The 850nm leg from Mackay to Thursday Island in Torres Strait would see us sail via the inside passage of the Great Barrier Reef. Although there are marked shipping lanes through the inside passage there are still a lot of unlit reefs and unsurveyed areas along the way that need to be carefully navigated especially when, like we did, travelling just outside the shipping lanes or to places of interest closer to the coast or reefs and islands further offshore. As long as a good watch is kept and the charts are consulted in advance and monitored during any excursions out of the shipping lanes the labyrinth that form the Great Barrier Reef is a ‘relatively’ safe place. Poor navigational practice or a lack of concentration while on watch could easily see you fall victim to a reef, shoal or rock like so many sailors have become in the past.
I was joined on this leg by Hamish Brown, a Kiwi guy from Sydney who is a friend of Smithy, a good friend. It’s a bit of a funny story about how I know Hamish. He’s a good friend and work colleague of a good mate of mine and I was looking for crew to join me on this leg at short notice. So I called my mate and he said he might know some guys who might be interested. I’d heard the name Hamish mentioned for the last 15 years or more by my Smithy but never got around to actually meeting him. It was always yeah this guy Hamish who I work with blah blah blah, such a nice guy, great fella etc etc and I know that Hamish was always hearing it from the other side, Sarge this, Sarge that, great guy (ha!) etc. So about 1 hour after calling my mate I get a call from Hamish. ‘Yep I’m in’. I can get on a flight and be there on the 27.08. I was lifted by the news. I’d finally get to meet the mystery guy, great friend of a friend after all these years. Hamish brought with him not much in the way of baggage but he did bring a huge rucksack full of sailing experience, good humour, great stories and adventurous spirit. He was always digging into this rucksack and continually surprising me with his sailing skills, cooking prowess, enthusiasm for everything, love of life, sailing, family and continually making me laugh with stories of fun times from around the world. Now Pacha can be easily sailed with two experienced sailors and so we set off from Mackay on the 28.08.2019. Hamish and I didn’t ‘really’ get to know each other’s vices until we got underway. By this time however it was too late to turn back for beer and tobacco. The next 4 days were spent dreaming of cold beer and ciggy’s as I’d finished what I had on board about an hour before Hamish turned up, thinking Hamish (the perfect citizen ;-P) wouldn’t be a drinker or the enjoyer of an occasional cigarette.
The South East Trade winds were well and truly set in as we left Mackay bound for Cairns, 350nm to the north and we reached Fitzroy Island off Cairns in 2 1/2 days. We enjoyed watching Humpback whales and their calves breaching and learning to breach, guided by their mothers at times only 100 yards or so from the boat. We averaged a respectable 6kn on the way to Fitzroy Island and had the #2 gyb poled out at times and ‘goose winged’ north with the winds at times from dead aft. Arriving at Fitzroy Island at 3am we swung on a vacant superyacht mooring in preference to dropping anchor. Some well earned sleep saw us up again on the 31.08 at 8am. We were greeted by the sight of a lush green island with white sand beaches, coconut palms and a very nice looking resort. Bookmark Fitzroy Island for your next holiday destination! It looks amazing! At 9am after breakfast we were sailing for Cairns, about 3 hours away.
Cairns 31.08.19. Never been there before but always wanted to go. We berthed up in the Marlin Marina and it wasn’t 10 minutes before we were greeted by the first admirers of Pacha. Scott (a Scottsman) was the first visitor. Nice guy who also owns a nice Swan 44 yacht named Calaluna. He and his girlfriend Susanne were great company for the evening and we shared sailing and life stories into the wee small hours of Sunday morning. After provisioning for the next leg to Thursday Island (beer, tobacco, some groceries and a small amount of diesel) we said our farewell to Cairns which is a very pleasant city with everything to offer and the last major city to buy or repair anything before Darwin, 1250nm north and west. Our next stop would be Lizard Island, about 150nm north which we reached in 21 hours after averaging 7.1kn in wind that was constantly above 20 knots. We didn’t even raise the mainsail for this passage as the #2 gyb was more than enough to keep our average boat speed higher than it had been since leaving Sydney.
Lizard Island 02-09-19. We anchored to the west of the island in strong winds that never abated the whole time we were there. With no other way of getting ashore to explore the island we inflated and launched the (brand new) dingy, mounted the 15hp Mercury Two Stroke motor and zipped off to check out the resort, navigating our way around shallow reefs to get there. After checking out the resort and the Marlin Bar we headed the dinghy to another beach where a trail head marks the start of an hours climb to the top of the 358m Cooks Look peak. Captain Cook actually did climb this peak to enable a better view of the surrounding reefs and try to work out a passage through them to open water. We hiked to the top and saw the Lizards (actually Goannas) that give the name to the island. The view of the Island’s lagoon and surrounding reefs from the top was amazing. It would be easy to spend 4 or 5 days on the island. The diving and snorkelling look like they would indeed be world class. Dinghy fun and hiking over we set our sights on Thursday Island, another 350nm north through a maze of reefs and shallows and around Cape York.
We made a detour close to the coast to a remote location named Portland Road which is just north of Cape Weymouth. We passed a small island named Rocky Island which had a nice white sandspit trailing off it toward the south west and a ketch in need of a lot of work up on a cradle on the beach. There was also a house on the island and I thought this would make the ultimate getaway from everything place to live. This is the area where Captain Bligh and the men who remained loyal to him came ashore in a small sailing vessel after the famous mutiny on the Bounty. They actually came ashore at Restoration Island, 2 miles to the south but also visited Rocky Island. A few houses dot the coastline around this area but to say this place is remote is an understatement. Portland Road had not much to offer except a public telephone and an Australia Post agent so we continued past after viewing the (quite nice looking) group of houses that forms the ‘settlement’.
With just our #2 gyb set we again headed north under great sailing conditions and got into our routine of 4 hour day watches and 3 hour night watches. This watch system sees the watches slide forward during a 24 hour period so one of us always gets to see the sunrise and sunset from the helm on alternate days. Thursday Island lies 330nm and 2 days north of Lizard Island and passes through some of the remotes parts of Australia that I have seen. Mobile phone reception was lost long ago and we were happy to hear the odd fishing or commercial vessel conversation on the VHF radio. Again great trade wind sailing saw us fly up the coast and after sighting the light on Eborac Island knew that we had rounded Cape York. This was around 8am on the 05.09.19. Four hours later we were anchored up at Horn Island, directly opposite Thursday Island. Call it good skippering, good crewing or good luck, being Thursday there was only one thing on our minds. Launch the dinghy, pick up our next guest who was arriving in 2 hours at Horn Island by small plane and get over to visit the 4 pubs on Thursday Island on a Thursday.
Enter Sean O’Meara….[see Thursday Island to Darwin blog]