Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Skylax blog AUSTRALIA 2009


This edited blog will cover our cruising around Queensland and the Northern Territories until we cross to INDONESIA. The latest entries appear first.










Skylax position reports

We will be posting position reports with Yotreps from September 2007 WHEN WE ARE ON PASSAGE. Position reports can be found at Yotreps from either THE REPORTING BOAT LIST that displays our position and a brief comment on Google Earth or you can download the YOTREPS POSITION REPORTER and locate our track and other data (wind, wave height, bearing) on the world map.

Yotreps  has a side bar menu with the reporting boat list and also a button to download the Yotreps Reporter (reporter software) and instructions on how to use it. The software is free.

You can find Skylax either by our call sign or name:


Call sign   MGAY

Annotated Google Map Darwin



There are buses from Fannie Bay and Cullen Bay Marina into downtown Darwin. The centre is compact enough so you can easily walk everywhere. Buses stop outside Woolworths for Cullen Bay Marina and Fannie Bay so it is a convenient place to load up with provisions.

For more annotated Google Earth maps go HERE



The anchorage off Cullen Bay Marina from the Botanic Gardens above Fannie Bay - that would be low tide then with a 6 metre range.


Like an apparition in the desert Darwin appears over the horizon after some 1200 or so miles around from Cairns. Skyscrapers (well a few), cars, ferries, sidewalks and cafes, cappuccino and pizza (pide actually in a little Turkish cafť), people and places. Itís great and the city is small enough to be convivial but big enough so you can get most things.

We anchored off Cullen Bay Marina behind a drying sandbank where the shelter is OK except when the afternoon sea breeze gets boisterous. You lie to the stream here, around 4 knots plus at springs, and wait for the drying sandbank to emerge and give a bit more shelter. The sandbank is obviously the best beach in Darwin and at the weekends the locals are out in force erecting garden pagodas and beach umbrellas and getting the barbie fired up and sinking a few chilled tinnies. Then the tide comes in and off they go. I guess the beach is swept clear of debris twice a day. The other beaches off Fannie Bay and elsewhere are all muddy under the half water mark so I guess not as appealing as the sandbank.


Now you see you don't.


Yachts have traditionally anchored in Fannie Bay where the Darwin Sailing Club is friendly to visiting yachts. The problem here is that you have to haul the dinghy over quarter of a mile of soft squishy mud at low tide. The club helpfully provide some dinghy dollies, but the magic of going ashore soon wears thin.

Frances Bay at the entrance to the Sadgrove River is well sheltered with a lot of room to anchor, but there is nowhere easy to leave the dinghy. The wharves here have ladders going up vertically for 20ft at high tide and with a 6 metre tide here (just to mix units) that means a long precarious climb up or down.

Cullen Bay anchorage inside the sandbar is not the most comfortable with the afternoon sea breeze, but is certainly tenable. You can leave your dinghy at the end of the fuel and ferry pontoon tied to the gangway and although itís not ideal, it works. From here you can get a No. 14 bus into town where all the goodies are. Around Cullen Bay Marina there is a small chandlers, a laundry, cafes and restaurants. You can also get fuel and water at the fuel pontoon (where you leave the dinghy) Ė call VHF Ch 11 to Cullen Bay Marina.


Cullen Bay: We would have gone into Cullen Bay Marina but they have recently introduced a one off fee for the lock. For visiting yachts who are going to just lock in and out, the fee is a bit steep.

For yachts up to 12 metres: Aus$250

For yachts over 12 metres: Aus$430

Thatís apart from your actual marina fees.

One possibility is that if you are going to haul on the slipway in Cullen Bay Marina then the lock fee is just Aus$80, but you cannot really hang around for too long or you will be charged the full fee.

Tipperary Marina: Up the Sadgrove Creek at around charge band 2 and with no lock fee.

Bayview Marina: Further up Sadgrove Creek at around charge band 2 also with no lock fee.

People Iíve talked to in these two last marinas seem happy with the situation and positively elated at not paying the lock fee at Cullen Bay Marina.

Darwin downtown

There is everything you need here. A big Woolworths and a Coles supermarket. Restaurants and cafes. Boutiques and dollar shops. The Indonesian Consulate (near the Law Courts) is in downtown as is customs (21 Lindsay St) for clearing out. Customs is quite happy for you to do the paperwork in advance (drop in to see them) and make an appointment for clearing out. After doing the final paperwork and getting stamped out you have 24 hours to leave.

Mindli Beach market (between Cullen Bay and Fannie Bay)


Cruising the Coral Coast


Apparently this is the most propitious day in the Chinese calendar with a triple '9' in the date. Well anyway we are in Australia...

Flinders Islands along the Coral Coast

The Coral Coast

Alan Lucas in his Cruising the Coral Coast (a book everyone should have on board) says of the coast that it Ďrivals some of the worldís great tropical beauty spots such as the Marquesas of the Central Pacific and the Grenadines of the West Indiesí. He is right. This coast is stunningly beautiful with mainland Australia on one side, a great long tract of coast virtually uninhabited once you are past Cooktown, and the reefs and sandy cays along the Barrier Reef on the seaward side providing protection from the trade wind swell and wonderful anchorages as well.

It is a huge cruising area away from it all with just one drawback. The saltwater crocodile inhabits these waters, can grow up to seven metres and weigh up to a ton, and is a stealthy and cunning hunter by all accounts. Alan Lucas reports that three people are known to have been killed by saltwater crocodiles between 1975 and 2000. Personally it put me off swimming and even on a sand cay like Morris Island there was a resident croc swimming around the anchorage.

On your own

Once you set off from Cairns you are pretty much on your own with the exception of Cooktown some 75 miles north of Cairns. You need to be self sufficient in food, water and fuel until you get to either Thursday Island in the Torres Strait or more usefully Gove or Darwin in the Northern Territory. Apart from any fish you catch along the way there are no shops or even a bar or restaurant except for Lizard Island, so you need to make your own fun. There are enough Aussie boats cruising the coast to make it convivial and they are a great lot. We were given fresh oysters and a sweetlips fish and managed to catch a nice blue tuna off the top of Australia.

Sailing strategies

The SE trades are the prevailing winds blowing at 10-20 knots and occasionally a bit more. Tucked behind the Barrier Reef there is virtually no sea and this is champagne sailing. After some of the passages in the last few months we loved it and this is one of those coasts Iíd cruise again. The flood tide goes north up the coast and the ebb south, but with the trades blowing most of the effect of the ebb is cancelled out and so you either have a favourable tide or a negligible amount against you. Not until up around Cape York where the tidal streams are stronger do you need to think about tide tables.

Anchorages around the coral coast mostly fall into two categories. You are either anchoring off behind sandy cays with a fringing reef or tucking behind a cape with sticky mud on the bottom to keep you there. The comfort of most of these anchorages depends on the strength of the trades and with 15-20 knots we found most of them just fine with only a minimal amount of rolling. In stronger trades I suspect some of them could be a bit more uncomfortable though still perfectly tenable.

Going south down the coast would be a bit of a chore. I talked to several boats who were waiting for the northerlies that come with the spring weather, though others I talked to reckoned that northerlies were few and far between even in spring and that you needed to make whatever southing you could when the weather went light.


All up and down the coast customs aircraft or the Australian Air Force patrol the coast and you will be called up on VHF on most days for your boat name, POBís and sometimes the number of your cruising permit. There are also a customs patrol boat and a police patrol boat who may well call you up as well. Itís all very friendly and after a while you get quite used to it.

Shipping Channel

Inside the Barrier Reef there is a shipping channel marked by beacons and buoys and for some of the time you will be traversing in the channel. It is used by big ships although on average we only saw 2 or 3 a day. Foreign flagged ships take on a pilot for the channel and you can either call them up or they will call you up to enquire about which side to pass or to ask you to change course a little. Itís not as scary as it sounds and there is often plenty of water outside the channel so you can keep out of their way. AIS is useful to get a ships name and give you a bit of warning as visibility can be poor at times when a haze or rain obscures things.


There are crocs. Most Australians donít swim here and even off some of the little sand cays there have been sightings of crocs. We nearly dropped our anchor on a 10 footer off Morris Island.

Cape York to Darwin

Most yachts will sail direct from Cape York (or one of the anchorages nearby like Simpson Bay) through the Endeavour Passage to Darwin if they are not going up to the Torres Islands. You need to get the tides right for this as they can run at 3-4 knots and whooshing out of the Endeavour Channel as opposed to plugging away against the tide has much to recommend it. Once out of the Endeavour Passage tides are less although you can still have up to a knot with you or a'gin you.

The winds across the Gulf of Carpenteria and on down to the Dundas Passage are lighter than those up the coast and at times you may need to do a bit of motoring. Its time to think about light weather sails as up through Indonesia winds are light again.


Some care is needed entering Van Diemen Gulf because of strong tidal currents, and negotiating Clarence Strait through the Vernon Islands. The strait is well marked but also subject to strong tides. Once through the Clarence Strait the approach is straightforward. A night approach through Clarence Strait is possible with care.

At springs the tidal streams run at up to 3.5kn through the Dundas Passage and the Clarence Strait, so it is worth timing your passage through here. Approaching Cape Don at around 4.5 hours before HW Darwin will give you 4 hours of S-going current down into the gulf. Faster yachts can make it through the light adverse stream to Cape Hotham (at the E end of Clarence Strait) in time to pick up the start of the W-going stream through the strait. This W-going stream begins at Cape Hotham at 4 hours after HW Darwin, and this flood tide will carry all the way around and into Darwin harbour for the next 8 hours.



Annotated Google Earth Cairns



For more annotated Google Earth maps go HERE


Clearing into Australia



A lot has been written vilifying Australian customs and quarantine officials. Well they have been to charm school and my experience of customs and quarantine in Cairns and lots of other peoplesí experiences in other Australian ports of entry is that they are affable and helpful with the whole process of clearing in.

They are still thorough. You need to have given 96 hours advance warning, preferably by email to . For more information go to .

From the website the information required is:

There are several agencies interested in your arrival - principally Customs, Quarantine and Immigration.

96 hours notice may be given by either;

* Sending an email to

* Sending a fax to +61 2 6275 5078

* Phoning the Australian Customs National Communications Centre on +61 3 9244 8973

You will need to provide the following information

* The name of your craft

* Craft's Country and Port of Registration

* Your intended first port of arrival

* Your estimated arrival time

* Your last four ports

* The details of people on board including name, date of birth, nationality and passport number

* Details of any illness or disease recently encountered

* If you have any animals on board

* If you have any firearms on board

On Skylax customs knew we were coming and had all the forms already printed off. Quarantine searched the boat from stem to stern, but in the nicest possible way. The cost of clearing in is now $AU330 which you can pay by credit card.




Cairns Marlin Marina


Arriving in Cairns was a delight after the Coral Sea crossing. The guys from AQUIS (quarantine) helped us berth in Marlin Marina with a cross-current and the wind shushing into the berth. Then they came on board, asked a few questions, filled in a few forms and then pretty thoroughly searched the boat from stem to stern. Customs arrived not long afterwards with all our records (96 hours prior contact and details, Luís E visa) on the computer and the relevant papers all printed out. Sign here and here and you get the cruising permit. For all this you pay $330 (to AQUIS) who fortunately take credit cards.

Marlin Marina is a short walk from downtown Cairns and it has grown in recent years to become something of a tourist resort. At least a dozen big catamaran tripper boats (Iím talking a possible hundred people on board) leave each morning to go out to Green Island. Another dozen smaller boats also leave including some yachts more or less converted to be small dive boats. Some of the boats are pure dive boats, but most of the larger boats have a mix of diving and sight-seeing. Apparently all the boats have their own allotted mooring at Green Island and although the reef around it is pretty extensive, you canít help thinking it must be a bit like Green Island Junction out there.


Nearby the marina there is a huge public infinity pool with grass and even a little beach on one side. I guess the proximity of crocs (and there are saltwater crocs around the river in Cairns according to the local cruisers anchored out) means that the pool is the better bet. On the waterfront there are public barbecue shelters with gas-fired barbecues for public use. Itís a great waterfront.

Downtown Cairns is a mix of cafes, restaurants, bars, backpacker hostels and shops. Close to the waterfront is a night market with stalls selling Asian and other food and all sorts of other knick-knacks. Downtown is wonderful and you can get most things here without too much hassle. For some boaty stuff you need to either hire a car or take a taxi (or a hire bicycle Ė Cairns is pretty flat) to get stuff up the river where the yards are and for the big shop before Darwin and Indonesia. Between Cairns and Darwin there arenít too many shopping opportunities and not a lot of places for pizza and cappuccino either.

Marlin Marina itself is a well run place that usually has room for visitors with all the usual facilities. It charges on a sliding scale from daily to weekly to monthly. Skylax at 14 metres was around Au$40 (approx £20) a night on the weekly scale including water and electricity. There is a fuel quay in the marina open only from 0700 to 1000 and 1500 to 1800 and you need to call on VHF Ch 16 to Marlin Mobile to make an appointment to get fuel. Marlin Marina also operates on Ch 16 and it appears that most boats are required to go into the marina to clear quarantine and customs.

If you hire a car take a trip inland. This is BIG country and from Cairns you are soon winding up through high mountains covered in tropical rain forest to a fertile plateau around the Atherton area. There are lakes in old volcanic craters. Small townships. A deep ravine where two mountain ranges push up against one another with a waterfall that drops some 250 ft to the bottom of the gorge. There is sugar cane everywhere and also huge plantations for coffee beans, tea, peanuts and bananas. There is also a worrying narrow gauge railway which presumably used to take the sugar cane to the mills. Everywhere you get the feeling of space, of the immensity of this country, and of its abundance outside the central deserts.

This is BIG country

Curtain Fig (thats around 50ft up to the top of the aerial roots) in ...Curtain Fig National Park

Spencer & Murphy... a great bookshop in Yungaburra inland from Cairns   Go here Spencer & Murphy


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