Monday, 19 June 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 1

Brisbane to Cape York

Saturday, May 13, twenty nine days ago, Audrey and I left Brisbane to commence our 2006 cruise to S/E Asia, and for 19 of those days “ENVY” has been screaming up Queensland’s stunning island dotted and reef studded coast, with hardly a spare moment to stop and smell the roses.

Hotly pursued by brisk Southeasterly trades for most of the trip so far, it certainly has been a dream run, sailing ‘wing to wing’ (with a sail poled out either side of the mast) achieving seldom seen daily averages (for our cruising yacht) of 6 & 7 nautical miles per hour, though not surprising considering some gale force gusts over 35 knots at times. But it hasn’t all been beer & skittles, with some hard work heavy-weather sailing, middle of the night sail changes, and associated sleep deprivation.

Leaving Brisbane, we made non-stop overnight ocean passages until we reached more protected Barrier Reef waters, from whence “ENVY” commenced day hopping between sheltered island anchorages, with most of these ‘day sails’ being fairly long hops of from 50 to 80 N/Mls, so it’s a full days work, with some early pre-dawn starts.

Time off rest days were enjoyed at Great Keppel Island, The Whitsundays, Magnetic Island, and then four days in Cairns. There’s just enough of ‘old Cairns’ left to show what an interesting old frontier town it was, but now it bustles with young foreign backpackers here to discover the reef. “Rusty’s”, the local fresh food and crafts market is one of the best we’ve seen anywhere, with its excellent, well priced produce. Both fruit and vegetables were awesome, so we stocked up.

Next rest stop was 2 nights at Lizard Island, one of the prettiest and best anchorages anywhere in Queensland, but more historically famous for its hilltop site to which Cptn Cook climbed to search for a passage out through the Barrier Reef, after repairs to the “Endeavour” at Cooktown. He gave the island its name because “All I saw here were lizards”, and they are all that we saw too.

We made the pilgrimage up 1100 ft high rocky hill to enjoy the great 360º views from the summit. The climb is no Sunday stroll in the park, having to often scale large boulders, wet rock face and slippery granite paths. There is a 3 metre rock pile at Cook’s Lookout, where traditionally each new visitor places another rock, which we did. The view back down to Watson’s Bay beach and the Resort in the next bay is picture postcard stuff.

Lizard was also the home base of beche-de-mere fisherman Robert Watson, whose young wife Mary, in his working absence, escaped attacking aboriginals with her baby and Chinese servant Ah Sam, in a steel ship’s tank in 1881, only to perish from thirst on a nearby island.

Today, Lizard Island boasts one of the more exclusive Tourist Resorts of the GBR, and a young employee we met up on Cook’s Look told us rates ranged from $700 to $3000 per night. (Bloody expensive sleep as far as I’m concerned).

We also had a great day with other yachtie friends at the “Cod Hole” 14 miles from Lizard at the outer Barrier edge, snorkeling amongst the coral and a myriad of colourful schools of fish. We’ve seen it a zillion times before, but never tire of its beauty.

Once you leave Lizard you find yourself in true far north tropical waters and even though its winter, days, nights and sea temperatures here are all noticeably warmer, with boat fans running all night as we sleep.

Another place of interest is Cape Melville, where the land is comprised totally of huge round stones and boulders, and where the wind reputably ricochets off the hills in frightfully strong bullets, so we had been warned; but it was OK when we went round.

Today is Saturday 10 June as I write this note at sea just north of Cape Grenville, from where we and 6 other yachts departed in pre-dawn darkness this morning enroute to the Escape River, a 71n/m run to the north. Another large southbound ship is about to pass us, one of several we’ve had to dodge in these narrow shipping lanes between the reefs, and the radio is crackling with traffic as yachts and the ship’s bridge discuss dodg’em tactics. Audrey’s in control so we’re in good hands!

For a sailor come fisherman, who absolutely loves eating fish, I’m a strange animal indeed. Even though fish is a favourite, I seldom troll a line because, well, frankly, I’m scared I might catch one!!

They only ever seem to strike a lure when it’s blowing a clacker, the yachts heeling heavily and if you’re lucky enough to get the writhing, slippery thing on board, thrashing wildly to escape from the hook in its mouth, then as you fillet and skin it there’s blood and guts all over the ship; ugh, where’s the nearest fish shop please!

Anyway, our mates Trevor and Joan Long on ‘Been-A-Long’ caught a nice mackerel recently and, being the good friends they are, gave us half the fillets, enough for two large meals. We devoured them with delight and, like a busted alcoholic, that was it. I had to have more! So out came the trolling gear with a bright coloured lure, and that afternoon in came a big Tuna. Being late in the day and red fleshed Tuna not one of our favourites, it happily returned to the deep, after being photographed, very much alive and unhurt.

The next day bang on noon, with a bright new silver spoon lure following at 6 knots, my trolling reel sang as it flew out at great speed. What a strike! It was big, and very hard work reeling in the line, but finally a truly magnificent 1½ mtr+ Spanish mackerel was on my gaff, the biggest and best fish I’ve ever caught. As Audrey bent down to lasso his tail, he gave one almighty flick and was gone, without even a photo to show you ‘doubting Thomas’s’. I don’t think there are enough tissues on board to mop up my tears!

But this morning at 0700 I proved there is a God when, in light airs and friendly seas, at 11º 43 S x 143º 04 E the Alvey trolling reel sang its sweet song again and in came another brilliant Spaniard. Though not as big as the previous Houdini, a fine mackerel nevertheless, and already in the freezer.

There’s anticipation & excitement in the air for us these past few days as ‘Envy’ edges northwards.

We’re only a tad of a day’s sail away from the tip of Cape York, 20 miles tomorrow, to the Vidgen and Jardine families Australian roots at Somerset… my middle name… and I’ve never been there yet in all my 62 years. A monumental cairn to our parent’s memory sits at the old Jardine residency hilltop site, overlooking Somerset Bay and Albany Passage. My father purchased Somerset from his uncle Chum Jardine, and lived there until he sold it in 1948.

Twin brother John now lives and works on Thursday Island, so it will be good to see him again also. But they are other stories for another day.