Sailing Round the top of Australia – West to East

Published 13 years ago, updated 4 years ago

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I’m looking at sailing from Perth to Melbourne, the long way. I’m pretty comfortable with the Perth-Darwin stretch, but I’m worried about adverse winds from Darwin to Cape York and especially Cape York to Brisbane. Can anyone provide any advice on preferred weather window and whether diversion to Melanesia might assist with countering the SE Trades?

Stuart Hall

Hi Stuart,

I have rounded Cape York 5 times – 3 westbound and 2 eastbound in the last few years. One eastbound trip started from Darwin in mid-October and we sailed all the way rather than day hop and anchor. We only stopped if the winds were above 25kts or we were getting no sailing wind. We were 22 days close hauled from Darwin to Cairns and had stops at Gove, Seisia and a night at Cape Flattery. The winds were 130 deg at 10-20 kts for most of the trip to Gove and we tacked to get the favoured angle. It was slow but steady work and we needed to become adjusted to a speed made good of 2-3 kts towards our destination. There was some sea breeze effect most days which produced a more NE wind but it generally came back to its standard direction and speed. We deliberately kept the speed at about 6 kts to stop jumping into the waves (we are a 41ft cat) and creating splash and with wind and current against us, our tacks over the ground averaged 120 deg. The trip was comfortable but slow. The Trip across the Gulf was similar to one night of 20-25 kts. The trip down the east coast had similar conditions but a more pronounced sea breeze effect each day (ie wind moved into the E more but came back to SE each night). We made long southerly tacks till we ran out of water near the coast then tacked out east through gaps in the reef till we could turn south and run down the shipping channel or parallel it. We motor sailed past the headlands to speed up this part of the passage. We got our first NE breeze just near Dunk Island and from there south it is a good run with NE breezes most afternoons.

The second eastbound trip was from Bali almost direct to Gove then to Weipa (we had a gearbox problem), up to Seisia and down to Cairns. We motored for most of this passage and only put out a headsail when the angle allowed us – not often. Again the winds were SE at 15 or a bit more. In both cases, we aimed to round Cape York by early Nov. We downloaded weather FAX each day and had HF weather reports also.

I think we had pretty good conditions and although on both trips there were small depressions developing near the Solomons, they did not develop fully but they did keep the wind more in the SSE rather than the SE-NE we hope to get. I still have the track plots of one trip if that is any help. I am presently in Thailand and would not be concerned to do this type return again as long as I was near Cape York in early Nov. Getting out of Darwin and pst Cape Don can be a challenge – get advice on how to use the tides properly – they rip past Cape Don.


Dave Bowden

I did this trip in Sept 2009 on a power boat from Darwin to Cairns, stopping only once for a few hours at Lizard Island to top up some oil. This was a leg of our full circumnavigation East to West.

We had the SE trade at 30 -35 kts for the whole leg, and only got the wind off our nose a bit (10 deg) from Lizard to Cairns. Interesting is the SE’s tend to bend and come from due east across the Arafura, and it is reported to be the windiest and most consistent trade wind area in the world.

In a sailing boat, you would have to tack of course which takes pressure off from the head seas. We have a course of 89 deg to TI and the wind was blowing from 90 deg.

You are going to have some fun in the narrow shipping channel, so good time to fire up the iron sail for this leg I’d reckon.

Good luck

Peter Sheppard

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