Wednesday July 30

To get the tide our way through Albany Passage we needed to leave reasonably early. The wind was up early too making the bar crossing out rather lumpy and as it was low tide again we headed a long way out into the seaway before turning left for the Top End. The currents were running everywhere and the seas and wind were up.

Until we actually got to Fly Point in the Albany Passage we still weren't sure we had got it right. But then it all smoothed out and we were wooshed through with an extra 2-3 knots of current adding to the 25 knot wind behind us.

Somerset Bay was once going to be a major settlement & looked beautiful. However, the strong currents that rip through here made for a very poor anchorage

The opposite Bay on Albany Island looked pretty nice too.

Through the Passage and we were nearing the top of mainland Australia. We decided to shoot the gap between the Mainland and York Island. A couple of rocks in the channel made this a little nerve wracking but we zoomed through under motor and tide assist.

Not a very wide gap!

We rounded up behind The Cape and anchored. Byzance soon joined us after taking the more conservative route around the Islands. After a celebratory coffee we headed ashore to walk up to the Tip.

 

 

 

We were not alone. It has become a bit of a pilgrimage for 4wd'ers to come here

On the the western side of the Cape sheltered from the constant SE wind it was much more calm and serene as we headed down inside Possession Island where Captain Cook formally took possession of Australia as an uninhibited territory. A proclamation finally overturned in the Mabo Decision regarding Aboriginal Land Rights only a few years ago.

Much of this area has been handed back to the Indigenous people together with enterprises handed over as a going concern. This one the Wilderness Lodge was very popular with travellers to the Top End with its Bar, Swimming pool

and accommodation bungalows. Within a few short years it was all derelict.

That night we anchored in the peace and Tranquillity of Simpson Bay further down the Cape. Somehow the tide was still with us. Settled in for celebratory beer and chippies.

Thursday July 31

Easy Sail out through the reefs, shoals and Islands down to Seisha, a lovely anchorage and nicely sheltered. The beach provided easy access to a surprisingly well stocked supermarket and camp park washing machines.

Met Troy off Mirool, a little Clansman 32 heading west. Troy joined us for sundowners, he is a retired Ships Engineer (at 40) and enjoys his minimal cruising lifestyle. 2 other Swedish boats came in later in the day one with 3 kids on board.

Friday August 1

Up early and off for a run before it gets too hot. Lea did 6 km, I did 5. Hard yards after not running since Port Douglas. Then off to the washing machines. The Sea Swift cargo ship Trinity Bay had arrived during the night and was a hive of activity as it unloaded then reloaded.

Met up with our Swedish neighbours and agreed to meet up at the Game Fishing Club for a beer and hamburger for sundowners. Took the dinghy across to check out the wreck in the bay. We think it was an old Lightship.

Had a good night at the club although the hamburgers were nothing to write home about. The 2 Swedish boats were on a circumnavigation and on their way to Darwin before crossing the Indian Ocean and rounding Cape of Good Hope. Big ask with 3 young kids aboard, but they were lovely people. Troy joined us as well and we hope to catch up with him again in Darwin if not before.

Saturday August 2

Another beautiful day dead calm in the morning with a very heavy dew. We use the chamois on the dew to wash down the boat to remove the salt. Troy was off early keen to get into some fishing in the west Cape rivers before turning right for the Wessel Islands.

Our Swedish neighbours came over at 0900 to check the latest weather as they had neither HF nor internet. We also shared resources for anchorages along the top of NT.

We then headed off to Horn Island with a fresh ESE which built up a little. Good run under Schreecher but changed down a gear as we entered Boat Passage and navigated through the shoals. The tide worked for us again. Passed through the Thursday Island Pilotage area and round into the Horn Island Anchorage.

We had lots of trouble anchoring in the 10 meters of water. So after laying and retrieving 50 metres of chain for the 5th time and still not holding well we decided it was time for a cuppa before trying again. Cuppa over we decided to pull back once more to see how we were set. Lo and behold it held so we left it right where it was. Stayed aboard to watch it through the tide and current change though.

Sunday August 3

A hot day and we went ashore to Horn Island early. On finding the Heritage Museum we decided to try and join a guided tour of some WW2 historical sites which includes the museum. We had to wait 2 hours for the tour so we had a walk around hoping to get a coffee at the cafe we had seen. Not open on a Sunday. Went back and spent an hour at the museum before the tour started. Again blown away by how much relatively unknown history is hear. There was even a gold rush here in the 1890's. Horn Island was bombed second only to Darwin during WWII and played a huge role in supporting the push back against the Japanese in PNG and the Coral Sea. Lots of Americans were based here. The airfield still exists but so much of the other infrastructure is deteriorating. Our guide Vanessa is the local historian and is passionate about salvaging and restoring much of this heritage. Her husband Liberty is a descendant of an old Pearl Shell industry family so together they are working hard to catalogue, protect, preserve and restore the historically significant sites and artefacts.

Anti Aircraft gun emplacement.

Radial Engine and wing from a crashed Boeing B-17aircraft.

Slit trenches from the Island Command Centre

The airfield today has over 1000 planes per month coming and going. No control tower, the pilots just work it between themselves. During the war fuel was bought in in 44gallon drums so there are dumps all over the island containing thousands of these old rusty drums.

At the peak of the war there were 5000 Aussie and US troops stationed here with 9 female nurses as part of the 1st Australian Hospital Camp.

We didn't stay for the “All you can Eat Chinese Smorgasboard” lunch at $40pp. The tide was coming in and as it was we had to wade through thick greasy mud up to our knee's to get the dinghy back into deep water.

Quiet evening studying the weather for our crossing of the Gulf.

Monday August 4

We decided to do Vanessa's second tour which was based on Thursday Island (TI). Liberty was our guide, his father was one of the last Pearl shell divers as the industry was wiped out in 1972 by an Oil Tanker running aground, spilling its cargo. It is believed the dispersants used in the clean up killed all the oysters.

Caught the ferry over to TI and checked out the foreshore.

Then it was on with the tour, first stop the dead centre of town.

The Pearling industry had a high mortality rate, witnessed by the over 700 Japanese Divers buried in the Cemetery.

A monument to the Japenese Divers was erected by the Japanese Government.

Some argue that the reason the Japanese never bombed TI was out of respect for the dead there. Others say a Japanese Princess is buried there.

The Torres Strait Islanders are very different to the Mainland Aborigines. They seem a much more hardworking and industrious people. A very large proportion of the Islanders volunteered during WWII and special regiments were formed. By all accounts they performed exceptionally well and were very highly regarded. They too have their own flag designed by this guy.

Then off to Green Hill Fort originally built to ward off the feared Russion Invasion in the late 1890's I think

Infrastructure was upgraded for WWII

Views were terrific

Underground command centre was extensive and now houses another museum.

 

The lens from the original Booby Island Lighthouse.

Divers rig from the Pearling Days

Early pedal jig saw for cutting Mother of Pearl

Looking back over toward Horn Island.

After the tour we had a browse through the cultural centre and shops. There are 31 Government Departments represented on TI so we popped into AMSA to change a few details for our EPIRBS that can't be changed online.

We also found the Pearl Shop Rusty used to own and had a chat to the proprietor. No love loss between her and Rusty we suspect. A lot of commercial properties have very few windows and shutters and / or security mesh so inside all is dark. This design could be for the heat or cyclone protection.

We needed to top up stores so we visited the local supermarket. Chippies were $8.80 a bag (normally $2.50) and chocolate $7.50 a block ( normally $3.50). Some of the fruit and veggies were reasonable others very expensive. A 2 litre cask of Yallumba wine was $22.00

Had a beer at the Grand Hotel while waiting for the ferry back to Horn Island.

The ferry was a lovely old timber boat with lots of varnished bright work called Australia Fair.

Tuesday August 5

Up at 4.00 am to check the weather. Touch and go conditions as a 1036Hp high was in the Bight so winds would be strong up here. Decided to wait for the updated NT NW Gulf forecast at 0615. Then went through latest GRIB at 3 hourly intervals. In the end we decided it was a go. The only strong winds should be tonight, although some of the gusts might be stronger but we should be able to keep ahead of the stronger weather coming through behind us. The alternative was waiting here until Monday which was not attractive. Decision made we were off quickly, catching the tide past Friday Island with 5 knots of current with us. Wind picked up as well as the sea state 10 NM out and we discussed turning back. However, we persevered and things settled once we were out of the influence of the shoals, reefs and Islands. Laid the Schreecher down along the deck to remove weight forward and reduce pitching and stress on the boat and rigging. Steered a SW course to get down to the 12 th parallel of Latitude before turning West for Gove. Started with a double reefed Main and Genoa. The first 60 NM was bumpy, lumpy and uncomfortable and once again I secumbed to Mal de mer. Afternoon saw conditions moderate so we shook out a reef. Speed was good, maintaining around 9 knots.

A Booby bird tried to land on the bow rail for a rest but with us doing between 8-10 knots and the bows lifting and falling a couple of metres he couldn't quite pull it off. He entertained us for ages as he tried and tried again. After about 12 goes he gave up and flew off.

At dusk we reefed down the Main again and bore away slightly to the west slowly curving down onto the 12th Parallel. Soon the wind increased and we wound in half the Genoa. This was in and out a few turns all night as we adjusted to conditions and kept the boat moving well but not driving hard.

Wednesday August 6

The wind was up around 22-25 knots throughout the night ( max gust was 32 max speed 14.7) we covered 218 Nm in the first 24 hours our best ever. Always glad when the night shift is over. The Gulf is very much like Bass Strait but 3.5 times wider without a break, albeit warmer. The shallow water makes for short, sharp, steep seas that completely disagree with my stomach. Took a few Stugeron but was Ok as long as I had lots of LLD's ( little lie downs). It was a very unpleasant night apart from making good speed. There were 2 swells, one from the east and one from the south as well as a gusty wind aggravated by rain squalls.

The morning bought a slight easing of conditions but just when we were considering shaking out a reef another squall would accelerate us to 11-12 knots and so we left things alone. The day progressed uneventfully if bouncily. The swell was over 2 metes but mainly coming from the SE. I spent most of my time reclined getting up to briefly scan the horizons and check the sails when Lea was having a rest. The customs plane came by again to check on us.

The day did improve and we managed to stay ahead of the heavy weather behind us. The wind slowly dropped in the afternoon to 15-18 knots and the second reef was removed, even the sea state mellowed a bit.

By late afternoon we were ready for a beer and cheese platter. The wind had swung right behind us from the East so we re rigged the Schreecher and dropped the Main before dark.

By 0100 we were coming into the final approach to Gove, passing the lights of Nhulumbuy, but with still a way to go into the anchorage.

Lots of industrial lights onshore making for a pretty night view, but a bit confusing for working out navigation lights and anchored shipping. Finally dropped anchor at the outside edge of the anchorage, not being game to wander in amongst all the blips showing on the radar. Peace and stillness. A large tot of rum. A hot shower and a bed that wasn't jumping about. Bliss!

 

 

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