Cruise Notes to Northern Australia and the offshore islands of Venezuela
In the September, 2004 issue of SAIL, Clark Beek explores Australia's Northern Territory on his Salar 40 ketch, Condesa, discovering "a land where the uninitiated should tread carefully" and where "Darwin is an Oasis". Duncan Gould sails through the offshore islands of Venezuela. To read their notes from these cruises—supplements to the stories in print—read on below.
Australia's Northern Territories
Australia is a modern, first-world country with all supplies and services for cruisers. However, Australia’s population is only 30 million, and 80 percent of this population lives on the east coast. The rest of Australia can be very isolated, and cruisers should be well-prepared before leaving the main centers.
Citizens of all countries except New Zealand must have a visa in hand before arriving in Australia. Penalties are severe: The captain is fined A$1,000 for each person aboard without a visa. If you are sailing across the Pacific, you can easily get visas from the Australian consulates in any of the South Pacific capitals.
Most cruising yachts arrive in Australia after the Pacific milk run and stay south of the hurricane belt from December to March. Brisbane is considered the southern end of the belt on the east coast. A common strategy is to check into southern Queensland or northern New South Wales and then work down to Sydney and beyond during the southern summer. After the hurricane season, circumnavigating yachts sail up the east coast, across the Top End, and on to Southeast Asia or Indian Ocean ports.
If sailing directly to the Top End via the Torres Strait, the first port of entry is Thursday Island, just off the tip of the York Peninsula. Thursday Island is one of the more remote outposts of Australia and therefore expensive and ill-supplied. The anchorage can have currents of up to 6 knots, necessitating an anchor watch—probably not quite the respite the average cruiser needs after a Pacific crossing. Pressing on another 400 miles across the Gulf of Carpentaria, Gove is the next recommended port of entry along the Top End route, and more of a place to relax and stay a while. Everything comes to Gove and the other outposts in this part of Australia by barge, so everything is expensive. Yachtsmen would do well to stock up in a larger port before taking on the desolation of the Top End. Darwin is the main boating center for northern Australia and virtually anything is available for cruising yachts at reasonable prices.
Australian Immigration Service: Australian Immigration Service web site
Australian Customs Service: 011- 61-2-6275-6666 from outside Australia Australians Customs web site
For permits to visit aboriginal lands:
Northern Land Council
East Arnhem Office
PO Box 820
Nhulunbuy NT 0881
Circumnavigating Australia's Coastline: A Yachtsman's Manual by Jeff Toghill
Cruising Australia by Alan Lucas
Cruising the Coral Coast by Alan Lucas
Cruising the offshore islands of Venezuela
In the September, 2004 issue, Duncan Gould reports on his explorations of Venezuela's offshore islands: "Just an overnight hop from Grenada, but part of another world." Here's the additional, on line information we promised you from aboard Gould's 39-foot steel cutter, Moose:
The offshore islands of Venezuela are south of 12 degrees north and therefore south of the hurricane belt. They can in principle be cruised year-round. In general, they enjoy garden-variety trade winds, meaning easterlies of 15-20 knots. Weather can be unsettled in September and October as westward-moving tropical disturbances pass to the north. In February and March the spring winds pick up into the 20-25 knot range, and exposed anchorages can be exciting. Daytime temperatures are between 80 and 90 degrees all year. Water temperature is just on the fresh side of perfect.
Navigation Navigation is easy if done correctly. Water is either very deep or very shallow. Standard Caribbean color-coding applies. "Green and blue are good for you; yellow and brown, the boat goes down!"
Most of the inter-island passages are short, but it is imperative to arrive mid-morning with the sun halfway up and at your back. You will sometimes have to leave an island at sunset and sail overnight, but you will be happier making your landfall in the morning.
Grenada and Trinidad make good points of departure for the usually brisk downhill run to these islands. Remember to pay careful attention to the west-setting current, which can set you off course as much as 2 knots.
Formalities The Venezuelan consulate in Grenada told us that visas were necessary. We cleared in on Los Testigos, Los Roques, and Aves Sotavento, and no one even mentioned a visa. If a yacht intends to stay for a longer period than a few days, a visa would probably be an excellent investment. A friendly attempt at Spanish will go a long way.
Facilities Water, some reasonable provisioning, and e-mail/Internet access can be found on Gran Roque. The other islands have no shops. Fishermen will often trade fish and lobster for batteries, cigarettes, rum, or other items.
Guides + weather information If you buy only one guide, it should be Chris Doyle's Cruising Guide to Venezuela and Bonaire. It is pleasantly written, well organized, and abounding in good chartlets and local color. Doyle's Web site is cruisingguides.com.
A concise and clear weather program covering the area can be found at 7086 MHz LSB at 07.25 local time. George, with minimal "ham-speak," does an area-by-area synopsis and forecast.
David Jones, the Caribbean Weatherman, at 8104 MHz USB at 08.30 local time, is useful to monitor as he runs forecasts out to his many subscribers. Caribbean Weatherman.