Saturday, June 4, 2011

Far North-Eastern Queensland

I was quite apprehensive about leaving Lizard Island into the remote wildnerness of far north Queensland. I could have stayed at Lizard indefinitely! Our new friends, Dale and Dave on Freeform kind of spurred us on to leave while the weather is good. The winds were forecast to be South East (SE) 20-25 knots (easing) which is good for this part of the coast.

Getting used to being at sea.
Thursday 26th May. Lizard Island to Howick Island. 30.34 nautical miles.
Four yachts left Lizard today, we were the third to leave. I was sad to say goodbye to this magical place. The seas were much bigger than we'd expected and the winds were much stronger than we'd anticipated! Freeform radio'd us throughout the day and we learnt that the winds were actually 30 knots true. We had to shut the companionway hatch in the cockpit as waves were splooshing up and over the side deck, wetting everything in salty water. I had internet reception for about 10 minutes and braved feeling seasick to download the GRIB files (weather forecast) and quickly update my facebook. A massive container ship steams past at such speeds that it leaves a trail of sandy water behind it, like a giant snail. It must have gigantic propellers as we are in 20metres of water. We sail to Howick using only the headsail and maintain an average speed of 7 knots (12.5 kilometres per hour) which is pretty fast for us using only one sail! We anchor in 10metres of water behind Howick Island and visit Freeform for the afternoon. Talk revolves around passage plans for the journey ahead, in particular, the top of Northern Territory. I give them our yoghurt culture – hopefully they'll keep it alive. Just as I go to bed, the swell comes in and starts knocking us about from side to side quite violently. Rene fixes it with a rope that he ties to the anchor chain which pulls us at a different, more comfortable angle. 
Freeform sailing alongside, container ships nearby.
Friday 27th May. Howick Island to Flinders Island. 50 nautical miles.
Rene preparing his trolling line
Both Freeform and Anima leave at sunrise. We end up pulling up the mainsail (with one reef in it) as the winds are a little weaker today. We do this manouvre in the middle of the shipping lane (while no big ships are in sight) without the engine and it takes us 20 mintues! Sailing is a very time-consuming sport. The Aries windvane (autopilot) is having trouble keeping us on course. It keeps yawing over to starboard too far, allowing the mainsail to back (wind pushes in on the wrong side) and the headsail to luff (flap about wildly). When the sail backs, Rene pulls the helm across to prevent it and the pulley which holds the ropes which control the Aries, pulls right out of the wood in the cockpit combing! We go to use the electric auto pilot but find that it's not set up and will require us to remove the wheel. We elect to hand steer instead. Cape Melville is unlike anything we've seen so far. Huge mountains comprised of giant boulders seemingly just piled up on top of one another. While rene has a rest inside, I drink up the view and a big turtle swims by to say hi. Freeform warns us of wind bullets up ahead. We reduce our sails and are thankful for the advice.
My little waterproof camera with awesome tripod!
Flinders Island looks like a better anchorage than Bathurst Bay (our original destination) so we head there instead, munching on freshly made birdseed slice, yum! Motoring between Flinders Island and Stanley Island in Owen Channel is awe-inspiring. I take videos with my little waterproof camera. I note the time as 2.30 and am grateful for being able to do this rather than trying to control a bunch of rowdy teenagers in an overcrowded, hot classroom. We anchor at the end of the channel, exhausted but happy. After so much sailing in splashy seas, everything on deck is covered in a fine layer of salt. I've discovered that constant salt contact is not very good for my hands/feet. Luckily we can rinse off in fresh water regularly or I would have lost more than one layer of skin! I get Rene to rig up our camping shower in the cockpit tonight. It is short but glorious. There's nothing like a shower. Week after week of sponge baths isn't very satisfying.
Bathurst Bay rock mountains.
 Saturday 28th May. Flinders Island to Hedge Reef. 39.97 nautical miles.
Our anchorage in Hedge Reef.
Light winds greet us at dawn. I keep bumping into things on deck from lack of sleep as Rene spent an hour in the middle of the night trying (unsuccessfully) to net some baitfish which were just teasing him. We slowly cruise along, only just making 4 knots (7km per hour) but often just doing 2 knots (3.6 km/h). Will we make it to the anchorage in time? It's very important to approach an anchorage with sufficient light to see the reefs or sand banks so as to avoid hitting them! We end up turning on the motor – something we very rarely do – and motor sailing for a while. Eventually the sails are taken down – they aren't doing anything. Rene looks at Lucas' guidebook and finds a closer reef – we change our plans and head to Hedge reef instead of Magpie Reef. I climb the mast to be the lookout and radio down to Rene with what I can see. I didn't really enjoy the experience of having to spot out a place to anchor amongst bommies.
Ceraebird as lookout!
We are the only ones out here and if I think about how remote we are, it makes me nervous. So, I try not to obsessively check our telstra phone to see if we have any signal (we don't). The wind picks up as soon as we've dropped anchor (typical!) but we decide to stay anyway as if we pushed on, we would be anchoring in the dark somwhere else. It is pretty protected here, with just some small waves breaking around us.
We watch a DVD and eat home-made hummus on freshly made bread. I'm in love with this recipe (adapted from an old one) as what I have always found cumbersome about making hummus, is that to use a can of chickpeas creates unecessary waste while boiling them takes so long it feels ridiculous! Sprouting is EASY and it releases more nutrients into the legumes. It makes a slightly more crunchy hummus than usual – which is very delicious!

Sprouted Chick Pea Hummus
  • Chickpeas sprouting in our galley
    2 cups pre-sprouted chickpeas (soak 1 cup of dried chickpeas in 2 cups of water for 6 or so hours. Drain, rinse and allow to sprout. This takes around 2-3 days and the chickpeas must be rinsed about 3 times daily).
  • 2 (or so) cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • Juice of 2 lemons/limes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
Crush the garlic with a little salt until it forms a puree. Put the sprouted chickpeas, tahini, oil and garlic in a food processor and blend. Add the lemon juice and a dash of water and continue pureeing, until smooth. 
Sunday May 29th. Hedge Reef to Morris Island 32 nautical miles.
Rene with his first Mackerel
Despite my concerns about being hedged in (pun intended), I slept peacefully and awoke ready for a big day out on the water. I thawed our last bottle of milk (a precious commodity for us out at sea) and relished in the flavour of my coffee (milk powder just doesn't cut it!). There was a tense moment while we pulled up anchor when I thought our anchor buoy had come loose and was drifting around about to get caught on our propellor. But it turned out that the buoy was tied to the anchor – it just had a very long rope attached. Another slow trip today. We averaged 3 knots. Rene nursed Anima along, using all four sails at some points. We finally broke the fish drought as our trolling line nabbed a 1metre Narrow Barred Mackerel mid-morning. The method of killing this fine catch was very disturbing. I had a little mouth-vomit when I saw that
Chickpeas - much friendlier!
Rene had killed it by gauging out its eyes (which were sitting on deck looking up at me). Oh dear. I'm not very good at this hunting business. My sprouted lentils are so much easier!
Note from Rene: This rather unorthodox slaugther method worked very well compared to other methods. Having asked around and read a little, it seems there are a few options for fish slaughter (please add a comment if you know any others):
  1. Cludgeon it's brains. This seems to be the most popular method of fish slaughter but I found it a bit messy and a little inelegant.
  2. Slit it's throat – again a bit of a mess unless you have a good place to hang it.
  3. High alchohol content rum on the gills. Since we haven't hit any tax free alchohol yet, this isn't really economic.
I found that gauging it's eyes out pretty much stopped the thrashing straight away - there was a little death shudder, but no reaction to it's sensitive lateral lines. And it was also an interesting experience – their eyes are suprisingly tough.

(Cerae again) As I said – hunting is gory!
It was so calm today that we ended up doing out laundry while on the move. This is quite an involved process using a hand-cranking pressure wash and hand wringer. I usually loathe washing clothes by hand (didn't we invent machines for this?) but, because we were still sailing and getting ahead, I wasn't so focused on the waste of time. Barely any big ships out today. Listening to trawlers on the radio is kind of funny – they aren't very talkative types and don't follow any of the usual etiquitte!

Peaceful sailing to Morris Island
Lovely relaxing afternoon listening to Angus and Julia Stone as we slip peacefully through the sparkling water. Their music is really suited to cruising. The wind picked up just as we were approaching our anchorage for the night, Morris Island. Typical, the wind is playing with us! My new favourite spot is at the first cross-trees on the main mast (see pic above). I watched large silver fish chase each other around Anima and admired the endless beauty of the sunlight on the water. As we sailed alongside the island, I experienced my first time of smelling the land. I've read about it and never quite understood, but after spending 34 hours at sea, Morris Island smelt like heaven. I stood on the foredeck breathing it all in, as my eyes were also drinking up the unique beauty of this isolated spot. A friendly yachtie who was already here offered us a lift to the beach.
Ren hunting coconuts wearing a towel as sun-protection
Morris Island cactus (?) plants
We explored the island from a safe distance of 4 metres above the water line (well away from any crocodile attacks). I took loads of photos (beautiful birds and flora).
Reminds me of a video I made in 3rd year art college
Rene hunted coconuts. Then he collected a bundle of drift wood – we are having our first BBQ on the boat! Drinks at sunset are courtesy of the amazing Margaret from Townsville (thanks for the delicious wine!). The fish is sensational with a smoky flavour.
Sunset BBQ anchored on Morris Island
Rene's barbaque recipe for hunter gathering, yachty style:
  • 1 Mackerel, fresh
  • 1 king (orange) coconut flesh
  • drift wood
Make a fire with driftwood. Get it hot. Put the coconut flesh in the fire. When it starts spitting and popping, put slabs of fish over it on the grill. Cook each side well. Then put the lid on the bbq to smoke it in the coconut smoke.
Note: it is recommended that the pleasure of this meal is counter-balanced by 8 minutes of internal push up suffering!

Monday 30th May. Morris Island to Portland Roads. 60 nautical miles.
This is a long trip so we get up before dawn. Pulling up anchor in the dark is weird as I'm used to being able to see the chain and adjust my movements accordignly. Gradually the other two boats (who are also heading for Portland Roads today) overtake us. We're doing good speeds of 5-6 knots but are no match for a new Dufour or a Catamaran! The day is HUGE. 12 hours of sailing. We're both so tired by sunset that we start bickering about our plans for tomorrow (we normally get along really well!). I cook up a fish curry and we are forced to get out the big stinky generator to charge the batteries. Today our sails shaded the solar panels when the sun was out and when they didn't, the clouds shaded the sun! The windgenerator barely put in any amps with the light winds. Our engine alternator is also having issues! It didn't seem to be putting in any more than 1.5 amps to the batteries. This is bad news and we'll have to try and remedy it before leaving Australia. I spend hours trying to make a short video of Anima sailing. For some reason – I haven't figured out yet – the frame rate keeps getting distorted after exporting. Very frustrating! I obsessively try connecting to the internet. Staring at a page that just won't load, I think of the many hours we waste doing this. I should be outside staring at the waves! When we finally do get sufficient telstra signal to connect, I quickly upload my Lizard Island entry. Afterwards – back on deck – a feeling of utter relief washes over me. Is this what junkies experience after getting a hit? 10 days without more than 10 minutes of access is a long dry period for a self-professed internet addict!
How big must this bird be? Yikes!!
Tuesday 31st May. Portland Roads to Margaret Bay. 50 nautical miles.
We were undecided as to whether or not to continue sailing north today. The decision we settled upon was to let the wind decide: if light winds, we'd anchor behind a small island along the way. If decent winds, we'd sail up to Cape Grenville and anchor in Margaret Bay. The latter was true – we flew along at up to 8 knots. The last few days we've barely seen any big ships. Ironically, just as we approached the narrowest section of the entire coastal shipping channel, we encountered three huge ships heading south and one heading north!
Massive container ships zooming past in the shipping lane
We held off and stayed right at the edge of the lane but had to radio one ship as we were on a collision course! The captain of Panamous was very polite and told us his plan to pass us starboard. Phew! Everyone seems to have AIS except for us. It's now definitely on our wish list of must haves. Rene plans on trying his hand at making one (we have an article in a cruising mag which details how to do this). AIS seems like such useful technology in today's seas which are quite busy with ships buzzing about everywhere. It allows each ship to see the name, draught, length, speed, course, destination and origin of the other ships nearby. I had a stint on deck while Rene slept inside – practice for when we cross the gulf soon. I've decided that I'm very happy to sail by myself in light winds, when the navigational dangers (such as reefs) are far away from our course and with a maximum of two sails up. When the winds pick up, things become a lot more intense and harder to control. We came around the outside of Cape Grenville and caught another Mackerel! There were hundreds of terns flying about and feeding in the area. 
Feeding Frenzy
At one stage I could even see large fish in the crests of the waves. Rene gutted the big fish while I sailed Ani almost in to the anchorage. He hung it alongside while we dropped anchor. There's so much meat on these big pelagic fish! I set about bottling as much as possible (four jars) and had to freeze 6 large fillets too. The boats we've been cruising with are continuing on up to Escape River tomorrow. We've decided to stay here a day – we have been sailing for 6 days straight without a break and the next leg is the biggest.

Rest day.
We must have been so tired because we spent a long time today just lying about, listening to music and staring at the clouds. I tried to clean up but am annoyed that I didn't get very far. Rene managed to stir up more energy than me. He put up new courtesy flag ropes (the old ones had ripped to shreds during the cyclone) and then set about making a rough version of lazyjacks for our mainsail. These seem to work quite well! Early to bed tonight as we have set the alarm for midnight.
Rene with new lazy jacks
Thursday 2nd June. Margaret Bay to Escape River. 70 miles.
This leg of our journey is too long to day sail. We figure out that in order for us to arrive at Escape River by 4pm, travelling at 4 knots, we'll need to leave at midnight. The stars were surprisingly bright at midnight as there was no moon. We were all alone in the large anchorage of Margaret Bay (apart from the fish swooshing about in the water!) so we left under sail – not using the motor. As we neared Sunday Island, a trawler came straight for us. I recognised his lights from a flash card I'd found while cleaning up yesterday. We altered course to pass him safely and then another trawler came in too! Being at sea, during the night is quite a different experience. Seeing lights in the distance and trying to ascertain what they belong to and what they're doing is tricky (and sometimes nerve-wracking). This trip allowed us plenty of practice doing just this. In the few hours before dawn, we encountered three big container ships and a yacht who crossed our bows very close, spotlighting as after they'd passed (weird). I made pikelets and cups of tea to keep us going and we took turns having naps. We were both very surprised at how, when dawn arrived, our energy levels almost doubled! The power of the sun!
Uplifting sunrise over the water
This same sun stayed strong and bright all day – making our trip beautiful. We took a route close to the mainland (away from that busy shipping lane) and wowed at the shorline of far northern Queensland. Vast bright white sandhills interspersed with rich, ochre red cliffs dotted with magnetic ant hills. Much of our trip fell into a green zone and (as usual) we got to see some sea life because of this. Ren watched massive Trevally ripping up the water, surfing down waves and I saw huge turtles swimming by. We didn't see another human all day. Roger had told me that we'd be amazed at how unpopulated much of the QLD coast is. I didn't really appreciate just how vast this area is!
Red cliffs of north QLD
Rene has nicknamed our electric autopilot 'R2-Detour'. Maybe due to lack of speaking with other humans, he has been talking to it – encouraging it to keep us on course (which it sometimes refuses to do) and swearing at it when it behaves irrationally. Another item on our wish list: a new, smarter autopilot! We have so many things on this wish list that would make our lives so much safer and more comfortable – but we just can't afford them right now! A good autopilot costs around 2K or more!! We will have to 'rough it' and make do until we get jobs again. Rene tries to make our situation sound better (when I lament at how well set-up every other boat we meet seems to be) by commenting that Anima has more now than when she was sailed around the world 20 or so years ago. I guess that's how we're managing to cruise at sucn a young age (compared to everyone else). Doing without most of the new technology. I'm tempted to list all of the things that we're doing without (I'm a total list freak) but I don't wish to dwell anymore today. We're managing fine. Better than so many other people in the world. I'm eternally grateful for being able to do this (more on this idea later).
Gorgeous sparkly seas
I baked bread and we arrived at Escape River earlier than hoped. We'd made much better speeds than our predicted 4 knots. Ani seems to sail best in 15-20 knots. Any less and she doesn't really go. Any more and things get tense. Luckily, we've had a week of good winds since leaving Lizard Island which has made our trip to the tip a nice one. Other yachties who had been to Escape River ahead of us had provded GPS positions for submerged hazards, so we approached the river with caution – avoiding the troubled areas and the many black buoys marking pearl farming spots. Waves pushed us along and into the river and we sailed some of the way in with the motor ready (despite my on-going plea for us to drop the sails earlier). The first suggested anchorage was too lumpy and rough so we chose a spot that was not listed as an official anchorage but it was safe and secure and protected... Rene made it official by marking our version of Alan Lucas' cruising guide with a nice big anchor symbol. So we relaxed inside with wine and a movie – it had been a long trip of 14 hours! Emerging a few hours later, we saw a catamran who had come and anchored next to us! We had set the trend! A peaceful night was spent at Escape River and it was tempting to stay... but the lure of an internet connection further along pulled us away.
Escape River Sunrise
3rd June. Escape River to Cape York – The Top! 25 nautical miles.
An overcast day greets us, making it difficult to get up. I am greeted with a headache (which may have been caused by the celebratory drinks yesterday) which makes practicing yoga impossible. Rene manages to massage some of the pain away and we motor-sail out of Escape River, taking some waves over our bows as we plow over the bar. This place would be terrible in stronger winds. Excitement builds as we near the Cape – the top of Australia!!! Despite being warned against it, we decide to go through Albany Passage – a narrow channel (shortcut) between the mainland and Albany Island.
Sailing towards Albany Passage
Albany Passage
The tide is with us as we sail through at 8.5 knots! Rene mans the helm, while I take photos of this amazing place. It feels pretty special to be here. Soon enough, we're approaching Eborac and York Islands which sit just above Cape York Peninsula. Anchoring is easy as we're the only boat here and have our pick of the area. Keen to stretch our legs, we go ashore to explore.
Rene with termite mound on Cape York
We find a rocky headland covered in cairns that the thousands (probably millions) of visitors before us have created by each adding a rock to the mound. I add my rock to the biggest cairn and we meet some 4WD travellers (from Townsville!!) down by the sign on the tip. Amazing views. It feels as though we've achieved something – we've sailed the entire length of the Queensland east coast. WOW! What a ride. We've seen some pretty incredible places and had some amazing times. I can only guess at what treasures lie before us. This achievement means that we've now visited the most northerly, eastern, southern and western points of our nation.
We're on top of Australia!!!
Tourist snap - the most northerly point in Oz!

Rene poling us away from the "crocodile"
Upon arriving back at our dinghy, we find it high and dry – the tide had gone out faster than we'd expected. It takes us time to haul it along the sand flats and through the shallow (ankle-deep) water. Rene notices a dark shape in the water. Shit! It's a crocodile, hiding itself downstream, so we'll drift onto it! It has craftily positioned itself under the sun's reflection to make it difficult to see. We take evasive action – sitting inside the inflatable and silently poling into deeper water in an arc around the 14ft beast. I feel very vulnerable. We make it back to Anima safely, congratulating ourselves on our great escape from such a huge croc! Later, when the tide has fallen further, we see with binoculars that our scary crocodile is actually a log!! 

Anima anchored at Cape York
We've made good time here and will now prepare for the next big leg – across the top of the Gulf of Carpentaria. We'll wait for the best weather for this as it will be a 3 or so day trip with no stops. Gulp! But, for now, it's time to enjoy some more BBQ'd Mackerel and watch the sunset over the Torres Strait. We're at the top (and we have an internet connection – though it's very weak and slow...)! 
LOVING this life!!


  1. So many beautiful photos guys! You are both looking very well and happy. Thanks for sharing your amazing journey and pics with us:)

  2. Glad you enjoyed it, cause we are! You should definitely try the hommus recipe - it's so good and healthy too! xxx

  3. Hey sis! Tam, Che and I just all read this together in Che's house! We had fun laughing at your internet addiction and false crocodile. Che's definitely going to make your hummus!!! Keep enjoying the good life!!!! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox

  4. Lovely reading Cerae. I am so enjoying your descriptions and photos. It is a real treat to relive the sailing life through your eyes. Good one with the fish bbq. sounds yummy. xoxoxox