L O G B O O K - by John Philp



THURSDAY ISLAND - DARWIN

TUE 31 AUG - The wind has backed off again and the ocean is almost flat save for some tiny wind chop and the occasional small swell. The scene reminds me of the movie The Truman Show. It’s as if we are the only people on this ocean and if we sail towards the setting sun for long enough we will come to the end of it - a glass dome perhaps?

Late that night when I come up to change the watch with Sefo we see a wonderful moonrise. There are countless stars in the sky then all of a sudden they start to dim and we wonder why. Soon this enormous ball of orange rises majestically over the ocean. Later it turns yellow, and finally white when it’s very high in the sky.

WED 1 SEP - Still motoring towards Darwin with some sail up. The wind is very light and the sails aren’t really pulling us along - we leave them up ever hopeful that the wind will fill in. Here midway between Cape York and Cape Wessel the water depth increases to almost 60 meters. This is still very shallow considering we are 100 miles from land. The depth no doubt contributes to the strong current against us. Most of the way up the coast of Queensland we’ve had a light current of around one knot against us. Here we sometimes get 3 knots against us - especially in the passages.

THUR 2 SEP - We see a super sunrise. The sun is blood red - unusual. That evening we see a brilliant orange/red sunset as we’re eating dinner on deck. We later find out this is normal here during the dry winter bush fire season. The fires change the atmosphere in such a way as to affect the colour of the sun and the moon.

On arrival into Darwin we radio the harbour master on VHF 16. As it is after business hours the the call is answered remotely from Perth. The operator may as well have been on the moon, she had no local knowledge of the harbour, only what was in the file on her desk. Still what she gave us was sufficient. Amazing.

FRI 3 to MON 6 SEPT (AT ANCHOR DARWIN ). At first sight Darwin looks like the Texas of the top end. There are two imposing floating oil rigs sitting in the middle of the harbour and the city center looks fairly modern - not what you would imagine the bush capital of Northern Australia to look like. We go by the wharf and view with amazement a formidable looking Navy catamaran the size of a small warship. Some Navy people we meet in town tell us it will travel at over 40 knots and is on standby here for the Timo crisis. During our stay it went past a couple of times and the wake coming out of the back was enormous - probably from water jets. In fact the wake was big enough that when it went by one day, Lydia, who is the least experienced member of the crew actually felt sea sick. That’s not so much a reflection of the size of the waves, rather an indication of easily Lydia gets sick. She asked me today if I wrote legendary things about her in my log and I said yes. That was before I wrote this, so I wasn’t lying. She really should have kept that bit of information to herself. Ha ha ha...

The city of Darwin was pretty much wiped out by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Her population went from 47,000 to 13,000 immediately afterwards. The rest were airlifted out by the army as there was no water, shelter, or food. Since then they have completely rebuilt the city.. The Festival of Darwin (which started the weekend we arrived) was initiated as a way for the people of the city to celebrate their new beginning.

On Saturday we hire a car and drive 350 kilometers South to the Katherine Gorge and Edith Waterfalls. It’s a three hour drive at over 100 kilometers an hour in flat country. The road is very straight for long sections and the scenery never varies - it’s dry, dry scrub the entire way. Katherine is midway between the tropics and semi arid temperate zones so if the area isn’t getting hammered by the floods in summer it’s experiencing a drought and/or a bush fire. A land of extremes. I was looking at at waterfall and remarked to a bush ranger that it must be something to see in summer when there is rain. He replied that no one gets to see it as the entire area is flooded then.

We stop in town and I go into an art gallery. There are some unique looking didjeridu’s for sale and I contemplate buying one except they are too expensive. So I bring out the Cumming Street on the shop owner and start haggling. The owner is very nice - he’s a Russian immigrant. It must have been a sight - a Fijian trying to hustle a Russian for a didjeridu in the middle of the Northern Territory! Eventually I walk away with the didjeridu for the right price with a CD and booklet on how to play the instrument thrown in.

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