Sunday, June 26, 2011

Wessel Islands to Cobourg Peninsula - Another Sea Crossing!

The strong winds kept blowing for a week and we waited it out at our anchorage in Two Island Bay in the Wessel Islands. The strong South Easterly winds brought with them cooler temperatures and we started to feel the chill of winter for the first time this year. Eventually the winds dropped off to 25 knots and, as they were forecast to not get any lighter in the foreseeable future, we all concluded to set off. By this stage there were three yachts anchored with us: Frecinet, Veedon Fleece and Wombat of Sydney. Rene and I had originally planned to cruise the top of Northern Territory, along the Arnhem Land coast. The area is not very well charted however, there are big distances between anchorages and we were now behind schedule due to waiting so long for the wind to drop. So, we set out with everyone else across the sea to Malay Bay.
Sailing in company
Salt on everything!!
It felt good to set out with other cruisers. Everyone sailed along Rhum lines (a course that takes into account the distortions of the Mercator projection). We haven't looked into how these can be drawn in our chart plotter yet and just follow the straight line! This section of the coast is pretty quiet. After everyone else disappeared over the horizon, we didn't see another boat until approaching the anchorage – two days later. I'm glad we had regular radio contact so we didn't feel as isolated as last time.
The seas quickly developed into much bigger waves than were forecast. Some were about 4 metres tall and we surfed down them into troughs between the steep seas so that sometimes, it looked as though the next wave was going to crash into us! Luckily we only ever ended up with bits of the waves landing on deck – not their full force. Though absolutely everything is totally encrusted in salt now!

Within hours of leaving, our trolling line had snagged a Tuna. Rene had quite a time trying to fillet it as the boat pitched and heaved about. He tried to teach me how to cut up the fish but I felt so queasy as he pulled the guts out by hand and blood spattered over everything (it was bad enough that the boat was moving about so much without watching a live gore scene complete with blood and guts) that I had to postpone my lesson until a later date. I am really not very good at hunting and killing (maybe all those years being a vegetarian are still with me). I even have trouble trusting the meat that we've caught, killed and prepared ourselves! I scrutinise each mouthful for impurities or problems that I normally never do with meat from a butcher! My first serving of this tuna had lots of miniature red veins throughout the flesh which I was concerned about but ate anyway because it was delicious! Rene cut up and dried out one small fillet of fresh tuna for fish jerky. He sewed the meat onto string and strung it off the mizzen boom in the strong, dry winds. It dried very quickly and looks like jerky but again, I'm not game to try it!
Preparing fish to be dried.
The first night of this passage was the roughest conditions we've been in so far. We were sailing at between 7 and 8.5 knots and the motion was violent. Not only were we being pushed side to side, but up and down and diagonally! It made it incredibly difficult to move around inside. I barely slept. Oh, and it was FREEZING! The cold air smelt similar to the westerly winds I grew up with that usually occur at the end of winter. These South Easterlies must have been blowing right off the desert. They're dry, cold and smell like earth. Because everything is infested with salt, the cold temperatures made everything damp – both inside and outside the cabin.
These big seas inflicted some pain: the spare dinghy that is lashed to our aft quarter was pushed and wedged half a metre above the railing for a few hours until another wave noisily pushed it back down again; our Mizzen sail tore in the strong winds along some old stitching; the depth-sounder tore away from it's position and we both got a few bruises from the motion.
BIG waves!!!
The seas continued to build during the morning until R2Detour stopped working! Luckily the Aries autopilot works well in rough seas. We have decided that it is a necessity for us to buy a decent electric autopilot before setting out to Asia. There is no way that hand steering for days on end is an option if R2 breaks again and Aries misbehaves (like he usually does). Funny how our auto-pilots have become anthropomorphised!! Also funny is that, while at sea, we often hear indistinct human voices speaking incoherently (frequently we call out to one another 'what was that?' only to have the reply 'I didn't say anything'). Other yachties we've met also experience this phenomenon. My theory is that our minds make the sounds of the boat into human voices because we're so used to hearing them that when there's none to be heard, it makes them up! Perhaps we're all actually quite mad and this is proof!!

Thankfully the winds eased off during the second evening and we all enjoyed a lovely sail during the night in calm seas and light winds under a gorgous full moon. The cold air smelt like winter as smoke from fires that must be on land somewhere blew over us. It was bone-chillingly cold though and I wish I could remember where I'd packed all my warm clothes!
Fixing the depth-sounder at sea
We approached the anchorage in Malay Bay slowly. I wanted the sun to rise so that we could see any unmarked dangers and I was awarded with a liquid golden sunrise, with the full moon still high in the sky opposite. Gorgeous! Our depth sounder had torn loose in the big seas and wasn't working so Rene bravely climbed over the stern and re-secured it as we approached the anchorage. It was nerve-wracking to be sailing with no depth readings to reassure us that the chart plotter is accurate and that we aren't about to run aground.
Survived our second crossing.
I had a scrap of mobile phone reception (sporadically) for about 1 minute as we arrived. I hastily dialled my parents number only to be told that the number was not operational! Whoops! That's right, I'm interstate! After adding the area code, I got through to Mum and Dad for long enough to tell them where we were and that we were safe. It made me feel homesick. I've been feeling homesick a bit lately and have been managing to quell it by writing letters to the people I'm thinking about. These letters will not reach the people for weeks yet but it helps. I've also been spending much more time listening to music. I have embarked upon a big project of listening to our entire collection alphabetically. That's a lot of music. So far I've discovered some diamonds amongst the rough that I never knew we had. With all of this time to listen to music, I'm making the ultimate mix tape!
Sunset over the Arafura sea
We were both dead-tired upon arriving at Malay Bay. We managed to get a few jobs done in between collapsing in exhaustion. Rene redesigned and reconfigured the headsail pole attachment on the main mast and I patched some holes in the main sail. My forearms were so sore that I couldn't bring myself to even do one yoga sun salute. Was it from having to cling on to things for 2 days while sailing? Weird.

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