21/08/2015 = Halfway to Darwin

When we left Cairns on Sunday morning our planned trip was a non-stop, rather zig-zag distance of 1022 nM. The predominant winds should be established SE trades in the 15-25 knot range allowing for a fast sail and there are two tidal gates to get right. At midnight Thursday we had sailed 622 miles but we are actually more than halfway there because we have had a lot of help from the tide. We had celebratory steak and chips for a slightly early halfway celebration on Wednesday evening because it felt like halfway having rounded Cape York and navigated through the Endeavour Straight. That was the plan, now for some detail. The first few days of the trip, from Cairns to Cape York, were in the protected waters within the Great Barrier Reef however there isn’t just one reef! The inshore waters are dotted with reefs, shoal areas and islands and you have to pick your way through them. The shipping routes show up very clearly on the Navionics charts on the i-pads, rather less clearly on the new C-map chart on the plotter because the whole area is overlaid by the different National Park designations. At times the channel was less than a mile wide but fortunately there wasn’t a lot of shipping to share it with, however it did mean the on watch crew didn’t have time to write a log. (Excuses, excuses, excuses I hear you say.) The main problem was that many of the legs between waypoints were between 6 and 12 miles long, the odd one of 30 miles was a welcome rest. We had everything from wind on the beam, dead behind and rather too close on the nose, it made for frequent sail trimming and gybing under control, it was also mainly in the 20-25 knot range so rapid progress was made. We had a lull in the wind on Tuesday morning so motored for 5 hours as we wanted to reach Cape York by midday Wednesday. Part of the plan was ‘non-stop’, but there are also tidal gates. Three other World ARC boats were anchored overnight in the Escape River, about 20 miles from Cape York, so we nosed our way in and anchored at about 0815 ready to join the others when they left just before 0900. The trip up to the Albany Pass, a narrow passage between the mainland and Albany Island impassable for ships, was quick and I think we all had reefed mainsails! We got the timing right and carried the tide all the way through the Endeavour Passage into the Gulf of Carpentaria. We also shook out the reefs by about 1600, possibly a mistake! It was a relief to change to a new waypoint about 300 miles away. The Gulf of Carpentaria was no longer sheltered by the Barrier Reef, the wind built and John had sustained 30 knot winds for part of his first night watch. When I came on watch at 2300 we dropped two reefs into the mainsail, he had already rolled away most of the poled out genoa. Oh, and I should have mentioned that the wind followed us around Cape York and was from straight behind. 30 knots, sails out wing and wing, too much sail up and big rolly seas are a recipe for disaster, an accidental gybe waiting to happen. Fortunately when the wind got behind the reefed mainsail on one very big roll the gybe preventer held and John shot back up on deck to gybe the sail back. Again we made rapid though rather uncomfortable progress. Thursday was a very different day. To start with there was far less tidal flow, great when it is against you but disappointing when it is with you. Secondly the wind started to moderate, more often in the 15-20 knot range though we kept the reefs in the main but let out most of the genoa. Finally, about mid-afternoon, the seas calmed quite significantly. There is still some rock and roll but there are no more white capped 1.5-2 metre waves hurling themselves at us. We are now going frustratingly slowly as the wind has dropped a bit more. However it is still straight behind us, if we alter course to bring the wind over the port quarter (rear nearside corner for UK car drivers) we will head into the Gulf and have to gybe round to work our way back out on the other gybe. This raises the thorny problem: is it better to tack downwind, gybing from time to time, covering a greater distance but at a faster speed or should you firmly attach a preventer, pole out the genoa and just aim straight? We have opted for the latter strategy. Perhaps we should have installed our second genoa then we could fly downwind with no mainsail to worry about. The downside of that sail plan is that there is the possibility of chafe and sail damage when you have to fly them lying against each other at any other point of sail. It would have been a nightmare on the passage to Cape York. We are well but frustrated by the total lack of 3G, even within sight of the coast. Most of Australia has no cell coverage as most has no people (= customers). The passenger we discovered on Monday evening didn’t carry a cell phone. A large seabird with an evil looking pale blue beak and pale blue legs , possibly a Blue footed Booby, was sitting next to a winch just behind the helmsman’s seat. It stayed there until dawn, unfazed by flash photography, then flew away. Tuesday night a more timid bird of similar size hitched a lift sitting on the solar panels, He flew off as the camera flashed. We would love to hear how Chloe did in her GCSEs, please. Joyce

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