Darwin 3

15th March 2008

Written by Peter

Well, this email was started way back in January, with the opening “Been a bit torn over the last few weeks.  As much as I’d love to do another scribe about our trip, would people really be interested in “here we are still sitting in Darwin…”?

Sunset in Tipperary

But then, the last few days, we’ve had 4 emails from friends asking how things are.  You know who you are – so it’s all your fault if anyone complains.”

Hinewai nestling in Tipperary

A few logistics got in the way, like Jean and I swapping this back and forth a couple of times for comments so it’s now the start of March, but I’m determined to get it off tonight.  My apologies to the four who asked how we were aeons ago – to the rest of you, don’t you want to know?

Some of the other liveaboards

Anyway, here we are still sitting in Darwin.  Well, when I use the word “we”, it’s somewhat we in the royal sense since it’s just me here at the moment.  Sadly Jean’s mum is not well so Jean is back in Perth to be with her family.  The plan is that I’ll be heading back to Melbourne next week to (finally) get my Yachtmaster qualifications and Jean will come over and meet me there. I’ll nip back to Darwin for a few days then fly back down to Perth to meet up with Jean to join in the celebrations for her Dad’s 90th birthday over Easter.

But that’s the future.  What’s been going on in our lives recently?  Well, soon after our last email in October, Jean’s mum was diagnosed with a recurrence of her cancer which necessitated a further op.  So Jean headed to Perth to be there to help her Mum and Dad.

Oppressive skies and shy high humidity

That left me alone in Darwin, and it was pretty bloody awful.  I’d heard about the “build up” – the change between the Dry and the Wet Seasons – and how bad it could be.  The locals kept telling me it wasn’t a bad build up this year, but it nigh on killed me.  All through November it was 33C every day and oppressively humid (The nights got down to 25C, but it was still oppressively humid).  Offsetting this though were the most spectacular electrical storms every night, and sometimes even rain!  But most of the time, the slightest exertion meant sweating – like I have never done before – I’m amazed Darwin isn’t full of Scandinavians – it’s like living in a permanent sauna – maybe gum trees are no good for flogging yourself with?

Thank God we invested in an air con for the boat.

Exerting myself was still a bit of a no-no with the old ribs.  It appears they are so out of alignment now (the last X-ray looked like a game of pick-up-sticks) it will be a fair while before they’ll heal up, but in the mean time the old body has formed a pad of “gristle” to hold everything together.  Then it turned out that when the ribs broke, they sort of hinged around my spine, damaging a couple of discs.  So November was spent doing heaps of physio – I’ve even joined a gym doing lower body work – but must confess what with the humidity and less than brilliant motivation levels, attendance has not been regular!

As you may have heard, we had an election in November and comprehensively threw out the old government.  The poisonous lying git of a Prime Minister, John Howard, even lost his seat – yippee.  He lead the most decisive and amoral government I’ve ever had the misfortune to be ruled by – and even as a life long Conservative (= Liberal in Aus), it was joy to vote against them.  

Catching up with old friends in the UK, John the Ghost

I was invited along to a party election night – it turned out to be being held by some staunch Laborites – we even had a few NT ministers turn up.  It was so funny – as soon as they realised I had no vote here, they were off pressing other flesh.  Politicians – phah!  If I saw one on fire, I wouldn’t cross the road to piss on them.

At least with Howard now gone, I can go back to a more natural state of affairs and start voting Liberal again.

Christmas with Jean’s family

At the end of November, the Doc finally gave me the OK to fly again – two days later I was on a flight to the UK.  It was wonderful to catch up with my folks again – and it was so nice to be cool again.  Caught up with loads of people and had a few days of “me time”.

Flew back to Darwin just before Xmas and the next day, headed straight down to Perth for Christmas with Jean’s family.

The Christmas afternoon nap

As ever, it was a great time, although did have one major embarrassment.  

Jean… with scope!

Rory, Jean’s nephew, is a member of a shooting club and invited us down for a morning shooting with his old 303.  

After 10 shots, I had a virgin target! (No excuse – just never got the sights zeroed in (weak I know)).  Jean smugly had TWO bullseyes!  

Scary Jean!

Must remember to accidentally leave her paper target out in a torrential tropical rain storm by mistake.

Jean, I and Tachie flew back on the 30th Dec, with Sarah, Tachie’s friend, flying up from Melbourne to join us that night.  New Years Eve was a day of drinking, seeing the New Year down at Dinah Beach.  From there we headed into the city where it is rumoured I was seen dancing at a pub/club.  I doubt that.

Poor Jean had to front up at 11am New Years Day for her Tour Guide job for passengers arriving in Darwin aboard the Sapphire Princess.  The first tour she did was on Halloween so to stand out so her tourists could find her, she wore a witch’s hat (still managed to loose one mind (a tourist, not a hat)).  New Years Day, she may have swapped the hat for golden batons and New Year’s glitz, but she still looked as white as a ghost.

They’re an odd mob, these tourists.  They’re paying the equivalent of the national debt of several small countries to spend several months at sea on a Cruise Ship, and what do they do when they get to Darwin – they go with Jean on a Harbour Cruise (and Darwin Harbour is not great shakes to look at).  Even worse, they were mainly Poms, not Yanks, and the tips were terrible.

Cyclone Helen as seen on the Met Office Radar

T & S stayed another couple of weeks – the plan being that they and Jean would head off and tiki-tour the Top End.  Then Helen raised her head.

Cyclone Helen started off as a tropical depression to the south of Darwin heading west, but when it crossed the coast onto the water, it developed into a Category 2 Cyclone (Cyclone = Typhoon or Hurricane for those who live in other places around the world).  

T & S keeping an eye on Cyclone Helen

It then did a U-turn and headed towards Darwin which went into Cyclone mode.  Shelters were opened up, the TV and radio were playing “be very careful or you’ll die” government warnings, the shops were stripped etc etc.  We spent the day getting the yacht secure – getting all the awnings off, doubling up lines, topping up the water tanks, charging boat and phone batteries.  Once we had Hinewai squared away, we worked with some of the other live-aboards here who finished their boats and help strip down the yachts where the owners were away.

As it turned out, Helen made landfall about 50-100ks south of us with the weather hitting Darwin around midnight.  The city had its strongest winds for 20 years with over 1500 tress blown down and large areas of the city without power for several days.

We had the strangest time.  I cannot lie – I was a bit concerned and stayed up most of the night sticking my head up though the hatch regularly.  I wasn’t the only one.

T & S after Cyclone Helen

But as it turned out, we only saw 45 knots of wind on the instruments– we’ve seen a lot stronger back at Brighton – either we were in a fluky area or all the buildings around the marina acted as great windbreaks.

So from our position, Helen was a real fizzer – Thank Heavens.  But then who needs a cyclone – the other night, we had a storm with winds of 60 knots that dumped 250mm of rain (that’s 9″ of rain in the old money) in 4 hours.  But what a light show!

Kakadu after all the rain

It took a few days for the damage from Helen to be cleared up and the flooding to subside so the roads out of Darwin could be opened up, but my intrepid Jean soon headed off in our little yellow car with T & S down to Kakadu/Katherine and various other places for a few days.


Then, the day before T & S were due to leave, we had the news that Jean’s mum had been taken into hospital.  T & S headed off on the Sunday (well, very early am Monday morning (which was a shame since they realised that their 00.05 flight had actually been Sunday morning which necessitated buying new tickets – still, we’ve all done it) and Jean headed back to Perth that afternoon.

That’s left me rattling around in the marina.  There’s not many of us left here – most people have headed off to hide from the weather, but those who are left have become quite a close knit community.  You tend to pop into the local café for a coffee after your shower in the morning, so there’s a fair catch up then.  Then in the evening, the same happens over a beer down at Dynah Beach – the local bar/club.

The Dynah Beach Yacht Club

But it’s strange, you don’t often just have a chat as people pass.  Most yachts are bow in, so if you are sitting in the cockpit you can see or be seen.  Also, it’s a bit of a troglodyte life – it’s so much more pleasant down below in the air-con, why sit outside and sweat (most live-aboards have air-con – the couple that don’t are having major problems with mould down below).

Oh, raining again!

The weather’s pretty odd though – not what I expected.  I thought roughly that we had the “Build-up” and then the monsoon came in with regular rain – and that’s how it used to be.  But it’s not been like that this year, nor the past couple of years – we’ll have a week or so of monsoonal rain, then a couple of weeks of pretty much “Build up” again.  Apparently, it’s due to the monsoon troughs that bring the rain oscillating in a north and south pattern – which is not what they used to do.

More so, it used to be safe to bring the yachts back out to anchor off the Darwin Sailing Club (and stop paying $1,000 pen fees) at the end of March/early April – the long range forecasts are now suggesting the weather may not be settling until late April/early May.

Having been sitting down at DSC the other lunchtime while a bit of a storm came through, I think we’ll play safe and stay in here for a while yet.  It’s pretty shallow, so the waves stand up and come through close together – and it’s a lee shore with these weather patterns.  And it means I can keep the air con going and not have to use the rubber dinghy for a bit longer.

And, keep an eye on the cost of flights back to Melbourne – spotted a real cheapy the other weekend, so popped south for a long weekend.  It was great catching up with everyone at the club again, and just spending some time driving around looking at Melbourne again.  Odd, odd feeling though – while there the trip so far seemed like a dream – as if we’d never been away.

Arthur, Jean’s Dad on his 90th Birthday

So, what’s the future offering?  At the risk of God laughing again, we have a couple of possible plans.  We can’t really do either until late April/Early May depending on the weather, but at least we can start getting everything ready.

The first plan is to hang around Oz, heading down to the Kimberleys for a couple of months before coming back to Darwin and doing the Kupang Rally in July.  The Kimberleys are said to be one of the most beautiful places on earth with loads of good sailing – but, to be honest, I just want to get going again – feeling a bit Australiaed out.

So we’ve been pondering something a little more adventurous – to head off straight to Bali and from there up to Borneo, sailing north onto Sarawak and Brunei.  From there, we could head to the east coast of Thailand, Malaysia and head round Singapore onto the east coasts.  This route, time willing, might even allow a divert to southern Vietnam.

Plan C would be to head pretty much straight to Singapore and spend a very leisurely six months working our way up the west coast of Malaysia and Thailand.  It would also give us the chance to slip Hinewai using the, so I am hearing, good (and cheap) facilities at Langkawi.

Not really sure yet what we’ll do, but I’m just staring to work on the boat, getting her ready to head off again.  It is truly amazing how much we seem to have acquired in the last few months – the forepeak is chokka with stuff.  I have no idea where most of it will fit – it may need a big box heading back to Melbourne.

Alongside that is I’m enjoying my writing.  Have managed to sell a story to a UK magazine – Practical Boat Owner – they pay three times what the Aussie mags.  They’ve also expressed interest in another couple of ideas I put to them, so have those stories to work on – another reason to miss Jean – she takes much better photos than I do.

And that’s about it.  Hmm, the 5th page in Word writing this – thought it would be really short, but it seems there’s still a few things going on.  As ever, I’ll also post this email on the website.

All the best to all of you

Peter & Jean

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