Sailing The World's Oceans

Dream ~ Discover ~ Explore















WARNING:  This next log entry is long.  Very long.  73 pages long.  It covers sailing over 1,500 nautical miles from the Whitsunday Islands to Darwin, dodging reefs and ships along the Great Barrier Reef and across the top of Cape York and westward.  Big winds and rough seas are part of the mix as are running aground, searching for koalas and croc encounters.  So give yourself an allotted time to give it the attention it deserves.  Turn off your cellphone and all the noise makers, pour yourself a glass of wine, a cold beer or a cup of tea, and find a quiet place and enjoy the read.  This entry also goes along with 450 photographs that follow the same route and story.  My intention is to bring you aboard Solstice and share with you my journey the best I can through my words and my photographs.

Wednesday June 5th, 2013 thru Saturday July 13th, 2013

June 5th, 2013 18:05 Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Australia local time

John jetted off only a few hours ago.  His visit started at Airlie Beach, which is on the coast of the mainland east of the Whitsundays Island group.  We left there and sailed to the Whitsundays where we first went to Nara Inlet on Hook Island.  The next day we went to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.  The next morning we sailed around the north end of Hayman and then back to Hook Island and pulled a mooring in Butterfly Bay.  The next morning we got up and sailed to Border Island.  We had a short hike there and the next morning sailed off to Whitsunday Island and Whitehaven Beach for another evening.  After a cross-island trek and an evening there we sailed to John’s final destination, Hamilton Island.  Just writing about where we went in those 8 days makes me tired.  During John’s time we went to 5 different islands, 6 different anchorages and 1 marina.  Each stop and island was nearby so each move was usually made in a few short hours.  But everyday we were on the move.  The wind never settled to anything less than 20-25 knots with the exception of 1 day at Whitehaven Beach when the weather calmed and was spectacular.  The weather got us battle tested and most of our moves required beating to windward.  Once we got to a new place we either went to shore for a hike, went on a dinghy excursion or got in the water for a swim.  Some minor boat things were involved like washing Solstice while at the marina or patching a hole in the bottom of the dinghy.  But mostly it was sailing as we were on the move constantly.  I was exhausted before John arrived.  I was thoroughly spent and my energy levels depleted by the time he left.  I had a blast with John.  The time he was here went by in a blink and as always it was hard for me when he left.  John and I are great friends and are great together sailing.  We’ve spent a lot of time together on boats and we are a perfect crew together.  We sailed Solstice off the mooring and off the hook whenever we could.  We had fun trying to be sailors and tried to not touch the engine.  We both urged one another on to get us to sail.  When John arrived too I kept my promise to Paul and bought a mud crab trap in Airlie Beach.  Everywhere we went John and I tried to catch Muddies.  Our efforts were full on and honorable and produced no muddies.  But from our failings came a lot of laughter to our hearts.  The one thing John and I do a lot whenever we are together is laugh.  We have a great friendship that is deep and meaningful with heartfelt conversations as well as stupid and silly conversations and thoughts thrown in when we find ourselves getting too serious.  The two styles of conversation are constantly mixed and swirled together.  Meaning that I can be sharing with John something deep from my heart, which will be replied by something ridiculous and funny.  The same is true on my end.  When he left I promised I’d keep trying to catch Muddies in his honor and that I would be a much better craber by his next return.   We crammed in so much and saw so many things during his visit but mostly we laughed.

was on the fast-track and Jake was itching to start making it to Darwin as soon as John left.  We had talked before about spending a few more days in the Whitsundays after John left but for some reason that plan disappeared and Jake wanted to get going.  Darwin was still more than 1,500 nautical miles away.  We had joined a rally to sail from Darwin to Indonesia and that required us being in Darwin by mid July.  But I was exhausted.  We had sailed more than a thousand miles since we left Sydney.  And we weren’t even halfway to Darwin.  I couldn’t keep up with this fast moving pace.  I learned a lot from my stop at Island Head Creek, I needed to stop and take more time to rest.  The pace we had been moving does not suit a single-hander.  When John was aboard the shared load was a tremendous help and when you are constantly on the move it’s easier and doable when you have someone to help shoulder the work.  I had forgotten how valuable a second crewmember was before John arrived.  When you are single-handing that pace is impossible to keep up for any length of time.  Any passage whether a day-sail or an overnighter leaves little to no time to relax and rest.  My friend Kennedy, who is single handing aboard his boat Far Star believes that single-handing is twice as hard than if you’re a couple.  I don’t know if that’s true but I agree with him that it is harder, simply from an exhaustive state.  The greatest enemy to a single hander is fatigue and exhaustion.  I had so much wanted to sail the rest of the way to Darwin with Hokule’a but they wanted to be on the move right away and I just couldn’t go.  I also desperately needed to clean Solstice’s bottom and Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays was the only place I knew I could do it safely without having to worry about crocs.  And the day we spent at Whitehaven was wonderful.  It is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever stepped foot on.  Our time there was too short.  I wanted to go back.  I decided that after John left I’d go there and spend a couple more days.  I also wanted to see some other places in the Whitsundays that we didn’t have a chance to.  I made my choice; I would once again sail off on my own.

Jake and Jackie said goodbye to John and I from Hamilton Island and headed north.  It was sad for me to see them go.  And this time it was my choice to stay behind, not a forced choice with engine trouble or boat issues.  I believe everything happens for a reason and many things that happen in our lives have higher meanings that I try to pay attention to.  Most people may not have this same belief system but I have found throughout my life that things that have happened to me on the physical plane carry with them a meaning and a message from a higher level of consciousness to help show me how I should be living my life and what to change.  For instance, I felt that my forced stoppage from boat problems recently had such a meaning and message.  And that message was loud and clear.

If you don’t slow down, you’ll be forced to slow down.

That message, I listened to.

After John got on the shuttle bus for the airport I found myself on my own and that lonely feeling swept back into my heart.  I wondered if I had made the right choice as I sailed out of Hamilton Harbour.  I don’t like being alone.  It was a hard decision for me to not continue on with Hokule’a.  I loved sailing with Jake and Jackie.  They are dear, dear friends.  We have a great time together and the comfort of having them near is huge on so many different levels.  Simply they’re the best. But when I thought hard about it with myself, the answer that came was an easy one.  I had to slow down.  From a pure safety standpoint, I had to slow down.  I was too tired to keep at the pace we were moving.  When you’re tired you get sloppy, when you’re sloppy that’s when you make mistakes and when mistakes are made things break or worse somebody gets hurt.  I owed it to myself and to Solstice to adhere to the inner voice that had been yelling at me ever since I left Sydney, SLOW DOWN!!!

The airport was right next to the harbor and I watched John’s plane taxi down the runway as I sailed out to sea.  His plane took off as I headed south.  I reached out my left arm and I projected as much love and fair wishes to him as I could across the water to his plane.  The engines roared to life as it zoomed down the runway.  It pulled up and off the tarmac and lifted up into the deep blue Ozzie sky.  As his plane faded from sight, I shifted my gaze to the windswept horizon and the sea before me.

The wind blew another hard 25 knots.  I cleared the mouth of the channel and tacked east and back out to Whitehaven Beach.  There I wanted to spend a couple days on my own cleaning the bottom and recharging my own batteries.  The sail lifted the boat up and we screamed on a beam reach under reefed sails.

The pass between Whitsunday Island and Haselwood Island is narrow and a swift current whips through when the tide is running.  It can be as much as 5 knots.  Solstice screamed
along and I approached the pass.  The tide was flooding so I had the current and wind with me.  In the past I’d usually drop the sail and motor through the pass because often under power you have more control.  But I was sailing beautifully.  I looked long and hard at the conditions in the pass with the binoculars as I approached.  Everything looked good so I decided to not start the engine but to sail in.  Solstice handled beautifully as we slipped through the pass.  Eddies swirled on either side of Solstice but she handled perfect and we sailed right through and back to Whitehaven beach.  I went right back to the same place that I had been before.   Once there I fired up the engine, lowered the sails and dropped the hook in 10 feet of water.  I took a deep breath and filled my lungs with the pure air that tasted of salt, sea and sand.  I was completely relaxed.

As I mentioned before, when I’m own my own things happen where I’m approached where I usually wouldn’t be.  I had not been there for more than a couple of hours when a couple in a big dinghy approached.  It was a 20-foot hard bottom dinghy with a 40 horsepower engine on it.  The average cruiser usually doesn’t have anything bigger than a 15.  Even a 20 is rare.  They were from a Catamaran that was anchored just in front of me.

“Hallo!” the man’s voice called out in a thick German accent.

“My name is Peter and here is Regina,” he said.

I laughed to myself because it came across like he was presenting Regina to me, and Regina was cute.

“Hello,” she said in her own European accent but I couldn’t pick from where.

“I am, Bill,” I said.

“Are you single-handing?” Peter asked.

“I am.”

He smiled and nodded, “We are going down to meet some friends who are anchored down the way for dinner but perhaps tomorrow you will come by and have drinks with us,” he said.

“That would be great.  Thank you so much,” I said.

“Okay, we see you,” and like that Peter and Regina sped off at full speed in their big fancy dinghy.

I continued cleaning up Solstice and thought to myself what a nice offer.  I loved so much
how the boating community out here reaches out to one another in so many ways.

About a half hour later Regina and Peter came back towards Solstice at full speed.  I was still on deck putting things away when they pulled along side.

“We have had a change in plans,” Peter said.  “Our friends are now coming over to our boat for dinner, would you like to join us?  They will pick you up so you don’t have to put your dinghy in the water.”

“Oh, sure.  How nice.  Thank you.”

“Okay, we see you,” Peter said and they jetted off towards their boat.

About 30 minutes later I happily saw some familiar faces headed towards Solstice.  Their faces lit up too when they realized they knew who they were picking up.  Tim, Steph and their two boys Fin (10) and Sam (8) from the boat Bonaire.  I had run into them several times in different ports during my voyage the last couple of years.  They are from England and have always had a great, wonderful energy about them.  Both Tim and Steph’s eyes gleamed with the excitement of life and the adventure of their circumnavigation.  They were both dentist in their pre-cruising lives and sailing around the globe with their two boys rewarded their happiness more than peering into the people’s mouths had.

“Biiillll!!” The yelled together.

“Hey guys, I’m so glad it’s you picking me up,” I said.

I was excited because in the past I had never been able to spend much time with them.  Before it had always been in passing either them arriving somewhere when I was leaving of visa versa.

I hopped into their dinghy and off we went to Endless for dinner.  Regina made a wonderful dinner and we stayed up late sipping wine, talking story and getting to know each other better.  The best part was that I learned that Bonaire, was on the same trek to get to Darwin as I was.  When we left that night we hoped to see each other along the way.

I went to bed that night feeling much better about my choice to slow down a bit.

“Solstice, Solstice, Solstice.  Elizabeth Jane Two, Elizabeth Jane Two,” Hugh’s Aussie accent broke the quiet of the morning air from over the radio.

Hugh and Katie had been my neighbors on the docks for the 5 months while I was in Sydney.  They are in their early 30’s, had just bought a boat, and were about to quit their jobs to take two years to travel through Asia and back to Oz.  They left Sydney about a month after I did.  They had traveled up the Aussie coast perpetually chasing Hokule’a and Solstice.

“Elizabeth Jane two I read you loud and clear.  How do you copy, Hugh?” I asked.

“Got you loud and clear, Mate,” was his happy reply.

Katie and Hugh were in an anchorage on the other side of the island where they spent the previous night with Jake and Jackie.  Elizabeth Jane II (or E.J. as we’ve now shortened  it) had just pulled the hook and was headed to my side of the island.  Hugh said Hokule’a had already pulled theirs and were headed north.

The big project for me that morning was to clean the bottom.  A southeasterly swell along with a swift current had made the anchorage rolly and uncomfortable.  I figured being in the water would be better than being aboard, even if it meant cleaning the bottom of the boat.  I was wrong.  I donned my scuba gear and jumped in the water.  Solstice’s bottom was in desperate need of a paint job, which made things easier to grow on her hull.  I had planned to paint the bottom in Australia until I found out how much it cost.  I decided to wait until Malaysia where it would be cheaper.  This of course though, made cleaning the bottom now a nightmare.  Not to mention the current was so strong that it had me holding onto the side of the boat with my suction cup handhold like a remora hitching a ride on the underside of a whale shark.  I held on the best I could with one hand while I scrubbed with the other.  Solstice’s bow rose up and fell back down with each swell that rolled through the anchorage.  The conditions were more miserable than they were when I cleaned the bottom outside of Manly in Sydney.  The results were the same as they were then too.  It took me over two hours and ultimately I got seasick and threw up in the process.  The only times I’ve been seasick on this voyage is when I haven’t even been on the boat but under it cleaning during a big swell with a swift current.

By the time I climbed back aboard EJ was anchored next to me.  It was great to have familiar faces nearby.  Katie, Hugh and I had become good friends while I was in Sydney.  That night we all got together and I told Katie and Hugh how I had come to be sailing on my own.  We all vowed to sail the best we could together to Darwin.  We still had 1,500 miles to go so we knew we wouldn’t go everywhere together.  Katie’s Dad would be meeting them for a week in Cairns (pronounced Cans) another mysterious silent “R” written into the Ozzie language, so we knew we’d separate there for a bit.  But we promised that’d we’d try the best we could to go to Darwin together.

We had hoped to stay longer at Whitehaven Beach but weather conditions continued to deteriorate which forced us to seek better shelter elsewhere.  We left Whitehaven before nightfall and searched for better protection from the wind and swell over at Haselwood just a couple miles away.  It was better but not much.  The boat anchored between Solstice and EJ drug anchor and drifted out to sea for over a mile in the dark before they realized what had happened.  Fortunately they didn’t hit anything or anybody.  We left Haselwood the next morning and headed to Butterfly Bay, which offered much better protection.  It was a great place to seek shelter but there’s not a lot to do there when conditions were rough.  So the following morning we decided to run in 30 knots back to Airlie Beach where there was great shelter and tons to do.  I felt like I was moving as fast as I was before, only this time, weather dictated our movements.  Airlie provided a stop for a long weekend while we waited for better weather.  So we wined and dined and re-provisioned and waited.  Katie and Hugh’s friend Chrissy was with them too and she was flying out of Airlie so we needed to wait for her flight after a long fun weekend.

Come Monday, Chrissy jetted back to Sydney and Solstice and EJ headed to Magnetic Island, about 130 miles up the coast, an overnighter.  The challenges going up the Aussie coast has been ships and reefs.  The shipping lanes in Australia are well marked and well traveled.  This particular run wasn’t bad as there was plenty of room to stay out of the shipping lanes while also avoiding the reef.  The wind was 20 knots on the stern quarter and Solstice sailed beautifully.  130 miles is a good 1-day distance.  I could sail and insure a daytime arrival and not worry about having to run the engine while hurrying to get in before dark.  I left at noon and after a beautiful sail I found myself only a few miles away at sunrise the next morning.

One of the good things about traveling behind Hokule’a was that I could call them on the phone and pick their brains about the places they had stopped.  Jake would give me insights or local knowledge for places I was going after them.  Magnetic was a Hokule’a “must stop”.

Magnetic Island is a beautiful place only a few miles off the Queensland coast.  It has a lot to offer from pristine beaches, to snorkeling, to resorts with spa facilities to fine dinning.  I didn’t go there for any of that, I went to see koalas.  Magnetic features a koala sanctuary and I was super excited about seeing a koala in the wild.  Jake said he and Jackie saw “heaps of ‘em” when they did the hike up to the top of the island. 

“Koala’s are everywhere.  Just be sure to keep your eyes looking up to the treetops.  There’s heaps of ‘em,” is what Jake said.  I was so excited.

We anchored in Horseshoe Bay on the northeast side of the island.  A long beach swept around a bay fringed by coconut groves and forests.  A small town with one road stood at the head of the bay and even though the water was calm and lovely you couldn’t swim in it because it was home to “Salties Mate” or in other words saltwater crocs.  The encouraging thing was it looked like it was the home for muddies too.  Before Katie, Hugh and I set out on an island trek, I set out a trap with the hope that come our return we’d have a crab feast for dinner.

Katie, Hugh and I packed a lunch and set out on a trek that would take us on an 8-mile loop around the northwest side of the island.  We saw fields of flowers and eucalyptus groves, pristine beaches and rocky outcrops that enhanced a beautiful blue seascape.  What we didn’t see were koalas.  For the first 3 hours of our trek I walked constantly with my head looking to the treetops.  Just when we had about given up I phoned Jake.

“You haven’t seen any?” was his shocked reply.

None.  Where did you see them?” I asked.

“In the trees, up by the ruins of the old fort, that’s where they are,” he insisted.

“Oh up there.  We haven’t been up there yet.  How many were there?”

“We saw at least 3,” he said.

I guess 3 were “heaps of ‘em” by Jake’s definition.  I’ve never figured out how many “heaps” are down under but I figured it was the Aussie equivalent to “a shit load” in America.  And a “shit load” is a lot more than 3.

Regardless, we found the trailhead for the fort and headed off up to the highest part of the island.  It was about 5 kilometers out of our way but with the promise of seeing koalas we were game.  There was even a sign posted at the trailhead to not bother Kingston, the resident koala.  We were excited.

So we went up the trail enthusiastically looking for Kingston.   We climbed all the way to the top of the fort, took pictures of beautiful vistas but never once on the way up or down did we see Kingston or any of his pals.
Deflated, we walked back to town and did the only thing we knew to make us feel better.  We ordered cold beers at the bayside pub.  After a couple of those we laughed at our koala-less trek.  On our way back to the boat we pulled up the crab trap and…

“YAHOO!!!  A BLUEY!!!”

A blue swimmer to be exact.  They are like blue crabs on the east coast back home in Virginia but bigger.  It wasn’t huge and it wasn’t a muddy and it wasn’t a feast but it was a nice appetizer.  That night we steamed him up on EJ and talked about our next stop.  Sailing up the Hinchinbrook Channel.

We took off the next morning for Orpheus Island.  Orpheus was 40 miles up the coast and only 5 miles off the entrance to the Hinchinbrook Channel.  It was great place to stop for the night and then get up early and head up the channel.

The Hinchinbrook Channel is a 28-mile passageway between mainland Australia and Hinchinbrook Island on the Queensland coast.  It is narrow.  Some parts are less than .3 of a mile wide and I was told there is little or no wind so be prepared to motor.  But in addition to that, everything else I’d heard was its spectacular and “don’t miss it”.  The only risk was the shallow entrance.  But if you “stick to the range markers and enter on the right tide” the reward far outweighed the risk.  The risk was running aground; the reward was sailing up a channel between the majestic mountain range that lines this channel and the Queensland coast.  And unlike, the koalas, I knew the scenery couldn’t easily hide from me.

I awoke at Orpheus energized about heading up the Hinchinbrook channel.  I had pulled a mooring the night before and the wind had shifted to a light offshore breeze during the middle of the night.  I sat in the cockpit with my coffee and gauged the situation.  One thing I love about sailing with Elizabeth Jane II is that they try and sail all the time.  They sail in all conditions.  Even when there’s no wind they wait without firing up the engine.  Their patience is amazing.  Sailing with them it made me want to be a better sailor too.  The conditions were perfect and sailing off a mooring was a breeze, (pun intended).  After I finished my coffee I raised the main, waited for Solstice to swing over to the proper tack and let loose from the mooring.  Once I turned down to course I rolled out the jib.  Solstice caught the wind and we were off.  There’s something so magical about getting underway without ever firing up the engine.

Elizabeth Jane
was busy hauling their hook up.  I had got the last mooring in the anchorage.  EJ was also getting underway without their engine.  Soon we had both slipped quietly from the anchorage and were headed towards the Hinchinbrook.

It was a beautiful morning sail and I milked it as long as I could.  The guidebooks were specific about holding steady on the range markers and warnings were clear that if you ventured off of them you might go aground.  I had also talked to Hokule’a and I knew they had made it through here.

“It’s shallow but you’ll be fine,” Jake assured me.

I rolled up the headsail, fired up the engine and made my approach.  I grabbed the binoculars and found the large orange triangular range markers and lined them up.  I steadied the helm and made my approach.  I watched as the depth dropped from 20 feet to 15.  15 ticked down to 10 which dropped to 9.9… 9.3… 8.6…7.5….  I hate when the depth finder reads in the single digits.  But I had the range markers lined up perfectly and I pressed on.  7.0 dropped to 6, then to 5, to 4.5….  Solstice’s depth finder is measured from the bottom of the keel.  So when it reads zero, you’re aground.  She also draws 6’4” so when it says you’re in 4.5 feet you’re really in 10 feet of water.  Still 4.5 feet under the keel is nerve racking.  The depth sounder dropped to 3.5 and then 3.0.  I stayed steady at the helm, trusting my course, trusting the guidebooks and trusting those who had gone before.  My breath quickened and my fingers squeezed tighter on the helm.  The concerning factor was I was still pretty far offshore.  I still had about 2 miles to go before I even got to the entrance of the channel.  Nobody mentioned that it was this shallow this far out.  They just said it was shallow.

Could I be in the wrong place?  What if I’m off course?

Questions of doubt started to rush in my brain.  I looked behind and Elizabeth Jane was about 2 miles behind me.

“Elizabeth Jane Two, Elizabeth Jane Two, This is Solstice,” I hailed them from my handheld.

“Hey Bill, how you going?”

“It’s going pretty freakin’ shallow, Hugh” I said.

“Yep, it’s a shallow one,” Hugh sounded pretty relaxed.

“Yeah, I’ve got everything lined up and I’ve got…” I did another check of the depth finder… “Um 2.5 feet under the keel”, I affirmed.

“Ha, Ha, Haaaaa.  That’s brilliant!  We still got 6 meters out here,” Hugh happily reported.

“I don’t know how bloody brilliant it is but it keeps you on edge,” I assured him.

“Well let us know if you hit bottom so we can turn around,” I could hear the smile on his face.

“Absolutely, don’t worry, you’ll be the first one to know.”

“No worries, she’ll be right,” Hugh reassured me with his mantra.

Aussie’s have a relaxed way about them that is comforting and it was good to hear Hugh’s voice.  One of the harder things about single-handing is that there is only one person’s judgment on hand while sailing.  Yours.  There’s no input or opinion about matters from anybody else.  Sometimes that’s great, sometimes it sucks.  I looked at the depth finder again, it hovered right about 3 feet. Every now and again it would drop to 2.8 or 2.7.  I imagined the keel racing over the bottom with only a couple of feet of clearance between it and the muddy bottom.

What if there’s a piece of garbage on the bottom sticking up two feet?
I thought.  What if there’s a little mound sticking up?  What if….?  More questions raced through my mind.

One of the other challenges about this entry was that the water was a murky, muddy, brown, color.  It was impossible to know by looking at it how deep it was.  I trusted the depth finder. 2.8

I decided to put on some music.  Everything’s better with music.

The theme to Captain Ron came on and I laughed.  Perfect, I thought and a scene immediately came to mind.

Captain Ron: Yeah, it happened when I went down off the coast of Australia.
Katherine Harvey: Your boat sank?
Captain Ron: No, no, no, no. Not my boat. My boss's boat. Yeah, we hit this reef. Huge son-of-a-bitch. Ran the whole coast.
Katherine Harvey: Wait. The Great Barrier Reef?
Captain Ron: You've heard of it, huh? Smart lady.
Yep, this is perfect.

The main theme to Captain Ron filled the cockpit and Solstice happily chugged along her keel soaring just atop the bottom.  After a mile of hovering about 3 feet over the bottom and making sure that the I stayed right on with the range markers I started to relax…. a little.

One more mile to go.

That thought brought some comfort.  At the entrance to the Hinchinbrook Channel is Port Lucinda.  A long conveyor runs from the coast out to an offshore berthing station for ships.  The conveyor was built for the sugar trade.  It’s over 3 miles long and is one of the longest of its kind in the world.  It carries raw sugar from storage facilities on shore to ships waiting in deeper water.  One of the range markers is actually on the conveyor and the course of entrance requires approaching almost all the way up to it before turning hard to starboard and heading towards the wharf at the entrance to the channel.  I made my turn and followed the red and green buoys that marked a very narrow channel near the wharf.  The depth stayed incredibly shallow as I motored alongside the conveyor and then right up to the wharf and finally the channel opened up.

The sea was flat calm and no wind ruffled the surface.  It was “like a mill pond” as the Captain in Titanic said.   I had to snake Solstice around shoals and sediment deposits that were only a few feet deep as I made my way into the proper river. Off to starboard a strip of sand marked a narrow beach.  The beach gave way to low-lying mangrove trees that slipped back to a forest amongst the estuaries.  Where the forest ended, a mountain range sprung forth to oversea this part of the Queensland coast.  Simply, it was breathtaking and beautiful.  Solstice chugged along under the iron genoa and we turned and headed up the channel.  Equally as stunning a mountain range on the mainland side lined the other side of the river.  Slowly Solstice slipped into a land marked by nothing but the beauty that results from millions of years of wind and water.  Well almost nothing, small fishing boats dotted the river and river mouths.  Small open flat bottom boats with one or two people in each boat fishing with a rod and reel.  It seemed that either a fishing tournament was going on or that the fishing was just really good here.  The fishermen were friendly and welcoming and on each boat a person waved heartily as Solstice slipped past them.  Soon the fisherman faded astern and only Solstice and Elizabeth Jane were left making their way to the deeper more secluded part of the channel.  Mangrove trees lined the shore; bird life hunted from above and in the shallows by the trees and all of the land shimmered under the Queensland sun.  The water was a deep muddy brown.  It wasn’t polluted, just brown from the sediment and runoff that flowed down from the mountains.  It was a perfect environment for muddies.  I couldn’t wait to get my traps in the water.  It was also the perfect environment for crocs.

If there is any such thing as an ideal motor, this was it.  The auto-pilot assumed the task of steering and I went forward to the bow.  The water hissed as it rushed past the hull and I absorbed the beauty around me.  It had been stressful coming in through the shallow water at the head of the channel.  Finally, in the deeper waters of the river, I could relax.  I felt a sense of ease wash over me.  I stood there and breathed in the fresh clean air that smelled of earth, sea and sunshine.  As I looked back to Solstice racing effortlessly forward I sensed that she too was smiling.  The next hour and a half was spent like that, soaking it all in.  Eventually, I came upon Haycock Island, which was our stopping point for the evening.

Haycock Island is a tiny wooded island that sits just off the main channel and provides a nice break from the current of the main channel where it’s safe to anchor.  As soon as the hook was down and secure I had the dinghy in the water and got busy assembling my crab traps.  I headed over to one of the small inlets that flowed out from a gap in the mangroves and set my trap.

That night I dreamed of hauling in a trap filled with muddies.  Big males with fat claws crammed in every corner of the trap.  Each crab packed full of meat that was perfect dunked in drawn butter and garlic.  And a nice chilled chardonnay to wash it down with.  Oh how nice.

I awoke to find a most beautiful morning.  The sun lit Haycock Island in warm hues of yellows, greens, blues and browns.  Everything the sun kissed glistened and sparkled with a vibrancy of life.  EJ sat motionless in the water and stared down at her own perfect unwavering reflection.  I made a cup of coffee, poured it into my travel mug and hurried off to check the trap.  I couldn’t wait to see what was there.  I gave the dinghy full throttle and she leapt easily on plane in the still water.  She zipped atop the glassy inlet.  It was so flat I might as well had been driving a car on a runway.  A smile grew on my face as I thought of what I may haul in.  I had stuffed the trap the night before with lots of chicken necks and sardines.  Bait that promised to catch… something.  Muddies I hoped.  I rounded the corner and headed up the inlet to where I had set the trap.  I scanned the still waters of the inlet and saw nothing.  It wasn’t there.

What the hell?
 Maybe a fisherman took it?

That was my first thought as I throttled down and the dinghy slid to a stop.  The Hinchinbrook Channel is known for muddies and a lot of commercial fisherman lay traps along the mangroves here.  Maybe they were territorial and removed my trap.

Would they really do that?  One trap?

I headed a little further up the inlet.  I rounded another corner and there tucked up under some low-lying mangrove trees I saw the stark white Styrofoam float that marked my trap.  It was in a completely different place than where I had set it.

I hurried over to retrieve it.  I snagged the line with the boat hook and pulled it up.  Nothing was in the trap at all.  All the bait was gone.  Not a remnant of meat or bones remained.  There was nothing.  It was as if there had never been any bait in the trap at all.

I went back to EJ where Katie and Hugh anxiously awaited for good news.  I pulled up and gave them the thumbs down.

“Oh no, Man.  What happened?” Hugh exclaimed.

I explained to him how I found the trap.

“Croc,” Hugh deduced.

“I don’t think so, the trap would’ve been mauled, wouldn’t it?” I asked.

“Crocs are smart,” he said.

I never figured out what happened but it was time to leave The Hinchinbrook behind.  I wish we could’ve stayed longer.  A better locale for the trap I’m convinced would’ve yielded some muddies.

Our next stop was Cairns (pronounced Cans).  Why there is an “R” in there is beyond me.  For that matter an “I” too.  Only an Aussie can answer that question.  Actually, that’s not true.  Aussies don’t have an answer for that question.  “The queen’s English” is usually the response.  Obviously the queen doesn’t know how to spell.

Cans, I mean Cairns, was 120 miles up the coast.  Another good distance for sailing and a daylight arrival.  A slight breeze blew from the south up the channel.  If there was a breeze blowing in the channel that meant it was blowing hard outside.  The forecast was the same as it had been for most of the past month, 25 knots out of the ENE.

But in the channel only a 5 to 7 knot breeze blew.  I still had 15 miles go up the channel and I knew with the light air I’d need all my sail area if I wanted to sail.  I hauled up the main and then the anchor.  I let the main out and Solstice caught the breeze and slowly began to move.  She sailed off the hook beautifully.  Once the anchor was stowed I rolled out the headsail and the light breeze billowed her to life.  EJ did the same and together with sails filled with light air we leisurely made our way up the channel.

The mountains on either side drifted by slowly.  It was fantastic.  I knew it would all change as soon as we entered the open ocean but right then, it was magic.  The land along the shoreline slipped past at a faster rate than the mountain range behind.  It gave the impression that we were sailing upon a large treadmill.  The water rushed past at a different rate too.  That enhanced the strange movement of the boat over the sea and through the valley of the mountains.  I felt like I was part of one of those 3D cardboard cut outs where the background, middle-ground and foregrounds are all part of the same picture but each moved independently of one another.  For the next 3 hours I soaked it all in.  It was surreal and wonderful.

On the horizon outside the channel white caps rose and fell and were whipped into a frothy spew by the hard NE trades.  I took advantage of the calm of the channel and put a double reef in the main.  I rolled up the jib so that only a small bit was left.  We greeted the sea with short sails tucked up tight and neat.  The wind hit hard and Solstice leaned down deep to port.  She bucked up and threw her bow into the air and charged forth into the onslaught like a horse at rest being kicked hard by spurred boots.  She punched through the relative small waves compared to the force of the wind with ease.  Thank God for the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef.

I had already fixed my mindset for this part.  It was going to be a long sail.  25 knots had become the norm and I was ready emotionally and physically.  Yes, at times it wears on me and the incessant pounding ultimately leaves me longing for a calm day of sailing in 12 knots of breeze.  12 knots is my favorite.  But I learned a long time ago not to complain about 25 knots of wind.  Especially along a coastline where the big ocean swells were knocked down by a reef leaving behind a relatively calm seascape.

The next 18 hours were spent on a close reach, sailing well while dodging ships, listening to music, taking pictures, trimming sails, watching for unmarked objects and unlit boats and trying to get some sleep between radar and AIS alert alarms and cooking meals.  By dawn the next morning I approached the first set of red and green buoys that marked the 6-mile shallow, narrow entrance into Cairns with a hot cup of coffee in hand.  I entered the channel and fired up the engine.  I decided it was time to motor.  Large fishing vessels, big dive boats and fancy super yachts exited the harbor in a constant parade as they sent wake after wake in my direction.  Most of the time they passed close by at full throttle, which rocked Solstice from port and starboard.  By the time we settled back to a calm another wake would roll by.  It didn’t matter, I was close enough now that visions of being tied to a dock melted any discomfort I was experiencing.  The Hinchinbrook had also brought comfort to the shallow water I was now traversing.  I had less than 9 feet under the keel during the long entrance.  That was “heaps” compared to what I had a few days earlier entering the Hinchinbrook.  An hour later, a friendly, rotund Aussie lady that worked for the harbor stood on the dock at my assigned slip waiting for me.  I tossed her a bow line and together we brought Solstice to a stop.  I was very happy to be tied securely along a dock.

Cairns is a large town and backpackers haven.  A lot of backpackers use Cairns as a jumping off spot to explore the outback of Australia.  It’s also the last great provisioning stop before Darwin for cruisers.  And with Darwin still 1,200 miles away I needed to stock up on a lot to sustain the distance still to go.  The best part about arriving when I did was Hokule’a was still in Cairns.  The worst part was they were leaving the next morning.

That night we had a great rendezvous at the chic bar on the pier at the marina.  Suddenly I went from desolate middle of nowhere Queensland to the happening Friday happy hour crowd with people dressed up for an evening out with friends.  It was bizarre and a bit of a culture shock at first.  But soon after some stories and laughter about the trials of our trips up the coast that all washed away and it felt normal to be out with the living.  We shared the news we each had since we left each other in the Whit Sundays.  They also gave me the insights they had learned about Cairns on where to shop, where to get fuel and propane, where to do laundry, what internet access was like etc. etc.  They answered all the important cruiser questions.  Oh, and where to get a haircut.

My 3-½ days in Cairns went by in a whirlwind.  I spent the time running around taking care of all my needs that would sustain me for the next 1,200 miles to Darwin.  The only thing left to do was top off with diesel.  I had heard that getting fuel in Cairns was a pain in the butt.  It required making a reservation and jockeying positions around the super yachts, ferry boats and private charters that all seemed to be given precedence over the small yachty looking to top up.  On top of that, the operating hours were only for a few hours each day.  I recalled from the Aussies I met at Island Head Creek that when the time came to fuel up in Cairns “don’t fuel up there, go to Half Moon Bay Marina at Yorkey’s Knob instead”.

“It’s super easy, Mate.  It’s only 10 miles further up the coast.  It’s a quaint little harbor and the fuel dock is right there.  Just pull in, top up and you’re on your way.  You go right by it anyway,” is what they said.

That conversation was vivid in my brain especially after I learned how infrequently the Cairns fuel dock was open.  I’d rather go there than jockey with fishing boats and super yachts any day.  So after a whirlwind of taking care of provisioning and boat related stuff I left Cairns with no sightseeing and headed for Yorkey’s Knob.

Like Cairnes, Half Moon Bay Marina has a long, narrow, shallow entrance.  Also like Cairnes, the depth on the chart said 6.6 to 9 feet upon entry.  Also like Cairnes, big super yachts with drafts far deeper than Solstice’s are moored there.  I wanted to be sure to arrive well before low tide to assure a safe entry.  I also had to leave Cairnes at the right time to assure a safe exit.  The tides aligned so that I’d have to leave early.  By 8am just after high tide, I was underway.  Katie and Hugh had decided to stay an extra couple of days as Katie’s sister lived in Cairns and her Mom had flown up from Sydney to visit her girls.  So I headed out on my own.  I’d meet EJ and Bonaire in a few days at Lizard Island, about 130 miles up the coast.  Another overnighter.  But first fuel.

I jumped into the parade of boats exiting the harbor.  I said goodbye to Octopus, which was the big super yacht, owned by Paul Allen of Microsoft. I had run into Octopus now and again in my travels so I felt a little kinship with her, though I’ve never met anybody from the boat.  Octopus has lots of great toys aboard.  Since it was a short run I opted to not raise the main because I’d only have to take it down again in an hour.  I also decided to not go out the entire 6 miles to the end of the channel.  I had 20 feet of water and I was hurrying to beat the tide into Half Moon Bay.  It would be about an hour and half trip.

As I neared the narrow entrance I noticed the first set of red and green markers that marked the head of the channel and made my approach.  As always I lined up the markers and headed in between them.  As I approached the marks the depth started to drop rapidly.  20 feet soon dropped to 10 feet.  I looked at all the marks and I was right on course.  A tenseness rose inside and the depth fell to 7.5 feet and I hadn’t even reached the marks yet.  But I was headed right between them.  7.5 feet gave way to 5 feet and then dropped down to 3.5 feet.  My heart rate started to rise and I could sense it beating in my throat.  Suddenly I was in 1.5 feet, then .5 feet.  My hands tightened up on the helm and I moved forward.  Everything was still lined up.  I was right on course.  I had moved through this shallow of water before and trusted that I was in the channel.  Like the others it was just very shallow.

Half Moon Bay Marina has an obscured entrance, as the leading line through the marks doesn’t line up with the opening to the marina.  Just as you get to the entrance of the marina you have to take a hard 90° turn to port through a set of red and green marks that are on the breakwall at the entrance.  To make matters more confusing on the approach after the first red and green marks there is just one mark.  The sun had bleached out the color so bad that it was difficult to tell if it was a red or green mark.  Just past this mark and out in front of the breakwall marks were two more red and green marks.  The obvious thing to me was to go between all red and green marks on my way in.  But things were getting shallow.

I past the single marker to my starboard and stayed close to where I felt the channel was marked.  0.5 feet still read on the depth sounder.  I noticed breaking waves on either side of the boat.  I grew more nervous as I entered the surf zone, something I’ve also done before.  It was disconcerting but I had lined up the marks and the refuge of the harbor was just ahead.  After I past the single non-colored mark I turned to starboard so that I could go between the next set of red and green marks.  Suddenly Solstice slowed like she ran into a heavy net.  Pinpricks of energy shot through my entire body and I could feel each finger and toe tingle and vibrate with fright.  I had felt this sensation on a friend’s boat before and I knew what was happening.  Solstice hit bottom.  A swell rolled under the boat and lifted her up and she moved forward only to slip into another slow heavy drag as she again lowered down upon the bottom of the sea floor.  The next thing that shot through me besides fright was an image of Solstice listing on her side while waves pummeled her.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  Should I keep going following the marks to the harbor entrance or try and turn back?  I needed local knowledge.  I grabbed the radio.

“Half Moon Bay Marina, Half Moon Bay Marina this is the sailing vessel Solstice do you copy?  Over.” I could hear the anxiousness in my voice as I spoke.

I waited for somebody to answer.  Somebody that could help.  Somebody that could tell me where the channel was.  I listened attentively for a reply.  There was none, only silence.

Another swell came up under the boat but didn’t lift the hull enough to move her up off the bottom and Solstice drug heavily to a stop.  The one good thing was that I had no sails up.  In that moment I was thankful that I had opted to not raise the main.  I tried the radio again.  I spoke clearly and deliberately and in a tone that exuded the seriousness of the moment.

“Half Moon Bay Marina!  Half Moon Bay Marina!  This is the sailing vessel Solstice calling you on channel one six do you copy? Over”

Another long moment passed in silence.  No reply.  There would be no answer or help coming from anybody.  Every essence of my being tingled with anxiousness.  I tried to calm myself down and think.

What should I do?  The entrance is just there about 100 meters away.  Should I try and head back out?

I put the boat in reverse and throttled up.  The engine revved up high but she made no progress backwards.  She was stuck and stuck hard.  A voice then popped into my head.

Don’t reverse!  Don’t reverse!

That statement was born from a story I knew of friends who had hit a reef when they were in Fiji.  By putting the boat in reverse they caused major damage.  Ultimately it got them more stuck and the weight of the boat moving backwards split their rudder.

Immediately I put her in forward.  Another swell moved under the boat and as it did I throttled her up.  Solstice’s hull lifted up and she lurched forward with the help of the prop.  As the swell past by she again settled on the bottom and stopped.  But soon another swell came and lifted her up.  I throttled up again and tried to turn her to port towards the red and green markers on the breakwall.  Her bow turned a bit.  Hope rose in my being as I had steerage.  That meant I was moving.  She hit bottom again and settled down.  Another swell came and I turned her more and throttled hard again.  Solstice turned sharper towards the entrance.  As the swell past by I braced myself again to hit the bottom.  Solstice settled in the trough but she didn’t hit.  She kept moving.  I throttled up more and headed straight for the mouth of the breakwall.  She powered up to 5 knots and gained her footing in the deeper water and charged ahead.  I was shaking.  I turned her into the mouth of the entrance and I watched the depth finder.  We were in 2 feet of water, then 2.5, and then 3.  My heart thumped rapidly and I could feel each beat in my chest.  I entered the harbor.  I was going too fast and throttled back.  The entrance was narrow but the depth went back up to 5 feet.  I had never been happier to see 5 feet on the depth sounder.  I saw the fuel dock less than 300 feet ahead.  The water was brown and muddy and it was impossible to judge the depth.  The end of the dock nearest the shore was in very shallow water.  I could only hope it was deep enough for me to get there and tie up.  The depth finder went back to 4 feet.  Then 3.5, then 2.5 feet.  I was still shaking as I went forward and tossed the fenders over the side and prepared to land the boat.  I got back to the helm and we were now in 2 feet of water.  I throttled back and then put her in neutral.  Solstice slid forward.  Still, a little too fast so I popped her in reverse for a second and goosed the engine.  She slowed and I put her back to neutral.  Solstice slipped along easily as if she had deep water all around.  We ghosted up to the side of the dock slowly.  I popped her in reverse again and brought her to a stop right alongside the dock.  I grabbed the lines and hopped off the boat and tied her up.  I let out a huge sigh of relief and without hesitation looked up to the powers that be above and pointed at them like I had just scored my first touchdown in the NFL.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I said aloud and passionately.

A sense of nervousness began to swell inside of any damage I might have caused.

“Ah, no warries, Mate!  It’s all sand and mud out there, nothing to harm your bottom.  Cleaned it up a bit no doubt”, the crew in the marina office assured me later with a smile and chuckle.

I told them of my entry and my struggle to find the channel between the markers.

“Oh, those markers just outside the breakwall are for boats headed up the ole’ Blue River there,” the heavyset fuel pump operator informed me.

“You don’t go between those?” I asked.

“No.  Only if you’re going up the river,” he pointed to the small creek that entered the bay from a mangrove treeline just beyond the harbor entrance.  “But you wouldn’t want to go up there during a low tide, especially in a boat like yours, ha, ha, ha,” he thought it was funny.

“I can see why,” I let out a nervous laugh too.  “Well I was surely confused,” I said.

He looked at the marks in question and looked at them a long while as if he was noticing them for the first time.

“I guess they are in an odd place there, I can see why you’d think to go between them,” he agreed.  But you want to do a hard turn to starboard when you leave and leave them both to port.”

Just then a powerboat came in at full speed and made the turn he talked about and left both those red and green markers to starboard and zipped into the harbor.

“Like that guy,” he pointed to the skiff coming in fast.  “He’s in the middle of the channel there.”

In the States it’s red right returning when entering a harbor.  In the rest of the world, it’s red to port and green to starboard when entering.  In Half Moon Bay Marina, it’s red and green to starboard and come right in.  There’s nothing like local knowledge.

I knew one thing for sure.  Low tide was at 12:30, two and a half hours after my arrival.  I wasn’t going anywhere until at least 15:30.  After I fueled up I asked if it was okay if I waited a few hours for the tide to come up.

“Not a problem, Mate.  It’s a slow day today.  You’re welcome to stay here at the fuel dock,” the Aussie’s in general are friendly and helpful and willing to help.  They have that in common with the Kiwis.  So after I fueled up I pulled out my phone and I called John.  I needed to hear a friendly voice.

“Hey you’re a cruiser now”, he said.

There’s a saying out here that you haven’t been cruising until you’ve run aground.  I guess officially now I’m a cruiser.  John reminded me too that it wasn’t far from where Solstice ran aground that Captain Cook hit the Great Barrier Reef.  So I figured I was in good company.  I’m not sure where Captain Ron hit the reef.

John made me laugh and except for a thorough inspection of the bottom, all seemed okay.  The Aussie’s at Island Head Creek were right about one thing, Half Moon Bay Marina is a beautiful little spot.  It was a good place to wait for the tide to rise.  After I got off the phone I went up to the restaurant and had a steak sandwich and beer for lunch.  All in the world seemed right again.

Looking back now after the fact, there are several factors that contributed to my running aground that day. The markers that lead boats in and out of the marina are poorly laid out and confusing at Half Moon Bay.  Especially for the boater who is unfamiliar with the area.  Buoy markers are universal in their language and when they are positioned in such a way that makes it unclear of the correct path to take, well that’s poor planning and asking for trouble.  In the short time I spent at Half Moon Bay I met some folks that explained to me how it’s a regular occurrence of boats running aground there.  There is nothing about running aground that should be regular.  That in of itself is a problem.  I learned too that halfway down the pile of the single mark with the washed out color that you can’t tell if it’s red or green that there is a green arrow that some locals had painted on it to help boaters see what direction to go.  Sounds like a bad remedy as I never saw the green arrow until I looked for it on the way out.  The biggest problem as I saw it, was pilot error.  I learned later that there was a set of range markers that are to be used as leads for the entrance.  The first one sits on the breakwall while the other one to be lined up is set back in the marina.  I should’ve looked for that but instead focused on the red/green markers in the water.  There also was a big tidal range that day that I didn’t take into account.  And finally, I ignored my instincts and didn’t turn around when I should have.  Instead of continuing in where I wasn’t sure where to go, I should’ve turned around, headed back out to deeper water and waited until I could get a hold of somebody on the radio in the marina to tell me how to approach.  All of these were things I will pay more attention to in the future.

About 5 hours later, with a rising tied, a boat full of fuel and a damaged ego, I headed back out to sea.  I knew the route out but I was still nervous.  But as they say, if you get thrown from the horse get back on.  Before I knew it, I was clear of the shallows with raised sails and sailing beautifully.  I don’t think I could’ve been happier to get to get to deep water.  Next stop, Lizard Island.

Lizard Island was a little over 130 miles due north.  It’s a marine preserve and one of the major research centers for biologist studying the Great Barrier Reef.  That was the best thing, it was only about 10 miles from the reef.  If the weather would cooperate I could take Solstice out there and dive from the boat.  The bad news was it was still blowing 25 knots.  I left Half Moon Bay around 1600 and arrived at Lizard about 1500 the next day.   The reef is far from the coast there and I was able to stay most of the time out of the shipping lanes, which made me and my radar alarm rest easier.  By the time I got there, though, I was exhausted.  Lizard Bay offered a great place to rest and clear clean water that I hadn’t seen since I left Whitehaven Beach in the Whit Sundays.  Finally a place I could dive off the boat and swim.  And check the bottom to make sure all was well.  The beach was horseshoe shaped with soft tan colored sand and low lying trees and scrub brush.  There is little development on the island.  The skeletal ruins of a home from the first white settlers stands as a reminder of the harsh place this once was to live.  The history of this family is a sad one.  A small resort is tucked away in a corner of the island where visitors not staying there are not welcomed.  On the other side of the island, a nice research center stands where all are welcomed.  Once a week they give a free tour to all those who wish to come and learn about the work they do.

It was nice to be in a place where I knew nobody, at least for a couple of days until EJ and Bonaire arrived.  The next two days were completely my own.  I caught up on some sleep, went for a walk around the island, checked Solstice’s bottom (all was well), snorkeled the reef in the bay, did some small boat maintenance and met the other cruisers that were there and also on their way to Darwin.

It didn’t take long to learn that every day about 5 o’clock all the cruisers met at a picnic table on the beach for sundowners.  I hadn’t been in the anchorage for more than an hour when a couple pulled up in their dinghy and invited me to join the crowd.  Even nicer was that we had this beautiful beach all to ourselves.  All the resort types stayed over in their area by the pool and we had this pristine empty beach to ourselves.  Beautiful.

A day later I awoke to find Paul Allan’s boat Octopus anchored just behind me.  The word soon spread of their arrival and the talk on the coconut telegraph was that his son was aboard with all his friends celebrating his 16th birthday.  What a great place to bring in your 16th year, I thought.  But I don’t think his Dad was there.  His son just had the “Yacht” for the week.  Later that morning Elizabeth Jane came into the anchorage and dropped their hook.  I had had my two days and was glad they were here.  Soon after Bonaire arrived under full sail.

Tim’s a racer and sails at every chance he gets.  He’s also an advocate of teaching his boys to not rely on the engine all the time.  At a distance I sat in the cockpit and watched this boat come in under full sail.

Are they not running their engine? They have to start it pretty soon.

The boat charged in doing an easy 7+ knots.  I couldn’t believe it.

Maybe they lost their engine.

I looked back at my dinghy sitting behind the boat.  I could easily jump in and help if they needed assistance.  As they neared I realized it was Bonaire.  The anchorage was crowded but not too crowded to sail in if you wanted.  I kept waiting for them to drop their sails but they never did.  As they neared a picture developed and I could see everybody was poised and in a set position.  I knew then, that they indeed had an engine, they were just sailing.  Steph was up at the bow with the anchor ready to deploy.  Tim was at the port rail near the jib sheet.  The mainsheet and roller furling line were also each within an arm’s length of him.  Fin, the 11 year old, was at the helm bringing her in and Sam the 8 year old was at the mast by the main halyard.  There were no commands or barking orders.  Everybody knew what to do and when to do it.  Fin steered her in while Tim trimmed the jib and the main.  Fin picked his spot and turned Bonaire up into the wind.  At the same moment, Tim let the jib fly and rolled it up quickly.  The main began to luff and Tim moved to the mast where Sam had already started lowering the main.  Together they brought the main down and folded it.  Bonaire slowed considerably and Fin steered her to a part of the anchorage with plenty of room.  When the moment was just right, Steph let the anchor go.  The chain ran out and when she felt there was enough scope she tightened the gypsy.  Bonaire tightened the chain, spun around and set the hook.  Bonaire came to a stop and settled in the anchorage amongst the other boats perfectly.

“Bravo!” I shouted “Bravo! Well done!”

They looked in my direction and all waved.  I waved back.  I was blown away.  Their seamanship was flawless.  It was a joy watching them come into the harbor.  I saw something that afternoon that I’ll never forget.  A family working together in perfect harmony doing something awesome.  They were an inspiration.  Perhaps some day I’ll sail into an anchorage and drop the hook under sail like Bonaire did that day.

There is something really great about children growing up in such an environment.  Fin and Sam are young but they are smart, articulate, confident and full of life.  They were sailing Bonaire in a way most adults are scared to sail their own boats.  Their Dad, Tim, wanted to teach them to not always rely on the engine.  He also wanted to teach them to not be afraid of not having an engine either.  And he wanted to teach them well before the day came when their engine did fail.  In fact, he wanted them to have done it many times before and to never be afraid.  Tim told me that whenever the conditions allowed they try to come in under sail.  In the process he’s raising children who are growing up confident, self-assured and who face things without fear and with a belief in themselves and their abilities.  They are beautiful children as are their parents.

All of us, Solstice, Bonaire and Elizabeth Jane are divers and we had talked about diving the Great Barrier together when we got to Lizard.  The idea was that we could take one of our own boats once we got there.  But the weather conditions were not conducive to go with our boats.  Every day it blew 25 to 30 knots.  And we weren’t familiar enough with the area to go in such conditions.  Our only other option was to go with the dive operators that worked at the resort on Lizard Island.  We soon learned that they only took guests who stayed at the resort.

“If you guys want to go you need to book a room for a night at the resort,” they said.  A quick look at the rates brought a shock.  $1,100 a night U.S.

WHAT!!!  $1,100 DOLLARS FOR A DIVE?  Gee I wander if it’s a two tank dive?  What a rip!

Capitalism was alive and well on Lizard Island.

We did think again about going on one of our own boats but with gusts blowing now higher than 30 knots that option waned quickly.

Katie, Hugh and I decided that instead we’d make the same trek to the top of the island that Captain Cook had made hundreds of years before.  In fact, the highest point on the island is called Cook’s Lookout.  It was from this vantage point on Lizard Island that Captain Cook was able to look out on the Great Barrier Reef and search for a pass so that he could get his boat out safely.  Earlier, he had run aground on the reef and was forced to stay a season and make repairs.  Not wanting to make the same error twice he stopped at Lizard Island and hiked to this highpoint so he could survey the reefs passes.  We also wanted to at least see the reef from the top of the island and I wanted to stand in the same spot that Captain Cook had stood.  The hike was steep, long and hot.  And the wind blew harder the higher we got.  I constantly imagined Cook and his men sweating their asses off in their big bulky clothes as they ascended.

Once we reached the summit I climbed the outcrop where Cook famously surveyed the reef.  A distinct white line was visible where the windswept sea lashed the reef.  Inside the reef the sea was whipped into a frothy peaks as 30+ knots of wind sent sprays airborne.  It was obvious from that vantage we wouldn’t be diving on the Great Barrier.  It was far too rough out there.  Because of that, I was frustrated and disappointed.  I had always dreamed of diving on this the greatest coral reef in the world.  I had sailed all the way from California to be here.  And there it was only a few miles away.  And there was no safe way to get there.  I’d have to sail away without every diving on the reef.

Lizard Island is a special place.  It’s clean, pristine and if you’re rich, it has a wonderful resort to stay at.  But it also features something else much more important.  It’s home to the Lizard Island Research Station.  Marine biologists from all over the world come here to stay and study the Great Barrier.  And once a week they give free tours of their facilities for those who are interested and they share what knowledge they’ve learned.

The people there are smart, caring and passionate about the work they do.  On one hand, there is an excitement amongst them as they learn new things like how an octopus sees, the discovery of a new species or some new animal behavior learned.  Their discoveries bring a groundswell of amazement with them and an excitement of how much there is still yet to be discovered in an environment where we still no very little.  But there is also a deeper looming sadness that hangs over the research station.  And that sadness stems from the basic fact that the Great Barrier Reef is dying.  And it’s dying rapidly.  Coral bleaching and rising sea temperatures have devastated the reef in recent years and everybody you talk to there feels the same.  That it’s irreversible and there is nothing we can do to save the reef.  That fact is one of the more sobering things I’ve learned in a long time.  The largest living organism on the planet that extends for over 1,250 miles along the Australian coast has seen 50% of it destroyed.  Some at the research station say it will all be gone in less than 20 years.  What that means to the ecosystem of the ocean not just here but worldwide is greatly unclear.  I guess we’ll find out.

With our deadline to be in Darwin looming Solstice and EJ left Lizard and headed for Portland Roads.  A small stop with not much more than a village but it required only one night at sea before we could stop.  Avoiding as many all nighters as possible was becoming a priority.  Mostly because the further north we went the narrow the seaway became as the reef constantly gets closer and closer to the coast.  And as the seaway shrinks so does the area to move around and away from ship traffic.  This leg would be about 30 hours.  We left at first light and headed off to weave around islets and reef-laden waters.  We had planned it so that the areas where reefs were near we’d be able to pass by day.  And by night we’d stick to the shipping lanes to avoid the reefs and watch for ships.  It was another 25+ knot day.  This had long ago become the norm along the Queensland coast.  I couldn’t remember the last time I shook out the double reef in the main.  Solstice sailed beautifully and for the most part I was comfortable.  It wouldn’t be a long stay at Portland Roads but we had heard wonderful things about a tiny mom and pop restaurant called The Out Of The Blue Cafe that specialized in home cooked meals using the local seafood caught.  Specifically we heard the seafood platter was the thing to order.  The shoreline along the bay was also lined with mangroves.  And where there were mangroves so were our hopes of catching mud crabs.

It was a good uneventful 30 hours.  The hardest part of the day from a single handing perspective is darkness.  I had grown accustomed to my routine of doing checks and setting alarms and drinking tons of water and getting up every 30 minutes to make sure all was well.  But there are underlying constant concerns that race through the brain every night.

What if Solstice veers off course and heads for the reef while I’m asleep?

What if the radar sweep malfunctions and doesn’t pick up the ship that’s on a collision course?

What if I don’t wake up in time?

What if…?  What if…?  What if…?


The piercing pitch of the AIS alarm made sure I wouldn’t sleep too long.  Whenever that sounded I leapt up with my heart in my throat and I’d pop my head out to see what was headed our way.  And always just before I look there is this underlying fear of “What will I find?  Is there a ship bearing down on us right now?”  Fortunately the checks this night brought the reassuring fact, that “Yes there is a ship well in the distance but easily avoided.  All was well.  Thank-you King Neptune for the AIS alarm.”

For the most part single-handing at night for me is a waiting game between checks of the boat and course and checks of the time and when the sun will be up again.  Sunrise never comes too early for me, especially along coastlines.  The two hours before dawn always seemed to be the longest hours.  With the first rays of sunlight came the welcomed relief of We made it through another night.  And Hooray I can see.  The only nights where I’m semi-comfortable at night is when I’m well offshore and away from everything.  And even then you sleep with one eye open.  But I think all sailors sleep that way at sea.

So like every morning on these passages along this coastline a sense of peace and calm came with the rising sun.  A few hours later the hook was down and Hugh and I were readying our traps for muddies.  We had hoped to hit the restaurant for dinner but we soon learned that a fringing reef prevented us from getting the dinghy to shore at low tide.  We decided instead to set traps, eat dinner aboard and have lunch there the next day when the tide was high.  After lunch we’d head north.

Portland Roads is not much more than a few small buildings in a small section of a long muddy watered bay.  The buildings have seen their share of sun-bleached days, wind and rain and they have the scars to prove it.  They line a small dirt road (I assumed it was Portland Road but I don’t know for sure).  It was the only road in town.  The road wound down from the rainforest hills, made a turn to the right and ran by the few rickety buildings along the shore before it came to an abrupt halt at an old wharf by the sea where some old WWII remnants were rusting away.  Amongst the remnants were warning signs of crocs in the water.  I’ve seen signs everywhere along the coast but still have yet to see a croc.  I wondered if this was all just an Aussie game to frighten tourist.  But where there are crocs, there are supposed to be muddies.  Hugh and I were happy about that.

The next morning I collected Hugh and we headed for the traps we had set the night before.  We pulled them up one by one with hope in our hearts and wonder in our eyes.  Each time we pulled one up, we were greeted by empty nets.  Not even much of the bait had been nibbled at. 

“Bugger!” Hugh said.

Instead of being too down we adhered to the advice of friends who were here before and headed to the Out Of The Blue Cafe.  Once there we ordered what was also recommended, the Fisherman’s platter.  All the seafood is caught locally and the menu changes daily depending on what was hauled in the day before.  Today’s platter was a seared tuna, spainish mackerel lightly fried with a seasoned batter, steamed prawns with butter, garlic, parsley and lemon, along with fresh broccoli with a side of hollandaise sauce and seasoned rice.  Oh before the meal I had a wonderful fresh mixed green salad with red and green peppers (capsicum they call it down here), olives, feta cheese and just a touch of a balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil.  And a side of garlic bread.  Sides of home made tarter and cocktail sauces were the perfect finishing touch.  It was a sophisticated meal for such a tiny little place in the middle of nowhere.  I had had many fine meals in Australia but this one, in this small rickety wooden building at the top of a staircase on a balcony that overlooked the bay was one of the very best.  I don’t know if it was the remote location, the wonderful selection of fresh seafood, the chef, the company of Katie and Hugh or the white wine we brought from the boat (they don’t sell alcohol) or a combination of all of the above.  Regardless, not catching muddies that day seemed now more like our gain than our loss.

We got back to the boats and agreed to weigh anchor and be underway.  Katie and Hugh were efficient and quick.  Before I knew it, their anchor was up and they were off.  I did my best to keep up but everything takes more time when you’re alone.  The wind was blowing about 20 knots, a nice reprieve from the 25-30 knots of the past few weeks.  Pulling the hook that day required running back and forth from the helm to the windlass.  I’d position the boat right over the chain and run to the bow to start weighing anchor.  Soon the wind would blow the bow off putting too much strain on the windlass and I’d have to run back to the helm, put her in gear and drive her back overtop the anchor.  Solstice has a bit of freeboard and therefore the wind easily blows her about.  I wasn’t able to pull up much chain at a time before I’d have to run back to the helm again and reposition the boat.  After a series of semi-slow jogs (you never want to appear panicked to the onlooker boaters in the anchorage) to the bow, back to the cockpit and to the bow again I finally got the hook up and stowed.  Back at the helm, I turned Solstice into the wind, put her in neutral, pulled the sail ties off the main and went back to the mast.  I hoisted the topping lift and grabbed the main halyard.  By this time the wind had blown her off again and I had to go back to the helm and reposition her into the wind.  I always pull the mainsail up with the bow into the wind.  It makes hoisting so much easier.  Most of the time I do it at anchor but sometimes the wind doesn’t cooperate and I have to raise the main after I’ve pulled up hook.  Such was the case this afternoon.  Once the wind was back on the nose, I went back to the mast and began hauling.  The main went up easily until about halfway and…


The halyard came to an abrupt halt.

What the hell?

I let the main down a bit and then pulled it up again.  Up she went and…


Again it stopped immediately.

“DAMMIT!” I was pissed.  Katie and Hugh were getting smaller and smaller on the horizon as they headed out.

I lowered it, and checked all the lines and halyards.  I could see no fouls at all.  The main had always gone up and down easily.

“Why isn’t it going up?” I yelled.

Again I raised it and…


Lowered it, and raised it again…



That obscenity caused me to check myself.

Take your time, Bill.  Figure out what’s going on.  Don’t just keep pulling it up.  You’re going to break something.  SOMETHING IS WRONG!

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane this is Solstice, do you copy?” I hailed on the radio.

“What’s up Bill?” Hugh answered.

“Hey I’m not sure, I’m having a problem.  I can’t raise the main.  It gets about halfway up and stops.  I think I’m going to have to re-anchor so I can really look and see what’s going on.  If I can’t figure this out soon I may be stuck here overnight, I’ll keep you posted,” I said.

“Oh, bugger.  Well let us know what happens and if there’s anything we can do.”

I knew what I had to do.  As much as I hated to, I dropped the hook and re-anchored.  Now I could deal with the problem without being blown off wind or steering into something.  Once Solstice was settled securely I went back to the mast.  I triple checked all lines and made sure nothing was fouled.  I pulled it up again slowly and at the same point every time it stopped abruptly.  I couldn’t see any fouls of any kind.  Something was wrong where it was stopping.  I had to go aloft to see.  Thank God for mast steps.  I got my harness and shoes so I could climb the rig.  Again I hoisted the sail to where it stopped.  Then I dropped it down about 6 inches and cleated it off.  For the most part Solstice stayed pointed into the wind and cooperated in helping with the fix.  I climbed up the mast to the top of the sail.  Once I got to where it stopped the problem was obvious.  A screw that holds the mainsail track to the mast had backed out just enough so that when the top sail car slid up the track it stopped when it hit the protruding screw.  I needed to screw it back in to make it flush again with the track.  I climbed back down the mast, got a screwdriver, went back up again, tightened the screw, came back down and raised the sail.  This time the sail raised easily all the way up.  Great!  Problem solved.

Elizabeth Jane
was now about 5 miles ahead.  That wasn’t a problem but there is something comforting about being close to friends when you’re sailing alone, especially in this narrow section of reefs and shipping lanes.  I got on the radio.

“Hey Hugh, I found the problem and the sail is up.  I’m a bit behind but I’m heading off now,” I told him.

“No worries, Mate, we’ll slow down a bit so you can catch up,” Hugh said.

“No need for that, I’ll catch you anyway,” I boasted.

“Sure you will,” Hugh replied with a casual laugh.

Our destination was Cape York.  The most northerly part of the continent of Australia.  It’s remote, rugged, and swept constantly by strong winds and raging currents.  Over history Cape York and the Torres Straits have taken hundreds of vessels.  And as most of you now know, it’s where Hokule’a ran aground only a couple of weeks earlier.  At least when I hit ground I was near a harbor, out there you are on your own.

It wasn’t much longer after I had run aground that I got a call from Jake.

“Hey Willy.  You know how everything that happens to one Liberty then happens to the other?  Guess what just happened?” Jake said.

Their oil/tranny cooler failing was my first guess, them running aground was my second.  Jake went on to detail the events that led up to their grounding and I listened carefully.  Where they were at the time, what the conditions were like, what the tide was doing, the angle of their approach etc. etc.  Jake and Jackie are excellent, cautious sailors so after he told me what happened I thought long and hard if I should even attempt to stop there.   Katie and Hugh were not put off about Hokule’a’s grounding and were up for the challenge.  I was too but I had already hit bottom and I didn’t want to ever repeat that, especially at Cape York where you could lose everything.

After Jake told me what happened, I did more research about the anchorage there and the challenges of sailing in and out of Cape York.  The one thing that was consistent with every story I read was that yes you could anchor there and stay over night if you’re careful, cautious and the conditions are right.  We decided to go for it.

It was another 130 miles up the coast from Portland Roads.  Another over nighter.  With luck we’d arrive late morning the next day and we’d be hitting it right at high tide.  Jake had thought in hindsight that they should have arrived two hours earlier right at high tide instead of after it.  He said too that they should have sailed closer to York Island as they approached.  He thought then they wouldn’t have hit bottom.  I had all these conversations and thoughts running through the back of my brain as I sailed the last 130 miles along the northeastern coast of Australia.

As you sail north the reef becomes narrower and narrower.  So narrow that in one section the reef and the mainland come close to marking the borders of the shipping lane.  As our timing would have it, we’d be going through that section at about 3am.  Elizabeth Jane was still about 3 miles ahead of me as we approached the bottom of an “S” shaped turn in the shipping lanes.  The lane curved and wound itself around the reef-laden waters and the coastline.  If I didn’t want to run into the reef, I needed to stay within the confines of the shipping lanes.  The problem was the ships.

I’ve grown accustomed to grabbing the radio and hailing ships.  I think it’s a great habit.  It lets them know where I am and that I’m mindful of where they are and I’ll do whatever they like so that I stay out of their way.  As luck would have it two ships were coming up from the south behind me and a third was coming down from the north just as I approached the bottom of the “S”.  The eastern lane or the one furthest from the mainland was the northbound lane and the western or the one closest to the coast was the southbound lane.  Ship’s pass normally red to red or port to port… normally.  The two northbound ships were much closer to me and I opted to avoid getting run off the road and into the reef by crossing over into the southbound lane until they past.  Once they past I intended to head back behind them into the northbound lane to avoid the ship coming south.  The northbound ships past without incident and I was well out of their way.  I had plenty of room to cross back over but I wanted to check with the southbound ship to make sure he was going to follow the “S” bend as it’s charted.  So I called him on the radio.

“Yes good evening Sir.  This is the sailing vessel Solstice traveling northbound along the edge of the southbound lane getting ready to cross back over to the northbound lane to make sure I stay out of your way.  Is your intention to turn to starboard as you approach the bend?”

“What a minute, Skipper, where are you?” he asked in an Aussie accent.  Most ships traveling through this part of Australia have an Australian pilot aboard who is familiar with the waters.  Such was the case here and this usually brings comfort to everybody.

“I’m 3 miles off your starboard bow getting ready to cross the lane, Over.”

“Do not cross my bow!  I repeat do not cross my bow!  Hold your course.”

I knew I had plenty of time to get out of his way but I also didn’t want to confuse him.

“Okay.  I hear you loud and clear, Sir.  You want me to hold my position on the outside of the southbound lane?” I asked.

“Yes!  Yes!  Hold your course do not cross in front of me,” he said.

“Okay, not a problem, I just want to stay well clear of you,” I replied.

“Where are you?” he asked a moment later.

I gave him my latitude and longitude and I told him the speed and direction I was headed.

“Uh, okay,” he said.

The gap between us narrowed and after a few moments he hailed me.

“Solstice, Solstice I’m having trouble finding you on my radar, what is your position again?” he asked.

I gave him my coordinates again.

“Why can’t I see you on my radar?” he asked.

“I don’t know, Sir.  I see you, I’m 2 miles off your starboard bow,” I said.

“Okay, standby…” he barked back.

A long time past and I heard nothing from the ever-closing ship.

“Southbound ship, Southbound Ship the is the sailing vessel Elizabeth Jane, do you copy?” Hugh’s voice broke in through the hiss of the radio silence.

“Go ahead Elizabeth Jane,” the ship’s pilot said.

“Do you see us, we’re about a half a mile off your port bow in the northbound, lane, Over?”

“Standby…. Yes, yes, I see you.  I don’t see the other boat though.”

I turned on my foredeck light, which I hated to do as it hurt my night vision.  But I needed to be more visible.  I got back on the radio and explained my position again.  We were both nearing the bend at the same time.  I turned to port and brought Solstice right alongside the reef or at least where I thought it was.  It was a black night and I was now in 30 feet of water.  I had no more room to move out of the way without risking hitting the reef.  With less than a mile between us now I again conveyed to him my position. 

“I can’t see you, I can’t see you,” he repeated.

“I see you, Sir,” I repeated.  All seemed well at first but as we neared I couldn’t believe it, he began to alter his course and turn towards me.  I couldn’t believe he was moving this close to the reef.  Maybe he thought I was on the other side.

“This is the sailing vessel, Solstice, the sailing vessel Solstice calling the southbound ship.  I’m right here at the same bend you are, do you see me, Over?”

“Negative Skipper.  I don’t see you,” he said.

“I’m right here, Sir.  You are turning towards me.  I’ve got my foredeck lights on,” I said emphatically.

It was a black moonless night.

How could he NOT see me? He should’ve seen my running lights at the top of the mast a long time ago.  Certainly he should see my deck lit up.
  Why he can’t he pick me up on radar?  All these thoughts ran through my brain.  I had no answers.

I had my radar running and my radar reflector up.  But I think at this last instant he saw me as he stopped short of turning right into me.  Being so black it’s hard to tell how close he was.  I craned my head back and looked straight up to his approaching starboard bow.  The bow wake rushed up the sides of the bow and made a loud SSSHHHHH as it parted the sea.  Solstice’s mast appeared to peak just above the top of deck.  I imagined seamen standing on the deck watching the masthead light travel down along their starboard rail.  I imagined them trying to lean over the rail to touch it.

My God, I’m so freaking close,
was the unforgettable thought that ran through my brain.  I have never come so close to a ship before.  A bolt of extreme vulnerability shot through me.  Suddenly the roaring SSSHHH of the bow wake was replaced by the


Sound of the ship’s engine as the powerful prop pushed them along.  The whomp  matched with thump thump vibration that went through Solstice’s hull as we past.

I stared up at the bridge of the ship as it slid past in the night.  I could see the men peering down at the tiny sailboat beside them.  As her stern past and I moved clear of their path the radio burst to life.

“In the future, Skipper perhaps you shouldn’t be out here in the shipping lanes,” he said.

“WHAT!!!????  FFFUUUCCCKKK YYYOOOUUU!!!!”I screamed at the stern of his ship as it disappeared into the night.

“Maybe you should learn how to use your fucking radar, or read latitudes and longitudes on your chart you stupid fucking asshole,” I continued my rant into the black air.

I wanted so much to get back on the radio and rip into him but I didn’t.  I was mad as hell at this pilot.  I couldn’t believe how inept he was and how close he came to running me down even after communicating with me for almost 15 minutes beforehand.  During my rant, however, I realized that my anger needed to be directed in another direction too, at myself.  I never should’ve been in that situation.  Thinking back, there were things I should’ve done differently.  I should’ve stuck to my first plan and headed back over to the northbound lane when I knew I had more than enough room and time to do it.  Instead, I let his thought of “don’t cross my bow” prevent me from doing what I knew was the safest and easiest thing to do.  He didn’t even know where I was when he told me to not cross the lane.  I assumed he did.  For that matter, he didn’t know where I was until he was about to run me over.  I also should’ve pulled out a strong light and aimed the beam at his bridge and flashed it at him in a stronger effort to show myself or better yet fired off my strobe beacon on top of the mast.  I can’t believe I didn’t think of those things.

But I was also thankful that we had past each other unscathed.  I was relieved, but I was on edge now.  It was 3am and there wasn’t a chance in hell I would be getting any sleep the rest of the night.  More ship’s were on the AIS and would be passing again soon.

“Solstice, Solstice, Elizabeth Jane, do you copy?”

“Hey Hugh,” I said happy to hear a friendly voice.

“Hey how close was that guy, Mate?  We could just see your mast head light poking up over the boat as it went by, ha, ha, ha,” Hugh said joyfully.

“He was really freaking close, Hugh.  I should’ve never had listened to him and gotten over on the other side of the channel when he told me not to.  That would’ve prevented the whole mess.  I had plenty of room to do it then and he didn’t even know where I was,” I was hoping he was still listening.

“Well all is okay, now,” Hugh reassured.

“Yep, I’m just entering back into the northbound lane now, I’ll stick here for the rest of the night,” I said.

The rest of the ships that past that night did so with no drama.  I love no drama.  It makes for peace aboard for everybody.

Like every night along this coastline, the sun couldn’t come up soon enough.  When it did Cape York loomed in the distance off the port bow.  It peered out through a glare of morning haze and refracted sunlight.  Gray, rocky and mystical, just like a cape should look.  I started to get excited… and nervous.  On cue with the sunrise the wind picked up to 25 knots.  I sailed up along the eastern tip of Australia and watched Elizabeth Jane buck and bounce fore and aft as she bashed through the seas that clashed where the Pacific and the Indian oceans come together.

There are two small islands that lie just off Cape York.  Eborac Island to the northeast that houses a lighthouse and to the west of it is the larger but still small York Island.  I followed in Elizabeth Jane’s wake and rounded the cape leaving the islands to port.  The wind picked up to a steady 28 knots and gusting higher as it blew from the east across the cape.  Solstice turned west and York Island revealed the anchorage slowly like theater curtain being lifted.  A small bright red-hulled sailboat bounced and swung on her hook in the turmoil of the sea.  She was the only boat in the anchorage.

“Cape York anchorage, Cape York anchorage, this is the sailboat Elizabeth Jane coming into the anchorage, Over,” Hugh’s voice called out through the radio.

“Yes, hallo!  Dis is Rez-oh-loot dah boht in dah anchorage,” a thick German accent answered.

“Yes, hello there.  This is Elizabeth Jane, we’re the first sailboat coming into the anchorage and we were wondering if it’s good holding and safe to enter?, Over.”

“Yah, Yah.  It dis good.  A bit rolling but good.  Come, come?”

“Do you have any advice for coming in?” Hugh asked.

“Ah, just come in and anchor.  It dis good,” was the advice.

“Uh… okay.  Roger that.  We’re coming in.  Elizabeth Jane standing by on channel one, six.”

I watched EJ as she approached the anchorage.  She was on a more direct route than the one Jake had suggested.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, Solstice,” I called on the radio.

“Hey Bill,” Hugh answered.

“Hey Hugh, how’s your depth?”

“Good, we’re in 3 meters,” Hugh was relaxed and calm.

“Any current?”

“There’s a bit of a current but EJ’s powering through it,” Hugh explained.

“Aye, aye,” I added.  “Just a reminder, Hokule’a thought the water might be a little deeper closer to the island, over,” I said.

“We seem to be okay.  I’ll let you know how we go,” he said.

“Aye, aye.  Stay off the bottom, Hugh.”

“No worries.  She’ll be right,” Hugh reassured me.

With the wind pushing 30 knots I knew Solstice’s bow would be blown off as soon as I left the helm to run up and anchor.  I had to have the anchor ready to drop immediately so I wouldn’t drift too far before the anchor hit the bottom.  The one thing I had in my favor is I’d be anchoring in shallow water.  The one thing I had against me was I’d be anchoring in shallow water.  I didn’t want to get blown into “really” shallow water.

I decided before I headed in, I’d stop the boat, take my time and get everything ready to go.  I rolled up the jib and secured the sheets and the roller furling line.  With the forward sail in Solstice slowed down immediately.  I started the engine and turned into the wind.  The wind howled and shook the main about as the force of the breeze blew on either side of the sail.  The bow pitched and rolled over the waves and sea spray flew up and sprinkled the decks with each gust.  I went to the mast and dropped the main.  The sail came down fast and I lashed it to the boom.  It wasn’t a pretty folding job but the sail was down and secure.  I then went to the bow and got the anchor ready.  I untied the lines and hung the anchor just over the bow roller so all I needed to do step on the down foot switch to send it overboard.  I went back to the helm, double and triple checked everything.  I knew I’d only have one good shot to get the anchor deployed and set securely.  The last thing I wanted to do was have to try and re-anchor in these conditions.

I began my approach and headed for the northwest side of York Island.  The depth immediately went from over 65 feet to 30 feet.  From there it steadily decreased.  25 feet fell to 20, then 15.  My heart rate went up, my jaw tightened, and my fingers squeezed the helm a little tighter.   Memories of Yorkey’s Knob came flooding in and the breeze howled louder and whistled overtop the island.  The wind and current grabbed Solstice’s bow and tried to blow her off course.  I throttled up to keep her on course.  This would’ve been fine normally except now I was powering faster into ever shallowing water.  As I got closer to the island, I realized why EJ had turned when they did.  I was already in 15 feet of water and where Hokule’a hadsuggested turning seemed very close to the island.  Too close.  With the high winds and swift current that were sweeping around the cape and through the islands I didn’t want to get that close.  But I felt EJ had turned too soon.  I trusted my instinct and decided to split the difference between where EJ turned and where Hokule’a thought we should turn.  After all, Hokule’a had turned further out when they ran aground.  I trusted what I was feeling and inched closer to the island and turned when I felt it was right.  The depth finder hovered around 15 feet for the next five minutes, then it fell to 12, then to 10.  I wondered if I had made the right choice.  I could feel the anxiousness inside me swell just as it had at Yorkey’s Knob.  But I also felt that I was in the right place and I pressed on.

Up ahead, Katie was standing on the bow of EJ while Hugh steered her into the wind and stopped the boat.  When they had her where they wanted, Katie lowered the anchor while Hugh used the engine and kept the wind from blowing her off their mark.  A few minutes later, Elizabeth Jane was swinging on her hook in the windswept frothy waters off Cape York.  I let out a big exhale; now it was my turn.  I charged forward.

“Solstice, Solstice, Elizabeth Jane,” Hugh called on the radio.

“Hey Hugh.”

“Hey Bill, if you head towards us you’ll be fine.  We had 4 meters most of the way in.  We dropped the pick in 3.”

I had to put on my “Aussie Speak” hat.

A “pick” that’s the anchor.  3 meters, 3 meters, what’s that?  12 feet or so… I think.

“How about if I come up off your port side, Hugh.  Does that work for you guys?  I won’t get very close.”

“That’d be fine.  Plenty of room there.”

“Great,” I said and set down the handheld.

I checked the depth again, 9.2 feet of water under the keel.  I hate single digits.  The wind blew hard from the east-northeast, right through the gap of the Cape and York Island.  I brought Solstice closer to EJ so I could check the depth in the area around where I would be swinging.  I needed to know that’d I’d have enough depth to swing around where I dropped the “pick”.  I had also read that there was a deeper hole in the area that dropped to 60 feet.  I didn’t want to anchor in that or be blown into that deeper section before the anchor got settled.   I needed to know what was around me so I’d sleep much better.  I did a big circle and checked the depth.  I also got a gauge on how Solstice handled when I turned into the wind and current.

The depth dropped down to 8.5 feet as I circled.  My nerves were on edge but I was also confident that I was in a good area.  I circled back around and moved off a good distance from EJ.  I was still in 8.5 feet of water and I throttled Solstice up hard and turned into the wind and gave her another good rev before throttling back and putting her in neutral.  I ran to the bow quick while Solstice still had forward momentum.  I got to the bow just as the boat was easing to a stop and stepped on the foot switch.  The wind had the boat now and started to push her back as the anchor went under water.  A few seconds later, the chain slackened for a second and I knew the anchor had hit bottom.  The boat blew back quick.  I let the chain roll out until I got to the 100-foot mark.  I had plenty of room to swing and a 10:1 ratio felt about right to me in these conditions.  The bow continued to move back and the chain tightened.  The wind blew hard and the anchor grabbed, Solstice spun around and I could feel the anchor set deep and secure.  Everything stopped and I looked up.  I was there, anchored securely swinging on the pick off Cape York.


Nobody could hear me above the noise of the winds as I let out a rebel yell.

“YYYYEEEEHHHHAAAAWWWW!!!”  I let out another cry, I was so excited.

“YYYYEEEEHHHHAAAAWWWW!!!”  A felt a third one was required.

After the last holler I let out a huge exhale and relaxed… a little.  I tried to soak it in.

Freakin’-A, Bill, you’re here.  Thank-you, God.  Thank-you King Neptune.  Thank-you Solstice.

I hooked up the bridal and finished the last touches of making sure Solstice was settled, safe and secure.  I overheard Hugh talking to Resolute on the radio.  Resolute had been here for two days and had not been ashore yet because it was too rough.  They didn’t want to deal with having to try and put their dinghy in the water in these conditions.

I didn’t either but I also didn’t sail all the way here to not stand on the most northern tip of Australia.  Plus, we had a bottle of champagne that needed to be opened and I wanted to put some of Jeep’s ashes ashore at the cape.

I got busy and got the dinghy in the water.  It was challenging but doable.  Once she was ready to go I got on the radio.

“Hey Hugh, my dink’s ready to go.  When do you guys want to go ashore?” I asked.

“We’ll be ready in ten,” he said.

“Great.  Resolute, Resolute, Resolute.  This is Solstice do you copy? Over” I called.

“Yah, Dis is Rez-oh-loot,” he said.

“Hi this is Bill on Solstice the other sailboat that came in.  I’ve got my dinghy in the water and I’m going to pick up Elizabeth Jane and we’re going to go ashore to the cape.  Would you guys like to ride in with us?”

“Oh, Yah!  Yah!  Dat would be fan-taz-tick. Thank you,” he said cheerfully.

I grabbed my backpack with a bottle of champagne, some cups and put a small pinch of Jeep’s ashes in a ziplock and stuck them in my pocket.  It was time to go ashore.

The wind howled and as usual, was on the nose.  The dinghy bounced up and down hard as I bashed to EJ.  I stayed mostly dry.After Katie and Hugh climbed aboard we sped off to Resolute.  The heavier load made for more water over the rails.  It wasn’t long before the three of us had wet butts.  We made it to Resolute, where we officially met Hans and Barbara.  They were in their early 60’s, from Germany and like the namesake of their boat, were strong, and unwavering.  They happily hopped aboard and sat near the bow.

To say it was a wet ride is an understatement.  We had hardly pulled away from the boat when a wave blew up with the wind and hit us squarely.  Hans and Barbara to the brunt of the water.  I felt terrible but almost immediately another wave hit.

“YAAHOOO!!!” Barbara screamed as she through her arms high up over her head.

“Ha, ha, haaaaa..” she laughed with the glee of somebody on a rollercoaster when another wave hit.

“YAAHOOO!!!” she threw her head back and screamed with mirth.

Her reaction was priceless and brought merriment to our group.  We all started laughing.  By the time we got to the beach we were soaked to the bone and our faces hurt from the laughing so hard.  We pulled the dinghy ashore and began our trek up the ridge.

I followed up a path and was surprised to find, trucks, jeeps, motor-cross bikes, ATV’s and host of other 4-wheel drive vehicles that had made the long drive out to this most remote rugged outpost.  We were the only ones that had come by boat.

It was a short walk out to the tip that marked the most northern part of the continent.  I stood on the bluff and looked at Solstice anchored in the bay.  There she was straddling the Pacific and Indian Ocean.  I thought about the distance we had traveled since leaving Redondo and what we’d seen.

I spread out my big tough outdoor blanket that Aunt Bobs had made.  Katie and Hugh pulled out some nice cheeses and “biscuits” (crackers to us Americans) and I opened the champagne.  We toasted Australia, our safe passage to the Cape, King Neptune and to our future safe travels wherever that might be.  It was a magical moment.

Then from behind the rocky outcrop of the Cape, a ketch emerged and motored right through the small gap between the Cape and York Island.  I couldn’t believe it.  The sea was turbulent and shallow and the currents were strong and swift through there.  My guess was he either had great local knowledge and he or was really dumb.  We all watched in awe as he moved along the shore only a stone’s throw from the coast.  He powered by moving fast and headed out into the anchorage where he dropped the hook off Resolute’s starboard.  I never did learn the name of the boat, but it was awesome to watch.

The afternoon was waning and we all wanted to get back to the boats before sunset.  We packed up our stuff and headed back to the dinghy.  The ride back was a fair bit dryer as it was downwind.

I got back to the boat.  It was low tied and I checked the depth finder.  I had 5.4 feet under the keel.  It was the shallowest I had ever anchored in.  I went back on deck and looked out to the tip of the cape where I had taken the long look at Solstice.  I took in the moment and a big smile came across my face and...


I forgot to put Jeep’s ashes off the cape when I was there.  I had them in my pocket and forgot to spread them.  I was so taken with the moment and being there that I forgot.  At least I took him on a “blow up boat” ride, as he would call it, and he was with me on the tip of the cape.  I laughed.  Perhaps it was more fitting to spread him out here from Solstice where the Pacific and Indian Oceans come together.

There is an indigenous Australian musician named Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu who I’ve learned about during my travels through Australia.  Most of his music is sung in his native aboriginal language.  It’s powerful, beautiful, and haunting.  I love it.  Whenever I hear it, I feel connected to the people, to the land and to Australia as a whole.  I went below, poured myself a glass of red wine and put on his music and turned it up loud.  His song “Gathu Mawulah” came on.  I have no idea what he is singing about but the music and his voice moved me deeply and connected me to everything.  Download it from iTunes if you want to hear it.  It’s amazing and you won’t regret it.

I went back up to the aft deck to soak it all in.  I stood there and watched the sunset and an incredible amount of emotions swelled from within.  The wind howled and sang as it swirled over the cape and soared past Solstice.  Each gust banged loud, eased off and then slipped past quietly with the same force as it arrived.  Sprays of sea were licked from the surface and thrown up into the air.  I outstretched my arms and felt the mist sprinkle across my face and skin.  The wind rushed past my ears in a roar of beauty and elegance.  Occasional gusts would rise to a higher tone and seemed to carry a voice saying something that was smothered in the cacophony of the wind and the music.  I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply and felt the power of the music, the sea, and the land.  It enveloped me and touched each fingertip with tingles of energy that ran up my arms and overtook my entire being.  It all mixed together with the music, the land and the sea and everything was on the same frequency.  I could sense the ghosts and ancestors of the aboriginal people stepping up and appearing atop of every outcrop and crest of the hillsides on both York Island and along the ridgeline of the cape.  They looked out upon the sea towards Solstice and stretched their arms out with their palms facing the sea.  They were connected to one another, connected to the land, connected to the sea, connected to Solstice, connected to me, connected to Jeep and connected to the universe.  Their presence was as real as the wind blowing through my hair.  I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging and part of everything and everything a part of me.  I said a prayer and flung Jeep’s ashes into the air.  The 30-knot breeze carried them out into the Torres Straits where these two oceans came together so beautifully.  The waters smashed, crashed and melted together and pulled him in and welcomed him home.  It was another perfectly powerful place for Jeep to be.

I couldn’t have experienced this moment in any other way than to be on Solstice anchored out here by myself.  I was humbled and thankful for this moment.  Cape York is a powerful magical place.  Its’ rugged, remote coastline is lashed constantly by the beautiful and powerful forces of nature.  She’s been carved into something majestic, everlasting and ever changing.  She is the very tip of this southern continent that is the gateway to an incredible land that is like no other on earth.  She is alive with the presence of the past and the future of a powerful people who have struggled to find their way in this world of concrete and steel.  And for me, in this instant, standing on the aft deck of Solstice drinking in all the forces that surrounded me I felt a great sense of belonging and I was taken in by their spirits and their ancestors.  I felt their strengths and their weaknesses, their joys and their sorrows, their peace and their pain.  I was as alive as I have ever been and I breathed them in completely and they too breathed me in.  We were one.

I let it all go and sipped my wine as the sun slipped into the western sky.  The oceans slammed together in a torrential dance of force.  The seas clashed and smashed into each other.  They rose, fell and tumbled over in somersaults that rolled into a harmony of oneness.  It was amazing to be swinging on the hook in such a place.  I had thanked the powers that be that brought me here safe and for all the things that helped get Solstice and I here.  I raised my glass and thanked Jake and Jackie for helping me attain this moment by sharing what they had learned from their own grounding and how that helped me avoid that happening to me.  The last glow of twilight gave way to a star filled night and the wind eased.  The waters calmed and a great peace fell over Solstice for the rest of the night.

The next day was a short hop across the Torres Straits to Horn Island.  I was excited for a short sail and I was excited to visit Horn Island, which had a World War II museum and some interesting history as well as CROCS.  It was still blowing 25 knots and with just the jib flying it would make for an easy comfortable sail.  I rolled out the jib and the wind caught her sail.  Solstice leapt to life and headed northwest.  I was sad and excited leaving Cape York.  I was sad because I was leaving the Pacific and I was excited because I was sailing into a new ocean.  I stared at my wake for a long while and more specifically at the Pacific fading on the horizon.  The Pacific had come to represent home for me and it will be a long time before I sail upon her again.  She has introduced me to so much and taught me things well beyond anything I could have ever imagined.  It’s strange how comfortable I am in the Pacific, even when I find myself in unfamiliar places as long as I was in the Pacific Ocean I felt as if I was home.  Leaving her behind brought sadness and a sense of change and of leaving all over again.  Not until I go through the Panama Canal will Solstice and I sail upon her again.  And that is a long way off.  I will miss the Pacific very much.

Once I felt I had given her a proper goodbye I turned my attention to the new waters I was in and headed for.

“HELLO INDIAN OCEAN!” I shouted.  Which was promptly followed by an “AARRRR!”

There is nothing like a good pirate call to wash away any sad feelings.  Maybe I imagined things, maybe I was emotional or maybe I tapped into something deeper but immediately I felt a different vibration from the Indian Ocean than from the Pacific.  She seemed young, unsettled and rambunctious.  She seemed shallower, dirtier and not as blue as the Pacific.  But she brought an excitement of something new and unfamiliar and the Indian Ocean offered a gateway to new people, new cultures and new lands that were completely different than anything else I’d come to know.  Solstice charged ahead joyfully.  She was excited too.

It was a Saturday morning when I left Cape York bound for Horn Island, which was only 20 miles away.  But in order to get there I’d have to sail on past Tuesday and then past Wednesday before I’d arrive.  Then it wouldn’t be until near around Thursday before I would even be able to anchor.

“How can that be, you only have 20 miles to go?” you ask.

Well, in order to get to Horn Island I had to sail by several other islands along the way.  Some of which, were named after days of the week.

There are several stories about how the islands got named in these parts.  One story says that Captain Bligh named the Tuesday Islets when he sailed by in his longboat after the famed mutiny on the Bounty uprising.  Supposedly he sailed by them on a Tuesday.  Then the next people who sailed by this way took it upon themselves to name the rest of the nearby islands after the following days of the week.  So after Tuesday there is a Wednesday, a Thursday and a Friday island.  For some reason there is no Sunday or Monday islands.  And Horn Island, which I have no idea how it got it’s name, is only a little over a mile from Thursday Island.  Why Friday is not the one next to Thursday, I’ll never know either.

Elizabeth Jane
and Solstice sailed into the shallow channel that separated Thursday and Horn Island.  It was nothing like Cape York, the depths were 20 feet and the waters were calm.  We weaved our way around the well-marked buoys and avoided outcropping shoals and coral heads.  The anchorage lies just south of a jetty on the north side of Horn Island and it was there Solstice found good holding in flat calm water.  A current ran through the islands when the tide changed but besides that it was relatively flat calm, like a lake.

I was finishing up putting the bridal on the anchor chain when I stood up and looked across the water to the beach on Horn Island.  Mangroves, estuaries and mudflats marked the shoreline with occasional small sandy patches.  One such patch had something large on the beach.  A large log? Was what came to mind… OR?...

I ran below and got my binoculars.  A closer view took a way all doubt.


He was about 5 meters long and laid there basking in the warmth of the sun in the muddy sand.  He looked relaxed.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, Solstice,” I called on the radio.

“Hey Bill,” Hugh answered.

“Hey Hugh are you still planning on setting out your muddie trap?” I asked.

“Yeah, it looks like pretty good hunting grounds here,” he said.  “Are you?”

“Well, good hunting for something or someone.  There’s a 5 meter croc laying on the beach.”

“Really?  Great.”

“He’s just off my beam.  This is awesome.  My first croc sighting in the wild,”  I was so excited.

“Oh, I see him.  Good stuff.  Where there are crocs there are muddies.”

“That’s what they say,” I confirmed.

“Alright Hugh, I’ll get the dinghy in the water and come see ya in a bit,” I said.

I’ve never had my guard up more about crocs than I did there while lowering the dinghy into the water and getting the engine on it as I did that afternoon.  The terrible thought of me struggling to secure the outboard on the dinghy and a croc leaping up and pulling me overboard is a vision I pushed out of my mind as soon as it arrived.

I had gotten the dinghy all settled and was starting to untie my crab traps from the aft rail when I noticed a long beat up aluminum hulled boat speeding towards me.  An older fat man with frizzy long blond hair that blew all around his head steered from the outboard.  A woman, whose skin was deeply tanned and smooth like old worn leather sat in the bow.  The boat slowed and pulled up alongside Solstice.

“Gidday, Mate,” the fat man said as he stood up and grabbed a hold of Solstice’s rail with a meaty hand.

“I’m Rich and this is Margaret,” he had a thick Aussie accent.  Margaret nodded her head in acknowledgment.

“We live on that boat anchored behind you there”, he pointed to an old wooden dilapidated powerboat that looked like it had been sitting there for as long as crocs have been on the planet.

“Nice to meet, you.  I’m Bill,” I said and shook his hand.

His hand was thick and his skin was rough and sticky from salt and sweat.

“I don’t usually eavesdrop but I heard ya talkin’ to yer Mate there on radio about trappin.’ And I wanted to tell ya, I wouldn’t be settin’ any traps around here.  It’s not a good idea, Mate,” he said.

“Oh,” I was surprised at the unsolicited advice.  “Is this a no fishing area?” I asked.

“No, you can fish.”  He nodded his head in the direction to the croc across the way.  “But I wouldn’t put anything in the water with those guys here.  They take a couple of dogs every month.  There smart too.  Last week one waited along the shore there while a bunch of dogs was runnin’ around on the beach.  He waited for the right moment and then got one of them separated from the rest.  Cornered him up there by the water and the trees.  He trapped him.  Dog had nowhere to go, Ha Ha Ha,” his dirty T-shirt rode up over his belly when he laughed.

“Wow,” I said.

“Yep!  All the other dogs were barkin’ and yelpin’ makin’ a bunch of noise.  Then that trapped dog got it fixed in his head he could run for it.  He didn’t know crocs are quicker than dogs.  It didn’t take long.  Croc, grabbed him and pulled him right under.  You just heard a yelp and splash.  It was over like that!”


He snapped his fingers and a droplet of sweat flew from his thumb and hit me on the cheek.

“All the other dogs stopped barkin’.  Ha, Ha ha” he laughed.  The lady in the bow sat stoically.  She’d heard this tale before.

“Wow, that’s terrible,” I said as I wiped the sweat drop from my cheek.

“Ahh, it’s not sad.  It was just an island dog.  It didn’t belong to nobody,” he said.

“Oh.  Do they ever take people?” I asked.

His eyes, widened and he shut his mouth while he thought.

“Noooo, no people.  Not that I’ve heard of in awhile though.  Maybe 20 years ago, before I got here.  Just dogs, mostly” he said as he wondered about my question.

“Okay, well that’s good,” I said.

He could sense in me the doubt that I shouldn’t trap and he turned more serious and leaned in closer.

“Listen, the only place yer gonna catch muddies is up that river there,” he pointed to the mouth of an estuary down the shore.  “There ain’t no muddies out here, they’re all up there.  And there’s heaps of crocs up there.  I’ve lived here 14 years, Mate.  You don’t wanta go up there,” there was no laughter this time.  “I just thought I’d come over and tell ya, that.  I didn’t want to broadcast it on the radio neither,” he said.

“Well thank you very much.  I appreciate that.  I really do,” I said.

“We gotta look after each other, Mate.  That’s what we do.  We’ll see ya ‘round,” he gave a shove off the boat, throttled up and was off.  I noticed Margaret looking at me as they sped off.  She too had a look on her face that said she hoped I’d listened.  I watched them head towards town.  He stuck his thick hand up over his head and waved goodbye without looking back or moving his hand.

I could see Hugh on deck watching and waiting with his trap ready to go.  I got in the dinghy and headed over to EJ.

“Hey where’s your trap?” he asked as I pulled up.

I told Hugh what Rich had said about it not being a good idea for us to crab here and he laughed.  I’m not sure if Hugh was laughing at this guy’s story or the fact that I had listened to him.  Hugh’s an Aussie and he understands other Aussie’s a lot better than me.  In fact, most of the time, I haven’t a clue if I should believe something an Aussie tells me or not.  In Australia there seems to be an underlying pride of how tough and hardcore it is to live down here.  Stories about crocs, great white sharks, venomous jellyfish and poisonous snakes killing people are abundant.  Some are true but some are completely embellished.  There is a side in the telling of these stories that are designed to perpetuate the idea or myth (I’m not sure which) of what a hard place Australia is to live and survive.  Because of that, I don’t know if what’s being said is the truth or some big conspiracy to just mess with the tourist.  I think amongst Aussies, they think most of these stories are just that, “stories”.  And so Hugh, I think, thought this guy was full of shit.  But I think Hugh too was curious about how much I listened to Rich and that I decided to not trap.  And Hugh, being the good Aussie he is, helped perpetuate the “hardcore survival aspect” of Australia by not trying to talk me into setting my trap.

“Fair enough,” he said.  “I still want to set mine out. I’ll just go over there,” Hugh pointed to a mudflat area near the reef away from the beach and the croc.

“Okay,” I said.  Hugh hoped in the dinghy and we went and set his trap.

During the late 1930’s the Australian Air Force built an airport on Horn Island.  It was used as a staging ground for allied aircraft flying between Australia and New Guinea during World War II.  Because of that, Horn Island was the target of bombing raids by the Japanese between 1942 and 1943.  They never did bomb neighboring Thursday Island.  One explanation for that is thought to be because at one time Thursday Island was popular for pearl divers and the Japanese were the most numerous and successful of the pearl divers on Thursday Island.  And over 500 Japanese men who died during that time are buried on Thursday Island.  It is believed that out of respect for those graves no bombs were ever dropped on Thursday Island.

I wanted to stop in this group of islands for several reasons.  One was because of the WWII history but mostly I wanted to see the culture and people here because the aboriginal people from the Torres Strait Islands are not related ancestrally to the aboriginal people of mainland Australia.  They are more closely related to Melanesians and Polynesians.

In the morning we first checked Hugh’s trap.  We had set it in water that was too shallow so when we went to look at it, it was high and dry sitting on the reef out of the water at low tide.  The tidal change was a bigger here than we had realized.  From what we could see from our vantage point, there were no crabs in it and we’d have to come back later to get it at high tide.

We headed to the pier and took the short ferry ride to Thursday Island.  It was obvious upon our arrival that this place was different than any place else we had been in Australia.  It had a south seas feel that was apparent in the musical nature of the people, they way they looked, the colonial influence of architecture by the missionaries and a sense of community and sharing that is common in most all of the villages throughout the South Pacific.  The islanders were prevalent too in all phases of the work force from the people working behind a counter to shop owners to the Captains running the ferries.  The islanders seemed to run the island alongside the sparse European/white Australians.  I saw little to no symbiotic relationships between the Aboriginal Australians and the white Australians back on mainland Australia.  The two communities were very much segregated.  And, like with some in the U.S., there are groups of Aussies who are quite racist when it comes to their views of the Aborigines.

There was an odd coincidence too of the day of we arrived on Thursday Island.  It was July 1st, which happened to be the day Christian missionaries arrived in 1871.  One thing about the South Pacific, which was also obvious on the Torres Strait islands, is the impact the missionaries had was and still is profound.  And on July 1st every year, the island celebrates the “Coming of The Light” festival, which celebrates the arrival of the missionaries.  The “light” is a metaphor for the Bible.  The festival begins with a reenactment of the landing of the missionaries and how the islanders greeted them.  The reenactment is followed by speeches, feasts, music and dancing.

Thursday Island has a population of less than 3,000 and it seemed like the majority of them had gathered at the beach that morning to witness the “reenactment” of the arrival and the beginning of the festival.  When we arrived we walked down to the beach where things were supposed to start.  Groups of people were milling about and even though the festival was supposed to start at 10am and it was 9:55am folks were not ready.  They were still building makeshift grass huts on the beach, decorating themselves in “traditional” dress with flowers and palm fronds.  There was no sense of urgency.  In fact, everybody took their own sweet time, as they got ready for the event.  We found an empty patch of sand on the beach and sat down and watched.  It might be hours before things would be ready.  A heavyset woman on the beach was being helped by friends who were trying to tie a long string laden with palm fronds around her waist for her grass skirt.  Once it was wrapped around her, it was evident she was 4 or 5 fronds short of covering up her butt.  Thank God she had shorts on underneath.

Off the beach in the shallow water, young men held an outrigger canoe, which was being decorated with palm fronds lashed to the sides.  This was to be the “replica” of the ship that carried the missionaries to shore.  A fake mast with flags attached was being raised.  The men pulled on lines and hoisted the mast up.  A gust of wind blew up and they struggled to keep the lines from being pulled from their hands and losing control.  The whole contraption teetered back and forth and almost went into the sea but they grunted and pulled and finally got it upright and the lines tied to secure it.  Two fat European looking men dressed in all white with floppy hats wiped the sweat from their brow.  Their faces were pink from being out in the sun too long.  The larger man clutched a Bible in his right hand and held it close to his heart.

“Do you think they’re the missionaries?” I asked Katie and Hugh.

“Without a doubt,” Hugh agreed.

“I think watching them get ready will be more entertaining than the actual re-enactment,” I said.

“Without a doubt,” Hugh agreed.

They were well over an hour behind schedule by the time the re-enactment began.  After all, we were on island-time.  The outrigger, with flags flying, paddled around in a big circle off the beach.  Islanders in traditional dress ran to the shore shouting in their native language and pointed and waved their war clubs and machetes in the air.  Another large islander stood on the beach and translated in English for everybody watching.

“A ship!  A ship!  There’s a ship coming,” he yelled.

I guess that needed to be translated.  One of the missionaries stood at the bow facing the beach and raised his Bible high up over his head with both hands and pointed it to the warriors on the beach.

“A book!  A book!  The man has a book!” the interpreter yelled and pointed at the man in white.


I wanted to yell that but I dared not.

Katie, Hugh and I sat there and did our best to be respectful and not laugh.  But it was hard.  This was a big day for the islanders and this moment was an important day for them in their history.  But I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching an elementary school play and that we were all 6 year olds being explained everything.

“It is a magic book!  A magic book that holds the truth!  It is the truth!  They are bringing the truth!”  The interpreter shouted joyfully and raised his hands to the sky.


Those words blurted forth in my brain and a little chuckle escaped from within.

The ceremony went on and the men landed.  Some of the islanders were enraged and charged at the missionaries with war clubs and machetes poised to attack but stopped abruptly at the last second when the Bible was raised in their face.  The Bible acted like a forcefield and protected the missionaries from being hacked to death by the aggressive islanders.  Eventually they all sat in a big circle and talked, and the rest is history.  Christianity made it to this remote part of the world.

I have always had a bad taste in my mouth about the missionaries coming to the islands in the Pacific for many reasons.  The dogma and intolerance of religions and the violence it has caused in not just from world history but it’s today’s history too.  We hear about it in every newscast of every day.  It’s heartbreaking.  More people are killed in the name of some God than any other thing on the earth.  But when I was in Vanuatu an islander I was talking to shed a different light on what it was that the missionaries did by coming to this part of the world.  And what they did for the islanders in the Pacific was also true for what they did for the islanders of the Torres Strait.

Before their arrival there was much warring between islands and villages.  Many years were spent fighting and killing one another.  It was just the way it was.  Every generation fought and killed each other.  It was never ending.  When the missionaries arrived they promised that their ways would teach love, compassion and understanding and that they would end the warring ways of the people here.  And in most cases it did.

“So if the only good result of the missionaries coming here was that it stopped us from killing each other, then them coming was a very good thing,” my Ni-Vanuatu friend told me.  And for that I do believe he is right.  I wish it had that affect on the rest of the world.

The stopping of violence anywhere is a great thing no matter what the reason.  And most of the people in these islands have lived a much more peaceful life than those of their ancestors before the missionaries arrived.  World War II shattered that peace in the Torres Strait.

The invasion of Japanese forces throughout Southeast Asia prompted the formation of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.  This battalion was unlike any other battalion before or since in the Australian Army.  It was the only all Indigenous Australian battalion ever formed by the Australian Army.  This battalion originally formed as a company with just a few hundred islanders.  With the Japanese expansion across the Pacific more Torres Strait islanders volunteered.  Almost every able-bodied male islander joined.  There was a solitary belief amongst them that they needed to join the fight to protect their homeland and the surrounding islands from invasion. I find it remarkable that most of all the young Torres Strait aboriginal men volunteered to fight for Australia, a country at the time, that didn’t even recognize them as citizens.  And in most cases, they were paid only a third of what white Australians at the same level were paid.  But from what I read of accounts by the islanders themselves in the museum on Horn Island, these men formed this unique battalion because they felt the need to defend these islands themselves.  It was after-all their home and their home was under attack.

By visiting these islands I realized how close the Japanese came to invading Australia.  The Japanese had advanced all the way to Port Moresby in New Guinea, less than 300 miles from Australia.  They bombed both the Torres Strait islands and Darwin in an effort to continue that expansion.  The arrival of two American aircraft carriers in the area and their joining of forces with Australian navy prompted the Battle of the Coral Sea, which is credited with where the allied forces stopped the Japanese advancement.  Albeit, at a heavy loss of ships, aircraft and most importantly men.

Many Australians don’t realize this.  In fact, they aren’t even taught much of it in school.  I’ve learned from some Australians, Katie and Hugh included, that they learned very little about the war in the Pacific during World War II.  What they learned of World War II was about what happened in Europe.  I couldn’t believe it, this all happened in their own backyard and they don’t even teach about it.  I was aghast to hear that some Australians don’t even have a clue that Americans fought and died in this part of the world during World War II.  To me that was outrageous.  Over 100,000 Americans died in the Pacific during World War II.  There are graveyards across the Pacific filled with not just Americans, but French, British and New Zealanders all fighting to stop the invasion that was going on down here.  Most of the men and women are between 18 and 23.  A whole generation wiped out.  And many Australians are oblivious to this.  And most don’t know that these indigenous Torres Strait islanders took up arms and forged a front that protected this part of Australia from the Japanese.  These islanders were the ones that fought off the bombing raids here between 1942 and 1943.  It wouldn’t be until 1967 that Australia even recognized them as citizens.

After the reenactment we decided to take the ferry back and hit the Horn Island Museum.  It is not a great museum as museum’s go but it does give a history of the place and mostly focuses on World War II.  There are letters and stories from not just the indigenous people but all the men and women who were stationed and fought here during those years.  It presents the war on an intimate personal level through the eyes of the soldiers themselves.  Like these islands, it is a small place but it holds a fascinating history of how the great problems of the world came to reach these remote shores.  It’s quite remarkable.

After the museum we rushed back out to check Hugh’s crab trap, which was now underwater and to our dismay, empty.  We then made a high-speed dinghy ride along the shore to look for crocs.  When we got too close for the comfort of the 5-meter croc, who was still basking in the sun on the beach, he scurried into the water.  At that point with us having no idea of knowing where he was, we decided to turn around and high tail it back to the big boats.

The visit to the islands and the excitement of mudcrabs and crocs had a specific affect on me.  It took my mind off the daunting distance I still had to go to Darwin.  Getting to Cape York felt like an accomplishment.  It marked not only the end of the long trip up the east coast of Australia to but it also marked the end of Solstice’s transpacific crossing from Redondo to Australia.  It wasn’t until I got to Horn Island and looked at how much further it was that I got bummed out.  I knew it was a long way but I didn’t realize that I still had 800 miles to go.

Jesus how big is this freakin’ country?
was my question to the man upstairs after my charting.  He didn’t answer, but if he did he would’ve said, “Pretty freakin’ big.”

Our next leg was 350 miles across the Gulf of Carpentaria to a small community on the other side in the Northern Territory called Gove. (pronounced Guv).  The Gulf of Carpentaria is an expansive shallow gulf that separates Queensland on the eastern shore from the Northern Territory on the western shore.  Reinforced trade winds, strong tidal currents and shallow waters all contribute to the Gulf’s washing machine-like reputation and for miserable uncomfortable crossings.  The forecast was for 20-25 knot SE winds, which was actually less than what we had been getting the past several weeks.  By 07:30 Solstice and Elizabeth Jane were pulling the hook.

A strong tidal current was already flowing through the islands and we intended to use it to our advantage to carry us out.  The problem was it messed with me pulling the hook by myself.  I’d position Solstice over the anchor and run to the bow only to find by the time I got there the current had already carried the boat back putting unwanted pressure back on the windlass.

Never use the windlass to pull the boat.

That’s one of the rules you hear from the boating gurus out there.  Which is a good rule.  It’s only hard to keep to that rule when you are on your own and having to use the engine to fight wind or tide.  I had about half of the chain up when I noticed a sailboat coming straight at Solstice.  I stopped pulling in the anchor.

What the hell is this guy doing?  He’s coming straight at me.

I started to pull up the anchor again.  After a few feet I had to jump down into the anchor locker and flake the chain.  Once back on deck the gap was considerably closer and he hadn’t changed angles at all.  We were still on a collision course and the gap was narrowing rapidly.  I had to get the anchor up so I could move the boat if I had to.


windlass is good and strong but she’s slow.  I needed to jump back down below and flake more chain but I didn’t have time, I just had to keep taking up chain.


The boat was less than 100 feet away when the anchor finally emerged from the muddy depths.

I ran back to the helm, less than 50 feet away.  I turned Solstice hard to port in an effort to steer away from them.

“HHHHEEEEEEYYYYY!” voices hollered from the approaching vessel.

A tall dark haired woman was on the bow with a young boy who was waving furiously at me.

bow turned sharply away as the boat came near.

“HHHHEEEYYYY BBBIIILLLL!!!” the crew of Bonaire were all waving enthusiastically.

I let out a huge sigh of relief.  Tim was at the helm doing a very near flyby.

“Arrrrrr, give me your women and your rum,” I yelled back.  They all had smiles on their faces as the boats past right by starboard to starboard.

“Bonaire, Bonaire.  Solstice on channel one, six,” I hailed in the radio.

“Hey Bill. One, seven,” Tim answered.

“One, Seven,” I said and we switched to the lower powered channel.

“Hey Tim, if I had known you guys were pulling in, I would’ve planned to stay another day.  I’m just heading out to Gove with E.J.,” I said.

The last time I saw Bonaire was in Cairns.  I had left them the morning after having had a wonderful dinner aboard their boat the night before.  We had all hoped to see each somewhere along the way to Darwin.  Tim said that they were going to go see Thursday Island, stock up on some fresh food and head out in a day or so.  We again hoped to see each other down the road.

“Hey Tim tell the Fin and Sam no swimming.  There’s crocs in the water here,” I told him.

“Really!  Sam!  Fin!  You’re going to clean the bottom of the boat this afternoon,” Tim said joyfully.

We bid farewell after a few more laughs.

The current along with a nice 20-knot breeze carried Solstice out through the channel to the west of Thursday Island.  Before I knew it I was headed into the gulf and the islands were in my wake.  I looked at them and imagined what it would have been like to be off these island 60 years ago watching Japanese warplanes strafing down and dropping bombs.  I’m glad I wasn’t here then.

Back in the gulf a series of cargo ships going by were a quick reminder that’d I wouldn’t get much sleep for the next 2 ½ days.  The wind settled in to a consistent 18-knot breeze and the seas started to get bumpy.  Solstice wanted to run and I let her.  I wanted to get these 350 miles behind me sooner than later.

The biggest complaint I heard from people crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria was the crappy conditions of the seas.  The clash of the tidal currents against the strong trades combined with the shallow waters of the gulf made for a thoroughly confused and erratic sea state.  Solstice rolled to and fro with the same erratic motion as the sea but her sails were full and she pressed on well.  The seas too were small when compared to what you find in the open ocean.  It was uncomfortable and I had to wedge myself in different places to hold myself in place.  That place, most of the time, was in the cockpit companionway under the dodger where I can keep a close eye on things and stay safe and dry.  I’d either press my legs up on one side or sit at the top of the stairs where I could see forward.  I braced myself with my arms to keep from rolling from one side of the boat to other.  The idea was always to wedge myself in such a way that I’m one with the boat, when she moves, so do I and I stay put… most of the time.

This passage was similar to others up the coast as it was about enduring for a short amount of time.  The first day was spent adjusting and settling in.  Feeling the motion of the boat and connecting again with the oceans movements.  Leaving early in the morning was great because it gave me the daylight hours to adjust.  By nightfall I was settled in.  I felt more comfortable on this leg too because I was on a southwest course which took me away from the main shipping lanes.  I still had to be alert but it was less tense.  I set the radar and AIS alarms and was sure to do a check every 30 minutes and drink lots of water.  I didn’t set up a VHF radio schedule with Elizabeth Jane like I did with Hokule’a.  We were less formal traveling together for some reason.  We hailed each other simply when we wanted.

That first evening we didn’t check in with each other.  We were within sight of one another until about sunset.  Somewhere during the night between trying to get some sleep and my regular checks I lost sight of their nav lights.  By morning I didn’t see them anywhere on the horizon.  After a good breakfast and some strong coffee I decided to hail them.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, this is the sailing vessel Solstice calling on channel one, six, do you copy?”  I waited a few moments and tried again.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, this is the sailing vessel Solstice calling on channel one, six, do you copy?”  Again the reply was silence.

I didn’t know what the issue was.  I should’ve been able to hear them on the radio but I had been having VHF radio issues since Fiji.  I couldn’t wait to get a new radio.  EJ had been having their share of radio issues as well.  I tried them off and on throughout the day but never made contact.  The wind held a steady 20 knots and the day past by with no boat traffic and great sailing in the right direction.  The evening gave way to a beautiful sunset over the western sky.  Darkness fell quick and it was a boisterous night sailing under a canopy of starlight.  I lay in my bunk listening to the howl of the wind and the creak of the boat as she rushed through the sea.  Even when I was comfortable, sleep didn’t come easy.


The chartplotter alarm got me up and out of bed.


Those ominous words blinked on and off the screen as the AIS alarm sounded.  Less than 3 miles behind me a vessel approached from astern.  She traveled at a good clip, about 10.5 knots.  The name or type of boat never appeared on the detail of the AIS for some reason.  I have yet to determine the reason behind that.  Some times the details come up and some times they don’t.  I think it has to do with the strength of the signal transmitted but that’s just a guess.

This boat was coming close too.  I kept a keen watch.  It was a black, black night and the binoculars revealed nothing but nav lights bouncing in the dark on a bumpy sea.  The red and green bow lights finally turned to just green as she past and the green eventually faded into the all white of her stern light.  There was no collision potential, literally just another vessel passing close by in the night.  She seemed to go by so fast that I determined she must have been a trawler though no steaming light was visible.  Just low running lights.  After she went by I felt comfortable again about laying back down.  There were no new boats in the area and I enjoyed only the sounds of Solstice under sail without the interruption and punctuation of the AIS and radar alarms.

Morning came and the distance Solstice had made was good.  I still had a ways to go but I was confident if the wind held I’d make it by 16:00 plenty of time before dark.  The thought of a peaceful night on the hook in a flat anchorage was met with a smile and a contentment of knowing another 350 miles to Darwin would be checked off.  There was still no sign of EJ and a few radio calls during the day were again answered with silence.  I hoped that all was well with them and that I’d see them in Gove. I was also thrilled that the most pressing need aboard would be met soon after my arrival.  I was just about out of coffee.  I had just enough for two more mornings.  One while underway now, and the other for my first morning at anchorage.  I could get easily find some in Gove…. I hoped.

By late morning a narrow flat piece of land poked it’s way up over the horizon.

“LAND HO!” I hollered.  It had only been a couple of days without seeing a coastline but whenever I lose sight of the shore the pirate in me beckons to holler upon the next sighting of land.  Besides, it’s just fun to yell “Land Ho!”

By 12:30 I had passed Bremer Island that lies northeast of the Gove Peninsula.  By 15:00 I rounded the Peninsula and by 16:00 I was driving around the anchorage searching for a good spot to “drop the pick” as they say down undah.

The Gove anchorage was filled with many boats, most were cruising boats en route to somewhere while others looked like they hadn’t moved in a decade or more.  The anchorage was shallow and calm.  I dropped the pick in about 20 feet of water.

A dinghy came racing toward the boat as I put the harness on the anchor chain.  Two small boys were smiling at the bow and waving.  The dinghy slid to a halt right next to the boat.

“HHHHEEEYYYY BILL!!!” Sam said smiling.

“What the hell?  How can you guys be here?  I just left you at Horn Island,” I said

“We went right by you in the middle of the night,” Fin said all smiles.

“What?  That was you guys?  You should’ve hailed me on the radio,” I said.

“We didn’t want to wake you,” Tim said.

“Ha, ha. I was awake,” I said.

“I’m glad you were because he wasn’t,” Sam said pointing to his Dad.

“Shhh, Sam.  Don’t tell him that,” Tim said

“You guys sail fast.  You were doing 10.5 knots when you went by,” I said.

“Is that all?” Tim replied.

“Ha, ha.  Did you guys see EJ? I asked.

“Yeah, we past them a few hours before you,” Tim acknowledged.

“Yeah, I lost touch with them after the first night.”

“Ah, don’t worry.  They should be in some time during the night.  A few of the cruisers are getting together for a happy hour at the yacht club, come join us,” Tim said.

“That sounds great,” I said.

“Great! 5 o’clock,” Tim said and they started to pull away.

“Hey Bill!” Sam yelled.


“When Katie and Hugh get here we’re going to have a ukulele party on Bonaire,” Sam’s eyes went wide and he had a big smile and gave two thumbs way up.

I returned the gesture.  “Awesome!”

“You better practice,” he yelled as they sped off.

I was late getting to happy hour as I had to take care of getting Solstice cleaned up and made sure she was secure at anchor before I left.  I also tried EJ a couple more times on the radio but didn’t hear anything.

The Gove Boat Club is located at the end of flat red dirt peninsula in East Arnhem Land.  The peninsula is dirty, dusty and is sparsely populated.  Most of the natural vegetation has been destroyed and replaced with industrial plants and factories.  Where the natural vegetation still thrives the beach is lined with mangroves, scrub brush and eucalyptus trees.  The Gove Boat Club has removed those indigenous plants and carved out their own little oasis with grass, palm trees and white sand.  It’s a lovely spot though it sits in a direct contrast to the surrounding landscape.  It doesn’t fit in.

Tim and Steph were at a picnic table on the grass just off the beach with two other couples that I didn’t know.  When I walked up they were doing what boaters do, they were talking about boats.  A tall Australian man in his mid 60’s was in the middle of a story, the name Sir Swagman was printed on his T-shirt next to a diagram of a sailboat.  Tim and Steph stood up to give me hugs and say hello.  My arrival interrupted his story and Sir Swagman appeared put-off as I was introduced to the new cruisers.  Once the introductions were done he didn’t miss a beat and picked up right where he had left off.  I had a higher priority than wanting to hear about Sir Swagman’s head, his electrical system, his engine problem or whatever boating issue it was that he was talking about and went to the bar to get a beer.  As I headed back to the table from the bar I noticed an aborigine man sitting at a tall round table by himself drinking a coke.  When we caught eyes his face lit up with a smile as if he knew me.

“Hi”, he said.

He must be confusing me with somebody else,
I thought.

His reaction was one of overwhelming comfort and familiarity on his part and honestly it made me uncomfortable as I had no idea who this person was.  I gave him a weak smile with a nod of acknowledgement and said, “Hi” and headed back to the table with the rest.

Sir Swagman,
was still yammering on.

“Well and every time I went to flush the head the water would spray out like a blow hole from a whale….” he continued.

I tuned him out and caught eyes again with the dark man at the tall table.  His eyes widened and he smiled again.  I gave a little nod in his direction but then turned away.

Except for us there were few people there.  There was a couple sharing a bottle of wine closer to the water poised to watch the sunset, another group of three middle-aged men who seemed to be all business talked at a small table and this dark skinned man sat alone.

Sir Swagman
’s tale seemed to have no end and in my mind I changed his boat name to Sir Talksalot.

I leaned over to Steph “I hear we’re going to have a ukulele party on Bonaire,” I whispered. 

“Yes,” she was excited.  “It’s going to be fun.”

“I can’t wait,” I added.

“Hello!” the man who was at the table alone was suddenly standing next to our table.

“My name is Timmy,” he said.

Sir Talksalot
was in mid-sentence and acted as if the wind was just blowing and continued talking.

“Hi Timmy,” Steph said with a smile.

“Hi Timmy,” I said.

Timmy sort of walked around the table slowly but he had a certain spring in his step.  He was now standing right next to Sir Talksalot.

“I’m a famous aboriginal dancer,” he said with a smile.  Timmy had on a faded red baseball cap with thick shaggy black hair with veins of gray poking out from underneath.  He wore a loose fitting button-down shirt and long trousers.

“That’s nice,” one of the ladies I didn’t know said and then turned all her attention back to Sir Blabbermouth.  His boat name kept changing in my mind.

Timmy looked mine and Steph’s way and smiled.  His smile was big and genuine.

Timmy then looked straight at Sir Blabbermouth.  “I’m a Yolngu Dancer.  My name is Timmy Ganambarr.  I’m famous,” he said as he extended his hand to Sir Blabbermouth. 

Sir Blabbermouth,
never stopped talking.  He looked straight at the man across from him and pretended that Timmy didn’t even exist.  Timmy held his hand out for a long moment, hoping for handshake greeting from Sir Asshole, I decided he needed a more fitting name.  Sir Asshole not only didn’t shake his hand, he never even looked at Timmy and he never quit talking and literally pretended he didn’t exist.  It was if Timmy was a phantom that he couldn’t see.

“Timmy Ganambarr is my name,” you could tell Timmy had run into this type of thing before.

“That’s nice,” the Aussie lady said again with no glee in her expression.

Timmy retracted his hand, gave Steph and I a nod and walked away.

As soon as Timmy was gone Sir Asshole changed the topic he was blabbering about.

“You can’t acknowledge these people,” he said.

“He was just saying hello,” Steph said.

“He wasn’t just saying hello.  I’ve worked up here for years.  Once you start with opening a door with them then it’s trouble,” Sir Asshole went on with justifying his rudeness.

“They have no respect for anything.  I’ve worked up here building houses for these people only to watch them move in and destroy them,” he spoke with such disdain in his voice especially when he said the words these people.

“You know what happens?  You build these homes for them and they burn ‘em down.  And they don’t care.  Then the government has us build new homes for them right across the street from the ones they burned down.  In 6 months when you’re done they move in and destroy that one while we go back across the street and fix the ones they just destroyed.  They don’t think like us.  You can’t talk to them.  They don’t get it.  They never will,” Sir Asshole was continuing his rant when one of the “business-looking” men at the table approached us.

“Was that guy bothering you?” he asked us.

“No, not at all,” I said before Sir Asshole could say otherwise.

“Did he ask you to buy him alcohol?” he asked.

“No, he was just saying hello,” Steph said.

Sir Asshole
rolled his eyes and turned away.

“Okay, I have to ask you guys to do me a favor while you’re here.  Please don’t buy any alcohol for the aborigines,” he said.  “I own the place here and if you open that door well it can get really bad.  Before you know it a lot them will be coming in trying to do the same and it can get dangerous almost,” he said.

“He wasn’t asking to buy alcohol,” Tim said.

“He was fine,” I reiterated.

“We have a lot of problems with them up here…” the bar owner started.

I felt like I was in the deep south during the 50’s listening to racist white guys talk about “they” and “them” like they were some alien species.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Did these Aussies really feel this way?
  They did.

I was uncomfortable all the way around.  I was uncomfortable when I first saw Timmy, I was uncomfortable when Timmy came to our table and now I was uncomfortable listening to these guys talk about the problems with aborigines after Timmy left.

I didn’t know what Timmy’s deal was.  Maybe he was just a bum trying to mooch drinks, maybe he was an alcoholic who would lose control if he drank too much and invite all his friends to join him, maybe he was just saying hello.  But to treat him with such rudeness when he was literally just saying hello and to talk about somebody and a race in such a demeaning way did nothing but shed the light of ignorance on these men who deemed to put themselves above their aboriginal brothers.  They talked about them like they were an afterthought and a people who presented a problem that they some how had to work around or were forced to work with.  There seemed to be little thought of empathy, compassion or understanding, especially towards a people that had been on this land long before Europeans even knew how to build ships.  Some estimates have the aboriginal people being in Australia over 50,000 years ago.

I thought about my time in Sydney when I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art and stumbled upon an exhibit that I couldn’t fully comprehend.  There was an exhibit going on showcasing works of art by and from the Aboriginal perspective.  It was dark, disturbing and depressing.  There was an overwhelming sense of sadness that took over that whole wing of the museum where the works were displayed.  There were paintings of Australians playing Australian Rules Football tossing around the head of an aborigine as if it was the ball.  There were disturbing sculptures depicting rape and murder and paintings of pain and suffering that the aborigines have endured for years.  I read accounts of many atrocities all of which were depicted in the artwork.  It got to a point where I just needed to leave.  It was too depressing to view.

An interesting thing in all of this is that Jake and Jackie on Hokule’a and my friends Jack and Zdenka on Kite had been here two weeks earlier and were invited to attend a funeral.  Not just any funeral, a funeral for a famous aborigine named Yunupingu.  He was a famous musician and leader of the aboriginal people.  Everybody in East Arnhem Land was invited, black, white, rich, poor, everybody.

Yunupingu’s music and his work as an advocate for Aboriginal rights brought Indigenous issues to the national stage.  And like Timmy, he was of the Yolngu people here in East Arnhem Land.  He had a vision to not just increase awareness about Aboriginal Australians but to bring all Australians closer together.  He’s credited with bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  His music is famous in Australia and he performed and wrote music with other famous Australian musicians like Paul Kelly.  In 1992 Yunupingu was named Australian of the Year for his efforts to bring these two different cultures together. 

The funeral was a state memorial attended by all the higher ups in the Australian Government including Prime Minister Tony Abbott who spoke at the funeral as well as celebrities like Paul Kelly.  There were aboriginal dancers and singers that performed.  Amongst the performers was the blind aboriginal artist Geoffrey Gurrumul, whose music I had come to adore.  He is Yunupingu’s nephew.  To his people, Yunupingu was known as the crocodile as that was his totem which is said to have represented him as “A symbol of balance - parent, child: freshwater, saltwater. The duality of Australia.”

When Jack called me and told me they were all going to the funeral I was excited for them.  I was also excited for Australia, as it seemed to show a coming together of two cultures and two people, at least that’s how the media painted it.  From what I saw in the Northern Territory there was nothing that resembled that coming together.  The two worlds seemed far apart and from what I heard listening to these guys at the boat club that evening, they did nothing but show me how very big that gap still is.

The next morning, I took my coffee to the cockpit to enjoy the morning and was thrilled to see Elizabeth Jane circling the anchorage.  All was well with them.  They had fallen a little behind and when they realized they wouldn’t make it in before dark they slowed down to ensure a sunrise arrival.  Once they got settled we all took the bus to the nearby town called Nhulunbuy (I’m not sure how to pronounce that one).  It was during this bus ride that I had my first look inside an aboriginal community.

Aboriginal land is private and a permit is needed to visit, unless you’re on a bus picking up people from that community to take them to town.  Then you get to ride right in.  This was my only glimpse into this world.  I don’t know the specifics about the aboriginal communities but this one struck me to be similar to the Native American reservations in the U.S. where a less than desirable section of land was set-aside for indigenous people to live.  Like many of the reservations, this community, was poor, dirty and was far below a quality of living standard that people should live in.  The community seemed to be filled with more people than roofs for them to live under.  The homes were nothing more than a flimsy one story wooden box nailed together with a tin roof on top.  I couldn’t see how it would’ve taken Sir Talksalot more than 6 hours to build one of these shacks.

People were scattered all about the village.  Young people sat on the ground cross-legged talking while ladies hung clothes up on clotheslines in the yards behind the homes while men worked turning the red soil as they farmed.  Children ran and screamed and chased one another through the yards while chickens scampered out of their path.  Others seemed distant and vacant as they stared from broken down porches and from behind busted out windows with no glass, their eyes void of life.  They watched somberly at the comings and goings of the people getting on and off the bus.

Taking the bus through this community gave me only a tiny glimpse into a world so different than any other I had seen in Australia.  How does this country go forth closing the gap between this world and the one in Sydney?  They couldn’t be more different.  This was a third world country compared to Sydney.  Closing the gap seemed like an enormous daunting task.  Almost impossible.  But I have to look at my own country as a sign of hope.  Yes, we have reservations in our own country that are still today crying out for help and we have a lot of social problems that need fixing but we’ve also made enormous strides.  It’s amazing to me to think that only a few decades ago we were killing people for the color of their skin.  And now we have an African American President.  Yes, we still have a long way to go and racism is still rampant in parts but indeed we have come a long way.  And who knows, with good doses of love, compassion and understanding amongst one another maybe in 40 years from now there will be an Aboriginal Prime Minister in Australia.

Gove was the last stop where we would find any shopping before Darwin, which was now about 500 miles away.  Even then there wasn’t much shopping with only a small grocery store.  Our plan between here and Darwin was to make a couple stops along the way so provisioning for at least 10 days was in order.  Nhulunbuy was nothing more than a small town.  It was an interesting place, as it seemed to reflect that cross section of the duality of Australia.  It had some fine nice stores.  A great fish and tackle shop, a grocery store, albeit small, it had fresh fruits and veggies and meats.  There were also a couple of nice restaurants and bars.  Beside them also stood boarded up storefronts that had closed down long ago that were alongside other shops that were old and tired and looked like they should’ve gone belly up about a decade ago.  There was a food court in the middle of town with walk up counters that offered many eateries that sold a variety of ethnic dishes and local foods at affordable prices.  This was the most popular place in town.

After we were done provisioning we went the bus stop and tried to make sense of the schedule and how to get back to the boats. 

“HHHEEEYYY!  Need a ride?” a boy with half of his torso hanging out the back
window yelled.  It was Sam and he was giving two thumbs up as they drove past and pulled into the parking.

“Where did you guys rent the car,” Hugh asked.

“We didn’t rent it.  It was given to us,” Tim said.  “Lovely Aussie couple who’ve been living on their boat for the last couple of years.  They just gave us the keys and said take it,” Tim went on.

“Brilliant,” Hugh replied.

“Brilliant,” I added.  I loved speaking the Queen’s English or was it the Aussie Prime Minister’s English?

We all piled into the old beat up truck with the cab cover and we happily bounced down the road back to the boats.

As promised, that night we went to Bonaire for a ukulele/dinner party.  Tim cooked lamb on the grill, Steph made salads, fresh vegetables and a delicious stir-fried rice.  We sang island songs, ate well and drank plenty of good Aussie wine.  Sam was particularly awesome on the uk and played and sang his heart out until way past his bedtime.  I too stayed up way past my bedtime laughing and singing.  It was a beautiful night. 

“Hey I wanted to tell you something,” Steph said to me between songs.  “I looked up Timmy Ganambarr online after we got back to the boat the last night.  He is a famous Aboriginal dancer.  He danced at Yunupingu’s funeral.  There’s a picture of him in the paper with Tony Abbott,” she said.

“You’re kidding?” I said.

“No.  He’s performed all over the world.  Even at the Sydney Opera House,” she confirmed.

“Wow.  And we were all so rude to him.  Even the owner of the bar,” I said.

“I know.  I was really embarrassed through all that yesterday,” she said.

“I know.  I still am.  Just think what we could’ve learned if we talked to him.”

“I know,” Steph concurred.

That was a wake up call for me to be a better person.  It’s so easy to put ourselves in a bubble and not reach out to other people.  Especially in situations when things are unfamiliar or uncomfortable.  When I think about it now, because Timmy is such a well known and recognized person in this part of Australia when I caught eyes with him, he must have thought I recognized him and he was just smiling and being open and friendly.  I was disappointed in myself for being close-minded and not more open and receptive to what the universe had brought into my world.  What a great opportunity lost.  I could’ve sat down with him and heard stories that were far more interesting than anything Sir Asshole had to say.

On Bonaire between singing, playing, laughing and being together we planned the next leg of our voyage to Darwin.  A small remote island with a beautiful beach called Raragala Island was a “must stop” that we had all heard about.  To get there it required going through a narrow gap between islands that was over a mile long and only 300-400 feet wide called “Hole In The Wall”.  The currents through the channel can be as swift as 10 knots. 

“10 knots!” I said shocked.

“Yeah,” Hugh said with a smile.  “She’ll be right,” he added.

“We just have to hit it right at slack tide,” Tim said.

Hole in the Wall was only 50 miles away but in order to time the tide right we needed to do it in two short hops.  We left at noon the next day and in a few hours were anchored off a little beach on Cotton Island in time to watch the sunset.  Cotton Island is a beautiful remote stop and I would’ve loved to have stayed longer but we had a schedule and this was only a place to drop the hook and sleep.  Slack tide at Hole In The Wall was 10am the next morning and to get there on time we needed to leave at 0600 the next morning.

I was nervous about entering this channel because of stories I’d heard of boats that entered at the wrong time and got into trouble.  I’ve been in 5-7 knot currents with Solstice and that’s nerve-racking.  I can’t imagine what a 10 knot current would be like.  Part of my nervousness also came from the fact that there were different ideas about when slack tide was and whether or not it was best to arrive on Gove’s slack tide or Hole In the Wall’s slack tide.  Nobody knew for sure and nobody knew if the times we had were accurate as we’ve found that often the tide charts were incorrect.  I was also nervous because it was just me.

One thing I loved about sailing with Elizabeth Jane was their attitude and approach to everything.  I’ve always admired Americans relaxed ways but Aussies are even calmer and more relaxed and things are almost always punctuated with humor.  Katie and Hugh were great in that way too no matter what the situation.  Difficult situations or challenging circumstances were always met with Hugh saying “She’ll be right, Mate” and Katie adding “No worries, Bill.”  Bonaire had now joined our flotilla and even though they were from England they too were more relaxed than Katie and Hugh.  I had always thought of the English to be more conservative and serious in their approach to the world.  Nothing was further from the truth with Bonaire.  They were a free-spirited and they viewed everything they did as an adventure.  Free-spirited and relaxed is not to be confused with poor seamanship.  Both EJ and Bonaire are excellent sailors.  They’re just more stress-free than me.

What if I get in there and we hit the tide wrong and the current spins Solstice around sideways and flings us into the rocks?  What am I gonna do?

That’s what was running through my brain.

No worries!
and She’ll be right! were the phrases coming out of the other camps.  I tried to change my thought pattern as I lay in bed.  Positive thoughts are always better than negative thoughts.  Always!  I closed my eyes, She’ll be right Bill, I said to myself.

For once I had Solstice’s anchor up first.  It was 05:50 and I was headed out before the sun came up.  I wanted to be able to slow down to hit the tide right instead of having to speed up in hopes that I’d make it.  This way I’d ensure that I’d arrive at the right time.  The weather was perfect, a 10-knot breeze and the seas were flat.  I could’ve turned off the engine but I didn’t know if I’d get there in time if I slowed down to sail.  Maybe I was overthinking it but I kept the engine on and motor sailed.  I hadn’t gone far before I saw EJ and Bonaire had weighed anchor and were in my wake.

It was a glorious morning with a lovely sunrise and steady, light breeze on the starboard stern quarter.  EJ was closest to me and then Bonaire.  It wasn’t long before I saw Bonaire’s spinnaker pop open.  It glowed beautifully as it filled with wind and the morning sunlight.  A sailboat flying a full spinnaker is such a beautiful, elegant sight.

Since I have owned Solstice I had flown the spinnaker only a hand full of times.  The conditions most of the time either had not been appropriate or I’ve been on my own.  I love flying the spinnaker but since I’ve been single handing it has intimidated me.  I’ve been aboard before when the wind picks up and getting the spinnaker down had been a major ordeal and sometimes dangerous.  Since I left California I had not dared to dig it out of the bowels of the sail locker.  Watching Bonaire sailing in all her glory stirred a longing inside that I didn’t’ know was there.  I missed flying the spinnaker. 

Some day I’ll fly the spinnaker, but not today
, I thought. 

Instead I watched Bonaire closing ground as she gained speed.

I had made my departure time a good one.  About halfway across I was well ahead of schedule and I cut the engine and sailed.  I knew I could make it at the right time.  Bonaire was making great progress too and before I knew it they blew right past me.  I watched and took pictures.  Her sails were lit in the beauty of the mornings golden light and she sailed away fast.

A large flat sandy brown bar of scrub brush popped up over the horizon first and it appeared as if I was sailing straight into a low-lying island.  As I got closer, a tiny sliver of water started to reveal itself that separated two islands, Guluwuru off my starboard to the northeast and Raragala off my port to the southwest. (However you choose to pronounce those islands will be as good as mine- I still don’t know).  The gap became more pronounced as I neared but it didn’t open much.  It was a narrow channel indeed, only a few hundred feet across.  I made the choice to act as if I was headed into a harbor and decided to take in all my sails so I could be in control of the boat under engine alone should anything strange happen.  I rolled in the headsail, fired up the engine and dropped the main. 

“Captain Barbossa! We need you at the helm?” I cried.

“Aye, that be true,” I answered, myself.  And turned off the auto-pilot and took the helm.

I smiled at the thought of Barbossa and peered at the tiny gap ahead and hoped there was no hidden whirlpool waiting up there.

I followed Bonaire.

If there were any issues with the current they’d let us know,
I thought.

As I followed them I realized they still had their spinnaker up.  Maybe they were still a ways outside the entrance but it looked like they were going in under sail.

“Bonaire, Bonaire, Solstice on channel six, nine,” I hailed them on the VHF.

“Good morning, Bill,” Tim replied.
“Good morning.  Hey Tim, am I seeing an optical illusion or are you sailing in through the channel?”

“Oh we’re in.  The wind is perfect, no need to drop the chute,” he said.

“Wow.  I don’t think I’d have tried that,” I said

“How often will you get the chance to go through here under sail,” he said.

“You guys are awesome.  Any current in there?” I asked.

“No current.  Common in, it’s perfect!” he exclaimed.

“Aye, aye.  Have you seen Butch and Sundance in there?” I asked.

“What’s that again, Bill?” Tim asked.

“Ahh never-mind.  It’s an American thing,” I said.

I admired, Tim and Steph.  He was right.  When would such an opportunity arise again?  I wish I had had the self-assurance and foresight to had sailed through.  Instead, I kept motoring and videotaped and took pictures while I steered at the same time.  That was its’ own challenge.  But the conditions were perfect.  We had timed it just right.  It was flat calm and I never noticed a current except for a couple of small eddies at the channels edge.  They looked like tiny whirlpools but I past by with no issues.

I was about half way through the channel when Bonaire pulled down the sock and dropped their spinnaker.  A few moments later shesuddenly turned sideways.  I was headed straight for her port side and I throttled down.

“Bonaire, Bonaire, Solstice.  You guys okay?” I called on the radio.

No answer.  A few moments later with the distance narrowing fast I called again.

“Bonaire, Bonaire, Solstice.  Do you guys copy?” still no answer and I slowed down even more.

Bonaire started to turn towards me and suddenly she was coming straight at me.

“Solstice, Solstice, Bonaire,” my radio sprang to life.

“Hey Steph.  You guys okay?”

“Oh everything’s great.  We’re going back through again, would you mind taking a photo of us as we go by?” she said in her sweet English accent.

“Oh, not at all,” I laughed.  “I thought the current turned you guys sideways.  Should we pass port to port?”

“No current.  All is well.  Port to Port,” she said.

“Aye, aye.  Don’t forget to smile.” I replied.

traveled through the mile and a quarter by four hundred foot channel three times that morning; once under sail, and twice (over and back) under power.  Never once were they concerned about tidal currents or timing.  They posed, waved and yelled as we past each other.  It was a grand morning aboard Bonaire and they made me smile.  Did I mention they were relaxed?

As I exited, I thought about turning back and going through again as well.  I turned Solstice abeam to the channel and looked back for a long while and took pictures.  Three other boats were coming in behind EJ and I figured I was through just fine and left it at that.  I still had 6 miles to go to the anchorage and I wanted to sail.  I bid adieu to the Hole In The Wall, turned to port, rolled out the jib and killed the engine.

We were on a beautiful port beam reach and the wind picked up to15 knots as it soared up and over the island.  The anchorage was about a mile up inside a bay that gave way to two small beaches separated by a rocky outcrop.  There were three boats anchored off the southern beach and nobody off the northern beach.  I opted to go to the northern beach where I had plenty of room to find a nice spot.  The beach was about 1,000 feet long and the clean bleached white sand gave way to a series of small rocky plateaus and hills covered with beach grass and dry scrub brush.  You could tell by the low-lying vegetation that this island had seen its share of hard winds.  We were on the leeward side of the island and I anchored inside the wind-line on a sandy bottom near the shore in 20 feet with good holding.

and EJ came in and after they were settled three more boats came in.  Suddenly we were a crowded anchorage and expected more.  The bay was quite big but was also shallow in most parts.  The two areas in front of the beaches offered the safest place to anchor.  The northern part of the bay was too shallow and gave way to a shoreline of mangrove trees.  Hugh and I knew what that meant.

had hardly got her anchor down when I heard Hugh on the radio.

“Hey Bill, I see you have your dinghy in the water already,” he said.

“Yeah I was thinking maybe we’d go to the beach and have a glass of wine and watch the sunset,” he said.

“That’s a great idea but I was thinking perhaps before that we go set some traps.”

“I like the way you think, Hugh.  I’ll pick you up in twenty,” I said.

It was a bumpy wet ride and we were soaked and well pummeled by the time we got to the mouth of the river.  Thick mangrove trees lined the shore and went up each bank of the inlet and disappeared into the island.  It looked like great muddy country.  It also looked like croc country.

It was late in the afternoon and we wanted to pick Katie up and have some wine on the beach so we opted to not go up the river and instead set our traps near the mouth.  We set one in about 7 feet of water right in the middle of the inlet and the other closer to the mangroves in about 4 feet of water.  The ride back was downwind and a bit dryer but still bumpy.  We picked up Katie and headed for the beach.  We had earned our wine.

The beach was beautiful as most remote beaches are.  The sand was hard at the water’s edge but further up it dried out and was soft and clean and still held the warmth from the day’s sun.  The only things strewn about the beach were occasional pieces of bleached white driftwood.  The scent of the air was of crisp seagrass, saltwater and sunshine.  I spread my toes out in the soft sand and felt the island beneath my feet.  It was warm and welcoming.  We laid out a big blanket, sat down and opened a bottle of Oyster Bay Chardonnay.  It was a lovely end to a beautiful day.

Back aboard Solstice that night I made dinner and listened to the weather report on the radio.

“Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology

Northern Territory

Coastal Waters Forecast for the Northern Territory

Issued at 5:45 pm CST on Sunday 7 July 2013

Valid until midnight Monday

Please Be Aware

Wind gusts can be a further 40 percent stronger than the averages given here and maximum waves may be up to twice the height.

There’s that dumb Bureau of Moronolgy clause again.

Cape Don to Cape Wessel:


A High Wind Warning has been issued for the waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria and for Cape Don to Cape Wessel.

Sunday until midnight: Winds: Easterly about 10 to 15 knots increasing to 20 to 25 knots

Seas: Below 1 metre increasing 2 to 3 metres. Swell: Below 1 metres increasing 2 to 3 metres.

Monday Outlook: Winds: East to southeasterly 25 to 30 knots…

What else is new?
I said to myself and turned off the radio.  Immediately I could hear the sound of the wind howling through the rigging.  It had already picked up since we got here. 

At least we’re tucked in and safe,
I thought.

I had hoped for a good night’s sleep in a quiet anchorage, instead I laid and listened to the wind outside and felt Solstice sailing back and forth on her anchor.  I wondered what was in store for the next few days.  It was still over 400 miles to Darwin.  At some point the wind laid down and I fell asleep.  By morning the bay was flat and calm.

After breakfast (or breaky as the say Down Undah) I got Hugh and we headed out to collect our traps before the bay got rough.  I had a white Styrofoam float that marked my trap and Hugh had a used 2-liter plastic coke bottle.  When we got to where we had set them, mine was gone.  Hugh’s was still over near the mangrove trees and so we went there.  As always, there was great anticipation as Hugh pulled the line in.  The trap emerged from the depths… empty.

“Damn… Nothin’!” I said.  I felt like the gold miner in Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer.  It didn’t matter where we set our traps they always came up empty.

“There it is,” Hugh said and pointed to a small granite rock by the water’s edge near some low-lying trees in the muddy water.  The white round Styrofoam float was floating and it wasn’t quite round anymore.  We headed over to where it was.  I was keen to keep my eyes open for anything unusual, anything lying just under the surface of the water, crocs.  When we got to the float I used the boat hook to grasp the line and pulled it to the dingy.  The Styrofoam was gnarled and crunched all over with pitted holes punctured throughout.  Hugh pointed to them.

“Bite marks,” Hugh said.  “Croc!” he smiled.

I smiled too but I also looked around everywhere.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was nearby watching us.  I pulled the trap in a little quicker than usual and when it came up, it was empty.

“Dammit!  At least the bait’s still there,” I said.

We both still had our bait so we figured why not re-set them and come back later in the afternoon.

“We’re not gonna catch anything out here, we need to go up in the river there and set them,” Hugh said.

“But that’s probably where the croc lives,” I said.

“Yep,” Hugh agreed.  “But we’re not gonna catch any muddies out here.”

I knew Hugh was right.  I wasn’t crazy about going up the river but all looked calm.  I stood up and looked.  Mangrove trees grew thicker further up river and the water was murky and muddy.  I think I’m pretty realistic when it comes to looking for crocs in the water and I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that I’d see it if it was sitting right in front of me.  I didn’t kid myself.  They are masters of disguise.  So I had to trust my other senses, I had to use the force.  And everything felt right and okay.  The force said, Head on up there, Mate.  She’ll be right.  Well maybe that was Hugh talking but I trusted that I didn’t have a bad feeling.  So with some extra encouragement from my Aussie friend we headed up the river.  We motored slow, taking our time.  I hoped we’d see something before it was upon us, I also hoped we’d see nothing.

“I want to set my trap up there,” Hugh pointed to the end where all the mangroves came together and the river became un-navigable.

“You sure you don’t want to get out and walk up a little further, Hugh?”

Hugh sensed my nervousness, “No worries, Mate.  She’ll be right!” he assured me.

“Aye, aye,” I said.

Hugh set his trap in about 3 feet of water a few feet from the densest section of mangroves.

“That’ll catch a muddy,” he exclaimed happily.

We moved back down the river another 50 feet or so and Hugh set the 2nd trap, being careful to make sure it landed upright on the bottom.  When the trap was safely deployed I turned the dinghy around and headed out.  I didn’t want to stick around there too long.  As soon as we got out of the mouth of the river, I throttled up and headed off.

When we got back to the boat Hugh, Katie and I looked at the weather again.  High wind warnings were issued all the way from the Gulf Carpentaria to Darwin and the forecast now was for 30-35 knots with 10-15 foot seas.  The extended outlook was the same for the next 5 days.  We talked a lot about what to do.  Whether to sit tight and wait out the blow or continue on.  Our plan had been to be here for one night and then head off to Port Essington the next day, which was 270 miles away.  The good thing was the wind and seas would be behind us and we’d be able to sail.  The bad news was well, 15-foot seas and 35 knots.  It would be two days of hard sailing.  We decided to wait and see what happened in the next 24 hours before we made a choice.

The wind started to pick back up in the early afternoon as it had the day before.  The bay was surrounded by rocky granite ledges, which gave a natural barrier to the elements that extended into where the boats were in the bay.  We were well protected.  The idea of staying here for a few days to wait out the blow seemed like a great idea.  It also would put us further behind in getting to Darwin leaving us little time to take care of everything that needed to be done before heading to Indonesia.

That afternoon the radio was alive with all the boaters talking about the weather and what to do.

“I’m too old for 30 knots”, “Gentleman don’t sail in gales”, “I’m pretty happy right here,” were just a few of the many comments.  “No worries, Mate” and “She’ll be right” was what I was hearing from Bonaire and Elizabeth Jane.

“Why we’re all deciding what to do, I have another thought,” Tim said.  “We caught a wahoo on the way yesterday and we have too much fish to eat.  How about we have a fire and a BBQ on the beach tonight?” he suggested.

“What a fine plan”, “Sounds great” “We have too much wine” “We’ll bring ukulele’s” “I have too much chicken that I need to share” “We have heaps of veggies” “We might have crab” were just some of the many comments.

It was mid-afternoon and before the wind got any higher Hugh and I decided to go check the traps.  On my way to pick up Hugh I noticed Steph waving at me from the back of Bonaire.

“Hi Bill, the boys would really love to go with you guys to get the traps.  Would you mind taking them along?” Steph asked.

“Not a problem.  Common guys!” and Fin and Sam hoped into the dinghy.  We hugged the shoreline and stayed in the lee of the island.  It was the longer route but it kept us out of the wind and the chop most of the way.  We stayed dry until the last ¼ of mile when we had to cut across the bay to get to the river.  The boys loved it.  They didn’t mind getting wet.  They were watermen and the saltwater soothed their souls.  Mine too.  I throttled down when we approached the mouth of the river.

“Okay, predictions!  How many muddies do you think we got?  Fin?” I asked.

“Hmm… let me think,” he said.

“I say five!” Sam interjected.

“Five?  Alright! Hugh?” I continued.

“I’m going to say two,” Hugh said.

“Two?” I said disappointingly “I’m gonna guess six,” I said.  “Three in each trap,” and I gave the thumbs up sign which Sam quickly repeated. “Okay, Fin, what do you say?”

“One,” Finn said assuredly.

“One?  That’s lame.  I hope you and I are right, Sam,” I said and gave him a high five.

“I hope you’re right too,” Hugh added.

We entered the river and I stood up again to get a better view so I could keep an eye out for anything “unusual”.  The traps were right where we had left them.  Only the tide had dropped considerably and we couldn’t get all the way to where Hugh’s trap was.  Fortunately the attached line was long enough and floated close enough to the dinghy that we could grab it with the boat hook.  Fin grabbed the line and pulled it in.  As the trap broke the surface….


A descent size mudcrab sat in the bottom of the trap.

“HA! HA! HA!  HIGH FIVES” I was so excited and gave high fives all the way around. 

We all laughed and checked to make sure it was a legal size.  It was.

“HA! HA! HA! A KEEPER,” I exclaimed in glee after our measurement.

We stowed the trap and headed for the next one.  Sam grabbed the boat hook and pulled the float over and pulled up the line.  We all waited wide-eyed for the trap to surface and reveal it’s treasure.  The trap emerged and there were… 4 tiny little ones and a couple of hermit crabs. 

“Dammit!” I said.

“Hey I was right.  We got one,” Fin said.

“No we got,” I counted the tiny ones in the trap “one, two, three, four, and the other one makes 5,” Sam’s right.

“Those ones don’t count, they’re not keepers, Bill,” Fin corrected me.

“Oh, we didn’t say what size they had to be,” I joked.

Hugh emptied out the trap but not before getting bit by a small rambunctious muddy that took a stubborn hold of his thumb.  He shook his hand hard several times before it finally let go and flung overboard.

“Shit, you okay, Hugh?” I asked, he was bleeding a little on his thumb.

“Oh no worries.  She’ll be right,” he said as he stuck his hand in the water and rinsed off the blood.

“Well at least we have a little something to add to the BBQ,” I said as I turned the dinghy and slowly started to motor out.  We rounded the corner and that’s when we saw him.  A croc was waiting for us at the mouth of the river.  As soon as he saw us he ducked under the water and vanished from sight.

“Holy crap!  Did you see that,” I said.

“That was a croc,” Hugh declared.

“You guys sit in the middle of the boat, alright,” I said to Fin and Sam. and I kept motoring towards the exit, slow but controlled.  “And keep your arms inboard,” I added.

“Wow, that’s pretty awesome,” Hugh said.

“I agree.  How awesome was that?” I said to the boys.

Surprisingly I wasn’t nervous about it at all.  I figured we’d just dingy out and he’d get out of the way. 

“You know what the guy at Horn Island told me,” I said.  “He said when the aborigines want to get a croc out of the way they head straight at ‘em fast and crocs get out of the way.” I was trying to help the boys feel more comfortable but I was also telling the truth from what I had been told.  We got to right where the croc was and I throttled up a little but not too much.

“What are you doing?” Fin yelled.

“What?” I asked.

“Why are you going so slow?  Let’s get outta here,” Fin said.

I throttled up. 

“I don’t want to run over him, Fin.  I wanta give him a chance to get outta the way.  If we hit him…”

“LETS GO!  That things bigger than 4 meters and your dinghy isn’t even 3 meters long,” he said.

“Hey!  My dinghy’s three point one meters, thank you very much,” I tried to lighten the mood.  Fin was nervous and I got more serious.  “Hey Fin no worries, Mate.  He’s not going to get us,” I added “But we got him!” and I pointed to our captive in the trap.  “YYYEAAAHHHH!!” I shouted.  Fin gave a slight smile and Sam and I high-fived.

“He’s gonna taste so good,” Hugh assured them.

Sam laughed through the whole thing and I’m not sure if the croc sighting bothered him or not.  But it didn’t matter now, we were out of the river and off and I was glad about one thing, we wouldn’t be trapping up that river anymore.

We skipped across the bay and once again pulled near the rocky cliffs and into the lee of the island and worked our way along the sheltered shore.  We rounded the corner to the anchorage and we all stopped wide-eyed and quiet when we saw him.  A tiny sandy brown fury creature stared at us from the rocky bluff over looking the water.  His tiny arms in front of him with his paws hung down bent at the wrist.  A piece of vegetation hung from his mouth.  He looked at us for only a beat and then bounded off in a flash across the granite and back into the refuge of the bush.

“Wow!  That was Rock Wallaby,” Hugh said.

“What?” I asked.

“A Rock Wallaby.  They’re really rare.  Some are almost extinct,” Hugh said.

“Wow, that’s pretty great.  What an awesome dinghy excursion.  Mud crabs, crocs and rock wallabies,” I said.

Sam gave two thumbs up.  I returned the gesture.

“Awesome!” I added and Sam nodded.

Since Hugh’s trap caught the muddy he got the privilege of cleaning the crab.

Around 16:30 a flotilla of dinghies invaded the beach.  Blankets were spread out, wood was collected, a fire was built and appetizers past around.  There were cheeses, breads, grapes, bananas, roasted garlic and steamed mud crab.  The BBQ’ing began with Tim deep-frying fresh wahoo.  Also tossed on the fire was BBQ’d chicken, seared tuna and roasted vegetables.  There were additions of fresh salads, fried rice and a green bean casserole.  Beers were poured and wine uncorked (actually unscrewed) and rum and gin for the more hearty.  Finally ukuleles and guitars were pulled out and music, laughter and conversation filled the air along with the crashing surf, a crackling fire and the whirl of the wind through the trees.  It was a perfect beach party.

No matter what the topic was it ultimately circled back around to the weather.  There was a lot of talk about the forecast, the accuracy of the warnings and who was going to do what.  The high wind warnings called for a steady blow of 25 to 30 knots and were not predicted to lie down for at least 5 days with increasing seas each day.  One of the sayings I’ve heard often which I feel for the most part is true is “It’s not the speed of the wind to worry about, it’s the size of the seas”.  You can always adjust the sails to match what the wind is doing, the seas, well that’s another story.

Tim, Steph, Katie and Hugh and I all talked.  The general consensus was that if we didn’t leave tomorrow we’d be stuck here for a few days because as the strong winds continued the seas would build too.  Bonaire and EJ had pretty much made up their mind and they were going to take off in the morning.  Bonaire wanted to go the whole way to Darwin, which was about 400 miles.  I had no desire to push it that much.  There was a well-protected bay that EJ talked about stopping at called Port Essington.  That was 270 miles away and it was a deep bay protected on all sides.  Plus there were ruins there from an old British settlement that was supposed to be pretty cool.  That would be two nights and sounded reasonable to me.  But I still hadn’t made up my mind of whether or not to ride out the blow here or go in the morning with EJ and Bonaire.  It was a nice place to be but then again, it would be hard to be here for 5 more days.  I was on the fence.  After dinner and the sunset we all cleaned up and left the beach as if we had never been there.  I went back to the boat and told Katie and Hugh that I’d let them know in the morning what I’d do.  They were planning to leave at noon.  Bonaire was leaving at sunrise so I said my goodbyes to them on the beach.

I went to bed soon after I got back to the boat but I woke up a little before 1am.  The wind howled through the rigging and I laid there and listened.  My guess was that it was already blowing 30 knots…. again.  I thought about the forecast for the next 4 to 5 days.  25 to 30 knots with 8 to 10 foot seas and them building 12-15 after that.  I thought about everything I’d need to do if I was going to leave by noon. 

30 knots, 8 to 10 foot seas, 270 miles.

Those numbers kept running over in my brain.  I have come to know these conditions too well.  I also had grown tired of them.  I knew Solstice too and what she could handle.  Over the past 2 plus years since I left L.A. I’ve had Solstice in some hard weather situations.  During those times I had learned what she was capable of.  I had also learned what I was capable of.  If Solstice was buttoned up and reefed in well it wouldn’t be a problem.  There wasn’t going to be any sudden wind shifts or fronts or thunder and lightening.  It wasn’t a storm.  It was reinforced trades.  My thoughts too were that if I got out there and the conditions were unruly or terrible I could turn around and come back.  Often times the anticipation and stress of what might lie ahead is more stressful than what you actually experience once you get out there.  I was hopeful that would be the case here.  The point of sail brought some comfort too as it was downwind.  I laid there and really thought about it.  I felt deep down that Solstice would be fine.  And so would I.  I was just tired of it and didn’t feel like going.  I was tired of these reinforced trade winds that really hadn’t let up much since I left Sydney.  And nothing is ever promised no matter what the conditions are and the idea of charging out into 30 knots in the morning kept me awake.  But I knew I’d grow tired of sitting here waiting for the wind and seas to settle.  So I made up my mind and decided come noon, I’ll pull the hook and head out with EJ.  I just hoped I’d get some sleep before then.

I got up in the morning and made a strong pot of coffee.  I went out on the aft deck and it was still blowing.  Bonaire had just pulled their anchor and sailed by with happy yells, waving arms and good wishes.

“I’m leaving with EJ at noon,” I hollered to Steph who was on the bow stowing the anchor.

“What?” she couldn’t hear me over the sound of the wind.

“See you in Darwin,” I said.

“See you in Darwin,” she smiled and waved back.  Tim and the boys waved too and Bonaire rolled out her full sails and charged into the windswept sea.

I enjoyed the rest of my coffee while in the flat anchorage and watched them sail off into the horizon.

Full sail.  No reefs. 
I shook my head at the thought and watched them fade into the spray of the sea.  Before I got busy I got on the radio.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, Solstice on channel one, six. Over,” I said. 

There was no answer.  I tried again and heard nothing.  I decided to get to work.  I took off the outboard and stowed it and hauled up the dinghy and secured it.  I made sure things were tied down and that everything down below was stowed well.  I put a double reef in the main and checked all the engine fluids.  Lastly I cooked a couple meals so that cooking underway in a rough seaway would be a non-issue.  I then tried the radio again.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, Solstice do you copy?”  Still no answer.

At this point EJ didn’t know that I had planned to go with them and I wanted to get a hold of them.  Either something was wrong with my radio or theirs.  I turned on the P.A.

“ELIZABETH JANE!  ELIZABETH JANE!  THIS IS SOLSTICE!  TURN ON YOUR RADIO?  DO YOU HEAR ME!  TURN ON YOUR RADIO!”  The P.A. was loud but the wind was also loud.  I listened again on channel 16 for an answer.  Nothing.


“Solstice, this is Elizabeth Jane, are you calling us?” Hugh’s voice came on the radio.

“Hey Hugh, up one?”

“Up one” he replied, and we switched to channel 17.

We laughed as he told me that he and Katie were thinking they were hearing things in the wind until they realized what was going on.  I let them know I was going to sail with them and we decided we’d pull the hook in 30 minutes.  I went outside and took the harness of the anchor and did a last check of things.  I looked up the mast at the rig and noticed that the P.A. speaker was hanging free and swinging from its wires just below the radar.

What the hell?

I got a pair of wire snips and climbed up the mast.  The P.A. speaker mount had cracked and broken off. 

Looks like you got a little dry rot there, Boss.
I said to myself and snipped the wires and took the speaker down with me.  All I could think of was that when I hailed them on the P.A. the speaker vibrated, cracked, and broke loose.  That was my guess.  It’s always something.

When I was up the mast, I noticed the wind was blowing perfectly off the island and I decided to sail off the hook.  Before I could get the main up EJ had their hook up and was already sailing out.  I was beat to the punch.

I decided to not press myself and even though I was sailing with them I took my time.  I got the main up and double-checked the reef.  All looked good and I raised the anchor.  As soon as the anchor got off the bottom Solstice fell off with the wind and started moving fast.  As soon as the anchor was out of the water I ran back to the helm and got her on course.  I set the auto-pilot and went forward to finish stowing and securing the anchor.  Back in the cockpit I rolled out the jib.  I thought about Bonaire headed out under full sail with no reefs.

That’s nuts!  There’s no freakin’ way!

I cleated off the roller furling line when the jib was half way out. 

“A comfortable boat is a happy boat,”I said to myself.  So under reefed sails we charged out of the bay headed west, pushing 8 knots.  It promised to be a quick trip.

The conditions were as forecast, east-northeast 25-30 knots with 9-12 foot seas.  Situation normal.  Solstice heeled, rocked, pitched and swayed and I held on.  I kept a steady watch during the day, got my little naps during the night, drank lots of water and made sure we were pointed in the right direction and didn’t run into anything.  The wind never let up and the seas built slightly the second day and night but Solstice handled beautifully and sailed fast.  Too fast.  I had to slow down so I wouldn’t arrive in Port Essington at night.  Slowing down itself proved to be a challenge.  A couple of hours before sunrise I pulled the jib all the way in and still came around the tip of the entrance before sunrise.  Port Essington is a big bay; a couple of miles wide and more than 15 miles deep but it’s shallow in places and to fit my comfort level I didn’t want to enter in the dark.

The Victoria Settlement, which was a British attempt to establish a trading port in northern Australia during the 1830’s, was almost at the end of the bay.  We had heard that the ruins there were worth stopping to check out.  I had always been interested in ghost towns and history so this was exciting for me.  I approached the bay, turned into the wind, dropped the sails and fired up the engine.  As soon as I past the headlands of the bay the rolling swell gave way to flat calm waters.  It was a welcomed reprieve from the constant rolling and pitching.  I approached slowly and watched my depth carefully.  In hindsight I wish I had sailed in.  It was a long approach in shallow muddy water with poor visibility and running aground at Yorkey’s Knob had made me gun-shy.  So I chose to motor.

The last hour was tense as the depth constantly hovered between 9 and 12 feet.  I finally arrived off the beach where the settlement was supposed to be and dropped the hook in 12 feet of water.  EJ came sailing in an hour later and anchored under sail.  It was a joy to watch them.  I was also jealous.  Hugh told me later that the last few hours they had sailed tacking back and forth in the bay had been the best sailing they’d done since they left Sydney.  They had a blast.

By the time they got settled I had the dinghy in the water and went to pick them up.  The wind still blew hard and a small chop popped up along the shore.  There was a brief discussion that perhaps landing the dinghy might prove too big a challenge and maybe we shouldn’t go to shore.  That idea was soon overturned and we agreed that we had sailed all the way up here and wanted to check out the ruins so we went for it.  We were greeted on the beach with stronger winds, more chop and wet butts.  But we got the dinghy pulled up and tied up next to the BEWARE OF CROCS signs.  We figured the wind and rough water kept them at bay and our landing went without any croc encounters.  Thankfully.

It was about a 40-minute hike to the ruins.  A footpath wound through forest with tall trees and along shorelines with muddy estuaries that were thick with mangroves.  It was a desolate and forsaken place.  Eventually we came upon the shells and walls of broken down buildings and structures.   I’m amazed when it comes to the history of places like this.  In 2013, there was absolutely nothing but wilderness and broken buildings overgrown with weeds and vegetation on this little bluff in the Northern Territory.  Nothing is close, nearby or easily accessed from here.  I cannot imagine what it offered in the 1830’s and why anybody in their right mind would venture off to such a place to build and live.  There were 3 different attempts between the 1830’s and 1840’s to establish a settlement here.  Each time the settlements were eventually abandoned.  I can’t understand why an attempt to build here was ever made in the first place.  To establish a trade route with Southeast Asia is what I read.

I have long held high esteem for the men and women in history who had the courage and bravery to undertake something that was so harsh and difficult as trying to build something in such an inhospitable environment like this settlement where they were completely cut off from the world.  Maybe they didn’t realize what they were getting into when they took on such an adventure in the first place.  Perhaps they had visions of starting something new and exciting and eventually building a place that would thrive.  Darwin had a similar beginning but Darwin had a lot more going for it.  For one, the discovery of gold nearby brought a lot more people to that settlement and eventually and Darwin unlike the Victoria Settlement here took root and grew.  Perhaps it took a lot of people trying and failing in other places before a place like Darwin could ever take hold.  Still, it took incredible individuals to embark on such a challenge.

There was a graveyard there filled with the people who died trying to build something.  Katie, Hugh and I stood there and tried to read the worn out names and dates on the headstones and I wondered when was the last time an actual relative or an ancestor of one of these people had come and visited.  Or were they just a group of people buried out here in the middle of nowhere lost and forgotten to the annals of history?  But one thing I knew was true was that the men and women buried out there in the red dirt amongst those ruins in that God forsaken desolate part of the Northern Territory were of a special breed indeed.

I got back to the boat that night and ate the left over pasta I had with some hot garlic bread and a glass (or two) of red wine.  I thought about the people that tried to live here so long ago and how much better I had it in my life than they did in theirs.  And I was thankful and grateful.  I was also thankful when I looked at the mileage left to go to Darwin. 

To get to Darwin from Port Essington there are two options.  You can go the longer route that goes around the north of Melville Island and head in through Beagle Gulf or you can take the shorter route and head through the Dundas Strait between Cape Don and Melville island and sail into Van Diemen Gulf.  The northern route was about 240 miles.  The route through the Dundas Strait and Van Diemen Gulf was only 140 miles.  An overnighter!  YAHOO!  But that route presented challenges that didn’t exist in the other route.  Currents. 

Van Diemen Gulf is almost 8,700 square miles.  The opening in the Dundas Strait in the north is not even 15 miles wide.  The opening in the west in the Clarence Strait is only about 12 miles wide.  The amount of water traversing in and out through these relatively small openings during tidal changes is huge and because of that there are swift currents that move through the gulf daily.  Cape Don, which is the eastern headland of the Dundas Strait, experiences overfalls that can be dangerous when tidal changes are largest and currents are at their most swift.  The idea is to traverse the Gulf when conditions are flowing in your favor.  But the currents are complex.  Generally they flow east and south on the flood and north and west on the ebb.  The idea was to round Cape Don about an hour before or after slack low tide.  We’d then ride the southerly current in and by the time we got to where we’d turn west the tide would ebb and we could ride the westerly flow.  Fortunately for us, low tide was right in the middle of the afternoon.  If we left in the morning it should give us enough time to travel the 40 miles to Cape Don and catch the southerly flow on the flood.  So after a leisurely breakfast we headed off.

I was excited, it was the last leg of over 2,500 miles of sailing up the coast from Sydney.  It marked the end of my time in Australia and the leaping off point to a whole new culture in Southeast Asia.  It also marked connecting back with Hokule’a and Kite who had already been there for a couple of weeks.  It also would be a stopping point for two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!  YAHOO!  To be stopped some place for that long seemed like an eternity as I had been on the move constantly since I left Sydney.  I couldn’t wait to be stopped for two weeks.

We rounded Cape Don right on time.  Elizabeth Jane led the way a couple of miles ahead.  We were on the backside of slack tide but still within the hour that was claimed to be a good time to go through. 

“Solstice, Solstice. This is Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane,” Hugh called on the radio.

“Hey Hugh,” I answered.

“Hey do you have any hatches open?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah the main salon,” I could hear Katie laughing in the background.

“Well you may want to close it.  We just went through the overfalls and took some green water over the bow and down through the forward hatch,” he said.

“Wow, alright, thanks,” I said.

“Good thing we’re going through at slack tide,” Hugh added.

I closed the hatch and ports and kept an eye out for the overfalls ahead.

Overfalls are a turbulent area of water that is caused by a marine current that hits an underwater ridge or shallow area on the seafloor.  There’s such a ridge off Cape Don that is notorious for these river-like rapids and EJ had just gone through them.

I looked through the binoculars and there they were.

“White water ahead,” I yelled.

I would’ve been more nervous but I knew EJ had just gone through and with the exception of some saltwater on deck I knew all would be well.  I was under sail and considered whether or not I should fire up the engine.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I didn’t know if we’d bounce through just fine or if the current would grab the boat and try and turn her one way or the other.  The current was in my favor.  I opted to keep sailing but I turned off the auto-pilot and took the helm.  I also would be quick to start the engine if needed.

The overfalls looked just like rapids in the middle of a swift river.  I’m no expert on classifying river rapids but I’d say they were similar to a class II or class III.  It was a wide section though, maybe a ¼ mile.  Solstice hit the first wave and we steered down to starboard a bit, I corrected her to port and she rode up over and down the next swell and leaned back over to port.  She rolled and surfed over a series of the next few waves but never did any water come up over the bow.  Hugh couldn’t understand why EJ took on so much water and Solstice didn’t.  I didn’t have an answer for him.  Perhaps I hit a smaller section, who knows?

emerged from the perils of the overfalls unscathed and coasted into a much calmer sea than the one we had left outside the headlands.  The wind had laid down too to about 15 knots and we sailed beautifully with the sun setting off the starboard rail.

“Elizabeth Jane, Elizabeth Jane, Solstice,” I hailed them on channel 69 as we were monitoring that as well as 16.

“Hey Bill,” Hugh answered.

“Hey guys, I need an Aussie history lesson.  I know we’re sailing into Van Diemen’s Gulf and I only know that name from the U2 song Van Diemen’s Land, do you know where that name comes from?”

“Yeah actually.  Australia used to be named Van Diemen’s Land.  Abel Tasman who was the first person to sail around Australia named it after a Dutch Governor Van Diemen,” Hugh said.  He went on, “A lot of people think he named just Tasmania Van Diemen’s Land but he didn’t know that was only an island and he thought he was naming all the land down here when he named it.  He named the gulf here that too.”

“Cool, thanks, Hugh.  Some how I figured you’d know the answer to that,” I said.

I went down below and put on U2’s song and cranked it up.  The guitar and lyrics are slow and haunting and with the sun setting on the horizon it was simply perfect.  The one thing that’s great too is The Edge sings, not Bono.  I always loved that song but I never really paid attention to the lyrics.  For the first time I realized it was a song about a guy coming to Australia “on the rising tide” which I was sailing on so it felt very right. I don’t think the guy in the song was coming here under his own free will though.  It’s not a happy song, but it is a great song and a great song to sail to.  And I do know that I’ll never hear that song again without thinking of this perfect sail into Van Diemen’s Gulf under a setting sun on my way to Darwin.

During the night I kept close to the shipping lanes so I’d stay in deep water.  But I also stayed away from the traffic leaving Darwin.  In those early morning hours I didn’t sleep much and I sailed between the small islands just north of Gunn Point out through Clarence Strait and into Beagle Gulf.  The channel was narrow and I stayed close to EJ as we past big ships headed out into the night.  By sunrise we had rounded the headland and were sailing along the coast, Darwin was just waking up on the horizon.  I couldn’t sleep now if I wanted, I was too excited.

Our destination was Fannie Bay, which is just around the corner from downtown Darwin and home to the Darwin Sailing Club.  The Darwin Sailing Club was also the meeting and departure point for the Sail Indonesia Rally.  Fannie Bay also offered a calm anchorage and I had a lot of friends who were already there.

When I got close, I hailed those that I knew were already there and asked for their advice on the best approach as there were shoals that were best avoided.  I had gotten a message too on my phone from Jake that Hokule’a and Kite had moved over to a marina on the other side of Darwin and to head that way if I wanted.  I opted to stay in Fannie Bay where it was close to the rally festivities and more importantly it was free.  I was surprised then when I heard Jake’s voice came over the radio.

“Solstice, Solstice, this Hokule’a do you copy?”

“Hey Jake, six nine?”

“Six nine” he said.

“Solstice, Hokule’a,” he said.

“Hey Dude, it’s great to hear your voice.  How’s it going?”

“Great how far out are you?”

I gave him all my particulars and learned of his and where he was and we planned to meet at the Sailing Club at Fannie Bay for happy hour later with other friends.

“That sounds great, Jake.  I can’t wait to see you guys.  I just have one other question, Jake,” I said.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Are there any fannies there in Fannie Bay?” I asked.

“Well I would said that there are a lot of nice fannies there,” Jake said with a laugh.

I sailed in uneventfully and found a great spot where Solstice and I would be happy for a couple of weeks.  Soon after I anchored I was greeted by the happy crew of Bonaire who pulled up in their dinghy to welcome my arrival and ferry me to shore with them so I didn’t have to get my dinghy in the water.

It was so great to be with them and I was so happy to finally have made it to Darwin.  I was so happy and excited.  A huge sense of relief had washed over me knowing that I was here.

“Bill that was quite brilliant your question to Jake,” Tim said.

“I must say, I got a good laugh with that too.  I told Tim, Wow, Bill’s quite the cheeky monkey asking about Fannies at Fanny Bay.  Ha ha ha ,” Steph laughed hard.

“What?  I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Oh Fanny doesn’t mean the same thing in America as it does to us in England,” Tim assured me.

“Oh, it doesn’t?  What does it mean?”

Steph looked me right in the eye.

“Well, Fanny in England, Bill is a…. a vulgar way of referring to a woman’s front bits.  Down here,” and Steph pointed below her waist between her legs.

“What?  Oh my God,” I felt my face flush with blood.  “You mean like pus…” I couldn’t say the word and mouthed it.

“YES! HA HA HAAA!”  Tim, Steph and boys burst out laughing.

“Oh my God!  I would never had said that on the radio if I knew that’s what it meant,” I pleaded.

“HA! HA! HAAA!!!” the group’s laughter was incessant.

“In America it’s a cute way of talking about a woman’s rear end,” I implored.

“You’re not in America. HA! HA! HAAA!” Tim was busting a gut.

“HA! HA! HAAA!  You’re in a very British speaking place.  HA! HA! HAAA!” Steph and the boys couldn’t stop laughing.  I think the boys were laughing simply because they couldn’t believe an “adult” said such a thing ON THE RADIO.

I started laughing too, out of embarrassment, out of my own sheer ignorance and because it was funny.

We continued to laugh as we bounced across Fanny Bay to the beach.  Here I was making landfall in Darwin, my final stop in Australia.  I had finally made it to this great destination after sailing more than 2,500 miles up the Australian coast past treacherous reefs, unyielding ships, stormy seas, swift currents and shallow bars.  I had endured, great fatigue, broken boat parts, extreme stress and running aground.  Moments ago I was happy, relieved and proud that I had finally made it here.  And in an instant that feeling evaporated during that short dinghy ride to shore.  Making landfall now I could only think of one thing and that was that everybody who had heard me on the radio was thinking that after my long journey up the coast from Sydney all Bill wanted to know was if there was any Pu**y here in Darwin.  I was so embarrassed; I didn’t even want to show my face.

Much Aloha,





Solstice Log