Archive for 'Australia'

Bali Bound

Lat: 12 18.397′ S
Long: 126 21.726′ E

It is day three of our passage to Bali in very light winds. We’ve been using the motor on and off and still only averaging about 100 miles/day, but in such calm seas, we are able to function on the boat as if we were at anchor (except for the sleep deprivation bit). We are now only 200 miles from Ashmore Reef and looking forward to stopping to sleep and to check out the Australian-operated marine reserve there.

Our last days in Darwin were busy and fruitful. Woolworths delivered our bags and bags of groceries right to the boat ramp, and we were able to load them into the dinghy and get them onto the boat in one trip. It really could not have been any easier. However, between catching up with our friends on S/V Marionette who had just arrived, selecting a couple of Aboriginal paintings, going to the Aboriginal documentary, getting duty-free diesel from the wharf on the other side of town, and clearing out with customs, we didn’t have time to stow the groceries until the following day (Tuesday) when we were underway. Normally we wouldn’t have weighed anchor and set sail for another country with bags and jugs strewn all over the boat, but we knew that we would be motoring in light winds with plenty of time to get organized.

bags A few groceries

Darwin was definitely the place to pick up Aboriginal artwork. There are galleries on each corner of the city center, and we had fun perusing them and trying to decide on a couple of pieces. We ended up bypassing a large one that had the "wow factor" but would probably lose its luster after a while (like a shallow supermodel) and opted instead for a slightly smaller and more subtle but very interesting painting patterned after a lizard’s skin as well as a smaller, more traditional painting representing a mother and child. In general, the quality and unique style of the paintings that come from the tribes of the Northern Territory is extremely impressive, so much so that I am interested in importing several pieces to sell in the U.S. at some point.

painting “Manjala” (New Born Baby Song) by Bummalibina (“Penelope”) Green

The documentary entitled "Our Generation" was screened at the Deckchair Cinema, a really nice outdoor theater next to the city park. It was a full house of mostly "non-indigenous Australians" (white folks) as well as some indigenous peoples from the Northern Territory (NT) tribes. The documentary was created by a white Aussie woman who had spent some time living with one of the tribes and was there when the white officials came in 2007 to investigate child abuse. It sounds like they went on a hunting expedition in all of the NT Aboriginal communities based on limited evidence of abuse, and in order to do so, had to suspend the Racial Discrimination Act. This is one of many governmental policies and practices that was denounced in the documentary. Some compelling information was presented such as the United Nation’s declaration of the Aussie government’s policies as racist. Also, the life expectancy of Aborigines is lower than that of any other Indigenous people in the world, due in large part to the many diseases that affect them in their over-crowded living conditions (up to 20 people living in a 3-bedroom house!).

In a nutshell, it seems that the oldest society in the world (30,000 years old according to carbon dating) was not only displaced by the newest society in the world but was then expected to assimilate, with very poor results. We left thinking that it would behoove the Australian government to expend their funds, efforts, etc. in ways that better fit the Aboriginal customs and beliefs instead of imposing upon them a lifestyle of Western-style poverty and a feeling of indignity.

OK, I’m off my soapbox now. There’s not much else to report. We are just getting spoiled by having so much peace and quiet with just the two of us on board. The boat is in good shape except that the roller furling for the jib is "getting stuck" (my version of a technical description). Dallas is not happy about this after just paying hundreds of dollars to have the bearings replaced in NZ. Hopefully sorting this out won’t occupy too much of his time when we are in Bali, as we both can think of better things to do!

Doings in Darwin

We hit Darwin by storm as usual. We don’t have much choice since we only plan to be here for five days. Dallas had picked up a tourists’ brochure from the RV park in Seisia, so we’d already picked out some things to do and got some more info when we explored the city for the first time.

But first we had to get ashore. We had heard from S/V Imagine that this was an ordeal here at Fannie Bay but didn’t fully grasp what that meant, thinking that it was because one has to anchor almost a mile from the beach due to the 26′ tidal range (like nothing we’ve ever seen)! As it turns out, the long dinghy ride ashore is the easy part. Part of our problem on our first try was that we arrived at the beach in front of the Darwin Sailing Club at low tide. On most beaches, this is not much of a consideration, but here that meant that we had to pull the dinghy across a quarter mile of mud flats. With a 15 horsepower engine on the back, this is no easy task. The Club provides a couple of dolleys to assist with this, but just getting the dinghy onto it was a major struggle. We have it all figured out now.

mudflats Fannie Bay at low tide

We caught the bus into the very modern city center. Evidently the city was leveled during Cyclone Tracey in 1974, so all of the buildings are relatively new. There are a few buildings that could be considered skyscrapers (what is the definition of a skyscraper, anyway?), and we haven’t seen one of those in several months. We visited the Customs office to get the paperwork for duty-free diesel (only .84 cents/liter), stopped at Subway for a snack (have to get our fix when it’s available), lounged and read our new brochures in the park (there’s heaps going on in August), and then headed to the Thursday night Sunset Market at Mindil Beach.

Even though there was also a festival going on nearby, there were hundreds of people at the market, consisting of arts and crafts, food stands, live music, and bouncy castle-type things. We caught the tail end of the sunset on the beach before grabbing a bite to eat — Mexican for Dallas, Vietnamese for me. We then cruised around the arts and crafts stand and found a really impressive Aboriginal painting to buy, but it was bought out from under us by another couple…oh well, we’ll find another. The Aboriginal paintings are really unique. Acrylic paint is used with a pattern of dots or, in the case of our desired painting, brush-strokes that represented bush leaves. The colors are usually very vibrant, and each one tells a story, usually about those activities that are part of daily life for the Aborigine: hunting emu, finding a water hole, or collecting leaves for medicinal purposes.

There are many more Aborigines here than in Cairns, and they are visible throughout the modern city, but again, not as employees or consumers but as street people. We even saw a small group starting a fire to cook their food in the public city park! The dichotomy between the ancient Aboriginal and the modern Aussie is really astounding, and it is no wonder that there are such problems between them! We are going to see the premier of a documentary about this very issue on Monday night and looking forward to hearing about it from those who are directly involved.

Just in case we weren’t aware of the tendency for Aborigines to have a problem with alcohol, we had a demonstration that neither of us (and particularly Dallas) are likely to forget anytime soon. We were sitting and waiting for the bus amidst a group of high school kids when a slightly older (maybe 20?) Aborigine with a bottle of Jagermeister came along and started harassing each of the kids, one by one getting in their face and even slapping them. Then when he was done with his bottle, he tossed it across the street and continued to march around in a threatening way until the bus arrived.

I was hoping that he would just sit with his friends and chill out on the bus…that was way too optimistic. As we boarded the bus, I watched as he shoved an Asian kid toward the window to sit next to him, moments before elbowing him in the face. The kid hit back, and then it was a full on fight. I was concerned about the Asian kid, but my shouts of “break it up!” didn’t do any good (surprise, surprise). What was needed was a strong and brave man to pull the Aborigine guy off — enter Dallas. He had no problem getting him off, but the guy was too big and belligerent to be held for any length of time and was soon throwing punches at Dallas. He caught one in the eye before a kick to the mid-region knocked the drunk guy down and in position to be grabbed from behind by a guy about his size who then wrestled with him until the cops showed up. Needless to say, Dallas and I were very pleased to see the drunk guy hauled off in the Paddy wagon! While some of you reading this are probably in a bit of shock (we’re not in Kansas anymore!), Dallas recounted this story to a friend of his on skype yesterday, and the response was, “Dude, that was the first time you’ve been drunk-punched!?” I guess we’ve been hanging out in the wrong crowd or something!

Friday was less dramatic but still eventful. We went ashore around mid-day and made our way to the Crocodylus Park just in time for the croc feeding. It was pretty awesome to see a 15′, 500 pound croc lift its top half out of the water to grab the meat hanging from the dangling string. When its jaw snapped, you could hear a loud pop as the air was quickly displaced! They also had several other endemic animals on display such as emus, wallabies, kangaroos, and dingos. Seeing all of these up close was fascinating, but we are probably a little spoiled by seeing so much wildlife in the actual wild. When it comes to crocs, however, I’d be fine with never again seeing one in the wild. The museum and tour guide made it very clear that in the battle of man vs beast, the croc (if > 12′) wins every time. It’s a good thing we got our snorkeling and diving fix on the GBR, because we won’t be going in the water here….they pull 200 crocs out of the harbor each year for the safety of the residents! The crocs are sometimes killed but are often taken to places like this Park or other croc farms where they are used for meat and leather. The Park that we visited currently holds THOUSANDS of crocs!

croc Yikes

crocs This pond alone contained over 800 crocbaby Even a baby croc like this had a lot of strength to wriggle

We finished off the day at the Irish pub where Dallas started getting into Australian Rules Football (about 100x more interesting than cricket!). Then we went to what seems to be the hippest bar in town (Wisdom Bar) and found that the pitchers of beer were only $10…surprising considering that a case of beer (30 cans of Victoria Bitter to be specific) goes for $53 at the liquor store! We talked for a couple of hours with a really cool Aussie couple who do a lot of traveling around the bush in their 4×4. I was interested to hear about the presidential election coming up next week – the two primary candidates represent the Labor Party and the Liberal Party, with the latter being more fiscally conservative.

Today (Saturday) ended up being a work day. Dallas replaced a bilge pump, the fresh water pump, and the port navigation light while I placed a $600 Woolworths grocery order online. Our plan was to provision via the bus, making multiple trips with loaded-down backpacks, etc., but then we saw a sign advertising online shopping with free shipping for a limited time! Tomorrow we will have our goods delivered to the Sailing Club, and then we should be all set (in terms of provisions) for the long trip across the Indian Ocean!

Riding the Tide

Well, we’re finally anchored in Darwin, but not without an interesting final day on passage.  After talking to S/V Imagine on the SSB and realizing this might be our last chance to see them before they leave for Indonesia (and finally getting tired of creeping along at 2-2.5 knots) we finally turned on an engine.  We’d only accumulated about 4 engine hours since leaving Cairns, so why not?  Oh yeah, there were no more chips in our snack compartment either, so there was a building sense of urgency.

The last part of the passage into Darwin passes through the Van Diemen Gulf, a large, bay about 90 nm wide with openings at the northeast and west and the rest of its circumference formed by the Australian mainland in the south and east and Melville Island in the north.  The gulf is big and the mouths are relatively narrow and shallow, which means that when the large tides in this area ebb and flow, there’s quite a bit of current.  Life is a lot better when you’re running with the current instead of trying to fight it, so the ideal way to finish this passage is to let the incoming tide suck you into the gulf at the Dundas Strait, sail as fast as you can across to the west side and then let the outgoing tide spit you out through the Clarence Strait.  If your timing is really good, you’ll get out of the gulf just in time to let the next incoming tide push you down to Darwin.

I hadn’t planned any of this when I got up for my 3 am watch, just as we were nearing the Dundas Strait.  After six days at sea just taking what the winds provided, I wasn’t even sure what the state of the tide was going to be.  I soon found out, though.  We’d been warned that Cap Don could get pretty rough if you didn’t catch an incoming tide, but as we motorsailed by it at about 5 am and entered the Van Diemen Gulf, the water was incredibly calm and the boat speed kept climbing.  5 knots is a good average speed for us, 6 knots is great, and averaging 7 knots for a day is almost unheard of.  As the tide sucked us in, I watched the GPS speed climb above 8 knots and then above 9.  As it hovered at 9.9 I wondered if we’d make 10 and then it hit 10 and kept climbing.  We topped out at 11 knots, and stayed above 10 knots for well over a quarter of an hour.  The whole time, the boat was almost as still as if it was at anchor.

Australia only releases a few days of tide information at a time on the internet for free (as well as the whole year’s tides for a few locations) and if you want the rest you have to buy an expensive tide table book.  Luckily I’d been given some tide software by another cruiser that seemed to be reasonably accurate.  After obviously getting lucky on our way in, I was ready for more of the same and pulled up tide programs and charts on the laptop to try to plan the day.  As it turned out, we were able to time things almost perfectly and with the help of the second engine when the wind was light, we were able to make it all the way to Darwin before sunset while only fighting the current for a few hours of the trip.  From passing Cape Don until we anchored in Darwin, we covered 93.6 nautical miles in 11-12 hours for an average speed of about 8 knots (around 10 mph).  It really doesn’t take much to get you excited after a week at sea.

DSC_0507 The line of whitecaps ahead is the edge of a strong tidal rip.  The smoke is from a large brush-burning fire on the mainland.

DSC_0510 10.6 knots (This is the part where you say WOW! THAT’S REALLY FLYING!)

The only bad part of the day was hitting a rough patch of water in the gulf where the tide was running against a strong wind that we were sailing into.  We hadn’t had any rough seas for so long that we once again got caught with a hatch open and managed to soak our berth pretty well, including some electronics that we’re hoping will recover.  Lauren went right to work on it though, and after several hours of work she had it pretty much put back together by time we made it to Darwin.  She really is amazing.

S/V Imagine was still here when we arrived and after a quick dinner we had a great evening with them, getting their tips on Darwin and talking over experiences we’d had.  It was so nice to see them that I caught a second wind and even though I had gotten up at 3 am and they had to leave with the tide early in the morning, we didn’t get to bed until midnight.  Needless to say I had a great night’s sleep.

Twice Buzzed

Lat: 10 51.495′ S
Long: 132 40.233′ E

We’re beginning our 6th consecutive day at sea, and as cruisers often say on the SSB radio nets when checking in, "all is well on board". The last two days consisted of very comfortable, downwind spinnaker sailing. This was a welcome relief after a couple of days of uncomfortable beam seas that, combined with a bit of exhaustion from getting used to long night watches, had me occasionally wanting to stop the boat and get off (obviously not an option). The wind eased up as well, so we slowed down but didn’t mind. However, it has now slowed to a virtual halt, and I’m surprised we’re still able to sail (now with the main and jib). We’re only 150 miles out of Darwin, but it may take two days to get there at this rate. Dallas worked out that it would cost about $100 in diesel to motor there, so as long as we can sail, we will. In the meantime, we are in the process of drawing some firm conclusions about the meaning of life and such. (I’ll let Dallas fill you in on those details….ha ha.)

sunset One of several beautiful sunsets on this passage

It’s pretty unusual for anything too exciting to occur out here (hence the saying: sailing is 99% boredom, 1% sheer terror), but lately it has seemed that when it does, we are caught with our pants down, so to speak. The first incident of this on this passage was on Sunday when we had so much power in the house bank that Dallas thought we might as well flip on the fridge and make some ice. This sounded great to me, and by sunset, we had sufficient ice cubes for a cold drink. What better iced drink to have in calm seas than a cocktail, right? (believe it or not, also the skipper’s idea) Well, the first one was so good that Dallas decided to have another (I was on watch, he was headed to bed soon), and as he sipped on it, I went to check our course and discovered that according to the AIS, we were due to smack head-on into a ship! Of course we had 20 minutes before this was to occur — plenty of time to hail the ship (a tug towing a 600′ barge) on the radio and determine who would change course, but this is the first time that we have ever had to do this, so it was ironic that it occurred when we were the least alert.

dallas Ice is picture-worthy for us

The second incident happened yesterday. In the lighter winds, I decided to take the opportunity to have a bath in the deep blue sea. We were going 4 knots, which was just about perfect in terms of being able to hold on to the swim ladder without any trouble but still get a bit of a thrill. Anyway, no sooner had I come out of the water when a Customs plane approached for its daily fly-by! If they can read the hailing port from the stern of the boat, I’m sure they can….anyway, I quickly found my towel and headed for cover.

water Check out the wake running behind

The only other highlight of recent days to speak of (besides the dolphins that Dallas talked about) was that Dallas made his first loaf of bread yesterday — black olive and onion loaf. It turned out very, very well.

Hopefully our next post will be from Darwin…

Across the Gulf

Lat: 10 50.838′ S
Lon: 136 17.102′ E

I’ve just started my night watch at about 3am. Watches have changed quite a bit now that we’re on passage with just the two of us. We’ve adopted a system of longer night watches that’s closer to the way our friends on S/V Imagine do it. Lauren takes a night watch from 8pm or so until 2 or 3am — I get to go to bed early (I’m always sleepy anyway). I get up when she goes to sleep and am on watch until 8 or 9am when I get on the radio to listen to the nets and she wakes up and makes breakfast. I usually end up dozing off quite a bit between 9 and noon while she keeps an eye out and then we take turns watching through the afternoon and evening depending on who’s feeling like dozing and who’s awake.

Just as we were leaving Seisia, we thought we’d lost one of our favorite pieces of gear — the dana. The dana is basically a word processor. It has a full size keyboard and an 11-line LCD screen that lets us type blogs for almost no power (it uses 3 rechargeable AA batteries) instead of using the laptops. With just the two of us we have too much power, if anything, but with a larger crew, it’s pretty handy. Lately it’s been acting up, with keys that randomly stop working and then sometimes work again. It seemed hopelessly lost when "t", "y", and a couple of other keys absolutely refused to work yet again. I thought it would be worth taking apart since I used to design this sort of thing. Even though I don’t really have the tools on-board to properly troubleshoot and repair electronics, we got lucky. As soon as I opened the back cover I could see a loose keyboard cable. I guess all the shock and vibration from passages since Key West had worked the connector loose. Anyway, it’s back now.

DSC_0477 Most of our blogs start here

We thought the trip through the southern Arafura sea across the north edge of the Gulf of Carpenteria would be with following seas and winds from astern, but we’ve ended up with a fair amount of wind on the beam and pretty good sized beam seas that have been a little uncomfortable for the last couple of days. Uncomfortable seas means that Lauren and I spend a lot of the day laying down in the salon reading, listening to music, watching movies, or listening to audiobooks. It’s been a little warm, though and we’ve had to shut the hatches because the waves are large enough that occasionally the crest of a big one slaps up against the port side of the boat and the very top part of the wave gets thrown as a heavy shower over portions of the deck. Tired of being inside, I suggested this afternoon that we sit outside for a bit where it was sunny with a nice cool breeze. We were out there only a few minutes when I saw a large wave build up like a translucent light green wall beside us with a small gray body swimming quickly inside it — dolphins. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a pod of dolphins. These dolphins were smaller than the ones we’re used to seeing but were pretty playful, and the pod of 20 or so spent quite a while playing in the bow wave, darting back and forth, lining up in groups of 3-5, and swimming along just under the surface. It seems like one of their favorite games is to dart in from the side so that they’re swimming just inches in front of the bow and then to swim there in a small group of three or four as we surf down waves and have small bursts of acceleration. They were a lot of fun to watch until we caught a large, steep wave on the port hull again and Lauren and I got an unexpected salt water shower. Oh well, it was time to put on a new pair of shorts anyway.

We also got buzzed again today by an Australian Customs plane who then called us on the VHF to check on our details and itinerary. It’s really amazing how close they get. They could read the port of registration off the stern even underneath the dinghy and if you’re out on deck when they come by, you can see their faces in the cockpit. They really do make the US border security look like a joke. We’ve sailed to the Bahamas several times and never once been stopped by the USCG or customs; the one time we did try to clear customs and immigration properly we had to drive all the way over to their office at Port Everglades and try to catch them before the office closed. Granted, Australia doesn’t have a land border and doesn’t have to worry about immigrants from the east (they let the Kiwis in pretty freely), south (everyone in Antarctica volunteered to be there), or west (Africa is a whole ocean of rough water away). But, they do patrol their 1000-1500 miles of northern border waters incredibly well. We asked the Navy guy who we met in Cairns how many boats of immigrants get through and he said, "None — zero." At this point, immigrants just float out into the Torres Straits and wait to get far enough that the Australian Navy picks them up and takes them to Christmas Island for processing, with some hope of getting to the Australian mainland as legal residents. I asked him where the people filling these boats come from and he said they’re mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan and are seeking asylum. Hmmmmm. Who would start wars there that create so many refugees and then not volunteer to take any of them in? Must be those pesky Australians getting what they asked for again.

DSC_0494 Customs plane flying by

We had planned to stop in the Wessels, but we haven’t made the best time and are arriving in the middle of the night, so we decided to keep moving. The nights have been cloudy and incredibly black (we wouldn’t even be able to see the bow if the nav lights weren’t on), so it’s not really worth the risk to try a night approach, and we’re trying to make time for a longer stay in Bali anyway. At least the wind has less fetch now that we’ve neared Cape Wessel so the seas are calmer. It’s a welcome change from the steep 8-10-footers that were rolling in on our beam.