We spent a couple of weeks looking for options to get Wine-Dark Sea back to Sydney quickly. It seemed crazy to leave her in Darwin until the end of Cyclone season and then sail her home, so we looked for transport by road and by sea. In the end, the only real option seemed to be by road, and whilst it was expensive, when weighed up against wear and tear of Sailing her, plus the time needed for that as well as flights, we reckoned that it was around equal. We were lucky enough to find a backload – a boat transport company doing a delivery to Darwin in mid-January, and looking to get back to the east coast. This would make a substantial saving in costs for us, so we started making enquiries about boat yards for hauling out.
My reccy between Christmas and New Year had shown just one option near Dinah Beach, but in the end we found a yard that the haulage company would use, and that had the right size travel hoist. However, when we looked at it on the chart, it was, like many places in Darwin, up a drying creek! After speaking with the marina manager though, who had used the same yard and transport company, we felt that this was the right option. We spoke to the yard who said we would need a 7 meter high tide to get in there, and that they could do it for us on the 17th January, around 7 pm. This tied in with the transport company, so we booked everything. We also spoke to Diverse Rigging in Sydney, and Jason, the owner agreed to take the job to fly up and derig, at the same time, he would be replacing our furler and forestay for a new one, so he could do both jobs. With all our trades organised we booked flights for 12th January.
We had hoped to get to Darwin via Airlie Beach, to see Sylvie as she finished her Australian leg on the Clipper Race, but as we were checking we could see that the projected arrival dates for the Clippers were way too early. They would be lucky to be at Airlie by the time we hoisted out on 17th. We therefore decided to just book flights up, Flexi flights back, so if we were early finishing the boat, we may be able to pop to Airlie, briefly, on the way home.
God bless Qantas who upgraded us to Business Class for the flight up to Darwin which was very comfortable. We picked up our hire car and headed straight to the marina, getting to work on opening up WDS to breath! She was dry and comfortable downstairs, and Cruising Basil was going strong, thanks to Chrissie and Mike keeping her well watered! We met up with them in the evening for dinner at the Darwin Water Ski Club, where we had a lovely evening catching up and chatting about Cruising generally.
Early Sunday, we got to work, getting the mainsail off and starting the strippping process. We had brought up two large suitcases full of polystyrene from our furniture deliveries, so we emptied that and filled the cases with items we wanted at home, or didn’t want to put through the road transport. In the afternoon, we launched Goon Bag, and went to investigate the yard entry at low water, to see if we could identify the channel we would need. It was somewhat interesting, with our portable depth sounder showing very shallow areas, which we transposed to my iPad. There was no way we could get in far enough to see the Chanel close in to the slipway because the tide was so low, so we backtracked to Cullen Bay.
Monday brought a slight overcast and a cooler day, but I started to suffer with a cold, making all work that day really hard. We got pretty much everything done, arranging stowage below to the extent possible whilst still living aboard, and decided to head around to the slipway at high water, to see if it would be easier to identify the channel. We locked out at midday, and had a successful two hours plotting many soundings on to the iPad, from which we could create a route into the yard. This turned out to be a saviour on the day. Returning to the marina, we headed off in the car, relishing the air conditioning, and doing some sightseeing around East Point.
By lunchtime Tuesday, we had completed all but the restowing of The Goon Bag, to keep as much air flow as possible in our cabin, and were ready for moving off the boat on Wednesday. We treated ourselves to another afternoon drive, finishing up for an early dinner at the Dinah Beach Yacht Cruising Association, where Pete ate half a pig, sold nominally as pork ribs! It was too hot to go below when we got back on board, so we sat on deck waiting for the storm to come through and hopefully cool things down. Whilst the lightening show was great, it took too long to reach us, so I fell asleep in the bean bag, not realising I was being eaten alive by mozzies!
We didn’t sleep well after finally making it below deck, so were up early, with Goon Bag stowed and everything completed, ready for the evening trip to Spot On. We went for breakfast at the Boatyard cafe, then headed off to our AirBnB, to get settled before picking Jason up at the airport. The apartment was great, a little tropical oasis, with air conditioning and a swimming pool! Bliss! We dropped our stuff and picked up Jason, who was visiting Darwin for the first time. Needless to say, poor Jason found it very hot! After dropping some stuff at the apartment, we went to WDS, and Jason got us to start getting the rig prepared for dropping, whilst keeping enough pressure in it to stand for the trip to the Boatyard.
At 1630, we locked out of Cullen Bay for the last time, and followed our route, the six miles round to Spot On in Ludmilla Creek. The first hour was easy and great to be on board again, and then the shallow stuff started. At first it was around 4 m but then it started get shallower. We were an hour earlier than we needed to be, but we were now so far in we needed to keep going. As the depth sounder fell below 3.5 m, we felt our first nudge as the keel hit the sand, then because we were going so slowly, the wind pushed us further on to the bank. I grabbed the iPad and called up the chart, locating us relative to our Goon Bag soundings, and we managed to get back to our deeper channel, though dragging the bottom of the keel over sand to get there. Once back in the channel, we got all the way into the creek. However there was a barge at the slip, between us and the hoist, and we couldn’t work out if he was going to leave, or if we needed to go around him. With not much space to manoeuvre, Pete decided to go around him as he decided to reverse out. Some choice language escaped WDS, but soon the way into the hoist was clear and we made our way slowly into the slings.
The first part of the trip had been stressful, but from here on it became even more stressful, as it was clear that the yard had rarely had to deal with a deep fin keeled, 15 meter racing yacht. We eventually lifted out, and the hoist would just get the full height of WDS, on to the hard stand. We discussed whether or not there would be enough lift to get her off her keel, and estimated that we would just be able to. With that, we left WDS supported in the slings for the night, and retired to our air conditioned unit for pizza and beer, before heading to bed.
We got to the yard at 0700 next morning, to find the shipwright at work on the rudder. Unfortunately, he had forgotten to undo a jubilee clip on the rudder stock boot, so this got mangled and would need replacing before reassembly in Sydney. Eventually the rudder came out, the keel bolts were undone, but then they realised that as soon as they lifted her off the keel, she would tip over because of the weight of the mast still on the boat. Jason had suggested that the rig should come off first, so eventually they realised that this would have to happen before she was lifted off her keel. We had to wait for the crane that had been ordered, so tried to fill in the time wrapping deck fittings against the road dust, stowing what we could below, and doing the final prep for getting the rig out. As the dark clouds began to gather, heralding an afternoon storm, the crane arrived – it was way too small. The crane arm would hardly reach the top of our mast, let alone be able to lift the rig over the travel hoist. As the first drops of rain began to fall, we watched the crane drive away, awaiting the arrival now of Big Brother crane.
We watched in relief as the seventy tonne crane arrived, but by now the storm had arrived. The operator was originally from Sydney, and he and Jason discussed the rig removal while we waited for the worst of the storm to pass. It was agreed that once we could no longer hear the crackle of lightening, the crane would start his lift, so in the meantime he got the truck to position, while we all sheltered from the rain under the boat. Finally the storm passed, Jason went up the mast to bring down the wind instruments and position the lifting strap. It was pretty heroic, considering the whole rig was fully loose, and the boat was perched in the slings with no keel bolts actually attached! Safely back on deck, he supervised and directed the removal of the mast successfully, to a prone position so all the fittings could be taken off, undone or packed up.
With the weight of the mast now off the hull, she simply lifted off the keel, still in the travel hoist, and she was moved to the side to allow the crane to lift the keel on to the truck. Whilst this exercise continued with Pete supervising, Jason and I removed the rod rigging from the mast, ready to be packed. With the keel safely on the truck, Pete came to help Jason, and I continued to pack below deck, now we had access to all areas. Eventually, at nearly 1800, Michael, the yard owner, turfed us out of the yard so he could close the gates.
Home for a hard earned beer, a welcome shower and dinner at a local Indian restaurant, we slept like the dead, waking at 0700 next morning. As we got to the yard, we could see that WDS had been loaded on to the truck, but she wasn’t centred, so as I completed the packing down below, she was manoeuvred into a better position on the truck bed. I had to do a fair bit of work in the steering quadrant space which was incredibly hot, cramped and humid, but once finished, I could close the bulkhead and work in the main cabin. We completed work below decks, closed her up, and got the Goon Bag stowed in the cockpit with the outboard below her. Finally we could get the mast stowed across the top, and were surprised that this was achieved with just a forklift truck to lift it. The final ratchet straps were fixed in place and at about 1500, the job was complete, with WDS ready to begin her four thousand kilometre road trip.
The three of us went back to our unit, buying beers on the way, and jumped straight in the pool, to uncramp our aching muscles, cool down and finally relax. As we sat and chatted the sky darkened and the monsoon began, making the top layer of pool water pretty cold. That evening we had our final dinner at the Darwin Sailing Club, so Jason could see the stunning sunset over the water. We met an old uni friend of Pete’s and Jason ran into a Sailing friend from Adelaide, so it was a fun night of unexpected meetings, but by 2200, we could not stay awake any longer.
After a quick tour of Darwin in the morning, we flew back on the lunchtime fight out, getting a great view of the channel into Spot On, as it was low water. We could also see that WDS and her truck were no longer at the yard, so she had started her journey back to Sydney. We are hoping to see her at Woolwich Dock next weekend, where we will begin the task of unpacking her and putting her back together.