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.
”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.