Date: December 15, 2007
Location: 12º 27' S 130º 49' E at 1200
Today we left Darwin and are now heading to Indonesia. Plan A has us going to Rinca to see the Komodo dragons and then on to Bali. Plan B has us stopping before Rinca to get more fuel, and then going to Rinca and then on to Bali. There is little wind except when a squall comes through. I've spent over a year trying my best to avoid squalls. It feels a little strange for me to be getting excited - in a good way - at the possible approach of a squall. I still, however, don't like lots and lots of wind. I prefer a modest squall.
Our leaving today was fairly unexciting. First we had the last minute call to the credit card company to tell them that yes, that was indeed us in Australia charging large amounts to diesel mechanics. As long as we had them on the the line we reminded them that we would be in Indonesia next. Then, at the fuel dock, we had to fuel in a hurry because a big charter cat, one of those large, motor-driven, ferry-like things, needed to come into the unobstructed, open space we thought looked perfect for fueling too. We finished fueling and moved down the dock and tied up to a fishing boat. Why didn't we just leave? Because we had the last minute hunt for the diesel mechanic to bring out a cap for our cooling tank. We never did find the mechanic we were looking for, but Geoff found his partner buying prawns on a fishing boat near the fuel dock and we got our missing part. The first mechanic is possibly in hot water because neither his father (the owner of the shop) nor anyone at the shop could reach him. All anyone knows is that he was at a party last night. We figure he'll wake up and remember that he was supposed to work on Saturday, turn on his cell phone and find all our messages sounding increasingly more frustrated and less understanding.
But all in all we had a good time in the Northern territory. Everyone was extremely friendly and helpful. Aussie Aussie, Aussie, oi, oi, oi!
Date: November 14, 2007
Location: 12º 25' S 130º 48' E, Fannie Bay Anchorage, Darwin, Australia
We arrived this morning before dawn and were anchored by 0740. Geoff and I did turn around and backtrack our course a little bit on making our final approach into Darwin Harbor, but not really to kill time. The plan was to let an isolated thunderstorm pass us by. I've been listening to the weather the Darwin Port guys transmit. They've been saying that there are nil storm or wind warnings, but that isolated thunderstorms may occur. We ran into the one in Popham Bay and then last night's storm. I grew up watching thunder and lightning for fun, but tucked away in the back of my mind are all those things my mother always said about lightning and not being the tallest thing around. Lightning on the ocean makes me nervous. Thanks mom.
I picked up several tourist brochures while we were near downtown today. To quote one of them "Visitors fortunate to experience the Top End during this time (the wet season) discover a unique opportunity to understand and enjoy the beauty and diversity of our ever-changing flora and fauna - a direct result of the dramatic changes to the seasons." Uh huh, VERY HOT during the day with isolated thunderstorms in the evening or overnight. And "No reason to pack a jumper here - we guarantee year round warmth (no kidding!)with lowest average temperatures of 19.3 deg C and an average high of 33.2 deg C." On the next page they talk about wearing a hat and drinking 8 glasses of water a day. However, whining aside, there are some interesting things to see and do around here so we won't spend all our time on boat projects.
A comment about the tides. They have big tides here. We foolishly went ashore at low tide. I think we pulled/wheeled/dragged the dinghy about a quarter mile through the mud to reach shore. We must have been the entertainment at the Darwin Sailing Club. We're anchored off their clubhouse at the moment.
We're looking for a marina to facilitate the diesel work. Tomorrow we're going to check out another bay for anchoring and see about a guest berth somewhere. Our trip into town today was to see a marina. I thought it was perfect until we found our how much it would cost. A lot. The biggest portion of the price is the lockmaster's fee for letting you in and out of the marina. A lock is one way of dealing with 18 - 22 foot tides but they want $250 dollars for the priviledge of going in and out. Then there's a $70 a week fee for living aboard in addition to the slip rental. One of the other marinas must be as nice and not so pricey. Hopefully I don't have to eat my words and cough up the cash to stay in Cullen Bay to get work done.
Now I need to decide what to see first, the Fannie Bay Gaol, the art museum that has a stuffed croc named Sweetheart or the wildlife park. Decisions decisions. The croc has the edge.
Date: November 23, 2007
Location: 11º 14' S 131º 41' E at 1200
Last night the big excitement was a squall that came through our anchorage about 0300. It woke us all up from turkey & mashed potato induced stupors. Bummer. The wind was "fresh" and the rain was a nice boat rinse, but all in all we would have rather had uninterrupted sleep instead of closing hatches and getting a stuffy boat.
This morning we left the anchorage around 1045 in order to catch the tides and their associated currents. We've been through one area and it was pretty cool. Our speed through the water was about 5 kts. Our speed over the ground was around 7 - 8 kts. The highlight of the afternoon watch was seeing 8.3 kts. Yeeha!! At the moment we are in a patch of adverse current so our speed through the water is about 6 kts, but, sadly we are only making 4.2 kts over the ground. I'm finding it interesting to watch the tidal/current variations. But in a kind of academic way because I'm also finding it helpful to have a diesel with some power and the fuel tanks to feed it. At this time of year there is very little wind around here. While I think it studly of people to sail all of this, um, better them than me. I am happy to make continual forward progress at an appreciable speed. The chart plotter with all of its information is a good thing, but it can be demoralizing. For example, when we're just sailing slowly and it says things like, at this speed you will be in Darwin in 123 days. Perhaps it's our patriotic duty as Americans to burn fuel, and we would hate to shirk a duty. So we motor.
Date: November 22, 2007
Location: 10º 59' S 131º 57' E at 1200
11 deg 15 min S 131 deg 49 min E, late afternoon, Popham Bay Anchorage
Gobble gobble. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get the crocs to wear the feathers so we can chase them to play pilgrim? And don't get me started on asking the Coast Watch for fresh ears of corn or stuffing. Right now our turkey is "resting" on the stove top and the pumpkin pies are in the oven. We have real potatoes to mash and canned corn and yes, I found the can of cranberry sauce. Now I'm looking for turkey gravy. I think Campbell's can help me out. But no stuffing. I don't think Aussies in Gove do Stove Top, at least I didn't see any.
We are anchored for the night in a marine protected area, the chart says it's a seal sanctuary. We haven't seen any seals. There is a fresh water river that feeds into this bay and there are plenty of mangroves. Perfect croc habitat. If the crocs could have seals on top of all that it's no wonder we're not seeing any seals. We did find dolphins outside the bay. So we're having our Thanksgiving in a private anchorage in the Northern Territories of Australia. That's kind of in the spirit of our forefathers. We just don't have any turkeys to chase and those darn crocs aren't cooperating.
Tomorrow we will leave here at the proper time to catch all of the tidal currents to ride into Darwin in daylight. And that would be the real reason we are anchored. We didn't catch the beginning of the run down the channel at the right time, so instead of fighting 7 kt currents or going in circles for 16 hours, we tucked into here for a nice relaxing dinner. We were anchored for all of 10 minutes or so before the Coast Watch airplane flew over. First he was after someone out in the channel. We heard them chat on the radio. The plane was heading back east when it took a definite detour over our bay. He found us. Again, the plane did a low flyover and came on the radio wanting to speak to the ketch "Safner." Sigh. I didn't realize our naming and our choice of script would be so problematic. Alex talked to them and set them straight. Once they realized we were Fafner and that Fafner was on their list they said they had all our details and wished us a pleasant evening. So we'll pass the wishes on to all of you from us and them. We should be in Darwin on Saturday.
Date: November 21, 2007
Location: 11º 06' S 134º 18' E at 1200
Not much to report today. Not much wind, we're motoring, not much rain, and not much activity. We're sleeping, reading and the kids are doing schoolwork. We bought a frozen turkey thigh roll thing in Gove, so we'll try to do Thanksgiving tomorrow as best we can. I'm pretty sure I have a can of cranberry sauce buried somewhere. And I know I have a can of pumpkin. The sea is flat, so a pumpkin pie is not out of the question. We'll report on our feast.
Date: November 20, 2007
Location: 11º 44' S 136º 29' E at 1200
We left Gove this morning on our way to Darwin. We left really early in order to time a couple of tides through passes correctly. The biggie was making sure we went through the Gugari Rip (Hole in the Wall) on the proper tide. This all started on the day we were looking at the decorations on the Gove Yacht Club walls. One of the objects d'art was a chart with the Gugari Rip highlighted. The Gugari Rip is a pass about 400 ft wide and just over a mile long. It's called the Hole in the Wall because it is a relatively narrow opening in a long island. Geoff started reading it and figured out we could save about 35 nm or so by going through the Gugari Rip and a couple of other passes leading up to it. The helpful yacht club even had a sheet with details all printed up for people to take. He brought it back to the boat and calculated the tides and determined when the slack tide would be in each place. Meanwhile, I was fixated on the Rip part of Gugari Rip. Apparently, if you time your transit incorrectly, you can zip through the pass riding a healthy current giving boat speeds to 14 kt, or so the locals say. We tried to find someone around the yacht club who had done it recently, but the possibly unsettling answer that we kept getting was that people took off to do the Gugari Rip and were never heard from again. After the speaker realized what he had just said he back-pedaled and explained that they went through but hadn't returned to Gove. We finally did find someone who had done the Rip as recently as two days ago, so we picked their brains and headed out this morning. Now we've been through all of the passes and survived. Yippee! Okay, now that we're through I'll admit that Geoff timed it well and our trip was uneventful and scenic. We got to admire the rock formations and appreciate the tidal eddies. Claire took pictures.
Date: November 16, 2007
Location: 12º 12' S 136º 41' E ,Gove Yacht Club Anchorage, Gove, Northern Territory, Australia
We arrived this morning and anchored. The bottom here is a very fine mud. Oh, one of my favorite substances to anchor in. We tried twice with the plow. Aptly enough, the plow made nice furrows. Claire says the chain was buried at least 6 feet and we still didn't hold. So we brought out the Fortress. It stuck on the first try. I fully appreciate its flukiness.
We went ashore and found out that while there are yachties here, amenities are still scarce. The only internet is in town at the high school library. Groceries are in town. The gas station that sells diesel is in town. The ATM machine at the yacht club is broken and banks are in town. Town is a $30 cab ride away. Claire and Geoff are hitch-hiking there now. They went to find a bank. Geoff has enough cash on him for cab fare for only one way. The logic behind hitch-hiking to town is, if the bank doesn't want to give us our own money for some reason, they will be able to get a ride back. What the yacht club does have are friendly people and showers. Nice hot showers. Hot showers with good water pressure.
We plan to stay here for a couple of days and then move on to Darwin. I don't need to go to town or sight see. You can find me in the showers.
Date: November 15, 2007
Location: 11º 38' S 138º 00' E at 1200
Not much to report. The sea was flat today, flat flat flat flat flat. We scared a flying fish, but even he was having trouble getting airborne. Certain French Polynesians believe that the seas will calm if a booby lands on them. I saw a whole bunch of boobies floating on the water today. Aha! We motored. We've been motoring since last night. We should be in tomorrow morning.
Date: November 14, 2007
Location: 11º 09' S 139º 49' E at 1200
Alex and I have a thought for you provoked by the Coast Watch airplanes that patrol around here. Imagine William Hung's voice (William Hung, American Idol contestant who sang excruciatingly badly but was popular anyway because he was sooooo bad) crooning, "Talk to me, tell me your name..."
The Coast Watch aircraft take their job seriously. They fly over Australian waters and keep track of all of the ships out here. Geoff says most of the tankers must have AIS (some sort of automatic identification system), but the smaller yachts and fishing boats don't. So after the Coast Watch does a flyby, they call. Last night I think we talked to two separate airplanes. They called, "sailing sloop at approximately 141 degrees east," and they were looking for us. It was dark and so I'll forgive them for not noticing that we were a ketch. Earlier in the day we talked to the warship Bundeberg. In one of those rare occurrences, we were one of two sailboats within 2 miles of each other. The warship got on the VHF and called to speak to the sailboat to his port. The other guy answered and explained that he was the closer one. They chatted over their particulars, vessel name, port of origin, last port and next port, and then the warship got back on the VHF. "Other sailboat to my port," it was our turn. So we're getting used to talking to these guys. This morning Alex got to talk to airplane group and they called her ma'am. They said they'd probably be talking to us later on. We hope so, this is kind of fun. Watching the airplane buzz the boat adds excitement to any watch, and then there's the added bonus of waiting for the expected VHF call. Which got us to thinking about talking to them and what they always ask and, well, William Hung.
Date: November 13, 2007
Location: 10º 35' S 142º 05' E at 1200
The best laid plans of mice and men...
We left Thursday island this morning and instead of heading for East Timor, we are going to another port in Australia, Gove. Actually we are going to two more ports in Australia, Gove and then Darwin. We started the paperwork for our cruising permit for Indonesia and we need to stall for a while to allow time for the bureaucratic process to grind on. This stalling could be anywhere from two to four weeks. We have our plans and our back up plans and the back up to the back up plans. We'll see which ones pan out. So, our current immediate plan is to go to Gove, which reputedly has a nice beach and yachtie facilities although it is a $30 cab ride from town. We'll stay a little while and, uh, hang out. Our new friends in the customs office on Thursday Island suggested we go to Gove, then maybe stop at a settlement or two on our way to Darwin, and then enjoy Darwin. Matt (customs) was telling us about nature parks and such, so Alex and I are excited to see some wallabies and kangaroos. And as long as we're there we can hunt down a diesel mechanic and maybe get parts shipped in for the watermaker. We could go wild and find a radar guy too.
Kosmos arrived in Thursday Island yesterday, so we got to see them before we left. We invited ourselves over to their boat and ate ice cream and shared what we've found out about Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. All of us are looking forward to going to those places. They should be very different from where we've been so far. While the adults were talking, Claire and Alex got to play on Kosmos' Wii game machine. I found it amusing to watch the girls boxing each other's wii-me by sparring with the air. They tried boxing, golf and bowling. They actually worked up a sweat that had little to do with the fact that it's warm here. Maybe there's hope for the video generation after all, they'll get exercise playing their games.
Today we started motoring our away across the Gulf of Carpenteria. There is little wind. After the Pacific the water in the Arafura Sea seems shallow. It is weird to be doing a passage through water that we would consider a good depth for anchoring in. We spent a good portion of the day in 35 to 45 feet of water. Now I think we're maybe in 50 or so feet of water. Something new. Oh, we passed Booby Island today. Yes, there were boobies. I thought you'd like to know.
Date: November 2 - November ?, 2007
Location: Horn Island anchorage, Torres Straight, Australia, (across from Thursday Island) 10 deg 35 min S, 142 deg 1 min E
Sunday, Nov. 4 - Raft Race Day. We got up early and took our dinghy over to the dock on Horn Island to watch the contestants gather. The customs raft was called "Duty Free." I decided that calling the boats rafts was a little unfair. The boats were not the flat, Huck Finn variey of raft at all. The rafts were catamarans. Most of them were made out of either large PVC pipe or metal roofing formed into a circle for the pontoons. They had gaff-rigged sail made of blue tarps. While the crews were making last minute adjustments to their craft, the spectators were preparing too. Kids on the dock had stock-piled ripe mangoes to throw and even the adults in the chase boats had water balloons and flour bombs. We were unarmed, so we stayed out of the war-zone as much as possible. We chased the rafts across the channel in the dinghy. "Duty Free" did not end up finishing exactly. They got caught in the current and were heading off around Thursday Island. The customs chase boat went and rescued them. "Duty Free" ended up winning the Worst Navigation Award. Apparently they won it last year too. After the race everyone went to a party at the Bowls Club. The Rotary Club cooked sausages and onion and sold beverages. Local bands played live music. We heard Seaman Dan. We were told that this was The Event of the year.
Date: November 2, 2007
Location: Horn Island anchorage, Torres Straight, Australia, (across from Thursday Island) 10 deg 35 min S, 142 deg 1 min E
We're here! I still don't know why every official we talked to reminded us to stay on the boat until we cleared customs, but we cleared customs and we've been ashore for burgers. The burgers were quite large, so, gasp, we didn't have room for ice cream. We did find out, however, that ice cream comes in 5 liter tubs at the store. Hee hee. That's all we'll need to eat tomorrow.
For this next bit of news the yachties might have to sit down. We found the friendly customs officials. Clearing customs and quarantine was pleasant. We had a lovely visit with the team that came on board. We called when we were about half an hour out. They suggested that we try the Horn Island anchorage because it was more sheltered from the wind, so technically that's where we are. Alex talked to them on the radio once we were anchored, and after they reminded us not to leave our boat they said they'd be over as soon as they could and that they'd call as they were leaving the dock. Then they did. Four guys showed up. Geoff bonded with the quarantine guy right away. Quarantine guy was named Geoff. The kids and I had a grand old time showing Matt and Chris around below while the 4th guy, who shall remain nameless because he was not as chatty as the other three, stayed outside poking around our cockpit lockers and snorkel gear. Alex gave Matt and Chris the grand tour and they opened up lockers and looked through cubbies. They had the kids put all their shells and pandanas weaving and wood carvings on a bunk for Q-Geoff to look at later. Then we filled out paperwork. We found out Chris is going to a family reunion on Niue in January and we talked about what it's like there because he's never been there. We explained about Friday Pizza night and they gave us a phone number for a pizza place that would deliver to the wharf on Thursday Island. Q-Geoff came around and checked out the items on the bunk. He admired the kids' carvings, said the shells weren't the big clam shells they were after and even let Alex keep her unfinished weaving and raw materials. He examined my galley and stores and in the end took 18 eggs, the kilo of popcorn from Mexico and a large brick of Fiji cheese. He asked if I wanted a receipt. They gave us a map of Thursday Island and marked useful places on it for us. They even posed for a picture with Adventure Bear. We saw them on Horn Island later. They had been checking in a couple of Chinook helicopter's worth of military people while we were consuming hamburgers. They told us about a local homebuilt raft race that's happening on Sunday. The race is from Horn Island across the mile-long channel to Thursday Island and Customs has a boat entered. We said we'd chase them in the dinghy. There is a strong current between the islands. They said one year the race took all of 10 minutes. And someone missed the island and had to be rescued. So, we found a great place to check in and met some cool people right away.
Our night of traveling amongst the islands and the reefs was not so bad. My mantra was we-made-it-through-the-Tuamotus-I-can-do-this. The charts and radar agreed where things were, so it was mostly a matter of making proper course choices and changes and avoiding ships. We did get close enough to one for Geoff and the tanker pilot to slap hands as we passed, but neither boat lost any paint. Okay, not that close really, we were about 200 feet apart. It was my watch, technically, but Geoff was in the cockpit so I bothered him at course changes. I'm so glad he was up when the tanker went by. We had to squeeze two boats between a couple of lights marking rocks. It was only a squeeze because the other guy was so large. Now that I've done one of those tanker passes, I'd like to consider that event checked off my list and not have to do any more. Overall we had a good steady wind and somehow managed to hit the tides just right so the current was always working for us. A nice change from a lot of our trip up here. At one point we were only making a gentle 3.5 knots through the water with the wind from behind and still were going close to 8 knots for speed over the ground.
I didn't make any deals with God for these good experiences, but I think I'll go to church on Sunday. Tonight the kids and I plan to kick back in the cockpit with the binocs and watch for the saltwater crocodiles. No swimming here.