mnestis

travelling…

Anchorages North of Lizard Island

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Photos/Australia/Anchorages-North-of-Lizard/

Howick Island 17th August

14° 29’.772 S

144° 57’ .014 E

A nightmare anchorage, just to teach us a lesson for relaxing. Such a heavy swell (“a well-developed southeast trade wind sends a beam swell along the north of Howick which can make conditions uncomfortable”) that the boat was rocking 30° to either side from the perpendicular during most of the night. One wishes the writers of cruising guidebooks wouldn’t use understatement. We got out of there with curses as early as we could the next morning.

Bathurst Bay (Cape Melville) 18th August

14° 12’ .223 S

144° 28’ .216 E

Another miserable anchorage. A heavy swell made the boat rock uncomfortably, and howling winds blew at over 20 knots all night, the sound given a vicious edge by the whine of the boat’s wind generator. The anchor dragged slightly at the usual ‘interrogation hour’ of 3am, though letting out more chain took care of the problem immediately. Even the surroundings exuded a forbidding, albeit fascinating atmosphere. Giant, smooth granite boulders piled into mountainous hills rising as high as 500 metres came to the water’s edge. Almost barren of vegetation and infested with snakes, these seemed like a landscape I remembered from one of Sindbad’s voyages:

“The valley in which I found myself was deep and narrow, and surrounded by mountains which towered into the clouds, and were so steep and rocky that there was no way of climbing up their sides. As I wandered about, seeking anxiously for some means of escaping from this trap, I observed that the ground was strewed with diamonds, some of them of an astonishing size. This sight gave me great pleasure, but my delight was speedily damped when I saw also numbers of horrible snakes so long and so large that the smallest of them could have swallowed an elephant with ease. Fortunately for me they seemed to hide in caverns of the rocks by day, and only came out by night, probably because of their enemy the roc.”

No diamonds – at least the Queensland’s Department of Parks doesn’t mention them – but it looked just the place for gigantic serpents of mythic proportions.  It’s warned that attempting to climb these hills is much more difficult than it looks, the boulders being so large that far from being stepping stones, they become insurmountable barriers, forcing climbers away from their chosen path…

Morris Island 19th August

13° 29’ .440 S

143° 43’ .317 E

It was a long day’s sailing and motoring to Morris Island – 11 hours. This was a lovely little anchorage though, and I’d have liked to go ashore. The island itself is a tiny coral cay about ¼ nautical mile long and 1/10th mile wide, at the edge of a vast reef which is a full 5 nautical miles long and 1 ½ miles wide!  The cay tapers at both ends to narrow spits of pale sand crisped by waves. A lone palm tree waves bravely from one end and a crest of punk-y spikes marches along the entire length of the island. Both are remnants of British Admiralty policy of the 1800’s – food was to be made available on Great Barrier Reef islands, for the use of shipwrecked sailors. The spikes are the inflorescences of sisal plants, intended to be used to knock down coconuts from the palms. The sisal plants thrived, but of the coconuts palms there is only the lone survivor.

It was also nice to anchor in sand for a change. The usual blue mud we’ve been getting, is of an extraordinarily glutinous and adhesive quality and mixed with coarse grit, it clings in great immoveable lumps to the anchor when it’s raised. Once the anchor has been raised we have to move off immediately, but a clogged up anchor doesn’t set well the next time, so the stuff has to come off. Dragging the anchor in the water doesn’t work, I’ve tried leaning over the safety lines while en route and jabbing at the problem with the boat hook, but that isn’t very effective either, so I’ve been reduced to scooping it off with my favourite heavy plastic kitchen spatula while hanging/squatting on the bowsprit like a cross between a monkey and a badly carved ship’s figurehead.

Night Island 20th August

13° 10’ .869 S

143° 34’ .366 E

Night Island was a pleasant enough place, made very interesting indeed by our neighbour at the anchorage: a large motor cruiser attended by not one, but 3 runabouts and a couple of bright yellow helicopters. These buzzed back and forth delivering people onto the island, who were then ferried to the cruiser by large dinghies. We were, of course, very curious. Curiosity was satisfied when one of the dinghies came alongside and the skipper, on behalf of the charterer, invited us for drinks at 6 that evening and then dinner to follow. Goodness!

The dinghy arrived at exactly 6pm, and on boarding the luxurious cruiser we were greeted by about a dozen young male and female crew in uniform, one of whom was bearing a tray of strawberry daiquiris. Heaven! We were then given a tour of the boat which ended in the lounge, where we chatted with a group of rather jolly men, almost all American executives with a moneyed aura about them and regrettably well-developed pot-bellies, before meeting our host, who was a bowed, elderly, impish man, obviously struggling with poor health but determined to enjoy himself nevertheless.

His name was Fred Turner, and for anyone who doesn’t agree with McDonalds’ corporate policies, we might as well have supped with Satan. We dined on roasted quail, reef fish with lobster sauce, excellent wine and the chef’s apple and pineapple crumble, which had all the men very quiet and very busy for a while. Frankly, I’d have been happy with sausages and beer as long as someone else cooked them and cleaned up, so this counted as a lavishly hedonistic evening!

It seems that Mr Turner has been coming to the Great Barrier Reef – in much the same sort of style – for some 35 years. While here, he invites his family and friends to enjoy the experience with him. Some of the men there had been his friends for almost that long, in fact. We happened to be there during the second wave of a guys-only holiday, and they were obviously having a wonderful time.

Lloyd Bay 21st August

12° 52’ .501 S

143° 21’ .535 E

A reasonably quiet anchorage, though no protection from the wind – just no waves or swell. It was very shallow where we anchored in a blind inlet near the river estuary, about 11’ deep at low tide, leaving us only about 4’ under the keel. The water was muddy and one shore was lined with what looked like the Forest Primeval. The other was inviting white sand with a healthy crocodile population, according to one of the crew with whom we’d spoken during the previous evening. Mmmm!

Cape Grenville – Margaret Bay 22nd & 23rd August

11° 57’ .449 S

143° 12’ .301 E

The trip from Lloyd Bay to Margaret Bay was fairly miserable because once again the winds were above 25 knots all the way. The Captain got soaked by waves en route and we were a bit nervous about the anchor dragging. It didn’t drag, but during the night the lashing holding our shiny new snubber broke. We made up another with a plain stainless steel hook we had been using for something else, and that works fine.

A snubber, btw, for those people sensible enough not to have to know about them, is basically nothing more than a thick rope with a gadget at one end – there are various patent kinds – that hooks into or grabs the anchor chain. The rope leads back to the boat, where it is fastened to the Samson post. Then the anchor chain is let out a bit more so the snubber is underwater, the rope taut, and the chain a tiny bit slack. That way, when wind or swell make the boat heave up and down at anchor the shock is taken up by the elasticity of the rope rather than the chain and windlass. This is easier on the windlass and also on the people in the boat. It also gets rid of the horrible, dungeonesque clanking noise the chain makes when it’s jerked about under load.

We had pulled in at Margaret Bay to rendezvous with one of Sea Swift’s mother ships, which supply the fishing fleet with fuel, water and stores and unload their catch which is returned to Cairns for export. I’d heard about the service from some pleasant people in Brisbane, who had been kind enough to give me lots of excellent advice about anchorages for the trip north, and we’d picked up the schedule from Sea Swift’s headquarters in Cairns. The ship was scheduled to show up at 3:00pm but we’d been warned timings were only approximate, so weren’t surprised when it moved majestically into the bay at dusk. It was dark by the time the shrimp trawlers which had been waiting around at anchor during the last 24 hours were able to be offloaded and refuelled, accompanied by much VHF chattering and grumbling about ‘crook’ backs and painkillers.

We were last in the queue and motored slowly up to the side of the great mother ship, which was well padded with giant, round orange and yellow bollards, bright in the glaring deck lights. Our gearbox stuck at the worst possible moment, so Captain and cockpit got drenched in a gush of warm salty water being pumped from the side of the ship’s hull – water which was on its way back into the bay after having been used to cool the giant freezers. The refuelling went smoothly after that though, and then we went back to re-anchor. This time I was the one who got soaked, by a beautifully timed cloudburst.

We were only scheduled to leave at 3pm the next day, on an overnight sail to catch the rising tide in the Albany Passage. I spent that morning doing laundry and cobbling together a new piece for the outboard-motor harness; a gale-force gust of wind had whipped the missing piece out of The Captain’s hands at Lizard Island. He did necessary things with the chart plotter and engine filters in the meantime.

About an hour before we were to leave, 3 young, smiling, bare-chested fishermen with starry tattoos, clutching beers and only slightly inebriated, roared up to the boat in an aluminium dinghy littered with sticks and leaves, and asked if we’d like to join them on the beach for beer and a prawn barbecue. The answer was, ‘No, we can’t, because we have to leave’. The rejoinder: ‘Why not just leave a day later?’ was the only rational response to such insanity, but unfortunately our schedule took precedence. So after chatting for a while they motored off again, wishing us a safe trip and telling us to visit their boat next time we were in the area.

Anyone would be justified in wondering why we’re doing this trip if after all the expense, hassle, physical and intellectual discomfort and work, we don’t have a spare afternoon to spend enjoying the company of people we’d otherwise not meet. The negative decision was wrong at so many levels:  intellectual, philosophical – even in terms of simple good manners, because those guys are on their shrimp trawlers for weeks on end with no other company and their invitation was gracious. For me it was pretty much the tipping point as regards travelling anywhere else in this boat; when the method by which one chooses to travel is allowed to become more of a barrier than a gateway to other people, places and cultures then it’s time to find another way of moving around.

Seisia- Bamaga – 25th August

10° 51’ .038 S

142° 21’ .060 E

We left Margaret Bay at 3pm, exactly as planned, and reached Cape York at about 8am on the morning of the 25th August, so we’re now officially Over-the-Top.

The winds had been mild during the night, and The Captain was glad we’d taken the decision to bypass the Escape River and just go for it. I’d been rather looking forward to catching mud crabs in the river with our new crab net, because it’s supposed to be swarming with them, but we did save another day’s sailing.

We took the Albany Passage between Albany Island and the Cape York Peninsula to avoid the major shipping lanes and to make the trip shorter. It was very early when we passed through on a rising tide, as planned, but the flow was not as strong as we’d anticipated, so we glided rather sedately through the ½ mile wide, 3 mile long passage flanked by low hills and the occasional shallow bay and yellow sand beach. The rocks were black and the vegetation of the wild jungle-y sort, so in spite of the low light it was rather beautiful. The solitary small homestead in the passage, set back from a beach fringed with coconut palms, was reminiscent of Polynesia.

Once through, we soon came to a scattering of rocky islands sparsely covered with dry vegetation, and began seeing the ‘magnetic ant hills’ (termite nests, in fact) I’d read about. Some of these become huge – much taller than a man – but we were so far from shore that it was difficult to judge their dimensions.

Now we’re anchored far out in the bay south of Seisia, the coastal port of the aboriginal settlement of Bamaga. We shan’t be going ashore, though during the Friday night beach-side barbecues, the music by local bands is supposed to be brilliant. Tomorrow we set sail for Gove. That will be a 3 day/2 night non-stop slog, so we’re keeping fingers crossed that the winds will remain benevolent.

Love,

Eva

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Cape Flattery to Lizard Island

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Cape Flattery 13th August

14° 57’ .117 S

145° 19’.518 E

Photos/Australia/Cape-Flattery/

This was a fairly nondescript anchorage, except for the blindingly white silica sand dunes far in the distance. It was simply an overnight stop en route to

Lizard Island 14th, 15th, 16th August

14° 39’ .603 S

145° 27’ .060 E

Photos/Australia/Lizard-Island/

The first evening we sat on deck with  gin & tonics in hand, watching as the sun sank through a sky decorated with an airy scribble of transparent clouds and melted into a deep indigo sea. Close by, a turtle raised its head occasionally for a breath, and in the distance sea birds were whirling about a patch of reef where skittering splashes told of frantic activity under the water’s surface.

Lizard Island looks barren, but is one of those bewitching, austere landscapes that rewards attention to detail with a myriad of small and large beauties. The beach is of soft, white sand except near the rocks, where the fine layer has been swept away. There it becomes coarsely crystalline, almost pure quartz from the decomposed granite of which it’s formed. On the upper beach, some areas of the sand were paved with tiny white shells, as fine and delicate as a baby’s fingernail, and strangely shaped seed pods littered the high tide line; around them wove the mysterious tracks of animals that had gone about their snuffling business the night before.

The water was crystal clear the next day, transparent and warm. When I began snorkelling, it was almost like floating in glass. The coral gardens were unbelievable. If you remember the photographs of the corals on the jetty at Airlie Beach, try to think of them grown to hallucinatory, Brobdingnagian proportions. The hand-sized orange plate coral with ridges was represented by a specimen the size of a very large dining room table. Soft finger corals a few inches long, at Lizard Island towered like trees. Corals shaped like chanterelle mushrooms were the size of bathtubs.

But the giant clams were the most astonishing sight of all and I gasped at first seeing one (NB: not a good idea when snorkelling). The largest were a good 5’ long and I could easily have curled up within them. The outer shells were grey, ridged and gnarled, encrusted with sponges and corals, and photographs don’t capture the contrast between this outer shell and the exquisite texture and colours of the living mantle. Imagine the finest, softest, deepest purple silk velvet, shot through with bronze highlights and scattered with hundreds of minuscule, iridescent green rings. The inner membrane at the centre is pierced by two large vents. Peering inside the largest, one can see into the core of the creature and see what looks like a crisp white ruffle of purest white fluttering over a background of milky opal membranes. Some of the clams have tiger striped mantles in green and violet and black, others prefer to cloak themselves in shades of gold and brown; all have the tiny iridescent green or blue eyes.

I delicately tickled one of the clams, to see if it really would snap shut. Slowly and jerkily, as if reluctantly activating a piece of ancient, massive, creaky machinery, the clam closed the two ridged halves of its shell a few inches, then stopped. Further tickling would have been lèse majesté , so I left it and played with the myriad of small, brightly coloured fish that were nipping at my yellow gloves. The photo above is not mine, alas, but gives some idea of what they look like.

That afternoon I trekked to the south west side of the island, through pandanus and mangrove swamps, eucalyptus groves and stunted dune vegetation that stabilises the fine white sand hills. The beach was littered with seed pods, coconuts, pumice and similar detritus cast onto the shore by the prevailing winds. I didn’t stay very long, because it was too windy.

The walk to the top of Cook’s Lookout the next morning was reasonably strenuous. When I told him about it, my son expressed surprise that I’m still fit enough to have accomplished it after so much time on the boat. I told him it was a case of the battery chicken so relieved at being let out of her cage that she was carried along by sheer enthusiasm. I also climbed over Chinaman’s Hill and had another snorkelling session that afternoon. The bill for the exertion was presented by my body the following day, but I didn’t care!

The photos of the Cook’s Lookout walk are in order of ascent and descent, but don’t capture the scent of dry grasses in the sea breeze and the faint, sweet perfume of flowers and aromatic eucalyptus. The wind whipped at the summit, where a couple arrived shortly after me and we all took triumphant photos of each other. Facing towards the sun, cloud shadows chased each other over a brazen sea; facing the other way, reefs and islands showed as turquoise and brownish patches alternating with the indigo blue of deeper water.

I didn’t want to leave…

From this entry on, it’s unlikely we’ll be stopping for more than a night or two anywhere and even less likely that we’ll be getting off the boat except to refuel, so entries will be briefer. Photos may be lousy too, unless we get close enough to the shore to actually see something interesting!

Love – and am missing you all,

Eva

Written by mnestis

August 25, 2010 at 9:05 PM

Cairns to Hope Island

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Cairns

Photos/Australia/Cairns/

Half Moon Bay Marina & Yacht Club at Yorkeys Knob.

16° 48’ 04.86” S

145° 42’ 27.04” E

This is a smallish marina – 200 berths on 3 jetties – with a new club house overlooking the basin, and we were lucky enough to get a berth for 4 nights. It had been recommended to us by several yachties as a pleasant alternative to Cairns Harbour, and it has an unusually relaxed and intimate atmosphere compared to the other marinas we’ve stayed at.

The water was muddy and there weren’t many fish to see. A sign warned of crocodiles and I kept a sharp and hopeful lookout for pairs of googly eyes protruding above the surface, but was disappointed. We’re now in serious crocodile territory and they’re known to infest the mangrove swamps and creeks from here on north, especially the Daintree River, but we have yet to see one.

Aside from providing crocodile habitat, mangrove creeks are a refuge for boats during tropical storms. The marinas around Cairns provide protection against cyclones but nevertheless, when an alert is sounded, yachts are required to make for the many large mangrove-lined creeks running off nearby Trinity Inlet, where they go as deeply into the thickets as possible and moor up in a web of criss-crossing lines. The photo will show why: those roots could tangle up even the fiercest winds and waves.

We spent most of the 3 days in Cairns working on the boat, so didn’t see much of the surroundings. The Captain wanted to install a new circuit breaker for the loo holding-tank macerator pump and get the generator electrics fixed once and for all. I wanted to clean the boat properly for the first time in a couple of months; laundry had accumulated and there was also provisioning to do. Generally it was a case of getting prepared for the next part of the trip. From here on, it’s unlikely we’ll be pulling into any more marinas for at least a month unless something goes wrong. Shopping will become more difficult and we hope to be doing most of our re-fuelling from Sea Swift’s ‘mother ships’ that travel between Cairns and the Gulf of Carpenteria. These supply fuel to the shrimp trawlers that ply the northern waters, and fresh food and other supplies to the otherwise isolated communities within the Gulf area.

Cairns lies on the Barron River floodplain and the rain-forest clad mountains of the Great Dividing Range rise straight from these flat lowlands, which are covered in sugar cane fields, of which many are now being sold for development.  We had arrived at the beginning of the sugar cane harvest. Anchored at Orpheus Island, looking toward the mainland, we had watched the cane fields being fired, sending great plumes of smoke into the sky and, at night, creating glowing islands in the distant dark. Here, they were harvesting the cane without burning the fields first. On the day we left, under a low, dark, heavy sky, in fields bordered by palm trees with limply drooping fronds, green machines moved slowly along the face of each row, raising puffs of pale dust and shredded leaves that settled quickly in the still, humid air. In the distance, cane bins – narrow-gauge railway box-cars made of steel mesh – were being heaped high with pieces of chopped sugar cane before driven along temporary tracks to factories for processing.

The climate in North Queensland is tropical, and people here divide the year into 2 seasons: The Wet, and The Dry. During the wet season the temperatures are between 30° and 35° and it rains. It rains a lot. Between November and May, some months average over 400mm of rainfall, and locals who can afford to leave for Sydney or Tasmania, do so. During the dry season between June and October the average monthly rainfall is 35mm and the temperatures are about 25°. This is when yachties and other tourists from the south come up to play among the corals of the Great Barrier Reef and visit the rainforest.

We did take one day off boat slavery to take the Sky Rail Rainforest Cableway to Kuranda. The Sky Rail project caused an international uproar in environmental circles when it was proposed, because it traverses the heart of the World Heritage listed Barron Gorge National Park Wet Rainforest. For once, all the fears proved groundless, and hundreds of people a year glide above the rainforest canopy without harming it, while learning enough about the biology of the area to be impressed and made aware of both its importance and richness.

Those fears were reasonable, however. These are the oldest (415 million years) continually surviving and truly pristine rainforests on earth, and once covered the entire Australian continent. Now, although they cover only about one thousandth of the Australian landmass, they contain:

65% of Australia’s ferns

21% of the country’s cycads

37% of its conifers

30% of its orchid species

36% of Australia’s mammals

30% of its marsupials including tree kangaroos and possums

60% of its butterflies

Kuranda itself is an ‘arty’ town. It was originally built in the late 1880’s during the height of the area’s timber industry and short-lived gold-rush. Coffee was grown there for a while, until severe frosts in the early 1900s wiped out the crop. In the 1960s it became hippie heaven – sorry: ‘alternative lifestyle’ heaven – and remnants of that era can be seen at stalls selling hash pipes and incense as well as local honey, stuffed cane toads, chunky leather goods, mandalas, wind chimes, dream-catchers and massages.

We passed on the cane toads. These are an invasive species in Australia and are toxic enough to kill a dog that is unlucky enough to bite one. They’re such a pest that in parts of Australia where they are common, ‘sports’ have developed in which cane toads are used as balls, such as cane toad golf and cane toad cricket. In an attempt to dispose of the corpses, people came up with several bright ideas: having them tanned, then stuffed and mounted in antic positions, or turned into coin purses with dangle-y legs and glass eyes, or into singularly hideous, flabby, leathery toad-shaped objects to strew around casually or keep in a pocket (as one does). But we did visit the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary and Birdworld.

Birdworld was by far the more interesting and amusing. We were warned before entering about dangling earrings and eyelets on hats – the birds like to pick them off. No one mentioned that rubber shoes are vulnerable. A macaw decided Croc-strap was what he wanted and had neatly gnawed one of mine in half before I could gently remove him. It’s well to be gentle when dealing with an animal that can bite your little finger to the bone if it feels so inclined…

Once the shoes had been stowed in my bag and out of sight, the bird decided I needed a pedicure and began biting crescent-shaped chunks out of my toenails. Another parrot played kissy-face, nibbling off my lip-gloss, which was a rather weird sensation, but parrots seem to like me so I wasn’t too worried about being bitten. Boris – as we subsequently learned he is called – remained on my shoulder during the rest of our visit, quietly crooning to himself and occasionally leaning over for another gentle nibble of my upper lip. The macaw was packed off to indulge his foot fetish with some other hapless tourist while we went to see the cassowaries, which were the real object of our visit.

They’re extraordinarily dinosaur-like creatures – much more so than ostriches or emus – and have huge appetites. One in captivity reportedly ate 20 mangoes in two minutes! They’re native to the Australian Wet Rainforest, and are absolutely essential to the survival of over 150 plant species. Some of the fruit they can digest is so toxic no other animal can eat it – so cassowaries are the only animal that can disperse these seeds. Should the birds become extinct, so will the plants dependent on them in the wild.

Cassowaries have also had a rather bad press, being called ‘the world’s most dangerous bird’. As is usually the case, translated into less anthropocentric language this means: ‘able to defend themselves effectively when harassed or threatened’. They will chase humans – usually when they’ve been led to associate humans with food and when none is forthcoming or when people infringe upon their space. They also seem to have a marked dislike of dogs and will chase cars, though more cars and dogs kill cassowaries than vice versa. But the injuries cassowaries cause consist of the occasional puncture wound or bruise – rather like the injuries inflicted upon paparazzi by celebrities who’ve finally had enough.

There has been only one properly documented death-by-cassowary. This was in 1926: a 16 year-old and his younger brother were trying to club the bird to death and the older boy suffered a puncture wound in the neck, from which he bled to death while trying to run away. Serve him right.

We left Cairns on the morning of August 10th, in a fine, persistent, unpleasant rain that didn’t let up all day. We anchored off

Snapper Island


Photos/Australia/Snapper-and-Hope-Islands/

16° 17’ 33.63” S

145° 29’ 27.04” E

The first attempt failed, but we changed position slightly and the anchor bit the second time, which was nice because by then we were soaked to the skin. The anchorage was lovely though, even in the rain, and we were sitting amidst trawlers that are part of the Cairns shrimp fleet. These wait at favourite anchorages during the day until evening – when the shrimp come out – to begin trawling.

Sure enough, come dusk, they all lit their lights, turned and slowly moved off into the distance, booms on either side of the boats lowered and trailing their nets, like a bevy of 18th century ladies lifting their panniered skirts with both hands

Now we’re moored off

Hope Island

15° 43’ 328” S

145° 27’ 385 E

But the coordinates are of no real use, since this is a part of the Great Barrier Reef that Google Earth shows only as a dark splodge without detail!

The day was flat calm when we left Magnetic Island – spookily so, as we motored slowly into a misty white void over a flat calm sea. The surface was littered with drifting sticks and logs – small and large – which had come down the Daintree River, so a sharp lookout had to be kept for really big ones.

Later, and quite suddenly, the wind blew up and had soon it reached 20 knots+ with an accompanying chop. These aren’t really the conditions in which to navigate coral reefs, because charts don’t show individual coral heads – the lookout needs to be able to see them. But because the tide was so low the reefs were above water and we decided we could afford to take a chance, with the proviso that if the going got really hairy we’d just keep sailing through the night.

We moved along at about 1 knot until – what luck! – we found one of only two public park mooring buoys was free! And we’d arrived after 3:00pm, which meant we could stay the night, which was as well because the wind didn’t drop. We’re still here, in fact, as is the boat on the other mooring. It’s been blowing 20+ knots all day (12 August) and no one in their right mind would venture out here to go snorkelling.

Tomorrow the wind should moderate, and we’ll be sailing overnight to Lizard Island.

That’s all for now!

Best from us both,

Eva

 

Written by mnestis

August 12, 2010 at 9:14 PM

Alarums & Excursions

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Photos/Australia/Magnetic-Orpheus-Islands/

Magnetic Island – Horseshoe Bay

19° 06’ 15.18” S

146° 51’ 38.21 E

From Airlie Beach we sailed overnight to Magnetic Island. We’d intended to spend a couple of days there, but when we arrived at Horseshoe Bay there were so many jet-skis and powerboats and other boats at anchor that we decided to simply stay the night and move on to Orpheus Island the next morning. Having to avoid shark drum lines at the entrance to the bay helped the decision-making process, as did the rather murky water. Shark drum lines are floating oil drums with baited hooks attached. These are very effective at catching bull sharks, tiger sharks, and great white sharks – which are the species most dangerous to swimmers. Somehow, I didn’t care for a swim and The Captain prefers his water hot anyway, with soap and a good bath brush.

Cook sailed past Magnetic Island in June, 1770. Because of some fluctuations in his compass readings, he named this “rocky and barrenst surface” Magnetical Isle, as he believed his compass problems were caused by magnetic interference from the massive rocky outcrops of the island. This assumption later proved to be incorrect and no one has been able to duplicate the phenomenon, but the name stuck, albeit changed to ‘Magnetic’.

Orpheus Island – Hazard Bay

18° 36’ 40.72” S

146° 29’ 10.20 E

The sail to Orpheus Island the next day was wonderful. First, for a time we had an honour guard of 4 bottlenose dolphins. They played in the bow wave, weaving back and forth, slipping to the surface and down again, turning and twisting to look at us from within their glassy world as we leaned over the safety lines of our floating island.

Then, shortly afterwards, I was called up from below to look at humpback whales breaching. They looked to be a mother and calf and got closer and closer until, finally, they were no more than a yard or two off the bow when they dove under the surface, the larger one showing a long, long curve of grey ridged, barnacle-encrusted flank. For a horrible moment we thought the boat might have scraped them although we weren’t moving very quickly, but they must have known what they were doing. We were too busy standing with our mouths open in astonishment to be very competent.

Orpheus Island looked to be a most promising tropical paradise as we approached and anchored in Hazard Bay. The water was still, and on the horizon plumes of smoke from burning sugar cane fields south of Lucinda, on the distant mainland, rose into a milky evening sky. Later, the fires cast a reddish glow along the distant night shore, and Venus was so bright in the sky that it cast a glittering path on the black water. Even getting seawater with which to flush our wretched toilets was an enchanting experience: bioluminescence made the water sparkle and flash as I poured it into the large translucent plastic bottles, as if I were pouring stars.

The fun came to an abrupt end at about 3am. The wind came up, changed direction, and we began dragging our anchor. The anchor position alarm roused us from our bunks, though I’d already been half-awake for some time listening with growing anxiety to the menacing noise of the chain dragging around on the bottom.

So The Captain had to turn on the engine and bring the boat forward while I had to go out onto the bloody bow, which was by now heaving through an arc of about 30°, to release the rope snubber and bring the anchor in. Then after he had moved us further out from shore for safety’s sake in case the anchor dragged again, I went through the palaver in reverse. It really did seem as if 24 hours could not go by without some unpleasant drama, and 3am is not a good time for dramas. I used a lot of very nautical language, very loudly, and felt slightly better.

The next morning found us hobby-horsing up and down in a really nasty chop until we moved further in – now that we could see the edge of the reef – and in the afternoon it calmed enough that I could take the dinghy to Yanks Jetty and walk on the beaches there for a bit while The Captain read and dozed. The beaches were idyllically pretty and the sand was littered with bits of coral sucked smooth as old ivory by the waves. Yanks Jetty is so-called because it was originally built as part of a degaussing (demagnetising) station during WWII. There is story that General Douglas McArthur used the idyllic setting as a love nest for trysts with local girls…

Rather a lot of cone shells that had been washed up onto the beach the night before. Now, cone shells are beautiful, but the molluscs that make them are predators which eat small fish and suchlike creatures. They sneak up on their prey in a slow and snailishly sinister fashion and then from the narrow end of their shell gradually extend a proboscis, at the end of which is a tiny harpoon with which they inject venom into their victim.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opwGG9_oOjA

They can also harpoon humans who disturb them, causing great pain and occasionally even death. In the pretty illustrations accompanying cautionary on-line articles the dangerous shells are shown in their full patterned and coloured glory. The problem is that on the beach they’re all covered in a brownish-grey coating, so the dangerous ones are indistinguishable from the ones that aren’t. I cautiously picked one up with a bit of shell and an eye at the end of a stalk peered out at me, so I chucked it and the others of its ilk far out into the water as my Good Deed for the day.

The next day was beautifully calm so I was able to go for a snorkel – hurrah!

Getting to the reef required some interesting rock climbing around the point from Yanks Jetty. I wore my thin wetsuit and heavy Teva sandals and carried flippers and assorted gear – including the camera in a waterproof bag – in a backpack. My new boogie board did double duty as a walking stick. It must have looked awkward, but worked. After inspecting the mangroves, I left backpack and camera on shore well above the waterline but kept the sandals on while shuffling (recommended in waters where there are stingrays) through the shallow water en route to water deep enough in which to don flippers and mask. Then the sandals went into a mesh bag and onto the boogie board and I was set to go!

You’d have to be a lunatic not to wear shoes while wading here and every pamphlet and guidebook emphasises this point. Coral and oyster cuts almost always get badly infected and some varieties of coral sting. Stonefish live in these waters and if one steps on them the venom in their dorsal spines will, at best, cause excruciating pain; they’re impossible to see because they’re so well camouflaged. I startled a small stingray, too. So: why were a couple with 3 small children wading around in the shallows all barefoot? Within minutes of walking into the water the youngest was wailing and dripping blood. Park service employees and emergency crews must despair.

The water wasn’t as clear as I’d hoped, but toward the deeper water giant boulders covered in a skin of blue coral were spectacular, as were fan corals. The usual psychedelic colour combinations prevailed: hot pink next to mustard yellow and bright orange, gas-flame blue alongside iridescent green. There were a fair number of fish, including a variety of large grouper with a skin decorated to look exactly like the pattern of rippled sunlight on pale underwater sand. The large clams were the most delightful, however, and I almost laughed out loud at first catching sight of them. They’re a species that works its way into coral heads so that only the edges of the shells and mantle peek out. It looked as if the coral-covered rocks had many pouty mouths with plump, wavy blue and green lips – Mick Jagger-like.  (The photo of them is off the internet, btw.)

Next stop: Cairns

All best,

Eva

Written by mnestis

August 12, 2010 at 8:31 PM

Nara Inlet and Airlie Beach

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Abel Point Marina, Airlie Beach


20° 15’ 52.95” South

148° 42’ 41.77 East

Photos Australia/Airlie-Beach/

Just as monkeys in Thailand can be trained to gather coconuts from tall palm trees, this Crew is able – with guidance – to perform simple tasks in areas inaccessible to The Captain.

‘I’ve a nice job for you’

‘?’

‘See if you can disconnect that red seawater hose leading to the exhaust injection nozzle of the generator at the back. I can’t get enough leverage’

‘OK, sure’

Crew insinuates herself between various greasy hunks of ironmongery in the stern. The result is reminiscent of Tenniel’s illustration of Alice in the Rabbit’s house:

‘Erm…which red hose?’

‘The one at the back.’

‘Oy! Five hoses here, all at the back!’

‘The one behind the black hose.’

‘The big fat black hose?’

‘That’s the one!’

‘Does the end of the red hose look as if it’s been chewed?’

‘That’s it!’

Crew tugs at hose and after a couple of minutes gets it off.

‘Got it.’

‘Excellent.’

‘Hey – help! You need to pull on my feet to get me out of here…’

Further forays and probing with crochet hooks (very useful gadgets and, no, I don’t crochet though am crotchety often enough) while being issued strict instructions not to be in a hurry, got the nozzle clear. The Captain got it all back together, and flipped the switch. It worked: water gushed out the correct hole at the back of the boat as seawater circulated to cool the freshwater which cools the generator.  But the next time it was turned on, no water appeared. So we went through the whole procedure once more. It worked again, once. And then we began Da Capo. ಠ_ಠ

So we left lovely Nara Inlet and the Whitsunday Islands and have been sitting around in Abel Point Marina at Airlie Beach for the last 4 days.

The original plan had been to spend a few days at Cid Harbour at Whitsunday Island, but the day we arrived the anchorage was packed with boats trying to escape the wind and unpleasant chop. We anchored, then sat glumly for while – there was nothing to see, the anchor was dragging very, very slowly through the soft mud, the wind was still howling around our ears, the sea was choppy even within the anchorage, more and more boats were coming in…the devil with it!

We upped anchor and left for what is supposed to be the most secure anchorage in the Whitsundays – Nara Inlet.

Nara Inlet, Hook Island, Whitsunday Islands


20° 08’47.06” South

148° 54’ 34.97” East

Photos Australia/Nara-Inlet

Nara Inlet is beautiful – almost like a fjord, there was less wind and few other boats. The surrounding hills are covered with hoop pines and airy eucalyptus trees and strange, weathered blue-grey rocks, like magic mushrooms or slumping moon meringues, line the shore. In the mornings and evenings, at the other end of the inlet, we could see flocks of white cockatoos whirl among the pines like snowflakes.

While anchored there we launched the brand new hard-bottomed dinghy and took it to the far end of the inlet, where a short uphill walk leads to an Aboriginal site. It was pleasant to be on land again, the views of the inlet were stunning, and the site was interesting though most of the rock paintings were much faded.

Then the problem with the generator arose and instead of sailing on to Butterfly Bay and Stonehaven Anchorage at Hook Island, and then to Blue Pearl Bay at Hayman Island for some snorkelling, we ended up here.

The problem turned out to be an intermittent electrical connection rather than a mechanical problem. Brushing by the connection en route to clearing the hose got it to start up, deceiving us into thinking our efforts with the nozzles and pipes were having an effect. Also, the engine mounting bolts at the back had sheared, which let the machine give a rabbit-like hop when it turned on and off. We only discovered this by accident while trying to fix the first problem. I believe that’s called a ‘silver lining’. A hopping engine would inevitably have become a leaping engine in a few weeks. The way this trip has been running, this would have happened somewhere really convenient – like off Arnhem Land – leaving us with strictly rationed fresh water supplies and having to run the main engine – using lots of diesel – for power until reaching Darwin.

It’s been a dirty, sweaty and irritating few days, especially for The Captain, who’s been rather heroically doing a dockyard job – streaming with sweat and looking wilder and grubbier as each day progresses toward its frustrating dénouement. Although he enquired ahead by phone, the marina repair people here have been less than helpful due to lack of manpower and materials. They could easily have said they were too stretched to take on the job. Had we known we would be taking taxis into town to get bolts engineered and we’d have to be lifting the generator ourselves with the main halyard, we’d have sailed straight to Cairns to get the problem diagnosed and fixed. Tempers have not been improved by the fact that the moment we arrived the miserable weather became warm and the 25 knot winds we’d been dealing with until then turned into gentle breezes.

Between squeezing into tight spots and helping The Captain when he needs an extra pair of hands, doing the shopping and laundry and cooking and washing the deck and interior of the boat, I’ve been scouting around and taking photos.  Otherwise there’s little to do or see within walking distance.

Airlie Beach is anodyne verging on tacky. The foreshore has a nice man-made salt water lagoon so people can swim during the jellyfish ‘stinger’ season. A well-designed boardwalk leads west along the foreshore from Airlie Bay past the town and the marina and two more beaches before ending opposite nearby Pigeon Island. Along the main street of town are shops selling swim wear, travel & tour agencies, a drug store – no post office – and rows of bars and restaurants catering to a clientèle ranging from about 17 to 27, travelling on a limited budget. It’s obvious that people with money go to Hamilton Island or the luxurious resorts on various small privately owned islands within the Whitsunday group.

The marina is packed with large charter boats of various sizes, decorated with racks of wetsuits and scuba tanks. These take tourist groups out to nearby islands for day trips and longer cruises, snorkelling and diving tours, beach walks and barbecues. The biggest one is an enormous catamaran which looks like a slightly more aerodynamic Starship Enterprise. It comes in every night heralded by several mournful hoots of the ship’s horn. Crowds clutching towels and swimwear gather in the early mornings before their boats leave and listen solemnly to briefings given by people their own age but with woven ankle bracelets, better tans and more interesting hair (so far I’ve counted 4 young men with dreadlocks and earrings a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean).  “There will be plenty of food on this trip. For those of you who have been saving money, the next few days will reintroduce you to fresh fruit and vegetables, and we promise you will not be served pot noodles!”

A hike up into the hills behind town was a welcome chance to get some real exercise. Two wallabies broke cover and bounced down the trail ahead for a few hundred yards, dozens of large black and white butterflies floated through the trees and the light-dappled forest smelled delicious. I’ve been trying to define the scent and can only liken it to an excellent pale, aromatic pipe tobacco.

The coral growing under the jetty was a real surprise, because some of the formations are so large. Usually, when one takes photos of coral underwater, the result is dull without a flash. But because these formations are right under the surface it was possible to get true colours in daylight just by leaning over and casting a shadow over the water to remove most of the reflection. The only problem was not losing my balance and after one close call I made sure to keep my ‘centre of gravity’ lower to the ground.

The swallows: they swoop through the rigging, perch on safety lines, sit on jetties and mooring lines and anchors. They chirp and twitter constantly from the moment dawn breaks until dusk. They’re a species native to Australia and nearby islands called the ‘Welcome Swallow’ (Hirundo neoxena) and are utterly lovely. We first saw them in Geographe Bay in Western Australia some years ago, when dozens would roost overnight all over the (other) boat. They make a bit of a mess, but no creature so graceful can be called a pest!

Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, although real Aussies, are definitely considered pestiferous because they eat houses – not entire, of course; they just gnaw on the softwoods used for window frames and weather-boards, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage if not stopped.

Green tree ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) are another species native to Australasia and are unusual members of the ant family. They’re also known as Weaver Ants, because they weave leaves together to form their nests. Adult ants form chains to pull the leaves together, then other ants bring larvae from the nest and squeeze them so they produce a kind of silk, which is then used to ‘stitch’ the leaves together. They’re aggressive creatures, and swarm out when the nests are touched, biting and squirting formic acid.

There are many nests in the trees and bushes along the board walk, and having read that they’re sometimes eaten and taste rather good, I tried one in the spirit of scientific enquiry and with apologies to Kliban: ‘Love to eat them pismires, pismires what I love to eat. Bite they little heads off, nibble on they tiny feet’. They taste O.K. – a bit like gritty lime juice – but I shouldn’t think they’ll be coming to supermarket shelves near you any time soon.

Tomorrow morning early we sail for Magnetic Island, leaving the Whitsundays, which have been a disappointment because of the weather and the seemingly inevitable delays which have again robbed us of precious time to do anything but travel north as quickly as possible, missing so much of what we’re here to see.

The plan now is to spend a couple of days at Magnetic Island, then do the same at Orpheus Island. Then we remain at Cairns for three to four days. We need to provision, because after that shops become less accessible. There will be minor boat repairs and I sincerely hope we’ll have time to take in a bit of the countryside further inland and some cultural sights before heading north again. There’s such a long way to go yet!

Until then,

Best to all from us both

Eva

Gladstone to Shaw Island

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Photos Australia/Gladstone-to-Mackay

The next stop after Gladstone was Pearl Bay.

22° 26’.620 South

150°44’.068 East

Described as one of the prettiest anchorages along that part of the coast, with steep wooded cliffs descending to the sea and a small, perfect beach, it was all those things. It was also where we found out that our depth gauge is badly calibrated. This became obvious when the boat began bumping on the ground at low tide while the gauge mendaciously insisted there were still 5 feet of water under the keel.  We quickly hauled anchor and The Captain did a Boy Racer – gunning the engine – and we settled again further out like a huffy gull that’s been disturbed after thinking it’s nicely roosted for the evening.

One old boy in Brisbane told us no one’s really ‘done’ the Queensland coast until they’ve been stranded on a bar or stuck at anchor. Not surprising. The tides here are terrific – often 20 feet or more – and measurements aren’t always accurate; the sea around each bay and island has its own rhythm, tides vary depending on the moon, sand shifts during storms, and nature is generally disinclined to be corseted. Depths here are relatively shallow even between islands and often measure a metre or less in the river mouths during the lowest tides. Many areas are only accessible if one ‘works’ the tides: the channel between Fraser Island and the mainland just north of Brisbane, for example, is usually navigated on a rising tide if one comes from the south, timing arrival at the shallowest point midway through to coincide with the tidal high, so one can then follow the ebbing tide to deeper water northwards. Get it wrong, and you’re well stuck in the sand for 12 hours. We won’t be playing these games!

We’ve had other minor hiccups with the electronics. These The Captain mostly sorts out by re-booting or by occasionally reverting to mankind’s traditional solution when faced with a piece of recalcitrant technology: a good thump. Fridges and freezer are still a bit temperamental, loos still not working properly, and random problems resulting from the hammering the boat suffered en route from NZ still surface occasionally. But these minor issues are pretty much compensated for by the new anchor – which has held first time, every time so far – and the new automatic anchor winch controller: crew now presses buttons to raise and lower the anchor and no longer has to wield a rubber mallet to release and control the rate at which it descends. Sweet! And we have also had a 3G wireless network installed, so we can get the internet in our bunks even while anchored in idyllic island coves as long as they aren’t more than about 50 miles from a phone mast. Very civilised!

Next stop was:

Hexham Island

22° 00’.720 South

150° 21’.804 East

En route from Pearl Bay we watched a humpback whale less than 100 yards away, breaching again and again. It would launch a full three quarters of its body length into the air then land in the water on its arched back with a crash. Then it slapped its vast flukes against the water’s surface 7-8 times in a row, then lay on its back waving long flippers in the air. We didn’t even try to take photos, but watched awestruck. It seems impossible that a creature of such size and weight should be able to indulge in acrobatics.

We anchored in a small bay with a small, curved beach embraced by two rocky headlands. We were completely alone until early evening, and the silence was broken only by the occasional mewing gull and screech of the resident osprey, which perched on one of two small rocky peaks on the western side of the bay to tear at a fish it had caught.

The sunset was exquisite. They do especially good sunsets in this part of the world; Cecil B. DeMille productions almost every evening, with phalanxes of orange and pink clouds, or clear skies shading imperceptibly from deepest blue overhead to gold at the horizon. The impressive and varied cloud formations may have to do with the fact that we’re close to where two separate weather systems meet.

Come evening the crescent moon rose. Here in the southern hemisphere the moon lies on her back, cradling the globe of her shadowed side between two glowing horns. Venus, the evening star, is always very bright. Later the Milky Way appears – stars like handfuls of glittering dust on black velvet. It’s only when one is far from any man-made source of light that one understands how the night sky could be regarded with such awe and wonder by our ancestors.

Curlew Island

21°35’.413 South

149° 40’.080 East

Curlew Island is part of the Guardfish Cluster of islands, and was the last stop before we arrived at Mackay. We anchored for the night just around a headland which offered protection from the prevailing south-easterly wind and left very early in the morning in plenty of time to arrive before dark. The day before, we’d averaged 6 ½ knots for the journey, but there was no guarantee the winds would remain favourable.

The approach was littered with islets and isolated rocks. It brought home how deceptive the view from the deck of a boat can be. On a chart, islands are laid out nicely with their fringing reefs, each distinct from the other, passages between them clear. From the deck of a boat, islands merge into each other. What looks like a rocky shore can change with a within a few minutes and a few degrees’ change of perspective into a group of several islands. Channels appear and disappear in a most disconcerting way and the entrances to harbours usually only become clear when one’s practically in them. It would be easy to sail by a perfect bay and in the past exploratory vessels often did so. Even Captain Cook missed a few!

Mackay

21°06’.479 South

149°13’.301 East

The Mackay Marina was rather more up-market than the previous places we’d stayed at. Expensive apartments and restaurants line the marina’s edge. Mackay is a former sugar town, now losing some of its character as sugar prices have plummeted and coal mining has become one of the big earners in Queensland. Most of the sugar storage sheds next to the marina are being put to other uses, and the surrounding cane fields are being sold for developments.

The fishermen still come in though, and I was able to buy a coral trout off them before the rest were shipped off to Hong Kong – live – in large oxygenated tanks, for sale at astronomical prices. As one of the men said, ‘This lot fly First Class!’

The tiny lighthouse at one end of the marina is amusing. Once inside, one has to stoop a bit to avoid the ornamental ironwork supports. It runs by clockwork, so had to be wound up every 2 hours by the men who tended it. The prisms were hand cast and polished and are beautifully smooth with subtly rounded edges. It was relocated here from Pine Islet and was the last kerosene powered lighthouse in Australia. It’s since been restored, and is now the last fully functional kerosene lighthouse in the world.

Right now we’re anchored in the S.E. corner of Kennedy Sound, off Shaw Island, and are now officially within the Whitsunday Group of Islands.

20°30’.104 South

149°02’.927 East

The wind blew up during the night, and although 25 -30 knots here within the Great Barrier Reef aren’t accompanied by huge swells, the sailing won’t be very pleasant and launching the dinghy to go exploring will be a bore, so we’re staying here for the day, as are the two neighbouring boats.

Our daily bit of excitement was just provided by one of them: it was dragging the anchor and rapidly being pushed out toward nearby shoals. We repeatedly tried to raise the skipper on the radio, but got no answer. Obviously no radio watch was being kept and there wasn’t an anchor alarm to let them know they’d broken loose. Tsk-tsk. Someone from the other boat went over with a dinghy and must have woken the crew of the drifting vessel because a man appeared on deck, raised the anchor and then motored in and re-set it. Then he moved and tried again, then moved off with a tiny handkerchief of sail up, presumably to try anchor somewhere else. We’ve let out extra chain and look to be set rock solid, which is pleasant; our previous anchor wouldn’t have done the job.

Almost five hundred miles north of Brisbane, the temperatures are already much warmer in spite of the wind and the air much more humid – brilliant!

Love from us both,

Eva

 

Written by mnestis

July 21, 2010 at 10:22 AM

Mooloolaba to Gladstone

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Photos Australia/Mooloolaba-to-Gladstone

We ended up staying at Mooloolaba longer than expected – for several days, in fact – after discovering that the main halyard (the rope with which one hauls up the mainsail) had been damaged en route from New Zealand. A new one had to be made up and threaded through the mast, for which we needed the services of a rigger. Like all good craftsmen, the best local one wasn’t immediately available.

The delay wasn’t exactly onerous. Early every morning I’d make a still-sleeping ‘El Capitan’ his cup of tea and then take a brisk morning walk along the fine, pale sand beach, or follow a boardwalk running behind the dunes between twisted pandanus trees and large banksias, for just over a mile to the esplanade. There were always a surprising number of people out: joggers wearing sleek tights and iPod earphones, other walkers, couples strolling hand-in-hand, and swimmers. These last were mostly elderly and looked in magnificent shape, ruddy with health and glowing from their exertions as they rubbed themselves dry. Everyone greeted everyone else with a smile or wave. The esplanade is lined with coffee-shops and decent restaurants. There are some shops selling tourist tat, but not many considering that it’s basically a resort town. I’d get an extra large cappuccino and then walk back barefoot along the edge of the gentle surf – what a heavenly way to begin the day!

The main fishing jetties which service the small fishing fleet and the complex where the day’s catch is processed for export are adjacent to the marina on the seaward side of the peninsula. Fishermen no longer arrive with open holds full of fish nowadays; the catch is sorted on the boats and put into large containers filled with ice/salt water slurry immediately. These are then loaded directly onto trucks when the boats arrive back in port – less romantic, but better for the final product. The local fish shops, naturally, make the famous fish counter at Harrods look just a bit pathetic. Photos are included purely to provoke envy.

One surprising sight at the shore end of our jetty was Jessica Watson’s ‘Ella’s Pink Lady’. It turns out the young woman is based in Mooloolaba. Small knots of people gathered almost every day to take photographs and stare at the pink cockleshell, snapping photos of each other with the boat in the background. Hand lettered signs on both jetty and outside the gate pleaded for consideration and privacy, so the hoopla when she first landed must have been considerable

Since we only have 3 months in which to cover many miles, the idea was to move north as quickly as was reasonably comfortable, sacrificing lesser attractions for the much lauded Whitsundays. So our next port of call was:

Gladstone

23° 49’.548 South

151° 14’.481 East

Gladstone is a very strange place.

On approaching the river mouth one sees freighters anchored out to sea, patiently waiting their turn to be guided into the harbour by the bright yellow pilot boats.  On cautiously motoring up the river along one side of the dredged channel our little boat passed acre upon acre of refineries –vast cat’s cradles of steel scaffolding, chimneys and storage tanks, exuding vaguely sinister wisps of steam and smoke. It was a gloomy, chilly, rainy afternoon and the air smelled vaguely acrid. There was a nasty yellow streak in the clouds indicating some kind of noxious pollution, and as we passed by the rusty hulks of freighters being loaded by inadequate-looking gantries, we rather wondered what horrors awaited us.

Anticipation was confounded. The marina was pleasantly landscaped, with well-cared-for clap-board buildings painted white and blue. The staff were friendly and helpful. The wash-room and laundry facilities were so sparkling clean – every surface gleaming – that I felt almost embarrassed using them. On either side of the marina manicured lawns and parkland stretched for about a mile along the river. During the time we were there, they were usually crowded with families enjoying picnics and barbecues, children celebrating birthdays, students lounging around in the sun and the occasional corporate ‘function’ complete with blues band.

Central Gladstone, on the other hand, was curiously desolate. Walking through town on Sunday, I literally didn’t meet another human being for 20 minutes. I’ve seen ghost towns in the U.S. with more life. It is situated on the hill occupied by the original settlement, which is now completely surrounded by factories and industrial parks.  Although money has obviously been spent on street furniture – random fountains, trees and brick pedestrian areas – there were few people to be seen even on weekdays and no real shops to speak of. These, it seemed, are located in shopping centres toward the suburbs.

A few undistinguished old buildings remain standing, and a museum housed in one of them was exhibiting some interesting aboriginal art and historical paraphernalia. Otherwise, the main street was lined with ugly modern buildings housing banks, employment agencies, solicitors, insurance companies, engineering and construction services, Chambers of Commerce and Industry and corporate offices:  Rio Tinto Alcan Tarwun, Anglo Coal Australia, Boyne Smelters Ltd., Queensland Alumina Limited (the world’s biggest alumina refinery), Cement Australia Gladstone, Orica Australia (they produce sodium cyanide, caustic soda, ammonium nitrate, chlorine, nitric acid, hydrochloric acid and sodium hypochlorite!).

There was also a sign advertising the premises of a corporate entity called ‘Matrikon Solutions for Industrial Agility’. I haven’t looked this up. I don’t want to. The name – so carefully crafted to mean nothing at all – is too fertile a ground for speculative imagination: dancing CEOs and juggling Directors…

We stayed at Gladstone for 3 nights, waiting out a period of bad weather. We ate mud crab for the first time – a Queensland delicacy and considered by many to be the best tasting crab in the world. It was certainly the most delicious I’ve ever tasted and the meat from the monster we bought was almost more than we could eat. Their small cousins look to be identical to the ones we saw in Polynesia, and make the same come-hitherish wave with one big claw at the mouth of their burrows when the tide is out.

However the high point of our stay in Gladstone was – for me at least – the flying foxes. The Captain has seen them before in various parts of the world and is consequently blasé. But I’ve been curious about them since watching them fly by at dusk in Tonga, and so was delighted to find a smallish flock roosting in a mangrove patch along the path to town. At first, walking by, I’d thought they were parrots because of the racket they made but on getting closer could smell their distinctive, curiously musty odour.  After clambering around mangrove roots while being stared at by dozens of pairs of beady little eyes I managed to take some photos before the flock decided I was bad news and flapped off to trees a few yards further away, where they remained chittering and rustling and glaring until I left. Later, just for the heck of it, I turned some of the photos upside down and was confronted with a fantastic rogues’ gallery of individual faces.

The bat family can be divided approximately into two groups: the megabats (flying foxes are megabats) and microbats (the little ones that feature in European fairy tales). Fruit bats don’t use echolocation to find their food, which consists primarily of fruit, flowers, nectar and pollen. They have excellent eyesight in daylight as well as at night, and an acute sense of smell. They’re not endangered – yet – but at risk for the usual reasons…

The next leg of our journey – Gladstone to Mackay – is in a separate post.

Love,

Eva

Written by mnestis

July 21, 2010 at 9:45 AM