Torres Strait - Gulf of Carpentaria - Arafura Sea

Amazing tropical sailing

After sailing from Cairns to Lizard Island and further to Thursday Island in Torres Strait, the next sailing leg would take us across the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is sailing across the two "horns" of northern Australia. Just about ten degreens south of Equator, this is a tropical, very warm area. This being just the end of Australian winter, the last days of August, the heat was dry and the trade winds cooled us off. These are still crocodile and shark waters, so very exotic for me!

Yet another sunset on Silver Fern

The 320 nautical miles across Gulf of Carpentaria were just nice going. We sail during the whole day and whole night, and once you fall into routine, it just continues. The starry nights, the sunny days, a tasty dinner on board... a few sea birds, an occasional whale. Remembering to hydrate. Not so many other boats. A cheese platter, a nice chat with the crew. Maybe adjusting the sails. Another watch change, some sleep, then some coffee. And then - repeat.

Some dramatic photos as a squall is approaching in the evening. Hitting about 35 knots, it quickly passed. Here, Sharon is getting set for a sail change!

One of the less pleasant things was the toilet on the boat (the correct term is "heads", I know, but I'm guessing ther are quite a few land crabs reading this) - it would not really cooperate. Luckily we had two. David did a heroic effort trying to fix it. After brief success though, it was acting up again. It took almost all the way to Darwin to get it to work properly. At the end, the pipes were taken apart and I assisted by pouring out what was inside, at the end of the human chain heaving out the buckets with unspeakable contents. The pipes needed cleaning after a long usage in warm temperatures where residue would build up more quickly. There were chunks of calcium that reminded of crushed egg shells... and there was a bit of other stuff too. That's sailing for you! The toilet always breaks. Especially in the tropics. I'm a huge fan of doing the deeds outside the boat. However, here it's not an alternative, given the salt water crocodiles and the sharks. And doing it off the side of the boat is just too dangerous - and not very hygenic.

Will spare you the toilet photos - here are some lovely sailing photos instead

Will spare you the toilet photos - here are some lovely sailing photos instead

Will spare you the toilet photos - here are some lovely sailing photos instead

As we arrived in Gove Harbour, it was such a contrast to the previous places in Coral Sea and Torres Strait. Here, everything was covered with red dust, as a contrast to the white beaches before. There is a bauxite mine here and a very industrial look dominates the aesthetics.

Approaching Gove Harbour

We came just in time to grab a meal at the Gove Harbour Boat Club. I had an amazing Mediterranean Lamb sallad, could not have made it better if I tried my very best. Then the kitchen closed, so we were lucky to be there on time. Salt Lines who fell behind us would need to organise the food in some other way.

Old local army and croc photos in the boat club

I was ready for some coffee, but there was just nothing around. A camping site, a tiny boat yard - but no shops, cafĂ©es or anything else really. There was a bar, but I needed coffee, not a beer. Despite all locals telling me that beer should replace any coffee since it's Saturday.

Local warning signs. There are several signs at the beaches, too.

The coffee abstinence had me wanting to go out and explore the surroundings. Maybe I would find a coffee machine - or maybe I would find adventure? Me and two few fellow crew went to see if we could make it to the other side of the peninsula.

The red dusty roads and the mine belt

First, we walked past a conveyer belt moving the bauxite. The mine was still running despite this being Saturday. Apparently, it takes 23 hours to load a cargo ship, that would then head for Gladstone - we've seen quite a few of these on the way to here.

Red hot!

A tarmac road led into the mine, and out towards the town with was a few kilometers away. We turned to an unpaved road and walked through a field of termite mounds. Together with some perfectly cubic blocks someone had placed there, the landscape looked extraterrestrial. Like being on another planet!

The landscape on the way to the beach.

For me, living in Scandinavia, the termite mounds are exotic - however, the Aussies are very used to them. Sort of like ant hills in Sweden? I would surely have had some good laughs if I were to have a tourist ooh and ahh about the ant hills in the local forest. The Aussie in our little party did thankfully not make fun of me, and even offered to take some photographs.

Closer to the beach

Then we came to a beautiful white beach. Keeping a good lookout for crocs, we had a walk around it and quickly came back. Risk management is everything in my profession...

My sailing mates strolling along the beach. The next one is called Wallaby Beach and then we have Crocodile Creek. Yeay...

Yours truly, with the original Silver Fern Australian Circumnavigation shirt!

The other side of the beach. The beauty is in stark contrast with the industrial buildings. Or, maybe, they complete each other?

The heat was intense and the red dust was everywhere. Some flattened toads forever mumified in various dancing positions completed the eerie feeling as the road swang back to the boat club.

These termite creations are perfectly spherically shaped. A bit unclear to me how they build it and why, but I totally buy the idea of rolling termites. Or giant termite eggs? ;)

I took a short run and soon it was time to get ready for our dinner. The town of Nhulunbuy was waiting for us. Once again a contrast. It was unlike Gove Harbour at all. We we seated at a very pleasant restaurant and had a nice meal. The air was fresh and much cooler, there was none of that red dust anywhere, the lush vegetation framed the outside swimming pool and the white painted house walls a bit further off. The skies above us filled with myriads of large fruit bats. And then, the night fell.

Thousands of these creatures. So fascinating!

It turned out that this weekend there was a festival out here - East Arnhem LiveThis was a festival of Indigenous Australian music, and this Saturday there were some main acts. I did not expect to get an opportunity to experience the culture in this way, and I definitely did not expect going to a music festival! This was awesome, so we got there and listened to Andrew Gurruwiwi Band (local celebrities) and also to Ripple Effect - an all-female band. And we danced!

The Andrew Gurruwiwi Band. The tree was a part of the stage, a backdrop for all the music acts.

Ripple Effect, with their powerful and poignant songs.

Nearby, and ambulance was standby together with the staff. They were smiling, drinking coffee and listening to music. Of course, I had to ask them about the particularities of their job.

They told me that there were of course a lot of simularities no matter where the job was. But of course, this differed a lot from big cities and also other territories. Apparently, not so many calls about crocs maiming or killing people - everyone here is really "croc wise". Instead, there were a lot of minor calls about people cutting their feet when walking barefoot. But apparently, some calls would involve patients that had been speared in the thigh, or somewhere else. It's a local tradition of punishment when somebody breaks the law of the community. Apparently, it's not allowed anymore, so it would be done outside of the village. Fascinating for someone like me, who hadn't been aware of this before.

The islanders we've met have been friendly and welcoming, so this would be the feeling I'll bring with me from Arnhem. A remote place bustling with culture and creative spirit.

As we headed back to the dock, we found our dinghies on dry land. The tide had the floating dock lay flat in the mud.

This was the beach with the crocodile warnings, so a few people were wary of the beasts, looking around with there flash lights to check for red eyes staring at them from the dark. We found none, but then again - the crocs always see you first before you see them!

Somehow we neede to get back to the boats, and we made a collective effort to lift Salt Lines' dinghy into the water (which required a full crew of ten people as the heavy RIB had sunk into the mud).

Photo creds: David Hows, Silver Fern -

Then, I turned to our dinghy. It was light enough for me to lift by myself, so I wrestled it through the mud and into the water. Arms and legs intact, I jumped aboard and soon the rest of the crew were inside. Off we went into the dark - and we managed to dodge the crocs this time. Yeay!

Now, we had another leg to sail down to Darwin, through very tricky waters. Standby for the next blog post!

Sailing on!