Three’s Good Company



map 5 malay to goulburn
Map 5 – Malay Bay to Goulburn Islands

map 6 Malay to Blythe RvRight: Map 6 The voyage area in this post from Malay Bay to Blythe River across the Top End of Australia

Sat 2 Oct 04

0415: Bright moonlight and almost cloudless sky. Two boats left sometime during the night, MV Fiddler and another but don’t know which one. There’s a smoky smell in the air, not like a bushfire. Can’t pick it but doesn’t seem to be coming from the motor.

0455: Underway. Reach my first waypoint and start pushing out into the Arafura Sea. Can see someone’s light further ahead and around Cape Cockburn. Once I get around this cape it will be open water with a lee coast to follow down to White Point opposite the Goulburn Islands where I propose to make an overnight anchorage.  Almost no breeze. Getting tidal push just over half a knot for a total of 4.4 kts. Trying to look after the motor and not push it so keeping it at around 1400 rpm.

This is more like the actual start to this whole trip because I’ve sailed to Malay Bay before. To me it will be all unexplored coast from here on and looking forward to stopping and looking around along the way. I’ve actually sailed right along the Top End before but it was further out to sea and I hadn’t stopped.

0500: Boat ahead is actually coming my way. Can make out its red port light among all the other lights it’s showing.

0525: Ship Blaze of Light has crosses my bow at a distance. Trace the source of that smell. A hose to the air filter on the motor has come loose and fallen off so that unfiltered air is coming up into the wheelhouse. It’s going to need repair or attending to when I can but for now just put it back in place. Don’t know how long it’ll stay there.

Put the mainsail up. It catches on everything possible almost as if it doesn’t want to go up there. Turn easterly at my second waypoint to clear Cape Cockburn. Tinge of pre-dawn sky ahead with a breeze from the SE and of course it’s coming from the direction I want to go. There’d been good westerlies and NE’s yesterday reported by other boats which would have been excellent for sailing, but I get SE headwinds in open water today. That’d be bloody right! However at least there’s a full knot of tide helping to push me along.

0630: Getting 1.5 kts assist from tide giving up to 4.9 kts over the ground. Wind mainly from SE but trying to go east at times I think. Sun is up revealing a nice day and low swells. Am using laptop to navigate but have put some waypoints into the GPS as well just in case if I need them. That smell earlier is not there now, at least it isn’t noticeable.

Cape Cockburn is white or buff coloured cliffs with trees behind. They’re not large cliffs at maybe 70-100m but big enough. The breeze comes and goes from variable directions but mainly from SE. Heading further out ESE to try and get a better sailing angle for this afternoon if possible.

0730: Weather forecast the same. Further south the cliffs are much more pronounced, sheer and higher. They have a talc look on the bottom half and reddish on top. Coast has a couple stretches of high sand dunes reaching up maybe 100 or more metres. Wind still predominately SE. Have given up trying to use the headsail. Tried sailing at one point but just came to a stop in the almost non-existent breeze.

0800: Change back to sail only.  Speed drops to 2.8 kts but will persevere and see how it goes. Still roughly on course at 145 degrees True or SSE.

0815: Waste of time sailing. Wind is too flukey and the steering vane can’t handle the lack of wind. Put the motor back on and both sails up. Will just have to wait for more wind.

0900: Contact VKS737 Derby base. Pass on a position report that I’m mobile to the Goulburn Islands and expect to be there this afternoon. The operators name is Stewart.

0930: Try sailing again and get just under 3 kts.

0945: Just no good. Wind dies to absolutely nothing. Motor on.

1030: Olympia calls on radio saying they’re about 15 miles behind and touching 4 kts under sail. They must be able to see me on their radar. Try sailing once again but and still only get 1.5 kts. The wind is far too fluky under the lee of the Goulburn Island so return to motoring.

1100: Finally get wind to sail with. Turn the motor off and speed settles around 3 kts. There’s still not enough wind to use the steering van so using the tiller-pilot instead.

1200: Made 3 kts over the last hour under sail.

1300: Wind rising bringing scattered whitecaps. Speed climbs up to 4 kts and change over to the steering vane. Am right on course.

1430: Wind is now strong and has shifted to the NE. Approaching White Point under reefed sails. The whole area of White Point anchorage is covered in whitecaps even close into shore. Could anchor here if I had to, but it would be uncomfortable in the sharp breaking chop coming through. The area is exposed to winds from the NE which are bending slightly around the point.

Had the wind remained true to forecast at easterly then White Point would probably have been okay. As it is the wind hasn’t changed to the NE until I’m almost here.  If you were superstitious you’d think the Wind Gods were playing with me.

Get on the radio to warn Pankina and Olympia not to try for White Point, telling them how exposed it is. The three of us decide to head for the SW bay on Goulburn Island but for me it’s going to be a bit of hard work. It’s about 8 miles away directly into the teeth of the wind. Can see Pankina is off my port bow to the north about 3 miles away. Bump up the revs to try and make way against the wind and tide. This isn’t going to be an easy run.

1500: Come under the lee of Sims Island, a little piece of land sitting offshore. Conditions ease a little bit allowing me to start getting 3.5 kts and even up to 4 kts.

1600: Doing better into the wind than expected. Have covered about 4 miles but speed drops once I start coming out the other side of Sims Island. Expecting South Goulburn Island to give me some protection soon.

1730: Anchored in South West bay South Goulburn Island and thank goodness for that. Pankina and Olympia also anchored here. It took 3 hours to do the 8 miles to get here against the wind  so not too bad all considered.

Note: South West Bay – South Goulburn Island: Posn: 11.39.259S – 133.21.615E. Total distance 246 miles. Today 41.2 miles. Maximum speed 5.1 kts.

Reach an agreement over the radio between all three boats that we would proceed from here at about 8 am tomorrow morning for Guoin Point.  It’ll be about 25 miles. Should be an easy day and we’ll get the last of the east setting flood tide we need to get through the Macquarie Strait at the bottom of South Goulburn Island. Fast current flows through there. Olympia’s skippers name is Daryl. Don’t catch his partners name.

2030: Try to make corned meat fritters for the first time for supper tonight. Still have some corned meat left over and it seems to be okay. The eggs from Darwin are still also okay too I think. Make a batter. The first attempt at making batter isn’t much good but after thickening with more flour the next attempt is okay. Use all the corned meat and put excess fritters into a container in the fridge to eat cold tomorrow.

Do some work on motor fixing a couple of things needing attention. Some ongoing problems might now be fixed but will have to wait and see. Start the motor to make a HF radio call and pass a message to Delma but I’ve missed the radio sked.

Feeling buggared. Too many early days and early starts.

Sun 3 Oct 04

map 7 goulburn to junction
Map 7 – Goulburn Islands to Junction Bay

0630: Normally it’s still at this time of day but a today there’s a moderate wind from the SE. Sun has just come up. I must have been a bit over-tired last night, tossing and turning before getting to sleep, but the night went quick after that. Only woke up once. Two boats are under way further out. There’s been a very heavy dew during the night and the decks are saturated. Feeling a bit stiff and sore.

0730: Clean the solar panels and set up the deck-wash pump. Pankina is underway so lift the anchor and follow her around the corner easterly into Macquarie Strait. Wind continues to pick up from the SE creating small wavelets head on.

0800: Pankina radios to warn me of an underwater rock and to adjust course to starboard. Says it came up to 3m and is not marked on the chart.

Call Olympia and Pankina to tell them about the Macca radio program on the ABC over the HF radio. Both tuning in. A dinghy with two men speeds up closer to shore, stops and starts fishing closer in off my port side.

0830: Change to sail. Getting 3 kts through the water and 4.5 kts over ground with the help of the tidal push. Clear of strait. Olympia being the greyhound is sailing and has pulled way ahead. Lowana IV with her shallow draft and bilge keels is never going to be able to keep up with her.  Pankina is sailing I think and out in front but not too far.

0915: Sailing is just too slow and I’m being forced too far off course if I persist with it. Turn the motor back on. Seas are calm, light green and rippled under an almost cloudless, light blue sky. Almost featureless low lying land with a clump of hills standing to the south. Big bushfire to the south as well. White and tan coloured smoke reach up in a large column before drifting away towards the west. Goulburn Islands are several miles behind and there’s a fishing trawler working to the NW.

Pull in along Pankina for a quick chat. He’s under full sail at 3 kts but not long after this he starts motoring too. Tells me he’s heading for Point Cuthbert while I’m heading for Guoin Point. Personally I think Point Cuthbert might be a bit like White Point, exposed to the NE.

1000: Small pod of dolphins break the surface about 50m dead ahead, their heads black against the glare of the water. Don’t see them surface again.

1030: Completely cloudless. Sea smooth, almost glassy with low small swells coming from NE. Hot and glary. Listen to ABC radio country music and talk back. Lots of reef spawn across this bay. Not too long ago another dolphin breaks the surface just once about 100m off port bow. Slight breeze just picking up from ENE.

1100: Abreast Turner Point. This marks the second last leg to Guoin Pt at about 8 miles and is also the western entrance to the King River. Decide against going into the river because that would make the next leg too long tomorrow.

1200: Catch up to Olympia. She’s sailing so change to sail myself. Dropdown to 2.5 kts but in no hurry.

1230: Olympia calls to discuss anchoring at Guoin Pt. Pankina says he’s going around the corner to Junction Bay since he’s got good winds at the moment to make it there. After some discussion Olympia and I decide to sail there as well. If I can make some distance under sail rather than using the motor then I should take the opportunity when it comes. Even so I’ve got some reservations but if I can make enough distance over the next few hours, should be alright I hope.

Wind has changed to northerlies.  There are some whitecaps but I’ve got a reasonable sailing angle and getting 5 kts heading NE. It’s becoming a race against time but I have a Plan B which is to get in behind Cuthbert Point if necessary.

1330: Olympia is cutting the corner around Cuthbert Pt. I think he might be taking a bit of a chance with the chart showing rocky patches extending up to 6 miles offshore. Daryl agrees it might be a bit iffy to go close in but he’s going there anyway.

I’m going to clear the point further out. In the meantime Pankina has persisted in sailing and been zigzagging in long, wide tacks. At one point she’d gone out so wide to the north that I’d almost lost sight of her.  Right now she’s come back in and I almost catch up with her. Renie’s also decided to cut the corner but he’s going to go a bit further out than Olympia in deeper water. I might as well follow him otherwise by the time I go out to sea and get around the point I’ll be well and truly left behind. Should have followed my instincts.

Wind has died down again. Smooth seas. Darker green water here.

1345: Goulburn Island is just a shadow on the horizon behind. Heading east. Wind right down and getting 4 kts.

1500: The three of us within 200m or so of each other off Cuthbert Point. Still bugger all wind. Motoring cautiously feeling our way forward using depth sounders and Mark-1 eyeball.

08 olympiaRight: Olympia under motor through shallows.

1630: It’s been a real heart stopper. Shallow water undulating down to 4m then up to 3m. In the end if we’re considering that 2m depth is good. At one time I get a bit excited to see 1.1m flash on the depth sounder. I should have been aground. The keel should have banged or at least touched the bottom but I didn’t feel anything. There was also a 1.4m reading at one point.

All boats have had to feel their way around looking for a way through the rocks. In the end Pankina breaks out into deeper water first followed shortly after by Lowana IV, but Olympia with her deeper draft is unable to find her way through. With just 300 mm under his keel Daryl throws an anchor over to wait for the tide to give him more water. Just as well the water is calm.

Turned Lowana IV around and go back to the exact spot where I had broken free of the rocks. It was just a matter of following the trail on the navigation software on the laptop computer. Note down and give the coordinates to Daryl. It’s no more than about 200m from his position but might as well have be half a mile since he can’t move. Position was 11.41.128S – 133.50.819E.

Resume course to Junction Bay. Notice the GPS is giving a higher speed reading than the Log so the tide must be flooding. Good news for Daryl that he might be able to get underway again fairly soon. Pankina gave Daryl another set of coordinates some miles further on so that Olympia with have a safe bearing once he breaks free.

Time for a soft drink. Still very little breeze with smooth seas and low swells.  Thank goodness during all this that the wind hasn’t picked up like it has for the last two weeks.

1710: School of mackerel erupting everywhere, some right beside the boat but I don’t particularly feel like fishing and cleaning them. It wouldn’t be a problem getting a fresh fish for dinner if I wanted to though – they’ve been feeding like this for the last couple of hours.

1800: Contact Olympia. Daryl has an extra 40cm under his keel, is just finishing a beer and thinking of moving. Lowana IV is almost 8 miles away in a straight line. Pankina just visible ahead making a final run into the anchorage for the night. Bigger swells rolling through. Fish feeding still active with flocks of birds chasing them. Getting around 5.5 kts.

1900: Closing anchorage. No moon yet.

1940: Arrive where Pankina is anchored.  Circle around her so I can fix a safe distance away to anchor up in the dark. Eventually put the anchor down about 200m from Pankina. Olympia is coming down the bay. Have a saltwater wash on deck using a bucket over the side. Feels much better. Tin of braised steak for tea. Tired. Long day.

1950: Try calling Perth base. Get enough response to know they receive me but I can’t copy them because of noise. Pass the information that I’m anchored in Junction Bay. I think they receive that because I can barely make out, “Roger, roger”. The operator tries to tell me something but I can’t work it out. Spray a big fly that buzzes its way around inside the forward berth.

Note: Junction Bay: Posn: 11.49.655S – 133.53.254E. Total distance 289 miles. Today 42.8 miles. Maximum 5.3 kts.

map 8 junction to blythe
Map 8 – Junction Bay to Blythe River

Mon 4 Oct 04

0700: Tide flooding east for next couple of hours so I’ll need to use that push to get out of this bay. There’d been nearly 2 kts force in the tide when I came in last night.

Underway. Daryl stands on his deck watching with a hot cuppa in hand and waves me over. Exchange a few words with Daryl as I pass close by Olympia and meet his wife/partner Jan for the first time. Daryl is a fit looking middle-aged man with a weather beaten face. Thanks me again for turning back yesterday.  Assure him I think he’d do the same for me. Jan is a larger lady and sits in the shadow of cockpit.

0810: Get a position report out to Alice Springs base and pass a message for Delma, “Anchoring at or near the entrance to Maningrida”.

0920: Other boats haven’t left Junction Bay yet. Change to sail getting 3.5 kts.

1030: Wind has come up to about 10-15 kts. No whitecaps yet but soon I reckon. Spot an unmarked shoal approx 100m to starboard approaching Goomadeer Point and pass the coordinates to Olympia. Can’t reach Pankina. Can’t get enough angle on the wind to clear the point and its off-lying rocks using just sails, so turn on the motor for now and reef the mainsail to continue motor-sailing.

1045: Turn corner and change back to full sail.

1130: Wind variable coming in puffs giving me 3.5 to 4 kts sometimes. Quite pleasant conditions. Am working Highway mode on the GPS rather than using the laptop. This system puts up a display something like a road and shows when you’re moving to the left or right of centre. It’s an easy system to follow and I don’t have to use power to run the laptop computer.

1200: Abreast of Haul Round Island. Wind drops and I’m down to less 2.5 kts pushing against tide. Almost at a waypoint to make a dogleg turn towards Entrance Island and avoid some shoal patches.

1400: Approach Entrance Island. Can’t really see the aboriginal community of Maningrida from here. Whilst looking for an anchorage Olympia calls to tells me he and Pankina are getting some excellent sailing right now, and are heading straight for Blyth River to conserve fuel. Am thinking it would be a shame to waste good winds.  And I don’t particularly like this Entrance Island anchorage anyway. It’s only a little thing and it could be exposed depending on where the anchor is set. If I go now I can save some fuel as well as I’d probably have to motor across to Blyth River tomorrow if there’s no wind.

A quick check of the chart shows I only need to motor for about 4 miles into the teeth of the current NE winds, but should then be able to set sails directly for Blyth River. Put a second reef into the mainsail, tighten up then turn northerly to clear some local shoals.

1500: Clear the local shoals and start turning easterly.

1515: Weather forecast more the same. Motor off and sailing at 4.5 kts.  Pankina is still behind me and further out to sea. She slowly overtakes me and comes alongside at one point so I manage to get a couple of photos of her under full sail. With some tweaking of the sail trim I’m able to keep to within 100m of Pankina.  Maybe he’s slowed down a little for me.

06 pankina 1 07 pankina 2
Pankina under full sail with skipper
Renie at left.
Pankina pulls ahead.
From memory I think the motor
is a 60cc Honda outboard.

Dusk: Olympia has anchored at our pre-arranged coordinates. Pankina and I can just see Olympia in the distance and head towards her in the fading light.

For the next 4 hours the sailing is just excellent sailing, at times reaching almost 6 kts but averaging around 5 kts. Beautiful. Try working with the steering vane but it won’t hold a course very well at all. The servo blade will not hold a vertical position and the force of the water simply pushes the blade aft.  Am going to have to do put a sacrificial pin in place to hold the oar down in the water, but which will break if the blade hits an underwater obstruction.  Learning all the time ….

1915: Anchor down outside the mouth of the Blyth River. Am pleased now that I’d decided to push on from Entrance Island.

Note: Blyth River: Posn: 12.00.606S – 134.31.154E. Total 331 miles. Today 42.4 miles. Maximum 5.8 kts.

This place is very exposed.  It’s going to be a bumpy night at anchor tonight but we’re well positioned to cross the bar into the river tomorrow. Quite a shallow area. Am anchored in 6m but it still a long way from the shore. Eat the last of a stew. Will have to make another one tomorrow.

2330: Lowana IV is lurching and rocking hard with breaking waves thumping into the bow. The anchor has dragged a little bit but not much. Boat jerks hard against the bigger waves so go up to the bow and put out all the chain plus about 10m of rope to give me a much smoother ride. The tiller keeps banging from side to side to lash it down amidships. And the squeaking of a piece of timber trimming down in the saloon is irritating so pull it away. It had been annoying me for too long anyway.



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