Chapter 30: Australia Adventures Continues: North Queensland and Over the Top
May 23rd — July 18th, 2005
May 23rd, 2005: Townsville
When I last wrote, we had left the Whitsunday Islands, and were anchored off Magnetic Island just offshore of Townsville. On May 20th, we arrived at the Breakwater Marina in Townsville. Since then, we have had a lovely 4 days in Townsville. It is a pretty, medium-sized town (around 160,000 population) with lots of parks along the waterfront and plenty of cafes and restaurants within walking distance of the marina.
The highlight of our time here was getting together with Rob and Gillian Miller. Rob is one of 3 sons of my late father’s best friends. Rob has his own Internal Medicine and Dermatology practice here, with his wife, Gillian, as his practice manager . We got together one evening with Rob’s brother Scott several months ago while we were in Brisbane, and had pre-arranged to get together and meet Rob, while here, where he lives, in Townsville. However it was more like a wonderful kidnapping! They picked us up on Saturday, took us to their next-door neighbor’s house for a wonderful outdoor, on the river, gourmet multi-course feast of a dinner, with bottomless glasses of champagne. For people we had never met before, again it proved the Australian hospitality could not be beat. The next day (Sunday), Rob picked us up again and took us sightseeing all around Townsville, up to Castle Hill as well as a large Dam for some great views and then back to his house for another evening of, this time, a seafood extravaganza, with chilled very fresh oysters (even JOE ate them!!!), crab and shrimp, and a huge platter of lox. And of course more champagne! We then got together with them again Monday night (last night) and drank more champagne, and had another wonderful dinner at their house, and said our temporary goodbyes as he dropped us off at the marina late last night. I say “temporary,” as it turns out they will be attending a medical conference (actually Gillian-- is going to it, so Rob is free) in Cairns this coming Friday-Sunday... And we will be arriving in Cairns also on Friday via Mi Gitana! So we are using these next few days (that it will taking us to get to Cairns) to dry out our livers, before starting over again with them. They used to live in Cairns for many years so Rob wants to show us around (while Gillian is attending the conference in the day.) Which of course is great for us!
We are on day 11 now of sunshine -- hallelujah! After all the gray skies and rain for the last few months, this weather has been a wonderful welcome. We hope it continues tomorrow as we leave on our 3-½ day trip tomorrow for Townsville.
Thursday, May 26th: Orpheus Is, Mourlyan Bay and onward to Fitzroy Island
We are on the way today to Fitzroy Island. Our first night, after leaving Townsville, we spent at Hazard Bay at Orpheus Island, and it was an awful, but appropriately named place! For the first time in 2 or more years we dragged anchor so our anchor alarm kept going off about every 10-15 minutes from 2 AM to 4 AM. Finally Joe was concerned we were getting too close to shore (where there was a coral reef) so we (since we weren’t getting any sleep anyway) decided to just get going at about 4:20 AM. Yuck! But we ended up having a nice peaceful anchorage last night next to a sugar mill loading dock up a river (Mourilyan Bay). We all were in bed by 8:30 and slept for 10 hours making up for almost no sleep the night before.
We DID hook a huge fish (Joe says about the size of Anne, our crew lady) on the way to Orpheus. Unfortunately we were under sail and could not easily slow to boat down so it was a struggle to get the fish alongside. In fact, finally when we got him close enough to see him, he snapped my 50 lb test line and took off with my used-to-be-lucky lure and all. So he was probably pretty big. I will look for a tackle shop in Cairns, as perhaps my line is a little "rotten" from being used for the last 4 years, with lots of sun exposure. I have a new roll of line but need it spooled on my reel.
Anyway, that's our adventures so far. Today the waves are pretty big (7-10 feet) and we are surrounded by squalls and “Wizard of Oz” skies. We've had a few showers but most of the big ones have missed us so far. Our bragged about sunny days are no more.
Saturday, May 28th: Safe arrival in Cairns
We never made it to Fitzroy Island (a small island not far to the south of Cairns) as when we approached it (as our squally weather and high seas continued), it did not look like it would give us much protection. Our plan had been to anchor there overnight and to head to Cairns early the next morning. However, we were making good speed, so we decided to try and make it to Cairns prior to sunset and get ourselves tied up to land again and off the miserable seas. We called ahead to the marina and they said they’d have our slip ready, even if we arrived after hours.
It is hard to explain how our sailing year has been so different this year due to all the shallow waters in the Coral Sea, and dealing with currents is also new to us (not to mention all the thousands of reefs). But anyway the entire bay and waters around Cairns are mostly mudflats with very little water covering them for miles out from shore. They have one very long and very narrow channel that has been cut for deep draft boats, which we used on our approach. If you get close to the edge of the channel, you will find yourself in 3-5 ft. depths of mud and sludge (our keel goes down 7 feet!), as we soon found out. Although the channel was well marked, it was another challenge to our boating skills. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but we made our approach at about 5PM not knowing that was “rush hour” in the narrow channel. Cairn’s biggest income is tourism, and their biggest tourist site is taking people out on these huge high speed catamarans out to the Great Barrier Reef, and we soon found out that ALL of these vessels return to the marina at around 5PM (our exact time of approach!). When we were coming in, we were passed by at least 20 of these large (75-120 ft) and very WIDE vessels, none of who slowed down, pushing us around with their giant wakes. At first, Joe told me to move over to the far side of the channel, so a large mega-cat could pass us, but I soon found myself in mud and sludge and a depth meter reading 5-6 feet! I QUICKLY turned (and since I had some speed on) got back in the middle of the channel. So anyway it was another white-knuckle experience, but with a happy ending of our safe arrival. So we arrived a day ahead of schedule on Thursday night, and after tying up, and a quick dinner, pretty much went right to bed.
Today, Rob Miller and Gillian drove up here from Townsville, and he picked us up (leaving Gillian to attend her conference) for a day of sightseeing all over Cairns and the beach towns north of here. It is amazing to us that Cairns is a “beach” community with no real swimming beaches. PLUS it is crocodile land and there are signs up on the waterfront warning off swimming or wading. Cairns has constructed a lagoon-like beautiful pool along the esplanade, so I guess the tourists can feel like they are “beaching” it by wading in the waters there. The “beaches” a bit north of Cairns were almost non-existent in high tide, and the little associated “towns” with the beaches were usually no more than a block or two long. However, the air about the area is very tropical, and Cairns is rainforest territory.
Despite the lack of beaches, Cairns seemed to be wall-to-wall hotels, backpacker lodges, restaurants, travel agencies, tour companies, and souvenir shops. Historically the town was started in 1876 as a service town for the gold rush for a big gold mine discovered 60 miles inland. After the mines shut, the population continued to boom from the sugar cane trade. However the real increase in population (from 16,000 50 years ago to over 130,000 today) came when they built an airport in the mid 1980’s and began the tourist trade.
This evening, after our day of driving around the area, the Millers and their neighbors (whose house we dined at our first night in Townsville), who drove up here with them, came over to our boat for a cocktail party that lasted late into the night. (We never got around to going out to dinner!) The hotel they are staying at is a stones throw from here with their balcony overlooking our boat.
Tomorrow morning, Joe’s sister, Janet, arrives from Southern California to visit with us for 10-12 days. In 4 ½ years of cruising, she is our first visitor and we are looking forward to her visit and being a tourist with her. Quarters will be a little crowded aboard, as Anne occupies the “guest” berth, but Janet will sleep in our “living room” and has promised to bring only one small bag!
June 1st: (First day of Winter) — Sightseeing and Playing Tourist in Cairns
We've been on the go sightseeing in and around Cairns ever since Joe’s sister, Janet, arrived. One day we just shopped in all of the hundreds of touristy souvenir shops and the night market with even more souvenirs and Aboriginal crafts. (I’ve seen enough stuffed koala bears and crocodile belts to last me a lifetime!) On another day we went to Tjapukai (that’s a mouthful to pronounce!) Aboriginal cultural center, where we saw beautiful presentations (with giant holographic images) of this tribes history and spiritual beliefs, saw a dance show with didgeridoo (a long hollowed out skinny tree trunk that they blow to make unusual sounds and music) music, a demonstration of their traditional herb and seed medicinal cures, and we even got lessons (and practice sessions) throwing boomerangs and spears. It was very “touristy,” but we really enjoyed being the tourist and learning something about the Aboriginal beliefs and lifestyle.
Then another day we rode up in a hundred year old chug-chug train for an hour and a half (with a few photo “opportunity” stops), up a mountain ridge into the Wet Tropics area of the rainforest. There were wonderful waterfalls we passed, and 15 tunnels we went through, plus the spectacular views through the dense tropical rainforest. The ride took us to the mountain town of Kuranda, which is a very quaint (VERY touristy) place laden with arts and crafts shops, restaurants, cafes and other close by attractions, including a Koala wildlife sanctuary, an exotic butterfly sanctuary (the largest of it’s kind in the world), a bird sanctuary, and lots of nature trails through the rainforest. Unfortunately we did not allow enough time to see it all. We did go and look at the butterflies and birds then split up to let Janet go on her own to see and get photos taken with the Koalas, while Joe and I browsed at our own pace (a quick one, unfortunately) in the shops. In the butterfly Sanctuary there were thousands of colorful and some very rare butterflies that were free-flying all around you… and if you were lucky, even landed on you. In the bird place, we finally got to see the largest of Australian’s birds, the legendary (and now endangered) Cassowary, one of the largest birds (non-flying) in the world, which really was like a larger and more colorful, emu or ostridge.
Baby Kangaroo in Mother's Pouch
Then to further our adventure, we had to get back down the mountain and decided to take the Skyrail down to the mountain base. For Janet, with her fear of heights, this was quite a feat. But the views were spectacular as it felt as we could almost rub our feet on the treetops canopy of the rainforest (we were up to 130 feet off the ground), plus we had views all around including of the ocean and even some offshore reefs and islands. The skyrail stopped in 2 places also on the way down so we could walk around in the rain forest on paths to different waterfall lookout points. It was a wonderful experience and one of the highlights to our Australian adventures.
For another day of our sightseeing, we rented a small car to visit some to the surrounding areas. I haven’t mentioned but ever since Janet’s arrival it has rained EVERY day! The day we went up to Kuranda on the train and skyrail it was not too bad with some intermittent sunshine, but for the most part it has been gray skies, with showers (and some hard downpours) intermittently throughout the day and night. So I wasn’t really excited about renting a car in the rain and having Joe navigate driving on the wrong side of curvy mountain roads to just look at more sugar canes (there are LOTS of sugar cane fields here) and more rainforest sights. But taking off to what is called the Tropical Tableland area around Cairns was a great trip. Unfortunately, we got kind of a late start and ended up wishing we had had more time… but in our little Getz (a tiny tiny Hyundai) we went to beautiful waterfalls, and raging rivers inside the rainforest, visited a cheese/dairy farm, had a great lunch of fish n’ chips at a tiny roadside café, and traversed some of the most windy mountain roads that I can remember. It also did rain or rather a thick drizzle, most of the day — but it was amazing how green it made everything… to actually be walking in the rainforest in the rain. Anyway, it was a surprisingly wonderful outing.
So as you can see, we have been on the go, go, go! Tomorrow I have to take a day off of this "fun" to re-provision the boat (grocery shop). Then on Saturday, we leave here (after an 8 day stay), for Port Douglas (another tourist town) just 35 miles up the coast. Janet will take that trip with us, so she can at least see a tiny bit what a day at sea is with us and then after a couple of days there, she will take a transport back to Cairns and fly back to LA.
Besides the rain every day, it has been REALLY windy -- 25-30 knots even here in the marina. So we're glad we're IN here instead of OUT on the seas. BUT come Saturday, we'll hope for a decrease in winds -- Janet SAYS she does not get seasick-- but in that high of winds, the seas will also be more than likely greater than 8-10 feet… and that puts even a strong stomach to the test.
Monday, June 6th: “Stuck” in Cairns
Yesterday was our planned trip to Port Douglas. Actually we delayed the trip for a day to wait out the high winds. We got the boat ready to go, except for turning on the engine, and Joe decided to make a last minute call to the Marina in Port Douglas to confirm their tide level at our anticipated time of arrival. But when he spoke to the office person, they said someone (another boat) was occupying our assigned slip, and they couldn’t locate the people to get their boat out of there… AND they had no other available slips. We were very upset about this news (since we’d had the reservation since February and confirmed on the phone again a few days ago!) as if we didn’t leave to go there yesterday we knew we couldn’t go at all as yesterday was the last day we COULD get in there before sunset. Again besides being dependent now on weather, we also are dealing with really shallow bays. The entrance to Port Douglas is very shallow (less than 3 feet IN THE CHANNEL) at low tide, meaning we needed a high tide to enter. The high tide after yesterday (i.e. all this week) is at night and we cannot go in at nighttime for safety/visibility reason. So anyway that meant we could not go there at all. So in the rain and drizzle yesterday, we just decided to rent a car and DRIVE up to Port Douglas for the day to walk around, explore the Sunday crafts markets, etc. So at least we saw the town, plus we stopped and saw a few sights on the way back including a stop at a tropical fruit “winery” for a late afternoon tasting of such things as Mango, Kiwi, Passion fruit “wines.”
But it's been a bit disappointing for Janet, Joe's sister, as our planned sail to Port Douglas was her only opportunity to "sail" with us for a day. But being “stuck” in Cairns for another 3-4 days instead of Port Douglas, isn’t all that bad! There are a lot worse places.
And now we are on day 10 of really lousy weather. (Actually we had one afternoon of sunshine, but otherwise drizzle, rain, and gray skies). But we keep reminding ourselves, Cairns IS in the middle of the rain forest area and it IS the beginning of winter -- however, even the locals told us that this wasn't typical. We saw a program on Australian 60 Minutes on TV last week about the 12-year drought here and how critical it is. Joe and I thought we should offer our services to go to the drought areas and assure them that while we are in the areas, it WILL rain! Last season it rained most of our time in Fiji, and we seem to remember more rainy days than not while we were in Port Villa, Vanuatu -- supposedly also NOT "normal." So "not normal" weather seems to follow us!
Janet’s #1 request for her vacation here in Australia was to go out to the Great Barrier Reef for a snorkeling trip, but we kept waiting for a “sunny” day --tomorrow is her last day. We're encouraging her to go on her own tomorrow as Joe and I are not willing to pay 300-340$ (150-170$/person per day) for one of the tour boats going out on the reef FOR A CLOUDY, RAINY, DAY (It would be a lot to pay for a sunny day, but we WERE planning on doing it anyway). Also because of the lousy weather, high winds and also big seas, it would not be comfortable and the visibility would be awful. However, perhaps if we had flown all the way here to see the reef, we would go anyway. (We’re amazed that these boats still go out every day and seem to be filled — albeit, mostly with Japanese tourists–regardless of the bad weather.) Anyway, that is what we are encouraging Janet to do ... to go on her last day tomorrow, withOUT us. We'll see.
We are due to leave here on Wednesday in 2 days, to actually head out to one of the islands right on the outer reef and HOPE to do some diving/snorkeling ourselves when we get there -- but again that too is always weather dependent. Once we leave here, we will not be in a marina again until mid-July. Actually we may not even be in a town/village or any type of "civilized" place until then. (We have an option to pull into one place along the top that does have a town, but we're not sure if we will stop there or not.) We have some really awful places to go through (lots of reefs, no protected bays or islands to anchor behind) and still 1200 miles to go to get to Darwin. But we'll make it somehow–it’s just not a part of the trip we are looking forward to. Joe calculated that we have gone about 850 miles so far in the last 2 months -- and we have 3,500 miles to go in the next 3 1/2 months! So LOTS more miles to go in a very short time. We've mostly motor-sailed (I think in 850 miles we've sailed withOUT the motor only 15 hours or so). There were days we could have sailed more, but we’ve been making our whole trip so far on day trips (no overnighters as it's too dangerous inside the reef), so we've had some long distances to cover on many of the days -- meaning we've needed the motor to "supplement" our speed. But from here to Darwin, we are on a "conserve fuel" status so we will try to sail more.
Wednesday, June 8th: Departing Cairns to Low Islet
We said our farewells to Janet and left her on the dock waving to us as we departed Cairns after nearly a 2-week stay. (She will stay in a hotel tonight and fly out back to the USA early tomorrow morning.) As usual, the skies were gray and very quickly, we were being rained upon. We had really weird low clouds that got so low, we were actually IN them being “misted” upon and almost no visibility, so on came the radar (which we usually only use at nights) for us to view for vessels and obstructions around us. Then just as quickly as the “cloud” dropped on us, it would dissipate and we could see again… then later on would drop on us again. Very unusual. Also every time the mist would drop, the winds would die, so the sails had to come down, and then when it would lift, the wind would tease us again, and so the sails would again be raised… and then down again, etc. Eventually we gave up and mostly motored. So much for us conserving fuel!
By afternoon, we had some sunshine and we arrived by around 3:00 to our anchorage, on Low Islet between a U-shaped reef attached to a beautiful sand island covered with lush vegetation and a picturesque lighthouse built in the late 1800’s. We decided to stay (assuming the weather holds) for another day to do some snorkeling on the reefs and to “explore” the tiny island tomorrow.
A huge tourist catamaran was leaving just as we pulled in. Due to the close proximity of this beautiful lagoon to Port Douglas, we expect that we will be sharing this tiny piece of paradise again with the Catamaran tomorrow. There are also several fishing boats and a couple of sailboats here.
As soon as we dropped anchor, several very large sea turtles came by to greet us– they seemed to be curious as they would get close to our hull, pop their heads up and look around at us, and then dive down and disappear. We tried to feed them green lettuce, and they came to the surface right next to the boat to grab it–but then left it. This is a marine park so they are probably used to lots of boats and tourists being here. Also several remoras (fish that look like small sharks, and usually swim and attach themselves to sharks) swam by really close.
Thursday: June 9th: Low Islet
We are having our first beautiful day in 2 weeks — what a wonderful surprise. (Maybe it is Janet who jinxed us, as the bad weather arrived when she did, and this morning early, she flew out of Australia heading back for the US, and the sun is shining!) We hoisted the dinghy in water and went to the island for a picnic and a snorkel. The visibility was pretty terrible, but we swam with the green turtles, which seemed to be oblivious to our close proximity to them, and even through the bad visibility were able to view lots of different colors and types of coral, including some magnificent huge soft corals. The big catamaran tour boat loaded with around 60-70 “guests” did return today so we had to share the lagoon with them. One of the tour operators came over to us and said he also was from San Diego. He had sailed into Australia many years ago, and decided to stay a while. Small world.
Fri June 10th: Enroute to Cooktown
Last night after our beautiful day, we also had our first night with full stars and no clouds (and only a sliver of a moon so it was really dark and stars really bright) … however, sometime during our slumber, the rain came again as everything was wet when we awoke for our pre-dawn departure. We left Low Islets under dark skies filled with rain. We immediately donned our rain gear, as before we even left the anchorage we were being rained on. Every once in a while, we were taunted by a patch of blue and even an occasional ray of sunshine, but it did not last long. Not only was it wet, but cold. It’s often hard to believe we’re in the tropics, as we sleep with a down comforter on every night. At least we had one day of sunshine to break up this dismal weather.
Joe and I have both finished reading a detailed but entertaining book about Captain Cook’s voyages (Highly recommended: Into the Blue [also re-titled Blue Latitudes] by Tony Horowitz), and now Joe is reading Captain Cook’s journal of his first (of 3) voyages as he passed through the same waters we have been traveling for the last few months. He has named many of the islands we have passed and stayed at (including Low Island that we were at for the last 2 days.) Today we will pass Endeavor reef where Captain Cook almost sunk his ship, the Endeavor, (for which the reef is named) and also will pass next to Cape Tribulation (named for the problems that occurred on the reef). They came close to not only losing the ship, but also all hands aboard. They were able to wrap a sail from the outside around the hull and pull it up tight on both sides to “patch” the gash made by the reef until they could find a place to repair the ship. They went a little further north to what he named Endeavor River and spent the next month or so there doing repairs. The town that has now grown up around the river was named, Cooktown.
We had not originally planned a stop there but we decided at the last minute on a little diversion into Cooktown, as this weekend is their annual celebration, Discovery Festival, for when Capt Cook "discovered" Cooktown. So that is where we are headed today. We hope to meet up also with an American boat, Pacific Bliss, (from San Diego) there also.
Sunday, June 12th: Cooktown Discovery Celebration
We arrived just a bit before sunset on Friday night only to find out the very tiny anchorage at the river’s entrance was pretty crowded and there was very little room in the deep enough water for our boat. (Again, there was a LOT of shallow water!) We dropped anchor 3 times before we got a place that was safe enough and deep enough. (At one point, a local sailboat who was coming into the anchorage, seeing our problem of finding enough space–and now it was quite dark outside--, radioed to us to “follow me, I’ll show you a deep passage into the lagoon with more room.” We started to follow him, but within seconds of his taking off, he got himself stuck in the shallow mud, where he had to sit for an hour waiting for a rising tide. We decided NOT to follow him!
Yesterday afternoon, we dinghied ashore to “explore” and to attend the town's Discovery Day parade — It was really hokey... starting with a Chinese dragon, followed by belly dancers, a very bad 6-man Jazz ensemble, a few kindergarten children in the back of a truck, a police car, a fire truck spraying the crowd, and that was about it. A thousand or more people lined the street to see this parade that was about a block and a half long. But at least we can say we were there.
This morning a cruise ship with another 300-400 people arrived early to participate in the celebration. The festivities started with “Captain Cook” and his 1st Lieutenant, doctor, and one-armed cook, (plus his marines) arriving on the shore in 2 long boats. One of the locals told us yesterday, when we were trying to find out where the “landing” ceremony was, that usually the boat sinks before it even makes it to shore. Joe and I decided to stay in our dinghy alongside of the “long boat” to rescue anyone who fell overboard — actually, really we just wanted some up close pictures as the crowds on shore/bank where they were to land were quite thick.
After the re-enactment of Captain Cook’s 1770 “discovery” of this area and his encounter with the local Aborigines, we took in a little of the “local” color (mixed with several thousand tourists who were here for the last 2 days) and just watched people in the Oldest Pub in town — a real collection of people. Cooktown claims to be the “largest unfenced asylum in the Southern Hemisphere” (they even have a plentiful of t-shirts with this logo imprinted) and is a real rough and ready type of town. We waited for almost 2 hours for the scheduled wet t-shirt contest and tug-a-war to take place and finally gave up as we learned Cooktown time is worse than “Island Time” or a “Mexican Minute.” We also met up with our friends from Pacific Bliss in the pub.
For a full century after Captain Cook’s visit, not a single European settled along the Endeavor River here. But in 1872, gold was discovered nearby, and almost overnight, Cooktown was created. Despite the end of the Gold Rush, 2 devastating cyclones, and no real “products” for economic growth, the town IS now growing (current population around 5,000). Part of the problem has been its isolation as there were no real roads to reach it. Cooktown is still only reachable via the sea, private or small tourist planes, or with a 4 wheel drive vehicle, but they are almost finished building a paved road access, and tourism is now it’s main source of income.
The last of the celebrations took place after dark with a spectacular fire works display. Our friends from Pacific Bliss returned to their boat (after leaving the pub), which happened to be (unbeknownst to them) in the too-close-to the-barge-with-the-fire-works-for-comfort zone. The coast guard tender came alongside them about 1 minute before the fireworks started and told them to get buckets of water on deck in case the fireworks landed on board their boat! They didn’t get any direct hits but between the blanket of smoke and the stress of organizing a bucket brigade, they didn’t get much enjoyment out of them.
Note: It is interesting how we met Gunter and Lois on Pacific Bliss. Several years ago I was in a jewelry shop in Pacific Beach California getting a gold sailboat pendant repaired. The shop owners mentioned that they had friends, who lived in Pacific Beach who were on a sailboat sailing in the South Pacific. I said my husband and myself ALSO were on a sailboat in the South Pacific and they ended up giving me the names and email addresses of Lois and Gunter. I contacted them and we have been in email contact since, however they were “ahead” of us in their travels so we were unable to meet up. However, we finally DID “catch” them and met them finally in Cairns. Ironic that we had to go almost half way around the world to meet some fellow cruisers from San Diego.
Tomorrow we leave in the pre-dawn darkness again for another long trip to Lizard Island back out on the Great Barrier Reef.
Tuesday 14th: Lizard Island
We are in a nice anchorage now, with now 2 days in a row of good weather (afraid to even mention it to jinx ourselves!) This will be our last real "rest"/ fun stop for a while. It is an island near the outer barrier reef with supposedly lots of diving and snorkeling. We had hoped to arrange for a dive boat to take us out to the reef itself from the resort here on the island... but the resort is so exclusive ($1400/night) that they don't even want riff raff like us walking on their property, not even for our business... so it looks like we will be only able to dive on the reefs here in the anchorage. Yesterday, though as we anchored, 2 black tip reef sharks surfaced and circled our boat... making it less than inviting to just jump in for a swim. They are SUPPOSED to be "shy" and more of a harmless species, however we have actually met 2 people on our travels (one just 2 weeks ago) that have been attacked and bitten by the black tips... soooooo -- not too sure about them. I'm sure I'll go in-- as there are 6-7 other cruising sail boats here and they are all swimming around their boats and in the reefs... so perhaps these sharks here have plenty of other food other than humans! We haven't been able to swim in the mainland waters north of Townsville due to the crocodiles, and the further north we go, the more of them there are -- so no dangling of feet even over the dinghies. In the last few years, the main victims of the crock attacks have been American tourists -- so, we must be a pretty tasty specimen! Although one “fact” I read about crocs is that they don’t do much feeding underwater, and mostly prey on what is on the shore. So maybe we are safer swimming than walking on the beach!
Besides the sharks greeting us, as soon as we arrived, we got news that there was to be a get-together Happy Hour ashore. In record time, we got the dinghy launched and joined several boats we knew, including our friends (from San Diego) on Pacific Bliss, and some we did not, ashore for munchies, a sundowner drink, and a sunset on the beach. We have quite an international array of boats here: US, France, Finland, Germany, Australia, Sweden, South Africa.
Captain Cook and his crew were the first non-indigenous people to visit the island, and named it Lizard Island after the large lizards they observed. After patching up the Endeavor in Cooktown, they sailed here and climbed to the top of the island using it as a lookout to try and find a safe passage through the Barrier Reef. Thinking they found one, they departed, only to almost have the ship destroyed again as currents pushed them backwards dangerously close to a huge ship-eating reef. They then did an about-face and quickly backtracked towards the Australian mainland coastline and continued to follow it north over the top, eventually making safe passage into Jakarta and Indonesia.
Another little bit of history this island had long been a sacred place for the Aboriginal people. When some English settlers in 1881 set up a sea cucumber (beche-de-mer) harvesting operation near the islands, a British lady, Mrs. Watson (wife of the head man running the business) was left alone living on the island (while her husband and the workers were out to sea) with her child and 2 Chinese employees. The Aborigines, unhappy with white man settling on their sacred grounds, launched an attack on Mrs. Watson and one of her Chinese servants killed. She, along wet her child and her other Chinese servant fled the island making a “boat” out of a sea-slug “boiling” pot (barely bigger than a wash basin) and headed to sea. They eventually landed on a barren island to the north and died of thirst. There is a monument for her at Cooktown, her diaries of these last days are in a Brisbane museum, and the remains of her house were right off the beach here at Lizard Island. For me, it is impossible to imagine setting off in a pot to sea with all the reefs, high winds and waves that are ever present in this area!
Thursday, June 16th: Enjoying Lizard Island Bay
We did finally decide that the sharks around the boat were not interested in us and took off to snorkel in the bay, especially after seeing plenty of people swimming and snorkeling on the reef with all their limbs present. We came across some giant (4-5 ft' across) clams with magnificent fluorescent colors, which was a first for me. Some were bright blue with burgundy spots, others snow white on one side with bright green colors on the other side.
We will put the dinghy away tonight on our deck and secure it for a passage, as most probably we will not be getting off the boat again for a while. We will be making a lot of day trips with just overnight stays at anchor and then leaving at daybreak the next day... for a while as we make our way up to Cape York (the northern Eastern tip of Australia)... no fun places, but supposedly "safe" overnight stops. At this point in Australia the Great Barrier Reef is really close to the mainland so our passage area is very narrow and shared with all the big tankers.
Friday, June 17th: Lizard Island to Ninian Bay
Today we had 3 of our 4 sails up, the engine off, very light winds, small seas, a fishing line out and 100% sunshine... so a nice day. We left just before sunrise and arrived at our destination, back on the mainland coast at 5PM just before sunset. Our daylight hours are short because we are mid- winter... or are approaching the shortest day of the year while you in the US are approaching the longest day!
We anchored in 14 ft of water and still were ½ mile from shore…. As long as we’ve been here in Australia, we still can’t get over how shallow so many of the bays and waters around here are. In last few years would have had a panic attack if we saw so little water under us as we usually anchored in 45-60 feet in the South Pacific Islands. It has been so very different inside the reef areas of Australia.
Saturday, June 18: Ninian Bay to Stanley Island (in Flinders Group)
Wow! 3 in a row… we had another great day of sailing. Think we have done more sailing in the last 3 legs of this trip than our whole trip this season. We had forgotten how nice it could be to go down wind with sails up, engine off, and gentle seas. Also no rain!
Since the area of sea here is scattered with reefs, the only safe place for us to travel is in the shipping lanes. It is amazing how close the quarters are in these lanes with these huge freighters and tankers passing uncomfortably close to us. It makes us very glad we are making these legs of our trip in daytime hours!
While at anchor just before sunset off Stanley Island, I was sitting in the cockpit and heard a strange noise, like a “snorkler” who comes to the surface and blows water out his snorkel to clear it, and looking over to the area of the noise I saw a “footprint” (large flat spot) where something large had gone from the surface under the water. Later on from another cruising boat, we found out it was most probably a dugong — sea cow (like our Florida manatees) as they are breeding now around this island.
Sunday June 19th: Stanley Island to Morris Island
Our good winds semi-died today and the motor came back on. We reached our destination of Morris Island, which turned out to be a tiny dot of sand with a lone palm tree on it in the middle of a reef large reef. There is no real protection from wind and seas … but since there is almost no wind and seas are so very calm, it will probably be a wonderful place. There was a lone pelican on the beach and all kinds of sea birds to greet us upon our landing.
Enroute, since it was so calm, we put out the fishing line and snagged a fish but it got off shortly after it was hooked. I made a big mistake and didn’t pull in line to check it out after the fish got off, so at end of day when I reeled in the line just before coming into anchorage, there was no lure on the end… so line and lure must have snagged off at sunrise, and I was fishing all day with just a piece of nylon “thread” in the water: lesson learned. (Darn! Also, another lure lost!)
Monday, June 20th: Morris Island To Portland Roads
We left again before sunrise (5:30AM!) and again we had no wind and flat calm seas so it was a motoring day. I put out a fishing line again and within about 30 minutes hooked a fish. (ONE good thing about these early departures, as that is when the fish seem to bite!) We got it boat side and discovered we had hooked a 3-½ ft. white tip shark. We tried to wear it out as did not want to put our hand in its mouth to save my lure. We finally we got the lure free, released the shark, and he/she swam away. We replaced the line and later on caught a small (but large enough for dinner) Spanish mackerel.
Our anchorage is a really strange place. It is a tiny bay on the mainland and actually has a few houses ashore. There are no roads that come into the town (Portland Roads), but there is a small airstrip we are told. Ashore is a tiny beach and of all things, 2 phone booths. Some of the cruisers stop here to use the phones, but there are no stores, mini-marts or any other facilities ashore. The bay is also full of crocs, supposedly, so I didn’t even want to chance a trip ashore in the dinghy! Beside we had a sunset arrival (almost dark) and another pre-dawn departure tomorrow AM!
Tuesday, June 21st: Portland Roads Bay to Shelburne Bay
Today is our 4th day of motoring and no wind. We did have another sea life adventure day though. We caught 2 sharks at sunrise (between 0630-0730). With the first one, we saw a dolphin swimming behind boat so thought we had snagged it’s buddy and the dolphin was chasing us… but when we got it astern it was another damn white tip shark… which again, we had a hard time getting my lure released, but eventually did. The 2nd one was a really large shark and with our attempts to drag him just behind the stern to tire him out did not work, He eventually broke the line and took my lure, the last of my Rapalas (supposedly great for tuna… but sharks must like them too) If any of you fishermen out there reading this have any advice on how NOT to catch a shark please let me know… and secondly, if you DO catch one, what is the best way to save your tackle/lures from it’s jaws without losing a hand?
Our last adventure of the day was not a good one either. While coming into our anchorage, which was supposed to be typically shallow, we hit an uncharted sandbar and went aground, where we sat until way after sunset for about an hour waiting for the tide to rise. We eventually got safely anchored, but that did not help our spirits any. At least tomorrow we don’t have as long of a day (only 8 hour sail/motor instead of 12), so we can sleep in at least until the sun rises!
Wednesday, June 22nd: Shelburne Bay to Bushy Islet
This morning as we left our terrible anchorage (besides going aground, the anchorage had almost no protection because we were so far away from shore, and we had bouncing waves all night!), we could clearly see in the low tide the breaking waves over the shallow sandbar we went aground in last night. It was a long sand bar reaching from the shore to at least a half mile off shore. It is hard to believe something that big was not on the chart.
Along our way (motoring again… no wind for 5th day in a row), we saw a small black and white whale (perhaps a pilot whale) breach the surface. There are not supposed to be any this time of year, but he/she surfaced twice for our observing pleasure.
While underway for the last 2 days and especially today we noticed a vibration in the boat. Joe thought if felt like it was in the shaft or the propeller. So since we arrived at our anchorage (another tiny sand island in the reef system) before dark today, he decided to go in the water to check to see if one of the prop zincs was loose. It was, and it took him about 30-45 minutes in the water with a mask and snorkel under the boat to fix and replace it. Later a commercial lobster boat came over and to say “hi” and Joe mentioned since they were in wet suits that it was too bad they hadn’t come by earlier, as he would have asked them to fix our zinc. They replied back that there was no way they would get in this water, as the island was full of crocs! Hard to believe on a tropical tiny tiny island 15-10 miles off shore, there would be crocodiles! Anyway, Joe still has all his limbs and we now have the vibration fixed in the boat! The divers had a boatful of lobsters and held up a lobster tail that must have been over 10 lbs for the tail alone. I got all excited and thought maybe they would sell or trade with us for one, but they said all their tails are sent to the USA. But they wanted to offer us some lobster “heads” (they called them “knuckles”), as they just discard them (sending only the tails to be sold). At first I said “no,” as there usually isn’t much meat in a lobster head, or the tiny un-clawed legs… and what little there might be requires a lot of work at picking it out. However, I changed my mind when he showed me the “head.” It was so big that I could not even fit it in my largest stockpot on board. I ended up boiling it in pieces and got almost 2 cups of meat out of it. I only wish I had told him I’d take more than one! Anyway we will be dining on a cold lobster salad soon, I hope.
Tomorrow will be a tricky day. We will (hopefully) be crossing through a very narrow pass between an island and the mainland, which has 4.5-6 knots of current through it, so timing it to arrive at the pass exactly at the right time to be going WITH the current is essential. The only way we can do it (as there are no other anchorages deep enough for us between here at Bushy Islet and the pass) is to leave at 2AM tonight, which is what our plan is.
Thursday, June 23rd: Bushy Islet through the Albany Pass to Possession Island
None of us got much sleep, knowing we were departing at 2AM, but our plans worked out fine and we got to the pass at the right time… we went flying through the pass at 8 ½ knots. At the entrance to the straights we passed through huge breaking waves, called “overfalls,” where the 2 currents meet from the Coral Sea to the Arafura Sea. We said goodbye to Coral Sea, where we’ve been since leaving New Caledonia last year. After we got through the pass, the current continued to propel us along the Endeavor Straights (part of the Torres Straights) so fast that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to slow the boat down enough to anchor the boat. So instead of turning into the wind (as you usually do to slow yourself to anchor), I turned us into the fast moving current and we instantly stopped, and set the anchor behind Possession Island. The island is so- named, as this is where our friend Captain Cook went ashore and signed a document again claiming the land of Australia as the “possession” of England.
We’ve had so many days on the go… and recently days without wind and all motoring, that we have decided to stay here for an extra day first of all, rest, and secondly to wait for the winds to come up again. Our next trip is our first “passage” (350 mile — 3 day/night trip) of the season, so we definitely need our rest, as well as the ability to sail most of the trip versus motor. Joe also has some engine maintenance to do since we have motored for 6 straight days… and lastly, we will delay to depart on Saturday instead of Friday as sailors myth is it is bad luck to leave on a passage on a Friday. I don’t know where that started, but we’ve always followed tradition and never left on a Friday passage, even if it means delaying a departure by a day.
Saturday, June 25th: 1st day of Passage across Gulf of Carpenteria
We left this morning about the same time as our friends on Pacific Bliss, however, they are on a catamaran and normally go 8-10 knots where as we feel blessed if we go 5-6. So although they left only 30 minutes ahead of us, we never even sited them from about an hour after we left! We’ve been talking on radio all day though.
Also we noticed that the 2 other boats from the anchorage we were at on Possession Island, left about same time as us, one boat from Netherlands, and one from Sweden and we have made radio contact w/ them. Both have been within about a mile of us all day. One is a single handler so we will watch him closely tonight as he sleeps and warn him via radio if we see any ships or squalls heading our way.
I am on my night watch tonight and for the first time in a long time can see our Northern Hemisphere familiar constellation of the Big Dipper with its handle pointing to the North Star. I guess that is because we are approaching the equator (now at 10 degrees south). However, in the same sky I can also still see clearly the Southern Cross — the symbol on both the Australian and NZ flags.
We have had a day of mixed winds, where we have sailed some and had to motor some. We can’t seem to keep steady enough winds to just sail for long. We get gusts and go like hell, then it dies for a while and the motor comes back on and the sails come down (as with too little wind they flog).
Anne will get her night watch training tonight. We did have one overnight trip over a month ago, where she and Joe worked together on a watch, but she has had no reinforcement since. Hopefully she will feel confident enough (as well as Joe feeling confident enough with her) for her to be able to stand a watch on her own tomorrow night. We have a lot more “passages” for the next 3+ months of our journey so it will be great if we can share the watches assuring everyone gets 8 hours off between watches. (The schedule is we do 4 hours on and 8 off, with 3 of us to share.)
Sunday, June 26th: 2nd Day at Sea
Last night while on watch I kept hearing a squeaky noise, seemingly coming from the engine room, however when I listened in and around the engine room it sounded like it was coming from outside, but I could hear nothing when I went outside. The noise was intermittent, like a rubber squeaky toy you buy a dog, however, occasionally it had a pattern like a rotating high-pitched siren or a teakettle letting off steam like a whistle. Joe with his high note hearing loss couldn’t hear it and couldn’t find anything amiss in the engine room. But on my watch, it went on for at least 2 hours. Then Anne and Joe came on watch and Anne said she heard the same noisy squeaks coming from her head (bathroom). She went outside to look a look around for our change of shift “report” and she excitedly exclaimed that the boat was surrounded by really huge dolphins. We had never seen dolphins a night and there appeared to be (hard to see in the dark, but the moon had risen so there was a glow to the waves) several dozen of them swimming with the boat. She and Joe said these very large dolphins continued swimming with the boat for another couple of hours. Then as they left, so did our squeak in the boat, so our conclusion was we were hearing them “talk” thru the hull of the boat. Very cool. Anyway today I spoke to our friends on the boat ahead of us, Pacific Bliss, and they said they also had what they thought were 20 or so what they thought were small pilot whales swimming with them last night… so perhaps they were of the same group — We still don’t know though whether they were whales or dolphins. We have since been told in this area there are orcha whales which, although called whales, are really like large dolphins in these waters between Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. These we had did jumps and flips just like dolphins, which we are told orchas do also. Anyway if I ever hear that “squeaking” noise again, I now know to go out and look for dolphins/ whales alongside.
Today we have been going very fast for most of night and morning, giving us hope that we might even arrive tomorrow evening instead of Tuesday morning… however we have slowed down 1-2 knots for the last 6 hours, we assume mostly due to a change in the current. But the winds at least have been steady enough for us to sail all day and all last night without motor power, so for that, we are happy. But with enough wind to sail our heavy boat at a high speed, means there are usually big waves, which we have had — 6-7 feet with a few bigger ones every so often to really knock us over! But we’ve had worse. All of us have been using our “off” watch time to nap today to make up for the lack of sleep we all got last night due to the rock and rolling!
We are not even trying to fish, as it is just too rough to leave the cockpit for anything except what is essential for sailing… plus I certainly wouldn’t be cooking any fish on this trip. Our meal plan is simple when we’re underway… mostly something I can cook in one pot and we can eat in a bowl or finger food like sandwiches, as we still have to hold on even while eating.
A small white bird landed in the cockpit right next to where Anne was sitting just before sunset. She reached out her hand and actually picked it up. It must have been really tired, as it didn’t seem fluttery or scared of her contact. After a few minutes, she released it and it flew away. Then at sunset another larger bird landed aboard, however this one struggled for over half hour to try and get a grasp with his feet onto our bow sprit pulpit (stainless steel bars around bow of boat) until he finally got a good hold. Last I checked (hard to see now that it is dark), after an hour, he was still holding on nose into the wind. He must be tired and just enjoying hitchhiking!
Monday, June 27th: 3rd day at Sea across the Gulf of Carpenteria
It is too rough to even write much as I need both hands and even my knees to brace myself at the computer at the navigation station. The seas have continued to build to 9-12 feet and are hitting us on the beam, which is the most uncomfortable position from which to be slammed. However, we are having our fastest passage ever in our sailing aboard Mi Gitana, averaging almost 6 ½ knots for this trip. We are due now to pull into Gove Harbour at around 9 —10 PM tonight instead of our planned arrival tomorrow AM. Although we make it a habit to never arrive anywhere at night, Pacific Bliss has already arrived and has offered to “talk” us through to the anchorage in the dark. It would be miserable to have to stay outside the harbour entrance and do circles for 10 hours in these winds and seas awaiting sunrise. We have all had very little sleep due to the roughness of this passage, so it will be wonderful to set anchor tonight.
Wednesday, June 29th: Safe Arrival at Gove Harbour
We did arrive safely on Monday night and set anchor about 10:30 PM. We had a boat with a flashlight blinking it to show us where the anchorage was, however there was a very large motor yacht that was unlit right in the middle of the entrance… that unfortunately we did not see. We narrowly missed it by a foot or so, which raised the adrenalin quite a bit. After that, we decided NOT to progress any further into the harbour in the dark, so we just dropped the anchor with plans to move the boat at daybreak further in the anchorage (which we did the next morning).
We have had a pretty stressful few days. Getting here to Gove that last day was miserable at sea and Joe keeps lamenting about wanting to give up cruising life. He claims that this is just not fun anymore. It hasn't been a really BAD season of cruising ... just a hard one with the constant moving and anchoring and different stresses and "challenges" than previous years. We have kind of missed our opportunity though to "give up," as we would have had to ship our boat home from Brisbane or sold our boat there as many of our cruising friends did. We cannot stop now as we are in a cyclone zone and in the middle of nowhere. So our only choice is to keep going. I was hoping having a crew person helped, but I guess it has not been enough. Also Joe injured his back about 6 weeks ago and it is impossible to get the bedrest that he needs to cure it, so every day has been physically painful for him. We also realize the moods go up and down and hopefully this is just a temporary “down,” and soon spirits will be up again.
Anyway, to make matters worse, Anne announced today that she is not happy aboard and is leaving us–she said she will stay with us as far as our next leg to Darwin, but does not want to continue on. This came as a surprise, but our agreement with crew has always been that we can “fire” them at any time and, in reverse, they can leave us at any time. So although, she is free to go, it is obviously disappointing to us. [Ironically, the same day she announced this we got an email from a young Australian guy who was scheduled to join a boat in Darwin going to Indonesia and Bali, but the boat is not going to make it to Darwin, so he is stuck. He saw a very old add we had (from January when we were looking for crew this season) on the internet, noting we were going to Bali, and wrote us asking is we still needed crew. So we will plan to meet up with him in Darwin. I’m sure things will somehow work out for the best.] Anne HAS been a wonderful asset to our trip so far this year, helping out with a cheerful attitude. However, we have also come to the realization that in the future we definitely need a crew person with more experience, as it has been hard for her to catch on to all the nautical skills necessary to be a contributing “sailing” crew person.
On top of that “stressor”, we tried to refuel this morning and almost destroyed the boat. We had an appointment to go to the fuel dock (the only time they would take us) at low tide at 8AM. When we got there, it was not a typical floating dock, but a stationary dock, and because of the high tidal differences, they had huge truck tires over the side. But with the low tide, our hull of the boat was BELOW the tires and the wind was blowing us hard down on the dock, so the tires and huge dock were smashing our rigging (wires that hold the mast up), our stainless steel stanchions, our solar panels over the side, etc. Joe tried to push our 25-ton boat off the dock and the tires and ended up smashing his hand and straining his back again. Finally we got another man on board and the two of them were able to push us off the dock a few inches and I (at the helm) was able to powered us the rest of the way off the dock and out to sea again... So NO fuel and lots of damage to the boat. Joe will lose a fingernail, but otherwise his hand it appears will be okay -- but it will take a while for his back to heal. We have found a person with a car who is willing now to take a few empty jerry cans to town for us so we can at least get 20 gallons of fuel to help us get the rest of the way we need to go Darwin (another 400 miles). So this has NOT been a good last few days!
There is NOTHING here ashore in Gove except a bauxite mine (what they mine to make aluminum) and a tiny yacht club. No marina, no real marine facilities, but a yacht club. We dinghied in yesterday afternoon and the winds were so high (constantly between 15-22 knots!) and the waves were breaking in the bay that we were totally soaked by the crashing waves in the dinghy by time we arrived. Joe was the only smart one to bring a change of clothes, so Anne and I sat in the yacht club dripping salt water from our shorts (which were of course clinging to my butt and NOT fast drying shorts, but heavy knit ones) and shirts wet enough for a wet t-shirt contest... while Joe showered and put on fresh clothes. We then met up with our friends from Pacific Bliss and had our first (plus 2nd!) drink for about 5-6 days, as we don't drink while underway, (and it seems like we’ve been “underway” now for a long time) along with dinner there. Following dinner in the pitch black, we got back in the dinghy and again got soaked going back to the boat. So this is NOT what we would consider a memorable anchorage... rough, windy, no way to easily get to a town or get supplies, terrible dinghy conditions, and an unusable fuel dock. Getting fuel was the main reason we came here as it was actually about a 100- mile diversion from our trip to Darwin but was our only possible fuel stop since Cairns.
So that's been our last 2 horrible days. Hopefully tensions will ease and we will soon find solutions to our recent problems. We originally had planned on leaving today, or tomorrow at the latest, and heading for Darwin, but Joe wants to "rest" a day more (physically his re-injured back AND, I believe, mentally). However after this decision was made we have since found out that tomorrow (and for the next 3-4 days) the winds are supposed to be getting even higher (gale force) than they were for our last passage -- and that was miserable enough. So now we will be forced to wait it out even longer than we had originally planned…hoping for less wind. We have about a 4-day trip in front of us to our next anchorage and then a day or two stop (to rest) and then another 2-day trip to Darwin.
Monday, July 4th: Still Holding On and Holed up in Gove
We had hoped to have left here by Sunday, and then today at the latest, however the high wind warnings for our area still continue. We are frustratedly watching our planned time in Darwin before the rally whittle away, as we sit here unable to get there. It appears the winds according to the reports are NOT expected to ease anytime soon and we now are getting down to the wire of needing to get to Darwin ASAP, so our plans are to leave tomorrow. If it is too miserable we will get as far as we can and then duck into an anchorage enroute. We had 10 days planned for this next leg of our voyage with some stops along the way, but we will now need (IF possible) to go straight through and try and make it in 5 days. Our need to be in Darwin as soon as possible stems from a long list of things we need to do on the boat (repairs from our recent damage at the fuel dock, maintenance, getting fueled up, etc.), getting our Indonesian visas (which supposedly take over a week to obtain), and now trying to find a new crewmember. Plus they have a long waiting list for slips at the marina we are going to and our fear is if we do not arrive in time for our reservation, they may give it away. As mentioned previously in my journal, we are joining our first boat rally — Darwin to Kupang–and it leaves (70 boats from over 20 different countries registered for it!) on the 23rd of July… with or withOUT us–if we are not ready! So we DO have pressure on us to get out of here. Obviously we are hoping the weather reports are not correct–but even if they ARE, Mi Gitana has handled high winds before and although it is certainly not comfortable to sail in those conditions, we can do it.
In the last few days, we have managed to get the transportation in the dinghy back and forth to the shore a little more organized. We wear bathing suits, covered with foul weather gear, and take our “dry” clothes in a hefty garbage bag to shore… shower, change clothes and then do the reverse when we leave to go back to the boat. The wind and waves in the bay have not gotten any better — so we can always count on a very wet (and long, as we are anchored way out again due to the shallowness of the bay close in) ride to shore.
We had Gunter and Lois (from Pacific Bliss) over one night for dinner aboard. Lois arrived dressed in Glad bags for their dinghy ride over! She had made a Glad Lawn bag into a pair of pants to keep her bottom dry for the trip over from their boat to ours. We thought that was pretty ingenious!
We were able to get the fuel we needed by taking jerry jugs/cans to town… my what a price we paid though… about 2.25$/liter that is over $8.00 US per gallon! (That’s why when we are home in the US visiting we are not amongst those who complain about the rising cost of fuel!) I also was shocked when I bought 2 small bags of veggies, fruit and bread at the grocery store and was rung up at $60!! Due to the isolation of Gove, everything needs to be shipped or flown in — so I guess that’s why the prices are so high. Hopefully things will be a little more reasonable once we reach Darwin.
The only way to get to town is with a 26$ taxi ride (each way) or to hitch hike. The other day, (when you hear this you will KNOW we are bored here!!!) we decided to participate in the #1 tourist attraction here in Gove, a tour of a bauxite strip-mining operation! (So to do this we took the expensive taxi to town and successfully hitchhiked back in the afternoon). Anyway about 60-70% of the population here works with the mine or the refinery. Basically we learned the red iron rich soil has bauxite, which is stripped from the top 8-10 ft. of soil and then is “cooked” and made into alumina (a white powder), which is exported and made into aluminum. The mine is owned by a Swiss company, Alcan, which is headquartered in Canada, I believe. It seems Australia is the world’s largest producer of bauxite (and alumina) and this mine in Gove (there are others in Australia also) is one of the richest in the world. The most interesting part of the tour was the discussion on “rehabilitation” of the land — that was originally Aboriginal owned (before it was taken from them). The plan is to return the land to the Aborigines in its original condition. Before each area is stripped (trees and vegetation are chopped down and burned), environmentalists record every type and amount of trees, plants, insects, (even location and types of termites, ants, etc.) so that each type of flora (and fauna — in the animal/bird/reptile kingdom) can be returned to that piece of land. They have hired Aboriginal “consultants” that gather seeds in the area (prior to stripping) so that these can be stored and re-used for replanting when the mining operation is done in that section of land. After the land is then cleared, the topsoil is removed and moved to cover areas where the mining (and stripping) has been complete. Then that newly covered topsoil area is re-seeded (with seeds previously removed and stored), trees are planted, and the area is supposedly brought back to its original state (minus the bauxite!). The land however, is now 9-10 feet lower than the original land. It was funny to observe in some places where they mined AROUND power poles so now after mining, the power poles are on a hunk of land that is 10 feet in the air above the land!
The mine and refinery operates 24 hours/day, 365 days per year. And because Gove is not at the top of most people’s desires to live (VERY isolated, cyclone prone, hot/humid, etc.), they have lots of incentives for the employers. They give them 3-4 bedroom houses with including electricity (24 hour/day air-conditioning) for 8$/month and their salaries are close to double the “norm.” The company also literally built the town of Gove for the workers with housing, schools, churches, stores, etc, plus even an airport so they can occasionally “escape” the remoteness.
Bauxite (Alumina) Refinery At Sunset on Gove Harbour
Our tour was by bus throughout the minefields, the town of Gove, and the refinery. We only got off the bus once at one of the fields, and they had us wear hard hats, vests, and protection glasses. A fashion photo opportunity!
After about 15 minutes of our 3-hour tour, I had learned more than anyone needed to ever know about bauxite… But it did get us off the boat and into town and into the surrounding area. Trust me the tour we took of the RUM refinery in Bundaberg a few months ago was a lot more fun as at the end we got lots of RUM to drink!!!
Today is the 4th of July, and although there are several American Boats in the Harbor, no one seems to have coordinated a get-together. Even our one resource for eating ashore, the Yacht Club is closed on Mondays. So it is just like any other day.
By the way the real name of the town here is Nhulunbuy, whereas the peninsula, and the harbour is Gove… but I still haven’t mastered the pronunciation… so most of us call the whole area, “Gove.” In this part of the country, there are some real opposites in the names of the areas — from very “British” sounding names such as Melville Bay (where Gove is located), Stewart Point, Sommerville Point, to very tongue-twister Aboriginal names such as the above Nhulunbuy, and Adjamurrugu, Minjilang, Wangularni, etc. You should try saying those out loud! (However, I think the words — pronunciation wise for my American tongue gets even worse when we get to Indonesia from the charts and guides I’ve looked at!)
Tuesday, July 5th: Finally Departing Gove
We pulled anchor this morning — finally leaving our not-so-fine memories of Gove for Darwin. Since our horrible passage across the Gulf of Carpenteria (where we took on a lot of crashing overboard waves) our boat decks had been full of salt encrusted dirt. We had been hoping for rain for a week now to wash the decks since our arrival–but of course it waited to rain until we got out to haul our anchor. Since we were in the middle of pulling anchor, we could not go below to get foul weather gear, so the 3 of us quickly got soaked through to start out our next leg of the voyage. The reward though was as we were leaving the bay we exited through a school of pilot whales that came to bid us farewell. For our trip today (as well as tomorrow) it was critical to carefully time our departure and arrival to go between 2 critical passes between islands known for strong currents. Today, we had to actually take down sails and reef (make smaller) the remaining one to try and slow down so as to not arrive too early at the first pass while the current would be against us.
We actually had almost a flotilla of boats leaving Gove at approximately the same time, all going to the same anchorage today. Everyone, like us had been awaiting the winds and weather warnings to die down, and like us, are anxious to get to Darwin, as they are all “rally” participating boats. So 11 boats all left Gove and ended up in the same anchorage.
The reason, the boats did not continue on — and why we had to stop at the same place, is we all are going through the famous “Hole in the Wall” tomorrow and it is very critical that we all go through at about the same time — again due to huge currents. So this anchorage is only 10 miles away from the entrance to the “hole” and, therefore, the proximity makes the timing of the correct arrival time easier.
Wednesday, July 6th: The Hole in the Wall
Today was the day that Joe had been worrying about now for over 6 months (since we first started our passage planning for this year’s routes). So much had been written about it that made it sound pretty terrifying, but since I am writing this after the passage through it, we obviously lived through it. On the charts it is called the Gugari RIP (not “rest in peace” but rip, as in riptide)… but it referred to by most as the Hole in the Wall. It is a very narrow (less than 100 feet wide) pass between 2 islands and because of the narrowness, it has reportedly up to 14 knot currents… that is enough to give you brown shorts if you lose control of your boat and end up going through sideways. On both sides of you are a solid rock wall and rock “reefs” — so staying in the middle is important, but with the current, it is hard to control the boat. That is why timing the entrance so you go through with a slack tide (i.e. between high tide and low tide when the current is “confused” and not going strong in either direction) is essential. Of course to further the challenge, there are no tide tables that are accurate for this particular pass, so a lot of it is “guess” work. We though, along with the remaining “parade” of boats “guessed” pretty well. We left the anchorage before the sun came up and were the first to arrive and only had about a 1-2 knot current (with us) and glassy seas in the pass. We had the other boats (of our flotilla-parade) single file following us and the last one through ended up with about 5 knots of current (it was building as minutes passed) so all got through safely. So it seems all the build up and fears for so long, were pretty much for nothing, but I’m glad this part of the trip is over and all went well -- so now Joe can find something else to worry about!
We now have about another 48 hours of passage time to get to a cape (Cape Don) that is another 100 miles from Darwin, where again we will have to wait so we can perfectly try and time the currents. Dealing with strong currents and such huge tides is something really new to us. Anyway new "challenges" ahead... added to the many new ones experienced already this year!
It is funny, we were holed up in Gove for a week awaiting the winds to decrease and now we don’t even have enough to sail… so it has been a motor-sail day so far. The good news though is the seas, so far have not been too bad so our ride is pretty comfortable. We WERE grateful though that we did not have our recent 25-30 knot winds and 9-12 ft. seas at our approach to the Hole in the Wall.
Thursday, July 7th: Passage to Darwin Continues
This has been sort of a ho-hum passage day. We have good wind however it is directly behind us, which for us, is a non-sailable direction, so we have mostly been motoring (thanks to our VERY expensive Gove diesel!) We are again dealing with currents, which for 6 hours slow us down, and then we speed up when it changes directions. The swells (now that we are back in more open “ocean” type conditions in the Arafura Sea) have began to grow again back up to 7-9 feet with some “bell ringers” (where we are hit so hard that our bronze ships bell rings) that are up to 12 feet. 3 days in a row now, we have had a heavy rainstorm at around sunrise… but then it soon clears and it becomes hot and humid.
Friday, July 8th: Day 4 to Darwin Passage
We have clear blue skies today for a change and we can finally see land again, although it is hard to distinguish from the horizon, as it is very flat and not very high. We had originally planned a several day stop around here at a place called Port Essington, but since we are so behind schedule (with our delay in departure from Gove) we need to just keep going. We had planned to drop anchor this afternoon for a few hours (getting a few hours sleep) and then depart at around 2AM so we could time the currents going to Darwin. However, it appears we will get at the cape (Cape Don) at near the exact time we need for catching the afternoon currents… so we have decided to just keep going. We will leave the Arafura Sea today for Van Diemen Gulf. There we will be dealing with very high (20-30 foot) tides so again so timing at the passes through the capes is essential. We anticipate 5 —6 knot currents over the next 100 miles to Darwin, so we could find ourselves going backwards if we don’t time it right!
Our night watches have been pretty peaceful, but we anticipate more freighter (and perhaps fishing boat) traffic during this next 100 miles, as we get closer to Darwin. Anne is still not competent enough to stand a watch by herself, so Joe, unfortunately, is doing double watches. We will all be glad to get to Darwin to catch up on our sleep.
Saturday, July 9th: Safe Arrival in Darwin
We arrived this morning at our marina in Darwin and are grateful to be able to touch land again. The passage was not really that bad weather wise and we made good time, even though we ended up motoring more than we liked. Last night we ended up with the current through one of the narrow areas having a frolicking time going 9 knots of speed for several hours, so our good planning and timing of our trip worked out well. We are now sitting at a dock outside of our marina as we are being “quarantined” by the fishery department. Most all boats entering the marinas go through this process where they come aboard, pour biocide down each of our overboard drains, and it has to marinate or sit in the drains for 14 hours. They did that to us this afternoon so first thing tomorrow morning we will be able to clear our drains and enter the marina. They also sent a diver down to look at our hull to make sure we were not carrying any muscle/mollusk-type hitchhikers. They do this at no charge to us.
Tomorrow we have another new “challenge” (or “adventure”). To get into our marina berth (Cullen Bay Marina) at Darwin we have to actually go thru a "lock" system as they have 36-40 ft tides here, so the locks control the height of the water (like in Panama Canal) in the marinas otherwise they'd need 50 ft. pile-ons, I guess to attach the piers to.
Wednesday, July 13th: On the Go in Darwin
We survived another “challenge” of getting in through the lock and tied safely to our berth on Sunday morning — and instantly felt like we had gone to heaven. After 6+ weeks of being “at sea” or at anchor, traveling about 1400 miles since leaving the marina at Cairns, (at 5 miles/hour average!) it has been a long time since we have been able to not have to make our own electricity and water, to sleep peacefully (without rocking), and to not have to worry constantly about the weather. And just a few steps off our boat are showers with an endless supply of hot water, a Laundromat (I have about 6-7 loads to do!), and best of all, we are surrounded by about 12 restaurants so I will get a break from cooking! We are quickly getting rejuvenated!
However, that said, there have been no leisurely mornings of sleeping in or much time for fun. We have really been busy and on the go- go- go trying to get a milllllllllion things done in a hurry. Today we went (outside the locks again and then back in) to refuel which should have been a 30-minute process, especially since we had a reservation, but somehow they were backed up and it was a 2-hour process. We have also made our first trip to Australian customs and to the Indonesia consulate and have done phase one of our paperwork and bureaucracy part of what needs to be done (to prepare for our check-out from this country and entry into our next). We still need to make at least one more trip to each next week before we leave to pick up everything for our clearance. We also did phase one (2 grocery carts worth) of our provisioning but again need to buy just about as much again next week to finish up everything. We have rented a car, sharing with our friends from Pacific Bliss (that we have been traveling with for a month now) so we use part of the day and they use part and sometimes we go together --- so although expensive for 11 days... it is taking away a lot of the hassle factor of trying to get a lot done relying on taxis and buses or walking long distances in this heat.
The other thing we have accomplished is to interview 2 prospective crew people and selected a young man today who has accepted to go with us as far as Bali (i.e. about the next 5-6 weeks). We had to do that in a real hurry as he ALSO needs the same visa/customs clearance and they (the government) pretty much told us if we didn't have our new crew addition initiate the paperwork by this Friday (2 days from now) either they wouldn't be cleared in time to go with us OR we wouldn't be able to leave in time with the Rally on the 23rd. So he will initiate all the running around (that we did earlier) to get added to our boats cruising permits, visas, etc.--. and hopefully all will go well with that. He (Ross) seems to be a nice clean cut guy -- 31, from Sydney, has worked for 10 years in IT (with computers) and wanted to take a break so he's taking a year off to travel around the world. He had been scheduled to crew on another boat for the upcoming rally, but that boat won't reach here by the 23rd so he was going to be stuck without a boat. He doesn't have ANY ocean sailing experience so we are praying he doesn't get seasick on us... but at least he knows port from starboard. He's strong and healthy looking and it will be nice for a change to have a guy after 3 female crew aboard. And for only 5-6 weeks, I think/hope we can all get along with each other. Anne moved out yesterday with no dramas.
There is a really marked change in the weather here–it is really HOT and humid here -- back like it was in Fiji or in Mainland Mexico -- high 80's and lots of humidity and of course, unlike Florida, no air-conditioning -- and working either outside OR inside is pretty miserable after about 10 AM! At least it cools a little at night -- but we still have fans on us full blast and for the first time in a year or so we have put up our boat’s awning (“tent”) to try and keep the decks cool. We may even try out using our air conditioner — which we have not used since our Puerto Vallarta stay 3 years ago!
Monday, July 18th: Still “On the Go” in Darwin
This coming Saturday, the 23rd, we (God willing) will depart Darwin along with approximately 70 boats all at a "start line" at the same time for the Darwin to Kupang Rally. Even though every boat we have talked to doesn't want to be at the front (as we in our big heavy "houses" are not built for racing), somehow they want to run the rally with start and finish times, etc. Whatever… we hope to leave after the main "pack" has gone. But we still have to time our departure around tides, when we can get out of the "locks" at the marina, etc. We still have a lot to do between now and then, and somehow everything that NEEDS to be done will be done. We did take yesterday off and went up a crocodile infested river on a "Jumping Crocodile" tour for a few hours.
Mostly the outing did get us off the boat and out in the countryside. The area of Darwin is a big tourist destination for big national parks, but most tours are for 2-3 days and we just didn't have that much time to spare -- plus we really got our fill of waterfalls, rainforests, etc in Queensland on our way up the coast, so not really that upset that we will lack the needed time for more sightseeing.
We are enjoying the restaurants around the marina and in town and I have done very little cooking aboard. Common on the menus here regardless of the type of food (Italian, Chinese, Thai, etc), they seem to have crocodile, emu, camel, and kangaroo on the menu even Crocodile pizza!
Ross, our new crew guy came aboard on Friday night and so far, he seems to be nice -- time and close quarters will tell. Today is Joe and Ross's first real workday together, as Joe has been saving some "chores" for his arrival. It is nice when it is just the 2 of us aboard -- BUT when there is work to be done and long sail trips (as is coming up), then I think it is better with help.
Saturday night we had a Rally barbecue with the participating boats and crew (first time everyone got together) at one of the yacht clubs. It was nice to put some faces with the names of boats we have heard talking on the radio now for the last few months. There were some familiar faces from our marina where we started from in Brisbane, that we hadn't seen since we left there 3 1/2 months ago... plus one boat that we haven't seen since last year. We will all get together again tonight for the “Skipper’s” briefing at a hotel conference room… and hopefully will obtain more information and details. After the main destination of the rally, which is Kupang Indonesia (on the island of Timor), the rally has 2 more “optional” stops at 2 more islands and then continues onward (at each boat’s own pace) to Bali. It appears that the governor’s and tourist bureaus of these islands are going all out to put on dinners, cultural exchanges, local dances, village tours, etc. for us — and in return, we will be bringing a lot of business to their small towns/villages.
Fanny Bay on Darwin Harbour... many "rally" boats await departure to Indonesia
Although we have another 6 days here in Darwin, I am going to end this way-too-long chapter of my journal now so I can get it uploaded to our website while we have time (and internet access). I apologize for the length of this “chapter,” but we really have been quite isolated since our departure from Cairns with limited access to towns, internet cafes, etc. When I next write, it will be probably in another 6 weeks when we arrive in Bali — and are back in “civilization” again. Until then, I will answer any personal emails and remember that we really do enjoy hearing from each of you about your lives back on land.