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Port Douglas to Cape York...Australia

Part of our objective on this sector was to minimize the amount of night passages.  With just the two of us on board it can be quite tiring if they are for extended periods.  We generally worked four hour shifts, 7pm to 11pm, 11pm – 3am and 3am to 7am.  That worked quite well as we alternated each night.

We left on the 2nd Sept in the afternoon and spent the night at a little island called Low Islets  The next day we did a day sail to Hope Islands about 40 miles north.  That was quite pleasant in that there were a number of fish swimming around the boat.  Wasn’t all that comfortable though as the SE wind was around 25 – 30 knots.  In fact, it stayed that strength all the way up to Cape York and into the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

The next day we day sailed to Lizard Island which was about 60 NM north of Hope Islands.  That was quite pleasant (photo below) but still breezy.  We stayed there a couple of days.

When we left Lizard Island we had a great run to Flinders Islands about 80NM.  Ran the asymmetric spinnaker all day in about 28 knots.  Flinders Islands had a good anchorage but not suitable tor swimming because of the crocs!

We then did an overnight passage to Cape Grenville (about 160NM) and anchored there for a night.  Overnight passages inside the reef are easy because the shipping lane is well marked on the charts and if you have AIS the ships are easy to identify and avoid.  The reefs are marked with beacons.

Quite a nice anchorage at Cape Grenville, but once again no swimming because of Crocs!  We left in the early morning to sail to Escape river just south of Cape York.  (Escape river is about 70NM north of Cape Grenville).  We thought we should overnight at Escape river and catch the tide to get through Albany Passage by Cape York the following morning.  As it was we made good time and could have caught the late afternoon tide through Albany Passage, but I was curious to have a look at Escape River.

Escape river was a bit of a disappointment.  You need to go up about three miles into it in order to get an anchorage.  It was certainly peaceful and remote but you certainly wouldn’t want to dip your toes in the water.  Saw some croc’s.

The next day we left early in the morning to catch the tide through Albany Passage which is just south of Cape York at the NE tip of Australia.  There is a very strong tide rip through there so it is critical to time it right.  The weather was not great.  Strong SE winds with rain which cut visibility back quite a bit.  The below photo is just coming up to the start of the passage.

The pass itself is quite pretty and would have been delightful if the weather had been clear.

Gulf of Carpenteria and across the top of NW Australia.

After we rounded the NE tip of Australia we headed to an anchorage at a little Aboriginal settlement called Seisia.  Quite a pretty place and they have a supermarket there.  Note the shopping trolley on the roof!

Quite a nice little beach but not for swimming!  Actually they have a little memorial on the beach for someone who came ashore in their dingy and ended up as one of the local croc’s dinner!

We intended to sail out early the next morning to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria to Gove.  When we arrived there were a number of other boats there so we anchored outside the ‘last one’ as the space was limited.  But, I wasn’t careful enough where I picked my anchor spot and during the night the boat swung and the tide dropped and one hull settled on a reef.  Woke up in the morning thinking something felt a bit odd and when I went on deck found we were on a 45 degree angle.  No problem but we had to wait until midday before we could float off and leave.  No damage though.

I won’t make that mistake again!

The passage across to Gove over the other side of the Gulf was around 350NM.  The first day was great with 25 – 30 knot SE winds.  Then the winds moved around more to the south so that wasn’t so good, but not bad.  Arrived in Gove about midnight after two nights at sea.

Originally I had planned to sail further south before cutting across the Gulf as the winds often swing around to the south creating a nasty cross ‘slop’.  This is mainly a problem when the winds on the eastern north Queensland coast weaken, but as they were strong I figured we could go directly across.    Turned out it was the right decision as we did make good time and most of the passage was comfortable.

We anchored up just outside of the Gove Boat Club.  What a delightful place, and delightful people, Brad the Commodore was fantastic and very helpful and the couple who run the Gove Boat Club (photo below) were also terrific.  Some really nice people living on their boats there as well.

I had a problem with the auto-pilot in that the brushes in the auto-pilot motor had worn out and had to buy another motor and have it couriered to me from Sydney.  Worked out OK in that it was ordered from Sydney on the Monday and arrived on the Tuesday.  I was really lucky that it stopped working when it did as our next stop was West Timor (about 900NM away and in all practicality would not have been able to repair it again until Singapore, another 2,300NM away!

I was also lucky enough there to meet a marine electrician Marcus who lived on a Wharram Tiki 38 with his wife and daughter and worked locally as they cruise around Australia.  Marcus was very competent and sorted out the problem for me quickly.  Great people.  His boat was called Captain Jacko and he bought it in NZ and sailed it to Australia.

We stayed at Gove about three nights.  Some beautiful beaches up there, but they still have the ever present issue of crocs.  The bay we were in was visited by a shark which sent a warning around to the boats anchored there which were quite  a few.

When we set sail it was in very light winds and anchored at an island about 40 NM north of Gove for the night.  Really remote, but beautiful.  We then had to time our arrive at what is known locally as the ‘hole in the wall’ which is a gap through the Wessel Island group.  These are a chain of islands at the extreme northern end of Australia and stretch about 60 miles north of the mainland.  To get around them adds a lot of extra mileage but if you go through the ‘hole in the wall’ also known as the Gugari Rip then you can avoid having to go an extra 40 NM north.

But you have to time the tides right as the tidal flow through it is really fierce. 

Although the passage through the ‘rip’ is short it is really quite pretty.  In fact the Wessel’s would be great to spend time exploring.  It is hard to get more remote than these islands as there is simply no one there other than the local wild life.  I think that I will go back to Gove one day and charter Brad’s boat to do some exploring around that way.

Next stop was Kupang in West Timor 800NM away.


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