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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Last day

Aaron, Lynn, BeBe and baby Damien spent most of their last day in Cairns walking around and shopping. Looking at the photos they took that day it appears they had a good time. Their flight home was shortly after midnight Thursday. As I write this they are already home in Houston.

On Thursday the city was beginning to set up for Festival Cairns 2009 and things were being added to the esplanade area by the hour. There were a number of EsplanArt exhibits already in place. Here is a photo of Elisabeth trying to take a bite out of a cupcake sculpture.

And here is another photo of Lynn and both kids in another of the art sculptures placed on the esplanade. There were many other photos of other art objects, but I think you get the idea.

Yesterday we did all the laundry after having had guests for 3 weeks, cleaned the boat and did major provisioning. Today we made a trip to the weekly local farmers' market and stocked up on fruits and veggies. When walking to the market we took a shortcut through an alleyway between some nice commercial buildings and happened upon the most beautiful and elaborate cakes that we have ever seen. Bill took a few photos with his cell phone, but they don't do justice to these fantastic cakes. The shop was closed so we could not go inside and the photos taken through the window glass are not very good. The one of the Moulin Rouge cake is made like a windmill -- including large decorated chocolate blades on the windmill. It was about 3 feet tall. The one on the right is made like the torso of a woman and has large leaves and fruits on the base. Unfortunately, the glare on the window glass makes the torso almost impossible to discern. But take my word for it, this was a most impressive cake. It was also about 3 feet tall. The last white cake is just an example of the intricate ganache applications and sculpting. There were several cakes with this motif. One of the chocolate cakes was the prettiest. All these cakes were quite large. We were most impressed.

Tomorrow morning (Sunday, 23 Aug 2009) we will depart Cairns and begin working our way to Darwin. So we say goodbye tomorrow morning to internet connection for a few weeks. We will continue to update this blog via email during our passage to Darwin.

My final 2 photos for this posting must be of our new grandson, Damien William Rouse. These photos were taken the day he was 2 months old. The one of him and his grandfather Bill cracked me up. Look at the shape of those 2 heads. You can definitely tell these 2 are related.

And my favorite photo is the last one shown below. I know I am a prejudiced grandmother, but I think he is adorable.

The Duyfken

The Duyfken was built in 1595 in Holland. In 1606 it was plying the waters of the Spice Islands for the Dutch East India company. The Duyfken was the first European ship to visit any part of the coastline of Australia. This tiny ship landed on the western coast of Cape York and the landing party was immediately killed by the aboriginals. The replica is berthed here in Cairns and we walked over to check it out. This is the first old Dutch ship that we have seen. And after seeing it we now understand why the British referred to Dutch ships as being "slab sided."

This authentic replica was built in Australia and is as close to original as possible. They used the same type woods and sailed to Holland and back to Australia. It is such a tiny little ship with very limited headroom. A very special feature of this little ship is that she had 2 stern cannon. That was unheard of in 1606 and quite a surprise to any ship that engaged her in battle.

Instead of a normal tiller it has a whipstaff. The whipstaff greatly increases the amount of leverage on the tiller. A single man would never have been able to control this ship with a normal tiller. When the ship was originally built it was 50 years before a wheel helm was introduced.

Another feature were the double elm tree pumps. These were used to pump water from the bilge. The long handles by Aaron were used to activate these pumps. The actual elm trees were hollowed out and extended all the way from above deck down to the bilge. I don't know why elm is the wood of choice, but the British, French, Spanish and Dutch ships of that era all were built with elm tree pumps.

Because spices at that time were so valuable, it did not require a large ship to carry cargo worth a great deal. Just a handful of cinnamon was worth the price of a home with servants. Amazing to think that spices were so valuable back then.

Green Island

Aaron refused to try sailing again. We don't really understand this because Aaron is a Shellback. He worked in the engine room of The Clipper when he was a freshman at A & M University in Galveston. That was during the time he thought he might want to be a marine engineer, before he later realized that he really was a computer programmer. The Clipper sailed from Galveston to Uruguay and back, and Aaron never got seasick. Seems to me that if he could work in a hot engine room on the open seas then he ought to be able to tolerate a sailboat for 15 miles. But since he got seasick the last time we tried sailing, there was no way he would consider trying it again.

Probably just as well because the wind picked up to 20-25 knots for the final few days of their visit with us. And the anchorage area for yachts like ours is out at an exposed point off Green Island and it would have been pretty rough even at anchor. Lynn and Elisabeth wanted to see all the tourist things out at Green Island, and since Aaron refused to leave the marina slip in our sailboat; they booked a trip on the largest day tour ferry. Bill and I were not interested. We have seen enough reef and see islands all the time.

Rather than snorkel (after all they do have an infant--and Elisabeth would never willingly put her face into seawater), they did the glass-bottom boat tour and another tour on a boat with a see-through hull. And Aaron didn't get seasick on those either. Glass-bottom boats are usually a sure-fire way to get seasick if someone is the slightest bit prone to feeling ill on a boat. But they did just fine on both the see-through boat tours. This provided them with an opportunity to see some of the reef. All of the Great Barrier Reef is damaged, just like reef almost globally. Some blame this damage on warmer waters and some blame it on pollution. Whatever the cause, none of the reef is as colorful as it was a few decades ago.

They rented a beach umbrella and chairs and had an enjoyable day at the beach. BeBe met some kids on holiday from London and dug in the sand with them. There were some paths and they walked around the island. Glad they got to spend the day out at Green Island.

To the outback for a drive-in movie

Just call us crazy. But this was shown online as being a tourist activity for Cairns, so maybe we aren't the only crazy ones.

Last Friday evening we drove about 75 kilometers, over the small mountain where Kuranda Village is located, and to the outback town of Mareeba. Just to watch the newest Harry Potter at a drive-in movie. Wish we had arrived during daylight so we could have seen the topography better as this was our only experience in what is called the outback. But the only things we really saw were the stars. At least Elisabeth got to see the Milky Way on that very dark night.

The Rodeo Drive-In is a very, very basic drive-in movie. There was only one screen and it was not a big one. Dirt roads and dirt parking area (not even gravel like the old drive-in movies of the old days). The radio speakers did not work in the old van we had rented so we could not utilize the FM radio sound system for the movie. Instead, we used one of the old-style big speakers that hang inside your car door. There was a concession stand where we were able to buy popcorn. We had brought a cooler of beer, Diet Cokes and Diet Sprites. Before the evening was over we were cold inside our our van, even with the windows rolled up. We sort of forgot that once the sun goes down the temperature drops dramatically. Bill and I brought pillows and snuggled down on the reclining rear seats of the van; we didn't care if we saw this movie or not so we let the others have the forward seats with better visibility.

The people in the car next to us were obviously regulars. They had brought folding tables and lawn chairs and a small grill. They made this family movie experience into a picnic. Many of the cars and trucks had brought lawn chairs and blankets but this was the only car we saw that also brought a grill. Glad to see that these old-fashioned drive-in movies are still operating. We enjoyed them immensely during our childhood.

Saturday morning we took the kids to ride go-karts. Zachary was not tall enough nor old enough to drive a go-kart alone, but they had double karts and his Uncle Aaron agreed to ride with him. There were also some small jeeps that did not go as fast as the go-karts and the kids could have driven the jeeps by themselves. But for some reason Elisabeth did not want to try to drive a jeep by herself. We tried explaining to her that the jeep did not go fast and would be like her old little Barbie car, but she wouldn't change her mind; and Zach did not want to chauffeur her around the track in the slow little jeep. He preferred to "drive" the go-kart with his Uncle Aaron. There was a steering wheel for the double seat, but no foot pedals.

Zach said later that he knew that he wasn't really steering the kart because the steering wheel would only turn a little bit either way and then would lock. Aaron said the true steering wheel was very difficult to turn and required muscles. Maybe there was something wrong with the steering on that particular go-kart. At least Zach enjoyed zooming around the track even if he wasn't really driving. We found out later that there supposedly is a much more elaborate go-kart place out in Mareeba. And there is a WWII museum in Mareeba. If we had known that earlier we would have driven to Mareeba much earlier in the day instead of making that long trip just for the drive-in movie.

Later in the afternoon the kids made their final visit to the lagoon together. This lagoon is the best tourist attraction in Cairns. The kids love it. The brown in the far background of the photo on the left is the mud exposed by low tide. When it is high tide the water looks pretty; but during low tide the yucky mud is exposed W-A-Y out. Thank goodness Cairns has this public swimming lagoon because there certainly isn't an accessible beach.

Early Sunday morning Zachary and Bill flew to Brisbane. Zachary's flight home was just before noon, and Bill flew back to Cairns that afternoon. Zachary almost did not make it onto the Qantas flight to Los Angeles. When they arrived at the Qantas ticket counter in Brisbane, the agent insisted that Qantas must speak to Zachary's mother on the phone before he would be allowed on the plane. They needed to confirm verbally that his mother would meet the arriving flight in Los Angeles. Well, that just wasn't possible since his mother was on a flight from Houston to Los Angeles at that particular moment.

Bill pushed the issue through 3 levels of supervisors. Finally the general manager for Qantas Brisbane agreed to let Zachary on the plane after Bill personally guaranteed any costs incurred by Qantas should Zach's mother not meet the arriving flight. I think the deal-breaker was that the general manager checked the Qantas records and found that we had phoned in twice to confirm exactly what the procedure would be for an unaccompanied minor flying internationally. Not one person had told either Zachary's parents or us that the airline would need to speak directly with the person who would be meeting the arriving flight. Guess Qantas needs to have a little training session with some of their employees regarding this service. Two other kids were denied this same flight for this exact reason.

Zach was met in Los Angeles by his mother and his maternal grandmother, and they flew back to Houston together. He is back in Houston adjusting to the time change and getting back on a normal sleep schedule before his school starts next week. We thoroughly enjoyed having Zachary for his summer vacation. He is welcome to spend his summers with us anytime.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Daintree -- world's oldest rainforest

The Daintree Rainforest starts about 40 kilometers north of Port Douglas and extends a great distance north and northwest. There is a small car ferry that takes you across a small river and from there onward you are in Daintree Rainforest. There is also something called a river train that takes you through some parts of the rainforest, but we did not do that and don't know exactly how it worked.

Much of the rainforest is accessible only with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. Since we had rented an old van, we had to stick with the asphalt roads. And what narrow roads they were! With drop-offs that were camoflauged by the dense jungle growing right up the the edge of the road. But if you peered through the dense foliage you could see drops hundreds of feet down. Scary with oncoming trafic on the tight curves.

Daintree is the oldest rainforest in the world. It is estimated to be more than 500 million years old. So you can imagine the ecosystem contained in this special place. And the strange wildlife. Very unusual flora and fauna. There are numerous lodges within the part system and these are very popular with the backpackers. It is not possible to see even 10% of Daintree in one day so most people stay in one or more lodges whenever they visit the park. We were not going to stay in a lodge and our visit was limited to one afternoon, so we saw only a very small part of the rainforest. But it was enough for all of us. All that walking and climbing stairs with the kids wore us all out. I'm sure that Lynn was more tired than the rest of us since she had the baby strapped to her chest while walking all day. I got tired enough just carrying myself around; glad I wasn't also carrying a 10-12 pound baby. That has got to be a back breaker.

We stopped at a cafe in the rainforest for a quick lunch and then visited the walkway through the rainforest. I don't remember the name of this particular attraction, but it is the one that has an obversation tower. There are suspended walkways and raised walkways winding through the dense forest. It is pretty elaborate.

There are two sets of numbered signs posted every few feet along the various walkways. One set of numbers correlates with the written pamphlet that describes what you are looking at in that particular area. The other set of numbers is for an audio self-guided tour. We paid for 4 adults and 2 children, but that got us only 4 audio units for the self-guided tour. Guess they figure 8-year-old kids aren't capable of operating an audio unit hanging on a halyard around their necks. Elisabeth didn't want either a pamphlet or a headset, so she didn't care. But Zachary preferred the audio tour, so Bill was a nice grandfather and gave his unit to Zach. Bill read the pamphlet and the rest of us listened to the audio guide. Most of it was the same information, but sometimes one or the other would give something different.

In the center of the complex was a building with various information/computer stations. One of the more interesting was the information on Gondwana. This was the southern precursor-supercontinent that was comprised of what is now known as South America, Africa, Madagascar, Antarctica, India, other parts of South Asia, and Australia. At one time it even included Florida and most of Southern Europe. Look it up on Wikipedia for more info if you are interested.

We climbed the 5-level obversation tower, which affords views at various levels of the jungle canopy. Funny how different everything looks from above tree level vs. down at ground level.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rainforest Habitat in Port Douglas

Aaron rented a van from Older Car Hire in Cairns. And it was very definitely an older car. But at least all 7 of us could be properly belted in our seats.

Our first stop was the Rainforest Habitat in Port Douglas. This was very similar to the wildlife section of the Rainforestation in Kuranda that we had visited the previous week, except larger. There were lots of birds, even a few kookaburras. There are 2 types of kookaburra birds. The most commonly known is the laughing kookaburra. It has a very distinctive call. The other type kookaburra is much less common; we saw one at the Wildlife Dome atop the casino in Cairns. It looks very mean and reminds me of the barking owl that also is native to Australia.

The kids bought kangaroo food and fed the kangaroos and wallabies. Buying the food in the gift shop is a rip-off because there is so much kangaroo food lying all over the grounds that it is just a waste of money to buy more. Elisabeth told us that it doesn't matter about the food on the ground because the kangaroos won't eat off the ground. She says they only eat out of your hand or out of their raised food bowls. She and Zachary fed many of them. The ducks and swans and geese, on the other hand, did eat the kangaroo food off the ground. We discouraged the kids from allowing any of the birds to eat from their hands. Just did not seem like a wise idea to us adults.

We did not recognize 99% of the birds that were in the habitat. Did recognize the large cassowary. How could one forget those huge black birds with the gorgeous blue heads and hard protrusions around their heads. Those are such unusual birds. They grow to 2 meters tall, well over 6-feet, and are well-known for attacking people who stumble into their natural habitat. Sure would not want to run into one of those while walking in the forest. And of course we recognized the saltwater crocodiles. There was one pair of very long-legged birds. One was standing around and the other was sitting on an enormous nest. Not sure which was the male and which was the female as they looked just alike to our uninitiated eyes. One bird that was new to us was a large black and white pelican with a pink beak and pouch.

The most unusual creature that we saw was the tree kangaroo. Now, that is one strange animal! None of us had ever heard of a tree kangaroo. It looked like a cross between a tiny bear and a monkey. Check it out on Wikipedia if you have any interest in learning about this strange animal. It is found in Papua New Guinea and in northern Queensland here in Australia.

Then it was on to Daintree.