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.