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Martin & Sue

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Shark Shenanagans or 'the loaves & the fishes'! - Gove to Darwin

 

Elizabeth Bay, 20nm away, was our destination as we headed out of Gove. Once we cleared the shelter of the harbour we were confronted with 28 knots – but since it was from behind we had a reasonably smooth, fast sail – that is until we reached the gap between Cape Wilberforce and Wigram Island. The charts showed tidal rip symbols here and the trip though brought back memories of the Rip at Port Phillip Heads. For 15 minutes it was a wild ride in steep following seas with a 3 knot current against us. Although it was soon over, we made a mental note to take extra care in timing our entry to the ‘Hole in the Wall’ – a narrow pass we would be navigating in a day or so.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Bay proved to be one of those anchorages that appears delightful on the map but was different in reality. Unfortunately, it was spoilt by a massive Pearl Farm that took up most of the Bay. Eventually, after carefully making our way along its easterly edge in search of clear water, we were able to find a safe spot to anchor.

 

The next day is ‘Hole in the wall’ day. The Gove Yacht club literature gives the following advice about this gap between two Islands in the Wessel Group : ‘If you do not pick the tide correctly, you would probably require a change of underpants when you were spat out of the Western Exit!’ We had heard a report on the VHF Radio of a yacht that did not time it very well on the previous day – and faced 3 metre standing waves as they made their way through the Hole. As a precaution we donned our life jackets and battened down. Luckily we did time it right and we had a dead calm passage through.

 

 

 

 

 

Below: The 'Hole in the wall'

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Just in case - lifejackets all round

 

  Above: Safely through - how easy was that?

 

Just as we exited and turned left towards our anchorage for the night we had another visit from Coast Watch – this time in a helicopter that buzzed us at a very low altitude and then asked for the same information as last time. They certainly keep a watchful eye on this part of the coast as all the boats around us received similar visits.

 

Our anchorage was tucked nicely out of the wind in a lovely bay and while some crew members decided to venture ashore for a walk and swim(!) others took the less strenuous option of reading and relaxing. You guess who chose which option!

 

   

 

 

 

 

‘What is that noise? Am I dreaming? ….Hurry, close the hatches, it is raining!’
 We are caught by surprise as it hasn’t rained since Cairns and we have retired to our cabins with the boat completely open to the elements. The rain is fast and furious but lasts only 10 minutes – but at least it washes some salt off the boat.

 

 

 

Next morning the humidity is 85% and everything is steamy. As we motor out of anchorage we are confronted with yet another Customs vessel, this time a ship anchored at the entrance to the bay. We sail close by waiting for them to radio us – and they wait until we are within a few metres before the radio crackles into life. This time they also want to know the name of the ‘master’ of the vessel and how many people on board. They seem happy with our answers and as we head off towards our next anchorage we are reassured with the thought that if we had any trouble with our boat we need not worry – as someone from Customs is sure to be along to check up on us!

Left: The Welcoming Party!!!

 

As we verred back towards to mainland, we began to worry about the lack of detail on the charts as a lot of these waters are unsurveyed. Our anxiety increased after we heard a report during the regular ‘Sheila Net’ radio skeds that a yacht had almost ran aground in a spot where the chart indicated 20 metres. The same yacht had to later traverse these waters in the dark because the anchorage they had chosen for the night was very close to burning-off ashore and they could not take the risk of stray embers landing on their yacht. This was definitely NOT a situation that we wanted to face so the crew unanimously voted on an overnight passage to bypass the unchartered territory. Luckily the conditions were perfect and we had a very pleasant sail in 10-15 knots arriving at Valentia Island at around 11 am.

 

 

It was a picture postcard anchorage and we had it to ourselves – that is, until we heard on the radio that 5 American boats were on their way to share in our ‘serenity’. They’re arrival provided an excuse for a beachside get together for sundowners. Talk turned to the next day’s challenge which was a very shallow passage between the mainland and Croker Island. Despite some reluctance, we agreed that we would also take this shortcut as it shaved 3 hours off the travel time to Port Essington. ‘We’ll follow the monohulls – if they don’t run aground then we’ll be ok’ voiced the navigator and we all nodded our agreement!

 

Next morning – and through my sleep fog I vaguely registered the sound of an engine. ‘Someone’s heading off early’, I commented as I looked out the open hatch. ‘Shoot, they’ve all gone!’  A mad scramble ensued and the half asleep crew duly donned their gloves and other appropriate garb to raise the anchor – just in time to tailgate the last of the boats.

Within a few hours we were listening with interest to the leading boats in the fleet as they starting radioing reports back of ‘getting very shallow’ and ‘I’ve only got a few feet below the keel’.

 

Another perfect day, 10kts ( bit light ) and flat seas

 

Sandy soaks up some sun

 

What happened next is an interesting study in human ‘sheep’ behaviour.  The Straits, about 1nm wide, offered 2 alternate routes – an easterly or westerly path either side of some serious shoals, neither of which was very well charted. The reconnaissance boat had taken the easterly path – and despite warnings of rapidly shelving depths the other boats chose to ‘follow the leader’. On the sounder we picked up what appeared to be a gutter on the western side.  We duly altered course and, as luck would have it, we found a 50m wide gutter and enjoyed depths of 10-15 metres along the entire 5nm it took to reach clear water. We radioed the following 3 boats but they had their minds made up and stayed east. One yacht ran aground and had to be towed off – and the others nervously reported varying degrees of shallowness down to 0.3m . This same‘herd’ behavior can be seen in anchorages on a regular basis – if one yacht chooses to anchor in a particular spot in a bay, the next boat invariably seems to be drawn to anchor beside the first – ‘like moths to the flame’. This is, of course, very annoying when there is the whole bay to choose from and you happen to be the first boat there! mmm, some nationalities tend to do this more than others..... your guess which ones.

 

 

 

As it happened the anchorage at Black Point, Port Essington, where we had to check in with the ranger, afforded little room for spreading out – and that night found several boats all floating beneath the Rangers Office at the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. Luckily, National Parks are on Federal land and can be visited without a Native permit so we planned a trip ashore for the next morning. During the night the wind dropped completely and about 1 am we were awoken either by the sweltering heat or the mossies buzzing around us. A rummage through the cockpit lockers uncovered the flywire hatch covers and under torchlight we hastily fitted the covers for both forward cabins – taking extra care not to shine the torch directly onto the Watson’s who were blissfully snoring through all the activity!

 

 

 

Next day, after a breakfast of Rod’s legendary fruit loaf (what a godsend as we have run out of muesli!) we headed to the National Park office. The Ranger grew up in Bendigo so could appreciate why we found it necessary to ‘escape’ a Victorian winter. He was just beginning to tell us about the local croc called Alfie when he was called away by a phone call and an urgent request for an asthma pump by someone at the camping ground. As his 4WD disappeared in the red dust we tackled one of the walking tracks that skirted around some wetlands. We returned an hour later very hot and sweaty but thankful to have escaped Alfie’s notice! 

 

 

 

Back on board we had a quick lunch and then upped anchor for Trepang Bay – about a 3 hour sail away. En Route we were visited by several pilot whales – and since this is the first time we had seen these beautiful creatures in the wild, we felt very privileged.

 

 

The Coast Watch plane was up and about again and after we had checked in with them again we heard an amusing exchange on the VHF radio between two American yachts. In answer to a comment by a crew member on one of the yachts regarding her fear of crocodiles, the other yacht replied, ‘Don’t worry, an Australian friend of mine says that crocodiles don’t like Yanks.... because they’re so full of shit.’ True story! Not sure if she was reassured but it is pretty certain that all the other boats eavesdropping would have been laughing as much as the Mandolin Wind crew were!

 

In an attempt to add variety to our fish diet (almost exclusively consisting of mackerel up to this point), the ‘Hunters’ on board decided that a spot of shark fishing was called for. We found a potential shoal not far off our planned route to Cape Don and dropped our anchor in the sand on the edge of a reef in 5 metres of water.

 
 

The day was extremely hot and still and the non-hunters on board were starting to complain about the lack of action when a 1 metre shark was hooked and, after a valiant struggle, was persuaded to control its roaming jaws with the help of a hammer – bringing a whole new interpretation to the word ‘Hammer Head Shark’!

 

 

  Hammer Head Shark?

 

That night at anchor Sue sat on the deck half-heartedly dabbling with the fishing line when she hooked shark no. 1’s very much older brother! Mind you, we were using meat from the first shark for bait! Rod took over from Sue when the shark decided to go for a long ‘run’ and after about 20 mins managed to get the beast to the boat where Martin was waiting tentatively with the 0.5m long gaff.  The 2+ metre beast caused a bit of a stir when the torchlight picked up the full size of its jaw as it thrashed about in the water.

 

 

 

Not wanting to take any chances, we took the precaution of hanging it from a rope over the side of the boat until we were absolutely sure it was dead!

 

 

Above: Not something you want to meet whilst swimming!

  Above: the prize

 

We were just recovering from all the action (and congratulating ourselves on our decision not to take a quick dip earlier in the day to cool off) when for some odd reason we suddenly gained phone coverage – and via a SMS from Nyree we discovered that Michael Jackson had died a few days before. It is amazing how out of touch we are with world events – the ‘sick’ jokes had apparently already started circulating before we even heard the news!

 

Darwin is now within striking distance so we set our alarms for 2.30am and headed off in pitch blackness in an attempt to gain the maximum tidal push. 3 other yachts in the anchorage have the same idea so we are a mini convoy as we motor through flat seas with 1 knot of true wind. 

 
     
 

Despite our 'best laid plans' in consulting the tide charts , we discovered that Darwin tidal streams do not always follow any logic. So instead of that 'push' from behind we were expecting, we had to battle 3 knot on the nose during the ebb and 2 knots on the nose during the flood !!. Oh well, we are in the Northern Territory now so we may as well sit back and go with the flow! Pretty frustrating thoough, especially as there was no wind at all !!

Left: The skipper on watch at dawn as we motor along

     

 

And so, after travelling over 3,700 nautical miles from Brighton, we are finally anchored in Fannie Bay off the Darwin Sailing Club ( in either 0.5m or 7m of water depending on the tide !). It has taken us nearly 3 months and there were times, especially in the beginning, when we thought we would never make it. But here we are - ready to tackle an all new 'to do' list. It's been a great trip so far - but there is the promise of more adventures on the horizon as we head off on the 18th July to the Sail Indonesia Rally. We have bought a new phrase book and are boning up on it. Stay tuned, the next blog might be in Indonesian ! Ha !!

 

 

 

 

  Above: Some of the 100 or so yachts anchored in Fannie Bay, Darwin