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Published: June 28th 2014
We've made it! The northern tip of Australia.
This was a few days ago that we have left the east coast of Australia behind.
Its been a few weeks without internet connection so this blogs a bit of a long one to fill you in.
Wednesday 11th June
As with previous days with predicted strong wind warnings the day started almost windlessly - rare for us to see Cooktown in this calm. We motored out after breakfast, this time ignoring the outer markers, motorsailing with the slight breeze and made one last phone call before signal is lost for a long time.
Enjoyed a day of flat water and were not able to turn the engine off until after 1pm, and then coasted along for a few hours at about 4 knots with Lizard Island looming ahead of us. Came around into Watson Bay to join 3 foreign yachts which we anchored way in front of, putting us beside a yacht on the one mooring.
We had made it to Lizard Island! Last year this was the final destination and it still felt like a big step to be here again. Sadly the
island had been ravaged by the recent cyclone in April and the remaining trees were mostly a deathly brown or stripped of foliage. It was late afternoon but we went ashore and took a look at the catamaran that had been washed ashore. Met a Belgium girl who was on the boat on the mooring, apparently she joined the guy sailing the boat slowly around to Darwin.
It was quite a windy night and a swell came into the bay from the west giving us a roll that upset Naomi but I slept through it. Went ashore with the plan to wash clothes at the groundwater pump and then stroll over to see how the resort had faired. After we left our clothes to soak we followed the path and veered left at a fork in the path. This was the wrong choice, in fact we saw sign later that said we shouldn’t have followed either path. The path took us into the flat plain in the middle of the island toward some small corrugated structures that I remember seeing on our last visit. Across the flat ground of tall grass I could see the road we
could take merely a tantilising 200 m away. We struck out to find it was actually marsh land and as we stumbled over the huge clumps of grass our feet would often sink ankle deep in water, sucking off our thongs (flip-flops).
I had the idea of heading for some palms in the middle assuming they were on dryer ground but in fact it was wetter. Plodded on and reached the road just as a construction pickup was dropping off some yachties. They told us the resort was completely closed and out of bounds. We made our way back to the Chinamans Walk and climbed up to the ridge. Looked down to the sad remains of the once luxurious resort, its luscious trees now just scraggly sticks, with piles of debris heaped up ready for burning off. A 6 foot high fence lined the beach and the upside-down wreck of the resort’s glass-bottom boat lay on the sand outside the boarded-up shop/office.
After lunch we dinghy’d over the reef to the resort beach. The water was calm so we could see the colourful coral quite clearly. Stepped ashore just long enough to take a look at the glass-bottom
boat wreck and get bitten by a few sand flies.
Later when we returned to our boat we went over to a foreign boat that we have been seeing since Scawfell Island. They were a more elderly couple from Venice in a beautiful Amel 52’ ketch who cruise 6 months per year, and they will be on our Indonesian rally. They told us another period of strong winds were coming so we discussed where best to hide out.
The next day we were planning to climb Cooks Look but intermittent showers put us off especially as I was worried about clambering up slippery rocks with Alex. Stayed on the boat and fed the large fish that lurk around some of our mouldy bread. We have seen a number of sharks circling too, some maybe 1.5m long, not that large but when there’s six of them it makes swimming a little off putting.
That afternoon we anchored the dinghy near the reef to feed the fish the rest of our bread - after a little snorkel I came up to find Alex had thrown the lot in - the fish didn’t seem keen.
Beautiful Watson Bay
Taken with polarised lens
swim around Luna Ray - there’s a light loose growth around the hull so I am not very impressed with our anti foul. We took a look at the bow-thruster - fortunately only the large fish were lurking though they looked quite menacing - its turns slowly when powered, and we could see no obstruction. Felt the lifting keel as we have been feeling it knocking and it does have some play.
Early next morning, around 4am, I motored us out of the bay under the dim light of a cloudy full moon - for us this was new territory. The promising 10 knots of wind dropped to about 5 as we got away from the island, so continued to motor and ran the water maker for a while. The moon played some clever mind games with me by using the shadows from the clouds and making it appear we heading toward land on the horizon. At around 6 am the breeze picked up a little and we started pleasantly sailing on flat water. A couple of hours later and the rest of the crew were up and we had breakfast cruising along at about 4 knots.
Around midday we were passing Howick Island which would have made a nice stopping point usually but with fear of the big wind the next day we wanted to be nearer better protection.
Unfortunately the wind started to die out and we were barely making two knots. As we had lunch we pensively drifted passed Watson Island where about 150 years earlier Mary Watson and her baby had landed in a Beche-de-Mer pot in a bid to escape aborigines and died of thirst. With no sign of the wind increasing the engine went on, narrowly squeezed between Bewick Island and a tanker, and motored over to Ninian Bay.
The italians had overtaken us and were anchoring deep in the bay but we decided to tuck behind the nearer Barrow Island. It offered less protection that we didn’t need at the time, and so just hoped it stayed calm overnight - it didn’t! 15th June
We got some rolling from the wake of occasional passing tankers and by morning we were bouncing in 20 knots of wind - a great start to my birthday!
We were actually quite comfortable as we were pointing straight into
the waves but we left early, for a quick few hours sail around Cape Melville. Came between Cape & Boulder Rock and had a fair bit of spray over the deck as we motored toward the beach, dropping anchor in front of St Pauls Hill, in time for a morning tea of banana pikelets. Cancelled the plan to visit the beach in the afternoon as it was still windy and would have made an unpleasant dinghy ride. Had steak and chips for dinner with chocolate cherry birthday cake desert. June 16th
- the wind had calmed down and I was keen to visit the beach, by the time Naomi and Alex had got up and were ready to go the wind had picked up again. Cape Melville has some extraordinary hills completely covered in large boulders. On the beach we found a sign marking a camping spot which reassured Naomi that perhaps crocodiles were not lurking behind every rock. Walked north a fair way, crossed a small creek and found a sign next to a large pole. This directed us inland about half a kilometre passed the foot of one of the boulder hills, to a memorial tomb stone
waiting out strong winds at Cape Melville
just stuck in the middle of the bush, commemorating the 3 sailors buried and also those that died in a huge cyclone in 1899.
After a slow walk back to the dinghy with Alex dragging his heels, we got back to Luna Ray and made ready to leave. Just as we did this the wind picked up further to about 25 knots and the attraction of our secure fairly flat anchorage kept us put - this was a decision I came to regret, especially as the wind dropped off again later that afternoon.
I regretted it further as the next few days the wind got stronger and we were stuck put with 30-40 knots winds blowing across the bay, peaking at 46 knots, where 15 miles on we would have had more shelter at the Flinders Islands (apparently) . The interior of the boat and behind the dodger became our sole environment as on deck was just wind and salt spray. We were comfortable, the boat jostling a little , but bored - a perfect environment for cabin fever, especially with the time pressure apon us.
But with a mixture of resting, reading, and watching
movies we didn’t succumb. The Rutland 913 wind generator started to free spin in the high winds - still not sure why it does this but very annoying that just when its starting to make some decent watts it stops working, and we need to climb the salt encrusted targa frame to tie it down. When we finally left in 20-25 knots we had a couple of gusts up to 40 knots and then mid-bay it settled to 15 knots for a while. A few hours later we entered Fly Chanel between the islands and rounded into Owen Channel a little surprised to find it empty. Found the pictured anchorage to the south-west very deep close to the beach so dropped anchor just north-west of the sand spit.
After our now usual check on the weather forecast at 3:30 pm on the HF radio we went ashore, eyes peeled for crocs (there have been several large ones sighted here). There was a national parks plaque which detailed the walk to the old aboriginal wells and the carved rock from the convict era but no mention of where the walk was so never found them! We did
come across four graves behind the mangroves - apparently from fishing crews back many years ago when people got buried en-route.
The next day was a big jump to Morris Island so we left at first light but the promised 15-20 knots never came. In fact it was more like ten eventually dropping to zero. Saw a few other boats enter the view that must have anchored in Stokes Bay, at the island to our west. Didn’t mind motoring as the batteries were getting low but after a couple of hours when Naomi was up we noticed we were not getting charge from the alternator. Had a long look through Calder’s manual but couldn’t find a cause.
Half way through the day we heard a customs plane talking to other boats and then it was our turn. They swooped low by us twice and then called us on the VHF. They asked for our last and next port, and port of registration. Told us that was all they needed for now and wished us safe travels.
On restarting the engine the alternator was working again but it was short lived and the output gradually dropped
Luna Ray under sail
About 10 miles north of Night Island
Taken by Alice Hesselrode on SV Jocida
to nil over about 10 minutes…. bugger! (I later found the connection to the positive field wire ( a term I didn’t know a few days ago) was dodgy and we got a partial improvement when I replaced the terminal. To my surprise we got a full improvement when the terminal was not pushed fully in, so taped it in place and has been good so far).
It was getting late and we probably wouldn’t make Morris Island before nightfall, so we pulled over to Fife Island and hung into the easterly chop now that the wind had now decided to make an appearance. This island is just a slither of a cay with some surrounding reef so doesn’t offer much protection. I did not sleep well as I was worried we might drag and that we might struggle retrieving the anchor if we had dropped it over reef.
Up again at first light, we had no problems getting up the anchor and I now write this at Portland Roads after what has been two great days of downwind sailing. With steady winds of 15-20 knots we have tinkered with sail configuration and done some
long goose winged stretches. Both days were about 40 miles and we arrived in the early afternoon. Our first day we found 2 other yachts behind Night Island, one of whom we had met at Lizard, along with 3 trawlers.
We visited the shore here which is piled high with dead seed pods, and I came across a windsurf board behind the mangroves as if it had dropped out of the sky. I am almost definite I saw a croc too. At the north end of the beach I saw its outline protruding an inch above water and as I approached to see if it was just a floating log or some broaching rocks, it disappeared. Apart from landing the dinghy, we all keep a good distance from the waterline on these visits.
Today the 23rd June
, after another beautiful coast along with the waves we arrived at Portland roads at around 2pm. The sailing was smooth so I jumped into Naomi nest of cushions she had built up in the cockpit, could lie back and completely relax in the warm sunshine as I watched the clouds go by, just occasionally poking my head up to
as we passed it in the early morning
look for approaching tankers.
We joined the same boat from Lizard Island again, Jocida, just off from the small settlement. We met the crew, David and Alice, when we all went ashore when the tide had risen above the fringing reef at about 4 pm. A nice little place and I found it strange to see cars and bitumen again after 2 weeks without them. Found the cafe had closed for the day after lunch, but did get an ice-cream from an old bearded man with a curious little food cabin 100m up the road. We watched the fisherman load up the haul of crayfish down by the boat ramp. After getting our fill of tank water for our shower bags and washing some clothes, we ended the day with a drink on Jocida.
This day seemed to have all the elements of what I thought cruising could be - beautiful smooth sailing, finding a quaint remote village, trying the local cuisine (ice-cream out of a supermarket tub!), watching the locals harvesting from the sea and a bit of socialising with fellow cruisers.
The next few days have been what I will call working cruising
- long days of good sailing with the trade wind covering about 50 miles, leaving at first light and arriving late afternoon, leaving little time to relax and enjoy the area. Sunny days, rolling along with 20 knots of wind, looking out for ships, passing reefs and their flat sandy cays - like a strip of beach stuck out in the middle of the sea, so many looking like the classic desert island.
Our trip to Margaret Bay, Cape Grenville was slowed down by the fact we caught a fish and had to bring the sails in so that we could fight it aboard for half an hour, though by the time we had, this one was nearly dead. It was our first big fish, a 105 cm 5kg barracuda - apparently not the best for eating but supplies of meat are getting low so we did anyway and I have no complaints. It fed us for the next 4 meals - breaded & fried, and in a pasta bake. We found Jocida and a trawler in the bay- they had just come from doing the Blue Trail - a walk across to Indian Bay marked by
various blue objects. I had heard of this walk and had planned to take it, so was disappointed that time and weather didn’t allow it.
The next jump was to Bushy Islet - our fishy highlight this day was being joined by a pod of 10 small dolphins riding our bow wave for about 10 minutes. A notoriously bad anchorage so we were greatly surprised to find it very comfortable when we arrived even though it was blowing 18 knots. However as the tide lifted, covering the protective reef, and the wind built to 22 knots, it gave us a rolly night but not terrible.
Next morning we were up at 4am! - this was to catch the tide the right way through Albany Passage which was 33 miles away. There was a great disparity between sources of when the tide was high - if you believed Lucas’s guide that it conformed to the Hannible Islands it would be 9:30, but Albany Island is listed as a secondary port to Ince Point on the government website and this gave a time of 11:15.
In the darkness, with a cold wind blowing over 20 knots, we
weighed anchor and set off again into invisible waves - though there was a little light from the stars as there were few clouds. Naomi layed down again while I manned the cockpit taking 15 minute snoozes with an alarm clock to let me know when it was time to take a look around. We powered on under jib alone and once the passage was about 8 miles away flicked on the engine to boost speed as we wouldn’t make the tide if it was at the earlier prediction.
We passed the disturbed water at the entrance to the passage and then were treated to flat water, speeding along at 9 knots passing beautiful bays, some with huts that had a real pacific island feel to them. Then out into open water again and not long before we could make out the tip of Cape York.
Passed the two small outlying island and turned south into the anchorage only 0.4 miles from the tip by 11:15 am - we had done it - with east coast of Australia behind us this was a major milestone !
There was steady procession of people climbing down to the tip,
and helicopter viewing flights circling overhead. After a celebratory beer and lunch we went ashore and found about 10 four-wheel-drives parked just behind the dunes. Took the walk along the ridge and down to the famous signpost telling you you’re at the northernmost point of the Australian continent. Came back via the beach - we have phone reception here so called Naomi’s dad who by fortune was getting some reception at the time on Scawfell Island - and walked down the dirt road to take a look at the Wilderness Resort which is now just a vandalised shell of its previous self. Dragged the dinghy back into the water over the soft muddy sand, swang by Jocida for a chat and back to Luna Ray for a full nights sleep.
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