Lat: 09 deg 17.1′ S
Long: 144 deg 13.5’E
After 10,000 ocean miles, Khulula is on the brink of entering the intricate and much feared Torres Straight. 120 miles long, with water depths averaging a mere 25m, this reef strewn straight separates Australia and Papa New Guinea, and is one of the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Navigating this pass by sailboat is anything but simple! With large oceans on either side, the tidal difference can be magnificent, pushing tides up to 7kts across the channels. Also, this area is known to have the strongest and most consistent trade winds in the world, rarely dipping below 25kts. Check. Pretty blooming windy outside right now! The goal is to time your arrival with light winds and small tides, a combination that exists once in a blue moon, aka HARDLY EVER. We are approaching the mark, a light on a coral outcrop called Bramble Cay (named in honour of all the ships that have been “caught” by the unanticipated current set and subsequently shipwrecked). Our depth gauge has just touched bottom and is rapidly clocking down – 120m, 100m, 79m, 56m… Still there is no land or light in sight… As the depth decreases, our shelter from the swell increases, as we enter the lee of one of the 7 natural wonders of the world, the Australian Great Barrier Reef. The Bramble Cay entrance to the Torres Straight is a the most northern extremity of this amazing reef, about 5 miles from where we now float!
Ahhh, see you later, waves! Anyone that tells you that the Gulf of Papua is a nice calm waterway is lying through their teeth. We left the crime and humid hustle and bustle of Port Moresby yesterday and sailed straight into 4m seas, heavy rain squalls and winds gusting up to 40 kts. This was all way too much for Casper our friendly wind vane so the three of us took shifts on the wheel all night long. It is a lonely three hours standing at the helm of a sailboat in mountainous seas, getting drenched by heavenly fresh water deluges mixed in with the saltier but just as wet, waves that come blasting down the decks. In midst of this aqueous kinetic world is the howling racket of the wind SHREEKING through the rigging. For the first time ever, Khulula was sporting her storm sails, and making good progress amid the tempest…
That is all in the past now. The wind is still up, but the seas have completely expired themselves by hurling up onto the very reef that we have just ducked behind. It is like reaching the top of a long and arduous climb… you can almost hear Khulula breathe a sigh of relief! You’ve done good girl, you’ve done good!
Sooo, anyway, tonight it seems that steering watch will be replaced by Radar/ship dodging watch. The squalls are gone, and the sky is clear, meaning that all will be bathed in moonlight – what an adventure!
Check out this waypoint on the “Expedition Map” tab on the top of the screen, and scroll SW to an island (Thursday Island) off the northern tip of Australia – this is the rough route. Zoom in further and you should see a bunch of long, dark shapes lined up like an ant trail – these are massive tanker and container ships ripping through the straight at 20knts plus, focused on directing these beasts and NOT looking out for sailboats. In these situations SIZE rules, the smaller you are, them more you better watch out!
Here we go!! If the current gets too strong we may just drop the anchor (the “hook”) on the leeward side of one of the chunks of reef and wait for the current to turn. Imagine sitting at anchor on the NE side of the Torres Straight, sipping sundowners and watching tankers cruise by less than 300m from your stern : After all, we do have something to celebrate on s.v Khulula, as our trip odometer now reads 9986 miles, a mere 14 miles shy of 10,000 ocean miles (~18,000 km)!