Anchor down by Thursday Island

Date:June 20, 2016, 4 a.m.
Position:10 35.84 S, 142 14.43 E

The sun rose as we threaded our way through the Torres Island archipelago and we got our first real glimpse of Australia. The islands a sunburnt rusty red and lime-green vegetation set in a turquoise ocean. The whole ocean here is very shallow at only about 30-40 feet deep, making for spooky navigation. Finally, we dropped the hook at the protected Horn Island anchorage, across the channel from Thursday Island. Another great voyage come to an end.

We radioed the Australia “Border Force” and soon Privateer was swarmed by big brother, a presence not felt since leaving the USA. Luckily, we cleared in at a small port here, and the procedure was relatively painless. We have to report to customs again at each Australian city we visit, so I will withhold my judgment until we leave Australia.

We are surrounded by mangroves and eucalyptus trees and strange bird-song that sounds like something out of the Amazon. More importantly, there is a GIGANTIC SALTWATER CROCODILE sunning himself on the nearby beach, easily 20-feet long. It’s a bit unbelievable. There will be absolutely no swimming for us in this part of the world. The saltwater crocodile population is prolific here. A quick scan with the binocs reveals another croc even closer, about 100 feet away, staring directly at the boat with his jaws open.

We quickly learned as much as we could about how to behave around crocodiles. Never get behind a crocodile, look for “croc slides” on the beach and never go near them, don’t lean over the water or the side of the boat, always take a different route to shore in the dinghy (they recognize a pattern and set up an ambush), do not swim anywhere at any time, and get out of the dinghy quickly when going to shore. Kelsey and I have felt vulnerable in our dinghy in Alaska around the Grizzly bears. We’ve had a Grizzly swim by an oar-length from the dinghy and had them come charging toward us in the shallows. But the saltwater crocodiles will take some getting used to. Unlike the Grizzlies which almost always flee when our presence is discovered, the wily crocs are totally undisturbed and act more like a cat stalking its prey. Even more disturbing is that when we passed by the one on shore in the dinghy, the 20-foot long crocodile slid backward unto the water in one smooth motion, until only his nostrils were above water, and then he disappeared. We opened the motor up to full throttle.

Kelsey, Taz, and I spent the evening stretching our legs on land at the small community on Horn Island. At first glance, we notice that many houses have a scant under-story with open garage or are completely elevated 15 feet off the ground. We guess that this is for bugs but are not sure–in Vanuatu the thatch huts were elevated several feet off the ground to keep the wild pigs from running through. Also, almost every house and building has bars and grates over every window. Again, we don’t know if this is to keep out people or animals. There is also a proliferation of chain-link fencing and barbed wire. People’s houses look like some sort of casual prison yard. The heat, even in the late evening, was stifling, and we lingered in the little air-conditioned grocery store inspecting the astronomical prices. A case of Coke? $40. Wow. It came as quite a shock to see the little shelf of expensive plastic-wrapped pre-cut and wilting fruit, after our experience at the abundant and vibrant Vanuatu market. 1,500 miles and a world away. True, Australia has a harsh growing climate. It’s like that movie “the Martian”.

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