Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Bay

Journey’s End (well, almost…)

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Roebuck Bay, Broome – arrived 10th October

17 59 51.90 S

122 13 82.10 E

The Boat is on a mooring in Roebuck Bay. We have been staying in a hotel-cum-resort just outside town, surrounded by acres of lush tropical vegetation and bush, and are enjoying the luxury of lots of running water, a clean loo, and plenty of rest.

I’ve been seriously remiss about writing for several reasons: for one, exploring the area has been too much fun and taking (and sorting) photos of the astonishing scenery has taken up too much time. Also, internet access has been rather a trial; one could lose the will to live waiting for pages to download – and that’s when one isn’t being timed-out. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to upload any photographs because of this.  When we get to Perth I’ll do so, and provide links with the next blog post.

(Update September 2011: there are some photos, in no particular order and as yet for the most part un-captioned, in these galleries: Photos Broome and Botanical )

                                                                                                                            ~ ~ ~

We remained in Thomas Bay (16 28 58.10 S – 122 52 86.50 E) – 5th October only one night and left  for Beagle Bay mid-morning in order to catch a favourable tide.

While bringing the anchor up I happened to look down and saw a miniature octopus next to my bare foot. It was about 3” across and almost exactly the pale beige colour of the teak. It was also looking rather flattened – understandably – as it must have come up with the chain and got flipped onto the deck with some force. I finished raising and securing the anchor, by which time the creature was crawling feebly along the hot, dry wood toward a nearby bit of shade. Bending over, hand already outstretched to pick the poor thing up and return it to the water, I suddenly thought, ‘Hang on a minute – we’re in Australia…’, and went to get the heavy fish-handling gloves we keep in the cockpit. Hurrying back, I pulled them on and was picking the octopus up when a few electric blue rings appeared on its skin and I just about jumped out of mine when they did.

It seems the blue rings only appear when the animals are agitated, though the literature omits to make this clear. Presumably the shock of hitting the deck must have stunned it, which would explain why they didn’t appear before. Paranoia obviously has survival value.

~ ~ ~

Beagle Bay – 6th, 7th, 8th October

16 53 51.50 S

122 29 59.10 E

We spent three nights here. There were high wind warnings along that part of the coast and hand steering had been tiring enough for The Captain – who did most of it – during calm weather. We anchored well out from shore, because anchorages in the bay are rather exposed and there’s a large tidal range. The anchor dragged a bit so we let out more chain, after which it held like a rock through the next 2 days and nights of wind and chop and strong tidal currents which had the boat facing a different direction every few hours.

On trying to raise anchor on the morning of the 9th we found out why it had held so well:  the chain had wrapped itself around something and we were well stuck. Always the pessimist, I was already envisioning having to don scuba gear and dive to untangle the wretched thing, and began calculating how long a full tank would last if I were working hard at that depth. But The Captain began steering the boat in a circle around the point where the chain entered the water and, luckily, he’d picked the right direction first time. After we’d slowly motored around almost 360° the chain broke free and I was able to bring it up with only a few nasty grinding noises.

~ ~ ~

James Price Point – 9th October

17 32 13.90 S

122 08 07.50 E

We arrived at this anchorage mid-afternoon, to find it occupied by what looked like a pair of miniature drilling platforms and an official-looking vessel, from which we were sternly advised by radio that a 2 mile exclusion zone had been set up around the area.  Since there was no time to reach the next anchorage, we headed further along the shore only until there were no more warning buoys and pulled in, muttering rebelliously. The weather was calm, which was as well because we were completely exposed.

We discovered much later that James Price Point is the proposed location for a new natural gas processing plant. The various viewpoints on the issue make interesting – albeit depressing – reading. Western Australia’s Premier says it’s “an unremarkable stretch of coastline” well suited to development; mining companies are positively drooling to get their hands on the vast mineral and petroleum resources in the Kimberley; environmentalists and a large proportion of the public are raising fierce objections – and for excellent reasons – but it’s unlikely they will be successful  in getting the project stopped because during the time we’ve been in Broome I’ve already seen three more platforms being slowly towed north along the coast.

It took less time than we had anticipated to get from James Price Point to Broome the next morning, so there was still a bit of current running when we arrived in Roebuck Bay. We hung about until the slack tide before entering the bay and picked up the mooring without trouble. Huge sighs of relief from us both, after which The Captain immediately went to sleep.

He had intended that we stay aboard for approximately a week to rest and get the boat in order, then find a place to stay on shore while waiting for The Boat to be hauled and trucked to Perth. This plan had to be changed because, for some reason, our huge mooring buoy kept dragging under the boat. This may have been caused by the cut-away shape of The Boat’s hull combined with the strong, swirling tidal streams in Roebuck Bay, because none of the other moored vessels seemed to have the problem. First there would be loud thumping sounds as the buoy came alongside and banged against the hull for a while. Then the boat would lurch as the buoy went under the keel, where it would stay for a while before making the boat lurch again as it banged and bobbed up on the other side, gaily decorated with the red anti-fouling paint its rope harness had scraped off our hull. Although The Boat was secure, nothing we could do solved the problem and it was driving us nuts. Time to get off the boat.

That raised the next issue: there’s nowhere to safely leave a dinghy for any length of time in Roebuck Bay or on the other side of Gantheaume Point at Cable Beach. The tides are enormous, there’s no yacht club and no security.  There’s talk of setting up a boat-taxi service next year, but that was of no use to us. There was the possibility that we might be able to leave the dinghy at a secure yard belonging to Paspaley, the pearling company that will haul the boat, but in the end we begged a ride to shore – at short notice – on one of the small vessels they use to service their pearling fleet. The man with whom we had been dealing, who is an unusually efficient and pleasant fellow, met us at the commercial deep water dock and drove us to the place at which we’re staying.

This is called Habitat Resort, and consists of individual units and pavilions in a tropical garden filled with palms, exotic trees, ginger plants and giant plumeria bushes bright with flowers. The grounds are also densely planted with specimens of the native vegetation, which attracts local wildlife: wallabies, blue-tongued skinks and other lizards, frogs, geckos, possums, pheasant coucal and many other birds – mostly honey-eaters. The kind gardener supplies us with more ripe papayas and lady-finger bananas than we can eat, and I was able to find a mango farm nearby from where I buy freshly picked mangoes at a more reasonable price than those sold in the grocery stores.

The weather has been very warm and humid – never less than 35° and usually around 37° during the day – though the nights are slightly cooler. We’re at the cusp between the Dry and Wet seasons and during the time we’ve been here a few heavy downpours during thunderstorms have already brought out new leaves and blossoms on trees that were bare when we arrived.

Now to Broome itself….

Modern Broome is a strange, isolated township, poised between the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and the glowing red Pindan soils unique to the Dampier Peninsula, and it has a history as brutal as it has been brief. The first settlement of the area was a short-lived attempt at grazing sheep in the 1860s. This was followed in the 1870’s by the establishment of very temporary pearling facilities in Roebuck Bay, which consisted of depot camps used by pearlers based on Cossack and Thursday Islands.

On 27 November 1883, the Governor of Western Australia, Sir Frederick Napier Broome, announced that there would be ‘a Townsite on the North Western point of Roebuck Bay hereafter to be known and distinguished as Broome.’ Broome had not named it himself; the Surveyor ­General, John Forrest, had named it after him. In fact, the governor didn’t even want to be associated with the settlement since at this time Broome consisted of nothing more than a few pearlers, some pearling luggers, several shanties and some local Aborigines. In 1888 one visitor to the settlement described it: ‘The only water was a native well…The Mangrove swamps were full of mosquitoes, and high up on the sand hills a few struggling camps were pitched.’

Two years later everything had changed. Because of volcanic activity in the Arafura Sea, the submarine telegraph cable between Java and Darwin was rerouted through Broome. It came to shore in 1889 at Cable Beach. The Cable House (now the Courthouse) was erected at this time as an office for the telegraph operators. It is said – perhaps apocryphally – that the building itself was actually meant for Kimberley in South Africa and somehow ended up in Broome on the edge of the Kimberley in Australia. In any case, when it arrived the town had no wharf and the pieces had to be carted over the mudflats by Chinese labourers. The town grew rapidly, driven both by pearling and because the port facilities were used by the pastoralists who were settling the harsh interior. The population of the town was seriously cosmopolitan – Malays, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Europeans and Aborigines – and many of the people living here now boast a wonderfully varied ancestry.

Initially, it was only the pearl shell from the giant oyster species Pinctada maxima that was sought after. This was used to make mother-of-pearl buttons, handles for cutlery, handles of walking sticks and inlay for expensive furniture, mirrors, fans and other luxury articles. Occasional pearls were found, but those were just a valuable bonus. Pearl divers were always needed, and master pearlers had no compunction about kidnapping local Aborigines and forcing them into virtual slavery as divers. Inevitably, the death toll was very high. Without the benefit of modern underwater equipment, the divers were forced to dive again and again, resurfacing only when they ran out of breath. In the early years, the mortality rate was greatly compounded by the number of sharks which cruised the muddy estuaries where the pearl shells were found.

By 1887 most of the Broome pearling fleet was equipped with canvas suits, copper helmets and boots, and rubber air ­hoses. Nevertheless, hundreds of young Japanese divers died, either from the bends or by drowning, and many more were left grotesquely crippled and unable to earn a living. The dead were buried in Broome’s beautifully maintained Japanese Cemetery, which dates back to the very early pearling days. A large stone obelisk in the cemetery recalls those who were drowned at sea in the 1908 cyclone. The cyclones of 1887 and 1935 each caused the deaths of at least 140 men.

By 1904, Broome supplied as much as eighty per cent of the world’s pearl shell, and more than 400 luggers operated out of Broome. In the lay-off season there would be over 3000 Asian divers in the town, and Chinatown was crowded with pubs, gambling dens, eating houses and brothels. During this time Broome gained the reputation described by an old pearler when he wrote: ‘Broome in its early days was probably the most unique town in Australia. It was an affluent, sinful and tolerant community, in which the Clergy’s frequent references to Sodom and Gomorrah were regarded as appropriate tributes to civic progress, rather than warnings of future divine retribution.’ This was Broome’s Golden Age, and the master pearlers became fabulously wealthy. It is said they changed their white suits twice daily because of the red dust that blew into town from the surrounding countryside, and had them laundered in Singapore, which also supplied most of Broome’s fresh food.

The economy of the Broome collapsed with the outbreak of World War I in 1914, which coincided with the arrival of over 250 fully laden luggers in port. Contracts with overseas buyers were rendered null and void in the event of war, so the pearls and pearl shells could not be paid for. After the war, recovery was slow. By the early 1930’s the industry had been effectively taken over by the Japanese, and by 1939 the pearl industry was severely depressed and there were only 50 luggers operating in the waters around Broome.

The importance of the Japanese to the Broome economy was highlighted when Japan entered the Second World War in 1941: pearl shell collecting ceased completely as the entire Japanese population of Broome was interned. Broome was designated as a primary aircraft refuelling point during the evacuation from Java and was attacked by Japanese aircraft in 1942, though by this time the civilian population had already been evacuated.

After World War II the pearl industry revived, though buttons were now being made of plastic. Not  mother-of-pearl but pearls, cultured in a process learnt from Kokichi Mikimoto and modified to suit the Pinctada maxima oyster, funded Broome’s renaissance. The origins of the cultured pearl industry are celebrated in a memorial which depicts the three key people involved: T. Kuribayashi, Keith Dureau and H. Iwaki. It stands in town, opposite a rather spooky memorial to the divers themselves.

A few years ago Broome might as well have been renamed McAlpine, because Lord Alistair McAlpine so dominated the townscape and the economy of the town that some say it was virtually his personal fiefdom. To be fair, Lord McAlpine converted this rough pearling port into an attractive town (for the most part) though the older locals say it lost most of its unique frontier character during the transformation. He was responsible for the beautiful trees and other plantings which line the streets, he restored many of the most interesting Master Pearlers’ houses, and built a luxurious and opulent holiday resort at Cable Beach. This attracted other investors and the Cable Beach area is now the ‘posh’ part of Broome.

The rest of Broome is what could be kindly describe as ‘mixed’. Chinatown is picturesque and the main tourist streets are pleasant; there are some fancy hotels along the shoreline, but buildings on the side streets are often derelict and the famous Streeter’s Jetty is crumbling and encroached upon by mangrove thickets. There are slick modern suburbs but many of the houses adjacent to the town centre, especially those in the Aboriginal areas, are old and surrounded by a dispiriting combination of dusty ground, broken down cars and household appliances, litter and decrepit furniture, all interspersed with the vicious glitter of broken glass.

And that’s all, really. We’re waiting for The Man with the Big Truck to arrive from Perth to coincide with the next Spring tides around the 8th November. Then the boat will be hauled, the mast taken off, and we’ll fly to Perth while the boat follows at a more sedate pace.

This blog entry is long enough, so I’ll stop here. More shortly and – with luck – the photos of the astonishing scenery here.




Written by mnestis

November 6, 2010 at 10:44 AM

The Kimberley – Darwin to Cape Leveque

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THE KIMBERLEY – Darwin to Cape Leveque


This entry is even more of a journal and less of a coherent narrative than usual. Except for the occasional, weak signal we were without internet from Darwin until Cape Leveque, and simply cleaning up my daily notes seemed the easiest and best way to give a picture of the last weeks, given the number of places we’ve visited and the various challenges that have kept us occupied.

Just a few notes:

To find a location in Google Earth, one must enter the latitude and longitude in one of the following specific ways:

37 25’19.07″N, 122 05’06.24″W   or   37 25 19.07 N, 122 05 06.24 W

Google Earth doesn’t accept degree signs and also wants an extra number to the right of the decimal point, which our GPS doesn’t provide. I didn’t realise this until now. Sorry! If you move the cursor around until the figures at the bottom of the Google Earth page match those of our anchorages, you’ll be close.

~ ~ ~

The Kimberley is spectacular and picturesque and we’ve travelled much too fast to have caught more than a glimpse of what the area has to offer, but we haven’t done too badly considering our jack-rabbit progress.

The straight line distance between the King Edward River estuary and Yampi Sound is approximately 400 kilometres, whereas the actual length of coastline between them is about 12,850 kilometres and includes 2,581 mapped islands. To properly appreciate the specially lovely and remote places of the Kimberley, one would need months. There are narrow river canyons, small bays tucked behind peninsulas, islands, beaches made of quartz crystals, caves decorated with Aboriginal art, unusual animals, beautiful waterfalls, spectacular cliffs and interesting hikes.

Quite aside from the sheer distances involved, one of the reasons cruisers need so much time to be able to explore the shallow waters with a dinghy, and to venture in and out of the deeply indented coastline, are the 5-10 metre tides characteristic of this part of the Australian coast. Boats must wait for high tides to cross sandbars; rising or ebbing tides to get into or out of rivers or through narrow passages; slack tides to avoid tidal flows of 5+ knots in contrary directions within short distances; Neap tides for anchoring close to shore and for less tidal movement; Spring tides in order to venture far up river canyons. And it’s a good idea to move slowly when navigating in areas where large portions of the chart are marked ‘inadequately surveyed’. In fact, there’s a website which has a whole section devoted to the Kimberley’s uncharted rocks and hazards which have been discovered – often abruptly – by cruisers.

That said, the photos in the gallery are mostly lithic. That’s because unless one gets off the boat, which we seldom did, rocks are what one sees. On the other hand, a lot of geology has happened here and some of what remains is pretty dramatic.

Most of the landscape we passed as we sailed along the Kimberley coast is composed of sedimentary and igneous rock which forms part of the Pre-Cambrian Shield of the Proterozoic Eon. That was 1500-2250 million years ago, give or take a few million years, and I  photographed some of the oldest rock visible on the planet. To give some perspective to these figures: simple multi-cellular organisms evolved about 1200 million years ago, Australia separated from Antarctica about 70 million years ago, and the first humans came to Australia about 40,000 years ago.

The black patches and streaks that can be seen on many of the rock faces in the photographs are ‘desert patina ‘, composed of iron, silica and manganese oxides leached from soil and rock by moisture. It can take 2,000 years to form, which means that the simple multi-cellular organisms that scratch their names on patinated boulders and cliffs will have achieved a kind of immortality – as well as earning the heartfelt curses of generations of subsequent passers-by.

~ ~ ~

Joseph Bonaparte Gulf – nights of September 15th & 16th

The Joseph Bonaparte Gulf is named for Napoleon’s brother. This honour may not have been a compliment, given it is infamous for strong currents, short, steep seas and nasty weather.

The passage from Darwin took 48 hours, during which we covered about 275 miles. We were lucky enough to have calm, slightly foggy conditions during the first 24 hours and only a few squalls during the latter part of the trip. We had to slow down in order not to  arrive after nightfall, though, which made the boat roll dreadfully.

The fridge stopped working en route after having become ever feebler during stopover in Darwin. It now comes on occasionally when the main engine or generator is running. This keeps the cooling plate just chilly enough that the temperature inside remains at between 15 and 20 ° C, which is the equivalent of a nice summer’s day in England.  Even this is better than the outside ambient temperature of 28 – 30° C. and will keep the citrus fruits, onions and spuds from rotting immediately. A few things that must be kept properly cold are now in the small portable fridge/freezer The Captain hopefully brought along to augment the main freezer in case he caught a lot of fish.

~ ~ ~

‘Jim’s Bay’ – September 17th

13 46’21.60” S

126 59’50.50” E

This was the first available decent anchorage after crossing the Gulf. In fact, the bay has no name on the appropriate Australia chart, but was given this one by cruisers and that’s what’s it’s called in the Fremantle Sailing Club’s ‘Western Australian Cruising Guide’, which we are using as a pilot book.

Here, and when rounding Cape Londonderry, the view is of low, crumbling cliffs of red & whitish rock that stretch along the shore. The sea is a turbid green. The scrubby vegetation is sparse, clinging to the thin, exhausted topsoil. The Cape is the most northern part of the mainland of Western Australia, and is “…to be approached with extreme caution. There is often a strong tidal flow, and when there is a strong easterly wind the result can be extremely steep and dangerous breaking seas.” Luckily, we had almost no wind at all, to The Captain’s disgust and my delight.

~ ~ ~

Cape Talbot – September 18th

13 48’72.90” S

126 45’18.10” E

A decent anchorage. A long, long beach here, mangroves & rocks.  Nothing to photograph, though.

~ ~ ~

McGowan Island Beach & Camp, Napier Broome Bay – 19th & 20th September

14 08’67.70” S

126 38’74.70” E

This was intended to be a quick refuelling stop only, after which we had planned to anchor in the opposite side of the bay.  At every marina and sailing club since Airlie Beach, leaflets had been displayed advertising a fuel barge at this location during the 2010 Kimberley cruising season. But when we neared the area we saw only another yacht and some scattered buildings half-hidden by surprisingly lush vegetation.

We were anchored by lunchtime and immediately launched the dinghy. This takes 1 ½ hours and an equal amount of time is required to put it back, which is why we often didn’t bother going to shore after a long day’s sailing if we intended to leave again the next morning. I motored off with our 4 empty jerry-cans to get fuel, but before scouting around on shore I decided to pull up to the neighbouring yacht ‘Outsider’, which had a friendly aura about it, to say hello and enquire about the barge-less state of affairs. As it turned out Outsider’s inhabitants – Ian and Wendy – were very friendly indeed, as well as knowledgeable. Ian also brews exceedingly good beer on board! We sampled this while enjoying their company over drinks the next two evenings.

They had mentioned, when I told them of our plans, that high wind warnings were forecast for the next two days. When I returned to The Boat and reported this, The Captain decided to stay where we were until the weather settled down. The anchorage was secure and pleasant, the company interesting, the water was clear and jellyfish floated by looking like giant pink powder puffs. There was no reason to move on.

Fuel was to be got, not from a barge but from a tanker truck, parked by a giant boab tree slightly back from the beach. It was dispensed by Robert, who was to be found in the main building of the camp when he wasn’t out taking his boys fishing. He explained that this was the first year he and his wife were offering this facility and that it had been a reasonably successful venture.

It’s obvious that the owners of the McGowan Island Camp are putting in an enormous amount of work to improve the place. Young coconut trees line the red dirt road, small lawns under the huge mango trees were being watered, and generally the atmosphere is a hopeful one. A few years ago it was pretty desolate, according to a couple I spoke with who were car-camping there and who spend several months every year exploring the Kimberley and Northern Territory.

~ ~ ~

Freshwater Bay – 21st September

14 00’79.00” S

126 10’90.70” E

The trip from McGowan Island Beach started out most excellently. Ian called up on VHF to wish us Bon Voyage, the weather was fine and the wind just right. We both began to entertain the hope that – just possibly – the last part of our voyage might prove to be relatively problem-free and pleasant. But so far, agreeable conditions have always presaged imminent disaster of some kind and this time was no exception.

A few hours later the auto-pilot and chart plotter quit again. The Captain thought he’d fixed that recurrent problem after calling the service manager in New Zealand and getting a possible diagnosis and solution. They came on again after 5 minutes and some re-booting, but the fear remains that any day now they will quit permanently and we’ll have to hand-steer for hundreds of miles.

Then about mid-day smoke began pouring from the generator. This had overheated because, as we found out later, the salt water pump had died (it pumps salt water into the system to cool the fresh water that cools the engine). In retrospect, it’s unnerving how long it took us to realise there was a problem. Because the wind was blowing from the land, carrying with it the smell of bush fires, I didn’t register the faint odour of smoke in the boat as anything to worry about. The Captain has little sense of smell anyway, in spite of the impressive size of his proboscis, and relies on sound, lights and alarms to warn him of malfunctions, but the warning light was on a panel below. The air currents from the boat’s movement kept the smoke within the cabin. It was only by chance that I went below and saw what was happening.

Without the generator, of course, the water-maker won’t work. The Captain has finally had enough of doing repairs and having something else go wrong immediately afterwards – usually something previously ‘fixed’ by professionals. He’s tired of having to rush, spending only one night at every anchorage and having to move on again without a chance to relax. I’ve already expressed my opinion about the hassle-to-pleasure ratio of this exercise, but am now half-beginning to believe that short of having an exorcism performed, nothing we can do will stop the series of problems that have plagued this boat since the day we left Richmond.

The anchorage is pretty though, the holding is good, and in better circumstances we might have enjoyed it.

~ ~ ~

Parry Harbour – 22nd September

13 58’06.40” S

126 03’92.70” E

To get here we rounded Cape Bougainville and passed Hat Point. This doesn’t really look much like a hat except from one angle of approach, but with so many geographical features to name and a limited number of saints, days of the week, months of the year, members of European royal families, famous naval figures and random illustrious personages to honour, explorers’ imaginations probably got a bit stretched.

The harbour is large and protected and the holding is tenacious, to say the least. It stank of mangrove swamp where we were anchored, though, and wasn’t very interesting. The Captain spent the afternoon working heroically on the generator pump until it got too dark to see. He thinks he’s identified the problem; whether it can be solved remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I sort through the vegetables in the fridge every evening and throw out the ones that have gone mouldy or slimy. The chilli I made for dinner required too much water for washing up, so I shan’t be doing much cooking until we can fill the water tanks a few days from now at Silver Gull Creek and refuel at adjacent Dog Leg Creek. We each wash from a plastic bowl in about a litre of water a night, which doesn’t really suffice. We’ll have to keep being very careful with water until we get to Perth because the pump will not be reliable even if it can be fixed temporarily. We – and the boat – are sticky, grubby, smelly, tired of hassles and irritated with each other.

~ ~ ~

Krait Bay, just east of Cape Voltaire – 23 September

14 14’78.30” S

123 35’95.40” E

The vertical rock faces along the waterline of some islands we passed en route were fissured into such regular blocks that they looked almost like ruined masonry: like castles and fortified walls destroyed by siege, then shattered into rubble by earthquake so that only the foundations remain: ancient stones bleached to pale apricot and parchment by the fierce sunlight.

The bay itself is surrounded by low, not especially distinctive hills and small, white sand beaches.

We arrived early and spent the afternoon trying to fix the water pump. Once again The Captain couldn’t get as far back into the dirty, spiky hole under the cockpit as I can in order to wiggle things about or unscrew them. He decided the motor may have quit, so he replaced the new pump – installed in New Zealand, mind you! – with the old pump he had kept. But when he turned on the generator, although the pump motor functioned, water wasn’t going through the system and being expelled with the exhaust from the thru-hull in the back of the boat.

So he transferred the new pump’s impeller – a sort of flanged rubber wheel that pushes water into the system – into the old pump, isolated the hose leading from the pump by detaching the far end of it, and turned on the generator again. Success! Water came out of the pipe. So he reattached the other end and turned the generator on once more. Woe! Water and exhaust still weren’t coming out the thru-hull. This meant the pump motor had been the initial culprit, but we now had to find the proximate cause of the problem.

The Captain began dismantling things further along the line and then we made the grim discovery that the short pipe coming out of the exhaust water lock had melted into a blackened, distorted stump. The ‘exhaust water lock’ can also be called the ‘muffler’, but it serves the additional purpose of ensuring that in a following sea, water doesn’t get pushed back up the main engine’s exhaust pipe like a marine enema. It looks like a convoluted plastic box with a pipe coming out at each end.

This was a setback. But after I weaselled the muffler out from its nest of rubber pipes, I was able to remove some of the melted obstruction with a hot-knife and then push a small section of flexible plastic hose into the resulting hole. Then we measured the thick rubber pipe coming out of the engine – the one which carries the exhaust gasses from both engines to the muffler. The Captain found a thinner plastic pipe from his pipes stash that would fit snugly when forced into the rubber engine pipe. The idea was to shove the other end of that pipe over the small pipe coming from the muffler, secure everything with gaffer tape, and hope this temporary arrangement would work long enough for us to get to Broome….

Then we had to stop because it got dark. After dinner, The Captain suddenly remembered that he has a fibreglass patching kit – originally intended for the boat’s hull in case it got damaged – in his small mountain of spare gear. He suggested that we make a new pipe for the muffler instead of relying on a “bodge job” which he thought would be sure to fail. This did make sense, but also meant the work we’d already done had been a complete waste of time, which was depressing.

We were very dirty and couldn’t wash properly.

~ ~ ~

Shelter Bay, Prudhoe Island, Bonaparte Archipelago – 24 & 25th September

14 25’37.10” S

125 15’07.70”E

We motored over a smooth, milky green sea on which many small, buff-coloured, flat-bottomed islands seemed to float. They were exactly the same shapes and sizes as the puffy, flat-bottomed white clouds floating above them in a lacquer-blue sky. The effect was curiously artificial.

Shelter Bay is almost landlocked and Quoy Island lies opposite the opening, so once we’d motored inside we felt completely encircled, and guarded by the high reddish bluff of Gaimard Island which we had passed on the way in. The view was pleasant, but by early afternoon, when we anchored, it was already very hot and completely windless. I rigged a couple of bed sheets over the boom and tied them to the safety lines to provide a bit of shade for the deck, which helped keep the temperatures in the cabin bearable.

We immediately began working on the muffler. I made a template-cum-foundation out of a 4 inch piece of brown Manila envelope while we detached the muffler and cut out the remaining blackened, distorted plastic stump to make a round hole. Then it was time to mix the resin and hardener, paint some onto the template, then dip cut-up fibreglass into the rest of the rapidly warming goop and attach the template to the muffler with the resulting sticky, fibrous wads. This went well, and after waiting an hour the template and foundation were firm enough to add layers of woven fibreglass and more of the chopped stuff to build up a 3 inch pipe. Then the result had to cure.

That night, after The Captain had fallen asleep under the soothing breeze of a fan, I went out on deck to cool off and enjoy a bit of peace. We’d been sweating all afternoon, in a stifling hot, cluttered, confined, dirty space. The stars were crystal-clear and because the moon had not yet risen, Venus threw a bright path on the midnight-blue water. The surrounding hills were barely visible as darker silhouettes in the near distance and I could hear the soft plosive of a dolphin breathing in the dark as it circled the bay.

The next morning, the resin was not as hard as it should have been. This was because we’d got the proportion of resin to hardener wrong. Many expletives. Because the anchorage was secure and attractive, we decided to spend an extra day there in order to get the job done. We began all over again. This time we got it right, because the resin/fibreglass mixture turned hard almost immediately. It was only with the greatest difficulty that I was able to persuade The Captain to let the resin cure for the advised 24 hours. I was as eager as he to wash properly, but simply couldn’t cope with the idea of a third attempt.

We went to bed feeling slightly more cheerful. At 5:00 the next morning when I went on deck with my cup of coffee, the moon was still in the sky, the water was like glass, and the landscape was bleached by the pale pre-dawn light. The sight was so utterly lovely that I spent the next hour watching the sun rise and gradually paint the surrounding rock faces gold.

We left on the low tide and promptly scraped our hull on an uncharted rock/reef in the ostensibly clear passage between Gaimard and Quoy Islands. We turned the boat smartly around and left the way we’d entered the bay – the long way round!

~ ~ ~

Ivy Cove, Glauert Island (Glavert Island) – 26th September

15 03’07.20” S

124 57’88.50” E

As we approached this anchorage, which lies in a narrow passage between Glauert and Gray Islands, the vegetation became taller and denser and the cliffs along the shore became composed of dark basalt rather than the pink and orange sedimentary layers we’d mostly encountered so far. The pilot book advises that the anchorage is notable for a large boab tree set slightly behind a small beach, which turned out to be a useful bit of information.

The boab (Adansonia gregorii) is a very strange-looking tree, endemic to Australia, though it has relatives in Madagascar and Africa. We saw many solitary specimens growing at the ends of peninsulas in the most inhospitable parts of the surrounding landscape, like lonely outcasts. The Aboriginals call it ‘the upside-down tree’ and one of their legends recounts that the boab was originally created by the Tree God to be beautiful and bear delicious fruit. But the tree misbehaved and the God became so angry that he yanked the misbehaving boab out of the ground and stuck it back upside down.

The moment we’d anchored The Captain started the generator and it worked, so he immediately filled the water tanks. Thank goodness! Now we just keep our fingers crossed that the mended pipe stays intact until we get to Broome, where ‘civilisation’ begins again.

At 6am the next morning, a terrific racket heralded the arrival of a flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos at least 200 strong. They wheeled and whirled in the sky like a snow flurry, wings flashing white as they caught the slanting early sunlight, before they all disappeared behind a nearby hill.

~ ~ ~

Hanover Bay Inlet, Hanover Bay – 27th September

15 19’00.90” S

124 46’07.70” E

Leaving Ivy Cove we made our way down the centre of the passage between the two islands, with me as lookout on the bow. We encountered no obstacles and the only marked hazard – a large rock that would have been submerged had the tide been high – was prominent. Once again the sea was smooth and we motored all day because there hardly a breath of wind. The Captain gets very cross when this happens, although we have plenty of fuel. I love it! We saw several whales – mostly mothers with calves.

Sheer, flat-topped red cliffs rise straight from the sea on both sides of Hanover Bay Inlet and we anchored on the western side, just under a towering wall of crumbling red stone partly overgrown with white-trunked ghost gums that clung to every available crevice and formed small groves where the cliffs had collapsed and formed piles of talus.

White, cotton-wool clouds had been riding in the sky all morning, gathering in rebellious groups on the horizon as the afternoon progressed. By dusk, these had become towering thunderclouds in the far distance behind the cliffs on the opposite shore, and lightening began flickering within the bruise-coloured depths. Within 5 minutes, the mass of clouds was lit from within like a gigantic, misshapen Chinese lantern by almost continuous sheets and flashes of lightning. The drama took place in utter silence, because the storm was too far away for us to hear the thunder. We watched while eating dinner, but after about an hour – by this time the storm had spread along most of the horizon and showed no sign of weakening – we went to bed, The Captain muttering that with our luck, the damned thing would come our way and blow the rest of the electronics.

~ ~ ~

Deception Bay – 28th September

15 38’59.20” S

124 25’36.00” E

This was a good anchorage and the bay is free of hazards, so had we wanted to come in after dark it would not have been dangerous. However, the landscape was dull and featureless, with some hills so low they barely deserve the name and covered with sparse, scraggly vegetation. We had been told fishing is excellent at the anchorage in the north-eastern end of the bay near the river, but we anchored in the south-western end because it offered better protection from the wind.

The Captain did put a baited hook out at dusk, but caught only a baby shark about 18” long. I held it gently round the middle while he got pliers to take the hook out, and so I had a chance to admire it in the beam of a flash light. It was pale and slightly translucent – the colour of alabaster – and its skin was smooth, with a faint texture rather like that of soft, very fine suede. All the features that make sharks the creatures of nightmares were present, but in perfect, supple, beautiful miniature. Once the hook was out I threw the shark back into the water and it zipped away, seemingly unharmed.

Departure was at 2:30 am in order to make sure the tidal flow would be with us to the next anchorage. That meant getting up at 1:30 am…

~ ~ ~

Between Raft Point & Bluff Head, Doubtful Bay – 29th & 30th September

16 04’40.70” S

124 26’98.80” E

On our way down the coast we passed Langgi, where strange rock formations look like Indian temples and crowds of people along the shore. We weren’t close enough to take good photos, but we were able to get a good look with binoculars.

Raft Point is a popular anchorage for cruisers wishing to see the low tide expose Montgomery Reef, or admire nearby Aboriginal rock art sites and do day sails in the area. We did none of these, alas, although we had been told the sight of Montgomery Reef is not to be missed. We used Raft Point as a convenient place from which set out to cross the better part of Collier Bay before the terrifically strong tidal flows around the reef turned against us. It’s called Raft Point because the Aboriginal inhabitants of this area used it as a launching point for their rafts, which they took to Montgomery Reef more than 10 miles to the north-west, where they hunted and caught dugong and then floated them back with the favourable current.

We entered via Foam Passage, where a current that can reach 6 knots whips the surface of the water to froth. The anchorage itself is spectacularly beautiful and, because we’d got under way so early that morning and had the prospect of another revoltingly early departure, we decided to remain an extra day. The engines were both due for an oil change anyway and The Captain had other maintenance he wanted to take care of.  I did the laundry, cleaned up, cooked, and photographed the surrounding cliffs and islands at various times of day; it was not quite Monet’s cathedral at Rouen, but his enchantment with the effects of changing light on stone became understandable.

~ ~ ~

Between Melomys Island & Kingfisher Island – 1st October

16 07’48.10” S

124 05’84.60” E

The autopilot has died. The Captain was unable to boot it up, and we left Hall Point at 3:30am with him hand steering. Luckily the sea was calm again.

Just east of Kingfisher Island our 3G network suddenly came alive for about an hour and we had internet for the first time since leaving Darwin. I pounced and got all our e-mails, sent a few quick ones and was able to upload a few photos before the signal weakened. Although we lost the internet the phone connection remained strong, so we were able to call New Zealand again about the autopilot. Unfortunately, after a long discussion with the service manager, some diagnostic tests and much rebooting, they determined that the compass is at fault. It comes on, but is unable to communicate with the autopilot. When on the compass display setting, the screen reads: NFU. No Fucking Use – well, that’s accurate, at least!

This unexpectedly lovely anchorage was a small compensation for our troubles. Nothing had been said about it in our pilot book, other than that the eastern entrance is shallow, navigable, but subject to severe tidal rips. We went the long way round, of course. As we came around Kingfisher Island we saw another mother whale with baby. She was basking peacefully on the surface of water so smooth, it might as well have been a duck pond in one of London’s parks. Occasionally she exhaled a small fountain of spray while her youngster surfaced and dived around her. We motored very slowly so as not to disturb them, feeling slightly guilty, but she didn’t move.

We tucked into a cove just inside the eastern entrance between the islands, the holding was good and there was no swell. Had the wind been stronger though, that might not have been the case. From the boat we seemed almost completely landlocked, encircled by low, rolling hills covered with an almost park-like combination of graceful eucalyptus trees and short grass. Just opposite from where we were anchored, a cut rock face exposed snazzy red and white diagonal racing stripes and that evening we watched another thunderstorm – this one not quite as magnificently operatic as that in Hanover Bay Inlet, but a respectable effort nonetheless.

~ ~ ~

Silver Gull Creek, Yampi Sound, the Buccaneer Archipelago – 2nd October

16 09’97.00” S

123 42’46.10” E

We left Kingfisher Island at 4:30 am. It was still dark, but the moon was paling before the dawn. The air was still, and the day promised to be even hotter than usual.

Anchoring at Silver Gull Creek had originally been a priority for the sake of the fresh water to be had there, which we didn’t need any more because our fibreglass work seemed to be holding up. But, although theoretically we had more than enough fuel on board to get us to Broome and beyond, we decided we might as well top up.

We motored around the outside of Koolan Island and from there back down to Yampi Sound rather than take The Gutter and The Canal between Koolan Island and the mainland. We’ve come to mistrust these narrow passages. Once we had passed the dense, dark red haematite shores of the Iron Islands and Koolan Island, the landscape consisted of rounded hills meeting the water in gentle, fawn coloured, parabolic curves lightly covered with the usual pale gum trees and scrub. This is where we saw 3 dolphins of a variety we hadn’t encountered before. They were pale beige and their heads were blunt and bulging rather than the sleek, pointed snouts we were accustomed to.

Later, I did a bit of research and found they had been Australian snubfin dolphins, a rare and only recently identified species.

Further into the inlet leading to Silver Gull Creek, we came to a cliff face made of fine sedimentary layers which had been violently twisted and upended vertically to form a fan shape. Where the hills met the water, smooth ground opened into gashes lined with shattered layers of blue-grey slate, which also formed menacing promontories on either side of us. Startling enough, but upon closer inspection with binoculars we could see that some of the slopes near the shoreline were spiked with of shards of razor-edged blue slate arranged in rows, the tips stained a rusty-red colour unpleasantly reminiscent of dried blood. It was as if the hills had been sown with dragons’ teeth. A rather disquieting landscape.

We anchored, then called the fuel barge and pontoon in neighbouring Dog Leg Creek on VHF16, and were told we were in good time to re-fuel at the high tide. This we did, then motored back and re-anchored. That night the sea was more bioluminescent than we had ever seen, and anything thrown overboard provoked an explosion of light. I dragged the fishing net through the water and created nebulae, fish swimming by the boat glimmered in the deep, and when we left the next morning before dawn our bow wave sparkled like a twin Milky Way, and our wake glowed behind us like a comet’s tail.

~ ~ ~

Sunday Island, Buccaneer Archipelago – 3rd October

16 23’27.10” S

123 09’84.00” E

King Sound has some of the strongest tidal flows and greatest tidal ranges in The Kimberley, and because The Captain was doing most of the hand-steering it would have been very difficult to make it all the way to Cape Leveque. Even there, the anchorages we could have reached in one day’s sail are relatively unsatisfactory.

So we spent the night at Sunday Island. One doesn’t feel very secure here. Although we anchored within a small bay, that’s stretching the definition of the word. It might as well have been Grand Central Station when it came to currents, and had the weather been boisterous we’d have been very nervous indeed, as the anchorage is surrounded by reefs.

There was little to see or photograph, though there was some bioluminescence, this time in the form of long, glowing strings that floated by on the current like discarded party decorations.

~ ~ ~

Thomas Bay, Cape Leveque -4th & 5th October

16 28’54.90” S

122 52’91.50” E

The waters between Sunday Island and Cape Leveque were roiling with contrary currents, rips and little whirlpools. We sailed with the tide part of the way and there was little wind, which was a blessing. Had there been a stiff breeze the going would have been difficult.

We’re now out of The Kimberley and anchorages seem to have become almost nominal. In our pilot book the phrase ‘anchorage has been taken at’ is used frequently for this area, as if to say, ‘For anyone daft enough to have to hang out in this area overnight, you just might get away with slinging your hook here’. This particular anchorage is very rolly – almost like heaving-to – in spite of the light winds. The shore is one long, white sand beach except at one end, where the white sand meets a low red rock escarpment.

The Captain has now definitively traced the problem with a sporadically malfunctioning GPS to the generator: when that is turned on, the GPS goes off and the course computer becomes erratic.  The cables to these units are properly screened, but they end in plugs. These plugs end in ‘networking plugs’ which were installed 60 cm away from a 210 amp Balmar alternator. The plugs could be temporarily screened with aluminium foil, but that’s hardly a solution.

Expressed in layman’s terms: the alternator is leaking electricity, driving the GPS and course computer mad, all those old ladies who are afraid of electricity leaking from sockets aren’t so weird, and the tin-foil hat brigade are right after all. The generator and GPS and course computer can’t be on at the same time, the fluxgate compass has gone catatonic and can’t communicate with the outside world and we have no autopilot – in spite of the fact that we had two separate systems installed as a safety measure.  The generator and water maker are relying for life on an old pump and our fibreglass DIY project. Oh – and the freezer is dying, the fridge effectively dead.

We might be able to get the autopilot fixed in Broome and The Captain has contemplated flying someone he can trust up from Perth to do the job. A new fluxgate compass could be sent overnight by the New Zealand company who provided the original. We should be able to get a replacement pump and new muffler and have those installed. A new compressor might solve those refrigeration problems, or they could be related to leaking gas….who knows?

There’s no calculating how long these repairs will take or if they’d be effective. Certainly until now repairs have never solved problems for long and often create new ones. Nothing can be done about the proximity of alternator and networking plugs without fitting suppressors (aluminium foil with a university degree, as far as I understand it) and moving some of the electrical system to another part of the boat.

We were able to arrange a mooring in Broome, but because of the strong tidal flows a small dinghy like ours can only be used to get to and from shore during the brief period of slack tide, which occurs only every 6 hours at varying times of day and night. The boat has to be below 30° South by the 1st November, which is the official beginning of the cyclone season, or the insurance will not cover damage if we should get caught in a ‘named’ storm. Time for some hard thinking.

The Captain has decided at this point – all things considered – that he no longer has enough confidence in The Boat’s vital systems to feel comfortable taking her any further than Broome. We have already logged 2,900 miles since leaving Brisbane and from Broome it is another 1,200 miles to Perth. We would be travelling to a deadline, with headwinds a certainty, along a dangerous coast with few places to pull in should we hit bad weather and even those giving little protection. If something major did go wrong again there would be nowhere to get it fixed until we were very close to Perth. With just two of us on board it would be all too easy to get into serious trouble, if only due to simple fatigue.

We have excellent 3G access here, so we’re staying an extra day while The Captain investigates the possibility of getting The Boat hauled in Broome and having her brought south by truck or loaded onto a large ship and brought down by sea. He’s rejected the idea of hiring a crew to take the boat to Perth on the grounds that if he no longer trusts the boat’s navigational systems it isn’t right to send other people out on her.

We should be in Broome by Sunday, and that’s all for now!

Much love,