Sailing down to Darwin from Malaysia was Peter’s decision as he was going to be doing the work that was needed on Stolen Kiss. Of primary concern was our Perkins 4108 that needed an overhaul and we had finally decided that the usual Perkins oil leak(s) were to be no more!
Having Naffa (a fantastic diesel engine mechanic, undoubtedly the best in Australia) work on the engine alone washed away any doubts we had of coming back, not only because he was a super neat worker, (important when you are living aboard during all of this) but he knew exactly what had to happen and could do the work on the engine without having to haul the engine out of the boat. He also listened to the engine and knew exactly what needed attention (not much at all) and saw that we required a new engine mount. (That accounted for the new vibration we felt over the last 500 miles!) Rather than get a new mount, which would take around 6 – 8 weeks, he took ours off to have it machined and re-welded; the end result in his opinion, much better than a new one! Our engine now has the all clear for another 15,000 miles or so. The very affable Naffa is Egyptian and reminded us that if in Egypt, all his labour would only cost $100; however, as neither of us was in Egypt…..
The company Naffa works for, RANms, was a lucky find via a web search. Peter’s confidence in him was inspired through email contact as he actually understood exactly what Peter was asking of him and had a straight forward solution to our engine concerns.
The cooler weather in Darwin during the dry season was another deciding factor as Peter could work on the boat without sweating profusely. Then of course was the fact that I could easily find work here which would provide us with some fun tickets (which was just as well given the slippery slide in the world of finance) and would get me off the boat and out of Peter’s way during the day. Peter has also been able to find some part-time work re-building a trimaran for a wonderful guy in Cullen Bay Marina.
Lucky for us, ‘rum currency’ still works in Darwin! Another problem that arose on our last leg to Darwin was the rudder bearing. We were able to swap a bottle of rum for a beautiful repair on a bearing that was machined and a new bush inserted..
As furling the headsail was becoming increasingly difficult, especially for me, (how could this be after all the weights we did at Sutera Harbour??) Peter took what he could of our profurl apart, only to find that perhaps something was amiss. A specific bearing puller was needed and just as it happened, the agent in Darwin (Sea Fleet Marine) had had the said tool sent up from Sydney to do the same to another profurl. Too easy!
Other projects continue, like putting in a microwave, a ‘J’ shaped galley so we can actually stay in the galley when we are on port tack, a new floor, new insulation inside the hull, replacing the copper earth strip, adding a quarter berth/aft cabin, re-establishing the water tanks underneath the saloon floor where they were originally and moving the two additional fuel tanks to the middle of the boat as well. We expect that moving the weight of the tanks back to the centre of the boat will make Stolen Kiss a little stiffer and improve her windward performance. Although a little more storage space has been created, mostly it is a simple exercise of shuffling items around the boat. We know we will forget where some things are stored!
Ripping up the original teak and holly floor was sad but in doing this, Peter found a huge amount of timber that had been put under the floor in various places (perhaps by the previous owner) to try to counteract the effects of an ageing floor!! To think that we had hauled all of this around the Indian Ocean!!!!!!!! Our waterline is forever going up!!
Darwin has actually been a hoot! The dry season, the main tourist season, is jam packed with amazing entertainment. Being a major defence post, there have been several war games in the water and heavens. Pitch Black involved air to air combat between the Australian Air Force, several SE Asian Nations and that of Canada. It was a little noisy for a while but also interesting to watch. An open day afforded us (with all and sundry) the opportunity to participate in a ‘show and tell’. We had a wonderful chat with two Australian Pilots of an F-18, who were nice boys and obviously very switched on.
We have seen the rallies come and go; as always with some entertainment. Peter has really enjoyed checking out some of the yachts, which I am sure are in his dreams! We still cannot fathom some of the European women, rather endowed with body mass, working on their boats in the marina in their g-strings or semi naked. We just put it down to a cultural difference!! Sadly though, the SE Asian cultures understandably find this highly embarrassing and insulting. Sad in that there are many westerners that do not recognise the need to be a little more modest in these countries.
The idea of getting around Darwin without a set of wheels was just too much for us to comprehend, so within 3 days of our arrival we had purchased a Tarrago van (with camping gear) from some backpackers. The van is excellent and actually very economical. Vehicles can be had for a bargain up here if purchased the day the backpackers are vacating the country!
We have passed the odd hour or two at Fannie Bay Sailing club enjoying the amazing sunsets, washed down with food and beverages available. Although the Mindil Beach Markets are very touristy, we go every now and then to have dinner and walk along the beach, once again at sunset. The town centre is very much the focal point of the community and is alive after hours. We have always managed to find a parking space in town. Everywhere in Darwin takes 10 minutes to get there with no traffic hassles.
As Peter had never experienced a Rodeo, off we went one night to see the cowboys do their stuff. We had visiting cowboys from Canada and the USA, so it was quite an entertaining evening. We left just before the band, booze and the odd fight started. One girl who had spent a few hours up a tree to get a good view sadly had a little too much of the good stuff and fell out of the tree, breaking a few limbs (hers) in the process.
Although Darwin has changed significantly in the 5 years since we have been here, evidenced by a little more than just the towering skyline, there are still many people here who are happy to help out. The characters of the Top End can be found in all walks of life. Where else would you see neatly emblazoned on the side of a ute, ‘Nangifuckinggulley’. Not sure where the Gulley actually is but one can only imagine of its whereabouts.
We have ventured outside Darwin to take in some of the sights and waterholes, with still many more to re-visit. Both Peter and I have been here in our separate lives, albeit some time ago and for me, most was viewed through the meniscus of a wine glass! We plan to do some aerial flights over Arnhem Land during the wet season and visit places like Fog Dam (a well visited picnic spot) and Leitchfield National Park.
There was a 10 day camp (wanting an extra staff member) involving 19, 15 year old boys (who are in need of a little more guidance than others) paddling down the Ord River from the Lake Argyle Dam to Kununurra, a total of 46km and a further 3 day paddle on Lake Argyle. Having previously lived in the area some 25 years ago, it was too good an opportunity to miss out on. My absence was also an opportunity for Peter to rip the floor of the boat up.
It was an easy paddle with stunning scenery with some nice white sandy beaches (a surprise!). One of the main objectives of the camp was for the boys to experience the consequences of their decisions. They had to buy their own food, carry and cook it. Of course this meant that blood sugar levels were often in a see-saw state and those who did not buy wisely then stole food off their mates. As we know on boats, when you get out into the wilds with people, you get to see another side of their characters. This in itself was good for the boys to experience and they dealt with this (or not) in different ways. There were never any fights (a few disagreements) and the boys, to their credit, spent time talking over issues that arose between themselves. The supervised cliff jumping was enjoyed by most, but not necessarily undertaken by all. It was good to see some boys jumping off a smaller cliff without comment from the higher risk takers in the group.
After we had finished paddling the Ord down to Kununurra, I asked a professional fisherman if there were any ‘salties’ between the dams. Apparently there were two that he knew of – one lived around the bottom of the Argyle Dam and the other ‘hung’ out near one of the beach camps we stopped at! I was happy that I chosen not to swim! There were always salties in there when I used to live up here. One rather large one jumped up to try to grab the skids of the heli that was hovering over it! Gave the pilots a bit of a scare! We saw many freshwater crocsodiles who kept away from us. We suspected one had a nest near where we camped on the lake.
The paddle in itself was a challenge to most of the boys as there was no way out. They had to push through the hard bits to get to the end rather than having someone come along and bail them out, offering an easier option. The scary thing for us was that these boys will be driving in a year.
Julie and Marg are just in the process of delivering a large Beneteau down the West Coast, and after delivering several yachts across the Gulf of Carpentaria, they still prefer our old girl, saying that she handles the seas much better than the production boats, which is no great surprise. Of course with the exception to her previous Hallberg Rassy and the more expensive boats like the Amels. This just helps us to verify our decision to Keep Stolen Kiss and keep throwing money at her to keep her looking grand. For Peter it is very much a labour of love and we are very attached to the old girl. She has been across the Pacific three times with her previous owner, in fair winds, so maybe she will do the same for us!
We have committed ourselves to staying in Darwin for the wet season so we can finish the re-fit. The marinas here are becoming expensive given that there are no/poor facilities that go with the price and an ablution block that is rarely cleaned properly. (Tipperary Marina). Jules and Margaret may come north next year, so we might meet up with them in the Kimberley. It would be fantastic to spend some time with them. We will defer our decision to go east or west until then. The Indian Ocean beckons once again. We have been thinking about the Ashmore, Christmas, Cocos, Mentawi Island route. Cocos Island will be implementing a weekly charge next year, but given the rest of the Indian Ocean islands do the same, it was only a matter of time.
We return to Perth in Nov for a few months to ‘house sit’ our house and hope that Darwin is spared from a direct hit by any cyclones!!!!