And On To Darwin

October 2019

We left King George River on the morning of 22nd October and made excellent time across the Bonaparte Gulf to Darwin, a total of 237 nautical miles (440km). In fact, we made such good time that we again arrived in darkness; about 11pm on the 23rd October (I really need to have a serious chat with the navigator, as this was not the plan). The approach in to Darwin turned out to be quite stressful as we were both tired and there was a great deal of shipping. At one point I was having trouble trying to work out how to dodge sailboats that kept appearing and then disappearing (single mast light and I assumed the running lights were below the wave height). A wee while later when one of the sets of lights kept heading up, I realised that they were from planes taking off across the bay from the airport! Due to the approach being quite tricky we decided that we had best pull over and not try to get into Fanny Bay, so we anchored out of the shipping lane, in about 8m water, some 2kms from the marina. After going over the tide height calculations twice we both settled down for the night. I stayed up top to keep an eye on the boat’s position as usual.

The next morning we slowly made our way into the main harbour and radioed Cullen Bay Marina. There were plenty of ship movements, including a rather dark menacing jobbie from the navy, to keep us on our toes. Due to the large tidal range, all the Darwin marinas have locks, so entry has to be scheduled carefully. Cullen Marina is less restricted as they have a lock that allows entry at all tides (although the approach can be tight during low tides). We did nearly end up as that months beached boat (it is a regular occurrence outside the lock) as the message to follow a particular set of markers didn’t get passed on to the person who ended up steering the boat in. Fortunately I popped up onto the bridge and asked Peter why he wasn’t lined up on the markers, to which he replied “what markers?” – oops. We had also forgotten to change the radio to the lock channel, so he didn’t hear the lockmaster’s repeated calls to correct course. But all ended well and after parking along-side the fuel dock to complete some paperwork , we were through the lock, parked ‘Opal Lady’ neatly into her berth and turned the engines off for a well-earned break.

We have chosen not to travel any further east at this time, as the cyclone season is about to commence and we are getting a bit tired, especially after the beautiful but challenging Kimberleys. So, we will be staying in Darwin until the end of the cyclone season to rest and recover (April/May 2020), and to see the ‘wet’ season. We are looking forward to experiencing the storms of the wet and exploring all that the Northern Territory has to offer. We also need to clean the poor boat; there is rust popping up all over the place and we need to attend to a list of maintenance jobs (including replacing the main fridge).

Neon Notes:

Gundagai (NSW) might have their ‘Dog on the Tuckerbox’, but I think the Kimberley ‘Cat on the Eski’ is destined to become far more iconic – move over crocodiles, the Kimberley has a cat.


So, after 6 months of travel we have made it to Darwin. Every time we look at a map and see how far we have come we are amazed with what we have achieved in our first cruise out.

Over that period, we have become better boaters and learnt a huge amount about the boat, ourselves and our capabilities. We have confidence in (and respect for) our beautiful boat, which has not missed a beat and taken us safely through some of the most remote areas of Australia. Our confidence in ourselves and our ability to make good decisions, and work around the problems that will always arise, has grown. Interestingly enough this is probably the longest period Peter and I have spent together in one stretch for many, many years, and despite our two boys betting that Peter may have “fallen overboard” along the way, we found that the constant relying on each other and absolute trust we had to have to make this work, has made the whole trip even better and we are working really well together.

View seawards from the Cullen Bay Marina lock

Before we begin our break from cruising, some thoughts on our journey so far:

Things that we found worked for travelling in heat:

We had our own beach towel for sitting on. This kept the pilot chair, benches, berths and floor in some instances, dry and stopped them from developing a manky smell. We also had our own wet flannel for cooling ourselves (these were washed every day, as they really did develop a sweaty human smell – very reminiscent of a flight I had in Africa a number of years ago). Wearing as little clothing as possible (unless you’re in the sun) really helps to keep the body cool (this is where Neon had a real problem).

The water bottles used by cyclists, that just need to be squeezed, were the best for ensuring that we kept drinking regularly. It sounds silly but the effort to unscrew and not lose the small caps off bottles would have reduced the amount we actually drank.

Mitchell our eldest son would be happy to hear that we drank an amazing amount of water and I think this is why we didn’t suffer any major medical problems along the way (I have read that constipation and headache are common boating maladies). We would go through a bottle each 3hr shift and at least two when manoeuvring under stress – water, it turns out, is indeed brain food. Drink, drink, drink (water).

When we were out and about in the sun, the clothing rule mentioned earlier is thrown out the window; cover, cover, cover. I found that it didn’t matter what type of sunscreen I put on (moisturiser based, oil based, zinc pastes) the sweat/sunscreen combination just became very uncomfortable, so I lived in my UV fishing shirt when off the boat. I’m currently looking for a pair of light, quick drying trousers so that I only have to remember to sunscreen my feet (very painful if you forget your feet).

Frozen yoghurt makes a wonderful dessert when you are hot and just want something cool (plain yoghurt mixed with a tin of fruit salad and some sugar to keep it from freezing solid).

We run a dry boat when under way and only crack a coldie when the anchor is safely down.

Miscellaneous Notes:

As a general rule we don’t eat big meals while on the overnight passages, but we do make sure to have a little to eat during each shift (it helps to pass the time if nothing else). I prepare simple meals in bulk that only need to be heated in the microwave. Chilli con carne is my favourite and it meets the ‘sticks to the spoon test’ (you don’t want something that needs more cutlery or can slide off the plate). We can cook while on the move if we wanted, but operating the gas stove on a moving boat is just another complication we’d need to deal with. As an aside we both lost quite a bit of weight (Peter lost 7cm around his waist!) which says a lot for the healthy boating life.

We were both very mindful of what we said before we spoke. I have a tendency to view most comments as criticism and my first form of defence is attack, but knowing that Peter was choosing his words carefully gave me time to check myself before I launched into a tirade about why something went wrong (or why he was wrong or why we were again arriving in darkness). I don’t think we have ever communicated so clearly in all our life; and all it took was the fear of running the boat aground (who would have thought stress would bring out the best in us?). We have found that we have become quicker with compliments or positive comments when something has gone right or we have survived another learning experience.

Dealing with stress and boredom (sometimes at the same time!)

Drink, drink, drink (water again) and music. During the night shifts we were going through our music and making up play lists for ourselves. I currently have a 9am and 3am (very different genres) on the go and Peter is working through the 70s and 80s files. I also find myself cleaning a lot, especially if the seas are a bit rough and I am off shift. Peter on the other hand needs to talk (and sometimes includes pacing). In fact he needs to go over and over (and over) details, which could drive a person (like his wife) nuts; but we know we have to live with each other so I listen to him, pacing, and he listens to me humming over the headsets while cleaning the mooring lines – it’s all give and take.

There were many concerns voiced by Peter’s work mates, that trapping an A type personality on a smallish boat could be fraught with danger. Fortunately, for the trip we were still learning to do everything efficiently so things took a deal of time and we were rechecking most everything we did, which takes more time. The boat also provides a regular source of maintenance jobs, and together with maintaining the fishing gear and working on improving my ropes/lines (Peter is putting larger loops in my mooring lines and re-roping the fenders – he has become quite a dab hand with a fid), there was something to keep him occupied every day (now you may understand why I also left the navigating to him – it can also be very time consuming). The fall-back plan, as I mentioned to the concerned friends, was for me to start ‘accidentally’ breaking things for him to fix.

Blogging can become a real problem, and I am not speaking about lack of internet access. We started the blog as an easy way of keeping our family and friends informed about what we were up to. But I soon found I developed a self-imposed pressure to ensure that the entries are hopefully well written and interesting, which really slows the whole process down, and then there is the (again self-imposed) stress of trying to keep to a time schedule. I have since realised that the people who are interested in where we are, were using MarineTraffic to keep track of us in real time [as evidenced by our receiving a text from Mother-in-Law to tell us that we were leaving Exmouth, something we were already pretty sure of]. Most everyone else was just happy to read about things ‘ex post facto’, so I have let up on myself now (as evidenced by my writing this last November entry in late December).

So, for now it is time to visit the relatives, celebrate Peter’s 60th and enjoy the Northern Territory. Until we get on the move again, Fair winds and our Best Chrissy Wishes to all, and hopes for a Prosperous and Peaceful New Year.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Wow! Love the self-reflection, and I do really enjoy reading your ‘well-written and interesting entries’. I do t think you would be able to write any other way!

    Also, great drink bottle tip! Daryl said the same to me yesterday after having borrowed my drink bottle for the gym. He wasn’t a fan of mine and said he preferred his cycling bottle so he didn’t need to unscrew or unclip the cap. You’re on to it!

    1. Greetings Vona, I knew I couldn’t be the only person who thought those cycling bottles are just more convenient – go Daryl. They are a bit more pesky to clean, but that is a small price to pay for easy to access water. Suz

  2. I have loved your blog posts Suz! I hope you have a great wet season. I lived through 4 of those and I must say when I left Darwin I had no desire to spend another! Such a different way of living, storms every afternoon and the green tree frogs, flying foxes and mosquitos. I lived in Fanny Bay for quite some time. Used to love standing on the cliffs watching the mantarays fly past! Enjoy being land lubbers for a while.

    1. Greetings Lisa, I love the bats flying out in the evening and the afternoon rains have started, but we’ll see how I feel about it all in a few months. Darwin is certainly a different type of place to any we’ve in before. Suz

  3. I thought retirement was for relaxation and less stress. Of course not with you two. Love reading about your adventures on the seas (and land). HAPPY 60th PETER. Enjoy your experience of the wet season and many celebrations throughout the year. Obviously, Mitchell and Taylor will be setting up their own Production Company, with ‘Cat on the Esky’ as its star attraction. The adventures of Neon and his owners on the high seas is bound to be a hit. Not to forget all the spin off merchandising prospects, eg. ‘Spot Neon on the Boat’, ‘Where’s Neon?’, ‘What is Pete fixing now’ books and toys. Best wishes from suburban Perth. Look forward to reading more of your adventures. Kimberley and Greg (but he doesn’t know what I wrote).

    1. Greetings Kimberley, I love your very enterprising suggestions (they certainly made us laugh). I have sent them to the Toads for consideration, but I’m afraid Neon doesn’t think he could handle the trappings of fame and fortune. Never mind. Our best to you and Greg.

  4. What a great post Suz. Ive just found your blog through Nordhavn Living. We had a Nordhavn several years ago and sold it but miss boating too much. We plan to sell up and buy another in a couple of years, leave the land based life and head around Australia and maybe beyond travelling and living aboard until we cannot any longer. I will be trawling your blog for tips and hints about the exit strategy! Cant wait, going to make a cuppa and sit and read…good isolation remedy! Hope you’re doing ok in Darwin! I have family living there so if you need any assistance, let me know!

    1. Greetings Sue, Thankyou for finding us (I always get a shock to realise there are people who aren’t the ‘obliged’ family and friends reading us). I loved the photo of your gorgeous puppy on NordhavnLiving; such a good site for sharing experience and ‘dumb’ questions. I had not thought of our little blog as a source of entertainment during these isolating times, but please enjoy and I hope you find something useful to your future plans in there. Thankyou for your kind offer from your family in Darwin (we are good here). I feel I had better get to doing some updates. Suz

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