Malay Road and Gove

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map 13 warnawi to gove
Map 13 – Warnawi Is to Gove Harbour

map 12 wessels to goveRight: The voyage area covered in this post.

Sat 9 Oct 04

0650: Weather forecast much the same and not very accurate. Like yesterday I’m finding the weather difference between individual areas can be quite different. Almost no wind yesterday afternoon yet supposed to be 15-20 kts inshore sea breezes.

0715: Establish comms with Olympia on HF Radio. They’ve anchored up in a bay near the western end of the Hole-In-The-Wall and will be going through it in the next couple of hours. Spent a lovely night at anchor and are really impressed with what they’ve seen of the anchorages on the western side of the Wessel Island Group. Can’t speak highly enough of the area.

0820: Clear the northern end of Warnawi Island passing under Bumaga Island to the north. Repack the fridge whilst underway, occasionally popping the head up into the cockpit to look around. I’ve known fishing trawlers not to keep proper lookouts.

1200: Monotonous. Getting just under 4 kts on a rhumb line to the northern end of Wigram Island. Not enough wind to even try using the headsail. Seas flat with just long, low, rolling swells. The saliva gland in my throat is starting to swell again and giving me painful problems.

1330: Contact made again with Olympia on the short range VHF Radio. Agree to meet near the entrance to the channel between Wigram and Cotton Islands. Renie caught the conversation and suggests going on to Cape Wilberforce if the wind picks up, with a night sail into Gove tonight. I decline. Too tired and don’t want to enter Gove at night even if I’m feeling fresh.

1430: Going past the channel between Wigram and Cotton Island. I’d once anchored up in there overnight when bringing Lowana IV back to Darwin from Mackay in Queensland. I’ve been watching two yachts coming down from the northwest for a little while.  Olympia had been in company with them back in the Wessel Islands and they’re now passing through the channel heading easterly towards Cape Wilberforce.

09 boats at wigramLeft: Two yachts transiting the passage between Wigram and Cotton Islands.  Cape Wilberforce in distance centre right.

1545: Anchor up on the northwest side of Wigram Island in 9.9m depth. Once again the anchorage bottom shelves steeply so some careful circling and depth sounding is required before putting the anchor down.

Wigram Island: Posn: 11.46.494S – 136.31.912E. Total 466 nm. Today 27.2 nm. Max 4.5 kts.

Have been wondering once again if there’s something wrong with the eutectic fridge system. Doesn’t seem to be pulling down efficiently and is still not below 10 degrees even though the system has been running all day. A quick check of the ambient temperature of the surrounding sea soon provides an answer. The fridge uses seawater drawn from outside the boat to cool the fridge copper pipes but the sea temperature is 34.4 degrees Celsius. It’s just not cold enough to take the heat out of the pipes.

Olympia calls and suggests going ashore. Decline. Quite tired and there is a house just opposite us with Caucasian occupants. We don’t have permits or permission to go ashore anyway although realistically, if we went ashore they’d probably be quite friendly.

Rocky headlands on the islands around here. Any piece of land that juts out into the water seems to have a reef surrounding it.

1630: Call Olympia and invite Daryl and Jan over to Lowana IV for sundowners, which they accept. String up sun shades since the stern is facing west and the sun is blinding directly into the cockpit.

1700: Daryl and Jan came over bearing a tray of nibblies. Enjoy a good chat.

1830: Daryl and Jan return to Olympia. Have some stew for dinner and do some computer work.

2100: Off to bed.

Sun 10 Oct 04

0600: Sun not up yet but day is well lit already. Check engine oils. Start motor.

0630: Anchor up and away. Pass through the channel between Wigram and Cotton Island. Land is this region is distinctly different to that further west. The Top End coast is generally low lying and flat while here the islands are rocky, usually ending in a promontory or cliffs around 80m, with stretches of white sand beaches and reefs.

0715: Course set for Cape Wilberforce about 5 miles away. That place can be a bit nasty in rough weather. Cross currents can be strong running up to 5 kts and the water gets very disturbed and bumpy. Calm today though. No wind yet. A seagull wings past then turns away. Don’t see many seagulls along the north coast.

Cross Malay Road where in February 1803 the explorer Matthew Flinders encountered a small fleet of 6 praus, “covered like hulks, as if laid up for the bad season”. Flinders was able to communicate with them through his cook who was also a Malay. He learned the man in charge was a short, elderly man named Captain Pobassoo and they were Makassan fishermen, part of a different division of 60 vessels and a thousand men belonging the Rajah of Boni. They’d left Macassar two months previously to look for trepang, also known as sea-cucumber to sell to the Chinese.

It was the first time that the European colonists learned of the annual visits of these fishermen to Northern Australia over the last 400 years or so. Flinders named the area Malay Road as a result of this encounter.

0800: Approaching the passage between SW Bromby Islet and Point William. Tides can race through up to 5 kts. Cape Wilberforce is 2 miles further on. No breeze whatsoever. Have the mainsail sheeted in hard fore and aft and windvane is pointing directly abeam to port. Sail flopping around a bit.

Can see two boats anchored in Elizabeth Bay just to the SW behind Cape Wilberforce. These would be the two yachts seen yesterday near Wigram Island. Daryl tells me they’re waiting until Monday to enter Gove Harbour in order to avoid the hefty fees for after hours attendance by Customs and Quarantine.

0815: Abeam Point William getting a tide push up to 5.6 kts. Calm day but blue water already a little lumpy, but no whitecaps.

0830: Coming up to Cape Wilberforce. A few fishing boats off to the NE chasing sailfin, a large sports fish with a large spectacularly coloured dorsal fin like a sail hence the name. Fairly regular chatter going on over the VHF radio using Channel 16, which should be kept open only for initial contacts and for emergency calls.

0830: One of the radio wafflers has just caught a black marlin. No other indication as to its size.

0840: Turn the corner and on a direct run into Gove Harbour.

1110: Monotonous and hot. Still no wind. Boom on the mainsail just swinging idly to and fro in response to small swells coming from NE. Mainsail slapping back and forth as well. Doing 4.5 kts under motor. Beautiful clear blue water gliding past the hull. Very inviting. The Gove mining site itself clearly seen off port bow. Olympia way ahead, maybe about one hour.

1200: Coming up to harbour outer entrance. Little bit of breeze starting in. Getting 4.6 kts. Scattered whitecaps. Hot and glary.

10 gove harbourRight: Entrance to Gove Harbour. Mine site at left. Jetty in distance at right.

1230: Inside harbour proper almost adjacent to end of jetty. Two Indonesian fishing vessels anchored across the harbour. They’ve probably been caught poaching fish. A number of large motor cruisers are anchored up in a basin behind the jetty and the mine. This is Inverell Bay where the Gove Yacht Club is situated and there must be 40 or more boats of various types and size anchored here.

A low ridge of red bare earth marks the horizon behind. Learn later that this is raw bauxite from the Alcan mine. It’s carried from the mine 8 kilometres away on a conveyor belt to the wharf.

1300: Olympia has just anchored. The wind has risen and quite good for sailing now. A black and white yacht sails out into the harbour passing in front of me with all sails set some distance ahead. A column of chalky white dust floats over a ship being loaded with raw bauxite at the main wharf.

1330: Manage to find a spot between Pankina and Olympia and as I’m coming up to my selected spot, a little red inflatable comes up behind and follows me. Don’t recognise who it is at first but soon see it’s Peter Evans from Adventure Seeker.  He climbs aboard while I’m still setting the anchor, then we go below for a chat and a hot cuppa for an hour or so.

11 adventure seekerLeft: Adventure Seeker at anchor in Gove Harbour

Inverell Bay, Gove Harbour: Posn: 12.11.838S – 136.42.265E. Total distance 493 nm. Today 26.9 nm. Max 4.9 kts.

1500: Start putting the dinghy over the side. This takes 25 mins getting it lifted over the rail and dropped down beside the boat. Damn thing’s so bloody heavy!

1545: Ring Delma on mobile phone once ashore to tell her I’d arrived here safely. Everything fine at home. Go to the yacht club office and get a temporary key to the ablution block. Have a shower. All three boat crews gather together and sit at a table on the lawn enjoying cold drinks. Peter from Adventure Seeker joins later. Have a meal at the club later on.

13 club beach 14 yachts anchored
The foreshore outside the Gove Yacht Club. Careening poles at far left centre. Hardstand for out-of-water yacht storage at centre left. Clubhouse at right. Numerous anchored yachts outside the club and dinghies belonging to visiting and local yachties scattered along the beach. For such a remote place the Gove Yacht Club has a LOT of boats registered on their books.

Later in the night Bert and Inge (pronounced ing-ge) from a largish Halvorsen motor cruiser named Coolong join us. They’re originally from Germany and also on their way to the East Coast. They seem like nice people and I’m quite impressed with them. They’re true adventurers having done some extensive travelling through the world in a variety of ways. Renie’s delighted to see them. Apparently they are friends he’d known from past cruising somewhere.

Bert and Inge had left Darwin last Friday taking just 50 hours to get here. We’d taken over two weeks. They mention they’re having problems with their refrigeration. They were in luck. Daryl is a refrigeration mechanic and says he’ll take a look tomorrow. I volunteer that I have some refrigeration gas on board if they need it.

2030: Return to Lowana IV.

Mon 11 Oct 04

Forecast not looking particularly good for the gulf – easterly to 20 kts. Other boats are intending going on Wednesday. Have a bit of brekky. Prepare emails on the laptop.

Pull out the starboard forward locker and clothes hanging cupboard to access the refrigeration gas bottle for Bert and Inge. The forward berth area is a mess. Set up the front solar panels. Overcast. Cloudy looking day. Go ashore to do some washing and get a key to the ablution block but the washing machines are busy.  Peter from Adventure Seeker and I are able to arrange a lift into town at 11 am with the manageress of the yacht club. Return to Lowana IV to change clothes and get the laptop.

15 dinghies 16 russ at gove
Getting to and from the shore. Ribs – Rigid Inflatable Boats with a fibreglass hull and upper pontoons allow carriage of heavier items and take knocks and scrapes from stony beaches or coral without punctures. Russ at the Gove Yacht Club in shore clothes heading into town.

In town Peter gets two petrol containers filled while I visit the local Police Station. Am wondering if I might know someone there since I work at Berrimah Police HQ in Darwin. No luck. Unable to send my emails at the local library because the library doesn’t have internet access jacks available for public use. You can only use the installed machines. I’m going to have to save my email texts onto a floppy disk and come back some other time.

Need a haircut but the hairdresser’s is closed Mondays.  Peter goes to the local bank to sort out a banking problem and finds the ATM is out of service. Takes a while to find another one at the Walkabout Tavern but it only has a limit of $200 but it will allow a second transaction. Thank goodness for that. Am able to draw enough money to buy diesel fuel tomorrow.

Visit a local café for lunch. Look around the shops. Buy a couple of items at the supermarket and butcher shop. Back out on the main road it’s not long before we manage to get a lift back out to the yacht club.

Visit Daryl on Olympia. He’s been having problems with his computer running slow. Take a look at it and find some spyware. Remove it and the computer starts working a bit quicker.

17 olympia at goveLeft: Olympia at anchor in Gove Harbour.

Dusk: Go ashore and have a shower. Meet some more people with Daryl and Jan sitting at a table having a quiet drink. They’re from the two boats that had been anchored in Elizabeth Bay behind Cape Wilberforce. They’d only just come ashore now because they’d been waiting to get cleared by Customs, which of course is the proper thing to do. Unfortunately for them they’d rocked up into Australia without pre-notification of their arrival and also have no visa’s. They’d been fined $3000. They’d been hoping a Coastwatch aircraft would find them so they could report in officially but it didn’t happen. Customs told them to either pay this fine or go to court and face a $10,000 fine. Doesn’t leave much choice. One might almost call that coercion.

Go back to Lowana IV to make supper since the club galley is closed on Monday nights. Call by Pankina on the way to say hello since I hadn’t seen any of them today. It’s dark by the time I get back home.

Cook dinner. Am washing up when Delma calls on the mobile phone. Pleased that I’m able to receive a signal out on the boat. Have a good chat. Settle down to watch a movie since I can only pick up Imparja, one of the four TV channels here but there’s nothing worth watching.

Tues 12 Oct 04

Early rise. Slept well enough. Pull out diesel jerry containers and top up the main tank with 100 litres of fuel. It’s still 35 litres short but there’s 245 litres in the main tank plus 100 litres in the jerries on deck. That’ll be plenty to get across the gulf if I need to motor the whole way. Should be able to get more at Bamaga at the very top of Cape York Peninsula where we are headed, or on Thursday Island a little further north. Even so I’d like to have a full supply of fuel.

I think the gas bottle is only half full too. The club here wants $34 to fill gas bottles but I’m not paying that for less than half a bottle of gas. Should be able to get more gas at Bamaga as well. Top up the main water tank with 100 litres but it’s still not full.  Local radio station announcer says that on this day in 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America – assume he means the West Indies.

Daryl returns my refrigeration gas bottle. He hadn’t been able to use any of the gas on Bert’s fridge because that system uses a different kind of gas. Have now got to put everything back into place in the forward berth.

Lots of work to do today. I’d forgotten to pick up a parcel from Delma at the Post Office yesterday so will have to go back into town. Missed the forecast this morning but Daryl says it now looks like a Thursday departure. That’s good for me because it gives me another day to get ready and to have a little more rest. Ships batteries are down a fair way. Will have to pull out the generator I think.

0815: Getting hot already. Have some brekky. True to the weather forecasts it’s starting to get blowy from the east. A mournful siren sounds occasionally from over at the mine. Learn later that they blast this siren whenever the long conveyor belt is stopped or started to warn the workers and prevent accidents.

0830: Fiddle with the wind vane. Manage to get it so that the servo-blade pulls up fully against its stop but I suspect the force of water will just push it aft again whilst underway. Shorten the tripping line system so that the rope holding the blade forward is tighter. Hope this works.

18 lowana anchored goveRight: Lowana IV at anchor in Gove Harbour.

Olympia contacted by Customs saying they’ve noticed they have a dog aboard. Daryl and Jan own a small silky terrier bitch named Pixie, which probably has more interesting character than some humans. Customs tells Daryl he needs to declare the dog and fill out a form if he is going to Thursday Island.

0915: Pull out the generator. Surprisingly it starts first go and runs smoothly. Must be 12 months or more since it was last started which is a bit embarrassing to admit. Unfortunately I can’t connect the generator directly to the batteries without a special plug, so have to hook it up to the ships battery charger instead. Not very efficient since it only supplies about 3 amps charge but it’s better than nothing.

Peter is on deck of Adventure Seeker. Exchange a friendly wave. I’ll be giving him a hand shortly to take his boat across the bay to get refuelled and re-watered at the Perkins Wharf. While I’m at it I’ll be getting some of my own fuel containers filled as well.

0930: Peter dinghies over to pick me up. Take five fuel jerrycans with me over to Adventure Seeker. His anchor comes up thick with mud and we head over towards the Perkins Wharf. Wind already gusting to 16 kts. Olympia is still tied to the wharf so we have to drift around and so some circles until he pulls away.

A worker on the wharf is waiting to take our lines. He asks Pete to sign a waiver saying that all the fuel lines and gear is in working order, and that he accepts responsibility if anything goes wrong such as a diesel spillage into the environment. I wonder how a visiting yacht would know if all the wharf fuel dispensing equipment is properly working?

Line up my jerrycans on the foredeck to get them filled but the nozzle of the feed pipe is too large. Peter starts filling his tank but has to keep the flow rate really slow so it doesn’t spill everywhere because of back wash from the fuel inlet. It’s taking forever to get it done.

Three dolphins come alongside snorting, puffing and bobbing around. Pete also refills his main water tank and then wishes he hadn’t. The water has a distinct taste such as can be found if drinking from a backyard rubber hose.

Approx 1200: Eventually get away and anchor back out the front of the yacht club. Kicking myself that I’d forgotten to take my camera, especially when the dolphins had come by.

Afternoon: Take my empty jerrycans ashore to put them into the back tray of the club’s utility vehicle so they can be taken to town on the next trip today. Then discover that the utility will not be available until at least Friday which leaves me in a bit of a pickle. We’re about one kilometre from the highway and I have 5 jerrycans to take into town. I can’t carry them and get a hitchhike into town. Nothing else for it but to ring for a minibus.

Approx 20 mins later a battered red Hiace minibus pulls up and takes me to town. Drops me at the BP servo which costs $25 for the trip. Cost of diesoline is $1.25 per litre at 100 litres, and with an $25 minibus fare back out to the yacht club this is going to be expensive fuel.

Leave the full jerrycans at the servo with a promise from the attendant that she will keep an eye of them for me. Visit the library armed with my floppy disk containing my emails in text format  and am able to send and receive all my emails to friends and family.

Collect Delma’s parcel from the Post Office. Turns out to be a pair of good leather sandals which I don’t need. I was hoping they were going to be a pair of the good sailing sandals. Have some lunch at a café. Consider buying a small gas bottle but it needs an adapter to switch from the larger gas bottle on board to this one. Put it back on the shelf.

Catch the same minibus and driver at the main bus stop. Stop by the BP servo and pick up the jerrycans and return to the yacht club. Back onboard I start the generator again to get some charge into the batteries then start cleaning up inside. Begin with putting the refrigeration gas bottle back into its hard to reach place and tie it in. Sweep out the saloon and take out the light rubber matting to shake it over the side.

1645: Back onshore to fill some water jerries and see what’s happening with the washing machines. Manage to get access to a vacant washing machine and get two loads done including some bedding. Have a quiet drink with some other yachties in a gathering of about a dozen or so people while waiting for the washing to finish.

Take the washing back out to the boat before returning for a shower and a meal of Thai Chicken Curry. It was a so-so meal but the nut sundae which followed was nice. Daughter Lydia calls and Delma also rings later. Our little gathering slowly reduces in size. Inge from Coolong gives me a book to read, “Flight Into Hell”, a true story of two German aviators who crashed in the eastern Kimberley region in 1932. It’s an interesting read since I’ve sailed to this area before.

The latest decision following the weather report is to leave at 3 am on Friday.

2100: Return to boat. Run the motor to cool down the fridge and to charge the batteries which are still low.

MORE TO FOLLOW

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