The 750 mile sail due west from Thursday Island at the NE tip of Australia
across the Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin, the 'big city' of Northern
Territory is more like an ocean crossing than anything else. For a start,
the winds are reputed to be the strongest trade winds anywhere, then
Carpentaria creates its own weather to add to the mix, so you get wind from
one direction, and 3-4 metre waves from 2 totally different directions, one
trade wind driven, one locally driven, interacting to create a washing
machine motion. Luckily the 25-30 knot winds meant we sailed fast, averaging
more than 150 miles/day for 5 days to arrive in Darwin somewhat weather
beaten, but a day earlier than we expected. Even so, James had run out of
all forms of electronic entertainment and books by then, so he rather liked
the challenge (at midnight) of threading through the nasty set of shoals
that lie NE of Darwin on the passage in. Like a computer reality game I

The biggest city by far for some 2000 kilometres, (if you exclude Indonesia)
Darwin only has 100,000 people although they make a brave effort to cover as
much of the territory as they can, resulting in a widely spread out town.
Partly this is the result of rebuilding after the catastrophic Cyclone Tracy
which blew down 60% of Darwin between 3am to 5am on Christmas Eve 1974. Only
400 houses survived intact. The population were taken completely by
surprise, as 2 weeks before another cyclone had gently shaken the walls, but
nothing more. But Tracy was different - even the first half before the eye
was OK - a few roofs panels blew off, but not much more. But as the eye
passed over, the 2nd half hit them at 3am at speeds in excess of 217
kms/hour - the anemometer broke after recording that speed. The very good
museum of NT includes some actual sound recording during it, and TV footage
immediately after - it looks like an atom blast - most houses were simply
blown away, with only minimal framework remaining. Half of the population
were evacuated over the next few days, 66 people died.

Tracy did at least stimulate better 'cyclone proof' building standards
including a 'safe' room (often the bathroom) which can act as a strong
haven. And Darwin is now being developed, with modern high rises, a casino,
and sophisticated eateries, although most NT'ers I spoke to distrusted this.
For there is a special Northern Territory attitude - they after all recently
rejected becoming a full state of Australia because it would reduce their
self governing status (although they are not above pocketing A$8500 of
Federal grants/person every year). One alarming habit when driving is to
signal right to invite the car behind to overtake, and left if the road is
not clear - counter-intuitive, and different from any practice I know.

NT includes Uluru (Ayers Rock) and has 20% of Australia's land with just 1%
of its population. Its also Australia's most vulnerable northern frontier -
Darwin was bombed 64 times by the Japanese in WW2, and there is a lot of
defence equipment around including the old oil storage tunnels, and modern
jet fighters overhead.

Darwin is becoming something of a tourist destination for Aussies and
foreigners, who usually fly in and rent a 4WD, but sometimes drive up from
Melbourne or Perth on a 'journey of a lifetime'. The main draw is Kakadu,
20,000 sq kms of National Park owned and run largely by a majority
Aboriginal organization. There are 5 new photos of Kakadu on the website

We had berthed at Cullen Bay Marina, a newish marina development billed as
the place where beautiful people go, (so of course we went), but actually
with quite a few vacant shops. Darwin has 24 foot tides, OK to a Brit but
unusual in Aus, so we had to lock into the marina, but not before our pipes
had been sterilized to prevent us importing the dreaded striped mussel which
is prevalent in Cairns (it breeds in and blocks inlet pipes) but has been
successfully eradicated in Darwin.

The challenge in a new port is often to find who is reputable and who is
unreliable - not easy - advertisements or yellow pages don't guarantee
anything, and the best outfit is often the quiet spoken professional who has
all the work they need. So I asked round and found Asken Smith and Chris
Auto and Marine, and within a few days we had fixed the alternators, I had
already diagnosed the battery isolator as the culprit and replaced this, so
we were free to tour Kakadu. James was keen to drive so we rented a car from
Apollo (A$63/day) who allow under 25 drivers (most don't), and headed off to

The road to Kakadu is sealed, but there is a short cut on a graded road. We
diverted, and James raced along ...until we came to a fairly major river
crossing which we had to ford. Crocodiles are prevalent here, so I didn't
feel that happy as I reconnoitred the best route across in bare feet,
keeping one eye open for holes, and the other for crocs, but it was OK on
both counts. Cooinda is the centre for Yellow River cruises exploring a
section of Billabong which turns into the more or less appropriately named
South Alligator River. Now we are used to cruises, but our sunset cruise was
very good - it wasn't small or individual or extravagant -  in fact as we
were directed into 'tinnies' (aluminium boats) each holding 50 people it was
a bit like tourism en-bloc - but Chrissie our guide was so enthusiastic and
knowledgeable and roamed to such good effect round the billabong getting
real close and personal to everything from 4 metre long crocodiles 1 metre
away,pointing out nesting sea eagles, Jabiru storks, herons, cranes,
kingfishers and masses and masses of other wading birds and snakes gorging
themselves on everything that these wetlands could provide, ending with a
perfect sunset.

Pluto, the 6 metre long macho croc keeps order here, top of the food chain -
crocodiles are very territorial, and it is likely that many fatalities are
perceived as intrusions, rather than food getting activities. We had seen
Sweetheart, an 800kg croc who had developed an unfortunate habit of
attacking outboard motors (30 to be precise), presumably mistaking them for
the sound of another male. He died while being captured and is now stuffed
in the NT museum, much admired. Australia had hunted crocs to the verge of
extinction by 1970, when they were reprieved. By that time the remaining
crocs were so wary that there were few croc skins available, so croc farms
were started to breed more - successfully - we visited Crocodylus with 10
breeding pairs - collecting the eggs with a 4 metre female protecting them
is dodgy.

We weren't really supposed to drive off-road in our car, but James raced us
past lumbering 4WD's to Jim Jim Falls, only stopping at serious 3 foot deep
sand and water, but were able to hitch a 4WD ride for the remaining 10 kms
to a beautiful lake (with a crocodile trap as apparently they sometimes try
to join in) and 200 foot waterfall (although there wasn't much water as
April to November is the dry season). We stayed at the Gagadju Lodge, which
manages to encompass a range of accommodation from the many Campervans,
through budget rooms to chalets. We tried the budget rooms which were
arranged round a central BBQ area and weren't bad, especially since we
weren't in them much.

Much of the rock art in Kakadu is at Nourlangie, especially at Anbangbang
Shelter which is a series of shallow rock caves. The original Aboriginal
tribe who looked after this area were exterminated during the arrival of the
white settlers, so a neighbouring Aboriginal tribe claimed the area as proxy
guardians, and were granted effective ownership, and now run it with 10 of
the 14 directors on the Board. They then borrowed the tradition of rock art
being painted many times on the same rock face, to arrange for a well known
aboriginal artist to recreate paintings on many of the rock faces around
Anbangang. These are honest recreations of what were by this time very faded
art - David Attenborough visited in 1953, one year before they were
re-done, and vouches for the presence of the original (faded) paintings. The
effect of the repainting, however is to bring to life much of the Aboriginal
way of life and the vibrancy of the colours, subjects (hunting scenes and
spirits mainly) and designs explains why this art form is now much admired
(and why tourists flock here). The latest variant, by the way, Aboriginal
dot art developed only some 30 years ago, and is unrelated to previous rock

Aborigines came to Australia it now appears some 60,000 years ago, a
distance of some 200 miles by raft or canoe. This makes them one of the
oldest societies on earth still existing. Since then they have developed
largely untainted by outside influences. Their society developed some very
strong 'skin colour' taboos about whom you were allowed to marry, a largely
nomadic way of life ruled by elders who could choose younger wives provided
they gave up the older ones, ground preparation by fire, no metals until
very recently, a few patches of developed rock art. And little curiosity -
when Captain Cook's ship first came to Australia, you might think that this
would be a remarkable sight. But he records that the Aborigines he met
looked at the ship, then went about what they were doing as if nothing
remarkable had occurred.

This rigidly prescribed society collapsed when the white man took the land
and introduced diseases and alcohol to say nothing of the policy of forced
fostering of Aboriginal children against their parents wishes. This 'lost
generation' may account for at least some of the distressing situation now,
where the Aborigines are largely lost and alienated in their own land,
petrol sniffing, child and family abuse, gang  violence being relatively
common. However in Kakadu, we saw the positive side - a society which still
remembers how women search for snakes underneath the roots of trees at the
waters edge, (while the men beat the water to deter crocodiles!), how to
collect water lilies for food, how to hunt birds, how to make a bark coracle
to cross rivers, and they still do this 'because food is expensive in
supermarkets and in the wild its free'.

Next stop was Timor, in Indonesia. One might think that Indonesia would
welcome tourists, but there are complicated arrangements in advance (and
A$400) to get a cruising permit (CAIT), then separate visa applications
which take 3 days (and A$50 each). We are nominally with the Sail Indonesia
Rally, because this was the easiest way through the thicket of bureaucracy,
but the 99 other yachts are 1 month ahead of us, which means we miss some of
the 'events' laid on, but on the other hand means that we are much freer to
do our own thing and meet people without 200 other people trying to do the

The 500 mile sail east from Darwin had very mixed winds - becalmed for 24
hours, then 30 knots then calm again, then just as we thought we would have
to motor for 24 hours to get there, a 30 knot gale that rushed us through
the straights between Semau Island and the main island of Timor to arrive at
the anchorage off Teddy's Bar at 2 in the afternoon on Thursday, and we put
up our yellow quarantine flag to request clearance in to the country. And
nothing happened. Teddy was supposed to sort this, but there was an
'international pool tournament' Darwin -v - Kupang, so in the end we
dinghied in through the surf to the beach, and paid Napa A$50 to sort it,
which he did. Teddy's is the international place to be in Kupang, the mark
up on beer is 1500% (which in fairness makes it 1 pound/pint), and the
Darwin pool team and us were about the only expats in town.

Kupang is the capital of West Timor - the eastern part of Timor island is
the newest country in the world, (Timor Este) having gained independence
from Indonesia 6 years ago, but has recently been suffering tribal tensions
in Government with the supporters of the President and PM clashing
violently. Australia sent 3000 troops and policemen, and some calm has been
restored. West Timor is still Indonesian which means it has the Rupiah as
currency - US$1=9500 Rupiahs, which makes it complicated to buy anything, as
it usually ends up as 375,000 Rs or something like that

I had not appreciated that Indonesia was originally independent states, and
the only common bond was that they were all subjugated by the Dutch and
became part of the Dutch Empire. The Dutch Government in exile during WW2
tried to hang onto this Empire at least nominally (the area was occupied by
the Japanese), and tried (with the help of the British) to regain control
after the war. A Dutch army re-entered, and the British bombed Jakarta in
1946 causing some 40,000 deaths (so the Indonesians have no particular
reason to love the Dutch or British) and it was only a strong independence
movement that asserted independence. In the euphoria of this, the separate
islands that now make up Indonesia agreed to become one nation - Indonesia,
which is still dominated by Java. Indonesian history since them has been
largely one of corruption and nepotism with military rule, together with
attempts by various islands to gain independence, (Acer, Irian-Jayah, East
Timor etc) and violent campaigns both for and against communism. East Timor
was originally a Portuguese colony which is partly why it was able to gain
independence, but nation building is not easy - not helped by the terror the
outgoing Indonesian army inflicted before they left, which also isolated

The island of Java dominates Indonesia, and includes the capital Jakarta
(which is the old Dutch capital originally called Batavia, the unhealthiest
place in the world, and the centre of the Dutch spice trade). Java has some
130 million people at twice the population density of the Netherlands.
Indonesia is nominally a secular state, (weekends are Saturday and Sunday
for example), although it has more Muslims than any other country in the
world which produces some tension and partially explains the Bali terror

Kupang where we are now anchored is a 3rd world city, I think every bug
known to man (or woman) is roaming the streets, taxi horns blare all day,
the 'pavements' have 2 foot deep holes every 5 metres, I spotted a rat trap
in front of a food shop yesterday with 2 dead rats in it, not sure if its
advertising how they stock their shelves, or whether to be pleased that the
shop is clearly aware they have rats or that the rats were dead not running
around. The water has to be boiled, the toilets are manual flush if you see
what I mean, the beach on which we have to land our dinghy has lots of
broken glass in the sand, and the river at the mouth of which we are
anchored is effectively
an open sewer, but there are no beggars, we are not 'mobbed' by crowds
asking for money, and the people are genuinely very friendly which in the
end is all you need. We pay 20,000 Rupiahs (2 pounds)/day for our dinghy to
be lifted up the beach by 4 very cheerful guys organised by Ferri,  and
looked  after, and fuel (of extremely doubtful quality) is only 25p/litre,
transported in 3 x20 litre jerry cans on the back of a motorbike, then we
take it through the surf to Intrepid, and we (feeling slightly guilty)
shower in drinking water bought for 17,000 Rupiahs (1 pound)/20 litres in 20
litre jars back to Intrepid. Flights from Darwin to Kupang were suspended a
few years ago, because of the military sacking of East Timor and the murder
of 3 UN observers in Kupang. They
have since resumed, but there are very few tourists.

Life can be short here - I had my hair cut the afternoon before we left, and
the lady did it so well that I persuaded Maeve to go there the next day -
which we did, only to find that the hair dresser's husband who cannot have
been older than 45 had died during the night - his coffin with him in it was
laid out in the middle of the salon (this was at 9am) with a few relatives
sitting round.

Being the 'last yacht' does challenge our sense of humour and language - on
Saturday we arranged a tour with Alex which turned out to be an 'unguided'
tour - the car and Alex rushed over the country while I tried to sort out
what they were trying to do, where we were, and where to go. Finally at 6pm
after 100 wrong turns and 3 hours after our planned return I bought Alex the
only half decent map I could find which may at least help future tourists.
But we did see sandalwood working, local 20 string instruments being played,
and a delightful old Indonesian lady who still speaks Dutch, and weaves ikat
which requires dying the yarn in patterns before it is woven.

Minggus (short for Domingus as he was born on Sunday) did better next day,
we drove up to Soe in the central highlands, taking 4 hours to do 110 kms.
The people here still have animist traditions, and often prefer their
beehive huts, thatched right down to the ground with a very low door to keep
out the cold at 800 metres above sea level.

James leaves us today to fly back to UK via Bali to start work, and Maeve
has joined us - getting out to Intrepid after a few beers at night through
some nasty surf with her luggage gave a new meaning to the travel brochure
phrase 'transfers included', but we managed it, and we are now planning our
route round the 8 knot currents which flow through the narrow straights
between the islands north of Timor to allow us to turn west and cruise the
relatively calm north coast of the islands of Flores, then Komodo (dragons)
and Lombok before Bali, then north to Singapore. We sailed overnight,
meeting wooden fishing vessels who came close to see our strange craft,
hooked a 6 foot marlin, who in one ferocious jerk snapped my 100lb line like
cotton, and were joined by sperm whales, one 15 metres long who cruised with
us for half a mile just 100 metres away before submerging, and a huge school
of hunting dolphins. The village of Lamalera on the island of Kawula (there
are many different names for the same island, the most up to date one
(British Admiralty 1912) calls it Kawula, but it is also called Lomblen)
still hunt these sperm whales BY HAND - 12 people in a wooden hand built
canoe, paddle like crazy, till the harpoonist can jump on the whales back.
They catch about 20 whales/year, it is still allowed under the whaling
conventions because they use traditional methods. 8 years ago, 2 boats were
towed 80 kilometres by a wounded whale, when the boat sank, and 36 villagers
(12 in the boat that sank, plus 24 from 2 support boats one of which also
sank) were only picked up by a cruise liner, dehydrated and emaciated, and
in shock for the loss of their boats.

I suspect that cruising Indonesia is going to be fun and challenge our
navigation (we have to predict the direction of the 8 knot currents from the
timing of the moon's meridian passage, the pilot book devotes 5 pages to
2000 miles of coast so is not much use, the islands are steep to, so there
are few anchorages, and Indonesian fishing boats are usually unlit and
wooden so don't show up on radar). Pirates and volcanoes we hope we have
sorted. We have some great people to cruise with us, and are looking forward
to it all.

With all best wishes from Andy Nicky and Maeve, the crew of Intrepid.

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