Monday, 22 August 2016

Port Douglas to Indonesia

Port Douglas 4 July – 7 July

We arrived at low water at 4pm into the marina berth we booked. Well we nearly arrived since the marina had failed to tell us that the berth only had one metre of water at low tide and we draw 1.6m. We managed to get within 10 feet of the berth before we came to a dead stop. However no one seemed to be bothered that we sticking out and passenger ferries had to detour around us. The person who was on the dock ready to take our lines was the rigger – there at 4pm as promised – although tying up was an academic exercise since we were aground.

By 5pm he had the old shrouds off and by 6pm there was enough water to get the boat tied up to the berth. At 10 am the next morning the rigger was back with the newly made up shrouds and by lunchtime it was all fixed.

We could have left then but we had been out into the town the evening before and were quite taken with the place. An attractive tourist place and the prettiest one we had visited in Australia so we stayed for another day. Also some friends on Take Two had arrived and invited us for a BBQ that night on their boat. A good night and we would have been sailing with them to Indonesia if their auto pilot had not failed on the way to Port Douglas requiring a replacement to be flown in from the USA. It was going to take at least 10 days to get the part and they were stuck in Port Douglas.

Lunctime stop
We hired a car the next day to go to Daintree Forest, north of Port Douglas and a real wilderness and rainforest. The three hour drive took us across a river on a chain ferry and after 30 minutes we hardly saw another car. We stopped several times along the way to walk through the forest along well sign posted and marked footpaths but we saw no-one else. We came across a restaurant with a fantastic view across a gorge and the surrounding forest, a lovely setting complimented by the equally lovely food.

Walking on the beach not an option - crocodiles!
Walking in the rain forest
We carried along the road (the only road) to the end where it runs out and becomes a dirt track for the next 50 miles to Cook town – the most northern town along the coast. One of the reasons for going to the end of the road was that there was a backpacker’s camp there with what the guide book described as a great bar with a great view in the heart of the rain forest. Not so great when it is dark and you cannot actually see anything (we did not think of that) but it gave us a break before the long drive back. However the bar was lively with lots of backpackers (young and old) staying in the very basic accommodation.

The Slog to Thursday Island 7 July – 13 July

We left the next day to sail overnight to our first stop, Lizard Island on our 450 mile trip north to Thursday Island. North of Port Douglas, civilisation runs out and apart from Lizard Island there are no people, phone signal or any other signs of life. We arrived at Lizard Island at 10am the next morning so we had the rest of the day to explore the well-marked routes across the island. We looked for Mrs Watson’s house where she had lived with her husband in 1880, a sea slug fisherman, until he went off to another island to fish leaving her with her children and Chinese servants. Aborigines attacked them but they managed to escape in a beche-de-mer boiling tub sailing to another island only to become stranded with no water. Only a pigtail and her diary were found which is how they know the story. All that is left of the house is a few stones. 

We continued on ending at a small resort on the island.  We were refused entry to the restaurant at the resort when we eventually arrived there (as we were not guests) and even a drink was out of the question. A little disappointing after the three hours walk. However they did say we could use the bar, when it opened at 5pm – in two hours’ time when it would also be dark making the route back more treacherous (cannot see the snakes in the dark). So we headed back to the boat, hot and thirsty.

Thereafter, our trip along the coast was just a series of 60 mile day hops which was just doable in the 11 hours of daylight with anchoring overnight. It felt like a slog and dodging reefs and ships day after day in rough conditions was not fun. On the last day we had planned to anchor in a sheltered river particularly as we had discovered a rip in our mainsail and hoped to be able to patch it there.  We could just about get to it before dark but with the wind and waves building during the day it made the entrance too dangerous to even attempt. We were forced to carry on and round the northern most part of Australia in pitch black and anchor in the shelter of the lee of the cape. Although Thursday Island was only a further 20 miles away, it had to be approached in good light because of the reefs so that was not an option.

As we approached the anchorage the wind got up to 30 knots together with driving rain. Our attempt to shelter behind an island was dashed when the depth sounder went down to 2m where the pilot book confidently predicted 4m at low time. Not a time to take risks. In the dark and the rain we decided to anchor outside in the channel with three other boats that were already there. Soaked through after anchoring, we were pleased to be settled for the night with just a simple 20 mile sail to Thursday Island the next morning. We awoke in the middle of the night to check our anchor to find that one of the boats had dragged their anchor and had had to re-anchor much further out. Glad it wasn’t us.

Thursday Island 13 July – 15 July

We arrived at Thursday Island in the Torres Straits the next day after a very pleasant sail with one full day to spare before we were due to leave for Indonesia. It was a bit of a shock since although it is part of Australia, it had the feel of some of the poorer Pacific Islands with run down infrastructure and shops which had seen better days. In the laundrette, which doubled as a take away, restaurant and shop, there was a giant cockroach in the middle of the floor and others to be seen all around. Needless to say we did not eat there.

We completed all the formalities to get our exit papers from Australia without complications. When we had arrived in Australia we had our wine bonded (they sealed the bunk cabin room) and we were threatened with impounding our boat if they were not intact when we departed Australia. Customs smiled when I asked if they were going to come aboard to unseal the room as they explained that they do not have enough staff to go and visit boats. So we broke the seals and spent the afternoon sorting out the boat once again.

Our final job before we left was to repair the mainsail which had a rip in it from our sail up from Cairns (as had a few other boats). We lowered the sail on to the deck in fairly strong winds (not easy) and successfully repaired the rip before re-hoisting the sail. Two minutes later we were lowering the sail to repair another rip we had not noticed before, dodging the rain squalls coming through the anchorage.  Once that was completed we were ready to go.

Sail to Indonesia 15 July – 20 July

We set off with forecast of good winds from the SE and the first couple of hours were pleasant sailing. That all changed as we cleared the islands and we had a nasty chop from the south, with waves smashing on the beam of the boat for the next 36 hours. The water in the Torres Straits is shallow, 30 m or so, and sleeping was near impossible as the motion of the boat was awful. That all changed when we passed the southern end of Papua (the eastern part of Papua New Guinea which is part of Indonesia) and we arrived in deeper water and we headed north west, with the waves now coming from behind. With the first 36 hours now forgotten we had a very pleasant couple of days sailing towards Tual.

The final approach to Tual is through a narrow 50 miles channel between two islands and we arrived there at dusk. We had been warned that there are many unlit fishing boats in the channel, all made of wood so they do not appear on radar, and we debated whether to hove-to and approach in daylight. We opted for a very slow sail up the channel, which was well lit in the full moon, and keep a sharp lookout. Several times we passed wooden structures (like dog kennels) anchored in the channel less than 10m off our beam which could not be seen but at 3 knots we were unlikely to cause too much damage if we did hit them. They were unmanned so no threat of drowning someone. Nonetheless it was not a relaxing night.

We anchored at 10am the next morning, exhausted but ready to be boarded by quarantine, immigration and customs.

Cairns and Sydney

Cairns and Sydney 20 June to 4 July 2016

Cairns 20 June –22 June

Cairns at night
We had booked a berth at Cairns marina as it was close to the town and we had a lot to do before
setting off to Indonesia – boat maintenance, provisioning and attending a series of seminars on the trip.

Our first priority was to fly to Sydney as we could not miss this out on our first visit to Australia. We left Cairns in 28 degrees and arrived in Sydney in 10 degrees. The sub-zero temperatures were a shock, back once again in jeans, jackets and shoes. OK it was 10 degrees but it felt like the depths of winter. This was the start of the coldest weekend of their winter so far.

Sydney 22 -27 June

The five days in Sydney were very enjoyable, seeing all the usual tourist places but first we had to take our passports and forms to the Indonesian Embassy to apply for the visas for our upcoming trip. As the Embassy was in Sydney we decided that we would deliver the forms by hand. After some research on the internet we found the location of the Embassy – a 20 minute walk to the bus stop, a thirty minute bus ride and a further 20 minutes’ walk the other end – not exactly the central location we had assumed. We waited an hour and half for the 2 minute appointment to hand in the forms and together with the hour and a half trip each way  - should have just posted them!

On the way back we stayed on the bus to the old quarters - The Rocks - near the Sydney Harbour Bridge which used to be the place of thieves, drunks and prostitutes.  Attempts to demolish the area to remove the blot on the landscape had failed many times and it has become one of the main tourist areas with its network of alley ways. It now boasts a host of up-market restaurants and cafes all trading on the areas’ illustrious past.

The Opera House Bar
The evening was spent at the Sydney Opera house where we had booked tickets to see Carmen – a  Nice and easy for the tourists and all the same very enjoyable and good performance. We had champagne at the interval while we marvelled at the views of the harbour followed by a late supper in the Opera House bar (outside) as we huddled under the outdoor heaters, eating and enjoying the spectacular view of Sydney and the bridge.
modern interpretation of the opera.

View from the Botanical Gardens
The next day we took the bus to the botanical gardens and spent the morning enjoying the walk around the gardens overlooking the harbour. We tried unsuccessfully to visit the former governor’s residence in the grounds as we did not have our passports (at the Indonesian Embassy) which were needed to be allowed in. This was the day of the referendum and as we were walking back past the harbour we were approached by Australian TV to give our views for the lunchtime news. At that time it wasn’t looking hopeful and we were in a state of disbelief. We were both interviewed and I went into on a bit of a rant, having followed the debate and the misinformation that seemed to abound in the UK press. Alas to no avail alas as it was all too late by then.

Kings Cross
The afternoon was spent undertaking a tour on foot of the Kings Cross area, following the route in the Lonely Planet guide. After a three hour walk around the area, with Catherine providing the commentary along the way, we stopped for a drink before heading back to the hotel, exhausted after our day’s tour.

In the evening, Catherine had found an Italian restaurant in the guide book which was out of the tourist area and highly recommended and was just a 30 minute walk away from our hotel (according to her). It was freezing cold and an hour later we found the place which was packed with locals. With no booking we waited for an hour for a table but the wait was well worth it and at midnight we left for the hour walk back.

View from the Bridge
No visit to Sydney is complete without walking across the Sydney Bridge and although we decided not to do the climb the next day we took the train to the north side of the harbour to visit the market with a long walk around the north shore and back over the bridge. I did think that the bridge was much bigger than it was but impressive all the same.

Arriving back on the south shore we took the traditional “old” ferry for the 45 minute ride to Manley. It was an enjoyable trip across the harbour and Manley is a very popular and attractive town with a great surfing beach. Even better, we found a restaurant on the beach where we could eat while watching the surfers on the big rolling waves, not ones for the novice. We set off on a long walk around the headland scrambling up rocks and walking through grassland always keeping an eye out for snakes (warning signs everywhere).

After a few wrong turns and dead ends we finally made our way back to the late ferry just before it got too dark to see. We visited the Chinese quarters for a very late dinner along with the mainly Chinese customers. With the menus in Chinese and the English translation rather opaque, we ended up choosing our meal by looking at what others were eating and pointing to it when the waiter asked for our order in broken English. Still not sure what we ate but it was Ok but there again we were hungry and anything would have been Ok by that time.

The following day we headed west, taking two buses and a train to get to the fish market – another tourist attraction. The range of fish on offer was extraordinary, many that we had not heard of, and there were small cafes in the market, all selling cooked fish in every way that is possible. It was buzzing with life with people buying fish and all the cafes were packed both with tourist and locals. Later that afternoon we visited the Australian museum as we felt we had no real knowledge of indigenous Australians and wanted to find out more. When we were in New Zealand we had visited lots of small museums and galleries and Maori life was represented everywhere. In Australia you seem to have to search for it. We learned little.

Bondi Beach
On the day before we left, we decided we could not miss going to the iconic Bondi beach – the playground for surfers in Sydney. With just a 30 minute bus ride we were on the beach, watching the surfers out in force, putting on displays for the huge number of spectators. However, after our experience of Manley beach, Bondi seemed rather run down with seedy tourist shops, trading on its reputation a little too much. There was however a fantastic open air
swimming pool hewn out of the rocks and we spent ages watching swimmers with waves crashing over them as they swam up and down.

Waves crashing into the Pool
After watching the surfing and somewhat hazardous swimming for an hour or so we took the coastal path to the next bay which was a 45 minute walk around the cliff tops. We ignored the closed signs and yellow tape stopping people using the footpath (as everyone did) and we walked, or rather climbed, along the footpath which had been smashed by a storm. Pretty impressive damage and I can see why they closed it. However, we managed to climb round the worst parts and enjoyed a very pleasant walk to the next bay to find a somewhere for lunch. We came across a nice restaurant with tables on the pavement and some good food in the sunshine while we waited for the bus back to Sydney.  Another very enjoyable day, our last unfortunately in Sydney but we felt that we had seen enough after five days. And we had certainly walked enough!

Back to Reality 27 June - 4 July

We arrived back in Cairns to three days of talks on Indonesia, weather, routes, places to visit etc. All very tedious and we could have done the whole thing in one day which would have been better. It left us only 4 days do everything else. We had to buy the remaining spares we needed (most had been bought in England while we were there in April) but the list was still long and would not be available in Indonesia. While the marina was close to the town, the Chandlers were out of town requiring a 20 minute bus ride plus a 30 minute walk to get there and it needed several trips. It made it a slow process and in the heat of the day.

Alas I was not allowed to get our of the shopping
Provisioning was the next priority. We had been provisioned a lot in N  We ended up with two trolley loads of shopping and a four hour job to try and store everything on the boat. Not something that either of us enjoys.
ew Zealand but we had been told that there are no dairy products available in Indonesia, little meat (fridges and freezers are not common) and very few actual shops – there are mainly markets selling fruit and vegetables.

A day off

Fortunately we had been doing extensive maintenance since before we left New Zealand so we only had small jobs left to complete (small but important). We took a day off to go on a dive boat to the outer Barrier Reef. We had snorkelled in the Whitsundays but that was only inner fringing reef and with all the hype we were expecting some very special. It was a huge disappointment. We had seen better reefs with more coral and fish on many of the islands in the Pacific and much more accessible, normally just a snorkel off the back of the boat rather than a two hour boat ride, crashing through waves! We were pleased to have gone but only so that we felt that we had not missed out – not because it was the amazing trip we were expecting. Maybe if we had not been across the Pacific we might have been more impressed.

Final Checks

The last day was spent checking everything and completing all the last minute jobs. That is when I found that our Cap Shrouds (that go right to the top of the mast) had broken strands in the wires which meant an urgent replacement needed (otherwise the mast could come down in strong winds). I could not believe it as we had the lower shrouds replaced in New Zealand and the rigging checked by the rigger before we left. Mind you we had taken a pounding on the way into Australia and the Cap Shrouds were the only one of the three sets of shrouds that had not been replaced since we left England.

We had resigned ourselves to the fact it would take at least a week to get it replaced and we would not make it to Thursday Island to set off with the rest of the boats. I phoned the first rigger who said he would not be in Cairns for another week and he was the only rigger in the area. When I mentioned that we might go off to Port Douglas, thirty miles north of Cairns, he said he lived there and if we could get the boat there by 4pm the next day, he could have the rigging done by the following midday as he could fit it in with a big job he had on there. Our celebration was a little muted since riggers are very good at promising to do things but not so hot on actually doing them in the timescale promised.
That night we met up with Exocet Strike and to say our farewells. They were re-joining the World Arc in Darwin to go back to the Caribbean to complete their circumnavigation. We had met up with them several times after we both left the rally in World Arc rally in Fiji and it felt strange that we probably wouldn’t see them again, at least for a longtime.

We left the next day, pleased to be on route again, albeit only to Port Douglas to get the rigging repaired.