Across the top with crocodiles. Darwin to Port Douglas, November 03 to 30.

1200 miles!

1200 miles!

One of Daryl's shallow anchorages.

One of Daryl’s shallow anchorages.

From Darwin to Port Douglas is 1200 miles, sadly most of it to windward with not a great deal of aesthetically pleasing, scenic attractions along the way. One really does get a feeling for the remoteness of it all going across the top of Arnhem land, especially when the engine is being non-cooperative, the wind is generally blowing from exactly where you want to go, the coastline isn’t really a place one would choose to spend too much time, it’s very hot and there are crocodiles swimming around ones boat when at anchor. In retrospect even though the place is pretty much named after Dutch people and sailing ships, there was never really much likelihood of Australians needing to learn how to speak Dutch.  While the Dutch were the first recorded European explorers to land in (northern) Australia, not surprisingly they were non-too  complimentary about the place. Willem Jansz/Janszoon on the Duyfken was the first to land in 1606.  He encountered hostility from the local indigenous people when he came to anchor on Cape York Peninsula and he lost ten of his crew during visits to the shore. Later Dutch explorers did not think the land worthwhile enough to pursue any claims with descriptions of low lying land, scrubby or swampy near the shore, dry and inhabited mostly by crocodiles.

7

Sunrise at Melville island.

3

That careening moment!

On the locals Jan Carstenszoon with the ships ‘Pera’ and the ‘Arnhem’  in 1623 described the aboriginals as, “poor and miserable looking people who had no knowledge of precious metals or spices” although this does reflect one supposes on the priorities of the Dutch at the time.  Englishman William Dampier who landed on the western coast, in 1688 and again in 1699 was also unimpressed by the dry, barren landscape, the lack of water and what he described as the “miserablest people in the world” – the native population. His negative reports led to the delay of (England’s) colonisation of what is now Australia although from the indigenous peoples point of view it might be argued they would have been better off these reports were kept up!

View from Dinah Beach!

View from Dinah Beach!

Ernest and Wen.

Ernest and Wen.

It was only when James Cook charted the east coast of the continent that a favourable report was sent back to England. Cook and his chief botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, made extensive notes about the fauna and flora, and (apparently) both recommended Australia as a good site to establish a penal colony. They said the land was green and fertile, holding great promise. Interesting really what with all the exploration enthusiasm seemingly being based around precious metals, spices (i.e. money)

Metana

Metana

Black Point, Arnhem Land.

Black Point, Arnhem Land.

and where to lock up poor people, it seems some of our current (Australian) conservative politicians would have fitted in exceptionally well and made excellent explorers! Anyway although we are speaking English the Dutch did leave names for us to remember their efforts, the ‘Gulf of Carpenteria’ was named by Carstenszooon in honour of Pieter de Carpentier at that time the Governor General  of the Dutch East Indies, while Arnhem land is named after one of Carstenszoon’s 1623 ships. On the English side the ‘English Company’s Islands’ north west of Nhulunbuy and Gove seems straightforward while ‘Malay Road’ between The Bromby Islands and the English Companys Islands was named by Mathew Flinders during his 1803 circumnavigation of Australia when he came across a fleet of Malay ‘ Proas’ and fishermen on their annual Trepang (sea-cucumber) expedition.

Gove Harbour.

Gove Harbour.

Eclipse o'clock, Gove.

Eclipse o’clock, Gove.

Well aside from all things historical and without casting aspersions on the merit of eating sea-cucumber (they are deposit feeders after all), we were quite keen to get across to Cape York from Darwin as quickly as possible and the lack of shore attractions meant moving whenever possible was an easy option. Sadly the weather wasn’t going to do anything other than blow hardish out of the east and trying to get direct to the Gugari

Hot

Hot

Rip through the Wessels was always going to be difficult. So there we went, hiding behind islands wherever we could and beating to windward using whatever combination of sails, motor or both that kept us moving.  This is all well and good with a happy engine of course but from Darwin until North Goulbourn Island (250 miles), a fuel problem meant much grief and potential slashing of wrists until we located the offending part. We had we thought solved the issue in Darwin but intermittent faults are always a dilemma and who would have thought of an unserviceable seal in the priming pump of the engine filter, especially when the thing only misbehaved when it felt like it. There is nothing like beating directly into 25 knots of wind with the engine fuel system in bits, being covered in sweat and diesel fuel trying to grab tools as they slither past on the cabin floor; Ernest and Wen looking a bit concerned and “you can fix it can’t you”.

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

Mangroves, lots of crocs!

We got away from Darwin on October 06 the day after Daryl decided to do some impromptu careening directly in front of the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Club; made the news and all. We were taking it in turns here for a while towing each other, Daryl with a stern gland problem he fixed while underway and at night (good effort) then a day later Gadfly with the fuel dilemma. The trip across was a procession of islands, Melville in the ‘Tiwi’ group with the first curious crocodiles, (one assumes the Dutch didn’t do too much swimming), Alaru Island, Black Point, Valentia Island, inside Croker Island to North Goulbourn, Entrance Island off Meningrida,

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Cadell Strait.

Mooronga Island and then under Elcho Island to pass through the Cadell Strait and Narrows. This is the southerly route underneath the Wessells as getting further north to the Gugari Rip really wasn’t an option with the ENE winds we were fighting. The only problem here is Cadell Strait is a bit shallow in places, the current is more than a problem with wind against, and the pilots description of the narrowest and shallowest bits for all it’s worth might just as well have been written by the ‘Trepangers’in 1803! Anyway, after avoiding getting stuck on the putty we slipped across to Alger Island in the dark, beating still to windward then next morning continued our to windward march into Elizabeth Bay just to the west of Cape Wilberforce at the bottom of the Bromby Islands.

Seisa anchorage.

Seisa anchorage.

More diesel, Seisa.

More diesel, Seisa.

Cape Wilberforce and the Cumberland Passage is the last barrier to pass before the Gulf of Carpentaria and one gets to head south into Gove and Nhulunbuy. The drama is however that you need to get there on slack water and then use the Ebb (eastward flowing tide in this case) to move east as the flood is too strong for your average horsepower challenged yacht to push against. Problem here though was the 25 odd knots of ENE wind blowing across the tide on a shoaling bottom and waves of three or four metres standing up just not quite steep enough to break. There really is nothing like having 17 tonnes of

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

Passing Cape Wilberforce.

boat thrown backwards to the point where one is shipping water over the stern but still getting pushed forward by the current; it’s at this point one ponders the current reliability of a certain engine and wonders if Rudolph Diesel indeed got his design right!

Rudolph Diesel!

Rudolph Diesel!

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Gove waiting for an eclipse.

Next stop on our eastward bash was Gove and then with some lightening weather a trip across the Gulf to Seisa and then Cape York. After three days at Gove and some solar eclipse watching we headed  to ‘Bremer Island’ then straight across to Seisa just on the western side of the Cape. We were in company initially here with some of the Morotai boats including Tim and Barb on ‘Rubicon Star’ but lost touch with them on the night of Novemberr 16 as they headed further south for Weipa while Gadfly and Metana shaped up direct for Cape York. On November 19 again in the dark we anchored under Slade Point just SW of the channel leading into the Cape. At first light next morning we slipped through the shallows into Seisa for the night then headed for the Cape and at 1045 on November 21 passed Cape York and turned south onto the Aus east coast, yah; and the wind of course as expected turned SE!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Cape York, finally turning south!

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Bremer Island, next leg the Gulf.

Our expedition now turned into a southerly bash, once again hopping between anchorages sheltered from unseasonal trade winds, beating to windward and when the SE winds lightened off, just keep going. From Seisa to Shelburne Bay, Margaret Bay, Flinders Island (BBQ o’clock), Cape Melville (here it be really windy), Ingram Island, Cape Flattery and then into Cooktown. From Seisa to Cooktown  is around 450 miles and for most of that it’s every bit as isolated as across the top with Cooktown the first bit of ‘apparent’ civilisation. One does need to use this term (civilisation) loosely however and that t-shirt one guy was wearing does have some merit, ‘Cooktown, the worlds largest, open, lunatic asylum’; but it does have three pubs. Shallow in here as well with the boat sitting on the putty at the bottom of the tide each night. Mercifully the wind went light and north for us after leaving Cooktown and after stops at Hope Islands (and another BBQ) and then Low Islands we arrived at Port Douglas at the end of November and tied up to the Piles up stream from the Port Douglas Yacht Club, 3133 miles and some 90 days after leaving the Philippines.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

1620

Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Well, they let him in! Daryl at Flinders Island, Cape York.

Flinders Island.

Flinders Island.

Metana near the top.

Metana near the top.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Albany Passage, Cape York.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Margaret Bay.

Ernest and friend!

Ernest and friend!

e16

Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Flinders Isalnd and BBQ.

Crocodylus porosus…… Salt Water Crocodile!

The world’s largest reptile is the Saltwater Crocodile, or in the vernacular, Salties. This carnivore has sat atop the food chain for 100 million years, and it’s ancestors were about the rivers and coasts as long as 250 million years ago.

Salties can grow up to seven metres and weigh over 1,000 kilogram’s, but the average sized male will be around five metres. They can be found across all of northern Australia, from Broome in Western Australia, right across the Northern Territory’s Top End and clear down Queensland all the way to Rockhampton. The population of Saltwater Crocs in Australia may be as high as 200,000 individuals, with the highest concentration in the Top End around Darwin and the Mary River.

Crocodile Facts

Crocodiles can live for up to 70 years and can grow to between four and five metres. The largest confirmed crocodile from the Northern Territory was trapped in the Mary River in the 1980s and measured a bit more than 6 metres.

Baby crocodiles start out weighing just 60 grams, but the largest adult males can reach close to 1,000 kilogram’s.

The average density of crocodiles across tropical Australian rivers is five crocs per kilometre, but the Mary River in the Northern Territory can average as many as 20 crocs per kilometre.

Crocodiles mate and reproduce during the wet season from November to March. A Female can lay up to 50 eggs in nests along riverbanks, where they incubate for about three months before hatching. The mean temperature of the nest determines the sex of the hatchlings. When they hatch, the mother croc will carry the hatchlings to the water in her mouth and release them. Less than one per cent of hatchlings will survive to adulthood.

Crocodiles have sensory organs at the base of their teeth that allows them to sense minute pressure changes to strike underwater. They

IMG_1427

Port Douglas on the piles.

32e17

Port Douglas.

Port Douglas.

Malay Proa.

Malay Proa.

cannot swallow prey underwater, however, and must lift their heads above water to swallow their food.

 Crocodiles have 68 teeth in their jaws that replenish constantly if broken off. A large croc can exert more than two tonnes of pressure with its bite.

Crocodiles can swim as fast as 10 kilometres per hour and can run over open ground as fast as 11 kph for short bursts.

Crocodiles are opportunistic predators and will eat just about anything they can catch. While imagescroc 2

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

Dutch ship Duyfken (well the new one).

juveniles tend to stick with small prey, adults will take large mammals if the opportunity presents itself.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: