"Arctracer" Letters

Almost at "The Top of Australia" July 2005

We've been sailing up the east coast of Australia since April, and are almost at the top. We have not done any night sailing, just day hops of 40-60 miles each. There is so much boat traffic and there are so many reefs to dodge, that sailing at night is not appealing. We take turns in anchorages with the prawn trawlers which fish at night all along this coast and sleep during the day. The first six weeks were with our New Zealand friends Pat and Jan, who flew home from Townsville. We had a good time with them, but would have liked to stop for more fun days in the Whitsundays, like we did when they were with us in 2001.

In Cairns we stocked up with staple foods and things to keep us busy with projects all the way to Darwin. North of Cairns we had some great snorkeling at the Low Islets and at Lizard Island. It was neat to watch a huge manta ray for about an hour going around the boat at the Low Islets and to see many huge giant clams on one of the reefs at Lizard Island. We enjoyed visiting historic Cooktown where Captain Cook fixed his ship the "Endeavour." We received our snail mail there, and applied for permission to visit Indonesia. We climbed to "Cook's Look" on Lizard where he looked for a pass through the Great Barrier Reef after the Endeavour was repaired. We also visited a research center on Lizard Island where scientists from around the world study everything about and on the reef. We had an adventure sailing our dinghy to see Aboriginal rock paintings in the Flinders Group of Islands. The wind was quite strong that day, so we had some rather large waves as we crossed the channel, but Captain Jerry handled the sail wonderfully. The adrenalin was flowing partly because the deep water undoubtedly concealed resident sharks and crocodiles in addition to the turtle and dugong we saw. It was neat to see the turtle and dugong at such close range.

We've caught a Queen Fish, delicious Yellowfin Tuna and Wahoo, and Longtail Tuna that we use for tuna sandwiches and curries as the meat is quite red and oily. We've had dolphins join us several times and with the 20-25 knot SE winds we've been averaging 8 knots some days, going 60 miles in a little over 7 hours. Daylight hours here are from about 6:45 am until 6:15 pm so the days are still short, but we are close enough to the equator for this winter to be tolerable in bare feet and shorts.

Today we're at Shelburne Bay. Tomorrow we'll sail 60 miles to the Escape River, and the next day we anticipate dealing with strong currents as we go "Over the Top" and through the Torres Strait. We'll stop at Seisia, a small outpost inhabited by Torres Islanders, where we might be able to get fuel, water, onions, and potatoes. We'll probably be there 2-3 days getting ready to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria (nicknamed the washing machine by some cruisers). We're looking forward to arriving in Darwin where we'll do some tourist things (camping, hiking, seeing Kakadu National Park and Katherine Gorge). The tides in Darwin have a 24 foot range, so we'll probably treat ourselves to a marina accessible only via a lock. Then we can take buses to stock up on cheese, granola, and other things that we probably won't find in Indonesia.