Over the Top
Beautiful sunshine on a 33 degree winter's day. It was one out of the box and such a contrast to the almost constant grey of the previous days crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria and the top of Arnhem Land. Grey sky, grey clouds, grey seas, grey mood. Darwin winter sun lifted my spirits. I've done it! I've crossed the top of Australia!
The photo above is my last sight of land (Thursday Island) before crossing the Gulf. The wind blew at between 15 and 30 knots. Crossing the Gulf itself was tedious because 15 knot winds were followed by 30 knots and back to 15 knots, randomly, endlessly, it seemed. But as I ducked behind the Wessel group of islands and started the second leg across the top of Arnhem Land the sea went flat and the wind settled at a steady 18 knots. I put up a bit more sail and Anjea lapped up the miles. We averaged 7.5 knots, or 180 nm/day, or 1,264 nm in 12 days, with four overnight stops and one lay-day.
This is the first time I've seriously used radar as a warning device and found that it works well. The big limitation is that rain looks just like a shoreline or a ship to a radar — it can't tell the difference between weather and other hazards. Since bad weather is one of the main times you want an alternative to your eyes, this is a big limitation. Even though I had a few false warnings from weather the radar gave me a small additional sense of security.
I had half a mind to pull in at Cobourg Peninsula for a night but the timing wasn't so good so I kept going for Cape Hotham. Coming south west across van Diemen's Gulf we sailed closer to the wind with the tide giving me a lift. Unfortunately this meant it was wind-against-tide in shallow water and the waves were short and steep — so much so that Anjea just went straight through them. They were no more than half a metre high, but each wave was like a little vertical wall. The result was lots of water over the bow. Nothing made it back to the cockpit so I had to find other ways to stay cool, but it was very wet up the front. Then I remembered — the portlight hatch was open in my cabin! I rushed downstairs but it was too late.
My cabin was soaked, including the mattress, and the iPad I leave downstairs because it is 'safe' there. The drenching also inundated my new Caframo fan. This wonderful little device was perfect for the small cabin. It consumed very little power and was cool and QUIET. Unfortunately, its electronics doesn't like seawater any more than the iPad. Normally I leave the portlights closed underway but this time I wanted some air. Expensive air.
Bernhard Moitessier famously gave up the lead in the first Golden Globe round-the-world race and continued circling the southern ocean claiming:
parce que je suis heureux en mer et peut-être pour sauver mon ame (because I am happy at sea and perhaps to save my soul)
I always thought that line was pure poetry but now I think I am closer to understanding where he was coming from. Sailing long distances is hard but it is also hard to stop. It becomes difficult to return to the rest of the human race after making peace with yourself.
I just now went in to the Darwin Sailing Club to let them know I am here. It was happy hour; not quite dinner time. It was like walking through a movie set during rehearsal with all the extras working at their bit-parts. People smiled, I smiled back, but we were both just playing parts, it was surreal. I collected a few things and went back out to the boat, getting lost in the bay amongst all the yachts until finally making out Anjea's profile against the setting sun.
Imagine your favourite song but the singer is different; or your favourite painting but the colours have been changed; or your favourite movie but the lead actor is someone else. It's as if I'm out of sync with 'reality'. Of course, THEY are reality — this is just my subjective interpretation of THEIR projection. I'm the one suffering the delusion, aren't I?
Lesley is back on the boat tomorrow. Am I together enough to handle another person again? I knocked back very good crew in Cairns so I could sail alone and I suppose I do have a thing about solo sailing. I love Lesley but it's a lotta work sailing with a princess. On the other hand, Lesley has put up with me and taught me a lot about sailing, and I have not made that easy for her — she's put up with a lot of crap from me. I would not have the expertise I do without her patient tuition. Everyone sails a boat to their own level. I used to sail Anjea at 6 knots and be satisfied, not knowing that she wanted to go faster. Now I aim for 7 to 8 knots and there has to be a good reason NOT to sail that fast!
I am nearly recovered from the trip. Tomorrow Lesley and I will meet with the Sail Indonesia rally organisers. The rally reality will kick in then I suppose. In the mean time, lots of little things to be done and Darwin hospitality to be explored.