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The Blue Water Rally Goes 'Over the Top End'

by Peter Seymour on 1 Sep 2008
The Route .. .
The more than thirty yachts which left Gibraltar in October 2007 in the Blue Water Rally are currently cruising between Mackay, just south of Australia's most famous cruising grounds of the Great Barrier Reef, and Darwin, that northerly outpost of the 'Top End' of the Australian Outback. Here Organiser Peter Seymour reports on the progress:

By 25 August most Rally yachts had left Mackay and Rally crews now have some 5 weeks to cruise round to Darwin, involving sailing Over the Top (Cape York and Arnhem Land).

Having our new port of entry to Australia at Mackay the Blue Water Rally can now sail through the Whitsunday Islands to our previous stopover at Cairns and beyond. The Whitsundays are a classic cruising ground, with unspoilt anchorages and islands set in beautiful blue tropical seas.

During the Skippers Briefing in Mackay we provided a suggested cruise plan, enabling crews to plan their own passages between the multitude of anchorages en route to Darwin. Certainly, Cairns will be on everyone’s list, both as a tourist centre and, for some, a departure point for families and friends who have been with them over the past few weeks. During our previous 6 Rallies the major tourist highlight at Cairns has been the spectacular Skyrail and rail journey to the town of Kuranda in the Atherton Tablelands.


On their way to Cairns one of the participants, Paul on Anahi, reports:

The Whitsunday area is a particularly beautiful and unspoilt part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in the Queensland tropics. They are actually two drowned mountain ranges cut off from the mainland by past geologic events.

Today we sailed past Brampton, through the middle of Lindeman and Shaw between Goldsmith and Linne Islands, a tiny little passage where the seas were confused and the current at its strongest in our favour, to settle for the night at the most beautiful anchorage in a cove of Thomas Island (next to Dead Dog Island). This is surprisingly the first time we have actually sailed alone, stopped in an anchorage alone (as opposed to attaching to a buoy) and been completely alone………not another single yacht or person in sight…..and it is wondrous! We have watched the tide dropping away to reveal the Island’s reef, the birds are singing joyously in the trees at the end of their day and the white sandy beach looks pristine.



In the steps of Captain Cook

The Rally has already sailed along the path of Cook’s voyages from Tahiti to Australia and marvelled at the extraordinary navigational skills of the man who has been dubbed as the greatest of maritime explorers.


From Mackay onwards charts used by Blue Water Ralliers carry the names of his various anchorages and the names of his sponsors. Cook found a way through a group of islands on Whit Sunday, so the passage and the islands were called Whitsunday. Cook sailed past, charted and named many other islands (Dunk, Family and Palm), Capes (Bowling Green, Cleveland and Grafton) and Bays (Trinity, Halifax and Rockingham). In fact, his anchorage in Mission Bay at Cape Grafton is the site of modern Cairns.

A near tragedy occurred on 11 June 1970 when Cook’s ship, Endeavour, ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. It took a day to refloat the ship by jettisoning canons, ballast and stores. Between 18 June and 4 August Endeavour was repaired near Walker Bay, at a point now known as Cooktown. On 12 August Cook used a small boat to visit Lizard Island. Here he climbed to the highest point (Cook’s Look) in the hope of seeing gaps in the reef that he could sail through. Sadly, he only saw lizards as it was too hazy.

Cook now found himself in a dilemma: to sail inside the reef was to run the risk of grounding again on coral: to sail outside the reef could mean missing the Torres Strait through the Arafura Sea – if it existed! Safely inside, Cook proceeded carefully, following the coast and reached Cape York on 21 August 1770. His voyage of some 3,500 kms had taken only about 8 weeks to sail and chart – a supreme example of his skills.


From Cape York through the ‘Hole in the Wall’ to Darwin

From Cape York, the most northerly point in Australia, Rally yachts will sail across the Gulf of Carpentaria and most will make a stopover at the Gove Yacht Club on the coast of Arnhem Land. Crews on past Rallies have always found this the most welcoming of clubs with a reputation for some of the coldest beer in Australia! Here skippers will get a local briefing on the passage through the famous ‘Hole in the Wall’, an extremely narrow pass between shoal islands, where the current can run at around 10 or more knots. This short cut saves many miles of cruising and sets yachts well on the shortest route towards Darwin past aboriginal Arnhem Land.

Arriving in Darwin – Black-striped Mussel Procedures and Paperwork

Since the first Rally we organised in 1995 there has been a problem with the black-striped mussel, which can enter the seawater systems of boats and clog them, thus causing enormous damage. The Northern Territory Government has, therefore, imposed a mandatory inspection system and a requirement for flushing water systems on our yachts before they are allowed to enter any of the Darwin marinas.


Darwin is also the point of our departure from Australia and for the preparations for entry into Indonesia. Our Support Manager, Richard Bolt, will be on hand in Darwin to assist the Rally from 24 September. However, more of that later – there is much cruising ahead over the coming weeks before we report the Darwin stopover.

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