We've spent most of the Summer months at home in Jan Juc, and the blog's been on vacation while we were passing the season like normal domesticated people.
However, I don't need an excuse to post surfing pictures of myself so I'll serve 'em up regardless while they're fresh.
I had made a couple of trips north over the season to take care of essential maintenance work, some of which was quite intense.....cleaning rotten food out of the fridges when the batteries failed, for instance.
I was keen to get the mighty "El Gato" back to sea, and was stoked to have old friend Paul Rose agree to join me on the voyage north from Townsville to Cairns. Paul had been instrumental in my initial purchase of "Endurance", being a traditionalist at heart, and had also helped me with that boat's initial delivery trip from Sydney to Geelong. It was almost against his religious beliefs to sail aboard a plastic boat! And a catamaran at that!
With Mary still finishing up at work, Paul and I set off to Queensland by air, and had a magnificent flight along the Queensland coast, allowing me to look out the window and retrace "Endurance's" path north from a couple of years previously. We were travelling a little quicker though....
But finally we motored around to Horseshoe Bay and dropped anchor, and gradually started feeling at home on the boat again.
Then on to the Palm Group of islands, where we met some locals and chatted for awhile. Really cool people, elders from Palm Island who were making a little camp on Fantome Island, where they could bring indigenous kids from the mainland to "teach them how to be aboriginals".
We were made to feel welcome and it really made our day to hear these guys talk.
Palm Island is a notorious government dumping ground for aboriginal people from as far away as Western and South Australia who've been uprooted by "progress" in their homelands.
No such luck though, as when we'd loaded them all aboard and waved their Mama bye-bye, the Starboard motor started to misbehave. Damn! Broken alternator belt! Paul sweated away in the Black Hole of the engine bay all afternoon, and by the time the problem was sorted, it was too late to go anywhere...so the night was spent on the anchor off the beach at Lucinda.
The kids didn't expect the next adventure to be very exciting after watching us work all afternoon, but Papa always has something new up his sleeve for them.
The next morning we motored up the channel, not catching any fish or spotting any crocs, so the kids were a bit ho-hum about it all but did enjoy a spot of steering.
Approaching the cyclone-damaged and near-derelict Hinchinbrook Marina, I knew that the big boat would be a tight squeeze in the unknown conditions there, so we anchored offshore and all piled into the dinghy to go and meet their Mum. Which was quite sensible it seemed, until, in the middle of the marina, and fifty metres from the bank, the dinghy ran aground in soft, black, slimy mud, with just a foot of water covering it.
So, with their Mum looking on aghast from the shore, we finally made it to the bank after half an hour of fruitless paddling and trying to run the motor through the horrible black goop.
But that wasn't the end of the adventure for Paul and myself. Once the kids were safely back ashore we headed out again, through the narrow entrance channel to the marina, and there was a GREAT BIG CROCODILE stretched out on the mudbank. He looked me in the eye and slid into the water and directly under the dinghy, while I tightened the sphincter valve and twisted the throttle. Gently. Until we were in clean water, and then we ZOOMED out of the river and clambered aboard into the relative safety of our big Cat.
The next night we were into the old sugar port of Mourilyn, which is the kind of place you'd really EXPECT to see crocodiles. Anchored amongst the mangroves, we spotlighted the mud banks at night but didn't see any suspicious slithery critters.
And out of there in the morning, into a blustery wind and the run up to Cairns, passing the HMAS Adelaide, an Australian warship on exercises, on the way.
But it was back to work for me, as the countdown begins for the Indonesia trip. The work list can't be ignored, and gradually gets done. New house batteries, engine servicing, a haul out for antifouling at the sandfly-and crocodile ridden Coconut Slipway up the river, and dozens of other small jobs that scream for attention.
Paul Rogers, from "Moor R&R" volunteered to help take the boat up the river, which was great. There was one little "moment" though when he fell through the deck trampolines as we were coming into the slip. Very dramatic, very lucky that he scrambled up through them before he hit the ugly slipway trolley below. A bit funny, too, because we'd been talking about my new tramps (coming from France) just a few minutes before.
Paul and Kath were moored out front in the river, as they were due to come out as soon as I was finished. So we helped each other with shifting the boats around, which involved a few dinghy runs up and down the river...spotting a croc on one occasion, but not the 5 metre monster which lives by the slipway.
And my final trial at the slip came when I re-launched, and one just-serviced engine failed to pump cooling water through. The mechanic had forgotten to open the seawater inlet!
No harm done though, and we were eventually back to the comfort of the marina and amongst the growing fleet preparing for the Indonesian rally. Over thirty boats, with their crews all running around town and working through their "to-do" lists, as we are too. In earnest.
So that's the blog done for the moment...briefings on the trip start tomorrow, and I'm sweating on my new trampolines arriving on time. We've been meeting some of our fellow expeditioners and everyone's helping one another out.
The excitement's building....