Voyage 17

Papua New Guinea to Australia
January 9-20, 2018

Day 1 – Tuesday, January 9, 2018

portmoresby-darwintnI’ve been in Port Moresby for a little over a day.  Yesterday, I went into town and bought supplies.  I had looked at my options of where my next port of call would be and I came to the conclusion that I have, unintentionally, sailed myself into a corner.

In the area between the north coast of Australia and Indonesia, the trade winds blow east to west on the east side of Australia and west to east on the west side.  At about the center point of the Australian continent, the trades meet head-on.  I had considered that a good course would be to head for the Mediterranean, hopefully for the summer in the northern hemisphere.  Unfortunately, where I am right now, it is not going to be easy to get into the southern Indian Ocean.

I also considered sailing up the Suez Canal, in order to reach the Mediterranean more quickly.  After checking the winds, I found that the prevailing winds are opposite of what I would need.

Port Moresby wasn’t nice enough for me to want to stay here very long.  This morning, I made the decision to head out and just start sailing eastbound.  My current plan is to make my way south along the west coast of Australia until I can pick up the easterly trade winds that will push me into the Indian Ocean.  I should be able to stay fairly close to land until I reach fair winds to sail west.  Right now, I don’t think I have enough supplies to just sail from here to Madagascar, even if the winds allowed such a sail.

At 9:15 AM, I raised anchor, set my sails and headed southwest out of Port Moresby Harbor.  The wind was almost non-existent.  The wind forecast shows stronger winds when I get a ways south of PNG.  That’s where I’m headed.

Today has been a leisurely day of cruising.  At nearly 3:30 PM, I have traveled a total of 13 nm since I left Port Moresby.  Once I get another 20 nm farther southwest, the winds will increase significantly.  For now, I’m sailing in about 4 knots of wind.  It certainly is peaceful, much improved from being in Port Moresby Harbor.

01/09/2018 0810 UTC – 9º 40.05′ S 146º 15.51′ E

At around 5:00 PM, the wind picked up and was blowing about 10 knots.  The direction changed from being out of the north to 180º in the opposite direction.  I headed toward the strait between the northern tip of Australia and the south coast of PNG.  Once I get through the strait, I can re-evaluate what the wind is doing and make a decision on the best course to sail.  As I am not following any specific course right now, I set the auto-pilot to just following a heading of 265º.  I’ll get a warning if any ships are nearby.  There isn’t much between me and the strait, so it should be a peaceful night.  The seas are still relatively calm.

Day 2 – Wednesday, January 10, 2018

At a little after 3:00 AM, I woke up and decided to check my course ahead.  I was about 65 nm east of the Torres Strait.  As I looked more closely at my navigation chart, I decided I needed to plot a specific course through the strait.  There are a lot of small islands and just staying on one heading would not be safe.  I also decided that heading for the city of Darwin, Australia would be a good target.  I would be able to resupply there and prepare to head into the Indian Ocean.  From the looks of the winds, it would be a good jumping off point.

01/09/2018 1730 UTC – 9º 48.92′ S 145º 12.86′ E

Once I had my course plotted and was sure I’d be alright for the next several hours, I decided to head back to bed.  The GPS reported about 9 hours to my first waypoint at Torres Strait.  The wind was blowing about 10 knots and my boat speed was 6.5 knots, sailing on the port broad reach.  The seas were smooth with some small swells.  Another 4-5 hours sleep would be just about right.

I finally got back up at about 7:00 AM.  It was a beautiful day of sailing.  The wind stayed right around 10 knots and was mostly coming from directly astern.  It was not the best angle for making the best speed, but my speed was acceptable at more than 5 knots most of the time.  It was mostly cloudy, but the air temperature was a very comfortable 84ºF.

At around 2:00 PM, I crossed into the shallow area that is the Torres Strait.  I was comfortable with the course I had plotted through the many islands and reefs that make up the strait.  All I needed to do was to care-take the autopilot, monitor the sails, and enjoy the view.

01/10/2018 0610 UTC – 9º 53′ S 144º 5.26′ E

At about 6:30 PM, I decided to turn in for the night.  I had to adjust the autopilot to steer more to starboard because the current was strong coming from the aft starboard quarter.

Day 3 – Thursday, January 11, 2018

01/10/2018 1927 UTC – 9º 50.4′ S 143º 14.83′ E

I was up at a little before 5:30 AM this morning.  The wind had calmed some overnight and was now blowing 5-10 knots.  Add to that a current of about 1 knot coming almost directly at me and it is a recipe for slow-going.  It was mostly cloudy this morning and the seas are calm.

I’m about 15 nm from where I will pass between Zagai and Tudu Islands.  After I pass these islands, I will turn southwest and hopefully have a better sailing angle to the wind.  For the past 12 hours, the wind has been mostly at my back.  The wind forecast says the wind will die out where I am in about 12 hours.  I hope to be farther south by then, where the wind should be stronger.

The closer to Zagai Island I got, the stronger the current I was beating against.  At about 7:30 AM, I went over the navigation chart and decided to turn south-southwest.  It would allow me to have the current coming from the starboard side instead of head-on and I would be able to sail on a beam reach.  As soon as I made the turn, my SOG increased from 3.5 knots to almost 6.5 knots.

By 10:00 AM, my good speed had evaporated.  The wind shifted around to the north and dropped to about 3 knots.  I was lucky if I was doing 2 knots.  Until I find some better winds, it’s going to be a while before I get to Darwin.

At around 2:00 PM, I was still barely at 2 knots SOG.  I decided to turn south and sail around the east side of a reef, hoping to find stronger winds farther south.  The long range forecast says the winds will pick up in 48 hours.  In the meantime, I’m enjoying a slow, peaceful sail.

01/11/2018 0719 UTC – 10º 13.69′ S 142º 52.17′ E

As I headed below at about 6:00 PM, there was still almost no wind.  I was afraid that I still had another day of no wind ahead of me.

Day 4 – Friday, January 12, 2018

An alarm from the autopilot woke me at 1:45 AM.  For some reason, the autopilot had gone off course and the warning was that I was headed for grounding.  The grounding I was lined up for was Hawkesbury Island.  First, I turned back to the north, so that Hawkesbury Island was off my port beam.  Then I reset the autopilot and headed back to my course track.  I was less than 2 nm south of my course track, but at this particular location, that was enough to be serious.  Such are the hazards of solo sailing and not having sailors on watch.

A couple of variables had changed since I went to bed last night.  The wind was now blowing 10-15 knots and I was sailing against 2 knots of current.  The currents here in the Torres Strait are stronger than any I have encountered so far in my voyages.  I think the autopilot was overwhelmed with trying to counteract the current.

I sailed around the north side of Hawkesbury Island and past small Canoe Island, back onto my course track.  I decided to stay on the helm until I passed the last island in my vicinity, West Island.  Once I’m past West Island, I will start my transit of the Gulf of Carpentaria.

I passed beyond West Island at about 3:00 AM.  The current is now about 2.5 knots off the port bow.  So, with a boat speed of 7 knots, my SOG is only around 5 knots.  Considered that, if I turned so that the current was coming over my port beam, I would have a better SOG.  I set a point about 17 nm northwest and headed for that point.  Although the wind was now nearly dead astern, my SOG was up over 6 knots.  In about 3 or 4 hours, the current should shift in my favor and then I can return to my original course.  I can’t completely rely on the autopilot with these strong currents, but I’m comfortable going below for some additional sleep.

01/11/2018 2020 UTC – 10º 15.72′ S 141º 44.53′ E

I was up again at about 6:30 AM.  I was basically awake and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I decided to just get up.  When I checked my course track, the autopilot was, again, off track to the south by about a mile.  The autopilot is certainly having a difficult time dealing with the exceptionally strong current I’m sailing against.  At least, this time, there wasn’t anything to get in my way.

I hadn’t realized just how big the Gulf of Carpentaria was.  My GPS reported a little over 300 nm and a little over 3 days sailing to the other side.  In the past 5 hours, the current hasn’t changed much.  It’s gotten a little lighter, only flowing at about 1.5 knots right now.  It’s still seriously affecting my distance made good.  The sky was partly cloudy and the temperature was a comfortable 83ºF.  Still a good day for sailing.

At about 8:30 AM, I checked the winds forecast for my gulf crossing.  In 3 days time, the winds on the west side of the gulf are predicted to turn northwesterly.  My original course track had me going directly east to west across the mouth of the Gulf of Carpentaria.  If the forecast holds true, I will be beating against the wind when I reach the other side.

The best option for now is to sail more northwest now, then turn southwest when I am about 175 nm out.  That should give me a better wind angle, if the forecast is correct.  I know that forecasts are rarely spot-on, but it’s the best I have to go on.  I turned northwest and noted that the course change was going to add about 30 nm to my total voyage.  If I can get a good sailing angle into Darwin on the other side, the extra distance will be worth it.

At around 1:00 PM, the wind speed had dropped and my heading to the northwest was not working well.  My SOG was 2.5-3 knots.  I decided to turn southwest and the SOG was double what it was before.  With the changeable winds and current, I’m going to have to continually re-evaluate what my best sailing angle will be.

01/12/2018 0550 UTC – 10º 17.3′ S 141º 12.02′ E

In the late afternoon, my choice of sailing southwest wasn’t working that well.  I was sailing a bit faster, but the speed was not offsetting the fact that I was not sailing direct to the waypoint on the west side of the gulf.  At about 4:00 PM, I decided to go back to just sailing westbound, even though my SOG was only about 3 knots.  This would have to do until the wind got stronger and the current got weaker.

Day 5 – Saturday, January 13, 2018

01/12/2018 1800 UTC – 10º 12.12′ S 140º 24.65′ E

I was up at 4:00 AM this morning.  The wind speed was almost 10 knots, but my boat speed was still less than 5 knots.  I think it’ll be another slow day at sea.  Since I had a work assignment IRL today, I had to just let the autopilot sail most of the day.

By 10:00 AM, the wind had increased and the sea was rougher than it had been in several days.  I was still working off the forecast of the winds turning around in a couple of days and this possibility had be a bit worried about how far south I am.  I again turned northwest and figured I’d sail on that heading until tomorrow, unless something interferes with that choice in the meantime.

Sometime during the past 24 hours, my GPS clock moved back an hour as I have apparently sailed west into a new time zone.  With the GPS clock showing 2:00 PM, the current time in Darwin is 2:30 PM.  Since I am headed for Darwin and I am more than halfway across the Gulf of Carpentaria, I will shift my shipboard time to Darwin time.

At 2:30 PM, I am about 20 nm north of my original course track.  My SOG is 6.5-7 knots and I have the current at my stern.  The current isn’t nearly as strong today as it has been.  My calculation shows it is less than 1/2 knot, but it is still helping a bit.  I checked the wind forecast again and the wind shift is still forecast for day after tomorrow.  The forecast shows the wind direction changing 180º, which would be a direct head wind for the direction I’m sailing.  So, it appears the best course is what I’m on now, trying to get farther north before the wind shifts.

The sea has calmed some from earlier this morning and it was mostly clear with bright, blue skies.  Another great day on the water.

01/13/2018 0635 UTC – 9º 59.84′ S 139º 13.21′ E

At 6:30 PM, when it was time to head below, I wasn’t making great speed, but there was nothing I could do about the light winds.  I decided I would continue to sail northwest and re-evaluate my options in the morning.

Day 6 – Sunday, January 14, 2018

I was awake at about 4:00 AM.  I couldn’t go back to sleep because I began wondering if I was far enough north to be able to turn toward Darwin.  I decided I’d had enough sleep and I just got up.

The GPS reported that I still had a couple of hours to sail before reaching the waypoint I had chosen to the northwest.  I did a test by turning to port until I was pointed in the direction I needed to go.  The winds were still light, 5-10 knots.  After making the turn, I now had the current coming across the port beam and it was flowing about 1 knot.  The current allowed a better wind angle to the sails, but it was also slowing me a bit.  Once I had the helm set on the new heading, my speed was 4-5 knots.  I decided to stay on the new heading because I wanted to make better time to my destination.

01/13/2018 1951 UTC – 9º 19.43′ S 138º 20.43′ E

At a little before 11:00 AM, the GPS reported 363 nm to the next waypoint.  The wind has increased some because my boat speed is now 6-7 knots and the ETE to the next waypoint is about 2-1/2 days now.  When I made my course change this morning, the GPS had an ETE of over 3 days.  I’m expecting tomorrow to be similar to today, as far as the wind goes.  Tuesday will be the interesting day because that is when the major shift in the wind direction is forecast, or so I thought.

I decided to check the wind forecast again.  The wind forecast for Tuesday has changed and it isn’t as dire as it was projected to be as of yesterday.  It still looks like I’m on the best course, although it looks like the wind will drop in about 36 hours.

The weather started out partly cloudy this morning, but it is now mostly cloudy.  The air temperature is a comfortable 85ºF.  Another peaceful day at sea.

At about 2:20 PM, the calm wind and current off the starboard bow made for a reduced SOG.  Since the wind forecast for Tuesday had improved, I decided to improve the wind angle in the sails and I turned more southwest.  I should be within about 10 nm of the northern coast of Australia in about 16 hours at my current speed.  Depending on what the wind does in a couple of days, I may have to do some tacking to get to Darwin.  Only time will tell.

01/14/2018 0648 UTC – 9º 40.09′ S 137º 27.84′ E

At 6:00 PM, I double-checked the autopilot and then headed below for the night.

Day 7 – Monday, January 15, 2018

I was awakened at about 2:30 AM by something that usually doesn’t happen while at sea.  It felt like I was anchored.  I went topside to the helm and found there was basically no wind.  When I looked at the forecast again, the news was not good.  The wind is not forecast to increase for at least 24 hours.  I reset the autopilot to just sail southwest and went back to bed.  Not much to do if I’m stuck out here, other than sleep until the sun comes up.

01/14/2018 1918 UTC – 10º 3.02′ S 137º 1.36′ E

I was up again at a little before 5:00 AM.  The wind was up to almost 2 knots, which was still almost nothing.  The wind was coming from the northwest, so my boat speed is actually a little more than the wind speed because I’m sailing on the starboard beam reach.  I decided to set the autopilot to follow this same wind angle since I’m not going anywhere very fast.

By 10:00 AM, the wind was up to a little over 3 knots.  I can’t get a good feeling for what the wind will be doing because the forecast suggests that the wind speed should be dropping during the next 24 hours.  It looks like the wind will be strong if I’m closer to the north coast of Australia, but with the light wind coming out of the north right now, I might not be able to get close enough to the coast to catch it.  It’s turning out to be a nice day.  The seas are calm, it’s partly cloudy and the temperature is 85ºF.  I checked the water temperature and it’s 87.5ºF.  That’s bath water temperature.

At 11:00 AM, the wind speed was up to 4 knots.  The wind direction had also changed to more westerly, which allowed me to head toward the coast.  I hoped that getting farther south would result in more wind.

01/15/2018 0616 UTC – 10º 20.91′ S 136º 27.79′ E

At a little before 7:00 PM, I had the autopilot set to follow my course track.  At my current speed of 3-5 knots, I would not reach the next waypoint before tomorrow morning.  The current is not strong, so the autopilot should keep me close to being on course.  I headed below for the night.  At 8:50 PM, I was still not asleep.  I checked on the autopilot and nothing had changed in the past couple of hours.  I finally headed off to sleep.

Day 8 – Tuesday, January 16, 2018

At about 2:00 AM, I was awake again.  I checked on the helm and my speed was still about 5 knots with the wind directly abeam the starboard side.  I looked at my course track and decided that I could forgo the next waypoint and just head directly for Croker Island, which was the waypoint after next.  When I made the course adjustment, I was sailing on a close reach and my speed was still right about 5 knots.  The GPS shows 163 nm to Croker Island, which should be about 30 hours at my current speed.  When I had the autopilot set on the new course, I headed back to bed.

01/15/2018 1852 UTC – 10º 42.51′ S 135º 33.86′ E

I slept in a bit this morning, considering the fact that I was up several times last night.  After I was up for a bit, I noticed that the wind was dying down again.  By about noon, the wind speed was back to about 3 knots and the wind direction had changed to be more from the west.  The direction wasn’t working well for me because west is the direction I wanted to go.  I decided to sail southwest for a while.

I expected the wind speed to decrease and to change direction.  What I didn’t expect was the forecast said this change would not last as long as had originally been forecast.  By 2:00 PM, the wind should have increased again, but it hadn’t.  I’ll just have to wait it out.  Since the winds are light, it won’t hurt much if I sail a ways south for a while.

01/16/2018 0621 UTC – 10º 56.09′ S 134º 50.95′ E

At nearly 4:00 PM, the wind direction had started to move more to the north.  For the past couple of hours, I had been sailing with the autopilot to follow the wind, keeping  the wind angle at 45º  for a close reach.  I’m guessing that tonight will be a lot like last night.  I’ll be up every couple of hours to check my course.

At about 7:00 PM, the wind was continuing to slowly move more north.  I adjusted the wind angle on the autopilot from 45º to 55º.  That will give me a little more speed, but the winds are still light. Once the autopilot was set, I headed below for the night.

Day 9 – Wednesday, January 17, 2018

I was up at about 1:00 AM to check the helm for any changes in the wind.  The wind direction had move a bit more north, so I adjusted the wind angle to 70º.  The GPS is estimating 18 hours to the next waypoint, so the helm should be fine for the rest of the night.

At 4:00 AM, I checked the helm and the wind direction was far enough to the north that I was able to set the autopilot to sail direct to the next waypoint.  The wind speed was only 4 knots, so I’m still not making very good time, but at least I’m sailing direct again.

10/16/2018 1838 UTC – 10º 53.41′ S 134º 0.06′ E

I slept a little later than normal this morning.  I was up on deck at about 8:00 AM.  The wind was still blowing a slow 3-4 knots.  The ocean surface was very smooth this morning with very shallow swells.  The GPS reports that I have about 65 nm until I reach Croker Island.  Normally, that distance would be a 10-hour sail.  With my SOG at barely 4 knots, it’ll be 18 hours before I get there.

I have company out here, which is the first time that’s happened during the past 6-1/2 months of cruising.  The boat Pegasus is about 40 nm east of me and appears to be generally sailing the same course.  Unfortunately, in this simulator, when a boat goes offline, it disappears from the radar.  Since the boats are, theoretically, still sailing, it’d be nice if they were still on the radar, even with the skipper was offline.

I have about 210 nm until I reach port in Darwin.  I’m hoping to arrive there sometime late tomorrow.  If the light winds continue, I may arrive Friday instead.

After breakfast, I reviewed the wind forecast for the next 48 hours.  It was a good forecast.  The forecast suggests that the wind will pick up in about 6 hours and strengthen.  It will also be blowing from the north-northeast, which will make for an easy sail right into Darwin.  Here’s hoping the forecast holds true.

At about 3:00 PM, I got a work assignment IRL tomorrow that will take me away from navigating, just when I am heading into the home stretch.  I looked for options to allow me to anchor while I get my assignment done.  About 13 nm ahead of me is New Year Island.  It is uninhabited and I considered whether I should anchor there.  Since I didn’t need to head for my assignment for about 12 hours, I decided to head for a bay on the east side of Croker Island.  That would be a good place to anchor until I’m ready to continue the voyage sometime tomorrow afternoon.

01/17/2018 0616 UTC – 10º 55.07′ S 133º 13.99′ E

By about 9:30 PM, the wind had picked up and was now blowing around 10 knots.  My boat speed was only a little over 5 knots because the wind was almost directly astern.  I expected that I would reach the bay where I will make my stop sometime after midnight.

Day 10 – Thursday, January 18, 2018

I steered through the islands to the east of Croker Island.  At 12:45 AM, I had sailed into the Mission Bay and anchored off the coast of a small town called Minjilang.  Once the sails and boat systems were secured, I headed for bed.

I spent a restful day in Mission Bay.  There was one downside.  During the day, the wind died down and shifted around to the southwest.  That is a good angle to leave from here, but not a good angle to sail into Darwin.  I will check the wind forecast tomorrow morning to see what my sailing options are.

I headed to be at around 6:00 PM because my plan was to get an early start in the morning.

Day 11 – Friday, January 19, 2018

At 3:00 AM, I raised the anchor, set the sails, and turn northeast bound out of Mission Bay.  As I was headed out, the wind was light, only about 4 knots and still blowing from the southeast.  The wind forecast suggested that the winds will not become favorable for the rest of my voyage until later this afternoon.  It looks like I’ll have to do some tacking once I get on the north side of Croker Island.  It is pitch-black out.  I’m looking forward to sunrise.

When I got north of Croker Island, the wind was coming from the west-southwest, which was just about the direction I wanted to go.  I headed to the northwest, hoping that the wind forecast of a switch to the south was going to be right.

By about 7:00 AM, the wind had started to shift to the south and I was able to take a more direct line to where I needed to be.  For the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon, I sailed off the coast of the Cobourg Peninsula, also known as Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.  At around 3:00 PM, the wind had all but disappeared.  The wind speed was under 2 knots and so was my boat speed.  The wind forecast is for an increase in wind speed soon.  I’m hoping the forecast turns out to be right.

01/19/2018 0755 UTC – 11º 5.63′ S 131º 56.41′ E

The day was uneventful, as far as having any problems.  The wind increased as it got later in the day and the wind finally shifted around to the north as forecast.  With the wind change, it should be an easy sail into Darwin.

Day 12 – Saturday, January 20, 2018

I was up at about 5:00 AM as I headed for the islands that are located north and northeast of Darwin.  The wind started out light early this morning.  By about 11:00 AM this morning, the wind was up to about 7 knots and it was blowing over the starboard beam, so I was getting about 6 knots SOG.

I had a great day of sailing on my way to Darwin.  It was overcast most of the day and the winds never got above 10 knots, so it was very smooth.  At about 4:00 PM, I dropped anchor in Fannie Bay, just off the west coast of Darwin.  It’s been a very long passage from Port Moresby and I’m looking forward to some rest while I plan the next leg of my journey.

01/20/2018 0645 UTC – 12º 27.06′ S 130º 49′ E