Escaping the Pacific Eddy

13th August 2016
‘Would you like to come and see me feed my crocodile?’ not the normal invitation you expect to receive over breakfast; but this is the Daintree Rainforest and this is Australia where we are losing count of the things that would like to sting, bite, kill or just eat us – including a sea snail said to have killed thirty people.
We had stopped for a late breakfast at a motel and animal retreat in the rainforest, so it seemed perfectly normal to follow Justin round to the crocodile enclosure to meet Doris.


She had arrived with virtually no teeth in her head and was misnamed Boris – something that was quickly corrected when she laid a clutch of eggs. Seems crocs can regrow teeth throughout their lives and as you can see Doris put hers to good use polishing off her breakfast in double quick time.

To my mind Doris seemed to be on the lookout for dessert and we were left in doubt that these prehistoric beasts have no need to evolve further, they are perfect mean, killing machines.


We hadn’t realised it but the Daintree is some of the oldest (if not the oldest) rainforest on the planet, with the greatest concentration of biodiversity including wonderful birdlife of the Daintree River.


LEFT Azure kingfisher

BELOW Papuan Frogmouth in the rain


At the Discovery Centre we added another ‘killer’ to the list – a tree with stings on the tendrils so vicious there is no known antidote and the pain lasts months. Yet somehow even this didn’t put us off visiting the various sites here and even enjoying them. Think the small scale, homemade ice cream factory has to be one of the tops and just for Mike, a steam train terminated at the marina in Port Douglas where we were moored.


Of course we hadn’t just got here from New Zealand.
It’s a long story but we had planned to go to the Land Diving in Vanuatu with cruising friends Carl and Linda, but a bit of a family crisis meant I (Devala) had to fly back to the UK for a couple of weeks, leaving Mike on the boat in Port Vila.
Fortunately one of our Kiwi friends Tim stepped into the breach and helped sail Sea Rover to Australia. He and his wife Ginny had sailed to NZ in the 70s in their 28 foot wooden boat Wei Hai with only a sextant for navigation.
Think Tim approved of the changes since then, especially Magnum ices cream mid passage and Mike and he had a great time together, several times flying our newly rigged cruising chute (with a top down furler).


So I flew back to Cairns, behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to meet them and Ginny who had flown over for a short holiday. So a very big thank you to Tim for doing the passage and to Ginny for letting him.

Some of the wild life we found when out exploring from Cairns, was more to my cup of tea – a wild Duckbilled Platypus pottering around in a small creek. We were really taken by the variety of scenery and we got to see a fair bit as we drove down to Townsville to catch up with Aussie sailing friends Alice and Peter before they sailed back south to Sydney. So with warnings about not swimming, not sitting on the edge of your dinghy and other advice to avoid being eaten by a Salty – a salt water crocodile, who by the way is just as at home in fresh water, we set sail north. The first stop being the Low Isles off Port Douglas. Just as we were about to turn in for the night a small run around open boat approached the back of Sea Rover – not burglars but two fishermen who were having engine trouble and couldn’t make it back into port in the dark. Long story short they stayed the night, called a friend the next day and fixed the problem. So that ended well all round and we managed to catch up with Dean and his wife Ying when we got into port. It was from Port Douglas that we explored the Daintree and further north to Cape Tribulation and Cooktown.

Throughout our seven years sailing in the Pacific (yes it is seven years) we have kept coming across one name again and again – Captain James Cook. Just about every country has a Cook’s Passage, Cook’s Strait – you get the picture. But nowhere have we been more impressed by his achievements and navigational abilities than here behind the Great Barrier Reef. Even with charts – paper and electronic, guide books, Google earth images and a wealth of knowledge from all sorts of sources you have to have your wits about you to sail in these waters.
Although we had been negotiating reefs throughout our time in the Pacific what we hadn’t appreciated is how, at night you relied on hearing the waves crashing onto the reefs, especially the low lying ones that don’t show up on radar. Here behind the GBR you are protected from the ocean swell and you don’t hear the waves crashing. Combine this with some very low lying reefs, barely visible and you quickly realise this is not a passage for day dreaming.

Having said that the charts are fantastic, as are the navigational lights, so with care it is easy to make you way through. Of course, perhaps the one thing making Cook’s life easier than ours was that he didn’t have to contend with all the cargo vessels ploughing up and down, who you have to give way to as they are very limited in their ability to manoeuvre and generally seem set to pass you just as you hit the narrowest part of the channel – marine equivalent of Murphy’s Law. At least with our Automatic Identification System (AIS) we get to see them way off and so can often plan the best place to be.

So for us it was no surprise to learn Cook had gone aground on Endeavour Reef, only amazed us he hadn’t spent more time aground. He must have been a truly inspired leader, as no one panicked or mutinied, but as he recounts all settled down to saving the ship and got her safely to what is now Cooktown to make repairs, note the, ‘make repairs’, they couldn’t pull into the nearest shipyard but had to find and cut wood, fashion nails and do everything themselves. Reading parts of his journal as we have done on this passage puts it all wonderfully in perspective, we are only now beginning to really understand his feats of seamanship and it is humbling.


We have missed just being able to dive off the back of the boat, far too afraid of Salties to do that, but we did find a place – Lizard Island where the swimming was safe and the giant clams on the bommie in the middle of the lagoon were incredible.

Here we also climbed to Cook’s Lookout where he had tried to spy a way through the reef, having managed to get the Endeavour repaired. Again not sure how he did it, other than with tremendous patience, men in small boats and in the forward part of the main boat doing constant soundings and, when necessary towing the big boat by rowing.



As we approached the top of Australia – the furthest north we’ve been in a long time we had one final lovely surprise. We had been reflecting that, unlike most other years, when we could hope to see familiar faces and old friends as we sailed to the various islands in the Pacific, this year would be different. We were breaking away and setting sail for home. We’d anchored for a brief overnight in Flinders Island when another Oyster sailed in, Astahaya. We had last seen them in Auckland and have a special bond with Tom and Christian as their boat was commissioned the same day as Sea Rover all those years ago in the Orwell. So that was it, plans changed and a very convivial evening followed, and then a couple more as we sailed more or less together to the top of Australia – Horn Island opposite Cape York. Sadly we won’t see them again at sea as they are heading up to Indonesia. But sure we will see them again, only the next time will be ashore.

So what is this Pacific Eddy? Well as Kiwi friends Carl and Linda put it – we all seem to do a circuit from NZ up to the tropical islands, back to NZ, up to the islands, over to Aus., back to the islands. Sailing around this part of the world almost as though we were caught up in an eddy. But now the time has truly come for us to break free of the eddy, much as we have loved our time here. As we sailed through the Torres Strait with four and a half knots pushing us west and on to Darwin we knew that this time we were finally on our way home.

We leave with so many wonderful memories about this extraordinary part of the world, it really has to be the jewel in our sailing crown. We have had such a fantastic time and met so many wonderful people. We leave with sadness to be going and yet excitement as the next chapter in our adventures opens.


Enjoy more photos from our travels in Australia
Not forgetting Tasmania, one of our highlights

Comments

Photo comment By Tania Sweet: Miss you both. Love reading your blogs and looking at your amazing photos, especially the last croc looking straight at me!
Photo comment By jeanne hartley: So glad to hear from you - thought I had fallen off your radar. Can't believe you are on your way back but look forward to seeing you eventually. May have to dust ff the Zimmer but what the hell - it'll be a great celebration. Love your stories and the duck billed platypus is wonderful.
Photo comment By Al: Incredible photos and stories, as always. Miss you both but can't wait to hear the next instalment of your adventures. Lots of love xxx
Photo comment By Christina Rees: What a wonderful account of your latest adventures. I would have loved to see the giant clams and the duckbilled playpus - not sure about the things that bite and sting! Another vicarious experience for which, many thanks. God speed you on your days to come.
Photo comment By Andy Mennell: Great photos. Read this while at Como and swimming in lake every day - suddenly got paranoid about killer sea slugs wearing crocs.
Photo comment By Paula and Stephen Pepperell's: Hi, sounds like you've had a blast in oz and the photos are spectacular. Hope you were using a long lens! Enjoy...P&S
Photo comment By Cheryl Taylor: Good to catch up on your travels - where are you guys now. I have a new email as I have left work now. Love Cheryl

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