Up and down Aspley Strait in the Tiwi Islands

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.

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Bynoe Harbour

Returning to Darwin, it was time to say goodbye to Michael and Elaine, and thank them for all their help and fun times together. After dropping them at the airport, Pete and I set about taming woollies by buying out half the store (they had a bottle shop attached to the supermarket, so don’t worry, it wasn’t just food).

Back at Dinah Beach Yacht Club, we unloaded the hire car and set about packing everything away. Exhausted, we decided not to go to the yacht club for dinner (which was a shame because it was friday night) but to grab something quick and go to bed.

Next morning, it was up early to return the hire car to thrifty and walk back to the yacht club. Then we called into see Smiley as Stuart and Magda had got back to Darwin from their “holiday” in Melbourne.

We filled them in on our new plans and wished them luck as they were about to set off for Cape York and beyond. Hopefully we will catch up with them somewhere in southern Queensland as they are hoping to spend Xmas in Brisbane (maybe).

Upping anchor, we caught the tide out of Darwin Harbour and had a nice sail around to Tapa Bay, our anchorage for the night. Anchored up, Pete got his mud crab and barramundi catching apparatus ready and we hopped in the dingy and headed down the creek.

It was very pleasant sitting off the mangroves with lots of bird life to keep us company. Pete tried both casting and trawling, both without luck. Still it was a most pleasant afternoon and it was nice to get out into some true wilderness again.

Sunday morning was very casual as we waited for the tide to turn so we could catch an incoming tide down into Bynoe . It was about 12.30pm when we finally got going and we had a very pleasant sail with the motors off most of the way, pushed along by a gentle NW sea breeze and up to 2.5kts of current.

We parked outside the resort in 6m of water (that at various times became 2.8m of water and 9.5m of water) with close to 70m of chain out to facilitate the high tide. Unhooking the dingy in 2-3kts of current is a little bit interesting and off we went to explore the resort. We quickly found the bar (this blog is starting to sound like its written by an alcoholic) and had a beer – or two. We asked if we could use their pool but that came back a no – ummm, bummer. So we had a wander around crab claw resort, a combination of some very nice looking raised chalets and a nice looking caravan park (although being in a tent that close to the waters edge would not be that conducive to be a good nights sleep). Then it was back to the Restuarant to watch the sun go down and the people fishing on the beach, accompanied by a very nice meal – tapas followed by barramundi of course.

Next morning, we woke to thick fog. We couldn’t see the resort – we couldn’t see anything. Luckily we’d shut the boat up that night else everything would have been soaked. We spend the morning trying to work out where we would head to next. Cas is also joining us so we needed to schedule being back in Darwin for a pickup on Sunday afternoon. We threw around Daly River and the Vernon islands, Port Essington and the Coburg Peninsula, before deciding that we should try the Tiwi Islands.

So it was onto the phone to see if we could get a permit. Got put onto Yvonne from Entity1 who manage the website that issues permits and she was very helpful. hopefully she can arrange for us to visit one of the local communities. If not, Aspley Strait is considered local waters so we can always just sail through without stopping on land.

Meanwhile Pete was giving himself a crash course in navigation a la tides. He had to work out where he was going to be when so we could run with the tides, not against them. And then there’s times you need to be somewhere on a high tide and/or at slack water. Adds a whole new dimension to things.

Finished with our admin, it was time for some more fishing and crabbing. This time we took the dingy around to Milne inlet at the back of the resort and this time we both fished. Once again it was beautiful as we trawled and cast our way along the mangroves. But at the end of the day, all we caught were two mangrove trees from over enthusiastic casting. Strangely I really enjoyed it – normally i find fishing too boring – maybe it was the casting among the trees that kept me interested.

Fish less, it was back to the resort for a sunset beer or two and a chat to the guys fishing on the beach. The end of another very pleasant day in paradise.

Tuesday morning, it was up early to get the tide out to Bare Sandy Island, which puts us in striking distance of Aspley straits between Melville and Bathurst islands.

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Local Knowledge Rules!!!

It’s always interesting talking to the locals. We first ran into Darwinites in King George River and talked to a few at Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club.

We started to get funny looks when we started to say we would be heading east from Darwin in August. They were very polite but when pressed they said they’d leave Gove either in mid-October or early November depending on who you talked to. This was on top of Royce hinting that we were also completely mad.

So putting two and two together we came to the conclusion that Peter and I would spend the next two weeks (after returning from Perth on 17th August) floating around the NT, before putting Camelot in Bayview marina for a month (and returning to Perth on 4th September) before setting off from Darwin to Cape York and beyond in early October.

So after spending some time in Perth with the birthday girl (the gorgeous Cas) I’m back on board Camelot with Peter checking out some interesting places around Darwin. Who knows where we will get to.

Bonaparte isn’t BlownAPart

Its now 6pm and we are 170nm into our king George to Darwin leg and we have 79nm to go to Darwin. It’s been a dream run give or take there has been little or no wind to do any actual sailing. There’s a gentle 6kt breeze blowing from our port quarter and we are doing a little over 5kts with one engine going.

Looking back, what a trip through the Kimberley’s we’ve had. We’ve had a good run with both the weather and the tides and we’ve seen some amazing stuff. The Kimberley’s has got to be in the top 10 cruising destinations in the world – flat seas, warm weather, amazing scenery and wildlife, fantastic and unique experiences every day, and the tranquility of having the place largely to yourself. I suppose that’s why the tourist boats command such huge prices. It really is a once in a lifetime experience.

I feel a bit sad to be leaving it – it’s not an easy place to get to – it takes a lot of planning and time to make the trip happen – and in reality I’ve probably only got one, maybe two more kimberley boat trips left in me – and that won’t be for a few years yet.

Looking back I’m quite chuffed to have successfully navigated the Kimberley’s. It was quite challenging and a bit daunting. I really now appreciate how seemingly effortlessly Royce did it the first time. I kept wishing I’d paid more attention and took more notes when I did it with him. But by now doing it on my own (albeit with excellent help from Michael, Elaine, Dale and Kaz) as well as visiting some new uncharted spots such as the Hunter, I’ve gained a lot of new valuable experience and confidence. We had an excellent crew on this leg who all chipped in and got on really well together (but then again don’t we always). They all had a ball.

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Gorgeous Gorges

Saving the best to last.

The tide waits for no man so we needed to get going by 8am to catch the last of the incoming tide and get over the sand bar at the river mouth. The tides were neaps – high was only 1.9m so there wasn’t a great deal of water to play with. We got down to 2.4m as we crossed the highest part of the bar. A mono – Second Mate- followed us in and they said they did some “farming” as they ploughed their way in.

It was a 7nm journey through magnificent gorges towering up either side of us as we made our way to the waterfalls at the end of the navigable part of the river. From there it is up 100m to the Mitchell Plateau where the river continues.

As we meandered our way down river at 4-5 knots we were quite often in the shade of the vertical cliff faces. Cameras were chewing up memory cards like they were going out of fashion.

As we got near the falls we passed a couple of catamarans – we hadn’t seen so many cruising yachts in one place all trip. One catamaran was a 24 year old James Wharram – beautifully kept.

We took Camelot up to both sets of falls, which were still running but not with a great amount of water coming over the top. We got Camelot within 20m of the second set – not quite as close as Royce did in 2008 – but I had a bit of breeze to contend with and I’ve not anywhere as good as Royce is when it comes to maneuvering a catamaran at close quarters. After yet more memory cards were consumed it was time to anchor up a couple of hundred metres from the falls, with the other boats. By this stage, second mate made it so we had a nice little group of 4 yachts.

After anchoring up, it was time for a fresh water shower from 80m above. With shampoo in hand, we hopped in the dingy and headed back to the waterfalls. Elaine made some strange comment about seeing how cold it was first, but she wasn’t driving the dingy so she soon found out how cold it was anyway! It was very fresh at first but soon became very refreshing once we got used to it. The only problem was that the dingy was rapidly filling up so after our last shot at getting all the shampoo out of our hair we headed back to Camelot.

After lunch, it was time for a bit of climbing. We headed over to the right hand bank where the path lead up to the top. We should have had a look at where the path actually went from the dingy before we landed because we burnt 20 minutes looking for the start of it when we got there. It wasn’t until Michael and Elaine went back out in the dingy that we easily found it. By that stage, Michael, Elaine and Kaz decided to pull the plug on the somewhat steep walk so that left Dale and I to lead the assent.

It took us 15 minutes of reasonable exertion, clambering over rocks at times, to get to the top. Once there, we took in the absolutely incredible views, passing for the obligatory photos with Camelot far, far below us nestled against a towering gorge.

We continued walking until we got to the swimming pools behind the waterfall. We tried quite a few but they were all shallow nearly coming passed our knees. Still the fresh water was good, even if we ended up just sitting there relaxing.

Back down, we passed a bit of a cave and walked straight past (so we found out later) a treasure chest that someone had left there with a note pad to write in.

We’d been round to all the other boats and invited them around for 4 o’clockers (Perth time, not Darwin time we clarified). Two cruising couples from Second Mate and Electric Dreams both took up the offer and joined us on the back deck of Camelot. We hadn’t had much of an opportunity to have people over for drinks as we hadn’t seen a lot of other yachties in our travels.

Both yachts were from Darwin – its an easy hop for them to come across to this part of the Kimberley’s. Lot easier than from Perth. Interestingly they like the Berkeley River better than the King George. Personally I don’t see how it could be any better than this but I suppose one day I’ll have to decide for myself.

We also talked a bit about going the wrong way around the top. Their advice, having done it was to wait it out in Gove until after the full moon in mid-October when the winds drop off to 15’s and you get afternoon sea breezes from Cape York down from November onwards to help get south. One of them used to have a boat in Gove and saw a lot of boats turn back. Mmm. Nothing like a challenge.

After dinner, we wandered out the back of the boat and watched the luminescence in the water – little balls of light darting all over the place. Quite enthralling.

And did I mention – dale caught a Trevelly.

Waking up with gorges towering over you was a wonderful experience. We had a leisurely breakfast and up’ed the anchor at 8 to catch the high tide out again at 9.22am. On the way, we were inundated by swarms of ribs off the Orion. Scanning the AIS we saw that both the Orion and the Coral Princess were parked up outside the river mouth. Orion’s helicopter was also buzzing overhead.

The high tide was again pretty low and we followed our inward track out – the depth getting down to 2.2m at one stage (our draft is 1.15m).

Up went the sails and we pointed off to Darwin 228nm away.

A Current Affair

We decided on another early morning start to try and get around to mcgowans (45nm away) so that we could bring Camelot into the beach and refuel at high tide. The problem with this cunning plan was getting round middle rock during an incoming tide. High tide at middle rock was at 10.44am so leaving that early put us right at mid-tide. We’d read the FSC Cruising guide which said tidal flow could get up to 3-4 knots through there at times. And we also had the problem that both the chart and the waypoints in the FSC guide were wrong – luckily we had the waypoints from when we went through with Royce in 2008 and they put us in the deep (20+) water.

Well we had a shot, hand steering as there was no way the autopilot could handle the turbulence. The current against us quickly rose – 3,4,5 and then up to 6.1. Time to turn back and wait for slack water.

We anchored off to the side and tried a bit of trawling whilst anchored. Bit of a unique concept. No fish though. 10.30am came and off we went again. With the current now with us we made good time until Sir Thomas Moore Island where stopped off last trip.

Into Napier Broome bay we slowed a little but still managed to get to McGowans Island Resort. We opted to just get our two Jerry cans filled, giving us 180 liters to get to Darwin, more than enough. mcGowans turned out to be an experience. We located the “office” at the entrance – it was a chair, a desk and a cash register outside a iron shed. The good news was that the Dockers were on TV inside and the good, good news was that they were beating the sh@t out of the Weagles. Much more enjoyable than the last derby at Coral Bay. The guy running the joint was a sort of poor man’s Crocodile Dundee. With a smoke continually hanging out of his mouth, he proceded over to the fuel truck and bent over our jerry cans (which his nozzle didn’t fit) and proceeded, with his cigarette (unlit) still in his mouth to hold the nozzle over the mouth of our jerrys and fill them up, at a cost us at $2.70 a litre. The girls, on seeing this, retreated way out of sight around the corner.

Later Dale and I went back in to download some emails and check on the footy – they have a slow wifi setup there. Managed to download about a quarter of my emails before we needed to get back to the boat to catch some nice sunset photos.

Next day we had another early start to make sure we got around to King George River at a reasonable hour. We headed northeast out of the bay and towards Cape Londonderry, the most northern part of WA. We donned our Sunday best, in the case of Dale and I – loud Hawaiian shirts – and as we rounded the cape we popped a cork of Tasmanian champagne and took a group photo.

Just as well as we had the champagne then as rounding the cape meant we had entered the top of Bonaparte Gulf (otherwise known as Blown-a-part Gulf) and we copped a bit of a taste of it with wind on the nose against the current. At least the current was with us as we tacked our way south east towards the mouth of King George River. We expected the current to turn against us at low tide but it kept running with us all day. Must be something to do with being in the gulf.

We made it to our anchorage just outside the sand bar at 6pm. The 65nm had turned into 70nm with al our tacking and we’d covered it in good time – 12 and a half hours.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Friday 3rd August was a busy day.

We’d scheduled a freshwater swim, a visit to anart gallery and then a visit to an outdoor museum. Finally some Chardonnay drinking and cocktails on the back deck as the sun goes down. Sounds like it could be a bit too cultured perhaps. But It turns out the crew coped with the day’s activities beautifully.

first stop was a freshwater swim at Freshwater Creek. We hopped in the dingy a couple of hours before high tide and made our way in. We had to lift the motor up a little to get over the shallow bar but it was pretty ok.

It was quite a short trip through the mangroves to the rocky ledge, where we climbed up to the fresh water pools. We gave the first few pools a miss and climbed up to a really nice looking pool with a waterfall tumbling into it for a swim. It was a bit colder than ruby falls but still really nice.

Feeling refreshed, the boys decided we’d do a bit of exploring further up the creek. We walked about 10 minutes up the creek until it flattened out at the top. The creek shallowed out into a series of pools separated by low rock ledges at various intervals.

It was whilst crossing one of these rock ledges that I felt the need to do a little jig. My dance partner was a 6 foot king brown who I had disturbed as he lay under the rock ledge. I got to within 5 or 6 feet of him before he slithered off sideways keeping a good eye on me. Meanwhile Michael and Dale had backed away quickly leaving me to my dance – without anyone taking any photos.

We decided we’d to tell the girls what had happened when we were safely back on the boat.

After having another swim on the way back to the dingy, we were feeling revved up ready for our next adventure. We headed 10nm south down to Jar Island to look at the 40,000 year old Bradshaw art – some of the oldest in the world.

Pasparley have installed a whole heap of oyster beds around Jar Island since I was last there so we needed to pick our way down a channel in the middle of them before anchoring to the north of Jar Island using the waypoint from our last visit (whereas the FSC Cruising Guide has an anchorage to the SW of the island).

We dingied in and found the track leading from the middle of the beach to a series of rock ledges where the art was. The path looked like it had been recently wipper-snippered in places. The Bradshaw art was really interesting – Bradshaw was the name of the guy who did a lot of the research and established that this was really, really old stuff.

Back to Camelot and up came the anchor again, this time for a lovely 3nm sail east (with motors off and an accompaniment of dolphins) across to the mainland where the DC3 wreck was. You need to anchor a long way off the beach here (at least half a mile) because the reef dries all the way out at low tide. And we had a low tide later…-0.1m … Don’t often see tides with a minus sign in front.

The DC3 wreck is an American plane that overshot Broome in the early days of the war, and ran out of fuel. It’s largely intact, with the exception of the wings that have an attachment problem, lying off to the sides. To get there, we had to cross some low dunes and a salt pan and then follow a well worn track about 100m into the bush at the NE corner of the salt pan.

back on the boat we decided enough was enough and the call was made on beer o’clock. Mackerel for dinner and the Italian job on DVD. We even managed to watch the whole movie without falling asleep.

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