A photo-journal of a sailing voyage from Darwin to the King George River and Napier Broome Bay in Western Australia
Since doing a trip to the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia to the north of Darwin in 1998, Lowana IV has filled her time having to be content with local Wet Season races, day sails in Darwin or Bynoe Harbour to the west, and a short trip to Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula being an overnight sail to the north-west of Darwin .
The improvements and preparation for another major trip has been extensive over the last couple of years. There’s a roller-furler fitted to the headstay so that sail changes no longer need to done manually. New floorboards have been installed down below. Swinging gates have been mounted into the side rails adjacent to the cockpit, each fitted with a lifering and a weighted throw rope. Additionally an access hatch has been installed into the floor of the cockpit to make it easier to get down behind the motor, and large storage shelves have also been put down there aft of the engine. Previously bolted side rails are now welded to the hull, and a mounting on the bow rails now holds the heavy danforth anchor.
Plus an inflatable dinghy has been acquired, along with new cockpit awnings, a cockpit sail shade and a new Navico tiller autopilot added to the inventory.
It’s time my wife Delma and I take a good break from work. Having been to the King George River in WA I’m keen to show her the majesty of the place, plus explore a bit further west into the fabulous Kimberley Coast. So that’s where we’ll go – just the two of us. Early June would probably be the best time. There is always a chance of a late cyclone in May and the waterfalls at the King George River should still be running.
But even with all the work that’s already taken place there’s always something else to be done. Among other things I want to check the state of the antifouling on the hull. A different brand of anti-fouling paint had been professionally spray painted onto the hull last year and I want to see if it’s been effective.
At the same time I’d hired a marine consultant anodic protection of the hull. Basically this means that lumps of metal called anodes are placed at strategic points on a steel hull. Over time they are supposed to erode away instead of the steel hull itself, thus they are commonly called sacrificial anodes. Following the advice he’d given me, several anodes had been attached to metal studs welded to the hull at various places.
On the Poles
Catch the high morning tide to take Lowana IV onto the careening poles at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club – DBCYC. Along with the antifouling, I’m also really curious to see if the anodes are doing their job …. or not. All being well I should only have to wipe off a bit of slime from the hull and I shouldn’t have to replace any anodes, at least not for another year or so.
As soon as the tide goes out enough to reveal the hull I can straight away see some very disappointing problems. There are large areas of small rust bubbles breaking through the paint. Fist sized flakes of paint are coming off the hull around the anode connections – bugger!
The painter comes down in a day or so to take a look. After some discussion he agrees to supply the paint and redo the job at his cost, if I pay the haul-out and yard costs.
The marine consultant also comes down eventually. He’s non-committal but suggests the anodes have been placed in the wrong places … really? I point out to him that they’d been installed and placed according to his advice. He finally admits he doesn’t really know what’s causing the problem and agrees to do more testing once Lowana IV is taken back out onto a mooring in the harbour.
It’s work I hadn’t expected to have to do but it’s time to start repairing the damage. With a large degree of reluctance I begin the awful, tedious and awkward job of grinding away the problem areas of flaky, toxic paint and rust bits. It takes several days with the tide limiting the amount of time I can actually do any work on the hull. Every day it’s hard to get motivated but I find that once work is underway the job progresses smoothly enough … even if it is accompanied with a bit of sotto voce cussing.
Finally all the problem areas are primed and treated with 2 coats of epoxy sealer, then covered with several coats of hand painted antifouling paint. A job I was only too glad to see completed.
During this process there were times such as a high tide or when circumstances allowed, that I could turn my attention to something else. Another issue has been a persistent oil leak from the motor. Mechanic Finn Campbell identifies the problem as a failed gasket seal between the gearbox and the motor. Not an easy or cheap fix. Lucky me.
While he’s there I ask Finn to take off the head and inspect the cylinders and general condition of motor insides. The report is good. No undue corrosion or wear anywhere and the motor is actually in quite good shape. A relief considering there’d been 3 days where saltwater had sat undetected in one of the cylinders a couple of years ago.
The gearbox is removed. All is in order inside here as well which is also good news. Finn finally manages to replace the leaking seal and re-attach the gearbox to the motor.
Time to look at the ship’s radios. The VHF radio won’t show the selected channel and the squelch – which dampens the background noise, doesn’t turn off. It’s not economically repairable so I get a new one. The HF radio tunes up okay but can’t receive any transmissions. Deadly silent. It turns out this is repairable and I also buy a new speaker and hand microphone for it.
One fairly small job that has been waiting for a while to get done is to check the anode in the homemade refrigeration cooling condenser. This is just a largish PVC cylinder lined with coiled copper tubing inside. The copper tubes carry the refrigerant gas for the freezer and fridge and can get quite hot, so raw seawater that is keeping the motor cool is also used to cool the tubes and carry away the refrigerant heat.
The cap comes off the end easily enough and am surprised to find quite a bit of mud inside. All the copper coils look okay but the anode definitely has to be replaced, as well as the electrical ground strap. While soldering connections on the strap I manage to burn the same finger that got zapped by the grinder a couple of days ago – unmentionables.
Turn my attention to a newly obtained, though old inflatable dinghy which needs repairs. The floor had been torn off during the last Wet Season when carrying a 9kg propane gas bottle in heavy surf. The hard rubber mount supporting a straddle seat for rowing has also come off and needs to be re-glued. This is not a job that just means slapping some glue down. It requires careful preparation and proper materials, but with as much advice as I can get I manage to reattach the bottom and the seat mount. A carpenter friend also makes a slat timber floorboard to support heavier objects, and fashions another straddle seat to replace the worn, cracked one.
The trusty – though old small fibreglass dinghy also needs some attention with a worn keel and large crack on the side. Someone had used it as a step when it had been up on the foredeck. Fashioned and attached an aluminium strip along the rubbing keel and repaired the crack with several coats of fibreglass. Sanded it all back and finished the job with a couple paints of paint. All looked pretty good once it was done.
Last but not least has been a persistent rattle coming from the stern area. Carefully check the rudder pintle (where the rudder is mounted on the hull) and find a small bit of movement there. To attack this job the whole rudder assembly has to come off. After a bit of thought and several unsuccessful attempts, a slim stainless metal sleeve is curled around the pin and the rudder put back in place. Hopefully this will stop it vibrating while under way.
It’s been a week of pretty solid work but today Lowana IV has to go back out into Sadgroves Creek. While waiting for Delma to show up I take down the two intermediate aft backstays. These will be taken away to a marine shop be shortened and converted to running backstays. Also grab the staysail which has become quite stretched and needs to be recut by the sailmaker.
When Lowana IV starts to float with the incoming tide, the mechanic comes down to do a final check on the motor. Everything works fine except that the temperature sender has to be replaced. Easy enough job for me to do though. Get a shock at the bill he gives me.
Delma arrives to help take the boat off the poles and move her over to the adjacent dockside. Lowana IV has no reverse steering. She has what is referred to as a starboard ‘walk’ i.e. the action of the propeller pulls the stern of the boat to the starboard side. However I’m used to it and can often manage it to advantage when moving the boat around in tight places.
Unfortunately the rudder rattles even more than before but at least I definitely know where it’s coming from. I can sort it out a bit later. Although it’s annoying I don’t think it’s going to cause any major problems for the time being. The whole rudder system is a poor design which will probably require major welding surgery to fix, but maybe I can try a putting a piece of plastic into the bracket or something to shut it up in the meantime.
The boat is a mess with gear everywhere – tools, paint stuff – you name it. The fresh water in the water tank has a bad taste. Another previous job had been cleaning out the tank. Some rust pits had to be welded and the interior of the tank had been painted with epoxy paint. The tank now needs to be drained and refilled. Also replace an inline carbon water filter to help minimise the taste and kill any bugs in the water.
Take the boat away from the dockside and anchor up nearby in Sadgroves Creek in front the DBCYC. Delma has a little practice using the dinghy with the outboard motor to bring us back to shore. She does a good job but by the time we get back to the loading pontoon I think she could probably do with a bit more practice.
For at least the next 24 hours Lowana IV needs to be left on her anchor away from other potential electrical interference from outside sources. The marine consultant will be then be coming out in a couple of days to test her for any stray electrolytic currents or galvanic corrosion.
MORE TO FOLLOW