Cooktown to Princess Charolette Bay

Lost in Paradise

After being out of contact for well over 2 months Rudy and I are back in Civilisation. Where have we been you may ask.

We left Cooktown the beginning of September, the last bastion before heading into the 'never-never' and to our goal of our journey for the year to head north to big and deserted Princess Charlotte Bay.

Looking toward Grassy Hill Lookout Cooktown

Cape Bedford and the Coloured Sands

With ‘Tiata’ stocked full of goodies we headed north. Our first stop was Cape Bedford and the amazing coloured sands. We set anchor mid afternoon and went to explore the area. The sand ravines are spectacular. Brightly coloured orange, red, yellow and brilliant white. We walked deep into them until we were completely enclosed by walls of coloured sand patterns it was very dramatic especially with the blue sky overhead. 

White Sands of Cape Bedford

Rudy walking the coloured sands

After making our way back down to the white sandy shore, we went for a stroll along the beach. The water so clear and full of life. Beside us in the water we could see mud crabs scurrying in the shallow waters, just out of reach. Rudy tried to score an easy meal. He was quick, but not that quick. 

We jumped into the tender for a closer look both of us standing up and peering over to get a better look. Next minute, a flash a shark about 1 ½ meter swiftly swam beneath the boat needless to say we sat down very quickly. 


Clear Waters

We left the next morning and headed north to Lizard Island for a couple of nights, a wonderful Island with water as clear as a glass of water.

Clear water's of Lizard island

Lizard Island was named by Captain Cook in August 1770. He commented,"the only land animals we saw here were lizards, and these seemed to be plentiful, which occasioned my naming the Island, Lizard Island". Cook climbed the peak on Lizard island to chart a course out to sea through the maze of reefs which confronted him and the island's summit has since been called 'Cook's Look'.

A Lizard Island Goanna

The next morning we were up early ready to take on the challenge of climbing the islands summit to "Cook's Look". We left early it was windy and steep but the views, amazing.
Beautiful views across the island

At the top of Cook's Look

The anchorage at Watson's Bay

 A Windy Ride

The following morning to set to leave this beautiful Island knowing that we would return to enjoy Lizard Island at a more leisurely stay on our return.

The winds were blowing from behind at about 20-25 knots so it was a brisk sail back to the coast and north to the 'windy and wild' Cape Melville. It was a great day's sail covering about 70nm (approx. 139 km) which is great going for us.

Sunset at Cape Melville
Cape Melville is a very dramatic scene with huge house sized boulders piled several hundred meters into the sky. It's an old glacial deposit and has an ancient prehistoric look about it.

House size boulders at Cape Melville 

We arrived late in the afternoon and were treated to near full moon rising over the mountains of boulders.

Cape Melville is a very isolated place but we soon realised we were not alone, for scattered along this far northern coast are numerous fishing camps full of crazy guys sleeping on crocodile visited beaches and going out in rough windy seas in small fishing boats.

After a blustery night, were I spent most of the night keeping an eye on the mast and the stars to ensure we weren't being blown off our anchor. I was glad when morning came and we were able to pull up anchor.

 Crash Dummy Turtles

We headed on to Princess Charlotte Bay, some 350km north of Cairns and at the and our destination for our first northward journey. The size of the bay is a massive, 60km wide so all you can see looking west is the distant cloud masses hugging the land. 

Sailing up the Normanby River

We arrived and decided to spend our first night snuggled down in the Normanby River which sits down in the bay on the eastern side. It has a tidal bar so we had to wait for the inward tide to rise to allow us over the sand banks and we eventually sailed into the river late afternoon. It was a beautiful night with the full moon shining brightly down on us, it was so still and quite we felt like the only two people in the world, such a magical feeling. 

The next day we headed back up into the bay off Bathurst Head, it was quiet shallow where we anchored and the water very murky, so murky every now and then we'd hear this almighty 'clunk' we finally realised that it was turtles surfacing and smashing into our boat as they came up for air the noise was terrible and woke us up a few times throughout the night, luckily both the turtles and Tiata came out of it unscathed. The crabbing there was awesome, nine crabs in one pot but the sound of the 'crash dummy turtles' was too much so the next day we had a lovely sail north to the Flinders Island group.

Pinned Down

The winds picked up and were blowing a constant 30knots+ (with 50knot gusts) and thus this was to be our home for the next few weeks. We spent most our time anchored within the Owen Channel with Flinders Island to our east and Stanley Island to our west, which protected us from the howling winds. This is all a part of the Flinders Island Group National Park and is well managed with two huge water tanks and a nice cemented and covered area, so we had a supply of fresh water plus a solid clean area to do some washing. 

Water Tanks at Flinders Island

We felt lucky not to have to worry about running out of water, Tiata has storage for 300 litres but as for everything else provisions were getting low. We weren’t going to starve though the oyster’s where big and bountiful and we had plenty of rice and tuna. By the time we got back to civilisation we were both looking very fit and healthy. 
We were not alone though. Dudley, Jenny and David on ‘Tropical Cat’ kept us up-to-date with weather (they had HF radio – far range) and entertained us with their company and a huge library of DVD’s. They were heading south too, David was due back to work in Cairns a couple of days earlier so were keen to keep an eye on the weather hoping to make a dash south.

Signs of passing ships

The days lingered on there are plenty of places to explore one being a short track on Flinders Island which lead up through the bush to several wells and a rock carved with the words 'HMS Dart 1899'. A naval survey ship which collected life saving water from the wells in 1899. 

Natures Sculpture - Flinders Island

After a week or so and along with Tropical Cat it was decided on change of scenery so we headed back down to Bathurst Head for some 'crabbing' and more close encounter’s with the 'crash turtle’s'. By this time David was already days late for work and the weather was starting to abate so we decided to join them in there quest to head south across Bathurst Bay to the treacherous Cape Melville. 

We started out early and things were looking ok, but as the morning wore on the winds and waves picked up it was uncomfortable and we were getting nowhere fast. Rudy and I soon decided we were not in that much of a rush to head back and decided return to Flinders and wait out a couple more days.

Dudley, Jenny and David powered on with Dudley reporting winds hitting 54knots across the deck. When we finally caught up with them at Lizard island they had managed to make it a mere 10nm or so to Rocky Island were they spent a wild night, it was a good decision to return.

Sunset in Owen Channel

Finally the winds began to subside the weather reported that they would quieten throughout the day. We decided to wait till after lunch for it was only about 12nm across the bay, should't take us long, so we thought. It started out lovely but that Cape Melville is one windy wild place we eventually anchored at 7pm that night. After a quick feed and shower Rudy exhausted went off to bed.

With the wind howling, the boat was continually yanking on the anchor making a terrible 'chunking' noise made it impossible for me to sleep. 

Finally dawn came the wind hadn't let up all night and was still blowing wildly. We decided we had to get away from there, and if I never see Cape Melville (except in passing) again it won’t be too soon.

Heading Windward

We lifted anchor and as soon rounded the Cape Melville the winds immediately ebbed and we were heading south. This was to be our first windward journey since we first set sail some 6 months earlier. This involves a lot more tactics and tacking (when sailing one can’t point straight into the wind you have to point either side of the wind – thus a longer journey). 

It's also quite a narrow passage in the main shipping lane and the reef comes in very close to the coast. So it was very different to what we were used too, dodging reefs and staying clear to the big ships that moved at a tremendous speed. We made it Howick Island before nightfall with a bit of a hold-up when the strap holding the main broke and Rudy had to do some on-going repairs.

Rudy repairing the main

There’s not much to Howick Island in the way of sight seeing so we pulled up anchor and headed back to Lizard Island. We were due to meet up with friends, Chris and Pat on the 26th in Cooktown and being the 24th we were running short of time so we had one day in Lizard Island to recoup ourselves before heading back to restock the boat and prepare ourselves for there arrival.
Phoenix Sky

Cooktown, as Rudy puts it is “a phoenix waiting to rise from the ashes” were Captain Cook landed in June 1770 and stayed 7 weeks to make repairs on the Endeavour thus the name “Cooktown”. It was also his first encounter with the Aboriginal people. Then in its 'gold rush' heyday after gold was discovered in 1872 it boasted 90-odd pubs, 120 or so brothels. Today it’s back to a sleepy seaside town that has only in recent years got a sealed road from the south.

Chris and Pat arrived on the 27th and after another day of grocery shopping we were ready to head back up to Lizard Island and chill out. 

Lazing at Lizard

We had a lovely sail up from Cooktown found ourselves a lovely spot on the corner of Watson Bay. 
Our Spot

Lizard Island is a beautiful Island a National Park with crystal clear waters, extensive reefs and abundant sea life. It is nestled close to the outer reef and well protected from the prevailing southeast trade winds.

The view on the surrounding reef
We had a wonderful time spending our days  swimming, snorkeling, walking the many tracks, generally relaxing. The water at Lizard is awesome, so clear you can see the sandy white bottom and the fish life amazing. Some of the many varieties that gather about the boat included bat fish, dart, groper, trevally, sweet lip, long tom (similar to a pike) just to name a few.

Lizard Island edged by reefs one had to just jump off the boat and paddle to the left or right and we were in the most beautiful coral reef. The fish are abundant and giant clams of the most amazing colours fill the waters.

Afternoon Storm clouds
Every morning I enjoyed and early morning swim along the edging reef mere meters from the back of our boat. I would meet up with a family of parrot fish and I would follow them as they munched the coral. They were so beautiful I just fell in love with the place you couldn’t get me out of my bikini or out of the water. 
Surrounded by reefs
We had a full moon while CJ and Pat were with us which means very high and low tides which on the low the boat sat in less then a meter of water so we were able to wade out to the beach, go for a walk and wade back to the boat, it was all too lovely.

Every night glorious

Plenty Happening

There is a resort on Lizard very exclusive with rooms starting at $1500.00 a night twin share. We were unable to access the resort but they had a great 'staff bar' that was situated right on the beach which we were able to access. They had food a couple of nights a week which included the best pizza's.

We were there for the Black Marlin fishing competition which pulls in the serious competitors. There was about 60 game boats entered and most of them had huge mother-ships, one being ‘My Way’ that used to belong the Mick Dohan. The bay was crowded with all types of boats big and small. 
Watson Bay the start of the Marlin Comp

Boats going every which way

Take off
We got to do a bit of fishing as well as anchored beside us was Bruce and Fergal they were taking a power cat back to Perth. They took us to out for a bit fishing and after a couple of hours we were back with 3 huge mackerel. It was very exciting with wild seas and CJ had great fun reeling in a nice big one.

Chris and Pat left us after 2 weeks flying out from Lizard to Cairns (the winds were still blowing 20-25 knots from the south) we were running out of food and grog (amazing I know) but luckily we’d found a place when we were at Cooktown that organises groceries and even luckier still our friends Scott and Sarah off ‘Anui’ were arriving in the next couple of days and so we were reprovisioned and ready to linger longer at lovely Lizard.

Blissful days

We first met Scott, Sarah and their 2 boys Seth, 6 and Finn, 1 at Dockside when our boat was still a dream. They have a lovely 50ft Cat, Anui that Scott built himself. We got talking waiting for a ferry, they invited us aboard.   A few months later we were 'living the dream ourselves'.

Sarah aboard 'Anui'

So it was lovely to see them again, we'd met up a few times heading north. The days rolled by. 

Rudy and I loved an early walk over to the 'blue lagoon' on the other side of the island. Deserted and beautiful. 

We collected water from a old water pump.  We hand washed our clothes in the bush and showered off the back of the boat. I would go over to 'Anui' and we'd bake bread together.

We’d swim over to 'Anui' and Seth and Sarah would swim over to us life was a simple pleasure.

It was Rudy's dream to have a boat and to celebrate his 50th birthday on a lovely island, and here he was. 

The morning of his birthday we were up early, we loved walking the Island only to be surprised on our return with a lovely chocolate cake and birthday card waiting in the cockpit. 

Compliments of The Anui gang, they joined us for cake and that night we went to the bar and had a wonderful night with a nice crowd of happy people.

Snorkeling the Cod Hole

A few days later more friends. Bruce, Toni and their daughter 'Remi' and 2 dogs arrived. On board a bottle of Moet organised for Rudy. 

They too have a lovely 52 ft cat called 'Wilson'. The weather was changing, the winds calmed down. So it was decided  to head out to the outer reef, to the Cod Hole. It was decided to take “Wilson” with 6 adults, 3 children and 2 dogs.

The day we planned couldn’t have been better we awoke to the stillest day not a breathe and the water so crystal clear it was like looking in a fish tank. Throughout  the mooring you could see people walking up in deck and just peering into the water, you have to realise it had been blowing constantly SE 20-30 knots for weeks.  

We headed out to a spot called the ‘Cod Hole’ it is one of the best dive sites in the world at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef on Ribbon number 10. Named after a family of a dozen or so Potato Cod.

The visibility as astounding we could see the bottom of the ocean at 27 meters. The snorkeling was awesome and we all had a fantastic day, so much so we went out again. This time to Hick's reef where fishing is allowed as Scott and Bruce were hoping for some lobster. With a bit of wind we had a great sail there and back – no lobster though. Rudy managed to land a big Mackerel trawling off the back of the boat which was enough to give each boat a nice feed of fish and Bruce also caught a lovely Coral Trout.

Time to leave

After 5 weeks it was time to head back. We had a wonderful journey and we now look forward to more of unknown. 
Time to say goodbye
From Cooktown we headed south up the Bloomfield River which is just north of the Daintree and is a beautiful river with rainforest right to the water’s edge. 

We stopped in Port Douglas for a couple of nights and as the winds had abated and coming more from the east we had a wonderful spinnaker sail across to Vlasoff reef where we stayed the night. We picked up a mooring just off a delicious white sand spit I had to swim out to it, the colours were beautiful moments after my return out of nowhere a helicopter did a 5 minute touch down and then we were alone again.  

Our journey ended in Cairns with a broken anchor winch so we’ll be here till at least repairs are complete. 

Cairns is a beautiful city this seems as good as anywhere to sit out the wet season. We plan to hire a car and do a bit of inland touring to the Atherton Tablelands and Kuranda from there we will head south back to the Whitsunday’s and after that who knows, we will travel where the winds take us…

We have had a wonderful journey north we have learnt a lot about sailing, the boat and each other and we look forward our continued adventure.