Mooloolooba to Torres Strait

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Wed 12 Jun 2002 22:05
We departed Mooloolaba when the forecast southeasterly winds arrived on
the evening of Saturday 23 February. Once clear of the protection of
Point Cartwright the wind freshened to a force five. As we were in no
hurry we put two reefs in the mainsail and rolled the jib down to 60%
which still had us doing 7 knots. As night wore on however the weather
played its usual tricks, this time rain squalls and highly variable winds,
one moment blowing 25 knots from the southeast and the next backing into
the northeast and dying off to almost nothing. This, accompanied by a
moderate swell from the east, made for a trying night! Right up to 4.00
we were uncertain as to whether conditions across the Wide Bay Bar would
be suitable for our entry and we were debating whether to cross the bar or
to continue north around the top end of Fraser Island, which would mean
another night at sea. At 4.00 the wind seemed to have finally given up
the ghost, the swell didn’t look too bad in the grey dawn light so we
decided to cross. Wide Bay Bar is a difficult bar to negotiate as it is
quite a distance off the coast and once across you have to hook in behind
the bar into a channel before gaining shelter behind Fraser Island. In
theory one should not cross the bar unless you can see the directional
light covering the channel but this morning it was overcast and raining,
visibility was poor and there was no sign of the light. Fortunately a
local trawler was crossing the bar ahead of us so we tucked in behind him
and, referring frequently to our trusty GPS, we made it across without
incident. Once safely into calm waters we motored to Pelican Bay where we
promptly ran aground while seeking suitable depth to anchor in. It was
only a soft touch so we backed off into slightly deeper water where we
laid the anchor and then, after a bit of breakfast, turned in for a couple
of hours to catch up on some very welcome sleep.
Awake for lunch we were underway again at 14.20 with the flooding tide,
sailing under full jib up the broader channels then motoring the remaining
narrow channels to Garrys Anchorage where we anchored at 16.15. We were
last here two years ago when we had walked for miles in search for Garrys
Lake without success. In the morning we were determined to try again but
while it was clearly marked on our map it eluded us. After exploring many
dead-end paths we eventually admitted defeat, consoled ourselves that we
had had some good exercise and returned on board. Underway again at 15.15
with the flooding tide we motored 13 miles of winding channels to anchor
off Ungowa just before sunset. We dropped anchor in this beautiful spot,
a perfect calm, total silence, sandy cliffs, and wild bushland all around,
the rusting remains of a wreck on the shore, our voices echoing off the
cliffs in the stillness. We cracked a tinny to celebrate another
successful day, and looked at each other in mute apreciation as several
dingoes on a nearby beach celebrated their day with a chorus of howls.
Absolutely sublime, right up to the moment five minutes later when the
first wave of mosquitoes attacked, forcing us into our standard defensive
procedures, wrapping the boat in her cocoon of nets and spraying ourselves
head to foot in noxious insect repellant.
Having got the mossies under control we enjoyed a peaceful night and the
next day got underway at 10.00 to motor the short distance to Kingfisher
Resort at Tangalooma Roads. Ashore we enjoyed a walk on the beach
collecting yabbies for bait but were abruptly interrupted by a down pour.
Grabbing our bags we made for the day bar at the resort. This is an
excellent facility for the passing yachtie as visitors are welcome to use
the pool and showers and they have a snack bar and, most importantly, they
sell beer, if a tad on the expensive side. So showered and refreshed we
waited for the rain to subside and then dragged the dinghy back through
the mud into the receding water, now some 200 meters from where we had
come ashore.
Wednesday we weighed anchor at 9.40, motor-sailing most of the day in a
light nor-easter. Despite the light winds we made excellent time,
averaging close to seven knots. Finally at 16.00 the wind freshened
enough to allow us to sail the last 15 miles to the mouth of the Burnett
River where, as night fell, we restarted the motor, handed sail and
continued a short distance up the river to anchor beyond the port’s
shipping channels.
Thursday morning, 28 February, we weighed and made our way up the river on
a flooding tide to come alongside Midtown Marina in Bundaberg where we had
booked in for three weeks. We had arranged to stop here as I had work
lined up with Young Endeavour for a couple of weeks and Ann took the
opportunity of bussing it back to Sydney to catch up with friends. The
two weeks work passed quickly enough, we had enjoyed the break but were
glad to be together again (or so I thought) and looking forward to
continuing our adventures aboard Sylph.
Tuesday, the 20th of March we slipped from Midtown Marina, motored back
towards the entrance and spent the rest of the day and evening alongside
the port’s tug boat, the master being a friend, and enjoyed the luxury of
its showers that evening.
Our plan for the morrow was to take advantage of the forecast light winds
and head for Lady Musgrave Island and its classic coral lagoon. We wanted
light conditions as coral lagoons can be hazardous in strong winds, the
seas and swells break over their windward side and at high tide the swell
rolls straight through the lagoon making the anchorage sheer misery.
These conditions also cause a strong outgoing current at the lagoon’s
entrance and make it difficult to see the numerous coral bombies inside
the lagoon. Once in, if the wind picks up, it can be extremely difficult
to get out. So we had read. With all this in mind we got underway at
1.00 on Wednesday morning and motor-sailed until 9.00 when we had
sufficient wind to sail the last 12 miles to the entrance of the lagoon.
Once there we handed sail and Ann steered while I stood up in the bow
keeping a lookout for reef and bombies. We had timed our entrance for
slack water as the tide can sweep through the entrance at several knots
when flooding or ebbing. On a strong ebb tide we would not be able to
motor against the current and going in with the flood means the boat is
going too fast and can be swept along out of control. As it turned out we
had timed it well as there was no current and negotiating the narrow
entrance channel was very straightforward, especially as it was well
marked with beacons. We then followed the reliable instructions in Allan
Lucas’s cruising guide and anchored in 8 meters of water about half a mile
away from Lady Musgrave Island. We enjoyed two glorious peaceful days
here, exploring Lady Musgrave Island, swimming and enjoying the sensation
of being anchored in the middle of nowhere, apart from one very small
island, being surrounded by miles of tranquil light blue sea. Our
explorations of the Island revealed a plethora of bird life; in particular
little black noddies, a small black bird with a white crown, seemed to be
nesting in every available branch, and everywhere their droppings littered
the trees and forest floor. Unfortunately the tropical beaches one
expects on every tropic isle were non-existent on this one, it being
totally surrounded by living coral and its shores were littered with
coarse broken coral. This combined with the inner part of the island
being infested with mosquitoes made for a disappointing hike, though the
bird life was interesting, so when we returned on board we consoled
ourselves with a swim in the clear waters and afterwards a refreshing
chilled home brew.
The forecast for Friday 22nd March was for freshening south-east winds and
ever slaves to the weather we weighed anchor that morning to depart during
slack water and were soon running square towards our next destination,
Island Head Creek. As forecast the wind freshened during the day and by
nightfall we were running goose-winged, under reefed mainsail and poled
out jib making good seven knots in the now rather boisterous conditions.
The fair wind had us off the entrance to Island Head Creek earlier than
anticipated and for a variety of reasons, the tide being wrong, the
anchorage inside the creek not being ideally suited to a southeast wind,
the navigational difficulties of the area and the proximity of an
alternative anchorage, namely the Percy Island Group, led us to abort our
entry into Island Head Creek and instead we altered course to the north
continuing before the fresh 25 knot breeze. Eight hours later we were
investigating an anchorage in North West Bay, South Island but, while the
beach looked beautiful, there was a bit of swell and as the anchorage was
not recommended by our cruising guru, Alan Lucas, we set sail once more
and motor sailed a short distance to another anchorage in Blunt Bay, North
Island. This was scenic in a much more ominous way, with steep jagged
cliffs coming straight down to the shoreline, beyond the cliffs the small
island was covered with small scrubby trees with virtually no undergrowth
covering the stark orange earth. This combined with strong winds gusting
through the bay, passing showers and overcast skies made for a forbidding
We spent Sunday at anchor waiting for the wind to ease a little and spent
the day exploring what we could of the shore and trying, unsuccessfully,
not to let the bouncy motion of the boat get to us. Our guide had stated
that the Bay suffered a bit of surge but no significant swell and was
relatively comfortable, but this in fact was not the case and I awoke
Monday morning as usual at 06.00 to find Ann had been up for a couple of
hours with most preparations completed for getting underway and breakfast
ready. So at 07.00 we were aweigh and soon had all sail set, goose-winged
once again running square before a lovely 18 knot breeze, heading for
Scawfell Island 60 odd miles away. Sylph sailed beautifully, the wind was
strong enough to keep us moving at a steady six knots, and the seas were
relatively moderate making for a very comfortable ride (much better than
the anchorage at North Island) and the wind vane kept her running true.
We came to anchor in the serene calm of Refuge Bay on the north side of
Scawfell Island just after sunset. We both agreed it was the best sail
we’d had since leaving Sydney.
We spent most of Tuesday on the beach of Scawfell. We had the whole
Island to ourselves and as we came ashore at high tide we maneuvered the
dinghy into a delightful little lagoon, crystal clear and just begging us
to swim in its waters. With ultimate privacy in the big beautiful
outdoors, a very rare event in our modern world, neither of us could
resist the urge to get back to nature and it was a very nice day indeed.
Later that afternoon when the tide was fully out we ventured ashore again.
The scene was now very different, our lagoon was all but gone, little
more than a puddle remained, the crystal blue waters replaced by acres of
sand and slush. Nonetheless it was interesting to explore, the best bit
was seeing a large school of tiny fish hard against the shoreline. We
first spotted them as a dark mass and approached with curiosity. We soon
found out why they were gathered so densely, they were surrounded by tiny
black tipped reef sharks. The sharks, no more than 40cm in length, were
swimming around the school and regularly making forays into it, which
immediately parted allowing the shark in question to pass harmlessly
through its midst. I don’t think we saw a successful attack by any of the
little sharks though it would have been hard to tell. Despite its small
scale, perhaps in part because of it, the little drama was fascinating and
held us captive for many minutes (we are after all the product of the age
of the 30 second commercial).
From Scawfell we continued island hopping our way up the coast, day
sailing from Scawfell to Brampton to Goldsmith to Shaw and arriving off
Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsundays on Saturday 30th March. At
Goldsmith we anchored a bit close to the rocky reef which, when the wind
changed to the north west overnight, caused some apprehension as a couple
of bombies were a little too close for comfort. But the nor’wester was
only a light land breeze so it didn’t cause us too much concern and on the
plus side being so close to the reef edge enabled Ann to catch a few fish
for dinner, a delicious Spangled Sweetlip Emperor and a couple of Black
Spot Tuskfish, or at least that’s what we think they were based on our
“Queensland Coastal and Reef Fish” identification cards. Regardless they
made for a very tasty meal of fresh meat, all the tastier for being caught
on bait from a squid which had landed on our deck during the night.
We planned staying at Airlie Beach for a little while but on arrival spoke
with some friends of Phil and Trish from Kimberly, Maloolooba, Pete and Di
who lived on a 34 foot ketch, Leah. They were going to a barbecue at Cid
Harbour organised by the local Whitsunday Yacht Club for the following
day, so we made a prompt change of plans, ducked ashore for a couple of
bits of meat, weighed anchor at 1120, enjoyed a pleasant sail across to
Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island against a light headwind, covering 19
miles in 4 hours, bringing us to anchor at 1540. Like a few places on the
Queensland coast, despite a name suggesting a developed harbour, Cid
Harbour is no such thing, merely a bay formed between a couple of islands.
A pretty spot but not much there, even the beach is rocky and dirty by
the average Australian standard, but it was a nice secure anchorage and
we have learnt when cruising that opportunities for social contact with
other humans can at times be limited, so when they arise we invariably try
and make the most of them.
The barbecue was very pleasant of course. We met a few of the local
yachties, always characters in this neck of the woods, and later in the
evening enjoyed a few yarns back on Pete and Di’s boat. One of the
interesting things about the cruising culture is that people rarely talk
about what they did before taking up cruising. In our pre-cruising life
in almost any social gathering we found people would ask, “And what do you
do?” within the first few minutes of opening a conversation, clearly with
the need to label you in some way and decide where you fit into the
pecking order. After most yachtie functions you find you have probably
learnt a lot about a person’s boat (usually couples), where they have
sailed to, where they might be heading to next and of course some of their
adventures they have had along the way. What they did pre-cruising is
almost taboo, I suspect because it undermines the egalitarian culture of
most cruisers. Another observation, unlike the racing crowd in the Yacht
Club bar of an afternoon, where you can invariably reduce any wind speeds
quoted by a factor of at least two, the cruising fraternity are more
inclined to understatement, probably because to admit to moments of high
drama implies a lack of preparation or a fault in one’s boat (every
cruiser’s boat is perfect). So when a cruiser starts talking wave heights
and wind speeds, the real numbers can be hard to guess at, especially as
many of us don’t have any wind instruments anyway.
April 1st we woke to wet squally weather and, being quite comfortable
where we were, decided to stay the night in the hope that the weather
would improve the next day. This it dutifully did, while still very
windy, the rain squalls had eased considerably so we had fast sail back to
Airlie under a partly furled jib.
We spent five days in Airlie Beach during which time the fridge died and
was fixed, at a very reasonable price I might add which is always
pleasing. On Sunday 7th April we weighed anchor and were soon running off
wing on wing again before a fresh southeasterly averaging just over six
knots for a lovely overnight sail coming to anchor at 10.00 the next
morning at Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island just off Townsville.
We spent six days at Magnetic Island, the highlight of which was watching
“Lord of the Rings” in an open air theatre at the Sport and Rec. Club.
The atmosphere was a lot of fun, with a sausage sizzle, beer and a relaxed
outdoor atmosphere, it was hard to work out where the movie soundtrack
finished and the local background native wildlife noises began. I enjoyed
Tolkein’s trilogy and while no movie could ever hope to capture the
complexity of the novel, I felt it was a very good stab at it, and enjoyed
the movie a great deal.
On Sunday 14th April we once again weighed anchor, this time for the short
11 mile sail to Townsville where we tied up to the Breakwater Marina later
that afternoon. We were to spend the next week alongside fitting a
holding tank and refurbishing the heads On Saturday 20th April I left Ann
here, while I flew to Melbourne to join STS Young Endeavour for a ten day
voyage to Sydney. I expect this was my last voyage in my favourite ship
but unfortunately as these things go it was not exactly a highlight. The
ten days encompassed an injury requiring stitches, a death in the family
of one of the Staff Crew requiring him to be landed, a broken arm and a
minor collision. Despite all this, as usual it was a great voyage.
Returning to Sylph back in Townsville we stayed here for another week,
completing the installation of the holding tank. We left Townsville on
Wednesday 8th May once again with a nice southeasterly which made for a
quick overnight trip and we dropped the anchor in Trinity Inlet at 1100
the next morning. While we had originally planned on stopping at a few
places between Townsville and Cairns, I had committed to helping assess a
young hand from the brigantine Windeward Bound for a square rigged
endorsement to her Master’s certificate. As the Windeward Bound was in
Cairns and was scheduled to leave a few days later this meant a more
leisurely passage was not possible. Ironically I was unable to pass her
on the first sitting so she ended up having to come back down from
Cooktown for a further assessment several days later.
In the meantime we had a very busy time in Cairns. We were due for a
slipping and on Monday 13th we motored around to Smiths Creek and after a
bit of messing around removing the backstay, we backed into the travel
lift arms (backing our boat is never an easy task) and were lifted out of
the water and onto the hard. The slipping went very well as we needed
only minimal work and were ready to go back in the water only four days
later. The facilities were excellent here, obviously designed with the
live aboard cruiser in mind. Part of my routine was to take the dogs for
a walk morning and evening, outside of “working” hours, so as to reduce
the risk to the dogs and annoyance to others. Despite this Nelson almost
met his doom one morning when I lost sight of him. I found him walking
out on one of the travel lift arms. At the time a boat was being put into
the water. I am not sure whether he found the procedure interesting or if
it was just because he’s as blind as a bat, because before I could get to
him he had decided to jump the small rail, about 5 inches high, on the
edge of the arm. The only trouble was that on the other side of the rail
was nothing but a 20 foot drop into the creek. I watched in disbelief as
he cart-wheeled through the air and into the water. Fortunately he didn’t
hit anything on the way down, surfaced very quickly and I was able to
retrieve him from a nearby pontoon.
The only other incident of note was when we were being lifted by the
travel-lift to go back into the water. Due to the slope of our forefoot
the forward sling slipped as the slipmaster was lifting Sylph out of the
stands and the keel ended up bouncing on the concrete. We all stood
around wide eyed, jaws hanging as Sylph swung back and forth in the
slings, waiting to see if there was going to be any further movement.
What seemed an age later, but was in fact only a few moments, the
assistant slipmaster, Scott, said rather elatedly, “We caught her.”
“Thank goodness!” was my response, or words to that effect. Unfortunately
the incident had taken a little paint off so after some consultation with
the slip people it was agreed that we should stay in the slings overnight
so I could patch up the damage and go back in the water first thing
Saturday morning. We were also very lucky to have had some friends in
Cairns, Kris and John (Kris is a friend of Ann’s since school days) and we
had the use of their house and car while both of them were out of town for
the weekend. Patched up we were relieved to have Sylph back in the water
without any further dramas the next day.
We spent a couple of days anchored off Smiths Creek while we made use of
Kris and John’s hospitality. On the Monday we were back on the boat,
having enjoyed our first stay together on dry land for four years now, and
moved the boat back down Trinity Inlet opposite the Marlin Marina which is
a lot closer to town. The remainder of the week was primarily used to get
on top of some administration, namely vaccinations, a trip to the dentist
for me, and other paperwork.
Monday 27th of May we at last weighed anchor to continue north. The
forecast was for light to moderate southeasterlies (what else in this part
of the world) and we were hoping for another quick overnight trip to
Cooktown. This was not to be and we ended up motoring 28 miles to Low
Islets where we anchored for the night. The next morning we had a
leisurely start to the day waiting for some wind which eventually arrived
at 10.30 and we were underway again just before 11. The day’s wind, while
an improvement on Monday’s, was still very light and we only got as far as
Cape Tribulation before it died, so it was here that we anchored for the
night. Wednesday was to be significantly better with a sailable wind
coming in just after breakfast. We were aweigh this time at 9.15 and
running square, goosewinged as usual, making good four knots before the
light southeasterly. Towards sunset we were coming up to Walker Bay and
with Cooktown still ten miles away we decided to anchor here for the
Walker Bay proved an uncomfortable anchorage. It was very shallow which
meant we could not get in behind its headland very far so we had to endure
the invasion of the short easterly swell ever present on the Queensland
coast. Combined with a fresh breeze and a reef to leeward meant I had an
anxious night worrying about whether we might drag and I got up a number
of times during the night to make sure we didn’t. I was very happy to be
underway again at 7.15 next morning for the short sail to Cooktown.
Cooktown is delightful town in Queensland’s far north which has a
fascinating and colourful history. Originally a gold rush town at one
stage it was very prosperous with lined streets, a pub on every corner and
a house of ill repute on every other. Well a lot of the pubs are gone now
but a few remain and are of distinctive character, the other houses I have
no idea about. The bank is a most impressive building, a symbol of wealth
and power, but of course like the rest of regional Australia is now closed
(it was open when we were here in 2000) and the community is served by a
hole in the wall, nothing like the personal touch. Cooktown’s claim to
fame is that it was here that Cook careened the bark Endeavour after her
misadventure with a bit of the Great Barrier Reef. Cook was lucky in so
far as he had the river all too himself, except maybe for a few crocodiles
and gangaruus (the original spelling of kangaroos). Consummate seaman
that he was, while he could get a damaged 300 ton ship into this tiny
inlet, nowadays finding a spot for a 10 ton yacht to swing at anchor is a
real challenge. Eventually we managed to find enough space though could
only put out a minimum amount of cable, fortunately the holding is very
We spent a pleasant couple of days in Cooktown but chores are ever present
and we took the opportunity of doing a bit of work on the boat and topping
up with water and fresh supplies.
Three days later, Sunday 2 June, we were underway again, our next stop
Lizard Island. North of Cooktown at this time of year the trade winds
become very persistent and reliable. It is not a matter of whether the
wind will blow but whether it will be fresh, moderate or strong, and it is
always from the southeast. So we left Cooktown with the moderate version
which had us averaging 7 knots and at anchor in the beautiful Watsons Bay
later that afternoon. We were last up here in 2000 in time to miss the
Sydney Olympics. Back then it was later in the season and Watsons Bay was
packed with boats, holed up by the trade winds, just as we became, waiting
for them to ease enough to be able to consider heading south again.
However this time there were far fewer boats in the anchorage, only six,
which, like us, were all heading north. The next day we caught up with a
couple of the boats in the anchorage for a bit of socialising, also we
were on the lookout for some boats that are going our way, South Africa.
The two boats, Willi Wagtail (Jeff & Cheryl) and Kyeema (Rommel), we did
make contact with were circumnavigating Australia so we were likely to see
them along the road as far as Darwin at least.
Tuesday 4th June we spent the morning climbing Cooks Look, the peak which
Captain Cook himself climbed after he had affected repairs to the bark and
was looking for a way out of the reef. It’s a great connection with
history to ponder the same view which Cook had observed so many years ago
and see the route he found out of the labyrinthine reef. Still, with lots
of miles to cover and a rendezvous to keep with my brother John in Gove,
we were underway again at 4.30 Wednesday 5th June for a longish day sail
to our next anchorage, Cape Melville. We made excellent progress in the
merely fresh breeze, covering the 73 miles in 12 ½ hours, an average of
just under 6 knots, coming to anchor at 17.00 that afternoon.
Cape Melville was intended only as an overnight anchorage (the reef this
far north starts to get pretty tight and does not lend itself to overnight
sails) but it proved not to be without its attractions. The hills of the
Cape are made of thousands of huge dark granite boulders balanced in
impossible configurations, broken along the shoreline by patches of dry
scrub. The atmosphere was dark, accentuated by the smoke haze from the
numerous bushfires all along the coast (presumably part of a burning off
programme). The evil Lord of Mordor would have felt right at home here.
Just before sunset we noticed a jet black wild pig rooting around on the
beach. It truly belonged to the place and moment.
We had a big day planned for Thursday, hoping to cover 70 miles before
sunset we were aweigh at 4.40, it was still very dark. We got off to a
promising start but by sunrise it was clear the ever reliable trade winds
were to fail us and we were left drifting along at less than two knots;
in fact by early afternoon the wind was actually coming from the north,
totally unheard of. I hate motoring but by 11.00 I conceded that without
it we were going nowhere so reluctantly on came the engine and we motored
to a small speck on the chart, Stainer Island, which indicated a shallow
bank on which we could set our anchor. Lucas describes the spot as a
lousy anchorage in even the slightest southeasterly but as it was almost
dead calm the anchorage proved superb with only the passing ships in the
nearby channel disturbing our serenity as their wash caused us to roll for
a few minutes in their wake, or I should say my serenity, as when I awoke
to the change in motion I was invariably greeted by a light delicate snore
from Ann.
After a pleasant night off Stainer, we were aweigh this time at 6.45.
Friday’s weather was the reverse of the previous days, starting light
requiring us to motor, and finishing with a good breeze and Sylph running
at a solid five knots.
We continued this daily running over the next few days, stopping at Night
Island, Portland Roads and Shelburne Bay. The highlight of Night Island,
appropriately perhaps, was seeing a pair of trawlers coming alongside
their mother ship in the middle of the night. Not unusually I was up
checking on the anchor and was surprised to see this relatively large ship
for the small anchorage we were in, lit up with lights which you could
have held a cricket match under, a trawler on either side and trailing
astern of each trawler half a dozen dories like ducklings following mother
Portland Roads was very pleasant with a small community of thirty souls
living in this remote corner of the world. A public water tank enabled me
to top up our water and do some laundry. Portland Roads also boasted two
public telephones powered by solar and a public toilet, another
yachtsperson wryly noting that it had more tyres in it than turds, a
rather crude observation but I guess he couldn’t resist the poetry of the
These two spots were pleasant enough but Shelburne Bay was a near
disaster. The area was noted on the chart as unsurveyed (where all the
soundings on the chart came from I found a little mystifying) but was
recorded by Alan Lucas as a good anchorage and safe if you were careful.
As it was a convenient distance from Portland Roads for the day’s run we
decided to try it out. On the approach Ann pointed out a patch of dark
water ahead that she didn’t like the look of, but I, bold and fearless
navigator, thought it little more than a cloud shadow and was dismissive
of her concerns. Before Ann could take any avoiding action the echo
sounder had plummeted to 1.8 meters, the same depth as the draught of
Sylph which, as a simple piece of arithmetic will inform, meant that we
were in fact aground. At this point we were still in surveyed waters so I
was a bit peeved, though on reviewing the chart later realised I had no
right to be, the survey of that particular section of the chart had been
completed by leadline in 1880, undoubtedly the piece of reef we made the
intimate acquaintance of had grown up a bit in that time. Fortunately we
had got something right, we were coming in on a rising tide and had been
proceeding very slowly at the time so were not too hard and fast. A bit
of jiggling around and ten minutes later we were afloat again, just a
little shaken. We continued into Shelburne Bay more cautiously without
further incident and anchored in three meters of water a fair way off the
beach. Despite Lucas’s advice the anchorage was a lousy one with a swell
invading the bay and the wind howling off the beach creating a significant
wave chop, not a pleasant night.
Our next stop was going to be Escape River and we had planned on leaving
early in the morning to get there before sunset but I was awoken by Ann at
about two in the morning saying that she wanted to review the next day’s
plan as she had serious concerns about Escape River. With the strong
winds which were blowing, the shallow bar at the river’s mouth, the lack
of tide at our planned arrival time and the likely large swell she felt
there was a risk of us getting into some serious trouble. After reviewing
charts, cruising guides and tide tables I came to share her concern so we
decided to postpone our departure time until the next evening, sail
overnight and make for Mount Adolphus Island. That settled we returned to
bed for a bit of a sleep in.
Monday 10th June we got underway at 17.00, felt our way cautiously out of
Shelburne Bay, set a bit of jib and with the strong winds were doing
better than six knots which was a bit of a problem, we didn’t want to go
that fast as we didn’t want to get to the approaches to Adolphus Island
until after sunrise both for the light and tide, the charts showing
overfalls all around the area. So we reduced sail to about as little as
we could and still maintain a reasonably comfortable ride and steerage way
but with the current behind us still made six knots. We hoped that when
the tide turned it would slow us down a bit. This in fact happened and we
ended up having a great overnight sail, in fact between us we slept better
than we had done for a number of nights at poor anchorages.
We arrived at Mount Adolphus Island at 9.00 where we found Blown Away II
at anchor, we had made the brief acquaintance of her crew at a previous
anchorage. We met them on a small beach later in the day, there was
supposed to be a fresh water creek coming down to the beach and we shared
visions of a bath and laundry (ah, the small pleasures of cruising life)
but we were to be disappointed, the wet season had not been very wet and
the creek was dry. One of our guides also promised wild orchards and we
were not disappointed, Kelvin and his two small children disappeared into
the bushes while Ann and I sat on the beach talking to his wife Barbara.
They reappeared a short while later with two large bunches of vivid purple
flowers, one of which they gave to their Mum and one to Ann, a very lovely
gesture which we were very touched by. Later that afternoon they came
over for some cockpit socialising where we did the usual yachtie thing,
comparing boats, experiences and ways of dealing with the exigencies of
life on a small boat. Certainly their two children seemed to be enjoying
the lifestyle, confidently making themselves at home, exploring every nook
and cranny, chaotically entertaining themselves and generally bringing
exuberant life to the day. During our conversation on things in general
it turned out that Kelvin and I had met previously, I had served him a few
times when I worked at Whitworths Chandlery in Crows Nest, Sydney. Our
relative serenity returned on their departure and we enjoyed fish and
chips courtesy of a very large piece of mackerel given us by Kelvin and
The next day we sailed at the civilised hour of 10 for a short 25 mile
sail, making good a speedy eight knots with the assistance of the tidal
stream and anchoring off Horn Island at 13.30. Horn Island is in the
Torres Strait region immediately south of the well known Thursday Island.
We plan on staying here for a few days to explore the sights and sounds of
T.I., a short ferry trip from Horn Island, then head off across the Gulf
of Carpentaria for a three day passage to Gove. This marks our northern
most point of travel in Australian waters and the furthest Ann and I have
cruised together, so it seems a good point to conclude this installment of
Sylph’s Sailings. We are both looking forward to the excitement and
challenges ahead (but hopefully neither too exciting nor too challenging).