On to Darwin

Donald Begg
Sat 1 Sep 2018 23:34
We rounded Cape York on the 18th August and sailed through the Endeavour Strait, a channel in the wider Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea, big tides and water as shallow as 5m, but secure in the knowledge that any number of yachts have been there before us and have kept their keels above the mud. This is a major landmark. Two and a half years after passing under the Bridge of the Americas, Lydia is leaving the Pacific, into the Sea of Arafura and the wider Indian Ocean.

We fancied a go at the Gagari Rip, or the Hole in the Wall, so sailed slightly South of West across the Gulf of Carpentaria towards the port of Gove. We paid for this. There had been strong winds in the South of the Gulf, so we crossed with 15 to 25 knots on our port quarter, but with an unpleasantly steep and unfriendly sea from the South which strained senses of humour and depleted our stock of “essential Waitrose” crockery. As a consequence, we were not overly disappointed on anchoring in Gove to find that the outboard refused to start and that we were confined to dinner on board and a good night’s sleep. Did we miss anything in Gove? It’s a small township alongside a major bauxite terminal, the silhouette of the town suggests Wigan Gasworks, and the bay was covered in a pall of smoke because the Aborigines were “renewing” the land with bushfire.

The Gagari Rip, now, is an adventure. It is described in the pilot as “the foundation of many a yacht club best yarn and with a little planning this passage can be the highlight of a voyage”. It looks a bit like the Corinth Canal, albeit smaller and not man-made, and is a shortcut between Raragala and Guluwuru Islands which takes 35 miles off the trip around Cape Wessel at the top. The snag, of course, is the tide stream, which reaches 6 knots. We needed to go through at the start of the ebb, which occurred at 5 pm, and suited us well, because there is a nice bay on the far side in which to anchor for the night. We went through without incident, admiring its wild beauty and the sense of being miles from anywhere in remotest Aboriginal country.

We had a restful night at anchor, and again paid the price. In the morning the wind just faded away, and a glassy calm had us reciting from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. We motored most of the remaining 400 miles to Darwin, with just two or three hours of land breeze every evening to give the engine and the helmsman a rest (no autopilot, and the windvane will only work under sail). My concern was fuel. We had filled only two of the three tanks at Cairns, partly because I was expecting steady SE Trades all the way (and indeed we sailed from Port Douglas to Gove), partly because I wanted the diesel in our big reserve tank to be at its freshest before starting our ocean crossing. The approach to Darwin around Melville Island and up the Clarence Strait would be no place to run out of fuel, with strong tides and numerous reefs, but we kept the revs modest and got in with a little fuel to spare, anchoring in Fanny Bay at 1 am on the 26th August.

Oh, and Simon caught a 7lb tuna whilst we motored, and fresh fish is good for the
Ship’s company’s morale.

We’ve covered 1695 miles from Mackay, 2003 from Bundaberg.