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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Seven Spirit Resort

Seven Spirit Eco Resort is located in Coral Bay in Port Essington. We’d read Smiley’s Blog when they got caught there with an autopilot problem and we thought it would be a nice place to hang out for a day or so.

We dropped anchor right outside the resort, which is on a small cliff overlooking the beach, and dingied into their floating dingy dock. We were enjoying the luxury already. They picked us up in their resort 4WD and dropped us at the front door. Feeling very spoiled already we paid our $25 resort fee (that lasted as long as we were there), along with a few beers. Sipping (probably not the right word) the beers we looked out over the pool and out to Camelot on anchor. Pure bliss. A few sips later and the beer was gone and we were in the pool.

It was a beautiful pool, surrounded by lush tropical plants and very nice landscaping, with a lush lawn to the side, with some wallabies appreciating the free grass. Needless to say, we spent quite a bit of our time at the resort in that pool.

After a quick lunch on the boat, we headed off for one of the resort walks. There are two main ones and we chose the one by the fresh water lagoon with the bird hide. This took us out of the resort grounds and down along the beach, before ducking back into the bush and along the side of the lagoon to the bird hide. All the way we kept a keen eye out for any crocs. Leith from the resort had said one lived in the billabong and sure enough as soon as we sat down in glided past about 50m in front of us in the lagoon. All we saw was a rather large head as it headed off through the reeds.

That got the heart pumping and we sat there for another 20 minutes to see if he would cruise back again. No luck but the billabong was still quite interesting with a bit of bird life and a nice vista.

Back at the resort it was time for another swim before dinner at the restaurant. The fresh barra caught that morning was a lot less hassle than the last one we had (thanks Pete!). Couldn’t resist the desert either. My downfall however was the bottle of Heggies Riesling that I had to drink by myself followed by a couple of unplanned reds served up by Brian and Hermoine, who were staying at the resort. Brian had a 43 foot Tasman Cat and had cruised up the Qld coast so his brain was worth picking.

The walk back to the boat via the dingy dock seemed to amuse my fellow crew members. I woke up in the early hours of the morning with a top grade hangover and worked out why.

Another swim and some coffee at the resort had us good to go by 10.30am. But first we had to check out the slide marks on the beach from a rather large croc – along the same beach that Hermoine and Brian had gone for their morning walk. Leith wasn’t too concerned – he said Crocs hate to be surprised – they are far happier doing the surprising. Mmm!!!

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Darwin to Port Essington

After originally planning to go to Shoal Bay as our first stop out of Darwin,  we changed plans and decided we could fight the current through Clarence Straits, past the Vernon Islands and onto Cape Hotham for the night, thereby saving us a day and getting us further into the wilderness.

We had 2.5kts of current going against us on the way through with not much in the way of wind to help us, but even so we made our anchorage just after the sun set at 6.42pm. Darren, Pam and Dragan were treated to their first NT sunset as we prepared to drop anchor in 5m of water. The tides had dropped from the 6-7m tides of Darwin to 2-3m at Cape Hotham, all in the space of 50nm.

After a nice dinner and a drink or two we all retired for the night and got our first real down pour. The wind wasn’t particularly strong, but it rained hard and the boat got a great wash.

Next morning it was up early (well early-ish) to catch the tide up to Cape Don. The wind had dropped right off again as we motored with the aid of the tide towards Cape Don. Everyone was hanging out to catch a fish at the stage but no such luck.

Like Smiley before us we got excellent help from the tide, which gave us an extra 2.5kts of speed at times. Interestingly when we got to our anchorage, the log said we had travelled 44nm when we had actually travelled 63nm. 20 free nautical miles!

As we passed Cape Don we were able to turn the motors off as the light sea breeze kicked in and we had a delightful sail for the last hour as we aimed for Alcora Bay, our anchorage for the night.

There’s a small jetty there and a 5km walk to the lighthouse but we passed on this and decided to push on for Seven Seas Wilderness Resort the next morning.  We had some tide against us for the first hour but then it turned and we were able to make no progress. The sea was silky smooth and full of life with Tuna regular schooling and hunting all over the place with the exception of our lures which continue to be fish-less.