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Published: November 5th 2013
aerial view of Low Isle
public moorings on the left
Thursday 31st October we left the inlet and headed out to sea, a little nervous as the tide was low and the water is shallow around the entrance to Port Douglas. There was a light breeze from the east which was fine as we wanted give the engine a run. One to test the recent repairs and also to charge the batteries which was now sorely needed.
The engine temperature was running a few degrees higher than usual which had me a little concerned but it stayed stable and we arrived with no problems and picked up the outer mooring at the Low Isles. It wasn't long before we were being circled by sharks again.
The day-trip tourists were just leaving and so we went to the deserted beach for a swim. There were sharks around the beach too, only about 1-1.5 m long, but we kept a watch out for them and went running for land a couple of times when they got close. I tried to go snorkeling but I couldn't relax so it didn't last long.
The next day we were a bit undecided where to go depending on how much we could
believe the weather prediction. We left early prepared to get to the Hope Islands and motored over in light winds about 7 miles to Snapper Island which is just outside the entrance to the Daintree River.
Found the water was deep where the cruising guide recommended anchoring so dropped the pick just north of the public mooring and a fishing trawler.
This compact island is covered mostly with rainforest on two hills with a couple of pretty beaches on its western tip where we were. I decided we would just row the dinghy over to the beach, which I initially regretted when I felt the current I was fighting but then later glad as Alex didn't have a nappy on and pee came trickling out of his shorts. Without the engine on it made it easy to tip the dinghy up to clean it out once ashore.
I found an easy-to-miss path that lead over the hill to the other beach where a family were camping. Had a lovely cooling swim in the clear water, and Alex had lots of fun walking out to me and then kicking his legs as I carried him back to the
sandy shore. Strolled up and down the beach and then back over the hill and back to the boat.
The wind was not as strong as predicted and we hoped the same would be true of the forecasted stronger winds that night. It did pick up however in the afternoon and as the waves from the east had gotten larger we moved a little further south for more protection in the lee of the island, in 16 metres of water. With having to let so much chain out there was a lot more shelter where we had dropped the anchor compared to where we were when we had let it all out. We stayed put and had an unsettling night as the winds did get up 20 knots as predicted.
The prediction for the next day was SE winds 15-20 knots, building to 25, with possible thunderstorms from the BOM website, whilst the TV did talk about storms heading up to the central Queensland coast. We left at first light with plans to reach Cook Town, but with a back up of the Hope Islands if winds were light. We headed out into unexpectedly light winds
from the northeast, and motor-sailed all morning over the mildly confused lumpy seas created by the previous night's heavier winds. Around mid morning we were passing Cape Tribulation again.... this time from the water. As the wind moved around to the southeast it was never strong enough to sail without leaving the sails flapping as we rolled in the waves. We were making good time, in fact too good as we would be now arriving at low tide when access to the usual anchorage could be too shallow. Occasionally we could see rain falling from scattered clouds around us but never on us, and generally it was a pleasant sunny trip. I started reading a new novel with an unusual title- The Pregnant Urban Guerrilla.
After making some early lunch, the waves had become a lot more organised and smaller and we considered giving the engine a rest so that we could arrive later. We decided to just slow the engine until we passed a fishing trawler which for a while I thought was heading towards us (maliciously) but in fact was anchored. Then delayed turning the engine off altogether as we were in the middle of the shipping
channel and dark skies seemed to be gaining on us from the rear. Despite knowing the advice to reef early (well furl in the case of our main sail) I optimistically thought it would just be a passing brief shower judging how the other rain clouds had looked that day.
The dark clouds loomed apon us and with it heavy rain and strong winds enveloped us. It was soon up to 25 knots and I was quickly soaked through to my skin. Was now flying under full main, a little gib and visibility was getting very poor. On the plus side we were now out of the shipping channel but we were only a mile or two from the coast. Naomi was taking shelter in the cabin with Alex, with a cover over the companionway to stop the rain getting in. Keeping an eye on the chart plotter for me as I couldn't see much she would shout out information to me from behind the canvas.
At some point during all this I did see the wind speed register 51 knots!... by far the strongest I have ever sailed in. The winds were coming more from behind so
I was worried about making an accidental gybe. Adjusting the autopilot didn't seem to make the boat bear away from the wind and then with a crack we did gybe but I couldn't see any damage done. With the new direction made by the gybe I was now hand steering us toward Rocky Island which I could just make out, just off the coast.
We had to get the main down or risk gybing again so I called Naomi out to help. With the wind lulled to only 30 knots we turned into it and furled the main sail with some struggling. Under motor alone we turned down wind again hoping this heavy weather would soon pass but the rain kept coming. I was getting cold now so Naomi kept lookout whilst I went to dry off and put on my heavy weather Gill gear... first time I had worn the whole suit on the boat. Meanwhile Alex was quite happy downstairs playing and watching DVDs.
Gradually after a couple of hours the clouds and rain got lighter and the wind eased to 25 knots. I was grateful we would be able to enter the harbour with better
visibility but with the extra push from the strong winds were now arriving even earlier. We later heard that nearby they had recorded 160 mls of rain that day!
At around 2 pm we veered left as we came around Grassy Hill and a few patches of blue sky revealed themselves over the land. The wind was still blowing hard and although the waves wouldn't have been more than two metres, they were becoming steep in the shoaling water and the boat was becoming hard to control as they hit us more from the side.
The waves subsided as we entered between the lateral markers of the channel which is supposed to be dredged to 3.1m but we measured 2.7m even though we supposedly had an extra 90 cm of water at low tide. In the harbour, with the serenity of the wind blocked by the hill and the sky clearing it was almost as if what we had been through had never happened. People were happily fishing on the dock side while we dropped anchor just across from the fuel wharf.
Naomi was recovering from sea-sickness, Alex slept, and I also rested after I hung up
I think Alex is trying to cast a spell on me
things to dry. Around 5 pm, with an extra metre or so of tidal water we upped anchor and crossed the sand bar to the Lagoon where there's more room to anchor. Slept with the anchor alarm on again as although the water was fairly flat the boat was fighting with wind against current.
We all woke around 8 am to a sunny morning after an undisturbed night. The wind is still blowing strongly, sending little waves in to our anchorage, which made getting into the dingy a struggle. We landed next to the boat ramp where there was a small beach of sand and gravel exposed and Naomi lead us to the IGA supermarket. According to her map app this was only 12 mins walk but with Alex it took about an hour, which became a chore in the midday sun, but made us appreciate the AC all the more once we had arrived.
Cook Town is an interesting little frontier town with an eclectic mix of residents. They seem to be split equally into five groups: trawler boat boguns; aboriginals usually fishing dockside; hippies up in the hills, tourists and a surprising number of
oldies driving mobility scooters (we saw 3 parked outside a pub one day). Numerous plaques are dotted highlighting the history of the town, mostly about Cook finding the place when he had to repair the HMS Endevour after striking a reef. After this Cook Town became very significant when it was a base for the Palmer River Goldrush in the late 19th century. We came across a cool play area shaped like a boat covered in musical instruments, and the floor was littered with mangoes from the surrounding trees - haven't tried them yet.
We came back to the boat and dried the rest of our things out in the blustery wind in between the occasional shower. Just to the north a huge fire has started on the spit of land between the sea and the first large bend of the river. The beach in front of it is so uniformly pretty it looks man made, with clear pale sand and a neat line of palm trees. This view with the massive plumes of grey and black smoke billowing into the air behind it reminds me of the movie "Apocalypse Now".
Yesterday we left at a
more sensible earlier time but as a result the tide was higher and the beach we used before to land the dinghy was submerged. We found a small public jetty down by the fuel wharf and strolled further around the mouth of the river passed the old powder magazine, always keeping a close eye out for crocs - there are several signs saying there have been recent sightings. Got some fish and chips for lunch - we both had mackerel but found it chewy with not much flavour - a bit like eating a bar of soap - I actually left some (this is very rare)!
After taking shelter on Luna Ray from the midday heat, during which time Alex fell off the sofa and banged his head, we went back to our now exposed beach and climbed the steep road to the top of Grassy Hill. Alex was resistant at first and needed carrying, upset after he had bounced into me, fallen over and cut his hand on the gravel. But toward the end was running up the hill, invigorated by the excitement of using the water fountain half way up.
There were great 360 degree views
of the town, river and sea from the top and you could appreciate the information it would have afforded Cook, as you could pick out the surrounding reefs we had passed getting here.
Back down by the river Alex ran into me again, intentionally this time like a charging bull, bounced back down onto the same road and bonked his head again - lucky he had his hat on that minimised the grazing he got.
We all used the grotty public showers. Met some old timer struggling down the boat ramp to collect his dinghy with his arthritic knees. He lives on a boat in the river and offered to run us in his car up to the service station if we needed petrol. He told us the "Boongs" (aboriginals) had started the fire across the river as they like playing with matches, and that Cook Town was known as the largest open air asylum in Australia... perhaps the world.
At the top of the hill I was finding deep breaths were hurting my rib cage, and I had an uncomfortable night as the back pain that caused it became more evident. Still stiff this morning, and with it blowing 20 knots, I didn't argue with Naomi when she suggested we have a rest day today. We will have to enjoy Melbourne Cup day from the boat but it doesn't have as much appeal when its not a distraction from work. Curiously some of the eateries in town were closed today rather than cashing in on the celebrations.
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