"Over the Top", on passage to Red Island & Beyond

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sun 21 Sep 2008 00:05

On the morning of the 15th September we awoke to another blustery day, with sunshine. Hooray again. One advantage of the sun and the wind was that the wind generator had not only managed to keep with the fridge and freezer over night, but had topped the batteries, virtually to full.  So Windy Woo (Aka the Superwind , wind generator) earned her keep that night! Same goes for the solar panels (Sunny & Cher) during the day (10 till 4). They also have been making a great contribution, providing I keep the panels spotlessly clean. Slightest amount of dirt, dust or bird poo and their efficiency drops off dramatically.


So at 0700 a bleary eyed crew and for that matter skipper, set about extricating the anchor. This we did with no dramas and by 0725 we were well clear of Watson’s Bay, and on our way on the outer of the two passes within the Great Barrier Reef.  This tactic had the advantage of more breeze (rather than the inner passage which has less breeze) but still with relatively flat water. There was certainly no shortage of wind! We had a cracking sail, with  a bit of everything. Goose winging, reaching and a complete novelty…beating! One of the passes is around Pippin Island. This is also off a head land. This channel is surrounded by reefs and rocky outcrops and is really quite treacherous. As we negotiated our way around the narrow pass the wind went from a sedate 20/25 knots up to 35, gusting 45knots in short order. So we both threw ourselves into major reefing exercises. Like a couple of wuring dervishes!! By the time we were through the passage, with reefing, tacking , gybing, dodging tankers, fishing boats and the like, we were both knackered and emotionally drained!


We had thought about stopping off at Morris Island for an overnight rest. But it was next to the inner pass, and because we had travelled very quickly we were scheduled to arrive there in the wee small hours. But the clincher was an e-mail from Stargazer. They had anchored off Morris the previous night. Now in reality, this is a sandy cay with a lone Coconut tree on it.   Apparently, in the morning, Hugh and Shaun had decided to take a swim to the beach, then a stroll along the foreshore, before swimming back to the boat and then heading off once again. Imagine their shock and horror, when walking along the beach they discovered a 15 foot long Salt Water Crocodile!!!! I mean what do you do?? Because if you swim back to the boat………..Well they had no choice. They swam back and my guess is the croc had already eaten. So we decided to definitely give Morris a miss!


The coast line here is unremarkable and there is little or nothing of interest to entertain or stimulate the senses. We did see a Turtle in the water and the odd sea bird. Some very cheeky and intent on being feed.




At first light on the morning of the 17th, we presented ourselves to the entrance of the Albany Passage. This is a short cut to Cape York which saves time and also avoids having to go around Cape York via the Torres Straight, which is crawling with large commercial shipping.



Despite my best passage planning and tide calculations, I still managed to hit this pass with a 2 knot foul tide. I still cannot fathom how I got that so wrong.


The landscape became more interesting for a while, as the pass is narrow, so we were close to the shoreline. The Magnetic Termite hills we clearly visible on the Port  Side Entrance. These cleaver creatures orientate their mud home so it gets maximum sun light on the largest areas, thus giving them the maximum benefit as cold blooded insects.


Once around Cape York, we at last had the favourable currents and a good sail on Genoa alone down to Red Island. We arrived just in time to see some six other BWR yachts leaving! Perhaps they were trying to tell me something…………………………


Te approach to Red Island and the shore town, or more correctly settlement of Seisia is well marked by both leading marks and a port hand and starboard hand buoys. The former ensuring you avoid colliding with a submerged rock. That said, a fierce tide sets across this approach, so you have to be very diligent so as not to run into the shallows.


The anchorage was very secure albeit very windy. So not restful, until that is 9 o’clock at night when the wind drops to virtually nothing.


Also as the sun had gone down we saw loads of bats flying from the uninhabited Red Island across the pass to the mainland. A lovely sight.


So the boat stopping hunting around the anchor chain which enabled me to take a picture of the moon, without too much camera shake………….




The picture above contrasts well with the one below……………………..The same view!



This shows the pier which is used to service the Thursday Island ferry. Which  did not run on the Thursday we were there!!


One very noticeable thing about this anchorage is the complete lack of inflatable dinghies or ribs. All the tenders used by the locals are Alloy construction. Now what does that tell you????? Yes, it’s our old friend the Salt Water Crocodile. Also they launch and retrieve these boats by trailer, without anyone going in the water. This was totally brought home to us after we left the anchorage, on passage for Darwin, when we saw a BIG Croc in the water ……41nm from the nearest land. This makes man overboard drill surplus to requirements!!


Most nights we have had the company of a bright star filled sky and a milky moon. In addition there seems to be a lot of Sooty Terns migrating. One night we had four of them on board for company. Screeching and squawking at each other, establishing territory on the Genoa Pole and even Genoa sheets that were in use. One even managed to cling onto a Genoa sheet whilst I was reefing. Very tenacious indeed. But at first light, they upped sticks and disappear.


Another rather scary moment was a close encounter with a tiny fishing boat, one late afternoon. I had popped down below to mark up the log and make a call when I suddenly heard

the noise of an unsilenced engine…….very close. I raced up to the cockpit to see this open fishing boat, about 16 feet long and 4 feet wide with two guys in it. They had no lights, no radio only a bare boat some nets with markers and a big engine. We were 70nm from the PNG coast and much further from the nearest Australian coast.  It certainly pays to be on your guard, when these small craft can easily be invisible in the troughs of the waves until you are almost on them.


Tried a spot of fishing along the way. But either the fridge was full or they were the wrong type of fish (we don’t eat Tuna), so it’s all been a bit of a waste of time really.


Had several technical problems along the way. But I will not go into that as it’s just boring and depressing. This trip has certainly opened my eyes as to just how unfit for purpose a lot of marine equipment is. Just not man enough for the job or simply poor quality control during manufacture.


The sun is shining, it’s another wonderful day on the Bluewater Rally. 10:41:62S 135:04:41E


Until the next one then!