Sunday, November 6, 2011

Darwin and thoughts on the Kimberley

On 1st November at 5am in the morning we sailed into a big red rising sun over Darwin. We had just sailed 238 nautical miles across the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf, taking us just under 48 hours. All together about 2,500 nautical miles from Fremantle.Tired little bunnies, we were very happy to drop anchor outside the Darwin Sailing Club in Fanny Bay.

How to sum up the six weeks we spent in the Kimberley? For each of us it is probably a little different. There are extreme highs and low lows, times of terror and anxiety, and times of boredom. The high lights for me are probably not so much the grand scenery of the gorges and islands, though the scenery is magnificent, but more the little things that will stay with me.
The weather became so hot that we took to sleeping outside in the cockpit. Picture this. The heat of the day has at last dissipated, you close your eyes and drift off to sleep on a balmy night, covered only in a sheet. The last thing that you are conscious of are a million bright stars in an impossibly black sky, twinkling, reflecting  and competing with the glow of phosphorescence in the water. The only sounds are of  fish or other creatures splashing around the boat, or the last night call of a bird. One night we had a dolphin lazily whooshing around the boat, stirring up the phosphorescence. The gently breeze brushes your skin like a down feather and you drift off to sleep. Magic.
King George River
The second favourite thing is packing up our BBQ plate, food and chairs and having a meal off the boat on a little, isolated beach somewhere. There is often loads of drift wood for the fire, the heat of the day has gone and we eat our simple meal and drink a few wines as the sun sets on another Kimberly night. It is rejuvenating to have time away from the confines of the boat and feel solid earth under foot and staring into a real campfire is just one of the best things.

Sailing the Kimberly is not altogether a relaxing experience. It is at times challenging and terrifying and you must always be on guard and aware of the dangers. The tides can go up to 12 metres and that is a lot of water moving in and out and around the island, headlands and rivers. Tides have to always be the first consideration when anchoring or making passages, especially around headlands and narrow channels. Get it wrong and at best you go slowly or nowhere. The worst can be catastrophic. There are tidal over falls where water hits shallows or bends around headlands, the sea boils and froths, kicking up waves in the middle of nowhere.  If you get it right you can have exhilarating sleigh rides reaching improbably speeds (11knots coming away from Cape Levique), and good miles can be made with the tide with you.

The Canal, Koolan Island
Being late in the season and at the end of the long dry, there were very few other cruising boats around apart from us and Kokomo. There was the odd late charter boat, but their schedule didn't  allow more than the odd chat on the radio as we passed each other. The lateness of the season brought not only isolation and the heat, but also the first thunderstorms. We were caught on anchor, two days in a row,  by colossal thunder heads that towered over us bringing with them strong winds from unpredictable directions, lightening cracking into the water and heavy downpours of rain. It is exhilarating and terrifying  in equal measure and in a couple of hours it is all gone. After the storm we thank our lucky stars that the boat is in tack and hasn't been hit by lightening. The air seems cleansed and as it wafts over us it brings the sweet smell of the earth that has drunk of the rain. The birds resume their chorus after having become ominously quiet and the boat has been washed clean. All is good again and our nerves are a bit jangled, but  nothing that a glass of wine won't fix.
I love the Kimberley and even though not all the rivers and water falls were flowing and it was hot and a bit lonely sometimes it is an experience that thrills and surprises you one moment and challenges and terrifies you the next. It makes you know that you are alive.

Scary thunderstorm approaches, Osborne Islands

In the days to come we will send through more stories of our trip through the Kimberley, but for the moment we are safely tucked away in Tipperary Marina, within spitting distance from a cafe, a small super market and laundromat...all the comforts of civilisation. We have had two meals out, that were not prepared by us and on day two here in the marina we got a lift to The Good Guys and invested in an air conditioner. The Kimberley was fantastic, but being here is mighty fine too.
Til next time..

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