Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Snail pace

We knew that Australia was big. Not that big. According to our weather
router, we can only hope to release the grip of the Kimberleys and their
light winds in the lee of Australia once we pass 120 East. That mean 660
miles after leaving Darwin can we only consider ourselves in the Indian
All night and all day, we have been struggling to try and make some
headway in following winds as light as 10 knots and never stronger than
15 knots. So today, we can only record around 130 miles over the ground.
I have the Cocos/Keeling in the crosshair of my GPS, but quite far away
(1565 n.m.). To add insult to injury, the sky is overcast and the solar
panels are very unhappy. It looks like we will have to run the genset
tonight to recharge the batteries (we have a refrigerator, a freezer
full of fish and the boat computer running and consuming quite a bit of
There is some good news however, and that is that the seas are quite
calm and we don't have to struggle to cook or work on small projects on
the boat.
We have stopped fishing for a while since our freezer is full. We should
resume in a few days.
Probably 10 days to the Cocos. We will be there for the final of the
World Cup. Hope we find a place with a TV there.

Monday, June 28, 2010

So long Australia !

Yesterday morning, we left Darwin for the Cocos/Keeling and said goodbye
to continental Australia. At least that's what we thought. We are now
realizing that to leave Australia does not mean just get out of the port
of Darwin, which appears to be the northwest corner of the country. In
fact, to get to the Indian Ocean, we have to sail fro three days across
the Joseph Bonapart Gulf and pass the northern tip of the Kimberley coast.
So for the next two days, we will still have to deal with variable winds
and seas before we can enjoy the conveyor belt of the trade winds.
We started the passage anyway with another spanish mackerel, again
around 15 pounds, which has already been served for appetizer as
Tahitian fish, and for lumch in a salad. And it will still make dinner
with its fillets.
We expect to get to the Cocos around July 11th. Still too early to tell
if the Variprop meet my expectations. But on the first day of sailing,
we did 145 miles over the ground, which is very satisfying giving the
light winds and the swell on the beam.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Papy Jovial has a new prop

Finally we got it installed. I had ordered from Brisbane a Variprop 3 blades which was supposed to be shipped to Darwin to be installed. Obviously we have had a few hickups along the way, but eventually we got it done. We had to haul out again as the carinning stand was not available and there were no other solution in the short term. This allowed us to install the prop with no time pressure. The only disappointment is to find out that the antifouling paint that was applied in New Zealand for some reason is peeling off in a big way and it is a good thing that we are going without delay otherwise I don't feel that we have a lot of protection. Hopefully, it will hold up until we get to South Africa, where I want to haul out again to install wings on the keel to try and reduce the drift when going to weather.
While in Darwin, we also got the bearings in the roller fuler changed, had some minor repairs done on the sails and changed one of the spare halyards.
I am still apprehensive at the prospect of sailing from Reunion to East London across the Mozambique channel and as we get closer I want to make sure that Papy Jovial is as ready as can be.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Nothing to see, nothing to say. A big modern town, like so many others around the world, all of the same design and you wonder sometimes if you know where you are.
The good thing is that since the day we arrived we put my bike together and I can ride everyday, not much because there is nowhere to go, but I manage to put in around 15 miles, just going around town and around the various marinas.
Since we have a lot of time on our hands, we finally decided to get on with identifying the failure of the power supply on the autopilot. We followed the cable inch by inch and finally discovered inside a connection box that a Y connection had been made to get power to a wheel pilot in the cockpit. The connection had come loose and we could see why it would work sometimes and sometimes not. Since we don't have the wheel pilot anymore, we eliminated that connection and the y connection. This should solve the problem once and for all.
Apart from that, the various boats we had met while sailing up the east coast which are part of the Indonesia rallye are starting to arrive here and this is the occasion to meet again and have a few drinks around the stories of our different passages.
Tomorrow morning, we are going to Spot on Marine, 10 miles from here, in the northern part of the harbour, to haul out and install the new Variprop prop. Then we will come back here in Tipperary Waters marina and finish the provisionning before leaving on sunday for the Cocos.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Last stop in continental Australia

Finally we have arrived in Darwin, our stepping stone to crossing the Indian Ocean. I have started my voyage in Australia by being hit with a $522.00 fee for a 10 minutes visit by Quarantine administration. This time round, it was free, but still we had to have the hull and intakes inspected by Fisheries administration, then some biocide product injected in those intake, followed by an interdiction to move the boat, start engine or genset and use the heads for 16 hours ! If we were carrying pests on the hull, we have happily carried them around Australia for three months. And we had anyway two coats of antifouling applied just before leaving New Zealand. And if we were not entering a marina but just anchoring outside Darwin, for example in Fanny Bay, then there would be no inspection. But I suppose it does not help to try and make sense out of any bureaucracy regulation.
Darwin is a very big city with 100,000 people, skyscrapers and all. The marina where we are is very nice, with lots of yachties in there and a small city in its own right, like restaurant, mini market, post office box, a deli, and a bus stop. But we are roughly 20 minutes walk from the city. One of the first things that we did after entering the marina and giving Papy Jovial a good shower (she had not seen fresh water since Port Douglas) was to put together the bicycle so that I can easily go to town.
On Saturday night, our neighbours took us to town where there was a Greek festival. The greek community is very big in Australia and there were a lot of people there. Music, dancing, beer, food, everything needed for an evening of fun.
We will be staying here for almost two weeks. First, we will go to the carinning stand in order to fit the new variprop. Then, the routine maintenance before an ocean crossing, servicing the winches, servicing the roller furler, checking out the sails, equalizing the batteries, etc... We will then do the provisionning for a month as we don't expect to find much in the Cocos/Keeling.
Our neighbours are trying to convince us to sail the Kimberleys, but I know that it would mean a lot of motoring in the lee of this big continent, and therefore the need to go down to Dampier since there are no facilities in Broome and we would have to jug in the fuel.
The final decision is not made yet, but it looks to me like a straight shot to the Cocos.
Another thing that we were able to do was to upload all the pictures taken since our last internet connection. There are more than 150 of them. Go and enjoy !

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Port Essington, Popham Bay and crocodiles . . .

Crossing from the Wessel to Port Essington pedal to the metal ! 288
nautical miles in 46 hours. Again, we had to put the brakes on as we had
to have daylight to enter Coral Bay, or to be more precise "Seven
Spirits Bay", where there is a delightful small resort in a well
protected bay. We are hoping to find gasoline for the dinghy, a bar and
a restaurant for dinner tonight. Well, once again, we are coming at the
wrong time. The business is in the process of changing hands and is closed.
After a well needed nap, we decided to go next door to Black Point,
where our cruising guide says that there is a Ranger Station and fuel
available. It's only 5 miles away and we get there before noon. There is
a run down jetty which is closed down and falling apart, a small group
of houses where we find an old lady and three dogs and a shop "closed
until further notice", a cultural centre small but very pleasant to
visit, but no Ranger.
At the end of the village, we find someone in the last house, a lady
with a cap "Flying Doctors", which confirms that there is nothing to
see, but that we could have a nice walk on the beach between Black Point
and Smith Point, tow miles up north. But anyway, DO NOT SWIM (because
crocs, deadly box jelly fish, etc . . .).
Off we were for two hours of walking in soft sand (which I hate doing)
but at least, although we did not see any croc, we actually saw
crocodile tracks going from the sea to a small pond inland.
Then, back to Black Point where we find the Ranger, who says that he
can't help us with gasoline unless it were a matter of life or death for
us. Pity, because we ran out of gasoline and we can't explore the vary
few rivers where we could sight those famous crocodiles which are,
according to our books, infesting the area. Just for the Northern
Territory, there are 100,000 of them for 200,000 people (one croc for
two people).
Next morning, we are off to Victoria Ruins, at the very bottom of the
Port Essington area, where we arrive around 10. This is the site of a
settlement in 1838 of the british, who were worried that the french, the
dutch or event the americans might occupy Australia. So the garrison was
established with a few civilians. But complete isolation with no contact
with the outside world, lack of water and of adequate provisions, added
to diseases like malaria, disentery, yellow fever, will lead to the
failure of the settlement which will pack up in 1849, having lost
almost half of its people.
What are left are some ruins of the cottages, hospital and kitchens that
we visit in a self guided tour of less than 2 hours.
We then sail back to the 7 Spirits bay for the night and then next
morning sail for Popham Bay which is our last chance to actually see a
croc in its natural habitat. But for that, we would have to be able to
explore the river at the bottom of the bay, which would not be very
prudent anyway as an inflatable is rather vulnerable to a croc bite. We
noticed that local people use aluminium boat with outboards.
Next stop will be Darwin and back to civilisation.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The last of the Wessel

From Gove to Elizabeth bay, nice easy sail, going around Cape
Wilberforce and Point Williams and anchoring in the bay in what my depth
sounder said was 36 feet of water. During the evening, two old men,
anchored nearby on a lovely old cutter, came to say hello and confirm
that we were OK. But early in the morning, Papy Jovial started pounding
on a coral head just below the keel. I did not want to move in the dark,
but as soon as I could see something, we took in 40 feet of chain and
this solved that problem. I am afraid that the paint of the keel has
probably been scratched, we will see that in Darwin.
Then on June 2nd, the next morning, we left from Elizabeth bay to go
through the Hole in the Wall, trying to time ourselves to go through
with the first hour of the ebb tide. In fact, we got there with the last
hour of the flood tide and had some current against us, but nothing
serious, and we got through without any fuss. In fact, I was expecting
something a bit more spectacular. You will have to wait until we get to
Darwin to see the pictures. Coming out of the hole, we went left and
anchored 6 miles further down in Gurulya Bay, extremely well protected,
but again, one of those places where you can't go ashore because of the
After a quiet afternoon, evening and night, we left around 8 in the
morning headed for Lagoon Bay with a nice SSE wind at 15 to 20 knots. It
took us around 4 hours to cover the 26 miles and we anchored in Lagoon
Bay before noon.
Again, not much to say about those islands. They are flat, desolated and
we can't see any life on them, maybe a few birds here and there, and
those damn crocodiles which are supposed to be there, which prevent us
from swimming, but we can never see any of them.
After Lagoon Bay, again with an excellent wind, we went to Double Island
Bay, a little different from the other bay, as this is a bay separated
in three compartments by two islands, the middle slot being very well
sheltered. This time, we decided to forget about all those warnings
about the crocs and went ashore to explore the beach. We did not even
see crocodiles tracks, as we had been promised, but instead we found ATV
tracks ! Civilisation cannot be that far. In the bay, there is another
boat, Lorissa, from New Zealand, which arrived last night directly from
SEISIA, and is also bound for Darwin. Another of those 150 some boats
signed up for the Indonesia rallye. We might see then again in Darwin.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gove and beyond

Finally it took us less than 72 hours to get to Gove. Considering the
lack of wind, this is more satisfying than anything else. We used the
engine a total of 19 hours and we came in under sail in Gove harbour,
right in front of the yacht club.Wonderful bay, extremely well
protected, lots of fellow yachtmen on their way west, and all the
necessary facilities (water, fuel, showers, laundry and a bar at the
yacht club). We did not have to anchor as there were lots of moorings.
During our stay, we jugged in on almost 60 gallons of water but we did
not take fuel as it would have meant staying an extra day, the fuel dock
being occupied with barges bringing in supplies for the town.
On Monday, we went to town, hitching a ride on the way out and being
picked up by an 18 wheeler. The town is entirely new, well organised,
small but with all the amenities, and looking like it was set up to
house all the expatriates attracted by the mining operation and the
associated services. There are aboriginal people wandering around the
post office, but they do not look very busy and they are probably, for a
great majority of them, on some kind of welfare system.
Typical of Australia, although it is a very small town, there are 3
liquor stores, not including the one at the yacht club. The consumption
of alcohol is heavily controlled and regulated. I had to get a permit,
with photo and all, to have the right to purchase alcohol. And the
quantity and quality of what you purchase is regulated. We are aware of
the alcohol problem in the area, but still, it feels a very strange way
of providing freedom.
The supermarket is very well stocked but very expensive too. I did not
study the prices in detail, but I would say, looking at the total cost
of the provisions that we took that it is almost double the price of
food in Cairns.
While in town I also decided to purchase a Telstra 3G USB key to connect
to internet. A 6 giga prepaid modem cost around $130 but since there was
no hope to get any connection otherwise before Darwin, I decided to bite
the bullet. It turned out to be almost a death sentence for my Mac
computer which became totally confused having Vodafone and Telstra
installed at the same time. In the end, I was able to get the Mac
working, having lost all my preferences and bookmarks, and unable to
install the Telstra modem.
On the Toshiba and the boat computer, things were not as bad since
having learned a lesson the painful way, we made sure to eliminate
anything Vodafone on the machines before installing Telstra.
I was able to get my mail from the "brisegalets@mac.com" address on the
boat computer, but that's about all I was able to achieve before we left
for Elisabeth bay, our first stop. What a waste ! Part of the cost of
cruising in these parts, I suppose.
We left Gove at 8:20 a.m., one hour behind Amulet, headed for the same
spot. At first we have almost no wind, but as soon as we cleared land we
got around 15 knots of wind, and with the gennaker up, we managed to
drop the hood in Elisabeth bay at the same time as Amulet, aftet 26
miles of sailing. Great satisfaction !
Tomorrow, it is going to be the Hole in the Wall, with 10 knots of
current if you get there at mid tide, and we will be leaving in order to
get there at the first hour of the ebb tide.