The Top End and The Kimberlies

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The trip down from Bundaberg to Moreton Bay was a slow one, with us spending extended periods in Bundaberg itself, Mooloolaba, Tangalooma and Scarborough. We spent about 6 weeks on anchor near Cleveland Point between the two entrances to Raby Bay, which is a great anchorage as long as there is not extended period of northerly wind.

 

This was to be our final year of cruising for the time being, so we wanted to get to the Kimberlies, and due to Richard starting high school in 2000, we needed to also get back from there by the end of January - this is the hard part. We left Moreton Bay in mid March, day sailing to Island Head Creek where we put Catchcry on the beach for a clean and antifoul. First morning on the beach we turned on the VHF and heard a PAN-PAN call from the trimaran TNT. Island Head Creek is surrounded by quite high hills, is about 60 miles from Yeppoon to the south and a few hundred miles to anywhere that could help to the north. As we had the boat on the beach we could not use the HF radio, but after thinking of a few minutes realized that we could get out by using the Telstra Seaphone channel on the VHF (a service that doesn’t exist now - what would happen now?) TNT had been dismasted, and a couple of people injured and was drifting in 20-25 knot winds. Anyway Telstra contacted Yeppoon Coastguard who helicoptered off the injured and sent a brand new police boat out to tow the boat to Island Head Creek. We had a special tour of the police boat and checked out all the special gear they had on board.

 

 

At Airlie Beach we saw Guy, John’s nephew, who was working in the tourist industry there. At Cardwell we picked up John’s sister Heather and husband John, and we found the boardwalk in Missionary Bay, Hinchinbrook Island. This takes you across the island to the “outside” beach. We also found the freshwater rapids near there and were able to go for a swim in clear and cool fresh water. We spent about a month in Cairns, and as we had collected our car from Brisbane we were able to get around. We spent a couple of days at the reef areas near Cairns in company with Mitch & Eveyline on “Mischieve”, long time friends from Cairns, who were now living on board their 40 ft Norcat. We had not spent much time at these reefs before, and like most places that have a lot of day trippers, they are great once the tourists leave.

 

 

This time during our stay at Lizard Island the weather calmed off enough to take a day trip in Catchcry out to the Blue Hole, the well known diving spot on the outer Barrier Reef, taking Hamish and Sue from El Kouba. There was a mooring bouy free, which means that besides no anchoring needed, the boat is right near where the diving and snorkelling all happens. Great fish, large and small, and a great day out. The last time we had been at Lizard Island there had been a lot of overseas visiting yachts, socialising and visiting, but because it was still early in the season, there were only a few Australians. Next stop Cape Melville, where right out near the point between the rocks, we saw the biggest croc slide ever, the feet must have been 6 feet apart. A few years later, in the same Cape Melville Bay a camper asleep in a tent on the beach, was attacked and mauled by a crocodile (she was lucky to live, as it is a very isolated area). We had a fair idea which crocodile. Instead of going to Flinders Island, the next normal stop, we turned left into Princess Charlotte Bay, and found our way into the Normamby River. No markers and very shallow entrance, but once in the river, lots of fish, mossies and mangroves.

Back to Flinders Group of islands for the strong wind warning, and we were able to visit Stanley Island, and the aboriginal rock paintings. Being a bit more adventurous the next day, we "bush bashed" our way on Flinders Island up to the burial caves.

 

 

Once we left Flinders we sailed every day, in day sails, until we reached Cape York. Normally we would have taken more time, but the weather was perfect, with only 15-20 knot southeasterlies, instead of the often 20-25, and the seas were relatively calm, and boat speeds fast. We spent about 2 weeks at Thursday Island and Horn Island, waiting for parts for the Air Marine (didn't come), food shopping (expensive) and visiting Dan and Joan of Golden Legend. They were the managers of the pilot station at Thursday Island and ferry pilots out to the ships passing through the Torres Straits and down to Cairns, as well as accommodate and feed them. A great job, for ex-cruisers, but full-on 7 days a week.

 

We decided to go down to Weipa to start our crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria, with the added bonus that we were able to visit one of the boys teachers from Brisbane Central, who had transferred up here on our recommendations. Her husband Alex was an extremely keen fisherman, and we found out that he fished at every opportunity and even kept a rod in his work van. They love it up there, and keep extending the time they will stay. The western coast of Cape York is an area we wish to return to in the future, as there are plenty of places for a shoal draft vessel, isolated anchorages, long beaches, but unfortunately large crocodiles, and we have yet to catch a barramundi. Crossing the Gulf to Gove was uneventful, and we had to do a lot of motor sailing.

 

 

Gove and the town of Nhunlunbuy is a great stop, with a good yacht club, complete with showers and laundry. We spent a week there, finally receiving the Air Marine part and school work. Luckily for us, we were able to go a free concert on the headland across the bay, put on by the well known local band Yotha Yindi. Finally we were able to take off for the Hole in the Wall, and the Wessell Islands. We practised putting out the small drogue as we approached the Hole in the Wall, in an effort to slow down. Great sailing on flat water took us to nice long deserted beaches for a few days, and then the sail back down past the Hole in the Wall to a beach where we put the boat on the beach for cleaning, was so good that we were able to do school work while sailing for the first time. We found it was becoming hard to keep up with school work this year because of the big days of sailing we had to do to cover the distance. A few days sail and we came to Black Point near Cape Don. Here a very old friend from Cairns was living, and caretaking the camp ground in the National Park, as well as running the shop. We spent several days with Gary and exploring Victoria Settlement. We were also happy to meet another boat with kids, Nemir, as kids had been few and far between on this trip. Finally we left for Darwin, where we spent a couple of weeks getting ready to go to the Kimberlies.

 

 

 

It was now nearly the end of August and quite "late" for going there, but we decided that our ambition would be King George Sound, the first of the Sounds across the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf. The Berkley River was our first stop, where we spent 10 days. We took Catchcry as far as we could and explored the freshwater pools above the tidal range, but we were still a bit wary, as these were only a couple of metres above the salt water. We only saw a couple of other cruising yachts at first there, but also as became the norm in the Kimberlies, a larger motor cruiser which had a sea plane fly in and out with supplies and visitors. Time to move on to King George River, where the entrance is shallow, and a monohull vessel would have to wait for high tide, and which also had the benefit of keeping out the larger motor boats - they had to send their large tenders. It is about 5 miles up the river to the waterfall, but a nice diversion is the first river on the left which ends at a rock cliff. It had a rope dangling down from the top of the cliff, but we could not see where it was attached, so decided to give it a miss. We were anchored alone at the top of the river and settled into a pattern of schoolwork, dinghy to beneath the waterfall for a cool shower, lunch, rest and then walk to top of cliffs to explore the freshwater pools. When we first arrived the waterfall would fill the dinghy in a couple of minutes, but two weeks later the flow had slowed so much it took ten minutes to fill. We were visited by some tenders from a beche de mer fishing boat, who had stopped in the river on their way back to Darwin. The next day we went with them for a barbecue lunch at the most beautiful waterhole, but it was at the top of the rope climb at the first river, which we had dismissed as too scary. It was, but the fishermen were mostly young and fit, and climbed a lot of the way without the help of the rope, and even carried an esky up, with all the food. The water was beautiful, as it was still just flowing, and one part was over a rock ledge a couple of feet deep, so not too cold.

That night we were invited aboard their boat for drinks, and the boys invited to eat as much ice cream as they liked, which was a real treat. A couple of days later we went by ourselves back for a second trip up the rope to the rock pool.

 

 

It was nearly the end of September, so time to turn around and head back east. Darwin is a great stop, with the choice of two anchorages. Fanny Bay out the front of the Sailing Club is great in the trade wind season, with facilities down to the beach for careening, using the large tides there. As this was now the season for lighter south easterlies and afternoon sea breezes, we spent most of the time anchored in the creek near the Dinah Beach Yacht Club, which has another advantage of being walking distance to the city centre. We rarely go to a marina, one reason is the expense, and the other is that Catchcry has been set up to be self sufficient, and we have no need for a marina. Every now and then we will go to one for 24 hours (to get maximum value for money), and wash down the boat, do extra loads of washing and a big grocery shop. Just a couple of days before we left Darwin we met up with "Swallow", who we had sailed with in Vanuatu, still heading west. They later spent a year or more in Nhulunbuy working before settling in Cairns for a while. It is very hard work heading east, generally we would end up motorsailing in very light wind. We each night heading back to Gove, with one of the stops being Inglis Island to check out the cyclone anchorage up a creek, and to try, but fail, to catch a barramundi. After mostly motoring across the Gulf of Carpentaria, we reached Weipa, and it was now mango season, so a bonus and day sailed again up to the top of Cape York. One good anchorage was just inside the mouth of the Jardine River, which is quite shallow, with not much room. A bonus is that at low tide the water rushing out is all fresh. One day we took the dinghy a couple of miles up the river and stopped on a very wide shallow sandbank, and all had a swim in the fresh water, while someone was on the lookout. We also stopped at Seisia for the first time, which is a great place. At the various anchorages across the cape we were able to collect mangoes from trees that had been planted and abandonded for one reason or another. They were beautiful, and we had bucket loads, and ate so many by the time we arrived at Lizard Island we couldn't look at another one. Finally around the beginning of November the forecast was for no wind in the mornings and afternoon sea breezes, so the exodus south started. We anchored in the dark in the channel near Flinders Island with a large storm brewing over the mainland. We had let out extra chain with the storm around, so when the storm hit we turned 180 degrees, and suddenly we could hear crunching of the keels hitting the bottom. Of course, it was 3am, 40 knot or so wind, lightning, thunder and rain.

We rushed outside to find us on a lee shore, and we immediately started the engines and Catherine went up to shorten the anchor chain. At moments like this the electric anchor winch always decided to overload and cut out, and so there we were. The wind was so strong it was also very difficult to wind it in manually, and so when John was trying to do this, Catherine went in to check out the tide situation. Much to our great relief low tide was exactly at the time I was looking - 3.15 am. First the starboard rudder had hit, and the port rudder, and as we were anchored alone we called on the VHF to see if anyone was around. Liaison, also a Chamberlin catamaran, came around in the storm and dark, and once the tide had risen a little we were able to hand winch in the anchor, and we followed them and their GPS track back around to the alternate anchorage. We were worried about the steering and props, but both seemed to motor OK. After a couple of sleepless hours we had a quick look at the rudders (no swimming here - crocodiles), and could see that the port rudder had only a little damage, and the starboard had lost about 150mm. Happy Birthday, Catherine!

 

 

Since we could steer and motor, we decided to leave for Lizard Island, the next anchorage, which we knew to have nice clear water, and to be a great place to be for a few days. We had a lovely sail down, and the next day found that the starboard rudder had been bent backwards and sideways a bit and the prop shaft was also a little bent. We knew the Research Station had a workshop, and upon request were most helpful, and John removed both and dinghyed them around for straightening. (This worked so well no other work was required until the major refit before sale.) We just glassed over the shortened rudder, antifouled and reinstalled the rudder, and everything was fine, in fact we couldn't even notice the difference. It was now mid November, and the strength had gone out of the trade winds, giving us a rare opportunity or take the dinghy around to the lagoon on the south-east side of Lizard, for the best snorkelling we had ever seen. When we left Lizard Island, we decided we would like to try going down the Ribbon Reefs to Cairns, but in the afternoon the northerly wind picked up to 20 knots, and as we could not find a good enough anchorage at the reefs for the wind speed and direction, we headed in to Port Douglas. It was just on dark as we arrived, along with a huge thunderstorm. After this storm, we noticed a black oily film on the boat, especially where water ran off. We were curious, but it has happened a few times since, usually after a long dry spell, and have come to the conclusion, it is dust and pollution carried in the clouds over land from far off places.

 

 

We waited three long weeks in Cairns for the south-easterlies to abate, which was unusual for the time of year, and as we had our car there, we were able to get out and about. For all those years on Catchcry, Andrew had been on about wanting a pet rabbit, and even had a toy one, and made us visit every pet shop we passed in every town. We explained that as we would be living in Queensland, pet rabbits were illegal, and a cat would have to do, he moved his focus to a cat. Well, three weeks in Cairns, waiting for weather was too much, and we ended up visiting the animal refuge, and choosing a cream part persian about 6 months old, that we named Garlick.

 

 

We were finally able to leave Cairns with the northerlies, day sailing to Townsville, with a memorable lunch time stop at Zoe Bay and swim at the falls. A couple of days visiting John’s sister and family, while having the luxury of staying at the marina. We stopped in the lee of Cape Bowling Green for the first time, before the long day sail to Airlie Beach. By now it was Christmas, which we spent at Cid Harbour in company with Mischeve from Cairns, in rain and wind. A few days later the northerlies had returned, so we were able to enjoy the northerly anchorages of the Whitsundays. Turtle Bay and Chance Bay are favourites, and we chose Chance Bay to spend New Years Eve to welcome in the millennium, in company once again with Mischeve, and a number of other boats. If we had been at Turtle Bay we would have been able to see the fireworks at Hamilton Island (without having to pay to stay there). A couple of days were spent at the islands on the outside of Whitsunday Island, which have the best snorkeling in the Whitsundays without going to the outer reef.

 

A lot of southeasterlies that summer, but finally we were able to go down to Port Newry, with an interesting “resort” an anchorage we hadn’t been to before, and spent another few days in wind and rain there. Finally we escaped and after a night at Curlew went to Thirsty Sound at the top of the Broadsound area. The chart and the cruising guide for the area “Cruising the Curtis Coast”, shows Strong Tide passage, so we decided to give it a go. As the name suggests, there are large tides in the area, and it was great going through there with the tide. It was getting late in the day, but it was high tide, so taking advantage of being a catamaran, we took the short cut at the entrance to Island Head Creek between the Island and the mainland, over the shallow sandy area. Once again we were in one of favorite anchorages, and put the boat on the beach for another clean and antifoul.

 

A few days at Keppel Island, with a shopping trip to Yeppoon, and we traveled through the Narrows, by passed Gladstone, and stopped at Pancake Creek for a few days. For something different we decided to take the dinghy through the back way through the tidal channels to Jenny Lind Creek. We successfully made it, with sometimes the boys getting out and pushing. We were rewarded with some lovely sandhills to slide down, and deep pools at the bottom. The boys went back to the boat via the track past the lighthouse at Bustard Head, while we took the dinghy back.

 

 

After visiting our friends from Mangrove Charlie at their house at Burnett Heads, we stopped at Kingfisher Bay, Fraser Island, and because we knew it would be a fair while before we sailed this way again, we lashed out on a 4WD tour of Fraser Island. Then, as the weather was still not co-operating, we decided to go up the Mary River to Maryborough, also another first for us. It was not until 3 weeks into February that we able to make down to Moreton Bay and our final destination of Raby Bay.

 

 

Within a few days Richard had started at the nearby high school and the two others started primary school near where we were to house sit for the remainder of the year our friends house, while they went cruising.