13 June 2007
Lizard Island, Australia N E
Up the Northeast Coast of Australia
The shrouds are chattering like a jackhammer and the high pitch howling noise makes you wonder if the anchor will continue to hold. Even with all the noise you lie down believing that should the boat would drag you will some how miraculously wake to start the engines avoiding the reef off our stern. We are anchored at Lizard Island with fifteen other boats, two Norwegian, one Swiss, one German, two New Zealand, two US and the remaining Australian. This is our second day waiting for the high wind warnings to abate but the forecast leads us to believe we will be here another two or three days. Lizard would be a good spot to wile away a few days but the overcast conditions and the high winds make snorkeling impossible and even a dinghy ride to shore can be an unpleasant experience.
The winds this winter have been strong and the current from this point on flows north, our direction of travel. On the sixty miles to Lizard we lurched along at over eight knots all of it down wind. Inside the reef the waves are around five feet and there are a great many islands and reefs that make the rumb line more critical than open ocean sailing. Many times we find it necessary to hand steer in order to smooth out the sleigh ride down the back of the waves and to maintain a reasonable course. If you have not hand steered a boat in these kind of conditions before, I will tell you it can take a good amount of concentration and the effort required to keep the boat on course can leave you tired after a short period of time. In fact in the last few weeks we have hand steered a good deal and reminding us of the "off shore" sailing classes we attended at a sailing school named after a famous book on seamanship. We attended the class several years before we bought our own boat and although the training boat, Shady Lady, was equipped with all the necessary equipment for off shore travel, we were to learn without using the auto pilot, gps and other modern conveniences. The instructor was a prior stunt man, cook, and dive boat helmsman, not necessarily applicable qualifications for a sailing instructor. Anyway, as the week wore on it became apparent that the captain was determined to drive the only other student off the boat. The motivation revealed itself when we learned that his girlfriend was flying into West Palm Beach and he was hoping to gather her up and have her join us for the trip back to Stewart, FL. Well he succeeded in making the forward cabin available and his girl friend climbed on the boat in high heels. Upon meeting her, it was hard not to stare at her ruby red lips that look like they had a recent overdose of collagen. What we came to find out was that she had had her lips tattooed red and they were puffy and swollen from this torment to ready herself for the trip. We wanted to give them some space since they had not seen each other in a while so we dined off the boat and returned at a late hour making enough noise so as to alert them to our arrival. Rene headed down the the companion way first to find the girlfriend taking a break in the main cabin. Her ample voluptuousness was stuffed into black fishnet stockings, garter belt, stiletto heels and revealing bra and she mumbled something about the captain recommending proper boat attire. With a great deal of discretion, I entered our stateroom through the aft hatch.
I digress too much.
Before Lizard Island we arrived in Cooktown, where we caught up with Tom and Amy aboard Sandpiper. Cooktown is the last town on the east coast before the top of Australia is reached at Cape York and Thursday Island. We were fortunate with the timing since the town was celebrating Captain Cook's landing in 1770 with a reenactment of the event. Cook was looking for a calm protected waters to carry out repairs to his vessel since it had hit a reef south of the river.
The reenactment started with an Aboriginal dance troupe of about ten participants followed by the landing of the Endeavor party arriving by longboat. Twenty men in authentic costumes with rifles. The theatrical production entertained the audience despite the fact that the sound system went awry leaving us in the lurch for what was actually going on. The pageant was drawn to a close when a canon, which had been abandoned by Cook in an effort to save his ship, was fired in the midst of several hundred people. Altogether it was an admirable effort by a town of less than two thousand.
The winds continue to be robust, the currents strong and the tide range is increasing every leg north we take. The "inside route" mitigates the waves and most days seas are only 1.5 to 1.7 meters. Outside of the reef the waves range from 2.2 to 3.0 meters. This protection is also enjoyed by freighters and there is a great deal of traffic in the shipping channel we follow. The channel turns and twist around the islands and reefs creating a number of sail changes but there is plenty of wind and when the tide is rising we can gain an additional two knots heading north.
At the very top of Australia we anchored at Horn Island for several days waiting for better weather before the five day crossing to Darwin. This small community is one of the many islands populated with indigenous Torre Strait people. It is lobster season or crayfish as they are called in Australia, and the fishing fleets are outfitted with a string of tenders in tow. These small tenders allow divers to wander off into shallow water and explore the reefs to harvest the lobster which were either flash frozen or flown directly to Hong Kong. Although we were in the middle of the season and despite the fact that every day we could see boats loaded with lobster, a lobster dinner was still $50.00 AU. Although this sounds outrageous if you consider that the area is also infested with crocodiles maybe the price is reasonable.
The great number of islands in the Torre Straights and proximity to Papua New Guinea and Indonesia keeps Australian customs busy with illegal immigrants and boats violating Australian fishing waters. Helicopters and high altitude aircraft interdict all traffic and we were hailed to identify ourselves more than once.
Finally the weather was right and we headed west for Darwin five days from Horn Island.