• Nadine

Where did we go: The Queensland Coast

Bananas have been banned from coming aboard Wakanui. Sailor superstition says they bring bad luck and to date this seems to have held true for us. Once they were banished at Bunderberg our fortunes seem to have changed. Yes, we still had things that needed fixing and installing and the work on our boat is far from done, but catastrophic engine failures seem to be a thing of the past. Touch wood.

With bananas gone we started to find our groove settling in to life aboard. It is a big change of lifestyle and a massive change of pace as well. Time to slow down and enjoy whatever the day brings – all the while racing to get up the Coast in time to leave Thursday Island with the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally. Hmm. Still some work to be done here…

We arrived at Lady Musgrave Island a few weeks later than planned but loved the snorkelling, the walk through the tree-covered island and the tip-off from a camper stuck waiting for a weather window to get back to the mainland that there might be a late turtle hatching to be seen that evening.

The five minutes spent watching the little hatchling make his way down to the water’s edge at sunset was pretty magical. We wish our little hatchling all the best in his journey across the oceans.

We travelled on up to Percy Island, doing our first night passage and arriving in the morning to a palm fringed, white sandy beach. We were met on shore by the neice of the island custodians that had greeted Rowan and the crew of Wai o Tira 30 years ago. Not much has changed. While we didn’t find Wai o Tira’s sign left all those years ago, we carried on the tradition and decorated a piece of plywood accordingly and nailed it up in the beach hut.

On to the Whitsundays and with lovely night sailing we arrived at Whitehaven beach, impressed with the beautiful white sand and clear water, and saddened by the devastation of Cyclone Debbie on the trees fringing the beach and across the island. She really packed a punch. This had also been visible at Lady Musgrave with the amount of broken coral on the sea floor and it is hard to see how it is going to recover with cyclones strengthening as the seas warm.

We did our first real sailing with all the sails up and the engines off as we cross the bay from the islands into Airlie Beach. The wind had obligingly picked up to enough to allow us a momentary 10 knots under sail and it shook loose a few more of the stresses of getting ready and repairs.

At Airlie Beach we met Rowan’s Uncle Bob and his friend Kiwi Bob who came aboard to join us on the 5 days to their home town of Townsville. Their task was to teach us how to fish, and while they made valiant attempts we ended up with shark for dinner rather than the trophy specimens that always seem to pop up on Uncle Bob’s Facebook feed.

The highlight however was that the Humpback whales had finally caught up with us on their migration north and we spent our days watching for the distinctive burst of spray on the horizons. We had a few wonderful encounters along with many dolphins (Bottlenose and the more acrobatic Spinner) off the bow.

Townsville was a weekend with family out at Magnetic Island with Wallabies and Koala’s spotted, and a week of jobs at the Marina. While Rowan installed the high frequency radio and AIS (allows us to see other boats approaching and their speed etc.), Uncle Bob installed a water filter for out drinking water, and Aunty Ruth took the kids on excursions to the Museum, Military Museum and Reef HQ.

We also visited the Head Office of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) where the ever-enthusiastic Chris Jones gave us a run-down on the work they are doing to protect the reef, the current bleaching events and their effects, and some cool initiatives to get people involved in monitoring the reef. If you are ever out on the reef, download the Eye on the Reef app before you go. You can then upload photos and sightings from your phone of wildlife, corals (healthy and bleached), environmental issues (rubbish, oil spills etc) which all form a big database of information for scientists to use going forward. The kids and I left super-impressed, but also very saddened that they may be the last generation to see the reef in its current form.

On to Cairns via some picturesque stops and the collection point for our Rally packs. We had a little look around, provisioned up again, fixed some more stuff and had a wonderful surprise birthday party at the Yacht Squadron for Harvey with the arrival of some close friends from New Farm up for the school holidays. So good to see some faces from home, and a wonderful send-off from Yorkey’s Knob the next day as we headed off towards Cape York. For me the feeling of excitement as we headed off beyond civilisation (okay, beyond any big towns) showed me how far I’d come in a couple of months. Far from feeling apprehensive about the expanse of blue before us, I was excited and looking forward to the adventure to come. For a non-sailor it was great to feel the fear replaced by anticipation.

At Lizard Island we arrived to a bay full of boats, most of whom were headed for the same Indonesia rally as us, and with 2 kid-boats that Eve aboard Auntie back in Bundaberg had told us to look out for. We enjoyed meeting people that were soon to become friends over sundowners on the beach and an expedition to the Research Station. Melia was delighted to finally have friends and we were very happy to see the kids enjoying playing with friends their own age again.

We climbed the peak that Captain Cook had climbed to see if he could see if he could find a way out of the interminable reef (he could, they went out it, encountered massive ocean swells and winds pushing them back on to the reef and looked desperately for a way back in). We snorkelled over a beautiful clam garden of giant, iridescent clams and relaxed on the beach for the first time the whole trip. Starting to get the hang of cruising now…

The trek north was spent zig-zagging shipping channels and reefs, finally catching some decent fish – fresh tuna sushi is a bit special – feeling the air get warmer and the land more uninhabited. It was a surprise to find a car sitting on the headland as we entered the last little channel (a delight) before we left Cape York but the draw of see the tip-top of the country is apparently not just for sailors!

Arriving at Thursday Island was not a straightforward event with a close call with the only rock in the bay and the most convoluted channel entrance marker system yet encountered. The currents and the winds were strong, but we dropped anchored off Horn Island and after the fourth attempt, settled down very pleased with ourselves for having made it.

We have all learned a lot in a short time, but I have a sneaking suspicion (ok, I’m absolutely certain) that we have barely scratched the surface.

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