Up the Creek
Down the Creek
Letter from Gove
Mackay's Boatyard   
 The Night of the Cane Toad Queen

Why Gamble on Cane Toads?

By Lois Joy

11º05 S, 131º51 E
0745, Friday, July 8, 2005


The rising sun follows our wake, along with the gentle waves of the Arafura Sea. The joyful refrains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir play softly through the speakers of the cockpit as I sit on the starboard helm seat with my morning coffee. Pacific Bliss is dawdling along between 4.5 and 5.5 knots in a caressing breeze; she is restrained with a triple-reefed jib and no main, since we are timing our approach into Darwin to arrive at dawn with the optimum tides and currents. Gunter has gone down below to sleep after his early morning watch. I am enjoying a rare is moment of bliss-yes, even out here the moments of true bliss are few and far between-the moment doesn't last long.

An Australian Coast Watch plane with the now-familiar red-and-white insignia buzzes low and snaps yet another photo of Pacific Bliss. "For the commonwealth files" they always say. The statement reminds me of a grade school history lesson: "The sun never sets on the British Empire." I expect that soon I will receive the familiar VHF call. I go inside to the nav station, so that I can hear the call. The VHF loaned to us by Dragonfly isn't connected to the cockpit speakers; our original one conked out in Gove; this is #1 on the fix-it list for Darwin. With this loaned ham set, I need to go from duplex to simplex to allow us to transmit as well as receive.

"Pacific Bliss, do you copy?"

"Yes, loud and clear."


"72," I respond. I switch the dial to 72, then from duplex to simplex, turn the reception from LOW to HIGH, simultaneously turning off the 12-volt inverter so it doesn't buzz. Not a user-friendly set-up right now. The caller asks a few questions about the other yachts he has spotted; he already has our ETA for Darwin from the last call, right after our passage through the hole-in-the-wall, back in the Wessell Islands, the beginning of our three-overnight passage.
"Thank you, Pacific Bliss." The eye-in-the-sky moves on. Next I hear the next call: "White sloop with the inflatable upside-down dinghy on your deck, come on in."

"Good on them," I even think in Australian now. I'm glad they are out here keeping a watch on who comes into this island/continent/nation of theirs.

My reverie interrupted, I attempt to get centered again. I pray for one more, safe overnight into the harbor; it will be a long stretch in the shipping lanes at night. It has taken me two hours to plan the passage to coincide with the wind, tides, currents and time-of-day. I go over it one more time in my head. Will there be so much shipping that we both need to stay up?-a concern since we are double-handing now.

But now my reverie is seriously interrupted; I will not get back into this mood again. Because even in the remote Northern Territory, sailing along the mouth of Trepang Bay, north of the Cobourg Peninsula, I am thrust into the interconnectivity of the entire world-and not just by the vastness of the 360º horizon I see-the ocean that never ends and the sky that covers us all-but by electronics. We first hear the disheartening news via the VHF from our buddy boat Mi Gitana:
Four bombs explode in London, three in the Underground; one on a bus.
"Al Qaeda strikes again," is my guess. I bow my head under those benign pale-blue skies and ask, "Oh why, God? Why?" and pray for the families of those stricken and for Tony Blair, reportedly flying home from a world conference to face disaster at home. I put on another CD, but it does not lighten my mood.

I was looking forward to civilization again, to perusing a newspaper at length after the long, lonely passage 'over the top.' But not now. I feel for those of you at home, chained to 24-hour cable news. I've heard all I want to, and still I grieve. I would not want to hear it over and over again until one becomes numb to hurt and pain. I want you to know: I am one with all of you today in spirit.


Sunday, July 10, 2005

12º25.5670S, 130º49.5463E
Fannie Bay Anchorage, Darwin

Approaching Darwin
By Lois Joy

Pacific Bliss labored against the currents past Port Essington, making only 3 knots with both engines, and later, only 1.5 knots. Then we passed the coordinates past Cape Don to the where our charts said the currents would change. They did. Our carefully laid out plan worked! The tides turned in the humongous bay leading to Darwin and all was in our favor. The currents of Van Diemen's Gulf and Beagle Channel ran with us all Friday night and early Saturday morning. It was a real sleigh ride, skimming over the flat seas with along with the currents. We were at 10 knots speed-over-ground in a 6-knot current, alone on a pitch-black night-scary and exhilarating at the same time. Both Gunter and I had been on watch together through most of the night.

As we wound through the Vernon Islands, the tightest part of the shipping channel, we were relieved that we'd only met one vessel. That one, however, gave me quite the scare when he did not return my VHF call. Eventually though, he did make a clear turn away from our direct (collision) course.

We arrived here in Fannie Bay yesterday morning, according to plan, at dawn's first light. The huge bay was filled with sixty or more yachts. We headed toward the catamarans and dropped anchor.

I had a strange, inexplicable feeling, heading toward the city lights of Darwin in the pre-dawn. It was not the feeling of anticipation, of exhilaration, that I experienced approaching Bundaberg at night as part of the 2003 Port-to-Port Rally. On that night, almost two years ago, my energy was at an emotional high, like contemplating a tryst with a new lover. Australia was the vast unknown, and the thrill of discovery lie ahead. It seemed that everything could kill or eat or overwhelm you. I read that no adjectives were sufficiently DANGEROUS, VAST nor EMPTY to describe this untamed land. I was tantalized…intrigued.

Since then, we have arrived at numerous Australian ports by sea and have covered thousands of miles of OZ by land and air. Our arrival here is an end, rather than a beginning. Darwin is our final port. From here, we will join the Darwin-to-Kupang Rally to Indonesia.

Our voyage, over the top from Cairns to Darwin has put us on first-hand terms with those fore-mentioned adjectives. They are not to be taken lightly. As we progressed over the top, the ports became farther and farther apart. Services for yachties became inconsistent, then nonexistent. The trusty VMR (Voluntary Marine Rescue) faded off as we sailed the Northern Territory's, aborigine-owned coastline. Anchorages were not only uninhabited; most were unsurveyed. Jellyfish and sharks gave way to dangerous 'salties.' Swimming or showering off one's yacht became 'inadvisable.' And the customary 'swim to check the anchor' fell by the wayside. We had never felt so much a part of the food chain! In the Northern Territories we learned another adjective: UNFORGIVING. One does not want to make a mistake here.

Footsteps and I Believe in Angels by Christie Lane, was playing on the stereo as I wrote these words in my journal. I stopped my writing to listen, then called for Gunter. Then I replayed the CD back from the beginning. As we listened to the words, holding hands, tears began to fall down my face. I looked into Gunter's eyes. He had one big tear ready to drop from the tip of his nose. Then as we listened carefully to the words, their impact settled into our souls:

One set of footprints in the sand. You promised me you'd hold my hand. One set of footprints in the sand.
Lord, you said that if I decided to follow you, you'd hold my hand all the way… When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I was carrying you.

It was a long, hard voyage 'over the top' from Cairns to Darwin. But we are here. We are safe. And after a couple of weeks of rest for us and repairs for Pacific Bliss, we are prepared to go on the next leg of our adventure: participating in the Darwin-to-Kupang Rally to Timor, Indonesia.

Watch for these forthcoming stories: Over the Top in the Land Down Under and Darwin-to-Kupang Rally.

Log and Journal