Cooktown – our own Hotel California

The torn genoa was packed up and placed on the bus to Cairns, where our recommended sailmaker picked it up, took one good look at the thing and declared it a write-off. Unsurprising, I guess, although we’d hoped for better news. This will be a severe blow to our budget, but the real worry is the mainsail which we’ve also now torn three times, suggesting inherent weaknesses that, like the genoa, could well show themselves in the form of a more major problem given the type of sailing we have to do to get South. It’s probably only a matter of time. Repairing or, God help us, replacing a mainsail is a much bigger cost, so we’ve elected to nurse it along until we make it can down to Cairns where we’ll get the local sailmaker to take a good look. We don’t have the same luxury with the genoa, however, as it is truly knackered and we can’t make ground against the wind without a headsail. So we’re gathering quotes, and will order a new sail sometime this week. We’ll definitely be here for another two or three weeks.

We drowned our sorrows yesterday evening by inviting a number of the nearby yachts over for a few sundown drinks. Interestingly, there seems to be a firm protocol here amongst cruisers that everyone brings their own drinks, consumes them and takes home what’s left…an entirely sensible approach given most cruisers’ tight budgets. Cruising yachtsmen are indefatigable in dispensing unsolicited advice, pearls of wisdom that are always determinedly correct regardless of opposing views and the recipients’ relative experience. So it was that evening, when one particularly domineering local skipper spent much time providing the rest of us with yacht advice that we either already knew or heartily disagreed with! The rest of the crowd all got on well enough. But it started approaching critical “feed the kids” time and Rebecca and I were dropping hints for everyone to clear off, which was being picked up by all but our belligerent guest who was firmly settling in for the night. Jakey, who had clearly understood that he wasn’t going to get fed until our guests has departed, cut straight through our precious social sensibilities by walking right up to him and saying “go on, hop it”!- a directive the guy could hardly ignore. That’a boy!

Cooktown has abit of a reputation as a Hotel California – “you can step out any time you want, but you can never leave” (courtesy of Eagles).  We’re only one of two or three boats that have suffered serious boat problems in Queensland’s far north, realised Cooktown was their nearest mainland retreat and then got stuck there trying to source new parts. However civilised it all feels here, it is still pretty remote, and it only takes a mild storm or flood to cut off the only road that leads up here from Cairns, thereby cutting off your supply route.  This has already happened to us in trying to send our broken jib down South, thankfully only for a couple of days.  And once you do fix your problem, you still need to wait for the seemingly never-ending gale force winds to drop.

Our neighbours have been here for a month trying to repair a bent prop shaft. In fact, these guys make us feel lucky, as they know there’s no slipway here and their only approach to fitting the new shaft when it finally arrives is to dive on it. That is, dive in croc-infested waters. We heard that the local fishermen have booked front row seats to watch the spectacle! And croc-infested it seems to be. Sadly we haven’t yet seen one, but everyone reports 6 – 8 10 foot crocs living right here in the estuary, and many more upstream. It’s hard to get your head around living with such lovely beaches and relatively warm water, never being able to swim or gambol freely through the shallows.

The thing I find scariest about crocs is the way they hunt, or so we’re told: they stalk their prey. A couple of years ago a retired man took up crabbing, and over a period of 3 days set his crab pots from the river bank. The mistake he made, they say, was setting the pots at the same place each day, because one of the big crocs watched him for the first two days, and on the third day struck. Not much was left behind. Now I don’t know about you, but somehow I don’t wish to attribute that level of intelligence to something as primeval and vicious as a crocodile. We’d been hoping to take the dinghy up river to do some fishing and croc-spotting, but the locals here refer to inflatable dinghies as croc dental floss, tell scary stories of crocs biting the tubes to get to the inhabitants, and all of them drive aluminium tinnies… big wide ones where you can sit in the middle a good long way from the sides!

There aren’t that many yachts passing by, but most that do are on their way North to do the opposite route from us…sailing up through the Torres Strait, the sensible downwind path across the Arafura Sea and onto Darwin where they’ll join a big Indonesian rally in July. Given the Indonesian destination for these guys, of course we have quite abit of experience to offer and it’s been nice to be able to give people some of our own Indonesian knowledge as they prepare for the rally. This, the final irony: doling out the same unsolicited advice that we’re so critical of from others!  

The birthday blog

Hey everybody. My mum and dad think they should always have a favourite and today I’m theirs!  After all this time I have finally been able to write a blog (I actually thought it was the end of the blog after we left the internet access premises of New Zealand.) It’s been a year and what do you know? The moment I start writing the blog again, it’s my birthday. It’s such an awesome birthday too. As we all know 10th birthday is a big birthday. I got a penknife AND a speargun. Lately we have been tacking into the wind and making a slam slam slam noise ALL the time (I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of those complaints from dad.) We have been to some really nice places such as Lizard Island, which was the habitats to some enormous 3ft lizards. We also went to Morris Island, where we found some croc tracks. Luca and I stood there staring at the tracks with amazement whilst  my mum and dad furiously tried to convince themselves that they were lizard tracks, not croc tracks. But to their horror, we arrived at Lizard Island and went to the beach bar to meet a guy called Bret, who said that there was a youth croc on Morris Island.

Tonight we are going out to a fancy Italian restaurant to have pizza.

Civilisation rediscovered (twice)

Coordinates: 15deg 27.7S, 145deg 14.5E Cooktown harbour

Anchored in the estuary of the Endeavour River, close to the Cooktown waterfront and all the temptations this provides.  It’s not a large town, about the size of Beachlands, but it’s still pretty remote so hosts several pubs, restaurants, a huge supermarket, etc. Ahhh, civilisation!  We arrived Friday afternoon, having calculated an arrival after 4pm to ensure we’d have plenty of water under our keels to negotiate their sandbar and shallow dredged passage, but found the wind angle finally allowed us a quick sail and arrived exactly at low tide.  So we took the safe option and anchored off for a couple of hours to let the water fill in abit.  Impatient as we were to go in, after an hour or so we watched a large launch successfully enter the harbour and decided to risk it.  With some trepidation we motored slowly down the channel, going through the now-familiar creeping dread as our depthsounder registered 2m, 1.5m, 1m, 0.5m.  Eventually our sounder happily announced 0.0m, which meant that we were theoretically aground, but somehow we continue moving and weaved our way through other moored boats presumably forging our own two furrows in the sand on the seabed as we went.  

We found an anchorage with the dizzy depths of 0.9m under us….luxury!  The holding was excellent, important given the continuing high winds that have blown since we arrived, some of them whistling down the Cooktown hills as wind bullets packing quite a punch.  When the tide is low, we sit only a few metres from the nearest sandbank and could almost walk ashore from the boat.  A great place to sit out  bad weather.

A day after arrival here we took a major step back into the 21st century, reconnecting our old Nokia phone and getting a mobile broadband connection toboot. Having been remote and primitive for so long, getting connected again takes abit of getting used to. I think we’re both abit nervous about finding ourselves sliding down the slippery slope towards needing regular internet access with all the trappings that accompany it, but I guess most modern cruisers have far more sophisticated systems on-board than us, so if they can manage it we probably should be able to also. So we’re connected, at least until we set off again to our next off-lying island stop.

Which was our intention yesterday, when after a lovely week stopover in Cooktown we spied a short 24 hour break in the regular 20-30 knot headwinds, and snuck out of the harbour at 5:30am to bite off another chunk of southerly passage, this time to Hope Island a long day sail South. There had been much talk on other boats about this weather window, how long it was going to last, what was following it etc, and we were one of two or three who left that morning. All was well, in fact we spent the first few hours marvelling at the novelty of sailing in moderate winds and small waves…bliss… but knowing that this window was short, and was expected to close out early afternoon. Well, we didn’t make it to the afternoon. At about 10 o’clock and with no warning, not even the usual dark cloud bank, the winds leapt from 10 knots to over 35 knots and we were caught a little flat-footed. In the ensuing rush to reduce sail, our poor old jib finally decided enough was enough and tore down its full length, shredding much of the outer sail before we managed to roll it up. Horrified as we were, we weren’t entirely surprised – I think we both knew it was only a matter of time. What was more worrying was a tear in the mainsail that appeared while we were subduing the jib.

We were now in a full gale so we dropped in the third mainsail reef and raised our tiny stormjib, but the seas had picked up and it became clear that we’d struggle to make much progress directly into them. A quick navigation calc showed that we wouldn’t make Hope Island by nightfall and even if we did, we’d be nowhere near land to begin sail repairs or replacement, so with sinking hearts we turned the boat around and headed back. Demoralising to give up the ground we’d made, but we also faced the Cooktown estuary passage in this wind with only one working engine, and it remained to be seen whether this was do-able. Having turned downwind we now hooned our way North, the yacht enjoying it’s first taste of downwind sailing for several months surfing down the now 2m waves and showing us speeds of 10 knots and more. It took us only two hours to return, and we dropped sail and lined up the Cooktown passage markers, broadside to the big rollers now foaming in from the South. Rebecca stood by on the bow, ready to drop anchor if our entry went pear-shaped, and with the VHF (and a potential call to Coastguard) close to hand, I gunned our remaining engine to get maximum speed and avoid the boat getting pushed off. With hearts in mouths we rolled our way down the channel, but with painful slowness as it became clear that we had just enough headway to make it through and eventually we passed into the relatively sheltered waters of Endeavour River. Phew!

Much talk and sympathy amongst the other yachts on our return, most watching as we limped our way back in with our shredded jib flying around for all to see. Not a sailor’s proudest moment, I must confess, but it seemed that we weren’t the only ones caught out, another converted fishing boat had also turned back after narrowly avoided dragging onto a nearby beach. But everyone’s very helpful, and we’ve now put our jib on the bus to Cairns, to be picked up by an experienced sailmaker who’s verdict we await with baited breath.  

Fortunately our stay here – two stays I guess I should now say – haven’t all been high drama. Before our ill-fated departure we celebrated Gabriel’s 10th birthday, double figures being a biggie by anyone’s standards. Huge thanks to everyone who sent b’day messages to him via sailmail, all much appreciated. We’d expected to be in PNG about now so had prepared some stuff for it whilst in Indonesia. The day started with a breakfast of bacon and eggs in bed for the birthday boy, which was pretty much enough to ensure he’d consider this “officially my best birthday ever!” A token hour of school was delivered, then presents opened, including the piece de resistance, a new speargun. As predicted, Gabriel was cock-a-hoot about the gun. We polished the day off with a meal out at an Italian restaurant – a huge luxury on our budget – and the day was complete. As he retired to bed Gabriel asked if he’d be allowed to take his speargun to bed with him, presumably to continue tending and cherishing it from a horizontal position, so we knew we’d hit the jackpot! We declined. Sadly for him we’re in heavy croc country, spearfishing in the Endeavour River probably one of the more inventive forms of suicide up here, so he’ll have to wait until our next offshore island visit before starting his next killing spree. 

Wussing our way South

Coordinates: 15deg 27.6S, 145deg14.7E Cooktown harbour
We left Lizard Island a couple of days ago, having tried waiting for a break in the 25-30 knot SE winds for several days to no avail, starting to suspect that if we waited indefinitely we’d be there forever. During our last few days we’d sort-of been adopted by a couple of Aussie yachts who clearly thought we needed support, and invited us each evening to drinks at one or the other. This was somewhat embarrassing, as we’d run out of most things and struggled to contribute much to the parties, I think our final contribution was a bowl of warm popcorn! Lovely though the island was, we’d run out of fresh food some time ago and Rebecca reckoned we had about 4 days tinned supply left. We had to get going. So off we set, with a couple of fallback anchorages in mind if things went pear-shaped…which inevitably they did. Nothing too major; but the sail south was another miserable hammering into 30 knot headwinds with 2m waves, and our poor old jib started developing a new tear so, after 7 hours of seasickness and general despondency onboard we pulled into Cape Flattery for the night.

The Cape sits out on a long coastline made up of lovely white beaches, sadly croc-infested every one, but it is one of only three places in the world with a mine-able resource of silica. We’d had conflicting advice about this place; some had said it was nothing more than an isolated mining peninsula, but our guide suggested there might be a shop and we’d hoped to restock. So we dropped anchor, Rebecca grabbed her now-familiar sail repair gear and started work once again to patch up our headsail. I took the dinghy into land to ask about supplies, landing at an old wharf where a couple of hardened old miners were working on a crane truck. The guys were very welcoming, but explained that there was nothing there except for a silica mine, about 30 workers who are flown in and out, no store. In fact they keep the site cash-free, feeding the workers centrally and giving them a daily allocation of cigarettes and beer (5 cans of medium strength lager per day, my new friend complained to me). He called the site foreman, who drove down to see me. I turned on the hard-luck story – family of 5 sailing South with a broken sail and dwindling supplies – and the manager took off to their kitchen to see what he could rustle up, returning with a box full of bread, milk, marg, cold meat and fruit and veg. What a star! I returned to the boat with my exciting new haul, thinking how poncy and out of place we must look in our fibreglass catamaran, yet these hoary old miners were happy to help us out. Quite humbling, really.

Rebecca meanwhile had done another great job at bodging a repair – I suspect she has an exciting new career ahead of her when we return to NZ in a sailmaking loft – and we got away the following morning, having devised a new and altogether more sensible passaging plan. Until we can get further South out of these reinforced tradewinds (a few more days’ sail), we continue to face strong headwinds with only one working engine, a severely-weakened jib, nasty seas and at time narrow shipping lanes, and neither of us relish the night passages in these conditions. So our new plan is to hop our way down the coast with long day-sails, avoid the additional stress of overnighters, anchoring where we can behind headlands or reefs. Yesterday we left at 7am, tacked South in the same strong winds until early evening and dropped anchor inside Cape Bedford. Today we completed the shorter passage to Cooktown, where we’ll finally get to a supermarket, properly restock and begin the next few days of day-hopping down to Port Douglas or Cairns. The winds should start to lighten from there, and we can pick up our nightsailing then. We both know that day-hopping is probably a bit wussy given what we’ve done so far, but with both of us rested and less stressed, it sure makes for a happier boat. Just ask the boys.

Howling tradewinds & scary starfish

Seems we’re firmly in the tradewind belt now – apparently N Queensland hosts some of the most consistently windy tradewinds in the world, averaging 20-25 knots SE almost all season. We’ve been at Lizard Island for just over a week, and the winds hasn’t dropped below 20 knots which is fine, actually, as the bay has what yachties would describe as “good holding” which means that the anchor digs in beautifully and we stay put. This bay is called Mrs Watson Bay, named after the wife of a man who started a sea slug business in the 1890’s but without apparently consulting the indigenous Aboriginals, only to discover that they’d built their houses and warehouses on taboo land. Doh. Relations broke down, one of their imported Chinese workers was killed by the locals, and with her husband away Mrs Watson took to sea in a barrel to save herself, dying several days later from thirst. Now it may just be me, but this hardly seems to be an historic event to celebrate. I can’t help wondering why the bay doesn’t carry the original Indigenous name, instead of the name of the unfortunate victim of a classic bit of colonial arrogance & stupidity.

Anyway, after months of carrying around our windsurfing gear we’ve finally had strong enough winds to make it worth rigging it up, and Rebecca and I have been happily hooning around the bay between other yachts, rediscovering long-forgotten windsurfing muscles. Rebecca, who hasn’t really windsurfed for several years, completed a spectacular wipe-out yesterday and is now hobbling around with sore ribs. The wipeout was so spectacular – torso flung one way, limbs another, all still connected via the harness to the sail – that I regretted not videoing it. such is the sympathy built up within the family. The boys have got over the disappointment of losing their new friends (the Aussie yacht sailed North for Darwin a couple of days ago), but are still enjoying the beach, and our trusty support crew back in NZ (Jason and Greta) have been hard at work figuring out where to source a prop (thanks so much, we’d be lost…perhaps even more lost… without you!). It looks like our info is coming together, and it’s nearly time to start the trip to Cairns. This’ll be another 3 days of beating into 25+ knot winds, so we’ll probably reduce this to bite-sized chunks, avoiding overnighters where we can.

The day before our new friends left, we met on the beach at 7am to walk up the big hill that overlooks our bay, called Cook’s Look after the aforementioned Captain climbed up there in an attempt to figure out a pass through the outer Barrier Reef. It’s a good 2 hours steep uphill climbing with some boulder hopping and a little bush-whacking (are these the correct terms? Am I starting to sound like an Aussie?). We passed a green ant nest, these ants just one of many nasty little nippers that Australia seems to possess. The older boys had been warned to run through the grass to avoid catching too many of them, but this instruction hadn’t filtered down to Jakey and me, and the wee little man had a severe attack of green ants in the pants. Inevitably this and the climb was too much for Jakey, so Rebecca and he retired after a wee while leaving the rest of us soldiering on. Lizard Island finally lived up to its name with a 4 foot lizard which we all admired before clambering on to the summit to enjoy what was admittedly a hazy and pretty unspectacular view, but the wind so strong up there we were able to enjoy a few minutes of T-shirt sailing (never tried it? Just stand in a strong wind holding your t-shirt out like a sail, and see how far forward you can lean before falling over)… hours of mindless entertainment.

In the meantime Lizard Island is starting to show its true colours as Queensland’s most Northerly popular yacht destination; now the cyclone season is over they’re starting to flock here in a steady stream of boats. We understand this place gets pretty busy later in the season. They seem to be split between Aussies enjoying their coastal hols, and offshore yachts that have taken refuge in Australia for the cyclone season and are now making their way North, many to head further East into Indonesia and beyond. None of them are silly enough to attempt the trip Southwards like us, of course, but the minute we come across another boat that is we’ll be having a good long chat, no question. After months of sailing solo, we’re abit overwhelmed by the proximity of so many other sailors.

We joined another yacht couple in a tour of the Lizard Island Marine Research Centre this morning, the only other entity on the island other than the resort. This place hosts up to 35 scientists or students year-round, who run around in shorts or bikinis studying the life out of rare coral species, diving on their research sites and generally having what looks like a pretty darn good time. Everyone here is very worried about the Crown of Thorns starfish, which although naturally occurring enjoys huge explosions in numbers and can suck the life out of whole coral gardens. Actually what they do is creep up on unsuspecting coral, latch onto them literally pushing their intestines out of their mouths and sucking the coral dry with the use of nasty chemicals. Yeuch! They tried cutting them in half a few years ago to reduce the population, but found that they recovered so quickly that in fact they were doubling their numbers! Needless to say, like most living things in Australia they also carry toxins in their spines and leave most scientists who study them with nasty injuries. All up, not very popular amongst the wild-haired, bearded brigade. Of course the scientists have to be terribly PC when talking to visitors, but it became clear that most of them really just wanted to eradicate the whole wretched species!

Anyway, in the course of our visit we got talking to the other yachties, and mentioned that we were running short on fresh supplies and needed to head south to restock. By the time we’d returned to our boat, they done a whip-around in the bay and came up to us with a bag groaning with fresh fruit and veg. How wonderful! I take back everything I said about Aussies… well, some of it at least.

Our luck has turned!

Coordinates: 14deg 39S, 145deg 27E
Anchored off Lizard Island, about 150 nautical miles north of Cairns, it seems we’ve lucked out. This expression has always bothered me, as getting lucky should surely be lucked in, but Rebecca assures me that her command of the American language is sound, so there it is.

We had been stuck at Cape Melville sheltering from a gale for two days, increasingly frustrated with our position there we couldn’t swim (crocs), we couldn’t go ashore (too far in the dinghy against strong winds), we were well and truly stuck. So as soon as the wind eased, off we went. We had another 2 nights pounding our way into 25-30 knots, but finally arrived at Lizard Island to find a beautiful refuge from the winds. Safe anchorage, sandy beaches, no crocs, nice coral reefs and best of all, another yacht with kids. This is the first time since we left NZ that we’ve come across another yacht with kids of similar age to ours, and both boats were hugely excited at the prospect of playmates. So we’ve spent the last few days with the kids firmly latched onto each other, larking around on the beach playing wargames with home-made bows and arrows, Gabriel having perfected the art of making his own arrows complete with seagull feathers as stabilisers, clearly a huge source of respect amongst the other kids. Remarkably this boat has a Luca-equivalent, another 11 year old obsessed with myths, witches, dragons and writing stories. We suspect these two will be very sad to say farewell tomorrow, an inevitability given that they are heading North and we, eventually, South. But for now this has been a very welcome respite from the endless beating, and we’ve relished the break. And the boys appear to still interact normally with others, despite being locked up with only their folks for company for so long!

Lizard Island is firmly in the Great Barrier Reef marine reserve, complete with it’s own research station. It also has a very swanky $2,000 a night resort in the next door bay. Needless to say, they discourage us riffraff yachties from lowering the tone, and children are banned from the resort a policy we have some sympathy with actually. But they have a staff bar open twice a week, located at the other end of the resort beach, that allows us yachties plus kids to buy beer and pizza and whoop it up a bit without disrupting their high-paying customers. Word has it that Prince Charles brought Diana here for their honeymoon, so we reckon we’re getting a pretty good deal anchoring here for free (I wonder which chalet he put Camilla up in?). Three weeks out from our last replenishment stop at Thursday Island and we’re getting quite short of supplies we ate our last fresh fruit and veg about 4 days ago but we have plenty of tins to work through, and with the closest replenishment town being Cooktown about 14 hrs sail away (again, beating into the wind), we reckon to stay here until our last tin of corned beef is consumed. I think we’d all rather suffer scurvy than face another overnight bash right now!

Of course the place is a marine reserve so no fishing, but a couple of miles out and trolling is allowed, so Gabriel and I joined our new friends on their 50ft Beneteau for a day-trip to an outer reef to spearfish. Actually the spearfishing wasn’t spectacular some nice coral trout but also plenty of sharks to keep us on our toes but we caught two tuna on the way out so have happily restocked the freezer, and Rebecca has wow’ed everyone with her sushi skills… the fish should give us another day or two here! In the meantime we’re making further repairs, and preparing for our next big stop, Cairns, where we will most likely haul the yacht out of the water and give the poor old thing a nice new anti-foul definitely time to rid us those pesky barnacles. The big question as to our longer-term plans remains unanswered, but for now it is a joy to have stopped for awhile.

Lost at Sea

Coordinates: 14deg 10S, 144deg 24E.
In some respects I feel we’re abit lost right now. Not literally, of course. Our beloved GPS (or rather one of it’s many manifestations…chart plotter, ipad, handheld etc) take care of that. No, we’ve discovered that the plan we’d concocted for the second-half of this trip is not feasible, and I think we’re now struggling to reconcile ourselves to this and come up with an alternative. The basic issue lies with passage-making, not just for us but for the boat as well. The goal of the whole trip was never really time spent at sea. Odd though that might sound, the passages we’ve made so far have only been a means to an end, and the end has been to get to remote, primitive islands and explore villages there. Indonesia was a sensible geographic objective, as it took us out of the cyclone season during the dangerous period and enabled us to hook up with family. But we spent a fair amount of time making passages to get there, promising ourselves all the while that on the way back to NZ we’d stop and spend more time in these remote places.

But whichever route we choose to follow from here, they’re all upwind and therefore tough sailing; and as we make our slow way down the Queensland coast (the least painful of all alternatives) we’re all finding the passages quite tough…uncomfortable, tiring, boring and trying. Yesterday, for example, we anchored in the lee of an island taking shelter from a 30 knot headwind which we’ve battled through overnight but made very little headway, taking abit of a hammering in the process. We’ve spent 3 of the last 4 weeks sailing, and we’re now on day 9 since leaving Thursday Island, and we’ve covered less than 300 of the 350 miles to Lizard Island (inc a couple of sanity stops on the way). Any other wind direction and this trip would have taken 3 days or less. The boat isn’t really designed for this, and we worry about the stress it places on our gear. The boys are starting to be more vocal about not doing the passages, and who can blame them? And Rebecca and I are increasingly wanting to avoid our lasting impression of this whole sabbatical being upwind passage-making, in fact long extended passages at all. What a waste that would be, eh?

Australia is an amazing place, of course. The Great Barrier Reef is incredible and could easily devour a season of cruising. But for us, the trip has always been about more than finding lovely sandy beaches and snorkelling off them. Not to knock it, and we’ve done our fair share of this already, but we can do that at home. The trip was always more about getting to far away islands, places that would otherwise be hard to get to, meeting the locals and trying to get to something more than just a superficial relationship with them. Giving the boys a taste of how other people live. We had this in Vanuatu and PNG, and promised ourselves more after Indonesia. Maybe it’s also possible in Australia and that’s a question we’re going to ask when in Cairns. A dilemma we need to resolve soon, and aim to do whilst there. We’re just hoping we can find someone there who knows Australia and can make head or tail of what we’re after. We’ll see.

In the meantime prior to this last nasty overnighter, we stopped for a day’s rest at a little sandy atoll named Morris Island, and spent our rest day sleeping, larking around on the beach and making repairs. The boys made arrows out of thin sticks and seagull feathers, and spent happy hours perfecting their bow and arrow skills on the beach. Rebecca weaved her usual magic with the limited tools on board to patch up further frayed ends and dodgy bits on our increasingly beleaguered jib, sewing heavy cotton and overlaying with sealant (not perhaps a sailmakers’ idea of perfection but bloody good work to be doing on the hoof). And I dived on the starb’d rudder to inspect our prop-less shaft, and measure up our remaining one. We’re still on high crocodile alert having seen unmistakable track marks on the beach a thick line where they’ve dragged their belly, with footprints either side but no sightings so far. Gabriel was keen to try a new flasher rig I’d bought back at Thursday Island, and managed to hook a huge snapper just before bedtime, creating a lot of drama on the boat as the beast took off on what was a hugely underpowered rod & reel. No scales to weigh it, but certainly the biggest snapper any of us have caught to date, and one that would guarantee Gabriel sweet dreams for a few nights to come. So things aren’t too bad, all things considered. We may be lost, but we’re still enjoying trying to find ourselves.

Right now we’re anchored in the lee of Cape Melville, riding out a nasty little storm that was brewing yesterday, and overnight has built to 40+ knot SE’erlies. The wind is whipping over the headland, our highest reading so far 47 knots, and the sea is a furious white-spumed train of small waves that’s rocking the boat around all over the place. We brought ourselves as close under the hill as possible, sitting in just 2 metres of water, and our trusty anchor is holding strong so we feel pretty secure. Certainly pleased not to be sailing in this. Forecast suggests it should abate overnight, in which case we’ll attempt a final push to Lizard Island tomorrow first thing.