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Published: July 21st 2014
Well last time I wrote was a long time ago and a long way away - a different state and time zone in fact. We waited an extra day in Seisia for lighter winds but did not get them. Where one British boat left another, that knew them, took their place so we introduced ourselves.
I managed to hitch a ride to and from Bamaga, for something to do, both times with aboriginals. I asked the guy driving the first car what sights I should see and his only suggestion was buying a cray-fish pie. Bamaga is truly a one-street town, with a few dusty shops, one pub with drive through bottle shop, a collection of shonky looking houses and a sparkling new library and centrelink office. I got a coupe of pies and left. 5th July
We motored out of the security of the anchorage at a casual mid morning after we had got the boat ready, including taking the dinghy off the davits. Had good winds carrying us along the Endevour Strait in small following seas. Joined in on our first radio sched along with a few British boats that have crossed the Pacific at
roughly the same time and great to see our ham radio is transmitting well - prior to this we had only tested it at 50 metres. Having the radio working and being involved in this sched later became very useful.
We watched the sunset lighting up the the land that slowly became a slither on the horizon. Our first night sail this year, and our first time properly out to sea - I was apprehensive but conditions were good. However, both this night and the next, as it grew darker the winds grew and we had rough seas as they built to up 30 knots with gusts higher. Also although we had easterly winds a swell appeared from the south west, making the sea confused and uncomfortable. We reduced sail and rode along with the rolling waves, occasionally with sea spray hitting the cockpit and down into the cabin. We split the night into shifts to keep watch and during our watch neither of us felt like doing much except lying down so we would set a timer so we could snooze too. One night I came out for my shift and Naomi said there had been no splashing
into the cockpit and just as I was about to lie down a wave slapped us and sent sea water all over the seats!
Unusual for Alex, he would fell asleep in Naomi’s arms most nights on passage and the rest of the time while we grew tired of rolling and trying to keep upright, he found it entertaining. Fortunately his love of his DVD player and the iPad returned so this kept him busy for much of the 3 days and 3 nights.
We passed a few tankers over the first night, one heading straight for us just when our boat was getting hard to handle in the strong winds, but fortunately changed course, and a couple of sail boats overtook us. The second night there was more a collection of fishing boat to avoid.
The winds lessened in the days but still in the 20-25 knot range, meaning there was rarely a rest from the constant rolling motion and the seas in the Gulf were persistently confused. Naomi often felt seasick and couldn’t leave the cockpit’s view of the horizon so that gave me extra things to keep busy and kill time. We have often
Alex's watching movies with little BigBird
we don't normally let him watch this close to the screen
read of the pleasures of passage making and this trip was our first real test to see if we are Bluewater cruisers. Sadly we rarely found any pleasure in the trip, more something to be endured. In fact Naomi often despised the journey and wanted to be airlifted off - I think we both agreed we are probably not cut out for big ocean passages. I could tolerate it but I don't like the thought of putting Naomi through much more of this. Its like being on an annoying nauseating funfair ride, but instead of getting off after a few minutes you're stuck on for three days.
How people go on for weeks like this is beyond me.
To make matters worse on the last night the wind actually dropped off but the relentless sloppy waves kept rocking us around so I went to put on the engine to smooth the motion for Naomi’s and the slapping sails’ sake but it wouldn’t start. So I had a restless night trying to work out the problem while Naomi threw up. I found that I could detect no heat from the glow pugs wasn’t sure if that was important in
this climate and also that no fuel was getting to the injectors. It was a long night, the engine still not working and Naomi badly needing a rest so we had anchor under sail. This is something I think we have only done once in light winds in a familiar anchorage so it came with plenty of apprehension of what could go wrong. We eventually rounded Cape Wessel and had a tight reach down the island to Double Island Bay. Luckily conditions were perfect and we tacked into the bay which was a good half mile wide so made it easier for us.
This was a beautiful flat anchorage so we could shower, Naomi rehydrate and return to feeling human again. As part of the sched we talked to the British boat “Chrisandaver Dream” that was a day behind us across the gulf, and had been previously extolling us the wonders of longer passages. As veterans of 2 large oceans it was reassuring to hear that they suffered on those windy nights and found the seas really “large”- neither of them getting much sleep. Of course we let them know our engine was not working and we
were able to talk through what might be wrong and they kindly offered help where they could.
With no engine we knew we didn’t have the luxury of coastal hopping as entering bays became a risky and difficult pastime. So the next day, by which time CD Dream had passed us overnight, we set off again to take a big jump toward Darwin - after Naomi had lunch in flat water. 9th July
Like leaving Seisia, the first day was delightful on sheltered seas and overnight had no surprises. The second night however blew up again and we surged and rolled along with rough seas. The days were still quite boisterous but we did see a few pods of dolphins - 2 different species visited one after another. We knew CD Dreams were waiting for us in Somerville Bay near the top of Croker Island and we managed to anchor there just before nightfall. Again its a large open bay so apart from tacking a lot, this time into 20 knots winds, it wasn’t too tricky,
We all needed rest - Naomi complained that the boat rolled a lot with swell that night but I
me trying to catch up on some sleep
using our newly made lee sheet- Alex liked to snuggle in
slept straight through it. The next day David visited and we worked through the fuel system and with numerous bleedings but still no fuel after the high pressure system in the fuel injection pump. There was a fair bit of sediment in the primary bowl strainer so I cleaned or changed the filters along the line but could but no improvement. He agreed with my conclusion the injector pump had a problem - usually an expensive and specialised repair.
He and his wife Christie offered to shadow us all the way to Darwin and although the they wanted to day hop which meant more backbreaking lifting anchors we gladly accepted for the sake of security if the wind ever dropped off leaving us at the mercy of the strong currents in the area.
So the next day we weighed anchor fairly early which in 20 knots of wind and with 60 m of chain out was no mean feat. The track tacking inch by inch up to the anchor on the chart plotter is quite impressive. Had a rolly ride which eased by midday and by early afternoon we turned south into
Port Essington and anchored in the bay just north of Black Point.
With an afternoon spare and having not trod on land in over a week I got the dinghy pumped up and off the deck and we went to the beach. Motored further back to the entrance headland and beached in front of some huts that were very bare holiday rentals. We were not sure if we were allowed ashore here but relying on the bliss of ignorance, strolled up the path to the monument we had seen from the sea. It was like a large cairn and marked the spot of an old navigation light from the 19th century. Came across a few couples who had driven there in four-wheel-drives. Had a chat with one and discovered we were meant to have a permit to be in this national park.
We walked back to the dinghy and were passed by a guy in a ranger’s car who gave us a friendly hello. As we were about to drag the dinghy back into the water he reappeared and I thought was about to ask us about our permits… instead he told us he was about to release
some turtle hatchlings and wondered if we wanted to see - sadly it was happening too far away for us to walk.
Next day we left with less of a struggle with anchor for Alcaro Bay. I had worries about this bay as a guide book we have says the current runs passed the mouth at six knots. It was a nice day sail of about 40 miles and the wind followed us around the land so was always aft until we came into the bay of course when it was most inconvenient. Fortunately we had enough wind and turned into the bay early to get out of any current as soon as possible. The current was only a couple of knots and tacking into the bay was easy enough but it was not as protected from swell as I expected.
The next day was crossing the Van Diemen Gulf where tides can run fast and we had to leave at 3:30 am to get the most out of them. Dragged ourselves out of bed into the dark to find the wind was light. We sailed off the anchor but knew we wouldn’t have
enough steerage to cope with the currents around Cape Don so asked the other boat for a tow. We got pulled out of the bay and the current was already quickly going south and we needed to steer overtly to avoid shallow ground. Then out of the moonlit gloom came breaking seas despite no wind which we pushed through - wondering if our towing setup was substantial enough for this rough water. Fortunately they didn’t last long and we quickly got passed Cape Don to then find we were being swept easterly. To maintain our southerly course David had us pointing to the northeast and we slowed to under 2 knots. I suggested we turn more south to not fight the current so much and perhaps we could make up the westerly ground later and this worked well
After about an hour of towing the wind picked up and we released ourselves, and we both headed south on a nice beam reach. We ended up fighting the current when the tide changed and by early afternoon it was back in our favour. The wind had lessened so the sailing was flat and easy but we were still getting along
at five knots - delightful sailing. Dropped anchor near the top of Adam Bay in the late afternoon - it had been a long day. But Darwin was the next day and the only worry was figuring out how to best use the tides and the difficulty of anchoring with the many other boats in Fannie Bay. 16th July
We left about 9:30 am which coincided with the wind picking up just five minutes earlier. Had a few hours slowly crossing the bay against the current but through Howard Channel it started going our way and at one stage we were doing over eight knots! We agreed to turn out of the channel early as a shortcut around some reefs and shoal ground and plodded on, with the high-rises of Darwin coming into view, and the booming noises of the airport carrying across the water. With the afternoon passing by we wondered if we would make the anchorage before dark. Radio’d ahead to another Brit boat who would lead us in by dinghy if need be as it can be hard to see boats anchored when there are city lights in the background.
Finally came into
we made it!
Darwin Yacht Club
Fannie Bay with the wind wavering but just enough light. Then just as we got amongst the outer boats the wind dropped completely and we caught a rope again for a tow. They made a turn at the spot we wanted, we slipped our tow line, dropped the anchor and held. We had made it to Darwin! David and Christie joined us for some drinks to celebrate, so we could thanks them again for their help. Its been nice having cruising company. Its been a long trip, over 750 miles, and a real achievement to make it without an engine. Luckily the bays here were wide and open, but the challenge of having only wind power I am sure has honed our sailing skills.
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