Komodo,

Friday 31st August 2018

Wednesday morning we got up at daybreak and armed with just water and our cameras we went to find our guide to go dragon hunting. Komodo National Park is home to the infamous komodo dragons, a giant lizard of the monitor family they can grow up to 3m in length and weigh up to 90kg. They kill their prey in a particularly grizzly way. Laying in wait they ambush their victims by hiding in the undergrowth, they attack using their large clawed front feet and sharp shark like teeth. If their prey escapes this first onslaught the dragon retreat and watch, their saliva contains a rich mix of bacteria, so most bites become fatally infected. The dragon stays close by until the casualty slowly fades and becomes too weak to defend themselves, at which point the dragon strikes again. They are carnivores and will attack large water buffalo, deer, wild pigs, smaller dragons and occasionally humans. It is recommended not to explore the islands without a guide.

Male Komodo dragons collected around the Rangers housing

Having picked Penny and Stephen up from the airport Monday afternoon, the next morning we left Labuan Bajo and wound are way through the countless reefs and islands that make up the west coast of Flores. We anchored down a narrow creek, Loh Buaya on Rinca Island. There is a Rangers station here where you can pay your park fees and join guided tours to see the dragons. We booked in for an early morning walk the next day and then settled on deck to watch the chaos of tourist boats that crowd into every available space, everyone in search of that komodo dragon moment.

Tourist boats fill every available space

As the sun dropped and the bay thinned out, a dingy safari revealed the Island was home to much more than the dragons. We spotted the bright turquoise of a kingfisher perched in the mangroves, a large heron waded in the shallows, birds of prey soared above the hills, a couple of deer wandered through a clearing and monkeys foraged and squabbled on the sandbanks.

At 6.30 the next morning as we followed the path from the dock to the Rangers station, more monkeys skitter across our path, a large water buffalo wallows in a small almost dry water hole and deer graze under the trees. Water buffaloes struggle during the dry season as there is little water around and no fresh grass . The whole island was in fact very dusty and brown, the only green provided by the trees growing in the valleys. Dried river beds snaked along beside our path and scorched hills towered above us.

Penny and Stephen on the parched hills of Rinca Island

We met our guide and armed with only an ineffectual looking forked stick, he leads us off in search of dragons. This turned out to be easier than expected, despite assuring us that they didn’t feed the dragons a group of about seven lolled, labrador like, in a cluster outside the Rangers housing. This of course guarantees that everybody gets to see a dragon and is an easy place to snap some photos, but it is difficult to accept they are not encouraging them to stick close by in some way. Luckily, during our 2hr walk, we also saw a young male stomping through the undergrowth and a female guarding her huge nest. Easily visible were two hollows, one a decoy nest, the eggs, up to about ten, were laid in the larger hollow which was about 3m long and 2m deep and were covered with soil and leaves to protect them during the 8 month long incubation period.

Female dragon guarding her nest

Returning to Raya the creek was beginning to fill up again, we motored off to find a quieter bay and do some snorkelling, as the National Park is also renowned for its crystal clear waters and stunning coral. We have had some marvellous snorkelling in Indonesia and off the north coast of Komodo Island and again off Banta Island the reefs didn’t disappoint. Especially impressive here was the amazing variety of soft corals and brightly coloured sponges. In the exceptional visibility and midday sun the extensive coral garden at Banta was stunning.

Coral gardens off Banta aisland

There is however a continuing problem with plastic rubbish on the beaches and in the sea. It is a tragedy that some of clearest waters we have experienced are also the most polluted.

Labuan Bajo

Sunday 26th August 2018

Sitting in a calm bay, with hardly a ripple to disturb us, this anchorage is perfect to spend a week catching up on paperwork, doing some regular maintenance and preparing for our next guests, my sister Penny and husband Stephen. We have arrived in Labuan Bajo, a once small town on the west coast of Flores. It has grown rapidly over the last ten years or so, to support the tourist trade centred around trips to nearby Komodo Island with its giant lizards and the amazing diving that is available in the clear waters and coral drop offs. It has an airport, crowds of backpackers and hundreds of tour operators.

Traditional style phinisi awaiting the next group of tourists.

We originally sailed to a bay south of the town and near the entrance to the harbour. The Puri Sari Beach Hotel opposite the anchorage has set itself up as the go-to place for visiting yachts, helping with everything from laundry to organising transport into town. They have a small pool you can use and a nice restaurant. However we found the bay rather busy, a constant stream of passing tourist boats churn up the murky water, the dark sand beach and water are strewn with rubbish and there is no dock for easy crew pick up.

So we have moved a few miles north to Wae Cicu Beach, a pretty curve of sand backed by more resorts but there is less traffic, there are dingy docks available and the water is clean enough for a cooling swim.

Raya anchored in Wae Cicu Bay

Ashore an unfinished road curves steeply up and down the coastal hills. The streets are full of overloaded trucks with precariously perched cargos, a selection of cars most of which are way past their best, rickety buses and a million scooters dodging between it all. A trip into town is a hair-raising experience. I hold my breath as I watch a tiny girl trying to cross the road, a group of old ladies stumble as they tackle the uneven, half completed pavements and to further confuse things a school band marches across the junction. Noise, heat, dust and a strong smell of drains.

Downtown Labuan Bajo

Despite all this we rather like Labuan Bajo, it has a friendly feel and everyone has been incredibly helpful. The market, a bit out of town and off the tourist map, was very ‘local’, large bags of rice and other unidentifiable grains line the entrance, a buzz of flies comes from the fresh fish stalls, rows of clothes and plastic goods fill makeshift shops and the fruit and veg stalls are bursting with goods. I swoop on a pile of broccoli, a rare delicacy for us and fill my bags with melons, mangoes, tomatoes and much more.

We have also managed to find some high quality diesel and someone set up to bring it out to us. Fabio, a ‘cool cat’ with long hair and flashy sunglasses, with some helpers came to Raya, his boat piled high with Jerry cans, he pumped 500l through a filter and into our tanks

Unfortunately, it would seem that was not the only thing they delivered, the next morning I found a small snake on the galley floor. After much girly squealing Rick came to my rescue and trapping him under a bowl tipping him overboard. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a rather good swimmer because today he reappeared, washed out of a deck drain on the swim deck as we cleaned the stern. Rick caught him again and this time flung him with the boat hook about fifty metres away. We watched incredulously as immediately he swam back to us. We then tried to get him to stay in a bucket so we could take him into shore but he was getting rather cross and aggressive, unsure of his identity we sadly felt we had no choice but to dispatch him more permanently.

An unwelcome and determined visitor

Still squirming slightly and convinced snakes would appear from every crack, it was back to work. We’ve got a lot of sailing to do over the next few months, Raya needs to be in tip-top condition.

Balancing precariously, replacing the rusting SSB aerial connector

The Great Cap Giveaway

Sunday 19th August 2018

Dipping further off the rally radar, we have had some lovely quiet days in a couple of anchorages in the NE corner of Flores. The dry northern coast of mountainous Flores is very different from the jungle clad islands we had visited to the north. Ever increasingly high hills turn monochrome as they disappear into the haze that cloaks the centre of the island.

The 48hr sail south from Hoga was slow in the light winds and where normally we would have motored to keep our speed up, we persevered under sail to save fuel, fuel of the right quality is difficult to find here. Slow, however, turned out to have its advantages. Even with a good look out, in daylight, we barely avoided the hazard of, seemingly drifting, small fishing attraction devices or FADs. How many near misses we had during the hours of darkness is best not contemplated.

6ft high bamboo FAD

As we approached our first stop Bari Bay, the wind completely died and we had, eventually, to turn the engine on. As we motored in calm seas, accompanied by dolphins, we came upon a fleet of small fishing boats. The frantic waving of one fisherman alerted us to his net that stretched across our path to another boat half a mile away, it’s top marked by tiny almost invisible floats. We immediately turned off the engine but stopping a sail boat takes time and even in full reverse we only just made it..

It was therefore with relief we put down the anchor in pretty Bari Bay to rest overnight. The village here is very basic and with midday low tides making things difficult, we decided not to go ashore for a visit, this however didn’t stop the village visiting us. Our first callers were four teenagers who paddled out to say hello and ask to come aboard for the enevitable selfie. As with all the kids we have met here they have a few set phrases in English – ‘how are you?’, ‘my name is’, ‘where are you from?’. They are always extremely polite and delightfully excited to be picturing themselves, with us, in various poses around the deck. For the past few months every rally meeting and every information pack has contained a peaked cap, we had gathered quite a collection. So Rick found four and gave them one each, ‘cool’ they smiled.

Word obviously got around, as gradually more children paddled their canoes out to us. Despite the language barrier I can happily report that ‘can I have a hat please’ was easily understood. By dusk our large cap selection ran out.

The kids from Bari Village loved the caps we gave them

The next day we were again motoring in very light winds avoiding more small fishing boats. The glassy seas a perfect palate for the flying fish that draw lines with their tails as they take off to skim the water for sometimes hundreds of metres. The route took us between the reef systems that line this coast and we were glad yet again of the satellite photos from Google Earth that clearly identifies them, making avoidance a lot easier. We slipped through a small break off Bodi Island and dropped the hook in a beautiful anchorage on its west coast.

With its white sand beach, shallow lagoon and turquoise, crystal clear water it really was stunning. We swam off the boat, snorkelled the reefs and wallowed in the shallow lagoon with a cold beer.

Anchored off Gili Bodo

The island itself is uninhabited, so as we sailed into the bay we were surprised to see smoke rising from behind the hill. As the light began to fade and the wind direction changed, rather disconcertingly, lines of flames started to appear over the ridge and spread down towards the beach. Luckily as it smouldered through the night the wind took the smoke away from us and it appeared to burn itself out.

Flames spreading across the hill side

The next day with the flames gone, we were excited to see monkeys on the beach. They walked along the tideline presumably in search of food. We jumped in the dingy to get a closer look but at low tide the shore was unreachable across the surrounding reef. Even with the telephoto lens capturing a photo of them was impossible. More easily photographed were these amazing feather stars in deep crimson and brilliant lemon that we found while snorkelling on the edge of the reef.

Colourful feather stars

Hoga Wall

Monday 13th August 2018

We have just snorkelled off a coral wall, the edge of the encircling reef around Hoga Island in the Wakatobi National Park. Wow! Thousands of reef fish of all shapes, sizes and colours. A mix of healthy soft and hard corals, nudibunch, feather stars and dazzling giant clams.

The edge of the reef – Hoga Island

The prize of snorkelling this reef however has been hard won.

Last Tuesday we started to raise our anchor from the deep waters at Banda Island. Not the quietist of windlasses at the best of times, this morning it started to screech and strain horribly. We let the chain back out, a day of boat maintenance was obviously in order.

For the rest of the day Rick, with me as his plucky assistant, disconnected, stripped and cleaned the windlass motor and gearbox. It, encouragingly, looked in pretty good condition, one oil seal had disintegrated, could this be our problem? Could we find a replacement?

Unbelievably for a small town, with seemingly nothing recognisable for sale except cheap Chinese plastic goods, the hardware store turned out to be an Aladdin’s cave and actually had the exact required part.

Innards of the windlass motor and gearbox

With the windlass back together, the noise gone, we went to bed happy. The next morning however under the strain of trying to pull in 80m of anchor things didn’t look so good, every 30m the motor would overheat and cut out. Our time in Indonesia is limited, there are so many places we want to see. We could of course let the anchor out easily enough, so we decided to carry on with our plans. We gradually coaxed the anchor up and set off for Hoga, we would tackle the problem again with a different view from the cockpit

I, and a lot of the rest of the fleet, had had a cold while in Banda, miraculously Rick seemed to have avoided it, unfortunately, a few hours into the journey Rick started to feel unwell. It was a long 48hr sail, with Rick trying to maintain a brave face and me doing as much as I could of the watches. Luckily Friday he began to feel better and by midday we were anchored off Hoga Island.

No rest for the wicked however, having worked out a plan of how we could raise the anchor on another of our winches if necessary, Rick had one more thing to check. He hadn’t looked at the drive shaft that runs down the centre of he windlass, so back he went into the cramped anchor locker.

Not the most comfortable place to work

The shaft was almost completely seized, after a bit of encouragement from a hammer, another oil seal replaced and a good clean up, he put everything back together yet again. We had originally anchored in the cruising books suggested spot, through a pass in the reef, into a lagoon. However it was on the windward side of the island and gave little protection in the brisk SE winds and at each high tide the fetch was breaching the reef, making things a bit uncomfortable. So nervously we tested the windlass, the chain came up quietly and efficiently we breathed a sigh of relief, then motored back through the pass and anchored off the reef in a less windy position.

The edge of the reef clearly visible

The reef drops straight down from one to thirty metres, we are anchored very deep yet again but the coral wall here is spectacular. With my ears still a bit suspect from my cold we haven’t dived but at low tide we have drift snorkelled along its edge, the variety of corals and fish just 100m from the front of the boat is amongst the best we’ve seen anywhere.

It’s difficult to explain the feeling of wonder as you dip your mask into the water and the coral garden comes into view. With the sun high and bright in the sky the colours are at there best, pinks, purples, blues, whites and yellows shine back at you. All the normal reef characters are here from tiny turquoise damsel fish, through white and blue puffer fish. Multi patterned yellow angel fish, royal blue and yellow striped sturgeon fish and incandescent blue, fork tailed, redtooth trigger fish. A shoal of black sturgeon with a pink tail and sheer white fins passes by and a pair of black and white striped, yellow finned oriental sweet lips pose for a photo. I hear Rick yelp, he has almost bumped into a sea snake, at a metre long it is by far the largest one we have ever seen. The wall drops straight down fading into the depths. A 3ft grouper emerges briefly from the blue and larger shadows suggest life beyond our vision.

A clown fish, the sea snake, a colourful puffer and two sweet lips.

A small dive resort sits ashore, a large dive boat overnights one day and our friends onboard Il Sogno, another oyster 56, joined us yesterday, but for most of our time here the only people to be seen are the few locals in their motorised dug out canoes. We donate swimming goggles and buy bananas but decide not to attempt the mile and half choppy crossing to the village. Stocks of fresh food are getting low however, time to move on.

Spice Islands

Monday 6th Aug 2018

We are anchored beneath a volcano in 30m of dark water, surrounded by traditional fishing longboats, opposite tired but substantial colonial Dutch buildings. We have arrived in Banda, the centre of the spice Islands.

Api volcano dominates the view

Sitting isolated by hundreds of miles of deep ocean, a unique but fairly indifferent tree evolved here, the nut these trees produce was to generate great fortunes and inevitably in turn to be the cause of wars and atrocities. Nutmeg was first introduced into Europe when traded between the Venetians and the Arabs. As spices increased in popularity and there value grew, the emerging powers within Europe sent exploratory expeditions out to the Far East to try and find the source of these prized and exotic flavours.

Nutmeg was tracked down to the Banda islands and eventually in the 17th century the Dutch won out as sole controllers of its trade. They created the Dutch East Indies Company, the VOC, and earnt a reputation for extreme intolerance, the native Banda population was almost exterminated until the Dutch realised that they still needed the skills of the islanders to successfully grow the nutmeg trees. The English very upset to be missing out on such a lucrative trade attempted to raid Banda many times with only limited success, holding on to just one of the small outer islands, Run.

Run however turned out to have greater value than expected as from here not only did the English manage to spread the nutmeg tree to other parts of the World eventually reducing the Dutch stranglehold on the spice but also in a treaty drawn up in 1667, Run, was among islands swapped by the British with the Dutch for a strange new land called New Amsterdam. Not happy to keep the obviously Dutch name the British renamed it New York. From this has grown the local story that the tiny island of Run was swapped for the Island of Manhattan.

Evidence of the islands violent past is everywhere from the ruins of forts topping many of the islands hills to original cannons littering the streets in Banda Niera. It is not often that we tie the dingy off to a 400 yr old bronze cannon!

Not a normal dingy dock, we are having to use this old cannon as a cleat.

Nutmeg is a complex fruit and every bit of it is put to good use. The sour tasting flesh is sweetened to create jams and syrups, the bright red mace that lines the nut shell is used in sweet and savoury dishes, as well cosmetics and of course the inner nut produces the spice we are familiar with.

Fruits of the forest, a cut nutmeg fruit with an almond on the side

At one time in Europe just one sack of nutmeg could buy you a small house, today although not quite that valuable its still the main income for these islands. We took a boat to the largest island in the group and passing through another brightly painted village, the houses perching on the side of the hill, we walked up to a nutmeg plantation. Nutmeg prefers to be out of the midday sun and so is grown in the shadow of magnificent stately almond trees. In the plantation they also grow cinnamon and cloves, the latter is dried in the streets in the sun and the pungent scent fills the air.

Ancient almond trees cast shade over the nutmeg forest.

Back in the main town Banda Niera, there is an eclectic mix of buildings. There are a fair sprinkling of crumbling grand colonial buildings, now mostly hotels or museums, In the Cilu Bintang Hotel we drank a cold beer on the columned terrace, sitting on beautiful period chairs, surrounded by all the trappings of its wealthy Dutch past. Outside scooters scurry back and forth down the ever narrowing lanes that lead into Arabic style souqs or tightly packed areas of small colourful sometimes Dutch influenced houses. On the sea front, homes appear more ramshackle, docks and boats competing for space. And encompassing all this are the steep volcanic hills rich with lush greenery and the once priceless nutmeg trees.

One for the dodgy dock collection

The main volcano, Banda Api, erupted just thirty years ago and two large streams of lava run down its steep sides. We were told there was good snorkelling where the barren black rock reaches the sea but as we approach through the deep dark water this doesn’t seem likely. So it’s a surprise when we put our heads under the water to find the best coral we’ve seen since Fiji. Banda gets the thumbs up.

A Right Royal Welcome

Monday 30th June 2018

Selaya Fishing Village

This must be how royalty feels. Each village has been lavishly decorated with flags, their streets flanked by dancing warriors with crowds waving from their doorsteps.

A right royal welcome to Selaya

The villagers have all entertained us with music and dance troupes, the boys armed with spears and swords perform a traditional war dance, the girls, heads demurely tilted, sway with fans or tassels. The cruisers, or yachters as we are call here, have been invited on to the floor, our clumsily efforts paling in comparison. Food has generously been prepared, mostly fish and interesting dishes made from seaweeds, a speciality of the region, all deliciously spiced as is the way with Indonesian cuisine. I drank a ginger tea, that thick and sweet, can be best described as a cup of liquid ginger cake.

The effort each village has obviously put into our visit has been humbling and we feel we have given little but our presence in return.

An evening of entertainment at Wab Nagufur Beach

Of course along with all entertainment comes speeches from the local dignitaries and people high up in the ministry of tourism, often full of self importance keen to be seen by each other doing their bit. The villages have gone to great lengths to supply English speakers to translate and the message is ‘please tell other people to come and visit our islands’. Tourism is currently centred on Bali and the rest of Indonesia is keen to share in the spoils.

There is certainly plenty of traditional Indonesia to explore, the colours every where are incredible and the people welcoming. If there is enough infrastructure, transport, accommodation, freedom of movement is another question however.

The children especially are delightful, bright smiling faces greeting us at every turn. Most have a few phrases of English and are excited to use them. With over 30 boats in the anchorage, parking of each dingy is quite a challenge especially with a two metre spring tide added into the mix. We returned one evening to the dark dock all wondering how we were going to reach our dinghies which were now three metres down below the quay. No problem, adults armed with torches had assigned one small boy to each dingy, who on request paddled it to the steps so we could get on. Such small attention to detail by the locals continued to make us feel special.

Hundreds of smiling faces

By the end of four days, however, our enthusiasm for coach trips over pot holed roads and sitting sweltering through official pronouncements of welcome were beginning to wane. So Saturday we took a last trip into the larger town of Langgur, cajoled a couple more million rupiah out of the ATM, stocked up with what we could find at the market and prepared to set off.

Finding anchorages here is not easy, coastal waters are very deep right up to the surrounding reefs and information from those that have gone before is sparse. From the charts and google earth I picked out a likely spot about 40nm in the direction towards our next rally stop, with the potential for shelter and a chance to swim and snorkel. A few other yachts were heading the same way and between us we felt we could narrow down the choices of bays. The one I had picked, turned out to be full of fishing and seaweed growing rigs and exposed to fetch. On the north side of the same island, Palau Walir, another boat found a quieter spot and we all converged there.

Finally we could swim, the water was 26 degrees, a reef sat just a hundred metres from our stern and there were no crocodiles or deadly jelly fish.

Colourful beneath the water as above

The reef was best snorkelled at low tide where as the beach was only reachable when it was high. Unfortunately the turquoise water and white sand was spoilt by more of the rubbish we are finding everywhere in Indonesia. The beach was backed by coconut trees and there was evidence of a small amount of copra production reminiscent of that in French Polynesia. The odd long boat came past and we found a small traditional dug out canoe full of fishing nets. The rubbish is obviously not being produced in this bay but must arrive on the tide from other more populace parts. How the country starts to tackle this enormous problem is difficult to say but if they want to preserve their beautiful surroundings and the life in their seas that they depend on for food, and attract tourists, it is something they are going to have to do.

Traditional dug out canoe.

D├Ębut 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..