|Map 1 – voyage area.
Distance Darwin to Weipa
“as the crow flies” in a direct line is 740 miles.
I’ve long held a dream of doing a solo circumnavigation of Australia. At 55 years of age I figured I probably should stop putting it off and bite the bullet … just do it. Besides, I wasn’t getting any younger but still reasonably fit. And I’d racked up a credible amount of sea-time over the last 11 years to be able to deal with most, if not all potential problems.
I put in for Long Service Leave at half pay with the NT Police where I worked, which combined with 2 lots of annual recreational leave gave me 12 months of leave in which to get it done. The plan was to travel clockwise heading east since there would be more ports to stop at if I need assistance i.e. spare parts or whatever. By the time I get into the more remote areas such as the Great Australian Bight and the West Australian coastline I reckoned I should be pretty well set up and seasoned for it.
I was not to know that this journey would mark the beginnings of a descent into a very dark place. A place where my death seemed perfectly justifiable to me and where my own strength of mind, my will-power in which I took some pride was surprisingly of no use to me at all.
Ever since returning from the South Vietnam War in 1971 I’d known there was something wrong but didn’t know what it was. The issues of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental disabilities such as anxiety and depression being routinely incurred by returned servicemen was not very well recognised at the time. If at all. Many of us continued to live with a mental ticking time bomb that would ultimately manifest itself sometimes 30 or 40 years down the track.
The following story is presented as a photo-journal. It consists of notes taken either at the time or soon afterwards plus photographs. At times it refers to emotions that I experienced, not knowing that they were the first warnings of approaching acute anxiety and severe depressive trauma. As you may think it’s not easy to open up like this – to expose your inner self, but if this story helps give the non-afflicted an insight into what a loved one may be going through then it’s all to the good.
|Lowana IV – An 8 tonne cutter rigged steel cruising yacht powered
by a 25hp Volvo diesel motor. Additional solar panels fitted at the bow
could be raised to a horizontal position whilst an anchor in order
to catch more sunlight.
12 Aug 04
Last day of work. Start preparing my yacht Lowana IV in earnest including fitting a laptop computer for movies and navigation software, a HF radio, steering windvane and a new dinghy. It takes two weeks of solid work with several problems and delays along the way. Fred Sims, a long time sailor friend has been a marvel helping out with various welding and odd jobs. Also purchase and fit a new HF auto antenna-tuner only to find it doesn’t work with the HF radio.
Sun 29 Aug 04
Go to service the motor only to find I have the wrong filters. Being a Sunday I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to get the correct ones. Tomorrow was to be the day of departure. Work until 2130 hrs fixing and loading boat. Fit two solar panels plus a new 12v electric fridge to back up the existing eutectic system.
Mon 30 Aug 04
Shop around and finally find the correct filters and finish servicing the diesel motor. Finalise other last minute chores that had been overlooked or still outstanding but not essential, just to fill in some time.
Tues 31 Aug 04
|Map 2 – Initial route|
0700: Delma drives me down to the boat. Fred and his wife Beth are waiting at the marina to see me off. Delma with moist eyes whispers to me during a final hug goodbye to take care. Am feeling a bit moved in the emotion of the moment. Head out through the marina lock and into Darwin Harbour.
0830: Contact VKS737 Darwin for a final check that the HF radio is working. This communications network was established in 1993 to provide communications assistance to land, sea or air travellers in remote places. Last year I’d tried to work with another group based in Brunei but contact was intermittent with noisy frequencies. This group offers a much better system with a radio schedule containing a variety of frequencies, different times of day and a number locations around the country to call.
0915: Contact VKS737 Derby base on the HF radio as well to give them details about Lowana IV and my intentions. These are to first sail NW around the Tiwi Islands group and stop at Snake Bay – now known as Milikapiti to visit a family friend who works there. I then propose to travel east to Queensland stopping at overnight anchorages whenever possible.
Rest of morning: Decide to head for Tapa Bay on the west side of the Cox Peninsula in Bynoe Harbour rather than undergo an overnight sail first up. There’s something different starting out on this trip that I just can’t put my finger on. I’m just not feeling right about it, so maybe an overnight sleep will help get me settled in. Don’t bother with the sails because of headwinds. In any case I want to run the motor to get the eutectic fridge really cold. As well it will get the ship’ batteries fully charged up, especially a big 200 ampere-hour “house” battery primarily serving the fridge and electric anchor winch.
On the way I find that the new Sumlog instrument for measuring speed through the water isn’t working. Nor is the laptop navigation software working with the GPS either with the computer going into a spin immediately the data cable from the GPS is connected. Just as well I’m stopping for the night. I should probably try to get these things sorted before I go any further.
1330: Anchor set down in Tapa Bay and start to get myself organized packing away loose stores. The last two weeks has really been full-on. Am feeling sort of drained or out of sorts and well out of my comfort zone for some reason. This is quite unusual. Why should this trip be different to any others I’ve set out on?
1500: Hot. Windy from NW with afternoon sea breezes.
1530: Feeling very lonely. It’s a fairly new sensation and washes over me in waves mostly in spare moments when I’m not actually occupied in doing something. There is a nagging feeling of foreboding and that I shouldn’t be doing this. Nothing I can put my finger on. It’s as if I know I’m doing something wrong. Funny that. As Delma and I get older I think we are closer so maybe the thought of this long separation is playing on my mind at some deeper level. Although we’ve had long separations before? Get busy again by looking at a problem with the aft solar panels.
1845: It’s blowy and I’m still feeling anxious but there’s no reason for it that I can see. I simply can’t relax. Something is really bugging me. It must be homesickness. I’ve never really been homesick before so that must be it. But it doesn’t explain the persistent feeling of pending doom. It’s quite unsettling and no matter how much I try to rationalise it, it simply won’t go away.
Haven’t been able to exactly fix the problem with the aft solar panels wiring so put in a workaround by bypassing the meter and on/off switch. The power will now go directly into the batteries but will still be controlled by a regulator. Look in the fridge and silently thank Delma for her foresight in preparing a pre-cooked meal. I only have to heat it up. Am not really in any kind of mood to cook something otherwise. Can still get a commercial radio station and TV here but am out of mobile phone range.
Spend a couple of hours looking at the manual saltwater pump over the galley sink but can’t fix it. Will need to change it with the freshwater pump that’s in a hand wash basin in the head once I reach Snake Bay at the north of Melville Island (now called Milikapiti). Heat up dinner but can only eat half of it and start feeling nauseous. Make a hot chocolate drink and watch a bit of TV before going to bed.
Wed 1 Sep 04
Overnight: Got up several times during the night. Nervous piddles I guess. Wind continued for most of the night and only easing before dawn. Sloppy at anchorage being open to the W and SW with wave slop causing the boat to buck around all night.
0630: Wind from the SE – good! Raise the anchor using the new electric 12v anchor winch. Works well. Underway under motor. Will need to set up a hose next time to wash any mud off the chain. Pulling buckets of seawater up to wash the chain and deck is too time consuming and too much work. It’s also cramped at the bow with the dinghy stowed there.
Happy with the fridge power draw. Still got 12.6v even after running the fridge overnight just on batteries. The little electric motor comfortably draws the fridge temperature down to about 7 degrees Celsius.
0900: Set up sails for the first time. Getting 4.5 to 5 kts. Turn off motor.
1000: Alone well off the coast under sail for the first time. Darwin and the Cox Peninsula dip below the horizon and it’s a sober moment. Wind dying down and the windvane is hunting for air so have to change course to maximise the available breeze. Down to 3.5 kts at times. Good to see batteries are charging up without using the motor. It means the solar panels are working properly.
Still a bit homesick if that’s what it is but try to keep active and not think about it. The little lamp on a flexible gooseneck stand over the navigation table isn’t working so pull it apart, clean it and get it working again. Am finding lots of things not working because they haven’t actually been used for a while.
1015: Wind picks up and start getting 6.3 kts. Back on course to waypoint.
1330: Feel better after some lunch. Spend time sorting out the many charts by State i.e. NT, Qld, NSW, Vic, Tas and WA. Quite a collection but they’re not complete. At least I’ve got every chart from Darwin to Brisbane even if some are only copies.
Wind drops again as I get the first sighting of Bathurst Island in the heat haze. Had been getting over 7.0 kts under sail at one point but am pushing against a big tide run now. Might even get a bit choppy if the wind rises against the tide.
1430: Not much breeze and down to 3.5 kts or less. Sails are slatting and am off course trying to follow the bit of wind that’s available. Leave the sails up, turn the motor on and resume a more direct course. Motoring will at least boost the batteries for tonight. Still receiving a commercial radio station which is good but the remote speakers aft in the cockpit aren’t working either. Something else to look at later.
1600: Challenged by a Coast Watch aircraft. Tell them who I am and my passage intentions.
1745: Hardly a breath of breeze to help progress during the last couple of hours. New flag hangs limp. No point in leaving the headsail up so roller furl it in and sheet in the mainsail hard to the centreline of the boat. Seas are glassy and there’s a very fast head current slowing the boat down as far as 1.6 kts. It’s a mixed blessing since wind on tide here right now would make for rough seas. I’ve obviously made a mistake leaving Darwin during these big Spring tides. They’re really slowing me down.
1845: Red sun hits the horizon. Heat up a tin of meatballs for some supper. Am still a long way from my waypoint but speed has picked up with the tide changing to about 2.5 kts. Still no wind.
2000: Dark outside but there’s just enough light to make out an horizon. Reach my first waypoint SW of Cape Fourcroy skirting a reefy area to the east. Have memories of a nasty storm in this place just west of here some years ago. I’d had to battle most of the night to get enough sea-room so that I could deploy a sea-anchor.
Am not sure whether to anchor up behind the cape or keep going at this stage. As I ponder this I remember I’d forgotten to put reefing lines into the mainsail so take it down. Safer not to try rigging it up in the dark right now. Should also have had a life-line strung too so that I could clip my safety harness onto it. I seem to have overlooked quite a few things to do in getting ready and that’s pretty unusual for me.
Tide turns and start getting 4.6 kts just under motor but am concerned about having to keep using fuel. However if I change to full sail I’ll need to rig those reefing lines and I won’t have a life-line rigged either. Decide to anchor in a bay to the west of Cape Fourcroy. There’s a full moon in a couple of hours which will be helpful in closing with the land. Work out a series of waypoints into the anchorage.
2300: Anchoring completed and turn the motor off. Get into bed for an early rise tomorrow. Trip today approx 60 sea miles – about 111 km.
Cape Fourcroy: Position: 11.43.53S – 130.03.7 in 8.3m depth. Nice quiet spot out of swells and protected from the north winds now blowing. Swells invading the bay behind Pt. Fawcett. Let out 70m in rope and chain combination to allow for rise and fall of tide.
Thur 2 Sep 04
0630: Uneventful night and a good night’s sleep with only a few interruptions. Look outside through a porthole into a fine morning with wind coming steady from the east.
0800: Finish some chores then add some diesel oil to the motor. Put too much in so have to suck some of it back out using the sump pump. Batteries reading 12.6v again which is good. Start the motor and winch the anchor up, wash the chain and stow it away. Install the first reef line into the mainsail while motoring along with the tiller-pilot engaged.
1015: Wind is up to 20 kts already and the seas are short and sharp at about 1.5 metres. Pretty bumpy. Put a second reefing line into the mainsail with some difficulty but it isn’t working properly. I’d forgotten the sail-maker had got it wrong when he’d first put in the reefing eyelets so he’d had to put in a second set of eyelets. Takes a while and a few time consuming experiments before I can get the mainsail reefing system to work properly. With the mainsail properly reefed the boat sits comfortable at around 10 to 15 degrees angle of heel. Unfurl the big genoa headsail so that only about half of it is rolled out to nicely balance the boat and the speed jumps quickly to 7 kts. Lowana IV is knifing through the water and I start to feel some confidence returning.
Midday: Strong winds and big spring tides turn against me. Am a bit off course so put in a tack easterly just enough so that I don’t lose ground but speed immediately drops below 2 kts. Yuk. Take stock of the situation. The wind doesn’t look like moderating and I can’t close with the land anywhere here since it’s mostly unsurveyed waters – just blank areas on the charts. Up ahead there’s a huge mass of reef about 20 miles wide by 10 miles deep off Cape Van Dieman still to thread through. And it’ll probably be night time by the time I get there. Once past that I’ll still have about 20 miles to go to the NE – directly into the heavy winds which will mean more hard tacking. To make matters worse, by that time the tide will have turned and it could be a wind on tide situation. Not nice especially when there is reef all along the coast on my lee side.
Decide not to gamble on the wind dying down and try to find a spot on the charts where I can anchor up until the weather turns for the better. Pick a spot at the northern end of Aspley Strait but even this is still about 20 miles out of the way, and I’m going to have to fight the wind and tide the whole way to get to it. Bugger!
1630: Reach the northern end of Aspley Strait where red chalky cliffs guard the entrance on the top side. Begin to thread my way easterly through more reef to access the narrow deep water channel.
Dusk: Wind still blows strong in my face as I enter the strait in the fading light. Looks like I would have lost the gamble on the wind dying down if I’d decided to continue on out there. Am looking forward to a nice sleep and maybe a rest day tomorrow I think.
Make it through the worst stretch but have to hunt around for a suitable spot to drop the anchor in the dark. I’ll need around 8 metres depth since there’ll probably be a 6 metres drop in tide tonight and it’s right on the top of the flood tide now. I have no information about the tidal heights here so I’m working on Darwin tides for safety. Tide Tables are another thing I’d forgotten. Damn! The whole area on the eastern side of this strait is shallow and steep-to on the other side. Get in as close to the eastern side as possible for shelter from the wind but it’s still about a 2 mile open fetch of water to the land.
1930: Get the anchor down and glad of it. Have sailed 46 miles today but it’s been a hard slog since just after midday. The tidal current is running fast so I run out a 6:1 scope on the anchor i.e. 6 metres of rope/chain to 1 metres of depth. Set alarms on both the GPS and depth sounder.
2000: Contact Roy at VKS737 Perth and pass my coordinates and intentions for tonight and tomorrow. Good communications. Roy says he’s receiving me loud and clear.
Dip the fuel tank to find I’ve only used 25 litres. Thought it would have been more since the motor has been running pretty much the whole trip all of Tuesday, half of Wednesday and most of the day today against heavy winds and tides.
2130: Read a book as the moon rises over the shore to the east in a big red glow.
Fri 3 Sep 04
0740: Enjoy a sleep in to face another fine day. The wind has dropped to a breeze from the SE with just enough force to ripple the water. Am not fooled though because it would still be quite strong offshore along the open coast I think. Might be better to wait here a couple of days to be sure conditions have improved and for the neap tides. Still feeling quite lonely. There’s no TV or radio available here just CDs and cassette music tapes for company.
Several times yesterday I’d thought, “For two pins I’d go back home”. I begin to think if I had a good excuse I really would go back home. And I’m thinking that I don’t know how people can enjoy this life, forgetting that this is exactly what I normally enjoy doing. For me this trip is proving to be just hard work, lonely, frustrating, filled with problems, anxious moments and decision making – the outcomes of which could be most undesirable.
0900: Make up a list of jobs to do. Notice that the wind is building up and whitecaps starting to appear in the bay. Just as well I didn’t try to set out earlier.
0930: Wind still building and beginning to whistle through the rigging and sending shudders through the boat as gusts hit it.
1200: Keep myself busy all morning doing odd jobs, mainly trying to keep my mind occupied. If I sit still long enough the “shadow” man inside my head starts trying to pull me down with negativity. The weather forecast tells me I might have to stay here tomorrow as well. Maybe I can make an attempt to reach Snake Bay by leaving on the ebb tide Sunday and then catch the flood tide off Cape Van Dieman. Wind starts to die down but still gusts up occasionally.
Getting hot but I start to enjoy the day a bit better after having something to eat. Take a little nap after lunch then do some work on the computer.
1700: Strong NE afternoon sea breezes kick in coming from the exact direction I need to get around Cape Van Dieman to Snake Bay, assuming I wanted to go now. Made a wise decision to hole up here I think. Haven’t run the motor toay but the batteries are still good at 12.5v.
Evening: Watch a movie on the laptop after dinner before bed but can’t really concentrate on it. My mind seems to be running at a million miles an hour, my heart is pounding, pulse racing and I seem to be short of breath all the time. Often duyring the day I’d f elt as if my throat was constricted with a big lump at the base of my throat or upper chest. This is bloody ridiculous! There’s no reason for this so what the bloody hell’s going on?
Sat 4 Sep 04
0700: Wind became a bit quieter overnight – at least that I was aware. Slept like a log. Am tempted to try for an overnighter to Snake Bay tonight. At 60 miles it’s too far to go for a morning start since that would mean entering the reef infested Snake Bay at night. Rather not. Weather forecasts more strong headwinds today and easing tomorrow afternoon. Will give it a go tonight I think.
0830: Spend some time reading the HF Radio manual and listening to the ABC radio on 4.835 MHz.
0845: Wind is still light from SE at about 10 kts but even with that 2 mile fetch it’s still probably quieter here than outside this bay.
0930: Wind building up to a moderate level.
Afternoon: Do odd jobs and some computer work. Rummage through old spares and manage to find an old hand pump I might be able to use for saltwater in the galley sink. Hook it up but it doesn’t work properly after one or two pumps. Disconnect the manual pump in the head and fit it into the galley sink. If the electric freshwater pump fails then I’ll just have to use this one to replace it, then start using a bucket to fetch saltwater from the sea for cooking and washing up. Only have one bucket on board which would be a sizeable inconvenience if I lose it.
Finally get the GPS and computer to work together after a fashion. Seems the laptop doesn’t want the GPS to do anything other than give a position. If the GPS just does that then the laptop navigation software will work properly. But if I set the GPS to doing something else like setting it to Highway Mode, the input drops from the navigation software like it’s spitting the dummy or something.
Doubts plague me. Still not sure whether to return home or not. I have an oil leak in the motor which needs watching. Being the Dry Season the winds are predominantly E to SE and a lot of motoring will probably be required. I have no money to buy more fuel if I need it at least until next payday. And in any case I’m not sure if I can get more fuel before reaching Gove anyway. Am also in need of a current National Tide Tables since the tides ranges shown in the navigation software is wrong. I need a new galley hand pump and the sumlog needs to be replaced. And on top of it I’m really feeling isolated or homesick or something.
Try to tell myself I’m getting better. Sort out a small problem with the HF radio. On the plus side I have all the food I need and can replenish with fresh water fairly easy. Might be able to withdraw money at Snake Bay, Port Essington or Croker Island or one of the other aboriginal communities – maybe, but should be able to use my credit card to buy stuff. I don’t have a permit to land on aboriginal land but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem I don’t think. The oil leak is manageable but I would really like a mechanic to check the tension of the No. 1 cylinder head.
1740: Sit down and make a proper pro and con list about pushing on. There’s too many things I need or which should be attended to. Decide not to try for Snake Bay. I’d be better off in the long run if I go home for a fortnight. Might also see if I can get some crew.
Note: None of these problems should have been insurmountable to an average cruising sailor. Indeed many do it much harder. However in my mind these things together grew to bigger heights than they should. I was to learn many years later that the ability to make good judgements can be seriously compromised in people with depressive disorders.
Sun 5 Sep 04
Forecast still predicts strong headwinds but should ease tomorrow. One way or another I’m leaving tomorrow morning. Am constantly tempted to leave right now but have to fight it down. Must use good sense instead of emotion. Listen to Macca – a popular Sunday radio presenter on the ABC radio.
0900: Contact VKS737 Derby Base. Give coordinates and pass my intention to stay here today and return to Darwin tomorrow. Operator instantly replies with my name rather than my callsign which well and truly confirms they have me recorded on their system now. Communications quite good with no repeats or words twice procedure needed.
0930: Find that the starboard front solar panel plug has broken clean off and not getting power to the batteries. Must have been knocked off while I was moving back and forward squeezing past the dinghy to the bow. Also explains why the batteries have been okay but a little lower than usual. Takes a bit of time to fix this.
1200: Spend the rest of the morning pulling out and re-arranging food stores. Re-distribute weight around the boat to trim it better. Find it painful to eat or just swallow due to an ongoing problem with a blocked saliva gland duct in my throat. Flares up from time to time and a large lump forms on the left hand side of my throat under the jaw. Hard to spit too. The day continues pleasantly outside and I begin to wish I’d made an early start this morning when I first got up.
1900: Spend another afternoon doing computer work typing up my handwritten journal of a trip to Port Essington last year.
Forecast looks good for tomorrow. In hindsight I could have gone today had I known but the forecast had been for E-SE winds at 20 kts. If that were the case it would have been harder to get across the Beagle Gulf to Darwin. Never mind.
The saliva gland on the left hand side of my throat is now well and truly blocked causing much pain and swelling. I’ve had this problem for a long time but thought I could live with it for this trip but today it’s really painful. It’s like a bad toothache with the whole lower left of my face and jaw hurting. Just as well I’ve decided to go home. Wouldn’t want it to get worse if I’m miles from anywhere and unable to get medical help.
Batteries are down a fair way but still not below 12v. Run the motor to freeze up the eutectic cold plates in the fridge so it won’t keep using power overnight. It’s becoming apparent that if I’m going to anchor up anywhere for more than two days I’m going to have to pull out the portable generator to re-charge batteries, but that’s okay. Small price to pay to keep food frozen, use the computer and the HF radio for contact and music.
Evening: Cook up some steak and fresh vegetables for dinner – Delma would be proud of me. Watch a movie on the laptop before bed. Toss and turn for a long time before sleep comes.
Return to Darwin
|Map 3 – Return and restart voyage|
Mon 6 Sep 04
0620: Start getting ready. Re-check motor oils and add a measured cupful of oil. Batteries down to 11.8v which is the lowest yet. Connect a seawater pump to hose the mud off the anchor and chain, then use a new remote hand switch to operate the electric anchor winch for the first time which works well. The anchor and chain has buried themselves in the bottom over the last three days and comes up thick and sticky with mud. It has to be washed off one metre at a time. Really pleased with the electric winch. It makes the job of getting underway enormously easier for single handed sailors.
0700: Underway. Decks wet from heavy dew. Heading NW through the narrow entrance to the strait. Almost no breeze. Water calm.
0820: Reach first waypoint. Heading SW towards Darwin. Conditions calm. No wind. Motoring and recharging batteries.
1330: Still no wind. Slight ripples on sea and only a breath of breeze. Play around with the navigation software and it seems to be working just fine. Just have to be careful in the sequence of getting it running and hooked up to the GPS. Motoring with full mainsail up. Only getting 3.5 kts against the tide. See one big ship but it appears to be stationary. Batteries still charging. Hot. Cloudless.
Make an easy lunch of toast and sardines in sauce. Try to contact VKS737 Alice Springs but no good.
1410: Turn onto the last leg to Cape Fourcroy 15 miles away heading south. Still getting around 3.5 kts. Breeze springs up from SW. Strange direction for the breeze to come from?
1500: Try sailing for a while but can only barely get up to 3 kts. Would have been content with that but the wind has swung southerly and that means tacking. Take in the headsail. Motor sailing with a full mainsail at 3.5 kts.
1700: Making better time just under 5 kts with change of tide. My previous anchorage behind Cape Fourcroy is clearly visible forward off the port beam. Could be comfortably anchored in an hour if I want but best to push on. Wind from the south coming right on the nose.
1800: Almost abeam Cape Fourcroy. Still working to get around it for the final leg across the Beagle Gulf to Darwin
1845: Red ball of sun settles below a cloudless horizon into a haze as the final course change is made towards Darwin 55 miles away. No wind. Water smooth. Motor sailing with full mainsail up to 7 kts running with a strong tide.
2100: Still no wind. Windvane hunting but what wind is about seems to be going mostly to the NW. Making good time until the tide changes again. No moon yet. Dark out there. No lights anywhere except for the Cape Fourcroy light which is now astern. Have one of those quick snacks where hot water is added to noodles. Get a bit chilly taking a freshwater wash up on deck. Can spare the water now that I’ll be back in Darwin tomorrow. Seas smooth.
2130: A solitary vessel passes on the port side going the other way about half a mile off. Can’t quite make out what it is but probably a fishing trawler.
2300: And another one.
Tues 7 Sep 04
Overnight: Almost a succession of boats and ships coming past. Enough to keep me awake. Seems to take ages to get past the various barges and boats busily laying a new underwater gas pipeline to the gas fields out in the Timor Sea. At one stage a power boat comes directly towards me. Shine a spotlight on the sails and call on the VHF radio. A laconic voice agrees to pass green to green and wishes me a good night with the observation, “Great night to be out on the water”. Yes it is.
0600: Arrive at the entrance to Darwin Harbour at first light. Slow down motor and cruise along with help from the incoming tide at 4 kts.
0730: Call Tipperary Marina on mobile phone to arrange a berth. Bit of haze around the harbour. A fishing charter boat heading out to sea. Pass a solitary dinghy with four adults huddled down at anchor near the No. 6 buoy fishing. Not much action going on. The Mandorah Ferry does a wide half circle around Lowana IV. Skipper must be bored and checking me out. I think he’s also a yacht owner himself and probably wondering what I’m doing or where I’m coming from.
0800: Enter Tipperary Marina lock and berth at my old berth. Tie up and take a taxi home. Delma is away doing a course interstate and won’t be back until the end of the week.
0900: Back at home. Rest day today. Karen comes over and brings some takeaway for dinner.
Weds 8 Sep 04
Sleep in until late. Ring up to arrange a doctors medical appointment for my saliva gland problem without success. Ring a diesel mechanic I’d heard about called Damyan. Make arrangements to meet him down at the boat. Visit Fred and Beth then go down to Lowana IV. Pull a few cold stores out of the fridge to take home and give it the boat a quick general tidy up. Not feeling especially motivated today so don’t get a lot done down there. Return home.
Thurs 9 Sep 04
Pay out the rest of the money owed to for the new refrigeration system. Change the Sumlog instrument with the supplier and take it back down to the boat and fit it.
Mon 20 Sep 04
During the last two weeks there’s been almost a constant series of high pressure systems moving across the Great Australian Bight, which have created very windy conditions across the Top End of Australia. If I’d kept going I think I’d have been caught at Snake Bay or Port Essington anyway so coming home has probably been for the better all around. Having problems getting to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. The one referred by my local doctor picks and chooses his patients and the waiting list is about 3 months. Bugger him.
Most tasks have been done including the essential ones. Motor has been fixed with a new seal in the gearbox. The No. 1 cylinder head has been re-torqued and a leak in the outlet elbow from the exhaust manifold has been fixed with a new stainless steel elbow made and fitted.
After much experimentation have solved a couple of bugbears. The forward solar panels are now fitted with two metal hook frames secured by bolts easily removed by wing nuts. The panels can be secured vertically against the rails when sailing or raised to a horizontal position and propped up reasonably quickly to catch the sun when at anchor. A quick release clip allows each panel to be lowered almost immediately.
Have acquired a short metal tube pole for use as a jib-pole to get the heavy dinghy out of the water, over the side rails and onto the deck, and vice versa with reasonable ease. It’s a fiddly, time consuming process but doesn’t involve any straining. The outboard has been fully serviced and is to be picked up today with a new impeller in the water pump. Also have acquired a used book of 2004 Australian National Tide Tables, an invaluable navigational tool for a good price.
Thurs 23 Sep 04
0800: Leave home for the marina via an ATM to draw some money. Also go to an auto store and buy a new 20 litre diesel fuel container and then to a servo to get it filled. Down to the boat. Delma packs the fridge. It’s proven it can freeze stuff so have more frozen food onboard now, especially meat this time.
0900: Start out through lock. Lots of people on boats calling goodbye and good luck as I pass on the way. Engine hours 1395. Sumlog working just fine. Fred and Beth meet me down at the lock again to say goodbye.
Hot already. Breeze from the east at 5-10 kts. Almost cloudless. On the horizon are cranes standing like sticks where a new gas plant is being constructed at Wickham Pt across the harbour. Motoring and using the engine compressor to pull down the cold in the fridge. Time for a cuppa.
1230: Clear of harbour having covered just over 12 nm. Winds 15-20 kts from NE of course, just where I want to go. Bit lumpy. Tack easterly to try and get under the lee of the land and clear an extensive shoal area off Lee Pt near Darwin. Outgoing tide.
1300: Change to full sail and getting a bit over 2 kts. Decide to turn off motor and engage the wind vane for first time. Bit disappointed at first until I realise I haven’t connected the vane itself to the servo-blade or oar in the water. Once that’s done the system starts working quite well. Nice to have self steering and not have to pay in battery power. Keeps a better course too with speed keeping up an average just over 3 kts. Wind a bit stronger. Whitecaps everywhere. Lowana IV riding over short swells and chop quite nicely.
1530: Tack back easterly and find myself back near the same underwater hazard near Lee Point I’d earlier been trying to avoid. Wind and tide too strong and from entirely the wrong direction. Fed up with this so pull in the headsail and turn the motor on to get ENE and clear of this area.
1920: A less than comfortable first day. Winds and waves gradually subside late afternoon. Tide changes and get a reasonable run into an anchorage in a small cove below Gunn Point near the Vernon Islands to the north of Darwin in 7 metres water.
Gunn Point: Posn: 12.14.08S – 130.59.83E in 7 metres depth. Distance today 32.4 miles. Max speed 4.7 kts.
Motor leaking oil again. Don’t know how bad yet but there’s oil all down the side of the motor and in the bilge again. Still in mobile phone range. Notice a missed call from Delma so ring her. She’s going to work tonight. Conditions lovely. Bright moon. Flat water. Can see the lights of Darwin on horizon. Large bushfire to SE. Still fairly warm and sweaty.
2100: Wind’s picked up. First it was easterly then changed northerly. Boat starting to pitch a bit.
2200: Wind really blowing. Small waves breaking beside boat. Just get to bed and the anchor alarm on the GPS goes off. Head up to the bow to check the anchor. Snubber line really tight. Boat pitching to waves head on. Check GPS position and find am slowly dragging on the anchor. Start motor and engage gear in low revs to take weight off snubber so I can unhook it from the chain, then let out all the 50m of chain plus another 20 metres of rope. Putting the rope out there means that all the chain is laying on the seabed. Seems to have done the trick. Boat has only moved about 100 metres overall. And as soon as I go back to bed the wind starts dying down.
Fri 24 Sep 04
0630: Check oils. Both the engine and gearbox oil sumps are down. Have tossed and turned all night about going back to get it fixed. Have used about a cup of oil and a bit from topping up both sumps, and I’ve only travelled 32 miles. Undecided what to do about this problem.
A red hulled yacht motors past me heading north towards the Vernon Islands. This fires me up to keep going. Pull up anchor. The whole 50m of chain is thick with mud and it takes a while to wash it off with the pressure pump. Hard on the batteries using both the anchor winch and that pump.
0700: Underway. Scattered cloud. Hardly a breath of wind. Outgoing tide helps to get 4.6 kts. Calm but rippled sea. Plot a course through the South Channel. It’s a dogleg course through here to avoid reefs and shallows, and attention is needed to navigation.
Right: Wheelhouse. Compass at top left. Directly underneath is the motor panel. Tacho shows just over 1300 rpm. Below that is the Sumlog currently showing 4.3 knots. GPS below that. Bottom right of wheel is a fuse panel. At lower right off photo is a drop down seat.
1100: Conditions still pleasant. Clear the last of the Vernon Islands and turn NE towards Melville Island. Breeze directly ahead. Bugger all tide run but getting a little push of about half a knot. The red yacht I’d seen earlier this morning is now in the distance heading easterly and off my port bow.
1300: Clear of Clarence Strait through the Vernon Islands. Heading northerly across the gulf. Cape Hotham several miles off starboard beam. Weather continues fine. Light breeze. Low swells. Making over 4 kts.
1700: Weather stays calm all afternoon. Slight breezes from dead ahead. Low swells later on.
1800: Wind picks up to about 15 kts still dead ahead. Just going out of commercial radio range. Will be using CDs and cassette tapes for music from here on plus whatever I can pick up on the HF radio.
2000: Closing with an anchorage in Cobham Bay behind Cape Keith at the SE corner of Melville Island. Had to really push a bit during last 4 miles or so, getting just over 2 kts against wind and short, choppy waves, plus a cross swell coming around Cape Keith. There’s a light ashore but don’t know what it is. From further out thought it might be another boat but isn’t. Still fairly blowy out there but here in behind Cape Keith it’s quite calm. Only just over half mile from shore. Anchored in 7m depth.
Cobham Bay: Posn: 11.37.070S – 131.24.903E. Total distance 79.1 miles. Covered 46.7 miles today. Max 4.9 kts.
What a pleasurable trip. A shame there’s not been enough wind and had to motor. But I can at least get Hot100, a Darwin commercial radio station but it fades in and out.
Weather not promising for tomorrow. Will need an early start. Had used the navigation software on the laptop hooked up to the GPS to get into this anchorage tonight. It’s the first time actually I’ve done this and not sure if I like using it or not, so kept referring to the paper chart anyway. Perhaps it’s just because it’s a bit strange but it’s definitely got its advantages. You can see exactly where you are at any given time and which way you are going, regardless of effects like drift from side currents or windage.
Time for dinner of reheated stew. TV is un-watchable. Batteries seem to be down lower than they should be. Expect more than 12.6v given that the batteries have been charging all day.
Sat 25 Sep 04
0600: Check oils. Not as bad as yesterday taking only a small cup of oil to top up both sumps. Overnight remains calm. Only wake up once at 0230 for a nature break. Had a quick check around and went back to bed. Good solid sleep. Anchor comes up fairly clean.
0630: Underway. Calm sea. No breeze. Come what may I’m going to reach Port Essington today but it’s not going to be easy. Weather forecast is easterlies at 15 kts and a northerly inshore seabreeze 15-20 kts, plus the tide will be setting against me after 10 am.
The light ashore turns out to be the camp of 2 fishermen in 2 dinghies. They’d been having a good old chat yesterday on the VHF radio Channel 16 like they owned it. They really ought to have kept the channel clear for more important stuff, since their conversation was basically about their adventures fishing around Camp Point which is where they’re now camped.
0830: Clear of reefs hugging Melville Island coast and out into Dundas Strait leading into the Arafura Sea further north. Slight breeze. Full mainsail up and getting 6.2 kts. Low swells coming through from Arafura Sea. Plot a route around to Port Essington. Almost cloudless day.
0920: First sighting of Cape Don ahead. Change to full mainsail and headsail.
1000: Large red barge Frances Bay overtakes me. Slow Lowana IV down so the barge doesn’t pass too close. Call the barge to advise them what I’m doing and they seem a little surprised that I’m slowing down. They say they’ve got me on radar and were happy with my position. That’s all well and good but I’d been holding a fairly constant hand compass bearing on them for a while and it wasn’t changing much. When that happens it means both vessels are converging. Anyway, I like to think that each time you do something for safety you put a deposit into your personal “lucky” bank.
1200: Still no wind of any use. The only bit available swings from south to SW. Clouds overhead milling like there is turbulence up there. Line of low clouds ahead but nothing below them.
Am past Cape Don heading NE. A yacht passes the other way into Dundas Strait. Pull in the headsail and sheet in the mainsail since they aren’t much use. Speed down to less than 3 kts against the run of tide which runs quite fast along this stretch of coast.
1330: Bit different to the last time I made this trip with Delma. A strong headwind had suddenly sprung up at about this time, whipped up the waves and dropped us back to about 1 kt speed.
1320: Contact the yacht going the other way on VHF radio. Its name is New Crusader and they intend anchoring in Alcaro Bay near Cape Don.
1500: Two more yachts pass heading west. Still no wind. Am half way across Blue Mud Bay, one of a series of bays along this coast towards Port Essington. Stark contrast to speed from the last time.
1615: Wind picks up slightly from dead ahead off Trepang Bay. Vashon Point waypoint is 9 miles away.
1700: Wind blows up stronger. Speed down to 2 kts. Consider options. Could take shelter 5 miles away at Trepang Bay. Time to reach there maybe 1 to 1.5 hours.. The Vashon Head waypoint is 7 miles plus a run SE to Black Point in Port Essington, time maybe 2.5 to 3 hours. Will keep going I think. Can always turn back I guess. Put a second reef into the mainsail and sheet it in. Wind dead ahead.
2005: At long last reach the Vashon Head waypoint and turn towards Port Essington. Still over 9 miles to go. Outgoing tide still against me but making slightly better time now. Waves coming in from port quarter instead of ahead.
2230: Slowly approach anchorage off Black Point Ranger Station, the headquarters of Gurig National Park in Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula. All in darkness. There is usually a light at the end of the jetty and at least one house with lights on. Must be a power outage here.
Very bright light in anchorage turns out to be a boat. Don’t know what sort it is. Find a spot and put the anchor down although I’m a little further out from shore than I need to be. It’s been a long day of 16 hours and very slow across the top. Almost the same as the last time with Delma with strong headwinds and head tide. The tide difference between Cape Don and Port Essington means the tide run time is extended making it a a long time to fight against it as you travel east. Good for going west though.
Port Essington: Posn: 11.09.977S – 132.08.641E in 5m depth. Total distance 137.7 miles. Today 58.6 miles. Max speed 5.5 kts. Engine hours 1433.
Boats, Boats and More Boats!
|Map 4 – Port Essington to Malay Bay|
Sun 26 Sep 04
Last rise. Good sleep. The boat that had been shining a really bright light last night has gone. Nice day. Light breeze. Put up the canopy and have breakfast. Sort out some food storage containers.
Listen while Adventure Seeker calls another boat Atmosphere on the VHF radio Ch16. I’d met Peter Evans from Adventure Seeker before back at Tipperary Marina in Darwin. He tells me he’s still nursing a swollen an inflamed elbow from a mishap in the Kimberley region in the NW coast of Australia. He’s just left Port Essington this morning and now heading for Palm Bay on Croker Island further east. Arrange to meet on the radio after the morning weather forecast tomorrow.
1000: Wind picking up bringing small wavelets and making Lowana IV swing around. Glad I’m here and not out there . Listen to country music on the ABC clear as a bell on HF radio.
1330: Keep busy all morning. Getting the heavy plastic dinghy over the side isn’t too much of an exertion but requires a lot of fiddling about. Fill the outboard motor with fuel and test it. Runs okay. Check the large 200 AH battery up forward. Haven’t been able to do this with the dinghy up on deck. It’s fully charged. Am surprised to see one of the earth leads still disconnected after an auto-electrician installed the portable hand-switch to the anchor winch.
Connect the forward solar panels to the ship’s batteries. Decide I’m going to need a better system of setting these up. They really should be permanently connected to prevent corrosion without having wires running across the deck to the batteries. And I’ll need to fit an in-line switch to be able to turn them off and on. Will have to think about it a bit.
Recheck the forward battery wiring system and find a loose wire at the solenoid terminal. The existing wiring diagram leaves something to be desired so set about re-sketching the entire ship’s battery wiring system.
Continues to blow, gusting to about 20 kts at times. Small wavelets but not too bad. Read a book for a while. Time for some lunch.
Go ashore. The store at Black Point is closed on Sundays but opens every other day between 4 and 6 pm. Fuel can be obtained at 6 pm. Meet the Second Ranger, an aboriginal man named John Williams. Every other ranger is away at present. He tells me the light at the end of the jetty has been blown for about 2 months. Try to ring Delma at home but no answer. She’s probably asleep from doing night duty at the Royal Darwin Hospital. Have a wash under a tap behind a shed above the launching ramp then return to the boat.
1715: Secure the dinghy alongside and place a couple of fenders to cushion it from bumping the hull. Looks like it’s been blowing a bit stronger out here whilst I was ashore. One of the aluminium poles that support the shade canopy has almost been lost into the sea. A lashing has come loose and the pole is dangling over the side. Another one is down in the companionway to the saloon. Let out another 10m of anchor rope as a precaution.
1730: Contact VKS737 Alice Springs base. The operator’s name is Paul. Ask him to pass a message through to VKS737 Adelaide to email Delma that I’ve arrived at Black Point 10 pm Saturday. The Adelaide operator is listening on the channel and reads the message back correctly to me. Says he’ll send the email tonight. Funny how getting a message out can lift your spirits a bit. Feel better now.
2000: Read a book. Move around the boat at dusk to prepare for the night. Secure loose halyards and things I might trip over in the dark if I’m in a hurry. Take down the shade canopy. It’s just a bit too blowy to have it billowing and catching the wind enough to drag the anchor while I’m asleep. Had a bad fright once in the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia when the anchor dragged because the wind had caught the shade canopy.
Listen to the weather forecast. Sounds like it’s going to stay the same for a couple of days. Enjoy a hot cup of chocolate and listen to a Patsy Cline cassette tape. Am finding for me, being alone is the hardest part. Honestly didn’t think it would be but it is. I should be enjoying the buggerary out of this but I’m really uptight – right out of my comfort zone and quite out of sorts. If I don’t keep busy my mind turns to the “what-ifs”, always looking for potential problems instead of just relaxing and enjoying the moment. And with the wind moaning and the boat rocking and moving about, it isn’t helping.
This is really baffling. I know the boat’s okay. It’s handled much heavier weather and seas and I’ve got out 50m of chain in not much more than 6m at high tide. More than enough yet I still feel anxious. It isn’t like just being stressed for a few hours. This just doesn’t stop. It’s ever-present and goes on and on, day after day. There’s always this feeling I shouldn’t be here … I’m doing something wrong … that I should be at work or am playing truant from school. I guess a career of having holidays and getting back to work has conditioned me and I haven’t dropped into semi-retirement mode yet. Being stupid I guess but there it is. My brain tells me everything’s just great and to relax but my body’s not listening. I can’t sit still, my hearts racing, am short of breath, sometimes feel a bit off-balance, feel tremors down my limbs and my teeth won’t stop chattering.
Wind changes from blowing SE all day to easterly. They’re still at a moderate level but have at least dropped down from fresh.
Mon 27 Sep 04
0700: Listen to the weather forecast. Nothing heard from Adventure Seeker.
0900: Wind starts building already from NNE estimated 15 kts gusting to 20 kts. Spend most of the morning sorting through the charts again. Batteries coming up under solar power alone which is good.
1200: Wind blowing fairly strong but am a bit more relaxed about it today for some reason than previously. Must be getting more inured to it which is a welcome revelation. Start taping an electrical connector cover at one of the forward solar panels when it suddenly sparks. Startles me a bit. Check the system for electrical shorts but it all seems to be working okay.
1430: Work on sorting charts again after lunch. Dip the water and fuel tanks then top them up. Have used 35 lt of water in 4 days and about 60 lt of diesel for 38 hours running time, which would be about 1.5 lt per hour. Not too bad.
Another yacht comes in to anchor north of Black Point. Call it on the radio but get no response.
1630: Get a shock at the price of diesel fuel at the store being almost twice that of Darwin. Buy some more sugar and fly spray. They don’t have any of the notebooks or writing pads I’m looking for.
A trimaran pulls up on the beach near the jetty and the crew come ashore. Name of the boat is Pankina. Skipper’s name is Renie and the crew are a young French Canadian couple named Frederick and Fran.
1830: Back onboard. Pankina slowly sails further down the port and anchors close in under the lee of some low cliffs. Being a trimaran they can do that. Find out later that Pankina has a 1.1m draft.
1900: Wind dies a bit at dusk but springs back up again. Weather forecast isn’t promising for most of the week. Will wait through tomorrow but if no change must make a move.
2015: A yacht is making its way slowly into the port pushing against headwinds and an ebbing tide. They’re mostly light winds now though with some gusts.
Tues 28 Sep 04
0700: Weather forecast continues for adverse winds.
0815: Wind picking up again. People are on the move. The yacht that was anchored near Black Point is sailing out and Pankina is heading further down the port. Another boat very much like Kajan is sailing outbound towing a dinghy on the other side of port. It has the same canoe stern, rig and colours. Last year Kajan had accompanied Delma and I on a trip here to Port Essington from Darwin. Would be surprised if it is Kajan because I understand its skipper Peter is delivering the racing yacht Australian Maid to the Philippines, China and finally Malaya.
1330: Still blowing hard all day. Just about had enough of this. Seriously thinking of getting up at 3 am and just going for it before the winds get up in the morning. Do some writing work on the laptop and some washing. Cook up a big stew then split it up into several containers for reheating later. That’ll save me having to cook while sailing.
Three fishing trawlers are now sitting off behind Black Rock. Maybe they’ve come in to get out of the winds for a while.
1530: Check engine oils. Still using about a cup of oil per day which is not good but manageable. Batteries at 12.4v slowly going down. Seems the solar panels alone are not enough to keep me sufficiently powered at anchor for more than a day or so. However am beginning to wonder if the start battery is faulty, but can’t check it properly since it’s completely sealed.
1630: Curiosity gets the better of me. Take dinghy for the mile or so over to where that green boat is anchored near Black Rock. There’s no one on board but it isn’t Kajan. Head back around Black Rock to the boat ramp and take my rubbish ashore. Fill another jerrycan of water, buy an icy-pole and butter at the store then ring home. Delma answers this time and we have a long chat. Daughter Karen is also there dutifully checking emails from my book publishing website for any book orders.
The wind and waves have died down by the time I get back to the boat making it easier to offload the stuff out of the dinghy and get it back onboard. All goes rather smoothly. Secure everything topside ready to go in the early morning. Heated up stew for supper is quite tasty.
Full moon and really nice outside with just a gentle breeze but must get off early to bed.
Weds 29 Sep 04
0130: Wake up to the motion of the boat to find it getting a bit gusty outside. Wonder if I’ll be able to get away today before going back to sleep.
0345: Anchor comes up clean. Turn towards the first waypoint getting just over 4 kts with an outgoing tide. Today I’ve decided to head for Somerville Bay on Croker Island. Wind is okay. Lots of dark clumpy clouds overhead partially obscuring the moon. The green vessel at Black Rock is also on the move heading out for open water ahead of me.
0430: Contact the vessel by VHF radio. Her name is Tilbah and like me they’re heading east so will probably see more of her from time to time.
0500: Clear Smith Point and turn east.
0600: It’s becoming clear that I’m not going to be able to make Somerville Bay before night. Can only get around 3.5 kts with the tide not providing the assistance I thought it would. Call Tilbah. They’re heading for Danger Point saying they’ve anchored there before okay. Look at the chart. Danger Point is just a low spit of land. However the bottom shelves slowly and even if it gets windy it should be out of the swells and relatively comfortable.
Set course for Danger Point to lay over the day. Staying there will mean I’ll only cover a bit over 10 miles for the day but it’s better than sitting doing nothing at Port Essington.
0830: Drop the anchor on the western side of Danger Point.
Danger Point: Posn: 11.08.4S – 132.19.8E Total distance 153.2 nm. Today 15.5 nm max speed 4.4. kts. Anchored in 4m approx half mile from beach.
Nice spot. A low finger of land juts out to the north with trees and beaches interspersed with rocky patches. Small surf running a beach to the east. Tilbah is about 200m north of me. Exchange greetings on radio again. Several dead trees line one section of the beach. One large one is now just bones of white timber and sports a sea-eagles nest of small twigs in the uppermost branches. No occupants in the nest but it looks fairly solid. Later watch a large eagle soaring out over the water.
0900: Wind appears to be starting to pick up again but it’s well sheltered in here so maybe a little harder to tell.
1030: Wind has definitely been blowing as hard as I’d expected over last hour. Have been doing a bit of readying. Routine checking of the bilges finds the primary bilge pump not working. Trace the electrical wires and find a broken connection so repair it. It can get a bit awkward getting down into some of these places to fix things.
1930: Fridge working well. Still have half the corned meat Delma gave me last week. Finish dinner and rummage around in fridge for a desert. Spend the afternoon catching up sleeping, reading and typing on the laptop.
Big yellow moon peeks over a small sand dune on the beach to the east. Wind has dropped and water is fairly calm. Just slightly rocking. Nice.
Thurs 30 Sep 04
0345: Underway again trying to avoid the higher winds coming up during the day. Heading across Bowen Strait for Palm Bay on Croker Island. Full moon still. Cloudy. Some of the clouds are big black ones but they can often look black and potentially nasty at night. Tilbah still in darkness.
0445: Round Danger Point and on course. Put up the mainsail but it keeps getting snagged somewhere. Finally manage to find where it’s catching and get it cleared. Feel some light spits of rain and another big black cloud passes overhead.
0530: Water calm. Enjoyable motoring under the lee of Croker Island. Have been tempted to keep going down Bowen Strait and anchor up at Point David down at the southern end of Croker Island, but decide to take a look at Palm Bay anyway.
0600: Near the entrance to Palm Bay and slow down so as not to enter the bay before dawn. Am thinking I’m wasting time sitting around here. Any boats for company in there would probably have gone by now and I’ve got a favourable tide and calm conditions. The temptation to keep going is too strong so decide to push on. Change course south into Bowen Strait.
0800: Through the narrowest section between shoals and Croker Island. The computer navigation software makes it so much easier to navigate through the worst sections although the depth jumped up to 3.5m at one stage. Getting a head current of half a knot with the ebbing tide but that’s no real deal. A sail coming up from behind is most likely going to be Tilbah though they aren’t answering the radio.
0915: Pass 3 boats anchored mid-stream near the southern end of strait. Two are motor-cruisers Escapade and Fiddler, plus a catamaran Fly By Night. A lady comes out on deck of one of the motor cruisers and watches. Gives me a wave as I pass.
Tell VKS737 that I’m transiting Bowen Strait. It’s getting warm. Water has been smooth so far with just a little breeze helping to give me a push now and again. Still no sign of heavy winds although the forecast continues with high winds for today and tomorrow.
Start to get the stronger winds further down the strait. Unsure whether Point David will provide enough protection from winds and swells so start turning back. Tilbah comes up and we chat on radio. The skipper tells me he’s anchored at Point David heaps of times. Apparently it’s quite good with plenty of room.
Turn around again and follow Tilbah down to Point David. Headwinds get progressively stronger as we get closer to the entrance leading out to the Arafura Sea. On approach to the anchorage there are pearling rafts covering a large area behind the point. The current is running at almost 2 kts near the entrance which requires careful conning of the tiller to maintain a proper direction. It’s necessary to go out wide of the point and turn in to follow the beach from the south before you can get to a place where an anchorage can be made. Once at the anchorage the wind is quite blowy but at least the water is fairly protected.
1145: Anchored Point David. Feel better that I’d made the extra distance today. Was a good day motor sailing. Time for lunch but first a cold soft drink.
Point David: Posn: 11.21.164S – 132.35.001E. Total 183.8 nm. Today was 30.6 nm with a max speed of 5 kts.
1700: Take a rest during the afternoon. Sort out book lockers. Lay down a rubber mat on the saloon floor. Look outside and surprised to see Pankina anchored closer inshore. Have a chat across the water with Skipper Renie. He said they’d sailed from Black Point today and had a great sail with the wind from the NE mostly around 7 kts but not above 15 kts.
Check engine oils. Only the gearbox needs topping. Grease gun is empty. Repack it but don’t screw the top back on properly so when I try to re-grease the stuffing box it falls apart. A big blob of grease falls onto the engine bay floor. Clean it all up and repack the grease gun. Gooey job.
2000: Start editing a new manuscript for my book-selling website and get immersed in it. Time slips away and haven’t had dinner yet.
2030: A big moon rises up over the lights of some huts ashore that belong to the pearlers. A band of smoky cloud covers the lower half so that the moon is neatly divided into two halves of yellow and orange. The wind has dropped to a breeze and the water is calm. Lowana IV gently rocks but it’s hardly noticeable down inside. Lovely.
Find one of Delma’s stews in the bottom of the fridge still frozen. Thaw it out and it smells okay – sort of – so throw it out to be sure. Had kidneys in it so might have been a bit off. Not worth taking the risk. Take out one of my own mix and it’s okay. Rolling Stones music playing on a cd.
Fri 1 Oct 04
0430: Slept well last night in a deep sleep. Feeling a bit groggy this morning and making small mistakes like almost forgetting to turn on the saltwater inlet cock before starting the motor. Set up some waypoints n the GPS to get through the narrow and shallow channel out of Bowen Strait into Mountnorris Bay beyond.
0515: Have to be quick getting the anchor up because the tide is pulling Lowana IV quickly towards Pankina and Tilbah, both of which are anchored behind me. Any mishap and I’ll run down onto them in no time flat. The anchor comes up clean and there’s isn’t any delays but even so, by the time the anchor clears the water the boat is already in full flight bearing down on the other boats. Scramble back to the cockpit, gun the throttle and turn the tiller hard to port to pass within just 20m of Pankina. Both of them are still in darkness.
0630: Clear of the channel. Could smell something odd back there in the channel, a bit like a stale mud smell, most likely the thick reef spawn present in the water. Current running at more than 2 kts and the sun just coming up over Valentia Island ahead. Would like to visit but it’s just too close. It would be a waste of a day if I only travel just that far and anchor up there.
A shining jet contrail in the sky to the NE is heading towards the SE. Missed the weather forecast last night but high cirrus clouds away to the east again promise high winds later. Pull up the full mainsail but continue to motor for the time being. Almost no breeze yet. Low swells, smooth surface, almost glassy.
0800: Passing between Valentia and Templar Islands. Sea still smooth with almost no wind. Weather forecast says winds will be moderating to easterlies 10 to 15 kts.
0945: Anchor down in Malay Bay and secure the boat. Perhaps I could have kept going to try and reach the Goulburn Islands but that would have meant a late landfall. Leave it for tomorrow. And maybe I could also have stopped off at Valentia Island for a looksee but the thought of getting that dinghy overboard and back onboard put me off.
Malay Bay: Posn: 11.21.577S – 132.52.651E. Total distance 205 nm. Today 14.92 nm maximum speed 4.5 kts. Anchored in 4.6m.
Malay Bay is a large bay which goes for several miles to the south. Am sitting about a mile inside the northern entrance of Cape Cockburn and a little behind it. Ashore is a low line of cliffs. Some beaches and rocky bits. Smoke coming from the bush to the south, probably a bush fire.
There’s a little bit of history here even though it’s a pretty remote place. In July 1893 an aboriginal male Wandy Wandy was officially executed here on a gallows specifically constructed for the purpose, for his part in the murder of 6 Malay fishermen. Executing him here instead of at Fanny Bay jail in Darwin was supposed to send a message to the local natives. Time now dims my memory of another story about a horse thief or cattle duffer who lived here for a long time to escape the law. I believe he lived with the local aboriginals.
Hot and still. Water is a light green colour and dead flat apart from some small ruffles here and there. Scattered clumpy clouds. Erect the forward solar panels and the shade canopy over the boom and cockpit.
Small breeze eventually springs up from the north and bends around the cape. Earlier I’d seen Pankina to the SE below Valentia Island but there’s no sign now. She’s probably stopped at Valentia Island. No sign of Tilbah.
1400: Have a sleep and some lunch. During the afternoon an Army helicopter buzzes overhead, circles Lowana IV and then heads off south. Pankina has arrived and is just finished anchoring up. Renie invites me over for sundowners and fresh crumbed oysters. He’s aware of the hassles I have launching the dinghy so offers to pick me up. I offer to bring some chocolate over as a desert.
1730: Meet backpackers Fred and Fran again onboard Pankina. They confirm they had indeed been to Valentia Island today, gone ashore and got some oysters. Renie crumbs them up and cooks up 3 platefuls for nibblies.
Several other boats arrive. Catamaran Fly By Night and Fiddler plus 2 monohulls new to me Big Buzzard and Olympia. Six boats now anchored up. Olympia call on the radio making a comment about needing parking meters here.
Stay with Pankina until after dark. Renie brings me back to Lowana IV and takes the opportunity to have a look around. It’s always good to get onboard someone else’s boat. There’s nearly always something you can learn how others do things. He suggests that I go to a place called White Point for an overnight anchorage tomorrow in lieu of Goulburn Island. He says he’d stopped there on a previous trip to Darwin and was going back there tomorrow. Sounds good to me and if the easterlies hold in then it should be a good beam reach most of the day. He also suggests an early start to maximise the expected winds instead of motoring. Heartily agree with that.r
My new friend Renie departs. Dip the fuel tank. Have used about 40 ltrs since Port Essington.
Three’s Good Company
|Map 5 – Malay Bay to Goulburn Islands|
Sat 2 Oct 04
0415: Bright moonlight and almost cloudless sky. Two boats left sometime during the night, MV Fiddler and another but don’t know which one. There’s a smoky smell in the air, not like a bushfire. Can’t pick it but doesn’t seem to be coming from the motor.
0455: Underway. Reach my first waypoint and start pushing out into the Arafura Sea. Can see someone’s light further ahead and around Cape Cockburn. Once I get around this cape it will be open water with a lee coast to follow down to White Point opposite the Goulburn Islands where I propose to make an overnight anchorage. Almost no breeze. Getting tidal push just over half a knot for a total of 4.4 kts. Trying to look after the motor and not push it so keeping it at around 1400 rpm.
This is more like the actual start to this whole trip because I’ve sailed to Malay Bay before. To me it will be all unexplored coast from here on and looking forward to stopping and looking around along the way. I’ve actually sailed right along the Top End before but it was further out to sea and I hadn’t stopped.
0500: Boat ahead is actually coming my way. Can make out its red port light among all the other lights it’s showing.
0525: Ship Blaze of Light has crosses my bow at a distance. Trace the source of that smell. A hose to the air filter on the motor has come loose and fallen off so that unfiltered air is coming up into the wheelhouse. It’s going to need repair or attending to when I can but for now just put it back in place. Don’t know how long it’ll stay there.
Put the mainsail up. It catches on everything possible almost as if it doesn’t want to go up there. Turn easterly at my second waypoint to clear Cape Cockburn. Tinge of pre-dawn sky ahead with a breeze from the SE and of course it’s coming from the direction I want to go. There’d been good westerlies and NE’s yesterday reported by other boats which would have been excellent for sailing, but I get SE headwinds in open water today. That’d be bloody right! However at least there’s a full knot of tide helping to push me along.
0630: Getting 1.5 kts assist from tide giving up to 4.9 kts over the ground. Wind mainly from SE but trying to go east at times I think. Sun is up revealing a nice day and low swells. Am using laptop to navigate but have put some waypoints into the GPS as well just in case if I need them. That smell earlier is not there now, at least it isn’t noticeable.
Cape Cockburn is white or buff coloured cliffs with trees behind. They’re not large cliffs at maybe 70-100m but big enough. The breeze comes and goes from variable directions but mainly from SE. Heading further out ESE to try and get a better sailing angle for this afternoon if possible.
0730: Weather forecast the same. Further south the cliffs are much more pronounced, sheer and higher. They have a talc look on the bottom half and reddish on top. Coast has a couple stretches of high sand dunes reaching up maybe 100 or more metres. Wind still predominately SE. Have given up trying to use the headsail. Tried sailing at one point but just came to a stop in the almost non-existent breeze.
0800: Change back to sail only. Speed drops to 2.8 kts but will persevere and see how it goes. Still roughly on course at 145 degrees True or SSE.
0815: Waste of time sailing. Wind is too flukey and the steering vane can’t handle the lack of wind. Put the motor back on and both sails up. Will just have to wait for more wind.
0900: Contact VKS737 Derby base. Pass on a position report that I’m mobile to the Goulburn Islands and expect to be there this afternoon. The operators name is Stewart.
0930: Try sailing again and get just under 3 kts.
0945: Just no good. Wind dies to absolutely nothing. Motor on.
1030: Olympia calls on radio saying they’re about 15 miles behind and touching 4 kts under sail. They must be able to see me on their radar. Try sailing once again but and still only get 1.5 kts. The wind is far too fluky under the lee of the Goulburn Island so return to motoring.
1100: Finally get wind to sail with. Turn the motor off and speed settles around 3 kts. There’s still not enough wind to use the steering van so using the tiller-pilot instead.
1200: Made 3 kts over the last hour under sail.
1300: Wind rising bringing scattered whitecaps. Speed climbs up to 4 kts and change over to the steering vane. Am right on course.
1430: Wind is now strong and has shifted to the NE. Approaching White Point under reefed sails. The whole area of White Point anchorage is covered in whitecaps even close into shore. Could anchor here if I had to, but it would be uncomfortable in the sharp breaking chop coming through. The area is exposed to winds from the NE which are bending slightly around the point.
Had the wind remained true to forecast at easterly then White Point would probably have been okay. As it is the wind hasn’t changed to the NE until I’m almost here. If you were superstitious you’d think the Wind Gods were playing with me.
Get on the radio to warn Pankina and Olympia not to try for White Point, telling them how exposed it is. The three of us decide to head for the SW bay on Goulburn Island but for me it’s going to be a bit of hard work. It’s about 8 miles away directly into the teeth of the wind. Can see Pankina is off my port bow to the north about 3 miles away. Bump up the revs to try and make way against the wind and tide. This isn’t going to be an easy run.
1500: Come under the lee of Sims Island, a little piece of land sitting offshore. Conditions ease a little bit allowing me to start getting 3.5 kts and even up to 4 kts.
1600: Doing better into the wind than expected. Have covered about 4 miles but speed drops once I start coming out the other side of Sims Island. Expecting South Goulburn Island to give me some protection soon.
1730: Anchored in South West bay South Goulburn Island and thank goodness for that. Pankina and Olympia also anchored here. It took 3 hours to do the 8 miles to get here against the wind so not too bad all considered.
Note: South West Bay – South Goulburn Island: Posn: 11.39.259S – 133.21.615E. Total distance 246 miles. Today 41.2 miles. Maximum speed 5.1 kts.
Reach an agreement over the radio between all three boats that we would proceed from here at about 8 am tomorrow morning for Guoin Point. It’ll be about 25 miles. Should be an easy day and we’ll get the last of the east setting flood tide we need to get through the Macquarie Strait at the bottom of South Goulburn Island. Fast current flows through there. Olympia’s skippers name is Daryl. Don’t catch his partners name.
2030: Try to make corned meat fritters for the first time for supper tonight. Still have some corned meat left over and it seems to be okay. The eggs from Darwin are still also okay too I think. Make a batter. The first attempt at making batter isn’t much good but after thickening with more flour the next attempt is okay. Use all the corned meat and put excess fritters into a container in the fridge to eat cold tomorrow.
Do some work on motor fixing a couple of things needing attention. Some ongoing problems might now be fixed but will have to wait and see. Start the motor to make a HF radio call and pass a message to Delma but I’ve missed the radio sked.
Feeling buggared. Too many early days and early starts.
Sun 3 Oct 04
|Map 7 – Goulburn Islands to Junction Bay|
0630: Normally it’s still at this time of day but a today there’s a moderate wind from the SE. Sun has just come up. I must have been a bit over-tired last night, tossing and turning before getting to sleep, but the night went quick after that. Only woke up once. Two boats are under way further out. There’s been a very heavy dew during the night and the decks are saturated. Feeling a bit stiff and sore.
0730: Clean the solar panels and set up the deck-wash pump. Pankina is underway so lift the anchor and follow her around the corner easterly into Macquarie Strait. Wind continues to pick up from the SE creating small wavelets head on.
0800: Pankina radios to warn me of an underwater rock and to adjust course to starboard. Says it came up to 3m and is not marked on the chart.
Call Olympia and Pankina to tell them about the Macca radio program on the ABC over the HF radio. Both tuning in. A dinghy with two men speeds up closer to shore, stops and starts fishing closer in off my port side.
0830: Change to sail. Getting 3 kts through the water and 4.5 kts over ground with the help of the tidal push. Clear of strait. Olympia being the greyhound is sailing and has pulled way ahead. Lowana IV with her shallow draft and bilge keels is never going to be able to keep up with her. Pankina is sailing I think and out in front but not too far.
0915: Sailing is just too slow and I’m being forced too far off course if I persist with it. Turn the motor back on. Seas are calm, light green and rippled under an almost cloudless, light blue sky. Almost featureless low lying land with a clump of hills standing to the south. Big bushfire to the south as well. White and tan coloured smoke reach up in a large column before drifting away towards the west. Goulburn Islands are several miles behind and there’s a fishing trawler working to the NW.
Pull in along Pankina for a quick chat. He’s under full sail at 3 kts but not long after this he starts motoring too. Tells me he’s heading for Point Cuthbert while I’m heading for Guoin Point. Personally I think Point Cuthbert might be a bit like White Point, exposed to the NE.
1000: Small pod of dolphins break the surface about 50m dead ahead, their heads black against the glare of the water. Don’t see them surface again.
1030: Completely cloudless. Sea smooth, almost glassy with low small swells coming from NE. Hot and glary. Listen to ABC radio country music and talk back. Lots of reef spawn across this bay. Not too long ago another dolphin breaks the surface just once about 100m off port bow. Slight breeze just picking up from ENE.
1100: Abreast Turner Point. This marks the second last leg to Guoin Pt at about 8 miles and is also the western entrance to the King River. Decide against going into the river because that would make the next leg too long tomorrow.
1200: Catch up to Olympia. She’s sailing so change to sail myself. Dropdown to 2.5 kts but in no hurry.
1230: Olympia calls to discuss anchoring at Guoin Pt. Pankina says he’s going around the corner to Junction Bay since he’s got good winds at the moment to make it there. After some discussion Olympia and I decide to sail there as well. If I can make some distance under sail rather than using the motor then I should take the opportunity when it comes. Even so I’ve got some reservations but if I can make enough distance over the next few hours, should be alright I hope.
Wind has changed to northerlies. There are some whitecaps but I’ve got a reasonable sailing angle and getting 5 kts heading NE. It’s becoming a race against time but I have a Plan B which is to get in behind Cuthbert Point if necessary.
1330: Olympia is cutting the corner around Cuthbert Pt. I think he might be taking a bit of a chance with the chart showing rocky patches extending up to 6 miles offshore. Daryl agrees it might be a bit iffy to go close in but he’s going there anyway.
I’m going to clear the point further out. In the meantime Pankina has persisted in sailing and been zigzagging in long, wide tacks. At one point she’d gone out so wide to the north that I’d almost lost sight of her. Right now she’s come back in and I almost catch up with her. Renie’s also decided to cut the corner but he’s going to go a bit further out than Olympia in deeper water. I might as well follow him otherwise by the time I go out to sea and get around the point I’ll be well and truly left behind. Should have followed my instincts.
Wind has died down again. Smooth seas. Darker green water here.
1345: Goulburn Island is just a shadow on the horizon behind. Heading east. Wind right down and getting 4 kts.
1500: The three of us within 200m or so of each other off Cuthbert Point. Still bugger all wind. Motoring cautiously feeling our way forward using depth sounders and Mark-1 eyeball.
1630: It’s been a real heart stopper. Shallow water undulating down to 4m then up to 3m. In the end if we’re considering that 2m depth is good. At one time I get a bit excited to see 1.1m flash on the depth sounder. I should have been aground. The keel should have banged or at least touched the bottom but I didn’t feel anything. There was also a 1.4m reading at one point.
All boats have had to feel their way around looking for a way through the rocks. In the end Pankina breaks out into deeper water first followed shortly after by Lowana IV, but Olympia with her deeper draft is unable to find her way through. With just 300 mm under his keel Daryl throws an anchor over to wait for the tide to give him more water. Just as well the water is calm.
Turned Lowana IV around and go back to the exact spot where I had broken free of the rocks. It was just a matter of following the trail on the navigation software on the laptop computer. Note down and give the coordinates to Daryl. It’s no more than about 200m from his position but might as well have be half a mile since he can’t move. Position was 11.41.128S – 133.50.819E.
Resume course to Junction Bay. Notice the GPS is giving a higher speed reading than the Log so the tide must be flooding. Good news for Daryl that he might be able to get underway again fairly soon. Pankina gave Daryl another set of coordinates some miles further on so that Olympia with have a safe bearing once he breaks free.
Time for a soft drink. Still very little breeze with smooth seas and low swells. Thank goodness during all this that the wind hasn’t picked up like it has for the last two weeks.
1710: School of mackerel erupting everywhere, some right beside the boat but I don’t particularly feel like fishing and cleaning them. It wouldn’t be a problem getting a fresh fish for dinner if I wanted to though – they’ve been feeding like this for the last couple of hours.
1800: Contact Olympia. Daryl has an extra 40cm under his keel, is just finishing a beer and thinking of moving. Lowana IV is almost 8 miles away in a straight line. Pankina just visible ahead making a final run into the anchorage for the night. Bigger swells rolling through. Fish feeding still active with flocks of birds chasing them. Getting around 5.5 kts.
1900: Closing anchorage. No moon yet.
1940: Arrive where Pankina is anchored. Circle around her so I can fix a safe distance away to anchor up in the dark. Eventually put the anchor down about 200m from Pankina. Olympia is coming down the bay. Have a saltwater wash on deck using a bucket over the side. Feels much better. Tin of braised steak for tea. Tired. Long day.
1950: Try calling Perth base. Get enough response to know they receive me but I can’t copy them because of noise. Pass the information that I’m anchored in Junction Bay. I think they receive that because I can barely make out, “Roger, roger”. The operator tries to tell me something but I can’t work it out. Spray a big fly that buzzes its way around inside the forward berth.
Note: Junction Bay: Posn: 11.49.655S – 133.53.254E. Total distance 289 miles. Today 42.8 miles. Maximum 5.3 kts.
|Map 8 – Junction Bay to Blythe River|
Mon 4 Oct 04
0700: Tide flooding east for next couple of hours so I’ll need to use that push to get out of this bay. There’d been nearly 2 kts force in the tide when I came in last night.
Underway. Daryl stands on his deck watching with a hot cuppa in hand and waves me over. Exchange a few words with Daryl as I pass close by Olympia and meet his wife/partner Jan for the first time. Daryl is a fit looking middle-aged man with a weather beaten face. Thanks me again for turning back yesterday. Assure him I think he’d do the same for me. Jan is a larger lady and sits in the shadow of cockpit.
0810: Get a position report out to Alice Springs base and pass a message for Delma, “Anchoring at or near the entrance to Maningrida”.
0920: Other boats haven’t left Junction Bay yet. Change to sail getting 3.5 kts.
1030: Wind has come up to about 10-15 kts. No whitecaps yet but soon I reckon. Spot an unmarked shoal approx 100m to starboard approaching Goomadeer Point and pass the coordinates to Olympia. Can’t reach Pankina. Can’t get enough angle on the wind to clear the point and its off-lying rocks using just sails, so turn on the motor for now and reef the mainsail to continue motor-sailing.
1045: Turn corner and change back to full sail.
1130: Wind variable coming in puffs giving me 3.5 to 4 kts sometimes. Quite pleasant conditions. Am working Highway mode on the GPS rather than using the laptop. This system puts up a display something like a road and shows when you’re moving to the left or right of centre. It’s an easy system to follow and I don’t have to use power to run the laptop computer.
1200: Abreast of Haul Round Island. Wind drops and I’m down to less 2.5 kts pushing against tide. Almost at a waypoint to make a dogleg turn towards Entrance Island and avoid some shoal patches.
1400: Approach Entrance Island. Can’t really see the aboriginal community of Maningrida from here. Whilst looking for an anchorage Olympia calls to tells me he and Pankina are getting some excellent sailing right now, and are heading straight for Blyth River to conserve fuel. Am thinking it would be a shame to waste good winds. And I don’t particularly like this Entrance Island anchorage anyway. It’s only a little thing and it could be exposed depending on where the anchor is set. If I go now I can save some fuel as well as I’d probably have to motor across to Blyth River tomorrow if there’s no wind.
A quick check of the chart shows I only need to motor for about 4 miles into the teeth of the current NE winds, but should then be able to set sails directly for Blyth River. Put a second reef into the mainsail, tighten up then turn northerly to clear some local shoals.
1500: Clear the local shoals and start turning easterly.
1515: Weather forecast more the same. Motor off and sailing at 4.5 kts. Pankina is still behind me and further out to sea. She slowly overtakes me and comes alongside at one point so I manage to get a couple of photos of her under full sail. With some tweaking of the sail trim I’m able to keep to within 100m of Pankina. Maybe he’s slowed down a little for me.
|Pankina under full sail with skipper
Renie at left.
|Pankina pulls ahead.
From memory I think the motor
is a 60cc Honda outboard.
Dusk: Olympia has anchored at our pre-arranged coordinates. Pankina and I can just see Olympia in the distance and head towards her in the fading light.
For the next 4 hours the sailing is just excellent sailing, at times reaching almost 6 kts but averaging around 5 kts. Beautiful. Try working with the steering vane but it won’t hold a course very well at all. The servo blade will not hold a vertical position and the force of the water simply pushes the blade aft. Am going to have to do put a sacrificial pin in place to hold the oar down in the water, but which will break if the blade hits an underwater obstruction. Learning all the time ….
1915: Anchor down outside the mouth of the Blyth River. Am pleased now that I’d decided to push on from Entrance Island.
Note: Blyth River: Posn: 12.00.606S – 134.31.154E. Total 331 miles. Today 42.4 miles. Maximum 5.8 kts.
This place is very exposed. It’s going to be a bumpy night at anchor tonight but we’re well positioned to cross the bar into the river tomorrow. Quite a shallow area. Am anchored in 6m but it still a long way from the shore. Eat the last of a stew. Will have to make another one tomorrow.
2330: Lowana IV is lurching and rocking hard with breaking waves thumping into the bow. The anchor has dragged a little bit but not much. Boat jerks hard against the bigger waves so go up to the bow and put out all the chain plus about 10m of rope to give me a much smoother ride. The tiller keeps banging from side to side to lash it down amidships. And the squeaking of a piece of timber trimming down in the saloon is irritating so pull it away. It had been annoying me for too long anyway.
Getting It Strait
|Map 9 – Blythe River to Warnawi Island via Cadell Strait|
Tues 5 Oct 04
0700: Weather forecast monotonously the same – easterlies at 10 to 15 kts with inshore afternoon seabreezes 15 to 20 kts. Seas 1.5m. Swells are still rocking the boat but there’s only a faint breeze blowing now.
0800: Work out some tide heights, bearings and times to get over the sand bar into the Blyth River. Contact Alice Springs base. Operator hadn’t been able to pass my message to Delma yesterday at the RDH – Royal Darwin Hospital, saying the number kept ringing out. Tend to believe him since I’ve had trouble myself ringing her at RDH at times. Give him my home phone number and Delma’s mobile number and ask if he would pass a message that I’m anchoring in Blyth River today.
0900: Very glary and have to put some sunnies on. All three boats are under motor heading east to enter the river. For the moment we’re following the depth line before we commit to cross the wide shallow flats guarding the river entrance. Can see a house ashore sitting a little bit to the north of where we’re going. Apparently this is where the traditional owner of the land lives next to the river just inside the entrance.
Boats gather off the entrance and change course to 170 degrees True SSE, heading towards a conspicuous tree marking the left hand or northern side of the river mouth. Pankina takes the lead then Lowana IV. Olympia is last since she has the deepest draught. During this exercise I find out something new – that if I add .4m to my depth sounder reading, I’ll have the true depth of water i.e. from surface to bottom. Handy information when using tide tables.
We manage to get across two sandbars with slightly deeper water between them. The water at it’s shallowest is 2m from surface to bottom and Olympia just scrapes over the bar with just 400 mm clearance. It’s going to be even tighter for her tomorrow when she tries to leave the river. In fact we’ll all need to leave tomorrow as it’s approaching neap tides and the tide level’s are dropping. If we leave it too late we’re going to get caught in there for a week or more.
1100: Put the anchor down inside the Blyth River. Olympia invites us all over for sundowners this afternoon.
Takes me about half an hour to get the dinghy off the deck and into the water. Go for a spin but there’s nothing remarkable about this river. Our anchorage is in behind the first bend near the entrance and sheltered from the wind which is blowing hard outside already. Can’t go upstream very far since it shallows. There are the standard mangroves and some small patches of beach. There’s a deserted hut ashore plus the house we’d seen earlier sitting back a bit further about 100m or so. Renie tells us the hut is used by a local aboriginal community for fishing trips. Also tells us the little creek just inside the entrance is a great spot for mud crabs.
1230: Renie brings over some fish fillets and presents them to me before heading over to Olympia to meet Daryl and Jan. Follow him over there. Turns out I have actually met them before back at the Tipperary Marina in Darwin.
Quite blowy and hot so I’ll have an easy day today I think. Maybe do some washing and a bit of computer work later in the afternoon. Later on I have a nap then take a look at the windvane and make a few small adjustments, but don’t know if I’ve achieved much.
Dusk: Head over to Olympia for sundowners. We discuss getting out of the river tomorrow including times and tides and what we’ll do if Olympia grounds tomorrow on one of the sandbars.
Evening: Cook a big stew back onboard Lowana IV. Feeling quite tired so go to bed early but have to get up again later for a call of nature. Loud popping noises in the quiet of the night tells me that barramundi are feeding nearby. Suddenly there’s a heavy bang on the steel hull only about a metre from me. The boat shivers and I rocket away with the skin on my arms and scalp tingling madly.
Renie had told me earlier about crocodiles that sometimes hit the sides of boats with its tail as a territorial warning. The same thing had happened to me once before in a secluded bay in Bynoe Harbour to the west of Darwin. It’s a bit creepy especially when you’ve seen how high saltwater crocodiles can jump out of the water to grab prey.
Weds 6 Oct 04
0700: Weather forecast much the same, perhaps a tad moderating.
0740: Hoist the dinghy onboard and lash it down which takes maybe half an hour. Lots of fiddling required with this system. Tide coming in quite fast with lots of jellyfish floating by.
0830: Waiting for the tide to rise over the bars outside the river. Olympia is putting a boom out over the side and hanging a full water jerrycan off the end. This gives the boat a 10 degree list to the side and a bit more clearance under his keel.
0945: Anchors on all boats brought in. Depth sounder is reading 4.3m depth. Not as deep as I’d like it to get back over the shallows outside. Might be a little too shallow for Olympia. She really can’t afford mistakes and will probably need some luck. In any case we’ll be crossing the bars on a rising tide so that if she does get stuck then she should soon float free.
Start moving against the fast tide already and there are strong headwinds of about 20 kts. Just what we need … not! The water is mud stained once out of the river and there’s no colour change to indicate deeper channels. Pankina takes the lead about 100m ahead with Lowana IV about 100m out to the right. Both boats begin constantly calling out depths while Olympia follows behind in the middle. The idea is to find the deepest water for Olympia to follow.
1030: Going over the shallowest bits at just over 2.7m of true depth. Had been expecting to hit the more shallow areas but it so far looks like we found a deeper channel.
1130: Get through the next expected shallow section with about 3m of true depth. Wind is heavy from the NE with a short, sharp chop of about 1m. Pankina starts heading further out NNW before attempting to head up northerly towards False Point near Cape Stewart. We’re then going to have to round the cape before we can go east.
1145: Mainsail up with 2 reefs and motoring at 3.5 kts over ground. Still fighting the tide.
1200: Motor off and under full sail getting just over 3 kts heading almost due north. Will see how it goes.
1300: Wind has been dying down for most of the morning since we cleared the shallows of Boucaut Bay and Blyth River. Wind has dropped to about 10 kts. Waves are smaller but occasionally one jolts the boat to slow me down momentarily. Renie had tacked back towards the coast earlier and I can now see his sail closer inshore. He tells me on the radio that the winds are more westerly closer inshore and suggests that I come back in. Turn the boat towards the NNE tacking towards a waypoint at Sand Island just to the west of Cape Stewart.
1400: Been underway for 4 hours and have made just 12 nm fighting against the wind and tide. Should reach Sand Island within the next 10 minutes or so.
1410: Change easterly around Sand Island and heading for the Crocodile Island Group. Hot. Lots of reef spawn in the sea again. Stinks a bit and I wonder if it’s more likely to be algae bloom rather than reef spawn.
1630: Get a reasonable angle for a new anchorage location tonight which Renie has suggested. Tack SE and finally getting a good result with 4 kts under sail.
1800: Still close hauled and 11 miles to go. Wind flukey but still getting just under 4 kts. Won’t complain about that. The tide assistance I was looking for to help push me along never arrived. Instead I’ve been head butting against the tide but it’s not so bad now at about half a knot. Seas bumpy with scattered whitecaps. An occasional wave gives me a big thump and the ride isn’t all that comfortable. Am running as close hauled to the wind as I can get and heeling over to 20 degrees sometimes. Perhaps that’s a bit too much on this boat for effective sailing but it means I’d have to reef the mainsail.
1820: At last the tide is running with me. The log finally shows a lower speed than the GPS reading meaning we’re going over the ground faster than through the water. Still getting around 4 kts and sometimes a bit more in the flukey wind but it’s good sailing, apart from having to head 20 degrees in the wrong direction.
1900: The anchorage ahead isn’t going to be an easy one so I think I’ll turn the motor on soon and ease up the sails. I’m tired and might start making mistakes. Notice that the battery levels are low because the electric fridge has been working all day. That shouldn’t be happening if the eutectic system is working. Make a mental note to check the fridge compressor later.
Pull down the headsail and turn the motor on but I can’t get much more than about 3 kts even with the tide push. Both the other boats are closing into the anchorage site while I’m still several miles behind. Lowana IV is a shallow draught, bilge keeler and not a particularly good boat to windward. Trimarans like Pankina can generally sail better than her though they can’t point into the wind quite as well, and deep draught boats like Olympia simply fly by comparison and point better as well.
2000: Daryl says over the radio there’s a danger line with breakers showing on his chart plotter, but it isn’t shown on any of our paper charts or laptop navigation software. Best not to take chances anyway. Pankina and Olympia both start looking for an alternative site but are only finding deep water.
Reefs everywhere, it’s very dark, the wind is blowing strong and the seas unsettled. This isn’t a good place to go wandering around in the dark. I offer to check the western side of the reef to where the other boats are and start moving towards that way.
In a little while the other boats finally locate a spot some miles below Mjrunga Island on the southern side of the channel. Start moving towards their position and by the time I’ve arrived both boats are anchored up. This place is exposed to wind and waves but there doesn’t seem to be much alternative. I’m not happy about this. The only other thing to do would be to just keep going and do an overnighter but I’ve had too hard a day for that. Scout around a bit before dropping the pick taking extra care since the bottom suddenly shelves away to deep water.
2200: Finally manage to get anchored in just over 6m with the wind and tide pushing me back into 5m. Should be enough to allow for the local tidal range. It’s been a particularly hard day and who knows, maybe it’ll be a hard night ahead too. Wind is blowing strong from the NE and with the tide running to the SE it’s setting up nasty cross waves. Bit like a tea-kettle boiling. Bumpy.
Start chasing down noises that will irritate me through the night. Find a couple but it’s almost impossible to find a rattle or scrape on the deck in the noise of the wind through the rigging and waves crashing into whitecaps. Am just too tired for supper and head off to bed hoping that I won’t have to get up if the GPS or depth sounder alarms go off.
Mjrunga (now Mooroongga) Island: Posn: 11.59.834S – 135.01.756E. Total 377 nm. Today 37.5 nm. Max 5.1 kts.
Thurs 7 Oct 04
0745: Underway to Elcho Island. Couldn’t settle last night when I first went to bed. Had to get up several times to a call of nature and again when the GPS alarm went off. After checking coordinates it looked like I was still holding position. Finally figured out in my befuddled sleepy head that it must have been the boat swinging to the change of tide.
Olympia is heading to the northern side of Elcho Island to transit the Wessel Island Group through the Gugari Rip also known as the Hole in the Wall. It’s a small gap between two of the islands at only 1 mile long and 64 metres at its widest point. It’s essential to get the tides right when trying to go through here as the tides can run up to 12 kts!
Pankina and I will transit Cadell Strait at the bottom end of Elcho Island. Attention to the tides is also required here but navigation is much more challenging with shallows and more twists and turns in the channel than a dog’s hind leg. In addition the navigation marks along the channel are not always reliable due to seasonal storms removing them or physically changing the course of the channel itself.
Calm water this morning. Light breeze from the east – naturally from the direction I want to go. There’s been a squeaking noise in the engine bay yesterday that I couldn’t find. The fridge compressor belt is loose which is the reason the eutectic system wasn’t working so well. And it’s probably what that squeak was. Start the motor. The squeak is still there … somewhere.
0810: Contact Alice Springs base. Ken the operator reports successfully passing my message on to Delma. Said she’d been excited that I could get a message out and he gives me some information about the Galiwinku aboriginal community on Elcho Island. Tells me it’ll be okay if I don’t have a permit to enter aboriginal land, but to just go ashore and wait for someone to come down.
Set up a radio sked with Olympia on the 8.161 Mhz HF radio each morning. Let Renie know about the sked but he says he can only receive but not transmit on his HF radio. In any event he can relay through me via the short range VHF radio if he wants to pass something on to Olympia at the sked time.
No wind for sailing.
1030: Still no good winds. Seas calm. Motoring with 16.5 nm to go to the next waypoint.
1200: Little bit of breeze coming up and tending more NE. Put up a shortened headsail which pushes me up over 5 kts. Turn the motor off and am dead on course. Always nice when you get a reasonable speed and direction when under sail.
1215: Pankina maybe half a mile ahead. A Coastwatch aircraft buzzes past but doesn’t challenge either of us. Probably knows who we are by now I guess.
1230: Scattered whitecaps. Breeze good.
Breeze continues to build until it starts to become hard going especially against the tide. Take the sails down when still 2 miles from Galiwinku but there are shallows to cross anyway.
1515: Anchor set off the Galiwinku aboriginal community on Elcho Island. Nice looking place with a large hill. Tanks and towers sitting up there on top. Renie tells me he’s not going to stay here for the night but will be going around the corner to anchor just inside Cadell Strait. Good move I think.
1530: Hanging out some bedding. I hadn’t closed the front hatch coming into this anchorage and a wave had broken over the bow. Heavy spray had gone inside the forward v-berth, slightly wetting the sheet and mattress cover. A good reminder to dog down that hatch whenever putting out to sea.
Renie comes over in his dinghy and collects me to go ashore, then goes back to Pankina to Fred and Fran. Am getting vibes there’s been a bit of tension aboard today. Renie had told Fred twice before not to spit into the wind since the spray comes back into the cockpit. Today Fred spat to windward again giving Renie a splatter of spittle. Renie has threatened Fred if he does it again he’ll be thrown over the side to swim for a while. Once ashore it’s clear that Fred’s feeling a bit miffed at the rebuke.
There’s a group of aboriginals sitting under a nearby tree who give us permission to go up to the local supermarket. Start walking up the hill and it’s not long before a local non-aboriginal pulls up in his car. This fellow is a teacher who works in the community and gives Renie a lift to the petrol station to get his two jerrycans filled with unleaded fuel.
Find a phone box and am able to give Delma a ring. She sounds really happy to get the call and confirms she’s been getting my messages through VKS737. The machine cut us off when I can’t get it to accept 20 cent coins.
Return to the corner and wait for Renie. When he does arrive he mentions he’s only been able to get 20 ltrs of aviation gas. They don’t sell unleaded petrol here in the community because of a problem with the aboriginal youths sniffing it. Apparently the avgas just gives them an instant headache. In any case he’ll at least be able to mix his avgas with his remaining unleaded fuel back onboard.
The teacher offers all of us a lift to the supermarket. I buy two writing pads, two loaves of bread and a small bottle of moisturiser which together cost me $23.00 – very expensive indeed. News travels fast in a small community and people in the supermarket are already talking to each other about the boats anchored down there in the bay. They seem oblivious to our presence and I wonder if it’s a polite cultural thing?
Walk back down the hill to the beach. Renie fills two jerrycans of water and we return back to our respective boats.
Approx 1800: Anchors up and both boats move off to go around the rocks at the western entrance to Cadell Strait proper. We’re looking for a calm night tonight and going to anchor up under the lee of the land.
Set headsail only. Ebbing tide running against us keeping speed down to just over 3 kts. Tricky navigation with lots of shoals and rocky patches. Some places have tidal overfalls which at first glance look like disturbed water over rocks or under-surface reefs but there’s plenty of water.
Sun sinks under the horizon as we turn the corner and start making our way up the strait proper. Renie takes a shortcut over a marked shallow area but finds plenty of water to around 5m to get across it.
1900: Locate a site about a mile from a barge landing and drop the anchor in around 7m in the very last of the light.
Cadell Strait (west side): Posn: 12.04.163S – 135.34.702S. Total 408 miles. Today 30.9 miles. Max 6 kts through water but a bit more over the ground at times.
1930: Preparing supper. The interior of the boat is thick with bugs and mosquitoes so light up some citronella lamps and mossie coils. The coils seems to work better than the lamps. Can pick up the ABC TV but it’s not very good. There’s been a good signal back out in the bay off the Galiwinku township but at least there’s a couple of commercial radio stations to listen to here.
2200: Do some manuscript editing then off to bed.
Fri 8 Oct 04
0700: Contact Olympia on HF radio. They’d anchored overnight in Refuge Bay to the NE of Elcho Island having spent a lovely quiet night in a protected anchorage. They’ll be heading for the Hole in the Wall today and intend anchoring on its west side tonight, then transiting through there tomorrow for Wigram Island.
|Map 11 – Cadell Strait with depths showing shallows|
0900: Steady going at 4 kts. Report into Alice Springs base. Ken calls this area paradise telling me he’d spent around 9 years here. Picking up Kalma/Karma Radio? on FM 104.3 quite clearly.
Hot already. The guide book I’m using says that some of the navigation marks in Cadell Strait are just posts sticking up, not lit, marked or have any shapes on them. This really could get a bit tricky. Am now four miles in and the sides of the strait are beginning to close in.
0915: Wind blowing approx 15 kts steady from the east straight down the strait. Have to bump up the revs to maintain an even 4 kts speed against the tide run. Rippled water. Glarey going into the sun. Locate the first navigation beacon which is just a post sticking up out of the water.
0950: Reach a sharp dogleg in the course to avoid the 1.8m shallows marked on the chart. The navigation beacon/pole marking the shallows is missing. Ordinarily that would make this a likely area to run aground, especially at night. However Pankina goes right over the supposed shallows but finds 5.2m depth giving a 3.2m clearance after two hours into the flood tide.
1025: Passing over a particularly potentially nasty area appropriately named The Narrows. The area can be easily identified by mangrove covered points converging into the channel. Djunytjunur Point on Elcho Island marks the northern side. The tide has now turned and is ripping through here, pushing me 3 kts faster over the ground. I must be just that more watchful that I don’t end up getting pushed up onto a mudbank. The fast running water is turbulent, stirring up the mud and there are overfalls from the speed of the water. Looking at the depth sounder is fascinating as the bottom rises and falls sharply for a little while with a lot of sharp pinnacles suddenly jutting upwards. Observed at least one hole of 32m but the water soon smooths out and I can relax a little bit.
1100: Coming up to the beginning of the shallows at the eastern entrance with the bay opening up into a vee shape. Wind getting stronger.
1120: Fourth beacon is missing off to port.
1130: Pass a navigation beacon with a green triangle on top and depth markings on the post off the starboard side. This marks the beginning of the channel winding out of the strait through the eastern shallows, and which follows closer to the coastline of Elcho Island. Very tight navigation and constant attention to the depth sounder is required to stay within the twisting channel. Shallows lie to each side marked with a zero depth at datum, meaning only the height of the tide itself lies between floating and grounding. This is why it’s essential to be here at high tide.
Further on another navigation beacon with a green triangle on top is mounted on a buoy and swinging crazily on the waves. Nearby is a white pole, possibly the remains of a previous navigation beacon. Perhaps the authorities have left the pole there in case the other buoy ever comes adrift.
1145: In 3.8m true depth. Make a turn heading NNE. Get a bit too close to the zero depth line but apart from a quick shelving of depth there isn’t any problem. The water through the channel itself is a light muddy colour and the sides of the channel can be clearly seen as a line of greener water. It’s a line to stay away from.
1155: The fifth navigation beacon is also missing. This one should have been off to port and is also an important one marking another significant turn.
1210: The next navigation beacon is in place which helps to assure me I’m in the right place, but the important east cardinal mark appears to be missing.
1240: Clear of Cadell Strait and out over the shallows of the eastern entrance with 4m depth. Mainsail is up and motoring with the push of a turning tide at 4 kts.
|Note: Cadell Strait – The tide pushes a bit through the western end but eases once into the strait proper. It’s essential if transiting from the eastern side that vessels need to be at the entrance by the beginning of low tide, then maintain an even 4 kts to arrive at the other end towards the top of the tide. High tide is the best if entering the strait from the eastern end.As at 2004 many of the navigation beacons are missing and of those that are present some are just poles sticking up out of the water. The second to the fifth beacons showing on the navigation software chart are missing. The third and fifth beacons are important since they mark shallow areas requiring sharp turns to avoid them.|
1400: Have tried to sail for the last hour but the wind has died down to about 5 kts or less. Am only getting 1.5 kts under sail so go back to motoring. Jump onto the radio to discuss possible anchorages tonight with Pankina, and decide on one that’s only 10 miles away instead of the original choice at 15 miles. We should be able to reach this new one while it’s still daylight.
1530: Final run into Warnawi Island to anchor up. Still not much wind.
1600: Renie is still some distance behind persevering with sailing to conserve his fuel. He proposes another anchorage near the SE corner of the island so I turn 90 degrees to go under the southern tip around the lighthouse on the island to scout the area.
1630: Come out onto the eastern side to be met with long swells coming from the NE. Decide it’ll make for an uncomfortable anchorage tonight so let Renie know then turn back around for our first choice on the western side.
1715: Anchored up on the western side of the island. Renie is already anchored and immediately comes over to Lowana IV with his crew in the dinghy. Fred is still there so I assume he hasn’t been spitting into the wind again.
Finish up securing Lowana IV and we all go ashore in Renie’s dinghy for a look around. Take a walk up the beach and along the rocks. Come across the tracks of a large turtle that has come ashore to lay her eggs in the sand. The tracks run both up the beach and back to the water but it’s not immediately clear exactly where she would have laid her eggs. She’s cunningly disguised the site but it looks to me as if she’s created a dip in the sand a little bit off to one side.
Warnawi Island: Posn: 11.47.699E – 136.01.957S. Total 439 nm. Today 30.6 nm Max 4.6 kts.
1630: Have dinner and clean up a little.
1900: Crew from Pankina come aboard for a movie night. Select a couple of movie CDs to play on the laptop computer – one being an animated movie and the other a Clint Eastwood.
1130: Pankina crew return home after the movies and I head off to bed. Unable to relax in this anchorage and swells keep pitching the boat. The area is very steep to. I’d anchored in 12m with 50m of chain to the anchor but just 60m away the depth is only 4m. Toss and turn in bed.
Readers may have noticed regular referrals through this journal about an inability to get to sleep, tossing and turning, restlessness and an inferred hyper-vigilance. These are some of the symptoms of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder .
Malay Road and Gove
|Map 13 – Warnawi Is to Gove Harbour|
Sat 9 Oct 04
0650: Weather forecast much the same and not very accurate. Like yesterday I’m finding the weather difference between individual areas can be quite different. Almost no wind yesterday afternoon yet supposed to be 15-20 kts inshore sea breezes.
0715: Establish comms with Olympia on HF Radio. They’ve anchored up in a bay near the western end of the Hole-In-The-Wall and will be going through it in the next couple of hours. Spent a lovely night at anchor and are really impressed with what they’ve seen of the anchorages on the western side of the Wessel Island Group. Can’t speak highly enough of the area.
0820: Clear the northern end of Warnawi Island passing under Bumaga Island to the north. Repack the fridge whilst underway, occasionally popping the head up into the cockpit to look around. I’ve known fishing trawlers not to keep proper lookouts.
1200: Monotonous. Getting just under 4 kts on a rhumb line to the northern end of Wigram Island. Not enough wind to even try using the headsail. Seas flat with just long, low, rolling swells. The saliva gland in my throat is starting to swell again and giving me painful problems.
1330: Contact made again with Olympia on the short range VHF Radio. Agree to meet near the entrance to the channel between Wigram and Cotton Islands. Renie caught the conversation and suggests going on to Cape Wilberforce if the wind picks up, with a night sail into Gove tonight. I decline. Too tired and don’t want to enter Gove at night even if I’m feeling fresh.
1430: Going past the channel between Wigram and Cotton Island. I’d once anchored up in there overnight when bringing Lowana IV back to Darwin from Mackay in Queensland. I’ve been watching two yachts coming down from the northwest for a little while. Olympia had been in company with them back in the Wessel Islands and they’re now passing through the channel heading easterly towards Cape Wilberforce.
1545: Anchor up on the northwest side of Wigram Island in 9.9m depth. Once again the anchorage bottom shelves steeply so some careful circling and depth sounding is required before putting the anchor down.
Wigram Island: Posn: 11.46.494S – 136.31.912E. Total 466 nm. Today 27.2 nm. Max 4.5 kts.
Have been wondering once again if there’s something wrong with the eutectic fridge system. Doesn’t seem to be pulling down efficiently and is still not below 10 degrees even though the system has been running all day. A quick check of the ambient temperature of the surrounding sea soon provides an answer. The fridge uses seawater drawn from outside the boat to cool the fridge copper pipes but the sea temperature is 34.4 degrees Celsius. It’s just not cold enough to take the heat out of the pipes.
Olympia calls and suggests going ashore. Decline. Quite tired and there is a house just opposite us with Caucasian occupants. We don’t have permits or permission to go ashore anyway although realistically, if we went ashore they’d probably be quite friendly.
Rocky headlands on the islands around here. Any piece of land that juts out into the water seems to have a reef surrounding it.
1630: Call Olympia and invite Daryl and Jan over to Lowana IV for sundowners, which they accept. String up sun shades since the stern is facing west and the sun is blinding directly into the cockpit.
1700: Daryl and Jan came over bearing a tray of nibblies. Enjoy a good chat.
1830: Daryl and Jan return to Olympia. Have some stew for dinner and do some computer work.
2100: Off to bed.
Sun 10 Oct 04
0600: Sun not up yet but day is well lit already. Check engine oils. Start motor.
0630: Anchor up and away. Pass through the channel between Wigram and Cotton Island. Land is this region is distinctly different to that further west. The Top End coast is generally low lying and flat while here the islands are rocky, usually ending in a promontory or cliffs around 80m, with stretches of white sand beaches and reefs.
0715: Course set for Cape Wilberforce about 5 miles away. That place can be a bit nasty in rough weather. Cross currents can be strong running up to 5 kts and the water gets very disturbed and bumpy. Calm today though. No wind yet. A seagull wings past then turns away. Don’t see many seagulls along the north coast.
Cross Malay Road where in February 1803 the explorer Matthew Flinders encountered a small fleet of 6 praus, “covered like hulks, as if laid up for the bad season”. Flinders was able to communicate with them through his cook who was also a Malay. He learned the man in charge was a short, elderly man named Captain Pobassoo and they were Makassan fishermen, part of a different division of 60 vessels and a thousand men belonging the Rajah of Boni. They’d left Macassar two months previously to look for trepang, also known as sea-cucumber to sell to the Chinese.
It was the first time that the European colonists learned of the annual visits of these fishermen to Northern Australia over the last 400 years or so. Flinders named the area Malay Road as a result of this encounter.
0800: Approaching the passage between SW Bromby Islet and Point William. Tides can race through up to 5 kts. Cape Wilberforce is 2 miles further on. No breeze whatsoever. Have the mainsail sheeted in hard fore and aft and windvane is pointing directly abeam to port. Sail flopping around a bit.
Can see two boats anchored in Elizabeth Bay just to the SW behind Cape Wilberforce. These would be the two yachts seen yesterday near Wigram Island. Daryl tells me they’re waiting until Monday to enter Gove Harbour in order to avoid the hefty fees for after hours attendance by Customs and Quarantine.
0815: Abeam Point William getting a tide push up to 5.6 kts. Calm day but blue water already a little lumpy, but no whitecaps.
0830: Coming up to Cape Wilberforce. A few fishing boats off to the NE chasing sailfin, a large sports fish with a large spectacularly coloured dorsal fin like a sail hence the name. Fairly regular chatter going on over the VHF radio using Channel 16, which should be kept open only for initial contacts and for emergency calls.
0830: One of the radio wafflers has just caught a black marlin. No other indication as to its size.
0840: Turn the corner and on a direct run into Gove Harbour.
1110: Monotonous and hot. Still no wind. Boom on the mainsail just swinging idly to and fro in response to small swells coming from NE. Mainsail slapping back and forth as well. Doing 4.5 kts under motor. Beautiful clear blue water gliding past the hull. Very inviting. The Gove mining site itself clearly seen off port bow. Olympia way ahead, maybe about one hour.
1200: Coming up to harbour outer entrance. Little bit of breeze starting in. Getting 4.6 kts. Scattered whitecaps. Hot and glary.
1230: Inside harbour proper almost adjacent to end of jetty. Two Indonesian fishing vessels anchored across the harbour. They’ve probably been caught poaching fish. A number of large motor cruisers are anchored up in a basin behind the jetty and the mine. This is Inverell Bay where the Gove Yacht Club is situated and there must be 40 or more boats of various types and size anchored here.
A low ridge of red bare earth marks the horizon behind. Learn later that this is raw bauxite from the Alcan mine. It’s carried from the mine 8 kilometres away on a conveyor belt to the wharf.
1300: Olympia has just anchored. The wind has risen and quite good for sailing now. A black and white yacht sails out into the harbour passing in front of me with all sails set some distance ahead. A column of chalky white dust floats over a ship being loaded with raw bauxite at the main wharf.
1330: Manage to find a spot between Pankina and Olympia and as I’m coming up to my selected spot, a little red inflatable comes up behind and follows me. Don’t recognise who it is at first but soon see it’s Peter Evans from Adventure Seeker. He climbs aboard while I’m still setting the anchor, then we go below for a chat and a hot cuppa for an hour or so.
Inverell Bay, Gove Harbour: Posn: 12.11.838S – 136.42.265E. Total distance 493 nm. Today 26.9 nm. Max 4.9 kts.
1500: Start putting the dinghy over the side. This takes 25 mins getting it lifted over the rail and dropped down beside the boat. Damn thing’s so bloody heavy!
1545: Ring Delma on mobile phone once ashore to tell her I’d arrived here safely. Everything fine at home. Go to the yacht club office and get a temporary key to the ablution block. Have a shower. All three boat crews gather together and sit at a table on the lawn enjoying cold drinks. Peter from Adventure Seeker joins later. Have a meal at the club later on.
Later in the night Bert and Inge (pronounced ing-ge) from a largish Halvorsen motor cruiser named Coolong join us. They’re originally from Germany and also on their way to the East Coast. They seem like nice people and I’m quite impressed with them. They’re true adventurers having done some extensive travelling through the world in a variety of ways. Renie’s delighted to see them. Apparently they are friends he’d known from past cruising somewhere.
Bert and Inge had left Darwin last Friday taking just 50 hours to get here. We’d taken over two weeks. They mention they’re having problems with their refrigeration. They were in luck. Daryl is a refrigeration mechanic and says he’ll take a look tomorrow. I volunteer that I have some refrigeration gas on board if they need it.
2030: Return to Lowana IV.
Mon 11 Oct 04
Forecast not looking particularly good for the gulf – easterly to 20 kts. Other boats are intending going on Wednesday. Have a bit of brekky. Prepare emails on the laptop.
Pull out the starboard forward locker and clothes hanging cupboard to access the refrigeration gas bottle for Bert and Inge. The forward berth area is a mess. Set up the front solar panels. Overcast. Cloudy looking day. Go ashore to do some washing and get a key to the ablution block but the washing machines are busy. Peter from Adventure Seeker and I are able to arrange a lift into town at 11 am with the manageress of the yacht club. Return to Lowana IV to change clothes and get the laptop.
In town Peter gets two petrol containers filled while I visit the local Police Station. Am wondering if I might know someone there since I work at Berrimah Police HQ in Darwin. No luck. Unable to send my emails at the local library because the library doesn’t have internet access jacks available for public use. You can only use the installed machines. I’m going to have to save my email texts onto a floppy disk and come back some other time.
Need a haircut but the hairdresser’s is closed Mondays. Peter goes to the local bank to sort out a banking problem and finds the ATM is out of service. Takes a while to find another one at the Walkabout Tavern but it only has a limit of $200 but it will allow a second transaction. Thank goodness for that. Am able to draw enough money to buy diesel fuel tomorrow.
Visit a local café for lunch. Look around the shops. Buy a couple of items at the supermarket and butcher shop. Back out on the main road it’s not long before we manage to get a lift back out to the yacht club.
Visit Daryl on Olympia. He’s been having problems with his computer running slow. Take a look at it and find some spyware. Remove it and the computer starts working a bit quicker.
Dusk: Go ashore and have a shower. Meet some more people with Daryl and Jan sitting at a table having a quiet drink. They’re from the two boats that had been anchored in Elizabeth Bay behind Cape Wilberforce. They’d only just come ashore now because they’d been waiting to get cleared by Customs, which of course is the proper thing to do. Unfortunately for them they’d rocked up into Australia without pre-notification of their arrival and also have no visa’s. They’d been fined $3000. They’d been hoping a Coastwatch aircraft would find them so they could report in officially but it didn’t happen. Customs told them to either pay this fine or go to court and face a $10,000 fine. Doesn’t leave much choice. One might almost call that coercion.
Go back to Lowana IV to make supper since the club galley is closed on Monday nights. Call by Pankina on the way to say hello since I hadn’t seen any of them today. It’s dark by the time I get back home.
Cook dinner. Am washing up when Delma calls on the mobile phone. Pleased that I’m able to receive a signal out on the boat. Have a good chat. Settle down to watch a movie since I can only pick up Imparja, one of the four TV channels here but there’s nothing worth watching.
Tues 12 Oct 04
Early rise. Slept well enough. Pull out diesel jerry containers and top up the main tank with 100 litres of fuel. It’s still 35 litres short but there’s 245 litres in the main tank plus 100 litres in the jerries on deck. That’ll be plenty to get across the gulf if I need to motor the whole way. Should be able to get more at Bamaga at the very top of Cape York Peninsula where we are headed, or on Thursday Island a little further north. Even so I’d like to have a full supply of fuel.
I think the gas bottle is only half full too. The club here wants $34 to fill gas bottles but I’m not paying that for less than half a bottle of gas. Should be able to get more gas at Bamaga as well. Top up the main water tank with 100 litres but it’s still not full. Local radio station announcer says that on this day in 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America – assume he means the West Indies.
Daryl returns my refrigeration gas bottle. He hadn’t been able to use any of the gas on Bert’s fridge because that system uses a different kind of gas. Have now got to put everything back into place in the forward berth.
Lots of work to do today. I’d forgotten to pick up a parcel from Delma at the Post Office yesterday so will have to go back into town. Missed the forecast this morning but Daryl says it now looks like a Thursday departure. That’s good for me because it gives me another day to get ready and to have a little more rest. Ships batteries are down a fair way. Will have to pull out the generator I think.
0815: Getting hot already. Have some brekky. True to the weather forecasts it’s starting to get blowy from the east. A mournful siren sounds occasionally from over at the mine. Learn later that they blast this siren whenever the long conveyor belt is stopped or started to warn the workers and prevent accidents.
0830: Fiddle with the wind vane. Manage to get it so that the servo-blade pulls up fully against its stop but I suspect the force of water will just push it aft again whilst underway. Shorten the tripping line system so that the rope holding the blade forward is tighter. Hope this works.
Olympia contacted by Customs saying they’ve noticed they have a dog aboard. Daryl and Jan own a small silky terrier bitch named Pixie, which probably has more interesting character than some humans. Customs tells Daryl he needs to declare the dog and fill out a form if he is going to Thursday Island.
0915: Pull out the generator. Surprisingly it starts first go and runs smoothly. Must be 12 months or more since it was last started which is a bit embarrassing to admit. Unfortunately I can’t connect the generator directly to the batteries without a special plug, so have to hook it up to the ships battery charger instead. Not very efficient since it only supplies about 3 amps charge but it’s better than nothing.
Peter is on deck of Adventure Seeker. Exchange a friendly wave. I’ll be giving him a hand shortly to take his boat across the bay to get refuelled and re-watered at the Perkins Wharf. While I’m at it I’ll be getting some of my own fuel containers filled as well.
0930: Peter dinghies over to pick me up. Take five fuel jerrycans with me over to Adventure Seeker. His anchor comes up thick with mud and we head over towards the Perkins Wharf. Wind already gusting to 16 kts. Olympia is still tied to the wharf so we have to drift around and so some circles until he pulls away.
A worker on the wharf is waiting to take our lines. He asks Pete to sign a waiver saying that all the fuel lines and gear is in working order, and that he accepts responsibility if anything goes wrong such as a diesel spillage into the environment. I wonder how a visiting yacht would know if all the wharf fuel dispensing equipment is properly working?
Line up my jerrycans on the foredeck to get them filled but the nozzle of the feed pipe is too large. Peter starts filling his tank but has to keep the flow rate really slow so it doesn’t spill everywhere because of back wash from the fuel inlet. It’s taking forever to get it done.
Three dolphins come alongside snorting, puffing and bobbing around. Pete also refills his main water tank and then wishes he hadn’t. The water has a distinct taste such as can be found if drinking from a backyard rubber hose.
Approx 1200: Eventually get away and anchor back out the front of the yacht club. Kicking myself that I’d forgotten to take my camera, especially when the dolphins had come by.
Afternoon: Take my empty jerrycans ashore to put them into the back tray of the club’s utility vehicle so they can be taken to town on the next trip today. Then discover that the utility will not be available until at least Friday which leaves me in a bit of a pickle. We’re about one kilometre from the highway and I have 5 jerrycans to take into town. I can’t carry them and get a hitchhike into town. Nothing else for it but to ring for a minibus.
Approx 20 mins later a battered red Hiace minibus pulls up and takes me to town. Drops me at the BP servo which costs $25 for the trip. Cost of diesoline is $1.25 per litre at 100 litres, and with an $25 minibus fare back out to the yacht club this is going to be expensive fuel.
Leave the full jerrycans at the servo with a promise from the attendant that she will keep an eye of them for me. Visit the library armed with my floppy disk containing my emails in text format and am able to send and receive all my emails to friends and family.
Collect Delma’s parcel from the Post Office. Turns out to be a pair of good leather sandals which I don’t need. I was hoping they were going to be a pair of the good sailing sandals. Have some lunch at a café. Consider buying a small gas bottle but it needs an adapter to switch from the larger gas bottle on board to this one. Put it back on the shelf.
Catch the same minibus and driver at the main bus stop. Stop by the BP servo and pick up the jerrycans and return to the yacht club. Back onboard I start the generator again to get some charge into the batteries then start cleaning up inside. Begin with putting the refrigeration gas bottle back into its hard to reach place and tie it in. Sweep out the saloon and take out the light rubber matting to shake it over the side.
1645: Back onshore to fill some water jerries and see what’s happening with the washing machines. Manage to get access to a vacant washing machine and get two loads done including some bedding. Have a quiet drink with some other yachties in a gathering of about a dozen or so people while waiting for the washing to finish.
Take the washing back out to the boat before returning for a shower and a meal of Thai Chicken Curry. It was a so-so meal but the nut sundae which followed was nice. Daughter Lydia calls and Delma also rings later. Our little gathering slowly reduces in size. Inge from Coolong gives me a book to read, “Flight Into Hell”, a true story of two German aviators who crashed in the eastern Kimberley region in 1932. It’s an interesting read since I’ve sailed to this area before.
The latest decision following the weather report is to leave at 3 am on Friday.
2100: Return to boat. Run the motor to cool down the fridge and to charge the batteries which are still low.
False Start Again !…
|Map 14 – Gove to gulf and return|
Weds 13 Oct 04
Weather forecast much the same, easterly winds to 20 kts until about Friday. Batteries below 12v because I’ve had to run the fridge on power. Start the motor to help pull down the fridge and give the batteries another boost. Let it run for an hour or so but batteries still down a bit. Connect the generator to push in another couple of amps.
0900: Working on computer typing up notes. Wind is gusting through Inverell Bay as expected. Lowana IV jerks and wanders back and forth to her anchor a bit with the wind moaning softly through the rigging. Aft solar panel doing a reasonable job under the cloudy conditions pumping between 3 to 5 amps into the batteries.
Go topside to hang out the washing from last night. Renie calls across the water and points towards a white catamaran named Vivacious. It’s slowly dragging its anchor and is only metres from the largest set of rocks to one side of the bay. He gets into his dinghy, collects me and we head off over there.
Climb aboard Vivacious. First job is to drop the outboard motor get it started. There’s no key, switch or start button we can find. The anchor chain is heavy and only being held by the winch itself. Not a good practice. A sudden jerk and the winch can be damaged or the clutch can suddenly give way.
A man comes out in a dinghy and looks up at us wide eyed and obviously alarmed. I think I would too under the circumstances. He’d left the key to the motor back at home and will have to go back and get it. Renie gives him a rope lying on deck and asks him to take it over to another anchoring buoy nearby. Hopefully this will stop the boat from dragging any further but as soon as it’s connected it starts dragging along with us too.
Renie decides to go back to Pankina and get his own stern anchor. If we can get that set it might give enough time for the owner to get back with the key for the outboard motor. The owner and Renie take off on their separate missions. Looking around I can see a previously unnoticed metal framework of some kind sticking up out of the water and it’s directly in our path. We’re going to have to be quick or that thing is going to punch holes in the hull.
Renie doesn’t take long and he’s soon back. Hand him another rope which he connects to the chain of his own anchor. The idea is to set this anchor to make a V pattern of anchors out there. He gets the anchor down, pays out the chain and brings the loose end of the rope over to me where I can secure it to the front starboard bow. Vivacious yaws over to the side and settles. This seems to be doing the job for now and there’s nothing much more to do but wait.
Eventually the owner returns and starts the motor. With the motor engaged we’re able to move slowly forward, gather in both anchors and clear the second buoy away. Once back out into a clear area we reset the main anchor. He only has 30m of chain so we let it all out before tying it off to a small bollard forward of the winch.
As we sit and watch for a while he tells us he’d just bought the boat in Cairns and had only arrived this morning, having spent the last couple of weeks sailing home. He seems pretty inexperienced to me so I’m guessing he might have enjoyed a good slice of luck on that trip.
Return to Lowana IV for lunch. Start the motor and run the fridge compressor for an another hour.
Afternoon: Run the generator all afternoon charging batteries. Visit Pankina to take over some movies on loan. During the late afternoon take some water jerries ashore to fill.
Evening: Go ashore for a shower and dinner. More boats have arrived in the harbour with lots of new faces and delighted re-acquainting going on between various owners and crews.
2030: Back onboard. Ring Delma. Watch a movie but am too tired to see it through.
Thurs 14 Oct 04
0700: Weather forecast looking okay for tomorrow. Still trying to get the batteries charged. Pick up the flooring in the saloon to check for water in the bilge area along the top of the keel. There’s a little bit there but hard to say where the water’s coming from but most likely a bit of draining from the hawse pipe and anchor well. Mop it up and vacuum away the dirt.
Sort out various charts into Gulf of Carpentaria, Torres Strait and Cape York regions so that they’re ready when needed. Find a suitable chart to cover the whole passage across to Cape York.
0900: Check the contents of the gas bottle by a simple expedient of test lifting, followed by quickly pouring hot water over the bottle. The top half gets hot while the bottom half stays cool so it appears the gas bottle is about half-full. Really should get a bit more gas to be on the safe side.
Hot already. Sweaty. Check the batteries. The starter battery is still down too far. Looks like it’s starting to fail and likely why the whole battery system isn’t charging up properly.
1030: Hitch hike into town and price an auto battery. Too expensive. If necessary I can isolate the starter battery and change the battery system around a bit. Buy a 4 kg gas bottle at the sports store and this time they manage to find an adapter that works. Fill the gas bottle for an all up cost of $100 which is expensive but gives me an emergency reserve of gas. Also get a new hydrometer battery tester as the old one perished this morning while using it.
Back on board am concerned to see the charge in the big 200 ampere-hour battery up on the bow is very low. Much too low. Have some lunch and make a big stew. Run the motor to try and get some more charge into the batteries. Finally get a reading of 13.1v but something in the system is wrong because the big battery is still flat. Start running the generator.
1500: Tidy up around the boat. Lash all jerries to deck. Find a place to stow the canopy poles other than inside the dinghy. Go ashore to put the last lot of dirty clothes through the wash and hand back the ablution block key and collect the deposit.
1600: Wash the dinghy down on the beach. Once back onboard finish hanging out the washing then winch the dinghy up on deck and lash it down. Rig a lifeline both to port and starboard sides. Being alone in open waters that line could be a life saver, my only one if I fall or get flung overboard.
Generally get the boat ready for sea. Renie drops by to offer me a powerful 240v AC charger. Thank him but decline since I won’t be pulling the generator out and running it whilst at sea.
1800: Pull up the anchor at the same time as Pankina. It comes up heavily packed with mud so just heap it on deck for now. Both of us are moving out of the crowded anchorage for a clear start in the morning. There’s too much of a chance of colliding with someone in the pre-dawn darkness, or run over a buoy or foul the propeller on a floating rope or something. Motor out to deeper water where a motor cruiser MV Fiddler is anchored. Renie motors over to say g’day to them.
1900: Find a spot in 6m and drop the pick. Wash and brush all the mud off the deck using a bucket and seawater. Heat up some stew. Let the motor run for a while because I’ve put a big container of warm stew into the fridge. It’ll need a bit of engine compressor power to quickly cool the box down again. Watch TV.
0300: Early rise and set about getting underway. There’s a series of radio calls going on with crews making sure friends on other boats are all up. Four boats Pankina, Olympia, Lowana IV and Adventure Seeker are moving out.
0330: Underway slowly out of harbour. Anchor chain filthy with mud which I’ll need to clean later and get it stowed into the chain locker. The log isn’t working again.
0400: Turn around the main wharf at Point Dundas. Put up the mainsail with two reefs and connect my safety harness to the lifeline. Heading for the western side of Bremer and Victoria Islands.
0500: Radio sked with Pankina. All okay. He’s under sail at 4 kts. I’m staying motor sailing for now still trying to get the ship’s batteries recharged. Turn the electronic navigation off on the laptop and start working with the GPS and charts.
0530: Arrange with Olympia for a daily sked at 0715 on 8.161 Mhz in the event we get out of VHF range. She’s a much faster boat so that’s more than likely going to happen. Pink sky in the east. Getting 4 kts over ground. Bremer Island sitting forward off the starboard beam.
0600: Sun clears horizon in a big bright yellow ball. Streaky cirrus clouds to east portend higher winds today. About 7 miles NE of Gove. Adventure Seeker coming up abeam on my starboard side.
0615: Not having a log to measure the speed through the water is bugging me, so I bring the boat to a stop and pull the log transducer out of the hull. A gush of water comes into the boat but it’s quickly plugged. Get a brush and clean the little transducer wheel. Put the transducer back into place with another gush of water and the log starts working properly.
0620: Olympia calls to check why I’ve stopped. I must be on their radar. Good to know he’d noticed. Tell him what I’ve been doing. The first whitecap of the day happens just near the boat. Narage in sight coming up behind.
0700: Weather forecast – east to NE winds 15 kts. Headwinds … and the prediction for Sunday doesn’t sound too good either. Tide is starting to hold me back as I get near Victoria Island. Other boats steadily pulling away ahead of me.
0745: Narage catches up and is about 100m off my port side. Give me a wave as they go past making it look so easy just gliding through the water and leaving me behind. Frustrating that. They must be doing 6 kts. And they’re pointing into the wind about 10 degrees higher than either Pankina or even Olympia. Must be motoring as well.
0800: Renie calls ScuttleBug and Alkira. He tells me Coolong will be pulling up anchor soon back in Gove and following. A fish torpedoes out of the water nearby into a 15m jump before hitting the water again.
0815: There’s 312 miles to the waypoint off the NW of Cape York at 11.00S and 142.00E.
It tends to get a bit depressing when you just can’t keep up with any other boat. I could probably sail now but I really do need to get these batteries charged. In any case Renie’s only getting 11 degrees True so I’d most likely be worse off if I tried to sail. At least while I’m motor sailing I’m getting 060 degrees True which isn’t too far away off the 80 degree True rhumb line to Bamaga at Cape York.
0900: Bumpy but not too bad. Still within sight of other boats. The sea is a dark blue. Getting hot. Take a little catnap.
1000: Approx 25 miles NNE of Gove. Bremer Island is a very faint smudge and just about to disappear below horizon.
1100: Change to port tack – i.e. to starboard with the wind on the port side. Heading ESE just under 4 kts. Not much wind. Olympia and Pankina are talking about motoring if they drop below 3 kts.
1300: Wind drops down. Irregular swells.
1400: Been watching the amp meter putting out 10 amps most of the morning with the battery voltage not budging at 13.3v. Something is definitely wrong in the charging system. Fiddle around until I finally find the reason. I’d inadvertently set the fridge thermostat colder than I’d needed to. The poor little fridge has been trying to be a freezer and since it chews 8 amps or more, the batteries have at best been only getting a very low charge.
Reset the thermostat to see an almost immediate improvement. Would be glad to be able to sail even if I could but there’s not enough wind out there now. Only 36 nm NE of Gove after changing course in a rather dogleg kind of route so far. Haven’t really gone that far but it’s not surprising. We’d spent the first couple of hours at about 3 to 3.5 kts just getting out of the harbour. Anyway … I’m getting over 4 kts right now motor sailing using a partially rolled out headsail and full mainsail. Wind has swung around so am able to get an ENE course only about 10 degrees off the rhumb line.
Narage is long way off just forward of starboard beam. There’s a mast in the distance behind but don’t know who that is.
1620: Been experimenting with the windvane most of the afternoon without success. A bit of wind has come up and the boat seems to be sort of holding a course, albeit wandering around a little from side to side. Turn off the motor. Getting just under 4 kts under sails – thank goodness for small mercies.
1800: Not happy. Just can’t get Lowana IV to sail to windward in these swells. Disturbed, sloppy water with swells are coming from all different angles. The windvane can’t work properly is these conditions. Find myself thinking several times about going back. Feeling depressed and frustrated. Pankina and Adventure Seeker are both under sails. Lowana IV can’t sail. Fed up. Sun going down. Night approaches.
1830: Dusk settles. Seas getting lumpier. Lowana IV being thumped now and again by head seas and she judders her way forward.
1945: Tack southerly. Best course I can get on this tack is 150 degrees True but I need to get back down onto the original rhumb line, otherwise I’ll end up way off course to the north near Papua New Guinea.
2330: Tack easterly again. Only getting 060 degrees True and once again heading for Papua New Guinea. If I could only get reasonably near to a course for Bamaga just under sails it would be easier to persevere. SE winds are forecast for the NE side of the gulf. If I get too high on this tack I’ll find that instead of it being easier over there, it will be just as hard. In fact even harder because higher winds are forecast. Quite demoralising this sort of thing.
Sat 16 Oct 04
0545: Distance made good from Victoria Island is 65 miles. Dawn. Seas very disturbed and lumpy.
0645: Not a good night spent catnapping. Up and down, up and down all night long. I’d thrown a couple of cushions down on the floor of the wheelhouse. Not much room and highly uncomfortable but at least I wasn’t going to fall into a deep sleep there. Set the alarm for short sleeps but found myself constantly jerking awake, anxious that other boats might have tacked and be bearing down nearby. Wind continued at a moderate level all night and the seas were lumpy and disturbed with big cross swells. Several times I’d given serious thought to turning back.
Pankina is on the same latitude but a few miles further back west. Can’t see his sails in these seas. Once again I reflect that at least he’s able to sail while I’m still having to motor in order to make some reasonable headway.
0700: Forecast bodes worse to come. Seas are picking up even as I watch, hitting Lowana IV and bringing her to successive shuddering stops. If I belly out the sails to try and power through the waves then the wind overpowers the boat because of her shallow keel and tips her too far over. Renie calls and we discuss options. I’m not sure that I can get a reasonable easting today which I’ll need if I’m to handle the forecast 20kt SE head winds tomorrow.
In the meantime I can expect more of this slop for this side of the gulf for today and tomorrow. My sailing angle is only between 30 to 150 degrees True and that’s under motor. It’s worse if I try to sail. But it’s not the pointing angle so much on this boat but the effect of drift. Lowana IV is designed to be a coastal cruising boat. With her shallow keel she just doesn’t have the grip in the water to prevent the heavy winds from pushing her sideways further left or right off her course. And her flat chines slapping hard against the waves aren’t helping either.
Try to weigh my best options. Call Daryl of Olympia at our HF radio sked. He tends to agree that I should return to Gove and suggests I should wait for better weather. Also suggests I speak to Tilbah who doesn’t go anywhere unless it’s calm. Decide to turn back and wait for better weather. Daryl wishes me a safe trip and suggests we maintain our daily sked. Agree with this. Exchange best wishes.
0720: Call Renie and tell him of my decision and he wishes a safe trip back. He’s behind me at the moment so may pass him on the way back.
0800: Reluctantly turn the tiller to bring Lowana IV to a WSW course with a heavy heart. At this point I’m thinking this is most likely going to be the end of the trip and I’ll be returning to Darwin. I just can’t see how I can cope with another attempt across the Gulf of Carpentaria like this one.
|Authors Note: I was to learn in later years that if someone is in a depressive state they are just not mentally capable of seeing things clearly. Ordinarily I would have just kept plugging on but fatigue makes you even more vulnerable than usual to emotional turmoil and faulty judgements. A sense of failure is also common among those afflicted.|
The wind comes around to my port quarter so I can put up a full mainsail and full headsail. Speed builds up quickly to almost 6 kts under sail alone and I’m able to turn off the motor. Bring the boat up into the wind to pause for a moment to set up the wind steering vane. Once the steering oar is dropped down and secure, bring the boat back on course and adjust the trim until it’s working close enough to the proper heading. Seems to be working alright but will have to watch it. Feeling a curious blend of regret and relief in the ease of sailing.
0915: Making steady time between 6.5 to 7 kts. Following seas yawing the boat around a bit but is okay. I think I might actually be beginning to enjoy the ride except I’m going the wrong way. Coastwatch calls me on the radio as they fly past.
1100: Blowing quite hard. Whitecaps everywhere. Waves hitting the boat and sending spray into cockpit. Gusts up to 20 kts or even more. Reef both sails.
1200: Reach the same position where I was at 11:30 pm last night. In four hours I’ve covered the same distance it had taken me about 8 hours to do going the other way.
1330: Rock and roll. Rock and roll. Getting 4.5 to 5 kts. The windvane finally doing all the work and is working well. If only it was like this going the other way, it would be excellent! Large seas rear up from behind but not breaking and pass underneath. Strong gusts.
1530: Wind dying down. Waves and swells still up but not as bad as before. Still 26 miles to waypoint off the channel below Bremer Island. Small waves washing across the deck on the leeward side. A booby skims across the waves and swells expertly, keeping itself just inches off the water. Beautiful to watch. Wind steering vane doing a good job. Nice to save on battery power too.
1730: Dropping below 4 kts. Time to secure for the night. Big waves are still coming through from two different angles just as they have been all day. One lot slants in on the port stern and there’s a cross swell which comes in broadside on the starboard side. It’s 18.5 miles to the waypoint. Bit like being in a washing machine. Will motor from here.
1740: Feeling lousy most of the day. When I’d made the decision to come back to Gove I felt very bad about pulling out of this trip. Like lead in my heart and a weight in my stomach. I’ve come to the conclusion that the life of a single-handed sailor is not for me.
Getting 5.5 to 6 kts motor sailing. Will be glad to see some calm water. Very uncomfortable over the last two days without much sleep, and the night is again coming on. Have kept trying to catnap during the day but without much success. I’m just too keyed up. Swells still rolling through like mini hills.
1750: First sighting of land – Mount Dundas to the south of Bremer Island on the mainland.
2130: Water gradually eases with the fading of the wind in the late afternoon. However it continues to be rolly through the last few miles threading back through the channel at the southern end of Bremer Island and the mainland. Pitch black. Getting 4 kts but the tide should change soon. Under motor and mainsail only. A sliver of moon is showing but is soon hidden behind some low clouds before sinking below the horizon.
Sun 17 Oct 04
0130: Another boat is coming into the harbour as I make my way towards the anchorage. Finally get the anchor down in 7m on the outside of the other yachts. Will move in closer tomorrow. It’s been a long, slow night since it got dark. The plots on the chart seemed to inch ever so slowly but it was nice and calm in the harbour at least. The water gradually calmed the further I got in behind the protection of the land.
|Map 16 – Nhulunbuy township and mine area|
Total distance travelled since Darwin has been 660 miles. The round trip into the Gulf of Carpentaria was 167.8 nm using 45 litres of diesel fuel with a maximum speed of 6.9 kts. Estimate 37 hours use of motor for both days so approx 1.2 litres/hour. Pretty good if accurate.
0700: Dip the fuel tank and have 200 litres. Calculate that if I’d kept going across the gulf it would have probably taken 5 full days and 140 litres of diesel. I have 345 litres on board so can do it if I want to, but trying to get across the gulf again is not looking good for the time being. The weather forecast is for stronger winds and big seas across the north of Australia.
0715: Call Olympia but get a response from Amadeus. They’d been in Gove and are now heading for Thursday Island. I think she’d been one of the boats I’d seen previously near Wigram Island on the way into Gove. Have a little chat. Olympia calls but comms aren’t very good. They’ve done about 200 miles with 150 miles to go for Bamaga and will call again tomorrow. Can’t learn much more due to radio static.
0800: Pull up the anchor to move closer inshore. Mud everywhere. A catamaran is anchored where my last spot was. See a boat I know from Darwin named Sanpoi. The owner is also a member of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club. Don’t see Coolong. Find another spot and get the anchor down.
I look around the bay and think, “Now what?” So many boats have left for Queensland and I’ve come back here. My heart sinks a little as I listen to all the familiar sights and sounds coming from the nearby mine that I’d thought I’d left behind. A strong feeling of failure washes over me. I look at all the boats anchored around feeling inadequate and alone.
Go downstairs to make a brew and come back to the cockpit to think and take stock. Okay … I’m feeling bloody awful so let’s rationalise why I turned back.
There can be no doubt Lowana IV was a big factor in deciding to return to Gove. She’s always been a slug when it comes to sailing to windward especially in the heavier winds. But to be fair she was designed for coastal cruising with bilge keels to let her sit upright on the ground close inshore. She simply doesn’t have a deep enough keel for deep water sailing and gets pushed sideways in heavier winds.
Yet I must be honest and not blame it all on the boat. I just wasn’t enjoying it out there and simply wasn’t coping with it. Even now that I’m safely anchored I still can’t get rid of the depression that’s settled on me, nor stop the tremors in my hands and jaw. I’m finding I can rationalise it as much as I want but it doesn’t help. I just cannot control my emotions or what my body is doing.
In hindsight I’d been over-tired and frustrated with being unable to get the boat to make reasonable way under sail. I was being tossed around and uncomfortable in the rough seas. There were too many other boats around to be able to get any reasonable sleep without someone else to keep watch. And worse weather was expected.
Chronic anxiety sufferers typically focus on the negatives, exaggerating them out of proportion and losing touch with reality.
The first thing to understand is that I need to wait until the weather improves and the winds drop a bit. That might help ease the immediate compulsion that I should be doing something. Staying here for the Wet Season is not an option so there are two other alternatives – either continue on or go back to Darwin.
If I decide to head back home there’s no doubt it will be emotionally draining. I’ve already had a taste of it just coming back to Gove. And it would be embarrassing to admit I’d given up when I get back there.
And what if I have to give up sailing and sell the boat … do I really want to sell the boat? Really? I’ve been looking after this boat for 11 years. It’s a part of me now. It’d be like losing an arm or something. The thought leaves a hole in the pit of my stomach. If I sell it, what will I do then? Spend endless days wandering around looking for something else to do?
The alternative is to try and continue on this trip. I could look for Tilbah and have a chat to (Darren?) as suggested by Daryl of Olympia . But then I think about the last two days out there in the gulf. Had I’d kept going yesterday I’d probably be about half way across with probably another 2 days of discomfort, difficult work and heavy fatigue to go. I think I’ve had enough of that. But if the weather doesn’t ease up soon then it’s going to be just as hard, and just as frustrating.
I’m at a loss as to the best way to go. Either way looks unpleasant. It’s hot, sticky and it’s a Sunday. The yacht club office is closed so probably won’t be able to get a key to the ablution block until tomorrow. Be nice to be able to have a hot shower, shave and freshen up.
At least the ships batteries are all fully charged up again. There’s one positive.
0830: Ring Delma to tell her I’m okay. Discuss my uncertainties about what to do. She’s a good woman, sympathetic and understanding. I’m sure she’d support whatever decision I finally make. She says she only hopes I don’t ever regret not achieving what I want to do. That’s a very good point to make and she’s right. If I’m to give up I must go until I simply can’t do it any more. There must be no doubt in my mind if I’m to live with the decision. She suggests I take a few days to think about it and talk to some other yachties here.
0930: Put the dinghy over the side. Process goes as smooth as silk. Set up the forward solar panels and check they’re working properly. Put the V-berth cushions and bedding outside in the sun because they’re slightly damp. Must have been a little leak up through the forward hatch. Keeping myself occupied gives me a bit of relief from the constant yammering in my brain.
Am a bit more relaxed. Weather is nice. Breeze building already. Keep telling myself how uncomfortable it would be out there in the gulf now, how tired and frustrated I’d still be. But as much as I argue with the shadow man inside my head with his negativity it can’t chase those debilitating feelings away.
1730: There’s a halloo from outside. The skipper from the catamaran Alkira is hanging off the rails, comes aboard. The obvious question is why did I come back. How do I answer that without admitting I’d caved in … given up? At the same time I’m not going to lie about it so simply tell the truth. His response is that he thinks I’m a smart man for coming back instead of trying to push on.
He seems to be serious and not just salving my feelings. Yesterday he’d been coming down from the Wessel Islands and knew what the conditions were like out there. He says he’d wondered at the time why everyone was heading out into it.
Maybe I should have asked myself the same question. Why hadn’t I followed my own instincts? I guess part of the answer would be that there is a short weather window with northerly winds. Catching that would potentially make the 700 mile run down the East Coast to Cooktown so much easier. And I guess I assumed the collective reasoning of experienced cruising people, some with sophisticated communications and weather reading equipment must know or have better information than me.
A young couple Ron and Trish with 2 kids in a dinghy pull alongside. They’re from a big catamaran named Scuttlebug. They’re also curious why I’ve returned so I tell them what I’d told Rob. Ron readily agrees I’d done the right thing.
The combined reassurances of my visitors start to make me feel a bit better with myself. Alkira and Scuttlebug are travelling in company and they invite me to come along with them. They’re waiting for a weather window either to head directly across the gulf to Weipa or head south via Groote Eyelandt and I’m welcome to come along.
Rob comments that their idea of cruising is day sailing wherever possible and bugger the night sailing unless it’s unavoidable. I can’t agree more and the invitation gives me a huge boost to my spirits. I can suddenly see an acceptable way forward and with company to boot. My answer is obvious. My new friends depart with a promise to keep me posted on what their intentions are going to be.
I now have something to aim for so pull out all the charts again for the Gulf of Carpentaria, and start plotting distances and possible anchorage sites. It’s a much shorter hop across the gulf from Groote Eylandt and even Weipa is less distance than Bamaga.
Later in the afternoon I catch up with John Cook from Sanpoi at the yacht club. He’s working here in Gove. Am able to pay a deposit for a key to the ablution block but don’t have to re-register as a temporary member. Enjoy a hot shower and shave then return to the boat.
Evening: Feeling much better about things generally, enough to have a big cook-up for dinner with fried steak and canned vegetables, jelly fruit and iced custard for desert. In my new found relief on finding a way forward I even set up the little cockpit table for the first time. Enjoy the meal outside in the cockpit in the fading dusk.
Have a chat to Delma on the mobile phone while washing up. I think she might have been a little upset from my earlier call and has been worried all day. Now I feel bad again that I’d burdened her with my own problems. I sit in the cockpit with a hot cup of chocolate trying to come to terms with this trip.
The primary question is, “Am I enjoying it?” The answer so far is not yes or no, but a little bit. Maybe by following Pankina and Olympia I hadn’t been following my own agenda. I hadn’t visited the King River or Liverpool River where I’d planned, and the program had been to get up and go every day without breaks to recover from the long hard slogs. There’s been no time to relax and prepare for the next leg. This is absolutely no reflection on Pankina or Olympia. They had their own timetables and I’d always had the option of saying or doing something different.
On the other hand if I’m honest with myself, it was probably because I wanted companionship, even if it was with other boats instead of having my own crew. And I really was enjoying their company anyway. It was like being part of a team.
Do some computer work typing up the notes of this trip. Watch the second half of a movie I’d started watching previously.
2200: Go to bed to read a book but can’t absorb the words. Turn in for the night. Something banging the shrouds. Get up and find one of the ropes to lift the dinghy onboard is banging against the taut capshroud wire. Tie it off and get back into bed.
Mon 18 Oct 04
0700: Weather forecast is for more strong winds and/or big seas. Am learning that when they say 1.5m seas for instance that it can mean 3m seas like the other day coming back from the gulf. Must keep that in mind when considering forecasts, especially around the gulf region where there is anything up to a 350 mile fetch of clear water.
0715: Call Olympia. Briefly establish contact but then can’t get through. Daryl says he’ll call tomorrow.
0900: Wind suddenly gusts through the anchorage followed by a slight moaning of the wind through the rigging.
Easy day on board. Do some computer work. Top up fuel. The main tank takes 80 litres because I’d been down 40 litres before leaving Gove the other day. Go ashore to find that the yacht utility vehicle won’t be going into town until tomorrow so I won’t be able to fill my fuel jerries until then. Daughter Lydia rings asking how I’m getting on. I detect Delma’s work behind the scene here. She gives me a lovely supportive chat.
Late lunch. Read a book and fall asleep. Am checking a chart of Groote Eyelandt when Rob calls by and we discuss anchorages on the way down there. Possible sites are at Delawoi Bay, Port Bradshaw and Caledon Bay. At the NE of Groote Eyelandt is an anchorage from where we might possibly jump across the gulf. From here the gap is narrowest at 260 miles, at least 40 miles shorter than any other route. Decide to wait for the forecast tomorrow to decide our next moves, but agree we must be out of the gulf by the end of the month to avoid any early Wet Season cyclones.
Dusk: Run fridges all day using just the solar panels. Using the panels this way seems to be a good power conservation plan, but will still need to change to another power source, e.g. motor or generator in the late afternoon. The panels by themselves just can’t pull enough power to feed the hungry electric fridge motor through the night as well.
1730: Run the motor for an hour to freeze the cooling tank. Cook tea – beef patties on toast, fried egg, baked beams, fried small potatoes. Yummy. Follow with desert and apple juice. Turn on the generator. Recharge the laptop so I can use it again tonight.
Dusk: Karen rings. She’s at home with Delma checking emails from my book publishing website. Good girl. She’s also very supportive. Chat to Delma. Feel much better after these calls.
Wash up and clean up. Make a shopping list for tomorrow including a small pot in which I can just warm stuff up, like a single serving of baked beans or some dried green beans.
Evening: Doing computer work but laptop battery giving out so go to bed. Do some reading.
2230: Turn out the light.
Tues 19 Oct 04
0700: Weather forecast not looking much good in any direction for the next two days. Manage to contact Olympia. From what I can gather he’s only just got into Bamaga this morning. Seems they’d been doing it hard. Although glad to hear they’d arrived safely there’s no word on Pankina.
Olympia is a Farr design for racing yachts. If I’d kept going there’s no doubt I’d have still been out there. Give a little shudder at the thought but the information helps to boost my confidence about having turned back.
Morning: Visit the yacht club office and arrange a lift into town to get diesel this afternoon. Alkira talking about heading off this afternoon for Delawoi Bay, about 26 miles east of here behind Cape Arnhem marking the turning point down into the Gulf of Carpentaria. For my part I don’t like the idea of arriving in an unknown bay in the dark, so tell Rob I’ll probably leave early tomorrow and follow. Rob tells me he’s received a phone call from Renie. From what I understand he’s at Bamaga and arrived a few hours after Olympia. I was not subsequently able to confirm that with Daryl on the HF radio.
Test the weather fax software on the laptop for the first time. Am able to get it to work but the picture isn’t too good but it should be just a matter of getting a better signal on the HF radio. Also need to find out the exact times that the Met Bureau actually transmits the isobar charts.
1215: Yacht club calls on radio. Kevin the Yardman is going into town in half an hour if I want a lift. Climb immediately into the dinghy already loaded with empty jerries and go ashore. Find Kevin just starting his lunch. Identify myself then leave him alone so he can enjoy his lunch. Get a soft drink and sit down at a table on the veranda to wait. After a while Kevin finishes his lunch so I join him at his table. Find him to be a friendly chap and we enjoy a good chat.
Darren from Tilbah walks past pushing a pram with a baby. He and his wife had been anchored out in the harbour at The Granites. They’re a couple of small rocky islands with a sandy beach where it’s relatively safe to swim against the threat of crocodiles. The beach shallows and visibility for a long way around is good.
His wife (name unknown at this stage) comes over with lunch from the galley. Darren tells me they’d been married at The Granites. The baby is teething so they’re looking for calm weather to get across the gulf.
Kevin is now ready and loaded my 4 jerries so we head off into town. He’s worked at the Gove Yacht Club for several years, done a variety of different jobs there and is happy to get away from the club for a while and take me where I want to go. Asks me if I want to go to Woolworth’s supermarket. I say, “No, I don’t need to thanks”. He says, “Yes you do! Enjoy the air conditioning for a while”.
Deliver some alcohol back to their supplier. Get the jerry cans filled and buy a small sand anchor for the dinghy. The folding grapple type I have for the dinghy is next to useless. Kevin takes me to another shopping centre outside the main centre of town where he buys some gardening supplies. I get a couple of other bits and pieces. Look for a suitable small cooking pot but they don’t have one.
At the Perkins Shipping depot in town they don’t have the yacht club’s latest order. They say it had been sent out to the wharf area depot. Drive out to the wharf depot and help Kevin load all his supplies.
1530: Return to yacht club and take the full jerries out to Lowana IV. This is where the big solid dinghy comes into its own with its ability to carry heavy weights. Decide to go back ashore later. Do some more computer work. Alkira is still anchored nearby so has obviously decided against leaving today.
1700: Start to tidy up topsides and get ready to go. Drop and lash down the solar panels up at the bow. A middle aged couple from a catamaran Easy drop by in a dinghy. They’re staying in Gove for the Wet Season having found work here in the mine and will be pushing on to the Kimberley’s next year. They say the anchorage at the main township of Alyangula on Groote Eylandt is a bad anchorage for swells. Very uncomfortable place.
Alkira calls on the radio while I’m talking to this couple. Rob says his friends at Port Bradshaw have been threatened by aboriginals with spears, who say that if they don’t leave they’ll be returning this afternoon with guns. Not going to Port Bradshaw makes it more difficult to get to Groote Eyelandt. The coast is mostly exposed from the NE to SE with lots of coastal reefs and outlying rocks. We decide to go directly to Weipa instead.
Rob has been talking to other yachties who have been accessing the internet for weather forecasts. A High Pressure system is due to hit here next Sunday. If we stay here we’ll be delayed by at least another week. No guarantee what will follow that High. Take stock of my options. Am running out of time if I change my mind and decide to go back home before the NW monsoons start. They could start within the next couple of weeks – or not. Never can tell from year to year.
Rob argues that the weather locally hasn’t been too bad for the last couple of days despite what the forecasts have been saying. I think to myself that’s no guarantee what’s happening offshore because we’re actually sheltered here in Inverell Bay. In any case the forecasts for the NE Gulf region are predicting only 1m seas, so in theory the further east we get the better it should get. Good theory but they don’t always turn out like you’d expect.
All the while the couple beside the boat wait patiently. They tell me they’ve worked for several years in the Torres Strait area and rely implicitly on the weather forecasts. They believe they’re usually accurate for that particular region but they’ve now had enough of Torres Strait and are looking to go somewhere else. The gentleman offers his opinion that when the High Pressure systems reach near Melbourne then the high winds are down. Sounds fair to me. They then leave to go check on their dog.
Lash down jerrys. Finish cleaning and tidying up. Jump into dinghy and visit Alkira on the way to shore. Alkira and some other boats have decided to stick their noses out into gulf tomorrow, and if it cuts up rough during the day to return to Gove. That sounds fair enough to me so decide I’ll join them after all.
The tide is right out as I go back ashore for the last time, so have to wade some distance through the shallows pushing the dinghy. Have a shower and retrieve my deposit for the shower block key.
1930: Return to Lowana IV in the dark. Check the big battery for fluid levels and do a hydrometer test. Clean up forward. Bring the dinghy alongside and get it aboard. Tie it all down. Generally square away for sea.
2100: Cook tea. Ring Delma about my plans. Only remember now that I haven’t topped up with water but have plenty on board anyway. If there’s one thing I can say for this cruising lifestyle is that by night time I’m usually tired and ready for bed.
Crossing The Gulf
|Map 18 – Transit from Gove to Weipa|
Weds 20 Oct 04
0600: Anchor aweigh. Chain thick with mud and a large blob encases the anchor itself. Even the pressure hose is unable to remove all of it. Engine hours are 1593 as I turn the boat to leave Gove again. A convoy forms with the catamaran Fly By Night leading, then a motor cruiser name not yet known, Alkira, Fiddler then me. Make my way past Scuttlebug as he’s lifting his anchor.
Ron is close by and gives me a thumbs up as he calls over the radio, “This is going to be a beautiful trip”. Hope he’s right. There’s a faint breeze as we start the first turn around the main wharf. I’m already having mixed feeling about doing this trip. All of these vessels have the ability to leave me far behind and I’ll be doing this on my own again.
0640: Past the main wharf and all the other boats are already way ahead. Smoke rises steadily into the sky from the smoke stack at the mine so there’s not much breeze upstairs either. Cloudy day but mostly around the horizon. Motoring with no sails set at just over 4 kts.
0700: Listen to the weather forecast. It’s a bit more promising than the other day when we set out especially on the other side of the gulf. The motor cruiser Escapade is just ahead. Another yacht Parmelia comes up aft on my port side under motor with no sails set. Like me she appears to be also heading for the South Channel under Bremer Island.
Turn around the small West Woody Islet near the harbour entrance heading east. Breeze springing up already bringing wavelets into the strait dropping my speed to between 3.5 to 4 kts.
Right: The Gove mine looking south. The wharf is at extreme right.
0715: Speak to Daryl on HF but he’s hardly readable. Seems to receive me okay but it’s a very faint signal and the frequency is noisy, but we manage to agree to try again tonight at 2000 hrs. Tell him I’m again attempting the gulf but that I wasn’t sure about it with the conditions being much the same as when we’d set out earlier. He urges me not to turn back to Darwin.
0800: Rob calls and asks for my mobile phone number to give to Renie of Pankira. Give it to him then call Renie directly while I still have a signal. Catch him as he’s leaving Weipa instead of Bamaga where I’d thought he’d been. He gives me some advice about using telltales – bits of ribbon on the sails which indicate how the winds is flowing over them, and that getting sleep is the most important. It’s good to hear from him again.
Ring Delma to tell her I’m on my way but not to be surprised if I do turn back. She asks what I might do if I come back home. I thought I might look at setting out again next year but with crew, or else go to the Kimberley’s in WA for 6 months.
Call Daryl on his mobile and leave a message on an answering machine just to say g’day and thank him for his moral support.
0800: Renie rings back asking me to pass on a message to Rob on Alkira that Kevin and Sharon from the trimaran Just Roamin are in Weipa. They’ve got work there for the next three months and have a motor vehicle to get around in. He gives me their contact number to pass on. Call Alkira but they don’t answer the radio so pass the message to Trish on Scuttlebug in case I get out of radio range.
0810: So far the wind has steadied and waves have flattened a little.
0830: Try to call Parmelia but there’s no answer. Rob has been listening and says he thinks his name is Fritz and is also a single hander. Parmelia is motor sailing like me but is pulling slowly ahead. As they all do …
Pass East Woody Islet which is a nice collection of rocky boulders on the starboard side. The day is quite pleasant out there now. Hope it keeps up. Set up a waypoint off Weipa and key it into the GPS.
0900: Cape Wirawawoi, a sandy projection of land with a rocky tip, low scrub and trees lies abeam to starboard. To the SE a few miles away is Cape Arnhem behind which is Delawoi Bay. It marks the NE point of the Top End peninsula into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The open waters of the gulf are before me now. Two trawlers appear up ahead coming my way with outriggers slung. One looks like it’s got it’s nets out.
0930: The last of the little rocky islands off the SE point of Bremer Island come abeam to port. My rhumb line to Weipa is 095 degrees True which is of course exactly where the bloody wind is coming from! So sick of getting headwinds right on the nose almost all the time.
Low swells. Slight breeze. Nice day otherwise. Although I’m not a lover of talk back radio all that much, am listening to one of the stations for as long as I can. Set up a speaker out in the cockpit so I can listen to it over the noise of the motor.
1000: Have been considering Renie’s advice. Pay more attention to keeping the boat moving rather than the course, make sure the telltales are fluttering properly and that sleep is king above all. He had told me that if necessary to bear away off course to get a good nights sleep to avoid making bad mistakes. I’m hoping this advise will help me deal with any emotional or psychological problems before they happen. The main thing is not to get over-tired because then I’ll become vulnerable to them.
Do a plot on the big chart covering the whole gulf. Draw in a rhumb line direct to Weipa with 276 miles to go. Mark my present position and time on the chart at the start of the line under Bremer Island. Lots of empty space there between here and Weipa. Daunting. The Gulf of Carpentaria is a relatively shallow body of water and it doesn’t take much to make it pretty rough. The open water begins now after 4 hours from starting out.
1055: Feeling a bit of déjà vu about the last trip out here – am already feeling fatigued and wanting a catnap already. See the first whitecap beside the boat although the seas are only small. Keep expecting the worst. Decide that if it cuts up rough again I’ll turn around for sure and go home. And that time might be coming soon if the wind picks up like I expect it to in another few hours. Have hot noodles in a cup for lunch.
1300: Wind swings a bit easterly so roll out the headsail. Seas fairly calm with waves coming through but almost no whitecaps. Hot. Am making under 4 kts which isn’t the best all considered, but at least am going almost in the right direction. Want to get as much easting as I can for the supposedly smoother seas on the other side.
Throw down a bench seat cushion from the dinette and a pillow onto the floor amidships. The cushion doesn’t quite intrude into the galley area and I can get quickly into or out of bed. Will use a countdown facility on my mobile phone to wake me up at periodic intervals so that I can do regular checks throughout the night.
1315: Waves seems to be a little bigger already but still fairly calm conditions. Still getting the commercial radio.
1430: Seas continue to be fairly calm. There’s some whitecaps about but you have to look for them and they’re only little ones. Hot, cloudy, boring. The NT coast is just a small blue ridge on the horizon to the west. Almost on the rhumb line getting up to 4 kts but these waves are slowing me down a little. Turn the boat for just enough angle on them so that Lowana IV can get through them a bit easier without having to force her way. Did I say bored?
1530: Rob from Alkira checks in with me by radio. Says they’re motoring at 5 kts and close to our rhumb line. I’m just under 10 degrees off the line and getting just over 4 kts but catamarans are faster boats so I’m doing okay. In any case I’m fed up with trying to keep up with other boats. Rob tells me they’re running a trailing lure and so far have caught 3 mackerel. They’re going to save them to trade with a mate in Weipa for lifts into town.
The last of the land is only visible through binoculars as a small blue smudge on the horizon. Am now out of mobile phone range but still getting the commercial radio station. Glen Campbell sings a song and thanking God he’s a country boy. Soon afterwards the clouds clear up and I pass outside the range of the commercial radio station. Am 24 miles out to sea from the Nhulunbuy radio towers.
1630: The expected stronger inshore afternoon sea breeze haven’t arrived so hopefully it’ll be a good smooth night. I won’t mind even if I have to motor the whole way across.
1730: Notice the stitching on the leech of the furling roller headsail is coming undone. The UV cover has actually unstitched and is catching the wind. Doesn’t look too bad but will have to watch it if it does blows up later. Conditions are still good though. Am following the rhumb line again with both sails reefed at around 5 kts and just 10 degrees of heeling. Could only be better if I was able to turn off the motor and still be able to keep at least 4 kts on the rhumb line, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth.
1735: There’s an error in my waypoint. Rework it into the GPS and now have an extra 5 degrees on my course to make to windward. No big deal really.
1800: Breeze picks up a little bit and comes around northerly allowing me to point a little higher towards the waypoint. Getting around 5 kts. Prepare for night time. Heave to and turn the motor off after running it for a few minutes at idle to let it cool down a bit. Set the sails but am only able to get 2.7 kts. Could probably do better if I fiddle with the sail trim but I’m not going to.
Check engine oils. Add some oil to both sumps. It might have been okay if I hadn’t checked but I prefer piece of mind. Wipe down leaked oil off the motor. Check the fridge compressor and alternator belts for tension then re-start the motor. Pull in the headsail because I don’t want it ripping apart tonight if the wind comes up and I’m dozing away. Motor sailing at 4 kts on the rhumb line with a single reef in the mainsail but can put in another if I need to.
After 12 hours there’s 250 miles to go and 45.9 miles on the log. That will do considering for the first 4 hours or so I’d been pushing the tide at less than 4 kts.
1845: Cooking tea – loose term since it’s one of those packet meals which only need hot water added. Meal was okay. Almost dark. Will have a little bit of moonlight for the first half of the night.
1940: The night is beautiful outside. Boat jerks just slightly as she travels over the waves which are a little irregular, but of no problem size. Can walk about the boat easily without hanging on for dear life. Even have the saloon portholes open for some fresh air inside. Am still getting 4 kts right on a direct line towards Weipa. Half moon shines on the water. Sipping an orange juice. CD is playing good music. I simply don’t care any more that I’m on a sailboat and not sailing.
2230: It doesn’t last. Seas are getting choppy but it’s still not that bad. although Lowana IV is struggling a little bit at just over 3 kts. No whitecaps yet but close the portholes anyway as a precaution.
2400: Moon sinks below the horizon, the wind drops and the seas smooth down again. Still only getting about 3 kts. Wind has swung northerly but the waves are still coming from the same direction. Alkira calls on the radio. They’re about 30 miles ahead of me and almost out of radio range so we arrange HF skeds on 8.161 MHz at 0300, 0600, 1200 and 1800 hrs.
Thurs 21 Oct 04
0130: Is that a metal, whining noise coming from the motor? Lift the cockpit hatch and look down at the stuffing box – a metal housing with packing inside to support the propeller shaft where it exits the hull out into the sea. Water is pouring into the boat and the stuffing box is hot and steaming. Grab the grease gun and start pumping grease into it as normal but it isn’t doing any good. Take a closer look and see that the connection where a tube that feeds the grease into the box has come off, and that’s where all the water is coming in. By now there are big gobs of grease down in the bilge.
Grab some tools and turn the motor off. Don’t want some normally un-attachable part of my body getting caught in a spinning propeller shaft and get flung around down there. Climb down inside the engine bay burning my forearm on the hot exhaust pipe in the process. Re-locate the tube and the securing nut and re-assemble. Pump some more grease into the box and check that everything’s as it should be again. Get underway again.
0500: Seriously considering turning around and going back again. Am sick of dealing with problems in the middle of the night. I’d hate to go back, but then again I’m not looking forward to going on either. There’s a lot of empty coast and I’ll have to battle against the prevailing SE winds all the way down the East Coast.
Something else is still bothering me about going on. And I just can’t put a finger on it. Something … It’s almost like a feeling of pending doom. Maybe it’s the motor and its oil problem. Maybe it’s the cumbersome dinghy. Maybe it’s because I can’t keep up with everyone else. Maybe it’s because Lowana IV simply doesn’t work to windward very well. Maybe it’s a combination of lots of little things. I simply don’t know except that this trip hasn’t felt right from day one and I don’t have enough idea of what it is so that I can deal with it.
0600: About 76 miles east of Cape Wirawawoi and 211 miles to go. Have 84 miles on the distance log for the 24 hours but my position plots on the chart tell me I’ve actually done more than that. Seas are smooth. Am off the rhumb line by about 5 miles to the north so that’s pretty good. Boat speed has picked up during the early hours so there’s obviously a tidal influence even this far out. Alkira has called every three hours to check. He’s steaming along at 5 kts. I’m just on 4 kts still but I don’t have a headsail out.
0630: Drifting for the time being until I finish checking engine oils and topping up sumps. Take a careful look around the motor. All seems okay except for some oil staining the sides of the motor in various places as usual. It shouldn’t be there and is bothering me a bit. Start the motor and get back on course. Pull out the headsail to get an extra half knot speed.
0720: A silvery sea snake with black bands circling its body swims by on the surface. Radio contact with Daryl no good. A pod of dolphins erupt beside the boat, swim off the bow for a short while before leaving again.
0900: Distance to go clicks over to 199 miles to go. The little bit of breeze comes up but is not being kind, coming directly from the waypoint. Would you believe it? To make use of it I’ll need to turn at least 30 degrees off course. Long low swells from the SE.
1145: Coastwatch aircraft comes down low and flies past, circles and then calls me. Quite polite as usual. Seas apart from low swells and rippled appearance might almost be described as glassy. Steering vane hunts for air as the bow rises and falls to the swells. Hot. Roll up the headsail since it’s useless now. Sheet the mainsail in hard and start heading directly for Weipa. Feeling a little bit jet lagged after last night but not too bad.
1310: Boring, boring, boring. Wonder if I can get a haircut in Weipa? Wind has picked up a bit to give me 4.5 kts or more. Try to fill time by reading but can’t concentrate. Spend the time just sitting alone with the thoughts in my head or wandering listlessly around the boat.
1800: Another night comes and 159 miles to go. Have been getting around 5.5 kts last few hours but it’s dropping down now. Right on rhumb line though which is good. During the afternoon I’d gone through another session of thinking about turning back but rationalised things until I pulled out of it. Am coming to learn that sailing solo is as much a mental challenge at times as anything else.
High wispy, windswept clouds coming from the east. These are cirrus clouds and I don’t like the look of them because they nearly always portend higher winds. Whether they’re going to be helpful or not depends on which way you’re going though I guess.
Finish one of my books. A very moving true story which leaves me feeling quite sad. Check and dress the burn on my forearm. Check the motor and top up oils. I shouldn’t be using this much oil. Find a loose mounting bolt and tighten it.
1830: As the daylight dies it’s quite pleasant outside but I just can’t seem to be able to relax and enjoy it. I find myself thinking pessimistically of the “what-ifs” such as the possibility of higher winds tonight or tomorrow. I must start learning to appreciate the moment and not be so obsessed with might or might not happen. Prepare – but enjoy the moments.
2100: The night continues beautiful outside with moonlight reflecting on the smooth sea. It’s a little harder to hold on to my rhumb line course but am managing to do it and still get 4.5 kts. Someone is on the VHF radio talking about going into Weipa tomorrow. Think it might be Alkira and Scuttlebug. If so that would put them about 100 miles in front of me.
2245: Sea glassy, undulating and smooth. No wind. Pull in the headsail
Fri 22 Oct 04
0445: The VHF radio bursts into life from Customs vessel Harvey Bay calling the vessel at 12.27S and 139.43E heading east at about 4 kts. That would be me! They do the usual customs enquiries. Look around the horizon but can’t see any navigation lights anywhere. He says he’s 12 miles to the south of me but has a good radar paint of the boat. He asks if I have a radar reflector up and I confirm that I do. Nice to know my radar reflector works so well if someone is ever specifically looking for me.
0545: Sun coming up directly in front of the bow at 095 degrees True. Seas undulating and oily looking, mirroring the reds and golds of the clouds around the horizon to the east. A ship is off the starboard bow heading this way. It’s the first sign of any other vessel since Gove.
0600: Harvey Bay calls the other vessel. It’s the MV Warrender, an 1100 ton roll-on, roll-off container vessel heading for Gove. The Warrender asks whether Hervey Bay had noticed a small yacht near his position heading east. That of course was me. Hervey Bay confirms that they had. The Warrender passes by within a couple of hundred metres or so.
According to the exchange between her and Customs she’s steaming at 9 kts. With our combined speeds of about 13 knots she had come up over the horizon and went past me within half an hour. That’s a serious point to consider. Fishing trawlers are notorious for not posting a watch, relying on an anti-collision alarm from their radar. And they often travel faster than the Warrender. One of them could potentially come up over the horizon at night and be on to me in maybe 15 minutes. But at least I know I put out a good radar reflective signal.
0620: Check motor. Not as much oil on the side of the motor where I’d tightened the mounting bolt. Check fuel. Have 205 litres and have used 80 litres so far with constant motoring for 2 days which means fuel consumption rate of about 1.65 litres/hour. More than normal for this motor. Must be from running the eutectic fridge compressor most of the time. Roll out the headsail with 110 miles to go to waypoint.
0700: Am again feeling at a low ebb. Have pretty much decided that I’ve finally had enough of single handed sailing and don’t want to go on. I’m about halfway to Cairns but the navigation is going to get tricky and the sailing much harder to get there. I simply don’t want to keep going on. For two pins I’d turn around right now but it’s more prudent to go to Weipa and get more fuel. I think I’ll rest there until a weather window opens up and then come back. There’ll no doubt be some long hauls but it’ll be necessary if I am to beat the NW monsoons back to Darwin.
0800: Wind picks up bringing some small whitecaps but I’m managing to stay on course for the present. Find myself revisiting my decision about going back. Agonising over it.
0900: Wind rises from the NE up to 15 kts bringing with it choppy water and lots of whitecaps. Should have turned back when I first saw those high wispy cirrus clouds. Try sailing but can only get 3 kts by turning way off course. Just can’t get those telltales to work properly no matter what I try. Must be the lousy cut of the sail or else the sail cloth is stretched so that its shape has alterned. This is really reinforcing my idea of going home. Don’t need this shit.
1030: Hard going. Hardly able to make 3.5 kts. Sky has clouded over and I wonder if it will start raining too. Waves aren’t too bad but they’re irregular and they bring Lowana IV almost to a halt when she hits a series of them. Reflect on what might have happened had I turned back earlier. Probably wouldn’t have been any better off because by the time the wind has pushed this muck over the other side it would be rough anyway.
The sun peeks out for a moment. Marvellous how such a small thing can hearten you, not that it’s happening too often.
1130: Seas are getting worse, more lumpier.
1300: Sun shining again. Not sure but I think the seas might be easing as well. Too soon to tell. It’s so frustrating and there are forecasts of higher winds tomorrow. Don’t need that. Still just over 80 miles from the waypoint.
Listen to Alkira talking to Forte about refuelling. Can’t contact them. Call Scuttlebug but no answer at first, then hear them calling me back. Can’t connect. A Coastwatch aircraft buzzes by but they don’t call me.
1330: Wind drops enough to put out a little bit of headsail without blowing the boat over. Makes a big difference getting up to 4 kts again, thank goodness. Now if these seas would just abate more.
1430: Alkira calls Weipa Harbour to inform them he’s entering the harbour. Contacted Alkira to let them know where I was and what’s happening. They say they knew I was still coming and that I was alright because they’d heard Coastwatch talking to me.
I’d been thinking Alkira must have already been inside Weipa and the fact that he’s just arrived now cheers me up a little. Seems they’d got bashed around in the blow this morning too. Rob tells me they’re looking at leaving Weipa next Monday sometime.
1630: Wind gone leaving just swells to contend with. Wind vane circles looking for air so pull in the headsail. I’d let it out earlier to be rewarded with an extra half knot for a while.
Dusk: Surprised to see the wind has swung to the NW. Very weak but enough to push on the mainsail a little. Getting good time around 4.5 kts.
2000: Listen to the weather forecast stronger winds north of Point Cullen, which is some distance further north. Forecast for the Weipa area is NE to SE winds, so I don’t know which way to go to take advantage for the last run into Weipa.
Waves have subsided so am able to head directly to my waypoint. Was considering going to Boyd Point which is 17 miles to the south. This would have put me in a position to take advantage of expected south-easterlies later, but that’s not necessary now. Looking good again. Hopefully this fortune will hold until I can get into Weipa tomorrow. 53 miles to go.
Ashore at Weipa
|Map 20 – Weipa township and region|
Sat 22 Oct 04
0130: It’s slow going. Winds and waves have picked up directly from Weipa and the tide is running against me. Would have been better off heading southerly as intended earlier.
0630: Still slow, hard going with 16.5 miles to the waypoint going back and forth across the wind. Have bumped up the throttle to 1500 rpm but I don’t think the motor likes it much. And there’s a strange squeaking noise coming from it that so far I haven’t been able to trace yet. Try using a bit of headsail but it forces me to go too far off course to be effective, so roll it up and keep going obliquely to the waypoint.
0800: Conditions calm down enough to be able to get just over 4 kts heading directly to waypoint at 11 miles. Can’t contact Weipa Harbour for some reason. They’re only receiving broken transmissions but obviously know someone is calling them.
Have been going through despairing moments about having to go back on my own across the gulf and beat the monsoons across the Top End. In my tired state I’ve imagined all sorts of bad scenarios. It’s hard to be motivated positively when tired.
Talk to Alkira. Rob manages to cheer me up as usual. He reckons it will probably take him about 2 weeks to get to Torres Strait and he doesn’t expect the longest sailing leg down the East Coast to be more than a 60 mile run. Rob impresses on me they are day sailors first and foremost. After talking to Rob I think I’ll be better off going on since I’d have company again, and the daily sailing legs should be relatively short.
0830: Am 8 miles off the waypoint and still can’t see the land. The outer lead where I’ve marked my waypoint is 7 miles out from Weipa itself so should see that soon.
A little later I see a ship off to port is heading NE to round Duyfkin Point, which is now visible behind the ship. Still getting 4 kts directly to the waypoint. That squeaky noise appears to be coming from the fridge compressor but after running it for a while the squeak seems to have gone.
0915: Seas pick up in a last gasp attempt to piss me off and doing a good job of it. Plenty of whitecaps. It isn’t going to let me get in too easy by the looks of it.
0930: A big ship with a white superstructure sits hull down on the horizon behind me to port.
1020: First sighting of the outer lead waypoint marking the South Channel entrance into Weipa. The channel has been cut through the extensive shallows surrounding the entrance to Weipa Harbour. The ship behind me is closing fast.
1030: Contact Weipa Harbour Control and mention there is a big ship behind me and request instructions on what they want me to do – do they want me to make way for it or can I enter the channel. They advise the ship will be anchoring outside the leads and no other traffic is using the channel, so I’m cleared to enter it.
The ship River Embley calls me and confirms they’ll be anchoring to the north side of the leads and won’t be interfering with me. Wish me a good day.
Turn towards the channel and set up the laptop navigation system, then zoom the display into the channel. Thank goodness the conditions under the lee of the land are better now and just as thankfully, the tide is going with me. It’s rushing in quite fast and would have made progress really slow otherwise. Very little headwind.
1145: Almost through the channel except for a mile or so. The land around the coast is flat and not very imposing, with sandy foreshores and low scrub behind. There are extensive shallows in Albatross Bay and numerous drying banks out the front of the river. Occasionally a fishing dinghy speeds by on its way out to where the shallows drop into slightly deeper water. There seems to be plenty of isolated underwater rocks and reefs that would hold fish. Some fishermen are just fishing the edges of the channel.
Sharon from Just Roaming calls to tell me they’re still in town and give directions into the anchorage. She says there’ll be a fuel run at 1430 if I want fuel. Have to remember to set the ships time forward half an hour onto Queensland time.
1230: Find a spot to drop the anchor in 7m near Evans Landing in Weipa Harbour.
Weipa Harbour: Posn: 12.39.917S – 141.51.148E. Total distance this trip 954 miles. This leg Gove to Weipa was 293 miles. Max speed achieved 6 kts. The tide is running fast through the anchorage and there’s not a lot of room. The bottom shelves in fairly quickly too, so that the depth can vary from 10m to 3m in probably no more than 50m distance across the water. Some of the local boats including small motor cruisers are anchored with long ropes which can only mean they’re going to swing around for quite a distance at tide changes. I’ll need to watch for that since some boats can get swung about more easily than others.
Lot of work to do straight away if I’m to meet that fuel run. No rest except to pull out a cold Coke and privately celebrate my arrival. Unlash the dinghy and put it over the side. Refuel the outboard motor and mount it onto the dinghy. Dip the main fuel tank to find I’ve used 120 litres on the trip over. Unlash the five fuel containers and put the 100 litres into the main fuel tank using a Baja filter.
1445: Finish my work and have a little time to relax. Rob of Alkira dinghies across and says we no longer have the use of the ute, so he and Ron are going to take their containers ashore to the local servo. It’s about 200m from the landing point so we’re going to have to cart them to and from the servo, but suggests maybe we can get a cart or something. He says that if I get my containers over there we can all work together.
Look up and startled to see one of the commercial fishing boats is sitting close to my bow. Too close at maybe only 20m. Go forward to find my anchor chain disappearing directly under the boat. Damn. Eventually the other boat swings to one side. Decide to pull up my anchor and reposition anyway, even though my GPS is telling me I’m still in the exact same position. The anchor winch groans and strains against the push of tide and wind, and I can almost feel the power draining from the forward battery. The chain comes up encased in mud but I don’t have time to clean it off, so send it straight into the anchor locker mud and all. Will just have to clean it out later.
Find a new spot in deeper water and put out all 50m of chain plus another 10m of nylon rope. Watch for a while but Lowana IV seems to settle into her new position okay. Set the anchor alarm.
The others haven’t gone ashore yet as I take my empty jerry-fuel containers ashore and walk around a bit to find out where things are. It’s a little bit of walking in the heat, but I don’t mind the exercise and soon locate the service station and a public phone box. Ring Delma to tell her I’m okay but try as I might not to, I think I offloaded on the poor woman once again. She’s quite astute and knows exactly what to say. After 32 years of marriage she knows her man.
By the time I’ve made the call the others have come to shore and are filling their jerries at the servo. Collect my own empties from the dinghy and take two of them up there with the intention of filling and carting two at a time.
1700: Some locals offer to cart our full jerries down to the water so getting them back to Lowana IV isn’t any great effort.
Have been invited over to Alkira for sundowners but am in bad need of a shower. Apparently there’s an ablution block over near the public boating ramp next to Evans Landing Wharf. It’s a fair distance but I take the dinghy along the shore and around the wharf where I see the building near the ramp. There’s no hot water but plenty of cold water pressure and a sink to enable a shave.
1730: All the crews from the boats anchored here are expected on Alkira from about now so I grab some packets of chips and a couple of soft drinks and head on over. Sharon and Kevin from Just Roamin’ are already here. Ron and Trish from Scuttlebug soon turn up followed by Mark and Trevor off Forte. Later in the night a chap named Mick from a monohull rows across. Seems he’d just recently bought the boat and is thrilled with it. He’s being laid off by the mine later in the week since his part of the contract is nearing completion and he plans to sail to the East Coast as well, so we might see some more of him.
It’s a jolly gathering with several separate conversations going on at one time. Some of them start to get a bit inebriated so I make my exit. As I’m leaving Rob says I deserve my sleep. He’d made a few small comments from time to time to me and to others, and seems to have been impressed by someone who’d single-handed across the gulf. If there’s one thing I can say it’s not particularly hard to do if you’ve got good weather. I think I did it responsibly and safely enough even if I did find it mentally challenging.
2030: Reheat some stew back on Lowana IV then get to bed.
Sun 23 Oct 04
0530: Wake up in the early hours plagued by doubts hammering at me over and over again. Will they never bloody go away? Can’t sleep so get up, relieve myself over the side, have a drink of water and go back to bed. Sleep fitfully for a bit.
0700: Weather forecasts strong winds everywhere up to 20 kts or more. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going anywhere for a few days at least. Will be surprised if any of the others do either.
1030: Blowing moderately hard across the harbour making it uncomfortable in this anchorage. Look out topside to see the catamaran Forte has gone. Lowana IV is jerking and rocking to swells pushed by the wind and sits at odds with the tidal push which is quite strong. The dinghy is lashed alongside and works to its own rhythm as waves cause it to pull and jerk against the boat, which adds to the pulling strain on the anchor.
1330: Work on typing up trip notes into the computer all morning. Will see if I can email a copy to Delma tomorrow. Pull out fuel and oil filters and start servicing the motor. Change the oil. Start to change the primary fuel filter only to find the filters won’t fit. I normally use a Ryco brand but they hadn’t been available and so I’d purchased a different type that was supposed to be a universal fit. It doesn’t. Wash and put the old filter back in since it’s perfectly clean anyway, but replace the rubber gasket seal.
Clean out the bilges forgetting entirely about the burn wound on my forearm and it gets filthy dirty with grease, oil and bilge water. Only realise it later in the day when the wound begins to get a bit hot and inflamed.
Alkira invites me over for a hot cuppa and we chat about the next stop at the Pennefather River. Will need to do a bit more research on the place tomorrow. Forecasts are from E to SE winds at 20 to 25 knots, but that should be coming off the land and we’ll be close into shore, so shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Finish degreasing and cleaning up the motor and engine bay on Lowana IV. Grab the laundry bag and go ashore to the laundrette. This consists of a room with a couple of commercial washing machines at the end of what looks like a small block of flats. There’s also a dryer which doesn’t work properly and requires $3.00 for the privilege of using it. Meet Ron and Trish who are using the machines so head for the phone box to ring Delma instead. She’s happy to learn I’m going on. Also have a chat with daughter Karen.
Return to the laundrette. Ron and Trish have left and the machines are available. Load them up only to find that I’d left the laundry detergent back on board. Grab the washing and go back down to the dinghy only to discover that the waste oil filter I’d put in there to take ashore after servicing the motor had leaked inside the dinghy. This has to be wiped out when I get back out to Lowana IV and it’s a mess.
1800: Pull out the mackerel fillets Renie had given me and have a cook-up of battered fillets. There are three big fat ones so cook them all and put a one aside to eat cold tomorrow.
Evening: Prepare some emails after dinner and save them onto a floppy disk for emailing tomorrow when I go to the Weipa Library. Get into bed for a read. Lights out. Boat is jerking and the dinghy is thumping against the hull so I’d better take a look. Just as well. Alkira is about 20m away even though the GPS alarm hasn’t gone off. I’d had a long anchor rode out there because I’d anchored in deeper water than Alkira and as the tide turned it’s put me closer to her.
2130: Might be okay but better not to chance it. Fire up the motor and quickly pull up the anchor … again. Reposition the boat and drop the anchor in a different place. Lowana IV begins swivelling all around the place, vulnerable to winds that flare up and the push of the fast tidal current. Sit and watch until 1:00 am to be sure that she’s going to be alright and not hit anyone else.
Mon 24 Oct 04
0700: Forecast tomorrow is E to SE winds and 20-25 kts easing to 15 kts in the afternoon.
0830: Type up another email to Delma with a copy of my journal so far and save it to floppy disk. If the original notes become lost or damaged I’ll at least have an electronic record. Get ready to go into town to fill a jerrycan of diesel and put two loads of washing through but most of all to get a haircut.
Rob from Alkira comes alongside with a new face in the dinghy. His name is Mark and he’s joined Alkira this morning for the next two weeks. Rob lets me know he’s going into town so that I can get ready.
0900: Gather my washing and head ashore to the laundrette. Put my two loads in the machines and get them started before heading off to the servo. Fill the fuel jerry and lug it the 200m or so down to the dinghy. The washing is done by the time I get back to the laundrette and Rob’s crew are loading the machine with their own washing. The taxi arrives and all Alkira’s crew, plus Trish and myself climb in. First stop is the main shopping centre where there is a large Woolworth’s supermarket store.
The first thing for me is a haircut. It’s located next to the entrance but its closed on Mondays. What is it about Mondays that hairdressers don’t want to work? The saloon at Nhulunbuy had been closed on a Monday as well. So no haircut, one of the main reasons for coming to town in the first place.
Check the newsagency for any books about the York Peninsula coastline but there isn’t anything, not even fishing books. Learn from the assistant that the Library is further into town, a 5 minute trip by car. Nothing for it but to try and hitch a lift. Retrace my steps back through the shopping centre, across to the main road and start walking. Soon picked up by a friendly man who takes me directly to the Library.
Walk over to the front door to find the Library is closed on Monday mornings. Little towns must get Monday-itis pretty bad around the Gulf of Carpentaria. Turn around and head back out to the road leading back to the main shopping centre. Soon a little, late model white car zooms by and pulls over about 100m up the road. Must have been checking me out before deciding I would be okay to pick up.
Hurry up to it and am mildly surprised to find a lone attractive aboriginal lady driver. Wouldn’t have thought it was usual for a woman on her own to pick up hitch hikers. She’s quite friendly though and as we get underway I find her easy to chat with. Her name is Priscilla and I tell her what I’d been doing, including my abortive attempt to send some emails to my family. I’m astonished when she offers to take me to her home so that I can send the emails from there. At no time do I get any impression that this is anything other than an extraordinary offer of hospitality. She says that if she can help me get a message through to my wife and family then that would be her good deed for the day.
On arrival at the house she takes me upstairs, turns the computer on and sets about dialling up to access the internet. Once this is done she lets me get online and I start working at sending my emails. At this point her partner arrives and Priscilla introduces me to him. He looks surprised and understandably a little wary at first, but is friendly and courteous enough. Priscilla gives me a cold cordial while the couple go downstairs to work in the yard.
Finish sending my emails and close the internet connection before going downstairs and extending my heartfelt thanks for their kindness. Priscilla gives me directions back to the supermarket which is only a short walk away. How wonderful to see such hospitality. I leave them both working in their yard. I tend to believe that what you dish out in life, so you get back and I wish them good karma for the future.
Back at the shops I meet up with the others. Have coffee and a chocolate muffin. Find a small pot of the kind I’ve been looking for and get some supplies at the Woolworth’s supermarket. Also get some more small plastic containers plus other odds and ends.
Taxi arrives to take us all back to Evans Landing. Load my washing which I’d left back at the laundrette into the dinghy then visit a Mitre-10 hardware store to buy some electric hair clippers. The model I select has a range of clip-ons ranging from number 1 through to number 4, the latter meaning that my hair wouldn’t be too short.
Approx 1300: Back at Lowana IV. Top up the water tanks with 100 litres. Fill the grease gun. Pull out a large mirror and hook up the clippers to the 240v inverter and attempt to cut my hair. Fat chance. It buzzes away but can’t cut my hair so will have to take it back.
Have a clean up. As I look around outside it appears that my anchor might have dragged … again? Alkira is swinging all over the place. Check the GPS coordinates and it’s only changed by 0.02 miles – about 36m, probably because of the change of tide. Will need to watch it though.
Top up the fridge with drinks from a storage compartment under the dinette seats. Run the motor to replace the battery charge from using the anchor winch last night. Check out the next anchorage at the Pennefather River.
Go back ashore and take the clippers back to the hardware store. The attendant is a bit reluctant especially after he shaves a bit of hair off his forearm. I can probably count the number of short hairs he’s removed. I tell him that if I want bare arms then I certainly couldn’t do any better than these clippers, but challenge him to try and cut his own hair with it … or mine! I must say I was given a fair hearing and soon manage to convince the staff that the clippers simply aren’t powerful enough. Get my money back.
Ring Delma to tell her we’re leaving tomorrow for the Pennefather River and eventually to Bamaga, where I will be able to ring her again. After that there won’t be any contact until I reach Cooktown about another 700 miles of empty coastline later. I hope to be able to call her again later tonight but warn her I might not be able to.
Late afternoon. Return to Lowana IV to see both Alkira and Scuttlebug are gone. Start hoisting the dinghy onboard when Trish from Scuttlebug calls. Tells me they’re checking the river on the other side to overnight in and suggest I follow when they’ve had a look and find if it’s okay. Alkira is down at the Evans Landing wharf being washed down. Go back to lashing down the dinghy and the jerries. Trish calls again to say the river is too shallow and by the time I’d finished generally preparing for sea, Scuttlebug returns to the Evans Landing anchorage.
My anchor has dragged again about 30m and I’m a bit close to another vessel. Pull in the anchor once again and start scouting around for a better place that isn’t quite so deep. Try two spots but the anchor either drags or Lowana IV won’t pull around to the anchor as she should. Return to much the same position as before and set the anchor once more with the hope that it will hold this time.
1900: It takes me over two hours to finish anchoring during which the anchor kept dragging or Lowana IV kept swinging around too much in the currents. During the process I accidentally bump the fitting connecting the starboard solar panel to the forward battery. It starts to get hot, then very hot, then a spark, then a jet of flame. Alarmed I quickly pull and break the wires on both sides of the fitting. There’s obviously a short inside the fitting so I’ll have to hardwire the panels now I think. Can only hope this short hasn’t damaged anything else.
While all this is happening Trish calls and invites me over for sundowners. Whilst I would have been delighted I still have to finish anchoring and in any event, I don’t particularly want to have to unlash and offload the dinghy back into the water. It’s just turning dark when I return to the wheel house. The battery charge is well down now after having used the winch so much so I keep the motor running to recharge batteries a bit.
1910: As I look outside I see Lowana IV sitting at a completely different angle to the other boats, even those next to me. However there is at least one other boat laying to her anchor the same as me. I suspect the strong tidal currents must be running in different directions because of the quickly shelving bottom. Unfortunately there’s not much room for anchoring here. About 50m to 60m closer into shore the depth is only 3m. I’ve had to anchor in 10m of water so the bottom shelves quickly. Looking at the situation I’ve probably been anchoring okay but just being held awkwardly by the tides, which aren’t affecting the other boats closer in.
1930: Finish dinner of a tasty curry and rice followed by jellied fruit and custard and a hot cup of chocolate. Nice outside with the moon coming up to full. Faint breeze. Peaceful.
Alkira crew are still over there on Scuttlebug. They party on for a few more hours but it’s really too much trouble for me to get there. Damn this dinghy. Am seriously regretting buying it. It’s so bloody cumbersome and heavy. Start watching a movie on the laptop but can’t see it through so go to bed.
|Map 21 – Weipa to Pennefather River|
Tues 25 Oct 04
Overnight: Set the alarm to check on the anchor at different times overnight. Am startled after the tide turns to see the stink boat which had been about 70m away, is now sitting just off my bow. Check my own bearings but I haven’t moved, so it’s either dragging its anchor or it has an overly-long length of anchor rope out allowing it swing willy-nilly in big circles. I suspect the latter and am fairly sure there isn’t any real problem, but I make checks every half hour for a while. Eventually the breeze swings away and so does the stink boat. At last I can get a bit of sleep.
0530: Rob of Alkira calls on the radio to ask if I’m ready. My alarm hasn’t gone off and the call rouses me from a deep sleep. As I stumble outside both boats are already starting to pull up their anchors while I still have to check the engine oils. I hadn’t done it last night because I’d been running the motor to recharge batteries. I’d also wanted to be ready in case I had to pull up the anchor again and shift position.
Big rush. Rip up the wheelhouse floorboards in the semi darkness to check the oil levels in both sumps under torch light. Get the laptop set up and running so that by the time I get the anchor up, the navigation software will be up and running.
Alkira and Scuttlebug by now are already near the harbour entrance about a mile away as I finally start turning Lowana IV towards the shipping channel. The wind is blowing a little bit but is otherwise okay. Raise the mainsail and put two reefs into it, then rig the lifelines fore and aft on both sides of the boat. By the time this is done I’ve gained a little bit on the other two boats, though by now they’re out into the channel proper but don’t seem to be in any particular hurry.
Take a photo of the Port of Weipa as the sun comes up big and red. I quite like what I’ve seen of Weipa and would like to return one day for a good look around. Maybe take a tour or two but the time available this trip has prevented that. Thinking on this I realise a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do on this trip have not yet come to pass.
0630: Advise Weipa Harbour Control as I approach the channel that I’m leaving and transiting the channel. The operator tells me the channel is free of traffic. On course heading NW as the wind dies down. The land behind is getting enveloped in a morning haze. Someone’s VHF radio button is stuck on transmit sending a constant noise over the radio.
0825: Wind builds slowly from the SE halfway across Albatross Bay to Duyfkin Point which is the first turn north. Shake out the reefs and put up full mainsail which builds boat speed to between 4.8 and 5 kts over ground. Check voltages of the forward solar panel with the broken wires and the large forward battery. All seems to be okay with no apparent damage. Connect some electrical wire directly from the panel to the battery.
0930: Winds have risen to moderate and are right on the beam. I need to change down to a single reef in the mainsail so stop the boat to do it rather than attempt it on the fly. Safer that way. Reset the mainsail and set the headsail before turning the motor off to continue under full sail at almost 6 kts. Turn off the laptop navigation and change to GPS and paper charts. Make the turn around Duyfkin Point and start heading NNE towards the Pennefather River. Have fallen behind the other boats as expected but mostly while I’d been reefing the mainsail.
1000: Get the sails balanced with some fiddling. Wind gusts up a bit at times pushing Lowana IV to 20 degrees heel and almost touching 7 kts at one stage. However the heeling angle is good at around 10 to 15 degrees most of the time. Alkira checks to see how I’m getting on and asks whether I’m regretting my decision to follow. The answer is no, at least not yet anyway. In fact I’m feeling pretty good at the moment – actually starting to enjoy the sailing for a change. Contact Ken of Alice Springs base and give him a situation update.
1130: Wind getting really gusty and quite strong. Put in a second reef and reduce the headsail to suit but still getting 5 to 5.5 kts. A hard slogging sheet line gives my right hand index finger a solid bang while adjusting the headsail. Hurts like blazes, cuts the skin and will undoubtedly cause heavy bruising. Gusts keep coming and going so the average speed will be around 4.5 kts but am still on course NNE.
1200: Wind swings around northerly which puts me on a broad reach. The other boats tell me they’re about 4 miles from the Pennefather River mouth. They intend going over the bar at the entrance and will pass on some waypoints later. Apparently Forte has already left the Pennefather River this morning and is heading for Port Musgrave, about 25 miles or so further north.
The sailing is excellent for a change. With two reefs in the sails I’m still getting 6 to 6.5 kts in gusts with just 10 to 15 degrees heel at most. Great! Probably as comfortable as I’ve ever been in winds like these gusting up to 25 kts.
1215: Wind dies down leaving the sea with almost no whitecaps and drops my speed down to below 4 kts for first time today.
1400: Alkira and Scuttlebug have come back outside the Pennefather saying it’s very shallow everywhere. They want to do a bit of fishing tomorrow so they’re going to push on for Port Musgrave. That’s no good for me. The wind has swung around further to the north bringing a 20 kts headwind so that I can barely make 3 kts against the waves. It will be dark and quite late by the time I get in there even if I have a good run. Decide to anchor outside the mouth of the Pennefather River and push on to Port Musgrave tomorrow morning. Alkira tells me that there’s another couple of monohull yachts anchored at the mouth of the Pennefather River.
1500: Approach the mouth of the river and see the two yachts anchored up. One looks familiar but am still surprised when a voice calls on the radio asking if this is Lowana IV. It’s Paul from yacht Always who I knew in Darwin and we’d sailed together in the Kimberley’s of Western Australia a few years ago.
1515: Finish anchoring at the mouth of Pennefather River.
Pennefather River: Posn: 12.13.144S – 141.43.432E. Total distance 993 miles. Today 38.9 miles. Maximum sustained speed 6.6 kts.
When I’d finished anchoring Paul comes over bringing with him his dog Davit. He’s a wonderful intelligent Jack Russell and he looks overjoyed to see me again. Paul says he knew who it was as soon as he got near the boat.
Paul is travelling in company with a lady named Kathy, the skipper of Mimpi which is the other 23 ft sloop at anchor. Kathy has a headache and has declined coming over. They’d been having engine problems with Mimpi but are making their way slowly to Weipa where they intend to wait out the Wet Season. Next Dry Season they intend to follow the Gulf of Carpentaria around on their way through to Darwin and then Western Australia.
Catch up on each others news and we discuss where I’m going. Paul makes a comment that it’s pretty late in the season – probably too late in the year to try and get to Cairns. He’s done this trip several times and knows the East Coast probably as well as anyone. In any case he gives me a list of about 20 anchorages from here to Cairns. They are all within a day’s sail of each other.
My trip certainly looks a lot more feasible now but it will still take at least three weeks to get to Cairns assuming I’m not held up due to adverse winds, which of course should be expected – and plenty of them. That’s going to put me well into December in the cyclone season on the East Coast. While Paul and I are still talking about this, Lowana IV decides to drag on her anchor but stops when all 50m of chain is put out.
It’s becoming obvious that I’ve mistimed this trip. If I’d been able to keep going when I first started out 2 weeks ago it might have been okay time wise. But it doesn’t sound good if I’m to do this on my own right now. I ask him if he would accept a paid crew position to help me take Lowana IV either to Cairns or Darwin. If he accepts it will eliminate the need for constant overnight stops and make for a quicker passage.
Paul says he’ll think about it and will discuss it with Kathy, since she’d have to look after both their boats in Weipa while he’s away. She’ll also have to look after Davit. I begin to doubt he’ll either want to or be able to accept the offer.
1700: The wind is blowing strong from the NE as Paul leaves to return to Kathy. His dinghy bucks and takes water over the bow as negotiates the waves. Looking at him as he struggles to get back to his own boat I’m thankful I’d decided to come in here to get out of it, otherwise I’d have still been out there getting a pounding about now.
Check my GPS position. Lowana IV hasn’t moved yet. My right hand finger aches and has become quite swollen and sore.
1720: Paul calls on the radio and tells me the best offer he can make is to help take Lowana IV across the gulf to Gove free of charge except I pay his airfare back. I thank him anyway but I don’t want to spend the Wet Season at Gove or leave Lowana IV there with no one to keep an eye on her.
1800: Check the motor and am surprised to find oil splashes throughout the engine bay. This is new … it can’t be good and my heart sinks. Look carefully around the motor for oils leaks or holes in the cylinder head. Find another loose stud mounting bolt but it simply keeps turning when I try to tighten it. Not good but it doesn’t seem to be the problem.
Most of the oil is sprayed against the side of the fuel tank in the engine bay adjacent to the cylinder air vents. The rear air vent is clear but the insides of the front air vent is soaked in oil. No, no, no ….. that bloody well does it! I’m not a mechanic but I reckon that’s got to be a broken piston ring which explains why I’ve been using so much oil.
Sit down at the dinette to think about the situation. If I accept the chance of a cyclone on the East Coast, then getting to Cairns would still be feasible assuming a properly functioning motor. It would just mean anchoring up until the winds eased and making a run for the next anchorage – hopefully with the tide running with me. Probably involve a lot of night sailing too.
But the motor isn’t functioning properly. In fact it’s doubtful it could last the distance, especially with all the hard work it’ll have pushing against strong SE winds all the way. Just using the sails won’t work either. Lowana IV doesn’t work well to windward, there’ll by heavy shipping and numerous fishing boats with nets to dodge and a prodigious amount of work involved. Add to that my heart if forever pounding, my pulse is racing and I’m almost always feeling like shit.
Crunch time has come. I’m going to have to turn back, even if it’s just back to Weipa to see if I can find a diesel mechanic for the necessary repairs. But even if I can get the motor fixed, by the time it’s done I’d definitely be dodging potential cyclones all the way to Cairns. By now I’m feeling quite desperate and in a really low state. Problems just keep coming and coming and I’m not handling them as I used to be able to. I’m thinking its time for a parting of the ways between Lowana IV and me.
Assuming I can get the motor fixed at Weipa I might start advertising in magazines and put up signs to try and sell her there during the Wet Season. I’d probably need at least a couple of weeks or so to get the motor repaired and pretty her up with a bit of paint here and there. You never know but there might be one of the local miners interested. But sitting on the boat up some creek for 6 months isn’t exactly what I’d call a fun thing to do. I’d probably go mad.
1825: Call Paul to tell him I’ll be returning to Weipa and will be anchored nearby to Always and Mimpi. I tell him what I’m thinking and ask if he’d be willing for a financial consideration to periodically check Lowana IVs anchor, bilges, battery system and general maintenance over the Wet Season. He agrees. I also ask him if he would be willing to act as my selling agent with a commission payable on a successful sale? He agrees to this as well.
Next is the issue of what to do if a cyclone comes along. Will Paul be able to move Lowana IV to a safer place and get her prepared? Paul’s not sure about that. He and Kathy would first have to move Always and Mimpi and get them set up which would take some time. He’d then have to find some way of getting back to Evans Landing to pick up Lowana IV. His own dinghy is too small for that sort of trip especially if the sea starts roughing up. Okay … I’ll have to think some more about this.
Paul tells me he and Kathy will be staying here at the Pennefather River tomorrow and going ashore for a walk. I think I’ll join them and stay for a day as well. It will take them a couple of days to get to Weipa given that Mimpi’s motor is not working and Kathy has to sail, or be towed by Always. Perhaps I can help in some way too.
1830: Try to contact Alkira or Scuttlebug to tell them I’m pulling out, but unable to establish communications.
1900: Finally manage to get a message to Alkira that I’m returning to Weipa with engine problems. We wish each other good luck and promise to catch up by phone. At least they know now and won’t spend time waiting or coming back here to look for me.
2000: Finish the book I’m reading and go to bed.
Weds 27 Oct 04
0730: Sleep in today. Paul calls that he’s taking Davit ashore for a walk so I might go too. Freshen up. Have a coffee but by this time it’s starting to blow up a bit outside.
My right index finger is still quite swollen and painful this morning but I can at least bend it a little bit. Start unlashing the dinghy and getting it ready to lift overboard when a fresh wind gusts through. Remembering what it was like here yesterday afternoon, I give the whole idea a miss. Something would probably get damaged, especially the forward solar panels when I try to lift the dinghy back aboard. It would be bouncing in the waves and bashing against the hull. And the weight of the dinghy would just add to the pulling weight on the anchor. Paul tells me it’s the same as any other beach anyway, nothing but sand and trees … and three big crocodiles. Have seen plenty of crocodiles in my time and don’t need to see another one.
0830: Finish re-lashing the dinghy back down on deck. Contact Ken at Alice Springs Base. Ask him to phone Delma with the message that I’m at the Pennefather River, and that I’m okay but have engine problems and will be returning to Weipa with Paul of Always.
Morning: Paul, Kathy and Davit come over to visit. Have coffee and biscuits. Welcome chat. Nice to meet Kathy. They leave before lunch with Paul saying he has a problem with his own motor to attend to.
Midday: Paul is looking for a plug or threaded cap, or a bolt of a particular size and doesn’t have one. His motor has leaked a copious amount of oil since Bamaga and he’s also running out of oil. Invite him to come over to my boat and go through my boxes of spare bits and pieces. When he arrives he finds a hexagonal key that will fit a plug he already has that will do the trick. Also give him 5lt of diesel oil, enough to get him to Weipa. He stops long enough for another cup of coffee and biscuits.
Afternoon: Take a rest but unable to sleep. Lethargic. Westerly afternoon seabreeze kicks in about 15 kts or maybe a bit more. Bit bouncy, pitching fore and aft but at least there’s no rocking. The plan for tomorrow is that Paul will take Davit ashore for a walk and we’ll head out as soon as there’s a breeze that Kathy can sail with. No guarantee on how far we can get.
Late Afternoon: The more I think about it the less I like the idea of leaving Lowana IV at Weipa. There’d be too much for Paul to do if a cyclone came up. He’d be looking after his own boat and helping Kathy. And if he has to move the boats further up the Embley River there’s still the question of how he’d get back to pick up Lowana IV.
And there’s a problem with my dinghy. It can’t be left on deck. It’s bulk will add severely to windage and gets in the way when trying to lift the anchor and get underway. It would have to go somewhere ashore either on the beach where it might be stolen, or in a yard on consignment for separate sale. And if it is stolen or sold it’ll be harder to sell Lowana IV!
Okay – I’ll try and get the motor fixed in Weipa, give up the idea of selling the boat in Weipa and try for Gove or Darwin. If Paul can help me to get over to Gove, maybe I can find someone in Darwin to come to Gove and help me take her home. A couple of overnight trips and I should be able to get her back in just over a week, weather permitting. Paul is agreeable to this, however he still has his own problems with his own motor and Kathy’s motor. He’d need to attend to those first.
Evening: Cook up some steak and veges. Clean out the fridge of ice. Watch a movie.
Thurs 28 Oct 04
0730: Weather forecast is okay for a run to Weipa. Higher winds around Torres Strait continue to push lumpy seas over to the NW side of the gulf. Don’t need that. Spare a thought for Alkira and Scuttlebug as they’re heading up into that weather.
0800: Paul asks if I’m ready to go. Look across the water to see Kathy putting up her mainsail. Have checked the oils and topped them up. Anchor and chain come up with black silty mud and we’re on our way. Head south with a light easterly breeze giving us a beam reach as we make to clear the southern entrance of the Pennefather River before turning SSW.
Soon find that even with the motor idling in neutral gear and two reefed sails am already pulling ahead of the others. I need to leave my motor on to recharge the batteries especially after using the anchor winch. Kathy with full sails appears to be making about 4 kts.
0830: Kathy reports 2 turtles swimming by next to her boat.
0930: Very pleasant at the moment. Doing 5 to 5.5 kts over the ground just under sail. Batteries still down. Travelled almost 8 miles since starting out with hardly a whitecap anywhere. Pass a dinghy with a couple of fishermen off my starboard side further to sea. Always and Mimpi are going too slow for me and fallen several miles behind. Will have to heave to and wait for them or turn around, but there’s really nothing I can do anyway. Let them know I’m pushing ahead to Weipa to try and find a mechanic. I want to be ready as soon as possible should a suitable weather window open to get across the gulf. At the moment the waters are still rough at Torres Strait and they’ll be pushing through to the Gove side. Don’t need lumpy water thank you.
Finger still swollen but not so sore today. The burn wound on my forearm has scabbed over for the first time, but I keep knocking it off when doing things. Pleasant run down to Duyfkin Point marking the turning point and final run into Weipa.
The wind dies for the rest of the morning except for occasional gusts which never lasts long. Coastwatch flies over. They don’t call me but do call Always and Mimpi who don’t respond because they’re on Ch 17 to keep communications open between them. Paul has been towing Mimpi again for most of the morning since she’s almost unable to make way. They plan to anchor tonight just north of Duyfkin Point.
A turtle pops its head up to port and immediately dives again. There’s a huge splash later on about 300m directly ahead. Hot and still under sail.
1300: Make the turn around Duyfkin Point and aim towards the centre of the channel leading into Weipa Harbour. Wind swings so that it’s almost south then keeps swinging and building in strength into SE headwinds. Of course … that’s exactly where I want to go. Speed down to under 4 kts.
1410: Wind continues to swing around to the SSW with the an afternoon seabreeze kicking in quite fresh at maybe 20 kts. Boat heels and the waves build. Still under sails.
1530: Get clearance from Weipa Harbour to enter the channel but must be clear before 1700 hrs when the MV Warrender will be leaving harbour. Seas getting rough and the water shallows. Lowana IV is bucking and spray comes into cockpit from beam on one mile after entering the mid section of channel.
1540: Inside the channel proper with seas around 2m. One breaks along the stern and washes over the whole stern area. A fishing boat is out here with 4 people onboard – they must be pretty keen. Whitecaps everywhere. Some are rollers. Bumpy following seas.
1615: Coming into the entrance to the harbour where the water is suddenly calmer. A dozen or so pelicans placidly watch me glide by while sitting on a sliver of sand and small scrubby mangroves. Someone is para-skiing inshore and is very skilful at it too, wheeling back and forth.
1700: Scout the area of Evans Landing again. Thought that with Scuttlebug and Alkira gone I’d be able to anchor up reasonably easily. But no. The stink boat with the habit of putting out extra long anchor rope is now positioned where they were, once again effectively reducing the available area.
Return to where I’d anchored before in deeper water. Wind is blowing strong and drives Lowana IV at about 2 kts towards some other boats while paying out the anchor carefully by hand, but the anchor digs in and she turns her nose to it. Pay out all 50m chain plus about 8 metres of rope in 8m of water. It’s high tide so shouldn’t need more. Watch the GPS until I’m sure she’s settled. Am relieved that I can now rest.
1730: Watch the anchor for awhile letting the motor idle in case Lowana IV suddenly starts dragging. Too blowy to put the dinghy over the side and go ashore to ring Delma. Have to use a phone ashore since my analogue mobile phone doesn’t work here at Weipa.
A dinghy arrives at Just Roamin but no answer to my radio call. Call Alice Springs Base and speak to operator Paul this time. Manage to pass a message through Paul to ring Delma and tell her I’m at Weipa and okay. Paul has her number on record at the base. Calls back some minutes later and tells me message passed okay. Well done.
Turn off music tape and tune into a local commercial radio station for some music.
Weipa Harbour: Posn: 12.39.929S – 141.51.242E. Total 1033 miles. Today 40.2 miles. Max 6.5 kts. Ave 4.1 kts.
1800: Kevin is in his dinghy hanging off the stern of the other monohull, Micks boat Falmari. He looks this way but doesn’t come over.
Dusk: Scores of frigate birds wheel overhead as they did last time. Tide turns and the wind dies down slowly. Can see the lay of the other boats at anchor as they’ve turned with the tide. No one should be a threat to me tonight.
Get the generator out. It’s reluctant to start but eventually get it going to recharge the batteries. Find a short on the starboard solar panel fitting this time. Get electrical tape, break the connections and tape it all up. Will have to hard wire this one tomorrow as well. Wonder if most of today’s charge from the alternator while motoring was being shorted straight through to the hull. What that would be doing to the antifouling paint doesn’t bear thinking about.
1900: Big yellow moon rises over the tree line. Light breeze blowing. Too cool for a saltwater tub on deck so use personal cleaning wipes as a substitute to clean up with.
Over on the shore there is a good sized red and white stink boat that looks like it washed ashore at some point, probably from a broken mooring or dragged its anchor. I’d thought it was a derelict but there are house lights on so someone must be living on it.
It’s calm enough to put the dinghy over the side but don’t want to chance leaving it hanging off Lowana IV overnight. Think I’ll wait until tomorrow after the anchor has had a chance to dig in a bit more and I’m a bit more confident that it will hold.
Sitting around one gets too much time to think and I find I get a bit melancholy every now and then. Usually comes on me quite quickly and I have to fight it off. It’s sad though to think of all the time, effort and money that went into this venture and it’s not going to come off. Don’t know what good if anything has been achieved except to teach me my limitations the hard way.
2000: Dinner is over and finish the washing up. It’s quite pleasant outside with a full moon and light breeze but am finding it difficult to just sit back, relax and enjoy it. There are 8 other boats anchored here but it looks like I’m the only one living onboard. Make up some containers of lollies, bikkies and nibblies which maybe I should have done at the start of this trip.
Can’t pick up a local TV station. Couldn’t the last time either. Try using a USB capture card device with the laptop but that doesn’t work either. Start watching a movie but can’t finish it. Go to bed.
A Second Hand
Fri 29 Oct 04
0630: Nice outside with a light easterly breeze and calm water in the anchorage for a change. Lowana IV hasn’t moved during the night.
0700: Weather forecast tells me I’ll be here at least until next Monday with 20kt winds predicted on both sides of gulf.
AM: Hard wire the starboard solar panel. Put the dinghy over the side. Mick of Falmari comes over for a short visit. Type up some emails and save them to floppy disk to send later in town. Take a shower at the ablution block next to the public boat ramp then manage to catch a mini bus to town along with some aboriginal passengers. I only have to pay a share of the fare instead of the full amount but even so it still cost $7.10 to get to the supermarket.
Visit the hairdressers for my long awaited haircut but they can’t fit me in until late today, so make an appointment for 1:30 pm tomorrow. Taxi wants $11.00 to take me to the library so I skip that. Buy some lunch at a quick food place and eat it at a table in the centre aisle of the supermarket. It’s a greasy toasted bacon and egg sandwich that plays up with my stomach for the rest of the day, probably because I’m not used to big greasy meals.
Buy some loaves of bread for Always and Mimpy who had asked me to do so by radio earlier. They’re on their way to Evans Landing having left Duyfkin Point. Start hitch hiking out of town but end up walking almost half way before finally scoring a lift. Heaps of cars go by in the hot sun. Check in at the servo to ask about diesel injector services for Mimpi’s motor. They tell me there’s a place on Howard Road further in town that does injectors but anything complicated can’t be done there. Get a bit more success at a place next door called Weipa Mobile Repairs. The manager Warren tells me they’ll go out to boats to check motors. They can do certain injector and pump tests on board but if they require further work, the parts will have to be sent to Cairns.
I ask him about taking at look at my own motor. He says he has a reasonable supply of parts. He warns that on Monday mornings he nearly always has a line of tourists at his front gate wanting repairs, but he’ll send a mechanic out to Lowana IV after lunch on Monday. I’m to go ashore about midday and check with him.
Look in at a Suzuki boating repairs and workshop with a view to getting a smaller dinghy. It doesn’t have any small dinghies but offer a Quicksilver inflatable with a wooden floor. The agent says, “Mate, I can’t take your plastic dinghy for a trade because I don’t think I’d be able to sell it to anyone locally”. He adds with a smile, “I’d probably be able to sell it to another yachtie, but we don’t get many wind thieves through here”.
A sign on a fence nearby announces an auto and marine trimmers shop. Maybe they’ll be able to repair my headsail. Enquiries inside reveal that the couple who had run the shop disappeared about two months ago and nobody knows where they’ve gone. Nor do they know anyone in Weipa who has an industrial machine capable of stitching headsails.
Take the dinghy out to Falmari. Mick had been thinking about my motor problems and mentions he has a diesel mechanic mate who might have a look at the motor tomorrow at 2:00 pm. Thank him anyway but have to decline. I’ve got that 1:30 haircut appointment and besides, I’ve already made arrangements with Weipa Mobile Repairs.
1500: Always and Mimpi are anchored near Lowana IV. Visit each in turn and hand over the loaf of bread they’d requested earlier. They apparently hadn’t had any bread for a while. Paul says they’d arrived about half an hour ago. To my mind they’ve parked fairly close to me, maybe too close.
1700: Have a rest. Read a book. Strong westerly winds blow through the anchorage with boats swinging every which way. Go ashore and ring home but there’s no answer so leave a curt message on our answering machine. As I get off the phone I realise it was a bit churlish of me. There’s no excuse even if I am feeling uptight. Take a walk and find a place where I can get my gas bottle refilled.
Try calling Delma again and this time am successful. She’d been driving home when I’d called before and I apologised for my earlier remark. I tell her my biggest concern is to get the motor fixed before the next weather window opens across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove. The next one could be in three days. I want to try and get Lowana IV home across the Top End before the north-westerly monsoon winds and storms that are due to start early November.
We discuss whether Delma might be able to find someone willing to go to Gove at short notice to help me bring Lowana IV home quickly. If I can get another set of hands and eyes I should be able to do it in 4 days from Gove if I push straight through, but I’ll need someone to keep watch while I’m asleep. Even if I take it a bit easy and just do a couple of overnighters, weather permitting I could still be home inside a week from Gove. I give her some names to start checking with and she says she’ll see what she can do.
Dusk: Back onboard and heat up a can of steak and vegetables for supper. Put on some easy-listening CDs and light the citronella oil lamps which give a soft glow inside the boat.
Evening: Paul and Kathy come over for hot drinks in cockpit. Full moon rises and bathes the anchorage in a soft light at first, then in full light as the moon rises. Pleasant chat. Lowana IV hardly rocking. Sometimes its nice here.
2130: Guests go home and I go to bed to read for a little bit.
0700: Weather forecast continues to cast doom and gloom on my plans. Can’t move from here now until Tuesday because of those high winds both sides of gulf. Make up some Crew Wanted notices to put up on the notice board at the shopping centre and also at the workers camp here at Evans Landing.
AM: On the way to shore check in at Falmari. Meet Mick’s mate Shaun who’d arrived from Gladstone late yesterday. Big chap. Seems friendly enough. Go for a walk to stretch my legs once ashore and ring Delma for a chat. She tells me an old friend Fred Sims may be interested in coming to Gove to help to bring Lowana IV home and will get back to me with more later.
Wander down to a cultural centre at the wharf area. There isn’t much there except for some information on saltwater crocodiles and an interesting exhibit of a meeting between Europeans and aboriginals in the early 1600s.
|Map at the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney showing the routes of early explorers including Willem Jansz off the West Coast of Cape York in 1606. Much of the Western Australian coast was mapped by early explorers during the 1600s.|
In 1606 the aboriginals at the Pennefather River watched the Dutch ship Duyfkin, skippered by Willem Jansz sail south to Cape Keerweer. It later returned to the East Indies. The cultural centre has another large map on display of the route taken, showing Ceram and Aru Islands of Indonesia and Papua of New Guinea, quite accurately showing the coastal areas of Port Musgrave, Pennefather River, Weipa and Cape Keerweer.
|Left: Duyfkin replica berthed
at the Sydney Maritime Museum.
Bottom Left: Main deck looking
Bottom Right: Main deck looking forward.
There is an oral history by local aboriginals of the visit by the Duyfkin at Cape Keerweer relating to a clash with the local Wik-Ngatharr tribe. The Dutch had kidnapped several aboriginals, some or all of whom may have been aboriginal women. The tribe responded by spearing some of the Dutch from behind trees. The Dutch then went to the south of the river mouth and shot some aboriginals there as they lay sleeping though these were not the ones responsible for the spearing.
Other Dutch visitors are recorded to have visited this area including Carstenz on the Pera in 1623, Abel Tasman in 1644 and Jean Golzal in 1756.
Notice a dinghy hanging off Just Roamin as I’m returning to Lowana IV so call in. Kevin and Sharon are both aboard and keen to hear my story. They commiserate with me after I’d told them my tale. Sharon says tears had been streaming down her face on the day everyone had left since she and Kevin weren’t going along too.
1130: Leave Just Roamin and dinghy over to Falmari to find Mick and Shaun almost ready to go to town and they offer me a lift. Visit the Mitre 10 hardware store at the shopping centre first then have some lunch. Browse through the shelves at the newsagency and put up my “Crew Wanted” notice on the notice board.
1300: Sit outside the hairdressers reading a magazine waiting for my appointment. One of the staff comes out early and invites me inside to get my haircut. Seems the 1:00 pm appointment hadn’t turned up. A friendly, pleasant and curious lass cut my hair at a price commensurate with my usual barber shop price. Leave the supermarket and reach the road leading out to Evans Landing. Almost immediately catch a lift from a chap who says he’d been picked up in the same spot last night after having walked for two hours.
Walk over to the Dining Hall in the workers camp at Evans Landing. Find an aboriginal mal who is one of the staff and ask permission to put up a notice. He makes room on the board for me saying he’d be interested but can’t get away.
Afternoon: Having a read and a rest onboard when there’s a series of short horn blasts. Think I’d better get up and take a look, just in time to see the stern of Always sweeping past about 5 metres away. No sign of Paul. Call him on the radio to get him up topsides but no answer. Both boats are wandering to the conflicting winds and tides. There’s a moderate easterly blowing on an outgoing tide and the boats don’t know which way to go. Am so sick of this place! Awful bloody anchorage. Just can’t relax here and on top of that Paul has to go and anchor right next to me.
1630: Big ore carrying ship Fitzroy River passes by in the main shipping channel about 100m away, leaving behind a flattened surface of discoloured water.
It’s hard waiting for this weather to clear. So boring. Hours stretch and I’m always looking for something to do. Lethargy sets in. Uncertainty about the anchor continuing to hold. Uncertainty whether your neighbour is going to bang into you. Keeping batteries charged is a challenge. Running the small generator gets exhaust fumes down inside occasionally. I can’t receive the local TV channel either on the TV or on the laptop USB capture card – whinge, whinge, whinge.
1830: Go ashore to the phone box for a chat with Delma again. She confirms Fred is happy to join me either here in Weipa or in Gove. Will now have to find the money to pay his air fare. Not sure yet whether to meet him here or at Gove. Delma’s having family friends for dinner tonight. Mick and Shaun come ashore and I join them to buy some supper. They can’t cook onboard because their kerosene burner is leaking and they need a new seal. Mick offers to take me to town on Monday if I need anything.
Evening: Watch rest of movie. Early to bed.
0330: Lots of creaking and clunking from the anchor rope. Starts to give me the irrits so go up to the bow to see what’s going on. Find the anchor rope pulling back against the hull and rubbing on the dolphin striker. Try moving the boat around but it refuses to stay in any other position. Like I said – awful bloody anchorage with strange tidal currents running through it.
0700: Weather forecast looks like a break may be coming up next Wednesday. Should have a better idea tomorrow. Paul is already ashore taking Davit for his walk. Tide is turning and Lowana IV is finally laying properly to her anchor. The owners of the nearby stink boat Dauntless have arrived over there but haven’t moved it. Must just be checking up on it.
0845: Paul has moved closer inshore to re-anchor between Lowana IV and Falmari but ended up closer to Falmari. He’s now moving further along the anchorage. Apparently it’s not just me having anchoring problems here.
Pull the outer case off the small generator to see if I can attach some battery charging leads. It has a plug socket for the purpose but unfortunately I don’t have a plug to fit. In any case it isn’t going to work. And I don’t want to take the little cover off the electrics box inside since there are 240v AC connections in there too. Put it all back together. That’s a bugger because I can only get about 2 amps charging through the battery charger instead of being able to charge directly into the batteries.
Paul finally returns and re-anchors between Falmari and Lowana IV again. This time he manages to position himself more in the centre at what should be a reasonable distance.
0930: A long and dreary day stretches ahead. Everything ashore is closed. Even the service station is closed today. Paul and Kathy head ashore to do some washing. Windy from the east otherwise a nice looking day.
1130: Ring Delma who says that Fred will do the trip either from Weipa or Gove. Sit for a while on the embankment of the foreshore overlooking the harbour and the anchorage. Quite pleasant sitting in the sun. Move to a shady spot later.
Back onboard the wind gets gusty and the boat starts rocking. Mick on Falmari is in the water cleaning the propeller with Shaun standing guard for crocodiles and any other difficulties that might arise.
1400: Try to rest but can’t. Something starts banging outside. The dinghy is pushing up towards the bow so pull it back and lash the stern alongside as well.
Falmira starts moving out into the harbour for what I think is their first trial run. Dauntless the problem stink boat left earlier this morning but has now returned to create an even bigger nuisance of itself by anchoring closer than before. Work on the small gene again because the choke lever isn’t working properly.
Big gusts come through making the water choppy with whitecaps all around. Manage to pull in the anchor rope by hand down to where the chains starts and connect a second rope to the anchor chain. There had been quite a bit of tension on the first rope so am feeling a bit better about it now.
Really hard to keep a charge up to the batteries just using the 12v fridge system. It draws a lot of power. Wash salt and red dirt off all the solar panels. Take the little cockpit canopy down for fear it will catch the wind and help drag the anchor. Dauntless is laying back between Always and me so I suspect there might be more problems tonight with it.
Afternoon: Blows windy for the rest of the day. Try to sleep but can’t as usual. Read a book but can’t get into it being unable to concentrate. Ring Delma in the late afternoon. She tells me that Fred can be on a plane to arrive in Weipa at Thursday lunchtime but she hasn’t booked the flight yet. Will wait until I can get another forecast tomorrow morning to confirm if there’s a weather window there or not.
1800: Back onboard fire up the weather fax software on the laptop and hook up the HF radio. It’s my first success at getting a readable weather fax. Unfortunately I can’t see what’s coming up off Western Australia as the chart doesn’t extend that far. Need a different chart but will have to find out the times they broadcast them.
1930: Listen to the weather forecast again. Definitely seems to be a weather window coming up Wednesday. Torres Strait is presently getting 1.5m seas running on top of 2m swells. Yuk. Probably be a good idea to wait until Thursday anyway to let those seas settle down a bit.
Cook up a steak, egg and veges but the meal is too big and gives me indigestion. Am not used to large meals. Wind dies down to a constant cool breeze. Wavelets are coming through but at least the boat is facing them and it’s not all that noticeable inside.
0715: Lowana IV sits awkwardly across the wind as usual with an incoming tide and easterly opposing winds.
0730: Weather forecast definitely shows a break coming up on Wednesday and Thursday. Set up the weather fax software on the laptop and connect it to the HF radio to see if I can find a chart showing the Indian Ocean off Western Australia. Find one chart which isn’t all that helpful but there does appear to be a break in the Highs off the Western Australia coast though.
1030: Ring Delma to arrange for Fred to come Thursday. Take some washing to the laundrette and put a load through. Walk down to Evans Landing Wharf where the ablution block is and have a shower. A huge ship dwarfs the relatively tiny Evans Landing Wharf where it is probably delivering fuel. By the time I walk back to the laundrette the washing is on its final spin cycle.
It’s blowing hard as I work my way back to Lowana IV with constant waves coming through. Hang out the washing and have a lay down. Actually manage to sleep for a couple of hours.
1230: Grab a light lunch and go ashore to Weipa Mobile Repairs. Talk to Warren who says his mechanic hasn’t returned from the airport. He’d taken someone out there and is also sending the injector pump from Mimpy to Cairns for checking.
Eventually the mechanic turns up. His name is Murray who tells me he’d stopped at the hotel for a lunch, but the service had taken a long time. Judging by the beery odour emanating from Murray I suspect they weren’t too slow in serving the beer.
In short order Murray collects a small supply of tools and off we go to Lowana IV. Once on board I show him all the places around the motor where the oil has been leaking out of the block, as well as the oil splatters and oil splash in the engine bay. His first impression is that the whole thing will have to be pulled apart to fix the leaks.
He takes off the gear select levers in order to replace the seal at the top where I think oil might be coming out of the gear box. He then places the unit assembly into his bag to take ashore and plugs a rag into the hole on the top of the gearbox. He also takes off the oil filler cap and the air filters and puts them into his bag as well. His idea is that the rubber seal on the oil filler cap is not sealing properly and that’s why oil has blown into the air filters. He maintains this is the most likely place where the oil splatters have come from. Not being a mechanic I can only accept this with some relief.
Whilst working on the engine I hear, “Ahoy Lowana”. Kevin of Just Roamin is urgently telling me the anchor is dragging. Indeed it does look that way but it’s no different to what happened this time yesterday. I’ve got 58m of anchor rope and chain out there which allows Lowana IV to skid around a little, but the stink boat Dauntless is also galloping around making it look worse than it is.
Even so, the wind gusts are higher than usual. I have my washing hanging out and the heavy dinghy is helping to tug Lowana IVs nose around. Pull the washing down which is dry now and lash the dinghy alongside. This stabilises the boat a bit and although we’re coming close to Dauntless, I don’t think there’s any danger of collision. Thank Kevin who turns away just as Dauntless decides I’m no longer any fun to play with and barrels across towards Always again.
Back ashore Murray starts looking at the gear select lever assembly. He tells me he doesn’t have a seal that will fit and will have to order the part from Cairns. I don’t really want to be delayed any further and tell him I need to leave Weipa no later than Thursday. He says that even if the oil is leaking from the gearbox it won’t be any worry and to just to keep the oil up to the gearbox as before. He makes a new seal for the oil filler cap and a rubber tube to replace the damaged one connecting the cap to the air filter. After washing the air filters we return back to the boat.
Back onboard he replaces the gear select lever assembly with some difficulty, making two attempts to get it back correctly into place. I find myself holding my breath in case a particular spring-loaded part falls into the gearbox, but thankfully it doesn’t. It would have meant a complete gearbox strip down otherwise.
Murray notices a couple of other small jobs that need to be done, but I tell him I’ll attend to them tomorrow. Despite his explanation about the cause of the oil splashes I’m still concerned there might be a broken piston ring in the first cylinder. I ask him if he will do a compression test on the motor. He says he can’t because a young lad had apparently borrowed the gauges and is away on holidays. Nobody knows where the gauges are. However he reckons the motor will get me back to Darwin but not to flog it. If I just nurse it along and it should be okay.
Warren only charges me for about two hours work which is quite decent of him. He says that until recently Weipa had been strictly a mining town. Single women were just not available to come here to work. He said there’d been the highest suicide rate in Australia if not elsewhere because of an over-abundance of men and a shortage of women. The rules have since been changed and more single women are coming into the town to take up work here. According to Warren the suicide rate has dropped but is still fairly high. I guess that tells us something about the human psyche.
Return back to the boat feeling somewhat relieved about the motor, if not completely satisfied. Tidy up a bit. Replace a couple of rusted bolts holding down the gear shift cable. Reconnect the feed tube to the stuffing box which has been knocked out of place. The nut securing the tube to the box has split lengthways and won’t do up properly, so tighten it as much as possible for tonight. Another job for tomorrow.
1730: Delma hasn’t booked Fred’s flight because she’d got a call from a lady named Rebecca. I don’t have pen and paper so memorize the mobile phone number. Delma says she’s 34, has some sailing experience and is happy to sail to Gove or Darwin. Ring Rebecca but only get an answering service. Ring her again at little later and get through this time. Make arrangements to meet at Evans Landing at 9 am tomorrow morning.
Evening: Conditions calm tonight after what has probably been the blowiest day so far. Cook up a couple of chops. Have to throw out a small packet of mince which smells a bit off. Add some eggs, asparagus and green peas. Enjoy the meal out in the cockpit. There’s only frozen mince left now and after that’s gone will only use the fridge as a fridge instead of a freezer. That’ll reduce the workload on the 12v motor to keep stuff frozen. It’s simply taking too much power out of the batteries and I’m finding it hard to put the power back in.
A Boat Named Dauntless
|Weipa and Evans Landing|
Tues 2 Nov 04
0530: Not sure if it’s a second sense but something is bothering me. Get up anyway to take a look around just in time to see Dauntless no more than 5m off my bow. Watch for a while but there doesn’t appear to be any danger of collision. As I watch, Dauntless turns and takes off towards Always where upon almost reaching her, turns her nose back again into the tide. Lowana IV decides to follow but instead drifts sideways until she takes up a position directly behind Dauntless. The boats are being playful tonight with the tide coming in and the wind pushing them all over the place.
0630: Like so many times before in the forward bunk, I listen to a rising and falling noise like the wind moaning through the rigging. But it’s only coming from a ship and the wharf further down the harbour, the sounds being borne on the wind according to which way it’s blowing. Occasionally I think it must be getting really blowy out there and get up to take a look, only to find everything is just peachy … or at least okay.
Today is the day of the famous Australian Melbourne Cup – a horse race that stops the entire nation. No doubt many of the local businesses will close their doors at lunch time. Happens all across the country.
0730: Weather forecast still looking good to Friday. Dauntless is just 5 metres or so off my bow again as she wanders back and forth. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort and I don’t look forward to the high winds expected again later today. It just might be enough to push us together.
Speak to Paul on Channel 17 VHF about it but cop a caustic comment that he’s not bothered by it. Decide to re-anchor anyway and pull the anchor up. Wander around for a while looking for somewhere to put the pick down but there’s nowhere else suitable. Finally return to roughly the same place except a little further out. Set the pick but the wind pushes me out into the main shipping channel. Don’t want to argue with one of those monster ships coming by so pull the anchor up again.
A stink boat had left earlier so anchor up where he’d been, making sure to leave a bit of room it case it comes back. It’s still a fair way out from shore and with the help of the wind puts me a little uncomfortably right on the edge of the main shipping channel. Watch for a while keeping the motor running as Lowana IV settles to her new position. Start cleaning up a bit.
0845: Go ashore to meet Rebecca who turns up in a four-wheel drive vehicle. She’s a pretty woman with short auburn hair, slim and wears glasses. We sit on the embankment overlooking the harbour. She tells me about herself and her sailing experience including extensive experience in Australia, South-East Asia and across to South Africa. Seems quite intelligent and friendly enough. Tell her my history with Lowana IV and something about myself.
Take her out to the boat to show her around. Have a hot drink of Milo. She seems to be satisfied with the boat and keen enough. Back on shore we go on a Cooks Tour of Weipa visiting the mine site travelling across the bridge at Mission River to the north of town. Stop at a hotel for a comfort break and then drive around for a while. She drops me off at the library so I can send and receive my emails after which she takes me back to Evans Landing.
On the way back she tells me she’s been speaking with her new boyfriend on her mobile phone. She isn’t going to come with me after all because she doesn’t want to stretch the relationship at this stage. Of course I understand and in any case the morning has been pleasant and a good break in routine for me. She says it’s been good to get back in touch with yachts and yachties even if only briefly, and that perhaps one day she’ll own her own boat. It’s too bad she can’t come. I think I would have really enjoyed her company across to Gove but never mind. Back to Plan B and get Fred onto a flight for Thursday.
1230: Ring Delma and ask her to book Fred on the Thursday flight to Weipa then return back to Lowana IV. It’s become quite hot and almost windless with occasional gusts out on the water today for a change, a good indication of a break in the weather. Shame I’ve had to waste a day and a half waiting around but I guess that’s the price if I want company to go back home.
Hope that stink boat doesn’t come back and want this spot where I am now. Don’t know where I can go if that happens. Tides have been really strange this week. They’re outgoing all night and incoming all day, each lasting 10 to 11 hours with just an hour or so of still water in the middle. Just one in and one out tide a day for about the next 5 days. Where else would you see that? Weird …
Afternoon: Try to rest but can’t because it’s too hot so start on the repairs to the stuffing box. Unscrew the dog clamps, lift the cockpit hatch and climb down behind the motor. Pull the grease tube and locking nut off the stuffing box. The nut has split completely down one side and won’t tighten. Take the part to a Mitre 10 hardware shop to see if I can find a fitting that might be modified to do the job. If not then I’ll have to mix a batch of steel epoxy putty and try to repair the cap, which would only be a temporary fix but I have to do something. Without the grease tube held firmly into the stuffing box, seawater will make its way inside the boat.
Nothing at Mitre 10. Walk around the area and as I thought, most places are locked up for the afternoon due to the Melbourne Cup. A van pulls up at an Enzed franchise shop that specialises in hoses and fittings. The driver goes inside so I head on over there. The fellow knows exactly what I’m talking about when I mention the stuffing box, finds me a new part and puts it into my hand. It’s the exact part. I can’t believe my luck for a change. Also gives me a little brass “onion” ring through which the grease feeder tube fits and clamps onto the tube when the cap is tightened. No more having to use plumbers tape. When I offer to pay he refuses, saying he doesn’t want any money so I leave him with my deep thanks.
Sure enough back on the boat the nut fits perfectly and it doesn’t take long to reconnect the grease feed tube. Job done. Tidy up. Refill a 10lt petrol container and refuel the generator ready for use tonight. Make a copy of the anchorages Paul has identified and take it over to the boys on Falmari. Shaun asks if I want a beer which I decline but I notice Mick once again doesn’t invite me aboard. Not being invited once or twice is okay but not being invited at all is getting a bit rude I think. However to be fair, each time I’ve come by they’ve been doing something or other.
1745: Delma hasn’t booked Fred on a flight yet. She tries to do it on the internet while she’s on the phone to me but there’s some glitch or other and she can’t get the booking through. She says she’ll ring them directly once she finished talking to me.
Evening: Make up a big stew for tonight. Have it for dinner then divide the remainder into four meals in separate containers and put them into the bottom of the fridge. Watch a movie. Have a read. Really pleasant outside. Sit in the cockpit trying to enjoy the ambience of my surroundings with my heart sitting in my throat and thumping away.
Weds 3 Nov 04
Overnight: Get up a couple of times either to a call of nature or just to check what’s happening with the boats around me. I’ve learned to expect anything here in this place. It’s really nice outside with a bright moon and almost glassy water. It’s a little disconcerting watching the big ships coming and going literally within just a stones throw away.
0730: Weather forecast tells me the pressure ridge dominating the East Coast and keeping me in Weipa is weakening. Winds across the Gulf of Carpentaria and Top End will be dropping to less than 10 kts at times, though swells are still pushing through Torres Strait out into the gulf. It’s just as well I’ll be waiting another day to let them settle down a bit, and it looks like Fred and I will be doing a bit of motoring at this point.
1130: Top up tanks with 20lt of fuel and 75lt of water which still leaves me short of 30lt of fuel in the tank but that’s okay. Put the empty water and diesel fuel containers plus the empty petrol container into the dinghy to be refilled.
Call Delma. She’s booked Fred to arrive at 1 pm tomorrow and even got $100 or so off the usual fare. Fill the fuel containers and lug them back to the dinghy. Refill the water containers at the laundrette. One of them is broken. Think about whether it can be cut up and used in some other way but end up putting it beside the rubbish bin.
Return to Lowana IV and stow the filled containers on deck and lash them all down. Start the motor and run the fridge compressor. Put some drinks and juices into the fridge. The day is hot again. Some small gusts of wind blow across the harbour from the SE, but it’s mostly a light breeze allowing a smoky haze from bush fires across the harbour to settle along the shore line.
Pull out the manuals for the stereo radio and finally get around to properly running the lines and hooking up the speakers in the cockpit under the solar panels frame. Install a switch to isolate the cockpit or cabin speakers as required and it all works first go. Adjust the volume and at last there is music outside without having to string a temporary speaker line and speaker out there.
1600: Have some lunch – hot dogs on toast and tomato sauce. Pull out and test weigh the gas bottle. It feels about a third full but decide to get it filled anyway so take it ashore. Two men are standing at the bow of a commercial fishing boat next door using electric tools. It looks like they’re sanding the deck and give me a friendly wave as I pass by.
A brisk westerly wind has set in creating waves and making it a bit more difficult to get to shore. The attendant tells me the gas bottle is almost empty and only charges me $30 whereas I’d been previously quoted $40. Get it back onboard and lash it into it’s bracket on the stern rail.
Pause to look at the westerly wind and waves coming into the harbour and ponder about leaving Weipa tomorrow if it’s against an incoming tide. Wind has been coming in all afternoon at only about 15 kts but its bound to be lumpy in the South Channel, especially with the shallows out there creating bigger waves. Pushing and banging into that is no way to start a passage … no thanks. Decide to either leave tomorrow night when it calms down, or maybe early Friday morning with the calm dawn conditions and maybe an easterly wind behind us.
1730: Notice another trimaran at anchor on the way to shore. Ring Delma. She’s been busy getting the house painted while I’m away. Fred and his wife Beth have been helping her.
Stop by Just Roamin‘ on the way back to Lowana IV for a short visit. Kevin and Sharon are sitting on deck enjoying a quiet drink in the late afternoon. The nearby trimaran is Easy. I know this yacht and met the owners back in Gove. There’s nobody topside but the rubber-ducky is still on deck so they’re probably sleeping. They must have had a hard passage given the strong winds recently. Stay with Kevin and Sharon until the sun goes down in a red banded ball.
They mention they won’t be onboard Just Roamin tomorrow when I leave, so we say our goodbyes and I cast off for Lowana IV. We exchange best wishes as I pull away. They say they’ll probably be in Darwin around July next year and will probably stop at Tipperary Marina where I keep Lowana IV. Maybe we’ll meet up again then.
1900: Run the motor, start the fridge compressor and fire up the oven for the first time. Am cooking a store bought steak and kidney pie with puff pastry and mushy peas tonight. Wind has died right down to a light breeze and the water is calm – lovely conditions. It strikes me that it’s times like this that I really enjoy some company.
Evening: Bake the pie which is probably the first time I’ve ever baked anything. Works out well with a lovely golden brown and flaky crust. Ladle the mushy peas on top to make a yummy meal followed by jellied fruit for desert.
Another catamaran is coming in. Her navigation lights are weaving about and I don’t envy him trying to find a place in the dark before the moon comes up. There’s not much room with the bottom shelving so quickly and a dozen boats anchored here. Apparently there’s usually only about 2 or 3 boats here and locals are already commenting on the large number of boats.
Thurs 4 Nov 04
0630: Calm conditions with a light easterly breeze. Fred arrives today so we should be good to leave tomorrow even if we’ll be pushing against the tide. Fire up the motor and get out the electric grinder. It’s a 650-watt grinder which I can run through a 1000-watt DC to AC inverter. Need to round off the corners of the brackets on the forward solar panel since they’ve now torn two pairs of shorts.
0700: Smoke haze hangs over riffled water with the sun streaming inside down the companionway. Dauntless is a friendly little bugger – wants to cuddle up with everybody. She tends to sit sideways to everyone else and is now making her way over to check out Just Roamin again. Weather forecast is looking good up to Sunday with easterlies of 10 to 15 kts. If it holds in like that we’ll be able to sail when we leave and rest the motor.
Paul comes over to say goodbye in case I leave today. He and Kathy are going into town and don’t expect to be back until late. It’s pension day and they’ll probably have a bought meal in town for a change and do some shopping. I tell him I’m undecided about when to leave. I might leave tomorrow or might just leave tonight if I feel like it. Paul smiles and says, “I often do things like that too”.
Paul is quite handy with diesel engines being a truckie from way back, so I ask him what he thinks about the motor and the chances that it will get me back to Darwin. Given that the motor is leaking oil from the head gasket, if I was to work the motor hard for any reason would it be likely to blow out the gasket seal completely? Paul doesn’t think so. He says it should be alright but to just keep the oil up to it.
It’s reassuring, and Fred is pretty handy around diesel motors too if it comes to that. Paul says just as he’s leaving that if he doesn’t catch up with me before leaving then he’ll probably arrive in Darwin about this time next year.
The name of the catamaran that came in last night is Dave The Cat and he’s found a place above Just Roamin but closer to Evans Landing Wharf. Being a cat he has a shallower draught than me so can get in a bit closer to shore. The incoming tide is in full flight and an easterly breeze has picked up. Lowana IV starts pitching slightly to the small waves but it’s still pleasant despite the smoke haze.
1030: It’s a beautiful day with a gentle breeze and just small wavelets coming through. Nice, but my mood doesn’t match it. Put a last load of washing through at the laundrette. Try to ring Delma at the usual phone box but it won’t accept any coins this time so have to walk about a kilometre to the next one at Evans Landing Wharf. There’s been an issue with Fred’s flight and she asks me to wait 10 minutes while she gets more details.
Wander around kicking stones and looking at the park. It’s a nice though smallish oval with green grass, framed with frangipani trees thickly sporting a variety of pink or white scented flowers. A small stand of bamboo is nearby and a there’s a number of brick fireplaces. Some of these have had the thick steel cooking plate removed but most are useable and one has a good supply of timber ready. Shady, quiet place. Would be ideal for a nice Sunday picnic with a family.
Ring Delma back. Fred’s flight left this morning but the aircraft hit some birds causing damage serious enough to warrant returning to Darwin. Bugger it! I say to Delma, “Alright. I’m going. I’m going out to the boat right now, pick up the anchor and set out for Gove while I’ve still got this weather window before this afternoon’s westerlies set in”. She tells me Fred’s already been re-scheduled for 3:30 pm today on a Qantas flight. The ticket’s already paid for and can’t be refunded.
Bugger it again! Stuck here for another 24 hours and my weather window may be shrinking for all I know. My emotions are already tightly strung and in frustration I thump the phone box cabinet and hear a beep from the phone. The connection is lost and it takes a moment to realise I’ve simply run out of money and haven’t broken anything.
Call back and Delma says that Fred will be accommodated in Cairns tonight and will fly on to Weipa tomorrow morning to arrive at 1:00 pm. Nothing else can be done but to wait and hope that Fred makes the connection okay. Go back to the laundrette and pick up my washing, return to the boat and hang the washing out.
There was good reason for some concern but as a typical anxiety suffer, the problem was being magnified. Isolated tropical thunder-storms can start to appear at any time beginning in November, and occasionally more than one in the same area. They sit under towering anvil shaped clouds bringing a prodigious amount of crackling lighting, reverberating thunder, strong winds and heavy rain. Nasty. And the open water of the Gulf of Carpentaria is not a place to experience a bad one.
1200: Hot. Breathless. Flag hangs listlessly. Water is flat. Lunch of toast and spam slices.
1400: Westerly afternoon sea breeze starting in at around 10 kts, enough to get small waves coming through. Take down the washing. Batteries are right down after using the grinder this morning so run the motor for a while and to cool down the fridge. Hopefully I can get enough charge into the batteries to last through the night.
1630: Still a little windy outside but not quite as strong as yesterday. Go through the cassette music tape collection. Find a couple of cassette trays and mount them on the wall above the settee berth and put another one in the forward berth. Choose a few dozen tapes for ready access and bag up the rest. Find a small treasure trove of good tapes in the process that haven’t been played so far on this trip.
1830: Frigate birds are wheeling about as usual. They look almost like some kind of prehistoric pterodactyl with their pointy wings. Ring Delma who tells me there’s been more delays with Fred. He didn’t make the afternoon flight to Cairns for some reason but is now due to leave later tonight. I’m already agitated enough about these ongoing delays and can barely contain the inner explosions.
Tell Delma that if he can’t make it to Weipa tomorrow then to cancel the booking, get a refund and not accept any bullshit from the airline about it. They will have failed to provide the service that has been paid for and must refund. I can’t just keep waiting. I can lose my weather window and the longer I delay, the more chance of running into storms. I’m too wound up to realise how unrealistic I’ve just been and wander off muttering to myself cursing every unoffending thing I see.
Fred and Kathy have returned so call by Always on the way back to Lowana IV. Stay for a short while and tell him what’s been happening with Fred.
Evening: Cook the last of the frozen mince with minestrone soup mix and curry powder into a frypan with water. Works out quite nice. Watch a movie.
Fri 5 Nov 04
0630: There’s a cool easterly breeze again this morning, just a bit stronger than yesterday. Looking toward the mouth of the harbour is a sailboat making its way out but can’t identify who it is. Both yachts Dave the Cat and Easy are both gone. Clean the citronella oil lamps for something to do while waiting for the weather forecast.
0700: Weather forecast is still okay up to Monday with a hint of increased winds this side of the gulf coming up. Delma tells me on the phone that Fred got on the plane last night and she hasn’t heard anything since. Can only hope he makes the connecting flight alright.
0810: Return to boat. Notice the commercial fishing boat next to me is gone. Falmari has gone as well. Seems everybody’s taking advantage of this weather window. Reset the log on the GPS. It was reading 1,104 sea miles (2,045 km) but I think that also includes the aborted trip to Melville Island before this one.
The large ore carrier River Embley is alongside Lorim Wharf where they load raw bauxite ore and which belongs to the Camalco Mine. A smaller wharf is closer with the strange name of Humbug Wharf. It’s used to service the township of Weipa where containers and other goods are delivered.
0830: Try to get a weather fax but can’t get a good signal on the HF radio. The frequencies are all too noisy but you get days like that.
0850: Easterly is now blowing up to 15 kts once again bringing whitecaps in the bay, perfect for sailing if I could leave right now.
1100: Wind has eased. Head off for a shower ashore. The blocked saliva gland in my throat has flared up again last night. I’ve had to take some painkiller tablets today but they’re not doing much good.
1130: Delma says there’s no more news from Fred so assume he’s made the connecting flight to Weipa. Have no idea where the airport is so start hitch hiking towards the supermarket. It’s hot but nobody seems interested in giving me a lift until a minibus taxi comes by and stops. Find out I’m going the wrong way. Should have been heading out along the harbour road towards Lorim Wharf.
Decide to pay the expensive $20 fare and get into the cab to go to the airport. The driver tells me there’s been a couple of rapes over the last couple of weeks and the locals are being a bit careful about picking up strangers by the road.
1200: Arrive at the airport. Sit and read a book. Idly chat with some people who are departing on the same aircraft.
1300: Flight from Cairns arrives. Fred gets off looking pale and his eyes are a bit puffy. A lady passenger says how wonderful he’d been putting her at ease during the flight. Fred later tells me the lady had been petrified for the whole trip, gripping his arm with such ferocity that her knuckles had been white. Fred is a thorough gentleman and it’s typical of him. Always so willing to help others despite his own dislike of flying. The woman looks with surprise at Fred when I tell her about his earlier flight with birds striking the aircraft. He hadn’t mentioned it to her, I guess because it might only have alarmed her some more.
Fetch Fred’s backpack off the trolley carts when they’re wheeled in. Manage to get a cheaper shared fare with 8 other passengers back to Evans Landing. They’re all going to join a fishing charter boat called Eclipse which is waiting for them at the wharf there. Get dropped off at the laundrette. Ring Delma to tell her Fred has arrived safely and that we’ll probably be leaving first thing in the morning.
1400: Hot and sunny out on the boat with almost no wind. Am almost tempted to put straight out to sea, except I know the westerly afternoon seabreeze is likely to kick in soon. Have a hot cuppa with Fred. He’s taken some aspirin and is starting to get a little colour back in his face. Pass a mattress up into the cockpit so he can take an afternoon nap. He really looks like he needs it.
1430: Wind springs up first from the NW then westerly to about 15 kts. Gusts fitfully at first but blows more steadily as the afternoon wears on.
1730: Wind still blowing a little but dies down slowly. Fred is awake. Go ashore to tell Delma we’ll definitely be leaving tomorrow morning. Take a walk around the Port Weipa area before returning to boat.
Evening: Cook up some stew and frozen eggs, the latter not being too much of a success. Jellied fruit and custard for desert. Have a nice hot cup of coffee and Milo out in the cockpit after the washing up is done. Conditions are calm with a slight cool breeze. Watch a recorded TV show on the laptop
Gulf, Storm and a Near Miss
|Map 22 – Location of object and storms|
Sat 6 Nov 04
0530: Rise and shine. Check oils and top up slightly. Set up the water pressure pump, winch in the anchor, secure it and hose down the bow of mud.
0615. Finally … underway to return across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove in the NT. Kathy waves from the cockpit of Mimpy and I try to call her and Paul on the VHF radio but they don’t answer. Motoring for the time being because the batteries are down a long way.
There’s a small cool easterly breeze following which makes me hopeful of some good sailing today once clear of the harbour. Call Weipa Harbour Control to advise we’re leaving via the South Channel. They tell me no other boats are booked and we’re cleared to go. On nearing the entrance to the channel we get the full run of tide that slows us down by a full knot. Put up the full mainsail and push the boom out to maximise the following wind then lash a preventer rope to the side rail. The preventer will stop the boom from slamming across the boat in case the wind gets in behind the sail.
0715: Still in the channel but clear of the shallow areas. Set three waypoints into the GPS following the channel south of Bremer Island near Gove. If we arrive at night we’ll be able to just follow the waypoints and pick up the lead lights to enter the harbour. Turn the laptop computer off and stow it away since we’ll be working with the GPS and paper charts from here on. Set course to the first waypoint 290 nm – nautical miles away. Mostly clear of tide influence now and getting around 4.2 kts through the water and 4.3 kts over the ground.
0730: Weather forecast seems good except they say winds are building to 18 kts in the Torres Strait area today and tomorrow. That’s not too bad but will have to wait and see if it affects us later on with swells. However E to NE winds from 10 to 15 kts are expected on the other side of the gulf right through the next four days. Overall its looking good except for the possibility of some lumpy waves coming through from Torres Strait.
0800: The following wind is barely able to keep up with us. Hot already. Still charging the batteries under motor.
0930: We’re sailing faster than the following wind and the mainsail is bellying in against our own forward movement. Sheet the boom in amidships. Not using any headsail yet. It’s hot and breathless with seas that are green and flat.
1050: Still motoring with no useable tail winds. Adjust all ships clocks back half an hour to Central Standard Time (NT) time even though we’re still in QLD waters. Seas calm with very small swells coming through occasionally. Fred and I sit under the small cockpit shade catching up on each others news as we motor along around 4.5 kts. Alternator is putting out about 6 to 7 amps which I’m quite happy with. The motor temperature is up slightly but that’s still okay because the motor is cooled directly from the sea and the sea temperature is over 34 degrees Celsius.
Right: Fred on the bow getting his sea legs back. Bottom right is the life-raft under a red canvas cover. The vertical grey cylindrical object centre left is a dan-buoy attached to a life-ring stowed in the blue canvas bag below it. The white line running fore and aft on Fred’s left is a life-line set up to use during rough weather.
1115: Duyfkin Point, the last of the Queensland coast that we can see slips below the horizon into a smoky haze. Conditions remain the same with no wind and the mainsail slats back and forth so sheet it in harder. Although it’s hot, it’s pleasant enough except for the drone of the motor.
There are five separate containers of snacks on the dinette table including lollies, cakes, biscuits, snacks and nuts. Should have opened the packets and sorted them out ages ago. Am feeling great now that I have company aboard. Not tense. It’s so good just to feel relaxed again and actually enjoy the passage. Obviously I don’t like my own company too much.
Fred and I discuss my future intentions at some length. I’m pretty sure it’s time Lowana IV and I have a parting and I’ve made a loose plan along those lines. First thing is to sell the plastic dinghy and buy a cheap 8 to 10 foot tinnie to replace it. Then build a targa again at the stern to stow it and to mount the two forward solar panels. That will mean taking off the wind steering vane off to sell separately.
When ready Lowana IV could be listed for sale with a broker on the East Coast over the Wet Season. If it’s not sold by May next year, Fred agrees to help me take her over there and leave it with the broker. However I’m not yet convinced this is really the way I want to go but at least it’s a plan while I’m still thinking about it.
1230: Headwinds. In spite of the weather forecast we’ve got westerlies. Would you believe it? They’re small but coming from dead ahead … of course. Have a lunch of dry biscuits, smoked mussels, sardines in tomato and cold meatballs.
Left: A pair of dolphins come by to keep company for a short while.
1430: Westerly winds start in earnest.
1830: Have covered a reasonable 52 miles since starting out. The westerly kept getting stronger during the afternoon and forced us a little north of our rhumb line. Small choppy waves are butting us head on. Speed has been mostly just under 4 kts but presently is barely over 3 kts. Put a reef into the mainsail. Looks like this might continue for the rest of the night since it hasn’t died down at dusk as it would normally do. Actually the wind and waves seem to be building.
We’ve both had a little rest in the early afternoon and are now cooking dehydrated meals in a packet for dinner. Check engine oils and top up. There seems to be a new leak on the starboard and forward end of the motor somewhere.
2000: No moon. Still getting westerlies but they’ve abated a little bit. Short seas are stopping the boat from building up speed. We’re still 10 degrees or more off course which isn’t too bad and making 3.5 kts average. Apart from our speed and direction it’s otherwise pleasant even if it is frustrating. I’ve pulled the first watch and Fred goes to bed up in the forward berth first. He looks a bit pale again and admits to feeling a bit off.
2100: Fred has just got up to go to the head and then went back to bed. Hope he’s okay. Am mildly puzzled a few times by what I think are sharp flashes of light. Look around the horizon but don’t seen anything. There’s no lightning or black clouds about. Stars everywhere. Think maybe I might have a light fitting shorting somewhere and spend some time peering up the mast at the various lights but don’t see anything unusual. Begin to think I’m having hallucinations.
2200. The flashes have become real and getting brighter. There is a storm cell in the distance behind us and it looks to be growing. Those westerly headwinds we’ve had this afternoon have probably been this thing drawing wind into itself. Not sure which way it’s going to go yet.
2300: It’s beginning to look like this storm might keep coming our way. Get Fred up so I can get a quick nap in case we get hit.
Sun 7 Nov 04
0200: Fred wakes me. The storm is much closer and coming up quite fast from behind, the lightning is much clearer and the thunder quite distinct. It’s looks really nasty. I keep watch but it just keeps growing. Not sure whether it’s going to go either side or directly over us. It’s times like this I wish I had a radar. Can we run before it? Not yet. Put our vests on and clip onto the life line. Turn to starboard and try going north for a while but the billowing black clouds overtake us. Turn westerly again but the storm keeps pushing ahead that way too.
0230: This thing is definitely going to go over the top of us. Turn towards the NE to try and cut across the face of the storm and get back around it. The wind suddenly starts screaming at our back. The boat yaws and wallows with waves driving us forward into an inky blackness and plunging down the face of them. At least once there’s a strange crack or sharp fizzling sound and a smell of ozone on the air.
0245: Something appears briefly dead ahead in the intermittent flashes of jagged lightning. Something big, black and ominous sitting above the surface of the water which can only be seen in the flashes of the lightning, without which it’s pitch black and I can’t see anything.
Another flash of brilliant, fluttering white. It’s dead ahead and I get an impression of a small drilling or derrick platform, or some kind of boat with a mast. Whatever it is, it’s not showing lights and is a substantial size big enough to sink us if we hit it. It’s impossible to maintain a straight course. That thing could be anywhere out there. Can’t see it … can’t see it. Search desperately for another glimpse. Lost in the blackness.
Another lightning flash. There … flick my eyes across. It’s too late to get a good look but it’s dead ahead and closing fast. Bound to bloody hit it! It’s gotta be close and I can’t see the bloody thing! Rip the autopilot off the tiller heedless of damaging it and make a crash turn to port. Another lightning flash. There it is – slipping down the starboard side maybe 30 or 40 metres away. Stare intently into the darkness. Spot it one more time pulling away rapidly astern before it’s lost to sight into the blackness behind.
Mark the position with shaking hands using the MOB – Man Over Board function of the GPS. Posn: 12.22.56S – 140.03.02E with a view to reporting its position to authorities. Illegal Indonesian fishing boats are being regularly caught around here. It might have been one of them.
Turn north for a while and after an hour or so the electrical thunder storm seems to be falling behind. There’s more black clouds and thunder still off to the west to try and keep clear of but for now I think we’re safe; seas are still rough but manageable.
0530: More than one storm cell threatened during the rest of the night but thankfully we managed to avoid them. Some had serious lightning in them and seemed to be quite close. Several times I found myself trying not to touch any metal but on a steel boat that’s hard to do. The end result of all this evasion was that we’d been running north to get above the storms and let them pass under us. We’re now 15 miles or so back to the east from where we’d been, plus 24 miles north of our original rhumb line to Gove.
Turn back towards Gove only to find the wind once again coming from the west. Fred suggests we try for Cape Wessel which is at the top of the Wessel Island group and is a northerly turning point when travelling west from Gove. It would at least give us some angle on the wind. Look at the chart. We’d only have to change course by 13 degrees but I can’t be sure we’d have enough fuel to get home if we have to motor all the way. And I don’t know whether we’ll continue to get headwinds, or no wind, or hit more storms. Decide to continue to Gove for now. If we can sail and conserve fuel we can then look to make for Cape Wessel and go straight home.
At dawn another storm cell moves across our bow on the horizon. Looks like it’s going to be a game of hide and seek all the way to Gove. This is exactly what I was hoping to avoid whilst waiting in Weipa.
0615: It’s a bit deflating. The day is cloudy, almost overcast and we’ve still got headwinds from the SW. Streaky cirrus clouds are sitting up high in the east presaging even more higher winds later. Nothing seems to be going well for us. Am so pissed off that the weather forecasts are forever predicting E to SE winds and we’re getting SW winds. Swells left over from last nights storms are pushing in from the NE and from the opposite direction as well. It takes two hands and much bracing to move about the boat.
0800: Call Alice Springs base and talk to a female operator. Give her our position. Seas have calmed right down to flat except for low swells from the NE. The wind has died and the wind vane is hunting for air so we’re motoring with only the mainsail up. Pull in the headsail as it’s useless. Hot. Cloudy. Sultry. Large ominous group of clouds sitting on the horizon to the east. I’ve seen these sort of conditions before and it’s usually not good.
0900: Weather forecast isn’t good either. Nor was it good a couple of days ago in the sense that they stuffed it up. But they’re now suddenly saying there are isolated storms for today and tomorrow with gusts up to 35 kts.
Contact Coast Radio Gladstone and then Coast Radio Cairns on one of the Distress and Calling safety frequencies on the HF radio. Report the near miss with an unknown object last night and give its position.
1200: Hot. Desultory. Stifling. Wet season-ish. Humid and bugger all wind to use. Mainsail slats back and forth juddering the boat each time Lowana IV rolls on the low swells. Threatening clouds still sit around the horizon to the east. Wind vane at the top of the mast keeps hunting for any kind of air movement and being pulled around in circles as the boat rocks.
1400: Any little bit of wind we manage to get is from the north. There’s also increasing swells coming from the S and NE no doubt due to storms out in those directions. Patchy sunlight and the cloud banks to the east are building up. This day just doesn’t feel right. A welcome cool breeze occasionally wafts across the cockpit under the small shade canopy. The surface of the water is ruffled. I must say I don’t like this.
Despite these observations we’re making fairly good time at 4.7 kts over the ground and 4 kts through the water. Fred is having a sleep, or at least is trying to. Mainsail continues to slat and bang back and forth. For the next few hours the wind picks up and changes more northerly allowing all sails to be used to pick up some speed to around 5.5 kts or more.
1730: Afternoon continued uneventfully. Wind is dying now with not as many whitecaps out there. The position plots on the chart are so close together compared to the length of time elapsed between them. Irksome journey this. Mostly boring, especially knowing that we’re not even half way yet.
Skies have mostly cleared of the nastier looking clouds. Some high altitude cirrus continues to promise higher winds but these are crossing to the north and may not affect us. Seas sloppy on top of swells but at least the ones coming from the south have subsided. Perhaps they’re just being absorbed by the ones from the NE.
2200: Fred has been feeling a little bit off colour again earlier this evening but insists on pulling his fair share of watches. He’s now had something to eat and feels a bit better. Send him back to bed and don’t wake him when it’s his turn to take watch.
We’re motoring again and pass the halfway mark across the gulf. It’s pleasant once more and the only wind is that which we make by our own forward movement. Boat continues to rock and roll along as the lingering swells pass underneath. Have double reefed the mainsail although there’s no sign of any storms just now. The weather forecast earlier tonight didn’t make any mention of isolated storms tonight but I don’t believe them. However they do say we’ll have more of them tomorrow.
Mon 8 Nov 04
0400: Fred surfaces on his own accord saying he’s feeling better. Black clouds had come up earlier on the ENE horizon. They’re now sitting above the horizon and obscuring the sliver of moon that should be there. It’s nice though when breaks in the clouds allow the moon to shine through. Swells are down and we’re making a fairly consistent 4.5 kts on a direct course towards Gove.
0700: No mention of any storms in the weather forecast. Conditions are calm and hot already. Stop the motor and check oils. All seems okay. Fred and I think we’ve figured out the problem with this motor. Sometimes the oil put into the motor via the filler cap doesn’t drain straight down into the sump. It’s as if there’s some blockage, maybe a bit of sludge or something blocking the oil drain holes. It seems logical to me that if oil is being forced out of the engine block there must be pressure inside pushing it out. The motor is eventually going to have to be completely stripped down, checked and cleaned thoroughly.
1330: The day continues hot with almost no wind. Sea almost glassy with low swells that keep the boat rocking. Steering vane sometimes doing complete circles in sympathy with Lowana IV rolling from side to side. Less than 80 nm to go doing about 4.5 kts or so.
1600: Cross the QLD/NT border longitude at 138 degrees about a mile back. Now officially on NT time although we’ve been using it all the way across so far. No wind to use and the seas still oily looking.
1800: Fred and I have a cold coke in the cockpit then check the oils. No need to top up either sump which is unusual. Still have 58 miles to go.
1930: Night closes in. Heat up a stew for tea. Wash up and settle into night routine. No change outside. Close up the forward hatch for the night. Hot inside.
Tues 9 Nov 04
Overnight: Conditions continue the same. Leave the mainsail double-reefed just in case but there wasn’t any wind to take advantage of.
0730: Reach the first waypoint off Bremer Island near Gove. Change the navigation system over to the laptop. Slow going at 3.3 kts against the current in the channel. Within mobile phone range so ring Delma to tell her we’ve arrived at Gove knowing she’d notify Fred’s wife Beth.
1030: Pass around the main wharf and make the final turn towards the anchorage in Inverell Bay off the Gove Yacht Club.
1115: Select our site and drop the anchor in 5m at low tide.
Gove: Position 12.11.953S – 136.42.005E. . Total distance travelled 1348 miles. Log across the gulf at 315 miles. Max speed 6.1 kts.
A Hole In The Wall
|Map 23 – Gove to Malay Bay NT|
1230: Have used 120 litres diesel fuel across the gulf in 3 days averaging 40 litres per day. Top up the fuel tank with 100 litres of diesel. Put the dinghy over the side, place the empty containers into it and go ashore.
Afternoon: Register with the Gove Yacht Club again and get a key to the ablution block. The club utility has already gone into town and isn’t going again today so we’ll have to call a minibus taxi. Expensive. The driver tells us he’ll take us into town with the empty jerries but can only bring the full fuel containers back. He can’t carry both us and the fuel so we’ll have to hire another cab. We don’t really have much choice. Alternatively we could make arrangements for fuel at the Perkins Shipping Wharf but that would put us back another day or so. In the end I have to pay $75 for both drivers plus $127 for 100 litres of fuel, which works out at almost $2.00 a litre … whew!
Once in town we fill the fuel containers and organise our driver to take them back to the yacht club. Fred and I visit the main shopping area to have some lunch in a cafe. Back at the yacht club we find the jerrycans stacked neatly in a shady but unobtrusive spot.
Back onboard Lowana IV we top up the water tank with 75 litres and pull out the charts to discuss our next move. Looks like the tides and times might make it a bit difficult getting past Cape Wilberforce and through the Wessel Islands.
1630: Read a book. Try to rest but am too churned up. Rain is being forecast for the western end of the Top End by Friday so it looks like we’re going to be dodging storms.
1730: Go ashore and fill the empty water jerries and take a last hot shower. Hand in the toilet block key and get the deposit back. Ring Delma to tell her we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning at 0500 hrs and will be making a hard push for home. Delma says she’s flying out of Darwin tonight for her brother John’s 60th birthday at the Gold Coast but will leave the house key with Beth.
Meet some cruisers who’d come over from Darwin in Whim O Way. She used to be sitting on the fore-and-aft mooring lines up Sadgroves Creek in Darwin when I kept Lowana IV there. At the time she wasn’t much more than a concrete hull and plywood cover with very little apparent work being done on her. This couple bought it recently and are highly pleased with her performance. They’ve been here now for 4 days and the man has already found work 2 days ago. They’ll be staying through the cyclone season to build up their cruising kitty before heading over to SE Asia and eventually back to Tasmania.
Fred and I both don’t feel that much like eating a meal ashore because of our late lunch in town, so return to Lowana IV in the dark. Load and lash down all the jerrycans up on deck. Hoist the dinghy aboard and secure it. Check the engine oils and find the main sump surprisingly low on oil.
2030: Both tired and go to bed. We’ve an early start tomorrow.
Wed 10 Nov 04
0430: Alarm goes off. Check the oil level in the main sump again. It’s still down even after adding oil last night so put some more in. Something is really wrong with this motor. It’s using oil at an inconsistent rate. Winch up the anchor in the dark and use the water pressure pump to hose the mud off the chain and deck.
0510: Underway. There’s no wind and the water is like glass. Work our way behind a Navy Patrol Boat that had come into the harbour yesterday before making a turn past the main wharf.
0630: Well clear of the harbour and pull out the charts to plot the course for the day. Decide to make our passage through the Wessel Island Group via Gugari Rip, also known as the Hole in the Wall. This route cuts off about 35 miles if travelling around Cape Wessel to the north and being only about 50 metres wide and one kilometre long it’s quick. However it’s really important to get the tide times right because they can race through here on a spring tide anything up to 12 knots.
According to the information on a wall chart at the Gove Yacht Club the tide ebbs west approximately one hour before High Water Gove tides. That means we’ll need to be there by 1800 hrs. It’s rocky shores on the eastern side funnel in and the seas can get quite confused and rough, especially if there are easterly winds.
0700: W to NW winds have been consistently forecast in the Western Australia region which will eventually work their way easterly. Wind strengths in all areas of interest to us have been predicted at less than 10 kts, but at least we have E to SE winds forecast across the Top End over the next two days.
0730: Head north up to Bonner Rocks which will be the first obstacle to get past on the way home. It’s no big deal since they they’ll be well off to to port side on a rhumb line to Cape Wilberforce.
1000: Arrive at the first waypoint off Cape Wilberforce and turn NNW towards Wigram Island. It’s a nice, clear day although getting hot. Almost no wind so motor sailing with full mainsail up. We’re on time as planned with a northerly breeze helping but not by much. Lots of fish are feeding on the surface and being plagued by flocks of wheeling sea birds.
1030: Down to 2.5 kts pushing against the tide in the narrow passage between Cape Wilberforce and Bromby Island.
1200: Still motor sailing. Enter the channel between Wigram and Cotton Islands. A Perkins Shipping barge Frances Bay is coming up behind so keep over towards the Wigram Island side to give it room to overtake. Call the barge about tide times at the Hole in the Wall. If anyone will know for sure it will be these guys. They say the next change of tide should be just after dark, probably between 1830 to 1900 hrs or so. Other sources of information I have onboard also put the change of tide there at 1909 hrs, but this is at odds with what we’ve learned from Gove Yacht Club wall chart.
1230: Reconsider our route. There’s 15 nm – nautical miles to the Hole in the Wall, 20 nm to the Cumberland Strait and 25 nm to go west via Brown Strait.
Am not happy about attempting the Hole-In-The-Wall. If we continue at our current speed of 4.5 kts we’ll arrive around 1530 hrs. That’ll mean waiting around for the change of tide, but will that be at 1800hrs or after dark at 1900 hrs? It’s just too dangerous to try it in the dark without solid information on the tides, even if a SE afternoon seabreeze doesn’t spring up and rough up the entrance. I’d got it wrong once before in daylight and that had been a heart pumping, adrenalin charged experience. (See Blog: 1993 Mackay QLD to Darwin NT).
|The Hole in the Wall taken during
an earlier passage in 1993:Top Left: The approach
Top Right: Near the entrance
Left: Inside the passage
Cumberland Strait is further north and even more out of our way so we’ll try Brown Strait. This will keep us at a lower latitude than both the other passages and get us clear of the Wessel Island Group. The tide is supposed to flood NE through there but even if the tide is still ebbing against us it’ll be easier to navigate in the dark. Our route will take us below Jirrgari Island, then northerly for 15 miles or so to clear Stevens Island before turning west again. Hopefully the tide will change to a flood tide and give us a good run.
The only other option is to anchor up tonight in the nearby Raragala Bay and try the Hole in the Wall by daylight, but we don’t want any unnecessary delays getting across the Top End unless we can help it. There’s always the chance of running into more storms.
1245: Change course due west. Speed sitting between 4 to 4.5 kts should get us at the entrance of Brown Strait somewhere around 1730hrs. There’s not much wind to break the heat but we pull out the headsail anyway to try and use the bit that’s there. Looking ahead in the distance we can see the Frances Bay also steaming towards Brown Strait. Obviously they’re not going to take the Hole in the Wall route either so that’s good enough for me.
1700: Stop the motor and check oils before getting underway again. Enter Brown Strait and start our first turn to clear Jirrgari Island and run into a northerly breeze. Quite happy with our progress so far. It’s been a good run for the 12 hours so far since leaving Gove with 54.6 nm under the keel. Turn the laptop on for navigation through the strait. The available breeze is dead on the nose so we take in the headsail. Finish our turn to the north and run straight into the full force of an ebbing tide. The currents are so strong they throw the boat around so quickly and in different directions, that the navigation software can’t keep up. It just doesn’t have enough time to do its calculations and redraw the map in a realistic time frame. I’m going to have to do a bit of running navigation using a compass and charts.
1715: We’re dead in the water. The tide is in full flight against us with a 5 kt current showing on the log while we swing wildly from north through to south. Don’t want to have to do it but we pump up the motor revs to almost 1700 rpm to start pulling forward between 1.5 to 2 kts. Slowly, slowly we drag ourselves forward into the main channel where the current gets gradually weaker.
1735: Drop the revs back to 1600 rpm which gives us just over 3 kts. It’s going to be a waiting game now for the tide to turn. All we can do is maintain our course and just keep plodding on. We have 15 miles to go in this strait before we can turn left around the Stevens Island light, then it’s a straight run across the Top End of Australia.
1820: The expected tide change of 20 minutes ago hasn’t happened but I’m feeling justified in coming this way. We’re at least making some progress at an average 2.5 kts against a 4.5 kt head current instead of waiting around at the Hole in the Wall. Hopefully this will change at 1909 hrs as the barge skipper told us. If he’s wrong then it’ll potentially take 5 hours trying to get through here! But I think we should be okay with a favourable tide run within the next hour or so.
1930: Definite signs that the tide is changing. Ground speed is up to 3 kts and water speed down to about 4.3 kts. Wind is stronger from directly ahead so we’ve put a single reef into the mainsail but no headsail yet.
2015: GPS and Log getting near to the same speeds with the Log sometimes reading a little higher. Things are improving. So much for the tidal predictions for this area but at least we’re getting a reasonable 4 kts. We should reach our first waypoint to turn NW out of this strait to clear Stevens Island in about 45 minutes.
2250: The last leg to the NNW is a bit rough with the wind rising off the starboard bow sending solid waves bashing into us. We’re just finishing making the last turn to due west and the wind is swinging around onto the beam. Raise all sail and turn the motor off at last. The action of the boat becomes much smoother and we’re sailing at over 5 kts. We’re on our way home!
Thurs 11 Nov 04
0645: Fred and I take turns on watch through the night. The wind has gone with the dawn and we’re not able to see too much with a horizon lost in the morning haze. We’ve made 115 nm since leaving Gove and are now 18 miles above the Crocodile Island group to the west of Elcho Island. Not remarkable in itself but considering the difficulty getting past Cape Wilberforce and the Wessel Islands against hard tides it’s good enough for me.
Check the oils and they aren’t too bad, but there’s a new diesel leak at the base of the number one cylinder injector. Not much we can do about that. At the moment we’re getting just over 4 kts. Windless conditions and seas are glassy.
1100: Remembrance Day. 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour. As a veteran myself I observe a minutes silence to pay my respects. Day very hot and much like travelling in the gulf. Boring. Heading due west on a line to clear the top of the Goulburn Islands. From there I can dodge into the coast or veer up to clear Cape Cockburn and around to Malay Bay should I need to. Or else I can keep going around the top of Croker Island.
1630: About 85 miles west from Stevens Island and just about 28 miles north of Cape Stewart, the first fairly viable overnight anchorage after leaving Elcho Island behind. Sea flat. Hot. Have been heading a few more degrees north for Cape Cockburn and Malay Bay. If we can get there early enough we might put down the anchor there on Friday night. Some more wind would be nice. We haven’t even shaken out the reef in the mainsail because there’s been no wind to hold the shape of the sail. Frustrating.
1645: Spot a white object in the water off to the north. Too far to make out what it is with binoculars. A couple of patrolling police officers back at the Gove Yacht Club had told us about a missing man in a 14 foot dinghy. He’d stolen the dinghy but the main concern is that he’s missing and they’d asked to keep an eye open for him. You never know if someone, or something is in the water that might help the authorities. Change course to check it out but it turns out to be a large white buoy complete with a frigate bird sitting on top. Never mind. At least we’d taken a look. I’d hate to think somebody sailed past me without bothering to properly identify what I was.
A small breeze rises enough to let us set all sails to give us a lift to almost 5 kts again. Fred is burned on the face, most likely from reflected glare off the water which is intense. Give him some Aloe Vera gel with Vitamin E to put on his face and forehead.
Evening: No real change. Wind builds up and the boat starts slewing a bit. Double reef the mainsail and shorten the headsail but stay under motor. Manage to sail at 6 kts and more for several hours and make some great time.
Fri 12 Nov 04
Overnight: The wind dies down but leaves behind the waves it created. They take a long time to subside. Deviate off course a little to bypass Paxie Shoal and set a waypoint to clear some shallows to the north of the Goulburn Islands. Very slow going down to 3.5 kts during the early hours with the boat rocking from side to side. Fairly uncomfortable sailing with no wind on the sails to hold her steady against the swells. Some black lumpy cloud cover comes over and look like they might dump on us but they pass right over and keep going.
0700: No change in the weather forecast. A broad trough is over the whole of the Top End meaning little wind and isolated storms to the west of Cape Don. If it’s accurate then the tricky bit is going to be on the last leg home between Cape Don and Darwin.
Am about 60 miles from making an anchorage in Malay Bay for the night. Consider a course to clear Cape Croker to the north but that’ll mean a night passage, and if conditions are like last night then it’ll be uncomfortable. Like most capes this one can have turbulent waters and it’ll be a long way around to clear extensive reefs as well. In any case I’m not keen to travel at night now because I can’t disregard the forecasts of isolated storms. Most of these are at night and if we must go through one then let it be during the day.
0800: Fred sights a yellowish green sea snake at least 1.5 metres long sliding by in the water as it tries to swim aggressively towards the boat. Not sure what it thought it could do if it caught us.
0900: North Goulburn Island looms on the horizon off the port bow to the south. Bright blue illusory streaks flash and dance in the darker blue of the sea beside the boat. It gives an impression of unfathomable depths as they streak down, but it’s only 40 metres or so deep here. A bare cuttlefish shell floats by with half a dozen small fry fish darting around seeking its meagre protection.
1000: North Goulburn Island slowly comes around the port beam. I’m reminded of the day when I came by here going the other way. No land visible ahead yet and there won’t be for a while. Seas are glassy again like yesterday. Motoring just over 5 kts. Fred is sleeping on the settee berth to keep out of the sun and glare as much as possible.
1120: Fred gets up and joins me sitting on the deck in the shade of the mainsail. A breeze is coming from the WSW. We get our first sighting of DeCourcy Head at 17nm distance. Just past that is Cape Cockburn and around the corner is Malay Bay. From here we’ll be limiting our sailing to daytime.
Afternoon: It’s the same monotonous afternoon as before. The wind is dead on the nose and no help at all. Then the wind rises to create a small swell as we get within 5 miles of DeCourcy Head with the tide also pushing us back. Despite that we make an uneventful turn around Cape Cockburn and down into Malay Bay to find a position out of the swells coming into the bay.
1730: Finish anchoring in the same position as my previous visit. Secure the boat for the night. Top up the main fuel tank with 80 litres of diesel. We’ve used 60 litres since Gove but it was short 20 litres to start with.
We both wash some clothes and string them out to dry. I think Fred might have preferred we’d kept on going tonight but isn’t saying anything. But I think if we’d gone around Cape Croker tonight it would have been pretty bumpy and we might have even run into one of the storm cells so frequent this time of year. We can do day runs from now on. Anyway, it’s nice to be able to just relax for a while on a motionless boat without the motor running.
Evening: Make a cook up of tinned tuna, pasta and packet mix, followed by tinned apricot halves and creamed rice. Have a welcome bucket wash of saltwater rinsed with fresh water followed by a hot cup of Milo. Too tired to watch a movie so go to bed early.
Bashing It Home
|Map 26 – Final leg home showing location of storms|
Bashing It Home
0415: Raise the anchor and get under way heading west for the top of Valentia Island. The intention is to transit under Croker Island and head up through the Bowen Strait. The tide is expected to turn in an hours time but can’t be sure what it will be at the entrance to the strait 15 miles away. Ideally we want to be able to use as much of the ebb tide as possible to get up through there.
0600: Sun comes up behind in a beautiful red ball over Valentia Island, reflecting prettily on a few isolated separate clouds above it.
0715: Easy run across to Bowen Strait as we approach the entrance. Hot. Sunny. Weather forecast indicates a possible break in the weather for this area from next Monday, although they’ve been predicting isolated storms for this region all the way home from here. Seas flat. Hazy.
0810: It’s straight forward navigation through the narrow channel provided a close eye is kept on position and the depth sounder. Talk to Ken at the Alice Springs base on the HF radio to tell him we’re now inside Bowen Strait and hope to anchor tonight in Port Essington. He offers to phone the news to Delma so I thank him to do that. No doubt Delma will pass the message to Beth. We’re getting 6 kts of tidal push here so the tides are working well for us. There’s an occasional puff of wind from the N and NE which helps slightly too.
1000: Clear of most of the strait near the narrow channel at the northern end. Set a course NNW towards Danger Point then make a turn west towards Port Essington.
1015: Clear of Bowen Strait. During the whole of the transit we only had to take the auto-pilot off twice to hand steer the boat and look for deeper water. It was just a matter of going from one side of the channel to the other and watching the sounder to find out where the deepest water was. It’s getting very hot with almost no breeze. Shake the mainsail out to full though there’s nothing to fill it. The boat remains level and the flag hangs limply in the heat, but we’re making good time.
1415: Excellent run across the top of the Cobourg Peninsula at around 6 kts with the tide behind us all the way. It’s still going strong ebbing westerly as we turn the corner around Smith Point and into Port Essington.
1530: Drop the anchor down and turn the motor off in 4.5 metres depth at Port Essington. Wind is gusting a little bit. Tide tables seem to be wrong. There’s supposed to be a tide variation one hour 46 mins before High Water Darwin. It should in theory be flooding in but looks awfully like the tide is ebbing.
Port Essington: Total log 1676 nm. Log Gove to Port Essington 327 nm.
1600: Work out the tide runs for the next leg. Still not sure if the tide tables are correct but hope they are. If so we should have a full ebb tide leaving Port Essington tomorrow morning. That should put us into Dundas Strait off Cape Don before the northerly sea breezes come in to stand the water up on us. With luck we’ll get to Cobham Bay before dark to anchor up for the night.
Evening: Usual activities. Prepare for tomorrow. Listen to weather forecast still predicting isolated storms but with increased winds up to 50 kts in Darwin Harbour and up to Cape Don tomorrow. Bit scary. Have dinner. Watch a movie. Early to bed.
0420: Anchor up and away. Fred says he hasn’t seen a single lightning flash to the west during the night. Conditions are calm with a small breeze from NW. The high tide is now ebbing. Good. Start heading northerly to clear Vashon Point before turning west which should take a couple of hours.
0810: Approaching Arraru Point with Trepang Bay behind us. Our next turn will be at Lingi Point visible in the distance ahead. Tide starting to turn but we’re still getting over 4 kts with revs bumped up to 1600 rpm. Full mainsail raised but no wind. A dolphin comes in to visit from the starboard side and swims just in front of the bow for a while, but not long enough for us to fetch a camera. Water is perfectly clear and we can see the animal in fine detail just under the surface. Occasionally it turns to the side to look up and Fred and I. A beautiful moment.
Contact Alice Springs base on HF Radio. Ken hadn’t been able to get a message through to Delma yesterday and has been waiting to hear from us today. Pass our present position and tell him we hope to be in Darwin early tomorrow.
1030: Speed dropped to just over 2 kts over the last couple of hours but is slowly building to around 2.7 kts. A fawn coloured sea snake under 2 metres with black spots on its back slips by alongside the starboard side. It has an extended bloated bulge in the middle so has eaten something recently. Off Popham Bay a blue and white stink boat passes by going the other way. Cape Don lighthouse is visible ahead. Seas are still green with only a little chop but no whitecaps. Quite good at the moment actually.
1500: Tide turning and we’re well across the entrance to Dundas Strait approaching Melville Island.
1530: Full benefit of tide pushing us up to 8.1 kts. Going for it.
1700: We still have about 4 hours of tide running with us, but I’m not happy with continuing overnight with the forecast of storms. Have been discussing our options with Fred at some length, finally deciding to anchor tonight at Cobham Bay. As a compromise we’ll get up early in the morning and make a start.
1830: On approaching our intended anchorage there’s a commercial fishing boat sitting where we want to go. Work our way further into the bay looking for an alternative spot but it’s too deep and a bit more exposed. Head back to the eastern side of Camp Point and by this time the other boat is preparing to move. Find a spot in 5.5 metres of water at the head of a nice small beach. Anchor up behind Cape Keith off Camp Point. As dusk comes on, the fishing boat gets underway and heads off towards the SW following the Melville Island coast.
Camp Point: Posn 11.36.729S – 131.26.171E. Covered 67.7 miles today.
Wind is from the NNW and we’re both a bit worried about a nasty looking cloud bank sitting out that way. It stretches from the west with the sun going down all the way to the southern horizon. It’s likely to cross over us later tonight and with winds being forecast up to 50 kts there is some cause for concern. Decide one of us will get up every hour to check what’s happening.
I’m not entirely confident that even having two anchors out will hold in that sort of wind. If it hits us the wrong way we could be washed ashore so in that case we’d be better off heading out to sea. That’s all very well except Cobham Bay is guarded to seaward by extensive reefs. We work out two “bug out” courses and put some waypoints into the GPS. If we do get hit with something nasty we’ll have at least two options to get away, hopefully out to sea away from the hard bits.
1930: Simple dinner for tonight of baked beans on toast. Do the usual checks. Relax in the cockpit enjoying a Cafe Latté. We see one lightning flash from the cloud bank to the west but otherwise it doesn’t seem very active. Hard to say which way the clouds are moving. Just hope its not northerly since it’s a bit blacker to the south of us. If it comes from that way it’ll put us on a lee shore.
2200: Get up every hour to check what’s happening. Those dark clouds immediately to the south have dissipated somewhat, but the lightning is bright and active in a large black cloud bank behind and it’s getting closer. The wind has turned and blowing straight into our anchorage causing Lowana IV to pitch and wander around to her anchor. Stay up for a while to see what it does and which way it’s going.
Unlash the bigger 65lb Danforth anchor from the bow rail and pull out extra chain and rope. Lay it all out in the dinghy ready to deploy straight over the side if we need to urgently get more claws into the ground to keep us in position. At the moment there’s no sign of any jerking or rattling on the anchor chain to give me cause for concern, but it’s best to be ready.
Fred stations himself in a half reclined position in the cockpit while I try to get some rest in the forward berth where I can listen to the anchor chain. From here the sounds of the chain are magnified through the steel hull and I can tell immediately if the boat starts jerking or the anchor starts to drag. Not much hope of getting any sleep though.
2300: The wind is blowing strong, gusting hard and sending shivers through the boat. There’s a rattle somewhere in or about the mast sending a metallic tattoo of noise, matched in cadence with the waves as they march under the hull. Annoying as it is, it’s helping to stop me from falling into a deep sleep. Not that there’d be much chance of that anyway.
Dark clouds surround the horizon through the west, south and east. The NW sector is relatively clear. A particularly nasty looking storm cell is flashing out towards the NE further out in the gulf. That’s right where we would have been had we elected to keep going and follow the main shipping channel. We’d actually discussed doing just that when we first entered Dundas Strait this afternoon. Can also see numerous small but bright flashes on the horizon to the SE, the direction towards home. Looks to me that no matter which route we’d taken, if we’d decided to continue on overnight we would have ended up running into one of those storms. Getting home at this time of year is a bit like picking your way through a minefield of storms.
0100 Weather has eased leaving waves slopping into bay but the main threat seems to have gone. Fred is hardly stirring. He’s been sitting half awake all night. Tell him we can spare another hour and go back to bed.
0200: Get up and turn on the cabin lights. Fred’s up too. Prepare for sea. Put on a hot cup of tea. Anchor comes up clean.
0230: Underway. We can’t head out to the open sea through a passage in the reefs because there’s a storm cell blocking that exit. Start heading along the coast. We haven’t gone far when another storm cell sweeps in from the north moving across the area we’d just left. Am very thankful about that because it looks particularly nasty with severe lightning. A big black cloud sits off to our front and right stretching from the SE to north. Nasty looking with jagged bits of lightning in them too. Not able to get much more than 2.5 to 3 kts against wind and waves. Fred’s really beat so send him to bed on a mattress laid on the saloon floor downstairs. Boat yawing about but we’re making ground okay all things considered.
0330: Conditions deteriorate badly for the next hour. The storm system is close, very close just off our starboard side and sucking every bit of air it can into itself from the SW, the direction that we want to go. The whole of the coast that we can see seems to be enveloped in serious lightning. Nasty. The wind howls and hard waves bash against the boat constantly. The usually dependable autopilot can’t maintain anywhere near a straight line and Lowana IV wobbles along on a dogleg course. The wind and waves sometimes dominate the boat, sometimes pushing her to one side up to 90 degrees off course before she can regain control and start driving back into it.
The wind begins to shriek and bigger waves hit us head on and slamming against the hull. The poor little autopilot grunts and groans until with a high pitched alarm finally locks up and goes into standby mode. Lowana IV simply can’t maintain direction even with the tiller pushed over as far as it will go. It has to be disconnected from the tiller and the boat brought back manually on course. From here on one of us will have to hand steer.
0400: The tide turns and starts to run with us. Conditions ease a little as we slowly manage to move away from the storm cell, only to find another one. It’s also just to the right over the nearby land and it too, is sucking strong winds into itself. Eventually we manage to start getting past it only to find another, then another. Each of these are sitting over the coast to our right, creating strong headwinds with heavy seas to bash into us as they suck in air from the SE.
There is a constant strong dank smell on the wind from the land. Smells of rain and something else, like mould or rotting vegetation. All we can do is persevere, push on and hope we don’t get hit directly, but it’s getting blacker and blacker right across the horizon in front of us. Unfortunately we’re locked into this course, hemmed in by extensive shoals and reefs closing off any escape to open water off to port and the coast of Melville Island close off to starboard with more extensive reefs systems. And there’s still several miles to go before we can choose which of two routes to take through the Vernon Island, either via the North Channel or via the main shipping channel past Cape Hotham.
0430: The white steaming light of another vessel appears ahead coming this way. Both the red and green navigation lights soon become visible to tell me its heading directly at us. Call the boat on the radio but there’s no response. Call several more times but no response. Alter course to port to try and get to one side of it, but with one eye on the depth sounder mindful of the ever closing reef systems out there. Judging by the very bright steaming light it’s under power and not a sailboat. Wait for a while and call the boat again. No response. Still getting red and green lights so move further out to port although the boat is still some distance off. Keep calling from time to time and eventually a man responds saying he’d just changed watch. Think to myself he’s certainly taken his time about it.
Arrange a green to green (starboard to starboard) passage and he says he’s onto it, but as both vessels close I keep seeing the red light, meaning he’s heading across my bow. If he keeps that course we’ll collide. Warn him several times on the radio but again no response. I’m starting to get into shallower water as I keep manoeuvring to stay outside of him. Hard to tell distances with the naked eye at night but at about 200 metres or so he finally alters course until I can finally see his green light. At last I can straighten up and get past him.
Suppress my irritation to make a remark that it’s a rough ol’ night for him to be making a passage against the tide. He says he’s heading for Croker Island, adding that he’s doing 5 kts and being bucked around in his wheelhouse. Like us he doesn’t have a radar to give him a proximity alarm if another vessel comes near. The fellow seems to be friendly enough and we exchange a few more pleasantries as the distance between slowly lengthens.
0500: The tide run has strengthened to put us at 5 kts over the ground. First brightening of the sky shows the whole quadrant of the sky from east to west is bracketed by low lying and black clouds. Doesn’t look good. Waves are still thumping in from the SW but the wind is very slowly starting to abate.
0530: Fred gets up but hasn’t been able to sleep very well in the uncomfortable conditions. Says he has a slightly sore shoulder from being bumped against the wall. The sky to our front is still blocked but seems to be clearing over the port bow. Nothing else for it but to keep going and wait to see what happens.
0600: Relieved to see the sky is definitely clearing to our front. The VHF radio later crackles to life with a broadcast from Coast Radio Darwin warning of a severe thunderstorm later this afternoon or early tonight. It’s expected to cause damage but hopefully we’ll be in Darwin before it hits.
0725: Reach the waypoint off Beagle Shoal where we have a choice of routes. If could go southerly across the gulf towards Cape Hotham we’ll be going directly into the wind. If we head for the North Channel we’ll need to stay on this same course but the navigation will get tighter through the reefs there. Turn into the wind to test progress and drop down to 2.2 kts against the wind and waves. Decide to take the northern route and in any event it’s 6 miles shorter.
While fiddling around with the mainsail I manage to lose control of the main halyard and it spins away to wrap itself high up around the mast. It’s going to have to be retrieved. And there’s another little job to do. During the night the radar reflector had broken loose and has been banging about against the mast and has to be cut down. It’s not going to be an easy job climbing the mast up to the crosstrees with the boat rocking hard in the lingering waves.
I prepare to climb the mast but Fred says he should do it. I maintain it’s my responsibility and I can’t ask him to take the risk. He responds that if I get hurt or lost overboard then he’d have to manage the boat and he doesn’t know all the systems and gear as well as I do. He argues that it would be easier for me to look after him and get him home than the other way around. Have to grudgingly accept that. Fred dons a safety harness and climbs the mast with me holding a safety line around a winch. It’s difficult for him to hang onto the gyrating mast, but he manages to cut the remaining ropes holding the radar reflector and lower it with another rope to the deck. He then collects the wayward halyard and begins the climb back down to the deck, bringing the halyard with him. Impressive work Fred! Good job!
With Fred safely back on deck we put up the mainsail with 2 reefs in it and resume our course towards the North Channel initially at about 3.3 kts but which slowly increases.
1000: Conditions continue to ease. Seas flatten and the wind dies down so we start to make some very good time with the push of the tide. I’m feeling buggared so get into bed while Fred takes watch, but I can’t sleep and get back up.
1100: Passing through the North Channel at 7.7 kts making excellent time, well in advance of what we’d anticipated through here. Nice to have something working with us for a change.
1200: Current still racing and takes us with it as we start to clear the North Channel. Speed has peaked several times over 9 kts to a maximum of 9.3 kts. Hadn’t expected to get clear of here until around 3:00 pm or so. The day has cleared and it’s hot. Not much wind but the little bit available is now coming from the SE.
1430: On course for Darwin Harbour charging along at over 6 kts still. The Royal Darwin Hospital landmark juts above the skyline off the port bow and we’re once more into mobile phone range. Call Delma to tell her we’ll be arriving between 5 and 6 pm at the Tipperary Marina lock. Call Peter the Lockmaster at the marina to arrange a berth and access through the lock. Fred calls Beth.
1600: Still getting good speeds around 6 kts as we pick up successive flood tide changes approaching Darwin Harbour. Running with a flood tide into the harbour.
1630: Inside Darwin Harbour and ease the throttle to idle. Still getting more than 4 kts down the harbour but there’s no hurry. We need time for the tide to rise a bit more in Sadgroves Creek so we can get into the marina.
1700: Arrive outside the marina to find the lock gates already open and waiting. Beth and Karen are standing on the rocks at the head of the lock entrance waving madly. There can’t be much water over the lip of the lock entrance but there’s enough to allow us to get inside.
1730: Finish securing Lowana IV to the pontoon at our designated berth. Fred had cleaned the fridge earlier this afternoon so all that remains to do is grab some personal gear and lock up. Feel a pang as I usually do turning off each electronic item for the last time. Turn the motor off, close the seacocks and lock up the boat.
1800: Delma will be returning home from the Gold Coast tomorrow. Karen drives me home and later brings some takeaway food. She goes home fairly early so that I can get to bed for a good nights sleep, having been up now for most the night and day.
More than 500 lightning strikes were recorded with winds up to 110 kph the same night we arrived home in Darwin. From the safety of my home I went outside, looked at the vivid lightning, saw big trees being bent viciously in the wind and felt profound relief that we weren’t still out there. I also thanked whatever guardian angel looked over me that we’d taken the route along Melville Island rather than the main shipping channel. It had been rough but that system we’d seen from Cobham Bay further out into the Van Dieman Gulf had been large and a very active thunderstorm like this one.
Slept in until 0830 hrs the next day having decided to have an easy day. The plan was to leave the boat alone for a couple of days except to go down and collect all my clothes for washing. Had another sleep during the afternoon but still felt a bit jet-lagged. In fact it took a couple of days before I found my “land legs” again. Being used to the unstable platform of a boat I found myself rocking about while taking a shower.
In the early aftermath of arriving back home I’d decided to sell Lowana IV so my next moves were to pretty her up a bit and prepare a dossier sales file. The motor also needed to be stripped, checked, cleaned and re-assembled. The heavy plastic dinghy would most likely be easier to sell separately, and I could repair the rubber inflatable and put it on board as the ship’s dinghy instead.
Despite misgivings, the motor had continued to work well all the way from Weipa back to Darwin. In fact we motored or motor-sailed virtually the whole way and it never gave any real problems. While battling the winds and seas under Melville Island on that last night, I’d pushed the throttle up to 1700 rpm, a jump of 300 rpm more than my usual cruising speed. And on the trip from Gove to Darwin the motor speed had often been set at 1600 rpm so we made some very good time. Strangely enough we didn’t seem to need to add as much oil every 12 hours.
Fred knows his way around diesel motors and was never worried about the increase in rpm though it worried me. His adage, and one I’d heard from others was not to treat diesel motors tenderly but to make them work. Perhaps if I’d been using the higher engine speeds in the first place I might not have become so frustrated with the boat being so slow. Maybe I’d have had an entirely different trip, but would I have felt better about motoring into the regular SE winds on the East Coast? Probably not. I’m not a mechanic and I simply didn’t trust the motor not to fail at the worst possible moment.
As to my decision at Weipa to return home there wasn’t any particular single reason. Rather it was a collection of things but the primary ones were distrust of the motor, loneliness, constant anxiety and lack of enjoyment. I really did hate having to give it up but on the other hand, I did enjoy meeting cruising people of other boats. They are the salt of the earth – generous, friendly, helpful. Cruising is a wonderful lifestyle if only for the people you meet. There’s something in the human soul I think that craves companionship with like minded people.
As the year wound down to a close, my psychological condition deteriorated markedly to the point where I finally broke down. In an instant my world fell apart. I just couldn’t cope with anything. I just wanted to shrink into a tearful and shaking little ball. And I was forced to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be okay, that I couldn’t fix whatever it was and that as galling as the thought was, I needed help.
A psychological counsellor from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs got to the heart of the matter and I was diagnosed with severe depression and acute anxiety. I was relieved to learn that these monsters lived in the murky depths of the sub-conscious and operated totally independently of conscious thought, which explained why I couldn’t control it. Through my local doctor I was placed on a diet of anti-depressant tablets and the thought of being enslaved to this filled me with disgust, but in a strange way it was a relief to know what was wrong and to be doing something about it.
With my newfound knowledge about my condition I began to hope for a better future. Hope had been extinct. It was as alien a condition to me as any other positive emotion such as pleasure or anticipation or excitement. It had just not been possible to be able to associate any of these things in my mind, and to get hope back into my life was almost like a revelation. There had been no future but maybe now I didn’t need to sell Lowana IV after all? Maybe I could get past this and resume sailing again?
By the end of April 2005 I felt confidant enough to set forth and complete what I’d started the previous year, but this time just to get to the East Coast, rather than try to circumnavigate Australia. My confidence didn’t go that far. I advertised through the notice boards of the local sailing clubs for a crew member, and a lovely lady of about 30 or so introduced herself. She didn’t know anything about sailing but she had an adventurous spirit.
We set sail on this venture starting with a yacht race to the Tiwi Islands being conducted by one of the clubs. The idea was to travel anti-clockwise around the islands, up through Dundas Strait again past Cape Don and head west around to Snake Bay at the top of Melville Island. There were to be festivities to be held there relating to the first contact by the Dutch at the islands, so we’d get involved in that then start heading eastwards.
Unfortunately we hadn’t even got as far as the Vernon Islands and already we’d dropped back behind the entire field – all the old anxiety demons came back again. Finally the tiller-pilot failed and it was the last straw for me. The lady was not an experienced sailor and I didn’t want to physically steer the boat all the way, even with the lady’s help so we mutually agreed to turn back home. I think the lady by this time understood that I was having problems and was getting a bit uncomfortable with the idea anyway.
I was finally forced to acknowledge that I wasn’t going to be able to do any sailing, at least not for a good while and it was pointless holding onto Lowana IV. Towards the end of 2005 I’d sold her to a chap who immediately took her to the Philippines. Notwithstanding the work that had been done on the motor, he contacted me by email to say that he’d had to be towed and required a new set of piston rings. I sent these to him and never heard from him again. Apparently he returned to Australia the following year and sold Lowana IV to someone here in Darwin.
It’s a small world. The man’s lady partner approached me one day and introduced herself claiming to be a cousin. I’d never heard of her, or her branch of the family but what she told me of her family’s history was close enough to have made her claim true. My great-grandfather had travelled up north to Longreach following a row with his father, leaving behind siblings in Quenbeyan, NewSouth Wales. Seems this lady came from one of those branches.
Apparently the boat was sold onto someone else and as at 2014 she’s still sitting on the hardstand at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht club. I look in on her from time to time. I understand she’s received a new motor and there’s often signs of additional work being done, but why she hasn’t been put back in the water I don’t know.
Lowana IV has a commendable history being built in 1979 at Whangarei in New Zealand, sailed to Australia and has been to Papua New Guinea and out into the Coral Sea before I acquired her. With me she made numerous trips across the top of the Northern Territory, over to Western Australia and internationally over to Indonesia. It’s kind of sad to see her just sitting there and I sometimes muse about whether I would have her back. But no. As safe and sturdy as she was I just wouldn’t be able to live with her again.
Four years later in 2009 I joined another boat Jenzminc VI at Finike in Turkey. All up there was a crew of 3 of us including the skipper. We sailed from Turkey, through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to Salalah in Oman where I left the boat.
That trip was full of historical interest and included visits to ancient sites, towns and cities in Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and Oman. Anxiety was not a problem for me, even though the trip had it’s moments like a storm in the Red Sea, getting shot at by Yemeni soldiers, scooting along “pirate alley” and hard seas in the Gulf of Arabia.
But that is another story.