Monday, September 7, 2009

Darwin arrival

Whew! Are we glad this trip is over! We are now anchored just outside Cullen Bay Marina in Darwin right in front of our friends Michael and Linda on S/V B'SHERET. They are clearing out today and will soon depart for Indonesia, so glad we arrived in time to connect up with them for a quick visit. At the time of our arrival in Darwin this morning we were down to only 12 hours of batteries remaining for our handheld GPS. First item of business is to get at least 2 of the other 3 GPS units working and talking again with the various other onboard electronic instruments. We immediately put the dinghy in the water and Bill has gone ashore to begin the shopping process while I remained onboard to do laundry and tidy up. I found that we can pick-up a WiFi signal from the marina which allows me to use AirMail to send emails but bandwidth is too weak for adequate internet access, so probably no photos for awhile.

Today (back home) is our 40th wedding anniversary. Yesterday was our anniversary date local time; but I decided that since we were married on September 6, 1969 in Central Daylight Savings time zone in Texas, then we should not consider it our anniversary until it was Sept 6 in Texas. You would think that we would have something special planned to acknowledge 40 years together (at least dinner at a nice restaurant,) but since we just arrived and don't know the area yet we will likely do nothing special. Although, I must say, after this passage I really would enjoy having someone present a menu and serve a nice meal with nice atmosphere.

I have sort of lost track of the past couple of days. Here is the best I remember.

Day 4 of the passage from Cape York to Darwin ended at 0830 Sunday morning, 6 September. Distance sailed during the previous 24 hours was 134.2 NM, total distance of this passage so far was 593.1 NM. We were at latitude 10.49.49S longitude 132.22.82E, closing in on Cape Don. We motor-sailed very slowly all day Saturday and all night through more than a hundred miles of horrible algae bloom. Very nasty looking stuff. And parts of it didn't smell too great either. We had calculated arrival off Cape Don for 0300 Monday morning. This would place us entering the Dundas Strait into the Van Diemen Gulf slightly late for the perfect tidal time, but still doable. Somewhat unfortunately, the wind picked up; our boat speed picked up correspondingly; and we arrived at Cape Don at 1800 Sunday evening instead of 0300 Monday morning. This meant the tides wouldn't be perfect but we decided to go with it anyway.

The Van Diemen Gulf flows into the Arafura Sea and the typical tidal range is 3 meters. The Van Diemen Gulf is connected westerly through the Clarence Strait to the Beagle Gulf (Darwin). The Beagle Gulf has typical tidal range of 7 meters. This difference of additional 4 meters tide flowing through narrow straits creates huge tidal flow through the Dundas Strait and the Clarence Strait. So the trick to navigating this area is to arrive at the Dundas Strait at 4 1/2 hours BEFORE high tide in Darwin. This allows boats to ride the southerly and westerly flowing ascending tide through the Dundas Strait, where this tidal current boosts your boat speed by 3 1/2 knots or higher. We were doing 10 knots (speed over ground) through the Dundas Strait even though our boat speed through the water was only 6 1/2 knots! This favorable current remained with us about halfway through the Van Diemen Gulf. Then we had neutral current for about an hour; then up to 1 knot of negative current for about 20 miles; then we again began picking up favorable current as we approached Cape Hotham when it was again beginning ascending tide in Darwin, causing the water to again flow westward through the Clarence Strait. Soon we were again experiencing almost 3 knots of favorable tidal current. Only glitch was that we did all this at night and there are shoals all around the route. Thank goodness for that full moon and the properly lighted shipping channel through the Clarence Strait.

Everything worked perfectly except that we encountered a strong adverse current into Darwin during the descending out-flowing tide as we motored up the long main entrance channel to Darwin. We could have taken the short-cut across Fannie Bay since it was high tide (+7 meters). But I was not comfortable doing that because at low tide Fannie Bay gets far too shallow for us to float. S/V BeBe would be lying on her side in the mud if something happened and we didn't get all the way across Fannie Bay before the next low tide. So we took the long way around and came in the main shipping channel and dealt with the adverse current. We were motoring 6 knots boat speed through the water, but actually making progress of only 2 1/2 knots of speed over ground. Took us a couple of hours longer to arrive at the anchorage than if we had cut across ultra-shallow Fannie Bay, but better for our peace of mind.

That covers Day 5 of our passage from Simpson Bay at Cape York to Darwin. Total time for this passage was 5 days and 2 hours. Distance sailed was 750 nautical miles. This trip took us from the Queensland territory and across the top of the Northern Territory, most of which was Arnhem Land. Arnhem is traditional aboriginal land and visitors must have an advance permit for each place that one wishes to visit. The aborigines supposedly tolerate cruising boats and don't bother them as long as they just anchor and do not go ashore. We opted to sail straight and not anchor along the coast. There are a couple of places in Arnhem that would be interesting to visit -- the most intriguing to me are the 20,000 year old rock paintings -- and permitted day flight tours can be arranged if one is willing to pay the cost. I would really like to know how the aboriginals reached Australia so very long ago. The aboriginals have a different appearance than any of the African black people that we have seen. This race and their culture are very interesting. What a shame that Australians have treated them so badly for so many years. As much as I would like to see some of the ancient rock paintings, I doubt we will be flying to see any of them.

As we were motoring through the channel into Darwin we were hailed by Paul on S/V FLAME as they motored out. They are entering their final leg of their circumnavigation. This will be the hardest part of the entire circumnavigation for them as they will return down the notoriously rough western coast of Australia to their hometown of Perth. Paul and Diane assisted us as line-handlers on our boat when we transited the Panama Canal last year. Small world to run into them here today. And for an even smaller world, Paul and Diane are also celebrating their wedding anniversary today. This marks 41 years of wedded bliss for them. With so many marriages not lasting these days, it is unusual for two old couples like us to mark such lengthy marriages on the same day. And really unusual to run into one another in Darwin as one couple arrives and the other couple departs. Congratulations to Paul and Diane and best wishes for a safe voyage to Perth.

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