David and I departed Lizard Island for a 54-hour sail up to Horn Island, where we were going to make our last stop in Australia before clearing out and heading to Indonesia. Many friends made other stops along the way, but when they did stop, it was usually just to sleep or ended up being too windy to go to shore. The prevailing winds in the winter are almost always (80%+ of the time) SE and in the 20+ knots range.
The Torres Strait Islands are a group of over 270 islands between mainland Australia and New Guinea. Torres Strait Islanders are separate peoples from Aboriginals and are of Melanesian descent.
Thursday Island is the capital of the Torres Strait Islands, and only 14 of the islands are populated.
Horn Island is the better anchorage, with most boats crowding in a strip off the public wharf between the island and a mangrove/reef that’s dry at low tide. This area is subject to currents, so we do the 180-degree dance four times a day.
The public wharf is where the ferry comes in (not the Seaswift terminal). There is a boat ramp for locals and dinghys tie up on the inside of the main dock.
Horn Island has the main Torres Strait airport and is connected via ferry to Thursday Island, the Torres Strait capitol.
There isn’t much located on Horn Island; two grocery stores, a few hotels, and a museum.
Us cruisers got together several times at the Gateway Torres Strait Resort for drinks. Dinner can be arranged in advance, buffet style, but most nights it’s pretty quiet.
Connected to the Gateway Resort is the Torres Strait Heritage Museum.
There are two grocery stores, the Horn Island Supermarket and the IBIS Supermarket. Both have all the basics but are expensive compared to the mainland.
The rally had organized a special rate for us on the ferry using Rebel Marine at a rate of $12 per person for a round trip, which includes shuttle service. When we arrived on Thursday Island, the bus dropped us off wherever we wanted, and we could either arrange a pick up in advance or call when we were ready.
The ferry runs during daylight at least once an hour.
We had the bus drop us off at the Green Hill Fort, which was built in 1891. It was used as a signals station in WWII, and then afterward used as a meteorology station. The view was fantastic, even on a cloudy day, looking down at the surrounding islands.
We walked back down the hill and walked alongside the waterfront all the way until the customs office, where we coordinated a clear out time. Lunch was at the Grand Hotel (and quite good). We walked back along the main street, Douglas Street, checking out the shops; Mitre 10, IBIS, a pharmacy, bottle shops, etc.
Thursday Island has a wonderful Torres Strait War Memorial and park.
There is also the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, a museum with information about the history of the Torres Strait Islanders.
We had just loaded up onto the ferry to head back to Horn Island when one of the crew members asked if we wanted to go see some crayfish. Uh…sure? I’d noticed the crew wearing Torres Strait Seafood Company shirts prior, and sure enough, she led us to the small building on the dock which houses crayfish tanks. She pulled one out by her antenna and let us hold for pictures. They are huge! She explained that the crayfish are shipped to Asia and sold for eating.
(Please note a cultural lesson here. Where I come from, crayfish is a less common term for crawfish, which are small, freshwater crustaceans preferably served boiled with hot spices, bibs, and hand wipes or in etouffee. Here in Australia, crayfish would be the common term for a saltwater spiny lobster.)
Out of the 44 rally boats, we saw at least 27 of them at the Horn Island anchorage. One night, we all gathered at the Gateway Resort bar for drinks. We’ve put a lot more names to faces and have gotten to chat with a lot of people.
The Customs office was expecting us and the rally had given us a contact there. We filled out the sections necessary, signed the clearance form, and ta-da! All done. We found out we were the 4th to last rally boat to clear out. The three still remaining weren’t even in the anchorage when we cleared out, so they must still be making their way up.
We departed July 21st in the wee hours of the morning with our friends Slow Flight to head to Debut, Indonesia. We expect to be there on the 25th by sunset, just in time for the rally events on the 26th.
See you in Indo!