Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

No explanation necessary

We came to Darwin only because it was convenient to join the Sail Indonesia Rally and get our Visas from the Indonesian Consulate there.

The skyline of Darwin
What we found was a new town that we could have spent much more time exploring.  We did get the feel, flavor, and layout of Darwin figured out pretty well during our 5 days there and thoroughly enjoyed the place.

The bombing of Darwin
Darwin had two significant events in it's history.  It was the only city in Australia that was attacked by the Japanese in World War II and Cyclone Tracy in 1974 completely destroyed the town.

4" gun from the USS PEARY sunk in the first attack

USS Preble passed us inbound for their port call

The Japanese fleet bombed the city 62 times during World War II.  The first attack was two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.   

Underground fuel tank (tunnel)

 The Japanese kept blowing up the oil storage tanks so underground tanks, that were more like long tunnels, were built but never used because the war ended.  The US had a strong military presence there before and after the war and still to today.  We're still even 'The Yanks'.

Tunnel viewing port

Fuel Tunnel concrete wall

Grounds of the Darwin Sailing Club
We anchored in Fannie Bay in front of the Darwin Sailing Club and got a temporary membership to use their facilities.  We met many of our future friends there who were also using the dinghy ramp and club.  The Rally was able to get us a two day turnaround on our Visas from the normal four day processing time.  We had presentations about Indonesia and a follow on Rally from Singapore through Malaysia that we will also be doing.   

A 'Cape' class Coastal Boarder Patrol boat
Australian Customs (now called Border Force) did an outstanding job of processing us out and even knew all about us aboard their coastal patrol plane that flew over us as we sailed out of Australian waters at the 200 mile EEZ (Economic Exclusion Zone)

This is how some people launch boats in Darwin

The bus system was great and widely used.  We were able to do some good provisioning at the markets and supermarkets, exchange Dollars for Rupiah, obtain clean diesel, petrol, water, and propane.  These are the things that our lives revolve around.  In some places, they are difficult but possible.  In Darwin, as the Aussies say "Too Easy".  

Thanks Darwin.

Restored to original after bombing and cyclone
Unrestored Historical Site

Fannie Bay anchorage in front of the Sailing Club

Friday, July 24, 2015


On our 'Where Are We" page we update 4 different tracking sites.  Yotreps, Winlink,, and farkwar. 

Tucker Bradford, an American cruiser saw a need for a more user friendly website tracking options available, so he designed his own site to better meet the his needs and hopefully others in the cruising community. 

farkwar is the only website that will send emails showing a boat position.
Everytime we update our position, farkwar send an email.  This way you can do things you want to do like watch TV and not have to continually keep checking this website to see where the boat is, or if it has moved.  farkwar will also update social media sites like Twitter and Facebook but we don't use these. 

This is what the email that you receive looks like:

To receive these emails you do not have to have a boat, just:

1)  Sign Up:
2)  Verify your email address (farkwar will send you an email)
3)  Login to farkwar
4)  Search for the Boat Name you want to find
5)  Slide the "Follow" button for that boat.

If you actually have a boat, you can enter your boat information and start tracking your position also.  To update our position in farkwar, we just send an email.  Too easy, and this can be done from Tortuguita by Sailmail or HAM on the SSB radio, anywhere in the world, without the need for internet access.

When Tucker made this website a year ago, it was very rough and basic but worked.  He made it just for his own use and to see if there was any interest from others in the cruising community.  A couple of months ago, he must have had some free time because he fixed the rough spots and now has a world class tracking tool.  We signed up early on to see how it worked and have been using it to not only report our own position but now we are following 7 other boats.
1)  Convivia
2)  Ceilydh
3)  Totem
4)  Obelisk
5)  Virgos Child
6)  Peregrine 
7)  Zenitude

In the past year, farkwar has grown to cover hundreds of boats.  Not too bad for a spare time project. Good job Tucker!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Delivery Mode

A beautiful day of Spinnaker and Genoa sailing
One of the many reef lighthouses, complete with helicpoter pad

Our cruising lifestyle allows us to stop and explore the places we visit for as little or long as we want.  We don't really have a schedule, and mostly don't even have a plan.  At least one that actually matters.  Our normal cruising pattern is to day hop from island to island or bay to bay, staying until it feels right to move on.

A great day with full sails

Restoration Island. Capt Bligh landed here for rest after the mutiny

A part of the navigation necessary through the Barrier Reef

Another reef light.  No helicopter pad for this one
Getting to Darwin for the Indonesia Rally has been our goal for the past month.  Since leaving the Gold Coast 28 days ago, we covered 2100 nautical miles.  Some of this was ground we had already covered last year.  It would have been nice to get back in to Cruising Mode once we got north of Townsville but we were now mission oriented.  Aviation has trained us well about the insidious tendency of  'Get Home Itis'.  We refuse to be pushed by a schedule into doing anything reckless.  Enough bad stuff already happens by itself.
A beautiful morning leaving Cape York

Coastal Cruising is easier to control than Blue Water passage making since you can choose the length of the passages and you can usually find a nice place to hide from the elements when things get tough.  Since we left the Gold Coast we have been Coastal Cruising doing 36 hours on and 12 hours off.  A few times we went 60 on and 36 off.  This let us do essentially a "Redeye", then recover the following night, and then do it all again.  That gave us a good 200+ mile range every two days. 

Fatigue is the biggest enemy while coastal cruising.  Falling asleep on watch, missing a turn in the well marked but winding ship channel, would have put us up hard on to one of the thousands of barrier reefs.  That was a risk not worth taking and with a two person crew, sleep is a precious commodity, 

Crazy Seas in the Gulf of Carpentaria
Bluewater passage making has it's own dangers since you are exposed to the weather for the entire voyage and there is nowhere to tuck in to sleep or get out of the elements.  We had our share of that also for the 700 mile leg from Cape York to Darwin.  The Gulf of Carpentaria is about 300 by 300 miles and is very shallow.  When the wind gets blowing across the 300 miles of shallow sea, the waves get crazy. 

The washing machine swell
We had 2 good days of sailing from  
 Cape York with the wind behind us and fairly comfortable seas.  Then the wind shifted from the south and we were getting slammed by perpendicular 3 meter waves from behind and the side with no option except to head north to New Guinea or just accept the beating.  Tortuguita held up better than we did and the following day we clawed our way toward the coast to reduce the amount of distance that the waves could build.  

The beach in front of our spot on Croker Island.
That tactic did work and even though we were still 50 miles from the coast, we were able to get a few hours sleep that night compared to nothing the night before.  We really really needed sleep so our goal was to find a place to anchor on the coast, or an offshore island.  The wind direction and strength kept us from making the mainland but Croker Island was just what the doctor ordered.  We dropped anchor at 4PM in a beautiful sandy bay and slept for over 10 hours.  The next morning we awoke refreshed and 24 hours later we were in Darwin.

The wharf at Seisia
We saw some of the nicest areas along our route north of Townsville and across the Arafura Sea but time didn't allow us to 'stop and smell the roses'.  The unexplored and uninhabited areas of the Inner Passage of the Great Barrier Reef deserved at least a few months. 

Arnhem_Land, the northern section of the state of the Northern Territory, had some of the best coastline we have seen in Australia.  It is an Aboriginal settlement area and permission is needed to visit, but would be well worth it to do that and spend a few months on that coast also.

We keep justifying it by saying that 'You can't see everything'.  Yes, but that doesn't quite do it.  That's how we ended up missing Vanuatu in the first place, and the winds won't take us back this way once we leave.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The New Plan

Our blog has been silent for a while since our plans have been in such flux and we didn't want to jinx things one way or another by being too optimistic.

When we crossed the South Pacific to Australia, we skipped Vanuatu due to time constraints with the intention to go there afterwards.  Category 5 Cyclone Pam hit the islands this past March and we figured we would go spend 3-4 months there helping with reconstruction.   
Photo Courtesy of UNICEF via Getty Images

Al ( from SAGITAIRE) and I looked at taking 2 different weather windows at the end of April but got closed out on both.  We then left for the US to take care of the rental houses while TORTUGUITA stayed comfortably tied in a berth at the Gold Coast City Marina.  There was a decent weather window to New Caledonia of 7 days while we were gone but had hopes of having another upon our return.  Well, no such luck.  The windows are running 4 days max and at this time we either have to 'fish or cut bait' as the saying goes.
The people of Vanuatu could really use the help

Destination: Darwin

Since it looks like there is no safe way to get to Vanuatu in the near future, we decided to head to Southeast Asia.  We must transit Indonesia to get to the rest of the countries and will have some flexibility in our route once through Indo.  We are not much for buddy boating, or at least hand holding during our cruising.  However, there are 2 Australia to Indonesia Rallys.  One leaves from Cairns and the other from Darwin.  These events take care of all the bureaucracy and provide support for any problems during the 3 month passage through the islands.  The cost is actually pretty favorable since the option doing a DIY transit is to hire a ships agent and have them handle your paperwork but there is no support or planned events.  The rally from Cairns would be preferable since it is a week closer to the Gold Coast than Darwin but the limit of 50 boats has been reached so they are not accepting any more applications.

Here's the list of boats we will be traveling with:

The Darwin Rally has room for us but we are pushed up against the 1 month that it takes to get our Cruising Permit (CAIT) and then our Visas from the Indonesian Consulate in Darwin prior to the late July departure.  Not the least is the need to get ourselves to Darwin in less than a month.

So we must get going.  Heading north.  Unlike last year, when we were exploring all the towns, rivers, islands, and marinas, we are just going to do marathon passages to get as much distance under the keel as possible.

We are departing tomorrow and will sail north for about a week with the Whitsunday Islands being our first rest stop.  We pretty much already covered all that territory last year. 

Sorry Vanuatu, it will be a loss for us all.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Back in the water

Catamaran row at the Gold Coast City Marina.

We're done with land cruising so it's now time to get Tortuguita ready to go back in the water.  There is always plenty of work to do on a boat but the goal was to only do things necessary to get launched.  Everything else would wait until we get in the marina berth.

Waiting for the Travelift
The hulls had to be buffed and waxed.  This took 4 days because the sun was so hot that the work had to be done on the shady side of the boat or else the wax would cake-up and get sticky if working in the sun. The antifouling bottom paint had to be sanded, primed, and painted.  The propellers needed to be stripped and Propspeed applied.  There is an order that everything needs to be accomplished.  The boat needs to be launched within 3 days of painting the bottom so it is not possible to  do the buffing afterwards.  We had a few rain days but were ready with hours to spare.

On the road again
Now that we are comfortably tied to the dock, the project list started with thoroughly scrubbing of boatyard dirt off the decks and includes reinstalling the sail, overhauling the water maker, finishing the water tank project and gluing some headliner, plus many little things that just appear.

Our goal is to leave the marina after Easter and head to Coff's Harbour, about 150 miles south of here.  This will give us a better angle against the southeast winds for our trip to New Caledonia.  

A picture perfect launch with the new 250 ton lift.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Zealand - South Island

The InterIsland Ferry

We had a nice ferry ride to Picton.  The plan was to stay around the port and explore the Marborough wine region but the campgrounds were either run down or by noisy highways so we continued toward Christchurch.
Fortunately we ended up at Kaikoura and ended up spending 2 nights in this one road beach town.  We went to the seal colony and hiked a few miles.  The beach was made of finely ground black rocks but had not one shell.  This area is famous for a species of Abalone called the Paua.  Of course, we bought two.

Port of Picton

Kaikora Peninsula

Shoreline in Kaikora

Kaikora Fur Seal

Tucker Sno-Cat from the actual expedition

We went to the Museum by the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch.  They had some nice exhibits but we both thought the Antarctic Exhibit was very interesting.  New Zealand is the closest major country to Antarctica and has been a major player in its exploration.

When I was flying EC-130's in the Navy, my engineer, Dan Shore, flew in the squadron that had LC-130's belonging to the National Science Foundation in support of Antarctic Operations. 
I always wanted to fly in that squadron.  What an incredible experience that would have been. 
LC-130 (notice the skis around the wheels)

Apparently the US Air Force now has the job.

Temporary Support for the Anglican Church in Christchurch
We stayed 2 nights at a backpackers hotel in Christchurch (Kiwi Basecamp).  It was kind of fun and more social than a regular hotel but had a frat house feel to it.  Us old folks were falling asleep as the youngsters were  jamming on guitars and drinking out back in the courtyard.

We walked the City Center and visited the Quake City Museum.  Even though the city was basically leveled by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the rebuilding has been progressing rapidly.  There is no shortage of work in CC for construction workers.

Catholic Church in Christchurch under repairs

More of those walking road blocks
We picked up our final camper  and headed to the west coast in search of something besides hills covered with dry brown grass and found it.  Once we hit the foothills of the New Zealand Alps, it rained solid for 24 hours and then never really stopped.  We did finally find green hills and some incredible scenery.  

Franz Josef Glacier

 Neither of us had ever seen a glacier and that was probably the highlight of our trip.  If it was winter, it would have been nothing more than a snow capped mountain but being summer and warm, it was truly special.  The glaciers are receding 125 metes per year and probably won't be there in 50 years.  Too bad.

Reflecting Lake - Too much wind, Too bad

Front edge of the Fox Glacier

The Fox Glacier used to cover this entire valley
Getting there was half the fun
The Fox Glacier

Mostly loved by the sand fleas

The Blue Pools. Nice hike, nice surprise

Suspension bridge to the Blue Pools

On the Lookout at Bluff.
At the south tip of Bluff

 We headed down to the 'Far South' and were as close to Antarctica as most people ever get when we went to the town of Bluff.  A Low had come passed and it was windy and cold.  If it wasn't, I would have been dissapointed.  We went to another museum in Invercargill and headed up the east coast to Dunedin.  

It was cold at Bluff

Cheese tasting and tour in Oamara

We were ahead of schedule and spent a few extra days exploring the southeast and even had an unplanned night at Akaroa.   

Never too old for the Jumping Pillow

World Famous Chips in Akaroa

Akaroa Harbor
Getting a little stick time at the museum.  P-51 in the background
We returned to Christchurch on our last day and went to the New Zealand Air Force Museum and took back the campervan. 

The flight the following morning was full but we were lucky and had a morning arrival at the Coolangatta Airport in Australia.

Now that we are done living in vehicles, it's back to Tortuguita. Sure seems huge compared to what we have been living in for the past 2 months.

Kiwi Air Force Museum