Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Koolama Bay (not)

Hi everyone,
We had hoped to spend this week at Koolama Bay in the Kimberleys.  The bay is at the mouth of the King George River.

We departed from Fannie Bay last Friday but a few hours later our autopilot started misbehaving.  When we watched its compass readout it was constantly spinning, despite our course being straight.  We pulled up the installation guide on the laptop and went through the recalibration process without success.  Given cruising SE Asia is our goal this year we decided to return to Darwin to sort out the problem.

We have a spare autopilot aboard but it is 20 years old.  We decided we need a spare which allows us to "swap out" a faulty module of our main autopilot (a Raymarine SPX-5 GP).  That's now been ordered.

After a couple of days in Fannie Bay we decided to head over to Woods Inlet for a few days R&R.  We joined Babar and The Doctor there.  The sail over there on Sunday morning was somewhat boisterous, but proved a good test of motorsailing with the staysail in 25+ knots.  The staysail certainly stabilised the boat nicely.  Running the engine allowed us to prove the oil leak we've been working on appears to be fixed.

On Monday Rob, Diana, Dan and Elise joined us for coffee aboard Zen Again which was fun.  Everyone's getting excited about getting "outa here" and heading for East Timor.

Of course, we ended up getting a number of jobs done at Woods Inlet:
  • Relocated the autopilot's fluxgate compass to a new (and hopefully better) location;
  • Climbed the mast to inspect the rig and lubricate the masthead halyard sheaves (pulleys);
  • Rewired the batteries from 3 house + 2 engine start to 4 house + 1 engine start;
  • Replaced the jib furling line;
  • Applied vinyl Zen Again decals on each bow and on each side of the boom;
  • Replaced the engine oil and oil filter;
  • Replaced the engine primary fuel filter (and practiced bleeding the fuel system);
  • Cleaned the engine bay to remove oil from our (fixed) leak and oil/fuel from above; and 
  • Polished lots of stainless steel fittings.
View from second spreaders
Woods Inlet with The Doctor and Babar
While at Woods Inlet we received word that our Indonesian "CAIT" has been issued, so Zen Again is good to go to Indonesia.  The Sponsor Letter required for us to apply for an Indonesian Social Visa has also been received at the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin, so we can now apply for our individual visas.

We sailed back to Fannie Bay today.  About 15-18 knots of wind and a great close reach under full sail.  The new furling line is a great improvement - much less friction.  When approaching Fannie Bay we experimented with heaving-to under partially furled jib and full main, which worked very nicely and was very stable.  We also tried fore-reaching which was fun too - fore-reaching is our preferred approach to recover a man overboard.  We then tried heaving-to under main alone, which was less stable but a nice way to slow the boat right down temporarily.

When back in Fannie Bay we motored clear of the anchored boats and ran the calibration process for the autopilot.  With the fluxgate compass in its new location the system calibrated very well indeed.  Only 2 degrees deviation (vice 9 previously) and the "auto learn" process (which figures out the steering characteristics of the boat) did a much better job than when we initially calibrated last year.  Previously we had to reduce the autopilot's sensitivity right down, but now it is much better behaved and turns are much more positive with little overshoot.

We expect to be in Fannie Bay for a few days to collect some mail, apply for Indonesian visas, do the laundry, top up the provisions etc.  We'll probably head back to Woods Inlet on Sunday for a few more days of quiet and zero cash-flow!

Less than three weeks to departure!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Balmy days at Fannie Bay

Hi everyone,
We're now back at anchor in Fannie Bay, Darwin.  We refuelled, rewatered and hosed-down at the Cullen Bay jetty on Tuesday and then returned to our normal anchorage at Fannie Bay.  We now have 220 litres of diesel aboard - sufficient for 150 hours running nominally, 100 worst case.

We've had a pleasant few days relaxing and gradually ticking off a few to-dos...
  • Visited Customs to collect our outward immigration cards and other documents
  • Visited the Roma Bar for great coffee and free wifi (we download podcasts, s/w updates etc)
  • Installed two 20litre buckets as holders for the 100m stern anchor / drogue warp
  • Built and installed a pushpit-mounted bracket for the stern/kedge anchor
  • Experimented with HF radio and modem settings to optimise performance
  • Identified the source of an annoying water leak in the engine (my fault - inadequately tightened hose clamp on new hose)
  • Messed around with our excellent new 1600 lumen, CREE LPX-518 torches.
Stern anchor mount
There are several yachts entered in Sail Timor Leste now anchored at Fannie Bay.  One of the them - a big catamaran called Mojo - is in the background of the photo below.  I don't think we'll keep up with them!

Zen Again and Mojo at Fannie Bay
The weather in Darwin has been practically windless all week, with just light sea-breezes each day.  The big storms down south seem to have killed the trade winds for the moment!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Cullen Bay

Hi everyone,
We're anchored back in Darwin tonight, off Cullen Bay marina.  We had a pleasant day motor-sailing and  sailing back from Crab Claw Island after a great couple of days there.  Last night we joined the crews of 16 or so Darwin Sailing Club yachts ashore at the resort for dinner.  Good food and great company.

Crab Claw Island
Today the Easterlies were very light and we motor-sailed most of the way out of Bynoe Harbour.  Only when we passed Tapas Bay did we get a decent sailing breeze, and that was of course on the nose.  Nevertheless we had a good sail tacking our way past Charles Point, and then a reach down the harbour to Darwin.

Ocean Road
Scot Free
Our little shakedown cruise lasted from 29 May to 10 June and we logged 388nm during 69 hours underway giving an average speed of 5.6knots.  We ran the engine for about 14 hours.  Only a few items added to the to-do list, and nothing broke!

Trust all's well where you are...

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Crab Claw Island

Hi everyone,
Great sailing today. We caught the tide through the north channel past the Vernon Islands, charging through at 10 knots over the ground. From there we had a great reach across the top of Darwin to Charles Point and around the corner into Bynoe Harbour.

Sailing towards Charles Point
We anchored just south of Tapas Bay (off Margaret Point) to have a rest for 3 hours. That was at 1100, so the passage from Coral Bay in Port Essington took just over 24 hours. We logged 138nm, averaging 5.7knots with a maximum of 7.5knots.

After a quick 3 hour rest we weighed anchor and joined the fleet of Darwin Sailing Club boats sailing past towards Crab Claw Island. We had a great sail for three hours, but ultimately needed to motor the last few miles after the wind died. The wind was very variable in Bynoe Harbour this afternoon. The waters are interesting too - infested with large jellyfish at the moment. The water vane of the Aries vane gear took a hammering as "passing" jellyfish pounded into it. We're now anchored off the resort with about 10 other boats.

We'll be spending tomorrow here before heading back to Darwin on Monday (probably). We'll see - Bynoe Harbour looks worth a few days of exploration.


Van Diemen Gulf

Hi everyone,
Tonight we're at sea, in the middle of our passage from Port Essington to the Darwin area. We've been motor-sailing for the last 4 hours. Not our favourite way of getting from A to B, but a good run for the engine and the new battery charging systems. Prior to the current motor-sailing we were having a great sail.

Sailing under first reef
We left Coral Bay at 1030, getting underway under sail and having a great sail out of Port Essington before gybing and heading west. The ESE wind lasted all day and into the evening. We got past Cape Don in daylight and under sail - albeit in light airs. At 2030 we had to turn the engine on. Both Mojo and Persian Sands followed us out of Port Essington and were gradually catching us before each headed into a bay to anchor for the night. The moon came up at about 2300. Prior to that it was quite a dark night - hard to discern the horizon.

Trust all's well where you are.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Coral Bay

Hi everyone,
Today we motor-sailed from Record Point to Coral Bay, a distance of 13nm. We had a very pleasant stay at Record Point, with only one or two motor boats passing each day to remind us there's civilisation out there somewhere.
Zen Again Track
Zen Again at Coral Bay
 En route to Coral Bay we passed the catamaran Mojo which (like us) is entered in the Sail Timor Leste and Sail Indonesia rallies. Spoke to them briefly on the VHF. The entrance to Coral Bay was straight-forward and we're anchored 150m off the Seven Spirits Resort jetty. Another yacht here is the catamaran Persian Sands which is entered in Sail Indonesia and (like us) doing the eastern route via Saumlaki. It's been good to find some other yachts after a week of solitude.

This evening we went ashore to the resort and had a great dinner with the folks from Persian Sands and mv Iron Prince. A bit expensive, but after a week without opening the wallet it was worth it. Very nice resort.


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Record Bay 3

Hi everyone,
We decided to spend another day here at Record Bay since it's such a pleasant spot. That means we won't explore the old settlement at Victoria. Tomorrow we'll head north to Coral Bay (still in Port Essington). On Friday or Saturday we'll head back towards Darwin, possibly joining Darwin Sailing Club's Crab Claw Island cruise over the weekend.

Today we changed over our 9kg gas cylinders. The empty one had lasted since August last year, throughout our summer aboard in Tipperary Waters. We'll refill it before heading off to SE Asia. Nicki baked a fruit cake after the change-over which worked out really well. The bread baking has also been a great success. Only trouble on the provisions front is we've run out of chocolate and are nearly out of beer! Never mind, there's still plenty of rum.

Sunset at Record Bay
Each morning we're joining a radio sked with yachts Better Than Shares and Skellum. The former is in East Timor and the latter in the Kimberley. It's good to establish how well (or not) our HF radio system performs. So far it's doing pretty well, but we may be able to improve it further. We're also figuring out the best frequencies.

Trust all's well where you are!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Record Bay 2

Hi again,
We've had a very pleasant day here at Record Bay. The day started out quite chilly at about 18C with a moderate SE breeze adding "wind chill". The sky was completely overcast which made it feel quite cold, demonstrating we have adapted fully to the tropics! We've seen dugong (we think) and dolphin in the water, and a variety of birds on the beach. By mid-afternoon the sky was clearing to scattered cirrus clouds and the breeze had dropped so we ventured ashore.

Anchored off Record Bay
Nice beach
Record Bay and Zen Again from the dinghy
The beach has fine light-yellow sand, almost squeeky, with many types of shells. Some of the shells are quite large. At the high water mark we found several piles of buffalo droppings. Twas nice to have a walk ashore. We failed to find the statement of claim apparently buried here when the English claimed Port Essington. ;)

Last night we watched the partial lunar eclipse. We weren't expecting it but it was fun to watch. We'd been hearing a lot about the transit of Venus on the radio but not an eclipse. Having seen it we looked it up in the Nautical Almanac. We'll have to read this useful publication more closely in future.

The moon shortly before the eclipse
To all our friends in Batemans Bay - we hope the East Coast Low hasn't caused significant damage.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Record Point

Hi everyone,
We are now anchored just north of Record Point in Port Essington. We had a great sail for nearly two hours but the wind died so we motored the last hour to the anchorage. We're 150m from the beach and have been watching a Sea Eagle which seems very busy. At least half a dozen different types of bird on the beach, but no buffalo so far! ;)

Zen Again Track
There are a lot of fires burning in the area around Port Essington today so it's quite smoky. Small pieces of ash float past in the breeze, and occasionally settle on the boat. Should produce a nice sunset.

Anchored at Record Bay
We saw two small power boats in the port today - the first vessels we've seen since arriving. We regularly hear Australian Maritime Patrol aircraft calling yachts out in the Arafura Sea on VHF channel 16, but none appear to be stopping in Port Essington. We're enjoying the solitude!

Trust all's well where you are...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Kennedy Bay

Hi everyone,
This morning we motored from Black Point to Kennedy Bay on the western side of Port Essington. We motored mainly to give the engine a proper run (the first since its recent servicing), and also to charge the batteries. We arrived and anchored just in time to join our regular(ish) skeds with Better Than Shares and Skellum. The former is cruising East Timor and the latter the Kimberleys. We're getting quite good communication to/from East Timor on the 12MHz marine band.

Zen Again Track
We've had a fairly lazy day here after cleaning up the boat and ourselves. The solar shower works a treat! We were visited by a huge turtle this morning, and while viewing the shore through the binoculars we saw a BUFFALO! Yes, really. Seems the tracks we saw at Alcaro Bay really were cloven.

Anchored in Kennedy Bay
We declared Happy Hour at 1600 and had very nice "dark and stormy" (rum and ginger beer) drinks. The ginger beer was made with our SodaStream carbonator and ginger beer concentrate. One of our better recent investments. Another success has been the Balmar smart charger and 120A alternator which are charging our house battery bank very well.

Tomorrow we'll probably head further south into Port Essington. The weather is forecast to be similar to today, which started with 15-18 knot SE, moderated to 10 knots by early afternoon before a 5-10 knot NE sea breeze.

Trust all's well where you are.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Alcaro Bay to Port Essington

Hi everyone,
We had a great sail today from Alcaro Bay to Port Essington. We departed at 1000 and arrived at 2000. We logged 57nm for a route which should ideally have been 30nm. Unfortunately the winds were easterly which meant we were beating all day. Worse than that, the current was against us all day - only its strength appeared to vary. Our average speed by the log was 5.5kt but the average over the ground was 4.4kt. We tacked through about 95 degrees but our course over the ground changed by 140 degrees. Current is cruel! ;)

Zen Again Track
Despite the contrary currents it was a great sail. Clear skies. Winds of 10-20 knots. Seas/swell up to only 2m. We were accompanied by two dolphins for an hour or so, and saw one turtle. We also saw plenty of overfalls and small whirlpools near the headlands we passed.

Anchored off Black Point
We are now anchored in the bay immediately north of Black Point, which is on the eastern side of Port Essington, just south of the entrance. We'll clean up tomorrow morning then expect to move further south. There are about 8 good anchorages in Port Essington and hope to try several over the next few days.

Our last day at Alcaro Bay featured a run ashore and walk along the beach. Didn't see any sign of crocs, but we did see turtle, wallaby and (we think) buffalo tracks on the sand. The Wallabies appeared to have been digging up crabs.

Alcaro Bay beach
Zen Again at anchor
Wallaby tracks
Hope all's well where you are.