It’s Bumpy Here, Bumpy There

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Map 9 Return to Koolama
Map 9 Return to Koolama Bay

Sat 16/6/01

0800 hours: No change with the weather forecast. It’s going to continue blowing up by day and easing by night so we’ll probably make a run to Cape Talbot with the outgoing tide early tonight.

The man overboard alert has been cancelled due to no sightings over the last couple of days.

1330 hours: Lazy morning on board reading and resting as Lowana IV jerks back and forth to her anchor in gusts interspersed with relative lulls. The female native onboard is getting restless so for something to do we decide to go ashore and stretch the legs. Several brolgas fly over the beach preparing to land as we motor in towards the beach. From a distance they look like parachutists with their legs extended and wings spread.

Frenchy and his family are around the office. We also find Tasha’s crew there for a chat. Stay for a while. Helen is one of Frenchy’s daughters and she offers to take us mud crabbing and get some bluebone, a parrot fish named because of the colour of its bones. She also knows where to get some oysters but we have to pass it up since we’ve got to start making our return back home.  I want to be at Cape Talbot and in a good position to get around Cape Londonderry as soon as the conditions allow. Have a shower then return to the boat.

1530 hours: Wind dies down and the water becomes quite calm again in the bay. Time to go. Bring up the inflatable, deflate it and stow it away. Lash down the red dinghy and jerry containers on deck.

1615 hours: Pull up the anchor and start motoring out of Honeymoon Bay passing by the other two boats.  Make some quick arrangements for radio schedules. Bid farewells as we clear the bay.  Kind of sad in a way to be returning home. Ah well … some people have a timetable … bugger it!

1645 hours: Outside the bay about 2 miles. See another boat poking into Mission Cove. Put up the mainsail with 2 reefs and motor sailing getting over 4 kts. Gentle wind. The seas are only small wavelets with just scattered small whitecaps. Wind coming from the NE putting us on a close reach on a starboard tack. We are heading slightly west of north to clear Governor Island on the west side again.

Quite pleasant as we go along. Have some late lunch of chicken and soft drinks. Notice the motor temperature gauge flickering for the first time but the water at the siphon break is not any hotter than it should be.

1700 hours: Headsail up. Full main and headsail. Motor off and sailing up to 4.6 kts.

1845 hours: Just clearing Governor Island at the NW point. Still sailing and getting 4 kts close hauled still. Wind has sprung up a bit and starting to get swells as we enter the more open waters.

Go to turn the motor on and the oil pressure alarm simply won’t shut up and the temperature gauge is still quivering all over the place. Check the engine oils. All okay.  Take the steering wheel off to access the back of the instrument panel.  Can’t find anything behind there that seems out of the ordinary. Take the engine instrument panel cluster out and fiddle around with it. The alarm goes silent and the temperature gauge goes steady. Must be an electrical short behind there somewhere. Put everything back together relieved it’s not a real oil pressure problem.

By now the sun has just gone down and will be dark soon. Maintaining this course almost due north to clear a shoal patch, then we’ll head NE to Cape Talbot. It’s a bit cooler now too. Lowana IV has a nice lean at 15 degrees and travelling well, still sailing close hauled.

2000 hours: Have to change to motor sailing not long after making the turn off Governor Island. We’re now punching directly into the wind and 1m to 1.5m waves. Speed has reduced to only 2 kts. Speak on radio to Des on Tasha who delights in telling me how calm it is in Honeymoon Bay.

Located two miles off Ila Point on the West Governor Island and heading NE. Flock of birds gather around the mast light scolding us for intruding on their privacy. Waves have moderated and we’ve picked up speed to around 3.5 kts. Conditions begin to ease more as we get further into the lee of the land to the east. Working to clear some more shoal areas to our north before making a last turn towards our proposed anchorage at Cape Talbot.

2330 hours: It’s been a slow run getting to our offshore waypoint and then easing in slowly towards the land. Am glad I have the knowledge this time that the depth shallows then deepens again as you head towards the beach and that it’s possible to anchor quite close in.

Drop the anchor in 6m of depth at position 13 degrees 48.62’S, 126 degrees 45.02E.  Our 19 mile trip has taken just over 7 hours but for the last hour we’ve been carefully and very slowly coming in on a bearing using the GPS. There’s a fairly strong current running, and even though its a neap tide I’d been forced to add another 5 degrees rudder to counter it.

Kind of eerie if not scary when moving at night so close to rocks. You can smell the land and hear the surf but not actually see it. You must rely on your instruments such as compass, GPS and depth sounder.  It can be a bit hard to do when your own human senses are alarming out.

It’s pitch black and we can hardly even see any land so we anchor a little bit further out than we probably need to. The anchor just drags again as usual when we try to set it using the motor in reverse so we just let it dig itself in. Take note the GPS position and monitor it for an hour or so before going forward and checking again. Even though we’re in the shelter of the land there is still a fair bit of wind pushing us around, so we’ll move closer in towards the beach tomorrow in daylight.

Sun 17/6/01

Overnight: Get up and check our position on the GPS several times during the night at 0110hrs, 0330hrs and 0540 hrs, but we hadn’t moved, apart from swinging around to the winds and tides.

0745 hours: Wind has been blowing an estimated 15 to 20 kts throughout the night moaning through the rigging. It hasn’t been restful with Lowana IV hobby horsing in the waves and straining at her anchor.

It’s actually quite cool too with the temperature inside the boat at 23 degrees C but it’s much colder outside with a wind chill. It’s usually quite calm at this time of day but the wind and swells have remained constant.

0800 hours: Weather forecast once again is not good. The high pressure system is still near Adelaide in South Australia causing fresh to strong winds here and up to 3m seas offshore. I’m not going out into that especially around Cape Londonderry, so we’ll have to hole up here until the system decides to move on eastwards.

0820 hours: Just looking outside the boat now and the winds are strong at around 25 kts. There are whitecaps everywhere. Yuk!

1000 hours: Decide to try and get a bit closer into shore out of this slop. Start to raise the anchor but it snags on a rock which brings us up short with a jolt. Every choppy wave coming through gives us another jolt. Delma noses the boat forward at an angle of 45 degrees and we manage to get the anchor away from the obstruction. Delma tells me later she could see a rocky outcrop quite clearly on the depth sounder as we passed over it.

Nose further in closer to the shore. The water gets deeper and we’re able to get to within about 300m from the beach. Drop the anchor in 5m of water well out of the chop and swells.  The wind is still driving through the rigging but we’re relatively comfortable to what we were. Now that we can relax a little bit better I’ve started to feel rather tired. This is a little frustrating for Delma who’s been seeing plenty of fish on the sounder and is all fired up to catch a few.  Instead we have some mangrove jack fillets that Paul gave us yesterday in exchange for yoghurt deserts Delma had made. Maybe we’ll go ashore later but will have to take care to watch for that crocodile in the small stream on the southern side.

1030 hours: A flock of about 16 brolgas fly over near the rocks on the beach. Dip fuel tank. We have 255 litres in the main tank plus 20 litres spare in a jerry container. Engine hours stand at 1017. There is 230 litres in the main freshwater tank plus 160 litres clean water in jerrys plus 65 litres of fresh bore-water for washing and emergency. Looking good.

1500 hours: Just get up from a nap to find Delma’s been busy cleaning the deck and sorting out our food stores. She’s also pulled apart the fishing tackle box and washed everything in there with clean water. Get into trouble straight away because I’d been greasing the anchor winch earlier. Seems I’d gotten some grease on my foot then walked it all  around the place.

Have a late lunch of saveloy sausages. It’s pretty hot sitting here. Can’t put the big shade canopy up due to the strong winds still blowing outside. Delma tells me it had lulled a bit around 1300hrs while I was resting but it’s picked up again.

1800 hours: Weather broadcast tells us there will be a slight easing of the high pressure system to 1030 hp and it’s moved to western Victoria. Winds are predicted fresh to strong with 2.5m seas and 20 to 30 kts offshore easing to 15 kts late afternoons and evening. Doesn’t sound like it’s easing too much to me.

1840 hours: Speak to Tasha by radio. They’ve moved into Mission Cove.

1845 hours: Contact Darwin Radio on the HF radio to give our position and tell them our intention to lay up here until tomorrow night.

1900 hours: Speak to Always on radio. Paul has fixed his exhaust and all is well. He plans to make for Governor Islands tomorrow.

1915 hours: Delma and I enjoy the sunset in the cockpit with a cool drink. It’s a nice 27 degrees Celsius inside the boat but still a bit brisk for us outside, bearing in mind that we are used to tropical heat conditions. Conditions have eased for the night.

2030 hours: Nice curry and rice for dinner.

Mon 18/6/01

0800 hours: The news that there is another high pressure system coming in from the west is slightly deflating. The first one is down to 1028 hp and is still only moving east very slowly. It doesn’t look like we’re going to get a weather window between the two systems and we may have to wait until both of them have passed through.

0900 hours: Finish a breakfast of cereal, toast, butter and vegemite. The wind has started already and is whistling through the rigging. Lowana IV is starting her little dance to the anchor once more even though we’re only 300m from the beach.  The wind is strong enough to kick up small waves. Tide is due to ebb at 0930 hours.

1230 hours: Paul Always tells us he is now anchored at the NW of West Governor Island. He has a couple of Honeymoon Bay campers with him and will be going back there later today.

Make a decision to head out for Koolama Bay. It’s going to be a long haul tonight because Butterfly Bay will be too affected by swells to use for a stopover anchorage. And I’m not sure I’d want to go in there in the dark anyway. Koolama Bay is further away but it will be much easier to navigate to and enter at night.

Unfortunately the tide will be against us but they are neap tides and won’t be as strong. The wind is coming through in gusts. I know it will be rough at the start and bound to be bumpy offshore out of the shelter of this bay. But if we move now we should be off Cape Londonderry at its calmest between 1700-1900 hours.

1300 hours: Have strung up the jackstays and checked the engine oils. Engine hours noted at 1019. Anchor coming up and the boat is squared away for sea.

1350 hours: Came out of the anchorage with no problems and are now off the NW point of Cape Talbot and it’s extensive reefs. As expected its quite blowy on the nose but the waves are not too bad yet. They’re about 1.5m but very choppy. It will get worse yet.

057 leave cape talbotLeft: The last view of the beach at our anchorage just behind Cape Talbot.

1445 hours: Position is due north of Cape Talbot and the going is difficult. We’re meeting 2m seas on big roller swells with surf on top. Have been holding a NNE course but will be changing more easterly now.

1900 hours: Still 6 miles from Cape Londonderry. Conditions have been fairly hard with seas around 2.5m with an occasional 3m or so wave hitting us. Even though the tide range is only about 1m the current really runs fast through here and is severely holding us back. We’ve been tacking back and forth across the wind and have been forced to apply an extra 10 degrees on the tillerpilot to allow for leeway. Can’t make any course higher than 150 degrees True on a southerly tack because of the tide, so we’re unable to make much progress to the east when on a port tack.

Put up the staysail for a while and get an extra half a knot but Lowana IV just gets overpowered with it up so take it down. In the last couple of hours I’ve bumped up the revs a bit and we’ve continued to make way with a reasonable 3 kts under motor with the reefed mainsail sheeted in hard. As I’d hoped the seas have dropped to between 1m and 1.5m with a moderate 15 kts wind on the nose. Hope we can get around the cape while these relatively better conditions last.

Saw a ketch to seaward about half an hour ago. No sails up and it showed an all round white light meaning that it was anchored. That couldn’t be right since they’re facing the wrong way for a start and at over 30m its pretty deep to be dropping an anchor. They must be moving.  Call on the VHF radio Ch16 several times but get no answer. Watch closely for a little while but there’s nothing to indicate they’ve got problems.

2030 hours: Have been making fairly good time except for these last few miles. Just one mile from the waypoint and we have to battle until the last. The seas have become very sloppy with the boat bucking up and down, pitching forward and down then up again. See a light off the starboard bow which must be another boat.

2100 hours: Reach our waypoint at last! Have a minor anxious moment with that other vessel just as we come up to our waypoint. It’s approaching directly towards us and I can see both its red and green lights glaring right at me. Call it on the radio and they identify themselves as the MV True North. This is a large cruise type boat working the Kimberley area.

We arrange for a green to green pass, meaning we’ll pass with each others vessel on the starboard side. Bear away to port a little bit to give her a bit more room away from the offshore reefs. We make the pass without incident but I continue on the same bearing for a little while to get out of this slop around the cape before turning southwards. Time to celebrate the moment with a cuppa tea.

Tues 19/6/01

0100 hours: Making good time with 10 miles to go to our waypoint off the entrance to Koolama Bay. Conditions have been much better since making our turn to the south. Delma has been on watch with the George the tillerpilot doing the work. As I take over the watch Leseuer Island light is off to port several miles back. We’re exactly on track in the inky blackness.

0415 hours: For the last couple of hours we’ve slowly converged with the land until it can be seen as a faint blacker mass off to port. It’s impossible to judge visually how far away the cliffs are but it certainly looks forbidding. The last few miles are pretty scary as we’re literally navigating by instruments only.  Once again we have to trust our instruments to tell us where we are but we don’t have any problems as we enter Koolama Bay and make our way towards a final waypoint set further inside.

Anchor has been set at position 13 degrees 56.40’S, 127 degrees19.63’E and I can turn the motor off. There is a nasty hissing noise coming from the engine and I’ll need to have a look at that tomorrow. Can see a couple of yachts anchored in here but they haven’t got any anchor lights on. It’s not a problem though because I was able to pick them up using a spotlight.

It had taken 15 hours to do the 50 miles. Not too bad considering the area we’d just been through with headwinds and tide against us. Even in hindsight I reckon we’d picked the best time available to do it. Conditions weren’t good as expected but not excessively bad around Cape Londonderry and that was the main thing.

The wind is moaning and we probably just got into the bay before it builds up again. We’re a little exposed where we are out in the open here but we’re in only 5m of water over good holding ground with 40m of chain out. Should be okay until the morning. Am not silly enough to try and get closer in towards the cliffs in the pitch dark or into the little cove just tucked in behind the easterly headland. Sit for a little while to watch that we’re holding position before getting into bed.

0800 hours: The weather forecast has worse to come. We have to face it that we might be holed up here for the rest of the week.

0930 hours: Dip the fuel tank. Have 225 litres of diesel plus 20 litres in a jerry for emergency spare. We’ve used 30 litres for the 50 mile trip from Cape Talbot so not bad after all. Run the fridges. Feeling a bit wooley headed this morning. Tired of course but headachy and have a runny nose. A cold is just what I need and Delma has a sore throat too.

That pulsating and hissing noise I heard last night from the motor is no longer evident. It was most likely just a little hotter than usual since I’d been running it at higher revs. I should have run it at idle for a bit longer before shutting it down.

The wind is really powering today. Stronger than any we’ve had so far and really moaning through the rigging. There are two other yachts in the bay nearby. Heard them talking on the radio. They’re the Third Horizon and Ferrocity. The tourist vessel Coral Princess is also anchored back near the eastern headland at the entrance. There’s a group of tourists heading off in a small inflatable boat across the windswept waters of the bay to explore one of the small coves over on the western side. Later on they head across the sandbar and up the river itself.

Afternoon: Another yacht Dog On Cat enters the bay and is speaking on the radio to another boat called Applejack, which is apparently anchored just inside the mouth of the river. Dog on Cat is a catamaran and with its shallow draught is able to go straight over the bar and into the river.  Applejack mentions it’s very blowy up inside the river as well.

058 bumpy anchorageRight:  This is what the water was like in our anchorage even though sheltered behind cliffs. It’s still quite choppy.

1630 hours: Move from our exposed position and drop anchor in 5.5m depth in the little sandy cove down at the eastern entrance of the bay. Coral Princess has gone from here. This spot is much more protected by the cliffs and out of the worst of the sloppy water. It’ll be much more civilised if a little boring while waiting out the weather here.

1700 hours:. Wind has continued to moan all day, gusting to an estimated 40 kts but has calmed down now as usual. Having a cold drink in the cockpit. Both of us feeling a bit bushed. Delma has been sleeping on and off all day but I haven’t been able to. Lots of fish activity around the edges of our little cove.

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