Boat rescue mission, and arriving to Darwin

Some anchorage somewhere along the way...

We were on the final part of the passage towards Darwin from Cairns, anchored in Adams Bay (SE Van Diemen Gulf). As we all were relaxing on anchor after our lovely dinner, listening to classical music, photographing the Blue Moon, and drying the laundry in the windless heat... the VHF spoke up.

It was a boat trying to get through to sea rescue. They could not, and now they were wondering whether their radio worked. They had just had an engine failure. And they were right by that narrow channel near Vernon isles, where the currents were strong and tricky, and where there were plenty of rocks and shoals.

It's called "Blue Moon" when a second full moon falls during the same month. In this case, actually not so very blue - at least not during the moonrise.

As we realised they needed help, we got moving. The change of pace that happened was very distinct. Everyone was on it, from starting the engine, retrieving the anchor, preparing fenders and lines, removing plates from the cockpit, communicating with the boat on the radio, or tidying up.

The boat in distress was a metal fishing boat of 1,5 tons, and had two people on board. They had anchored while waiting for us, so they would not drift onto rocks.

It took us less than an hour to get to them. By this time it was pitch dark. There was a strong current, and they needed to retrieve the anchor first before getting attached to our lines. They struggled for a while, and then they were free and we could get alongside them.

Getting closer to the guys in distress

The last time I did a boat rescue operation was just before leaving for Australia, as a part of my full-time work as a firefighter and rescuer in Kungälv. That boat was somewhat comparable in size, and also had two persons on board. There was also a considerable amount of current that time, and towing was tricky.

This time, I was in a much larger boat, so towing them alongside was an option. We prepared a few lines, made fast and then transferred the crew on board. The crew consisted of two guys from Darwin who had gone fishing for the night. They have had the engine serviced, however it failed anyway. Tough luck, no fish tonight. We got them settled, and steamed towards Darwin.

The boat secured to the port side of Silver Fern

As the currents and the wind changed, the sea got choppier. The lines were threatening to rip out their rails, so we changed to towing them behind us. We set up a makeshift drogue behind them (a milk crate on a line), so the movement of their boat smoothened out. This is a great way to get a smooth movement of the towed boat without chock-loading the towing lines. Two lines are always a safety measure, attached to different strong points in case one would fail. You don't want to be retrieving a boat that has come loose in a few knots of current, especially with a torn line floating somewhere near it. It could get stuck in your prop and suddenly there will be two boats in distress.

Towing the boat towards Darwin, as the light from the huge Blue Moon illuminates the night

Another potential danger I reacted to was that the guys did not have life jackets. They had PFDs somewhere on board but they were stowed away so they could not be reached. So they found themselves in a situation where most of the risk factors were ticked: they had suffered an engine failure, it was night, there were strong currents, and they had been drinking beer. That's most of the stuff to tick off statistically if you don't want to make it. Working as a rescuer, I know that a high percentage of the drowning casualties are men who have been drinking and did not have a personal floatation device (life jacket). So basically, this is how people die - how are you supposed to retrieve a buddy that has fallen in, when he's drifting away into the night in a brisk walking pace, and you do not have an engine? So I was very eager to get the guys to wear life jackets when they were on board Silver Fern. Risk managing is all about such stuff.

We motored on the whole night, and entered the dock outside Cullen Bay Marina just as the morning was breaking. The guys got hot food, water and a bit of sleep on board, so they were tired but happy. We came onto the confined space of the dock in the dark, in cross-current and with a boat towed behind us, so there were quite a few things that could go nasty. But David handled the boat perfectly, making it look very easy. We left the guys at the dock, and prepared to enter the marina to enjoy our final destination for this leg: Darwin!

To get into the marina, we had to pass a lock. That's because of the tides that reach 10 meters at times! For me, locks are a normal procedure - the Caledonian Canal had its share, the Göta Canal too, and let's not forget the Panama Canal that I've passed once as crew and once as a skipper. For some people on board, this lock was a first. Exciting!

The marina itself was lovely, with a very sweet and cosy waterfront. As we came in, the sun went up and we had a breakfast together. Then, a lot of work on the boat followed. Washing the boat was fun as we sprayed each other with water, battling the heat of the day with all the sun and none of the wind! I think I had just 1,5 hours of sleep that night, but the excitement of arriving to a new destination and the cheerful spirit kept me going forward.
Finally! A salt water crocodile close up!

I wanted to see a bit of Darwin but there was not enough time for any longer excursions, as I was booked to leave that very night, after the dinner with the teams from Silver Fern and Salt Lines. A short walk through town was all I got, but it was sufficient to recognise some key parts of the town and prepare for the next time I'm here. Because I'm definitely going to come here again... for the next leg on the circumnavigation, where I plan to be going to Indonesia and beyond!

A cathedral in central Darwin. What's not to love?
Old and new, classical and modern, lawn and palm trees! Why choose?

City of Darwin

And I will love to see you again too, Darwin! Looking forward to it.

This sailing leg had been a 1415 nM adventure. I'm now closing in on 30,000 nM as a total, and 10,000 as a skipper, this will have to be a celebration. Thanks to Dave and Sharon for having me as mate, and thanks to the rest of the team for the good sailing!

A quick run to Melbourne, to see friends. A wine tasting is a must. Strange to come from the very North with 34+ temperatures day time, to the very South with +3 night time...

When I was leaving Darwin, I was sure that I would not see Silver Fern again until the training sessions for Sydney-Hobart, that is to say December this year. Guess what - it turns out I will be sailing Silver Fern again, already this Autumn! I will join Sharon as Mate for one of the remaining legs of Australia Circumanvigation. Stoked to get back on board. There will be a report on that leg, too!

You can also come sailing - there are some great discounts on the remaining sailing legs, so now is the time to book. Grab the opportinuty here. You don't have to be a seasoned sailor - the only thing you have to have is the passion for adventure and a willingness to learn. There will be memories for a life time. Stop dreaming - start sailing ;)

Freedom of the seas: a sea eagle soaring over the coast. Northern Australia