Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ashmore Reef to Bali

We slipped the mooring line and back-tracked out of Ashmore Reef between 0630 and 0700 on Wednesday, 23 September 2009. As has been true since leaving Darwin, the GRIB files were wrong on the weather forecast. Winds were supposed to be 5 knots from the north. Instead we were getting 15 knots from the WSW, which put us sailing close-hauled hard on the wind as our initial course was 276 degrees. That was too tight to sail; and since we had already motored so much between Darwin and Ashmore Reef, we opted to modify course to the sailing point and headed off to 315 degrees. This was still tightly close-hauled and it was a rollicking ride for 2 days as the winds very slowly backed southerly. The first 24-hours we sailed 145.2 miles and made 149 miles on the second day. Then the wind backed farther SW and we were able to point more directly toward Bali; third day we sailed 155.9 miles and the final partial day was 58.8 miles. So, total trip from Ashmore Reef to the mooring field in Bali was 508.9 NM. We arrived at 1600 on Saturday, 26 September, and are now on a mooring at latitude 08.42.123S longitude 115.14.64E

The stretch of water between the islands of Bali and Lombok is called the Lombok Strait. Like many of the straits and passes in Indonesia, the currents there are notorious. Currents run 1 knot to 7 knots year-round -- south-setting during the SE monsoon and north-setting during the NW monsoon. This strikes me as very strange as the current runs opposite the winds during both monsoon seasons. But that is the way it works. The currents do not switch direction with the tides as happens in many of the other Indonesian straits and passes; the current directions in Lombok Strait are determined strictly by the monsoon season. The strength of the currents is determined by the tides and the transit of the moon. The sailing guides get into details of upper-transit of the moon and lower-transit of the moon in combination with the tidal times and it goes way over my head. In order to predict anything about the strength of the currents in Lombok Strait requires a Nautical Almanac, which we do not carry aboard S/V BeBe because we don't use sextants like ancient mariners.

With all that explanation, suffice it to say that we had a heck of a time getting up and across Lombok Strait to arrive at Bali. Our course was diagonally from SE to NW across Lombok Strait. No way we could do it! We have a 100-hp engine and at highest sensible rpms and full sails under almost 15 knot winds we could only make 2.25 knots SOG against the current. The boat speed through the water was over 9 knots, but our speed-over-ground was only 2.25 knots. The speedometer looked like we were going fast but we weren't making any headway toward our destination. This was on a descending tide. We decided to turn more westerly and raised the SOG to 5.5 knots.

As the tide fell, the currents changed ever so slightly and we pointed northward 5 degrees at a time. Eventually we made it under the lee of little Nusapenida island and were able to point more toward our destination. As the tide reach slack stage we headed directly on our desired course. By the time we reached the initial waypoint for entering the anchorage area, the tide was on the flood and the current started back up quickly. Current was again up to 3 knots against us by the time we reached the waypoint to turn towards the anchorage. It was tricky and discouraging and took a lot longer than anticipated, but we made it! If we had it to do over again, we would point up much earlier in the trip and get close beneath Lombok island. Then head almost straight west across Lombok Strait rather than trying to go diagonally across. Crossing the current must be easier than going head-into it.

BTW, we burned a whopping total of 400 liters of diesel getting from Darwin to Bali. For you landlubbers, that is about 9 1/2 miles to the gallon. Absolutely ridiculous for a sailboat. But better to waste diesel than to sit out there and drift around when there is no wind, as during the first 4 days out of Darwin.

Between Ashmore Reef and Bali we experienced the strangest thing. For almost 2 whole days and nights our AIS was picking up ships at exceptional distances. The AIS works on a VHF frequency, so the normal range is about 30 miles because VHF does not normally bounce off of the ionosphere. However, we were picking up dozens of ships about 500 miles away!! They mostly were around Port Hedland on the northwestern tip of Australia. The charts indicate that there is a magnetic anomaly throughout that part of Australia and the Indian Ocean, but we don't see how that could amplify the VHF signals to such distances. The farthest ship we saw was 768 miles away from us in the Indian Ocean. And we could read all the mobile properties (details) of that ship. It was amazing. And occasionally we even heard snippets of VHF conversations between the various ships and the port control at Port Hedland. This was 500 to 600 miles south of us and they sounded like they were right next door. Amazing. And it kept us on our toes because every time an AIS target would appear we would have to check to make sure it was one of those far away and not one nearby. Interesting couple of night watches.

As we approached the waypoint to turn towards the anchorage I saw some kind of weird thing in the water ahead of us. There was a large swell (after all we were in the Indian Ocean) and this thing would get lost in the swells. But I could see it when it happened to top a swell ahead of us and it was getting closer. At first I thought it might be a large root system from a tree. Certainly would not want to run into something like that! But as it got closer it began to look for all the world like a huge alien water spider. It looked like large legs curving up and then down around a body -- just like a spider. As it crossed in front of us and then came past on our starboard side it became clearly visible. It was one of the odd boats that are used around Bali. The "spider legs" were painted bright pink and blue. We saw several of these as we made our way into the anchorage. Will try to get photos at some point.

Rather than go into the commercial Benoa Harbor to the decrepit and filthy Bali Marina, we are in an anchorage about 2 kilometers north of Benoa Harbor. Our C-map charts show us to have sailed through solid reefs and that we are well up on land. But obviously that is not correct. Never saw less than 7.8 meters of depth as we entered this mooring field. The owner of the moorings sent a guy out to the channel markers to guide us in and to our mooring. We had been in contact with TC Marine by email prior to our arrival and they were expecting us. Supposedly we can clear into Indonesia while moored out here and will not be required to go to the docks at Bali Marina to clear in. The official offices are closed for the weekend so we will do the paperwork dance on Monday morning.

Sunday morning a man named Monday came by and offered the services of his work crew. On Tuesday he will send out a work crew to wash and wax our boat, including waxing the masts. The paint on the masts is getting chalky and need to be waxed. Bill could do this, but why should he when laborers costs only about $15 per day per man. Hire the locals and give them a job. The work crew will even bring their own fresh water to clean our boat. So we don't waste our water. Couldn't ask for a better deal. Monday also will deliver 400 liters of diesel to us on Tuesday -- for only 70 cents per liter. Someone else we know bought diesel from Monday a few weeks ago and said it was clean fuel. That is about $2.70 USD per gallon for clean diesel delivered to our boat. Can't ask for a better deal than that!!!

Ya think we might be in Asia?!? Take a look at these typical large Indonesian panesi ships. These are built in Kalimantan (formerly known as Borneo) and the hull is sailed down to Bali for fitting out. They are working on several of these here in Serangan harbor right now.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ashmore Reef---sea snake capital of the world

Sailing from Darwin to Bali via Ashmore Reef requires motoring!

Others had warned us to plan on motoring all the way from Darwin to Ashmore Reef, and then probably being able to sail most of the way from the reef to Bali. Hope they were right about the second part of that advice; they were certainly right about the first part. We departed Darwin at 1100 Wednesday morning and arrived at Ashmore Reef at 1100 Sunday morning -- having motored 91% of the 503 mile trip.

Before leaving Darwin we had attempted to obtain the coordinates of a reported oil rig leak. No one seemed to have precise coordinates for either the blown well or of the resulting oil slick. The best we could find were news media reports of the general location of the oil slick. Every day since leaving Darwin the Australian Coast Watch Customs plane has flown over and talked with us, and each day we have asked about this blown oil well and slick; but they had no information on it. Our planned course was more than 30 miles clear of the news media reported location of the oil slick. Imagine our surprise just after sunrise yesterday morning to find that we were within 8 miles of a leaking gas well! And our course would have taken us within 2 miles downwind and down-current of this dangerous leaking well! As the sun rose we could see a vapor cloud emitting from what looked like an oil rig off in the distance. Our AIS receiver indicated 2 ships hovering near the leaking rig. Bill hailed one of the ships and learned that this was indeed the blown well. It was a gas well and did have some oil disbursement into the sea that was not yet contained. There supposedly was an exclusion zone and we were well within that exclusion zone. Would have been nice if someone had told us that little fact!

The control ship requested that we turn immediately away from the leaking gas well and remain outside a 20 mile radius of it. Kind of hard to do when we were already only 8 miles from it. We turned south and remained at least 8 miles from the well. Once we were upwind and up-current from the well, we again turned back west and continued on our way. Basically we made 3/4 of a circle around this leaking gas well. Never saw any evidence of an oil slick.

(UPDATE added 6 Nov 2009:

That gas well continued to leak and finally caught fire. Glad it waited until we were well past before the fire started. Thank goodness no one was injured during the resulting explosion and fire. Oil and gas both continue to leak. This has been going on since July and is leaking approximately only 400 barrels of oil per day into the sea. Where is Red Adair when you need him? I think Australia needs to contact Texas and get the experts out here and put out this fire and contain the leaks.)

Ashmore Reef is owned by Australia and is a "natural nature reserve" (per their brochure, although that sounds redundant to me). Visitors are allowed only in the lagoon on the northwest side of the reef, just east of tiny West Island. Access to all other areas is forbidden. There is a Customs boat assigned to duty here. Man, I bet those guys get bored because they are 500 miles from anywhere. Later we saw just how bored they must be when 6 of them went around in a tender to take the GPS locations of the moorings. Six people to do a simple task that really required only one person. I guess doing anything is better than staying on the same little Customs boat all the time. There are dugong, sea turtles, sea snakes, all kinds of marine life, and thousands of birds around this reef. I was looking forward to swimming for the first time in well over a year -- that is, until I read the brochure about Ashmore Reef that we obtained from Customs in Darwin.

There are 17 different species of sea snakes native to Ashmore Reef. There are more sea snakes here than any other place on earth. Well, okay. Guess I won't be swimming after all. Shortly after we were tied to our mooring I saw 2 sea snakes beside our boat. These were white with black bands, just like the one that swam by our boat in Tonga. Hopefully we will see other varieties during our stay here. We plan to stay here for a few days before sailing the last 500 miles to Bali. Hopefully some wind will materialize at some point to enable actual sailing instead of listening to the rumble of the engine for another 4 days.

When we arrived this morning there was a large Australian Customs supply ship delivering supplies to the 2 smaller Customs ships stationed here: the Ashmore Guardian and the Corio Bay. There was also an Australian warship off-loading supplies. Several tenders were zooming about between the 4 ships as we made our way into the mooring field. The Corio Bay provided us with entry instructions via VHF radio and even sent a guy out to help us thread our hawser through the eye of the mooring. How very nice of them!

BTW, Bill wants a guide for Australian phonics. We still cannot understand how they arrive at some of these pronunciations. Corio Bay is a good example. Australians pronounce it as if it rhymes with pariah, or Mariah (as in the singer Mariah Carey). We would never have gotten that one.

The Ashmore Guardian ship went out one day and seized this Indonesian boat. Apparently they were on their way to Australia for illegal entry. Or maybe they had drugs. We don't know. But they seized the little boat and brought it back to Ashmore Reef to await the next arrival of the ship to transfer the illegal immigrants back to Indonesia. Sound familiar? Just like home, isn't it?

Ashmore Reef marks a big point in our circumnavigation -- we are now exactly half-way around the world from our starting point! That is a big deal to us. And we don't even have a bottle of bubbly aboard to celebrate properly. I'm thinking gin and pomegranate juice on the rocks will be an acceptable substitute on this very hot day.

And, speaking of our circumnavigation, we have decided on a major change of plans. Instead of following the South African route, we have decided to go up the Red Sea and sail the Mediterranean. Bill decided that there are many more interesting things to see in the Med than on the South African route, and the total miles back to the Caribbean are about the same following either route. So, yeah, we are going to brave the Somali pirates and hope for the best. Since we are flying home for Christmas holidays this year, that means we will not be able to transit the Red Sea during the proper weather time during early 2010. So we will be spending almost a year in the Malaysia/Thailand/Andaman Islands areas and doing some land travel in SE Asia. Then through the Red Sea in first quarter of 2011.

So, friends and family, start making your vacation plans now if you want to visit us somewhere in the Mediterranean during the summer of 2011. Heck, maybe one or both of the age-appropriate grandkids will be able to spend the summer with us seeing a few of the countries of the Med.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leaving Australia

Customs is scheduled to meet us at the Cullen Bay Marina fuel dock at 0930 this morning and finish clearing us out of Australia. Our NMEA multiplexers from the states arrived Monday afternoon and all our electronics are now good-to-go. Departing yachties are supposed to go to the Customs office shortly after arrival in Darwin so a file can be opened and all your paperwork coordinated. We did that the day after we arrived in Darwin. Customs gives you a form that allows purchasing duty-free fuels anytime from the date Customs opens the file on your boat up until the date of your departure. Since we use diesel daily to power the generator to charge the batteries and provide electricity on the boat, we obviously did not want to fill up too early in our stay here. Want to leave Australia with full tanks because it is about 1000 miles to Bali and normally the winds are too light to do much sailing. Best to be prepared to motor the entire 1000 miles and then be pleasantly surprised if conditions do turn out good for sailing. We returned to Customs yesterday morning and confirmed that we would be departing today.

Also received a small GST refund (sales tax) at Customs yesterday. There are a lot of restrictions for obtaining the GST refund. Basic rules are that the GST must exceed $30, does not include GST paid for any labor, the purchase must have taken place withing the prior 30 day period from your departure, and the food or boat parts must be on an invoice totaling greater than $300. We have spent about $1900 AUS on food during the past month but those purchases were on many invoices, so no refund on any of that GST. But we did have one invoice for the GPS repair and various boat items that met the requirements, so we received a whopping $30.54 refund. Better than nothing, I suppose. And this is the first time we have ever received a break on local sales taxes. No other country has offered this program. Good on ya, Australia.

There is a leaking oil well somewhere between Darwin and Bali. We have the coordinates and hope to avoid that mess. Someone else sailed through the oil slick and said it was quite a mess to clean off the hull. We asked Customs for the current coordinates of the oil slick since it is moving with the tidala currents and winds. Hopefully they will have the latest info when we clear out in about an hour.

Off to Bali!!! So very ready for a new culture and looking forward to the entire Asian experience.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Tiwi People

Last night this anchorage was really rocking and rolling with about 20-foot tide around midnight that was exacerbated by a fairly strong NW wind. This is the second time this week that we have experienced a NW wind. That is about a month ahead of schedule for the normal monsoons. The transition season is supposed to last until late October, which we are banking on since we soon will be sailing NW to Bali and don't want the wind directly on our nose. Hope the monsoon switch holds off to the normal time and does not switch early this year. It is very hot and very humid and this is nearing the end of the dry season.

The photo on the left depicts some of the rock art found in caves in Arnhem Land, some of which is confirmed more than 20,000 years old. We won't be touring any of the rock art sites because it is simply too expensive.

There are day trips from Cullen Bay Marina ferry dock out to Brathurst and Melville Islands to visit the Tiwi people. I would love to go but am not willing to pay the $630 for such a short trip for such a short time. Yachts are not allowed to visit these islands; the only way to go is on a commercial tour. But $315 each for a just a 60 mile boat trip to the island and back is a bit too steep to my mind. But, oh, I am forgetting. They also serve you morning tea on that boat trip so maybe it is worth that high cost.

Even though we are not going to visit the Tiwi people, I decided to do a bit of research on them. Here is a compilation of various bits of info that I found. If you have no interest, stop reading now.

The Aborigines learned about the origins of the tribes through their Dreamtime creation myths that told of the significant actions of the creators. The myths are the basis of Aboriginal society and are responsible for providing certainty about existence. The Australian aborigines believe that the land they occupied was once vacuous – empty -- and this belief was a source of great mystery to them. It was also a great truth that was known with absolute certainty, because the ancestors had said this was the way things once were. Then, during what has become known as the Dreamtime, the land, the sky above and all they contained were formed by the actions of supernatural and mysterious beings.

Although the Aborigines believe that the Dreamtime was a beginning that never ended, some of their stories tell them that the mythical creators disappeared. They believe that the creators disappeared from the sight of mere mortals, but continue to live in secret places. Some live in the tribe's territory in rock crevices, trees and water holes. Others went up into the sky above as heavenly bodies. Others changed into or became natural forces such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning.

The concept of the Dreamtime was first researched by Spencer and Gillen in their study of the Arunta tribe of Central Australia. They came to understand words identifying a 'creative period'. Other tribes had words in their language for the same concept. As communication between the Arunta people and the scientists improved, it became apparent that the aborigines understood the Dreamtime as a beginning; but it also includes past, present and future. Aboriginal people understood the Dreamtime as a beginning that never ended.

Since Australia is such a vast continent, there are many different Aboriginal tribes spread across the regions. The Tiwi people are one of these. Nearly 2,500 Tiwi live in the Bathurst and Melville Islands (just north of Darwin), which make up the Tiwi Islands. Tiwi art and language are markedly distinct from those of nearby Arnhem Land. Compared with Arnhem Land art, Tiwi art often appears to be abstract and geometric. With its strong patterns and use of color, Tiwi art is considered very attractive and highly collectible.

English is taught at schools as a second language, and the Tiwi communicate principally in their own language. When in mourning, it is part of their beliefs to paint their body and not feed themselves. Another person therefore must feed them. Body painting has been practiced for thousands of years as a part of ceremonies. Tiwi use natural ochre pigments. Notably, some of the Tiwi have large, continuous brow ridges, providing a physical characteristic that is not common among other aboriginal tribes. Hunting for food is still an important part of Tiwi life. On land, they hunt for wallaby, lizards, possums, carpet snakes, pig, buffalo, flying foxes, bandicoot, turtle and seagull eggs and magpie geese. From the sea they hunt for turtle, crocodiles, dugong and fish. Dancing, or yoi as they call it, is a part of everyday life . Tiwi inherit their totemic dance from their mother. Narrative dances are performed to depict everyday life or historical events. The land on both islands is heavily forested. Like all the other Aboriginal lands, visitors are forbidden without first obtaining a landing permit.

The stolen generation saw many indigenous people brought to the Tiwi Islands but not of direct Tiwi descent. The 2008 movie “Australia” starring Nichole Kidman touched on the story of the stolen generation, a government-run program to remove all mixed race children from their aboriginal parents which unbelievably remained in effect until the early 1970s.

The decorative patterning of the Tiwi was also used on tutini (graveposts or Pukumani poles) and tungas (bark baskets). Pukumani poles are shown in the photo on the right. The traditional form of mark making was derived from the creation story Palaneri and associated stories.

Palaneri - The Creation Period
The Tiwi Islands of Bathurst and Melville were created at the beginning of time during the dreaming or Palaneri. Before this time there was only darkness and the earth was flat.
Mudungkala, an old blind woman arose from the ground at Murupianga in the south east of Melville Island. Clasping her three infants to her breast and crawling on her knees she travelled slowly north. The fresh water that bubbled up in the track she made became the tideways of the Clarence and Dundas Straits, dividing the two islands from the mainland.

She made her way slowly around the land mass and then, deciding it was too large, created the Aspley Strait, which divides the Bathurst and Melville slands. Mudungkala then decreed that the bare islands be covered with vegetation and inhabited with animals so that her three children left behind would have food. After the islands were made habitable she vanished. Nobody knows from where she came or, having completed her work, where she disappeared to.

Purrukapali and Bima
Purrukapali was Mudungkala's only son. Every day his wife Bima went out gathering food for him, accompanied by their young son Jinani. In the same camp lived an unmarried man, Japara, who used to persuade Bima to leave her child under the shade of a tree and go into the forest with him. (Uh-oh--- adultery and child neglect even in these old aboriginal stories)

On one very hot day Bima neglected her son too long and he died in the hot sun. On hearing of the child's death, Purrukapali became so enraged that he struck his wife on the head with a throwing stick and hounded her into the forest. In an effort to help the anguished father, Japara promised to restore the dead child to life within three days; but Purrukapali was inconsolable and the two men soon became locked in a deadly struggle.

Purrukapali picked up the dead body of his son and, walking backwards into the sea, he decreed that death should come to the whole world. As his son had died, the whole of creation would die and, once dead, never again would come to life. There was not death before this time.
The place where Purrukapali died, on the east coast of Melville Island, became a whirlpool so strong that anybody who approached it in a canoe would be drowned. (Note that there are very strong eddies in this area due to the strong tidal currents.) When Japara saw what happened he changed himself into the moon. But he did not escape the decree of Purrukapali, for even though his is eternally reincarnated, he has to die for three days every month. One can see on the face of the moon man the wounds that he received in his fight with Purrukapali. Bima, still bearing scars on her head, became Wayai, the curlew bird, that still roams the forest at night, wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for the child that she lost.

The death of Jinani brought the creation period to a close. This event was marked by the first Pukumani burial ceremony. Tokampini, the father of Bima called all the original creators, men and women, to the ceremony. These mythical beings were taught the rules of behavior and the laws of marriage and tribal relationships that had always to be obeyed. Then the periods of light and darkness were established, determining the cycle of daily events. The creators transformed themselves into various creatures, plants, animals, natural forces or heavenly bodies - and spread across the islands. They are the Tiwi totems.

Ceremonies play an important role in Tiwi culture. Traditionally each ceremony had its own form, which could vary depending upon the circumstances, and these were transmitted orally. Current ceremonies reflect these traditions, while taking account of modern day circumstances. There are two main ceremonial events performed:
• the Kulama (yam) ceremony, and
• the mortuary or Pukumani ceremony (sometimes spelt Pukamani).

The Kulama ceremony occurs towards the end of the wet season. (We are here during the ending of the dry season.) It is a celebration of life and involves three days and nights of ritual body paintings, singing and dancing complete with the eating of yams according to a ritual custom. Concentric circles often appear as the main element of contemporary Tiwi patterns, representing the Kulama circle or ceremonial dancing ground.

The Pukumani ceremony is the Tiwi people's burial ceremony and includes singing, dancing and the making of special carved poles called tutini as well as tungas and arm bands. These large poles are made from the trunk of the ironwood tree and are carved and decorated to celebrate the dead person's life and spiritual journey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Still sitting in Darwin

We went to the Indonesian Consulate to pick up our original CAIT (cruising permit). The agent had emailed us a copy in early July and we were supposed to collect the original at the Consulate here in Darwin. The original still has not arrived in Darwin, but they told us there would be no problem completing all formalities in Indonesia with the emailed copy that we had printed. Later we learned that the original CAIT is in Bali and we can pick it up when we arrive there. Everyone else we know was able to pick up their original CAIT here in Darwin. Oh well, assume we won't encounter any problems about this when we clear into Indonesia.

The clerk at the Indonesian Consulate seemed to want us to apply with him for a visa. I told him that we planned to obtain the 30-day Visa-on-Arrival when we cleared in at Bali. He said that if we got our visas from the Consulate now that we could have 60 days instead of only 30 days, which is the maximum time allowed for a Visa-on-Arrival. I explained that we did not have the required sponsor letter for the application, but he handed me the forms anyway. So we figured, what the heck; what have we lost except time if we completed the forms and then they rejected the application. Luckily we had brought extra passport photos on this trip. Bill filled in all the blanks and when he got to the question of who would be our sponsor while we would be in Indonesia, Bill wrote "none." I figured that would be a red flag and the application would be rejected. I wanted to put the agent's name. After all, if our original CAIT hadn't been forwarded to the Consulate as it should have been; then it shouldn't be surprising if our sponsor letter from that agent also had not been received yet. But Bill wrote "none" and we submitted the application.

Lo and behold, the clerk looked through the application, clipped the photos in the appropriate places, took our passports and told us to return at 3:30 to pick up the visas. We half-expected to arrive back at 3:30 to learn that the application was rejected; but, sure enough, when we returned that afternoon the visas were ready. We had just saved about $175 USD. The agent had wanted to charge us $70 each for the sponsor letter. By the time we paid the Western Union fee to wire the funds, the total cost for the 2 sponsor letters would have been about $175. Then we would still have to pay the additional $60 AUS each for the actual visas. We refused to pay that much because our schedule would allow us only a short time in Indonesia anyway. It would have been nice to have the longer visas just in case something happens and we don't make it out of Indonesia on schedule -- you just never know what might delay a boat -- but it wasn't worth $175 for the off-chance that we might get delayed. Thanks to the nice clerk at the Consulate, we got the visas for the normal $60 AUS each without paying the additional agent fee.

We figure one of three things happened.
1) They just made a mistake.
2) The local consulate wanted the income.
3) The local consulate acutally has the authority to issue visas without the required sponsor letter.

Now that we have the visas and can take additional time in Indonesia we need to decide whether we want to go to Kupang and the Gili Islands after all. Or whether we will still just go straight to Bali. I am favoring going straight to Bali; then leisurely making our way up to Singapore. I don't care whether we see the Gili Islands because we have seen Komodo Dragons before.

S/V B'SHERET and S/V SKYLAX departed this morning enroute to Kupang. We are now all alone in this anchorage. We had reserved a slip in the Cullen Bay Marina, but they charge $425 to take our boat through the lock into the marina. Sorry, but that is too expensive. The marina slip rates are reasonable. But $425 to enter the marina is exorbitant, especially since we will be here such a short time. The other 2 marinas in Darwin also have locks, but they do not charge a locking fee. But we are waiting on the replacement NMEA multiplexer and it was shipped from Florida to Cullen Bay Marina; therefore, we are reluctant to move way back around to another marina. Hopefully our parcel will arrive on Tuesday and we will clear out soon afterwards.

So we remain anchored behind the large sand bar just outside the entrance to Cullen Bay Marina. This sand bar supposedly is the best beach in the Darwin area and fills with locals during low tides on weekends. During high tide the sand bar is well-submerged and some boats actually sail over it. During low tide the sand is exposed and looks pretty high. Remember, the average tide here is about 25 feet. Here are a few photos. At high tide the markers on the southern tip of the sand bar are floating and there is no evidence of the sand bar. At low tide those same markers are sitting up on the beach and the sand is exposed to a height of several feet.

One photos shows a Norwegian boat that was anchored next to us for a couple of days. At high tide there is no visible evidence of the sand bar on the far side of this boat. At low tide the beach is quite visible.

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.

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.

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.