Tuesday, 9 July 2013


The evening at Stokes Bay was such a contrast with the previous evening at Bathurst Bay, one we would rather sooner forget. We shared it with a few fishing boats who sleep all day and fish at night, and the yacht Equilibrium 2 who are also on the rally with us. A very nice, sleek, fast Jutson 48 who leave us for dead in the water. They are travelling with their 2 children, Catherine and Zephyr (7 & 5yrs?)

The next day was up to Morris Island, identified on approach by one loan solitary palm tree. The beach surrounding was quite extensive with a large area that stretched out over reef. Again, we were with the same boats that we seem to be sharing the trip north with us and Tintin, - Equilibrium, Tianapai, Irma and Karacool (Catamaran). The 'Cats' get to sleep later in the mornings, set off after us, then slowly catch us, pass us and are anchored before us. Hm ....... I think even Pete is changing his way of thinking with the way these boats are well suited to sailing this coastal sailing. We didn’t go ashore – just anchored, relaxed, dinner and bed.

On route to Portland Roads, we developed a minor problem with our furler, so we decided to cut the original leg short and stop earlier in Lockhart River. The problem requires a quick stint up the mast and the problem fixed. So a shorter day than expected but with plenty of time up our sleeve, we were ale to do this.
So a short trip the next day (less than 20nm) to Portland Roads where we were not sure what we would find - described as a small pocket of civilisation. We dropped anchor and made a dash to shore with the tender as the tide was going out and you can get stuck on land if not careful. We collected Jacky and Kevin from Tintin rather than out both tenders in the water and headed off. Just as we did, a tropical downpour started and by the time we reached the shore, we were drenched through. Oh well, at least it was warm rain. Portlands Roads consists of 8 residents, some basic accommodation and a cafe that advertised home baked cakes. We were sold so headed in for coffee and cake. And was it worth it !!!!!! The date loaf and cheesecake were fantastic. We sat on the verandah of the little cafe looking out across the bay with the sun now shining on our boats, surrounded by tropical vegetation and the sultry warmth of the far north. We sat next to a table of 'grey nomads' (8 Range Rover enthusiasts) who were heading for the Cape, and heard of their travels. They were equally interested in our trip and one was almost prepared to 'jump ship' and join us. All in all, a lovely way to spend an hour - then a quick trip back in the tender before we became land locked.

                     A little pocket of civilization - Portland Roads  ..... & the best cheesecake

Next day was off just before daylight as we have 2 long days ahead of us, each being 60 - 65nm and as it not advisable to be anchoring after dark, we needed a good start. That evening we stopped at Shelbourne Bay, and the second night Escape River.
Escape River is quite an extensive waterway littered with cultured pearl rafts that must be avoided at all costs.  We approached with great care as Equilibrium on entering the area hit a submerged rock which is much further out from the land than the charts show. A horrible experience for any boat - they are hoping the damage is not too extensive. We didn't venture too far in and anchored just off an exposed sand bar that had a small crocodile basking in the sun. Yes - my first sighting of a croc !!! He was still there when the sun went down but by now is probably circling the boat looking for food. Definitely not the place to fall overboard.
So we are nearly at the top end. Tomorrow is a short 3 hour sail up to Albany Passage then we are Cape York. As I sit and write this, the clouds have cleared away and the sky is full of stars - hopefully we will have nice blue skies for the obligatory photo at the Top End.

Left Escape River with bluer skies than the last few days. Our thanks to Rusty and Bronwyn, two NSW people now living in "their slice of paradise" - obviously Qld. They provided local knowledge on a rock bar at the entrance (northern side) and recommended where to anchor for a good nights sleep. They are contactable on channel 16 as 'Rusty Pearl Farm' and are always happy to have a chat. 
The trip through Albany Passage was very picturesque and we made good time as we were going with the tide. The passage was dotted with little beaches and the bluest of waters - just like what you see in postcards. Around the top and we were anchored in Cape York. Wow - we have made it to the top.  As we approached the Cape, we could see lots of people making their way along the path for the obligatory kodak moment (or more up to date is an iphone moment) at the top end. We tendered ashore with Tintin and followed the others. A short trip to the sign that tells you that you are at the northernmost part of the continent. We celebrated with French champagne (courtesy of Jacky) and a block of Cadbury chocolate (courtesy of us). It was lovely to sit there on the rocks and savour the moment. We have come so far but still have a long way to go.  I am enjoying so much being able to celebrate these moments with close friends.


                                         Pete on the helm coming through Albany Passage

                                      Our glass of champagne before we started on the chocolate !!!

Pete standing at the Cape looking north
Mangroves - home of the croc

                                        Jacky and Kevin in Tintins tender just off the Cape.

Away from the Cape south towards Seisia a small village close to Bamaga. What a change to be heading South. Long leads to follow in to the jetty, and it would choose then to bucket down rain. Could hardly see in front of us. Once in and anchored, we could take a look at the little settlement. A caravan park on the foreshore full of 4WDs that look like they  have done the hard yards, covered with red dust and hardly able to distinguish the number plates. The good news was that the park owners didn't mind if we used their facilities with 4 washing machines and loads of hanging lines. The jetty was a hive of industry with a large barge unloading supplies for the town - a twice weekly service to here via Thursday Island. A small cafe/restaurant and craft shop, BP servo and a supermarket. After checking out the prices, it was obviously going to be essential stuff only. Diesel was $2.22 at the pump - glad we didn't need any. The days were spent getting things up to date and resting. Dinner ashore the second evening with friends from Karacool - a fun night. On the way back to the boat with Tintin one afternoon (Pete was aboard), we were told that a HUGE crocodile had been circling Kittani, then on to the other boats anchored nearby. And we had been in the rubber ducky at the time - oblivious to it all.  On our way to Seisia, our generator stopped working and with the help of Kevin were able to ascertain the cause - the capacitor had blown. Once again, our dear son Christopher to the rescue sourcing the part in Brisbane and arranging it to be flown direct to Bamaga within 24 hours. Due at 5.10pm,  the next afternoon we got a lift to the airport with another ex-Redlands friend now living up here. Our thanks to Anja and Aaron for their help - it would have been a long walk otherwise. On arrival at the airport, we were to discover that the plane out of Cairns had been downgraded and all cargo and 4 passengers had to be off loaded, including our 130grams of capacitor. We were told that it would be on tomorrow's flight at 10.10am. So next morning Pete decided that he would make his own way back to the airport, so finger out he started to hitch a ride.  Within 5 minutes, he was picked up and taken to the airport. The package had arrived as promised, thank goodness, so he then hitched back to Seisia.  The part installed and we have genny power again. The last evening was spent ashore at the Seisia Fishing Club where Aaron was president, and in charge of cooking the burgers for the evening. We had a table of 12 people off some other boats on the rally with us, and a good chance to talk about which routes they were taking to get to Darwin. The burgers were enjoyed and the chatting fun - until we were approached to form a team for the karaoke competition. We all decided as we had an early start, it was time to make a hasty exit. Goodbye to Anja and Aaron. Tomorrow is the long haul across the gulf - not really looking forward to this part. 330nm to the top of the Wessel Isles. Reading other blogs, we know that it has been done in 54 hours with maintaining 6 kts - we will see how we go.

Next morning we headed off at 7.00am towards the Endeavour Straits into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The winds were 15 - 20kts, reasonable for us with cloudy conditions, only the occasional blue sky. We had heard people say that crossing the Gulf can be like being in a 'washing machine' - they weren't wrong. Glad she is a sturdy strong girl, she handled it well. The hardest part are the nights when we need to do 3 hours on watch, then 3 hours off and try to get some sleep in that time whilst rolling from side to side. If you get an hour you are doing well. Somehow you get through it. The second evening seemed to be calmer with the moon giving us some light. Thank goodness for the iPad and Spider Solitaire to help pass the hours. Tintin were ahead of us by an hour, and when Jacky called us on the VHF to say 'land ahoy' - they were the most welcome words to our ears. We had done it, we had crossed the Gulf. Around the top of the Wessel Isles into lovely Two Island Bay on Marchinbar Island, with the whitest of sandy beaches and wonderful rock formations. Turquoise water that just made you want to jump in for a swim - shame about those damn crocodiles !!!  We are spending 2 nights here to rest before heading West towards Darwin. The next day we took the tender ashore for a walk around the beaches, Pete armed with one of the oars JUST IN CASE. We walked for an hour along the beach collecting shells, and in awe of the rock formations and just enjoying the colours of everything. Jacky felt very brave and had a quick dip, with everyone else on watch. After she had finished, we wandered up the beach only to find suspicious tracks in the sand which looked very much like a croc track. Time to get back in the tender and head for the safety of the boat. Back on board we were buzzed by Coast watch to identify ourselves. Once done, they wished us a happy stay in our little bay. That is the 3rd time we have had to identify ourselves. There is certainly constant surveillance along Australia's coast line.


                                    Tintin heading off across the Gulf - let's hope it stays like this.


                                           Two Isle Bay in the Wessel Islands - just magic!

                                                                 Pete and myself

                                                   Some of the amazing rock formations.

                                            Locals watching us - no, just Pete & his oar

                                         Playing the oar - sounds nothing like a didgeredoo.

                                                          More amazing rock formations.

Off today heading for Goulburn Islands and Mullet Bay. It's another long day with an overnight but better to get some distance covered and closer to Darwin. Each day we seem to travel with a couple of other boats from the rally and it is nice to have the company. The long days are spent reading, blogging and playing spidered solitaire - the scenery is all very much the same, water, water and more water.

A shorter hop to Valencia Island and drinks aboard Screensaver on arrival. The general feeling seems to be that we are nearly there (Darwin) and with plenty of time up our sleeve,  it's time to start relaxing a little more. It was interesting to catch up with new boats and compare notes as to their Gulf crossing. Also for those who went to Thursday Island, and Gove - both places we chose not to go to. Tintin were the successful fishermen today with Kevin hauling in a good size Spanish Mackerel and they generously shared it around. 

Today our fleet of 5 headed through the Bowen Strait with our destination being Port Essington. At first it was slow going as we had the tide against us, but eventually it turned and we were speeding along. Very little wind and it was motor sailing through to Coral Bay. We had heard there was a very small boutique resort there - Seven Spirit Bay Resort which would allow visitors ashore to use their facilities for a fee of $25 per boat. A swim in a pool just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up so we all decided to take up the offer, use the pool, long hot showers and then booked for dinner in the restaurant. After anchoring, we headed ashore for the afternoon and had a wonderful time. 4 of the 5 boats   had agreed to meet for dinner and spent a few hours around the pool chatting about tides into Darwin. The outlook from the resort was breathtaking, nestled  amongst the trees looking out over a beautiful bay. Jacky and Kevin had taken a walk along the beach of the bay and saw sharks, dugong and a crocodile - a sea life haven. The evening meal was a set $75 per person for 3 courses. It was worth every cent - the meal of scallops, followed by one of the best eye fillet steaks I have ever eaten, then lemon cheesecake and ice-cream. It was an absolute indulgence after some long hard days at sea. We will long remember that little slice of paradise in the middle of no-where for it's pool, outdoor showers (very Balinese in style) and scrumptious meal. 

                                             Seven Spirit Bay Eco Resort from Reception.

                                     It was worth the money to be able to swim after so long.

The view was amazing.

                                      Sunset overlooking the small bay in front of the resort.
A good nights sleep was had and after seeing off 2 of the boats who were hoping to make it to Darwin for Territory Day, we decided to head further down into Port Essington and try for some Barramundi. It was only 2 hours motoring into the waterways and anchored at Berkeley Bay where we had been informed Caiman Creek was the place to fish and perhaps catch mud crabs. We tendered ashore for a walk along the beach, again being conscious that this is croc territory. Immediately we spied a muddy but it was a Jenny so we threw her back in. Not sure what the laws are here in NT but better to ere on the side of caution. There were other people on the creek bank also trying for Barra so it looked promising. A quick trip up the creek and suddenly we were surrounded by what Pete thought were a school of Threadfin Salmon - and us with no fishing gear. So it was straight back to the boat to get lines, bait, squiggies, landing net and anything else needed to catch that elusive fish. I have opted to stay aboard and get the blog up to date leaving Pete and Kevin to bring home dinner. We will see !!!!!
Pete returned with catch in hand but unfortunately no Barramundi, sorry Jack ! He did however catch a flathead, and a large golden trevally, along with a catfish and one unknown fish that resembled a pike - both were thrown back. Maybe a chance to fish again for that Barra in Darwin.
So off today further into Port Essington to Victoria Settlement. Once anchored we tendered ashore and followed the designated path through the remains of the old village. In such a remote area, you wonder how they managed to survive the 11 years from 1838 - 1849. Quite sad walking through the cemetery and seeing the graves of mother and child. No surface water, no arable soil and so remote. How we take for granted all the mod cons of today. It's off in the morning for a 30km crossing to Alcaro Bay then the last leg into Darwin. Trying to work out all the different tides involved does my head in. We leave that to the guys to work out.

                                                     The view from Victoria Settlement

                                        Some of the remains from the settlement 1838 - 1849

                                                Standing on top of the remains of a kiln
Alcaro Bay is one of my favourite stops along the way. We joined 2 other monohulls already anchored there and ended us staying 3 nights. There was a strong wind warning current for the NT and as we have time up our sleeve, we could sit it out. There is a beautiful  sandy beach for walking and a creek that could look promising for fishing. A local fisherman came over to us and advised to watch out for a pair of crocs that live at the creek mouth. We ventured with Tintin  in our tenders into the creek, down in the depths of 'swampville'. It was eerie, not where I wanted to spend any time. On the way out, Tintin spotted a croc sunning itself on the sand. Yes - our first close up (10 meters) to a real live one in the wild. That was way too close for my liking. A few photos and we were out of there. By lunchtime we had been joined by 4 catamarans so our little bay was filling up. It was such a lovely day that we decided for an impromptu sundowners/bar-b-que on the beach. Sent the word around all the boats and everyone was keen. Out came our barbie plate (a plough blade courtesy of Gregory) and we all dug deep into our fridges/freezers (which at this point of the trip are getting rather low in supplies).  It was a fantastic evening and the sunset was one of the best we had seen. Ooooohs and aaahhhhs and the big orange ball slowly sank - the perfect end to a perfect day. One more day to let the wind blow over and I think it will be a mass exit of 8 boats on to Cape Hotham.
Our final day in Alcaro Bay was spent beach walking and fishing. Pete was still desperately trying for that Barra but it was not to be. He did however catch another fish the same as he had in Port Essington we we knew was very good eating. Better than nothing, the Barra will have to wait another day. Sundowners again on the beach at 5.00pm and discussion as to departure time in the morning. This bay will go down as one of my favourite stops along the way.

                                                      The beautiful beach at Alcaro Bay
                                               Our croc sunning itself on the sand bank.


                                           Jacky and myself looking for shells .......again

                                             Heading ashore for an impromptu bar-b-que

                                                    The gang having fun at sundowners

                                                           Yet another gorgeous sunset
                                                        Just takes your breath away
The sail to Cape Hotham was not what we had expected. The wind was forecast 15-20kts, however it was blowing nearer to 30kts. We had left at first light as there were 60 nms to cover. After coming out of our lovely secure bay and rounding Cape Don, it was a shock to the system. It was a beam sea and very unpleasant all the way down to Abbott shoals where we turned Westward to Cape Hotham. Then the wind was virtually non existent and we had to motor the res of the way. Could not have had more opposite conditions!!!!! After so much deliberation between the many boats as to strength and direction  of the tides, if was generally favourable and we made good time. Anchored late afternoon off mangroves and cooked the fish Pete had caught yesterday. Pan fried fillets - yum. Can hardly believe tomorrow we get to Darwin.
By 7.00am, our flotilla of 9 had all up anchored and headed off. It was a motor sail all the way, the winds finally down to the expected 15kts. Round the last bit of headland and there was Darwin in the distance. Could see the city buildings coming slowly into focus and as it is a major port, lots of larger vessels. American war ships could be heard communicating with the harbour master, they had been practising manoeuvres and weapon firing further out. The sea was flat as we followed single file towards Fannie Bay, our destination for today. We anchored a fair way out, all the Cats going in closer to shore as usual. Heading ashore with Tintin to clear our rubbish, then have a celebratory drink and dinner at the sailing club. 


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