Friday 26 December 2014

Onto Darwin

King George River

Farewell King George! The best of the Kimberley we think.

We were leaving the Kimberley, setting off from the King George River. We had before us the potentially nasty stretch of water known as Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, or alternatively known as "Blown apart Gulf"...  220Nm of it to Darwin. On the way out a cat crossed the river mouth, “Dog on Cat”. Susie hailed them on the VHF to get weather info, should be plain sailing was the reply, all westerlies which sounded good to us. It was an easy run in light breezes, Ashiki made 70 miles the first day, 60 the second and 50 the third. Adverse currents and calms eventually getting the better of her. But not to worry, it was all lounging around reading our kindles, as the windvane connected direct to tiller did a sterling job leaving us with little to do, most the time..


Sailing through the muck. Much conjecture as to what it is,
either algae or coral spores. Waiting the an Oceanographer to

The few times we did motor, and never more than an hour, involved hand tillering which we don’t like, as the windvane doesn’t work in that case. Oh for an electronic tiller pilot. The winds were quite flukey during the last couple days too which doesn't suit the wind vane either, lots of climbing into the cockpit for readjustments, through the night even.

Darwin with hotrodded Customs boat centre. They get all
the good gear!

Darwin was a sight for sore eyes, the first sign of civilisation for two months. Its looking quite different to what I expected, shimmering white towers on the horizon, like a mini Singapore !? Eh… Darwin? The tides defeated us again on the final approach, electing to anchor across the bay from the city, in one of the few spots without marine cables, gas pipelines etc which are generally anchoring prohibited areas.

By morning we sailed, with all panels up, rounding the bottom of Darwin and anchored in Frances Bay near the mouth of “the creek” just as the tide was turning, and with the motor conking out.. Ashiki sailed the last 30 yards to drop anchor. (New spark plug was needed.) Our first foray into Darwin was via the famous Dinah Beach Yacht Club. I say “famous” because the place for me was immortalised in Kris Larsen’s book “Monsoon Dervish”. Quite the tome, highly recommended. (A bloke who sails out of Tasmania with $1.50 in his pocket, his only piece of nav equipment is a compass, which doesn’t work because it’s a steel boat and tosses it overboard..  it’s interesting reading!) I was hoping to meet the author at Dinah Beach, where he apparently is a fixture, but alas, he is off again to places intrepid in his trusty, and austere vessel, Kehaar.

Kehaar, ho ho.

We tied the dinghy to the floating pontoon, the tide went out and we could't leave for the next 5 hours..

Darwin, what can I say, historic charm gone? I think Tracy took it away, that being the 1974 “beyond category” cyclone, which registered 200mph at the airport before the measuring equipment disintegrated, then practically wiped the place clean. 30,000 souls were subsequently airlifted out in what became Australia’s biggest airlift in history. Can’t blame the place for everything rebuilt new, its bigger too, 145,000pop, but alas, looks like Gold Coast developers have had a hold the joint this past decade, it looks like any Aussie city. :(

There are plusses, as we settled into Dinah Beach dinners, $8 for fish’n’chips and $5 beers…  this place is like the working man’s yacht club, with the odd intrepid sailor thrown in, no white shoes to be seen. :)  They have live music 6 or 7 days a week, never heard any other "yacht club" doing that!

Swimming area with croc net.
Of course we visited the museum to pay homage to sweetheart. No intrepid sailor passes through Darwin without doing so :). Maybe because the beast evokes such circumspection on one’s mortality, or lack of it in her jaws.. she being a 5m croc. I may be a little unfair, sweetheart never hurt anyone. Her aversion to outboards was her only crime, being 300 years old I would have thought she’d understand the temporary nature of human civilisation, if she kept low profile for the next hundred years, I’m sure she would have had her creek back to herself… instead of her eventual fate, under the knife of the taxidermist..

Sunday 14 December 2014

Squatters and Dugong Bay

Yampi Sound is not an unoccupied patch of water. It is remote busy place with Iron ore carriers, barges, pilot boats and helicopters as there are two active iron ore mines here; Cockatoo and Koolin Islands. The ore from here is too pure, they cut it with common dirt to get it down to parity, for the price. Too bad the settlements there are private, no access for us cruisers. There is a 3G tower here, but its Optus! Not working with our Telstra phone.

We ended up visiting the famous squatters of Silvergull Creek. Well worth the effort. Originally the squatters shack was built by Phil and Marion, by the time we were there, they had moved on and swapped with another couple, Mal and Shelley. What good value they are! A pleasant few days floating around their water tank (constant supply of running spring water) and drinking home brew and chatting to fellow intrepid sailors. I won the darts game :)

Next stop was Dugong Bay, first of the major Kimberley attractions, something we were looking forward to. We weren't dissappointed. The sail there meant negotiating the 10 knots current at the entrance, our first experienced with the crazy Kimberley currents. Well, we got there!

A stunning place, surrounded by limestone mountains, too bad the 100m high waterfall had dried up. We hung around there 3 nights, explored one of the creeks and climbed the small waterfall for a picnic. Saw our first croc, out in the bay, not big. He gave us a wide berth as he swished along.

Headed out this time during slack tide so we wouldn't have the excitement of rip tides at the entrance, then anchored outside waiting for the tide to switch the other direction for us to make our way north.

Later on I think I missed an opportunity to take the National Geographic wildlife picture of the year... We could've become rich! We spotted a humpback whale with calf paralleling our course, in time the calf must have strayed over to us to check out Ashiki because what happened next was mind blowing. I heard a splash, turned and saw a 40+' full grown humpback whale horizontal out of the water, a breach 2m above the surface only 30m off our beam! She crashed downward, a mighty belly flop, but not a huge wake from the splash. I think she was sending us a message and honestly I was a little scared and the camera was below. I did duck down to get it, but next she surfaced she was far away, taking her calf with her. That was an event to get the heart pumping!

Myself and Mal (the Squatter) conferring.

SilverGull Squatters Arms

View of SilverGull Creek from the shack

Departing SilverGull in a fresh Easterley

Dugong Bay

Dugong Bay
Dugong Bay
Searching for the waterfall, Dugong Bay

Pool above Dugong Bay

Tide rips outside Dugong

That whale!

Friday 12 December 2014

Cape Leveque - Sunday Strait

We hung around Cape Leveque for two nights waiting for the more reasonable winds, since the Sunday Straits, the stretch of water across the top of King Sound, can be nasty in a blow especially if its wind against tide. I have seen a video of it, large foamy overflows in the middle of the sea, thus we didnt want to take any chances. The safer conditions would likely mean winds too light to get anywhere, so we were prepared with extra fuel onboard to motor the whole 25 miles if needed. The morning of departure had light breeze from the SE. Getting out of Cape Leveque was easy, with the tide we cruised up to 5.5 knots with all panels up. Rounding the point the currents changed to a cross direction and soon we were motorsailing to keep 3 knots. We kept at this for most the Straits, with the Tohatsu purring along at half thottle, 8 litres of fuel consumed in 8 hours. I was chuffed with that miserly fuel consumption, I think the little outboard will do ok in the Kimberley. 

Our destination was a place called Silica Bay on Hidden Island, but that didn’t work out. We arrived in the dark to see three boats already anchored in the tiny bay and the space we shoe horned Ashiki into was too shallow. Sometimes plan A doesnt work out, we hauled the anchor back up and headed out into the night. There was no plan B, I had to quickly peruse the charts for an anchorage as we motored. The next spot a couple miles away wasn’t shallow enough so on we went, this time killing the motor and sailed as the current was favourable, taking us slowly up the channel towards Yampi Sound. At one point Ashiki drifted windless, turning around without steerage, but still making 1.5 knots in the right direction so Susie cooked an easy dinner and we dined together down below while high peaked islands slid by in the dark. 

Eventually we settled on Myridi Bay arriving at 11pm, this was an instruments only entry as we couldn’t see much in the darkness, occasionally flashing the LED Lenser torch at the shore. The anchor seemed to hold, in a deep 14m, so that was good enough for us. We covered more that we usually do in a day sail, 48 miles in 14 hours, a long day. The following morning we discovered we were in a rather pleasant gorge.

Myridi Bay, the following morning.

Yampi Sound.

Outside Crocadile creek, next stop after Myridi.

Crocadile Creek, ladder to the pool.

Crocadile creek pool, tides sometimes swamp
here even, giving an opportunity for 
visit the place. Pays to have a look around before taking
the plunge, which we did.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Broome to Cape Leveque

First leg of the voyage is the roughly 115Nm Broome to Cape Leveque. I’ll mostly stick to pictures and captions, as there is too much the write. We did try to anchor for lunch during a calm on the first day out, but the bay had too many whales! That wold be Quondong Pt, just before James Price Pt, which has had some publicity of late, where our State leader wanted to build an LNG plant. He couldn't because of the humpback whale highway.

The strategy for the Kimberley, is sail for 6 hours when the tide is with you, anchor, go again the next day when the tide turns for 6 hours. No one gets very far this way, commonly 15 to 30 miles/day. The alternative is to go out to sea, 30 miles off the coast where the currents are weaker and sail continuously, do your 90 miles/day or whatever, but you don't see anything that way.

First day out of Broome, this guy, longer than our boat, was along side
then dived, saw him underwater, a big dark shadow floating, seeming
to wait for us to pass. He resurface astern crossing our line.
He was giving way to us!

The whole 6 days to Cape Leveque we saw these shenanigans.
First we'd hear a "pop", and look to see a pile of spray on
the horizon somewhere. So I waited with the telephoto
lens and got this shot. Sorry for the fuzzy's, he was a long
way away.

Lovely splash he makes. We'd hear these "pop"
sounds all day long.

Pender Bay, where the guide book says
Kimberley-type scenery starts. We can see the difference.
The rocks are more interesting and Pandanus palms, 

a Kimberley native tree, begin to show themselves.

Rocks at Pender Bay, beginning of "Kimberly-type" scenery.

Cape Leveque at last. We had spent 4 days marooned in
Thomas Bay prior to this, waiting out gales. We lost a solar
panel overboard, but retrieved it the following
morning at low tide.
On the beach at Cape Leveque

Kimberley sunset, enhanced by bushfire smoke.

The view from Cape Leveque cafe/camp site.

Cape Leveque beach, people were swimming and
sun baking around the corner...  don't they know
about crocodiles?? (the swimming beach had one visit
last year)

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Cable Beach Respite

We’re swinging to anchor in Darwin harbour as I type this, first morsel of 3G reception in 500 miles. The Kimberley adventure is behind us, and I’d better get posting about it’s delights. Firstly, we had yet to leave Broome, the other end of the Kimberley:

In Roebuck Bay, not a great anchorage.

Hanging off the hook behind Broome’s port pier wasn’t too bad, we had a calm week, but the Queenslander on the neighbouring boat became excited about the weather forecast. A big blow from the SE was coming and this place isn’t well protected from it. He was heading for Cable Beach on other side of the point for better shelter, so that’s where we ended up for a our final few days in Broome. The 30 knot gale did come, but the water remained flat and calm on this side so it was all good. Much more crowded over here, the locals keep their boats here as do all the charter operations, of which there are plenty. Never knew Kimberley cruising was such big business.

Busy place, Cable Beach

A crowded anchorage in a high tidal area makes things tricky. We chose a spot at least 60m from a vacant mooring, the next day a 90’ charter boat tied itself to it and things look ok. That night we started hearing loud music right outside our cabin. The big charter boat with music blaring was almost on top of us. Ten metres away! All the crew member onboard said to us was: “We’re on a mooring, we’re not moving, you’re drifting”.  Well, we frantically started the motor then winching up our anchor and thankfully didn’t collide with the vessel. Motored over using the GPS and depth sounder, dropped anchor a 60 or 70m closer towards the shore, making sure we have enough depth for low tide. We didn’t drift, it was because both Ashiki and the mooring have lots of scope, over 30m each, in the lower tide the two boats simply swing in wider circles thus the near collision. Anchoring is certainly more complicated up here.

We were waiting for the weather window to leave for the Kimberley and by Thursday the gales subsided, we weighed anchor at 7am to enjoy a moderate offshore breeze. Thus started our long Kimberley adventure and route to Darwin.

Broome Boab tree

Broome in its hayday

Cable beach, the swimming part. No crocs, yet..

Only part of Broome I remember from previous visit, the pub.

A pearl lugger, a beautiful 40' wooden boat.

Friday 12 September 2014

Break in posting

Since we are presently cruising the Kimberley and there is zero internet access between here and Darwin, blog posting will stop for awhile. Could be a month or more before the next post.

Gary & Susie

Thursday 11 September 2014

Roebuck rumble

Our first night at the anchorage was a baptism of fire. 30 knots and 1 metre waves hitting us, don’t know how we got any sleep. I can see why many cruisers bypass Broome altogether. It was a little hard to bypass for us with so little facilities available in the Kimberley, Broome is the last out post of civilisation and we’d like to top up with water and provisions, just that Roebuck Bay is a terrible anchorage. The tides are big here too, a 9m tide was coming in a few days, so made sure we had 50m of anchor rode out. We rowed into Town beach the following morning, 1 Nautical mile took us 35 minutes. (If you notice in this blog, when I mention “mile”, I mean nautical mile.) Then walked the 1 mile to downtown to look around. 

Broome is a pearling town, always has been. In the 19th century it was the biggest mother of pearl producer in the world, with over 300 pearling ships based there. Huge. The industry weathered all kinds of disasters, two cyclone taking 180 lives both times. (The Broome cemetery began filling up!) But what finally killed the mother of pearl industry was a chemical company in the U.S., namely Dupont, inventing plastic in the 1930’s. The world’s citizens who up till then had relied on mother of pearl to keep their shirts on…  i.e. buttons, and Broome had 60% of the world’s market cornered. There were pearlers from all over Asia here, the Chinese and the Japanese with their 100’ pearling sampans and the Aussies using cheap ‘expendable’ aboriginal labour. Then the button makers found out about plastic and that was the end of that. By the late 1940’s Broome reverted to harvesting pearls instead, by comparison a much smaller industry.

Can’t post about Broome without mentioning everyone’s favourite pirate, namely William Dampier. His journals of his triple circumnavigations were the hottest sellers back in Britain. He landed around here, somewhere, in 1699 and shot an indigenous fella then scarped to Timor, just to get water, as they had no luck finding any in Australia. (Too bad, the Kimberley waterfalls are just a few days sail from here, all the fresh water he’d need). Thus we have “Dampier Creek” and this bay and the pub named after his ship the HMS Roebuck. 

I last visited this place in the 80’s and boy has it changed! Population explosion, at around 40,000 with all the tourists. The trendy cafes are hopeless for meals, over priced and under portioned but the kebabs in the Egyptian restaurant opposite Coles are excellent (Susie says its the best kebab she ever tasted). The local indigenous still speak with their ancient dialects, never hear that in the city. The traffic is surprising, be careful you aren’t run down, travellers everywhere in 4WD’s, this is the dry season and the place is packed. Too bad Broome does absolutely nothing for cruisers, there’s very little here to attract them. Pity, Broome is a great town and deserves its reputation as a paradise.

After a few days of being beaten up by the Roebuck anchorage another cruiser dinghied by and introduced himself, Brett on “Nikita”, a 36’ steel Pugh design sloop, let us know there’s room over in the Port area, just outside the port boundary which is a better protected anchorage. After the next row ashore, we came into a spot of bother coming back, a 2 knot current took hold of our dinghy and another cruiser came to our rescue, towing us back to Ashiki. That boat is too slow to row with a load, we’ll need to do something about that..

Sick of the lousy location we weighed anchor and motored the 2 miles to the port, anchoring only 600m from the shore this time, tucked in behind the big shipping pier, but a long trek into town. We have bicycles so this isn’t a problem. The anchorage was much nicer, but the dinghy we decided could be a problem, especially in the Kimberley because of crocodiles. We discussed it and with our dinghy being more a planing hull rather than a good rower and we couldn’t very well obtain another one here in Broome, we decided to order an outboard. Now we are the proud owners of a 3hp Zongshen 2 stroke. Not fast, but it works and weighs only 10kg. It was ordered over the phone and the courier delivered it to the boat ramp opposite Ashiki, we watched him drive his van right down to the water as we were rowing ashore. Fine service I say!

Sunday 7 September 2014

Final reach to Broome

80 Mile Beach

Our reach along 80 mile beach, which is over 100 miles actually, did take a few days. The next leg leaving Wallal Downs yielded only 20 miles, from midday till sunset when the wind died, when we simply cruised to a mile off the beach and dropped anchor. Anywhere on this coast is a calm anchorage. Four more day sails we were anchoring in Roebuck Bay off Broome, covering 40 miles each of the next two days, then plagued by calms the final two. Opposite Lagrange Bay, which we decided not to enter because we were sailing so well, we were iPadded. A fishing dinghy motored up to us and our photo taken by tablet. Same day we saw a humpback whale at 1/2 a mile away, next day we saw another at 200m, both much larger than Ashiki.

The final day an excellent wind sprung from the south and we wing and wonged Ashiki past the tall pier and into Broome’s anchorage at speed, averaging 5 knots that day. Though arriving mid afternoon we couldn’t get ashore, it was a mile away and conditions were getting a little boisterous for dinghy rowing. 

80 Mile Sunset
Shark stole my nice lure!

Almost becalmed opposite Lagrange Bay


Broome with clouds (water spout material?)

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Amphinome blues

Sunset at the Spit anchorage

This was to be a big day, 60 miles upwind to the next anchorage was a big ask. We weighed anchor at 4:45am and flew at 5.8 knots behind the spit for the first hour. Can’t say the same about the rest of the passage. When the tide went against us, the wind swung on the nose and waves picked up and progress ceased to exist. This became an overnight’er, 35 hours and Ashiki sailed 90 miles, zig zagging against wind and tide, 30 miles more than the planned route.  The wind did moderate and unlike the rest of the coast, the waves didn’t moderate with it. I thought that must be against the rules, downright unfair at least. These shoals fetched up large waves at us with very little wind to give us drive. It was miserable. Out to sea to clear the Amphinome shoals, waves did die down eventually and as we weren’t making much progress we hove to. Then I decided to drop sails which wasnt a great idea because we started drifting backwards with the ebb. The only remedy for that was either anchor in 12m or motor, we chose the latter for an hour at which time the tide turned and we could drift forwards. In a calmer conditions we took the opportunity to have dinner. The wind did pick up again and we were soon racing to the anchorage through the night, not our favourite time as we were both getting sleepy. Sailing the great arc around the shoals left us almost 20 miles offshore where the waves weren’t small, but Ashiki ploughed on at 4 knots through the moonless gloom and despite being in the tropics, the temperature was down to 13C. Freezing compared to the daytime temperature.

We did two hour shifts at the helm, during Susie’s stint she heard a low murmuring coo noise behind her, turning around she saw a large bird perched on the solar panel an arm’s length away, Susie let out a high peached squeal, and the bird took flight.

At dawn I decided to take the shortest route to the coast where we could anchor, it was a hard uncomfortable night and thought we could do with a safe anchorage, for dinner and sleep. By 3pm we were dropping anchor in 8m off Mt Blaze, a mile offshore, not very protected but the winds were light and it wasn’t rolly.  The plan was to sleep till 10pm then take off, as the winds lately have been good overnight.

Mt Blaze marked the end of the dusty central Pilbara, the water was no longer grey, here it was a beautiful tourquoise, such a contrast.

Tranquility off Mt Blaze

On the shore was one of those campervan sites. I wonder if we’ll get ourselves reported here too, but I think Customs have our number by now.. A little further up the coast we could see the beginnings of a long stretch of white beach, the western edge of the the spectacle known as “80 Mile Beach”. This we would be following to make the Kimberley town of Broome.

Mt Blaze camping ground

The alarm went off at 10pm and there was no wind, so we slept through to dawn. Then there seemed to be light, but enough wind to sail so we weighed anchor and Ashiki made 1 mile in one hour. We couldn’t follow the coast from here, as before us was a 10 mile wide uncharted area to detour around and didnt want to be drifting out there, its far nicer sleeping secure at anchor, so we decided to drop anchor again, opposite aforementioned campervan town. Several hours later, at 11am, a South Easterly did fill in and we started off again. We sailed out to sea 10 miles offshore with a plan to sail as far as the winds hold. But by morning we were having second thoughts and headed for the coast again at around 4am and spent the morning anchored opposite Wallal Downs homestead. 53 miles sailed in 17 hours, all to windward… of course.