Sunday, July 16, 2017

Thursday Island - 10° 35' 36" S 142° 14' 36" E

Punishing.  Unrelenting.  Wearing.  Exhausting.

A turtle watches us go by
Our journey from Darwin started calmly (as we expected) by making our way though the calm waters north and east of Darwin's harbour.  We left mid-morning in blue skies and light winds.   Gord had flown in from Canada and we were VERY happy to see how well he had handled the jet lag from 24 hours of travel.  His constitution was solid, with no signs of seasickness.  As a sign of good luck for the journey ahead, we even spotted a sea turtle lounging in afternoon sun as we cruised through the calm waters of Van Diemen Gulf.

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
We left Jensen Bay and restarted after 36 hours of respite.  One of the luxuries Craig had arranged for us was a sailing strategist (located in Sydney) to recommend a route that would maximize our chance to sail (as we couldn't by heading on the direct path to TI) and to watch the weather forecasts for anything we should know about.  Our commitment to her was to 'ping' her every 2 hours with our Iridium GPS satellite device and check messages from her at the same time.  She would send messages of encouragement (as would Craig) when we checked it.  She also had us sail 40 nm (nautical miles) further south than we thought we needed to.  This was due to us needing the wind to be at a 30° (or greater) angle from our direction of travel.  Originally, we cursed her adding to our distance, but it was a good thing we made the effort to follow her advice because it did mean we were able to get better speed and keep the boat more stable by having the mainsail up for the whole rest of the journey.

Gord's dolphin experience
The days were better than the nights, as we could steer down the swells and minimize the impact of the bow.  As we were all awake, we kept each other company in the cockpit.  All of us got better at balancing when moving around the boat.  Gord even had the chance to see a group of dolphins playing in the bow, under our now-tightly-secured anchor.

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.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Cullen Bay Marina - 12° 27' 05" S 130° 49' 23" E

After three months in Indonesia, mostly in the more remote and less developed areas, we were well conditioned to the limited offerings of the shops and stalls and markets.  We became accustomed to being unable to buy fresh dairy, having our purchases covered with a layer of dust.  A rat or cockroach scurrying across the floor barely caused us to raise an eyebrow.

Walking into Woolworths (Woolies) for the first time in Darwin, we were struck by its immensity, bright lights and clinical cleanliness.  Even better, it was filled with all sorts of goodies that had been unavailable to us for months.  The range of products dazzled in both variety and breadth of options.  Sixteen choices of eggs, an aisle of washing powder options, all glittering and gleaming in their brightly coloured boxes and packages.  Oh, and the packaging!  Have the fruit and vegetables always had this much packaging?  The meats were all neatly laid out on polystyrene trays - a far cry from the wooden chopping block at the front of the stall where chicken was chopped along with the blowies and the fish lined up at the market stalls along the waterfront, plucked fresh from the water, never to know refrigeration.

Fresh squid at the market in Saumlaki
Fish in the Saumlaki market

After living with limited ability to refrigerate, we believe our western produce is over-refrigerated.  Cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and eggs last perfectly well for a week or more in the hot, stuffy cabin of Popeye.  Our fish, poultry and meat however, we would prefer stored in some sort of cooler!

In the air-conditioned brightness of Woolies, we were also struck by the clean cuts of meat - no pigs' snouts, chicken gizzards or whole chooks, complete with head and feet. No wonder we feel removed from the source of our food.  Any evidence of the original critter is long gone and the 'ready to cook' chunk of meat is neatly presented on a polystyrene tray.  Our veggies are washed clean of dirt, with nary a speck of chook poo to be found on our eggs.

Frogs, mostly with 'skin off'!
Pig snout - perfect for roasting!

After three moths of foraging and buying what we could get, it was novel to have this huge variety laid out in front of us.  Sadly back to our reality, where our food is designed to look good, transport and store well rather than taste fabulous.  Already we are missing our eggs spotted with chook poo, bananas filled with seeds and tomatoes and the odd grub ... but food with the sweetest smell and taste.

Market in Lembata

Over the last three months, our diet has become simpler.  Rice has been our primary starch as nasi goreng (fried rice) or alongside chicken, fish, satay or curry.  We generally ate like the locals in warungs, sampling everything from babi gule (suckling pig) to dog (yep, the 'woof, woof' variety). Ice tea (made from cold tea, ice and sugar; not from a can or bottle), water and Bintang beer is what we drank.  For snacks, we could get nuts, dried fruit, jam, fancy biscuits and Oreos.  More traditional snacks were prawn crackers and sesame squares.

Surprisingly, the further east and more remote we went, the less variety we found in the fruit.  Bananas, coconuts and a citrus the size of a grapefruit but sweet like an orange where readily available ... and sometimes papaya and mango.  If it was grown locally, we could get it, but not otherwise.

Warung in Belitung - satay and ayam bakar (grilled chicken)
Our favourite warung in Bawean
Babi gule in Bali
Bakso (chicken balls) in Bali

We have both lost significant amounts of weight.  Our clothes are falling off and we are discovering bony bits we had forgotten about!  It is healthy weight loss, due to eating 'food' in sensible portion sizes.

On arriving in Darwin, the first thing (after a shower) was to head to one of the dockside cafes for a meal.  So unaccustomed we are to western portions, we were stunned by the size of the steak, the mountain of fries and the forest of salad FOR ONE PERSON.  It was more food than the two of us had been eating in three days.  No wonder we are skinny!  Even sharing a meal, we found it too much.  We are curious to see how long it takes us to relapse ...

Street food in Labuan Bajo
Warung in Babar
Warung in Lemabta
Kids helping out in the warung

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Thursday Is... wait ... DARWIN? - 12° 27' 43" S 130° 50' 35" E

Hey, that's not Thursday Island!

We have arrived safely in Australia but to Darwin rather than Thursday Island.  This was not an error in navigation but at the insistence of the crew (who just happens to own the boat)! Poor Craig became rather green and insisted on calmer waters! The fish were very well fed.  Figuring that he would become very dehydrated, we changed course and headed to Darwin.

Once we stopped bashing into the sea and wind, it was much calmer and he made a slow recovery.  By the time we were weaving our way between the Tiwi Islands, he was positively perky and servicing winches and completing other boat jobs.  We were all pretty happy to drop anchor in Fannie Bay (yep, still chuckling at the name).

We hope you can get all the springs back
into that winch, Craig.

Yay!  We made it to Australia...

Entering Australia is quite an exercise, particularly if you had notified the Australian Border Force that you are entering in a different location.  Once we entered Australian waters, a plane dropped out from the clouds and buzzed us.  After some back and forward on the radio, they were happy and wished us a safe trip into Darwin.  We were allowed to anchor in the bay outside the Customs Dock overnight but we were not allowed onshore, to talk to anyone or have any interactions with another boat.  "Consider you have bubonic plague' was the advice!

A biosecurity diver checks Popeye's bottom
At the appointed hour, we headed to the customs dock.  Quarantine and Border Force came aboard (about six of them in their hobnail boots), searched the boat and checked our passports.  It took about an hour.  Then along came Fisheries who dived the boat and pumped stuff into the saltwater intakes to kill any hitchhikers.  We were then cleared into Australia!

And then, it became really cool!  Darwin has up to 8m tides, therefore, the marinas here are locked, as in you need to go through a lock to enter!  Not quite the Panama Canal but the engineer in me was very thrilled.

Cullen Bay Marina and its lock!
10 pm high tide, then in goes Popeye.

No longer bashing into The Trades, cleared into Australia and snug in our pen in the Marina, we are safe....  until we discover it is "Cracker Night'!  - hospital admissions jump, fire crews are stretched, pet owners howl in protest and families risk life and limb.  On July 1st, it is legal to buy and set off fireworks as part of the Territory Day celebrations.  What could possibly go wrong?? 

Fireworks.  Safe for the whole family.

EVERYONE in town is letting off fireworks
up and down the beach.

Well-deserved vino at the Darwin Sailing Club.

Hundreds of these guys around.

Coincidentally, Cracker Day happens on July 1st, which is also Canada Day.  We pretended that all the noise and partying was in double-honour of our arriving and Canada's birthday.  Gee, thanks Darwin!