To Cape York

Thu 8 Jul 2010 08:26
Thursday, July 8th. 18.00 hrs
Previous Anchorages
Bathurst Bay 14:11.4S 144:28.8E
Morris Island 13:29.2S 143:43.4E
Portland Roads 12:35.57S 143:24.57E
Current position Shelburne Bay 11:53.4S 143:05.36E
Well, we have hit ideal weather, at last. 15-20kts of wind on average, and partial cloud with enough sunshine to make cockpit life a pleasure. Still hardly recovered from our first sail out of Cairns: those harsh conditions seem an aeon away now. Anyway enough overnight sailing inside the reef, day hops now to Cape York, and relax!  Even so we are managing relatively long trips, two of 73 and 74 miles. Secret is a dawn start, 7am, and confidence that you will be able to anchor in the dark at the end of the day. That confidence was pricked a little at Morris Island. This is a very small coral cay supporting a single palm tree, planted by the English to provide food for stranded sailors. They even planted sisal trees as well, so that the castaways could use the sisal branches to knock the coconuts down. It sounds so silly now, but I wonder if any assiduous blog followers have discovered what happened to Mrs Watson yet!  But I digress, Morris Island is small, but the reef that it stands on is extensive. An unusually shallow offlying sand bottom allows a close approach to the reef, then anchoring in calmish water is possible. We had no large scale maps, but I felt that if we approached from leeward, and if we could see the Island, we could sound in (with our tallow filled lead!), and anchor in about 5 metres. When we arrived it was dark (cloud and last quarter of the moon) and blowing up a fair bit. When we dropped the sails it was very difficult to hold the boat into the wind on the engine, and I couldn't see the Island, and got quite disorientated. I had to send Hannah up the mast in her pyjamas with a torch between her teeth, and with her keen vision she was able to point alternately port or starboard, hanging onto the mast with the other hand, of course. So, the child has proven quite useful.  Eventually I allowed her back into the cockpit, setting her to watch the echosounder (yes, the tallow bit was a joke). We were both shocked to find that the bottom shelved so suddenly the echosounder couldn't keep up. Bang into max. revs. astern, waiting for the grind of coral on our bottom, but no, we slipped safely back into deeper water. After that we milled around looking for something shallow enough to anchor on, in waves that didn't seem likely to swamp us. Finally success, and a good hold first time. We retreated below for wound licking and a well earned supper, thinking that it would be interesting to find out in the morning just where we were. We did roll a bit that night but after our adventure, and over 70 miles for the days run, this did not prevent sleep.
Dawn found one of us on deck (the other is practising to be a teenager), and a photo will prove for posterity that we finally ended up pretty well 'bang on'. I think that our near miss had been against the reef itself, north of the Island, and just subsurface.
Our other anchorages have been more straightforward: big bays, and gently shelving bottoms! Yesterday, we were in Portland Roads: described as an outpost of civilisation, with an unmetalled road to the hinterland, and a twice weekly mail pick up and delivery. About a dozen huts/homes, and some fishing activity. Nothing now, until we get to Thursday Island in the Torres Strait.
Today has been our shortest sail, 56 miles. We anchored up here at 16.30, hoping to get ashore to stretch our legs. Unfortunately this is a very shallow bay indeed, and we are more than half a mile off a series of incredibly white sand beaches, interspersed between the ever present mangroves. When we arrived 25 kts of evening wind meant that the a dinghy launch was impossible, even with our engine it would have taken forever to get ashore, and we would have been soaked within minutes. So we shall have to leave the beaches to the crocs. They really do seem to exist everywhere up the coast, but needless to say we havn't seen one ourselves. They say, of course that if you spot one, then it's already too late! This is the only safe anchorage for miles ahead, so we have to stop here tonight, but a 4am start in the morning to get to our last east coast stop over, at the aptly named Escape River. We need to arrive there in daylight, as the entrance is tortuous and unlit.
Fleck is going well, touch wood. In Cairns I stripped and rebuilt the windvane autopilot, using the old bearings, as the new ones really were too tight. How this is possible I don't know, but anyway it is now working much better, and we are very dependant on this piece of gear. The paid steerswoman prefers her Nintendo to the wheel and its screen to the fantastic reef views as they roll past. Today with clearer skies and sunshine they have been spectacular. Neither of us has any particular urge to go swimming however, which is just as well. The anchorages are dangerous, and the inner reef generally unapproachable without a much bigger boat and ground tackle. Only other niggle, you have to have at least one, is that the propellor bearings are rattling and vibrating a bit, more than last year, but its not getting any worse, and perhaps the propshaft is suffering from neglect, thanks to these trade wind conditions!
I am finding this last part of our journey to the northernmost tip of Australia strangely satisfying: the inexorable unfolding of nature, civilization falls behind us, and my own anxieties seem to lift. Some of you will know that rivers fascinate me. To follow a river to its source gives me the same feeling. And then bizzarrely I find myself recalling an old Alan Aykbourn black comedy, implausibly set on a small Thames cabin cruiser. A couple's relationship disintegrates as they travel upstream. The last navigable bridge, (which must be just upstream of Lechlade?) has in the play the words Armagedon inscribed on the stonework. So it's not a cosy trip back to the womb after all!
Curry tonight, with a new helping of nan bread and rice for Hannah. Apart from cream cheese it is difficult to get any protein into her, no wonder she can't pull up the main halyard!