Vanuatu to TI, Torres Strait

Fate wouldn’t let us reach Thursday Island, locally referred to as T.I, on any given day, and after ten and a half days at sea, we drop anchor in the Torres Strait shortly after midnight on a Thursday, following James Cook’s footsteps who named the surrounding islands after the days he landed on them. Technically, we are off Horn Island, just opposite T.I., tucked in between a sand bank and the mangrove, to shelter from the strong South-Easterlies. Our longest crossing so far (without stopping) has unfolded without major drama, despite a rogue wave inviting itself in our cockpit and saloon on our first day shortly after leaving Vanuatu with little wind, several squalls encountered after that with lightening observed most nights from a distance, and a couple of offerings to the bucket for me. It’s official, we’ve left the Southern Pacific Ocean behind, and are now in Croc Country, between the Coral and the Arafura sea.

Statistics

StartWunpuko village, Santo (S 14º41.896′ E 166º33.884′)
EndThursday Island, Australia (S 10º35.99′ E 142º13.201′)
Distance1515 nautical mile travelled
Days at sea11
Speed6 knots average, 14 knots max speed
Motoring12 hours (4 the first day to get clear of Santo, and 8 on day 8)
Wind4-44 knots (downwind), mostly 20+ knots
Swim1 (on day 8)
Fish1 (on the last day)

Great Barrier Reef via Yule entrance

We had kept Papua New Guinea at bay most of the way, focusing on our westing to avoid a lull. This meant that when we approached Yorke Peninsula we were still quite South and the route via Bligh entrance seemed an overly long detour to cross the Great Barrier reef, so we looked for an alternative and found that we could spare 60 miles, nearly half a day’s navigation, if we crossed the Great Barrier Reef via Yule entrance, which seemed to be, trusting the scale of our C-map chart, a 200-meter wide pass.

The only problem was that it wasn’t mentioned by Jimmy Cornell in his World Cruising Routes, our reference to plan our passages. With kids pressuring us to take the “shortcut”, we enquired with our sailor friends to find more info, and although they couldn’t find much, they confirmed that given the right conditions, it should be feasible. Some (I didn’t suspect this risk appetite in my friend Claire) adding that it would even feel adventurous to deviate from the beaten track, and some (thanks Marion), giving us all the information about the equalising currents operating in this zone subject to semi-diurnal tides. One day I’ll figure out how it all works, for now it is above my head.

I checked we could reach the entrance by daylight, at slack tide, high tide conveniently coinciding with sunrise on the day, and that we would get enough daylight to avoid the reefs and sand banks that lay further on the route before joining the Great Channel. And so with everything “under control”, we opted for the “shortcut”, not without some anxious apprehension.

The night before, the wind strengthened and despite our three reefs in the main and a furled genoa we were progressing too fast (6-7 knots) and were bound to arrive by night at the pass. So on his last watch, with only 12 miles to cover Thomas dropped the main entirely and traded the genoa for the staysail. Still too fast (4-5 knots). At 6 am, 2 miles from the pass, we hove to, letting Obelix slowly drift to wait for the sunrise.

Yule entrance

Although impressive, with waves crashing on both sides, the pass was very reliably charted and we made it through easily, finding on the other side the peace and quiet of an aquamarine lake. What a pleasure to have breakfast without having to watch out for your cup of tea!

Clearance on Thursday Island

Preparing for our arrival, I emailed ABF (Australian Border Force) to advise we would reach Thursday Island that evening and got confirmation it was safe to anchor by night and we could proceed with clearance in the morning.

So on Thursday, after a decent night’s sleep, we tidied up the boat, ready to welcome officials on board, and made contact with Ports North / T.I. Harbour to arrange coming alongside their wharf for clearance. We got a slot at 1 pm, and made our way there shortly after a fishy lunch (with the only fish caught whole during the crossing). Given the wind and tide, coming alongside proved very challenging and I’m surprised I didn’t lose the plot before we were “secured” by the dock officers, under the eyes of the Customs and Biosecurity officers patiently waiting for us. As they wouldn’t come onboard, Thomas climbed the ladder to deal with the admin while I stayed behind with the boys, listening to the ropes creaking and fearing for all our fittings suffering under the load (one gave in and needs to be fixed). By the time I had done the dishes and was ready to start writing, Thomas was back with a smile, he needed a signature from me, but apart from that, no biosecurity inspection, nothing to pay, and, bonus, our laundry taken care of by the dock officer. How good can it get? They sure know how to welcome their visitors here!

Passage pastimes

I’m sure how people spend their days at sea varies from one boat to the other but I thought I’d list the different activities we enjoyed this time round:

  • Telling each other jokes
  • Trying to guess our family and friends’ charades (sent on Iridium GO!)
  • Eating mangoes (we were given a full box at the last village we visisted in Vanuatu)
  • Cutting and drinking fresh coconuts (given at the last village in Vanuatu)
  • Kids baking cakes, bread and pizzas
  • Playing chess (and getting beaten by Zephyr)
  • Fishing (with very limited success)
  • Learning Spanish
  • Teaching how to solve second degree equations
  • Reading (Azur started to read Harry Potter discovering the thrill of falling into a book and pretending to be the main character, Zephyr read “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books 1 to 10, I finished “Trois Amis en quete de Sagesse” which could translate as “Three friends in their quest to widsom”, mixing philosophy, psychology and Buddhism, while Thomas read “Along the clipper way” by Sir Francis Chichester, like he’s not got enough of sea adventures or want to put our mishap in perspective with true hardships)
  • Watching movies (incl. childhood favourites like “La Boom”, and having to stop when the boat inadvertently gybed because of an incoming squall, with no damage caused, ironically thanks to the boom break)
  • Decal tattoos
  • Swimming when the wind died and we so needed to cool off

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