Stolen Kiss

Stolen Kiss

August 5, 2008

Kingpins of the Kimberley

Crocodiles of course!!!!!!

Having observed that most, if not all, Darwin yachties have ‘tinnies’ (as in the dinghy variety) we re-visited the Kimberley with somewhat a little more circumspection in our RIB. The old adage that inflatables were ‘teething rusks for crocodiles’ was echoed by more than one person! Perhaps it was because we would be there on our own this time that we decided we should be savvier and go prepared on any expeditions in the dinghy. So off we would go armed with spare water (in case we got stranded) and the verey pistol to defend ourselves against any crocodile that decided we could be fair game or in the slight chance we wanted to attract (wanted) attention!

The thought that we would be there on our own was merely wishful thinking! In 2003 we did not see any other yachts (except the two we were in company with) for 9 weeks until the King George River where we found one charter yacht and two other yachts from Darwin. This time (July) there was a total of 21 boats during our two week stay. Whilst this may sound alarmingly like being in the middle of a metropolis, we still managed to spend 4 days anchored on our own up the river. The wave of boats coming and going was in response to the tidal variation which did or did not allow you across the bar. There were considerably more charter boats this year than there had been in the past which were always more active. The Orion anchored out in Koolama Bay and had ribs full of happy punters going to and fro from the falls or whizzing around in the helicopter.

We also managed a quiet walk alone up the cliff and along the river, (with many cairns to guide us) which was beautiful and cool (if not freezing!). Apparently about 5km along the river there
are some w
onderful aboriginal paintings, although we only walked for approximately 2km.

The King George was just as majestic as we had remembered it. The ochre colours of the towering cliffs in the early morning and sunset, along with the contrast of the pale green vegetation were savoured every day. The only other aspect that had changed was the number of crocodiles! We saw only one at the entrance in 2003, which of course does not mean that there were not more lurking! Perhaps the increase in numbers spotted could be attributable to their rate of breeding, the time we spent there and the increased number of boats that has perhaps encouraged them to gather in waiting!

This time we took the dinghy up the East Arm to the waterfall and the rope climb. A plaid rope of considerable strength has been placed by the Navy to assist climbers (rather than stop them) which was a welcomed thought in preference to the usual ‘nanny approach’ we often see in Australia. Knowing our limitations (me vertigo and Peter his sore shoulders) we decided to watch others (a very agile Stylopora) do the climb. Perhaps it was the crocodile lurking at the bottom waiting in anticipation that also put us off!! News that a very large crocodile often sat across the entrance to the East Arm on a falling tide (scarier than the troglodyte under the bridge??) ensured our timing so we did not get caught up there at low water.

We think we may have met this crocodile a week later when we anchored just around the corner near the mangroves to shelter from the screaming wind. Nudging up to the mangroves to drop the pick (Peter always says we do not get close enough and I say we are too close!) we inadvertently upset a very large, gnarly old croc! We presume he was hunting there! Although camera shy and did not like us going up to the foredeck to look down on him (us refraining from hanging over the side!) he was there for a few days at sunset glaring at us! At least we did not drop the anchor on him!! Having realised after the first night that we were in so close that our anchor could only be retrieved at more than ¾ tide, we did in fact move out a little.

Two of the falls were flowing at the head of the river, which was more than last time! The idea of filling up the dinghy and having a bath was shelved quickly due to another crocodile lurking, but more so because of how utterly cold the water was! We managed to collect water to fill our tanks, do the washing and have a good old soak, but like the crocodiles we then had to lie in the sun to warm up. Our days there were very cool, so much so that we spent one windy day below with the hatches closed and me in a sleeping bag to keep warm! It’s the first time in 5 years that we have not had to use the fans.

After the first week there we thought we may have had a good weather window to go down to the Berkley River, some 75 miles SE of the King George. We came out across the bar following other yachts who drew more than us to see if they had a deeper track than ours. Indeed they did but thinking that we would not be going back, I only glanced at our track rather than actually tracking our course on the charts. Our plan was to anchor over in ‘Koolama Cove’ near the beach, go for a walk then leave at night for the Berkely. We had to wait for the crocodile to finish basking on the beach (where there are many turtle nests) before we could go for our walk. As the wind did not abate at night enough to our liking (SE wind on a SE course..hmmmm) we stayed put and decided, given the wind warnings, we would go back in the river. Stylopora elected to stay out in the cove, which apparently was a reasonable anchorage.

When we did finally exit the river again, we thought we would have enough water. (A 2m tide at nearby Lesueur Is gave us a minimum depth of 1m underneath us on our initial track.) However, the tide was a little lower than anticipated but given our shallow draft and a minute change in the tide over the next 3 hours, we forged on. I was a little slack in keeping a check on our progress; preferring to be on deck rather than looking at the chart. Just when we could see the deeper water 2 boat lengths ahead, we ran aground. Bugger!!!!!!!! Our sounder had been on 00 for about 100m! So over went Peter in the dinghy and off went the 15hp outboard! That was enough for me to reverse and float off. Whilst Peter was having fun with the hand held depth sounder that was for some reason only happy displaying water temperature, I quietly ambled past him to where we thought the channel was. At one stage Peter did not hear me and got a bit of a fright, looking up at the bow hanging over him and moving! I did see him!!

Unbeknown to us, going aground jammed the centreboard up inside its casing. We only realised this at dusk when we were setting off to cross the Joseph Bonaparte (aka blownapart) Gulf in the calmer waters of the evening. Peter knew that it was only a matter of levering it with a screw driver which would take a minute, however given our company on the beach previously….we had to live with it!

We never did make it down to the Berkley but neither did many other yachts for the same reason as us. One of the cats we spoke to in the King George had come from the Berkley and had to push through 2m breaking waves to get out. Not for us!! We had planned to use the other, deeper approach, but even so it did not sound good.

But we did have a sensational sail to and from the King George. We had no moon on the sail down, which meant amazing starry nights. Afternoon breezes filled in giving us a good sail under spinnaker. Two weeks later we had the full moon to keep us company at night. Our night watches were relaxed and we still treasure the fact that we can sail along under clear skies without squalls finding us!!!!!! It was rather fortunate that we did have a light sail back (motor sailing most of the way) as we made a reasonable amount of leeway with our board jammed up!!

We almost made it there and back without being buzzed by Coastwatch. Customs (really nice chaps) had come by in their centre console RIBS in the King George to check us out (a lousy job but someone has to do it!) and were just as surprised as us that we had escaped Coastwatch. However, about 60 miles out from Darwin, just on sunset as I was snuggled up in our cockpit, came the flyby; mast height, so we could eyeball each other!

A dawn approach to the Cox Peninsular had us enveloped in an eerie fog, lasting well after sun rise. Further on we could see the myriad of masts across Fannie Bay, announcing the arrival of the rally fleet. Even so, there was enough room for us to go and anchor a little way from the crowd.

A day or so later, Peter made a call to the local ‘crocodile watch’ to see if there had been any sightings ( there had been one on the beach near the yacht club a week before we left – apparently just passing by) so he could go over the side to free up the centreboard. I stood on guard with the verey pistol (Peter ensuring that I clearly understood that I would shoot at any crocodile and not at him!!) whilst Tony (Stylopora) monitored Peter’s safety rope from the dinghy. Not more than 40 seconds later, and the job was done!

Unfortunately we could only spend a little more time at anchor as we needed to secure a birth back at Tipperary Marina to finish our planned work on the boat and to go back to our day jobs. An American boat coming into the marina the following day cut the corner on a falling tide, went aground and ended up on his side (good time for a bottom job!) for a considerable amount of time. Coming out of the King George River could have been worse for us!!!!!!!!!

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