Sailing Story - Darwin To Gove - Our First Sailing Trip, Haven For Crocodiles

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    Our First Sailing Trip

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water at Cuthbert's shoal, certainly one foot under the keel is not what the chart said and of course we discovered how out of date and inaccurate the charts of this region are!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 for tea!
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 Crabs!

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 water there.

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