Tuesday, September 1, 2009

North from Cairns -- Days 6 through 10

Thursday night 27 August found us anchored at Flinders Island. Both the mainland Cape Melville area and all the nearby islands reminded us strongly of the Mochima area of the northern coast of Venezuela. Very stark and unusual topography. Strange yet beautiful.

Day 6, Friday 28 August 2009
Weighed anchor and departed Flinders Island at 0600 and arrived at Morris Island at 3:15 p.m. Another very easy day of sailing. We did not trail any fishing lines because our freezer and fridge are too full with fish already. The sailing guide states that Cairns is the last "decent" stop for provisioning. They need to re-phrase that guide. Cairns is the last stop for provisioning of any kind, decent or not so decent. We haven't seen any people, settlements, structures, roads, or anything to indicate humankind inhabits this part of Australia. It is as if we have literally dropped off the planet. Had we known it was going to be so desolate and not have even small towns for basic groceries we would have stocked up more fruits, veggies and breads. Today we finished the last of the avocados, bananas, cucumbers and strawberries. Used the last 2 hamburger buns for fish sandwiches for lunch and Bill ate the last 2 donuts for breakfast. Looks like I will be baking bread on this trip so Bill can have his mandatory sandwich for lunch each day. He will have to do without any more donuts because I'm not doing that.

Morris Island is a pretty little place. A very large reef extends northward and eastward from the island itself. You anchor on the western side just north of the actual island. The reef provides excellent protection from the seas and the island provides shelter from the SE winds. Spotted a Salt Water Croc...mean looking! Latitude 13.29.40S Longitude 143.43.33E
Distance sailed today 57.1 miles. Total distance since leaving Cairns 296.7 miles.

Day 7, Saturday 29 August 2009
Today was another easy sail, although a bit longer. We again weighed anchor and set sail at 0600. That is getting to be routine. Today was very hazy but the late afternoon cleared to be beautifully sunny. We decided that we have reached the end of the 2-day shirt latitudes. You know, when the temperatures are usually cool enough that you can wear a shirt for 2 days. Feels like we will soon be in the 2-shirts-per-day latitudes -- one shirt to wear all day and another shirt to wear in the evening for dinner after your shower. Very much warmer but not truly hot yet; 80F at 9 this morning. We arrived at Portland Roads just north of Cape Weymouth at 3:30 p.m. To our surprise there were actually a few other boats anchored here. And there are 8 houses! Around the cape we saw another 2 homes. Our map shows that there is one dirt road that reaches this area. Man, you had better get along with your neighbors when there are only 10 houses within hundreds of miles. But there obviously are no stores for only 10 residences. There were porpoises playing the the bay when we arrived. Those are the first porpoises we have seen since leaving Cairns. Haven't seen any whales since arriving in Australian waters even though the whale season is May through October. There just are not as many whales around here as in the Tonga area. Latitude 12.35.50S Longitude 143.24.47E
Distance sailed today 62 miles. Total distance since leaving Cairns 358.7 miles.

Day 8, Sunday 30 August 2009
Up again and on the move by 0600. Caught another large tuna and one smallish spotted mackerel. Anchored in Shellburne Bay at 4:30 p.m. For the first time in Australia our C-map charts were slightly incorrect. Shellburne Bay is very shallow. I had routed our course for us to anchor in an area that C-map indicated was 3.7 meters deep. It wasn't. We arrived at high tide so the depths should have been 2.5 meters higher than the minimum depths shown on the charts. As we approached that area the depths were off by about 2 meters. Rather than wait until we went aground, I turned around and we anchored where the Lucas sailing guide recommended. It seemed to take forever for us to creep up to the anchorage area because there was only 1.6 meters under our keel for a long way, but eventually we did get to the proper spot to anchor. The guide is correct; C-map is not. Anchored at Latitude 11.53.71S Longitude 143.05.57E
Distance sailed today 60.1 miles. Total distance since leaving Cairns 418.8 miles.

Day 9, Monday 31 August 2009
Once again up and on the move by 0600. Next stop was Escape River. We arrived at 4 p.m. We alternated back and forth for most of the day trying to decide whether to go to Escape River or to Wyborn Reef. The river would be a challenge because we could not get in or out during low tide, and we would need to be at Albany Pass the following morning on a rising tide. Kind of hard to be in 2 places 18 miles apart at the same time. OTOH, Wyborn Reef was supposed to be the calmest reef anchorage in all of the Great Barrier Reef; and it was only 7 miles from Albany Pass. Logistically, Wyborn Reef made more sense. But my timidity about anchoring in reef caused a decision. Finally, we opted for Escape River.

And, for the second time, the sailing guide was correct about the depths inside the river and the C-map charts were not. We arrived at rising tide and still saw only 1.2 meters beneath our keel as we entered the river. Once inside the river is plenty deep in the center. The guide recommended going well up river to anchor because pearl farms occupy all the good anchoring places near the entrance. But shortly after entering and passing numerous pearl farms, we noticed 3 sailboats anchored off to the right. The guide says not to go there because it is too shallow. The C-map charts indicated that there was sufficient depth. Well---if they can do it, why can't we? Because our boat draft is 2.1 meters, that's why!! We turned toward the anchored boats and the depths very quickly dropped from 7.9 meters to 5 to 2 to 0. We were aground. But it was just river mud and not rocks or coral, so not really a big deal. We could simply wait for the tide to rise the predicted additional 1.5 meters and we could float loose. But Bill isn't so patient. We revved the engine forward and then backward and soon were floating again. This time we turned away from the 3 anchored boats and motored farther up the river to anchor at Latitude 10.58.31S Longitude 142.40-02E. Only negative about Escape River is that I received about 2 dozen nasty insect bites that caused hyper reactions that will takes weeks or months to heal.
Distance sailed today 65.6 miles. Total distance since leaving Cairns 484.4 miles.

Day 10, Tuesday 1 September 2009
We were up before 0600 and waiting for first glimpse of daylight. As soon as Bill could see from the bow he pulled the anchor and we very slowly re-traced our track through the river back to the entrance, taking great care to avoid all the hundreds of pearl farm strings. By the time we reached the entrance the tide was rising. This provided just enough additional depth for us to re-trace our track back outside the river. It was sort of uncomfortable for 20 minutes because we had to pound directly into the waves and directly into 20 knots of wind. Again the depth got as little as 1.2 meters beneath our keel as we exited the river entrance. Two other boats were more fortunate and apparently had less draft because they were able to cut the corner and go across an area that was way too shallow for us. Didn't matter though. As soon as we were past the shallow part we turned north toward Albany Pass and very quickly passed the other boats. There was 2 knots of current against us as we motored out of the river and over the shallow entrance, but as soon as we turned north those 2 knots of current were in our favor. In less than 2 hours we had sailed the 16 miles to the entrance to Albany Pass and we arrived while the tide was still rising. There were almost 2 hours left of rising tide.

It is crucial to transit the Albany Pass from SE to NW on a rising tide. The current through that pass changes direction with the tides and runs 4.5 to 5 knots. Most boats can make no headway against currents that strong. Arriving at the SE end of the pass on a rising tide affords a very quick passage through. We were the first boat through the pass and it was a little exciting entering the unknown. There is a shallow shelf on the left side just before you enter the pass and the strong current falls back onto itself and creates impressive disturbance with eddies swirling about. We had the jib poled out and the engine on for safety, but the engine certainly was not needed. We sailed through the pass at 10 knots SOG (speed over ground). As soon as we were past the entrance disturbance, the rest of the pass was peacefully calm even though we were moving at over 10 knots so we turned off the engine. It was beautiful through there. Very glad we decided to try Albany Pass instead of sticking to the shipping channel and taking the longer route over Cape York.

It was another 18 miles to pretty Simpson Bay behind Possession Island. There were more pearl farms to dodge but we stayed closer to the mainland and avoided those. It is very shallow here but also pretty. The very limited bit of the northern coast of Australia that we have seen today is prettier than the eastern coast. Shame there are no people up here to appreciate it. The boats that followed us through Albany Pass anchored on the northwestern side of Possession Island, so we have the beauty of Simpson Bay all to ourselves. We were anchored well before noon. That was the fastest 36.2 miles of sailing that we have ever experienced.

We have done it. Over Cape York. That is a relief of sorts. Now we say goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and the Coral Sea. Tomorrow morning we will finish going through the Endeavor Strait (much preferred by delivery captains over the other 2 passages through the Torres Straits). When we exit the Endeavor Strait we will sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria and will be in the Arafura Sea. Total distance from here to Darwin is about 750 miles and we should arrive there Monday Sept 7 local time.


  1. Provided you're in remote locations, we recommend no-shirt days in lieu of two-shirt days. One shirt still lasts two days when you only put it on when there are other people around. ;)

  2. Oh, if I were only younger and thinner! Don't think I will subject Bill to that sight considering my current age and weight.



Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.