Australia 9 Kimberley 2
A slow start the following day saw us arrive at Hanover Inlet at 11.30. Motoring hard against a short chop, I was starting to get a little concerned about our fuel supplies. The next resupply would be in Darwin and with fickle winds and strong tides we had planned on motoring most of the way. That said we were less than halfway through the Kimberley but halfway through the diesel! We would have to hope for some fair winds and longer passages.
Hanover Bay leads to the approaches to the Prince Regent River, one of the largest rivers in the Kimberley. It stretches some 75 miles in a straight line inland, having cut itself a channel straight to the sea. The river flows in a gorge 120ft below the plane and is fed by many tributaries and waterfalls, the most famous of which is Kings Cascade. We had decided not to venture up to Kings Cascade. It was some 40 miles up river, would take a week out of our time, and make a serious dent in our fuel supplies. With difficult navigation and strong currents we felt that we could make better use of the time and resources. It is also home to many crocs. And lives have been lost.
In 1987 the 24 year old American model Ginger Medows, on a charter boat at kings Cascade, saw that their dinghy had started to drift off a ledge on the rising tide. Thinking that it would be safe to swim and retrieve it, she entered the water and was immediately dragged under the surface by a large salt-water croc. Her body was recovered some days later and taken to Koolan Island, to be flown south for Autopsy. In true miner fashion the tale in the pub that night was…If cows like green fields,…..She was not the first or last of northern Australia’s crocodile victims, just one of the prettiest!
Either way, a week deep up river in serious croc country didn’t really enthral us so we decided to explore Hanover Inlet, a small creek with fresh water pools to be found just 2 miles upstream. After a swim and a walk, and looking for cave paintings we returned to Pegasus for Lunch. On our way back we saw a croc and were reminded of our vulnerability in the little RIB. A long beach walk around treachery head was rewarded with a few fine shells, but we cut it short when we saw another large croc eyeing us up, just off the beach.
Lizard had arrived and we all had sundowners on Pegasus and discussed our plans. We were keen to push on and wanted to see some of the outer Islands, so said our goodbyes and left for Careening bay early the following morning.
We had the end of a foul tide and as we arrived at Bat Island we decided to wait before tackling the narrows that lead to Careening bay. We found a good looking beach and approaching with caution dropped anchor in 10m over sand. Lovely. Ashore for a walk and a bit of shelling.
Whilst in the region we were all very croc aware. We kept telling the boys not to walk too close to the waters edge and not too close to the bush. Staying in the middle of the beach was the safest option, we thought. Well, JJ and Louis were running up the beach as boys do. I saw JJ suddenly stop dead in his tracks some 30m ahead. He quickly turned on his heels and ran back to us shouting croc, croc…he was pretty scarred / excited.
Right, I thought, arming myself with a pathetically small knife. Amanda and the boys behind, I approached slowly, just making out the head of a croc above a sand ridge. It looked a little “dry” to me and not moving. I approached with caution and discovered a dead croc, which looked like it had lost his tail. Poor old JJ, he must have had an enormous adrenalin hit thinking he had stumbled across a live croc. We were very pleased that he had done exactly the right thing.
Well, on discovering that it was dead the boys set about examining it. After a little amateur dentistry we left the specimen for the birds, and with the tide now turned, made our way back to Pegasus, and pulled up the anchor.
After navigating through the rocks in the narrows we made our way into Careening bay and dropped anchor at 14.15 on 15th June. In 1820 Phillip Parker King, whilst charting and exploring the region, careened his vessel HMC Mermaid in this bay. Whilst he was there he had his men carve a huge Boab tree with “HMC Mermaid. 1820”. We had come to see this inscription as a piece of living Australian history.
The directions in the cruising guide were pretty ambiguous so on arriving at the beach we headed to the left, following some footprints alongside a small creek. There was a reference to fresh water being available in a creek behind the tree so we thought we were on a good track. I had come a little better armed…with a spear!!…what was I thinking….the head of a croc is principally solid bone, you need a large, high velocity weapon to stop a croc, something like a 308!! I guess anything was better than nothing. We made our way up the dry creek, feeling less confident with each step. We started to see fresh water when suddenly I froze. Amanda feeling the tension grabbed Louis and started backing up. JJ was behind me. 3ft ahead was a large, bright green snake, absolutely still with its head poised. We all backed up slowly…it was proving to be an exciting day!!
Slightly lost, we debated our options. Seeing a weak trail leading from the creek vaguely towards the beach we took it, and after 50M saw a massive Boab tree. As we approached we knew we had found “the” tree. The inscription was there and clearly visible….along with a well defined path that lead straight to the beach only 20M away!
Well, when you’ve seen a tree, you’ve kind of seen it! A few photos and back to Pegasus. We decided to push on 10 miles to get a clean start early the following day, when we would head out to the Maret Islands, and hopefully some good offshore shelling.
0500 and a very dark morning saw us pull up anchor and head N through the islands. After bacon and eggs all seemed pretty good and motor sailing we made fair time heading towards the Maret Island group, arriving just before lunch.
As had become habit, we liked to go ashore, explore the beach and see what we could find, then move and look at another beach. That way we could cover more ground and see more in our limited time. After some good shelling, Nautilus and some Rosy Harps, we headed to S Maret Island. Another beach combed, and with the dinghy stowed we settled down with a cup of tea. The Tide was falling and we watched as the waves started to break on the shallow rocks, slowly getting closer to Pegasus. (I had been in situations off the Isle of Wight where a pleasant sea had turned into nasty breaking surf with just a change in the tide level….not recommended!) We pulled up the anchor, and managed to find a spot in deeper water just on the edge of the current. I didn’t sleep well, and being an uncharted anchorage, in anything other than the prevailing mild conditions would have been untenable. The following day would see us back inshore, out of the swell and in a secure anchorage, so it wasn’t a concern.
Up Early and off to Bigge Island. Having read that there were dramatic cave paintings of Wadjina figures, we wanted to see them before pushing on. It was a beautiful morning and heading into the rising sun with the wind and tide behind all seemed good. By 9.30 we had the anchor down in Wary bay and were surprised to see another yacht. On learning that they were heading S, we suspected we would now see a few others, as the yachts heading N crossed those heading S. We ventured ashore and easily found the rock art in the caves at the top of the beach. The boys loved the caves and squeezed themselves into the tightest spaces, to reappear behind us, as if out of nowhere. The art was really quite spooky and there was a definite feeling of tranquillity about the place, maybe due to the burial ground just behind the caves or the ancient Aboriginal ceremonial ground at the head of the bay. One had the feeling it was a special place.
Back on Pegasus we motored round the headland to Prudhoe Island some 8 miles to the E. We found an excellent anchorage protected from all direction, tucked between Prudhoe and 2 other islands. We went ashore on Quoy Island and walked the beaches, taking a swim in a natural rock pool, which we all enjoyed. Climbing back over the rocks Amanda nearly trod on a large snake. Enough for today…back to Pegasus.
Sitting in the cockpit in the afternoon light we were delighted to see Lizard making their way into the Anchorage. We had enough tuna lasagne for all, so invited Bruce and Maureen over for sundowners and dinner. We all had a very jolly evening, and decided to spend a few days cruising together as we explored South Montague Sound.
Midmorning the following day, the 18th June, we caught the tide and slowly made our way deep into South Montague Sound. Passing through the islands and reefs in the clear, calm water we saw Eagles soaring in the stunning wild country. We were surprised to see our first palm trees since Bundaberg, which I guess shouldn’t have been a surprise since we dropped anchor off Palm Island, a rocky island with a smattering of palm trees. We walked the small beaches and that afternoon had a fire to burn rubbish and marshmallows.
We moved Pegasus into the creek and took the dinghy a few miles to its head to try and swim and look for Art. We found some shallow pools and all cooled off and washed in the fresh water. It wasn’t the safest place, but we could see the bottom and all around so we felt secure. On our way back we found some art. 4 figures paddling a canoe: remarkable from the respect that these figures were doing something. We speculated that they could be ancient Macassan visitors captured for prosperity. We returned to Palm Island and that evening were visited by 3 large Tawny sharks, at least 7 ft long. They circled the boat, banging on the hull, and were clearly attracted by the music. When we turned it off they moved over to Lizard.
The wind had picked up and we could see a few days of strongish winds coming. We anchored in the Lea of Dog Ear Island and went ashore to explore. We circumnavigated the island, and saw more Eagles. Finding a nice sheltered beach on our return, we spent some time walking and the boys played in the white sand. Back on board we waited for the wind to ease.
Our next passage would take us round cape Voltaire, through the narrow Voltaire passage and on to cape Bougainville. We could expect strong headwinds and wind against tide, and if we got them wrong, it could be very nasty. Keen to get close and wait for the tides we sailed up the W side of the headland and anchored in it’s lea behind Murrangingi Island, some 8 miles from the first cape. We were in a lovely sheltered bay and went ashore, walked the miles of white sand beaches and found small salt-water pools for the boys to “swim” in. We saw Emu and Dingo tracks but no animals, and after some mediocre shelling returned to Pegasus for a fried chicken, pumpkin and roti dinner.
With the forecast still for E30kts, we decided to wait and leave 1.5 hrs before the tide change, trying to enter Voltaire passage at slack water. Maintenance morning, using the last of our reserve fuel and switching water tanks. I estimated we had 3 weeks of water left if we were careful, so should be enough to get to Darwin. I was still concerned about diesel, but we should be sailing the last 300 miles so would just have to be careful with engine use over the next two weeks.
We pulled up anchor and headed towards the first Cape at 1300. The wind had eased and was only 15-20 from the E as we rounded the Cape. The tides were a mystery. We had some current with and some against and nothing from the predicted direction.
With the tide building against us when it should have been with us we found some shelter behind Kingsmill Island and dropped anchor for the night. With the wind at 25kts from the SE we had a disturbed night. Pegasus was anxious at anchor as the tide eddied between the islands and up early in the morning I was keen to round the Cape Bourganville and find secure shelter in White finger bay some 35miles E.
With the tides a mystery, there was little point in planning, but to round the cape at approximately slack water seemed prudent. With a rough start we bore away round the reef and after an hour Pegasus settled down making fast time to the Cape. We decided on a close pass and were pleased to note that the tide turned in our favour on rounding. We had fortuitously timed it to perfection! We headed towards White Fingers bay, described as “ Anchor in shoaling sand off the white sandy beach” sounded pretty good! After negotiating the pearl leases and entering the bay we found it slightly different. “Anchor between the sand banks off the muddy rocky beach” was a better description. Good protection was afforded, and after an interesting walk ashore where we found what we thought was mineralised Uranium on the rocks, we returned to Pegasus for dinner and a quiet night.
The morning of the 24th was beautiful and still, and with the tide just making against we motored 5 miles round a headland into a no name bay and found a sheltered anchorage to wait for the tide. We went ashore for a long beach walk. Eagles, shells and Boab trees, and a “quick dip” saw us refreshed as we returned to Pegasus for lunch. Lizard arrived, but being unable to find a tenable anchorage due to swell, pushed on. We would see them in Freshwater bay. Back ashore to burn the rubbish and marshmallows…again…then off to Freshwater bay just 5 miles further S.
On glassy seas we arrived at 17.30 to see two other boats at anchor. We were to learn from them that Australia had a new prime minister and Julia Gillard had become premier and ousted Kevin Rudd. Well well!
Lizard arrived and we spent a peaceful night at anchor, excited about the prospect of some great walking and swimming in the morning.
Up early and off through the mangroves to the head of the creek. We walked up and over the small falls, making our way along the creek. There were many fresh water pools and the boys enjoyed swimming in all of them. We stopped on the way back down at the “best” pool and all swam. Whilst checking for snakes and crocs, we spooked a large lizard, which gave us a similar shock. Cold after its swim, it sunned itself until it had the energy to move on. Bruce and Maureen arrived, and continued to walk up river, as we made our way back to Pegasus.
Unfortunately JJ was stung on the ear by a bee, and looking like a prop forward, received medical attention from mum when back on board. Drinks on board Lizard in the still, quiet sunset saw the close of a beautiful day. 3 large Tawny sharks, which fascinated the boys, again joined us, but thankfully these ones were not banging into the boat.
Another beautiful morning, still, with a heavy dew. We picked up the crab pot, laid the previous evening, to find 1 blue swimmer crab and a small fish. We set them free and prepared to leave for Jar Island, 10 miles to the S.
Philip Parker King, on his survey of Australia in 1820, found a Macassan earthenware jar and so named the Island. We navigated our way through the pearl leases and anchored just off the beach. With Lizard, we ventured ashore to look for the Bradshaw art that was said to be found there. After a short search, we found some caves with fantastic art of a different nature and definition. It was clearly different from anything else we had seen and is said to predate aboriginal art. This quote from Wikipedia sums it up.
They are named after the pastoralist Joseph Bradshaw who was the first European to discover them in 1891, whilst searching for grazing land for his cattle. The Bradshaw’s are also known as Gwion Gwion by the local Aboriginal people. Scientists estimate that there may be more than 100,000 sites spread over 50,000 km² of the Kimberley. In 1996 one of the paintings was dated by analysing an ancient wasp nest covering it (using thermoluminescence) The nest was found to be over 17,000 years old, indicating that some paintings are at least this old. Debate rages as to who actually created the art. On one side of the debate is Grahame Walsh, an amateur archeologist and the leading expert on the Bradshaw’s with over 1.2 million images he has amassed over 21 years studying them. His hypothesis claims that the Bradshaw’s were painted by a culture predating present day Indigenous Australians. On the other side are the mainstream scientific community who believe that it is completely plausible that the art was produced by the local people. Controversy surrounds this debate as it is believed by some non-indigenous Australians that if the Bradshaw art is found not to be Aboriginal in origin, land rights claims by Indigenous Australians may be undermined. Regardless of whether the Bradshaw art is Aboriginal or exotic, "mainstream" Indigenous art is also found in the Kimberley region - proof that Indigenous people have inhabited and had cultural connection to the area
We climbed the rocks and walked the beach, all taking a quick dip before returning to Pegasus for sundowners and a great evening.
The following morning there was a large Croc just meters from Pegasus, reminding us that the killers were always present. Bruce and Maureen, who had been a little less “quick” about their dip reviewed their attitude and I noticed a greater level of precaution from them both!
We set off together some 5 miles E to find the remains of a DC3. Anchoring off the beach we dinghied ashore and walked across a mud flat, finding the well preserved wreck site 100m into the bush.
In February 1942, an American Douglas C-53 (DC3) made a forced landing on a mudflat on the eastern side of Vansittart Bay. The plane had been en route from Perth to Broome when the pilot had become disorientated in bad weather and darkness, and made a forced landing when fuel was running low. (That’s a big mistake, Broome is some 300 miles SW of the crash site!!) The two crew members and two passengers survived the landing and were rescued three days later by a QANTAS flying boat, the "CORINTHIAN". Looking at the plane and landing area, it is apparent that the crew and passengers were extremely lucky to survive the landing and to be rescued quickly from this remote area. How they were located I don’t know!
Back on board we headed off S to Low Island 5 miles to the S and found secure anchorage for the night. Lizard arrived and we set off across the island for a long beach walk on the windward side. We found great Australian Trumpet’s Bailer and many other shells. We also found a mass of black coral washed up on the tide line. Just the second time we had found it!
We started another fire and had sundowners on the beach. This would be our last stop with Lizard as we pushed E and they headed S to pick up crew and restock in Mission cove.
We set off in the morning after coffee with Lizards and headed for middle pass, a very narrow pass between the rocks separating Vansittart and Napier Broome Bay. With a fair tide we made some good progress and pushing tide for the last hour arrived at Anjo cove, a convenient overnight stop, but otherwise unremarkable bay. Pushing on early the next morning we headed E to the Governor Islands before a planned night passage round the infamous cape Londonderry, our last major cape of the Kimberley.
We were anchored in a beautiful secluded, sheltered cove. Launching the dinghy we spent the day exploring the 3 islands and walking the beaches. 1600 back on board for showers and tea before setting off N towards cape Londonderry. The advice we had sought had warned us about this cape and it was recommended to round at night, keeping well offshore, arriving at the cape at the turn of the tide. The reasoning being that the winds are lighter at night, and the flood tide should take us S to Koolama Bay, an easy bay to enter at night and anchor. Strong winds against the ferocious current could lead to extremely steep and dangerous breaking seas, which we were keen to avoid. Again luck was with us, and motor sailing we gave the cape a wide berth, picking up the fair tide rounding the cape. I was relieved as we set the anchor in the quiet of Koolama bay, having rounded an obstacle that had been worrying me for 2 weeks.
Koolama bay is the entry point to the King George River, and our last stop in the Kimberley. This would be our only river venture and it proved to be spectacular. Taking the early morning tide we motored carefully over the sand bars and 7 miles up the impressive gorge to its head where twin falls cascade 150m off the plane. Anchoring in a pool we launched the dinghy to explore. It was a little spooky under the falls so after lunch we decided to climb the cliffs, some 150m, and a very steep climb. Arriving at the top we found fresh water pools and all swam while the boys played in the safe water.
On our way back down we chanced across the gremlin chest, known to cruisers of the Kimberley. Some years ago a yacht was having all sorts of intermittent engine and system problems. They decided that the best thing to do was put all the gremlins in a chest and find them a new home in a cave on the cliffs. Anyone can leave their own gremlins in the chest in addition to a small gift. The boys were very excited so we opened the chest, signed the book and left our gremlins there in good company along with a New Zealand dollar, found in my rucksack….which was a bit odd as we haven’t been to New Zealand!
Back on board we agreed that we had well and truly explored the Kimberley, and if we made for Darwin, some 250 miles NE, we would be there for Louis birthday on the 4th July. That evening I prepared Pegasus for passage, putting the big outboard away and securing her for open water. It had rained overnight and in overcast conditions we made our way downriver in the early morning light. I had reviewed the weather and although the conditions looked windy, I could see no change for at least a week, so we decided to push on.
As we made open water so the wind picked up and by lunchtime we had SE25kts with a steep sea. All I can say about the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf is that it was filthy! The wind was on the nose, and for the most part was above 30Kts. The sea was steep and short, making for difficult driving conditions. I suppose that the wave height was about 3m and frequency 16m, so at 14m length, Pegasus was being seesawed by the waves in a most uncomfortable fashion. The waves were coming at us from everyl direction. We were all wet, there was a lot of water over the deck and for the first time in ages we were sailing with he front door closed. Louis was sick 5 times, JJ 3 times and Amanda was feeling terrible. I was even feeling off colour. Not good.
Conditions started to ease the following lunchtime, which was a relief, and by 1800 2nd July the seas had flattened and we were sailing in 15kts SE…very much better. As the wind died so we motor sailed through the shoals that abound at the head of the Cox peninsular, and with the tide now foul rounded Charles point and started to make our way up the estuary towards Darwin. At 0100 we decided to pull over behind a headland and stop. We were 8 miles from the anchorage in Fannie bay, Darwin, and with shoals and shallows it would be better approached in the morning. We were both delighted to be within sight of our objective and slept soundly in the quiet of the bay.
Up early and away. In the morning light we were surprised to see high-rise buildings and what looked like a large city appear out of the haze. We had imagined Darwin as a small country town….we had been in the bush too long!
Motoring against stiff headwinds and current we made slow progress, but at 11am 3rd July we dropped anchor in Fannie bay, opposite the Darwin Sailing club. This would be our base for the next 3 weeks as we prepared Pegasus for the next leg of our journey, N across the Arafura and Banda seas through Indonesia and up to Singapore.
Dinghy down and ashore to the Club for Beer and Cigarettes, the only two items we ran out of in the Kimberley and our 6 weeks bush! It felt great to be back in civilisation.
Both Amanda and I felt a terrific sense of achievement, having finally completed a three-quarter circumnavigation of Australia (the wrong way) against the prevailing winds. During the last 9 months in Australia we had sailed through the Coral Sea, Tasman Sea, Bass Straight, Southern Ocean and Great Australian Bight, into the Indian Ocean, and on to the Timor Sea and finally the Arafura Sea. We had logged some 7600 miles and added 550Hrs to each engine! Of the major Australian cities, we had taken Pegasus to Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth (Fremantle) and Darwin. We had seen Tropical Queensland through the wild, cold south, to the deserts of WA and back to the tropics. We had caught Mahi Mahi on the East coast, Blue fin Tuna on the South Coast and Yellow fin on the West coast. We had seen the fantastic museums in Brisbane, sailed under the Sydney harbour bridge and seen ancient aboriginal paintings in the Kimberley……..
All across the Pacific, Amanda had been excited about seeing Australia. Since her Father had served there when she was a little girl, it had been her dream to travel in the continent……….AUSTRALIA? ………DONE!
See our photographs of The Kimberley 2 below
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