Saturday, June 29, 2013

Cape York and the Gulf of Carpentaria

The high-pressure systems persist over southern Australia which generate reinforced trade winds to the Queensland coast. For weeks now, we have seen steady 20-25 knots of southeast wind which pushes Rutea along at hull speed. Our last stop on the east coast of Queensland was in the Escape River, which has to be navigated carefully due to the pearl farms and their many partially submerged rafts, none of which are lit. Regardless, we had a comfortable night's stay and our timing for the tide to take us through the Albany Channel was going to make our departure from there at a civilized 0700. Under a full main alone, we made our way towards the south end of Albany Island which sits just .2 nautical miles off the Queensland coast. For some reason, we all had our anxieties about making the transit as it's reputation is dreaded. The tidal current was just about at full strength as we approached the channel and wa spotted nasty rip just off the port bow with waves being whipped up in a battle between current and wind. But as we entered the 2-mile long channel, the water flattened to mill pond-like conditions and even though the wind blew at 25 knots, it felt eerily calm. Soon we were making 11 knots in some of the calmest water we had seen in a long time.

It didn't last too long though and as we were spat out the north end of the Albany Channel, there sat the very tip of Cape York, the most northeastern land in Australia. There appeared to be a group of tourist gathered on the tip although there's not much to see, its more of a place to be due to it's unique geological location. Two small islands sit just off the tip and there's foul passage between Cape York and the islands so we continued a little further north before making a sharp left turn to the west. It didn't take long before we were heading south again, leaving Possession Island to port and dropping the anchor off the Aboriginal village of Seisha.

Australia's treatment of the native Aboriginal was probably no worse and was certainly no better than that of any European country that was part of the Age of Discovery. Wholesale genocide took place, decimating a people who had learned to live in harmony with the fierce conditions; murders of Aboriginals went without prosecution or, in many cases, without investigation. Their land was taken from them by force and the native peoples relocated to the most remote parts of the country. Seisha was a different part of Australia for us and it felt like we were in a remote, Third World, Pacific island rather than a leading First World country. The small grocery store had heavy steel bars over the windows and the prices of everything inside were stratospheric. Smoke from burning trash drifted up through the trees. People seemed to move slowly. On the other hand, the local holiday park was busy with travelers from all over Australia and the small restaurant there served up an excellent portion of fish and chips.

We left at mid-morning at the end of the ebb tide and entered the Endeavor Straits, missing the famous Torres Straits by about 40 miles and being within 80 miles of Papua New Guinea. With 15 knots of breeze and a strong current, Rutea's speedometer continuously hit 10 knots but by late afternoon the wind died to less than 5 knots and we had to put the engine on. However, that only lasted for about 4 hours and soon we had a decent breeze again and were able to sail the rest of the 350 miles across the Gulf of Carpentaria, dropping anchor in Two Islands Bay on Marchinbar Island, 52 hours after we left Seisha. A fleet of seven other boats joined us and within a few hours, everyone was anchored in the well-protected anchorage. All in all, it was one of our best passages ever. It feels intensely remote here with the island uninhabited except for lots of crocodiles - so many that no one is willing to go ashore to explore the wide sandy beach. Last night we hosted a cocktail party on board Rutea for everyone in our fleet and Corie put her best sushi making talents to good use by taking advantage of a freshly-caught tuna that our friends on the Malo 36, Norsa, gave to us. She must have made 200 pieces of sushi which were hoovered by our 14 guests.

There's another Strong Wind Warning in effect for our area for today and tomorrow but we think we'll head further south on the island tomorrow, regardless. We still have almost 400 miles to go before we get to Darwin. To all of our Canadian friends, Happy Canada Day!
At 6/29/2013 9:46 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 11°04.51'S 136°43.74'E

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