.

1125: Look back to see something splashing on the trolling line. We’re definitely dragging something back there so call to Delma that we might have a fish on. Put the motor to neutral and start pulling in the line. There’s some weight on it and a long dark shape like a fin cuts through the water – shark! Bugger!

44 mackerelLeft: spanish mackerel caught on a trolling line while leaving Bowen Strait

Open a gate on a side rail to get better access to the fishing line. While doing this Delma sees a big head rise momentarily from the water. Get the gate opened and pull the line in closer. No it’s a big spanish mackerel. The fin I’d seen was its tail cutting the water as it fought to get free.

Get it alongside the boat and ponder how I’m going to get it aboard since I don’t have a gaff or a boat hook. Put on a sturdy pair of fishing gloves then grab the wire trace being careful of the mouth full of teeth and the hooks on the fishing lure, then grab the tail. The tail feels like I’m grabbing a grown man’s wrist. Haul it up and manhandle it into the cockpit. It’s 1.2 metres long and completely fills the cockpit.

45 filletsRight: Delma washes fillets of fresh caught spanish mackerel

Turn the cockpit seat over to make a work bench and put the fish on it. It overlaps both ends. I want to cut it into mackerel steaks but have no cleaver to cut the backbone. Fillet it instead. Delma cleans the fillets and cuts them into more manageable chunks while I clean up the cockpit of blood and slime everywhere.

This takes some time because if it doesn’t get completely and thoroughly removed it stinks later. Hook up the pressure hose and turn it on but the hose decides to disconnect from the pump and sprays water everywhere inside. Mad scramble to sop it up especially from all the electronics.

Drifting south-west towards Point David but still in 8 metres of water. Job finally done.

1205: Underway again. Fish caught, cleaned, a couple of big fillet steaks in the oven and moving again within 40 minutes. Big grin on Delma’s face. Nothing better than fresh caught fish and some fresh bread that was baking while we cleaned the fish.

Lunch is something special today. Six miles to the waypoint off Valentia Island, then a dogleg around the top before a run into Malay Bay for the night. Just as well the fridges are working so well. Even our drinks are icing up if we place them against the iced-up cold tanks in there.

This day is beautiful. Seas still slight with low swells, light breeze head on so no sailing but maybe tomorrow. Decide not to put the line back out. Don’t need more fish now and I want to get to my anchorage before the afternoon sea breezes start kicking in hard.

1230: Afternoon winds springing up already. Some small whitecaps appearing. Sea state still the same. Still motoring.

1300: Wind swings northerly and whitecaps become more widespread. We could change to full sails on this tack but we’re only 40 minutes from our waypoint and then we’ll need to dogleg directly into the wind again across the top of Valentia Island. Now that there’s a bit of wind we can actually use we put a reef into the mainsail and raise the staysail. Immediately get a lift of about 10 degrees on the port bow. Maybe we’ll get to sail the last leg into Malay Bay.

Delma serves lunch. A big chunk of fresh fish fillet, a thick slab of bread, tomato and a lemon quarter. Neither of us can finish the meal. Too big. Save it for later. Waypoint just over a mile away. Beautiful day still. Delma starts cleaning up before she makes a hot brew so that we can be ready for sailing later if we want to.

Change course at waypoint. A more northerly wind holds steady to allow close reach sailing off the port bow. Warn Delma we’re about to change to full sail, drop the engine throttle to idle and pull out the jib furler. Once the sheet is winched in we lean slightly and pick up speed straight away. Motor put to neutral.

1330: Speed picks up to 4.6 kts. Turn motor off. We’re sailing. Ahh … peace and quiet without the motor. Put CDs on to listen to some music. Water burbles alongside the hull and off the stern. Just a gentle forward rocking as the bow hits successive swells. Valentia Island slides by off to starboard. We’re in 15 metres of water and just over a mile to the next turn. Sailing with full cutter rig to windward and heeling to 20 degrees but that’s okay. Normally I’d ease the sails at about 15 degrees but this is just too good.

1400: Change course and on our final tack. Course ESE at 5.3 kts.

1500: Coming up to the entrance to Malay Bay with just over 2 miles to our intended anchorage. Depth shelves up to 7 metres so motor the rest of the way in. Take down all sails and secure them. Fish jumping everywhere and being attacked by wheeling sea birds.

Again it’s low lying land. Stretches of white beach interspersed with small, low red ridges. Annersley Pt to the south has a prominent low red cliff-face but not tall by any means. Moving to the northern side of bay to get out of the swells.

1520: Tiptoeing in cautiously to the NE shore. A barge passes by Cape Cockburn outside heading west.

1600: Scout around carefully and slowly. At least one small dark reef patch reveals itself just off our port bow as we pass by. At this time of day it pays to be careful because with the low angle of the sun it’s not easy to see into the water or any colour change. Depth sounder starts beeping away to alert me and the depth on the screen jumps from 5 metres to 2.6 metres. I’d set the alarm at 3 metres.

Finally secure a spot at 3 metres depth, do a circle to check for any underwater nasties and set the anchor. Secure it, turn off the motor and open hatches and portholes to get some breeze through the boat. Tide flats here make it difficult to go ashore at low tide which is the best time to check for oysters, though it doesn’t look promising anyway. At least we’re sheltered from the worst of late afternoon northerly sea-winds and easterlies, but still exposed to south-west winds. The swell coming into the bay may be a pain tonight. The wind has eased a little but some gusts persist. As the tide comes in and the water depth increases so do the swells. Up, down, up, down. We think we’ll push on tomorrow and head for Somerville Bay just around Cape Croker at its northern tip.

1830: We’ve been sitting on deck just talking and enjoying a cold drink. Have a wash using buckets of salt water. Shampoo does a good job of soaping. Rinse off with a small amount of fresh water. Delma washes some clothes and we string them out along the bow rail.

1845: Sun has fallen below Valentia Island. Nothing special about the sunset though colourful enough. The sun finally goes out with a final gasp in a fiery halo of reds and orange.

Weather forecast not promising – NW winds. Have a nice dinner. Fish fillets of course. Delma crumbs mine just how I like it but just flours hers then deep fires them. Delicious. Put about 8 meals of fish into the bottom of the freezer. There’s also another large container of fillets in the fridge.

Wind keeps up and takes a long time to settle. Thumping noises coming from the bow in the v-berth are keeping me awake. Bump, grind, bump every time Lowana IV rises and falls off the bigger swells that come through. Occasional wind gusts are keeping the waves bigger I suppose. Get Delma out of bed and start the motor. Lowana IV barely able to move forward in gear against the force of the wind and waves so a touch of throttle has to be applied to get the snubber unhooked from the chain. Ease out more chain until I have 40 metres out there and re-connect the snubber. Watch for a while that we haven’t dislodged the anchor then turn off the motor and get back into bed. No more thumping but even as I lay there listening the wind slowly eases and the pitching becomes less frequent. Could have just waited – ah well …

Lay for a long time. Difficult to get to sleep but at last it claims me. Sleep well except when someone with an aboriginal accent starts calling someone else on the VHF radio.

Fri 3 Oct 03

0430: Alarms on our mobile phones go off. The tones get increasingly louder and more insistent until it is actually turned off.

Check oils in motor and a small amount of oil required. Put about a cupful in the gearbox and motor combined. Turn the motor on. Take our clothes down off the life rails though they’re still damp from the night air.

The weather forecast today promises hard weather with moderate NW winds. Pitch black outside. Hard to tell which way the land is. Pick up some stars for direction and check the compass. Bow pointing due west. Good. That’s the way we want to go to the first waypoint. The stars will give us some orientation as I pull the anchor up. Move forward. Breeze blowing already. Delma notices swarms of fish on the depth sounder.

Small swell coming through already. Normally it’s as still as anything. Doesn’t presage for a good day. Start pulling the anchor in. Tide going out. Don’t have to use motor or winch handle. Can pull chain in by hand until there’s only 20 metres out there then start using the winch handle. Chain and anchor came in clean – no mud. Quick glance at stars. Shine torch on my hand to signal Delma to engage throttle and show her the direction to take. I’m now done.

Delma knows what to do. She puts the motor into gear and starts moving off, keeping watch on the compass and for any other directions I might make. Edge out of anchorage watching the depth dropping on the depth sounder. Heaps of big fish start appearing but we won’t be chasing them today.

0520: Underway with motor ticking over slowly.

0545: First faint lighting of sky starts chasing our stars away progressively from the east. Almost at first waypoint near the entrance to the bay. Valentia Island is a pencil thin smudge against the horizon. Annersley Point with its rock shelfs and reef stands out black and stark off our port beam. Cape Cockburn looms larger off our starboard beam.

Reach waypoint and change course NW to our next waypoint about 10 miles away below Templar Island. Swells start getting a little bigger and there are some small gusts of breeze brushing our faces from directly ahead.

0630: Delma is a little bit cross with me. Says I shouldn’t have put us in a situation where we’d have a hard slog against these NW winds if I’d expected them to spring up later. But then what’s the point of an adventure? She’s probably right, although we should be in the lee of Croker Island most of the way.

All the waters to the west of us are expected to get westerly winds making it even harder to get home if we’d gone that way. I wonder how Pete from Kajan is getting on. Did he anchor up last night or did he just push on in one big jump?

Valentia Island is off the port beam with the little Cowlard Island off the starboard bow. Pink glow as sun pokes its head above clouds on eastern horizon. Seas okay so far. Still small swells with rippled surface coming from directly ahead. The further we go the more we come into the lee of Croker Island. The hardest leg will probably be Mission Bay to Cape Croker and around the cape, a distance of about 20 or so miles. Probably have a go at that tomorrow morning. Might be too hard this afternoon when the sea breezes also kick in. Motoring only. Mainsail not up yet because the wind is from dead ahead and it would just flap about.

0830: Situation much the same. Sun getting hot already. Breeze hasn’t picked up. Wind shifts slightly to port on this leg. Thinking of putting up some sail though no real need. Boat is comfortable, not rocking or reeling. Getting an average of 4 kts and content with that. Consistent 16 metres depth.

Just over 4 miles to the bottom entrance of a channel between Croker and Darch Islands, leading towards Mission Bay and the aboriginal community there. Light brekky of cold crumbed fish lumps. Lovely.

0900: Under the lee of Croker Island. Water has smoothed out to a soft undulating with rippled surface. Gentle breeze off port bow. Darch Island close off starboard bow. The land is low here and typical of the country in this region. Highest point is 57 metres. Small stretch of white sandy dunes on SE side. Can see the entrance to the channel now. Small brown cliffs on Croker Island face the channel.

1100: Listen to weather forecast and it sounds promising. Drop speed. Wind is almost non-existent as we make our way up the channel before doglegging back out to deeper water clearing the rocks on the southern side of Mission Bay entrance. Slowly push northwards until the bay opens up. The township of Minjilang can be seen clearly with its scattered houses against a rise of a brown hill and communications towers. With the promise of good weather for tomorrow we decide to anchor up here for the rest of the day and night.

Depth shelves to 7 metres. Drop to idle and move forward to the bow and ready the anchor. Swells curl around the northern headland and so too the wind which is only just now starting to pick up.

1130: Slowly work our way into the NE section of the bay above the township until we reach a depth of 4.5 metres to allow for the tide that will drop later today. Still about half a mile from the shore but that’s okay. We’d need permission to go ashore anyway.

To the south is a red scrape in the foreshore where barges bring supplies and vehicles into the township. Otherwise the shore line is backed by low white sand dunes most of the way around the northern side. The beach is backed by trees ending in a red promontory. Around the corner stands a deep red hill, sparsely populated with bushes and small trees.

Mission Bay


1140: Anchor set and secured. Wind continues to build. Small wavelets breaking. We’re going to get some swell here but not as bad if we’d anchored on the southern side of the bay. Motor off. Covers up. Decks too hot to walk on. A cover over the forward hatch soon has a cool breeze flowing through the boat. Take my shirt off. Delma points to a bruise on my left shoulder. It’s sore but I don’t remember how I done that.

1210: Lunch finished. Fresh bread and … fish with tomato and pickled cucumber. Wind has increased a bit more to almost a low moan. Just as well we decided to anchor up instead of tackling the next 20 miles and Cape Croker. Might catch up on some sleep or read, or maybe both.

Flashes of silver on the surface and a splash show the presence of big fish. Sea birds wheel above the surface of the sea. One occasionally plummets into the sea to snatch a morsel, hitting the water with a splash and almost instantly aloft again.

Look at the aboriginal community township. There are low set houses with wide verandas in the usual tropical style. Some are perched on the higher land above the beach to the south where about half a mile away is the barge landing. Among the houses are a scattering of coconut trees and black steel power poles. Here and there are some big tin sheds and there’s an open space of red ground which is probably used as a football field or maybe for ceremonies. Pandanus trees back onto the beach where a red tray-back truck drives along the hard, packed sand near where old timber pylons mark the remains of an old jetty. It looks like a nice peaceful place.

46 minjilangLeft: Part of aboriginal township Minjilang of around 300 or so people. It was founded in 1942 by Methodist Overseas Missions to look after children from the so-called “stolen generation”. English and 3 aboriginal languages are spoken here.

1500: Had forgotten the radio sked with BBR this morning and the sked due for this time has failed. Have a little snooze up in the forward berth in the cool air blowing through the hatchway. Delma throws some lollies at me in an attempt to get me up. She knows how to pull my strings.

Wind has changed to westerlies but no real strength to them, probably because we’re sheltered behind the hill above the township. The available breeze is welcome when it comes to cool us off though. Turn the commercial radio on and find a station playing music loud and clear for the first time this trip. So far all stations we could receive have been fading in and out, or had severe static. This station must be on relay from Darwin and serve the Croker Island community. Plays good music too.

1800: Sun sinks towards the hill over the township. It’s been a hot day, probably the hottest we’ve spent at anchor so far. The wind has died down to a gentle breeze and Lowana IV is only gently rocking, barely noticeable to the little wavelets still coming from the shore to the west.

47 sunsetRight: Another striking sunset marks the end of the day.

Some cars gathered earlier down at the barge landing but they’ve gone now. No barge came. Rigged another shade canopy. This one has reflective silver on one side and is bigger than the heavier duty white canvas we usually use that only just covers the cockpit. This new one slings under the boom from the backstays almost to the mast and will give shade to the cockpit, wheelhouse and some of the deck as well, plus give standing height in the cockpit and let air through. High streaky clouds indicate stronger winds to come. Hope they hang off until tomorrow.

Evening: Dinner of Thai curry fish and noodles. Once again a simple but delicious meal. Tonight the township lights offer something different to look at. Now and again a blast of rock music comes across the bay but mostly it’s quiet. Wind has died right down and sea is smooth.

Mission Bay to Darwin

 

Home Legs

 

map 9 final legs
Map 9 – Final Legs

Sat 4 Oct 03

0500: Climb out of bed into the hottest and clammiest morning though it’s still dark. Very humid and soon develop a sweat before even doing anything. Usual chores getting ready. Anchor comes in easily by hand and only need to work the winch for the last 10 metres of chain to break it out of the sand. It comes in clean. Notice while handling the chain that the water is warm too.

0545: Sea flat and reflecting the lights of the township as Delma turns the boat towards the middle of the bay. Turn the navigation lights on and “house” lights off.

0600: Pink dawn sky shows a band of thick cloud stretching away to the NE . Weather forecast is for moderate NW to NE winds so hope we can make Cape Croker before it arrives, but don’t think so. Surface of the bay is oily flat, like a mirror reflecting the dawn colours almost like a rainbow, to all appearances like a vast slick of oil with red, purple and pink patches on it.

0615: The sea merges with the sky in a pale grey/blue colour. Darch Island separates itself from the mainland to starboard seemingly floating in mid air since no horizon can be seen anywhere.

The old adage says, “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning”. Other signs indicate a blowy day from a weather front coming from the east. The undersides of clouds to the east are being lit up. Streaks of higher level clouds form a solid wall with the still hidden sun lighting the undersides of the clouds above them. At least we’ll have the weather behind us when we turn around Cape Croker and head west.

0645: Sun finally comes up from behind the clouds. The weather change is now distinct with high level streaky cirrus overhead and to the west, and there’s low cumulus to the east and NE. Looks pretty though. Almost to first waypoint to make a turn towards Cape Croker and it’s extensive shallow areas. It’s going to take a while to get around the outskirts of them. Making turns around most capes sometimes seems never-ending. You make a turn and the cape is ahead of you. You go past and turn and it’s ahead of you again. Make the next turn and it’s ahead of you again …

0700: Turn north out of the bay and the township eases behind the northern entrance of the bay. Cape Croker is visible on the horizon off the port bow at 10 miles as a thin dark line in the water. Water flat and mirrored. Wind vane pointing to the low cloud formation to the NE. That tells me it’s coming this way. The smell of the sea very strong this morning. Tangy smell.

0730: Turn on the HF radio to listen to weather forecast. Radio sked with BBR. Pick Allen up on the 8 Mb frequency but the signal is weak with heavy interference. All frequencies very noisy with traffic. Unable to establish communications.

0800: A breakfast of bacon, eggs and soda-bread hits the spot nicely. Five miles from the cape. First puffs of wind from the NE and the first swells reach us. Wind can be seen as bands of rippled water across the smooth surface of the sea.

The coastal land off the port beam seems to be mostly sand dunes with clumpy vegetation. Cape Croker itself is now clearly defined. Look to the NE and think I can see a ship but it isn’t quite the right shape. What is it? Finally realise it’s just a small cloud sitting faintly just above the actual horizon. Wind building slowly now from the NW as we get closer to Cape Croker and coming out from behind the shelter of the land.

0915: Cape Croker abeam to port. A fishing boat is anchored under the point. Short swells. Light, high wispy clouds blanket the sky with thicker clouds out to the east. Wind still light and variable from N to NE.

0930: Cape Croker lies astern. Still heading northerly. Lots of reef spawn in water giving off a stale stinking kind of smell and consisting of a mixture of light brown and green algae like patches in big streaks floating on surface.

Cutting closer to the reef rather than going out wide because conditions allow it. A solitary sea bird wings alongside for a moment before turning away over the widening brown stain of reef spawn. Swells starting to get bigger as we enter the more open waters of the Arafura Sea.

0950: First turn to port to pass over Britomart Shoals heading NW. Wind coming off the starboard bow on a close reach.

1020: Final turn towards the SW. Put up all sail to catch a small breeze coming broad off starboard beam. Motor to neutral. Try to keep sailing but speed slowly drops to 1.4 kts then we’re dead in the water. Current too strong so turn the motor back on.

1230: The NW tip of Croker Island lies to the SW about 5 miles off. Just a small dark outline of land. The wind has not appeared yet. Have been motor-sailing with full sails at 4.5 kts in the little bit of available breeze coming almost from the west. Sea flat and hardly any swell. Darker green colour out here. Looks inviting for a swim but it’s not a place where that would be wise.

Calculate that Trepang Bay is too far for an overnight anchorage so decide to head back to Black Point. At least we can anchor up there safely in the dark should we have to. It’s just under 5 hours on this heading and we should be able to make a final turn into Port Essington – if we keep up this speed.

Hot again. Put up the little white cockpit canopy for some shade. Makes a huge difference in comfort level. Sea is oily looking like the sort of smoothness you get if oil or fat is poured onto water. Occasional cloud gives a little bit of relief from the sun. Cool breeze blows fleetingly and the motor drones on and on.

1445: Wind tries to come up with short small gusts and lift Lowana IVs speed over 5 kts and heels her over to 15 degrees. Turn motor off. Under sail we get around 4 kts pushing through constant swells from the west. Wind is supposed to be NW but is actually coming from due west which is all to the good because we’re getting a broad reach out of it. Due south in the land haze is Port Bremer. Just under 11 miles to the waypoint with Smith Point visible in the distance as a faint darker blue line against the pale blue sky.

1615: Wind keeps dropping and it’s getting harder to maintain 4 kts. In the end we’re down to just over 3 kts so turn the motor back on rather than get into the anchorage after dark. Give just a little throttle up to 5 kts. Seas smooth with wind puffing from the west.

1800: Quick run into Black Point. Some people are walking along the low red cliff line above the rocky foreshore revealed by the low tide. Black Point ramp itself devoid of anyone. The beached yacht is still there but otherwise the place is just as we’d seen it last. No dinghies. No tourists. No nothing.

The sun moves down towards the horizon lighting a corona of blazing white streaky clouds, radiating outwards as if the sun is the centre of some cloud burst. Stronger winds are definitely on the way. Drop the anchor.

Delma prepares tea and pulls out a couple of cold drinks for sundowners in the cockpit. Reflecting on the day am surprised we hadn’t been hit by heavy winds today. Must be tomorrow and will just have to wait and see.

Evening: Dinner of baked chicken. Neither of us very hungry since we’d been nibbling at stuff all day. No sign of life anywhere except for a solitary truck driving in, probably one of the Park Rangers coming back home.

Overnight: Wind picks up creating sloppy conditions with swell coming through most of the night. It was hot, humid and sweaty, and neither of us slept very well. Up in the forward berth I could hear the anchor chain clunking against something, probably a rocky patch, and the boat bobbed up and down constantly to a succession of swells. After the wind eventually dies down the mossies start. Then something else starts clanging to keep me awake. Get up but can’t find it. It’s must be just a small noise from outside but magnified inside the steel hull. Then the boat starts rocking sideways as if she’s adrift. Get up again to check our position but it’s only the turn of the tide. And in between these interruptions to a good nights sleep are several calls of nature probably due to having drunk too much cold water during the day in an effort to keep cool.

Sun 5 Oct 03

0430: Alarms go off. Early start needed to reach Cape Don by 1300 hrs which will be a 31-mile run against the tide.

0530: Set up the pressure pump but it isn’t needed since the anchor comes up clean. On our way with the wind and seas calm. Faint lightening in east.

0600: Small breezes coming from east.

0700: Just of 3 miles to first waypoint around Vashon Head where we’ll need to go out wide to skirt the surrounding reefs.

One reef of more immediate concern is Orontes Reef. It got it’s name from the wreck of a 452 ton wooden sailing vessel in 1838 when it was bringing supplies into the then settlement of Victoria in Port Essington. Am not sure why the Orontes hit this reef but perhaps the existence of the reef should have been known. Maartin van Delft sailed through here in 1705 and located the reef calling it De Konijnenberg – The Rabbit’s Hole.

Breeze has picked up coming more strongly from the NE. Put up the mainsail and get another half knot. Delma’s busy below making bread and breakfast, sorting stores and repacking fridges. Freezer working well. Fish and meat frozen solid in there. Put some meat into the fridge to thaw it out for tonight. Seas still smooth and it looks like its going to be a beautiful day. Tides are neaps today so don’t expect much of a problem with them later at Cape Don.

0830: Caledon Bay, a red and white barge passes the other way. We’re getting 4.2 kts but have to push the throttle a bit. Wind isn’t helping being variable from the east and only light. It can’t keep up with the boat speed under motor.

48 bargeRight: Shipping barge “Caledon Bay” passing by in the Arafura Sea near Cape Don

0900: A Navy Patrol Boat comes up on our port quarter towing three Indonesian fishing boats and slowly overtakes us. They’re about half a mile away and getting better time at around 5 kts. Barely any wind. Delma is watching a couple of dolphins just off the bow when a large fish jumps twice in front of the dolphins and a chase develops. A fishing dinghy goes by at planing speed closer in to the coast. Probably works from the fishing holiday resort at Cape Don. We leave them astern as they stop and start searching around for fish.

1000: Cape Don lighthouse comes into view peeking out from behind Lingi Pt.

1200: Tide running with us. Cape Don is off the port beam at just over a mile. Pull out the headsail and set both sails. Small northerly seabreeze starting in gives us an average of 6 kts under sail. Nice and quiet. Put some music on and enjoy some lunch in relative peace and quiet.

1230: Lunch of sandwiches and cold orange juice over. Speed has dropped to just over 5 kts but that’s okay, it’s pleasant. Nice cool breeze under the shade of the cockpit canopy. Seas are slight with wind barely 10 kts coming through in puffs.

1300: A combination of the wind dropping and the tide turning pulls our speed down below 4 kts. Turn the motor on so that we can get to our anchorage before dark. Leave the sails still up.

Coastwatch aircraft thunders low overhead calling over the radio, “Red sloop just overflown by Coastwatch aircraft”. When I identify ourselves as Lowana IV he says, “Thank you sir, we have your details. Enjoy the rest of your journey”.

Waves with regular whitecaps roll past. Lowana IV rocks along with them as they pass underneath from the starboard quarter. Late in the afternoon the wind picks up a bit. Give some thought to continuing on tonight under sail but the chance for a good sleep overrides it. Have to offset our course as the tide keeps pushing pushes us towards the shore. Rock and roll, rock and roll. Delma watches while I get an hours rest before we have to start threading our way through the extensive shoals and reefs. No fish on the trolling line except a big gob of seaweed.

Doesn’t look too promising as we come up to Cape Keith. Long choppy swells follow the coast with us and it initially looks like we might have to forego our anchorage tonight. However after turning into the cove and scouting around for over an hour we find a spot in 5 metres, just a few hundred metres off the beach and out of the wind. So long as the wind doesn’t turn easterly tonight we’ll be snug, otherwise it’ll get bumpy.

1800: Drop the anchor in 5 metres off Camp Point In Cobham Bay behind Cape Keith on the SE corner of Melville Island. Boring afternoon to the max. Wind had remained steady from the north all afternoon across the weary 15 mile gap from Cape Don and it was hot of course.

Delma throws a wet face-wipe to me. These come out of a packet and are an excellent way to freshen up. Wipe over face and neck and it refreshes wonderfully. The wind whistles overhead but it’s not affecting the boat and the water is calm. Wonderful. At least for now.

1830: Relax in cockpit.

1900: Weather forecast good, the sea is calm and the wind is dying. The forecast of westerly winds doesn’t make it look good to visit Escape Cliffs, which is about 55 km NE of present day Darwin. We’d have to anchor off at least a mile and the area is exposed to all winds from north to south. Escape Cliffs features prominently in the history of the Northern Territory. According to at least one scholar it’s possible that the great Chinese explorer Cheng He sailed in this area around 1421.

HMS Beagle, the ship in which the famed Charles Darwin had sailed dropped anchor near here in 1839. Two men were sent ashore to resolve a variation problem with the compass caused by the amount of ironstone in the region. The men set up their equipment including a theodolite on the beach and whilst in the process of determining True North, some local aboriginal men appeared on the cliff about 8 metres above them.

With a wild look in their eyes and aggressive attitudes the aboriginals began threatening to spear the visitors. It was a highly charged moment and death imminent when one of the men began to dance and jig about. Spears lowered as the natives gawked at them. The other man followed in kind. They kept this up long enough to be able to collect instrument and weapons, run to the water and swim to a boat that had been sent from the ship and make their escape.

Later in 1864 a surveying and settlement expedition was sent here to establish a site for a submarine cable from Asia to be brought ashore and then to connect with an overland telegraph line. Disagreements about the site, poor leadership and problems with aboriginals resulted in abandonment in 1867.

Mon 6 Oct 03

0545: Both of us had a beautiful nights sleep. Wake to a slight rocking and get up to check. Small ripple swells coming from the west on an outgoing tide. Quickly get ready to go. Will have an outgoing tide to run against but the alternative would be to wait until 11 am. While that wouldn’t be too bad we’re confined to the boat and can’t go ashore because Melville Island is aboriginal land and a permit is required, which we don’t have. We can make some miles in that time. Not sure what the next step is, where to go. Go home or what? Will think about it on the way and keep an eye on the weather. Raise the staysail. No difficulties getting underway.

0730: Contact BBR. Very noisy frequency but manage to pass on that we’re in transit to Darwin and expect to arrive later tonight. Allan says he’ll pass that message on.

Sea flat. Tiny ripples on water betray where small puffs of wind are passing. Pulling just under 4 kts under mainsail and motoring.

0930: Slight breeze close off port bow from SW but helping to push us up to 4.6 kts. Waypoint is 2.5 miles to go when we’ll have to decide whether to pass through the Vernon Islands via Cape Hotham or go via the north channel. There’s a possibility that once we’re through the Vernon Islands we might be able to sail direct to Bynoe Harbour to the west of Darwin. Have to wait and see. Motor sailing. Not enough breeze to sail. Tide will change soon to run with us.

49 motoringLeft: Motor sailing.

1230: The world is composed of pale blue sky and light green sea. To the south are two slivers of dark blue on the horizon showing the location of the Vernon Islands, with a couple of small fluffy clumps of clouds scattered around the edges. Breeze up until now has been helpful but mostly non-existent. Forecast is supposed to be NW to NE winds but has consistently been SW, an angle of 90 to 180 degrees wrong. Away to the NW is a barely visible sliver of dark blue being Melville Island.

Sea is rippled but flat with small light brown patches of reef spawn drifting by. Delma throws a full cabbage about the size of a human head over the side. It’s had been wrapped in newspaper and slung in netting up in the forward berth, but had gone mouldy. Watch it for maybe 3 minutes or so before it’s lost from view even in this almost flat sea. The cabbage will break down before long. There are those ecological perfectionists who throw nothing over the side but common sense tells us that waste vegetables will break down and form part of the food chain.

1600: Clear of the Vernon Islands through the North Channel which slowed us down after being met with a bit of tide running against us. Wind vane has spent most of its time spinning around looking for wind. Must be getting giddy by now. Calculate a course to an anchorage at Tapa Bay, just inside Charles Point in Bynoe Harbour. The distance of 35 miles will mean an arrival time near midnight.

Delma thinks about it and finally says, “Let’s go home. It’s too boring to continue today”. I must admit I’m also getting bored and fed up with motoring everywhere. Going on for Bynoe Harbour might have been okay if we could have at least sailed part of the way, but the tide is running against us as well. Turn for home. Course 207 degrees True at 4 kts. Wind vane still hunting for air. Water like a mirror. Hot. I must get around to setting up some outside speakers for the cassette/radio so that we can listen to some music whilst motoring.

50 off watchRight: Delma in a quiet moment off watch and reading. It’s way too hot to be outside.

1630: Getting sick of this droning motor. Set the gear lever to neutral and test whether we can sail at all. Breeze immediately comes behind the mainsail which blankets the headsail. Turn to starboard 20 degrees and manage to get 2.5 kts. Come back on course and goosewing the headsail – headsail poled out to one side of the boat and the mainsail out the other side. Back on course getting around 3 kts but the sails barely keeping full and flapping a little. Motor off. At least we might be able to sail home even if it does take us another hour or so longer. Music! Quiet! Can talk to each other without raised voices!

1700: Darwin in sight through the binoculars with the hospital jutting up on the horizon. Afternoon sea breeze coming up from NW but not enough to keep the sails full yet but still getting 4 kts.

1815: Wind and speed slowly build to between 4.6 to 4.9 kts. Good. Really enjoying this.

2230: Arrive at Fannie Bay in Darwin Harbour. The sailing has been excellent and we haven’t really lost all that much time by sailing, maybe an hour. Very pleasant. Delma says she felt like a queen sailing softly into the harbour in the moon light.

Spend a lot of time looking for a suitable site amongst other anchored vessels. Density of other boats anchored, low tide and shallow water, the extensive sand bar not to mention the large tides makes selection of a site difficult. Get the anchor down only to find someone’s mooring buoy 40 metres away that we’d somehow missed. Thick smoke in the air from the usual Dry Season fires. Had gotten used to clean air. Make hot chocolate drinks before going to bed.

Tues 7 Oct 03

Delma hasn’t slept well. Too hot. I’d also kept waking up because of swells coming through and various clunking noises. The morning arrives drab, cloudy and overcast with thick and dark clouds in the east. A forecast change is due later in the week so perhaps we’ve done the right thing by coming home a little early. The smoke smell is still strong. Seems strange to be back in Fannie Bay on a weekday morning without the sound of traffic. It seems odd.

0800: Get on the mobile phone to lockmaster Pete at Tipperary Marina. Ask him his opinion of we might be able to get into the lock because of the falling tide. He thinks we might do it but it’s a one hour trip to get around there and the low tide is at 11 am. Get the anchor up quick smart and head out.

Push the boat hard with the motor up to 1700 rpm against the tide. The run around to Sadgroves Creek is pleasant. Pass a sleek black and stainless steel super-yacht about 60 feet long named Alithia with 5 spreaders at the main Darwin Wharf. Two men in a dinghy alongside are washing the hull.

As we pass around the main wharf we get a wave from workmen cleaning rust off a red and white rig tender vessel named Total Provider. Pull out the berthing lines and fenders as we enter into Sadgroves Creek. There are two areas of concern we’re going to have to cross – one is a shallow mud bank facing the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club, and the other is the underwater lip of the gate door to the marina lock. We just manage to get across the shallows at 1.2 metres. Lowana IV is only just afloat in 1.1 metres measured from the depth sounder transducer underneath the hull to the bottom of the keel.

Call Peter. He’s not sure now whether we can make it. Tells me he has 1.5 metres inside the lock. I might be able to get in. The gates open and I tentatively move towards the gate door watching carefully for side currents which will sweep Lowana IV onto the wall of rocks. It’s almost low tide so very little sweep. Thankfully there’s no wind to contend with as well. Going cautiously over the entrance lip the sounder starts alarming at 1.1 metres. We’re a hairsbreadth from grounding. A rock or pebble wouldn’t be able to fit between the keel and bottom of the lock but we make it inside and hook a line to the vertical poles on one of the walls. Gate closes and the lock is flooded as we hold tight on our lines, adjusting them as we lift against the wall. An improperly tied fender washes away but a workman doing sandblasting work in the lock scurries down a ladder, retrieves it and tosses it back to me.

The inside lock gates open and with thanks to Peter we make our way down the right hand side of the marina. As it happens our old berth is still vacant and our French neighbour pokes his head out from below with a surprised look. I offer him, “Bonjour Monsieur.” He looks bemused. Must be my accent or doesn’t remember me. Run docking lines and secure Lowana IV in her berth. Motor off. Nice to be back inside.

THE END

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