Thursday, June 30, 2016
The last row out to GANNET is over and the dinghy mostly cleaned of sand, dried, deflated and stowed on the starboard pipe berth.
The flags have been brought in.
Spare jib halyard, spinnaker halyard and vestigial topping lift moved from the pulpit to the base of the mast.
And I’m about to go on deck for libation, music and my last Darwin sunset.
I did not get my pizza today. Apparently Darwinians do not eat pizza for lunch. After getting GANNET’s clearance from Border Protection, I goggled ‘pizza places near me’ and found four. Two were no longer in business and the other two didn’t open until 5:00 p.m. So I had a fresh fruit salad with yoghurt instead, which no doubt was better for me, but I really wanted pizza. And the next one is an ocean away.
To the extant that any generalization about a nation is true, Australians are friendly people. But here in Darwin they have been even friendlier and more helpful, from sharing a lunch to powering all the way out to GANNET to deliver an unexpected gift. This includes the officials at Border Protection. Both clearing in at Bundaberg and clearing out here could not have been easier.
I like Australia and always have. The climate and feeling are very different, certainly in Queensland and the Northern Territory, than in New Zealand. I love the sense of vast emptiness.
But I am ready to go back to sea. Even eager.
As soon as I post this, I’ll turn on the Yellowbrick. It is set to upload positions every six hours. It may need to be recharged during the passage, and I don’t know if it will be able to upload a position while recharging, so if an update doesn’t appear on schedule, don’t panic. I promise I won’t.
If all goes well, you will next hear from me in the last half of August from Africa.
I wish you joy.
Wednesday, June 29, 2016
After two hours labor and at the cost of only a broken fingernail, I have reconfigured GANNET’s interior into passage mode and stowed provisions for more than two months. I even know where everything is. Sort of. And there is still room for me and the dinghy and anchor and rode that have still to come aboard. This is a triumph, however minor.
GANNET appears to be heeling slightly to port, which is all right. That side figures to be to windward for several thousand miles.
Although June is not quite over, I’m not going to finish another book before I leave and so publish the books read January—June 2016 now.
NOSTROMO Joseph Conrad
NORTH TO THE ORIENT Anne Morrow Lindbergh
THE NUTMEG OF CONSOLATION Patrick O’Brian
A SINGLE WAVE Webb Chiles
THE TRUELOVE/CLARISSA OAKES Patrick O’Bria
THE TRUELOVE/CLARISSA OAKES Patrick O’Bria
THE HORSE’S MOUTH Joyce Cary
DEAD WAKE Erik Larson
SOCCER IN SUN AND SHADOW Eduardo Galeano
SHADOWS Webb Chiles
THE WINE DARK SEA Patrick O’Brian
THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY Richard C. Morais
HOTEL FLORIDA Amanda Vaill
FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS Ernest Hemingway
THE PARIS WIFE Paula McLain
THE COMMODORE Patrick O’Brian
THE YEAR OF LEAR James Shapiro
MIDDLEMARCH George Eliot
THE YELLOW ADMIRAL Patrick O’Brian
THE HUNDRED DAYS Patrick O’Brian
21 Patrick O’Brian
IN A SUNBURNED COUNTRY Bill Bryson
TYPHOON Joseph Conrad
CHILDREN OF THE DAYS Eduardo Galeano
THE INVENTION OF NATURE Andrea Wulf
HISTORY’S GREAT SHOWDOWNS Edwin S. Grosvenor
SHERIFF’S BLOOD John Legg
DEEP SURVIVAL Laurence Gonzales
THE NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH Richard Flanagan
THE SOUTHPAW Mark Harris
DICTATOR Robert Harris
CIRCLING THE SUN Paula McLain
WAR MUSIC Christopher Logue
RED ROAD FROM STALINGRAD Mansur Abdulin
IN SUNLIGHT AND IN SHADOW Mark Helprin
WESSEX TALES Thomas Hardy
I have commented on some of these as I read them.
DEEP SURVIVAL is study of how some people survive extreme situations, while some don’t. I learned that even among survivors, I am unusual. I consider that I have been on the edge of survival three times: during much of the five month passage in EGREGIOUS around Cape Horn; for the two weeks adrift after CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE pitch-poled; and for the twenty-six hour swim after I sank RESURGAM. Unlike most of those Laurence Gonzales writes about, I did not hear a voice, which perhaps should be capitalized; I did not pray; and two of the three times, I had no one to live for.
If in reading the list you are struck by the title, SHERIFF’S BLOOD, it was one of an ebook of five great westerns offered by BookBud for a couple of dollars. Not great, but good when I wanted something that held my interest and didn’t require much concentration when the sailing was difficult.
The best of these are those by Joseph Conrad; those by me; those by Eduardo Galeano; those by Patrick O'Brian, if you get into the series; FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, though it is flawed—Hemingway couldn’t write about sex and perhaps not about love, but the ending is perfect; THE HORSE'S MOUTH; MIDDLEMARCH; SOUTHPAW, though perhaps only for Americans; WAR MUSIC; WESSEX TALES.
The best of these are those by Joseph Conrad; those by me; those by Eduardo Galeano; those by Patrick O'Brian, if you get into the series; FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, though it is flawed—Hemingway couldn’t write about sex and perhaps not about love, but the ending is perfect; THE HORSE'S MOUTH; MIDDLEMARCH; SOUTHPAW, though perhaps only for Americans; WAR MUSIC; WESSEX TALES.
Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Yesterday I rowed ashore and visited Immigration and Border Protection to arrange for clearance on Thursday and to complete my provisioning.
Today I rowed ashore to top-off the water jerry can I have been using, to shower, and to lunch on salt and pepper calamari. Above is the view from my table at the Darwin Sailing Club.
The row in today was not essential. I could have filled the jerry can when I go ashore Thursday to officially clear; but as you know I don’t like to leave things to the last minute. I bought extra bottles of water for the next few days, so I will go to sea with the jerry cans full.
Tomorrow I doubt I will go ashore. I will remain on board to reconfigure GANNET’s interior to passage mode and, hopefully, impose order on my provisions.
On Thursday I will officially clear and, hopefully, eat a pizza.
On Friday, July 1 here/Thursday, June 30 in the U.S., I will sail.
I am aware of the superstition against beginning a voyage on Friday. I do not share it.
If all goes well I expect to reach South Africa in 6 or 7 weeks.
A few days ago a man of middle years found it necessary to shout at me as he outboarded in and I was rowing out, “Get a motor!” I assume he considered that wit. I thought of several responses, but did not make them or miss a stroke.
Twice others have offered me a tow, for which I thanked them for their consideration but did not accept.
Only one more in and back.
Changes in the neighborhood.
A ketch that was anchored a hundred yards away is gone.
A 42’/13 meter sloop came in yesterday morning and anchored fifty yards away.
And last evening just as the sun was setting a catamaran about 40’ long sailed in under jib and main and anchored under sail. This is not one of the commodious and now ubiquitous cruising catamarans, but a more performance oriented design. She is sailed by a crew of two. I enjoyed watching them handle their boat.
Sunday, June 26, 2016
The wind is light today and the row ashore would not be difficult but I have decided to take the day off from visiting the land. My body thanks me.
I believe that I can complete provisioning in two or three days, which is fast enough assuming the wind permits me to get ashore.
I have done some work on GANNET today. Oiled interior wood. Added screws to hold the solar panels down. End for ended the main halyard. And I may still lift and scrub some of GANNET’s anchor rode. This is the longest GANNET’s anchor has been continuously down and stuff is growing on the rode.
I also searched through and inventoried the provisions I have already bought and trash bagged. I can usually tell what is in the bags by feel, but not always and temporarily lost 24 small boxes of orange juice. They are now found.
For the first week to ten days in Darwin I was tired. Some of that could be attributed to sailing for four weeks, and some to the marathon rowing, but I realized several days ago that despite beers and ice cream, I was losing weight. I don’t need to lose weight. Eating lunches ashore, I often did not eat much for dinner and I am saving my protein powder for the next passage. I resumed freeze dry dinners on GANNET four nights ago, no matter what I had eaten ashore for lunch and noticed an immediate difference. Problem solved: I was running on empty. I just needed more fuel.
“He holds the world in his mind.”
From one of my favorite poems which I trot out at any excuse.
I know the way from here to South Africa, and from South Africa to Australia for that matter.
In RESURGAM I sailed Bali, Christmas Island, Mauritius, Durban.
In THE HAWKE OF TUONELA I sailed Bali, Cocos/Keeling, Durban.
And if you are wondering, in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, I sailed Bali, Singapore, Aden, Port Sudan, Rabigh Gaol.
But I do not recall the exact latitudes and longitudes of all those places and did not realize until I put a waypoint off the Durban breakwaters, that the coming passage will be 100° of longitude. 131°E to 31°E. Latitude will be only 18°, from 12°S to 30°S.
100°F was also the temperature in GANNET’s Great Cabin when I returned from shore yesterday afternoon. 37.77°C
The photo was taken yesterday from the hill just north of the Sailing Club as I was walking to the grocery store.
Most of the boats are local. And most are multihulls or small shallow draft monohulls.
GANNET does not appear in the photo. She is out of frame to the right.
While GANNET is usually the boat anchored farthest from shore, eight boats are anchored beyond her here. Of course, to their crews this only means that the outboard runs a couple of minutes longer.
While GANNET is usually the boat anchored farthest from shore, eight boats are anchored beyond her here. Of course, to their crews this only means that the outboard runs a couple of minutes longer.
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Friday, June 24, 2016
With the full moon this week tides have been GANNET-sized. Several have been 22’/7 meters. Out where we are anchored, almost in the next country, the least water I have seen under our keel has been 10’/3 meters, but I haven't checked at all low tides.
When I was here in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, I anchored close in. With her centerboard and rudder raised, she drew only 12”/.3 meter and could take the ground. Listening to the water swirl in and out around us was odd.
One night we were awakened around midnight by loud voices cursing nearby. I stuck my head out from the tarp we used as a cockpit tent and found four men more than ankle deep in mud carrying a 14’ inflatable with a big outboard. Obviously they had gone ashore earlier for an evening of drinking and dining and perhaps a visit to the casino and forgotten about the tide.
As they passed us, they still had a couple of hundred muddy sobering yards/meters before they reached water.
The new Solbian solar panels arrived Wednesday and were installed yesterday. I used screws and may need to add more. Adhesive is the recommended method, and if they survive to South Africa I may try adhesive.
The panels are rated at 50 watts, meaning that they are the equivalent of adding two additional 25 watt panels to GANNET’s system. We now have 200 watts of solar charging on deck. Divide that by 12 volts and theoretically the output is 16.66 amps. I have never seen output anywhere near that. 4 or 5 amps is high. I assume the loss is due to shading and angle and wiring, though I have adequate size wires throughout the system.
Solbain is an Italian company. I had to make a quick decision on what is available in Australia. I hope I did better than when I bought Aurinco.
When I ordered the panels I noted that their output is 9 volts. I asked the Solbain distributor if this would work with a 12 volt system. He told me to wire them in series, the positive of one to the negative of the other, thus forming one big panel, with the remaining positive and negative wires to the regulator. I did so and measured the output at 20.4 volts.
Please forgive the dirt on deck. I land the dinghy on the beach. Dirt and sand come back to GANNET with me.
While I still have more provisions to buy, I already have too much. GANNET’s interior is a mess. There is hardly room for me. I will have to eat and drink GANNET’s way back into trim.
In the meantime, I’m going to try to impose some order on the chaos. I may have to reconfigure to passage mode to do so.
Next week is supposed to see more wind. If I can get ashore most days, I expect that I will be ready to clear a week from today, July 1, or earlier.
While the row to and from shore has not been hard this week, it is still long. Only one person here is rowing. He will be glad to get back to sea where life is easier and he can relax.
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Two nights ago Darwin’s temperature dropped below 20°C/68°F for the first time this year. This is the latest date that has happened since records have been kept going back to the 19th Century. Darwin has two seasons: Wet and Dry. When the temperature first drops below 20°C is considered the start of the Dry.
Although GANNET does not have good ventilation, heat here has not been much of a problem, except for yesterday afternoon when for a couple of hours we had a flat calm.
I took advantage of the opportunity to do some maintenance, including raising the mainsail to locate a few minor holes, which I repaired by glueing sail repair tape over them.
I also gave the winches and jib furling drum a fresh water rinse and lubrication. Lubricated blocks and cam cleats and the rudder bearing. Whipped the end of a reef line. Polished stainless steel that was not stainless. Wiped the waterline from the dinghy. And oiled part of the interior.
Until a welcome slight breeze returned in late afternoon, it was hot. I drained my one liter water bottle twice.
While I still have many things to buy, all the heavy stuff is now aboard, although not in its final stowed position. I filled the third water jerry can yesterday, and will only have to top up the jerry can in use before I sail.
I also bought an ample supply of Yalumba box wine, called cask wine here even though it really is a box. And although it is too hot to drink it, I rectified an intolerable condition and bought a bottle of Laphroaig. I had drunk the last of the last the evening I arrived.
I rowed ashore this morning about 11 and my solar panels were conveniently delivered at 11:30. I walked to the closest grocery store to buy stuff, returned, showered, rowed and was back on GANNET by 1:30. As all this week, the rows in and out were not hard.
The new panels are decidedly thinner than the Aurinco. The wires exiting from them are massive. The junction box, the usual point of failure on solar panels, looks solid. Time will tell.
I screwed them in place and then removed them to fill the holes left by the Aurinco panels. I also need slightly bigger screws and about three feet/one meter of wire. They should be operational tomorrow.
Kent and Audrey, who have an armada of small boats, including a Drascombe Lugger, are involved in a restoration of BARABSHELA, a 20’ long rowing boat with a beam of only 4½’ that sounds like what I need in Darwin.
The boat was all but destroyed by Katerina and it is less a restoration that a resurrection. Some of you have the skills to do this. I don’t and am filled with admiration.
Well done, Audrey and Kent.
Monday, June 20, 2016
Eighteen knot early morning wind dropped to eleven knots at 11:00 a.m. and for the third day in a row my row was easy, if tedious.
I walked a short distance to a bus stop near the Sailing Club and rode the bus to the city center. The distance is not far, but it is hot here and the buses are air-conditioned. You pay $3.00 Australian/$2.25 U.S. for a ticket that is valid for rides for three hours. Mine started at 11:51 a.m.
I rode in, went to a barber shop and was sheered. I hadn’t had a hair cut since Carol cut mine before I left in early March. My hair is a diminishing resource in which I take no pride or interest. I told the genial biker barber to give me a 6,000 mile haircut and he did.
I then had lunch of Vietnamese Pho, a beef and noodle soup; shopped at two grocery stores; and caught a bus outside the second at 2:14 back to the Sailing Club, well within my three hour limit.
I bought mostly lunches. I have 76 lunches on GANNET: 20 tuna; 10 salmon; 24 chicken; 22 Laughing Cow Cheese; though not the crackers to go with them.
I also bought more trail mix. You cannot have too much trail mix.
I now have my breakfasts, lunches and dinners on board, and most of my water. There is still more to buy, but that is the basics.
Checking Windfinder Pro, I better get it done this week when the wind is forecast to continue light. Next week it is shown to be 20+ knots. I can’t get ashore in that.
For several days there has been an odd and increasingly unpleasant odor in GANNET’s cockpit. Today it was definitely fishy. I started emptying the sheet bags and in the third I found the culprit, a six inch long flying fish, who with his dying leap made an unintentional basket. He was as dry as a stone. I have enough lunches, so I returned him to his former element.
Sunday, June 19, 2016
I started to provision for the passage to South Africa today, aided by friends who are visiting from Perth and drove me to a supermarket where I bought three fifteen liter containers of water, three bags of trail mix, six bags of oatmeal, some protein bars and juice and a few other items.
The great fact of boat life for me in Darwin is the row to and from the shore. If I lived here I would not row an inflatable. I would get a sailing dinghy that I could sail off the beach or a rigid dinghy that rowed well, perhaps even a kayak. Yesterday and today, the row to and from shore was easy. I am grateful, for often it is an ordeal that drains me and has made it more difficult to recover from the recent sailing and to prepare for a 6,000 mile passage.
If all goes well, and that is by no means certain or even likely, I expect to reach South Africa in 45 or 50 days. The problem with sailing to South Africa from any distance is the same as sailing to New Zealand: you can encounter severe storms at any time of year.
I am provisioning for sixty days, though I have freeze dry dinners on board for many months beyond that.
Today I bought breakfast, enough uncooked oatmeal to see me through, some trail mix, though I may need more, boxes of orange juice, though I will need more, and instant coffee. I already have enough powdered milk and whey protein.
Each of the fifteen liter containers of water is about four U.S. gallons, and will, with my four five gallon jerry cans, provide enough water for sixty days. It is likely that you have never almost died of thirst. I have. Twice. Once when adrift after CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE pitch-poled. Again when I swam for twenty-six hours after sinking RESURGAM. Hunger is nothing. Thirst is terrible. I fear thirst.
Provisioning is easier for me than most. I have done this a long time and I can get buy with simplicity; but provisioning GANNET for this long is complicated because everything has to be stowed and moved around to make room for everything else. Still I sailed 4,000 miles non-stop from Singapore to Aden in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, the longest open boat passage ever made, and GANNET, if not exactly the QE2 compared to CHIDIOCK, is decidedly bigger and has a lid.
Tomorrow I will buy lunches. Canned tuna and salmon and chicken, which is more difficult to find in Australia than it was in New Zealand, and the French Laughing Cow cheese, which lasts forever without refrigeration for reasons I probably don’t want to know, and crackers for all the above.
My solar panels are due to arrive Wednesday. Installing them will not take long. I also need to make some minor repairs to the mainsail. Tie some high tech line around the mast to secure the lower few inches of the Tides Marine track until I can put cleats on the mast, which I should have done long ago.
I am not at this moment ready physically or mentally for a 6,000 mile passage. Perhaps that is because I am old and it takes me longer to recover. But then there is no base line. I believe I am correct that no one else has ever remotely considered a 6,000 mile passage in a Moore 24. It is a stretch. If the rows to and from shore don’t take too much out of me, I am aiming to sail for South Africa by June 30.
I have come to terms with the Yellowbrick. Originally it was intended for Carol, but many of you have written that you enjoy following it, and I must admit that once I reach port, I like reviewing the track myself.
A couple of readers have written questioning the Yellowbrick track crossing land. Unless you set the Yellowbrick to track continuously, which I do not because I pay a small amount every time it uploads a position and continuous tracking would quickly exhaust the battery, the Yellowbrick simply connects the dots between positions. Between them I often sailed around headlands, not across them.
The Yellowbrick also does not upload speed. It calculates time on distance, which means that if GANNET does not sail a straight line between positions, the speed will always be lower than her true speed.
I left Bundaberg with the Yellowbrick fully charged. When I arrived in Darwin its battery was at 39%. I will charge it again before I leave, but may have to charge it during the coming passage. I will set the intervals between positions to six hours as I have on other ocean passages.
From Gerard comes this poem written during WWII. As he pointed out it was written at a time when ships were lost every day. I thank him.
Saturday, June 18, 2016
I stand in the companionway, naked to the waist. A cool west wind touches my skin and is welcomed.
I am facing the stern which is being held beam on to the wind by tide.
I turn left. The sun has already set, leaving behind infinite shades of orange and red that are beyond words.
I turn right and find a full moon reflecting infinitely shifting silver facets on the water.That I have known such beauty for so long.
I walked into and around downtown Darwin yesterday. Probably a total of only three or four miles, but my unused legs felt it.
After lunch of a chicken and avocado salad, a cold beer, and an ice cream cone for dessert, I wandered around, found the two supermarkets I remembered and most of the items I need to provision for the next long passage. I bought a few items, some scones, a snack mix, a lime, and a box of wine. I tried to buy two boxes, but was told that the store has a limit of one box per customer a day. Hmm.
I took a taxi back to the sailing club. There are buses, but I didn’t want to wait.
At the sailing club, I showered and then rowed back to GANNET. For the second successive day, the row out was harder than the row in. The wind had backed to the north and was blowing hard on the beam, causing me to have to work to keep from ending back in downtown Darwin. There was enough chop to make climbing from dinghy to GANNET difficult.
As soon as I was aboard I realized that I had left my bag of groceries on the bench in the men’s shower room. This is not a place where I turn around and row back in a second time.
So, no lime in a gin and tonic, no boxed wine, no snack mix, no scone to dunk in my morning coffee.
Today I rowed in at 11 a.m. The wind has been light all day and the rows in and out were relatively easy.
When I had the Avon secured, I went to the shower room and there untouched just where I left it was my grocery bag. Good people.
I did not forget to bring it out with me this time.
I have always been in Darwin in June, and I have always sailed from Darwin to Bali.
There are fewer boats here than in the past. I think only a half dozen are in transit. The rest are local.
The closest boat to GANNET is a catamaran perhaps a hundred yards/meters away. Four other boats are anchored within three hundred yards/meters. Oddly they are all unattended. On deck as I am at sunset, I see their anchor lights come on, presumably with a photo-sensitive switch. But no one is aboard. I’ve seen men power out to two of the boats during the week, spend an hour, and power back to shore.
In addition to having one of the most brutal rows to shore, because of smoke from bush fires and dust rising off the desert to the west, at this time of year Darwin also has consistently spectacular sunsets.The one above looks to me like a painting by Turner.
Thursday, June 16, 2016
I have remained aboard GANNET today, cleaning, organizing, re-securing wiring that had come adrift—adhesives often fail in tropical heat—and finding my long missing belt. I also reread the passage log. There are surely still typos and errors. If you find some and let me know, I’ll make the corrections.
This is the fourth, and last, time I will sail North Queensland to Cape York and Darwin. I’ve written about the sailing and area twice before, if you are interested, in the chapter ‘Cruising the Ghost Coast’ in THE OCEAN WAITS, which you can read by buying the ebook or downloading the free PDF on the book page of the main site, and in “The Big Empty” on the articles page.
In addition there are photos taken during my fifth circumnavigation, those between Cairns and Darwin, both identified by captions, are relevant.
Since I first sailed this coast in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE more than thirty years ago, both Cairns and Darwin have doubled in size and changed dramatically. The land and sea in between hasn’t changed for eons.
May 16, Monday
0620 Sailed from slip at Bundaberg Marina.
0730 Three miles offshore. I just had my second cup of coffee with a scone. I woke at 0500 and had my first cup while waiting for daylight.
I hoped not to have to fit the Torqeedo, and with very light wind off the land, I was able to sail from the slip under mainsail, unfurling the jib a minute later.
With the tide with us we made 4 knots down river tiller pilot steering. I was on deck to make corrections to avoid a half dozen small power boats fishing near the river mouth.
The wind is light and from the south as forecast. We are making 3 and 4 knots on a broad reach off to the northeast. After my uncooked oatmeal, I’ll stow fenders and dock lines (autocorrect made that ‘ducklings’) and consider setting the G2.
A sunny pleasant morning. But then they all have been lately.
0915 I think we are squared away.
In that first dim light, I did not notice that the spare jib halyard, spinnaker halyard and vestigial topping lift were still tied to the bow pulpit. This could result in them getting wrapped around the forestay when I unfurl the jib, but fortunately didn’t. I have moved them back to the mast.
The wind is a little stronger than I expected, perhaps 10 knots, and we are sailing decently on a broad reach under jib and main, so instead of setting the G2, which would make us go a bit faster, I’ve gone to sheet to tiller steering instead.
Land has almost disappeared behind and beside us.
We are headed east of north to get outside the Great Barrier Reef. When we do we will be 150 miles east of the mainland.
day’s run 25 miles COG 010° SOG 4.7
Hixson Reef 120 miles 004°
Grafton Passage 587 miles 322°
Wind has backed and weakened. GANNET has slowed to less than 5 knots and is rolling more. Still with sheet to tiller steering which I expect I will use from now on whenever I can. This is, I think, the first tine I’ve used the full jib as the steering sail. Before it has been partially furled.
Hixson Reef is our first waypoint on the Great Barrier Reef. Off there we can sail between the main part of the reef and isolated Saumarez Reef.
The distance to Grafton Passage off Cairns is the straight line distance from our noon position and won’t be realistic for at least two more days.
I finished reading Joseph Conrad’s TYPHOON this morning. I slightly prefer THE NIGER OF THE NARCISSUS, but TYPHOON contains perhaps the greatest description of a storm at sea ever written. You may not want to read it if you are considering sailing offshore.
Two pieces of cold pizza for lunch, leaving three for dinner. Excellent.
1330 Sloppy small waves throwing us around in light wind, so I set the G2. Still getting thrown around, but less. Pelagic tiller pilot steering.
1545 Lady Elliot Island, a small isolated islet, three miles distant off the starboard bow. We were headed right for it.
The wind has continued to back. I lowered the G2 and we’re sailing under jib and main. I’ll come up a little when we are past the island and probably go back to sheet to tiller steering.
Dolphin swimming off GANNET’s bow an hour ago.
1800 Dark with a lingering orange glow on the western horizon.
The last three pieces of pizza eaten standing in the companionway, sipping Yalumba Merlot and listening to a playlist of the tracks I like from Mark Knopfler’s PRIVATEERING. I think many of the songs on that album are among the best he has ever written, including ‘Redbud Tree’, ‘Haul Away’, ‘The Dream of the Drowned Submariner’, ‘Privateering’, ‘Yon Two Crows’, but there are several discordant tracks that I don’t like at all, so I made the playlist.
A waxing gibbous moon high to the east with a planet near it. Too bright for a star. I assume, but do not know, that it is Venus. The light on Lady Elliot Island flashing astern.
GANNET is sailing well making 5.5 knots in 6 or 7 knots of wind on the beam. It took me a while to get her balanced. Sheet to tiller is easier on a broad reach, and often I can just tie the tiller down on a close reach; but wind on the beam is difficult. I expect to have to make adjustments sometime tonight. That is my job.
0740 A ship passing a mile or two east of us heading south.
Rain at 0330 left GANNET wallowing in a hole in the wind, so I changed to tiller pilot steering, which I probably would have today anyway as I want to steer a compass course to keep us off the reefs.
Rain continued intermittently until dawn and the wind has backed so we are sometimes on a close reach and sometimes even close hauled.
I had to stop writing and ease the main sheet. A gust caused the sail to overpower the tiller pilot.
A cloudy morning. GANNET is making 6 and 7 knots across a gray sea of three foot waves and taking a lot of water over the bow.
We have a hundred miles more heading north before the reef curves away and we can fall off to the northwest.
We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn during the night and will be in the tropics for 8,000 miles until the approach to South Africa.
1000 Mostly pale blue sky. Some clouds. GANNET making 6+ knots on a close reach with full main and partially furled jib. Water reaching the companionway, but mostly spray and little coming below. But if I stood there for any length of time I’d be soaked.
Tired. Dozed off sitting at Central.
We’re heeled at least 20°. I’m wedged in with cushions at Central. Doing anything but sitting here is difficult, even brushing my teeth, which I am about to attempt.
day’s run 120 COG 016° SOG 5.6
Elusive Reef 79 miles 356°
Grafton Passage 513 miles 312°
Clear sky overhead and to the north. Some clouds east and south. Wind down to 10 to 12 knots. Saw another ship east of us heading south.
We are ten miles east of Hixson Reef. I continue to move away from the reefs hoping to be able to ease off the wind tonight.
GANNET is moving relatively easily through the waves, falling off a few with a thud and a few crashing into her amidships.
I did manage to brush my teeth and even shaved.
1315 Wind now on the beam. Smoother ride, though slower. 5 knots. Good visibility. No ships in sight.
1430 I have been standing in the companionway. The odds are more in my favor now that the wind is back on the beam, but the odd wave still leaps on board. So far not when I’ve been standing there.
The waves are steeper and more white-capped than the wind warrants. I assume because of currents around the reefs. The main body of the Great Barrier Reef is twelve miles to our west. Off lying Saumarez Reef thirty miles to the ENE.
1600 Two ships passed at the same time 45 minutes ago. One heading north, one south. Both east of us. The south bound closer.
I’ve changed course earlier than planned and am sailing due north, hopefully keeping closer to the reef than the shipping. Sixty miles before we can turn northwest beyond Elusive Reef.
1645 Glorious sailing. GANNET seems to be alive. Dashing across waves. The white foam of her port bow wave rushing past. Standing in the companionway listening to music, I watched the Velocitek display 6s and 7s.
No ships since the last two, but certainly some will pass in the night. I wake many times during the night, but may set an alarm an hour before our ETA off Elusive Reef which is presently 0130 tomorrow. I’m usually up at midnight anyway.
Waxing gibbous moon to the east. Sun about to set in the west. Trade wind sky ahead. Waves again normal.
Time to choose my freeze dried dinner while there is still light.
May 18, Wednesday
0600 We made the turn off Elusive Reef at 0400 and are now sailing northwest, the main body of the Great Barrier Reef to port, isolated reefs to starboard, the closest 110 miles away.
Zooming and scanning for isolated reefs on the iPhone is tricky. They are all there, but don’t show up until you zoom close enough. I’ve used the C-Map 93 charts in my 12” MacBook to locate the reefs, then place them as waypoints in the iPhone iNavX.
I was up often last night, but only saw two ships, both close together at midnight heading north and many miles east of us. I think GANNET and shipping were only close when we were turning the corner at Hixson Reef.
Sun not quite above the horizon. Pastel smudges of pink and violet clouds.
We’re on a starboard broad reach. I’m going on deck to set up sheet to tiller steering. Then a cup of coffee.
0915 Almost complete cloud cover. Barometer steady. The wind has veered ten degrees and we are sailing higher than I want.
I was on deck adjusting the steering when I heard a wave rumble and break right behind me. I prepared to be deluged, but it collapsed just outside the boat.
I wear bands on my eyeglasses. The one on my regular glasses broke, so I cut a piece of whipping twine as replacement. One of the times I woke last night and reached for my glasses, the twine had wrapped itself inextricably around the frames. Eventually I had to cut it to put the glasses on.
Also last night a waterproof box of bolts and screws and spare parts that has been stowed under the starboard pipe berth began groaning every time my body rolled slightly with GANNET’s motion, which is several times a minute. Eventually I had to move the box. And this morning I found a new place to stow it.
My old daily water jug cracked. I repaired it with epoxy, but found a superior one with thicker walls at Target in Bundaberg.
I think it was Douglas who first told me about whey protein powder. I don’t like most protein powders because of the flavoring. Natural whey protein has almost none. I routinely added a spoonful to my uncooked oatmeal in Evanston and bought a kilo of a New Zealand brand while I was in Opua and am now doing so on passages.
day’s run 128 miles COG 306° SOG 5.0
Grafton Passage 427 miles 302°
The sun has burned away most of the clouds. Sheet to tiller steering, starboard broad reach in about 10 knots of wind. The day’s run is a calculation based on the dog leg turn at Elusive Reef rather than a direct measurement to yesterday’s noon position. COG and SOG vary widely. The numbers are my estimates of the averages. The distance and bearing to Grafton Passage are now accurate. We are sailing that direction with a few off lying reefs in the way. Good solar charging. Hot. GANNET is scaring shoals of flying fish into flight.
1430 Wind has gone light. 6 or 7 knots. GANNET is barely making 4 knots more or less in the right direction.
I took a salt water bath. Although most bath soap do not lather in salt water, almost all dish washing liquids do. Also most hair shampoos, which not having much hair I no longer buy. I should for passages. Then I ate an orange. I brought along four. Two to go.
Sailing with the forward hatch open. Warily.
1600 Complete low cloud cover. Might be rain ahead. Wind continues light. Closed forward hatch. With the sun setting not long after 1700, time for a libation and music.
1730 No sunset. Just dimming of gray light.
The wind is lighter still. 6 knots at most. Only one shock cord on the tiller which will be overpowered if the wind picks up during the night.
Dinner of Backcountry Cuisine Roast Chicken. This comes with a separate small pouch of mashed potatoes. No way I was going to try to pour boiling water into that. I mixed it into the other ingredients in the measuring cup and added water to all.
May 19, Thursday
0605 A long night. I gybed five times and chased a big brown bird, perhaps a boobie, off the stern pulpit three times.
The wind veered and we were heading too far north under sheet to tiller, so at 2100 I lowered the mainsail and continued under jib alone with the tiller pilot steering.
When I went on deck an hour later after a gybe, I saw a startlingly large shape on the stern pulpit. I yelled at it. It didn’t move until I threw the tail of the mainsheet at it. Taking off then with an outraged screech.
I set our course more to the west, but we gybed again later. I don’t remember the time. I set our course more to the north. I was up and down often.
Twice more the bird returned, unintelligently announcing his arrival with a squawk. Among the things you can do from GANNET’s companionway is chase birds. I think I hit him with the jib sheet the last time and he did not return.
I made the last gybe at 0400, but found when I got up at first light a half hour ago that the wind had veered again and I had slept through a gybe and GANNET was happily sailing on course with a backed jib.
I had intended to set the G2 this morning and perhaps in time I will. But at present light rain is falling from a solid low sky and we are making 5 knots in the right direction.
0800 A dark and stormy morning. Not severe, but with solid low clouds touching the sea to the north and east of us where it is raining. The apparent wind speed is 14 knots, but as noted before, I think the instrument reads high and that is the true wind speed.
The wind has veered enough to the southeast so that I could set the mainsail and return to sheet to tiller steering. I may after the rain behind us passes. I’d just as soon not be making adjustments in the cockpit during a squall.
Listening to Shostakovich’s ‘Preludes and Fugues’ on one Megaboom.
0930 Rain came quietly with a reduction instead of an increase in wind. Now reading 10 and 11 knots. Light rain has been falling for an hour. The sky is brightening to the east and I thought the rain had stopped, but I just opened the companionway and it has not.
1130 I just spent an hour on deck in foul weather gear getting us back on sheet to tiller steering. I didn’t realize it had been so long until I glanced at my watch.
The rain has ended for the moment, but low overcast remains.
I had to put a reef in the mainsail and partially furl the jib to get the boat to balance. We are averaging more west than I want, but that can be corrected in time. These conditions are not going to last forever.
SOG 6s and 7s.
I’d like to leave my foul weather gear on so I can go on deck quickly if I need to, but it is too stifling. If I have to go on deck quickly, I’ll just get wet. This ocean is warm.
day’s run 93 COG 295° SOG 6.4
Grafton Passage 334 miles 302°
Conditions the same. We are 40 miles off the main body of the Great Barrier Reef.
1345 Clearing. Low clouds gone. High remain.
Wind down to 11 or 12 knots, but has backed slightly. May gybe before nightfall.
1515 Low clouds again and misty rain.
1645 Sheet to tiller was going to take us too close to the reef tonight, so I lowered the mainsail, after taking out the reef, and went to jib alone with tiller pilot steering. I expected to gybe, but not yet necessary. Light rain falling now and while I was on deck. Barometer has not changed more than a millimeter up and down the past two days.
1815 When I stood in the companionway a few minutes ago to rinse my measuring cup and spoon I was surprised to see running lights off the port bow. We are not on a collision course and will soon pass. I must admit that I will be glad when I am back inside the reef and daysailing. This is not the open ocean. Too many things to run into.
Rain has stopped. Moon trying to shine through clouds.
May 20, Friday
0715 I’ve been up since 0445. It rained for most of the night. I had to gybe the jib twice, but didn’t gybe my sleeping bag. We were sailing flat so it didn’t matter if I was to windward.
When there was enough light to see a little after 0600, I donned foul weather gear and raised the main with a double reef, partially furled the jib, and went to sheet to tiller steering. I would have preferred staying with the tiller pilot and jib alone, but we saw no sun yesterday and I want to save the tiller pilot for areas ahead when maintaining a compass course is more important.
A large white bird was sitting aft of the tiller when I first went on deck. A yell was enough to cause him to take flight with an indignant squawk. He had been there long enough to leave a mess. I wiped some of it up with paper towels and a wave came aboard and washed away the rest.
Depending on what part of the sky you look at this morning, it is clearing or going to get worse. I vote for clearing. Some blue visible to the east. There was not a speck yesterday. But to the north the clouds are black and ominous. The barometer has been steady for thirty-six hours. The wind display is showing 17 to 19 which I believe is about right.
While I was on deck sorting out the steering, a set of three bigger and steeper waves came through. I hung on as GANNET took off at 9 knots.
Time for a second cup of coffee.
day’s run 118 COG 292° SOG 5.2
Grafton Passage 218 miles 307°
I suppose this counts as clearing. We still have near complete high cloud cover with a few patches of blue, but the low clouds have disappeared and it hasn’t rained since dawn.
While on deck adjusting the steering, GANNET took off on a wave and her speed reached 11 knots under sheet to tiller.
Just after lunch of the last of a salami and crackers, a wave flooded below, leaving a lake on the starboard pipe berth. I sponged it up and wiped down with a paper towel.
A day where every action has to be planned and takes effort. I’m about to do my last, and most difficult chore, and top up my daily water containers from a jerry can, which when full as this one almost is, weighs 40 awkward pounds.
1415 I gybed a half hour ago. We were headed too much west. Now we are heading too much to the north. Gybing and switching from one jib sheet steering to the other in wind results in moments of chaos.
I’ll let us continue for another couple of hours, then lower the mainsail and have the tiller pilot steer the jib alone for the night.
1645 I lowered the mainsail and went to tiller pilot steering with full jib a half hour ago.
I tried briefly and unsuccessfully to get sheet to tiller to work with only the jib set, which reconfirms my past experience. I’ve always had to have some main sail and some jib set for sheet to tiller to be successful.
Although it took until late afternoon I can declare that we have had clearing. Almost a trade wind sky again.
We will be off Palm Passage tomorrow morning, the southern most entry back inside the reef that I have considered, but I expect I will continue on to Grafton Passage near Cairns.
These last two days have been physically hard. GANNET and I have been thrown around. I’m tired.
2000 Not all nights in the monastery of the sea are serene.
I have reefs on both sides: the Great Barrier Reef to port and a clump of off lying reefs with the general name of the Flinders Reefs to starboard. Flinders was a naval officer who was the first to circumnavigate Australia and in surveying left his name in many places. On the way to Cape York I will anchor off Flinders Island.
The distance between the Flinders Reefs, of which one is known as The Herald’s Surprise, which I assume it was, and the Great Barrier Reef is fifty nautical miles. Hardly threading the needle. But the wind is directly behind us and I cannot set a course to clear either without the jib collapsing and backing. The obvious solution is to head one way or the other and then gybe during the night. However, in my frustration I expressed my displeasure vividly to the universe. As always, the universe remained indifferent.
May 21, Saturday
0730 The wind continues to be directly behind us. The wind display is reading 20 knots and I think that is correct. I was finally able to get us to point the right direction last night without the jib collapsing. This morning 5’ waves are steeper than we have seen on this passage, though we are still in deep water. I partially furled the jib a few minutes ago. We’re still making 5 knots and Grafton Passage is 109 miles ahead. No point in being there before this time tomorrow.
A shoal of baby flying fish leapt the wrong way last night and ended up in the cockpit.
While setting up the running backstay this morning, GANNET took off on a wave part of which landed on me. I turned and saw 10.8 on the Velocitek.
The sun is burning off morning clouds.
day’s run 131 COG 317° SOG 5.5
Grafton Passage 86 miles 306°
The wind has decreased to 15 knots. Some waves are still steep and deeply rolling GANNET. Our day’s run is good considering I reduced sail to slow down at dawn. We are sailing high of our course because the wind remains dead astern. I’ll gybe at sunset and further reduce sail.
It is twenty-five miles from the waypoint off Grafton Passage to where I want to anchor just west of Cape Grafton. I’m going to have to crawl forward over bags and bring the anchor and rode from where they are stowed near the bow aft to under the forward hatch. Once at anchor I’ll reconfigure the interior to harbor mode to make anchoring easier, which I’ll be doing every night. I may well spend two nights at Cape Grafton before moving on.
1315 Furled jib to t-shirt size to try to slow down. Still making 4 knots.
1600 Solid low cloud cover. Sky dark and threatening. We did have good solar charging for much of the day. I furled more jib. Down to only a few square feet to keep us on course and from rolling too extravagantly.
1640 Brought anchor and rode deployment bag from bow to near forward hatch.
1700 Wind 21 knots.
1705 Heavy rain.
1745 Rain ended as I ate dinner of Pasta Vegeteraino with a plastic of boxed merlot while listening to WE ALL LOVE ENNIO MORRICONE.
1920 Rain ended.
May 22, Sunday
1600 I am anchored at Mission Bay. Truly. Some of you will recall that GANNET and I sailed from San Diego’s Mission Bay two years ago. This one is a few miles east of Cairns, Australia, surrounded by high land over which the wind is presently gusting 28 knots. The bay is three miles across. I’m on the Cape Grafton side. All the land is designated for Aboriginals, and I can see a few houses in a settlement three miles to the west.
I made an instrument landing, crossing the Great Barrier Reef in pouring rain this morning. The rain did not end for long last night and when it resumed it has continued through the present and is forecast to rain for two more days. I may be here a while.
I gybed the furled jib at 0045 this morning. This put me on the leeward pipe berth, but I didn’t think it would matter for a few hours. I was wrong. Drops that made their way around the companionway hatch began falling on me. First I covered my head with an already wet t-shirt. Then I tried a cap. Finally at 0300 I got up, put on foul weather gear and sat dozing at Central until 0445.
After a cup of hot coffee, at first light at 0600 when we were ten miles off a waypoint I had put on the Great Barrier Reef, I unfurled more of the jib, our speed went from 3 and 4 knots to 6 and 7 and we headed in. Breakfast was a protein bar eaten in the cockpit washed down by rain.`
The Great Barrier Reef is said to be the biggest living thing on the planet, but it is not a solid thousand mile wall. Rather it is composed of hundreds, perhaps thousands of reefs, with many passages and channels through them. Rather than go all the way north to the entrance of the Grafton Passage and then sail back southwest, I found a way in from due east of Cape Grafton. In fair weather it would be easy. In heavy rain, strong wind and poor visibility, it was not. I wouldn’t have tried without GPS and my iPhone as chartplotter, though I discovered that when the waterproof case I have the iPhone is wet, the screen does not respond to touch. I went though a lot of paper towels stuffed in my foul weather gear pockets before I moved it below and stood watch in the companionway, despite rain getting below. The cabin was already wet.
I put waypoints on reefs and in the middle of the channel. We sailed south of Baines Patches, Milln Reef and Thetford Reef. North of Northwest Reef, Pellowe Reef and Moore Reef. I didn’t know whether to be worried about that one or not. GANNET showed no sign that she thought of it as home.
I saw most of them, some not until I was within a quarter mile. Fortunately I did not ever see a line of breaking surf directly ahead. By coming straight in from the east I saved myself fifteen to twenty miles.
Two miles out, I furled the jib and raised the mainsail. I find it easier to anchor under mainsail than jib. I also pulled the anchor and rode deployment bag onto deck, and knowing I would be anchoring in about 12’ of water tied the rode off at the 60’ mark, intending once the anchor was set going to 90’. With this wind, I have gone to 120’. Hand steering, I rounded Cape Grafton and had the anchor down at 1300.
I would like to get myself really clean and to dry out the boat. Neither of those are going to happen in the near future. I have straightened up the cabin, taken a cat bath, and changed into dry clothes that are already somewhat wet. I have not reconfigured to harbor mode and will sleep tonight on the port pipe berth on what I expect is a moist sleeping bag.
Going on deck repeatedly last night I chased five birds from the cockpit, or possibly one bird four times. Once when I went up there were two birds. I am considering changing GANNET’s name to THE ROOST.
In lieu of a noon position:
day’s run 105 miles
total daily runs from Bundaberg 720
We’ve sailed almost 2100 miles since leaving Opua. 7,000 more to go to South Africa.
May 23, Monday
Mission Bay, Australia
I am the only boat in this three mile wide Mission Bay and I anchored in the very worst spot. GANNET is rolling more than if she were at sea. Worse because no sails are up to stabilize her. Last night she spilled a tumbler of wine into the bilge. Bad GANNET.
I know I could solve this in ten minutes by raising the mainsail and raising the anchor and moving 150 yards to the northeast or anywhere else in the bay, but I also know I won’t. I can live with this until tomorrow. I’ll just have to pay closer attention to my wine.
The day has not yet been as bad as forecast. We had only a brief shower just before dawn. While we have no sunshine, I have the hatches open and a few things, including my foul weather gear in the cockpit drying in the wind. GANNET smells like a wet dog. Or maybe that is me. Bad Webb. Hopefully the breeze will help us both if rain holds off.
I reconfigured the cabin this morning into day sailing and
(A brief interruption to bring things in and close the hatches. Light rain.)
anchoring every night mode.
I also scrubbed and killed mold.
I checked out the Yellowbrick tracking page. Set to Satellite view and zoomed in, it shows our course through the reefs quite well. I’ve deactivated the Yellowbrick. When I hopefully remember to reactivate it tomorrow morning, I’ll have it update positions every two hours. I may turn it off each night but probably not. I’d just as soon not have to think about it.
I neglected to mention that Saturday night I shared the rain with a fishing boat as well as roosting birds. Her lights were at various positions around me most of the night. Fortunately at a reasonable distance.
Also yesterday as I was heading in, three day trip boats passed me heading out. Not a day I would chosen a day trip to the reef, but I suppose if you are on vacation and have bought your tickets, you go anyway.
I’m not going to upload the passage log from Bundaberg until I reach Darwin and it is complete. This is a passage in three acts and we’ve only had Act One.
Briefly, I saw many ships near the southeast corner of the Great Barrier Reef. I used sheet to tiller about half the time, but was very glad to have the tiller pilot hold a compass course yesterday through the reefs.
Tomorrow evening should see us anchored behind the Low Islets 35 nautical miles NNW of here.
I should be in Darwin in slightly less than three weeks.
May 24, Tuesday
Inside Great Barrier Reef
0700 Anchor up Mission Bay. Even though this is a mud bottom and with strong wind Sunday the anchor was well set, it came up clean. I usually have a bucket of water and brush beside me in the bow when I raise anchor, but thus far on GANNET I have never had use for them.
0800 Making 5 and 6 knots under jib alone. Rain scattered around the horizon, including ahead of us. But only showers are forecast. Visibility seven miles. I can see Double Island that iNavX tells me is that distance ahead and back to Cape Grafton that distance behind. A sailboat with jib set and probably motor on is heading east toward Cape Grafton. She may be going out to the reef, but if she is going south, she is going to have hard work this time of year.
I have my foul weather gear on. It dried yesterday. As did GANNET. Maybe one day I’ll get clean.
I still have Internet underway and visited Steve Earley’s site. He wondered how many miles GANNET sailed Mission Bay, California to Mission Bay, Australia. The answer: 8,496 nautical miles.
1000 Foul weather gear off. At least for a while. Sky remains completely overcast, but no rain near GANNET. Only very light rain has fallen on us. The coast here is high hills. We are seven miles off, but no land is presently visible.
There is shipping inside the reef as well as outside. Four ships have passed outside us heading south so far this morning and a cruise ship came out of Cairns heading north.
The sun is tying to break though. Go sun.
1400 On mooring Low Islets.
day’s run 37 miles
The sun never did quite break though. Almost complete high overcast continues, but without rain. Although there were often showers around us, we were only rained on twice briefly, and had some fine sailing under jib until we were three miles out and I gybed, furled the jib and raised the mainsail to come in to anchor.
I did remember that there were a few moorings here when I stopped in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA in 2008, but I recalled them being closer to the islets than I wanted to maneuver under sail and so did not dig out my boat hook, which is buried in the stern and not in its usual accessible location on the port pipe berth. A mistake.
I saw the masts of two boats, which I assumed correctly were day trip boats out of Port Douglas seven miles away.
As I came around the end of the western islet I found that two of the three Park Service mornings were free, including the one farthest from land. I ducked down below, but couldn’t get to the boat hook without moving too much stuff, including the dinghy, so went back up on deck and used my new technique of picking of moorings from GANNET: almost run over the thing and reach over the side from the cockpit and grab it. Or in this case its pennant. A round of applause for low freeboard.
I did not anticipate having the anchor and rode below deck in this configuration, but managed to shift them off my side of the v-berth to the bow.
The day trip sailboats have already left. A day trip power boat is still here. I may have the place to myself tonight.
The water is remarkably smooth behind what are only two small descriptively named islets joined by a reef. A huge improvement over my location in Mission Bay.
I am in a perfect position to leave early tomorrow morning, even before dawn. I’m not going to set an alarm, but if I wake early, as I usually do, I will drop the mooring and spin off to the north in darkness. Or almost full moon, if it is shining. I haven’t seen much of the moon lately.
The next leg presents some problems. In CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I went from here to Hope Island, but it has coral heads on which I don’t want to catch my anchor or line rode. Jill and I went from here to Cooktown, which is a very small anchorage with little room for GANNET and would require me to use the Torqeedo. Despite her size, on a mostly line rode GANNET needs to put out more scope than bigger boats on chain and therefore needs more room to swing.
The day I left here on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA the wind blew too strong to consider stopping anywhere until Cape Bedford seventy miles to the north. As I recall I made it there just after dark. I think I’m going to try to do the same with GANNET, even if it means getting in after dark. All I have to do is round the cape and anchor. No hazards. Lots of room. 14 hours at 5 knots. Less than 12 at 6. If they have the forecast right, tomorrow is going to be sunny with wind in the mid-teens. A G2 day.
I just checked THE FIFTH CIRCLE. In 2008 I was here eleven days earlier in HAWKE, on May 13.
Almost 1600. You know that I am about to sit on deck, listen to music, and sip something.
May 25, Wednesday
0415 Dropped mooring Low Islets.
I woke at 0400. Got up. Looked around. Overcast sky. This has been a wasted moon. Light wind. I lay down again. We weren’t getting any closer tied to a mooring. Got up. Got dressed. Untied the dock line I used to secure us to the far-from-GANNET-size pennant. Went back to the cockpit and unfurled the jib.
0545 Lights of two ships, one outside of us, one inside, both heading south. I don’t know why one would be inside. We are close to the land. We’ve only been making three knots under jib alone. I’ll do something to improve that when it gets light in a half hour or so. Very light rain falling.
0700 G2 set, speed 6.5 knots. Even while under bare poles between when I furled the jib and had the G2 up GANNET continued to make 2 knots in light wind.
I had to gybe the G2 from port to starboard shortly after it was up. That went well, except that somehow the port sheet dipped into the water and ended up caught behind the keel.
Sky completely cloud covered. I thought it was supposed to be sunny today. It has been cloudy a long time and a long way.
0745 Another ship heading south passing inside of us. Perhaps if they are going into Cairns they leave the Low Islets to port.
The wind continues from the west off the land. I expect that it will sometime this morning go back to the southeast. We are making 6 and 7 knots in 8 knots of wind.
0900 A large ketch passed a half hour ago, sails down, powering south in close to shore. A good day for it with the wind still off the land. I was hand steering at the time. GANNET making 7 and 8 knots. The tiller pilot couldn’t keep up with gusts off the high hills, but she was easy to steer. No strain on the tiller. The G2 is a wonderful sail.
We just passed Captain Cook’s Cape Tribulation, so named because that was where their troubles began.
We are sailing Captain Cook’s Passion today. ‘Passion’ as in the Passion of Christ.
I wrote about this in more detail in THE OCEAN WAITS. But Captain Cook had been sailing for hundreds of miles along the coast not knowing the reef was out there, though he must have wondered as any experienced sailor would about the seas not being as rough as expected. As you saw if you followed my track from Bundaberg, at its south end the Great Barrier Reef is a hundred miles from the coast. As they move north, they gradually come together. Soon we will pass west of Endeavor Reef into which the ENDEAVOUR ran hard. Probably only a huge chunk of coral that broke off and partially blocked the hole in her hull enabled her to be saved.
A little further on we will sail east of Weary Bay—the men were weary towing the ENDEAVOUR with the ship’s boats. And then the Endeavour River where they were able to careen and repair the ship.
Captain Cook was on the far side of the world and completely on his own. Far more alone than the men we put on the moon. Far more than any we will someday send to Mars. As alone as I used to be at sea before I carried the Yellowbrick. Had he not saved the ENDEAVOUR, his men and himself, he would not even be a footnote to history. And once the ENDEAVOUR was again afloat, his troubles were not over.
Cape Bedford is 43 miles ahead. iNavX gives us an ETA of 1614.
1015 Wind has backed SSE as expected. Gybed G2 to port without catching keel with sheet.
Sun has come out and is casting shadows. Sky half blue.
We are off Weary Bay. Cook’s men still had 28 miles to tow the ENDEAVOUR.
1230 G2 down twenty minutes ago. I had been hand steering for more than an hour to avoid reefs and another ship. I engaged the tiller pilot to have lunch which resulted in an out of control broach as soon as I went below. If the tiller pilot could have hung on for ten minutes, I would have gone back out and hand steered. It was great sailing. Prolonged periods of 7s and 8s and 9s across smooth water. However we are still making 6 knots under jib alone and the Cape Bedford waypoint is only 22 miles away. The anchorage is five miles beyond that, but GANNET is easily going to have covered more than 70 miles today.
Another ship, a car carrier, passed this morning. Heading south, as have all the ships I’ve seen except for the cruise ship out of Cairns.
1745 Anchor down at Cape Bedford.
day’s run 74 miles
1820 What a wonderful day of sailing. This is what I bought the G2 for.
Had the tiller pilot been able to hang on long enough for me to eat lunch we would have been here an hour earlier. The hour does not matter; the quality of the experience does. I would have gladly hand steered through the afternoon. GANNET is so easy on the helm and such a joy to get her in a groove and watch and feel her blast on.
Expecting accurately that I would have this bay to myself, I decided to experiment with anchoring under jib. I moved the anchor and rode bag on deck a mile before we made the turn around the cape and furled the jib to half size a half mile out. Cape Bedford ends in a high table top hill. I expected strong downdrafts and lulls and got them.
We made the turn to the west and then were close hauled working our way into the bay as the sun set. Handling the jib sheet from the tiller, even with the tiller extension, is not as convenient as handling the main sheet, but I was able to use the tiller pilot in standby to hold the tiller in place while I tightened the jib sheet. Two of the gusts off the cape were severe. Working my way into the bay, playing the gusts and lulls, was a pleasure.
When I came to the place I wanted to anchor, I furled the remainder of the jib, put the tiller pilot on the tiller to hold it amidship, and went forward to release the anchor and feed out the rode. It all went just as I wanted it to. Sometimes things do.
I am in the Big Empty, beyond civilization and society. There is a resort ahead on Lizard Island where I am not going to stop. Sand mining near Cape Flattery where I will anchor tomorrow. A few houses at Portland Road. And usually unseen Aboriginals. Nothing more in the next several hundred miles.
1900 A starry night. The first for a while. We are close enough to the Equator so that I can see the Big Dipper to the north and the Southern Cross to the south.
Waiting for Coq au vin to steep. Listening to the soundtrack of THE HOURS.
Cape York Peninsula
0800 Raised anchor at Cape Bedford. A late start. Hopefully an easy day, ending with a fresh water shower. Our destination is Cape Flattery, only 15 miles north.
I slept well last night.
0830 The Spade anchor came up with a clump of mud. Because the distance is short, I decided to leave it and the rode deployment bag on deck. I lashed the anchor to the sprit so it could not roll overboard. The deployment bag was already clipped onto a lifeline and its top tied closed. But not closed enough.
I sailed today under mainsail alone. The wind was blowing 14 to 16 from the southeast, and as we came out of the protection of Cape Bedford waves were 2’ high. One of them rolled GANNET to port. The chain part of the rode slid out the top of the deployment bag and went overboard, dragging line with it. Fortunately I was standing in the companionway when this happened. Went forward. Grabbed the rode before more went overboard and then dragged what had back on deck. Put it back in the bag and dropped both deployment bag and anchor through the forward hatch to the v-berth where they belong.
1130 Anchor down at Cape Flattery.
day’s run 21 miles
A small island and a reef had to be avoided on the way here. We did, making 6 knots under the main.
Cape Flattery is the site of a sand mining operation and a pier has been built for ships, but none were there as I passed.
I hand steered the last few miles, Cape Flattery like Cape Bedford ends in a three mile wall of high hills. Just beyond the last, I gybed. Gusts and lulls were less pronounced than off Cape Bedford. As we passed the corner into smoother water, I set the tiller pilot to steer while I moved the anchor and rode back on deck.
Five fishing trawlers are scattered around the anchorage, which is miles wide. I played wind shifts until I was in 19’ of water and dropped anchor.
Cape Flattery is so named because Captain Cook flattered himself that his troubles were behind him. They weren’t. In one of the ENDEAVOUR’s boats he went the fifteen miles to Lizard Island to the northeast. Lizard is a rare high island on the Great Barrier Reef. He climbed up and saw a way to escape the coral labyrinth in which he was trapped. Went back to the ENDEAVOUR and took her through. But farther north he was forced back through the reef and yet again almost lost his ship.
If you sail this coast for the first time, you should go to Lizard Island and climb up to the Captain’s lookout. I have done so, but am not going to this time. Tomorrow will be another 70 mile day unless the wind is too light. There is an anchorage at the Howick Islands I have used, but I did not like the looks of it when I passed through on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA and continued to Cape Melville. That is what I am going to try to do tomorrow. I’m not going to set an alarm. The departure is more complicated here, both in having to raise and stow an anchor and in hazards to be avoided. Light at the start may be more important than at the end.
1430 A sunny, windy day.
I dug out the solar shower bag, partially filled it with the last water in my first 5 gallon jerry can and had my first fresh water shower since leaving Bundaberg. And a change of clothes. Lovely.
As far as I can see, I didn’t scratch GANNET’s topsides bringing the escaped anchor chain back on board, but I did chip paint off the rub rail. I’ll touch it up in Darwin.
1800 Standing the companionway while waiting for Tandoori Chicken to steep, I watched two trawlers get underway. One left a half hour ago. They move with stately grace, outriggers holding nets like arms holding out a skirt. Decades ago I rounded Sandy Hook just as similar boats moved like ballerinas out to sea. What was odd then was that the scene was so serene. There was not the slightest indication that New York City’s millions were near.
1820 The last two trawlers have raised anchor and left. Their lights a necklace in the dying light. GANNET is again alone. She likes it that way.
1910 A beautiful evening. A pleasantly cool wind . The lights of four trawlers to the north. A flashing nav light. Lights of a ship heading south. The dark line of the high hills to the east and west. The sky and water lighter gray. A whirring call from a bird. An odd circle of luminescent circling GANNET which I also noticed last night at Cape Bedford. GANNET is a great boat, but not angelic enough to deserve a halo.
May 27, Friday
Cape York Peninsula
0500 Anchor up at Cape Flattery.
0530 I woke at 0330. Looked around. Almost no wind. I woke again an hour later. Still almost no wind, but enough to sail.
The deck was wet with dew, so I put on my foul weather pants to try to keep my clean dry shorts dry a little longer, raised the limp mainsail, and went forward with bucket and brush to raise the anchor. When we were directly over it in 20’ of water, it was well buried and I had to pull hard to free it. It came up with some mud, but not as much as at Cape Bedford. I was prepared this time and scrubbed it mostly clean before lowering it onto a plastic sheet on the v-berth.
Back in the cockpit, I turned us onto course 333° which put such wind as there is directly behind us, trimmed the main and set the tiller pilot to auto. We are presently gliding along at 1.7 knots. My hopes for a 70 mile day may have to be compromised. We may be lucky to reach the Howick Islands, 35 miles out.
I don’t have much choice about courses today. A number of obstacles to avoid.
Two of the trawlers have already returned. We are working opposite shifts.
Waxing gibbous moon. A starry sky.
I’ll raise the G2 when there is a little more light and after my second cup of coffee.
0635 Lovely dawn. Sun just above the horizon. G2 set. Speed has leapt to 2.6 knots. Trawler passed heading back to anchor.
0800 5.3 knots under main and G2. On course for Cape Melville 61 miles away. Port broad reach. Sunny morning. Beautiful.
0945 Wind backed and weakened. We’re now making 3.3 knots on a broad reach in 4 knots of wind. All morning we’ve been sailing within a knot of wind speed.
Sunny. Clear blue sky. Pleasant temperature so far. Water so smooth I have the forward hatch open. The Turtle Group of small reefs visible a mile north of us.
1000 Mainsail down. Wind has backed directly astern. Speed down too: 2.8 knots.
We are in relatively shallow water all day. 39’ at present. If the wind stays this light, I can anchor out here anywhere away from the shipping lanes tonight or keep on going.
1200 Wind backed a bit more but has not strengthened. Just gybed G2. Now on very broad starboard reach. Better for solar charging, too. The sail is no longer casting its shadow on the forward panels. SOG 3.0.
1315 Mainsail back up. Speed 4.5 knots. Temperature in Great Cabin with both hatches open: 96°F/35.5°C.
1500 We are sort of headed for Ninian Bay, 17 miles ahead. I looked in there on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, but it offered no shelter on a windy day. We’re presently making about 4 knots and won’t reach it until after dark, but it is only a matter of rounding a light on an island just off the mainland and sailing west for a half mile and anchoring. Our present ETA at a waypoint off the island is 1922.
A beautiful day. Blue sky. Clouds over the land. Seemingly a high pressure day, but the barometer is in mid-range, not high.
2015 Anchor down Ninian Bay.
day’s run: 56 miles
As it turned out it was more than “only a matter of rounding a light on an island”.
Dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese was eaten on deck.
I carried the G2 until two miles from a waypoint past the island when the wind headed us briefly, so I furled, lowered and stowed it in its bag. Then brought the anchor and rode on deck with no fear that GANNET was going to be caught by a sudden gust.
The wind died with the sunset, as it often does. We were in an untenable situation on the edge of the shipping channel and in 85’ of water. I unfurled the jib and somehow GANNET managed to continue to sail in no perceptible wind, making 1.8 to 2.0 knots. This meant it took an hour in complete darkness to ease our way past the island, turn west and anchor.
The nav light has different colors for different angles. I watched it turn from white to green and then back to white. I also watched our progress on iNavX on my iPhone in the cockpit, and after we made the turn west watched with satisfaction the depthsounder readings rapidly decrease from 80’. When they reached 20’, I turned GANNET’s bow toward where the masthead telltale, which was illuminated by the tricolor running light, told me that the imperceptible wind was blowing and went forward and lowered the anchor. I was wearing a headlamp.
We seem to be staying in place. There is too little wind to know if the anchor is really set. I don’t think anything dramatic is going to happen tonight, but we would have to drag two miles to be in trouble.
GANNET’s performance today was stunning. She sailed all day within a knot of the true wind, which never exceeded seven knots. She often may have sailed the true wind speed itself.
Part of this was due to the G2 which is exactly the sail I wanted. A few times today the wind went on the beam and even a bit forward. This is what she is designed for, and she held shape and kept us moving.
The straight line distance between where we were anchored off Cape Flattery this morning and where we are anchored now is 55 miles. We sailed farther. Not many other boats could have done so in today’s light winds. GANNET is a jewel. No, she is, as I have said before, a masterpiece. And she suits me perfectly.
May 28, Saturday
Cape York Peninsula
0730 The water is glass. The lightest of land breezes when I woke at 0600 has died. When I stood in the companionway I was greeted by two big ships not far away. The Great Barrier Reef is only two miles offshore here and the shipping channel makes a turn off the light. Wisps of smoky cloud over the hills to the west and south. This vast emptiness speaks to me. I like it very much.
I don’t plan to go far today. Around Cape Melville 14 miles to the north and, if possible, out to the Flinders Group of islands, another 15 miles. But we aren’t going anywhere until there is wind.
1020 I raised anchor at 0910. I shouldn't have bothered. Slight wind did not build as expected. There are ruffled patches to the east and south, but we are oozing our way north at 1.5 knots. I hadn’t planned to set the G2 today, but maybe I will.
1105 G2 set. Speed leapt from 1.3 to 1.7 knots. Hot work. Sweat blinding good eye.
1200 Finally some wind. We are making 4.8 knots with the G2 and mainsail at an apparent wind angle of 060°, as close as I can carry the G2. If we can hang onto it for another three miles, our course will fall off to the northwest.
1220 That didn’t last long. Wind headed us. I furled G2, but have left it up. Unfurled jib. Wind died. SOG 1.0. We have nine miles to go to the northern end of Cape Melville.
1415 Making 3 knots under G2 and mainsail. We might make it around Cape Melville today. Still 6.5 miles to go. And then two or three more miles before we can anchor.
Two sailboats—or rather power boats with masts— powered past. I am weak. If I had an engine I would have powered today,too. Not having one beyond the Torqeedo protects me from myself.
1915 Abruptly the Big Empty isn’t.
I rounded Cape Melville a couple of hours ago to find two small sailboats anchored to the south. I got GANNET’s anchor down at 1745, having taken almost nine hours to cover 16 miles. I worked hard to accomplish so little, spending much of the afternoon standing in the companionway playing the G2 sheet to keep us moving. And being exposed to the sun more than I like. I often thought that I should have just stayed in Ninian Bay. The only advantage was that today I was always in water in which I could anchor if the wind died completely.
The Cape Melville Peninsula looks a lot like part of Southern California, a mix of borders and scrub brush.
Once anchored, I poured a gin and tonic. The last of the tonic. The last of the Bundaberg limes expired yesterday. And took a Sport-a-seat on deck and a Megaboom speaker. The best times of day in the Tropics are the cooler hours around dawn and dusk. I listened to a Brazilian group, Criara, that I first heard on Australian radio while living aboard RESURGAM on a mooring in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay. While watching a beautiful sun set over land to the west, I saw the running lights of four ships to the north, a smaller power vessel, perhaps a fishing trawler, and another power boat with masts rounded the cape and came down to anchor. If you have an inboard engine, it needs to be used and this was certainly an appropriate day. I’m glad I was forced to sail.
I don’t know what this bodes for the next anchorage, fifteen miles to the west in the Flinders Group. In a channel there between islands is my favorite anchorage on this coast and I usually spend two nights there. But I have always had it to myself.
Day’s run 16 miles
May 29, Sunday
Cape York Peninsula
0830 Anchor up. Six knots of wind blowing over the hills to the east. I had my coffee on deck watching the sun come over them a couple of hours ago.
0910 We’re making 3.7 knots under mainsail alone. I’ve unfurled and furled the jib twice, It is blocked by the main. We only have ten miles to a waypoint near the Flinders Group. Of course that took us all day yesterday, but this wind is more promising.
While on deck last evening I watched another sailboat power around the cape and continue past to anchor to the south. All four boats anchored more than a mile away from GANNET. They are still all at anchor…
I had to pause because the wind just backed and I set the jib. We are making 6 knots.
1415 Anchor down at Stokes Bay, Stanley Island, Flinders Group.
day’s run 18 miles
A mostly good day. Good wind across to the Flinders Group died just as we entered Fly Channel between Flinders Island and Denham and Blackwood Islands. I kept us pointing the right direction at .5 knot, sitting bent over so the boom flailing from side to side just over my head would not hit me. After a frustrating hour of this, three to four knots of wind returned and we made our way through the channel and up the west side of Stanley Island.
This is the first place along the way that I have not anchored before. I’ve always anchored east of here in the Owen Channel between Flinders Island and Stanley Island, which is a better anchorage, but a power boat was already there and I could see three sails coming behind me, so I continued on. Stokes Bay is a little rolly and deeper than the chart shows. I’m in 35’ of water where I expected 25’. Pulling in a little more line rode is not a problem, and I’m a couple of miles closer to the next place.
I took a salt water bath and partially changed clothes.
To the west of us is often windless thirty mile wide Princess Charlotte Bay. The next good anchorage is at Morris Island sixty miles northwest. The course is a dog leg northwest, then north because several reefs lie across the rhumb line. In CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I could not reach it and anchored in the middle of no where for the night away from the shipping channel and miles from the shore. In THE HAWKE OF TUONELA I powered the entire sixty miles across a glassy flat sea. I had the mainsail up, which at least provided some shade. I remember sitting by the mast listening to music with earphones to drown out the drone of the diesel. I have already confessed to succumbing to evil when possible.
GANNET can certainly make sixty miles in a day, but she needs decent wind to do so. Like CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, we, too, may be anchored in the middle of no where tomorrow night.
We’ll be away before dawn if there is wind.
1800 A sip of Botanist, a bottle of which I found in Bundaberg, standing in the companionway before dinner of the last half of Chicken Tandoori.
Stanley Island is hilly, covered in many places with impenetrable trees and bush, two areas of exposed red earth, two patches of mangroves, three white sand beaches that have seldom seen a human footprint. It is unchanged since Flinders’ and Cook’s time, though Cook was three decades before Flinders and outside the reef here. I am seeing what Flinders saw.
There are two remarkable aspects to Cook’s life: his great abilities; and even rarer, that considering his background, he had the opportunity to use them.
He took the ENDEAVOUR through the reef near Lizard Island and thought he was safe, only to be forced back near Portland Roads, almost drifting onto the reef as I almost did on leaving Papeete in December 1974. Saved, as I was, by a favorable breath of wind. Cook named his way back through the reef Providential Channel. Had the breath not come, we would not have heard more of Captain Cook. Providential Channel is narrow, only .2 of a nautical mile break in the reefs. Little more than the length of an American football field. Had the breath not come for me, I don’t know if you would have heard more. But I would have lost years.
As I looked about, I thought how fortunate I am to be surrounded by such pristine beauty. That is not all by chance. I put myself here. But time and chance could have intervened. My life has had grace.
To the west appears to be open ocean. It is not. But the mainland of the continent is too far away to be seen.
The earlier rolling has stopped and the anchorage is good. Fourteen knots of wind is blowing. I hope it still blows tomorrow.
1920 I opened my last bottle of Laphroaig. Thank you, John. Botanist and Laphroaig on the same night. The Laphroaig is in a crystal glass, naturally. The monk is living well. Monks often have. And some saved what passes for Western Civilization.
The music is Ismael Lô, THE BALLADEER.
I stand in the companionway. The wind is still blowing, cool against my skin. The sky is clear and starry. To the east, Scorpio and a planet. I don’t know which. To the south, the Southern Cross. To the west, Orion. To the north, the Big Dipper. Above, GANNET’s anchor light, though I think the likelihood of another vessel coming into this bay tonight is infinitesimal.
May 30, Monday
Cape York Peninsula
0320 Anchor up at Stanley Island.
0630 I woke at 0200 and there was some wind. I woke again just before 0300 and there was a little more wind, so I got up, raised the anchor, which came up with some mud, and got underway. We’re heading west on a port broad reach under main and jib, making four and five knots. I’m not sure when I’ll gybe. We want to go northwest.
1120 19 miles to go. Good wind. On the beam now, but has been mostly directly astern. Lots of gybing from reach to reach and to avoid reefs and islands. Two more islands ahead of us. We may pass between them. Then clear to Morris Island. Making 6 and 7 knots under main and partially reefed jib. Full sail would overwhelm the tiller pilot.
I have been using both the Raymarine and the Pelagic, attempting to determine which uses less power, but because the days vary so, I have not been able to reach a conclusion.
1330 Lowered mainsail. Set deeply furled jib. We were going too fast under mainsail alone to anchor. Seven and eight knots. And if the main refilled while I was anchoring, it could get us in trouble. Wind 20 knots. Five miles to go to the edge of the reef around Morris Island. I will wait until we are in its lee to move the anchor on deck. GANNET rolling far too much now.
1445 Anchor down at Morris Island.
day’s run 65 miles
Sailing in under furled jib was a good decision. I furled it even further as we entered the lee of the reef around the island, set the tiller pilot to steer while I moved the anchor and rode back on deck, then hand steered and hand held the jib sheet, with a wrap around the winch. The wind was still blowing 20 knots and gusting higher. I played the jib sheet, kept us moving until the depth sounder showed 33’, furled the remaining jib and lowered the anchor. It gets shallower a bit further, but the water there looked less smooth. A trawler is anchored here, much further out.
We made it in less than twelve hours, and with all the gybes, sailed considerable father than the straight line distance. I’m glad I left early and didn’t have to push hard at the end to get in before dark.
While I was down below eating lunch, I heard a loud engine. I stood up in the companionway to find a helicopter approaching. He made a loop around GANNET. I waved. He headed toward the mainland.
This is a superior trade wind anchorage. Far better as I know from past experience than one would expect from looking at the chart.
I find it interesting how different each sail along this coast has been. Where on this stretch on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA and CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE, I had little to no wind, today we had, and still have, twenty knots. Where earlier from Cape Flattery to Cape Melville on THE HAWKE OF TUONELA I had strong wind, on GANNET I had light to none.
Two weeks out of Bundaberg today. Five more day sails to Cape York if there is wind. Then probably six days Cape York to Darwin.
1815 The trawler left an hour ago.
Dinner of venison casserole. A good freeze dry. With a tumbler of Yalumba Cabernet Sauvignon. As a box wine connoisseur, Yalumba’s Cabernet is superior to their Merlot.
I am listening to music in the Great Cabin, a shuffled playlist of non-classical. I started listening to just one Megaboom, but the sound is so much better in stereo that I turned on two. It is too windy to stand in the companionway, and although this is a good anchorage, GANNET is in constant motion. Stability is an illusion.
May 31, Tuesday
0730 Rain to the northeast over the reef and to the west over the mainland.
I think I am going to stay here today. I woke at 0300 and again at 0400, but I was too weary to make an early start. Wind still gusting 20 knots. Probably averaging 16.
I’ve considered sailing to Night Island, twenty miles north. I’ve not stopped there before. CRUISING THE CORAL COAST describes the protection as ‘fair’. The anchorage is constricted with a shoal to the west. Not a good place for a predawn start. If the wind lasts and I leave here tomorrow at 0400, I will easily make the sixty miles to Portland Road before nightfall.
The wind is strong enough to make it uncomfortable on deck, but I can do some minor maintenance. I needed to scrub anchor mud from the foredeck, but waves yesterday did the job for me.
1430 The rain passed and it has become a pleasant, sunny day. Wind mostly 16 to 18 knots.
Morris Island is low and small, only a third of a nautical mile long. The surrounding reef, which provides the protection from the trade winds, is many times larger. Turquoise water. A solitary tall palm tree, five small offspring, a band of green vegetation above a narrow white sand beach. Many birds, sitting in bushes, a line of parenthesis patrolling the water’s edge, flying about, some all white, some all black.
I hope this wind holds tomorrow. I’ll set an alarm and be on my way at 0400 for Portland Roads, sixty miles to the north. With decent wind, only two more stops after that before Cape York.
As I have oft proclaimed this is my favorite coastal sail in the world. It may be my only favorite coastal sail in the world. I’m ready for the open ocean again.
1710 Beef and Pasta Hotpot, with a dash of added red wine, steeping.
This is a pretty place. I was standing in the companionway, listening to a shuffled non-classical playlist, sipping Botanist, which I have decided is crystal worthy, and watching the birds onshore. If there are no predator birds, and I don’t think there are, they led a good life isolated here, as did the birds in New Zealand before we showed up.
The alarm is set for 0400. I don’t like to be woken by alarms and trust I will wake up earlier.
June 1, Wednesday
Cape York Peninsula
Cape York Peninsula
0400 Anchor up at Morris Island. I know it was 0400 because my wake-up alarm set in my iPhone started to go off when I went below after setting a partially furled jib and getting us on course.
I went to sleep at 2000 and slept well until midnight, but not well afterwards. A brief blast of rain at 0315 got me up to close the hatches, and I stayed up. I drank a box of orange juice, then put on foul weather gear and went on deck. Bringing in the anchor in 18 to 21 knots of wind was not too difficult, although at times I had to hold the rode in my right hand while flaking down the line in the deployment bag with my left. The anchor came up mostly clean, with a little mud or sand on the tip. I didn’t take time to see which.
0600 For the first hour we sailed in near total darkness except for the flashing nav light on Heath Reef to the west and then south of us. At 0500 the last sliver of crescent moon shed some light. And a few minutes ago the eastern horizon began to brighten.
There are a lot of things to run into today. The chart is cluttered with capes, reefs, shoals, rocks, islands and islets. At the moment Celebration Reef is to starboard and Howard Rock to port. I can see neither and hope they are charted accurately. About 45 miles to Portland Road.
0900 Mostly sunny. A few patches of rain earlier. Steep 3’ waves. We are in relatively shallow water. Wind 18-20. GANNET moving well under slightly reefed jib so the tiller pilot can keep up and not cause us to yaw excessively.
1420 Anchor down Portland Road.
day’s run 64 miles
I have always called this ‘Portland Roads’ but CRUISING THE CORAL COAST points out that ‘Road’ is correct.
I can see four houses on the hill here, the first man-made objects other than navigation aids since the mining concession hundreds of miles south at Cape Flattery, and reportedly there is a road to an airstrip where you can fly in and out. This was a U.S. air base during WWII. Last time I was here I watched someone helicopter in.
The day went well. GANNET kept moving at 6 knots or better under the jib. I again anchored under jib, furling it well down, hand holding the jib sheet and playing it with one hand, while steering with the other. Furling the jib when I reached the spot I wanted to anchor. Turning up into the wind and moving forward to let go the anchor in 22’ of water on a rising tide. I have a very useful app, AyeTides, that integrates well with iNavX.
There was a fishing boat here when I came in and another has anchored since I arrived.
Three miles away, just before I took the helm, we passed Restoration Island, where Captain Bligh touched land after his epic open boat voyage in the BOUNTY’s launch. I wrote about Capt. Bligh and Capt. Cook in the chapter, ‘Cruising the Ghost Coast’, in THE OCEAN WAITS, and of sailing this coast in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA in the article, ‘The Big Empty’, links to which you can find on the books and articles pages of the main site.
The wind today was mostly 15 to 17 knots. Sheltered by the hills, we are out of strong wind here.
Only two more stops and three day sails to Cape York, all about 40 to 45 miles. Because the last anchorage at Bushy Islet is often very rolly, though it wasn’t in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, I may make a pre-dawn start there. But for the next two days, dawn will be early enough.
1930 No lights on in any of the houses ashore.
I’m going to retire to the v-berth, listen to music, and go to sleep early.
June 2. Thursday
0620 Anchor up Portland Road. It came up covered with mud. I scraped most of it off before stowing the anchor below, but now see that the starboard bow cleat is encased in mud that I’m going to have to remove before anchoring this afternoon.
I am well rested, having fallen asleep between 2000 and 2100 last evening. I woke at 2100 to turn off the music and Megaboom from my iPhone. And slept with few interruptions until 0500 this morning.
Gray all around in the pre-dawn. The only color the water being gray-green.
A big ship heading north a mile to the east of us. The reef is so close to the shore that we sometimes have to sail in the shipping channel. We aren’t now, but will be near Cape Grenville.
Less wind today. 15 to 16 knots. We are sailing under full jib. I put the cover on the mainsail, not expecting to use it before Cape York. Still there is something of the feeling of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride as GANNET slides down these small but steep waves at 7 and 8 knots.
0815 I managed to slither forward with a bucket of water and brush and clean the mud from the cleat and foredeck without losing bucket, brush or myself overboard.
Wind back to 18 knots.
1515 Anchor down at Cape Grenville.
day’s run 46 miles
A lot of shipping today. Five in the last hour as I was rounding the Home Islands off this cape and working my way back west and then north to the anchorage in 17 to 20 knots of wind. No other boats here.
There are channels through the Home Islands, but the surface of the water was covered with white-caps and I didn't want to take a chance of not seeing a patch of detached coral until it was too late, so I went around.
As we made the turn and gybed off Clerke Island, we were confronted with a strong current against us and the wind. Our speed dropped from 6 knots to below 4, and the 4’ waves suddenly became 6’ breaking waves. Concerned that the tiller pilot might put GANNET beam on to one of them, I hand steered until we turned west beyond Nob Island.
We took enough waves over the bow in that last hour that I didn’t need to clean the mud from the foredeck.
Once anchored I gave myself a fresh water rinse.
This strong wind has been buffeting us for several days. Assuming it continues tomorrow, Bushy Islet will be extremely uncomfortable, but to my mind there is no alternative. CRUISING THE CORAL COAST advocates pushing on another twenty miles and entering the Escape River. One would be doing this into the setting sun. I would rather roll around at Bushy and make an early start for Cape York.
1740 There goes the neighborhood. I thought I had this world to myself. A catamaran about 35’ long powered around the cape a few minutes ago and anchored near the shore.
Smoked Fish Pie steeping. Plastic of sauvignon blanc at hand. Bette Midler singing, “The Rose”. Wind blowing. GANNET bobbing. Sun setting over the empty land. This is the fourth time I have anchored here. I never will again.
Further on, nearer Darwin, in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE I wrote:
through the night
on unseen wind
and unseen waves
I sail unseen
in deserted coves
I will not be here
to be unseen
and the people ashore
will not be here
not to see me
1900 I finished reading DICTATOR, the third and final novel of Robert Harris about the life of the Roman Cicero.
I found myself wondering what passed between the middle aged Julius Caesar and his teen aged nephew, Octavian, that caused Julius to change his will, adopt Octavian as his son, leave him the bulk of his vast fortune, and set him on the uncertain path to becoming the first Roman Emperor. What did he see in the boy ? Accurately. A common trait of extraordinary military commanders is that they see through the clutter to what is crucial. What words were spoken? What nuances on which turned the lives of millions? Of what passes as Western Civilization?
1730 People who meet me are struck by vitality not decrepitude, or so they say and I like to believe. But sometimes I am reminded that mine is an old body. It heals slowly, particularly when under stress, as a body is when sailing a Moore 24.
When fitting the Torqeedo on approaching Bundaberg three and a half weeks ago, my knee slipped and a two inch piece of skin was sliced off by a solar panel. I could at the time do nothing more than stop the flow of blood. Today the scab finally fell off, leaving an impressive scar.
June 3, Friday
Cape York Peninsula
0617 Anchor up at Cape Grenville. It came up with mud, but I was prepared with a bucket of water and a brush and removed most of it from anchor and deck, before stowing anchor below.
0700 I looked for the catamaran when I was raising the anchor, but saw no light and assumed he had made an early start. Looking back later in full daylight I saw that the boat was still there. Foolish not to set an anchor light, even if highly unlikely to be needed.
Less wind this morning. 10 to 12 knots. I am in no rush to get to Bushy Islet, but we were making only 4.5 knots under jib alone and I was considering raising the main, which I still may do. However, the wind and our speed have both picked up in the past few minutes.
Ship to the east of us.
The land has receded twelve miles to the west and there is more space between it and the main body of the reef, meaning fewer obstacles today. The first, Bird Islets, is seven miles ahead.
0845 Hundreds of birds flying off their islets.
Set main. Next twelve miles dead downwind. I’m not feeling ambitious enough to set the G2. At this rate, we’ll easily reach Bushy Islet by mid-afternoon.
1100 Twenty-two miles to go.
We are near the Hannibal Islands with Viking Reef a mile to the east and Wizard Reef north of that. From here we can sail the rhumb line to Bushy Islet.
A continued sunny, pleasant day. Wind 10 to 14 knots.
A half hour ago I had to change course to avoid a ship. She was heading south and I tried to move west and pass starboard to starboard, but the ship did not deviate, so I made a decisive turn to the east so whoever was on the bridge could clearly see my intention. The ship, the SRING BREEZE, passed a quarter mile to our west.
1300 Suddenly we are in a fleet action.
Five of us are more or less in line, all heading north. Two or three miles west of us, near the shore and presumably heading for the Escape River, is a sailboat moving well with a spinnaker set. A half mile to the east of us is a catamaran, probably the one anchored at Cape Grenville last night, sailing under main and jib. A few miles beyond her is a power boat, perhaps a fishing trawler. And still further east is a ship.
Eleven miles to a waypoint off the south end of Bushy Islet. ETA around 1530. The anchorage is another mile and a half further.
1345 Wind lighter. Set jib as well as mainsail, tying to keep our ETA before 1600.
1430 Jib furled. Blanketed by the main any where near our desired course. Only five miles to go to the waypoint which I’ve moved closer to the islet.
1500 Bushy Islet in view 3.5 miles ahead.
1610 Anchor down at Bushy Islet.
day’s run 49 miles
A measure of how different today was than the past few: we sailed all day with the forward hatch open.
Not long after low tide and the anchorage is smooth. At high tide, which will be about 2100, most of Bushy Islet and the surrounding reef disappear. On THE HAWKE OF TUONELA, the anchorage remained satisfactory. On CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and RESURGAM, it was terrible and pre-dawn starts were a relief.
I thought the catamaran might have been heading here, but we have the place to ourselves for now. There is no way the catamaran could make the Escape River before nightfall, but perhaps they are superior mariners and have no concern about passing over a bar and entering a river after dark.
Of tides, if possible I would like to go through Albany Pass near Cape York tomorrow. I went through against the current in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE and it took me hours. I went through with the current in RESURGAM and it took minutes. In THE HAWKE OF TUONELA I didn’t try and sailed around the outside.
CRUISING THE CORAL COAST says that the rising tide sets north, which is what I want. The AyeTides app says that high tide at the north end of the pass is at 1100 tomorrow morning. I don’t know if I can get there in time. I’ll see how the anchorage is tonight and when I wake up during the night.
1800 Three ships in sight at sunset. All heading south. How different the experience of their crews of these waters than mine.
June 4, Saturday
Cape York Peninsula
0315 Anchor up at Bushy Islet.
0515 Bushy Islet was a good anchorage this time. That makes two out of four and there is not going to be a tie-breaker.
I went to sleep early and woke often, each time feeling very little wind coming through the open hatch above me.
When I woke at 0230 I got up and turned on the wind instrument. It showed 7 knots. Believing that it reads high, I thought that there must be at least 5 knots of wind and GANNET can sail in that.
The night was completely dark. A clear starry sky did not shed much light. No ships in sight. The only point of light was the flashing nav beacon on Cairncross Islets two miles to the east. I could not see any part of Bushy Islet, though we were anchored close in. It took a while to orient myself. From the heading on my iPhone and the compass in the cockpit, I realized that current had us turned stern into light wind from the south and stern to the islet. This complicated matters. I had intended to raise the main before raising the jib, but now it would fill and start sailing us around. So I didn’t.
I went forward with my headlamp on and brought the anchor up quickly. It had some mud on it. I left it and the rode on the foredeck, scurried back to the cockpit and unfurled the jib, hand steering 340°, the course to our first waypoint, until I could see by the depthfinder that we were moving into deeper water and away from the invisible islet behind us. I engaged the tiller pilot, went back forward, brushed the mud from the anchor and stowed it and the rode below.
Back in the cockpit I raised the mainsail, which proceeded to blanket the jib. So I furled the jib. We don’t have a lot of room here, with the shipping channel, into which I do not want to wander at night and with limited maneuverability, not far to our east, and the mainland only a mile or two to the west.
We flopped along at less than two knots until a half hour ago when a land breeze filled in. I unfurled the jib and we are presently making 3.6 knots under main and jib on a port beam reach.
When daylight comes, I’ll go forward and scrub mud off the foredeck and consider setting the G2, though I may wait until the land breeze dies and, hopefully, the day’s sea breeze fills in.
I just stood in the companionway. Lights of a ship to the east of us and another light to the southwest. I don’t know what that is. Perhaps a trawler.
0630 Not yet dawn, but enough light to go forward and scrub the the mud from the deck, trim the sails better so that we now are sometimes making four knots, and to see the shore startlingly close to port. Only about a mile, though it will fall away a bit farther soon.
Two ships visible far to the east.
I think we are going to have wind today, but I have several options if we don’t. There are alternative anchorages. I can anchor in the middle of no where. Or, if there is some wind, but not enough to make the anchorage at Cape York, I can keep on going and transition GANNET to passage mode underway. I would prefer not to do that. I’ve promised myself a fresh water shower at Cape York; a change of clean clothes; and a sip of Laphroaig. I had planned on Bundaberg rum, which seemed appropriate here in Queensland, but I discovered a taste for rum and tonic and the bottle didn’t make it this far.
We will see what the day brings. We have 30 to 35 miles to go. That should be easy. Unless it isn’t.
0800 Land breeze continues. GANNET is making 5 knots and occasionally touching 6. I don't think we are going to make the tide at Albany Pass.
0830 Land breeze dying. Sails slatting, but still making 4 knots. Not for much longer I expect.
0900 Becalmed. Furled jib rather than let it slat. Mainsail still up. All depends on a sea breeze filling in. I hope soon.
1000 Slight wind from SSE. G2 and mainsail set. Making 3.0 knots.
1030 Mainsail up. Mainsail down. Presently mainsail up. SOG 3.3.
I am working awfully damn hard for 3 knots.
1200 Briefly we saw speed above 5 knots. Back to 3.6. We have ten or eleven miles to go to anchor behind Cape York.
The temperature in the Great Cabin with both hatches open is 97°F/36°C.
1630 Anchor down Albany Island.
Day’s run 36 miles
1700 Well, they saved the worst for last. I didn’t make it to Cape York. If you have followed the Yellowbrick tracking page, and if the Yellowbrick is working properly, you have seen GANNET anchored off Pioneer Bay on the north side of Albany Island.
We made the turn at Albany Rock, a mile east of here, at 1300 hours. With five miles to go to the anchorage behind CapeYork the day shut down. The wind died completely. However the sea did not become glassy. Spiky wavelets leapt up. There are strong currents here and we began rapidly going backwards toward rocks and islands and the shipping channel.
This bay was a mile south of us. Using the tiller to scull with the rudder and then an oar as a paddle, I maneuvered us close enough to get the anchor down in 85’ of water. I thought my rode was only 200’ long. I had never before deployed more than 150’, but I find it is as least 250’. There is a marker at 240’. I let that much out.
I was not happy with our situation and so, when after a while, some slight wind came up, I raised the anchor, which requires effort at that depth even with mostly line rode, and sailed us slowly forward into 35’ of water. Shallower water was ahead, but the wind headed us instead.
I could have fit the Torqeedo. But I sailed from the slip in Bundaberg and ever since and it is my intention not to turn the Torqeedo on until we are inside the breakwater of Durban or Port Richards.
Tomorrow I will endeavor to sail the remaining five or six miles to the Cape York anchorage and spend the day and night there. Shower. Clean clothes. Laphroaig. Are all deferred until that happy occasion.
I am a hot, sweaty, tired old man, who has drunk a lot of water and is now going to seek consolation with a crystal glass of Botanist and a freeze dry feast.
1900 I flipped the switch that controls the masthead light and then the secondary switch that changes it from tricolor to anchor. I last made that change sixteen hours ago.
Though not an anchorage to be recommended, this is a pretty place. Turquoise sea. Fawn colored land covered with green bush. None of this changed by man. I count at least fourteen islands and rocks around the horizon at sunset.
June 5, Sunday
0745 Anchor up at Albany Island.
0945 Anchor down Punsand Bay. Four miles west of Cape York.
Day’s run 10 miles
1230 I woke to find decent wind from the south. I had orange juice and my first cup of coffee before I raised the anchor. It came up clean. I considered leaving it on deck, but knew I shouldn’t and stowed it below, which only takes a minute or two.
I unfurled the jib, turned us toward Eborac Island, just north of Cape York, set the tiller pilot and had a second cup of coffee standing in the companionway. A container ship was north of us, a trawler heading for Albany Pass crossed our bow, a helicopter, presumably Australian border watch, followed the shoreline but didn’t consider GANNET worthy of closer inspection, and a barnacle encrusted sea turtle floating on the surface, turned his leathery head nonchalantly to glance at us as we sailed past two turtle length’s away.
As we neared Eborac Island, the wind was blowing directly out of the Cape York anchorage, making it impossible to sail into. I expected this and steered for the west end of the bay, five miles further on. I didn’t reach it either.
Just off Eborac the smooth sea erupted into overfalls, common around Cape York, where the Coral and Arafura Seas meet in disharmony. For a quarter mile two foot waves leapt chaotically and GANNET’s SOG increased from 5 to 7 knots as we were carried by current. I was glad the anchor was not on the foredeck.
A long shallow bar runs down the middle of Punsand Bay. I intended to go around the west end of it and anchor near Peak Point. However, before I got there, the wind headed me, as it has been doing lately, so I tacked the jib, succeeding on my second attempt after the current prevented the first, steered for the shore until the depthfinder read 15’ and dropped the anchor, which was set by the current pushing us stern first into light wind.
Once anchored, I reconfigured the cabin to passage mode, put water in the solar shower bag, got out clean clothes, scrubbed mold from the overhead, dumped the contents of the laundry bag, much of which was put in there damp, in the cockpit to dry, and changed ship’s time to +9 UTC. We are 2’ west of the geographical boundary between zones.
I am glad to have the day sailing behind me. I am tired of dodging things and pre-dawn starts to reach the next anchorage, which didn’t even work yesterday.
There was some great sailing. My two favorite days were the G2 days from the Low Islets to Cape Direction and from Cape Flattery to Ninian Bay, though I was not fond of the after dark ghosting into Ninian.
But I am very much looking forward to returning to the sea tomorrow.
1530 Very light wind from the east. I hope there is enough wind tomorrow for me to sail.
I was looking at the day’s runs inside the reef.
I sailed from Cape Grafton on Tuesday, May 24. Today is the thirteenth day. But we essentially sailed it in eleven, remaining an extra day at Morris Island and being within five miles yesterday. I think it has usually taken me ten or eleven days from Cairns to Cape York.
The total of the daily runs from Cape Grafton to here: 491 miles.
We have sailed 2,579 miles since dropping the mooring in Opua.
We reached our farthest point north of the year when we were off Eborac Island a half mile north of Cape York. Our latitude was 10°41’S. We’ve come up 25° from New Zealand and will go back down 20° to South Africa.
It has been good to have this leisurely day to get GANNET back in order and prepared for a passage.
I’ve had my shower. Changed clothes. Far too hot yet for Laphroaig, which will have to wait for the cooling of sunset.
1715 Being on the eastern edge of a time zone means early sunsets. The sun did two minutes ago. The Laphroaig will still have to wait. Lamb fettuccine is steeping.
For the past hour I was sitting on deck, sipping a plastic of boxed wine, listening to music, and watching the shadows lengthen on smooth round hills.
There was no wind when I first went up. Now there is slight wind from the north. The wind has boxed the compass today. Almost all light. What has happened to the Trades?
1800 The Big Empty isn’t. At least not as empty as it used to be. Dark now and standing in the companionway, sipping the long desired and, if I say so myself, well earned Laphroaig, listening to music and watching a fading orange and blue sky, I turned and was surprised by seven lights on the shore, widely spaced, just above the beach. People who have made their way here in off road vehicles? Aboriginals? Crocodiles with head-lamps?
June 6, Monday
0600 Anchor up at Punsand Bay.
0745 I still have islands, islets, rocks, currents and banks to negotiate this morning before reaching open water. At present we are being slowed to 3 knots by an adverse current when we should be making 5. At least we have enough wind not to be going backward.
A strong cool wind blew off the land all night. I was up at first light, now 0430 instead of 0530. Had juice and a cup of coffee.
The wind had weakened, but was still strong enough to hold our bow into it, so I raised the mainsail before going forward to raise the anchor. I took a bucket and brush with me because this time the anchor had to be clean before going below. We were only in 11’ of water and the anchor came up with only a little mud which washed away when I raised and dipped the Spade a couple of times before bringing it all the way on deck. With the wind pushing us away from the shoal inshore of us, I got the anchor and rode below deck, before returning to the cockpit, trimming the main and getting us on course for the tiller pilot.
I then went below deck, crawled over various bags and managed to stow the anchor and rode in the bow. All without making a mess.
Back on deck to unfurl the jib.
GANNET sailed well for the first five miles, until we were off Possession Island, so named because Captain Cook went ashore and claimed everything between there and Botany Bay for England, and the current caught us.
As I sailed toward Possession Island, I saw what I looked like marker posts on the headland. When we neared I saw they were giant anthills.
I was hand steering between Possession Island and Meddlar Island when I saw both the small monument to Captain Cook on shore and discolored water ahead. I had my phone in the cockpit and checked iNavX. No shallows were there.
When we reached the edge of the green water, our speed abruptly dropped to 2 knots. There were no waves leaping up, but the surface was roiling as though it were about to come to a boil, and GANNET began to slide around as though on glass.
We are past that now, but still being slowed by current. The current should weaken as we enter the broader stretch of Endeavour Strait. We have thirty miles to clear the last of the banks.
0845 Making 5 knots close hauled against south wind over jade water. Heroine Rock, shown on the chart but not visible, is a half mill to port. Prince of Wales Island to starboard.
0930 6.7 smooth knots toward the exit.
0940 The current has changed. We are seeing 7s when we shouldn’t be. That is not a complaint.
1040 The wind has backed. Now close-hauled port tack heading west making 6.2 knots with full main and partially furled jib with tiller tied down. Tiller pilot couldn’t follow wind swings and was luffing jib.
day’s run 30 miles COG 270° SOG 7.3
Cobourg Peninsula 603 miles 267°
Darwin is about 700 miles away
Wind has backed slightly and fluctuated in strength as we move beyond the land. I have furled the jib a bit deeper to reduce the angle of heel to less than 20°. A lot of spray over the foredeck. Some of it making its way back to the companionway. The tied down tiller twice lost control, so we are back with tiller pilot steering. Our SOG is definitely current aided. Only banks remain in front of us and they are deep enough for GANNET, though shallow enough perhaps to cause odd waves.
We passed another sea turtle who at least dove when he saw us.
The way to Darwin is west for 600 miles, then south for 100. The turning point is off the Cobourg Peninsula where I have placed a waypoint.
1545 The wind has gone light and our SOG has dropped to 3.5 knots. The full jib has been set since early afternoon. I’ve been standing in the companionway trimming sails without achieving much improvement.
I saw another sea turtle. I have eaten sea turtle and like it, but I don’t think I will again. We should leave them to their solitary lives at sea.
No land visible. A beautiful sight.
1630 The wind has gone very light and headed us. That may sound familiar.
1730 Orange and rose twilight.
We are making 4 knots, but that is all right. There is only five knots of wind. The sea is smoother. We’re on a close reach again. I expect the wind to back during the night.
Two ships to the north heading toward Cape York.
1900 All but becalmed in near total darkness. SOG 1.4. I can sail a boat on a sigh, but I really don’t like to. I want good wind. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in the Indian Ocean.
2200 Becalmed. Mainsail down to prevent it from slamming side to side. Jib still set to catch wind if it returns. Tiller pilot somehow keeping bow west. Lights of ships coming from both directions. If they don't see GANNET’s masthead tricolor you won’t be reading this.
2345 Light wind returned from south. Mainsail back up. SOG 3.4. COG 285°. You are reading this: ships missed.
June 7, Tuesday
0400 A half hour ago the boom fell to the deck with a loud crash.
With all the flopping around the nut on the gooseneck pin fell off. The pin worked up until the boom was no longer attached and it fell. I lowered the mainsail. Detached the clew from the outhaul, although it is still attached to the boom with a slide that I may have to remove. Detached the solid boom vang. Detached the tack of the sail. Secured the boom. Brought the gooseneck fitting and bolt below. Happily found that I have a nut that fits. And a spare bolt that fits as well. I will wait for daylight to try to put it back together.
Lights of a ship passing south of us visible while I was on deck.
0600 We are again boomed and mainsailed. The mainsail is in fact up, as is the jib, and we are making 5 knots on a beam reach in about that much wind, with nothing worse than scratches on deck.
I was glad for once that the wind did not come up and the sea remained almost flat while I refit the boom.
I used Loctite on the nut. I do not recall, but assume the lost nut was a locking nut. It seems to me a clevis pin with a split ring at the bottom would be better. I’ll see what I can find in Darwin.
I can sail GANNET to Darwin under headsails alone, but would rather not have to.
During the night we drifted north of the shipping. There is a ship south of us now. I’m going to head a little more north today to add to that separation. Assuming we have wind. Which just died.
0800 SOG 5.5 knots in 6 knots of wind under mainsail and G2. I am weary and resisted setting the G2 for a while, but it is the right sail. We are just aft of a beam reach. With a course of 280°, that means the wind is in the SSE where it belongs.
0900 3.3 knots under G2 alone. Wind has backed until main blankets G2 and I don’t want to change course back toward the shipping.
Main has been up and down four times this morning. Enough.
The G2 has the great virtue of being quiet.
Hot, sunny morning.
day’s run 76 miles COG 285° SOG 3.2
Cobourg Peninsula 531 miles 265°
1400 We have lost normal solar charging. I noticed it this morning and have checked every connection, finding in the process that another of the Aurinco panels has failed, that is four of the original six. But taking it offline did not solve the problem. I even connected all wires to the old regulator. I do not understand what has happened. Always before I have been able to get the system working again.
What I have done is connect three of the panels directly to the batteries. They are charging and I hope not cooking.
I worked from 0900 until 1330 on the solar system. While doing so the G2 remained up and the wind backed to the east and at times somewhat north of east, causing the sail to collapse against the headstay. Getting it wrapped up there would make the day perfect. Fortunately it didn’t. I had to go on deck three times and gybe it in so little wind that I had to go forward and hand carry the clew through the gap between the forestay and the ProFurl Spinex.
Although it requires the tiller pilot, the G2 is the only thing keeping us moving today and so I am leaving it up. I’ll furl it and go to sheet to tiller when I can.
I was wrong about our farthest point north this year. We are farther north now than off Cape York.
1600 If we had normal solar charging I would have left up the G2, but we don’t, so I brought it down and am trying for sheet to tiller steering in perhaps too light a wind.
It has been a pretty day, but a lousy one.
1615 I am surprised, but GANNET is steering herself. Sort of. Making 1.6 knots. It is not stable. I will be up often tonight, unless I just let us drift. Which isn’t much different than making 1.6 knots anyway.
1630 I just found on deck beside the mast the nut that fell off the goose neck bolt. That shows how steady the deck has been all day. It is a lock nut that somehow came unlocked.
Our speed just almost reached 3 knots. This wind is from the NE. We are on a starboard broad reach.
June 8, Wednesday
0300 Sails down.
GANNET continued to steer herself better than I expected at a knot or so in the right direction until after midnight. We have just been drifting since then, slowly back to the SE.
0530 Up at first light. I woke every hour during the night. Still becalmed. The sea has not welcomed my return.
0750 Sailing. Off to the NW. Not the desired direction, but the other reach carried us back toward shipping. SOG 3.
I’ve worked on the solar charging this morning. Still without success.
I have removed the wires connecting three solar panels directly to the battery. I have reconnected them to the regulator. I have 19.4 volts coming from the solar panels, yet nothing coming into the regulator. I don’t understand. I thought of it every time I woke up last night. The wiring is dead simple. Two wires in; two out; with an optional two for the temperature sensor. It was working; now inexplicably it is not. I’ve reread the owner’s manual. No help in the trouble shooting section.
I have sailed boats before without electrical systems; but am now more dependent on some charging for navigation and reading. I have three small power cells that can keep the iPhone charged and probably my MacBook, if I can’t ever charge them from the ship’s batteries.
I’ll reconnect the solar panels directly to the ship’s batteries, if necessary.
0810 Shipping everywhere. One just passed to the north of us.
I have gybed and we are making 4 knots west. An improvement.
I’m out of wine, wind and electricity. Not good.
day’s run 47 miles COG 284° SOG 4.1
Cobourg Peninsula 484 miles 265°
Our day’s run not even a good day sail inside the reef. At least at present we are moving in the right direction.
I have wired three solar panels to a spare regulator I bought in Opua. It has no voltage readout, but has lights that show charging. Whether it is I can’t tell. Among other things those solar panels are on the foredeck and presently shadowed by the jib. Today is a G2 day, but I’m not going to use a tiller pilot.
I will try to get the regulator tested in Darwin. And an explanation of what has gone wrong. The Aurinco solar panels were a $2000 mistake, the most expensive I’ve made on GANNET.
No ships since those two earlier. Dolphin by the bow this morning.
1545 We might have some solar charging. With three of the panels wired to the back-up regulator, the ship’s batteries are reading 12.61. This morning they read 12.5. I have used no battery power since then, but the solar panels have also been shaded by the jib.
I’ve made no adjustment to the steering since this morning. A trade wind sky. GANNET seems to me to be sailing faster on a broad reach than the 3.6 to 3.9 knots the Velocitek and iNavX say she is, but there is not more than 6 knots of wind.
I haven't seen any ships since the two this morning, but then I’ve been at Central finishing reading WAR MUSIC, Christopher Logue’s retelling of Homer’s ILIAD. Although unfinished at his death, Logue’s is an impressive, readable great poem. A worthy and monumental life’s work.
1710 Sweet and sour lamb steeping at early sunset.
I was standing in the companionway, sipping Botanist and listening to music. A ship not far to the south of us. This is still a coastal passage in the constricted Arafura Sea, where last night I saw the loom of lights on Papua New Guinea, not the open ocean.
I am listening to music on only one Megaboom. We had normal solar charging so recently that both are 80% charged and won’t need to be charged again before Darwin.
We have sailed all day with the forward hatch open. I am about to close it for the night.
June 9, Thursday
0700 I could have left the hatch open all night. GANNET continued to sail at 3 knots without needing adjustment.
I retired to the port pipe berth not long after 1800 hours and almost slept the clock around. I did wake and get up every hour or so and look around. Until about midnight I saw lights of ships to the south or east, but not after that. We were averaging 280° to 290° and moving away from them. I hope. None in sight so far this morning. I finally got up for good at 0530. GANNET has been so level the past two nights, I haven’t bothered with the lee cloth.
The wind has backed in the past hour to the SSE, requiring me to rebalance the steering. Instead of one shock cord, we have two and a piece of surgical tubing. The surgical tubing is useful for fine tuning, but takes longer to tie and untie than clipping in shock cords. We are now on a much less broad reach and making 5 and even 6 knots. To achieve balance I had to put a couple of furls in the jib.
I do not know if we have solar charging. The battery reading this morning was 12.48, about the same as yesterday morning, but I used almost no battery power in the meantime. When I got up this morning the light showing the battery fully charged was on and the charging light came on after the sun came up. Still I don’t know.
day’s run 97 miles COG 277° SOG 5.7
Cobourg Peninsula 387 miles 265°
Better wind. 10 knots and better angle. Often seeing boat speed of 6s and sometimes even 7s.
I changed the solar panel wires from the jury-rigged arrangement I had back to the bus and mounted the second regulator on the bulkhead. The charging light is lit. The ‘battery charged’ light is lit. But who knows. I’ll check the reading on the batteries later.
Another sunny day with only scattered high wisps of cloud.
1330 Wind a little lighter. 8 knots and our speed 5.
I’m trying to keep us within 10° either side of 270°. At times GANNET’s balance is affected just by my moving from one side of the cockpit to the other or from sitting in the cockpit to standing in the companionway.
I cleared the starboard pipe berth and slithered aft and got the starboard aft solar panel back on line. It is a replacement panel and I thought it should still be working. The port aft panel is dead. We now have, I think, five panels hooked to the back-up regulator. The battery voltage is 12.68 and the only way I know it could be higher than this morning’s 12.48 is that it is getting some charging. I even have some battery drain with a small inverter recharging rechargeable batteries and I have recharged my iPhone today.
1740 Pleasant sailing just after sunset. Beautiful pastel light on clouds and sea.
As often near sunset the wind has weakened and I had to readjust the steering. Full jib balanced with one shock cord and a piece of surgical tubing. 5 knots around 270°.
No ships today. One coastal patrol airplane passed over twice, first heading east, then back west.
1810 After dinner of Beef Bourguignon, I stood in the companionway and watched the dying light and the first star appear ahead, which likely was not a star, but Venus.
Today I read a memoir of a WWII Soviet soldier, RED ROAD FROM STALINGRAD. The contrast between the horrors he lived through and the serene beauty that surrounds me could not be greater. We seek the meaning of our suffering, but it is gratuitous and has none. We do not seek the meaning of our joy. Joy is joy and its meaning is itself.
June 10, Friday
0800 We are eighteen miles north of Cape Wessel, roughly the halfway point between Cape York and Darwin. It seems to have taken forever to get across the mouth of the Gulf of Carpentaria, but has been four days, only one more than I expected. We are also near a note on the chart, “Seaward Limit of Contiguous Zone”, whatever that means.
Our next waypoint is New Year Island, 214 miles ahead, bearing 266°.
A mostly trade wind sky, but a big low cloud directly over us that might drop rain.
The wind weakened during the night causing me to go on deck at 2200 to adjust the steering. Five to six knots now from the SE.
I checked the battery reading before the sun came up this morning. 12.55. Better than yesterday, but not much.
It is too bad we have the solar charging problem and I am reluctant to use a tiller pilot. Otherwise I would have set the G2 a couple of days ago and left it up. The sailing would have been more pleasant, and we would be fifty miles closer to Darwin.
0930 I waited until bright sunlight is shining on several of the solar panels, then moved the wires from the back-up regulator to the Solar Boost 2000e, and we definitely have solar charging. I am thinking about this. The only explanation is that most of our charging is coming from the starboard stern panel, where I found and corrected a faulty connection yesterday. The four forward panels are in shifting partial shadow. And the port stern panel is dead and disconnected.
I am going to let us continue as we are under sheet to tiller for a while. I will charge my 12” MacBook, which I had planned to do today anyway.
day’s run 112 miles COG 274° SOG 5.5
Cobourg Peninsula 275 miles 263°
At last a three digit day’s run, though not even 5 knot average.
Solar charging continues.
It will be good to reach Darwin without having a serious problem that demands immediate solution.
1345 Depending on where you look at the chart, you see Indian Ocean, Banda Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea.
We are taking some spray over the bow and, even though that makes the cabin hotter, is a good sign. I have a Calfamo battery operated fan that makes life in the Great Cabin more bearable.
We are north of Arnhem Land. Gurrumul is from up here. I think Elcho Island, though I am not sure. He was just becoming known to the world when I sailed this coast eight years ago. I wonder if he has returned to his tribe. I’ll play his music this evening.
1430 Wonderful sailing. Twelve to fourteen knots of wind. Whitecaps on a green sea. GANNET making six and seven knots, with some 8s and 9s as she catches three foot waves. Very pleasant standing in the companionway shaded by the sails. So are all the solar panels, but that doesn’t matter so long as the system is functioning.
1800 An hour ago GANNET was going 8 and 9 knots and yawing through 50 °. To get her back under control I could have put a reef in the main and further furled the jib, but I decided it simpler to go to tiller pilot steering and lower the main completely. We continue at 6 and 7 knots under full jib alone, rolling enough so that I’m going to have to use the lee cloth for the first time since Cape York.
June 11, Saturday
0745 I move on the roll. Twenty knot wind. Steep six foot waves, down one of which during a brief time in the companionway I watched GANNET surf to 10.8 knots. I have been spoiled by being on the level day sailing inside the reef and in the very light wind since leaving Cape York. Again, everything has to be held onto, every action planned. We continue to move well, if not smoothly under full jib with tiller pilot steering toward finally a good day’s run, perhaps even a six knot day average.
Last night I did indeed need the lee cloth. Several waves exploded against GANNET’s hull near my head. I had the companionway hatch pushed back, but not the slat in. One wave managed to come below, dripping on me and leaving a pond on the starboard pipe berth that I just mopped up with paper towels.
In addition to replacing the dead aft port solar panel, not with Aurinco even if they are sold in Australia, I am considering adding two more panels to the cockpit where they will be more exposed to the sun. I think there is room for them in the middle of the side deck, forward of where I sit when at the tiller, aft of where I sit in the Sport-a-Seat. And even if I do sit on them occasionally, it should do no harm.
There are many fine lines in WAR MUSIC. Here is one:
Her breasts so lovely they envy one another.
That is not Helen of Aphrodite, but Briseis, the captive taken from Achilles by Agamemnon, and later restored, which is at the heart of THE ILIAD.
0910 I do my morning chores at intervals.
After breakfast, I stand in the companionway and dip the measuring cup and spoon with which I ate my uncooked oatmeal in the sea, then dry them with a paper towel and wipe down my coffee cup with another. I disassemble and stow the JetBoil.
I read for a while before brushing my teeth, which again requires dipping the plastic container I use as a basin and my toothbrush in the sea.
I read some more, then pull the water jerry can from where it is tied on the port forward side of the main bulkhead into the Great Cabin where I carefully fill my two daily water containers, one a one liter Camelbak to drink from, the other the two liter pitcher I bought in Bundaberg. I re-stow the jerry can.
I read some and then wipe or sponge any water out of the bilge.
My morning chores are done.
I have to leave the sliding part of the companionway hatch fully aft which makes it much more stifling down below. I open it briefly from time to time, but if left open a wave soon finds its way below. The fan helps a lot.
day’s run 147 miles COG 269° SOG 6.3
Cobourg Peninsula 132 miles 256°
Wind down to 17-18 knots. Waves down to 3’ to 5’. I was able to stand in the companionway for quite a while without taking a wave.
At last a respectable day’s run. First 6 knot average of the year.
1500 Wind goes up and down a few knots. Back to 20 an hour ago. 17-18 now. Every once in a while a wave catches us on the beam and heels GANNET far over. A few make it down below through the companionway. GANNET continues at more than 6 knots.
We could be at anchor tomorrow night. Not in Darwin, but close, behind Cape Hotham, where I have often anchored before on the south shore of Van Diemen Gulf. We have to harden up to cross the gulf to a course of 210°. It often is a rough fifty miles.
1710 As David MacFarlane observed, the monastery of the sea is often not quiet. GANNET is not now. In addition to Gurrumul’s second album, RRAKALA, presently playing on a Megaboom, water is gurgling, hissing, bubbling, seething, roaring past the hull. Waves lift, slap, punch, explode against her. GANNET is in constant motion. Every second. Leaping, rolling, twisting, pitching, turning.
You are reading this in a motionless room. It was not written in one.
June 12, Sunday
0615 The wind moderated for a few hours after sunset and the seas went down. They have stayed down, but the wind returned before midnight and I partially furled the jib.
I was awake often. There were a lot of things we had to avoid to port.
The wind continues at 22 to 25 knots. We are still sailing reasonably comfortably under partially furled jib, but in 13 miles we will have to harden up to a close reach and possibly close hauled to cross Van Diemen Gulf, and I expect that will be very wet and unpleasant. Before we make that turn I will raise the main with one or two reefs in it. I don’t like sailing for long under just the jib with the wind forward of the beam.
0730 I was about to don foul weather gear and go on deck to set the reefed main when the wind backed and is presently directly astern and the main would blanket the jib. The direction is fine with me. I wish it would hold. But I think it may just be bent by the land which is only three miles to the south. In any event I’m holding off setting the main.
day’s run 140 COG 208 ° SOG 6.2
When I raised the mainsail at about 0800 in 25 to 30 knots of wind and started to tie the reef tack line in place, the Tides Marine track on which the fully battened sail rides started to pull away from the mast. I had no choice but to lower the sail and continue under jib alone.
Often with the wind forward of the beam and only the jib is set, there is lee helm. I hand steered in the cockpit much of the morning, but once we passed Cape Don and entered Van Diemen Gulf I was able to get the tiller pilot to steer. The wind seems to have decreased slightly. We are on a close reach, rather than close-hauled, which is an advantage. 45 miles to a waypoint off Cape Hotham and another few miles to where we can anchor. We won’t make it before sunset, but should be able to find our way safely behind the cape in the dark.
Sunny day. So far I haven’t seen sea snakes, as I did on CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE.
1500 The wind has decreased to 17-18 knots, but the waves are still steep and spiky. Our SOG is around 4 knots, sometimes less, with almost the full jib out. We still have 32 miles to a waypoint off Cape Hotham. It does not seem likely that we will be anchored before midnight.
Physically a hard day, constantly holding on against GANNET’s extreme motion. I’m tired and wish we were at anchor. It is going to be a long night until we are. And still 40 to 50 miles to Darwin tomorrow.
1530 Full jib set. At first it gained us a half knot, but our SOG is back to 3.6.
I’ve had my foul weather gear on all day. I take the top off in the cabin and loosen the bottoms. But to be on deck is to get wet quickly.
1620 Moved anchor and rode from bow to beneath forward hatch. Easier to do now in daylight than in midnight dark.
I can hear us slowing. Going on deck to see.
1700 Without my doing anything our SOG has increased a knot and our ETA to 2200. I knew we were being held back by current.
1730 I am seeing SOG of over 5 and ETA of 2145.
I inspected the mainsail luff track this afternoon, and while it is slightly bent, there is not a problem beyond that this morning I did things in the wrong sequence, tightening the leech reef line before I tied in the reef tack line. I have considered setting the mainsail—there is no pressure at that lowest portion of the track when the full sail is set—but don’t think it would make much difference now. If the wind goes lighter, I may.
I am sipping Laphroaig from a plastic tumbler. I apologize to the Laphroaig for the plastic, but crystal is not on today, and I need a reward for a hard day that began at 0430 and has several hours more to run.
Twenty miles to go. Waves no longer breaking over the bow. I am no longer wearing foul weather gear.
1900 Fourteen miles and an SOG of 5.7.
I can smell smoke. The Aboriginals burn off bush at this time of year.
2200 Anchor down Cape Hotham. Better than midnight.
June 13, Monday
0700 Anchor up Cape Hotham.
I was asleep within fifteen minutes of setting the anchor, which was done again by current rather than wind. I woke briefly at 0230, then back to sleep until 0530. The anchorage was good during the night, but became extremely rolly this morning. Sitting in the bow while raising the anchor, I often had to grab a lifeline with one hand.
0800 Follow the cruise ship. There are channels between the Vernon Islands to the west of Cape Hotham. A cruise ship came from the north and passed ahead of us into the Howard Channel.
0830 This wind has been adversarial for a couple of days now and continues to be. I’ve had to fight it, rather than flow with it. That continues with 20 to 25 knot gusts this morning.
1100 Past the Vernon Islands and a turn to the SW. The wind has decreased to 16 knots, but there are strong currents against us. We have twenty miles on a beam reach. Jib alone gave us only 3 knots, so I set the mainsail. Even with both up our speed varies from 3 to 5 knots. We have closer to 50 miles than 40 to cover today. I so want to have the anchor down off the Darwin Cruising Club before dark.
1230 Having moved away from the Vernon Islands has reduced the effect of the current. We’re now making 5.5 knots smoothly. Eleven miles to the next waypoint, then a five mile beat to the anchorage.
1300 Wind weakening. The past two hours have been the first in a while without waves and spray coming constantly on board.
I can see the Darwin skyline in the distance. Not that long ago, Darwin didn’t have a skyline. The town benefited greatly from Australia’s mining boom, which now may be over. When I was here eight years ago I was surprised by a thirty-three story building.
1400 Wind very light. SOG 3.6. Sails slatting. Nothing on this passage is easy.
Smoke from the inland brush fires fills the sky over Darwin.
1420 Some wind has returned. Back up to 4 knots. Less than three miles before we can harden up and come close on the wind. Port tack favored for the last five miles.
1830 Chaos reigns aboard GANNET.
Janos Sarker is playing Bach’s Cello Suite No, 3 and I don’t know where I will sleep tonight.
The legend is, and I am working from memory, that the teen-aged Casals chanced upon copies of the Bach Cello Suites in a Barcelona shop, recognized their greatness, and played some each morning for the rest of his life. If not exactly true, true enough.
I am not qualified to evaluate Starker versus Casals as a cellist. Both sought sublime excellence, and Starker had the advantage of recording in a time of superior technology. So I tend to listen to Starker more than Casals.
“Use yourself up, old man.” I wrote thousands of miles ago, and on this passage from Cape York I did. The passage from Cape York was hard, up to and including being becalmed a mile from the anchorage this afternoon, gazing enviously at the boats at anchor and not being able to reach them. Had I an engine I would have turned it on ten miles out. Having intentionally placed myself in a situation where I have to sail, I did and take some satisfaction from having done so.
Once the anchor was down, I took a Sport-a-seat and a crystal glass of Laphroaig on deck. I did not listen to music. I wanted only silence, broken by ripples against GANNET’s hull. Because of big tides, we are anchored close to a mile from shore, so no noise from there. I started to listen to Bach when I came below.
There are a dozen other boats here in transit, in addition to the local boats on winter moorings,
I’ll clear a space to sleep, and sort GANNET out tomorrow before the long row ashore.
It is not all joy, and the sail from Cape York wasn’t. I’m glad it is over and that I never have to do it again.