Friday, July 19, 2019

High Risk Shelling

We anchored about 200 yards off of Horn Island, the anchorage of choice near Thursday Island. This croc, or in Aussie terms, Saltie, was laying on the bank. For us whimps, even this Florida boy, it's a little daunting. Definitely no shell hunting on this beach. While the croc teeth look pretty intimidating, apparently they open their mouths to cool off -- at least that's what the Aussies tell tourists. Definitely good dentition.

Here's a gruesome old picture of a local opening the stomach of a 26 foot saltie and laying human body parts next to it. Apparently it still happens.

If the crocs weren't bad enough, this large shark is cruising the murky waters next to the dinghy dock.

 Next stop was the Australian Border Force to clear out. We took the short ferry from Horn to Thursday Island and went to visit Her Majesty's Customs House. A classic building from the colonial period. It took about 40 minutes to clear out, but we are now free to go tomorrow.


Horne Island was a major airbase in the Second World War and the most northern one for the Royal Australian Air Force. It was also used by the US Air Force extensively. Northern Australia was attacked by the Japanese-- Horn was the second most bombed part of Australia in the war (behind Darwin). We took a great tour of the WWII sites on the island with Vanessa as our guide. Highly recommended. She and her husband, with the assist of the military and volunteers, are slowly pushing back the overgrowth and preserving the sites around the island's airfield. This gun was part of the a circle of three that protected the area.

It took a large team to rapidly fire these guns at the Japanese Zeros coming in overhead.

There are many plane wrecks around the close by islands. This is the remains of a rotary engine at the crash site of a US B-17 Fortress bomber.

A termite hill, taller than Chris, in a land full of termites. Just reminds us of how long the ABF Quarantine officer inspected Georgia on entry to Australia looking for... termites.

We are off on tomorrow, our Saturday, around noon. We should have about a 5 day passage to Tual, in the Kai Islands, our port of entry in Indonesia. I'll try and post a note to the blog while we are enroute.


Getting to Thursday island

It's a long, empty haul from Lizard island to the top of Australia. There's pretty much no towns along this stretch of water and Telstra, the cell company, doesn't waste any money on installing any cell towers. So we've been out of touch. From where we started south of Brisbane, Gold Coast, to where we've ended, here in Thursday Island, it is about 1,200 nm.  This area is heavily guarded by the Australian Border Force. Aussies seem to have a morbid fear of immigrants arriving by boat. We were buzzed at strafing altitude by this ABF plan. He then had us get on the VHF radio to give him details. The radio operator said to me "I see you are registered in Seattle from your stern". I said back to him, "Looks like you have a rally good lenses on that thing". His response was "Yes, I see it was a quarter past three on your wristwatch". Nothing a like humor from the military.

The stops along the way were relatively uninspiring (Flinders Island, Morris Island, Margaret Bay, Escape River and Mount Aldolphus Island). Above is Restitution Island, near Cape Grenville. It was named by Capt Bligh of the Bounty mutiny fame. This guy was an absolutely amazing navigator and if you read other sides of the mutiny story, a good and fair captain. Navigating a boat through these reefs systems while making charts all along the way was definitely a feat of a true iron man.  Bligh named Restitution Island for the rest he finally gave his men when they arrived in the open boat they had been set adrift in from Tonga. Bligh thought it would be a good spot to get some oysters, stock up on some water and hopefully not get attacked by the Aboriginals. 
This is Sunday Island in the early morning as we leave Margaret Bay on a Sunday. (That's an 800 foot tanker on the horizon-- travelling inside the Great Barrier Reef). Bligh stopped here on Sunday. This was a good sign as we were heading for Thursday Island.

The route inside the Great Barrier Ref is a major shipping lane. The depths in the winding shipping lanes are adequate for large cargo ships. Navigation lights allow the ships to weave among the reefs. To maintain the lights in this remote region each major light has an attached helicopter platform.

The weather on the northern end of the rip was rambunctious, with the entry and exit from the Escape River anchorage a little trying. We exited the Escape River in the morning motoring into 30-35kts of wind and 4 foot seas as we pasted the bar. Once outside into deep water Chris said she was going down below to tremble for awhile. The 56ft German boat above, Frenweh 3, followed us out over the bar.

Next stop, anchoring at Horn Island just across the cut from Thursday Island. TI is the administrative center of  the Torres Strait Islands and where we will clear out of Australia.


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Heading to Lizard Island

After a good week of civilization in the Cairns marina we headed north with a full load of fuel and groceries. Fueling was a little trying as we had to deal with a very grumpy fuel dock attendant. He was fine with us, but just livid about the rudeness of the cruising boat that fueled before us. They were 20 minutes late for their 30 minute  fueling appointment and according to the attendant they were the rudest customers he ever had. He wanted us to tell him how he could complain to the Sail2Indonesia Rally about this boat. After having to re-tie up at our dock to wait for the other boat to complete fueling, all went well and we got a hearty “Good sailing, mate”  from the attendant. Not all cruisers leave a clean wake.

Our first stop out of Cairns was a bit of a bouncy night on a public mooring at the Low Islets. Above is the Low Islets lighthouse established in 1878 and not automated till 1990.

The sailing in this portion of the Great Barrier Reef is really good. The winds are consistent from the S to SE and with the reefs closer into the mainland the seas are much smaller. Next stop was the Hope Islands. This is East Hope Island where we picked up another public park mooring. Its pretty tricky getting through the reefs to the anchorage. You definitely want to have some sun at your back to see the partially submerged reefs. We got there at low tide and had a long shell hunting session on the dried reef and island beach. I’d show you the haul, but Chris is still cleaning them up.

On our way sailing north we passed close by the Pickersgill and Endeavour Reefs (the two green spots on the center right above). Captain Cook (who at the time was a lieutenant, but Master of the ship Endeavour) came past this way in 1770. He was sailing inshore and saw the Hope Islands ahead late in the day. To avoid them he started out to sea as night fell. His men were continually taking soundings. They would throw a weighted line overboard near the front of the ship and walk back with it as the shipped moved forward. The line was marked every fathom: 6 feet, about the length of a mans out stretched arms. The weight at the end of the line had a hollow in the bottom with tallow shoved in it. This allowed the type of bottom to be determined: coral, sand, mud, etc. When the bottom could not be detected by the depth line the ship was said to be off-soundings.
Some time after dark the shallows were briefly detected.  This was probably the NW corner of Pickersgill Reef, near where the yellow light symbol is on this chart. The waters got deeper and the crew relaxed a bit. They they ran square onto the reef now known as Endeavour Reef. After jettisoning much of their supplies, canons and ballast they were able to free Endeavour from the reef. Badly damaged they headed into the shore.

This is me re-enacting Cook’s voyage into the Endeavour River. He brought his damaged vessel into this shallow river that takes its name from the ship and the associated town is Cooktown. They stayed in the river repairing the Endeavour for 48 days, the longest any Englishmen had been on Australian land till then. They recorded the first English siting of kangaroos and made a reasonable peace with the local Aboriginals. 
We didn’t stay in Cooktown as the depths were just not conducive to us having a good sleep while on anchor. So we continued north and spent a decent night tucked behind Cape Bedford.

The next cape north is Cape Flattery. Here is yet another bulk carrier getting loaded with silica off the Cape. It is pretty amazing how much of Australia is being dug up and sent overseas. In return, lots of cash gets sent back to Australia and the standard of living is pretty high, with an especially strong middle-class. Cook named Cape Flattery because he felt when he initially saw it it would offer Endeavour’s way out of the reefs and back into the ocean. Unfortunately he was only being ‘flattered’.

This brought us to Lizard island. Can you guess why Cook decided to call this Lizard island? I think I’ve deduced it after hiking around. This little guy was close to 2 foot long. The island has a really nice anchorage along with high end private resort.  Cruisers are only allowed to visit the bar and that’s only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings—otherwise known as pizza, hamburger and taco nights.

Cook hiked to the highest point on the island, conveniently called Cook’s Lookout. He was tying to spot his passage out of the reefs. You can see a large reef off the island near the horizon in this picture.

We also hiked the trail up the mountain. It’s a pretty tough hike definitely requiring real shoes. The hike not only offers some great views of the surrounding reefs, it also gets you high enough to pick up a Telstra cellphone connection after about an hour of hiking.

Critters on the trail

Critters on the trail

The island’s ‘Blue Lagoon’

 Georgia at anchor

The reef next to the anchorage offed some surprisingly good snorkeling. These are some of the largest giant clams we have ever seen. You wouldn’t want to have a foot inside one of these when they closed up.

The area supports a pretty healthy turtle population.

Along with some creatively colored crabs.

 Long beaches

Now you might know these sheds as Outhouses or Johnny-on-the-spot, or even the Shit House.  As usually, in ‘straya they have their own creative terminology. You are looking at the Long-drops.

Tomorrow we leave Lizard island for about another week of travel to get to the top of Oz, at Thursday Island.