Day 2 - 7th April 1999
One of the hardest things to do while on holidays is to try and gear yourself down into a casual, relaxed routine. Even so, we all woke up around 8.00am, some what slow from the night before, and proceeded to do our normal morning chores of showers, breakfast and relax. Our schedule for the morning was to pick up Mark's son, around 12.00pm, who was flying in from Katherine during the school break, then drive off to King Ash Bay, some 50 kilometres away.
We tagged along as Mark drove around Borroloola, doing his fortnightly chores. Part of those chores was to pick our refreshments up from the Borroloola Pub, namely 5 cartons of VB and 3 litres of vodka. Around midday, we picked Benjamin up (Mark's son) from the airport, and we were finally off to North Island.
The journey to King Ash Bay from Borroloola was mainly on dirt roads, and you could easily see the remnants of the wet season, as there was still some minor flooding on the roads. The road graders were out in force, trying to cut runoffs into the bush for the excess water to escape into. At one stage, we came across a section of road that was fairly heavily damaged with bog marks. Mark said that during the last rains, there were approximately a dozen cars bogged within a hundred metre span of road. Luckily, we were in a truck, and the damaged road posed no problems for us.
King Ash Bay is essentially an aggregation of caravans, tents, sheds and transportable homes, situated 30 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the McArthur River. It caters for fishermen during the mud crab season, as well as semi-retired and retired people, and it was to be a waypoint in our journey to North Island. It is also where Mark berths his 2 runabouts and his main game fishing boat.
One of Mark's pride and joy is his 35 ft game boat named "Bathsheba". It would have to be one of the most functional, comfortable, and practically built boats I have ever seen. It took Mark around 5 years to build. I asked Mark where the name "Bathsheba" came from. His jovial response was quick and blunt - "The boat's named after a 3000 year old porn queen !"
A short lesson in the Old Testament - "Bathsheba" was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. King David committed adultery with her when her husband was in battle in David's army. David gave orders that Uriah was to be put in the front line of battle, where he was killed. The king then took Bathsheba as his wife, but he was rebuked by Nathan the prophet. David and Bathsheba's first child died, but Bathsheba later bore Solomon and was instrumental in making him David's successor.
Mark also has a couple of 17ft Savage aluminium boats with 50hp outboards on the back, to cater for smaller groups. Loading Bathsheba with all our gear, suitcases, rods, beer, diesel and water took about an hour to accomplish. We were to use Bathsheba to ferry ourselves and the two Savages out to North Island. Seeing that there were only three of us, we were to use the smaller 17ft Savage tinnies around the Sir Edward Pellew Group.
Half way out along McArthur River towards the mouth, Bathsheba developed engine problems. It turns out that Mark had only recently rebuilt the diesel engine. The actual engine mountings were vibrating and moving under high revs, causing the shaft to slip and the prop to cavitate. In the end, we anchored Bathsheba in the middle of the river, transferred all our equipment to the two Savages, and recommenced our 55 kilometre journey to North Island, our home for the next six days.
Our primary target was an island called North Island, part of the Sir Edward Pellew Group. This group of islands is a cluster of barren sandstone islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, near the mouth of the McArthur River on the southwestern shore of the Gulf.
In 1644 Abel Tasman thought the islands were part of the mainland and named them Cape Vanderlin. Flinders in 1802 proved Vanderlin an island, and he named the group after Captain Edward Pellew (later Admiral Viscount Exmouth) of the Royal Navy. The Edward Pellew Group consists of North, South West, Centre, West and Vanderlin Islands and have a total area of 2,100 square km. Vanderlin, the largest, is 32 km long by 13 km wide.
The waters on McArthur River were unbelievably calm, allowing us to traverse the first 30 kilometres towards the river mouth with ease, at a speed of around 20 knots. As we hit the open sea, the chop started to pick up. The Savages handled the choppy conditions with ease, cutting thru the swell, creating heaps of welcomed spray, considering the heat of the day, a balmy 35°C.
Two and a half hours after departing King Ash Bay, we finally arrived at North Island. The photo on the left shows the main house as seen from the beach. (Note the lagoon on the right of the shot). The photo on the right is taken looking down on the lagoon from the house, with several native birds searching for fish. At high tide, this lagoon fills up with mullet and other small fish, which are then caught and used as live bait.
This place was truly the last bastion of serenity, away from civilisation. Self-sufficiency was high on the agenda. Water was available through a multitude of 5000 litre rain tanks. Heating and cooking available through either bottled gas or firewood. Electricity was available through a diesel generator that's used sparingly. Perishable foods and other household goods were ferried in, where as garbage was ferried off the island.
After speaking with Jenny over the phone on numerous occasions while planning for this trip, we finally met. Short of laying out the red carpet, both Mark and Jenny did everything possible to make us feel welcome in their home. I even commented to Mark and Jenny on how well behaved their kids were. Mark assured us that they had been given the third degree prior to our arrival.
Our accommodation, for the climate and surroundings, was perfect. Our cabin had 2 bedrooms, each bedroom with dual bunk beds, a ceiling fan, and fully enclosed with wire netting to keep the mosquitoes out. Shower and toilet facilities were also on hand, as well as, more importantly, a good size fridge to store our 5 cartons of beer and a freezer to chill our bottle of vodka. Contrary to popular belief, spirits do not freeze. Rather, they become less viscous, more syrupy, and a joy to drink straight !! I should point out that we only drink the vodka in small nips. However, we have had, on the odd occasion, multiple nips in a row !!
After settling in, we were eager to try out a spot of fishing. The schedule of fishing for the next six days would be that Mark takes us out in the morning till lunch time, then we would take a Savage and explore and fish in the afternoon. Also, an understanding was, that should any damage occur to the boat while in our care, we would have to wear the costs of repair.
Mark gave us some tips on where to try, and also mentioned to stay well clear of the reefs which ran along the edge of each island. With this in mind, we eagerly set off on our first fishing stint in the Norther Territory.
The aim of the game was trolling. Coho and Chinook trolled, where as I drove the boat. We were all conscious of how close we were traversing to the reef, and tried to keep well clear. Thinking that we were in the main channel of water between the islands, we hit a small outcrop of reef. There was some damage to the prop, as a 1 inch piece of aluminium was ripped off from one of the blades. The damage did not appear to have any serious adverse effects on the performance of the prop, and we decided to head back to base and count our losses.
Half the embarrassment was explaining to Mark the finer salient details of how the damage occurred, and then covering the cost of repair. Luckily, the cost wasn't too detrimental on the hip pocket.
That night, we had (you guessed it) fish for tea. This gave us a great opportunity to try out some of the local fish, Red Emperor, Coral Trout and Mangrove Jack. Preparation and presentation of the baked fish was of a five star restaurant quality, and the taste second to none. Jenny truly outdid herself with a meal fit for kings. If this was just a sample of the quality of food we were to experience, I could definitely see myself gaining a few pounds during the course of our stay.
After a hearty meal, a few drinks, relaxed conversation and great company, we hit the sack around 10.00pm, content, in knowing we were going to catch fish the next day.
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