Sharks, Snakes and Ruff Seas

Thurs 30/5/01

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

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

Cruising Note: Engine hours at 930.

map 2 outward leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri 1/6/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sat 2/6/01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Once inside the entrance I turn the motor on, Delma swings the boat up into the wind and I start taking down sails.  The Coral Princess continues to wait patiently.  It must be visiting the King George River and has a load of tourists on board, some of whom give us a wave when we start to motor further into the bay. Well done Coral Princess – certainly appreciate the good seamanship and consideration for a small sailing vessel.

It’s still a bit blowy inside the bay which is relatively protected by cliffs. Start taking soundings and prepare to anchor in a little cove just inside the entrance on the eastern side.
011 koolama anchorageRight: The headland at left is the NE point of Koolama Bay, at the head of the King George River. Behind it is a little sandy beach and an anchorage which is sheltered from easterly winds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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