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ADDITIONS TO THE BLOG as of April 2017: Shamal and her Crew being Mum and Dad are in the Cayman Islands * Should you want to contact us, you can do so by clicking on the Contact Us tab below. * PLEASE subscribe to the Blog, so that new posts are emailed to your inbox.



28 September 2009

Thursday Island to Darwin

Hello Again from the rather warm and slightly humid Northern Territories

My last post finished as we had just arrived at Thursday Island. It is a small Island between Horn , Hammond and Prince of Wales Island but is the administration centre for the Torres Strait Islands. Horn Island is recommended as the better anchorage with protection from the southeast trade winds. We dropped the anchor only to find we were dragging so up it came again for us to reset it. Well in doing all that the anchor chain guide snapped – a small steel thing - so we were rather stuck, and far too close to yet another super yacht. We told him our problem and he was OK with that as he was moving on that evening – lucky for him as we weren’t going anywhere and during all of this the anchor set. It took the rest of the afternoon for us to change the anchor guide. Alec delved into his ‘ton of spare parts’ box to get out a new one. Thank goodness we had one and it was only because someone else had broken theirs and told us to carry one. Otherwise we would be pulling the anchor up by hand which would be rather hard work.
We phoned Quarantine for our clearance and were told to visit them the next morning. That proved an interesting trip. We took the tender the mile and a half across the channel where crocs, sharks and sand bars are, to the township on Thursday Island. Alec crossed the bars which were very shallow and I told him, it would be him and not me, who would get out and push if we got stuck. There was a bit of a breeze blowing but we were going with it so all was OK. Quarantine were good and did not want to come aboard to check our stores, but we were given a form and every food item we purchased had to be from accredited retailers, and we had to keep the dockets which have to be shown to the officers before leaving the Island. It is because we are so close to the Papua New Guinea Islands and the Aussies don’t want any plant or animal diseases coming in!! Lots of boaties miss out this area because they think it is all too much of the hassle which is such a pity as it really is an interesting place to visit. The local people are quite different from the Aboriginal people being a mixture of Melanesian Polynesian and even Asian. It was once a huge pearling centre and the local cemetery shows just how dangerous that occupation was. Today it is the seeded pearl culture farms that you come across tucked away in bays. We went into one of the main pearl shops, just to have a look, and I came out with the most beautiful ‘golden’ pearl. Poor Alec, he was not even keen to come into the shop in the first place! We then wandered the town just to see what was there, and read the History Boards as we came across them. About mid afternoon when decided to head back to SHAMAL. Well this was the interesting part all right. The wind had got up to a good 25kts and the waters in the Channel were sure dancing along at a good rate. We had wind against tide! We should have taken the local ferry which runs about every hour between the two Islands, but no Alec saw someone else crossing over in the morning before us and said all would be OK!! My swimming to date in these northern waters around Oz has been pretty much nil what with all the creatures both great and small that inhabit them, but this was about to change. I did not get into the water, it came into the tender!! We did not get to the stage where we needed to bail water (but it did get all drained out once back up on the davits) We were soaked. All I can say is thank goodness the water was 32 degrees c. And thank goodness I had not stocked up with supplies.

As we had to make the trip back the next morning I told Alec we will take the ferry, which we did. We took ourselves on a walking tour up Green Hill (which was totally brown as it is the dry season) to the fortifications first built in 1891 as there were rumours the Russians were going to invade, and then upgraded during WW2. Today having been restored it is one of Aussies most intact forts. The underground magazines have been turned into a fascinating museum, with a great shell collection! We went back into town and pick up an extra paper chart to help us navigate our way across the top of Arnhem Land for a horrendous price. We got our supplies and went back to Quarantine with all our dockets to tell them we would be on our way in the morning.

Friday 4th September sees us up anchor and motor sail through Normanby Sound with a really good push as the tide was going with us, and on out into the Arafura Sea heading south west for Gove, a bauxite strip mining town on the north eastern corner of Arnhem Land which will take us out of Queensland and into the Northern Territory. Our planned two day and two night trip of around 334nm turned into a three day and three night trip of 362nm. We left with a hiss and a raw with winds between 17-25kts and seas climbing to 4mts the first night, which SHAMAL handled beautifully surfing along giving us a good push, but, by the next morning the winds had dropped to around 10kts, so out came the MPS and we had a lovely run till around lunch time when we more or less were only drifting along. By the evening we had taken down the MPS and were motoring. Next morning the main went up again but it really only acted as a sun shade!! We were hoping to catch some breeze but it was not to eventuate for the rest of the crossing. Murphy’s Law, as we anchored in Gove at 0815 on the 4th morning a lovely 11kt breeze started blowing, and was steady for the rest of our time there.

Gove, well to you kiwis, Alec said the only way to describe it, is like Tokoroa. A real Company town! Need I say any more! Yes it has its problems with unemployment too. We met a few of the Indigenous People at the local Yacht Club – those who were aloud in, and I don’t think they had any real interest in boating of any kind. Just the bar. The town is ten Km’s away from the Yacht Club and the only way to get there is to hitch a ride. Our ride in was with a very friendly bunch of Aboriginal people. The shops had bars on the windows or shutters that were pulled down once they closed. They were all run by Europeans which we found a little strange, but during the ride back to the Club it was with a white lady who had lived in the area for 30 years who explained the workings of the community. If people don’t want to work, and don’t have to because of hand outs from Government and Royalties paid to them by the mining company, why work! Everyone in township was most helpful and they had a great supermarket for supplies.

The Gove Yacht club was great. Very basic but a great bunch of people. Alec was concerned by the number of ‘drowned’ boats sitting around the bay. Four of them were in the vicinity of the main anchorage. We were later told they had not survived cyclones which had passed through the area in years gone by.

After two nights in Gove it was time to start moving again and head out ‘over the top’ as the locals call it. Despite its remoteness the coastline is still an interesting one with sandy beaches, mangroves, mud flats, numerous estuaries and rivers, Islands and tons of reefs. The charts for this area all have ‘ inadequately surveyed’ written on them at different stages of your trip, so we have decided day sailing along this coast line is the way to go. One is also meant to have a permit to land anywhere along this coast as it is all Aboriginal Lands. As the permit takes anywhere between 10 days and two months to acquire we did not have time to get one before we left Gove, so have been using our discretion as to where we go ashore. To date we have had no problems – mostly because there is no one there!!

Our first days sail was a short one of only 35nm to Cotton Island. We needed to play the tides the following day to pass between two Islands – an area called ‘The Hole In the Wall’ or ‘The Gugari Rip’. It has quite a reputation as being a notorious passage that requires very careful navigational skills because of the rips and whirlpools etc especially if you try to pass though at the wrong stage of the tide. A handout from the Gove Yacht Club actually says that if you try to pass through on the wrong tide “you will not have time to relax and enjoy the scenery and would probably require a change of underpants when you a spat out the other side”!! The tidal rip can get up to 12 Kt’s. So with all this information in hand we make sure we have our tides correct and entered, main down and only jib up with both motors on in idle, prepared to take on the monster. We passed through the mile long passage in just a few minutes with a maximum speed of 11.3kts, 6.5kts of that being current. Well the Aussies don’t know about our French Pass in NZ. It has real whirlpools that you can see and also strong currents. Another short sail took us into Guruliya Bay – Raragala Island. We went ashore to stretch our legs.

Next day a 50nm sail to Cape Stewart. A mono came in behind us called “Catspaw”. A lovely English couple who are on their trip around the world. So far they have taken 14 years, but this is because they spend half the year on their yacht and then the other half back home in Portugal. They invited us over for sundowners. Our night stop there was a very rolly one as the wind had changed to the East and rather big waves came into the bay.

We then sailed on the next day together the 39nm to Liverpool River. We sailed about 9 nms up the river and anchored off the boat ramp outside the settlement of Maningrida. Here we took the next day off and visited the township. A very typical Aboriginal outback settlement which was most interesting. The earth is a rich red colour and the roads are hot and dusty. There were some tarmac roads, but lots of bush track as well. There is a European community of about 100 people living there as well who run the different amenities like the school, shop (which was well stocked and we were able to get fresh fruit and veges at a reasonable price), airfield, arts centre etc. It even has an old peoples centre, and a coffee/lunch shop. We had no trouble going ashore and no one asked to see a permit. Everyone was very friendly. We have been told so many different stories about how unwelcoming the “top end” can be but to date we have had no problems. We visited the Arts Centre where the couple off ‘Catspaw’ bought some works. We also had a chat with the husband of the Head Teacher who said the School has a roll of 500 but at the moment only about 100 are attending. The rest of the students have gone ‘Walkabout’, but will be back during the Rainy Season as a lot of Arnhem Land is covered in water and the tracks are closed due to flooding. Also being hot and humid the school is air conditioned. We also met a lady with a baby kangaroo wrapped up in a blanket. Muma had been dinner!!

The following day we sailed on to the Gouburn Islands some 69nm away. We anchored in the shelter of lovely cliffs which were radiating the most beautiful colours in the setting sun. I can see where the Aborigines get their colours from for their art works. We did not go ashore here as the sun was going down and the crew of ‘Catspaw’ came over for drinks.

Day 8 since leaving Gove has us sailing a 45nm leg to Valentia Is. Just south west of Cape Cockburn. Again another pretty anchorage but we could not go ashore here as it is one of the places you just can’t!! The next morning we up anchor – NOT – CAN’T – BOTHER!!! – we end up with Peter’s help from ‘Catspaw’. Basically the chain keeps binding up on the sprocket making it impossible for us to bring it up on the electric winch so it will be a manual lift each time we anchor till we reach Darwin and sort this one out!! After an hour and a half (good thing we have time on our side) the anchor is up and we are under way with the MPS up heading for the inside passage between the mainland and Crocker Island to arrive in Raffles Bay by 2.00pm. Late afternoon we all go ashore to stretch our legs. Oh how the water is so cool and enticing, but we only dip our toes in and just try to imagine how refreshing a quick dip would be. We have been watching something dark coming to the surface about a 100mts out and cannot make out what it is. Croc or not!!

The next morning as the winds are still good we leave ‘Catspaw’ as they are having a lay-over day and we head on out for Port Essington, another 30nm run. They tell us the following day when they arrive that they spotted a croc swimming very close past their boat just after we left! I still have not seen one! In Port Essington we anchor off Black Point at the bottom end of this inlet and go ashore to check in with the local Ranger. The next day when ‘Catspaw’ arrives we all go ashore to visit the local museum and have a walk. This time it is a shark which Alec and Peter spot that keeps us out of the water. I am going insane not being able to go for a swim.

The next day we sail up the inlet for about 10nm into the inner harbour to the site of the ruins of Victoria – a settlement which the British tried to establish here in 1838. We decided we would go ashore and visit the ruins the following morning when it was a little cooler. Then the next morning around 7.00 I saw my first croc!! He swam within a metre of our boat - then a second!! Help we had to get ashore in the inflatable. We have heard stories about crocs and inflatable’s! An hour later we scooted across the bay and landed on the beach with no problems. We then wandered the ruins of Victoria which were most interesting. The Settlement was the third at the ‘top end’ which the British tried to establish, but in 1849 they abandoned this one as well, and those who had not died of disease exhaustion or despair, left. It is impossible to imagine how anyone could have survived here those 11 years in the middle of nowhere, with next to nearly no contact with the outside world, supplies which were most unreliable and could only arrive by sea, water shortage a major problem, and to top it off one of the harshest climates on earth. As we wandered the ruins one could not help but feel sadness for the terrible struggle these people had. The cemetery holds a quarter of the residents who tried to make a go of it.

We move on out of Port Essington with ‘Catspaw’ a couple of days later and head on around to Cape Don where we anchor in a small bay for the night before making a 3.30am start, to make the run down and into Darwin. In this area one needs to work the tides or you may find yourself going backwards. Not quite, but there are very strong currents in this area so it is much easier to ‘go with the flow’. So we had an early night for our early start. Fat lot of good that did us, for as from around 11pm we had the most incredible lighting storm which was still going on when we upped anchor and left. That was also when the rain started. A great down pour which washed all the red dust off our boats. The rainy season is just about to start and we got a taste of what is to come for the region. This will carry on till about April. With our leg down to Darwin we had a we had a mixture of winds from all directions, to no wind at all , then towards the end the wind increased and with a 5kt current and were scooting along at 11kts into Fannie Bay where we are now anchored while we sort out a marina.

So here we are at the end of our Australian Leg. It has been a fascinating one. We have gained more experience, met a great bunch of people, seen some amazing places and covered many more miles. We will do the usual repairs and maintenance and restock the boat while awaiting the arrival of our daughter Brigitte around the 2nd October, who is joining us for the first stages of our next leg up into Indonesia. She is coming as far as Bali.

So will sign out for this letter

Love to you all

From the Admiral and the Captain

The Admiral has allowed me (the Captain), to write a few words. Sailing up the Queensland Coast and across The Top to Darwin, one word describes this sailing area and that is ’Shallow’. One has to keep an eye on the depth at all times. Many reefs, shoals etc to avoid. This time of the year the South East Trades are fairly constant but have a more Easterly component once rounding Cape York. Downwind sailing all the way and the Spinnaker MPS is in use day after day. The main and jib have been nearly surplus.

The Queensland Government Maritime Safety Dept prints a book of Tide Tables which includes Boating Safety Information, Fishing Guide etc. A use full book to have on board. We noted a couple of interesting requirements compared with N.Z. - Operator Licensing : A valid licence is required to operate all recreational boats powered by a motor of more than 6 hp. To obtain a Recreational Marine Drivers Licence you must be aged 16 years or older. Registration : All boats fitted with a motor or auxiliary of over 4 hp require registration when on the water in Queensland.

Exemptions from Registration : Tenders to registered recreational boats are exempt from registration provided they are :

Used within 2 Nm of the mother boat and marked externally with the word “ tender “ as well as the mother boat’s allocated registration numbers, minimum 75 mm high.

With the above we haven’t been asked once to produce our registration papers etc.

Speed limit 6 Kt’s rather than the N.Z. 5 Kt’s around marina’s wharf’s etc.

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