Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cape York to Darwin

Friday 9th June 2011
Truansea has been lying to her anchor in the basin at Seisia since Wednesday while the skipper went ashore and replenished some stores at the supermarket and topped up the fuel reserves in preparation for the 370 nautical mile passage across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove (Nulhunby). Shirazz has been doing the same and I joined her crew on a ferry trip to Thursday Island yesterday. The trip on the fast catamaran ferry was very comfortable and the skipper provided commentary on the various islands and history of the Torres Strait. Ashore on TI a long stroll took me past the waterfront and main shopping precinct to the Grand Hotel where I had a very good barramundi and salad lunch with a nice cold beer. After returning to Seisia and Truansea everything was rechecked and Stretch a friend of Murray and Bev of Shirazz came aboard to provide company and an extra hand to ease the passage across the gulf. This was very welcome as unknown to me Murphy had been planning a rendezvous with Truansea the next night.
10th June and Truansea in company with Shirazz is underway at 0415 from Seisia for Gove. We passed safely through the shallows of the Endeavour Strait on the rhumb line for Gove without incident and settled down to a 20knot south easterly in fine conditions. By 2000hrs the wind had increased to 30knots backing to the south south west. I’d shortened the mainsail to the second reef as the sun went down and now decided to put in the third reef. It was a clear moonlit night a two metre swell on the beam and the wind gradually increasing and gusting above 35knots (gale force).With the third reef in the main and the jib partly furled Truansea cruised along comfortably at 6 knots on the autohelm. Suddenly very suddenly at 2100 the very end section of the mainsheet traveller directly beneath the fixed traveller blocks broke away from the aft beam. This allowed the fixed traveler block fitting to fly off and immediately after that the mainsheet car slid off the end of the traveler track and the unfettered mainsheet whipped across the stern as the boom collapsed to the saloon roof. Stretch is a pretty big bloke so I had him sit facing aft on the helmsmans seat holding the mainsheet to prevent it swinging wildly and taking one of our heads off whilst I retensioned the preventer to control the boom and furled the jib and dropped the mainsail into the lazyjacks and secured it to the boom. So with further calamity averted and Truansea laying ahull I determined to partially unfurl the jib start one motor and continue on course for Gove until daylight when I would assess the situation and check for any other damage.
Maximum wind of 38.6knots for the passage was recorded at 0100 on the 11th  and remained in the low to mid thirty knot region for 36 hours with the beam sea and swell combining to a consistent height of five meters. This was not uncomfortable as I had altered course to put the swell 60 degrees off the bow and Truansea climbed over each swell and ran down the back lifting her bows for the next one in turn. It was a little wet however there being quite a bit of spray generated as the passing wavetops tumbled into white water which not being uniformly aligned slapped into the side and stern sections of Truansea with the occasional bit of green water passing over the windward bow and cabin top. In the saloon however we remained dry and relatively comfortable. A few hours of sleep was managed by each of us in turn until daylight. By 0630 I had installed a jury rig for the mainsheet and reset the third reef and we were underway as if nothing had happened. Thanks for the visit Murphy. The jury rig consisted of a loop of 14mm double braid secured around the aft beam through the scuppers and the mainsheet lower block attached to this with a D shackle simple and effective though limiting the sheeting arrangement to a single position alah dinghy style. This arrangement served me right through to Darwin where replacement parts arrived with the rear admiral for her visit.
I make special mention and thanks here to Andrew Crawford, Brisbane Seawind agent for obtaining the relevant replacement parts at short notice and ensuring they were in the hands of the rear admiral before she departed for Darwin.

Broken end of mainsheet traveller track 

M6 stud on left is that fitted by Seawind M8 stud on right is the correct one between is the  broken stud  and under M8 stud is the broken end of traveller track. I redrilled and retapped both ends to take the M8 studs.

Also for balance there are brickbats for the person at Seawind responsible for fitting the traveller end blocks. The poor workmanship displayed could just as easily have resulted in serious injury or worse and that in my opinion is a culpable act of neglect. I alert all Seawind owners to check that the fixed traveller end blocks and mainsheet track have been secured to the aft beam in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. In Truansea’s case the traveller end blocks were fitted using M6 studs and not the Harken supplied and recommended M8 pan head studs. The lower mainsheet block was also damaged during the incident and has yet to be replaced though I understand Seawinds service manager is looking into this for me.
In the big scheme of things the traveller failure and the autohelm drive motor failure are the two most significant events that have occurred. Interesting that both of these are manmade and preventable whereas mother nature is usually considered to be the unpredictable element and she remains to date my greatest friend.

Supply ship at Seisia wharf

Gove Harbour

Ship at Gove 

Arriving in Gove at 2300 on Sunday the 12th about 6 hours later than anticipated we had a comfortable night at anchor before moving to an anchorage off the Gove Yacht Club adjacent to our friends on Shirazz. Murray and Bev had arrived before sunset and had an opportunity to go ashore at the yacht club. This was to provide bad news as the club had been closed by the licensing people for being a little bit naughty in who the sold liquor to and would not be reopening before at least the 30th June. Murray resourceful as ever had managed to hire a dual cab ute which was ideal to take us all the 10km into Nulhunbuy where despite the fact it was the Queen’s birthday holiday we were able to get some fresh groceries at Woolworths and fuel also. The Arnhem Club was open so we went there for lunch and there being no Laundromat in town the manager there understood our predicament and graciously allowed us to use the staff washing machine to do a few loads of washing.
Tuesday 0700 saw Truansea and Shirazz sailing out of Gove for Wigram Island. 20knots of south easterly pushed Truansea along with the second reef in and jib out to arrive and anchor at Wigram Is by 1330 with a large sweetlip on board by 1500. Ah twas good.

Starboard side entry to the Gugari Rip northbound
Port side entry to the Gugari Rip northbound

Halfway through the Gugari Rip northbound

Wonderful Wednesday arrived with the expectation of passing through the “hole in the wall” or Gugari Rip. This place is a mecca for crazy types or so it seemed to me when I read about it and I can assure you that there is no way I would have attempted to pass through there on my own but being the fortunate fellow I am I had Shirazz’s experienced skipper to show the way in. There are two elements critical to making a safe passage through this narrow and forbidding pass – GUTS and TIDE in fact on first look at the narrow savage rock bordered gap and streaming water you would add insanity which on exit quickly turns to elation and satisfaction. On approach to the southern entrance the gap is not visible until less than 500m off as you round a small headland to starboard the gap widens. The guide says it is 64m wide and 1.5 miles long and almost straight. It looked more like 80m wide to me but below the water surface it is 80 feet deep and most likely 64m wide I don’t need to know! Now there is a lot of water trying to squeeze through this narrow gap and it’s in a hurry. So much so that Truansea passed through at slack water (now there’s a misnomer) no sails up both engines at idle at 9+ knots no time much for gorking around. The water in the middle of the rip is calm unbelievably calm and either side close to the rocks for say a width of 5m is a counter current with whirlpools created by the opposing streams. An amazing experience not to be missed but only for the adventurous and as I noted earlier get the tide exactly right because it may well be a far different experience if the passage was attempted at full flow. They have special padded rooms for those that might try that. Another big thank you to Murray and Bev for sharing their knowledge so that I can put that experience in my most memorable folder. Some things you get to the end of and you just want to stand on top of the cabin and shout F..K did I just do that, yes sir it was something. Looking back at the rip from the northern side the entry is far less aggressive looking with white sandy beaches and clear calm water luring you in.
So reading the limited information available on the Caddell Strait I figured it couldn’t be any worse than the rip and opted to pass through there instead of following Shirazz around the outside. I was later to learn from them that they thought I was pretty brave to do that. Well it was to prove pretty damn adventurous as well. After a pretty hard slog for 5 hours, 30 knots at times and up to 3 knots of adverse current I eventually made it to the eastern entrance to Caddell Strait and found my way in over the bar by depth sounder and I suspect a lot of luck as there were times when I had as little as 0.7m beneath the keel. Inside the strait proper with daylight disappearing ahead and about 20 miles still to go I was very glad of the full moon because a few miles ahead there was a section called the narrows that consist of 1.5 miles of whirlpools and overfalls. Happy that I would pass through there near the top of the tide I continued on, wasn’t a lot of choice anyway. At the narrows the whirlpools first became evident when my speed over the ground reduced to 2knots from 6knots and within a 100m or 200m the SOG would increase to nearly 9knots. In the silvery glimmer of moonlight on the surface I could see extensive whirlpools and overfalls not so bad in poor light but may look as treacherous as the guide says in daylight. Either side I could make out the silhouettes of the mangroves lining the edges of the strait and was able to maintain a course near enough to the middle and with plenty of depth continued through the whirlpools for about 1.5 miles and then in calm water with the tide assisting I made the anchorage off Galiwinku on the far western end of Elcho Is at 2130 where Shirazz had arrived many hours earlier and were looking out for me. What a wonderful Wednesday.
Thursday 16 0630 and Shirazz and Truansea are underway again for Cape Stewart 50 miles closer to Darwin. It was at this anchorage where we had sundowners aboard Easy Rider a Lightwave 38 with Rob and Henma.
Friday 17th an early start 0515 for North Golbourn Island 112 miles away and after chasing every puff of wind and using the spinnaker whenever possible I gybed and gybed to keep up speed eventually arriving at Mullet Bay at 2130 SHirazz again already anchored ahead of me.
Saturday 18th and off again at 0630 to round Cape Croker and anchor in Sommerville Bay. Cape Croker is the most northerly point of the Northern Territory and only a few miles further south than Cape York. It’s a terrible place full of dirty rough water where two tidal planes meet. A long low flat headland that requires an offing of at least 5 miles to avoid the boiling melee. Sommerville Bay on the other hand when reached is calm and reasonably well protected close in. I anchored here at 1630 after 85 miles of pretty rough water. Shirazz had taken a different passage inside Croker Island and anchored some 7 miles closer to Darwin than Sommerville Bay. To make up the gap I got underway at 0330 on Sunday 9th for Alcora Bay adjacent to Cape Don. I could see Shirazz’s anchor light by 0500 as I passed their position determined to get to at least one anchorage ahead of them. And I did arriving in Alcora Bay by 1245 later invited aboard Shirazz for a BBQ which was most welcome and enjoyable.
Monday 20th June 2011
Before I left Noosa I reckoned on arriving in Darwin on the 20th June and if I manage the 95 miles today I’ll meet what was a loose target at that time. And so at 0330 Truansea is underway alongside Shirazz from Alcora Bay for Fannie Bay, Darwin. And make it we did by 1730 all anchored off the Darwin Sailing Club and a phone call through to the rear admiral to advise. The passage down from Alcora Bay was heavily influenced by tide. The flow past Cape Don reaches 6 knots and luckily it was in our favour and we had a terrific run down past the Vernon Islands. There are quite a few counter currents and back eddies closer in to Melville Island but when these are found they can be quite helpful. I found that by looking for the lines of weed I was able to pick up a favourable back eddie. These were sometimes only 20 or 30m from my current track where the tide was going in the opposite direction. Closer in to Fannie Bay I had to motor sail as the wind died out almost completely for the last 20 miles.
The anchorage at Fannie Bay is between 0.5 and 1 mile offshore so quite a dinghy ride in but a visit to the club is well worth it and should not missed by any cruising yachtie. The water in the Darwin Harbour is calm and clear and the city looks to have doubled in size since I was there some 9 years ago.

Stokes Wharf Darwin

The coastline from Gove to Darwin was in general shrouded in smoke from bushfires so I can not provide much of a description as regards the scenic beauty or lack of it. I did not go ashore as all the land I passed was either aboriginal land  and a permit was required or the shore unsafe to approach due to rock and shallows. There is also the well publicised danger of crocodiles. In summary it was dull and uninviting.
Well that’s the trip to Darwin another milestone in the circumnavigation attempt. The next post will be about Darwin and Lyn, Emma and Jake visiting and the terry tourist trip around Kakadu.
Fair winds

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the heads up re. the main sheet traveller screws - I'll be checking Ulysses' tomorrow. Hope that's the end of the exciting stuff for now. I'm guessing I know how those under sized got there. Or more correctly, who.......