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

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