Day 50, Year 3: Day Trip to Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala

Day 50, Year 3: Day Trip to Nhulunbuy and Yirrkala
Date: Saturday, June 28, 2008
Weather: Beautiful Day; Winds SE 15-20
Location: Gove Harbor, Northern Territory, Australia

We are now on Darwin time which is 30 minutes behind Queensland. We knew this but did not set the clocks, so we missed the weather this morning and got up just in time for the radio nets. We have been checking in on the Sheila Net, but today was our last day for that. We will now only listen to and check in on the Darwin Net which will now be at 8 am. So this morning right after the Darwin Net, we headed to shore to figure out how to get to town. Other cruisers had booked a taxi van, but we didn’t have a large enough group to do this. So on the recommendation of cruisers who have been here before, we walked to the main road and hitched a ride to town. Our ride was a young man who has lived here and worked in the mine for the past eight years. He had his one year old daughter, Finlae, with him, and he was a wealth of information. When we arrived in Nhulunbuy we were quite surprised. It was way more town than we expected. Obviously the mine subsidizes much of the growth here.

Once in town, we decided to take a taxi to the next town, Yirrkala, which is an aboriginal settlement. We went to the Buku Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre and Museum and really enjoyed the aboriginal art. We found some young boys playing the diggeredoo. We then met a couple of young girls who tried to introduce themselves. But they spoke no English and we don’t speak their language, so we communicated with hand gestures. We took some pictures of them and then we went in to watch a video explaining some of the aboriginal traditions. One of the little girls came in and sat on my lap for the longest time. I think she was fascinated by my hair which was pulled back in a pony tail. She sat and stroked my hair and then finally went on her way.

We made our way back to Nhulunbuy by taxi, did some food shopping, and then took another taxi back to the yacht club. We went back to Windbird and spent some time planning our next jaunt and then joined other cruisers for Happy Hour at the club. We grilled fish for dinner and continued enjoying the company of other cruisers as we all planned for our next move. Many are moving on tomorrow to go through the Gugari Rip, better known as “The Hole in the Wall.” This is a pass that gets us through the islands separating us from the next huge bay we have to cross. The “hole” has quite a current and has to be transited at just the right time. We will go half way to the “hole” tomorrow and then transit it the next day. By Tuesday, we will be on the other side and working our way to Darwin, one day at a time.

080628 Day 50 Nhulunbuy and Irrkala

Day 49, Year 3: Arrival in Gove Harbor

Day 49, Year 3: Arrival in Gove Harbor
Date: Friday, June 27, 2008
Weather: Beautiful Day; Winds SE 20-25/Higher Gusts; 2 Meter Seas
Latitude: 12 degrees 11.896 minutes S
Longitude: 136 degrees 42.147 minutes E
Location: Gove Harbor, Northern Territory, Australia

We made it easily into Gove this afternoon. We had an unbelievably fast sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria and although we had a rough period during the first night and into yesterday, the rest of the ride was great. Windbird moved faster than she has ever moved, an average of 6.6 knots per hour, and we arrived safely. So that is a good thing. We still have to attach a new sheet (line) to our headsail to replace the one that broke, but our radio “fixed” itself. When I came on watch last night at 10:30 pm, the radio was working. I asked Mark what had happened and he said it just came on. Obviously, there is some problem so we will still be buying a new one, but at least for now we have our VHF communication back.

Our first land sighting today was not what we expected. We knew there was a huge bauxite mine here, but that is not what we expected to be our first view of land. I grew up in a valley of chemical plants in West Virginia, and the bauxite mine here looks like Union Carbide. It is huge and it is the first thing you see. But obviously, it is not beautiful. The anchorage is just behind the mine and the stripped land sits in front of us. It is not the most beautiful anchorage we have ever been in, but it is very well protected and calm. We are in Gove Harbor, but there is no town here. There is a yacht club and that is it. The town of Nhulunbuy is about a twenty-minute ride down the road. There is no town named Gove. Beyond Nhulunbuy there is another town named Yirrkala, and beyond that there is just a lot of open land. We are in Arnhem Land which is native aboriginal land. We will do a little exploring tomorrow and then get ready to move on. Our plan is to stay here for a couple of days and then head on west toward Darwin.

080627 Day 49 Seisia to Gove

Day 48, Year 3: Day 2 – Passage to Gove, Northern Territory

Day 48, Year 3: Day 2 – Passage to Gove, Northern Territory
Date: Thursday, June 26, 2008
Weather: Beautiful Day; Winds SE 25/Higher Gusts; 2 -3 Meter Seas
Latitude: 11 degrees 27.962 minutes S
Longitude: 139 degrees 06.677 minutes E
Location: Crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, East to West
Miles to Go: 161 nautical miles

Interesting twenty-four hours . . . as I write this log entry in the late afternoon sunshine, the conditions are much as they were yesterday. But in the interim we had some very gusty winds and rougher seas. Just before sunset last night, a seabird (some sort of tern) landed on our deck and I knew that meant rough weather ahead. The birds never land on the boat unless they are very tired from fighting extremely windy weather. Just after our bird friend flew away, the winds picked up, as did
the seas. We double-reefed the main to get ready for the night. When I was on watch from 11 PM to 2:30 AM, the average wind speed was thirty knots. When I came back on at 5 AM, the winds were still high and the seas were rougher. Mark had reefed the headsail that was held out by the pole, so even though it was a boisterous sail, everything seemed safe enough. Then around 5:30 AM I heard the headsail flapping in the wind and realized that the sheet (line) attached to the clue of the sail had
broken. I called Mark and he winched in the flogging sail and we sailed on with just the reefed main. When Mark got up around 8 AM, we assessed the damages in the light. The line had frayed though where it went through the eye in the end of the pole. The clue of the sail was fine, so we took the line from the port side of the boat and are now using it on the starboard side. As long that that line doesn’t break, we should be fine. And we are no longer using the pole, so there should be no reason
for the line to fray and break.

But just after we got the first problem in control, another challenge was sent our way. Our not so old VHF radio just stopped working. Power is getting to it, but it is not responding. The VHF radio is the one you leave on 24/7 so that other cruisers in the vicinity can call and talk with you. It is also the one you would use to contact others in the case of an emergency. We have the VHF constantly scanning channel 16 for communication with ships or the coast guard. And in fact, Australian
Coast Watch seems to do daily late afternoon fly-bys in this part of the world and they often ask for your identifying information. Australian warships ply through these waters and they also call to check you out. We are very close to Papua New Guinea so the border is patrolled constantly. Anyway, until we can get a new radio, the only way we have to contact ships or for Coast Watch to contact us is our relatively low power hand-held VHF. If they try and Scot Free II hears them, they will let
them know we have a radio problem. So for now we need to stay close enough to Scot Free so that we can reach them on our handheld VHF. It only has a range of 1-2 miles versus about 30 miles for the main VHF, but it is better than nothing. As soon as we get to Gove we will decide what to do about the radio. I think we are going to have to try and make it Darwin without one and have West Marine in the US send us one. There might be a local solution in Darwin, but we can’t wait until we get there
to make a decision as there wouldn’t be time for one to be sent from the US. Decisions, decisions.

And now our third dilemma of the day has arisen. If we continue sailing at the current speed of about 6.5 knots, we will reach Gove after dark tomorrow night. In these winds, it will be hard to slow down enough to arrange to reach Gove the next morning during daylight. One way or the other we arrive in the dark if we sail and we will probably have to get close and heave to and wait for sunrise. Or we can motor assist the next 24 hours and reach Gove just before sunset. It seems crazy to be running
a motor when you have 25 knot winds, but motoring could keep us from spending another night out here in this not so hospitable gulf. Of course, if we motor assist and the winds die down, we still might not make it and have to heave to and wait anyway. So in the next couple of hours we need to make a final decision on what we are going to do. Right now, we are motor sailing. Just another decision.

Today’s “challenges” are reminding me that sailing is not for the faint-hearted. We are not in danger, but when lines break and communication systems go down, the danger signals flare. This sail is boisterous and not particularly relaxing. You have to constantly be watching. The six to nine foot waves come at us on our port quarter and lift us into the air and then that wave rushes out under the starboard side of the boat. Just as we get into that rhythm, Windbird turns a little and we get one
of those waves right on the side. That then throws us over and that is not so comfortable. The waves are slowly getting smaller, but if sunset has the same effect that it did last night, we might have rougher seas ahead. We’ll hope for consistent winds and arrival late tomorrow afternoon. That sounds like the best scenario at this point. So it is time to send this log and get ready for sundown and whatever weather that might bring.

Day 47, Year 3: So Long to Queensland

Day 47, Year 3: So Long to Queensland
Date: Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Weather: Beautiful Day; Winds ESE 20 with Gusts to 35
Latitude: 10 degrees 53.233 minutes S
Longitude: 141 degrees 34.206 minutes E
Location: Crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, East to West
Miles to Go: 310 nautical miles

We have spent a wonderful six weeks traveling along the Queensland coast and have come to love her, but this morning all indications said it was time to cut the ties and head to the Northern Territory. It was a beautiful day for the start of the three-day passage across the Gulf of Carpentaria to the outpost of Gove. The first six hours were spent making our way through the very shallow Endeavor Straits and the remainder of the three days will be spent traveling across a gulf whose depths remain
shallow all the way across. Once the depth of the ocean reaches 200 to 300 feet, the depth sounder no longer has the ability to read the depth. This is usually the case when we are on passage. But on this passage, we will always be able to read the depths. After the Endeavor Straits we no longer have to worry about it being so shallow that we could go aground, so the only problem the shallowness causes from here on is rough water. But today that is not the case and I am hoping that it will stay
this way.

So we are bounding along at about six knots of speed with a full main and headsail out to starboard. The wind is on the hind quarter and it is quite comfortable right now. The weather forecast was predicting two to three meter seas, but that is not case. So we are happy. In fact, Mark and I always seem to be happy on passages. I think I have mentioned that many women really hate passages of any length, but I really do enjoy getting away from land with nothing but the sea and the sky for a view.
Actually we can still see other boats right now. A whole fleet of us sailed out of Seisia this morning, leaving only Blue Marlin (Norway) and Nabob (Sweden). So the Scandinavians are holding down the fort on the east coast.

We are once again traveling with Scot Free II. Aqua Magic is heading straight to Darwin as are a few other boats, but most of us that were in Seisia are going to Gove. It will be the only small town we will visit in the Northern Territory, as the rest of our stops are on uninhabited islands between here and Darwin. And Darwin is a city, so the visit to Gove will give us a feel for real life in the NT. But for now we will just enjoy the passage.

Day 46, Year 3: Still Waiting for a Weather Window

Day 46, Year 3: Still Waiting for a Weather Window
Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Weather: Mostly Sunny Day; Winds SE 20 with Higher Gusts
Location: Seisia, Queensland, Australia

It’s all about the weather here. We don’t want to start across the shallow Gulf of Carpentaria until we have tolerable seas and reduced winds, but it looks like the wind is going to maintain its momentum for a few more days. Right now it is 50/50 that we will leave in the morning. We will listen to the 0730 weather report and then make our decision. What it looks like tonight is that waiting one more day would give us more tolerable conditions, but if things change overnight and the high that is moving ever so slowly across the country speeds up a bit, we might have our window tomorrow. As always we have to be flexible and follow the wind, not let it gobble us up. So I have no idea whether or not tomorrow’s log will be sent from Seisia or from out there in the Gulf of Carpentaria. We shall see.

The weather is definitely improving even though the winds remain high. We had blue skies with puffy white clouds today and no sprinkles until evening. That is an improvement. We kept busy all day although right now I’d be hard put to say just what we did. I listened to weather reports and to the net, Mark went up the mast, I cooked, Mark topped up the battery water, we talked to neighbors, Mark went to shore numerous times to bring water to the boat, we went to shore to do laundry, go to the store, and to check weather on the internet, we visited more neighbors, and the day was done. “Visiting the neighbors” mean we were talking about the weather and that consumes a lot of time when you are in these situations where the knowledge of the whole is much greater than the knowledge of one. Our friend Gerry on Scot Free II met some locals today and learned why everything is run by the Seisia Island Council. There were apparently five brothers with the first name initials making up S-E-I-S-I-A (They said that it was only five brothers even though there are six letters in Seisia??). They came from the “islands” which probably means the islands out in the Torres Strait, Thursday Island being the most well known. They settled this area and the Island Council was formed. This is an aboriginal outpost and the people here have what appears to be a very happy existence with modern conveniences in an outback environment. It’s not a bad place to be if you are stuck waiting for the weather.

080624 Day 46 Seisia

Day 45, Year 3: Waiting for a Weather Window

Day 45, Year 3: Waiting for a Weather Window
Date: Monday, June 23, 2008
Weather: Mix of Sunshine and Clouds; Winds SE 20 with Higher Gusts
Location: Seisia, Queensland, Australia

The weather is getting better, ever so slowly, and we think we will be able to leave here on Wednesday. We have made the decision to go to Gove on the western shore. Some people will head south first and then cross to Gove, while others are going slightly north and heading straight to Darwin or stopping at the northern tip of the Wessel Islands. We will take the middle road straight across the Gulf of Carpentaria. The Gulf is very shallow and for that reason it can kick up quite a choppy sea
in high winds, but winds are forecast to dwindle during the week, so we are going for it. After all of this wind, we will probably end up motoring.

Mark went up the mast today to replace our current anchor light with an LED bulb. Gerry had given it to us because it wasn’t working in his socket. But tonight we learned that it doesn’t work in our socket either, so it will be back up the mast tomorrow to change back to the old bulb. We went into town to the library to get on the internet which took a great deal of the day. We arrived just before noon and the library was closing for lunch. So we went to the grocery store and then came back
and waited. When the library opened, we got on a computer and downloaded some weather information plus some new photos of our grandson Sam. He is just too cute and as soon as we get to Darwin, I’ll post some of those photos so you can see him, too. But tomorrow our time and energy will be directed to getting ready for the three-day passage to Gove. It is more than 350 miles and we have to be prepared for rough conditions, just in case. So Mark will get the boat ready and I will get the food
ready. By daybreak the next morning, we will be on our way.