Thursday, July 12, 2007

Over the Top (Finally)

Current Location: Fanny Bay, Darwin, Australia
Current Position: 12 25.49 S 130 49.08 E
Next Destination: Kupang, Indonesia

We left the crazy current riddled Cairns anchorage for a peaceful night out by the Cape, only to be nailed with 30 knots and 1 mile of fetch. Oh well!! We had to get moving, we had three weeks to cover the remaining 1200 miles to Darwin, and the 1000 miles from Bundaberg had already taken us 35 days. We left the next morning with the intention of continuing all the way to Lizard Island. The seas started building mid afternoon so we tucked into Low Islets for a break. After attempting to anchor, and pulling the anchor out at our full anchoring reverse and a 30-knot gust, we decided to grab the free mooring ball. The government scatters them around the islands to protect the Barrier reef and provide more options for the local sailors; they usually are closer to the reef then anyone would dare anchor.

After a rolly night we headed north and pulled into Cape Flattery around 10pm and made it to Lizard Island after a quick morning hop. We had heard good things about Lizard Island, the hiking and snorkeling were supposed to be fantastic; in the right weather. We kept waiting and waiting for the skies to clear but they never did. We did get one patch of blue during our hike to the top of Cooks Lookout. It is so strange to imagine Cook’s navigation through these, then un-charted, reefs in a ship with not much maneuverability or windward capability. We also visited the Marine Research Station. They have been around for a while and get lots of traveling scientists studying the reefs around the area. It was fascinating to learn about the crown of thorns, global warming, and how the fertilizer run off affects the ecosystem. Just a one-degree change can have a dramatic effect of the coral polyps. It's scary to think about the permanent damage we are doing to the planet, and we've seen some if it first hand during our travels.

After a weeks wait, with no end to the crappy weather in sight, we left for our next destination. We left the anchorage around the same time as a Santa Cruz 55 and a Farr 65 -- I think Billabong had a small boat complex because she was flying (it also helped that I had just cleaned the bottom). We were doing 9+ knots until we got rolled sideways by one wave and nailed by the one behind it. KT was on the leeward rail standing in water above her knees and I think the spreaders came close to touching the water. Yikes!! We went the more protected northern route and ducked behind an island to drop the main, it was much more comfortable after that, until we noticed the freighter. It was turning down the channel we were heading through that was only 1/2 mile wide. They called on the radio and asked us to move more to starboard until we were sailing about two boat lengths away from the reef. After that EVERYTHING felt like we had plenty of room. We were making such good time we decided to continue on to Flinders. We arrived 45 minutes behind the big boats and covered 83 miles during the daylight. Not a bad little day sail!!

From this point on we just kept moving. Get up, sail all day, anchor for the night and do it all over again. The weather was still crappy, so we actually took a break from 25+ knot winds for a day in Margaret Bay. We had a KT vs. Chris card tournament and I made some more lures. We had drinks on Tulipanno (the Farr 65) in exchange for some spare oil he needed for his windlass. Turns out they had misplaced the seal when they serviced the windlass and all the oil had leaked out into the motor and left the gearbox dry. Billabong's Hardware to the rescue again. What a nice boat, it had a nice raised deck saloon (a concept I love) but there was so much headroom you couldn't see out the forward windows. Oh well I guess every boat has it problems. We got up early (4am) the next morning planning to sail to Escape River. The sun came out in the afternoon and the wind and seas were perfect, so we decided to keep going and going and going; all the way to Darwin. We had heard some horror stories of the rough seas in the Gulf of Carpenteria from boats ahead of us who saw 45+ knots and 15-foot steep seas. We had a full moon, clear skies and 15-20 knots on the stern quarter. Even with those winds, the seas were ugly. Not a single discernable wave pattern could be found. We got nailed from all directions and the boat never really settled into a nice rhythm across the gulf.

We arrived at Cape Don and anchored for a few hours to wait for the currents across the Van Demien Gulf. At first it didn't look like we would make it to the southern pass at the right time so KT went to bed and I kept us going towards our intended anchorage. The wind shifted to the NE making the bay choppy and our intended anchorage slightly exposed and just as I was about to pull in the current grabbed us, so I kept going. It steadily rose until we had 5 knots of current with us as we shot through the southern pass doing 9.5 knots over ground. It was rather scary because KT usually steers the boat to the GPS track while I stand on the foredeck looking for reefs etc, so I don't have that much experience steering the track. It was also pitch black with only a couple of lights to steer me through. I had picked a shorter route and I knew where the lights were, but I had to steer to port of the light I knew was on the starboard side of the island (it was taking me right towards the island). The current was so strong we were skidding out the pass slightly sideways. It would have been much wiser to pass through during the daylight hours. After I cleared the reefs I went down to wake up KT and let her know we were close to the anchorage ... in Darwin. Needless to say she was excited and we woke to our first sunrise over the Indian Ocean. We anchored way off the beach to account for the 20+ foot tides of Darwin and settled into getting prepared for the upcoming rally. It took us about a week to realize why everyone was always late. Darwin is half an hour behind! D’ouh!!!

We made it to Darwin with a couple of weeks to spare. You don't realize how big of a country Australia is until you have to sail part of it. The trip from Bundaberg to Darwin was 2200 Miles, took two months and even that felt rushed and that is only about ¼ of the circumference. Just the trip from Margaret Bay to Darwin was 840 Miles and took a little over six days. In the Pacific we could move from country to country for less miles, and all we got here was a half an hour time change and a new ocean. Although we are excited about the upcoming rally, it feels strange leaving the Pacific after such a long time. It's like we are saying goodbye to an old friend that we've shared a lot of good times with.

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