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Lizard Island via Low Isles and Cooktown – 01/10/2011

2011 October 2
Posted by Jenksie

We did not rush before leaving Yorkeys Knob as we only had 26 NMS to sail and there was no wind so after having breakfast and topping up water including the four water containers we got underway around 0900 hours.  Once out of the marina we found the sea to be dead flat and no wind so we motored with one engine with the tide in our favour we managed around 5.6 knots. About 1.5 NMS from the marina I spotted something floating ahead of us so I changed course to avoid it, it turned out to be a large wooden locker that had been part of a wooden vessel named ‘Gunsyd’ that had been at Yorkeys for some years and apparently sold when the new owner motored out of Yorkeys he only got just outside the leads before it fell apart and sank. Apparently the joins in the timber hull had been filled with silicone to stop the leaks. Anyway this locker had come from that and had washed up on the rocks but with the spring tides it had refloated. I called the coastguard to inform them that it was a navigation hazard and they put out a ‘securitay ‘to inform other shipping. About another mile we passed another vessel ‘Retriever’ towing a dredge I called them on the VHF to inform him of the hazard ahead. The bloke is a salvage contractor and told me he had been contracted to clean up the mess so he would attend to it.

A little further on we were visited by dolphins on two separate occasions then we had a little wind stir up just enough to get a sail up but not enough to go under sail alone so we motor sailed the rest of the way to Low Isles. As we neared Low Isles we saw another catamaran coming from Port Douglas direction at a closer look through the binoculars I recognised her to be ‘Euphoria’ with Trish and Lance aboard we arrived at the isles together and were both able to pick up the last two mooring buoys. Trish yelled out when we get settled to come over for coffee which did.

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(Low Isles anchorage)

After coffee we went ashore to have a look around and get a little exercise. I had been here before back in 1983 when on holiday to Cairns from the Alice we had taken a day tour over to here. It had been the first time on the sea then for 9 years since I had left the navy and the day we came out the seas was rough and I stood on the foredeck enjoying every minute of it standing there like an old salt keeping balance and watching the sea. However, later that night I paid for that, I must have used stomach muscles that had not been used all those 9 years and sometime after dinner that night I was as sick as a dog and not the old sea dog I thought I was. Tis also brought back a funny memory we stayed at a place called Hanks Hideaway at Trinity Beach and the first night the two girls were swimming in the pool and I started to cook on the BBQ nearby when another guest came over an American and asked if he could share the BBQ which I replied ‘sure’. We introduced ourselves his name was John Dixon, knowing by the accent I knew he was American and asked where he was from he replied Alice Springs the same place we had come from. I had to laugh. John was working at the Space Base in Alice we became good friends and visited each other when we returned to the Alice.

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(Low Isles lighthouse)

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(Friendly bat fish)

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(Nancy on Low Isle)

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(Sunset at Low Isles)

Low Isles is a pretty place and a very nice anchorage in the right conditions, after our we went back aboard and showered and got ready for Lance and Trish to come over for sundowners, they are a very nice couple they are heading to Lizard also but are going up the Daintree River first. We had a nice evening before turning in early as we had an early start the next morning with a 61 NM sail to Cooktown.

27/09/2011

We set sail early this morning leaving the mooring at 0435 hours we motored for a short time to charge batteries and as soon as the sky showed signs of light we hoisted the mainsail and unfurled the genoa and shut down the engines. We sailed just outside the main shipping channel as the shipping lanes had been busy and it was not long before we had a couple of ships going each way. We also passed large tugs towing barges with heavy structures. We had a good day’s sail arriving at Cooktown just after low tide. Visiting yachts are expected to anchor further into the harbour having to cross the inner sandbar, we followed the guide books directions across the bar and as we approached a trimaran we asked the skipper if we were crossing at the right place. He said he had just arrived and run aground at that spot so dropped his anchor. Just as he said this I felt the mini keels of our cat contact the silt on the bottom so we cut a couple of grooves in the silt as we crossed the bar. The day was good making the 61 NMs in 9.5 hours from letting go of the mooring to dropping anchor.

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(Cooktown Harbour)

We dropped anchor well clear of other vessels as we normally do and just after we got settled and having a cold one a bloke came by in his dinghy and said that we would have to keep an eye out for his catamaran as he had 60 metres of cable out and swings close to other vessels around him. He said he is not asking us to move but it may be better if we did. I asked if he was local and he said no he was from Melbourne, so we said we would move and we did. I really think the bloke was full of crap we stayed for a couple of days and he did not swing even in the heavy winds as far as he reckoned he did. Some skippers get paranoid about other vessels anchoring near them. It also made me wonder why one would have 60 metres of half inch chain with a 200 lb anchor on the end in max depth of 6 metre water even though in the spring tide it flows at 2-3 knots.

Two other blokes off a motor boat next to us came over to say hello and asked why we moved and we told them and they could not believe it either. They asked how long we were staying as they were leaving their boat for a few days and asked if we would keep an eye on them. We had a pleasant night until we went to bed and the wind kicked in heavily and we was swinging wind against tide and as we moved over the anchor chain the loop behind the bridle would scrape on the chain in front of the bridle this gave us a sleepless night. They call it windy Cooktown as when the wind is blowing the landform causes the wind to accelerate bulleting down the valley.

28/09/2011

We had breakfast and waited for the tide to change to make sure all was safe before going ashore and going ashore was fun with the wind and current we arrived ashore very wet.

Some people have told us that there is not much at Cooktown well I found it an interesting place and the people friendly. This place has a lot of history some good some bad.

Captain Cook on HM Bark Endeavour arrived at Cooktown crippled after running aground on a reef in June 1770 he had thrown cannons and anchor overboard to keep the ship afloat after hitting the reef the anchor has been recovered and is in the museum. Joseph Banks met with the local people the Guuru Yimithirr tribe and recorded fifty aboriginal words included was the kangaroo or kanguru. It took several weeks for Cook and crew to repair the ship before leaving where he named the river Endeavour and claimed the whole eastern coast in the name of Britain.

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(Cooktown Hotel)

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(West Coast Hotel)

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(Museum at Cooktown, this used to be the convent)

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(HM Bark Endeavour’s anchor)

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(So much for political correctness here, sign at restaurant, good on them)

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(Sign in shop window Cairns one way Cape York the other distance in corrigations)

After Europeans populated Australia gold was found in 1872, James Mulligan found 3 kg of gold in 3 months. The Palmer River was rich with gold producing 15,500 kg of gold in its day. This led to the goldfields settlement of 1873 – 1890 and the Cooktown’s violent clashes with the local aborigines which led to their extermination. Cooktown became the wealthiest place in Australia and the second busiest port. The population grew to 30,000 and included 18,000 Chinese. By 1875 there were 65 hotels amongst other establishments and businesses. In the 1880’s the gold was running out and the local population dropped to a mere few hundred.

The museum is well worth the visit and the town itself is very tidy and has all you need with the exception of the strong winds during the trade winds but these winds are not that strong ashore only in the anchorage.

29/09/2011

We did not rush to get away this morning as we wanted some water above the sandbar rather than wear some more antifouling paint off the mini keels. It was 0710 hours before weighing anchor and headed out of the harbour when we got outside the wind was blowing around 15 knots so we hoisted the sails and shutdown the engines, this was a nice surprise as we had expected to motor all day with winds predicted at 0-5 knots. As we sailed north at a speed of 7 plus knots things were going well then after a few hours the wind started to drop and it was not long before we were motor sailing.

As we approached Three Isles I could see a wisp of white smoke on the main Isle as we got closer the smoke grew and then some darker smoke showing the fire was getting into heavier growth. As we passed the Isle you could see the NPWS personnel in their bright green overalls burning the scrub. The shipping lanes became busy with two naval vessels and container ships we kept just outside the shipping lanes hoping the larger ships would stay within them. There were also quite a few yachts heading south from Lizard Island I presume taking advantage of low to no wind strength which we will be looking for if we do not get the NE winds to return south.

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(Marine Parks burn off at Three Isles)

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We arrived at Lizard Island at 1620 hours after covering 54 NMS on the trip. There were quite a few yachts and motor boats still here anchored and is going to get busier with the Marlin Fishing competition starting on Saturday. Apparently the sporting fishing clubs of Australia were able to stop Marine Parks from including the marlin fishing grounds in the no-fishing zones. They say they do catch tag and release but some say that although they do this very few tagged fish get re-caught which is probably due to the fact that the fish fights for many hours before being totally exhausted before being tagged and released after photos no doubt they probably die anyway.

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(One of my favourite sunsets)

30/09/2011

This morning we prepared to go ashore for a walk and a look around we took the short walk first along the length of the beach then on the path to the pump well then Watson cottage ruins before tackling the Chinaman’s Lookout it is quite hot and humid at the moment with the temperature around 30 °C. The areas are very unique with many species of lizards of which it got its name, many birds and various plants and trees. There are many Kapok trees bearing full kapok pods.

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(Anchor Bay Lizard Island)

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 (Lizard Island anchorage)

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(Sunset)

This Island has a lot of history originally it was a sacred site for aborigines where they brought young men for initiations. Captain Cook landed here giving it its name due to the many lizards seen here. He used the islands peak as a lookout to see if he could see a path to sail through the many reef formations the way he found is called Cooks Passage.

In the 1860’s fishermen used the island to harvest the sea cucumber as it was a delicacy in Asia in the absence of the aborigines but later abandoned it.

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(Watson’s cottage)

In 1879 Captain Robert Watson with wife Mary Watson baby son and two Chinese servants modified the abandoned cottage left by the crew of Julia Percy, Captain Watson was a beche-de-mer fisherman and during one of his absences Aborigines from the mainland killed one of the servants and wounded the other. After the attack Mary Watson with baby son and servant escaped in an iron tank used for boiling the beche-de-mer, the vessel floated away from the coast arriving on Howick No 5 Island and all died of thirst some nine days later.

Later Aborigines were hunted down and killed but it is almost certain that these were not the Aborigines responsible. There are always two sides of a story and the Aborigines story states that they had come to get the people to move from their sacred site and when they arrived one servant attacked them and was killed and the other injured, the Aborigines saw the others escape and let them go because all they wanted was for them to leave their land.

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(Mary Watson’s story)

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(Mary’s Legend)

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(Watson’s Bay)

In 1939 the island group became a national park under the Queensland National Parks; the island today has a research station, a resort along with airstrip and a destination for yachts. The Aborigines are still involved with the management of the island and work together.

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(Kapok tree, there are many of them, the yellow flower can be eaten and has high vitamin C levels, oil can be extracted from the seeds and the kapok material was used in matresses and life jackets before synthetics)

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For sundown we went ashore to the Marlin Bar, this is a bar at the end of Anchor Beach that they open to yachties and boaties they transmit on VHF radio when they have it open. It is isolated from the main resort which is private. Prices are good and they do serve meals.

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(Sweet water)

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The well pump, hanging in the tree is a shower and on the right is a plastic unit that can be fitted over pump to fill water containers)

We can also take our rubbish to a skip bin near the bar and give a small donation for the privilege of them getting rid of it for us which I think is very good.

01/10/2011

A new day a new month and time to be looking at heading south but we have to wait for the right weather. Today we thought we would tackle the peak to where Captain Cook went to seek a path through the reefs. The sign states 2.5 km 2-3 hours return strenuous walk. Two out of three is right but I think it should read 2 plus 3 hours return, it took us 4 hours. Yes it is strenuous and some places resemble Ayres Rock climb walking up rock face. Unfortunately the weather was humid and no wind and there was a lot of haze around so we could not see all the reefs and I can assure you I will not going back up there on a clear day. My knees back and feet ache.

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(Alana Rose at anchor in Watson’s Bay)

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(Cook’s lookout)

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(Natural wonder)

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(View from the peak)

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(Nancy signing the book)

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(The culture)

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(Another peak view)

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(Watson’s Bay)

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When we got down from the peak I took shirt and shorts off and threw them in the dinghy then threw myself into the sea which was very refreshing Nancy did the same. I also had a nanna nap when we returned on board.

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(A yellow spotted monitor)

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(A smaller lizard below, there were many small lizards of various kinds).

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The marlin fishermen have arrived in their flash motor boats around twenty three of them at present.

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(One of the variety of birds)

The wind is strengthening for the next few days and hopefully it will abate by the end of the week enough for us to look at heading south.

Cheers.

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