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                                AUSTRALIA - NORTHERN TERRITORIES - GOVE TO DARWIN

June 27-28 GULF OF CARPENTERIA

Our sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria began with churning, rough unrelentless seas the first night. We departed with 6 other boats and the following day 22 others left also. Some went non-stop to Darwin and others to Gove as was our plan. It was not long before we did not see any other boats but we did get several visits from the Australian Custom Patrol Aircraft that requested our info and position on a daily basis.

The conditions actually settled over the following 2 days.  Our windvane broke so we were relying on our autopilot. However, whenever we used the radio, as we needed to do to check into the "Over the Top" net, the stray RF would kick off our autohelm!

As we approached the mainland we could see that the landscape became very mundane in appearance, sandy shoreline with low scrubby flat bush land.


June 29 GOVE

We were relieved to reach the harbor at Gove, whose claim to fame is the huge aluminum plant that sprawls along the shoreline and employs everyone who lives there. The area around Gove is bordered by the rich red soil from the bauxite ore. The anchorage was large enough to easily accommodate many boats but the holding was a problem so it took us several tried to secure our anchor.

The first evening we were anxious for a platform that didn't move so all got together at the popular Gove Yacht Club for supper. (pic right: Annie from Gone With the Wind)

We landed our dinghy on the beach next to Crocodile warning signs.

The following morning we hitch hiked into the small town 12 km away. This aboriginal settlement reminded us of our Native Reservations in Canada, littered and dirty with shacks and abandoned cars. Another reinforcement that the welfare system does not promote any incentive in the indigenous people to work. In town, the locals just sat around everywhere, cross legged in bare feet, their vacant sad eyes piercing through their very black skin (darker than any we have seen in the South Pacific), unfriendly and unconcerned with us "whities".

We hitched a ride back with three young aboriginal boys in a rather dilapidated vehicle, the acrid aroma of body odor emanating out the open door as we climbed in the back seat. The driver was a good looking boy with dread locks but drove very fast. The boys, despite not being able to speak English very well, were friendly and inquisitive about where we came from. They were actually employed by the plant (nicknamed Chernobyl) and on their way to work. The majority of employees of the plant were white, living in an ATCO trailer compound outside of town which didn't look like it integrated well with the local population.


July 1 Gugari Rip HOLE IN THE WALL

We left Gove with 4 other boats to begin our 780 mile journey to Darwin, attempting to time the tides and current on our passage through a tight channel called Hole in the Wall. It was hard to spot the narrow opening where there was only room to enter single file and hope no one else was traversing through from the other direction.

Inside the pass the current gave us a speedy 13 knot ride as we sailed past the unusual stratified and layered rock formations forming the banks.  It turned out to be a lot of fun whizzing through the water at speeds not normally encountered on Ascension, kind of like white water rafting! We anchored just around the corner off Raragala Island at Guruliya Bay having some trouble initially to get the anchor to bite.

Our next stop was for an overnight rest on North Goulburn Island, Mullet Bay, but we did not go ashore as a permit was required and the aboriginals do not welcome visitors. We left the anchorage at 6 am at first light (sparrows) and sailed all day to reach Malay Bay just before dark.

Unfortunately the anchorages have been mostly rolly and uncomfortable so we've had very little sleep. The terrain in the Northern Territories in barren with hardly any signs of civilization anywhere. Just miles of sand backed by low lying brush, mostly dead after the recent cyclone. We have caught a few fish but we have become particular. If it's tuna (unless it's Yellow Fin) we don't keep it. We do not like the dark meat of tuna, preferring the firm white meat of mackerel or travelli. Our fishing luck has not been very productive but no matter because the boats we are traveling with always seem to catch something good and share with us!

As our little flotilla took different routes, we ended up traveling with 2 other very large catamarans (50 ft) from Australia, Gone with the Wind (Annie & Liam) and Tactical Directions (Tony & Tony). It is a huge challenge for our little 38 ft boat to keep up with the speedy cats. Even though they let us leave hours before them each morn, they usually reach the anchorage before us anyway. We have all been having great fun together, usually getting together each night for sundowners.


Happy Hour on Ascension

Annie & Liam Gone with the Wind

Another glorious sunset

July 4-5 PORT ESSINGTON

We did a long overnighter to reach Black Point, Port Essington where we were able to go ashore finally. We had a great BBQ l with about 10 other boats, pretty much all Australians, to celebrate the 4th of July with sparklers and cake. There was only 1 American (Sara on Anon)  (married to a Kiwi (Brian) and living in NZ) so the US representation was not strong. There was an American history trivial quiz and someone in the group always seemed to come up with the answer.

The following day our friends sailed up the bay to visit the remains of an old British Settlement but we had another rolly sleepless night and decided not to go with them. Instead we landed the dinghy on the rocky shore and took a hike through the billabong along a trail with croc signs posted along the track.

Since timing the tides was critical for an efficient sail to Alcaro Point (and there was always lots of confusion as to the direction and strength of the currents) we left at first light.

We continued to sail with Tactical Directions and Gone with the Wind (pic right)

July 6 ALCARO LIGHTHOUSE & CAPE HOTHAM

Rounding Cape Dawn requires precise timing for currents so we made passage to Alcaro Point to set up for an early morning departure around Cape Hotham. At Alcaro, several boats went ashore and saw a huge crocodile guarding the river entrance.

Unfortunately the weather was nasty, high wind warnings daily, with no break in sight. We needed to press on for Darwin so decided to brave the adverse conditions and continue on. Consequently we had one of the worse passages to date, headwinds of 35+, rough seas and current through the Van Diemen Gulf. The angle of sail was such that each wave broke over the foredeck and water spewed into the cabin through the forward hatch cover. I finally ran out of towels soaking up the salt water and trying to protect the computer. It was a horrendous leg and we were happy to take refuge at Cape Hotham.

The following day, we had very favorable conditions and glided into Darwin Harbor under sunny skies, following seas and only moderate wind. We settled into the anchorage at Fanny Bay and were happy to just rest and relax for a while!


SLIDESHOW  NORTHERN TERRITORIES, AUSTRALIA

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