Friday, December 9, 2011

Saying farewell to 2011

It’s December 8th and I’m sitting in the Reference Library in Darwin and it’s so cold I wish I had a jumper in my backpack. The librarians wear windcheaters to keep warm. This is an odd feeling as when you do finally leave and walk outside, the reality of Darwin in December becomes very apparent. It’s hot.  It’s actually bloody hot! That is why I’m holed up in the Reference Library, editing our first draft of the circumnavigation book and enjoying the quiet, studious, ambience of this space. It sits in the same building as the Northern Territory parliament so you can pop in for look at democracy at work if the feeling takes you. It’s a beautiful place to be and it seems no expense has been spared on the fit out. It’s like sitting in the library/study of a million dollar display home; plush carpet, quality sofas and desks, exquisite art displays and the quiet whisper of air conditioning at work.....oh yes! It opens at 10 am and they suggest you go home at 5 pm although I have been tempted to ask if they do sleep-overs. It provides some time off the boat and it’s the perfect place to work through the long and sometimes painful process of editing 120,000 words of rambling anecdotes. We’ve been in Darwin since the end of October, waiting for our town house in Fremantle to become available. We fly out on the 20th of December. The time has gone by surprisingly quickly and we have both found things to do to keep busy. This is the first time we have actually stopped since we both retired and so it’s been a learning experience dealing with life where time is a plenty. I have been editing our book on the circumnavigation, Diana has been catching up on blogs and we have been out and about on our trusty push bikes. I’m taking a break from editing to write this final blog.

 Thoughts on the Kimberley

Going back to somewhere you have already been never carries with it the same buzz of your first visit. We were spellbound on our first trip through the Kimberley, mesmerised by the colours, the massive gorges, the thundering waterfalls and the quiet emptiness that floats all around you. Every day we would search for adjectives to describe the startling beauty that lay around every corner of this vast area. We had that in the back of our minds as we made our way across from Cape Leveque and I suppose I was hoping to find that all over again.  And I did find it here and there but it was not as constant or perhaps as mesmerising as the first time. Can it ever be? What lingered in my memory were moments of Kimberley magic that really highlight the essential beauty and terror of this place and why it is so special.

Little moments stick out and Sampson Inlet was one such moment. We left Raft Point for the 30 mile sail to Sampson and, in true Kimberley fashion, found ourselves motoring most of the way. That turned out to be a bonus as we were short on water and by the time we had dropped anchor the water-maker had done its job and the tanks were overflowing. We had also caught a small Mackerel so it was a very productive trip. Sampson Inlet is typical in that it has a deep entrance which opens out into a steep walled waterway that meanders along and ends up in a fresh water oasis. Just near the entrance is a smaller inlet that shoots off to the right and is about half a mile long and quite narrow. At the end is the typical freshwater oasis, complete with a small outbreak of rainforest.
rainforest backdrop at head of inlet

 Phil and Marion, the legends of Silver Gull, actually camped at this spot for the whole of the wet season some years ago. There are still signs of their camp up amongst the rainforest.  It’s a lovely spot but you’d be doing it hard to spend a whole wet season there.  We let The Doc settle on her anchor and then quickly set about putting up the shades. It was mid October and the heat was starting to really intensify. The fans were going non-stop and shade was a priority. So, what was special about this spot? For me, this mini-inlet captured all that is unique about the Kimberley:  the colours, the quiet and the sounds and sights of nature that wander randomly through your day. I was sitting in the cockpit looking up at the rock walls when I suddenly spotted a dingo making its way over the rocks towards, no doubt, a favourite water hole. It looked sleek and healthy and it covered the tricky path with a surefooted ease. At one point I whistled out to it and it stopped, turned its head towards me, stared for a minute and then carried on its way. It was midday and hot and this dingo had only one thing on its mind, water. It eventually disappeared into the wash of ochre and sandstone.
In the evening, with the sun buried for the day, it’s nice to sit in the cockpit and enjoy an ale or two. We were doing just that when suddenly we heard the familiar whoosh, whoosh of dolphins swimming near the boat. This safe anchorage was obviously a nice little fish trap and this small family of dolphins were doing a casual reconnaissance before retiring for the night. It happens like that up here. You don’t have to sit for long before some example of nature flashes before your eyes.
The Doctor settled on anchor in Sampson inlet

Later on, up near the Osborne group of islands it was a thunder storm that flashed before our eyes and again, it was nature putting on a show. The misty grey clouds had been funnelling in all afternoon and by about 5 o’clock the thunder started. Rain and lightening followed and it was intense, loud and very frightening. I was always under the impression that the seconds between seeing lightening and hearing thunder equated to how far away the lightening was in miles. That is, every second equals 1 mile. Not so dear reader. You have to divide the total seconds by 5 and then you get the distance in miles. So, 5 seconds = 1 mile.  A lot of the lightening we sat through at the Osbornes was followed a milli- second later by the crack and roar of thunder.  That means it was a lot closer than we were wishing and it’s not that comfortable sitting on a boat with a 60 foot aluminium stick pointing up to the raging heavens.  We had two thunder storms in as many days and we decided it might be wise to cut short our 3 month cruise in the Kimberley get close to a marina if anything really nasty blows up.
Just another quiet night during the build up (can you see Motley the ship's cat doing a weather check?)
So we kind of fast tracked our sail from that point on thinking we could always spend a little longer at King George River if we wanted. We had set King George as a finale to our Kimberley adventure, the last anchorage before we tied up in Darwin. Motoring up the river is an incredible experience. The sides of the gorge rise up 300 feet and it’s like navigating through a giant maze. All you see ahead are columns of ochre sandstone that close in on each other with just glimpses of water at the bottom. We anchored right at the falls but they were bone dry. We did manage to find some water falling from a rock on the cliff face and it reminded me of a rather weak bladder function. You know what I mean?

the barby at the end of the gorge at the end of the world

The highlight from King George was sitting up on a wide, flat, rock ledge under the waterfall (obviously dry at this point but usually roaring with water) with cold beer in hand while a spread of lamb chops sizzled away on the barby. We had set some deck chairs up and then arranged a barby plate on some rocks, surrounded by the 300 foot walls of the gorge. In front was a circular pool of water that was crystal clear but dark and very deep. Oh to dive carefree into its cooling depths dear reader but no can do I’m afraid, not up here and definitely not in King George River. It was a memorable spot for an impromptu barby and we enjoyed the moment despite having to move the whole show, fire and all up to a higher ledge when the tide snuck in.

through the walls we go

Back to the Doc for a farewell drink with Frank and Karen and then prepare for the 250 mile sail back to Darwin starting next day. October/November is late in the season and, we all decided, after a few
thoughtful reds, too late to really enjoy the Kimberley. The heat and the lack of water make it tough going and we were all ready to get going.

Well, it’s now 10 days till we fly to Perth and I’m sitting in the library looking out the big panelled windows at a sky that is filling rapidly with storm clouds. This is the “build up”, the time before the monsoon breaks and every day the storm clouds cook away in the baking oven of sky until by late afternoon they start to mingle with the rumble of thunder and flashes of lightening. Occasionally, it all erupts in a giant catharsis of drenching rain but we haven’t had this for a few days now. I love it. It’s so alive up here at the moment and this is the one, enduring experience you get from this cruising life. You get time to see another world at work, the world of nature in all its beauty and its terror.
the sky is always changing during the build up

Thanks to everyone who has been following our journey through the blogs and I wish you peace and rest over the holiday break. July next year we head off to Dilli and the start of our South East Asian adventures so stay tuned for more blogs coming your way.

Cheers Rob

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