Sahula Cruising

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Passage Report #11

23 July 2008 | Darwin
Passage Report No 11


Gove to Darwin

It's called the Hole in the Wall or more aptly the Gugari Rip. It's a narrow (some 50 metres), its deep and it squeezes massive volumes of tidal water between the rock cliffs of Wessels Islands, Guluwuru Island and Raragala Island. It's spoken of in awe.

Leaving Gove is in anticipation of the Rip. Specific guidance is given at the Gove Yacht Club. Vessels pass Cape Wilberforce and overnight at Wigram Island ready to transit the next day, on the top of high tide or during the first hour of the ebb.

Sahula arrived in company of two other yachts. She was the first to enter. Conditions were not as per "guidance". The Rip was some 6 knots or more in flood. Whirlpools and upwelling met Sahula threatening to turn her to the rock walls on either side... This was not "slack" water. Sails were insufficient, Tanya went into action, driving Sahula, twisting and turning, the mile to the end.

Selene of Norway was to transit tomorrow. We radioed that the "guidance" was incorrect. The next day 9 yachts passed through benefiting from Sabula's advice.

We'd earned a rest in Guruliya Bay an hour west of the Rip. A lovely place of blue water, white beaches and barren rock island. Sahula stayed two nights. The fleet came and went.

We "bushwalked" inland finding many "arranged stone circles." Lorraine "discovered" under spectacularly eroded coastal sandstone cliffs, numerous ancient hand "splattering" and paintings of fish, and human forms. Art marked time.

Sahula was now to pass over the "top" to Darwin in a series of day sails along the coast. There are two routes over the "Top"; one involves an offshore overnight passage. Sahula in post-Gulf mode was not attracted to that option. The "coastal" option is more risky. It involves day passages through shallow, shoal strewn, uncharted waters. Sahula opted for the adventure in calm water.

The first passage was to Gunawa Point bay on Elcho Island, a 7 hour sail.

The second was to Cape Stewart passing cautiously through a narrow passage between the Crocodile Islands. "Cautiously" because the chart proclaimed large areas as "uncharted" or containing shoals as "Rept 1900." (or thereabouts). The depth sounder is the sailor's best friend.

Each evening the day's adventure is muted by "sundowners" (wine and nibbles) against a spectacular sunset.

As well it was beautiful sailing with the ESE'ly coming from the land. The azure sea was calm, wind 15 -20 knots.

To cap it all, the new "Gove" lure secured a large tuna for dinner ('s). The deck was covered in blood before the fight was won. On a moving deck, just lifting aboard the luckless fish was a battle, let alone filleting it. Protein was the reward.

Each day between 0800 - 0900 (Darwin time) the Darwin Net (6516) provides contact with other vessels on passage across the "Top" and handy advice from their experiences. It will run throughout the Indonesian Rally.

Sahula's skipper has agreed to be a Net coordinator next week. A new experience and contribution to a marvelous facility run by yachties. There are many "nets" for particular marine areas that keep yachts in contact e.g. Coral Sea "Sheila Net" on 8161.

A "long day" (12 hours) sailing found secure anchorage at Cape Stewart then another to Mullet Bay, North Goulburn Island.

The latter passage involved Sahula almost becalmed and being swept to the rocks and shoals off Braithwaite Point. A late afternoon breeze and "Mollie" (MPS) kept water under the keel. However, the day extended to a moonless, inky night sail through the passage between the Goulburn Islands. Night sailing is not for the feint hearted in these waters. No actual sighting was made of the islands. Sahula was doing 8 knots with the tide. At midnight, grateful for the radar and GPS digital charts, Sahula anchored in Mullet Bay.

The Cape was on the Aboriginal Lands permit, but not Mullet Bay. It's exclusion raised the issue of "going ashore." Substantial fines ($2000) apply to offenders. Some crews proudly refused to get a permit, an act of "white" defiance. Others obtained a permit for the places they'd visit. This exercise requires pre-planning and time as the consent is required of each relevant Traditional Owner."

Sahula obtained a permit at Gove under new fast tracked arrangements for yachts in transit across the "Top." However, it was limited in scope. It meant in many places the crew was yacht bound.

It's impossible not to feel the aboriginality of this region. Arnhem land seemed to be the very cultural font. However, it was never more so than when Sahula anchored in Bowen Strait with Croker Island bordering one side.

Many years ago, the skipper met Mary Yarmirr, an elder of Croker Island's people. This tall, regal lady was leading the High Court battle for legal recognition over the waters surrounding her peoples land. The people won only limited rights to conduct their cultural activities not full possession. The low, flat, unimposing Croker Island, a few meters off Sabula's bow, these waters and the name "Yarmirr", became a legal artifact to be studied by generations of law students.

Morning had Sahula sailing to Port Essington. In contrast to the aboriginality, this "port" sort to establish a different culture, that of Europe. A beautiful harbour, Sahula sailed through it to the National Parks centre at Black Point and then onto the inappropriately named "Berke\ey Bay". She was there with eleven other, Rally bound, yachts.

Port Essington is proof of "mad dogs and Englishmen...." In 1838 a settlement, aptly named "Victoria," was established to defend the realm on the dry rock hard earth of Minto Head. A more pitiless place, one could not imagine for the overdressed English to "...go out in the midday (or any) sun." Yet there they built in "ironstone" blocks a Government House, a hospital, a wharf, soldier's quarters and homes. A little England in the heat and desolation. To atone for the "madness" some 50 souls required disturbing of that "iron" soil.

After a decade "Victoria" took "her" toll. The occupants work was simply abandoned to history.

Four days passed pleasantly in Berkeley Bay. Of particular interest to the foreign yachts were the crocodiles in the nearby creek. The skipper sighted a 5 meter monster. One was found basking on the beach. Swimming is a risky activity. It's reported they are also predisposed to inflatable dinghies, particularly small ones like "Zod," Sahula's link to shore. Olive (the 2hp outboard) was exercised at top speed. An act of delusion.

An azure sea, a blue, clear cobalt sky, a fair wind and white sails of the fleet all on coarse for Darwin from Cape Don. A day enhancing the myth of sailing. Rarely is it all so beautiful. A perfect occasion for photography. Kayitsiz III (Turkish yacht) and Sahula exchanged photographers as the boats sailed alongside flying headsails. Later with "Galiano" (NZ), Sahula exchanged photos of our spinnakers drawing.

When finally the wind died, Tanya took Sahula with Galiano and Kayitsiz III to anchor behind Cape Hotham. We were in no hurry to arrive in the city. We toasted the sunset aboard Galiano.

A light ESE'ly, an early start, and the fleet, next day, made good time through the Clarence Strait to Darwin. Sahula had arrived. She anchored in Fanny Bay with some hundred yachts. A spectacular sight.

An invitation to dine aboard the lovely 47 footer Pampero capped a marvelous sail from Gove.

So now two weeks of city life, rest, and valiant attempts to shorten the ever present list of things to do. Then on Saturday, 26th July, a short two weeks, Sahula sails out for her first foray into international waters to Kupang, West Timor in Indonesia.

It's marvelous to contemplate this amazing potpourri of Rally sailors. They range from an eighth month old baby, young children to twenties to retirees. They're aboard big luxury yachts to 28 footer. The average length is 42 feet. They're from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Austria, Switzerland, France, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey, South Africa, Japan and the United Kingdom. They're subsistence to wealthy, aboard mono hulls or multihulls, homemade to classy professional.

All set out in a mass fleet start on Saturday week for some four days sail across the Timor Sea to Kupang. There is a buzz afloat in Fanny Bay.

Life is never dull.

Sv Sahula

Passage Report #10

26 June 2008 | Gove
Taking the Gulf by Storm

No one discussed the Gulf of Carpentaria. It was just there. A benign sea in a sea of oceans. A place to be crossed - in three days -to get to the other side and the fabled Wessels before Darwin

This perception was about to change.

The "fleet" had gone their separate ways. The Turks and "Carronade" were in Thursday Island. "Selene" and "Full Moon" were headed south to Seisa and Weipa. Wise Ely on Selene said they'd get a better "angle" from there and it was shorter to Gove. "Had we heard..." the weather report forecast of a coming change likely to create 30 knot winds, with another following. These highs were like Sahula, "moving on".

Sahula didn't fancy Thursday Island or Weipa. She was for greater adventures. Cape York marked the finale to the East Coast. It was time to raise the curtain of the Territory's "Top End."

"Evelyn" had left, "Kristianne" also. So doubts, even forebodings aside, let's go, it was only the Gulf.

Cape York sank astern; the notorious Torres Strait was blue and beautiful. The glistening white obelisk and its brass plaque on Possession Island, proudly proclaimed Australia for Cook - an Englishman. History was in good hands in a bare and "vacant" land.

The clear sky sped Sahula across the Strait's shoals to Woody Wallis Island, our final landfall before the Gulf.

"Evelyn" radioed ahead she was almost becalmed with "everything up." Sahula raised "Mollie" (the MPS - spinnaker), great sailing to the setting sun. The full moon rose, Sahula contentedly cleaved the Gulf. The idyll was about to change.

Gradually the wind increased, unusual at night, so sails were trimmed to two reefed main and furled yankee. A good sailing seemed the order of the moonlit night. The crew did three hour watches. Lorraine was on her first major ocean crossing, so was the skipper. We had a nice dinner.

Then the wind increased. Previous gusts became consistent increases. Sahula surfed to 6-7 knots. It promised a fast trip to Gove. With the raising wind so did the sea. It did so alone.

In usual ocean conditions, a raised sea accompanies a rising swell. The waves are superimposed on the swell. Tonight, there was no swell; instead a chaotic cauldron was developing. Sahula instead of finding the expected order of plying the swell buffeted by waves was in a sea of confusion with more similarities to a washing machine bowl. The only consistency was the increasing wind, now verging on gale force.

Sahula held her two reefs in the mainsail and furled the yankee to a pocket hankerchief. She was handling it well. She inspired confidence. She was enjoying the challenges being thrown against her. Intermittently, collapsing tops curled into "grey beards," towered above then erupted against the hull. White water flowed across the deck. Most important, the plastic side "walls" around the cockpit kept the crew dry and relatively wind free. The crew managed three hour watches. The main cabin, its low
lights and mellow timber, provided a surreal atmosphere of warmth, calm and serenity. Lorraine, remarkably, was sleeping well despite the reasons the skipper had mere refreshing snippets. The thin blue line from the GPS (satellite navigation system) marked the computer course to Gove. The miles inexorably ticked away.

The first gear failure was on Arial (wind vane self steering). The vane paddle shaft swivel disengaged so the paddle flopped up disabling the system. In calm conditions it was simple to re-engage it. In this maelstrom it was impossible. Sahula's crew would have to hand steer to Gove. The hydraulic self steering system used too much battery power to be a viable long term option. Gove was two days away.

It was not a disaster. It was good experience to "feel" the boat in these extreme conditions, steer "through the gorges, over the mountains," but tiring if it was to be for two days and two nights. Then the wind indicator closed down, then started again. It was not critical.

The Darwin Net (an inter-yacht radio net) provided news of Evelyn's travails. She was just ahead of Sahula. The Net kept a welcome daily watch over both yachts.

The half way mark passed by, soon morning found land birds fishing thirty miles from shore. Sahula was nearly there. The radar confirmed land was near. It was early Saturday morning when Veronica Light gave a welcome flash and Sahula was soon tracking down Melville Bay to Gove Harbour. The relief was palpabable, of both satisfaction and calm. The crew were too tired to celebrate. They'd simply made it. The anchor dropped amongst the many boats off the Gove Yacht Club. Not a soul stirred aboard Sahula
till late in the day.

Later, Sahula heard there were 15 yachts, in Weipa, awaiting fine conditions to cross the Gulf.

Sahula rested at Gove for three days, restocking at Nhulunbuy and enjoying the company of the many yacht owners also heading to Darwin. Olive, the outboard, was not well. She needed repairs. An Aboriginal land access permit was also required, and an Alcohol Permit to buy wine. Coastal NT is 70% owned by Aboriginal communities. Fotunately the Indonesian Rally organizers had arranged that participants be granted a full NT Aboriginal land permit. There are heavy fines for illegal access by cruising

A plan is to depart on Thursday, with other yachts, for the Wessel Island group and then day sail along the NT coast to Croker Island and through to Darwin. Sahula plans to be in Darwin in two weeks.

Sv Sahula

Passage Report #9

21 June 2008 | Cape York
Cairns to Cape York.

If yacht cruising is a reaction against some less attractive incentive, then being too long in Cairns is a good example. It's the quintessential tourist city. A place whose great tropical beauty attracts human nature like flies. The world's travelers "own" the city. Sahula was in the central Marlin Marina home to dozens of tour boats that each day swarmed, in sun or rain, to the offshore reef delights. It is not a place Sahula would chose to linger. However, the skipper met good friends, had repairs
done and awaited, patiently, Lorraine, the Melbourne crew.

Sahula was slipped at Norship shipyards for three days. The propeller skeg welds had cracked and required strengthening and then "Tanya" (the engine) required realignment and more as the propeller shaft rattled happily. One job leads to another. It was frustrating (not least because of regular tropical showers) as it was hoped that such troubles were no more. Of course, there are experts, but welcome though advice is, it invariably varies rather than confirms. Such are boats, Challenges abound and
not all pleasant.

The pleasant aspect can now commence, heading off to parts, for Sahula, are unexplored; the wild remote coasts of Cape York, Torres Strait, the Gulf and the Northern Territory.

Departure day loomed fine, sunny and no wind. Sahula motored to Double Island off Palm Beach north of Cairns. A lovely spot but in the Cairns airport flight path. Sahula was not yet free. Next day she motored initially then sailed in light winds to Port Douglas to visit friends. Fed and topped up, Sahula left, two nights later, in light winds for Lizard Island.

Initial frustrations at the light winds soon dissipated as the South East Trades gradually increased to 20 knots and above. They sustained their force throughout the night. Sahula romped towards the calm and calming Lizard Island anchorage. Frequent sail changes were required, Mollie, the MPS (spinnaker) to yankee poled out, to furled yankee, two reefs in the mainsail, as the wind changed from light to strong, SW to SE to more easterly. At times curling wind driven wave tops arched into the cockpit.

Iron mammoths being piloted through the Reef squeezed past in the channeled narrowness between reefs and guiding buoys. Sahula often seemed to look steeply up to the ships bridge.

As if these challenges weren't enough, in their midst, a large mackerel was caught with the silver spinner. Luring the fish is the easy part, hauling its reluctance in, ensuring no life giving slack, gaffing its thrashing form aboard, taking its life force in a bloodbath, filleting, all underway on a moving deck, is challenging. The reward is fish, fish and more fish for dinner, lunch and tea.

Steep, jungle clad, cloud topped peaks provided a superb backdrop... They were just as sighted by Captain Cook and his crew. These gentlemen gained our respect as we navigated between reefs that in their day where uncharted and ever threatening. Even the considerable distance from historic Endeavour Reef and their careening in Cooktown was reef strewn.

These thoughts were highlighted by Sahula passing at sunset, the historic replica of the 15th Century, square rigged, Dutch ship, "Duyfken" under full sail. This ship recalled the first recorded visit by Europeans to the Australian coast.

At night Sahula romped on into the inky, pitch black of a moonless starry sky. It made for cautious if not slightly fatalistic, tense sailing. Unseen reefs lurked on all sides. The radar highlighted the islands. Lorraine took half hourly GPS (satellite navigation) fixes and the course hitchhiked the iron mammoths from guiding beacon to beacon. It was not for the faint hearted. .

Sahula seemed driven to seek a calm anchorage. Too driven perhaps as she arrived pre-dusk and hove to till first light. It was a relieved, exhausted but happy crew that joined the cruising fleet anchored in Watson's Bay, Lizard Island.

It is a place of historical tragedy. In the mid 1800's, Mrs. Watson, her baby son and two Chinese servants were left at home alone on the Island by her husband, a bech de mere fisherman. Aboriginals objected to the intrusion. After one servant was killed Mrs. Watson, her baby son and the remaining servant launched a large iron bech de mer boiling pot and drifted to a nearby island (now called Watson Island) where thirst claimed them. The decaying walls of the Watson residence are the sole reminder.

Daybreak revealed an international fleet of 15 yachts. Most are enroute to Darwin to join the Indonesian Rally.

The day passed in sleep, food, rest and recuperation. The overnight coastal sailing had drained Sahula's crew. We planned on staying a day to climb Mt Cook and snorkel.

Next day dawned fine with strong 30 knot trade winds. We traced Captain Cook's ascent of his mountain namesake for fabulous views to the outer ribbon reefs and surrounding islands. A wonder view of mirror clear, azure blue seas, islands and reefs. After a snorkel on the reef a few meters from the boat, we joined our neighbours on the beach for a sunset get together. Conversation on their respective adventures peppered general discussion of boat technics. Politics and suburbia did not enter the reverie.
Does Rudd or Obana exist?

Sahula stayed three days in the delights of Lizard Is. Cook only saw lizard inhabitants, hence the name. He was inured after so long an exploration to the beauty of their habit.

On departure day, Sahula left with 10 white triangles all dotting the horizon on their trek north. It dawned a fine day with now standard, strong trade winds. The lone yankee headsail raced Sahula along the shipping route precariously slotted between the grasping reefs. It was fine sailing.

To starboard the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, to port the wild vastness of Cape York. Mountains, plains, rivers and beaches only lightly touched. It is amazing in today's crowded world that there exists such a vast wildness. It has the mystique and deserves the reverence of a last frontier.

Soon, Sahula's first wildness anchorage loomed ahead. The high mountainous, midden like, black boulder piles of Cape Melville formed a perfect bay. Sahula was here with the fleet. She churned at the anchor under the wind gusts catapulting across the bay. We watched the sunset over sundowners and sought the warmth of Sahula's saloon. Tonight's dinner expended the last of the hapless mackerel.

A short fast sail to the Flinders Group, through the Owen Channel between these islands and the anchorage in Stokes Bay on Stanley Island. All was calm but for the trade wind bullets rattling the rigging.

Time to build the skipper's technical abilities. The GPS (satellite location) was successfully introduced to the computer's digital chart systems; "Captain Voyager" and "Tsunami." (Sahula has four like systems including C Map and Maxsea.) Capt. Voyager has the advantage of using digitalized naval charts. "This "major" skills advance (its relative) meant that navigation could now be also by digital chart adding the GPS info and position. "Stress" dropped further into the negative.

"Technical" also takes in culinary skills. Sahula's oven produced the first Cape York bread and a cake. Steve (catamaran skipper here) offloaded excess fillets of yellow tuna he caught enroute. Fresh fish again.

>From Flinders continental island, 12 hours away to Morris Islands, a sand, one palm tree, cay, and in between a sail beginning in calms, ending in 25 knot trade winds and the final anchorage in relative calmness. On this remote cay ( to humans only, birds abound), another sad end is evidenced by a lone unmarked grave under a sole coconut tree of a long past trepang diver. Sahula is here with five other yachts. She seems to have joined a fleet to Cape York and to Darwin.

When Sahula anchored next day at Portland Roads settlement, the Danish crew said they'd never sailed for so long in such trade winds. Their wind generator had collapsed from the stress. They and we, logged an averaged of 6.5 knots. Amazing sailing in the relatively calm inner reef seas. Sahula has the bit in her teeth.

Sadly, Portland Roads introduced expensive headland "shacks," giving some sense of the potential Cape York "Gold Coast". To cap it all a big white luxury motor yacht anchored nearby, home port "Southport." At the same time, solo sailor, adventurer, Steve on his Wharram (very basic) catamaran, "Cool Change", came in. A nice contrast. He dropped off another offering of yellow tuna caught today. We are growing "fat" on fresh fish dinners.

Amazing, here in Margaret Bay, Cape Grenville, is Kayitsiz III. We met Oskan and Yilmuz in Cairns. They left a week ahead of Sahula. So we departed the "fleet" for Turkish coffee. As well tonight Sahula hosts our friends and the crew off "Carronade for oysters and tuna. A nice touch to a great days sailing in light Trades while dodging iron mammoths hogging their shipping channel.

Another nice touch is we "risked" the Paluma Passage through the Home Islands. "Risked" is due to the Lucas guidebook highlighting its challenges. These were minor. Fishing sea birds crowded over the mackerel cutting into minnow schools. Sadly, again expensive "shacks" and an airport protruded from a bordering Hicks Island.

The "fleet" moved to nearby Shellburne Bay and drinks on "Carronade" and dinner on Kayitsiz III. "Carronade," presently owned by Neil and Anne, is a wooden Swanson 30 foot Carmen design. In the 70's, she was the first Australian yacht to round Cape Horn. An inspiration to Sahula.

A feature of this far northern seascape is the prevalence of copious wildlife. Dolphin swim alongside, sharks sun in the passing waters, mass flocks of wheeling, diving terns and seagulls. Conversation is only in passing on these graceful creatures. It is crocodiles that take pole position. These lizards dominate through fear. Tales abound of their leaping into dinghies, sweeping children off yacht decks, extracting errant swimmers. It is confirmation of the human willingness to create mythology
out of potential threats. "Potential" was confirmed by our sighting crocodile track above tide at Margaret Bay. No brave sailor wasted anytime when subsequently
, we boarded the dinghies.

Nevertheless, "mythology" reined when Sahula set off to fulfill the skipper's long held wish to climb and see Shellburne Bay's spectacular sand hills. Lorraine remained aboard while the skipper motored ashore to tempt the crocs. The effort was rewarded with views inland across the many high pure white, silica sand hills, perched swamps and the bay. A place well saved from sand mining by a strong conservation effort in the 1980's.

A fast sail next day had Sahula enjoying the release of her first completely calm (wind and water) anchorage since Port Douglas, deep in the Escape River estuary. Navigation here is challenged by the estuary being dotted with pearl farm racks. This was the last anchorage before Cape York.

Certain evidence that Cape York was nigh came overhead when "Coast watch's" red and white plane buzzed low overhead asking Sahula's details and later, similarly, the Customs Patrol vessel.

Tides can be a contrary concept. Sahula escaped the River calmness to strike for the fabled Cape York. Her course took her through the historic Albany Passage. Sahula expected to be flushed through by a 6 knot flood tide. It was not to be, the flood turned into an ebb. A passing trawler advised of the unpredictability of Cape tides. The Passage passed in slow motion. Anchorage was found in Shallow Bay just outside the Passage. The Cape would keep till tomorrow after a visit to Somerset Bay.

Somerset Bay is in the Albany Passage. It was there the Jardine family homestead attracted mail steamers enroute to Sydney from India and Britain. Homestead dinner parties for first class passengers were held with all the "...elegance and dignity.." of an English stately mansion (including tiaras!) (Toghill). Sahula found that only a few "domestic" trees, palms, graves and three amazing old cannons, provide an eerie reminder.

It was onto the Cape. Sahula triumphantly, almost touched it, passing into the anchorage via the narrow boiling tidal passage between the Cape and Eborac Island. Unexpectedly, the Cape was "Pitt Street." Helicopters flew low overhead, crowds of tourists tramped for the lifetime photograph. We did the same. The mystery is where they all came from to reach this seemingly remote place?

Sahula's adventure along the Australian East Coast was over. It has been a marvelous experience. The crew and the ship are more in synch with the task. The task has become more realistic. Sahula now turns west to continue to Darwin and eventually to the Red Sea and Europe.

Readers wishing to enjoy more technical information about sailing this coast should call up the "Sailing Notes - Cairns to Cape York" on this blog site.
Vessel Name: Sahula
Vessel Make/Model: van de stadt 36 extended to 40 feet
Hailing Port: Townsville
Crew: David - single hander
David is retired (60 ish young) academic who taught potential environmental radicals environmental law, law of the sea and coastal law. He's now setting out on a global cruise aboard Sahula. He's travelling solo except when potential crew take the plunge and join up. He welcomes worthy souls. [...]

About Sahula

Who: David - single hander
Port: Townsville