07/03/2012, Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove
Finally a fish on!
We left Possession Island, near the horn of Australia early morning on June 30th, after only just arriving before sunset the night before. We were headed to Gove, about 350 nm west. We wanted to get out on an outgoing tide through the shallow reef area, and also before strong winds filled in behind us. The Gulf of Carpentaria is very shallow (30-200') and is known for short steep waves which build up quickly as the wind increases. As you sail westward, the fetch increases, as does any of the effects on wave conditions. With gribs showing 20-30 knots in the coming days, we weighed anchor and were on our way. This decision saw us motoring and motor sailing for the first 12 hours, but we were fine with that.
As we made our progress westwards across oily calm seas we were mesmerized by hundreds, perhaps thousands of tuna leaping out of the water in a wild feeding frenzy. Everywhere we looked we could see a huge swarm of birds, splashy water of a bait ball and tuna leaping out of the air. Despite our course directly dissecting such activity a handful of times we kept coming up empty. Frustrating, especially for Kai who is such an avid fisherman! Besides the tuna we were also spotting spanish mackarel and one other unidentified billfish which swam right beside the boat- about 5' long. We lost a fair number of lures trying to hook up a fish. Some disappeared entirely with a strong tug, others were shredded. Frustrated we decided to create our own steel leader using the the aluminum wire inside some electrical wire we had stored up front. As we were out of lures, we made our own. Finally just before sunset we caught the most beautiful blackfin tuna! This is the second tuna we've caught this week- makes for fantastic eating.
Then the fun began. We were finally sailing in sweet calm seas with 15-20 knots on the beam. Michael turned us to the south of the rhumline to make the upcoming heavier weather a bit easier to take when it caught up with us. This meant that instead of beating into high winds and steep seas we would have it just ahead of the beam. Good decision.
Our second day was superb sailing, right up to dinner time. Although it was hard to imagine anything could change the idyllic picture, I predicted a wet ride that night, and almost exactly when predicted the winds picked up. The Gulf of Carpentaria turned into one UGLY place! Megan was on her shift when the waves really started to present themselves. It was incredulous how quickly the seastate changed, and Megan's eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger. Thankfully we were closing in on Gove, and overnight as we approached the conditions turned down a notch. We entered Gove Harbour mid morning on the 2nd of July, thankful for a reprieve from the Gulf!
Gove is one of those places that doesn't require much commentary. Gove is a mining town, where they render aluminum out of the bauxite we saw all along the Queensland coast. The red iron ore trailings stretch for miles around Gove, and are eventually grassed over. I can't imagine a more desolate place to work in- Gove is an 8 hour drive from the closest town of Katherine, set deep in Australia's outback. The drive entails crossing 8 rivers,none of which have bridges in a 4WD equipped with snorkel. In town you can buy an "I survived Gove" T-shirt with a ball and chain on the front!
The Gove Yacht Club is a friendly hub, although it is only open on weekends, so we missed the action. Nevertheless, Rod who runs the club was a good source of information on local tides and anchorages for our next stretch to Darwin.
Gove has been a pleasant place to ride out the storm, with winds in the 15 knot range while they rage in the Gulf. We've stocked up on fresh fruits and vege and are ready for our last stretch into Darwin. This will involve two overnight sails and some further day hopping.
In Darwin we are staying at the Tipperary Marina. The song keeps running through my head. "It's a long way to Tipperary...it's a long way to go!"...
We will keep you posted!
06/29/2012, Cape York, Australia
We are on our way across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove! This crossing is 360 nm and will take a couple of days. We are looking forward to reprovisioning fresh fruit and veges there.
06/28/2012, Shallow Bay, near the Horn of Australia
There are certain milestones along a cruise like this one that simply jump out at you. Like when you find yourself honing in on the horn of Australia, almost three years after setting sail from home in the Pacific Northwest. We have now left the Pacific Ocean behind us, but in doing so we've gathered up an adventure of a lifetime. It is with passion and sadness that we say our goodbyes to this beautiful stretch of the Planet Earth, but memories are made for the keeping, so here is my ode to our journey...
When I sit in the rocking chair of old age, my mind will surely wander across my life's adventures. I will dance in my private dream cloud, sifting through my Pandora box of memories, and I will find myself reliving our journey through the South Pacific.
After crossing the Pacific to the Marquaeses, Michael had a small tattoo wrapped around his ankle as a rite of passage. My tattoo is stamped in my brain, a series of memories so vivid I can relive them in a blink of an eye.
So if you find me, in thirty or more year's time, gazing off in a remote way, you may think I am an old fool who has lost her way.
Take a closer look. Does the chair rock with the motion of the sea? Look into my deep wrinkles and lost expression and find the wonderful watery world I've seen. Come, pull up a chair beside me for a moment or two.
Want my attention? Ask me about the time we sailed into Beveridge Reef and anchored smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. When I jumped off the boat I found an underwater landscape that stretched crisp and clear a full two hundred feet in front of me: an azure blue watery heaven on earth. Fifty feet below stingrays stirred up the sand, while a travelling band of fish followed picking up any food the stingray liberated. Ask me how the post passage blueberry pancakes topped with ice-cream tasted so divine here. Or better yet, bring me some; place them hot, buttery and steaming under my nose while we talk. I will tell you of so many wonders you will never want to leave my side.
If you want to feel my heart rate soar, ask me about diving with giant manta rays in Bora Bora, veritable underwater spaceships hovering within reaching distance. Ask me if I've ever touched a giant manta, that will surely make me flash a sheepish grin. Or mention swimming with a humpback whale and her calf. The sparkle in my eyes will rock your world. Did you know her eye was the size of a soccer ball, and that she ushered her calf with her pectoral fin to swim to us?
Want to open my eyes in a hurry? Ask me what I see on the horizon. A magnificent moonbeam is leaping out from behind the huge oversized cumulus clouds in the ICTZ zone near the equator, where everything real seems surreal and larger than life. The moon beam is so bright it looks like a 500 foot cruiseship is within reaching distance off the port side.
Perhaps I'm hearing the clatter of the meal tray pushed down the hall, but I'm remembering the sound of a huge King Fish slapping himself against our hull in Great Barrier Island off the coast of New Zealand. Play Mozart and I will hear the calls of a humpback whale singing through the fibreglass hull of our beautiful Paikea Mist while at anchor in Va'vau, Tonga.
And if you know me even a teensy bit, you'll understand how much I love to hear children sing. Bring your children to sing to me, and I will surely burst with happiness, yet my mind may glide to the harmonic voices of our young Tongan friends who sailed with us on the Regatta Race in Neiafu. As Paikea Mist sped aong, they sat shoulder to shoulder the length of her rails, their dark skin glistening in the sun. With their bare feet hanging towards the rushing water they sang strong and beautiful traditional Tongan songs at the tops of their lungs and at the height of their joy. And mine too.
Pull the fan close and turn it up high, and place it squarely in front of my face. I will tell you how strong the wind is blowing and adjust the sails while crossing one of the most beautiful oceans in the world.
And please, if you can get some of those sticky stars and put them on the ceiling for me. I will find Orion and fall into the sea with him.
A surprise occupant makes a special appearance!
06/24/2012, Inside the Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Paikea Mist is making her way northwest bound for Cape York, the Horn of Australia. The passage up from Cairns has been a beautiful combination of interesting anchorages and nice trade wind sailing, protected from the ocean swell by the long lineup of reefs to our east. From the resort style Lizard Island with its reef snorkels and splendid hikes, to the remoteness of Jewel Reef, our overnight stays have all been varied and beautiful. At Lizard Island the anchorage was full of boats all headed to Darwin for the Indonesian Rally. On our way north we are sailing within a group of five other boats day hopping up the Queensland coast. We are super impressed by a solo French sailor who is often in the lead flying his huge spinnaker sail. That sail is a handful for a shorthanded crew, let alone a guy sailing on his own. Not only that, when he anchored up in the lee of beautiful Morris Island last night he swung by in his dinghy with some freshly caught Spanish Mackerel.
Fishing has been pretty good, mainly thanks to Kai and his fishing skills. We enjoyed a mammoth sushi dinner two nights ago, the result of hooking on a Wavy Back Tuna. This is exquisite fish, and is bar none when eaten fresh from the sea. We've enjoyed a litany of fish dishes including fish burgers, fish tacos , with fish curry on the menu tonight. Might be almost time to pull out some meat from the freezer just for a break!
Morris Island was a real gem of an island to anchor behind. It is a small sandy spot of an island, the entire circumference can easily be walked in less than an hour. The sand in places is so fine it tickles your toes. Lacing out from the ends of the island, lines of sandy wavy beaches stretch for as far as the eye can see, making for excellent shell hunting, romantic strolls and just relaxing walks. The island is low and barren but for a coverage of agave plants and two lone coconut trees.
Sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef is a navigational challenge, our route picks its way past one shoal, reef or rock to the next. Thankfully the charts are very accurate with markers and lighthouses everywhere, so you are in no danger of finding anything unexpected along the way. We've read that the further north you go (above Cape York towards Papau New Guines) the charting becomes less and less accurate, but luckily we turn the corner to Darwin before we really have to worry about that. The entire inside of the reef is very shallow, anywhere from 30-70 feet is the norm for sailing. Depths on the outside of the outer reefs drops instantly to over 2000 feet.
As we leave the outer islands and reefs behind and start to find anchorages closer to the mainland we are tucking our swim suits and dive gear away. The Queensland coast is known for saltwater crocodiles who can swim to any of the nearby islands of their choice. Saltwater crocs are smart and stealthy hunters, and we are told that a swimmer was just eaten by one up by Cape York. All of this makes jumping into the water VERY unappealing. Once we turn west for Darwin we will stop in Gove to reprovision, but from there onwards we will have very little opportunity to get off the boat. We've also been told that there are bushfires burning in the outback causing some smoke to waft out across the water. We are hoping the fires will have dissipated a bit by then, but preparing ourselves for a bit of a grueling last section.
Tonight we are making our way to Portland Roads, an anchorage on the mainland where we are told is a pub we can visit for beers and pizza! Sure hope it's open, I can't wait to meet some of the local characters who call this remote place home. On Google Earth, Portland Roads appears as a tiny settlement at the end of a very long dirt road. We will keep you posted.....
06/21/2012, Ribbon Reef 10, Great Barrier Reef, Au
As we approached the outer edge of Ribbon Reef 10, we scanned for the mooring buoy we were hoping to tie up to for our introduction to diving on the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef.
When we found our targeted mooring buoy, Michael eased Paikea Mist directly for the reef, slowly edging his way towards the mooring buoy against 20 knots of wind. The mooring buoy is provided by the National Parks system here in Australia, and helps to preserve the underwater utopia below. Anchors can do irreparable damage to reefs like this. In 30 feet of depth below the keel, I could see the bottom and make out huge fish as we came to our parking spot next to the reef. The wind blew us steadily off the reef, our bow a somewhat hair-raising 20 feet from the reef's edge. We were told to go on this buoy only on an ebbing tide to ensure that we were not taken back onto the reef. We timed our arrival just after high tide, in order to allow all four of us to dive on our 2 sets of dive gear.
This is the wonderful thing about sharing a place like this with the likes of Kai and Megan- it just amplifies the joy. All four of us stood in wonderment for some time, soaking in the fact that we were, well, where we were! At the moment, we had the reef entirely to ourselves, but we knew that the 2 commercial dive boats- one liveaboard and the other out on a dive excursion from Lizard Island Resort would catch up to us after lunch.
As soon as our dinghy was launched, Kai was also launched and we knew immediately by his "whoaaah" that we were in for a good dive.
Michael and I scrambled into our dive gear and leapt from Paikea Mist directly into the clear waters. Just below our keel a huge Potato Grouper hung out, his huge mouth held in a a big rubbery pout. The dive was one of our best across the Pacific, like swimming through a never ending aquarium on steroids. Looking out into the pass huge balls of fish were silhouetted against the clear blue waters. I swam through a mesmerizing swirl of dozens of colorful big eyes who circled around me in a perfectly magical circle.
The big fish on the reef are what give Cod Hole its reputation for being one of the best dive sites in the world, but it was also balanced with a wide variety of beautiful small reef fish all dancing and swaying to the movement of the sea. The huge potato groupers were often stationary, tucked into huge coral outcroppings, and were not frightened by us at all, several of them allowing us to pet them, which they seemed to like. Others were quite inquisitive, swimming directly to our masks to check us out. All the while black and white tipped reef sharks glided slickly through the waters adding a little zest to the tranquil scene.
Once we sucked up every pound of air we had in the tanks, we climbed back aboard the boat slap stick happy. We filled the tanks up and Kai and Megan took off on their dive. Megan's smile at the end of her dive told the story. My oh my what a reef!
As the tide was nearing its cycle to low we slipped off the mooring and shortly thereafter furled out our large genoa to sail down wind back to our anchorage behind Lizard Island. While Paikea Mist cruised over the surf back we topped the day off with a huge mess of nachos.