Australia to New Zealand – 2011


“It has been a really good year for us. We Got Married! It wasn’t a huge gathering, just a small celebration with close family mainly, but we had a wonderful day back in Nottingham and we got ourselves hitched. Dave asked Dagmar to be his best ‘man’ which was a nice tribute to Peter too. So we finally got ourselves sorted after such a long time together onboard Sänna, the culmination of an intimate relationship in which the two of us spend so much time alone just crossing oceans. Dave wrote a lovely piece on our sailing blog titled ‘Life With No Frontiers’ which has been really well received and describes our life together in such a truistic way. Now we are complete and we both believe nothing can ever come between us. But Dave, ever the pessimist, always says the sea will somehow have the last say and will be the only thing ever to part us.” Marie

Tough Sailing… Darwin to Port Douglas
We don’t think this year can ever be beaten. We decided to get married and then we spent a wonderful year in Australia, mainly in remote locations that even Australians rarely frequent. Our big day at the alter was the 8th of January and then we headed back to Darwin. Magical Darwin, the frontier town on the northern edge of the largest, wildest wilderness this earth will ever see in our esteemed opinion.

Sänna - Darwin Friends

Our engine refit in Darwin went reasonably well to begin with but we soon began to experience problems. Our new sails also made a huge difference but before long we encountered problems with the workmanship relating to our new staysail furling gear… but once again, come April, we left new friends behind. From Darwin, after waiting for the threat of late season cyclones to recede, we headed eastwards across the top of Australia; quickly finding ourselves in real outback wilderness. Van Damian’s Land, a simply vast track of wild outback that sits astride the Northern Territories, is itself larger than Western Europe and there isn’t a single road other than the odd dirt track connecting remote aboriginal communities. But there are numerous islands offering incredibly beautiful anchorages that are so remote it’s untrue. Unfortunately, the amazing clear-blue waters that would normally afford a refreshing swim after two or three days of hard sailing against the wind are deadly… box jellyfish and immense crocodiles are numerous in every anchorage and the crocs studiously studied every move we made. When exploring  the shoreline in our dinghy we followed local advice in Darwin by varying our route each time.

Sänna - Crocodile

The sailing eastwards through the Arafura Sea towards the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Torres Straights was hard and relentless. The prevailing easterly trade winds blew every single day and we eventually made Gove in seven days by a series of long tacks that brought us to this remote community on the western side of the infamous Gulf. We’d been able to rest every couple of days or so in sheltered bays along the way but the voyage from Darwin to Gove was over four hundred miles with absolutely no sign of civilisation whatsoever; nor did we encounter any other vessel. You’d not find coastal sailing like this anywhere else in the world!

Incredible Gove! This sheltered settlement has no road connections to the outside world and yet a small intrepid community of sailing boats is permanently anchored, dodging relentless cyclones coming their way by disappearing into the shelter and safety of the mangroves. The nearby aboriginal community of Nuhulumbuy is the only source of supplies and from there we were able to stock up our supplies for our eastward crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria towards the Torres Straights and into the Corel Sea. Incredibly, from Gove we had nearly eight hundred miles of mainly coastal sailing before we’d encounter any community or settlement… Cook Town would be our next port of call. And we’d be tacking all the way.

Approaching Adolphus Island

What followed was easily our toughest sailing experience to date. Day after day of relentless tacking against trade winds that regularly increased to blow thirty knots every afternoon. Crossing the Gulf was easy enough, with a sweet southerly on our beam taking us directly to the Straights in just two days, but once we turned inside the Barrier Reef to head southwards down the east coast of Australia heading for Queensland we were just blasted by the trade winds. Luckily, we had the shelter of the Great Barrier Reef to keep the seas down to the short, sharp, choppy swell reticent of the Mediterranean that is, unfortunately, very hard on the boat if one tries to motor against it, so the only solution is to tack under sail to put these horrible seas off the bows so they break against the leaning hull… only then could we power through. But the continual tacking between the relentless great barrier reef and the shoreline is exhausting for a shorthanded crew of two and we suffered. We suffered to the point of tiredness that, once into dubious anchorages offering meagre shelter at best, we’d stay at least a couple of days to recover our resolve. Sometimes the trade winds blew so hard, well above thirty knots, we’d shelter for day after day not daring to put our bows out into the churning sea. This was absolutely tough going.

At this point, can we say once again that we used the excellent sailing notes of SV Carillon. Just like our passage south from Borneo through the remote parts of Indonesia, New Zealanders Steve & Lyn Jones, who we’ve never met, provided valuable information far in excess of the cruising guides available for the area. They’d made the same voyage the previous year and experienced pretty much the same conditions. Thank you very much Carillon, we owe you big time.

Eventually we made the wonderfully sheltered anchorage of Lizard Island and the first signs of civilisation. First, we suffered the trauma of our new staysail furling gear toggle connection to the mast shearing and we very nearly lost the whole rig. We’d been using our staysail extensively with the strong headwinds but it seems Selden had supplied the wrong size back in Darwin and it simply couldn’t take the strain. We released the whole gear and were able to bring it safely down on deck and secure it.

Numerous sailing yachts were now starting to head north to Darwin to join the Sail Indonesia Rally to Thailand and they were gathering in the shelter of the island before striking north… and of course, they’d have the trade winds behind them… so a  fast downwind sail for them! We ourselves rested for four days before once again turning our nose out to tack down to Cook Town and then on to Port Douglas.

Wow! Port Douglas! Originally we’d intended to stop for a while once we’d reached Cairns but when we reached Port Douglas that plan went right out of the window. We found a good sheltered harbour right in the centre of a really nice location… beaches, marvellous weather and civilisation…. and Henry was flying out from school in England for a couple of months to join us!

So we left Sänna in Port Douglas, flew to Alice Springs, hired a camper van for a few weeks and hit the outback. Fantastic! From Alice Springs we drove south, taking in Ayers Rock (Uluru) and an incredible thousand miles of nothing, heading for Adelaide. There we visited Dave’s old friends Ian & Di Sulley, who’d emigrated from England, and then to Melbourne to catch up with Dave’s stepsister Jill who’d married Australian cricket fanatic Roger. We stayed a while with their lovely family and then drove north to Sydney. Then we flew back north to Port Douglas because Marie’s sister Ali was joining us onboard too.

We’d arranged for a local rigger to fix the staysail furling at Selden’s expense and also for DSS Cullen Bay to send the correct oil pressure gauge sender unit from Darwin for the engine. We now had an irritating oil leak on the engine too… not a very good recommendation for the rather expensive workmanship of DSS Cullen Bay who’d rebuilt our Volvo Penta engine. All of this work was scheduled to have been completed during our absence from Port Douglas. And so it was…