|Map 9 – Final Legs|
Sat 4 Oct 03
0500: Climb out of bed into the hottest and clammiest morning though it’s still dark. Very humid and soon develop a sweat before even doing anything. Usual chores getting ready. Anchor comes in easily by hand and only need to work the winch for the last 10 metres of chain to break it out of the sand. It comes in clean. Notice while handling the chain that the water is warm too.
0545: Sea flat and reflecting the lights of the township as Delma turns the boat towards the middle of the bay. Turn the navigation lights on and “house” lights off.
0600: Pink dawn sky shows a band of thick cloud stretching away to the NE . Weather forecast is for moderate NW to NE winds so hope we can make Cape Croker before it arrives, but don’t think so. Surface of the bay is oily flat, like a mirror reflecting the dawn colours almost like a rainbow, to all appearances like a vast slick of oil with red, purple and pink patches on it.
0615: The sea merges with the sky in a pale grey/blue colour. Darch Island separates itself from the mainland to starboard seemingly floating in mid air since no horizon can be seen anywhere.
The old adage says, “Red sky in morning, sailor take warning”. Other signs indicate a blowy day from a weather front coming from the east. The undersides of clouds to the east are being lit up. Streaks of higher level clouds form a solid wall with the still hidden sun lighting the undersides of the clouds above them. At least we’ll have the weather behind us when we turn around Cape Croker and head west.
0645: Sun finally comes up from behind the clouds. The weather change is now distinct with high level streaky cirrus overhead and to the west, and there’s low cumulus to the east and NE. Looks pretty though. Almost to first waypoint to make a turn towards Cape Croker and it’s extensive shallow areas. It’s going to take a while to get around the outskirts of them. Making turns around most capes sometimes seems never-ending. You make a turn and the cape is ahead of you. You go past and turn and it’s ahead of you again. Make the next turn and it’s ahead of you again …
0700: Turn north out of the bay and the township eases behind the northern entrance of the bay. Cape Croker is visible on the horizon off the port bow at 10 miles as a thin dark line in the water. Water flat and mirrored. Wind vane pointing to the low cloud formation to the NE. That tells me it’s coming this way. The smell of the sea very strong this morning. Tangy smell.
0730: Turn on the HF radio to listen to weather forecast. Radio sked with BBR. Pick Allen up on the 8 Mb frequency but the signal is weak with heavy interference. All frequencies very noisy with traffic. Unable to establish communications.
0800: A breakfast of bacon, eggs and soda-bread hits the spot nicely. Five miles from the cape. First puffs of wind from the NE and the first swells reach us. Wind can be seen as bands of rippled water across the smooth surface of the sea.
The coastal land off the port beam seems to be mostly sand dunes with clumpy vegetation. Cape Croker itself is now clearly defined. Look to the NE and think I can see a ship but it isn’t quite the right shape. What is it? Finally realise it’s just a small cloud sitting faintly just above the actual horizon. Wind building slowly now from the NW as we get closer to Cape Croker and coming out from behind the shelter of the land.
0915: Cape Croker abeam to port. A fishing boat is anchored under the point. Short swells. Light, high wispy clouds blanket the sky with thicker clouds out to the east. Wind still light and variable from N to NE.
0930: Cape Croker lies astern. Still heading northerly. Lots of reef spawn in water giving off a stale stinking kind of smell and consisting of a mixture of light brown and green algae like patches in big streaks floating on surface.
Cutting closer to the reef rather than going out wide because conditions allow it. A solitary sea bird wings alongside for a moment before turning away over the widening brown stain of reef spawn. Swells starting to get bigger as we enter the more open waters of the Arafura Sea.
0950: First turn to port to pass over Britomart Shoals heading NW. Wind coming off the starboard bow on a close reach.
1020: Final turn towards the SW. Put up all sail to catch a small breeze coming broad off starboard beam. Motor to neutral. Try to keep sailing but speed slowly drops to 1.4 kts then we’re dead in the water. Current too strong so turn the motor back on.
1230: The NW tip of Croker Island lies to the SW about 5 miles off. Just a small dark outline of land. The wind has not appeared yet. Have been motor-sailing with full sails at 4.5 kts in the little bit of available breeze coming almost from the west. Sea flat and hardly any swell. Darker green colour out here. Looks inviting for a swim but it’s not a place where that would be wise.
Calculate that Trepang Bay is too far for an overnight anchorage so decide to head back to Black Point. At least we can anchor up there safely in the dark should we have to. It’s just under 5 hours on this heading and we should be able to make a final turn into Port Essington – if we keep up this speed.
Hot again. Put up the little white cockpit canopy for some shade. Makes a huge difference in comfort level. Sea is oily looking like the sort of smoothness you get if oil or fat is poured onto water. Occasional cloud gives a little bit of relief from the sun. Cool breeze blows fleetingly and the motor drones on and on.
1445: Wind tries to come up with short small gusts and lift Lowana IVs speed over 5 kts and heels her over to 15 degrees. Turn motor off. Under sail we get around 4 kts pushing through constant swells from the west. Wind is supposed to be NW but is actually coming from due west which is all to the good because we’re getting a broad reach out of it. Due south in the land haze is Port Bremer. Just under 11 miles to the waypoint with Smith Point visible in the distance as a faint darker blue line against the pale blue sky.
1615: Wind keeps dropping and it’s getting harder to maintain 4 kts. In the end we’re down to just over 3 kts so turn the motor back on rather than get into the anchorage after dark. Give just a little throttle up to 5 kts. Seas smooth with wind puffing from the west.
1800: Quick run into Black Point. Some people are walking along the low red cliff line above the rocky foreshore revealed by the low tide. Black Point ramp itself devoid of anyone. The beached yacht is still there but otherwise the place is just as we’d seen it last. No dinghies. No tourists. No nothing.
The sun moves down towards the horizon lighting a corona of blazing white streaky clouds, radiating outwards as if the sun is the centre of some cloud burst. Stronger winds are definitely on the way. Drop the anchor.
Delma prepares tea and pulls out a couple of cold drinks for sundowners in the cockpit. Reflecting on the day am surprised we hadn’t been hit by heavy winds today. Must be tomorrow and will just have to wait and see.
Evening: Dinner of baked chicken. Neither of us very hungry since we’d been nibbling at stuff all day. No sign of life anywhere except for a solitary truck driving in, probably one of the Park Rangers coming back home.
Overnight: Wind picks up creating sloppy conditions with swell coming through most of the night. It was hot, humid and sweaty, and neither of us slept very well. Up in the forward berth I could hear the anchor chain clunking against something, probably a rocky patch, and the boat bobbed up and down constantly to a succession of swells. After the wind eventually dies down the mossies start. Then something else starts clanging to keep me awake. Get up but can’t find it. It’s must be just a small noise from outside but magnified inside the steel hull. Then the boat starts rocking sideways as if she’s adrift. Get up again to check our position but it’s only the turn of the tide. And in between these interruptions to a good nights sleep are several calls of nature probably due to having drunk too much cold water during the day in an effort to keep cool.
Sun 5 Oct 03
0430: Alarms go off. Early start needed to reach Cape Don by 1300 hrs which will be a 31-mile run against the tide.
0530: Set up the pressure pump but it isn’t needed since the anchor comes up clean. On our way with the wind and seas calm. Faint lightening in east.
0600: Small breezes coming from east.
0700: Just of 3 miles to first waypoint around Vashon Head where we’ll need to go out wide to skirt the surrounding reefs.
One reef of more immediate concern is Orontes Reef. It got it’s name from the wreck of a 452 ton wooden sailing vessel in 1838 when it was bringing supplies into the then settlement of Victoria in Port Essington. Am not sure why the Orontes hit this reef but perhaps the existence of the reef should have been known. Maartin van Delft sailed through here in 1705 and located the reef calling it De Konijnenberg – The Rabbit’s Hole.
Breeze has picked up coming more strongly from the NE. Put up the mainsail and get another half knot. Delma’s busy below making bread and breakfast, sorting stores and repacking fridges. Freezer working well. Fish and meat frozen solid in there. Put some meat into the fridge to thaw it out for tonight. Seas still smooth and it looks like its going to be a beautiful day. Tides are neaps today so don’t expect much of a problem with them later at Cape Don.
0830: Caledon Bay, a red and white barge passes the other way. We’re getting 4.2 kts but have to push the throttle a bit. Wind isn’t helping being variable from the east and only light. It can’t keep up with the boat speed under motor.
0900: A Navy Patrol Boat comes up on our port quarter towing three Indonesian fishing boats and slowly overtakes us. They’re about half a mile away and getting better time at around 5 kts. Barely any wind. Delma is watching a couple of dolphins just off the bow when a large fish jumps twice in front of the dolphins and a chase develops. A fishing dinghy goes by at planing speed closer in to the coast. Probably works from the fishing holiday resort at Cape Don. We leave them astern as they stop and start searching around for fish.
1000: Cape Don lighthouse comes into view peeking out from behind Lingi Pt.
1200: Tide running with us. Cape Don is off the port beam at just over a mile. Pull out the headsail and set both sails. Small northerly seabreeze starting in gives us an average of 6 kts under sail. Nice and quiet. Put some music on and enjoy some lunch in relative peace and quiet.
1230: Lunch of sandwiches and cold orange juice over. Speed has dropped to just over 5 kts but that’s okay, it’s pleasant. Nice cool breeze under the shade of the cockpit canopy. Seas are slight with wind barely 10 kts coming through in puffs.
1300: A combination of the wind dropping and the tide turning pulls our speed down below 4 kts. Turn the motor on so that we can get to our anchorage before dark. Leave the sails still up.
Coastwatch aircraft thunders low overhead calling over the radio, “Red sloop just overflown by Coastwatch aircraft”. When I identify ourselves as Lowana IV he says, “Thank you sir, we have your details. Enjoy the rest of your journey”.
Waves with regular whitecaps roll past. Lowana IV rocks along with them as they pass underneath from the starboard quarter. Late in the afternoon the wind picks up a bit. Give some thought to continuing on tonight under sail but the chance for a good sleep overrides it. Have to offset our course as the tide keeps pushing pushes us towards the shore. Rock and roll, rock and roll. Delma watches while I get an hours rest before we have to start threading our way through the extensive shoals and reefs. No fish on the trolling line except a big gob of seaweed.
Doesn’t look too promising as we come up to Cape Keith. Long choppy swells follow the coast with us and it initially looks like we might have to forego our anchorage tonight. However after turning into the cove and scouting around for over an hour we find a spot in 5 metres, just a few hundred metres off the beach and out of the wind. So long as the wind doesn’t turn easterly tonight we’ll be snug, otherwise it’ll get bumpy.
1800: Drop the anchor in 5 metres off Camp Point In Cobham Bay behind Cape Keith on the SE corner of Melville Island. Boring afternoon to the max. Wind had remained steady from the north all afternoon across the weary 15 mile gap from Cape Don and it was hot of course.
Delma throws a wet face-wipe to me. These come out of a packet and are an excellent way to freshen up. Wipe over face and neck and it refreshes wonderfully. The wind whistles overhead but it’s not affecting the boat and the water is calm. Wonderful. At least for now.
1830: Relax in cockpit.
1900: Weather forecast good, the sea is calm and the wind is dying. The forecast of westerly winds doesn’t make it look good to visit Escape Cliffs, which is about 55 km NE of present day Darwin. We’d have to anchor off at least a mile and the area is exposed to all winds from north to south. Escape Cliffs features prominently in the history of the Northern Territory. According to at least one scholar it’s possible that the great Chinese explorer Cheng He sailed in this area around 1421.
HMS Beagle, the ship in which the famed Charles Darwin had sailed dropped anchor near here in 1839. Two men were sent ashore to resolve a variation problem with the compass caused by the amount of ironstone in the region. The men set up their equipment including a theodolite on the beach and whilst in the process of determining True North, some local aboriginal men appeared on the cliff about 8 metres above them.
With a wild look in their eyes and aggressive attitudes the aboriginals began threatening to spear the visitors. It was a highly charged moment and death imminent when one of the men began to dance and jig about. Spears lowered as the natives gawked at them. The other man followed in kind. They kept this up long enough to be able to collect instrument and weapons, run to the water and swim to a boat that had been sent from the ship and make their escape.
Later in 1864 a surveying and settlement expedition was sent here to establish a site for a submarine cable from Asia to be brought ashore and then to connect with an overland telegraph line. Disagreements about the site, poor leadership and problems with aboriginals resulted in abandonment in 1867.
Mon 6 Oct 03
0545: Both of us had a beautiful nights sleep. Wake to a slight rocking and get up to check. Small ripple swells coming from the west on an outgoing tide. Quickly get ready to go. Will have an outgoing tide to run against but the alternative would be to wait until 11 am. While that wouldn’t be too bad we’re confined to the boat and can’t go ashore because Melville Island is aboriginal land and a permit is required, which we don’t have. We can make some miles in that time. Not sure what the next step is, where to go. Go home or what? Will think about it on the way and keep an eye on the weather. Raise the staysail. No difficulties getting underway.
0730: Contact BBR. Very noisy frequency but manage to pass on that we’re in transit to Darwin and expect to arrive later tonight. Allan says he’ll pass that message on.
Sea flat. Tiny ripples on water betray where small puffs of wind are passing. Pulling just under 4 kts under mainsail and motoring.
0930: Slight breeze close off port bow from SW but helping to push us up to 4.6 kts. Waypoint is 2.5 miles to go when we’ll have to decide whether to pass through the Vernon Islands via Cape Hotham or go via the north channel. There’s a possibility that once we’re through the Vernon Islands we might be able to sail direct to Bynoe Harbour to the west of Darwin. Have to wait and see. Motor sailing. Not enough breeze to sail. Tide will change soon to run with us.
1230: The world is composed of pale blue sky and light green sea. To the south are two slivers of dark blue on the horizon showing the location of the Vernon Islands, with a couple of small fluffy clumps of clouds scattered around the edges. Breeze up until now has been helpful but mostly non-existent. Forecast is supposed to be NW to NE winds but has consistently been SW, an angle of 90 to 180 degrees wrong. Away to the NW is a barely visible sliver of dark blue being Melville Island.
Sea is rippled but flat with small light brown patches of reef spawn drifting by. Delma throws a full cabbage about the size of a human head over the side. It’s had been wrapped in newspaper and slung in netting up in the forward berth, but had gone mouldy. Watch it for maybe 3 minutes or so before it’s lost from view even in this almost flat sea. The cabbage will break down before long. There are those ecological perfectionists who throw nothing over the side but common sense tells us that waste vegetables will break down and form part of the food chain.
1600: Clear of the Vernon Islands through the North Channel which slowed us down after being met with a bit of tide running against us. Wind vane has spent most of its time spinning around looking for wind. Must be getting giddy by now. Calculate a course to an anchorage at Tapa Bay, just inside Charles Point in Bynoe Harbour. The distance of 35 miles will mean an arrival time near midnight.
Delma thinks about it and finally says, “Let’s go home. It’s too boring to continue today”. I must admit I’m also getting bored and fed up with motoring everywhere. Going on for Bynoe Harbour might have been okay if we could have at least sailed part of the way, but the tide is running against us as well. Turn for home. Course 207 degrees True at 4 kts. Wind vane still hunting for air. Water like a mirror. Hot. I must get around to setting up some outside speakers for the cassette/radio so that we can listen to some music whilst motoring.
1630: Getting sick of this droning motor. Set the gear lever to neutral and test whether we can sail at all. Breeze immediately comes behind the mainsail which blankets the headsail. Turn to starboard 20 degrees and manage to get 2.5 kts. Come back on course and goosewing the headsail – headsail poled out to one side of the boat and the mainsail out the other side. Back on course getting around 3 kts but the sails barely keeping full and flapping a little. Motor off. At least we might be able to sail home even if it does take us another hour or so longer. Music! Quiet! Can talk to each other without raised voices!
1700: Darwin in sight through the binoculars with the hospital jutting up on the horizon. Afternoon sea breeze coming up from NW but not enough to keep the sails full yet but still getting 4 kts.
1815: Wind and speed slowly build to between 4.6 to 4.9 kts. Good. Really enjoying this.
2230: Arrive at Fannie Bay in Darwin Harbour. The sailing has been excellent and we haven’t really lost all that much time by sailing, maybe an hour. Very pleasant. Delma says she felt like a queen sailing softly into the harbour in the moon light.
Spend a lot of time looking for a suitable site amongst other anchored vessels. Density of other boats anchored, low tide and shallow water, the extensive sand bar not to mention the large tides makes selection of a site difficult. Get the anchor down only to find someone’s mooring buoy 40 metres away that we’d somehow missed. Thick smoke in the air from the usual Dry Season fires. Had gotten used to clean air. Make hot chocolate drinks before going to bed.
Tues 7 Oct 03
Delma hasn’t slept well. Too hot. I’d also kept waking up because of swells coming through and various clunking noises. The morning arrives drab, cloudy and overcast with thick and dark clouds in the east. A forecast change is due later in the week so perhaps we’ve done the right thing by coming home a little early. The smoke smell is still strong. Seems strange to be back in Fannie Bay on a weekday morning without the sound of traffic. It seems odd.
0800: Get on the mobile phone to lockmaster Pete at Tipperary Marina. Ask him his opinion of we might be able to get into the lock because of the falling tide. He thinks we might do it but it’s a one hour trip to get around there and the low tide is at 11 am. Get the anchor up quick smart and head out.
Push the boat hard with the motor up to 1700 rpm against the tide. The run around to Sadgroves Creek is pleasant. Pass a sleek black and stainless steel super-yacht about 60 feet long named Alithia with 5 spreaders at the main Darwin Wharf. Two men in a dinghy alongside are washing the hull.
As we pass around the main wharf we get a wave from workmen cleaning rust off a red and white rig tender vessel named Total Provider. Pull out the berthing lines and fenders as we enter into Sadgroves Creek. There are two areas of concern we’re going to have to cross – one is a shallow mud bank facing the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club, and the other is the underwater lip of the gate door to the marina lock. We just manage to get across the shallows at 1.2 metres. Lowana IV is only just afloat in 1.1 metres measured from the depth sounder transducer underneath the hull to the bottom of the keel.
Call Peter. He’s not sure now whether we can make it. Tells me he has 1.5 metres inside the lock. I might be able to get in. The gates open and I tentatively move towards the gate door watching carefully for side currents which will sweep Lowana IV onto the wall of rocks. It’s almost low tide so very little sweep. Thankfully there’s no wind to contend with as well. Going cautiously over the entrance lip the sounder starts alarming at 1.1 metres. We’re a hairsbreadth from grounding. A rock or pebble wouldn’t be able to fit between the keel and bottom of the lock but we make it inside and hook a line to the vertical poles on one of the walls. Gate closes and the lock is flooded as we hold tight on our lines, adjusting them as we lift against the wall. An improperly tied fender washes away but a workman doing sandblasting work in the lock scurries down a ladder, retrieves it and tosses it back to me.
The inside lock gates open and with thanks to Peter we make our way down the right hand side of the marina. As it happens our old berth is still vacant and our French neighbour pokes his head out from below with a surprised look. I offer him, “Bonjour Monsieur.” He looks bemused. Must be my accent or doesn’t remember me. Run docking lines and secure Lowana IV in her berth. Motor off. Nice to be back inside.