Sprinting North At Last

It seems to have been ages since we have moved with real purpose, but now all the stops are out. We left Cairns after our short visit to this charming place. We had our morning planned out to pack various chores into a few short hours, Carol going to the supermarket to get last minute perishables while I took water into the boat’s tanks and other necessary tasks.

We got a weather report and forecast from what we expect may be our last bit of internet for a few weeks, and were cautioned by the continuation of the strong winds which have begun sweeping up from the south-east. There was even a mention of 30 knots. So to our list of jobs was one more: to take down the 140% genoa and replace it with the 91% jib. This is the first time this year we’ve flown this very new sail, and even though the morning land breeze was present we were able to do the switch at the dock without too much trouble.

When it came time for me to bring Prince Diamond over to the fuel dock where I would meet Carol returning from the store I found myself in a position of not being able to leave our slip without some scraping of the hull since we were held to the slip with the wind which was gaining in strength. Eventually a couple walking down the dock helped to hold the boat off the dock as I reversed out. Such was the wind I did not attempt to turn the boat, but continued in reverse until in the wider basin.

After fueling we set off down the long channel which leads over the shallows into the Coral Sea. Once moving north the engine was turned off and it stayed off for days except for lowering the anchor in Ninian Bay. The wind generator and solar panels have been able to keep the batteries topped up, even in the cloudy conditions we have now. In these conditions the wind generator shines, putting out about 12 amps with the 20 knot wind.

We had not planned to stop at Ninian Bay, but the 25 knot wind and steep seas were tiring. With us in such close proximity to land, in such wind, and with passing ships an occasional hazard I allowed Carol to get some extra sleep while I stayed up much of the time. I was unable to sleep when off watch more than an hour. The first night at sea is usually hard since one is not so tired as to fall asleep easily with the boat’s motion. The second day at sea is torture but you must endure it in order to be tired enough the next night to sleep well. Once that second night is accomplished you’re golden after that, as you settle into a rhythm in which you feel relatively refreshed, except in rougher weather.

Even though the ship channels we were following north are protected to seaward by the Great Barrier Reef, it only knocks off a half metre from the wave heights, and the wind direction was such that often it was directly from behind. In other words, the wind was coming directly up the channel from astern with plenty of fetch to tune up the wave heights. As well, the starboard lazy-jack line had again parted. It had happened in a lower section of the line earlier in the trip, but now it seemed the line was surely worn out. This time the break caused half of the line to rise to the upper spreader, and the rest was draped across the cabin top. Anchoring in a quiet bay would allow me to get the mess cleared up.

But quiet bays are not to be found on the northern York Peninsula, and the best we could find was a reportedly rolly Ninian Bay 22 miles ahead. We tucked into the western end of the bay as far as our draft would allow, and were pleasantly surprised to find the 200 metre fetch to windward produced small waves which only caused the boat to pitch gently. There were no swells coming around the point at all!

So we passed a very nice night. I was so tired I woke in the middle of the night with a pain in my pectoral muscle from having my arm in the same position for hours! In the end I slept a solid 12 hours. With the broken lazy line removed as much as possible and the top of the lazy bag now being held up by the port side line we continued on using the jib only.

North of Cooktown there are no settlements on the peninsula and except for one time when passing close to land I was able to grab some email using mobile internet. Generally there is nothing here on land at all… just low hills, sandy beaches and very few people.

When my first mate wakes I think I will suggest to her we would do best to forget the overnight stop at Escape River near the tip of Cape York. If we sleep we’re only going to go through the exhausting ritual of getting used the passage across the Gulf of Carpentaria. I think it may be better to just keep sailing. We’re on a roll. Once we pass the cape I expect the wind to drop dramatically. We may even end up motoring! I suspect we will be slipping through the Torres Straits tomorrow evening, and turning west toward western Australia and Darwin.

Just as I was finishing up this post I heard a strange sound outside which was growing louder and louder. It resolved itself as what I thought was a C-130 aircraft at low level flew over Prince Diamond and then away to the west. A few minutes later the Australian Border Force hailed us on channel 16. I had been prepared for this as the Australians keep a tight watch on their northern coast. Asking me the boat’s port of registry (Toronto), our last major port of call (Cairns) and our next major port of call (Darwin, non-stop). Turns out it was a DASH-8 aircraft (made in Canada!). He then called the Australian sailboat Sarah which is somewhere in the vicinity. Sarah and Prince Diamond had a nice chat by radio afterwards. They are also on the way to Darwin, but stopping each night along the way. We’ll be sure to have a beer as they are going to be in our basin at Tipperary Waters Marina. It is funny… I thought Prince Diamond was scheduled to be at Tipperary Waters, but as I recently found out, I had been emailing with a management company which actually runs Bayview Marina in the same basin! So we are NOT going to Tipperary Waters after all. This is a strange situation since many of the marinas we’ve spoken to appear to be in bankruptcy and run by management companies. The companies don’t seem to identify themselves as to which marina they manage, so a stranger is somewhat guessing unless you flat out ask “which marina am I talking to?”.

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