Pennefather River



 map 21 pennefather
Map 21 – Weipa to Pennefather River

Tues 25 Oct 04

Overnight: Set the alarm to check on the anchor at different times overnight. Am startled after the tide turns to see the stink boat which had been about 70m away, is now sitting just off my bow.  Check my own bearings but I haven’t moved, so it’s either dragging its anchor or it has an overly-long length of anchor rope out allowing it swing willy-nilly in big circles. I suspect the latter and am fairly sure there isn’t any real problem, but I make checks every half hour for a while. Eventually the breeze swings away and so does the stink boat. At last I can get a bit of sleep.

0530: Rob of Alkira calls on the radio to ask if I’m ready. My alarm hasn’t gone off and the call rouses me from a deep sleep. As I stumble outside both boats are already starting to pull up their anchors while I still have to check the engine oils. I hadn’t done it last night because I’d been running the motor to recharge batteries. I’d also wanted to be ready in case I had to pull up the anchor again and shift position.

Big rush. Rip up the wheelhouse floorboards in the semi darkness to check the oil levels in both sumps under torch light. Get the laptop set up and running so that by the time I get the anchor up, the navigation software will be up and running.

Alkira and Scuttlebug by now are already near the harbour entrance about a mile away as I finally start turning Lowana IV towards the shipping channel. The wind is blowing a little bit but is otherwise okay. Raise the mainsail and put two reefs into it, then rig the lifelines fore and aft on both sides of the boat. By the time this is done I’ve gained a little bit on the other two boats, though by now they’re out into the channel proper but don’t seem to be in any particular hurry.

22 dawn over weipaLeft: Dawn over Weipa

Take a photo of the Port of Weipa as the sun comes up big and red. I quite like what I’ve seen of Weipa and would like to return one day for a good look around. Maybe take a tour or two but the time available this trip has prevented that. Thinking on this I realise a lot of the things I’ve wanted to do on this trip have not yet come to pass.

0630: Advise Weipa Harbour Control as I approach the channel that I’m leaving and transiting the channel. The operator tells me the channel is free of traffic.  On course heading NW as the wind dies down. The land behind is getting enveloped in a morning haze. Someone’s VHF radio button is stuck on transmit sending a constant noise over the radio.

0825: Wind builds slowly from the SE halfway across Albatross Bay to Duyfkin Point which is the first turn north. Shake out the reefs and put up full mainsail which builds boat speed to between 4.8 and 5 kts over ground. Check voltages of the forward solar panel with the broken wires and the large forward battery. All seems to be okay with no apparent damage. Connect some electrical wire directly from the panel to the battery.

0930: Winds have risen to moderate and are right on the beam. I need to change down to a single reef in the mainsail so stop the boat to do it rather than attempt it on the fly. Safer that way. Reset the mainsail and set the headsail before turning the motor off to continue under full sail at almost 6 kts. Turn off the laptop navigation and change to GPS and paper charts.  Make the turn around Duyfkin Point and start heading NNE towards the Pennefather River. Have fallen behind the other boats as expected but mostly while I’d been reefing the mainsail.

1000: Get the sails balanced with some fiddling. Wind gusts up a bit at times pushing Lowana IV to 20 degrees heel and almost touching 7 kts at one stage. However the heeling angle is good at around 10 to 15 degrees most of the time.  Alkira checks to see how I’m getting on and asks whether I’m regretting my decision to follow. The answer is no, at least not yet anyway.  In fact I’m feeling pretty good at the moment – actually starting to enjoy the sailing for a change. Contact Ken of Alice Springs base and give him a situation update.

1130: Wind getting really gusty and quite strong. Put in a second reef and reduce the headsail to suit but still getting 5 to 5.5 kts. A hard slogging sheet line gives my right hand index finger a solid bang while adjusting the headsail. Hurts like blazes, cuts the skin and will undoubtedly cause heavy bruising. Gusts keep coming and going so the average speed will be around 4.5 kts but am still on course NNE.

1200: Wind swings around northerly which puts me on a broad reach. The other boats tell me they’re about 4 miles from the Pennefather River mouth. They intend going over the bar at the entrance and will pass on some waypoints later. Apparently Forte has already left the Pennefather River this morning and is heading for Port Musgrave, about 25 miles or so further north.

The sailing is excellent for a change. With two reefs in the sails I’m still getting 6 to 6.5 kts in gusts with just 10 to 15 degrees heel at most. Great! Probably as comfortable as I’ve ever been in winds like these gusting up to 25 kts.

1215: Wind dies down leaving the sea with almost no whitecaps and drops my speed down to below 4 kts for first time today.

1400: Alkira and Scuttlebug have come back outside the Pennefather saying it’s very shallow everywhere. They want to do a bit of fishing tomorrow so they’re going to push on for Port Musgrave. That’s no good for me. The wind has swung around further to the north bringing a 20 kts headwind so that I can barely make 3 kts against the waves. It will be dark and quite late by the time I get in there even if I have a good run. Decide to anchor outside the mouth of the Pennefather River and push on to Port Musgrave tomorrow morning. Alkira tells me that there’s another couple of monohull yachts anchored at the mouth of the Pennefather River.

1500: Approach the mouth of the river and see the two yachts anchored up. One looks familiar but am still surprised when a voice calls on the radio asking if this is Lowana IV. It’s Paul from yacht Always who I knew in Darwin and we’d sailed together in the Kimberley’s of Western Australia a few years ago.

1515: Finish anchoring at the mouth of Pennefather River.

Pennefather River: Posn: 12.13.144S – 141.43.432E. Total distance 993 miles. Today 38.9 miles. Maximum sustained speed 6.6 kts.

When I’d finished anchoring Paul comes over bringing with him his dog Davit. He’s a wonderful intelligent Jack Russell and he looks overjoyed to see me again. Paul says he knew who it was as soon as he got near the boat.

Paul is travelling in company with a lady named Kathy, the skipper of Mimpi which is the other 23 ft sloop at anchor. Kathy has a headache and has declined coming over. They’d been having engine problems with Mimpi but are making their way slowly to Weipa where they intend to wait out the Wet Season. Next Dry Season they intend to follow the Gulf of Carpentaria around on their way through to Darwin and then Western Australia.

Catch up on each others news and we discuss where I’m going. Paul makes a comment that it’s pretty late in the season – probably too late in the year to try and get to Cairns. He’s done this trip several times and knows the East Coast probably as well as anyone. In any case he gives me a list of about 20 anchorages from here to Cairns. They are all within a day’s sail of each other.

My trip certainly looks a lot more feasible now but it will still take at least three weeks to get to Cairns assuming I’m not held up due to adverse winds, which of course should be expected – and plenty of them. That’s going to put me well into December in the cyclone season on the East Coast. While Paul and I are still talking about this, Lowana IV decides to drag on her anchor but stops when all 50m of chain is put out.

It’s becoming obvious that I’ve mistimed this trip. If I’d been able to keep going when I first started out 2 weeks ago it might have been okay time wise. But it doesn’t sound good if I’m to do this on my own right now.  I ask him if he would accept a paid crew position to help me take Lowana IV either to Cairns or Darwin. If he accepts it will eliminate the need for constant overnight stops and make for a quicker passage.

Paul says he’ll think about it and will discuss it with Kathy, since she’d have to look after both their boats in Weipa while he’s away. She’ll also have to look after Davit. I begin to doubt he’ll either want to or be able to accept the offer.

1700: The wind is blowing strong from the NE as Paul leaves to return to Kathy. His dinghy bucks and takes water over the bow as negotiates the waves. Looking at him as he struggles to get back to his own boat I’m thankful I’d decided to come in here to get out of it, otherwise I’d have still been out there getting a pounding about now.

Check my GPS position. Lowana IV hasn’t moved yet. My right hand finger aches and has become quite swollen and sore.

1720: Paul calls on the radio and tells me the best offer he can make is to help take Lowana IV across the gulf to Gove free of charge except I pay his airfare back. I thank him anyway but I don’t want to spend the Wet Season at Gove or leave Lowana IV there with no one to keep an eye on her.

1800: Check the motor and am surprised to find oil splashes throughout the engine bay. This is new … it can’t be good and my heart sinks. Look carefully around the motor for oils leaks or holes in the cylinder head. Find another loose stud mounting bolt but it simply keeps turning when I try to tighten it. Not good but it doesn’t seem to be the problem.

Most of the oil is sprayed against the side of the fuel tank in the engine bay adjacent to the cylinder air vents. The rear air vent is clear but the insides of the front air vent is soaked in oil.  No, no, no ….. that bloody well does it!  I’m not a mechanic but I reckon that’s got to be a broken piston ring which explains why I’ve been using so much oil.

Sit down at the dinette to think about the situation. If I accept the chance of a cyclone on the East Coast, then getting to Cairns would still be feasible assuming a properly functioning motor. It would just mean anchoring up until the winds eased and making a run for the next anchorage – hopefully with the tide running with me. Probably involve a lot of night sailing too.

But the motor isn’t functioning properly. In fact it’s doubtful it could last the distance, especially with all the hard work it’ll have pushing against strong SE winds all the way. Just using the sails won’t work either. Lowana IV doesn’t work well to windward, there’ll by heavy shipping and numerous fishing boats with nets to dodge and a prodigious amount of work involved. Add to that my heart if forever pounding, my pulse is racing and I’m almost always feeling like shit.

Crunch time has come. I’m going to have to turn back, even if it’s just back to Weipa to see if I can find a diesel mechanic for the necessary repairs. But even if I can get the motor fixed, by the time it’s done I’d definitely be dodging potential cyclones all the way to Cairns. By now I’m feeling quite desperate and in a really low state.  Problems just keep coming and coming and I’m not handling them as I used to be able to. I’m thinking its time for a parting of the ways between Lowana IV and me.

Assuming I can get the motor fixed at Weipa I might start advertising in magazines and put up signs to try and sell her there during the Wet Season. I’d probably need at least a couple of weeks or so to get the motor repaired and pretty her up with a bit of paint here and there. You never know but there might be one of the local miners interested. But sitting on the boat up some creek for 6 months isn’t exactly what I’d call a fun thing to do. I’d probably go mad.

1825: Call Paul to tell him I’ll be returning to Weipa and will be anchored nearby to Always and Mimpi.  I tell him what I’m thinking and ask if he’d be willing for a financial consideration to periodically check Lowana IVs anchor, bilges, battery system and general maintenance over the Wet Season. He agrees. I also ask him if he would be willing to act as my selling agent with a commission payable on a successful sale?  He agrees to this as well.

Next is the issue of what to do if a cyclone comes along. Will Paul be able to move Lowana IV to a safer place and get her prepared? Paul’s not sure about that. He and Kathy would first have to move Always and Mimpi and get them set up which would take some time. He’d then have to find some way of getting back to Evans Landing to pick up Lowana IV. His own dinghy is too small for that sort of trip especially if the sea starts roughing up. Okay … I’ll have to think some more about this.

Paul tells me he and Kathy will be staying here at the Pennefather River tomorrow and going ashore for a walk. I think I’ll join them and stay for a day as well. It will take them a couple of days to get to Weipa given that Mimpi’s motor is not working and Kathy has to sail, or be towed by Always. Perhaps I can help in some way too.

1830: Try to contact Alkira or Scuttlebug to tell them I’m pulling out, but unable to establish communications.

1900: Finally manage to get a message to Alkira that I’m returning to Weipa with engine problems. We wish each other good luck and promise to catch up by phone. At least they know now and won’t spend time waiting or coming back here to look for me.

2000: Finish the book I’m reading and go to bed.

Weds 27 Oct 04

0730: Sleep in today. Paul calls that he’s taking Davit ashore for a walk so I might go too. Freshen up. Have a coffee but by this time it’s starting to blow up a bit outside.

My right index finger is still quite swollen and painful this morning but I can at least bend it a little bit. Start unlashing the dinghy and getting it ready to lift overboard when a fresh wind gusts through.  Remembering what it was like here yesterday afternoon, I give the whole idea a miss. Something would probably get damaged, especially the forward solar panels when I try to lift the dinghy back aboard. It would be bouncing in the waves and bashing against the hull. And the weight of the dinghy would just add to the pulling weight on the anchor. Paul tells me it’s the same as any other beach anyway, nothing but sand and trees … and three big crocodiles. Have seen plenty of crocodiles in my time and don’t need to see another one.

0830: Finish re-lashing the dinghy back down on deck. Contact Ken at Alice Springs Base. Ask him to phone Delma with the message that I’m at the Pennefather River, and that I’m okay but have engine problems and will be returning to Weipa with Paul of Always.

Morning: Paul, Kathy and Davit come over to visit. Have coffee and biscuits. Welcome chat. Nice to meet Kathy. They leave before lunch with Paul saying he has a problem with his own motor to attend to.

Midday: Paul is looking for a plug or threaded cap, or a bolt of a particular size and doesn’t have one. His motor has leaked a copious amount of oil since Bamaga and he’s also running out of oil. Invite him to come over to my boat and go through my boxes of spare bits and pieces. When he arrives he finds a hexagonal key that will fit a plug he already has that will do the trick. Also give him 5lt of diesel oil, enough to get him to Weipa. He stops long enough for another cup of coffee and biscuits.

Afternoon: Take a rest but unable to sleep. Lethargic. Westerly afternoon seabreeze kicks in about 15 kts or maybe a bit more. Bit bouncy, pitching fore and aft but at least there’s no rocking. The plan for tomorrow is that Paul will take Davit ashore for a walk and we’ll head out as soon as there’s a breeze that Kathy can sail with. No guarantee on how far we can get.

Late Afternoon: The more I think about it the less I like the idea of leaving Lowana IV at Weipa. There’d be too much for Paul to do if a cyclone came up. He’d be looking after his own boat and helping Kathy. And if he has to move the boats further up the Embley River there’s still the question of how he’d get back to pick up Lowana IV.

And there’s a problem with my dinghy. It can’t be left on deck. It’s bulk will add severely to windage and gets in the way when trying to lift the anchor and get underway.  It would have to go somewhere ashore either on the beach where it might be stolen, or in a yard on consignment for separate sale. And if it is stolen or sold it’ll be harder to sell Lowana IV!

Okay – I’ll try and get the motor fixed in Weipa, give up the idea of selling the boat in Weipa and try for Gove or Darwin. If Paul can help me to get over to Gove, maybe I can find someone in Darwin to come to Gove and help me take her home. A couple of overnight trips and I should be able to get her back in just over a week, weather permitting. Paul is agreeable to this, however he still has his own problems with his own motor and Kathy’s motor. He’d need to attend to those first.

Evening: Cook up some steak and veges. Clean out the fridge of ice. Watch a movie.

Thurs 28 Oct 04

0730: Weather forecast is okay for a run to Weipa. Higher winds around Torres Strait continue to push lumpy seas over to the NW side of the gulf. Don’t need that. Spare a thought for Alkira and Scuttlebug as they’re heading up into that weather.

0800: Paul asks if I’m ready to go. Look across the water to see Kathy putting up her mainsail. Have checked the oils and topped them up. Anchor and chain come up with black silty mud and we’re on our way. Head south with a light easterly breeze giving us a beam reach as we make to clear the southern entrance of the Pennefather River before turning SSW.

Soon find that even with the motor idling in neutral gear and two reefed sails am already pulling ahead of the others. I need to leave my motor on to recharge the batteries especially after using the anchor winch. Kathy with full sails appears to be making about 4 kts.

0830: Kathy reports 2 turtles swimming by next to her boat.

0930: Very pleasant at the moment. Doing 5 to 5.5 kts over the ground just under sail. Batteries still down. Travelled almost 8 miles since starting out with hardly a whitecap anywhere. Pass a dinghy with a couple of fishermen off my starboard side further to sea. Always and Mimpi are going too slow for me and fallen several miles behind. Will have to heave to and wait for them or turn around, but there’s really nothing I can do anyway. Let them know I’m pushing ahead to Weipa to try and find a mechanic. I want to be ready as soon as possible should a suitable weather window open to get across the gulf. At the moment the waters are still rough at Torres Strait and they’ll be pushing through to the Gove side. Don’t need lumpy water thank you.

Finger still swollen but not so sore today. The burn wound on my forearm has scabbed over for the first time, but I keep knocking it off when doing things. Pleasant run down to Duyfkin Point marking the turning point and final run into Weipa.

The wind dies for the rest of the morning except for occasional gusts which never lasts long. Coastwatch flies over. They don’t call me but do call Always and Mimpi who don’t respond because they’re on Ch 17 to keep communications open between them. Paul has been towing Mimpi again for most of the morning since she’s almost unable to make way. They plan to anchor tonight just north of Duyfkin Point.

A turtle pops its head up to port and immediately dives again. There’s a huge splash later on about 300m directly ahead. Hot and still under sail.

1300: Make the turn around Duyfkin Point and aim towards the centre of the channel leading into Weipa Harbour. Wind swings so that it’s almost south then keeps swinging and building in strength into SE headwinds. Of course … that’s exactly where I want to go. Speed down to under 4 kts.

1410: Wind continues to swing around to the SSW with the an afternoon seabreeze kicking in quite fresh at maybe 20 kts. Boat heels and the waves build. Still under sails.

1530: Get clearance from Weipa Harbour to enter the channel but must be clear before 1700 hrs when the MV Warrender will be leaving harbour. Seas getting rough and the water shallows. Lowana IV is bucking and spray comes into cockpit from beam on one mile after entering the mid section of channel.

1540: Inside the channel proper with seas around 2m. One breaks along the stern and washes over the whole stern area. A fishing boat is out here with 4 people onboard – they must be pretty keen. Whitecaps everywhere. Some are rollers. Bumpy following seas.

1615: Coming into the entrance to the harbour where the water is suddenly calmer. A dozen or so pelicans placidly watch me glide by while sitting on a sliver of sand and small scrubby mangroves. Someone is para-skiing inshore and is very skilful at it too, wheeling back and forth.

1700: Scout the area of Evans Landing again. Thought that with Scuttlebug and Alkira gone I’d be able to anchor up reasonably easily. But no. The stink boat with the habit of putting out extra long anchor rope is now positioned where they were, once again effectively reducing the available area.

Return to where I’d anchored before in deeper water. Wind is blowing strong and drives Lowana IV at about 2 kts towards some other boats while paying out the anchor carefully by hand, but the anchor digs in and she turns her nose to it. Pay out all 50m chain plus about 8 metres of rope in 8m of water. It’s high tide so shouldn’t need more. Watch the GPS until I’m sure she’s settled. Am relieved that I can now rest.

1730: Watch the anchor for awhile letting the motor idle in case Lowana IV suddenly starts dragging. Too blowy to put the dinghy over the side and go ashore to ring Delma. Have to use a phone ashore since my analogue mobile phone doesn’t work here at Weipa.

Right: The main wharf seen from Lowana IV at anchor.24 main wharf

A dinghy arrives at Just Roamin but no answer to my radio call. Call Alice Springs Base and speak to operator Paul this time. Manage to pass a message through Paul to ring Delma and tell her I’m at Weipa and okay. Paul has her number on record at the base. Calls back some minutes later and tells me message passed okay. Well done.

Turn off music tape and tune into a local commercial radio station for some music.

1745: MV Warrender which I’d last seen out at sea in the gulf heading to Gove and which had passed quite close to me, is now just leaving the harbour.
23 warrenderLeft:  MV Warrender

Weipa Harbour: Posn: 12.39.929S – 141.51.242E. Total 1033 miles. Today 40.2 miles. Max 6.5 kts. Ave 4.1 kts.

1800: Kevin is in his dinghy hanging off the stern of the other monohull, Micks boat Falmari. He looks this way but doesn’t come over.

Dusk: Scores of frigate birds wheel overhead as they did last time. Tide turns and the wind dies down slowly. Can see the lay of the other boats at anchor as they’ve turned with the tide. No one should be a threat to me tonight.

Get the generator out. It’s reluctant to start but eventually get it going to recharge the batteries. Find a short on the starboard solar panel fitting this time. Get electrical tape, break the connections and tape it all up. Will have to hard wire this one tomorrow as well. Wonder if most of today’s charge from the alternator while motoring was being shorted straight through to the hull. What that would be doing to the antifouling paint doesn’t bear thinking about.

1900: Big yellow moon rises over the tree line. Light breeze blowing. Too cool for a saltwater tub on deck so use personal cleaning wipes as a substitute to clean up with.

Over on the shore there is a good sized red and white stink boat that looks like it washed ashore at some point, probably from a broken mooring or dragged its anchor. I’d thought it was a derelict but there are house lights on so someone must be living on it.

It’s calm enough to put the dinghy over the side but don’t want to chance leaving it hanging off Lowana IV overnight. Think I’ll wait until tomorrow after the anchor has had a chance to dig in a bit more and I’m a bit more confident that it will hold.

Sitting around one gets too much time to think and I find I get a bit melancholy every now and then. Usually comes on me quite quickly  and I have to fight it off. It’s sad though to think of all the time, effort and money that went into this venture and it’s not going to come off. Don’t know what good if anything has been achieved except to teach me my limitations the hard way.

2000: Dinner is over and finish the washing up. It’s quite pleasant outside with a full moon and light breeze but am finding it difficult to just sit back, relax and enjoy it. There are 8 other boats anchored here but it looks like I’m the only one living onboard. Make up some containers of lollies, bikkies and nibblies which maybe I should have done at the start of this trip.

Can’t pick up a local TV station. Couldn’t the last time either. Try using a USB capture card device with the laptop but that doesn’t work either. Start watching a movie but can’t finish it. Go to bed.



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