C. Wessel to Darwin - Sat-Mon 11th-13thAug07 Photo: An overnight deck catch!

Saturday
Soon after sunset yesterday, we passed 9 mls north of Cape Wessel, marking the end of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The lighthouse was clearly seen, flashing every 4 secs. Hopefully, the swell that has built up may gradually abate as we move into the lee of the chain of islands with C. Wessel at their northernmost point.

Yet again, today started grey & overcast, despite a lovely clear, starry sky around midnight, but it cleared up nicely by mid-morning, becoming a pleasant, sunny day of good enjoyable tradewind sailing. I'd left the genoa poled out overnight, but eventually had to take it down during the morning and we're now broad reaching at around 6-6.5 knots.

More sitting reading in the cockpit, after domestic duties seen to and yet another thoroughly unsuccessful couple of hours spent trying to connect in for weather & emails via the SSB radio - so frustrating! I managed a short connection last evening, long enough to post a 'blog' & see that messages were waiting, but then it gave up... & nothing since. Will try again around sunset today.. I might have also managed to post yesterday's position report with a fleeting connection this morning - but I'm
not sure.

Sunday
What a beautiful sunrise in a clear, clear sky...! We'd just changed course slightly to round Bramble Rocks - whoever named those must have known the Solent just north of Cowes...!! We're now headed to Cape Croker and will then continue to make regular course adjustments as we come around the Coburg Peninsula & then S between Melville Island & the peninsula towards Darwin, hoping to arrive tomorrow morning.
The wind died in the afternoon & what little there was backed to E & then NE... had to motor to be sure of a good arrival time, but hoping wind will get up later so we can sail overnight. 3 large dolphins came by in the vivid pale blue water (shallow all around here). Nice to see them, as always, but they didn't stay long.
Coburg Peninsula is very flat & low .... can just see it in the distance. Feels very remote here - have seen no sign of other life since leaving the Torres Strait - dolphins & occasional birds apart!
Later: The wind suddenly died more & swung to SSW (all of 3knots!) - dead ahead... so much for sailing! ... but the sunset was lovely (no green flash!).

Overnight & in to Monday:
It's pitch black outside, apart from millions of stars - no lights on either shore each side of this wide but full-of-shoals channel.... utterly dependent on my electronic charting & GPS for course-keeping- feels very uncomfortable.... Even staying awake all night to keep an eye on depth wouldn't help much... if it unexpectedly shoaled suddenly, I wouldn't be at all sure which way to head... Added to which, we're struggling to make 4 knots over the ground under motor - tide of nearly 3 knots against
us! It's going to be a long night...
Later: Actually, things turned out slightly better than I'd thought - there were the occasional lit, channel markers beside or on shoal areas - but they were few & far between and there was such a strong (foul) ebb current & almost no wind....Coming through the long Howard Channel between the Vernon Islands - 7.9kn boatspeed (motoring hard!), 2.4kn over the ground.... tried to go over to opposite side of channel in hope that the current would be less, but while that helped a bit, not much... good
thing the engine & steering are both working fine!! Wind is about 3 kn from astern!!

Well, the strong ebb tide kept up through to dawn but once out of the Howard Channel, its effect was far less. The day dawned sunny and eventually hot - made a nice change!!

I arranged to come in to the outer dock beside the lock gate in to Cullen Bay Marina - the worry here over green mussels means I have to be inspected by a Fisheries diver and liquid poured into various points and left for 14hrs (meaning overnight now) before I can enter the lock for access to the Cullen Bay Marina.

Being a springs ebb tide, the very low water level meant I had a slight problem coming in at about 0830. As I made my final approach towards the high stone breakwater, to a narrow gap between it and a green marker, the depth disappeared to 2m... but my draught is only 2m!! Hurried backing off... followed by a radio call to the lockmaster to confirm whether or not I should try again ... "just how much depth would you expect...?!". I cautiously tried a second, very slow approach (otherwise, I'd
have to drop the anchor & wait until early afternoon for more water), keeping as close as I dared to the stoney bank... depth went down to 3m for a bit... and then I was through.... a few anxious moments there!! I tied up and was lucky that another boat was just about to be inspected and dived on by Fisheries, so they were able to 'do' me at the same time, meaning I'd be able to enter the lock & get into the marina early Tuesday morning(as happened).

I suddenly realized that a radio interview with ABC 'Far North' (Cairns) was due to take place soon after, so I had to quickly rush off, hoping to find the relevant marina office to receive the phone call from the Producer, Juliana Doupe.... Robbie Standaloft was very friendly & accommodating, a 'boat-person' himself, naturally, and the ABC interview about my passage from Cairns to Darwin went well (being broadcast in the Tuesday morning show). An added bonus was that the recently-introduced, extremely
high, 'locking' fee was also waived - a very kind gesture & much appreciated - thank you, Robbie.

I then went in to Darwin city - a very pleasant place with some lovely, very large, old trees in several park areas... I found free Internet access in the beautiful airy Parliament building (!!!) which has a lovely view over the water. I'll stay here in Darwin for a bit while I get various things done over the next week or two (steering cable included!)... with some sightseeing & visiting, maybe.

Written by : Mike

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