Dream Run To Lizard Island

I remember reading Smiley’s blog and getting all jealous about their good run to Lizard. Well we are 40nm out, it’s 7am on Sunday morning and I’m no longer the least bit jealous. The SE trades return this afternoon according to the grib’s and buoyweather; by which time we will either be at lizard or close enough to declare victory.

48 hours ago, We left the Cape (on Friday morning at 8.30am) thinking we would get to Albany Passage right on high tide so we could catch the ebbing tide through the passage. Nice thought: but even at 11am as we tacked our way down the channel, we still had 1.5kts of current against us. The skipper was getting a little exasperated, but there was nothing he could do, so we pushed through and eventually broke out into the Coral Sea.

Much of the day we were tight hauled, having to throw in little tacks every time we got too close to the mainland. As the day progressed the winds gradually turned east and we were able to maintain the one tack. And the tide that deserted us was suddenly there giving us a free knot or two of speed.

That night, we weaved our way through numerous reefs and small sandy cays, keeping out of the way of what seemed to be a continuous procession of large, fast moving ships going both north and south. The wind died and the swell dropped to a reading of dead flat or less. We all enjoyed our night watches, with the moon out in its glorious full moon-ness (almost) and a sky full of stars.

Saturday morning came with a lovely sunrise over the water (no more sunsets over the water for us as Michael pointed out) and the wind swung gently SW for a while. Then back to SE, then to E then to NE. Jackpot!!!!

As we passed Portland Roads, mobile and internet came back and we were able to communicate with the outside world for a while. It was good to be able to chat with Cas.

Then we started to stack on the miles. We were averaging 7 knots, pushed on by the 12-15kt NE’ers (with a little help from “our boilers” as Dragan calls them). Would have been nice to turn the boilers off, but we worked out we could get to Lizard by Sunday afternoon (instead of monday morning) if we kept up the pace – so on they stayed. At one stage during the early evening Dragan said he was doing 9.3kts. Then the wind died and we dropped back to 5’s and 6’s, helped on by a bit of tide.

Just passed Cape Melville with its spectacular granite mountain scenery dropping down to the sea.

So here we are heading along nicely towards one of the iconic cruising destinations in Australia.

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On Top of Australia

After successfully negotiating the Gulf of Crapenteria (as Magda so cleverly put it), we had a lovely sail (sans motors) through Zuna Strait and Boat Harbour Channel (where the tidal current reverses) and then past Thursday Island to our anchorage in the lee of Horn Island – much better in the strong SE winds than anchoring at TI. The other problem with anchoring at TI is that you cannot take any fruit and veggies back to the mainland because of quarantine restrictions.

Then it recommenced bucketing down, different to down south rain – more volume and at times horizontal. Camelot was getting a good wash.

Next morning it wouldn’t let up and by 10 o’clock we decided to don our wet weather gear and brave a dingy ride to Horn Island. After visiting the local supermarket, we paid $5 each way (for the cheap ferry – beware there is an expensive one) and caught the cheap local ferry across to Thursday Island (beware there is an expensive one that charges 3 times as much).

Thursday Island was a lovely little place. Old style variety shops full of everything except what you want. We tried desperately to buy some 10mm double braid to replace our second reef line. They had 8mm and what looked like 12mm but no 10mm. Asked at one shop whether they had any on their computer system and they looked blankly at me.

No luck on getting anything for the Halloween Party on Lizard Island either.

We had lunch at the Torres Strait Pub, drawn in by their sign that said “Australia’s Top Pub”. $15 for a crayfish pie – can’t beat that. After popping our nose in each shop, we headed for the local supermarket and did our provisioning for the leg down to Cairns.

Then it was back to the ferry and into the dingy and back to Camelot.

However Camelot wasn’t exactly where we had left her. She was dragging back dangerously close to a trawler called Fishalot. We had 60m of chain out and we’d been there 24 hours but these tides are vicious, running through at 2-3kts and you swing 180 degrees with each change of tide – the last one of which must have pulled the anchor free.

Robin from Flashdancer, a 46” Lightwave Motor Cruiser. Had come across with some fenders and we got there just in time. On with the motors, up anchor and over to another spot. Firmly in the one spot I hopped in the dingy and headed over to Flashdancer with a bottle of white wine. Robin and Sylvie welcomed me on board and I ended up drinking some of their beer and wine. They are a great couple and I enjoyed talking to them about their diving adventures, their amazing photos and my next adventure to France, as Sylvie is from Brittany where I am picking up La Mischief, having done a lot of yacht delivery work out of Sables D’Olonne.

Next morning, we had a leisurely start as we had a fuel booking at 10.30am at the dock. The dock was a bit challenging – the middle pylon had fallen inwards and there was the usual 2-3 knot current running through it. Never the less, the crew did brilliantly, putting up with my shouting and we filled up at $1.64 a litre – not bad for way up here.

Then it was off to Seisa for the night. With three reefs in we battled our way down Boat Harbour Channel. In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to the wind and less attention to the tides and gone round the back of Horn Island – somehow the skipper had got a little too focused on the tides.

Anyway we made it okay and got to Seisa at about 3pm, dropping anchor in a lovely little harbour between Red Island and the Coast. After reading about the memorial to the guy that was taken by the croc on the beach here, we braved the dingy and headed for shore.

This is the main caravan park on the Cape and there were a few tourists around. After checking out the supermarket and buying some icecreams, we headed to the fishing club – but alas no Karaoke tonight. Instead we chatted to a couple of other yachties and power boaters who were heading to Darwin and some guys who were up there building a child care centre – a lot of which had just arrived on a barge tied up to the dock.

Next morning, it was off to the top of Australia – the Cape – via Possession Island. We had a lovely sail around to Possession Island, where Captain Cook took possession of Australia for Britain. We landed on the main beach and set off to find the memorial to Cook, but soon became apparent that we wouldn’t be doing it from this beach.

We upped anchor and sailed around the corner and there it was, on a cliff face staring at us. Oh well, we got reasonably close.

Then it was a bit of a bash over to the Cape into a brisk SE. After negotiating some shallow water – my fault for trying to cut the corner – we found the best spot to anchor in 3m of water, still well out from the beach.

We left Dragan to do a phone interview and headed in with cameras loaded. The tide was out making a beach landing difficult, but we found a place up near the rocks where we didn’t have to pull the dingy 100m through 6 inches of water and took her in there.

We then climbed up the rocks and found the obligatory sign saying “You are Standing at the Top of Australia” and snapped away. Climbing to the tob of the cliffs we enjoyed a stunning view – my first glimpse of the East Coast of Australia – quite an achievement having sailed round from the West Coast. Felt like one of those Spanish Conquistadors who’d sailed to the East Coast of the Americas and had climbed across the Panama peninsular to lay his eyes on the Pacific for the first time.

Back at the boat, Dragan had finished his interview and went with Darren to do the same.

A busy day exploring the top of Australia.

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Off to Queensland via the Gulf

After Darren had finished his interview on Friday afternoon, we powered up the engine and set course for a waypoint at the entrance to Endeavour Straits – 318nm as the crow flies. However our crow was a little bit under the weather and as a result zip zagged his way along the rhumb line.

Shortly after we left I’d gone to bed to get some shut-eye and not 10 minutes later I heard a swoosh of water. I got up to find the front window had not been shut properly and a wave had got under it and came into the cabin. Magazines, charts, seats table, and floor all got a good salt water wash. Spent the rest of the afternoon rinsing and drying everything out.

After we got to deep water things settled down and we got down to the business of tacking our way across the gulf. The wind swung ESE and that wasn’t too bad an angle and reduced our need to tack. The winds were quite light, barely getting above 12kts and the swell was light and we were able to leave our main unreefed.

The next day, Saturday I believe, was much the same with light winds and little swell. We consulted the road atlas and found we were in Queensland – beautiful one day, perfect the next!

Not a ship or boat in sight, just the daily visit from the customs plane being the highlight of the day. That night, the wind completely dropped off to next to nothing and we partly furled in the jib and motored sailed directly towards our waypoint. Then within half an hour of Dragan coming on shift the wind went from 0 to 20 knots, the rain came and the swell grew. Everyone got up and we reefer down.

Sunday morning started off reasonably rough with a short 2m swell but turned out nice as the sun came out and the wind died off.

By late afternoon it was positively balmy and given we needed to slow down a little to make coast fall after sunrise, we decided to turn the motors off and drift along at 2kts listening to Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.

But as usual it did not last. Once again we went from zero knots to plenty in the blink of an eyelid. So in went 3 reefs again and we bounced our way along for the last 50 nm to Endeavour Straits.

Morning came and the wind and swell dropped as we neared land and up went the full sail. And then down came the rain as the wind swung north. Great day to be sailing south.

So here we are sailing through Endeavour straits towards our anchorage at horn island (opposite Thursday island) with everyone checking their phone and Internet after 3 days at sea.

So far we have done 366nm and have another 30+ to go until we drop anchor. Looks like an interesting day though. Just went through a squall and have got the 3rd reef in again. Plenty of rain to wash Camelot down.

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Groovy Gove

We had it to Gove after a beautiful sail out of our anchorage at Wigram Island, through the passage between Wigram and Cotton Islands, over Malay roads, through the English Company Islands via another narrow passage between Bromby Island and Point William and around past Cape Wilberforce. But enough of the name dropping – I know I’m only boring you.

We had a lovely 15kt breeze and it reminded me a lot of sailing through the Whitsundays – only with a few more crocs.

We got to Gove about lunchtime and headed past the wharf and around to the yacht club in Inverell Bay. We found a place to drop anchor, had some lunch and Dragan and I headed off to check out the yacht club. Knew it was closed because Cas had already looked it up on the net and told us so. But we thought we’d check it out anyway as we needed to get the lay of the land vis-a-vis a laundry mat and transport into Nhulunbuy, a 10 minute drive away.

The first thing we found out was there is no dingy dock and a low tide of 0.0m is not a good time to dingy into Gove Yacht club. Our feet and legs did a great disappearing act in the soft mud up to our knees. Luckily there was a boat ramp that we could aim for to wheel the dingy up further.

Whilst there we ran into peter and dell off Pacific eXpress who gave us a great run down of the place. They had returned from 3 years cruising Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia and at their very last fuel stop in Indo they had picked up dirty diesel. They sailed into Gove but couldn’t tack their way to the Customs Mooring so they rang up for a tow. A 500m tow cost them $500 – they were not impressed. And to cap it all off their outboard had conked out so we needed to give them a tow back to their boat.

Next morning it was up early (no not really) and into the yacht club (at high tide) to meet Manny of Manny’s ute hire (a peter and dell excellent recommendation). We dropped manny off at his house in town and off we went shopping.

But first we needed to visit the Department of Justice and get a free permit to buy alcohol. Then we found out all the bottle shops don’t open until 2pm (don’t they know its low tide!).

So we did our food shop at woollies (prices were okay – were expecting worse) and drove this back to the boat. Then we worked out when we would have 1.2m of tide either side of low tide and planned our dingy rides around this. Luckily the yacht club was open to fill in the time!

We took out washing in, joined the yacht club — $10 a week plus $100 key deposit – and then headed back into town armed with our permits to stock up with beer and wine. Nhulunbuy seems like quite a nice spot with plenty of facilities, albeit a touch remote. Lots of young family lies here judging by the number of school kids heading to swimming lessons. And the kids ride their bikes to school – I like that.

With washing done and beer bought, manny dropped us off at the yacht club and we hit the bar. They served a nice dinner and we sat and talked to a few yachties who were stuck there awaiting spare parts (including Peter and Dell who needed a salt water pump for their Yanmar).

Our only damage is a dingy whose glue is not liking the humidity and whose handles and row locks are parting company; as well as a frayed no 2 reef line which we need to replace in TI.

Friday morning we upped anchor and headed to the fuel dock. We were pleasantly surprised to find that diesel was $1.61 a litre – despite several guide books saying it was the dearest in Australia. At half the price of dog leg creek I don’t think so!

Then we were off – sortish. After giving Camelot a good wash at the fuel jetty, we rounded the corner to see a ship being loaded with bauxite dusk going everywhere. we tried to give it a wide berth by going the long way round. We sailed south through the strait between Bremer island and Nhulunbuy so that Darren could do a phone interview for a job he was after.

Then we were off – 340nm to the Cape across the Gulf of Carpentaria.

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Through a small Hole in a large Wall

And now for one of the highlights of the trip.

We upped anchor at 3pm and after a small detour back to pick up a water bottle that fell overboard, we headed off to the western entrance of the famous Hole-in-The-Wall, otherwise known as the Gugari Rip. It’s a very narrow passage between Guluwuru and Raragala Islands, no more than 2nm long but only 64m wide in places and 10 or so metres deep. The tide can literally rip through there at 9kts, but we were aiming to go through around slack tide. The guide books say go through 5 and a half hours before high tide in Gove, which was at 4.12pm.

Unfortunately our anchorage was 18nm away at Wigram Island and the sunset was at 6.20pm so our strategy was to dip our nose in around half an hour earlier and see how we went. Our strategy seemed to work as we got a small whirly current of 0.5kt against us but with the Skipper on the wheel with one eye on the chart plotter and the other eye on the ever closer cliff faces we made it through (easily). My crew tell me it was spectacular!

Whilst the western side was full of nice beaches and low lying limestone outcrops, the Eastern side was dramatic high cliffs dipping down into a swelly ocean.

Now it was a race against the sun to get to our anchorage before dark. With two reefs in and both motors churning away, we made it about 20 minutes after sunset with just enough light to make out the lay of the land and dodge some fish traps on the way in. What an afternoon. Another excellent adventure for Camelot and her crew!

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Exploring the Wessels

We set off from refuge bay early-ish after having to wake up Dragan who we’ve discovered is in training and on track to win the sleeping gold medal at the next bedtime olympics. Every time we look around for him he’s asleep. In his defence he’d just managed two 3 hour night watches the night before.

The first couple of hours were beautiful sailing with the 10kt wind at 60 degrees and the current pushing us along at 7knots. Then it went a bit north of east and we were forced to tighten up and look to do a bit of tacking. Wrong way around Australia again!

We finally made it to our anchorage on Raragala island, just around the corner from the Hole in the Wall just after 5pm, after travelling 48nm on a 40nm route – 8nm of tacking (at least). Along the way we passed Stevens Island – geez I wish they would get the spelling right.

After a rather rolly night on anchor where the swell seemed to roll in with the tide rather than the wind, we all had a sleep in (some more than others) and had a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs on the BBQ. Whilst we were waiting for a favorable tide (5 and a half hours before Gove HT according to the books), we had a nice walk along the beach and along the top of the interesting limestone cliffs.

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Hermit Crab Feeding Frenzy

Round the Top of NT

We left seven spirit bay with the intention of getting as far as we could before the SE change came in.

We were not far out into Port Essington when we saw and then heard from a nice looking Customs and Border Protection boat. After giving them our name, rank and serial number we questioned them about mobile reception as we hadn’t had any since Cape Hotham. There suggested the only two places we would get reception before give was Liverpool river and elcho island (which proved absolutely true).

Leith at the resort had said we should catch fish around Smith Point sailing out of Port Essington (which we did but the small Mack jumped off) and through Bowen Straight (which we didn’t). However after Darren and Pam’s first overnighter ever (well down guys) in calm conditions with bugger all wind, we woke up the next morning to beautiful conditions and caught a small Mack followed by a large Mack, all within 5 minutes of one another.

We were making good progress and got near enough to Liverpool River for some Internet access. Dragan downloaded the BOM weather forecast and it suggested storms and winds gusting to 35kts. This didn’t all together excite the crew so it was quickly decided that another night out was not first choice on the menu and so it was decided to head for Haul Round Island.

The wind was browsing NE and we found good shelter. About 1.30am a second cat came in and anchored beside us. We spoke to Vaga Con Dios in the morning and it turned out they had been anchored at Cape Stewart and it had become untenable above 15kts, at which time they up anchor and retreated back to Haul Round Island.

Later in the morning the SE trades kick in and we both retreated further to Entrance Island, funnily enough at the entrance to Liverpool River, to enjoy a day of Internet and mobile access whilst we considered our options.

Yega con Dios passed on some waypoints that would get us through the tricky shoals around the Crocodile Islands but this was not an option as we needed t pass through these during the day and to do this we would need need to anchor for the night at Cape Stewart and this was not an option as the SE trades were in for the next week at least.

Vaga Con Dios came up with a plan to wait until after the SE trades died at which time they would leave Entrance Island at night so they could navigate their way under motor through the shoals around the Crocodiles in daylight.

This was obviously a tricky navigational challenge. In the end we came up with a plan the leave the next morning with a long tack out to sea around the top of the crocodiles in deep water and another long tack back as the wind went E and hopefully even NE back to Refuge Bay.

It turned out to be a long 100nm sail – over 120nm with a few extra tacks – back we made it ok just after lunch time the next day (Sunday). Our first real taste of going the “wrong way” around the top and battling the SE’ers. Oh to be going the other way with that lovely 15kt breeze.

After dropping the pick in 4m of water and having a quick coffee, we set out in the dingy to see Bundula Village. We thought their was an artist here we could visit but it turns out he was at a funeral. We were met on the beach by a guy named Andrew who didn’t speak hardly any English and he invited us up to his village to meet with his uncle Tony. Tony and his wife were lovely and we had a good chat about all sorts of things. It turns out they both work at the local school and had taken school kids down to Melbourne and the Gold Coast and as the school principal was from Perth, they were coming to Perth next year. I left them my contact details – lets hope I’m around.

We were hoping the Internet access would be good but no such luck – so no posting any blog entries until Gove I suppose. I gather smiley must have stopped at the main settlement on the bottom of Elcho Island where the shops are (two chinese takeaways according to tony and his wife) as they got good mobile where they stopped.

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