More than 500 lightning strikes were recorded with winds up to 110 kph the same night we arrived home in Darwin. From the safety of my home I went outside, looked at the vivid lightning, saw big trees being bent viciously in the wind and felt profound relief that we weren’t still out there. I also thanked whatever guardian angel looked over me that we’d taken the route along Melville Island rather than the main shipping channel. It had been rough but that system we’d seen from Cobham Bay further out into the Van Dieman Gulf had been large and a very active thunderstorm like this one.
Slept in until 0830 hrs the next day having decided to have an easy day. The plan was to leave the boat alone for a couple of days except to go down and collect all my clothes for washing. Had another sleep during the afternoon but still felt a bit jet-lagged. In fact it took a couple of days before I found my “land legs” again. Being used to the unstable platform of a boat I found myself rocking about while taking a shower.
In the early aftermath of arriving back home I’d decided to sell Lowana IV so my next moves were to pretty her up a bit and prepare a dossier sales file. The motor also needed to be stripped, checked, cleaned and re-assembled. The heavy plastic dinghy would most likely be easier to sell separately, and I could repair the rubber inflatable and put it on board as the ship’s dinghy instead.
Despite misgivings, the motor had continued to work well all the way from Weipa back to Darwin. In fact we motored or motor-sailed virtually the whole way and it never gave any real problems. While battling the winds and seas under Melville Island on that last night, I’d pushed the throttle up to 1700 rpm, a jump of 300 rpm more than my usual cruising speed. And on the trip from Gove to Darwin the motor speed had often been set at 1600 rpm so we made some very good time. Strangely enough we didn’t seem to need to add as much oil every 12 hours.
Fred knows his way around diesel motors and was never worried about the increase in rpm though it worried me. His adage, and one I’d heard from others was not to treat diesel motors tenderly but to make them work. Perhaps if I’d been using the higher engine speeds in the first place I might not have become so frustrated with the boat being so slow. Maybe I’d have had an entirely different trip, but would I have felt better about motoring into the regular SE winds on the East Coast? Probably not. I’m not a mechanic and I simply didn’t trust the motor not to fail at the worst possible moment.
As to my decision at Weipa to return home there wasn’t any particular single reason. Rather it was a collection of things but the primary ones were distrust of the motor, loneliness, constant anxiety and lack of enjoyment. I really did hate having to give it up but on the other hand, I did enjoy meeting cruising people of other boats. They are the salt of the earth – generous, friendly, helpful. Cruising is a wonderful lifestyle if only for the people you meet. There’s something in the human soul I think that craves companionship with like minded people.
As the year wound down to a close, my psychological condition deteriorated markedly to the point where I finally broke down. In an instant my world fell apart. I just couldn’t cope with anything. I just wanted to shrink into a tearful and shaking little ball. And I was forced to acknowledge that I wouldn’t be okay, that I couldn’t fix whatever it was and that as galling as the thought was, I needed help.
A psychological counsellor from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs got to the heart of the matter and I was diagnosed with severe depression and acute anxiety. I was relieved to learn that these monsters lived in the murky depths of the sub-conscious and operated totally independently of conscious thought, which explained why I couldn’t control it. Through my local doctor I was placed on a diet of anti-depressant tablets and the thought of being enslaved to this filled me with disgust, but in a strange way it was a relief to know what was wrong and to be doing something about it.
With my newfound knowledge about my condition I began to hope for a better future. Hope had been extinct. It was as alien a condition to me as any other positive emotion such as pleasure or anticipation or excitement. It had just not been possible to be able to associate any of these things in my mind, and to get hope back into my life was almost like a revelation. There had been no future but maybe now I didn’t need to sell Lowana IV after all? Maybe I could get past this and resume sailing again?
By the end of April 2005 I felt confidant enough to set forth and complete what I’d started the previous year, but this time just to get to the East Coast, rather than try to circumnavigate Australia. My confidence didn’t go that far. I advertised through the notice boards of the local sailing clubs for a crew member, and a lovely lady of about 30 or so introduced herself. She didn’t know anything about sailing but she had an adventurous spirit.
We set sail on this venture starting with a yacht race to the Tiwi Islands being conducted by one of the clubs. The idea was to travel anti-clockwise around the islands, up through Dundas Strait again past Cape Don and head west around to Snake Bay at the top of Melville Island. There were to be festivities to be held there relating to the first contact by the Dutch at the islands, so we’d get involved in that then start heading eastwards.
Unfortunately we hadn’t even got as far as the Vernon Islands and already we’d dropped back behind the entire field – all the old anxiety demons came back again. Finally the tiller-pilot failed and it was the last straw for me. The lady was not an experienced sailor and I didn’t want to physically steer the boat all the way, even with the lady’s help so we mutually agreed to turn back home. I think the lady by this time understood that I was having problems and was getting a bit uncomfortable with the idea anyway.
I was finally forced to acknowledge that I wasn’t going to be able to do any sailing, at least not for a good while and it was pointless holding onto Lowana IV. Towards the end of 2005 I’d sold her to a chap who immediately took her to the Philippines. Notwithstanding the work that had been done on the motor, he contacted me by email to say that he’d had to be towed and required a new set of piston rings. I sent these to him and never heard from him again. Apparently he returned to Australia the following year and sold Lowana IV to someone here in Darwin.
It’s a small world. The man’s lady partner approached me one day and introduced herself claiming to be a cousin. I’d never heard of her, or her branch of the family but what she told me of her family’s history was close enough to have made her claim true. My great-grandfather had travelled up north to Longreach following a row with his father, leaving behind siblings in Quenbeyan, NewSouth Wales. Seems this lady came from one of those branches.
Apparently the boat was sold onto someone else and as at 2014 she’s still sitting on the hardstand at the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht club. I look in on her from time to time. I understand she’s received a new motor and there’s often signs of additional work being done, but why she hasn’t been put back in the water I don’t know.
Lowana IV has a commendable history being built in 1979 at Whangarei in New Zealand, sailed to Australia and has been to Papua New Guinea and out into the Coral Sea before I acquired her. With me she made numerous trips across the top of the Northern Territory, over to Western Australia and internationally over to Indonesia. It’s kind of sad to see her just sitting there and I sometimes muse about whether I would have her back. But no. As safe and sturdy as she was I just wouldn’t be able to live with her again.
Four years later in 2009 I joined another boat Jenzminc VI at Finike in Turkey. All up there was a crew of 3 of us including the skipper. We sailed from Turkey, through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to Salalah in Oman where I left the boat.
That trip was full of historical interest and included visits to ancient sites, towns and cities in Turkey, Egypt, Yemen and Oman. Anxiety was not a problem for me, even though the trip had it’s moments like a storm in the Red Sea, getting shot at by Yemeni soldiers, scooting along “pirate alley” and hard seas in the Gulf of Arabia.
But that is another story.