|Weipa and Evans Landing|
Tues 2 Nov 04
0530: Not sure if it’s a second sense but something is bothering me. Get up anyway to take a look around just in time to see Dauntless no more than 5m off my bow. Watch for a while but there doesn’t appear to be any danger of collision. As I watch, Dauntless turns and takes off towards Always where upon almost reaching her, turns her nose back again into the tide. Lowana IV decides to follow but instead drifts sideways until she takes up a position directly behind Dauntless. The boats are being playful tonight with the tide coming in and the wind pushing them all over the place.
0630: Like so many times before in the forward bunk, I listen to a rising and falling noise like the wind moaning through the rigging. But it’s only coming from a ship and the wharf further down the harbour, the sounds being borne on the wind according to which way it’s blowing. Occasionally I think it must be getting really blowy out there and get up to take a look, only to find everything is just peachy … or at least okay.
Today is the day of the famous Australian Melbourne Cup – a horse race that stops the entire nation. No doubt many of the local businesses will close their doors at lunch time. Happens all across the country.
0730: Weather forecast still looking good to Friday. Dauntless is just 5 metres or so off my bow again as she wanders back and forth. It’s getting a bit too close for comfort and I don’t look forward to the high winds expected again later today. It just might be enough to push us together.
Speak to Paul on Channel 17 VHF about it but cop a caustic comment that he’s not bothered by it. Decide to re-anchor anyway and pull the anchor up. Wander around for a while looking for somewhere to put the pick down but there’s nowhere else suitable. Finally return to roughly the same place except a little further out. Set the pick but the wind pushes me out into the main shipping channel. Don’t want to argue with one of those monster ships coming by so pull the anchor up again.
A stink boat had left earlier so anchor up where he’d been, making sure to leave a bit of room it case it comes back. It’s still a fair way out from shore and with the help of the wind puts me a little uncomfortably right on the edge of the main shipping channel. Watch for a while keeping the motor running as Lowana IV settles to her new position. Start cleaning up a bit.
0845: Go ashore to meet Rebecca who turns up in a four-wheel drive vehicle. She’s a pretty woman with short auburn hair, slim and wears glasses. We sit on the embankment overlooking the harbour. She tells me about herself and her sailing experience including extensive experience in Australia, South-East Asia and across to South Africa. Seems quite intelligent and friendly enough. Tell her my history with Lowana IV and something about myself.
Take her out to the boat to show her around. Have a hot drink of Milo. She seems to be satisfied with the boat and keen enough. Back on shore we go on a Cooks Tour of Weipa visiting the mine site travelling across the bridge at Mission River to the north of town. Stop at a hotel for a comfort break and then drive around for a while. She drops me off at the library so I can send and receive my emails after which she takes me back to Evans Landing.
On the way back she tells me she’s been speaking with her new boyfriend on her mobile phone. She isn’t going to come with me after all because she doesn’t want to stretch the relationship at this stage. Of course I understand and in any case the morning has been pleasant and a good break in routine for me. She says it’s been good to get back in touch with yachts and yachties even if only briefly, and that perhaps one day she’ll own her own boat. It’s too bad she can’t come. I think I would have really enjoyed her company across to Gove but never mind. Back to Plan B and get Fred onto a flight for Thursday.
1230: Ring Delma and ask her to book Fred on the Thursday flight to Weipa then return back to Lowana IV. It’s become quite hot and almost windless with occasional gusts out on the water today for a change, a good indication of a break in the weather. Shame I’ve had to waste a day and a half waiting around but I guess that’s the price if I want company to go back home.
Hope that stink boat doesn’t come back and want this spot where I am now. Don’t know where I can go if that happens. Tides have been really strange this week. They’re outgoing all night and incoming all day, each lasting 10 to 11 hours with just an hour or so of still water in the middle. Just one in and one out tide a day for about the next 5 days. Where else would you see that? Weird …
Afternoon: Try to rest but can’t because it’s too hot so start on the repairs to the stuffing box. Unscrew the dog clamps, lift the cockpit hatch and climb down behind the motor. Pull the grease tube and locking nut off the stuffing box. The nut has split completely down one side and won’t tighten. Take the part to a Mitre 10 hardware shop to see if I can find a fitting that might be modified to do the job. If not then I’ll have to mix a batch of steel epoxy putty and try to repair the cap, which would only be a temporary fix but I have to do something. Without the grease tube held firmly into the stuffing box, seawater will make its way inside the boat.
Nothing at Mitre 10. Walk around the area and as I thought, most places are locked up for the afternoon due to the Melbourne Cup. A van pulls up at an Enzed franchise shop that specialises in hoses and fittings. The driver goes inside so I head on over there. The fellow knows exactly what I’m talking about when I mention the stuffing box, finds me a new part and puts it into my hand. It’s the exact part. I can’t believe my luck for a change. Also gives me a little brass “onion” ring through which the grease feeder tube fits and clamps onto the tube when the cap is tightened. No more having to use plumbers tape. When I offer to pay he refuses, saying he doesn’t want any money so I leave him with my deep thanks.
Sure enough back on the boat the nut fits perfectly and it doesn’t take long to reconnect the grease feed tube. Job done. Tidy up. Refill a 10lt petrol container and refuel the generator ready for use tonight. Make a copy of the anchorages Paul has identified and take it over to the boys on Falmari. Shaun asks if I want a beer which I decline but I notice Mick once again doesn’t invite me aboard. Not being invited once or twice is okay but not being invited at all is getting a bit rude I think. However to be fair, each time I’ve come by they’ve been doing something or other.
1745: Delma hasn’t booked Fred on a flight yet. She tries to do it on the internet while she’s on the phone to me but there’s some glitch or other and she can’t get the booking through. She says she’ll ring them directly once she finished talking to me.
Evening: Make up a big stew for tonight. Have it for dinner then divide the remainder into four meals in separate containers and put them into the bottom of the fridge. Watch a movie. Have a read. Really pleasant outside. Sit in the cockpit trying to enjoy the ambience of my surroundings with my heart sitting in my throat and thumping away.
Weds 3 Nov 04
Overnight: Get up a couple of times either to a call of nature or just to check what’s happening with the boats around me. I’ve learned to expect anything here in this place. It’s really nice outside with a bright moon and almost glassy water. It’s a little disconcerting watching the big ships coming and going literally within just a stones throw away.
0730: Weather forecast tells me the pressure ridge dominating the East Coast and keeping me in Weipa is weakening. Winds across the Gulf of Carpentaria and Top End will be dropping to less than 10 kts at times, though swells are still pushing through Torres Strait out into the gulf. It’s just as well I’ll be waiting another day to let them settle down a bit, and it looks like Fred and I will be doing a bit of motoring at this point.
1130: Top up tanks with 20lt of fuel and 75lt of water which still leaves me short of 30lt of fuel in the tank but that’s okay. Put the empty water and diesel fuel containers plus the empty petrol container into the dinghy to be refilled.
Call Delma. She’s booked Fred to arrive at 1 pm tomorrow and even got $100 or so off the usual fare. Fill the fuel containers and lug them back to the dinghy. Refill the water containers at the laundrette. One of them is broken. Think about whether it can be cut up and used in some other way but end up putting it beside the rubbish bin.
Return to Lowana IV and stow the filled containers on deck and lash them all down. Start the motor and run the fridge compressor. Put some drinks and juices into the fridge. The day is hot again. Some small gusts of wind blow across the harbour from the SE, but it’s mostly a light breeze allowing a smoky haze from bush fires across the harbour to settle along the shore line.
Pull out the manuals for the stereo radio and finally get around to properly running the lines and hooking up the speakers in the cockpit under the solar panels frame. Install a switch to isolate the cockpit or cabin speakers as required and it all works first go. Adjust the volume and at last there is music outside without having to string a temporary speaker line and speaker out there.
1600: Have some lunch – hot dogs on toast and tomato sauce. Pull out and test weigh the gas bottle. It feels about a third full but decide to get it filled anyway so take it ashore. Two men are standing at the bow of a commercial fishing boat next door using electric tools. It looks like they’re sanding the deck and give me a friendly wave as I pass by.
A brisk westerly wind has set in creating waves and making it a bit more difficult to get to shore. The attendant tells me the gas bottle is almost empty and only charges me $30 whereas I’d been previously quoted $40. Get it back onboard and lash it into it’s bracket on the stern rail.
Pause to look at the westerly wind and waves coming into the harbour and ponder about leaving Weipa tomorrow if it’s against an incoming tide. Wind has been coming in all afternoon at only about 15 kts but its bound to be lumpy in the South Channel, especially with the shallows out there creating bigger waves. Pushing and banging into that is no way to start a passage … no thanks. Decide to either leave tomorrow night when it calms down, or maybe early Friday morning with the calm dawn conditions and maybe an easterly wind behind us.
1730: Notice another trimaran at anchor on the way to shore. Ring Delma. She’s been busy getting the house painted while I’m away. Fred and his wife Beth have been helping her.
Stop by Just Roamin‘ on the way back to Lowana IV for a short visit. Kevin and Sharon are sitting on deck enjoying a quiet drink in the late afternoon. The nearby trimaran is Easy. I know this yacht and met the owners back in Gove. There’s nobody topside but the rubber-ducky is still on deck so they’re probably sleeping. They must have had a hard passage given the strong winds recently. Stay with Kevin and Sharon until the sun goes down in a red banded ball.
They mention they won’t be onboard Just Roamin tomorrow when I leave, so we say our goodbyes and I cast off for Lowana IV. We exchange best wishes as I pull away. They say they’ll probably be in Darwin around July next year and will probably stop at Tipperary Marina where I keep Lowana IV. Maybe we’ll meet up again then.
1900: Run the motor, start the fridge compressor and fire up the oven for the first time. Am cooking a store bought steak and kidney pie with puff pastry and mushy peas tonight. Wind has died right down to a light breeze and the water is calm – lovely conditions. It strikes me that it’s times like this that I really enjoy some company.
Evening: Bake the pie which is probably the first time I’ve ever baked anything. Works out well with a lovely golden brown and flaky crust. Ladle the mushy peas on top to make a yummy meal followed by jellied fruit for desert.
Another catamaran is coming in. Her navigation lights are weaving about and I don’t envy him trying to find a place in the dark before the moon comes up. There’s not much room with the bottom shelving so quickly and a dozen boats anchored here. Apparently there’s usually only about 2 or 3 boats here and locals are already commenting on the large number of boats.
Thurs 4 Nov 04
0630: Calm conditions with a light easterly breeze. Fred arrives today so we should be good to leave tomorrow even if we’ll be pushing against the tide. Fire up the motor and get out the electric grinder. It’s a 650-watt grinder which I can run through a 1000-watt DC to AC inverter. Need to round off the corners of the brackets on the forward solar panel since they’ve now torn two pairs of shorts.
0700: Smoke haze hangs over riffled water with the sun streaming inside down the companionway. Dauntless is a friendly little bugger – wants to cuddle up with everybody. She tends to sit sideways to everyone else and is now making her way over to check out Just Roamin again. Weather forecast is looking good up to Sunday with easterlies of 10 to 15 kts. If it holds in like that we’ll be able to sail when we leave and rest the motor.
Paul comes over to say goodbye in case I leave today. He and Kathy are going into town and don’t expect to be back until late. It’s pension day and they’ll probably have a bought meal in town for a change and do some shopping. I tell him I’m undecided about when to leave. I might leave tomorrow or might just leave tonight if I feel like it. Paul smiles and says, “I often do things like that too”.
Paul is quite handy with diesel engines being a truckie from way back, so I ask him what he thinks about the motor and the chances that it will get me back to Darwin. Given that the motor is leaking oil from the head gasket, if I was to work the motor hard for any reason would it be likely to blow out the gasket seal completely? Paul doesn’t think so. He says it should be alright but to just keep the oil up to it.
It’s reassuring, and Fred is pretty handy around diesel motors too if it comes to that. Paul says just as he’s leaving that if he doesn’t catch up with me before leaving then he’ll probably arrive in Darwin about this time next year.
The name of the catamaran that came in last night is Dave The Cat and he’s found a place above Just Roamin but closer to Evans Landing Wharf. Being a cat he has a shallower draught than me so can get in a bit closer to shore. The incoming tide is in full flight and an easterly breeze has picked up. Lowana IV starts pitching slightly to the small waves but it’s still pleasant despite the smoke haze.
1030: It’s a beautiful day with a gentle breeze and just small wavelets coming through. Nice, but my mood doesn’t match it. Put a last load of washing through at the laundrette. Try to ring Delma at the usual phone box but it won’t accept any coins this time so have to walk about a kilometre to the next one at Evans Landing Wharf. There’s been an issue with Fred’s flight and she asks me to wait 10 minutes while she gets more details.
Wander around kicking stones and looking at the park. It’s a nice though smallish oval with green grass, framed with frangipani trees thickly sporting a variety of pink or white scented flowers. A small stand of bamboo is nearby and a there’s a number of brick fireplaces. Some of these have had the thick steel cooking plate removed but most are useable and one has a good supply of timber ready. Shady, quiet place. Would be ideal for a nice Sunday picnic with a family.
Ring Delma back. Fred’s flight left this morning but the aircraft hit some birds causing damage serious enough to warrant returning to Darwin. Bugger it! I say to Delma, “Alright. I’m going. I’m going out to the boat right now, pick up the anchor and set out for Gove while I’ve still got this weather window before this afternoon’s westerlies set in”. She tells me Fred’s already been re-scheduled for 3:30 pm today on a Qantas flight. The ticket’s already paid for and can’t be refunded.
Bugger it again! Stuck here for another 24 hours and my weather window may be shrinking for all I know. My emotions are already tightly strung and in frustration I thump the phone box cabinet and hear a beep from the phone. The connection is lost and it takes a moment to realise I’ve simply run out of money and haven’t broken anything.
Call back and Delma says that Fred will be accommodated in Cairns tonight and will fly on to Weipa tomorrow morning to arrive at 1:00 pm. Nothing else can be done but to wait and hope that Fred makes the connection okay. Go back to the laundrette and pick up my washing, return to the boat and hang the washing out.
There was good reason for some concern but as a typical anxiety suffer, the problem was being magnified. Isolated tropical thunder-storms can start to appear at any time beginning in November, and occasionally more than one in the same area. They sit under towering anvil shaped clouds bringing a prodigious amount of crackling lighting, reverberating thunder, strong winds and heavy rain. Nasty. And the open water of the Gulf of Carpentaria is not a place to experience a bad one.
1200: Hot. Breathless. Flag hangs listlessly. Water is flat. Lunch of toast and spam slices.
1400: Westerly afternoon sea breeze starting in at around 10 kts, enough to get small waves coming through. Take down the washing. Batteries are right down after using the grinder this morning so run the motor for a while and to cool down the fridge. Hopefully I can get enough charge into the batteries to last through the night.
1630: Still a little windy outside but not quite as strong as yesterday. Go through the cassette music tape collection. Find a couple of cassette trays and mount them on the wall above the settee berth and put another one in the forward berth. Choose a few dozen tapes for ready access and bag up the rest. Find a small treasure trove of good tapes in the process that haven’t been played so far on this trip.
1830: Frigate birds are wheeling about as usual. They look almost like some kind of prehistoric pterodactyl with their pointy wings. Ring Delma who tells me there’s been more delays with Fred. He didn’t make the afternoon flight to Cairns for some reason but is now due to leave later tonight. I’m already agitated enough about these ongoing delays and can barely contain the inner explosions.
Tell Delma that if he can’t make it to Weipa tomorrow then to cancel the booking, get a refund and not accept any bullshit from the airline about it. They will have failed to provide the service that has been paid for and must refund. I can’t just keep waiting. I can lose my weather window and the longer I delay, the more chance of running into storms. I’m too wound up to realise how unrealistic I’ve just been and wander off muttering to myself cursing every unoffending thing I see.
Fred and Kathy have returned so call by Always on the way back to Lowana IV. Stay for a short while and tell him what’s been happening with Fred.
Evening: Cook the last of the frozen mince with minestrone soup mix and curry powder into a frypan with water. Works out quite nice. Watch a movie.
Fri 5 Nov 04
0630: There’s a cool easterly breeze again this morning, just a bit stronger than yesterday. Looking toward the mouth of the harbour is a sailboat making its way out but can’t identify who it is. Both yachts Dave the Cat and Easy are both gone. Clean the citronella oil lamps for something to do while waiting for the weather forecast.
0700: Weather forecast is still okay up to Monday with a hint of increased winds this side of the gulf coming up. Delma tells me on the phone that Fred got on the plane last night and she hasn’t heard anything since. Can only hope he makes the connecting flight alright.
0810: Return to boat. Notice the commercial fishing boat next to me is gone. Falmari has gone as well. Seems everybody’s taking advantage of this weather window. Reset the log on the GPS. It was reading 1,104 sea miles (2,045 km) but I think that also includes the aborted trip to Melville Island before this one.
The large ore carrier River Embley is alongside Lorim Wharf where they load raw bauxite ore and which belongs to the Camalco Mine. A smaller wharf is closer with the strange name of Humbug Wharf. It’s used to service the township of Weipa where containers and other goods are delivered.
0830: Try to get a weather fax but can’t get a good signal on the HF radio. The frequencies are all too noisy but you get days like that.
0850: Easterly is now blowing up to 15 kts once again bringing whitecaps in the bay, perfect for sailing if I could leave right now.
1100: Wind has eased. Head off for a shower ashore. The blocked saliva gland in my throat has flared up again last night. I’ve had to take some painkiller tablets today but they’re not doing much good.
1130: Delma says there’s no more news from Fred so assume he’s made the connecting flight to Weipa. Have no idea where the airport is so start hitch hiking towards the supermarket. It’s hot but nobody seems interested in giving me a lift until a minibus taxi comes by and stops. Find out I’m going the wrong way. Should have been heading out along the harbour road towards Lorim Wharf.
Decide to pay the expensive $20 fare and get into the cab to go to the airport. The driver tells me there’s been a couple of rapes over the last couple of weeks and the locals are being a bit careful about picking up strangers by the road.
1200: Arrive at the airport. Sit and read a book. Idly chat with some people who are departing on the same aircraft.
1300: Flight from Cairns arrives. Fred gets off looking pale and his eyes are a bit puffy. A lady passenger says how wonderful he’d been putting her at ease during the flight. Fred later tells me the lady had been petrified for the whole trip, gripping his arm with such ferocity that her knuckles had been white. Fred is a thorough gentleman and it’s typical of him. Always so willing to help others despite his own dislike of flying. The woman looks with surprise at Fred when I tell her about his earlier flight with birds striking the aircraft. He hadn’t mentioned it to her, I guess because it might only have alarmed her some more.
Fetch Fred’s backpack off the trolley carts when they’re wheeled in. Manage to get a cheaper shared fare with 8 other passengers back to Evans Landing. They’re all going to join a fishing charter boat called Eclipse which is waiting for them at the wharf there. Get dropped off at the laundrette. Ring Delma to tell her Fred has arrived safely and that we’ll probably be leaving first thing in the morning.
1400: Hot and sunny out on the boat with almost no wind. Am almost tempted to put straight out to sea, except I know the westerly afternoon seabreeze is likely to kick in soon. Have a hot cuppa with Fred. He’s taken some aspirin and is starting to get a little colour back in his face. Pass a mattress up into the cockpit so he can take an afternoon nap. He really looks like he needs it.
1430: Wind springs up first from the NW then westerly to about 15 kts. Gusts fitfully at first but blows more steadily as the afternoon wears on.
1730: Wind still blowing a little but dies down slowly. Fred is awake. Go ashore to tell Delma we’ll definitely be leaving tomorrow morning. Take a walk around the Port Weipa area before returning to boat.
Evening: Cook up some stew and frozen eggs, the latter not being too much of a success. Jellied fruit and custard for desert. Have a nice hot cup of coffee and Milo out in the cockpit after the washing up is done. Conditions are calm with a slight cool breeze. Watch a recorded TV show on the laptop
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