Lizard Island to Darwin
Lizard Island to Lloyd Island
I can see your minds ticking over now. Where’s Lloyd Island? It is just north of the Lockhart River and south of Portland Roads, and if I had not mentioned this place previously is because we did not plan to stop here.
Saturday – 06/10/2012
We were up early as usual, the wind was still howling through the bay here at Lizard but I think that is due to the land structure and shape causing the acceleration of the wind. However, before we sail I want to look at the seas out there through the binoculars and then make the decision whether we sail or not.
Daylight came and the seas did not look too bad so we got underway at 0630 hours, I noticed a few other yachties and boaties watching to see what we were doing some of these are waiting for the change to sail south, one yacht and one motorboat left yesterday to slam into the waves going south. After the anchor was up we set course for Howick Island and straight away unfurled the headsail (genoa), the bloke on the yacht that was behind us came out as we passed and asked where we were off to and then wished us all the best for the trip. I must say we have not been the usual social selves here this year which was mainly due to the weather. We did call in on a couple of yachts to have a chat but not many people ventured to the beach for sundowners or to the Marlin Bar because of the weather conditions.
As we sailed out of Watsons Bay a squall was coming over the land form, I had a few turns on the furler so we did not have the full headsail out and we were sailing around 7 knots. I thought I would stick with the headsail until we cleared the land and check out what is really out there when we lose the protection of the island.
It was a day of squalls drizzling rain came with them but we are sailing well just under the one sail ranging from 6.5 to 8.2 knots this was comfortable in the seas we had. The seas caused a bit of motion to the boat where at times you had to hang on but that was about all. I was sailing along the right side of the shipping channel so not to be in the shipping lanes proper although keeping a good look out for any shipping movement. A few miles out a fishing boat appeared off the port bow he slowed to give way to me I waved a thanks as we passed, I think it was a long line fishing trawler by what I could see.
Once we were settled in Nancy got breakfast ready, Nancy looks after me week days we have cereal and fruit with yogurt, weekends I get baked beans on toast Saturdays and eggs and bacon on Sundays mainly, we do have changes now and again. It is Saturday and I love the old baked beans but as I am on the helm it is served a little different baked beans in a bowl and toast on the side.
We were having a good sail and were neared Howick Island at 1030 hours, this was our planned stop as we expected to get here a little later, the next planned alternative was Ingram Island which was not that far away so we started looking at other alternatives. Flinders Island was our next planned stop after Howick Island but even doing good speed we would not make it before dark and not knowing the place I wanted to anchor in daylight. So after calculations we figured we could get to Bathurst Bay around the back of Cape Melville before dark and if not it was a large bay we could drop anchor anywhere.
Near the Howick Island group the shipping lane has two routes one for deep keels around the north of Howick Island and the other passing south west of the Howick Island Group. We being a yacht went between the both. However, it never ceases to amaze me that all the action of large shipping we always encounter in these areas of rounding islands or shipping junctions. This happened as we were heading to Lizard Island as I mentioned previous in the scribbles. Well not that it affected us as we bypassed the shipping lanes by going between islands but at these junctions were three large cargo ships and one tug boat.
We sailed between Coquet and Houghton Islands on the southern side of Howick Island this bypassed the shipping lanes and was also a good direction to keep the wind at the right place for sailing. As we passed Coquet Island there was a wreck of a yacht aground on the beach looked as though it had been there a long while. I have heard of vessels running aground around the reefs of Queensland and often it is due to making a mistake when putting in waypoints into a GPS (Global Positioning System), or during heavy storms being pushed off course this is why it is important to keep a constant watch at all times.
It was one of these islands that Mrs Mary Watson died from thirst after fleeing Lizard Island when the Aborigines had conflict with the Chinese servants, the bodies of Mary her baby and the one servant were found on No 5 Howick Island which I believe is now Watson Island, her diary is listed on this website, http://www.cooktownandcapeyork.com/do/history/mary_watson
It was getting late in the afternoon as we went through the passage at Cape Melville, we rounded Cape Melville turning down the back of it to Bathurst Bay, the wind picked up a little more probably the affects of the land. We looked at the guide books to find the better anchorage. The Alan Lucas book stated that the best anchorage was passed the shoal area opposite a monument that you can’t see from off shore, great help, there is a dark storm approaching with nightfall. I figured the best is to go passed the shoal and shallow area and anchor there. As we approached there is an anchor site indicated in 7.9 metres of water but guide books say go in closer to the beach. We headed closer into the beach and the storm was starting to cover the land so we could not see the land form. We reached a depth area of around 4 metres and the sea was flat basically so I said to Nancy lets anchor here before the storm reaches us. We did then as the rain started we raced around closing covers and managed to do it before getting soaked through. We had a good days sail with a distance covered of 78 nautical miles.
The storm hit and the winds hit around the 30 – 38 knots, the waves picked up and we were bouncing around. When the rain left the wind remained and it stayed all through the night, we did get some sleep but I really don’t know how.
Sunday – 07/10/2012
I got up a few times through the night checking on a few things. I was up before dawn and checked things out, the boat had taken a beating through the night it was worse than when we sailed south a couple of years ago beating into the SE swell. We set sail at first light and as I got the charts out that I had printed off myself I had a close shot of the bay and there clearly marked on the chart was the monument that could not be seen from off shore, it was actually opposite the shallow areas on the chart. I went on deck and had a look, we had actually anchored in the wind path between the mountains which we could not see because of the storm, 100 metres each side of us the wind waves were standing up outside that area it was calm. As we sailed away again under genoa only we got about a mile out and the wind reduced to 5 knots I had to start an engine.
As we neared Flinders Island the wind picked up slightly so we hoisted the mainsail, we had around 12 knots of wind nothing great as we were sailing around 4.5 knots. Looking at the Flinders Group of islands they looked great, we had planned a stop over here but it was not to be. Why you may ask, well we do not normally sail to deadlines we go when the sailings good but this time we have a bit of a deadline in getting to Darwin before the nasty weather starts. The other factor is that we need to sail and not motor as fuel stations are scarce in these parts and will be until we get to Darwin, so when there is wind we should sail.
As we passed the island group I noticed a yacht and a motorboat anchored off Stanley Island a short time after one of them presumably the yacht and called on the radio asked what wind speeds we had and after telling him the wind dropped and I had to start an engine, this was only for a short time then the wind came in and we were off again. We had to look at other alternatives to our planned route, as they say plan A, plan B and whatever. We reckon if we keep sailing the way we are we could get to Morris Island which funny enough was a planned stop we are just a day early.
Nancy cooked breakfast with the shipping lanes nearby it was hard to sit down to a breakfast so instead of bacon and eggs we had omelette and toast with the omelette in a bowl and toast on the side.
Sailing up through this area is great the reefs are close by now so although we have good winds the seas are reasonably flat with the occasional small swell creeping through as you pass the gaps between the reefs. The water is a wonderful blue colour and you pass these pretty islands along the way. Along the way at some of the sandy islands there is a trawler anchored getting sleep ready for the nights work.
These trawlers here, in the Torres Straits and the Gulf stay out months at a time and are serviced by a mother ship company like SeaSwift who we registered with in case we need fuel or water. They also bring food supplies if you organise it.
I noticed as we go along that there is one trawler here another further on and so on as though they all have their allocated area of fishing.
We arrived at Morris Island well before dark and what a pretty island it is and full of bird life some that I had never seen before. The anchorage was great it was calm all the time even though we had a small squall pass just after dark.
It was another great days sail covering 75 nautical miles.
Monday – 08/10/2012
Morris Island is a good anchorage they say you can ride out a gale here from S to E winds. We watched the sunrise and soon after lowered the dinghy to go ashore. It was near low tide which is good for going ashore having greater beach area at this time, low tide also reveals an opening of the reef where you can get the dinghy ashore. As we got ashore some of the birds fluttered about from tree to tree. The most prominent bird here is the migratory Torresian Imperial Pigeon that migrates from Torres Strait areas of PNG, they migrate here around July-August and return to New Guinea February – April, they are mainly an island settling bird and they are here in the hundreds. Other bird life here are Heron, Egret, Oyster Catchers, Terns, Pelican , Black Bellied Storm Petrel and a Sea Eagle. The vegetation on the island is unusual it is full sisal trees which are tall spindle type tree with very short branches . There is one major palm tree that stands out and can be seen 7 NMS before you reach the island. The island is only small but is part of a large reef that has some beautiful coral. The southern end of the island is referred to a beachcomber area in Alan Lucas’s guide book, this part of the island has a water current formed gully that collects all the floating debris that has found its way to the sea. If you have lost a thong (ones you wear on your feet), at sea or near a waterway it may be here along with plastic drink containers. I can understand that accidents happen and things may fall overboard but I think a lot of this stuff that was discarded close to waterways. (Waterways include storm drains in streets, creeks and rivers). Many council areas have storm water drains direct into the sea or other waterways only some councils have rubbish collectors (cages) installed before it discharges into the waterways. The fact is that Councils should not need to do this if people put their rubbish in a rubbish bin properly.
On this island there is a gravesite of a pearl diver from earlier times. Torres Strait pearl divers would venture through these waters and if someone died they would bury them wherever they could, they would also kill the pigeons for food by blinding the pigeon with a torch at night and clubbing them.
After a short time on the island I had to return aboard for the SICYC radio sched at 0700 hours on HF radio 8161.0 frequency, so I left Nancy on the island to do her photography and returned to the boat. After the radio sched I tossed a coin to see whether I went back to pick Nancy up or leave her there, no not really but that’s what I told her. So I went back and rushed Nancy along to get back for the weather radio sched at 0730 hours on HF radio 12365.0 frequency, they also transmit the weather for this area at 0330, 0730, 1130, 1530 and 2330 EST. This is what we do when we are not in an area of internet or phone service. We wanted to get going this morning because the wind forecast was for SE 15 – 20 knots and that was good for sailing.
We returned on board and weighed anchor there was no sign of this promised winds just a slight breeze from the east, as we cleared the island we pointed the bow into the little wind we had and hoisted the mainsail and then set course towards Night Island. We motor sailed along with the sail giving us an extra half knot in speed we only had one engine running to conserve fuel and motor sailed along at 5.5 to 5.8 knots. After a couple of hours it was evident that the wind is not arriving so it was look at where we will anchor tonight. The original plan was for Portland Roads but we will not reach there in daylight so we chose Lloyd Island.
Again today’s journey took us passed some beautiful small island that are attached to reef systems, we passed some fishing trawlers at anchor and one motorboat. Just before Cape Direction there is Chapman Island which has a very significant light with heliport attached, this light and island is at the junction of the shipping lanes that either leads to the way we have travelled or to the shipping channel between the inner and outer reefs. I could see a sail of a yacht coming from that direction which is often used by overseas yachts that have decided that they will not visit Australia other than Darwin. This is because of the bad publicity we have had through some publications like Coastal Passage that has an editor that has a hate session with Australian Customs and bags them out every opportunity, the other major reason that they by-pass Australia is because we are one of the most expensive places for people to visit in costs of items and in labour.
As we and the yacht came nearer to each other I called them on the radio with no response, this could be for a couple of reasons, if it is a foreign yacht it is going to continually sail until they get to Darwin therefore some crew or the other crew member could be asleep and the radio is turned off, or the radio is just turned off to save power or they just don’t want to talk to us. We always have the radio on for safety even at anchor.
We rounded Cape Direction and changed course for Lloyd Island in Lloyd Bay, this is just north of the Lockhart River there is a large Aboriginal community located near here and fortunately for us because of that we have internet and phone service.
We entered the area behind Lloyd Island where a barge was anchored and we anchored not far from it but far enough not to hear his generator that well. We had motor sailed 53 nautical miles only under sail alone for a few miles after we rounded Cape Direction.
After anchoring we considered that this just might be croc country so we made sure we did not put ourselves in places where we would be vulnerable. Our catamaran has very easy and wide transom steps which can be inviting for the lizard friends so we partition the cockpit off just in case. After dark we heard some movement in the water and when we shined the torch we saw fish and two bright orange eyes, our first croc experience. Most of the night you could hear it making a noise around the boat, it took Nancy awhile to get to sleep.
There is little wind for the next few days so we may motor up to Portland Roads tomorrow it is only 15 nautical miles.
The other day when we were nearing the Howick Group of islands I notice that we had just reached the 13,000 nautical miles since we brought this catamaran into Australia so looking at the trip meter on the GPS today we have sailed 13,185 NMS in Australia and 24,901 NMS since leaving St Lucia in the Caribbean.
Lloyd Island to Portland Roads to Cape Grenville
Tuesday – 09/10/2012
This morning we did not rush about to get underway for the simple reason we were only going to Portland Roads some 15NMS north and there was no wind so we knew we had to motor. We both busied ourselves getting our scribbles for our blogs and getting the photos organised. Looking at the tides we knew we could not get ashore at Portland Roads until about 1400 hours as we need 1.3 metres of tide to get the dinghy ashore over the reef in front of the beach at Portland Roads.
We weighed anchor just after 0900 hours and to our surprise when we rounded the island the wind kicked in enough to sail. The barge that was anchored nearby also left just behind us and called another ship on the radio ‘Trinity Bay’ one of the SeaSwift ships that service the coast and Torres Straits. This ship also takes passengers for the journey north and return. A friend of mine did the voyage some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it they have a top chef aboard and it is a cheaper way of taking a cruise and seeing the real stuff not tourist stuff. A short time later we passed ‘Trinity Bay’, by passing I mean it was going the other way, we are not that fast. The barge was also a SeaSwift vessel named ‘Temple Bay’.
We had a reasonable sail all the way to Restoration Rock where we had to change course and the wind was no longer useful. Kicked in one of the iron sails and away we continued only a few miles to go. As we neared Portland Roads a yacht was leaving and when it was abeam of I called them on the radio but without reply. When I looked again through the binoculars I said to Nancy that is Steve’s yacht ‘Vallina’ (not sure of the spelling), he is a friend of ours. So Nancy called by using the yachts name and Steve came on the radio. It was a shame that we did not make it to Portland Roads the day before to catch up with him, but that’s sailing, he has to continue because of the expected weather heading south as it is harder than heading north. It is not like being in a car where you can pull over for a chat.
As we approached the anchorage at Portland Roads a great looking motor yacht was leaving the skipper came out and gave us a big wave as he passed, yes we have this affect on some people, we arrive and everyone leaves. We selected where we would anchor and dropped the pick then we had lunch once all was secure.
At 1400 hours we lowered the dinghy and went ashore, let me say that many people told us that there is not much here at Portland Roads and they were right, however, it is a very attractive place. In the height of the season where grey nomads and others take the adventure of going to Cape York I believe there are many visitors and I also believe that the cafe/restaurant ‘Out Of The Blue’ caters for them very well with Greg and Sheree being the proprietors since the 1970’s, however, I am not sure what Steve and his crew got up to but there was a sign out the front stating ‘Closed for R&R open again tomorrow’. We actually never saw a sole whilst we were ashore not that there is many houses close by.
As far as facilities there is a pay phone box that will take cards, just a little way up the road towards the boat ramp is a water tank where you can top up with water , just passed that is public toilets and a covered picnic table with bench seating. We took a walk up the street to stretch the legs the only movement we saw was three bush turkeys running across the road. We returned on board a little disappointed that we did not get to meet Greg and Sheree and thought we may get ashore tomorrow if we stay. On board we relaxed and over a wine or two watched the magnificent sunset.
We cooked dinner had another wine and watched a couple of red eyes off the back of the boat, we better get used to seeing these crocs. I then started working on the blog which was very slow uploading as the Wifi internet service is from the Aboriginal settlement back at Lockhart River and it is only that we have an external antenna that we are picking up a weak signal. It was around 2300 hours when I finish uploading photos on the blog.
Nancy and I talked about staying another day to get ashore and meet some people and thought it would be a good idea. But many good plans change.
Wednesday – 10/10/2012
I was up ridiculously early since I did not go to bed until 2330 hours which is late for me unless we are sailing. I did the usual made the cups of tea then hit the computer and waited for the weather update on the wind charts with the BOM, which are very good. The general text comes out first so I read that. The text can paint a good picture or bad picture but the real problem is that it may give something like SE winds 25 – 30 knots for the area between Torres Strait and Cooktown. Now that is a large area, when you look at the wind charts that are updated around 0500 hours and 1800 hours daily they show where the winds are and what speeds, so that 20-30 knots that just scared the you know what out of us is 100 NMS south of us. This is the beauty of the electronic world whilst we have internet we have the accurate picture as far as what can be possible.
Well looking at those pictures told us that over the next three days we are going to get those 20-30 knot winds and we want to be passed Cape York before that happens as we have this dream of having lunch at Cape York on land, not good anchoring and getting ashore there with 20-30 knot winds. We also looked at the fact that if we wanted to go ashore today we had two options re the tide requirements. We could go ashore at around 0830 hours when the water depth would let us land the dinghy and have to return by 0915 hours or go ashore as said before and stay till dark. Not an option when I have seen crocs in the water of being in a rubber dinghy at night. They call rubber dinghy’s ‘croc’s teething rings’. We may buy a tinnie before we go to the Kimberly’s.
So with all this we decided at 0830 hours to sail for Cape Grenville only 40NMS away, which I thank whoever is up there for, as the winds were not with us today, sometimes only sailing around 4 knots.
It was an easy days sailing, well let’s say not too strenuous although there was a lot of sail adjustments to keep going. We also had a number of large ships today, we stayed on the outside of the shipping lanes but did have to cross them on a number of occasions.
The major thing about sailing through this area we have to pay respects to Captain James Cook and many of the earlier Captains and surveyors of this area. These reefs would be a nightmare without the modern technology we have today with GPS, chart plotters and now the electronic Ipads which I do not have and if I spelt it wrong that’s why.
The areas we sailed today I don’t think I would have been very comfortable sailing it at night, as I have said before electronic charts are great but sometimes not always accurate. With some of the reefs here unless you put your yacht in the middle of the shipping lanes and play Russian Roulette with the big guys, forget it. Don’t get me wrong I do not have any fear of the big ships I have sailed many shipping lanes, but I do like that they answer the VHF radio when you need to talk to them or that there is someone looking out for other vessels that are travelling in the same space. (Sir we are trying to get the anchor ready but it appears to have a yachts mast caught up in it). Not a good thought.
I said to Nancy today that Captain Cook would have had to anchor at night and have a man in the crow’s nest permanently in the day and possibly a long boat with lead line out front. However, in mention of these hazards what beauty around us, the reefs with the light blue waters and sand spits is incredible.
We anchored in Margaret Bay near Cape Grenville, a picturesque area itself with a number of islands around it and reefs. Sunday Island just a little way north of this bay is where Captain Bligh, (No not the ex-Premier), had his second mutiny attempt where a crewman in the long boat that they were in after the original mutiny challenged Bligh on his decision to keep going after experiencing unfriendly natives here. Apparently Bligh tossed the man a sword and said let us see who of us is the better man to lead, to which the man backed down.
Our anchorage position was not the same as indicated in the Alan Lucas guide book, I think his anchorages are sometimes just a general position rather than the exact good position. We anchored closer to the beach area in 4.5 metres of water which offered us greater protection from the SE winds which can be seen as the land form is higher in the SE direction.
We had a good sleep but not long enough we had set the alarm for 0345 hours, we have 72NMS to go to the next anchorage and not good winds to get us there so the day may be motor sailing.
Margaret Bay (Cape Grenville) to Escape River
Thursday – 11/10/2012
We set sail at 0415 hours or should I say motor sail again with little to no wind, there are four trawlers to look out for and there are two cargo ships in the shipping lanes one going north the other south. This area is alright to sail in the dark not as many labyrinths of reefs around here just a few islands to worry about but by the time we near them the sun would be just coming up. We passed Bird Islets at 0615 hours covering 13 NMS so far, if we can keep this pace we will be in Escape River well before dark.
Reading Craig’s notes off ‘Scarlett’ who was here last year, this river would be a impossible at night with all the pearl farm structures. Craig had some information from another fellow sailor but did not put that in his notes.
As the sun rose the birds started flying from the night resting places and there were lots of them from Bird Islets and most of them were the Torresian Pigeon. We had never seen them before Morris Island and they have been everywhere since. There were also the sea birds that were starting their days fishing, the Terns that hover high up in the air looking for a target and then goes into a dive folding the wings back speared into the water and coming out with its catch.
Sunrise was glorious this morning with a heavy cloud build up around it gave some different colours. After the sun had risen I went around and did a few checks having a look at the engines and bilges. The other day in the wave poundings we developed a small leak in the port fuel tank, nothing major just the occasional dripping, I have already replaced the starboard fuel tank so it looks like another job for Darwin.
We have had to motor all day with hardly any wind at all for sailing alone so have had one engine running but we have covered 72 NMS to Escape River. In entering the river I referred to Alan Lucas guide book he gave an ample description on entry to the river and stated to follow river in by staying in the centre. He provides a waypoint for the point of entry but no others.
We followed the book and at the same time I kept an eye on the water and one on the depth gauge, I could see what Craig meant about the river there is Pearl infrastructure all over. As we passed the buildings of the pearl farm the VHF radio crackled with them calling us on the radio. As soon as I heard it I pulled both throttles to neutral in case we were heading for something they were about to warn us about.
The voice came over “This is Rusty at the Pearl Farm, do you know where you’re going or are you just finding your way?” Nancy answered we are finding our way using Alan Lucas guide, Rusty replied, “Well we can start a fire and you can put that on it”. “If you keep going on the same track you will see a cage to your left, pass that on its right side by about 50 metres, then go about 80 metres and turn sharp left and you can anchor in about 6 metres of water near the mangroves, you will get a good night sleep there and you won’t have to worry about going the extra distance and having to get passed those rocks.”
We thanked him for his help, he said he would be passing by soon as he has to work for a living.
A short time later whilst I was having a well earned beer Rusty and his wife went passed in their big tinnie to the oyster beds. Sometime later they returned and called by to say hello, Rusty and Bronwyn have had the farm for 4 years, Rusty said he couldn’t understand all the boats going so far up the river, I explained that the guide books give that as the anchorage, hence his comment about where the book should go. I said with all the oyster beds I suppose people are not sure where to anchor. Rusty said in the next 3 years there will be lights and indicators put in place. As he said he has $1m worth of pearls in the water he has to look after them. Before they left they invited us for a cup of tea before we left, unfortunately we had to decline due to sailing at first light. We thanked them for their help and kindness.
Friday – 12/10/2012
Out of bed just before first light and I started rolling up the covers and getting ready to sail, Nancy heard me up and about on deck so got up straight away, major thing first put the kettle on then turn on instruments start engines and as there was enough light to see where we were going we pulled the anchor and set off. I run both engines to get out of the river against the 2 knot current. Time was crucial as we needed the tide flow with us outside the river to speed our way to and through the Albany Passage. Once outside the river we headed northwest toward the passage about 15NMS to get there and the tide changes at 1030 hours against us which would stop us going through the passage as it would be wind against tide and the waves can stand up and get rather angry.
We had no problems we got there before our expected time as the wind and current was speeding us along at 7.6 knots. On the way to the passage there is an area called Four Fathom Patches this is where there are many sea bottom contours of different depths that cause some turbulence of the sea, it was no major problem in the sea conditions that we had but it would be a place to avoid in strong weather as would be Albany Passage.
As we approached Albany Passage it look quite narrow from the distance the passage at its widest point is 0.5 nautical miles and about 0.3 NMS at the narrowest point, the flood tide (incoming tide) flows to the north the ebb tide flows to the south. Before we entered we dropped sails so we could see everything without the sails spoiling the view plus we found that there was no wind in the passage. It was a great experience going through the passage, I had engines running just in case the currents sent us in the wrong direction the force of the water took us through the 3.5NMS at a speed of 10.6 knots after the passage came the big moment of going around to Cape York passing the most northern tip of the Australian mainland, we rounded York Island and entered to anchor in the bay of Cape York. We did not expect to see any tourists here as grey nomads would have headed south by now for the summer. I checked the coastline looking for life of any kind in particular those large lizards we heard about “the crocs”. I spot some long dark objects on the beach in a couple of places but could not make out what they were through the binoculars, I took photos of them with the zoom lens and then blew them up with the digital zoom to find out they were logs.
We lowered the dinghy and went ashore to have our morning tea, Nancy had made a cake and our thermal mugs of tea/coffee to have at Cape York. We got ashore and Nancy was a little nervous about crocs because of the stories told. I looked carefully around and all looked fine so we got ashore and skylarked around and had our brew. After a fair while I said to Nancy that we should move as we need to get to Seisia before the 20-30 knots winds hit. Cape York would probably be alright as an anchorage under such conditions but I did not want to be stuck there as if the winds came it would be tough sailing against it to Seisia the next day. Just as Nancy was taking some photos and I was sipping on my brew I turned and looked around the topside of the beach and spotted this shape, I looked again and again and could not make out whether it was a log or a croc sunning itself which they do. I said to Nancy I think we will go now so we got in the dinghy and moved off the beach, I took a photo of what I saw and when I checked it out , there it was sure enough as large as life about 3 metres long with the curvature of a tail it was definitely a log.
We set sail for Seisia only about a 20NM run we followed the beach passage to round Possession Island. Fortunately the difference between the tides of Albany Passage and Seisia is about one hour Seisia being one hour later so we still ran with the tide all the way to Seisia.
Possession Island has a significance to Australia it is the place that Captain Cook drove a flag into the sand and declared the east coast of Australia as British territory on behalf of King George the Third and named the island Possession Island which was known as Bedanug or Bedhan Lag by the original inhabitants, the Kaurareg people, in 2001 the Kaurareg people successfully claimed the land rights back along with surrounding islands.
Seisia is a small community coastal port and is popular stop over for the people trekking to Cape York with the campground here servicing 50% of those that go to Cape York, it is also popular for fishermen that like to test their skills on the water and therefore a few charter companies operate out of here. The population here is mainly Aboriginal and I would estimate the European population of around one hundred in number. The Aboriginal people here are generally shy people but will be friendly and talk to you if you speak first.
There are strict alcohol laws here very similar to the Northern Territory, alcohol can only be served at certain times and you are only allowed a certain amount. It is not cheap to purchase, this is due to shipping costs and the costs of power generation for the area.
Reading the Alan Lucas guide book again gave me concerns regarding space to anchor he indicated that it was difficult with swing room and leaving an area for the ships that enter the port to offload cargo. I really think there is more room to anchor here than at Cooktown. The anchorage is good holding there are a few moored boats and at this time we have three other catamarans and one monohull yacht waiting to go south down the east coast, looking at the weather charts it may be a while before that will happen.
After we were secure at anchor we ventured over to the monohull yacht next to us to find out where things were and met Roger and Di, they have been sailing Asia over the past years and are now returning to Tin Can Bay. They told us where everything was and what was on tonight and the Fishing Club the bar is open at 1730 hours and there will be burgers available to purchase at 1830 hours onwards.
By 1730 hours no one on the other boats had moved so we lowered the dinghy and started to make our way in and on the way called in to the other boats and introduced ourselves, they said they would be going in soon. We got there and there were a few locals there that invited us to join them so we did. They were also the committee workers for the night, apparently it was a karaoke night and a mad hatters night one of the ladies who works at the service station pointed out to me the bloke that arranged this mad hatters night he was a vertically challenged fellow just like myself maybe a little more than I, he had a large black top hat and black drawings on his face a bushy black beard (his own) and thick bushy black hair, the girl said looking at him, “It’s hard to believe he is our doctor at the hospital”. He came over for a chat, he said the same as all the rest we met today, “We saw you come in today”. I don’t think anyone can get into this port without being seen. Having worked in isolated areas before myself it is always interesting to see something new happening.
Although it is a little different in isolated places of today with modern technology of satellite TV and mobile telephone and internet services. Although I only spent a short time in the then isolated place at Daly Waters in the NT it was very different. You would wake a 0530hours to listen to the news on ABC radio and if you were really lucky you would get all the news before the radio faded out. This was in the days just after Darwin cyclone ‘Tracey’, that flattened Darwin. We sometimes did not see a customer for 4 days and a 4 day old newspaper was good to read. I saw the same place many years later with a big satellite dish out front and it was no different visiting there than the local pub in a big city. I think I preferred the old days with the 4 day old newspaper.
I digress once again, but I think you may now have the picture why I like this life now.
We had a good night at the Seisia Fishing Club last night the locals had to leave our company to go to working on the burger stand and the choice of burgers were beef, steak or fish they were all $8 each beers served in cans only, no glass bottles was $6 a can. After the locals left we went and joined the other yachties that had now arrived. Two of the catamarans spend most of their time sailing around the Gulf here and Torres Strait and return to Cairns or Mackay for the cyclone season but both are considering the Kimberly’s next year. We had a good night there and don’t be too surprised when I tell you we were the first to go home.
We had been told that there are crocs here which made Nancy a little nervous getting into the water to get into the dinghy. The locals said that there is one old man croc here, his territory that does not bother anyone usually, but there was a younger croc arrived I think she said last week which led to a fight between the old man and the new comer, the old man sent the young fella on his way and he hasn’t been seen since. Apparently there is a female croc up one of the creeks that leads into a lagoon with two young ones. Before getting into the water with the dinghy I shone the torch around for any red eyes, being none I entered the water and pulled the dinghy into the water for Nancy to get aboard then I got in started the motor and went back to the boat. As Nancy climbed back on Alana Rose and I was hooking the dinghy up to lift it there was this sudden splash of water just behind me, I think I may have been in trouble if I had needed to go to the toilet. As it happened on a number of occasions after it was large fish chasing small fish.
Saturday – 13/10/2012
We went ashore today after filling the fuel tanks with diesel we took the cans ashore to refill as we reached the shore we were met by Greg, the unofficial harbourmaster, Greg has a large charter motor catamaran that does tours and fishing charters. He was interested in our catamaran and said he would like to get one like it in the future. He walked us to the fuel station as we chatted about boats, as we got to the service station he told us that the guy there would drive us back to the boat ramp a service they provide for all boaties.
We filled the diesel fuel containers (100 litres) at $2:15 per litre and 18 litres of ULP fuel at $2:36 per litre. Just as we were about to go and pay for it a bloke came out to his duel cab ute and asked us if we wanted a lift back to the boat ramp, I went and paid for the fuel after accepting the lift. The chap that gave us the lift was up here fishing from Sydney. After unloading the fuel and storing it we went ashore to do shopping at the supermarket loaded up our back packs and returned to the boat to store away. We then went ashore for a good look around not that there is a great deal to look at but the walk was good.
After that we returned on board for lunch this was followed by getting the water containers in the dinghy along with hose and rope, I then dropped Nancy off at the beach with rope and tap/hose fitting and she walked to the end of the wharf, I then positioned the dinghy below the tap and Nancy tied the dinghy to the wharf with the strong tide trying to pull us away. She then lowered the rope to pull the hose up and connect it to the tap then turned the tap on and I filled the containers. The tap is a 25mm (1 inch) screw fitting standard tap and very good water pressure, not like what is in the Lucas guide book. The best time to get water this way is at slack tide because the tidal flow is very strong, you can just take the containers ashore and walk to the end of the jetty but it is a long walk with full containers of water 1 litre equals 1 kg. We completed two water runs which the first filled the tanks and the other to be used to do some washing.
After what we had done today I wondered why I felt tired and my back ached, we achieved quite a lot today.
We ended the day with dinner aboard and a red wine or two.
Sunday – 14/10/2012
The main thing for this morning was listen to Macca on Australia All Over on the radio whilst having breakfast and trying to keep the blog updated, it is quite surprising how many hours we spend on this project selecting photos reducing the size and stitching them together.
As Macca finished I brought the washing machine up to the cockpit and started the washing, sheets towels etc. They did not take long to dry with the wind and heat. All this was followed by lunch and a nanna nap.
We ate our last caught fish for dinner and had a quiet night. We heard ‘Trinity Bay’ (SeaSwift ship) call up the tug that is doing maintenance here. The tug had moved earlier to make room for ‘Trinity Bay’. She entered around 2130 hours and went alongside the dock. The skipper did a great job of bringing her alongside.
We had a reasonable early night.
Monday – 15/10/2012
We went ashore just after the shops opened this morning to do a little more shopping as we may leave here tomorrow. After getting the shopping and storing it back on board we went ashore again for a walk and Nancy wanted to buy the cards for the grandchildren, these are obtained from the Campground office tourist shop that offers tourist items and bookings for the different charters and Thursday Island Ferry service and tours. There we met a very pleasant young lady who worked there, Millie, after that we went next door to Freebird arts and crafts which has a good range of artefacts and we talked to the lady there that had a very strong accent. Also on the way we talked to people who were travelling on ‘Trinity Bay’ the SeaSwift ship, some had got on in Cairns for the up and back trip some were joining the ship here after travelling up by coach. The people that travelled up from Cairns said that it was wonderful, three cooked meals a day if you want it and the best chefs they have experienced. So for those wishing for a short sea voyage with short stops at a few places this is the trip for you. We continued from there for a walk for a bit of exercise. We later went ashore again to the campground to give Millie the cards to post for us.
We will be sailing tomorrow to go a little further south to get away from the top end weather that is curling around from the east coast. We may follow ‘Scarlett’s” path of going down towards Jackson River. So we will be off the air for about four days.
Where things are in Seisia:
For visiting yachties the fuel station is a short walk from the boat ramp (leave the dinghy between the two ramps close to the right hand ramp), walk up from the boat ramp follow the road left passed the jetty the road curves around to the right after that and the service station is dead ahead and the camp ground is on the left.
The Seisia Camping Ground is where you will find the tourist items ‘T’ shirts post cards etc at the campground office where a pretty very polite young lady with a lovely smile will serve you, you can book tours from here also. Next to the office is a kiosk serving food and drinks and on the other side is Freebird Arts and Crafts that has some great artefacts there a very nice lady from Brazil originally, she does some of the art work but some of the art is from the local people.
The supermarket is behind the Seisia Fishing Club so park the dinghy on the beach to the right of the club and walk across the car park and it is just about dead ahead. The supermarket has a good range of items prices are a little higher than Cairns but that is because it has to be double handled and shipped to here via SeaSwift shipping.
We have not been into Bamaga some 5 kilometres inland which is the major town we got what we needed here without going, the only thing you cannot buy in Seisia is alcohol with exception of across the bar at the Fishermans Club when they open to drink there. You can obtain alcohol at Bamaga in limited amounts and at a expensive price I have been told.
After tomorrow night we will not have a drink until Gove as we have a dry ship once we sail.
Seisia to Jackson River
Tuesday – 16/10/2012
We left Seisia at 0620 hours this morning , the seas were flat and there was little wind but there was wind predicted in the 20 – 25 knots range and there was a strong wind warning issued for the area but the latest wind charts did not indicate anything above 25 knots. Seisia was still quiet as we motored out the channel the workers on the tug ‘PNG Pride’ that had anchored out from the jetty to allow another and tug and barge to unload waved as we passed, they were getting ready to go dockside to do some more pylon replacements on the dock. The other tug towing a large barge came in late afternoon yesterday and that was loaded with concrete pipes and other concrete objects that looked as though they were for the construction of large culverts on roadways.
We motored out through the leads closely watching the depth gauge as it was low tide but the shallowest point was 3 metres. After clearing the leads we hoisted the mainsail with a reef in it, the reef for two reasons with low wind speeds and side on swell having less sail up reduces sail slap as we rock side to side and the second reason is the wind up here has a habit of hitting fast when it comes and if we are hit with 25 knots I like to have a reef in. We motor sailed past Parau Island down Endeavour Strait and soon after I went below for a rest and Nancy took the shift. It was not long after Nancy called me as the wind kicked in and the seas were showing white caps everywhere. We were now approaching Wallis Banks where there is a lot of shallows. We have to follow the deeper water tracks through these waters and it will also be the area where we change course for Jackson River. As we approached Crab Island I could see a motor catamaran on the horizon, I said to Nancy that may be your friend Rob on ‘Flash Dancer’ a Lightwave 45′ motor cat. Nancy knows Rob through the photography site Flickr.com, they are both in a photo group and they have never met. She called him up on the radio as he was nearing shore at Crab Island, he had spotted several crocs on the beach and went for a look. We could not afford the time to stop as we had 69 NMS to get to before dark if possible. They had a bit of a chat as we passed and Rob headed north.
It was quite rocky as we sailed through the shallows, the winds got higher so we furled the headsail and went on reefed mainsail alone and we sailed between 7.5 and 8.5 knots after leaving Wallis Banks we had to sail to windward not very nice, (the saying goes ‘gentlemen don’t sail to windward’). Well we had no choice then a few miles short of our destination we had to start an engine as to get close to land we had the wind on the nose. We arrived at a place to anchor just south of Jackson River at 1700 hours, we dropped the anchor in 4 metres of water on the electronic charts it indicated that we were close to the beach in 0.4 metres of water. However I must say that they are quite accurate at Seisia and sailing through the Wallis Banks.
After anchoring we did not put ropes away we left everything ready to go in the morning as we had no set a time to leave, we reckon that when we wake we will have a cup of tea then set sail.
I thought now was a good time for a nice cold beer so that is what Nancy and I did and we sat and watched the sunset in the Smokey haze. There has been fires all along the coast, it is all Aboriginal Land so I assume they are the ones lighting the fires.
As we anchored we had a welcoming committee of dolphins and turtles that came to see what we are about. Another surprise was that we have internet service here, no phone service but a low internet service. I am led to believe that all the Aboriginal areas have full and strong Wi-Fi internet services which is a bonus for us as I can get up to date weather tonight and in the morning before we leave. The only thing besides lots of trees on the shore were pelicans around ten in number floating up and down .
When it was dark I could see a faint glow in the sky of lights south of us around Cullen Point the latest charts show some road tracks that way near the Ducie River. There must be some sort of settlement there.
We had dinner and an early night to bed.
Jackson River to Gove
Wednesday – 17/10/2012
Today we start watches as it will take us two to three days sail to get to Gove just over 321NMS distance, we have not kept formal watches since we crossed the Pacific in 2008. We keep a four hours on four hours off system between the two of us, we find this a better way of getting some sleep when your off watch. The main problem is, is to teach the body to get sleep on demand it usually takes three days for the body to adjust and we will have reach our destiny by that time.
We set off at 0600 hours after having a wash , checking the weather on the internet and cup of tea, dawn was just starting. The wind was light to start with but we hoisted the mainsail to catch any available wind. We hadn’t gone a mile when the wind came not great wind but enough to sail, we unfurled the headsail and shut the engine down. We sailed along at around 4 to 5 knots to start with so I set the trolling line out it was only out for a short time when there was a strike. At first I could not reel it in then it started swimming towards us and I thought I had lost it but I kept reeling in as fast as I could then it started to fight again at one stage it jumped out of the water then when it got within 15 metres of the boat it came to the surface and I just reeled it in as it skated across the top of the water as I lifted it up on the boat I noticed why I had shared my catch with something else. The fish’s tail and a quarter of the body had been bitten off. It was a good size Spanish Mackerel, I filleted it and we only get two meals from this one due to the competition who took the third serve.
Nancy took the watch after breakfast and I started these scribbles we are 13NMS off the coast and sailing well around 5.5 to 6.5 knots. I checked the Wi-Fi when I started the computer and was surprised to find we still had service so I checked the AIS web page to see if there was any shipping activity around here from Weipa but none was found, but looking at the system I don’t think they cover the Gulf they have Cape York and Darwin areas.
We got about 20NMS out from the coast and the wind disappeared we had 2 knots of apparent wind and the sails just started to slap side to side so one motor started. and sails down.
We have had two lots of dolphin moments today and what great moments they were especially the second lot, about six or so and they were huge. They played between the bows for a while before they set of as they had spotted fish and swam there for a feed.
We had a good sail until the wind dropped right out and the seas glassed which was around 1130 hours, the sails started to flap so we dropped sails and used the starboard engine, when the tide was with us we managed 6 plus knots when it was against us we dropped to 4.5 to 5 knots. Mid afternoon the wind came in from the SW but not strong enough to sail alone so we hoisted sails and motor sailed this lifted our speed slightly but the wind was against us with the tide at times. At around 1730 hours I could see an aircraft approaching from the stern it was low flying and I knew it would be the coastal watch plane. I took a photo and waved as they went by at close range then waited for the radio call. After they went by the plane banked to starboard and headed in a northerly direction, it was a while before they called us this was probably due to the fact that they were checking the boats name on the system and getting the details. The crew was as polite as usual and asked the boats port of registration and our last port of call and our next port of call, then thanked me for our assistance and wished us a good evenings sail.
Nancy had dinner ready just before sunset, the seas were calm so we took diner and cameras out forward and sat on the front deck to watch another glorious sunset. After dinner I went for a short rest before taking the watch at 2000 hours.
During my watch the seas glassed out again and the wind dropped so I dropped the mainsail again as it just started flapping side to side which damages the sail so we just motored.
Thursday – 18/10/2012
Nancy took the watch at midnight, she prefers this watch rather than the 2000 hrs to midnight watch. During her watch at about 0315 hours some wind came and she unfurled the headsail, the mainsail is too big and heavy for her to handle. The different movement of the boat woke me and I went on deck to see what was happening and suggested we put the mainsail up which would be better, so we furled the headsail again and I went out to the mast whilst Nancy turned the boat into the wind to hoist the mainsail just as it started to rain. By the time the main was up I was drenched. When all had settled it was time for me to take the watch again. We had squalls all around us at daylight and I was pleased that I had hoisted the mainsail with a reef in it as we started to get winds in the high 20 knots and choppy seas of around 2 metres.
At 0600 hours we had been sailing for 24 hours and covered 133 nautical miles, not a great total but we are doing alright. Then at 0700 hours I did the radio sched with SICYC, Andy on ‘Paws’ who is still in the Whitsundays took our lat/long and we had a chat before he went on with other yachts calling in. 0730 hours I listened to the weather forecast on the HF radio sched, the seas and squalls are supposed to go by this afternoon.
The squalls eventually left us but it also took most of the wind and we had to start an engine, the seas appeared to get lumpy with large swells coming in from the NE this put pay to the sails, we dropped the mainsail as it was slapping side to side due to very low wind from directly behind and the swell hitting us off the starboard aft quarter. We tried just the headsail held out with a third sheet but ended up after a while doing the same.
Our progress thus far today has been slower than yesterday. Yesterdays hourly speed average for the 24 hour period was 5.54 knots, today for a 12 hour period is 5.25 knots.
At around 1330 hours I was reading my book sitting comfortably on the helm seat when I did my look around scanning the ocean for anything such as other ships and the first thing I saw at about 45⁰ off the port bow was the maritime services aircraft approaching at low height as it neared us it turned to pass behind, I went to the radio ready for the call but they did not call us, they just checked it was us and went on their way checking the rest of the areas. I have heard yachties complain about these guys calling and checking who we are and where we are going. As far as I am concerned they are doing a good job in protecting the borders and seaways of Australia. It is these aircraft crews that find the illegal immigrant boats, illegal fishing boats and other craft that get involved in illegal acts.
The seas remained sloppy all day with 2.2 metre swell from the NE it did settle a bit after sunset, the swell was still there but reduced in height.
Just after I took the watch last night I experienced a great dolphin moment with three dolphins coming up the starboard side and swimming and jumping alongside, the green starboard navigation light shines bright on the water and attracts many sea life. The incredible part was as they kept coming back along the side of the boat swimming underwater you could see them and the water glow around them from the phosphoresces that stirred with their movement. We continued to motor through the night.
Friday – 19/10/2012
We continued to motor until near daybreak when a little wind came so I unfurled some of the headsail it made a little difference but not much. At 0600 hours we had completed another 132.5 nautical miles for the last 24 hour period much the same as the day before so all going well we should reach Gove before dark tonight.
The day was pleasant but no wind motored all the day to Gove. It was a little exciting to see land ahead knowing that we had nearly finished the crossing of the Gulf and visiting a new area. We saw our first ship since leaving Seisia as we neared land it crossed behind us heading for Groote Eylandt.
Although we were near the land there was another 21NMS to go before arriving at Gove Harbour, the first thing that stands out as you approach Gove Harbour is the refinery . Gove was a major place for the Air Force during the second world war, they actually built the airstrip here that is used today, the place was named after a Pilot Officer William Gove who was killed in action. Today Gove has the refinery for bauxite and alumina which created the township of Nhulunbuy. In 2004 the population was just over 14.000 with 64% of these being indigenous people
We entered the harbour which is very clearly marked, short cuts can be made as there is deep water outside the marked channel but care should be taken not to round land points too closely as there are shoals and rocks close in, the electronic charts appeared to be accurate. We found an anchorage in amongst the moored and other anchored yachts and when all was squared away we had showers and headed to the sailing club for a cold beer and we ended up staying for dinner.
Tomorrow we have to source fuel and water ready for the next leg to Darwin.
Gove and Nhulunbuy
There are a few handy websites when visiting this area this is one I found helpful.
The Gove Boat Club is a friendly club and very laid back which is what the Northern Territory is. It does have some Aborigines that try newcomers out to buy them a beer. They come over very friendly and introduce themselves and tell you about the place and their people and then hit you for a beer we had such an experience. Our second sunset at the club an Aborigine approached us to buy a painting, it was quite nice but we did not want to encourage it, us in being a target. The next thing Gavin who we bought a beer for the night before approached Nancy with the same painting selling for the price of a beer $5.50 he was either stoned or had been drinking, Nancy again refused to buy it. A local on the next table told us that they had probably stolen the painting from one of their mothers and that is why it was only being sold for the price of a beer. It is quite sad that this happens.
The club was shut down last year but reopened again and the current manager started here just before last Christmas, he and his wife run the club and are very nice people.
You can take out a temporary membership and that will entitle you to use the facilities like showers, laundry and they have a careening stand that you can go alongside and top up with water at high tide. There is water available at the path to the left of the club where you can fill containers which we did at high tide, not so far to walk. When the tide goes out here it leaves mud flats so pick your times when going ashore.
As far as anchoring here it is a matter of finding a space between the other anchored or moored boats, naturally the local boats have the closest to shore spots but the depth is pretty much the same across the anchorage area. It is a well protected anchorage for any wind direction. The only fault is the dust that is stirred up by the stock piling that is all along the anchorage and if the wind turns then you get the soot and dust from ship loading from the refinery.
There are some moored boats here that you would not take to sea, they have either been left to rot or they are living accommodation for blokes that work at the refinery or mine, but I suppose that many moorings and marinas around Australia have a lot of these boat/yachts that have been neglected. It always surprises me that some boats left to rot in marinas yet the owner is paying marina fees to let it stay and rot, why don’t they get rid of them.
Nhulunbuy is approximately 12kms from Gove itself so we have stayed around here for a couple of days and we hire a car on Monday to go into Nhulunbuy to get fuel. I tried to get fuel from the Perkins wharf but unfortunately they do not open weekends unless you pay over $300 call out fee on top of the fuel cost. They could not fit me in until Wednesday and we are hopefully well on our way by then. So it is still going to be expensive for fuel here as the bloke at Perkins said you pay top price at the BP service station plus the hire car fee. We need to hire a car anyway because we need to buy some of that amber fluid called beer and here you have to obtain a permit to buy it which is a law of the Northern Territory to reduce the alcohol consumption of the Aboriginal people. Further more you can only buy a certain quantity. So if you’re heading this way stock up big time but keep it on your boat.
We also need to ask about a permit to enter Aboriginal grounds if we want to go ashore along the way to Darwin. We sent them an email months ago along with one to WA for a permit we have had the WA permit since the 16/08/12. Other yachties that have applied for them have never received the permits or they have completed the journey prior to receiving them. One tries to do the right thing and we do not get a result.
We need do some shopping and we have been told by the locals that to shop at Woolworths as it is the cheapest for groceries and alcohol.
Thanks to a couple of the SICYC friends that came along yesterday to see if they could do anything for us, Greg Smith and his mate Clem came along yesterday (Saturday) in their dinghy to say hello and see if they could get anything for us. Greg’s wife Jan had made contact with me through FB and said she would let Greg know we were arriving here and to call in. Greg is here to help Clem take his yacht south. They called back today with some welcome items for us. We sat and had a chat and I gave Clem some charts I had printed to where we have been and he is going and briefed him on some of the anchorages and where water and fuel can be obtained.
Today (Sunday) after the HF radio SICYC sched, breakfast and listening to Macca on Australia All Over we pulled the headsail down as it needs a bit of re-stitching on the UV protection strip some of the thread had damaged. So Nancy and I put the forward cover up and used that as our tent workshop, with sewing machine and generator we went to work stitching the UV strip. Gove seems to get a daily blow of wind although there was not much at sea the land form appears to accelerate what winds available, not that it is strong but it makes it awkward when trying to get a sail back up in place. We waited for near sunset when the wind dropped and we set to getting the headsail back on the furler. Nancy was winding the halyard with the winch whilst I manhandled the sail in place of the guide into the furler. When the sail got close to the top Nancy needed a break on the winch so we exchanged places. Then I saw stars, as I ducked under our cover and came up to the winch I did not see that Nancy had left the handle in the winch and crack went the head. Not having much hair up there these days to cushion the blow it cracked the head and the claret flowed, I had blood flowing down the side of my face and dripping off my chin. I did apply pressure with my hand and got Nancy to go and get a cloth to press down on the head. The sail was up flapping about in the breeze so after a couple of minutes holding the cloth on the wound we had to finish the job which we did.
When all was finished I thought I had better get cleaned up so Nancy got the Detol antiseptic out and clean me up then I had a wash down followed by getting some liquid back into me for what I lost, a couple of beers fixed that.
Monday – 22/10/2012
Had a rough night sleep with the old head, I had to sleep on raised pillows and lay on my back to make sure I did not re-open the wound, I woke up half way through the night with a terrific headache so got up and took some Panadol, the night was very still and when I went into the cockpit I could see the refinery with all lights and the reflection of it in the flat sea so I took a photo without my glasses on and hoped it turned out alright.
We hired a car or should I say a dual cab ute from Mannys Rentals – tel. (08) 89872300, he would be the cheapest hire car in town, the dual cab ute is not new and he works from home but for around $65 a day for the utility is well worth it when you compare prices at other places that are over $100. He will come down to you at the harbour then you drop him off on the way to town and pick him up on your last run for him to take the car back. So if you want a work horse to get stores fuel etc this is the cheapest way to go.
Once in town the first job was to get the first load of fuel as I knew we had to get two lots so we went to the BP service station and filled the five containers a little cheaper here than Seisia at $1:93 per litre. We then returned to the boat and decanted the fuel into the tanks then returned to Nhulunbuy to get permits to enter Aboriginal lands on the way to Darwin for when we would like to go ashore at some of the islands. We actually sent Darwin an email in July/August and never received a reply. The young lady at the Northern Lands Council was very good and we filled out a form and she said she would email us when she has done the permit. She did point out some islands that we are not allowed to land on unless it is an emergency.
(Note: We never received anything from them and I believe this is common, do the right thing and apply although you may never receive and answer. When you get to an island you wish to go ashore, go and ask to talk to an Elder and request permision to go ashore and in most cases they will welcome you. The fact is the office is doing wrong by these islands if they supplied permision people would just go ashore and probably buy art work from the people.)
The next thing we had to go to the Justice Department for a liquor license to purchase beer and wine. This is necessary due to the control of the drinking problems in the NT mainly with the Aboriginal people although there are problems with some Europeans. We were told that we would be put through the third degree from the young lady that issues the permits, we did not experience this in fact each office that we had attended today and there were three the ladies working there were very helpful. I think the secret is treat them as you wish to be treated. I wear a hat to protect my solar panel and when I go into someone’s office to talk to them I remove the hat, it is a sign of respect and let’s face it, it is me that needs something from them so it pays to be polite.
Then we had lunch at a cafe and then went off to have a look at the Roy Marika lookout on the hill named Nhulun which also known as Mt Saunders and then returned and started the shopping which is always fun with my dear Nancy, she writes out a shopping list but I don’t think she takes much notice of it until we are at or near the check out and then looks at it and then realises she has forgotten some item and what we have in the trolley I am sure is more than what was on the list. Grocery shopping finished and loaded into the car then we go to get the good stuff, beer and wine. During weekdays you can only purchase alcohol between 1400 hours and 2000 hours and only certain quantities. This is the rules in the NT.
We returned to the harbour and I had to make two trips in the dinghy with all our goods which was the remainder of the fuel required the groceries and the grog. After I returned the car after filling with fuel I did our last water run to top up our water tanks. So we are now ready to sail or motor in the morning depending on the winds.
Gove to Wessel Islands – Through The Hole In The Wall
Up early again this morning and did some scribbles for the blog but unfortunately could not upload it because we are on slow time as we have used our monthly amount so have to wait a couple of days. As soon as it became light we started to get going putting the covers away warming the engines, closing hatches etc. A large yacht ‘Ocean Pearl’ left just ahead of us they are also heading to Darwin but they are motoring at 8 knots so they will leave us behind. There are three blokes aboard we met a few times ashore we informed them about the tides at the ‘Hole in the Wall’, they were going to go through it at the wrong time. ‘The Hole in the Wall’ is a narrow waterway between Guluwuru Island and Raragala Island named Gugari Rip, but is known as the hole in the wall.
Gugari Rip tide flow can reach speeds of 8 knots plus and the direction of flow is it floods to the east and ebbs to the west and the best times to go through heading west is the first or last hour after high tide, the first hour being the better. The confusing part is when approaching Gugari Rip from the east the tide up to the rip floods to the west. This is good in the sense that you time your arrival for high tide and you have the tide with you all the way.
Information of Gove Boat Club re Hole in Wall. http://www.goveboatclub.com.au/index.php/component/k2/item/325-photos
Before we left this morning we had to wash the decks with sea water as the decks were covered in red dirt and with the morning dew it made quite a mess after cleaning up we weighed anchor and motored out of Gove Harbour, a ship was loading at the jetty and we had to go through a heavy dust haze that was coming from the conveyor belt. No wind to sail by and we had to motor so when we were clear of the harbour I shut one engine down. After a couple of miles a little wind kicked in but not enough to sail alone but enough to motor sail. Having the last ebb of tide coming out of the harbour gave us some extra speed and by the time we cleared the harbour and the tide change we had the flood tide with us all the way to the hole in the wall.
Our original plan was to go to Margaret Bay the other side of Cape Wilberforce but we left a little earlier than planned and we were doing a good speed we realised we could get to the hole in the wall by the change of tide.
After we left the harbour I put the trolling fishing line out and I noticed on the chart that there was a small area ahead that showed a contour line where the depths went from 28 metres to 17 metres so I headed straight through the centre of that patch and sure enough we caught a good size Spanish Mackerel enough for four meals for the two of us.
The other yacht ‘Ocean Pearl’ disappeared over the horizon and as we started to calculate the time for our arrival at the hole in the wall I said to Nancy they are going to get there too early if they are going to the same place. It is a little dangerous to try going through the hole in full flow unless you have a very powerful motor boat, the information given on the Gove Boat Club website states that The Hole in the Wall is a major topic in the bar of experiences had from people who did not get the time quite right. On the way to ‘The Hole in the Wall’ takes you through two other passages, one just after Cape Wilberforce between Point William and Bromby Island and the other between Cotton and Wigram Island 6NMS further on both of these flood to the west so we had the tide with us. Both of these passages are quite beautiful with the islands and rock formations.
An interesting point is that we had internet coverage all the way to Cotton and Wigram Islands, this is Telstra coverage like or hate them they give the better coverage around the coast and off the coast, as I mentioned before most Aboriginal settlements have Wi-Fi towers, we do have an external short black antenna on the stern of the boat mounted on the dinghy davits which helps get a better signal.
When we passed through the second passage we got NE winds which was not predicted and we had a beam on swell which made things a little uncomfortable, it is just over 15NMS to the hole in the wall from the second passage and it was a rollie ride all the way.
As we neared the hole in the wall we were a little early so I slowed the boat to get there around the right time, ahead we could see ‘Ocean Pearl’ then as we got closer I called them on the radio, the skipper said they got there 2 hours too early so they were trying a bit of fishing without any luck. I said to him that he can go through the passage first as he is faster than us.
They headed off to go through a few minutes early and I followed at a great distance and watched as they entered, I could see that as they entered the tide was flowing against them so I backed off a little, they called us on the radio and told us that it was still flowing strong and to wait a while which we did. 1400 hours was the tide change time and we started to enter then. I think we caught it at near still tide as I was able to go through at what speed I wanted to the tide was not pushing us one way or the other, there were a few rips that moved us side to side but that was all. Again it is something to see the landscape and the different rock formations. The land is Aboriginal Land and we are not allowed to step on the land other than in case of emergency. However, it looks like in earlier times some people have painted their names on some of the rocks in the passage including two naval ships HMAS Ardent 1978 and HMAS Wollongong in 1988 not a good example boys and girls.
We have been told that going through the Hole in the Wall at low still tide you see a lot more of the rock formations.
After going through the passage we had a slow sail down to the Gurulilya Bay, it is the third bay south on the island. It is a good anchorage we did get as close as possible to the northern side as there was a little swell coming in with the NE winds but other than a little rocking with the tide change which was mild it was very comfortable night. It is a shame we cannot go ashore on these islands, well in truth we are allowed to go ashore up to the high tide mark but no further. These islands have caves and Aboriginal paintings in the caves that were painted way before white man inhabited this country.
It had been a big day and getting up early and staying at the helm all day I was very tired so after a good feed of that Spanish Mackerel and a couple of drinks I was in bed by 2030 hours.
Wednesday – 24/10/2012
Got up around 0445 hours and put the kettle on, need that cup of tea to start the day, had breakfast whilst I knocked out a few scribbles before getting ready to sail. The air was still and seas very calm looks like iron sails today. As we left the anchorage we got a little wind just enough to put a sail up and motor sail which added an extra three quarters of a knot to our speed. It sounds very little until you multiply it by 10 hours and you have covered a lot more distance. Our plan today is to get to an Unnamed bay south end of Elcho Island near Ganawa Point which is about 52NMS. We motor sailed around to the top of Stevens Island and down to Drysdale Island before the wind kicked in we then hoisted the mainsail and reset the headsail and we were off under sail alone. It is nice to cut the engine and just hear the boat cutting through the water. Since heading to Cape York and on to where we are now the country is on fire in different places the burn offs are continuous.
I found the seas around this island group to be a little different to the charts in regards to depths and one should be aware of this for example before reaching Stevens Island there are a few contours on the charts showing the different depths, as we went through a patch that indicated 16 metres on the chart the depth sounder showed 30 metres, the 30 metre patch on the chart was actually nearly one mile to the south. At the top of Stevens Island it had a 50 metre hole not marked on the chart. This areas paper charts have a note that the sources of information were from the RAN Hydro geographical Office in 1993 and the upright figures on the chart are from previous unsuitable survey. There are many reporting’s of information relating to depths written on the chart that date back many years so one must be very aware. Electronic charts do not provide that information. These areas are not used by regular shipping other than the barges that deliver goods to the different communities and yachties and boat owners going to Darwin. The track I took I had no problems as far as going or finding any shallows the waters were all deeper than what was on the charts.
The islands we pass appear to be so different from each other with different rock formations and different vegetation. Drysdale Island has a pearl farm located there and apparently many of the islands up here have pearl farm leases.
The days sail was good and we covered the miles and anchored by 1540 hours, the day was very sunny and around 35⁰C so the wind was nice to have to keep us cool as well as sail.
The anchorage here is good a little swell creeping in from a NE wind but not uncomfortable, Refuge Bay to the north would be a better anchorage however, we wanted to get the extra miles so we have less tomorrow, we have a 60NM sail tomorrow we hope we have some wind because the rest of the week looks hopeless and we have to use the iron sails (engines). Normally we would wait for wind but time is getting on and the cyclone season is coming upon us and I would prefer to be behind the locks of the marina than out here if an early cyclone comes to play.
Just for information again there is internet service here and was available for the 10NMS before we anchored which is great to get weather information. I do get the weather through the HF radio but the internet provides the seven day forecast and all the charts and radar.
Below is information from the internet on Elcho Island:
The island is home to the largest Aboriginal community in northeast Arnhem Land, with approximately 2,000 residents living in the main settlement of Galiwin’ku and across many outstations including Inglis Island on the namesake island and Matamata, Maparru, and Gariyak on the mainland. The island has a base population of 2,200 people, including 70 non-Aboriginal people. It is the home of the Aboriginal folk musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu. The population of Galiwin’ku varies during the seasons, with many outstation residents migrating to the community during the wet season due to inaccessibility. The community also serves approximately 25 outstations with a total population of approx. 450 people, with 12 of the outstations on Elcho Island, which are listed from north to south:
2. Gawa (Gäwa)
3. Banthula (Gampura)
4. Djurranalpi (Djanalpi)
10. Ngayawilli (First Creek)
Forty-eight per cent of the population is under 20 years of age, with 7% over 50.
Galiwin’ku is a traditional Aboriginal community with restricted access; permission to visit is required by law and can be made through the Northern Land Council directly or via the Galiwin’ku Council. Total alcohol restrictions apply and there is no gasoline available on the island; all gasoline-powered vehicles use the low-aromatic petrol ‘Opal’ as a fuel substitute.
The settlement was originally established as a Methodist mission in 1942, with the arrival of Harold Shepherdson, a lay associate of the Methodist Overseas Mission from Milingimbi It remained under Church direction until 1974 when it became self-managed. Eighteen connected clan groups within the Elcho Island locale have close cultural ties with mainland Arnhem Land clans and language groups. The most commonly spoken languages are Djambarrpuyngu and Gupapuyngu (both Yolngu Matha languages). However, there are at least twelve more languages in use in the region.
Well tomorrow is an early start we are not sure whether we will get wind or if it will stay north of us.
Elcho Island to South Goulburn Island
Thursday – 25/10/2012 and Friday – 26/10/2012
As I have said before we have Plan ‘A’, Plan ‘B’ and whatever, this is why people in this type of cruising life need to be able to sail at night. (I have met some that have never sailed at night).
We left Elcho Island before light this morning running the engines for a while to charge the batteries and getting clear of the headland, as the sun came up the wind came, not great wind but enough to sail. The engines shut down and we are under sail but only sailing at 4 to 5 knots but sailing which is good. Our plan is to sail the short cut through Milingimbi Inlet this area is listed as not surveyed or unsatisfactorily surveyed so we have to keep a very close watch, as I mentioned before where this area has been surveyed it was a very long time ago the chart has identified areas that have been reported that go back as far as 1937.
As we approached Milingimbi Passage the wind became sheltered by Crocodile Island on our starboard side, the waters were a beautiful blue colour and you could see some of the shallows. The other problem we have is that our paper charts that we purchased which is the full portfolio of charts between Cape York to Port Headland do not have the close in scale from the bottom of Elcho Island to Cape Stewart it only has the broad area chart which does not show the greater detail of this area probably because the information is not reliable.
I have two chart plotters a Raymarine and a Garmin and it is surprising at times the difference of items and depths that are shown to be different with each other although the charts in each were purchased in the same year.
The electronic charts like the paper charts show a dotted line passage through Milingimbi Inlet and has written along it UNSURVEYED but it is unclear which side the line they are talking about because they have depths charted on both sides. I also have charts on my computer which indicate the passage to be down the centre and that is what I decided to do was follow that. About half way through I start to run out of water in the end I followed the starboard dotted line and found plenty of depth along this line and continued to follow it right the way through and all was well, I must say though we had checked the tides at Crocodile Islands but found on the electronic charts there was another tide chart near Milingimbi that was totally opposite we were at low tide not high tide.
Milingimbi brings me back to the days I was on HMAS Attack in 1968 we patrolled the north coast and would come to these missions, I was fascinated with Milingimbi Aboriginal people lived in this mission under Methodist overseas mission information can be obtained on website, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milingimbi_Island
What seemed so special in those times to me was that the area was well run and the Aborigines appeared to be very happy, they had split the mission into two different areas one the new time and one the old time and the Aborigines could choose which they wished to live. They had built cold rooms and had purchased a trawler and they would fish and send their catches to Darwin for sale along with their art works. The mission all ended in 1974 when the Aboriginal people got their independence, I believe that they are doing very well although I cannot help but think that in some cases the Aboriginal people have had the mission people replaced with some bureaucratic systems such as some land councils that are staffed by white people but I can’t say for sure. It was fond times meeting these people and sailing these waters with a great crew that we had.
Our plan ‘A’ was to anchor at Cape Stewart which we found to be unsuitable due to the wind and sea direction, Plan ‘B’ was for the bay just beyond that Boucaut Bay, we reckoned that we could sneak in behind the point of the bay and get some protection, this failed because when we looked at the electronic charts it showed up as Aboriginal waters with a boundary that went down the bay and we are not allowed to anchor there. The next choice was our planned next anchorage being the Liverpool River but we would not make it before dark and I am not fond of entering rivers I do not know in the dark and infested with crocodiles. The decision was made that we head to the Goulburn Islands and that would mean we sail all night. As we were leaving Milingimbi Inlet a Perkins Barge was entering the passage into Milingimbi and a little while later an Army Barge passed us the only other vessel we have seen for a couple of days.
The winds were with us and we were doing some great sailing although a little uncomfortable and this was going to make it hard to sleep when not on watch. We sailed along at around 8 knots. I stayed on watch until sunset as I knew I would not sleep and Nancy made dinner after putting that fish we caught back in the fridge because we would not be able to use the BBQ in this wind, she cooked some great curried sausages and rice. Just before sunset we had a visitor a young Brown Boobie bird landed on the forward deck and looked quite comfortable when I found it, we did not see it land. It sat there cleaning itself and as the sun set it tucked his beak into its back and fell asleep and stayed for the duration, in fact I think it was the only one that slept on board properly. We had a great sail right through the night, not any real sleep but a good sail. Nancy had a nap when I took the shift at 2000 hours and I tried to sleep when she took over at midnight, in the end I went on the cockpit cushions and just fell asleep when Nancy woke me as we neared Goulburn Islands. We arrived at the Goulburn Islands and it was still dark we decided with wind and sea the best place to anchor was South West Bay on South Goulburn Island and as a bonus I had Craig’s or ‘Scarlett’s’ waypoint for the anchorage from their around Oz trip last year. We rounded the point and noticed two other boats anchored but not where we wanted to go, one boat was well lit and looked like a patrol boat which ended up being a Customs patrol boat.
We dropped the anchor just as first light was about to appear, our feathered friend was still with us and only moved away whilst Nancy got close to drop the anchor. After anchoring and tidying up we sat on the forward deck with our feathered friend and watched the sunrise, our friend was looking all around trying to find out where he or she was it was doing this continually for a long while, we could get very close to him or her and it did not appear to be scared. Our feathered friend had left several calling cards on the deck for me to clean up. The truth was that all the decks needed cleaning from anchoring at the islands with the fires and dust coming from them the boat was dirty, so I set to washing the decks with salt water after the sun was up our friend waddled to the front of the boat and finally went down to the water for a drink before flying off.
When I had finished cleaning the Customs vessel (what I thought was a Navy patrol boat) called on the radio to take our particulars part of the coastal watch process they were very polite, I gave them our details and wished them a good day as they did us.
After the bird had gone we had breakfast and then I went had a wash and had a sleep today is a rest day we sail again tomorrow.
The following is an extract from the internet, it is unfortunate that we have not received any permits from the Northern Land Council, we emailed the Darwin office in July/August and did not receive an answer, the young lady in Gove said she would email the permits through it may be that it takes time to get them but we have not received anything to date so we have to respect the land owners and not go ashore.
The North and South Goulburn Islands are located in Auray Bay off the northern Arnhem Land coast. The islands are Aboriginal-owned and permits from the Northern Land Council are essential for all visitors. The Goulburn Islands are not set up for tourism, but intrepid sailors and fishermen may occasionally find themselves on their shores.
The Warruwi people are the traditional owners of the Goulburn Islands and the main language, Mawng, is spoken by about 750 people. Warruwi community is located on the southern tip of the south island and is a dry community (no alcohol). Fishing is the main pastime of local people, who are allowed to hunt the turtles and dugong prevalent in the area. The lifestyle is slow and relaxing and the climate is slightly cooler than Darwin.
South Goulburn Island to Valencia Island
Saturday – 27/10/2012
Yesterday was a well earned rest day and after a nice fish dinner last night we had a good night’s sleep but as always up very early this morning and was up and away by first light. We did not expect any wind today going on the forecast in fact there is little wind for the next week so it looks like motoring or motor sailing if we are lucky.
Today’s run is only about 40NMS and by leaving early we catch the tide. We motored out of the anchorage and the sea was like glass not a ripple and no wind we started seeing a lot of algae floating passed and at one time I saw a sea snake cream colour with bands a brown colour, it was swimming towards the back of the boat but did not make it thank heavens.
After a while a little breeze arrived so I put the headsail out to see if we could gain something out of it and we picked up near half a knot. Sailing in these waters one has to keep an eye on things continually as these waters are not properly surveyed and depths on paper and electronic charts are a little different at times with the depths on the depth sounder and at times disagree with each other. This also goes for the different electronic charts.
One of the sad things of this voyage is not being able to visit some of the islands due to the fact that we have not received permits from the Northern Lands Council, this makes it difficult to write about the island because we cannot talk to anyone so we have to just copy what we find on the internet when we look up things for our own interest. A lot of these island have thriving communities that do and sell their art works through agents in Darwin, it would have been good to meet these people and see their work.
We went past De Courey Head and Cape Cockburn and changed course for Valencia Island where we anchored on the southern side, it is a well protected anchorage and has deep water nearly up to the beach we anchored a little off shore to keep away from the insects if we are lucky. We sailed 48 NMS with one engine one sail with an average speed of 6.1 knots. We tried to fish along the way and had one strike but as I was pulling it in the line went loose but the lure was still attached so I left it out without any luck until we were going in to anchor. When I finally pulled the line in I noticed that the lure had been badly and severely attacked, so I don’t know what hit it and maybe I don’t want to know.
The days are certainly warmer now with around 35⁰C and about 82% humidity so we are staying in the shade quite a lot.
We will leave again early in the morning for Port Essington where we hope to stay for a couple of days, we may as well as there is no wind for some time.
Valentia Island to Port Essington via Bowen Strait
We weighed anchor at 0410 hours as we needed to catch the ebbing tide through Bowen Strait to pick up the 1.5 knot tidal flow and go along with it rather than have it against us. From here on the tides are a most important factor as they get larger and stronger. As friends of our experienced on the passage to Darwin when they miss calculated the tide they we going 8.5 knots through the water but only 3.8 knots across the ground having nearly 5 knots of current against them.
As we went along I could see flashes in the sky to the southwest it was a large electrical storm in the distance and I was hoping that is where it would stay well in the distance by daylight it had gone away.
It is 12NMS from the anchorage at Valentia Island to the Bowen Strait passage so the plan was to arrive just on daylight so that I could see the water as there is some shallow areas, we got there just as planned first light. I found the electronic charts were quite accurate as far as the passage but depths were a little different in places but no threat to our passage. As daylight came we thought it would be a good time and place to set our trolling line and try and catch another fish there are going to be some different depths as we go along where there is a chance that is where the fish will be around one of those contours.
As we started to pass the bottom end of Crocker Island we noticed buildings on the point we were not sure if it is a Rangers Station or a settlement. Just after passing it the fishing line had a strike so I started hauling it in it looked a good size when I saw it jump out of the water a few times, I reeled it in and landed it on the bottom transom step to get it with the gaff but before I could it gave a large struggle and the hook came out and it slid back into the water and swam away. It was a Giant Queenfish rated as 5 star for taste. Nancy was taking a movie and I asked her if she got a photo of the fish? She said she was taking a movie when I looked at it the only thing that was on the movie was one splash of the fish before I landed it and the rest was me reeling the fish in. Good helps hard to find. We continued trolling but not a thing all day.
We had to motor all the way what wind we had was mainly what we were making and that was on the nose, the water was flat and it was a pleasant day warming up very fast. Bowen Strait is quite wide and as I have mentioned before that these areas have not been that well surveyed and all the charts give this warning so you have to be continually alert and watching the sea surface and the depth sounder. Where the chart showed 6 metres for a large area I was getting up to 20 metres depth in places. Bowen Strait has a large area in the top half where there is very shallow waters identified looking at the chart there is a wide deeper area to the port side and a narrower deeper area to the starboard side of the shallows. My first thought was to go the wider area and as we were about 1NM from it I noticed a Sealink Barge north in the distance heading our way but it appeared to be coming down the narrow side. I called them up on the radio for a chat and asked their advice. The barge was ‘Victoria 8’ his comment was that they always travel along the Crocker Island side he has never gone down the other side so he did not know. You can’t beat local knowledge, I think going up the wide side would probably be alright but I know now through local knowledge that the narrow side is definitely alright so we changed course and went that way. As we passed we waved a thank you to the skipper.
To the north of this narrow stretch was the shallowest part we had come across which was 4.5 metres, naturally the tide was going out but the tide difference this morning was only 1.5 metres. Looking at the tide tables at the moment we have a smaller tide difference in the mornings than in the evening. The larger tide differences start at Port Essington onwards to Darwin with Darwin being the biggest difference but then again on our next leg of this voyage going west of Darwin gets bigger again.
After the shallow narrow section we changed course for Point Danger being the top western point of the Bowen Strait another yacht was heading south and called us on the radio to ask about the crossing of the Gulf and what had the weather been like. We gave them what information we had and wished them a safe sail.
We headed on to round Sandy Island No.2 a large sandy and coral island just off the coast near Point Danger looks very inviting. We continued along the coast to Port Essington passing on the way Sandy Island No.1. These areas are very significant to studies conducted regarding the bleaching of the reefs though the natural warming of the world.
We arrived at Port Essington and anchored near the Rangers Station as the guide book stated in line with the beach near Black Point west of the Jetty. Once anchored we went ashore and reported to the Ranger, they are quite casual here and we met the Parks Officer Andy he was a nice bloke and very helpful he took us inside the information centre and gave us some pamphlets and we had a friendly chat before having a look at the displays. He was telling us one of his work colleagues had built a dugout canoe that was being launched at 1700 hours if we wanted to check it out.
We returned on board it was very hot and we watched the launching from the boat. We had a quiet night we were both tired and went to bed early.
Monday – 29/10/2012
We were up again before sunrise and what a beautiful sunrise it was this morning the air was still and the sea was like glass. Our plan is to go ashore for the walks before it gets too hot so we had an early breakfast and went ashore straight after the radio sched at 0700 hours. The radio sched was unsuccessful this morning with too much background noise and Asian chatter the skip must have been the wrong way.
We got ashore and went to the start of the walks, Nancy asked if I had taken a photo of the outside of the information centre and I hadn’t so as I went to take a photo I realised I had left the battery in the charger back on board. Not happy. So photos of this first walk is care of Nancy. The first walk is the Wuwurdi Walk around some wet lands an 800 metre walk and there is a sign that points to the walk and has the usual adult holding a child’s hand figure and below a crocodile figure and below that a no swimming sign. As we walked we noticed droppings like cow dung which turned out to be from banteng’s a type water buffalo which originated from Indonesia that they are trying to rid from this section of the park. The bantengs the pigs and some other now feral species were brought here by the British when setting up the settlement. Walking around wetlands with croc signs makes one very alert to what is around. We came to the first part of the wetland and the bird life there was quite something to see. We continued walking and all of a sudden something rushed out from the bush to my left, it scared the crap out of me, it was a very large wild pig, visions that I had for a moment made the heart race a little. We continued walking after we stopped laughing. As we walked along there were small lizards darting across in front of us then we came across this awful smell as though something had died. It was some very dead large fish with fillets cut off in a cage with an open front, we learned later that they were placed there with 10/80 bait to get rid of the pigs, the Ranger told us that they have motion cameras there and some nights they have up to 40 wild pigs visit.
We walked on and found a great viewing spot of the wetlands with all the bird life being early morning all the birds were active and not hiding from the sun.
After this walk we went back to check with Andy he gave us the information about the pigs and water buffalo and shown us where they installed a fence just outside this section of the park where they will cull the pigs and water buffalo as they destroy the wetlands and make it difficult for the native animals in the dry season by damaging the water areas. He then suggested that we take our dinghy on the next venture rather than the long walk to the monument in this heat. So we set off on the next trek out towards the monument by dinghy and look at the coral reefs on the way. It was a very low tide this morning so looking at the reefs was good although the water was a little murky. We landed the dinghy in what we thought was the better place to then walk to the monument but unfortunately the monument was still too far to walk in the heat and the very hot sand.
Along the way we met some young people that were here as volunteer conservationist they were lazing in the shade of a tree and had their camp just beyond the beach. We stayed and chatted for a while they are here to study the turtles in the area. After we chatted we continued and it was when we got to the next point we realised it was going to be too far in this heat so we turned back. We got back to the dinghy then back to the boat and weighed anchor for Victoria Ruins.
The Victoria Ruins is about 12NMS further in Port Essington and at first we had a little wind and we slowly sailed then the wind died and we motor sailed until the sail just flapped and we just motored. We anchored just off the beach south of Minto Point in about 4 metres of water, we are getting afternoon northerly winds at the moment so we get some small rapid waves but not uncomfortable as it is mainly on the nose. The plan was to anchor here for the night and go ashore early in the morning for the walk around the ruins. We settled in for a quiet night had dinner and a few wines.
Victoria Settlement Ruins – Port Essington
Tuesday – 30/10/2012
We did the radio sched then went ashore before having breakfast the Victoria Ruins walk takes about 2 hours and we wanted to head back north whilst still on ebb tide, this gives us 2 hours walk and 2 hours sail or more like motor there is no wind whatsoever. We arrived at the beach and then started the walk after securing the dinghy. The first ruins is that of John Lewis’s house which was built in more recent times, Lewis came over from Pine Creek in the 1870’s with his partners with the intention of providing buffalo meat for the Darwin market, these stones were probably taken from the original Victoria village. The original settlement consisted of ammunition magazine built below ground level to reduce damage if an explosion should occur. Government House which was probably the first to be built on piers with the original reason being the uneven ground but was found to be cooler in the hot humid weather. Married quarters row of cottages where the fire places now remain, the blacksmiths forge, quartermasters stores, Hospital and hospital kitchens, a lime kiln and the cemetery.
It makes one wonder why they even tried building a settlement at this location the reason for it was in 1818 Captain Philip John Parker King explored and named the Cobourg Peninsular and Port Essington. His surveys determined the locations of the first European Settlements in Northern Australia, Fort Dundas, Wellington and Victoria. With the Dutch and the French expansions in Southern East Indies the British Government decided to establish settlements along the northern coast of Australia, After failure and abandonment of two settlements Victoria was constructed and was a settlement by 1838. One mistake Captain King made was that he assumed the place was plentiful of water as he had visited just after a good wet season but there was little water in a long hard dry season.
This settlement was abandoned after 11 years in November 1849, Expectations of trade had not been met, supplies had become infrequent and fever and death more common.
To my way of thinking it would be hard to get passing trade when the settlement was 12 NMS inside Port Essington they would have had a better chance if the village had been built where the Ranger Station is today.
After the 2 hour walk we weighed anchor and caught the tide under one engine to Coral Bay and then into Seven Spirit Bay where the Eco Resort is. It was a calm flat hot day as we motored north I spotted a Customs Patrol Boat anchored on the opposite side and was wondering whether it was the same one as we spoke to at South Goulburn Island, they did not call us as we passed so I thought it could be and they know who we are. We got well passed them and just near where we turn to go into Coral Bay when they called, “The sailing catamaran exiting Port Essington this is Customs Vessel Hervey Bay on 16 do you copy?” We answered them and they kept calling, obviously they are not receiving us, we checked that we were getting out by using our handheld and we were transmitting alright, I even tried calling them on the handheld radio but still they could not hear us. I think they must have their volume turned down.
Seven Spirit Bay – Port Essington
Tuesday – 30/10/2012
When we got to Seven Spirit Bay and called the resort they answered us alright so we were getting out so it must have been the Customs vessel that had the problem. They did not come after us anyway.
When Nancy talked to Vicki at the resort she was very friendly and invited us to come ashore for a swim in their pool. So after a nanna nap we ventured ashore and as soon as we arrived Kim was there to welcome us and she had brought the golf buggy to pick us up and take us to the resort. Kim explained that the resort is in close down mode for the wet season and they did not have any guests with the last leaving yesterday although they do have one more late arrival tomorrow. Kim explained that it was the chef’s day off but she could ask him to cook us dinner if we wanted or we could have dinner with the staff as Vicki was doing the cooking and they were having a BBQ. We said we would love to join the staff and have dinner with them if she did not mind. We got to the resort and Kim introduced us to her husband Graham and some of the other staff, Chad the chef, Vicki who we had spoken to on the radio and her husband Ian , Petite a young French lady, Franci and Lukas who are a young German couple. Petite, Franci and Lukas actually leave tomorrow as their term of employment has come to an end as part of the wet season close down.
Kim explained that if people still wanted to come here in the wet season they would still take the bookings as there will still be some staff here, but it is very unlikely people would come in the wet.
The resort is a get away from it all resort no TV no mobile phone service or internet with the exception of the office that has internet and phone. The resort is very nice with a great swimming pool with gardens all around it and the occasional visit from the wallabies that hop around the lawns with some night a banteng visits.
We had a couple of drinks at the bar and a chat with Kim and Graham before we went for a swim, it was good to have a swim we have not been able to do that since Lizard Island due to some big lizards in the water named crocodiles, there are also the box jelly fish.
After a swim it was time for dinner it was good to sit down with these people they are a great bunch with good sense of humour. The BBQ tonight was also a send off for the three staff that were leaving so we were privileged to be able to join them. Dinner was great with steak, prawns and salads with pepper sauce and Franci had made an authentic German apple strudel. Naturally as we are guests we were paying customers but Kim just charged us staff prices, Kim has run a tab there for us so we just pay for what we have before we leave. After dinner and a bit more of a chat Kim drove us back to the dinghy and we have organised to go back in the morning and Kim is going to take us on a 2 hour tour.
This resort is quite isolated you can only get here by plane or by boat and it can be difficult for the staff if a lot of people drop in unexpectedly in the preparation of food. In normal places a lot of things can be pre-prepared, most restaurants and resorts in major cities can get away with it because they have a large turnover of people. At a resort like this one they may have a number of guests for a few days or weeks then nothing for a few days so you cannot keep pre-prepared food ingredients everything has to be made at the time of need so if a few yachts turn up and state they want to stay for dinner it puts a lot of work on the chef plus the other side is the amount of stock that they have at the time. Kim told us that they were running low on stock and was awaiting the supplies that are arriving tomorrow.
So yachties and boaties out there I do recommend that you call in and meet these friendly people but it may be of benefit to these people if when you enter Port Essington to give them a call on Ch16 VHF radio and give them a bit of notice. The first night in the port you will probably anchor at the rangers station because you have to report into them to let them know your intentions so it is possible to give them at least one days notice, two days if you are going down to Victoria settlement ruins. Port Essington has a number of nice anchorages, there are a couple of no go zones where there are Aboriginal living areas and sacred sites. Some anchorages this time of year can get a little rollie with the northerly winds but not uncomfortable.
Wednesday – 31/10/2012
This morning we headed ashore at 0800 hours to meet with Kim at the resort as she was taking us on a tour, a 2 hour tour at very reasonable price we set off on the bush tracks to the beach at Kennedy’s Bay and then over to the micro bat cave that had a number of the micro bats up huddled on the roof of the cave. Apparently there used to be more caves and many more of these bats but cyclone Inga that hit in 2005 washed away the caves and it has taken a long time for the bats to come back. These bats are an endangered species. From there we went to Gunners Quoin which is a high lookout over the sea and at low tide it had exposed the sand bars and rock formations. Kim had looked after us all the way with drinking water fruit and nuts to eat.
We returned back to the resort and had a cold beer before returning on board for lunch and a rest, Kim said that we could stay ashore and hang around the swimming pool if we wished. But I think a little rest aboard is in order and we will go ashore in the afternoon for a swim and dinner.
After our rest and clean we went ashore at around 1600 hours we met the manager Leith who had returned from a trip to Darwin, a nice young man in his late 20’s they say he is a bit of a dare devil spear fishing in these waters and removing death adders from around the place when they get too close to the resort, they have a young croc in an enclosure at the resort that is due for releasing and they say that’s a job for Leith after having a talk with Leith we then had a swim the water was like having a warm bath after a long soak in the pool we went and had a drink then we joined the staff out the back for dinner. We could have gone in the restaurant and had dinner a’lacarte but the staff are great people to be with, this is probably not the normal situation but I think we were allowed to do this because they were in the wet season closing down mode. We had a fine meal and a few laughs and a good chat before returning on board after fixing up our tab for the tour, drinks and meals.
The resort is a five star resort and if staying at the resort you will have top service and very fine meals with a very good chef, the price to stay per night might sound a little expensive but five star resorts are a little that way it is no different to any other five star resort prices. This resort however, has the added cost to running in an isolated area all stores have to be shipped by one of the barge companies from Darwin, they have to run their own power station and pump their water so there is a lot of expense in running such a place. In talking of water here they pump water from a natural spring the water is that clear and high quality out of the ground that they have a license to bottle the water if they wished to but at this stage they do not.
We have enjoyed our time with these people and we have made some new friends to keep in contact with, it has been a very enjoyable few days.
To our new friends at Seven Spirit Bay Resort, thank you for a most enjoyable time.
Tomorrow we sail or motor as there is hardly any wind for the next week. We will catch the end of the ebb tide to get out of Port Essington and then pick the flood tide going west when we get out to sea.
Port Essington to Darwin
Thursday – 01/11/2012
There was no rush to leave Seven Spirit Bay this morning as the plan was to sail out on the last hour of the ebb tide this would assist us out of the port and by the time we cleared the headland the flood tide flowing west would assist us on our way to Cape Don.
So we sailed out at 1030 hours and I am pleased to say we sailed we had the winds with us but I don’t know how long. Our plan was to anchor near Cape Don in Alcaro Bay being a short run of around 30NMS which we should get there quite early in the afternoon.
In leaving Port Essington it is best to clear the headland by about 3.5NMS as there are some rough patches closer to the coast and some shoals. As we left the port there was another Sealink Barge heading our way and an Army barge heading towards Darwin that passed us. Soon after we changed course we lost most of the driving wind and eventually had to motor sail. As we passed Lingi Point you could feel the boat pick up speed with the tide flow into Dundas Strait, we changed course to enter Alcaro Bay soon after. We entered Alcaro Bay and dropped the anchor and was pleased with the day our calculations worked well with the tides working for us.
This anchorage is good holding and would be good in the trades, at the moment we have northerlies and the anchorage sets up a little roll but not uncomfortable.
It is early to bed we have to sail at 0300 hours in the morning to catch the flood tide. Leaving hear 4 hours before Darwin’s high tide should see us go right through with the different tidal flows through Dundas Strait, Clarence Strait, Howard Channel, Beagle Gulf and Port of Darwin to do this we need to average around 7 knots.
There is a cruising guide the NT Coast by John M Knight that has some good information and tide tables showing charts of the tidal flows. I have tried to simplify this on the charts attached. The key factor in sailing from Cape Don to Darwin is to leave the Cape Don area 4 hours before Darwin’s high tide time, take the suggested route shown on the charts which saves around 4NMS from the suggested track on charts and chart plotters. I have listed four waypoints on the charts for this short cut after those just follow the recommended rout through Howard Channel.
I was surprised at the run we had and the distance covered, when leaving Cape Don area we had one engine going and the sails up, the seas were flat and the only wind was the apparent wind that we made the tidal flow was strong and we were travelling at 8.2 knots across the ground this slowed to 6 knots after around one hour. The concern is if we lost too much speed we would miss the tidal flow further south so the idea was to keep an eye on the time matched with the tide charts and where we needed to be. We needed to be passing Cape Hotham at 4 hours after Darwin’s high tide to pick up the tidal flow through Howard’s Channel, to do this I had to start another engine to pick up a bit of time being that we had no wind. We passed Cape Hotham 30 minutes late but it did not matter as we entered Howard’s Passage we picked up speed through some turbulent water reaching speeds of 12.4 knots across the ground at this point we shut one engine down and had some apparent wind in the sails, after getting through that channel we changed course for Darwin via Beagle Gulf and the tidal flow was still with us and we continued at a speed of around 6 knots, we then reached the Port of Darwin and headed for Fanny Bay and anchored near the sailing club. We had travelled 108 nautical miles in 12 hours and 10 minutes this gave us an average speed of 9 knots for the whole distance.
This whole passage probably would not worry power boats like it does yachts because they have the power to get through the water against the tidal flows where yachts top speeds are around the 7 to 8 knots. However, if we had a power boat I would make sure I had the tidal flow with me at Howards Channel. The best thing a yacht can do if you miss the tidal flow is go and anchor and wait for the right time.
After anchoring and getting the covers on we enjoyed a well deserved coldie. We made contact with Alison and Rob who we know through Bluewater Sailing FB website that live here in Darwin and they are going to assist us in the morning to go into the marina through the lock which will be interesting the only lock I have been in is the Panama Canal and that is a lot wider than this lock.
We now spend the wet season in Darwin so we can sail to the Kimberley when the waters run over the waterfalls.
Darwin and Bayview Marina
Saturday – 03/11/2012
After talking to Rob and Alison last night on the phone we made the plan that I ring Jo the lockmaster at the marina at 0600 hours and organise the lock opening at 0800 hours then pick Alison and Rob up near the sailing club to assist us with local knowledge and to get through the lock. This plan failed because to have the lock opened prior to 0900 hours you have to phone before 1800 hours the day before. Rob suggested we head off before 0800 hours and contact Jo at 0800 hours when she is available to answer the phone and book for 0900 hours this we did but there was still a hold up as I was not expected to arrive until tomorrow and they had to move a boat out of the berth so it was a little later that we got in.
I picked Alison and Rob up in the dinghy from the boat ramp near the yacht club at Fannie Bay, this was our first time meeting them and it was a pleasure, very nice people. When we arrived on board Nancy had engines going and we were ready to head off after the introductions. We did not have to rush as we had plenty of time after contacting Jo and finding that we could not get in until 1000 hours. This gave us time to chat and get to know each other, the incredible part is that Rob and I had possibly met before in 1986 when we both worked in Alice Springs not that we could remember but highly possible.
Going along the waterfront we could see the enormous changes to Darwin with a lot of new high-rise buildings. The waterfront itself has also changed with the industrial and fuel installations moved away from the city waterfront and new wharfs also in the industrial area. The last time we visited Darwin in 1996 the only marina was Cullen Bay now they have Tipperary marina, Bayview marina and one they call the Duck Pond which is mainly used by the fishing boats. We actually chose Bayview through default as it was the only marina that could take us and secondly we could fit through the lock gates. Cullen Bay we could fit but they do not have permanent live a boards. However, this marina appears to be the better marina for protection in case of cyclone and they also have cleaner water in the marina through the flush through water system. As an added bonus the marina is very clean and has great views of beautiful homes and gardens all around it.
Bayview Marina is located up Sadgroves Creek at Francis Bay, after passing Stokes Hill Wharf and along passed the other marinas we came to the mouth of Sadgroves Creek and Rob suggested we pick up his mates mooring and wait the time out there which we did and had a cup of tea and a chat.
At around 15 minutes before we were due in we slipped the mooring and motored up the creek, this creek all but dries out at low tides so we needed to go now or we would miss our chance as it was we were later than we wanted to be because now the tide had started to rush out and we were hoping for the entry to be at the top of the tide when it is still. The creek is full of moored boats and is a little bit like an obstacle course to weave through them, they say it will be worse at the end of the month when the yachts anchored at Fannie Bay head to the creek for the cyclone season.
As we neared the lock gates we had to wait for a boat to come out, the lock gate looked so small and I must admit I was a little nervous as we approached. The lock will take boats up to 7.25 metres wide and we are 6.93 metres wide. Normal fenders are to wide to fit between the gate and the boats sides, we had purchased some flat lengths of rubber to act as fenders. We neared the gate and I lined up the boat to go in and just as we started to enter the tidal flow swung the stern putting us on an angle, I could not go astern and retry because of rocks to the side and the danger of the tide pushing the stern towards them and damaging the rudder so I had to try and correct it by using the engines and still go forward. Rob, Alison and Nancy worked hard fending the boat away from the gate but we did make contact and put a few scratches on the port side which I will have to repair. After getting through the gate and in the lock proper we secured to the wall and Jo closed the gate and filled the lock lifting us about one metre. I had to sign paperwork whilst we were there and I think my signature may have been a little rough. Once to the right level the inside lock gate opened and we had to go through that but there is no tidal influence so it was not too bad.
Now that we are in we have had some tips on the way others bring wide boats in, many get a few crew on the side of the lock with ropes and they walk the boat in, they also use timber planks over the side of the boat so if anything hits it’s the planks that take the damage.
Jo the Lockmaster she was very helpful and a nice person with it, she helped us get this berth when we made the enquiries.
Once inside the marina it was quite nice and we went on a tour around the waterways whilst we waited for the other person to vacate the berth, once he had left we went and settled into our berth, met a few locals and Rob and Alison walked home as they have a house on the waterfront in the marina. Later they picked us up and we went to the Dinah Beach Club for dinner and a few drinks. Our new found friends are very nice people and very helpful, Rob is doing some work on his yacht soon so I can return the favour by giving him help where I can after all that’s what this yachting/boating community is all about is helping one another.
Well we are now at the end of the first leg of our circumnavigation and will be here in Darwin for 5 – 6 months for the cyclone season, I will endeavour to keep the site alive with some information about Darwin what we see and what we do, I may also do a summary of the voyage so far and include a little more about anchorages.