Punishing. Unrelenting. Wearing. Exhausting.
|A turtle watches us go by|
Melville Island to the north meant that the first 12 hours of our journey were sheltered from the sea swell. Shortly after night fell, we left Van Diemen Gulf and rounded the mainland into Arafura Sea - 2 - 3 metre swells and 20 - 25 knots of wind ... straight at us.
Bang, bang, bang went the boat as the bow crested the swells and then smacked down into the trough with 13 tonnes of force. At the helm, you felt the whole boat shudder with each crash. Down in the cabin, a startling, deafening staccato noise, akin to dropping a bowling ball on a sheet of plywood, added to disturbing shudder of the hull's impact on the bottom of the swell. There was no escape from the jarring of each wave. All of Popeye would shake, less so if you were in the cockpit, but that meant being up in the spray washing over the cabin. We all cursed Craig for lending us Popeye and allowing us to do this trip.
We set up a system of "watches" shortly before night fell. We would each do 2 hours at the helm and have the other 4 hours to eat, bring drinks or anything else to the helmsman, catch an hour or so of sleep or just mop up some of the water that inevitably seeped in around the hatches. Kate and Sean decided that one of them should be awake while Gord was on the helm, as he was new to the boat and he might run into a situation that he needed help with (our worries would prove unnecessary as he was fantastic on watch). This would add to our fatigue. Our progress was hampered by the speed-absorbing impact with each wave, slowing us from our expected speed of 6 knots to only 4 knots. This was going to take half again as long to get to Thursday Island.
After 30 hours of pounding into the waves, we decided we needed a rest and tucked into Jensen Bay on the north end of the Wessel Islands. We would get some sleep and dry out before proceeding. We dealt with a few problems already (a broken car that attaches the sails to the mast was replaced; a batten had come loose and needed to be pushed in; the headsail had been brought down onto the foredeck to be stored due to too high wind speed, then was almost washed overboard in the night as it had not been secured surely enough) but a more complicated issue was in front of us before we could drop anchor in the little bay we had picked out. The bouncing of the 35 kg anchor on the bow roller had shaken the loose the bolt that holds the bow roller in place. The chain needs to sit on this bow roller while we are at anchor, otherwise we would need to monitor it (read: one of us staying awake all night and watching it).
When we arrived, we were able to drop anchor and rig up a temporary solution while we fixed the bow roller. Fixing it produced another problem - Sean sliced the palm of his hand open in the process of tightening the bolt back in. Sean would spend the rest of the voyage to TI (Thursday Island) with his hand swaddled and SteriStripped, with a trip planned to the hospital when we arrived at TI. Gord and Kate were now the two good sets of hands on the boat.
|Well off Jensen Bay ... but very calm.|
|We're all exhausted. Even our artwork|
has had a rough ride.
|Kate gets hauled up the mast to remove|
what is left of the broken radar reflector.
Jensen Bay proved to be a good choice. The tiny bit of swell we had in the bay was managable. We were able to open hatches, dry ourselves and the spaces below, rest, refuel and prepare ourselves for the last 2/3 of the journey. We even had a beautiful, starry night while we were there. Not that we enjoyed it for long - the call of our pillows had us all in bed 30 minutes after sundown - roughly 7:30 pm.
|A boobie happily hitches a ride for a while|
|Gord's dolphin experience|
We still pounded into the 20-30 knot tradewinds and hoped to boat would hold together. 70 hours and 371 nm later, we made our way through Prince of Wales Strait. We had started to hear communications on VHF channel 16 as we approached the island group. There was a group of 40 - 50 yachts that were taking part in the Sail2Indonesia Rally and TI was their first meeting point. It helped boost our spirits as we imagined all the safely anchored yachts that we would be amoungst in just a few hours. We rolled in our planned anchorage off Horn Island (across from Thursday Island) shortly after sunrise, dropped anchor close to the rally group and after securing the boat, quickly dropped into our bunks for naps.
After a few hours rest, we contacted Richard, a Melbourne-based friend who had flown up two days prior to us arriving. He, along with Ross (who arrived the next day) join us as crew for the next leg of the journey. We inflated our yellow dinghy to go and fetch our fresh crew members from shore. We needed a few days to reprovision, refuel both Popeye's 250 litre tank and the 29 jerry cans we had aboard. This would give us the ability to run the engine for over six days straight, if necessary.
The memory of our awful passage began to soften as we had new company, made ourselves meals in a non-bucking galley and enjoyed some rest amoungst the rally boats. Tomorrow we start the next leg with fresh faces aboard.