At dusk on our first day of sailing from Cairns, skip caught a mackerel which, an hour later, became sashimi entrée, followed by succulent steaks on the barbecue... mmm. Arrived in Cooktown at about 4am on Saturday. Did two more trips to the stupidmarket (the provisioning thing made my head spin) and a sunset walk up to Cook’s lookout.
Sunday - first day on the project. We welcomed aboard 11 boys aged between 11 and 16, three elders and an Indigenous park ranger – all from Hopevale. We also have a teacher from Hopevale and the ANZ rep from Cooktown on board. All up, 24 ‘ POB’ (people on board). Left Cooktown early Sunday and sailed to Lizard Island, arriving at sundown. Anchored at Watson’s Bay (the main anchorage at Lizard) with quite a few cruising yachts.
The first policy on the boat is to get the boys involved in all parts of Pelican’s operation. From the moment we untied at Cooktown, they’ve been hands on with both the sailing and cooking. My directorial debut was a barbecue lunch, followed by a barbecue dinner with baked spuds and salad. Both for 24 people (more head spinning, and in both directions this time).
A note about the food. The mob brought their own supplies for five days, which I estimate as roughly six cows and truckloads of bread, potatoes, rice, tinned meat, weet-bix and sugar. The second policy onboard Pelican is that when we’re all together at lunch or dinner, we eat their grub. After two days, skip is the first to bitch (albeit to crew) about the quantities of flesh being consumed.
Some funny anecdotes re the food:
One: Little Elijah is a real foodie and always hanging around the galley. Seeking something other than iceberg lettuce for the salad, I thought of the very ripe avocados in the top fridge. “Let’s put a couple of avos in the salad!” “Abos?” he asked with all the disgust a ten-year-old can muster.
Two: Supervising my first lunch, I darted between the barbecue (on deck) and the galley, where the onion chopping operation was in full swing. Looking up at me from the galley were three scruffy boys crying their eyes out over onion fumes. Even second mate, who was sitting near the hatch, had to move to escape rising vapours. (Second mate is the person formerly known as first mate. We have a new FM on the project.)
Have also learnt a few tricks about engaging wayward boys to do the washing up. “I need three strong boys in the galley!” “Me Miss Sam, I’ll go in the galley!” I throw the dishcloth at them before they realise what’s going on.
Back to Lizard Island. Had another “Oh my god it’s Monday morning” moment, walking along the beach that famous and obscenely well-to-do folk fork out $2,000 a day to stay and play on. Tropical blues and hot sun. We took the boys on a 4km walk through the forested inland to the marine research station (one of four on the Great Barrier Reef), where the head scientist spoke about the station’s work. Lunched on the beach (the boys made us tinned meat sandwiches - eew!) and walked to the outrageously priced resort via a succession of secluded coves, where the boys’ chatter about sloppy farts, etc, shattered the idyll of several honeymooners. Arriving at the resort, we were delayed in the hot sun by management, who would not let us continue walking on the beach in front of their restaurant. I suppose if you’re charging people two grand a day, a bunch of little blackfellas traipsing across your lunchtime panorama shatters any illusion of isolation and exclusivity. The upside to their snobbery was a free ride in a glass-bottomed boat over coral and clams back to Watson’s Bay, which the kids loved.
Back at the boat there was time for a swim (yes, it’s still Monday and a working day) and then a walk up to Cook’s lookout (a different one) at sundown with first mate. Arrived back at boat to find dinner organised and being plated, with the boys serving the Elders and women first. (How I managed this, I’m still not quite sure, but lapping it up nonetheless.)
We left Lizard at midnight, sailing north to Cape Melville - the traditional lands of some of the boys. Up at 4am for dawn watch with new first mate. Second mate brings coffees and banana cake (not my handiwork) before knocking off. The wind swings. We furl a genoa and pull the sheet through to port, then set both genoas. Cruising at 7 knots. Sea is calm and the boys asleep on the middle deck. It gets light. The old fellas rise. I put the kettle on and make a round of teas. A light appears on our bow. A fishing boat, heading straight for us. We maintain course. So does the fishing boat. Though we have right of way on two counts, I can now see wet clothes hanging from his deck and my nerves are jangling. Over the radio comes a blast, “What the hell are you doing?” By this time, skip (who sleeps in the wheelhouse) is up and his retort is unflinching. No reply and the other boat gets out of our way. A close call…
I get the boys’ brekky on the table while they sleep. Swear they can smell the sugar (which they complained to the Elders was missing on the first day) and they’re up and into it like a flash. I chat to some of the Elders and make another round of coffees and teas and wash dishes. Crash for an hour and am woken by a man-overboard drill. Little Jepho has everyone in stitches administering CPR to the danbuoy.
Arrive at Cape Melville where the kids and some of our crew go ashore and set up camp for the next two nights. “And then there were six,” reads the whiteboard on deck. (The cook is one of the lucky ones and gets to stay onboard.) I give the galley a clean and muse at the sound of… nothing! “We won’t know what to do with ourselves,” jests first mate to someone on deck. “Oh yes we will!” I reply from the galley. Coffee, chocolate, fresh food, sleep!
Chores blitzed, I prep frittata for lunch, with a crazy green salad and toasted sesame garlic pitta breads. Skip puts on Louis Armstrong. We rock in a stiff breeze and sunlight fills the gleaming middle deck. V civilised. Lovely to have a break from the non-stop madness of 11 boys.
Went ashore today for a walk to a burial site. Then the boys made us lunch (damper burgers!) and had a ‘men’s only circle’ so the three of us girls went beachcombing and got crafty. I made a windchime, a necklace and a Pelican sign from shells, seedpods, grasses and driftwood. E (deckie) made a woven basket. We (the third being the ANZ rep) also collaborated on a flotsam totem.
Tonight’s plans got waylaid by a pan-pan call from a boat a few miles from us, with a 12-year-old on board having an asthma attack. Skip got on the HF and picked up Adelaide Coast Patrol - which got ambos on the line - and a relatively nearby dive vessel with a doctor on board. There was talk of getting a chopper up from Cairns. After a few hours of radio to and fro, the situation settled, and we had a late feed.
Have stacks of photos but will post later… tis well after midnight and must be up in five hours for an early sail up the coast a mile or two where we’ll go ashore for a walk to a freshwater spring.