Sunday, 30 June 2013

It's a Long Way to the Top

Distance marker on the small hill at Cape York
Cape York, the northern most point of mainland Australia, we made it! 72 days since leaving Sydney, we have sailed the coasts of NSW and Queensland to make the trip to the tip (including passing the eastern most point of Australia at Cape Byron). Some stats of our trip so far:

  • we have travelled 1884nm
  • we have spent 16 days, 19 hours underway
  • we have spent 10 nights at sea underway
  • we have stayed at 38 anchorages (thats an average of 2 days at each stop)
And we are only a small ways into the trip!

The passage to Cape York was very strategic. Rewind 72 hours and Hugh, I and our friend Bill aboard Solstice talked tactics over a beer. The tide time, tide depth and speed of the current needed to be timed to a T. Friends of ours had bumped the bottom attempting to enter the Cape York Bay just a few days earlier. We were fortunate enough to learn from their experience.

With the 4pm high tide jotted down, we had to calculate the hours it would take to sail from Portland Roads to the Cape. So what is the wind speed? At what angle? What sails will we put up?

With a breezy 25 kts of southeast wind blowing, we were going to fly there. Combine this with the 140nm distance, and 26 hours was the magic number. Excellent. Time to go ashore at Portland Roads (only accessible at high tide due to the wide fringing reef and local crocodiles) for lunch before departing at 2pm. A meal of locally caught and cooked seafood was just what the sailors needed.

Hugh and I picked up our anchor and set the double reefed main, we were off. Unfortunately Bill had dramas with his main and was staying behind to try and resolve. 2 hours later and Bill was off, in hot pursuit. 

After an uneventful night and morning sail of dodging merchant ships we entered the Adolphus Channel, we dropped our mainsail as we were running early and didn't want to beat the high tide. Even without sails, we were zooming through the passage at 4kts due to the current. We rounded the Cape at 3pm and started to enter the Bay, the wind was whipping up and the current was incredibly strong. We had the engine pushing at 3,500 revs to ensure we were going faster than the current. If we went slower, the current would take the boat and potentially beach us on the sandy shoal in the middle of the Bay. Well planned and full of skill, 10 minutes later the anchor was dropped, it was perfect! We made it without drama and Bill followed behind and aced it.  

We went ashore at about 3:30pm on an especially wet dingy ride and clambered up the rock formation of Cape York. We made our way down to the sign and popped a bottle of champagne. 

Northern-most point of the Australian mainland
Champagne and cheese
As we were sipping champagne with the setting sun glistening over the Bay, a ketch came gloriously sailing through the gap between Cape York peninsula and York Island. An especially tight gap with immense current rushing through. It was an amazing sight. We were whooping and hollering to cheer them in. It was impressive to say the least! Turns out they were locals from Thursday Island. The locals do it best!

We felt on top of the world! So pleased with ourselves that we were game enough to make our way back through the gauntlet to the dingy on the beach at dusk, perfect croc feeding time! 

Next on the list was crumbed mackerel, the monster fish Hugh caught the day earlier. Yum!


Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Queensland, Windy One Day, Bloody Windy the Next

Late May 2013

We've reached the jewel in the crown of Australia's sun seeker holidays; The Whitsundays. Currently we're moored off a little known place called Goldsmith Island. We have the whole anchorage to ourselves the only sign of human life is a tiny bungalow nestled by the waters edge, with the largest TV antenna I've ever seen. Apart from us and this TV loving island recluse there isn't a soul for miles.


Late June 2013

Take two, skip ahead a month or so and the title of this blog post remains as true as it was when I first tried to write it 9 degrees of latitude south of here. Reading the weather forecast has become a moot point. Though they may vary the words slightly from "Strong Wind Warning" to "reaching 30 kts at times" they weather does not. South easterly's at 20-25 knots, day in, day out. It's a good thing we are headed north west.

As I type we are a couple of hours away from a place called Portland Roads (don't worry I had never heard of it either) just north of the Lockhart river. After a night dodging coral reefs and 500ft cargo ships in equal measure, we have just sighted the coast, and i'm not surprised to find another stretch of uninhabited, unadulterated nothingness. The great dividing range has finally divorced itself from the coast and now gives way to low lying bouldered headlands and vast stretches of fine sandy beaches. It's as though the mountain range got as bored as we did with the endless procession of Australia towards the Cape York peninsula, and forsake its dividing vow.

The last stop on our trip was Lizard Island. A fantastic place for three things; lizards (duh..), Snorkelling, and seafaring history. As I find lizards pretty dull on the most part, and Katie has another awesome snorkelling marine life encounter to retell in another post, let me bore you with some history.

Sunset enroute to Lizard Is. thanks to a GPS we aren't about
to run aground while enjoying it.
Imagine you are Captain James T. Kirk.. No wait a minute, Captain James Cook. It boggles the mind how he brought the Endeavour through this stretch of water. What was his GPS? What did he have for lateral markers, cardinal markers, isolated danger marks, don-t-sail-this-way-you-idiot markers? All he had was a bloke with with a piece of lead on a rope sitting on the bow of the boat dropping it down to the bottom as he went, hoping against hope that it didn't hit the bottom at less than 5 feet [sub-editor note, please check endeavours draft.. anyone? oh well]. In any case, it turns out that said bloke had one to many rums and decided his bunk required his attention more than his lead dropping duties. It was then that the Endeavour struck the reef which now bears her name. After very nearly losing his ship with all hands, Cook managed to break free of the reef by jettisoning cannons and other heavy items and next made landfall (miraculously not hitting one of the many more reefs in his path) at what he named Lizard Island.

There he made a decision which, with our mercator projected maps of Australia engrained in our memory, seems so bizarre to us now. He sailed north east for the gap in the outer reef which is now known as Cooks Passage. Despite all the technical wizardry that separates the modern sailor from Captain Cooks era, one thing remains the same. When you want to sail West for home, sailing North East is no fun. It must have been torture for the crew, however captain cook was convinced he was becoming "embayed" by mainland Australia and hence he took the decision to sail NE now rather than have to sail SE against the trade winds later. Despite his decision being made under the false pretence of an easting of the mainland further north, it undoubtedly saved their lives. From cooks passage the continental shelf drops away from 50m depth to around 2000m alarmingly quickly, but more importantly for the Endeavour, the outer reef forms a well ordered line, queuing neatly for admission around Cape York. Had they sailed the way that Elizabeth Jane has just come, they surely would have run aground on one of the numerous inner reefs get under your feet like so many unruly toddlers.

The more I read about Captain Cook, the more I think that he had some sort of sixth sense for continental structures. I guess after studying and charting new landforms it isn't a great surprise that he could navigate the way he could, but it is sad to think that the world has never, and probably will never see his like again.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Sunday, 9 June 2013


It was a day where rain clouds would come and go, it was late in the day and we had just arrived at a renowned anchorage - Butterfly Bay. There was a window of opportunity where the sun had overpowered the clouds and we had glorious sunshine lighting up the reef that was a few hundred meters from our boat. Krissy, Hugh and I quickly grabbed our snorkel gear and plunged into the water. The chill sucked the air from my lungs and stopped the blood in my veins, but splashing about as if I am struggling for survival (also known as my version of freestyle) quickly got the blood flowing once again. 

Paddling over to the reef and constantly adjusting my snorkel gear, I finally got it fitted. The visibility was not great, so we were on top of the reef before we realised it, and in sea life utopia. There were hundreds of different types and colours of coral, there were sea cucumbers, big fish, small fish and every colour of the rainbow was represented. It was fantastic and something that we had been waiting for! Hugh saw a huge turtle slowly gliding through the water and tipping its body to turn left and right. 

I started to get a bit chilly and the sun was disappearing behind clouds, while the wind whipped across the top of the water. I was about to go back to the boat when I saw what looked like a tree that had fallen into the water, but as I looked closer I could see that it was an enormous and complicated section of coral with fluro coloured tips. I was just about to tell Krissy and Hugh about it, when I saw jaws slowly skimming across the sea floor, less than 2m away from where Krissy and I were swimming. I watched it slowly make its way and realised that it was not interested in me or Krissy and was just out looking for some more appropriately sized dinner. I could say that he was 3m long and stared at me with his teeth barred while whipping his tail around, but he was a small reef shark, dark grey in colour and about 1m long. It was quite a beautiful animal, simply getting about its neighbourhood. I looked over and Krissy was asking me with her eyes if I saw it too. I came to the surface and was convinced that it was not interested in us, so we continued to paddle around for a little while, but I thought I should let Hugh know, so that he didn't accidentally step on it or get in the middle between the shark and its preferred dinner.

Turns out Hugh thought we were joking and was quite disappointed that he didn't get to see it either. I am sure that we will see jaws, and we can only hope that we see him in a docile and non-threatening manner!



After spending the best part of 2 months talking to each other and putting up with our own jokes and sea madness, Hugh and I were to be joined for a week by my friend Krissy as we tottered around the Whitsunday Islands. It also happened that we would catch up with our friends aboard the good ships Hokalea and Solstice, who we met at Woolwich marina, after their 2 year journey to Sydney from California.

Hamilton Island was the rendezvous point, so the bars, food and fancy resort activities on offer provided an interesting contrast the to the abundance of nature that we had been submerged in. Ice cream, meat pies and pizza were some of the exciting food encounters, however that was after indulging in the luxury of hot showers and flushing toilets!

It was great to welcome Krissy to tropical paradise, even though Hamilton Island doesn't have a whole lot of nature to boast about! Krissy came loaded with chocolate biscuits, cold meat and lollies. All the essential ingredients for a successful week aboard Elizabeth Jane II.

We were reunited with our American friends, after we had been listening to them on the HF radio for the last 2 months. It was great to catch up with the stories of drama and delight that they had been experiencing on their transit up the east Australian coast. Highlights were burgers at Coffs Harbour, the beach next to the Mooloolaba marina and fresh blue swimmer crabs for dinner caught by a fellow cruiser. Lowlights included failed steering, leaking oil in the engine bay and the strong east Australian current.

After a dock side debriefing, the group tottered on over to the resort pool, where we delighted in cocktails at the swim-up-bar. Life is tough! After a dip and a cocktail we made it to the marina bar and proceeded to eat schnitzel and win the Monday night trivia! Go the cross nationality quiz team!

Tuesday morning was a bit tough, but the Elizabeth Jane II and crew set sail for Cid Harbour for a relaxing afternoon in the sun.