Countdown

When Corroboree sailed north from Bundaberg in late April 2020, there was still some hope that the recently declared Covid-19 pandemic would be brought quickly under control and we could proceed to Indonesia as planned. By the time we reached Townsville at the end of June, it was clear we weren’t going anywhere. And as I’ve written before, Australia is probably one of the best places on the planet to be marooned. Nevertheless, a year later, with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka still closed to foreign cruisers, we are implementing Plan B. It will mean missing out on the above-mentioned countries and undertaking some long ocean sails, but it’s time to move on.

Leaving Townsville in mid-May, our new route will take us north to Cape York Peninsula via day sails up the Great Barrier Reef, followed by a jump across the Arafura Sea to Darwin in July. From there, the Timor Sea opens into the Indian Ocean, where we’ll stop at Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling (both Australian territories), Chagos (an atoll in the British Indian Ocean Territories), and the Seychelles (an independent island nation). The final stretch will take us down the Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and the east African coast to Cape Town. ETA: November. Total distance: approximately 7,600 miles.

Townsville, Queensland, to Darwin, Northern Territory
Darwin to Cape Town. Some long sails ahead.

As always after an extended stay in port, we are both excited and apprehensive about setting sail. What if we’ve forgotten how? We started prepping in late February, and just in case you’re still beguiled by those travel magazine spreads of indolent sailors lounging on elegant yachts amidst tropical islands, here’s the drill so far:

Research the route (weather, tides, potential anchorages). Plot courses on the iPad, and duplicate the courses on the backup iPad (in case you lose one overboard). We use a navigation program called iNavX. You tap on the screen to add waypoints, then connect the waypoints into an overall route. Amazing technology for which we are ever grateful.

The black/green icons are waypoints. You need a lot of them to navigate through the Great Barrier Reef on the right side of the chart.
Cruising guides are a huge help.

Research visa requirements and Covid quarantine issues. At present, Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling require special clearances for visiting yachts. Chagos and the Seychelles are open. We will continue to assess the situation as we go.

Haul out the boat to inspect and repaint the hull. Corroboree’s last paint job being in 2019, she was due. Inspect sails, deck, lifelines, rigging and mooring lines, fittings, etc. Corroboree required a new main halyard. Otherwise, she is good to go.

Four coats of bottom paint.

Empty, clean and inspect the contents of all equipment lockers. Restock spare parts and tools as necessary. (I sometimes joke we live on a floating hardware store.)

Empty and clean food cupboards. Inventory existing stores and reprovision with 3-4 months of canned and dry foods. I keep a running inventory of these items even in port. Eric would go into severe withdrawal if we ever ran short of coffee or peanut butter.

Inventory and update medical and first aid supplies. Empty, clean and restock the ditch bag (the bag of vital supplies you grab if you must abandon ship and take to the liferaft).

Our ditch bag includes emergency rations, flares and medical supplies.

Get vaccinated. We had our first jab of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine in late March, the only one available to the general public in Australia. For maximum efficacy the second jab must be given no sooner than 12 weeks after the first. Since we can’t wait in Townsville that long, we’ll have to arrange the second one in Darwin.

One last, bittersweet task is to wind up our volunteer projects at the Maritime Museum of Townsville. Our 10-month gig there has been fun, challenging and deeply rewarding. We will miss our friends there more than words can tell.

The volunteer team at the museum.

But look what lies ahead. New places to discover, new opportunities to meet people, to learn and explore. New bodies of blue water to traverse, green anchorages to welcome and refresh us as we mark off each leg. Compared to gliding along a well-charted coastline, open ocean can feel dangerous with no quick harbor to run to in case of illness, injury, damage to the boat or a storm.

But that’s what I love about it. The rest of the world disappears, your head clears, you plant your feet and take the helm. It’s just us and nature—never us versus nature—slotting ourselves into the sea’s rhythm, collaborating with the wind and waves, absorbing the vastness, buckling down to the job when the going gets rough. There’s only one thing you have to do: Sail the boat. Keep it up long enough, and you’ll get there.