As we couldn’t make the Tiwi Islands in a single day, we thought we’d check out Bare Sandy Island as it was sort of on the way. As we had time up our sleeves, we thought we’d circumnavigate Fish Reef with our lures out and at the ready, as Pete now really needed to catch a fish and the name was a bit of a give a way.
Well it didnt turn out to be Fish Reef forvus, more like no fish reef, like everywhere else in the NT so far.
We had downloaded Dennis Ford’s cruising tips for Bare Island from the Darwin Sailing Club’s website and this gave some waypoints to the anchorage. What it failed to say was that you need to go in at high tide (or at least with 3-4m of tide) to get over the sand bars. Once over these there is sufficient water at low water to anchor up before getting out at high tide again. Given we got there pretty well on low tide we just dropped anchor before we hit the sand banks and dingied in.
Bare Island is know as both a disused RAAF bombing range and as a large turtle hatchery – work that one out – I thought they would sort of be mutually exclusive. The warning signs signified the first and heaps of turtle tracks and covered in holes signified the second.
After a bit of an explore we headed back to the boat and Pete had fun with a shark that took his bait on the light line twice. The sharp teeth meant Pete’s fun was short lived.
Up early for another stunning sunrise over Bare Island, we set off with the tide towards Aspley Strait. No wind and as flat as. We passed over many sand waves as even out in the middle of the ocean, out of sight of land, the tidal currents still manage to shift sand all over the place.
Aspley Strait separates Bathurst island from Melvile Island, and together they make up the Tiwi Islands. Melville is Australia’s second biggest island after Tasmania so it’s a little bit big.
We made the shallow entrance to Aspley Strait at about 3pm and then made our way up the strait for about an hour or so until we found a suitable place to anchor out of the current.
Next morning we still hadn’t heard about our permits. We had been ringing every day determined to get our permits – they don’t call me stubborn for nothing.
There was evidently a big funeral going on and it was hard to get hold of anyone. So we decided to push on past Nguiu and visit the community at Pirlangimpi towards the northern end of the strait. With 2-3kts of current pushing us along we made good time. About an hour past Nguiui I got a phone call to say our permits had been approved and we should call into Tiwi Designs at Nguiui to have a look at some arts and crafts. Bummer. Never mind. We tried to ring Tiwi Designs but no answer so we decided to push onto Munipi Arts and Crafts at Pirlangimpi. It was about this time that our mobile phone access died so I didn’t get a chance to ring for a few hours.
When I did get through, they said they were in the middle of a changeover to new caretakers and couldn’t see us. The only other option was to go 25nm round to Snake Bay, but that wasn’t going to happen with our timeframes, so we gave up on circumnavigating Bathurst and turned around, back down the channel to Nguiu. In a way it was a good time to head back, as the tide had changed and we got the current with us.
As we got closer to Nguiui the current picked up to 4kts and we stared to think about where we could anchor out of it. In the end we pulled over to the side of the channel (after we’d gone through the bit on the chart that said unsurveyed) where the current was marginally less (2kts). We were treated to an unbelievable sunset as we dropped the anchor in 8m of water. In the end we’d done over 35nm to end up 2nm from our previous nights anchorage, but the promise of visiting Nguiu made it worth while.
Next morning we had a leisurely morning and headed into town at 9.30am. We had a bit of a walk around until someone pointed us in the direction of Tiwi Designs. We ended up spending an hour and a half there talking to the managers and the local artists. We met the artist who painting was given to Obama and several others who were hung in the National Gallery in Canberra. We ate some delicious damper and jam with them and just ended up hanging out with them. There was a bit of excitement as some animal – possibly either a possum or king brown had knocked over a whole heap of carvings on the floor of the office and nobody was game to investigate too closely.
We ended up both buying a piece of art – how could you not after the hospitality they showed us. Pete got his photo taken with the artist of his piece, I met the Jock who painted mine but he was absorbed with a piece of pottery he was working on so I left him be.
After a quick trip to the supermarket for ice creams and mochas, we headed for the museum, which was another little gem. It covered a lot about the missionaries and the second world war as well as some historical art and life on the islands.
Back on the boat, we had a lazy afternoon ahead of a sail back to Darwin to pick up Cas on Sunday. Yippeee!!!
What a lovely day with the people of the Tiwi islands – such a friendly mob.