Monday, August 31, 2020

Passage to Darwin and then some Darwin Time

[Kyle]Our leg to Darwin from Cape Don would be almost twenty-four hours, passing through Melville Bay. The tides going into and out of the bay are very strong so it is important to time it correctly. Our best solution was to leave just before dusk and pass through Melville Bay at night.

For the most part, it was pretty good. The five knot current at the beginning was nearly outrunning the five knot wind we had, leaving us adrift, but still moving quickly in the right direction. After a while, the wind filled in from behind and we had a nice spinnaker run with a three knot following current. During my watch, I was able to overtake a tug and barge that had passed us earlier. By sunrise, they were over the horizon astern.

We made it most of the way out of the Howard Channel, separating the Australian mainland from the southern tip of Tiwi Island, before the current turned back against us. While I slept, Maryanne cut our next corner and worked her way through the shallows south of the channel in the hopes of escaping the worst of it. It worked. She was able to keep our speed at just under three knots while saving us a few miles in the process. When I awoke, I noticed that the tug and barge behind us, who were still in the main channel, were down to 0.7 knots according to their AIS. Fortunately for both of us, the current was due to shift again in an hour or so.

Just before it did, the wind picked up a bit and we were able to speed up enough to still keep a good speed against the remaining current. When we neared the harbor, the wind shifted to the south, requiring us to tack the rest of the way in. That's always a real killer. We could see the anchorage to which we were heading, but we knew we still had hours to go before we would actually get there. With only one propeller to oppose the strong wind and current, we would have been even worse off motoring. Our best option was to sail fast on the zigzag route to get there.

As Maryanne and I were discussing what to do, I noticed a piece of what appeared to be funny-looking seaweed caught in our trampoline. I went forward and discovered it was actually the wing of a big fruit bat, who was trying his best (and failing) to stay out of the spray kicked up by the bows. I had just been up there a little while ago, so I know he had arrived when we were underway. Perhaps he tried to go through the tunnel between the hulls, realized he wouldn't make it and grabbed for the trampoline. He stayed with us the rest of the day, occasionally changing spot to keep out of the worst of the spray, but never really succeeding. Mostly, he just hid under the protection of his wings. I decided to call him Count Blah!

We got within a mile or so of our intended anchorage when the wind just quit as if someone had tripped over the cord. We coasted to a stop and then started spinning helplessly in circles towards the sand bank protecting the bay. Okay, so we'll start the engine after all. Wouldn't you know it, as soon as we were in gear, twenty knot tailwinds arrived. Oh, this wind!

We anchored in Fannie Bay in a spot that was suspiciously devoid of other anchored boats. Most of the others were clustered at the north end by the Darwin Sailing Club's access dock. We were staying aboard for the night, so we were looking for a spot closer to the southern end, where the Cullen Bay Marina has its waiting/ferry dock outside of its entrance lock.

Count Blah joins us for much of the passage

Count Blah! Was still with us. He was shivering and the fur on his head was caked with salt. I sprayed him with a mist of fresh water, which he initially didn't like until he figured out what I was doing, then he was all for it. He had a good clean and then lapped up the rest to help beat the heat. We left him there and he slept the rest of the afternoon. I went to check on him again after dark and he was gone, off to find some unsuspecting fruit.

Most of the marinas in Darwin sit in basins behind big locks. While we weren't going into Cullen Bay, we had reservations at another marina further up the estuary. Before we would be allowed in, though, the Northern Territory government required us to be inspected and treated for invasive species. This is done at the government's expense at the Cullen Bay waiting dock.

Since the sea breeze picks up greatly during the day and since we only have one prop, I was eager to get to the dock early before the wind made maneuvering difficult. We got really lucky when we arrived and had just enough wind from ahead and slightly to starboard to bring us to a stop and then push us gently into the dock. All I really had to do when the rudders lost effectiveness was to put the port engine into forward every now and then to keep the bow from being blown to port into the dock. The whole thing ended up being pretty stress-free.

Once we had a couple of lines ashore. We pulled Begonia to the other end of the dock by hand. One of the ferry crewmen asked why we were doing it the hard way and not using the engines. When I explained that we only had the one propeller, he was nice enough to say that he couldn't tell by our approach. That was the goal. I'm glad it worked out that way.

Since we had arrived well before our biosecurity appointment, we had a few hours to kill. Since the little basin we were in was small and the water was flat, Maryanne hinted to me that it would be nice for me to go into the water to have a good look at our starboard drive to get an idea just what would need to be done about installing a replacement prop. I thought that sounded like such a great idea that she should do it. She agreed that it was too great an idea for her to have all of the fun, so she would let me go in. Well, in the manner of most of these things, we finally compromised and did it her way.

At least the water was marvelously without chill, although a bit murky. I swam over and my first great find was that the spacer was still on the shaft! A little bit of growth on the exposed shaft had kept it from sliding off. We had spare props, spare washers, spare nuts and spare fairing cones, but no spare spacers. The spacer is what keeps the prop from sliding up the shaft and banging on the transmission leg. We called a local supplier and they said they had everything in stock except the spacers. We ordered a bunch of each part.

Our original plan had been to careen again, this time on the beach at Fannie Bay, to examine and even possibly replace the propeller, or at least determine definitively that we need to wait for our new spacers to be installed on a subsequent careening. Maryanne had the secret backup plan of asking the biosecurity diver if he wouldn't mind doing a little side job after he was done with our treatment. Since I was already wet, I suggested I could just do it now if she would hand me down the parts.

It took her a few minutes to assemble and grease everything and collect the necessary tools. In the meantime, I hauled out onto the safety of the boat and covered myself with barbecue sauce. I got the spacer and prop on okay. As I was being handed the fairing nut, the ferry guy said something about a three meter croc that lives in the basin, although he hasn't seen him in a couple of weeks.

”Four meters?”

”Nah, more like three.”

”So....less than four.” Why is this guy bothering me? I'm trying to swim, here.

The nut/cone and the backup nut both went on. I torqued the hell out of both, checked that everything spun freely and then elected to skip my victory lap around the basin for brevity. I had other jobs to do.

Since it hasn't rained on us in weeks, Begonia has a judicious coating of salt crust, dust and bushfire ash and really needed a good clean, or at least a fresh water rinse. I set to doing that, incorrectly thinking it would provide a nice relief to the 37C (99F) temperatures. Deck scrubbing turns out to be almost entirely NOT playing in the sprinkler, except at the end, on the rinse cycle. I'm too water conscious to leave a hose running for no reason in a hot, dry climate.

While I was doing that, poor Maryanne was trapped inside the sealed cabin (to keep the water from the hose out). She mostly occupied herself with shopping online for our next two months worth of groceries. By the time she was finished, we both decided it would have been quicker and easier to have just gone to the store and browsed.

She also got to field a lot of phone calls and emails. Our arrival has apparently freaked out most of the people in the Northern Territory. This seems to stem from our need for the day's biosecurity treatment. We are required to get this for two reasons: a) We have arrived in Australia from a foreign port, (even if that was ten months ago), and 2) We have not been hauled out since arriving in Australia for a period of more than two weeks. (We blasted through our Bundaberg haulout in a week because we were worried about getting locked down due to Covid).

The thing is, Darwin is a pretty major port of arrival for boats from overseas, particularly PNG and Indonesia. Almost everybody getting the biosecurity treatment for the Darwin basins has just arrived from a foreign port. They haven't had a sailboat arrive in two months. We were the first one and we could not convince them that we had not just sailed in from Malaysia. Maryanne needed to explain over and over to people that we didn't need to fly our Q flag or contact the Border Force because we have been in Australia since last year. We didn't need to contact the Marine Police about quarantine, because we already did that in Gove a month ago and have been sailing legally through the Northern Territory ever since. Nobody wanted to take her word for any of this, so she spent a lot of time making phone calls and forwarding copies of all of our paperwork around. The diver didn't want to inspect us until we had checked in with the local police. The guy there seemed somewhat suspicious until he called the Gove Police and verified that we were legit. Once we cleared everything up, we called the marina to tell them we were coming. That started a whole fresh flurry of, “Have you cleared in? Who with? Does the Border Force know? Have you quarantined?” Oh, for the love of....

The three-man dive team arrived to perform our treatment. One did the diving, one monitored the surface demand air system and the third handled the paperwork. I fear we may have disappointed the third guy. The main purpose of the treatment is to introduce a biocide solution to all of our sea water intakes and to inspect the hulls for invasive growth. When he went through his questionnaire about our intakes, I kept saying, “No”.

No, we don't have a generator, no water maker, no air conditioning, no live well, no reverse cycle fridge, no seawater deck wash, no underwater cockpit or sink drains, just two engine intakes and two toilet inlets. We are basically Amish cruisers on an open boat.

The diver suited up and went in. We ran each engine for thirty seconds until the exhaust water turned pink and then we pumped each toilet until the water turned pink. That was it. The guy was in the water for three minutes. He spent more time stowing away his wet gear than that. Now we just had to let the pink stuff sit in the pipes for ten hours before we could leave the dock or use the heads.

We bought fuel and I replaced a worn water pump belt. When all of our chores were done, we went for a nice waterfront walk and even had a meal out at a restaurant with widely spaced outdoor seating.

We spent an evening at the dock outside Cullen Bay lock

I had thought I would be happy staying at the dock and having a lie-in the next morning, but I did not factor in the ferry schedule. They start at 5am with lots of supplies coming in on rattling carts and the big engines starting early to get the A/C going. Once we realized this was going to go on until midnight, we decided to head back to our former anchorage at Fannie Bay. The new prop works fine and not having to careen basically gave us an unexpected day off. I could sleep a lot better not having worries about making all of those ninety-degree turns to get into a marina slip on a windy day with only one propeller.

We were up early to ride the flood from our anchorage to Bayview Marina. The water along the way in Sadgrove Creek is so shallow that it is only possible for us to make the journey in the top two-thirds of the tide, The very last bit from the creek to the lock gate can only be done at the very top of the tide. The rest of the time, the creek is a mud flat with only a thin sliver of water running down the middle.

Unfortunately, this thin sliver is chock-a-block with vessels on moorings who want to stay afloat at all states of the tide. This means the navigable channel is a mine field of moored and anchored vessels and it is necessary to weave through them quite closely and at reduced speed to proceed up river. It was a bit of a relief to make the ninety-degree turn toward the big lock gate on the bank.

That relief lasted until we made it to the actual lock. It was a bit narrow. We had just enough room for Begonia and some fenders, but only one side's worth. We crept in very slowly with me pumping the gear levers from forward to neutral to reverse and back like I was a backhoe operator. That kept us aligned with the lock. Maryanne saved our bacon by running from side to side with a boat hook in one hand and a spare fender in the other, giving whatever nudge was necessary to keep us from touching the concrete.

Once we had been lifted to the level of the marina, the gate on that side opened and we had to get out. That gap seemed a couple of centimeters narrower and was made entirely out of scary looking bits of metal. I had visions of the big Titanic-style gash we would be spending the next month repairing, but we managed to get through again without touching.

We made it in just in time. Right on schedule, the afternoon sea breeze arrived. The wind went from three knots to just over twenty. We circled around to the far side of the marina, made a ninety-degree turn into the fairway and then pivoted another ninety-degrees before backing into the slip. It all went very smoothly. This is, of course, because we had two props. Had we tried to do this with only the port propeller, there is no way we would have been able to go anywhere in the basin without hitting at least half a dozen boats. The wind would have had its way with us and any attempt I made at using power to recover would have only made things worse. Then we would have been Pariahs. Thus, it was great to be tied up with three of our eight dock lines easily resisting the push of the wind.

The marina was very quiet, with good facilities. We started our laundry. We then filled three of their four big dock carts with our ridiculously large grocery delivery. Every time we said, “That surely must be it by now”, the driver would respond with, “No, this stack (of crates) is yours, too. Wait, and that one, as well.” What have we done?

It was 35C (95F) outside, which made for some hot work getting it all to the boat and aboard. We celebrated the end of our workday with a few cold showers, all taken in succession without even turning the water off in between. Oh, that feels good!

We arrived at the marina in time for our giant Woolworths grocery delivery

After the sun went down, the wind quit entirely. We left all of the hatches wide open and once we had decided it was cool enough to attempt sleep, we retired for the day under the little square of stars exposed by our open hatch.

Morning came much too soon. We had a lot to do, so there was no time for loafing. All of the food we bought had yet to be stowed properly and we needed to prepare for our week-long road trip south. As I was making coffee, I noticed that I was pretty itchy. Garrrgh! I missed bug-free Marchinbar Island. Fannie Bay was not bad, but we did get a couple of biting flies during the calms. I must've been bitten more than I thought...

Nope. The problem wasn't the two flies at Fannie Bay. It turns out Bayview has no-see-ums. Most no-see-ums are not actually invisible, just tiny and black, with a bite whose itchiness is way out of proportion to its size. Bayview's no-see-ums really are as close to invisible as you can get. I caught sight of one of them as it bit me on the arm. The little monster was clear with two almost microscopic black eyes. Sometimes, in the right light, you can see them as a tiny mote of dust moving in a different direction to the real motes of dust. As soon as the sun is gone and the wind dies, they are everywhere. They are small enough to go through even our finest mesh, so we were left with no choice at night but to shut ourselves in. I couldn't bear to have no fresh air, so we left our bedroom hatch open and sprayed the screen with bug repellent. That mostly didn't work. After a few days my nightly routine was about 50% sleep, 50% clawing at myself in itchy torment. Maryanne fared much better than I did, but neither of us dared to venture out to take in the otherwise lovely night air. This marina was seeming like less of a good deal every day. Thankfully we wern't planning on hanging around for long.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Recreational Bushwalking at Cape Don, Cobourg Peninsula

[Kyle]Oops, that should read: Recreational Bush Fire Walking.

We left Coral Bay super-early, knowing there wasn't really supposed to be enough wind to get us to our next anchorage at Alcaro Bay by nightfall. I tend to plan conservatively, so when we actually got out there, we found we were going just fast enough to make it after all. With the added help of a favorable current, we ended up getting there well before that. We were pleased to find the bug situation much improved over that at Coral Bay. Most of that seemed to be from the combination of an onshore wind and also several nearby bush fires, which kept just enough smoke in the air to deter them.

Views from the anchorage at Alcaro Bay - smoke ashore

Alcaro really does have a trail from the anchorage that doesn't require the crossing of any private land. In fact, it is supposed to be a proper road. The next morning we fought the ebb up the river at the south end of the bay to a landing spot on the far side.

The trail was not in good shape. Whatever 'road' there once had been had long since been overgrown and crisscrossed by falling trees. In a few cases, we couldn't see any evidence of a trail at all and just had to continue bushwhacking in a general direction (aided by our map app) until it revealed itself once again.

The 'goal' at the end of the trail was the lighthouse and the complex of supporting buildings at Cape Don. At length, we made it there, but the lighthouse and its abandoned buildings turned out not to be the most interesting part of the walk.

Insects (Locust and a Mantis), birds (see the moth in its claws?), and the smoldering fires along the trail

What turned out to be most interesting was the fire. There was a small fire between us and the lighthouse, although I was pretty sure it wasn't on our direct path. I had been worried about walking through a fire zone and was especially concerned about getting through and then having our return cut off. We had seen the flames of a fire in the opposite direction the night before and there was still a little bit of smoke rising between us and the lighthouse. I pored over the weather forecasts and decided our safest option would be to go early, when the wind was still calm. I didn't fancy the idea of having to leave the only trail to divert overland around a fire that was being propelled by winds we couldn't outrun.

As I wrote that paragraph, I have to admit I felt so sorry for my poor mother. I love you, Mom!

Sooo, we left with the plan of high-tailing it back if we got scared. We made it all of the way to the lighthouse without dying. There, we found a creepy ghost town with no furniture, but plenty of abandoned hazardous waste. What the hell, humans?

And the lighthouse, Completed in 1917 with 3 keeper cottages;
fully automated and de-manned in 1983

In the afternoon, the winds had picked up, if only slightly. The smoldering areas we had traversed on the way out were now more obviously on fire, none of which was raging. It was fascinating.

Much of the flora in this part of Australia is highly fire resistant. This means that the forest burns slowly, like a candle, instead of quickly, like a ball of crumpled-up newspaper. We saw lots of smoke, with only a few open flames. We trudged through miles of ash, which turned our legs black. Most of the burning seemed to be trees being engulfed slowly from one end to the other through slowly advancing yellow-hot embers through their interiors like the last lonely log in a fireplace. Our path was crossed with white ash trails looking like two-dimensional shadows of the great trees they had once been. In fact, it seemed like most of the fallen trees had done so because their trunks had been turned to ash and were finally no longer able to support them.

Many of the fallen trees were reduced to not only lines of white ash, but also orange powder. At first we thought it was clay, but it disintegrated at the slightest touch. We later realized the orange ash was from termites. The orange ash trees were always next to a like-colored termite mound. As they consumed the tree, they must have replaced the wood with an internal extra 'mound' within the tree, which was exposed by the fire.

The smoldering was slow enough and random enough that most of the fauna we saw was still going about life as usual. Birds were screeching at us, kangaroos were fleeing and there were ants everywhere, seemingly oblivious to the blazes, rebuilding their colonies in the ash left behind.

It was a relief to have made it back to the dinghy with nothing worse than grubby legs and clothes that smelled like a camp fire. As we launched, a croc splashed on the other side of the river, but he never came to bother us. Maryanne kept an eye out, though. As I was getting it ready to hoist the dinghy into Begonia's davits, she spotted a shape. It turned out to be a manta ray feeding near the boat. It came within arm's length before joining two others who also eventually passed close by. We spent hours admiring them, grateful that they were so nice to come to us when we couldn't swim with them.

The evening was made extra great with a visit from three Manta Rays that spent several hours cruising the anchorage for food

As we were doing this, Another boat arrived. It was a ketch. Aboard was Dennis, a single-hander who was bringing his newly-refitted boat home to Cairns from Southeast Asia. Since we were both going opposite directions for the first time, we were able to exchange tips on what's coming next. Since he was going upwind, he left at the next lull. We stayed behind, waiting for a good wind for the next leg.

Back at Begonia, we received a message from my poor mother. My brother, Darren, who lives in California, has had to evacuate his cabin in the woods above Santa Cruz because of terrible forest fires there. The California fires are the scary, fast-moving infernos that no one in their right mind would think is a good place for a stroll. Finding out one has entered your county is cause for alarm. His cabin sits beneath a mature Giant Redwood. He had to leave with what he could carry at 1:30 am and go into town to sleep at work. The next day, the authorities ordered an evacuation of Santa Cruz proper, so he's busy trying to find shelter that won't give him Covid. From where we are, we can only get headlines like, “California Wildfires Rage On”. We have not been able to see any maps or pictures of the area and Darren is of course too busy scrambling to stop and calm us down with news. We look forward to getting some real internet and finding out he is okay. {Maryanne: at time of posting this we learned that he is still evacuated from his home, and while his home is currently still standing, the potential for loss is still very much there}.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Coral Bay, Coburg Peninsula

[Kyle]From Croker Island, we had a pretty uneventful, flat, downwind spinnaker run to Coral Bay. The only hitch we had was as we passed north of Smith Point, just before the south-westbound turn to Coral Bay. The trade winds here are strongly effected by the diurnal sea breeze/land breeze cycle, switching from southeast at night to northeast in the daytime. During the transition, the wind will often die completely for two or three hours.

Thus it was for us. We patiently waited for an hour or so while the spinnaker draped uselessly on the deck like a just-lowered stage curtain. Then the ebbing current started setting us backwards and toward the shallows northeast of the point. Time to start an engine.

We see other traffic more regularly now

Since it has been soooo hot, I elected to start the starboard engine. Our bunk sits on top of the port engine. Warming it up would make sleeping difficult for several hours afterwards. Within a few minutes, we were creating our own four-and-a-half knot breeze across the deck, which greatly improved our comfort level.

An hour or so later, the wind died again. This was good news because it meant that it was coming from behind us as fast as we were going. We put the spinnaker back up, wound the engine down and were soon going almost as fast as we had been motoring. Then the afternoon wind started to fill in in earnest and we were back on our way.

As we approached Coral Bay, we could see a mega-yacht there. It's tender was zipping about and there was even a helicopter showing off with wing-overs between the yacht and the resort there. The bay was too tight to try to sail in, especially under spinnaker, and even more especially with the mega-yacht right in the middle of it. We brought the sail down and started the engine again.

We were going about two and a half knots under bare poles. As I slowly increased the engine rpm through where the spinning prop should have transitioned from creating drag to generating thrust, we didn't seem to speed up. At the next rpm increase, we still did not speed up. At our current power setting, we should have been able to make just over a knot into the wind. I decided to turn around and see what happened. By the time we were sideways to the wind, we had completely stopped. Uh, oh.

The water was a bit choppy, so I couldn't be 100% sure when looking over the side, but our drive did not look right. It seems we have lost the prop.

The wind was still blowing us pretty smartly toward Coral Bay, with all of its fringing reefs. Time was running out. We needed to start the port engine after all.

That engine was fine. We were able to maneuver our way in and get the anchor down in the space remaining without too much difficulty. When we backed down on the anchor, we did it in a big semi-circle until the rode pulled us straight. Our track looked like a backwards question mark.

A Dolphin visit helped (slightly) to make up for the loss of a propeller

After we finished the rest of our arrival checks, we had a look for the prop. In normal situations, I would have just grabbed a mask and fins and gone in to take a look, but not in croc country. Instead we dug out the waterproof endoscope and sent it down in my place. Yep, we hadn't just lost the blades, the entire folding prop assembly was gone, leaving only the naked shaft. That is not supposed to be able to happen. All of the parts on the prop assembly are fitted together on such a manner that they effectively interlock. Any loose part will jam into the adjacent part, which is installed from a different direction. The whole thing is intended to tighten up with use. Yet from the scope photos, it seems that that did not happen. The shaft isn't broken. The splines are intact, the threads for the main nut are intact, as are the left-handed threads for the backup nut. Neither of these nuts are even supposed to have room to back out because the blade unit is in the way. It is bolted onto the hub using six radial bolts. The first step in removing the prop is to remove these six bolts.

The only scenario that I can possibly think of is that if the backup nut sheared, the main nut could slowly work loose while the hub slowly backed down the splined shaft to make more room for the nut to work a little further. After a gazillion cycles, it might let the whole thing come off in one piece.

The thing is, just when it was really loose as it was about to go, the whole arrangement should have been so wobbly that putting the engine into gear would have caused a catastrophic imbalance that would have felt and sounded at least like losing a blade, probably more like bending a piston rod. When we had careened just eleven days earlier, I gave the whole assembly a good tug and it was all really tight as usual. The six radial bolts were in place with their heads flush with the hub and the cone zinc, which is held on with the aforementioned backup bolt, was not missing. It's been a while, but we have occasionally lost these zincs and have been able to operate the prop normally for months until replacing the zinc on our next haulout.

Those props are expensive and replacing it is going to hurt. Luckily, we have three spare fixed-pitch props as backups. All we need to install one is either another haulout or preferably a better careening spot on harder sand than the last one. Then we can see how long and even if we can get a new feathering prop out here.

Anyway, we were in Coral Bay, which is our first real brush with civilization in quite a while. It is home to Seven Spirit Lodge ("where luxury meets adventure"), a place where the private bungalows start at $2,325/night, plus you have to charter a plane to take you to their private airstrip. If you don't want to fly, there's always the mega-yacht option for transport. The mega-yacht in attendance was clearly making the most of the facilities and was as such filling the bay disproportionate to their size. In all of their various zippings by, they never diverted to say hi or even wave. We felt very much in the way. Once they had made their last run to the boat from the resort (passing by us), they pulled up anchor and seemed to be leaving, but then they put it down again further on. My most charitable assumption is that they were worried their partying would disturb our peace and quiet. That could have been fixed by asking us to join them. We'll drink champagne if we have to. It also seems possible that they were hyper-concerned about the privacy of whoever they had on board. That hypothesis was reinforced by the fact that we never saw an AIS transmission from them. There's no way a boat that expensive doesn't have AIS. Like the fishermen around here, they seemed to have it off so no one could find them. At 2am, I popped my head outside and could hear music making it's way across the bay. It wasn't loud, but may well have been if they were closer, so I guess it all worked out anyway.

Dolphins frolic in the bay at sunrise - wow that was a nice treat while we were anchored off the lodge

In the morning, they headed out for real, leaving us back in our usual role as the only boat in the village. Just one of our guides had mentioned a walk to a nearby viewpoint one bay over. A look at a satellite photo of the area revealed it to likely be along the dirt road passing behind the resort. We decided that would be our day, perhaps even followed up with $40 sparkling waters afterwards on the resort's patio. The wind was gone completely. We rowed to the their dock, leaving a wake and little oar-induced whirlpools behind us.

Maryanne went ahead and found no one. By the time I had the dinghy tied up and had joined her, a resort truck approached. A man got out and in the very polite way of a man who is used to hosting guests who are always right, he informed us that we could not come ashore because the resort is currently closed due to Covid-19. I started to ask him what the deal had been with the group yesterday, but, anticipating this, he cut me off by explaining that they were personal friends of the owners, they were already quarantined and – he seemed a little embarrassed by this – he thought a little money may have changed hands. Ah, there it is.

”Hey, I've got a shiny new fiver for you if you let us cut through to the road.” I'm sure our respective lingoes each omitted different decimal points for brevity. We would worry about that later.

He explained that the resort's roads were private and that he was terribly sorry, but we could not use them to get to the main road. The area around the resort is Aboriginal land with tighter Covid rules and if a ranger were to find out we had cut through a closed resort, it would be their heads that rolled. He was really very truly terribly sorry. We were foiled, but we left feeling like we just didn't want to get the poor guy in trouble. After all, he is just the messenger. Oh, he is gooood!

He offered up the nearby beach as an alternative diversion. It was lovely and it was public land. Maryanne asked if we could get to the road from there. He said it was possible, if not a bit marshy. Also, keep an eye out for crocs in there.

Okay, then. Plan B. We rowed across the bay to the far side, where a little islet looked like it would provide some entertainment. Indeed it did! Before we even got there, Maryanne spotted a log in the flat water. It seemed to be trailing a wake, but the tide was supposed to be going the other way. I turned the dinghy ninety degrees and the wake turned towards us. That's no log!

She got out the camera with the good zoom and confirmed that it was the snout and eyeballs of a big crocodile. So much for going to the island. We stopped for a bit and it did it's best to pretend it wasn't stalking us. We were too far away for it to waste energy chasing after us, so it eventually gave up and resumed its patrol of the shore. We retreated to the beach adjacent to the resort, where we landed and then killed time double-inspecting every inch. Apart from views of Begonia and the resort, we didn't see too much of note.

Watch out for that Croc!

A walk along the fore-shore (and inspecting the rocks)

We had no wind for the next couple of days. Having seen all we could in the area, we mostly stayed aboard trying to stay out of the baking sun. Without a cooling breeze it was still too hot most of the time. The lack of breeze also meant it was easy for any bugs to reach us from shore. As soon as the sun went down and there was no danger of getting cooked in direct sunlight, they arrived. We could keep the mosquitoes and flies out, but the no-see-ums went right through our screens. We had no choice but to seal the boat to the outside, which made for some muggy nights inside.

{Maryanne: From the boat we could see the occasional Kangaroo grazing on the lawn of the lodge, plenty of birds, and that wonderful sunrise visit from the dolphins. We'll have to save the fine dining for next time we visit.}

At the first hint of a break in the calm, we set off. I particularly felt uncomfortably conspicuous anchored in sight of the resort's skeleton staff all of the time. That and the super-bright lights at their dock made me feel like we were anchored on the field of a big stadium. I wanted to get our privacy back and to see the stars again.

Croker Island

[Kyle]With a forecast for light direct tailwinds, I decided I wanted to continue our cold engine streak with another departure under sail. Four hundred and forty-four cranks of our windlass' manual lever later, we were off, and sailing away from Two Island Bay, Marchinbar Island! We used the jib for better control until we cleared the two islands, then switched to spinnaker for the next three days.

With winds of just five or six knots and seas too small to move the boat around, we had smooth sailing, averaging about three and a half knots through the water. The days and nights were brilliantly clear and the only sail handling either of us had to do was gybe the spinnaker every four hours or so as the wind shifted slightly from one side to the other in a regular cycle.

Calm seas and a gentle sail

At the far end on the last night, the wind finally decreased to two knots, where it wouldn't even hold the spinnaker aloft. We kept having to fish the foot of it out of the water and plop it on deck until the next little puff lifted it over the lifelines and put it back in the water, where it clearly really wanted to be. I really really wanted to avoid starting an engine, but the current was setting us onto a shoal, so I had to give in and do it until the wind returned again a couple of hours later.

I still had high hopes of sailing all of the way until our anchor was down, but we had arrived with both wind and current against us. Our tacks were zigzagging us backwards. The current wasn't supposed to reverse again until after dark. Neither one of us fancied the idea of spending a whole night three miles from a nice secure anchorage, so down came the sails on on went the engine. I suppose it's at least nice to live in a time when we have the option.

Our anchorage at Palm Bay on the west side of Croker Island was so shallow that we were in less than five meters depth while we were still two miles from the beach. We chickened out a mile later and dropped the anchor where it only had to fall three meters from the bow roller to the bottom. Land from where we were was just a thin sliver of white beach alternating with deep red sandstone cliffs. Through the binoculars, we could actually see a house and a couple of trucks ashore. One of them looked like a ranger that might be waiting to nab someone for going above the high tide line without a permit, which we certainly wouldn't have done. Since the beach is still so far away, we decided we would probably skip a shore trip here.

Unfortunately we never went ashore here...

Then after sunset, we were sitting inside enjoying the breeze coming through our open hatches, as we tended to do. It was still over 30C (86F) outside and it felt good. Then the boat suddenly filled with mosquitoes. Oh, no!! We haven't had to deal with mosquitoes for months. That pretty much doused the last ember of the idea of a shore visit.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Two Island Bay, Marchinbar Island

[Kyle]After anchoring under sail at Lagoon Bay, I got it in my head that we could leave the same way, hopefully even spending the entire day engine-free. The winds were less than two knots during the half-hour it took me to crank up the anchor using the manual lever. With full sail up, it still took us eighteen minutes to leave our anchor's swinging circle. Maryanne seemed to think that was especially amusing.

Kyle sets off again without fossil fuels

I persisted though, and soon we were ghosting away in a slowly building breeze. An hour later, we were chugging our way up Marchinbar's east coast enjoying a repeat of our last marvelous sail. When we arrived at Two Island Bay, on the island's north side, we tacked our way in and again anchored under sail. Our engines had been cold for three days. Oh, how marvelous!

More sunsets at anchor!
I love it - every day just a little different!

The name Two Island Bay gives it away. We were anchored off of a very long white sand beach with an island on each side of us, making a box about a third of a mile wide in which to rest. Once we were settled, we determined the best time to go ashore, considering the tide, would be at first light. When I asked Maryanne where she was thinking she wanted to go, she gave me a vague answer that I could tell meant, 'everywhere'.

I responded by pointing out that 'everything we can see' is not a real option. At the end of our summit meeting, we finally reached an agreement that must have been fair because we both felt like we lost. We would explore the visible side of one of the islands, circumnavigate the other, then walk the beach on Marchinbar between and just slightly to either side of the islands. I got her to agree to skip the far side of island A and saved us walking the main beach until it disappeared over the horizon in a thin haze. She would have tried to walk all of the way back to Lagoon Bay if I hadn't stopped her.

Our first landfall was on the south island. At low tide, it was connected to Marchinbar by a long sandspit, so we used that to dispense with (I mean explore) the big beach on that side. Needing to get back to the dinghy before the sandspit disappeared put a hard limit on that one.

The 'South' Island connects to the mainland at low tide
Making for a fun exploration

We walked and dinghied around the coast of the 'South' Island
The bird is a Beach-Stone Curlew

And then circumnavigated the 'North' Island
(The bird is a Red-Capped Plover)

After a dinghy tour of both islands, we landed on the far side of the north island for an intertidal scramble. Then we headed for the part of the main beach on Marchinbar nearest to Begonia for our northbound walk.

Just before we got there, Maryanne spotted a crocodile. This one was in the water swimming toward us. She put out an oar to fend it off (we were using the electric outboard). That seemed to be enough deterrence and it altered course to parallel us for a few seconds before swimming away slowly and then disappearing below the surface. While it was swimming alongside, we were able to note that it was longer than the dinghy, making it the biggest one we have seen yet. Our subsequent landing on Marchinbar's beach was with textbook efficiency – no standing in the water faffing around with the oars or anchor for us!

The beach was magnificent. What looked like a rocky stretch from Begonia was in fact a wonderland of different shapes carved by erosion into as much abstract art as we could take in. We walked until the combination of shrinking intertidal zone and a difficult headland made for a logical turn-around point.

And a stroll along the main island beach too, we were surprised how the rocks varied on such a short stretch of waterfront

The sand had patches where our feet sunk very deeply - wacky!

Our dinghy was now high and dry above a basin of clear water leading to the main bay through a little gap. We could see that our croc buddy had given up on waiting for us. Perhaps it was enjoying the shade under Begonia. At the little gap, the water was now deep enough for us to stop dragging the dinghy and get into it. Our heads were both on a swivel, but we saw nothing suspicious in the deeper water.

After climbing aboard and getting the dinghy hoisted again, we both kind of crashed, physically. That's when we both made real note of the time. We had been gone for nine hours. That's a whole shift of hiking and croc dodging with nothing more than a liter of drink each for lunch. Well, no wonder!