Historic Pago

map 6 honeymoon bay and pago
Map: Mission Bay, Honeymoon Bay and Pago

Mon 11/6/01

0800 hours: The tide is right out and the day is very still. Only small ripples on the surface of the water. Quiet ashore. Watch a jabiru walking along the waters edge and three brolgas flying along the beach calling out.

1000 hours: Been busy. Have checked the fuel and water. Have used 85 litres of water and 90 litres of diesel since the start of this trip. Pretty good for the 11 days we’ve been away so far. Top up the main fuel and water tanks. o ashore and fill the empty water jerries with fresh water from the tap. Label them so they’ll only be used for washing or emergency drinking water.

Catch up with Paul in the workshop and make our farewells since we’ll be taking off soon for Pago in Mission Cove.  Back onboard Lowana IV the empty fuel jerries are stored down below in the aft engine area.  Rearrange the rest of the full containers so that their weight is evenly distributed around the boat.

1145 hours: Motor out of Honeymoon Bay. It’s hot and still . Water is like glass. Leave the big shade canopy up since we’re not going far.  See some fish feeding on the surface so Delma trails a lure but no luck. Round the spit of mangroves to the east and enter Mission Bay. Plenty of deep water. Identify the area where the original Pago Mission must have been and nose our way into Mission Cove.

1330 hours: Drop the anchor in 5m of water at position 14 degrees 07.03S, 126 degrees 42.76E. Anchor seems to drag a little at each new spot but it seems a little harder than usual to get it to dig in. Letting the boat settle for a while by itself seems to do the trick. Afternoon winds are kicking up.  It’s probably about 15 kts at the moment but small whitecaps are starting to appear in our little cove. NNE breezes.

1430 hours: Cloud cover building. Wind about the same. Water further  out in the bay the same. Wind comes in bursts rather than gusts. Cloud almost covers the sky with blue sky in patches. Both of us feel like a nap. GPS tells me we haven’t moved so secure the anchor chain to its bollard. Have lunch. Very glary. We decide we might stay a couple of days here.

A white helicopter comes over and circles the area of ruins before heading off towards the north.  Although the NE Kimberly region is in a pretty remote place tourism is alive and well.

1600 hours: Have a little read and a little nap. Put the rods and other fishing gear, spare fuel and water, camera and binoculars into the dinghy and head off to explore the old Pago Mission site. As we approach the barge landing we can clearly see the sand bottom and scattered small rocks in a bit of a metre of water. A stingray measuring about a metre across suddenly takes off leaving a swirl of sand.

The gap in the mangroves where the supply barge used to come ashore is still not overgrown.  The beach shoals very slowly and it’s all sand. Once on shore the first thing noticeable are the scores of old rusting 44 gallon drums lying around, mostly in clusters with others sitting in isolated groups in the nearby bush.

035 pago barge landingLeft: Pago Mission was founded by Benedictine Monks at Mission Cove. The cutting through the mangroves allowed barges to bring supplies to the mission.

There is scant information as to where the actual ruins are supposed to be. All we have is a rough mud-map and it’s not to scale. Wander around the immediate area but don’t find much. There is a 4WD bush track leading inland and further around towards Dominic Creek at the head of Mission Bay.

We follow the foreshore mangroves back northerly until we come across a little inlet, then turn easterly and start following that. We’ve been told there’s a big crocodile lives here, and it’s not long before we hear loud swishing noises a couple of times coming from the inlet. Decide it’s sensible to put a bit more distance between us and the water as we push on.

Eventually find the mission cemetery which is an area marked by broken posts and rusty wire.  In the middle of the cemetery is a rather large, rotting timber cross with a path bordered by stones leading to and around it.

036 graveyard crossRight: A large timber cross still stands in the middle of a square graveyard. The small rocks in the foreground form a path leading up to and around the cross. The wooden stumps of the surrounding fence also still remain.

In one corner is the gravestone of a Gunner Davies which is also marked in it’s own square patch by stones. He’d come ashore from HMAS Geranium that had been visiting the mission in 1920 and a crocodile had taken him. He’d been buried here and the monks had tended his grave faithfully until the mission was later further south the Kalumburu, which is now an Aboriginal community.

037 gravesite 038 gravestone
The gravesite of Gunner H. Davies who got taken by a crocodile. The site is located in a corner of the mission graveyard and neatly marked with a border of rocks. A closer look as the pre-cast concrete headstone.  It reads “I.M.S. in memory of Gunner R.H. Davies, HMAS Geranium Died Oct 1920”

After finding the graveyard we  head inland through the bush thinking that the old mission ruins must be nearby. After a couple of hundred metres we come across a cluster of galvanised iron huts alongside the 4wd bush track we’d seen earlier at the beach. This is the residence of the aboriginal traditional owner of the land consisting of a house, power plant, raised water tank and a small workshop.

Not finding the actual ruins of the old mission itself we decide to push on further up the track. We haven’t gone too far before we’re surprised to see two 4wd vehicles rocking and reeling as they head towards us down the track. Can hardly believe it. The occupants are a man and woman in each vehicle and they stop for a chat. Delma asks one of the ladies if she’s seen the ruins on the way in. She replies good naturedly that she’d refused to take her eyes off the road! Pretty rough road apparently.

We learn later that if we’d kept going just a little further we would have found the ruins. Apparently all that remains is just a concrete pad marked by two conspicuous palm trees -conspicuous because they’re not native to the area.

It’s starting towards dusk and will be dark soon so we call off our search and head back to the dinghy. It’s best to be off the beach and out on the water when the sun goes down with that big croc only a few hundred metres away.

Down at the beach the tide has gone out … and I mean right out. The water is a good 300m from where we’d left the dinghy.  We’re obliged to unload it, take off the outboard motor, then push, shove, pull and carry the dinghy through the soft sand to where it can be floated. It becomes a race against the quickly receding tide.

By the time we’ve managed this the water has receded at least another 25m or so. And by the time we’ve loaded everything back on again we have to go out another 100m before the dinghy can float freely. After much huffing and puffing we finally get into water deep enough to get into the dinghy and paddle away.

Dusk: The sun is dipping behind the low hills when we climb tired and relieved back onto Lowana IV  feeling very sweaty and smelly. But for now we just sit on the deck and have a cold drink and nibblies.

039 lowana at duskLeft: The sun sets on Lowana IV at Mission Cove. The other side of the spit of mangroves in the distance at left is Honeymoon Bay.

Looking back towards the inlet  the tide has drained out leaving nothing but sandbanks.  In the fading light a big crocodile moves on a sandbar then stops near an isolated mangrove tree. Put the binoculars onto him. He’s a big one at maybe over 5m.

A smaller one lays about a hundred yards or so further away on a sandbar. This one is maybe just under 4m. Assume this must be the big one’s mate.  They’re probably the reason for all the swishing noises we’d heard earlier. Normally crocodiles don’t make it a habit to announce their presence. They must have been either fighting or being very friendly. There’s no in between with these particular animals!  We’ll keep a lookout tonight. It’s likely the big fellow will come and check us out because we’re in his territory, but so long as we don’t get into the water we’ll be safe.

It’s nice and relaxing  in the cockpit. Both of us are stiff and sore but it’s time to get active and have a saltwater bucket bath. Follow this off with a rinse of the fresh bore water from Honeymoon Bay. It’s bloody heaven to feel properly clean again.

Fish for dinner. Barracouta cooked with flour and butter in a frypan and oven cooked vegetable wedges. Lovely!

2020 hours: It’s almost pitch black outside. A black smudge indicates the shore but nothing else can be seen. Plenty of animal life. Birds are calling and fish are popping on the water surface all around the boat. A torch beam creates severe splashing where ever it’s aimed. No sign of any pink eyes betraying the presence of crocodiles yet.

Delicious smell of cooking fish. Low tide is due to bottom out in around 20 minutes.

2200 hours: Too tired to wait for the moon and go to bed.

Tues 12/6/01

0830 hours: Late rise again. Pure decadence. Bay is like glass. Hot already. The sea and sky to the north blends seamlessly and it’s kind of weird not being able to see a horizon.

0900 hours: Paul calls on the radio and will be coming around to Mission Cove later. Tasha also calls to tells us they’re anchored at Cape Talbot after arriving there last night. It had been a bumpy ride for them yesterday around Cape Londonderry with the big winds and tides. Not surprised. They’ll probably stay up there for the day.

Delma is busy again. She’s cleaned out the fridge already and is now cooking a brekkie of bacon, eggs and pancakes.

Both of us seem to be hardening up well to the lifestyle after a couple of weeks.  You sometimes use muscles you wouldn’t otherwise have known existed. I sometimes think about the old maxim, “Use it or Lose It” and apply it to the cruising lifestyle. You certainly have to exercise both mind and body. It’s important to think about things carefully or you may face bad consequences, especially if you’re in a remote area or way out at sea somewhere. And you are likely to experience a range of emotions from fear to exultation.

Approx 1000 hours: Always has anchored about 100m off us and Paul comes over for a chat. Has a cuppa then later on some morning tea of soda bread and maple syrup. We watch as a 4WD Landcruiser pulls up over on the shore behind some rocks. Three aboriginal men get out, t Two of them with spears and they walk out into the water. Eventually the disappear around a bend, probably looking for stingrays. We wonder where that big crocodile is today.

040 always mission coveRight: Paul from Always anchored up nearby in Mission Cove.

1200 hours: Paul leaves to do some washing and to fix a water pump. A pod of dolphins enter the cove and pass by both boats. They’re too quick for us to get a photo of them. Davit the dog barks at them until Pauls tells him not at all politely to shut up.

1230 hours: Not a lot of energy today. Delma’s done some washing but I think it’ll be a lazy day today. Shoals of small fish are sitting underneath Lowana IV. Some of them are those silver triangular shaped ones that Paul tells me are known locally as butterfish. They’re supposedly good eating.

041 washday aboardLeft: Delma with a load of washing hanging out to dry. Clothes have to be washed in salt water since fresh water needs to be preserved for drinking.

Big puffy white clouds overhead give occasional respite from the sun. Nice breeze springs up. Delma hands me a beautifully cold can of coke. Rig up a handline with bait and leave it hanging over the side.

1300 hours: Coastwatch flies by and asks the same old questions  but I don’t mind answering. They’re doing a good job and they’ve been helpful to me in the past.

1330 hours: Afternoon inshore NW sea breeze kicks in. Clouds hide the sun which is a relief from the heat. Nice at the moment.

1400 hours: Paul has problems fixing his freshwater pump. I offer my spare inline pump and he comes over to collect it.

1530 hours: Paul gets the pump installed which will keep him going for now. He’s okay for water. Has got spare jerries of freshwater as well.  Comes over for an afternoon cuppa. |Tells us he’s been thinking he may return to Darwin in company with us when we go back.

1630 hours: Breeze has died down a little. Still a little bit of sharp swells coming but okay enough to go fishing. Load up the dinghy and take off to the southern side of the cove. Troll around the bend and then almost as far as Dominic Creek. Not a nibble or a touch. It’s far too shallow and too far out from the shore with this low tide. Waste of time. Delma doesn’t want to go inside the creek even though there’s a fair chance we could get a barramundi in there, which is the premier eating fish in tropical Australia.

Instead we head off towards the northern side of the cove which is a few miles away so it takes a while to get there. As we approach the first rocky point the water starts to boil with feeding fish. Send out my first cast and a nice sized trevelly immediately takes the lure. By the time I bring it in the school has vanished. Meanwhile Delma’s struggling to make her fishing rod and reel behave properly.

Move further inshore closer to the rocks where there’s a lot of weed around. Send another cast out and as I retrieve the line a hungry mangrove jack grabs it just next to a line of weeds. The fishing is really starting to look promising when the outboard motor conks out. Refuel but on starting it again there’s no telltale cooling water coming through. Obviously the saltwater intake is blocked with weed.

Nothing for it but to row back to Lowana IV. Thankfully the seas have fallen to just low swells. My rowing method is less than artful and Delma gets a good splashing as she sits up front. She’d mistakenly thought being rowed about on the water in the dusk should be romantic, but my romancing skills complete with grunts and curses aren’t quite there yet as I strive to get back before we lost Lowana IV in the dark.

1845 hours: Make it back to the boat with just enough light left to unload and clean the fish. Hand up the fillets to Delma then set about cleaning the dinghy.

042 mission cove sunsetRight: Another beautiful sunset.

1930 hours: Delma already has the fillets in the pan and also a handline over the side ready to grab if it starts spinning with a fish on. Mangrove jack is in my opinion a particularly nice tasting saltwater fish so its the first one on the plate. Beautiful!

2030 hours: Call Delma up to the bow of the boat. There’s a very big shoal of fish darting around down there in the inky blackness of the water. We can clearly see individual shapes by the almost eerie phosphorous glow as they charge around in the water. Larger streaks flash through causing a mad scatter. Even the anchor rope can be traced down into the depths by its uncanny glow as the tide runs past it. It’s all too much for Delma who gets out the fishing rod and starts casting lures at them. Gets nothing but full points for effort again.



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