The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Sat 25 Jul 2015 22:02



09:55S   143:06E


So far we've done 260 miles with 780 miles to go. We did 155 miles in the last 24 hours.  We’ve got 60% cloud cover, with 18-22 knot SE winds. We’re beating upwind along the shipping channel through the Torres Straits.  Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


25 July 2015  Papua New Guinea to Indonesia (Day 2)

The skies were overcast at dawn, but it soon brightened up, although it was a hazy day.  The wind was 20 knots from the south-east, so we poled the genoa out to port, pulled the staysail out to starboard and rolled off downwind at 6 knots. 


The weather stayed consistent all day and we had a very restful time, catching up on sleep and getting back into the rhythm of life at sea.  In the late afternoon, we rolled away the staysail and pulled out the main sail in preparation for turning more upwind tonight.


By sunset, we were passing the northern tip of the Australian Great Barrier Reef and entered the shipping lanes for the Torres Straits, which is one of the longest shipping lanes in the world, weaving its way through coral reefs and islands between northern Australia and Papua New Guinea.  The Torres Straits is 150 miles long, so it's going to take us about 24 hours of careful navigation and good lookout to get through.


As we transit the Straits, we'll be moving from the Coral Sea to the Arafura Sea.  These are both part of the Pacific Ocean, but are totally separate tidal basins, which means that they have  different tides making it difficult to predict currents.  In addition, the Coral Sea is usually upto 1/2 metre higher than the Arafura Sea, so there's a steady flow of water heading westwards. 


It's far too complicated to try to work out the overall currents at any place, so all we can do is go for it and hope that we'll be lucky because there can be up to six knots of current, which if it's against us would stop us dead in our tracks.


We'll be passing very close to numerous small islands that belong to Australia and there are places that we could anchor if the current or the stress gets too much for us.  However, we won't be able to go ashore without going through the complicated and expensive clearance processes (which is why we're not visiting Australia).


By 2200, we had 25-30 knots of wind from the south-east and we were down to two reefs in the main and just the staysail.  Our course along the shipping lane was 220 degrees, putting the wind just in front of the beam - it was a bumpy ride and very dark once the moon disappeared at 0100.


The shipping lane varies between one and two miles wide and passes within one mile of multiple reefs and small islands.  Thank God for GPS, electronic charts and AIS - I wouldn't like to do this passage using dead reckoning and paper charts, because the lighthouses are few and far between.


We elected to hug one side of the shipping lane, reasoning that the big ships would want to be more in the centre.  In the event, there wasn't too much shipping about.  By dawn, we'd only seen one cargo ship, a fishing boat, a pilot boat and a tanker.