Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I have the 9:00 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. watch tonight. We are crossing the Gulf of Carpenteria, the large body of water to the west of Cape York, it will take about 2 1/2 days to cross. At the end of the crossing we are going to go through a spot called Hole in the Wall. Great Slave Lake has one and I am pretty sure either Fiji or Vanuatu had one, but the name evokes visions of narrow openings surrounded by rocks. This particular Hole in the Wall is a fifty meter wide opening about a mile long, between two islands. It has up to a nine knot current running through it, so timing is vital. There are usually 2 high tides and 2 low tides per day, we want to pass through in day light hours on a flood tide, going from low tide to high tide in other words so we have to arrive between 1:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. tomorrow, June 29. At the moment we have to maintain 6 knots in order to get there on time. Glancing at the boat speed indicator we are doing well at 7.05 knots, that should make up for some 5.5 knot speeds earlier. If we don't think we are going to make it we have come up with an alternate anchorage at a nearby island,about 16 miles from the pass. Sailing to make a deadline like this is not particularly peaceful, you need optimize your sail set and get every last ounce of speed out of the boat. Barry has put the boat on automatic pilot instead of the wind vane in hopes that it will keep a straighter line and we will travel less distance. I was thinking earlier about poling out the staysail to add speed, but it is not practical at night.
When I came up on deck the stars were out in all their glory, I could see the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross in a turn of the head. I watched them slowly march their way across the sky over the course of the four hours. The boat is sailing itself, we are in the trade winds which means that the winds blow from a consistent direction although the speed does vary. This means that you set your sails and they remain in that configuration for days. The person on watch just has to monitor the instruments, the conditions and check for any boats that may pass in the night. To check, I stand up in the cockpit so that the lights from the instruments do not affect my vision and I scan the horizon. I do a slow 360 degree stare, making sure I peer around parts of the boat which may interfere so I see all the way around. I may see a freighter steaming toward us or the small winking light of another sailboat headed in the same direction or occasionally a cruise ship, lit up like a Christmas tree gliding past. Mostly all I see is the white of the waves as they careen of the boat and the sparkle of the phosphorescence the waves generate. Barry is on duty is a few minutes so I will get ready to put my head down for four hours and then get up to watch the wonder of another dawn, the first glimmers of light, the radiating colour of the promised sun, and the bright orange rising ball, the end of another night at sea.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cape York

We were very pleased to round Cape York. It is the northern tip of continental Australia and has been our goal for the last month so it was very gratifying to go around it. To the right as we are approaching it you can see the low cape in the background with York Island towering over the Cape to right. Most of our friends chose to sail right past and go across the top and down to a small community of the west side of the Cape. There was no way we weren't going to explore the Cape and take some photographic evidence of our passing this landmark. We were very happy to have our dinghy wheels when we got ashore. It was about a 150 meters of mucky sand bottom that we had to pull the dinghy over. It would not have been fun to have to haul it along the ground with the engine on. When we returned the tide had come in and we had about 50 meter less to traverse. We pulled it up that far in order to tie to to a tree onshore. That way we were assured it would still be there when we returned.

We hiked over to the tip, picking up rocks and adding them to cairns that other travellers had begun. On the way back we came across this huge termite mound. I thought if I held up my arms it would give you more of an idea how tall it was. Apparently the mud and they way they were oriented to the sun controls the temperature inside, one fellow said that they could maintain a 68 degrees keeping it nice and cool. York Island was calling our name though so we dinghied across and hiked up. It was a more rugged climb not having a path worn by thousand of hikers as there was to the tip. It was a fantastic view from the top, to the right of the picture below you can see the beach where we landed the dinghy. The boat is anchored further to the right in the lee of the cape.

There were more rock cairns all over the top of the island and I had to build a small inukshuk to commemorate our passing. If you click on the pictures they will enlarge for you and you can examine them more closely if you wish.


About 20nm across the Torres Strait at the Torres Strait Islands. I wanted to visit here so we headed across the strait. As we sailed through the group of islands we went past Tuesday, Wednesday and then we stopped close to Thursday Island which is the administrative center of the group. We are actually anchored in the Lee of Horn Island which is about 2 nm from Thursday and we have taken a ferry over to tour around. We went up to the top of Green Hill and got to visit the museum that was built to commerate the fort that was constructed here in 1893 when there was a threat of war with Russia. There was a great 360 view from the top. Below is a view over the town of Thursday Island and Horn Island where we are anchored is in the distance. Islands surround us so we have a lovely calm secure anchorage at the moment.

An example of the Torres Island art. We enjoyed our visit to the cultural centre.

Historically the Torres Island were known for the pearling industry that took place here. From the turn of the century until the 1950's and the event of plastics, oyster shells were collected for the making of mother of pearl objects, mainly buttons. I think pearls were a bonus, the shells being what was used. Pearling luggers as the boats were called would go out and divers would descend to collect the shells. At first men would just free dive as there was an abundance at depth that was accesible. As they had to go deeper to find commercial quantities the diving helmut and suit came into use. Onboard the ship the diver would have 2 people to tend his lines, one would have the air hose and one would have the line that attached the diver to the boat. There were stories in the museum of divers getting taken by the current while they were under the corral their lines would become entangled in the corral and they would be unable to free their lines. Many divers perished in this manner.
The industry attracted many races including Malasians and Japanese as well as the traditional Island peoples. The faces and statures of the people that live here now reflect this mixture of races and it has resutled in some very lovely looking folks. We are waiting here for the winds to drop until we cross the Gulf of Capenteria. It is a three day crossing and it is not the winds that are a problem but the waves they generate as they howl across the open gulf. We hope to leave on Sunday, I must make sure to ensure I get lots of rest before we leave.

Images from Lizard Island

With our hiking buddies from Tucanu, Trevor and Jennie.

On top, recording our name at Cook's lookout!

Over looking the anchorage, Cat's-Paw IV is behind and to the right of the green boat.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

We are headed for Cape York the most northerly point in Australia. The weather has been great for this part of the trip, winds mostly 10-20 knots most days and it has been bright and sunny so far. We have been sailing from sun up to sun down everyday but today decided on a overnighter to make Cape York as the anchorages were odd distances between Cape York and Portland Roads the last place we stopped. We get up in the morning, pull anchor set sail, then have breakfast, once we have dropped anchor we get supper ready, eat, read for awhile then roll into bed. We stopped for 2 nights at Lizard Island and climbed Cook's lookout where he went to see if he could find a way through the Great Barrier Reef, it was quite the view from the top. You would need a nice clear day and a good telescope to spot the way out, it wasn't obvious. This coast has a lot of history attached to it. We just passed Restoration Island where Captain Bligh and his loyal crew members landed on his open boat voyage from Tahiti. They sailed from here to East Timor.
Today is our 37 anniversary, I was just reflecting on some memorable other June 18's. In 1986 Barry and I went out hiking in Tungsten and were chased up a tree by a grizzly bear. In 1994 on our 20th anniversary the kids surprised us with new silver bicycles and we went for breakfast at the Wildcat Cafe. Last year we were in Fiji and we went out for dinner at the Octopus Resort with the crew from Cop Out and had kava and were serenaded by the Fijians. I will have to make a note in my memory bank about this one, sailing under sunny skies towards the most northerly part of Australia. We are close to 10 degrees south and we can see the Big Dipper once again. We are keeping our eyes peeled in order to spot the Northern Star. Think of us sailing under the stars with the full moon shining down on us tonight, it should be a great sail!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


We have spent the last 5 days here, attending the Discovery Festival which is all about Captain Cook landing here in 1770. He entered the river after his ship, the Endeavor, went up on a reef about 30 miles to the southeast. He spent about 6 weeks here fixing up the hole they had knocked in the Endeavor's hull and then sailed away on their voyage back to England. The river which we anchored on is the Endeavor River and that is me waving from the balcony of the James Cook Museum. The town which now has a population of under 5,000 put on a wonderful show every year reenacting Cook's landing. They showed him coming in on a ship, encountering the indigenous aboriginal peoples, the marines standing guard and firing their authentic rifles, the discovery and the naming of the kangaroo by the white man, having a fight with the locals over a turtle and a reconciliation afterwards.

We encountered this dog just outside the museum with his croc. He was very attached to it and would not let go of it so I could throw it for him. There are warning signs posted on the Cooktown docks about the presence of crocs in the area so needless to say we did not do any swimming. Did you know they even farm crocs here in Aus. They use the meat in restaurants but mostly they are farmed for their skin, which they make belts, boots and fancy bags out of!!!

This is the anchorage on the Endeavor River from the top of Grassy Hill, which members of the crew of the Endeavor climbed to see if they could find a way through the Great Barrier Reef out to open water. Barry and I climbed up it the other day and then continued on down to a secluded beach on the other side of the headland. We met another couple on the way and he clamoured up a tree and lopped down a coconut. Shortly after this was taken we were sitting on a rock swilling down lovely refreshing coconut juice.

Australian's army decommissioned a bunch of Leopard tanks and Cooktown applied to get one. It was recently brought to town and installed on a specially reinforced cement base. The town invited the army band from Townsville to take part in the Discovery Festival and officially dedicate this tank. The band was a great addition to the weekend . They were in a word, terrific. They had such a wide repertoire which included military marches, big band swing numbers, cabaret style music as well as rock and roll tunes. I truly enjoyed listening to their music, in all they appeared 5 times around town and I only heard them repeat about 4 tunes. One of the vocalist had a great line. He had been talking about dedicating the tank and then the band went into a rendition of "The Candyman". After they were done this fella jokes "Nothing says land warfare like The Candyman", it just cracked me up. There was a female sergaent that had a great voice. She did a very nice rendition of Mac The Knife, but it was hard to reconcile this wonderful sultry voice coming from a girl dressed in army khaki with a big thick brown leather belt and polished black army boots.

Cooktown's other claim to fame is the goldfields that were found in the 1870's about 130 km away. At one time there were over 16,000 Chinese people living in the area, working in the goldfields, establishing businesses, and raising market gardens to feed the miners. After the parade was over they unvieled some statues to commemorate their presence in the area.

I had a hard time convincing Barry to stay here to see the festival. He was anxious to make tracks to Darwin, we have only about 3 weeks to sail about 1,400 nm. I think we are both pleased that we stayed and took part in the festival which brought some of Australia's early history alive before our eyes. We were pleased to see the Aborigines take an active part in the festival and have their part explained. Cook landed in an area that traditionally was used to settle disputes between tribes and so there was no attacks upon him or his crew and their visit and their interactions with the Aborigines were peaceful. We have seen very little of the Aboriginie people in the rest of Australia so it was good to encounter it here. They have a large presence in the Northern Territories so we hope to learn more about their culture further north.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

We got our Great Barrier Reef fix today. We are in Cairns, whose main industry seems to be tourism based on the GBReef. We debated on whether or not to go diving because the package for the day was pretty expensive but we decided that we couldn't pass up the area without going diving. Imagine being in one of the dive meccas in the world and not going, UNTHINKABLE. We had a very enjoyable day, going out on a very large cat with 60 other people. We thought it would be super crowded under water but there were only 4 certified divers on board and we went off by ourselves and had a great time. We took in 2 dives the first was a little disappointing but the second was marvelous. The variety of coral and the many different sizes and colours of fish were great. We saw another lion fish, always a thrill, a large moray eel, a trigger clown fish with large black and white spots like a cow and then a bright yellow streak along it top, there were also huge bivalves that pulsed away in brilliant greens and purple. We swam in and around large coral bommies and I did flips and turns to amuse myself. It is amazing what your body can do when it is not inhibited by gravity.

Cairns is nothing like I pictured it. I guess I should have know better by now but I thought Cairns (pronounced Cannes, Aussies seems to have a thing against pronouncing their "r's") was going to flat, surrounded by reddish sand and it would be a rather red necked, outback town. Nothing could be further from the truth. It has a stunning setting, nestled at the edge of the ocean with a backdrop of lush green mountainous hills. It seemed much more sophisticated than Townsville with snazy bars and nightclubs to entertain the glut of tourists. It is also a extreme adventure playground with bungy jumping, whitewater kayaking, and daredevil mountain biking trails available to any with enough guts and not enough brains to take them on. This weekend they are hosting a world class triathalon. There was a free concert last night so we boogied, or should I say ambled on over to see what was going on. There was some great talent on show with an up and comer called Jessica Malvoy as the head act. The screaming teeny boppers were a bit off putting but the show was worth attending.

Onboard the cat with Cairns in the background, it must have cost a bundle for that 65 person liferaft.

Relaxing on the cat's trampoline between dives. The wind was cool on the wet skin after we got out of the water thus the fleece and hoodie.