False Start … Again!

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map 14 gove to gulf
Map 14 – Gove to gulf and return

map 15 voyage areaRight: Voyage area this post

Weds 13 Oct 04

Weather forecast much the same, easterly winds to 20 kts until about Friday. Batteries below 12v because I’ve had to run the fridge on power. Start the motor to help pull down the fridge and give the batteries another boost. Let it run for an hour or so but batteries still down a bit. Connect the generator to push in another couple of amps.

0900: Working on computer typing up notes. Wind is gusting through Inverell Bay as expected. Lowana IV jerks and wanders back and forth to her anchor a bit with the wind moaning softly through the rigging. Aft solar panel doing a reasonable job under the cloudy conditions pumping between 3 to 5 amps into the batteries.

Go topside to hang out the washing from last night. Renie calls across the water and points towards a white catamaran named Vivacious. It’s slowly dragging its anchor and is only metres from the largest set of rocks to one side of the bay.  He gets into his dinghy, collects me and we head off over there.

Climb aboard Vivacious.  First job is to drop the outboard motor get it started. There’s no key, switch or start button we can find. The anchor chain is heavy and only being held by the winch itself. Not a good practice. A sudden jerk and the winch can be damaged or the clutch can suddenly give way.

A man comes out in a dinghy and looks up at us wide eyed and obviously alarmed. I think I would too under the circumstances. He’d left the key to the motor back at home and will have to go back and get it. Renie gives him a rope lying on deck and asks him to take it over to another anchoring buoy nearby. Hopefully this will stop the boat from dragging any further but as soon as it’s connected it starts dragging along with us too.

Renie decides to go back to Pankina and get his own stern anchor. If we can get that set it might give enough time for the owner to get back with the key for the outboard motor. The owner and Renie take off on their separate missions. Looking around I can see a previously unnoticed metal framework of some kind sticking up out of the water and it’s directly in our path. We’re going to have to be quick or that thing is going to punch holes in the hull.

Renie doesn’t take long and he’s soon back. Hand him another rope which he connects to the chain of his own anchor. The idea is to set this anchor to make a V pattern of anchors out there. He gets the anchor down, pays out the chain and brings the loose end of the rope over to me where I can secure it to the front starboard bow. Vivacious yaws over to the side and settles. This seems to be doing the job for now and there’s nothing much more to do but wait.

Eventually the owner returns and starts the motor. With the motor engaged we’re able to move slowly forward, gather in both anchors and clear the second buoy away. Once back out into a clear area we reset the main anchor. He only has 30m of chain so we let it all out before tying it off to a small bollard forward of the winch.

As we sit and watch for a while he tells us he’d just bought the boat in Cairns and had only arrived this morning, having spent the last couple of weeks sailing home. He seems pretty inexperienced to me so I’m guessing he might have enjoyed a good slice of luck on that trip.

Return to Lowana IV for lunch. Start the motor and run the fridge compressor for an another hour.

Afternoon: Run the generator all afternoon charging batteries. Visit Pankina to take over some movies on loan. During the late afternoon take some water jerries ashore to fill.

Evening: Go ashore for a shower and dinner. More boats have arrived in the harbour with  lots of new faces and delighted re-acquainting going on between various owners and crews.

2030: Back onboard. Ring Delma. Watch a movie but am too tired to  see it through.

Thurs 14 Oct 04

0700: Weather forecast looking okay for tomorrow. Still trying to get the batteries charged. Pick up the flooring in the saloon to check for water in the bilge area along the top of the keel. There’s a little bit there but hard to say where the water’s coming from but most likely a bit of draining from the hawse pipe and anchor well. Mop it up and vacuum away the dirt.

Sort out various charts into Gulf of Carpentaria, Torres Strait and Cape York regions so that they’re ready when needed. Find a suitable chart to cover the whole passage across to Cape York.

0900: Check the contents of the gas bottle by a simple expedient of test lifting, followed by quickly pouring hot water over the bottle. The top half gets hot while the bottom half stays cool so it appears the gas bottle is about half-full.  Really should get a bit more gas to be on the safe side.

Hot already. Sweaty. Check the batteries. The starter battery is still down too far. Looks like it’s starting to fail and likely why the whole battery system isn’t charging up properly.

1030: Hitch hike into town and price an auto battery. Too expensive. If necessary I can isolate the starter battery and change the battery system around a bit. Buy a 4 kg gas bottle at the sports store and this time they manage to find an adapter that works. Fill the gas bottle for an all up cost of $100 which is expensive but gives me an emergency reserve of gas. Also get a new hydrometer battery tester as the old one perished this morning while using it.

Back on board am concerned to see the charge in the big 200 ampere-hour battery up on the bow is very low. Much too low. Have some lunch and make a big stew. Run the motor to try and get some more charge into the batteries. Finally get a reading of 13.1v but something in the system is wrong because the big battery is still flat. Start running the generator.

1500: Tidy up around the boat. Lash all jerries to deck. Find a place to stow the canopy poles other than inside the dinghy. Go ashore to put the last lot of dirty clothes through the wash and hand back the ablution block key and collect the deposit.

1600: Wash the dinghy down on the beach. Once back onboard finish hanging out the washing then winch the dinghy up on deck and lash it down. Rig a lifeline both to port and starboard sides. Being alone in open waters that line could be a life saver, my only one if I fall or get flung overboard.

Generally get the boat ready for sea. Renie drops by to offer me a powerful 240v AC charger. Thank him but decline since I won’t be pulling the generator out and running it whilst at sea.

1800: Pull up the anchor at the same time as Pankina. It comes up heavily packed with mud so just heap it on deck for now. Both of us are moving out of the crowded anchorage for a clear start in the morning.  There’s too  much of a chance of colliding with someone in the pre-dawn darkness, or run over a buoy or foul the propeller on a floating rope or something. Motor out to deeper water where a motor cruiser MV Fiddler is anchored. Renie motors over to say g’day to them.

1900: Find a spot in 6m and drop the pick. Wash and brush all the mud off the deck using a bucket and seawater.  Heat up some stew. Let the motor run for a while because I’ve put a big container of warm stew into the fridge. It’ll need a bit of engine compressor power to quickly cool the box down again. Watch TV.

Fri 15/10/04

0300: Early rise and set about getting underway. There’s a series of radio calls going on with crews making sure friends on other boats are all up. Four boats Pankina, Olympia, Lowana IV and Adventure Seeker are moving out.

0330: Underway slowly out of harbour. Anchor chain filthy with mud which I’ll need to clean later and get it stowed into the chain locker. The log isn’t working again.

0400: Turn around the main wharf at Point Dundas. Put up the mainsail with two reefs and connect my safety harness to the lifeline. Heading for the western side of Bremer and Victoria Islands.

0500: Radio sked with Pankina. All okay. He’s under sail at 4 kts. I’m staying motor sailing for now still trying to get the ship’s batteries recharged. Turn the electronic navigation off on the laptop and start working with the GPS and charts.

0530: Arrange with Olympia for a daily sked at 0715 on 8.161 Mhz in the event we get out of VHF range. She’s a much faster boat so that’s more than likely going to happen.  Pink sky in the east. Getting 4 kts over ground. Bremer Island sitting forward off the starboard beam.

0600: Sun clears horizon in a big bright yellow ball. Streaky cirrus clouds to east portend higher winds today. About 7 miles NE of Gove. Adventure Seeker coming up abeam on my starboard side.

0615: Not having a log to measure the speed through the water is bugging me, so I bring the boat to a stop and pull the log transducer out of the hull. A gush of water comes into the boat but it’s quickly plugged. Get a brush and clean the little transducer wheel. Put the transducer back into place with another gush of water and the log starts working properly.

0620: Olympia calls to check why I’ve stopped. I must be on their radar. Good to know he’d noticed. Tell him what I’ve been doing. The first whitecap of the day happens just near the boat. Narage in sight coming up behind.

0700: Weather forecast – east to NE winds 15 kts. Headwinds … and the prediction for Sunday doesn’t sound too good either. Tide is starting to hold me back as I get near Victoria Island. Other boats steadily pulling away ahead of me.

0745: Narage catches up and is about 100m off my port side. Give me a wave as they go past making it look so easy just gliding through the water and leaving me behind. Frustrating that. They must be doing 6 kts. And they’re pointing into the wind about 10 degrees higher than either Pankina or even Olympia. Must be motoring as well.

0800: Renie calls ScuttleBug and Alkira. He tells me Coolong will be pulling up anchor soon back in Gove and following. A fish torpedoes out of the water nearby into a 15m jump before hitting the water again.

0815: There’s 312 miles to the waypoint off the NW of Cape York at 11.00S and 142.00E.

It tends to get a bit depressing when you just can’t keep up with any other boat. I could probably sail now but I really do need to get these batteries charged. In any case Renie’s only getting 11 degrees True so I’d most likely be worse off if I tried to sail. At least while I’m motor sailing I’m getting 060 degrees True which isn’t too far away off the 80 degree True rhumb line to Bamaga at Cape York.

0900: Bumpy but not too bad. Still within sight of other boats. The sea is a dark blue. Getting hot. Take a little catnap.

1000: Approx 25 miles NNE of Gove. Bremer Island is a very faint smudge and just about to disappear below horizon.

1100: Change to port tack – i.e. to starboard with the wind on the port side. Heading ESE just under 4 kts. Not much wind. Olympia and Pankina are talking about motoring if they drop below 3 kts.

1300: Wind drops down. Irregular swells.

1400: Been watching the amp meter putting out 10 amps most of the morning with the battery voltage not budging at 13.3v. Something is definitely wrong in the charging system. Fiddle around until I finally find the reason. I’d inadvertently set the fridge thermostat colder than I’d needed to. The poor little fridge has been trying to be a freezer and since it chews 8 amps or more, the batteries have at best been only getting a very low charge.

Reset the thermostat to see an almost immediate improvement. Would be glad to be able to sail even if I could but there’s not enough wind out there now. Only 36 nm NE of Gove after changing course in a rather dogleg kind of route so far. Haven’t really gone that far but it’s not surprising.  We’d spent the first couple of hours at about 3 to 3.5 kts just getting out of the harbour. Anyway … I’m getting over 4 kts right now motor sailing using a partially rolled out headsail and full mainsail. Wind has swung around so am able to get an ENE course only about 10 degrees off the rhumb line.

Narage is long way off just forward of starboard beam. There’s a mast in the distance behind but don’t know who that is.

1620: Been experimenting with the windvane most of the afternoon without success. A bit of wind has come up and the boat seems to be sort of holding a course, albeit wandering around a little from side to side. Turn off the motor.  Getting just under 4 kts under sails – thank goodness for small mercies.

1800: Not happy. Just can’t get Lowana IV to sail to windward in these swells. Disturbed, sloppy water with swells are coming from all different angles. The windvane can’t work properly is these conditions. Find myself thinking several times about going back. Feeling depressed and frustrated. Pankina and Adventure Seeker are both under sails. Lowana IV can’t sail. Fed up. Sun going down. Night approaches.

1830: Dusk settles. Seas getting lumpier. Lowana IV being thumped now and again by head seas and she judders her way forward.

1945: Tack southerly. Best course I can get on this tack is 150 degrees True but I need to get back down onto the original rhumb line, otherwise I’ll end up way off course to the north near Papua New Guinea.

2330: Tack easterly again. Only getting 060 degrees True and once again heading for Papua New Guinea. If I could only get reasonably near to a course for Bamaga just under sails it would be easier to persevere. SE winds are forecast for the NE side of the gulf. If I get too high on this tack I’ll find that instead of it being easier over there, it will be just as hard. In fact even harder because higher winds are forecast. Quite demoralising this sort of thing.

Sat 16 Oct 04

0545: Distance made good from Victoria Island is 65 miles. Dawn. Seas very disturbed and lumpy.

0645: Not a good night spent catnapping. Up and down, up and down all night long. I’d thrown a couple of cushions down on the floor of the wheelhouse. Not much room and highly uncomfortable but at least I wasn’t going to fall into a deep sleep there. Set the alarm for short sleeps but found myself constantly jerking awake, anxious that other boats might have tacked and be bearing down nearby.  Wind continued at a moderate level all night and the seas were lumpy and disturbed with big cross swells. Several times I’d given serious thought to turning back.

Pankina is on the same latitude but a few miles further back west. Can’t see his sails in these seas. Once again I reflect that at least he’s able to sail while I’m still having to motor in order to make some reasonable headway.

0700: Forecast bodes worse to come. Seas are picking up even as I watch, hitting Lowana IV and bringing her to successive shuddering stops. If I belly out the sails to try and power through the waves then the wind overpowers the boat because of her shallow keel and tips her too far over. Renie calls and we discuss options. I’m not sure that I can get a reasonable easting today which I’ll need if I’m to handle the forecast 20kt SE head winds tomorrow.

In the meantime I can expect more of this slop for this side of the gulf for today and tomorrow. My sailing angle is only between 30 to 150 degrees True and that’s under motor. It’s worse if I try to sail. But it’s not the pointing angle so much on this boat but the effect of drift. Lowana IV is designed to be a coastal cruising boat. With her shallow keel she just doesn’t have the grip in the water to prevent the heavy winds from pushing her sideways further left or right off her course. And her flat chines slapping hard against the waves aren’t helping either.

Try to weigh my best options. Call Daryl of Olympia at our HF radio sked. He tends to agree that I should return to Gove and suggests I should wait for better weather. Also suggests I speak to Tilbah who doesn’t go anywhere unless it’s calm. Decide to turn back and wait for better weather. Daryl wishes me a safe trip and suggests we maintain our daily sked. Agree with this. Exchange best wishes.

0720: Call Renie and tell him of my decision and he wishes a safe trip back. He’s behind me at the moment so may pass him on the way back.

0800: Reluctantly turn the tiller to bring Lowana IV to a WSW course with a heavy heart. At this point I’m thinking this is most likely going to be the end of the trip and I’ll be returning to Darwin.  I just can’t see how I can cope with another attempt across the Gulf of Carpentaria like this one.

Authors Note: I was to learn in later years that if someone is in a depressive state they are just not mentally capable of seeing things clearly.  Ordinarily I would have just kept plugging on but fatigue makes you even more vulnerable than usual to emotional turmoil and faulty judgements.  A sense of failure is also common among those afflicted.

The wind comes around to my port quarter so I can put up a full mainsail and full headsail. Speed builds up quickly to almost 6 kts under sail alone and I’m able to turn off the motor. Bring the boat up into the wind to pause for a moment to set up the wind steering vane. Once the steering oar is dropped down and secure, bring the boat back on course and adjust the trim until it’s working close enough to the proper heading. Seems to be working alright but will have to watch it. Feeling a curious blend of regret and relief in the ease of sailing.

0915: Making steady time between 6.5 to 7 kts. Following seas yawing the boat around a bit but is okay.  I think I might actually be beginning to enjoy the ride except I’m going the wrong way. Coastwatch calls me on the radio as they fly past.

1100: Blowing quite hard. Whitecaps everywhere. Waves hitting the boat and sending spray into cockpit. Gusts up to 20 kts or even more. Reef both sails.

1200: Reach the same position where I was at 11:30 pm last night. In four hours I’ve covered the same distance it had taken me about 8 hours to do going the other way.

1330: Rock and roll. Rock and roll. Getting 4.5 to 5 kts. The windvane finally doing all the work and is working well. If only it was like this going the other way, it would be excellent! Large seas rear up from behind but not breaking and pass underneath. Strong gusts.

1530: Wind dying down. Waves and swells still up but not as bad as before. Still 26 miles to waypoint off the channel below Bremer Island. Small waves washing across the deck on the leeward side. A booby skims across the waves and swells expertly, keeping itself just inches off the water. Beautiful to watch. Wind steering vane doing a good job. Nice to save on battery power too.

1730: Dropping below 4 kts. Time to secure for the night. Big waves are still coming through from two different angles just as they have been all day.  One lot slants in on the port stern and there’s a cross swell which comes in broadside on the starboard side. It’s 18.5 miles to the waypoint. Bit like being in a washing machine. Will motor from here.

1740: Feeling lousy most of the day. When I’d made the decision to come back to Gove I felt very bad about pulling out of this trip. Like lead in my heart and a weight in my stomach. I’ve come to the conclusion that the life of a single-handed sailor is not for me.

Getting 5.5 to 6 kts motor sailing. Will be glad to see some calm water. Very uncomfortable over the last two days without much sleep, and the night is again coming on. Have kept trying to catnap during the day but without much success. I’m just too keyed up. Swells still rolling through like mini hills.

1750: First sighting of land – Mount Dundas to the south of Bremer Island on the mainland.

2130: Water gradually eases with the fading of the wind in the late afternoon. However it continues to be rolly through the last few miles threading back through the channel at the southern end of Bremer Island and the mainland. Pitch black. Getting 4 kts but the tide should change soon. Under motor and mainsail only. A sliver of moon is showing but is soon hidden behind some low clouds before sinking below the horizon.

Sun 17 Oct 04

0130: Another boat is coming into the harbour as I make my way towards the anchorage. Finally get the anchor down in 7m on the outside of the other yachts. Will move in closer tomorrow. It’s been a long, slow night since it got dark. The plots on the chart seemed to inch ever so slowly but it was nice and calm in the harbour at least. The water gradually calmed the further I got in behind the protection of the land.

MORE TO FOLLOW

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