Cairns to Lizard Island

Before leaving Cairns, we filled up with diesel for the boat and petrol for the outboard. By running the engine at 1,800 rpm instead of 2,000 rpm since the previous top-up, the fuel use has reduced to 1.75l/h. We sailed out of Cairns in a brisk S-E wind to arrive at Low island off Port Douglas after 5.5 hours. We were well sheltered from the wind in the lee of the island.

Low Island

Low Island

The following day we sailed a similar distance to Hope Island in a 20-25 knot S-E, averaging 8.7 knot/h over the distance. Hope is circled by a huge fringing reef and despite being a much smaller island offering not much in the way of a wind break, the water was flat and calm.

Hope Island

Hope Island – thousands of birds and pelicans.

Apres sailing - relaxing with a popular Cairns drink.

Apres sailing – relaxing with a popular Queensland drink.

The hop to Cooktown was relatively short and we anchored off the quaint fishing harbour at 12:30 on the Saturday. We rushed to the chandlery and hardware shop to buy suitable fixings, to reinforce the fixings of the two new solar panels, which were coming adrift. The afternoon was spent securing the panels, which will now take a hurricane to be dislodged. We stepped out to the Cooktown RSL for dinner.

Cooktown harbour.

Cooktown harbour.

Cooktown tropical architecture.

Cooktown’s tropical architecture.

The gold rush of 1873 swelled the population of Cooktown from virtually nothing to a tent city of 30,000, half of which were Chinese. There were 141 licensed pubs and 163 brothels to keep the largely male population entertained. The gold fields yielded over 28 tons of gold before waning returns, the depression of the 1890’s and a cyclone in 1907, slowly but surely turned Cooktown into a ghost town.

Captain Cook.

Captain Cook.

Endeavour replica for the kids. (Annie picking up mangoes under the trees)

Endeavour replica for the kids. (Annie picking up mangoes under the trees)

The strong wind carried us to Cape Flattery the next day, where we had reasonable shelter during the night. We arrived at Lizard Island on Monday the 21st November, planning to stay here for two nights before sailing North to Cape York and crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria to Darwin. There were quite a number of boats anchored in Mrs. Watsons Bay and soon a dinghy arrived to invite us to sundowners on the beach at 5pm.

Brett, Blue and Ian.

Brett, Blue and Ian.

Serial hair plaiting - Steve looking on.

Serial hair plaiting – Steve looking on.

We met an interesting group of boaties, who enquired where we were from and where we were heading. On learning of our plans to sail North, there was disbelief and shaking of heads. The collective opinion was that this would not be a wise move due to the tropical lows and cyclones off the top end starting soon. The best time evidently, would be after the wet season at the end of May next year, when the trades will carry us across to Indonesia, Bali and Banda Aceh to arrive in Phuket, Thailand at the end of October – the start of their dry season.

Climbing to Cook's lookout.

Climbing to Cook’s lookout.

A long way to the top.

A long way to the top.

View to the lagoon.

View to the lagoon.

Mrs Watson's Bay where we are anchored.

Mrs Watson’s Bay where we are anchored.

The following day we met with Steve who has done this trip a number of times and Hans who has been doing the run to the Louisiades for the last 20 years. They gave freely of their time and extensive knowledge and we were convinced that waiting until May would be the best. The plan now is to spend some more time on this delightful island, before sailing back to Cairns or Port Douglas, to find a suitable mooring before we fly back to Sydney for Christmas.

Walk on the beach.

Walk on the beach.

BBQ on the beach.

BBQ on the beach.

Snorkelling on the reefs.

Snorkelling on the reefs.

In the new year we will sail down to the Whitsundays for some R&R, hoping to dodge any cyclones that may form over the Pacific. In the meantime, we are enjoying lovely walks, playing boules on the beach in the mornings and snorkelling the reefs on Lizard Island. We have done the hike up to Cook’s Lookout on top of the 358-metre mountain, and various other walks around the island. There are lots of drinks and partying with the fellow boaties and the Marlin Bar at the resort on the next beach, offers great meals, music and drinks.

Walking through the mangroves to the airstrip.

Walking through the mangroves to the airstrip.

Plane spotting at the end of the airstrip.

Plane spotting at the end of the airstrip.

Arriving at the lagoon.

Arriving at the lagoon.

Chinaman's track to the Pandanus Palms.

Chinaman’s track to the Pandanus Palms.

After a week of relaxing on this northernmost inhabited island off tropical North Queensland, we hoisted the sails again for the sail back to Cooktown, Port Douglas and Cairns.

The Marlin Bar.

The Marlin Bar.

Sundowners at the Marlin Bar.

Sundowners at the Marlin Bar with Annie looking like a cooked prawn after a day’s paddle boarding.

Bowen to Cairns

After a string of connecting flights from Cambodia, via Singapore to Brisbane, we landed in Proserpine. It was good to see the crystal clear blue sea, flying in over Shute harbour and the lush cane fields surrounding Proserpine – it was good to be back home again!

Flying into Proserpine.

Flying into Proserpine.

Jim’s shuttle bus was waiting to run us back to Bowen and we checked into a cabin at the caravan park next to the marina. A shower and a cold beer never felt so good as after a day and a half enroute. Esprit was slipped the next morning at high tide for her first antifoul and engine service.

Esprit on the slipway.

Esprit on the slipway.

As good as new.

As good as new.

I had also ordered two additional 100W solar panels as the existing 120W solar panel barely coped with the current the fridge was drawing. This was installed and connected by an electrician. On testing, the increased current charging the house batteries, is adequate to run the fridge, auto pilot and instruments, and still keep the 5 batteries charged to 13V.

3 solar panels on the bimini.

3 solar panels on the bimini.

Goodbye to the Bowen Big mango.

Goodbye to the Bowen Big mango.

To acknowledge our 2 month stay in Bowen, they named a street after me! LOL.

To acknowledge our 2 month stay in Bowen, they named a street after me! LOL.

After two days, the boat was back in the water and we set off on the 5th November sailing North in a moderate Easterly to Cape Upstart. It is fantastic to be sailing in flat blue seas and blue skies with the water temperature at 28degC. The Easterlies kept on blowing taking us up the coast to Magnetic Island and beyond to Lucinda, at the south entry to the Hinchinbrook channel. Hinchinbrook island is a beautiful island with majestic mountains.

Hinchinbrook island.

Hinchinbrook island.

We were back in our cossies again working on our tans, which disappeared in Europe. After all the French croissants, cheeses and wines, my girth had increased. When I stepped out in my budgie smugglers, Annie had to comment on this, quoting my old Greek god joke, and saying “OMG, you look like a Greek”. The good thing about being on a boat is that there are no shops around the corner to tempt you with food, so whatever Annie has bought for Vittles’, has to be consumed. Therefore, salads and fruit tops the menu now.

Beating North from Cardwell - beautiful mountain ranges.

Beating North from Cardwell – beautiful mountain ranges.

On reaching Cardwell at the top of the 26nm long channel, the wind had changed to the North, so we anchored in the lee at the top of the island. “Predictwind” forecast that we had at least another 3 days of strong Northerlies ahead of us. We decided to push on to Cairns as we were running low on water, food and wine. A robust 50nm beat to Mourilyan harbour followed. Predictably, Annie hooked a 25kg barracuda with Esprit on her ear in a 20kn wind!

Gotcha!

Gotcha! The Qantas lure works.

The public jetty has water taps and we were able to fill the no. 1 tank with 300litres. Annie filleted the barracuda, which had no worms (often a problem with Barra’s), packed and freezed a sizable quantity, while we had successive nights of fresh Barra, BBQ’d, in Thai curry, fish pie and fish cakes. We’ll get back to the Barra in a couple of weeks.

Before filleting.

Before filleting.

Another 50nm beat into an 18 – 20 Northerly got us into the lee of High Island, about 25nm South of Cairns. We decided we had enough robust sailing and motored the last leg into Cairns the following day.

In the lee of High island.

In the lee of High island.

We are currently in the Cairns Marlin Marina and spent yesterday shopping at Woollies and the bottle shop. A word of advice for connoisseurs’ of box wine: Cairn’s police have a ban on bottle shops selling box wines before 4pm. Clearly, selling it at 9am results in the men in blue having to deal with inebriated locals by 10am. Clearly not good for tourism.

View of Cairns from the marina.

View of Cairns from the marina.

The swimming pool on the foreshore - geared for tourism.

The swimming pool on the foreshore – geared for tourism.

How to brighten up an electrical substation.

How to brighten up an electrical substation.

The Southerlies have returned and we should have good trade winds to take us up to Lizard island.

 

 

Cambodia

Water everywhere.

Water everywhere.

From the air, flying into Phnom Penh in Cambodia, the Mekong river outline was barely visible as the river had broken its banks and flooded the countryside as far as the eye could see. We arrived 10 days after the deluge of 10 – 12th October, the worst floods in 25 years. See:

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/floods-affect-nearly-3-million-cambodians

With the world’s attention focussed on that curmudgeon, Donald Trump’s hairstyle and Hillary Clinton’s seizures, this barely rated a mention in the news or the press. Phnom Penh however, had dried out by the time we arrived, with dust everywhere as the mud dried and vegetation floated down the Mekong river.

Kim, our first of many Tuk-Tuk drivers.

Kim, our first of many Tuk-Tuk drivers.

Kim, a Tuk-Tuk driver delivered us to the Double Leaf Hotel and after the hair raising 40-minute trip, we were covered in grit and badly in need of a drink. Traffic in this city is chaotic and the only rule of the road appears to be: “I can turn into oncoming traffic at will, change lanes, make U-turns etc. as long as I don’t make eye contact with other drivers. I don’t have eyes at the back of my head, so those behind me need to take avoiding action, because they can see me” Also, the continuous use of the hooter is mandatory. Still, we didn’t see a single accident – I can only presume Cambodians are born with a 7th (traffic) sense.

Busy streets.

Busy streets.

Construction materials scooter.

Construction material moped.

Chicken delivery scooter.

Chicken delivery moped.

How to turn into oncoming traffic.

Cambodia is very affordable: Two nights in a good hotel with a pool and exceptional service, including breakfast: $75 – 100. Excellent happy hour cocktails from 5 to 7pm – two for the price of one: $4; bottled Angkor beer: $1; Dinners of fish, beef or chicken with rice & curries: $6-7. We asked Kim to take us around Phnom Penh the following day, showing us all the sights. He patiently waited or snoozed in his Tuk-Tuk while we took our time through the Cambodian national museum, markets and Buddhist temples. All this for the princely sum of $20 for the day. We decided to give the macabre “Killing fields museum” a miss, as we are familiar with the tragic consequences of the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge period. Instead we decided to look for the “Daughters of Cambodia” shelter for girls rescued from prostitution, where the girls are taught new skills.

Cambodian National Museum.

Cambodian National Museum.

Buddhist temple.

Buddhist temple – this is not a wet T-shirt competition – the humidity is 98%.

Smoked fish varieties at the market.

Smoked fish varieties at the market.

The bus trip to Siem Reap took 5 hours and set my cracked coccyx back at least a week. This was however worth the effort as we could now visit the amazing World Heritage Angkor temple complexes near the town. Our daughters, who visited these temples on bicycles, wisely suggested to us, to use a guided minibus tour, as the temple complexes are huge. The guides also impart concise information, with the tour starting at 8:30am and finishing at 6pm.

Our guide.

Our guide.

The 12th century Angkor Wat temple is the best preserved complex, surrounded by a moat and exterior wall measuring 1.3km x 1.5km. The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god, Vishnu. Depending on the belief of the King of the time, the temples were dedicated to either Hindu gods, or to Buddha. In the end, Buddhism became more popular and today, 95% of the Cambodian population are Buddhists.

Picture postcard shot of Angkor Wat.

Picture postcard shot of Angkor Wat.

Buddha statue.

Buddha statue inside Angkor Wat.

Detail of many thousands of stone carvings.

Detail of one of many thousands of stone carvings.

Buddhist monk dispensing blessings.

Buddhist monk dispensing holy water blessings.

View from the top of the temple.

View from the top of the temple.

The Angkor Thom complex of 9 square km’s, is nearly 5 times as big as Angkor Wat. It houses the largest Buddhist temple, Bayon, which was constructed in the 12th & 13th centuries. The Bayon’s most distinctive feature is the multitude of massive serene stone faces that grace its many towers.

Kids catching snails in the moat around Bayon.

Kids catching snails in the moat around Bayon.

Buddha faces - many of these.

Serene faces – many of these.

Annie at the foot of the towers.

Annie at the foot of the towers.

One of the monkeys living in the temple.

One of the monkeys living in the temple.

The Ta Prohm temple commissioned in 1186 AD, was dedicated to the goddess of wisdom in Mahayana Buddhism. This temple is fascinating, because it was literally eaten up by the jungle after this area was abandoned by a subsequent king, two hundred years later, to move the capital to Phnom Penh. It was re-discovered 500 years later at the end of the 19th century, totally overgrown by trees.Ta Prohm trees.

More trees!

More trees!

We flew from Siem Reap to Sihanouk Ville on the south coast to spend two days at Ochheuteal Beach to relax.

Beach.

Ochheuteal Beach view from our room.

$10 manicure & pedicure.

$10 manicure & pedicure.

Then followed a hair raising trip over the worst roads I have seen, to a fishing village, to catch a boat to Koh Thmei island. Michael and Kavita Scholz, a German couple, has built an eco-resort on the south side of the island with 7 bungalows and a restaurant. This is a jungle experience, not suitable for city-slickers, but we thoroughly enjoyed the total isolation for two days before we returned to Phnom Penh for our flight back to Singapore.

After the rain.

After the rain.

After the rain.

Mopeds have their time cut out.

Leaving the fishing village.

Leaving the fishing village.

Riverside living - check out the waterborne dunny!

Riverside living – check out the waterborne dunny!

Cruising to the island.

Cruising to the island – two vintage Cortina 1500cc engines (one for back up).

Waterside bungalows.

Waterside bungalows.

Our no.7 bungalow, 10m from the water and next to a creek.

Our no.7 bungalow, 10m from the water and next to a creek.

Bungalow interior.

Bungalow interior.

Michael and Kavita with one of their six kids - two birds and four dogs.

Michael and Kavita with one of their six kids – two birds and four dogs.

Having taken the time to speak to locals, particularly the younger ones who are becoming better at English, as opposed to the Khmer language and sometimes, French their parents speak, some problems become apparent. Cambodia was once the heart of the Khmer empire, but after the Vietnam war (actually, the Indochina war of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia), Vietnam has become the strongest country in this region. As a consequence, Vietnam has redrawn its border with Cambodia a number of times, annexing parts of Cambodia. Through marriage, Vietnam influences the King of Cambodia and the government, whilst syphoning off a large part of the aid from China to Cambodia. As a result, Vietnam’s economy is growing, whilst Cambodia’s remains poor and its economy stagnant. Cambodia’s debt to China is huge.

Although a democracy, the government has been controlled by one party, for the last 25 years. Evidently, nepotism and corruption is endemic and very little is spent on education, because it keeps the population under control through ignorance. Our driver back to Phnom Penh airport, said teachers were paid so little, they insist on extra payments from parents, should the parents wish them to give attention to their children. The military, media, money and health care is tightly controlled by the government. The younger generation is getting more savvy through the internet, but there is also censorship in this field. This younger generation is working towards change, but see it as a long term ambition, which may take 20 to 25 years.

A taxi drove us the 230km from the fishing village back to Phnom Penh airport. A final observation on traffic rules: The open road is white knuckle country – a broken yellow centre line means the road is yours; a solid yellow centre line means overtake when you please; a double solid yellow centre line means overtaking only allowed if you simultaneously smoke and talk on a mobile phone.

Roadside petrol stop - I felt a bit exposed at the urinals - right next to the ladies!

Roadside petrol stop – I felt exposed at the outdoor urinals – right opposite the ladies WC!

In the meantime, if you want to enjoy a rough and ready, cheap holiday, Cambodia is the place.