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Windsurfing In The BenAnna Republic

The world of Ben-kingdom seen by Anna-rchista

Retire on the Go, the secret of thrifty living.

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Since we came back to live around the same city, I’ve met several other women sailors and also read more blogs about other people’s adventures. It’s quite surprising how often the question of the sailing budget comes around the corner with other sailors or just our family. We consider that  we live with a lot (largely)) but apparently when we compare with our contact’s budget we are nowhere close to their figures annually. We live with less than 10 000 AUD/year; for both of us.

I made a little spread sheet to explain:

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This might seem a lot to you or very little. For the ones who think it’s a lot: yes we are working constantly to reduce our needs and we will bring that figure down on our next trip. The less we spend the farther we can sail before going back to work.

Now, if this seems to you very very low; let me explain and give a few tricks. For starters, we have a light sailing catamaran, built by my talentuous skipper thought out to produce the LOWEST maintenance cost possible while achieving marvelous performance sailing (light light light). Ben and I can repair/fix absolutely everything which is not too electronically complex. Thanks to his incredible cleverness and practicality and a little bit to my engineering degree, we are technically wired, both of us. Inara is made unsinkable and doesn’t have the following: bilge pump and diesels (the main sources of a worry on a boat). Our Philosophy is KEEP IT SIMPLE AND IT WILL BE SAFE.

We also have normal expectations of comfort: no washing machine, no TV, no air con, no complex shower system, no abnormous fridge/freezer (a full 40L Evacool fridge last us 2-3 weeks which is anyway what the fresh food usually last..). We like to do most things ourselves because it makes us happy, the notion of “chores” is overrated. We also have a plethora of toys (light) onboard to entertain ourselves: mountain bikes (very important for shopping and discovering), spearfishing equipment, hiking equipment and of course…. Windsurfing equipment. Believe me we are always super busy, not really a lazy life out there…

Because we are always busy, we buy less… we have the shops in horror.

Which brings me to the next topic: food. We value fresh organic food and I love cooking (especially on the boat). We try to eat red meat once a week only and it’s almost always kangaroo meat. We just found out that we are happier that way, red meat is hard to digest and makes you dozy. We eat chicken a few times a week and fish aplenty when we catch some. This happen often when we cruise, we love fishing. I buy my veggies in farmers markets and I found out that the same amount of veggies cost me half the price that when I get it from Woolies or Coles. AND they last longer! It’s up to you to organize yourselves with farmers markets when you are cruising. I repackage the meat to take less place and it last longer. For example, I would buy a full chook and consume it bits by bits (breast, legs, wings, carcass). A full organic chicken used this way make us 5 meals for the two of us along 10 days. We carry a good assortment of cans and plenty of options for Asian food. I can’t live without cheese so we make sure the fridge always have some and I bake my own sourdough bread with homemade culture, propagate yoghurt from used jars, make anzac bikkies and shortbreads, grow sprouts and herbs… the classic yachtie gal… we carry a massive assortment of sauces, spices and teas.

A few ideas of what we love to eat regurlarly (homemade): Roo burgers, asians stir frys, Indians curries, satays, miso soups, enchiladas, tortillas con frijoles, slow cooked chicken soup, crumbed fish and rice, ratatouille, crepes and the very occasional australian baked dinner. When we are under sail, I make salads sandwishes and toasts. But sometimes, I can as well bake a “tarte aux pommes” while we are flying at 15 knots….

Because we are very busy, exploring everywhere during the day, we tend to eat a massive breakfast (coffee muesli, yoghurt and fruits) and then have a large meal of the above around 4-5 pm, cup of tea and bikkies at night time. That’s it. Less dishes to wash, less haziness to digest and more time to be with the Nature.

We don’t drink much alcohol; a 6 pack every couple of weeks, sometime per month. This can lead to funny situations: while invited for sundowners we turn up with 1 L of fresh green coconut water harvested by Ben. We tend to share a drink (a can of cider or beer) at sunset because we found out that we were enjoying more the symbolic than the drink in itself. Unless after a hard day of windsurfing: a Mojito with fresh mint from the boat garden is mandatory!

What else? Our gas consumption is quite typical. And our fuel consumption is mainly for the dinghy! We never motor anywhere else than arriving and leaving anchorage. We tend to do more and more under sail anchoring and leaving procedures because we hate the sound of fuel being burned. It’s a lot less hassle to just sail everywhere!

We don’t go to marinas because there is nothing there we want: we don’t need water, electricity, fuel or social status. Also, because we are confident in the way to manage our boat, we save on the insurance: why spending so much money when we can just be careful, anchor responsibly far from everyone and fix everything ourselves? In the worst case scenario (gale at 50+ knots), we can beach Inara in a corner somewhere or tie her in the mangrove. Ben has been living for twenty years on his own, with his boats, without any insurance. For many of boats owners, those thoughts are frightening. It’s quite a risk.

Anyway, marinas are bad: they are expensive and your boat is locked into a slot baking in the sun. It damages the paint, the sail covers, wooden decks, the ropes, everything… so it makes your boat age faster and therefore cost money also in the long term in terms of additional maintenance cost. And seriously? Who wants to live just next to others people, able to hear them when they go to the toilet or put music and pay more than for an apartment on top of this? Anyway, plenty of people live in marinas and it’s fine. It’s just not for us, Inara and the BenAnna team like to be free to swing at anchor, enjoying a 270 degres view…. (and 360 sometimes…. Inara….!!!)

We get books at book exchanges and clothes at op shops. Most of my clothes have an average of 5 year turnover because I only get things I really like of durable quality….

Finally, there are the phones and internet…. I didn’t realize until I did the exercise but that’s way too much! Hopefully when we cruise oversea next time we might be able to bring down that expense. But it will probably be replaced by satellite phone bills for weather forecasting and cruising permits….

All of this goes with a philosophy too: the more frugal we get, the more we can explore everywhere and spend days living our life properly instead of laboring for someone else. We don’t believe there will be any system of retirement living in 20+ years. We don’t understand the material acquisition race that everyone else seems to be having.  We don’t want to spend the best years of our life paying for the system, the banks, the rates, just to be able to go somewhere warm when we are 60 and our health is not so good anymore. So we retire on the go: 2 years on, 2 years off, 1 year on, 1 year off, depending of our mood. We don’t need any kind of center link support and we don’t use any; our only objective is to stay in a good health, be free and be happy.

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Murphy’s Law and an example of a crisis by Anna

 

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 Disclaimer: The picture is not reflecting the story below, that was another day when the CDI was driving us crazy…

It has been 4 years and a half that I became permanent resident decky on Inara, proudly representing the BenAnna Republic. We had a few scary moments; under sail not so much; but at anchor yes. Like that time when a wild trawler in Tasmania froze our blood by drifting just past us in the middle of the night. We, so rarely drag anchor that I can give you each of the cases that happened to us:

– Once in Shute harbor, I was on the boat for 2 days only and we were having a tropical shower on deck Ben and I, when Inara started dragging like crazy. A big oyster had prevented the anchor to resettle. I was then well informed of the main risk of anchoring practices….

– Once in Narooma, bad holding (hard packed sand) and strong incoming tide almost saw us in the rocks walls surrounding the creek. We started the engines just on time and left.

That’s it. A few times while anchoring the anchor refused to bite and we had to restart several times (especially with the Lewmar that we had… grrr) but we always managed to keep a reasonable holding or at least change place. Ben has always been the one doing the anchoring maneuver. I know well the theory and hoisted the anchor a few times. I can maneuver Inara with the two engines quite ok.

Oh yes, something else: Inara outboards commands have to be operated with the foot. Yes you read well, monkey style: the tiller in one hand, looking over the deck, the anchor switch in the other hand and the left foot has to coordinate the levers: right and left outboards. The right leg is the one left to stand on (no seat). So it’s a bit of a full coordination job and with Inara being very light and swinging like crazy from one side to the other, a bit of patience and skills are required…

So there I was, onboard on a Monday, minding my own business and baking tortillas around 4 pm. Ben called me worried (my skipper has premonition powers when it comes to his boat) but nothing had happened yet. Only ten minutes later, the trawler next to us seems a lot closer. It’s wind (gusts at 15 knts) against tide so I relax and think that they probably have a lot of scope. But they get closer and closer until they are only 5 meters from us and I finally decide that yes, we are definitely dragging very slowly our anchor in the mud. In the next swing we might as well be against their hull!!.

Oh dear, I’m the only one on Earth who can do something.

So there the waltz starts: I lower both the outboards in a hurry, start them (no time for them to warm), switch the battery to anchor winch position, look at the dinghy clipped sideways at the back and think “it’s gonna be ok, wind against tide, it will come back and get in the way if I tow it. Ben does it with the dinghy at the back no worries.”

I start winching the anchor, put the thrust forward alternatively to stop Inara swinging like a mad child from side to side, run on the foredeck to unclip the bridle, and come back finish the winching. Free! A gust comes; I put a bit more thrust on the starboard side and clang! I hear an awful sound. I look over my shoulder and see the dinghy fully sunk with water, the paddle, the fuel container, the bin floating away. It’s hanging itself from the back beam, the outboard half sunk in the water.

Shit! shit ! shit!

I confuse myself in panic and the starboard engine stops. Shit! I try to start it again and I can’t because the battery has to be switched back inside to do so. I only have the port engine left and the gusts are swinging the boat on the side in this tiny creek. Shit!

I manage to put Inara facing the wind far enough from the trawler and drop at once 15 meters of chain, no time to put the bridle on, not time to set the anchor properly. I have to fix the dinghy problem first, I can’t maneuver the boat like this.

I stop the outboards and look at the dinghy. What a mess! 400 liters of water are filling it, the safety bulkhead lids were not on it and are full, the tide is rushing over it, the outboard is half sunk. It’s hanging there just held from the bow and from the outboard handle.

That’s when a bloody horrible sharp pain hits the middle of my left foot. Something is in there and it looks metallic. But no time for that, Inara is dragging still very slowly and I have to somehow fix the dinghy situation.

A burnt smell comes to my nose. Nooo! The tortillas!! I turn off the gas completely to avoid a case of fire adding itself to my disastrous situation.

Ok, to be honest, at that point, I was pretty down. Half crying, half wailing. The boat was slowly but surely going toward the mangroves and the trawler, there was no way I could go pick Ben in less than one hour, I had to find a way to put the dinghy back afloat somehow. There was little chance the outboard would start, there was a very very little fuel left in it and the fuel container could be seen on the shore. Also, I couldn’t free the outboard out of the dinghy or the dinghy would have completely sunk and hang itself from the front clip. And time was running out!! Inara was 50 m away from the trawler

I tried to lift the dinghy out of the water a bit (so the water would stop passing over the sides) but that’s absolutely impossible when 400 liters of water are in it. I am not Superman. I secured a third rope onto the beam and tried to lift it that way. But no. (this would prevent the dinghy to sink if one of the 2 other point broke). I tied up another rope to the handle and used the pulley with a purchase of 3 from the boom. This work well enough (and quick)that I managed to stop the water coming over the sides. I start bailing like crazy with the big bucket. No time.

Inara was 20 meters away from the trawler.

Once the dinghy floated again (half empty), I took off the outboard after quickly testing it. Unbelieveable it started first pull. Yeah! One good thing finally.

I considered letting the dinghy go on the rope but the rope was twisted around the port rudder. And the tide was rushing in, so the dinghy would come back to attack us while I would be re anchoring the boat. For sure it would manage to entangle its rope with the prop and provoke more disasters (our dinghy is pure evil, didn’t you know? Read the article about Palm Island….)

I had no other choice than somehow find a way to pull the dinghy completely out of the water on the back netting. But how to empty it fast enough?? No time no time.

Inara is 10 meters from the trawler

So once again, I use the boom/ pulley lifting system from the middle of the dinghy this time. Sure enough it lifted the dinghy on a vertical plan and emptied most of the water. Still with 30 liters of water under the seats at odd angle, it took me a lot of sweat and cries to finally put the bloody thing secure on the back beam. I even tied it up well to avoid that it decides to escape back into the water because of my brusque maneuvers of the boat.

Inara is 2 meters from the trawler. My hair has more grey in it.

This time, I warm the outboards a little bit, pull up the anchor and go re anchoring properly  (with bridle and all) on the complete other side of the creek. Na!

Thirty minutes have passed since the beginning of the drama, my foot is sore like hell. But no time, Ben will be waiting on the shore very soon.

I put back the dinghy in the water, put back the outboard and the second paddle and go fishing our fuel tank and our bin on the shore. I come back to Inara, fill the fuel tank with oil and fuel, go back to the dinghy and go picking Ben at the boat ramp.

Ben is not there. In my confusion, I forgot that he meant the other boat ramp upstream, I also don’t have my phone… Doh!

I go back to Inara, run out of fuel , (haha! Saw that coming!) refill the tank. Phone Ben, turn the anchor light on. Ben has foreseen my confusion and moved onto the fore-mentioned boat ramp… grrr…

We finally go back safe together onto Inara, he doesn’t suspect anything until he sees where the boat is anchored. I extract 1 cm stainless steel wire from my #$%$# foot. We re-anchor Inara safely together.

Once I tell him everything, we find out that a weird burnt smell is present. The stereo. The fuse (from the factory) supposed to protect it hadn’t worked!! So the winch overloaded it (and I also neglected turn it the stereo off…).

How about that?

Even if you get on top of everything, even if you accept that most of the things happen because you are stupid and not prepared / calm enough (like me, like the dinghy), Murphy’s Law still slaps you in the face at the end of some days! Thankfully 99% of the rest of the time is pure bliss.

Why yachties should be shortlisted for employment opportunities

Let’s face it, I am looking for my next stimulating position within a great company at the moment. I have to sell myself, my experience and also convince the prospective future employer that the numerous holes in my CV are due to the fact that I am dedicated to live my life fully and not to incompetence. Given that we spend a lot of time sailing, some might wonder if our social qualities are up to date and if we are competent enough to be entrusted with great responsibilities. I believe that yachties living aboard can demonstrate the following qualities:

  • We are passionate about our commitments. It takes a great amount of money, time and will to maintain a life on the water and be successful doing so.
  • We are naturally organised people. We have a place for everything on the boat, we set rules and know what getting rid of the clutter on a permanent basis means.
  • We also have a great affinity with logistics and organizing replenishment on a schedule with weather imperatives.
  • We have a keen eye for detail. We can spot what is wrong quickly or also pick up small disturbances on the water, spotting lures in an amount of plastic and so on. The other day someone put a test to spot a “C” in a middle of columns of “O” and said that if you find it in less than 1 min you were part of 10% of humans. It took me half a second.
  • We take initiatives and think outside the box. No other choices when breakage happens, you have to react quick.
  • We have a great sense of teamwork. Or at least when you are not a solo sailor.
  • We understand hierarchy and the need to use it sometimes especially in dangerous situations.
  • We are trained everyday with risk assessment scenarios. We read charts, weather maps and encompass all the data we can find for a safe journey.
  • We can live with very low energy consumption levels and be self reliable in term of water management and electricity production.
  • We know why it is important to do maintenance work. We do it ourselves.
  • We understand systems and procedures as well as material stress and constraints.
  • We love learning and observing our changing environment.
  • We know when to shut up, to manage tensions when the crew is edgy. We are very sensitive to other people’s mood. We care.
  • We have a high regard for “safety first”.
  • We are independent and able to manage our own situation for the best.
  • We are responsible individuals in charge of the safety of the boat, the passengers and the other users on the water.

Ok, there is nothing about humility there. And I guess I have met a lot of live aboards who were missing this undeniable quality.  However, Ben, my partner is the absolute buddhist monk in that respect and I, “little bandicoot”, am making a lot of efforts to follow his wisdom. So do you think a human ressource manager would value this or am I missing something important?

 

BenAnna, Inara and the Goanna

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This article ought to be a funny one. Ben just told me “Are you really going to write about that? How can you stretch it for that long?” Well, I write about things that make my day and I hope will make you smile; things that I find out of the ordinary and worth telling the tale.

We were anchored in Hill Inlet for a couple of days, the most beautiful inlet of pure white sand in Australia. As we came out with the tide starting to flow out, we were once more in awe with the color of the water at noon which is of the purest turquoise, a dreamy milky blue gleaming all around us as one huge giant swimming pool. We saw a few fish and as we approached the middle of the channel, to our amazement, a goanna was taking a bath. He was swimming in a bee line to the other side of the inlet which is about 400 meters wide. The beach he just left was packed with backpackers, and we both could understand his decision to try his luck somewhere else. Seeing him swim so eagerly was no common sight and I couldn’t believe how comfortable he looked with his head out of the water looking toward his destination, his tail and legs moving in a coordinated fashion for swimming.

However as we came close with Inara, he clearly changed his direction to come toward us for a rest. At first we thought nothing of it and continued on our way. But then we observed him a bit confused and not so sure anymore of which direction to go. He had stopped swimming and was just drifting a bit in circles. I said to Ben “Do you think he’s going to be ok? What will happen if he gets swept out with the ebbing tide? What a beautiful meal he would make for the sharks”.

We hesitated a few minutes and then, our do-gooder penchant for animal rescue (we rescued successfully an angry lorikeet hit by a car and a young magpie that was drowning in Moreton bay) took over. Ben turned the boat back to the distressed Goanna and I grab a towel and waited by the stern. Man overboard procedure training. As Ben closed up on him, he clearly came very eagerly towards us and he wasn’t afraid at all of me or the towel. I grab onto him by the arms just before he got swept under the hull and heaved it onto the back netting. He was a lot bigger than I anticipated, a little bit more than one meter long and a good five kilos. He hurried up visibly relieved under the dinghy. That was it. We had an extra passenger onboard, a wild goanna, what a strange feeling.

We decided that we clearly were not going to keep it as a pet. Well, Ben did, because me you know, I was alright to start feeding him and giving him a name. It would keep the birds of the boat and scare the jet-skiers I said. So before this happened, we motored to the other side of the inlet (Whitehaven beach) to release our rescued reptile. As we were discussing the goanna’s fate, he peeked his head out from under the dinghy and observed us with an interrogative look “Well, excuse my intrusion, are you sure you are not going to eat me? I’d like a simple ticket to the next beach, please.”

So we anchored Inara ten meters from the shore. We launched the dinghy, uncovering the poor Goanna and wondering how the hell we were supposed to bring him ashore. He was calm and didn’t looked too panicked. So Ben grabbed him by the tail (he didn’t like that part one bit) and put it in the dinghy. Mister the Goanna decided that the dinghy was an adventurous idea (no wonder when you know how is our dinghy) and he jumped overboard. Yes, but clearly he had enough of being in the water because once he realized what he had done, he wanted absolutely to come back with us on Inara or in the dinghy. We shooed him off, showing the shore just ten meters away. He finally got the drift and we watched him making his way to safety. He got a bit washed off by the tiny waves. Goannas are not very good surfers. And then he laid there, at the edge of the water, like a shipwrecked survivor gathering his forces and blessing the nice hard ground.

First the oyster catchers came straight at him in a very menacing way and then the sight of such a distressed animal attracted a crowd of opportunistic scavengers: seagulls, ready to poke his eyes out. We waited five minutes but the poor little guy didn’t seem keen to reach the safe cover of the bush. So we jumped in the dinghy, went ashore and gave him a free lift (It was my turn to hold him by the tail) to the underbrush at the edge of the beach. While I was holding him, I saw him regurgitate a few hundred milliliter of sea water. He looked a bit more awake after that and started to wiggle, hiss at me and try to pinch me. Goannas are not that grateful. I let him go once we reached the bush and he darted off apparently in full form and happy, as to say “so long suckers!”

Yes but…. The Crocodiles?

 

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We were on a prowl up to Cairns, where we decided to start heading south. Since Palm Island, I was longing to see the famous estuarine reptiles in their natural habitat. But if they are there and dangerous, they are also very shy and quite camouflaged. In Innisfails and Cairns, despite our efforts, we didn’t see any. I started to be a bit upset. I could blame only myself for being absolutely terrified of those contemporaneous to dinosaurs. You see, our dinghy is very small and stand over the water only by a few centimeters, so it was out of question (for me anyway) to go croc exploring in the mangroves. I also stopped any kind of fishing activities. And I hurried up like a waterlogged cat to the shore every time I was stepping out of the dinghy. But do you know how crocs eat you? Well, first they stalk you and as soon as they see an opening they grab you. They weigh hundred of kilos so any resistance is futile. They armored body can only be pierced by a gun so my habit of carrying my diving knife with me was useless. Once they get a hold on you they do a “death spiral” and basically turn endlessly on themselves to shake you like a doll and break most of your bones. But you are not dead yet, maybe you are still even conscious; while you see your relatives and the shore disappear, unable to move a finger and being taken under the water. Then they drown you and put you under a log to mature nicely so they can eat your tasty rotting flesh. It’s an horror to even think about it, isn’t it? Compared to this, the sharks that make you bleed to death and leave you pass to unconsciousness by blood loss is a mercy.

Anyway, being scared of croc is very common. I just happened to have a highly tuned instinct of survival, call it irrational fear if you want.

So, no crocs in Cairns, none in Innisfails, and none when we went cast netting, at thigh deep, at dusk in the big mangrove creek, in Zoe Bay (that was risky, right). Ben was, I was keeping an eye on him.

On our way back we stopped at Scraggy Point, on the eastern mangrovy side of Hinchinbrook. There, everything was screaming of croc danger: a little beach, full of wallaby tracks; a little creek with steep sandy banks, not quite clear, 3 meter deep at most and fenced by a door put there by National parks. Oh yes, crocs signs everywhere, of course. Ben and I were careful when we stepped back in our dinghy, keeping an eye out for any suspect wavelet.

The tide was flooding then and we were heading back to Inara. As I looked into Ben’s face, I saw some surprise, wondering and amusement as je was looking over my shoulder. I was sure he was plotting a joke as he said: “Look at that log over there, Anna, it might be one.” I turned around and saw… a log, two hundred meters away, bobbing slightly up and down, drifting as logs do in the flooding tide. With a bit of imagination you could think that the round part of the log was the snout of a crocodile coming out but not more.

I turned back to Ben “Yeah, it’s a log, alright. I don’t think it’s a crocodile, it’s just a dumb log. I don’t believe you, I think you’re joking, right?” Ben answered “Ok, well, let’s have a look then” and he changed course toward the innocent log at increased speed. It was still a hundred meter away when all sudden….. the “log” sunk down without a wave in a split of a second. My horrified expression might have been quite funny to witness but I remember myself being quite clear in saying : “ Oh my god, It dived down, It’s a fucking crocodile, please Ben, go back to Inara quick!” And all my attention was focused in reaching the boat.

As we approached Inara, I swiftly jumped onboard and hurried up to the bridge deck roof, the highest point possible. Ben came to sit next to me and we enjoyed watching twilight slightly creeping in. Fifteen minutes later we could see an irregularity in the surface of the water close to where our crocodile had plunged, a hundred meter away. With no imagination at all you could clearly see the snout, the scales of the back and the flicking tail delicately covered with triangular back and white flag shaped scales. We grabbed the binoculars, excited as if we were watching a puppet show. We could see all the details and we watched our first and unique wild croc drifting past. It was way bigger than the dinghy, at least three meters from snout to tail. It was incredible to observe how a perfect imitation of a log it was: any movement was imperceptible; it was going exactly at the speed of the tide, not a ripple to be seen. It went on scooting the beach where we launched our dinghy not even 20 minutes ago and then slowly drifted down toward the creek where it dived down suddenly again, getting ready to ambush its prey at dusk. That’s how I like to see crocs: far away from the safety of our boat. Unfortunately, I decide to not grab the camera and enjoy every moment I could observe the log full of fangs.

Apocalypse Doom day in Dunk Island.

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How many movies have you seen about the end of the world? How many were showing human civilization reclaimed by nature? Search no more if you want to have a tingle of it: go to Dunk Island.

Dunk Island was a busy, family resort just five years ago. It was bustling with activity, accommodating families of tourists and day visitors by the thousands every year. The ferries were loaded with clicking snapping vacationers. An airstrip was delivering 5 stars customers to their 5 stars condos. A dreamy beach surrounded by palm trees would continue on as sand spit on which was a swimming pool. Another main swimming pool was fiercely implanted in the middle of the resort, next to the beach, facing the sea. This was not really the kind of place we like to stop. But now, it is…..

Five years ago, Yassie the cyclone made her entry and left behind her a trail of devastation hardly believable. I mean, I feel sorry for the local economy and the jobs that were lost at the destruction of the resort but I couldn’t help but feeling an immense joy at the proof of Nature supremacy.

The units were made of concrete and built way too close from the beach. As a result, they were completely smashed! The windows are broken and sand blasted, the roofs are literally folded back, the railings on the balustrade are bent in figure of eight, the main pool is leaking, turning the adjacent palms trees yellow, the beach is gone, the sand  spit have a completely different shape and the pool that used to be on the sand spit is nowhere to be seen anymore…

Waoooh! That’s something to witness. Can you imagine what kind of highly destructive wind could do that? The same wind that wiped a full patch clean of Hinchinbrook Island, leaving anything standing more that 1.5 meter, into pieces. Five years later, the derelict resort have been sold and bought but the disaster hasn’t been cleaned. It all there for the “I don’t believe in climate change” and “I stick my head into a hole to avoid to think about the next twenty year” to see. I was marveling at it: The units haven’t even been touched, the furniture is still inside, the aircon units and ventilators idle and broken. The plants are growing everywhere and the birds seem to enjoy it.

The other fabulous things about Dunk Island are the walking tracks, the abundance of green coconuts and the complete absence of people on the island. Finally, I can’t close that chapter without mentioning one very useful thing: no plane lands anymore in this “Lost Paradise” but hot water showers are in free access for anchoring yachties. So fresh and so clean!

Sacred moment on Hinchinbrook Island.

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Our run North had an objective: Hinchinbrook Island. This very large lush tropical island is not inhabited. In the shadow of Mount Bartle Frere, 1622 meters, the highest mountain in Queensland, Hinchinbrook summit reaches 1121 meters and call for a close resemblance with Jurassic park’s Island. On the eastern side, a network of mangroves host all sort of reptiles and on the western sides, large sandy bays are welcoming to boats. One in particular is famous for the special treat reserved to yachties : Zoe bay and its track to a magical waterfall.

So we anchored close to the beach and the large creek that comes out of the mangroves, on the north . The beach curves around for about 2 kilometers and is fringed by coconut trees. It’s a wide flat beach that uncovers 400 meters at low tide. I was keeping a fair way from the water edge. I am very “ croc wise” even “croc chicken” as some would say. I am terrified at the idea of one of those lunging reptiles to get hold on me. Anyway, we arrived at the other side of the beach (south) where a little creek flows. Here the tracks start to the waterhole and waterfall dominating it. A nice couple of kilometers within the jungle and also some bare bush, consequence of the last cyclone. We saluted a couple coming back that ensured us that there was still plenty of water.

When we arrived at the waterhole, a family of five was just leaving. This left us alone and in privacy with one of the better swim I enjoyed in North Queensland. Crystal clear fresh water inhabited by rainbow perches. We also spotted an eel and a fresh water turtle. We swam around and basked under the waterfall for a while before climbing up through the track all the way to the top. From there, you could see Inara and Zoe bay. There was a succession of little pools but the water wasn’t flowing much as there had been no rain for a while. I noticed the biggest pool had a perfect feature to make a water slide, if only there was more water…..

So I started building a dam to raise the level of the main pool while Ben was laboring in diverting the flow in other pools upstream to create more flow in the main one. In less than 15 minutes of work, our main pool had risen by 20 cm and water was flowing steadily into the water slide. Let’s the fun begin!!! It was quite good with a landing that required a bit of bum cheek but it worked well. We both enjoyed it, Ben trying it only once. It’s not very good for his back issue, for sure.

After that and a few languid pictures in those enchanted pools, we rinsed ourselves under our own private waterfall, shower style, which our damming work had created. Endless fun, you say?

Anyway, we went back down to the waterhole and striped our clothes for the third time. This time we played with the bungee rope tied up to a tree. A quick drop of 2 and a half meters swinging back and forth and splash into the water! How many kids and adults have played in this fashion for so many thousand years? It’s hard to say, but the feeling is clearly there that people have been living near that sacred fresh water.

We finally decided that we had enough and walked back. On our way back we met the next group of tourists. All this time we were up there (a few hours), there had been NO ONE! We had the complete site for ourselves and as we said hello to this next batch of swimmers, it was as if a curtain had just been lifted, a veil which protected us from the outside world. If anything at all, this was really pure magical moments.

Marooned on Palm Island.

 

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28 miles from Maggie Island north, lays Palm Island, famous for its community. A huge massive mountainous island, we could see it from miles away. We day-sailed there and anchored in North East Bay. Crystal clear water was waiting for us along a pristine sandy beach where I happily collected not less than 33 “sea hearts”, giant seeds from a vine originating from South America. The beach has no road access and the jungle is thick, lush and steep all around it. At each corners, creeks flow when there is rain and the one on the eastern side even sport a waterfall. Alas, Ben’s childhood souvenirs couldn’t be fulfilled as the Island was currently undertaking a severe drought. The creeks were both dry, the wallabies thirsty. The next day we sailed through the northern passage between Curacoa and Palm Island. We went to anchor in front of the town which looked quite nice. Now it’s time for me to explain a bit why the hell we were planning of giving a visit to Palm Island. Ben’s friend was living temporally on the island working as a nurse.

You see, Palm Island is an aboriginal community, one of which that makes the news often for stories of violence, riots, alcohol problems and so on. The story goes like this: white people wanted to isolate the few left aborigines that didn’t die of disease, bad treatment, shooting, slavery or just poisoning (they gave them flour poisoned with rat poison!) so they packed them all without distinction of tribe, origin or culture into Palm Island. The sick ones went to Fantome Island.

After a few decades, this leave a community (now free) scared with the horrendous treatment they received. I don’t want to judge Palm Island inhabitants by our very short visit. We got a bit of stories from our friend (the island population is very young and a lot of people are sick), the houses are neat as well as the streets. The village doesn’t feel too right though: it has been designed like a military compound with bulky buildings in square patterns, no much proof of social life, no restaurant/coffee shop/take away. Everyone said “hello” and seemed going on their own business, we didn’t feel the slightest trace of animosity but once again we just went on a tour of the island inside the car with our friend. People live there but nothing prospers, all the administration jobs (cops, doctors, nurses, teachers) and initiatives are managed by whities.

Apparently a few people (aborigines elders) are taking initiatives to open the tourism (the island is absolutely gorgeous, I’m coming to that later) but there isn’t any accommodation for tourists on the island, so just day visitors can come and seriously, there isn’t any business to let them have a beer (the island is under a alcohol management plan, basically at the pub, a XXXX beer can, costs 6 dollars and you have to show id and register your fingerprint, no kidding, to get it) or a coffee looking at the extremely beautiful string of islands all the way to Hinchinbrook. The feeling in town is one of extreme sadness, culture incomprehension, lack of hope, beaten past, forlorn future.

But Palm Island is a true jewel geographically. It’s so lush, protected and beautiful. It has many dreamy sandy beaches surrounded by crystal water, reefs full of fish, mangroves with crocodiles, jungle forests, Eucalypt forests and the thing that blow me the most away: Wild horses! We went for a little walk to a hill top with our friend and we could see the horses, not that wild after all, just twenty meters away from us. They were observing us, not afraid, and displaying a shiny healthy hide and mane into the setting sunset through the eucalypt trees.

I don’t know how many times I cursed myself for forgetting the camera, it is not enough. This would have been the most mind blowing picture ever taken by me. You could see the slight steamy dust rising through the forest on this late afternoon, the fluorescent green leaves enhanced by the low sun and the amazingly beautiful horses, watching us, ears up, lustrous curious creatures surrounded by a magic light that flowed around them with beams trough the forest.

This vision put me on a little cloud for quite a while. At least until we came back to the beach to discover the worst (the sun had set by then, it was dark): Our dinghy had disappeared! Gone! Not there! Nowhere to be seen! Absent from the beach! Escaped! Vanished!

We were literally marooned on Palm Island.

Now let me backtrack a little bit: while we contemplated the possibility to make a stop at Palm Island, Ben mentioned, at more than one occasion, the chance to get the dinghy stolen because it happened to him and his parents when they made a visit twenty years ago. I quite didn’t believe it but I still tried to make sure (or so I thought) that the lock was closed properly when we left the dinghy on the beach. I might not have been doing  a very good job, apparently, the dinghy had finally successfully realized his evasion. (that dinghy has a looong record of tentatives of evasion, we call him “OU-dinghy” for Oudini the magician. He made Ben swim for him several times including one at dusk in New Caledonia).

They were traces on the sand. The dinghy had been helped to escape, no doubt. We could already imagine it, showing off the nice gleam of his little outboard, calling in a soft voice “ I am the perfect dinghy for you, I’m stable and little, the perfect dinghy for kids to go fishing. Take me, take me! Look even my lock is not closed properly!” And the work of kids it was, as we learnt from two adults sorting things in the adjacent shed. The same kids that spent endless afternoon jumping from the jetty, swimming and carrying on. The two guys told us that they saw them having trouble to start the outboard and then, when they got it started, they went off flat out towards the right end of the beach.

We walked in there, looking around until we reached a little patch of mangroves. We didn’t have any torch and we would have liked to have a peek but the muddy darkness discouraged us. Meanwhile our friend had called the locals cops and also arranged for us to borrow one of the school’s kayaks for us to go back to Inara. She was a good 500 meter away and it was out of question to swim over the reef by night. Two school teachers also join the search effort but alas, the dinghy was nowhere to be found. We were wondering if the kids had run out of petrol and just left it drifting or if they had arranged for an adult to pick them up. We had so many adventures with this dinghy, he is completely part of the family. Also, that meant that our travel north was brought to an unexpected end. We couldn’t go on cruising in crocodile country without a dinghy. All of this without mentioning what havoc it would bring in our thinning savings to splurge for the acquisition of a new tender. The end of the holidays had a bitter taste.

While thinking about all of this (and it was my fault for sure, I didn’t close the lock), we brought the kayak to the edge of the water (it weighs 3 tons) and reluctantly got ready to paddle back in shame. At this exact moment, two young fellows that we saw crabbing and fishing in the mangroves walked toward us in the Jetty and said:

“Hey! You’re looking for a boat? A very little boat with an outboard on it? Yep, we saw it! It’s inside the mangrove deep in far. It’s there, you can’t miss it.” We thanked them a lot, happy as two clams at high water, and went to look for it. The cops found it before us. It was neatly tied up to a tree to avoid it to escape, ready for the next day of fun with the little mongrels. We were so lucky and relieved! The outboard was still (miracle) on it and even if they had touched the bottom with the propeller and also tangled the wire lock in it, the propeller pin wasn’t broken.

We could live Palm Island for good.

Anyway, form that little experience I would remember two things: people helped us very well there, with that peculiar community feeling to it and also… never trust an Anna with a lock. A few pictures below of our dinghy because he serves us so well with his little air of a crook.

Magnetic Island made me lose my North.

 

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Because we could push our luck a bit more up north, we set our course originally toward Hinchinbrook Island to see some more wild life and have a few more adventures.

I wasn’t too keen to stop on Magnetic Island a.k.a. “Maggie Island”. The rumors of it being a nest of backpackers probably helped that feeling. But I was curious to see the island where Julian Assange grew up, such an insignificant little Queensland island to be home to one of the greatest mind of our time.

We anchored in Horseshoe bay and the number of derelict boats staying there clearly indicated that there was a big concentration of tourists on the island. The more backpackers you get somewhere, the more you see old dodgy looking maintained vessels hanging around as many seagulls hoping to scavenge on the fresh young naive pot smoking money loaded Europeans (girls mainly). Sorry to be sarcastic but the most unsafe looking boats, overloaded, under maintained or even wrecks are around 1770, Airlie beach (the northerly wind clears them from time to time), Maggie Island, Mission beach and Cairns.

In Maggie Island, many of the “local” boats sported a pirate flag. How original…. (don’t get me started about Pirate flags or how to turn a wonderful strong symbol into the most commercial boring bogan and unoriginal declaration to make about a boat : “I like to drink booze, I am antisocial or pretend to be and I have no imagination whatsoever so I hang a stupid Pirate flag bought for 5 dollars in a junk shop to impress people and call for some respect” If you are really a Pirate, you make your own flag, you own a machete, you avoid talking to people and more than all, you stay discreet. )

Anyway, I stop ruining the fun, Maggie Island was fantastic! Absolutely gorgeous with heaps of walking tracks, WWII history, hidden little bays all around and a lot of wildlife. What  impressed me the most was the atmosphere of the island which was extremely relaxed and with a strong sense of a tightly woven community conscious of their precious little island: they have their own solar powered electricity cooperative (and they built a skate park under the installation, how cool), free water for yachties and walkers (and the water tanks at the top of the hill have a tap), a very small amount of cars (the traffic was mainly little rental cabriolets driven by tourists), a very good bus service, eco lodge resorts (with cuddling Koalas), hippie therapies, health food coffee shops… you name it, it all felt a bit new age and greenie; I loved it.

As a consequence (of the many many walking tracks) you see people actually DOING things and even if there is quite a noticeable number of tourists; everyone is super relaxed, calm, chilling out and not packed all in the same place. It’s definitely VERY different from Airlie Beach where the sleazy mass tourism have turned locals into aggressive harpies against foreigners (even Ben suffered from it, he is too young to be a grey nomad so he must be a backpacker).

Maggie Island has a sweet feeling where everything will be ok surrounded by those amazing granite boulders and the dry bush everywhere. It’s an island where you can feel people have been living from the sea for thousands of years, the huge centennial looking fig trees are still echoing from the play of kids and the chatter of women sorting the day catch. All part of a community, all part of the island; I would really like to have a little shack there, on Maggie island looking at the banana trees, mango trees and pineapples  grow. It’s a dry island but it is an unbelievably enchanting island. No wonder why Assange went the way he did, there is something different on this little piece of Paradise; maybe it is even magnetic?

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