We anchored in Sadgroves Creek just outside the Dinah Beach Cruising Yacht Association and got settled into our new surroundings. We quickly arranged to swap our Queensland licenses for NT ones, and discovered the ins and outs of the Darwin bus network as Colleen had to attend a job interview at Casuarina rather quickly.
The next box to tick was to arrange a set of wheels. Gumtree was consulted and the next few days were spent checking out what was available. We were only after a cheapie, which in the Darwin market is something that starts from about $1500, and David soon returned with a gold coloured 1997 Mazda 323 sedan. After a bit of a tidy up, a new radio and remote door locks it was quite comfortable. It lasted about three months before losing compression between a couple of cylinders, so it was sold cheaply to the wreckers and we were up for another car. We scored another 323 sedan, but this one was white, with a bigger 1.8 engine, central locking, and automatic transmission. David swapped all the good bits from the first car, and this one saw us through. We eventually sold it for about what it cost us, but of course lost a lot of dollars on the first one.
We were within walking distance of the CBD, and it was sometimes damn hot or damn wet or both, so we took advantage of the Wi-Fi and air-conditioning of the General Library on occasion. Once we had a car we found that they also had a number of two-hour free visitor car parks which were a bonus when we had to kill time awaiting a tide. We also enjoyed a walking tour of the Northern Territory Parliament House one Saturday. It’s a typically grand building, designed to cater for both an upper and lower house but with only a lower house in the current system the other half of the building is a more formal library. Politics in the NT is quite volatile for what is after all a very small population, and is always a talking point for the locals.
Where we had dropped the anchor was nice and close to the pontoon at Dinah Beach, but we squelched down into the mud every day on large tides and it was not really secure if any serious weather hit, so we looked for options. We bumped into a kindly gent called Tony whose yacht was up on the hardstand for an extended refit, and he said we were welcome to use his fore-and-aft mooring in the creek for the wet season. We leapt at the chance and were soon safely tied off just outside the lock to Bayview Marina.
Mozzies and midges were a bit of a problem there, and as we were tied at both ends we were not free to swing around to receive any cooling breeze so it was not the most comfortable way to spend the wet season. We had a flywire door custom-made for our cabin which helped with the mozzies, and installed a second fan in the cabin but it was still not ideal.
One way to find relief from the conditions in the creek was to find some house-sitting. We were lucky enough to find three house-sitting stints, all down towards Howard Springs and all with animals that were happy to put up with Molly. We spent Christmas looking after staffys Babe and Charlie and Roughie the Blue-tongue lizard for David and Jasmine, then Fergus the poodle for yachtie Louise, then another couple of pooches Elfie and Chipper and some chickens and ducks for Cam and Danielle. David was happy to find things to fix wherever he could, and we received heartfelt thanks from them all and managed to spend about two months on land in total.
In between house-sits, we still had the yacht to think of. We were participating in the Wet-Season racing series with the Dinah Beach club and were busy making some improvements to give us a bit more flexibility. We gave the hull and props a much-needed scraping, and we added a 105m2 spinnaker and a genoa to our wardrobe.
To manage the spinnaker, we added four 75mm upright Ronstan blocks, and increased the number of rope clutches and cheek blocks out wide. It was a bit of a struggle installing the uprights at the bows, but with Colleen on deck and David’s long arms underneath they were soon in. Previous owner Nanette also suggested that we should rig a preventer for the mainsail out wide to improve downwind performance, so another couple of deck-mounted U fixtures and Harken mid-range 6-to-1 blocks (over $1000 for two blocks!) were added to the inventory. We also added a socket and an open ended spanner to the hidden depths of XTsea when they were dropped.
All this made us a lot more competitive, and despite carrying a lot more weight than our opposition, we finished third in our division and took home the overall Improvers Award.
Maintenance of course was also needed. One big item we discovered was wood rot that had invaded the panel behind the starboard steering wheel which meant cutting out the old panel from inside the boat and glassing in a replacement. Even though David had to wedge himself inside a cavity and apply resin above his head at an inconvenient angle, the repair went well and no work was needed on the external gelcoat. David did however manage to ruin a t-shirt and was painfully pulling resin from his body hair for a week.
We also decided to make our refrigeration system more effective. The crappy 12 volt upright fridge drew 5 Amps almost consistently, and could never be made efficient as it emptied of cold air every time the door was opened and insulation was only light. Despite drawing 70-100 Ampere-hours a day, it only managed to chill down to between 8 and 10 degrees in the Darwin heat, and needed de-icing weekly. Purchasing the biggest ice chest that could fit through the door to the rear starboard cabin (a 110litre EvaKool – with the lid detached) David re-engineered the Ozefridge eutectic chiller to suit which reduced our power requirements significantly.
Darwin has an excellent motor sports complex only minutes from the city. The V8 Supercars have a round there, there are regular drag and circuit events, and a particular local speciality is night mud racing. High powered extensively modified vehicles run head-to-head on a slushy mud-filled course with sections containing over a metre of water. Entry is cheap at $15 a head, you can bring your own chair, food, and booze and kids are free. There were only short breaks in the action, mainly to drag a vehicle off the course when something busted, but that was entertaining too. The kids would line up along the fence and get themselves absolutely covered with mud, and at the end of the night have to be hosed down.
Without a lot of nanny-state rules and security staff to stop the fun, Colleen noted that it was the most relaxed racing she had been to since she was a teenager at the Daylesford Speedway races. We packed a picnic dinner complete with beer (cans only allowed though) and a couple of chairs to watch the fun. The fastest division had some real monsters, and the most spectacular was something that had been rigged to look like a smaller version of a Ford prime mover. It was scarily fast down the straight, ear-shatteringly loud, able to power through any depth of water, and the mud spray was satisfyingly large for the kids on the fence.
For David’s birthday, we took a drive south to Litchfield National Park. It was a drive of a couple of hundred kilometres, with sections of road where the posted limit was 130km/h which was fun but a bit worrying when it was one lane each way. We made our way to the Florence Falls which was running well and the best part is that we could have a swim and not worry about crocs!!
Sporting participation is heavily encouraged in the Territory, with the government contributing to excellent facilities, and providing school-age children with vouchers valued at $200 per year which they can put towards equipment and fees. We were quite surprised to see hockey extensively advertised on TV in the lead-up to the start of the season, and as Colleen was interested in possibly having a game or two, we went along to the sign-up day for a look.
Darwin has 6 hockey clubs and they all play and train at twin water-filled grounds in Marrara. Apart from juniors, there are three divisions (A, B, and C grades) so there are only 18 senior games each week. After hitting it off with Judy, Colleen signed up with the Commerce-Pints Club (black and red like Essendon) as well as putting both our names down to umpire.
Pre-season started that week so the hockey gear was pulled out of the cupboard and Colleen was soon back into it as David chewed his fingernails in frustration looking on. The season proper soon rolled around, and as the club was short of men, David was coerced to pull on the boots as well.
As we were quite free to umpire as needed and felt that we had no club bias, the association took full advantage and we had many umpiring commitments to fill. In one round we completed 10 of the 36 commitment spaces! After putting up with player behavior in Melbourne for decades, umpiring in Darwin was a delight as the players just got on with the game and played the whistle. Skill level was truly outstanding at all divisions, perhaps thanks to the excellent turf.
We managed to play five rounds and made some really great friends. In a team that was struggling, David was appointed captain for three games and was his usual idiotic self as kicking back for two games losing a lot of skin and generally leading with his unprotected head. Colleen was very solid in defence for her team, but played half of her final game on the forward line and looked threatening. It would be great to catch up with this competition and club on the next lap!
For a bit of culture we visited the museum towards the end of our time in Darwin. They had quite a few indigenous and natural exhibits, the obligatory super-large stuffed crocodile, a selection of older marine vessels important to the region, a Cyclone Tracey exhibit, and an exhibition of the one hundred most memorable front pages of the Northern Territory News. The editors have a policy of trying to create a front page that everyone will talk about, and don’t let the truth necessarily get in the way of a good headline. There were sections on crocs, cane-toads, naked people, UFO’s, as well as more boring things like politics.
As May and the end of the wet season approached, Colleen provisioned for a six month period which hopefully will see us through to Perth. David finished his employment, we sold the car, and we were off!