Sunday, October 30, 2011

Darwin to Broome - The Kimberleys

6th July 2011

A fine winters day in Darwin as is most often the case saw Truansea exit the lock at Bayview Marina this time with a passenger aboard for the adventure ahead across, in, out and around the wonders and dangers of the remote Kimberley region. Began a long term friend and sailing buddy from our days sailing and racing trimarans had expressed a wish to join me on this leg of the trip around Australia if the opportunity arose. Flying into Darwin the night before and having undergone his Truansea safety and responsibilities induction he quickly warmed to life aboard as we motorsailed our way through Darwin Harbour towards our intended first stop at Port Keats on the eastern shores of Joseph Boneparte Gulf.

Sadly it was Darwin where I said goodbye to the wonderful Murray and Bev Bastion of Shirazz. Shirraz was participating in the Indonesia Rally due to dart Darwin on the 23rd July and Murray and Bev were getting her ready for the rally and further cruising to Malaysia. Without their company and knowledge during the passage from Cooktown to Darwin I would not have had as enjoyable an experience for that section of the circumnavigation. I hope that I am able to offer other cruising sailors the friendship and advice that Murray and Bev so freely and generously extended to me.

CAUTION: The Kimberley is described as a region of great beauty, ruggedness and wilderness not yet fully explored. The region covers some 423,000 sq km. The remoteness of the place can be intimidating despite it's enormous appeal. Sailors are especially advised to ensure they are self reliant, plan and equip well and above all have the ability to calculate the state of the tide at any given location at any time of the day. The region has a tidal range of up to 12m and currents to 10 knots are known to occur. Those are serious elements to be faced and dealt with and getting it wrong could have life threatening results. In addition to that there are other dangers in the form of large teeth. These teeth are found in the opening parts at the front end of waterborne beasts such as sharks and crocodiles. These animals are not very selective when it comes to their eating habits and they have the longest bloodlines of successful hunters, read-killers, of the creatures that adorn Australia's coastline. Stay out of the water they have exclusive rights!

Our passage west of Darwin started beautifully under main and jib on a flat sea with the wind aft of the beam and a steady 7 knots until almost midnight when the wind died out almost completely. Mr and Mrs Yamaha took it in turns 3 hours about to propel us towards our revised destination of Reverley Island. The island is nicely placed just outside the Berkeley River entrance on the Western shore of Joseph Boneparte Gulf. At 1700 we crossed from the Northern Territory into Western Australia and wound our timepieces back 90 minutes. The Joseph Boneparte Gulf is known amongst cruising sailors as the blown apart gulf due to the prevailing strong easterly wind and is also subject t to strong currents. We were to experience some of the strong easterlies as we approached within a hundred miles of Reverley Island. Closing on the island at around 0800 on Friday the 8th in 25+ knot winds it was imperative that we positively identify the entrance to the Berkeley River as the channel is unmarked, narrow and winding. Not so easy to do after a night without sleep and rapidly approaching a lee shore in boisterous seas and water becoming increasingly dirtier with the sediment deposits of the Berkeley. Satisfied it was the top of the tide and I was in the entrance to the channel and trusting to the advi e provided in the Western Australian Cruising guide Truansea made a safe entry over the shallow bar and came to anchor about 1.5 miles into the river at 1030. Four monohulls and three catamarans were already anchored in this calm downstream reach of the river.

At 0630 then following morning we motored upstream through the spectacular canyon style gorge that has been created over millennium by the annual outpouring of monsoonal rains draining off the Kimberley plateau. Evidence of cascades and waterfalls now dry showed as black stains broad brushed down the faces of the vertical canyon walls. A running watrfall remained at Red Falls Amphitheatre close to the navigable head of the river. Here we turned in a space not much wider than Truansea's length and returned downstream at a leisurely pace marveling at the natural beauty and enormity of the rivers work. On our way back to the anchorage we diverted into Casuarina Creek where a 20m high waterfall greeted us with a cool spray from the millions of litres of freshwater tumbling over the lip to the surface of the pool at the head of the creek. A short way back from this waterfall there was a small inlet where another smaller waterfall cascaded over the rocks. The trip up the river and diversion to Casuarina Falls took up the whole day. This first foray into the Kimberley's was both calming due to the placid water and silence of the river and at the same time mildly tense as to the newbie the unexpected is always expected and the senses remain on alert.

Sunday the 10th July and the southeaster is too strong to exit the Berkeley so we remain at anchor and take advantage of the opportunity to rest and meet a father and son taking a sabbatical and sailing their Crowther designed Eureka catamaran Zig Zag around the eastern Kimberley's broadening their fishing experiences. We saw our first crocodile of the Kimberley's, a 3m salty sunning himself on the sand on the opposite bank of the river from us. I was comfortable with the separation distance. Zig Zag advised of a different channel out of the river Thayer had observed at low tide and we decided to give it a go along with them the following morning. This route would reduce the passage to Koolama Bay by about 5 nautical miles.

Next post we arrive at Koolama Bay and explore the King George River.

Fair winds

Brian of Truansea

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