Sunday, November 4, 2012

Valentia Island to Port Essington via Bowen Strait

Sunday - 28/10/2012

We weighed anchor at 0410 hours as we needed to catch the ebbing tide through Bowen Strait to pick up the 1.5 knot tidal flow and go along with it rather than have it against us. From here on the tides are a most important factor as they get larger and stronger. As friends of our experienced on the passage to Darwin when they miss calculated the tide which is easy to do as at that passage the flows do not run to what one would expect, they were going 8.5 knots through the water but only 3.8 knots across the ground having nearly 5 knots of current against them.

As we went along I could see flashes in the sky to the southwest it was a large electrical storm in the distance and I was hoping that is where it would stay well in the distance by daylight it had gone away.

It is 12NMS from the anchorage at Valentia Island to the Bowen Strait passage so the plan was to arrive just on daylight so that I could see the water as there is some shallow areas, we got there just as planned first light. I found the electronic charts were quite accurate as far as the passage but depths  were a little different in places but no threat to our passage. As daylight came we thought it would be a good time and place to set our trolling line and try and catch another fish there are going to be some different depths as we go along where there is a chance that is where the fish will be around one of those contours.
(Chart showing us entering Bowen Strait)

As we started to pass the bottom end of Crocker Island we noticed buildings on the point we were not sure if it is a Rangers Station or a pearl farm. Just after passing it the fishing line had a strike so I started hauling it in it looked a good size when I saw it jump out of the water a few times, I reeled it in and landed it on the bottom transom step to get it with the gaff but before I could it gave a large struggle and the hook came out and it slid back into the water and swam away. It was a Giant Queenfish rated as 5 star for taste. Nancy was taking a movie and I asked her if she got a photo of the fish? She said she was taking a movie when I looked at it the only thing that was on the movie was one splash of the fish before I landed it and the rest was me reeling the fish in. Good helps hard to find. We continued trolling but not a thing all day.

We had to motor all the way what wind we had was mainly what we were making and that was on the nose, the water was flat and it was a pleasant day warming up very fast. Bowen Strait is quite wide and as I have mentioned before that these areas have not been that well surveyed and all the charts give this warning so you have to be continually alert and watching the sea surface and the depth sounder. Where the chart showed 6 metres for a large area I was getting up to 20 metres depth  in places. Bowen Strait has a large area in the top half where there is very shallow waters identified looking at the chart there is a wide deeper area to the port side and a narrower deeper area to the starboard side of the shallows.  My first thought was to go the wider area and as we were about 1NM from it I noticed a Sealink Barge north in the distance heading our way but it appeared to be coming down the narrow side. I called them up on the radio for a chat and asked their advice. The barge was 'Victoria 8' his comment was that they always travel along the Crocker Island side he has never gone down the other side so he did not know.  You can't beat local knowledge, I think going up the wide side would probably be alright but I know now through local knowledge that the narrow side is definitely alright so we changed course and went that way. As we passed we waved a thank you to the skipper.
(Chart showing track through Bowen Strait to Port Essington Rangers Station at Black Point)

To  the north of this narrow stretch was the shallowest part we had come across which was 4.5 metres, naturally the tide was going out but the tide difference this morning was only 1.5 metres. Looking at the tide tables at the moment we have a smaller tide difference in the mornings than in the evening. The larger tide differences start at Port Essington onwards to Darwin with Darwin being the biggest difference but then again on our next leg of this voyage going west of Darwin gets bigger again.

After the shallow narrow section we changed course for Point Danger being the top western point of the Bowen Strait another yacht was heading south and called us on the radio to ask about the crossing of the Gulf and what had the weather been like. We gave them what information we had and wished them a safe sail.

We headed on to round Sandy Island No.2 a large sandy and coral island just off the coast near Point Danger looks very inviting. We continued along the coast to Port Essington passing on the way Sandy Island No.1. These areas are very significant to studies conducted regarding the bleaching of the reefs though the natural warming of the world.

We arrived at Port Essington and anchored near the Rangers Station as the guide book stated in line with the beach near Black Point west of the Jetty. Once anchored we went ashore and reported to the Ranger, they are quite casual here and we met the Parks Officer Andy he was a nice bloke and very helpful he took us inside the information centre and gave us some pamphlets and we had a friendly chat before having a look at the displays. He was telling us one of his work colleagues had built a dugout canoe that was being launched at 1700 hours if we wanted to check it out.

We returned on board it was very hot and we watched the launching from the boat. We had a quiet night we were both tired and went to bed early.

Monday - 29/10/2012

We were up again before sunrise and what a beautiful sunrise it was this morning the air was still and the sea was like glass. Our plan is to go ashore for the walks before it gets too hot so we had an early breakfast and went ashore straight after the radio sched at 0700 hours. The radio sched was unsuccessful this morning with too much background noise and Asian chatter the skip must have been the wrong way.

 We got ashore and went to the start of the walks, Nancy asked if I had taken a photo of the outside of the information centre and I hadn't so as I went to take a photo I realised I had left the battery in the charger back on board. Not happy. So photos of this first walk is care of Nancy. The first walk is the Wuwurdi Walk around some wet lands an 800 metre walk and there is a sign that points to the walk and has the usual adult holding a child's hand figure and below a crocodile figure and below that a no swimming sign. As we walked we noticed droppings like cow dung which turned out to be from banteng's a type water buffalo which originated from Indonesia that they are trying to rid from this section of the park. The bantengs the pigs and some other now feral species were brought here by the British when setting up the settlement. Walking around wetlands with croc signs makes one very alert to what is around. We came to the first part of the wetland and the bird life there was quite something to see. We continued walking and all of a sudden something rushed out from the bush to my left, it scared the crap out of me, it was a very large wild pig, visions that I had for a moment made the heart race a little. We continued walking after we stopped laughing. As we walked along there were small lizards darting across in front of us then we came across this awful smell as though something had died. It was some very dead large fish with fillets cut off in a cage with an open front, we learned later that they were placed there with 10/80 bait to get rid of the pigs, the Ranger told us that they have motion cameras there and some nights they have up to 40 wild pigs visit.
(The landing point at the Rangers Station)

We walked on and found a great viewing spot of the wetlands with all the bird life being early morning all the birds were active and not hiding from the sun.
(The wetlands, photos by Nancy)
(The bait trap to get rid of the wild pigs)
After this walk we went back to check with Andy he gave us the information about the pigs and water buffalo and shown us where they  installed a fence just outside this section of the park where they will cull the pigs and water buffalo as they destroy the wetlands and make it difficult for the native animals in the dry season by damaging the water areas. He then suggested that we take our dinghy on the next venture rather than the long walk to the monument in this heat. So we set off on the next trek out towards the monument by dinghy and look at the coral reefs on the way. It was a very low tide this morning  so looking at the reefs was good although the water was a little murky. We landed the dinghy in what we thought was the better place to then walk to the monument but unfortunately the monument was still too far to walk in the heat and the very hot sand.
(Port Essington looking back towards Black Point)
Along the way we met some young people that were here as volunteer conservationist they were lazing in the shade of a tree and had their camp just beyond the beach. We stayed and chatted for a while they are here to study the turtles in the area. After we chatted we continued and it was when we got to the next point we realised it was going to be too far in this heat so we turned back. We got back to the dinghy then back to the boat and weighed anchor for Victoria Ruins.
(Chart showing anchorage at Victoria Settlement)

The Victoria Ruins is about 12NMS further in Port Essington and at first we had a little wind and we slowly sailed then the wind died and we motor sailed until the sail just flapped and we just motored. We anchored just off the beach south of Minto Point in about 4 metres of water, we are getting afternoon northerly winds at the moment so we get some small rapid waves but not uncomfortable as it is mainly on the nose. The plan was to anchor here for the night and go ashore early in the morning for the walk around the ruins. We settled in for a quiet night had dinner and a few wines.

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