We pulled into Cooktown early this morning expecting a small harbor with limited space for anchoring, but we really had no idea just how little.
On approach to Cooktown, the channel markers are nonstandard and hugely confusing. There were two channel markers, one red and one green located approximately where we were expecting the first markers, however they were several hundred yards to the starboard of what was on the chart. They were new looking and only 100 feet apart and as we approached them, the water started getting really shallow...like 12 feet! At the last second, we could see two markers closer to shore and closer to where the chart indicated they should be. So, hard port and through a narrow channel we went in 16 feet of water past a dredger which was busy dredging, past a pier where I'm sure we ran across a dozen or so fishing lines to a rusty old fuel dock that looked like it was designed for freight ships and not pleasure vessels. As I passed by the fuel dock, the channel on the charts ended, and so did the dredged channel below. In a matter of a couple dozen feet, the depth went from 20+ feet to 12 feet. Needless to say, we hit reverse and swung back around to the fuel dock where there were many people sitting at the restaurant drinking coffee or tea...maybe even beer at 8am. There certainly wasn't anyone at the dock to help with lines. Even so, Lori did a great job and we maneuvered against the river current to just inches from the dock where Lori calmly wrapped the forward dockline enabling the boat the drift back against the fenders without any drama to the disappointment of everyone eating breaky and having a cuppa.
After topping off fuel and water, we were told that the best place to anchor for the night is right at the entrance to the harbor because it was just dredged yesterday. Everywhere else requires well timed crossing of the river shoal.
If they hadn't dredged the entrance yesterday, we wouldn't have had a place deep enough to anchor...and as it turns out, even that wasn't deep enough at low tide as we were hard aground for nearly an hour of high anxiety. Now going aground at low tide is old hat for us...we've done it 3 other times. However, this time was different because it was in a river, Endeavour River to be exact. Endeavour River is where Captain Cook careened his Bark Endeavour to repair her after hitting Endeavour Reef. Because it was a river this time, the incoming tide was ratcheting us further into the shallows with every inch of new water. As a result, we had to sit with the engine running and slowly work our way off the sand bar to prevent being pushed further onto the bar. After freeing ourselves, we motored further out the entrance to deeper, but bumpy water to try and get some rest before making the run to Lizard Island.
07/23/2014, Walker Bay, Australia
Funny how one day can completely reinforce all the time, effort and money you've invested in your leisurely lifestyle. Then, the very next day, or two, erase every new memory of paradise you just stored away in your grey goo. Yesterday we were dodging squalls all day. Nothing really too serious, but they were the first real squalls of the season for us and we were being pinched by dozens of reefs and shallow water everywhere which is tough enough for a California sailor to comprehend.
Just after making this video yesterday, the wind went from 25 knots to 45 knots and stayed there until 3am. I know it was 3am because that was when I finally got to sleep. Now keep in mind, we are anchored in 20 feet of water which is as shallow as we have ever anchored and it is becoming standard minimum depth for us here in Australia. As soon as the wind increased, we dropped 50 more feet of chain to give us 150 feet of chain in 20 feet of water. The only issue at hand was the fact that we anchored at high tide and by 3am the depth was approaching 15 feet. We draw 7.5 feet.
At this point the boat is bucking like a bronco on the anchor and the snubber is getting a hell of a workout. Where we anchored gave us protection from SE winds, but not E winds. The wind was now coming directly from the E and the hobby horse motion is leaving very little water under our keel. Oh yeah, and to make things just a bit more enjoyable, it is a new moon and we can't see anything around us but a few lights on the horizon where fishing vessels are making the run to Cooktown for protection.
By 1am the wind is blowing so hard that the mast is buffeting and making a howling sound. As I sat in the cockpit I ran through my options in case shit really hits...worse than it is. What would I do if the anchor started to drag? How would I get the anchor chain and anchor up in these conditions? The good news...the beach is sandy.
We woke this morning to the sound of a Australian Coast Guard airplane flying over at mast height...so low we could see the pilot. They were circling the reef area as though they were looking for someone or something probably lost in the blow. Oh yeah, the predicted wind speed for the night was 10 knots with gusts to 18 knots. After 9 hours of 40+ knot winds, the seas were ugly this morning and we pulled anchor and made way to Cooktown which was another Sphincter Pinching experience! More to come on that experience
Cairns to Low Island
We had to say goodbye to our crew and great friends Lee & Dianne who rented an RV to explore Australia for a month before they head back home. We will miss the Captain's cook'n and fireman stories. Thanks again Lee for all your help getting Trim back on the water...we couldn't have done it without you! We will miss you both!
So, we were getting pretty comfortable in Cairns...it's a great place and now one of my favorite Australian towns. Lori and I must have walked 50 miles looking for various items like engine oil, Icom radio charger, RS232 cable, Scuba 2nd stage regulator rebuild kit (which they can't sell, but will send you all over town looking) and general provisioning. One last surprise before we left Cairns was the failure of our watermaker pressure housing which formed a crack in one of the aluminum end fittings sometime between the last use in Hamilton Island where we produced 300 gallons of fresh water without issue. Now, since A&M composites doesn't produce that configuration anymore (because it fails) has left us with having to replace the entire pressure vessel. Fun for all to be had in Darwin.
We motor sailed 48 miles this morning to Low Island to find an ideal anchorage for the night.
First Dive Video
Diving the outer reef at Cairns with Wally the Wrasse.
It took a long time to get the Go-Pro and software working, but we finally have dive video capability.