map 16 nhulunbuy
Map 16 – Nhulunbuy township and mine area

Total distance travelled since Darwin has been 660 miles. The round trip into the Gulf of Carpentaria was 167.8 nm using 45 litres of diesel fuel with a maximum speed of 6.9 kts.  Estimate 37 hours use of motor for both days so approx 1.2 litres/hour. Pretty good if accurate.

0700: Dip the fuel tank and have 200 litres. Calculate that if I’d kept going across the gulf it would have probably taken 5 full days and 140 litres of diesel. I have 345 litres on board so can do it if I want to, but trying to get across the gulf again is not looking good for the time being. The weather forecast is for stronger winds and big seas across the north of Australia.

0715: Call Olympia but get a response from Amadeus. They’d been in Gove and are now heading for Thursday Island. I think she’d been one of the boats I’d seen previously near Wigram Island on the way into Gove. Have a little chat. Olympia calls but comms aren’t very good. They’ve done about 200 miles with 150 miles to go for Bamaga and will call again tomorrow. Can’t learn much more due to radio static.

0800: Pull up the anchor to move closer inshore. Mud everywhere. A catamaran is anchored where my last spot was. See a boat I know from Darwin named Sanpoi. The owner is also a member of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club. Don’t see Coolong. Find another spot and get the anchor down.

I look around the bay and think, “Now what?” So many boats have left for Queensland and I’ve come back here.  My heart sinks a little as I listen to all the familiar sights and sounds coming from the nearby mine that I’d thought I’d left behind. A strong feeling of failure washes over me. I look at all the boats anchored around feeling inadequate and alone.

Go downstairs to make a brew and come back to the cockpit to think and take stock. Okay … I’m feeling bloody awful so let’s rationalise why I turned back.

There can be no doubt Lowana IV was a big factor in deciding to return to Gove. She’s always been a slug when it comes to sailing to windward especially in the heavier winds. But to be fair she was designed for coastal cruising with bilge keels to let her sit upright on the ground close inshore. She simply doesn’t have a deep enough keel for deep water sailing and gets pushed sideways in heavier winds.

Yet I must be honest and not blame it all on the boat.  I just wasn’t enjoying it out there and simply wasn’t coping with it.  Even now that I’m safely anchored I still can’t get rid of the depression that’s settled on me, nor stop the tremors in my hands and jaw. I’m finding I can rationalise it as much as I want but it doesn’t help. I just cannot control my emotions or what my body is doing.

 In hindsight I’d been over-tired and frustrated with being unable to get the boat to make reasonable way under sail. I was being tossed around and uncomfortable in the rough seas. There were too many other boats around to be able to get any reasonable sleep without someone else to keep watch. And worse weather was expected.

Chronic anxiety sufferers typically focus on the negatives, exaggerating them out of proportion and losing touch with reality.

The first thing to understand is that I need to wait until the weather improves and the winds drop a bit. That might help ease the immediate compulsion that I should be doing something. Staying here for the Wet Season is not an option so there are two other alternatives – either continue on or go back to Darwin.

If I decide to head back home there’s no doubt it will be emotionally draining. I’ve already had a taste of it just coming back to Gove. And it would be embarrassing to admit I’d given up when I get back there.

And what if I have to give up sailing and sell the boat … do I really want to sell the boat? Really? I’ve been looking after this boat for 11 years. It’s a part of me now. It’d be like losing an arm or something. The thought leaves a hole in the pit of my stomach. If I sell it, what will I do then?  Spend endless days wandering around looking for something else to do?

The alternative is to try and continue on this trip. I could look for Tilbah and have a chat to (Darren?) as suggested by Daryl of Olympia . But then I think about the last two days out there in the gulf. Had I’d kept going yesterday I’d probably be about half way across with probably another 2 days of discomfort, difficult work and heavy fatigue to go. I think I’ve had enough of that. But if the weather doesn’t ease up soon then it’s going to be just as hard, and just as frustrating.

I’m at a loss as to the best way to go. Either way looks unpleasant. It’s hot, sticky and it’s a Sunday. The yacht club office is closed so probably won’t be able to get a key to the ablution block until tomorrow. Be nice to be able to have a hot shower, shave and freshen up.

At least the ships batteries are all fully charged up again. There’s one positive.

0830: Ring Delma to tell her I’m okay. Discuss my uncertainties about what to do. She’s a good woman, sympathetic and understanding. I’m sure she’d support whatever decision I finally make. She says she only hopes I don’t ever regret not achieving what I want to do. That’s a very good point to make and she’s right. If I’m to give up I must go until I simply can’t do it any more. There must be no doubt in my mind if I’m to live with the decision. She suggests I take a few days to think about it and talk to some other yachties here.

0930: Put the dinghy over the side. Process goes as smooth as silk. Set up the forward solar panels and check they’re working properly. Put the V-berth cushions and bedding outside in the sun because they’re slightly damp. Must have been a little leak up through the forward hatch. Keeping myself occupied gives me a bit of relief from the constant yammering in my brain.

Am a bit more relaxed. Weather is nice. Breeze building already. Keep telling myself how uncomfortable it would be out there in the gulf now, how tired and frustrated I’d still be. But as much as I argue with the shadow man inside my head with his negativity it can’t chase those debilitating feelings away.

1730: There’s a halloo from outside. The skipper from the catamaran Alkira is hanging off the rails, comes aboard. The obvious question is why did I come back. How do I answer that without admitting I’d caved in … given up? At the same time I’m not going to lie about it so simply tell the truth. His response is that he thinks I’m a smart man for coming back instead of trying to push on.

He seems to be serious and not just salving my feelings. Yesterday he’d been coming down from the Wessel Islands and knew what the conditions were like out there. He says he’d wondered at the time why everyone was heading out into it.

Maybe I should have asked myself the same question. Why hadn’t I followed my own instincts? I guess part of the answer would be that there is a short weather window with northerly winds. Catching that would potentially make the 700 mile run down the East Coast to Cooktown so much easier. And I guess I assumed the collective reasoning of experienced cruising people, some with sophisticated communications and weather reading equipment must know or have better information than me.

A young couple Ron and Trish with 2 kids in a dinghy pull alongside. They’re from a big catamaran named Scuttlebug. They’re also curious why I’ve returned so I tell them what I’d told Rob. Ron readily agrees I’d done the right thing.

The combined reassurances of my visitors start to make me feel a bit better with myself. Alkira and Scuttlebug are travelling in company and they invite me to come along with them. They’re waiting for a weather window either to head directly across the gulf to Weipa or head south via Groote Eyelandt and I’m welcome to come along.

Rob comments that their idea of cruising is day sailing wherever possible and bugger the night sailing unless it’s unavoidable. I can’t agree more and the invitation gives me a huge boost to my spirits. I can suddenly see an acceptable way forward and with company to boot. My answer is obvious. My new friends depart with a promise to keep me posted on what their intentions are going to be.

I now have something to aim for so pull out all the charts again for the Gulf of Carpentaria, and start plotting distances and possible anchorage sites. It’s a much shorter hop across the gulf from Groote Eylandt and even Weipa is less distance than Bamaga.

Later in the afternoon I catch up with John Cook from Sanpoi at the yacht club. He’s working here in Gove. Am able to pay a deposit for a key to the ablution block but don’t have to re-register as a temporary member. Enjoy a hot shower and shave then return to the boat.

Evening: Feeling much better about things generally, enough to have a big cook-up for dinner with fried steak and canned vegetables, jelly fruit and iced custard for desert. In my new found relief on finding a way forward I even set up the little cockpit table for the first time. Enjoy the meal outside in the cockpit in the fading dusk.

Have a chat to Delma on the mobile phone while washing up. I think she might have been a little upset from my earlier call and has been worried all day. Now I feel bad again that I’d burdened her with my own problems. I sit in the cockpit with a hot cup of chocolate trying to come to terms with this trip.

The primary question is, “Am I enjoying it?” The answer so far is not yes or no, but a little bit. Maybe by following Pankina and Olympia I hadn’t been following my own agenda. I hadn’t visited the King River or Liverpool River where I’d planned, and the program had been to get up and go every day without breaks to recover from the long hard slogs. There’s been no time to relax and prepare for the next leg.  This is absolutely no reflection on Pankina or Olympia. They had their own timetables and I’d always had the option of saying or doing something different.

On the other hand if I’m honest with myself, it was probably because I wanted companionship, even if it was with other boats instead of having my own crew. And I really was enjoying their company anyway. It was like being part of a team.

Do some computer work typing up the notes of this trip. Watch the second half of a movie I’d started watching previously.

2200: Go to bed to read a book but can’t absorb the words. Turn in for the night. Something banging the shrouds. Get up and find one of the ropes to lift the dinghy onboard is banging against the taut capshroud wire. Tie it off and get back into bed.

Mon 18 Oct 04

0700: Weather forecast is for more strong winds and/or big seas. Am learning that when they say 1.5m seas for instance that it can mean 3m seas like the other day coming back from the gulf. Must keep that in mind when considering forecasts, especially around the gulf region where there is anything up to a 350 mile fetch of clear water.

0715: Call Olympia. Briefly establish contact but then can’t get through. Daryl says he’ll call tomorrow.

0900: Wind suddenly gusts through the anchorage followed by a slight moaning of the wind through the rigging.

Easy day on board. Do some computer work. Top up fuel. The main tank takes 80 litres because I’d been down 40 litres before leaving Gove the other day.  Go ashore to find that the yacht utility vehicle won’t be going into town until tomorrow so I won’t be able to fill my fuel jerries until then. Daughter Lydia rings asking how I’m getting on. I detect Delma’s work behind the scene here. She gives me a lovely supportive chat.

Late lunch. Read a book and fall asleep. Am checking a chart of Groote Eyelandt when Rob calls by and we discuss anchorages on the way down there. Possible sites are at Delawoi Bay, Port Bradshaw and Caledon Bay. At the NE of Groote Eyelandt is an anchorage from where we might possibly jump across the gulf. From here the gap is narrowest at 260 miles, at least 40 miles shorter than any other route. Decide to wait for the forecast tomorrow to decide our next moves, but agree we must be out of the gulf by the end of the month to avoid any early Wet Season cyclones.

map 17 gulfRight: Gulf of Carpentaria and proposed jump-off points

Dusk: Run fridges all day using just the solar panels. Using the panels this way seems to be a good power conservation plan, but will still need to change to another power source, e.g. motor or generator in the late afternoon. The panels by themselves just can’t pull enough power to feed the hungry electric fridge motor through the night as well.

1730: Run the motor for an hour to freeze the cooling tank. Cook tea – beef patties on toast, fried egg, baked beams, fried small potatoes. Yummy. Follow with desert and apple juice. Turn on the generator. Recharge the laptop so I can use it again tonight.

Dusk: Karen rings. She’s at home with Delma checking emails from my book publishing website. Good girl. She’s also very supportive. Chat to Delma. Feel much better after these calls.

Wash up and clean up. Make a shopping list for tomorrow including a small pot in which I can just warm stuff up, like a single serving of baked beans or some dried green beans.

Evening: Doing computer work but laptop battery giving out so go to bed. Do some reading.

2230: Turn out the light.

Tues 19 Oct 04

0700: Weather forecast not looking much good in any direction for the next two days. Manage to contact Olympia. From what I can gather he’s only just got into Bamaga this morning. Seems they’d been doing it hard. Although glad to hear they’d arrived safely there’s no word on Pankina.

Olympia is a Farr design for racing yachts. If I’d kept going there’s no doubt I’d have still been out there. Give a little shudder at the thought but the information helps to boost my confidence about having turned back.

Morning: Visit the yacht club office and arrange a lift into town to get diesel this afternoon. Alkira talking about heading off this afternoon for Delawoi Bay, about 26 miles east of here behind Cape Arnhem marking the turning point down into the Gulf of Carpentaria. For my part I don’t like the idea of arriving in an unknown bay in the dark, so tell Rob I’ll probably leave early tomorrow and follow. Rob tells me he’s received a phone call from Renie. From what I understand he’s at Bamaga and arrived a few hours after Olympia. I was not subsequently able to confirm that with Daryl on the HF radio.

Test the weather fax software on the laptop for the first time. Am able to get it to work but the picture isn’t too good but it should be just a matter of getting a better signal on the HF radio. Also need to find out the exact times that the Met Bureau actually transmits the isobar charts.

1215: Yacht club calls on radio. Kevin the Yardman is going into town in half an hour if I want a lift. Climb immediately into the dinghy already loaded with empty jerries and go ashore.  Find Kevin just starting his lunch. Identify myself then leave him alone so he can enjoy his lunch. Get a soft drink and sit down at a table on the veranda to wait. After a while Kevin finishes his lunch so I join him at his table. Find him to be a friendly chap and we enjoy a good chat.

Darren from Tilbah walks past pushing a pram with a baby. He and his wife had been anchored out in the harbour at The Granites. They’re a couple of small rocky islands with a sandy beach where it’s relatively safe to swim against the threat of crocodiles. The beach shallows and visibility for a long way around is good.

His wife (name unknown at this stage) comes over with lunch from the galley. Darren tells me they’d been married at The Granites. The baby is teething so they’re looking for calm weather to get across the gulf.

Kevin is now ready and loaded my 4 jerries so we head off into town.  He’s worked at the Gove Yacht Club for several years, done a variety of different jobs there and is happy to get away from the club for a while and take me where I want to go. Asks me if I want to go to Woolworth’s supermarket. I say, “No, I don’t need to thanks”. He says, “Yes you do! Enjoy the air conditioning for a while”.

Deliver some alcohol back to their supplier. Get the jerry cans filled and buy a small sand anchor for the dinghy. The folding grapple type I have for the dinghy is next to useless. Kevin takes me to another shopping centre outside the main centre of town where he buys some gardening supplies. I get a couple of other bits and pieces. Look for a suitable small cooking pot but they don’t have one.

At the Perkins Shipping depot in town they don’t have the yacht club’s latest order. They say it had been sent out to the wharf area depot. Drive out to the wharf depot and help Kevin load all his supplies.

1530: Return to yacht club and take the full jerries out to Lowana IV. This is where the big solid dinghy comes into its own with its ability to carry heavy weights. Decide to go back ashore later. Do some more computer work. Alkira is still anchored nearby so has obviously decided against leaving today.

1700: Start to tidy up topsides and get ready to go. Drop and lash down the solar panels up at the bow. A middle aged couple from a catamaran Easy drop by in a dinghy. They’re staying in Gove for the Wet Season having found work here in the mine and will be pushing on to the Kimberley’s next year. They say the anchorage at the main township of Alyangula on Groote Eylandt is a bad anchorage for swells. Very uncomfortable place.

Alkira calls on the radio while I’m talking to this couple. Rob says his friends at Port Bradshaw have been threatened by aboriginals with spears, who say that if they don’t leave they’ll be returning this afternoon with guns. Not going to Port Bradshaw makes it more difficult to get to Groote Eyelandt. The coast is mostly exposed from the NE to SE with lots of coastal reefs and outlying rocks. We decide to go directly to Weipa instead.

Rob has been talking to other yachties who have been accessing the internet for weather forecasts. A High Pressure system is due to hit here next Sunday. If we stay here we’ll be delayed by at least another week. No guarantee what will follow that High. Take stock of my options. Am running out of time if I change my mind and decide to go back home before the NW monsoons start. They could start within the next couple of weeks – or not. Never can tell from year to year.

Rob argues that the weather locally hasn’t been too bad for the last couple of days despite what the forecasts have been saying. I think to myself that’s no guarantee what’s happening offshore because we’re actually sheltered here in Inverell Bay. In any case the forecasts for the NE Gulf region are predicting only 1m seas, so in theory the further east we get the better it should get. Good theory but they don’t always turn out like you’d expect.

All the while the couple beside the boat wait patiently. They tell me they’ve worked for several years in the Torres Strait area and rely implicitly on the weather forecasts. They believe they’re usually accurate for that particular region but they’ve now had enough of Torres Strait and are looking to go somewhere else. The gentleman offers his opinion that when the High Pressure systems reach near Melbourne then the high winds are down. Sounds fair to me. They then leave to go check on their dog.

Lash down jerrys. Finish cleaning and tidying up. Jump into dinghy and visit Alkira on the way to shore. Alkira and some other boats have decided to stick their noses out into gulf tomorrow, and if it cuts up rough during the day to return to Gove. That sounds fair enough to me so decide I’ll join them after all.

The tide is right out as I go back ashore for the last time, so have to wade some distance through the shallows pushing the dinghy. Have a shower and retrieve my deposit for the shower block key.

1930: Return to Lowana IV in the dark. Check the big battery for fluid levels and do a hydrometer test. Clean up forward. Bring the dinghy alongside and get it aboard. Tie it all down. Generally square away for sea.

2100: Cook tea. Ring Delma about my plans. Only remember now that I haven’t topped up with water but have plenty on board anyway. If there’s one thing I can say for this cruising lifestyle is that by night time I’m usually tired and ready for bed.



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