Sunday, 22 July 2012

Not so nice ...

I spoke too soon about anchoring in mud ... and learned a new lesson.
Seems like there's mud and sometimes, in some places, there's clay patches within the mud. And these clay patches pull out like a plug given enough stress.
And so it was with our anchorage next to the Hairy Lemon.
On Friday afternoon, with winds gusting at 30 knots plus and whitecaps in Trinity Inlet, our `clay patch' let go and we were carried backwards with alarming speed towards a large monohull. At the precise point of impact (it's prow with our rear timber seat and dinghy), we reached the back of Sea Piper in time to push ourselves off before any damage was caused to either boat.
Unfortunately, our starboard rudder hooked up with the second anchor rope of the mono - thankfully not around the prop. 
I climbed over onto the mono (no-one else was on board) to loosen off the anchor rope in the hope that Royden could hook it out from under the rudder but this proved unsuccessful as the rope was jammed at the top of the rudder.
We desperately needed a third pair of hands which appeared in the shape of a young family in their tinnie. While Stephie and the two little boys kept the tinnie alongside, Dan climbed aboard Sea Piper and helped manoeuvre her forward against the wind and tide to allow Royden the opportunity to lift the rudder (naturally this is the side that is tightest) and unhook the anchor rope while I let out some play from the mono.
With Sea Piper freed (and our anchor hauled up with its clump of clay still attached and the mono's second anchor rope re-secured), the family then came and picked me up from the mono and motored me over to jump back on Sea Piper.
To say we were rattled is an understatement. On Dan's advice, we took Sea Piper way up into the inlet to more protected waters from this ferocious weather. The wind upstream was blowing at about 10 less knots and there were no whitecaps.
Later in the afternoon Royden went back in the dinghy to see if the mono owner was back on board so he could let him know what happened. The guy had changed anchorages as he realised his boat had shifted but didn't know why so he was grateful for the explanation.
Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep that night despite the anchor alarm being on and the conditions calming.
Funnily enough, when we pulled the anchor up the next morning, it was stuck fast in a mix of sand, mud and coral. It was the toughest pull up we'd ever done!
As the weather is set to blow for the next five days, we decided to retreat back to Bluewater Marina and relax/recover.
We both had the best sleep last night!

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Hairy Lemon and other weird and wonderful sights

Once again we find ourselves next to the Hairy Lemon.
No it's not a citrus left too long in a dark cupboard nor a quirky restaurant.
It's a tiny yacht anchored, and looking long-neglected, in Trinity Inlet off Cairns city. Apart from being yellow in colour, I wonder what inspired the owner to give it this name.
The Hairy Lemon has become our marker for a secure anchorage in nice, sticky mud. There's mud and there's mud when it comes to anchoring. Some is good holding while in places, like parts of the creek at Port Douglas, it can be a silty, loose substance that your anchor just slips through and refuses to hold. It's trial and error really. Our motto is: when in doubt (of the anchor being secure), do it again - and again and again if necessary.
While Dickson Creek at Port Douglas provided us with a secure and protected anchorage over a couple of strong wind days, the midges finally drove us out and back to beautiful Low Isles.
We left late in the afternoon and made it outside the leads before the mass influx of tourist boats into Port Douglas marina. Daily, around 3.30pm, there is a flotilla of craft coming across the water from the outer reef and Low Isles. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people get to enjoy the reef each day and the management of those numbers, at least at Low Isles, is excellent.
We arrived at Low Isles just before sunset and while it was a bit lumpy on the high tide when the sea surged over the coral, it was much better than in the creek where we were besieged by midges and mozzies every time the wind dropped.
Again the fish were spectacular and numerous and we were also treated to a huge manta ray around the boat which reminded us that this was where Steve Irwin met his death. As we had no intention of trying to get up close and personal with the ray, we figured we were safe.
Bat fish up close
More strange fish ...
Yesterday dawned beautifully still so we set off south to visit the reef just north of Green Island with the intention of overnighting in Turtle Bay or Trinity Inlet, whichever way the weather gave us the best sail.
By mid-morning we had come across the first pair of whales, right in front of the boat. My photos are pathetic compared to the spectacular flashes of body and tail we experienced. Sighting whales never loses the WOW factor but the point-and-shoot camera fails to do the display justice. Besides that I'm too busy saying Wow! and trying to keep my balance while I attempt a photo.
Truly - that's a pair of whales out there.
By late morning we were within a few nautical miles of Upolu Reef but the weather was banging us around. The wind had come up to over 20 knots on our nose and created short sharp waves on top of an increasing swell. It was very uncomfortable and the sea was such a colour that picking out bommies and other hazards around the reef could be hit and miss.
Off towards the mainland we could see more whales, this time a pair breaching. They create such an enormous splash that it catches your eye even from several kilometres away.
We decided this was more interesting than putting ourselves through more chop in a south-easterly direction so turned and headed for Trinity Inlet.
The whales put on their display for another 20 minutes or so. How do they have the energy to lift that bulk so far out of the water?
By the time we reached the Cairns leads, the wind was fierce, pushing us along at over 7 knots - but this time reasonably comfortably. However it was nice to reach the calm waters of the inlet, drop anchor opposite the Hairy Lemon and open a beer while we watched storm clouds gather thickly over the mountains - and then disperse.

The Hairy Lemon - looking towards Cairns city from our anchorage.
Looking upstream from our anchorage in Trinity Inlet. The cloud formations last night were reminiscent of the build-up in Darwin. Weird weather this!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Forgot the fish photo!

It has been drawn to my attention that the mackeral catch did not get a photo in this morning's blog.
To make amends, here it is with its very happy catcher. This one was the biggest of the three caught yesterday - and the one we kept.
Mackerel for dinner - several dinners actually.
We've just dropped anchor in Packers Creek, Dicksons Inlet at Port Douglas. The weather is forecast to turn nasty tomorrow so we opted for the creek and the Weekend Australian!

This is more like `the brochure'

Jump into that? You've got to be joking!
Black tipped reef sharks (complete with their `sucky-topped' remora), batfish and a cobia greeted our arrival in the Low Isles yesterday. Obviously they are used to being fed off boats.
I failed to share Royden's enthusiasm for jumping off the back of the boat for a swim in the beautifully clear water. However a short trip in the dinghy took us directly over the coral reef, and even though the reef sharks were still numerous, it was not as daunting as launching oneself from a place the fish perceived as a feeding source.
Stunning Low Isles off Port Douglas with the sun still struggling to break through.
Sadly, Cristy and Johnno left on Thursday morning for the long drive back to Victoria. While we had a wonderful time with them exploring Cairns and surrounds, the weather during their stay was atrocious. When the wind finally stopped blowing at gale force, it began to rain. We did manage to take the boat out of the marina and have an overnight stay in Trinity Inlet then a trip out to Fitzroy Island in the rain but the weather blew up overnight and we made a hasty exit first thing Wednesday morning back to the smoother waters of Trinity Inlet.
Captain and co-pilot
A walk on Fitzroy Island's Nudie Beach during a brief break in the rain. No nudies sighted!
By the afternoon conditions had settled enabling a lovely sail back to the marina and their car!
As Murphy's Law would predict, the day they left the weather was perfect. Ditto yesterday. As they drove south through rain, rain and more rain, we set sail on an almost flat sea for the Low Isles, catching three mackerel along the way and sighting our first whale of the season about 200 metres off the boat.
Snorkelling at Low Isles.
Other highlights of Cristy and Johnno's visit were the day out in Mareeba taking in Coffee World followed by a picnic lunch at the Emerald Creek Falls; the walks of the Cairns Botanic Gardens; and (for me) the Ukelele Festival and taking part in the world record attempt for the most ukelele players in one location playing the same tune. 1300 uke players gathered and the sound and atmosphere was fantastic. Over 1600 players were needed to top the record so another attempt will be made next year when the bar, no doubt, will be even higher.
Oh - and did I mention Johnno's cakes? Fruit cake, lumberjack cake, Mars Bar slice, and raspberry and white choc muffins filled the fridge and freezer. Mmm. As always, super-delicious and enough to last the whole visit!
The tiny specks at the top right hand side of the Emerald Creek falls are Cristy, Johnno and Royden.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Things to do when it's windy ....

Next stop Byron Bay?
After a 5am start last Friday, Cristy and Johnno arrived at the Bluewater marina at around 3pm Sunday after a trouble-free road trip.
Unfortunately the weather isn't being as compliant as the road conditions. Strong wind warnings with gale force gusts have forced a reorganisation of plans from sea-based to land-based for the next few days at least.
We spent yesterday in Cairns and today we drove up to Kuranda for the morning then onto Barron Falls for a picnic lunch and a walk.
Cristy and Johnno took the SkyRail back down and we met them at the bottom with the car.
In between times, Johnno isn't far away from a fishing rod and Cristy and I aren't far away from a board game or two.
Despite the unfavourable maritime conditions, we're having a great time.
Even the crabs are doing it tough.