07/15/2012, Fanny Bay, Darwin, AU
We kept up our act as a motor yacht for our last push to Darwin. There was absolutely no wind so what is a sailor to do? The currents within the Gulf of Van Diemen were disappointing. We had heard so much about what great assistance we would be getting while making the run from one end of the gulf to the other. However, the only real currents we saw were as we were making our way out of the gulf and weaving our way in the dark, through narrow channels between the Vernon Island Group. Here we had maybe 3 to 4 knots of current. It was nice but certainly nothing like we were lead to believe.
We popped out of the gulf around 2200 last night and could have been at the Darwin anchorage around 0200. However, if we can avoid it, we will not enter an unknown anchorage in the dark. Thus, we just went slow and zigzagged through the dark early morning hours, waiting for dawn to break. I think this was the hardest part of our passage. We were so ready to get there but had to hang loose and while away the hours.
When dawn did break, we made a beeline for the anchorage and faced a fleet of over 50 boats. It actually looked more like an armada instead of a fleet! We always like to hang toward to back and it looks like we are the boat furthest from the beach. It is about a mile in front of us. We may move closer in a day or so just to make it easier to get to shore.
We anchored next to our friend, Jim, of S/V Candela. However, when the breezes came up before noon, he started dragging. Thus, he pulled his anchor and moved way up to the front, near the beach. He has told us that there is room there for us, if we would like to move. We will wait a day or two and then decide.
When we entered the anchorage we were amazed at the number of boats we know. Whenever a boat comes into an anchorage, the people of each boat at anchor come out to watch you. They are interested to discover who is coming in but more importantly, they want to make sure you do not anchor too close to them. We waved or shouted our greeting to Two Amigos, Tin Tin and Candela, who we anchored next to. We saw where Salamander was anchored but they were too far away to say hi. We will look forward to seeing all of our friends here during our two week stay in Darwin.
We have rented a car for the time that we are here. I suggested to Jim that we share the car so we will be splitting the cost. This will make provisioning and exploring the environs much more convenient.
We will be calling our Darwin blog friend, Brian Cann, in a day or two to make arraignments to get together. We look forward to buying him and his wife a beer. They have offered to take us around Darwin and show us the sights. We have met the nicest people through our blog and this is another wonderful example!
Our trip from Seisia to Darwin took about 5.5 days, not counting the time we waited off shore for daylight to come in. The distance was 792 nm. We averaged 6 knots but that really does not mean much since we ended up having to motor so much. However, it was a very easy and safe sail, something that we are always grateful for.
07/14/2012, Sailing Through The Gulf Of Van Diemen, Australia
At 1300 yesterday, we lost our wind. It just disappeared. It died. It went away. OK, you've got the idea. Thus, we dropped the sails, started up the starboard engine and motored, and motored and motored some more. In fact, we are still motoring and it is 1230 the next day. There has been no hint of the wind returning. The water in the Gulf of Van Diemen is like glass. It is as flat as it can be. Sheeze!
Now, this is not to say that we have not had some excitement. This morning, right on schedule (it is easy to keep to a schedule when you motor); we rounded Cape Don and entered the gulf. Even though the two rules dealing with when to enter the gulf that I mentioned indicate that we should have had a favorable current as we entered, we actually had a slight current against us. It was only about 0.5 knots, so it was not a big deal. However, I had great expectations of riding this powerful current and reaching 10 knots of speed. Well, it never happened. In fact, we did not get an assist by the current until about 1000. Even then, it was only about 0.7 knots.
The excitement came when a heavy fog rolled in about 0900. We are used to sailing in fog from our sailing days along the west coast of California. However, with an exception of a spot of fog along the coast of Queensland, we just have not experienced any fog in the South Pacific.
As our visibility dropped to less than 100 feet, a large cargo ship appeared on the chartplotter thanks to our AIS. It was about 10 miles in front of us and on a direct collision course. I changed our course by 30 degrees to starboard so he could see that I was getting out of his way. However, as I did, two more blips appeared on our radar right in front of us. I had been tracking two other sailboats via the radar for a while and was surprised to find these two new blips suddenly appear. By now the cargo ship was 3 miles away but no longer on a collision course. However, the two new blips were approaching fast and directly ahead of us. As I was figuring out what my next course change would be, the radar now connected the cargo ship with the two new blips in an arc and then added a bunch more blips in a semicircle around our boat! Ahhhh! I get it now. The new blips were just radar reflections from the cargo boat. I decided to change course so I was now heading toward the stern of the cargo boat, which was about to pass me about a 1 mile to my port. As I changed directions, the arc of blips disappeared and just the cargo boat was being shown. Whew. What a relief!!!
We are now making our way through the Gulf of Van Diemen. It is about a 50 nm run before we shoot out the far side and then turn toward Darwin. We should be out of the Gulf around 2100 tonight and if we wanted to, we could arrive at our anchorage at Fanny Bay in Darwin by 0200 tomorrow morning. However, we have a strict rule that we just do not enter unknown anchorages in the dark. This is especially true with probably about 80 to 100 boats sitting there at anchor. We could use our chartplotter and radar to snuggle up between some boats and then drop anchor but why take the risk? Thus, once we get out of the gulf, we will either slooooow waaaaaaay down to about 2.5 knots for the last leg or just heavy to and wait for dawn before entering Darwin. This means one more night of watches but we will be able to anchor in light right after the crack of dawn.
Our position at 1230 is 11 39.5'S/131 36.3'E. We motored 143 nm during the last 24 hours. We have traveled 714 nm so far and just have another 80 nm to reach Darwin. We are so close, we can taste it now! There are still no winds and the seas are flat. The skies are bright and sunny and it is such a beautiful day!
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