Down the East Coast to Port Douglas

November – December 2020

After a relaxing stay at Seisia it was time to move on, and so we left on the 28th November bound for Port Douglas. We were really looking forward to this section of the trip down Cape York.

Rather inconveniently, Peter caught a Spanish Mackerel just as we were going past the northern most point of mainland Australia.  He was very happy, so was Neon (truth be told that cat went a bit feral).  I was busy trying to take a photo of the actual northern most mainland point while making sure we turned south at the right time so that we were lined up properly for the Albany Strait and informing Beloved that he would be cleaning the literally bloody mess at the rear of the boat.

Just for me? You shouldn’t have.
Northern most point of mainland Australia

It is hard to tell from the photo, but if you follow the road down it will take you to the northern most point of mainland Australia.  We could just see a sign telling you that you had reached that point.  The land on the right is an island.

Sunset at Escape River

Our first evening out from Seisia we anchored up Escape River where we were treated to a superb sunset and caberet watching a large croc moving around on the bank. This picture deserves to be the banner pic for this entry, but I thought we should change the palette sometimes and went the blue instead. Selecting photos for this entry has been difficult in that there were so many truly beautiful sunsets, sunrises and seascapes from which to choose.

Boydong Island

We had done some longer passages recently, so we had decided to day hop our way down the coast. There is a lot of reef around (that would be the Great Barrier Reef) and we would rather not hit any of it for want of light.  After an 8 hour trip from Escape River we dropped anchor at Boydong Island.  It was a very LOUD island as it was full of birds and more birds kept coming home to roost throughout the evening.

Cape Grenville

After a 6 hour cruise the next day we dropped anchor at Cape Grenville. The sailing boat ‘Expedition Drenched’ anchored up after us (although ‘Sylfia’ came up on the AIS, so she has had a name change recently).  Lots of young people on a lovely looking sail boat.  We tried radioing them but I think they were on deck being young.

The weather was turning and looked to stay nasty for a few days, so the next day we made our way to the relative shelter of Portland Road (usually called Portland Roads by everyone who hasn’t read the chart). 

A Channel beacon

This photo is of one of the beacons we regularly come across.  We were running close to the shipping channel and it is really quite well marked with huge structures along the way (this one had a helipad).  On our way to Portland Road we were buzzed by a Marine Patrol plane and asked to confirm who we were.  This was a first for us – how exciting.

The weather was changing and it was getting a bit uncomfortable so we were grateful to anchor up at Portland Road for a few days (one of which was Peter’s birthday). As soon as we had dropped the anchor Neon put in a request and Peter is always happy to do a spot of fishing.

Neon wants fresh fish for tea
And Daddy catches him a brace and a half in one cast

Just after this, two Sharks, a Grouper (the large dark shadow in the photo) and a huge Trevally came crowding in on the action.  And then shortly after lunch we were passed by a 3m long croc just drifting in the current over towards the mangroves.

Happy Birthday Peter

The next day I cooked Peter roast lamb and a vanilla cake for his 61st birthday. The family were shocked by the photo – not the rather fetching pink tiara, but that Peter is trying out a beard – consensus was to crack out the shaver ASAP.

Too much sugar for you Fur Face, probably too much sugar for me too.

I’m in the running for the total tool award for this month.  Tuesday night I closed the pilot house door while I was holding the door frame and crushed my thumb, ouch.  Wednesday night I did exactly the same thing, to the same thumb, with the same door (brought a tear to the eye this time) – Panadol and a cup of tea needed.  Peter says he is going to write a safety procedure for closing doors to be put into the boat manual – ha ha ha.

Peter keeping busy

The deck foot switch for lowering the anchor had started to misbehave, so we replaced it with a spare (we have a lot spares).  It looked like the problem was simply dirty contacts in the switch, so it was cleaned up and put into the spares box (OMG, spares create spares).  The bungy cords you can see in the photo are to stop the bottom part of the fitting from disappearing below the deck and they worked really well – we did the whole replacement without having to venture into the anchor-well below.

Night Island

After three days rest we set off again, and the landscape started to change. This is Night Island and is typical of the low land, flat scrubby growth and blue water of this area.  The photo is deceptive as it was taken at high tide and the sand bar that extends across to the left is not visible.  The permanently above water parts of these islands is very small compared to the extent of the above-and-below area (and you don’t want to anchor in the above-and-below area).  We do a lot of calculating using the predicted tide rise/drops and current water depths to make sure we don’t end up having an oops moment when anchoring.

The Birds at Fiffe Island

Our next stop, at Fiffe Island ended up being for only a few hours, but we have waxed lyric to friends about those few hours ever since.  Peter informed me that we needed to get off the boat for a walk, so we took a turn around the island.  It isn’t big and only took half an hour.  As evidenced by the photo, it was another island of birds…and rubbish.

Walkies on Fiffe Island (east side)

I took to counting the number of thongs (flip flops) washed up (20 that I could see) – there were too many plastic bottles to count.  It was a bit depressing as we did not have room on board to stow any collected rubbish, but the island really needed a good cleanup.  It must be located in a local gyre as this was the largest amount of mostly plastic rubbish we’ve seen washed up anywhere, and it was floating past the boat the whole time too. 

Our dinner party story starts with me following Peter, who was walking along the water’s edge on the western side of the island. As he walked past a very pretty lagoon, he suddenly bounces up the beach looking like Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout. 

An unexpected surprise

There was a 3.5m surprise in the water pretending to be bit of reef (the reef came to the surface when he spotted Peter)!  This island is nowhere near the coast, but this croc was looking very much at home. According to the croc reporting line, 1300 130372 in Queensland, he was probably out there feasting on turtle eggs.

Peter’s first Coral trout not caught off a charter

Peter worked off his shock by doing some relaxing fishing off the back of the boat.  As well a multitude of 10cm (4”) orange and black striped krait (think sea snakes), little bright blue fish and 1” round jelly fish (moon jellies I think) surrounding the boat, there was also a good sized Coral Trout which couldn’t resist Peter.

The excitement at Fife Island didn’t end there.  As night set in the wind changed (contrary to all predicted forecasts) and we swung around 90o.  Just after tea I heard a bumping noise.  The depth sounders still said 1.8m but when we went out the back and had a look over the side, we could see the problem.  We were now swinging over a bombie and it looked a bit shallow.  We measured the depth to the top of the bombie, using a diving weight tied to a piece of line (I thought back to the little catamaran we saw at Dirk Hartog Island last year) and sure enough it was at 1.6m, which is our hull depth and the tide was still going down – phooey, time to move. 

[The depth sounder is set to measure the depth from the bottom of the hull, not the actual depth of water (this is so that there is no calculating required to work out if we are going to hit the bottom). We do need to calculate to check tide depths, but this is not usually needed in a hurry, whereas the ‘are we going to hit?’ question often is). The bombie was not in the path of the depth sounder (the sensor never swung over it) so it didn’t show how close the bottom of the boat was to the top of the bombie. When we dropped the weight over the side we measured the length of wet line (actual depth of water to the top of the bombie) and subtracted 1.6m to the hull bottom, 1.6m – 1.6m = 0m = bad. If the sounder had passed over the bombie it would have measured a 0. It pays to know the limitations of a measuring device so you know when to actually check what it is telling you (in this instance – that it couldn’t see a potential hazard)]

Unfortunately, it was now 8pm, dark, the moon was not yet up and the breeze had also picked up.  We lifted the anchor, but it was really dark dark and I couldn’t see anything; I knew there had been a sand spit behind us, a bombie field in front of us and a beach to the south of us, but I couldn’t see any of it and couldn’t be sure what the current had done to the boat while we were lifting the anchor.  We both agreed, after a brief conversation, that we would rather do an overnight run to the next anchorage than try to re-anchor here in the dark.  So, I put ‘Opal Lady’ onto the exit bearing and Peter stood up front with a powerful torch trying to spot any reefy bits. Once back in the main channel Peter came up with a more conservative route to our next destination (going around rather than between some small island groups) and we settled into our night routine.

Large blob here

The next morning, off Stanley Island we came across something that I’m glad we hadn’t bumped into during the night – a large blob of net/rope/assorted flotsam and probably jetsam (there is a difference). And not incredibly easy to see either (unfortunately hazards don’t usually come with an arrow pointing them out). These can be very problematic if they wrap around the propeller.

Ingram Island – beautiful

After a fantastic overnight and day run, we stayed at Ingram Island which was a perfect little anchorage.  Probably not the greatest protection in bad weather, but we had perfect conditions.  It was very hot and still, but we had decided to anchor out a bit further this time to avoid any bommie issues and there was just a hint of breeze coming around the island.  The water was incredibly crystal clear, there was some deeper reef below us with an amazing array of fish, the boat was surrounded with jelly fish and there was no rubbish anywhere.  I would have liked to stay here for another day, but the weather was about to change again and Lizard Island would provide better protection.

Sunrise over Ingram Island – still beautiful

En-route to Lizard Island we found the greatly anticipated coral spawn that my Mum had been asking about (she was annoyed that the TV footage was hosted by ‘celebrities’ who didn’t actually know anything about coral – Lordy knows what she will be like when Sir David Attenborough leaves the planet – I wonder what nature will sound like without him).  Coral spawn looks like a brown oil slick on the water and is hard to pick up clearly in a photo taken by me from a moving boat (so no photo).  It may be an event to marvel at for the planet, but up close and personal it doesn’t look very impressive (a true Ugly Duckling story marine style).

Birds rafting up

Conditions were still calm and hazy, at one point the water was completely glassy.  There really was an odd feeling, even the clouds looked a bit surreal as if they were levitating above the horizon.  On this leg we spotted dolphins, jumping tuna, diving birds, sharks rounding up a fish ball and disturbed a huge floating bird sit-in (I thought it was an uncharted reef ahead – until they all started to fly off).

Clouds collect over land

As the morning progressed, conditions cleared and we saw an excellent example of how clouds can be used to find land (if you are ever lost at sea – heaven forbid).

Anchoring at Lizard Island was very easy – there were no other boats there (although we were joined by a few later on).  Our friends on ‘Mad Mac’s’ had been there the previous month with 30 other boats! The resort was not re-opening until the following week (have to laugh about our timing again), but the Marine Research Station was still operating and we could see their little speed boats racing all over the place. 

Watson’s Bay looking west

‘Opal Lady’ is the smaller boat on the right in the photo. The larger boat is ‘MY Karma’ – hi Karen and Paul. The boating lifestyle seems to bring out the social side in people. On the way back to ‘Opal Lady’ we passed ‘My Karma’ and called out an invitation for afternoon tea, which ended with us sharing a lovely meal and a spot too much bubbly on their very nice boat.

The anchorage (Watson’s Bay) is divine; the water was so incredibly clear that the huge numbers of fish under the boat were easily seen.  I cracked out the underwater case for my camera and now have a lovely collection of blue tinted fish shapes – more underwater photography practice needed in my own time.

Peter was concerned about growth on the keel cooler (the engine temperature was higher than usual when we ran her a bit faster) so he popped underneath using the Powerdive (a compressor unit with an air hose and simple regulator) to check it out.   

Underwater view of keel cooler

Peter had ‘fun’ cleaning off the keel cooler (it’s like a radiator on a car only the pipes are bigger – so you can clean it with a putty knife/steel brush/toothbrush).  He had fish scooting in next to his head to pick up the remains of the chipped off growth. 

Peter in his stinger suit having a quick glance before going under the boat.  He came back raving about the number and size of the fish under the boat; big Stingrays, giant Trevally about 2/3 his size, and a massive Grouper bigger than Peter!

And then there were the watery friends that no-one invited to the party – they arrived late and we watched them from the boat.

Someone who apparently loves me, informed me that I needed to get some exercise off the boat (again), so he took me for a little walk to the top of the island early the next morning (4km long and up 352m).  It took us over 2 hours, 2 hot sweaty hours and I am soooo unfit, and it was hot and humid (even at 7am).  But the view was excellent, the path is clearly marked (and chipped into the rock in places), the wildlife fascinating and there is of course the history of the place.  This is the island that Lieutenant Cook (Captain of the ‘Endeavour’) walked up, to get high enough to try to survey a route through the reef for his ship – and he found one too.

The smile is genuine, I swear.

I’m at the top and smiling (for the camera anyway) and pointing to where we are going to anchor next time we are here.  At the top there is a decent sized cairn with a little treasure chest hidden at the base (read a plastic Tupperware box containing a visitors book).  We had a giggle at the entry left by the young group from the pretty sailing ship; “Expedition Drenched – party at 4pm bring chips”.  We left our boat card.

A Lizard Island lizard

Why is Lizard Island so named?  Because it is full of large lizards (and Cook was running out of imaginative names for places by the time he got here).  This one was 1.5m (5’) long with no regard for humans.

I’m sure this one was guarding the trail. I could hear him saying “Don’t do it Susan”, unfortunately Peter couldn’t hear him, so we did do it.

That afternoon we were buzzed by the runabout ‘Obsession’ (we had met them the day before on the beach).  Alvin and John had been out fishing and had excess to their needs.  They couldn’t come along side us as it was too choppy and they didn’t want to bump into ‘Opal lady’ (they obviously didn’t see the dints we have inflicted on our poor girl).  So they lobbed some most decent sized Snapper fillets into Peter’s arms; he was definitely not going to drop them.  We had Alvin and John over for morning tea the next day (fruit cake for fresh fish – I think we came out best with that exchange).

The next day we dug out the Shark Shields, gave them a charging up and with Peter wearing his (mine had a broken connection – note to self; take better care when storing items on the boat), we took a turn snorkeling around the clam garden, which is a delightful little reef near the shore of Watsons Bay.  It is FULL of bright blue and green lipped Clams and Turtles; I like Clams and Peter likes Turtles, so we both left Lizard Island very happy. [More blue tinted clam and turtle shaped photos – I’m going to find my photography book, and actually read it].

After a relaxing stay at Lizard island, the big winds eventually blew over, so onward to Port Douglas via Cooktown (for a bit of a history hit).

Cooktown is a sleepy little town on the banks of the muddy, but strong currented Endeavour River.  The best anchorage is on the far side of a sand bar at a bend, but because of the lack of water depth when we got there, we couldn’t access that area, so we anchored just off the channel opposite the wharf.  After a coffee and cooked brekky at the Driftwood cafe, we went for a walk only to find that the museum wasn’t open and that the bakery had burnt down the previous day! 

Cooktown was also not a great anchorage for ‘Opal Lady’.  During the evening change of tide, I was up watching as the boat began to swing. I was hoping she would do a clockwise turn swinging into the channel (she had done an anti-clockwise turn that afternoon to stay in deep water), but no, she felt like finishing her turn from the afternoon and continued anti-clockwise and swung over the mud bank.   We experienced out first hitting-the-bottom incident in the most gentle way; but I still didn’t like it – we bogged the boat!  The poor depth sounder couldn’t cope with the mud and decided we were in 80m of water.  The rather odd motion of the boat and a quick look outside confirmed that this was definitely not the case.  Fortunately, it was a rising tide, so over the course of the next hour with the help of the current we gradually ploughed our way back to the channel.  No damage done but I didn’t feel like sitting up for another night bonding with mud, so we left on the next daylight high tide.

[I am thinking if ever we are that situation again, we’ll try tying the tender up along-side, to give extra surface area to one side and see if that will influence the flow of water enough to direct the swing of the boat – more research required in our own time – stay tuned].

We lifted the muddy anchor and headed to Port Douglas via an overnight anchor at Cape Tribulation.  It had been raining a lot in the last week (more so on land than where we had been) and I was amazed at the amount of timber we came across (flushed out of the creeks and rivers).  The logs were mostly travelling away from the coast and coconuts seemed to be travelling towards the coast – many of them piloted by a seagull clutching desperately to the shell (what those birds will do for a rest).

Wednesday 16th December, after 14 ½ weeks on-the-hook (as Peter likes to say), we finally opened the rope locker and tied the boat to a berth at the Port Douglas Marina and started planning for some land time.

Neon Notes:

A cup of tea and a cross word – how else do you start your day?

Research Ravings:

Flotsam and Jetsam; used as one term simply means stuff found floating on the ocean or washed up on the beach.  Strictly speaking though they are legal terms; flotsam is stuff that has fallen off a boat (like that sea container of yellow plastic ducks back in 1992) and jetsam is stuff that has been deliberately ditched from a boat (like when you’re sinking or I guess the rubbish that gets dumped overboard – those plastic bottles and thongs can’t all be accidentally washed off the deck).  From a practical viewpoint, both generally come under a ‘finders keepers’ rule; but flotsam can legally be claimed by the original owner, if they can prove ownership (the owners of the duckies never bothered).

A Gyre is a cool name for a spiral or vortex. It has gained recent notoriety as the ‘Pacific Gyre’ which has resulted in a relative concentration of rubbish in the northern Pacific.

Boat Works:

Replaced boom ropes (the side ones that control its location)

Replaced foot switch for windlass (down only) and Peter repaired the old one for spares

Cruising Comments: Seisia to Port

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).

Possession Island: 28/11/2020. Noticeable eddies. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg328]

Cape York: 28/11/2020. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg325] [Fish Finder, magazine, 2019/20, pg. 225]

Albany Passage: 28/11/2020 [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg324]

Anchored Escape River: 28/11/2020 10 58.126S, 142 40.664E in 4.1m.  Tide 1.2m.  Good holding, some mud but no washing needed.  No phone coverage. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg83] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg320] [Fish Finder, magazine,2019/20, pg. 228]

Anchored Boydong Island: 29/11/2020 11 29.144S, 143 01.010E in 6.0m 200m from shore (ended up in 17.9m after putting out 30m chain).  Tide station Cairncross Island at 1.40m.  No phone coverage. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg81] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg320]

Anchored Cape Grenville (Margaret Bay): 30/11/2020 11 57.426S, 143 12.464E in 3.8m.  Tide station Cape Grenville at 1.33m.  Chain very muddy.  No phone coverage. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg76] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg312]

Anchored Portland Road: 1/12/2020 – 5/12/2020 12 35.581S, 143 24.370E in 6.5m. Tide station Portland Road at 1.16m.  Patchy coverage (enough for a text only), good anchorage, especially after moved in 100m closer to shore. Lots of flies. Good phone reception around Restoration Island and Chapman Island. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg73] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg307]

Anchored Night Island:  5/12/2020 13 10.521S, 143 34.409E in 4.5m.  Tide station Night Island at 2.18m.  Sand and shell bottom, chain clean.  Biting March flies, some phone coverage (maybe passing ships). [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg69] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg302]

Anchored Fiffe Island: 6/12/2020 13 39.090S, 143 43.074E, in 4.6m.  Tide station Fiffe Island at 2.06m.  Lots of coral bombies, lots of rubbish washed up on beach, crocodiles. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg66] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg300]

Anchored Ingram Island: 7/12/2020 Co-ord ?? in 6.5m. Tide station Legett Island at 2.0m.  Sandy bottom, clean anchor. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg46]

Anchored Lizard Island (Watson’s Bay):  8/12/2020 – 14/12/2020 14 39.620S, 145 27.023E in 5.5m.  Tide station Lizard Island at 1.66m.  Take care not to anchor inside the Clam Garden – it is surrounded with markers and sits pretty much at the midline of the bay. There is also a large no-anchor area off the Northern tip of the island that is not marked (Look up Lizard Island Locality 1 for the co-ordinates). [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg33] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg278]

Anchored Cooktown: 14/12/2020 Muddy and strong current.  Couldn’t get to the deeper area so settled for just off the channel opposite the little wharf.  Not great. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg268]

Anchored Cape Tribulation (South Side): 15/12/2020 16 04.961S, 145 28.410E in 4.0m.  Tide station Bailay Creek at 0.92m. Reef outcrop near shore.  Better wind protection near point, but gets shallow quickly.  Lots of midgies.  Fine sand, no mud on anchor.  A very wind-direction-dependent anchorage (we had no wind or swell and only rolled at change of tide, but it would be very different if there was anything more than a breeze).  [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg15 for North side only] [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg260]

Port Douglas Marina: 16/12/2020 – [Rob’s Passage Planner for East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R Starkey, 2014 ed3, pg76]

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Howdy Doody Suz & Peter, I just want to let you know that I feel like I’m on deck beside you, reeling in the fish with you and wondering why so many of my underwater shots don’t work out. Great Trip….. keep it coming!!!!!
    And I think your Clams and Sea Squirts photo is great!!!
    ciao k

    1. Grazie Kieron, When we saw your name come up, Peter and I were both back talking about the Kalgoorlie days – how lovely that over 20 years later you are reading (and enjoying) our blog. Kudos to you and your kayaking mate for that shark attack rescue in Perth earlier this year – impressive stuff. Ciao Suz

  2. Just fantastic blogs guys, I feel like I’m with you too except for the sea sickness !!!!!!

    The photos are amazing, will make a great photo book at the end of your travels Suze.

    Stay safe, fingers crossed we can come over and see you wherever you’ll be sailing sometime this year

    1. ‘Opal Lady’ is a lot more stable than our previous boat Jane, so you may find you are not as sea sick. Looking forward to catching up and testing that idea. Suz

  3. If the cat approved of the birthday cake then all is well, as is the steady supply of fish. Good to know this were going so well.

    1. Neon got a fish instead of birthday cake and he was very happy with that. Good to hear from you Mitch.

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