Global Voyage

A Story About Sailing Around the World

Ray & Jenny aboard the ketch Suka

3 years, 35,000 miles, Nov 1982 - Jan 1986

Ray & Jenny Jardine

Chapter 10: The Great Barrier Reef page 75 of 109

Late afternoon, a trawler steamed into "our" bay and anchored directly astern, a positively displeasing act. After last night's encounters, we were in no moods to endure more of these ubiquitous fishermen's discourteous capers.

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The San Michelle.

Directly, the skipper hollered to us, "We're having prawns and rice if you two would like to come join us for tea."

This gesture came unexpected; the man seemed friendly, and appeared atypical of the stereotyped, unrefined and roguish characters usually seen aboard the prawn trawlers. The sight of a woman aboard, apparently the fellow's wife, further lessened our suspicions.

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Jim and Hannah Weir aboard the San Michelle.

Jim and Hannah Weir and their son Malcolm welcomed us aboard their San Michelle with cans of the coldest beer possible this side of not being frozen solid. And as the evening blossomed, Jim produced more of the same whenever the need arose by lifting a massive afterdeck hatch and climbing down into a cavernous reefer spewing clouds of sub-Arctic vapor. "Cold" to Suka's crew had become an ethereal entity, something remembered but no longer manifest. To us, San Michelle's quick freezer was a pit of genuine awe.

A call came over San Michelle's radio: "Hey Jim, where are you anyway?" And before long, two other trawlers had anchored nearby and their crews, man and wife teams each, climbed aboard for a convivial gathering. They showed themselves equally warm hearted and friendly.

Fervently clutching our nearly frozen stubbies, not relishing the beer inside the cans nearly so much as embracing their luxurious coldness, Jenny and I sat on the rail enjoying the conversation while the hours slipped by hardly noticed. None spoke profoundly; these were simple folks, but how they embraced life. The city of Cairns is the northernmost bastion of civilization along Australia's eastern seaboard, and the fishermen who ply these remote waters far to the north, by the circumstances had to be tough and individualistic. No doubt the harsh lifestyle refined and distilled their characters, and we were finding that at least these three crews had hides of bark but gilded hearts.

I wrote in my journal: No doubt our finding such an unrelenting occupation unfathomable is because Jenny and I are essentially soft-skinned city people. But we seem to be viewing life from an altered perspective these days; perhaps the sailing adventure is beginning to refine us.

That night, someone related that Stanley Island had wild pigs, wild goats, and numerous early aboriginal cave paintings. On nearby Flinders Island there were goats, cave paintings and mummies, but no pigs.

"Mummies?" I asked.

Yes, high on the flanks of Flinders Island, so the story went, is a certain cave that formerly contained seven mummies. Once, some unscrupulous matelot visited the cave and carried away one of the mummies as a souvenir. Why he did so, no one present could imagine, but any ten-year old, having spent the bulk of existence rooted before a television, could have easily predicted some of the bad luck that was to befall this despoiler. It was said that, first, his trawler sank during a storm. Subsequent misfortunes occurred, numerable and unpleasant, and in the end his wife ran away with one of his "deckies." Eventually, the poor fellow reputedly conceded and presented the mummy to the authorities. This act prompted the government, as a protective measure against further vandalism, to confiscate three more mummies from the cave. To this day many await with bated breath to see what ill luck shall befall the Australian government, and these Aussies were speculating, in jest, the relationships between the extorted artifacts and all manner of national woes.

Although none present had actually visited the grotto or even knew of its location, they related the common knowledge that three mummies remained ensconced within the cave.

As the gathering dispersed, Jim and Hannah had invited Jenny and I to accompany them on a prawning run aboard San Michelle the following night. This was a splendid opportunity.

The next morning after installing the kicker on the inflatable's transom-board we motored around the island toward Stokes Bay, where the otherwise profuse vegetation was less dense, such that one could go for a long walk. En route we stopped at the fuel barge anchored out in the bay. A friendly chap named Wayne lived with his wife and child in a tiny trailer, this perched amidst an assortment of large tanks mounted upon the barge. Wayne's job was to sell diesel, fresh water, and warm beer to the prawn fishermen. When the barge was empty, a tug would tow it back to Cairns, and after refitting it would then tow it back to here. Alongside the barge lay Wayne's trimaran, which he was generally refurbishing and preparing for cruising. However, the sailboat's decks were besmirched stem to stern with unsightly footprints of the black, gooey, petroleum crud that exuded inescapably from the barge's fuel tanks.

In an effort to promote her national exports the Aussie government subsidized the prawn fishing industry. Due to a special allotment, then, Wayne sold fuel at a price considerably lower than what could be had in Cairns. Yachtsmen were not excluded from resupplying from the barge, but Suka's tanks were nearly full. We did however, purchase a case of stubbies as a gift for San Michelle's reefer.

When asked about the mummy cave on Flinders Island, Wayne confirmed the story and related the method of locating the cave. According to him, no trail existed; one simply traipsed about the hillside until a solitary and distant isle to the east lined up with the prominent gun-sight notch on nearby Stanley Island. That was the cave's location. Jenny and I are not superstitious, even showing not the slightest compunction of departing port on a Friday, an act considered taboo by the majority of cruising yachtsmen. Yet this Flinders Island mummy cave was intriguing, in an eerie sort of way.

Prawning Excursion

Late afternoon, the time came to join San Michelle's crew for a nighttime prawning excursion. Jim and Malcolm helped hoist aboard our inflatable, and lashed it inverted atop their cabin. Once again, the crew spread a sumptuous dinner: this time of roast lamb. The stubbies, however, remained in the cold hold, alcohol being strictly off the menu both preceding and during working hours.

The evening was windless, and upon seas remarkably calm the big trawler weighed and steamed out into the twilight. Soon the crew lowered the cumbersome nets into the water, then San Michelle's engines thundered at full power, struggling mightily to counteract the tremendous drag, while the vessel wallowed at a scant three knots. In a 100-foot wide swath, those big nets were now sweeping everything and anything from the sand bottom, some ten fathoms below.

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A rare opportunity to work a prawning run.

Jim trimmed the auto pilot and adjusted the radar, scanning the black of night and identifying the vessel's position in relation to the far away land forms. Also it depicted two or three other trawlers in the vicinity. The depth sounder, a computer and monitor screen, displayed information about the bottom, and it was the watch person's duty to keep a sharp look out for any rocks, which could tear the nets.

For two hours the ship droned along, during which time every six minutes Malcolm would hoist aboard a small pilot net and inspect its samples, which indicated what the big nets might be catching. As with fishing anywhere, if the pilot net wasn't productive then we lumbered off on a different heading to try our luck somewhere else. Emptying the small net into a tub, Malcolm introduced Jenny and I to a fascinating menagerie of sea bottom creatures. The first verbal lesson was an adamant one: do not extend a hand (being sensitive to stings, punctures, bites and other traumas yet unimagined) into the tub.

Time to haul in the trawls, Jim idled the engine and switched on the big warp-winches. These commenced whining torturously as they reeled in the two massive nets, lifted them into the air, and swung them over a large sorting table for emptying. And when the table lay piled high in all manner of squiggly creatures, the crew again lowered the trawls and put them back into action, then the vessel resumed laboring ahead into the night, steering by auto pilot.

With a long handled rake, Jim removed from the table three deadly-poisonous sea snakes, each wrist-sized in diameter and about 3-1/2 feet in length. Tossed repulsively overboard, they slithered away from the hull, regaining their freedom. Snakes safely disposed of, we then attended a 300-pound turtle lying helplessly prostrate on the table. With a great deal of effort we heaved the reptile overboard, where it rejoined presumably its mate, swimming desperately alongside.

Using steel cleavers, Hannah and Jim sorted through the table's contents. Most of the spoil consisted of small "junk fish," by now largely deceased, and these they scooped into an open trough inclining overboard. Blue crabs, alive and edible but not meaty enough to warrant saving, were also shoved down the riddance trough, after expediently cleaver-severing any claw that happened to be pinching a valuable prawn. Then the numerous prawns they sorted as to size and kind, and placed in the appropriate bins for quick-freezing.

“San Michelle's wake boiled with the shiny black bodies and protruding dorsal fins of sharks.”

Piece after thousands of pieces of zoological "junk" sluiced overboard, and San Michelle's wake now boiled with shiny black bodies and protruding dorsal fins. A bevy of sharks were feasting on the despoils. Clearly, this would have been a most inopportune moment to slip and fall overboard, and one could only imagine the dangers of working on the slippery decks during rough weather. Contemplating the extensive numbers of trawlers working the Australian coastlines, one can also envisage how well fed and therefore prolific are the sharks hereabouts.

The presence of sharks in such numbers within the Great Barrier Reef had squelched my desire to skin dive in these waters, touted though the region is among the spear fishing genre. In actuality, though, the shark is not the region's greatest menace to the swimmer; rather, the box jellyfish, or sea wasp, which frequents the beaches during summer months. To quote the Lucas guide book, "total entanglement would most certainly cause death within minutes." Indeed, during our Queensland visit the newspapers occasionally reported a box jellyfish-induced death of some youngster.

Beyond any hazards posed by these various creatures, though, the strong wind and heavy chop churned the water to murkiness and the effluent mainland rivers further diminished the sea's clarity. The off-shore reefs reputedly offer superb scuba diving, but in truth these are largely inaccessible to the cruising yacht, generally being dangerous to approach without local knowledge.

As San Michelle droned into the black of night, her crew members slept in the forecastle berths, save for the watchkeeper who sat within the enclosed pilot house, keeping a sharp eye on the radar and the sounder screens. When the big winch began grinding, Jenny and I would jump-to and help with the sorting.

At dawn the nets were winched aboard for the final time that day, and the ship steamed at eight knots back to Stanley Island, to the quiet bay where we found Suka lying in tranquil seclusion.

Once the anchor was set, Hannah spread the table with a hearty breakfast, and after the meal Jim produced the family photo album. This depicted some of the more peculiar creatures captured in the nets during the previous seven years. There were pictures of huge sharks, and one of a manta ray, but the most curious was that of a crocodile, some eight feet in length. Loathe to kill the unfortunate beast, the crew found themselves at a loss as to the appropriate method of disposing of the creature. So the "crock" remained aboard, incredibly for five days, unable to climb the rail to escape. Eventually the crew managed to capture it in a sling, and after winching it aloft using a derrick they lowered it into the sea.

Before Jenny and I returned to Suka, Jim presented us with a sack of prawns, provender enough for the next five days. Also, he shelled out a big lobster from the night's catch and a block of ice at minus 60 degrees F. We shall never forget the crew of the San Michelle who reached out and enriched our cruising experience. And indeed herein was the essential quality in our global adventure: the meeting and becoming acquainted with some of the warm-hearted and exceptional people along the way.

The story has 109 pages. This is page 75.
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Page Links
GV 001: Title Page
GV 002: TOC
GV 003: Dedication
GV 004: Preface
GV 005: Prologue
GV 006: Beginnings
GV 007: Work Done
GV 008: Making Ready
GV 009: Departure
GV 010: Sailing Credentials
GV 011: First Lesson
GV 012: Sextant Navigation
GV 013: Safety Harness
GV 014: Murphy's law
GV 015: Spirit of Adventure
GV 016: Holding On
GV 017: First Big Storm
GV 018: Storm Intensified
GV 019: Rolling Violently
GV 020: Mizzen Sleeping Bag'sl
GV 021: Freeing the Propeller
GV 022: Visits by Birds
GV 023: Crossing the Doldrums
GV 024: Nearing First Landfall
GV 025: Land Ho
GV 026: Fatu Hiva
GV 027: Trek Inland
GV 028: Anchor Watch
GV 029: Passage
GV 030: Hiva Oa
GV 031: Skin Diving Circus
GV 032: Almost Like a Jungle
GV 033: Polaris Missile
GV 034: Taiohaie Bay
GV 035: Cascade Hakaui
GV 036: Taipi Bay
GV 037: Cyclone Lisa
GV 038: Cyclone Nano
GV 039: Passage of Patience
GV 040: Tuamotu Archipelago
GV 041: Tahiti
GV 042: Cyclone Reva
GV 043: Secret Sharer
GV 044: Moorea
GV 045: Cyclone Veena
GV 046: Aftermath
GV 047: Good Weather in Papeete
GV 048: Huahine
GV 049: Raiatea
GV 050: BoraBora
GV 051: Rarotonga
GV 052: Tonga
GV 053: Fresh Air
GV 054: Tongan Feast
GV 055: Excursion to Maninita
GV 056: Mariner's Cave
GV 057: Fiji
GV 058: Ndravuni Island
GV 059: Mara Island
GV 060: Aneityum
GV 061: Noumea
GV 062: St Elmo's fire
GV 063: Breakwater Reef
GV 064: Bundaberg
GV 065: Life on the Burnett River
GV 066: Engine Sabotage
GV 067: Flying
GV 068: Aground in Round Hill Creek
GV 069: Gladstone Confinement
GV 070: Tropical Queensland
GV 071: Trip into Townsville
GV 072: Cairns Sojourn
GV 073: Cramped Cooktown
GV 074: Lizard Island
> GV 075: The San Michelle
GV 076: Lost Mummy Cave
GV 077: Land's End
GV 078: Darwin
GV 079: Christmas Is
GV 080: Passage
GV 081: Cocos Keeling
GV 082: Crossing the Indian Ocean
GV 083: Rodriguez
GV 084: Mauritius
GV 085: Reunion Cirque de Mafate
GV 086: Reunion Cirque de Salazie
GV 087: Passage to Africa
GV 088: Kruger National Park
GV 089: Richards Bay
GV 090: Durban
GV 091: Port Elizabeth
GV 092: Cape Town
GV 093: Storm Passage
GV 094: St Helena
GV 095: Passage to Brazil
GV 096: Fortaleza
GV 097: Passage to Caribbean
GV 098: Bonaire
GV 099: Passage to Panama
GV 100: Panama
GV 101: Panama Canal
GV 102: Medidor
GV 103: Costa Rica
GV 104: Passage to Acapulco
GV 105: Acapulco to Cabo
GV 106: Baja
GV 107: Home Port
GV 108: In Retrospect
GV 109: Next Time
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