Thursday, August 27, 2009

North from Cairns -- Days 1 through 5

Day 1 -- Departed Marlin Marina in Cairns on Sunday 23 August at 0835. It was a very slow sail north at only 3 1/2 to 5 knots boat speed; very flat seas; and winds of about 5 to 8 knots from directly behind us. We poled out the sails and sat back to read all day. This was a lovely day of calm sailing. We arrived at Low Islets around 4 p.m. The anchorage was filled with local boats on moorings but there was plenty of room for a half-dozen boats to anchor behind the mooring field. Latitude 16.22.81S Longitude 145.33.73E
Total distance sailed 37.6 NM

Day 2 -- Departed Los Islets at 0500 in total pitch black darkness because we had a long way to go today and wanted to arrive during daylight. Thank goodness for electronic charts because you cannot see a thing in darkness on the sea. No stars and no moon and no navigational lights. Winds were again very light so we motor-sailed most of the day. In fact, we were able to sail without motor for only about 3 hours during the entire day. It drizzled rain off and on all day. Arrived at Cape Bedford at 5:20 p.m. There were cliffs of colorful sands for miles along the coastline in the area of Cape Bedford. Colors ranged from salt-white to light beige to dark beige to orange to brown. The large pure white sand deposits on top of the cliffs and nearby hills looked like snow. A very pretty sight and nothing like the rest of the Australian coast we have seen so far. We were the only boat anchored at Cape Cleveland. Latitude 15.13.97S Longitude 145.19.13E
Distance sailed today 73 NM. Total distance since Cairns 110.6 NM

Day 3 -- Had a bit of excitement when we departed Cape Bedford this morning at 0800. I was at the helm and boat speed was about 6 knots as we motored out of the bay. Bill stood on the deck next to the cockpit and let out the line on our fishing reel. When he felt that there was enough line out, he set the drag on the reel and turned to put the rod into the rod holder on the life rail. His hand never got to the rod holder -- a fish was already on the line!!! That has never happened before! I started the engine and put it in idle-forward and furled in the jib to slow the boat as much as possible while Bill reeled in the fish. As it got up next to our boat we could see that it was a nice sized gray Pacific snapper. I was ready with the gaff but just as Bill started to raise the snapper from the water surface that fish went nuts and started fighting hard. It was fighting so hard when it spit out the lure that the fishing line and lure flew way up into the air and wrapped around the topping lift holding up the mizzen boom. For you landlubbers, that is a rope about 7 feet above deck level on the rear part of our boat, which means that fish managed to make that lure fly more than 9 feet up from the water surface when he spit it out. That was some fighter. Needless to say, we lost that fish.

It was another day of sunshine, then light drizzle and clouds, and then more sunshine -- all day long. We would pick up the cockpit cushions because of light rain. As soon as we had the cushions put away, the sun would come out again. Guess that is one way to get some leg exercise on a passage -- go up and down the companionway steps 100 times daily. We arrived at Lizard Island at 3 p.m. The anchorage was full so we anchored outside behind a mega-yacht. There was room for us to anchor in the anchorage but we would have been lying next to that mega-yacht, and it was dancing all over the place and we were afraid we would get too close. It was a very large yacht and had no keel of course so it moved around a lot more than a sail boat. There are very strong wind bullets at Lizard Island and this causes boats to move around a lot. It was certainly shallow enough that it wasn't necessary to get close to land to anchor. We were perfectly happy to be the last one out. Made it easy for our planned early morning departure.

Lizard Island is popular with cruisers. We had originally planned to skip Lizard and instead go to Cape Flattery, which would have saved 10 miles. But we skip so many "cruiser" things that we decided that we would go see Lizard Island like all the other cruisers. It is a very pretty place. Some cruisers stay there for weeks and we could understand why. You can hike up to the top of the tall hill to Captain Cook's observation point. There are rock formations up there placed by the aboriginals many, many centuries ago for ceremonial purposes. Apparently it is a sacred ground for the aborigines. Latitude 14.39.50S Longitude 145.26.99E
Distance sailed today 37 NM. Total distance since Cairns 147.6 NM

Day 4 -- Departed Lizard Island 0600 and arrived Ninian Bay on the mainland at 5 p.m. En route we caught a small Spanish mackerel. Yea! Fish for dinner! This was a small fish but provided enough for at least 3 meals. We would not have stopped at Ninian Bay based on the sailing guide description, but friends on S/V B'Sheret stopped here a few weeks ago and said this anchorage was okay. The bay is large and rough as the waves roll in and there is a lot of fetch for wind chop to build, but the anchorage area is well inside the bay. A very long way inside this large and very shallow bay. I think we went at least 3 miles into the bay. Anchored in less than 2 meters of water, which is much shallower than our normal comfort level. All the way in we were doubtful about how rough this anchorage was. But once anchored up near the inner shore it was quite comfortable as our boat rode bow into the waves. This creates a hobby-horse movement which is much more comfortable than a rolling side-to-side movement. A very pleasant night. Latitude 14.20.91S Longitude 144.35.96E
Distance sailed today 59.2 NM. Total distance since Cairns 206.8 NM

Day 5 -- Weighed anchor and set sail out of Ninian Bay at 0800. Waves were just as choppy and rough as they had been when we entered this bay yesterday afternoon. Before we had exited the bay we had another fish on the line. I again took in sails and started the engine and turned into the wind to slow the boat as Bill reeled in the fish. He got it up to the stern of the boat and could see that it was a large Spanish mackerel or walloo, even bigger than the one we caught last month when Zachary was visiting us. But, once again, the fish managed to spit out the lure before we could get him with the gaff. Another fish lost. Shame; because this was a big one! Our boat has high freeboard and it is difficult to reach a fish still in the water. Guess we need a longer handled gaff hook. We reconciled ourselves over this loss by rationalizing that we already have plenty of mackerel and what we really wanted was a tuna for variety.

We poled out the sail and had a perfectly lovely sail up and around Cape Melville and past Bathurst Bay and Princess Charlotte Bay. Cape Melville is different. There are interesting rock formations and large boulders everywhere. The huge combined area of Bathurst Bay and Princess Charlotte Bay is a dugong sanctuary (manatees). Luckily we did not encounter any of the dugongs while sailing through Bathurst Bay. Those creatures move so slowly that it makes me nervous to sail around them. Colliding with one would not be good either for the dugong or for our boat. It was a beautiful sunny day and we sailed flat at 6 to 8 knots all day. A great day to read in the cockpit and admire the beautiful scenery. Just as we were almost through Fly Channel and about ready to turn towards the anchorage at Flinders Island we got another fish on the line. This one hit hard and solid and ran. I did my duties of taking in sails and starting engine while Bill reeled and reeled and reeled. This time I turned the boat around and headed back toward the fish so it could run and tire out before we tried to get it aboard. Ended up making several circles before we finally got the fish with the gaff hook. Bill ran a line through its gills and mouth and hung it on the dinghy davits. He cut off the tail and let it bleed behind the boat. After we were anchored at Flinders Island Bill put the large cutting board on top of the over-turned dinghy on the mizzen deck and filleted the fish. Hey; I think we have finally found the best way to deal with the mess of catching fish. Our cockpit water hose reaches back to the stern of the boat and clean-up was a breeze.

This fish was a small bluefin tuna, about 20 pounds. Get out the wasabi! Sushi tonight!! And enough in the freezer for grilled tuna for at least 6 to 8 meals. And we learned something about tuna today. The large fin on top of the tuna near his head is retractable! That fin slips down into a slit on top of the tuna. We have no idea why this fin retracts. Possibly to camouflage from predators? Possibly to enable the tuna to swim faster? Curious. Surprised that we never noticed this before on any of the tuna we have previously caught.

There is nothing up this way; no towns and no people. And no local boats. Only things seen are cruising boats and cargo ships in the shipping lanes. Haven't heard any VHF radio traffic in 2 days. There isn't even an FM radio station within range. Good thing the trusty old iPod still works. Latitude 13.10.80S Longitude 144.13.69E
Distance sailed today 32.8 NM. Total distance since Cairns 239.6 NM

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