The Thursday Island Customs and Quarantine personnel came to clear us in on Monday morning, the 3rd of July, after which we went ashore on Horn island to have lunch, visit the museum and collect water for our tanks. In the afternoon, Annie caught the ferry across to Thursday Island a mile away, to buy fresh salads, veggies and meats for the trip ahead, to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria, south of the Arafura Sea. We set sail the following morning.
The water was flat and the winds light for the first 12 hours, but after sunset the wind increased and the sea built up. A very uncomfortable night followed, but the following morning we were able to pole out the jib, for a better sailing angle. We arrived at Gove after two days and six hours of sailing. Gove, on the north-western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria, is like Weipa on the north-eastern side, a mining town for bauxite, the feedstock for aluminium smelting.
The red dust from the bauxite is everywhere, but the Gove Boat Club is an oasis in this arid region, with green lawns and trees.
The club is the social hub for the locals and serves great meals. We ate there on both nights in Gove and met some interesting people, like Harold, who at 81, recently completed a solo circumnavigation of the world. He is due to set sail for South America again shortly, on the 38 footer he built of steel. Annie managed to get to Woollies to stock up with fresh food and we again topped up the water.
The trip from Gove to cross the Wessel island chain was interesting. You have to get to the Gugari Rip, also called the Hole in the Wall at the right time, to cross at the start or end of an ebb tide. The Gugari Rip has been the foundation of many a yacht club “best yarn” and can be disastrous if you attempt to do it against a flood tide or at full ebb tide, and would probably require a change of underpants afterwards. We left Gove at 6 am to do the 45 nm and arrive there in the last half hour of ebb tide. The nearly slack tide still pushed us through at 10 knots, before it spat us out on the western exit. We anchored for lunch at a lovely beach just south of the exit.
After lunch we sailed 15 miles to Stevens island and on the way Annie caught a northern Bluefin tuna. We had some sashimi and cryovacked the rest for later BBQ’s.
We anchored in the lee of the island, for a very bumpy night. We couldn’t wait to set sail at 7am the next morning, to cover as much Westing as possible, before a strong S-E wind system across the Arafura sea was due to start blowing. The first day was a pleasant poled out downwind sail with 12-14 knots of wind and a moderate sea, averaging 6-7 knots Speed Over Ground. We also had an Australian Border Force ship shadowing us for a while, until our credentials were established. I hoisted our big Aussie flag!
But wait, it was getting better. After a beautiful sunset, a full moon came up in the east and we continued sailing with a full main and the jib poled out, in 14-16 knot winds throughout the night. We only lowered the pole after 32 hours of beautiful sailing, when we rounded Cape Croker at 3pm the next day. An hour later we anchored after sailing 193 nm, in Somerville Bay in the lee of a flat a featureless landscape. Checking Predictwind on the sat phone that night, the forecast was for the strong S-E winds to track south to Darwin, which was still 170 nm away. Rather than try and cover it in another long-haul, we decided to do small hops and anchor in the lee of the landmasses at night.
The first night was at Port Essington, then Cape Don and after that, Cape Hotham, before reaching Darwin on Friday afternoon. Darwin has a huge tidal range of between 6.5 and 7.5m, so anchoring will leave you miles out on the mudflats. Or, you rent a berth in one of the marinas which you have to enter through locks. If your boat has been in foreign waters, the biosecurity diver has to check the boat’s hull before you can go through a lock. The reason for this free check, paid for by the Northern Territory government, is an exotic and aggressive type of mussel that was brought in by a yacht some years ago, destroying the local marine environment before it was brought under control and eradicated.
The biosecurity dive check and injection of a mussel eradication liquid into all the boat’s sea water intakes by Drew Pearce of Darwin Dive Company took an hour, followed a 10 hour quarantine period. We entered the Tipperary Waters marina though their lock the next morning and tied up in our allocated berth. Comfort at last!