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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Crocodile Rock

Plans Are Made To Be Broken. After meticulously planning our short time in the Kimberley’s, I kept going back to Callum’s chart which alluded to the fact that we were skipping large chunks of the Kimberley’s, including Prince Regent and Hunter River. We just can’t go past here without sticking our nose in so the decision was made to go to Hunter River and then do a 26 hour sail to Freshwater Creek to make up for the diversion. Shelter bay in the Prodhoe islands was to be sacrificed in order to fit our new plans in.

So off we went to Hunter River, 35 nm away from our overnight anchorage at Careening Bay. We left at 5.30am to catch the incoming tide – no that back when you consider we barely make it past 8pm at night – geez you sleep well up here.

The dream is always to get the wind and the tide with you but we had to settle for one out of two – the ESE was on the nose and we had the classic tide against wind scenario for a lot of the way. Eventually the swell subsided as we got further into the bay and the wind turned more south making it a lovely sail into the Hunter.

Two enormous Tors, a couple of hundred metres high dominate the mouth as we sailed into an absolutely spectacular river. About a mile in, we turned into Porosus Creek and went a further mile to our anchorage beneath a very imposing Tor. What a Tor-infic place!!!! Once again the FSC Cruising Guide waxes lylical saying that “some say that it is the most scenic area of the Kimberley’s”.

Further reading of the FSC Cruising Guide says that Porosus is Latin for crocodile and yes the creek is aptly named with two resident crocs introducing themselves swimming up to the back of Camelot.

This presented a bit of a problem for Dale and Elaine who had taken the dingy and were now returning to Camelot. It was even more of a problem for Elaine when she realized Dale wanted to stop and take photos.

With all the crew safely on board with the prerequisite number of arms and legs, we spent the rear of the afternoon croc watching, fishing and trying to work out why that glass of riesling kept leaking and required refilling.

Then as the croc returned and saddled up to the boat it was time for a little Dancing with Stars/Crocs. To assist we searched for the following songs – Crocodile Rock (obvious) , Crocodile by ETC, and Crocodile Walk by john M Myall and the Blues breakers (1963).

We ended a wonderful day with michael’s pancakes. We were absolutely knackered come 8pm. Another early night was had.

But an early morning as well again. Up at 5am and on the water. We had a big day looking to do the 137nm to Freshwater Creek with the aim of getting there just before the high tide at 10am for a morning swim. Along the way we needed to negotiate the Voltaire Passage also at high tide at 11.13pm at night.

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Sailing Day and Night

We set off at the crack of dawn out of the Hunter River, bound for Freshwater Creek, 135nm away. It was lovely watching the sun come up over the Tors that dominate Hunter River.

We had a couple of hours of battling the tide as we crawled our way out of Prince Frederick Harbour, sometimes slipping below 4 knots.

As we turned the corner to head north, the tide changes and we got the opposite effect, sometimes zipping along at 9kts as the wind turned SW behind us.

Just as we were getting to the top of Bigge Island, we got rather excited as we saw another yacht – wow – don’t see many of those!! We called up Zanthier (or something similar – I dunno) and found out he was doing a circumnavigation (the right way!!!). They were heading into Wary Bay on Bigge Island to check out the art work. We went there last time and saw pictures of Dutchmen and Abel Tasman’s boat from 1606. No time this trip though.

As we were heading past the Prudhoe Islands (where we also stopped last time and did some crystal mining), I was awoken from my afternoon nap by much frivolity coming from the front tramps. I got up the find a whole pod of dolphins having a great game in our bow waves. The water was wonderfully clear and there were a couple of young calfs in in amongst a pack of about 10. They started with us for a good half an hour as the sun began to set and we got lots of photos and videos.

Then it was time for the night watches. We did four lots of 2 hour watches, with Dale and Kaz having their first night watch together. There were a few fishing boats around, but we had a full moon, which lit up the sea like daylight. The sea was silky smooth with only a gentle breeze blowing, perfect for night sailing. Another magical night – oh I do love sailing at night!

I was on watch from 9-11pm, to go through the Voltaire Passage. Just before we got to the passage, I spotted a large cruise ship coming towards us with a helicopter on top. It turned out to be The Great Escape and I had a good chat to Callum on VHF as we passed each other in the night.

Voltaire Passage was interesting. The Pilot Guide suggests the current behaves normally here, flooding south and west and ebbing north and east. But the FSC Cruising Guide says that sailors have observed it flowing the other way. We got there a couple of hours before high water and also found it flowing the other way. We got a nice kicker of 3 knots at times as we went through.

My next watch was 5-7am (yes – I was the lucky bunny that got two night watches) and I saw the most amazing sun rise on one side as the moon set on the other. Both over land as we had turned into Vansittart Bay.

At 5.30am, we had been going 24hours and had done 122 miles – at an average of just over 5 knots. Not too bad considering our lack of wind. We had been running on one engine (as we do), dropping the revs back whenever we could to conserve fuel.

We sailed past a whole heap of active pearling leases, with a big processing ship from Pasparley Pearls (I think) sitting in one of the bays.

Then as we sailed into Freshwater Bay, a Grainger 39 catamaran called Endless Dreams sailed out on their way south to Busselton. Had a great chat on the VHF and go some good info.

We dropped anchor just before 8am having made sure we followed the advice of both Zanthier and the FSC Cruising Guide NOT to cut the corner at the anchorage because a reef juts out. We were ready for a busy day.

Sampson inlet and Careening Bay

It was one of those magic days sailing as we caught the tide and the easterly out of doubtful bay and then the wind gradually turned south west to help us sail NE along the coast. The time was still with us as it was now past high tide and it ebbs out northwards and eastwards.

We sailed close to Langgi but really couldn’t see any of the strange rock formations that it is noted for. But it looked an interesting spot to spend a day or two with a nice beach with a gorge running off it with fresh water at the end.

We made Sampson Inlet in great time as we got there on 5pm after leaving red cone creek well after 9am. We had the option of going to deception bay if we ran out of time but being that just further north helped us the next day.

We went into Sampson Inlet a couple of miles, with beautiful rock gorge faces either side. The vegetation was decidedly more tropical, with some nice blab trees growing down by the waters edge. We went round the bend and anchored just before the moorings. There was a pearling barge and a raft with what looked like a gazebo there as well. Sampson inlet is a cyclone hole and you could see why – it was like being anchored on a mill pond.

That night we heard True North pull in and as we left under sail in the morning we tried a spot of celebrity spotting. As much as I wanted to see Jerry Hall – I didn’t – bummer! Quite an outfit though, with it’s helicopter on deck and at least 5 tenders.

It was really important that we worked the tides today, especially through Rogers Strait, which the Australian Pilot suggests is “a treacherous passage”.

We did extremely well getting to the start of Rogers strait at 9.30am, two and a half hours after pulling anchor and right on high tide. It was a very scenic morning. The FSC cruising guide suggests that “the scenery is amongst the most impressive in the Kimberley’s with sheer rock faces, white beaches, boabs, bays and inlets”. I think they might be onto something.

Out of Rogers straight the wind died off completely but we still had the current running with us. Several hours latter we crossed Hanover Bay where the George Basin and Prince Regent River flow out. We slowed dramatically as the huge amount of sand filled water flowing out spilt out either side of the bay. It would have been good to have the time to go into here but Royce had said it was a 3 day trip in, 2 in with the tides and 1 out with the tides. Next time!

We got to Careening Bay at 4pm to find Odyssey Discoverer’s 68 paying customers wandering the beach like little ants. We played our usual let’s guess their average age game (it seems that there are hardly anyone under 60 on these boats for some reason) and headed in the join them. We were most impressed when they started taking our photo. Damn – Dale forgot his crocodile G-String – that would have given them something to photograph.

We wandered up the beach and first found a dummy boat tree that some Australian HMAS warship had carved out in 2011 along with some other graffiti artist. Further north we found the real Mermaid tree – now with A raised broad walk around it to protect the trees roots. It’s very impressive this old tree with HMC Mermaid – 1820 carved into its trunk. It was almost 200 years ago that Phillip Parker King, the son of the NSW governor, carved this out, supposed to ward off the French who were sniffing around at the time – 9 years before WA was settled. We had the obligatory group photo in front of the tree and headed back to Camelot after a short explore along the beach. Another perfect day in paradise.

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