Bye bye Cairns

As the start of the official cyclone season is fast approaching, it is time to head south. We are warned that the outlook for summer is for a very wet season with an early onset of cyclones, so we won’t hang around in the tropics for too long. We are making a late departure from Cairns after completing our Far North Queensland Reef Adventure and getting our pussycat Bengie attended to at the Veterinary Clinic.

Bengie on the mend at last

Snoozing comfortably

Let’s start with an update on our furry crew member. She had been unwell for the last five weeks, and not herself for the past 6 months, but finally we got to the bottom of it. Cats when they are stressed by ‘something’ can present with blood in their urine. It is not necessarily an infection, and they can be given anti-inflammatories to calm things down, but until you diagnose the real problem, you are just chasing your tail. And for the past six months, she has displayed on-going ‘stress’ signs: cystitis, excessive grooming, loss of appetite and weight, and we have been worried sick about her.

We took her back to the veterinary clinic in Cairns we went to after our Coral Sea trip. The vet who saw her this time took a comprehensive history and did a full investigation. Urine and blood tests under sedation showed that she has the start of kidney disease – still mild at this stage – but ruled out any other nastiness. However the main culprit for her condition was found after a thorough check of her mouth. This revealed she had gingivitis, dental calculus, a few bad teeth and unbelievably bad breath! Why a proper oral check was not done during the previous three vet visits this year is beyond us, but at least now we know what we are dealing with and it explains the changes in her behaviour. She had tooth ache and was in pain all this time.

Bengie ended up staying at the Cairns Vet for several days for the investigation, to get the dental work done – clean up and tooth extractions – and to recover. They took good care of her. She is now back with us and we can hopefully look forward to a few more years of our girl being our gorgeous ship cat.

A few less teeth but all better now!

South we go

We picked up Bengie on Monday night and left Cairns on Tuesday. We were glad to escape the 32oC heat at 7am! With light ESE conditions, we started our descent south. Each day, we make an early departure, raise the main and jib and see where we can point, typically tacking between islands and reefs for 5 or 6 hours. We stop somewhere that allows us to snorkel at low tide in the early afternoon. We don’t cover a lot of distance, it is a leisurely pace.

Frankland Islands

Our first hop was to the Frankland Islands, an archipelago located about 5nm offshore and 35nm south-east of Cairns. The group’s five continental islands (High, Normanby, Mabel, Round and Russell) are uninhabited and surrounded by fringing reefs. Although we had anchored there before, it was always in windy conditions. Getting there on a calm day meant we could fly the drone and snorkel. As you can see it is a very scenic part of the coast.

Moored at Russell Island
Mabel and Normanby Islands with High in the distance

Notice the slicks of algal bloom; no it is not coral spawn, it is Trichodesmium, also know as “sea dust”. The blue-green algal cells can join up to each other in long strings and thick clumps which become rather smelly as they decompose. One consolation is that to marine ecosystems, this particular ocean phenomenon is probably a major contributor of an essential nutrient: Nitrogen.

The fringing reefs around the Frankland islands are in reasonable condition. Being so close to the mainland, the water clarity is not good; there is a lot of sediment and algae but there were also some hard and soft corals, giant clams, and a few inquisitive fish like the Humphead Batfish and a little Remora who followed us everywhere. Here are a few images.

Next stop: Feather Reef

With a very light easterly breeze, we tacked down to Feather Reef, somewhere we had not been to before. We did not break any speed record on that run, but sailing slowly beats motoring!

Feather Reef has nice, easy access for anchoring

Our aerial image shows an easy access for anchoring in 4m of water over sand at low tide, but it is not promising for snorkeling. We got in the water anyway to cool down as it has been very hot and muggy. The inside edge of the reef was sparse with a lot of algae and with the overcast sky, the light was not good. But still, we found some treasures.

Now you know what this is: another Nudibranch egg mass, probably that of a Dorid Nudibranch. This species of nudibranch looks fairly smooth, with a tuft of feather-like gills toward the back of the animal that are used to breathe. To show you what this type of nudibranch looks like we have included an example , a Quadricolor we spotted at Bait Reef a few years ago. But it may not be the one who laid the pink ribbon! Click on the individual image of the egg cluster to see the details.

Nudibranch quadricolor

Another find was the delicate Feather Hydroid. These are not plants but colonial animals that form feather-like plumes.

A motor to Britomart Reef

With no wind at all on Thursday, we motored to Britomart Reef, just north east of Hitchinbrook Island. One advantage: we caught a mackerel on the trawling line early in the morning. Fish filleted underway, nice dinner for a couple of nights!

We had not been to Britomart Reef before, so it was good to check it out. We arrived there in the middle of the day at low tide, in sunshine, 32oC heat and high humidity. It did not take long to get in the water to cool down.

Anui anchored in 2.5m of water over sand
The edge of the reef where we snorkelled

We snorkeled on the outside edge of the reef. Unfortunately it showed signs of severe bleaching, with a lot of algae present and patchy cover. It was a sad sight and hard work in the current, so we did not last long.

By the time we got out of the water, the sky was threatening and thunderstorms were on their way. We had rain, thunder and lightning all night.

Thunderstorms are on the way!

Once more, we are bypassing the Hitchinbrook Passage. We are not big on midges, mozzies and crocs on still days so are taking the offshore route. We will make it there one day, just not this season!

We are continuing our trek south, zig zagging between the coast and the reefs while the weather allows. We have light variable conditions for a few days, but also rain and more thunderstorms so we’ll see where we get to. In between posts, you can track us on PredictWind.

27 thoughts on “Bye bye Cairns

  1. So glad that Bengie is on the mend.
    I can imagine it was a scary vet bill but she’s worth it and will be so much happier.
    2 weeks until we come up to Whitsundays.
    Will you still be around? We drop Pete and Ann off at Hamo on Sat 12th and have a week on our own. Love to catch up with you both if we can. Cheers

    • Hi Waz, yes very scary vet Bill, but you just do what you have to. Re meeting in the Whitsundays probably not as it is getting late in the season but we will try to plan it in. We have to stop in Mackay for engine servicing. It will depend on when they can fit us in.

  2. Hi SV Love these beautiful pics so glad Bengie is on the mend Safe travels Cheers Dianne


  3. It is great news about Bengie, rest well as you recover fully. Enjoy your slow journey south. Pepa has a lump on her chest which I have to get checked out in the future, I hope it is only a cyst which will be removed.. Enjoy your sail south..

  4. Lots of beautiful photos as always! I am so glad that Bengie is on the mend! She is so adorable, I’d love to give her a hug! My first thought about the thunderstorms was lightning striking the mast, that would be terrible. Be well, guys!

    • Hi John, we really don’t like thunderstorms for that reason. The boat is well equipped to dissipate lightning strikes, but there is never complete assurance the gear will work!

      • I understand and am glad Anui is set up as best as possible for lightning. Do you use Galvanic anodes? Aluminum, Magnesium? Our boats on the big lake I grew up on in Michigan had those, we called the Sacrificial Anodes.

      • We have a large copper plate on each hull which is attached to the mast and rigging by a large copper cable, the theory being if lightning hits the mast or rigging, the charge will be earthed into the water.

      • That sounds like a great grounding system, I had to ground the towers and antenna systems for my ham radio equipment. Thanks for the details!

  5. The Nudibranch pictures were very special. Great to follow your track on Predict wind. Do you disconnect electronics during the thunderstorms or??

  6. Hi Chris. I’m glad Bengie has recovered so quickly from her ordeal, hopefuly she’ll be back to her old self soon. It’s amazing you saw another Nudibranch egg mass, maybe it’s their mating season.

    • Hi Maree , nice to get your comment. Bengie is all good now. Big difference in behaviour.
      And yes another pink ribbon from a nudibranch. You are probably right… it’s the season!

  7. Good to see the photos of Bengie and Wade in among all the wnderful wildlife and seascapes. Sounds like the summer holiday is continuing nicely, if a little hotter than might be ideal. Your picture of Russell island let me identify another of the islands I photographed from the plane to Melbourne. All the best!

    • Excellent! I guess your flight path would have taken you right above the Frankland Group!
      It has been super hot and humid… not the most pleasant! We could never live this far north… at least not without air conditioning!
      Stay well!

  8. The underwater ‘rose’ and ‘ferns’, so delicate and beautiful!
    Great that Benjie finally found a top notch vet …. may you get more smooth northerlies!

  9. I’m so glad to hear that the vet was able to figure out what was bothering Bengie and to treat the problems. I know from personal experience that dental pain is more intolerable than almost any other kind of pain. Your drone shots continue to amaze me–I especially like the one of the Anui anchored at Feather Reef.

    • Mike, yes tooth ache is horribly painful and she had 3 or 4 bad teeth that had to be removed. It explains a lot of things. She is a changed cat now!
      Re: the drone shots, my challenge now is to get some new angles so we don’t end up with all our aerials looking the same!

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