|Chart of return leg to Darwin
0800 hours: Wind warning is still in effect but expected to moderate in 6 to 12 hours from Kuri Bay to Cape Fourcroy which is our region. Conditions Cape Fourcroy to Groote Island including Darwin are expected to persist for 48 hours. This last stretch happens to be our last leg home but it should be okay by the time we get there. Decide to head down river and poke our nose out the front of the bay to see what’s what.
Beautiful morning. Very faint westerly breeze here at the waterfalls but that of course will change.
0830 hours: Anchor up and motoring on our way towards the river mouth. Both Third Horizon and Ferrocity call with best wishes for our trip. Note down the engines hours at 1044.
1015 hours: Uneventful trip down the river. Opal Shell, Dog On Cat and Apple Jack are anchored just inside the entrance. They both weigh anchor and fall in behind as we make our way through the entrance and safely across the sandbar.
Conditions are nothing like the other day when we came in. The winds are fresh but the waves are not so big. Plenty of whitecaps in the bay but better weather definitely looks promising. It’s decision time. Do we anchor up for another day or head towards home?
1045 hours: Reach the entrance to the bay with fresh following SE winds. The seas inside the bay are about 1.5m which isn’t so bad. Decide to keep going a bit further outside the bay to check the outside conditions. Raise and sheet the mainsail and put in 2 reefs.
1130 hours: Arrive at a point just 1 mile from our waypoint off Cape Rulhieres. As expected the seas are very lumpy but we’re still making about 2 kts over the ground in a NNE direction. Continue on.
1200 hours: Reach waypoint position of 13 degrees 52’, 127 degrees 20’E. Our CMG – Course Made Good has been NNE on 036 degrees True and our average speed has been 2 kts. Given the conditions this is better than expected and I expect it should improve as we draw further away from the cape. There is also the promise of better weather coming so we make the decision to keep on going.
1500 hours: Continuing to motor-sail and over the last 2 hours we’ve been able to come around 20 degrees to starboard towards home, and still making around 2 kts on average. This has brought us pretty much on course for our interim waypoint situated on a rhumb line directly to Fish Reef light.
There are much bigger swells and very sloppy seas on top of them, but there doesn’t appear to be quite as many whitecaps. Perhaps it will moderate as it’s been forecast to do after all. Let’s hope so.
1520 hours: The seas have become rough and confused again. Travelling over a wide stretch of dirty muddy water. We’re in roughly 65m depth so it must be sediment swept by the tide from a relatively shallower area to the SE.
1800 hours: Cape Rulhieres is 18 miles behind. At position 13 degrees 48’S, 127 degrees 34’E. CMG has been ENE at 085 degrees True with average speed of 3.6 kts. That’s reasonable. A tidal run setting to the SE is helping to push us along quite well in the slop. Unable to get any reception on the HF radio so miss the weather forecast.
0200 hours: Position 13 degrees 41’S, 127 degrees 57’E. CMG has been ENE at 068 degrees True, speed at 2.75 kts and DMG – Distance Made Good has been 22 miles. Feeling the effects of the tide which is now setting to the NW and slowing us down, as well as pushing us a little sideways further to the north. Sea and wind conditions are still rough but not as bad as earlier during the day.
0300 hours: There are lights of a vessel off our starboard side heading SW. Call it on radio but get no response. Seas still bumpy but no real problem. Just a little uncomfortable.
0400 hours: See two more vessels off our starboard side going SW. Call them and Mediocrity answers. They’re travelling in company with Jezebel and we learn the wind warning has been cancelled. Expected winds are E to SE at 15 to 25 kts and easing inshore during the afternoons and evenings. This is excellent news and raises our spirits.
0530 hours: Making reasonable progress between 3 to 3.5 kts but the seas are getting boisterous again.
0600 hours: Taking greenies over the bow with lots of spray coming over the cockpit and dripping off the mainsail all over us. Put the small canopy tarp over the cockpit. It’s quite cold even though I’m wearing a jumper, waterproof jacket and trousers.
0800 hours: Still no radio reception. Looks like the HF radio has gone on the blink. Our position is 13 degrees 41’S, 128 degrees 18’E. CMG 090 degrees True, DMG 20miles since last plot, speed 3.3 kts. This puts us 60 miles NE of Cape Rulhieres and it’s been very slow, very rough going. During the last 6 hours we’ve managed to go due east. This suites me as that gets us into the lee of the land on the other side that much quicker.
Am concerned about whether we’ll have enough fuel. I need to make an allowance of 40-60 litres of fuel in the main tank, otherwise we could start taking air into the diesel motor as the low fuel in the tanks sloshes about. If we strike rough weather around the Cape Fourcroy area we’re going to have to push the motor a bit harder to get through there against the big tide runs. And it can be an especially nasty area as I found out once before.
0900 hours: It’s severely rough. One of the wall cupboard door hinges has pulled out of the woodwork under pressure of the contents inside. Delma is feeling a bit sick but nevertheless helps to put the contents into a locker before I nail the hinge back on. It’s all I can do for now.
I’ve seen some rough water before but this is pretty much as bad as any I’ve been through. We’re right out in the middle of the gulf. There’s no protection and no choice but to keep plugging on. We’re feeling the full brunt of unrestrained wind and seas but at least we are making some progress forward.
Some dolphins have been playing around in the surf off the bow and right beside the boat. They’ve been there off and on all during the morning.
1200 hours: Seas are horrendous. The dinghy came loose on the foredeck earlier so had to spend about half an hour getting it back into position and lashing it down. An acrobatic act.
Agonisingly slow progress. Every couple of hours represents about 1 centimetre or half an inch on the chart. There’s a lot of empty chart space left yet. Can only hope it calms down enough to that we can sail and save some fuel. With the radio out of action we don’t know what to expect either. Have to assume it’s going to continue like this so will just try to get eastwards as much as possible. Will worry about getting back up towards Fish Reef later.
1530 hours: Thankfully conditions have eased somewhat at least enough to try sailing. Shake out the reefs in the mainsail and roll out the full headsail. Speed between 2.5 to 3 kts on an ENE course of 060 degrees True. That’s more than good enough and turn the motor off. We’re still heading more easterly away from our waypoint but expect the winds should shift when we get closer to land over there and allow us to sail more northerly to Fish Reef.
1730 hours: Position 13 degrees 25.60’S, 128 degrees 44.25’S. CMG 074 degrees True. DMG 7 miles. Speed 3.5 kts. Sailing has been good and pleasant under full sails. At last we’re making good progress in the right direction.
2300 hours: Position 13 degrees 22’S, 129 degrees 08’E. CMG 081 degrees True. DMG 23 miles. Speed 4.2 kts. Lovely bright quarter moon. Sailing is wonderful at a steady 4.2 kts. Have hardly touched the sails and have let George the tillerpilot do all the steering. However the wind has started to pick up so put in a single reef and shorten the headsail. Sails are nicely balanced and George not working hard at all.
0400 hours: Position 13 degrees 12.48’S, 129 degrees 24.84’E. CMG 060 degrees True. DMG 19 miles. Speed 3.8 kts. Still sailing well. This is making up for the bad bits. Moon went down at 2330 hours.
0500 hours: Wind picking up some more. Wake Delma and put in the third and final reef. This results in too much lee helm and can’t get the sails balanced. Lee helm occurs when there’s too much wind pressure on the headsail and if the tiller is not held the boat will fall away from the wind. Unfortunately if I put up more mainsail the wind overpowers the boat and lays it too far over to the side. Frustrating. Back to motor-sailing. Furl the headsail and sheet in the mainsail.
0700 hours: Conditions haven’t turned out as bad as I expected them to be. Still heading easterly towards Native Point on the NW coast of the Cox Peninsula. There’s a caravan and camping ground there called the Lodge of Dundee and we’ll be able to get more diesel fuel if absolutely necessary. Waypoint off Fish Reef light is 63 miles away. Big red sun coming up.
0730 hours: Better looking day than yesterday. Put the sails back up and turn the motor off.
1000 hours: Position 13 degrees 03.54’S, 129 degrees 42.62’E.
1100 hours: Position 13 degrees 01.15’S, 129 degrees 43.85’E. CMG 042 degrees True. Wind sprung up during the morning but no where near as bad as yesterday, so we double reefed the sails and continued sailing. If we can make the Fish Reef light under sail we’ll have enough fuel to push around the tidal areas off Bynoe Harbour and the fickle Charles Point areas. Averaging about 3 kts overall.
1315 hours: Have been hearing the faint booms of gunfire in the distance for some time. Must be a naval exercise going on out there.
Delma is just about to take a shower in the cockpit when a thunderous noise startles both of us. A RAAF fighter plane roars over Lowana IV at mast height and as we look up it’s pulling back sharply up into the sky. No warning. These things fly so fast you don’t hear them approach. In an unthinking reaction I snatch the radio microphone, “Hope you got a good look you bastard!” as he disappears towards the horizon. He didn’t respond. Reckon we might have been target practice … or just plain fun for the pilot. Fish Reef light is 43 miles away.
1330 hours: The weather is going from one extreme to the other. Hardly much wind at all now. Struggling to make way. Sails flapping around. Barely able to make 2 kts. Turn motor on. Check fuel and we have roughly 145 litres but hard to measure exactly when underway as the fuel slops around in the tank. Might be less. Engine hours at 1079.1.
1400 hours: It’s hot! No air or breeze. Decide to use some of our spare ‘fresh’ bore-water from Honeymoon Bay for a tub to try and liven up a bit. Both of us are tired. Delma has been searching for her towel until I remember using it to pack one of the cupboards in the rough seas. Feels so much better after having a wash with the fresh water.
1630 hours: Sea calm. Not a breath of air. Still motoring at 4.9 kts and making good time. Waypoint is 20 miles away. Did I say it was hot?
1830 hours: Have sundowners of smoked oysters and mussels on dry savoury biscuits. Watch our last sunset on this cruise. The afternoon has been really pleasant motoring along on a calm sea for a change. See a navy patrol boat off to port in the smoky haze on the horizon. Assume they’d probably the ones towing a target for the fighter pilot who buzzed us earlier.
2100 hours: Reach our long awaited waypoint off Fish Reef light. The light is to the NE and we’ll need to keep an eye on it in case the currents sweep us toward it. Conditions are still. Flag is hanging limp at the stern.
2315 hours: Pass along the outside of the shoals and the reefs off the western side of the Cox Peninsula and make our last turn past the light. Conditions are still calm. Lot of boat activity around but nothing close to us. Can see the glow of a bushfire off to the SE.
0050 hours: Moving across the gap between Fish Reef and the Charles Point light. Wind blows up suddenly quite strong from the SW. Almost like a farewell shove. Luckily we’d reefed the mainsail earlier. It gets a bit rocky and rolly but at least we’re going with it this time instead of against it. Set a new waypoint a little further out to seawards off Charles Point. There are extensive reefs around there and it can get quite nasty when the weather turns bad. The tide is running against us so we have a wind on tide situation. Even with a tailwind we’re only getting 3.5 kts.
0150 hours: As we get further east the conditions ease more. Delma wakes me up concerned about all the lights everywhere. There’s a few fishing trawlers around but most of the lights mark the main shipping channel lights into Darwin Harbour. She’s never done a night entrance into it before and it can be a bit confusing for the first time.
0250 hours: On the last leg across the top of the Cox Peninsula. As we start to get near to the harbour a fishing trawler is heading on a converging course with us. A quick call on the radio confirms that he’s seen us and he passes by without incident.
0600 hours: Approaching the Number 6 buoy marking the entrance to Darwin Harbour. I’ve slowed us down to allow the tide to push us into Darwin Harbour. There’s a bit of time to spend anyway before the tide has risen enough to let us back into the Tipperary Marina lock inside Sadgroves Creek.
0630 hours: A couple of small recreational dinghy fishing boats are heading offshore to some fishing grounds in the early light. They deviate off course to come close by and give a wave.
0700 hours: Delma’s cleaning out the fridges and galley. Clothes are also being sorted to take ashore. While she’s doing that I’m sorting stuff out topsides and in the wheelhouse.
0745 hours: Contact Peter Dermoudy the Lockmaster of the Tipperary Marina to arrange access inside to our berth.
0815 hours: Enter the lock. Peter tells us he’s reserved my usual position and we make straight for it.
0830 hours: As we berth Lowana IV several inquisitive boat owners come over to welcome us and find out about our trip. Cups of coffee all around.
0930 hours: There’s a family reunion as our daughter from Perth comes down to the marina. Hugs and kisses. Delma’s day is made after all the despondency at the thought of missing her. Luckily she can stay in Darwin for an extra few days.
1000 hours: Dip the fuel. Have 140 litres in the main tank still. Surprised by that considering the constant motoring since yesterday afternoon. Give Lowana IV a fresh water hose off . She’s managed the trip in good shape with minimal damage and proven once again what a solid seaworthy boat she is. There are a few slight surface rust bleeds that will need attending to later. Give her a fond silent farewell and leave her to rest for now. Perhaps I won’t sell her after all …
Load clothes, rubbish and some perishable food into our car which our daughters boyfriend had driven down for us. Take off for home and the tedium of starting work again on the morrow.
First thing we do when we get home is to have a HOT shower. Two days later whenever we stood still long enough we ‘d could still find ourselves swaying around like drunks.