|Captains Log - Leg 8 & 9 - Darwin to Darwin
|15 July '02
||Up at 0730 to clean ship prior to the Voyage crew arriving at 08.30 hours. Departed the Frances Bay Marina (the Duck Pond) via the lock at 1030hrs and proceeded to Stokes Hill Wharf to top up with water. Left the wharf at 1545 hrs headed South West - set sails - the forstay’l and main staysl and all four squares (course, lower, upper and T’gallant). What an absolute enchantment when we shut down the iron topsail (engine) and felt the motion of the vessel change once she was under sail - and heard the "whisper of noise" from the southeast trade wind pushing us along to our destination.
Dropped anchor about two nautical miles from Bare Sand Island which is the site of the Coastcare/Uni of NT research camp for the study of flat back turtles. During the midnight to 0400 hours anchor watch (beautiful moon with a slight SE breeze) talked further with John from Darwin who is our local knowledge person / pilot for this visit. While the charts are good (especially the new hydrographic survey which shows the ships course plotted and overlaid onto a 3D map of the area on the 15" monitor in the chart room) having someone on board who has visited the area many times is re assuring and also provides a wealth of information on how to get into the island that the maps don’t know about – especially the tides. Not only is the tide height huge but there is a major variation in tidal heights in areas that are only a few kilometers apart. Also because of the reefs and islands there are tidal races every where that can run up to 5 to 7 knots.
|16 July '02
||Travel to and from the island is totally dependant on the tides (around five to six metres from high to low) surrounded by coral reefs that are exposed so we can only get to the island during the high tide window of about four hours (2 hours either side of the high tide mark). A number of the voyage crew went ashore around mid day to see it all in daylight.
Turtle watching is all done in the late evening/early morning so we left for the Island around 2030 hrs – smooth ride in on a glassy sea no wind and clear moonlight. On the beach met up with our intrepid day party then visited the researcher’s encampment. The radio crackled with a report that a turtle had "landed" and was now starting to dig her nest so we headed for the far side of the island where a flat back turtle had dug her nesting hole and was just getting ready to lay eggs. We watched the whole process as the researchers did their stuff and the turtle did hers – 50 eggs in all about 1.5 times the size of a ping pong ball with a flexible shell. The turtle covered the egg cavity, patted the sand firmly down, then returned to the sea.
On the way back to our embarkation point we saw the latest group of hatchlings that had just burrowed out of the sand – amazing creatures fully formed and ready to run to the water. Lots of still and video pics and we finally returned to the Zodiac and were back on board by around 0230hrs.
|17 July '02
||Awoke to a choppy sea with a fine and clear day. The days shore party left for the island around 0830 taking breakfast for the overnight campers. Clean ship then settle in for a relaxed day until the visitors return. Downloaded the pictures from last nights turtle watch onto one of the ships iMacs – magnificent even though they were done under low light conditions that made focusing difficult – even though we used the infra red low light facility . The stills from the digital were fantastic and we will look at the videos later today. We also have a video from the turtle research group at University of Northern Territory.
Took the chance to look at some of the other videos that were on file – had a really good one done on the Weipa to Groote leg - the rough cut was excellent and will bring back a CD of it. Also saw the photo of the GG on his unofficial visit to WWB in Darwin. His Excellency is a full on Flinders fan and has a pic with me to prove it.
Weighed and headed back to Darwin to drop off our guide for this visit (John whose local knowledge was superb and who has written a book on coastal cruising in this region). Arrived in Darwin early evening and took on fresh water as well as collected some bread and outboard fuel then headed for Port Essington on the Coburg peninsula.
|18 July '02
||Marcel the Dutch cook was unwell (mal de mere) so Jason the engineer produced a simple vegetarian meal spuds, pumpkin (roasted), peas, carrots – just what the doctor ordered for all hands. Jason also has a degree in Environmental Science, runs a Tassie crayboat for a few months of the year, is learning Norwegian in his spare time, is Flinders in the ship’s play and has an interest in the music of the Chemical Brothers (amongst others) – very much your renaissance man!
Motor sailing having reduced sail because of an expected wind squall and rough weather ahead. Encountered very strong tidal races which would swing WWB off course up to 15 degrees in a few seconds so work at the helm was interesting at times. We had reduced the speed at which we were motor sailing because of the high fuel consumption previously – in an effort to stay on schedule we had tried to maintain 4 – 5 knots against the tidal race of around 3 to 4 knots and wind but this required an engine speed that virtually doubled our fuel consumption.
|19 July '02
||At anchor in Port Essington adjacent the site of the settlement of Victoria founded in 1838. We had on board the book "Forsaken Settlement " which detailed its quite amazing history and had a very useful map. They were beaten in the end by mosquito borne malaria (40% of the settlement population died, including a number of women and young children) and the settlement was abandoned in 1849 and the current site of Darwin was established.
|20 July '02
||Breakfast on the foredeck whilst watching a pod of dolphin’s leisurely passing along the port side then the remainder of the ships compliment (who had not been ashore) headed into the beach to visit the settlement ruins. A number of the voyage crew went aloft being taken under supervision up the foremast rigging. For the first timers, the calm sea was great and the ship was at anchor - all voyage crew were successful and made it – a great sense of achievement for them. The explorers returned to report a 4 metre croc on the beach that was following their progress with interest until they departed.
Lunch then bad news with the ships diesel generator suffering a mechanical failure mid afternoon. Our only source of power from then was the battery banks but they are only able to provide 12 volt power on minimum use for around 36 hours. No hot food, no fridges, hot water no computer plotting system although all the ships safety equipment (radar radio and other nav gear is battery operated). Out with the Darwin phone book and onto the hire companies - found a portable generator set, all we needed to do was organise delivery. The nearest airstrip to us was a few hours away at the other end of Port Essington at Black Point in the Gurig National Park on the Coburg Peninsula. Back on the sat phone and arranged for the Darwin Rotary contacts who got the genset to a local air charter firm who were able to deliver it the next day. Who said that things can’t be done up here??
The whole event only served to highlight the extraordinary isolation of the early settlement with their only contact being by ship from Timor, Singapore or Sydney and no way of knowing when a ship may call.
|21 July '02
||Up at 0630 to raise the anchor the "hard" way - with the old "two six heave" (human power) process – the anchor winch was out of action (the hydraulic pump that drives the anchor winch needs three phase power from our extinct generator) so we rigged a line from the forward cargo boom through a sheave block on the port side to allow most of the crew to haul in the anchor chain. Took about 1.5 hours – an hour more than usual.
Depart Port Essington for Black Point on the edge of the Coburg Peninsula. Anchored and collected the generator set from the airstrip. Got it set up on board with the ultimate extension lead set running the fridges freezer cabin fans, nav computer lights etc. We also got a large gas ring for cooking (as we had two large full gas bottles on board) so it will be hot cooked food for dinner.
Weighed at 1750 and set course for Croker Island where we were to drop off three of the voyage crew at the end of their six days at sea. They were being collected by the daily air charter service.
|22 July '02
||On a steady course heading for the Bowen Strait (between the mainland and Croker Is) which is a narrow stretch of water, difficult in sections where there is no real channel within the channel marked on the map. Once we entered the narrowest section I conned the ship from the chart room (with the hydrographic chart backed up by the e-chart linked to the GPS radar and an electronic depth sounder), and used a radio to relaying orders for the helm and engine speed. We eventually ran out of water (1/3 of a metre under the keel so we retraced our track for a about a kilometre the worked out another track 150 metres over from the first track but running closer to the shoals. The new course had much less width of channel but a lot more depth but it was difficult to hold the course with tidal run affecting the ships steerage at such a low speed. Mike spent around four hours on the wheel negotiating the channel – an exhilarating but tiring experience.
After successful (and tense) negotiation of the strait, I felt that the crew came away with increasing awareness of the complexity of navigation (in area such as this with its wind and tides, channels shoals and reefs) as well as growing respect for the skill set required. On reflection, how much harder was it the early explorers (Flinders, King et al) with no charts only their seamanship to keep them on track. But for centuries before the Europeans, the Macassan traders had been regular travellers in this area especially for the yearly Trepang harvest in Port Essington.
|23 July '02
||Arrived at our anchorage at Black Point on the tip of the Coburg peninsula at the entrance to Port Essington. The area is contained in the Gurig National Park which is managed by the NT Parks and Wildlife Service on behalf of the traditional owners – the four clan groups (the Agalda, Ngaindjagar, Madjunbalmi and Muran) that comprise the Iwaidja speaking peoples of the western Arnhem Land.
We needed to get supplies of petrol for the genset so after cleaning stations and lunch we ventured ashore for a lay day of wading (swimming is too dangerous because of the ever present crocodiles) beach football, lazing around then a walk to the store for ice creams at 4pm and catch up with other visitors to the Park. Back to the beach to watch the sun getting lower on the water framing the WWB in another glorious sunset. Collected of the beach just in time to avoid the first croc coming ashore for the evening.
|24 July '02
||Dead calm with dawn sneaking up you as the merging of sea and sky was slowly prised apart by the sun. Clean ship then ashore to visit the Cultural Centre which is part of the National Park. An excellent display showing the indigenous settlers and their historic interaction first with Macassan trepang traders from circa 1600, then the white settlers and traders (Dutch and others) and eventually the British.
Spotted our local resident croc on the beach – around 4 metre possibly the same one as yesterday - up for a bit of sun and a tourist as an entrée maybe. Needless to say we were not on the beach with the croc but a binoculars length away on WWB. A few minutes earlier we had seen a pod of three dolphins about 20 metres off our port stern - all the wildlife is reported using proforma’s supplied by Coastcare.
Now that we have available adequate supplies of water and fuel (200 litre / 44 gallons) for the genset we don’t have to rush back to Darwin so spent the rest of the day lazing around on board as we loaded water (over 1000 litres were brought aboard using in four 20 litre drums) reading etc., watching the passing parade of visiting yachts (including Helsall II a maxi en route to South Africa). Marcel our cook again excelled with the evening meal so we were looking forward to the hard work getting the ship ready to sail around 2200 hrs.
|25 July '02
||Up at 0630 to weigh and get going using the charts only.(our new hi-tech electronic chart package decide to have a hissy-fit) Rang the Australian Hydrographic Office re the problem (something Matthew flinders couldn’t do!!) At 0930 they called and went through the problem with the Endeavour software package. No joy after 30 minutes on the sat phone so they will recreate the situation their system and check for bugs. Phoned back in around 10 minutes to advise that there were 5 charts on the CD ROM that were corrupted and the one that we needed for this course (#309) was one of them. They will send a patch and a new CD for this to Darwin so we will be able to collect this and install next Monday. Now that we knew the problem we were able to do "a work around" to enable the program to work. Disable the GPS, get the chart software up and select the chart we are going to use then re - link in the GPS to that chart and avoid using chart #309.
Underway at last in beautiful light airs so set all sails except the topmast staysl. PC drama again when we shut down the PC’s for the 3 hourly genset refuel – however it was soon fixed. On watch 1200 to 1600 and no wind so motor sailing. Pod of 8 to 10 dolphins moved past and were the subject of another coast care report as we were cruising the Arafura Sea at the top end of the Coburg Peninsula. Deck shower time – wash in salt water then a 30 second rinse off with fresh water (and wash your clothes whilst you’re at it.
Finished dinner to the news that we will be putting on performance of the Flinders Play for the Tiwi Islanders when we arrive Friday evening. The locals from Melville and Bathurst Islands may be out in force as it is a public holiday there. Another superb sunset as usual so will spend the next 30 minutes before I go on watch 20.00 to 24.00 updating my log.
|26 July '02
||Off watch at midnight and asleep soon after but called up to the chart room at 0530 with PC failure. When rebooting after the genset refuel stop it had picked up the dreaded chart 309.
Fixed then back to the bunk) - Heading to the Tiwi (Bathurst and Melville) Islands all day - a long haul at 4 to 7 knots depending ion which way the tide is running. On deck at 0800 when a new PC problem - dongle failure a new hardware problem unconnected to the s/ware hassles connected to chart #309. Could not get the program to boot up so back on the sat phone for technical support around 0930. Simple on this time clean the pins of the dongle with an eraser (this one is not in the manual for sure).
Eventually arrived at the entry to the Aspley strait, which separates Melville and Bathurst Islands, just on dusk and begin the task of navigating in. Using chart 411 on the electronic chart the hardcopy of 411 and a copy of the 1837 chart from the Geographical Society in London, we manoeuvre with greater than usual caution because the actual channel is only 250 metres wide at times, but the distance between the two islands it is over two km. With most of the ships permanent crew all at their stations we moved to our chosen anchorage of Point Pleasant? (over a bottom that moved from 60 to 10 metres in depth very quickly).
|27 July '02
||Anchor watch 0400 to 0600, cold on deck and very moist with a solid layer of dew. No wind, 7.2m of water under the keel, the anchor is up and down, and the radar shows no movement at all. Changed watch at 0600 but stayed up to watch the dawn at 0645 - light red in the east with the west the sea the land and the sky one colour continuum of fine dull blue grey. Marcel is doing the bacon and eggs thing proving an olfactory ambience to the emerging picture of the adjacent land that we are now seeing for the first time. Just as the Dutch navigators saw the Tiwi islands in 1705 (sixty five years before Cook) so we see them now- scrub to the water with mangroves providing a final interface to the water. WWB has a limited collection of reference works on the Tiwi including publications from the Tiwi Land Council and as well as copies of documents from the Mitchell Library (papers from the early European explorers of the area as well as the settlers of Fort Dundas).
First party ashore around 1030 to check out whether the play will go ahead. Found out that it was not a happening thing. Those that went ashore chatted with the Tiwi’s and one of the voyage crew was lucky enough to meet up with the person in charge of the cultural centre / art co-operative / gallery who opened it up for her – purchase a very well priced piece. The Captain spent some time with the local school principal and a large group of young Tiwi’s who spent the morning entertaining me with a demonstration of cultural dancing. The tribal dances are taught by the family elders to children as young as 3 and are practised at school every morning. The delight in these young people and their pride in their culture showed through in their beaming smiles and amazing enthusiasm.
Also decided on a visit to the site of the original British settlement at Fort Dundas. I took a small party in the Zodiac to the site which was nearby. We found a way through the mangroves and found the site which was currently being examined as part of an archaeological dig. This was a positive inspiration, hearing from these learned types the history of the 2 year settlement. I quote from a diary written at the time:
"and I have seen five kinds of ant, chiefly of the genus termites: viz, the white ant, which rears its pyramidical dwelling to the height of seven or eight fee; the green ant; red and black ant; large black ant; and a very minute ant that can scarcely be discerned with the naked eye. The white ant infests the houses, and destroys everything that comes their way. These insects make their approach by forming an earthen gallery, under cover of which they advance in myriads, and commit terrible depredations. They cut through all bale goods in our stores, such as canvass, blankets, shirts, trowsers, and even shoes. They are so rapid in their operations, that I know instances where bales, containing two dozen of shirts each, each shirt packed one above the other, and places on shelves four feet from the floor and six inches from the wall, have been perforated through and through in twenty four hours, not withstanding that the store keeper examined the bales every day, and that on the day previous to those discoveries, not an ant was seen in the store. But these insects do not confine their attacks to bale goods. They entered my wine cellar, and in a few days’ time destroyed two dozen of claret; and during a period of four days, while one of the soldiers was in the hospital, they completely gutted his knapsack, which was hanging on a peg in the his barracks room and contained all his necessaries. They spread through in all directions and destroyed his shirts, trowsers, stockings, jacket, shoes, and even razors. Of the latter, the blades were encased in rust, from the moisture, or viscus, which these insects carry along with them, and the horn handles were eaten through. In the course of three or four weeks, they also destroyed thirty pounds worth of clothing, belonging to Mr Radford, one government tent, three ammunition boxes in the magazine, sixty five pairs of trowsers, and twenty three smock-frocks in the engineer’s storehouse.
From sunrise until sunset, the sandflies issue forth in millions and keep one in a constant state of irritation by fixing upon the face neck and hands – where inserting their proboscis, they inflict severe pain, and cause the blood to flow most profusely. When they take their departure at sunset, the mosquitoes remind you that the torments of the day are not yet passed; and from six o’clock until ten they exercise their tormenting powers, which are too well known to require description. The next annoying and destructive insect is the cockroach: these became very numerous, swarmed in the houses, and destroyed clothes, paper, bread and books, indiscriminately. These insects generally mad their appearance at night and, as if by a concerted signal, issued from their hiding places all at once, and made a noise by scampering along the walls, as if heavy showers of hail were falling. Besides the insects mentioned, I may add the scorpion, centipede, and tarantula, each of which are in great numbers."
When you consider the dress of the times, (multi layered petticoats, woollen skirts and jackets on the women and serge uniforms on the men) these settlers, fresh out from England and arriving in the Tropical Wet Season must have had an atrocious time of it. A massive amount was achieved in 2 years, only to see the settlement abandoned.
The return voyage to Darwin was via the Aspley strait which separates Bathurst and Melville Islands. Because of the tidal run and the narrowness of the channel, WWB could only transit parts of the straits during high tide so the timing of our passage was critical, particularly the exit from the bottom of the straight. Luckily WWB had been through the bottom entry on the way into Darwin from the Gulf. Ready to go we started the "2 – 6 haul" on the anchor having allowed about an hour to weigh. Because of the tidal race and depth of our anchorage area, we had put out 2 shackles (about 76 metres) of anchor chain out on a soft mud bottom and when we started to haul in it took us an hour to do just one shackle – the chain had sunk into the mud making it very difficult to haul. So we missed the tidal window to traverse Aspley Straight and exit via the southern end – but WWB will be back again and it will happen, possibly late next year. We then had to wait 1.5 hours until the tide was right to exit the northern end. We were too hot and sweaty to go below for a rest so most of the crew slept / dozed on deck until 2350 when it was "all hands to haul the anchor". Eventually under way by 0015 and then on watch till 0200. Then a quick shower and sleep.
|28 July '02
||Back on watch at 0800 after a quick breakfast. We were now under sail using our fore and aft sails – no squares. It was easy sailing at 4 to 6 knots and we eventually set the squares in the early afternoon with the wind change. Completed two tacks during the afternoon, still the completely silent ship was something to experience - all essential items (navigation, radio equipment etc) are run off the batteries.
Late afternoon we experienced another bout of dolphin bow wave surfing - the fascination never ceases and in this case it was enhanced by the small size of the pair – these very small (junior) dolphins, babies even.
All too soon they were gone then it was sunset – again another magnificent display with us being the only vessel on the painted sea. Very reminiscent of the old NT marketing ploy aka "beautiful one day magnificent the next" to use a loose paraphrase. Certainly those of us privileged to view the setting sun with a vacant and misty Timor Sea as the backdrop cannot ever complain of lack beauty in the world.
|29 July '02
||On watch 0400 to 0800 – cold enough on deck for jackets. We were motor sailing into Darwin with a tide window 0730 to 0830 to get into the lock at the Francis Bay Marina (aka the Duck Pond or commercial fishing boat marina). The pilot came on board at 0730 at the outer harbour marker and there was the usual 6 degrees of separation (not) as the pilot had served in Vietnam aboard HMAS Vendetta with me. On the run into the mooring we swapped anecdotes about the intervening years until we eventually arrived at the Duck Pond – now a hive of activity with the coming and going of the commercial fishing vessels – unloading the catch or taking on stores ready to go to sea.
The marina anchorage areas in Darwin have one entry / exit point which is accessed via a lock system. They are used in the commercial port areas (such as the Duck Pond and Cullen Bay Marina) to ensure that the water level inside the marina stays at the same level regardless of the tidal fall. They are locks in the true sense in that they pump water in to raise a vessel.
Alongside at 0915 shore water / power connected and remaining voyage crew departed. Clean ship then over to the marina showers (the big attraction – unlimited water any temperature so bonus time). All ships (and personal) washing off to the laundry then more cleaning tidy up etc. Day off in the pipeline for tomorrow. Ashore for a few refreshments in the evening.
|30 July '02
||Day off so shore time for all except the duty watch. So it was an endless round of bookshops, cafes and quiet time watching the passing parade of tourists, backpackers and locals (few of these were spotted in the central Darwin area). Backpacker city located around the bus terminal was the 24/7 centre of Darwin, a mix of internet café’s, pubs, fast food outlets and a range of accommodation to suit all budgets. The sound of strine was seldom heard here as the variants of UK English predominated with the European languages making up the balance. The youthful travellers trail is certainly alive and well with the internet café the flag/e-signature of the contemporary on the move generation.
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