L O G B O O K - by John Philp


TUE 7 SEPT - Tau is anchored just outside the Cullen Bay Marina, Fanny Bay, Darwin. At 4pm we up anchor and head out of the harbour bound for Coco’s Island. It’s a good feeling to be under sail in a stiff breeze and at sunset we celebrate getting under way with a frozen Mango Daiquiri!

There’s a lot of aerial traffic this afternoon. Two Australian airforce jets headed towards Timor, and a large transport coming in the opposite direction. We hear a short wave radio operator asking that all Australians evacuate East Timor; to turn up at the airport with 20kg of luggage and be transported back to Australia immediately.

WED 8 SEPT - Flat calm. Not a breath of wind today. It was glassy smooth last night and we could see the reflections of the stars on the water. It was hard getting used to the night watches after a week in Darwin.

Two large Dolphins come to play at the bow of the boat today. We whistle and call out to them - they seem to acknowledge and whistle back at us, then they start a little show, performing rolls underwater.

THUR 9 SEPT - We pass four Indonesian prows with bright blue and green sails, piled high with people . They seem to have come from Western Indonesia, headed in the direction of Australia. We pass Ashmore Reef and later some floating oil rigs burning natural gas by-product into the atmosphere.

Ashmore is a busy place these days - refugees from East Timor and elsewhere seeking asylum make this their first point of entry into Australia. A lone civil servant is stationed here with his girlfriend. They live on a government motor boat anchored in the harbour and it is his job to administrate the initial processing of the refugees. The boats that they leave behind have their fuel removed, taken ashore and burnt. The boats are then towed to sea by the Navy and used for target practice. Visiting yachts are encouraged to go aboard the refugee vessels and take as much free fuel as they can carry.

A dozen Iraqis made it there this week. The caretaker took them aboard his vessel and advised them that they were quarantined there. He wakes up next morning and they are all on the beach kneeling in the direction of Mecca! He was forced to quarantine the little island, and bar anyone else from landing. Yachts were allowed to land ashore up until then.

FRI 10th SEPT - The wind has slowly built throughout the day and is now 15 knots S-West and pushing us along at 10.5 knots. Weather perfect.

SAT 11th SEPT - The wind fell off last night and comes up again with the sun. In the evening it drops off again and we have to start the motor. The sea is very confused and the boat starts to pitch and roll all over the place. I feel a little ill when I get up at midnite for my watch probably from something I ate, or this confused sea. I look over towards Indonesia and see flashing lights indicating a jet - probably flying from Darwin to Asia somewhere. I think of the people in First Class sipping champagne and wonder if anyone has looked over on this side and noticed our mast head lights. A tiny speck in the midst of a rolling sea. In my sick state I wish I was up there in a nice stable jet, my only worry being what I will have for dessert.

SUN 12th SEPT - We sail all day with the Fisherman up and a 30 year old spinnaker. It was a gift to my old man from an American that was gifting his boat to a sailing school and had a couple of spare sails. We slide along at close to ten knots.

It’s warm out and we throw buckets of salt water over ourselves to cool off. The water temperature here is 30 degrees Celsius. Up from 21 degrees in the Brisbane River where we resumed our journey a month ago. We are now passing 200 miles South of Bali and it is day five at sea.

For fun I take pictures of Michelle feeling sick... just for something to do. Wish we had some other magazines to look at. She is too ill to make dinner and Sefo gets his chance in the galley. He loves to cook and it’s no burden for him to stand in.

After dinner we drop the spinnaker in case the wind develops in the night. Great exercise for the arms... we heave and pull and shout and finally get it in without dropping it in the sea. I can’t help glancing up at our audience - bright stars which have been there since Captain Cooks time and beyond, grand but silent spectators. We go back to the stern to tidy up ropes and discover we’ve been towing a yellow fin tuna on the fishing line for probably the last hour.

MON 13 SEPT - Another sunny day. The wind has stayed with us from the previous evening and we’re making good time. Unfortunately the current is still contrary to our direction. It’s been this way for much of the journey since Brisbane. We’re used to it now - like stop lights... you curse at them sometimes, but they’re unavoidable.

On my night shift we still have a lot of canvas up and captain gets us to take down the staysail and to reef the Genoa in case we get a squall during the night. Up until then it was a roller coaster ride steering. Sixty tons of yacht coasting down large swells at 12 knots with white water all around and in our wake making a rushing sound like a small waterfall. Every now and then when the boat gets too square to the swells you’ll hear a slap against the hull and you duck swiftly to avoid being drenched by a wave.

Sefo who was on the watch before me lies down on the nearby bench and goes to sleep amidst all the noise and spray. In thirty seconds flat he’s snoring - quite happy where he is. I think to myself, here is the embodiment of the perfect seaman. He’s never seasick, can sleep at anytime anywhere (good when you’re keeping irregular hours on watch) and is great with a spear gun or a fishing line. He’s also the ideal travel companion. Ever cheerful, never complaining, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him angry, just gets on with life. He reminds me of a Buddha figure - he has the same dimensions as one of those ubiquitous wooden statues.

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