Monday, May 30, 2011

Lizard Island

Fun times sailing in far north QLD!!
We finally left Cooktown – almost a week after we'd planned to. While filling up with water at the fuel jetty, we met fellow cruisers – all who are also heading to Darwin. The sail up to Cape Flattery was lumpy but fine. No dramas! Check out the video of Anima sailing in 20-25 knots (hopefully will be uploaded here soon). I'm loving the bendy tripod that Rene got me for my b'day! We averaged between 5 and 6 knots with only the headsail out (and it wasn't even furled out fully!). The time passed by quickly as we were both so engrossed in our books, we had to set an alarm to remind ourselves to do a lookout every 10 minutes. There were only a few other boats anchored at Cape Flattery – mostly fishing vessels. Rene fixed the anchor chain rollers which had worked themselves loose at Cooktown (a remnant of Cook's curse?). After a relaxing night and a lazy morning, we headed out to the famous Lizard Island.

Delicious eating while sailing to Lizard Island.
This was another great sail. Rene insisted upon sailing out of Cape Flattery without using the engine and it worked well. The water is deep blue / turquoise out here now. (Sara W, if you are reading this, I would love your assistance in some further varieties of blue for future use... it is your super power!). 
I baked tassajara bread and we feasted on a scrumptious healthy lunch of sprouted green lentils (these are delicious!), home-made yoghurt, salad and fresh bread. We encountered one huge container ship which steamed past at great speed before sailing up to Watson's Bay anchorage on Lizard Island. We can see right to the bottom – the water is deliciously clear.
This place is superb! 
Sundowners on Lizard Island
It reminds me of the Whitsundays for the feeling of relaxation, wonder and ecstasy that it provides. We dove off our dinghy and swam it ashore, revelling in the feeling of being able to swim with abandon again! There are reportedly no crocs out here and stinger season is over so the water is safe to swim in for once! (It may well be the only place we will be able to swim until we reach Indonesia). At five in the arvo, most of the yachties from the other boats anchored here met at the picnic table. We meet a man who is also planning upon entering the sail Indo rally. He said 'I'd rather wear out than rust out'. 

Remains of Mrs Watson's house
Rene is totally engrossed in his novel, 'Girl With The Dragon Tatoo' – a big surprise for him as crime fiction is not a genre he's ever enjoyed previously. He managed to drag himself away from the story to swap around a few of our sheets (for non-sailing people, I mean ropes that control our sails, not bed sheets). We picked up Bob from an aluminium monohull and trekked across the island in search of the research station. Along the way we passed the historic ruins of Mrs Watson's house. Her tale is a tragic. In 1881 she married a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fisherman, moved to Lizard Island, had a baby and then was left there alone (with two Chinese servants) for two months while her husband was out fishing for the sea cucumbers. Things turned sour when one of her servants was killed by some Aboriginals – his pigtail gruesomely washing up on a mainland beach weeks later. Mary Watson was forced to flee (with baby and servant) in an iron tank used for boiling the beche-de-mer. The set out to sea, but died of thirst nine days later after having washed up on a small, uninhabited island further north in the Howick group.
The research station is very well set up – we were particularly impressed by their solar panel array. We watched a DVD and poked around for a bit. We had to drag Rene away from the bookshelf of published PhDs. He was reading about how CO2 levels are affecting the oceans. It seems that the lower ph (higher acidity) not only can retard coral development, but even at low levels it can stop little reef fish from finding a suitable home away from predators due to their sense of smell being muddled.
Lizard Island is covered in amazing goannas.
Our first Customs experience: we listen to them calling boats from further south on VHF channel 16. Eventually, they get up as far as Lizard Island. They ask for a boat anchored here to reply. No one else does, so Rene steps up. They just want to know a few details and then they're off, buzzing all the boats along the QLD coast from their plane. Apparently we need to become used to this up here. At least they were polite, but we have heard the stories about them exercising their right to search your home on a 'suspicion' (how the hell did that on get passed?).

Dave, Dale, Cerae and Rene on top of Lizard Island!

We had a list of boat jobs to do whilst here at Lizard Island. Rene dove over the side and plugged up the saltwater inlet hole so that he could pull apart the seacock (think plumbing, land lubbers) to fix it. He plugged it up with an old champagne cork (these things are so useful! We've used one as a plug for the washing up for years now) and discovered that the 'O' ring was damaged in the seacock. He replaced it and butylmastic'd the area and it seems to be working fine again now which is a relief! Our new friends on 'Frecinet' gave us a replacement oar for our dinghy! We cleaned off some green slime that had grown along Ani's waterline and I glued the velcro to our cockpit cushions so they won't slide so much while we're sailing now. I also plotted our course up to Seisia, a small town right on the top western coast of QLD.

Anima is the second boat in on the left.
Today was the best! We visited our new friends on Freeform, Dale and Dave. Then together, the four of us climbed to Cook's lookout. The view was breathtaking. I stopped about a dozen times to take photos – how can the world be so beautiful? The walk was pretty strenuous and well worth it. At the top we added our names to the many who have trekked here before us in the guest book. We gazed out to sea – at the same spot that Cook did 241 years ago. WOW. The clouds had cleared away with the strengthening south-easterlies and we could see the outer reefs and inner reefs. A monument outlined the directions and distances of various worldwide ports. We discovered that Brisbane is 1620 km away and Darwin in 1610 km's. We're just over half way.. to Darwin! Singapore is another 4910 km's away! Hard to believe that we'll be there by the end of the year! 

Rene checking out the distance dial at Cook's lookout.
On our dinghy trip back to the boat, we were talking about what to quickly eat for lunch so that we could go snorkeling, Darryl from 'Frecinet' intercepted us and invited us over for lunch. He'd met some lovely French holiday-makers who were staying at the resort (rumour has it that Prince William and his newly wed Kate were going to have their honeymoon here!) and had ordered twice the lunch they required. They had given it away to 'Frecinet' and we all enjoyed a gourmet lunch of salad, prawns, cold meats and antipasto for free! This island is the best! Ren and I then squirmed into our wetsuits and snorkeled for a couple of hours. I had the best snorkel of my life! We saw so many amazing living corals, fish and, most impressive, gigantic clams almost as large as Rene! Meeting for drinks at sunset here on the beach, we chatted to all manner of different folk. It's amazing, the variety of people that cruising allows us to meet. 
Rene with GIANT clam!

Beautiful coral fields
And so, tomorrow we have to set off further north. We still have a long way to go in the next month!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cook's Curse

View from Cook's lookout. Can you spot Anima?
Rene's new wiring for the windgen.
It certainly feels a little like we've experienced more bad luck than normal while stuck here in Cooktown. It started when Anima ran aground at low tide. Though this was not such a terrible thing as it seems like almost everyone runs aground here! It's a pretty terrible anchorage in terms of depth consistency. There are sand banks and shoals a-plenty. We moved Ani to a deeper spot but it means that we're the furthest boat from the town – this wouldn't be a problem if the winds weren't so strong (it creates short, steep waves which wet everything and everyone in the dinghy!). The strong wind warning was issued on Monday and doesn't look like lifting until at least Saturday. This strong wind is even stronger here in Cooktown than out in the sea because of the mountains which channel the wind into bullets of extreme force. I wish we had an anemometer so we could record how strong these bullets have been.
Gloomy days anchored here in Cooktown.
They're strong enough to push our 17+ tonne boat over on her side by about 30 degrees. They're strong enough to have blown up our wind generator, causing a small fire at the diode!!! We're incredibly lucky to have been home when this occurred as we could have lost everything if the fire had been alowed to run free. Scary.
Rene had to climb the mast, as the boat rocked about and the wind screamed past, to tie up the wind generator blades to stop them! He then spent hours and hours re-planning and rebuilding the wiring system so that there would be no chance of another fire. The new system worked great until another extreme bullet blew up the voltage regulator!!! Rene recorded a top of 38 amps going in through the wind gen with the clamp meter. That's INSANE!!! Before this we only ever recorded a top of 2 amps. Are you starting to appreciate just how strong this wind is?
This pipe is what held the fuel can onto the dinghy
We thought we knew how strong it was but then it got even stronger. The dinghy was pulled up on our portside, held above the water on a halyard and secured to the boat with three extra ropes. The wind bullets attacked with such force that the dinghy tipped up and our full fuel container ended up in the water – only held to the dinghy by its fuel line. It's lucky we didn't lose it like we lost one of our oars and one of my crocs (shoes).
It was pretty wild under the full moon as we pulled the dinghy up on deck and lashed it down. At one point I thought it might actually take off and fly away when it swung up in a gust and covered the winch I was using to haul it up. Rene was under it, holding on for dear life as I had to wrench the rope free. Somehow the bung (like a plug hole for dinghy's) broke during this crazy event so we were stranded on the boat until Rene figured out how to fix it. Some new friends from yacht Azzan (who are also going on the Indonesia Rally) dropped by on their way to do some crabbing and offered to take us over to the beach that our things would probably have ended up on. After a wet journey in their dinghy we pulled up on a deserted beach (but for some seemingly deserted derelict yachts along the shore and an empty campsite). Rene ran off down the beach and found my lost shoe but no oar. Dawn and I walked the windy beach until we convinced ourselves that the sinister-looking lump at the water's edge of a nearby sandbank was a croc. We were too far to know for sure, but it was definitely dark green and yellowish at one end... and it was huge. We planned a quick escape up some sand dunes and into the trees as we hastened back to the dinghy. Jamie was there cutting open a fresh coconut. Delicious! Rene eventually showed up just as we were getting worried for his safety.

30 and sitting at the top of a hill in far north QLD
It seems as though many yachties who shelter here experience more problems than usual too. One yacht got its chain caught around its keel and started dragging anchor, unable to use their motor to control their movement. Many get grounded on the sand banks. Most seem to get stranded here for at least a week, maybe more - waiting for the wind to drop. This place is one of the windy-est places on the eastern coast of Australia.

While stuck here in Cooktown, I turned 30. I was dreading this inevitable event as I had placed all sorts of expectations on myself for what I should have achieved by now. But, now that it has happened, I'm feeling fine again. I am lucky to have some wise friends who helped me see things in a different perspective (thanks Ili, Renee and Jez). We're doing something pretty amazing and I'm so grateful to be able to live this adventure (even if I do sound like I'm complaining about it sometimes).  

Local Cooktown car
Cooktown's main street
So, the strong wind warning has just been lifted and we are planning on leaving here tomorrow. I'm really looking forward to getting to Lizard Island - it's the only place from here until we reach Indonesia that we will be able to go swimming. Wish us luck! 


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Cruising Cairns To Cooktown

Day 1.
Cleaning up the mess of being in port for a week takes longer than expected. Just as Rene finishes installing the new bilge pump, he discovers a new leak from the water cooling pipe. More tinkering and tightening before we leave. 
Pulling up someone's strange old anchor caught on ours.
Pulling up anchor also takes longer than normal as I wound up a chain (not ours) that had tied itself to our chain. Ren takes over the anchor winch and pulls up someone's old makeshift anchor – a rusty, seaweed encrusted engine mount! He cut it loose with the boltcutters and allowed the rusty metal to sink back down into the murky depths. After motoring out the leading beacons for a while, we set all four sails in variable winds. Despite having so many sails out, we only topped 2 knots (sometimes). Rene was being a purist and refused to start the engine. Most boats motor sail in these conditions. It struck me that we were leaving in the opposite conditions to how we arrived in Cairns. Instead of there being too much wind, this time there wasn't enough! By 4pm it was obvious we were not going to make it to our destination of Double Island. We motored into Yorkeys Knob instead, anchoring in shallow water just out of the channel. I was not impressed at this decision. We were hobby-horsing back and forth very close to the channel, it was nearly dark and we were not in a secure anchorage. Rene took off in the dingy to make some soundings of the depths nearby. He discovered that the creek we'd hoped to shelter in was not deep enough for our 1.8m keel. Instead, he took multiple soundings just behind Yorkeys Knob, using the GPS to record his data. A case of using ancient technology (sounding rope) with new. Anima was moved over to where Ren had decided was deep enough as Rog and I voiced our dislike of the situation. So we anchored and I skulked off to our cabin with a glass of wine but before I could even have one sip Rene came and bossed me out. He took me ashore in the dinghy and I got saturated (the official boating word is 'pooped') by a wave as we hit the beach. Some rock-hopping, soul reflections and chats at sunset made us both feel better. We worked out that we need to plan our trips much more thoroughly before setting out. There's been far too much indecision and too many "cooks" spoiling the plans. So tonight Ren and I looked at the charts, Alan Lucas' cruising guide and our map plotting program. While I made a vegetarian vindaloo, Rene plotted out the next few legs of our journey north to Cooktown.

Day 2.
The night was quite rolly as we tried to sleep in a relatively unprotected anchorage.
Dredge tube on its way into Yorkeys Knob
At midnight I had to put away all the dishes as they were crashing about all over the kitchen as we lurched from side to side. Crickets chirped loudly all night. We awoke to no wind but remaining swell. While eating breakfast a tug motored past with a long dredging tube, it turns out that the entrance to the creek has been causing many boats trouble. We motored over to Double Island at 5 knots and were anchored in much calmer waters within an hour. I finally wrote down our anchoring colour-code and I winched up and out the 35 metres. Each 5 metres, has a different coloured cable tie. Our colour code was written on a deck post and it had faded to nothing over summer. We had a relaxing day on Double Island. Rene played lots of chess with his dad who continued reading (and complaining about) 'Shantaram' by Gregory Roberts. 
Boat chores in paradise - installing stayputs for the awning
I familiarised myself with the HF radio and noted the frequencies we can tune into. Rene started the boat job of installing the stainless stayputs to hold the cockpit awning in place while it's in its down position. He had to drill and tap the holes into the steel. I helped out with the butylmastic after (finally) having time, space and calm enough conditions to do my complete Ashtanga yoga practice! I programmed tomorrow's waypoints into our handheld GPS. We're finally getting back into the swing of it all.

Day 3.
The south-easterly winds picked up enough to power our wind generator at 3am. It groaned into life, moaning its drone down the mast into our room. I didn't sleep well after that, half expecting Rene to leap up and announce our departure. We arose at sunrise to a cockpit full of bugs who had been attracted to our anchor light. Sail up, engine on, I pulled up anchor. Halfway up, I pulled in a large mass of seaweed tied to our chain with remnants of old fishing line. We sailed out and made good speeds as the winds were good for travel north. The swell kept knocking us about though – if not for that annoying swell, today's trip would have been very relaxing. The sea looked gorgeous – dark blue with sparkling tops. Daintree rainforest and the end of the Great Dividing Range to our portside along the shore. As we approached Low Isles, Rene had a plan to keep the sails up as we turned side-on to the swell and (in his words here) 'valiantly stuck to it despite the nagging' for him to begin to take in the sails. Finally he and I began the laborious process of winding in the headsail (previously what we called the 'jib' but which we've discovered no one else calls it as such!). Just as I had nearly wound it all in we realised that the sail had wound back upon itself. Sigh! We had to let it out the other side and were about to wind it back in when the roller furling rope (the new one that was 2cm too thick) flew out! We were now in danger of sailing right past our anchorage. Ren took action super fast. He ran down, got tools and pulled the headsail down onto deck – forgetting about trying to re-furl it. We were in a patch of strongish winds of 25-30 knots which means largish waves and swell. We motored into the anchorage past large tourist catamarans and picked up a national park mooring buoy.
One of the welcoming sharks on Low Islet
Rog and Ren re-installing the headsail on a windy day
 I noticed a shark about 1.5m long checking us out. Pretty soon both it and his mate were circling us. By the afternoon we had three sharks and plenty of huge fish. It's a green zone here so no one is allowed to kill the fish. The sea life is consequently much more vibrant and numerous. After lunch we sorted out boring things online like insurance and ordering the right sized rope for the roller furling. Rog and Rene embarked upon fixing the headsail while I had some girly time of washing my hair and doing yoga. I managed to use half salt water and only required 4 cups of fresh water to get clean hair. Despite the protection of the reef and mangroves, it was still slightly rolly so I couldn't do all of the asanas. We took the dinghy ashore at sunset. 
Low Islet
On the way meeting some other yachties who called us over saying 'are you Nick and Jan's nephew and wife?'. Turns out this lovely couple onboard Aqua Safari had met Rene's uncle and aunt last year and sat out cyclone Yasi with them. We had wine spritzers on the beach. Beautiful. Rene and I walked around the island (only about 100 metres circumference) and met the volunteer caretakers. They explained the many duties of being a caretaker (taking wind and weather readings, cleaning up, talking to visitors). I reckon it's a pretty sweet deal and would love to be an island caretaker for a while someday. They also told us that Steve Irwin was taken to Low Island right after his fatal accident out on Batt Reef. Apparently Low Island was the closest that the helicopter could get to. Despite this morbid fact, Low Isles is much nicer than we'd expected. We will stay here another day. 

Day 4.

Practicing our passions on the beach
Snorkeling tourists with their noodles
We all slept in, enjoyed relaxing coffees and a slow morning. Rene and I took the dinghy ashore to do yoga and kung fu. Gorgeous. We left just as the island was inundated with its daily onslaught of tourists. They looked silly as they all swam out over the reef on their pool noodles which were poking out of the water in a rainbow of pastels. We had morning tea on Aqua Safari. Barbara and Paul are lovely folks who shared many stories of their years of cruising from England to here. The afternoon was again spent on internet chores as Roger had to book his return flight. He admitted to having been lost in dreamy cruising time and hadn't realised just how close we were to his final destination of Cooktown. We went ashore again at sunset. Rene had a snorkel/swim and we shared some beers on the beach before exploring the tiny forest walk through the middle of the island. I cooked up another hot vego curry while we all chatted about life, memories, dreams, cruising and people.

Day 5.
Sunrise as we leave Low Islets
None of us really slept well as we knew today involved an early start. When the alarm finally did go off at 5am we sprang into action – preparing Anima for today's sail. By 6am we were untying from the mooring. The golden liquid sunlight just creeping out across the horizon. Sailing today was much improved. The swell seemed somewhat reduced (possibly due to the increased protection from the reef) or so I thought until I tried to make french toast for breakfast. The egg mixture ended up all over the kitchen as the swell knocked us about. What a job to clean up as each time we rocked sideways with another wave, the mess threatened to roll into new areas. Catamarans are looking more and more attractive. I'm finding myself fantasising about them – their stability, space, speed and shallow draught. Sigh.
A distinctive craggy peak was visible for most of the journey called Pierter Botte. Rene used it and other peaks to learn how to take sightings with our sextant for coastal navigation – old school style. Roger guided him in the process of working out the distance from the mountains of the mainland and their height and comparing that data with our charts. 
Rene taking a sight with the sextant
We read aloud from Cook's biography his descriptions of hitting the reef just adjacent to where we were sailing. What an amazing captain he was. Hope Islands became visible at about 9 miles off. As we sailed closer, we could begin to see the brown of the exposed reef (low tide). We rounded the island, taking in the headsail a little, removing the pole, gybing the main and then pulling in both sails. A much smoother operation than our last attempt! We'd timed our arrival at Hope Island to be at the best time for reef-spotting visibility (around 2pm). We motored easily through and around the reefs and bommies to pick up another National Parks mooring buoy. It seems that the benefit of being so far north so early in the cruising season is actually being able to use mooring buoys that we never usually have the chance to (being a slow boat we are often one of the last to enter any anchorage after a day's sail). 
East Hope Island - postcard material!
Rene on the search for croc's with the tracks left
Hope Island lazy afternoon
East Hope Island looks like a picture postcard. Upon taking the dinghy ashore, we read signs warning us of crocodiles which inhabit the area and who could attack us and 'cause injury or death'. Just in front of this ominous sign were some suspicious-looking tracks. Were they from a resident croc? Rene grabbed an oar and I turned on my camera as we investigated (cautiously) further. We walked around and through the entire island seeing no further evidence of crocs. On second inspection, the tracks looked more like a human dragging a stick than a crocodile! I guess we'll be very familiar with croc tracks soon. A lovely afternoon sitting at a park bench under the shade of an amazing array of rainforest trees.
With the water lapping nearby and birds fossiking about in the undergrowth, we were the only people on the island. Animals in National Parks all over Australia probably think us humans exist on a diet of chips and cans of beer. We ate a packet of chips and collected various empty cans others had carelessly left behind. 
Hope Island
Getting back in the dinghy was good practice for this awkward manoeuvre in croc-infested waters. We scanned the water constantly and were very nimble in getting into the dinghy and pushing it off into deeper water. The corals around the island are all soft and there's not many fish inhabiting it all. We did however see millions of bait fish who were hanging out at the shore's edge and looked alarmingly like rocks due to their sheer numbers. Back on Ani we had some sundowners and tried to watch a movie but were all too tired.

Day 6.
Anima with reefed mainsail
Strong wind sailing face - eeek!
Everyone slept well but me. We were secure enough on our mooring and were not in any real danger but I kept waking as the boat made different sounds I was unfamiliar with. It was so windy in fact, that we were able to leave our fridge running all night as the wind generator was putting in a constant stream of energy. The iceblocks we bought in Airlie (in August last year!) might finally get a chance to freeze at this rate! We set off from Hope Island mid-morning during quite strong wind gusts. Rene was about to hoist the main and sail out of the reef (obviously I was not in agreeance to this plan!) when Roger accidentally let go of a bucket and it flew out of his hands and into the water. We gave up on sailing, instead using the motor to try and fetch the bucket. I was at the helm and didn't enjoy being told what to do by both Roger and Rene. Too many cooks, oh I mean captains. I was informed that this was a good chance to practice a rescue drill. The whole concept of having to rescue someone at sea scares me to the bone. I'm managing to not be afraid too often of the ocean by forcing myself to not think about how dangerous it is out here! Possibly because of this reminder I was a bit freaked out for the first hour of today's trip. The sea seemed bigger and meaner than usual. The swell more forceful. The wind gusts more threatening. There were reefs in our midst and the wind and swell were keeping us off our course. Rene had the mainsail double-reefed and the headsail poled out but not unfurled all the way. He kept trying different configurations of these two sails out different sides to try and get us on course. I wish sailing was as easy as setting the sails and leaving them be. Instead, we seem to keep re-setting, re-adjusting and tweaking them which I find a bit nerve-wracking. I guess because of the couple of problems we've had lately. 
I gradually settled into the trip and enjoyed watching the mountains slip by. 
Crashing over a large wave at 8 knots

Still no dolphins. How cool would it be if when you looked down into the sea water, you could see colourful fish all swimming about, doing their thing. Instead, all we get to see is various shades of blue/green/grey. We ended up sailing into Cooktown with only half our headsail up and still doing 5+ knots! It's really windy up here!!! Cooktown is famous for being the port that Captain Cook sheltered in after his ship, H.M.S Endeavour hit a reef and sustained serious damage. 
Our entrance here was timed to be at a rising tide so that we could make our way into the deeper anchorage. This bay leads into a river which results in a substantial tidal flow. The boats here tend to experience trouble as they swing differently in response to the wind and tide. After we'd anchored, Ren and I raced ashore in the dinghy. On the way, passing a boat trying to fend off another which was banging into it as the tide swept it along. We raced into the local post office just before it closed and collected both the rope we'd ordered and my birthday gift (fantastic yoga book 'Ashtanga Yoga' by John Scott – thanks Ben and Chihiro!!). Rene discovered a shop selling everything from fishing tackle to a 'huge bra sale'. He was sold. The shop keeper was nice and managed to sell Rene plenty of fishing gear (but no bras!). Cooktown is interesting as (unlike so many Australian towns) it celebrates its history. Roger will get off to fly home from here and we will continue our journey northwards. I just wish the winds weren't so bloody strong! 

Cook's landing spot monument from 18/06/1770

Extreme windy washing here in Cooktown

Saturday, May 7, 2011

We Heart Cairns!

Cairns is fantastic! We love it here and we think we even want to live here one day. It is gorgeous. We've been anchored just opposite the Marlin Marina and can tie up our dinghy for free. The marina is locked at night, but we've had great luck, someone has always let us in when we've needed to return.

Cairns Highlights
Shopping at Rusty's markets for fresh fruit and veg. These markets are fantastic! They run from Friday till Sunday and have dozens of stall holders all selling quality fresh fruit and veg at bargain prices. I love a good market - this is definitely in my top 5. There's something so uplifting about the colours of a fruit and veg market. Yum!
Big smiles for Rusty's markets - they are the best!!!
Swimming at the amazing Crystal Cascades in freezing cold fresh water surrounded by lush rainforest. I've become a true north Queenslander as I was the first out of the water - it was too cold! We came back to this amazing place for a go at fire twirling one night with Chris, Mel and a few other locals. I was pretty terrible at it but Rene got the hang of it and made some impressive moves.
Swimming at Crystal Cascades

Having a go at fire twirling
Free yoga next to the pool along the esplanade at sunrise. The yoga was slower than I'm accustomed to, but I learnt some new techniques to add to my ever-growing yoga love. Funnily enough, the teacher's name was Allison - another one!
Free Zumba dancing in the park at sunset :)
Free Zumba. We caught up with Jian (my childhood neighbour), laughing through a free Zumba class in the park with hundreds of others. She came over to Ani for dinner and ended up staying the night and sharing her amazing travel tales of South America.
We also enjoyed catching up with Melissa and sharing meals, drinks and games with her. She is one of those amazing people who can rustle up a gourmet meal with a few scraps left in the fridge. It was also lovely to meet Tamsin's parents who are visiting from York. We shared dinner with them at Natalies place and watched the royal wedding. Watching it with people from Europe made it feel more authentic.

Ren zooming up to Ani in the dinghy here in Cairns.
We continued with the boat jobs while anchored here in the creek. Ren fixed the fridge which had broken on the trip up (salt water had splashed in and broken the fuses which run the fan). He also installed the new flexible coupling on the propeller shaft and cleaned up the oil spilt when it leaked into the bilges. Rog helped out by wiring our telstra wireless modem so that it now runs off our 12volt system. I did more sewing. I started with fixing up our privacy curtain, then I "fixed" my stinger suit. When I proudly showed Rene what a great job I'd done at sewing up the big hole it had at the back, he asked how I planned to put it on now? Whoops! 
During the strong winds, my cockpit awning tore itself off. I spent a few hours reinforcing it and sewing up the holes. It should hopefully hold together better now. I've prepared the staysail bag pattern and will attempt to sew a replacement when I can (I have to time my sewing to when it's sunny as the machine uses too much power to use during the night). Rog is now trying to coax our little broken outboard motor to life (I don't hold much hope for it) and Rene is installing a bilge pump.We're really cruising now - boat maintenance in paradise!

We might head out for different waters tomorrow. There's talk of venturing out to the reef or of going to Port Douglas. I'd better get into the boat prep so that things don't fly everywhere while we're sailing. It has been so lovely to stay here in Cairns. I definitely plan on returning here. 
Amazing tropical flowers - this tree grows even crazier fruit!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sailing from Towsnville to Cairns

Rene had his head stuck in the engine for most of our first day trying to solve the oil leak issue. He and Roger ended up fixing it using a modified brass eyelet and a series of hose clamps. Rene also re-installed the wind generator blades so that we could make power from the strong winds. We're very happy with the performance of the new batteries so far!
Rene the engine ostrich - always with his head stuck in it.
Our first sail was about 45 nautical miles - from Townsville to Orpheus Island. We left in a strong wind warning and averaged 6 to 7 knots. It was a pretty bleak day - the clouds were dark grey and loomed low. The sea was lumpy and larger than we expected. The swell came at us from side-on and we also had a following sea so Anima was tossed about as she sailed. We also made a few mistakes - due to being in port for so long and due to pulling everything off deck for the cyclone season. The main and mizzen sails didn't have their reefing lines (which we discovered too late) and we didn't tie up the topping lift on the mainsail adequately. These two mistakes resulted in some tense moments as the jib luffed about and while Rene got the boom in enough to reach out and cleat the topping lift. It ended up all fine though and we made it to Orpheus easily enough.
Rene putting in the reefing lines at Orpheus Island.
Sailing to Orpheus Island

The anchorage was calm initially but throughout the night, the wind shifted more to the west and the swell crept around and started pushing us about. By mid-morning we were rocking about quite violently. I tried to do yoga but kept falling over- it just wouldn't do! So we decided to move.

The options were either: anchor in the next bay, head into Hinchinbrook at night, or do an overnighter to Cairns. The anchorage around the next headland didn't look much better so we sailed off towards the entrance to Hinchinbrook. As we approached the entrance, we talked to the coastguard (we had to call them on our mobile as they didn't respond over VHF!!). Coastguard confirmed that the bar hadn't changed significantly after Yasi and some tide calculations confirmed we'd have to do it while the sun was setting for the tide to be right. An overnighter it was!

The wind vane steering us past Hinchinbrook Island.
We were all optimistic / in denial that the sea would be calmer on this leg than it had been yesterday. As we sailed alongside the majestic mountainous waterfall-covered peaks of Hinchinbrook Island, those rambunctious waves started greeting us. Right at sunset the sun actually peeked out from the clouds and covered us and the island in a gorgeous, glowing light. As dark settled in I took half a dose of Sturgeron (a seasick medication only sold in the UK that our friends Daphne and Russell gave us) as a precaution. We were tossed around quite violently for the rest of the trip. The medication worked so well – I cooked dinner in the galley which was swinging around at weird angles. I opened the spice cupboard only to have my nutmeg jar launch itself straight into the pan of boiling milk, splashing it everywhere.

Roger and Rene sailing Anima
Rene and I had first watch while Roger tried unsuccessfully to sleep down below. Instead of sleep, all he managed to do was to hold on so that he didn't slide/fly/get thrown off his bed. It was a dark night with only starlight to provide some light. It was probably good that I couldn't properly see the size of the waves which were knocking us about so. The wind kept gusting us along at high speeds (for us) of 7 to 9 knots. Sailing in a strong wind of 25 to 35 knots is not my idea of fun. Everything is more difficult and more urgent. At one point I had to take down the mizzen sail as we were overpowered. This simple task took me probably three times as long to achieve with much more drama and danger as Anima lurched from side to side and I hung on. At around midnight we realised that we were hungry and I ventured inside to look for snacks in the pantry. A Tupperware container of hazelnuts flew out at me upon opening the door and opened, spraying its contents everywhere. The nuts rolled down the hallway, into cracks, down below into the bilges and god knows where else.

Anima under sail
Massive container ships steamed by us at top speeds. It's scary how fast and how big they are. We set our timer alarm to go off every 10 minutes. Those ships are so fast that it only takes them about three watches (30 minutes) to go from a distant light on one horizon to a distant light on the other. I wonder if they knew we were there? By 1am I was needing a rest away from the cold wind. I went below and managed to sleep for a couple of hours (interrupted in 10 minute intervals by the alarm in the cockpit). Andy had previously told me that sleeping in the recovery position is the best method in rough conditions. I tried it out and agree. If I lie on my stomach, head to one side and one leg at right angles, it's easier to stay in one place. In any other position I found myself being flung about to all different parts of the bed – seriously not conducive to sleep! Rog joined Rene on deck after spending 20 minutes making a cup of tea. He said anyone watching would have thought him a comedian as he lunged back and forth to make the cuppa. After a few more tense moments with sails banging as the wind changed or the wind vane steered us off course or the islands ahead loomed in the darkness, it was dawn.

Champers to celebrate!
Rene made us the thickest, strongest coffee of my life and we sped around Cape Grafton towards Cairns. We anchored in Mission Bay and cracked open the champagne that Andy had given us to drink after we'd sailed 50 miles. We had done 155 miles and the bubbly was perfect. We all crashed out for a few hours and then motored another 9 miles to Cairns where we are anchored in the creek right opposite Marlin Marina.

Rene's mum told me on the phone that I would get used to this kind of experience. I replied that I wasn't sure that I wanted to. This leg was certainly challenging as we set off in the midst of a strong wind warning. We had thought it would be OK as the wind was behind us, but the waves came at us from three angles which made the trip very uncomfortable. I managed to not be afraid for most of the trip and I only cried once – a big improvement upon the last overnighter we did. But I am struggling to accept that I need to get used to the kind experience we had sailing up here. I've been told a few times that it's the price us yachties have to pay for living this life. That cruising is a roller coaster made of incredibly high peaks and lows. I'm thinking that I'd like to avoid sailing in strong wind warnings or developed seas, even if our boat is built for it.. I don't know if I am!

Cairns is gorgeous. We noticed right away how multicultural it is compared to Townsville. We've had fun catching up with some friends and family so far and look forward to exploring this city some more as we'll be here for about a week, waiting for post to arrive.
Rene and Melissa as we dinghy across to town