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(Our course to Mackay, Queensland)

(Course from Mackay to Cape York through the Coral Sea, then across the Arafura Sea to Darwin)



"What are we going to do during our stay in Australia?"

"We may visit the interior, to see the Kangaroos".

"Eeeeck, are you crazy? There are CROCODILES in the rivers, and deadly SNAKES hiding in the bushes, waiting for the unsuspecting passer-by, and PYTHONS, and DINGOs...."

"We will sail along the islands of the Great Barrier reef then, diving on the coral banks".

"Eeeeck, are you crazy? There are SHARKS there, not those puny 3-meter-long things of Polinesia, but real, BIG man-eaters! And then there are the BOX-JELLYFISH, almost invisible and DEADLY, and the SCORPION-FISH!! Do you really want to die young???".

"Ok then, we will sail along the coast and anchor in the river mouths".

"Eeeeck, are you crazy? There are the SEA CROCODILES, 7-meter long beasts and very AGGRESSIVE as well, they even EAT their freshwater cousins! And then there is the risk that SNAKES may climb aboard, and then you need to call the Rangers to get rid of them, because they are a protected species (the snakes, not the tourists...)".

"Ok then, we will sail straight to Darwin without stopping".

"Eeeeck, are you crazy? Sailing at night among the reefs and rocks of the Great Barrier??? Even Captain Cook hit the shore here!....".

"Well, yes, but Cook did not have charts, he was actually MAKING them for the first time!".

"No no no no no, you know what? We go to Darwin sailing OUTSIDE the Barrier, and then fly to Sidney, where the worst thing that could happen is to be run-down by a car!..."



Also in Australia they have their share of Boobies, although not as brightly-coloured like the ones so common in Galapagos; these birds fly far out at sea and are great fishers, but they have a somewhat dumb look that inspires sympathy.

Yesterday evening, a booby tried for some time to land on Shaula, first aiming at the crosstrees and later at the inviting landing strip of the large solar panel above the stern, which in reality is dangerous due to the rotating blades of the wind generator and to the presence of two radio aerials.

After several attempts, he seemed to have given up; in the meantime darkness had come, and we started having dinner in the cockpit, as we often do when conditions allow.

Suddenly, SBOIIIIING, the aerials on the stern vibrated violently, and a feather-ball fell behind, towards the sea: the boobie had tried again to land, and in the dark he did not see the aerials and hit them with its wingtip, losing balance!

We could not see what happened to him, but I do not think he was seriously hurt: he probably rested for a while, sitting in the water and wondering what had happened...



two Boobies hitch a ride on our pulpit

TWO Boobies, to be precise: this time they smartened up and landed on the forward pulpit, one on each side. They spent the night there, sleeping precariously and taking no care of our maneuvres.

Alas, when they left at first-light this morning, the left the bows, shall we say,....dirty!!

Better than what happened yesterday to "Baccus", whose rudder has been repeatedly bitten by a shark!...

The wind is very light, we are forced to use the engine to ensure arrival in Australia before the week-end, when Customs and Immigration do not work.



We have reached Mackay, Australia.

Here they still take quarantine very seriously, like in the old days of sailing ships! Upon arrival, one has to moor at a dedicated berth, from where you cannot go ashore until after the quarantine people has checked all food stores and other things like craftwork purchased around the islands, to make sure we are not carrying any insects or diseases.

"Anahi" moored at the quarantine quay, Mackay Marina

No way to hide something, they literally search the boat!

Once cleared, we explore the place which is very nice, but very isolated, and the temperature is low, we are freezing!!

The small town of Darwin, few kilometers away, reminds us the american midwest.

This is a relatively wealthy area, thanks to the large sugar-cane plantations and to the coal industry that boasts the world's largest coal terminal, and prices are accordingly high.

Sugar-cane harvesting....                                   ...and the world's largest coal terminal (note the ships in the background...)


(or whatever the plural of "platypus" is...)

Not all Australian animals are either venomous or aggressive, but seeing one is a tough job!

Once past the thorough immigration and quarantine procedures and well settled in the huge Mackay Marina, it was time to start exploring the neighbourhood.

First visit, the Cape Hillsborough National Park: here Kangaroos use to descend onto the beach, but they were informed of our arrival and went elsewhere!

Annette, the Blue Water Rally secretary, was luckier on a previous visit and found a wallaby on the beach

On our way back, we saw one merrily jumping away: we are told it's a Wallaby and not a Kangaroo, although the difference is not evident to us and then who cares, we saw ONE!

Next visit, the Eungella National Park: one and a half hour by car to arrive there, and then we place ourselves near a little river where Platypii are known to live. Half an hour waiting, and a Platypus makes a brief appearance: we expected something as big as a beaver, while it's much smaller, but at least we saw ONE!

The heavily enlarged picture of a small platypus

On our way back, we spot a Cookaburra sitting on a tree, so check this one out!

Not a lot, for 2 days and 300 dollars worth of trips....

Yesterday at last we left Mackay with Shaula3, bound for Cairns by way of the supposedly very Beautifull Whitsunday islands, where we plan to spend a few days jumping from one island to the other.

Oddly, no wind: not a good sign, it means the weather is unsettled, but at least in a flat-calm sea we have crossed paths with a whale!! It was about time, ALL in the Rally have spotted whales in large numbers, while we had only spotted in the distance the tail of a Sperm-whale when we were approaching Galapagos and that was all!!

Then this afternoon, two HUGE sea-turtles were mating unashamedly less than 100 metres away, oblivious to all moored boats!

We still miss:

- Real Kangaroos
- Crocodiles, both the river and the sea variety (and we can easily do without!)
- Assorted Snakes (same concept applies)
- Killer Jellyfishes (same...)
- Man-eating sharks (could do without, thanks!...)



Along the Australian eastern coastline, winds blow most of the time between East and South-East with brief exceptions usually lasting only 2 or 3 days; only in Spring, between October and December, the wind may blow from the North for sustained periods of time.

The Australian yachtsman who decides to venture north from Sidney or Brisbane may therefore have to wait until Springtime to sail the boat back home...

No wonder therefore that the area around the Whitsunday islands is so popular, with so many islands few miles one from the other and many Beautifull and sheltered harbours which can be easily reached from one of the several marinas along the coast to spend a whole vacation hopping from one island to the next.

Many charter boats, we even met an Italian family who came over here for a vacation!

Most islands are part of a National Park, so there are almost no infrastructures on land, apart from a few walking tracks.

Covered by a lush vegetation and with relatively few beaches that almost disappear at high tide, the islands are rich of fauna: whales pass nearby with their newly-born, and we saw many large sea-turtles swimming without fear among the anchored yachts. In some harbours there should also be Dugongs, but we have not been so lucky to spot them.

Birds aplenty, including some huge and noisy white parrots that in the morning went from one yacht to the other.

We did not see crocodiles, which do not come often so much offshore, although some years ago one was spotted in one of the northern islands) and we did not dare bathing in a rather murky water (although we have been told that some areas are very good for snorkelling).

Shaula at anchor in Hook island's long fjord; a popular spot also among Australians!

In Hook island we climbed up to a small cave which used to be an aboriginal settlement: a mound of empty shells on the outside, and some drawings, whose meaning is quite obscure, on the inside of the cave (to me, they seem like fishing nets: who knows, maybe they were representing each fishing season spent on the island? As good a theory as any!...).



Eh yes, we were very envious of most other crews that already sighted a lot of whales, while we never saw one, even when we were in the same area of the lucky ones!

Then, few days ago while we were sailing in the narrow passages around the Whitsunday islands, we sighted one which surfaced just beside us, with the regulatory blow and all, and next day we saw two more which were swimming side-by-side.

Two days ago, we decided to stop for few hours at Orpheus island, while waiting for the rising tide to allow us entry into the Hinchinbrook channel, and there we really saw whales!!

One sighting was very peculiar: the whale was keeping her big tail vertical out of the water, without moving, then after a while we saw a calf (4 or 5 meters of "baby"!...) swimming around the tail which kept staying still.
We tiptoed away, to avoid any possible reaction from the mother in defence of the baby, while wondering what could be the reason for that strange posture: was she feeding the baby? Was she delivering it? We will have to document ourselves.

Later we went into the Hinchinbrook channel, where we decided to spend the night: Beautifull and highly scenic, but we saw very little living forms, just few birds (and no crocs, so far!!).

Shaula anchored in the Hinchinbrook channel, running between the island of the same name and the mainland

...and what about CAIRNS?

Oddly, during the voyage we did not spend a word about Cairns.    We reached the cosy and welcoming Yorkney's Knob Marina, few miles north of Cairns, when most Rally yachts had already left, so we could spend only few days there.

A larger town compared to Mackay, Cairns is the hub of tourism towards the Great Barrier Reef, and we found elegant shops, luxury items, indigenous handywork sold at high prices, but also (at last!) a well-stocked shipchandler.

We did not have much time available for tourism, but at least we allowed ourselves a trip on the Kuranda Historical train, leading to the former mining town of Kuranda, now transformed in a tourist-trap.

The Kuranda hystorical train

(left) a Wallaby in Kuranda's little zoo                               (right) an artist demonstrating how to play the Didgeridoo

We rented a car for victualling, and we took advantage of it to ride north towards Townsville, and from there on a boat along the Daintree river to spot crocodiles in the wild and then further north to Cape Tribulation, so named by Cook after a long fight to double this headland against strong adverse currents!

This road sign on the way to Cape Tribulation (an unknown artist's modification of a standard road-bump sign) has become famous worldwide!



One of the many possible ways to read this voyage is through the great characters who are tied to the various places: Christopher Columbus in Canary islands and through the Atlantic, Nelson in Antigua, Drake in Portobello and Panama, Darwin at the Galapagos islands, Bougainville and Cook along the Pacific Islands.

Along the route we are currently sailing, going north inside the Great Barrier Reef, it's Cook again that we follow along the same course he sailed back in 1770.

Right, 1770: few years before the American and French revolutions and the Napoleonic wars, Australia was still largely unexplored, even though probably well known to the sailors from nearby asian Countries.

When he left in 1768 aboard the "Endeavour", Cook got secret instructions from the Admiralty, besides his official mission to take the opportunity to claim ownership to as much land as possible in the new Continent, compatibly with the natives' attitude.

The monument to James Cook near the estuary of the Endeavour river, Cooktown.

Yesterday morning we anchored in front of Cooktown, a very small town located where Cook spent nearly two months repairing the Endeavour after having hit what is nowadays known as "Endeavour reef". In 1970 the anchors and cannon dropped by Cook on the reef during his efforts to free the ship have been found and recovered, and some of them are now on show in Cooktown's small Museum.

An anchor and a cannon from the Endeavour, found were Cook jettysoned them to refloat his stranded ship

In fact the town was born about one century later, in the wake of the Australian Gold Rush, and since then it has shrunk significantly although it still preserves the looks of a frontier town: today, it is the jump-off point for 4WD expeditions to the north, through Aboriginal Land up to Cape York.

(Left) Cooktown's main road                                           the old-fashioned post-office (right)

Today we are in Lizard Island, and here again you find Cook, who climbed the island's hill to have a view of the surrounding reef, looking for openings. In fact the island is better known for a tragedy dating to 1881, when the wife of an early settler escaped from an attack by aborigines together with her little baby and a chinese servant, quite literally aboard a bathtub! Unfortunately they were swept on another island were they all died of thirst; their bodies were later buried in Cooktown, where a monument still stands to tell their story.

Lizard island's spectacular anchorage

Maybe in Australia you cannot swim a lot, but you certainly learn a lot!!



After Cooktown and Lizard Island, another peculiar experience: the other day we anchored at Morris Island, a typical example of the islands in this part of the Great Barrier: a wide coral reef just under the surface, and a tiny islet just protruding out of the water, covered with bush and the occasional palm tree.

We anchored in a "cove" formed by the reef, not by the island, and at high tide when the reef is submerged it looks like we are anchored in the middle of the sea!

We went ashore in the dinghy, just to walk around the island, looking carefully around and avoiding entering the shrubs because years ago a crocodile was reported living on the island.

We see and hear nothing suspicious, so after a while we go inland for maybe 10 meters, reaching a tomb under the shadow of the island's only palm tree: probably a fisherman of the early 20th century, when fishing ships working in the area had no other option, in case of the death of a crewmember, that burying him on one of the many islets. Not a rare occurrence, and these tombs exist in several places.

Merrily seated on the beach at Morris island, few meters from the bushes hiding a crocodile...

We returned to the boat without having seen any trace of the croc and thinking that maybe he left the island years ago.
Next morning we set sail early for a long leg north, while "Stargazer" remains at anchor for a few more hours.

You should have seen our faces when, during the radio chat of the afternoon, the crew of "Stargazer" told us that they saw the crocodile! A beast of about 15 feet which first went sunbathing on the beach, few meters from the palm tree where we went yesterday, and then went in the water in search of food!

Same beach were we were the day before, a big croc is basking in the sun....

Fear in retrospective: probably due to the noise of 4 boats at anchor, with dinghies motoring back and forwards and people walking around the island, the croc opted to stay hidden, but we must have passed few meters from the beast without seeing or hearing it...



We passed Cape York, the northernmost tip of Queensland, and we officially left the Coral Sea: we are now in the Arafura Sea (never heard before? we neither!) and we are asking ourselves whether this is or not a part of the Indian Ocean (probably it is?).

The passage around the Cape has been very fast, with a strong favourable current and a rather fresh wind which often blew in excess of 30 knots, so that at one point we were doing 10,5 knots! Unfortunately wind and current did not abate even in the Red Island anchorage where we went together with several other Rally yachts.

We were just settled there when we noticed Michael of "Big Blue" going back and forwards in a dinghy belonging to another boat: after a while we understood he was laying a rope between the stern of a big motor-boat and a sort of schooner which was laying at a strange angle. No surprise, it was grounded!

Pull and pull, the schooner is freed, only to get stuck again just 20 meters to our back! We join the help party, and help laying two anchors up-tide to help preventing the boat to get stuck further in with the raising tide, and then there was only to wait for high-water.

We chat, we drink, and inevitably the conversation falls on the location we are in, and on the inevitable question about crocodiles: are they really around? And the inevitable answer comes: yes, they are, just last week one could be seen for several days sunbathing on the beach, down there!

Ok, understood, no swimming once again...



Along the northern shores of Australia smuggling (both of people and of various other stuff, mostly drugs) is a real problem so the Australians are taking it seriously.

Two days ago, a cry from below-decks: "GIAAAN, there's an echo on the radar that is coming at us very faaaast!"
I look forwards, nothing, then I bend to look under the genoa and there was an AIRPLANE coming towards us low over the sea!!
They do two or three passes and finally call us on the radio with the usual questions: boat name, port of registration, last and next port of call, and then they leave with a promise: "we'll see you every day".

Next day, another cry: "GIAAAN, there's a ship coming at us, what do I do, change course by 2 degreeees?"
The ship turns out to be a large Australian gunboat that comes thirty meters from us, gives us a long look without a word over the radio and then kicks away.

Yesterday, a similar vessel passes by a couple of miles away, calls with the usual questions, says goodbye and goes away in the direction of "Jupiter" which is few miles away and DOES NOT ANSWER to their calls!! (no surprise, they were not answering us as well, the two frenchmen often keep their radio off...). We were already figuring Pascal and Patrice in chains while Jupiter was being sunk by gunshot, but instead the patrol boat kept going and went to bother some other boat a little bit farther away.

What has the crocodile to do with all this?? During the evening radio chat, Zipadedoda ("Zippy") reported having just seen a crocodile, happily swimming along 40 MILES from shore!!!
Who knows, maybe the Australians will ask to see his passport???



After having sailed along nearly one third of Australian coast without spotting a single dangerous beast, it is unavoidable to start thinking that there is a lot of exaggeration (although we do not forget the croc spotted by Stargazer in Morris island the day after we walked on the same beach...).

Then, just on the day before our departure, we spot the local newspapers' headlines: "tourist killed by a croc!!".
Apparently the poor fellow had ventured on the river's shore near Cooktown (where we have been not more than a couple of weeks ago) and disappeared: only remainders, a pair of sandals found several hundred meters one from the other, the camera and a watch on the shore.
It is suspected that he may have been attacked by a large croc which is know to frequent the area!...


Our last stop in Australia, and first thing we have to spend a night at anchor in the harbour to be "sanitized" against a pestiferous shell that clogs the engines' water pipes, causing great damages.

Our stop will last some days because we will have to finalize the formalities to get a cruising permit for Indonesia.

Unfortunately two events give a serious blow to our reserve funds: first, the outboard motor that took a plunge during our capsize in the Caribbean and that we later repaired has broken again and this time we had to scrap it for good and buy a new one!
Then, we are informed that Indonesia has put in place new rules requiring passing yachts to pay a huge deposit, unless our visit is "guaranteed" by a local sponsor, who asks a fee of 1000 US$ per boat!

The only alternative is to go straight to Bali, so like most other crews we byte the bullet and pay.

With our funds seriously impacted, we had to cut short on tourism, and limit ourselves to a one-day trip to the Litchfield National Park; the main attraction are the huge "magnetic termite-mounds", so called because they are aligned with the Earth's magnetic field.




So, how was Australia??

I do not believe I can really draw any conclusion: the country is huge, distances between highlights are considerable, and we visited only the coastline of the remotest and less-inhabited part of the country, and did not visit any of the major towns.

Mackay, the new frontier: coal mines and sugarcane, high wages and astronomical prices, nobody wants to be a bus-driver or a plumber when mines pay much better!

Cairns, the tourist hub: tourist shops, trips and tours, diving expeditions to the Barrier reef, the historical train to Kuranda (originally laid down to serve the gold mines in the interior), our first encounter with aboriginal handycraft (hand-painted boomerangs and didgeridoos, among all) but very few aboriginal people in sight (and the few, almost always drunk: a serious problem!)

Cooktown, the old-frontier outpost now departure point for the 4WD tracks leading to Cape York, with its little museum hosting some remains from the "Endeavour" (guns and anchors dropped at sea to free the ship from the coral), the monuments to Cook and to the Watson family (victims of a confrontation with the aboriginals).

Seisia, small village in the aboriginal territory at the other end of the Cape York track, where aboriginals drive SUV's...

Darwin, the only major town in the north, where it plays the role of hub for tourist tours towards the great National Parks within the aboriginal lands, less luxurious than Cairns and terribly HOT!!! (30 degrees at night in the first days of spring???).

And what about the aboriginals? The official attitude of Australia towards those they now call "the traditional owners" seems in good faith, nevertheless they seem to prefer to keep on their own, with the few exceptions of those who have integrated. Every now and then they may come to town in small family groups, but you do not see many and visiting their territories is not allowed without their permission.

We missed the middle of the Country, Alice Springs ed Ayers' Rock: only the crew of "Misstix" has ventured there with a week-long, 6000 Km ride by car (!!!!...) hitting kangaroos along the way and coming back enchanted.

The only conclusion so far: me must come back!




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