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Darwin To Gove
Besides a few short trips around Darwin with friends,
this was our First Sailing Trip, hence our first Sailing Story
aboard Whimoway. It took us six weeks to get there. We
left at the appropriate time according to local knowledge
but were soon to discover that maybe the best local knowledge
is not always given!
Van Diemen’s Gulf is a navigators nightmare and so
we found ourselves fighting 6 knot tides including swirling
potboils and eddies to finally arrive at Escape Cliffs.
This is the Cobourg Peninsula, an area which encompasses
many beautiful bays, the historic site of Victoria Settlement
and the Black Point ranger station.
We explored this area and saw lots of crocodiles, birds,
paperbark forests and caught plenty of fish.
The fishing here is incredible but at times frustrating
because you throw out your line then bang! you've got
one, but then it's so big you can't put another line in
for 2 days unless you can find someone to give it to,
and believe me, there are not too many people wandering
around this northern coast of Australia.
Victoria Settlement is well worth a visit. This place
was settled by British soldiers and their families from
1838-49, most of whom perished from hunger and disease
until they closed it down, yet the remains of their buildings
still stand along with several engraved headstones. From
here our First Sailing Trip is about Arhnem Land, a 94,000kmsq
Aboriginal reserve which takes in Elcho Island, the Gove
Peninsula and the western shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
It is Aboriginal land and permits are required to go there.
We visited the small islands of the New Year group where
we had clear waters, coral reefs and the largest, Grant
Island, where shelter is available if required. We again
headed to the coast via the Goulburn Islands but the weather
turned foul so we hid in the King River for a spell, a
very good cyclone hold for future reference.
Continuing on we encountered very shallow water at Cuthbert's
shoal, certainly one foot under the keel is not what the
chart said and of course we discovered how out of date
and inaccurate the charts of this region are!
Besides the panic and mayhem, we made it through and found
ourselves at the settlement of Maningrida, where we got
our newspaper fix and fresh milk. Mjungga Island found
us a stones throw from the shore in deep fast flowing
clear water but that was the spot to be in the conditions
of the day and it was great, and I caught a huge mackerel
The Cadell straight is a channel running between Elcho Island
and the mainland and it is fantastic!
We got the tides right and enjoyed a smooth run with the
help of waypoints from the supply barges that connect this
remote place. We made it through the narrowest point then
dropped anchor to enjoy the serenity and catch some Mud
I forgot to mention that some time previously our anchor
winch had failed, so Mike was pulling the chain in by hand!
The Wessel Islands are the most visited by yachties in
this area and almost warrant a Sailing Story of their
own. This time of year you can enjoy a reach from offshore
winds almost the full length from south to north reducing
the battle with tides. You find yourself passing bay after
bay of uninhabited wilderness, all of which offer great
anchorages and exploration.
We headed out of the straight to just abaft of Alger Island
when the alternator belt broke. No worries, we have spares
but the man in the shop who guaranteed their size was
horribly wrong! So, up with the sails whilst Mike jury
rigged a belt by splicing some rope. Whimoway is not known
for sailing the best upwind so I proceeded to go back
and forth on the same spot on the chart!
We then fired the motor tentatively and dropped anchor
on Alger's north-western tip. The next morning after deliberating
we decided that we would have to forego exploring the
Wessel Islands without adequate engine power and do our
best to make it to Gove, then we spotted something in
the distance which ended up being some locals on a turtle
hunt! We waved them over and whilst onboard it was decided
that they probably had a spare belt on one of the cars
back at camp.
They took Mike turtle hunting first (no turtle), then
they hopped on and tied up the tinny and we had a fantastic
sail across to their home camp, their first time on a
yacht! Great people who shared their damper with us along
with supplying a new belt and we were given permission
to explore Raragala Island as well as tips to find fresh
Raragala Island is still one of our favourite places in
the world! If you take the time and respect the environment
and history, lots can been seen and enjoyed there.
There are Rock Wallabies everywhere and soft rock shelves
to explore with tiny pockets of rainforest, wildflowers,
birds, fish and crocodiles. We found the springs and replenished
our water and collected fresh rock salt.
Mike had a close call with a croc on shore while I battled
with a shark trying to steal my catch!
Crocodiles are in abundance here, they are huge, and demand
the utmost respect as we are potentially their prey! The
best rule of thumb is not to stay in one place too long
as they apparently observe their prey before setting up
for the kill!
Our scariest moment was when we decided to go to a tiny
little rocky outcrop with a little sand patch back down
the coast further, but we stepped off the dinghy to find
a half eaten fish, then heard a rush of water and so jumped
back in and wound our way through some rocks whilst he
appeared then suddenly submerged! Mike was quiet back
aboard and I cried for a time out of pure fear!
From then on, Mike did a recky in the dinghy checking
for tracks before he picked me up for our traditional
beer, fire and sunset on shore! Without pushing our luck
with the new car belt, we headed for Gove through the
"Hole in the Wall", a very narrow gap between Raragala
and Guluwuru Islands.
Fishermen and yachties rave about this passage and it
is truly an experience. You must get the tide right or
there is really no hope of getting through. Tales are
told such as the unsuspecting yachtie who anchored one
night on one side to find himself awake on the other coast!
Almost believable after being there.
Elizabeth Bay was full of oyster pearl farms but we anchored
and scrambled up the top to view the Gulf of Carpentaria
for the first time.
On our return journey, we found this farm had been destroyed
by Cyclone Ingrid, the same cyclone which almost put Whimoway
on the rocks at Gove, on our First Sailing Trip! We have
more tales to tell of this under appreciated cruising
ground as we spent a further four weeks here on our return
to Darwin some months later, so read onů
Map Of Darwin, Arnhem Land And Gove