Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Thu 16 Jul 2009 03:13
The passage from Thursday Island to Darwin took a little under six days, much as we expected, and once again the weather was benign. The last leg through Van Diemen Gulf saved a few miles on the route round Melville Island but there was a risk of encountering fierce tidal streams, particularly through Clarence Strait at the bottom of the gulf, which can sometimes necessitate anchoring for a few hours to wait for the stream to turn favourable. We were fortunate (again, more by good luck than judgement) and were whisked through without pause. We arrived at the crowded anchorage in Fannie Bay just as the Sun was coming up on the Friday morning.
Two sea birds which hitched rides over night on our passage to Darwin. First is an unknown species to us; on the right is a Brown Boobie.
The Boobie flew smack into our wind generator, turning at speed, while looking for somewhere to roost. It gave him an awful battering knocking him down into the cockpit. He clambered out and decided enough was enough for one day. In the morning he was very reluctant to leave, spending much time checking his wing feathers and looking balefully at similar birds wheeling in our wake. Eventually he summoned up sufficient energy and staggered off to join his mates. He wobbled a bit but seemed able to cope. He had made a terrible mess on deck!
Throughout the trip our progress had been followed closely by Australian Customs. Every day their Coastwatch aircraft would pass overhead and either note our details from the AIS or call us for confirmation. To my surprise, Grumpy Old Man that I am, I did not resent this close attention but rather welcomed the daily visits and the feeling of security engendered. Close to Darwin we were called up by a purposeful looking Customs cutter but it did not reduce speed or approach us. After taking note of our details the crew wanted to know whether we had "noticed anything of interest to Customs".
Fannie Bay is a good safe anchorage right opposite the Darwin Sailing Club and within fairly easy reach of the city. However, the bottom shelves gently and the tides have a fair range at springs so some boats have over three quarters of a mile to get to the shore where there is much work to be done dragging the dinghy up the sand. Not too good if the object is a major provisioning trip. We crept in as closely as our relatively shallow draft would allow. The holding is good and the anchorage is protected from the elements but that is not to say that there are no risks. You don't swim because box jellyfish can kill you and salt water crocodiles, salties, learn the route taken by your dinghy and lie in wait. That is not alarmist nonsense - it happens in other parts of Australia and used to be a problem in Fannie Bay, but the authorities say that they have persuaded the crocs to go elsewhere. However, the animals are now protected from the depredations of greedy handbag manufacturers and are increasing in numbers. They are territorial animals so any increase in population means a geographical spread. We kept our toes and fingers well inside the dinghy.
Available marina berths are like hens' teeth at this time of year and the word was that the marinas did not take bookings. However, friends who arrived earlier had been beavering away on our behalf and to our surprise and great satisfaction one of the contacts came good and we were offered a place in Tipperary Waters marina from the Tuesday. We were particularly glad because we had Ross and Sue from Y-Not coming up from Perth to stay with us for a week and we wanted freedom of movement.
Once again Customs were helpful in that they arranged clearance for us from "Quarantine". We had arrived from TI in Torres Strait, so carried the potential risk of contaminated and bug-ridden foodstuffs from Papua New Guinea. In this case verbal assurances over the radio that we had followed correct procedures were sufficient. But before we were allowed to enter any marina we had to be given the once-over by "Fisheries". They arrived on Monday, dived under us, searched for marine pests, inspected the state of our anti-fouling and poured pesticide into all our seawater orifices. We were congratulated on our nice clean bottom and the odd shape of our keel and were enjoined not to disturb the chemicals for 14 hours. No problem, we were now free to visit the Custom House ashore and start exit formalities. These will be completed at the sailing club on Friday, when we shall be issued with outward clearance documents and our cruising permit for Indonesia.
We met Ross and Sue in the excellent club house. Darwin Sailing Club is really most impressive - nice buildings, good facilities and everything done in the relaxed Aussie manner. On the Saturday the club was running an international regatta for Tornado catamarans, hosting 2 weddings, each with meals, music and all the usual paraphernalia, as well as providing good food for numerous members and visitors. That needed a big staff and a professionally run kitchen.
On Tuesday morning we were up at 0600 ready for the one-and-a-half hour trip round to the Tipperary marina lock where we had been booked to go through at 0800. All went smoothly. Since then we have had a great time with our visitors, hired a car, seen a bit of the city, had lunch at the home of friends of the Y-Nots, applied for and collected our Indonesian Social Visas, attended the official rally barbecue at the club and a concert performance of La Traviata on the lawn beside the casino. Between times we have been briefed officially and unofficially and tried to get up to speed with cruising in company for 3 months in a strange new environment. Most of 1 day was spent locking out of Tipperary Waters, motoring round to the fuel berth, waiting for sufficient rise in the tide and locking back in just after sunset. Having additional skilled support on board during these manoeuvres was very helpful.
We have enjoyed the city of Darwin more than we expected. It has a population of 120,000, about half that of the whole of the Northern Territory, and is clean, leafy and friendly. There are very good facilities for yachts, all necessary spare parts and plenty of skilled assistance if required. Of course, with 130 visiting boats in town, skippered by 130 idiosyncratic egotists, resources are currently strained but the impression we get is that everyone will get off, more or less on time, and more or less ready for sea. At present it is good fun bumping into old friends again and being part of a purposeful community. We'll see how long it is before we all get a bit ragged!
In preparing this post I realise I have been remiss in failing to explain that we are joining The Sail Indonesia rally. The fleet sets off at the weekend to cruise through the Indonesian archipelago for three months. Many boats will go on to Singapore and Malaysia. One reason for joining the rally, but not the only one, is that it is supported by the Indonesian government and the rally organisers are able to help significantly with the complicated paperwork and clearance into the country. It is not necessary to stay with the rally until the end or to keep together at all times with other boats but our present intention is to stick to the programme for the early weeks and see how it goes. We leave for Suamlaki on the island of Yamdena at 1100 Saturday. We are booked to lock out of here at 1000 so may miss the starting gun but it might be wise to avoid the melee on the start line anyway; I should not be at all surprised if there were minor collisions and damage. The first hop should take us a couple of days or so, and after that......who knows? We have been advised that there is little point in wearing a watch in Indonesia and that "things will happen when they happen".
We expect to be in e-mail contact with everybody as usual during the next three months but might not have ready access to the web. One consequence is that we shall be able to put up some blogs, without pictures, but will not be able to view them or correct the spelling mistakes and other howlers. The country is very different from anywhere we have visited so far on our voyage (although Mags has been before, 30 years ago, and loved it). It should all be very interesting.