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Captains Log - Leg 6 - Weipa to Groote Eylandt

Date  Events
2 June '02 The captain and crew are all looking forward to Windeward Bound's visit to Sweers Island where Matthew Flinders spent nearly a fortnight during his 1802 circumnavigation. Flinders had his ship "surveyed" there and when it was found to be rotting, established a base camp on the island while repairs were carried out. Flinders also dug a well here and carved his ship's name in a tree which is still visible in the display at the Brisbane mapping and Survey museum.
During the 2002 visit, a plaque-unveiling ceremony is planned to commemorate both Flinders' and the Windeward Bound voyages. Capt. Sarah will also plant a tree that is the same species (Celtis paniculata = "silky celtis") as that into which Flinders carved his ship's name in 1802, and which became known as the 'Investigator Tree'. The new tree has been donated by Yuruga Native Plant Nursery, near Cairns, Gulf Freight Services (the local barge operator) is transporting it and Pasminco Century Mine is sponsoring the event.
Lyn Battle from Sweers fishing lodge and a local resident for 14 years is coordinating this visit and is a keen fan of the areas history and Flinders remarkable voyage. There is already an 'anchor memorial' from last years "Operation Pilgrimage" at Sweers. The Navy donated the anchor plus a brass plaque which the British High Commissioner unveiled. It is hoped the new Investigator tree will grow to shade these "growing" tributes to Flinders.
Windeward Bound is due into Investigator's Road on Saturday morning (June 8) and hopes to visit the communities of Sweers and Bentinck Islands, departing on Sunday (June 9). Bentinck is an Aboriginal community of around 50 residents and the Kaiadilt Aboriginal People are the traditional owners of this alcohol free community.

3 June '02 Just to let you know, we are in a wild gale in the middle of the gulf of Carpentaria. Today we have blown out the upper topsail, broken a steering cable and had a badly flooded focs'l. We are now proceeding under power as it is too wild to sail and for the first time this voyage, the wind is coming from exactly where we have to go. WWB is almost at full revs and the best we can get is 3.4 knots. I'm beginning to understand how Flinders felt! and he didn't have an iron topsail!!

4 June '02 The Wind has trebled fuel consumption so a boat is going to deliver enough fuel to get us into Sweers Island where we can get bulk fuel. Gulf Freight Services (who transported the plaque) have agreed to waive their usual unscheduled-run-diversion-fee of over $500 to bring in the fuel for the ship!
Like Flinders did in 1802, we will also take on water at Sweers. Flinders filled the ship's casks from a well his men dug on the island. That well is all filled in, but we will be using a well that is believed to be the one dug just 40 years after Flinders visit – by Capt. John Lort Stokes of the 'Beagle' (yes, Charles Darwin fame) and who also carved his own ship's name in the Investigator Tree (and consequently followed by many other famous exploring vessels).
If all goes well and the wind does not get any worse (and today is 300% better than yesterday) we should be along side by late Wednesday or early Thursday morning. The Plaque/Tree Ceremonies are still "Go" for Saturday with people gathering at Sweers from the various Gulf Communities - Karumba. Burketown, Bentinck. One local air charter company, 'Savannah Aviation' has donated a free flight to the children of Burketown School so that they can come and experience the Windward Bound. The kids are doing artwork and writing a poem which they plan to recite for the crew! The Bentinck Aboriginal Community is also working on some traditional gifts for the ship.


7th June '02 Well, here we are 3 months into the voyage and safely anchored at Sweers Island, a major Flinders milestone. Our last half day of sailing was child's play compared with the storm of the previous 3 days. We were very grateful to have a full load of fuel. Being engineless in these conditions would have meant sailing direct to Groote Eylandt and bypassing Sweers and all the Island systems at the head of the gulf. This would have been a great pity although we would have been in good company as these issues beset Flinders on a regular basis. He had to really work to get where he wanted to go.
Today we visited the Bentick Island community, the home of the Kaidilt people, traditional owners of the Island. Bentick Island is a "dry" community, i.e. alcohol is forbidden by their own decree. There are a number of relatives of Kaidilt people living on Mornington Island which is not alcohol free who want to move back to Bentick and as a result there is a severe shortage of housing on Bentick. This is a problem the Kaidilt people are solving for themselves by running their own house construction training program using a tutor brought in from Fraser Island. The island men are being trained in all aspects of construction including framing, welding etc. They are doing this to increase their own pride in their community, rather than accept the use of outside contractors.
We arrived in time to watch the distribution amongst the community of a dugong caught by four of the men that morning. The hunting is done in the traditional way with a hand spear, although the traditional canoe has been replaced by the aluminium dinghy. Dugong and turtle are traditional cultural food sources and although unusual, even off putting to Europeans, it was a fascinating insight into local culture The meat is surprisingly red and resembles marbled beef in appearance. The islanders are believed to be those referred to when Flinders coined the term "Australians" when discussing the local native community and having already used the name Australia in his journals. We have been invited to go on a dugong spotting expedition with them on Sunday morning, which will be very interesting.


8 June '02

 

The day kicked off at 7.30am with ABC Regional Radio (ABC Carpentaria) presenting the Windeward Bound's cook David with a recipe for a favourite seafood salad as well as some great publicity about the project just as the first planes were starting to arrive for today's events. The ship weighed anchor at 8.30am and moved further down into Investigator's Roads to anchor right in front of the Sweers Island Resort, about 100m offshore. With a a steady stream of aircraft arrived throughout the early morning, the glass-calm water was churned up by yet more vessels from the Gulf mainland. The Mornington VMR ( = Volunteer Marine Rescue) stayed up till 12 midnight working on their boat and got here after motoring through the night / morning - amazing. Burketown VMR boat arrived, Australian and Aboriginal flags flying to celebrate the mixed crew. Sweers also had the Australian flag flying as it does on special occasions and the Windeward Bound had the best suit of flags on fore and backstays.
Who was there - well too many people to list! But included:
Karumba -
  • Carpentaria Shire Mayor Les Wilson (who dedicated the plaque);
  • Pasminco Century Zinc representatives Steve and Simon (who funded the plaque and paid for everyone present to see the play and for lunch);
  • VMR boat and crew;
  • ABC Far North station manager Annalise from Cairns;

Burketown -

  • VMR boat and crew, Charter Operator Savannah Aviation owners Paul and Amanda, who donated a free charter to bring Bkt schoolkids across;
  • the schoolkids and teacher, Duncan, the kids reading their terrific poem for the crowd;

Mornington Island -

  • VMR boat & crew;

Bentinck Island -

  • the whole community came across for the day - about 50 Kaiadilt People, including Clayton Paul, chairman;

and various local fishing vessels from the Gulf rivers who travelled out 20-30 miles to sea, just to see the ship...and many, many more interested locals.

About 11am everyone strolled over the 'Flinders Anchor Memorial' (erected last year by Operation Pilgrimage Flinders Circumnavigation and the Australian Navy). There was a welcome speech by Tex Battle of Sweers Island; then a "Thank-goodness-we finally-got-here" speech by Captain Sarah Parry, then some brief speeches/greetings by Pasminco, VMR Burketown, Mayor Wilson and the Burketown Schoolkids read their terrific poem. Clayton said a few words and presented Captain Sarah with a specially-made 'spear-head' made from local Gutta percha timber and hand-woven bush string, beautifully rafted and decorated with Emu feathers. In 1802 Flinders met with Aboriginal people on nearby Allen Island, a place where Clayton's ancestors used regularly hunt - so it is highly likely and very significant that these are the first people which were ever referred to as "Australians" which is how Flinders referred to the people he met.
After the speeches, 'Matthew Flinders' ( = Dirk in his marvellous costume) planted the new Investigator Tree, beside the monument and near the clifftop overlooking Investigator's Road.
Then the WWB crew set up their Play 'Roundabout' - the vessel on board which MF's beloved cat,Trim, was born (the pen-name for the actual ship 'Reliance'). Trim and her fellow-actors did a terrific informative and entertaining job of explaining the history of the events leading up to today's celebrations and entertained the crowd of about 120 people (maybe more - we lost count!)
This kept everyone enthralled, with the WWB as a magnificent backrop on the blue sea beyond the clifftop lawn, while the Sweer staff got the BBQ going and when the play ended, lunch was ready - a hearty BBQ of home-made rissoles, local sausages, local bread, fresh salad and lots of Smiles!
Before we knew it the Sweers folk (ably led by Lyn Battle) had fed and watered around 120 plus people for lunch and everything has gone so smoothly it's hard to believe.
The weather was perfect, sunny, clear, no flies(!), no crying kids, no yapping dogs (lots of both possibilities here!) and people still came from even more places than expected. The Flinders play went over a treat - very clever!
The Burketown kids poem was excellent! and was broadcast on ABC radio (and will soon be on the ABC website so we will link to it from ours). A real surprise for all was the very generous offer by Pasminco to pay for lunch and the Flinders play for all present - many thanks from the Windeward Bound Trust for the offer although it was a bit hard to figure who was the audience and who was not(!) such was the relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Everyone also had the opportunity to browse through the various history books on Flinders and the Island, and to admire the beautiful HUGE framed chart of the Gulf which the Navy's Hydrographic office so kindly provided for the celebrations. This is a copy of the ORIGINAL Flinders' chart of this area, flown out direct from the UK last month - a Big Thank You to the Navy for all their help.
As a participant in the events, a very great thank you to all who helped organise the day, donating time, dollars and resources. The Captain and crew of Windeward Bound really appreciated the effort put in by all at Sweers Island – thanks once again to Lyn and Tex and all who assisted them, particularly Gulf Freight Services, who didn't have anyone present on the day but were certainly in our thoughts as without them, the ship would not have been able to take on the extra fuel required to get here and they also transported the plaque from Cairns to the island.

9 June '02 After successfully moving the ship to the previous Investigator anchorage, we set about completing the watering. On going over the histories of the various vessels calling at Sweer's since Flinders, all of them , including us, watered from the well dug by Captain Stokes and the crew of HMS Beagle. Beagle visited the island some 40 years after Flinders, carving Beagle's name as well into the Investigator tree.
Our Dugong expedition was curtailed because of the strong winds which returned with a vengeance during the night. First mate Indi Johnton spent the afternoon leaning over Lyn Battles industrial sewing machine repairing our shredded upper topsail. When not helping her, I spent the afternoon with Tex Battle climbing Inspection Hill and viewing the bay where Flinders landed to take his observations. I inspected the ancient lime kiln works and the site of the Investigator tree and the original well.
We sailed at 2000 hrs into the teeth of a wild South Easter until we cleared the bottom of the island and set sail. It was good to be at sea again and once we turned off the wind, the wild wind became a good sailing breeze. We then set a course for the Bountiful Isles and then to Vanderlin Island in the Sir Edward Pellew Group, across the border in the Northern Territory.

10 June '02 The day passed without incident, the strong winds continued to build forcing us to cancel the planned stop at the Bountiful Islands. These islands were so named because of the large number of turtles caught there by the crew of the 'Investigator' (46 on the last effort) and 156 by the crew of the 'Beagle'. We sailed on, confining Trim below because of the weather, although I don't think we need have worried, the water roaring over the deck had her too anxious to venture outside. She is loved by all on board and to lose her would be a tragedy of immense proportion. All day we sailed on, easily covering the 100 nm target for the 2 day passage to VanDerLin Island. The wind continued to hold and life on board settled down to it's predictable and normal routine. It's good to have a clear passage run with an objective at the end of it.
11 June '02 The wind continued all night with the ship continuing to average 5 knots. The wind has been too strong to safely work aloft to bend on the newly repaired upper topsail. This morning, the wind died away enough to the more steady trade winds. Without the upper tops'l, we are unable to properly set the t'gallant due to both yards needing to be raised. With the drop in wind strength came the opportunity to bend on the upper tops'l. (with the upper topsail and t'gallant set, we can almost double our square sail area).
It took 3 hours to bend on the sail, when we set the sail disaster struck, as the yard was raised, another tear appeared horizantally. On inspection we had mistakenly siezed a buntline middle cringle to the buntline instead of the lowest, or last cringle. This prevented the sail opening properly as the yard was raised. With 4 people on deck heaving the yard tackle, it proved too much for the lightweight sail. There was nothing to do but get it down to the deck again and repair it in Groote. The rest of the day was uneventful passage making.


12 June '02 An uneventful passage making day with everyone settling in to the routine and recovering sleep where they could. Significantly, we entered the Northern Territory at midnight and daylight saw us well on the way to Vanderlin Island and the Sir Edward Pellew group. At 1140 we had Cape Vanderlin in sight on the horizon.
Again, we felt the spirit of Flinders and as the day wore on, the cape crept nearer. We were able to do what Flinders could not do, we called the Traditional Owner of Vanderlin Island, Steve Johnston, via our satellite phone. He told me that there were 3 branches of the same clan living on the island, 20 people in all, one at the top of the island, one at the middle and one at the bottom (his).
We were made very welcome when we finally anchored off Kedge Point, the welcome even overcoming the impatience of one of our supernumary crew who couldn't contain his impatience at creeping into the island at 2 knots. Our guests left us at 20.00 with a commitment of a full family visit the next morning. That night in the deckhouse, the now familiar "500" card game continued with a vengeance and much hilarity, as it has throughout the voyage.

13 June '02 Well, the day dawned fine and clear and the Zodiac was in full employ running voyage crew ashore and doing a marine debris survey with our 2 students from Weipa.
One by one, boats arrived carrying family members, the men accompanied by wives and children. Remarkably, with Steve Johnston, the Elder, was another Elder, Wailu, the last direct full descendant of the community living on the island when Flinders came. Steve also said that ancient family history contains stories of Flinders' arrival and also records that no other sailing ships have ever been here since then. They explained that they have all worked off the island from time to time, they are predominantly self sufficient, building their own homes etc, fishing for Barramundi, both professionally and for themselves, hunting Dugong and turtle and running some cattle.
After lunch, we shifted ship over to Observation Island, to the same anchorage as Flinders at the south western end. Flinders landed there and from it's highest point, made his observations and calculations from which, he centred his surveys of the group. It was really something to stand at that spot and take oneself back 200 years. It is interesting to note that nothing has apparently changed in that time, no development, no industry except for the occasional visits by fishing boats. We weighed anchor at 1800 and headed north for the 24 hour run to Groote Eylandt.

14 June '02 Perfect downwind sailing with everyone apparently relaxed. All last night, the 500 game went on with a last ditch attempt to produce a winner. The day dawned bright and clear as usual up here with a brisk SE breeze.
Nothing untoward happened, the off watch spent the afternoon dozing in the sun on deck. After an uneventful run, we arrived at the main Groote Island port and attempted 3 times to berth alongside the Roro wharf, each time being swept away by the tide race. As it was obvious we would not berth without some sort of damage, we anchored off until slack water, due at 2100 that night. The game of 500 continued unabated and at 2100 we berthed alongside without further incident.
It was wonderful to get shore power again and shut down our poor generator for the first time in 5 weeks. What an adventure we are having. We are looking forward to 3 days alongside before we commence the next leg to Darwin.
15 & 16 June 02 Alongside at Alyangula, Groote Eylandt. Both days spent relaxing and doing a limited exploration of Groote Eylandt. Limited due to the temporary closure of the whole Island due to the unexpected death of a senior elder. Travel was restricted to the town lease. The mine and the town itself is owned by BHP Gemco. The Island itself is owned and run by the local indigenous communities. The closure of the island can be anything from 2 to 3 weeks.
The island contains the world's largest reserves of high grade manganese and the existence of the mineral was discovered by Flinders when a sample was dredged up as 'Investigator' was in the area. I have requested a permit from the land council for myself and an Elder to land on Chasm Island, a permanently closed 'Sacred Site'. It has been closed, I am told, for 38 to 40 years, so crossed fingers. Chasm Island is the site of the first Aboriginal cave paintings and rock art to be seen by European eyes.
17 June 02 We refuelled and watered, completed last minute shopping and at 2100 left the wharf and went to anchor. I have to say that nothing was too much trouble for them there. The school loaned us a minibus for the whole period, the port managers picked up and delivered for us when the bus was busy, they made their faxes and phones available to us etc. We were able to put the play on for the local schools, all except the indigenous school who apparently refused to be involved - the first time in the whole voyage.
It is amazing to see the enormous sizes of the landing barges doing regular runs around the gulf. Flinders would be amazed at the changes to some parts of the gulf he surveyed so long ago. Trim continues in good health, has had no more swims and continues her supervisory role.
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