Dreams and Disasters
Dreams can build empires and send men into space. They are the mortar that bond Jack and Jude. Without one, instead of admiring our partner’s strengths we notice their faults. On the other hand, with a dream we meld into a team that will sacrifice comfort and take risks in our quest for a full and meaningful life. But, what happens when a dream is shattered like a precious stained glass window hit by hailstones?
We are now adrift in a hot, windless, lonely part of northern Australia, writing to report that disaster has struck our Kimberley Adventure.
After leaving our home port, we had sailed so many miles in so short a time that during a walk to find our land legs, Jude took a tumble that has now become something of a nightmare. That’s because after two weeks of bed rest taking handfuls of anti-inflammatory painkillers, she’s still unable to stand, and so we are now attempting to reach help by the only means available to us – sail power.
Voyage went smoothly
Our voyage into this wilderness went smoothly enough with a non-event three day crossing of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf from Darwin that landed us at Gallery Bay, a tiny notch in the rocky red Kimberley coastline that’s impossible to discern until metres from its rocky headland. In 2007, we had explored inland from this nick after hearing of ancient rock art hidden up its tiny inlet and found rock towers adorned with Bradshaw Art thought to be the oldest art in the world. We also discovered Gallery Bay has another precious commodity in this vast dry land – freshwater. Only a trickle, but clear and sweet.
It was finding water that gave birth to a dream. When back home remembering our Kimberley experience and the heat, sandflies and inability to enter crocodile infested water, the Bradshaw Art we’d discovered overpowered all those nasties. They were special moments to cherish. So, in planning this journey, we thought we’d take it to a new level. We had learnt that the ancient ones had commanded the ground between the King George East Arm, which also has fabulous paintings, and Gallery Bay, six kilometres across a ridge. The King George River offered secure anchoring for Banyandah, and a dream formed where if had potable water, we could explore that area for as long as we wanted. Who knows what mysteries we’d then discover amongst the dry creeks and rock towers?
Within an hour of entering Gallery Bay and planting our new BOSS anchor into Kimberley mud, we were boarding Little Red, eager to find water after the poor wet season that had been followed by a severe dry. On croc alert in our tiny tinny, earlier snapshots of this ancient place flashed through our heads as we rounded the inlet, where again we were gob-smacked by rock towers honeycombed with caves and overhangs that had once been the home for some of Earth’s earliest people. Surrounded by such strangely coloured stone, we expected Fred Flintstone and Barney to pop out any moment.
In the tranquillity of late afternoon, the melodious tunes of unseen birds echoed off the silent water until our movements set a colony of bats into flight from the mangroves, their backlit paper-thin wings showing their bones as if an ink drawing. Approaching our previous landing place, the same flat ledge received our transport. Then stepping ashore our eyes automatically rose to an overhang where again we beheld three maroon-red angels painted upon hard rock thirty millennia ago.
With speed we rock hopped and tramped thorny vegetation up the creek, our ears straining for the first sounds of running water while our eyes noted dry pools coated with hard scum that had our minds wondering whether our adventure would go ahead. With this thought in my head I rushed ahead, first finding a stagnant pool, and then to my great relief I heard a faint trickle under the dark rocks. Climbing up another level and pushing through thick bushes revealed a tiny water hole shaded by lush green Pandanus with their barbed fronds littering the rocks. There was further joy when I found a sandy patch suitable for a camp, and as Jude pushed her way through to join in my elation, I entered a waypoint into our handheld GPS, giving us a mark to aim for from the King George anchorage.
Dawn two days later, on a tide showing less than knee depth under our keel, Banyandah crept across the sandbank that bars entry into the King George River and its famous twin falls. The tide cycle there is unusual, sometimes four tides each day, sometimes two, as it would be for the next few weeks. Therefore, we’d either be inside for two weeks or have to brave a dark night exit.
Jude had felt giddy during our Gallery Bay walk – “Haven’t found my land legs yet,” she had laughed. So before we hefted heavy packs and headed overland, we thought a day’s march up and around the top of King George Falls would sharpen our balance.
That very same afternoon, from beneath the falls we climbed the steep rocky slope to gain a magnificent view down upon the red rock gorge where Banyandah lay like a blue water beetle, the only keelboat amongst three multihulls.
It was past noon on a hot windless day when we reached the wide, flat rock riverbed that backs away from the edge of the falls. Stained black by eons of wet and dry, the watercourse radiated heat as if a sauna. Severe dry after a poor wet had all but evaporated every drop of water, so the twin falls released only a fine angel’s mist, and the pools we had swum in last time were coated with dry slime cracked and peeled like sunburnt skin. Sweat poured from our bodies. Our two litres of freshwater soon went, so we trekked upstream more than a kilometre before finding a delicious deep pool of untainted water. Surrounded by harsh Nature, we stripped and swam, drank and then hid from the sun while reminiscing past adventures and making plans for the present one.
Never ever called for help
In all our travels to the furthest lands and faraway seas, we have never ever called for help. We are explorers who pride ourselves, like the “Scouts,” on being prepared. That’s not to say we haven’t the means to shout for assistance. Even on this day walk, we carried a personal location beacon (PLB) that can send a MAYDAY with a trackable GPS position. On board Banyandah, there is a similar, larger device that floats, plus a Yellowbrick tracker that can send personalized alerts. All utilise the satellite network, so they are always online. We are cognizant of the danger, and expense, to others when one of these devices is set off, but far more importantly, for this lifestyle to be safe and successful, quintessentially we believe we must look after ourselves.
Off away from the river we noted the bright yellow petals of Kapok, odd among the sea of black and red, and that had us pack up to explore once more. Jude has always been a shutterbug, and digital photography has increased her shot rate dramatically. I run a video, and admit to being smitten in the same fashion. We spent a few hours capturing the flowering bright orange grevillea, honey yellow acacias, cool green cacti and of course Kapok, bare of leaf, their green pods fluttering with what could have been yellow honeyeaters, all of this while the lowering sun’s lengthening shadows glorified the beautiful Earthy tones.
The lowering sun also brought a cooling breeze, so in high spirits we snapped and filmed Kimberley’s magic while proceeding back towards home, a much-desired cold beer high in my thoughts. Reaching the falls, the lowering light and long shadows demanded more filming, and my partner went off saying,”I’ll just rush to the edge for a final shot.”
Seconds later, Jude’s shrieks of pain followed by an anguished sob of, “I’ve broken my leg,” turned me around to find her in a heap, wrapped in thorny bushes at the base of a rock ledge. She was clutching her leg, writhing in pain. Swarming out the bushes and onto her blouse were angry green ants.
“Look,” I said, “I’ve got to get you out in the open, hold tightly.” And then dragged her ever so slowly away from those nasty biting creatures while she told me that she’d stepped off the rock edge and into a hole covered by vegetation, and had fallen forward. “I heard something snap,” she said between clinched teeth, her face ashen white.
Looking west, only two fingers width blocked the distance between sun and ridgeline. In an instant, our dream had been shattered and a nightmare had begun.
Straightaway I dug out three pain relief tablets and Jude took them with 1/2 litre of water while I examined her leg. To our immediate relief, it look all in place with no broken bones sticking out from a bloody wound. That started me hoping she’d just twisted her ankle, but it didn’t solve the dilemma of getting her across the river flats and down the steep slope before darkness overtook us.
Would sending a MAYDAY be wise, or necessary, for what might only be a sprained ankle? The rescue helicopter probably would be called out from Darwin, a flight taking several hours. In fact, the rescue might be delayed until first light. And then what? Banyandah left alone at the base of the King George Falls. Better to test her leg with me taking her weight. So, after bandaging her knee, I hefted Jude up on her good right leg then put an arm around her while she slung her left arm over my shoulder.
Our first step was awkward. The second saw us almost tumble to ground. And the third brought Jude to the offending rock ledge, upon which I lowered her while my eye measured the fall of the sun.
“Look, we’ll be out here all night unless we can get our timing right. I’ll call out the steps. You put your weight on me and do your best.”
Our eyes meet and hers seemed to ask, “Can we do this?” So I nodded and she gave me a strained smile.
“Step.” We hobbled one step forward. Pointing to an open spot in front of her good leg I called “step” again.
We’ve had our fair share of scary dramas – more than most in a life exploring Earth, and these have galvanised our partnership into a “we can do this” mentality. Part of that is that Jude is super strong for her years, and tough, especially when facing a night injured in the open. So, by true grit we took the next step, and then another, and then more across the bushy land separating the two falls where I plopped her down on a ledge to reconnoitre the way down a person’s height onto the flat riverbed.
The black rock was much cooler now that the sun had fallen below the ridgeline, and its flat surface made for fast passage until confronted by the bushy rise on the other side. It was awkward in many places where bigger boulders or stouter trees stopped two people abreast, but somehow we managed until reaching the rocky scree down to the river.
By this time I was pretty knackered and when we tried going down, me ahead with her hands on my shoulders, in a clumsy moment we both almost toppled down the slope. Reading the haggard concern on my face, she said, “I’ll go down on my bottom.” Which she did, rock by rock, some nearly her height. .
In last light, she hoisted herself aboard Little Red then demanded to row us home. That bravado was short lived. Getting her up onto our deck proved far more difficult. For several moments I toyed with the idea of slinging her up on a halyard. Instead she pulled her weight up by gripping the handrails and hopping up with her good leg on the thwart while pulling herself up backwards with some assistance.
Painkillers big time came next, the heavy duty prescription ones, and then off to bed after a big slug of water.
Alone with my thoughts
I thank our creator for sparing her, then got a bit giddy on red wine with this one recurring vision of Jude springing out the bed in the morning, wearing nothing but a sheepish grin and showing her thanks before asking for a day’s rest before starting our grand adventure. Optimism runs deeply within me while reality is not always so nice.
In the morning, Judith couldn’t move her leg. It was yellow and blue, puffed up, skin stretched tightly, her knee hugely swollen, and her ankle one great puffball. The good news was she could wiggle her toes and just move her ankle. We started her on a course of anti-inflammatory drugs and she spent the day in bed. By nightfall she could flex her knee joint and we celebrated.
After three days with little improvement, when the cruise ship True North eased past us to reach the falls, I called to ask if they had a doctor on board and explained Jude’s injury.
Miraculously within thirty minutes, a workboat came alongside carrying a doctor on holiday from NZ, a bright cheery lady who just happened to be an orthopaedic surgeon! After an examination in our cockpit, the doctor told us she could not rule out a fracture of the tibia or ligament damage, but felt both were unlikely because Judith had mobility and had recovered so quickly. Then we discussed our options. Considering our remote location, she said no further damage would be done if Jude continued to rest, and when improved, she agreed we could sail to a location for x-rays and ultrasounds. Jude, thinking the doctor came from a small country, mentioned that further treatment might be four, even six weeks away. The doctor reassured us, “If it’s fractured and not set right, it can always be reset later.” Her visit gave us both peace of mind and information to make a decision. Thank you Margaret and thank you True North.
We were two weeks dormant in the King George. I moved Banyandah several times to change the scenery and in an effort to find the least midges. Jude read, or sat in the cockpit painting while I edited Coral Sea video. Banyandah is our home, office, and place of recreation, so we were fine.
In that period I had one great adventure. The Sydney yacht Zeehaen arrived with a couple we had met in Tasmania and over sundowners we discovered a mutual love for the bush. Rob had been an active rock climber and so had Louise, so I mentioned the rock art up the East Arm and quickly we put together an outing. Alas, Jude had to stay behind. But we three had a grand day. We scaled the waterfall sans running water, skirted the giants pool, then I lead them inland. It was superb to once again gaze upon the precious Bradshaw rock art. And in a whirlwind tour I got them to where Jude and I had once camped, and beyond to our furthest point of discovery. I shot the whole adventure in high definition video with much better sound equipment and two willing actors, so I had a blast. Then I spent the next three days reliving the trip while editing the footage, Jude rapt to see it too.
Lou and Rob sailed on their way west leaving us the run of the King George for nearly a week, till the tide had come around to being high in the morning again. All this time it was windless.
Time to move
As if on cue, the mechanical weather forecaster uttered those magical words, “Strengthening east winds in the north Kimberley.” And we departed. Jude still unable to walk, her ankle still inflated, her knee unable to take weight. We wondered how she would survive the jostling of Banyandah. And how I would manage the ship without her? We’d not be stopping. Once clear of the islands and reefs entrapping us, our plan was to keep going even if we drifted. I mean, what couldn’t we do floating in a bug free ocean that we did when anchored amongst crocs and midges?
Besides, Jude’s condition worried me. Best we find out exactly what’s wrong with that leg of hers. Stay tuned. Next newsletter may have the answers. Oh, for those that had heard that I can’t cook or wash up – best reconsider!
Our first day went easily for Jude sitting braced in the corner of the cockpit, knee bent over a large cushion while I looked after our ship. By sunset, we’d cleared all dangers except for two very curious humpback whales that caused an Adrenalin rush by charging alongside us while we were flying along enjoying a sweet 15 knot breeze filling our sails.
Instead of changing watch at midnight, I let Jude sleep till nearly 3 AM, then got up again at first light to reset the sails and make us breakfast. With only one good leg, Jude was next to useless in the galley when underway.
By midnight on day three we were adrift on a flat sea. So the headsail was rolled in and mainsail pulled in tight before putting Jude in charge, giving me a well-earned sleep.
When I arose from the aft cabin, Judith looked like cold toast, so I sent her to bed even before surveying the calm expanse of blue sea. The bureau forecast a few windless days, therefore I turned to the chart, finding that Adele Reef lay a mere 20 miles further on. Our WA Cruising Guide didn’t mention Adele, forcing me to dug out our rather old Australian Pilot that surprised me by stating that Adele had a superb anchorage, which should be entered at low water. Checking the tides, we could be there just about then if I fired up the iron topsail, which I did and off we went making barely a ripple across the flat sea.
Adele Reef lies some 50 miles north of Cape Leveque and King Sound, and measures 6 miles by 13 miles north to south. It doesn’t have a navigable lagoon, but rather an inlet created where the reef nicks in several miles on its eastern side. The chart also shows a couple of sand islands, one rather sizable with a light.
It was roasting hot by the time we arrived off Fraser Inlet and we were quite ready for a rest after an instrument failure caused a drama on arrival. The Adele anchorage was perfect. Super calm, easy for Jude to get around the boat. And what an amazing sight. A mass of sand. But which two bits were the islands?
Jude could hardly wait to get off the boat and into the water, hoping the aqua therapy would improve her leg, or just take the weight off her body. The following day when the tide was up we found a way through the shallows, scaring schools of fish on our way to the smaller cay. I ran the dinghy up its steep side then held it steady while Jude managed to crawl over the gunwale and into the water. Using an axe handle for a crutch she could only make it up the sloping sand a few metres before plopping down rather dismayed until distracted by being within metres of a brown-booby on an egg.
While I went off on a walk Jude talked to that bird, telling it her woes. Almost three weeks had passed and we both sort of knew she’d done serious damage to her leg. Still feeling sorry for herself. she crawled back to the water’s edge and then rolled in. Oh! What heavenly bliss, a weightless feeling, the water up to her chest, cooling her leg, helping the swelling. She tells me she then started to feel new again, jumping along the white sand bottom on her good leg while exercising her very tired arm muscles. Every day at Adele, we repeated this. And we enjoyed a bonus. Trolling every day, within minutes of leaving the cay we always caught a fish from those teeming around us.
The News is not so good
We are pleased to announce that the good ship Banyandah has made it to the port of Dampier in Western Australia after a rather slow 560 nautical mile (1000km) sail up wind or with no wind. Tomorrow Jude goes to hospital to have her leg checked out. Hope it’s just a bad sprain, not ligament damage, a fracture would be better. heals faster.
It took 7 hours at the Nickol Bay Hospital to hear that Judith has a compression fracture of her left tibial plateau. This was caused when she stepped off a ledge into a hole trapping her leg, and then she fell forward. Her left leg took all her weight and momentum. The side ligaments did not snap, they did their job holding her knee together, causing the femur to crush the top of her shin bone. Jude is sixty-eight and naturally has some osteoporosis or soft bones. The depression measures approximately 1 cm, meaning her left leg is unstable. Surgery is not an option at this time.
We are seeking further advice before moving on with Banyandah. But storing our beloved vessel here in Dampier would not wise. Nor is going back home to face a very long delay when it may not achieve anything more than what could be done later. Jude is quite happy. The pain isn’t too great, we both have developed a high threshold in our adventurous lives. In fact she, and I, are eager to get on and overcome this hiccup. But first we want to explore all our options. And since it is suppose to blow strongly from ahead during the next few days, we have time.
Orthopaedic surgeons please feel free to comment.
We were advised to allow the fracture to fully heal, taking about another two months and then see whether the pain eases or hopefully goes away. Her wilderness trekking would seem to be over on that knee. Whether she can manage the jostling of a sailboat in rough seas will have to be seen. Later down the track, a partial rebuild of the joint, or a complete knee replacement are indicated. Both of those options have a long lead time.
Carnarvon on a busted leg
My lady is a superwoman. No matter that she has broken her leg, she still takes her watch, midnight till dawn, and withstands the jarring, pounding that 30 knot headwinds produce. Miraculously we have just completed our hardest voyage since her accident, Dampier to Carnarvon. Past Northwest Cape, filled with oil rigs and dark ships bigger than some cities, and now we are at the top end of fabled Shark Bay. No swell, in calm water, the most amazing wildlife – WE’RE ON HOLIDAY!!
Big Thank You
Thank you to the many who have wished us well either here, on Facebook and messages. Judith has been delighted by so many caring for her well being and wants everyone to know that she’s on the mend and going forward. Yesterday, she walked for the first time in five weeks as she now has the use of crutches. More as it develops