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Cruising on Diomedea
Diomedea is a Van de Stadt Tasman 48
Running the Gauntlet in Torres Strait
01/08/2014, Arafura Sea, 133 longitude

Our challenges came immediately, even before leaving our anchorage in fact. The anchor brought with it some harbour floor hardware in the form of metal piping. Thus it was time for boathook manoeuvres to free the fouling and enable us to move. This was certainly a promise of things to come as you, dear reader, will see. We chose our departure from Thursday Island to coincide with the westward setting flood tide and, wow, did it set to the west. Diomedea was spat out of the Normanby channel with flow rates of more than 5 knots, and the flood continued into the Arafura sea for quite some hours, although at reduced rates. With 20 knots of breeze from behind and very confused seas for miles, it became clear that we had passed the point of no return. The only way home to Sydney now would be anticlockwise around Australia. Diomedea romped along with poled out jib making exceptionally good pace until we noticed some ominous looking clouds racing up astern. No sooner had we commenced preparations for reefing than one of the yachts behind us reported gusts of 50 knots. Yikes!! We got the sail down just as 40 knots swept through. Lucky. Somewhat chastened by this experience we kept the boat well reefed down for our first night at sea. Now, I want you to find a Google image of the Australian Economic Exclusion Zone along our northern coast. This is important. Have you got it? You will notice that there is a notch which sort of corresponds to the Gulf of Carpentaria. By late evening, Diomedea had sailed out of the EEZ into this notch of international waters. This turned out to be a really bad move, because in this patch of water there lies a vast fleet of Asian/Chinese/other fishing boats. With attended and unattended nets strung across the ocean. The fishing boats dare not enter the EEZ as it is regularly patrolled by Australian Border protection planes. The strategy of the fishing boats is to more or less blockade the entry/exit to Torres Strait for fish (and yachts). We spent our first night dodging many fishing boats, none of whom have AIS devices, nor respond to radio calls. Finally dawn came and our spirits lifted. Particularly when a small immature but inquisitive Sooty Tern appeared on our deck having a nice rest. Clearly he was separated from his flock and was probably exhausted. He left a number of calling cards naturally but in his short life he failed to learn one of those immutable laws of physics. That law states that small birds should not fly anywhere near the rapidly spinning blades of a wind generator. The poor little fellow was probably doomed anyway but it at least it was a very quick death. We had been warned about the location of some of the big nets by yachts in front of us so we kept a good lookout. To no avail. Just before dusk we ran over one net which scraped and rattled under the hull but separated and disappeared astern. Looking even harder into the gloaming we failed to see the second one which had only a small unlit buoy marking its location. Diomedea was brought to a sudden stop whilst running downwind as the net entangled itself around our hull appendages. We were held stern towards 25 knots of breeze and the accompanying seas by this anchor. Waves crashed over the back of the boat saturating the cockpit and us. As darkness descended, frantic efforts to bring the lines up the surface with the boathook were eventually successful and we could then chop through them and Diomedea began to move. However, we could clearly see a banner of lines, net fragments, and floats streaming out beneath our transom, definitely still attached to our hull. But to what exactly? The first concern was that the lines were wrapped around the propeller which would by now be damaged or partly avulsed by the large loads placed upon it. Was the prop shaft about to be ripped out of the hull altogether? Checking the prop shaft internally revealed no changes and the prop could be turned by hand without impediment. That was a good sign, but not enough to allow us to start out engine. We sailed into the night in a very heightened state of anxiety, resigned to having no recourse to the engine for the remainder of the passage. We steeled ourselves to keeping a sharp forward lookout in the dark, moonless night and monitored the radar closely. Looking forward proved very confusing because the intense bioluminescence of the breaking waves gave the false impression of lights everywhere. Our anxiety was not helped when, at 2am, a string of remarkably bright lights suddenly appeared right in front of the boat, as if out of nowhere. Close to panic as to which way to turn the boat to avoid this net, I realised that the lights were rising rapidly in the sky. They belonged to an Australian Customs plane which flew low enough that I could almost see the instrument glow in the pilots cockpit. Customs came on the radio and made it clear that we had re-entered the EEZ. We were out of the notch and back in the relative safety of Australian waters. The night grew ever darker, the fishing boats were gone, the radar screen was blank, and Diomedea was alone.

01/08/2014 | Barbara McKay
OMG David and Andy - What a night - and we were all sleeping soundly in our beds even here in England -anxious to follow your next actions- Love
Thursday Island
David and Andrea
28/07/2014, Torres Strait

A short sail takes one to the anchorage in Ellis Channel between Horn Island and Thursday island. The anchorage is sheltered if you exclude the fact that the 25 knot tradewinds blow here all the time, and the tide churns through at 2-3 knots. We finally got some rain which was quite nice. Daytime temperatures around 27 and night time about 22. Sleeping just with a sheet now and no jumpers at any time.
Our stay here has been interesting. Not very scenic in this anchorage at Horn Island but an amazing genetic mix of races in town. We catch a small ferry across the Ellis channel to Thursday Island. The Torres Strait Islanders seem much more Polynesian than anything else and a quite distinct from the Aborigines. We had good coffee at Uncle Frankie's place and sat there for an hour on Saturday morning watching the the town walk past. The churches are well represented here with a big Catholic presence and Jehovah's witness. There is a good hardware store. Col Jones is sort of the department store that sells a wide variety of products. Think Target taken off steroids. There are some local pearl farms on Friday Island and in the Escape River. There is a beautiful old Customs house which must be heritage listed. (We were able to claim back some GST on boat bits). Defence is here of course as it has always been. The airport is quite busy with Qantas flights. Supply ships come in regularly. More worrying is the presence of Harry. He is a resident 4 metre crocodile who lives in the mangroves just a stone's throw from the boat. Other smaller crocs are also nearby. This caused some angst for all the cruisers when in out and about in their little inflatable dinghies at night.
Hopefully leaving for Indonesia today, clearing in at Saumlaki on the spice island of Tanimbar. You can find it on Google Earth.

30/07/2014 | Jeff and Sue Flowerday
Good luck guys on your passage to indonesia. Just back from NZ. Had a great great time. Jeff and sue
31/07/2014 | Carolyn McKay
happy sailing to Indonesia!
To The Top
David and Andrea
24/07/2014, Cape York

We dug deep for the final push to Cape York. Up at 3.45am and away not too long after 0400 for the 87 miles to Mt Adolphus Island. In the clear night sky, the waning crescent moon was only recently risen, so Orion and his sword still dominated the east, and Venus rose on her ecliptic. Fortunately we had strong breeze and we did the run in 12 hours despite the last few hours being affected by adverse ebb tide of up to 2 knots. Once in the region of Harrington reef the overfalls really came alive creating a nasty seaway which persisted until right outside the anchorage. We passed Quetta rock, so named after the steamer which hit the then uncharted coral and rock needle on a fine calm evening in 1890. The ship sank in 5 minutes as its belly had been completely sliced open and 133 people died.
After dinner we collapsed into bed, rather fatigued from the hard sailing days and slept well. Blackwood bay is quite a good spot but like all the bays up here it is remarkably windy. Much to our surprise we had an internet connection here, presumably from Thursday island 20 odd miles away.
From Adolphus it was a very short hop over to Cape York proper for a brief stint ashore. We anchored in only 3m of water, with about 3 kts of current ripping up the bay. Dinghying ashore we encountered quite a tide of tourists as well, at this the northernmost point of mainland Australia. It is a 20 minute walk from the red dust road end/beachhead to the rocky cape. Nonetheless our legs felt a bit wonky as we have not been ashore for more than one hour since leaving Cairns 8 days and almost 500 miles ago. We did the obligatory photos and helped others with their "proof" shots.
Back on Diomedea we jumped onto the westward flowing 4 knot flood tide for the run to Possession Island. Large termite mounds, low rolling hills and sandy beaches greeted us as we dropped anchor against 25 knot winds in this "sheltered" anchorage.
Lt Cook named the island after coming ashore for the ceremonial claiming, for King George 111, of the east coast of New Holland from 38 degrees latitude to "this place" in August 22nd 1770. Today a brass plate honours the event and is seen easily on its white monumental tower just up from a rocky shore. We took photos from the dinghy as landing proved impossible at half tide.
As a generality, most anchorages on this coast have some swell at most times but much more so around the high tides. Holding is usually good in mud and sand, so long as one is using a good modern anchor and chain. It has been suggested that one should put an anchor buoy on if dropping the hook near mangroves. A fouled anchor would not be recoverable otherwise as the risk of diving is far too high. The plentiful breeze has been excellent for maintaining battery charge, courtesy of the Superwind Generator. We have had no significant rain so the boat is very salt-encrusted.

26/07/2014 | Barbara McKay
Reading your blog in the "Mother Country" - so glad Cook did make that journey to find a home for us. Great sailing Team Diomedia.
Racing North
22/07/2014, Cape Grenville

Most of the yachts departed Stokes Bay at sparrow’s fart with us, so of course, the question of who would be first into the next anchorage arose. With relatively light breezes, Diomedea went to her symmetric spinnaker early, and this naturally prompted the appearance of kites on other yachts, although some of them carried on with the diesel topsails for a while longer. However, a short lumpy seaway made it difficult to keep the sail filled and after gybing and faffing around generally we too went back to the diesel for half an hour before the new breeze filled in. Our deficit was soon made up in the fast conditions. Our destination was Night Island at 13deg 11’, 143 34. In 1819 Philip Parker King commanding the survey ship Mermaid, found safe haven under the lee of this island during a night of heavy rain. As his night there proved comfortable he named it Night Island. For all you ornithologists, the island is home to the Torres Strait Imperial or Nutmeg Pigeons. As we arrived we were given an invitation to come aboard Southern Star for a repast of freshly caught yellow fin tuna sashimi. With Kikkoman soy sauce and wasabi â€" yum. Up early again for yet another 80 mile day we were rather surprised to find internet reception off this remarkably barren, flat, and unpopulated coastline. The tower was at the Lockhart River settlement. So it was great to download a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, do a quick call with our daughter, and attend to emails and banking before we sailed out of range. Love technology. This coast has had many and varied visitors, notably one Captain Bligh who stopped at Restoration Island during his epic voyage from Tonga to Java. Another visitor was the explorer Edmund Kennedy who left from Townsville to walk to the tip of Cape York. All his party died of disease, attacks or starvation. Kennedy himself managed to get almost all the way before being speared by the local aborigines. His guide, Jacky Jacky survived it all and was eventually rescued by ship. He was rewarded with a brass breastplate with appropriate inscriptions. Sadly he later fell into a fire whilst intoxicated and died. Diomedea flew up the course, through the pinch point at Piper Reef, just ahead of a large container ship, and then rounded Cape Grenville to anchor in Margaret Bay for the night. Just in time for anchor snaps on Mediterraneo.

Apocalypse Now
19/07/2014, Lizard Island

It was a fast and fantastic beam reach out to Lizard island in 20 kt trades. Beautiful. The arrival at this mythical luxury retreat was anything but beautiful. Back in April, Cyclone Ita came to visit Lizard island and vented her fury upon the resort. (We also had Cyclone Ita in Opua, NZ a few days later.) The shoreline is noteable now for its shredded palms and the resort is closed at least until 2015 whilst rebuilding occurs. But wait there’s more. National Parks Qld, in its infinite wisdom, decided that the week beginning 17th July was the time to burn the island off. With a realised forecast of 25 knot winds! Why at a time of popularity for visiting boats? Why do this at all? The island is not densely vegetated. Was it to do with some traditional country management practice dictated by an unknown body? Accordingly as we arrived dense smoke plumes blew across the anchorage, covering the boats with ash and soot and rendering the sky into that typical sepia brown that we know so well from bushfires. The combination of the blown-out palms and thick smoke instantly conjured up battlefield scenes from the PNG and Pacific Island campaigns of WW11. Just like the photos from Life and other publications. We were banned from shore excursions by the park rangers but we did manage a swim over the reefs, watching as ash particles drifted through the water along with the fish. As you can imagine this was a bitter disappointment for the crew of Diomedea, and other yachts in the fleet who had sailed halfway around the world to come here. The decision to leave the very next morning was made even easier when we were told that helicopters were coming to firebomb the mountain.

20/07/2014 | Al
And were there any roasted lizards? Yummy. We are in the UK watching ancient black and white movies of John Wayne storming the beaches, is he there too?
In the Wake of Matthew Flinders
19/07/2014, Stanley Island

With 20-25 kts, Diomedea maintained very high averages for the 80 mile run up the coast. We rounded Cape Melville dodging massive ships in the remarkably narrow shipping lane running between the cape and the nearby Pipon Reefs. Melville is a stunningly rugged place of piled boulders up to about 600m above sea level. Extraordinary. After the gybe our course was WNW to Flinders and Stanley Islands, right next to King Island. No, we have not gone troppo and imagine ourselves in Bass Strait. This very northern Flinders island has an impressive conical peak, looking almost volcanic in origin. It is separated from the more vertiginous red crags of Stanley Island by the Owen channel. We are anchored in Stokes Bay and it is wild, remote, and gorgeous. And we are banned from the shore once again, this time not by rangers, but by crocodiles. Diomedea is in company with several rally boats here and Robbie from Southern Star was able to acquire 10kg of fresh prawns from a nearby shrimp boat. This fed the fleet for the evening as we had a dinghy raft up not far from the beach in the orange glow of the setting sun. Andrea and I feel particularly privileged to visit such a wilderness, one that very few Australians would ever see. Presumably there are other Flinders-named points of geographical interest as one moves anticlockwise around the Australian coastline but I doubt we shall visit them.

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