Mandolin Wind under Spinnaker  

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Martin & Sue

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Ships Ahoy, Ladder Snakes & Circus Fish - Lizard Island to Escape River

 

After spending a very relaxing day at Lizard Is, we were ready to continue further North in the morning. However, during the regular beach get-together over drinks several cruiser mentioned that the nearby reef had a great spot for snorkeling called ‘Cod’s Hole’. Our plans were changed easily and the next morning, in company with a NZ monohull named ‘Thyme’, we sailed the 12nm to the outer reef.

 

 

At Cod's Hole: All taken with our underwater facemask Camera

 

Above: Colourful coral

Below: The huge Cod (see the size of the flipper)

 

Unfortunately we had to plough into the waves but given it was only a couple of hours of discomfort we figured it was worth it. After 4 weeks of down wind sailing this bashing to windward has "whiskers " on it !! We picked up a National Parks mooring right on the edge of the reef which enabled us to snorkel straight off the back of the boat.  The coral was pristine and the visibility "gin clear" at about 30m. We slowly made our way along the edge of the reef towards the ‘Cod Hole’, meandering along the crater edges and admiring the amazing variety of fish.  We saw the divers first – then the massive cod as they slowly and methodically moved along the sandy bottom, totally unconcerned by the attention they were receiving. 

 

Above: On the Mooring at Cod's Hole

 

On the way back to the boat we weren't that happy to see a couple of 2m long sharks below us. The water was about 10m deep at that point so that was close enough for me... actually they didn’t seem that fussed and were just lazily swimming around under the shade of the boat, but we didn’t  wait around getting up the ladder !!

   

 

 

The trip back to Lizard was much smoother and we were back just in time to catch up with David and Robin off Mahji Rae who had just arrived from further down south. An RBYC boat, they had already been cruising for a few years in the Pacific but were now ready to head north and join the rally.

Next day we were up at 3.30am and under a nearly full moon we carefully made our way out of the crowded bay and towards the Flinders Group – an 80nm trip.  Being a hopeless sleeper in the early morning anyway, Sue took the watch until dawn – keeping a close lookout for the many reefs on route. Most of them were lit by beacons – but it was the unlit ones that I was concerned about! After dawn we flew the spinnaker until the wind died completely and we had to motor sail, using one engine to save diesel– arriving at our destination at 4.30pm. It was a very peaceful sail.

 

The Flinders Group is a stunning geographical and photographic group of islands – with mangroves skirting the edges that, according to the yachty grapevine, hid several crocodiles. The early morning saw the boys bravely heading  off in the dinghy to retrieve their crab pot – only to return empty handed although something had been active as the fish head was gone.  Fortunately, a friendly fellow from a neighbouring catamaran had caught more than he could cope with so he arrived soon after offering a gift of a huge mud crab. What a great birthday treat for Sue!

 

We stored the critter safely in a bucket of water while we headed off before the heat of the day to do some exploring. Keeping a good lookout for crocs, we found a well marked path that led along a delightful sandy beach to some caves containing aboriginal paintings. Despite the early hour, the heat was intense and looking across at the ripple-less seas we were glad we had decided on another rest day.

 

 

 

Back aboard safely and the satellite phone was tried out as we rang our daughter Nyree for her 21st birthday. Yes, she was born on Sue's birthday – and we like to joke with her that Sue's best birthday present ever was the epidural drip they gave her before her birth!

 

  Ah, lunch. What a treat - mud crab and champagne in the cockpit while gazing out over turquoise, mirror-like waters. I couldn’t think of a better place to spend my birthday.
     
 

 

We would have liked to stay another day in such an idyllic location but even more pristine anchorages awaited us further north. Morris Island is a tiny mound of sand and a lone palm tree in the middle of no-where – but it has a very long sand spit reaching northwards and is surrounded by a huge reef, most of which dries at low tide. With such protection from the winds we were able to anchor in still waters before making our way to shore to walk around the island and sift through the amazing collection of driftwood and other items that had found their way ashore.

 

 
 

 

On dusk the boys went on a fishing expedition along the edge of the reef but ,despite hooking some large coral trout who managed to escape capture by hiding themselves amongst the coral,  they only returned with a  good sized bream. Since we already had caught a huge Spanish mackerel during the day, this was certainly enough to stop us going hungry.

 

It was an easy passage the next day to Lloyd bay (near the mouth of the Lockhart River). The bay is very calm as it is well protected from the southeast trade winds. One other yacht was anchored near us so we invited them over for a drink. They were a New Zealand couple who had been in Australia for 2 years replenishing their cruising kitty by working in remote areas of Australia (she is a nurse).


As they were hopping aboard their dinghy to head off Sue looked down and noticed a sea snake just about to be washed onto the bottom transom step! Despite its beautiful stripes Sue let out a loud yell and Martin quickly hopped up one level. Yvonne on the dinghy was so shocked she very nearly fell over the side of her dinghy! Mental note to self – avoid bottom step in future!

 

I am not sure if we were overdosing on the 80% deet  contained in the insect repellent we were liberally applying – but minutes later we saw what looked like school mackerel jumping 5 metres out of the water as they tried to catch bait fish. It was a truly amazing sight – and one that still impresses me as I think about it. We saw about 6 jumps all of about this height !!

 

 

 

We left at first light next morning with a forecast 30 knots – so whilst still in the shelter of the Cape Sue made sultana scones for morning tea. It is amazing how hungry we get – especially having breakfast so early. Well, that is our excuse anyway! Not to be outdone, Rod stepped up to the challenge and baked not one, but two loaves of bread (one multigrain and one fruit loaf)

 

 
 

 

As we exited the shelter of the bay we entered the shipping channel. There was a lot of activity about with a ship travelling south in the centre of the channel and several  yachts who had just exited Portland Roads. We called the ship by name (having seen its details on the AIS) and indicated that, given our position to his South West, we would pass well clear green to green in this case. He cheerfully responded and confirmed the plan. His mood darkened however when one of the other yachts proceeded on a suicide path across his bow. The radio traffic was amusing but frightening as we watched the crazy yachtie try to cut across the path of the ‘fast moving, slow stopping’ ship. The Captain of the massive ship radioed sarcastically, ‘Do you want to kill yourself?’ and this seemed to sum up the situation brilliantly.

The yacht only just made it – and several of the other yachts, including ourselves, apologized to the Captain on behalf of all Yachties. ‘You need to give that guy the T-Shirt I bought you’, commented Rod – referring to the slogan plastered across its chest showing a large ‘W’ followed by a picture of an anchor! How true.  

 

Later in the day we had our own scare after we tried several times to call a ship approaching us in the shipping channel. It happened to be a very narrow section with reefs either side, giving us very little room to maneuver.  Our intention on hailing the ship was to make sure he had seen us – but despite several calls over the radio on both channel 16 and 12 there was no response. So much for keeping a radio watch – or was he deliberately keeping quiet in case he had to alter course? The AIS indicated that we would pass with only .1nm to spare so we quickly jibed the main and skirted as close as we dared along the shallow edge of the channel. Eventually, just as the shipped passed us by ( at about 200m ), they responded and, yes, they had seen us.  I was just glad we hadn't met him on a dark night!

 

 

 

 

 

The wind stayed around 20 knots so we flew along at 8+ knots with a double reefed main and jib. Just as we arrived at Margaret Bay a Customs Coastwatch plane flew very low over us so they could read our name on the side of our hull. About 5 minutes later we received a call from Coastwatch wanting to know our last and next Ports of call and our home Port of registration. Every yacht they flew over received the same call – apparently they keep a pretty close watch on all sea traffic up this part of Australia.

 

 

Despite rising before dawn we were lagging behind the other boats sharing our anchorage – most of whom had already left for Escape River 75nm further up the coast. We listened to the latest forecast before deciding to follow them – even though a Strong Wind Warning had been issued. This decision was not as silly as you may think – for we were travelling downwind inside the Reef so we did not expect the seas to build beyond 2 metres. This prediction proved correct – and we had a fast, rolly passage under double reefed main and full heady. Attention turned to the Bar crossing at Escape River (yes, there always seems to be one more Bar to cross!) Radio traffic amongst the convoy of 5 boats heading to that destination focused  on the depth at the entrance and the possible conditions due to the strong winds. The fact that it would be low tide only increased the agitation – particularly for the monohulls with drafts of over 2 metres.  Luckily the catamaran, ‘Two Up’ was on track to arrive first and was able to assure everyone that there was plenty of water and the swells at the entrance were not an issue.

 

 

 

Our entry to the river was fairly easy and we were soon anchored past the Pearl Farm about 2 nm up the river. Whilst I scanned the river bank for crocodiles, the boys busied themselves negotiating with a nearby fishing trawler for some Prawns – handing over some tinnies of Vic Bitter plus freshly baked biscuits as payment.

 

We were just settling down to share the prawns over a sundowner when we heard a radio call from one of the monohulls that had been behind us for most of the day. They had successfully crossed the bar – only to run aground  in the river when they veered too far outside the channel to avoid one of the many Pearl Farm nets. Luckily it was approaching low tide so they would be able to float off naturally within an hour or so anyway – however, with dark approaching the prospect of trying to navigate and anchor up the rest of the river did not really appeal. So Martin and the skipper of ‘Two Up’ charged off in the dinghy to try and kedge them off (by setting an anchor and then winching towards the anchor to lift the keel on an angle).  They had no luck and eventually one of the other boats anchored in the river offered to give them a tow.

  

 
  This plan was also a failure - with the rescue boat pulling out one of its fairleads in the attempt to drag them off. The attempt was therefore aborted and the plan reverted to 'wait it out'. Martin returned covered in mud - and in a hurry after they passed a VERY large crocodile sauntering slowly along the sand bank! Best bring the dinghy up on its davits tonight since rumour has it that pesky crocs often take a fancy to outboards and try and attack them in the night!

 

We bundled Martin into the hot shower to scrape the mud off himself - and sat down ready to attack the prawns. Over a glass of red we reflected on the many amazing things we had witnessed during the 2,700 nm that we had travelled since we had left Brighton – and on the adventures that awaited us just round the corner – for tomorrow we round Cape York.