By this stage of the trip, I was completely out of printed paper charts of the region, so was reliant on our Raymarine plotter, and Navionics charts on our iPads and iPhone. The Northern Territory is very poorly charted....some of the areas are just a blank on the charts, some date back to Matthew Flinders' time, and some just say "Inadequately surveyed".
During WWII, thanks to their fishing fleet, the Japanese had better maps than our own forces, and while I'm sure that the military has a good grasp of the area, the newest, most accurate information has never been offered to the general public.
(For those reading this blog who may be planning a passage across the top, I do have all of our anchorages and routes saved on my iPad's Navionics app....just give us a call or email if you need the coordinates for them. I haven't bumped into anything substantial so far, and I was pleased to refer to notes from both Esoterica and Gemini Lady in planning our voyage).
Unfortunately, it meant another early start to guarantee a daylight arrival into Maningrida, so it was up-anchor from Galiwinku at 3.30 a.m., around Cape Stewart, across Boucaut Bay and south into the Liverpool River estuary which has the settlement of Maningrida on it's eastern bank.
It was a long, rough and rolly old day, we spoke with the freight barge off Cape Stewart, and watched a sailing catamaran battling eastwards into the 15 knot headwind and 2 metre seas. And we didn't see another boat all day, until arriving at our destination in the late afternoon and passing the "Coral Princess", a mini-cruise liner, anchored a long way out from the town.
But after a 3.30 a.m. start, we were happy enough to stay, once we'd convinced ourselves the anchor had a good grip.
We didn't have an entry permit to visit the community, but the next morning we phoned the art gallery to say we'd like to visit. "No worries" they said, and even sent a crew to pick us up in the ubiquitous Toyota Troop Carrier, it being quite a walk to the gallery itself from the beach.
The gallery was fantastic, really well organised, quality work exhibited cleanly, with a team of people working in the despatch department, packing work to send off all over the world. An excellent act. I had already sniffed around their website www.maningrida.com and was hoping to find a piece that I'd liked on there, and sure enough, it was still on the wall when we arrived. I thought the price....which included shipping to Torquay....was pretty reasonable, so put my credit card down and the deal was done. Unfortunately, there was Funeral Business going on that day, and we missed out on meeting with the artist, Jack Pascoe, but nonetheless, we were stoked with our purchase.
We'd spent more than the whole shipload of "Coral Princess" passengers from the day before, so were treated as VIP's...which I think we would've been anyway.... and driven around all over the settlement to visit the Womens' Co-Op, pick up groceries, and be cheerfully taken back to the boat when we were ready.
So, feeling pleased with ourselves we set off back to the Mother Ship in the dinghy, only to have our little outboard motor behave badly on the ride out. We barely made it, especially in the gusty Northerlies that we were pushing into. The swell and chop was too strong to deal with fixing it so we hauled the dinghy aboard and readied for departure on the following day.
Then, an easy day's sail, starting at a leisurely 6.00 am in light breeze, and finishing with a boisterous 25 knot tailwind, to a comfortable anchorage in SouthWest Bay on Goulburn Island. There were two Darwin-based catamarans anchored there, both planning their eastward journey to Queensland, which we didn't envy in the least.
The next day was another easy one for us, continuing west and anchoring at Valentia Island by 1600 hours.
The following day we'd planned on heading through the Bowen Strait and around to Port Bremer, which is to the east of the mighty Port Essington.
The highlight of the day was throwing out the fishing line with a trolling lure as we were entering the Bowen Strait, and getting a hit just ten minutes later. A lovely Queenfish, thank you......
And the low point of the day, as we were approaching Port Bremer, was seeing the massive pall of smoke on the eastern side of the harbour, which was blowing across the water and obliterating all visibility. So, we continued on towards Port Essington, roaring along in the strengthening afternoon wind.
We'd thought that we could get into Coral Bay, on the western side of what was a much bigger harbour than I'd imagined. As we approached Coral Bay, the site of the former luxury Seven Spirits Bay resort, we realised that it was probably untenable as an anchorage with this wind pounding it. So, it was a beat back across the harbour into the wind, and the shelter of the vast Berkely Bay on the Eastern side.
We had been getting a little antsy about getting to Darwin, and while we knew that Port Essington had a lot of attractions, and reasons to spend more time, we were taken aback by the sheer size of the place. So we devoted the next couple of days to getting the boat organised for the final run into Darwin. The maintenance list was lengthy, as usual, and included a good cleanup for ourselves, too! A new spark plug on the outboard seemed to solve the problem there, I hoped.
Rounding Cape Don and transiting the Van Diemen Gulf has a bit of a reputation for gnarly seas, raging tidal streams and washing-machine conditions. I studied all of the info I could lay my hands on, and once again we were looking at an ungodly departure hour to ensure a smooth voyage on our final run into Darwin.
We had an easy daysail to an anchorage in Alcaro Bay, just around the corner from Cape Don, then started our transit in the dark at 2.30 am.
Things were a bit bumpy as we came through the Dundas Strait, but there was no moon and we couldn't see anything anyway. By the time the sun emerged, the wind was almost non-existent, and we had swimming-pool glassy conditions for the rest of the trip. We stuck to the barge route, close by Melville Island, and eventually zoomed through the Clarence Strait, past the NW Vernon Islands, at a healthy 10.9 knots. With no sails up!
From there, it was onwards to Darwin!