07/13/2012, Sailing OffThe North Coast Of Australia
The winds have been more consistent during these last 24 hours. However, they remain light averaging only about 12 knots. Did you know that the world wide average for wind speed is just 12 knots? Yep, it's true. Thus, I guess you could just call this day an "average" day. However, with this "average" day comes what is for us below average sailing speed. During our 4.5 years of cruising, we have averaged about 6.5 knots. Right now, 6.5 knots would seem like speeding! Mind you, I am not complaining. This passage has been wonderful with fair skies most of the time, calm seas and winds that at least keep us moving forward. You really can't ask for much more than that!
During this passage we have only had to dodge one set of pretty paltry squalls. The rest of the time we have had no rain, heavy seas, nor high winds. Sounds pretty sweet to me!
We are less than a day away from rounding Cape Don and entering the Gulf of Van Diemen. The entrance of the gulf is the second "gate" in this passage to Darwin. The first "gate" was the Gulf of Carpentaria. As you know when we rounded Cape York and headed for the Gulf of Carpentaria, the "gate" was closed due to high winds and rough seas. We had to wait a number of days before the winds abated and the "gate" was opened.
The "gate" at Cape Don is not so much controlled by winds as it is by tides. There is a tidal current that flows into and out of the Gulf of Van Diemen that can go up to 6 knots. Thus, you want to time your entrance to the gulf based on an in flowing tide. The general rule is to time your entrance based on the tides at Darwin and enter 4.5 hours before high tide at Darwin. The alternative rule is to enter the gulf on a flooding tide. Flooding tides flow south into the gulf.
Looking at the tide chart for Darwin, we should enter the gulf around 0845 tomorrow. However, based on the tide chart for Cape Don, the tide changes and starts to flood at 0644 tomorrow. Thus, it looks to me that we have about a 2 hour window to pass through this "gate" and enjoy the peak tidal currents flowing in our favor. I am going to try to time our arrival for about 0730 since there should be good light then. Many cruisers have to pull into Alcaro Bay, which is just before you reach Cape Don, and wait for the correct tidal situation (i.e., for an open "gate"). However, I believe we can adjust our speed a bit to get there without having to wait. We shall see
At 1230, our position was 10 46.0'S/133 32.0'E. We only made 133 nm with light winds that blew between 10 and 14 knots. We averaged about 5.5 knots for the day. Our course is 267 degrees True; our current speed is 4.5 knots. The winds are currently from the ESE and "blowing" 9.7 knots. Our apparent wind is 8.5 knots from 100 degrees from our port bow. The swells are from both the E and SE with respective heights of about 1 meter and respective periods of about 6 seconds. We are just "waltzing" along
07/12/2012, Sailing OffThe North Coast Of Australia
All afternoon yesterday and again through the night we had very light winds. They were in the 6 to 9 knot (True) range. Plus, they were from the east. Since we are sailing due west, the apparent wind was only in 3 to 6 knot range. We had dropped the both sails when we lost our wind. I did not want the main up with such light winds because it would flog with each swell that passed under us. However, during my night shift, I unfurled the headsail as we had about 6 knots of apparent wind and I wanted to capture every knot I could. Thus, we motored sailed at about 5.5 to 6 knots.
Mary Margaret decided to let me sleep a bit so she stretched her second night shift from 3 hours to 5 hours. Boy, that extra sleep was very refreshing and I woke up feeling great! With that bit of extra sleep, I have now adjusted to overnight sailing and no longer feel tired. I tried to return the favor when I took the 0600 watch by telling her to just sleep in until she woke up naturally. However, in four hours there she was, bright eyed and bushy tailed!
Last night, as we approached Cape Wessel, at the top of the Wessel Islands, I could see a sailboat on our AIS. It was S/V Sukanuk, a 33 foot sailboat that we had last seen at Lizard Island. As we passed her this morning we were hailed and we had a nice chat. It is a British registered boat so I asked if they knew our friends on S/V Salamander. He said that Salamander had passed them as they both approached the Wessels, so he guessed that they would be about 10 to 15 nm in front of us now. This surprised me since we both left at the same time but we had veered 50 nm south when we left before we cut across the Gulf of Carpentaria. Salamander had decided that the winds were light enough to just head straight across. With our slow passage I figured that we would not see Salamander again until we reached Darwin. However, we may now see them as we approach Cape Don in a day and a half. Then again, the winds may die again and our hope would be wasted.
The spot forecast I downloaded last night shows winds in the 11 to 14 knot (true) range from the SE for the next few days. If that is correct, we should be able to continuing sailing and not use the engine. With those kinds of winds, we should average 6 to 6.5 knots. We shall just have to wait and see. The one thing that you can count on regarding weather: just wait a bit and it will change!
This morning, as I took the 0600 watch, Mary Margaret pointed out that the winds had returned so we turned into the wind and raised the main. With winds of 15 knots True off our beam, we shot up to 8 to 8.5 knots and it felt great! This lasted for about 6 hours when the winds eased back to 12 knots and dropped to be off our port stern quarter. This dropped our speed back to the 5.5 to 6 knot range.
While a bit slow, this passage has been wonderful so far. We just love to sail the open seas. It is so peaceful and as long as there is wind, we never get bored. It allows me time to do a lot of thinking and I end up putting life into perspective. We have had some cruising friends face some serious medical issues this year with two of them having to end their cruising days. How much time we have left to cruise is unknown but while we are cruising, we cherish every day. This is a very special lifestyle that will be hard to quit.
At 1230 today, we were at 10 52.29'S/135 48.76'E. We made 143 nm, averaging 6 knots. The winds are 12 knots True from the ESE. The apparent wind is 10 knots; 135 degrees from our port bow. We are making between 5.5 and 6 knots on a course of 272 degree true. The swells are from the SE at about 1.2 meters with a 4.5 to 5 second period. This all results in a very comfortable and easy sail!
A closing note: Early this morning, as we rounded Cape Wessel, we left the Gulf of Carpentaria and entered the Arafura Sea. I believe the Arafura Sea is part of the Indian Ocean. If I am correct, this is another milestone for us. While we have seen and swum in the Indian Ocean before, this is the first time we have sailed in it!
07/11/2012, Crossing The Gulf of Carpentaria., AU
Our slow but very comfortable sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria continued today. The winds again were light as predicated. The seas were very mild. The distance we made for our second day of this passage to Darwin, which ended at 1230 (July 11th), was just 138 nm. I think that is a record low for us since we started cruising back in 2008. However, when there is not much wind, what can you do? We have a rule that we will turn on the engine when the speed drops below 4 knots but each time we gone that slow, the winds picked up a bit and we crept back above the "magic" 4 knot threshold. However, given how rough and bad the crossing has been for the others that have come before us; I am not complaining nor wishing for a change in the weather!
Our "big" excitement during this second day was being buzzed by the Australian Maritime Airplane. It is run by Customs to keep track of all boats up here and to watch for drug traffic. After flying past us at about 500 feet they hailed Leu Cat on VHF channel 16. They were very nice and just asked for our port of registration, last port of call and our destination. It is actually comforting having them keep track of us. We know if we should run into any issues, they will be here for us.
We are currently approaching the Wessel Islands. The tip of the islands are about 80 nm due west of us. Because the winds have changed and are now coming from the east, we are on a tack that will take us well NW of the tip of the islands. We are sailing in a wing in wing configuration making about 4.5 knots with 11 knots of true wind from the East and 7 knots of apparent wind which is 165 degrees off our starboard bow. Our course is 310 degrees true. We are being pushed north of our actual heading by a northerly current of 1.7 knots. Swells are about a 1.5 meters from the SE. Our location is 10 57.147'S/ 138 13.573'E. We still have 590 miles to reach Darwin and it looks like we will arrive sometime during July 15th.
I'm back now. I had to leave to take my mid afternoon watch. We take turns on watch with 2 hours shifts during the day and 3 hours shifts during the night. While I was on watch we lost our light winds and I had to drop the sails and turn on the port engine. We are now heading due west, making 5.2 knots at 2300 RPMs. I am glad that we bought another 60 gallons of fuel at Seisia. If push comes to shove, we just might have enough to motor the rest of the way to Darwin if the winds do not return. If fuel looks like it will becomes critical before we get there, we will just sail very, very slowly for a while.
Before we left Seisia and the wonderful Internet that we had there, I had checked a number of different forecasts. One showed that starting the evening, the winds would be very light the rest of the way to Darwin. Another one showed winds in the 10 to 20 knot range most of the way. Right now, it looks like the first report might be right. I will run a "spot" forecast tonight through our SSB radio to see what the latest prediction is. Keep your fingers crossed for some wind
07/09/2012, Crossing The Gulf of Carpentaria., AU
We weighed anchor yesterday around 1245. By 1300 the sails were up and we were speeding down Endeavour Strait at 9 to 10 knots with a reef in the headsail and another one in the mail. The winds were in the 15 to 20 knot range and we had a 2 knot current working in our favor. We were betting that the weather reports were going to be correct and that the winds would start to drop this afternoon.
Sailing down Endeavor Strait, heading out into the Gulf of Carpentaria, is like sailing down a delta in a very large river. You sail the channels that weave their way around huge sand bars that are a few feet underwater. Since the western part of Cape York is very flat and barely above sea level, you soon lose sight of it. All you see is water and you would think that you are in the deep ocean. However, you need to follow your chartplotter very closely or you could end up stuck on a sand bar, waiting for high tide to come and lift you off. Since we had decided to turn south for 50 nm once we were out in the gulf, we edged our way around Crab Island, along the southern part of the strait. Before we were free from the sand bars, we had to pass one last bar that on the chart looked just like a sea serpent with its mouth open, ready to eat Leu Cat as she passed by. I will take a photo of this area on the chart so you can see what I mean.
About 12 nm after leaving our anchorage in Seisia, we were finally out in the gulf and could turn south. With the winds on a close reach, we maintained 8 knots and I could wipe the sweat from my brow. For the first time since coming to Australia, we could finally sail to the wind instead of a rhumbline. I think the primary reason I have not enjoyed sailing along the eastern Australian coast is that we were always restricted as to what direction we could sail because of the proximity of the Great Barrier Reef. Additionally, the further north you go, the tighter the reefs squeeze you so that you absolutely must stay on the rhumbline that you have plotted on your chartplotter. If you try to ease off 10 to 15 degrees to catch a better wind angle and make better speed, you run up to a reef in no time. I now understand why power cats are the preferred boat to have along the Australian eastern coast. They are fast, they handle the cross swells well, they sip fuel and they follow a rhumbline to the "Tee"!
Around 2300 we approached our 50nm South waypoint and we turned to starboard and headed a touch north of west (278 degrees true). We now were heading toward the Wessel Islands, on the far northwestern part of the gulf. The winds were a bit behind us so we edged off the rhumbline a bit so we were on a deep broad reach (winds off our bow by 130 degrees). The winds had dropped an hour before to 10 to 13 knots True so now our apparent wind was just 7 to 11 knots. I had unfurled the reef in the headsail and we were making 4 to 5 knots. At times the wind would drop some and we would slow down to 3.5 knots but each time that happened, the winds would pipe up a bit and we would return to our 4 to 5 knot speed. The seas were mild and the sail reminded me of a carriage ride in the park since we were just clip-clopping along, with not a care in the world.
So far, waiting in Seisia for the winds to drop and letting the seas die down before crossing, has been a smart move. It is now 1230 on July 10th, and this sail has been a breeze, if you excuse the pun.
After 24 hours of sailing, we have made 144 nm, averaging 6.0 knots. Our position is 11 34.6'S/140 24.82'E. Our heading is 275 T and our speed is about 6 knots. The winds are from the ESE at 12 to 15 true, giving us 9 to 12 knots of apparently wind. We are 214 nm from our waypoint, which is to the north of the tip of the Wessel Islands.
07/08/2012, Seisia, Cape York, AU
We could really feel a change in the weather today and yesterday. The average wind speed and the number of gusts and their peak velocity have been definitely diminishing. Today, we only averaged between 15 and 20 knots and the gusts had a hard time getting to 25 knots and there were not many of those. The weather reports are definitely showing that the pressure system is moving east allowing for a moderation of the winds up here at Cape York.
Our plans are now definite; we will be leaving tomorrow early afternoon. We still plan on heading south for 50 miles before we cut over and head WNW for the tip of the Wessel Islands on the far side of the gulf. The northern end of the gulf (where we are) will still be getting a blast or two of higher velocity winds through Monday but the waters of the gulf along its eastern shore are protected and we have been told that sailing south is a piece of cake. With us leaving Seisia in the afternoon, by the time we are 50 nm south, it should be late night Monday or early Tuesday when the wind are suppose to abate. Well, at least that is plan ...
This morning I went back into the village of Seisia to offload our garbage and to pick up another 20 gallons of diesel. This last load of fuel I just plan on keeping on our deck. I have 10 gallons there already so this will bring the amount of deck fuel we will be carrying to 30 gallons. I decided to get this extra fuel just in case we end up having a lot of light winds and have to motor sail more than I am expecting. With the departure of this big high, the winds for the rest of the week are support to be light so this way I have our bases covered.
As I was placing the last jerry jug into our dinghy before returning to Leu Cat, I was hailed by Chris of S/V Salamander. He was walking down the beach ahead of his wife, Sue, and their daughter, Hilary. Chris was anxious to tell me their croc story. As they were heading into the beach, he spied a log drifting in front of them and as he approached it, Hilary started screaming. Then, the log slowly sunk as the dinghy came within 15 feet of it. There was a second "log" near it and as the first log was sinking that Chris realized it was a croc! By the time he was through telling me his story, the ladies had arrived and they were pointing to where they saw the two crocs. It was just a short ways away from where I was about to launch our dinghy. Since Chris and Sue had just invited me to join them for coffee at the small café at the campground, I gladly accepted thinking that now was not the time to wade out into the water to launch our dinghy.
Once again we had delightful conversations but after 45 minutes I was anxious to return to Leu Cat so Mary Margaret would not be worried as to why I was so late. The beach and water were clear of "floating logs" so I quickly pushed the dinghy into the water, hopped in and started the engine. Off I went, faster than any croc could swim!
Later in the day Jim from the catamaran S/V Candela stopped by. I had met him briefly today while schlepping fuel. He was interested in getting information about marinas in Malaysia and near Singapore. I had told him that I had some great information from a couple who were currently in Malaysia (Rick and Robin) had shared with me. It was great getting to know him a bit better and Mary Margaret also enjoyed his company. He will be in the Sail Indonesia Rally also so we expect to see him as we both sail west during the rest of this year. He wife is back in the US attending an ill mother so he has a young French fellow with him as crew until his wife returns.