july 2009: australia

Australia: Sailing north and then west – Pipon Islets to Darwin


Pipon Islets – Tijou Reef – Blighe Reef – Portland Roads – Mount Adolphus Island – Cape York – Horn Island, Thursday Island (the Torres Strait group) – Gulf of Carpentaria – Gove Harbour – Gugari Rip – Raragala Island (the Wessel Island group) – Arafura Sea – Fannie Bay (Darwin)

And, the following land-based waters:

Burdbulba billabong, Yellow Water, South Alligator River (Kakadu National Park) – Fogg Dam – Walker Creek, Wangi Falls, Tolmer Falls, Florence Falls (Litchfield National Park) – Howard Springs – Berry Springs

Cape York

Lining up the “Hole in the wall”

Six things we have learned

1. A photo of a chick in a bikini on a stand-up paddle board gets more hits on a website than a photo of a bloke landing a 30 pound tuna (source: zincsailing June blog traffic statistics).
2. A surprisingly large number of people raise their kids on boats. The “boat kids” we have spent time with (aged between six months and 12 years) sleep anywhere at anytime, they are smiley, energetic and tough, they benefit from the attention of both parents for the majority of each day and they seldom cry, whinge, whine or sook. They are independent, responsible, practical, athletic, obedient and multi-lingual. Warning: Meldrums and Rowneys, it is likely you will have grandkids who will live on a boat… you have a little time to get used to the idea…..
3. Preparing to leave Australia on your own boat is harder work, and less fun, than a semester of law school or a semester of civil engineering. Although, it does feel more rewarding than preparing to leave on a plane.
4. In Darwin, you can get a good banana smoothie, watermelon juice, bbq squid-on-a-stick, seafood laksa, paw paw salad, pizza; you cannot get a good cappuccino. Cappuccinos are served too hot, too full (often overflowing) and with either too much, or not enough, froth. In most cases they are undrinkable.
5. You know you are getting close to Asia when you see people clear their noses by putting one finger over a nostril and snot onto the cement in the middle of the mall in the main street.
6. The skipper is MacIver. He was recognised by a man in a shop in Darwin. The man said to the skipper “MacIver, what are you doing with all of that stuff (velcro, piping, end stops, sticky back collision pads, zip ties, webbing buckles), when all you need is a paperclip?

Tender taxi driver

The ski club

Four of the best bits

1. Watching the moon rise. “If the moon came up only once in a hundred years, the whole world would stand watching” (source: The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard)
2. Sailing. The coast of North Queensland. Smooth seas, no swell, favourable trade winds, warm weather, blue skies, pretty surrounds, abundant and varied wildlife.
3. Cape York and the islands of the Torres Strait
*Spectacular views of the tip of Queensland from the summit of York Island, an island which is 400m from the mainland across a crocodile, shark and marine stinger infested channel (easy to access with a boat; impossible to access with a 4WD).
*Anchoring in very pretty coloured water between Horn Island and Thursday Island.
*Sorted by a friend of a friend: free access to a washing machine and dryer, shower, battery charger, the internet and Australian navy tidal data.
*Davo’s historical sites of Thursday Island tour in a borrowed maxi-taxi.
*John R joining us for the passage from Thursday Island to Darwin.
4. Darwin
*Nicole and May flying in to join the first mate for a road-trip to Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. An “almost-in-Asia” reunion.
*Young sailor “meetings” at sunset at the Fannie Bay sailing club.
*Hanging out with the family on board Wendera (Zinc’s sister boat) who generously shared with us their expert knowledge of sailing and maintaining an SP380.
*Again, sorted by friends of friends: Cath and Geoff’s mail collection service; Kim’s camping equipment and laundry; Christie and Dave’s left-over-long-life food supplies.
*The loads of cool stuff that goes on in Darwin during the dry season, including: the big-day-out for food (aka the Mindil Beach sunset markets); the weekend fruit and vegetable markets; the trailer boat, sailing and ski clubs where the sunset is photographed by hundreds of people each evening; the deck-chair cinema; the Wharf; the free museum.

Kakadu Mount Franklin ad

The first mate, May and Nicole at Kakadu

Eight of the worst bits

1. A month of no surfing, no spoodle, not enough diving and reading, twice as many “worst bits” as “best bits”. Yep, we are livin’ the dream.
2. Sailing. The passages from Thursday Island to Gove (59.5 hours) and from Raragala Island to Darwin (63 hours). Boring. No land. No other boats. No spots on the radar. Rocking, rolling, smacking, smashing, banging, jarring, slapping. Grumpy from sleep deprivation.
3. Bad fishing karma. After bragging in the June edition that fishing is easy, we landed only one fish in July. Four fish got away: one while sailing north of Portland Roads (we are happy this one got away because it bit through a 200 pound wire trace and the strike almost jibed Zinc… it must have been a monster); one while sailing from the mainland to Thursday Island; two while trolling in the tender at Raragala Island.
4. Mistiming the tide through the Gugari Rip (the “hole in the wall”) by 10 minutes (primarily because the first mate was impatient). Fighting the current. At one stage almost sailing backwards.
5. Running across a 400 meter mudflat at Fannie Bay. The first mate did this alone; in the middle of the night; at the ebb of a seven meter tide. She stumbled, fell, screamed, was almost hysterical at the possibility of being chased by a crocodile. She sat at the airport with Nicole for a couple of hours waiting for the tide to come in so they could get back to Zinc without having to run through the mud.
6. Bird shit. The first mate was hit on two occasions. Firstly at Walker Creek by a cockatoo that spat half chewed nuts onto a path and then fired when the first mate bent down to look at the nuts. Secondly at the Fannie Bay sailing club by teeny, squawky birds that were in a tree in the garden.
7. Shopping. If we see a shop in the next six months, then it will be too soon. During July, we spent a ridiculous amount of money preparing to leave Australia (estimate an exorbitant sum, double it and then add a bit). Warning: It is possible the recent strong Australian employment data is due to our consumer activity. Watch for a blip in the data now we have left the country.
8. Shaving off Zinc’s long green beard (i.e., scrubbing off the sea grass and slimy muck that had grown on her hulls) and applying a new outer coat of anti-foul. Two days of being covered in sand, mud and toxic chemicals. Possibly the first two full days of manual labour the first mate has performed; definitely the last.



Nature report

*Sharks. Three. Two medium sized white tip reef sharks while snorkelling at Tijou Reef. One four foot shark on Zinc’s back stairs (on the end of our fishing line). We removed the hook out, apologised and let it go.
*Sea snake. One. A six foot olive sea snake swimming next to Zinc as we rounded Cape York.
*Crocodiles. 24. Three eight foot crocodiles and one 12 foot crocodile lying on the mud at Horn Island, 100 meters from where Zinc was anchored. 20 crocodiles of various sizes very close to our tour boat at Kakadu.
*Birds. Gouldian Finches, White-breasted Boobies (yes, this is the technical name), Magpie Geese, Azure Kingfishers, Little Black Cormorants, Jabirus.
*Insects. Trillions. We encountered millions of each of the 10,000 species of insects that live in Kakadu National Park. Mostly mosquitoes, march flies and green ants.
*Shooting stars. Nine.
*Kakadu National Park. One overnight visit. Beautiful. Interesting. Too many insects.
*Litchfield National Park. Two one-day trips. Beautiful. Interesting. Too many people.

The cockatoo that shat on the first mate

On our way home in the tender (Fannie Bay, Darwin)

Surf report

It has been a long time between surfs…. hopefully we are surfing in Indonesia when you read this….

In case there is no food in Asia

Zinc beached for cleaning and anti-fouling

Dive report

*Tijou Reef (snorkelling and freediving)

Book report

The skipper read:

*The Wind up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (3 stars)

The first mate read:

*Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (2 stars)
*Riding the Iron Rooster by Paul Theroux (3 stars)