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Charm - Australia 4 - Cairns

After leaving Mackay, we headed up to Cairns on an overnight journey. Of all of the boat projects Joe completed, the auto-pilot was the one I was most excited about. Wiggling masts and poorly connected rudders are obviously important, but they really didn’t affect my quotidian (like that fancy word?) existence. As any of the people who have crewed on our boat know – that autopilot was an all-fired nuisance. “Jeff” as the kids named it, would just stop holding the course at random moments. Joe had installed this new auto-pilot in Corpus Christi, before beginning the trip. He was afraid our old one would give up the ghost and wanted something reliable. Ha!

Instead, Joe and the four crew members spent 10 days on their way down to Colombia hand steering as Joe tried to text our friend, Jon, to help him fix it. There were improvements but you could never relax on watch because the auto-pilot would turn off without warning and the boat would start turning. This was particularly nerve-wracking during high wind sails.

So, we left Mackay and Joe immediately started trying to calibrate the auto-pilot. It didn’t work. It wouldn’t do the last step needed to get the system up and running. We took turns hand-steering the several hours to Airlie Beach while Joe texted Jon again. Jon, who works for Garmin, had contacts in Australia and while he was initially going to get us some parts, he decided that we needed a brand-new unit. I don’t know how he did it, but the morning we had planned to leave, a man showed up at our slip with a new auto-pilot “brain” that Joe promptly installed. And, it worked! We held our breath for the first few hours but it has been almost three weeks since Airlie Beach and it hasn’t gone off once. Thanks Jon – you always come through for us!

I had no idea how big of a nuisance that was until it’s gone. To any former crew reading this – thanks for putting up with Jeff during his tantrums. I’m sure you will completely understand when I tell you that I look forward to my watches now because I don’t have to keep an eye on Jeff!

After leaving Airlie Beach, we stopped in Bowen and had a nice meal at the pub in town. They told us that much of the movie, Australia, was filmed in Bowen, including all the shots with the long, long dock and the clip of the cattle running through town. I went for a run the next morning and, as usual, abandoned the paved road for a trail. This trail had a very clear sign pointing up a hill that said something like “Connector trail for bigger trail system”.

I headed up the hill – I’m a sucker for a good trail - but quickly found that there was no trail – just some parts of the tall grass worn down more than others. Halfway up the hill, I heard a rustling in the bushes and thought – it’s a crocodile! But this made no sense – why would a crocodile be climbing a hill, well away from any water. Nope, it wasn’t a crocodile. It was a . . . . kangaroo! It was so cool to encounter one in the wild. They do not seem to be animals that rely on stealth for anything. That creature made so much noise hopping through the brush that it must not have any predators in the area. I guessed that the trails I had been following that meandered all over were, in fact, game trails made by the noisy kangaroos. I did make it to the top and there was a lovely view and some actual trails but I had to get back to Charm so I ran back and we departed for Cairns.

Just before Cairns, we stopped at Fitzroy Island because we knew we wouldn’t make Cairns by nightfall. It was a lovely island with a resort and people in the water, snorkeling. I thought it was a good sign as we have been repeatedly warned about sharks and crocodiles so had told myself only to swim if others were already in the water. Shortly after we arrived, a rescue helicopter flew in and took someone off the dock. I immediately thought of sharks and crocodiles but a neighboring boat said that they had heard someone had heart issues in the water. Ugh. I decided that maybe I didn’t need to swim at Fitzroy. Instead, we did a hike up to the summit and out to an old lighthouse. Thankfully we did it in the right order so that it was downhill for the second part or the kids might have rebelled.

A brief interlude for an overview of Australia and the things that we (mostly me) have found to be surprising or delightful or neither or both.

Surprisingly delightful
• Meat – all of it is good, no matter what I do to it
• Fresh milk – We’ve only had boxed UHT mild since the beginning of our trip
• Dollop cream – I think this is also called clotted cream – sooo good on scones
• Kangaroos and koalas – Fun to see in petting zoos or in the wild!
• Public “lagoons” and grills – They have free, non-fenced in swimming areas and free electric grills in the public parks. It’s almost like their government wants people to enjoy themselves.
• Weather – It’s winter which seems to mean dry and pleasant. Every day.
• Greenness – I was expecting far more deserty scenery. I guess the east coast of Australia (where we are) contains the foresty part which I hadn’t expected.
• Work visa plan for international youth – Anyone under 30 from other countries can come to work in Australia for a year with the possibility of extending for more years. This means there are lots of young people from other countries around. In an odd twist, several of them told me that Europeans are restricted to farm work whereas South Americans, typically the manual laborers of the world, can work on the farms or in the less demanding tourism industry. I haven’t figured out why this is but I enjoy that Australia doesn’t follow the stereotypes prevalent in our half of the world.

• Refrigerated eggs – After months of finding eggs next to the flour and sugar, we once again are buying refrigerated eggs which makes them harder to store on the boat because they take up valuable fridge space
• Driving on the left – I’ve gotten used to it by now, after the last few car rentals have all been in left-driving countries. I told one man he was on the wrong side of the car and he told me, “Actually, I believe I’m on the right side.” And he was – the drivers are on the right. I’m almost to the point where I no longer put on the windshield wipers when I want the turn signal because that, too, is switched!

Surprisingly undelightful
• Crocodiles – While we haven’t seen any in the wild yet, we have been warned over and over that we can’t swim or dinghy in river areas or pretty much anywhere around Darwin.
• Not swimming at beaches – We met two teachers at a party who cautioned us about the crocodiles and “stingers” – various deadly jellyfish that inhabit these coastal waters. I asked where they swam if they couldn’t swim at any of their beautiful beaches and they told me, “swimming pools.” I guess this is the reason for the free “lagoons” in all the cities we’ve visited.
• Diving at the Whitsundays – We did a dive trip that was quite underwhelming. We saw a few cool creatures but I was expecting more from the Great Barrier Reef. I think maybe we were in the wrong place at the wrong time because my snorkeling in Lizard Island showed me the potential for more. Also, we’re a bit spoiled for diving/snorkeling now.

In Cairns, we did more sightseeing and shopping. Each of the kids got to plan his/her own day, mainly to keep them from fussing at me for planning everything. Tully took us to the aquarium, Marin did the mall and library, and Cobin planned a day of laser tag, go karting and an escape room. Next time we will give them a budget but it worked out and the kids were surprisingly protective of each other’s days. “No, Mama – you can’t pick where we eat lunch. It’s (insert child’s name)’s day!”

Joe didn’t want a day so I took his and we drove up to a tourist town in the rainforest where the gondola/train ride visits. I just wanted to drive up and have lunch and wander around the rainforest a bit. I had found a French restaurant that had amazing reviews so I thought that could be the focal point. We got in the rental car and drove about 45 minutes up through the rainforest. I read that the restaurant had an owner with some personality and great food. I guess I’m stuck in a rut since I sought out the same kind of place near the miniature sugar mill outside of Mackay.

Once again, it wasn’t quite a restaurant – more of a booth in a maze of eclectic shops catering to the tourists that ride the gondola to town. We had some trouble finding it, but eventually found “Sweet Gossip” with a small group of people milling about in the seating area. Just as I snagged a table in the small seating area, a man with a distinct French accent in the kitchen area made an announcement to the general public. He said that he would be unable to serve anyone because his oven wasn’t working and the technician couldn’t come until the next day. He recommended we all go to his brother’s crepe place a few doors down.

Oh. Disappointment set in. Joe and I stared at the broken machine in the place that was our destination for the day. Joe said something about taking a look at the oven and the Frenchman, named Franc, said, “Is it my lucky day? Are you a Moffat (make of his oven) technician?” I told him that Joe was a mechanical engineer that had a knack for fixing things. Conveniently, there was a fairy store next door that the girls had been trying to drag me into. The lovely woman there, named Jenny, was born to do what she was doing. She told me that if we had 15 – 20 minutes to spare, she could take the girls on a fairy quest, which was like an escape room, but involved fairies. Since we had just done an escape room the day before, all three kids were primed for this adventure.

I marveled at life’s twists. Here we were, in a location no one had been particularly excited about visiting and yet, we were meant to be there. Joe was happily fixing something for someone in need, the kids were entertained (Cobin later found a Far Side comic book while the girls and Jenny conversed deeply and extensively about how to communicate with the fairies that live on our boat) and I was referring potential restaurant patrons to the crepe place and children to the fairy place.

Joe and Franc took the motor out, found that it needed new bearings but could be lubricated and cajoled into working for one more day, and Franc started happily cooking us lunch, after first serving us a delicious crème brulée. He kept offering us a free lunch in his gratitude for Joe’s help but we figured that, since he had referred his entire lunch crowd to his brother’s and it was almost 2 pm, we needed to pay or he would lose money on us. Instead, he said he would give us a discount and that he got to determine the discount. We got a delicious lunch of camembert and salad sandwiches on fresh baked bread, bruschetta, and quiche and he got an oven that worked for another day. All of us were delighted. Even Cobin, normally a picky eater, was happy with the sandwich Franc put together for him that consisted of salami and ham he borrowed from his brother at the crepe place. The girls ate their quiche and ran back to chat more with Jenny about fairies.

Our planned hike got cut short but we still managed to catch a glimpse of yet another gorgeous spot in Australia’s rainforest when we stopped at the Barron River gorge on the way home.

Cairns is a fantastic city, mainly based around tourism, and we would have stayed longer but we needed to move along because we still had over 1,000 miles to cover to get to Darwin. We had seen several ARC boats at the dock, including Babsea, Danica, Alora and Niobe and most were already gone by the time we dropped the dock lines and headed out. Next stop – Lizard Island.


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