After we finished caulking «Oelin” in Robe I ducked into Emerald, Vic., to see Armin. Living on his 9 acres of temperate rainforest 45 km from Melbourne, I was glad to see he remained the same intense Armin I last saw 30 years ago. He took me for some forest walks, to mindblowing Dandenong markets, to Olinda rhododendrod gardens, the tourist stuff. In exchange I talked him out of starting more building projects before he finish what he started (he is my vintage, retiring from landscaping business).
It started to rain in the vine valleys before Pt.Augusta, and it rained on and off right across the Nullarbor, beyond Kalgoorlie. An hour’s break, then hard rain squall. Couple of hours dry, then miserable windy drizzle. In lulls you could function, but in rain the only thing to do was to drive. Mornings you wake up shivering in 5 degrees, afternoon barely reaching 20.
I tracked down decent wet weather gear tuna fisherman use in Pt.Lincoln in Southern Ocean, and turned for home.
Coffin Bay is a picturesque convoluted waterway, shallow cruising ground with a lot of oyster farms. 6 free range emus cropping grass in front of Y.C.
Windmill museum in Penelg, with about 30 working machines, amongst them the biggest windmill ever erected in Oz, 35-foot diameter «Comet» which pumped water on a station from 1932 till 2003, till a gale blew it down.
The Head of the Bight, at the beginning of the treeless plain, 15km detour on bitumen, at the end a ticket gate asking $20 to stand on a viewing platform in a driving sleet, hoping to see a whale through the rain. No, off course I did not pay.
Nullarbor is not an aboriginal name, it’s pig Latin for «no trees». There are 3 official lookout over the cliffs and at least 3 other, unofficial that I found, and views stupenduous. In gale force winds things started blowing away from my car, so I stopped and picked them up to be reattached later. Nothing that a tube of silicone and a fistfull of cable ties won’t fix.
At the WA-SA border bowser boy told me the Queen had died. She had a good innings, out at 96.
No wildlife, no road kill, but plenty of broken down caravans with snapped axles, wheels fallen off , mighty SUV’s limping along at 40 kmh, their caravans on wobbly wheels.
I haven’t found anything resembling a public library with internet between Pt.Lincoln and Pilbara, 4000 km. Newman had it going, but their IT security would not permit me to log into my Russian e-mail. Dampier library had no computers and Karratha had no signal. 21st century, total connectivity. My foot. Some of those left-behind towns we passed on the way may boast 200 or 300 inhabitants, but most of them are blacks, and the rest gold nuts and derros, telling by the chance encounters we had. Sort of guys who consider greatest asset of their town is the fact there is no cop. Don’t expect a library there. What would you want to read a book for? Meckenzie, Leonora, Sandstone, Meekathara, Mt. Magnet… So it’s Broome Community Centre I am infesting at the moment, typing with two fingers, after a fabulous coffee on the Esplanade.
All those great bitumen roads of WA only serve the mines. BHP built a private network of railways to cart their ore to the ships, but in their greed they refuse to share. Gina built her own rail, so did Forrest, but the smaller fry, who can’t afford to build a 400km of railways, they all truck their ore, a staggering number of trucks, 24/7. Cost must be astronomical. In any other country government would step in and streamline the rail service, then cart the stuff at a fraction of the costs.
Around Mt.Magnet I saw the biggest road train legally on a public road: a 4-tipper, each trailer with 7 axles, 110 tyres in all. Just walking around the rig with a pipe checking the tyres is an exercise in itself. And Sandhoppers are not shy about digging holes in the ground. Some of the tailings piles are on a tectonic scale, running away till horizon. Mine after mine after mine, from Norseman to Pt.Headland. And little else.
A young dude walking a string of 5 loaded camels paralel to the highway.
Old Irishman walking a pram around the world, after he cycled and ran around it earlier.
My cat loves the desert, rolling in red dirt, then crawling dusty into my swag. At one desert camp Musa climber a granite outcrop next to the swag, as far as the leash allowed, and stared into the moonlit plane, quietly miawing. At another camp I let her off the leash and followed, to see what she would do. She set off at a trot, in a straight line, never turning back. Call of the wild? From a mongrel who could not catch a mouse in a bucket? But then, our cats are descended from wild felines of Nubian desert, on the edge of Sahara. Desert is in their blood.
Last camp before Broome we had a bit of a scare, though. I woke up an hour before dawn, scanned the moonlit camp, no cat. The leash got wrapped around a post and she wiggled out of her harness and walked off. I crawled out of the swag, put a feather on and set off chasing my cat. Walking in widening circles around a huge highway rest area, calling Musa in dark. Nothing. Walked down the driveway to the main road, to check for a flattypuss. Nothing. On the way back picked up some firewood for the morning fire, and a clump of spinifex. Back at the camp, here she was, sitting on my swag, licking the red dust off her coat. Harness back on, we went for a long walk, untill pussycat could walk no more. I had to carry her back. That will keep her close to the camp. Started fire for my coffee. Spinifex, even sopping wet, will burst in fire in you just stare at it hard enough. We were driving before the sun rose above the horizon. What time? God knows. Clock in the car is one of the few electrical gadgets that works, so I do not mess with it resetting the time zones, so it wouldn’t do what most of the dials on the dashboard did — went apeshit. We run on Darwin time, no matter how far off the Sun it is. (The date on the dash is fixed to 25 August 2005, 2 years before the car was built.)
About half way along the 80-mile Beach there is a free public access to unearthy turquoise water along the white beach stretching from forever on the left to forever on the right. One of the world’s remarkable beaches. About 3 score of fat retirees in singlets stand ankle-deep in milky surf, fishing in the middle of the day, when thermometer says 35 in the shade, if you can find any shade.
Dampier-Karratha-Roeburn area is a jumble mix of freeways, glorious beaches, soothy rafineries, tiny national parks, ore-loading wharves, ancient petroglyphs (biggest gallery in the world), boat ramps. One stacked on top of the other, in that peculiar WA style. Mid morning it is 35 degrees, afternoon well into 40ies. And it’s barely September, the first month of the spring. What will summer be like here? Car runs well, but the cat is overheating.
Stopped in a restored ghost town of Cossack, the first pearling harbour in Oz, trying to unravel the riddle of Tien Tsin, very early chinese settlement reputed to be here at the time of Pt.Essington. Mystery only deepened when in the museum I found that Tien Tsin was a ship, not a town. With Tien Tsin Lookout above the pub, I still have my doubts. Naturally, nobody alive in the vicinity had any idea what I was talking about, Tien Tsin.
Moving along, heading for Derby and home.
There are two species of camels in the Old World: baktrians with two humps and dromedaries with one. Baktrians are cold climate mountain animals, the last wild herd is hiding in Gobi in Mongolia. Dromedaries come from lowland hot deserts of Middle East. Australian camels are imported dromedaries with genetic mix ranging from slender arabian racers to batlleships of Baluchistan, in colour anything from white to black and all shades of earth in between. They are the only wild herd of dromedaries in the world, and they are really ferral runaways, numbering close to a million. Government pays guys to shoot them from helicopters.
Camels are no good climbing steep hills. On a steep dune they topple backwards and fall on their arse. They are extremely hardy and adaptable animals, they do not get foot-and-mouth disease, ticks do not cling to them. Like pigs and cats, when they escape into wild, their population thrive to the point of destroying the environment they live in.
Camel’s hump does not store water, but fat. It’s a larder. Camels store surplus water in their red blood cells. After one of their legendary drinking bouts their blood cells swell up and retain water until it’s needed.
Everything about camels is slow and ponderous. In the wild they live to 50. Young heifers are ready to mate at three years old. After 15-months gestation they drop a first calf at 4 and half. One calf only, no twins. They can hold calf in for a long time, untill the conditions are right. For a cow perfect conditions are a rain storm. Males become active at 6, that’s when they are castrated. They are fully grown by 8. Herd has one bull, and it could be one of the smallest animals. «Sooty» here is short, slim, sparse and black as Othello. You don’t want a big bull. Calves would be too big for easy delivery, and big bulls flatten young heifers when mating. One thing to remember: do not trust a bull camel. Ever. And never turn your back on one.
Some of the milking cows are enormous. Out of total herd of 50 Warwick is milking 12 now. Some of them he caught wild in the desert 8 years ago, some were born on the farm. No1 is «Sahara», a majestic tawny colossus, just short of a ton of meat, with hump 2 metres to the top. She is always first in the race, placid and calm, she drops 7 litres of milk in one hit, then waits patiently to be let out. We milk in 2 stalls, with two machines modified from cow diary. No2 in «Ginger», just as big as Sahara, but cranky and moody. She carries a lot of milk, but she is reluctant to give you any. It takes a lot of cunning and dirty tricks to get it out of her. Camels have total control over the milk they let down to the teat. They will not feed somebody else’s calf, ever. If a stray youngster tries it, cow will instantly shut the flow of milk to that teat, while her own calf continues feeding on the teat next to it.
Milking is a long-drawn process of psychology, games and training. Two blokes milking 12 cows will do well to finish in 2 hours, averaging 4 litres per cow. That’s why milk is so expensive (around $15 a litre). More you milk, more they produce. Also more rich hay they are fed, better production. We were milking 2-3 times a week, depending on orders. Calf has to remain suckling the cow right until the next one is borne. If you take the calf away, cow will dry in a few days. Leaving calves on has an advantage that you are not a total slave of the herd. A few days of holidays do not destroy the flow.
If you ever seen a dairy (cows), you know what a filthy muddy shitty job it is. Wet cowpats splattered everywhere, udders dragging in mud… yuck. Camels retain most of the water, so their droppings are dry chestnuts, easy to scoop away with a shovel. Dairy floor is mostly clean without constant hosing down. Unless a cranky cow gets it into her head to make you work for the milk.
When a camel decided it does not want to do something, they simply fold their legs under them and lie down in a huff, daring you to move their bulk. For problem milkers we have crane lifting slings to stretch under their belly and wrap around the steel posts of the race. When they try to lie down in defiance, they end up hanging in the slings, which is far from a comfortable position and they quickly get the message. Kicking with back legs can occasionally be another arm-breaking problem. Another crane strap around the offending leg. There is seldom need for that, unless the cow is testing you. One way to stop kicking is grab the camel by its tail and pull hard. No more kicking. No more milk, either.
Camels are fearless and incredibly strong. And fast. They completely ignore barking dogs, unless the dumb mutt decides it wants to bite the camel in a leg. Imagine the scene: camel and a dog facing each other, standing still, their face low on the ground, both whining. Dog inching closer. Then a lightning slap down with camel’s fore-leg and dog is a pancake, not enough left to take to the vet. I like the attitude.
Cheekiest of the milkers, «Winnie», was waiting her turn in the crush, as I was squatting on a crate, milking the cow ahead of her. Winnie eyed me from the left, she eyed me from the right, then she stretched her long neck behind me where I could not see her, with her lips nimbly picked up my beanie from my head and with a flourish she threw it across the paddock. I shot up like a spring to slap her on the face, but she was long gone. Cheeky camel, that one.
Covid wasn’t such a big deal. Pneumonia that followed was worse. Warwick marched me to the clinic for a test. Young quack of indeterminate pedigree did not allow me inside the surgery. He came out onto the driveway, and told me to take off my shirt right there, on the street, in freezing gale. He probably calculated that my fever will keep me warm enough. He listened to my breathing. Did no diagnosis, only said he will write me antibiotics. He passed me a piece of paper through the door and shut it firmly. With 2 spelling mistakes in my name and no Medicare card, I wander how the bulk billing works.
Waking up in a caughing fit at 2am, I light a stove in the cold caravan, and summon the cat to warm my soul. I can see why I chose to live in Darwin.
It’s heaps of fun down on the farm. We all got Covid. The entire crew in a quick succession. Which does not mean work stops, even if temperature does not top 12 degrees and it’s raining cats and dogs.
On Monday I had a dry scratchy throat and a headache, and I thought: “O-O”. On Tuesday morning TJ (Warwick’s wife) tested positive and crawled in bed for her day of misery. That night I fell apart. Wrapped in all my arctic gear, in two good sleeping bags and a duna, and I could not stop shivering. After endless night I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, a small coffee and I drove to the yard in Robe (farm is 5km north of Robe). Firing on 3 cylinders I still put a respectable day of work into the boat. At night I got monstrous chest tearing cough, exactly the sequence I had in January 2020 in Peru, only then it took 6 days to get back on my feet. Scored some coughing mixture and had my first ever RAT test, shining positive. Warwick came out positive on Friday, well after his worst night.
Living on a farm we are completely isolated already. In boatyard we are the only crew working as well, rest of the boats are rich cray fishoes who lift out for the winter, not for repairs.
There are actually 5 of us on the farm. Last two are self declared Brits. She is a dyed in the wool Melbourne lass, he a Carlton Wog (dad Italian, mum Philippina). They spent several decades in a religious community, in Oz, in India, in UK. That’s where they converted. Sue stil sound an Aussie, but thinks and complains like a Pom. Roland went the whole hog, accent, vocabulary, mannerisms, affectations. 100% Pom. Covid caught them in Oz, so they holed up on Warwick’s farm (they knew each other in the 80ies). Sue is now obsessively studying on-line nursing degree, Roland helps with milking camels and on “Oelin” he is our boat nigger, dancing with a paint pot around the two brutes belting in oakum.
Decades of brainwashing on the community left them with number of kinks, like a cunning ability to avoid responsibility for anything, no matter how trivial, also total lack of common sense or ability to learn from mistakes. Like 4 year old kids. At 57 Roland discovered surf, so at least he has something positive in his life.
I live in a caravan with a timber annex and a good wood stove: Warwick and TJ lived in it till they built their current shack. Sue took the annexe as her study, cat usurped the caravan. Poms sleep by choice in their own camper van.
SA is undergoing a mouse plague, they are like a moving carpet. And my cat failed dismally. One night a mouse fell into a compost bucket in the outdoor kitchen, and couldn’t get out. Sue brought the cat to the bucket and got it interested. Musa followed the poor little thing with her paw, till the mouse noticed, and froze. Unable to see what does nor move, cat lost interest and wandered off. Could not shoot a fish in a barrell.
Work is progressing. Caulking itself is fast and easy, but for every day of caulking you count a week of prep. I am commited to doing the entire hull, probably another month.
Camels are getting to know me and follow the simple orders, so when on Saturday Roland was too sick to get out of bed, I stepped in as a substitute farmhand and started milking camels. A different story altogether, worthy it’s own post.
Sounds snappy, and like every headline it’s an eye-grabbing distortion of reality. It’s Mitsubishi Magna with Territory plates, really. After a few setbacks on a 5th-hand car market I bought a cheap but repectably looking Magna with 300 000km on the clock. That was on Monday. 2 days to sort out missing paperwork, and on Wednesday I loaded on a swag, a cat and a crate of my books as presents, we had a coffee with the boys at Mario’s and then started rolling down the bitumen.
Four and half comfortable days to Pt. Augusta, straight 6 purring at 1500-1600 revs (doing 95-100 kms per hour). I am the slowest car on the road, also the only one not towing anything.. The only vehicle I overtook was a paint rig laying new white lines on the fresh bitumen. The way I drive she burns only 8 l per 100 kms, and you need that, with petrol prices in the Outback. Cheapest was Alice , $2.30 a litre, dearest Erlkunda at $3.20.
Stopped in Alice only long enough to raid the supermarket: long johns, beanie, socks, gallon of spare motor oil and one whole roast chicken. In this Siberia you do not need a fridge. Coldest camp was at the border; windscreen frozen solid. Got up long before dawn. started the car, cranked up the heater and waited for the sheets of ice to slide off the screen.
Chicken heart wrapped in cat fur went on strike the moment we left Darwin, pointedly showing she is not eating. She’s got plenty of fat to burn off, a week off bikkies won’t hurt it. She’s gone completely nocturnal. Crawls from under the seat late at night, makes a circle of the campsite before crawling into my swag for the duration.
The fun started in Coolalinga. Pulled up at the servo for fuel, but could not find a way to open the fuel flap. Asked a bloke next to me and then another one, three of us walking around the car, pushing every lever we found, to no avail. Finally someone googled it. You have to open the boot, remove half the luggage to reach a release chain inside. Next step: how do you open the boot?
Leaving the servo I did a U-turn on the lights and promptly got pulled up by a cop. Apparently it is not allowed in NT. Being a pensioner with clean slate I got away with a stern lecture. A few minute later I noticed that I am heading back to Darwin. Duh.
NT News once wrote that Elliot is becoming a gay capital of NT. Like all the Harvey-Norman News, reality is a bit diluted. Two aboriginal settlements, one either end, a rough shop between them. Not as rough, though, as the serving staff. Young aboriginal girl is really pretty and efficient, but the other three denizens look like they escaped from Barnum Barnum circus in the 1930ies and been hiding in Elliot ever since. Shaved headed giant at the till wears a black Covid mask hiding his features, every other inch of skin covered in crude tattoos, the kind of ink you can only get in jail. The dwarf standing on a crate operates the Espresso machine. I checked the menu and paid the giant for one espresso. Dwarf swung into action. Elliot Espresso comes in a half-litre paper bucket, to the brim filled with frothy milk, slightly coffee flavoured. I took the cup and eyed the dwarf: « Espresso, right?» — «What’s espresso? It’s like flat white?». Just then the fourth member of the crew entered from the kitchen, carrying a collander of french fries. 6-foot tall he/she/it with short cropped hair, faint moustache, clad in black silk top and pink apron. She tipped most of the chips into a trey and stooped to pick up what fell on the floor.
— I turned towards the till, from where the giant was staring me down. «Yep. Perfect.» and I effected strategical retreat.
I was going to camp once more when I got to the southern ocean, but it started to rain. 10 degrees, bitter wind, now rain. Bugger that for a joke, I thought, I had yet another lousy coffee from a perfectly good machine, and drove the last 250km to the camel farm in Robe.
Two days later I started caulking Warwick’s 60-foot prahu
Cruise to Probable Island
There is a place called Probable Island. Out in Arnhem Land. Not a Dreamtime allegory, but an actual pile of rocks, a dinkum piece of real estate 4 miles long and 3/4 mile wide. Steep ridge running N – S, rising to 200 feet, separating Ulundurwi Bay from Arnhem Bay. Landlocked Arnhem Bay, more than 20 miles across, is the next one to Buckingham Bay. Yeah, right, I had no idea where, either. (136*02 east, 12*06-10 south.) Say, roughly, Gove way, west of Gove.
I am sure that a search of log books of the old explorers would yield a reason why they called it Probable Island. Probably Flinders, or Dalrymple, or King, or Whoever, saw it from a distance and reckoned it may be an island, but they could not be bothered checking it for sure. Not like many people ever come here; until today the Ulundurwi Bay beyond it is still marked “not surveyed”. At least the existence of the island was somehow confirmed – on the chart a narrow gutter south of Flinders Point separates Probable Island from Flinders Penninsula. (Guess who’s log books I’d be searching first?)
Rumour has is that Mark from “Freedom” did some inspired drifting around there in his 17-foot lee-boarder, while he was fixing his outboard, but direct enquieries yielded no coherent information. It’s been a while. Oncle Dave did cruise the opposite headlands, around Mallison Island, but again, nothing on the Probable. That gutter does look narrow. Well, one way to find out.
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From Cape Don four nice days of very light westerlies, the last puff of the departing Wet, couple of days calms, then light fluky E, gusting in the night, shifting constantly between SE and NE. I should have cleaned the hull properly, in light airs she is glued to the water. Three days floudering, trying to round Crocodile Islands, then one night a sneaky windshift wiped out the entire day’s progress and we blundered right between them, in dark, unawares. At dawn I had a rather close look at them islands, from the wrong side.
The only drama, so far, I had to sack the Purveyor of Spuds to the House of Larsen. One week from the shop, all spuds were blighted. I can hear you, “your problems on my head”.
12 days from Darwin “Kehaar” anchored for the night at Howard Island, under Warrmi Point, across the strait from Elcho (pop.2500). Got a Telstra signal from Galliwinku tower, so checked the weather on Internet and fired away a note to my friends. From here onwards it’s day-sailing, Elcho is the first of the Wessels’ Islands and squalls of rain come any time of day or night.
Cadell Strait, between Elcho Island and Mainland, is about 25 miles long, shallow, and strongly tidal. Tide floods east, with slack water at springs around 5 o’clock, so you get one sailing session a day, then anchor anywhere that you won’t dry up (spring tide about 4.5 m), and wait for the next morning. Saying “sailing session” may be laying it a bit strong, tide does most of the work. All the aids to navigation shown on the chart were taken down, you are supposed to run with GPS. Sandbanks are well charted (Plans in NT, chart Aus 15), so eyeball navigation works fine. The Narrows in the middle, improbably called Djunytjunur, are about quarter of mile wide, some of that is taken up by a drying reef on eather side. Caught in a whirlpool trying to tack in light wind, it may be prudent to abort the tack and gybe instead, doing 360. And again, if necessary.
Exit on the eastern side of Cadell Strait is the only tricky part: a tortured dogleg of a gutter which dries at low tide. At the top of the tide you should be able to go over the bar like a snake over a stick, anywhere near the middle will do. Even at springs low tide doesn’t go down to chart datum, most springs there is about a metre of water over that. A tense half an hour at mid-tide, close hauled in murky brown water, every time I drop the lead line, it reads 2.0 m. “Kehaar” draws 1.4 metres.
Heading into the shallowest bit squeezed in by drying sand banks, I watched the barge threading its way in from east. We passed each other with a wave of a hand 50 metres apart. I was those 50 metres on the wrong side of the line and promplty ran aground. Now, stranding on a sandbar is where sailing “Kehaar” gets truly physical. With rising tide, patience and deft anchor work will set you free, even from a lee bank. I wouldn’t dream of running a bar at falling tide. I learned that much at 1770.
Nearest sheltered anchorage outside the Strait is 8 NM, behind Alger Island. Beware, western side is very shallow and charts are far from accurate. Western spit dries a mile out. Point Napier provides no protection, the SE wind often funnels directly into the strait.
You come out of Cadell Strait, turn right, round the Point Napier in lively overfalls, and if you got your tides right, you’ll get sucked into Buckingham Bay (tide follows Gove tables, Melville Bay). 8 miles wide and 22 miles deep, barges go to the head of the bay and then 7 miles up the river to the Landing at Bonhanura. From there dirt road leads to Lake Evella (Gapuwiyak, pop.1500).
I have seen a photo of a small waterfall emptying from a rocky ledge directly into the sea, apparently somewhere in this bay. Dude could’t even tell me on which side of the bay it was; the photo was forwarded from a mate to a mate to a mate.
In the Trades northern shore of the bay is untennable. SE shore is charted but not surveyed. Difference? You get an accurate outline of the coast, but no depth shown, and no details like reefs and rocks and sand-spits. Ten little coves carve this stretch of 13 miles and it’s hard to tell one from the other, with number of little islands strung along the shore about a mile out, each sprouting a rocky spit of its own. Until I get a couple of decent sextant shots I am not even sure if I am in the right cove. And does it really matter? I have 2 metres of water under the keel at low tide (bay is shallow), golden beach half a mile to windward, rocky headlands promissing a pigout of oysters. And beaches are clean, no plastic garbage at all.
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Between Elcho and Gove the sea is studded with shitloads of islands, big and small and really tiny. Most of them are grouped into two tight strings running NE: 80 miles of Wessels, starting from Point Napier at the end of Cadell Strait, and 50 miles of English Company’s Islands, anchored at Flinders Point. Elcho itself continues NE with its own string about 20 miles long, to the lighthouse at Stevens Island, separated from the Wessels by Brown Strait, which floods in the opposite direction, SW, meeting the contrary stream from the Strait at Alger Island overfalls.
SE is often howling during the Dry, but any number of good sheltered anchorages can be found behind the islands.
Prominent mangrove bay on the western side of Inglis Island has a tidal creek navigable for a mile, which makes it a good cyclone hole. Another mile furter up creek narrows and is blocked by mangrove branches, still short of tidal limit.
Around the corner on the NW side several pretty bays, suitable for careening. There is water behind the dunes.
Malay Road is where Flinders met Macassan fleet of trepang hunters, and conversed with their chief Pobassoo in 1803. The old nakhoda has an island named after him as well. “Road”, or “roads” in nautical parlance denotes “protected place near the shore where ships may ride at anchor” (Oxford English Dictionary).
Nalwarung Strait has strange tidal habits, it seems to flood in from both sides.
Currents and eddies around Mallison Island are madening.
Elisabeth Bay is a home to a pearl farm. Entire shallow part of the bay is covered by lines. It’s possible to anchor inside the lines in the elbow of the bay near the anchored mothership. Buildings and work boats are in the lee of the western headland. Patches of lines extend 2 miles into the bay west of the farm.
Cape Wilberforce is definitely a tidal passage, 5 knot current at its worst. It floods west. Somewhere around here my friend Bruce, our Club’s one-time Treasurer, fell overboard. His boat washed up on shore, but his body was never found.
Bromby Islet is an uncomfortable rolly anchorage.
Lloyd found an intriguing petroglyph on Wigram Island. On the western side is an abandoned outstation of Mallarrami with a phone tower and very rough airstrip. On the north coast three deeply indented unsurveyed bays. The westenmost has a pearl farm, but all three offer good anchorages and some fine beaches. Best beach is just east of the bays. The last bay on the eastern side is filled with reefs and bommies, too shallow to eanter. Also watch the eastern headlands of Wigram, reefs extend a long way out.
Astell Island is worth stopping for a few days. Sheltered anchorage, fine beaches, pleasant walks along the stone slabs. One bay north from the anchorage is a large mangrove fringed bay that dries all the way out. It’s hard sand, suitable for careening. Half a mile inland I found running fresh water and several springs. My mind at peace, I finally tackled Nat’s blog.
30 years ago I anchored off Cotton Island, walked the length of deserted golden beach, and came to an abandoned motorbike on its kickstand, no other sign of human presence. Rusting frame, plastic fuel tank crumbled brittle, tyres degraded to a pile of sticky rubber heaped on the sand, nothing left on the rims, but machine was stil standing under a casuarina tree. I remember scratching my head in wonder. Went to get more fuel and got side-tracked?
And Probable Island? We had a good look at it while rounding the Flinders Point. Wide beach along the north east, too exposed to anchor. Thickly wooded round hills along the ridge, in the north quarter of a mile wide channel separating it from the mainland. A few days later we set off from the anchorage at Inglis Island, across the Para Channel, 6 miles to Probable Island. After a whole day of dramas drifting with tides up and down in flat calm we caught evening breeze and with red sun setting directly ahead we slipped throught the gap between Probable and Gwakura islands and anchored in the lee. And we stayed there for several days in a flat calm. There was no point lifting the anchor, only to drift up an down with tides.
In the morning calm we rigged up our fancy little electric outboard and went exploring. Motor is tiny, a fraction of a horse-power, but in flat water it moves my little 7-foot tinny at close to 3 knots, faster than I can row. And it’s silent. You steer by shifting your bum across the bench. Trick is to go first thing in the morning, as soon as you can tell the red wire from the black, to paraphrase Koran, before the breeze picks up. Get close under the land into flat water, and stay there, running with one foot on the beach. If you keep it at half revs, you get 7 or 8 mile run out of one charge of 130Ah battery. When you get home, you lower a charger and a solar panel into the dinghy (I have a spare 220W monster sitting on deck just for that) and in a few hours you can go again. Perfect set up: when there is wind, we sail around. In flat calm we Minn-Kota around.
Ulundurwi Bay is not surveyed, but there is plenty of depth to sail and then anchor in comfort. Southern point of Probable Island is an impressive round headland 50 metres high, and quarted of mile south Gwakura Island ends in a vertical cliff, as if someone sliced the hill in half, trying to widen the gap. Tide is ripping through the gap in whirlpools.
Pencil thin Gwakura Island is pretty scruffy; no cliffs, no mangroves, nothing majestic, southern half is lined by a narrow beach. Probable Island feels different. Steep hills drop directly into water, rocky headlands, thin strips of mangroves, few breaks to land. Not a country for hiking. Even at low tide you scramble over stone rubble shelf, no beaches. Slim pickings of oysters for rogan josh. On the horizon, through the gap, blood red cliffs of Everett Island. Little 5-foot croc bobbing in the middle of the bay, baby sharks nosing right to the shore.
Bush covering the entire Probable Island is lush, dense, impenetrable, unburnt. Word “pristine” comes to mind. At sunset I was looking at green broccoli of the forest crowns on the hills and I had a distinct feeling that no-one had ever lived on this island. It remained untouched, unspoiled, genuine. Probably.
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In Gove I got Telstra signal and I dug deep about the origin of the name Probable Island. In Flinders’ journals from his survey in 1803 he used the name Probable without explanation, while he named the neighbouring Flinders’ Point after his nephew, who was on board with him, and the Mallison Island across the strait after his mother-in-law. Fittingly, with its nightmare of painfull tidal swirls and eddies.
Further digging unearthed the astonishing fact that “Probable” is its original aboriginal name, only spelled “probabeie”. Flinders also notes he saw a canoe of natives under the island and some people walking along the beach. So I got quite a few things wrong. Alas.
I’ve been using this blog for years only as a portfolio, to stow away images of my artwork, while everything else I posted on my website, or sent it directly as an e-mail to my friends. Things slowly changed. First g-mail closed my account because I do not have a phone. Yahoo then did the same. I lost all the files I kept there. Then a dispute with my web-host about methods of payment (how do you argue with a robot?) saw them taking down my website. Without a website my Etsy shop made no sense, so I closed it down myself, cutting back my Internet presence to this blog.
In the 15 years since I first wrote my website, Internet changed profoundly. From a friendly information dump it became a slippery intrusive sneak. Looking for a specific piece of information? Unless it’s owned by Google, you won’t find it. Try to open an e-mail account or a payment service? Unless you give them your phone number, fingerprints, DNA and retina scan, you have no hope. I refuse to own a mobile phone, so I am dead for the modern world. Can’t open any mainstream accounts. Can’t even contact my own government departments, who moved everything online. Federal Police told me to my face that if I don’t have a phone, I am deemed to be a criminal.
Fair enough. We go about it different way. I was keeping my friends informed via the only e-mail you can have without a phone verification, which happens to be a Russian company. Years ago Australian government barred this company from accessing any Aussie e-mail providers, like bigpond, .gov.au, and such. And now, since Volodia in Moscow completely lost his mind six weeks ago, my e-mail is also shaky, I would not be surprised if they banned it outright, any day now. (But then, one Zuckerfucker owns 25% of my Russian provider, with their servers actually located in Holland. Curious, the world of the mega-rich. ) Just in case of more retaliation, I am looking for another way to communicate. I will start treating this blog as blogs were meant to be used: to keep my friends informed about what is going on, in a timely fashion.
I am not a blogger and I only write a post when I have something to say. So there will be time gaps between posts. I move around a lot, mostly a long way from a nearest telecom tower, so even when a lot of exciting things happen, blogosphere will have to wait until I get closer to a signal and I digest it into a readable form. I do not carry a camera of any kind, so do not expect reams of innane pictures that fill most blogs. My friends know all this.
Right now we are all waiting for the weather to settle down so we can go sailing. Last night monsoon hit with another punch, a low developping over NE Arnhem Land, better wait a bit longer, never mind what calendar says. Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.
Another year gone, another continent, painting and drawing again, inspired by the culture we are living with. Maya high civilisation may have collapsed 1200 years ago, but Maya people did not disappear. 8 million of them carry on as they always did, growing maize, scratching living in the highlands of Guatemala. Visiting ruins of their cities, wrestling with their enigmatic script, buying tortillas from them for lunch, Maya world is all around us.
Maya were obsessed with calendar, and the way they reckoned time is complex, slightly bizzare and always inspiring. This critter is a generic depiction of a “winal”, what you would call a 20-day month, done the elaborate way of Copan, in Honduras.
Maya script is structurally similar to Japanese, a mixture of ideograms and sylabic signs. Phonetic values of the written sylabs are known, so you can write in their script even non-Maya names. This is a take on my own name, “Larsen”. Properly transcribed it would go: “Big Chief around here, possibly divine, one La-Se-N”. The snake in the grass is the “N”.
The second name I clobbered together is Natali’s. The furious face is nothing personal, in this position it reads “Na”. Maya glyphs display a wide range of improbably hooked noses. Nothing fanciful there, all the types we have actually met while travelling on local buses.
After year and half of drinking dirty dishwater mascarading as coffee, we are in the land of arabica. A good grafitti I walked past in San Pedro La Laguna inspired this poster, “To die for coffee”. “Q” stands for “quetzal”, a national bird and a local unit of currency. 8 quetzales is about a US$1.
A couple of disturbing murals in Chichicastenango Municipal Market mutated into “God “Q” discoursing with a caterpillar”.
After a long gap of doing other things, artistic inspiration seized my hand and I started doodling. We are in Venezuela, waiting out the hurricane season, learning Spanish language in a serious way. First complete book that I read in Spanish was a learned discourse on Santeria, a syncretic religion practised in Cuba, Porto Rico and Venezuela. Term “syncretic” suggests a mixture of two religions, but Santeria is anything but syncretic. Catholics contributed names, everything else comes from Yoruba, currently a part of Nigeria. Orisha, the gods of Santeria, are elusive: they change shape, they change gender, they behave even worse than people. Fratricide, adultery and incest are common, myth and legends are fluid and cruel, yet full of humour. Inspired by such a fresh view on a sacred pantheon, I drew a few “guardian deities” on the first pages of my new log book, to light my way.
Eleggua is a guardian of the paths, opener of the doors, without his help no other Orisha can do a thing for you. Original doodlings in the journal were done with left hand (I am a right hander). I am not sure why, but it feels right.
Yemaya, known in Brazil as Yemanja, is a goddes of the sea, part woman and part fish, unless she feels like taking other shape. You don’t want to hear about her marital life, nor about all the progeny that her own son sired on her.
Olokum is a dark horse, a late arrival in the Caribbean. Guardian of the ocean depth, he is chained to the sea bottom as punishment for trying to drown the entire human race. The only Orisha that cannot possess its priests during the rituals, as he is the ocean in its entirety.
I am not sure how the iguana ended up on the next page. Two dozen of them are prowling around the marina where we are staying. Four foot long, once they warm up in the sun in the morning they behave like spoiled vegetarian cats. Love banana skins and papaya peels.
After first few pages of benedictions I made a cover for the journal. A4 size, paper is old nautical charts cut to size. Beads around the edge are a genuine Santeria neckless dedicated to Ellegua. Black and red are his colours. Eleggua outline is from another neckless that we were given by a manic Indian Swami from Trinidad. Eyes and mouth from small cowrie shells traditionally dedicated to the Orisha.
Lizard in the corner appeared one day in my sewing box.
While I was at it, I whipped out another cover, a Yemaya. Outline is from the other half of the Swami’s neckless, black hair is a teased rigging rope from my boat, her crotch I cut off from a goat skin that covers my chart table when I am using a type writer.
I was having so much fun that I pinched some canvases from my love and painted a definite version of the Orishas in acrylics.
Eleggua, enamoured of cigars, is about 12″ by 16″. White mouse is one of his animals. Ornament in the bottom left is a “veve” of Eleggua, from Haitian voodoo.
Olokun always wears a mask in front of his face. Steering wheel and a pair of oars belong to him.
One more Yemaya of the long hair. Blue and white are her colours. The writing (all written by left hand) are invocations and benedictions in Yoruba, as practised by today’s Santeros. So I am told.
The last Orisha I painted was Osain, lord of the forests, patron of herbs and herbal medecins. One eye, one leg, one arm, crippled and crooked, result of a rather trying extramarital tryst in the early days of his tenure. Like all the rest of Orishas he is no pussy cat and proper respect is expected. 12×16″ canvas.
After a long silence I am back with new doodlings. We are currently in Jacare, in north-east Brazil. In the past 8 months I sailed “Kehaar” from Darwin across Indian Ocean to South Africa, then I took my recumbent bicycle for a 5 000 km ride around 6 countries sharing the Kalahari desert. Done no art work on the way, life was fairly hectic without it. My love flew to South Africa and she found me in Saldanha Bay, 50 miles north of Cape Town. We sailed together across the “Housewive’s Ocean” to Brazil, just in time for the Carnival in Paraiba-Pernambuco, a full-on street party going on for 11 days straight. Second week in the country, recovering from Carnival, I did all the paperwork to clear in, and finally we have time to catch up on a bit of art.
I post here a few doodles I did during the passage, most of them on navigation charts as they were spread on my chart table. Ideas to develop further.
On a long ocean passage you need to keep a tight reign on your mind, or it will wander off on a sharp tengent. Here I am developing our ideas about an alternative Zodiac.
First version of my “Sail-ship earth”, drawn on a chart I was using to navigate at the moment. It was meant to be a title page of a “Manual of Sextant navigation” that I wrote in South Africa, a short course in practical astro-navigation without any theory or complicated mathematics.
This version of “Sailship earth” I painted in acrylics on the wooden lid of my sextant box. I also used it to promote the Manual.
Here are four more advanced marblings from our show, all are acrylic on cotton canvas, about 300x360mm (12″x 14″).
Sailboat is painted into an appropriate window left out in the centre of the pattern of swirled non-pareil.
“The Eye of Shiva” started with the same basic pattern. A drop of clear water pushed the marbling apart to allow for the eye, and a swirl with a tooth pick created the eye socket.
My love took one look at these guys and declared: “That’s a Jesuit Procession”. So “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam” it is.
This basic pattern of non-pareil combed towards the centre with four short combs lends itself to butterflies, fairies and other four-winged creatures. In this particular case it’s more like “Fairy God-mother in law”.