I left this story back in February (Sorry!) when we had set foot on the very top of Australia and, pointing the boat into some pretty nasty conditions. With a week to get back to Cairns in time for work we had planned a stopover on Lizard Island and perhaps a leisurely day on a reef somewhere putting Mikey’s speargun to good use. We had home in our sights and planned to enjoy the ride.
The weather, however, decided not to play ball.
With the usual south east trade winds pushing in we’d been protected until the point we rounded the top, at which point mother nature gave us a good lashing. Every bit of swell smashed in to the boat and our speed slowed right down to about 3 knots.
The decision was made to shelter in the well named – for us – Escape River. It’s banks are lined with thick mangroves and as soon as we entered the mouth we felt the wind drop and the water’s surface turned still.
We were literally miles from any civilisation and thus had no phone signal, not even a peep, meaning that there was no way to download a new weather forecast. Not that it would matter anyway. It was September which meant that we still had strong winter winds coming our way. We didn’t need a forecast to tell us that.
The following morning we attempted to take the boat out. It was still pretty choppy and, against the wishes of the rest of the crew, our skipper made the decision to turn back in and try and wait out the weather.
For two days.
This was my first real breaking point of the trip. I’d endured bouts of seasickness and night terrors, bad planning that led to us getting stuck in Gove and concern for timing which meant we almost didn’t visit Cape York. Yet I’d always managed to keep a smile on my face (however strained that smile might have been). I’m a positive person who is generally happy, a decision that I’d made a while back, but this was enough. This second big delay meant that we wouldn’t be visiting any reefs at all. My new wetsuit would stay new. And we would have spent 17 days on a boat without once jumping in for a swim.
With my petulant lip stuck far enough out to trip over I helped to drop the main then promptly jumped in to our cabin and started bawling my eyes out for the rest of the morning.
It took the last snickers bar we had, the entire Lego movie and two episodes of The Thick of It to begin to lift my spirits. And that signalled it was time for a different kind of spirit: gin.
^^^At least the sunsets were great…
We spent that evening drowning our sorrows (and making sure a drunk Mikey didn’t fall overboard) and the following morning nursing our sore heads. Despite his efforts my better half completely failed to catch a fish but we amused ourselves by ‘attacking him’ with a crocodile.
Books were read, films were watched. And we waited.
Finally it was time to leave. As much as I loved sitting on a boat in the midst of mangroves with the threat of hungry crocs ever present, I was happy to see the back of that river.
With our strict time frame tightening it was decided that we’d break up the four day journey with a night anchored at Flinders Islands just off the coast at Princess Charlotte Bay. Our skipper had promised us some amazing aboriginal art in a cave he’d found there previously, and I was pretty excited.
After a fairly standard slog down the coast watching the mountains slowly growing taller we all enjoyed a red wine induced sleep and awoke to a beautiful golden dawn.
Armed with all of our cameras we clambered into the tender and popped over to the island, hoping we’d be able to locate the hidden gem
After some very safe (ahem) scrambling over rocks and through grass that may or may not be the perfect place for snakes to live we found the cave, and the drawings.
I peered at the artwork, wanting to be excited, but with a slight feeling of doubt in my tummy. We each gingerly ‘hmmed’ at the paintings, not quite convinced but really wanting to be. Mum sidled up to me and whispered, “I was in Kakadu national park three weeks ago looking at aboriginal cave paintings and these… Well, they don’t look right.”
I held out a small amount of hope until I found in one corner of the cave some writing done in the same red colour as many of the Drawings: “Edward Jones, Hot PR.”
Hmm, perhaps our gut had been right.
At least the island was genuinely gorgeous, I would have been happy to explore even without the promise of lost, ancient art.
^^^The ‘cave’ is that big crack along the bottom right.
As we motored off towards home we started to see familiar spots on the charts. First Cape Tribulation, then Snapper Island and Port Douglas appeared off our bow.
Arriving too late to make it to Cairns, we anchored off Green Island and watched the moon rise red off in the distance. We could see the light pollution from Cairns and could almost feel the clean sheets and soft mattress waiting for us at home.
The feeling of sailing back in the following morning was bittersweet. This trip hadn’t been anything like we’d planned. We were tired, dirty and still absolutely gutted about all the diving we’d missed out on.
But we’d also made it thousands of nautical miles, survived sleep deprivation and stood on the top of Australia. I’d sat in a boat while pilot whales longer than we were played around us, seen sunsets with colours beyond comprehension and found that when my relationship was tested it only made it stronger.
Plus the ten minute shower I took when we got back felt so good it made the whole trip worth it. Seriously guys, don’t take cleanliness for granted.
This was the last post about my sailing trip from Darwin to Cairns! If you’d like to read about the rest of it then click here for all the other posts.