No Pain, No Gain

Thursday 20th Sept 2018

Hanging on, precariously against the messy seas and high winds, a masked booby taking a rest from the buffeting of these gusty conditions, perches on our dingy. I, in a similar state, sit huddled in the corner of the cockpit, his presence breaking the monotony of my night watch. The predawn sky gradually lightens to reveal another day of rough seas. The best thing that can be said about our passage from Lombok to Cocos Keeling is that it’s been fast, we covered the 1141nm in just a few hours over 6 days.

Masked Bobbie resting on the dingy

You would think that after 25,000nm, the milestone we reached a few days ago, that we would be better at reading weather forecasts and that we would realise that 12kts really means 8kts ie not enough to sail by, which is what we had for the first two days and that 20kts actually means well over 30kts, producing the rough seas that plagued us for the rest of the journey.

It’s not that these rough seas were scary, even as large waves loom over us, Raya copes with these conditions as if they are all in a days work but it is really uncomfortable. Eating and other essential tasks become difficult and sleeping is near on impossible. On our off watches we roam the boat, steadying ourselves between handrails, dragging a quilt, trying to find the best place to sleep in the current conditions. Some times diagonally across the main bed works, or perhaps wedged into a bunk bed with a lea cloth or maybe the best spot is in a nest of pillows on the sofa. Often there isn’t anywhere that works and it’s just a matter of closing your eyes and trying to get what rest you can.

The captain clinging on while he catches up on some sleep

The big waves also brought us less welcome visitors. Flying fish flew on to the deck and into the cockpit in shoals, their frantic flapping leaving scales all over the place and making them impossible to pick up and throw back into the sea. One hit Rick square on the head, others bounced off the Bimini which must amazingly be 4 or 5m above their watery home, while others we found caught in the halyards on the mast.

We left Marina del Ray last Thursday for an anchorage away from the islands and pearl farms that surround Gili Gede to make for an easier get away the next day. We wanted to tackle the strait between Lombok and Bali in the lighter, early morning, breezes. It was still a challenge to avoid the worst of the overfalls but the 5kt current whisked us quickly out from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean, we really are on our way home now. With only seven or so weeks left before the cyclone season hits this area and with nearly 5000nm to cover we will for the first time on this trip be sailing for as much as we are at anchor. As we watched the turbulent water around us, discussed whether it was worth fighting the elements to make a cup of tea or sat through a chilly, drizzly night, the prospect of weeks at sea didn’t really appeal.

However this morning the sea had calmed a little and with just 10nm to go we spotted the last of the Oyster rally fleet leaving the atoll of the South Keeling Islands. Our spirits rose as we chatted on the radio to our friends on True Blue who gave us their top tips for enjoying our stay. And as we rounded Direction Island and entered the lagoon we were greeted with clear, calm, turquoise seas and three small black tip sharks. We were promptly checked in by the friendly Cocos Keeling police, washed our salt covered decks and drank our ‘got here beer’. This life’s not so bad, as they say, no pain, no gain.

Motoring in to the lagoon off Direction Island

Dèbut in Debut

Wednesday 25th July 2018

It has been a long time since the Call to Prayer has acted as our alarm clock, we have arrived in Debut, Indonesia and sit anchored in sight of three mosques. The Call here is much more tuneful than we remember from our time in the Middle East and adds to the exotic atmosphere we have immediately felt.

It is a beautiful day, the light is soft, the bay calm and in the cool morning air we sit, for what seems like the first time in months, without being battered by high winds.

It was, after eight months, strange to be leaving Australia. But we didn’t have much time to dwell on the matter, with the wind behind us, Raya was in her element, we flew out of the Torres Strait and into the Arafura Sea. After the first day it was rather rolly, with often flogging sails, in a lumpy sea but it was good to reacquaint ourselves with the challenges of longer passages after day sailing for so long.

Small dolphins joined us a couple of times to play at the bows and with the moon setting in the early hours we had the best of both worlds, half the night was moonlit, the other full of stars. We had been warned that their would be a lot of fishing activity, especially at night and to keep far offshore where possible. Huge, unlit, fishing rigs can be very nasty if you don’t spot them in time.

Bamboo and wood fishing rig tied up in Debut

Luckily we didn’t knowingly come close to one, we did however nearly get caught in one of the large nets that are trailed up to a mile behind small fishing boats, their ends only marked by tiny flashing lights. Others were not so lucky we know of at least three boats that got caught.

On Sunday, as dusk fell, we began to realise we were surrounded by brightly lit boats. These delightfully, rustic craft, amazingly anchored in over 40m, shine lights down into the ocean to attract and then catch squid. In the growing darkness an intense glow appeared on the horizon, we checked the chart more than once for a possible city but the shore was over 30 miles away and from what we could see was sparsely inhabited. As we came closer we concluded it was in fact a city, a city of hundreds of squid boats.

Fishing boat city

We arrived in a Debut, after working hard to slow the boat and time our entry, at around 9am on Monday morning. The route into the port was unmarked and uncharted. Luckily we had come prepared, marking the chart with waypoints I had taken from satellite images of the reefs while we still had internet in Australia.

Once anchored safely we managed to celebrate with a ‘got here’ before a continuous stream of officials began arriving at the boat. They arrived by traditional long boat, their approach announced by the lawn mower putt putt of their engines.

Quarantine offers arriving by long boat

It has taken us two days to process all the paperwork, fight through the confusion surrounding the data and phone systems and equip ourselves with, at 10,000 Indonesian Rupiah equal to only 50p, literally millions in local currency.

We did get the time to wander around a few of the streets close to the dock. The colours here are vivid, the prettily painted houses and brightly coloured flowers are all backed by lush greenery and the blue of the sea.

Main street down to the wharf at Debut

This is only the second year the rally has started their Indonesian travels in Debut and the sailors on the yachts are pretty much the only outsiders that ever come here. The town is in festival mode, friendly faces excitedly gathering at the dock offering to help us in anyway they can. And in this world where the smart phone is king, everyone is desperate to have a selfie with the visitors.

Tomorrow the official celebrations start, local dancers will greet us, there is a trip to a fishing village and dignitaries all the way from Jakarta are hosting a welcome dinner.

Loved this local wooden boat in construction at the bottom of the garden.

End of Oz

Tuesday 17th July 2018

We have arrived at Thursday Island at the very most northern point of Australia. Towards the end of the week we will check out at customs and head for Indonesia, our Australian East Coast adventure completed.

You can find our track at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

The anchorage at TI, as Thursday Island is known, is rather bumpy, so the fleet of the sail2Indonesia rally have congregated a mile or so southeast off Horn Island. As soon as we stepped ashore we knew we were back to Island life. The dodgy dock was crowded, the roads and pavements were full of pot holes and the supermarket, well let’s just say we need to reset our expectations.

Getting the shopping into the dingy was a bit of a challenge for us and the guys on Alexandra.

The last few days of sailing up the coast continued to be good, although with the ever narrowing shipping channels winding their way through the reefs and islands, a good look out was required at all times and with the frequent changes of direction, sail changes made for a busy trip.

On the first night we stopped at a recommended anchorage off Morris Island. Just a tiny speck on the chart and not much bigger in real life, we were doubtful that it could give us any protection and prepared ourselves mentally to sail on through the night. Little more than a long sand spit about half a kilometre long, with just one palm tree and a bit of scrub there was no let up in the SE wind but surrounded by a large reef the swell disappeared, so we dropped anchor and got some rest. We had caught a large Spanish Mackerel in the morning but all plans of sharing a fish supper with our fellow cruisers was quashed, the wind deterring us from lowering our dinghies.

The next day, Wednesday, we set off on the 24hr sail up to Adolphus Island, just off of Cape York it was a good launching point to time our arrival through the tide driven currents of the Torres Straight.

Anchored in splendid isolation in Blackwood Bay, Adolphus Island

We still had no internet so I still had no Navionics on my iPad, I was dependant on the guys on True Blue and Matt on his computer in the U.K. to work out the tide times for us. With their help Raya was whisked along by a 3kt current into the anchorage at Horn Island.

Anchored with the rally fleet off Horn Island

The promise of a bigger supermarket and a couple of restaurants, meant yesterday we took the ferry to Thursday Island. It’s a great system with the ferry Captain also being the bus driver. Once the ferry docks, everyone moves to a mini bus and is dropped around the small town and island as required. To return, you just call for the bus who picks you up and delivers you back to the ferry. With the security of the driver of both being the same person you know the ferry can’t leave without you.

Being only 10 degrees South of the equator we are deffinatly back in the tropics and we had to remind ourselves to slow down in the humid heat. With only one main street and the sea front, we easily found our way around and although bigger and a bit smarter than Horn Island, it still felt a very long way away from the Australia we had left behind in Cairns.

Harry the local croc lounging on the banks of the anchorage

In Captain Cooks Footsteps

( After nearly a week we finally have a couple of bars of 3G, see delayed post below. )

Flinders Islands

Monday 9th July 2018

We are anchored with three other boats off an incredibly beautiful, remote group of islands, the Flinders Islands. As far as we can tell there are no other people or buildings for a hundred or so miles in any direction, just a little band of yachts sheltering from the brisk winds as they sail north to set off for Indonesia. We did get a visit from the Australian border forces plane however, requesting over the radio the registration and cruising route from each of the boats, security seems tight on these northern extremes of the Australian Coast.

We know all the boats here, cruisers we have met all through our trip, so it’s very sociable and as there isn’t a phone or internet signal, invaluable, as we swap notes on weather and tides from our various satellite and long range radio connections. I am feeling particularly information bereft as my trusty and much used Navionics App for some reason will not allow me to use my downloaded maps offline. I am missing it’s clear presentation and tidal and current data, but there seems nothing I can do without a network connection.

The sun did, mostly, come out for our last day in Cairns and we set off for Lizard Island some 140nm north in good winds and blue skies. We had rigged the pole for the downwind trip and it felt so good to have the engine off for the whole journey. It did rain a bit during the night but generally it was a very pleasant sail.

Downwind sail rig whisking us at 8kts northwards

Mrs Watson’s Bay on the north east coast of Lizard was full of boats, with, finally, a functioning island resort sitting to one-side. The beach is of fine white sand and the water clear, a track leads up to the highest point of the island about 350m above us. This lookout is famous as the spot where Captain Cook, having already gone aground just off Cape Tribulation, climbed to try to find a channel through the hundreds of reefs to open sea. Due to his meticulous note keeping, his trip up the Australian Coast is well documented and celebrated at many of the stops we have made, plaques and statues abound as each community claims their connections to the great man.

It would have been easy to spend a couple days, unfortunately Lizard Island has a reputation for bullets of wind, extreme gusts that scream between the hills and straight into the anchorage. With winds building we needed to find a more protected spot, we only had time for a quick walk, the next morning before sunrise we headed to the Flinders Islands in the lea of Cape Melville.

The Barrier Reef runs for over a thousand miles parallel to the mainland, creating a passage all the way up the Queensland coast. This may have trapped Captain Cook but produces a low swell haven for us, the sailing over the last couple of days has been amongst the best we have experienced in Australia.

Flinders Island also has a history from Cooks time, fresh water springs, during the rainy season, bubble up between the boulders at the far end of the beach to the west of Aapa Spit. They have provided precious fresh water for thousands of years to the indigenous visitors and more recently to the British ships that were charting this coast. Graffiti left by the sailors still adorns the rocks nearby.

200 yr old graffiti, no luck deciphering it however

It made for a pleasant walk down a sandy corridor with the mangroves that line the shoreline on one side and the rust coloured boulders and cliffs on the other.

Graffiti walk on Flinders Island

Pretty yellow flowers and bright green fruit hung from what otherwise looked, being devoid of a single leaf, like dead trees and creeping along the sand were the purple pink flowers of bind weed. We could hear a few birds but the island appeared strangely free from animal life.

Beautiful flowering trees

We had spotted more activity in the water, seeing turtles and what we thought might be dugongs, in our pole light off the stern, one evening we saw a sea snake, the boat next to us saw a strange white coloured shark and the mangroves looked like a perfect home for crocodiles. Despite the welcome increase in temperature our travels north have found, nobody has seemed game for a swim.

Salties, Showers and Swashbuckling

Sunday 1st July 2018

We don’t really feel we are seeing Cairns at its best, unbelievably it is still raining. We dash around, heads down, trying to get from one place to another without becoming too wet.

Today, to escape cabin fever, I risked the drizzle and went out to stretch my legs on the waterfront boardwalk. When we arrived last week, we had one day of sunshine, this area was teaming with people, visitors and local families wandered along the paths entertained by buskers and street performers, today the paths were almost deserted. The attractive artificial lagoon sat empty and forlorn, a few groups of backpacking kids huddled under trees damp and dazed from the previous nights revelries, rain coated Chinese tourists shelter under umbrellas putting on a brave face determinedly continuing to snap photos, even the pelicans seem to have had enough of the weather.

Pelicans on a rainy Cairns beach

Despite the rain we carried on with our plans to hire a car. Tuesday we used it for a last scout around the chandleries and for a final stock up on provisions for our trip to Indonesia. Every locker onboard now groans with goodies.

Wednesday we treated ourselves to a day out, driving up the coast to Mossman Gorge and the Daintree River. The coast road sweeps dramatically around bays and over headlands but the normally blue sea looked green and murky under the grey skies and the beaches damp and windswept in the drizzle.

On the upside the weather had kept many people away, so our visit to Mossman Gorge was relatively uncrowded. The gorge sits in the southern end of the Daintree Forest, one of the Worlds oldest continuing forests. Having escaped ice ages and volcanic destruction it is thought to have been around for 135 million years. A few of the plants are of ancient origin and found uniquely in this area.

The atmosphere inside the forest is extremely humid, creating a marvellous earthy scent, the sound of cascading water and an intense green surrounds you. Despite all evidence to the contrary this is the dry season and the Mossman River flowed gently through the boulders, tumbling over small waterfalls. All around however, signs and markers warned of the rivers potential power, after torrential summer downpours it becomes a dangerous raging torrent whisking away everything in its path and frequently breaking its banks.

Mossman River

In the afternoon we travelled further north to a much more tranquil River, the Daintree. We had a river trip booked for 4pm in one of the smaller tourist boats. Boatman Daintree River Tours run trips at dawn and dusk when the birds and animals are more easily spotted along the banks. Unfortunately so dismal were the conditions I think most of the wildlife were sitting sheltering inside the densely forested banks looking out at us instead. However our prime objective was to see a crocodile and luckily Scarface, a large male, was obligingly sitting on his favourite patch of low tide sand.

At 4 1/2 m Scarface is possibly the largest Salty on the river

Being a small craft we were able to meander up narrower creeks, Murray our extremely knowledgable guide filling the void left by the lack of animals with fascinating information about the passing trees and shrubs. Who knew that the mangroves here survive their tidal salty homes by growing vertical aerial roots that act a bit like snorkels helping with the uptake of oxygen as the tide ebbs and floods. To cope with the excess salt, as well as filtering as much salt as possible through their roots, they sacrifice a proportion of their leaves to gather salt, the leaves turn brown and drop off taking the salt with them.

Aerial roots of the Mangrove trees

As we rejoined the river, Murray spotted a giant billed heron flying near by. A secretive bird, a sighting is much sort after by the birding community, which explained the excitement from our fellow passenger who set his camera, bedecked with a huge telephoto lens, into action. The heron settled on a nearby tree and we moved in for a closer look, to our surprise it let out a croaky growl, a sound as far away from bird song as you could imagine. Over a meter tall they spear fish in the shallows but have been known to eat small snakes and even baby crocodiles.

A rather damp and ruffled giant billed heron

Back at the marina it was time for the Indonesian Rally briefing, the blue sea and skies of our destinations, looking even more alluring against the backdrop of rain out of the window. The presentation was followed by a pirates party and the Indonesian Rally participants were joined in the Cairns Yacht Squadron bar by the crews from the Oyster Rally. Feeling rather betwixt and between, we wandered from one group to another and had a very enjoyable evening.

Swashbuckling with Oyster friends Heather and Bob

There are signs in the forecast for less rain next week, we plan to leave Thursday, it would be nice to see Cairns in the sunshine before we go..

Fast Forward to Cairns

Sunday 24th June 2018

All us girls know that dark chocolate with a nice class of red wine is a sublime combination but enjoying them with the backdrop of a burnt sienna sky, the black silhouettes of a mountainous coast and Venus twinkling above, while anchored off a small island in calm seas, well that makes for a very special moment. Regrettably with the highs come the lows, a few hours later, in the depths of the night, the wind changed, a lively fetch developed, sleeping was difficult and life onboard became much less appealing.

Looking back at the mainland from Orpheus Island.

We had picked up the pace slightly to arrive at the Marlin Marina in Cairns a few days earlier than planned. Our Bimini has started to collapse, any small pressure on it is causing it to split. Rick had put on a couple of patches to try and make it last a bit longer but we have a new rip and another area threatening to give way at any moment. As our main protection from the sun, it’s an essential piece of kit, so we took the decision to try and get a new one made in Cairns.

So for the 150 miles, from Magnetic Island, we decided to continue with day sails but instead of sailing one day, then enjoying the island the next, we are just stopping to sleep each night. Our first stopover in Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island turned out to be not only bouncy but chilly too. We read that Tuesday night it fell to 6C in Townsville, less than 60 miles to the South of us, the coldest night they’d had since 1995!

Consequently it was a cold start to our next stage and we were very pleased, as the morning progressed, for the sun to start warming us up.

Warming up in the sunshine as we continue to sail north

It’s a very striking coastline, with the high mountains of the Great Dividing Range dropping dramatically down to the sea. A lot of the land here is managed by Aboriginal communities and for the past couple of weeks we have seen numerous controlled fires in the hills. A method used for thousands of years, it clears the land of scrub encouraging a variety of grasses to grow, this in turn attracts Kangeroos a traditional food source. It turns out however that this ancient knowledge of when and where to burn is also invaluable in discouraging wild fires and increasing diversity of all the flora and fauna in the area.

Our next anchorage was in Brammo Bay on the NE corner of Dunk Island. Yet another deserted resort sat perched on the beach, one more victim of cyclone damage and lack of investment. There is however still a regular ferry service bringing day trippers and campers from the mainland to enjoy the beautiful beaches and trails that crisscross the island.

Thursday after ten hours of motor sailing we arrived in Cairns. The Bimini is on order and as this will be our last marina for quite a few months, preparations for the onward trip to Indonesia are in full swing. Unfortunately the weather has turned cloudy and wet, dodging showers has been the order of the day.

Street art in the rain, at the Lagoon on the Cairns waterfront

And we are not alone, the Oyster World Rally is gradually arriving, Raya’s sister vessels surround us.

Oyster World Rally arrive in Cairns

Island Hopping Northwards

Monday 18th June 2018

Splendid Isolation of Bona Bay

This past week we have been slowly making our way northwards between the Whitsundays and Townsville. We have managed to find quiet anchorages inside the deeply indented mainland and off the dramatic coastal islands that are close enough together to avoid tiring one night passages. Magnificent giant boulders still feature all along the coast, some so precariously balanced they look as if just a small puff of wind would send them tumbling down the hillside. Luckily the weather has been very calm, the lack of wind often producing exquisite, undulating, glassy seas.

Windless days and glassy seas

As we sail we are continuously reminded of just how huge Australia is, with towns and small communities dotted sparsely amongst the miles of empty countryside. Our first stop, just ten miles north of Airlie Beach was one such place, in the large eastern lobe of Double Bay we were surrounded on three sides by a vast uninhabited forest, with only the one other yacht anchored deeper into the bay and the couple of bars of 3G evidence we were only a few miles from civilisation.

We moved on to Bona Bay, in the lea of Gloucester Island, a resort was located a couple of miles south on the mainland but again we sat in splendid isolation. There was a great beach here and the low tide revealed a large expanse of sand and a huge field of pebbles.

Pebble beach at Bona Bay

Thursday found us, after another calm passage, tucked behind the daunting mass of Cape Upstart in Shark Bay. The whole 4 mile length of the bay was lined, behind the trees, with shacks, rough and ready telegraph poles running an electric supply to each. However there was no sign of any occupants.

The water in these bays is murky and in combination with its name we are not tempted in, but again we enjoyed exploring the beaches. Getting ashore at low tide, with a rocky boundary proved difficult but after a bit of searching we spotted a small creek cutting through the sand and guessed correctly that there would be a sand spit at its end to beach the dingy. We wandered up the creeks length to where it disappeared into the mangroves, but the pressence of biting sandflies (or was it the muddy banked possible crocodile country) put us off exploring further.

A small creek entering Shark Bay

Returning to the dingy we took advantage of the flat sea to go out of the bay and around the head of the Cape. Normally pounded by ocean swell it was a rare treat to be able to explore around the massive rocks and crevasses that drop down steeply into clear water and visit the small beaches tucked away near the Capes end.

Enjoying the calm waters, exploring in the dingy.

We now find ourselves in Horseshoe Bay on the north side of Magnetic Island. Named, as many of the places are here, by Captain Cook as he sailed up this same coast in 1770, due to the effect the island had on their compasses. We kept a keen eye on ours as we approached but didn’t have any similar issues. However the journey was marred, not by us getting misdirected but by the loss of two of Ricks favourite fishing lures. The first was taken by what must have been a very big fish, who bending the rod almost double, pulled out most of the 200m of line on the reel before chomping through it to get free. The second loss was more irritating. A small fast tinny crewed by a couple of local idiots drove straight towards us and despite my best efforts jumping up and down miming the fact we were trolling a line out the stern of the boat, they crossed behind us way too close taking our hook, lure and line with them.

Magnetic Island being just off the coast of Townsville and a tourist destination, is much busier than our last few stops, however that does mean bars, restaurants and a grocery store. It also has a few trails, one of which leads a short way through the forest to a lagoon apparently home to a range of different birds. Unfortunately all we found along the path, was yet more large spiders, a flighty kangaroo who made us jump out of our skins as he bounded through the undergrowth and a very boggy end as the trail petered out, the lagoon sitting tantalisingly close just through the trees.

A trail to nowhere

Tomorrow we continue our island hopping, arriving in Cairns at the end of the week. Where hopefully we will find our passports stamped with our Indonesian visas and the rally information packs. The next adventure begins.

Waves, Caves and a Million Eyes

Saturday 9th June 2018

We are lounging in the cockpit trying to take a bit of downtime. We are berthed in the very swish Abel Point Marina in Airlie Beach and all around us is a hive of activity, we feel rather lazy. The boats either side of us are being cleaned and polished to within an inch of their lives, a continuous stream of people are being shepherded along our pontoon on to the various day trip crafts moored at the end, a fun run is taking place on the harbour boardwalk and behind us a small army of crew members work flat out on the 230ft Super Yacht Felix, keeping it in a perpetual state of perfection and readiness.

Super Yacht Felix , they had been polishing the hull all day

Yesterday we had waved Eric and Roz off to the airport, pleased that for the past week the sun had come out and the wind dropped enough for them to experience some of the high moments that a cruising life can provide.

Sunday we continued our journey around Hook Island arriving in Stonehaven Anchorage in time for lunch. There were a few more boats here but we easily found a mooring buoy even if it did mean sharing the musical tastes of our neighbours. We escaped ashore, again clambering around the amazing boulders, Rick climbing high and back into the island.

The volcanic past of these islands is evident everywhere in the rocks. Some are obviously solidified lava, dark in colour they are pocked with air holes and full of stones and debris picked up as the molten flow ran down the hillside. Many are striped with Ferrous reds and oranges, others having been eroded by the sea reminded us of giant apple cores or, as in the case below, giant waves frozen in time.

The rocks at Stonehaven Beach

Luckily the partying crew next door allowed us a quiet night and early the next morning, in our continuing search for good snorkelling, we moved the short distance out to tiny Langford Island. We were again greeted by a dozen or so bat fish but sadly even from the boat we could see that most of the coral was gone, we debated whether it was worth going in to investigate further. The arrival of a dozen jet skis made our decision easy, we moved on to Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island.

Another beautiful bay lined with stunning rocks we took the dingy out to enjoy them close up. Castle rock that forms a small headland is a renowned snorkelling spot but yet again most of the coral was gone. Despite this we did have an interesting snorkel, a few patches of coral on the shore side of the boulders, presumably protected from Debbie’s onslaught, survive, small reef fish clinging on in what remains of their home. There were plenty of larger fish too, including a large grouper and a generous amount of parrot fish. Nearer the shoreside rocks we came across a massive shoal of schooling three inch long silver fish. It’s amazing swimming through the mass of beady eyes all intently watching, a million individuals that swoop back and forward in unison, all the time somehow managing to avoid touching you.

Our next stop was, for contrast, deep inside the 2.5nm long Nara inlet, at only half a km wide we were encased by the high green hills.We couldn’t have wanted for a more tranquil spot, in fact Rick took advantage of the calm conditions, and the extra hands onboard, to drop the main sail and inspect the inmast furler.

Looking down the length of Nara Inlet

At the end of the inlet, off a small pretty beach, a track leads up to a cave that contains aboriginal paintings possibly 2000yrs old. Artefacts found in the cave floor show that it has been used for at least that long by the Ngaro people who have lived in the area for at around 9000 years. On the side of the track and on the platform outside the cave information boards explain the details and the importance of the simple designs and the stories that accompanied them to spread the history and culture of their people.

Aboriginal cave paintings in Nara Inlet.

After a final night back in Cid Harbour, we headed to Airlie Beach and the Abel Point Marina. The wind was, for a change, in the perfect direction, so Eric and Roz took turns at the helm sailing us across the Whitsunday passage on a broad reach at nearly nine knots. A fitting finale to an all too brief return to these lovey Islands.

Fossicking in Debbie’s Wake

Saturday 2nd June 2018

Fossicking is a word we have heard and read frequently while in Australia. Probably derived from the same word in Cornish, where it’s definition is, recreational prospecting for precious metals, stones and fossils. In Australia and New Zealand it has been extended to mean rummaging outside for more or less anything. Unfortunately the great fossicking available, especially on the northern beaches of the Whitsundays, is yet another example of the devastation caused by Cyclone Debbie as it ripped through the area last year. The coral that should be brightly coloured and full of a diverse range of sea life, filling the bays, sits bleached, high and dry washed up onto the beaches.

Cateran Bay on Border Island continued to be delightfully calm, the guide informed us that there was good snorkelling and it had a great beach for fossicking, we took the dingy ashore to investigate. We found a beautiful bay of sand, colourful rocks and yes plenty of coral fragments and shells to rummage through.

Fossicking on Cateran Beach

Our largest find was a huge giant clam shell and the most intricate a delicate but lethal looking crab claw.

Fossicking Prizes

With so much of the coral washed up onto the beach the snorkelling didn’t quite live up to the cruising guides build up, but was pleasant enough, with, once you eyes became attuned to the rather murky water, plenty of fish swimming around the few remaining patches of coral and large boulders. Late afternoon back onboard Raya we spotted two manta rays that had come into the bay to feed. They didn’t come quite close enough for us to jump in with them but we enjoyed the show of their swooping silhouettes just under the water and their wing tips tantalisingly breaking the surface.

Friday we moved on. It was another rough ride as we motored up and over the top of Hook Island and into Butterfly Bay. Extending far into the hillsides, it was obviously protected somewhat from the ravages of the cyclone, the coral here was much healthier and varied. Amongst the many soft corals were stag horn corals, brain corals, plate corals, even some cabbage coral, not so many fish but we did find a huge live giant clam that was nearly as big as me.

The beach was similar to Cateran, full of colourful, volcanic boulders, we spent a great hour or so clambering about enjoying the splendid scenery around us.

Clambering on the rocks in Butterfly Bay

Taking advantage of the increasingly settled weather the next day we moved on to the more exposed Luncheon Bay and the effects of the cyclone where depressingly obvious. The beach was meters deep in coral fragments and the scene underwater stripped back to bare rock.

Beach at Luncheon Bay buried under tons of coral fragments.

In an attempt to keep the interest of the visitors the tourist boats are feeding the fish. Before we had even picked up a one of the public mooring buoys in the bay we were surrounded by bat fish, shaped like angel fish, these eighteen inch giants jostled for our attention in the bright sunlight.

As we snorkelled along the bare rocks, large shoals of fish crowded around us looking for food and as we returned to the boat the bat fish were waiting, snapping up the bread we fed them.

Large bat fish in Luncheon Bay

We left the bay hoping that it wouldn’t be too long before some coral managed to find a way to reestablish itself and return the shoreline to what must have been a magnificent reef.

Evading the Elements

Wednesday 31st May 2018

Late Friday as we stood shivering on a dark night, soaked to the skin, with the wind howling, lightening flashing and thunder crashing all around us, we hoped this was a final fling for the bad weather we’d had for the past fortnight. After hours of heavy rain with the dingy slowly filling we had to face the enevitable drenching to raise it before it was completely submerged.

Although in the marina we have unusually been using the dingy to get around. Being on an outer pontoon the dingy dock at the supermarket and the ferry wharf at the airport are much more convenient than using our feet. And, joining Raya by dingy is far more exciting than catching a taxi, our friends Eric and Roz were arriving in the morning. Having flown half way around the World, leaving the glourious English spring sunshine behind them, this cool, wet and windy period was not what we had wanted them to be greeted with.

Unfortunately the elements continued to be unsettled for the next few days, brusque, cool winds and frequent showers keeping our eyes skyward watching for breaks in the clouds because as soon as the sunshine did break through, it was lovely. We enjoyed a stroll on the beach, a sunny lunch or two at the resort and a few walks.

Roz admiring the view

On the high tide Tuesday we filled up at the fuel dock and left the marina. As we rounded the northern end of the island, losing its protection, we motored straight into washing machine seas. Luckily it was only an hour or so before we entered the Solway Passage, here were much smaller waves but the water was lively in other ways. As the tide rushed through its narrow gap, a strong current helped us reach over 10kts of boat speed. As other streams of water joined the system, strange calm patches amongst areas of overalls and ominous whirls pools formed. A bit scary to look at but not really a problem for Raya to pass through.

We headed to the famous Whitehaven beach. On our first visit to this beach, over thirty years ago, this expanse of fine white sand blew us away, the many photos we still have keeping our memories fresh. This time, with our level of beach appreciation somewhat higher and with the advent of the day tripper, it didn’t seem quite so special. However as we walked away from the crowds and five miles of white sand, with grains so fine they squeaked beneath our feet, spread out before us, it’s beauty was more evident. A ray darted from our path in the shallows, helicopters and seaplanes buzzed over our heads and now protected from the wind the late afternoon sun felt pleasantly warm and on our faces.

Five miles of white sand on Whitehaven Beach

At the top of the beach a ghostly barrier of bleached and broken trees marked the start of the interior woodland, presumably damaged by the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie last year, they appear to have been bulldozed off the beach to maintain the picture perfect vista that has become the ‘poster boy’ image of the Whitsundays.

Piles of dead trees lined the top of the beach

With yet another blast of wind forecast today we have moved on. We poked our nose into Tongue Bay but again it was quite crowded, the freshening winds were gusting down the hill in front of us and despite looking protected on the chart a swell was creeping around the headland.

We sailed on and have found a beautiful spot in Cateran Bay on the north shore of Border Island. The sky is finally cloudless and we have, currently at least, evaded the wind and swell, two beaches and a snorkelling spot beckon.

Anchored in Cateran Bay, Border Island