Anchoring is a Bitch

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map 5 cape talbot

Fri 8/6/01

Overnight swells continue all night. Fairly uncomfortable anchorage but at least it provides a convenient jump off to get around Cape Londonderry, around the extended reefs across the top of the peninsula to Cape Talbot and Napier Broome Bay to the west. Delma hasn’t slept much but I’m told I slept soundly, though I wouldn’t have thought so.

0645 hours: Pre-dawn and the sun still not up. Early start for the run today. Feeling a bit stiff. Have a relaxed cuppa. Check motor oils. Still draining from the gearbox into the main engine sump. No problem though. It’s all the same type of oil. Suck out some excess oil out of the main sump into a container and use it to top up the oil in the gearbox.

0720 hours: Sun comes up over the low hills. They’re supposed to be cliffs according to one pilot book description. Turn motor on and the ammeter gauge works properly which is satisfying to see. Pull up the anchor. No mud here. The chain is clean all the way so must be a sandy bottom. Good to know these things for selection of the right anchor in rough weather. If I come back this way I’ll change to the danforth anchor as it holds better in sand.

My anchor inventory is a 35 lb plough, a 60lb danforth and a reef or grapple anchor. Wish I had more but I don’t.

0820 hours: On our way nosing carefully out of the anchorage towards the open sea and taking soundings as we go. Easy nonetheless. Lovely day again. Cloudless, seas slight swells with rippled surface. Not much breeze yet.

0840 hours: Clear of the rocks guarding the north and south entrances to the bay, turn left NNW towards Cape Londonderry.

0930 hours: The sumlog reads 5 kts of water speed and the GPS is reading 7 to 7.5 kts ground speed. Means we’re getting up to 2.5 kts of current helping to push us along. We’re about 1.5 miles from our waypoint off the Stewart Islands, which are two small islands off Cape Londonderry and mark the turning point around the cape. It’s a very reefy area and we’ll have to go out a long way to get around this cape.

There are long, low swells coming through from the SE. Not much breeze but raise the still reefed mainsail to help steady the boat from rocking in the swells. Cloudless sky. Sun starting to bite. Put on my Arafat hat with its protective flap at the back to protect my ears and neck. They’re fairly sensitive since being sun damaged on a previous trip to the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia.

0940 hours: Water is calm though very disturbed with an upwash from surrounding underwater reef areas, swirling around a bit. Just giving ourselves a bit more clearance around the islands. Don’t want to be washed onto them by a sudden hard current. Cape Londonderry would have to be a nasty place if there were rough weather here. Almost at the waypoint. Have been getting up to 8.5 kts which is really good considering the hull speed is just 5 kts.

0945 hours: Make our turn heading WSW. This area is a kind of meeting place of tidal runs, and as expected the seas get quite choppy to weather as we turn. The wind has swung to the SSW building and pushing the waves head-on to us. Still doing 7 kts over the ground but it’s very bumpy as we pitch up and down through the bumpy seas.

1045 hours: Take the reefs out of the mainsail and also put up the staysail. Get over 6 kts motor-sailing. There’s about 6 miles to go before our next turn around Cape Talbot and into Napier Broome Bay. Weather is beautiful. Cloudless still. A little cooling breeze has sprung up with sufficient strength to make the flag try and stand out most of the time. Really nice. Would try to sail but I don’t want the tide to change against us in this area. Wind has swung around to the SSE and helping for a change.

1140 hours: Next to last turn to port before we make our final run at the northernmost anchorage at Cape Talbot. Come onto a beam reach and the boat jumps to 6 to 6.5 kts. Late afternoon winds kick in.  We’ve just about beaten them which is what I was trying to do. Heading SW with 3 miles to go before the last turn.

1215 hours: Almost on the last waypoint. Call the small mining community at Troughton Island on VHF radio trying to contact a friend there. No answer. Coastwatch aircraft call us, polite as always wanting to know who we are and what we’re doing. They offer to contact Troughton for us but no thanks. It isn’t urgent – just a social call. Coastwatch wish us well and say they’ll probably see us again over the next couple of weeks.

1220 hours: Make the turn into our intended anchorage. Seas are now flat in behind the lee of the land. Not much wind. Flag barely flapping. Lovely. Bit warm though. Close with the land and check out the northern anchorage.

Once again there is much contradiction between the information in the 3 pilot books I have on board. What might be defined for example as a ‘sandy beach bounded by rocks’ might be anywhere from 50m to half a mile long, since the drawings are not to scale. Can’t say I’m particular happy with this first anchorage area so go looking for another spot.

028 checking chartRight: Checking the chart

1435 hours: Finally find a likely looking place at the mouth of a small creek with a sand beach 2 miles further south. There are sand dunes and rocks to the north and south of the beach.  Delma’s choice of a spot to anchor is near some ‘pretty’ rocks which look a bit like stone ruins from a distance. No rocks look particular pretty to me when I’m considering an anchorage. Onshore there’s lots of blackboy trees, crows and even butterflies flying around. Unfortunately the depth is too deep for this spot so it has to be skipper’s choice.

Pick another area and circle around taking soundings and looking for possible underwater obstructions. Drop the anchor in position 13 degrees 50.54’S, 126 degrees 45.98’E in 4m over weed and sand with some of the weed standing up over a metre from the bottom. The tide will be running just under 3m tonight so we should have a minimum of 1m under the keel which should be enough. Let the motor run while the boat settles to her anchor before selecting reverse gear and digging it in. Keep a careful check of our position on the GPS while doing this but the boat is not moving.
029 cape talbot
Left: Cape Talbot anchorage

1530 hours: Get the inflatable dinghy out and pump it up. Go ashore for a little walk but don’t see any sign of oysters. There’s a little brackish creek which doesn’t hold our interest for long. Check out the ‘pretty’ rocks.

Lots of outlying rocks scattered around at different depths in the sea as we head north in the inflatable. Motor around for a while to check them out. Most will be submerged at high tide and invisible at night. The tide is going out right now. Check out the previously selected northern anchorage site more closely but don’t actually go ashore. Nearly out of fuel so return to Lowana IV.

Refuel the outboard then go back ashore nearby for another wander around. All rocks now exposed by the outgoing tide. Delma finds the oysters. Tell her to watch her footing as the large rocks are slippery. Words hardly out of my mouth when she slips and falls right on her bum. There’s virtually no tread left on her sandshoes. Luckily she isn’t hurt and just sits there for a moment chuckling to herself.

Spend the next hour cracking and eating oysters. The oysters aren’t particularly large but certainly big enough to make it worth the effort. Beautiful! Lowana IV looks a pretty sight as she sits in the gathering dusk as we return back toward her in the dinghy.

030 cape talbot sunsetRight: Lowana IV at dusk on anchor at Cape Talbot

1900 hours: Get a bucket, shampoo, towel and fresh clothes out. A bit chilly having a bucket wash when the cool night breeze is blowing. The bucket handle breaks and it starts to drift away. Don’t have a boat hook to retrieve it because it had been stolen and not noticed until we’d left Darwin. I had nothing except my legs to reach it but on trying, only manage to push it further away. Goodbye bucket!  In the meantime Delma had also reacted at the sudden loss of the bucket, slipped and fell into the cockpit adding to her collection of bruises.

1930 hours: As expected there’s only 1.1m under the keel. Another low tide tonight but it will be .20m higher than last night so should be all right. Notice a big rock by itself now exposed by the tide and sticking up further out due west. Will have to avoid that on the way out so take a compass bearing on it.

2000 hours: Tide should have changed by now but no difference yet. I’m a bit disturbed that we’re being pushed around too much towards the beach as the tide comes in. There’s always the possibility of adverse winds and being stranded on the beach on the low tide tomorrow.

Decide to put out a stern anchor to stop us being pushed into the shore. The plan is to drop back on the main anchor and pay out the chain as we go. When back far enough the danforth anchor is to be dropped. We’ll ten motor forward while paying out the stern anchor rope and re-secure ourselves back onto the main anchor again.

It’s a good enough plan and have done it plenty of times before. Set up the stern anchor ready to drop and with the anchor rode ready to pay out. Delma is in the cockpit watching the depth sounder while I take up position at the anchor winch.

Start to let out the main anchor chain with Delma calling the depth. Suddenly I can hear and feel the main anchor dragging! Damn! Delma calls depth 0.8m. Even as I realise there is not enough water under us there is a thunk and a judder through the boat as the keel hits the rocks. Going by the way we’re lying to the anchor chain we’ve been swept to the southern side of the bay, where it’s dangerously shoal and rocky. I’d underestimated the strength of the current in here.

Call to Delma to throw the tiller hard to starboard and motor forward with low revs to try and get us back out into deeper water. Hope to high hell we don’t hit an outcrop. Cast a furtive glance once again to the standby anchor ready by the port bow then furiously start winding in the anchor chain as we move up on it.

Delma starts calling depths again. Slowly we get 1.5m then 1.7m but I can see submerged objects everywhere. It takes a moment before realising it’s just tall weeds and not rocks. Of course there’s still the danger of sucking the stuff into the raw seawater cooling intake and clogging it.

Throw the anchor again with the motor at idle. Lowana IV settles back onto the hook and thankfully it holds with 1.7m under the keel. We’re okay for the moment but I can no longer trust that the anchor is going to continue to hold us properly, especially if the wind picks up. I could put out another anchor but it might drag or even snag on something so I think it’s best if we just get out of here.

Pitch black outside. Full moon hasn’t risen yet. Decide to sit here and watch our position until we get some more water under us, then attempt to get out into deeper water without hitting that large rock we saw earlier. Just as well I’d taken a compass bearing on it while we still had some light.

Have our dinner of pork chops which Delma had cooked earlier while waiting for the tide. Don’t really feel like it and can’t finish it. Notice a light off Cape Talbot which must be another vessel. Call it up on the radio and surprisingly we get an answer. It’s the fishing boat Christine. Let him know we will be attempting to get out of our anchorage and there might be a possibility of grounding. He tells us he isn’t going anywhere for a while anyway.

If we make it our plan will be to return to the waypoint I’d entered earlier today at the first anchorage. Having checked it earlier I knew it was clear of obstacles in the swinging circle to the anchor. And being about 8m of water  it will give me an anchor scope of 6:1 chain length to water depth ratio.  I’ve only got 50m of chain and if the water gets any deeper I’m not sure whether the anchor will be able to hold position if the wind or currents get stronger. And this is not a good place to be if the anchor does drag with reef laying close by to the north and south of the little bay. But if it comes to the worst, we’ll just have to push on for Mission Cove in the dark which will make it a long night for us.

While considering the situation and while waiting for more water to get under us we decide to set up a better anchoring system using 50m of nylon rope and 20m of 8mm chain. If we have to I will set my two anchors in tandem or else spread them at 90 degrees angle off the bow depending on the situation.

Late PM: Sounder shows 2m and its time to go. Deep breaths. Delma noses Lowana IV forward under motor while I again furiously winch the 50m of chain onboard. As the anchor clears the water it brings with it the biggest clump of weed ever seen. No wonder it had a hard time trying to dig into the ground down there – it couldn’t get down through the weeds! The best anchor here would be of the admiralty type but – none on board.

With the anchor up we turn 180 degrees hard to port and start heading out WNW on a calculated bearing to miss that isolated rock and clear the onshore fingers of other rocks jutting out. The trawler is still sitting stationary and this helps with visual navigation as we can use his lights out to starboard as a guide of progress as we head out. Depth drops reasonably soon to 2.2m then 2.5m and keeps dropping. Breathe a sigh of relief. We’re out of there without hitting anything. Start heading north towards the next anchorage. Call the trawler to let them know we’re clear with thanks for standing by. Not long that it heads off to parts unknown.

The incoming tide slows us down. It’s very late when we get to a position to make a safe turn towards the land. Sneak in on an easterly bearing of 079 degrees True using the GPS. Eventually we can faintly see some of the white beach framed between outcroppings of rocks on either side. These are a bit of a worry so extra care will be needed to stay exactly on our bearing line.

Sat 9/6/01

Approx 0100 hours: After what seems like ages we eventually find 7m of water and start circling looking for underwater obstacles. The shallowest area is 5.5m on the southern side. There’s no obstacles that we can see on the sounder so drop the anchor in 7.7m depth. The tide is really running quite fast and it’s difficult to set the pick, especially with a SE breeze holding us against the current. Delma gives a touch of reverse gear but this just causes the anchor to drag once more among the weeds. This is getting monotonous. Bide our time and just let Lowana IV settle herself. This takes ages before we try to set the hook again but the anchor refuses to dig in amongst the weeds.

Winch the anchor in  and head back offshore to find our bearing then come back in again. Drop the pick and this time let the boat take its own time. It eventually settles on the chain at an awkward angle but seems to be holding okay. Give a touch of reverse and according to the reading on the GPS holds us properly in the one place this time. Anchored in position 13 degrees 48.65S, 126 degrees 44.98’E.

0130 hours: By now we’re both feeling pretty bushed. Would like nothing better than to go to bed but I’m still a bit concerned about why the anchor keeps dragging. Decide to stay up for a while and watch to make sure we are holding.

The forward berth area is a bit higgledy piggledy where we’d been pulling out extra rope and chain from the lockers underneath the bunks. Delma tidies all that up and thoughtfully makes my bed for me before going to bed herself in the little quarter-berth where she can look outside and see the sky.

0200 hours: Relax in the cockpit. After all the action it’s now all calm and peaceful out there. Birds are calling on the shore and it’s a pretty scene, contrasting with the ominous sound of low surf running on the reefs and rocks nearby.  Even so the weather has been good to us and I’m thankful for the moonlight that’s now come up to be able to see things.

Do a final check of the second anchor with its rope and chain making sure it’s ready to throw out quickly if we need to. We haven’t moved on our main anchor at all so I am reasonably confident as I head off to bed myself after setting an anchor light. But I know I won’t sleep soundly.

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