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


  1. Hey sis!
    Sounds like an epic voyage. I love your use of language too!
    Sorry to hear the sad tale of the hazlenuts :-( I had the thought that you should prepare a bag of emergency snacks in the cockpit next time you do an all nighter so you don't have to open the cupboards.

  2. Good idea Jez - and in a watertight bag to avoid having soggy biscuits! xx

  3. Woowoooo...I was feeling a little sea sick just reading about your trip to Orpheus Island. the screen was going left to right. True.