0345 hours: Wake to a rocking motion and get up to check we’re not drifting. All okay, just swinging at the anchor. Wind has piped up again which is a bit unusual for this time of day and is coming in bursts. Set an anchor alarm on the GPS at 0.02 miles. If our position changes by more than this the GPS will start beeping. Also set the depth sounder for low water and deep water so that it will start alarming if we start moving. Climb into the quarter berth to be near the alarms.
Steel hulls magnify the slightest noise. Spend the next half hour hunting down a persistent creaking noise with no luck. Get back into bed. Now the kettle starts clanking against the metal rails fiddles on the stove as Lowana IV rocks harder in the building wind.
0800 hours: This marks the day we’d planned to return home from Seaplane Bay further to the SE along the coast. The place is named because of two German aviators who crashed there in the 1930’s. They’d been eventually rescued by a land based search party believed to be from Pago Mission after having been spotted by an aboriginal. The German Government had presented an organ to the mission church and ironically, anecdotally the organ was damaged by Japanese aircraft during WW2.
Weather forecast is gloomy until at least Sunday. Very cloudy day out there today which just adds to the gloom. In the daylight we can see how much we are protected in behind the bluff in our little cove. Even so we’re still bumping about a fair bit. The sea further out in the bay is almost a carpet of whitecaps. Big waves bash into the base of the cliffs opposite with some sending spray right up to the top.
I spare a thought for the other two boats further up in the bay because they’re in a much more exposed position. Can’t see them though since they’re around a bend.
We’ve got to get word out about our position if possible. Unable to contact Darwin Radio so they’ll probably still have us listed as being at Cape Talbot. Our plan for now is to wait for a couple more days and hopefully the winds will abate enough for us to brave the open water. The forecasts have been consistent for 30 kts winds in the mornings with gusts exceeding that by up to 40 percent.
We’d experienced this yesterday so it must be really nasty outside in open water. Lowana IV does not sail very well to windward under strong wind conditions. She gets overpowered and blown off course due to her shallow draught. But on the bright side she’s very seaworthy, and a survivor too having been in gales and up to 6m seas before.
1030 hours: Another nasty day. Worse than yesterday if anything. Gusts laying the boat over and swinging her around. Rig the big danforth anchor ready to throw out if we start to drag on the current anchor. Cloud cover has thickened. No sunlight. Grey day. Reading books.
1130 hours: Have a chat with Dennis on Third Horizon and share what knowledge I have about the sandbar and entrance to the river. Conditions are still yucky.
1145 hours: Speak to Ian and Judy Potter of Ferrocity. Ian offers us the use of his satphone if we want to pass any messages to Darwin. The offer is greatly appreciated.
While talking to Ian he paints a picture of what it must be like outside. While crossing the gulf there’d been following seas as high as the lower spreaders on his mizzen mast. They’d broken a whisker pole and their yankee jib had been shredded. A yankee jib is one which is shaped to allow large waves to pass underneath it when the boat is leaning over under sail. And they’d also taken water into the cockpit. One of the drain hoses from the cockpit had come off so the water had drained straight into the boat.
1230 hours: Make contact with Darwin Radio on the HF radio and request a telephone patch to our next door neighbour back in Darwin. He agrees to pass a message about us being delayed to both our daughters, Delma’s Mum and both our work places. The message is simply ‘Delayed by bad weather in W.A. at King George River. Unknown return date’. We both feel much better about our forced delay knowing loved ones won’t be over-concerned.
1800 hours:. No change to the weather forecast. Speak to Tasha on our arranged sked over HF radio. They’re at West Bay and conditions are apparently better there than here.
Speak with Ian of Ferrocity later on who tells us the Osprey is leaving Darwin on Saturday. The word there is that this system will clear up by then. Osprey is another cruising boat that recently had a hard time trying to get to Indonesia. She’d been bashed about bad enough that she had to return to Darwin.
Both Ferrocity and Third Horizon are going to attack the sandbar for access to the river early tomorrow morning. The tide will be at its highest then.
1930 hours: Just turned dark and conditions are nice and calm now. The boat is just rocking a little bit in the slop left over from the day. Enjoy this while we can. Not quite so cool tonight.
2330 hours: Get up to check that persistent rattle again. Still can’t find it. Lash down everything in sight. Notice another vessel’s light outside the bay to the NNW coming from the direction of Cape Londonderry. Watch as it approaches our little cove where we’re anchored. Call it on the VHF radio to ensure it’s seen our anchor light and are assured we’d been spotted. This vessel identifies itself as Kimberley Escape which is another quite large tourist vessel big enough to sport 3 dinghies hanging on a rack at the stern. After a little while they anchor up in deeper water away from us.
0800 hours: An uneventful night although another cloudy day. It’s still blowy with just a couple of strong gusts. Forecast doesn’t give us much hope for change. In fact there are now gale force warnings to our west associated with the second high pressure system. Hope these don’t reach us here.
1100 hours: Sun has been trying to peep out among the clouds most of the morning and we’ve actually had a few snatches of welcome sunshine. Unfortunately it’s closed in again drab like yesterday and the wind has come on strong again. Surprising how a little bit of sun can lift the spirits and drop you when it goes.
Kimberley Escape has made its way over the bar into the river. Their next destination after they come out will be the Berkeley River further to the SE in the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf towards Wyndham.
1230 hours: Feeling the odd spit of rain. Strong winds are one thing, but rain and cold are a nuisance adding to the tedium of waiting for a weather window. Had thought earlier that we might as well go into the river but the tide has gone out too far now to attempt the sandbar crossing.
Looking for things to do around the boat but there isn’t much besides reading books. Put some gap filler into a new crack in the floor of the red dinghy. Delma’s doing some washing. A cassette tape starts acting funny in the player and as it’s being removed it wraps itself up in the inner workings. So now we can’t even play any music old as it is.
1430 hours: Decide to go ashore despite the choppy water. Pump up the inflatable and motor over to the beach. Don’t like the look of Lowana IV bouncing about and swinging around out there. The tide is out. Climb over rocks. Find some very small oysters but not worth bothering with. Climb the hill on the eastern entrance and look out over the gulf. Walk around aimlessly for a while longer.
1630 hours: Return to Lowana IV. Wind has picked up if anything and it’s quite cool, so it’s good to get back inside. Have a cuppa tea. Delma later does a bit of surgery on the cassette player. Manages to extract the torn tape and get the player working again.
1800 hours: No change in the weather forecast except that conditions are expected to ease on Sunday. Decide to go into the river tomorrow morning for something to do if not for anything else. It still seems to be trying to rain.
Have a simple sundowners of diet coke. Speak briefly with Tasha on our radio sked. They’ve got battery problems and are unable to chat. Try to talk to Ferrocity but reception is intermittent. I don’t think they went into the river today after all. Fairly depressing just waiting here with nothing to do.
Lamb chops for dinner. Yum. Too cold to have a bucket wash topsides so just use some wet wipes on the face, hands, armpits and unmentionable bits.
0130 hours: Half asleep and hear a noise. No idea what it is so get up to investigate. It’s been reasonably calm up until now but the winds have kicked in quite strong once again. Can see the lights of a fairly big boat out in the bay but can’t make it out. Notice that my kerosene anchor light lamp has blown out so quickly relight it.
0530 hours: The anchor alarm goes off. Lowana IV is swinging fairly quickly around on her anchor. Tide is pushing her back into the bay against the wind so it must be a strong tide given the strength of the wind. Not surprised by the strength of the tide though. There’d been a new moon last night and this would be the top of the spring tide. The sky is lightening to the east. Can see some stars so there’s a promise of a bit of sun later.
Reset the alarm but it keeps sounding off, obviously confused by all the constant movement. Then the depth sounder goes off showing zero depth. Throw a lead line over the side to double check but there’s plenty of water under us. I suspect the transducer might have been brushed by a bit of seaweed floating by.
Climb back into the quarter berth to be close to the alarms but there aren’t any more. Even so it’s not very restful with long bursts of wind estimated at 40 kts or more. At least the GPS coordinates keep coming back to the same position so we’re not actually moving, just swinging around on our chain.
0800 hours: No change to the weather forecast. Gales continue to lash the coast to the west of us. A fishing trawler has anchored only about 100m away. The other vessel I’d seen earlier is a navy patrol boat. They’ve probably came in to get a bit of shelter from the seas outside which are currently running 2.5m seas on a 2.5m swell. That makes for the odd nasty rogue waves.
Cloud cover is fairly consistent but not thick and patches of blue sky peek through. Looks better than yesterday anyway. The tide is really high this morning. Rocks that are usually exposed on the sandy beach are completely covered.
0900 hours: Breakfast of soda bread, fried tomato, onion and eggs. The tomatoes have lasted well. They’d been bought at a just ripening stage, placed onto cardboard egg cartons and stored in a cooler bag low down in the hull. We’re using the last of them today and they’re delicious. We’d put our eggs into plastic egg trays so they’d be protected.
Our home made soda bread is still quite edible up to about 3 days but it does start to get a bit dry. We just add a little butter and it’s okay. At least it’s quicker and easier to make than bread.
0930 hours: Ferrocity calls on the radio. They’re still outside the river in the bay and had some problems yesterday with a starter motor. Third Horizon had been working on an anchor winch. Both had spent most of the day working on their respective problems.
There’s too much tide run and wind to attempt a sandbar crossing right now so we’ll wait a couple of hours. Thankfully the sun keeps peeping through the clouds occasionally and we can feels its warmth.
1045 hours: Kimberley Escape is back out in the bay heading towards the entrance. I hadn’t noticed it being engaged in satisfying an urge of nature over the side when I look up. Several people are lined on the rails with binoculars staring back at me. can’t they look at something else? Quickly cover up and retreat back into the cockpit. As the boat starts rounding the seaward point she starts punching heavily into the waves.
We both set about cleaning the galley and saloon areas. After that Delma begins putting furniture polish onto anything standing still long enough. Lowana IV resumes its rich boatey smell again.
1100 hours: A Coastwatch aircraft flies by and challenges us. They estimate conditions outside at 3m swells and 30 kts of wind so we’ll just stay here. The fishing trawler is the FV Surefire. Don’t know the name of the navy patrol boat but they are probably doing coastal patrols looking for illegal immigrants of which there have been plenty lately, or else fishing or other illegal activities such as smuggling.
Right: Attempt to photograph a fishing trawler that came inside the bay for a bit of shelter. Not easy to focus because of movement of our boat. The trawler dragged it’s anchor a couple of times quite near to us.
1130 hours: Contact the patrol boat on radio and request a wind speed reading. She identifies herself as HMAS Gawler and advises that winds are currently 30 kts with gusts to 38 kts inside the bay. The conditions don’t seem as bad now as they had been earlier before dawn so it was probably gusting over 40 kts or more then.
1500 hours: The day has become a reasonably sunny one but the wind continues particularly strong. The fishing trawler drags its anchor about 100m or so while we watch closely. Thankfully it drifts parallel to us so we aren’t in any danger of a collision – this time. Notice that the patrol boat has departed and not sure what time it left.
I’d wanted to get into the river today but with the wind and outgoing tide it wouldn’t have been especially safe to try. Watch the trawler slowly dragging it’s anchor again until it ends up abreast of us only about 50m away.
1700 hours: The trawler has taken in it’s anchor and is heading back out to sea where it wanders back and forth off the entrance for about half an hour before disappearing towards Cape Londonderry.
The wind is usually abating by this time but certainly doesn’t seem to want to slacken off tonight. A weather front has gone over us marked by a strong line of thick clouds and clear sky behind. It might mean either stronger or weaker winds to come but will just have to wait to find out.
1800 hours: Nothing promising on the forecast until after Sunday. The sky has mostly cleared of cloud which makes a nice change. Thankfully the wind has calmed down at last but is still making its presence felt.
2115 hours: Delma and I have been playing a card game of Solitaire taking it in turns. The night has turned nice except that it’s black as coal dust out there. Gentle breeze. Stars out. Quite nice.
0750 hours: Last night was a much better night than we’ve been getting. The winds were much weaker with odd puffs to about 10 kts and occasional gust or two at around 15 kts. The bay water is relatively calm. Sky is clear and we have sunshine.
Third Horizon tells us they’re heading up the river. I can see them coming out past the point towards the centre of the bay, before turning south towards the sandbar and the entrance to the river.
0800 hours: Ferrocity heads out into the bay as well. Have been re-considering whether we should stay or go upriver as well. I’ve definitely had enough here so decide we’ll make the move later on and catch up with these people. Besides, spending a day up there will allow the seas offshore a chance to settle down before we tackle them.
Weather conditions might seem better here but the weather forecast continues to be gloomy as ever.
0830 hours: The wind suddenly starts to pick up and it galvanises me to get underway. Will finish breakfast and a cup of tea later because we have to make our move quickly while we still can. It becomes a scramble to get ready.
0845 hours: Seas already picking up under pressure of the wind as the anchor comes up and we head off for the river entrance. Whitecaps are everywhere already outside in the bay.
0900 hours: The going is hard and I’m wishing I’d not been fooled by the calm conditions earlier. There are 1m waves and spray coming over the bow being whipped clear across the cockpit forcing us to duck. Sometimes we’re a little bit too slow and cop an invigorating slap of saltwater on the face. Even with the revs on the motor pushed up we’re still only pulling 2 kts as we work towards the entrance.
0950 hours: Through the entrance and turning up into the river proper. It’s been a slow process going over the sandbar but at least there was plenty of water over it.
The hard slog continues against the tide stream which narrows at the entrance and whips through the narrow gap. We can barely make between 1 or 2 kts. After the entrance the river widens appreciably and there are more underwater sand banks for around half a mile. Deliberately make for the shallower water where the tide stream is not quite so hard. Not that it makes much difference. This part of the river is more exposed to the wind and we face very slow progress copping the full brunt of it.
1145 hours: As we reach the eastern arm down near the entrance we pass Opal Shell. The skipper comes out to wave after being alerted by a barking black poodle.
Make our way past the two catamarans Dog On Cat and Apple Jack. Exchange greetings with Dog On Cat as we pass. Tell the skipper that we’re waiting for a weather window to get back to Darwin. He responds by saying there’s a small one coming but is being followed by another high pressure system. Just what we need.
Finally make it to the head of the river with conditions progressively getting easier as we pushed further in. Ferrocity and Third Horizon are already there enjoying the scenery but haven’t anchored yet. Drop mine in 6m of water.
Now that we’re here it’s time to reflect on our timetable. We hadn’t originally intended coming back into this river but at least we should be more comfortable from those damned winds and whipped seas. Plus there’s some company for a while.
1500 hours: Shelter from the winds is not going to happen. Strong blasts of wind funnel up the gorge alternating with periods of calm. This wind is frustrating and depressing. I fear we’re sinking into a lethargy that will take an effort to snap out of.
The people off Third Horizon had gone ashore earlier to climb to the top of the falls but the skipper Dennis remained with his boat. They’d asked us if we wanted to go but we declined.
1700 hours: Although its been a sunny day we’ve continued to be lashed by the strong winds and it hasn’t been much fun. I’m impressed with Delma’s stiff upper lip attitude but the situation has caught up finally with her. One of our daughters lives in Perth but has returned to Darwin for a friends wedding. We haven’t seen her for 12 months and were due to get back to Darwin either today or tomorrow. Now it looks like we won’t be able to get back in time. Delma is of course feeling very down. Help her with some washing to try and keep her mind off it.
1730 hours: Ian and Judy from Ferrocity invite us over for sundowners. Delma grabs some nibblies and makes up a vodka and orange mix. Drop the red dinghy ready to go over there and have a bit of a clean up.
1800 hours: Over on Ferrocity we meet Dennis and Kitty from Third Horizon with their crew Chris and Andrew. We enjoy a very nice sociable chat and drinkies. I think it did much to revive Delma’s sinking spirits.
2030 hours: Return to Lowana IV and sling the dinghy up back up onto the davits but not secure it. Still has a leak.
2200 hours: Listen to the weather broadcast and get the first inkling of a weather window. Conditions are expected to ease after 18 to 24 hours. Still need to give the offshore seas time to settle though.
0800 hours: The wind warning is still current but expected to ease in the next 12 hours. Heartening news. Decide to stay here at the falls for another day and leave tomorrow after the weather broadcast. Depending on what it says we’ll decide whether to continue on or wait in the bay a bit longer.
Lovely morning. Very light breeze. Sun nice and warm. Clear sky. We go fishing and lose 3 lures due to heavy strikes but no fish come into the boat. Meet up with Ian and Judy in their dinghy. They’ve just had a shower at the little waterfall and Judy say’s it’s beautiful. They push on to do some fishing themselves.
We motor around the base of the 2 main waterfalls enjoying the scenery and weather. The falls are definitely not running as hard as they had been a couple of weeks ago. Stop by Third Horizon for a quick chat.
1045 hours: Back on Lowana IV and hoist the dinghy since the leak is pretty bad now. I’d had to keep my foot on the hole while we were fishing. It’s become so bad that the only way to properly fix it now is by fibreglassing, and it would need at least a couple of days to dry before doing that.
Take down the washing and have some breakfast. Delma seems to be feeling a bit more relaxed today.
1700 hours: Easy day aboard. Do little jobs. Read and take a nap. Get ready for our trip. Top up the main water tank and store the empty jerries below. Lowana IV is sitting a little down by the stern so we’ll put the red dinghy up on the foredeck later. Dip the fuel tank. We’ve got 205 litres in the main tank plus the 20 litres emergency in a spare jerry. Change the engine oil and filter. Delma makes some bread rolls and bread.
The wind has been as strong as yesterday. Now that the time to make a decision to go is near I am getting a little anxious. There are still forecasts of 3m swells with up to 3m seas on top. That is big seas in anyone’s language, and of course we’re still getting strong winds even here in the gorge where you wouldn’t expect any to be.
1920 hours: We are not happy campers. Our expected easing of conditons on the weather forecast doesn’t happen. It’s been prolonged another 48 hours and the wind warning is still current. Our only consolation is that the seas and swell has dropped marginally but the winds are as strong as ever. There are times I guess in every cruising yachties lives where the ‘For Sale’ sign appears large in their thinking about their boat. Right now it’s bordered in neon lights.
I’ve been having problems with the oil pressure alarm going off again. I’m certain it’s an electrical fault but haven’t been able to isolate it yet. It’s best not to be too casual about these things. We don’t want to end up with a cooked motor. That’s the last thing we want.
Bring the red dinghy alongside and lift it onto the bow. As we work it into position Delma kicks her sore toe again giving her up to 5 minutes of agony. Eventually she shakes her head, gives a brave little laugh and says it can only get better … I hope so.
Small sliver of moon tonight and it’s calm again at last after the dying gusts finished only about half an hour ago. Having the last of our lamb chops for dinner tonight and the freezer will be empty except for a few vegetables and water bottles.
2000 hours: Have our dinner then we play cards until 2200 hours.
MORE TO FOLLOW