On arriving back in Cairns on the 17th February, we realised what a good idea it was to go back to Sydney for 2 months. It was still very hot and humid in Cairns and the no-see-ums (sandflies) were out in force attacking me and leaving me covered in huge red welts which itches like hell and takes a week of antihistamine treatment to subside. Annie is immune to them! It is still the wet season, so the mozzies and sandflies are about. The dry season only start in May.
A suitably high tide allowed us to motor out of Bluewater Marina the following day, with less than 100mm below the keel. Two hours later, we tied up to a mooring on the river in Cairns which our friend Hans Clemmensen had arranged for us. We set about to complete a few jobs on the boat. The newly refurbished mainsail with full battens was installed and it took us 2 hours from start to finish to set it all up. The new rail mounting bracket for the Weber Baby Q was easy to install and works well.
Brad Craft, who during our two-month absence fixed a few dings and scratches on the hull, cleaned and polished the hull, did a great job and Esprit looks as good as new. We re-stocked the boat with food from Woollies and grog from BWS. After four days, we set sail again and found respite from the heat out on the ocean at Turtle Bay, Fitzroy Island, Vlasoff Cay and Michaelmas reef until strong South Easterlies and torrential rain squalls drove us back to Cairns after five days.
The South Easterlies cooled the place down and also got rid of the sand flies. We were able to socialise on deck with friends and go ashore in Cairns to do some shopping. Some really big ocean liners pulled into Cairns opposite our mooring – at least one ship a week. These ships and their passengers were fascinating to watch – we weren’t sure if the ships were of the 1000, 2000 or 5000 passenger varieties.
They had one thing in common – loud announcements wafting across the water, fog horns sounding to announce their imminent departure, with an accompanying rush of Zimmer frames boarding and loud renditions of Chariots of Fire as they were steaming out. The passengers seemingly oblivious to the beauty of Cairns, as they sat glued to the massive TV screens on the top deck.
A number of items had to be purchased from Bunnings and Whitworths and we were able to borrow bicycles from Ken and Tracy to do this, as one walking trip there, left us panting and sweating. We are seriously considering ordering lightweight aluminium folding bikes to keep on board for this purpose. The delivery of our new 2kW Yamaha generator for backup was delayed, so we set off to Michaelmas reef again to snorkel and also commission our new 12V desalinator unit. This little beauty produces 20l/hour running off the batteries, while being adequately recharged by the solar panels.
Two nights later, we were hit after midnight by a humdinger of a N-W storm peaking at 35 knots and bucketing with rain. We hot footed it back to shelter in Cairns again! We took the opportunity to submit our passports for visas to Papua New Guinea and complete the documentation of the Sail Indonesia rally in July.
While in Sydney, I had to go through the bureaucratic shuffle with the Registrar of Ships in Canberra to get an official Australian Shipping Registration Number for Esprit. This is like a passport for boats and you cannot sail from country to country without it. It comes at the princely sum of $1,554 and we were allocated the name Esprit 3, as Esprit 1 and 2 were already registered. OK with me, as we launched our Esprit 1 in 1975 and Backbeat, which we launched in 2008, now has the pseudonym of Esprit 2.
It was also time for a haircut, so Annie obliged with the number 5 buzz cut. I like to let nature take its course in the appearance department. Not always that easy for the ladies, who groom for other ladies rather than their men. Annie decided to break from this cycle and has now adopted her natural salt and pepper hair colour. I think she could find a modelling career in the active senior’s ads for retirement homes.
In the third week of March our friends Gavin and Debra Birch from Sydney, flew to Cairns to spend a week with us on Esprit. After stocking up with food and booze, we sailed out to Turtle Bay for the first night. We enjoyed a long walk and swim at the waterfall the next morning, before sailing to Fitzroy island where we picked up a Parks department mooring. News started to come through on the Oz Cyclone Chasers blog, warning of the formation of a cyclone in the Coral Sea, heading to North Queensland.
Whilst waiting to see if the cyclone named Debbie, was going to track West in our direction or Southwest, we explored the island, doing all the walks and snorkelling the coral reefs. By Sunday it was clear the cyclone was tracking to Bowen (where Esprit was on a pole mooring for 2 months, while we were in Europe). Although 550km to our South, significant winds from the West and North were expected in Cairns, so we decided to stay put and not go out to the Reefs which are very exposed out at sea.
TC Debbie made its landfall at Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays on Tuesday morning, leaving destruction in its wake and then tracked into Queensland, travelling out to sea again on the Queensland/NSW border. As expected, the Northerlies hit us on Tuesday night, with Esprit bucking like a young stallion in the high winds and swells. On Wednesday morning we motored to Kings Beach to recover and get the outboard and dinghy back on board. We then had to motor with the wind on the nose at 3 knots to Cape Grafton, before setting the jib and flying back to Cairns at 7 knots.
Gavin and Debra offered to pay for a berth in the marina after the wild night before. For this we were grateful, as well as the lovely dinner they hosted us to at Waterview. They flew back to Sydney the next day. I then set about to fix the bow roller which was badly twisted in the storm. Hans gave the number of Max who did stainless steel work before retiring at 76 – he is now a sprightly 79. Max picked me up in his old Toyota Land Cruiser and we drove to his house and workshop. His experience allowed him to direct me to hammer here, bend there and eventually with a 3m long 3×2 inch angle iron bolted to the twisted U-shaped roller, straighten it. Real bush engineering which my two brothers would have relished. I re-installed the bow roller the next morning.
Today is the 1st of April, so we have a busy month of preparations, before we set sail for the Louisiades. We have our PNG visas and have registered with Customs on their database. We expect our lightweight aluminium folding bikes to arrive on Monday and will finalise our blue water insurance next week. Research and order of a suitable satellite phone for offshore communication is also on the list. We favour the Iridium Go system for which Elon Musk’s Space-X is busy launching a whole new constellation of 70 satellites. Expect an update before we leave at the end of April, beginning of May.