Saturday, June 25, 2016

Torres Strait

The Eclipse, our home on Torres Strait.
On Sunday morning people appeared from their rooms around the pool and met for breakfast at the "Resort dining room". After breakfast bags got loaded onto the ute and we walked down to the wharf, following them. Then we waited .... there was no sign of our boat, the Eclipse. Finally from behind the large green supply boat unloading at the main wharf came a small tender. The trip was about to begin.
Waiting for the ride to the Eclipse

Loading our gear

Horn Island docks

The first job was to get all the bags out to the boat, and then us. When all were aboard we up-anchored and head for the first destination, and a tick for many on board; Little Tuesday Island and Ashy-bellied (Pale) White-eye. Once this bird was safely on everyone's list and they were back on board the important work of "nesting" began and people spent time selecting bunks and packing bags into the not overly large cabins.
Thursday Island in the rain

Thursday Island

Little Tuesday Island

On the way to the White-eye

Tick one on Little Tuesday

Lunch and enjoying the view of the passing islands filled the rest of the day. We passed Badu, Moa and Mabuiag islands to port and, off in the distance, Yam island to starboard. Tall clouds filled the blue sky over the islands and violent but very localised storms dropped huge amounts of rain.

Before leaving Melbourne I had re-read Ion Idriess' book The Wild White Man of Badu. While it is now very dated in some of its views and attitudes it was still interesting to read about the islands and islanders in the late 19th Century and then see actual artefacts and photos from the time in the museums on Horn and Thursday Islands followed by sailing the same seas and seeing the actual islands and people he wrote about.
Rain over Moa and Badu

Sand Island in a steely sea

Then came an island I had waited 7 years to see again, and this time take some photos; Gabbar Island. Gabbar stretches out across the horizon and to my eye and mind is a sleeping dragon, nose and head to the left and long tail off to the right. I am sure that it crashed into the sea many many years ago and is now just awaiting for some event to awaken it. I heard on this trip though that there is a local myth to go with the island. Evidently, living in one of the caves on the island is an old woman who has been there for many hundreds of years, maybe even longer, and is the island's custodian. To go onto the island is to risk capture and death at the hands of this woman. I find this a very compelling myth to go with my impression of the dragon. Maybe the old woman is actually the protector of the dragon and one day it will be her that awakens it and rides it back into the sky.
Gabbar Island

There was no wind with the storms though and the sea remained almost glassy smooth as we sailed north. We had the pleasure of calm seas for the whole trip and though a bit of bad weather may have blown some birds over from New Guinea for us, as it did for the following trip, it was pleasant not to have to bird watch in tropical downpours.
Rain clouds

Living on the boat is the easiest way of visiting the islands. Permission from the island counsel has to be requested to visit each island and accommodation is very limited and of variable quality. On this trip we could not get permission to land on Dauan Island. It is also more comfortable to live on the boat because at dawn and dusk the mosquitoes are unbelievably fierce but don't come out as far as the anchored boat. It is also very useful to have access to small boats to allow the exploration of the various rivers and mangrove edges.
Boigu town

Supply barge. We refuelled from the tanker truck that can be seen on deck

The obligatory "Sunset over New Guinea"

All text & images © Jenny Spry

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