CHAPTER 6 September 5 – September 25
Lizard Island is a unique place. The visiting boats anchor in Mrs Watsons Bay, just a headland around from Lizard Island Resort, and is much more economical than the $1400 per person per day minimum the resort charges! – and all for exactly the same lifestyle. The catamarans hug the beach, with the keeled yachts further out in the deep water, and of course, the motor boats go wherever they feel like, and usually use every engine and thruster to find the exact spot to anchor. On average over the three weeks we stayed, there were 18-20 boats at anchor, but the composition varied, with many heading further north to the Cape and Darwin. Many were boats we had met north of Cairns, round the world travellers who were due to rendezvous in Darwin by 23 September before continuing the next leg of their rally. It was interesting to hear their experiences crossing the Pacific, as the yachts varied from sole sailors to large ketches.
The days developed into a routine: lazy breakfasts followed by routine boat maintenance; a quick dinghy around to the Marlin Bar at the resort to top up water containers; midday cool off at the back of the boat; a snorkel on the reef or swim ashore or to another boat for an afternoon get-together; nanonaps in the afternoon heat; sundowners together to wait for the mythical green flash as the sun sinks below the water (though some claim to have seen it!); and occasional potluck dinners with the other sailors on the shore. It has to be the most stress free environment!
The wind patterns are Lizard Island peculiarity. Once you go north of Cooktown, there is little variation in the trade winds. It blows south east continually, only varying in intensity, mostly at 20-25 knots. Yachts tend to stay at Lizard waiting for the winds to abate and turn more to the east and even better, the north, before attempting the return voyage south. The other peculiarity is that, because of the strength and direction of the wind, yachts at anchor do not move with the change of tide. For the whole three weeks, Allikat stayed at the same anchor direction. It had to be the most stable anchoring ever. One can’t help but wonder what chaos would ensue if the wind suddenly changed – yachties would be scrambling everywhere.
Apart from the resort, another attraction is the Lizard Island Research Station, one of several scientific research bases on the Great Barrier Reef. Begun as a tent “city”, it has developed to a mostly self-sufficient cluster of buildings with year round research teams from Australia and overseas. Each Monday a tour is run, with one of the permanent staff. It begins with an orientation video, with the history of the base and some of the research followed by a Q & A and guided tour of the facility. There is an interesting (air-conditioned) library and the office also acts as a postal link for sailors. We used it to return our sonar to Sydney for reprogramming, and the children doing Distance Education use it for exchange of work units.
Further round from the research station is the Blue Lagoon, another possible anchorage for light northerly winds. The snorkeling there is good, as the reefs are not so accessible. John saw some white-tip reef sharks, but there is a plethora of tiny reef fish around the coral head. Some big rays and turtles laze in the channels between the reefs, and the current runs quite strongly.
Closer to the anchorage are walking tracks the run through the mangrove flats past kapok trees and the remnants of early settlements, one of which is claimed to be Mrs Watsons hut. There are more difficult trails, one to Coconut Beach on the other side of the island, which involves some abseiling on permanent ropes. Another walk, called Chinamans Track, takes you over a rocky output to the airport track and eventually back to the Marlin Bar, the only part of the resort accessible for visiting yachts. The bar opens four evenings a week, but more frequently in October during the marlin fishing competition. I can imagine the bay would be full of marlin boats at this period, as in the last week of our stay, the number of power boats had increased.
Provisioning the boats that are at Lizard for a prolonged stay is an interesting exercise. One way is to negotiate with the resort for space on the barge that visits the resort fortnightly (weather permitting). The goods come from Woolworth in Cairns, and the resort charges $15 freight per box. Another method is to use the seaplane that flies in from Cooktown transporting campers. Orders are emailed to Ice Work in Cooktown, the pilot picks them up and charges $1.85 per kilo. It is a great service when you are running low on fresh produce, but it is an irregular service, both weather and camper dependant.
A strong sense of community quickly develops among the longer term stayers. Dinghy visits are frequent, and between 9.00 and 3.00 swimmers go from boat to boat, or meet ashore. You don’t swim much after 4 as that is feeding time for the large fish (some with dorsal fins). One afternoon, I swam over to Puma, a power-cat anchored near us, and at the stern in 2 metres of water, half buried in the sand, with only dorsal fins showing, was a large shovel-nosed shark. It didn’t move – obviously not feeding time yet!
Mrs Watsons Bay is a protected area, so there is a variety of fish and sea animals both on the bommies and around the boats. There was a huge painted cray under one rock ledge in between the boats, and some interesting coral trout, and large concentrations of clown fish that would come up and nibble at your fingers. Famed in this area are the giant clams, some of which are over 70 years old and huge. One area of reef near the anchorage is known as the clam gardens –for obvious reasons! There were even clams growing in larger clam shells, and the mantles were vividly coloured.
The crew from Out of the Blue II joined us for a sail out to the Cod Hole at Cormorant Passage on the outer reef on one of the lighter wind days. We snorkeled on the reef, saw potato cod and batfish nibbling on the algae on the mooring buoy lines. Chris was confronted by a moray eel!
John has started to investigate desalinators –visiting other boats to inspect their equipment and trawling the net to compare the different systems. Water, especially for drinking, can become an issue when you are away from shore for protracted periods, and we will need to provide our own for trips further ashore.
The winds abated after three weeks, and there was a two day window to start heading south, so we reluctantly pulled anchor and began the return trip on 23 September, having a good sail back to Cooktown. Unfortunately, the vibration in the port motor increased and realized our worst fears. John found that the sail drive had problems, and our contact with Lightwave finally saw some action from Volvo (we had been trying to get them to see the problem first hand since April last year), and now we have to head for Port Douglas and have the boat slipped on 30 September for repairs. We have decided to stay in Cooktown where there is some breeze rather than anchor in the channels at Port Douglas. Looks like there will be a hiatus in our travels before we can continue south. Could be in worse places though!
the intrepid sailors