Historic Victoria Ruins

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map 4 victoria
Map 4: Table Head to Victoria Ruins

Mon 22 Sep 03

0700: Water surface shiny. Light cumulus clouds around the horizon and a few scattered overhead. Weather calm. Check motor oils. Levels are down a little bit but okay for today.

0730: Finally manage to contact BBR Radio on 8.710 Mb and get a position report to them, but it was probably only our latitude and Port Essington. BBR wants to change frequency again but when we do that I lose him and can’t find him again.

0815: Clear up and start pulling the anchor in. Once the anchor is stowed we turn for deeper water  out in mid channel. Pete isn’t answering his radio so I call out as we motor close by and this time get a response. He’s doing something on deck with a cast net but will be underway soon.

0900: Both boats clear of anchorage and slowly motoring south further into the port. The sea is like glass. Cloudy. Light breeze.

0930: Sight the catamaran from the other day up ahead coming our way. The name on the side is Freyja and it passes on our port side. Listen to the ABC using the HF radio during the trip.  Good to be able to listen to something while underway using the motor. Live cuttlefish pass by occasionally just under the surface. Generally they’re a grey colour blob but now and again the sun reflects on lines of bronze and gold. Shoals of small fish feeding on the surface bubbling the water similar to the way tarpon do in fresh water.

1015: Follow Kajan into Barrow Bay around Record Point which is a spit of sandy beach and trees. Close carefully towards the beach where the bottom rises sharply from 12 metres, then from 6 metres rises almost within two boat lengths to 2 metres. Even as I turn Lowana IV at 3 metres depth the bottom rises to 1.8 metres giving me a keel clearance of about half a metre during the turn. Drop the anchor at 6 metres and put out 40 metres of chain. By the time the chain is fed out the depth is 8.5 metres.

1045: Anchor set and reverse checked. Engine off. The new CD stacker is proving to be excellent for our music. It’s a marked difference from our last trip to Western Australia where a lack of music contributed heavily towards boredom.

Day still calm and hot. Very light breeze. Sweaty. The land here is low lying with casuarina trees lining the foreshore and stretches of beach between. Further inland appears to be mangroves. Low cliffs on the southern side of the bay. Across the bay on the opposite side is a white slash of cliff marking where the old Victoria Settlement had been attempted over one and half centuries ago, but now there’s only ruins.

18 anchored boats barrow bayRight: Lowana IV far left and Kajan anchored in Barrow Bay across from Adams Head, which marks where the old Victoria settlement used to be.

Surface of water lightly rippled. Delma trying a bit of fishing with rod and reel but the reel isn’t working properly.

1055: Kajan Pete tells us he has a smoker and invites us over for coffee and smoked fish. The fish is delicious though it takes quite sometime to get working properly.  The mentholated spirits burner keeps going out. Eventually the burner is repositioned further down inside the cockpit and wood smoke and cooked fish smells soon fill the air. Turkish coffee is brewed in a copper cup. Nice chat. Take our leave back to Lowana IV.

Spend the afternoon checking into the fishing tackle box. Find a couple of old reels which could be salvaged for parts and fix two fishing rods. We end up with one rod of medium strength and high ratio spinning for mackerel and trevelly, and a smaller casting rod for closer work chasing barramundi using minnow type lures. The big rod with its small game reel will be used for trolling when needed.

1430: Radio sked. No contact with BBR at all. Since the motor is running to provide extra power for the hungry HF radio, I connect the fridge gauges again for another adjustment. Fiddley work. Eventually turn it off and go back to my bunk to read.

1545: Pete must be bored. Calls on the VHF and wants to move down to East Bay further down the port. The wind has sprung up from the northwest and there are lots of whitecaps out there. Short choppy seas have been whipped up by a strong afternoon sea breeze. I tell him, “Okay, let’s go.”

1600: Pull up the anchor bringing up lots of mud on the last 20 metres of chain. Very sticky too refusing to wash off by sluicing with water from a bucket. Allow it to go straight into the chain locker mud and all. The anchor locker will just have to be cleaned out tomorrow. Head out southwest to clear Middle Head. Pete going very slow for some reason.

1700: Travelling within 50 metres of Kajan with her just off my port bow. Both boats wallowing slightly as the following seas overtake us. Pete decides to go over to the western side to anchor in West Bay.  However on the way a clump of black rocks about half a mile off Mangrove Point bars our way making it a longer trip to get around them. These aren’t marked on Pete’s chart but can be seen exposed by the low tide. The agreed decision is to return to East Bay.

1730:  Anchored at 10 degrees 23.168 minutes South, 132 degrees 11.064 minutes East with mud holding in 3 metres depth. It’s a couple of miles across at the entrance to the bay and the bottom gradually shallows. The tide only has a one metre range tonight. Tidy up the boat. Take the main canopy down as a precaution against dragging on the anchor. North-westerlies still blowing straight down the anchorage and it’s a little bumpy but okay otherwise. Expect it will ease later when the land cools.

1745: Pete comes over for sundowners. Ask Pete his opinion on the use of computers on board since I’m planning to build a PC computer using a tower case. At the end of the discussion we agree that a laptop would be a better way to go.

Pete has previously done a circumnavigation of Australia going west about i.e. anti-clockwise, and since I’m considering the same seek his opinion and advice. After some discussion we decide it would probably be better to start off heading easterly and go clockwise. Pete indicates an interest in taking Kajan along in company with Lowana IV.  He’s a very knowledgeable man and his experience would certainly be handy.

We’d probably be looking at leaving Darwin in September next year. That would get us plenty of time to get to Thursday Island off the tip of Cape York before the short window of northerlies kick in to help get us down the east coast of Australia. Preferable we should be well down the east coast by the onset of the cyclone season, but if not there are more cyclone bolt-holes on the east coast than in the Gulf of Carpentaria.  That place is a breeding place for cyclones.

Talk turns to passage making and Pete tells us about the Lombok Strait in Indonesia. He said its been rough water the five times he’s passed the southern entrance, and has heard of large standing waves there. Thought briefly about the French couple Laurent and Regine since they’d mentioned going that way.

Pete regales us with a story of a Canadian crewman he’d once had onboard off the West Australian coast where the continental shelf comes up. Water wells up and breaks the surface like a big standing bubble. They were sailing at night and the moon was shining on the water.

The crewman starts and suddenly calls out an urgent, “Reefs ahead!”

Pete’s confused for a moment then realises it’s only the upwelling water and says, “Steer a straight course. Don’t deviate, not even one degree. I think we can fit between those rocks. Anyway, they look slippery so we should be able to slide over them.”  The crewman gets increasingly concerned as Pete continues to urge for tighter steering, “Half a degree left,” and “just a bit more”.  The boat suddenly starts bucking around but soon it’s all over.  The fellow found out the truth about the “reef” later when the reached port. I thought to myself it has to say something about the man’s confidence in Pete, in that he continued into what looked like a possible disaster.

Pete set off back to Kajan but runs out of fuel again. This time he has to row against the small wavelets pushed by the wind still blowing 10 to 15 kts.

Have a nice stir fry dinner of spicy chicken and vegetables. Do the radio sked but nothing heard … again. Still a little bumpy outside when I finally get to bed. Lowana IV is bobbing her bow to meet each small wave but it’s not uncomfortable. Hardly noticeable below.

Tues 23 Sep 03

0715: Usual beautiful day. Water shiny. Complete the radio sked but nothing heard as usual.

0815: Already getting hot. Sea is rippled and a small breeze has sprung up already from the east. Bring our bedding up topside for airing.

0830: Put the big shade canopy back up and have a breakfast of steak and eggs. The anchor light apparently wasn’t working last night so pull it apart to find blown bulbs. Probably blew them when connecting its clips to the battery. Change the clips for a 2-pin connector and also fix. Also fix a broken wire in the spotlight. The negative lead on the multimeter device has broken off so re-soldered that too.

Load the dinghy with fishing gear and head off towards shore. Very shallow. Bottom featureless with just sticky mud and it’s only about 30 centimetres deep next to the mangroves edge. Very little fish activity much like the neap tides around Darwin. Troll around for a while but the outboard motor keeps conking out so went return back to Lowana IV.

Change the spark plug on the outboard motor and set off in another direction. Bloody hot and glarey! Sun streaming down. No breeze at all. Water flat. Go for a mile or so before reaching the southern side of East Bay. It’s the same as before, shallow and featureless with even less fish activity here.

A breeze starts springing up from the NW about 5 to 6 kts and the water surface begins to ruffle. Had intended to go a couple of more miles over to the rocks off Mangrove Point but change my mind. Probably more prudent to go back to Lowana IV given the small freeboard of the dinghy.

1215: Back onboard Delma sets about making some soda-bread, a kind of damper that uses flour, milk and bicarb of soda. She’s trying a gluten free flour this time in deference to a problem I have with my tummy.

1430: Radio sked no good. Pete comes over because he hadn’t heard from us on the VHF radio.  I’d turned it off during the HF radio sked because of bleed interference and forgotten to turn the VHF back on. He stays for a feed of fresh soda bread, syrup and coffee.

Read books and sleep during the afternoon. Sea breezes come up again at approx 15 kts. Takes longer to calm down at sunset then it springs back up again after dark.

Evening: Have been running the fridges for one and a half hours but it still hasn’t pulled down cold enough. The eutectic freezer tank has iced up so turn the motor off. We both have a wash by drawing salt water up from alongside in a bucket then rinsing off with fresh water. Bit brisk in the breeze. Go to bed early.

Wed 25 Sep 03

0730: Usual weather conditions and hot already. Pete comes over for coffee. Delma cooks sausages which we have with tomato sauce in a bowl.

Pete is always an invaluable source of information and ideas so I ask him how I might go about extending the aft cockpit area. As it happens he’d done a similar modification on Kajan so we go over to his boat for more coffee and to take a closer look what he’d done.

1115: Return to Lowana IV and run the fridges. Wind coming up from NW already at 10 to 15 kts.

1400: Wind continues to blow and the sea has become choppy. High tide. Take the dinghy out to pick up Pete’s crab pots but only found one of them, and there wasn’t anything in it.

Don’t do much else through the rest of the afternoon. Read books and doze while the boat bucks about in the freshening winds. These would be the strongest we’ve had here with gusts up to around 20 kts. Boat pitching a bit. Spend some more time on the fridges. Connect the refrigeration gas bottle but it doesn’t seem to be adding any refrigerant. Move some stores around to make them more accessible since our original packing stores system hasn’t been working well enough.

1730: Over at Pete’s for coffee and a chat for about an hour. Conditions much calmer. Breeze has dropped right down to just sloppy seas. Anchor holding well.

Dusk descending. Not a particularly bright sunset. Some streaky cirrus up there hints at higher winds on the way.

Thurs 25 Sep 03

0730: Fire up the motor for the radio sked and finally establish reasonable communications on the 16 Mb frequency. Allan at the other end seems to want more to test frequencies rather than take a position report from us. Change to the 8 Mb frequency where we can hear him but he can’t receive us, so we change back to the 16 Mb frequency. Now it sounds as if someone is jamming the radio with loud noise. Unable to establish contact again. Very disappointing.

0800: Connect a small water pressure pump to the batteries so that we can hose the mud off the anchor and chain when we’re pulling it up.  It doesn’t work so will have to check that later. Try to wind up the anchor but it’s stuck and have to use the motor to break it out from the bottom. Pull up the anchor and the chain comes up as a solid blob of gray, sticky mud. It takes numerous buckets of water and scrubbing to get the mud off the deck.

Head across the harbour for a couple of miles towards the old Victoria Settlement ruins. Kajan follows while Lowana IV forges ahead.

0930: Finish anchoring.  Scrub down the decks of the last of the persistent mud. Sun already has some bite in it. Sweaty work and getting hotter. Strong glare.  Surface of water like glass.

19 at anchorLeft: Kajan at left and Lowana IV at right anchored off Adams Head near the old Victoria settlement.

Pretty spot. Big splash with a flash of white 100 metres off the starboard side. The small cove south of Adam Head and the settlement is shallow, fringed with a sandy beach and backed by trees with rocky outcrops and mangroves either end.  Around Adam Head itself is a white cliff maybe 6 metres high, white on the bottom but more reddish at the top. Another stretch of beach leads to where the old rock jetty used to be but it’s now overgrown with mangroves. The setting is just gorgeous.

A small catamaran power-boat about 18 ft arrives from the direction of Black Point loaded with about 6 to 8 people. They land in the little cove and we soon see the group walking along the cliff above Adam Head. No doubt they’re tourists. Another small dinghy takes off from the cove. Probably taking a tourist fishing somewhere.

Later on another dinghy arrives from Black Point. This is another powerboat of about 18 ft with a black hull and shade canopy rigged and pulls into that same little cove. Obviously a charter boat with 5 people onboard this time plus skipper.

Kajan is anchored about 50 metres away. Delma decides to get active pulling seawater up using a galvanised bucket and washing her hair over the side. She’s using shampoo because it works okay with salt water but normal soap is useless. Unfortunately she gets salt water in her eyes which stings a bit but she valiantly continues anyway.

The water is beautifully cool. Lots of cumulus clouds and bright reflecting glare. Birds are screeching ashore probably protesting the presence of humans. An easy listening CD is playing and we relax with a latte coffee.

Do some more reading before climbing into the dinghy to explore. Head for the nearest point of land with a rocky outcrop, then motor back and forth looking for oysters but don’t see any. Fish jump here and there but it’s otherwise very still. No activity in the water at all anywhere. Work our way around the little cove to the south for a couple of miles. Check several oyster possibilities but none seen.

Flick a lure out at a couple of potential spots but get nothing so start heading back towards the boats. From a distance they both appear to be suspended between the sea and sky with no obvious horizon. The masts of both boats reflect like a track on the still water towards us even at this distance.

As we come back near the little cove a couple of men return to their dinghies so we turn around to go back for a chat. One is a stockily built fellow with tattoos and is well burned from the sun. He had the temerity to call our little dinghy a bath tub but was friendly enough. The other fellow was lean, black haired and younger.  We learn that both Port Bremer and Raffles Bay further to the east are closed to yachts now due to the pearling industry there. High security and they don’t like visitors.

1130: Back on board. Have some lunch and another read of a book. Lay down for a rest. Listen to some chatter on the VHF radio. There seems to be some sort of problem with the shore party calling their other boat. Seems they’d forgotten about lunch. Kajan and Lowana IV offer them some lunch and drinks but are politely declined. Eventually the other dinghy goes past, then turns back and goes over to them.

Afternoon: Blowy and bumpy. Pump up the rubber ducky inflatable before collecting Pete and going ashore. There’s no way the red fibreglass dinghy would be able to handle the choppy water. Pull the inflatable up onto the beach where the other dinghies had been before and start walking in a counter-clockwise direction around the site of the old settlement. A signpost tells us it’s a 3.7 km walk starting from the south. The first site is a kiln constructed of ironstone bound in clay. Above Adams Head is a magazine which originally contained ammunition and I suppose gunpowder. Then follows the ruins of Government House, the married quarters for the soldiers and their families and a smithy.

We also came across an old aboriginal midden.  According to NT Parks and Wildlife service the traditional people who lived here were the Madjunbalmi clan.  They generally lived in harmony with the garrison trading turtles, hearts of cabbage tree palm and shellfish for metal implements, clothing, tobacco and bottles.

20 magazine 23 blacksmith forge
The magazine had been built into the ground to reduce the risk of explosion. There was also a large square timber tower and blockhouse. The blacksmiths forge made iron implements for the settlement.
21 cornish cottages 22 chimneys
Some of the married quarters for the soldiers.  These cottages had shingled or thatched roofs. Next to each cottage vegetable gardens were planted with pumpkins, cabbage and fruit. A singular feature of the cottages are their large fireplaces and chimneys as demonstrated by Delma standing next to the first one here.  Hard to understand why they’d want these in such a hostile, tropical climate. An example of how the settlers failed, or refused to adapt.

Following a little trail down the short cliff takes us down to the old jetty but it’s now just rocks covered in mangroves. On resuming the walk we find the old Quartermasters store which must have been an imposing place, the hospital and hospital kitchen. Of special interest is a memorial plaque at the cemetery which lists names of the people who’ve died here, or from visiting ships. Sad to see the names of so many mothers and babies who had apparently died during or soon after childbirth.

24 jetty rocks 25 old jetty
All that remains of the original jetty is a pile of rocks. The jetty, now overgrown used to be 43 metres long. The first one built in 1839 was destroyed by a cyclone and a second one was built.
26 hospital 27 hospital and kitchen
Foundations of the hospital. The small population suffered from dysentery, diarrhoea, influenza, scurvy and malaria. Sometimes the hospital became overcrowded. At such times very little work could be done. The hospital and kitchen
bakehouse in background.
28 hospital kitchen 29 graves
The kitchen bakehouse. Part of the cemetery. Malaria affected most people accounting for about a quarter of the residents.
30 grave obelisk 31 plaque
A more elaborate obelisk tombstone. The names listed on a plaque of those who died. Quite sad to see so many mothers dying either in childbirth or soon after.

A garden established adjacent to the cemetery was one of a series to supply bananas, oranges, lemons, tamarinds, sugar cane and guavas. Poor soils produced poor crops and rats eating unharvested food were a problem.

They certainly had it hard poor buggers!

Return to Lowana IV in the late afternoon for sundowners. Seas still choppy with swells coming through but it appears to be dying down slowly.

1800: Take Pete back to Kajan. Have dinner and a wash then read our books. Looks like I’ve let out too much refrigerant from the fridges since it’s taking two to three hours to bring them down cold again.

Intend to go back to the little Caiman Creek tomorrow. Plan is to fish and crab for a day or two, return to Black Point and re-water, and have a meal at the holiday resort at Seven Spirit Bay across the port. Also decide to start returning to Darwin. Big headwinds are forecast and with both Port Bremer and Raffles Bay closed to us, it would make it too long a trip to get down Bowen Strait inside Croker Island since there doesn’t appear to be many suitable anchorages.

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