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Friday, June 29, 2012

June 29, 2012 - Leaving Coral Bay to Popham Bay

As much as we hated to leave this lovely spot, and although sailing prospects are grim as there is no wind forecasted for the next several days we reluctantly decided to move on. We have pushed the envelope with our schedule and now it is crunch time. We still have three days of travel to get to Darwin by July 1. One short leg today and then a 60+ mile day and then a push through to Darwin on Sunday. Because today is a short ride we departed Coral Bay at 9:00 AM.

Water was flat calm. We motored at low RPM's and at around 9:30, tossed out the fishing line. Not 20 minutes later we had a beautiful Yellow Fin Tuna. We will be having sashimi for lunch - finally!

At around noon the sparkling blue water took on a strange yellowish hue. Still absolutely flat calm and yet it appeared as though some bizarre filmy substance was pervading the entire area around us. It felt like a Stephen King or Dean Koontz scene.

We couldn't tell what it was, and after about an hour we passed on through it. We arrived at the Cobourg Peninsula and dropped the hook at Popham Bay. I know this sounds like a broken record, but here again we found our surroundings to be eye-catchingly beautiful. This land we presume is also Aboriginal tribal land. The smoky haze is heavy here. We did find out last night from the resort's manager that the Aboriginals are burning land and this is the cause of the dense haze. It is quite irritating to our eyes and sinuses. If it is this bad out here we can't imagine what it must be like on the land. We sure hope Darwin isn't like this.

That's it for now. Tomorrow we have an early curtain call.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

June 28, 2012 - Onward to Coral Bay

Last night just before dinner we decided to enjoy sunset from the back deck, and while I was climbing out of the cockpit to join Frank he pointed at the water just beside the boat and whispered, "Look at that". I nearly missed it, but just caught a glimpse of something white slipping below the surface of the water. Frank said he thought it was a baby Great White. It was so silent and moved so quick we both got excited wondering what it was that we'd seen. We sat staring at the water for what seemed like a very long time but it did not reappear so we turned our attention to the horizon. It was a beautiful sunset with all the haze in the sky. Just about the time I went below to start cooking dinner, Frank called out to me that he saw it again, not a Great White but a Hammerhead and this time it had completely surfaced. I popped back up just to see the knife-like ripple it left behind as it submerged once again. Frank was thrilled and I was disappointed that I'd missed it twice. This is the first time in all of our travels on Destiny that we have seen a shark in the water from the boat, in an anchorage. It seemed to be hanging out underneath us. Creepy.

Today's trip was only 33 miles and yet it seemed to take forever to travel this short distance. Wind was nearly nonexistent and with a 2-knot current against us we seemed to be standing in place much of the time. The seas were so flat we could have water-skied. Abbot mid-way through the trip we saw a dorsal fin zigzagging frantically. Another shark, and this time it was either feeding or stalking a prey. A short time later we were joined again by a pod of dolphins. Wow - so much going on! It was a beautiful day.

We arrived at Coral Bay by around 2:15, and immediately decided to go to shore to check out the resort.
The restaurant deck and pool at Seven Spirit
 Fortunately there is a floating wharf where we tied the dinghy and then walked to the main lodge. The resort is called Seven Spirit Bay Eco Wilderness Resort, and is very lovely. The staff here is genuinely hospitable and friendly, and as they welcomed us they truly made us feel very much at home. We visited with the hostess, had a snack and some drinks and then we walked the beach. As we were going along the water's edge, Frank pointed to the shallows, saying, "Look! What is it?" Well I'll be darned; it was a shark feeding in the surf not 10 feet from us! What is with Frank and the sharks lately? I snapped a picture but it is really hard to see what it is.
We returned to the lodge where we met the chef who gave us a run down on tonight's menu. Fresh "mangrove jack" was being offered tonight. We made a reservation for dinner at 7:00. The resort has only 3 guests right now. A large party left today as we were arriving, and it turns out that the party was actor Ricky Schroder and his family.

There is only one other yacht here, Esperanza, owned by a lovely Dutch couple named Carla and Han. We practically have this place to ourselves. We enjoyed our wonderful dinner; the fish was served whole and was cooked to perfection. We browsed the gallery afterward and purchased a painting by an Aboriginal woman, whose sense of humor we found endearing.
The rest of the title reads..."Witchetty Grubs while the men sit in the camp"

We are trying to decide whether we stick around here another day or leave tomorrow. We really are cutting it close with our time now. We'll sleep on it and decide over coffee in the morning.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 27, 2012 - Guruliya Bay to Croker Island, NT, Australia

Day 2
I laid down for my rest after posting yesterday's journal last night. When Frank awakened me at 12:30 AM for my watch the winds had picked up and we were sailing along at a comfortable 7 - 8 knots. The sky was clear and the stars were out in their splendor. I spent the better part of my watch just looking at the stars, catching glimpses of a few shooters zipping across there wondering how many billions of years ago they had actually burned out. The big dipper is massive and very low in the sky here. It is fascinating to look at so many constellations that are not visible to us in the northern hemisphere. So I spent a good bit of time contemplating these things. The moon although only just bigger than a smile was shining brightly across the water. The sea was competing for attention as well and as we surfed the large waves they collided with our bow wake creating a blast of sparkly phosphorescence. God is indeed showing off tonight.

Unfortunately the bliss didn't last, for during Frank's watch the wind died and the skies clouded over completely blanketing the stars and moon. When he roused me at 6:30 AM we were motoring. The day was an unusual one alternating between flat seas and no wind to lots of wind, cloudy skies and choppy seas. Then the sky would clear, waves would calm down and we would once again move along at a brisk pace. There is a nasty red haze in the air that has our throats getting scratchy, my eyes burning and getting puffy and causing us to sneeze a lot. We don't know if it has to do with bush fires or red dust being kicked up from the desert winds of the vast Northern Territory, nevertheless, it is mildly irritating.

We spotted several sea turtles drifting by, which is more than we've seen on any given day of sailing. They are so cool to watch. We think they are as curious about us as we are them, and nearly each one of them would bob along, taking a good look at us and then either dive or bob away before we could get a picture. Obviously they are not bothered by Salties.

We arrived at Croker Island, Somerville Bay at 4:30. It is desolate here, and if we didn't know where we actually are we might think we are in Baja California. Sure looks a lot like it. We have the entire bay to ourselves. Since leaving Guruliya Bay yesterday morning, we've come 231 miles, 34 hours, and of that trip we ran the engine 15.4 hours. I say this because we left Gove alone because all of the other cruisers were waiting until Thursday to leave when the winds calm down because they thought the winds were too high to get out in "it". Those poor guys are all going to have a lot of motoring ahead of them. We'll spend the night here and then head to Coral Bay where Rick and Robin from the catamaran Endangered Species said they had enjoyed a great meal at the resort there last year (hope it is still there). From here it looks like a short 5 ½ hour trip.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

June 26, 2012 Departing Guruliya Bay, Heading for Croker Island (2 day trip)

Day 1
It is said the darkest hour comes just before dawn. In a remote area such as this, the darkest hour is also the most spectacular time to view the heavens. With absolutely no ambient light from anywhere but the stars we took a few minutes to just gaze up and to enjoy this magical moment. Directly to the east Frank pointed out what appeared to be three planets perfectly aligned and so big and bright they seemed to dominate the sky. Were they Mars, Venus and Jupiter? During times like this we wish we'd paid more attention to astrology. We just sat in silence, sipping our coffee and let the stillness wash over us before we started our long day.

We crept out of Guruliya Bay and set a westerly course for Croker Island. For the better part of the day we enjoyed some fantastic sailing and had another visit from a family of dolphins. Four of them zipped in from out of nowhere and enjoyed diving and jumping our bow wake for over an hour. Frank managed to get some good photos this time, using his new iPad. That thing takes the best pictures. We both stood out there for a while enjoying the show, until the wave action sent us scurrying back to the cockpit. Not long afterward I was preparing lunch when Frank shouted, "Barb, turtle!" I grabbed the iPad and popped up the companionway just as the turtle dove under the water. Frank said this one was huge, and although we waited patiently for his return he was probably already miles away. So, other than the wind dying late this afternoon and the seas laying down for us to enjoy cooking and reading that was the big excitement for today.

It is now 10 PM, and because we lost our wind for several hours today we are pretty far behind schedule. That's all right we have great weather, pretty skies, nautical friends stopping by to visit and plenty of books to read. We are trying to get settled into night watch shifts. More tomorrow…

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Monday, June 25, 2012

June 25, 2012 - Anchored at Guruliya Bay, Raragala Island (NT, Australia)

We awoke at 5:00 AM this morning and were weighing anchor at around 5:30, however, there was so much heavy, thick gray/black clay and shell stuck to the rode and to the anchor that it took us until 6:00 to actually get it washed and the anchor secured. It was absolutely as black as midnight outside, so as we moved out of Irverell Bay (Gove Harbour), I stood on the bow with a big spotlight calling out obstacles, such as mooring balls and other yachts to Frank. Lord, as my beam danced about I hope I didn't accidentally shine that bad boy into someone's chamber of dreams. As we approached the bauxite-loading wharf we picked up the early traces of sunrise. It was a lovely morning for a sail.

Immediately we harnessed 20 knots astern, but also got the choppy wave action that jerked us side to side for about the first hour. Eventually we settled into a very comfortable downwind sail picking up the escort of some friendly dolphins who torpedoed through our bow wake for a number of miles. The waves had turned into big breakers and thank goodness we were surfing them along with our friends who now and then would shoot into the air giving us a little sideshow. We enjoyed a beautiful sail through the first pass of the English Company Islands (details on our "Where Are We" button of the website). It was a cakewalk through that pass as we caught the flooding tide that helped us through. This area is very pretty, dotted with lots of small islands, pretty sand beaches and apparently pearl farms. We then negotiated the second pass just as easily. Our pleasant day continued.

Eventually we approached The Wessell Islands where we would thread the needle through The Hole in The Wall, a narrow pass between Raragala Island and Guluwuru Island that is only about a mile long but is very unusual. On approach we couldn't even see the pass. In fact we were nearly upon it before the break in the islands was apparent. We were awed by the rock structures that comprise these islands. They actually resembled giant flat slabs heaped upon one another. We were completely overcome by their beauty. Going through the pass was a spectacular experience, and one that we feel blessed to have been able to undertake. This is another rare treat that few will ever encounter.

Just as we were emerging from the pass I sat down at the Nav desk, about to send in our position report when Peter from Renegade hailed us on the radio. He was stopping at the English Company Islands but wanted to recommend an anchorage to us on the other side of The Hole in The Wall. We were originally just going to come through and then drop the hook at a beach on the lee shore to the left of the pass. This other anchorage, however, was   about 5 miles further down the coast. We took his advice, and arriving at 1:00 PM, we anchored in this amazing remote and unusual Guruliya Bay. We are now in sacred Aboriginal lands and are not permitted to go ashore, but that's quite alright because it is blowing like Colorado out there and we are happy just to sit, read a book and enjoy the scenery. We traveled some 53 miles today and truly enjoyed ourselves.

Tomorrow we have another overnighter to look forward to and have many miles to cover to the next stop, so a 5:00 AM departure is required. The Captain has advised me that this one will be only 34 hours. No worries, Mate!

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Sunday, June 24, 2012

June 23 & 24, 2012 – Gove, Northern Territory, Australia & Destiny Nearly in Peril!

Who would have ever planned a trip to Gove, Australia? It is not on the regular itinerary of most travelers and yet we are very happy it was on ours. The locals are among the friendliest and most hospitable folks in all of Oz.

Last night we did go into the Gove Boat Club, a large and very friendly gathering place – in fact it is all there really is in the anchorage here. They have it all – a games area, book swap, huge bar and restaurant, great big outdoor area, complete with a large playground for the kids. It is all fenced in and quite safe. Although there are croc warning signs about and notices to be careful getting in the water when fishing from shore, launching or disembarking your dinghy, we saw none. Frank is beginning to feel quite sad about not seeing any Salties. I'm very OK with it.  We started with Happy Hour at 5 PM, soon joined by Paul and Glor, Keith and Christine off Scallywag and also Peter and Evelyn from Renegade. Not long afterward we met Ann, Mike and their crew from Callisto. We enjoyed a wonderful evening in spite of the fact that the All Blacks match was not being televised here. Big time Bummer for our Kiwi friends, and for us as well.  We got the low-down on getting into town for groceries, etc., and decided to make that our focus on Sunday.

Today, Sunday, we caught up on emails and I got to Skype "chat" with my good friend Jeri Lyn, then phoned my folks and my daughter. It was great catching up with them all. Our 8-year old grandson, Trace told us today was the best day of his entire life (his words). He has been saving his reward tokens forever (my daughter rewards good behavior with little tokens that add up to real dollars after a while), and he finally committed enough good deeds to purchase an iPod touch with his own money. He was so precious! OK, that has nothing to do with our adventures but I'm so proud of both my daughter and of Trace for their positive attitudes I had to brag here a bit.

At mid-day we went to shore, walked out to the roadway in front of the Boat Club and hitched a ride to town. A very nice lady picked us up returning from the airport with friends who are visiting from Darwin. We had a very nice conversation on the way in. It turns out that at least one of them is going to Austin, TX at the end of the year. We told them we have good friends there and family all over Texas so we promised to get in touch in Darwin and gave them our email addresses. We do hope they will email us. You never know.

We got our grocery shopping done and then walked back out to the road to hitchhike back. A nice guy who had emigrated here from Chile picked us up. He is a driller for the mines and on the way back, drove us past the longest conveyor belt in Australia and quite possibly in the world. It carries the bauxite from the mines to the refinery, some 19 kilometers away. Amazing!

On the way back to Destiny, Scallywag flagged us down to stop by for tea. We got onboard and Christine picked up her camera saying, "We want to show you some pictures".  I didn't have my glasses on but it looked like they had taken photos of us bringing up the anchor in some place that had a LOT of mud, but then the pictures were not ringing any bells and it looked like two men, not Frank and I. We couldn't figure out what they were about. When I picked up a pair of reading glasses from their table, I saw that was two men on the bow of Destiny, but we still couldn't figure out where this had taken place and when, and furthermore what they were doing with our anchor. So we asked. They all calmly replied, "About an hour after you left the boat today". Oh my God! Then reality hit – this was Keith and Paul in the photos. They said the wind had picked up considerably and at the tide change, Destiny began to drag. Marion aboard Avant Garde happened to look out her window and remarked to Colin that Destiny was in trouble. He hailed Scallywag, and then jumped into his dinghy. The men all converged on our boat and by then Destiny was quickly and literally rushing backward on a collision course with another yacht. They managed to get our anchor up to find that a mooring line was wrapped all around it, and this is what had caused it not to be able to re-set. It was literally covered in mud and mooring line. They managed to get the line unwrapped, knocked the chunks off and re-anchored our beloved Destiny before she hit any other boats. After hearing the story, tears erupted from my eyes, my lip quivered and my stomach became a hard knot. Frank was speechless. These guys were our Angels today.

Tonight over twenty of us met at the Boat Club for drinks and dinner. Frank told the club manager to put all of Avant Garde and Scallywag's (and crew) drinks on our tab. It was a very small thing we could do to offer our thanks and gratitude to these wonderful friends. We really enjoyed a lovely evening with everyone. Most of them are sticking around until Wednesday or Thursday to depart, but we are leaving in the morning, very early. So going home tonight was a little sad. Keith and Christine are flying home to NZ from here. We sure hope to see them again. Frank wants to be "anchor's aweigh" at 5:00 AM tomorrow. Oy! Yoi! Yoi!

Next stop: The Hole in The Wall

Saturday, June 23, 2012

June 22 & 23, 2012 Crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria, Arriving at Gove, NT

We are in Gove, NT (Northern Territory), Australia. We set the anchor at noon. What a ride.  Of the 53 hours it took to sail here, 24 were dreadful, about 18 were miserable and the other 11 were uncomfortable but tolerable.

Yesterday was not as bad as the night before. Winds were up and down, however, by nightfall we had found a certain rhythm that at least allowed us to sleep a little better. We saw 35 knots of wind and, had the seas been more kind we might have shortened the trip just a bit.

We are safe and Destiny is intact except that our fairly new UV strip on the Staysail is coming unstitched and started flapping as we rounded the mining wharf coming into Gove. Also just coming in I noted to Frank that our top lifeline on the starboard side looked droopy, and that we should tighten it up when we get in. Well, just as we were taking in the sails it sprang free and seriously drooped. Thankfully the hardware is intact and Frank only needed to replace a screw to get that back up. Poor Destiny – we sure do put her through the rigors. But she is built for this kind of beating and she proves herself time and again.

So now we rest. I have a splitting headache that no amount of Aleve or Advil has been able to conquer, so I'm going down for a nap after a long shower and we get the boat put back together. It is a big mess from the thrashing.

Tonight the All Blacks are playing so we all plan to go into the yacht club in hopes that it is televised here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

June 21, 2012 - Crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria

We departed Seisia at 7 AM under blue skies. For the first several hours we had decent wind moving along at about 7 knots. The water was very shallow, ranging from 20 to 40 feet deep and even 12 feet at one spot. For the better part of the day we remained in depths no more than 50 feet but lost the wind and had to motor.

By around 3 PM we received word that several others were catching Yellow Fin Tuna and Spanish Mackerel so we put out our hand line. Nearing dusk I had given up hope of sashimi for dinner and was rummaging around the freezer for some of our Mocka's Pies when Frank yelled, "We've got one!" By the time I got topside it was gone, along with the lure and a few hundred feet of line, and we could see it leaping several feet up out of the water behind us - it was a huge bill-fish! It was angry trying to shake loose that lure in its mouth. Feeling pretty rotten about that poor fish I returned below to take the pies out.

As evening approached, depths increased to around 150 feet and the Crap-entaria began to earn its nickname. The ride became AWFUL. Seas have no rhythm, and they slap the hull madly, dipping us up and down, seesawing us fore to aft and tossing us side to side. It is a very agitated motion and so uncomfortable we can't find peace. This continued through the entire night. We eventually got more wind, but the seas are hateful. Then in the middle of the night the rains came pouring down. Neither of us were able to get much rest.

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June 20, 2012 Seisia, Queensland, Australia

Yesterday evening a group of cruisers gathered on shore at the lone picnic table adjacent to the town's boat ramp. We have traveled back in time to the days of prohibition. Seisia is dry. The assembled yachties were grumbling about the grocery store not having any beer which is something I didn't notice when we were in there. Of course I absolutely would have snapped to this awful reality had I still been drinking. There is no liquor store (bottle-0) and apparently no place to consume spirits at all. People were actually sneaking drinks and hiding the bottles in their coolers.
Anyway, several conversations were going on at once all around us. I kept getting drawn into one conversation or another to find that topics ranged from Salties (the saltwater crocodiles), to drinking (or the banning thereof), schedules and plans to cross the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is what I gleaned from it all:

+ Some people claim they have seen lots of crocs; some at Margaret Bay, some on Morris Island, several at Escape River and some very large ones here right on this very beach. We must be blind because we have not actually seen any ourselves.
+ Those who had thought they would be stocking up on booze here will just have to ration their stores until they get across to Gove, a mining town on the other side of the Gulf that surely sells liquor to the miners.
+ Schedules for departing here depend primarily on the weather and secondarily to the amount of booze in the individuals ships stores
+ Plans range from southing along the coast to pick up a better wind angle to going straight across to Gove or more northerly to either the "Hole in the Wall" or to Marchinbar, all depending on the weather and the current.

There appears to be a lot of anxiety about crossing the Gulf, which many refer to as "The Gulf of Crap-entaria", because it is very shallow and apparently exposed to a nasty current and all sorts of strange phenomena that often make it utterly ugly to cross. No one seems to be able to explain exactly what causes this and no one is eager to go. It's only a 2 - 3 day voyage and Frank and I aren't as worried as some who are studying GRIB files and angsting over it. We just want to get it over with. So at the end of all the discussions I think most of us are leaving on Thursday.

That was yesterday. Today it is raining. Has been all day. Frank has tried countless ways to repair the water-maker hose and has finally agreed to take Peter from Renegade up on his offer of a spare one he has onboard. I spent most of the day catching up on emails, blogs and taking care of personal business, and I baked cookies for Peter and Evelyn in a gesture of gratitude for the hose. To Frank's dismay we only kept 5 of them. We had thought of going to shore for a walk, but outside of the fenced-in compounds it really isn't safe to walk around with Salties on the loose. By the way, the campground, park, fishing club and playground are all fortified with fencing. Now we know they aren't all in prison as it appears - they are just protecting themselves. What a strange way to live. I didn't take any of this to heart yesterday when we were walking around and still would have gone back in today had it not been raining and had the wind not been blustery out.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

June 19, 2012 - Through Albany Pass and Rounding Cape York - An Exceptional Sail

This morning was pitch black when we awoke but we needed to be ready at first light to move out of Escape River. The next part is a short trip - about 42 NM- but the trick is to run with the flooding tide going into Albany Pass and then catch the outgoing, coming out the other side as we go over the top around Cape York when the tide ebbed and turned.

What a beautiful sight watching twinkling mast lights bob as crew weighed anchor all around us. There were 9 or 10 yachts here staging to depart. I was still hosing off the mud and shell caked anchor when Avant Garde and two others passed on by us. Darn! I had pulled up an entire underwater kingdom with that anchor. I grabbed the boat hook and got to work knocking the chunks off. Finally we were away, following along we immediately felt the current grab us. Unless you sail or race on a yacht I cannot impress upon you the feeling of exhilaration that pumped through us this day. We were bristling with excitement because our friends, s/v Bebe, s/v Baraka, and s/v Harmonie had all really enjoyed this part of the passage in previous years.

Yachts were positioning all around us, falling into line entering Albany Pass. We were moving with a 3+ knot current through the pass, past beautiful little islands. It was magnificent. Pretty. Colorful. And it was FAST! The wind pushed us while the current pulled us to over 10 knots of boat speed. We reefed in the genny and furled the main all the way in so we wouldn't march up the backside of Solar Planet, a German yacht in front of us. I spent the better part of this passage up on the foredeck enjoying the ride, my foot wrapped around a stanchion, and holding onto my camera trying to capture some of this magic. Stunning vistas sped passed before I could snap decent photos, but our eyes took it all in. In hindsight, what I needed was a video camera.

At one point we picked up a near 5-knot current. We took pictures of the instrument panel showing that, although we were only sailing 5.8, our SOG (speed over ground) was 10.0. That is what a good wind angle and current will do for you. We hit a top speed of 10.8 knots with 1/3 of the genoa and no mainsail flying. As we broke free of the protection of the pass coming out the other side of Cape York we were immediately hit with 35 knots of wind gust. The winds were sustaining over 30 knots and the pressure on our sails was tremendous. What an amazing ride! We have now sailed 2080 miles since leaving Sydney.

We now had only 14 miles to go to Seisia. We enjoyed a fairly easy ride in, keeping the sails tightly reefed because it was blowing like hellfire. Approaching the little village we noted about 15 yachts sitting calmly at anchor just waiting for more new neighbors. It is very peaceful and calm in here.

We anchored in less than 10 feet of sand but let out plenty of scope allowing for the tide and wind which will both increase and decrease exponentially while we're here. We gathered our rubbish and went into shore for a nice stretch. It's been nearly a week since we have been off the boat. There isn't much to Seisia, population 165 according to The Lonely Planet, other than a large campground, a BP station, a fishing camp and a small grocery store where the price of a whole grain loaf of bread was $8.95. It was delivered by cargo ship packaged and frozen, thawing on the shelf. There was a sign posted within the store, prohibiting photo taking. I guess we aren't the first visitors to want to bear witness to highway robbery! That same loaf was 2/$6 in the real world (Port Douglas) that we have now left behind. We had been craving fresh veggies, but iceberg lettuce at $24.95/kg could sit and wait for the next customer. We purchased just a few items and then walked around some more. The earth here is red, red, red. There are termite mounds around that look like teepees. I did not have my camera (again!). Most of the inhabitants are indigenous Australians. There we also croc tracks. I suppose since they originated in Papua New Guinea, they are not indigenous but sure seem to own the place.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 18, 2012 – Margaret Bay to Escape River (69 NM) - Great Day and Another Fine Mess!

Lovely and serene by day, Margaret turned into nighttime hell last night. It began around suppertime, as the rising tide rushed in and started the roll. Winds continued to build so that roll VS wind equaled sleep deprivation. We were nearly thrown out of the bed. Good grief what a lousy night. Wind howling, halyards slamming against the mast and swell throwing us from side to side, we barely slept a wink before the 5:30 alarm shattered my nightmares and roused a petulant crew. We both groped around sleepily while getting coffee started and warming up the engine. We were hauling the anchor up by 6:00 and away at 6:07 immediately surfing the 25 knots of whistling wind.

The sailing today was pretty darn good. We only had to fiddle with the genoa and staysail a few times, otherwise we enjoyed between 25-28 knots True (wind) pushing us. The chop gave us a bit of contention and a countercurrent of between 1 – 1.5 kts pushed us at us a good bit of the way but in spite of that we sailed along at between 7 – nearly 10 knots most of the day. Skies are gray but the temp is warming rapidly as we journey north, so a bit of cloud cover is good for managing the heat.

Smooth sailing turned into a veritable Bull Bide coming into the bay! Actually it isn't a bay but it looks like a big bay outside the Escape River, as the coast swings inward a bit. Big seas. Big winds. We were fine but as we looked around at a few of the other smaller yachts in the little flotilla, masts were not only swaying but also pumping up and down, their freeboards disappearing in the 2 meter chop. Turning Destiny to furl in the mainsail looked like a terrible option in these conditions. Frank instructed me to bring it in slowly while he controlled the outhaul. I chose to crank it rather than use the electric wench – why I can't say but it is darn good thing I did. Sometimes instincts and/or angels keep us from big trouble.  At first the cranking was slow but steady and when the sail was about ¾ of the way furled, difficult became unmanageable. I thought this was due to the pressure from the wind and although I was watching the sail one side was obscured from my view. On that particular side, unbeknownst to us both, a spare halyard had loosened and was being cranked into the mast along with the mainsail. I finally told Frank I just couldn't move it anymore. He switched places with me and gave it all he had until a nerve-wracking screech sounded. I yelled, "STOP! SOMETHING IS WRONG!" He stopped; we peered up toward the top and saw that the halyard looked strange. For the love of Neptune, the halyard's gotten sucked into the mast! Meanwhile the wind began gusting over 30 knots. Oh Lord, we have to let some sail out and pray it will actually come out. Frank cranked the outhaul with the wench and suddenly it all gave way at once; the halyard popped loose and the main billowed out. Quickly we turned into the wind tossing around like a rubber duck in a washing machine, and cranking as quickly as possible got that sucker furled in. Coming back around, with Frank now back behind the helm, we looked up and saw something black and crescent shaped sticking to the middle panel of the front Strataglass (windshield). I went out, scooped it off and handed it to Frank. We both scratched our heads wondering what this hard piece of plastic was and where in the world it came from. We put is aside for later and continued on into the river entrance.

We sure didn't expect the Escape River to be as beautiful as it turned out to be. Rivers are generally sort of brown with brown-ish beaches. Aren't they? And because we have heard horror stories about the crocs in here eating dinghies and living in abundance, that sort of added to the "brown" expectation. There is nothing brown about it. It is turquoise blue with white sand beaches and is full of pearl farms. Our friends on Scallywag and Avant Garde were here. We chatted on the radio shortly then got to the business of checking things out on deck to make sure Destiny was A-OK after that little fiasco. We found a few more pieces of black plastic up by the mast and started looking around to see what had shattered, feeling around everything that was black. We discovered that the triple line turning block that sits on the midships deck had a busted pulley. It was the one our outhaul line passes through. My first thought was Thank God we were hand-cranking and not using the power wench or who knows what could have… and Frank's was Wonder what THAT's going to cost to replace!  Frank is so clever – he removed the block, turned it around so that the broken pulley sat with a line we seldom use, thus we had a sound one in place for the main outhaul.

At the end of the day, it was a fantastic sail. We traveled 69 nautical miles in 9 hours. Holy moly!  What is even more cool is that as of mid-day today, we hit the 2000-mile mark since leaving Sydney. This is a big country indeed.  Tomorrow, we go over the top. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

June 17, 2012 – Portland Roads to Margaret Bay (46 NM)

Well, it can't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, now can it? If so then life would be incredibly boring.

We are no longer enjoying peaceful nights of slumber in still anchorages. The night in Portland Roads was pitchy and tolerable but not pleasant. Today's trip isn't very far – just 46 miles, so we waited until 7:45 to depart.  Right away we threw up the sails and away she went. Destiny enjoyed a very nice day of skimming over the water. In fact a few times throughout the day we had to reef in. Things were going along smoothly until Frank noticed that water was seeping into the bilge when he turned on the watermaker. It appeared to be just a trickle but leaking water is not generally a welcome sight on a boat. He began methodically tracking the trail of the trickling water to find a breach in the pressure hose. He said it looked as though it had been worn through by rubbing against the bulkhead. He enlarged the opening and then set to trying to stave the leak until we can get a replacement hose in Darwin. Thankfully we have ½ of a tank of water and should make it OK.  Frank, however, cannot stand to leave this challenge untackled and immediately placed the thinking cap firmly onto his head.

Back to sailing, we flew past several of the boats that had left earlier than us making us very proud of our big girl. She was on her favorite point of sail and was showing off just a bit.  Once set, we didn't have to touch the sails again until we neared our destination. This gave Frank plenty of opportunity to experiment with fixing our hose.  I cannot bear to watch him in this mode because he becomes a driven man and very unsociable so I have learned to leave him to it and to stay well out of the way. I finished re-reading and thoroughly enjoying "The Power of One" while keeping an eye out for traffic and watching the stunning coastline pass by. It just gets prettier and prettier and more remote.

We had no drama approaching Margaret Bay, but as we rounded the point we were stunned at the beauty of this large, magnificent bay. My gosh, the sand is so white I desperately wanted to go ashore. All around us were miles and miles of stark white sand beach.  I commented to Frank that Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays has got nothing on Margaret Bay. This place is far more stunning, but of course we could not walk the beaches because the damnable crocs have taken over and made it theirs.  The whole bay is very shallow and so we anchored well offshore of the beach so far in fact that I couldn't take a decent photo. We'll have to remember this one in our mind's eye.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

June 16, 2012 – Morris Island to Portland Roads (59NM)

After clearing Morris Island, we enjoyed one of the best days yet of sailing yet on this trip up the coast so I think we are starting to pick up those nice winds our friends enjoyed the two previous years, we are just late bloomers.

Entering the heads into Portland Roads we did not know what to expect, but suddenly my broadband stick glowed bright blue so I jumped below to quickly check emails and get a couple of updates posted, then lost the signal. It was a good 20 minutes though.  The Lucas Guide is more sketchy than informative in these parts and gave no information that was useful really. We dropped the hook at 4:30 PM in the pouring rain. Gee whiz it is choppy in here. The Germans, Austrians and another yacht are here as well. There is life on shore but we can't tell how on earth we would get there. There is no beach and no semblance of a spot to land a dinghy. I had no intention of going to shore here anyway it sort of looked like another "Deliverance" site, and felt like one when we found there was no phone, TV or internet signal. Hummmm, wonder what they do for enjoyment??? Scary to think.  OK, so we really, really did not like it here but are truly thankful that it offered a place to stop for the night. We had left Morris Island at 6:30, and arrived here at 2:45. Had we not had great sailing winds we sure wouldn't have hurried in.

Dreary, windy, rocky and rainy we did not rest, but had a break I guess you could say. This was as bad as those awful rolly anchorages in the Whitsunday group. After having not slept well at all (again), we arose had our coffee and then at 7:45 were out of there.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

June 15, 2012 – A 59-Mile Day to Morris Island

Leaving Flinders at 6:30 AM, where we spent a wind-howling, stormy and miserable night, we hardly got a handkerchief-size bit of sail up before the winds swept us away. So, the uncomfortable and miserable anchorage can often translate into decent sailing. This day, however, we lost a good bit of speed due to the confused state of the sea. The heavens alternated from ugly and threatening to clearing with some clouds and pretty blue sky. It was a weird day and not one that we particularly enjoyed. But we did appreciate making the 59 NM passage to Morris Island before losing daylight, arriving at 4:45 PM. This is another flat little sand island amidst the Great Barrier Reef that surprisingly offers great respite for the weary traveler. It appears that many of the trees have lost their leaves, possibly due to recent cyclones but were sprouting little bits of green. It was a funny site to see all these sticks on the pretty sandy island. Here again we were forewarned that there are crocs about and should not venture off the boat. Apparently dinghies are croc targets. We enjoyed a fair night here at Morris Island and then sailed away for Portland Roads (on the mainland) for our next stop, which is another 59 NM passage. It was 6:30 AM when we hoisted the anchor
Approaching Morris Island

at anchor at Morris Island

Friday, June 15, 2012

June 14, 2012 - Howick Island to Flinders Group (52NM)

We bid farewell to the not very attractive but comfortable anchorage at Howick Island around 6:30 AM, motoring under pretty blue skies but not getting a lot of help from the wind. We swung out the main hoping to tempt the wind. The morning was so lovely, seas fairly calm and the motion of the boat so smooth that I announced to Frank I would prepare some passage food, beginning with King Ranch Chicken. He was busy fussing with the main sheet trying to eek out a little more speed and didn't seem to mind but shouted down that he sure could use a chocolate chip cookie! I told him I suppose I could throw a few into the oven while preparing the casserole.   As I busied about, the wind typically increased enough to wing out the genoa. This is beginning to sound like a broken record. Now we know the pattern of the trades (light in the AM and then building to gale force when we are ready for bed), which is nothing close to what our friends experienced the two previous seasons. They all praised the consistent 20 – 30 knot sou'easterlies they had enjoyed all the way up this coast to Cape York. We must have caught it on an off year. But who's complaining…we are still moving fairly steadily if not briskly along, and enjoying the heck out of it.

I finished the casserole, and while the cookies were baking, started on banana nut muffins. Every now and then I'd pop up into the cockpit to enjoy the beautiful passing scenery along the mainland. It is desolate here - native isolated beauty that looks as wild and untamed as nature intended. For us it yields a serene backdrop for pleasant surfing up the coast.

approaching Cape Melville
Approaching Cape Melville we were on the lookout for its famed boulders. We soon found there was no need to be on alert because you couldn't miss them. What amazed us most is that we had been cruising along commenting on the green, green mountains, white sandy beaches and then all of a sudden the entire landscape morphed into piles of nothing but large rocks and boulders heaped upon one another, appearing to have freeze-framed in mid-tumble right down into the sea. There were a couple of small "islands" of piles of boulders sitting right out in the water as well. It was a remarkable sight. I was immediately taken back to 2008 when Frank and I were driving with all of our worldly possessions in tow from Colorado to San Diego, and on the way, we passed a similar sight in the middle of nowhere. 

At the time I thought to myself these look like some giant's discarded marbles. So very odd, and to think these are the only two places we've seen anything like this. I wonder where else we may spot this same phenomenon. OK, I do tend to digress. 

At this juncture, we were sailing neck and neck with an Austrian catamaran, Renegade, and as we approached the boulders Frank hailed them on the radio to tell them we would take their picture if they would come out on deck. We snapped some great shots of them and then they in turn did the same for us.

About 14 NM beyond Cape Melville lay the Flinders Group of Islands. The passage between Flinders and Stanley Islands is called Owens Channel. This is our intended anchorage for the night. There are two ways to approach the anchorage Frank chose the western approach allowing us to pass into and through the channel between the islands allowing us to enjoy the view of both islands. It is lovely here, but not safe to go ashore. Saltwater crocs apparently patrol this area. At 3:45 we set the anchor in time to see the blue sky gobbled up by fast approaching storm clouds. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June 13, 2012 – Sailing from Lizard Island to Howick (32 NM)

Leaving Lizard Island at 7:30, we enjoyed a lovely sail of just 32 miles today to a little Island called Howick. The winds are beginning to pick up earlier in the day which is a big improvement, yet it was calm enough for me to make up a large batch of chocolate chip cookie dough to freeze so we’d have energy snacks on passage across the top. I baked a bout 10, but they didn’t last very long. Arriving at 1:30 we noted there was nothing special about this anchorage and it wasn’t even attractive, just a place to stop for the night to break up our trip. The shoreline was comprised of mostly mangroves and rocky coral, although there were some structures that may have been fishing camps or very rustic homes. We are now sailing in the company of a few Dutch and German Yachts whom we have met along the way but just casually. These day trips are more work than pleasure stops because we cannot leave the boat. The anchorage was not a very comfortable one, but it was a short stay. Tomorrow we have a big day ahead and will need to really push the daylight, so it will be another early wakeup call for Destiny and crew.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 12, 2012 – Last Day at Lizard Island

Several boats departed Lizard Island today, Scallywag among them but they have been here for a week already. We were not yet prepared to leave this restful place knowing that for the next several days we had many one-day hops ahead of us. We spent our last day getting things in order while conditions are calm and now that things are drying out from all the rain we've had lately.  Frank beached the dinghy for a good scrub inside and out, top to bottom while I washed and put away the clears around our cockpit and stowed them, bringing out the screens. We will be getting into very hot temperatures as we near the top of Australia and also into mossie territory. The screens will keep us cooler while acting as mosquito netting. Chores done, we went to the beach and just hung out. This may very well be the last time we can do this before reaching Indonesia. Fortunately Lizard Island is relatively safe from the saltwater crocs, but every future stop will be unsafe to leave the boat.  In fact, we've been told by locals to make sure we hoist the dinghy every night after this stop because the crocs will puncture them. Actually, the verbiage was – "Rubber ducky's left in the water are called crocodile teething rings!" It is sort of funny.

No drama, as they say here, on our last day, just a nice lazy one. We love it here but have to get going and will have a fairly short hop tomorrow so we'll have a cuppa and then make a break for it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

June 11, 2012 - Hike to and Tour of Lizard Island Research Station - and a Lovely Snorkel

Monday, the marine research station at Lizard Island offered a tour of their facility and a sort of educational show-and-tell to visitors from the yachts. It begins at 11:00, but is an hour's walk from Watson's Bay. Wow, this walk is good training for building up ankles and calves because about ¾ of it is loose sugary sand. I suppose this island is similar to Fraser Island in that regard. There was just one steep part over a rocky hill and then we were back to the sand that buried our feet and twisted our ankles if we weren't careful. Arriving at the research station hot and soaked in sweat, we were all asked to take off our shoes and rinse our feet in the tub of water at the entrance. When we removed our shoes and socks sand poured out! We could fully appreciate their request otherwise they would have a sand dune to scoop up after we all left.

We were ushered into a small lounge area and offered seats, where we were shown a short but very impressive video of the workings of the research station. Students, marine biologists, scientists from all over the world study and conduct research in the station and at the underwater lab, in a strict rotation. We are after all right in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. There are only 3 fulltime personnel stationed here. We came away from the presentation much, much more respectful of the reefs, flora and fauna below us and learned of some creatures we've never seen nor heard of before. One of those is a "manta (or mantis) shrimp".

Leaving the little room we were all led to an outdoor working lab with dozens of small glass tanks containing various creatures. One of the scientists (an American) directed our attention to a chunk of coral in a small aquarium asking if any of us could find the octopus. We peered in but could see only the coral rock, yet sure enough a tiny octopus was attached and utterly disguised exactly conforming to the colors and surface structure of the coral. The only way we could spot it was by it's breathing. Wow! We've probably passed right on by these little guys when diving or snorkeling and had never known. The scientist is studying the tiny octopus's behaviors under varying conditions and stimuli.

Next we met another (American) marine biologist who had one of the manta shrimp about 2.5 inches long displayed in another aquarium. This is a bizarre little creature. It has a tail more resembling a lobster than a shrimp, and "arms" that it keeps folded up under the head sort of like a praying mantis but these arms are weapons of alien strength. It strikes with such velocity that a larger specimen would be able to break the glass in the tank! One appendage punches; the other "arm" is a spike. Anyone reading this should go to YouTube and watch some of the videos of Mantis Shrimp; they are very aggressive. The arms move lightening fast, and to demonstrate, he placed a metallic looking pen into the tank and immediately the shrimp attacked by striking it, yet no one saw the arm move we just heard at loud "thwack!" and saw the pen jerk. The young scientist studying this creature gave us some amazing information on this little fellow and of course urged us never to try to approach or pick one up that we may see swimming around. He then gave each of us a go with the pen - it was frightening to feel the strength of that punch. Later toward the end of our tour, another biologist (a female American) who had just brought in a massive manta shrimp in a bucket showed us her find. Unbelievable - it was as large as a lobster, and we are told very tasty as well but we may never find out for ourselves. The rest of the hour was filled with more exhibits and larger tanks filled with purple starfish, live coral and beautifully colored fish. The final exhibit was a very large crown-of-thorns starfish in a large tank. We've seen several of these while snorkeling in Fiji. We took a lot of information away with us and were seriously awed. At the end we were escorted back to the lounge area to peruse the collection of books, videos, etc. We each decided to buy a t-shirt to commemorate the visit and then on the way out our hostess pointed to a bench full of dive skins and wetsuits telling us to help ourselves if we would like one, as these are being cycled out. That was nice. They are well used but with plenty of life left in them there was one left as we passed by and so we picked it up.

Somehow the trek back seemed longer but I'm sure that is because it was much hotter now. We rested a bit onboard and then jumped into the water in for a snorkel over to the Clam Garden, which was just a short swim away. I must say we have done a fair bit of diving and rarely have we seen such a colorful, healthy and lively reef. We couldn't believe we forgot the camera. It was a fantastic large reef brimming with literally hundreds of corals, assorted creatures and clams, some up to 5 feet in diameter, their "lips" a variety of colors, mostly deep rich purples and bright greens, blues and yellows. They look like velvet but are mighty strong, and if we were to get too close could lose an appendage in a heartbeat. There were also large rocklike structures absolutely covered with the zig-zaggy mouths of clams. It was an eerie sight - as though the actual clams were trapped inside this huge rock and all we could see were the lips pulsing. It reminded me of a horror movie where all these souls were trapped in a wall crying out for help. Then at one particular section about 12 giant clams were sitting into the sand facing upward as they do their lips the colors of the rainbow (once again I regretted not having brought the darn camera). My gosh, what a sight! We then came to an area of beautiful blossoms of coral whereupon some of the prettiest neon bright fish were feeding: blues, yellows, greens, pinks oranges, reds their colors so bright it was as if they were lit from the inside. There were also several patches of coral that first appeared white but then would sort of glow fluorescent green like a light stick. Amazing. Just when Frank motioned for me to start moving back toward the boat a sea turtle swam within arm's reach of me. I was so stunned I popped up to get Frank's attention and surprisingly when I looked back down the turtle was still with me. We swam along together for several minutes, the turtle and me. I was so very tempted to reach out to touch it and could have easily done so because it was utterly unperturbed by my proximity. Frank and I swam along with our new friend until he surfaced, looked right at me and then in a breath was gone. This was a magical experience. Although Frank and I have been divers for years we came away with a renewed sense of personal responsibility and propriety toward the world below us.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

June 10, 2012 - Lizard Island Hike to Cook's Lookout

Today we awoke to beautiful blue skies and water so clear we could trace the anchor chain all the way to the anchor by just looking down from the bow of Destiny. Again the beauty of this place overwhelmed our senses. It is difficult to fathom and even more difficult to articulate. We enjoyed a lazy morning eating homemade yogurt and fresh fruit in the cockpit, sipping coffee and just looking around us and counting our blessings.

view from the boat

We have not had internet or phone service since leaving Port Douglas. Neither of us could pick up a phone signal but if I held my laptop just so, on the starboard side of the boat my broadband stick lit up and I could get 2 out of 5 bars. Not a real good signal, but good enough to pull in emails and get a couple of blog postings uploaded. It was frustrating work and we determined not to let it enslave us.

The resort is visible from here just around the Clam Garden from us, in the next bay, and although it is quite exclusive a little restaurant/bar (pub) at the end of the beach has been established for staff members. It is only open a few nights per week, however, in addition to the BBQ pits & picnic tables along Watson's Bay, it is available to us as casual guests of the island. After all the resort does not own the island. There is also a little gazebo down by the shore where several folks gathered to relax out of the sun. It's really a vey nice setup. Lizard Island is also home to a marine research station located on the other side that accommodates marine biologists from all over the world - but that is a story for tomorrow's adventure. This day we plan to hike to the top of the mount to Cook's Lookout and then tonight dine at the pub with a large contingent of cruisers.

We loaded the backpacks with fresh fruit and water, cameras, bug spray, suntan lotion, tissues and chapstick; grabbed our walking sticks and dinghied to shore. This particular mountain is one that Lieutenant James Cook (not yet Captain) climbed when he found his ship, The Endeavor, surrounded by what appeared to be impassable coral reefs. He arrived here and seeking a break in the barrier reef climbed to the top of the mount where from it's summit he was able to sight a pass only a few miles northeast of this island, which is now named Cook's Pass. I don't know who named the pass but I do know Lt. Cook named Lizard Island because the only life form he found here were lizards. We spied droves of them skittering across our path on the rocky and often very steep and barely navigable track. How he and his men did this hundreds of years ago in the type of shoes they wore and with no discernable path whatsoever is beyond us. It was another of those hikes that really got our hearts pumping. Although hot, a breeze found us from time to time cooling us down to a bearable temperature. We stopped for photos along the way, and when we reached the lower observation point that looks back over the island toward the mainland, we were met with the most stunning panorama.

 It was literally the prettiest view I have seen from such a vantage point. We were blessed with a very clear day, allowing us to see for miles (often there is a marine haze in the air that can obscure everything). We also had a very clear perspective of the resort, the airstrip and the research station far below us. A little farther up is the summit where a large wooden box houses the guest book, sealed within a large plastic container. I signed the book for both of us noting entries made by others from all over the world. Next to that was a very large add-a-rock hill whereupon we each placed a new stone. The view from the summit looked out across the outer barrier reef where we could see the passage that Cook spotted back in 1770. There was just a teeny bit of haze in this direction although we had an unobscured view of many dozens of reefs that comprise the Great Barrier Reef. It was beyond breathtaking! I doubt there is another place from which this view is possible, other than from a low flying aircraft. We sat for a bit, munching on our snacks and remarked to one another that we are so very blessed to experience this because really the only people fortunate enough to come here are either guests and staff of the resort, scientists and volunteers at the research station, and those who arrive by private yacht such as ourselves.

The trip back down was nearly a skid and a trip! Frank is as surefooted as a mountain goat, but I on the other hand have no sense of balance or poise on the downhill trek. There were several patches of loose sand and gravel that had not been apparent on the hike up. They sure were now, and Frank seemingly danced right over them yet somehow my feet found every slippery last one and I nearly broke my neck on the steeper descents. The walking stick that Frank had fashioned for me back at Whitsunday Island was my savior. Part of my problem was that the view was so captivating it was distracting and I was not multitasking very well but we both made it down fine and have some beautiful pictures to show for it.

After getting cleaned up and having a short rest back on Destiny we set off for the "pub" where we met several more cruisers who are headed toward Darwin. Walking up to the little restaurant area I nearly ran into a large monitor lizard just walking around like he was one of us.

Already the various factions are forming into little caucuses. Our Kiwi friends have all sort of gathered among themselves. There is a group of Dutch traveling together, as well as some Swedes and Germans. Some others I'm not sure of, nationality-wise. There are two other American boats, Scholarship and Fearless who we think are traveling together but then we found that the owner of Fearless is actually crewing for the Aussie couple to whom he had recently sold his boat. Alliances are being forged. Frank and I are resisting becoming glued to any particular group. We rather like meeting everyone and remaining friends to anyone from any country. Eventually our table grew to overflowing with over a dozen chattering accents and dialects. We visited with them all and enjoyed a really great evening until the DJ piped the music too loud for us to hear one another. We took this as our cue to get going.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

June 9, 2012 Sailing from Hope to Lizard Island (63 NM)

Last night not long after we had set the anchor, Avant Garde took off for Lizard Island, making an overnighter of it. We wouldn't do it but to each his own they are veterans and will have a great wind for it. Later that night we looked again at our charts. If we awakened early enough and got a good start picking up the trades, which we could hear blowing with gusto all evening, we felt we would be able to make it all the way to Lizard without stopping at Cape Flattery. At Lizard Island we'll be right in the GBR, which means diving and snorkeling at our doorstep. We set the alarm for 5:30 AM before going to bed.

At 6 :00 AM we sat ready in the cockpit with coffee in hand, awaiting just enough light to pick our way through the reef system out of Hope Island. Departing winds were a bit of a disappointment, but after a couple of hours they began to steadily build allowing us to sail wing and wing again. What a beautiful day for it. There was quite a bit of traffic from big tankers and cargo ships, some of them passing close enough for us to get a good roll from their wakes, and a few barreled down on us from behind confirming why we try to stick to daytime hops. Besides who wants to miss the view? The coastline along this part of Australia is an ever changing and dramatic landscape that few others are fortunate to even glimpse. We sat for hours just watching it unfold, taking it all in like a tonic to the soul. There are endless stretches of beautiful white sand beaches, interspersed among cliffs and intensely green forests. No wonder the Aboriginals treasure it as mystical. It was a perfect day of sailing for Destiny; smoothly gliding along at 7 - 8 knots we hardly felt the movement. Listening to the gentle swish of the ocean beneath us was mesmerizing, almost hypnotic. So much so in fact that we were both nearly lulled to sleep. Oh, wait a minute - Frank was!

On approach to Lizard Island we gasped at the beauty of the surrounding reef and the variations of blue sea. So much color! The resort was tucked away around a point and then just beyond that was Watson's Bay where we counted at least 25 boats at anchor with two mega yachts sitting just on the periphery. It was a picture book setting. Or rather a postcard picture waiting to be exploited. Now we know why so many yachties have told us to get here with enough time to enjoy this little paradise. Frank had inquired into booking this resort for my birthday, but the price for three nights was nearly $6,000! That price did include a 2-tank dive that would have normally cost over $600 by itself. I was quite happy with Thala Lodge, thank you. We anchored adjacent to the "Clam Garden" reef in a mere 4 meters of clear blue water. It was 4:30 PM. We made it here in less than 12 hours. What a day!

We settled in and were immediately hailed on the radio by fellow yachties telling us to go to the picnic tables on the beach at 5:00 PM for Sundowners. We joined the assembled group to find some we knew and some we didn't. The air was abuzz as it always is in anticipation of a big passage ahead. We were back among the international group of cruisers who are embarking on a new quest. We love this life!

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

June 8th - Port Douglas to Hope Island

Frank sprang out of bed at 6:30, got dressed and by 6:45 was walking to Mocka's. He returned shortly after 7 a.m. with our frozen bounty. I quickly repacked the croissants, meat pies and spanos into freezer bags and stowed them away. We hurriedly downed some coffee and prayed our way out of the marina. Thankfully this recent tide was a "high" low tide, yielding enough clearance for our departure, although I noted we stirred up quite a lot of river bottom (translate to brown murk), backing out of the berth and turning to exit the waterway.

Once we got underway we noticed how beautiful and dramatic this coastline is. Approaching the Daintree rainforest area everything is intensely green. Mountains drop steeply toward the sea, yielding to attractive white sand beaches along the waterfront. The colors are captivating, as the brilliant blue sky and the green of the landscape seem to meld into a clear turquoise that becomes the Coral Sea. Heavy thick cloud cover hovers at the mountain peaks, somewhat resembling a giant floating marshmallow. It is true that this is some of the best and prettiest sailing most of us will experience in our lifetimes.

Although 15+ knots of wind were forecasted, we saw a mere 5 knots (true), building to about 7.8 for the better part of our morning. There wasn't much swell, but heavy traffic from motor cats ferrying tourists out to the Reef rocked us endlessly until we managed to put enough miles between us and them. With 48 miles to go to Hope Island we hoped to pick up that forecasted sou'easterly, so with fingers crossed we unfulred the staysail for stability and carried on. After lunch time the wind began to build from a whisper to a promise allowing us to furl the staysail and hoist the genoa. We were enjoying a 6 or so knot sail when from the horizon emerged a large official looking vessel that appeared to be heading our way. Earlier we'd noticed a fairly lo-flying aircraft that might have been Customs. It didn't take long before the big gray/green cruiser with CUSTOMS boldly emblazoned across the vessel caught up and then slowed just off our starboard beam. It didn't approach but as Frank was spying it/them through the binoculars I said to him they are probably watching him right back with some seriously high-powered glasses. He laughed but kept looking. They cruised slowly alongside about 50 yards away for a few beats and, seeming satisfied, sped up and away. Now you see them, now you don't.

Hope Island way in the distance

Tiny little Hope Island
A little while later came the 17 - 20 knot trades and we were able to put out the whisker pole and wing out the genny for a blissfully perfect downwind sail into Hope Island. What a smooth ride! By the end of our journey we were cruising along at 8-9 knots in 25-knot winds. This is what we dream of, and what our sailing friends who have made this passage before us claimed it would be like once we passed north of Cairns. As soon as we had a good visual sighting of the anchorage, we noticed Avant Garde was rested there. Wow, they made some progress! Shortly after settling onto the mooring, we were greeted with a flyover, a really, really low flyover by CUSTOMS aircraft. Shortly afterward they radioed for a chat to each boat in the area. Eventually they got around to calling us. They were very friendly and a bit less intimidating than the officials in other countries have been. They assured us that we would see them and hear from them again along the coast. Before signing off, however they issued a friendly reminder to us NOT to go swimming and advised that the absolutely beautiful and inviting beach may not be safe from Salties. It really is a shame that these crocs are getting out to the offshore islands as well as the riverbeds and mainland shores and lagoons, making some of these beautiful reefs and reef islands unapproachable to us. Perhaps somehow that is nature's way of protecting her environs from the human invader. At least the island provides a beautiful and secure setting for us to stop for the night.
Sunset from Hope Isl over the mainland in the distance

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Friday, June 8, 2012

June 7, 2012 - Port Douglas, Reuniting with Some Sydney Friends

A cruise ship had arrived at Port Douglas while we were sojourning at Thala, pouring a throng of visitors into the small town. The wharf had suddenly sprouted scores of vendors along the main passage through which we had to "pardon me" and "excuse me" on the back way to Destiny. By the way, we had checked dive prices from here going out to the Reef but decided for several reasons not to book: they pack the dive boats to overflowing, the boats all seem to converge on the same reefs (making it very crowded), and the prices are unbelievable for a 2-tank dive under these conditions. Being ferried out to the reef like cattle where, we have been informed by those who have gone before us, visibility is cloudy at best had lost its appeal to us. To book a smaller more private dive was so far outside of what we were willing to pay we realized we are better off on our own. You really cannot imagine this unless you come here to witness the mass of humanity that pours in and out of Cairns and Port Douglas alone just to see the Great Barrier Reef. The actual reef system is hundreds of miles long and comprised of hundreds of reefs, however many of them are not visited by the big dive operators. Another reason we didn't do it is that going to Thala had carved out precious cruising time from our schedule to get up the coast over the top of Cape York. We would be going out to the Reef on Destiny anyway.

We spent the day running around town procuring food and supplies to last us through the end of the month. This is the last town along this coast for us. Stepping into Mocka's, we placed our order for pies and croissants to be frozen for us to pick up very early Friday morning. We hope we thought of everything. I'm a little out of "provisioning" practice because we haven't cruised away form civilization in a long while. Leaving here will be quite like that. Although we are still in Australia this is like the last stop on the way to no-man's-land for us.

Back at the marina weaving our way through all the people back to Destiny I set to storing our goods, while Frank cleaned up outside. We had visitors arriving this afternoon. Colin and Scott (s/v Shazaam) from Sydney are holidaying nearby in their caravan (what we call a motor home or RV), and are joining us for happy hour on Destiny and then dinner at the Club. They arrived wearing big smiles and bearing a chilled bottle of very good champagne, which they presented to me for my birthday. I was indeed honored! When champagne glasses were called for, they were crestfallen when I didn't partake. They had forgotten that I had quit drinking several years ago. I assured them that I was very impressed and hugely grateful for their generous gift, then reminded them that this left much more of the precious nectar for them to enjoy. Not to be put off, Frank presented his glass insisting that he would take care of my share with pleasure. What a thoughtful man I married. I joined them by filling my champagne glass with sparkling water as we enjoyed a happy reunion. These two rate high among my favorite Aussies. After we munched on a few appetizers and covered all the goss, we walked over to the RSL Club for dinner. The place was packed to the gills and after we ordered a righteous feast Frank and I understood why the large crowd. The food was outstanding. We seriously stuffed ourselves on the platters of food Frank and Colin ordered for us all to share, and then moaning over our full stomachs we declared that a walk through town was in order to get the digestive systems churning.

As we walked the main drag, approaching a somewhat hidden walkway between two buildings, Colin asked if we had had a chance to dine at Nautilus. We had not and asked him what it was about. He stopped and pointed to the obscure pathway marked by a sign on a small marquis. He and Scott explained that Nautilus is not only the finest restaurant on the coast, it is by far the most beautiful and that dining here is a unique experience. Scott said we must at least have a look. We were intrigued to say the least as we followed them up a beautifully landscaped and steep cinder pathway. Just the walk up was an interesting and scenic little trek. When we arrived at the top we felt we'd stepped into a tropical jungle. My goodness! Whoever built this place put a masterpiece together. There is no ceiling as I think the dining areas are completely out of doors, yet Scott and Colin pointed to upward to call our attention to the retractable roof that was so well disguised we would not have seen it. They remarked that we might have dined here but we would more than likely have been unable to get a table at such a late date. As we stood gaping about we decided to ask if we could arrange to have dessert. The hostess indicated that the restaurant was full to capacity and seemed amused at our request, nonetheless she arranged a 4-person table in what appeared to be a lounge area.

What a lovely, romantic, elegant place to end this delightful evening. Colin said that Nautilus always features a soufflé special which he and Frank both ordered (mango), I chose the pear tarte tatin, while Scott opted for the wonderful chocolaty something. It was heaven. I can't imagine how wonderful dinner must be! We have certainly enjoyed the dining in this part of Australia - these Queenslanders know their way around food. The evening eventually came to a close and we all hugged goodbye hoping this is not for the last time.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

June 4,5,6,2011 - Thala Beach Lodge

Monday morning greeted us with sunny skies, dozens of stomping feet along the dock, the sound of rumbling helicopter and motor-cat engines and PA systems barking itineraries and safety procedures. Port Douglas was alive and ready for business. Destiny rocked in her berth as the big boats scuttled out toward the Reef, filled to capacity. We were on the commercial wharf. This is when I noticed the monohulls were on the "other pier". Just maybe this is why we got stuck coming into this one. No matter now, we were in. The transport van wouldn't be picking us up until 1:00, giving us plenty of time to walk around town after getting Destiny set up to sit unattended for a few days. Frank remembered that Andy and Melissa had lauded Mocka's Pies in Port Douglas for being the best they had eaten in Australia. Pie to an American generally indicates dessert. A pie to an Aussie is a meal. We've tasted meat pies in many places and generally gave them a pass, but Andy and Mel are not often off the mark so we stopped at Mocka's for lunch. I ordered a mini Original and a Spanokopita (spinach pie). Frank held back, still not convinced this is something he would enjoy settling for a strawberry custard tart. The crust on my pies was as good as any French pastry and the fillings were simply the best flavor combinations. Tasting mine, Frank soon returned to the counter to order his own. We were hooked! Thank you again, Andy and Mel! We asked the clerk if they would prepare some frozen pies for us to take on passage. Of course the response was a cheery, "No worries, Mate!"

Departure time arrived quickly, and fortunately we arrived 10 minutes early for the van. As soon as we boarded he closed the doors and sped off as I was still struggling along with my suitcase. He made a few more stops and by 1:00 we were well out of town heading toward our three-day getaway in paradise. On arrival we were immediately swept away as though we were the most important people on the face of the planet. Our personal hostess gave us a quick tour of the Lodge pointing out the dining, lounging, and bar areas and as she led us past the art gallery, gift shop, pools and lobby she directed our attention to the events board that displayed all of the activities for the week. She explained that their mission was to make our stay as pleasant as possible and that we were not to lift a finger unless we wished to do so. After our short welcome tour she then deposited us onto a large veranda area high above the trees with a sweeping view of the ocean and the resort's sprawling property below. Soon a waiter arrived handing each of us a freshly made tropical fruit drink and urged us to have a short rest until we were summoned by the staff member who would accompany us to our cabin. We relaxed into our seats and let the beauty and serenity wash over us, feeling no need for words.

A short while later our peaceful interlude was disrupted by a gentleman clearing his throat then quietly speaking our names. We both jolted a bit and then gathered ourselves for the short trip to our cabin where our bags awaited. We literally dumped our stuff and set off for a bit of exploring along the 145 acre estate. First was a trek down to the secluded beach.

Thala beach
We walked its entire length, oohing and aweing and then splashed along the water's edge where Frank took a dip but I found it a bit chilly, so I just skipped around in the shallows. What a gem they have here! Next we walked a good bit of the property noting how well hidden each cabin is among the canopy of rainforest. The owners certainly paid great respect to nature when constructing this amazing resort.

At 6 PM we attended a cultural presentation from two elders of the Kuku Yalanji tribe. We learned more from them in 45 minutes than from any other experience we'd had on Aboriginals, their customs, mystical beliefs, diets, history and handiwork. We learned of how they survived in the bush/rainforest and upon what trees, plants, rocks, fruits and animals. They use everything in nature to some degree in ways we would never have dreamed. One gentleman explained the didgeridoo's history and uses. He played for us and this time I felt a great appreciation for the specific sounds and notes that came from this amazing instrument, as never before. We came away from this demonstration with a renewed sense of respect and appreciation of these Aboriginals, their history and culture.

Dinner was nothing short of a culinary spiritual experience. I wish I had taken a copy of the resort's menu so that I could describe the meal parings. To say that I had crispy-skin salmon and Frank eye fillet steak (which we did have) is almost insulting to the chef. Whatever he or she does with food here is pure magic. I could go on and on and on but will leave it at "5-star+". After dinner we were to attend the stargazing at the resort's onsite observatory but those nasty clouds from down south had made their way here and completely obliterated the night sky, so the event was canceled. We opted for hanging out in our cozy cabin - Frank on the porch, feet propped up with his cleansing-ale in his hand while I headed for a great big aromatherapy bubble bath.

Tuesday: today is my birthday, goodness alive I'm 55! Frank presented me a big red hat (a gift on top of this amazing gift!) and promised that today was my day. Although a bit dreary, we donned swimsuits under our clothes anyway hoping we could mentally dissipate the clouds. We enjoyed a truly scrumptious late breakfast. Frank went to heaven on blueberry pancakes while I hovered around the massive honeycomb that drizzled fresh honey onto my awaiting croissant. This will be a difficult place to leave. After breakfast I dragged my laptop out, Frank his iPad, and we attempted to get connected to the outside world. Although wi-fi is free here in the lodge area it is not available anywhere else on the property, so of course anyone who wants to get a signal is assembled in this little area, causing a very slow connection.

We had no cell phone reception, which was fine by us because our intention was to get away for a few days, but both my brother and brother-in-law were also celebrating birthdays and I didn't want to miss giving a shout out at least. We managed to get a few messages out but finally gave up after watching the little icon just spin, connect and then spin finally deciding we could live without internet as well. Trotting our electronics back to the cabin, we wandered the property stopping by the pool and beach during times of intermittent sunlight.

 Trails meandered through the resort leading us up to high vantage points where we would just stand in awe, looking down at the beautiful waters of the Coral Sea on one side, and then on the bush trails we were taken up to the canopy above the cabins where we could see miles of rainforest. We never tired of just gazing out at these magnificent vistas. At 3:00 Herbie's Shack was open for drinks and snacks down on the beach. Frank grabbed a beer, sauntered over to a nearby hammock and plopped right down like he belonged there for eternity, a silly grin plastering his face. I carried my book to a picnic table and read while I sipped my dry ginger ale (wish they had these in America). Life couldn't get much better than this, could it? Yes, it could - dinner was yet to come. We had fallen victim to Thala's chef and couldn't wait until each and every mealtime. For my birthday dinner, Frank had the local fish (Emperor) and I feasted on rack of lamb, followed by an amazing presentation of birthday dessert that of course included chocolate and ice cream and it was some kind of special.

Wednesday was beautiful again, and after enjoying a splendid breakfast we gathered for the guided bushwalk/nature hike that took us through a large part of the resort. Our guide has been with Thala since before its inception when it was a working farm. Part of it is still a coconut farm. We saw some massive spiders, and monitor lizards as well as many species of birds, butterflies and flora. We enjoyed it immensely, and learned quite a lot about the local habitat in this special area of Northern Queensland.

Afterward, we lunched by one of the waterfalls at the rock pool and did nothing else for the entire day. Except dinner!

Thursday, we lingered over breakfast, much in denial about having to leave this secluded paradise. All too soon our 10:00 shuttle arrived to take us back to the real world. We both agreed we would return here in a heartbeat.

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