d 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490 Najad 490
3rd Report for 2006:
Australia, from Cairns to Darwin and the Ashmore Reef
(September 6th-October 20th)
original plans for Australia had been for a much longer stay. We would have
sailed further south to maybe Brisbane and after a break at home explored
Australia by car and plane and eventually sailed up the coast again to get
through Torres Strait to the Indian Ocean as soon as the cyclone season is
long cyclone season however, was the main problem with this plan as one cannot safely pass
around the northern tip of Australia before May and consequently we would have had to skip
visiting Asian countries, or add another year to the voyage.
Mahi-Mahi, who had similar plans as us, started the discussion and after considering
all factors we altered our plans while in Vanuatu. Alternative choices were to
skip Australia all together and sail via the Philippines, or sail through the
Louisiades, then Torres Strait and only visit Australia in Darwin.
In the end we chose to sail to Cairns in Australia, so that we would have a good stretch of the Great Barrier Reef to explore.
had been warned about much red tape and hassle when entering Australia, but had
one of the swiftest and friendliest clearing procedure in a while.
also turned out a really nice place. While it is a tourist center in the tropical
part of Australia, it also offers all services and supplies. It has a nice
marina, right next to the public beach front. This public beach front has a
huge open, public pool and several gas powered barbeque sites, just to use as
you like and all for free and all super clean and well maintained.
had an anchor and a spinnaker to repair and a water pump to replace, and it was
all done very quick and very well, so that we could have left Cairns within the 5
days we had planned. But the place was so nice, we stood twice as long!
Eventually we took off for a fantastic sail north to Low Island, the place were Australian hero Steve Irwin had been killed by a sting ray, just two weeks earlier. Low Island is a little lighthouse island with an adjacent somewhat bigger island that cannot be visited during bird nesting season. But the real Low Island sees 2000 visitors a day! All those come by day trip boats, the first around 10am and the last leave by 4 pm. At other times the island is all yours, except for the staff of the small research station and so we had two nice visits there before we moved on.
left Low Island shortly after midnight to follow Mahi-Mahi who had sailed by a
couple hours earlier coming from Cairns, and wanted to anchor at one of the outer reefs for diving.
We had some 90 miles to go to Ribbon Reef #9. Sailing inside the Great Barrier
Reef, even at night turned out less challenging than expected. Around the inside
shipping lanes, the charts are spot on and very accurate, and traffic is modest
and easy to deal with. Other areas are charted to various levels of accuracy and
reliability, but the chart legend tells you when and how it was surveyed. Near
the outer rim, surveys are less detailed and it is advisable to move there
only was it easy sailing inside the Great Barrier Reef, the fishing seemed good
aswell as we cought a nice big Wahoo.
reported poor anchorage at Ribbon #8 and that they would go on to #9, and
so we followed and anchored there at 2pm. We had some really nice diving before
weighing anchor the next day to move on to the famous Lizard Island.
Island is the one place that every Aussie that you ask about anchorages behind
the Great Barrier Reef ravels about. It is indeed a very beautiful island with
about everything, from mountains with great view, like Cooks Lookout, to sandy
beaches and sheltered lagoons.
It is also the northernmost turning point for local yachts that come up the shore during the trade wind season and wait there until the strong south easterlies die, usually some time in October.
so the main anchorage is well filled with yachts, but by no means overfilled.
Lizard Island is also a nature preserve and so many things like having a beach
fire is forbidden. Yet the Aussie cruising fraternity have their regular beach
parties with snacks and smoked fish and whatever you bring along.
had some very nice days at this island: One day we hiked to the other side and
one other morning together with the Mahi-Mahi Crew and the Nowadays Crew up to Cooks lookout. From there one can
quite well imagine all the difficulties Captain Cook must have had when he tried to
find a way out of what seemed an infinite reef.
Up on this hill, the crew of
Nowadays told us all that they had decided to end their world cruising tour here
in Australia. They felt the passage from Vanuatu to Cairns was too rough and
they had been very concerned that their catamaran might cut under a wave and
Nowadays is a smaller version (43ft) of Mahi-Mahi, so it could well be that it felt different under those conditions.
any case, it was bad news for the Mahi-Mahi family, as the kids of both boats
got along so well, and from Australia onward there were much fewer
"Kid-Boats" under way. So, the two families were having a last few
days together while we on Taniwani leisurely cruised on toward the Torres
broke up the trip into three day sails and one final day and night run to Mount
Adolphus Island. All of this sailing was really nice, reaching in medium
strength trade winds with barely any sea running inside the vast reef.
Mount Adolphus Island it is only a short hop to Thursday Island, the
northernmost official port of entry into Australia and the only larger
settlement up there. We anchored across the channel at Horn Island and took
"Dolly" our dinghy into town.
It is yet another world: A mix of first
world Australia and Pacific Island without their usual tidiness and friendliness.
Doors are heavily padlocked and all windows have massive steel grids, the people
more grim looking and less inviting.
Still it is an interesting place to see and we were very impressed by the style of the local artists, painters and sculptors. A much more European taste than what you see in the Pacific or Asia. Having had to guess, one would have said it came from Finland.
paid two visits to that place, which every time included a wet ride back in
Dolly, then, on Monday morning,
October 2nd, we heard Mahi-Mahi on the radio. They were coming into the shipping
channel from the south and wanted to just go on all the way to Darwin. And so we
finished our breakfast and headed out the little channel between Thursday and
Friday Island where we met Mahi-Mahi and together we sailed westwards out of the
We had low expectations regarding the wind and expected it to die out as we move further away from the Pacific and the Torres strait. But we were again lucky: A quite good wind held more or less until Darwin and the last day we were pulled by a strong tidal current through the Van Diemen Gulf. Going through the Van Diemen Gulf is the shortest way to Darwin, but many books suggest to go an extra 140 miles around Melville Island, because of the strong currents and the difficult passage through Clarence Strait. In addition to this we had spring tide of 7m in Darwin.
our swift passage we had daily visits by the Australian customs plane, which is
labeled "Rescue". After some visits, they know the boats and just come
on the radio to say: "Hello Taniwani, you look beautiful today under
We had calculated our possible windows and then pushed a bit to get faster into Van Diemen Gulf where we had an easy and very swift ride, at times doing 12 knots over ground - nothing spectacular though.
We reached Darwin mid afternoon and called the Marina at Cullen Bay. They told us to hold off until 6 PM as there was no space in the entry basin and so we anchored in Fanny Bay for a few hours. Eventually we were let in and asked to raft up our two boats. So Taniwani went alongside the dock and Mahi-Mahi tied up to us. We did this so that Taniwani would have a bit more water at low water, when the entry basin almost dries out.
The entry into the actual marina is through a lock and the water level inside the marina is kept within about 1 meter difference. Northern Star, who had come to Darwin a week earlier had already arranged a place in the marina for us, but we were not allowed to enter until the fisheries department had checked and decontaminated our boats.
big concern is that boats arriving from other areas would bring in the infamous
"black stripped mussel".
It had done several million of damage to the marina facilities and now no boat
from outside the region can enter without prior treatment. This treatment is
free, but it sounded bad when we heard that one would have to remove all hoses
from all sea cocks and so on.
But a friendly man turned up and together we went through all our water in- and outlets, poured stuff into sinks and toilets and flushed engine and generator cooling systems with it. In the end we found ways to do this without removing hoses, by opening the strainers and filling it in right there. The magic stuff is said to be normal dish washing detergent and it is supposed to kill such mussels and their bread in less than 12 hours.
We took it easy and asked for locking in a day later. Taniwani had done so many locks and we didn't expect any trouble in this one, but it became a rough ride up the ugly wall. We had taken fuel on the outside dock and then entered almost at very low water so we had to come up a long way. The lockmaster seemed in a hurry and flooded the lock very quickly and so for our short handed crew it was a bit of a hassle - but it all ended without scratches or problems.
turned out it was worth all the hassle as the marina berth that Northern Star
had arranged for us, was a private one, connected to a nice private house with
its own swimming pool. The owners were away and were renting pontoon and pool
through the marina office.
This was a really great place: Mahi-Mahi and Taniwani tied up on opposite sides of the pontoon and then we could sit in the pool, have a beer and look at our boats. In this heat it was really good news.
It was easy to spend 8 days in this place. By comparison, Darwin feels a bit smaller and more remote than Cairns and boat parts and the like are also somewhat more expensive. But Darwin has a nice open market along the beach, with lots of food stands and other stands selling various things, from aborigines art to plastic shoes. It also features some nice musicians and bands, so that everybody will find something to his liking. We went there several times.
out of Darwin one soon realizes how vast and remote this part of Australia is.
We made a car trip some one and a half hours south, to a river where they take
you out on river boats to see the huge saltwater crocodiles.
some meat on a line over the water and raise it when a crock comes. As a result
the crocks jump out of the water, almost full length. A pretty spectacular view,
just a few meters from the monsters.
And finally we had a nice evening on Serenitè, a lovely 70-footer. Carlo, a very nice Italian, who we first met in Cairns, had also invited Freedom, singer from the open market and together with them and the Mahi-Mahi family we had an unforgettable evening anchored out in front of Cairns. We wouldn't see Carlo again as he went off to Chagos and the Maldives on his way to the Med. We will only get to these places some time in 2007.
us it was also time to move on, and our next destination was Bali. We now had
the Indonesian cruising permit, which usually takes about 6 weeks to obtain. It
was swiftly done by the agent in Bali Marina whom we had mailed from
We left Darwin on Saturday, October 14th. Late in the year we had to expect little or no wind and rainsqualls, but again the weather turned out more favorable. It was light wind sailing and our first 24 hours came out at 144 miles, exactly 6 knots average - not too bad for almost no wind. But it got less than that and the next two days we fell to 138 miles each.
on like this, it became clear to us, that we wouldn't make it to Bali before
Saturday morning, and then we would have to stay at anchor until we could clear
in on Monday.
The nicer alternative seemed a stop at the Ashmore Reef. This is a
larger reef, with some three little islands, about half way from Darwin to Bali.
It belongs to Australia and is well guarded, and Indonesian fisherman are only
allowed to fish there with motor-less traditional sailing boats.
problem Australia had was refugees from the East Timor crisis would land there
and claim asylum in Australian territory. So
nowadays there is usually a customs ship there. One of these had overtaken us in
the last night before Ashmore, checked over radio who we were and told us that
we would meet them at the reef the next day.
entry to the best anchorage is complicated, with many turns between hundreds of
coral heads. Probably to facilitate their own entry, the Australian Customs had
laid out numerous red and green markers that one can follow into the reef
anchorage. The only small problem was making out the color, when going into the
low sun as all markers have the same shape.
after we were settled, a few folks from the customs ship came over to hand us brochures
and regulations for the reef which is a nature preserve. Off course they also
loved to stay for some small talk and a beer.
Next day we went for a tour to the only island on which one is allowed to land. It was very nice and the huge number of nautilus shells that was washed ashore looked really great. Snorkeling near our boats was also excellent with many turtles and various types of rays.
liked it here and decided to stay another day. We were invited to the "Hervey
Bay", the customs ship, for a tour and coffee and cake. We
returned this hospitality and invited the whole customs crew to a sand spit, for
beer and wine, which they are not allowed to carry. Lara and Marco from
Mahi-Mahi gave their special Pacific Islands Fire Dancing show. It was a nice
The Captain of the "Hervey Bay" told us that they would leave in the morning to check on an other island and will only be back in the evening. He was sort of hinting that we could use the opportunity to see some of the restricted parts of the reef but could off course not seriously suggest that.
plan was to leave the next day, as the wind now looked promising, but certainly
the crew of Mahi-Mahi wanted to make a dinghy tour to the east motu before taking
off. So Harald went with them, and Beate and Lara waited on the boats.
Soon after that, both boats weighed anchor and sailed out the reef towards new and exotic destinations.
Click here for the next and last report for 2006, which covers Bali, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.