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.

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