It started so easy during the first six days when we had fair winds up to 30 knots from the back. After having sailed 680 nm we passed “Mellish Reef”, a reef in the middle of nowhere, between New Caledonia and Australia where me made an overnight stop and dropped the anchor over 7 m of crystal clear water and white sand (17°24.861’ S 155°51.689‘E). We, my crew Louise (Danish) & Theo (French) drove to the corals with the dinghy and had a marvelous snorkeling time with mantas, stingrays, lotsa other fish and even a three meter shark beside us. That reef even had a little island of about 500 m length, just plain sand, like a sand dune. We tried to get there with the dinghy but the corals all around the island made it impossible. After hitting the corals with the prop I decided to give up. To risky. I didn’t want to mess up my new outboarder. So we did some more snorkeling in the corals.
When we left, we only had wind for two hours and then we got stuck in the doldrums, took all sails down and drifted with the current – that went in our favor, that means it went the same direction we wanted to go – till the evening came. Suddenly we got wind again and raised the sails, but we got way too much of it. At around 21:00 it became nasty and nastier by the hour. During the night we encountered winds up to 60 knots. We only had 40 to 60 cm of the genoa rolled out, just enough to keep the boat steerable. And with just this little sail, smaller then a bathing towel, we made over 6 to 7 knots of speed in winds between 40 and 60 knots (that’s up to force 11 on the Beaufort scale (German: “orkanartiger Sturm”). The waves got up to five meter and sometimes we thought the boat would fall apart when a big breaking wave crashed noisily against the hull. Luckily, this boat is built to withstand these forces. The autopilot (what a sissy!) refused to work. It could not handle these winds anymore so I had to steer all through the night manually for ten hours without a single break, fighting to stay awake. Steering a car for ten hours without a pause is easy-peasy in comparison. My crew was not experienced enough to take over. They were in their berth trying to get some sleep, while I was sitting in the rain, getting pooped several times, keeping the boat on track. That night was a nightmare for me and I was greatly relieved when the wind dropped to 35 kn, which the autopilot could handle again. The wind stayed at around 35 knots for two more days. Just one to two meter of the genoa rolled out kept us going.
THE GREAT BARRIER REEEF (GBR)
Early in the morning on the 14th of May 2019 we reached our entrance (“Reine I Entrance”, 11°39.085 S, 144°07.500 E) to the Great Barrier Reef.
Knowing that thousands of boats shipwrecked throughout the ages on this GBR, I was not relaxed getting into this area, especially at night time. We had to be vigilant around the clock. We wanted to avoid sailing at night but to cover the distance of 138 nm over the reef up to Thursday Island only in daylight didn’t work either. There was no anchoring spot right in the middle of the GBR. Finally when we got to the coast of Australia we were looking for a suitable place to anchor. It had to be spot with sand or mud, big enough and free of corals to swing with the boat in changing wind and current conditions. Within the reef you have areas with up to 6 knots of tidal stream, changing directions depending on ebb or height tide. I wanted the water depth to be below 12 m in order to be able to dive down the anchor and check it before going to bed on this notorious reef.
On the 15th of April 2019 at 9:30 in the morning we found a spot just 200 m away from the coast in position 11° 05.793‘ S, 142° 47.418‘ E. But because it was morning, we didn’t want to stay long for we wanted to make use of the daylight. So we only had a pause for 4 hours when I tried to find some sleep, because I hadn’t really slept for the last five days. After noon we continued sailing towards Cape York
Close to Thursday Island we had to pass through narrow channels, one of which had a charted water depth of 2,30 m, while my keel goes down to 2,20 m. That just leaves space for a bottle of red wine (horizontally ) underneath the keel. To be able to maneuver fast, we had taken the sails down and were running under motor. We had a 6 knots tidal stream with us making 8 knots of SOG (speed over ground) going only 2 knots speed through the water. I was sweating blood going through this channel, relying solely on the accuracy of my electronic chart. It was 3:00 in the morning and still dark but we made it and happily dropped the anchor an hour later.
Finding sleep at anchor with our quarantine flag raised – finally – after close to 16 days of sailing and being in a state of alert for 24 hours a day, was a great relief for me.
Next morning I called customs/immigration via sea radio. They told me that none of us is allowed to go ashore before they have cleared and inspected our boat. They announced their coming for 3:00 p.m.
They showed up in time with 4 officers (one kept on their boat), inspected the boat, checked and took all our rubbish (which we had to present separately: plastic – metal/cans – organic) and did all the paperwork and we could take the quarantine flag down, being legal guests in the land „down under“, even though they still ordered me to come to their office the next day.
I expected to find a better infrastructure here at Thursday Island. There are no ship chandlers here. No convenient place to fill up my empty water tanks with a hose. I will have to fill up my tanks (500 liter !) by transporting cans with the dinghy from the shore to the boat. But I’m used to this, for it was the same at Bora Bora, Tonga, or Tahiti. This will be my Sunday morning work, which won’t collide with going to church, because, being a member of the Seventh-Day-Adventist Church, I went to church yesterday morning (according to the bible on Sabbath/Saturday) already.
VISITING THE SDA CHURCH
When I asked a man in a pickup where I can find the SDA Church he invited me to jump in his car, he would take me there. (He said, he was the harbor master (even though there weren’t any harbors, just wharfs ???) Friendly – hey!?
So far the Australians I met were nice, relaxed and friendly. Also customs and immigration, though being very strict, were very friendly and sympathetic people.
At the little “Torres Strait SDA Church” (12 members), I was welcomed very cordially by everyone and was invited to stay for lunch with them. We had good talks. They were very interested in my cruise and I had to answer a lot of questions. The church is situated on a little hill. So from their window we had a good view at the Faule Haut at anchor.
Above: Torres Strait SDA Church
They got shocked and laughed when they heard that I was swimming around my boat. Why? Because there are crocodiles in the water!
NOBODY swims here except a German dumb a##. I already was wondering the day before, that I saw nobody swimming here. I also noticed, that at the dinghy dock, my dinghy was the only inflatable one. All other dinghy or boats had a rigid fiberglas or aluminum hull. One bite of a crocodile in the tubes of the dinghy and …ppffffffffff… you go down under in the land down under.
Chappy, the preacher, told me that the biggest reported crocodile here was about 24 feet long, that’s 8 meters. He also showed me a video clip on his iPhone that showed a fisherman pulling his catch ashore right here, when a big crocodile came out of nowhere like a flash stealing his catch. Frightening!
Now I know. You see – going to church might save your life, because you get some vital information there.
I won’t bath and swim here any more. On the day of my arrival I spent about an hour in the water, cleaning the hull at the waterline. I wanted it to look good before customs would come. Before going to church I also swam, cleaned and got rid of the soap jumping into the water. Looks like I was close to another catastrophe. I have to get more information about the countries and areas I’m going to visit.
After lunch and the talks, Chappy took me in his pickup to the dinghy dock.
Thanks to everybody at the church. I enjoyed the service and your company. See you all.