Trying to play the Didgeroo (perhaps mispelled?)
Quad Biking at Barmurru Plains
First Airboat Ride in flooded wet plains
Digging our “glamping” setup
Made Cook’s Lookout
Butz’s on Safari
Water buffalo galore
Date night in Darwin
Today is a very big day on Alyosha, a day of great transition… The Butz Family is now packed up and will fly back home to Baltimore while my new crew- the Indian Ocean Crossing Crew- moves onboard.
I am writing from Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. We arrived about a week ago after some pretty hard sailing around the “Top of Australia.” Mainly it was “hard” in the sense that we had all the wind we could possibly want and then some, there was about a 6 hour period where the winds were between 30-35 knots. When you pair that with some tides/currents sometimes running against those winds, you have a recipe for some rough seas.
So after Lizard Island, we stayed inside the Great Barrier Reef all the way to Cape York, with easy sailing conditions and the wind/wave as our backs… Then we stopped at Thursday Island to catch our breath.
We actually ended up anchoring across from Thursday Island at a place called Horn Island. We spent two nights there and explored both islands by foot. These islands are all in the Torres Strait, a very small body of water, punctuated by many islands, that separates Australia from Papa New Guinea. The people were very friendly, and we were able to provision for the 700 nm remaining to get to Darwin. However, whether it was the crew’s anxiousness about the upcoming sea journey (another 4-5 nights at sea) or just the pending end of our trip, it was hard to really enjoy these islands.
And so we left on a Thursday evening (with the tide, of course) and sailed on to Darwin. We did not use the engine once except to charge the batteries! We zipped across the Gulf of Carpentaria at 9-10 knots, flying along under only the jib. After two nights and some 320 nm, we decided to stop an anchor off of the Wessel Islands. It was a naturally beautiful spot, but we were to afraid of crocodiles to actually get off the boat. On our way to that anchorage we talked to a local trawler who gave us the weather update: the winds would keep building and building on our way to Darwin.
So the next morning, Saturday the 9th of May, we departed our anchorage and sailed in 30-35 knot winds with only the storm jib up, doing 9-10 knots the entire time! It was really some great sailing, and Alyosha handled everything very well. We were going to stop again on the way to Darwin for another break, but the crew made a decision to “go for it” on Sunday and so we sailed Sunday night all the way through the Van Deimen Gulf to Darwin, arriving on Monday morning. It was actually some pretty tricky navigating there, with 5-6 knot tides being countered by strong south easterly winds. Nothing like a challenge for your final night at sea!
Ever since checking into Darwin last Monday at the Cullen Bay Marina, we have been shaking our heads in amazement: Darwin is fantastic! Let’s start with the weather, which has been Southern California perfect… Cool and breezy at night, warm but not too hot with a breeze during the day, zero humidity! The sky is clear and almost always cloudless, except for the large smoke clouds from the forest burning happening in the interior of the county. And that smoke and dust in the atmosphere make for the most spectacular, reddish/brown sunsets that I have ever seen.
Everyone here is very friendly, which again came as a bit of a surprise given the remoteness of this city. (Everyone has also told us that we have come to Darwin at the perfect time, and that the “wet season” is not particularly nice…) There is much to do and we have spent the last week swimming in the Darwin City wave pool (an incredible all day value at $5!) and riding our bikes all over town. One night, we took in a movie at the “Deck Chair Cinema,” an outdoor movie theatre clearly care-taken by movie affectionados, that was great. And I have never seen anything like the Mindil Beach markets, where thousands of people (I mean really, at least 3-4 thousand) congregate to 1) watch the sunset off Mindil Beach and 2) check out the large, interesting vendors at the market. Darwin has all of the amenities of a big city, but somehow retains the accessibility of a small town. Very impressed.
After spending 4 days in Darwin, we took a side trip further inland to a resort near Kakadu National Park. Back in February, as Lisa and I negotiated when the family would fly home, we agreed that ending the trip with a fantastic experience in Darwin would be the only appropriate way to wrap up. So we booked a glamorous resort called Bamurru Plains, where we would spend three days and two nights on a flooded wetlands. And what a fantastic experience this was!
From being greeted with a cool and wet Eucalyptus oiled towel upon arrival after travelling three hours from Darwin, to the gourmet meals served (the kids got a kick out of “Duck salad” for lunch) to the wonderful accommodation that slept all five of us, this was really the perfect way to cap off our year long adventure. We did plenty of activities (airboating, quad biking, bonfires, and safaris) and saw amazing birds, wallabies and water buffalo. But the most amazing thing was waking up in our netted, completely open, rustic, yet somehow clean cabin and witnessing the nature that would come to life as the sun rose. The kids won’t forget how well served they were (plenty of help yourself soft drinks and snacks) and I won’t forget how cozy and comfortable we all felt spending these last few days together.
So now I need to wrap this. The family is awake and their plane leaves in about 4 hours. I have plenty to do on the Alyosha side as I get ready for the Indian Ocean Crossing. I imagine this blog will take on a somewhat different feel as it becomes less a family adventure from here on out and more a blog about my goal to finish this circumnavigation.