30 October 2007

things that bite, part two

I have blood on my hands. Me and Estelle, large chunks of the weekend with handlines out. Nothing. Yesterday I thought I'd give it a miss. As we pass a group of rocky outcrops (somewhat incongruously named The Clara Group), the water becomes turbulent.

Skip: "Why don't you throw a line out?"

Estelle wisely sits this one out. Me, I can already taste spanish mack.

Out goes skip's best lure. At seven knots through a choppy sea, there's one helluva drag. I reel in, just to be sure. Nothing. After not very long there's a small but definite tug. Reel in. Again, nothing. Third time lucky. A strike. Got him. He's a biggie. I sink to my haunches and clutch the reel to my belly while yelling for help. Hope I haven't snagged a shark!

Skip comes first and has a hold. "He's a biggie." Passes the reel back to me and darts to the wheelhouse to steer us off course to slow us down. First mate arrives and helps me haul in the line. "Wow, he's big."

A big slab of silver ploughs along the suface.

Skip arrives with the gaff. (Animal lovers are advised to look away now.)

Fishy is big indeed and spewing blood on the deck from a big gaff wound. He's also swallowed the three-hooked lure whole. Poor fishy, sorry fishy. I start apologising.

Skip makes good with the ID: "Mackerel tuna, not very good eating. I'd throw him back, but he's as good as dead."

Fishy streams blood and flicks around for a bit. First mate calls for the knife. Fishy twitches with a throatful of lure.

The Australian Fish Guide advises my catch is a "highly prized lightweight game species... (and) can reach one metre in length and 12 kg... (and) has dark sinewy meat which is best steamed and served with sauces or used as berley or cut bait". Oh. Dammit. It started with such promise.

Skip adds to his review: "It's really strong, oily meat. I guess I'd eat it if I was really hungry."

I spend the rest of the afternoon filleting. We have him for dinner, lightly steamed and drenched in lemon juice with salt and pepper. The baked potatoes are so crunchy-good that no-one complains about fishy. In fact, after such a bad wrap, we agree that he tastes quite okay. Bordering on good, even. I feel marginally better about hooking him. Just marginally.

19 October 2007

things that bite

No doubt Australia’s collective irrit-o-meter is registering a dirty big hit right now. Poor populous, with lounge rooms and TVs, witnessing night after night of hair-pulling in the electioneering ring. That must bite. ‘Specially now Johnny’s come over all ‘green’. In my little cultural vacuum (otherwise known as the boat), I’m contributing in my own meagre way, channelling irritation via an incursion of bites and welts. Big festy ones, with bits of arm and leg visible in between.

It all started with another Monday Morning Moment. Walking along the seaward shore of Hinchinbrook Island, setting off from George’s Point to walk the 32 kilometre, World Heritage-billed Thorsborne Trail. Sand-skirted forest. Jagged escarpments. Thumping surf. Sea eagles cruising. Bruised sky. Cool breeze at our backs after maddeningly muggy days. Like many a sorry tale, it began on a whim, with much giddy excitement.

First mate, deckie and I book our walk – four days, three nights – the day before setting out, provisioning as much as is possible on a Sunday in a small town. A billy is improvised from an International Roast tin (which, naturally, only saw Vittoria from thence on). A ride is hastily arranged – with Nino from Ingham, who’d been on the overnight sail with us to Goold Island – south to Lucinda, where Nino introduces us to the publican who lets us camp in her backyard. We have beach towels for sleeping mats and a flustery dome tent, which we nickname the Taj for its seeming opulence when erected next to first mate’s mozzie net, sans ground sheet. Curlews wail all night. Up early to thumb a ride (really) in the back of a ute (truly) down the road to the ferry.

To self: Why do I feel like I’m 19 again?

Night one on the island. Camp at Mulligan’s Falls and lovely swims in small waterhole with inquisitive jungle perch. We swim to escape the swarms of march flies, sandflies, mozzies – really, anything that flies and bites. Why did we choose to walk on an island with 31 species of mangrove? The Bushman’s puts up token resistance. By morning I’m having chickenpox flashbacks.

Our second day’s walk gets us out of rainforest and into coastal shrubland... grasstrees, she-oaks, banksias and big views over the Palm islands, Magnetic Island and the southern hemisphere’s longest jetty, at 5 kilometres – which delivers sugar to ships from the Lucinda wharf. I’m dog-happy as the bites get a good scratch on the overgrown track.

Swim and late lunch at an ‘infinity’ rockpool atop Zoe Falls, with The Most Amazing View Ever, followed by us pitching the Taj at The Most Stupid Place Ever for a Campsite: the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service established site, next to a mangrove-lined estuary and an ‘Achtung – camp well away from water’ sign. A temporary wire fence has been erected “due to recent croc sightings”. First mate requests permission to kip in the Taj tonight.

Here we meet Tom from London who is travelling solo. First mate urges me, as the token single female in our party, to get chatty and impose upon Tom's gas stove to cook our dinner. (Something we couldn’t acquire or improvise at short notice. We made a fire last night, in the absence of other campers, but there are two other parties at tonight’s camp.) Tom happily exchanges fuel for coffee, chocolate and a chat. We make a fire anyway, since we’re desperate to repel things that bite.

Day three on the island. We knock off almost half the trail in one go: 14.5 kilometres, Zoe Bay to Nina Bay. Rainforest, heathland, salt flats. Paperbarks and quandongs. Wompoo fruit doves. Orange-pink rocks and a lone sea turtle.

At a creek crossing, first mate applies mud to legs in a bid to soothe and repel. We watch his instant relief and follow suit. Tramping off, we come across three guys from Sydney, who think our muddy stockings are hilarious and want to take photos. We start hair-braining a marketing plan for Bandjin (Hinchinbrook's traditional owners) organic moisturising mud mask.

We swim and lunch at Banksia Bay (fondly renamed Salami Bay in honour of dwindling rations) and rock-hop a few headlands. As we hit the sand at Little Ramsay Bay, we spot a walloping big croc 10 metres offshore. Just cruising around looking hungry. Glad now to have finished the salami.

Arrive at Nina Bay before dusk and make a fire on the beach under a big she-oak. Pitch the Taj and sip a couple of coconuts through a pink bendy straw. I try not to ponder where the straw came from. Meet fellow campers, Adam and Andrew, who come in on kayaks. Turns out they also fly planes, scuba dive and climb big mountains. Before the year is out, one will climb in Nepal and dive in Papua New Guinea. The other’s off to China. Our Thorsborne attempt suddenly feels a bit lightweight.

(An aside in the realm of things I’m not but wish I was: we were mistaken twice in as many days as marine biologists following our explanation of Pelican’s work.

First mate goes into corrective mode: “Nah, we’re just deckhands.”)

We have a good night yakking round the fire with our new friends but worry about Tom, who was also going to overnight at Nina. We hope he didn’t stop to swim at Little Ramsay. Thankfully, he strides into camp next morning in time to join us for coffee. We farewell the kayakers. It’s a short walk to the end of the trail and a long wait with the sandflies for our ferry, which takes us to the Wilderness Lodge for showers, beers, lunch and a spot of aimless lounging.

Have uploaded a swag of photos from the Hopevale Rodeo, the Cardwell sails, Hinchinbrook (of course) and other miscellany.

The 7.30 Report feature will air next week... if you're tv-less like me, check out the vodcast.

10 October 2007

a blur of turtles, sea and bulls

Doof, doof, thud, giggle. Repeat for 20 minutes with increasing volume. That’s the sound of four-year-old Abby using my cabin roof as a gym mat. I’ve had five hours sleep, tops. After two consecutive nights and part-days sailing, and barely a loose minute in over a week, I’m swallowing expletives. Give in, get up, make coffee. Find a spot to watch the world go by. You should see the view. Regrettably, you can’t, since the camera has succumbed to intermittent sea trauma. I kinda know how it feels. Anyway, we’ve got a yellow ribbon, Mission Beach, unfurling on our right, Dunk Island on our left (where I once face-planted the water in a feeble attempt at waterskiing.) The wind is blowing raspberries, mocking us with not even two knots on the nose. It’s a total glass-off. And bloody steamy. But what a view. I pull out the notepad to start some serious catch-up.

Skip, from the wheelhouse: “Sam, can you do a watch?”

Days and bit days “off” have mysteriously been sapped by such calls. This morning though, I surreptitiously scribble with one eye on the horizon. Still loving the deckie duties... Last night on watch I advanced to unsupervised plotting of waypoints. Feels rather good to make the boat swing to a new course. In the dark. While everyone sleeps.

The past 10 days have been a blur of hyperactivity. I will do my best to update significant goings on during the rather large gap between posts.

We had two days of turtle-tagging at Cape Flattery with Dr Ian Bell and Sam Dibella from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service. They brought two very large green turtles up onto Pelican’s beach for a scientific once-over. At which point, naturally, the camera had its first hissy fit.

We did loads of day sails at Flattery, where the Hopevale mob had set up camp. On our first day turtle tagging we orchestrated an unscheduled lunch for 33 people (thank you Mr Heinz). We also did a girls-only sail which included the women Elders.

The ABC guys spent quite a bit of time aboard and were loads of fun. Cam the cameraman (of course) and Paul the sound guy are really dry. Jeremy – who also runs the Laura festival and various other Indigenous arts festivals – is a hoot. On their second trip to the boat, the guys brought lollies (currency, I suspect, for our coffee). They are without cooked food at camp and surviving on bully beef and muesli bars, so were fortunately capable of appreciating our sausages-and-beans lunch. They also send us chocolate when they split camp. I love the ABC. The 7.30 Report will probably broadcast our piece next week. Listen to skip’s radio interview
and see my photo (the lead one) incorrectly attributed. (My love lessens somewhat.)

We also celebrated second mate’s very important milestone birthday with bacon and eggs and banana smoothies. We were invited ashore for a meal catered by a bush chef: campfire pot-roasted lamb and vegies. This was followed by pancakes with fruit salad, line dancing with the women Elders, a talk by our turtle friends and a doco about a 23 year old native American chief’s quest to preserve Arctic land from drilling (courtesy our digital storytelling guru). A superb finale, with campfire smoke wafting in the projector's beam and the lazy clack of the genny simulating a movie reel. We sit on milk crates. Me, with a snoring six year old in my lap.

On Saturday we hired a four wheel drive to visit the Hopevale Rodeo. Lots of red dust and angry cattle. Despite misgivings, it provided some great photo ops. (Camera now settled into temperamental stop-start modus operandi.)

Back in Cooktown, we did a couple of day sails with Wujal Wujal mob and people with disabilities. Core crew celebrated the end of project at Cook’s Landing – the kiosk outside the barge we tie up to – with ginger beers all round. (We remain dry until Cairns.) Skip affirmed his satisfaction with crew and I'm officially welcomed to 'the family'. We enjoy a celebratory dinner courtesy the ANZ and motor south to Cairns, where the Pelican brood has our last supper together.

After less than 24 hours in Cairns, we set off before midnight, leaving first mate behind for some well-earned G&Ts by the pool. We have Estelle B and Abby aboard, along with Kelly, a percussionist who will get the kids drumming. Arrived Cardwell yesterday afternoon for the Caring for Country Indigenous Land and Sea Management Conference. Am not going to be responsible for telling the crew that Malcolm Turnbull is in town. It would count as aiding and abetting.
We will hopefully get to check out the Girringun Cultural Festival, which follows the serious talkie part. We’ll be doing day sails with Indigenous kids and conference delegates throughout the week.

Cardwell is bizarre. It’s a retro beach town with a couple of fish and chip joints and a pub. The marina is just south of town and is v plush, with resort buggies and McHoliday Mansions. We have round-the-clock use of a palm-fringed pool and clean hot showers, and Pelican has a whole pontoon to herself (unlike our pit-stop in Cairns where her bow hung two metres off the finger). We’re all happy.

Marina fees are also substantially lower and skip is considering keeping the boat here for our scheduled “week off”. Meanwhile I’m doing some quick sussing of the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island and reprioritising a looming article deadline.

In other news, I’ve signed on for the delivery to Melbourne (four weeks of island hopping proved too much to refuse) and for Two Bays in Melbourne in December.