16:55S 145:47E Australia (Cairns to Darwin)

Conor & Marion Wall
Fri 29 Jun 2012 11:57

The land of Crocodiles, Snakes, Spiders, Box Jelly Fish, and much more all trying to kill you.

Once again I find myself a little behind with keeing the blog up to date, no excuses this time as internet has been good in Australia. We purchased a small wireless modem about the size of a mobile phone and it came wiht 5 gigs of data send/download. Much more than we would use in our time in Australia. It was surprisingly affordable and even worked along the coast from time to time.

Adelaide River near Darwin 


The Crocodiles were photographed in the Adelaide River. The swimming sign was at the Wangi Waterfall where we swam.

Our last blog was from Vanuatu and we have covered a lot of miles since then. Firstly the crossing from Vanuatu to Cairns in Australia took 7 days and was one of our hardest sails yet with winds constantly over 30 knots for 4 consecutive days on our approach to Australia. Damage was sustained to the main sail which was reefed to handkerchief size for most of the crossing, repaired in Cairns only for me to rip it again whilst reefing at night in the Arafura Sea between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Timor Sea. C'est la vie.


Another Squall approaching, winds can be up to 50 MPH in parts of the Squall. Another bird hitches a ride.

Our last blog was from Vanuatu and we have covered a lot of miles since then. Firstly the crossing from Vanuatu to Cairns in Australia took 7 days and was one of our hardest sails yet with winds constantly over 30 knots for 4 consecutive days on our approach to Australia. Damage was sustained to the main sail which was reefed to handkerchief size for most of the crossing, repaired in Cairns only for me to rip it again whilst reefing at night in the Arafura Sea between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Timor Sea. C'est la vie.

A first for 'Toucan'. Four legged Customes officer.

Our arrival in Cairns, through the Great Barrier Reef, was by night in 35 knots of wind so clearly not the most spectacular way to arrive in Australia. Australian customs are extremely strict and we had heard stories that would make you not want to go there by boat. Indeed one cruising couple that we met in Vanuatu decided to skip Australia altogether and go to Papa New Guinea and Timor, instead, to get into the Indian Ocean. We arrived on a Friday night so it looked like we were going to pay double the fee of Au$ 350 for clearance at a weekend. The boat was in a mess following the rough crossing and both Marion and I were very tired. Marion worked her charm by VHF Radio on the three departments that would want to see us, Quarantine, Immigration and Customs and between them they agreed to allow us to remain on anchor until the Monday morning and thereby saved ourselves Au$350. We were to have no contact whatsoever with any other boats and if anyone came any closer than 20 meters we were to tell them to go away, penalty for not complying is huge and can even mean prison. We were happy with this as it gave us the weekend to sort out the mess and get some well deserved rest. Unfortunately we were not to know that that weekend was festival weekend in Cairns and one of the events was a world record attempt at the largest number of people playing the ukulele at the same time. The local radio program covering the event kept saying that they needed another 40 people to break the record held by Sweden and Marion had one ukulele on board Toucan.


The Town Basin by night and the swimming poole by the waterfront, open to everyone free.

Monday morning we went to the Marina as directed by the officials and a thorough check was made of our boat, as it turned out not too much was taken from us and the horror stores were unfounded, at least in our case. A sniffer dog came on board, a first for Toucan, but could not find our stash.

All clear we headed into town for a look, a nice city full of ‘back packers’ and tourist shops and booking offices for the events that took place around Cairns (Mostly the Great Barrier Reef). As we have our own boat and would be visiting the reef in our own way once we left Cairns, none of this was of much interest to us. We met our cruising friends Lars and Erja, you will remember I mentioned them in a previous blog. They are the people who’s boat ‘Ambika’ was struck by lightning soon after they left Vanuatu on the same crossing as us. Their boat had been high and dry for the previous month, in Cairns, whilst all the electronic equipment and much more was replaced and the work was almost completed. I was amazed at the photos and the damage that was done, even the rigging wires were broken in places and they could have lost their mast. You can Google them by searching Ambika sailing.

Prawn fishing inside the Great Barrier Reef.

We did not spend long in Cairns as we were anxious to be up and over the top of Australia by a certain date. We toyed with the idea of hiring a car but everything of interest was so far away that it would not have been possible to do much apart from cruise the countryside. Having spent 6 weeks cruising the countryside in New Zealand we were not too keen to start again. So we left Cairns after 5 days and headed north inside the Great Barrier Reef to our first place of interest, Lizard Island. Here there is a lovely anchorage with a fabulous reef with giant clams right in the middle of the anchorage. The Island sports an exclusive Holiday Resort and a first class Research Station renowned for research on marine life on the Great Barrier Reef. As the exclusive resort was off limits for us we spent a pleasant morning walking to the other side of the Island where we got a tour of the Research Station and got to watch some very interesting videos of the work that was carried out there.

We were yet to see a crocodile or box jelly fish and although crocs have been seen hundreds of miles from the mainland on remote islands we were assured that it was safe to swim at this particular location. But anything further north of here was a definite no no. The box jellyfish also seem to be only a problem in the wet season.


Giant Clam at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef.

Two nights at Lizard Island and then we continued up to Cape York, the most northerly point of Australia. You could see that the countryside was wild and untamed, very little in the way of habitation and very much Aborigine country. We took the short cut through the Albany Pass and got the tides just right to get the benefit of the very large currents around this part of the world. We saw several Turtles in the pass but still no crocodiles. We passed Cape York with many tourists sitting there enjoying the scenery and the rare sight of a sailing boat passing. Apparently it’s one of the 'must see' places in Australia so the 4 x 4’s take them and their money to sit on the rocks at the tip of the country. Sailing over the top was also momentous for us as it meant leaving the Pacific Ocean and entering a new world. No more reefs would be encountered until well off the Australian coast on route to the Indian Ocean. But first Darwin had to be visited. We had passed through the Albion Pass and past Cape York during the early morning and had a fabulous sail all the way to Seisha on the west side of the peninsula, in the lea of the land but with the benefit of the strong trade winds still blowing there. At Seisha there is a shop, and a 4 x 4 campsite that served a decent breakfast. Nothing else in this small town/village apart from a petrol station and houses all built on stilts (presumably to keep all the nasties out). Whilst at anchor close to the small pier that stuck out from the land, a supply vessel arrived and offloaded a large quantity of goods over a 24 hour period. The small supermarket was well stocked the following day and we took advantage and stocked the boat. But still no crocodiles to be seen although everyone told us we could not miss them on the beaches etc. No one swims in this part of Australia, if the box jelly fish do not kill you with their lethal weaponry then the crocodiles surely will. This was such a disappointment to me as the sea temperature was perfect and the beaches were all first class. What a shame. Fishing was good on the other hand and scores of people would come to the pier each day and evening to have a go. By the way we were the only sailing boat in the bay once again. We rested three nights in Seisha before heading out across the Gulf of Carpentaria for Darwin. We took the short cut to Darwin via Cape Don and the Clarence Straits, again an area of extreme tides which we used to our advantage. That’s the good thing about sailing out of Christchurch into the English Channel, we get plenty of practise working the tides.


Finally we reached Darwin on Friday 27th July. We anchored off the sailing club for the first night and because of the huge tidal range there we had quite a long dinghy ride to the beach and the sailing club, watch out for the crocodiles, still to see one. Most folk around these parts have metal dinghies.

Department of Fisheries diving under 'Toucan'.

We had decided that we would stay in a Marina for our time in Darwin and before we could do that we needed to have the bottom of our boat inspected by the fisheries inspector. We would come alongside a jetty near the marina and a nice young lady in the full diving outfit would spend about 15 minutes under the boat putting some kind of chemical into all the outlets and intakes. First the two heads were done so we now had pink liquid in the toilets, then the engine and so on. We now had to let everything rest for 8 hours before we could start the engine or use the sinks or heads. We stayed on their jetty overnight and next day made our way to the marina.

I now had a list of jobs that I needed to do before we left Darwin so I got to work on them immediately. We met Chris and Sue on Salamander and shared some ideas as they too were doing the route home via Cape Town. Salamander will return to the UK at much the same time as Toucan. They will be returning to Lymington where they had purchased the boat for this world trip.

Josh and Tanya.

We met Marion’s nephew and partner, Josh and Tanya and would share some nice time with them over the two weeks that we were in Darwin. We also met Anna, an old friend of Christopher’s and her husband Pete who also live in Darwin. Darwin turned out to be a city of surprises and one of the few places in Australia that is really booming. House prices have rocketed and accommodation is in short supply with some very large construction works going on, a major Gas Terminal being one of them. The weather during our time there was just to my liking with two weeks and not a cloud in the sky, a nice cool breeze once you found shade and crisp but not cold nights. Perfect. But do not come here in the wet season. Everyone talks of the horrors of the humidity. I won’t bore you with the detail but if you are interested I’m sure you could Google it.


Ant Hill


More Ant Hills but a different variety

This is a road train with truck towing 4 large trailers, not sure what they do if they have to reverse.

All jobs completed on Toucan and a little sightseeing done we left Darwin on the 16th August bound for Christmas Island some 1500 miles to the West.