The Relics of West Bay

map 7 west bay
Map 7 West Bay and Deep Bay

Weds 13/6/01

043 always at dawnRight: ‘Always’ anchored up at Mission Cove with us in the early dawn. Picture taken by Delma as Russ rarely surfaces at this hour.

0630 hours: It’s dawn and Delma gets up. She tells me later that the morning was just beautiful and she’d enjoyed the animal life. Dolphins had been playing around and between the boats. There’d been a chorus of birds singing, being led by crows and joined by wild donkeys who were out of tune with their harsh hee-haws. The water is flat like a mirror and it will be another nice day.

0810 hours: Fish popping on the surface all around the boat. Water quite clear down to 2m or so and can clearly see them swimming about down there. There are brolgas out on the sand flats.

0830 hours: Paul comes over to help fix the outboard. Together we pull the lower leg off to check the impellor and find a bit of grunge in the small water feed hole. Paul had brought Davit over and now decides to take him back to Always. On the way back he spots small 6ft crocodile sitting just off  Lowana IVs bow.

044  fixing outboardLeft: Paul from ‘Always’ at left helping to fix the outboard motor that had become clogged with weed. Tedious job getting it out.

Paul returns and we have a devil of a time trying to line up the gear rod and water pipe to put the outboard leg back on. Also find some more grunge blocking up the telltale outlet.

1100 hours: Put the outboard onto dinghy and test it. All okay. Paul leaves. Discuss our next moves with Delma. She really wants to go to Kalumburu, an aboriginal community further inland. I want to check out West Bay. We’re running out of time so we decide to go to West Bay. Paul decides to follow in Always.

056 crocodile visitorRight: Photo courtesy of ‘Tasha’ of a crocodile hanging around the stern of their boat.

1130 hours: A little bit of wind springs up as we pull up the anchor. Very hot again.

1215 hours: Clear of Mission Cove. Raise the still reefed mainsail ready for the afternoon sea breeze. Wind at the moment is right on the nose. Water is rippled with no swells. Heading NNW to clear Bluff Point which needs a wide clearance because it had been a mined area in WW2.

1300 hours: Turn WSW to cut across Napier Broome Bay. Our waypoint is to the south of Pearl Shoal then more westerly towards West Bay.

1310 hours: Headsail up. Motor off and sailing around 3.5 kts. Lovely day. Small wavelets. On a starboard tack with slight NW breezes. Go to put the staysail up as well but have to climb the mast to free the halyard. It’s twisted behind the spinnaker pole which is stowed vertically against the mast. Paul sees me up there and tells us on the radio that he’d had to climb his mast as well. His headsail halyard had caught on something right at the top.

1400 hours: Holding perfect course for our waypoint under full sail. Wind no change. Speed 3.5 kts and sometimes a little bit more with small puffs. Approx one third of the way across the bay. Small swells now  with small wavelets on them. Always about a mile astern.

1445 hours: Been hitting up to 4 kts south of Pearl Shoal. Change direction almost due west and start approaching Guy Point at just under 2 miles away. Wind a little stronger. Wavelets a little bit bigger but it’s just lovely sailing.

1530 hours: Going past Guy Point hitting 4.8 kts. Nice afternoon seabreeze of about 15 kts. Perfect. Turn around and head back to Always where we take photos of each others boat under sails.

045 sail in company 046 lowana passing
‘Always’ under sail ‘Lowana IV’ under sail.

1600 hours: Nosing into the anchorage at West Bay. Chart shows shoaling a fair way offshore.

1700 hours: Anchored in 5m depth on a falling tide at position 14 degrees 04.90’S, 126 degrees 27.55’E.  Start preparing to go ashore and have a look around.

1800 hours: Arrive at a very slippery concrete ramp to take a look around onshore. A large sign warns that this is RAAF Truscott property and a WW2 heritage site. There are large stocks of empty avgas and jet fuel 44 gallon drums stacked up. There’s also large white tanks of diesel fuel. Littered around the road leading into this landing area are several relics from WW2, all rusting badly. There’s a steam roller and several trucks including tippers, double axle troop carriers, a blitz truck and chevy lorries.

047 old and new 048 steam roller
A WW2 tip-truck lies beside a new fuel tank. Another forgotten relic. This was either a wood or coal fed steam-roller. 
049  troop carrier 050 lorries
The brake pads on this troop carrier are almost still intact Plenty of these lying around in the bush

1900 hours: Back on Lowana IV. Nice red sunset. Long streaks of cirrus clouds overhead. I’ve seen these formations before and they usually herald strong winds. I think we might be going to get hit hard in the next couple of days. Must listen to the weather forecast tomorrow. No signs of anything at the moment though. Leave the canopy down just in case something comes up overnight.

2100 hours: Chicken schnitzel for dinner. Paul comes over as a dinner guest and he’s even put on a shirt for the occasion. Lightning flashes to the SSW. Very still here. Water flat. Water is thick with fish swimming the edges of light shining from the portholes into the water.

Thurs 14/6/01

0745 hours: This morning there is a ground mist through the trees. Brolgas are flying overhead and calling. West Bay is fairly typical of others in Napier Broome Bay. From the south to SW are low mountain ranges around 170m high. The rest of the country is low country ranging from 10-15m in the coastal areas to around 50m a few miles inland. Mangroves are interspersed with stretches of sand beaches.

There’s a stream entering in the SW corner and sand dunes along the shore to the south of the barge landing, but otherwise there’s not much else to hold our interest.

0800 hours: The weather forecast is predicting a high pressure system of 1029 hp in the Great Australian Bight at the south of Australia, sending fresh to strong easterly winds into northern waters by tomorrow. This will probably affect our plans somewhat.

Paul has started having some battery problems and decides he’ll make for Cape Talbot today, then start making his way back towards Darwin when weather permits. He’ll probably sail in company with us when we make the crossing. In the meantime we’ll quickly visit Deep Bay then return to Honeymoon Bay for a visit to Kalumburu tomorrow. Lowana IV will be secure there when the expected strong easterlies arrive.

0930 hours: Anchor pulled up. Pass around Always to exchange goodbyes for now. Head off on an ENE course towards Guy Point. Little bit of breeze. Not worth putting up sails and just motoring. Have to use the motor to run the fridges cold anyway.

1045 hours: Guy Point is behind us as we make a SSE course towards the mouth of Woppinbie Creek in Deep Bay. Perhaps we can get some mudcrabs there today. Birds are working the area indicating that fish schools are active. We’ve been trailing a lure around the point but no luck so far. Sea is flat and it’s glary.

051 approach deep bayLeft: Approaching Deep Bay. There’s no wind as we motor along. Beautiful morning.

1100 hours: Wind still holding off despite the forecast. Maybe it’ll hit later. Only 2.75 miles from the anchorage. Water is very clear and flat. It’s hot with very little breeze. Flag barely flutters. A sea snake is laying lazily on the surface barely moving as we pass by.

1200 hours: Drop the anchor near Woppinbie Creek in 5m depth at 14 degrees 08.75’S, 126 degrees 31.55’E. The day is hot! No breeze.

1230 hours: Jump into the dinghy and head across to the creek to do some trolling. Lots of baitfish active and we get a couple of hits. Delma catches a spotted mackerel but loses it next to the dinghy. This creek only goes for about a half mile and ends abruptly at a rocky shore. We’d wanted to catch some fish to use as bait for the crab pots but no luck. Return back to Lowana IV before the tide runs out and leaves us stranded inside the creek.

It would have been nice to stay here for a couple of more days and explore this promising looking area but time is against us. We have a timetable to keep and must head off.

1400 hours: Pull up the anchor and start heading NE to clear the danger area off Bluff Point. Delma puts up the staysail on her own. The wavelets in this bay are starting to get a little choppy and there are occasional whitecaps. A moderate northerly afternoon wind is coming up promising something stronger later.

052 russ on tillerRight: It’s a bit bumpy as Russ works the tiller. The hat might look a little goofy but it protects the neck and ears from skin cancers. The liferings are protected by their own cover. Velcro fastenings make for quick and easy access.

1500 hours: Wind is getting much stronger at an estimated 25 kts. Waves have built up to 1.5m and some are bigger slowing us down.

1700 hours: It’s been a long slog to get to our waypoint but we’re finally there. Very bumpy ride but also pleasant in a way. It’s been windy but not overly strong and the waves not overly bad. Several biggies come through now and again sending spray over the bow and cockpit, plus there’s a bit of bucking about.

1800 hours: On the final run into Honeymoon Bay. We can see two boats in there. Surprised to see Always there and the other boat is Tasha.

1830 hours: Anchor put down in 5m depth away from the other boats. It’s taken us 4.5 hours to do the 15 miles. Swells are coming into the anchorage but we’re partially protected by the spit of mangroves extending a little distance NE from us.

Always had blown out his exhaust pipe between the Governor Islands and Cape Talbot causing a rather bad mess inside. He couldn’t use his motor because the engine cooling water was being pumped through the hole into the interior of the boat. It was also filling the boat with diesel exhaust smoke. He had to sail back to Honeymoon Bay for repairs, and Tasha had towed him in the final leg into the bay so he could safely drop anchor.

1900 hours: Go ashore and meet an aboriginal man named Richard who had just returned to the office. He’s an employee of the park and runs fishing trips for the campers, as well as a general hand around the park at other times. He makes arrangements for another aboriginal man named Eric to drive us into Kalumburu tomorrow.

2100 hours: Don’t shower ashore tonight as there are too many people lined up. Lots more campers have arrived. Frenchy is away for a couple of days grading roads. Return back to Lowana IV via Always and Tasha.

2200 hours: Conditions have calmed considerably with just a small night breeze and small swells coming in that are still left over from the day’s blow. Have dinner and a wash on board before going to bed.

Fri 15/6/01

0800 hours: Weather forecast not good. There’s a strong wind warning covering the whole of northern Australia. The high pressure system in the bight has built up to 1034 hp and only moving slowly eastwards. The broadcast informs us that there is a man-overboard off the vessel Bunga Delima in the Java Sea at 5 degrees 59’S and 113 degrees 31’E. Ships transiting the area are requested to keep a lookout.

0930 hours: Paul comes over and shows me the blown out exhaust pipe. I thought my spare exhaust elbow might be adaptable but the fittings are the wrong size.

Wind has blown up fairly briskly inside this sheltered little bay but it’s obviously much worse outside. Lowana IV is swinging to her anchor rode but hasn’t moved her position. Estimate the wind gusts at maybe 25 kts at times. It’ll probably get worse later as the day wears on.

Delma will go into Kalumburu but I think I’ll say and watch the boat. String out a washing line we hang out some washing to dry. Thread the line through the clothes so as not to lose them over the side in these winds.

1015 hours: Almost caught out. Have to be ashore in 15 minutes to catch the ride into Kalumburu. Big rush. Load 2 empty water jerries and go ashore. Richard has the battered Nissan 4WD ready to go. He’s not going fishing today because of the winds and decides he’ll take us in himself. All the crew of Tasha are going into town so I change my mind at the last minute and jump into the car.

The road is rough, sandy and washed away in places. This is definitely 4WD country only. There’s no way conventional vehicles would be able to travel along here. The trip takes about three quarters of an hour. Mostly there’s only bush and rocks to see except near the community at the top of a hill there is a scenic vista with low mountains in the distance.

Kalumburu has an aboriginal population of around 600 and caters for tourists. It’s on aboriginal land and a permit is required of non-aboriginals to enter. You might get away with that requirement if you are a yachty and only getting supplies and fuel but not sightseeing.

The township is a rather nice looking place nestled in among the low mountain ranges. It boasts a motel which is simply a demountable, camping round, museum, cafe, general store and the mission itself. The very first mission was actually established at Curran Point near Cape Talbot before it was shifted to Pago in Mission Cove.

053 kalumburu mission 054 chapel mural
Part of the Kalumburu Mission Part of a mural inside the church

Collect our supplies and fuel and an ice cream before coming home again.

1400 hours: Back at Honeymoon Bay Richard kindly drives us down onto the beach next to where we have our dinghies. We were not to know but we’d been lucky to get back at all. We found out later that the steering failed in the Nissan that very afternoon. Collect my refilled water jerries then deliver Paul’s small grocery bundle to him. He’s managed to fashion an exhaust pipe in the workshop but it’s still leaking.

055 back at beachLeft: Richard kindly drives us right back to our dinghies on the beach. The steering failed shortly after this.

1430 hours: Wind is still blowing strong as we get back to Lowana IV. Our red dinghy has sprung a serious leak again. Hoist it up on the stern davits and will use the inflatable from here in.

Delma starts making yoghurt with special pack mixes we brought along. This one is mango flavour … yum yum.

1800 hours: The winds have abated thank goodness as usual in the late afternoon Lowana IV is gently hobby horsing but we barely notice the movement. It’s almost calm in the bay. Delma takes down the washing.

The strong wind warning persists with the high pressure system almost stationery down south. Pump up the inflatable and put the outboard on.

1830 hours: Pack up for a BBQ on the beach and head ashore. Everyone else from the boats are already there waiting as we bring a cooking plate. A fireplace is soon built using rocks and a fire is started. We sit and chat until enough hot coals have been generated to start cooking. Since there’s only one plate we’ll have to cook in two lots.

The wine flows and the laughter gets louder and longer as the night progresses. No moonlight. The only light we’ve got is from the fire but it’s enough and use torches for cooking. Stars brilliant in the black sky. It’s a late night before we return to Lowana IV. The phosphorous trails like green fire behind the dinghies as they make their separate ways back to their own boats.



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