08_hovering dinghy

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.