27 June 2007

Horn Island, Torres Strait Island

Anchored at Wasaga
Horn Island, Torres Strait Islands
684 miles to Darwin

Stuck at Horn Island!

We are at our last stop before we jump off to Darwin. We are waiting for the trade winds to die down a bit before we make this 800 mile hop over the top end of Australia. We had a short 20 mile sail from Mount Adolphus Island with very strong winds. 30-37 knots. Thankfully it was a short passage. We were even able to hook a 40 pound Spanish Mackerel just as we were going to drop the sails to pull into the main channel at Horn Island.

We are anchored between Horn and Thursday Island, but closer to Horn Island because it has better protection from the wind and currents. With the large tides here the tidal currents between the islands are quite strong. Sometimes the large spring tidal currents are over 6 knots.

The main town is on Thursday Island ("TI" as its locally known) where there are several hotels and shops. It is the administration center of the Torres Strait Islands. TI is hilly and used to be a major pearling center. There is a grave yard downtown with hundreds of graves of pearl divers who died from decompression sickness. TI is also Australia's most northern port. Horn island is where the airport is, and there is a ferry that goes between the islands that docks right off of where we are anchored.

Also, there is one small grocery store and two small hotels with small bars. The population is mostly Aboriginal. Most of the white population are business owners or government workers passing through.

The Torres Strait Islands, which these 2 islands are part of, is in a group of more than 70 islands. This area is a major hub for Australian Customs Service since they have a such a large border to protect using ships, airplanes, and helicopters. Our friends on Shiraz and Blue Sky were flown over by one of their helicopters and questioned over VHF radio. They asked them where they had checked in to Australia with customs and where they were going to be checking out of Australia.

Where we leave our dinghy at Horn Island is a small ferry and a shipping dock where the ships pull in to unload their supplies for the two islands. Along the main street is housing for the local residents and a small hotel with a bar that we have found to be filled with some very interesting characters. We met a big aboriginal named 'Cowboy' and his friend Frank. Cowboy was playing guitar and Frank played the didgeridoo at a picnic table out back. They waved us over and played local songs for us, telling us the history of the songs before they began. They really sounded great and it seems like everyone around here knows how to play the didgeridoo. A didgeridoo is a long narrow hollow tree hollowed out by termites that they blow through.

The local Aboriginal's here are super friendly and always say "Hello" as we walk by. The weird part of this tiny bar is that like most of Australia's bars, they have pokies (slot machines and dog/horse racing betting). The aboriginal's at the bar here seem very much into horse racing and they have a big long table where they sit watching the TV's while making their bets.

We also met Greg, who is the captain of the tug and barge that runs back and forth between the two islands. Greg offered us a ride on his tug, which we took advantage of today (Tuesday) saving us forty dollars for the round trip if we had taken the ferry across. We arrived in the morning at the location where he runs the bow of his barge up a ramp and lets vehicles get on and off. We put our dinghy up by all the shipping containers and walked up the ramp of the barge for a ride across the channel. The yard foreman Neil showed up just before we left. At first I thought that Greg might be in trouble for giving us a free ride. But when we saw that Neil was wearing a 'Blue Sky' baseball cap, I knew we were in. Turns out that Jim and Emma from S/V Blue Sky had plied him full of beer the night before and gave him the cap. So he was very cool about having us cruisers around.

As we mentioned when we were in Cooktown, this whole area of northern Australia is full of salt water crocodiles. Where we are anchored off Horn Island, at low tide there are long, exposed mud flats where the crocs live. We have not seen any, but the locals say they see them occasionally by the dinghy dock at low tide. The record croc caught in Australia was 28 feet. In contrast, our dingy being only 6 feet and made of inflatable rubber makes for a most exciting landing when going ashore. Nobody swims here, as it's too dangerous.

There is another sailboat in the anchorage that we have met before back in French Polynesia . They are going to be in the Darwin-to-Kupang Rally with us. Their boats name is 'Uterus'. Yes that is really the name, and they have a picture of a uterus on the bow. The couple on board, Benjamin and Henrietta, are from Norway. Their propeller fell off back at Stokes Bay, so they have had to sail in to and out of all their anchorages since then, which is quite a feat. They had a new propeller flown to them here at Horn Island and were less than pleased about having to swim under their boat to install it with this being a big crock area. Jim and Steve sat in their dinghies ready to chase any crocks away while Benjamin dove under the boat installing the new prop.

Most the crocks live in rivers. But they are pretty much anywhere there is a low bank for them to rest on and find food.

We had planned on staying here just for a few days and have now been here one week. The winds, both here and west of us, have been too strong for us depart. The predictions are for winds of 30 knots for the next few days. Every morning all the boats here are on the VHF radio discussing what their best guesses are on weather since all the sailboats here are making this hop over the top to Darwin.

There are about 10 other boats anchored here along with our friends on the S/V Blue Sky and the S/V Shiraz. It would be impossible to try to travel in the other direction (east) since the winds never change from S-SE. They only vary in how hard they blow. The trip to get to Darwin is over 684 miles in a straight line. There are a few tricky areas that we are going to pass through were we have to make sure that we arrive at the right time in order to catch the right tidal currents.

We are hoping to make this trip without stopping if all goes well and if we get good enough winds. If not, then there will be a few anchorages that we can wait in for better winds.

Darwin will be our last stop in Australia before we depart on July 21 for Kupang, Indonesia with 110 other boats in the Darwin to Kupang Rally.

If you have anything you would like to mail us before we leave Australia on 21-July, then please sent to the below address:

Thomas and Amy Larson
Sailing Vessel Sandpiper U.S.A.
Darwin Sailing Club
Atkins Drive, Fannie Bay
Darwin, Northern Territory

Tom & Amy

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