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Cairns.... Here Comes November Rain

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

After four satisfying months of fishing Vanuatu from our home base on Aore Island, we have pulled up anchor and motored off for the legendary fishing grounds of Cairns, Australia. It’s been a life-long dream of my partner, Gaz, to catch a 1000 lb+ Black marlin, commonly called a “Grander” in fishing circles (a much sexier name than a Four Hundred and Fifty plus Kiloer). While the males of the species max out at about 150 kg, in a case of sexual dimorphism, the females are much, much larger. These big girls make their way over to the Great Barrier Reef every year between October and December to spawn. And while not all fish caught around the reef will be Granders, they are typically larger there than anywhere else in the world. The world’s most elite sport-fishing fleet arrives in droves in late September, just to have a chance to tag and release (and occasionally weigh) one of these big beautiful girls.

When in New Zealand, we normally target Striped Marlin, which typically run about 90-150 kgs, maxing out at about 250 kg. We occasionally pulling in the odd Pacific Blue, which grow substantially larger. A mate, Kerry, managed to tag a Blue over 300 kg a couple years back on November Rain. In Vanuatu, it’s all about the Blues, with a rare small Black or Stripey thrown into the mix. Typically, we catch smaller fish between 90 and 200 kgs and most of our game gear is rated at 37 kg. The largest fish ever weighed from November Rain was a Blue of 286 kgs, (which still stands today as the Tongan Ladies All Tackle Record).

The style of fishing for the big Blacks is fundamentally different from fishing for Blues and Stripeys; these are normally targeted by towing resin/plastic lures at 8 knots or live-baiting skip jack tuna , towed at 2 knots. For the big Blacks, Cairns boats tow dead baits at speeds of around 5 knots. The bait must be caught every day or so in advance and stored in the freezer. Frozen fish quickly turns to mush in the warm water, and so, must be stitched up using twine and special techniques that keep the flesh from falling apart while under tow. Ideally, the dead bait should masquerade as a tasty, live and swimming snack to the discriminating marlin connoisseur. Gaz has some experience in sewing up baits from the 1980s as this was how it was done in the stone age, before plastic lures came into fashion. Bigger fish also demand bigger tackle, but since we don’t own any 60 kg rods, we will be improvising by using our lighter 37 kg Tiagras spooled with 60 kg nylon top-shot bound onto 37 kg dacron backing and 700 lb leaders. Gone are the wind-on leaders, which means the wire-man will have much more line to deal with (and potentially get entangled in). The game chair will be in use, we will have to put our stand-up gear away. We are like the Jamaican Bob Sled Team at the Winter Olympics and it’s our first rodeo.

Sportfishing boat at sea
November Rain

The open-ocean voyage from Vanuatu to Cairns is plotted to be about 1,200 nautical miles and 12 days, accounting for some stop-offs at a few reefs along the way. Over the past few months, Gaz has painstakingly researched marine charts, taking note of promising reefs and underwater sea mounts that game fish exploit to concentrate bait, as well prevailing winds and potential safe anchorages. Joining Gaz and I aboard November Rain are our two deck hands, Aidan and Mitch. Aidan is a returning 26 year old Brit who helped us bring the boat up to Vanuatu from New Zealand earlier in the year. Mitch, a 19 year old Kiwi, has loads of fishing experience on both commercial charter and private boats. Mitch comes to us after a season in Tonga working aboard a Chinese-owned private boat. Both men are likeable, hardworking, good company and crazy about fishing. Good crew can be hard to come by and we are lucky to have them.

Our last few days in Vanuatu were rather hectic.There were cart-loads of last-minute provisions of fresh produce, meat and bread to be bought from the various markets on Luganville, then ferried across the channel in our little tin boat, the Aore Island equivalent of a suburban mom’s SUV. My advance order at the butchery was lost in translation, and instead of a nice pork shoulder roast, I received the entire front leg of a pig, frozen solid just as I had requested. (The butcher quickly sawed it in half for me, so that it would fit in a couple of my largest pots, note to self…I must look up some recipes that use pig kneecaps) Twelve to fourteen days at sea requires a lot of planning for the ship’s provisioner; insuring that we carry enough fresh and palatable food for the crossing, yet knowing that what we don’t eat will be confiscated and destroyed by Australia’s vigilant Biosecurity & Customs agents. I constantly waver between fear of starving my crew (which is a justifiable cause for mutiny) and the thought of wasting food on the other end.

There was the usual banana-republic bureaucratic raga-ma-role with Immigration and Customs. Gaz had organized a tanker truck to deliver 2,200 liters of diesel to top up our tanks to 5,000 liters, but in order to take advantage of duty-free pricing, there needed to be a planetary alignment between the fuel company, Customs and Immigration. Immigration demanded we clear out of the country, exit stamps in our passports first, BEFORE they would issue the required documentation to purchase the discounted fuel. (We couldn’t leave Vanuatu without fuel, but we couldn’t buy duty free fuel until AFTER we left Vanuatu) Gaz also had arranged for a pallet of motor oil to be shipped in from NZ but we had to pay a ridiculous amount for an unnecessary quarantine inspection in addition to the freight, duty, VAT and handling fees. This necessitated four separate visits to the shipping agent. Fortunately, the agent was able to arrange delivery of the pallet of motor oil right to the boat during our refueling at the main wharf. That saved us the hassle of carting a ton of freight across the kilometer-wide channel in our tiny tin boat.

Boat in front of jetty
November Rain tied to the Vanuatu jetty

small boat with motor
Our run-around-town vehicle

November Rain’s water maker went on the fritz the day of departure, a situation that required urgent attention. Gaz replaced the filters and fixed the fault, averting a potential crises. While I locked up the house for the upcoming 6 months of vacancy, the deckies did the heavy lifting of dismantling the floating jetty and retrieving meters of heavy chain that secure November Rain to the bottom. Gaz’s back injury had been playing up recently and he was relegated to a supervisory role. November Rainwas put on anchor 20 meters off shore as the floating jetty and chains were stored away on the beach.

While the men were finishing up at the beach, I was aboard, stashing groceries in every available nook and cranny, most likely to never be found again. After a while, I noticed that the house and the beach were shrinking away. Nov. Rainwas dragging on her anchor, drifting away from the house, floating down the Segundo channel and out to sea, perhaps too eager to begin her next adventure. Since I was leaving for Oz without the crew, the “hurry up” was on and it was the push the men needed to wrap up their good byes to lingering neighbors that had dropped by for farewells. The men bee-lined for Nov. Rain, Mitch and Aidan paddling furiously in the kayaks while Gaz puttered ahead in the rubber duck.

Our first night aboard was spent in a bay in front of one of Vanuatu’s many beautiful resorts, a short 30 minutes from our home on Aore, but far enough away that we felt like we had started our adventure.Ten minutes after we dropped anchor, the resort's transportation manager motored out in a long boat for a chitchat. After an appropriate amount of polite conversation, he inquired if we were willing to transport a party of 40 hotel quests from town (Luganville) to the resort the following week.Apparently, their transport boat wasn’t quite big enough, but November Rain would be more than adequate.Uhmmm…sorry…no, we are not a commercial ferry vessel and besides, we would be away forthe next 6 months. (Being one of the larger boats aroundthe island has it’s downfalls.Last year, the Fisheries Department inquired if we would be able rescue vessels in distress, as the government of Vanuatu didn’t actually have a suitable rescue boat in Santo,…yeswe would be happy to help if needed)We picked up the anchor at 5 am the next morning and headed SE for New Caledonia’s most northern reef, 36 hours away.

map of Vanuatu

The starboard outrigger reel screamed off around 1 pm, hooking into an estimated 140 kg blue, which fell off immediately, just as I was getting comfortably settled in to the harness and bucket. I reeled in the slack line to discover the hook had been donated as a lovely parting gift, but we did manage to get the lure back. In the afternoon, Aidan landed a Mahi-Mahi which Mitch expertly filleted. It was kismet that I had just finished dicing ripe mangos and thus, we enjoyed fresh mango salsa and coconut-crusted Mahi-Mahi for our first at-sea supper.

man holding a fish on a boat
Mitch shows off dinner

The next morning, as we were settling into the daily routines and boredom that is inevitable with a long ocean passage, all hell broke loose. A squeaking belt that I initially ignored as I believed it was the refrigerator fan belt AGAIN (a recurrent nuisance noise), quickly escalated into a situation as smoke began billowing out the starboard engine bay. Mitch was the first to sound the alarm and pounded on the door to the head, where Gaz was getting busy. Panic stations were on as Gaz busted out of the loo, saw the smoke and yelled “Fire”. I grabbed the closest extinguisher and handed it off to him as I made my way up to the flybridge to grab a second extinguisher, the toss-able fire-bomb ball. Gaz shouted to me to “shut her down” and I quickly pushed the starboard engine kill button.

Man working on diesel motor
Gaz replaces the alternator that went down in flames

To our great relief, there was no fire in the engine bay. Gaz quickly diagnosed the problem; the alternator had seized up, while the fan belt had continued to run, causing the belt to heat up, melt and billow smoke from the friction. Gaz was able to replace the seized alternator and fan belt in good time with on-board spares, Aidan and Mitch again doing the heavy lifting again.

We arrived at the first remote reef around 4 pm, a small sand spit with low lying scrub and teaming with nesting sea birds With only a couple of palm trees, it was the quintessence cartoon deserted isle, lacking only the lone castaway tossing messages in bottles out to sea. The deckies swapped out the trolling gear for lighter tackle, and we ran diver/rapala type lures, one from each corner. It was only a minute before we had a double hook up on Giant Travelly, mine being foul hooked in the side, making it much more difficult to land. The angling was productive over the next couple hours and we released a dozen Dog Tooth Tuna, a few GTs and in one our most memorable catches, Mitch reeled in a Red Bass and a Coral Trout together, on the same lure.

Dinner was followed by the evening’s entertainment of shark wrangling, a sport that Mitch introduced to us.A dead skippy’s tail is lassoed by a small rope and dangled tantalizing, about a meter under water at the transom.We watched eagerly as four reef sharks, in the glow of the blue underwater lights, circled and passed repeatedly closer and closer to the bait. Eventually, one would get enough nerve to snatch the bait.Then it was full on, a tug of war between Mitch and the shark, with lots of thrashing right at the boat.After a few seconds, the shark would inevitably win, swimming off with a free meal and giving us a respectable show of their fierceness andsheer power.The remaining sharks would get fired up, sensing that they were missing out on a feed and would crash at the remains of the bait.All in good fun and better than TV.

Lady with a fish
Lori with a tuna

men fishing on boat
Double hook-up for the boys

A vote was taken the following morning and it was decided that we would stay and fish the same reef for another day, rather than travel 80 miles for a different reef, which might or might not produce fish. “Don’t leave fish to go find fish" is a basic tenet of the fisherman’s credo. Again, the fishing gods smiled upon us and we caught countless Doggies, GTs, Red Bass, Barracuda, Blue Fin Travelly and a few other species on poppers and trolling divers. At one point, four sailfish chased poppers to within a meter of the stern, but we failed to hook even one. The best part of the day was that we didn’t run across a single wahoo, and thus, avoided the damage to the gear inflicted by their razor sharp teeth. If anyone has any doubt as to the damage these fish can do, I will provide proof with photos of my recently mangled foot which was gnawed on after I gaffed and pulled a wahoo onto the boat). In the late afternoon, we had to pull the pin on the fishing as the angler’s arms were falling off, but more importantly…we lost our steering….a very ominous sign.

Gaz maneuvered November Rain to safe anchorage using the steering afforded by the twin engines’ prop walk. Upon inspection, it became apparent that the steering pump was fried and the rest of the afternoon was spent fixing it. We do carry a spare pump but Gaz was able to replace the blown seal. The deckies cleaned up the mess of hydraulic fluid that was splattered all over the port engine bay.

men working on boat
Repairs on the steering pump

The following day was a rest day at anchor, Garry theorizing that if we are not actually moving, nothing mechanical could break down. After an appropriate amount of boredom time with the old folks (Gaz and myself), Mitch and Aidan set off for the sand spit in the kayaks for some nature exploration. They returned with footage of giant sea turtles hauled out on the sand, preparing to lay their eggs, and accounts of nesting sea birds, oblivious to the human activity. It was like a scene right out of a David Attenborough nature documentary. They collected some souvenirs for me, three nautili shells, which I will treasure.

tropical island
Giligan's Island

To my surprise, the pork leg, once defrosted, turned out to be a beautifully rolled boneless roast, which melted into delicious BBQ pulled pork after 10 hours in the slow cooker. Thank goodness, as to turns out that pig don’t actually have kneecaps which explained my failure at googling a recipe for them.

We spent the next morning trolling the same reef, reeling in two really large and beautiful GTs as well as few really ugly Barracuda, a nuisance by-catch. Barracuda carry a horrid stench on their slimy skin that lingers on anything they touch, so we do our best to avoid bring them aboard. After lunch on the hook, we set out for another troll around the reef. A school of sailfish took interest in our divers, but as they are notoriously hard to hook, Mitch and Aidan quickly switched out the gear for light gauge hooks on hot pink skirted lures. The afternoon was a record day for us, releasing seven sailfish at the boat, with plenty of action and pack attacks right at the transom. Fishing doesn’t get much better than that.

Man holding sailfish bill at side of boat
Sailfish bonanza in New Caledonia

man with sailfish at side of boat
Goldfinger leaders a sail

Leaping fish
Acrobatics right at the boat

One more night at anchor on the reef, then we headed for another reef, part of eastern Australia, about 280 miles NE of our current location, ETA, 36 hours at our usually 9 knot pace. A stowaway gecko was dispatched to the deep after he failed to produce his Vanuatu passport and Australian visa. And despite Gaz”s strict “no pets” policy, a flock of seagulls has taken residence on our front bow rail every night, making messes and squawking among themselves. Mitch has taken to calling his crew-bunk mate, Aidan, “Horse”. He won’t explain why, but as afar as nicknames go, you could do much worse. Mitch often refers to himself as “Goldfinger” which he sings it out loud, like a promo jingle for a James Bond flick, whenever he is close to landing a fish. Garry has been nicknamed Gassy Gaz, no explanation needed.

birds on boat
Our "pets" resting on the poop deck

birds over ocean
Birds and bait

The next morning, Gas spotted birds working on a big boil up. We hooked into some nice 40 kg+ yellowfin, boating 3 out of the 4 hookups, with one tuna getting taken by a large shark. Goldfinger released the shark at the boat, the culprit swimming away with our lure and a belly full of our tuna. (Eventually the hook will rust away out of the shark’s jaw, a much better option for us than attempting to retrieve the hook from the nasty mouth full of digit removers) I pulled myself out of the rotation and confined myself to photographer duty as a microscopic glass shard in the sole of my foot was flaring up, making it painful to walk.

We reached the first reef around 9:30 am and after the boys replaced the trolling lures with divers, Horse immediately hooking up a doggie, which was subsequently ripped apart by a pack of sharks, right at the boat. Within minutes, he had another doggy in the boat, this one about 40 kgs while Goldfinger wrestled in a small shark. A coral trout stopped by for a quick photo op and a doggie, over 50 kgs, gave up the fight once another shark made a mid-morning snack out of its tail. The rest of the morning was spent trying to reel in big fish faster than the even bigger pursuing sharks. An abundance of top apex predators is a sign of a health Eco-system and this reef was on fire! We released well over a dozen fish, all over 40 kgs, save for one small yellowfin, which in now marinating in lime juice.

We left the reef about 1 pm, heading north for another reef, and went back to trolling marlin lures. Goldfinger picked up a small doggy on the long corner and as Horse and I went about clearing the gear, the three remaining rods went screaming off in quick succession, all of them with sharks on the hooks. It was an expensive exercise and we lost two of our best lures, the Red Gill RG8 and Gaz’s custom-made model, managing to keep only one, which we retrieved from a shark’s mouth at a safe distance using the gaff to slide it up the line, before cutting the line right above the hook.

An hour later, we hooked up a small Black marlin, estimated 110 kgs, on the Kamikaze lumo lure, Goldfinger reeling it in 45 minutes, with Horse as the wireman.It’s our first marlin of the trip. Half an hour later, and its Horse’s turn, wrangling a 100 kg Stripey on the Bonze Hot Breakfast lure. The stripey stayed on the surface during the fight and gave a spectacular aerobatic performance, this judge ranking it a 9/10 on the Billfish Ballet Scale. As if right on cue, half an hour later, we get another strike on the Hot Breakfast. I signed myself out of medical leave for this one and reeled in a Sailfish for the hat trick!Three billfish species, all within 2 hours!

Another overnight on anchor at the reef and I catch up on the missed sleep from our travel night. In the morning, the wind has picked up considerably, blowing 25 knots and we opt for a rest day on the reef. Horse and Goldfinger helping Gaz with maintenance oil changes. We are half-way between Vanuatu and Australia now, with another 5 days to travel. After a satellite download of the weather GRIB files, Gaz revises our plans, opting to skip the next reef altogether. This we give us a better angle to our final destination, with the wind and waves behind us, rather than side on.

There was another boat anchored on the other side of the reef and we motored over for a nosy and hopefully, a reprieve from the howling wind. It turns out that the couple aboard the yacht were also sailing from Vanuatu to Australia. I invited them for sushi dinner, but they weren’t keen enough to launch their dingy in the strong breeze. Fair enough, their anchorage was even more blowy than our first spot. We motored off and dropped anchor a mile away in better shelter. Later that evening, we spotted a second yacht heading in for the reef’s shelter. We are literally out in the middle of nowhere and it is as busy as Queen Street.

sushi display
Sushi dinner from our yellowfin tuna

It is day 8 now and the swell is up, 2-3 meters high and coming from two conflicting directions; one pattern is directly behind us and another is on the port stern quarter, combining together for a washing machine effect (delicate cycle-rough but not intolerable). We teased up a Spearfish and a Blue marlin in the morning, both of which fell off. After lunch, we hooked up a small Blue on the Black Bart 1656. The fish didn’t leap or jump around, evidence to us that it probably didn’t know it was hooked, and can often indicate the fish is only bill wrapped. I was on standup gear and easily brought the fish to the boat in 5 minutes, but the fight was far from over. Goldfinger had the leader when the green fish wised up, lit up and went haywire, tearing off 300 meters of line, going deep. He was a small fellow, around 60 kgs and I got the line back in 15 minutes, using the big swell as an advantage. Unfortunately, the hook was wrapped around the bill and jagged into the fish’s eye, which was hanging by a thread from the socket. As Goldfinger removed the line from the bill, the entire eye, as big as a softball, came with it. It was the stuff of nightmares and a gruesome image that will haunt me for a while. Gaz says not to worry, fish can survive with only one eye, in fact he claims to have caught a marlin before with just such a defect. It doesn’t make me feel much better.

man and women on boat fishing
Lori's cyclops

Right on dusk, as we were enjoying the last bites of supper in the salon, the port rigger screamed off. The next hour was a ten-round prize fight between Horse and a big Blue in the fading light and rough seas. It was complete mayhem, with Captain Gaz was backing down hard into pitching, oncoming seas, chasing the fish down, while whitewater crashed over the gunnels, flooding the pods. Goldfinger was sprinting from side to side, periodically opening the pod gates to the drain the flood waters out faster than the scuppers could handle, only to have Gaz fill them up again, the bilge alarm screaming away. Inside, our dirty dinner plates, cutlery and left-over mashed potatoes went flying everywhere. It started to rain at one point, but there was no way the boys could get any wetter. Gaz was shouting inspirational words of encouragement from the bridge such as, “Go hard! If he goes deep, it’ll be another hour before you get him up again” and “wind, wind, wind”. Horse, on standup gear, had a real fish to contend with and fought hard to win line back, only to have it scream off again. Gaz was having to constantly maneuver the boat, slamming on the brakes, then bursting forward, engines blowing black smoke, trying to keep the fish from going under the boat. After a very long hour, and now well into dark, Goldfinger finally managed to grab the leader from the rod tip, but then had to run back and forth from pod to pod several times before the fish finally committed to one side of the boat. Goldfinger purposely pulled the leader hard enough to break the hook and we watched the fish glide away into the deep. Finger rates the fish at 280 kgs but Gaz counters at 250 kgs. Either way, it’s a mighty fine fish for Horse. Sorry, no photos of this one, it was just too dark.

water inside boat
Water in the pods from backing up in rough seas

The next day brought slightly calmer seas, still the big swells but now, they all behind us and November Rain is surfing down swells, like a train on rails. With only 3 days left before we check into Cairns, I take stock of the provisions and panic once I find that we are overstocked by 5 days (two dinners of fresh fish accounts for two of the days). In an effort to avoid wasting food, I spend my morning chopping veg, cooking up meats and preparing meals to freeze. As far as I can remember, at least in New Zealand anyway, cooked and prepared dishes are spared by Biosecurity. It’s the raw stuff and weird asian foods that gets confiscated. I might have to leave a kilo of raw mince and a few moldy potatoes aboard as I’ve heard that the agents are often disappointed if they can’t find anything to confiscate, and that in itself might cause further investigation. Here’s hoping I can keep my Nautili shells.

In the afternoon the conflicting swells picked up again and the ride got sloppy. I was in the galley, baking, when the port rigger went off. Horse and I ran outside to clear the other rods while Finger was napping in his bunk, oblivious to the commotion, head phones on. After donning my gimbel, I dropped the drag back and tried to pick up the rod out of the holder, struggling with the weight on it. The line went slack and Gaz thought the fish had fallen off, but when I wound in the slack while still in the rod holder, the weight came back on. Suddenly, line was screaming off again, and we had lost over 300 meters by the time I had the rod in my gimbel. Gaz started backing up and immediately, both pods were flooded, in even quicker time than yesterday. I will still losing line and close to getting spooled, so we decided to chase the fish down from the bow, driving forward instead of in reverse. Finger (who was up by now) and Horse helped me waddle up the 3 steps with my rod, gimbel and harness, and I was able to quickly regain line from the bow. In fact, Gaz was moving forward faster than I could wind and we almost drove over the line. After a few tense minutes, I was back down at the stern and everything was under control. After 15 minutes of playing the fish, we pulled the hooks only 40 meters from the boat, just in time for me rescue my lemon squares from the oven. We never saw the fish jump, so perhaps it was just bill wrapped. Gaz had spotted the fish’s tail in the waves when the lure was first hit and he figures it was just as large as last night’s Blue. Finger quipped that his wiring gloves could do double duty as oven mitts if I needed help in the galley again.

We had one more hit that evening, right before supper. There was a collected sigh of relief when it fell off, no one really wanted a repeat of last’s night drama. We decided it was time to pull the lines in for the night. We are scheduled to arrive at Marion Reef around 10:30 pm and everyone is looking forward to a night on the hook.

In the morning, Horse and Finger helped Gas replaced a faulty bilge pump, this particular unit from one of the pods that flooded while backing up on a marlin. As Gaz often reminds me, BOAT is an acronym for Broken Or About To be. If you are not fixing something daily, you are not looking hard enough.

We gave the reef a miss for fishing, as the winds were up and conditions were rough, instead opting to carry on to Horseshoe and Flinders reefs. We towed only one lure that day, a dud out of the dog box, one that Gaz didn’t care if we lost it. Goldfinger, on the helm, reported driving through working birds, seemingly surprised that we didn’t get a hit. It’s Gaz’s little secret that there’s no hook in the lure we are towing.

Birds are continuing to freeload overnight passage. Gaz had to banish one fellow off the rail in the middle of the night, its beak tucked beneath his wing tapping repeatedly on the stainless rail, the noise reverberating through the hull of the boat. Horse is particularly irritated by the birds as he is the Chief Officer in charge of the poop deck. He and Finger spent a good part of the afternoon chasing away one particularly persistent bludger, only to have the bird circle the boat, then swoop back down to it’s preferred roost. At one point, when we were passing within a mile of a freighter, Gaz tried to shoo the bird off, hoping it would catch the bigger bus out of town. No such luck.

Somewhere in the middle of the morning, between cooking beef stew, chicken adobo, carrot cake and an apple pie, all in a continuing attempt to thwart zealous Biosecurity agents, the starboard rigger went off. It was almost a replay my previous fish; losing 500 meters of line, chasing it down from the bow, then waddling back to the stern once everything was under control. This time, we had a much better outcome and I reeled in a Black marlin, about 120 kgs after 20 minutes. The Black Bart 1656 nails another one. Horse removed the apple pie from the oven for me, earning him a commendation and a promotion from Chief of the Poop Deck to Sous Chef.

man holding marlin on leader in rough seas
Lori's Black, with Goldfinger on the wire

As we approach Flinders Reef in the early afternoon of the 12th day, we spotted a strange man-made structure positioned on the reef. My first hope was that it was a cell phone tower, and I might score some internet, but dang, it was just some stupid weather station. We dropped anchor on the reef for a few hours, just chilling out, and thankfully, nothing needed fixing. The game rods were rinsed and stowed away, and won’t be brought back out until we can hit the tackle shops to beef up for the big Black girls. Gaz doesn’t want to navigate the Great Barrier Reef in the dark, so our departure from Flinders was timed to arrive at the entrance to the Great Barrier just after sunrise, and hopefully, into Cairns by lunchtime.

Flinder's Reef
All along the watchtower, Flinder's Reef

man with fishing rods
Garry cleaning up the gear

Men sunning on deck of boat
Horse and Goldfinger tanning their guns.

Right on schedule, we reach the mark outside the reef at dawn and at exactly at the same moment, VHF channel 16 squawked radio traffic and my cell phone alerts starting coming through. Gaz put the hammers down, or as Goldfinger calls it “put the ponies into a gallop” increasing our speed to 18 knots. We reached Cairns early, by 9:00 am we were berthed in a marina, where we will spend the next 4 days, restocking and getting a lay of the land (or sea).

Happy guys on boat
The crew, ready to party

Four Australian Customs and Immigration officers came down to the dock to clear us in, bringing a drug dog with them. When Gaz spotted the dog, he immediately told the agents about an incident over 10 years ago, when he had first brought the boat to New Zealand from Hawaii. At that time, two different dogs identified an issue with one of the bunks in the crew room, but no contraband could be found. Sure as can be, today’s dog identified the same bunk, over ten years later. We still can’t find the source of the odor and they give us a pass, considering that we had the same issue before.

I wish I could say that Biosecurity was as easy on us as Customs. While they were extremely polite, courteous, and helpful, they also confiscated all our meat, and veg including the cooked meals. I could have saved myself a lot of trouble by just chucking it all over the side at sea. Out went the beef stew, lasagne, taco, spaghetti, and chili mix as well as 4 whole chickens, 1kg of bacon, 1 kg of top sirloin, 2 pork chops, a big bag of prawns and a partridge in a pear tree. Old mother Hubbard’s cupboard is bare. On the up side, Gaz has to take me out to dinner tonight. And I got to keep the Nautili shells.

Gaz has already made friends with a friendly neighboring sport fishing captain and is pumping him for inside info, which he sharing freely. Apparently though, that is not always the case, it is a pretty closed club up here with the locals. We are told that we will need to catch up to 30 bait fish a day, each weighing about 10 kg, just to have a shot for a big black marlin. Yes, we are definitely the Jamaican Bobsled team of November Rain.

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