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Martin & Sue

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Homewood bound - Tual to Australia!

 
 

We arrived at Tual early in the morning of the 17th October and found several yachts already anchored in the very fast flowing river that dissected the large town in half. These were the boats from our 'convoy' who chose to bypass the Banda Islands and had instead headed straight for Tual from Ceram.

     
 
     
Above: Despite the swift tide that rocketed through the river anchorage at Tual a rather silly local fisherman decided, despite the presence of 12 yachts at anchor, to float down the river trailing a fishing net. We watched in concern as he narrowly missed us but unluckily for Jim and Kay collected 'Bach and Byte' who were behind us. Poor Jim was otherwise engaged (in the head) when he heard a load bang. They tried without success to free the dugout. Eventually a local speed boat came alongside and helped - but not before the poor woman aboard the dugout had lost her balance and fallen into the water. With the fast flowing tide she was quickly swept down river where she was fortunately rescued by a fellow yachtie.
Right: All the commotion attracted a great deal of attention from the locals

 

 
     
  Conveniently for us the crew from these early yachts had already completed a recognisance of the town and could fill us in on the location of the markets and supermarkets - and where to hail a bemo (mini bus) for the trip. They had also sussed out the best places to eat - always important to us 'undernourished' cruisers!
     

Tual is quite a large town so we were able to source all our provisions and fuel for the final hop to Australia. We were very particular about checking and carefully filtering our diesel as a yacht travelling south a few weeks ahead of us had picked up dirty diesel here and had to use all of the 6 diesel filters they carried during a nightmare trip to Gove. With a very strong wind on the nose they found it impossible to make any headway sailing and the trip – that usually takes 2 days took them 5. In the end they had to pay $500 to be towed the last 20 miles into Gove.

Water also proved to be an issue for some of our fellow boats (those without water makers) with one boat unfortunately buying a container of contaminated water that not only contaminated their water tanks but also gave them a dose of ‘Indo Belly’.

     

Despite these hassles our stay was quite enjoyable as we were anchored directly adjacent to a large market where fruit and vegetables were in cheap abundance. As things turned out, this was our last Indonesian Port of Call where we could buy any provisions or fuel.

 

 
   
Above: the 'modern' fuel dock at Tual!
     
 
     
Above and below: Views from our river anchorage at Tual
   
     
  As we had to check out of Indonesia here (a process that took several hours but was fairly straightforward) Sue decided to leave Martin to do the rounds of officialdom and escape to have her hair cut and coloured. As it turned out, this was a rather daring and foolhardy move! Suffice to say she had to wash her hair several times with ‘blue’ shampoo afterwards (to try and tone down the brassy orange ‘blonde’) and eventually resorted to the scissors to cut off some of the more offending strands!
     

From Tual the plan was to mostly day hop as far East as we could as this would give us the best angle for our dash to Gove. This proved easier said than done as the winds decided to blow predominantly from the direction we were trying to sail.

Entries in our log book for the week it took us to reach Aru ranged from ‘shitty conditions’ to ‘bloody awful’! To make matters worse, Bach & Byte had a rig failure at the start of the trip that would have seen them lose their mast if it were not for the boat’s inner forestay (small second headsail used in strong winds) that required jury-rigging a temporary mast support. Luckily one of the boats in our group had a enough spectra rope on board to do the job (spectra being …. stronger than standard rope) and another skipper had the expertise to splice spectra. After a long day and a lot of help the running repairs were completed to Jim’s satisfaction – although not perfect they ‘should’, with a bit of TLC, keep the mast upright until we returned to Australia for proper re-rigging.

     
We had our own dramas when the shackle on the boom traveller stretched and let go in strong winds with a full main. It went off with a real bang and gave us a hell of a fright! With no parts to replace the offending piece Jim provided some 3mm spectra for a running repair that held tight until we could replace it several months later.  
     
 
     
The Islands to the East of Tual were some of the most remote that we had ever visited in Asia. Most were tiny fishing villages with few shops and only enough diesel supplies to run a generator occasionally. Luckily we had plenty of ‘give-aways’ still on board so we were able to distribute the last of our clothing, fishing gear and stationary to the locals who clearly were in need of anything we could offer them.  
     

 
 

We can carry 1000 litres of diesel (and had topped up fully at Tual given that the price once we reached Australia would be 3 times the price!) and always have plenty of food on board so the lack of shops and markets to top up supplies did not cause an issue for us. This was not the case for all yachts but luckily everyone could help each other out in the event of shortages. We were on standby to assist a few with diesel if they ran low but as it happened our help was not required.

However, we did find the lack of internet coverage a problem mainly because we could not download the weather forecasts. Pretty much once we left Tual we could not get any coverage at all so had to rely on HF radio weather faxes to get the latest forecasts. Given that the last hop across to Aus required a 2-3 day sail this was of some concern and many evenings were spent discussing the weather conditions and trying to determine if we had a large enough ‘window’ of good weather and favourable winds to make the trip.

 
 

It was on our last night anchored in Indonesian waters that we experienced our first ‘incident’ of theft from the boat. Ever cautious we ALWAYS lock the cockpit doors when we go to bed (although most yachts do not lockup mainly due to a mixture of complacency and trying to get as much air into the hot boat). We were sound asleep when we woke with a start – having ‘thought’ we heard a noise. Sleepily, a barely clothed Sue went out to the cockpit to have a look around but could see nothing amiss and returned to bed.  Next morning we discovered that our life ring was missing. Whether this had been stolen or ‘knocked’ overboard as intruders tried to board the boat we will never know but we felt it was a shame to have this happen on our last night given that we had experienced nothing but friendliness and generosity from the locals during all our cruising in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

     
 

Finally, at 5am on the 26th October – with the HF radio weather Gribs predicting a short weather window of 72 hours  – we pointed our bows in a south easterly direction and set off for the 3 day, 2 night sail to Aus. It is always a bit nerve-racking when heading off for such a long passage – especially as the winds this time of year are traditionally very strong in the opposite direction to our destination. We had found the accuracy of the forecasts to be less than perfect and most of the crews were a little anxious in case the weather ‘window’ proved to be shorter than predicted.

     
 

 
     
Luckily, however, we had a great trip in ESE winds of 10-15 knots and .5 - 1 metre seas and apart from when we had strong current against us were able to average 6-7 knots over the ground.
     
 
 
Above and Right: Here's proof - 5 hours to run to the Wessels and trucking along at 7.3 knots with a perfect wind angle of 60 degrees!
     
Below: Luckily we had a full moon for our passage
   
     
 
     
 
 
   
We arrived at the 'hole in the wall' at the Wessel Islands - a chain of small islands 120 kms northeast of the Napier Penninsula or Arnham land in the NT - at dawn on the third day. After having such a fast run during passage it was frustrating that we were forced to wait for the change of tide before we could attempt the 'hole in the wall' as the tide rips through the gap between the two islands at up to 6 knots making it foolhardy to attempt a passage without careful planning.
     

It was a good feeling to be back in Australia and naturally felt the occasion required a celebratory toast! After all, we had to reduced our stocks of alcohol before Customs came on board!!

We anchored for the night at a sheltered bay on the western side of Wigram Island leaving the final 30nm leg to Gove for the next day when the tides were favourable. We had only just dropped the pick when we were not duly surprised to be contacted by a Australian Coastal Surveillance boat requesting our details and advising us not to go ashore until we had cleared customs. Welcome home!

 
     
 

 
 
Above: raising the Q flag indicating we required clearance into Australia
     

We had previously advised Customs and Quarantine to expect 12 boats requiring clearance at Gove Harbour so we did not have to wait too long for the formalities to be completed.

Despite having heard lots of horror stories about the Quarantine process, we were very pleasantly surprised by the helpfulness and efficiency of both the Customs and Quarantine officers. We found their requirements very reasonable and were actually quite surprised by how little food we had to surrender. In fact, other than fresh meat and fruit/vegetables, there was very little that we lost.

     

Once the initial euphoria of making a safe return home to Aussie shores we were faced with the reality of how expensive it is to live in Australia!

The first shock was the price of fuel. After paying an average of 60 cents a litre for diesel over the previous 4 years, having to fill our 1000 litre tanks at $2.30 litre (Seisa) was enough to induce heart palpitations! And having surrendered our fresh produce to AQIS (Australian Quarantine Inspection Service) we were somewhat taken aback at having to pay $1.50 per tomato in the supermarket at Gove.

Still, there were some great things about being back in Aussie waters – particularly the absence of unlit fish traps and fishing boats whilst sailing at night and the fact that rescue was at hand should the need arise!

 

Finding the next weather window for the crossing of the Gulf (of Carpentaria) proved to be a bit tricky and it was 10 days before we could see a break in the strong winds.

In the meantime there was Melbourne Cup Day to celebrate - with a BBQ lunch on the 'lawn' adjacent to the Yacht Club plus 'card' races. It was not quite 'fashion on the field' but we all did our best. Our furry mascot helped to mark the quintessentially Aussie occasion

 
 
 
 

After 10 days of 'waiting' in Gove we were finally able to find a very narrow window for the gulf crossing - so narrow, in fact, that several boats decided to wait it out for a better one. The Gulf can be a fairly nasty piece of water to cross and, to make matters worse, our preferred destination (Seisa) was directly in line with the prevailing head winds. The plan, therefore, was to point as high as we could but, realistically, to head for Weipa (approx 150nm south of Seisa).

We headed off on the 7th November at 4am in company with Bach & Byte and Moon River (a NZ Boat). Four other yachts had left at midnight - and we left behind 4 others who chose to wait for better winds.

 

Below: Loading Iron Ore in Gove
  The trip was pretty nasty, as expected, with 20 knots close hauled and very confused swells and waves with the second night being the most uncomfortable. In particular, the last 3 hours before Weipa were very trying for in pouring rain we encountered a fleet of fishing boats (thankfully lit and very visible on the radar) that kept us on our toes trying to interpret the direction they were moving and thus avoid them. Luckily for us we had made good speed and were ahead of most of the fleet (including those who left before us) arriving at Weipa harbour by 8am on the 9th. Poor Bach & Byte, who were a few hours behind us, had a particularly horrid trip as the wind strengthened and came around more on the nose and the seas became a washing machine soup of sharp, short chop.
 
Below and Right: Brian our Probsicus Monkey Mascot was not at all happy about the rocking and rolling in the rough conditions!!
 
     

Despite the trials of the passage we were vindicated in our decision to leave Gove for the remaining boats had to wait another 2 weeks before another weather window opened up.

Weipa proved to be a friendly spot with a terrific supermarket with very reasonable prices. Fuel was also a good price so we made sure we filled up for we knew the fuel at Seisa (the next opportunity to buy fuel) was 65 cent a litre more expensive!

We also had good internet reception and were amused to read a newspaper article claiming that Weipa was one of the most dangerous places in the Top End based on numbers of crocodiles and stingers in the water! Needless to say we were very watchful when landing the dinghy!!

 
   
Below: Back in Aus and FISH at last!!!
     

Over the next few days we made our way north slowly along the coast towards Seisa. It was fantastic sailing as our proximity to the shore meant that although we had strong winds we had smooth seas so it was a fast and comfortable sail.

As we approached Seisa it became obvious that a weather window of very calm weather was opening up. Given that the prevailing conditions this time of year along the East Coast of Australia were strong south easterlies, we decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss. Bach & Byte and Moon River agreed so together the three of us made a run for Cairns.

 

   
Below: rounding the Cape - again!

We headed out of Seisa at 5am on the 17th November and, with light winds and favourable tide, we had a smooth run around the Cape and down through Albany passage. The great conditions continued and we sailed non-stop in almost flat calm conditions for the next 3 days arriving in Cairns at 2am on the 20th.

 

 
Below: Welcome home by dolphins!
   
 
     
Below: Calm conditions - what a lucky weather window!
 
Below: Moon River - a beautiful old ketch
 
Below: Typically this tanker's path took it between us and Moon River
 
 
 
     
With the winds and conditions still favourable we made a decision to press on so after a quick refuel we headed off again (this time with only Bach & Byte for company as Moon River were leaving their boat at Cairns to fly home to NZ for Christmas). We made it to Airlie Beach before the amazing weather window closed and the head winds returned with a vengeance - but by this time we were well ahead of schedule and could afford to cool our heels around the Whitsundays for a few days.
     
  Our final destination was Keppel Bay Marina in Rosslyn Bay (just north of Rockhampton) where we had booked Mandolin Wind in from the 16th December so we could fly to Brisbane to spend Christmas with Nyree and Liam. Despite having to shelter in Mackay marina for several days due to gale force winds (plus a few overnighters to make up for lost time), we made it into Rosslyn Bay with a day to spare.
     

So endeth the Journey!!!

We had sailed more than15,000 nautical miles over nearly 4 years. The trip had been filled with an amazing kaleidoscope of adventures, people, scenery and experiences – and had more than met our expectations.

We had also made some lasting friendships and learnt a lot about sailing, about the boat and about ourselves.

What memories!!

 
 

We are very glad we had the strength to follow  Mark Twain’s advice:


“Twenty years from now you will be more
disappointed by the things that you didn’t
do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines.
Sail away from the safe harbour.
Catch the trade winds in our sails.
Explore.
Dream.
Discover.”

     

Footnote:


Thankyou Mandolin Wind!


We know your ‘ins and outs’, can sail you like a ‘well oiled’ team and have total trust in you to get us safely to harbour.
Thankyou for being a safe, comfortable and reliable cruising home.

(with special mention of 'he who does the blue jobs' - as boats don't maintain themselves!)