Finally, the Big Day came and we motored down the channel from Cairns, planning to overnight in Port Douglas where we were going to fuel up.
It was all going swimmingly for the first few minutes, until I noticed the battery light cheerfully shining away on the starboard engine's dashboard. Buggar!
After quickly cutting the engine, we motorsailed on the remaining, healthy motor until arriving at P.D., where we tied up at the fuel dock with a little help from our friend Mark Christian.
He'd arranged for an electrician to check the boat early in the morning, but as we'd been on shore power all night, the battery was fully charged, the alternator was fine and the Sparky suggested that we just keep on trucking' North.
Which we did, but within an hour or so, the battery was flat and remained so for the duration of the trip to Thursday Island. A permanently flat Starboard starter battery.
So we developed a regime of starting the motors with the House batteries, which was a bit of a worry, because if THEY went flat, we'd REALLY be in strife. So we tended to overcompensate and probably motorsailed way more than we would've liked, just to keep charge in the batteries.
Anyway, enough of the battery battles....back to the trip.
North Queensland has strong wind. Every day. Strong, consistent South Easterly trade winds that can be a delight for a well-found sailboat....which our Big Cat certainly is.
Sailing in company with six or seven other yachts, big El Gato couldn't be held back. We often romped ahead of the pack, so that we were usually anchored comfortably at the end of each day, while our compadres were still battling the weather a few miles back.
It reminded me of how my big BMW Adventure motorcycle could handle a vast range of different conditions and perform excellently in each...brilliant design and a strong build pay dividends. So I learned a lot about the boat during the trip North.
Which was just as well. On the fourth day out from Cairns, we'd had a relatively calm morning's sail, but I knew that we were to be rounding the notoriously windy Cape Melville later in the day, and I was looking forward to another beam reach run towards the Flinders Island group.
So I had already shortened sail when we were picking our way around the corner of the Cape between rocky outcrops, and had just cleared the area when the radio crackled into life with a distress message and a set of Lat/Long position coordinates....which looked disturbingly like OUR coordinates, which meant we were Johnny-On-The-Spot for some unfolding tragedy very close nearby. Fortunately, with the sails reduced in size, it made it easier to throw the boat around in the 25-knot wind, crash jibing at random, and head out to sea where we scanned the horizon for a boat in distress. Which we didn't find until the radio commanded us to come back in again as the position of the distress signal had changed back to where we were in the first place, rounding the nasty rocky outcrops that stand off the Cape.
Between scanning the water with binoculars, dealing with the radio, dodging the rocks and steering through the 25-knot winds while trying to make sense of a set of coordinates while the plotter's screaming warning signals, it was all a bit hectic....but within five minutes, WE SPOTTED 'EM!
A bright orange "V" Sheet held aloft with fishing rods led us to the 5-metre open boat, where a father and his teenage son were VERY glad to see us. We sailed past them, letting them know we'd be back once we'd dropped our sails. Which we did, then came back and threw them a towline and we then towed them to safety for an hour or so, until we could drop anchor near the beach. Then, it was hitch them to the dinghy and take them to dry land, which they were very happy to be on. They'd been anchored off the nasty big rock all night, had slept on the floor of the open boat, and were quite exhausted. Thankfully, they had been well prepared and very sensible, and survived their engine trouble because they didn't panic and did everything right. So they were great people to rescue!
After that little episode, it was on to Flinders Island, where our little group of fellow cruisers had already anchored, and we felt like we had really earned our sundown drinks on the beach that night.
The next morning, it was off from Flinders Island towards anchorage at Morris Island, and time for a bit more boat trouble, this time from "Brahminy Too" who dropped to the back of the pack while fixing fuel leak issues. So it was their turn to limp into the anchorage in the dark that night.
And the next day, it was "Wirraway"'s turn, when they lost their steering midway through a windy, blustery passage and drifted aimlessly until Gary, her skipper, jury-rigged an emergency tiller.
It seemed that every day, something was going wrong to somebody, and it's quite remarkable just how resilient and resourceful these superannuated old cruisers can be when it comes to the test.
The whole trip North, from Cairns to Thursday Island, was done in just six days....pretty quick compared to a few years ago when we did it in over a month aboard "Endurance".
But it was a more boisterous, purposeful passage this time, and we didn't mind so much because we'd already done it, so even passing the top of Cape York didn't hold the same thrill. It was a great opportunity though to learn more about our boat and I feel more confident for our Indonesian expedition having done the Queensland coast this past week.
And it's our jumping-off place for the big crossing to Indonesia. In the morning, we're setting off on a five day/six night crossing to the port of Tual in North Eastern Indonesia. We've been sorting out any outstanding issues....(we think we've won the Battle Of The Battery....we went and bought a new one) and now, we're quietly confident, and ready to go on the morning tide.
So, all being well, the next blog will be written in Indonesia......