Saturday, December 5, 2015

Silent Seisia

Early in September we said adieu to the beauty of the islands and caught the tide out of the Ellis Channel. The forecast was SE 10-15kts rising to 20kts west of Cape York. We had a choppy exit escorted by a dolphin. We were moving at around 7kts until we turned to starboard, when our speed washed away until we were averaging 2kts. After our early start, Marg went below for a quick nap and suggested on her return that I had put the anchor down as we appeared to be in the same position! At least it was picturesque.

Papou Point on the SE of TI

We arrived in Seisia at 1200 and anchored behind the sandbank off Red Island, across the sandbar from the crowded 'harbour'. A beautiful spot.

Seisia and the town of Bamaga (around 10km inland) are both Torres Strait Islander communities. Some of the original inhabitants, the Injinoo Aboriginal people, remain. Islanders from Saibai, which is one of the islands close to PNG, came across to the mainland when Saibai, which was swampy,  was almost entirely underwater with a king tide in the late 1940's. Seisia (which was a name put together by the first letters of the names of the first settlers - Sagaukaz, Elu, Isua, Sunai, Ibuai and Aken) was called Red Island Point by the Injinoo. There are about 200 inhabitants. It is very laid back and the jetty is the hub of the community. On Sundays everyone goes to church, and the gospel singing caries across the water.

main street of Seisia

It is the most northern community in Australia and had the greatest sunsets.

On day 2 we took the dinghy to the jetty as it seemed the place to be! We unfortunately met up with a Quarantine Officer who requested our 'papers'. Even though we checked with the young officer at Thursday Island many times that we had all we needed, it seemed Ruby was entitled to return to the mainland, buy Marg and I weren't. A squabble between offices ensued, with us caught in the middle. The mainland officer realised that as Ruby had papers we obviously would have cleared quarantine as well. After considering fining us he decided that slagging off the TI officers was the best course of action. He requested that we tie Manatee up at the jetty the next day so he could inspect. We dutifully did that and he didn't turn up! We were finally given an apology and I suspect our papers were found behind the fax machine! It was very frustrating and upsetting and we tried to not let the incident colour our opinion of the islanders. A lot of yachties won't go to the islands, not only because of the tricky sailing but because the quarantine aspect is so unclear. It is worth it.

We spent many days exploring Seisia, visiting the Friday night markets (4 stalls), talking with the locals, sitting on the jetty and walking the amazing beaches.

jetty in the distance

We hitched into Bamaga to do some provisioning ( a charming ute full of Injinoo lads stopping to check that we were OK and apologising that they had no room for us),and to have lunch at the only pub, which had frozen packaged fish! We played lots of very bad pool. We met up with a fisherman who knew us from Port Douglas, who fished for mackerel in the Gulf and couldn't get the pub to stock fresh fish - go figure.

There was a petrol station in Seisia where you could purchase diesel and jerry - can it to boats, which is a bit beyond us these days when we require hundreds of litres. Our fisher mate advised that we could re-fuel via a barge in the channel but he recommended against it as it's a bit scary due to the chop. I spent hours on the phone to businesses in Weipa attempting to source diesel facilities for yachts and at one point we considered returning to Horn Island!. I finally got a lead where we might get fuel, booked via Cairns of all places, so we set off to the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Islands

On the 27th August at 0930 we bid farewell to the Cape and pulled the anchor for Thursday Island (Waiben). The seas were extremely choppy. We tacked numerous times in an attempt to keep the swell on our stern rather than our beam. Welcome to the Torres Strait- windy, choppy, extreme currents! Anchor down Horn Island 1330.

Tuesday or Wednesday?

Tuesday or Wednesday?

The strait has a scattering of islands, including Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, which run like stepping stones from Cape York to Papua New Guinea.

Thursday Island (Waiben) is the commercial and administrative hub for 20 communities spread across 100 islands. Prior to European arrival in the straits, Thursday Island was un-inhabited, possibly because its island name Waiben means place of no water. Even though many communities have very close ties and are only a few km from PNG (with islanders roaring across in their tinnies to obtain cheap fuel amongst other things), islanders are Queenslanders. Due to fears of PNG pests and diseases reaching the mainland, the area is considered a 'special quarantine zone', which caused us much angst re: Ruby. It was very difficult to obtain specific advice. Whether that was due to quarantine officers not understanding regulations/laws or the basic laid back attitude of islanders, I will never know.

A little history - in 1606 the renowned Portugese navigator, Luis Vas de Torres sailed through the strait which was given his name. After the establishment of the penal colony at Sydney Cove, the Torres Strait became the main thoroughfare to and from England. Immigrants from Asia, the South Pacific and Europe moved to Thursday Island to work in the pearling industry in later years. The Japanese were the most numerous of the new immigrants and played a significant role in every aspect of the pearling industry, including diving, captaining vessels and construction and maintenance of pearl luggers. Thursday Island had its own ‘Japanese town’, with boarding houses, stores, a divers club and a public bath house. During the war, Thursday Island became a centre for military operations in the Torres Strait with war artefacts playing a large part in the tourism industry. Horn Island had a museum that covered a bit of all aspects of the areas history.

Many of the islanders were very friendly and very Christian, even a taxi driver offered us a bible. We were 'god blessed' many times. The water colour was an amazing jade, filled with lots of bities. Fishing by locals was a constant, jetties covered by families putting a line in at dusk and tinnies constantly buzzing around.
looking across to Horn Island from Waiben

view from Horn Island jetty
We anchored off Horn Island rather than Weiben as the holding was better. Even there it took us a few attempts to get our anchor to set due to the fast currents. We braved the channel to visit Waiben a few times in our tender but decided the inter island ferry was a safer bet. A very strong wind would rise out of nothing and we all got drenched by high seas in one very scary trip. We enjoyed walking around Waiben and we also spent a lot of time in the quarantine office getting clearances.
street scene Waiben

Waiben PO

Our visit was following the visit by then PM Abbott. Not a good word was said about him by the islanders. He managed to antagonise everyone! Well done Tony. The local paper was filled with letters and editorial bagging him. A local hotel owner was furious as Abbott's staff had booked every room and then cancelled at the last minute, losing the hotel substantial income. Abbott allegedly was staying in a tent "in a room" at the army barracks instead. The local paper was denied a press pass with cries of 'it's just a publicity stunt' being pretty close to the truth, I thinks. When the journalist from the local managed to turn up at events, Abbot's staff allegedly demanded to know how they were informed of the schedule. Well hello, its a small community and everyone was really pissed off. The only good word was that he spent 'a bit of money' at the art gallery.  

The Gab Titui Cultural Centre was fabulous. We were lucky enough to view an exhibition on masks- exciting and scary. Here is their link- And yes the gallery shop was fantastic. A large portion of art was centred on ghost net art - making art works from the discarded fishing nets which wash up on our shores or continue catching marine life indefinitely. Here's a great video-

Our beloved Ruby was going through a bad patch, appearing very lethargic and off-colour. Luckily she didn't require a vet check to return to the mainland, rather an inspection by a quarantine officer. The young chap who attempted to poke her got a scary snarl in response so we were grateful when an older man with his own Jack Russell took over and gave Ruby clearance. The youngun did the paperwork for both Ruby and ourselves and managed to stuff it up- but more on that later! Ruby did enjoy the ferry trip.
almost smiling!
We did have a moment when we considered staying in the straits for an extended period as the hospital was employing EENs. Alas the trade winds are the strongest and longer lasting than anywhere in the world. Combined with reefs and fickle currents, the straits are a very difficult area to sail through. We set off looking for a more secure anchorage.

Cape York

On the 23rd August we pulled the pick at 1130 in Shallow Bay for our much anticipated sail around the tip. How exciting!

Eborac Island- at the tip

Eborac and York Islands stand just north of Cape York, the extreme northern tip of main land Australia. With local knowledge, the pass between the islands and the mainland can be traversed, but it looked really dicey.

We were both emotional as it felt like another important milestone. Even though we thought we would be exploring other countries by this time, we are thoroughly enjoying our investigation of Australia, and wouldn't change anything.

We dropped anchor at 1330 and cracked a bottle of champagne. Words cannot describe the area so I'll let pictures tell some of the story.......


We spent many days feeling very lucky. The beachcombing was varied-unfortunately lots of nets, thongs and plastic. Marg was looking for a right thong, surprisingly 95% of thongs were lefties. The beach walks were fantastic. We watched many schools of tuna with attendant sea birds. We walked to the marker cairn and Ruby got lots of tourist pats.

Bus loads of tourists would arrive by day, have a quick walk to the tip, have their photo taken and then return to their bus. Quite a few were elderly with walking aids and they did fabulously well to make the walk, which has some rock hopping. By night, we had the area to ourselves and we were the only boat in the anchorage. Magic does happen!

The Wilderness Lodge which is a few minutes walk from the beach and was featured regularly on travel shows has unfortunately closed down. A very sad sight. A great opportunity for someone when tourism increases in the area.

Happy days!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

up to the pointy bit

After a few nights of good sleep, with beautiful calm nights full of stars, we upped anchor in the Escape River at daylight on August 19 to avoid catching a pearl raft on our exit. The wind was forecasted to be 20-25kts from the SE with a SE swell of 1m-all quite reasonable. When we were preparing Manatee (everything secured in the galley/saloon), I found our manatea had fallen from her spot and her head had come off. My immediate thought was "oh no, hope that's not an omen."

pearl farm Escape River

We had a pleasant trip down river, escorted by a dolphin. We were crossing the entrance with a flood tide so were hoping for an uneventful exit. Not to be- we had a 3m swell and at one moment had 0 depth due to an uncharted sandbank.

Once we cleared the river's entrance we had a delightful trip for the 4hrs to Albany Pass, where the seas again gave us a rough time.

Albany Pass just visible

When I was up on the bow sprit taking photos, I looked down to find a snake curled around the anchor winch.  I gave it a prod from a distance and it reared up at me so I made a hasty exit to the wheelhouse. Marg had a look and we both couldn't identify it but as it kept rearing up we decided it wasn't a friendly type ( it was later identified as a juvenile eastern brown- a very nasty little critter). We decided to wait until we were in the calmer waters of the pass before we dealt with our stowaway.

We had timed our entrance perfectly to meet the tide flowing northwards so we had a very fast passage through at 9-10kts. The scenery is amazing, very dramatic cliffs and palm lined beaches. We downed sails near Shallow Bay (where Joshua Slocum anchored "Spray" all those years ago) and made many attempts to encourage  the snake overboard with no success. It was clearly getting very angry with us and in hindsight we were very lucky one of us wasn't fanged. Unfortunately it went the way of manatea with the aid of a cleaver. We were then able to operate the anchor winch to drop the anchor in Shallow Bay.

pearl farm in the pass

Shallow Bay was a beautiful spot, although a little rolly at times. We took numerous trips up the pass in the dinghy which was exhilarating with the tides. Somerset (once viewed as the most romantic spot in Australia) was special and we visited again and again.

Somerset Beach

In the 1860’s the government saw the need for an outpost and supply station for the shipping trade in the most northern part of Australia. Rockhampton Police Magistrate, John Jardine, was despatched to Somerset to establish a settlement.
His sons, Frank and Alec Jardine attempted to drive a large herd of cattle up to Cape York a few years later and it resulted in Frank Jardine being granted a large tract of grazing land at the tip of Cape York-Lockerbie Station. He strung a 10km fence across the top to keep the cattle in, with most of the fence posts eaten by white ants within a few years! He and Jardine descendants still managed to become very wealthy, with extensive pearling interests along with copra plantations and cattle.
 Frank and his Samoan princess wife Sana lived in splendour in Somerset's residency, dining on silver platters made from allegedly salvaged coins from a Spanish galleon wreck. Sana's servants served up fine dinners to a grand assembly of celebrated and titled guests.
  Somerset became the busy headquarters of the Torres Strait pearling fleet and the "seat of government" of the northern extremity of Queensland. Somerset in 1877 was deserted in favour of the more central position on Thursday Island.

old well

creepers have overtaken land previously cultivated
Ruby off to investigate the cemetery

There are few visible signs of the grand residency and grounds, although the beach cemetery has a series of headstones, one inscribed "Cancan, devoted servant"; another "Shori Ichmatsu" - servant or pearl diver? and the tombstones of Sana and Frank Jardine.
 There was a camping ground behind the beach with schoolkids from Bamaga very excited to meet Ruby. We spent lots of time on the phone here, questioning many bureaucrats on the quarantine procedures for travelling through the Torres Strait with a Ruby dog. We didn't want to attempt sailing through this 'special quarantine zone' if it had repercussions for Ruby- but more on that later.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Margaret Bay and beyond

We pulled the pick at 0900 for the 48nm sail to Margaret Bay which had been recommended by other cruisers as a beautiful spot to spend a few days. We had an interesting time setting the genoa as a sheet had come loose so we had a mad flapping sail in very rolling seas-not a great start.

The sail up the coast was fairly uneventful, I was excited to pass close to Haggerstone Island which has a eco- resort, "Polynesian" style buildings and a great reputation. It is a continental island, beautiful beaches with extensive reef surrounds which is pretty unusual. The anchorage is pretty dicey so we didn't stop, but apparently the island's two lagoons are teeming with life. The resorts owner, Roy Turner,  earned the nickname "Gouger" when he saved the life of a young girl who was attacked by a crocodile while swimming in Margaret Bay, near Haggerstone Island, in 2004. He climbed on the back of the crocodile and gouged its eyes until it let go of the girl.

We also passed Indian Bay on the southern side of Cape Grenville which has the best beachcombing finds amongst the mangroves, if you can brave the crocs!

Margaret Bay is a protected shallow area behind Cape Grenville, the bays approach is through the Home Islands which was extremely rough on our entrance. We kept Sunday Island on our starboard. This Island which looks unimposing has a history.

It was on this Island that Bligh almost had another mutiny on his open boat voyage after "the mutiny". The crew stopped to rest and one challenged Bligh by saying "I am as good a man as you are", Bligh threw him a sword, drew his own and said "Let us see who is to be master here." The challenge went no further. This was on a Sunday-hence the Islands name.

Manatee's anchor went down in 3m of water at 1700hrs. The water was amazingly clear and full of fish and the odd turtle.

We hoped the very unpleasant night rolling at anchor would be a one off, so we enjoyed the view. Ruby was agitating to walk the pretty beach, but we felt croc eyes on us. After another sleepless night due to rolling we decided it was time to head off.  The forecast was 15-20kts SE - but it was actually blowing 25kts.

After 3 days we pulled the pick at 0515hrs. The forecast was SE 15-20, swell 1-1.5 so we unfurled the genoa and put up the main with 2 reefs in the dark. We were abeam Hannibal Islet at 1000 with the actual wind ESE to 10kts!

Our destination was Escape River which is over 60nm from Margaret Bay, so Hannibal was our only possible anchorage between the two. It was a totally wind against tide proposition so we voted to continue to an anchorage where we could all get a good sleep.

At 1030 we were joined by dolphins.

They frolicked with Manatee for a while, playing hide and seek with me as I was trying to take photos....

After 20 minutes, the pod seemed to disappear, so I stood on deck looking around (Marg and Ruby were asleep in the cabin) until I spotted a single dolphin just off the wheelhouse and I swear it communicated "we're off now"

Yep off to a bigger plaything! They must have had very busy days in the shipping lane.

We made the entrance to the Escape River just after 1630 where we downed sails. It was clear we were now in bauxite territory as the entrance was marked by red cliffs. As we passed the first sand bank Ruby became very agitated and on looking out we saw a massive croc sunning itself, enough to make anyone agitated.

The channel upriver has multiple pearl rafts as the Torres Strait Pearl Farm is located on the south-west tip of Turtle Head Island.

pearl rafts

The rafts would make a night time entrance very difficult as they are not well marked and we had a lot of trouble spotting them in the late afternoon.

We had our anchor down safely at 1720 and then had a long talk with Ruby about why we weren't going ashore!

Friday, August 28, 2015

so far into the blue we reach 'out of the blue'

After a couple of days relaxing in Lloyd Bay - fishing, crabbing and reading we decided it was time to head further into the blue.

Marg goes fishing !

Glassy calm at Lloyd Bay
On the 11th August we woke to a beautiful day so pulled the anchor and headed the 20nm to Portland Roads. The wind was softly blowing below 10kts 30 degrees off the bow so we motored. Beautiful scenery on the way.

Lloyd Island

Restoration Rock

During May 1789, William Bligh in the Bounty's longboat after the famous mutiny stopped at this island and wrote.... 

“This being the Day of the Restoration of King Charles the 2nd, and the name being not inapplicable to my present situation (for it has restored us to fresh life and strength), I named it Restoration Island, for I think it probable Cap.n Cook may not have taken notice of it.” 


The island is now home to Dave and if you look closely to the photo the yacht on the sand is visible. Dave has recovered this wrecked yacht and cut a hole in its hull for direct access from the beach. Unfortunately his companion dog was killed by a taipan around this time so we decided not to visit. He is a local identity. More can be read on

The water was very rough around the island so we were thankful to anchor at Portland Roads at 1600- 3 hrs after anchor up. We took Ruby ashore for a quick walk and found a very pretty spot.

water view of town

main street looking east

main street looking west

We were becoming concerned about our diminishing supply of unleaded fuel (for the outboard and generator) and as the barge from Cairns wasn't due for another week we decided to hitch into the nearest settlement of Lockhart River with our fuel containers. We were lucky enough to get a lift to the servo and return with G who had lived in the area for over 30 years and was not only a warm hearted fella but a wealth of information also. He had been involved in fishing (mackerel), been employed in the gold exploration of the Cape in the 80's (extensive deposits but too difficult to mine) and he and his wife had also been involved in the Lockhart River Aboriginal Community. On our return to Portland he invited us for a cuppa at his beautiful house on the hill and showed us the many objects he had found beachcombing over the years - floats, bottles, Melanesian canoes- so many fabulous things!

The road to the community was amazing- scrub led to the thickest rainforest imaginable. The area is very popular with bird watchers, the red breasted noisy pitta being a favourite. A great day but Ruby was very pleased to see us on our return.

Portland Roads has a military history - a matter of weeks after the battle of the Coral Sea took place, American Army engineers and Australian military personnel arrived here to survey and construct the Iron Range Air Force Base. Navy vessels berthed and unloaded the stores and equipment needed on the existing jetty which had been built for coastal steamships to service the pre-war mining communities. Roads played a key role in keeping supplies up to the bomber groups that operated out of Iron Range delivering strikes on Japanese installations at Rabaul.

During the Vietnamese War, Australian and American military dropped experimental bombs near the Iron Range strip as the foliage is very similar to that encountered in the Vietnamese jungle. Apparently there is a clip on the web!

We all loved the town, Ruby had a great time. So, out of the blue is a café open for breakfast and lunch and dinner if you are lucky. Food is great although the racist mutterings of the waitress was a disappointing aspect. Grey nomads camping at Chili Beach are regulars at the café and some loudly discuss, with encouragement from the waitress, the "crazy angry abos" that "accost" them at their camps "yelling this is my land". Well, yes it is. I'd be mighty pissed too if my beautiful country was being overrun by people with an attitude that "mine is bigger and better". We have encountered a fair bit of racism amongst cruisers also who trample sacred sites and believe they have "a right" to access to any land they choose. Very disappointing.
 The café is also the local information centre and P.O, the owner being very helpful.

view from out of the blue

out of the blue

We left on the 14th for Margaret Bay.