I like staying anchored at a nice spot for a few days and then moseying on to the next one, schedules don’t make for good cruising. But this leg was going to require us to hop around the Northern Territory coast to a new anchorage every day because we wanted to catch up with the Tipperary Mob for the Gove Boat Rally.
After 2 weeks exploring the Cobourg Peninsular area, we left the delightful Port Essington, intending to anchor somewhere around Croker Island, but as we arrived there early in the day and conditions were good, we decided to keep going and ended up anchored at Grant Island (further east of Croker Island). We could see schools of large fish hitting the surface repeatedly, so Peter set up to catch a tuna. Neon tried showing interest but he was still recovering from an embarrassing seasick moment this morning.
There ended up being no tuna because the fresh water pump died and we spent some time replacing that with a brand new pump. We did try to repair the old water pump by reassembling the pressure/micro switch which had failed, but it was not to be. I do have yet another spare fresh water pump somewhere at the back of the engine room (we had a few pump related issues in our early boating days, so we tend to have a few spares – like you do with tins of tomatoes, just these are bigger).
The weather was turning again and after a day of choppy waters we next anchored at Mullet Bay on the West side of North Goulburn Island. This is another really nice island; not very high, but with sandy beaches and pretty cliff bits, and some reefs and rocks to keep you on your toes when coming in.
Later that night we were joined by catamarans ‘Combyu’ and ‘Red Knot’. Deb on ‘Combyu’ was sounding very tired as they were having a hard time in those choppy conditions. They are both sail boats and with the winds directly against our direction of travel were not making very good time or with much comfort. ‘Red Knot’ reported that they had to clean coral spawn out of their strainers (for cooling their engines) – it looks like orange/red strips of carpet across the surface of the water (it is actually lots of gobby masses that stick together). We don’t use sea water for cooling and all our intakes are well down on the hull so this is not a problem for us.
The passage between the Goulburn Islands was very ‘pitchy’. I had ‘fun’ watching the weather station (at the top of the mast) reporting the pitching (-16 to +20, this means that the front of the boat tips up from horizontal by 20o and then tips down by 16o, like a big seesaw) – it’s not very comfortable, but I prefer a pitching motion rather than rolling side to side (rolling is the only time I’ve been seasick – touch wood). It took my mind off trying to work out what to do if the bow actually went into the water at the bottom of one of these waves – according to the storm survival book I just finished reading it would not be good and prevention (using throttle and direction) is better than ‘dealing with’. Neon is sleeping like a baby; while this is good it does mean that he doesn’t drink as much as he should, which was concerning.
After this rough day we anchored at a place called Entrance Island at the mouth of the Liverpool River. Up river we could see the lights of the town of Maningrida. They really bring home what odd times we are cruising in, as we can see them, but aren’t allowed to visit. In fact, no entry permits have been issued for any stretch of this coast as the communities have put themselves into isolation for the foreseeable future.
Another bumpy, but relatively ok hop to our next stop, Cape Stewart. It was only a six hour run, which was good for Neon, as I now had a constipated cat. I was adding water to his wet food in the evenings to make a kind of soup, in hopes that he will drink more.
We then had the roughest anchorage ever!!!! In the anchoring book we are using, Cape Stewart is listed as a marginal anchorage, so we knew it wasn’t going to be great. But if we’d known how bad it was going to get, we would have ridden the night out on the open water. The difference is that while being out in the open will be uncomfortable in the winds that we experienced, at least we have some control in where the boat is pointing and how waves hit the hull. When anchored (and our lovely Rocna stayed put all night) the position of the boat is determined by the tide and wind. Last night we had the tide pushing water and waves into the shore but the wind was running along the shore, the end result is that the wind pushes the boat the wrong way for the seas. The boat faced into the wind , with the waves, 2m seas at the time, hitting her full side; it’s called being beam-on and means that she rolled from side to side all night like a big pendulum (especially after the flopper stopper broke).
With the wild rolling, Peter managed to let a drawer of drinks fly out of the fridge, so we smelled like a brewery (as does my little Dyson vaccy – I had to clear a glass free path in a hurry, I’m not sure if the vaccy will survive the beer). One of our flopper stoppers worked so hard it lost some shackles during the night and the aluminium tubes on the roof that support the stack were whipping so much during the night that I was sure they would break (they did not, but the noise was terrible). A wave came through the porthole in the bedroom (rookie mistake leaving it open) and woke Peter at 1:30am (he closed the window, grabbed a dry pillow and went back to sleep!). I now had to dry a mattress, clean a soaked linen cupboard (it’s located under the porthole) and soggy books; and all without a cup of tea as it was too rough to boil the kettle this morning (or last night so I didn’t have a thermos either). Boating is not all beer and skittles; unless you are talking skittling beer across the salon floor. And Neon threw up after spending the entire night with his claws sunk into the lounge – he must have sore leg muscles; I know my shoulders will take some time to recover.
The next day all was good. There is a little dot on the horizon of the photo that is ‘Shebeen’, the other larger Nordhavn that we met back at Seven Spirit Bay. They came in late after we arrived at Cape Stewart and did not have a good time either. At least it was a short run today, so I could take my time getting some cleaning done. [I note that the parsley that had been growing with no real enthusiasm has now committed to pumping out fronds at a rate of knots since it was thrown onto the shower floor during that night].
Our next stop was at Galiwinku. We can’t go ashore here to the Township (permits again), but we could see very happy kids playing on the beach. The fibro houses are freshly painted in blue and yellow and have multi-coloured tin rooves; it looks like a nice little community. We desperately wanted a nana nap, but for some reason I suddenly ran out of water while trying to clean salt damage from the previous night. We thought it was the water pump (new though it was), but no, it was warm but working. We checked all the taps, but none were accidentally on. The bilge didn’t look flushed clean, so the water tanks hadn’t sprung a leak (although the pump was hot which would indicate a leak on the pressure side, but there is never any harm checking other possibilities as you problem shoot – it does not pay to be narrow minded with this process). We made water while having lunch and with a quarter tank, turned on the freshwater pump and listened. Peter found the leak on the boat deck. It has always been a problematic tap, as the supply pipe coming through the locker wall just isn’t long enough for a solid grip on the threads, so we assumed it had popped off on the inside of the top locker. I left Peter to take off the grill work while I went to dig out the plumbing box. On the way back up I hear him groan and he calls “Suz come and look at this” – oh dear, that’s never good. Inside the locker, glued to the wall was a vine of blackened plastic that was once the water pipe to the tap. The covers over the winch controllers are buckled and there is a fine layer of soot on everything. The top of the exhaust insulation looked a big ragged and the exhaust pipe heading up the mast was not following quite the correct angle. We took off the top insulation piece and bits of the large collar bolts came away with it – there has been long-term corrosion up here and something bad has happened.
Recently we had had a bit of rust falling from the stack onto the engine below – the problem with human nature is that we can get used to things that occur regularly and slot them into the normal category. The end result in this case is that during one very hideously-rolly, windy anchorage, the stack broke from the muffler. The next day when the engine was started, the break let hot exhaust gases spew out into the top deck locker onto the hoist control boxes, cabling for everything at the top of the mast and the water supply to the boat deck tap. The electronics survived, but the water pipe melted and drained our full tank of water. [Note – once we got to Gove we realized we had also lost TV coverage, so there may be damaged wiring somewhere along the mast – TV is not top priority at the moment though].
So, there we were in a lovely anchorage surrounded by the noise of mackerel or tuna continuously hitting the surface while feeding on the seemingly endless schools of bait fish (it just didn’t stop) and we didn’t have time to put a line in – so frustrating. Oz picked us up for pizza on ‘Shebeen’ with Nat, his wife. He and gave us some aluminium plate to use as shielding for the wiring (we didn’t end up using it, but appreciated the gesture).
We call this work of art, “Asbestos and Wire” (although the modern fire blanket is made out of fiberglass, not asbestos – “Fiberglass and Wire” just doesn’t sound as cool).
After looking at our options we ended up using our fire blankets and tie wire to do a temporary fix. We were very proud of our repair job. And it held up beautifully for the next three days travel to Gove. The water maker quickly produced another full tank of fresh water- so all is good. Gove is a mining town, so there are people there who know big equipment and it has regular freight transport from Darwin, so we knew we should be able to get this sorted there – we certainly do not want to tackle the Gulf of Carpentaria with our exhaust system in pieces.
Hoping that our ‘work of art’ would hold up, we headed to our next anchorage, a place called Refuge Bay – it’s on one of the islands, of that skinny string of islands that sticks up to the right of the NT (The Wessels Islands). A lovely anchorage that I would have happily spent a few days resting at, but not to be, as we needed to get to Gove as quickly as we could (while we had a good weather window). We were only just anchored-up when we had visitors, Dave and Brodie pull up in their tinnie to have a look at the boat, so we invited them aboard for afternoon tea.
These boys had been out fishing and called past on their way back to Dave’s house on the other side of Refuge Bay (Dave is establishing a business supplying fish to the local communities). We had a hilarious conversation about catching crayfish off the reefs by reaching down with your hands to grab them. I was assured you don’t have to worry about the ‘geckos’(crocs), as long as you don’t stand on the reef where the water is over your ankles (I want to see the scientific study to support that, as the geckos around here have big teeth!!). They were really nice guys.
The next day (Wed 23rd Sept) we found ‘Natsumi’ (the Tipperary Marina mob) having a rest day at a little anchorage next to the ‘Hole in the Wall’. The kids (sorry Cooper and Cookie, the teenagers) had spent the day on shore, after a quite uncomfortable passage from Darwin (there was mention of seasickness).
The Gugari Rip, between Raragala Island and Guluwuru Island, in the Wessels Island Group, is better known here as The Hole in the Wall. A friend of mine asked why we were choosing to go through a 150m wide gap between two islands, in a poorly surveyed area known for impressive currents, and the answer should be because it saves time from having to go north over the top of this long island chain. But the real reason is more Edmund Hillary-ish; ‘because it’s there’ (although unlike for Sir Edmund, this was only a first for us, not the world; it’s quite a well-used passage).
In this photo you can just see ’Natsumi’ ahead of us checking the current. We waited until the next morning to go through the channel at what we hoped was slack water at low tide. Slack water is theoretically that time just after a low or high tide when the water isn’t moving in either direction (we never quite managed to find a slack tide time in the Kimberleys as I recall). We didn’t quite get it right, as there was still a 2 knot current still moving against us, but compared to some stories we heard from other boats that went through at varying tide times who encountered up to 10knots of current and were thrown all over the place, we did pretty well. After just 10 minutes we emerged on the eastern side after a very picturesque passage.
Once through, we had a relatively easy run through the last strings of islands, islets and shoals, and down to Gove. We turned on the water maker to top up our water tanks before our extended stop in Gove Harbour (with unknown water quality). The water on this side of the islands is sparkling clean (the western side had a lot of mud in it) and the coastline near the hole in the wall is rather stark (no little sandy beaches) as the big winds and currents come from the east. After going through the rip at 7:00am we finally reached Gove at 5:00pm and very happily dropped the anchor.
This poor lassie landed on the boat while we were passing through the Wessels Group, but didn’t survive. She is a ‘Yellow and Black Carpenter Bee’ (‘She’, as the males are covered in a pale golden fur and look very different). They like the warmer areas of Australia and are our largest native bee, growing up to 1 inch long (25mm). These guys live in hollows that they eat out of soft woods like dead mango branches. The males are stingless and the females, while able to sting multiple times, are non-aggressive and rarely sting people.
This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFiGo booster. Talking to other cruisers we had a much better reception than they did (without the booster). We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level height).
Passing through Gugari Rip (Hole in the Wall) between Guluwuru Island and Raragala Island: 24/09/2020. ½ hr to low tide, 10min to cruise through the passage, little wind, current 2knt against us (current moving NW). [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg133]
Anchored at Hole in the Wall (West Side): 23/09/2020. 11 33.292S 136 21.168E, approach on SSE bearing to midline of shore, good protection from winds (E-S), reef to south side and rocks to north side but good clear room between.
Anchored at Refuge Bay, Elcho Island: 22/09/2020, easy access with no surprises, approaching from due W into the center of the bay. 11 49.296S 135 51.919E, 5.1m water, tide at 3.8m going up 0.9m down 0.6m, 40m chain, sandy bottom, no chain or anchor cleaning required. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg128]
Anchored at Galiwinku, Elcho Island: 21/09/2020, access is along the coast in a channel running mostly N-S, we found it easy to see the sand bars. 12 01.702S 135 33.547E, tide up 2.6m down 1.7m. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg130]
Anchored Cape Stewart: 20/09/2020, not comfortable (broke boat bits). 11 56.366S 134 43.563E, 5.9m water, tide up 3.5m down 1m, 40m chain, wind NE 15-20knts, mud bottom with good holding, couldn’t clean as too rough. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg132].
Anchored Entrance Island; 19/09/2020. 11 57.528S 134 12.464E, winds NE 15-20knts, sandy bottom and clean anchor. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg136]
Cruising between North and South Goulburn Islands very rough. 19/09/2020. 1hr after high tide, wind 14knt NE, waves 2m, found that the 9m depth (followed along S side of channel to avoid sand bars in middle) was at 14m contour on chart.
Anchored Mullet Bay/ North Goulburn Island; 18/09/2020, approached from west, heading directly for centre of shore. 11 31.012S 133 23.589E, 6.6m water (tide at 0.7m), tide up 2.6m up and down 0.4m down, 40m chain, sandy bottom with a little mud on anchor but clean chain. From our anchorage, 300m towards shore are clearly visible black rocks that form a ridge on the far side of a shallow channel, there is also a rocky outcrop on the north corner and a shallow area (3m) in the middle of the bay. Appears to be a tower on the island providing good phone coverage. No mozzies. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg140]
Anchored West side of Grant Island; 17/09/2020, shallow bottom around the southern point, so don’t cut the corner. 11 09.634S 132 52.088E, 4.4m (tide up 0.5m), sandy bottom little mud, no need to clean anchor or chain. Mosquitos and bugs a plenty in evening.
Travelling around north end Croker Island; 17/09/2020, excellent internet coverage.
[November 2020: Just received an odd comment regarding permission copyrights for photos. So for the public record; unless otherwise stated all photos used in our blog have been taken by Peter or Myself. We ask people, before taking their photo if they are ok with featuring on our blog and do not put them up if they say they are not.]