02 July, 2007

29 June

We left Cairns on 6 June, for the big trek up the Queensland coast and over the top to Darwin.

First stop was Low Isles, two sandy cays just off Port Douglas. We caught up with Di and Brendan from the yacht Sunburn, who we hadn’t seen since last October in Cairns, and got in a bit of snorkelling. Then it was off to Cooktown. We arrived at the start of Queens Birthday weekend, and the biannual celebrations commemorating Captain Cook’s landing there in 1770. Cook spent about 45 days in Cooktown making repairs to the Endeavour after it was damaged on Endeavour Reef, and it is recognised that he and his crew were the first white people to spend time in Cooktown.

Shane was not too interested about seeing a few blokes ponce around in fancy dress, but I dragged him along to the re-enactment and we both enjoyed it. A bit of humour introduced to the show made all the difference. Here is a photo, showing the scene just as the Union Jack had been hoisted, and a cannon fired to declare the land had been proclaimed in the name of the King of England.

We had two lovely sunny days in Cooktown, the first time we had seen blue skies for a while. On the Sunday afternoon we enjoyed listening to a jazz band playing at the Botanical Gardens. When we were walking back to the boat, we came across this interesting scene. We are not sure if the firemen look different here, or if they failed to save this poor family’s house…..

After Cooktown we had a fast sail up to Lizard Island, where we planned to spend two nights. However the winds blew and blew, and we were there for four. Lizard Island is the last stop north during the cruising season for yachties; after spending a bit of time there, they return south when the northerlies kick in in October. Lizard Island is also where Captain Cook went, and climbed to the top of the 358-metre hill, to try and find a way out between the reefs.

Lizard Island has two lovely bays; the southern bay has a lovely resort, and the northern bay is where all the yachties anchor. We found out that the rooms at the resort start at $900 a night, going up to $2500 for the most expensive! There was great snorkelling at Lizard; we saw some amazing giant clams. We also went ashore to the Marlin Bar (the staff bar at the resort) and watched the second State of Origin game (continuing on in our theme of latte-hopping and watching international sporting fixtures…..).

After Lizard we did a 24-hour run, going between the inner and outer reefs of the Great Barrier Reef. It was quite eerie at night; there was no moon so it was as dark as the ace of spades, there seemed to be flashing lights everywhere, indicating parts of the reef and who knows what else; and ships were passing us, that didn’t appear to be travelling in the shipping lanes. All in all a little unnerving……

After a couple more stops, we made it to Escape River, our last anchorage before going “over the top”. Shane put a couple of crab pots out when we arrived, but he misjudged the depth of water and the buoy was below water level. We both set off again in the tender to attach more line, both being extremely paranoid about any crocs that might be lurking in the nearby mangroves. All in all it was a wasted exercise, as when Shane went to get the pots in the morning they had gone!

The following day we got to Cape York, and had the obligatory photo to say we had made it to the northern most part of Australia.

By this time we had met up with two Aussie couples on their catamarans, and enjoyed time socialising in the evenings with them. Jim and Cheryl (Odyssey 9) had done this coast before, so it was good to be in the company of people who knew where to go and what to do.

Then it was off to Seisia, a small settlement just around from Cape York, to get a few last supplies in before we sailed over the gulf. A cargo shop arrives every Monday night in Seisia, having taken two days to get there from Cairns. We arrived Tuesday morning, so the supermarket shelves were well stocked. I grabbed a couple of magazines (New Idea etc) until I saw the price $8.20 each – and promptly put one back. I told Shane I would read every word twice in the one I bought, to get my money’s worth!

Our trip across the Gulf of Carpenteria was not much fun. The first day started off calm, but by that afternoon it felt like we were in a washing machine, stuck on the wash cycle. Although it calmed down a little, it wasn’t a lot more pleasant for the next two days either. I had to summons for a bucket at one stage….. I was pleased to reach Cape Wessel at the end of day three and get that part of the trip over. While we were doing this trip, and for the next few days, most of Australia was having lousy weather. We continually had strong winds and grey skies. We even had to get the duvet out for the bed!

We had a few short hops down the Wessel Islands and along the top of the Northern Territory coast. By this time we were travelling with another catamaran; Grant the skipper is recently from Havelock North and knows my sister and her ex – small world!!! Grant is now living in Perth, and had bought the cat in Southport and is sailing it home with crew.

Grant is a keen hunter and fisherman, so we have all spent a bit of time hunting out crayfish and oysters. We have been successful on the oyster-front (enjoying a couple of nights of Oysters Kilpatrick) but we have dipped out on the crayfish. After a couple of dives, Shane got very paranoid about the crocs, so gave away looking for them. (Shane…… Yeah!! After Grant told me he saw croc tracks on the sand about 500m from where I had the dive. Visibility was about two feet and I kept imagining Mr Croc behind me……...).

Since we left Cape York, we have been ‘buzzed’ about 4 or 5 times by the Coast Watch/Customs planes. This part of the coast is where many illegal immigrants try and get into Australia. The planes call us up, get our details, and then let us carry on our way. One of the choppers got so close to us, Shane managed to get their photo, while they were probably taking ours!

We started an overnight run yesterday morning, planning to get some mileage under our belt and get right up to the channels (that lead down to Darwin) by lunchtime today. I was having a rest early yesterday afternoon, when I heard a noise coming from the deck. I called out to Shane; he checked, and discovered that the line between the tender and the yacht had snapped. Our tender was now floating some 100 metres behind us, bobbing up and down in the 2 metre waves. We had to get the sails down, do a 180-degree turn (all the while trying to keep an eye on the tender’s location) and then motor back to where it was. Despite 30 knot winds and high seas, Shane managed to get a boat hook under one of the side straps on the tender, I grabbed the broken line with another hook, and we eventually attached a new line. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds here either…..! We were dead lucky to hear the line snap and get the tender back. Buying a new tender wasn’t on our shopping list. Well, not for a while anyway……

We are currently one day out from Darwin; tomorrow will also be the 365th day since we left Brisbane on the boat. We have timed our arrival in Darwin perfectly as we arrive tomorrow afternoon (just in time to watch the NZ-Australia Tri-nations rugby at night!). We are travelling in the company of Grant and his crew, and another Kiwi (Frederick) who is in the rally with us. We had planned to anchor in a bay today, and catch up for lunch. And Grant was going to bring over a fresh loaf of bread that one of his crew had baked. But with the lunch stop cancelled, how would we get the bread? There was mention of getting alongside and hurling it across, but we figured we were likely to end up with a loaf of soggy bread. Instead, Grant brought his cat right up behind us, and dropped the loaf into the tender. Here is an action shot just as he had deposited the cargo safely!! The bread was lovely and warm out of the oven, thanks Georgie!

So, as you can see, we have had a busy month. When we get in to Darwin we will be flat out, getting things fixed, buying necessary supplies etc (including all the little yummy foodie things we won’t be able to get in Asia), and generally getting everything organised for when we leave Darwin on July 21st. There is a lot to do, but we’ll do another quick update before we leave Australia.