We departed Singapore as scheduled and dropped the pilot off at the Southern Boarding Ground and made ready to cross the traffic lanes once more in order to get into the eastbound traffic lane. This time however our timing was not fortuitous, as a large tanker and a container vessel in the west bound lane were impeding our passage. The vessel was stopped just outside the traffic lane, and much like waiting at a junction in your car, we waited for the two vessels to cross our bow safely before proceeding.
Saga Ruby continued to traverse the straight passing Horsburgh Light, which all but marks the end of the busy stretch of water, at around 3am. The vessel then continued towards Broome, Australia, routing through the Java Sea towards the Lombok Straights.
This time of year there is always a chance of cyclones forming in the Timor Sea and the part of the Indian Ocean between Indonesia and Australia. With it being La Nina year, the chances of tropical revolving storms forming is also greatly enhanced. With the vessel still two days from Lombok, the weather forecast beyond was indicating two tropical depressions, one off of Darwin and one off of Dampier. This did not bode well, as with the sea water temperature warm enough and the latitudes right, all the ingredients were in the mix for cyclones to form. Advance notice of this probability was provided to us by Broome’s Harbour Master and Pilot, confirming my own suspicions.
With this information to hand and the narrow tidal window to make at Broome, it was clearly evident that the port would not be attainable in the sort of seas predicted. In order to ensure passenger safety and comfort the early decision was taken to abort Broome, albeit reluctantly. This left us with some time up our sleeves!
Unfortunately, Indonesian Authorities require a permit for passenger ships that takes about two weeks to obtain, so landing on one of these islands was not an option, with this out of our hands the ship was slowed down in order to provide longer time in the sheltered Java Sea. Tropical Cyclones Carlos and Diane had now formed from the Tropical Depressions and whilst Carlos was not going to bother us now that Broome was not our destination, and Diane was some distance to the south of our current position, she was in our way for our new destination of Geraldton in Western Australia.
It had been decided that Geraldton would be added to our itinerary and an extra day in the port of Fremantle was the best option to help go some way to mitigating the disappointment of missing Broome in the time we had available to us. And by spending another 24 hours in the calm waters of the Java Sea, Diane would have moved significantly, by the time we got there, to permit our safe passage south.
The plan worked well, and although a day or two of rough weather was experienced as we headed south, it was not nearly as bad as it would have been had we maintained speed as originally planed.
After a week at sea some of our passengers would have no doubt been ready to kiss the concrete jetty at Geraldton once we’d berthed. Geraldton’s harbour is more used to Bulk Carriers than Cruise Ship’s and it was fortuitous that a berth was available to accommodate us at such short notice.
Geraldton lies in Western Australia, in Champion Bay across the Geelvinck Channel from the Houtman Abrolhos Islands. Serving as the outlet for the Northern Wheat Belt and a hinterland producing barley, oats, lupines and fruits, Geraldton is now Western Australia’s second largest port. Evidence of the agricultural trade passing through the port is clearly evident by virtue of the large grain silo that dominates the port skyline, apparently Australia’s second largest.
Everyone I met in Geraldton was friendly and welcoming, from the Pilots, who came on with all the latest technological gizmo’s to monitor the vessels progress, to people in the streets of the small town. I even had reports of one of the town’s residents offering to provide some of our passengers a free tour around in his minibus.
The town itself was small, yet quite charming and offered our passengers a different view of Australian life, compared to all the cities we would be visiting over the next couple of weeks. With the weather now hot and sunny too, and white sandy beaches on offer, Geraldton certainly helped everyone forget all about Cyclone Diane.
By the time it came to set sail in the evening, the morning wind had abated and the sea looked relatively tranquil as the sun descended over its expanse. Saga Ruby waved goodbye fondly to Geraldton and set sail for Fremantle, a short hop down the coast.