2003 Sail to Croker Island, NT


September 2003
A photo-journal of a sailing voyage
from Darwin to Croker Island, NT

Map 1 Voyage Area

Map 1: Voyage area from Darwin to Croker Island, NT

This story follows the journey of my wife Delma and I when we travelled from Darwin to Croker Island of the Northern Territory in Australia, via the historic Cobourg Peninsula.

These are the journal entries and photographs taken at the time.

01 Lowana IV

Lowana IV under sail on Darwin Harbour.
Delma standing at the bow, Russ on the tiller
back in the cockpit.

Sat/Sun – 13/14 Sep 03

Last week I’d taken our yacht Lowana IV into the careening poles at DBCYC – Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club, and gave her hull a wash down. Broke a stanchion in the process which our good friend Fred from Nanbeth fixed. His wife Beth has sewn new v-berth cushion covers for us.

Serviced the motor – oil changed, filters changed and fuel bled. The inflatable rubber ducky dinghy required lots of patches to cover bits that had perished during the last Wet Season. The gearbox of the outboard motor was blocked and had to be pulled apart. Found a bit of rubber seal blocking the passage of oil inside.

This week the the liferaft has been serviced.  Rust patches on deck fixed. Painting completed to a presentable stage. The old 10 channel HF radio has been replaced and radio calling schedules have been arranged with Allen Riches of Brunei Bay Radio. Relatives have been emailed advising how to contact Brunei Bay Radio should they wish to pass a message.

Back at our house we’ve been getting a new front fence put up and it’s been causing delays. Contractor has cut a water pipe three separate times putting our departure timetable on hold.

Took Booze the pet cat out to the Cattery on Sunday.  Today our non-perishable stores are being brought on board.   Delma “bombs” the house with cockroach pesticide and makes arrangements with the neighbours to collect our mail, water the garden and feed the pet fish in the ponds. Pet bird Stolly is taken to daughter Karen’s place to be looked after.

Mon 15 Sep 03

Have some morning tea with friends. Last minute shopping and house cleaning. Take frozen food down to the boat and pack the boat freezer and fridge. Pick up fresh fruit and veges and take them down to the boat as well. Head off home, take a shower then drive down to the boat.  The new fence is still being put in so Delma has to stay at home to finalise things there.

1700: Last minute stowage of stores and other stuff, fill the water tanks, raise and stow the dinghy.

1800: Finally get out of the marina lock.  Motor around from Sadgroves Creek to Fannie Bay in Darwin Harbour. There’s strong headwinds, choppy seas and it’s pitch black. Have some difficulties finding a spot to anchor among the many boats already there, but finally get the hook down. Go ashore surfing the waves in the inflatable. Onshore waves are big at about 1.5m. Delma’s waiting there after Karen dropped her off.

2100: Instead of going out to the boat we end up ctching a taxi home for the night. Original idea was to stay on board but conditions out there aren’t too pleasant. And it would have been difficult trying to negotiate the shore breakers to get back out there anyway.

Tues 16 Sep 03

0800: Back at Darwin Sailing Club. Got some more ‘d’ shackles from the chandlery store. Seas still a bit choppy. Also brought another gas bottle and on the way out to Lowana IV it rips and almost falls through the floor of the inflatable dinghy. Other stores stacked on the floor were fortunately okay and we’re able to get them out to the boat.  Despite the choppy sea conditions it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day.

Afternoon: Blowing strong. Big waves are breaking through the anchorage. The anchor drags and the keel starts bumping along the bottom.  Pull up the anchor and motor back around the harbour to Doctor’s Gully for the night.

1730: Drop the anchor at Doctors Gully. Conditions still slightly bumpy but much better.

1800: Pete from Kajan turns up and anchors nearby. Take the dinghy over for a chat and a drink. We discuss having a meal at the nearby Darwin Wharf but decide the distance is too far to go by dinghy. Return to Lowana IV and it’s early to bed.

Weds 17 Sep 03

map 2 voyage area

Map 2: Route taken

0100: Pull up the anchor and get underway. Conditions nice. Half-moon, some swell left over from yesterday but no wind. Motoring.

0300: Clear of Darwin Harbour. Pete is having problems with his auto-pilot and it’s taking some time to fix.

0600: Had an hour’s sleep while Delma stood watch. Located off the Vernon Islands. Pete calls on the VHF radio suggesting we hug the Melville Island coast due to expected W to NE moderate winds later today.

1025: Well along the coast of Melville Island. Still motoring with the mainsail up. Not much wind which is on the nose anyway. Pete calls again to suggest stopping for the night at Cobham Bay on the SE coast of Melville.

1400: Approaching Cobham Bay. Land is low-lying, interspersed with sandy beaches and rocky patches on the foreshore. Creep towards Cape Keith to check for an anchorage there. Myriads of fish showing on sounder. Pete has problems with his autopilot gear again while we’re exploring. He hangs back while we continue closer to shore.  By the time we come back Pete has found a 3m pinnacle in a 9m deep hole, and anchored on top of it. We go back inshore  until we’re about 150m from shore and anchor in 6m over mud.

1430: Anchoring completed and start our radio sked. Manage to contact BBR – Brunei Bay Radio but we’re not readable again. Finally figure out how to operate on DX – duplex frequencies. My manual refers to the system as “splitting” whereby stations transmit on one frequency but receive on a completely different one.

1500: Pete and I work out the tidal patterns over the radio to get around Cape Don tomorrow. Decide to get a good nights sleep here and leave at 0930 hrs tomorrow. Am feeling a bit jet-lagged at the moment due to the early start this morning so lay down for a nap.

1700: Delma is fishing over the side with a strip of bacon and a hook big enough to catch Moby Dick. She says there’s three of us to feed.

1800-1900: Spend an hour with fishing roads and lures. Have three rods. Lose half of a fishing reel over the side rendering the reel useless. I’d owned it for 15 years. The second reel doesn’t work properly so I’m left with just a game-fishing rod. Don’t catch any fish although there’s plenty of fish activity between Kajan and Lowana IV; a distance of about 400m .

No sign of Pete over on Kajan. No light on boat and it’s getting dark. Calm conditions, balmy breeze. Red sunset. Boat sitting still on the water. One or two birds start calling along the tree line. Occasional splash of fish. Clear sky. Commercial radio not working too well here so playing music from the CD stacker including The Beatles and the Dixie Chicks.

No TV, no computer and no phones tend to promote interaction with your spouse. Some of our best bonding is on these trips. No outside distractions.

Evening: Conditions remain calm. Still sea. Dark after dusk with a late rising half-moon.

Thurs 18/9/03

Dawn: Water flat/silvery. Horizon to the south merging into the sky with no visible horizon. Kajan sitting serenely seemingly suspended in mid-air where the horizon should be. Glorious dawn. No breezes.

0730: Nothing heard from BBR during the morning radio sked.

0800: Clean down the motor and check oils. Tighten the fridge compressor mounts which have come loose. It had been rattling around yesterday. Have a nice brekky of bacon and eggs with hot tea.

0900: Clouds coming up. Breeze starting. Small ripples on sea. As usual we’re looking for things we’d bought on board but can’t find now. Delma had brought sunglass clip-on’s and I’ve been looking for a package of string. Other stuff has mysteriously disappeared during our packing haste. Get underway.

02 Lowana IVRight: Motoring out of Cobham Bay.  Conditions still calm and haven’t yet put up any sails.  Extra water and fuel containers lashed on deck.  The yellow object is an inflatable dinghy.

1030: Bright sunny day. Small breezes. Sea flat and light green. Patches of wind showing ripples. Clouds have cleared except for some scattered on the horizon to the west. Hotting up. Kajan is off to starboard approx 150m. Clear reefy patches near Cape Keith heading North 021 degrees, motor sailing with full mainsail giving us a lift. Boat heeling only slightly at about 2 degrees. Apparent wind only.

Delma reading a book. Fridges seem to be working okay. Delma fixes a cord and a toggle to an old broad brimmed straw hat so it won’t blow off to combat the already fierce sun. Slowly overtaking Kajan at 5 kts. Melville Island off to port as a line of low lying trees, but it’s too far away to see any beaches.

03 KajanRight:  Kajan motor sailing.

First small swells reach us from the Arafura Sea up ahead, although it’s still 20 miles away yet to Cape Don at the entrance to this gulf. No land can be seen to eastward or down south. Thinking about putting up the cockpit shade canopy.

1430: Late lunch of corned meat and salad chopped up in a bowl. Conditions are hot. No breeze. Cape Don light clearly visible abeam at 3.5 miles to starboard. Water current swirls around here even on a calm day. Almost cloudless sky. CD playing. There’s a small column of smoke coming up from one of the bays to the east of Cape Don. Birds are sitting on a small log as it drifts by. They give us the eye as they flap their wings.

1500: A small 5 to 6 kts breeze springs up from NW filling the mainsail. It gives a small lift to our speed. Getting 6.7 kts motor-sailing with an ebbing tide flow of approx 2 kts helping us along as well.
1515: Breeze builds quickly to something like 20 kts. Put a first reef into the mainsail and speed falls back to 6.3 kts. Whitecaps everywhere. Position is almost due north of Cape Don but past the turbulent area NW of the cape known for tide rips. Two headlands appear up ahead slightly to starboard. Extensive reefs jut offshore up to 3 miles in places along this coast so we’re maintaining a course giving a 2-mile clearance of them. The tide is due to turn soon and will be slowing us down substantially.

1530: Seas very choppy. Pitching hard. Successive waves often bringing us almost to a standstill.

1615: Distance Made Good over the last hour was 4 miles. Doing better than I’d thought. Bump up the revs on the motor to 1500 rpm. The ride smoothes out slightly and Lowana IV starts powering better over the waves but it’s still hard going. Change to starboard tack (wind on the starboard side) looking for smoother water further offshore. Can only achieve a northerly course of 016 degrees (NNE) but find the water is slighter calmer further out.

1645: Change tack again only to find we’re going backwards and the only way to progress forward is on the northerly tack. However we’ll just have to keep going on this tack until we can see breakers, then change back  northerly.

1750: Change back to port tack when we come level with the entrance to Trepang Bay. Am able to get 080 degrees (ENE) this time. Call Pete and suggest over-nighting at Trepang Bay but he wants to push ahead. He makes the point that it’s not sheltered from westerly winds and the land is low lying. Agree with that and decide to keep going although it will mean getting in late at Port Essington. It’ll probably be between 2300 and 0100 hours depending on the tide now running hard against us. Only getting an average of 3 kts at the moment.

1800: A yacht is passing the other way and calls on the radio. She identifies herself as Delicate Gypsy and is heading to Darwin from Gove. They’d intended staying at Port Essington but since the wind is favourable for them they’ve decided to keep going. They tell us their eventual destination is Bali but are concerned the they might be too late for the seasonal SE trade winds. We agree there seems to be an early start to the Wet Season with it’s early NW monsoonss this year but wish them luck.  Give them contact details for the Tipperary Marina where we berth Lowana IV.

Look around for Pete and he’s a long way behind. Call him up and promise we’ll provide a hot mince stew when he gets into Black Point.

1830: Breakers ahead indicate reefs off the eastern side of the entrance to Trepang Bay.  Change tack to port and start heading back out to sea once more. We’re actually getting a reasonable speed despite the conditions but it’s the tide that’s really slowing us down. Bump up the engine throttle again to 2000 rpm so as to maintain a good speed. Heading NNE, but even with increased throttle can still only manage to cover less than a mile in 20 minutes.

1850: A larger vessel appears on the horizon in the fading dusk. Turn on our navigation lights and as it gets closer call it on the radio. It’s the coastal barge Frances Bay returning to Darwin. Talk for a short while to a pleasant chap. Mention that Kajan is following behind and to watch for him. He says he’s seen both of us for the last hour on his radar and also visually for the last 20 minutes.

1945: Covered less than 4 miles over the last 1.25 hours. The waves seems to be calming down a bit but the tide is still running hard against us. Turn back towards the coast again. Am hoping this last leg will clear the reefs around Vashon Head at Trepang Bay before a final run into Port Essington.

2050: It’s obvious we’re not going to clear Vashon Head. Wind has sprung up once more and swung slightly. We can only achieve a course of 100 degrees (ESE) compared to our previous leg of 80 degrees (ENE). Turn northerly again. First sighting of the lights from the Black Point Ranger Station in the distance at 11.5 miles as the crow flies, but our zig-zagging tacking route will take us much further than that.

2120: Slow going trying to get around this headland. Only got just over a mile in the last hour.

2155: Covered 1.5 miles over the last half hour and finally come to a point where we can get a direct run into Port Essington. Change to port tack and a run into the port with 10 miles to go.

2345: Just one mile from our waypoint off the Black Point Ranger Station. We’ve done 9 miles in just under 2 hours and sometimes hitting up to 5.5 kts. Moon isn’t up yet and it’s pitch black. Pull out the spotlight but unable to see any land although the shore lights look close. Distances can be deceptive at night. I know there are rocks out from Black Point and ease the throttle as we close with the land.

The spreader lights illuminate the deck while we pull down the mainsail and secure the boom.  Point the bow towards land and start creeping towards the shore with the motor just ticking over and using the spotlight occasionally. A mud bank appears suddenly at the extreme range of the spottie, maybe 100m or so. Still in 8m depth which is still too deep to use a 6:1 scope on the anchor chain. The rocks off Black Point become visible under the spottie as we turn away. They’re too close for us to anchor here.

Head further down into the port until the light at the end of the jetty comes into view. Scout around using the depth sounder finding between 4m to 8m depth. There’s room here for Kajan as well when she gets in. Put out 35m of anchor chain and snubber while Delma stays in the cockpit to handle the motor and watch the depth sounder. Wait for Lowana IV to come around and settle to her anchor but she doesn’t seem to want to move. A little bitof persuasion from the motor finally gets her anchor to bite into the bottom and hold us there.

Secure the anchor and return to wheelhouse. Note the GPS position at 11.09.867S and 132.08.658E. Set the anchor alarm at 60m to allow for swinging on the tides.



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