Within a couple of days Martin introduced me to his flatmate Paul, who agreed to go with me and bring Lowana back to Darwin. True to his word, Martin also arranged a flight out to Black Point for both Paul and I with the regular mail run. I learned that Paul worked with the St. John Ambulance service, and I joked that his skills would come in handy if we had any more injuries on board.
The following weekend we boarded the plane, sharing the first leg of the flight with an elderly aboriginal man to the Cape Don lighthouse. When we arrived there, the man got off the plane to be greeted by several of his relatives. As soon as we took off again the pilot must have felt it was time for a joy-flight. He flew straight up into the air in a steep climb, then banked steeply and dove down to almost treetop level, before skimming across the water to the Black Point airstrip.
As we passed over the tourist huts I was relieved to catch a glimpse of Lowana sitting where I had left her. We didn’t waste much time on landing, delaying just long enough to go to the shop for some ice, and to show Paul the museum. Back on the boat I found everything to be in order and after doing my initial checks of the engine and rigging, raised the anchor and set off towards Darwin.
|Above: Park Ranger Station at left, jetty at centre, landing access beach behind.||Above: Black Point Museum. The Ranger Station office is inside here.|
The trip back was uneventful. We didn’t encounter any storms or even heavy winds. In fact we motor-sailed some of the way overnight due to the lack of wind. The next morning saw us still motor sailing in a light breeze within sight of Darwin Harbour. I’d just woken up and came on deck to relieve Paul on the tiller, so that he could catch a few winks. The early morning sun streamed down, the heat of the day was not yet upon us, and the available breeze was delightfully cool. The Royal Darwin Hospital jutting up above the horizon to the east was to be a prophetic omen.
|Above: Inside Lowana’s wheelhouse. She was also fitted with an external tiller out in the cockpit.||Above: Looking down from the companionway looking forward. Fridge/freezer at bottom left. Dinette table above that. To the right is the galley|
|Above: Looking forward from the galley. At left is the head (toilet). V-Berth at front.||Above: Looking aft. The galley is on the starboard side. Companionway leading up to the wheelhouse at right.|
When I took over the tiller, Paul said he’d join me in a hot cuppa before going to bed, and then went below to make some coffee. Soon after I heard a strangled cry come from the galley and looking down the companionway, I could see Paul standing there. I could not see his head because of the low ceiling, but the rest of his body was shaking and his hands were rigid, like claws held at about waist level.
I felt a thud in my chest and I called out but there was no response. He just stood there shaking. I wondered briefly if he was having a seizure of some kind. I quickly shoved the throttle to neutral, lashed the tiller, and ran below. Paul stood with his eyes shut and even as I watched, I saw the skin of his face blistering and peeling. He stood there seemingly incapable of speech as he struggled with the pain. A glance at the galley sink revealed the still steaming kettle sitting there. He’d been scalded somehow.
Suddenly Paul found his voice. “Get me some water, quick – as much as you can!” I led him outside into the cockpit where there was a cool breeze blowing, then grabbed two of the 20 litre water containers and upended them over his head. I then bolted downstairs again and got a soft towel and a bag of ice out of the refrigerator.
Back in the cockpit I made up an icepack and gave it to Paul to hold against his burns, then got another 20-litre drum of water ready. It was essential to get the heat out to prevent the burns getting worse. Paul couldn’t open his eyes. Even his eyelids were peeled. I was concerned about his eyes and hoped against hope that he hadn’t scalded the pupils and been blinded.
By now Paul could tell me what happened. He’d put the kettle on the stove with a whistle on the funnel to alert him when the kettle boiled. The whistle device had malfunctioned and effectively become a plug so that when Paul removed it, the steam exploded out of the kettle directly into his face. Oh, how I hoped he’d managed to close his eyes in time.
With my patient under control for the time being, I set about making a radiotelephone call through the local coastal radio station using the short range VHF radio. I called the Police and requested the Water Police be despatched with a paramedic on board to urgently evacuate Paul to the hospital. I gave them my current co-ordinates, plus my heading and estimated speed.
The boat was now sitting idly in the water with the sails flapping uselessly. I put the boat into gear and turned back towards our original course. The sails billowed once again and I pushed the throttle to maximum, before re-adjusting the trim of the sails to improve our speed. Before long we were charging along as fast as we could towards Darwin Harbour. It took about an hour before the Water Police vessel came in sight heading directly towards us. When they came near enough I put the motor into neutral and while we glided to a stop, dropped all the sails to the deck without bothering to gather them up.
When the 12-metre police vessel came alongside they threw a rope and I quickly tied us together with a temporary hitch. With a minimum of fuss two ambulance officers came aboard, collected Paul and guided him over to the other boat. Standing in the background was a photographer from the local paper taking photographs. Most likely he’d been monitoring the Police radio channels and hitched a ride out for the story. Without further ado, the police boat took off towards Darwin, leaving me once more alone on Lowana. I looked after them for a while as they disappeared into the distance, the boats bow-wave spraying high into the air. They certainly weren’t wasting any time.
Now I had time to reflect on things. I felt sorry for Paul and hoped he would be all right. I thought about Martin who probably still carried a lump on his forehead. Many sailors think that bad luck comes in threes and I tried not to think about what would come next. I was alone on the boat for only the second time, but this time I had a greater challenge. I had further to travel and I still needed to get the boat safely onto its mooring.
This was something I’d never had to do before by myself, and it filled me with apprehension. However when I approached the mooring rope, I managed to juggle the throttle against the strongly running tide correctly and picked up the floating line on the first pass before the tide took control. Lowana was secured without any problems. Bringing the boat in and getting onto the moorings without any crew done a lot for my confidence in handling the boat.
I learned later the ambulance officers inserted a drip and applied more ice packs to Paul’s burns. He was taken to Royal Darwin Hospital, where he was treated by doctors in the emergency ward and later released the same day. Thankfully, he had closed his eyes before the scalding water hit his face and his eyesight was saved. Over the next few weeks his face healed with barely a sign of any damage.
As painful as it was for Martin and Paul, the two incidents on the Cobourg trip created an appreciation for safety issues that have lasted ever since. Safety briefings became the norm every time people came on board. Occasionally someone would sit with a resigned look on his or her face, but I made sure they understood where the safety equipment was, how to use it and what to do if someone went overboard. And I took particular care to caution them about the mainsail boom – and handling hot kettles in the galley!