the week between xmas and new years is time we usually try and have away on the boat together, and our plan this year had been to head to the top of the wessel islands and explore from burston bay round past the cape wessel lighthouse and down to twin island bay. we had thought to head out boxing day and come back on new years day, going up in our big boat and dave coming along in his boat for 5 of the days that he had off.
well, best laid plans of mice and men etc, dave ended up with a crook back and the weather was pretty nasty on boxing day with a fair amount of rain and unsettled weather predicted, so we decided to shorten up the trip, head to truant island to be closer to home, and tow our tinny in dave’s absence.
we had a pleasant steam up to truant island on thursday morning, we got up there in the late morning and anchored up round on the north side of the island in a bay where there is an old oyster lease, it has a resident pair of large estuarine cod and a huge barracuda we call barry! they always hang around the boat waiting for any scraps to feed on.
we spent a couple of days enjoying the pleasures of truant – crystal clear water, good fishing, swimming, snorkelling and exploring the beaches of the island for shells, driftwood and other treasures. this was indispersed with afternoon beers, fresh fish dinners with salads and wine and afternoon naps!
kai also spent much time practising his hunting skills with his yolngu spear, he earnt the title of djambatj with his first kill of a decent mullet!
after a couple of nights on the north side of the island we decided to shift to the south side to get a way from a bit of nw swell that had started to create a little discomfort in our original anchorage, we also discovered that the commercial barra boat, ruby, was anchored off one of the other beaches, cooch and katie had also decided to spend a few days at truant instead of heading to the wessels as they also had intended.
saturday came to a close, we were intending to steam home sunday morning so it was to be our last dinner, we were getting dinner ready and enjoying a beer while watching a large storm front roll in from the south just before sunset. we had watched many storms over the 4 days and it was like we were in a storm shadow, it didnt seem to matter where they formed, they always just missed us so we had actually had very little rain. this one looked to be pretty big though, and it rolled in from the south slowly.
there was no real indication of what was coming, the breeze stayed very light NW and it looked like we would get some rain but nothing much else, but just after dark it hit and within minutes we had driving rain and 30kt southerly winds. the 180deg change in wind direction meant we were now anchored off a lee shore with the wind driving us onshore. we dragged anchor once, but it held and dug in again, then 10 minutes later it dragged again and we made the decision to pull anchor.
we discussed whether just to motor round to the other side of the island and sit it out there, but given that we had already planned to head home in the morning, and not knowing how long the storm would last or what the conditions would be like, we decided that having already pulled anchor we may as well steam home slowly through the night.
the next dilemma was that the tinny was only tied off on a short line, to tow it home we had to pay out a line with a float off the back of the tinny that keeps it tracking straight, and also attach the heavy tow line to the front of the tinny, so while sal drove the boat and held it slowly head into wind, i managed to climb on the tinny, deploy the trailling rope, jump back on the big boat, attach the long tow line and feed it out so the tinny was in the proper position to tow. we had to do all of this in pitch blackness, driving rain, howling wind and steep seas!
thankfully sal and kai worked with me to do what was needed and get the situation under control and we set off at about 6-7kts slowly punching into the gale force wind and high seas towards home!
we got about 5 miles out, on the south side of barricade shoal and i asked sal to check the tinny, she had trouble seeing much with the torch out the back of the boat with the spray and rain, so a bit later she took over the helm and i went back to have a look myself. to my horror when i pulled on the main tow line it was obvious there was no longer a tinny attached!
i pulled the 40m 20mm diameter tow line into the back of the boat and discovered the snap shackle had failed, so the tinny was drifting somewhere in the pitch blackness behind us – with no certainty about when and where it came adrift.
we quickly decided there was no point in turning around to look for it, it would have been an impossible task in the conditions. so we pressed on through the night and got back into gove harbour at about 11:30pm and anchored off the yacht club for the rest of the night.
the next morning the weather had cleared, and after some discussion sal and i decided we would take the big boat back out and run up to truant island again to see if we could find the tinny. we dropped kai off at the yacht club so a friend could take him home to spare him the trip! so we did another 80 something miles up to truant, round the island a couple of times and back home.
in effect all we achieved was confirming that it hadnt washed up on the island. meanwhile dave had reported it to the water police in darwin and they sent back a computer modelled predicitive chart of the area with the higher probability of drift path given the tides and winds – this information suggested the tinny would have been out of sight to the east of our track up and back – but it wasnt information we had on sunday because we were out of contact on the water!
so in hindsight we made the best decision we could with the information we had, but nfortunately it effectively wasted the best chance we had for finding and recovering the boat, the weather rapidly deteriorated over night and monday morning we had a tropical low over cape york expected to develop into a cyclone, and persistent rain. I spoke to a friend who owns an aviation company and asked about the chances of locating the tinny if we put a plane up for a few hours on a search pattern.
in the end we decided it wasnt viable, the odds of the tinny still floating were high, but still less than 100%, the odds of finding the tinny were under 50% in the conditions, sal and I would have had to refuel the big boat, put it back in the water, steam out to the search area and then have the plane conduct the search, if he was lucky enough to spot the tinny, he then had to find us visually – the plane’s radio is different to the boat radio – which was no certainty so maybe a 75% chance, then we have to be able to find the tinny by following the plane back – something less than a 100% chance too, and then we have to successfully recover the tinny and tow it home – so when you do the calculation, its probably less than a 30% chance of a successful search, discovery and recovery.
in the end we decided that in worsening weather, a cyslone threatening, tired from what we had already been though, and with something less than a 30% chance of success, we just werent prepared to spend maybe thousands of dollars on a risky operation.
as i put it, if you asked would i spend the day out on the water i those conditions in the big boat, my answer would be ‘absolutely, if someones life was at risk, but if there was a suitcase floating out there with $20k in it, and a 30% chance i could find it and recover it, then no, the boat would stay in the driveway!”
so, now i guess you know why the blog post is titled “lost”!
at the end of the day the mechanical failure of a $40 snap shackle has caused us a large loss, and given that all our fishing rods and gear as well as all the snorkelling gear was on the tinny it really is quite significant, but its beyond our control and more importantly the 3 of us are safe and well, we had a fantastic 4 days, and we will remember our little tinny with great fondness.
i have to end the post there as i need to look for a nice 4.5m tinny with all the gear on it!
happy new year to all and sundry!
we did 13.8 hrs motoring covering 167.6 nm 0r 1.8lt per nm
UPDATE – i think we have closure now, tinny is too far away wih no chance of finding and recovering, here is the update this afternoon from the amazingly helpful John Piri at the NT Water Police,
Hi Rick, happy to help if we can. I have run a calculation just now. It uses actual BOM data up to now and predictions from here on in. The prediction cans are show as 1530 today. The black line is the most probable track. After loitering for the first couple of days south of Truant Island it really is likely to have picked up speed to the east (ENE) which is not helpful. QPOL have been advised.
Prediction for 2 days time. Likely to reach the tip of Cape York in 8 days. Of course filling with water may affect the drift rate even if it does not sink it.
Again ignore the date markers on the black line as above. The variation to the south is possible but has a lower probability.