Sunday, November 6, 2011

Freshwater Bay to Sampson Inlet

Saturday 16th July 2011

On leaving Freshwater Bay and passing the extensive pearl lease mentioned in the last post Truansea headed towards Cape Voltaire and Montague Sound via Admiralty Gulf and Voltaire Passage. The directions advise that overfalls and strong tides may be experienced approaching the Voltaire Passage. A tidal flow of 4-5kn and overfalls to 2.5m have been observed and if wind is against tide the waves created are steep sided. Just this information alone would deter the weekend sailor but Truansea being the tough and dogged little ship she is and her adventurous skipper keep to the program and as good planning would have it wind and tide were fair and the extremes mentioned above saved themselves for another day and another adventurer to experience. Our passage was at the milder end of the scale but it was not difficult from the conditions we experienced to visualize how treacherous the passage could be if Mother Nature had not been so kind.

There were numerous islands in the Osbourne Group with many anchorages amongst them and the Mitchell River mouth can be found in the South West corner of Admiralty Gulf. For cruisers with plenty of time and fuel the Mitchell River has many scenic delights but access to many entails leaving the boat for extended periods and continuing in the dinghy. There are waterfalls and rock pools that can be used to relax and swim in safely. All this takes time and fuel and careful planning around the tides and for Truansea the big picture i.e. Circumnavigating the Australian mainland must remain the focus this time around. So it was we passed Barracuda and Krait Bays and rounded Cape Voltaire and turned southeast into Montague Sound and found a suitable anchorage close in to a fringing reef at Cape Voltaire South. Already anchored in the bay was a steel monohull and passing slowly close by we were able to exchange hellos and enough information to learn that "Outsider", a great name I thought for a cruising yacht, was owned by Ian and Wendy who hailed from Brunswick Heads.

After anchoring and sundowners we tried squid jigging but none of the ink squirting little devils would have a bar of our efforts. A calm night was spent here and Sunday 17th saw us underway before 0600 for Bigge Island and Scott Strait which separates it from the mainland. Scott Strait passage between the mainland and the island is hazardous due to a large drying reef inconveniently situated right in the middle of the passage and irregular depths. Phillip Parker King during his survey of the Region named the strait after the Reverend Thomas Hobbes Scott Archdeacon of NSW at the time. I saw nothing religious about the place save for the two passages around the reef which I suppose could be assimilated with the two passages through life, the turbulent and the calm, the decision to take one or the other based on your courage or beliefs (quite often ignorance in both cases) at any rate you end up in the same place in my view. I tend to weigh up advice provided for each direction and take the one most suited to me at the time. In this case the most recent advice provided by Ian of "Outsider" based on soundings and waypoints provided by trawler operators and personal observations with the mark one eyeball I chose the passage closer to Bigge Island. Truansea made it through comfortably against a 2knot current and I suspect the result would have been similar if the other option had been chosen. Exiting the Strait and with the flood tide still assisting Truansea anchored at Cape Pond at 1600. In the process of winding in the trolling line when coming to anchor the swivel connector between the trolling line and trace became jammed between the hull and top of the starboard rudder. Unable to free the swivel from on deck a short underwater excursion was required to free it manually. My general rule for these waters is that it is the home of big bitey monsters and I have refused their invitation to enter, however something had to be done so with Bevan instructed to stand on the cabin top as monster observer I donned the goggles and in a split second was in and out of the monsters domain with the swivel freed. I don't think they noticed. Bevan's role was purely academic I suppose at least he could have reported on the size and species that brought about my demise. That danger is ever present in the Kimberley's and not worth the risk for a purely pleasure swim. Later that evening we caught 6 fish and were busted off several times by sharks. We kept 3 of our catch for eating and 3 for bait.

Monday the 18th is a special day.

This is the day the rear admiral and my brother celebrate their respective birthdays and on this day the first of very many humpback whales 5 on this occasion joined us as we passed through York Sound past the Coronation Islands and on to Careening Bay where we anchored at 1130.
Careening Bay is significant not because it is the southern extension of Port Nelson but for the historically significant fact in 1820 Philip Parker King or members of his crew carved HMC MERMAID 1820 into a large Boab tree that was easily approached and viewed by us 191 years later. The tree is a large example of the species and in very healthy condition. The carving has expanded with the tree over time but remains clearly legible and proportional with no sign of distortion. A truly remarkable sign of the times which would be considered graffiti today and no doubt abhorrent to the green movement. But it no doubt served a dual purpose at the time to both record the visitation by King and to leave no doubt in the minds of Captains of other vessels of a foreign flag that the land was in the possession of His Brittanic Majesty. Less than 200 years later guided by charts derived from the detailed and arduous survey work of King and his crew along comes the skipper of Truansea to pay due homage to these great men and their leaders who had the foresight to finance this work for the benefit of future generations. I am humbled by their vision and efforts. With the tree and my presence duly recorded with the digital camera ( wouldn't King be astounded by this modern marvel) Truansea is soon underway again for High Bluff. We pass Mictyis Island and cross Hanover Bay to High Bluff in Port George IV. A celebratory drink for the birthdays and first whales and Careening Bay visit before a comfortable night.

Our passage on the 19th to Samson Inlet would take us through Rogers Strait and Brecknock Harbour. The former is described in the Australian Pilot as a treacherous passage. For your interest I'll quote directly from the Western Australian Cruising guide;
'There is a reef extending northeast from Umbanganan Island. Hold to the mainland (southeast) side of the strait for a safe passage. Passage north of Umbanganan Island, through Quinlan Channel is narrow. Two white floats, north of the island, usually mark the edge of the reef at the narrowest part of the channel. Pass to the north of these markers.
Passing east and south of Umbanganan Island keep about five cables off the mainland and pass about five cables to the north of Green Island. Passage may be made in a westerly direction from Green Island to north of Slade Island, where a gap in the radar beacons marking a pearl lease in the southern part of the Harbour opens up. Caution: there is a drying reef (15d27.8'S 124d36.75'E)northeast of Green Island which is exposed two hours before and after LW. Tides: The tide floods south and west meeting around the west side of Umbanganan Island (named Brecknock Island on earlier charts). It ebbs northeast and is strong during spring tides. Suggest going north through Rogers Strait at slack HW, taking advantage of the ebb through Port George IV. Conversely, go south before slack HW to take advantage of the flood. West of Umbanganan Island the tide is similar to Degerando Island. Range 10m. Caution: Pearl leases with thousands of bouys throughout the area. A radar marked channel on the southern side of Augustus Island allows through-passage avoiding the pearl leases.'

No worries got all that, yeah right! Then there is the visual and if you put it all together right you make it through. Luckily enough Truansea did and with some current assistance. Our speed through the water was 4.2 knots and our speed over the ground was 8.8 knots i.e 4.6 knots of current bowling us along, no place to get the navigation wrong skipper. This was one of many like experiences and one or two more exhilarating to come. Just a reminder that you are totally on your own in this region, HELP is not in the Kimberley dictionary be very clear about that. Then go because on the plus side many say the scenery is amongst the most impressive in the Kimberley with sheer rock faces, white beaches, boabs, bays and inlets.

With the trial of Rogers Strait astern Truansea transited Brecknock Harbour passing Kuri Bay at it's western end. Kuri Bay is a well known and extensive pearl farm base camp. From our perspective it looked like an exclusive resort with many buildings surrounded by dense bush and steep rugged hills and the brief conversation I had with whomever answered my radio call left me in no doubt that visitors were not encouraged. A narrow pass between the mainland and Kannamatju Island with a significant and photographic Needle Rock piercing through the depths saw our escape from this treacherous and unwelcoming part of the Kimberley. Several miles further on we were ushered into Sampson Inlet by a large (are they all this big?) humpback whale.

Near the navigable end of Sampson Inlet we took advantage of an unoccupied mooring put there by the Kuri Bay company I suspect as a cyclone mooring for one of their vessels and took to the dinghy for a further 3 miles upstream. At a point where the inlet narrowed and the water disappeared into a a sand sink we tied up to a branch extending from a fallen tree over the water and stepped cautiously ashore. Whilst tying up the dinghy I felt a sharp sting to my right wrist and quickly looking around to see if a snake had struck I noticed a single paper wasp cell fixed beneath the branch and as the pain was not severe I admonished the hot arsed little devil and destroyed his handiwork so as not to experience a repeat on our return. With senses heightened by that little experience we trekked on up the sandy creek bed for some distance and investigated a waterfall that could be heard above the deafening silence that all pervades an area of the Australian bush when an intruder is noticed and the fauna become invisible until they are comfortable and then surprisingly inquisitive and accepting of the
intrusion. This small waterfall provided a haven for ferns, mosses and shrubs as well as butterflies and several other winged insects and small lizards. Suspecting there might be another waterfall further upstream we ventured warily on as this looked like ideal crocodile nesting territory. We were rewarded for the extra distance by a three tiered waterfall and large deep pool at its base. The water was fresh, soft and sweet and quite cool. We spent a short while here but mindful of the falling tide and not wanting to return to a stranded dinghy we didn't tarry long and returned briskly over the sandy creek bed strewn with many large trees from a recent flood event. Back on Truansea we motored back down the inlet to a short side inlet maybe only half a mile long and anchored between the towering cliff sides. Here the tidal range of about 10m was clearly evident by the black stain on the adjacent rocky cliffs so I allowed plenty of scope in the anchor chain. This anchorage was quite remarkable because being out of the main inlet a function of it's short length was that the tidal movement was vertical and no sense of tidal movement was felt aboard Truansea despite the rise in water level of 9m. It was also here that the second crocodile of the Kimberley was to be seen from Truanse. Two red eyes steadily staring and relaying food possibility data to the thumb sized brain of that four legged swimming serpent could be seen in the torch light less
than 100m from Truansea's stern. Data rejected we thankfully saw no more of it. That was Sampsons inlet from where we departed the following morning.

Next post Truansea sails over to Raft Point where many whales were seen and a strong tidal flow took control momentarily, from there another unique wonder of the Kimberley region, Montgomery Reef and her extensive tidal waterfalls were experienced before anchoring within a days sail of the famous Horizontal Falls.

Fair winds

Brian of "Truansea"

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