Monday, July 28, 2008

Top-end Darwin

So far Darwin has been highly sociable - meeting-up with recent friends and catching-up with many I haven't seen for a couple of years in the packed anchorage in Fanny Bay. Though the anchorage emptied on Saturday with the departure of the Indonesian rally. Looking on the bright side, the speed of the Wifi connection has increased dramatically and it's no longer necessarily to queue all day for the washing-machine. My clothes have had their first non-handwash since Noumea.Hopefully I'll catch-up with many of the boats over the next month or so in the Indonesia islands or Singapore. Others are bound west for Madagascar from where they'll head round "The Cape" so Darwin is the last chance to wish them well.
Boat jobs are proceeding steadily with the wind generator finally generating again. Though one job leads to another; while fixing the generator I spilt some acetone, which when I removed the "protective plastic" I'd laid down, had efficiently stripped an area of varnish from the recently revarnished floor.The folding bike has some new "puncture proof" tyres which allow me to more rapidly loose my way in Darwin.
I've an Australian SIM for my mobile - Vodafone seem to be giving them away. Feel free to call me on: +61420206296

Monday, July 21, 2008

High and dry in Darwin

It's been a hectic week; finding my bearings in Darwin, investigating haul-out options and slowly working through the job list.

The Indonesian yacht rally leaves at the end of the month and all haul-out facilities are booked prior to the rally's departure. However lady luck smiled benevolently on us and I discovered a careening grid in fisherman's wharf. It's only possible to use the grid around spring tide which fortuitously happened to be this weekend and luckily the fishermen were out fishing, not anti-fouling, so it was free.

Bottom-painting on a grid is a race to get as much paint on as quickly as possible to allow it time to dry before the return of the tide. The more helpers the better. Charlotta had bought a train ticket departing Saturday morning, Friday was the first day there was sufficient tide at high-water to make it onto the grid, so all was set for a memorable last day for Charlotta, scrubbing, painting and discovering life aboard on the hard-standing. I like to think that I was ensuring she left with the complete cruising experience.

The day before we'd braved box-jelly fish and salt-water crocs to scrub the bottom in preparation. It was clear Kika needed some more paint, the hull scrub prior to departing Vanuatu had exposed the areas I'd repaired in New Zealand as the epoxy primer emerged from under the anti-fouling.It was a long day's work. We were helped by the northern Australian sun drying the paint before the return of the tide and I'm now back in Fanny Bay with a freshly painted bottom and a least one job ticked off the to-do list.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Inaugural meeting held on Kika

It was very exciting to discover Inga and Johan on Adriatica anchored close by us in Fanny Bay; we'd last seen them in Tanna when they weren't planning to come to Darwin. It gave us the chance to return the favour and invite them and Sten and Danika from Mata'irea over for a curry evening on Kika. After a few drinks we were reminiscing about our time fixing our boats in Whangarei. We realised that one thing we had in common was that we were all big fans of (stainless) Trevor and his Dockland 5 based workshop, without whose help our stay wouldn't have been nearly so enjoyable or productive; the evening became the inaugural meeting of the (stainless) Trevor fan club.
I'm sure once word gets out, we'll be inundated with membership requests from other boats who have passed through his Whangarei workshop.

Message from Charlotta

As I'm leaving the boat to fly back to Sweden, I've been thinking of a few hints that could be helpful for the next crew member joining Kika.

Firstly - if you are inexperienced or feel a little uncertain about anything boat related - don't worry - there's a full range library on board covering everything from "Boat owners mechanical and electrical manual" to "The cruiser's handbook of fishing".

If you think you will run out of topics for conversation during passages, or it's hard to follow Nick's story about critical engine details - not a problem. He easily find someone more understanding to chat to over the SSB radio.

Food is obviously a major source of enjoyment when sailing. However, Nick's great interest in fishing, in combination with his preference to eat the catch raw, makes cooking duties easy.

If you find Nick stocking up the boat with ridiculous quantities of grapefruits and lemons, just accept. It's normal for him. Same with his lifetime supply of soy-sauce and wasabi. Don't question.

If you happen to have a disagreement on an issue where your opinion counts, you can easily solve it by playing a game. The winner gets his/her will through.

If you are into music (Ed: and don't have too discerning taste) - lucky you! You've got Nick's well-fed iPod to dig into as well as enjoying his occasional trumpet practices and singing.

I'm sure you will enjoy your time onboard Kika, I've certainly had a good time.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Checking into Australia

Kika has had a spring clean courtesy of Australian Quarantine and their $240 fee. I was expecting a similar procedure to New Zealand - ask for fresh produce, honey, pop-corn etc, inspect anything with soil attached to it - walking boots, camping equipment, bike tyres then disappear with their sack of swag. Not Australia.

They weren't interested in walking books or bike tyres instead all lockers containing food were emptied, and any insects found were duly zapped and put in a sample jar for their records. Embarrassingly we had some rice which was infested with
additional insect protein, a couple of cockroaches scampered away as their hiding places were dismantled and some fans we were given in Epi turned out to be crawling with insects. I intended to "bomb the boat" with insecticide in Australia anyway, with no fresh produce onboard and any insects in a weakened state after the quarantine visit - now is a perfect opportunity.
Not only were the quarantine officers thorough, we had six customs officials and two sniffer dogs onboard. Two for the paper work, two dog handlers, one to video the dogs at work, and one more to empty any lockers they suspecting of harbouring any illegal substances. Eventually we were given a clean bill of health and returned to the Fanny Bay anchorage by mid-day. Checking-in here isn't simply the bureaucratic formality it is in many other countries.

While here I have various pressing jobs, which will mean less frequently blog updates, but I'll be uploading some photos over the next few days. The most urgent task is to find a new crew. Charlotta is returning to Sweden from Australia. I also require a cruising permit for Indonesia which will take at least 3 weeks to arrive and can't apply for that until I have a confirmed crew list. The result is I'll probably be in Darwin for at least a month. Still on the basis of a short visit into town yesterday it should be an enjoyable stay. The list of boat jobs is growing, here's a sample:
  • Slap on a couple more coats of anti-fouling
  • Patch the spray hood
  • Investigate why the roller furling intermittently becomes very stiff
  • Replace the gooseneck bolt which has sheared-off at the nut
  • Fix wind/water generator when the spares arrive from the UK
  • Check engine alignment
  • Change the angle of the wind-steering to try to minimise oversteer
  • Investigate electronic autopilot intermittent problems
  • Make a water collection system
  • Make a sun-cover
  • 200 hour engine service
  • Replace the LED tri-colour again
  • Obtain a cruising permit and visa for Indonesia
  • Provision for Indonesia
  • Various vanishing, epoxy, gel-coat and paint cosmetic items that need attention
  • and finally.... befriend a kangaroo and find some salt water crocs in the wild.
looks like it'll be another exhausting time in port, can't wait to get sailing again...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Arrival in Darwin

We knew it was a risk. While we slumbered in our peaceful anchorage, Mata'irea silently sneaked passed us. It's a shame that even with ten extra feet of boat speed they still had to resort to such underhand tactics... When it was clear there was no way we could catch them this morning we re-framed the race as Kika against the tide. We'd worked out the complex tidal situation carefully, but it relied on an average of 6.5 knots; only achievable with a favourable wind. We made a good start, but by mid-morning the wind started to die, so we resorted to a little engine assistance. Throughout the day, we made valiant attempts to sail, but "tide and time wait for no one" and as our speed under sail repeatedly fell under 5 knots we admitted defeat and let the engine cover most of the ground for us.

Finally customs made contact with us. Most of the yachts we know have had daily custom's fly-bys from patrol planes, but so far we've been passed over. The other yachts have become blasé about such visits, seeming to treat the enquiries as an annoyance. Not us, we've been excitedly making ourselves presentable as soon as there's a whiff of a plane in the area. Finally, today, we were graced with an official visit. Not by a surveillance plane, but the next best thing - a custom's patrol boat. They even came along side to take a photo. As I write this a doubt has crept into my mind, perhaps their interest in photography wasn't a good sign, none of the other boats have mentioned having their photo taken, could we plastered over the front page tomorrow...

We're finishing off any stores which could be confiscated by quarantine. No rich pickings on Kika; half a yam and that's their lot! I'd saved the last of the Vanuatu pamplemoose for today. It was a large juicy looking specimen. Looks can prove deceptive; it was all skin and no fruit - what a let down.Being on an English boat, Charlotta announced that it was about time we had some traditional "English" cooking - "too much raw fish". She took the matter into her own hands and created what she described as a traditional English breakfast - yam hash browns, fried egg, hotdog sausages and baked beans. I'm afraid it didn't make me long for the white cliffs, but she enjoyed it.After we failed to catch a fish, we had the dilemma of how best to use the remaining three lemons. When we discovered a small Tupperware of sugar and still had three eggs to use, there was no contest - Lemon Pudding Cake. The result wasn't too bad, but handicapped by adding milk mistakenly reconstituted with salt water.

We made it into Darwin around 4am. The tide should have been rising until 4.30 so it should have been with us on the way in, but no, we had half to one knot against us. I know things are done a bit differently "down-under" but I still haven't worked out how it's possible to have a flood tide against you when entering a port. Baffled. While I'm on the subject of befuddlement: entering a large harbour at night is a riot of flashing navigational marks, which slowly emerge from the background lights of town and are duly identified on the chart and their significance noted. Navigational marks come in well defined colours and flash patterns; green starboard lights, red port lights, white flashing cardinal buoys, and yellow special marks. When I saw a flashing blue light I naturally assumed it was marking the entry to the local nightclub, but no, it was in the water, flashing a well defined - one short and one long every five seconds - but still haven't a clue what it indicated and neither has the chart. Bizarre.

Tomorrow we'll do the rounds of quarantine, customs and immigration then hit the town.

Position: Fanny Bay anchorage: S12° 25.9' E130° 48.7'

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Racing the Sun

The first race against the sun was a draw. We watched the sunset as we motored at top-speed towards the anchorage, but it was still light when we dropped anchor in Port Essington.

This morning we calculated we'd need to average 6.5knots to make it to the anchorage in time. Initially we had a stiff breeze helping us along at 7knots so all was looking good. By mid-morning the wind eased and changed directions so we dug-out our cruising chute and accelerated away again.The wind finally died a couple of hours before sunset so we resorted to some engine assistance. Just enough time to notice the beautiful sandy beach, a couple of huts ashore and the perfectly calm anchorage before the light vanished.

Overall it's been an exhilarating day, hand-steering with the cruising chute, catching our first sight of Australia since the Torres Straight, having a small school of dolphins stop by to play on the bow wave, seeing an enormous turtle before it caught sight of us and disappeared and finally making it to a perfect calm anchorage before dark so we can have a rest before tackling the Van Diemen Gulf tomorrow.We've a 5am start to make it to the entrance of the Van Diemen Gulf for the tide. Hopefully we'll meet up with Mata'irea for the second race. They're 40 miles behind us, so they might stop in the anchorage for a few hours sleep or more likely they'll slow down to time their arrival at the entrance for the tide.

Long day tomorrow, we expect to arrive in Darwin around 4.30am on Monday morning after some intricate navigation on route.

Port Essington anchorage: S11°08.61' E132°08.37'
Daily run: 146.6

Friday, July 11, 2008

Use it before you loose it

With our arrival in Darwin now only three days away, we've suddenly realised that we've been overly parsimonious with the rationing of our fruit and veg. Anything remaining will be taken by the Australian quarantine authorities. We still have left the following confiscatable items:
  • 1/4 jar of honey
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 pamplemoose
  • 4 lemons
  • 4 limes
  • 6 onions
  • 6 bananas
  • 1 cabbage
  • 6 potatoes
  • 1 large yam
Most exciting of all I found a clove of garlic hiding under an onion (we thought we'd run out over a week ago). OK our fresh ingredients aren't going to make Jamie Oliver salivate, but for us it's three days of feasting.

The rationing has been lifted and instead our motto has become: "use it before you loose it". Using some of yesterday's yellow fin and making a bumper portion of pasta salad ceviche I disposed of ½ a cabbage, 2 onions, 3 limes and 1 lemon. Then banana bread consumed the bananas, 2 eggs and the remaining honey (substituting for sugar which we've run out of).

Think the quarantine officer will have thin pickings onboard Kika.

I've been studying the tides for our entry into Darwin and have learnt a new phrase -"diurnal inequality". I think it means that the pattern of high and low waters which occur twice daily aren't evenly spaced. Also one of the low-to-high waters is half the range of the other. Confused? Me too. It makes an interesting change to have to worry about tides in a significant way again - I think Gibraltar (other than the Torres Straights and the approach to Whangarei, New Zealand) was the last time.

There are three tidal gateways on the approach to Darwin that you'd like to pass with the tide or at least slack - Dundas Strait (entry to Van Diemen Gulf), Clarence Strait (exit of Van Diemen Gulf) and the approach to Darwin itself. I'd initially worked out our entry using the closely spaced high-waters which would give us 15 hours to cover 130 miles; 8.5 knots average - that's pushing it a little for Kika. However if we wait for the next high-tide we have 19½ hours to cover the same distance at a much more realistic average of 6.5 knots. The upshot is that rather than entering the Van Diemen Gulf at 22:30 on Saturday we're going to wait until Sunday morning and enter at 09:00.

It raises the stakes in two races. The first race is between ourselves and the sun. We'd like to arrive at an anchorage close to the entrance before dusk. The second race is with Mata'irea. Waiting for 10½ hours gives them a chance to catch-up with us so we'll have to use all available sail and short-cuts to keep up with them through the Gulf.

Position @ 18:00 (GMT +10): S10° 50.2' E134° 37.8'
Distance to Van Diemen Gulf: 136
Daily run: 150

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Tuna at sunset

We've made our peace with the Arafura sea. The skies have cleared, the wind is moderating and the sea is slowly following suit, but most importantly it provided us with a decent sized yellow-fin tuna this afternoon.
We finished the day munching tuna steaks sitting on the foredeck watching the sunset. Don't know if we saw our supper's friend/mate but while we were tucking in, a large fish jumped 10m clear of the sea off our port bow. I've seen fish jumping before but nothing as impressive as this before.

Counting down the days to our arrival - we're aiming to be in Darwin in the early hours on Monday morning.

Position @ 18.15 (GMT +10): S10°42' E137°08'
Distance to Van Diemen Gulf: 286
Daily run: 135

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Arafura roller coaster

After yesterday's exhilarating trip through the Torres Straight we were looking forward to an easy sail across the calm waters of the Arafura Sea. Unfortunately not, around mid-night a nasty squall hit us with too much canvas up. Charlotta called me up on deck. What a way to wake-up - spray constantly soaking us as we struggled to reef both the sails.

Since then the wind has continued 20-25 knots, with the sea becoming steep and confused. It's as though the waves result from five different wave-trains (copyright Sten on Mata'irea) giving the boat a very erratic motion. Perhaps the wind has an exaggerated effect on the shallow Arafura sea which is only 50-70m deep over most of its area. We were also forced to keep more vigilant watches as there was much shipping around. One ship shadowed us 5 miles to our north all night.

Cooking in these conditions is challenging, with unpredictable lurches causing predictable results. On one of these lurches the contents of a pan ended up on the galley floor, on another I narrowly saved the new contents when the fiddle rails flew off the stove. Still we finished off the mahi-mahi accompanied by (I'm embarrassed to say) some instant mashed potatoes.

Some morale raising dolphins stopped by this morning. It's been a while since we've had a prolonged visit - great to see them again and marvel at their antics around the bow.

The current conditions makes the trip feel like an endurance test rather than the fun sailing we enjoyed in the Coral Sea. Still we're making good progress which should continue to Darwin given the forecast. If only the sea would calm down a little...

Position @ 19.30 (GMT +10): S10deg 46' E139deg 26'
Distance to Van Diemen Gulf: 421
Daily run: 151

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Through the Torres Straight

We've had a wonderfully varied day; from close hauled to dead-downwind sailing, with varying strength wind, and a mixture of short surfing waves to calm seas. After twelve hours of intricate navigation and active foredeck and cockpit work we made the 83 miles from last night's anchorage to round Cape York, cleared the Torres Straight and entered the Arafura sea. All helped by a favourable current for most of the day, at times reaching 3.5 knots, although this was more through luck than judgement; our information on Australia tides and currents around the Torres Straight is limited.

The weather followed yesterday's pattern, overcast with light drizzle in the morning, but gradually clearing through the day. We caught our first sight of the Australian mainland this morning, through the drizzle, spying a low coastline. Checking with the chart, it appears we'd spotted Orford Ness and False Orford Ness; it seems I've travelled half way round the world only to end up sailing up the coast of Suffolk. From a distance the lighthouse tower on Wyborn Reef looked like an abandoned Martello tower adding to the sense of dislocation.

We'd decided to take a short-cut and head-up the Albany Pass between Cape York on the mainland and Albany Island. As we were propelled towards the opening on the back of some large swells I belatedly wondered if the naming in the vicinity was caused by shifting treacherous sandbanks in river entrances, renowned on the East coast of England. Anxiously watching the depth gauge and committed to the entrance, we suddenly found ourselves in calm water speeding up the pass with a good breeze behind us and half a knot of current to help. The haze lifted as we sped passed a red soil covered in Australian bush interspersed with sandy bays - definitely antipodean not Suffolk. Slightly frustrating to see land and yet not be able to stop.

We'd left the anchorage before Mata'irea again this morning and despite frequently checking our rear-view-mirror hadn't seen them. As we left the Albany Pass they appeared heading in our direction fast under full sail. They'd sailed round the outside of Albany Island while we'd taken the short-cut and kept our lead. Much fun, taking photos as they bore down on us, only to turn away at the last minute and anchor for the night to complete some repair work before the passage to Darwin.
Great news for us as we have a day's start on them. The race to Darwin is back on....

Today's culinary innovation: Charlotta's pan bread wrap.
  • Make some pan bread
  • Slice in two
  • Butter each half
  • Flash fry some flour-covered mahi-mahi fillets
  • Thinly slice some three week-old cabbage
  • Dig around in the fridge for the remains of a tomato based dish
  • Ditto in the fridge for some tartar sauce.
  • Squeeze some lemon over the fish, saving the lemon for future use (onboard, lemons don't grow on trees)
  • Assemble the ingredients between the two halves of the pan bread
  • Eat outside in case of filling spillage
  • Repeat until sated.
Position @ 11.20 (GMT +10) 8/7/2008: S10°53.7' E141°28.7'
Distance to Van Diemen Gulf: 541

Monday, July 07, 2008

Inside the Great Barrier Reef

Sten and Danika on Mata'irea had talked boldly of an early start. As Kika is the slower boat (we're 10ft shorter so we're allowed to be), we wanted to make sure we weren't left slumbering, so set our alarms for 6.30am and were ready to leave at first light. I'd hoped for clear skies to help us see the dangers lurking under the water; instead as we raised anchor a fine Scottish drizzle blanketed the boat. No sign of life from Mata'irea as we set sail back up the Great Detached Reef. What a contrast with yesterday's tedious windward bash to the anchorage; life is so much simpler and enjoyable sailing downwind.

Thanks to Mata'irea's flour supply we rediscovered the pleasure of freshly made pan-bread as we made our way to the gap in the Barrier Reef. There was nothing on the horizon to indicate the reef; even Raine Island was obscured in a haze of drizzle. I'd pictured the entrance as turbulent water fringed with waves crashing on the surrounding coral. The only indicator that we'd entered the Barrier Reef was the depth gauge started to give readings of 30 - 40m instead of "deep"; it was all a bit of an anti-climax. The distance between the reef and the mainland is at its maximum here ~ 75 miles, however our charts only show detail across a 12 mile swath heading NW from the entrance, the remaining area is filled with "unsurveyed area" caution notices.

In an unusual flurry of preparation I'd marked the relevant paper chart with way-points and bearings, in-addition to filling up the GPS's memory with our course which wove its way through what Captain Cook described as the "labyrinth of coral". The plan was we'd quickly know where we were, the approximate location of the hazards and what was coming up - it made a change from Nintendo navigation; directing the course from electronic charts on the computer buried down in the saloon. The scheme worked well, as although the hazards looked obvious on the chart, with a few exceptions most were submerged and weren't even clearly defined by breaking surf. It felt strange to be intricately navigating past mostly invisible obsticles. The wind straggled our course, so most of my time was spent adjusting the rig; gybing the main and switching the poled out genoa, while Charlotta steered between way-points. We had no time to waste as we needed to cover 76 miles to the next anchorage before dark.

Fortunately the stiff breeze continued throughout the day and gradually the cloud lifted. We were starting to let our vigilance slip when Danika came on the VHF warning us that they'd nearly run onto a reef which was a mile further south than their chart indicated. Fortunately Mata'irea anchored unscathed and we anchored soon afterwards just after the sun-set but before night had completely taken hold.

The culinary highlight of the day was to finally sample the much anticipated celebratory Papaya crumble.

Our only sight of Australia so far is the abandoned tower on Raine Island. Tomorrow should fix that as we head north around Cape York, the northern tip of mainland Australia, out of the Torres Straight, into the Arafura Sea and continue our passage to Darwin.

Boulder's Reef anchorage: S11 03.11' E143 04.13'
Daily run: 76.6

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Great Detached Reef

We won one race and lost the other; we joined Mata'irea at the anchorage in the middle of the great Detached Reef with half an hour to spare before dusk, having spent most of the day hand-steering under full-sail to try to maximise our speed. It was an exhilarating ride, the wind picked up to 20-25 knots+, which built a messy short steep sea. Surfing down a particularly steep wave, I saw the GPS speed reading momentarily hit 12 knots - the maximum I've seen. We would have arrived much earlier, but the last 7 miles were directly into the wind, which even within the Reef built up a nasty chop and meant we only made 3-4 knots motor sailing - still the decks received a good wash down.

Our first sight of Australia was the abandoned tower on Raine Island. The first sight still hasn't lost it's magic - even with waypoints, GPS and courses to steer it's always reassuring that the mark you made on the chart as the destination, all those days or weeks ago has actually been realised physically. Euphoria gave way to concern as we struggled to see anything that looked remotely like the Great Detached Reef. Gradually we spotted breakers on the horizon then slowly the outline of the reef became well defined. However, unlike Minerva Reef, there was no great colour contrast with the Coral Sea; the stunning turquoise shallow waters inside Minerva picked out the reef from the distance - here only the breakers defined the outline of the reef.Mata'irea had earlier invited us over for dinner. However the logistics of joining them on their boat were challenging. Both of our dinghies were deflated and stowed and neither of us wanted to inflate them, only to have to restow them for the remainder of the trip to Darwin. We have an inflatable kayak, which seemed to offer the solution, but with the wind blowing so strongly we were concerned we'd be blown downwind before making it to the other boat. We were resigning ourselves to separate meals, when we decided that if we deployed our floating man-overboard line and tried swimming, then even if the current swept us from our path, we'd be able to haul ourselves back via line. We packed our clothes and some sweet potatoes we'd promised Mata'irea in a waterproof bag and dived in. Easy on the way there. Swimming back after half a bottle of red, weighed down with a bag of flour, a stomach full of steak and into the chop was more challenging, but a quick way of sobering up.

Great to have a peaceful night's sleep in a calm anchorage. That said it's quiet in the cabin, but venturing up on deck the 20-25 knot trade wind hits you and adds to the sound of the surf pounding on the reef.

I write this just before we raise anchor to head back up the Great Detached Reef and through the Great Barrier Reef, into the maze of coral that awaits us. Another long exciting day awaits.

Great Detached Reef anchorage: S11° 44.3' E144° 03.8'
Daily run: 165

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Change of strategy

The race is on. Two races to be precise. In a change of strategy we're now going flat out to try to make an anchorage in the Great Detached Reef, just outside the Great Barrier Reef before nightfall tomorrow. The other race is with Mata'irea who have been slowly catching us up and now are 3 miles to our south and about the same distance to the anchorage as ourselves. Originally we planned to time our arrival for dawn, but last night the wind picked up and this morning the option of a good night's sleep, before entering the coral maze beyond the Great Barrier Reef, was too much to resist. We expect Mata'irea to overhaul us, but assuming the wind lasts, which the forecast promises, we should make the anchorage before dusk.

I've been plotting our course through the coral maze beyond the Reef. I've close to filled our GPS with waypoints. Hopefully GPS, the waypoints and a good lookout should ensure we escape the fate of so many boats which came this way in the past. We enter just north of the unpromisingly named Wreak Bay. The landmarks are evocatively named - Sunk Reef, Mt Sorrow, Mt Poverty, Mt Misery but more hopefully there's also a Celebration Reef. To the south of our entrance the mark is "Providential Channel Captain Cook 1170" and further south is the "Bligh Boat Channel". The main entrance in the north of the Torres Straight is also the named, I presume after Captain Bligh (Mutiny on the Bounty), as the Bligh Entrance. Have to keep a close eye on Charlotta tomorrow for any signs of insubordination.

Three big flying fish on deck this morning, but still not tempted.

Position @ 19:00 (GMT +11): S11deg 53' E149deg 31'
Distance to Raine Island Entrance: 146
Daily run: 156

Friday, July 04, 2008

Phosphorescent night

Easy trade-wind sailing conditions continue; all that's required is the occasional tweak on the wind-steering gear, a slight adjustment to the sails, and infrequently a change of sail pattern from reach/broad-reach to a down-wind goose-winged rig. Feels like we're being spoilt – long may it last. Last night was particularly spectacular; no moon, but clear star-filled skies and at sea level, Kika cutting a blazing phosphorescent trail through the dark water.

Without the sailing to tax us, we have time to read, clean, maintain, fish and cook; all of which we spent sometime doing today. Copying Mata'irea we put more than one line out today. Just as we finished processing our first tuna, the other line shot out. The fridge is again full with two medium tunas. As our fresh stores come to an end we're discovering all sorts of hidden delights squirreled away in our lockers; spinach preserved in a jar, likewise for jars of peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, chillies, capers, gherkins. Most of them date from our time in French Polynesia in 2006 or even before then, in Panama. Perhaps in a couple of years I'll come across the fish stew I made yesterday in the back of a locker somewhere.

Mata'irea are planning to overtake us tomorrow. They've been slowly gaining on us for a week, and are planning to take advantage of our carefully calibrated 130 mile days designed to put us at Raine Island reef-break at day-break on the 7th by blasting along and crossing the reef, just before sunset on the 6th. We'll see. Be great to see them though, especially as they've offered us some of their spare flour. Should be fun; mid-ocean flour transferral.

Position @ 19:00 (GMT +11): S12deg 12' E149deg 09'
Distance to Raine Island Entrance: 302
Daily run: 132

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Keeping scurvy at bay

For all the major passages I've undertaken before, I've provisioned (food, water, diesel) immediately prior to departing. Our last major provisioning stop was 14 days before we left Vanuatu in Luganville and we currently estimate 19 days from Vanuatu to Darwin, meaning our water, diesel and food will have to last out for 33 days - 10 days longer than the passage from Galapagos to the Marquesas. Of course we could stop at Thursday Island, but that feels like cheating and we're both keen to get to Darwin - why stop if you don't need to? That said running out of garlic so early on has made me check the other essentials. We have 12 days left to Darwin with:

11 onions
14 lemons and limes
4 pamplemoose
2 papaya
5 bananas
3 aubergines
5 eggs
10 potatoes
3 yams
3 sweet potatoes
1/2 bag of flour
1/3 tank of water
2/3 tank of dieselFortunately we have spare water and diesel so we're not going to pass out from dehydration or lack of power - though both are heavily rationed - quite how rationed only those who meet us before we make it to the showers will ever know...

As well as garlic we've run out of cheese, Swedish crispbread and fine French wine, although it seems we didn't have any of the last two items onboard to start with...

We have a locker full of cans, rice and pasta so no need for an emergency airlifted food parcel yet, although if it contained garlic, some fine cheeses and wine (for me) and crispbread to keep Charlotta happy that would be quite a result.

We'll have a few days after entering the Great Barrier Reef and while passing through the Torres Straight when the fishing probably won't be so good; anyone know if salt water crocodiles taste good? So I decided to try preserving our excess fresh fish. We've now two sealed jars of fish stew; one tomato based and one satay sauce based (I cheated on the last one). I found a couple more jars that could be used for additional preservation so we put the line out again. Very quickly the line screamed out in a way which could only suggest a monster fish. We slowly, but efficiently took up our "major fish incident" positions; thick gloves, gaff at the ready, all ropes out of the cockpit, cushions stowed in case of a blood-bath - only to discover that our monster fish had escaped before the battle commenced. Tomorrow we'll have two lines ready...

Will the Australia quarantine authorities believe us when we arrive in Darwin without any fresh stores, will they validate our story by checking us for signs of scurvy?

Position @ 19:00 (GMT +11): S12° 26.3' E151° 23.7'
Distance to Raine Island Entrance: 433
Daily run: 136

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Can opener for sale

With a concerted effort we thought we'd probably finish off the yellow fin tuna we caught yesterday so we put out the line again. This evening the fridge is bulging with a decent sized mahi-mahi and the remains of the yellow fin. Charlotta added a new item to our fish menu - mahi-mahi roe. I'm not completely convinced, they seemed a little tasteless to my palette, but I'm assured that pike roe are delicious - not sure I'll get to taste that delicacy before Darwin.

It's been another easy trade-wind sailing day for Kika; but her crew have been hard at work deck swabbing, that is spreading oxalic acid and rubbing-in cutting compound and polish. The rust stains have vanished, the stainless steel is unstained and the decks, though still not exactly a mirror finish, are certainly reflecting more light.

I've been practicing a trumpet rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" for our radio "sked" on the 4th July. Charlotta's been questioning if I need to use the radio....

We've notified Australia customs of our impeding arrival - they require advanced notice and we've decided to head straight to Darwin without clearing-in at Thursday Island. We've given our date of arrival in Darwin as 15th July. Seems like a long way off with no provisioning stops, especially as we ran out of garlic today - imagine 13 days with no garlic. Perhaps I should allow medical science the chance to examine such a unique experiment on our arrive. Has anything like it ever been attempted before?

Irish music this evening, after I spotted an Irish friend's name on some coral we have to avoid while I was studying the chart for our reef entrance. Hello Brian, you're famous; Mcsweeny Reef @ S11deg01.59' E143deg14.88'

Position @ 19:00 (GMT +11): S12deg 35.8' E153deg 43.3'
Distance to Raine Island Entrance: 570
Daily run: 130

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Sometimes you wished you'd stayed in bed

It was one of those mornings. I'd been sleeping fitfully, frequently waking up listening to the creaking and crashing around me. Finally I'd had enough and got up determined to trace the source of the loudest insomnia inducing crashing which seemed to be coming from the engine. Opening up the engine compartment revealed a flood of bilge water. OK, so first trace the problem; it turned out to be a dripping stern gland. Next empty the bilge; after a minute pumping, the electric bilge pump blocked. No problem; change to the manual bilge pump. After 10 minutes exercise working the pump, I was wide awake and all thought of trying to catch up on sleep had vanished for the morning. Finally the bilge water was down sufficiently to not cause alarm, not empty, but it would do for a while. Next I set about trying to sort out the stern gland. I suspect that the new engine mounts have "settled", causing the engine to move out of alignment and the stern gland to develop the leak. However realigning the engine is a job for a quiet anchorage, not a rolling boat on passage. Instead I choose to tighten up the gland which should temporarily solve the problem. The long protruding bolts meant that the job required a long socket which I know I only have in a couple of select sizes. Amazingly one of the few long sockets fitted the stern glad nuts so I was all set to start work. Rather quickly I dropped the socket into the not quite empty bilge. Fortunately this isn't the first time tools have vanished into the bilge and I've acquired a magnet for just such occasions.

By this time Charlotta had decided we should take the reefs out of the mainsail as our speed was dropping away. Afer a quick degrease I was on deck lending a hand to shake out the reefs, then returned to the bilge and fishing with the magnet - only to find the socket appeared to have rolled away in the meantime. Eventually the magnet engaged with something metallic and wonders of wonders the socket emerged. Finally with the stern gland tightened, and half a turn of grease added, the water stopped. Now, I set about unblocking the bilge hose, and pumping out the remaining water with the electric pump. Finally I mopped up the water that made its way into the engine tray and created a sludgy mess by mixing with some oil. Finally breakfast and I'd completely forgotten what I'd original got out of bed to do!

While I was "just in time" maintaining the boat, up on deck the self-steering was competently continuing to steer us towards Australia. I emerged blinking mole-like into the the midday sun and discovered that we'd been blessed with another good trade-wind sailing day; a little more wind would be preferable but it's a comfortable ride and we're making reasonable progress.

Today was the perfect day for papaya crumble making. However our bananas are in most need of consumption so we postponed the crumble and Charlotta used up the remaining bananas in some bread. According to the recipe book it's best on the third day - think it will be lucky to make it past the first day.

Lentils and aubergine for lunch and it looked like we'd be reaching for the can-opener for supper, when the fishing line took-off; a small "two day" yellow fin tuna. Time from landing to eating 25 minutes - we're working to reduce that time, but it takes 20 minutes to boil the rice to accompany the steaks. Almost worth sleep deprivation for.

We've made contact with Mata'irea, who are a day behind us, but catching up fast, and are heading for the same break in the Great Barrier Reef. It's reassuring that others are trying the same entrance we've chosen, as we've yet to hear of another boat using it. Then again, they "knocked off some bottom paint" on the coral entering Peterson Bay in Santo, so rather than "great minds think alike", "fools seldom differ" might be more appropriate. We'll see how they are progressing this evening when we talk on the radio, might have to get the cuising chute out to defend Kika's honour.

Position @ 19:00 (GMT +11): S12deg 55.8' E155deg 55.4'
Distance to Raine Island Entrance: 700
Daily run: 124.8