March 29, 2005
John arrived yesterday to give me a ride back down to Cairns. He had a big grin on his face when he first saw me, ‘Guess sending you up to the Starcke with a belly load of prawns wasn’t such a good idea was it?’ he quipped. ‘That croc must have smelt you a mile away!’
Before heading out of Cooktown he took me up to Cape Flattery where we looked in on the Ernst family (they’d participated in our educational programs for the Overland Australia leg via the School of the Air) before continuing north along the beach to Lookout Point. Taking some basic provisions, a GPS and topo map I struck out due west by foot, arranging to meet John back around on the Wakooka track. Even with my still swollen feet it took a little less than four hours to hike the 11 miles across the sand dunes. The gap between the Pacific and Australian legs has now been closed.
Posted at 11:35 AM
March 26, 2005
Dances with Crocs - part 2
As I think I mentioned in yesterdays update, many if not most North Queenslanders I've run into since arriving back in Australia, upon hearing of my intention to paddle a kayak to the mainland, have cautioned against the salties. Just recently a man was taken from his tent while camping on the beach just north of here in Bathurst Bay. In another instance a kayaker was taken from a sandbar in full daylight in front of his companions. Since hunting was banned in 1974 crocs have made a healthy rebound in population numbers and seem to be getting more and more confident with approaching humans for 'tucker'.
Just before heading out from Lizard yesterday morning Russ, the Aboriginal guide for the Research Station, said to me, 'There's some big Lizards over there mate. Watch yourself'.
It was with these words in my head that I rounded the sheltered southern edge of Lookout Point, looking for a sandy beach to make landfall. At 300ft from shore I saw two largish crocs (one 15 ft, the other more around 17ft) basking on the sand near the rocks. I couldn't believe the likelihood of this happening! Detecting my approach they both quickly slipped into the water and swam out to sea (opposite to my course); their torpedo shaped bodies tracking effortlessly through the crystal clear water.
I thought, 'Well, they're obviously shy creatures and that's the last I'll see of them.' How wrong I turned out to be!
At 150ft from shore I felt the hairs rising on back of my neck, like you feel when someone is watching you. Turning my head I noticed in horror to see one of the crocs breaking the surface and wheeling around to follow me. I've since spoken to a couple of experts here in Cooktown who think the croc may have mistaken the kayak for a rival.
At 100ft from shore I started paddling with all I had. It had been a long 5 hours in the kayak from Eagle Island, but that extra burst of energy seemed to appear from nowhere, without effort! At 5 odd knots I chanced a glance behind me and could see my pursuer easily closing the distance. I knew my only hope would be to get to shore, or at least to where I could stand with my feet on hard ground to defend myself. Out in deeper water, still in the kayak, I knew I'd be done for. No capsizing now!
I hit the beach with the croc just 10, maybe 15 feet behind me. Tearing the skirt from the velcro fastenings I lept like a gazelle from the cockpit and sprinted up the beach, paddle still in hand. The sudden change in the shape of its quarry seemed to take it by surprise. It stopped, slowly turned and slipped back into deeper water.
I called Bob Lamb to tell him of landing safely on the mainland and of my ordeal. Laughing he said, 'They're bad mate - real bad'. No kidding. And my ordeal had only begun...
An hour later I started to carry equipment up from the kayak to the high water mark - a walk of around 100ft up the beach. On my second trip up the beach I dropped off my load of dry-bags, turned to make for the kayak again, only to stop dead in my tracks. The croc has returned. This time it was slowly advancing towards the kayak on the ocean side. Instantly I could see my kayak getting attacked along with all the gear and communications equipment inside, including the satphone. So without really thinking though the implications of what I was about to do I found myself running down the beach, paddle in hand. At 10ft out the monster saw me and opened its jaws, displaying a pink and white mouth and a fiersome array of teeth. 'Shooo' I said, waving the paddle hopefully towards it. Unperturbed it let out a long hiss (a sign of aggression I've since been told - hmmm, I'd never have guessed...) and took a step towards me. Realising that more pro-action was needed I thrust the end of the paddle into its mouth, upon which it clamped its jaws firmly over the blade. I tried to pull it back, but it was no good. I quicky tried reversing the action, pushing the blade further into its throat and bingo, the jaws opened just enough to pull it free! I then gripped the paddle with both hands and belted the croc as hard as I could across the side of the head, splitting the paddle in two.
By this time I knew I've pretty much played out all my cards, and the only thing left between me and it was a flimsy canvas kayak (that itself has also tried to kill me on three occasions by nearly sinking). But by this stage the croc seemed to have had enough fun with me and by the grace of whatever/whomever, retreated into the surf and back into deeper water.
A little later I lit a large fire on the beach hoping that it would keep the beast from coming ashore again. I also used the spotlight on my new headtorch to keep track of its whereabouts patrolling back and forth 100 feet off shore - the reflection from its eyes giving me an exact position.
I called John on the satphone for advise. 'Get off the beach NOW' he urged with firmness and urgency in his voice. 'They're wiley as hell. It'll wait around until you've fallen asleep, then come and get ya. Get yourself and your gear up on top of that headland where it can't climb'. This I spent the next 2 hours doing, hobbling up and down on swollen feet, bitten all the way by the clouds of mosquitos. Finally, at 11pm I lay down in my sleeping bag and tried to sleep.
Posted at 1:34 PM
March 25, 2005
Dances with Crocs - Part 1
I'm writing this at the top of Lookout Point (on the mainland), a rocky headland that sticks up about 150ft above sea level. The reason? There's a four and a half metre/15ft croc on the beach below that wants to eat either me, the kayak or both. More on this later....
For a day that's had more than it's fair share of dramas, the morning by contrast kicked off pretty well. I left around 07.45 from Lizard for Eagle Island, 4.5 nautical miles almost due west, confident that the recent leaks in the canvas kayak were all fixed. The conditions were fairly ideal; NE wind at 5-8 knots with less than half a metre swell. Apart from my aching arms and shoulders, the only mishap was being pursued by a large sea-snake for a short sprint (thought he might hitch a ride). Shortly after a pair of dolphins escorted me either side for at least 20 minutes before peeling off to find something more interesting to do. I've always felt it a great honour, especially when feeling a little nervous about the craft I'm pedaling/paddling in, to be watched over by these gracious guardians.
On arriving at Eagle Island, a small sandy stub of land with low scrub and the odd tree, I was devasted to discover the entire rudder mechanism had pulled out of the outer hull and was hanging on by a thread. How could this happen? How, after all this effort to get up to Lizard Island for a third attempt at getting to the mainland, could I have allowed something as simple as basic failure of the craft I'm in be the weakest link? And why didn't I just hire a decent kayak when I was Cairns?
Fortunately it wasn't too late to call Bob and Tanya via the satphone, who were heading out to Eagle Island anyway in one of the research boats. 45 minutes later Bob arrived on the scene with more silicon, and the gaping hole in the rudder stem was closed forever, which also mean't no rudder to the remainder of the journey. A small price to pay I felt for the kayak not sinking mid-passage.
It was a long crossing to Lookout Point, 16 nautical miles away, made longer by not having paddled for so long and being pretty unfit. However, with 5 minute water and muesli bar breaks every hour, slowly the low-lying shape of Lookout Point began to take shape, getting agonizingly nearer minute by minute. And the more the afternoon wore on, the stronger I felt. Finally after 5 hours of paddling I rounded the southern edge of the headland and made for the sheltered sandy shore where I intended making camp for the night. And that's where the croc/s come in, and the fun really started...
I'd heard a lot of locals both in Cairns and on Lizard warn of crocs up around Cooktown, more plentiful now than ever since the hunting ban (in the '70's?). And I'd heard recent cases of croc attacks in which people were actually hauled out of their tents and dragged to the water. But I'm the most guilty when it comes to the old 'it'll never happen to me' line that runs through one's head.
OK, sorry but I'm dog tired - will finish this saga tomorrow. In the meantime please know that I am well, safe (on the rocky headland - crocs can't climb) and on the mainland.
Posted at 12:47 PM
March 24, 2005
Evening before departure and Bob and Tanya's
This'll be a short one, as I'm sitting in Bob and Tanya's house with my feet in a bucket of cold water and a scotch at my elbow, and for some reason I'm EXHAUSTED. Haven't kayaked much today - been fixing the REAL leak on the kayak (where the rudder mounts to the hull), and earlier we visited High Rock - 8 miles south of Lizard for some spectacular snorkeling (couldn't leave here without that!). Anyway, my feet have swollen up (not wearing shoes perhaps?) and I got a little sunburnt on the reef. Add having just 1 hrs sleep last night at the campsite (thanks to the mozzies doing laps in my ear) and I need a VERY early night - just waiting for Bob to come back from fishing as I write so we can eat.
Aside from my ailing condition (a good night's rest without blood sucking insects should put this right), all else is ready. I plan to get up early and start the leg to Eagle. Will have a proper update tomorrow evening. Hope the kayak behaves.
Posted at 11:05 AM
March 23, 2005
Lizard Base Camp
Arrived on Lizard Island fine. The 60 minute flight from Cairns was without doubt the most memorable flight of my life; flying at 10,000 feet up the Barrier Reef - breathtaking stuff, truly. I've only ever known the reef as a hindrance - the end of the Pacific voyage when Moksha was nearly wrecked on the reefs just north of here. But today I saw a different perspective, one helped with altitude. It really is one of the world's natural wonders.
I had my marine chart in my lap all the way, so I was able to identify the reefs and islands down below. I can't deny that I'm a little apprehensive about this section, not least because I don't really like the Klepper design and I'll be on my own. But seeing the route from the air gave me a lot of confidence - some of the islands like Eagle Island (my first point to hit after leaving Lizard) is well vegetated, even with trees. So this would be good cover/shade if I had to stop over and rest for a while.
Bob and Tanya met me at the airport and I was able to hand off easter eggs before they melted. It was really good to see them again - nearly 4 years! They help run the research station here on the island. And thanks to the Lizard Island Resort also who were very helpful ferrying my gear down to the beach and unloading the kayak and supplies from the barge that arrived this morning.
The rest of the afternoon was spent fixing up the kayak rudder, then ferrying my gear a half mile down the beach to the campsite where I am now. I write this with my laptop on my knees on the beach where this photo was taken. It's dark now, but a near-full moon is tracking its way behind me across the southern sky. The southern cross, the mariners' point of reference in the southern hemisphere, is twinkling reassuringly above the southern horizon. This all feels good.
So apart from the mozzies that are INCREDIBLY persistant and plentiful (thanks for the buzz-off Sharon - saving my bacon right now), and the lizards that tore my loaf of bread apart on the beach earlier, I feel so incredibly happy and blessed to be here right now. This really is paradise, and so many thanks to all of you who, as always, have mucked in and help make this happen.
Tomorrow I plan to do as many sea-trial tests on the kayak to check sea-worthiness. And a lot of kayaking to around the island to get my rusty joints and muscles back in the rhythm. Then, weather permitting, off on Friday morning at first light.
Posted at 10:32 AM
March 22, 2005
If all else fails, read the instructions...
The past couple of days has been spent wrestling with the foldable Klepper kayak. After 4 hours of cursing at German engineering I finally gave up and read the instructions. Amazing! 10 minutes later something vagualy resembling a kayak lay before me.
The rest of yesterday was then spent in Cairns, making the rounds of camping stores for a decent knife and waterproof matches, and the supermarket store for a week's supply of food: 5 pounds of rice, 4 pounds of porridge oats, 20 muesli bars, a bag of raisins and 10 sachets of soup. That's it (I tell a lie - my one extravagence being a jar of marmalade). Space is so limited in the Aerius 2000 that the remainder of the space will be dedicated to 25 litres of water (5 litres/day for 5 days).
This morning I took the kayak and all the supplies down to the barge on the wharf that stops off at Lizard Island tomorrow morning. I tried hitting the skipper up for a free ride but no go - something to do with insurance liability. So tomorrow midday I take the Mac Air flight and hopefully reconnect with my gear there. Weather remains good - SE-NE 10-15 knots, swell inside the reef less than 1 metre.
Posted at 7:31 AM
March 19, 2005
Planning Lizard Island to Mainland Crossing
Starting to put things together for this short section from Lizard Island to the mainland to keep the human powered aspect of the circumnavigation intact. It's only 23 miles, but logistically pretty complicated. The last time I was out here I paddled 12 miles from the spot where Moksha received a tow to Lizard Island before my kayak sprang a leak and began sinking. Now I need to close the gap between Lizard and the mainland. I hope this third attempt will be successful!
First off I have to get the foldable kayak, myself and a week's provisions up to Lizard, 120 odd miles from Cairns. I'm sending the kayak and heavy supplies up on a barge this Tuesday. I'll then fly up on the 60 min Mac Air flight from Cairns on Wednesday. Looking forward to meeting up with our old friends Bob and Tanya who helped April, Kenny and I back in 2000. They have the quite enviable job of running the Reseach Station there.
I'll spend a couple of days living on the beach getting familiarized with the kayak (last time I used it it sprang a leak and began sinking half way in from the Barrier Reef!), and trying to get a little fitter than I am right now. Then head off westwards towards Eagle island, just 4 miles. My main concern is keeping upright. The winds are forecast for 10-15 knots SE-E and the swell is only 0.5-0.9 metres inside the reef. But if I get turned over it'll be hard to get back into the boat unaccompanied. Drew Edwards is lending me a decent lifejacket and I have my satphone and Mcmurdo PLB EPIRB if things go bad. And I'm sure Bob and Tanya will be able to keep an eye on me for that first section.
Posted at 12:24 AM
March 16, 2005
Back in the hot, sweaty land of Oz
Arrived yesterday in the land of G'day - Cairns, N. Queensland. I knew it would a major climate shock after leaving a snow-bound Colorado, but the first lungful of tropical air always takes one by surprise. It's the humidity I guess.
I got lucky on the United flight from LA to Sydney - managed to get a business class seat thanks to Johnny Platt (thanks mate!). It's incredible what a few more degrees of seat recline can make to the ordeal of a 14hr flight. The experience was a little tainted however by the woman sitting next to me who had the annoying habit of beating her thighs with her fists (for circulation?) and every 5 or 10 minutes letting out a loud fart. Maybe she was deaf? The contents of business class were wishing they were by the end of the trip...
So, sitting here in John Andrew's pad (John was our support team driver on the last leg across Australia) in Edge Hill in tank top and shorts, lightly sweating at a mere 9 o'clock in the morning. Sounds of tropical birds flowing in through the window. Hmmm - feels good to be back downunder...
Posted at 11:20 PM
March 14, 2005
Looks like Cyclone Ingrid is headed out and away from Darwin. Big relief. Felt totally helpless here in Colorado watching the storm march every closer to Moksha - the only means of completing the expedition.
About to jump on a flight here to Cairns, to start preparing for the next leg. Feeling ambivalent - I've been nearly three and a half years in the Colorado Rockies, working the buffalo ranch. It's the closest I've come to having a 'home's since leaving England in '94. However, with the debts squared away and a few dollars in my pocket for the next leg it feels the right time to go. It's know or never. Plus, I REALLY want to finish this expedition before I'm 60.
It's snowing and there's a foot of snow outside as I write - so the toughest part of the expedition might be just getting to the airport! Typical Colorado - a final icy blast as a send off. Australia will be melt down compared to this.
Posted at 4:04 PM
March 12, 2005
Cyclone heading for pedal boat Moksha
I'm flying back to Australia this coming Monday, to get things ready for the next leg. But Cyclone Ingrid, a catagory 5 storm stronger than Tracy that flattened Darwin 30 years ago, is heading directly for Darwin.
Pedal boat Moksha, my trusty steed for the major ocean crossings still to be completed including the imminent crossing to East Timor, is currently sitting completely exposed on the wharf there in Darwin harbour. It'd be sods law to have made it this far around the world and have a damn storm crunch my only means of finishing the circumnavigation...
Posted at 2:40 PM
March 2, 2005
Follow the adventure....
This weblog will contain journal updates from Jason, Lourdes, Chris, Sher and April on the next leg of Expedition 360; kayaking through Indonesia, starting mid-April 2005.
Come back soon to follow the adventure!
Posted at 9:20 PM