Arrival in Darwin
After an easy 36 hrs trip from the mouth of King George River we arrived in Darwin around midday to claim Bayview Marina where we would park for a couple of weeks whilst we went back home to Melbourne. Margaret was anxious to be with a close friend whose husband was dying, and the night before we left he sadly passed away, so timing was fortuitous as we had been in the wilderness and out of touch for so long.
Bayview Marina was one of those special experiences that I am thrilled to have under my belt as it is locked, like the other three marinas in Darwin. However to get to Bayview we had to travel up this rapidly narrowing creek with very little water under the keel. The creek has a lot of boats moored down the middle, and we soon cottoned on to zigzagging between them to find the deepest water.
Finding the entrance to the lock amongst the mangrove lined creek revealed that we had to manouvre our big 60 tons into the lock with an area hardly much bigger than the boat. Fenders alongside and the use and sheer neccesity of our bow and stern thrusters to keep us aligned without scraping the hull up against steel and concrete, we tied up inside whilst the river gate was closed, and 3 metres of water was pumped in to raise us to the level inside the marina, then the other gate was opened so we could get into the marina finally and fix our lines. I had done this before in the ICW on the E coast of the US, but never at the con, so very grateful for another experience finding Darwin being unique in Australia for their locked marinas.
Little time to see much of Darwin, but could see such change when I was there 20 years ago, and pleased it had become a very modern well laid out city, and the wide dual roads lined in Frangapani trees, reminded me of Singapore a bit.
We left the boat very quickly to get home to Melbourne with a 6 hour plane trip, and early in the morning to boot, I wasn't overly happy as I usually like a whole day to shut down the boat, and double check everything. Problem one was we didn't arrange to have anyone checking on her, and just hope the power isn't lost to destroy our freezer full of fish. This happened back in Hobart and I vowed and declared I would vacuum seal all fish and meat from then on. When fish in particular goes off and is not vacuum sealed, it leaves a solid sludge of foul smelling juice in the bottom of the freezer which is terrible. Well it was bad for Dave and Phil who did the clean up job coming across Bass Strait. We now put a container of ice cubes in both freezers, and if this is a flat block when we return it means we have had a power outage, so everything in the freezers is thrown out. Ah well - more fish to catch.
Rick and his mate John are joining me for the 1350 nm trip to Cairns on Thursday 9th Sept, and Marg is off to Europe, and both our sons are going overseas as well. Our watches will be 3 hours on, 6 off, which is comfortable, but as usual for the owner/captains they always sleep with one foot still on the floor.
This is mainly a non stop delivery trip with hopefully one day spent at famous Lizard Island inside the Barrier Reef, thus taking 7 days. Expectations are that this trip will be straight forward navigation wise, as we will be mostly in shipping channels which are well bouyed and lit, contrasting the past the 4 months. Our AIS (Automatic Identification System) will obviously get a big workout identifying everything we need to know about keeping safe when tracking ships in our midst.
The boat has been travelling without any dramas, again a testament to the boatbuiders PAE. Only problem to deal with is high pressure alerts on the air con units, but guess we may have sucked some mud into the sea chest as we had so little water under us at the marina (0.6 m)
Two years ago I set up a website "The N55 Heads Up Report" which is for the owners of the same boat, and we have contributed to over 3400 postings on any issues encounted. This has been a godsend for me for gaining support from my peers, because when anyone has a problem or a discovery, we share the information to get the best fix. Boats are never without problems because they are so complex, and SKIE is a very complex boat because of all of the added options available.
Geranium Harbour to King George River.
We have now travelled 2400 nm (4800 km) since leaving Fremantle, and 4000 nm (8000 km) since setting out from Hobart early May, We have about 400 nm to go to complete stage 4, arriving in Darwin.
Stage 5 will be a pure transit leg of about 1000 nm going across the top of Oz, rounding Cape York, then down to Cairns. There is very little to see here unless we explored the Gulf of Carpentaria which has no special appeal compared to what we have seen, and of course the need not to be in this region too late with the cyclone season approaching.
Everyone goes back home at Darwin, and two new crew plus Rick will join us for the eight day passage. Rick has had a lot of experience with the Great Barrier Reef which is somewhat foreign to me, so that adds some comfort. Four people will make this non stop trip comfortable so we can space out our watches accordingly, and we will be traveling a lot in shipping channels from Darwin as we go across the top of the continent to Cape York, and wend our way SE inside the Great Barrier Reef, but may stop over at Lizard Is for a night if time permits.
Yesterday we were hailed by a passing yacht heading south to Fremantle asking us if we could help him out with fuel which we unfortunately couldn't oblige with. We have only run into two recreation boats on the whole trip, both sailing boats, and both under motor as the last few weeks have been completely devoid of any wind. This boat, Pioneer, was on the home leg of a circumnavigation of the country, and the other was a catamaran with a couple on board with two young kids who were heading to Indonesia and Micronesia for a couple of years.
We have now been trolling since we left Hobart so many miles back, and two types have alluded us, GT's (Giant Trevally) and Mahi Mahi (Dolphin Fish). However this was about to change when Margaret's rod went off with a scream, then almost within seconds, Rick's as well. What we pulled on board were two GT's with Margaret's being slightly the bigger. Marg had a real fight to land hers (see pic) but she was pretty pleased with herself after previously hooking up a large Lemon shark whilst at anchor in Talbot Bay with my light Barra rod, and busting off the tip.
Our next major destination was to visit the Mitchell River for some serious fishing and crabbing, and to climb up to the Mitchell Falls, but after a 10 mile trip up the narrowing river with it's high rocky cliffs, and negotiating the rock bar partly covered, our enthusiasm quickly waned as we were to tie up at a spot that must have had clearly had one of the biggest crocs in the Kimberley lying on a flat rock. This fellow was ginormous (see pic) and had to be 5 metres long if he was a centimeter.
By this time we had gotten into the routine of picking our tidal currents for our departure NE to the next anchorage, and tried to do a distance of about 30 nm, and 4 to 5 hours traveling to allow some fishing time on arrival. We also came to the realization that our fuel would have to be carefully managed as we had not bunkered since Fremantle. We decided we would reduce our burn from 24 lts an hour down to 16, and seek 12 lts if we did shorter legs with favourable currents from behind.
SKIE topped up to 8000 lts in Fremantle by filling the two main tanks, but not the two smaller forward tanks that hold an extra 500 lts each. In hindsight this was an oversight expecting that we would probably top up in Broome if needing to, but this turned out to be difficult for a small boat as it could only be done at high slack water at the end of a long commercial wharf, so we let the opportunity go knowing that we still had Wyndham 100’s of nm further north up our sleeve in case we were found wanting, although taking us off the track to Darwin and adding extra miles.
However I tried transferring fuel from the forward tanks finding one empty, and the other with a bonus of about 400 litres that was put in over two years ago which I thought had been used. The forward tanks do not have a fuel gauge or sight glass, and are put there for seriously long voyages such as crossing the pacific from the US to French Polynesia which is a distance of 2700 nm. The idea is to transfer this fuel back into the main tanks when space is available. We concluded with 2000 lts left on board we could get us to Darwin with 30% in reserve, but only if we cut down to using a burn rate of 16 lts an hour.
Another issue that held my attention was water production and consumption, as 6 people on board really chews it up, so we made water everyday from our RO watermaker which needs the genset on, which of course burns fuel as well. I have had much trouble in the past with my Village Marine watermaker, so a plan was put into place that if we couldn't’t make water we could still get to Wyndham or Darwin without dying of thirst, or heaven forbid having to knock off all the beer supplies.
One interesting thing was to observe how do 6 people get on in a small boat together. What eventuated was that our wives were heavily into consuming books, while the guys were usually running the bridge and planning routes, taking watches, and often just shooting the breeze on how we could improve on the boat.
We all had our favourite places to go to on the boat for some solitude and private space, and the rule of only eating together for the evening meal, and catches catch can for breakfast and lunch has worked out very well. If you are hungry at anytime you feed yourself from what we have in the pantry or fridge.
Tony was the head chef and bore the brunt of preparing and cooking the evening meal which was always fabulous. We often joked about the rule we made that if anyone complained about the cooking they would have to take over the job, and that if say someone said that the food tasted like shit, they must remember to add “but well cooked though” to save becoming the new slave to the galley.
Anyone who has seen Baz Lurnham's latest movie "Australia" will have witnessed Hugh Jackman, and Nicole Kidman as cowboys in the Kimberley region. We saw another type of cowboy that operates up here in the aviation field.
1. At Beagle Bay the whole area was surrounded by smoke from a controlled bush burning, when we spotted some isolated black smoke coming just inland from us. I thought this was strange as it could only come from some sort of petroleum product like fuel or say burning tyres. Not long after helicopters were hovering over the smoke and one landed out of our sight. When Rick and Tony returned from fishing in the inflatable they told us of an amphibian plane flying quite low overhead and so we guessed that it had crashed and caught on fire. This was confirmed next day on the internet, but fortunately no one was killed.
2. The float plane that brought Rick and Dianne into Talbot Bay was taking off with young Paul returning back to Broome, the take off was aborted just on lift off. Alongside the plane on take off was one of the falls boats with the two big 250 Yammies trying to outrun the planes speed in a race of sorts. We jumped in the dinghy and went over to the pontoon where the plane had returned to. Explanation - they had just realised that they didn't have enough fuel to get back to Broome.
3. We didn't witness this but we heard later that one of the float planes coming also into Talbot Bay full of sightseers flipped over when the pilot landed with his wheels still locked down.
We thought to ourselves that the best way to see the Kimberley was certainly on the good ship SKIE
Raft Point/Red Cone Creek, via Montgomery Reef
Next stop was Raft Point via the spectacular Montgomery Reef. We had to time this to arrive close to the bottom of the ebbing tide to witness the open ocean quickly becoming a mass of exposed reef whilst anchored in a narrow gutter and observe at close hand the water rushing off the reef and dropping 10 metres into the gutter. An absolutely spectacular sight to experience. Like much of the areas up here we were in locations without any soundings (depths) on our charts, serious eyeballing and reading our depth sounder became a matter of critical importance.
From Montgomery Reef after an hour we high tailed it across to Raft Point where we dropped our pick for the night just on dark. To get to Rubys which is the bay at the mouth of the Red Cone Creek so we could go up to the waterfalls and have a swim, we had to negotiate a winding 10 nm journey through Whirlpool Point and Strong Tide Point. This was fun as we had the current behind us but still had whirlpools spinning us around like a cork. Strong Tide Point was where the original charter boat True North hit a serious rock causing major damage some years ago. Apparently the skipper had the autopilot driving from chartplotter waypoints, whilst reading a book. The only book I would read is the good book during this passage.
Out trip up to the falls in the inflatable was filled with great scenery, and when we arrived there we found guests off two other charter boats enjoying a swim under the falls.
We weighed anchor at Silvergull Creek and headed to the famous Horizontal Falls in Talbot Bay. This is where we were to pick up Rick and Dianne from the float plane, and young Paul was to fly out. This place is visited by most of the cruise boats who take their punters by high speed boats through both the falls offering a spectacular experience. The speed with which the water rushes through is phenomenal, and an operator has told us that the water can actually drop over 5 metres at the ends and explained that this could pitch pole any type of boat, and that he personally stops at around 2 metres.
Many fishing expeditions over the 3 days netted us Mangrove Jack, Mulloway, Honeycomb cod, but not yet the allusive prize of the north, the Barramundi.
We decided we would spend our last night in the adjacent Cyclone Bay where we could get some great pics early in the morning with the sheer red coloured cliffs in the background.
We now had ace cameraman Rick now on board, so the serious videos and photo’s were about to begin. Negotiating SKIE through a couple of narrow rock passages, one only 30 m wide, was fun, and the thrusters certainly earned their keep by keeping us off the sheer rock faces as we came under the influence of fast currents, even though we were having neap tides (small range from high to low) of about 2-3 metres. As the spring tides were approaching with the event of the full moon, moving towards into the 9 metre range, our short trip was timely
By now we have had already a big taste of the sheer diversity of what lay in store for us over the next few weeks as we head N/NE to Darwin. Not only the incredible scenery, but the tides, currents, out of the way places to go, different fish to catch, and of course the much maligned saltwater crocodile.
We were very early able to try out our Jarrah Nulla Nulla (hardwood club) on one too over friendly chap who came straight to our mouth size inflatable dinghy with a fascination with Tony’s popper lure, so Tony had the privilege of administering the persuader. We think the saltie got a serious headache, but naturally didn’t stick around to enquire.
The only time you ever hear about when someone is taken by a croc it has always been always death by human misadventure. Up at Kings Cascade falls on the Prince Regent river in the late 80’s an American model, Ginger Meadows, was caught stranded on a rock ledge as the tide rapidly rose and had to swim back to the dinghy, and ran into a hungry crocodile that had been patiently waiting for the main course.
The rules we should follow up here are: 1; Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they are not here. 2; No fish cleaning off the swim step. 3; never go ashore arriving at the same spot as previously done. 4; Don’t invade their territory particularly when eggs are hatching, and of course “You should never smile at a crocodile”. This is all so simple to learn, just like not passing a car on a bend.
Our first stop from “The Pool” at Sunday Island was Silvergull Creek some 50 nm (100 km’s which was adjacent to the well known areas of Crocodile and Dog Leg Creeks. The trip had us going through places called Whirlpool Pass and dodging many reefs and sandbars, with tidal currents pushing you along, or holding you back on the nose, and reported to sometimes run up to 6 knots. This section has been an interesting test of navigation and the most testing so far, but were relieved to find our charts very accurate. We had 4 different electronic charts on board. Nobeltec, C-Map, the new MaxSea, and Garmin, as well as paper charts, so we were pretty well catered for
Crocodile Creek was fascinating, as like most of the inlets you can go into are usually big and named after the creeks or rivers that flow into them. Crocodile Creek dries out on LWS (low water springs), but a pond exists up at the falls where you can tie up your big boat to some mooring lines on the rock face if you go in on HW springs, and become completely landlocked in an area of about 200 sq m. There is a SS ladder put in by mining company BHP that allows you to climb up to the pool under the waterfall and visit a famous hut with a BBQ area. This hut is adorned with all sorts of objects where passing boaties have left a memento of their visit, and similar to the A frame hut on Middle Percy Is on the east coast, adjacent to Mackay.
We were surprised to find the pool and hut full of fit young men, who were enjoying some R&R off the Navy patrol boat HMAS Maryborough anchored around in Silvergull Creek. They had been dropped off from a boarding boat that had gone fishing. Glad to see our taxes at work close up, but after 3 months at sea guarding our coastline from illegal immigrants, and fishing, we believe they deserved their break. I asked whether Lisa McCune was on board, but was told it was an all male crew. (Lisa McCune is an actress who play the XO in the TV series “Sea Patrol”
We left a contribution by writing our names and what we were doing on our 10,000 nm Nordhavn pennant given to owners by PAE, and displayed it with the hundreds of other articles that varied from items of clothing to mooring buoys. These pennants are sent to you when you reach milestones of every 5,000 nm.(see pic) I thought about saving this pennant but knew it was to become redundant as my 15,000 nm pennant should be sent soon.
Sunday Is, Kimberley - North Western Australia 16.25.308 S; 123,09.669 E - 30/7/09
Robbie Burns said that "Nae man could change time or tides" and we have just been inducted into the world of tides, and the might and power they possess. We are currently in the area that claims the second highest tides in the world. The highest is in the Bay of Mundy in Nova Scotia.
An appropriate overnight anchorage was selected from the cruising guide at Sunday Island, which is a sacred Aboriginal reserve with lots of rock art. We enjoyed the flooding tide scooting us northward at 9.5 kts at 1000 rpm from our last overnight anchorage in Thomas Bay. However this making tide became our achillies heel because arriving at the only anchorage in the guide along Meda Pass where the chart clearly shows currents 4 - 8 kts and "dangerous overfalls" when we tried to stop we were doing 8 kts sideways.
Only thing to do was abort staying here and seek out another anchorage "The pool" on the other side of the island that appeared in an older version of the Western Australian Cruising Guide, but had been chucked out of the latest edition but claimed "don't go there". We had no choice as our next stop would have us arriving in the dark, or we would have to return against the tide back to Thomas Bay.
Claiming "The Pool" was an experience of a lifetime which gave us a baptism of fire fortuitously nice and early in our Kimberley experience. Getting there with just the engine ticking over was giving us 13.4 kts over the ground speed and we were going through overfalls and whirlpools like I have never seen. However soon we were about to learn what it was going to be like going against all of this as we dodged some rocks to get into this little sanctuary that was was used as a cyclone shelter for pearling luggers. Now we had r.p.m. of 2000, and speed of 2.2 kts.
Once in with some breathtaking moments looking at the sounder we dropped anchor, deployed the dinghy, and did some exploration on what we actually had underneath us. First light in the morning with an ebbing tide and young Paul out in front in the dinghy being our pathfinder, we safely departed to our next stopover, having learnt a number of valuable lessons.
Firstly don't take the guide as gospel as Sunday Is is not a place you can anchor during spring tides. I have written to the editor of the Western Australian Cruising Guide urging him to delete Sunday Is as an anchorage completely. We noticed that in edition 2 of the guide they had The Pool as an anchorage, but took it out completely in the latest edition. This must be done for the the southern anchorage as well for the next edition. Secondly always have an alternative anchorage in fairly close proximity if the guide let's you down, that can be claimed in daylight
Broome, North Western Australia 17.57.545 S 122.11.550 E - 26/07/09
SKIE arrived in the famous holiday resort Broome over a week ago to complete stage 3 of the circumnavigation and has us 3,640 nm (7000 km) from Hobart and roughly at the half way mark. Stage 4 will be the exploration of the Kimberley, arriving Darwin around Sept 1st.
We left West Lewis Island just west of Dampier, anchored the first night off Depuche Island, then made a 32 hour leg to Broome. Overnighting is a bit tough on two people with watches 3 hours on, three hours off. Usually the symptoms are a bit like jet lag, but when we arrive we have a nice long crash in the cot. I suppose a cot is unfair on our beds as they are very comfortable with the owners stateroom a king size with the best mattress etc available
Again the only company we had over this 32 hours was the fish, and we experienced (or nearly) one of the greatest thrills a fisherman could have, we hooked two sailfish. My line was the first to go off and I couldn't stop the reel peeling off as close to 200 m of line was paid out before it stopped, then this magnificent creature became airborne, and crash, the line became lifeless which allowed me to reel in a lureless line.
I'm not sure Tony believed me, as he was in the head at the time, but in less than 30 minutes he had hooked up another one and was treated to the magnificent aerial display, only to be lost like previously. We of course didn't have the right gear in place and vowed to get heavier line and wire leaders when at Broome. SKIE has an aft control pod, so when a fish goes on, the motor can be wound down to low revs with the boat just barely moving, but with the auto pilot still keeping us on course, the stabilizers still working, and the use of the bow and stern thrusters to change direction if we need to.
In the meantime we were still taking Spanish Mackerel on board which are terrific eating fish. If we continue doing this we will have to start jettisoning meat out of the two freezers just to make room, although a Giant Trevally, Mahi Mahi, and of course what we came for, Barramundi and Mud Crabs, but soon there will be six of us on board to lighten the freezer load.
We have enjoyed laying up at Broome for a week to rest, reprovision, and to attend to some boat maintenance chores. One issue that gave us some consternation was we were just sitting down to watch the Melbourne news one night (sat TV), when a loud crack came out of the TV cabinet as the screen was being raised, which blew all the power on the boat. After isolating the TV power and reclosing the main breaker, we left the problem to the morning. What we found was all the umbilical cables that move up and down with the screen had caught on the lifting plate and ripped apart.
The original installation was completely sloppy but with a trip to Dick Smith and a box of small cable ties, and some cord wrap, Tony put is all together properly this time which took over two hours to do, whilst his head was stuck in a small cavity. He claims this will stand the test of time now and probably outlive the boat.
One of nicest thing about boating is the great people you meet along the way. We spoke to Chris Wright who runs the VMR (Volunteer Marine Rescue) in Broome to alert him that we were enroute and our ETA. He also arranged for a fixed mooring behind Gantheume Point which belonged to the big tourist boat True North which was away in the Kimberley. Not only did he do this, but came aboard and gave us pointers not only where to go in the Kimberley, but many tips on dodging unchartered reefs and techniques on handling 10 m tidal ranges. This will be our biggest navigational challenge as some of the tidal flows get up to 10 kts, and if not careful can leave you high and dry with disastrous consequences, including breaking off our two stabilizer fins.
I was very interested in the crocs we will be sharing the water with, and Chris's son Paul said if they come too close when we are catching fish, just dong them on the head. Just as we were discussing this Paul looked out and spotted a 2.5m saltie on it's way towards the Cable Beach Resort for lunch. This is very rare to see a croc in Broome, so we called the Police and rangers, and Paul followed him in his boat to keep on eye on his movements. We were told this is the only sighting they have had in 5 years of a croc at Broome, and the last one was shot, but this one was ushered out to sea. If a croc takes a tourist on the beach you will have a resort calamity like in the movie JAWS.
We have invited Paul to join us to come up to the Horizontal Falls in Talbot Bay to show us a few things, and he can fly back on the float plane bringing Rick and Di in a weeks time. Margaret flies in this morning and we plan to take off as soon as she arrives. I haven't told her that she has to walk into the water to almost waist deep to get on the inflatable though. Paul has given us a gift of his croc donger which is a 5 ' rounded piece of heavy Jarrah just like a skinny baseball bat. Just might take it for the Marg's pickup, but I could have it around my head when she finds out what I subjecting her to.
Dampier, Western Australia 20.35.124 S 116.36.433E
Our trip up from Tantabiddi which is now behind us south about 300 nm, had us arriving at a lovely location named Surrerier Island which was recommended by the "Whalesong" guys. We tried to poke our head out the next morning but found the seas to tough and the wind up to 30 kts on the nose, so we retreated back to our anchorage to spend another night there. However the next morning at 0400 hrs revealed things hadn't changed so we just soldiered on finding the worst conditions since we left Hobart on May 1st.
This was a long uncomfortable journey and we arrived just on dark for a seriously needed good night sleep. Apart from the mental stress of the motion it is surprising how the body gets isometic exercise as you are bracing yourself constantly with muscles hardly used. No noticable changes with the gut though.
Next stop was Hermite Island which is a part of the Montebello Group, made famous by the first atomic test in 1950 by the British and Australians. We have been trying to do day trips if we can because overnighters takes its toll with just two on board, and we have had 3 since we left Perth.
From Hermite Is we headed east back toward the mainland, and apart from perfect weather we managed to have two fish commit suicide on our lures, producing a bounty of a yellow fin Tuna, and a beaut spanish mackerel, both despatched in steak form to the freezer in vacuum bags. Our two freezers are full even after two weeks of non stop eating, so only need a GT or mahi mahi to round off the compliment. We are now out of fresh vegatables and fruit so will have to get our vitamin C out of a bottle of fine Margaret River Shiraz.
The boat is going superbly devoid any dramas and 12,000 nm (22,800 km) have just ticked over almost 2 years from the day the boat made her maiden voyage to the Whitsundays, so I feel contented that this has provided me with heaps of experience tucked under the belt.
We are en route currently to Depuche Island for tonight, tomorrow to Port Hedland, then a 32 hour trip to Broome where we pick up our wives.
I must say that Tony is an exceptional chef and I can say I have never ever eaten so well in my life. Tony and I both like spices and asian flavours and we have had a marathon of these so far, although we may have to start the rotation again or burrow into some of my cook books (mainly Asian) but we have a good book on ways to cook fish.
Dampier is a busy port for the export of iron ore, petrochemicals, salt and natural gas, and the landscape is very sparse and boring, devoid of one tree. We have seen many oil wells and gas heads on our way across from the Montebello's and we expect to see hundreds more as we gain north.
Everytime we look out there will be a whale to be seen, and would you believe we saw our first sailing boat since Hobart which was over 6000 km away. This sail boat was returning to Fremantle with two others cruising in the Phillipines and SE Asia
Yesterday was about studying the Kimberley and the issues we will have with 10 m tide ranges, the fast currents that they produce, and inadequate charting. I expect much time will be spent on the flybridge with lots of eyes peeled.
I have been shooting some film, but much of it is boring, but this will change when we get to the Kimberley I expect as we will be treated to scenes not found anywhere else on earth. As I write this we paused to pull in another "Spaniard" about the same size as yesterday.
We expect that our range for internet will be lost shortly and maybe not available for two days. If you can imagine that WA is so big, but only about 2m people, and they all live down south, they don't have many Next G stations out here for a signal.