Thursday 19 February 2015

The Rainforest & the coral coast

The mount for the tiller pilot on the tiller itself blew up next. There’s a lot of force on TP, up to 77kg. I have it offset on the tiller because of the narrowness of Ashiki’s double ender stern means TP will be hanging out above the waves if it weren’t. Anyway, the broken pine mount was replaced by a sturdier hardwood version the next day, while on passage. Both mounts eventually blew up again, and both times replaced and reinforced, so far they have held.

After a good 4 days in Cooktown we were lifting the anchor or anchors, since I dropped two of them, the holding is a little suspect here in the river. Also by hand, since the windlass lever fell over board somewhere in the Gulf and thusly the windlass has become a deck ornament. 

In a fair wind we quietly slid past Endeavour Reef. The place where an incident took place which could have been the knife edge turning point of Australia’s history, it could have gone either way. 245 years ago Captain Cook assumed the Great Barrier Reef had ended and made the decision to sail through the night. So he, the “greatest” navigator the world had ever seen, ran the ship up onto what is now known as Endeavour Reef and almost lost everything. If he wasn’t able to recover, patch the hole with sail cloth and limp into the creek next to what is now known as Cooktown, Terra Australis would have had a different fate. No Joseph Banks to lobby Aussie as a great place for a penal colony and no English colonisation. Maybe the French would be here, maybe they wouldn’t colonise, just “run” the mining tenements and “manage” the natives like it was a big Vanuatu. Whichever, if Cook screwed up a little more than he did, none of us would be here now.

Daintree River

A couple days later we were motorsailing up the Daintree River where we spent Susie’s birthday. The gods tried to serve up a birthday present, because overnight a 4kg snapper jumped into the dinghy and remained there. Alas, it was rigamortice rigid when I found it in the morning. We did explore the river by dinghy but failed to get to the rainforest walking trails. Really need a car to get that far inland.

The day after we were dropping anchor in Port Douglas. An excellent and scenic location with a very hospitable yacht club where we used their laundry and bathroom facilities to the max. We liked the town, it is a full on tourist place, with a busy harbour ferrying punters to the reef. The food is cheap which is a pleasant contrast from WA, in fact, everywhere is cheap after W.A. …

Port Douglass anchorage

Port Douglass Yacht club signs

While in Port Douglass we met a chap who saw us sailing north of Cooktown, I remember a boat passing us 2 miles inside of us, it looked like a racing boat (it was). He said the crew were surprised it took so long to catch us, and how we were pointing so high to windward being a junk. We were doing around 4 knots hard on the wind to round Cape Flattery, which didn’t seem that quick, but faster than the norm of late. I didn’t see them till too late but looks like the junk rig left a good impression on them. 

Downtown Port Douglas
But I’m getting a little suspicious of the hull, we have lost a knot in speed motoring and speed drops off dramatically when going from beam reach to a more windward course. She didn’t used to, she’d usually perks up a little when turning her bow towards the wind with the boost from apparent wind. I vaguely remember her sailing 5.8 knots hard on the wind off Mandurah.. Maybe there’s too much growth somewhere slowing us down, but I always scrape the hull near the waterline.

Never left the couch..

The day we left Port Douglas for Cairns may have been a little unlucky, because the wind turned against us and by Zeus a gale came upon us in the night. As well as being back to making little progress with the wind on the nose nonsense, the wind started howling and the ride got rougher. I was in my usual position, on the couch reading and about to get up to reef the sails when I saw Susie was already near the companionway. So I asked her to do it, drop a couple of panels each sail, thanks. She climbed out, I heard the can cleats snap a few times and she finished the job in 30 seconds. Both sails reefed, noise reduced, motion calmed, I never left the couch! Sometimes the value of the junk rig really pays off. The storm remained with us all through the next day.

So that supposedly “short” 50 mile sail was a real pain, or maybe as some Aussie Prime Minister (almost) said, it was the storm we had to have. One positive about the hull, although it can get noisy with waves crashing into it, like solid thuds, there’s no creaking or groaning sounds. That’s what we hear, solid thuds as if the entire boat was one solid object (as it is, all epoxied together). We must have built this thing right.. 

Coast between Cooktown and Port Douglas

Cairns was the realisation of 1) probably Queensland at is best and 2) this is the motherlode of cruising. We hear QLD has all the nations cruising and live aboard yachts and the river packs about a hundred of them at anchor. (Port Douglas and Cooktown were packed out too, must look hard for anchoring space.) It’s a big tourist town (& presumably a big party town - we wouldn’t really know, being aboard each night) with great atmosphere and cheap, choose where to have your $12 steak, with beer included..  Unheard of for us sandgropers.

Enroute to Cairns

Dinghy Dock Cairns Marina

The winds turned to northerlies the day after we arrived, wouldn’t you know it ?!  Thus we kept our Cairns visit regretfully to three nights and headed off with a Westerly one fine morning. To add drama the motor conked out just as I raised the anchor and wouldn’t start right away, so Susie pulled up the foresail and suddenly we had steerage and easily winded our way through the anchorage and up the channel. Who needs a motor anyway?! (It did start when I tried it 20 minutes later.)

Speaking of anchors, I was still hauling up the anchor by hand since no lever had materialised yet. To top that off the depth sounder stops working 80% of the time, so we’ve been using a crude leadline, actually, an old pipe wrench on the end of a line to measure depths. So far in Cooktown and Cairns we have struck out in finding a piece of steel flat bar to use as a lever for the windlass. Thinking of installing a through hull transducer type sounder during the next haulout, the current one, which doesn’t work, is a “shoot through” type - it sits inside the hull and shoots through a wall of solid epoxy towards the sea bed.

Cruiser outside Cairns

After a night at Fitzroy Island, a hideaway for Cairns locals, I had to resort to the handy billy (block and tackle) to get the anchor up, it was a deep anchorage. But 4:1 purchase of the tackle made it an easy job. Can lift anything with that thing, very handy to have on a boat. We had a dream run down to Magnetic Island, opposite Townsville, Ashiki holding a 5.5 knot beam reach for hours on end. I know from reading the old cruising books and speaking to sailors who’ve done ocean crossings that 100miles/day is common and often exceeded by small sail boats. In  coastal sailing, the wind never stays around long enough. Ashiki would reel off 55 miles in 10 hours, then the next 14 hours are either light breezes or calms, only adding 30 miles to the total. So still, we never cracked the hundred in our 3600 miles to date. Closest was 98 miles coming out of Carnarvon in WA (the opportunity was there to go well over 100 but that night we reefed right down to go 2 knots so the windvane steering could cope while we slept). The difference is, I’m told, is that the ocean trade winds blow 24 hours and those big daily distances should be no problem. 

Magnetic Island

This is a mountainous island covered with pine forests, Hoop pine to be specific - one of the few marine type soft woods native to Australia, the other being Huon Pine in Tasmania - far superior but is now unavailable. (If ever we wanted to build a solid timber mast, this is the place to come, just quietly slip in a fell a tree..). We anchored in the south end at Picnic bay the first day, when the wind switched to the SE we weighed anchor and headed for Horseshoe Bay on the Northern shore. A perfectly protected anchorage with a lively holiday town on the shore. Just as well is was lively because we were stuck there for 10 days while gales were blasting over the hills from the SE. The only criticism of the place is cars. They let punters ferry them across from Townsville, thus we have traffic in paradise… Rottnest is far superior in this regard, being a no cars all bicycle zone. But in Magnetic’s defence, it is basically a Townsville suburb with private housing unlike Rottnest.


We spent a day exploring Townsville, a short ferry ride from Magnetic electing to leave Ashiki with her securely dug in anchor. Townsville is clearly a working town as opposed to Cairns the tourist town. There are several large marinas and lots of river moorings in Townsville which I liked. But by comparison Cairns seemingly built from the ground up to please the casual visitor, has lots more to offer and more choice. Noticeably too, Cairns is very multicultural (Asian food rules!) while Townsville is closer to the Aussie norm. But Townsville does not cater well for the anchor out cruiser, the one anchorage called the “duck pond” is a long dinghy ride to the beach and questionable protection.

Magnetic Island, Townsville

The good news is, we found out about getting a lever for our anchor windlass. I was on the phone to a “Maggie” local who had a hire/tour boat business and built his own boats, thus had a workshop. Over the phone I gave him the measurements for our lever, made from steel flat bar (he had no stainless steel) and he delivered it right to us for $30 all up. You’re thinking that’s going to rust in no time, right? Well, I sprayed it with lanolin oil, that stuff dries to something like a thin plastic coating and left it out on deck in sea salt spray passages and it hasn’t had a spot of rust on it since.
Nice boat, on Ross Creek, Townsville

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Cape York

After 3 days provisioning at Siesia we hit the sea lanes again. Siesia was a good provisioning port, the comfortable anchorage was a short dinghy ride from the beach and the water and supermarket were close to the beach. That Sunday at the supermarket, mindful of the absence of meat at the big brand name supermarket in Gove on a Sunday, I asked the staff if they had any roast chickens, not expecting much. The aboriginal staffer (all the staff are aboriginal here, Siesia is an aboriginal mission), turned and looked at a rotisserie which was loaded with brown chickens, and said, “Five minutes?” And of course the meat fridge was fully loaded with vacuum sealed cuts. That supermarket in Gove should give up, these folks here in Siesia know how to run one!

Had a fair sail for 6 hours through the islands, the coastline here, our first patch of Queensland, is noticeably different to elsewhere so far. Greener and mountainous. The tide changed when we entered Endeavour Strait and we couldn’t make it past Cape York. So decided to run for the coast, which happened to be behind York island right adjacent to the cape itself and that’s where we anchored for the night.

Our anchorage, that's Cape York lighthouse over the hill

Rounding the mighty Cape Ashiki had turned a corner in her voyage, she had made the milestone in reaching top of the Aussie continent, sailing over 3,500 Nm since Cape Naturalist in W.A. and commenced the journey down the East coast. We were in the coral coast waters sheltered by the mighty Great Barrier Reef. The scenery continued with its mountainous coastline. Stunning. The next three days was spent fighting headwinds and currents, continuing the pattern of (not) sleeping and periodic peaks out the companionway, just like the previous month, but with the added fun of dodging ships in the shipping channel. One afternoon after a long tack, getting close to a mile of a reef (Hunter Reef), I climbed out of the companionway to tack her around and surprised to see a large power boat alongside us. It had “Customs & Border Protection” emblazoned on its side and 5 or 6 guys staring at me. So I answered the same old questions over the VHF. At the end of it the friendly guys informed we are heading for a reef. Err, thanks, I know. 

Some very agreeable Far North Queensland coastline, and some laundry..

Another time we made a long tack towards the coast, the further from that busy shipping lane the better, to waters where the chart said incomplete survey but soundings were still marked. While sailing along I thought I saw a log coming past, but then noticed is wasn’t bobbing up and down with the chop. Water was splashing over it..  It was a rock! A sharp pointy one in supposedly 13m deep water and Ashiki glided passed it only 30m away. That did freak me out a little, we promptly tacked around and got out of there!

After 3 days we made less than 90 miles made good. Nothing great.. Where were these so called Northerlies that are supposed to be prevalent this time of year? I’m really hating these SSE winds and had forgotten what’s it like to sail even a beam reach let alone downwind. That seemed a distant dream. At this time we came upon Cape Grenville with a sheltered Margaret Bay in its lee and I suggested to Susie we anchor there for better wind. A North wind must show up eventually and we were prepared to sit and wait for it. It’s always a relief to be in a calm anchorage after days of try to live beating into the chop. We had a nice meal and settled into sleep for the night. I woke sometime around midnight and thought I noticed something odd about the boat at anchor. Climbed out the companionway and saw that Ashiki was laying to anchor the other direction, nothing unusual the tide had changed, but the wind was coming on the beam..   Shone a torch on the compass to figure out whats going on. Ashiki is pointing Eastward, therefore the wind is from the Nor…  it.. it’s… it’s a NORTHERLY!! Unbelievable. Nice that we didn’t need to wait long. We didn’t up anchor and go then and there, the sleep was more important at that stage.

The shipping lane complete with car transporter

The next day, the wind was light and from the NE, but what a thrill it was to scud across the bay on a beam reach on flat water. Can’t remember the last time… Winds strengthened throughout the day and Ashiki sailed 78 miles made good in the next 24 hours, alternating between wing on wong and a broad reach. Almost as much as she made in previous three days. We’re liking this favourable winds business. Northerlies up here means light winds interspersed with periods of calms, which is still much better than beating. Even drifting along at 2 knots is great, that’s 2 knots in the direction we actually want to go, still doubles the progress of beating into it. 

A day later we were in the 90 mile straight, it’s a stretch of shipping channel almost a straight line fitting between the reefs, a mile wide swarth. Ashiki held a perfect line a few metres outside the actual channel the whole length, with Tiller Pilot a twitching, gliding along at 1.5 to 5 knots depending on wind strength at the time. There were a lot of ships, all of them bulk carriers, those 700’ long things. At night you see their two steaming lights, one on the bow and a higher one near the stern, this way you can identify which direction they are heading. One light directly above the other tells you it is heading straight for you. In the evening I saw a vessel heading up our stern which looked very different, it appeared to be a solid wall of light. A mile away it turned towards the other side of the channel to avoid us, either seeing our stern light and anchor light on top of the mast, or us on their radar. Considerate of them. Seeing it present its side to me I figured out what is was. 

Passing in the night

A large cruise ship. Passing a half mile off our port beam we could see moving pictures on the top deck. Punters were watching a movie under the stars… completely oblivious to the rigours of sea navigation and a classic example of intrepid sailoring going on just off their starboard rail. Susie and I were sitting in the cockpit watching this spectacle go by, joking about the perpetual all you can eat buffets those people were probably queueing for five times a day, getting fatter by the day. Our fresh food was gone and we were feeling a little peckish, we have several months supply of canned stuff but that’s not the same… Wonder if we had manoeuvred up to them they’d throw us a chicken leg or a dozen, a few tinnies too. I suppose we could’ve bailed them up on the VHF and pleaded starving intrepid sailors nearby.. Cooktown, our next hope for civilisation (and real food) seemed a long way off. Over 200 Nm to go and with the light winds and regular morning calms, at least another four days.

Where did the wind go?
Just to show, this is the Great Barrier Reef!

We were about to make Cooktown, the place Captain Cook careened the Endeavour for repairs, three days later not four, but not wanting a 4am anchoring we stayed the night at a bay 18 miles north of the town. Next morning we were making a sailing entrance into the picturesque town nestled below mountains and anchoring in its shallow creek. I’m liking Queensland already. 350 miles in 9 days, including three nights at anchor. We had made a good start down Australia’s Eastern coast and the cyclone season had just begun.

Anchorage at Cooktown

Cooktown sunset