Sunday, May 21, 2017

Port Douglas to Thursday Island: Gales, Battery Woes and Flying Fish!

 When we left Port Douglas early on Monday, May 15th, it was the calmest we’d ever seen the water since leaving the Gold Coast! The wind was light and the clouds had lifted. For the first time, we saw the rainforest covered mountains without cloud cover! It only lasted for a couple of hours, and by lunchtime, the wind was up again, and we had an uneventful sail to Cooktown. We had the spinnaker up all the way, and we had to take it down in about 25 knots, because that’s what the wind was up to by the time we were ready to enter the Endeavor River, along which the small town of Cooktown is nestled.
Leaving Port Douglas in very calm weather!

At last we see the mountains clearly!
Anchored in Cooktown

We found a spot to anchor in a pretty crowded anchorage, in shallow water. Luckily it was low tide when we came in, making the sandbanks easier to spot, and ensuring we wouldn’t be left high and dry with the turn of the tide! It was very windy, blowing all night long, but our anchor was secure and we got a decent night’s sleep. We wished we could have had a day to go ashore and check out this last little outpost, but with the visa deadline hanging over our heads, we left again at first light on Tuesday morning. 

Sunset in Cooktown
Leaving Cooktown

We did the stretch from Cooktown to Thursday Island (about 400 miles) in 3 days and 2 nights. It was pretty uneventful, except for 3 things, which all happened on my watch! Leaving Cooktown, the wind was strong-ish, (about 22 knots) so we put 2 reefs in the main, knowing we were going to go overnight and we knew now that this stretch of coast always has strong winds! We had a pretty good day, and going into the night we decided I would take the first watch. We had about 2 hours to go to our next waypoint, at which time we would have to jibe, which means we would have to bring the sail from one side of the boat to the other, to change direction, as we were snaking our way up between the mainland and the reef. So I said I would wake Dave at that time, so we could do the jibe together. It has to be fairly controlled, because the force of wind on the sail is so strong, that if you bring it over too quickly, it can pull the car that slides the sail up and down the mast, right off the mast (something we’ve learned from experience in French Polynesia!!).

This is how you would normally jibe the boat
We have a wind alarm for both true wind speed, and apparent wind speed. True wind speed is just that:  how strong the wind is; and apparent wind speed is what the sail feels. Sometimes it can be more, sometimes it can be less than the true wind speed depending on the wind angle. We had our true wind speed alarm set to 27 knots, and our apparent set to 25 knots. About an hour into the watch, the wind started building. The true wind speed alarm started going off. I would mute the alarm, and it went off again. Constantly alarming…27 knots, 28 knots, 29 knots…just blowing and blowing and we were getting closer to the waypoint where we would have to jibe! I didn’t need to wake Dave…the constant alarms did it for me! He came up and assessed the situation, and we decided to change the alarm to 30 knots (as if that would make the wind any lighter!!), just to try and bring the anxiety level down a little. It didn’t help at all…no sooner had we done that, than the wind was 30, 31, 32…gusting up to 36 knots!! We had sustained winds of around 32-33 knots. We were doing boat speeds of 8 – 10 knots with 2 reefs in the main (great decision that morning!!) and no jib up! And that jibing waypoint was getting closer and closer!! And just to throw a spanner in the works, there were 2 ships barreling towards us!!

Dave sat at the helm and I just kept pressing the buttons to silence the alarms. The apparent wind speed alarm was now also going off, so amongst the screeching of the wind, we also had the screeching of the alarms! He was very quiet and I could see his mind working…

“We’ll have to do a Granny Tack” he eventually said.

“OK”, I said, “but that means going into the wind that is blowing 30 knots, right?”

“Right.” He said.

A Granny Tack is something Dave had learned during his racing years. When the wind is so strong, that the danger of capsizing when having to jibe is very high, you actually do a 360 degree turn, instead of 10 degree turn. So you turn into the wind, which takes all the power out of the sail, and then allows you to turn around, and move the boom and sail over to the other side, without the huge force that is in the sail. We waited for a lull in the wind, which didn’t come. The reef was getting closer, and we just had to do it. “OK,” he said, “here we go!” My heart was racing and my legs were like jelly. I was shaking all over, but I had absolute confidence in my amazing husband. He turned the boat into the 30 knots of wind, depowered the sail, continued turning around and listened and watched for the main sail to come over…Amazingly enough, it wasn’t too bad!!

Now we were on the right course, out of danger of the reef, but now had the ships to deal with! We had put the engines on when we jibed, so our first thought was to try and speed up, and go in front of them. We tried that for a while, but we saw it wasn’t going to work. So we throttled back as much as we could, took a slightly higher course, and went behind them. It was all too much for me. I knew Dave had it under control and he urged me to go and get some rest. We had continued winds of around 30 knots for about another hour, after which they eventually calmed down back into the high 20’s. I never thought I’d see the day when I was longing for 25 knots of wind!

After about 2 hours, I came back on watch to relieve Dave. All was good. Still strong winds…but manageable. He went downstairs to sleep and I concentrated on making sure we stayed on course. I had 2 lights to watch, each one signaling a reef, and we had to make sure we went between them. At night, you can get disorientated very quickly, and so with only the 2 lights and the chartplotter as my guide, we made our way through the reef. Here’s incident #2: All of a sudden, a new alarm pops up, and I feel the boat lurch to the side, changing direction almost 90 degrees. The alarm is saying “Pilot Stopped”. “WHAT?!” Oh boy, the auto pilot just stopped working, so the boat is no longer on course, and now heading straight for one blinking light! I had enough sense in me to grab the wheel, turn it back 90 degrees in the direction I thought we needed to be, all the while shouting “DAVE!” at the top of my lungs! He was up in a flash! He grabbed the wheel and I tried to orientate myself and find the 2 lights. “That way!” I’m shouting, and gets the boat back on track. Can my heart take anymore in one night??!!

The reason the auto pilot stopped working was because the batteries just didn’t have enough power to keep it going. We had been concerned that the batteries were not holding their charge very well, but we thought, with careful management, we could make it to South Africa, and replace them there. This was a wake-up call. We would not make it to South Africa with our current batteries. The problem was, we had left all form of civilization behind us, and we knew our only chance was to try and get some batteries up to Thursday Island. Let’s just throw the visa situation into the mix. We had to get batteries up to Thursday Island before we had to leave in 6 days’ time! Oh, and we had no cell phone coverage or internet.

All day Wednesday and Thursday we thought about our options, while our friends and family, that we managed to contact via satellite phone, worked the phones and internet to try and find some batteries for us. We discussed our options. If we couldn’t get batteries to Thursday Island (T.I). by the time we needed to leave, did we try and extend our visa, once in T.I. (at a cost of $1500, if even possible), and head on to Darwin, to see if we could get batteries there? Did we sail over to Papua New Guinea, and come back to extend our visa for 3 months without the cost, (we have multiple entry visas which are valid for one year, but only for 3 months at a time); or did we leave it and take our chance getting batteries in Indonesia?

As we were sailing north, we saw a “Seaswift” ship coming towards us. We knew that Seaswift was the company that delivered fuel and supplies to T.I. so Dave radioed them. He got the contact information for the person in Cairns and found out the schedule of the boat. If we were able to get batteries loaded onto the boat on Friday morning in Cairns, the ship would be in Horn Island on Sunday night, and then it heads over to T.I. early Monday morning. Since we would be anchoring off Horn Island, we would be able get the batteries on Sunday night, or early Monday, before the ship moved over to T.I., and fit the new batteries on Monday, clear out on Tuesday. Now all we had to do, was find the batteries! Luckily for us, a company in Cairns had 4 4D 210Amp AGM batteries in stock. The amp power would be less than we have now (we have 6 200Amp batteries, but they are Mastervolt slimlines, so we could fit 6 in our battery compartment, but we can only fit 4 of the new ones in there), but we were OK with that! Unfortunately for us, the price was astronomical, but we really didn’t have a choice.  By Thursday afternoon our new batteries were ready to be loaded on Friday, and on the ship to T.I. by the weekend!

Our deepest thanks to everyone who came to the rescue, but special thanks to Brian Chambers for sourcing the batteries and Brent on Cat IMPI for his advice, and willingness to help phone around and research getting batteries for us! Thanks also to Brian Smith for doing all the initial investigation on what was available in Thursday Island! We REALLY appreciate everyones efforts while we had no access to cell or internet.....sat phone to the rescue again!!!

Somewhere along the line, we still managed to do some washing!
While all this was going on, incident #3 happened. I was on watch, again, and it was daytime, so I was a little zoned out, thinking about the battery dilemma, when the next thing I hear is an almighty THUMP and then something barreling past me, and off the back of the boat with a splash! You know how multiple things go through your mind in a matter of seconds? The first thing I thought of was that something had happened with the rigging…something had snapped and the white thing I saw was the sail or a piece of the boat. Then I realized everything was in place, so it had to have been something we hit. I thought it was a bird, but I didn’t see any feathers or the bird bobbing in the water behind us. Seconds later we could smell it. It had been a fish! We had seen tuna jumping way out of the water numerous times, and, looking at the evidence that was left behind (blood and scales…and the smell!!), we surmised that a tuna had jumped up, landed on the bow, then smashed into the window, and continued to propel itself, the entire length of the boat, hitting the deck a couple of times, and lastly, smashing into the life line at the back, it jumped back into the water!! Thank GOODNESS no one was sitting on the front deck on the bean bags as we often do, or even that it didn’t smack me in the face at the helm station! That could have been ugly!! So those are the 3 things on our “uneventful” journey from Cooktown to TI! 

So this wasn't actually the fish that hit us, but this is what they do!

This would not have been as peaceful a scene if anyone had been sitting on the beanbags at the time of the "flying fish incident!"
All the while we kept on going, when finally, on Thursday afternoon, May 18th, at about 3:00pm, we rounded the tippy top of Australia!! We saw the lighthouse on Cape York and we were amazed that we had journeyed all the way from Sydney in the South to Cape York in the North! 

Our chartplotter showing us about to round Cape York

Ben and Gaby at the top of Australia!

Our route...all along the East Coast of Australia
Leaving mainland Australia behind us, we motored the last hour across into the Torres Strait, around the top of Horn Island, and down the Ellis Channel towards T.I! We anchored off Horn Island, as it is a more comfortable anchorage, in the shelter of the island, rather than anchoring off T.I. which would leave us on a lee shore. It felt so great to finally get here, knowing we had 4 full days to rest and get organized, before heading off on our 8 day passage to Kupang, Indonesia!

Sunset over Thursday Island

1 comment:

  1. Whoo whee! that was an exciting read. Enjoy the few days of rest. Sounds like you really deserve it. The question is whether you'll ever be able to get back into a 9-5 routine - might just be too dull.