November 22nd – November 28th 2020
Although we had enjoyed our stay at Gove it was time to finally leave. We completed our Queensland entry paperwork while we had internet connection and headed off across the Gulf on Sunday the 22nd November. With the promise of good seas and mild winds for the next few days, we expected that it would take about 4 days as we were heading straight to the top of Cape York.
Despite it only being a bit rough at the start of this trip, Neon did not have a good crossing. He is quite civilized about his seasickness; we start moving and he visits the kitty tray, then throws up on the door mat, then curls up to his cushion and doesn’t move until the boat stops. He pretty much didn’t move for nearly three days. The problem with this is that (as with people who do the same thing) we end up with a dehydrated and constipated cat. Now, I take him down to the kitty tray each day, he has a fan he shares with the off-watch crew person and his ever-annoying-Mummy keeps squirting water through his clenched teeth with a syringe (obviously no needle fitted). He doesn’t get his anti-inflammatories until he demands to be fed after we stop (as they can be quite nasty to an empty digestive system). With this new regimen he arrived in Seisia at Cape York in excellent health [I wish I had thought of the syringe thing when we were going through the Kimberleys]
The photo shows our preferred conditions for traveling, that is calm seas wherever possible. We had to wait an extra week to get these conditions but it is so worth it. One of the things that surprised us was that we saw no boats, none at all the whole trip across. It definitely emphasised how remote we were.
The second day out from Gove this poor little thing landed in the dinghy, quite exhausted. He had the most huge black eyes. As best I could determine he was a Large Tailed Nightjar (pg. 202 of my Field Guide to Australian Birds by M Morcombe) and should not have be out in the middle of the Gulf. He should be flitting around near a rainforest, eating insects, at night. I think he must have got caught in the rain front we went through that morning and ended up out here. Once he had caught his breath he settled down under Peter’s bike seat, out of the sun and went to sleep. He took off again about eight hours later, during the night, just as we were anchoring at Muttee Head.
We came in to Muttee Head on the western side of the top of Cape York at 9pm on Tuesday, by which time it was quite dark. I had discussed this timing with the navigator, but there was not a lot for it, as we had made unexpectedly excellent time across the Gulf. The only potentially hairy bit as we entered Torres Strait was crossing the delta where the water from the straits surges in and out of the gulf. We expected some funky currents, but we had the tide on our side and all went well. Anchoring at Muttee Head was straight forward with no hazards as we approached land and good holding (I was concerned about a repeat of Point Sampson, but it was a really pleasant night). We didn’t even need to wake early, as the tide wouldn’t be right for getting behind Red Island (the Seisia anchorage) until mid-morning; luxury. Our plan was to spend just a few days at Seisia.
It is quite a deceptive entry to the Seisia anchorage when coming from the west, as it looks like you could just mosey in alongside Red Island, but that would bad, as it gets very shallow with lots of reefs. You have to go all the way around Red Island and follow a wee channel from the north. That then turns into the anchorage area on the inside of the island – thank goodness for charts and all those people who have been before us.
The Torres Strait has the most complex tidal system in the world, to the point that boats have been caught out when crossing from one side of a channel to the other, as the tide direction changed 180o between the sides. It’s not the height of tides (like the Kimberley) but the direction that is the problem here. We had fun keeping track of the tide direction as we travelled, by noticing its effect on the speed and course of the boat – the small things that keep you amused while on watch.
This is Seisia, on mainland Australia, opposite Thursday Island. We stayed here until Saturday. There is a general store, but the prices are impressive in a bad-to-the-budget way; good thing I had stocked up on tea bags before we left Darwin. We picked up a tasty takeaway lunch, went for a rather windy walk on the beach and found the monument erected to the founders of the town. Seisia has a permanent population of 260ish, and seems to be mostly a take off point for tourists to Thursday Island and the freight for the Torres Strait. There is tourist accommodation here but due to the you-know-what it is currently closed.
Seisia was established specifically as an islander community on mainland Australia, for Torres Strait Islander families who needed to be relocated as their island home (Saibai) was prone to flooding (again the Suz precis version). Red Island Point was gazetted in 1948 as a sort of thankyou to those islander men who served during WWII. It was renamed by the community to SEISIA using the first letters of the first names of the founding father’s family (Bamaga, the nearby town with the airport, was named after the founding father).
There is a constant coming and going of tinnies from the slipway over on the beach. We even had afternoon entertainment watching the water police practicing their loading and off-loading skills (they were obviously trainees as they each took a turn or 2 to do it correctly). There is a big water police and border force presence here – the strait is a very busy thoroughfare and there are a lot of islands that could shelter people with not so legal intent. We just sat on the boat for our first day and watched all the action in what we thought was going to be a rather quiet anchorage. We were also wondering what to do with our COVID border passes. The water police called in the day after we got there, cruised past, asked how we were and where we from, said what a nice boat we had and then they headed off to find criminal types. [For those in moderate freak out mode about COVID, bear in mind that we came from the NT where there had been no cases of COVID in the general population].
Seisia was very much getting into the wet season pattern; hot in the morning, then a storm comes through and everything is left cool and washed clean, although Neon doesn’t like the thunder. You can see a wrecked boat sitting on the flats behind us near Red Island. Maybe they tried to get straight to the anchorage without going around the island? [I cannot find a record for it. If anyone knows the story for this wreck please let me know.]
All these remote communities are supplied by large barges which carry everything from trucks to groceries. Above you can see the delivery barge unloading in the pouring rain and yes that huge crane is on the barge…
Five minutes later it’s all rainbows and people fishing off the wharf. We were glad about this as we had been invited over to a lovely little green boat called ‘Kaylie’ for afternoon drinks. ‘Kaylie’ reminded me of the poem ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’, her hull was painted green, her covers were green, even the motor cover was green. In reality the Owl and the Pussycat were a lovely couple called Ted and Mia; they live on ‘Kaylie’ and work in the Seisia area. Another stunning sunset in good company.
We booked a ferry trip on the Friday to visit Thursday Island. We can take ‘Opal Lady’ to Thursday Island, but it is in a special quarantine zone and although I think the zone is really only for vegetables, I don’t want to get Neon into trouble accidentally. We are only doing a day trip anyway as most of the attractions are closed due to COVID.
Suz standing at the ‘wrong end’ of an artillery piece at the Fort on Thursday Island. There are three of these 6” breech loading guns – big canon looking things, at an old fort on the top of the island (Milman Hill, 104m above sea level). The fort has a wonderful 270o view of the Straits.
Our visit to Thursday Island was pretty interesting. The trip across from Seisia was beautiful as we passed the many small islands. Unfortunately, because of COVID the art gallery, culture gallery and fort gallery weren’t open, so we just had a walk around ourselves. I was hoping to pick up some TI art, but that will have to wait until next time.
We were keen to start moving down the East coast (while there were no cyclones around) so we didn’t stay for very long in the Torres Strait and fully intend returning to visit some of the many islands that make up this area.
The Green Hill Fort on Thursday island was built in the 1890s for fear of Russian invasion. Britain and Russia had not been on the best of relations for some time and there were a large number of Russian vessels in the Pacific ‘checking out’ various colonies (here and in the Americas) – making locals very nervous. A number of batteries were built along the east coast of Australia during the middle of the 19th century for protection from these vessels (none ever did any harm to Australia). The building of Green Hill Fort was the first of a very rare number of instances of the states co-operating pre federation. Britain supplied the guns, the states (SA, WA, NSW, Vic) provided construction costs and Qld provided the ongoing funds for the garrison. The fort was decommissioned after WWI, upgraded for WWII to act as a wireless and observation station and was last used as a weather station by the Bureau of Meteorology. Green Hill Fort never saw action and was not a well regarded posting. A cooling plant was installed in 1912 with ducted air to the cordite storage room (so as long as you were comfortable sitting in a room of nitrous based explosives that would have been the coolest place to be).
Nautical Notes/Cruising Comments:
This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFiGo booster. Talking to other cruisers we had a much better reception than they did (without the booster). We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level height).
Anchored Muttee Head: 24/11/2020, 10 54.532S, 142 14.407E. Tide station is Red Island Point. Easy access. Clean chain and anchor. There is a goodly current goes past. We were comfortable in 10knt NW winds. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg. 93]
Anchored Seisia (behind Red Island): 25/11/2020, 10 50.812S, 142 21.810E in 8.8m with 30m chain. The tide station is Red Island Point. Must follow the leads (very difficult to see as they are at beach level), the red and green marker buoys are easier to follow, there is a goodly current that runs across the access channel so watch carefully to keep to your course, the locals and marine police all cut across the corners but they know what they are doing (we didn’t). We were parked at the end and along the midline behind the island and felt very protected. Anchor outside the yellow markers that show the ferry access to the jetty. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg. 92] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg. 328] [Fish Finder, magazine, 2019/20, pg. 224]