Cairns to Cape York 08August2010

Around the top at last!

Ah yes, Cape York, the apparently mystical location that almost everybody in Australia says they would like to visit; one day!  Well it was with a significant sense of satisfaction that we actually and finally stepped ashore and looked for the obligatory photo opportunity where the sign proclaims that one is standing on the most northerly point of the Australian mainland.  The only problem was we had to queue up with about sixty other people who had arrived in 4WD vehicles at the same time; seriously, for a while there it was 4WD city with red, dusty, camping equipped trucks jockeying for parking spots, followed shortly afterwards by the apparently mandatory barbeque and ‘in-line’ drive up and down the beach. Anyway it was all good, everybody there was excited by the occasion and there wasn’t too much rain.

After our extended stopover in Cairns we finally bid adieu to Sharon (Shiraz; from around Tasmania by Gadfly in 2007) got away on Saturday the 31st of July headed for Lizard Island.  At this point a big hug for Sharon for taking the time to drive Gini and skipper around, up to Kuranda and then waiting for the two Gadfly’s while they returned on the cable car back down and out of the hills.  This expedition also involved lunch at the Kuranda pub and a look at the ‘Hippy’ market. Leif was at this point noticeably absent as he was out spending money on girls.  But, all good things must come to an end and move we had to. We had before departure picked up a further crew member when we press-ganged Monica into coming to Darwin.  Monica had/is living on the good ship ‘Jules Verne’ with Richard the Brit who is endeavouring to put together a bit of a tourist operation involving little submersibles.  Monica is looking for seatime and experience in pursuit of further seafaring work and so came on as a fourth hand for our 18 day dash to what we hoped would be warmer climes and less rain.

Hippy Market Kuranda

Cable car, Kuranda.

Our first leg out of Cairns was an overnight hop of 145 miles to spectacular Lizard Island where we were to spend three nights and two full days of walking, snorkling and of course engaging in the obligatory BBQ on the beach; no fires here but there is a very cool BBQ set up for passing grotty yachties. Lizard really is a nice place with a great anchorage, the spectacular ‘Blue Lagoon’, lots of coral, loads of fish (our angling German was aghast that the place is a park and not for fishing), a pretty cool beach on the NW side where we were ensconced and the weather was warmer.  The wind was of course still blowing hard out of the SE (hard for up north but not quite down south stuff) so we couldn’t get around to the Blue Lagoon; next time we say.

Blue Lagoon.

Chinaman's Ridge!!

Lizard Island was the place where Captain Cook whilst on his northerly cruise on the good ship Endeavour paused on the 12th of August 1770 to go ashore and look for a way out of the maze of reefs that he had found himself in.  Apparently he walked to the top of the highest hill (now known as ‘Cook’s Look’) from where he could see the fringing ribbon reefs in the distance and ahandy pass between the reefs (Cook’s Passage) that he believed meant salvation for he and his ship; this was of course after close encounters with coral reefs and the Endeavour’s forced stopover at Cooktown.  Anyway the Endeavour and crew managed to slip out into the coral sea only to find themselves on a lee shore with trade winds pushing the vessel in toward a seemingly endless line of razor sharp coral reefs. Farther up the coast and with some relief they managed to slip back inside through Providential Channel to the shelter of these same reefs; never really happy some people!!!  Cook’s Look still has the same spectacular views out and beyond the outer barrier and the ribbon reefs and we all scrawled our names and comments in the logs, one next to the big rock cairn at the top of the climb and the other at the bottom in the little BBQ spot and ‘Pandora’s Box’ at the bottom. Lots of walks to be had on Lizard Island, Monica and Leif sallied forth for the Blue Lagoon and the skipper and Gini checked out the views to the north (and south) from Chinamans Ridge.  Here the sun was shining and hats required!!!!!

Gary the Goanna.

Lizard Island itself was named by Cook after the ubiquitous lizards that live there, “The only land Animals we saw here were Lizards, and these seem’d to be pretty Plenty”, (Captain Cook). These are actually Goannas or ‘Goulds Sand Monitor’ (Varanus gouldii) and to quote from the ABC “You can’t miss seeing these on Lizard Island. Growing to about a metre long, these large monitor lizards are everywhere, sheltering in hidden burrows at night and battling it out with their rivals for food and territory all day. Common also on the Australian mainland, it’s most likely that the goannas were trapped on the island 9-10,000 years ago when the sea returned at the end of the last Ice Age, flooding what was then a vast coastal plain. On Lizard, Gould’s goannas grow up to about 1.5 metres in length, though most are a little shorter than this. They can be found almost anywhere on the island, even wandering along the tide line looking for tasty bits of flotsam. Indeed, they were so common when James Cook first landed that it didn’t take him long to name the island after them”.

By the 1860’s Trepang (bêche-de-mer or sea-cucumber) fishermen were working off Lizard (apparently there was quite a little village set up) trepang being a popular delicacy in Asia. In 1879 Captain Robert Watson set up a Trepang operation and with his wife Mary Watson, two servants and baby son, modified an abandoned cottage left on the island by the crew of the Julia Percy. Aborigines from the mainland killed one of the servants (his pigtail turned up on the mainland months later) and after the attack and with her child and the other Chinese servant they set sail for the mainland in a large rectangular tub used for boiling bêche-de-mer. Unfortunately the vessel floated away from the coast and all three died of thirst nine days later on Howick No 5 Island (Watson’s Island). Their bodies were found three months later along with Mrs. Watson’s diary and the diary and steel tub are in the Queensland museum.

Cottage ruins

Ah yes, good spot for a BBQ!

Good spot for a bucket shower.

Next stop was Flinders Island and for a southerner like the skipper the name might even make one homesick for Bass Strait; well maybe not!!  This was an 85 mile leg and hopefully enough daylight to get ashore for a look around.  Dave from the good ship ‘Mary-Irene’, told the skipper about a rock carving at Flinders put there by the crew of HMS Dart in 1899 when the crew collected water on a survey trip; yea well we couldn’t find it and should have got better directions!!! Dave is based out of Yepoon and is circumnavigating Australia on his displacement motor boat after moving on from his world circumnavigation on his Herreschoff  sloop. One of the things about sailing/cruising is the people you meet from other boats all with like interests but different stories.  Dave certainly has a story, before boats he was in the Special Air Service and saw operations in Borneo and Vietnam; quite the man and still out there doing his thing. After a 0300 start we made Flinders island in plenty of time, had a good walk around and after not finding the HMS Dart rock carving we had a drink of wine on the beach, collected Cowrie shells and fossils and watched the sun go down.

Good spot for a glass of wine.

Fossils on the beach.

The following day it glassed out for our day hop (63 miles) to Morris Island forcing us to burn some diesel and had the skipper gnashing his teeth.  Morris is actually a large reef with a small raised island section and one anchors in the lee away from the SE trades just behind a solitary coconut palm.  Along the way we resolved one mystery when we sighted a heap of prawn trawlers sheltering behind some reefs.  Dave from Lizard had told us to expect prawn trawlers at Flinders along with barges and mother ships that keep them supplied.  We had been planning to try and get some perishable food supplies, but found no vessels of any description.  It seems that with ongoing limitation in fishery access that there isn’t enough business for the resupply barges so they have become a thing of the past and the prawn trawlers tend to hang out nearer their ground.  The skipper came through this part of the world back in 1988 on the good ship ‘Sprightly’ (along with the famous Captain Ralph on the way to New Guinea)  and a very big change is the number of fishing boats; there are just not as many.  At night on that trip it seemed everywhere one looked trawlers were doing there thing, but not any more. Ah well at least the critters get a better shot at things.

Prawn trawlers waiting out the daylight.

His beach l suppose; lousy spot for a glass of wine!!!!

We were all however, very excited about yet another beach soiree but upon arrival decided we would leave the beach to the 5 metres of gnarly scale and teeth happily lounging above the high tide mark.  Morris the crocodile is apparently a longish term resident here and by all accounts quite disinterested at the arrival of yachty types.  It seems he (or she) tends to keep his distance and around dusk our large reptilian friend decamped for a sand spit further out on the reef; but we doubt very much that he’s a vegetarian.

Another early start at 0300 saw the good ship Gadfly headed for a late afternoon arrival at Cape Grenville and a very pretty anchorage right up in the corner of the cape.  This was a 73 mile hop and haste was required as it was Gini’s birthday and we were plotting to bake her a cake to celebrate.  A noticeable change since leaving Cairns and getting further north was fewer boats.  From the swarming multitudes of the Cumberland group (Whitsundays) we were down to the occasional prawn trawler and we were starting to feel quite lonely.  Anyway there was a small game fishing boat here but they weren’t terribly interested in us yachty types and we had to celebrate Gini’s birthday with just the four of us.  So after dropping the pick and watching the sun go down it was the baking of a ‘Lemon/Orange Cake’ and happy birthday songs with cake fully candle equipped; and a glare from Gini when the skipper suggested she could blow out the candle 34 times!

Our next destination was ‘Escape River’ 73 miles further north and only 20 miles short of the Cape. The wind was still providing us with the obligatory 20-25 knots of SE but a latish start (dawn) and falling breeze meant we had to motor sail the last 30 miles to get in before dusk.  This is not an entry to make in the dark and Mr Lucas in his cruising guide stresses this point explaining the need for good visibility whilst going inside at this anchorage.  Well the weather gods had it in for us here and two miles short of the entrance visibility dropped to a couple of hundred metres with thick rain obscuring the entrance till we were virtually inside; all hail radar!!  So after our blind pilotage we dodged around the pearl leases and rafts and dropped our hard working pick under the lee of a mangrove stand.  Another yacht was also in residence here having arrived just before us, Elsie-2 (Roberts 43) with Reece and Chris was also Darwin bound and we were to stay in company with her until Gove.

Next day at 0700 it was time for us to get away and finally round the Cape so motor sailing in light conditions and yet more rain we sloped off for Albany Passage.  This is a narrow straight just to the east and south of Cape York between the mainland and Albany Island which we planned to slip through before rounding Eborac and York Islands which are immediately north of the Cape and east of the anchorage.  Trouble is the current whistles through Albany Passage and good timing and visibility is handy here also.  Well the weather gods laughed at us again and radar was once again the order of the day.  So after our lightning run in the rain through Albany Passage (10-11 knots) it was around to the anchorage and away boats.

So after 2,400 nautical miles, forty different anchorages, harbours or ports, twenty or so whales, a few hundred dolphins, fifty odd turtles, the occasional dugong and shark, seals, albatross and penguins down south and Morris the crocodile up north, we finally had the immense satisfaction of waiting in line to get a crew picture taken at the top of Australia.  Only 800 more miles to Darwin! It really is a long way from Melbourne to Darwin on a little boat.

That direction now!

Some trivia…..

Monitor lizards also known as bayawak or goannas, genus Varanus, are members of the family Varanidae. They have a more distinctive upper set of teeth to intimidate their predators when in danger. Varanus is a group of largely carnivorous lizards which includes the largest living lizard, the Komodo dragon, and the crocodile monitor. The closest living relatives are the anguid and helodermatid lizards.

Monitor lizards are usually large reptiles, although some can be as small as 12 centimeters in length. They have long necks, powerful tails and claws, and well-developed limbs. Most species are terrestrial, but arboreal and semi-aquatic monitors are also known. Almost all monitor lizards are carnivorous, although Varanus bitatawa, Varanus prasinus and Varanus olivaceus are also known to eat fruit. They are oviparous, laying from 7 to 37 eggs, which they often cover with soil or protect in a hollow tree stump.

Locust is the swarming phase of short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. These are species that can breed rapidly under suitable conditions and subsequently become gregarious and migratory. They form bands as nymphs and swarms as adults—both of which can travel great distances, rapidly stripping fields and greatly damaging crops. There is no taxonomic difference between locust and grasshopper species, and in English the term “locust” is used for grasshopper species that change morphologically and behaviourally on crowding, to form swarms or hopper bands (of immature stages).


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