Ashore at Weipa

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map 20 weipa
Map 20 – Weipa township and region

Right: Weipa Locationmap 19 area map

Sat 22 Oct 04
0130: It’s slow going. Winds and waves have picked up directly from Weipa and the tide is running against me. Would have been better off heading southerly as intended earlier.

0630: Still slow, hard going with 16.5 miles to the waypoint going back and forth across the wind. Have bumped up the throttle to 1500 rpm but I don’t think the motor likes it much. And there’s a strange squeaking noise coming from it that so far I haven’t been able to trace yet. Try using a bit of headsail but it forces me to go too far off course to be effective, so roll it up and keep going obliquely to the waypoint.

0800: Conditions calm down enough to be able to get just over 4 kts heading directly to waypoint at 11 miles. Can’t contact Weipa Harbour for some reason. They’re only receiving broken transmissions but obviously know someone is calling them.

Have been going through despairing moments about having to go back on my own across the gulf and beat the monsoons across the Top End. In my tired state I’ve imagined all sorts of bad scenarios. It’s hard to be motivated positively when tired.

Talk to Alkira. Rob manages to cheer me up as usual. He reckons it will probably take him about 2 weeks to get to Torres Strait and he doesn’t expect the longest sailing leg down the East Coast to be more than a 60 mile run. Rob impresses on me they are day sailors first and foremost. After talking to Rob I think I’ll be better off going on since I’d have company again, and the daily sailing legs should be relatively short.

0830: Am 8 miles off the waypoint and still can’t see the land. The outer lead where I’ve marked my waypoint is 7 miles out from Weipa itself so should see that soon.

A little later I see a ship off to port is heading NE to round Duyfkin Point, which is now visible behind the ship. Still getting 4 kts directly to the waypoint. That squeaky noise appears to be coming from the fridge compressor but after running it for a while the squeak seems to have gone.

0915: Seas pick up in a last gasp attempt to piss me off and doing a good job of it. Plenty of whitecaps. It isn’t going to let me get in too easy by the looks of it.

0930: A big ship with a white superstructure sits hull down on the horizon behind me to port.

1020: First sighting of the outer lead waypoint marking the South Channel entrance into Weipa. The channel has been cut through the extensive shallows surrounding the entrance to Weipa Harbour. The ship behind me is closing fast.

1030: Contact Weipa Harbour Control and mention there is a big ship behind me and request instructions on what they want me to do – do they want me to make way for it or can I enter the channel. They advise the ship will be anchoring outside the leads and no other traffic is using the channel, so I’m cleared to enter it.

The ship River Embley calls me and confirms they’ll be anchoring to the north side of the leads and won’t be interfering with me. Wish me a good day.

Turn towards the channel and set up the laptop navigation system, then zoom the display into the channel. Thank goodness the conditions under the lee of the land are better now and just as thankfully, the tide is going with me. It’s rushing in quite fast and would have made progress really slow otherwise. Very little headwind.

1145: Almost through the channel except for a mile or so. The land around the coast is flat and not very imposing, with sandy foreshores and low scrub behind. There are extensive shallows in Albatross Bay and numerous drying banks out the front of the river. Occasionally a fishing dinghy speeds by on its way out to where the shallows drop into slightly deeper water. There seems to be plenty of isolated underwater rocks and reefs that would hold fish. Some fishermen are just fishing the edges of the channel.

Sharon from Just Roaming calls to tell me they’re still in town and give directions into the anchorage. She says there’ll be a fuel run at 1430 if I want fuel. Have to remember to set the ships time forward half an hour onto Queensland time.

1230: Find a spot to drop the anchor in 7m near Evans Landing in Weipa Harbour.

Weipa Harbour: Posn: 12.39.917S – 141.51.148E. Total distance this trip 954 miles. This leg Gove to Weipa was 293 miles. Max speed achieved 6 kts.  The tide is running fast through the anchorage and there’s not a lot of room. The bottom shelves in fairly quickly too, so that the depth can vary from 10m to 3m in probably no more than 50m distance across the water. Some of the local boats including small motor cruisers are anchored with long ropes which can only  mean they’re going to swing around for quite a distance at tide changes. I’ll need to watch for that since some boats can get swung about more easily than others.

Lot of work to do straight away if I’m to meet that fuel run. No rest except to pull out a cold Coke and privately celebrate my arrival. Unlash the dinghy and put it over the side. Refuel the outboard motor and mount it onto the dinghy. Dip the main fuel tank to find I’ve used 120 litres on the trip over. Unlash the five fuel containers and put the 100 litres into the main fuel tank using a Baja filter.

1445: Finish my work and have a little time to relax. Rob of Alkira dinghies across and says we no longer have the use of the ute, so he and Ron are going to take their containers ashore to the local servo. It’s about 200m from the landing point so we’re going to have to cart them to and from the servo, but suggests maybe we can get a cart or something.  He says that if I get my containers over there we can all work together.

Look up and startled to see one of the commercial fishing boats is sitting close to my bow. Too close at maybe only 20m. Go forward to find my anchor chain disappearing directly under the boat. Damn. Eventually the other boat swings to one side. Decide to pull up my anchor and reposition anyway, even though my GPS is telling me I’m still in the exact same position. The anchor winch groans and strains against the push of tide and wind, and I can almost feel the power draining from the forward battery. The chain comes up encased in mud but I don’t have time to clean it off, so send it straight into the anchor locker mud and all. Will just have to clean it out later.

Find a new spot in deeper water and put out all 50m of chain plus another 10m of nylon rope. Watch for a while but Lowana IV seems to settle into her new position okay. Set the anchor alarm.

The others haven’t gone ashore yet as I take my empty jerry-fuel containers ashore and walk around a bit to find out where things are.  It’s a little bit of walking in the heat, but I don’t mind the exercise and soon locate the service station and a public phone box. Ring Delma to tell her I’m okay but try as I might not to, I think I offloaded on the poor woman once again. She’s quite astute and knows exactly what to say. After 32 years of marriage she knows her man.

By the time I’ve made the call the others have come to shore and are filling their jerries at the servo. Collect my own empties from the dinghy and take two of them up there with the intention of filling and carting two at a time.

1700: Some locals offer to cart our full jerries down to the water so getting them back to Lowana IV isn’t any great effort.

Have been invited over to Alkira for sundowners but am in bad need of a shower. Apparently there’s an ablution block over near the public boating ramp next to Evans Landing Wharf. It’s a fair distance but I take the dinghy along the shore and around the wharf where I see the building near the ramp. There’s no hot water but plenty of cold water pressure and a sink to enable a shave.

1730: All the crews from the boats anchored here are expected on Alkira from about now so I grab some packets of chips and a couple of soft drinks and head on over.  Sharon and Kevin from Just Roamin’ are already here. Ron and Trish from Scuttlebug soon turn up followed by Mark and Trevor off Forte. Later in the night a chap named Mick from a monohull rows across. Seems he’d just recently bought the boat and is thrilled with it. He’s being laid off by the mine later in the week since his part of the contract is nearing completion and he plans to sail to the East Coast as well, so we might see some more of him.

It’s a jolly gathering with several separate conversations going on at one time. Some of them start to get a bit inebriated so I make my exit. As I’m leaving Rob says I deserve my sleep. He’d made a few small comments from time to time to me and to others, and seems to have been impressed by someone who’d single-handed across the gulf. If there’s one thing I can say it’s not particularly hard to do if you’ve got good weather. I think I did it responsibly and safely enough even if I did find it mentally challenging.

2030: Reheat some stew back on Lowana IV then get to bed.

Sun 23 Oct 04

0530: Wake up in the early hours plagued by doubts hammering at me over and over again. Will they never bloody go away? Can’t sleep so get up, relieve myself over the side, have a drink of water and go back to bed.  Sleep fitfully for a bit.

0700: Weather forecasts strong winds everywhere up to 20 kts or more. Doesn’t look like I’ll be going anywhere for a few days at least. Will be surprised if any of the others do either.

1030: Blowing moderately hard across the harbour making it uncomfortable in this anchorage. Look out topside to see the catamaran Forte has gone. Lowana IV is jerking and rocking to swells pushed by the wind and sits at odds with the tidal push which is quite strong. The dinghy is lashed alongside and works to its own rhythm as waves cause it to pull and jerk against the boat, which adds to the pulling strain on the anchor.

1330: Work on typing up trip notes into the computer all morning. Will see if I can email a copy to Delma tomorrow. Pull out fuel and oil filters and start servicing the motor. Change the oil. Start to change the primary fuel filter only to find the filters won’t fit. I normally use a Ryco brand but they hadn’t been available and so I’d purchased a different type that was supposed to be a universal fit. It doesn’t. Wash and put the old filter back in since it’s perfectly clean anyway, but replace the rubber gasket seal.

Clean out the bilges forgetting entirely about the burn wound on my forearm and it gets filthy dirty with grease, oil and bilge water. Only realise it later in the day when the wound begins to get a bit hot and inflamed.

Alkira invites me over for a hot cuppa and we chat about the next stop at the Pennefather River. Will need to do a bit more research on the place tomorrow. Forecasts are from E to SE winds at 20 to 25 knots, but that should be coming off the land and we’ll be close into shore, so shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

Finish degreasing and cleaning up the motor and engine bay on Lowana IV. Grab the laundry bag and go ashore to the laundrette. This consists of a room with a couple of commercial washing machines at the end of what looks like a small block of flats. There’s also a dryer which doesn’t work properly and requires $3.00 for the privilege of using it. Meet Ron and Trish who are using the machines so head for the phone box to ring Delma instead. She’s happy to learn I’m going on. Also have a chat with daughter Karen.

Return to the laundrette. Ron and Trish have left and the machines are available. Load them up only to find that I’d left the laundry detergent back on board. Grab the washing and go back down to the dinghy only to discover that the waste oil filter I’d put in there to take ashore after servicing the motor had leaked inside the dinghy. This has to be wiped out when I get back out to Lowana IV and it’s a mess.

1800: Pull out the mackerel fillets Renie had given me and have a cook-up of battered fillets. There are three big fat ones so cook them all and put a one aside to eat cold tomorrow.

Evening: Prepare some emails after dinner and save them onto a floppy disk for emailing tomorrow when I go to the Weipa Library. Get into bed for a read. Lights out. Boat is jerking and the dinghy is thumping against the hull so I’d better take a look. Just as well. Alkira is about 20m away even though the GPS alarm hasn’t gone off. I’d had a long anchor rode out there because I’d anchored in deeper water than Alkira and as the tide turned it’s put me closer to her.

2130: Might be okay but better not to chance it. Fire up the motor and quickly pull up the anchor … again. Reposition the boat and drop the anchor in a different place. Lowana IV begins swivelling all around the place, vulnerable to winds that flare up and the push of the fast tidal current. Sit and watch until 1:00 am to be sure that she’s going to be alright and not hit anyone else.

Mon 24 Oct 04

0700: Forecast tomorrow is E to SE winds and 20-25 kts easing to 15 kts in the afternoon.

0830: Type up another email to Delma with a copy of my journal so far and save it to floppy disk. If the original notes become lost or damaged I’ll at least have an electronic record. Get ready to go into town to fill a jerrycan of diesel and put two loads of washing through but most of all to get a haircut.

Rob from Alkira comes alongside with a new face in the dinghy. His name is Mark and he’s joined Alkira this morning for the next two weeks. Rob lets me know he’s going into town so that I can get ready.

0900: Gather my washing and head ashore to the laundrette. Put my two loads in the machines and get them started before heading off to the servo. Fill the fuel jerry and lug it the 200m or so down to the dinghy. The washing is done by the time I get back to the laundrette and Rob’s crew are loading the machine with their own washing. The taxi arrives and all Alkira’s crew, plus Trish and myself climb in. First stop is the main shopping centre where there is a large Woolworth’s supermarket store.

The first thing for me is a haircut. It’s located next to the entrance but its closed on Mondays. What is it about Mondays that hairdressers don’t want to work? The saloon at Nhulunbuy had been closed on a Monday as well. So no haircut, one of the main reasons for coming to town in the first place.

Check the newsagency for any books about the York Peninsula coastline but there isn’t anything, not even fishing books. Learn from the assistant that the Library is further into town, a 5 minute trip by car. Nothing for it but to try and hitch a lift. Retrace my steps back through the shopping centre, across to the main road and start walking. Soon picked up by a friendly man who takes me directly to the Library.

Walk over to the front door to find the Library is closed on Monday mornings. Little towns must get Monday-itis pretty bad around the Gulf of Carpentaria. Turn around and head back out to the road leading back to the main shopping centre. Soon a little, late model white car zooms by and pulls over about 100m up the road. Must have been checking me out before deciding I would be okay to pick up.

Hurry up to it and am mildly surprised to find a lone attractive aboriginal lady driver. Wouldn’t have thought it was usual for a woman on her own to pick up hitch hikers. She’s quite friendly though and as we get underway I find her easy to chat with. Her name is Priscilla and I tell her what I’d been doing, including my abortive attempt to send some emails to my family. I’m astonished when she offers to take me to her home so that I can send the emails from there. At no time do I get any impression that this is anything other than an extraordinary offer of hospitality. She says that if she can help me get a message through to my wife and family then that would be her good deed for the day.

On arrival at the house she takes me upstairs, turns the computer on and sets about dialling up to access the internet. Once this is done she lets me get online and I start working at sending my emails. At this point her partner arrives and Priscilla introduces me to him. He looks surprised and understandably a little wary at first, but is friendly and courteous enough. Priscilla gives me a cold cordial while the couple go downstairs to work in the yard.

Finish sending my emails and close the internet connection before going downstairs and extending my heartfelt thanks for their kindness. Priscilla gives me directions back to the supermarket which is only a short walk away. How wonderful to see such hospitality. I leave them both working in their yard. I tend to believe that what you dish out in life, so you get back and I wish them good karma for the future.

Back at the shops I meet up with the others. Have coffee and a chocolate muffin. Find a small pot of the kind I’ve been looking for and get some supplies at the Woolworth’s supermarket. Also get some more small plastic containers plus other odds and ends.

Taxi arrives to take us all back to Evans Landing. Load my washing which I’d left back at the laundrette into the dinghy then visit a Mitre-10 hardware store to buy some electric hair clippers. The model I select has a range of clip-ons ranging from number 1 through to number 4, the latter meaning that my hair wouldn’t be too short.

Approx 1300: Back at Lowana IV. Top up the water tanks with 100 litres. Fill the grease gun. Pull out a large mirror and hook up the clippers to the 240v inverter and attempt to cut my hair. Fat chance. It buzzes away but can’t cut my hair so will have to take it back.

Have a clean up. As I look around outside it appears that my anchor might have dragged … again?  Alkira is swinging all over the place. Check the GPS coordinates and it’s only changed by 0.02 miles –  about 36m, probably because of the change of tide. Will need to watch it though.

Top up the fridge with drinks from a storage compartment under the dinette seats. Run the motor to replace the battery charge from using the anchor winch last night. Check out the next anchorage at the Pennefather River.

Go back ashore and take the clippers back to the hardware store. The attendant is a bit reluctant especially after he shaves a bit of hair off his forearm. I can probably count the number of short hairs he’s removed. I tell him that if I want bare arms then I certainly couldn’t do any better than these clippers, but challenge him to try and cut his own hair with it … or mine! I must say I was given a fair hearing and soon manage to convince the staff that the clippers simply aren’t powerful enough. Get my money back.

Ring Delma to tell her we’re leaving tomorrow for the Pennefather River and eventually to Bamaga, where I will be able to ring her again. After that there won’t be any contact until I reach Cooktown about another 700 miles of empty coastline later. I hope to be able to call her again later tonight but warn her I might not be able to.

Late afternoon. Return to Lowana IV to see both Alkira and Scuttlebug are gone. Start hoisting the dinghy onboard when Trish from Scuttlebug calls. Tells me they’re checking the river on the other side to overnight in and suggest I follow when they’ve had a look and find if it’s okay. Alkira is down at the Evans Landing wharf being washed down. Go back to lashing down the dinghy and the jerries. Trish calls again to say the river is too shallow and by the time I’d finished generally preparing for sea, Scuttlebug returns to the Evans Landing anchorage.

My anchor has dragged again about 30m and I’m a bit close to another vessel. Pull in the anchor once again and start scouting around for a better place that isn’t quite so deep. Try two spots but the anchor either drags or Lowana IV won’t pull around to the anchor as she should. Return to much the same position as before and set the anchor once more with the hope that it will hold this time.

1900: It takes me over two hours to finish anchoring during which the anchor kept dragging or Lowana IV kept swinging around too much in the currents. During the process I accidentally bump the fitting connecting the starboard solar panel to the forward battery. It starts to get hot, then very hot, then a spark, then a jet of flame. Alarmed I quickly pull and break the wires on both sides of the fitting. There’s obviously a short inside the fitting so I’ll have to hardwire the panels now I think. Can only hope this short hasn’t damaged anything else.

While all this is happening Trish calls and invites me over for sundowners. Whilst I would have been delighted I still have to finish anchoring and in any event, I don’t particularly want to have to unlash and offload the dinghy back into the water.  It’s just turning dark when I return to the wheel house. The battery charge is well down now after having used the winch so much so I keep the motor running to recharge batteries a bit.

1910: As I look outside I see Lowana IV sitting at a completely different angle to the other boats, even those next to me. However there is at least one other boat laying to her anchor the same as me. I suspect the strong tidal currents must be running in different directions because of the quickly shelving bottom. Unfortunately there’s not much room for anchoring here. About 50m to 60m closer into shore the depth is only 3m. I’ve had to anchor in 10m of water so the bottom shelves quickly.  Looking at the situation I’ve probably been anchoring okay but just being held awkwardly by the tides, which aren’t affecting the other boats closer in.

1930: Finish dinner of a tasty curry and rice followed by jellied fruit and custard and a hot cup of chocolate. Nice outside with the moon coming up to full. Faint breeze. Peaceful.

Alkira crew are still over there on Scuttlebug.  They party on for a few more hours but it’s really too much trouble for me to get there. Damn this dinghy. Am seriously regretting buying it. It’s so bloody cumbersome and heavy.  Start watching a movie on the laptop but can’t see it through so go to bed.

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