Sails are and will always be, as long as live weirdos who need the wind, challenge, joy of victory and true friendship. In August this year when there was storm and heavy rain on Phuket GOKOVA SAILING PHUKET crew set off to the distant shores of Australia to follow the route of a famous navigator James Cook along the Great Barrier Reef in the Pacific Ocean across the legendary Torres Strait and the Arafura and Timor seas. GOKOVA SAILING PHUKET crew passed 1400 miles from Cairns (the city in the Far North Queensland, Australia) to Darwin (the capital city of the Northern Territory of Australia) with the “Seamanship” crew onboard the sailing yacht Hance 54 f with a romantic name “Juliet” led by skipper Evgeniy Shkarubo.
On 27 July we left the Marlin marine in Cairns looking forward to something unknown, but luring all romantic types. With the south-east wind of 15 knots we reached Low Isles Light (on Low Island, coordinates 16*23,02 S 145*33,35E) and anchored there. In the morning we decided to go ashore to see the old lighthouse built in the end of the 19th century, and to have a swim in the purest water where turtles showed their heads from time to time. How exotic! On the way back the engine of our dinghy failed and the side wind of 20 knots could have rolled us for long if a skipper of the other yacht hadn’t towed us to “Juliet”.
The adventures began!
On 29 July we entered the Endeavour river to berth at Cooktown (coordinates 15*28,06S 145*15’E) and nearly ran aground. The spot was complicated – the seamarks didn’t correspond to the map and we had to ask for assistance several times. Captain James Cook onboard “Endeavour” came into the river on 23 June 1777 after damaging the wooden hull on the reef. James Cook spent 2 months on the site of present Cooktown studying local flora and fauna, while his crew were repairing the ship and treating their sick members. The very first drawings of Aborigines were made in Cooktown by a young artist Sydney Parkinson who traveled with James Cook. There you can also find the museum, the monument and the memorial plaque in honour of the legendary captain. The anchorage site was rather small, but we still made up our minds to spend there a night and kept the watch by turns because of strong currents and shallow waters which seemed to surround our boat. In the morning having replenished our supplies of water and fuel we set off and sighed with relief when passed the difficult marina water way.
The entire way after leaving Cooktown we couldn’t help feeling isolation from the outside world. On the one side lay continental Australia with a waterfront stretching far into the distance, and on the other, sea side – reefs and sandy islands along the Barrier reef that protected us from the ocean waves caused by south-east trade winds. Sailing was comfortable – the wind was 10 knots strong, we spent time fishing, in the evening — locating anchorage site to be able to explore islands. On 30 August we moored in the bay of Lizard Island (coordinates 14*39.6S 145*27.1E). This name was given to the island by James Cook because the first creature he met there was a big lizard. Here we climbed the mountain, from its top Captain Cook saw the strait through the Great Barrier Reef. On the opposite side of the island there was an amazing lagoon with clear water and flint sand surrounded by dense mangrove thickets on one shore and huge boulders of strange shapes on the other.
A real heaven on earth!
On 1 August we anchored by Flinders island (coordinates 14*15.5S 144*05Е) on a long shelf, at the depth of 5 meters we dropped the whole chain — 40 meters. Shelves there are so long that we had to cast anchor a couple of miles away from the coast. Our crew with the skipper went by dinghy to the next island Stanlay, where the rock carvings of Aborigines, who lived there until the sixties of the 20th century, had remained. The carvings are well protected from rain and sun by the overhanging huge rocks. Wooden floors and stairs are made with great care, so that visitors could look closer at the carvings and leave their comments in a special book. Rock carvings resemble letters in drawings that Aborigines used to convey their attitude towards the world around them. Different species of animals, ships, people, plants and saltwater crocodile – the terror of the whole east and north coast of Australia. Having returned to our dinghy the skipper suspected that something was wrong, because the yacht was a little farther from the place where we dropped anchor. We hadn’t passed half of the way to the yacht, when a motorboat with some fishermen rushed to help us. They saw that “Juliet” was being moved between the islands by the current. They tried hard to get her back on the shelf, but they couldn’t drag out the anchor to tow her to the shore. We even didn’t have time to get scared, thanks to our saviors who took us onboard “Juliet”.
That was our Friday!
During the whole our journey different people such as fishermen, skippers of other boats, marines staff, shop assistants helped us and were really interested who we are and where we are from. Many thanks to all of them! The same evening we anchored on the shelf in Princess Charlotte Bay (coordinates 13*59.2S 143*50.6E.) and in the morning sailed with the help of the tide to the Normanby River to search for saltwater crocodiles. The fishermen had told us that they are everywhere and we were eager to see one with our own eyes. That day we couldn’t have imagined how much risk we were taking! We had been looking for these marine predators during the entire journey. First we were lucky enough to see their huge trails on Boydong Island where we cast anchor on 4 August. And later we got “double luck” — two of our brave sailors and the skipper nearly got into the mouth of a 5-meter long reptile relaxing in the rising sun on the beach. When there were only 40 meters left between the crocodile and our daredevils on dinghy with their cameras ready, a passing by motor boat stopped them and warned that their trip could end bad. We couldn’t have imagined that grown-up crocodiles can jump out of water and turn over boats. Real devils!
On 4 August we reached the most northern point of Australia and traversed Cape York (coordinates 10*40.7S 142*38.7E) called by Cook in honour of the Duke of York. We dropped anchor on Adolf Island to spend there a night and the following day to sail free to the Torres Strait and to pass 20 miles to Horn Island. The Torres Strait is a complicated place where tidal currents rush at furious speed uncovering and then hiding again shallows and reefs. Strong wind of 25 knots made anchoring rather difficult. We managed to relax only when the anchor of “Juliet” was fixed by Horn Island. The following day we refilled water supplies and as food was nearly out as well we went by ferry to Thursday Island (coordinates 10* 34′ 43.6″ S 142* 13′ 7.9″E) – the administrative center with population of 3000 people. Walking not far from the seafront we saw Australian University, a large sport complex, the fort built in the 18th century, the historical museum, cafes and restaurants, lots of shops and a big supermarket, where we bought food. There we couldn’t get rid of the feeling that we were not in Australia, but in Papua New Guinea because of many odd-looking people in the streets. We were also amazed by jade green waters of the Torres Strait, a place where pearl is still being gathered and grown. We spent 3 nights anchored by Horn Island because of strong wind in 30 knots in the Torres Strait.
Looking forward to the Indian Ocean…
On 9 August the wind took a break and we said goodbye to the Pacific Ocean and entered the Arafura Sea, which is considered to be rather shallow. The first 70 miles away from the shore the depth was only 10 miles and but for the steep short waves we could have dropped anchor at any place. The skipper decided to make no stops and sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria. Though we were in the navigation channel we didn’t meet any other boats, only once we were contacted by the boat “Ocean Hero” to coordinate starboard-to-starboard passage. It is great that “Juliet” has AIS – everybody sees you and you can know everybody’s names and speed. But the Gulf of Carpentaria is full of another kind of life – several times we met dolphins, turtles, sea serpents with black and yellow rings that James Cook mentioned in his notes. I wonder why he didn’t write anything about crocodiles. There were thousands of them! A 3-meter long saltwater crocodile even overtook our “Juliet” sailing at the speed of 8,5 knots. This Gulf is famous for banana shrimps which come to the water surface at night where shrimp-catchers take them out. There we managed to catch a mid-size tuna and cook marvelous dinner – sashimi and steak with wine at sunset…
On 11 September we passed the Gulf of Carpentaria and were contacted by patrolling plane via VHF. It found out our route, asked to spell the name “Juliet” and then wished us a nice journey and disappeared in the sky. We were looking forward to seeing a land strip and birds that would mean close land. Finally on 13 August after non-stop sailing we anchored in Barkeley Bay (coordinates 11*13.6S 132*11.1E). On the map this place is marked as a port, but in reality it is a remote crocodile land with a long beautiful sand beach and sheer cliffs. Nevertheless the next morning striving for setting foot on a land we went to the shore and even dared to have a swim.
On 14 August early in the morning we anchored in Adam Bay (coordinates 12*7.3S 131*14.1E) and decided to sail the high tide to Darwin. In the afternoon we came to the Timor Sea via the Howard Channel. Darwin (coordinates 12*28S 130*50E) appeared on the horizon like a mirage in the desert. The sea became full of life – ferries, freighters, motor boats, yachts, tugs were going in the opposite and following directions and our AIS system made sounds from time to time, so we understood that our sole voyage had come to an end. Our first anchoring happened at the guest berth in Cullen Bay Marine. While the bottom of “Juliet” was being treated with some special chemicals for adhered mollusks, we were enjoying walking around the town and getting acquainted with life in its cozy streets. We spotted a lot of cafes and small restaurants with European and Asian cuisine. Italian pizza, Australian steak, Mexican burrito, cappuccino and Turkish coffee turned our head. We didn’t forget about souvenir and fishing shops and bought souvenirs for our friends and all sorts of fishing tackle for our catamaran “Galeforce”. After treating the bottom “Juliet” had to be anchored for additional 10 hours and then we were allowed to enter the marine. The tidal height there is 8 meter that is why you can enter the marine at the high tide only. In order to do that we successfully locked through and occupied our place h118 in View Bay Marine. And that was the end of our journey.
On 17 August GOKOVA SAILING PHUKET came back home and lovely “Juliet” with skipper Evgeniy Shkaruba and a new crew started from Darwin to Kupang and then to Bali and Java, where divers team “Andaman Discovery” dived. In the end of December 2014 “Juliet” will come to Phuket Island in the Andaman Sea. See you, Juliet!