And So, To Darwin

Moody sky at Cape Croker

Somerville Bay and the Naked Truth

We were tired. We thought we were getting enough recovery time between these long legs, but it now seems that we sold ourselves short. Our second evening in Somerville Bay turned into one of those horrible experiences you never want to repeat. It wasn’t any issue with the boat, but two very tired and emotional humans, trying to deal with isolation and confinement. I can’t even call it a heated discussion, because we didn’t shout or get angry, we just seemed to be on entirely different planets, talking to each other but from a great distance. We slept in separate cabins, neither of us getting much sleep, and reticent to open any conversation come daylight, which brought rain and necessitated a mass hatch closing. This of course made staying down below untenable, and we sat on deck, finally opening a dialogue.

Eventually we came to hear and understand each other again, we took time to clearly tell each other our thoughts, feelings, needs and desires, and funnily enough, we both realised we were still looking for the same thing. Whilst we had been telling each other this since we were in Cairns, our communication had been unclear, and clouded by the “goal” of getting around the continent in two years. Each of us thought that the other was committed to this goal above all else, and had been steadily growing resentful of having to keep to this goal, when it had actually begun to lose importance. At last we could agree that circumnavigating Australia was no longer important, and there were other priorities we wanted to put first.

Since leaving the Whitsundays in August, we had been sailing to time limits, and we realised we had not enjoyed the journey as much with this being the case. In fact it had become more and more pressurised as we got further up the coast, and simply sailed past places we would have liked to have stopped at and explored. Even Cape York, a truly iconic milestone, had been a quick stop for a photo, then back to the boat to keep going. This was not the philosophy of the adventure, which was as much about exploring both land and sea, as it was about circumnavigating Australia in a boat. As we talked this through, we agreed that Darwin would give us a golden opportunity to reassess the situation, and decide what might happen next. This would be a joint decision, clearly discussed and agreed, taking account of both our needs.

Pete is of course trying to run a business, and we are both very keen to see it succeed. Being away is not too much of an impact, but being completely out of reach, sometimes for weeks, creates challenges for securing and retaining contracts. We will ensure that our next move does not jeopardise the growing business. In the immediate future, I am keen to catch up with my friends, who may not realise just how much they are missed!

And so, to Darwin

WDS looking schmick at Port Essington

We had both been keen to see Port Essington, which was a short hop from Somerville Bay, so with much of our baggage unloaded, and feeling somewhat better for the difficult discussions, we upped anchor and motor sailed to Smiths Point. We anchored near the radio antenna just north of Black Point, intending to head in to the ranger station, but as it was blowing about sixteen knots, neither of us had the energy to launch the Goon Bag. Instead, we tried to keep cool and catch up on sleep. The breeze backed off overnight, so we launched in the morning and went ashore. The ranger station was for the management of the whole of the Cobourg Peninsula, which is a National park jointly managed by the State and the local aboriginal clans. There are ruins of a British Settlement which was set up in the late nineteenth century as a strategic outpost, claiming the northern part of Australia for Britain and to prevent other countries trying to claim it. Despite a relatively good working relationship with the indigenous inhabitants, the settlement failed because of the inhospitable climate and lack of fresh water. The cultural centre at the Park office had some great displays and information about this, as well as details of wildlife in the area, which include dugongs and turtles. However, there was no sign of the ranger. We chatted to a couple who had come in to the Park in a 4WD, and were now stuck, because apparently the road out was closed. It had a meter and a half of water over the crossing! They were trying to get a lift out on a boat. Thankfully we were not going to have that issue!

Another 4WD stopped to ask if there was anything I was looking for, and this turned out to be the ranger, but on his day off. Apparently there were no maps of any walking trails as the season was over and maps were being reprinted, but he did explain how we could get to the settlement ruins if we wanted to. It was about ten miles upstream from where we were currently anchored. We decided to do the hour long wetlands walk, just alongside the track, and then see how we felt about going to the ruins. It was of course very hot, and the short walk around a wetland full of magpie geese, with the odd lizard and shy wallabies was not terribly exciting. We headed back to the boat for some cold water and more sleep!

As the sun got lower in the sky, the heat receded and we decided to have a final spin in the Goon Bag up to the monument on Smith Point, where we could also see some huts. Our brief sojourn ashore earlier had made us hunger for the land under our feet for a while, and to hell with the crocodiles! We landed on a beach edged with Bauxite rock, and absolutely covered in shells. My beach combing habits kicked right back in, and soon I was laden with rocks and shells, now from the Northern Territory. The short walk to the monument was rewarding, and clear signage gave the history of the monument which had been constructed by the failed settlement, as a day mark for entering Port Essington. Smith Point was beset with reefs for a long way out, so the obelisk would help ships locate the point and know to keep their distance. We wandered back to the beach, then headed around the corner to some huts we had seen from our anchorage, which appeared to be near the campground. Strangely, these looked all set for camping, but appeared unfinished and run down. It wasn’t at all clear if they were still in use, despite a fantastic location, on a west facing beach, looking down the length of Port Essington.

Back on board WDS, we ate dinner, played a game of cribbage, then headed to bed. We were closing in on our transit of the Van Diemen Gulf, and tomorrow would see us setting ourselves up for this by anchoring in Alcaro Bay, to await the right tide. It was over a hundred miles across the Gulf, and to try to ensure a daylight arrival in Darwin, it was critical to time the tides right. The flood tide flows fast through Dundas Straight towards the south, then when it turns, it ebbs west through the Beagle Gulf. We needed to make sure we could ride the flood in, and the ebb across and down, as it can run up to four knots in places, which would make the difference between arriving in daylight on a rising tide, and arriving in the dark on a dropping tide.

Whilst we only had about thirty miles to travel tomorrow, we would be having a short night at Alcaro, as our required departure time would be 0300 to catch the flood tide at Dundas Straight. The more sleep we could get now, the better prepared we would be. Of course neither of us had a great nights sleep, it was so very hot, and all the fans did, was move hot air about our cabin. We had had no rain showers during the day, and the breeze had gone, which meant that below decks had really heated up. When we dragged ourselves out of bed, we decided we would grab what sleep we could throughout the day, and then have a really early night at Alcaro. We set off as soon as we had eaten breakfast and had coffee, because when the boat was moving there was at least a little breeze.

We arrived at Alcaro Bay and anchored around lunchtime, and just as we finished lunch, a big black squall cloud we had watched pass to the south, reversed direction and headed straight for us. It was joined by another approaching from the west! Luckily we had started closing the hatches when we could see the first one approaching, so that by the time it hit, downstairs was sealed up. The wind increased from five knots to thirty, in about ten seconds, and brought with it pounding rain that was so thick you could not see through it. Then our anchor alarm started to sound, and when Pete went to check it looked like we were dragging. Still on deck, I started the engine in case we needed to pick up, but Pete let out another ten meters of chain and that seemed to help. By the time we had finished this exercise, the wind was backing off, and within ten minutes of our first rain drops, it was back to steamy sunshine, and everything immediately started to dry. For a few moments, we savoured the sensation of being soaking wet and actually feeling cold, but this soon passed and we returned to normal state of hot and sweaty. We managed a small nap after this, and then had an early dinner, heading to bed as dusk fell, with alarms set for weather at 2115 and wake up at 0230.

I picked up the weather on the HF set, and whilst it sounded benign, we knew it was going to be a long motor in the roasting sun. With winds forecast to be variable below ten knots, we didn’t expect to do much Sailing, and when we got up at 0230, sure enough the wind reading was 0.0 knots! No sails just yet then!

We lifted the anchor without any problem and set Otto for the first waypoint. Pete was standing first watch until 0500, so I went back to bed for an extra two hours rest. Pete’s watch was choc full of satellites, shooting stars and tides doing unexpected things, but my watch, from 0500 to 0700 wasn’t. I did have a beautiful starry sky until dawn coloured the east pink and made the stars disappear, though I did spot a shooting star and a mere two satellites. This was the first sunrise I had seen in a while, as Pete had been on the early watches until now, so I enjoyed the gradually changing hues, as the sun heaved itself over the horizon. There were a few clouds around, which made everything more colourful, but as the sun got higher, the clouds seemed to dissipate.

When coffee time rolled around, we had made good progress into the Gulf, but the sun was really starting to bite. We put the cockpit shade back up, as there was no more than 2-3 knots of wind, and this at least gave us shade. Our cabin was still ok, because with Goon Bag inverted on the bow, it provides additional shade and insulation, stopping our cabin from getting too hot. I got another hour of rest in the cabin, while Pete read on deck under the shade. We progressed along in the flat, reflective water, getting occasional breezes to just keep it bearable in the shade. We were getting reasonable speed with the help of the current, that meant we didn’t have to flog the engine. This was a good thing, as the poor engine was struggling to process the cooling salt water from the sea, which was around thirty degrees, the same temperature as the air! As we passed between the Vernon Islands, about half way to Darwin, we picked up the really fast tide and saw ten knots over the ground for a good hour or more. The water was full of turbulent patches and occasional whirlpools, but we wizzed along making great time.

Finally we could make out a little patch of buildings on the point of one of the flat areas of land, and this was our first glimpse of Darwin from the sea. However, it looked like it was under a really impressive thunder head, so we wondered if we would get the cooling effect of the passing storm as we got closer. Checking behind, there was another building cloud bank, so we figured that either way we were going to get wet! As we turned into the fairway for Darwin Harbour, the black clouds seemed to be heading west, away from us, but the closer we got to the channel into Cullen Bay, the more convinced we became that the storm was in reverse back towards us. As we made the final turn for the entry, we got hit by twenty knots with the awning up and the tide taking us sideways, so we quickly ditched the awning, as Pete negotiated the entry to the breakwater, where we would wait to be locked into the marina. Of course the fickle weather was just toying with us, and once we had found the leads and the channel to the pontoon, the wind died away and the black clouds receded, and we pulled up alongside to be met by the lockmaster.

We were given a tour of the marina and facilities as well as the lock, before completing the paperwork and then heading into the lock. I was surprised how small the lock was, as I remembered locking in and out of the marinas in Swansea and Cardiff with ten or more boats filling the locks! Here in Darwin, we would have been lucky to fit another boat in with us! We had just a short drop of about meter into the marina, so it was a quick open and close, and then we were in the marina, heading to our berth.

So here we are in Cullen Bay Marina, booked in until March 2018, the duration of the wet season and Cyclone season. WDS will spend her time here in the tropics, as we come and go. Our first trip is booked, with a quick visit to Sydney for meetings for Pete, a trip for both of us to Perth to see Sylvie on Unicef and the Clipper fleet depart for Sydney, and a trip to Sydney for the ballet for me. Then it will be preparing WDS for cyclone season, before we can explore the region. Plans are fluid for now, but we have plenty of time to decide on our next adventures.

The lock opening into Cullen Bay Marina
The lovely fountains in the marina, making us feel very special!

2 thoughts on “And So, To Darwin

  1. Hats off to you both for working out what the goals are now & being flexible to change. Hope we get to see you on a Sydney visit…..


  2. You have both done amazingly well, congratulations guys! Nothing like being on a fast boat to get you there. Loving the journey from the comfort of home while watching the cricket!


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