CHAPTER 7 September 26 –October 20
We spent five days in Cooktown, exploring the township on foot and meeting with crew from other boats. “Scuttlebutt”, the cat that had been berthed beside us in Cairns was finally heading north to Lizard Is (after 12 months). Andrew and Jill from “Endeavour”, an English couple 3 years onto a 5 year round-the-world odyssey, had some interesting stories to tell of their trip from England, to NY, and through the Panama before crossing the Pacific to Australia. They are sailing on to Asia and India before heading south to Capetown and then across to the Americas before they return to England.
We had a bouncy sail south from Cooktown to Hope Island, again having to sail close to and across the shipping channels, in very confined spaces with reefs alongside. We were passed by the Customs boat and thirty minutes later he called us up for all our details. Hope Island is a beautiful coral atoll with a surrounding reef – we anchored in the lagoon. There was a spectacular double rainbow over the island in the late afternoon. Several boats were anchored there for the night, and late in the afternoon what seemed to be a customs helicopter circled the island and boats.
The next day was still squally as we tacked our way down through the reefs, but had an excellent screecher run down to Low Isles off Port Douglas after lunch. At the stern of the boat at anchor were the usual batfish, but also some inquisitive white tip reef sharks and some very greedy remoras. We are starting to meet with familiar boats at anchorage each night now as we head south. This time it was Rex and Marcela from “Spirit of Ozz”.
Tuesday saw us motoring into Port Douglas and by midday we were on hardstand in the slipyard. The boat was canted 15 degrees nose down, so that made living aboard interesting (definitely not 5 star accommodation!). The repairs to the saildrive leg took ten days and much discussion with Volvo in Brisbane, but they finally came to the party and covered the full cost under warranty. During the first week we had some heavy downpours and with the tilt on the boat all the water ran down into the cockpit and accumulated at the saloon door, requiring frequent bailing to stop it coming inside. We did other maintenance work on the boat and explored the township (ad infinitum). John went out to the reef on a dive boat for a day and we hired a car another day, going to Mossman and doing the long walk in the gorge (it is still as beautiful as ever), before going south to Smithfield to reprovision the boat. We visited the marina at Yorkeys Knob – it looks quite good and we will probably call in there next time we come north.
Finally, we were put back in the water and made a hasty retreat back to the Low Isles for a couple of days afloat and flat! Re-met Ross and Yvonne Stuart from “Halcyon” when we went for a walk on the island –had sundowners with them on their boat. We decided to go out to the reef (our original plan before our saildrive problems had been to travel south down the ribbon reefs) and at least spend some time there. Michaelmas Cay was just as we remembered –beautiful clear warm waters. The cay was covered with thousands of birds- you can just imagine the noise. Foolishly we thought that at dusk they would quieten – that was not the case! The only other boat overnight was a dive charter ketch. We sailed further south through Lugger Channel (a buoyed channel through the reefs) – thank goodness for the computer, as some of the navigation buoys were missing. The wind through Mission Bay was too strong, so we headed for Fitzroy Island. The rain squalls continued through the day and were even heavier during the night – we managed to collect over 100 litres of water from the spigots John had put in the targa channel.
We headed further south in low visibility and anchored off Kent Island again, as the weather calmed. Wednesday 15th dawned bright and clear for our short sail down to Dunk Island. As we approached, a navy patrol boat came towards us – could it be happening again? Yes! Warship Onslow was masquerading as Hammersley; dinghies were running everywhere – this time the filming involved a fishing trawler. Definitely provided entertainment for the anchorage (and revenue for the resort).
We decided to continue south towards Townsville as a long strong wind warning had been issued, and we needed to be in Magnetic Island by Sunday to pick up our next crew guest. Orpheus of the underworld struck as we approached Orpheus Island to pick up a mooring. Manoeuvring round the mooring (several times), with John getting a trifle impatient with the crew, was problematic, until, when he took matters into his own hands, he realized there was yet another problem with the port motor –the gears were locked in forward! Once the mooring was secured he found that a split pin was missing from the connections to the new sail drive, so we had no gear connection. In addition, the engine floor was awash with new ATF from the new saildrive. Instant phone calls back to Port Douglas mechanics came up with a solution to the ATF – get some Loctite to make a gasket! (Should have been done on hardstand). The gear connector was rectified by using a rivet – we will have to obtain some split pins from a chandlery further south.
We decided to refurl the screecher and encountered the next problem – the winch began to freewheel as Pam was bringing in the sheet –scary!. Once it was stripped down we found two tiny broken springs – hopefully an order for replacements will reach us at Hamilton. Problem number 4 became apparent as we went to bag the sail –the main halyard had a cut the outer sheath right at the top of the mast, and the sheath had begun to work its way down the line. When it rains, it pours!! It was too windy to send John up the mast to cut and repair the rope, so we waited until we reached Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island before some running repairs could be done. The more serious engine repairs were left till we were in a berth at Nelly Bay on Sunday.
We had a pleasant time at Horseshow Bay: lunch at the pub and a BBQ on the beach with the crews of several yachts at anchor. Two had just returned from the Louisiades in New Guinea, and some interesting stories were told about the trip. Garnering the experiences of the travels of other yachts definitely helps us prepare for our own travels. BBQs give the opportunity to discuss travels and gear, especially the pitfalls and advantages of each.
The strong winds were still blowing as we sailed around to the southern side of the island and Nelly Bay Marina. Tony, our guest was waiting, and the day was spent on orientation, repairs and swimming in the resort pool. Bliss! We decided to return to Horseshoe Bay to await a change in the weather (We want an easterly, or even better, a north east wind). Coastguard radio warned of military manoeuvres round Rattlesnake Island over the next few days – that is only 15nm away, and they are planning live firing, so we are expecting some aerial entertainment this evening. There are two army barges anchored just out from us, loaded with earthmoving equipment (maybe to go in after and clear the area after firing?)
We hope to head south tomorrow –towards Cape Bowling Green and Cape Upstart. I think the wind has forgotten how to blow from any other direction than south east, or below 20 knots. We have our fingers crossed!