Sunday, 10 July 2011

Torres Straight to Arnhem Land

Wednesday June 30 – Tuesday July 5 2011
Thursday Island in the distance
We were up early to make sure we caught the tide run through the Prince of Wales Channel.  There’s a  great sense of satisfaction that we are at the top of Australia and rounding  Cape York,  passing Thursday Island to clear Torres Straight into the Gulf of Carpentaria. What a ride. 20 knot south easterly, a prevailing east to west current plus a big tidal run saw our GPS Chartplotter show a peak speed over ground of 12.9 knots. Karen was on watch and now officially has high speed of the passage. Not exactly 300mph on the dragstrip but any yachty will tell you – that’s hauling. A sightseeing overnight stop had originally been planned for Thursday Island but, due to its close proximity to PNG, it’s a quarantine zone. If we had landed we would of had to surrender all our fresh food when we got to Darwin. What a pain. The time frame was also still tight so straight on it was.

Booby Island - Gulf of Carpentaria

No sooner did the current spit us out into the Gulf of Carpentaria than the wind started to drop. The strong wind warning had been reissued at 7.00am predicting 25 to 30 knots but by 10.30 we were struggling to get past Booby Island . This little speck in the middle of nowhere features a lighthouse complete with a couple of very nice looking lighthouse keepers houses that would make great B&Bs if they weren’t a thousand kilometres from anywhere. This island was the last land we would see before the Northern Territory, over 300 nautical miles away. By 11.30 the wind was so poor that we resorted to the cast iron topsail (160hp engine). We motored through calm seas for the rest of the day.  
About 9.00pm the wind picked up to 15 knots then kept gaining strength until we had a pretty steady 20 to 22 through the night and into the next day. The swell also rose with the wind with two to three metre waves pushing us across the Gulf. The planned stop at Gove had also got the chop so we headed to pass Cape Wessells on the direct route to Darwin. We reached the Cape just in time to actually sight the land before sunset on Saturday July 2nd and then continued west, and continued west, and continued west, all out of site of land.

Marc relaxing with a book despite 3 metre waves rolling under us

Until now we had been running the boat with Marc, Karen and I on the helm in three hour watches overseen by Colin and Milin. While this means on for 3 hours, off for 6 for us crewmembers, the two owners had been rotating every three hours which must be tough. The  three of us crew have all been feeling sleep deprived as we get used to broken sleep and rough seas but watching how Colin and Milin kept backing up made us feel like absolute wimps.
The good news was that we switched to the five of us doing consecutive watches now as the skipper and Milin were confident we could all do our job. That means more sleep at night. Woo Hoo! Within a day we all felt better for it and were really enjoying the sail again. The wind kept going up and down from about 12 knots to good solid periods over 20 and the seas went up and down accordingly.
We’ve been overflown by Australian Maritime Surveillance aircraft three times so far with them radioing us and confirming our details and destination on each occasion. We didn’t realise we look so much like people smugglers.
After racing across the Gulf and Arnhem Land coast we dropped anchor for a bit of R &R in the shelter of a remote piece of tropical paradise called Oxley Island at 12.30pm on July 4th. We were the only humans around and the cruising guide indicated good fishing and great oysters, plentiful, fat and juicy ready for the taking. What more could we want?

Oxley Island - Arnhem land

Unfortunately Murphy’s Law strikes and after launching the inflatable dingy the outboard refused to run. No amount of effort, encouragement, cursing or tinkering could convince it to start and with nearly 20 knots of south easterly wind still coming over the top of the island, trying to row ashore would of surely resulted in a premature and very uncomfortable trip to Timor. Through the binoculars Karen could actually see the oysters thick on the rocks but the bacon went back in the fridge, the worstershire sauce back on the shelf and the oysters Kilpatrick will have to wait for another night. It also means it’s 13 days since we stepped foot on land.
 Mt Adolphous Island to Oxley Island  - 587 nautical miles – 104.8 hours – average speed 5.71 knots – 4 tuna – no bloody oysters.
Tuesday July 5th
We got away from Oxley Island at 07.30 this morning for a relatively short hop to Port Essington. If we tried to head straight to Darwin we would arrive at Cape Don for the long run across the Van Diemen Gulf to the harbour facing a strong tidal current against us so we spend the night at anchored up and leave on Wednesday and time our run to have that current with us instead. The sail to Port Essington was really pleasant with 14 to 18 knots of wind and a quite mild sea so we arrived just on 3.30pm.

Marc the be-header at work

As always the trolling line was out and just when we were thinking we were going to be out of luck Marc landed a big queen fish as we were entering the anchorage. This put us all in a fishing mood so as soon as the anchor was down we got set.  Marc did his fish beheading trick on the queen fish and Karen turned the rest into fillets and bait. Marc and Karen soon had lines on the bottom to discover what might be around.
Marc has been set on seeing both a shark and a croc on the this trip. He is a Pom so has led a sheltered life.  Rob decided to see whathe could do for him as we were in the heartland of both creatures.  We have one heavy line on board which is really dark and has proved useless for bottom fishing sohe thought he’d try something different with it for sport. On went a big hook attached securely to the whole carcass of the recently sliced and diced queen fish, a recently emptied beer can was taped on the line as a float, the line was wound once over the back rail and out she went to see what we could attract. Rob quickly told Marc to keep an eye on it because it was for entertainment value only as anything big enough to take the bait was definitely going to be too big for us to even think about landing. As usual Karen was first to hook a fish and Rob grabbed the video camera to record her bringing in whatever it was she had and called for Marc to get the landing net. 
So here’s Rob shooting video, Karen over the stern playing tug of war with something big that very much resented the hook in its mouth, Marc leaning over the side, landing net at the ready when the heavy line suddenly goes mad,  the reel bouncing all over the deck between their legs, line streaming out all around and through Karen’s current battle and a sizeable shark is sighted making off with my queen fish offering.  Almost simultaneously both busted off their lines and while laughing our heads off we were left trying to assimilate what had just happened in just a couple of nano seconds, Marc calmly turned from the scene and in a masterpiece of understatement said, “I don’t think the net was going to be much use at all really.” But he can now cross “shark” off his list of experiences this trip.
With the entertainment over we had one more go at adding to our fish stockpiles but to cap off our fishing for lunatics afternoon,  Karen hauled in a 60 centimetre grey shark which we duly got some footage of, retrieved our hook from and then relaunched into the wilds.
 We capped off a fantastic day’s sailing and frivolity with an amazing meal of fresh Tuna steaks in ginger sauce that Milin created. It was without doubt the nicest tuna dish we have ever tasted and was duely washed down with some fine wine while sitting in the cockpit with an absolutely stunning Northern Territory sunset as the backdrop.  Life is good on Nae Hassle.
Oxley Island to Port Essington – 48.3 nautical miles – 8.16 hours – average speed 5.91 knots – 1 Queenfish + shark entertainment.

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  1. Hi Rob,
    You and Karen look so happy in that first photo.
    Thanks for the updates, amazing :)
    So glad you are both enjoying your trip and "living the dream!".
    Take care.
    Scotty Keogh

  2. We find your "jottings" so exciting. Thank you for posting them. Enjoy it all.
    Sandy and Win

  3. Rob & Karen

    Really enjoying your updates and following your journey. Sounds like you are all having a great time. Keep well. Stay safe. Ian & Liz

  4. Stay safe!!! x Gaylene


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