11 June 2007

Cooktown, Queensland

Cooktown, Queensland

Greetings from Cooktown! We left Cairns at 4pm Friday night and sailed 90 miles overnight to Cooktown, where we are presently anchored, arriving at 11am Saturday morning. We lost all wind at midnight and had to motor for 4 hours. But we got the wind back and were able to sail the rest of the way. We even had winds blowing over 30 knots, making for a very fast ride of over 7 knots with only the main sail up.

We have been listening to the Australian News Service about how Sydney is really taking a spanking from the weather down there. They had winds of over 100 kilometers per hour and massive flooding. One of the hundreds of anchored coal ships that we passed off Newcastle in March drug anchor and is now up on the beach getting ready to break apart. The news report that this is the biggest storm to hit that area in 10 years. We are glad we are well north of all that wind!!

A small airplane flew low over us. It turned out to be Australian Customs. They called us on the VHF radio just to have us check in with them and inform them of our plans. I told them that they must have really good eyes in order to read Sandpiper's name off of our stern from way above us.

The anchorage in Cooktown is just inside the Endeavour River. It is very shallow and is not marked, making it a real challenge to anchor. We ran into the mud two times before we could find a tiny space to put Sandpiper. We are just 100 feet from the shore... so close that we can have conversations with people on the beach.

The main reason that we wanted to be here this weekend is because its a 3-day holiday weekend for Australia. It is the Queen's (of England) Birthday, which is kind of funny as we found out last night from the one Brit in town that they don't have a holiday for her birthday back home. Just goes to show that Australians love any excuse to have another day off and party.

The other reason is because the town celebrates the landing of Captain Cook with his ship Endeavour and crew. They ran their ship on a reef just south of here in 1770 and spent 48 days here repairing their ship so they could get back home to England.

The 3-day 'Event' here in Cooktown is called Discovery Days. We had read about this event in the book 'Blue Latitudes'. The writer states that this a real beer drinking event in the middle of nowhere. Cooktown is a very small town, with a population of 1500, and 90 miles from the nearest town. They are really cut off from the rest of the world. They just got the road paved last year. This is the last town in northeast coast of Australia that we will see until we get to Darwin, which is still over 1000 miles away.

As soon as we got Sandpiper's anchor set, we rowed the 100 feet to shore. One thing about the rivers here in tropical northern Australia is that they are full of crocodiles. The guidebook for this area says that the Endeavour River is "croc infested", so this makes paddling a small inflatable boat to the beach even a little more adventurous than normal.

We made it ashore in time to witness the Queen's Birthday 'Truck Pull' in town. I was expecting to see two trucks tied together trying to pull each other in opposite directions. But I was a little disappointed to find out that their 'truck pull' was a large truck with a rope tied to the front bumper that you could pull through town.

Australians love their beer, and so does Team Sandpiper. Every person we saw in town had a beer in their hands. The town council even makes it legal to drink beer while you walk around downtown for these 3 days. There were plenty of people walking around dragging their Eskies (ice chests) of beer. The truck pull was followed by an extremely short parade, then more beer drinking. Amy and I sampled all the bars (there's only one street in downtown), and by late night I think we had met everyone in town.

In the camp ground right next to downtown there was an 18 wheeler trailer parked that opens up on one side and had a band playing in it and people partying in front. Cooktown is kind of funny because it is so small yet it has plenty of pubs to visit. The one pub on one end of town is where all the white locals go. And the pub on the other end is the bar is where the Aboriginals go. We ended to night at the Aboriginals pub, which was a complete contrast since we were the only white people there. But they did seem to be having the most fun and had to best band.

We awoke this morning (Sunday) to hear our friends' voices from S/V Shiraz. They had just arrived and were right next to us getting ready to drop their anchor.

We all went ashore at 10am to see the annual reenactment of Captain Cook's landing. It was very cool! There were Aboriginal people ashore dressed in their native garb. Then a wooden boat was rowed ashore with actors filling roles of Captain Cook and his crew. When Cook's ship Endeavour ran up on the reef just south of here in 1770 they had to throw over their anchors and cannons in order to lighten their ship so they would be able to pull their ship off the reef. These items were found in the 1970's exactly where Captain Cook estimated where he thought he hit reef. He named this reef "Endeavour Reef".

One of the Endeavour's cannons is on display along the shore of the Endeavour River. The amazing thing is that this cannon still functions! All someone needs is a little gun powder to fire it. Part of the reenactment activities was just that. The crew from the Endeavour fired the cannon with hundreds of people standing right next to it.

As cool as Cooktown is, and we really would love just to spend one more day here, teams Sandpiper and Shiraz are leaving at Sunrise tomorrow for a 50 mile sail to Lizard Island. The winds are predicted to blow 30 knots the rest of the week. So if we do not leave now, we will be stuck here all week. Amy has big plans for Lizard Island... some snorkeling, hiking, and watching sunsets from the beach with our friends.

Tom and Amy

Notes From Ron:

  • Not all Australian states celebrate the Queen's Birthday. Here in Western Australia, they renamed it Foundation Day to celebrate the founding the Swan River Colony by Captain Stirling, which became the Perth metro area.
  • The Queen's Birthday is not actually the current queen's birthday (which is April 21). It is just a day set aside in many Commonwealth countries to celebrate the British Monarchy.
  • The cannon on the river mouth in Cooktown is not from Cook's ship. Sounds like a local tall tale. In 1885 the town council requested the government send some armament to protect the town in the event of a Russian invasion. The Government responded by sending an 1803 model cannon, three cannon balls, two rifles and one officer to lead the defense of Cooktown.

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