At Sail-World Cruising we have often told of the idyllic times that cruising sailors have in the cruising grounds of the world. However, sometimes things don't go so swimmingly, and it's even worse if you are cruising remotely, away from any kind of help. Here Jack Binder, sailing with his wife Jude on their yacht Banyandah, tells his own tale of their dream-turned nightmare while trekking the cliffs of the Kimberley coastline in the remote uninhabited regions of north west Australia.
King George Falls anchorage with Banyandah and some catamarans
It was past noon on a hot windless day when we reached the wide, flat rock riverbed that backs away from the falls edge. Stained black by eons of wet and dry, the watercourse radiated heat like a sauna. Severe dry after a poor wet had all but evaporated every drop of water, so the twin falls released only a fine angels’ mist, and the pools we had swum in last time were coated with dry slime cracked and peeled like baked 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.
Jack The track
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 gear to shout for assistance. Even on this day walk, we carried a personal location beacon (PLB) that can send a MAYDAY with traceable GPS position. On board Banyandah, there is a similar, larger device that floats, plus a Yellowbrick tracker that can send personalized alerts. All utilize the satellite network so they are always online. We are cognizant of the expense and danger to others when one of these devices is set off, but far more importantly, for this lifestyle to be safe and successful, quintessentially you must look after yourselves.
Off away from the river we noted flowering Kapok, their bright yellow petals odd amongst the sea of black and red, so we packed 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, and 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 while the lowering sun’s lengthening shadows turned on beautiful Earthy tones.
The lowering sun also brought a cooling breeze, so in high spirits we snapped and filmed Kimberley’s magic while proceeding towards home, a much-desired cold beer high in my thoughts. Reaching the falls, the changed light and long shadows demanded more filming and leaving my partner behind -'I’ll just rush to the edge for a final shot,' I turned my back. Seconds later, Jude’s shrieks of pain followed by an anguished sob, '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 then had fallen forward. 'I heard something snap,' she said between clinched teeth, her face ashen white.
Looking west, only two fingers spanned the distance between sun and ridgeline. In an instant, our dream had been shattered, 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, no broken bones sticking out from a bloody wound, and I started hoping she’d just twisted her ankle. But that 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 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' once 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 Jude is super strong for her years, and tough, especially when facing a night hurt 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 to reconnoitre. We had to negotiate a person’s height down 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 slope 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. Those she slid down.
Jack Jude on her way home
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 difficult and I toyed with the idea of slinging her up on a halyard. Instead she pulled her weight up gripping the handrails then hopped her good leg onto the thwart before pulling herself up backwards with some assistance.
Painkillers big time came next, the prescription ones, and then off to bed after a big slug of water.
Now alone with my thoughts, I thank our maker for sparing her, then got a bit giddy on red wine with one vision recurring, Jude springing from bed in the morning, wearing nothing but a sheepish grin and showing her thanks, then asking for a day’s rest before we start our grand trek. Optimism runs deeply within me. Alas, reality is not always so fine.
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.
Jack True North arrived - how lucky was that
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.
Jack Doctor's unique house call
This happened just yesterday but Jude’s condition worries me. Best we find out exactly what’s wrong with that leg of hers. Stay tuned. Oh, for those that have heard I can’t cook or wash up – best reconsider!
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