Cairns to Thursday Island
27th June to 16th July
Australia is of course vast, utterly gigantic. After three weeks I’ve seen next to nothing, just a tiny slither of coastal far North Queensland, about 500 miles of it. Not a single big shark or crocodile or box jellyfish, despite the warnings; let alone a koala, kangaroo or wallaby. Now, at Thursday Island, we’re about 1,200 miles north of Brisbane which is still in the same state – Queensland. (For Europeans, 1,200 miles is a long way, say, N. Spain to Iceland)
I’ll summarise: after the mini trauma of berthing in Cairns Marlin marina without an engine, under strong wind power (throttle was broken), there was the welcoming committee of Australian Border Force and a bevy of forms to fill in, plus quick sniff round of hyper-intelligent labrador (he wears smart black doggie booties for the sniffing)…then heavy rain started, and stopped, and started again for the week spent in Cairns. Henrietta’s new crew, Caroline and Joyce, arrived in Cairns from London a couple of days later. (Henrietta will doubtless write something about them and me another time).
Together we’re to join my very first sailing rally, Sail 2 Indonesia. (There’s a website at www.sail2indonesia.com ) We’re supposed to sail through the Indonesian archipelago from somewhere in the east of Indonesia to somewhere in the west – near Singapore….about three months and about 40 boats altogether. Not being very clubby or sociable or biddable or inclined to follow any timetable or programme, or do what I’m told, the rally will be a novel challenge and at least for now is a source of some anxiety. But other participants seem as independent and liberty-loving as me, and delightful, so I’m sure it will be fine.
As for Cairns, we shopped, we attended a rally briefing and a rally barbecue, we did more shopping, we went for walks round town (Cairns is smart, fine parks, long seafront, endless tripper boats for the Great Barrier Reef, restaurants, bars, fashion shops and more), and then we did more shopping, and finally stuffed every conceivable locker, cupboard and opening in Henrietta with food and more food and a drink or two. Then, with new throttle and clutch assembly, engine serviced and water and diesel tanks brim full, we sailed northwards.
Although Cairns is deemed to be North Queensland it’s still about 500 miles from the top of Australia. The winds are reliable, strong enough and steady enough, southeast and always 15-25 knots, to sail up, entirely inside the Great Barrier Reef and with just the genoa.
It’s an empty patch of this huge continent, very few signs of habitation, no houses, huts or boats, just the cargo ships that shuttle up and down the coast (I guess taking Australia’s mineral goodies to China and on from Singapore) and very occasional fishing vessels. The coastline is a series of grey hills and mountains, foreshore mangrove and sandy beaches, offshore lots of reefs and rocks and islets, and well marked shipping channel.
We anchored overnight several times on the way north. But our only trips ashore were during a spell at Lizard Island, named like so much else round here, by James Cook (it does have lizards on it too). He climbed the hill on Lizard Island about 250 years before us, looking for openings in the Barrier Reef that might enable him to sail out with the Endeavour. But he found it a very troublesome area to sail, grounding badly on a reef – which I can well understand; I wouldn’t be happy without GPS and good charts on my iphone.
Right now I write this from the anchorage off Horn Island, a good chunk of the Sail 2 Indonesia rally fleet anchored nearby. We’ll clear out of Australia on nearby Thursday Island in a few days….then sail to eastern Indonesia, about 700 miles.