Passage across the Gulf of Carpentaria ( Arafura Sea ) – June 2015

Sunday 28 th June, 0800 local time.  S10:46:843 E142:18:802

We have just set off across the Gulf of Carpentaria for our 48 hour (ish) sail to the Wessel islands further west (about 350 miles).  It can get quite rough going across the Gulf as it's quite shallow and with too much wind the seas build up with a very short, very steep chop – not nice.  The forecast is for lighter winds for the next couple of days so keep your fingers crossed for us.  I've taken the magic pill!

Day 1

Started out with a reasonable breeze of around 15 knots from the south east, no cloud and 1-2 knot positive current.  The gribs were telling us that we would loose the wind from mid-afternoon until 10pm. They were right! Poled out the genoa but it wasn't long before the wind started to drop.  There was a swell coming in from the south which made for uncomfortable and noisy flopping around of the sails and boom in the light conditions.  The seas are very shallow as you exit the Endeavour straits which accentuate the movement - the first 80 miles less than 20 meters deep.  Took in the genoa and ran the engine for around an hour mid morning until the wind picked up a bit and we were able to sail until around 3pm.  The wind died mid afternoon, and after a brief struggle bearing away with the genoa poled out and luffing up on to a 2 sail reach we gave up – there's not a lot you can do with 2 knots of wind from behind!  So it was back to motor sailing.

The grib files were showing wind coming in at around 10pm and sure enough it started to pick up then.  So it was off with the engine and out with the genoa.  ‘Twas a bit fickle to start with so we had to keep faffing about poling out the genoa then putting it back.  As we sailed over the 30 meter contour, the west flowing current seemed to pick up again.  We're now in around 50 meter deep water with a positive current.  The wind this morning is around 12 knots from the south east, still have a swell from the south and we're sailing with the genoa poled out to port doing around 6 – 7 knots over the ground.

Must admit it's nice to be back sailing with wall to wall sunshine, a lovely turquoise sea and flying fish flying!   (Although we did have a couple of showers in the night). Had sight of a few dolphins and saw lots of tuna jumping but they didn't want to know about our lovely pink squiddly so we're still fishing but not catching!

24 hours: 168 miles

Day 2

Poled out all day in a 13-16 kt breeze with the swell from the south/south-east making it a bit lumpy but not too bad.  In the morning we passed a fleet of fishing boats out to our north – they all seemed to be fishing around the same area.  When we checked the chart we could see the demarcation zones for the Papua New Guinea/ Indonesia/Australia fishing areas – looked like all the Papua New Guineans were fishing in the remotest corner of their zone -  maybe with underwater speakers calling into the Australian zone ‘here fishy, fishy…'! (Bit like the Swiss cows with the long necks).  You might have to think about that one!

The gribs showed that the wind was going to the south east at around 10pm and sure enough we were able to un-pole the genoa and sail on a beam reach for the rest of the night.  Almost perfect conditions with the wind blowing a steady 15 knots all night.  The moon was up early giving us a lovely light night and as the moon went down the stars glowed bright until the rising of the sun made them fade in the sky with only Canopus twinkling in the south for a while later – oh I feel almost poetic (or should that be pathetic!)

We had set off from Possession island with friends Sue and Andy on Spruce and 2 more boats (a German couple we know on Lazy Lady and an Australian couple on Riona who are circumnavigating Australia) had set off from a bit further south – we were in sight of them most of the first day but soon lost them but are still in VHF contact.  No sea creatures spotted and once the plethora of PNG fishing boats faded into the distance there were no other boats to be seen.  A few flying fish and brown boobies were the sum total of our sightings.

We have about 13 miles to go to get to Cape Wessel and then a few more miles into an anchorage.

24 hours: 170 miles

Approaching Cape Wessel we had current against and shock horror when we got round the cape we had a beat to windward to boot!  (if you see what I mean).  Anyway we've just dropped anchor in yet another beautiful remote bay in the Wessel Islands and looking forward to exercising our legs ashore later when we've had our traditional arrival breakfast of bacon and eggs!  On the whole a great passage.

Total Miles: 360, Total time: 51.5 hours, Avg speed: 6.99 kts


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