Cairns, Australia to Darwin, Australia   May 2008

May 13

Cairns to Low Islets:  Tuesday

0615  I pushed THE HAWKE OF TUONELA back out of her slip halfway before climbing aboard and shifting into reverse against a light pre-dawn breeze.  The bow of the big day-trip boat beside me extends several feet beyond the dock.  I backed well away to clear it, shifted into forward, and was through the breakwater entrance at first light.

Once into the inlet, I set the tiller pilot to steer toward the shipping channel, while I removed fenders and dock lines that probably won’t be needed again until Bali.

Although I was just an hour past high tide, the water is shallow around Cairns, so I followed the shipping channel until I could safely turn north toward my intended first anchorage at Low Islets, 35 miles away.

0700  Enough wind from southwest to set jib and cut engine.  Pleased when I shifted into reverse I heard the prop stop.

0930  Sunny morning.  Mostly clear sky.  Few clouds over land behind Cairns and Cape Grafton.

No one else out here.  Wind just backed southwest to southeast, so I jibed jib from starboard to port,  Making 5.5 knots.  Wind about 16 knots.  Predicted 15-20. 

The coast here is high.  Port Douglas, with 20,000 or so people, is not far off to the northwest, but beyond that there is only Cooktown, which had 300 inhabitants when I was there in 1987 and is now said to have a couple of thousand.  This is the Big Empty.

Very pleasant sailing.  Almost level.  Rolling a little on 1’-2’ waves.

Should be at Low Islets by 1300.  Hope the anchorage is not full of day boats out of Port Douglas.

1440  I’m on a free mooring at Low Islets, having arrived at 1240.

There are two low cays here, one of them with a pretty white sand beach, which provide a smooth anchorage on the north side from the trade winds.

I furled the jib and started the engine one mile off.  From that distance I could see several masts, and as I rounded the reef, I saw that they were all on moorings.  Two looked like day trip boats, but the other two like cruisers.  Passing close astern of the first of these with a home port of Gibraltar, I called and a man came on deck who confirmed that I could pick up a mooring.  Another man appeared on the next boat and said there was a mooring beyond him.  These are public moorings of industrial size with huge mooring pennants.  He climbed into his dinghy and went over to pick up the pennant for me, which I appreciated.  After temporarily draping it over my windlass--it is much to big for THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s cleats--I made a bridle from one of the dock lines I had not yet stowed away.

We covered 35 miles.  Mostly level sailing.  Might call an article, “Level Best”  Really perfect day.  Still is, with some clouds over the land and the trades continuing to blow at 10 to 15 knots.

The mainland is seven miles west of us.  The inside edge of the Great Barrier Reef is 8 miles east.

I’ll be off early tomorrow.  The next stop should be at Hope Islands, 38 miles north. 

May 14

Low Islets to Cape Bedford:  Wednesday

0615  Awake from 0500.  I tied down the tiller, but not tightly enough.  This is a good anchorage, but not completely smooth and there was enough motion to create a few inches of slack in the line which permitted the rudder to thunk back and forth.  Sailing, like MacBeth, doth murder sleep.

Had orange juice and coffee.  Dropped mooring at first light.  Cabin lights on in the two other boats here, so I expect they will be away soon.

Cloudy.  Rain showers last night.  Wind off land at 10 knots.  Looks like rain ahead of us.

0720  Most of the rain has moved offshore, but we are getting light drizzle from the trailing edge.

Sails of the other two boats at Low Islets behind me.

0830  Rain has persisted, sometimes light, occasionally heavy.  Wind has died.  A few minutes ago when our speed dropped to 2 knots, I started engine.  Looks clearer ahead.

0900  Light rain.  Wind filled from south.  Engine off.  Boat speed 6 knots under jib alone.

1000  Off Capt. Cook’s Cape Tribulation, so named because their tribulations started there.  Sky still mostly overcast, but no rain at present.  Sun trying to come out.  Making 6.4 knots under jib.  Wind 12-14 knots astern.

We’ve sailed the other two boats below the horizon.

1100   I had intended to stop for the day at Hope Islands, which are ten miles ahead, but rain has returned with limited visibility.   I was at the Hope Islands in RESURGAM and know that the approach to the anchorage is through coral heads.  I may continue on to Cape Bedford, which is 40 miles distant.  At 6 knots I’d be there just before dark.  Wind is 18 knots behind us and THE HAWKE OF TUONELA is making 6+ knots.

The anchorage at Cape Bedford has no off-lying dangers and requires merely rounding the cape and finding a depth in which to anchor.   Can be done after dark.

I’ll decide in an hour.

1200  Visibility better, but rain behind us and wind 18-24 knots.  Not a reef day.  I’m continuing to Cape Bedford, now 33 miles distant.

Endeavour Reef, where Capt. Cook went aground, five miles east of us but not visible.

1400  Cape Bedford 24 miles ahead.  Mostly sunny, but still patches of rain.  Making 6.5-7 knots.

Just came below from sitting on deck for an hour.  Had to be to navigate around an isolated coral patch.  First time I remained on deck other than to trim jib.

1450  I think I can see Cape Bedford through the clouds and haze.  Waypoint for Cape Bedford 17 miles distant.  Two or three more miles past that to anchorage.  Dark at 1800. 

Cooktown, where Capt. Cook towed the ENDEAVOUR with his ship’s boats, and beached her for repairs is 8 miles away.  I stopped there, too, in RESURGAM, and it is an interesting place.  But the anchorage is small and I don’t want to take the chance that there will be no room.

We’re in the shipping channel between reefs.  No ships in sight, though I did see three this morning.

1845  Anchored on the north side of Cape Bedford.  The end of Cape Bedford is three miles long.  We sailed until the last mile. When our boat speed dropped below six knots, I turned on the engine.  Got the anchor down in 15’ of water at high tide at 1820.  Covered 74 miles in a 12 hour day.  If I had thought I was coming this far, I wouldn’t have let us loaf along at 3 knots for a half hour this morning, but we made it with twilight to spare.  No other boats here.

THE HAWKE OF TUONELA is in a peculiar mode, neither passage nor harbor.    I have left the fabric covers on the cushions and am sleeping in the v-berth, but on my sleeping bag because I am too grubby for the sheets.  Also have put a passage pillow case on the pillow.

Provisions are stowed on the cabin sole in front of the v-berth and on the quarter berths.  The solar panels are on the quarter berths.  The batteries are getting sufficient charge from running the engine.  Objects left on the upper berths in the main cabin or in the galley don’t need to be secured.  We are mostly sailing level. 

Not expecting to be here, I’m not sure of tomorrow's destination.  Choices are Cape Flattery, Eagle Islet, Lizard Island.

Not a beautiful day, but a fine sail.

2000  Took my evening drink of Bundaberg rum and tonic on deck.  Just over half moon shining.  The rigging an illuminated spider web.  Facing the Southern Cross.  At sea the last few days, I saw the Big Dipper.  Looked north tonight, but wasn’t visible.

The sky cleared after sunset.  Only a few clouds.  Wind still blowing at 12 to 15 knots.

The eastern end of Cape Bedford is composed of two buttes linked to the mainland by a low isthmus.   On the mainland several  miles away I can see a single light.  This is aboriginal land.  From here all the way around the northern coast of the continent and almost all the way down the south coast until Perth, there are only four or five towns of any size and probably not a quarter million people.   In the United States this would be a distance from New York City north and west and south to Los Angeles.

I miss my cockpit speakers.  I turned up the volume on the cabin speakers and could hear them on deck, but it is not the same.

I also miss my new spinnaker.  I would have set it early today.  It would probably have been too much when the wind was over 20 knots, although being made of 1 ½ oz cloth should have been strong enough--much less the 8 knots in which it split.  I inspected the sail in Cairns and have a theory, which I will withhold until I get a sailmaker’s opinion.

I even would have steered myself for a while if the sail overpowered the tiller pilot, just to see what it could make this boat do.  I hope I can get it repaired in Darwin.  Winds can be light between Darwin and Bali; but the Indian Ocean is usually boisterous and I doubt I will need it there.  This was the place.  Alas.

May 15

Cape Bedford to Cape Flattery

0615  I think this will be a short day, just 20 miles to Cape Flattery.  I could go out to Lizard Island, which is a good stop, but I’ve been there twice before and don’t need the extra miles.

Wind continued to blow hard half the night.  Although I had a snubbing line on the anchor chain, the chain still made noise.  At 2300 I got up and went on deck and found that the sound was being caused by the snubbing line riding over the chain on the bow roller.  Pulled it to one side which seemed to solve the problem. 

Turned on the instruments on my way below.  Wind then at 18 knots; depth of water 11.8’

Wind moderated sometime after midnight.  Morning sky partially cloudy. 

1100  Anchored in the lee of Cape Flattery, so named by Capt. Cook because he flattered himself that after repairing the hole in the hull of the ENDEAVOUR at what is now Cooktown, 35 miles to the south, that the worst of their trials were over.  They weren’t.

I’ve written about the history of this coast, Capt. Cook, Capt. Bligh, and the incompetent Capt. Edwards of the PANDORA, in the chapter, ‘Cruising the Ghost Coast’ in THE OCEAN WAITS, so won’t do so again.

1430  Warm, sunny afternoon.  No rain today.

Did my exercises for the first time since leaving New Zealand and only the 29th time this year.  I knew I wasn’t going to make 100 in 2008.

Also removed and inspected the tiller bracket for the tiller pilot.  In our first year out of Boston, I broke several of these brackets. I’m pleased to find that I have three spares with me.  The sailing conditions yesterday were near the limit of the tiller pilot and a clicking noise was coming from the bracket.  However on inspection no cracks and the two holes through which it is bolted to the lower side of the tiller have not been elongated, so I put it back in place. 

Even though I am going to want to steer a compass course rather than wind angle until we reach Cape York, I may have to let the Monitor steer and keep close watch on it in these strong trade winds.  Blowing 20 knots through the anchorage at the moment, which has remained smooth. 

While there are few people in the north of Australia, much of its mineral wealth is here, and those who are here, other than the aboriginals, are usually mining something.  A Japanese company runs a silica sand strip mine near Cape Flattery and exports a half million tons of sand each year from a pier on the south side of the cape  I think their center of operation is in the next bay to the west.  I see a couple of small vessels anchored there, but any buildings ashore are blocked from view by a hill.

Another yacht came in and anchored closer in than I about an hour ago.  I assume they have come from Cooktown and are headed to Lizard Island.  Lizard Island has a good anchorage, a very expensive resort, and a climb to the top of a hill known as Cook’s Look, where the captain tried to find a way out through the reef.  Anyone sailing this coast for the first time should definitely stop there.  I am in moving on mode. 

The coast which has been running north, falls away to the northwest for seventy miles and scallops west for fifty more, before turning north toward Cape York again. 

Tomorrow we’ll sail northwest 35 miles to the next anchorage at Howick Island.

May 16

Cape Flattery to Cape Melville:  Friday

0630  Anchor up and underway. 

0645  Engine off.  Making 5.6 knots under jib.  Would have been an easy anchorage to sail off of.  I had unobstructed miles behind me.  I only started engine in case I was unable to winch in anchor chain against wind; but no problem.

A second yacht that came in yesterday afternoon and anchored near the headland is a three masted schooner whose delivery captain I met in Cairns.  He is taking it around to Perth.  Was gone before I got up at 5:30. 

Sometime during the night a fishing trawler came in and anchored a hundred yards away.  Fully illuminated with deck lights.  Startled me when I first poked my head on deck.  Wasn’t expecting anything that bright.

0930  Very pleasant morning so far.  We’re just clear of Turtle Reefs and halfway to Howick Island.  Wind 14 knots almost astern.  Our course of 327º is clear to Howick Island 15 miles ahead.  Making 6 knots under jib.  Sunny morning.

Coast is low hills and white sand dunes, with higher hills inland.

Radio National Australia has a strong AM broadcast signal from Townsville.  I still get good reception this far north even during daylight.  Coastal showers predicted south of us, winds 15-20 for Torres Strait to Cooktown indefinitely. 

I’ve decided the need to steer compass courses is paramount and will continue to use the tiller pilot.  If the bracket breaks, I’ll replace it.  Also checked if I have extra bolts of the right size.  I do in diameter, but longer than necessary.  They will work if needed.

After showering yesterday I rewarded myself by sleeping on the sheets instead of sleeping bag.  Like them better and will continue to do so.  Can wash sheets as well as sleeping bag in Darwin. 

1330  An absolutely beautiful day.  Sunny;  good wind without being too strong; effortless 6+ knot sailing.  With some excitement at noon.

A half mile off Howick Island, which is surrounded by other reefs and islets, I turned on the engine, but when I checked to be certain water was being discharged from the cooling system, it wasn’t.  I went below, removed companionway ladder and engine cover and saw that the belt that should be moving the water pump was stationary.  Back to the cockpit to turn off engine, back to the cabin to manually turn the belt, which was already at full adjustment extension.  When I started engine again, it moved and we had water from the exhaust.

I powered to the area marked as the anchorage in the excellent cruising guide, CRUISING THE CORAL COAST, of which I have now owned three editions.  A depth of around 25’ was indicated, but I couldn’t find less than 34’ and I was near low tide, so I decided to continue on to an anchorage on the mainland 20 miles distant.

Jib and new course set, I went below to see if I had a spare belt for the water pump.  To my considerable dismay I heard the prop rotating.  I knew I had put the shift in reverse.   I hadn’t bothered to replace the engine cover and so was able to see that the bolt holding the cable connection to the transmission had fallen out.  Shifted into reverse manually.  Stopped prop.  Found bolt and nut on floor of engine compartment, replaced them.  However I was unable to get a wrench or even a pair of pliers on the nut to tighten it.  So only hand tightened as before.  Guess I will have to routinely check it.

Fitted spare water pump belt, which required first removing the alternator belt. 

Excitement over.  THE HAWKE OF TUONELA sailing at 6 knots during all this, obediently staying between reefs.  I did check both the chartplotter and stick my head on deck from time to time while working on the engine.  Anchorage at Ninian Bay 15 miles ahead when I started writing.  Now at 1350 13.3 miles. 

Don’t know why this engine is so hard on fan belts, 

Still a beautiful day.

1630  Ninian Bay didn’t work out either.  Wind too far east,  blowing into the anchorage and making the land a lee shore.  Going to have to go to the west side of Cape Melville.  Twelve more miles, but might have to sail more.  Won’t be in until after dark.  Clear sky and will have gibbous waxing moon.  Also it is just a matter of getting to the west side of the cape and putting the anchor down anywhere.

A lot of work for such a beautiful day.

1945  Oh, my word. 

We were off Cape Melville at sunset at 1800, and I could see Cape Rock to port and Boulder Rock ahead.  Our course was between them.  I had both the chartplotter and the computer chartplotting software in operation.

We made it between the rocks in the last of the twilight.  There is a mile wide and two mile long shallow shelf on the west side of Cape Melville, so we turned gradually to stay clear of it as we made out way south.  However, the smooth water and decreased wind I expected did not appear.  In fact the wind began to gust, perhaps accelerating around the high land of the cape.  The maximum reading I saw was 29 knots.  And the waves became jagged.  Because we were turning into the wind, spray was blown on deck.  I had to put up the dodger and put on my foul weather parka.

Gradually we made our way around the shallows and closed the coast, anchoring in 18’ of water near high tide.  The wind is still gusting in the 20s, but we are relatively comfortable.  I put out 100’ of anchor chain, which is more than my usual 3-1 scope. My head lamp was useful working on the foredeck.  Wind is howling.  The anchor is well set and I don’t think we could drag, but there is nothing behind us between here and the Flinders Islands, which is one of my favorite anchorages and our destination for tomorrow. 

The chartplotter says we covered 77 miles today.  We lost some time slowing to check out two unsatisfactory anchorages, and had I planned to come all this way, I could easily have made an earlier start.  Still it wouldn’t have made much difference.   Thanks to GPS and double chartplotters, darkness wasn’t a problem.

Today was a beautiful day, but I could use a short one tomorrow.  I am at the moment rewarding myself with a Bundaburg rum and tonic.

May 17

Cape Melville to Flinders Islands

0645  Calm morning finds us still at anchor ⅓ mile offshore as measured on the chartplotter, but only .09 a nautical mile off the 2 meter curve, which is   THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s draft.  I wouldn’t have come that close after dark without GPS.  I have a reputation for risk-taking, but I take risk cautiously.

After writing this log last night, I turned off the cabin lights and, after going on deck and bringing the flapping American flag below--sat here listening to music--Satie’s Gymnopedies.  One trend I have noticed in myself is that I have come to appreciate quiet and serene music:  there has been enough angst in my life not to need it repeated musically.  I watched the stars swinging about through the companionway, while I finished my drink.  Much too windy to enjoy it on deck.

As has become usual, the wind decreased after midnight, but occasional gusts still brought the anchor chain taut.  Bright moonlight until almost 4 a.m.  I wakened briefly many times.

We’re going less than 15 miles today and will get underway when I’ve had a cup of coffee and gathered the energy to winch in the anchor.  Shouldn’t be difficult in present conditions, so perhaps I should get to it.

1200 Anchor down at Owen’s Channel between Stanley and Flinders Island.  I rightly remembered this as being a pretty place.  We are just off a sand spit.  Flinders Island is to the east and high, but no wind to shelter us from.   We were becalmed at 0930, so I turned on the engine and powered the rest of the way.  Took almost as long for us to cover 15 miles today as 35 other days.

CRUISING THE CORAL COAST says that most of the land in this region belongs to three I imagine very rarely visited national parks, one of which is used for crocodile conservation.  The anchor chain was caught on something this morning and I had to power forward and from side to side to free it.  Glad I didn’t have to go in the water.

I saw a single light last night about a mile south of Cape Melville.  I was anchored thee miles south.  I assume it was on the land because the water there is only a few feet deep.

And this morning when I was getting underway, the sun glinted on something metallic on the shore.  With binoculars I saw that it was a four-wheel drive vehicle.  No other signs of anyone.  I have this anchorage to myself so far.

The first and smaller of the two scallops west of Cape Melville is Bathurst Bay, which is what we crossed this morning.  The larger one is Princess Charlotte Bay.  Hope we have some wind tomorrow.

1445  A cooling breeze has finally come up.  Blowing down the channel between the islands, which means is coming to us from the northeast, but I expect the hills have bent the trades.

Found two small wrenches and managed to tighten the nut on the bolt holding the transmission cable.

Showered and shaved.  Uploaded some photos from my cameras to the computer.  Nothing particularly interesting.

I have a couple of scraps on my left leg that are slightly infected.  Using Dettol and Polysporin.  Not serious. 

Two butterflies flew out to inspect THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, one mostly white, the other yellow. 

2010  Bright moonlight on the channel.  The silhouette of the Flinders Island.  Clear, starry sky.  There is such beauty here.  Such joy.  And it is not given.  The sailor earns it with his skill and his body, which makes it even better.

May 18

Flinders Islands to Morris Island

0615  Anchor up at first light.  When I anchored the depth was 31’.  Put out 100’ of chain.  34’ depth this morning. 

I had set the alarm for 0530.  60 miles to the next anchorage.  In RESURGAM we stopped at Lizard Island, Flinders, and then Night Island, which is even further than Morris.  Maybe we anchored in between, but I don’t recall. 

In CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE we had light winds in Princess Charlotte Bay and I ended up anchoring a couple of miles offshore in the middle of no where on a calm night.

I had to power a quarter mile south to clear Stanley Island, then turned to 289º, which is our course for the first 20, before turning north, and found a small fishing trawler a mile ahead of me coming in my direction.  I diverted to the north to let him pass.  Saw a couple of men working on the deck.  Maybe they were heading into Flinders to sleep.  Glad I had the place to myself.

No wind.  Glassy water.

0845  Wharton Reef, a small sand cay with two trees on it and a trawler anchored to the west, is abeam.  About halfway across Princess Charlotte Bay.

Slight wind has come up from the west.  Unfurled jib, which is giving us an additional .2 of speed.  Will keep powering until we can sail at 5 knots.  Can just make out hills on mainland twenty miles distant.

1200   Beautiful sunny day, but no wind and we are still motoring.

As we have turned more to the northwest, the slight breath of breeze no longer filled the jib, so I furled it.

Morris Island is 25 miles ahead.

All of the anchorages along this coast are based on the near certainty from May to November of southeast winds.  This is a one way street.  Go north, old man.  At present the wind is southwest, but so slight that it doesn’t really count.

The first three days out of Cairns my lunches were Brie on six grain rolls and a pear.  Last two have been hummus and crackers and an apple,  Last of hummus today.  Still have two apples.

Spent much of the morning on deck in shade of jib, listening to music from iPod on noise-canceling headphones, which reduce engine to very low murmur.  Will try to remember to check if I can still hear engine alarms with them on. 

Looks depressingly likely we will be powering for four more hours.

1220  Half mile east of Hannah Island.  This completes the sidestep west from Cape Melville.  Course again north.

1640   Blessed silence.  The noise canceling headphones certainly helped, and I can hear the audible alarms with them on.  But still that was 10 hours and 60 miles of engine.  I had the rpms at 2700, which gives us 5.7 knots.  The additional .3 of a knot came from the jib, which was up part of the time.  We never had more than five knots of wind and have less now.  Sky is sunny, few clouds.  Looks like high pressure, but the barometer is neither hight nor low.

I anchored ten minutes ago at Morris Island, which is a pretty sand cay on the west side of an extensive reef.  Some vegetation and a single palm tree. 

Another boat here.  Home port San Francisco.  I anchored a hundred yards behind it and haven’t seen anyone on deck.

Won’t power ten hours tomorrow.  There is an anchorage at Night Island twenty miles away, where I stopped in RESURGAM.  And if there is no wind at all, I might just stay here and go swimming.

My ears are ringing.  Time for a drink.

1815  Waiting for my freeze dry lamb fettuccine to cool.

Went on deck for my drink.  No music.  Only sounds of water lapping on the shore.  2” ripples.  Cranes wading in shallows and calling, “Kelrupp.  Kelrupp.”

Very light cooling breeze as I watched the sunset on the mainland eight miles to the west.  Almost full moon rising to the east. 

Had two rum and tonics.   I don’t usually drink rum.  My usual drinks are Laphroaig, wine, and gin in martinis and gin and tonics.  Rum is tropical.  Grown and drunk there.  Rather good.  Almost through with the bottle I bought In Cairns.  Also almost through the limes.  Still have tonic and gin.

This is the third time I’ve sailed this coast and almost certainly my last.  In not too many more years, the lone palm tree will still be growing on the end of this island  and I won’t be here to see it.  I seem to recall a poem about that.

In an excellent movie, THE TRAIN, I watched a few nights ago, about a French Resistance effort to prevent a German officer from moving French paintings to Germany just before the fall of Paris in 1944, a railway engineer is told in parting, “ Be careful.”  He replies, “I am too old to be careful.”

May 19:  Monday

Morris Island to Portland Roads

0645  Anchor up at Morris Island.  A little later than usual because I checked the engine after its unusual usage yesterday.  Have about half a tank of fuel left:  ten gallons.  Tightened alternator fan belt.

Started engine in case I needed it, but never put it in gear.  Ten knot wind blowing us away from cay, so sailed off anchor.

Perversely the wind came up after dark last night, blowing at 12 knots and making the anchorage somewhat rolly for an hour at high tide when more water came over the reef.

0715  Raised mainsail for first time since before reaching Cairns.  Wind more ESE, so angle good and will not blanket jib.

The other boat which was anchored at Morris Island got away before I did and is under sail a couple of miles ahead and west of me.

Not sure of my destination.  Night Island is only 20 miles, but this wind feels as though it will hold and so we should be able to reach at least Lloyd Bay behind Cape Direction, and possibly Portland Roads.  Wherever we go I don’t want to have to power more than the last mile.

1030  Very glad to have finally finished STALIN:  The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Montefiore.  I enjoyed his YOUNG STALIN more, because once Stalin obtained power he became as great a monster as any ruler, having twenty million of his own people tortured and killed, and another twenty-eight million deported, of whom eighteen million slaved in the Gulags.   Need something more pleasant

Trade wind continues.  Good sailing.  Making 6 to 6.5 knots.  Have passed Night Island.  Still not sure how far we’ll go.  Sunny with some clouds more substantial than trade wind cloud.  May rain.

1200  Off Sherrard Island.  Already sailed 32 miles.   Current boat speed 6.5.  Cape Direction 9.5 miles; Cape Weymouth 24.4.  Lloyd Bay is behind Cape Direction: Portland Roads behind Cape Weymouth.  Probably continue to the latter.

1700  Anchored at Portland Roads a half hour ago.  Did power the last three miles when the wind went astern as we turned in and the sails began to flop.  Covered 60 miles in same time as yesterday, but sailed 57 of them today.  Beautiful broad reaching.

Three other boats here.  One a catamaran about the size of THE HAWKE OF TUONELA.  The other two fishing boats.  And the boat that was at Morris Island is just coming in now.  Room for hundreds.

There are several houses ashore.  Portland Roads always has had a few residents.  Not sure why.  It is not even a particularly good anchorage, with some swell usually rolling in, as it is now. 

Saw a sea snake this afternoon.  Passed three snake lengths to starboard.  Yellow and brown.  Sea snakes are not aggressive, but have the most potent venom of any snake.  On CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, where many things were washed aboard, I had nightmares of them.  They will become more common from now on.  Approaching Darwin in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I saw waves full of them writhing.

We will be a week out of Cairns tomorrow morning.  Two more anchorages to Cape York:  Cape Grenville tomorrow, 40 miles away; and then the miserable Bushy Islet, which disappears at high tide, but is the only possibility short of making the Escape River.  I stopped at Bushy Islet in both CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and RESURGAM.  No problem making an early start from Bushy. 

Two completely different worlds at the moment.  South the sky is dark with rain and a rainbow.  North is sunny and clear.  We’re on the dividing line.

Just off this cape is Restoration Island, where Capt. Bligh made his first landfall after sailing from Tonga.  I’ll raise my glass tonight to the much maligned Capt. Bligh, the second greatest open boat sailor of all time.

May 20:  Tuesday

Portland Roads to Cape Grenville

0615  After a slightly rolly night, anchor up and underway.  Sailed off again.

I mark the chain with electrical ties at 25’ intervals:  one at 25’, two at 50’, three at 75’, 4 at 100’, and one again at 125’.  The chain is a little over 200’ long, but I don’t bother to mark it beyond 125’.  I very seldom have out that much and if conditions require it, I just know I need a lot of chain.  Unfortunately the 25’ marker came off as I raised the anchor this morning.  Don’t know when I’ll get a chance to remeasure and replace it.

This will be a jib only day.  Making 6 and 7 knots in 15 knots of wind. 

I left before the other boat, a Valiant 40, which I think is crewed by another solo sailor.  Don’t like sailing in company, but probably we will be stopping at the same places until Cape York.

Last evening just before sunset a small private helicopter came over the hills and landed on the shore.  Lights were on in one of the houses on the hillside after dark.  Apparently someone is rich enough to helicopter to their home at Portland Roads.  There isn’t a town within hundreds of miles.

1000  Following the shipping channel today, at least until we get close to Cape Grenville.  Many reefs around, a few west of the channel.  We just passed through the narrowest point between Piper Islets and have turned north again.

Partially furled jib.  Still making 6.5 knots with 15 to 18 knots wind near the beam.

Most reefs are named for ships or men. but we passed Ape Reef yesterday.  Hard to figure that one out off this continent.

Earlier with the wind further aft, we were sailing smoothly enough for me to  take the tape measure on deck and drag out the chain to insert a new electrical tie at 25’, or close enough.  Main use of that mark is to indicate when the anchor is likely to break free because I try to anchor is less than 30’ of water.

The waypoint for Cape Grenville is 13 miles distant.  That is on the south side of the cape.  The anchorage is on the north side and four or five miles further.

1400  I underestimated the distance from Clerke Island off the tip of Cape Grenville to the anchorage.  Thought we would be in for lunch, but there were still seven miles to go, and so I ate some cheese and crackers along the way.  Anchor finally down in 13’ of water near low tide in Margaret Bay.

Cape Grenville is low, but provides good protection. 

A large power catamaran that looks like a tourist dive boat was anchored close to shore when I arrived, but has left.  The Valiant was a half hour behind me.  And a trawler has also anchored.  Lots of room here.

Sunny.  Trades blowing close to 20 knots.  But boat is comfortable at low tide.  Some swell might come in at high tide.

Shaved and showered and changed clothes. 

Made 47 miles today.

We are twelve degrees from the Equator and 90 miles south of Cape York. 

Not looking forward to Bushy Islet tomorrow, particularly If the trades are still blowing 15 to 20 knots.

1815  I could take a spectacular sunset photograph every evening here, but repetitive. 

This is one of my favorite anchorages along this coast.  I remembered it as such.  Even with three other boats, there is an edge of the world feeling about Cape Grenville.

You round a shallows to reach the anchorage.  A cloud of birds has been hovering and feeding on that shallows all afternoon. 

The wind has decreased with sunset.  Some places just feel right, and this is one of them.

May 21:  Wednesday

Cape Grenville to Bushy Islet

0645  Anchor up at Cape Grenville.  The other sailboat, whose owner may value his solitude as much as I, was gone when I first looked out an hour ago.  I expect he left early in order to reach the Escape River.  And the trawler left last evening.  This left only the catamaran, which had returned and anchored again almost on the beach.  So I didn’t even bother to start the engine this morning, but sailed off.

The anchor chain came up clean, but the anchor itself was a full ball of sand and mud.

Sky clear, with only a few clouds.  Wind around ten knots.  Making 6 under jib alone.  No need or desire to reach Bushy early.

A few miles ahead is Bird Islet.  Apparently well named, for the water around us this morning is a white feeding frenzy.   Fish about two feet long are leaping after smaller fish, and terns are diving on them from above.

1000  Fine morning.   We are on the edge of the shipping channel, doing an eleven mile dogleg to pass between Hannibal Islets and Viking Reef.  Only one ship so far and that a couple of hours ago.  Good to have a clear horizon and the world to myself again.

Several small two-tone brown porpoises swam beside us for half an hour.  THE HAWKE OF TUONELA was only making 5.3 knots, but they seemed happy to keep pace and dart across our bow.

A pleasant morning, with the wind well aft.

Been using the engine so little the past few days, I put out one of the solar panels to charge batteries.

1200  Smooth sailing toward Bushy Islet 17 miles distant.  Trades moderate.  If speed were important, I’d raise the mainsail.

Just realized that I sailed from Opua a month ago today. 

As I’ve written before, time is an uneven medium.  It has been a busy month and New Zealand seems much more than a month distant.

1600  We are anchored just off dreaded Bushy Islet, which is not bad at the moment.   But we are at low tide.  The tidal range today is 7’.  At high tide near midnight, most of Bushy Islet will have disappeared.

The mainland is four miles west of us and consists of low land covered with scrub and patches of white sand.

We have going for us that we have the place to ourselves; it has been a day of moderate not strong wind; and full moon light all night.  The two other times I have anchored here I have been away long before dawn.  I expect to be tomorrow too.

I’m surprised to have seen only one ship all day--the one at dawn; and while I was not on deck constantly, I did keep a good lookout and don’t believe any got past me unseen.

We covered 48 miles and have about the same to Cape York. A little more to the anchorage in its lee.  The variable is the current in Albany Pass, which runs up to five knots and with the full moon probably will.  In CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I had it against me and it took all afternoon to negotiate the 2.5 mile long pass.  In RESURGAM we had the current with us and were through in a few minutes.  I could go further east and follow the main shipping channel outside the islands near Cape York, but would rather go through Albany Pass for old times’ sake.

May 22:  Thursday

Bushy Islet to Cape York

0330  Off anchor at Bushy Islet, but not because it was a rough anchorage.  It wasn’t this time.  Not even at high tide.  But I went to sleep early expecting it to be and to leave early.  I slept in the main cabin, where rolling is felt less than in the v-berth, but that may not even have been necessary.  In RESURGAM I recall the motion being so severe that we had to move from handhold to handhold, as though in a storm at sea.

A trawler came in sometime during the night and was anchored to the east of THE HAWKE OF TUONELA with all deck lights blazing. 

Wind blowing at 15 knots.  Clear full moon sky.  Anchor came up clean, but a bit of work winching it in against the wind.

A ship was passing as we spun off the anchorage.  There is a very faint loom of light in the north that I assume is from Thursday Island.

Pleasant sailing, listening to Schubert.

0640  While there has been pre-dawn twilight for almost an hour, the first sliver of the sun rose above the horizon a minute ago.

Tug passed towing barge heading south.  A sailboat ahead of us came out of the Escape River, whose mouth is abeam.  Don’t think it is the Valiant.  This one flying a cruising spinnaker.  Wish I were.  Perhaps after Darwin, where I may be longer than I had intended.  My Indonesian cruising permit doesn’t start until June 29.  Not sure that is critical, but it may be.  If so, I wouldn’t sail from Darwin before June 20.

Lots of reefs and islands around Cape York.  Just passed Tern Island.  Turtle Island and Harrington Reef ahead.

0945  Past Albany Rock light.  Amazing how the seas almost immediately smoothed, although the wind blows freely up the Adolphus Channel. 

Albany Pass was not on today.  The wind was blowing directly into it, which in the confused seas would have had the jib constantly on the verge of jibing hard.  So I kept a better wind angle and sailed a few miles east to the shipping channel.  Even so I had to hand steer the last five miles.  The wind was only 15 knots, but the charts show overfalls, and the tiller-pilot couldn’t keep up with the confused waves and currents.

We still have to sail west to round Eborac Island, which is off the tip of Cape York, before turning south to the anchorage.

Sunny morning.  Pleasant now we’ve passed into Torres Strait.

1100  Anchored at Cape York.  Windy.  Gusting 22. 

Always satisfaction  rounding a significant cape, even though this one isn’t quite Horn or Hope.

The two sailboats that came out of the Escape River, one ahead of me, and one, I think the Valiant, behind, have continued on to the west, probably to Thursday Island or direct to Darwin.  I’ll sail for Darwin tomorrow.   I like it here at continent’s end. 

1600  Warm, sunny, windy afternoon.  Did a few things to prepare the boat for sea:  topped up the canisters of oatmeal, powdered milk, and trail mix in the galley; checked the engine and bilge; went over the Monitor--found one of the wires I put through the bolts had fallen out; replaced it.  I was going to move the tiller pilot from deck.  It has done its duty the last 400 miles.  But realized we are still going to need to steer compass courses for thirty or forty miles to clear the islands and shoals in the strait.

Also shaved, forced myself to do my exercises--that’s twice this month--and showered.

It is about 700 miles to Darwin through the Arafura Sea.  After Torres Strait, we have three hundred miles across the top of the Gulf of Carpenteria. Then another 300 off Arnhem Land, then about a hundred southwest to Darwin.  Probably six days.

Enjoyed the sail up the coast.  Ready to leave it now and just sail.

Nothing and no one ashore here.  I went ashore when I was here in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.  Giant anthills and scrub.  There is a photo in THE OCEAN WAITS.

No sooner had I written the above than I stuck my head on deck and saw two four wheel drive vehicles on the beach and some people walking on the ridge of Cape York.  I don’t think there is a paved rode north of Cooktown.  Studying a map of Australia,  I am surprised to see that Cape York is further west than Melbourne.

In the cruising guide, I found mention of Wilderness Lodge on Cape York, started by an airline and now run by the local aboriginal tribe.  Presumably the people I saw were guests there.

Possibly an early movie and a last night on the v-berth until Darwin.

May 23:  Friday

Cape York to Arafura Sea

0610  Had a good night’s sleep, almost unbroken for eight hours.  Awake at 0500.  No need to make an early start, except to get the anchor up before the wind increases.  About 10 knots now.  But have to wait for more light.  Can’t just spin off downwind.  A shallow bank there, and a ledge I have to avoid off the south end of York Island.   Sky is lightening.  Don’t know if I’ll wait until full dawn.

0650  Anchor came up easily because we had tide counteracting wind, so almost no pressure on rode.  Again chain clean, probably because wind kept it off bottom, but anchor a full ball of mud and sand.

Under sail now heading west.  Tide two knots against us.  We’re sailing at 6.5, but only making 4.5 over bottom.  Not sure when it will change.  It was behind us off Albany Island yesterday, but the tides here are difficult to predict.  The closest place for which I have information is Possession Island five miles ahead, which has only one high and one low tide today.  The high was at 0100 and the low will be at 1500.  We will be long past it by then, but the ebbing current is against us.

Lovely morning.  Scattered showers predicted for Thursday Island, but not in evidence yet.

1100  Mostly in passage mode.  Monitor steering.  Spinnaker set (until further notice that means the small one).  We are in Endeavour Passage.  One last line of islets and shoals ahead, but there is lots of room between them.  Solar panels on deck.  Even the key removed from engine panel and brought below.  Been in place since Cairns.

Our course is west.  Cape York is a significant corner.  From Opua we had been going north.  Now it will be west all the way to Mauritius, assuming I keep on going.  A little south to Darwin.  Back a little north to Bali.  But essentially west.

It was interesting this morning to see the current catch and release us several times.  Near Possession Island, where Capt. Cook went ashore and claimed everything he had seen from Botany Bay to here, we sailed through a patch of turbulence that in rougher conditions would have been overfalls and as we came out the other side our boat speed leapt from 4 knots to 6.   In another mile it dropped back.  All the major islands are behind or to the north of us, and we seem finally free.  Instrument system boat speed and that from the GPS are both 6.2 knots.  Wind almost directly from astern.

I set the spinnaker a half hour ago.  Gave an increase of .5 knot. 

Sky still sunny with no sign of possible showers.

Temperature in cabin 83ºF, but with wind astern seems hotter.

1205  Wind has backed slightly north of east, so I jibed the spinnaker.  Easy as a jib. 

Noon position:  10º 49’ South   142º 07’ East.  Cape Wessel (the next land) 316 miles bearing 269º  Darwin 671 miles, but this is a direct distance crossing over intervening land and we will have to sail further.

Seas still smooth in the lee of Torres Strait islands.  Pleasant sailing. 

A sailboat is just visible on the horizon ahead and to the north of us.  May change my course later to keep distance between us tonight.

1630  Torres Strait Islands only a smudge on the eastern horizon.  A few clouds back there, but doubt there is rain.  Sky over us and ahead clear blue.  Wind light.  Making only 4 knots under spinnaker, which is frequently collapsing even in these slight seas.  Seem still to be losing .5 knot to current.

I called the sailboat ahead of me on my handheld VHF.  It is indeed the Valiant 40 being sailed by a solo sailor named Jim.  I didn’t get the name of the boat.  He did not go to Thursday Island, but anchored at Possession Island overnight, and is headed to Darwin.

A few hours ago I turned on the radar and measured him as being 3 miles ahead of us.  Just turned it on again and the distance is down to 1.5 miles, even with us only making 4.  He has up a cruising spinnaker.  I’ll pass him sometime this evening or night.  Also have some concern about shipping.    One ship passed well to the north an hour ago.

I’ve been finding water in the bottom of the engine compartment.  Less than a bucket a day.  With the solar panels and spinnaker off the quarter berth, I checked and found as I expected the stuffing box on the shaft needs to be tightened.  However, diesel mechanics recently modified my cooling system and positioned the water filter directly over the shaft.  Almost impossible to get a wrench on it.  I’m not going to try.  I’ve kept boats afloat that were taking on considerably more than a bucketful of water a day.

Time to go on deck and have a sunset glass of wine.

1840  Had dinner on deck.  A pleasing sunset; but not pleasing sailing.  We are losing a knot to current and making good only 3 knots or less.  12” waves are enough to roll the wind out of the spinnaker, which fills and collapses several times a minute.  Not so good. 

I’ve tried to narrow the angle to increase the apparent wind and stabilize the sail and, hopefully, increase boat speed, without success.

The Valiant is still a mile and a half ahead of us, but not directly.

Two ships passed this afternoon:  one close heading west; the other more distant heading east.

Papua New Guinea somewhere to the north; Australia somewhere to the south.  If the wind doesn’t strengthen, it is going to be a long night.

2105  Wind has increased and backed to east.  Boat speed up to 5.5 knots  by GPS.  Still showing a knot higher on instruments.  Spinnaker still set.  Our course is around 300º.  May put more separation between ourselves and other boat, or may jibe.  Valiant is a mile to the south.  Moon just above horizon.

May 24:   Saturday

Arafura Sea

0630  I didn’t get up at midnight last night because I didn’t get to sleep until after midnight.

The rising moon revealed a bank of clouds to the east, which I thought might carry rain and more wind, so I lowered the spinnaker and unfurled the jib.  While doing so the Valiant moved directly ahead of me.  The lights of two fishing trawlers were visible to the south.

A brief shower at 2200 was followed by a heavier one an hour later, with the wind backing ESE.  When it cleared, I looked out and found the Valiant’s light a couple of miles behind me.  And that finally, I hope, was that. 

I got to sleep around 0100.  Got up every hour or so.  Saw the lights of a few trawlers to the south.  A ship just passed.

Cloudy morning.  Wind of 25 knots increasing to 30 predicted for the Torres Straits the next few days.  Don’t know if it will reach us.  Would be the right direction to give us a fast ride, but doesn’t matter too much.  This is probably going to take six days.  Five would be fast; seven slow.  Presently making 5.5 SOG (speed over ground) on GPS under full jib on a very broad reach.

1210  Mostly cloudy this morning, but sun shining now.  Fell asleep while reading.  Jibed a couple of times.  Presently on starboard broad reach and trying to get north of shipping lanes before nightfall.  Ship just passed a mile or two north of us.

Noon position  10º 40’ South;  140º 04’ East.  Day’s run 121.  Cape Wessel  196 miles  bearing 265º.   Cape Don (the point at which we turn south for Darwin) 492 miles bearing 265º.

Wind 15 knots from the east.  Present boat speed 6.3 knots.  Course 292º.  

1610  Fell asleep again after lunch.  Clouds building from astern, but not solid.  Wind east at 16 knots.   Listening to AFL--Sydney versus Port Adelaide --on ABC North Queensland radio.

1815  Sydney Swans won.

Sky looks less threatening than a few hours ago.  I wouldn’t mind strong wind behind us.  Seas are 3’, but all over the place.  Coming from at least three angles.  Maybe more.  Wind still around 16 knots.  Sailing at 5 and 6 knots under jib alone.  I may go as high as 10º South Latitude before jibing back.

We are well within the next time zone  +9 GMT, but I am not going to change my clocks or ship’s time.  For whatever misguided reasons, Australia puts the Northern Territory and South Australia 9 and a half hours ahead of GMT.  I refuse to accept this aberration at sea.  So effectively we have daylight savings time:  late dawns and dusks.  Even though it is fall, feels like summer anyway.

1850  Went on deck and was confronted with a spectacular sunset.  Darwin routinely has magnificent sunsets because of the dust from the desert to the west.  Perhaps this was the same. 

Australia calls itself “The Lucky Country.”  It is in fact the sunny country.  Not Melbourne and Tasmania perhaps, but mostly.  A continent that is mostly desert and empty.

May 25:  Sunday

Arafura Sea

0720  Slept well until 0100, when I got up to look around and a squeak from the mast kept me awake for a couple of hours.  Tried tightening and loosening various things, including backstay and halyards.  Finally just went away of its own accord.

We have 20-25 knots of wind this morning.  I’ve reduced the jib a couple of times to enable the Monitor to steer something less than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.  Still making 6.5 to 7.5 knots.  Sometimes almost silently, as though we are standing still and not moving at all.  Waves mostly 3’, with a few bigger that slew us around.

Our course is higher than I want:  290º to 300º, but we have to sail that high to avoid accidentally jibes.  We are most of the way across the Gulf of Carpenteria and just above 10º South Latitude , which puts us 40 or 50 miles north of the capes we need to pass.  Also well away from shipping.  I haven’t seen any since yesterday afternoon.

Mostly sunny.  Scattered clouds.  Nothing threatening.   Three countries on the chartplotter screen, all less than one hundred miles distant:  Papua New Guinea,  Indonesia, and Australia.

1200  Noon position:  09º 50’ South; 137º 47’ East.  Day’s run  144 miles.  Cape Wessel 90 miles, bearing 222º; Cape Don 367 miles,  bearing 256º; Darwin 439.

Wind has decreased to 18 knots. and I’ve unfurled most of the jib.  Mostly sunny, but passing clouds sprinkling a few drops of rain.  Hardly enough to close the companionway.  After lunch I’ll jibe and see what course we can hold on port.

Two flying fish in cockpit this morning.

1430  Jibed and as I expected we can’t quite sail the course we want.  Now low instead of high, which will have to do.

A line of more impressive clouds developed astern.  I reduced the jib in anticipation of wind and rain, but it didn’t happen.  A few drops.  Cabin very hot with hatches closed, despite four ventilators and two ports in cockpit left open. 

The Arafura Sea is shallow and a light jade green in sunlight, which has just returned.

1810  Just looked out and at first thought I saw a sail, but it is the bridge of a ship to our north, maybe from Port Moresby.

Another band of clouds that looked as though it packed energy passed an hour ago with only a few drops of rain and no increase in wind.  We continue with full jib set.  There was enough rain for me to close the companionway for ten minutes.  If this keeps happening all night, I’ll have to leave it closed, which will make for uncomfortable sleeping.  Temperature in the mid-80ºs F.

May 26:  Monday

Arafura Sea

0700  I was standing in the companionway, looking at the pre-dawn sea and sky, when a wave startled me by breathing.  It took a moment for me to realize it was a dolphin.

A good night with only two showers that forced me to close up the boat:  one early, one late.  In both instances I fell back asleep and woke an hour later able to reopen the companionway.  Makes a great difference.

Conditions this morning unchanged.  Cumulus clouds keep coming and a few sprinkle rain for a few minutes.  They bring no significant increase in wind.

We sailed smoothly during the night, and I thought I would probably set the spinnaker today; but our boat speed is 7 and even 8 knots, so there is no point.  We aren’t sailing that fast and must be getting some current boost.  Seas more regular and less confused than they were.

Our course is still lower than I want.  May have to jibe offshore later today or this evening.

My morning routine now includes removing flying fish from the cockpit.  They are very fishy fish, so I use a paper towel.  Otherwise the smell lingers on my hands all day.

When they landed in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE’s cockpit, they generally landed on me, and once in RESURGAM, which had a similar interior to THE HAWKE OF TUONELA’s, one came through the skylight hatch one night and landed on me while sleeping on a settee berth.  

1025  Conditions much rougher.  While yesterday the sky was mostly sunny, now it is almost completely cloud covered and rain is falling all around us, though not at the moment on us.  Wind gusting 25-30.  I reduced jib to about ⅓, and we are still making 6 and 7 knots.  One good thing is that the wind has backed and we are sailing the desired course of 260º to 265º.

I dug out one of my small battery operated fans to use when companionway is closed. 

Had hoped to take a shower today, but doesn’t seem likely at present.

Finished reading CALIBAN’S SHORE, an interesting story of what happened to the survivors of a ship wreck on the African coast in 1782--almost all of them died after reaching the shore; and started Ted Hughes’s TALES FROM OVID, which so far is excellent.

1205  Sky brighter than it was.  No rain falling.  Wind still around 25 knots.  Added a little more sail area.

Noon position 10º 20’ South; 135º 21’ East.  Day’s run 147 miles.   Cape Don  221 miles,  bearing 255º.  Darwin 295 miles.

Three days out and we’re more than half way.  Two more days like the past two would see us there, however I thought at the beginning it would take six days and I think it still will. 

On both CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and RESURGAM, I anchored overnight once past Cape Don.  Might have anchored twice in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.  The final approach to Darwin passes through an area of islands and shoals that is best transited in daylight, so it might even be seven days to Darwin.  In any event, I’ll be there in less than the three weeks I anticipated as a minimum from Cairns.   Like all objects, once in motion I tend to keep  moving.

1640  Sky mostly clear.  Sunny.  No sign of rain.  Wind 20 to 25 knots.  Sea state confused.

I just came below after an hour on deck.  Fine spirited sailing at 6 to 8 knots.  Jib has five rolls in it, which reduces it to about ½ full size.  Waves average 3’, but some are 6’.  THE HAWKE OF TUONELA surfs down some of the larger ones.  I feel the rush, then look at the instruments, which I have set to display GPS data, and a second or two later, see 8.4 or 8.6 knots.  Some spray comes aboard, but no waves while I was out there.  With these temperatures wouldn’t matter.

We’ve come 30 miles south from our noon position yesterday.  Could go another 20 and still clear the outlying rocks and islands around Arnhem Land.  Won’t reach them until after dawn tomorrow, but I might be getting back to where I see more shipping.

Because the small population in much of the country is so scattered, Australian National Radio has strong transmitters.  I’ve received Radio Far North Queensland; Radio West Queensland; and today, still 300 miles distant, a clear signal from Radio Darwin.  The weather report said they may have coastal wind warnings by Wednesday, which makes me think we may carry this 20-25 knots all the way in.

May 27:   Tuesday

Arafura Sea

0710   The wind has backed ten or twenty degrees, so at 0400 I got up and adjusted our course from around 270º to around 245º, which is now the bearing to Cape Don.  Wind strength continues 20 to 25 knots.

Because the change in wind and wave angles is bringing more water aboard, I also furled more of the jib and closed the two ports in the cockpit.  This requires crawling to the aft end of the quarterberths.  Relatively easy on the one to port and difficult on the one to starboard, which is occupied by the liferaft, torn spinnaker, and dinghy.

I am considering setting the reefed main now that the wind is almost on the beam.

Our timing is off.  Cape Don is 101 miles ahead, so we will reach it after dark.  If we were there in daylight, I would anchor, and then continue across Van Diemen Gulf tomorrow.  Going to have to study the chart and/or hope the wind, which has been blowing at 20+ knots for several days, diminishes as the clouds have.  No rain last night.

We are still making 6-7 knots, heeled more but not rolling as we were with the wind further aft.

1050  Reefed mainsail set, along with a bit of jib.  Hot, hard work. 

Because RESURGAM’s boom had only two internal reef lines, I started having my mainsails made with two reefs, but put at what would normally be at 1 ½  and the third reef.  The sailmaker made this sail incorrectly, so I had to have a third reef put in later.  The sail is now set at the triple reef point.  All this is in preparation of turning the corner and being on at least a beam reach and possibly closer to the wind tonight.  We’re not going any faster, but the boat feels steadier and better balanced.

In some ways it is more difficult to put the triple reef in before raising the sail than to reef an already set sail, particularly under way.  Lots of extra material in the way that has to be manhandled.

While working on the sail I recalled a recent news item on Australian radio about a 67 year old man who was killed aboard his boat when hit in the head by the boom.  He and his wife had been cruising for several years and were a day or two out of Bundaberg on the way to Noumea.   She sent out a distress radio message and was lifted off the boat by helicopter, while a volunteer crew was put aboard to sail the boat back to the mainland.

Before setting the mainsail, I pumped the bilge and engine compartment.  Not much water in either, but enough to slop over the floorboards while heeled 20º.

Sunny day.  Few clouds.  Wind still 20-25.

No longer sailing downwind, so not as much breeze coming in through companionway.  Drinking a can of Lipton ice tea and have fan on.

1210  Noon position  10º 39’ South; 132º 50’ East.  Day’s run 151.  Cape Don 75 miles. bearing 239º.   Darwin 158.

We are 20 miles off Arnhem Land.  Water is getting shallower and waves steeper.  Also wind may have diminished slightly.  Going to set more jib to keep our speed above six knots.

At six knots Cape Don will be shortly after midnight.  Not sure what sleep I’m going to get tonight.

1650  A long afternoon.  We’re now within 10 miles of land, but can’t see it.  Steeper waves are an indication.  Sailing comfortably at 6 knots, except when one of the waves swings us toward the wind and the next wave.  We’ve taken heavy water aboard three or four times.

An Australian Customs airplane flew over us.  Did so in the Torres Strait as well.

We’re 42 miles from the turn at Cape Don.

Took a nap for an hour.

1830  Within the past hour wind has decreased to 18 knots and backed east, causing us to head toward an offshore reef, so I jibed to move us further offshore.  About to jibe back.  Saw a fishing boat to the south.  

May 28:  Wednesday

Van Diemen Gulf

0800  A wretched night that began well enough.

Darwin is known for beautiful sunsets, but last evening the sky was also beautiful to the east:  all lavender, deeper on a few wisps of high cirrus cloud.

The wind weakened enough as we nearer land, so that I changed from Monitor steering to the tiller pilot so we could follow compass courses around Cape Don and through Van Diemen Gulf.

I went to bed at 2000 and had a short nap.  At 2100 I got up to find a searchlight focused on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA.  I stood in the companionway wondering what it was all about until I heard someone saying something indecipherable over a loud speaker.  I turned on my handheld VHF and was talking to an Australian Customs vessel, which wanted the usual details.  I gave them to him and he left.

The wind was so light that I completely unfurled the jib.  We could have used the full main, but I refrained from shaking out the reef until we rounded Cape Don.  A good decision because when we did the wind rapidly increased to 20-25 knots.

Our course for the first fifteen miles was almost due south in order to clear a shoal to the west.  I had thought we might be close reaching.  Unfortunately we were close-hauled. 

Van Diemen Gulf is 90 miles wide, so there is plenty of room for chop to develop, and it did.  Even with a jib rapidly furled to storm jib size and a deeply reefed main, we were leaping off small waves and the anchor was making a racket at the bow.  That it was there was not a mistake this time.  I had intentionally left it in place, thinking that it would not be a problem on this downwind passage.  Even if I had removed it I would have replaced it as we neared land in case of a need to anchor quickly in an emergency.  It is held in place by the anchor chain and chain stopper and two snubbing lines, and the bow roller has a metal arch so the anchor can’t leap off the roller.

After a while the anchor stopped making noise.  As I learned this morning, a wave had managed to wedge it sideways on the roller.  I was able to free it.

I tried to sleep, but I don’t know that I had much success.  Maybe a few minutes here and there.

As we continued down the gulf, we were able to turn further off the wind, and finally a few minutes ago all the way to a beam reach.  I lowered the main and we continue under deeply furled jib.

Making the anchorage at the Darwin Sailing Club before nightfall is problematic, and I am very tired, so I plan to anchor behind a peninsula on the south side of the gulf, which I should reach in early afternoon.  I anchored there in both CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and RESURGAM

The strong wind warning mentioned a few days ago by Darwin Radio has just been officially issued.  But I already knew that.

1530  I moved my watch back a half hour to Northern Territory time.

We’re anchored off the west side of Cape Hotham, thirty-five miles from Darwin.  This is a low peninsula of red clay and mangrove trees.  Good shelter from the prevailing winds.  I showered even though I will get a real shower tomorrow or the day after, then sorted out the boat, from having to realign the metal arch that keeps the anchor on the roller and was pushed too far back by waves, to replacing a line used to secure the Monitor servo-rudder when lifted from the water.  Also pumped bilge and engine compartment.

There was a strong current against us, both while sailing and powering to the anchorage, so I did some work while getting here, including releasing the mainsail from reef lines and putting on its cover to cleaning the galley.

A lot of water came over the foredeck last night, and unfortunately too much of it found its way onto the v-berth.  I had pushed bedding far enough forward so it didn’t get wet.  I’ve tried to find the leaks without success, and will obviously have to try again. 

It really was a rotten night, but even today Van Diemen’s Gulf is not a pretty body of water:  a murky olive color, nasty jagged shallow water waves.  No sea snakes this time, but I think it has always been a hassle for me to cross.

Anchored at Cape Hotham in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE twenty-seven years ago I wrote a poem      

  off Arnhem Land

through the night

on unseen wind

and unseen waves

I sail unseen


in deserted coves

I anchor



I will not be here

to be unseen

and the people ashore

will not be here

not to see me

1840  This land is only a suggestion.  The peninsula of which Cape Hotham is the end is a sand spit several miles long uniformly covered with mangroves.  To the south, west and north, there are other similar smears of land, rising barely above and barely distinguishable from the water.

We sail among the smears to the west tomorrow.  The sailing distance to the anchorage off the Darwin Sailing Club at Fannie Bay will be 40 to 45 miles.  The first 20 west through one of three channels amidst islets and shoals; then 15 or 20 SSW, depending on which channel and short-cut I take; and a final 5 miles to the SSE.  At least these last two will be in the lee of land  rather than across open Van Diemen Gulf.

I have seldom gone a full night without sleep at sea.  In fact I don’t recall the last time.  It would have been decades ago.  I have gone months without ever sleeping longer than an hour at a time. 

I got some sleep last night, but not much.  Maybe a half hour or forty minutes from 2000 to my conversation with Customs at 2100.  Another similar period afterwards.  And then maybe a few minutes here and there.  Mostly I lay on top of the sleeping bag, listening to the anchor flop around or waves crash aboard, and got up to adjust sails and our course.  

I’m ready to go to bed now, but it isn’t even completely dark yet, and I know that if I do, I’ll be awake at 3 or 4 a.m.. so I’m trying to last until at least 8 p.m.

I notice the change in the ways I told time above.  At sea, perhaps as a vestige from days of celestial navigation, I tell time by 0000 to 2400.  In port I use a.m. and p.m.  So last night while sailing it was 2000; and tonight anchored here it is 8 p.m.  Particularly since this passage is over.  I’m losing the battle and retiring to the v-berth soon.

May 29:  Thursday

Van Diemen Gulf

0840  or 8:40 a.m.   Not sure how to put it since I’ve decided to remain anchored here today. 

Had a solid night’s sleep, from 8:30 last night to 5:30 this morning, only awake briefly around midnight.  Got up planning to leave at first light, but a weather forecast from Darwin with a continued strong wind warning changed my mind.  Winds of 20 to 25 knots are predicted for Darwin Harbor and should diminish tonight.  I’m happy here, so will wait until tomorrow.

A disappointment last night.  When I turned on my masthead LED anchor light, it did not come on.  This is a new LED and the third I’ve had up there.  Presumably the rough sailing has shaken it or a wiring connection loose.  Fortunately the much more important tri-color LED masthead running light still works.  I have an alternate anchor light, which I hung in the cockpit.  Don’t like it because it blinds me from seeing anything beyond the cockpit.

Sometime during the night another boat anchored in the shelter of Cape Hotham.  It is a mile from me and a half mile from shore.  Don’t blame anyone for being cautious when coming in after dark.

1:25 p.m.  Until the wind came up an hour or so ago, I was enjoying the quiet.  The only sounds were an occasional ripple of water against the hull and a murmur from the rigging as the boat slightly and slowly rose and fell.

The wind is not strong here.  Perhaps it is 20 to 25 knots in more open water. 

I’ve done some boat chores, including scrubbing the cabin sole in preparation for a coat of oil. Didn’t put the oil on today because I will do my exercises.  As it happens this will be the third Thursday in a row, as well as only the third time this month.  Put out the solar shower bag to get clean afterwards.  Not especially hot, and was comfortably cool this morning.

Finished Ted Hughes’s TALES FROM OVID.  He was Sylvia Plath’s husband.  The Sylvia Plath of THE BELL JAR fame, and a fine poet herself.  She grew up in Winthrop, Massachusetts, just across from the airport.  I’ve sometimes thought of her while looking out across the runways and water while waiting for a flight.  I hadn’t previously read Ted Hughes, who I think is now also dead, but will have to.  TALES FROM OVID is, as all the reviewers say, worthy of the original.

I started Patrick White’s VOSS, which I’ve read two or three times and consider one of Patrick White’s greatest two greatest novels--the other is THE VIVISECTOR.  Where else to read the quintessential Australian novel?

This copy is a used hardback dating from 1957.  I had to throw away the dust cover, which was irreparably moldy, but before doing so read the author blurb.  In those days they often ran the full length of the back flap and actually told you something about the author.   I’m not sure when or why the current laconic trend began:  “Irving Burlap is short and lives in Connecticut.”

6:10 p.m.    I can quantify perfect weather.  Temperature:  80ºF/26.6ºC.  Sky clear, blue, with a few scattered high clouds to provide definition.  Wind 10 knots.  If you are under sail and the wind is aft, make that 10 knots apparent. 

While I was on deck having a glass of wine and a dinner of freeze dry Moroccan Lamb, I thought:  this is perfect, and checked the instrument for the readings.

The landscape/seascape here, as in much of Australia, is reduced to essentials:  a low promontory of land, covered with a strip of green; water; and a big sky.

Brought in the solar panels in preparation for the move tomorrow to Darwin.  This is a passage that is over, but isn’t. 

Wind has died.  Very quiet, as it was this morning.

May 30:  Friday


1540  Anchor came up at the usual 0645.  Chain as well as anchor covered with mud.  I use a special bucket with a flap in the bottom so that it fills more easily when I drop it into the water, and this morning the flap broke off, so muddy chain came aboard.  At least it wasn’t smelly mud.

We powered for a half hour until there was enough wind to sail at 5+ knots.  I heard on the radio that the strong wind warning is still in effect, but had waited long enough.

Eight miles out we entered the Clarence Channel between various Vernon Islands and shoals.  The channels between them are wide, but most of the reefs and shoals on the chart were completely invisible.  I had both chartplotters working and followed them and kept watch on the depthsounder.  It was stay on deck sailing, ducking below only to check the chartplotters.

We had a strong 2 knot current with us and were making 7.5 knots over the bottom, so by 1000 we had covered 22 miles and made a course change from 270º to 223º, which brought us onto a beam reach just as the wind began to blow 20 to 25 knots.  I partially furled the jib. 

We lost some of the favorable current when we made that turn, and even with the increased wind, our speed dropped a knot.  Dangers were not close for two hours and I was able to retire to the cabin and get out of the sun for a while.

By noon we were in the outer reaches of Darwin Harbor and changed course to 180º, which brought us to a close reach.  All the land is low, but it caused the wind to vary, gusting 25, then falling to 12, which gave the tiller pilot problems.  I repeatedly furled the jib in the gusts, then had to unfurl it in the lulls, until finally 4 miles from the anchorage, I turned on the engine and steered for a marker that appears on both my charts, but not in the harbor, and the cartridge in the chartplotter was bought this year and should be up to date.

As I came within a mile of Night Cliff, just north of Fannie Bay, the location of the Darwin Sailing Club, and my destination, the water smoothed and the wind dropped to 17 knots, then 15, so anchoring was not difficult.

It was also not difficult because there aren’t many boats here.  There is a rally to Kupang later in the year, so perhaps most will be here then.  I see only three or four other boats that look like cruisers.  The Valiant is not among them.  Perhaps he also stopped along the way or has gone into one of the marinas. 

The two marinas are relatively new and because of the tides are entered by locks.  They would be convenient, but I expect to remain where I am.

While space is not a problem, tides are.  I arrived at high tide of 17.7’.  The low tonight is 8.06’   However that is not all.  We are at ¾ moon, and I had to take into account the greater tides at new and full moon.  On the chartplotter I found the greatest range will be June 6, when the high will be 23.8’ and the low 0.76’.  If my math is correct this means that I needed to anchor in at least 25’ of water today in order to have 1’ of water under my keel at that 0.76’ low.  I did, and am much further out than all but one of the other boats.  The shore is .85 of a nautical mile away.  That is a full regular mile.  Going to make the row from my mooring in Opua seem like nothing.  I’ve been here before and done it before.  But I don’t think I’ll be making more than one trip ashore a day.

Have started the transition to full harbor mode.  About to pump up the dinghy, but won’t go ashore until tomorrow morning.  Will try to work the tides, but also would like to go in before the wind comes up.  At least the row home will be downwind.