Monday, June 27, 2011

Are We There Yet? Slow Sailing to Darwin

Now that we're getting closer to Darwin, I'm becoming increasingly excited about being in a city again! I can't wait to get on the internet and buy fresh veggies and fruit. We have so many things to do once we get to the convenience of a large city and I'm itching to be able to post all of my stories on the blog. So we set off again out from Malay Bay after only spending one night in this peaceful place. Rene and the captains from Veedon Fleece and Frecinet all try to work out the currents for Bowen Strait which we will sail up. The tides in this area are a bit strange. There are prevailing currents and tides and everyone's tide programs gave slightly different information!

Rene and I leave before dawn, wanting to arrive at the mouth of Bowen Passage in time to take advantage of the current. Sailing through Mountmorris Bay reminds me of our trips in Moreton Bay back home. Ah to be in protected waters again is such a pleasure!! We finish a game of Scrabble we'd been playing on and off for days. Rene has fun for hours setting, changing, adjusting and tweaking the sails to get Anima to go as fast as she can. I bake date loaf (delicious!) and enjoyed hanging out below decks in calm seas. Despite leaving 2 hours earlier than Frecinet and Veedon Fleece, we only arrive at the anchorage behind Danger Point 30 minutes before them. It is somewhat frustrating to have such a slow boat – though we think we won anyway.

Danger Point - Where the not-so-wild things are.
Danger Point looks like a scene from the film 'Where The Wild Things Are' and we set off ashore eager to explore this wild land. Up close however, the beach is lined with 4-wheeler tracks and littered with cow pats. And is incredibly dry. After a brief, hot walk, we returned and went onboard Frecinet for drinks. A lovely warm evening follows! We share life stories / experiences and the last of our precious cheese. We feel very fortunate to have met such down-to-earth people to cruise in company with for a few hundred miles. Zipping back to Anima in our inflatable dinghy late that night feels amazing. Under an orange, cloudy moon, full of warm food and conversation. Sparkles in the water behind us. Cool, smoky breeze and gentle waves. A perfect moment.

I'm sad to see Frecinet and Veedon Fleece disappear over the horizon the next morning. They were striking out for Darwin (a 24 hour trip with much motoring) while we were only going as far as Point Essington (a 5 hour trip). It will be a while before we get to enjoy modern conveniences again as a strong wind warning has been issued. I have my worst-ever bout of homesickness. The photos I put up on the walls of my lovely family and friends only make the feeling more horrible. I've always known that I feel uplifted through contact with others. Now I really know that I'm a people-person and this kind of remote cruising is very hard for me. I miss the energy that different people provide. I make do with increased communication with Rene, more letter-writing to people at home and the HF radio is our only link with the outside world.
Listening to our HF radio - the only link to the outside world in remote N.T.
The sail to Port Essington is very slow. We are against the tide in light winds and Anima struggles to make 2 knots even with all four sails up. We dream of having a boat that sails better in light conditions. Funny juxtaposition when the song '...' by The Bloody Beetroots (very fast-paced, loud, crazy, electronic song) plays while we drift along at 4 kilometres an hour. Eventually we are forced to motor when Anima starts drifting backwards (towards a reef!) instead of forwards.

Our anchorage for the strong winds is in Berkely Bay, about halfway down Port Essington. It is protected with large sandstone cliffs in white, yellow and red and after we turn off the motor, we're struck with absolute silence. For once, there is no wind (quiet before the storm?). The only sounds come from our movements and the occasional bird on land. Again, we're very remote. The only evidence of humans is a pearl farm which we had to navigate around to anchor.
Anima anchored in Port Essington
Sewing flags
The forecast strong winds amount to nothing. We keep expecting them to pick up but they never do. We stay in the protection of Berkeley Bay just in case. I take the opportunity to do some sewing jobs: the courtesy flag for sailing in Indonesian waters and the 'Q' quarantine yellow flag. Rene continues his work on improving the lazy jack system. We learn of some additional frequencies on the HF radio that allow us to listen in to live news broadcasts and music! Wow – connection with the real world! I spot my first ever wild crocodile floating slowly along in the water about 100metres away at dusk. Sunset drinks on the beach are definitely off! The sunsets here are so red due to the ever-present smoke haze from the burnoffs. 
Can you spot the crocodile?
monohulls due to their strength, which has suited us very well as a first boat, allowing us to get grounded a couple of times without any problems. However, we've decided that we are actually more into catamarans, and have met some strong GRP (fibreglass) boats (and the ultimate - carbon fibre, like the Gunboat, Sugar Daddy), that are still fairly light and thus a lot faster (sorry Rog, Jan, Nick and Jan!). The only real problem is that cats are much more expensive than monohulls. So we'll have to work very hard and save many many more pennies before we can afford to upgrade to our dream boat.
Loving catamaran sailing and style!
The Victoria settlement was set up in 1838 as a military outpost to protect northern Australia from the Dutch. They lived there for 11 years and built a hospital, married quarters, wells, store-houses, military quarters and a church. It was incredibly isolated and disease killed many of the inhabitants. The ruins are all that remain of this failed settlement. 
One of the graves at Victoria Settlement. Check out the spelling.
I felt uplifted from spending time walking through the bush. The smell of woodsmoke and the cool, dry air reminds me of my home in the bush near Toowoomba. I feel at home amongst the gum trees and bladey grass. The settlement was a pretty rough life for the people who lived here and we try to feel how tough it must have been for them. The graveyard contains over 60 people – it really was a very remote and tough place. I feel for the women, the wives of the soldiers. They must have been incredibly strong. Plenty of nature here: we spot a large shark, huge stingray, multiple hawks, a snake and lots of insects. No crocs.
The ammunition store house - still in one piece!
The remains of the hospital. At least the patients had sea breeze and views.

This is all that remains of the jetty for Victoria Point settlement.
Rene's 30th birthday arrives on the same day as Chris from Easy Rider. The strong wind warning is lifted and the winds actually pick up from being flat calm (we can't understand how the last two days could have been classified as a strong wind warning as we saw no more than 10 knots!). A great sail out of Port Essington and around to Alcaro Bay anchorage, just next to Cape Don. There are five other boats here already. The engine springs a minor oil leak and Rene grudgingly fixes it (he wasn't expecting engine maintenance on his birthday). I do my best to cook up a nice meal with the limited food we have left. We have no fresh fruit or vegetables left apart from a pumpkin. Easy Rider elected to spend the day at a resort in Port Essington, we discover later that they had a fabulous time as there were no guests and the staff were super hospitable. If only our budget could have stretched, we would have enjoyed swimming and living it up too.
Smokey sunsets in the Northern Territory.
Everyone leaves at first light for the long journey down through Van Dieman Gulf. We are the last to leave and we discover hours later that we had calculated the tides wrong by half an hour. Our navigation laptop was still set to QLD time! It is important to get the tides right through here as they are strong. Because it's neap tides at the moment,
we only had about 2.5knots current, but Yawarra 2 and other boats had up to 5 or so knots (which took their speed to around 12 knots!). This is great if you are going with it but impossible to make any headway against. We average between 6 and 7 knots initially with all four sails up on a beam reach. But after a few hours of this, the winds start to die down and so does our speed. The tide is nearly against us so we start up the motor and give in to what so many yachties end up having to do – motor sailing. A long day follows with the motor on until we anchor at dusk off Cape Hotham. The other boats must think we're strange – we drive around in circles trying to get a strong enough telstra signal to connect to the Internet. Our efforts are in vain though we do finally have phone and enjoy chatting to a few friends and family.
Finally chatting to my bestie.
We're woken at 4am by roaring sounds that we imagine are crocodiles fighting. We figure it's best to leave now before they decide to visit us – the tides were right too so off we go into the dark. We see four shooting stars and a satellite drift by. It's a peaceful early morning with barely a breath of wind. Pretty soon another boat is following us and within hours they've overtaken us and sailed out of sight over the horizon. How can they go so fast? We have all our sails up but they don't help much – the motor and tide do most of the work of getting us into Darwin. It's so exciting to see buildings again. To see a city! To hear FM radio and be able to use the Internet! My phone works again after 2 months of being out of range (pity I have no credit yet)!
Rene, Cerae, Daryl and James enjoying a few coldies...
We anchor in Fannie Bay with dozens of other boats. It's beautiful here. Yachties we met along the way hail us as we arrive. We get the low down on where to go ashore etc. The dinghy is in the water and we're motoring to shore (about 1 mile away due to the big 6 metre tides here). As we pull up onto the sand, we're hailed by Daryl, Carol and James who are at the yacht club enjoying a beer. We join them and the rest of the day slides away happily as we share a few beers and chat to old and new friends. We drive back through the bay that night surrounded by boats with their anchor lights on and it feels magical again. I'm so happy to have made it to Darwin. We have one month here before our departure for Indonesia. So much to do but also so much to enjoy. 
Fannie Bay. Anima is out there somewhere!

1 comment:

  1. You seem to have had a lot of fun during your adventure with a bit of quiet time, the catamaran sail looks great.