The Hole In The Wall

map 23 leg one return
Map 23 – Gove to Malay Bay NT


9 Nov 04 (cont)

1230: Have used 120 litres diesel fuel across the gulf in 3 days averaging 40 litres per day. Top up the fuel tank with 100 litres of diesel.  Put the dinghy over the side, place the empty containers into it and go ashore.

Afternoon: Register with the Gove Yacht Club again and get a key to the ablution block. The club utility has already gone into town and isn’t going again today so we’ll have to call a minibus taxi. Expensive. The driver tells us he’ll take us into town with the empty jerries but can only bring the full fuel containers back. He can’t carry both us and the fuel so we’ll have to hire another cab. We don’t really have much choice. Alternatively we could make arrangements for fuel at the Perkins Shipping Wharf but that would put us back another day or so. In the end I have to pay $75 for both drivers plus $127 for 100 litres of fuel, which works out at almost $2.00 a litre … whew!

Once in town we fill the fuel containers and organise our driver to take them back to the yacht club. Fred and I visit the main shopping area to have some lunch in a cafe. Back at the yacht club we find the jerrycans stacked neatly in a shady but unobtrusive spot.

Back onboard Lowana IV we top up the water tank with 75 litres and pull out the charts to discuss our next move. Looks like the tides and times might make it a bit difficult getting past Cape Wilberforce and through the Wessel Islands.

1630: Read a book. Try to rest but am too churned up. Rain is being forecast for the western end of the Top End by Friday so it looks like we’re going to be dodging storms.

1730: Go ashore and fill the empty water jerries and take a last hot shower. Hand in the toilet block key and get the deposit back. Ring Delma to tell her we’ll be leaving tomorrow morning at 0500 hrs and will be making a hard push for home. Delma says she’s flying out of Darwin tonight for her brother John’s 60th birthday at the Gold Coast but will leave the house key with Beth.

Meet some cruisers who’d come over from Darwin in Whim O Way.  She used to be sitting on the fore-and-aft mooring lines up Sadgroves Creek in Darwin when I kept Lowana IV there. At the time she wasn’t much more than a concrete hull and plywood cover with very little apparent work being done on her. This couple bought it recently and are highly pleased with her performance. They’ve been here now for 4 days and the man has already found work 2 days ago. They’ll be staying through the cyclone season to build up their cruising kitty before heading over to SE Asia and eventually back to Tasmania.

Fred and I both don’t feel that much like eating a meal ashore because of our late lunch in town, so return to Lowana IV in the dark. Load and lash down all the jerrycans up on deck. Hoist the dinghy aboard and secure it. Check the engine oils and find the main sump surprisingly low on oil.

2030: Both tired and go to bed. We’ve an early start tomorrow.

Wed 10 Nov 04

0430: Alarm goes off. Check the oil level in the main sump again. It’s still down even after adding oil last night so put some more in. Something is really wrong with this motor. It’s using oil at an inconsistent rate. Winch up the anchor in the dark and use the water pressure pump to hose the mud off the chain and deck.

0510: Underway. There’s no wind and the water is like glass. Work our way behind a Navy Patrol Boat that had come into the harbour yesterday before making a turn past the main wharf.

0630: Well clear of the harbour and pull out the charts to plot the course for the day. Decide to make our passage through the Wessel Island Group via Gugari Rip, also known as the Hole in the Wall. This route cuts off about 35 miles if travelling around Cape Wessel to the north and being only about 50 metres wide and one kilometre long it’s quick. However it’s really important to get the tide times right because they can race through here on a spring tide anything up to 12 knots.

map 25 gugari ripLeft: Gugari Rip (Hole in the Wall) – a passage through the Wessel Island Group

According to the information on a wall chart at the Gove Yacht Club the tide ebbs west approximately one hour before High Water Gove tides. That means we’ll need to be there by 1800 hrs.  It’s rocky shores on the eastern side funnel in and the seas can get quite confused and rough, especially if there are easterly winds.

0700: W to NW winds have been consistently forecast in the Western Australia region which will eventually work their way easterly. Wind strengths in all areas of interest to us have been predicted at less than 10 kts, but at least we have E to SE winds forecast across the Top End over the next two days.

0730: Head north up to Bonner Rocks which will be the first obstacle to get past on the way home. It’s no big deal since they they’ll be well off to to port side on a rhumb line to Cape Wilberforce.

1000: Arrive at the first waypoint off Cape Wilberforce and turn NNW towards Wigram Island. It’s a nice, clear day although getting hot. Almost no wind so motor sailing with full mainsail up. We’re on time as planned with a northerly breeze helping but not by much. Lots of fish are feeding on the surface and being plagued by flocks of wheeling sea birds.

1030: Down to 2.5 kts pushing against the tide in the narrow passage between Cape Wilberforce and Bromby Island.

1200: Still motor sailing. Enter the channel between Wigram and Cotton Islands. A Perkins Shipping barge Frances Bay is coming up behind so keep over towards the Wigram Island side to give it room to overtake. Call the barge about tide times at the Hole in the Wall. If anyone will know for sure it will be these guys. They say the next change of tide should be just after dark, probably between 1830 to 1900 hrs or so.  Other sources of information I have onboard also put the change of tide there at 1909 hrs, but this is at odds with what we’ve learned from Gove Yacht Club wall chart.

1230: Reconsider our route. There’s 15 nm nautical miles to the Hole in the Wall, 20 nm to the Cumberland Strait and 25 nm to go west via Brown Strait.

Am not happy about attempting the Hole-In-The-Wall. If we continue at our current speed of 4.5 kts we’ll arrive around 1530 hrs. That’ll mean waiting around for the change of tide, but will that be at 1800hrs or after dark at 1900 hrs? It’s just too dangerous to try it in the dark without solid information on the tides, even if a SE afternoon seabreeze doesn’t spring up and rough up the entrance. I’d got it wrong once before in daylight and that had been a heart pumping, adrenalin charged experience. (See Blog: 1993 Mackay QLD to Darwin NT). 

44 hole in wall 1 45 hole in wall 2
46 hole in wall 3 The Hole in the Wall taken during
an earlier passage in 1993:

Top Left: The approach
Top Right: Near the entrance
Left: Inside the passage

Cumberland Strait is further north and even more out of our way so we’ll try Brown Strait. This will keep us at a lower latitude than both the other passages and get us clear of the Wessel Island Group. The tide is supposed to flood NE through there but even if the tide is still ebbing against us it’ll be easier to navigate in the dark. Our route will take us below Jirrgari Island, then northerly for 15 miles or so to clear Stevens Island before turning west again. Hopefully the tide will change to a flood tide and give us a good run.

Right:  The route taken through the Wessel Island Groupmap 24 gove & wessels

The only other option is to anchor up tonight in the nearby Raragala Bay and try the Hole in the Wall by daylight, but we don’t want any unnecessary delays getting across the Top End unless we can help it. There’s always the chance of running into more storms.

1245: Change course due west. Speed sitting between 4 to 4.5 kts should get us at the entrance of Brown Strait somewhere around 1730hrs.  There’s not much wind to break the heat but we pull out the headsail anyway to try and use the bit that’s there. Looking ahead in the distance we can see the Frances Bay also steaming towards Brown Strait. Obviously they’re not going to take the Hole in the Wall route either so that’s good enough for me.

1700: Stop the motor and check oils before getting underway again. Enter Brown Strait and start our first turn to clear Jirrgari Island and run into a northerly breeze. Quite happy with our progress so far. It’s been a good run for the 12 hours so far since leaving Gove with 54.6 nm under the keel. Turn the laptop on for navigation through the strait. The available breeze is dead on the nose so we take in the headsail. Finish our turn to the north and run straight into the full force of an ebbing tide. The currents are so strong they throw the boat around so quickly and in different directions, that the navigation software can’t keep up. It just doesn’t have enough time to do its calculations and redraw the map in a realistic time frame. I’m going to have to do a bit of running navigation using a compass and charts.

1715: We’re dead in the water. The tide is in full flight against us with a 5 kt current showing on the log while we swing wildly from north through to south. Don’t want to have to do it but we pump up the motor revs to almost 1700 rpm to start pulling forward between 1.5 to 2 kts. Slowly, slowly we drag ourselves forward into the main channel where the current gets gradually weaker.

1735: Drop the revs back to 1600 rpm which gives us just over 3 kts. It’s going to be a waiting game now for the tide to turn. All we can do is maintain our course and just keep plodding on. We have 15 miles to go in this strait before we can turn left around the Stevens Island light, then it’s a straight run across the Top End of Australia.

1820: The expected tide change of 20 minutes ago hasn’t happened but I’m feeling justified in coming this way. We’re at least making some progress at an average 2.5 kts against a 4.5 kt head current instead of waiting around at the Hole in the Wall.  Hopefully this will change at 1909 hrs as the barge skipper told us. If he’s wrong then it’ll potentially take 5 hours trying to get through here!  But I think we should be okay with a favourable tide run within the next hour or so.

1930: Definite signs that the tide is changing. Ground speed is up to 3 kts and water speed down to about 4.3 kts. Wind is stronger from directly ahead so we’ve put a single reef into the mainsail but no headsail yet.

2015: GPS and Log getting near to the same speeds with the Log sometimes reading a little higher. Things are improving. So much for the tidal predictions for this area but at least we’re getting a reasonable 4 kts. We should reach our first waypoint to turn NW out of this strait to clear Stevens Island in about 45 minutes.

2250: The last leg to the NNW is a bit rough with the wind rising off the starboard bow sending solid waves bashing into us. We’re just finishing making the last turn to due west and the wind is swinging around onto the beam. Raise all sail and turn the motor off at last. The action of the boat becomes much smoother and we’re sailing at over 5 kts. We’re on our way home!

Thurs 11 Nov 04

0645: Fred and I take turns on watch through the night. The wind has gone with the dawn and we’re not able to see too much with a horizon lost in the morning haze. We’ve made 115 nm since leaving Gove and are now 18 miles above the Crocodile Island group to the west of Elcho Island. Not remarkable in itself but considering the difficulty getting past Cape Wilberforce and the Wessel Islands against hard tides it’s good enough for me.

Check the oils and they aren’t too bad, but there’s a new diesel leak at the base of the number one cylinder injector. Not much we can do about that. At the moment we’re getting just over 4 kts. Windless conditions and seas are glassy.

1100: Remembrance Day. 11th month, 11th day, 11th hour. As a veteran myself I observe a minutes silence to pay my respects. Day very hot and much like travelling in the gulf. Boring. Heading due west on a line to clear the top of the Goulburn Islands. From there I can dodge into the coast or veer up to clear Cape Cockburn and around to Malay Bay should I need to. Or else I can keep going around the top of Croker Island.

1630: About 85 miles west from Stevens Island and just about 28 miles north of Cape Stewart, the first fairly viable overnight anchorage after leaving Elcho Island behind. Sea flat. Hot. Have been heading a few more degrees north for Cape Cockburn and Malay Bay. If we can get there early enough we might put down the anchor there on Friday night. Some more wind would be nice. We haven’t even shaken out the reef in the mainsail because there’s been no wind to hold the shape of the sail. Frustrating.

1645: Spot a white object in the water off to the north. Too far to make out what it is with binoculars. A couple of patrolling police officers back at the Gove Yacht Club had told us about a missing man in a 14 foot dinghy. He’d stolen the dinghy but the main concern is that he’s missing and they’d asked to keep an eye open for him. You never know if someone, or something is in the water that might help the authorities. Change course to check it out but it turns out to be a large white buoy complete with a frigate bird sitting on top. Never mind. At least we’d taken a look. I’d hate to think somebody sailed past me without bothering to properly identify what I was.

A small breeze rises enough to let us set all sails to give us a lift to almost 5 kts again. Fred is burned on the face, most likely from reflected glare off the water which is intense. Give him some Aloe Vera gel with Vitamin E to put on his face and forehead.

Evening: No real change. Wind builds up and the boat starts slewing a bit. Double reef the mainsail and shorten the headsail but stay under motor. Manage to sail at 6 kts and more for several hours and make some great time.

Fri 12 Nov 04

Overnight: The wind dies down but leaves behind the waves it created. They take a long time to subside. Deviate off course a little to bypass Paxie Shoal and set a waypoint to clear some shallows to the north of the Goulburn Islands. Very slow going down to 3.5 kts during the early hours with the boat rocking from side to side. Fairly uncomfortable sailing with no wind on the sails to hold her steady against the swells. Some black lumpy cloud cover comes over and look like they might dump on us but they pass right over and keep going.

0700: No change in the weather forecast. A broad trough is over the whole of the Top End meaning little wind and isolated storms to the west of Cape Don. If it’s accurate then the tricky bit is going to be on the last leg home between Cape Don and Darwin.

Am about 60 miles from making an anchorage in Malay Bay for the night. Consider a course to clear Cape Croker to the north but that’ll mean a night passage, and if conditions are like last night then it’ll be uncomfortable. Like most capes this one can have turbulent waters and it’ll be a long way around to clear extensive reefs as well. In any case I’m not keen to travel at night now because I can’t disregard the forecasts of isolated storms. Most of these are at night and if we must go through one then let it be during the day.

0800: Fred sights a yellowish green sea snake at least 1.5 metres long sliding by in the water as it tries to swim aggressively towards the boat. Not sure what it thought it could do if it caught us.

0900: North Goulburn Island looms on the horizon off the port bow to the south. Bright blue illusory streaks flash and dance in the darker blue of the sea beside the boat. It gives an impression of unfathomable depths as they streak down, but it’s only 40 metres or so deep here. A bare cuttlefish shell floats by with half a dozen small fry fish darting around seeking its meagre protection.

1000: North Goulburn Island slowly comes around the port beam. I’m reminded of the day when I came by here going the other way. No land visible ahead yet and there won’t be for a while. Seas are glassy again like yesterday. Motoring just over 5 kts. Fred is sleeping on the settee berth to keep out of the sun and glare as much as possible.

1120: Fred gets up and joins me sitting on the deck in the shade of the mainsail. A breeze is coming from the WSW. We get our first sighting of DeCourcy Head at 17nm distance. Just past that is Cape Cockburn and around the corner is Malay Bay. From here we’ll be limiting our sailing to daytime.

Afternoon: It’s the same monotonous afternoon as before. The wind is dead on the nose and no help at all. Then the wind rises to create a small swell as we get within 5 miles of DeCourcy Head with the tide also pushing us back. Despite that we make an uneventful turn around Cape Cockburn and down into Malay Bay to find a position out of the swells coming into the bay.

1730: Finish anchoring in the same position as my previous visit. Secure the boat for the night. Top up the main fuel tank with 80 litres of diesel. We’ve used 60 litres since Gove but it was short 20 litres to start with.

We both wash some clothes and string them out to dry. I think Fred might have preferred we’d kept on going tonight but isn’t saying anything. But I think if we’d gone around Cape Croker tonight it would have been pretty bumpy and we might have even run into one of the storm cells so frequent this time of year. We can do day runs from now on. Anyway, it’s nice to be able to just relax for a while on a motionless boat without the motor running.

Evening: Make a cook up of tinned tuna, pasta and packet mix, followed by tinned apricot halves and creamed rice. Have a welcome bucket wash of saltwater rinsed with fresh water followed by a hot cup of Milo. Too tired to watch a movie so go to bed early.



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