"Arctracer" Letters

Townsville to Cairns, Sept-Oct 2001

After leaving Townsville on September 24th we sailed about 50 miles to Orpheus Island in the Palm Island group to anchor for the night. The next day we sailed up the Hinchinbrook Channel between Hinchinbrook Island and the mainland. On the way up the channel we saw a green monohull from Gloucester, Massachusetts and called them on the radio. One of them was originally from the Stowe area. What a small world! We don't see too many New Englanders on boats here in Australia. Most cruisers from the U.S. are from the west coast. We guess most of the east coast people stay in the Caribbean. About the time we talked with them we went past the largest sugar mill in Queensland and smelled the strong smell of the molasses they were making. There are a number of sugar mills in Queensland and lots of cane fields. When they burn their cane, after harvesting it, the ash sure does make a mess on the boat if we're anywhere down wind of the fires!

In the afternoon we anchored in Deluge Inlet off the Hinchinbrook Channel for a few days to get some boat work done and to relax. Since we were anchored in the mangroves we had to put all of our screens in for the first time and put netting over the ports and door where we didn't have specially made screens. There sure were a lot of sand flies, mosquitoes, and horse flies (called March flies here)! Jerry got a new trampoline put on the front of the boat (a two-day job), fixed a hose in the cockpit and put goop around an antenna wire in the cockpit area to attempt to keep rain water out of the bathroom (head), checked out the 15 hp engine that we have for the dinghy for the first time and found that it needs a new hose, wired a fan for our bedroom cabin, fixed a corroded wire that connected our SSB radio to the shrouds, made some Turk's head bracelets, read lots of tourist information about the things Hilary and Larry want to do when they are here so we'd know where to go, watched osprey and striated herons catch fish and watched whimbrels and pied imperial pigeons.

We had a chance to get quite a bit of reading done and to play lots of backgammon and cribbage in the evenings. We also took quite a dinghy tour up the long, curvy inlet as far as we could go. We were looking for birds and Estuarine crocodiles. We'd seen "Estuarine Crocodiles - no swimming" signs, but we didn't see any crocodiles. Undoubtedly they saw us though.

On the 30th of September we left Hinchinbrook Island to sail the 35 miles to Brammo Bay at Dunk Island. The anchorage here is in line with the end of the runway for the small planes that bring tourists out to the fancy resort on the island, so we had fun watching how close they came to the masts of the boats in the anchorage. On the sail our autopilot malfunctioned for about the 5th time, so Jerry spent time repairing it again. He took the wheel off the schooner once in the 7 years we sailed her, but he's had the wheel off on the cat several times now. While in the anchorage we watched people "boom-netting" for the first time when a large boat full of day tourists approached the island. There was a huge net on davits swung off the side of the boat and about 5 people in it as the water whizzed by them when the boat was moving. Jerry repaired a leaking hatch over the table when he got the autopilot fixed. We were able to watch the news on TV as the resort had antennas to have access to telephones and television.

In this anchorage we saw several turtles again - probably green turtles, but they still all look alike to us - except the leatherback turtles. We went on an excellent 9.2 km rainforest walk up Mt. Kootaloo. On the way we saw many birds again - honeyeaters, the common koel, the noisy pitta, Australian brush-turkeys and watched orange-footed scrubfowls for the 1st time. We also went by EJ Banfield's grave. The first person to live on the island, he lived with his wife there until 1923 when he died. He has written books and we were reading one of them that talked a lot about the flora and fauna of the island. We crossed a swing bridge over quite a gully and later saw small turtles in a stream. For a while we walked with a Dutch couple and their 6-month old daughter. They had been in Australia for a few weeks and sure had experienced a lot! They had done a lot of flying from one place to another, then rented a camper van for a few days to explore areas by themselves rather than taking one of the many expensive organized tours.

October 2nd we headed to Normandy Island, a sail of about 46 miles. There wasn't much wind, but our spinnaker worked all day for us. Porpoises approached the boat, but we weren't going fast enough for them to have much fun in our bow wave, so they soon departed. Although we went near a school of fish with birds working over them we didn't catch anything. We heard a call on our VHF radio from a sister ship - another Fastback 43. They didn't recognize our cat since we'd changed the name. Their boat's name is "Raptor" and we'd met Sally and Ray in the town where we bought our cat. The builder/designer had recommended that we look at the inside of theirs as it is quite different from ours in the way the owners decorated the walls, put in the table, etc.

Upon our arrival at Normandy Island in the late afternoon, while taking the sails down, the skipper of the motor vessel that takes tourists to the island for the day called us on the VHF radio and told us that we could take the mooring near where we were going to anchor. This was a pleasant surprise, so after hearing that it could hold a 45-ton boat we took it for our 8-ton boat. We went ashore to do the short walk and walked along the beach where we saw mangrove honeyeaters and white- breasted wood swallows for the first time. We also watched a sea eagles and counted over 200 pied imperial pigeons coming to the island to roost for the night. There must have been many hundreds of them as we only counted groups of from 4-12 for about 15 minutes, then got tired of it.

About 10:30 the following day we snorkeled some of the bommies (coral heads) near the island. Again, the skipper of the tourist boat talked to us as he was maneuvering the dinghy and getting his passengers to shore. He told us where the good snorkeling was and what we'd find. What a great skipper! We saw some giant clams larger than we'd ever seen before (about 3') with their insides colorful greens and blues. We saw lots of healthy coral (both soft and hard corals) and many colorful fish too. Snorkeling with the turtles was fun too. Since this we've snorkeled with other turtles and always enjoy watching them. After snorkeling we dropped our mooring and headed north to Fitzroy Island, passing High Island in the Frankland group of islands to see if there was a place to anchor there. We found one place that would be okay if we decide to go snorkeling there sometime. After sailing about 20 miles we put our anchor down in Welcome Bay, Fitzroy Island. Fitzroy is closer to Cairns and has lots of day trippers. They have a resort, but it isn't nearly as exclusive as the one at Dunk Island. This particular resort caters mostly to backpackers and has lots of dorms with bunks. We went to dinner at a restaurant that had a good cook and enjoyed garlic prawns and pork medallions.

The following day looked like a good day to sail out to one of the outer reefs, so we did that. However, as we approached the reef (within 1/2 mile) it started raining and the wind picked up. We couldn't read the water as the waves were getting larger and the sun wasn't on the reefs, so we decided to turn around and sail back to Fitzroy. On the way back we got going up to 9 knots once and going about 7 knots we caught another mackerel tuna. After having fresh tuna for lunch we decided to walk to the light house on Fitzroy Island - about 4.5 km and all up hill via stairs. I didn't do my leg/knee exercises this day as we sure climbed a lot of stairs in the hot sun. We found rainforest on the other side of the island, but the side we went up sure was regular Australian bush with little shade. The neatest things we saw on this walk were several Major's Skinks (lizards), many colorful sunbirds and one in a really neat nest and we saw the mounds that the orange footed scrubfowl build to lay their eggs in. This particular mound must have been 6' long and 4' wide. After the walk we had the crew of a catamaran called "Blue Moon" over for snacks and wine. Sarah is from the UK, John from Australia and they have a beautiful 2-year old - Natasha. They had been to Beaver Reef farther south, so we learned about that and we had a great time sharing lots of other information with one another. We gave them the dive tank, vest and weights that were on the boat as we knew we would never use them and we discovered that they met on a dive tour where John was the master diver and Sarah was going out on the boat he was in charge of.

On October 5th we went to "Blue Moon" for espresso and muffins, then all of us went on a walk called "The Secret Garden" walk. It was short, but in the rainforest and cooler than being in the sun. We watched Natasha swim in the resort pool for a while then went back to the boat to get ready to snorkel the reef along the western side of Fitzroy Island. Again, we snorkeled with turtles, large unicorn fish, and a blue pointy-nosed fish called a bird fish, cuttlefish, and we saw a large triton shell (the first we'd seen while snorkeling).

On the 6th we decided to sail out to the outer reefs again. We eventually found an anchorage off Sudbury Reef and went snorkeling there, but we found so many jelly fish that it wasn't fun with Jerry's allergy to them. So we got out of the water and motored up to Elford and Moore Reefs for a look. From there we sailed back to Fitzroy Island as we'd heard friends of ours on the catamaran "Pipes of Pan" on the radio in the morning and their plans were to be at Fitzroy Island for the night. They had borrowed our car for a couple of weeks in the Cairns area while we'd been out sailing and exploring. They had been on board our schooner in Coffs Harbour, but hadn't seen our catamaran yet. They came over even before we had our anchor set for a glass of wine, then invited us to their boat for a dinner of stir-fried chicken and rice. It was good to see them again and we aren't sure when we'll see them again as they are headed south and we're headed north. Annette is a pharmacist and is generally able to find work wherever they go. It seems that pharmacists are hard to find in the more remote areas of Australia. She told us we should talk to a doctor about Jerry's allergy to jellyfish and perhaps get some cortisone to have on board. Apparently this type of allergy can get worse with each affliction. Uck!!

October 7th found us headed to Vlasoff Sand Cay and Reef, a sail of about 27 miles. Again we found some good snorkeling. We saw pink anemonefish for the first time in some sea anemones. We also saw lots of staghorn coral and many different kinds of sea cucumbers. From this snorkeling spot we motored past a couple of other small sand cays to see what they looked like before sailing back to Green Island 15 miles back south. Of course we thought about Mom and Dad's 61st anniversary and wished we'd found a telephone, but no such luck. They must have telephones for their resort guests though as they pay up to $600/night for a room. We also think about Katyana every time we see fish here. She gave us lots of information on Australian fish quite a while ago.

Green Island has many activities for day tourists and more tourist boats coming and going than we'd seen on any other island. They have a nice walk on a boardwalk through some rainforest, a couple of restaurants, and offer parasailing, going in glassbottom boats to see the coral and fish, and snorkeling and scuba diving. They also have an expensive resort, but it is separate from all the day-tourist activities. We saw many Japanese tourists on the island and all signs are in both English and Japanese. We had read that the resort was owned by some Japanese.

On October 8th we heard that missiles had been shot in Afghanistan and were sad to hear that. We hope Bush doesn't approve anything too irrational in his attempt to get those responsible for the mayhem on September 11th! The 9th found us at Upolu Sand Cay and Reef looking for some more good snorkeling before heading to Cairns to collect and send some more email.