Sunday, 19 August 2012

Cairns Festival rocks

Cairns turned it on last night with a fabulous street parade to officially open the 2012 Cairns Festival.
One of the things I really miss from Darwin is the August Festival with its diverse fortnight of performance artists, theatre, displays etc mainly in the open air.
By chance we arrived back in the marina yesterday morning just in time to take advantage of the opening of the Cairns event which is run along similar lines but appears even bigger.
Over 50 floats took part in last night's parade. They ranged from marching bands to the colourfully bizarre and the wonderfully ridiculous. It was a joyous hoot.
The esplande was six deep with people of all ages cheering, clapping and laughing. The kids along the route had a ball and were the recipients of many show bags, stickers and wacky clacker things.
We decided to give the later fireworks display (on three barges out on the mudflats) a miss and headed off for dinner at the Courthouse Hotel with our departing guests of the last seven days Rose and Steve.
Lucky we did. The noise of the fireworks was huge even from two blocks away, and once they had ended the influx into the hotel was enormous, with the dinner delay stretching out to an hour and a half.
We left Rose and Steve to overnight at Hides Hotel as they were booked on the tilt train to Brisbane this morning.
Royden and I caught the bus home and hit the pillows. We'd had a 4.30am start to the day from Fitzroy Island in order to catch the tide back into the Moon River and the marina.
It's quite surreal to sail in the dark - well, in this case, motor as there was not a breath of wind and the sea had only a slight following swell. With no moon, the stars and planets were brilliant. Quite a number of little fishing boats zipped out from Cairns towards the reef and rocky headlands in the pre-dawn. Their navigation lights disappeared every now and again in the swell. A big tanker looming up behind, but well to the east of us, was far more obvious.

In the dawn light we spotted a couple of whales blowing about a kilometer away. Our guests were up by then so we moved a little closer and just drifted around while we watched their humped backs appear out of the water. There was at least three in the group including a calf.
Whale and tanker.
In the distance, further out in one of the reef passages, we could see some mighty blows: obviously much bigger whales. We spent quite a while watching our group before turning back towards the coast and the Moon River. By 9.30am we'd tied up in the marina (without one swear word - that's twice in a row now) and had brekky cooking.
I'm working my way backwards here as it's around 10 days since I last wrote in the blog, so at this point I'm going to rearrange the order and go back to where the last entry ended - the Daintree River.
It was so peaceful (except for our wind generator) and protected but amazingly, we weren't besieged by midges or sandflies. This is probably because the river is quite shallow with many sandbars and we were able to anchor well away from the mangroves. Apart from the odd fishing tinnie, ours was the only boat.
Daintree sunset
The crocodiles must have eaten all the fish cos they were scarce. Royden and Rob almost landed one huge flathead into the dinghy but lost it at the last minute. Not having a net or gaffe with them probably played a part in this - but we all saw the fish so know it's a true story.
After the surfing crossing of the previous day, we decided to time our exit of the Daintree River on the Thursday to coincide with an extra half a metre of water under the boat. This meant waiting till the early afternoon's rising tide to haul the anchor up.
Believe me, the deep water and marker buoys of the exit route is far more apparent from the land side than from the sea side. Hence our exit was a lot less ``exciting'' than our entry had been.
The sea had quite a swell up and the wind was on our nose for the short trip down the coast to Port Douglas. We again saw whales and figure they must like it around here. Migaloo, the white whale, has been in this area for several weeks now - not that we have sighted him but others have captured him on film heaving his great body out of the water. That would be exciting!
We decided to book a berth in the marina overnight so we could tie up and see the sights of the town in the few hours of daylight left. Port Douglas is bustling with tourists at this time of year - more grey heads than dreadlocks though.
It's a pretty town with a beautiful white-painted church, complete with stained glass windows, nestled in a park right on the waterfront. Very popular for weddings. There are heaps of restaurants and shops.
The reef boats are loaded every day - they must take thousands of people a week out to various parts of the Barrier Reef which is so close to the mainland here.
There is a quaint lighthouse - only about 20 feet tall - hemmed in by houses on the hillside. It no longer operates and has been superseded by a flashing light on top of an ugly radio tower on top of the headland. The rock sculptures, that we had noticed in the park on our previous visit, had gone much to Leigh's disappointment as we had talked about how interesting they were. Apparently it was a temporary art installation. Pity.
A rare phenomena - a flat sea. Definitely more like the brochure.
Our trip back to Cairns was on the smoothest, flattest sea we have yet encountered. We had dolphins alongside the boat, caught mackerel and were able to muse on patterns made on the water by the few gentle skiffs of breeze that came along.

Another mackerel. Yum.
Haycock Island off Double Island.
We stopped off Double Island for lunch then just drifted around fishing without even putting the anchor down.
It was so delightful we hung off going into the marina until the last possible moment in the afternoon.
Last Sunday was `changeover visitors day' with Leigh and Rob hiring a car and heading towards Townsville via the Tablelands, and Steve and Rose arriving from their Kimberley cruise and Darwin.
The weather window for this past week did not open until Wednesday so we spent our first few days with S&R visiting Cairns sights including the spectacular Botanic Gardens.
One of the many splendiferous plants in the Cairns Botanic Gardens.
With a promising forecast we set sail with them on Wednesday and had a beaut sail towards Green Island but ... the weather monkeys were at it again. The sky blackened, the sea grew dark, it started to blow and then to rain - and we changed course to Trinity Inlet and some shelter. Bugger!
Eewwww! Dry season?
However after blowing itself out and an ensuing quiet night in the inlet, we set out for Fitzroy Island on the Thursday and were able to spend a delightful couple of days there fishing, walking, swimming and snorkelling (the latter two relate to only some of us).

Rose wetting a line.
En route to the Fitzroy Island lighthouse.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Surfing the Daintree

Morning tea in the Daintree River
We've just dropped anchor in the Daintree River after an exciting crossing from Low Isles preceded by a whale sighting about 300 metres off our starboard side.
Approaching the Daintree's sandbar on the rising tide, all four pair of eyes were focussed on finding that elusive red marker buoy that guards the safe passage through. At just over half a nautical mile off we spotted it - and the whale blowing and curving its way through the water.
The excitement of the whale soon paled as we surfed our way across the bar with the depth meter dropping to 1.1 metres under the hull.
With wide eyes Leigh was calling out the depths as they spiralled down and then she gave a cheer as they started coming back up as we hit the channel.
Leaving behind the line of breakers to gain safe passage into the Daintree River
Although we had heavy cloud and a bit of light rain on the way across, the sky is clearing, giving way to another beautiful day.
The Daintree is gloriously wide with a spectacular backdrop of mountains. The fishing lines are baited and over the back and we are hoping for the trifecta - ie our third consecutive fish dinner.
Low Isles snorkelling - beautiful, as always.
The purple stuff reminds me of spaghetti hair we used to make with Play Doh.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Random ramblings

Despite the best intentions the blog updates continue to be sporadic, but here's an entry to cover the past few weeks.
After the anchor drag episode in Trinity Inlet we tucked up in Bluewater marina to re-gathered our courage.
There's always plenty to be done around the boat and the time was spent   improving/replacing some of the cooling system to the starboard engine, putting a new speaker on the radio/CD player so that we could listen outside, covering up the hole left by the rusty old speaker, finding and patching the air leaks in the dinghy tubes and re-sewing some rotted stitching in the dinghy cover.
It was great to be in Cairns last Wednesday to greet (brother-in-law) Keith and the rest of the crew from the catamaran AlexandrA that Keith had helped sail across from Tahiti.
He'd been gone from home for six weeks and six days. (Royden's sister) Julie made a surprise trip from Victoria to Cairns to greet him which pretty well left him speechless for a few seconds when he spotted her.
We met up again on Thursday night for dinner by which time we had picked up Rob and (sister) Leigh from the airport and arranged for (brother) David to join us as he happened to be piloting some flights out of Cairns that week. It was a fun night.
With heavy heads but a promising five-day weather window, we set sail first thing Friday morning for Turtle Bay. It was a gorgeous morning and the land breeze gave us the opportunity to sail south at 7 knots.
Turtle Bay was as inviting as ever but a couple of trawlers were anchored tightly into the bay so we were left to anchor further out in a rather heavy swell - all the time hoping that the trawlers might leave and go fishing.
Turtle Bay
But alas, they stayed put.
Although we had a long walk on the beach it wasn't enough to offset the swell (and the effects of the night before). In short, noone wanted to even think about dinner and we were all in bed by 7.30pm - some hours earlier. Rob's statement next morning made us all laugh: ``I haven't gone to bed that early since I was three!''
Off to check the anchor - and the coral.
Colourful creatures on the way to the Fitzroy Island lighthouse.
During the night the swell lessened and we were all a lot brighter by the morning. As the trawlers looked pretty well entrenched, we set sail across to Fitzroy Island anchoring in the sheltered northern bay close into the reef. It was delightful as we could don snorkelling gear and dive in off the boat to explore in crystal clear water. (A quick dive also allowed us to check that the anchor was well locked in. We think we may be a bit paranoid about this at the moment!)
We spent a lazy two days at Fitzroy, snorkelling and taking a walk to the lighthouse (the ugliest I've ever seen) from where we spotted a couple of whales a fair way out. There's been reports of minke whales around this area at the moment as well as reports of Migaloo the white whale around Port Douglas.
Yesterday morning we set off north to Low Isles. The light tail wind supplied some oomph to the Code Zero early on but we had to employ an engine about half way through the eight-hour trip to boost our speed.
Happy fishermen.
Mind you we slowed down a number of times to haul in mackerel! We had two keepers and naturally had fresh fish for tea last night.
We dropped anchor in the sandy lagoon at Low Isles initially as the three public moorings were taken but the big cabin cruiser on the innermost mooring headed back to Port Douglas in the early evening so we quickly upped anchor and moved Sea Piper across.
Reef sharks, bat fish and a giant black trevally gathered round the boat as we pulled up. We also spotted a giant turtle making its way along the sandy bottom.
Today we spotted two whales (one off Cairns and one off Port Douglas) but each was a long way off.
Low Isles is a beautiful spot with its traditional red-roofed (circa 1878) white lighthouse (quite unlike the 1970s white-tiled model on Fitzroy) on a tiny raised sand spit surrounded by reef and with a nearby mangrove island (hence the plural `Isles'). The lighthouse still operates (automatically) and the island is home to researchers studing coral and marine life. It's also where Steve Irwin came to grief - but I think I mentioned that once before.
Royden, Leigh and Rob did a circuit of the island this morning before the tourist boats arrived while I stayed on board to make some olive bread for lunch. The delicious smell of it is wafting through as I type. Won't be long now!