Minke whale

Minke Whale en route to the Cod Hole, Outer Geat Barrier Reef.

South East Asia here we come! Yippee!

Some time over Christmas/New Year we decided that this was going to be the year to go. The world is changing so fast, we wonder if it will still be there if we wait. The three years we have been cruising Lifeline have given us confidence in the boat and its systems and in our ability to handle it in most situations.

Cruising to South East Asia is not a decision we have come to lightly. Apart from all the other factors, it needs a commitment of at least two years to be able to see Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand in the right seasons and still find favourable weather to get home. And once you start looking at maps of the region...it's just so mouthwatering....Burma is just opening up, Chagos, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines are supposed to be fantastic cruising. It's likely we could be away from Australia a lot longer.

In Manly, after getting back from our Christmas/January trip south by car, we set about making Lifeline ready for our long journey. Before our shortened trip to Singapore last year we had begun to think that a watermaker would be a good idea and, with the smoke from forest fires in Kalimantan etc, that maybe we needed to supplement our solar panels with a 24 volt generator. That experience (on Solita) of equipment failure reminded us of the premises on which we set up Lifeline ie KEEP IT (relatively) SIMPLE.

We know if we are prudent with our 1500 litres of water, washing in salt etc, we can make it last three months; plus we have water catching arrangements on our roof should we get any rain. So, really, a watermaker is a luxury we don't really need. And we still hate generators. But there were some improvements we wanted, to make the boating part of our lives overseas a little more predictable.

First we needed a gauge to tell us the state of charging the batteries and current draw when underway, as we had no idea whether motoring was helping the state of our batteries very much. At night particularly we run nav lights, GPS, depth sounder, radar, autopilot, computer, engine fan etc, a combined high current load (but we didn't know how high). When coming to anchor our revs are so low that we are not charging and Philip suspected that we were using up our excess capacity generated while motoring in the time it took us to anchor, unless all the equipment was turned off before lowering our revs. We have a smart regulator on our solar panels but it doesn't measure charge from our engine.

So we had a Link 10 battery monitor installed. This wonderful instrument tells us battery voltage, current nett charging/consumption, total consumption (deficit) for the day and when the batteries are fully charged. (And we find ourselves having a peek all the time.)

Secondly we wanted more efficient charging when under motor. It seems crazy, but a power boat with a normal alternator doesn't necessarily end up with topped up batteries at the end of a journey, despite motoring for hours. Once we got our monitor we could see that after an initial high charge rate our alternator did drop the charge significantly, before the batteries were fully charged. So we also added a three way switch on the alternator to manually control the rate of charge if we wanted to.

Thirdly, we wanted more battery capacity to give us more margin for error when anchored in smoky or cloudy conditions.  So Philip built a second battery box and added two extra batteries, doubling our capacity.

For some time now we've batted around the idea of extra refrigeration capacity to hold all the fish we are going to catch (!!) and for when we have visitors. We also thought we might take extra meat to South East Asia (as our original freezer keeps only one month's supplies). We finally bought a 60 litre portable 12v/24v/240v chest fridge/freezer by Refrigeration Research in South Australia. It looks huge on the outside but fits well in the tank room. It freezes and fridges well without too much current draw so we are pleased with it but are not actually using it much yet.

Another purchase, which was a bone of contention was a wind speed gauge. We don't strictly need it as we don't sail, but Philip is always interested to know. Neither of us could justify spending $1,000 on something that was not strictly necessary, but when I found one in "Re-New" magazine for $165 I relented and let him buy it. And it's been a great success. We both sit around and watch it whenever gusts or a storm come through. It's actually a good reality check when we're underway and beginning to wonder if the wind is getting stronger.

With no secondary rig, on our boat the engine is the only source of mobility. Philip is always telling me the leading cause of diesel engines stopping is fuel - something wrong with it or something blocking it. Because fuel in Indonesia at least can be dodgy, for peace of mind we wanted a day tank through which all fuel is pumped and filtered before going to the engine. A day tank would also increase our ability to measure fuel usage accurately and add extra capacity. It was a complicated and expensive exercise to have a 400 litre stainless steel tank made (the largest size that would fit down the hatch to the tank room); a high stand for it welded in place (so it can gravity feed to the engine); the fuel system re-routed and a large pump installed so valves control the flow of diesel from any of the four tanks to the day tank and through filters to the engine; the day tank filled and measured accurately with a sight gauge, labelled in twenty litre increments. We also bought a big plastic "Baja"-type filter that pre-filters the fuel from the bowser before it gets into the tank.

Our liferaft was serviced and we finally got around to creating convenient locations for our grab bag, extra water, EPIRB, new hand held VHF, GPS etc.

Meanwhile I sewed and fitted outdoor cushions (for a new seat upstairs and for the cockpit), a cover for the liferaft and one for our inflatable dinghy which is now stored under the new seat upstairs, flyscreens. And organised copies of charts and guides (see the list elsewhere in this website) and checked routes, cruising permits and immigration etc.  

After 10 days on Moreton Bay and the Broadwater saying goodbye to friends and testing our new equipment and fuel system, we spent 5 days on the slip antifouling, painting and recaulking a seam we'd had problems with last year.

$10,000(+) later, Lifeline left Manly - though things got a little hectic at the end.  While our friends helped us get the dinghy onto the roof, fuel bottles stowed, newly serviced outboard put away etc, Sharni-Lea, whose berth we were in, was steaming back from the slip. Every few minutes someone would sing out "I think I can see them coming down the channel" or "they've just been on the radio - they'll be another fifteen minutes". Finally, as we steamed out of the entrance channel to Manly, Sharni Lea was steaming in. Perfect timing?

28 April 2005 - Wide Bay Bar Crossing at Night

Our first night was spent at Tangalooma in ideal conditions. We planned that the next day we would enjoy ourselves, relaxing, maybe I would don the dive gear for a practice and check my ears, before leaving about 8pm for an overnighter to Wide Bay Bar. But the next morning we realised that if we left then we could do a day trip, crossing the bar that night and miss some bad weather that was brewing. So that's what we did.

We crossed the bar about 9pm. It was so dark and calm we had no sensation of being on a bar, though Philip could see the break on the radar and our stern light lit up the "lift" behind us. We are always extremely conservative when crossing bars, and follow Alan Lucas' advice explicitly: always crossing on an incoming tide and always at least two hours after low tide, both of these to ensure any flow is in the direction of the wind rather then against it. We've had too many experiences with tide/current against wind and the way it stacks up the sea to want to encounter it on a bar. But, with all the bars we've crossed, we've only ever had benign crossings, and that's the way we like it. (Touch wood.)

2 May 2005 - Cheap Fuel at Bundaberg - The Whitsundays

We had not put any fuel in the boat before leaving Brisbane, apart from the 180 litres we'd tipped into the day tank when calibrating the sight gauge. This is because - we don't know why - the cheapest diesel on the Queensland coast (for the last few years anyway) is at Bundaberg. 10cents/litre cheaper than Brisbane! When you're buying it in the thousands of litres that 10c makes a difference.

Other than that, fuel tends to get more expensive as you go further north. It seems understandable - transport costs must inflate the price. The exception is Cooktown where, in 2003 at least, it was several cents a litre cheaper than Cairns. Work that one out.

Anyway, I digress. We had a delightful stop anchored off Kingfisher resort - where I kayaked ashore, had a walk through their naturally landscaped gardens and even got a weekend newspaper. (We can manage to read a weekend newspaper for a week when we're holed up somewhere.) That was followed by an equally delightful sunny smooth run up to Burnett Heads, where we bypassed the Port marina this year in favour of rafting onto our friends on 'Karanel' on the fishing wharf of the marina up the river in Bundaberg.

As the weather immediately turned to#@$@&$%##@! outside, we were very pleased with our decision to stay, because we ended up being there a week. Enforced stay though it was, we had a great time. We had never been up to the town by boat before and hadn't realised how convenient the marina is, being right in town.

Karanel, a huge 55' converted trawler, is home to our friends, Michelle and Bruce and their two kids, Steph. and Ben as well as Billy the Maltese Terrier.  For the past few years Michelle and Bruce and the kids have cruised for the winter and spent the summer in Bundaberg working on the boat.

Karanel is not yet finished. But what a conversion! Karanel is not just homely and comfortable it is positively beach house vogue with a decor I'd love in a house.

Michelle and I spent a lot of time playing "computers", swapping CDs and using her new clever scanner. The information we swapped per hour was worth a week in a library.

We also went to Agro Trend - not a frightening movement towards violence sweeping the country, as the name suggests, but an exhibition of all sorts of agricultural equipment. That was Boy Heaven. Not just tractors and cattle crushes and chainsaws but lots of tools - big ones. Philip bought himself a set of  huge sockets and a 24" Stilson wrench - for some of the big jobs around the engine if ever needed. Now he's a Big Tool Bloke.

The Saturday Shalom markets in Bundaberg are also excellent and worth stopping at to provision if needed. We had been before on the courtesy bus when we had stayed at Port marina.

We went:

Bundaberg - Great Keppel Island, anchoring at Leake's Beach at 3am

Great Keppel Island - Island Head Creek, where we spent a couple of nights to avoid some bad weather that had blown up

Island Head Creek - Scawfell Island, another middle of the night arrival, after a mostly calm trip except for the last 6 hours where it was on the nose and incredibly slow (we got down to 5.5 knots). As usual we rushed through that section of the coast where the tides are huge, the currents fierce and as a result the waves are larger than they should be. And in bloody spring tides.

Scawfell signifies arriving in the Whitsundays for us, a milestone, the beginning of easy cruising with lots of anchorages not too far apart. Scawfell is also a beautiful place in its own right, though you don't really appreciate it until you go ashore. But when you do go ashore...it's like being in a lagoon. This year it was full of bait fish, a few of which I netted. By swimming out a live bait on a hook, we attracted squid who would suck in the bait and follow it into shore, metres from where we stood on the sand,

Listening to the loggings on to the VMRs and to Sheilah Net, there seem to be a lot of Americans on the move up here early in the season. Quite a few other boats travelling quickly too. We assume they are probably the boats trying to make it to Darwin to travel in the rally from there to Indonesia which leaves on 23 July.

We have seen and spoken with Tradewinds III and Fontana, who are heading to SE Asia but haven't yet caught up with Silver Heels II  from Manly who are also going to SE Asia this year. We hope to cruise from Lizard Island north and around to Darwin and beyond with Silver Heels, who, like us, plan to leave Darwin a week or two after the rally.

We are starting to think about which agent in Indonesia we should get to do our CAIT (Indonesian cruising permit) and sponsor letter which we need to be able to collect our visa from the Indonesian consulate in Darwin. We need to allow 6 weeks for processing it so we can pick it up in Darwin. At this stage we think we will submit the application when we first get to Cairns. We plan to be there a week for photocopying documents, provisioning and a final engine check by a good Gardner guy up there.

19 June 2005

Here we are motoring  alongside the southern end of Ribbon Reef 8 on our way to Ribbon Reef 9 for a night or two before the Cod Hole, Dynamite Pass and Lizard Island. The day is sunny - 28 degrees - with a 12 knot ENE blowing. There is no swell or waves because the reef blocks it. To starboard a bit over a mile away we can see the edge of the reef marked by a bright white line of capuccino froth wave break.  As we go past each pass in the ribbons, we are in swell for perhaps a mile until we are behind the next reef.

The water is that dark crystal blue that feels like you could see the bottom if you stopped. This morning we have had a large pod of maybe thirty dolphins alter course to jump and muck around in our bow wave for half an hour. Though last evening at anchor at Ribbon Reef Five they were jumping vertically and doing half a dozen speedy barrel rolls before belly flopping into the water.

For dinner tonight we are having Thai fish cakes (made with the last of our mackerel catch from a couple of days ago) with cucumber salad and Pad Thai noodles. There is something about saying that that seems to demonstrate vividly just how good we've got it and how decadent - not just the privilege of being at the outer Barrier Reef, but eating from the best restaurant in town too.

Funny, but it was only after leaving Cairns a few days ago, that we felt our cruise had begun. Much of the last month has felt like making distance. We have had a loose deadline to get to Cairns around 14 June, leaving on the 21st, giving us about 5 weeks to get to Darwin with plenty of time to leave in the first week of August. But by hurrying to Mourilyan Harbour we caught up with Graham and Val on Silver Heels and really had no reason to stay there, so motored to Cairns a week early.

We've now had our injections - Typhoid, Hep A, Tetanus; our CAIT is organised through Kustajorno in Jakarta (details below); the engine has been serviced; we've done a big provision for across the top; and lots of other stuff to put our affairs in order before running away from home for a few years. We had lists on our lists and got them all done, although, inevitably, there have been a few outstanding phonecalls (which lead to tasks) that we made while we still had phone signal at Double Island (just north of Cairns) and Low Isles - the last mobile phone signal for us (with GSM digital) until Gove. But We can (and will) use the public phone at the research station at Lizard Island before we get there. (Those with CDMA can get reception at Cape York but not Gove).

We have already started more "To Do" lists each one headed "Lizard Island" or "Gove" or "Darwin". Belatedly we have started to consider getting a satellite phone as we may be able to get the rural business subsidy we think ($1500 on a $2000 phone) and Graham can buy 700 hours of phonecalls for $500 on EBAY. So that may be worth having for emergency use only - but one more thing to organise between here and Darwin.

Once we leave Australia we won't have mobile phone. We plan to use email from internet cafes and public phones when a phone call is necessary. Once we reach somewhere where we will be staying for a period of time we will investigate getting a SIM card, prepaid, or something, although it's likely overseas calls will be expensive and therefore not feasible except rarely.

We also started to compile word lists and flash cards for practising our Bahasa Indonesia just before Mourilyan - will have to get back to that now that we have time again after leaving Cairns.

Every morning we listen to the HR radio weather at 7.30 am, our own weather zones - Torres Strait to Cooktown and Cooktown to Cardwell - as well as what's happening in the Gulf. When that finishes we change channels to SheilahNet on 8161 at 8 am to listen in to where all the Americans are in the first wave of boats which will head to Kupang in the rally.

Yesterday we left Graham and Val at Hope Islets to head for Ribbon Reef 2. They are having a lay day - not enough wind for their liking. Halfway there we changed our minds and decided to head for RR5. (For some reason we thought it was the better anchorage, but had mixed them up. RR5 is good but a few more bommies to snag the fishing line. And we didn't catch any fish.)

25 June 2005

So much has happened since I last wrote as we were steaming towards Ribbon Reef 9 from Ribbon Reef 5. For a start the weather just kept getting calmer and calmer, until we had glass out conditions for a couple of days. Fortunately we had been to the anchorages before, because the combination of mirror calm water, where you can't differentiate the sea from the sky and slight cloud cover, meant the bommies were impossible to see until you were almost right on top of them. At one stage, at No Name Reef with a lowish tide, we were watching for slight breaks as the only signal of where the bommies might be. Being able to drive from the cabin top is essential.... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The ribbon reef anchorages look on the chart to be on the actual reef but in fact you are over sand with only scattered bommies. You need to sight your way in but in the afternoon, the sun is behind you and then in the morning when you are coming out, the sun is behind you again. Some of the reefs have more sand and fewer bommies and others have more bommies and less sand. The first sort are the best of course. Once you are out of each "reef" as drawn on the chart, though, it is a clear "north-south" run alongside the ribbons.

We dropped anchor at Ribbon Reef 9  at 1.20pm in 5 metres. Our log records that "the water is aquamarine, glowing in the sunlight." What's more it called out to us, "Have a swim. Have a swim." We promptly heeded the call. I even donned my scuba gear for another little practice in shallow water and swam around a couple of bommies. I'm getting more confident and seem able to equalise my ears - at those depths at least.

About 5pm that evening we noticed a dark shadow swimming around at the back of the boat. It was starting to get dark and a breeze rippled the water making it difficult to see right down. But even as it got darker, we could make out a huge groper/cod. At first we tried to feed him some bread, though he was less than interested. He even turned up his nose at small bits of fish we planned to use as bait. No, he was clearly after something better. Later that night, while trying to fish for Spangled Emperor, we learnt his trick.

Our log records, "Half moon. Enough ambient light for dinner sans lights, candles anything." In fact we could see Mr Cod any time he emerged from his new home under our boat. Which he did, in a lazy sort of a fashion, every time we caught a fish. In a lazy sort of a fashion he stole our fish, broke our lines and even trashed one of our reels when we dared to try to retrieve our prey. No luck for us. Mr Cod won every time.

The next morning we awoke to a sunny morning with not a breath of wind. We could see every yabby hole on the bottom, every sand trail, schools of black Surgeon fish and bloody big Spangled Emperors cruising around foraging. But throw a line in, get a fish and Mr Cod was there saying "Thank you". He didn't get that big by holding back.

So we decided the best thing to do was jump in with him. He was about a metre long, grey with darkish bars and white spots. He looked like the ones I've seen at the Cod Hole but they were hiding under ledges. Fortunately he kept his distance - his mouth looked awfully big. In clear clear water over sand and with sun shining I could swim with anyone!

After picking our way out of Ribbon Reef 9, we tied the dinghy to the port stabiliser arm to give us more room to put out two trolling lines. Philip has acquired a blue "bibless minnow" which the fishing experts tell us is right for the speed of our boat and won't just skim along the surface. This he attached to his game rod and we decided to put this out as well as our spoon lure on wire trace, which is on venetian blind cord, held a few metres below the surface by a paravane.

We were roughly heading for the Cod Hole to snorkel or Yonge Reef to anchor overnight and snorkel tomorrow, with a bit of bottom fishing when we get to a good looking shallow. With the new Great Barrier Reef Marine Park green (no fishing) zones which came in last year (and which we have as an overlay on our PC based nav program), you have to know when you can put your line in and when to pull it out.

Not long before pulling the lines out for a green zone, Philip's rod produced a loud enough ZZZZZZZZ to have Philip sprinting to the cockpit, me slowing the revs and putting the engine out of gear. A big enough pull that Philip could hardly get the rod from the rod holder, let alone stop the line from reaming out. Suddenly no pull. Had we lost all our gear. Some fast reeling revealed we still had the lure but with bent hooks and now sporting some nasty looking teeth marks.

At 2.10pm with both lines taken in we decided to make for an interesting looking 15 metre patch for a fish. Still less than 5 knots of wind from the SW and 28.7 degrees (C) we altered course slightly. The water was dark blue but crystal clear. Saw a white thing about 30' feet from the boat in line with our stabiliser arm. Looked like a large plastic bag under the water but was moving as fast as us. We went up on the roof for a better look. No plastic bag - this was a Minke Whale, a pod of which had been reported near the reef. As had been suggested, we went out of gear and, on cue, two 30' adults and a smaller whale came right up to the boat, circling it, diving under it two metres from our hull.

With dark grey backs and very curved dorsal fins, they had white on their bodies around their flukes. They seemed to behave differently from the Humpbacks we have seen (but only from a distance) before. Apart from being seemingly keen to check us out at close quarters, they didn't seem to do the big blow like the Humpbacks. And they seemed to stick their snouts up out of the water to look at us.

And they were in no hurry to go away. After a while Philip got in the water with them while I took a whole roll of film from the security of the boat. People go on about whales, even pay good money to go out on a boat to see them. But to tell the truth, I've never wanted to have giant animals hanging around our boat, especially ones that can be and have been responsible for sinking them. But seeing the Minkes so close was an experience I'll never forget.

Eventually we moved on to our chosen fishing spot and dropped our lines over. At a good reef fishing spot you get a bite almost immediately. Fortunately, because as you drift, if you haven't caught anything you snag on the coral. No bites here. But suddenly...our friends the whales are back, their flukes nearly catching our lines. They stuck their heads up for a look with a twinkle in their eyes. I'm sure they wanted to play.

But it was getting late. We needed to hop it to get to Yonge Reef while there was still enough light to pick our way in in the still glassy conditions.

Yonge Reef is just north of the Cod Hole (at the top end of Ribbon Reef 10) and No Name Reef (a wedge of reef that stops up the pass between RR 10 and Cormorant Reef). It's not a diving spot, but a secure nighttime anchorage for getting to the dive spots the next day. It's also a yellow zone so we reckoned we should catch some fish, which had been sadly lacking the last few days. We anchored in "crystal, aquamarine water" in 5m at 4.25pm, this anchorage a bit rubbly but too late to search for a sandier spot. (We discovered the next day that, just a bit deeper to the west in 8m was the place to be.) No fish though - our lines kept breaking. Unfortunately, because we hadn't reef fished further south this year, we hadn't realised that our lines were stretched/sun affected/whatever, but, in any case, so weak that we could break them by hand.

On 21 June at 11.30 am we picked up a mooring at Cormorant Reef, after trying hard to catch a mackerel outside the green zone. No luck. Possibly too late in the day.

Although no more than half tide the reef was already showing in places, so our attempt to snorkel over the reef to Dynamite Pass wasn't successful. But WOW! You should see colour of the corals on the wall inside the reef. I always say that, I know - I love it. I can hear my own slow breathing and I feel like I could stay there forever.

The fish are super bright. Little orange clown fish in their own anenomes have a white stripe that glows discotheque violet, those clouds of tiny electric blue/green fish manage to stand out from each other by colour alone. The Surf Parrot Fishes and other Tusk Fish in bright oranges and maroons and the Chinese Footballer Trout in its yellow black and white striped jersey.

Then we discovered another Cod - just like Mr Cod back at RR9, but a little more curious. As we turned from one end of the wall to start swimming back along it in the direction of the boat we became aware that he was following us. He kept well back, but each time we looked around and down there he was. Philip got a couple of photos, finally signalling to me to stop swimming so he could get a shot with me and the Cod both in the frame. Well that was it for Mr Cod. "Chow's Up!".  As soon as I stopped he decided he came in close for the food he knew I had. Too close for me though. Philip's shot of the two of us was legs, arms and flippers as I kicked him away.

As we made for Lizard Island we spoke to the Silver Heelers to invite them for Philip's birthday tea that night, a day early. We knew they had already been at Lizard a day or two and that good wind was predicted for the next day and that they would want to be on it. We trolled our spoon, catching a large Green Job Fish soon after leaving the reef. At last.

The next day, anchored at Lizard Island, a large high pressure down south formed a ridge up the Qld coast (as the weathermen say) and the sou'easters started blowing again. How lucky were we to have been allowed to enjoy the reef in perfect conditions?

25 June 2005

Today we left Lizard. The strong wind warning for this area has been cancelled, but, before we heard that Philip felt that it hadn't been blowing as hard last night. (He uses the awning flap technique. As we lie in bed we can hear the awning above our hatch flogging on the hatch lid. Last night it was more of a regular tap than a flog and a whine ie the wind had dropped from 25+ to 18-20).

Our few days there was lazy and enjoyable. Yesterday we walked over to the lagoon and then around the island to the research station and then continued around the island past the resort back to our dinghy - for 4 hours! Each time we passed a phone we tried to ring an excavator on Russell Island who promised to give us a quote to part clear our block there. No luck though - his answering machine was on. So the next opportunity will be Gove.

And then last night we went ashore for sundowners, meeting almost all the other eight boats there plus the campers. Everybody enjoyed it and we discovered several other boats going to SE Asia not in the rally.

After leaving Lizard this morning with steep 1.5m seas on our beam and winds 22, gusting 26, we altered course for the north side of Howick Island (rather than the south side) and now have a very comfortable ride with almost following seas and the portside stabiliser in the water. At times I think the wind has dropped off but a glance at the wind speed gauge just now tells me it is varying between 22 and 27 (exactly what is predicted for at least the next 4 days).

Part of our thinking in leaving today in not ideal conditions is that there is another High pressure in the Great Australian Bight following this one in the Tasman Sea so we probably won't get much respite from strongish wind before the second one goes through. We are hoping that after the second one goes through there might be a break. We would like to be at Torres Strait, ready to take advantage of any lull to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria.

That's the cunning plan anyway.

1 July 2005

It's 7.05 am and we've been motoring for a bit more than a couple of hours, an early start to get us to the Escape River in time for the rising tide to enter, or, if we feel like going on, to give us a favourable flow through Albany Passage. We are making 7.6 knots at 1130 RPM this morning, though we have had favourable current ever since leaving Cairns, often hitting 7.8 to 8 knots. (1130 RPM should give us 7 knots in flat water.) Looking on the chart, at this time of year that is perfectly consistent.

Dawn was grey. If we weren't having such a comfortable trip with following seas in less than twenty knot winds I'd be tempted to say it was an ugly day, with bleak grey skies and cold grey/green water. In fact it's 26.5 degrees (C) and humid. With mostly cloudy skies and salty wind blowing up our clacker (and into our cabin) since Dunk Island, everything feels damp and clammy. Don't know if our settee covers will ever be the same again.

(Actually that's one disadvantage with a motor boat, where you drive from inside. To keep cool, you have windows and/or doors open, bringing salty air directly into your living space, electronics etc. Ironically, on a sailing boat where the people are outside, the interior of the boat and electronics are protected. Belatedly I have thought of having fans and covering the settees with towels etc. Doh!)

We are on our way to either the Escape River (65nm) or to continue on through the Albany Passage past Somerset to an anchorage at the tip of Cape York. We'll see how we feel and if the weather is predicted to blow up. If the wind is to become stronger sooner we will be better off around the corner in the lee of Cape York.

Today is Friday and the weather reports on the HF for the Gulf right across to the east coast of Qld have been telling of a new high over central Australia moving east which is to bring strengthening winds by the weekend. At this stage though it's still predicted to be under thirty knots.

It's really important to pick the tidal current right for the trip through Albany Passage. Very narrow, the water rips through like a jetstream and the trip can be either ripsnortingly fast or agonisingly slow.

We left Margaret Bay this morning after a relaxing couple of days there with Silverheels, doing a few jobs and exploring the long white beach. I was fascinated with  the millions of brown slender starfish, constantly on the move towards the sea as the tide went down, apparently to try to stay in about 2" of water. As soon as the tide got away from them and they were exposed, they immediately set about burying themselves in the sand. We walked miles of beach and between the edge of the water and high tide were millions of starfish impressions in the sand, as though a kid had been let loose with a potato cut stamp.

With limitless potential, we decided we'd finish our walk at "that big log up there". Our "log" turned out to be the wreck of a plane, aluminium frame, wings and prop still intact, now the home of a thousand oysters. From its shape (not designed for passengers), the look of the cockpit coaming  and the galvanised rope and pulley which worked the wing flap, we surmised that it may have been a WWII fighter. Hope we can find out.

The "Emu Bay" mothership barge anchored in the bay while we were there and fueled up a couple of trawlers who bought 15,000 litres each. We were able to buy 500 litres (just to be sure..), tied up to their stern while a hose delivered the fuel so quickly the deckie almost gave us too much. The skipper came aboard Lifeline for a look and we went aboard Emu Bay to pay, picking up their fortnightly schedule at the same time. The crew work two weeks on and three days off. Luckily for the skipper, Paul, his partner, Angie is his deckie so they work the same shifts.

Philip was also given a kilo and a half of prawns while chatting to one of the trawler skippers on a new boat. Lifeline was converted by the same shipwright who had fitted out his boat and the engineer who had built his steel hull was the same person who had made several of the fittings on our boat and a mutual friend.

We and Graham and Val ate well that night. Garlic prawns to Graham's secret recipe, cooked on our BBQ in cast iron pots. And Val forced us to eat fresh tuna sushi with soy, wasabi and pickled ginger as an entree. I hate roughing it.

For the record, after we left Lizard Island we anchored behind Cape Melville (64nm) that night. We'd caught a small school mackerel, which we barbecued whole.

From Cape Melville we went to Morris Island, a 76nm trip. We caught a 120cm Spanish Mackerel - our largest fish yet - and I had to butcher and fillet him straight away just to be able to get him in the fridge. He became soused fish, grilled cutlets, red fish curry, 2 lunches of mackerel sandwiches and was destined for fish cakes until we decided we didn't have room in the fridge or the inclination to eat more fish, at which time the few remaining bits went over the side. There's not much point in freezing mackerel as we can get a fresh one at any time it seems. But I couldn't resist filleting and freezing three beautiful thick white medallions for eating later when we're in the mood.

Lloyd Bay was our next overnight anchorage - mouth of the Lockart River and only 45nm. And from Lloyd Bay we steamed to Margaret Bay, catching up with Silverheels as we went.

Have I had a whinge yet about salty, clammy settees, clothes, even the damn steering wheel? Whoops! Yes I see I have. How about the continually wet carpet in the cockpit from the occasional wave that flops in the scuppers from the side and the slight showers we've had. I can't get my feet dry. GRRRR. I don't know whether I should start worrying about salt water boils and jock itch yet or not!

I forgot to say we gave each other haircuts at Lizard Island. The skipper pronounced that he was "over" long hair - once the sign of middle aged freedom from work and rebellion against societal dictates. He's not quite back to being a short back and sides boy (I left a couple of ringlets on his forehead) but now sports a Julius Caesar - a ring of dark curls encircling a thinner greyer patch on the crown of his head.

And as for me, I've suddenly got wavy hair, after fifty years of being dead straight. It just goes to show what a good hairdresser can achieve with the right cut. (Philippe says he was going for the Melanie Griffiths layered look....) I'm also a lot darker, all my blond streaks having eaten the sand.

A report on our water usage. Philip dipped the tanks a couple of days ago and after two weeks since filling up in Cairns we had used between 200 and 300 litres ie 100 - 150 litres for two people per week ie  about 10 litres per person per day. At that rate our 1500 litres would last for 10 weeks or more. We are pretty happy with that as we haven't yet started to use salt water for washing up or showering.

Our new fridge is working out well too. When we left Cairns stocked up with fresh produce, most of it went into it, wrapped and in Rob's Longlife bags, with the temperature setting at its highest. This may be the optimum temperature or maybe it was just that everything didn't get squashed in the inevitable jostle for space in the bottom of our regular fridge, but most stuff seems to be lasting well. In recent trips stuff hasn't been doing so well in our main fridge. After me accusing Philip of squashing it under his beer and him accusing me of not being vigilant with re-wrapping it when the wrappings became damp (both true) this year I stuck a thermometer in it. 8 - 9 degrees in the coldest part. Not cold enough.

Philip drilled a couple more larger holes in the wall between the freezer and the fridge, down low, to allow more cold air to leak across and we managed to drop the temperature to 5 - 6.

The almost constant thick blanket of cloud has given our electrical system a challenge. In spite of motoring a lot most days, as soon as we stop for any time eg Lizard Island, our solar panels can't keep up with our power needs. This year, for the first time in four years of cruising, we have had to run our main engine several times to prevent our batteries from falling to too low a level of charge, lowering their life expectancy. We've been watching the boats with wind generators with envy and interest.

Finally, our day tank has proved invaluable in estimating our fuel usage between fillups. Every few days as required Philip pumps it up to about 320 0r 340 litres from whichever tank(s) he chooses according to trim. We read its level at the end of most trips, along with the engine hours, so we know how much in total we have used since Bundaberg (last fill up), total hours, amount used for each trip and the hours for each trip and we know the RPMs underway. We have been able to work out that we use: at 1000RPM (6kn) 7 litres/hr; 1150 RPM (7kn) 10 litres/hr.

8 July 2005

The sun is orange and just sitting on the horizon. We are 271 nm from Gove on our trip across the Gulf.

28 July 2005

Boy! That last entry was a long time ago. And we have had a few adventures since then. Let's see...the trip across the Gulf of Carpentaria was.....uneventful, except for the last 25 miles, where we had 30kn winds and 3 metre seas (on our beam of course). Luckily, in case we got strong wind we had steered a few degrees south of our course, which meant we could steer about 10 degrees more northerly when we got the blow. That put the sea a little behind the beam and made the boat a lot more comfortable. We only ever had one stabiliser in. It does seem true - the bigger the seas the better they work.

Gove  hadn't suffered from the March cyclone, though apparently some boats were sunk. Again the town reminded us vaguely of a university campus in parts. With the prettiest sailing club on the coast. We thought it would be quite good for provisioning, though expensive, as they have a Woolworths and an IGA supermarket, which ought to have routines for fresh food handling. We bought a couple of things there, some carrots and potatoes, which are still lasting fine, whereas the lemon I bought in Seisia was mildewing within a few days. All in all though, I think our strategy of stocking up in Cairns is the best one.

Apart from Wigton Island in the English Company Group and our anchorage at Wessel Island, the Northern Territory coast didn't impress us much in any way. Except for the fishing, which we'd have to say is outstanding.

At Wigton we had a lovely small bay with a coral outcrop to one end, blue/green (Whitsundays) water and a pretty sandy beach, complete with a set of crocodile tracks up and back from the water. Fishing from our dinghy for an hour we caught 2 large Coral Trout and two Sweetlip. The next day, to see if we could provide dinner for our fellow travellers (or whether the day before had been just a fluke) we fished again for half an hour, and caught an even bigger Coral Trout and a 60 cm Red Emperor.

We went through the Hole in the Wall on a lazy sunny day with little wind and no sea, ambling along at 900 RPM all the way and striking a slight tide against us through the passage.

About the time we reached Wessel Island, what must have been a record High Pressure cell started to pass over Australia. Listening to the HF weather forecasts it seemed to affect the weather all around Australia, with gales down south and SE Queensland and strong wind everywhere else. And they kept on saying day after day that it was going to continue.

We ended up leaving Wessel for Elcho Island, even though it was a strong wind warning, as we had protection from the islands all the way.

With protection from the land we were able to travel every day without too much discomfort.

Queenfish  Queenfish caught on the way into Darwin.

25 July 2005

And so to Darwin, where we spent 3 weeks doing all our last minutes chores, stocking up, clearing out, visiting the Weather Bureau etc

We were very lucky in Darwin. First, that we chose to dock at Tipperary Waters marina instead of Cullen Bay. Small and very friendly and lots of characters. It’s closer to all the chandlers, marine businesses, bus stops and walkable to town. We used our bikes a lot. Also only a couple of hundred metres from the Dinah Beach Cruising Club – a Darwin institution, based in an open sided “shelter shed/bar”. Tipperary is less than two thirds the price of Cullen Bay too. We were able to shop around for fuel and have it brought by truck to their lock on our way out, instead of having to buy it from a marina supplier.


Entering the lock at Tipperary Marina, Darwin.

Second, that we met lots of people at the marina who had just come back from or were just on the way to Indonesia. Tipperary is a bit like RQYS - M finger for info and software exchange. We picked up lots of good tips and I think Philip has at last become excited at the prospect of Indonesia and interacting with the locals. An email from a couple who were in Indo with the rally which got passed around the dock, raved about the crystal clear water etc and also said they had traded away all their stuff (and they had only got as far as Flores). They said the hot trading/gift item was swim goggles. It was Philip in K-Mart, when we found a supply of them at $1.97 a pair who said “we should buy plenty of these. Such a small thing but so valuable to them..” I think we bought most of their stock.

  Third, there is no third. ....Yes there is - Mindil markets. Like a taste of Asia before you get there. And all the other markets for that matter....we just liked Darwin. Three weeks was just enough time to get our chores done, without killing ourselves, and enjoy the ambience of the place (and drink beers). We were ready to get going when the time came though.

  For anyone planning a cruise to Indo in the near future, I couldn’t recommend our CAIT (cruising permit) agent highly enough. He/she was quick, communicative, experienced and we were able to do it all by email from internet cafes on the Qld coast. I’ve saved all my emails and records if anyone wants copies.

We filled our diesel tanks to the brim with duty free fuel (80c/L) even though we know it is cheaper in Indonesia. We wanted to be able to travel straight through to Singapore without re-fuelling if necessary. I also did my usual "shop for 4 weeks fresh stuff and 3 mths dry goods" that we usually leave Brisbane with at the beginning of the season. We figured that we were probably going to be eating out all the time when we got to Indonesia but better to be safe than sorry. (**Anyone contemplating cruising to Indonesia via southern Moluku like we did would be wise to carry lots of food. Eating out doesn't exist and the produce at the markets is very poor or nonexistent. See my list of what to buy in Oz and what's available in Indonesia.)

boat Lifeline leaving the lock at Tipperary Marina.

  Return to Cruise Log Menu