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Sailing Australias's Great Barrier Reef
By breakfast the next day, we were sailing and were within sight of the Flinders chain of islands. Again at anchor, we made our way to shore on board the inflatable boats. This island was named Stanley Island. The beach was literally covered with gorgeous shells that defy description as well as lots of broken coral. Dolores picked up a few broken shells, one of which we believed was identified to be of the poisonous variety. Tiger made sure that all of the shells chosen were empty and handed her a spider shell to enjoy. We then climbed up a hill to a cave where we viewed Aboriginal drawings on the cave wall. It was very hot and humid there. The island was uninhabited and had no fresh drinking water. For us to cool off in the sea was unadvisable because of the many stingrays swimming nearby. We pulled anchor after lunch. Our plan was to leave the Great Barrier Reef and head for open water. Soon we saw Bob at the top of the foremast where he was on the radio informing Tiger as to the location of the coral reefs that lay between us and the open water. Pauline darted in and out of the navigation room shouting out depths. The passage was not very wide and we were down to a few fathoms. There was some tension in the air and everyone was attentive and still. The minutes ticked away as we approached the last few yards. Then finally the reefs were behind us. We made it!
We were now blue-water sailors sailing the Coral Sea. The water was getting choppier now and soon turned into small waves which were getting bigger by the minute. The EOW responded to each wave with confidence as if the ship was alive and this was the way she had always behaved in open waters. Some of us now had no sense of balance so to develop sea legs as soon as possible was a must. During our "man overboard" drill we heard someone say "just think of the up and down motion of the ship as a wild carnival ride". It was also about this time that we were called to supper but not everyone was hungry. Green noodles were on the menu - how appropriate. "Try to keep a little in your stomach" was the advice given to us by Dr. Mike, a guest-crew member who actually was a doctor. Several people took his advice while others who did not have to be on watch retired to their cabins.
The next morning, we awoke to smooth sailing with no land in sight. About midafternoon, we were starting to get a whiff of an unpleasant odor. It was then we spotted land. "Raine Island", someone said. This deserted island off the coast of Australia appeared to be in the middle of nowhere. As we searched the water around the island for good anchorage, we noticed that the island was home to many thousands of masked booby birds. The bird droppings were what caused the strong odor. We understood that many years ago, Chinese workers stayed on the island and collected guano which was sold and then turned into phosphorous fertilizer. The only structure on the island was a tower which is the oldest European structure in the Australian tropics. It was built in 1844 by convict labor for the British Admiralty. There were about twenty 5-gallon water containers stored inside the tower. The only other man-made reminder that people had been there was a headstone for Eliza, buried here in 1892. There was no shade here, only bushes, grasshoppers and gigantic sea turtle skeletons. Everywhere you looked, you saw skeletons of turtles that had crawled away from the sea and perished on the island in the hot sun. It was between those skeletons on bare ground that the booby birds built their nests. The majority of the birds were booby birds, although 52 species of other sea birds have been seen there.
After dinner, Bob read to us about the habits of the huge sea turtles during their egg laying process. As darkness came, we carefully returned to the beach to witness this process. The following morning we again returned to the island. All traces of the spectacle we witnessed on the beach the night before had disappeared. The island was back to its daytime normality. For us, it was time to pull up the anchor and set sail. After such a stay with the birds flying around, it was time to wash down the ship as best we could before we got on with our onboard routine. We enjoyed a colorful sunset and then darkness came. The complete darkness was broken only by a shooting star now and then and by the phosphorescent glow in the water.
Sometime after sunrise, we entered Albany Passage. On shore at Albany Island, we made our acquaintance with a local islander named Ben. He was the caretaker of a small, semi-retired blister pearl pearling station. Ben was friendly and easy to understand and we talked at length. He told us about life there and the salt-water crocodiles that live there. He said that very few people came there and he had very few visitors. He told us that he slept with a long, sharp spear and a double-barrel shotgun. The spear was for the crocodiles and the shotgun for the snakes. We were glad that our sleeping quarters were onboard the EOW. Later, we went to see what was left of the Sommerset plantation. To our surprise, there still was a little left of the foundation of the Jardine home but the rest was taken over by the jungle. Tim led us through the jungle picking up coconuts along the way. First we came across the grave of Capt. Ausland, dated 1871. Then we saw a big spider, about 8 inches wide, and droppings from wild boars. This place is also known to be the home to many snakes, including the gigantic python. Some of the guest-crew could hardly wait to get back onboard the ship. Last evening, Mike caught a barracuda while fishing. This morning he cooked it and we all had it for breakfast. It was very good. While we were sailing, we were very well-supplied with fresh fish such as Spanish mackerel, barracuda, coral trout and, our favorite, barramundi.