Passage to Darwin

Zipadedoda of Dart
David H Kerr
Sun 21 Sep 2008 16:30

We are now well on our way to Darwin, (with Red Island some 560nm behind us) and all being well we should arrive in Francis Bay, all set for de-lousing (more anon) at around lunchtime on the 23rd September.


Current position 10:44:33S  133:29:24E


One of the features of this passage and in fact the one before it, to Red Island has been the Australian Customs “Coast Watch aircraft”.  These turbo prop aircraft cover the whole of the Australian coast, but seem to be the most active on the Northern Territories, where Australia’s neighbours Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Indonesia are a relatively short distance away. Sometimes they fly low, from stern to bow and using powerful digital imaging photography, they will call your vessels name on VHF channel 16. They then ask you to go to Channel 72 and have a “chat”. This involves such matters as  port of registration, call sign, last port of call and next port of call. They are always polite and courteous. Other times, I guess when visibility is poor, or even in the dark, they will call you up on the radio by vessel description or Lat/Long position.    They obviously have on board computers that are linked back to a central data base, and it is obvious, based on a couple of supplemental questions that we have been asked, that they do track your movements. All the way from your first port of entry, to make sure you are complying with the route approved in your cruising permit. What particularly impresses me about this service, is that they are looking after the interests of Australia/Australian’s, and this is a HUGE country. Yet GB, by comparison has a tiny coastline. But we have never been over flown by British Customs and the only time we have ever been stopped by customs in  the UK was off the Mull of Kintyre when they were looking for IRA gunrunners. (1999). If perhaps the UK government adopted this same procedure, it might help cut down on illegal immigrants into the UK. British Customs officers could also learn a thing or two about how to address and treat people as well!!


One of the altogether surprising things about this passage and indeed most of the passages across the Pacific has been the pollution. The air pollution has really surprised us. Especially in the Pacific. Because it is such a massive area of the globe, and very sparsely populated, you would expect little or no pollution. But no, we are constantly cleaning grime off the boat and all of the standing and running rigging is filthy. We washed all of the running rigging in Mackay, and it is already dirty from air pollution. Similarly, water pollution. The waters on this passage have been covered, admittedly in patches, in a beige slime. Not sure if this an oil and detergent mix from Tankers flushing out their empty tanks, or if it is some for of algae. But what ever it is it is spread over hundreds of miles of otherwise pristine ocean.


The seas here do seem to be abundant with fish. But all we have been able to catch since leaving the Great Barrier Reef is Tuna.




This would be fine if we liked them. But, unless you “bleed” them we find the taste not to our liking. So although I can usually catch one within minutes of deploying a lure, they just get thrown back again. In fact I could swear that I caught one of them twice! Still it is a useful distraction sometimes. But for now we have given up. I may try again once we get closer to land and reefs, in the hope that there might be some Wahoo or Dorado out there……………………..


The winds for the second half of this passage have proved to be fickle, and mostly light airs. But now and again, we will get period of strongish winds, from a different direction to the prevailing or forecast wind direction. These seem to co-inside with night fall and dawn. Right now we are motor sailing. Which is a bit of a bummer, because the cost of diesel in Australia is about the same as the UK, at Petrol station forecourt prices. So it costs us about a pound a mile to motor.


It has also been interesting to see how much hotter the sea temperatures are here, compared to Mackay. In Mackay and indeed most of the Great Barrier Reef coast line, the water temperature was a constant 22°C. Now, even though it is currently in the wee small hours, the water temp is up to 28°C. This may account for the algae we have seen. What it most certainly does mean is that both the engine and the Genset run much hotter because they are cooled by a sea water heat exchanger system. This in turn contributes to the interior of the boat being very much warmer…and it’s warm! Another side effect of the higher water temperatures is that the keel coolers for the fridge and the freezer are far less efficient. So the compressors have to wok much harder, so they too contribute heat to the inside of the boat and more irritatingly, hammer the batteries.


One of the delightful and entertaining parts of this passage has been the birds. I mentioned them in the last blog entry. Now, one of the Sooty Terns has “moved in”.



This chap now stays on the boat full time. Except that is when he “pops out” for a spot of fishing. Once he has had his fill, he returns to his favourite roosting spot, on a teak platform in the pulpit.



It is astonishing to see him there in the full midday sun. Especially when I tell you that it is now so hot in the middle of the day, that the solar gain on the teak desks is melting the bitumen based caulking between the teak strips, I now have to sluice salt water over the decks each day. Sooty as Jennie calls him, even stays put when we are reefing or letting out the Genoa, a mere six inches from where he is perched. So tame, and cheeky with it!


We also had an Artic Tern on boat for most of the day. This one looked completely knackered poor thing………….



That said, in flight, and when you watch the agility of their flight,, and landing antics,  it is a very beautiful, graceful and (dare I say it) up lifting sight.


So not much else to report. We are both quite tired now. It has been quite rolly on this passage and quite hard to sleep when you are being rolled around you bunk. That coupled with the heat. But we will be there soon enough and then be able to catch up on the beauty sleep once again…………………..