The Northern Queensland Coast Cairns to Horn Island, Torres Straits 27th September – 8th October 2018

Baringo survived her two months in the Bluewater Marina in Cairns very well despite her keel sitting in mud twice daily at low tide. Once back on board we  set about the usual preparations for the journey north along the Queensland coast but there is much less work with her in the water than  when she has been left on the hard . We had the rigging and the hull checked by experts. The anodes are always a worry after staying in a marina and we were next to a steel boat. Apparently all was well above and below the water so once loaded with tins and jars and fresh provisions we untied the lines on Thursday morning 27th September and made our way through the mangrove waterways, first towards the fuel dock in the adjacent marina and then on to the open sea. However our journey came to an abrupt halt sooner than expected when we ran aground in the channel about fifteen minutes later! It was nearly high tide so not very much more water would flow our way but after a lot of engine revving and trying to hold out the boom we floated again and filled all our jerry cans with fuel giving us a range of about 1000nm in preparation for the lack of wind we may find in Indonesia .


leaving blue water marina just before running aground

jerry cans in shower

We found the usual SE trade winds awaiting us at sea so sailed with jib alone northwards in pleasant conditions. We planned an overnight sail and as the light faded so the wind picked up to force 7. We were following the main shipping channel as the distance between the mainland and the Barrier Reef is much narrower here which makes for calmer seas but also close encounters with large vessels. By midnight we were on a collision course with two giants one following another, but now with AIS communications are much easier and the vessels courteously altered course and avoided us. We were limited in our manoeuvrability with  the strong wind which they appreciated. The night continued rather rough until dawn but the passage is well marked and the chart plotter makes all the difference. We arrived at our chosen anchorage Bathurst Bay a very large bay  sheltered by Cape Melville where we found a very long beach and managed to get in quite close to try and find shelter. Our experience along this coast is shelter is a relative concept meaning a slight reduction in waves but no reduction in wind strength. Bathurst bay was no exception but we slept well after our first overnight experience for 18 months.

island off QLD coast

We now had a choice between two shipping channels; the original inner passage and a new but shorter outer “Lad’s passage”. The weather forecast was now strong SE winds gusting 40 for the next five days so we chose the inner passage as we might be further from the weather and we had the chance to stop and anchor which we could not do in Lad’s Passage . The morning sail again was pleasant but afternoon brought much stronger winds which became more easterly and we decided to stop for the night at Morris island but this entailed heading slightly north east towards the centre of the channel which proved difficult in the wind which was now 35 knots and rising! With the brute force of the engine we made it and found a tiny tropical island, very Robinson Crusoe, so we anchored just off the beach with the breeze unabated but at least we had calm water behind the large reef.

Morris island

Morris island effect of wind

The next day Sunday 30th September we had planned an early start as the sailing always seemed more pleasant in the mornings before the wind roughed around 3.00pm but at 05.30 the wind was still howling and in the dark the prospect of weighing the anchor did not appeal so it was back to bed and we stayed at Morris Island until the following morning. At 06.00 the next day everything was much more inviting so we set sail for our next chosen anchorage Portland Road where there is a small outpost of people but en-route we had several discussions about the merits of continuing overnight again but as the wind was forecast to remain strong for the next few days, and we preferred arriving at Thursday island in calm conditions as we had to dinghy ashore there, we decided we would stop for the night once more. The wind had been force 5 to 6 most of the day but fortunately the seas were certainly not commensurate with the wind strength because of the shelter from the reef otherwise it would have been a very uncomfortable passage. Portland Road was a pleasant anchorage with the usual relative shelter and a dive boat and a few fishing boats in the anchorage and we could see about 5 houses ashore.

We reviewed the next day’s journey, the pilot book by Alan Lucas is excellent and very detailed and also interesting reading with many historical stories interwoven with the navigation advice. We decided to try for Margaret Bay about 43 miles north but would assess the weather early and decide a final plan. Initially I thought it looked rather too rough but skipper thought we should make progress and it would be no worse than the day before so we left and met some of the strongest winds we have experienced gusting up to 60 knots dropping to a steady 40 knots so rather too much for comfort but at least with the protection of the reef the seas were relatively calm except for a short area where the reef was minimal and we certainly  felt it. We had the added problem of encountering two cargo vessels in the narrowest part of the whole channel which required radio exchange to avoid unnecessarily close encounters. There were also plenty of reefs to avoid which required going more upwind which was unpleasant in the prevailing 40 knots but we changed from the big jib handkerchief to the little jib handkerchief and the boats stability improved very pleasantly as the sail area was much lower even though it is not a downwind sail. Luckily we had no gear failures and with much relief we finally rounded Cape Grenville into Margaret bay   and found two catamarans already at anchor there. We anchored in the prevailing 35 knots but the holding is good in mud so we were quickly secure and below deck out of the wind at last.

It was now Wednesday 3rd 0ctober and we reviewed the weather at 05.00 and decided it was too windy to move on so another make and mend day on board, there are always jobs to be done! Today it was retrieving a rat line we had omitted to remove from the little jib halyard when we had used it in the very heavy wind, it had migrated up to the first spreader. Then we renewed the tennis ball on the spinnaker halyard which prevents the metal shackle from jamming at the top of the mast, a job which had been on the list for some time now! We did some route planning through Indonesia using a friend’s route and the excellent Stephen Davies pilot book. We started the water maker for the journey and luckily it performed very efficiently after the leaks had been sealed in Townsville. We knew the wind was forecast to be lighter the next day. The nearest available anchorage going north is about 65 nm  in the Escape river estuary which we did not favour as our past experience in an estuary was an unpleasant one and this one had the added complication of the presence of pearl farms . We hoped we might get through the Albany Pass at the northern end of Cape York if our speeds were good enough as Shallow Bay just in the north end of the pass looked much more inviting and had the added attraction of knowing that Joshua Slocum had anchored there. All started well, we were making at least 7kts but this was not to continue once the tide changed  we were down to 5kts but nevertheless we passed the river estuary around 15.30 so decided to continue to Albany Pass, only another 20nm . The passage surprised us by its elegance in the crepuscular light but we had a moment of anxiety when we approached the entrance and the water was frothing wildly as if submarine creatures were fighting underneath the surface, but as we closed the entrance the starboard side was calm and we glided pleasantly into the pass under motor making 9.5kts with the tide. Shallow Bay was equally calm and we anchored easily in the company of a catamaran and were joined later by another two vessels.

Typical reefs going up the coast.

white sand cliffs looking like snow, near the top of Cape York

entrance to Albany pass

sunset seen from shallow bay

Friday 5th October was the final push to Horn Island, another dawn start to get the help of the flooding tide and only 20nm to go . Much to our delight and surprise we had no wind that morning, very strange in this the area of the world where the trade winds blow their strongest! The route was well marked as usual in Australia with a dog leg into the anchorage to avoid the reefs. We were called on the radio by the Australian Border force patrol vessel on the way in, they keep a close eye on the Torres Straits but luckily we had the correct responses and were allowed to continue. We had decided to anchor at Horn Island rather than Thursday island as it is more sheltered from the wind and better holding and we could take the ferry across to Thursday island to process the exit formalities .We had anchored by 09.00 and after smartening up for an office encounter we crossed on the ferry to Thursday island. Facilities were not  abundant so after a rather tasteless and unhealthy snack we checked out from Australia, but luckily we were allowed to stay for a couple of days to try and get the fridge repaired….a voyage without a  cold beer is not one to contemplate happily .

Horn Island or now Wongai Hotel

So by Monday 8th October after nearly two years Baringo should  finally leave Australia; but she has received lots of care and attention here which although expensive was of a high standard so we hope this investment will see us safely to Singapore .

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2 Responses to The Northern Queensland Coast Cairns to Horn Island, Torres Straits 27th September – 8th October 2018

  1. Jeremy Vevers says:

    already fascinating and gripping account. We both send our love to you for this trip and will read every word that the trade winds blow us. Jeremy

    • yachtbaringo says:

      Thanks Jeremy. Leaving Australia today and setting off across Arafura sea to Indonesia. Should be there ( well the first island of thousands) next weekend DV! Hope all well there. love from us both

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