Just a brief summary of our trip up the coast of Australia from Scarborough Marina, Queensland to Darwin, Northern Territory: May 4 to June 29, 2011
We sailed about 2,174 nautical miles over 57 days.Â Total of 334 hours of sailing at an average speed of 6.5 knots (7.5 mph). We dropped anchor at 24 different bays and harbors (including 3 marinas) â€“ with time spent on shore hiking and sightseeing at 13 of these. We only swam and snorkeled at two places due to the abundance of crocodiles and lack of clear water in most places.Â Theâ€ Great Barrier Reefâ€ did not live up to its reputation and we have started referring to it as â€œThe Pretty Good Barrier Reefâ€.Â Maybe it was just a bad year here due to a big cyclone and lots of rain earlier in the season.Â Maybe we are just spoiled after 4 years of snorkeling in so many unspoiled islands across the Pacific.Â In any event, despite our inability to get in the water, most of the coast of Australia was very interesting to see; almost totally uninhabited with mile after mile of beaches, sand dunes, scraggly trees and some pretty impressive hills.Â Â Just a few towns here and there with lots of miles of land off limits to all but the Aborigines.Â Â We had some of the best sailing of our trip because the barrier reef cuts off most of the ocean swell so that one can sail along on smooth seas and there are steady trade-winds pushing you along in the right direction. Great fishing as well.
We befriended at least 25 couples on other Â boats on the way â€“ almost all of whom are going to be part of the rally to Indonesia leaving Darwin on July 23rd.Â Â (About 100 boats currently signed up for the rally)
Looking forward to spending the next 3 weeks here in Darwin â€“ enjoying the luxuries of living at a marina â€“ unlimited power for lights and fridges,Â easy access to stores, and lots of opportunities to walk and visit with other sailers.
We arrived at Lizard Island yesterday (Saturday) morning after a great 23 hour sail from Cairns.Â The wind was very light for the first hours but then came up and stayed 12-15 knots throughout the night.Â The Great Barrier Reef, which is really a set of discrete coral reefs, is quite close to the mainland this far north in Australia.Â As a consequence, the seas are quite calm inside the reef.Â So calm, that Laura slept in the forward berth while off watch during the night — the first time we had done that since we left the US.Â The forward berth is the most bouncy and loud place on the boat while underway.Â The drawback to the proximity of the Great Barrier Reef to the mainland is that we have to sail a zigzag course avoiding numerous reefs.Â As a matter of safety, we had never sailed among reefs at night, until for the trip to Lizard Island.Â The Australian nautical charts are spot-on and as long as we kept aware of our position, we knew we would be OK.Â We sailed right by Endeavor Reef where Captain Cook and his vessel “Endeavor” was almost lost in 1770Â soon after he “discovered” Australia for England.Â It was only by heroic effort that “Endeavor” was freed from the reef and repaired to continue it’s voyage home.Â If it had not, Australia would likely have become French.
After repairing his vessel at Cape Tribulation, Captain Cook looked for a way out of the Great Barrier Reef and so he sailed to Lizard Island where he could see a high hill/mountain in the distance.Â By climbing this hill, which provides a sweeping view up and down the reef, Cook found a way out to the open ocean.Â So today, accompanied by Mike and Lynn of “Wombat of Sydney” we climbed to Cook’s Lookout.Â It was an arduous 90 minutes climb to the top but the views were spectacular.
Lizard Island is mostly a national park but there is a very expensive (AUD$1100 per night) resort on the island, and a marine research station.Â It is the most secure anchorage around and is (almost always) crocodile free, so it is a must stop for sail boats heading to Darwin.Â There are seven boats in the anchorage at Watson’s Bay on the west side of the island.Â One advantage of having a resort on the island is that there is 3G cellular service.Â That allows us to connect to the internet using our USB dongle modem.Â Once we leave Lizard Island there will be no internet access until we arrive at Darwin around July 1.
The trip here from Cairns was easy enough that we still had the energy to set up the dinghy and go to shore and have a hike to the “Blue Lagoon” right after we arrived yesterday.Â The Blue Lagoon is a reef coral atoll abutting the southwest corner of the island.Â Not a good place to anchor in most weather, but worth a hike across the island to see.
The resort opens their beach bar to yachties on Friday and Sunday night, so almost everyone at anchor came ashore this evening for drinks and fish and chips at reasonable prices.Â Tomorrow we will snorkel the nearby reef which contains many giant clams that are each a few feet across and very colorful.Â We plan to spend a few days more here before moving on.Â We have about 1200 nautical miles left to sail until we reach Darwin, so we cannot linger for too long.
We will leave Cairns late in the morning (Friday) heading for Lizard Island, about 140 nautical miles to the northwest.Â It is supposed to be a beautiful place where one can actually swim without worrying too much about crocodiles.Â We have not been in the water yet this year.Â First, it has been surprisingly cold for the season — down into the high 50’s at night.Â Second, the floods of the first months of the year led to large quantities of silt washing into the sea, reducing visibility.Â Third, Cyclone Yasi, which hit northern Queensland a few months ago, also stirred up the water and killed large areas of coral on the Great Barrier Reef.Â Friends who are currently at Lizard Island have communicated to us that the water is clear and the coral healthy there.
Today we went to the botanical gardens and strolled the boardwalk at sunset to watch the lorikeets congregate.Â The photo below is of the public pool where Laura has gone to swim at 7 am in the morning when it is still (relatively) frigid.Â At that time she can do laps.Â The second photo tells you why everyone swims in the large public pool, and not in the ocean.
We arrived at the Marlin Marina in Cairns on Sunday after a short sail from Fitzroy Island.Â The marina is part of a large waterfront tourist development with a boardwalk, nice hotels (including a Hilton), restaurants and shops, and a large swimming pool (you do not want to swim in the ocean with all the nasty creatures that inhabit these waters).Â More importantly, there is a “Woolies” (Woolworth’s) supermarket just two blocks away. As we left Fitzroy Island, we saw “Wombat of Sydney” just behind us after an overnight sail from Magnetic Island.Â We thank them for these beautiful pictures of Sabbatical III underway.
In the marina we have run into lots of boats that we know from last year and even before, plus we have made many new friends.Â Most of these boats are heading for Darwin, as we are, and about half will proceed to Indonesia at the same time we will.Â The rest are heading for South Africa.Â There are five Amel’s heading for Indonesia on the Rally — two French, one Swiss, and one English boat, in addition to Sabbatical III.Â In all, 93 boats are now registered for the Sail Indonesia Rally.
Video: Catching a small mahi-mahi in the way.