We have now been in Cairns for nearly two weeks, and are beginning to get to know the place pretty well! We arrived on Sunday 1 October, had a cracking crab fest dinner at the Raw Prawn, then waved goodbye to Fran and Choppa temporarily on the Monday. With no trades available over the weekend, the start of the week was our cue to make progress on getting our issues sorted. The biggest problem was the prop/saildrive, which had the strange grumble in reverse since we had left Great Palm. Without knowing what was causing it and what might transpire, we were not prepared to set off into the unknown this close to cyclone season, so it was highest priority to get this sorted out. Other issues which were less critical but still needed to be dealt with before we headed off, were the large burner on the stove top, which had simply stopped working, and the electric head (toilet), which was leaking very badly. While we could still use the manual head, the electric head has the holding tank attached, so we must use it at times when we cant simply flush away (eg reefs, marinas, enclosed anchorages, etc).
This was probably the first time we had come across such major setbacks, and it was at a time when we were about to set off into some of the most remote areas of Australia. Once we left Cairns, the chances of finding even basic provisions, let alone complex boat parts, was severely limited. Whilst there would be plenty of anchorages, they would be only anchorages, with no ability for us to slip the boat if need be, and limited access to diesel and food at the most.
The stress of this situation clearly got to us, as we spent the Monday being short with each other, when we started to read through the Indonesian Cruising guides. To make matters worse, the more we read, the clearer it became that we had missed the best time to cross to Indonesia, plus there were very limited places that we would be able to leave the boat unattended in Indonesia. We ended up in a full on shouting match, as we gradually realised that our only option from here, at this time of year, was going to be sailing the 1000 miles to Darwin, and doing that as quickly as we could. All this was made worse by my hormones playing up, making me way more emotional than the situation deserved, and poor Pete had to deal with a weepy, menopausal Admiral, incapable of making decisions!
As we slowly accustomed ourselves to the idea of Darwin, changed the reading list away from Indonesia, my hormones settled down and equilibrium gradually returned. Mcleod Engineering came to inspect the sail drive on Tuesday and we started to make progress towards repairs. With everything that could be dismantled while the boat was in the water, the clutch was taken back to the yard for inspection and diagnosis, and after numerous calls, it was agreed that we would replace the clutch and various other related parts. The parts were ordered for overnight delivery with the aim of them being reinstalled on Thursday. I suggested that whilst we were stuck here, we should maybe try to do some sightseeing etc, and with that in mind, Pete booked in for us to go out to the reef for a diving and snorkeling trip on Friday.
I had been getting some really bad pains in my right hip, which no end of stretching could seem to alleviate, so I took the opportunity of booking into a physio. I got an appointment on the Thursday, so I could get it sorted before the reef trip and to keep me out of the way of the sail drive work. Of course, the clutch parts did not all arrive on Thursday, so the work could not start, though Pete still did a heap of work to prepare, including changing the oil in the main engine. He also dismantled the electric head to see if he could identify a way to fix the leak, and when I got back from the physio, I found him with toilet motor parts everywhere, on the internet seeing what toilets were available at Whitworths! We decided that a new toilet was the order of the day, considering the cost of a new motor was more than a new loo!! We ordered the new loo for pick up to ensure we had a replacement, then completely uninstalled the old one. My physio visit had not been all that successful, with some sort of new age treatment of my organs and no particular diagnosis, so I decided to seek an alternative. I booked an appointment for the following Monday with a different mob.
With less enthusiasm than usual, we headed off with Passions of Paradise out for our diving and snorkeling trip on Friday. Pete was concerned, because the sail drive clutch refit was going to take place without him there, and my hip was continuing very painful, particularly in stair climbing and going up any incline. Notwithstanding, we still had a great day out, with Pete completing two dives, and me snorkeling until I was a prune! Despite going to some pretty good reefs, further out than we had been already, neither of us were as impressed with the coral or visibility that we had seen at Britomart Reef. We did, however, appreciate the benefits of just hopping on a boat and being taken to a reef, without the butt clenching of having to take your own boat there! As we headed in from the reef, Pete heard from Mcleod Engineering that everything was back together and working, but there was still a grumble in reverse, so the new clutch had not fixed the issue. This was bad news, as now we would need to haul the boat out of the water, to investigate whether there was an issue with the prop or the lower half of the sail drive. Even worse, Pete wouldnt be here all next week as he needed to go back to Sydney for work, so we would need to wait until he got back. In the end, this didnt matter, as the first lift out we could get was 20th October anyway, but of course this meant more time ticking away towards cyclone season, making any trip north from Cairns, more and more concerning.
That evening, the pressure got to us again, and we fought about stupid things, until we finally agreed on some planning for the coming week, to make the most of our time. We also agreed that as we had a hire car for the weekend, once we picked up the new loo in the morning, we would head up to the Atherton Tablelands and have a day touring the countryside. Then I would have a go at installing the toilet during the week, as well as doing the passage plan for our journey to Darwin.
With the new loo on the boat and the old one in the bin, we set off for Kuranda at about 1100 on Saturday, and drove up to Barron Gorge Falls. This was a beautiful location, with a lovely boardwalk through the rainforest to the view, lots of informative signs on the way and weird and wonderful bird sounds as we dropped down through the canopy. There was a surprising amount of water in the falls, considering its been an unusually dry winter, a theme that we would see throughout the area, with its myriad of water falls. We popped into Kuranda for a bite to eat, and found the old markets, which are like a series of small tree houses hanging on the side of steep cliff. It was a fun place to walk through, and we had a lovely Indonesian lunch. We managed to laugh about it being the closest we were likely to get to Indonesia now! Even better, we followed this with churros, from a different cafe, and they were truly the best churros I have ever had (sorry Laura!). They were super crunchy on the outside, but very fluffy inside, and of course the salted dulce de leche made them utterly perfect!
From Kuranda, we headed out towards Atherton then back down towards Gordonvale. We found a distillery and bought some Mt Uncle distillery Navy Strength Gin after tasting a range of gins, including a smoked gin. We also stopped at the Cathedral fig which was spectacular as only these fig trees can be, and then on to Lake Barrine, a crater lake. By the time we got to the lake, it was around 1600, so the tea rooms were closed and we had missed the last boat tour, but we walked along the shore a little, enjoying the serenity of the place and admiring two very old kauri trees that were both about six meters in diameter and estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. On the way down, we followed the Gillies Highway which is incredibly scenic, as it drops down the side of the mountains, back into the river valley, but all the viewing points seems to be on the wrong side for us. We did manage to find one, but we were over half way down by then and the impact was not so great.
On Sunday we were up early to head to Rustys market, for the dual purpose of checking it out with a view to provisioning, as well as grabbing some breakfast before we headed out to the airport, to drop Pete off for his flight to Sydney. Great produce market, with lots of lovely seasonal fruit and veg, and I picked up some early mangoes for $4 a kilo, as well as a $2 spanish melon and some very cheap blueberries. We had lovely crepes for breakfast at a french food truck, and then headed off to Cairns International! I was very sad to say farewell to Pete this time, it felt like much more of a parting than usual, but at least Franny was coming back up later than day and would keep me company for the week.
Back at the boat, I spent the afternoon trawling through the 3 different cruising guides, assimilating all the information for the Cairns to Darwin leg. I cross checked this to our electronic charts and started to compile a passage plan, considering possible stops in around 50 mile hops. As we dont yet know when we will leave, its difficult to consider weather and tidal data, but I need to add this in once we have a clearer departure date in mind. By the time I had to leave to pick up Franny, I had a 12 step plan to get us to the tip of Cape York, and was feeling a little more confident in this part of the trip. I also had an understanding of the type of weather we can expect at this time of year and how the tides are likely to impact us.
Franny and I had a lovely dinner on board, enjoying a steak and salad in the balmy evening warmth. On Monday I had to start getting the boat hoist organised so called Mcleod Engineering to check their availability before I contacted the various yards. After much toing and froing and quite a few calls, we booked in with the Cairns Cruising Yacht Squadron, subject to them visiting the boat to check that she would fit in their hoist. Patrick agreed to come to the boat at midday to see me for this. The earliest they could lift us was 20 October, so we had to live with that, but this was ok for Mcleod as well. It would also allow time for ordering parts, so that with a bit of luck, we would be able to lift and start work immediately, with a view to being back in the water as quickly as possible. After a much more satisfactory physio appointment where I learned that I had the start of what could become bursitis, Fran and I did some running around to Whitworths, Bunnings and general shopping. I did dome of the stretching and muscle releases the physio recommended and actually started to feel the pain backing off. Fran booked another hire car from Tuesday, for the week ahead, and we did a bit of swimming in the lagoon. In the evening, we took ourselves around to the Prawn Star for dinner.
The Prawn Star is a seafood eatery based on 2 trawlers on E arm in the marina. They serve prawns, oysters, crab, crayfish and salmon. You can have a glass of red or white wine for $5 or a beer for $5. It is a blast! Fran and I shared a dozen oysters, then had a crayfish each, and because the wine was sauvignon blanc, we had a couple of beers to wash down the crays! It was a really simple, but delicious dinner, and definitely the way to eat seafood!
After picking up the new car on Tuesday, I headed into the bathroom to start work on installing the new toilet. Each step that looked very easy before starting was fraught with trip hazards. First attaching the outlet pipe looked as though I could simply screw on the existing hose end to the new base. Of course that wasnt possible as there was a slight difference in the hose end. I had to extract the existing end, then attach the new end. Sounds simple? Releasing the old end from the hose took all my strength. Then I could not get the new end into the hose. Fran suggested heating it with hot water, and fortunately, after a lot of grunting and groaning I got it in and was able to secure it with a jubilee clip. Of course to affix the end to the new loo base, I had to release the jubilee clip, before doing it up again on completion of the attachment. Next I moved on to the inlet pipe, that brings the water in to flush. I popped the cap off the pipe on the new base, and realised immediately that the existing inlet hose was the same diameter and so I would need wider hose to go on the new base. Luckily there was a joining section in the new loo kit, but the angle for a join was terrible. I called Pete to check where our spare hose was, and he asked if the join was in the cupboard or in front of the loo. When I explained it was in front, he said he would prefer for it to be in the cupboard. This would mean cutting a lot of new, bigger holes in the boat so that it would take a wider hose, as well as joining this new hose to the solenoid. This was way beyond my ability by now, so I had to reluctantly agree to pack up, and leave this until Pete was back.
I decided to move on to fitting a new access hatch in the forward head, as the cupboard behind the loo had been missing a handle since we bought the boat and we have been holding it closed with bungy. I had measured up and purchased a new hatch cover, and was absolutely delighted when I removed the old hatch and the new one fitted perfectly! However, all the screw holes were in different places so I would need to drill new holes. Luckily, the existing screws would be fine, and I measure up for the correct drill bit. Everything went swimmingly well until I tried to drill the bottom two holes, and found that I needed to drop the door down further than it was, to get the drill in place. I removed the toilet seat which gave me an extra few millimeters, but found that the only way to get this working properly would be to remove the toilet inlet pipe. This I was not prepared to do, on the basis that if anything went wrong we would be completely without a toilet! I was able to drill the holes in the end, but I could not get a screwdriver in place to get the screws in straight. I ended up leaving the bottom two screws out, determining to find a very short philips head screwdriver at my next visit to bunnings!
I was very discouraged after failing in two jobs over the course of the day, and tried to go back to completing the passage planning, but I could not apply my mind to it, other than reading about crossing the Gulf of Carpentaria. Again this was discouraging, because the only guide that discusses this in detail is doing the east to west crossing much earlier in the year, and so with different weather conditions. I determined to research this more, using other resources before continuing with the passage plan.
In the evening, after a dip in the lagoon, I had a long call with my bestie Dev, in Wales, and felt a lot better after a long catch up with her. Added to this, Fran had bought some asparagus, and we had a lovely dinner of asparagus and coddled egg, followed by mango, which was a much better end to the day! We decided that the next day would be an adventure day, and we would go exploring the Tablelands, leaving all the work behind.