Boats, Boats and More Boats!

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map 4 to malay bay
Map 4 – Port Essington to Malay Bay

voyage area 1Right: Voyage area

Sun 26 Sep 04

Last rise. Good sleep. The boat that had been shining a really bright light last night has gone. Nice day. Light breeze. Put up the canopy and have breakfast. Sort out some food storage containers.

Listen while Adventure Seeker calls another boat Atmosphere on the VHF radio Ch16. I’d met Peter Evans from Adventure Seeker before back at Tipperary Marina in Darwin. He tells me he’s still nursing a swollen an inflamed elbow from a mishap in the Kimberley region in the NW coast of Australia. He’s just left Port Essington this morning and now heading for Palm Bay on Croker Island further east. Arrange to meet on the radio after the morning weather forecast tomorrow.

1000: Wind picking up bringing small wavelets and making Lowana IV swing around. Glad I’m here and not out there . Listen to country music on the ABC clear as a bell on HF radio.

1330: Keep busy all morning. Getting the heavy plastic dinghy over the side isn’t too much of an exertion but requires a lot of fiddling about. Fill the outboard motor with fuel and test it. Runs okay. Check the large 200 AH battery up forward. Haven’t been able to do this with the dinghy up on deck. It’s fully charged. Am surprised to see one of the earth leads still disconnected after an auto-electrician installed the portable hand-switch to the anchor winch.

Connect the forward solar panels to the ship’s batteries. Decide I’m going to need a better system of setting these up. They really should be permanently connected to prevent corrosion without having wires running across the deck to the batteries. And I’ll need to fit an in-line switch to be able to turn them off and on. Will have to think about it a bit.

Recheck the  forward battery wiring system and find a loose wire at the solenoid terminal. The existing wiring diagram leaves something to be desired so set about re-sketching the entire ship’s battery wiring system.

Continues to blow, gusting to about 20 kts at times. Small wavelets but not too bad. Read a book for a while. Time for some lunch.

Go ashore. The store at Black Point is closed on Sundays but opens every other day between 4 and 6 pm. Fuel can be obtained at 6 pm. Meet the Second Ranger, an aboriginal man named John Williams. Every other ranger is away at present.  He tells me the light at the end of the jetty has been blown for about 2 months. Try to ring Delma at home but no answer. She’s probably asleep from doing night duty at the Royal Darwin Hospital. Have a wash under a tap behind a shed above the launching ramp then return to the boat.

1715: Secure the dinghy alongside and place a couple of fenders to cushion it from bumping the hull.  Looks like it’s been blowing a bit stronger out here whilst I was ashore. One of the aluminium poles that support the shade canopy has almost been lost into the sea. A lashing has come loose and the pole is dangling over the side. Another one is down in the companionway to the saloon.  Let out another 10m of anchor rope as a precaution.

1730: Contact VKS737 Alice Springs base. The operator’s name is Paul. Ask him to pass a message through to VKS737 Adelaide to email Delma that I’ve arrived at Black Point 10 pm Saturday. The Adelaide operator is listening on the channel and reads the message back correctly to me. Says he’ll send the email tonight. Funny how getting a message out can lift your spirits a bit. Feel better now.

2000: Read a book. Move around the boat at dusk to prepare for the night. Secure loose halyards and things I might trip over in the dark if I’m in a hurry. Take down the shade canopy. It’s just a bit too blowy to have it billowing and catching the wind enough to drag the anchor while I’m asleep. Had a bad fright once in the Tanimbar Islands in Indonesia when the anchor dragged because the wind had caught the shade canopy.

Listen to the weather forecast. Sounds like it’s going to stay the same for a couple of days. Enjoy a hot cup of chocolate and listen to a Patsy Cline cassette tape. Am finding for me, being alone is the hardest part. Honestly didn’t think it would be but it is. I should be enjoying the buggerary out of this but I’m really uptight – right out of my comfort zone and quite out of sorts. If I don’t keep busy my mind turns to the “what-ifs”, always looking for potential problems instead of just relaxing and enjoying the moment. And with the wind moaning and the boat rocking and moving about, it isn’t helping.

This is really baffling. I know the boat’s okay. It’s handled much heavier weather and seas and I’ve got out 50m of chain in not much more than 6m at high tide. More than enough yet I still feel anxious. It isn’t like just being stressed for a few hours.  This just doesn’t stop.  It’s ever-present and goes on and on, day after day. There’s always this feeling I shouldn’t be here … I’m doing something wrong … that I should be at work or am playing truant from school. I guess a career of having holidays and getting back to work has conditioned me and I haven’t dropped into semi-retirement mode yet.  Being stupid I guess but there it is. My brain tells me everything’s just great and to relax but my body’s not listening. I can’t sit still, my hearts racing, am short of breath, sometimes feel a bit off-balance, feel tremors down my limbs and my teeth won’t stop chattering.

Wind changes from blowing SE all day to easterly. They’re still at a moderate level but have at least dropped down from fresh.

Mon 27 Sep 04

0700: Listen to the weather forecast. Nothing heard from Adventure Seeker.

0900: Wind starts building already from NNE estimated 15 kts gusting to 20 kts. Spend most of the morning sorting through the charts again. Batteries coming up under solar power alone which is good.

1200: Wind blowing fairly strong but am a bit more relaxed about it today for some reason than previously. Must be getting more inured to it which is a welcome revelation. Start taping an electrical connector cover at one of the forward solar panels when it suddenly sparks. Startles me a bit. Check the system for electrical shorts but it all seems to be working okay.

1430: Work on sorting charts again after lunch. Dip the water and fuel tanks then top them up.  Have used 35 lt of water in 4 days and about 60 lt of diesel for 38 hours running time, which would be about 1.5 lt per hour. Not too bad.

Another yacht comes in to anchor north of Black Point. Call it on the radio but get no response.

1630: Get a shock at the price of diesel fuel at the store being almost twice that of Darwin. Buy some more sugar and fly spray. They don’t have any of the notebooks or writing pads I’m looking for.

A trimaran pulls up on the beach near the jetty and the crew come ashore. Name of the boat is Pankina. Skipper’s name is Renie and the crew are a young French Canadian couple named Frederick and Fran.

1830: Back onboard. Pankina slowly sails further down the port and anchors close in under the lee of some low cliffs. Being a trimaran they can do that. Find out later that Pankina has a 1.1m draft.

1900: Wind dies a bit at dusk but springs back up again. Weather forecast isn’t promising for most of the week. Will wait through tomorrow but if no change must make a move.

2015: A yacht is making its way slowly into the port pushing against headwinds and an ebbing tide. They’re mostly light winds now though with some gusts.

Tues 28 Sep 04

0700: Weather forecast continues for adverse winds.

0815: Wind picking up again. People are on the move. The yacht that was anchored near Black Point is sailing out and Pankina is heading further down the port. Another boat very much like Kajan is sailing outbound towing a dinghy on the other side of port. It has the same canoe stern, rig and colours. Last year Kajan had accompanied Delma and I on a trip here to Port Essington from Darwin. Would be surprised if it is Kajan because I understand its skipper Peter is delivering the racing yacht Australian Maid to the Philippines, China and finally Malaya.

1330: Still blowing hard all day. Just about had enough of this. Seriously thinking of getting up at 3 am and just going for it before the winds get up in the morning. Do some writing work on the laptop and some washing. Cook up a big stew then split it up into several containers for reheating later. That’ll save me having to cook while sailing.

Three fishing trawlers are now sitting off behind Black Rock. Maybe they’ve come in to get out of the winds for a while.

1530: Check engine oils. Still using about a cup of oil per day which is not good but manageable. Batteries at 12.4v slowly going down. Seems the solar panels alone are not enough to keep me sufficiently powered at anchor for more than a day or so. However am beginning to wonder if the start battery is faulty, but can’t check it properly since it’s completely sealed.

1630: Curiosity gets the better of me. Take dinghy for the mile or so over to where that green boat is anchored near Black Rock. There’s no one on board but it isn’t Kajan. Head back around Black Rock to the boat ramp and take my rubbish ashore. Fill another jerrycan of water, buy an icy-pole and butter at the store then ring home. Delma answers this time and we have a long chat. Daughter Karen is also there dutifully checking emails from my book publishing website for any book orders.

The wind and waves have died down by the time I get back to the boat making it easier to offload the stuff out of the dinghy and get it back onboard.  All goes rather smoothly.  Secure everything topside ready to go in the early morning. Heated up stew for supper is quite tasty.

Full moon and really nice outside with just a gentle breeze but must get off early to bed.

Weds 29 Sep 04

0130: Wake up to the motion of the boat to find it getting a bit gusty outside. Wonder if I’ll be able to get away today before going back to sleep.

0345: Anchor comes up clean. Turn towards the first waypoint getting just over 4 kts with an outgoing tide. Today I’ve decided to head for Somerville Bay on Croker Island. Wind is okay. Lots of dark clumpy clouds overhead partially obscuring the moon. The green vessel at Black Rock is also on the move heading out for open water ahead of me.

0430: Contact the vessel by VHF radio. Her name is Tilbah and like me they’re heading east so will probably see more of her from time to time.

0500: Clear Smith Point and turn east.

0600: It’s becoming clear that I’m not going to be able to make Somerville Bay before night. Can only get around 3.5 kts with the tide not providing the assistance I thought it would. Call Tilbah. They’re heading for Danger Point saying they’ve anchored there before okay. Look at the chart. Danger Point is just a low spit of land. However the bottom shelves slowly and even if it gets windy it should be out of the swells and relatively comfortable.

Set course for Danger Point to lay over the day. Staying there will mean I’ll only cover a bit over 10 miles for the day but it’s better than sitting doing nothing at Port Essington.

0830: Drop the anchor on the western side of Danger Point.

Danger Point: Posn: 11.08.4S – 132.19.8E Total distance 153.2 nm. Today 15.5 nm max speed 4.4. kts. Anchored in 4m approx half mile from beach.

Nice spot. A low finger of land juts out to the north with trees and beaches interspersed with rocky patches. Small surf running a beach to the east. Tilbah is about 200m north of me. Exchange greetings on radio again. Several dead trees line one section of the beach. One large one is now just bones of white timber and sports a sea-eagles nest of small twigs in the uppermost branches. No occupants in the nest but it looks fairly solid. Later watch a large eagle soaring out over the water.

0900: Wind appears to be starting to pick up again but it’s well sheltered in here so maybe a little harder to tell.

1030: Wind has definitely been blowing as hard as I’d expected over last hour. Have been doing a bit of readying. Routine checking of the bilges finds the primary bilge pump not working. Trace the electrical wires and find a broken connection so repair it. It can get a bit awkward getting down into some of these places to fix things.

1930: Fridge working well. Still have half the corned meat Delma gave me last week. Finish dinner and rummage around in fridge for a desert. Spend the afternoon catching up sleeping, reading and typing on the laptop.

Big yellow moon peeks over a small sand dune on the beach to the east. Wind has dropped and water is fairly calm. Just slightly rocking. Nice.

Thurs 30 Sep 04

0345: Underway again trying to avoid the higher winds coming up during the day. Heading across Bowen Strait for Palm Bay on Croker Island. Full moon still. Cloudy. Some of the clouds are big black ones but they can often look black and potentially nasty at night. Tilbah still in darkness.

0445: Round Danger Point and on course. Put up the mainsail but it keeps getting snagged somewhere. Finally manage to find where it’s catching and get it cleared. Feel some light spits of rain and another big black cloud passes overhead.

0530: Water calm. Enjoyable motoring under the lee of Croker Island. Have been tempted to keep going down Bowen Strait and anchor up at Point David down at the southern end of Croker Island, but decide to take a look at Palm Bay anyway.

0600:  Near the entrance to Palm Bay and slow down so as not to enter the bay before dawn. Am thinking I’m wasting time sitting around here. Any boats for company in there would probably have gone by now and I’ve got a favourable tide and calm conditions. The temptation to keep going is too strong so decide to push on. Change course south into Bowen Strait.

0800: Through the narrowest section between shoals and Croker Island. The computer navigation software makes it so much easier to navigate through the worst sections although the depth jumped up to 3.5m at one stage. Getting a head current of half a knot with the ebbing tide but that’s no real deal. A sail coming up from behind is most likely going to be Tilbah though they aren’t answering the radio.

0915: Pass 3 boats anchored mid-stream near the southern end of strait. Two are motor-cruisers Escapade and Fiddler, plus a catamaran Fly By Night. A lady comes out on deck of one of the motor cruisers and watches. Gives me a wave as I pass.

Tell VKS737 that I’m transiting Bowen Strait. It’s getting warm. Water has been smooth so far with just a little breeze helping to give me a push now and again. Still no sign of heavy winds although the forecast continues with high winds for today and tomorrow.

Start to get the stronger winds further down the strait. Unsure whether Point David will provide enough protection from winds and swells so start turning back. Tilbah comes up and we chat on radio. The skipper tells me he’s anchored at Point David heaps of times. Apparently it’s quite good with plenty of room.

Turn around again and follow Tilbah down to Point David. Headwinds get progressively stronger as we get closer to the entrance leading out to the Arafura Sea. On approach to the anchorage there are pearling rafts covering a large area behind the point. The current is running at almost 2 kts near the entrance which requires careful conning of the tiller to maintain a proper direction. It’s necessary to go out wide of the point and turn in to follow the beach from the south before you can get to a place where an anchorage can be made. Once at the anchorage the wind is quite blowy but at least the water is fairly protected.

1145: Anchored Point David. Feel better that I’d made the extra distance today. Was a good day motor sailing. Time for lunch but first a cold soft drink.

Point David: Posn: 11.21.164S – 132.35.001E. Total 183.8 nm. Today was 30.6 nm with a max speed of 5 kts.

1700: Take a rest during the afternoon. Sort out book lockers. Lay down a rubber mat on the saloon floor. Look outside and surprised to see Pankina anchored closer inshore. Have a chat across the water with Skipper Renie. He said they’d sailed from Black Point today and had a great sail with the wind from the NE mostly around 7 kts but not above 15 kts.

Check engine oils. Only the gearbox needs topping. Grease gun is empty. Repack it but don’t screw the top back on properly so when I try to re-grease the stuffing box it falls apart. A big blob of grease falls onto the engine bay floor. Clean it all up and repack the grease gun. Gooey job.

2000: Start editing a new manuscript for my book-selling website and get immersed in it. Time slips away and haven’t had dinner yet.

2030: A big moon rises up over the lights of some huts ashore that belong to the pearlers. A band of smoky cloud covers the lower half so that the moon is neatly divided into two halves of yellow and orange. The wind has dropped to a breeze and the water is calm. Lowana IV gently rocks but it’s hardly noticeable down inside. Lovely.

Find one of Delma’s stews in the bottom of the fridge still frozen. Thaw it out and it smells okay – sort of – so throw it out to be sure. Had kidneys in it so might have been a bit off. Not worth taking the risk. Take out one of my own mix and it’s okay. Rolling Stones music playing on a cd.

Fri 1 Oct 04

0430: Slept well last night in a deep sleep. Feeling a bit groggy this morning and making small mistakes like almost forgetting to turn on the saltwater inlet cock before starting the motor. Set up some waypoints n the GPS to get through the narrow and shallow channel out of Bowen Strait into Mountnorris Bay beyond.

0515: Have to be quick getting the anchor up because the tide is pulling Lowana IV quickly towards Pankina and Tilbah, both of which are anchored behind me. Any mishap and I’ll run down onto them in no time flat. The anchor comes up clean and there’s isn’t any delays but even so, by the time the anchor clears the water the boat is already in full flight bearing down on the other boats.  Scramble back to the cockpit, gun the throttle and turn the tiller hard to port to pass within just 20m of Pankina.  Both of them are still in darkness.

0630: Clear of the channel. Could smell something odd back there in the channel, a bit like a stale mud smell, most likely the thick reef spawn present in the water. Current running at more than 2 kts and the sun just coming up over Valentia Island ahead. Would like to visit but it’s just too close. It would be a waste of a day if I only travel just that far and anchor up there.

A shining jet contrail in the sky to the NE is heading towards the SE. Missed the weather forecast last night but high cirrus clouds away to the east again promise high winds later. Pull up the full mainsail but continue to motor for the time being. Almost no breeze yet. Low swells, smooth surface, almost glassy.

0800: Passing between Valentia and Templar Islands. Sea still smooth with almost no wind. Weather forecast says winds will be moderating to easterlies 10 to 15 kts.

0945: Anchor down in Malay Bay and secure the boat.  Perhaps I could have kept going to try and reach the Goulburn Islands but that would have meant a late landfall. Leave it for tomorrow. And maybe I could also have stopped off at Valentia Island for a looksee but the thought of getting that dinghy overboard and back onboard put me off.

Malay Bay: Posn: 11.21.577S – 132.52.651E. Total distance 205 nm. Today 14.92 nm maximum speed 4.5 kts. Anchored in 4.6m.

Malay Bay is a large bay which goes for several miles to the south. Am sitting about a mile inside the northern entrance of Cape Cockburn and a little behind it. Ashore is a low line of cliffs. Some beaches and rocky bits. Smoke coming from the bush to the south, probably a bush fire.

There’s a little bit of history here even though it’s a pretty remote place. In July 1893 an aboriginal male Wandy Wandy was officially executed here on a gallows specifically constructed for the purpose, for his part in the murder of 6 Malay fishermen. Executing him here instead of at Fanny Bay jail in Darwin was supposed to send a message to the local natives. Time now dims my memory of another story about a horse thief or cattle duffer who lived here for a long time to escape the law. I believe he lived with the local aboriginals.

Hot and still. Water is a light green colour and dead flat apart from some small ruffles here and there. Scattered clumpy clouds. Erect the forward solar panels and the shade canopy over the boom and cockpit.

Small breeze eventually springs up from the north and bends around the cape. Earlier I’d seen Pankina to the SE below Valentia Island but there’s no sign now. She’s probably stopped at Valentia Island. No sign of Tilbah.

1400: Have a sleep and some lunch. During the afternoon an Army helicopter buzzes overhead, circles Lowana IV and then heads off south. Pankina has arrived and is just finished anchoring up. Renie invites me over for sundowners and fresh crumbed oysters.  He’s aware of the hassles I have launching the dinghy so offers to pick me up. I offer to bring some chocolate over as a desert.

1730: Meet backpackers Fred and Fran again onboard Pankina. They confirm they had indeed been to Valentia Island today, gone ashore and got some oysters. Renie crumbs them up and cooks up 3 platefuls for nibblies.

Several other boats arrive. Catamaran Fly By Night and Fiddler plus 2 monohulls new to me Big Buzzard and Olympia. Six boats now anchored up. Olympia call on the radio making a comment about needing parking meters here.

Stay with Pankina until after dark. Renie brings me back to Lowana IV and takes the opportunity to have a look around.  It’s always good to get onboard someone else’s boat.  There’s nearly always something you can learn how others do things. He suggests that I go to a place called White Point for an overnight anchorage tomorrow in lieu of Goulburn Island. He says he’d stopped there on a previous trip to Darwin and was going back there tomorrow.  Sounds good to me and if the easterlies hold in then it should be a good beam reach most of the day. He also suggests an early start to maximise the expected winds instead of motoring. Heartily agree with that.

My new friend Renie departs.  Dip the fuel tank. Have used about 40 lt since Port Essington.

MORE TO FOLLOW

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