This year we decided to head South for our annual end of year trip away on our boat. Firstly, now that we have Lumiel it obviously opens up a much greater range of locations for us, also we had a longer break than usual because we were able to get away a few days earlier than usual and finally given the weather predictions it made more sense to head South rather than our usual end of year destination, the Wessel Islands to the north.
Our loose plan was to make our way down the coast and end up down at the northern end of Groote Island, specifically the North East Islands.
We spent the Friday night on the boat in the harbour and set off Saturday morning, we sailed down past Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala, rounded Cape Arnhem and sailed down the coast to the southern side of Port Bradshaw to a lovely little sheltered bay we have previously visited and picked as an excellent anchorage. We call it Snogga’s Bay in memory of Kai’s Rugby coach, as we spent an afternoon there on the end of season fishing trip for the team which took place just before Snogga died.
Sunday we decided to head down to 3 Hummocks and anchor for the night, this is another place we have visited on day trips, its beautiful snorkelling and has 2 of the islands joined by a sand spit. We caught a stonking mackerel on the sail over to the islands and then Kai spent a couple of hours snorkelling around the islands and picked up a nice coral trout.
It turned out to be a less than perfect anchorage, we were anchored in the channel in the middle of the islands and the current was quite strong, which made us hang stern to wind most of the night, regardless of whether the tide was ebbing or flooding! Anyway it was ok, but its certainly not the best anchorage for a good nights sleep!
Monday we pulled anchor and headed down to a spot we have never visited, but had heard good things about, 6 Islands Bay which is on the Northern side of Bukudal community where I have visited and stayed a number of times by road, but I had never been taken over to 6 Islands Bay. Its certainly a stunning landscape, there are more than 6 islands and its got a bit of everything, fresh water, sand dunes, long beaches, rocky outcrops and coral.
The absolute highlight was Tuesday morning when Kai & I jumped in the tinny to have an explore and we had barely left Lumiel when we came across a pod of pygmy killer whales, we raced back to pick up Sal & my phone to film them and then spent about 15 minutes with them as they swam thru the bay we were anchored in, around Lumiel and then out heading South along the coast. One of the females had a big mackerel in her mouth, we assume she was going to use it to play with the babies and teach them about hunting.
Unfortunately this was to be our last destination on this trip, with the benefit of our Starlink satellite internet we were able to see that there was a severe monsoon trough developing, it was being intensified by the remnants of the small cyclone from last week near Darwin – the tropicl low was moving slowly towards Katherine. Extreme rainfall and gale force winds were being predicted for later in the week, and while I was confident we would find a safe and good anchorage on Groote Island to sit it out if it were as bad as predicted, it didn’t sound like we would be able to do much if it were just raining the whole time. It would make diving untenable, which is one of the main attractions of the North East Islands. The other risk was the weather might prove to be pretty nasty towards the end of the week when we would need to head home for Sal & Kai to start work in the new year. Basically the time we would need to head home would have been when the worst weather was predicted.
So with much disappointment we decided to hoist sails and just run for home, we had about 85nm to get home which meant if we went direct we would get in on the early hours of Wednesday morning, we also gave ourselves the option of stopping overnight and breaking the trip up if we decided that was a better option.
As it turned out the decision was a good one, we had a nice fresh easterly for the first couple of hours, (totally unpredicted!), then a couple of big storms to the west of us generated a fresh westerly wind (also unpredicted!), the edge of the storm caught us and we had about 30k for 10 or 15 minutes but luckily we had already furled the screecher so we just bore off under full main and once it passed the wind dropped progressively until we were forced to motor sail.
We could see on the rain radar that the rain was thinning out ahead of us and we would likely not get anymore rain if we just kept going, and we had some breeze to motorsail so we decided to keep going for home. Again the Starlink service is invaluable in being able to see the rain radar and whats happening with the storms.
What would have been an uneventful trip home was then made a little stressful with some engine issues. It was after dark and we had already rounded Cape Arnhem and were headed along the coast towards the passage between Bremmer Island and the mainland – a narrow tidal passage that we needed both the tide with us and the engines to motor sail thru there as the wind always blows thru the passage which would create a head wind.
Firstly the Port engine started playing up, running roughly, dropping 500rpm every minute or so, then back up to running revs, then dropping again. After a while it just stalled and although I could restart it, the same problem continued. I could find nothing wrong, all the filters are brand new, no alarms, it seemed to be a fuel issue as nothing else really causes these sort of symptoms but I could find nothing. Anyway, all good, we just continued motor sailing with one engine, which we often do anyway so that was not an issue.
But just as we were getting close to the passage, the Starboard engine just stopped, no warning, no alarms, just went from 2000rpm running sweet as, to totally not running! I quickly tried restarting, but it just cranked without firing.
With no engines we could not risk trying to sail thru the passage between Bremmer & the Mainland so we changed course, pulled out the headsail and satrted sailing to go right around Bremmer, which would have added probably 4 hours to the trip.
I then tried to see what had gone wrong with the Starboard engine, but again no alarms, nothing obviously wrong, not hot, nothing to suggest a problem. So I tried to restart it again and it fired straight away and ran perfectly!! So we furled the headsail again and changed course back for the passage. A bit later whike we were in the passage I realised the tide was no longer with us and so I thought I would try the Port engine again, it fired up straight away and also ran faultlessly!
So we were back to both engines working perfectly, they continued to for the rest of the trip home and we picked up the mooring about 02:30h
Our decision to return early has been vindicated with lots of rain and wind since we got home, really we have been very lucky over all the years we have been going away for the end of year trip, and this is the first time where we have had really bad weather in that time. (excluding the storm that we lost our tinny in a few years ago, but that was a one off storm.)