Skippers log 3/2022: Thursday Island towards Kupang, Timor.
Monday 29th August.
Horn Island lays directly across Ellis’s channel from T.I. about a nautical mile and offers a little more shelter from the Tradewinds, which continue to blow at around the 20 to 25 knot mark. Provisioning in our ever faithful 3.8 metre Zodiac ‘Mr. Johnson’ was going to be a wet and tedious experience; we needed a fair swag of food as well, so it was going to require a few trips back and forth. Out of the blue literally arrives Jerome in a nice 5 metre ridged hull speed boat with a sixty horse Yammi on the back, asking if we needed a boat for a while,
‘erm Yes’, we reply in chorus, ‘that would be lovely’. ‘We have been expecting you guys for a day or two’ he replied. Jerome is the partner of Jane, who is part of the extensive Doepel family, cousin of Fred in Cairns who also helped us on our way. It sped up the exercise by about half a day and gave us all a chance to enjoy their hospitality with a cold beer later that day on their waterfront terrace, do a load of washing grab a shower. All the important things in life, thanks guys that was wonderful.
Embarkation the following afternoon saw us bring our compliment back up to 11 souls again. Alongside the Wasaga Pier the following morning to load fresh water and we are ready.
Normanby Sound is hastily cleared, running with wind and tide at 9 knots under square sail alone and we bid Thursday Island a warm farewell. Thank you and goodbye.
The passage plan was initially to lay Gove on the Arnhem land peninsula, but after passing Booby Island 15 miles west of T.I. it becomes evident that there is too much south in the wind. The sea is shallow in this part of the Gulf of Carpentaria, around 11 metres deep and choppy when the tide is against the wind direction. All good voyage plans are subject to change at short notice, so it’s Cape Wessel on the North tip of Marchinbar Island instead, a run of about 300 miles which we romped in in just over two days rounding the Cape just after dark and anchoring up in a windswept Two Island Bay at 2100 hours, our first open water passage since crossing Bass Strait.
Marchinbar Island is low, about 30 metres at this northern end, but the anchorages are superb with good holding, and relatively clear water. We awake to a lovely reddish rock bay with small cliffs and white sandy coves, sparsely vegetated and blowing the usual half a gale. We launch the boat and take a wander ashore it’s very hot and very dry. The vegetation fascinates with its ability to survive in this environment, we take a risk and sneak a swim off the sandy beach whilst one of us keeps lookout ahhhh the bliss this is one of the things we are really missing up here in these croc waters. We make for Elcho Island about 90 miles southwest, anchoring a couple of times on the way. Galiwinku is a large Indigenous community on the south westerly coast of this 50 kilometre long. After gaining permission to land we take a wander ashore. It’s strange to be surrounded by people again after a relatively short time where it’s just been the crew and deserted anchorages, there really is not many people living in this part of Australia. Cars drive around at what seems to be reckless speeds and folk on the street look at us. We wander up to the general store filled with fresh veggies and stand in the airconditioned aisles like cormorants on rocks. Ice cream is eaten, and cola is drunk. We also top up on our veggies, fresh lettuce and tomatoes an unexpected bonus. Outside the general store we meet an old man ‘David’ who was born and raised near our first anchorage on Marchinbar Island, he tells us of how as a young man, he was working as crew on the inter-island trading schooners, sailing general cargo from Darwin to these islands, how the Missions cleared the outlying island of indigenous communities and centralised them on Elcho Island for better or worse. It’s hard to imagine that in one man’s lifetime how much has changed, it’s also hard to envisage how people can live on these islands without modern infrastructure like power and water. Galiwinku is a bit of an eyeopener for me, growing up in white Australia is so far removed from First Nations life. It makes me feel uneducated and connected in reality only by this country we share.
Thursday 8th of September day 79 the log reads.
0845 anchor aweigh calm ……calm !!!! for the first time in weeks and weeks it’s not blowing. This is a taste of things to come, now that we are hugging the north coast of Arnhem Land the trades are further out at sea. We are treated to light sea breezes in the afternoon if we are lucky, so we are motoring to keep schedule still a few miles to go to make Darwin on the 15th.
Very shoaly shallow and inadequately surveyed reads the chart so we must take extra care,
Cape Stewart for a night and then on to South Goulburn Island a smaller community than Galiwinku and fortunately Arimbi one of our passengers on board, has a friend ashore, Kerry who is the primary school teacher. We visit her house and get some local knowledge and a nice lunch.
This is a different feel, this little island has single nation origin and is a smaller island community to boot it appears to be a well-functioning, certainly a less rubbish flying around in the air. We are wary of crocodiles as we cross a small creek which runs through the main village, we are shown around the school and realize that children of all ethnic origins have the joy of making things out of empty milk cartons. Later that day we meet back on-board Yukon for a refreshing deck shower and a cool drink, it’s hot, bloody hot, if I didn’t mention this before.
A traditional Danish built vessel also feels the heat, some of our seams in the deck houses are filled with pitch and they start to bubble in this heat, we always rig our awnings as soon as we take in sail, we also spend a lot of time watering our main decks with buckets of saltwater, this is good for the Swedish pine timber and stops them drying out, it also means you can walk on them in bare feet. You have to be careful to leave the tools you are using in the shade, otherwise you can’t pick them up. We have an elaborate system of air catching devices called coal sails or nuns, they are hoisted aloft with their small wings open and facing the breeze, the canvas pipe attached to them funnels breeze down below decks to make life a little better.
Darwin looms, a couple more anchorages Valentia Island and Seven Spirits Bay on the Coburg Peninsula and we round the famous light at Cape Don. The tide is helping us, 9 knots as we trundle along through the North Vernon Island Channel to enter the port of Darwin 0700 hours Wednesday the 14th of September. Darwin has big tides so the marina we have managed to find space in has a lock to maintain water levels. There is only one detail it’s 2 metres shorter than Yukon’s 24 m …solution is to remove our dingy davits down aft, this we do under way and whilst making way as time is critical to catch the last of the tide, to clear the mud banks just outside the marina lock gate. All done and on the final approach to the lock I place absolute faith in the lockmasters’ measurements, was it feet or metres? and park Yukon in the shoebox size hole in the wall. My brother Mike and his mate Ian are there to offer encouragement as we manage to just fit diagonally in to the first lock since the Panama Canal 11 years ago.
All well alongside freshwater, shore power, showers, and a local fish and chip called Frying Nemo, Welcome to Darwin. After the disembarkation party for our final charter guests, it’s time to get down to work and have a great bit of time with my mum Denise who has flown up from Adelaide and brother Michael who has driven up from Tennant Creek. After Darwin it’s off into the wide world so we thought this was a good chance to catch up. We looked at crocs and ate some good food and enjoyed some cool beverages together indulging in the luxury of Mike’s airconditioned vehicle.
We can now deregister as an Australian commercial vessel and re-register as a Danish pleasure craft, easier said than done, but done it is and on the 22nd of September the Danish flag is once again raised to the mizzen masthead for the first time in ten years we can now begin the final process of formalities for clearing out of Australian waters and into our next destination the land of Indonesia.
This process takes some time, in fact quite a bit of time and after multiple emails and multitudes of photos and data the feat is achieved on Friday the 7th of October. This delay has enabled us to explore and enjoy Australia’s northern capital with gusto. It’s a nice town a bit smaller than Hobart, but with a good vibe and a healthy arts scene. Ea, Kristopher, Aron and myself took a trip down to Litchfield National Park about a hundred kilometres south in a rental car and overnighted at the town of Rum Jungle. This amazing system of water holes and creeks are croc free at this time of year was a joy. We spent more time in the water than out.
This unforeseen delay has also enabled us to discover a problem with our new house batteries freshly installed in Franklin just prior to our departure, they have not been charging evenly due to a fault undetected at installation, so there will need to be 4 new batteries installed. Lucky for us the battery company has a branch in Darwin and the local man Brad, generously covers the material cost under warranty, thanks Brad. We take comfort in the deeper meaning of delay and the good nature of the locals. But we are keen to move on, two of our new voyage crew are forced to fly back to their perspective homes due to time restrictions.
Then we were 7… Peter who has joined us here in Darwin is doing the whole trip to Strynø, Michael who started with us in Franklin, also a whole voyager, our trusty first mate Greg and we four make up the crew. We work in the relative cool of the morning and try to knock off at noon.
It’s hotter in the sheltered marina and it feels like Yukon is floating in a bowl of hot soup phew! We borrow a fan from my brother’s mate Ian, who lives just around the corner, about 2 feet in diameter it sits on the forward cabin and blows cool air on us while we sit and have our meals and coffee. I can’t help but think how traditional architecture with its shaded open verandas and lack of air conditioning is relevant.
Customs clear us out at 1530 on the 7th of October so it’s all go. Clear the lock, reassemble the davits, bunker diesel at Cullen Bay and off into the sunset, clearing to open sea before nightfall. The Timor Sea that greets us is calm as a millpond, with very light variable winds enabling us to set all fore and aft sails, they help a little bit with fuel economy and dampen any rolling, but most importantly in this case they provide shade. The passage toward the western tip of Timor is uneventful and we motored the whole way, until we were caught in a cracker off a thunderstorm about 30 miles southeast of Timor. Up until now the daily build-up of thunder and lightning had for us been fairly innocuous, but this fellow had a bit more grunt, we handed all sail apart from our Jib shut all hatches and skylights, put raingear on, or took clothes off a personal choice and braced for impact. It was amazing how quickly the placid sea whipped up to a wind wave of a metre or so, gusting 40 knots with more rain than we had had in weeks, we rode the micro tempest at 7 knots surrounded by continuous lightning in the otherwise pitch dark. The naked torsos of enthusiastic washers see momentarily clutching shampoo bottles on the foredeck in the flashing light, it was a case of hang on for dear life and sound personal hygiene.
Dawn brought us a vision of a new culture, the channel between Roti Island and Timor filled with small fishing vessels, some with seemingly exhaustless motors popping away, long lean hulls of timber making good speed, it gladdens the boatbuilders heart. We anchor at 0835 at Kupang, apparently right near the old harbour where Capt. Bligh ended his epic long boat voyage. The city is fascinating myriads of streets some chokoblok with scooters and trucks with enormous airhorns droning, other quiet and shady with roosters and chooks clucking away. It’s a fairly old town with some reasonable examples of Dutch and Timorese architecture, quite a few hidden gems. I got to see a fair swag of Kupang from the back seat of a taxi, whose driver knew no fear, as we drove the many kilometres between government departments with 500 photocopies of every document we own in hand. This highly scientific process frequently accompanied by the delicate sound of a rubber stamp could not have been done without the help of our agent Francis, it took two days punctuated with good lunches at the 999-restaurant overlooking the anchorage.
All this achieved with a good belly of Mae Goring and a cold Bintang beer, we were declared fit for travel in this fantastic archipelago of Indonesia.
Kind regards David Nash.