Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cape York to Darwin, Days 1 through 3

After the Albany Pass we went behind Possession Island and anchored in Simpson Bay to await the correct tide for continuing through the Endeavor Strait. Simpson Bay is shallow and has many pearl farm strings in the middle, and there is a strong current which alternates direction with the tides. This was the first time we have ever set the anchor while having the engine in forward gear! The current was too strong to allow the boat to float freely in neutral and certainly way too strong to put it into reverse as one normally does when setting an anchor. But it was pleasant and we had a restful night. The 2 or 3 boats that followed us through Albany Pass anchored on the northern side of Possession Island. That anchorage would be exposed and untenable during northerly or westerly winds, but during normal SE trade winds it is probably a better anchorage area than inside Simpson Bay. It has easier access and doesn't have the strong currents that funnel through Simpson Bay. That anchorage is at 10.43.75S 142.23.27E. Also, note that once again our C-map charts were off on the depth. Everything was accurate except for the southern tip of Possession Island. We encountered very shallow depth where it should have been 4 to 6 meters deep. We turned and maneuvered into deeper water so I don't know how far off the C-map charts were for that little area.

On Wednesday morning 2 September we departed Simpson Bay at 0830 at the beginning of rising tide. One wants to travel westward through the Torres Strait area on a rising tide because the currents are so strong. All that Coral Sea/Pacific Ocean is funneled through the narrow space between Australia and Papua New Guinea and the tidal streams/currents are very strong. The tides are different times in the Coral Sea east of the Torres Strait than in the Arafura Sea west of the Torres Strait. A descending tide causes strong easterly-setting tidal currents in the Torres Strait; an ascending tide causes strong westerly-setting tidal currents. It was neat to check the various tidal reporting stations from the east to the west and see how the tide flows westward. The farther west one goes through the Torres Strait area, the longer the ascending tide lasts. The most westerly tidal reporting station in the Torres Strait indicated an ascending tide over 14 hours on the day we traversed this area. The most easterly tidal reporting station indicated an ascending tide of only 4 hours. So we wanted to catch the easterly tide at the beginning of the ascension and then ride the current westward as long as possible.

This timing worked beautifully. We had positive current assisting us along at 2.5 to 3 knots for at least 120 miles as we navigated the Endeavor Strait and across the Gulf of Carpentaria. Winds were in the 20-plus range from the SE, off our port stern quarter. We poled the jib to starboard and were off. With the positive current and the good winds we made 182.4 NM during the first 24 hours and Thursday morning found us at latitude 10.49.16S longitude 139.20.52E. Could have covered more ground if we had put up more sail, but we were happy enough with the speed as it was.

The Gulf of Carpentaria gets quite rough and disturbed when the SE trade winds set in. It was a most uncomfortable sail for the first 24 hours as the seas twisted the boat and rolled us about. The seas had no rhythm or discernable pattern for 2/3 across the gulf. But by the final third the seas had formed into a regular pattern and the ride became much more comfortable. At the end of the second 24 hours (Friday 0830)we had sailed an additional 146.8 NM and were completely across the Gulf of Carpentaria at latitude 10.49.16S longitude 139.20.52E off Cape Wessel. We were both quite glad to say goodbye to the Gulf of Carpentaria and hope never to see it again.

At 0830 this morning (Saturday 4 September 2009) we were located at latitude 10.50.41S longitude 134.39.20E and had sailed an additional 129.7 NM. Total distance sailed in 3 days was 458.9 NM. The wind has died down considerably. As I write this at noon Saturday we have taken in the jib and are now motoring through the largest algae bloom imaginable. It goes on for miles and miles and looks nasty. We are not fishing on this trip, that is for sure. Last night was a full moon and it was so pleasant sailing on the flat sea with the bright moonlight. But now the light wind is gone so it is time to motor for awhile. We have 271 miles left to Darwin. Should arrive there Sunday night or sometime Monday morning, depending on how much we are willing to run the engine if the wind doesn't pick up.

Our friends and S/V B'Sheret and S/V Skylax arrived in Darwin already. We talk on the SSB each evening, along with a single-hander on S/V Sayonara who is at least a week behind us. Also joining us on our little SSB net is Bob on S/V Boomerang, a fellow Houstonian who is also single-handing. Bob is already in Bali. It is great to obtain advance information from those ahead of us.

The first night we were in the Gulf of Carpentaria our NMEA multiplexer failed. That meant the GPS could no longer talk with our computer and with our autopilot. So for now we have no digital instrument information at the helm; but the analog instruments at the helm are quite sufficient. It is a weird feeling when you suddenly no longer know exactly where you are because the little boat icon disappears from the electronic chart!!! Our primary GPS is still working; it just can't talk to the computer. Our secondary GPS (the one that Bill had recently installed in our aft cabin so we could set an anchor alarm and watch it in our bedroom) had failed a couple of weeks ago. Apparently the antenna on that new GPS is faulty. So we couldn't just switch from the primary GPS to the secondary GPS. Bill plugged in our third alternate GPS and it also wouldn't work correctly. That darn thing showed that we were at 140W instead of 140E. That was of no use at all. Next Bill tried the old trusty Garmin handheld GPS and that is working fine. Luckily we have enough batteries on hand to power the handheld until we reach Darwin. While we are talking GPS, the antenna on our primary GPS failed on our Pacific crossing and we replaced that antenna while in New Zealand.

This has been extremely frustrating for Bill. I wasn't panicked about the situation because we were past all the reef and in open waters with no obstacles to worry about. I knew we could just manually take GPS readings every 20 minutes and plot our course on the computer manually. We could take the long way into Darwin and go around Melville Island and Bathurst Island rather than go through the Van Diemen Gulf and the Clarence Straits. It wouldn't have been as nice and easy as having Maxsea track our course, but it was doable. But Bill wanted it fixed right away and set to work doing everything he could think of to get the GPS talking to the computer again. He has tried re-wiring numerous different ways to get around the defective NMEA multiplexer but nothing has worked. Bouncing all over while in that rough Gulf of Carpentaria certainly didn't help matters in the least. Bill worked on this and didn't get a bit of sleep the first night. He has continued to work on it every time he gets a new thought, but he is slowly coming to think it is useless. This just cannot be wired without a NMEA multiplexer. We are pretty certain that we will have to order a replacement from the States. So we might be stuck in Darwin a bit longer than originally planned. Hopefully we will be able to find a Furuno technician in Darwin. Maybe he will have the right kind of cable or know something that is not in the printed manuals.

All is well aboard S/V BeBe. It is getting very warm. It is 88 degrees inside the boat and much hotter outside! We just measured the temperature of our is 169 degrees! Not as bad as August in Houston, but plenty warm compared to the cool temps experienced on the eastern coast of Australia for the past several months.

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