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May 19th, 26 days after leaving Bundaberg, we dropped the hook in the southern anchorage of the Cairns (pronounced cans) Harbor. During our 19 day stay, the trade winds remained strong, while unsettled weather prevailed. One day the rain would pelt down with terrific gusts of wind; the next day the sun would gleam intensely; then another deluge would beset Cairns. Such conditions were typical of the tropical rainy season Down Under.
From the south anchorage where Suka lay to her bower, the trip ashore was a 10 minute dinghy ride, with the wind nudging its transom. But the ride back to Suka from the yacht club took twice as long. With spray flying from the bow, the inflatable slammed through the harbor's short chop, requiring that we bundle in foul weather gear and wrap our purchases in plastic bags.
Cairns was a wealth of sights and sounds: boutiques, cafés and Milk Bars, pastry shops, curio stores, and Hotel pubs lined the streets. At the post office's general delivery room we mingled with travelers from all corners of the globe; it seems that Cairns was something of a crossroads for hitch hikers, jet-borne travelers, and yachtees. The town is also home port to the fishing fleet that works the waters off Northern Queensland, so here were well-stocked chandleries, marine electronics stores, docks, and yards, as well as fishing supply outlets and vendors selling fresh prawns.
A mobile crane lifts the motorcycle from Suka's afterdeck and places it on the wharf.
Using a mobile crane, we lifted the motorcycle from Suka's afterdeck and placed it on the wharf. And whenever the sun broke through the overcast and grey sky, we explored the Cairns environs. But on drizzly days we worked belowdecks, attending the on-going maintenance projects.
Towing Cheers from the nearby anchorage to the wharf.
Moored nearby, our friends Jim and Betsy removed the diesel from the engine room of their yacht Cheers for a rebuild. Then Suka towed Cheers to the wharf, where the crane lifted the engine to a waiting truck.
Some of Suka's wiring needed replacing, because salt water spray had corroded the terminals. Ray spent many rainy afternoons removing old wires and installing new, and more efficient electrical routings.
The sat-nav antenna was mounted vulnerably atop the mizzen mast. We wanted to buy a second antenna, a spare that we could jury-rig if we had to, so when we noticed an advertisement pinned to the yacht club's bulletin board, and offering for sale the type of antenna we needed, we left a message for the person to contact us. Oddly, though, we never heard from the seller, and many weeks would pass before we learned the true story of the advertised antenna.
One sunny day we rode the motorcycle to Kuranda, a small town nestled in the rain forest north-east of Cairns. The road led past lush orange groves then it climbed steeply, turning and winding tightly into the dense rain forest. From the top of the range we stopped to admire Barron Gorge and its waterfalls tumbling into the wide, deep ravine. The small town of Kuranda was quiet, but the surrounding forests were alive with the activity of birds and insects. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant, and sat outside at a veranda table. Erected nearby was the establishment's unique attraction, a hollow sign serving as a transparent bee hive. The bee-keeper owner must have imagined that the bee hive attracted more customers than it repelled. After hastily eating our sandwiches, while dodging many bees zooming about the table's honey pot, we drove back to the western outskirts of Cairns. The fields of green sugar cane, topped with golden tassels glowing in the sunlight, brought to mind our arrival in Australia seven months earlier, when the fields surrounding Bundaberg had looked similar.
Once down to the flatlands and mangroves we saw how the roads and airport strip had been built on reclaimed land over mangrove swamps. We arrived at the Cairns waterfront and treated ourselves to a plateful of six-inch prawns, bought fresh at the wharf where the trawlers unloaded their catch.
Repairing a prototype wind turbine blade, damaged in high winds.
On board Suka, Ray delved into the mathematics of his new wind turbine design, and I assisted by recording the prototype output measurements that we obtained with a hand-held light-beam rpm counter, an ammeter, and a wind speed indicator. Cairns was ideal for testing such a prototype, as the constant trade winds often intensified with terrific bursts.
My wind turbine project generated electricity for our sailboat, and was the perfect project for this aero and electronics engineer. I worked on the project for a couple hundred hours, and was intended to be our business start-up when we completed the voyage. (Ray-Way Products was meant to sell wind turbines. But after the voyage I lost interest in any kind of work, and decided to go hiking instead. And the rest is history.)
Whenever we met with friends for dinner or for socializing, inevitably the conversations turned to our upcoming ocean crossings. We spent one evening with the South Africans Keith and Marion Fletcher, who were on their second circumnavigation aboard their home-built sloop Tenacity. When asked about the conditions they had encountered crossing the Indian Ocean, Keith admitted "It gets a bit frisky out there."
Jim and Betsy were awaiting engine parts being sent from Japan, which meant they needed to travel almost daily to the airport, the engine dealer, and a repair shop, as well as running the interminable errands involved in an engine rebuild. We offered them the use of our motorcycle. Meanwhile, Ray had arranged to sell the motorcycle to a local shop, with the agreement that in a few weeks Jim would deliver the bike, receive the payment, and forward it to us. This was a favorable arrangement for our friends.
At the airport we collected our new weather facsimile machine, airmailed from the States, and with the box balanced precariously on my lap, Ray drove slowly to the yacht club. He installed the machine, and after learning to operate it, had the blue box whirring and chattering out weather maps. We could even print copies of a Chinese newspaper.
Two weeks passed quickly; we had finished the necessary jobs aboard Suka, and were anxious to depart Cairns. Rough seas and 30+ knot winds were reported outside the harbor, so we postponed our departure one day, then a second, and a third. Other yachts bound for Darwin or Thursday Island procrastinated also. The delays gave us an opportunity to meet other South Africa-bound yachtees, and a comradery budded among the clan of aspiring 1984 Indian Ocean voyagers.
One afternoon we met a young Swedish couple. Jan (pronounced Yon) and Britt were friendly, jovial, and spoke proficient English. Suka had been neighbor to their sloop Crypton on the Burnett River in Bundaberg. During their stay there, Jan and Britt had been away from Crypton touring Australia's outback on horseback, so we had never met. Now sharing a common goal, we quickly became friends.