|Map 3 – Return and restart voyage|
Mon 6 Sep 04
0620: Start getting ready. Re-check motor oils and add a measured cupful of oil. Batteries down to 11.8v which is the lowest yet. Connect a seawater pump to hose the mud off the anchor and chain, then use a new remote hand switch to operate the electric anchor winch for the first time which works well. The anchor and chain has buried themselves in the bottom over the last three days and comes up thick and sticky with mud. It has to be washed off one metre at a time. Really pleased with the electric winch. It makes the job of getting underway enormously easier for single handed sailors.
0700: Underway. Decks wet from heavy dew. Heading NW through the narrow entrance to the strait. Almost no breeze. Water calm.
0820: Reach first waypoint. Heading SW towards Darwin. Conditions calm. No wind. Motoring and recharging batteries.
1330: Still no wind. Slight ripples on sea and only a breath of breeze. Play around with the navigation software and it seems to be working just fine. Just have to be careful in the sequence of getting it running and hooked up to the GPS. Motoring with full mainsail up. Only getting 3.5 kts against the tide. See one big ship but it appears to be stationary. Batteries still charging. Hot. Cloudless.
Make an easy lunch of toast and sardines in sauce. Try to contact VKS737 Alice Springs but no good.
1410: Turn onto the last leg to Cape Fourcroy 15 miles away heading south. Still getting around 3.5 kts. Breeze springs up from SW. Strange direction for the breeze to come from?
1500: Try sailing for a while but can only barely get up to 3 kts. Would have been content with that but the wind has swung southerly and that means tacking. Take in the headsail. Motor sailing with a full mainsail at 3.5 kts.
1700: Making better time just under 5 kts with change of tide. My previous anchorage behind Cape Fourcroy is clearly visible forward off the port beam. Could be comfortably anchored in an hour if I want but best to push on. Wind from the south coming right on the nose.
1800: Almost abeam Cape Fourcroy. Still working to get around it for the final leg across the Beagle Gulf to Darwin
1845: Red ball of sun settles below a cloudless horizon into a haze as the final course change is made towards Darwin 55 miles away. No wind. Water smooth. Motor sailing with full mainsail up to 7 kts running with a strong tide.
2100: Still no wind. Windvane hunting but what wind is about seems to be going mostly to the NW. Making good time until the tide changes again. No moon yet. Dark out there. No lights anywhere except for the Cape Fourcroy light which is now astern. Have one of those quick snacks where hot water is added to noodles. Get a bit chilly taking a freshwater wash up on deck. Can spare the water now that I’ll be back in Darwin tomorrow. Seas smooth.
2130: A solitary vessel passes on the port side going the other way about half a mile off. Can’t quite make out what it is but probably a fishing trawler.
2300: And another one.
Tues 7 Sep 04
Overnight: Almost a succession of boats and ships coming past. Enough to keep me awake. Seems to take ages to get past the various barges and boats busily laying a new underwater gas pipeline to the gas fields out in the Timor Sea. At one stage a power boat comes directly towards me. Shine a spotlight on the sails and call on the VHF radio. A laconic voice agrees to pass green to green and wishes me a good night with the observation, “Great night to be out on the water”. Yes it is.
0600: Arrive at the entrance to Darwin Harbour at first light. Slow down motor and cruise along with help from the incoming tide at 4 kts.
0730: Call Tipperary Marina on mobile phone to arrange a berth. Bit of haze around the harbour. A fishing charter boat heading out to sea. Pass a solitary dinghy with four adults huddled down at anchor near the No. 6 buoy fishing. Not much action going on. The Mandorah Ferry does a wide half circle around Lowana IV. Skipper must be bored and checking me out. I think he’s also a yacht owner himself and probably wondering what I’m doing or where I’m coming from.
0800: Enter Tipperary Marina lock and berth at my old berth. Tie up and take a taxi home. Delma is away doing a course interstate and won’t be back until the end of the week.
0900: Back at home. Rest day today. Karen comes over and brings some takeaway for dinner.
Weds 8 Sep 04
Sleep in until late. Ring up to arrange a doctors medical appointment for my saliva gland problem without success. Ring a diesel mechanic I’d heard about called Damyan. Make arrangements to meet him down at the boat. Visit Fred and Beth then go down to Lowana IV. Pull a few cold stores out of the fridge to take home and give it the boat a quick general tidy up. Not feeling especially motivated today so don’t get a lot done down there. Return home.
Thurs 9 Sep 04
Pay out the rest of the money owed to for the new refrigeration system. Change the Sumlog instrument with the supplier and take it back down to the boat and fit it.
Mon 20 Sep 04
During the last two weeks there’s been almost a constant series of high pressure systems moving across the Great Australian Bight, which have created very windy conditions across the Top End of Australia. If I’d kept going I think I’d have been caught at Snake Bay or Port Essington anyway so coming home has probably been for the better all around. Having problems getting to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. The one referred by my local doctor picks and chooses his patients and the waiting list is about 3 months. Bugger him.
Most tasks have been done including the essential ones. Motor has been fixed with a new seal in the gearbox. The No. 1 cylinder head has been re-torqued and a leak in the outlet elbow from the exhaust manifold has been fixed with a new stainless steel elbow made and fitted.
After much experimentation have solved a couple of bugbears. The forward solar panels are now fitted with two metal hook frames secured by bolts easily removed by wing nuts. The panels can be secured vertically against the rails when sailing or raised to a horizontal position and propped up reasonably quickly to catch the sun when at anchor. A quick release clip allows each panel to be lowered almost immediately.
Have acquired a short metal tube pole for use as a jib-pole to get the heavy dinghy out of the water, over the side rails and onto the deck, and vice versa with reasonable ease. It’s a fiddly, time consuming process but doesn’t involve any straining. The outboard has been fully serviced and is to be picked up today with a new impeller in the water pump. Also have acquired a used book of 2004 Australian National Tide Tables, an invaluable navigational tool for a good price.
Thurs 23 Sep 04
0800: Leave home for the marina via an ATM to draw some money. Also go to an auto store and buy a new 20 litre diesel fuel container and then to a servo to get it filled. Down to the boat. Delma packs the fridge. It’s proven it can freeze stuff so have more frozen food onboard now, especially meat this time.
0900: Start out through lock. Lots of people on boats calling goodbye and good luck as I pass on the way. Engine hours 1395. Sumlog working just fine. Fred and Beth meet me down at the lock again to say goodbye.
Hot already. Breeze from the east at 5-10 kts. Almost cloudless. On the horizon are cranes standing like sticks where a new gas plant is being constructed at Wickham Pt across the harbour. Motoring and using the engine compressor to pull down the cold in the fridge. Time for a cuppa.
1230: Clear of harbour having covered just over 12 nm. Winds 15-20 kts from NE of course, just where I want to go. Bit lumpy. Tack easterly to try and get under the lee of the land and clear an extensive shoal area off Lee Pt near Darwin. Outgoing tide.
1300: Change to full sail and getting a bit over 2 kts. Decide to turn off motor and engage the wind vane for first time. Bit disappointed at first until I realise I haven’t connected the vane itself to the servo-blade or oar in the water. Once that’s done the system starts working quite well. Nice to have self steering and not have to pay in battery power. Keeps a better course too with speed keeping up an average just over 3 kts. Wind a bit stronger. Whitecaps everywhere. Lowana IV riding over short swells and chop quite nicely.
1530: Tack back easterly and find myself back near the same underwater hazard near Lee Point I’d earlier been trying to avoid. Wind and tide too strong and from entirely the wrong direction. Fed up with this so pull in the headsail and turn the motor on to get ENE and clear of this area.
1920: A less than comfortable first day. Winds and waves gradually subside late afternoon. Tide changes and get a reasonable run into an anchorage in a small cove below Gunn Point near the Vernon Islands to the north of Darwin in 7 metres water.
Gunn Point: Posn: 12.14.08S – 130.59.83E in 7 metres depth. Distance today 32.4 miles. Max speed 4.7 kts.
Motor leaking oil again. Don’t know how bad yet but there’s oil all down the side of the motor and in the bilge again. Still in mobile phone range. Notice a missed call from Delma so ring her. She’s going to work tonight. Conditions lovely. Bright moon. Flat water. Can see the lights of Darwin on horizon. Large bushfire to SE. Still fairly warm and sweaty.
2100: Wind’s picked up. First it was easterly then changed northerly. Boat starting to pitch a bit.
2200: Wind really blowing. Small waves breaking beside boat. Just get to bed and the anchor alarm on the GPS goes off. Head up to the bow to check the anchor. Snubber line really tight. Boat pitching to waves head on. Check GPS position and find am slowly dragging on the anchor. Start motor and engage gear in low revs to take weight off snubber so I can unhook it from the chain, then let out all the 50m of chain plus another 20 metres of rope. Putting the rope out there means that all the chain is laying on the seabed. Seems to have done the trick. Boat has only moved about 100 metres overall. And as soon as I go back to bed the wind starts dying down.
Fri 24 Sep 04
0630: Check oils. Both the engine and gearbox oil sumps are down. Have tossed and turned all night about going back to get it fixed. Have used about a cup of oil and a bit from topping up both sumps, and I’ve only travelled 32 miles. Undecided what to do about this problem.
A red hulled yacht motors past me heading north towards the Vernon Islands. This fires me up to keep going. Pull up anchor. The whole 50m of chain is thick with mud and it takes a while to wash it off with the pressure pump. Hard on the batteries using both the anchor winch and that pump.
0700: Underway. Scattered cloud. Hardly a breath of wind. Outgoing tide helps to get 4.6 kts. Calm but rippled sea. Plot a course through the South Channel. It’s a dogleg course through here to avoid reefs and shallows, and attention is needed to navigation.
Right: Wheelhouse. Compass at top left. Directly underneath is the motor panel. Tacho shows just over 1300 rpm. Below that is the Sumlog currently showing 4.3 knots. GPS below that. Bottom right of wheel is a fuse panel. At lower right off photo is a drop down seat.
1100: Conditions still pleasant. Clear the last of the Vernon Islands and turn NE towards Melville Island. Breeze directly ahead. Bugger all tide run but getting a little push of about half a knot. The red yacht I’d seen earlier this morning is now in the distance heading easterly and off my port bow.
1300: Clear of Clarence Strait through the Vernon Islands. Heading northerly across the gulf. Cape Hotham several miles off starboard beam. Weather continues fine. Light breeze. Low swells. Making over 4 kts.
1700: Weather stays calm all afternoon. Slight breezes from dead ahead. Low swells later on.
1800: Wind picks up to about 15 kts still dead ahead. Just going out of commercial radio range. Will be using CDs and cassette tapes for music from here on plus whatever I can pick up on the HF radio.
2000: Closing with an anchorage in Cobham Bay behind Cape Keith at the SE corner of Melville Island. Had to really push a bit during last 4 miles or so, getting just over 2 kts against wind and short, choppy waves, plus a cross swell coming around Cape Keith. There’s a light ashore but don’t know what it is. From further out thought it might be another boat but isn’t. Still fairly blowy out there but here in behind Cape Keith it’s quite calm. Only just over half mile from shore. Anchored in 7m depth.
Cobham Bay: Posn: 11.37.070S – 131.24.903E. Total distance 79.1 miles. Covered 46.7 miles today. Max 4.9 kts.
What a pleasurable trip. A shame there’s not been enough wind and had to motor. But I can at least get Hot100, a Darwin commercial radio station but it fades in and out.
Weather not promising for tomorrow. Will need an early start. Had used the navigation software on the laptop hooked up to the GPS to get into this anchorage tonight. It’s the first time actually I’ve done this and not sure if I like using it or not, so kept referring to the paper chart anyway. Perhaps it’s just because it’s a bit strange but it’s definitely got its advantages. You can see exactly where you are at any given time and which way you are going, regardless of effects like drift from side currents or windage.
Time for dinner of reheated stew. TV is un-watchable. Batteries seem to be down lower than they should be. Expect more than 12.6v given that the batteries have been charging all day.
Sat 25 Sep 04
0600: Check oils. Not as bad as yesterday taking only a small cup of oil to top up both sumps. Overnight remains calm. Only wake up once at 0230 for a nature break. Had a quick check around and went back to bed. Good solid sleep. Anchor comes up fairly clean.
0630: Underway. Calm sea. No breeze. Come what may I’m going to reach Port Essington today but it’s not going to be easy. Weather forecast is easterlies at 15 kts and a northerly inshore seabreeze 15-20 kts, plus the tide will be setting against me after 10 am.
The light ashore turns out to be the camp of 2 fishermen in 2 dinghies. They’d been having a good old chat yesterday on the VHF radio Channel 16 like they owned it. They really ought to have kept the channel clear for more important stuff, since their conversation was basically about their adventures fishing around Camp Point which is where they’re now camped.
0830: Clear of reefs hugging Melville Island coast and out into Dundas Strait leading into the Arafura Sea further north. Slight breeze. Full mainsail up and getting 6.2 kts. Low swells coming through from Arafura Sea. Plot a route around to Port Essington. Almost cloudless day.
0920: First sighting of Cape Don ahead. Change to full mainsail and headsail.
1000: Large red barge Frances Bay overtakes me. Slow Lowana IV down so the barge doesn’t pass too close. Call the barge to advise them what I’m doing and they seem a little surprised that I’m slowing down. They say they’ve got me on radar and were happy with my position. That’s all well and good but I’d been holding a fairly constant hand compass bearing on them for a while and it wasn’t changing much. When that happens it means both vessels are converging. Anyway, I like to think that each time you do something for safety you put a deposit into your personal “lucky” bank.
1200: Still no wind of any use. The only bit available swings from south to SW. Clouds overhead milling like there is turbulence up there. Line of low clouds ahead but nothing below them.
Am past Cape Don heading NE. A yacht passes the other way into Dundas Strait. Pull in the headsail and sheet in the mainsail since they aren’t much use. Speed down to less than 3 kts against the run of tide which runs quite fast along this stretch of coast.
1330: Bit different to the last time I made this trip with Delma. A strong headwind had suddenly sprung up at about this time, whipped up the waves and dropped us back to about 1 kt speed.
1320: Contact the yacht going the other way on VHF radio. Its name is New Crusader and they intend anchoring in Alcaro Bay near Cape Don.
1500: Two more yachts pass heading west. Still no wind. Am half way across Blue Mud Bay, one of a series of bays along this coast towards Port Essington. Stark contrast to speed from the last time.
1615: Wind picks up slightly from dead ahead off Trepang Bay. Vashon Point waypoint is 9 miles away.
1700: Wind blows up stronger. Speed down to 2 kts. Consider options. Could take shelter 5 miles away at Trepang Bay. Time to reach there maybe 1 to 1.5 hours.. The Vashon Head waypoint is 7 miles plus a run SE to Black Point in Port Essington, time maybe 2.5 to 3 hours. Will keep going I think. Can always turn back I guess. Put a second reef into the mainsail and sheet it in. Wind dead ahead.
2005: At long last reach the Vashon Head waypoint and turn towards Port Essington. Still over 9 miles to go. Outgoing tide still against me but making slightly better time now. Waves coming in from port quarter instead of ahead.
2230: Slowly approach anchorage off Black Point Ranger Station, the headquarters of Gurig National Park in Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula. All in darkness. There is usually a light at the end of the jetty and at least one house with lights on. Must be a power outage here.
Very bright light in anchorage turns out to be a boat. Don’t know what sort it is. Find a spot and put the anchor down although I’m a little further out from shore than I need to be. It’s been a long day of 16 hours and very slow across the top. Almost the same as the last time with Delma with strong headwinds and head tide. The tide difference between Cape Don and Port Essington means the tide run time is extended making it a a long time to fight against it as you travel east. Good for going west though.
Port Essington: Posn: 11.09.977S – 132.08.641E in 5m depth. Total distance 137.7 miles. Today 58.6 miles. Max speed 5.5 kts. Engine hours 1433.
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