Sally and Tony Henderson share their story of life on board their catamaran ‘Saltonay’. The couple lived an adventurous life travelling to out of the way beaches, coves and islands, making many lasting friendships and winning the odd multihull race. For 6 years ‘Saltonay’ was their home.
After many years of this adventurous life on the ocean Sally and Tony sold their cat and retired to live a more conventional life in a country town. Aged 75 and 82 they were ready to settle down. However, the intrepid travellers soon got itchy feet again and now after 4 years the house is on the market and they have ordered a caravan to once again take up the gypsy lifestyle.
Tony recounts a special voyage to Lizard Island.
Our voyage starts in Bowen, Queensland, Australia. We came here to take part in the Bowen Multihull Rendezvous. This is a series of 7 races held over a week between cruising multihulls and it is a lot of fun. Sally and I finished all of the races and we attended the presentation dinner where we were presented with the winner’s trophy. We were in high spirits.
Next morning nursing a slight hangover we prepared our boat ‘Saltonay’ for a trip to Lizard Island. Our plan was to leave at dawn the following day. With full fuel and water tanks we crept out of Bowen Harbour in a light southerly wind attempting to reach Mourilyan Harbour. However, unless the wind increased it would be difficult. Our prayers were answered around 0830 when the wind veered southwest and increased to 15 knots. This is ideal for a multihull and our boat speed increased to 12 knots. As the wind strengthened during the morning we made 15 knots and Sally and I settled down to a fast and comfortable voyage.
Somewhat unfortunately at this point the fishing line snagged a fish and the reel suddenly screamed off. Sally expertly brought the boat up into the wind to slow us down and I reeled in a large mackerel. This fish would go a long way to supplement our food for the voyage.
The ocean was alive with migrating whales heading south for the summer so we had to keep a good lookout because if they hit the boat we would sustain a lot of damage. By midday we were passing Magnetic Island on the port side and by 1500 we passed Palm Islands and Orpheus Island. Up ahead we could see the majestic peaks of Hinchinbrook Island which we planned to visit on our return trip.
At 1800 we spotted the small rocky entrance to Mourilyan Harbour and we furled our sails and motored to our anchorage. Mourilyan is a sugar loading port and handles quite large ships but it is very shallow. Outside the dredged area caution is needed to anchor safely.
Once again we planned to sail at dawn. The wind was light so we departed under motor. The day became a repeat of our trip to Mourilyan and our boat speed was once again 15 knots. We hoped to make it all the way to Lizard Island instead of overnighting at Yorkies Knob just north of Cairns.
We saw no more whales or fish and the wind held. Apart from a close encounter with a bulk coal carrier it was a fairly routine journey. At 15.30 we passed Yorkies Knob and decided to stop over at Cape Flattery just 16 miles nautical miles from Lizard Island and arrive fresh next day.
Upon our arrival at Lizard we were astonished by the number of boats at anchorage in Watsons Bay. A quick count gave 75 boats. Watsons Bay is not a large anchorage and we were forced to drop anchor in deep water and only just inside the sheltered area. We spent an uncomfortable night. The reason for the large number of boats was a southeast wind which had persisted for the last 3 weeks. Very few cruising sailors like to sail into the wind so they were waiting for a northerly change. Fortunately for us the change came and by 10am there were only 7 boats left in the harbour. We quickly moved to anchor by a reef which fills the south part of Watsons Bay. The reef was a short swim away from our boat and proved to be a wonderful place to snorkel. It was slightly degraded but much better than the reefs in popular tourist destinations some of which are sadly totally degraded.
The only hazard was a large wobbygong or carpet shark which seemed to have taken up residence. Among the 7 remaining boats were three we had previously encountered and it was great to meet up with friends and relax after an energetic sail.
Watsons Bay was named after a family who lived there in the late 19th century. For their livelihood they searched for beche de mer, an Asian delicacy. The fisherman’s wife, child and a Chinese helper were often left alone for days. One day during his absence a group of aborigines arrived. They resented the white people on their island and attacked. All three were able to escape to the beach where an old ships tank lay near the water. They managed to float the tank, climbed aboard and paddled offshore. The current picked them up and they were never seen again.
The high hill on the northern part of the island was the one Captain Cook climbed to seek a passage out of the reef. We followed Cook’s footsteps to the top and gazed at the same scene. The outer reef is quite visible and the passage out that Cook had found was easy to see. It felt very strange to look down on the same view as Cook. It was almost unchanged and it made us appreciate what a capable man he was to have travelled this far with no chart or no knowledge of what lay ahead.
A visit to the outer reef was tempting and the following morning in good conditions we set out for Detached Reef with a friend. We were told there was a commercial buoy we could tie up on. The outer reef was only 3nautical miles from Lizard and in no time we had moored. The buoy was 10 metres from the reef and an easy swim with fins and snorkels. The reef was pristine and spectacular and different from those visited by tourists. We had a wonderful swim and as we made our way back to the boat from the reef. I looked across at Sally and was horrified to see a huge fish swimming along beside her. I nudged her and pointed towards the fish but she was not frightened. The fish followed us back to our boat but made no attempt to touch us. We told our friend who advised it was a Maori Wrasse and that it was harmless. He added that it probably wanted to be fed. We produced some stale bread which it grabbed and then it turned and vanished.
We returned to Lizard Island to take a look around. The resort is very exclusive and charges around A$1,200 per day. It doesn’t welcome yachties but we were allowed to buy a drink and stay a short while. The marine research station was interesting to visit. It is mostly run by students from James Cook University in Townsville and they were eager to answer our questions.
Meeting old friends, catching up with their voyages, hearing of close shaves and encounters is very rewarding and we always hope our paths will cross again one day. Sally and I felt privileged to be able to visit such a wonderful treasure island and enjoy its secrets and exotic lifestyle. However, after two weeks and a change in the wind we reluctantly weighed anchor and set sail for Cooktown.
Photographs supplied by Tony and Sally Henderson: Lizard Island, Tony with the mackerel & their catamaran ‘Saltonay’.
Special Note: Sally and Tony will share their new adventure with Fifty Five Plus. They will tell us how they selected their new caravan and the new roads they will travel. I am sure this will be another most interesting story and I look forward to reading it.