The 1,300-mile passage from Vanuatu to Cairns, Australia took us nearly six days, but was one of our most comfortable and uneventful crossings to date. Seas were 2.5 meters for the first couple of days, but all well aft of our beam, making for decent surfing conditions. We hit 15 knots with regularity, and had to slow way down our last 24 hours in order to ensure a daylight arrival.
We worked into a comfortable rhythm with the boat and our own four-hour watch schedules. And for the first time ever, the Admiral wasn’t sleep-deprived, even in those notorious first 24 hours. A milestone!
The clearing-in process in Australia was rigorous, as expected, but all the officials were prompt and courteous. At one point, one of the customs officers began to ask us to specify how many bottles of wine we had aboard (ahem… 14 cases,) since we rather vaguely declared ‘unknown, for personal consumption’ on the form. But his colleague cut him off: “Leave it, mate. They’ve only got five bottles of beer aboard, after all.” As in, five bottles of beer? That is so pathetic as to be unworthy of any further consideration. You clearly know nothing of drinking and we’re wasting our time. Ah, those Aussies, they do love their beer.
Cairns itself was a nice surprise: super friendly people, lovely waterfront development with a long esplanade for walking, fast internet, great provisioning and lots of options for dining out.
After the muster meetings of our rally fleet – 50 yachts from all over the globe, all eager to discover Indonesia – we set off for the series of day-hops that would bring us some 450 miles up the Queensland coast to the northern tip of the continent, our jumping-off point for Indonesia.
Our primary reason for signing up for the rally was to get our paperwork handled. The Indonesians are formidable bureaucrats and the red tape involved with spending any length of time cruising within the country is legendary, for both boat and crew. It would have been impossible for us to accomplish from Vanuatu. But along with the advantages of having our own agent, the social benefits are substantial, as we began to realize while getting to know our fellow cruisers in the various anchorages along the way.
There was time for some tourist activities, too. We enjoyed the obligatory koala-snuggling…
… but also fell in love with the Aboriginal art. In our particular portion of Queensland, the tribes make what’s called ‘x-ray art’ when depicting the local wildlife: the skeletal structure and/or internal organs are visible in the artwork.
The local wildlife is plentiful and varied. We had no need to look for crocodiles in the zoo, since we could enjoy watching the saltwater crocs bask and hunt right in front of our boat in many of the anchorages. They look like big logs in all our photos though… sorry. And we weren’t inclined to get any closer. In one anchorage, a particularly aggressive specimen had killed one person a few years ago, mauled another in a kayak, and sunk a float plane. Yes I know, right out of Jurassic Park, but it’s true!
The bird life is astonishing, exotic color and sounds everywhere.
Their pelicans dwarf the American ones, they’re as large as human children, when they stand on the beach. And they feed differently. Instead of flying diving, they paddle up next to schools of small fish, turn their heads sideways and simply shovel the fish into their mouths.
Finally we arrived at Thursday Island, where we did our last bits of provisioning and shuffled into their historic Customs building to clear out. Next stop: Debut, Kei Islands, Indonesia!
I’m calling this ‘The Short Version” not because it’s a brief post (though it is,) but because we realized we are dying to return to Australia to spend a much greater length of time exploring by land. There’s so very much to see here and we just didn’t do it justice!