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Windsurfing In The BenAnna Republic

The world of Ben-kingdom seen by Anna-rchista

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QLD Coast and Whitsundays 2015

Our escaping of responsibilities to seek warm weather.

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!”

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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?

An Afternoon of Beachcombing

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Some friends one day called us “freeloaders”. It actually shocked me to consider that doing things the smart easy way (without hurting anyone) can be classified as taking advantage of the rest of the population that work hard, find life hard and complain about the hardness of it all. I mean, should we feel guilty if most of the worries that people usually load themselves with are, for us, not part of our reality?

Not that we have no problems or that we swim in money (very far from that actually), but that we attach to it less importance compared to the big picture of living you life at the fullest? Someone one day should explain to me why you should feel guilty for living your life and why you are supposed to pay for everything, including things that belong to everybody (water, national parks in Tasmania, anchoring in Europe, boat registrations, toilets in France, electricity in houses even if you are completely powered by your own solar panels, camping, fishing permits). The absurd examples of what you are supposed to pay for when actually you shouldn’t, are numerous. Ben reckons one day someone will propose a tax on oxygen and another one on rain water. Anyway I am sidetracking here, let’s go back to the main topic: How we got a full load of free stuff by walking along the beach. The BenAnna version of Christmas.

For starters, let me say that we found a little island downwind of the Whitsundays. The Whitsundays are so touristic that every day probably 1 ton of stuff might find its way overboard thanks to the wind, the bad luck (oh no my sunnies sunk in the water again) or the stupidity of people (don’t shake your head while looking to the dolphins playing at the bow over the water).

So we walked ashore and we started by picking a box each: a new plastic container for me and a fishing tackle box for Ben. Then we filled our boxes. We found not less than 8 fishing lures, two paddles, a boat hook, two fenders (one got stolen sneakily by someone that followed us from a distance as we left the fender to pick it up on the way back), my nice black hat, a collection of caps, a volleyball, golf balls, nice new bits of rope, heaps of buoys, an inflatable anchor (toy), a brand new plastic owl, a plastic noodle (we needed one for the storage of the windsurf boards), a speargun.  We didn’t keep everything but packed up some above high water mark for the next explorers. We also collected some of the rubbish (plastic bags and rubber parts) and I wish I would have had one of the reef protecting rubbish collection bag to give to the shore a proper clean up. Unfortunately we couldn’t pack all the rubbish with us and bring it back onboard Inara. So much stuff. Poor Turtles.

So yes! We appropriated ourselves with the goods, bought by hard laborers, lost overboard by nitwits and floated by the sea (let’s not forget the sea!) to the shore. I know we are getting close to Christmas and I get a bit more upset every day. Stop buying stuff, stop buying junk that has no meaning just because you want to please someone for a little more than 5 seconds. It will all end up in the sea and if we are lucky we’ll collect it to put it into landfill. Please buy meaningful /organic/ fair/ handcrafted/ eco-certified items for only the people you care for. Don’t buy crap to make yourself feel better for someone that will do the same for you. Just give them a handmade card made out of recycled paper or nothing even, just wishes and good thoughts will do. If they are really your friends they will understand.

Hill Inlet, the dreamy waters for a windsurfing ride and RIP to an old friend.

When I was a teen, 15 years ago, I sometimes fantasized on how one day I would be rich and I would windsurf all over the world from a boat (ideally a catamaran) and my partner would be as keen as me. It was all a wonderful dream but I never really believed it  would happen to me (especially the partner part) and even if we are very far from being rich, we somehow are living it now.  When Ben and I met several years ago, I was full on talking about windsurfing and him about sailing. We quickly came to conclude that windsurfing in Hill Inlet would be the pure dream, an awesome spot remote and virgin. And then, one thing leading to another, I brought my windsurfing gear from overseas and Ben proved himself, very quickly, a better windsurfer than I. We both love it and there is nothing better than being at full power, skimming over the water at impossible speed with your other half few meters ahead or behind you (or jibing just in front). After all those years, we finally windsurfed in this Mecca; Hill Inlet and its meanders of pure white sand.

The first time, the forecast was 15-20 knts SSE. We anchored just past the sandbank on the SE side. High tide was early in the morning, so basically we had 2-3 hours in the morning of enough water to go over the sandbanks. You need half tide usually. The little tricky part is the current which can be quite strong depending where you go. We mainly windsurfed in the first inlet (north of the sand bank) where the tide against wind creates interesting waves just after high tide and where it brings you back upwind. A couple of hours after high tide the spot flatten a lot and you can enjoy great speed runs making sure that your fin doesn’t come to close to touching in shallow spots. Ben rigged his 6.0 m2 NCX and I was comfortable in 5.0 m2 Blade. Three days in a row we had a great time, slashing the turquoise waters with endless fun and resting sometimes in the bubbling sand of the inlet, a natural Jacuzzi. On the fourth day, the wind was still here but our muscles were quite sore. I inherited a dreadful pain in the neck and a jaw ache from crashing at full speed with my mouth open. So we chicken out knowing that it was just a matter of days before we have a go at it again.

Ben’s mother came onboard with us and for a week we enjoyed calm weather, snorkeling at the reef and sailing around the Whitsundays islands. Then, after a few hiccups due to one of our outboard destroying its impeller, we went back to Hill Inlet again. The forecast was 25-30 knots this time and it was a good 20-25knts in the Inlet. The high tide being this time at the middle of the day, it was perfect and we enjoyed great wave conditions with the flooding tide. Very strong and very tough ride, though. We both shared my 4.2 m2 Force on the 74L board. It was the first time in 2 years that this gear had touched the water. I also inaugurated my new helmet and even made use of my buoyancy jacket after a terrible horrible crash that left me out of breath and my ears still ringing with non-identified cracking noises inside my body. These dampen me a bit to be honest and Ben enjoyed most of the day with my gear and my helmet. Until I picked him up nicely with the dinghy, he was quite tired by then. The second day was more civilized, we had fun, him with his 105L Starboard and NCX 5.5  (a bit too small, the conditions were quite fluky) and me with my 5.0 m2 and 87L Naish Vector. It was, probably one of the best sessions of my life, I surfed endlessly, jumping at the last second over crumbling waves (1.2m not to big), pretending I was Robby Naish, carving , slashing, bumping, exhilarating; the greatest cross playfield ever.

In the middle of the session, something final happened though. As I was water-starting, a strong gust flipped me over with the sail. As I pulled back the sail out of the water, the aspect of it immediately caught my eye: the main panel was broken from side to side; this would probably mean the end of life of a great sail. I still continued planning for over two hours with a bit less power and trying to make the most out of my last moments with this very dear object of mine.

Now, let us have a couple of minutes to remember the amazing moments and untold exploits this piece of composite mylar equipment had survived. Born in 2004, fresh out of a Severne Australian workshop, it has been shipped to the other side of the planet, France to meet its new master. It wasn’t me, I was just a very poor student and I couldn’t afford a 1200 AUD new sail. Its life started quite rough on the northern beaches of France and it made an encounter with a picket fence which brought a few scratches at the top. Also, this being the first model of Severne Blade, the stitching of the luff was quite bad and it already started to have a few holes, although this wasn’t affecting the shape in any way. I picked it up in 2005 for 250 EUR as a bargain, his owner doubting of the quality of the young Australian brand. From then, we had so many sessions, it is impossible to count. Love at first sight, its power and drivability enchanted me. I almost went lost at sea with it, so much I didn’t want to stop sailing offshore. I was picked up by a monohull when the wind dropped off 3 miles from the shore. One day, while coming back to the shore after another lousy session without wind, the shore break grabbed the sail and pounded hundred of kilos of water over it. It resulted in the clew  being in pieces and several panels to replace. The little sewing lady I brought it to did an amazing job and saved my holidays. I was back on the water with it again. Then came years in storage in my parents shed, while I was travelling all over the world; wondering  if I would ever windsurf ever again with my beautiful fluro yellow and silver sail. In 2010, I bought her big sister (5.3m2) and had a few more sessions before heading to Asia and then Australia. There I met the magician of my childhood dreams and thanks to him I brought back this cleverly assembled piece of plastic to the water where it had been initially designed, Australia. From there, paradise sailing in Moreton Island, Port Stephens and even  New Caledonia, Ouvea. So many sessions with it and so many good moments. I have had other 5.0 m2 but they all have resigned early, not this one. The stitching all over it had gone a bit scraggly and I knew that the day would happen when I would have to say goodbye. It finally reached its climax at Hill Inlet and seriously, for any windsurf sail in the world, that would probably be the best place to caress the wind one last time.

Lure fishing, Prospecting, and a Treasure hunt.

Maybe it would be time to write randomly of some of the activities we do when we are not in the water. However, I won’t name each of the locations where we did such activities because as the fishing spots are sometime not divulgated, the good prospecting and caves exploring are better kept secret, at least not on internet for everyone to ruin it.

Still with our habits from Tasmania, where fishes competed to bite the lures, we spent literally hours rock fishing, beach casting, dinghy trolling, without having much success. Ben got a few stripeys and I brought back a blue tusk fish. Very weird as the bones are bright blue but it had very firm flesh and mild flavor, very good eating indeed.

We’ve got some good fun though: while walking on South Percy Island, we spotted a 5 or 6 HUGE stingrays (3 meters long at least and 1.5 meter wide) and twenty or more reef sharks right next to the beach in the shallow water at thigh deep. Not listening to Ben, I cast my favorite lure toward the deep water and there; as soon as the lure touched the water; a good size Queen fish grabbed it. All excited, I started winding it when Kaboom, a shark sized the Queen fish in distress (quite expected, Ben said…). Not really understanding what I was doing but really resolved to get my lure back , I start fighting the shark on my light gear. I mean, it was quite a fight, and I really thought I could eventually land that shark. But when the shark saw the beach (1 meter for the edge), he suddenly realized what was going on and turn straight back at sea with all the force that a 1 meter shark can have. There was no stopping it, for sure, and I watch my line whizzed on my reel while apparently screaming to Ben “cut the line, aaaaah cut the line). Ben laughed a lot. The line eventually broke at the trace and my beautiful lure was gone forever.

I also got bruises on my ribs for holding the rod with quite a catch on the line. The adrenalin surge of it was fun though. SO if you find a 15 cm lure, turquoise blue, silver/yellow and red on the bottom, deep/average diver 1.5 m, mullet shaped with squiggly eyes, please send it back to me….. Anyway, I stopped fishing because I lost 3 lures in just 48 hours fishing, 2 to sharks and the third one because I forgot to lose the brake, on its first cast, new from the shop….

While we were in Tasmania looking for rocks, I read a bit (a lot) about geology and what kind of rocks are to be found next to gold. Ok, that might sound crazy, but there is a lot of gold in Australia, people are still living from it, and it’s fun to try to understand the geology of a place when you newly arrive. Also fossicking and beach combing can be quite rewarding on islands where only a handful of people go, and even less actually wander around and look the right way. Anyway, cutting down the suspense, I found a couple of very interesting things: clear transparent quartz crystals coming straight out of the rocks from the “nursery” and jade. The quartz crystals were from boulders right on the beach. I followed the veins of white quartz , looking around at each irregularities (oxide patterns) and change in color. I finally found a “nursery”, the white granite rock was hosting something if you look the right way. The color, sand white, was changing to bright red to dark red then black (coal). In the hollow in the middle, tens of quartz crystal had formed, some as big as the last knuckle of my little finger. I used my knife to harvest them. I followed the tracks and got about 50 of those crystals. I didn’t harvest them all, at all. There was hundreds of nurseries and thousand of crystal if you knew where to look. I got just the ones I liked. I admit I felt bad to take from a natural environment stones that had taken hundred of years, thousand of years to grow under such high pressure. I finally got a very big one, as big as my thumb . I mean, you can find stones like this in any hippie shop and they probably worth a couple of bucks each. But it’s not the same thing if you find them yourself. Also, in this special spot, there are good chances to find gold (because of the amount of quartz and the purity of it), but we didn’t have time to play and pan the beach. I will go back though, in the mean time I got a nice sample which I’d like to get analyzed.

For the jade, it was a lot easier. It was on the beach, little pieces of very green stuff, a little bit fibrous varying in color from an opaque green turquoise kind of ceramique to a translucid algae green on top of a harder stone. It’s nephriite, the tender kind of jade, not so precious and not so rare either, but quite pretty. The veins were there, going straight down the beach. I got some from the veins directly but it was quite crumbly. The advantage of picking them after they got washed by the waves is that the erosion process keeps only the harder (purer) material and also gives it a natural polish.

What else interesting did we found? One day, as we were exploring some unnamed island; we went down a protected secret little rocky beach stuck between two huge cliffs, 30 meters high. The access was new and only possible as the erosion had crumbled a large portion of dirt and stones. At mid-height, a dark opening was continuing long inside the cliff. This cave had a high ceiling, 5-6 meters high in a A-frame form and was quite narrow , 1.5 meter wide. This tunnel was continuing for 50 meters inside the rock and some hint gave away that sometimes the sea washes there: the floor was soft mud and a polystyrene body bard had been pushed far inside. A nest of swallows guarded the entry and when Ben shined on the ceiling over our heads, the thousand of pearls from condensation, forming over a yellow lichen were gleaming like gold spread in flakes. On the background the sea was growling as if some sort of wild animal was momentarily allowing us to visit its den.  Dusk was setting and we still continue down on the stone beach to see if anything of interest had washed off. There was a wreck, many pieces of a large boat, maybe a fishing trawler, quite old. On a corner, Ben called me as he pointed out the pink orange yellow glint of a large piece of riveted brass/copper. We unearthed it, pushing the hundred of smooth rocks that had buried it and polished it. It was quite big and heavy, some part of an old boiler maybe. My first reaction was it would worth a bit of money but there was no way we would take the risk of carrying it back over the crumbled stones, the cumbersome weight would make it dangerous. But more important than this, it was a piece of a wreck, apart  from the fact that having a piece of wreck on Inara could be bad luck, who would really want to stole away some part of history just to give it to a metal wrecker? So we left it there, happy to have discovered a treasure and satisfied that we will not be greedy in stealing some piece of heritage. Not completely pirates, then.

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