L O G B O O K - by John Philp


TUE 24TH AUG - Spend the day at Lizard Island resting up and exploring the island. In the evening we up anchor and head North again.

WED 25TH AUG - We’ve spent all of last night and most of the day sailing from Lizard Island. It’s a pleasant sunny trip with all sails up. We anchor in a bay on the mainland called Portland Road and go ashore for a look. We understand that this is the last civilized center before Thursday Island 150 miles North. We cruise ashore in the inflatable but find only a small fishing settlement of half a dozen houses. There’s also a Telecom public phone booth with an old rotary dial type phone in it and a solar panel on top like you see in Australian outback movies.

The locals here have a hard life by the looks of things. All that afternoon and into the night the men are working on the small boats and trawlers anchored around us. Later on in the evening a large mother ship calls into port - no doubt to supply ice and fuel and perhaps even food. In return they take on board the fish/prawns for transport to the next center - Townsville?

THUR 26TH AUG - We make an easy days passage to Shelburne Bay. Our route takes us through a narrow channel between islands on a square reach and the wind is still strong - you get a feel for how fast you are traveling when there are islands so close on either side. At Shelburne our latitudinal position puts us above Rotuma and it is warm enough now to walk around in swimming gear. Just 8 miles North is Macurther Island - scene of last weeks crocodile attack. The subject continues to fascinate us and we’re hoping to see some while we’re up here. The man bitten in the attack is recovering in a Thursday Island hospital - perhaps we’ll get to see him tomorrow when we sail up there.

When you travel for long periods at sea you invariably get cravings for things you don’t have on the boat. The craving on this boat is for sticky date pudding and ice cream. It’s what the crew had for dessert at our last dinner in Townsville. The person clearing the plates for dinner will sing out, “Ice cream and pudding anyone?” For a moment you’ll think - oh splendid, I’ll have some!... then you realise there’s none within 100 miles, and you curse loudly.

If we’re not talking about croc’s, than we’re talking about sticky date pudding and ice cream. Last night I dreamt I saw a crocodile eating sticky date pudding and ice cream.

FRI 27TH AUG - Arrival at Thursday Island mid afternoon. We anchor across the channel from Thursday at Horn Island, which has a better anchorage. We take a ferry across from the Horn Island wharf. A distance of perhaps half a mile. Thursday Island is much like Savusavu, except it has an air conditioned supermarket, a few nice shops and an art gallery/cafe. The locals - Torres Strait Islanders look very much like Fijians.

SAT 28TH AUG - Our Rotuman mate Sefo tells us his wife’s cousin is living on Thursday Island and spends his time ashore asking anyone he comes across if they know this man. Some know of him but can’t say where he lives or works. On our last day we are wandering through a very quiet town on a Saturday afternoon and the gentleman from the computer shop sings out (I had met him the day before when I checked my e.mail from his shop). Inside his shop is a gentleman from Niue who lived in Fiji for a time and studied medicine there. Turns out this guy is married to another of Sefo’s cousins. We also discover that the chief of the island is part Rotuman. Probably one of many Pacific Islanders that came to Thursday during the pearling days and never went home afterwards.

SUN 29TH AUG - The Tau departs Thursday Island for Darwin at 8am and motors slowly through a shallow channel between four or five nearby islands. As we leave the last of the islands we see the local pilot boat head out to meet an incoming freighter. The law here mandates that all commercial shipping carry a local pilot on board through the channel. Most times a pilot will be put aboard a ship for the entire trip down to Cairns. The pilot will return to Thursday Island on another freighter heading North.

A mile or two later we come across an aluminum dinghy floating alone with outboard motor on the stern and no one on board. We radio the pilot boat and they acknowledge, agreeing to tow it back once they deal with the incoming ship.

I walk out on the aft deck just in time to see a Rainbow Runner (Drodrolagi) attacking the line. The lure hooks it but as I pull the line in it dislodges itself. It makes a second attempt without success, then a third. After the third attempt it gets so exasperated that it leaps six feet into the air. It vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

There is very little wind and the sails are barely doing any work. We leave them up anyway and motor at close to 10 knots. There is only 17 meters of water here in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the sea is a soothing milky aqua colour as far as the eye can sea. We sit in the sun baking and reading or just watching the ocean. For something to do I stand at the bow with my arms out stretched and yell, “I’m the King of the world!”
Nah, just kidding...
Okay okay, just once...
Nah I’m kidding.

MON 30TH AUG - The wind finally comes up enough to put sail up. The weather is still beautiful. There is lots of sea life around. We’ve seen maybe half a dozen dolphin pods today. There are many strikes on the line. We’ve caught a couple of fish each day. Walu and Wahoo and another type of mackerel unlike the ones we get at home.

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