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Australia 2009

Lizard Island

We left Cairns as the sky was just beginning to get light and the stars were starting to fade. Ali, Mike and Dave were joining us on the trip to Darwin. 30 miles to our first stop, the Low Isles. Light winds most of the day and we made the anchorage when almost all the light was gone.

After a couple of days snorkelling and soaking up the sun on the beach we sailed overnight on to Lizard Island national park. From Cairns to Darwin is about 1200 miles so we had a lot of distance to cover this month! Lizard Island is wonderful. Named after large monitor lizards that scramble around underfoot - we saw several - it has perfect soft sandy beaches, giant (70 year old) clams in the coral gardens, excellent hiking trails, and to top it off, an island bar serving cold beer! Our friends on ?Cheers? and ?Hafskip? were also here so it was a good holiday feel.

Low Isles lighthouse

We spent 5 nights here then headed north again. Two overnighters to uninhabited (except for the seabirds, pelicans and maybe a croc or two) Morris Island. After leaving Lizard swimming was now considered a risky affair - salt water crocodiles inhabit these waters. Still, it?s the tropics and we live on a boat, so it was impossible to stay out of the water altogether, but our bathes were very quick!

Our next landfall was Mt Adolphus island, just north of Cape York, the northern tip of Australia. It was a great achievement to get this far through the maze of coral that is the Great Barrier Reef and look back upon mainland Australia. All sailors who come this route mention the renewed respect they have for the first early explorers, navigating this area without charts or satellite aids, and we have them to thank for charting this stretch of water. With ?Cheers? we had a fire on the beach and cooked some fresh fish and toasted marshmallows, while ever alert on croc watch.

Customs helicopters, planes and boats checked up on us yachts several times in Australia

We had a good breeze to get us to the Torres Strait - first stop on Horn Island was the local tavern for beer and icecream! We went across to Thursday Island, the ?centre? of town life in the Strait. After the long sail up the coast over the past 2 weeks it was nice to relax in a shady caf?, read some books with the kids at the library, and swim in the large pool and picnic on the grass beside it at the local sports centre. We met some Australians who had come to live and work on Thursday Island, but it wouldn?t be my first choice. I just couldn?t live on a tropical island and not be able to swim in the sea. Every morning, in the mud, beside our anchorage, large lazy crocs would lie in the sun, mouths open. The main playground game we saw in the northern territory, was whoever was ?it? was a big scary croc chasing the others!

Thursday Island jetty and local pub, Wessel Islands dunes, Frans windsurfing in the Wessels

Our last day on Thursday Island was a Thursday, and on Friday we sailed, appropriately, to Friday Island. (There are also Wednesday and Tuesday islands, though they must have given up naming by the weekend.) Friday had a huge flat sandy plain, perfect for running around on, and a nice calm anchorage despite the 25knot breeze and rushing currents. We left early in the morning for the Wessel islands, 400 miles towards the sunset.

Crocodile slipping back into the water at Horn Island

Now we were through the Torres Strait and on the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Beyond that lay The Arafura and Timor Seas and the Indian Ocean. We had, after 9 years of sailing, finally left the Pacific Ocean. And as we looked back into the wind and the swell it didn?t look so appealing to go back. We had to go on. I felt sad. I love the Pacific; the islands, the people, the simplicity of the living. But we were also excited - the prospect of Asia - a completely different people, cheap yummy food, it was all going to be new for us.

The Wessel Islands are bleak, remote, forgotten isalnds. Beautiful in their rugged isolation. It felt magical being anchored here under the vast starry skies and none of us were in a hurry to leave. We made bread and pancakes, played cards, rigged up a rope swing for Dylan, Frans windsurfed, and we all played around on the beach. But eventually it was time to move on.

Craft centre and cliffs at Goulburn, arrived in Darwin city.

We had just over 100 miles to the Goulburn islands, and we left early. In the morning a large pod of dolphins joined us, playing and splashing around the bow. Although he has seen dolphins quite a bit Dylan was just as excited as always. For Jayden it was still new, and his face was full of wonder and happiness at their antics. ?Wow, wow? he kept saying. The dolphins stayed over an hour, some going and new ones coming, including some babies who were sheltered on each side by larger dolphins. The arrival of dolphins always make it a happy day, but that night was even more spectacular. I woke up to a very loud squeaking sound coming from outside - more dolphins! And very loud ones! I jumped out the hatch, and there were huge 2 - 3m dolphins, all lit up in the phosphorescence. Shooting streaks like underwater comets came speeding towards us from all directions. It was amazing! It was 3 in the morning, but this does not happen every night, so I woke up Dylan and Jayden, and all sleepy eyed they sat on deck, cuddled up to me, in the dark, listening to the squeaks and watching the glittering dolphins, as ?Moet? sailed on through the night. It was like a fairytale. A very special day.

Ali happy to be on Morris Island

We arrived the next morning at the Aboriginal island of South Goulburn. It was now very much an Australian designed settlement - the rows of prefab houses, the police on patrol, the bureaucrats in their beachfront office. In outward appearance little remained of traditional aboriginal life. I wonder, did they still go bush for food? Dance and sing? The ladies wove baskets and the men and women painted for the craft shop - but did they also do it for themselves, for the act itself? Unfortunately, we didn?t stay long enough to find out.

Now we were off to Darwin, our last stop in Australia. It was a tricky passage, 200 miles, with much of it troubled by strong currents and flecked with reefs and shoals. We were going in with spring tides, possibly the biggest of the year, and had timed everything perfectly for the currents to be in our favour. All was going well - until the engine stopped. A quick look in the tanks - they were empty!! But we certainly hadn?t got through 200 litres of diesel - nowhere near that amount - there must be a leak and the diesel had all drained into the bilge! This happened at 6am - with already 2 knots of current against us, almost no wind, and the current pushing us onto NW Vernon island, less than a mile away. We had to act fast! With all sails up we were still not going forwards, but had enough steerage to drift sideways, towards a sandbank where we anchored and waited. By 11am the tide was slack, the wind was up to 5 - 10 knots and we were only 25 miles from Darwin. The rest of the day the current would be in our favour. We sailed all afternoon, and just before sunset we were 5 miles away from town when the wind died, so with some help from our friends on ?Zinc? who loaned us a jerrican of diesel, we just made it into the anchorage before dark. Hooray!

Jay in Dylan's old travelling bed - the guitar case!

In the last 2 months since leaving Noumea we had sailed almost 2500 miles. This is quite fast moving for us and felt like quite an achievement! We celebrated at the Darwin Sailing Club with a Sunday roast with ?Zinc?, ?Cheers?, and ?Hafskip?. It is always good to arrive in a new port, and prepare for the next part of the voyage. Now Frans had a new project to add to his jobs list - ?build new diesel tanks??..

Painting 'Moet' at low tide, Fannie Bay, Darwin