It's always about the food.
Up early on our day off. Can’t sleep in (damn diurnal rhythms). Pelican’s tech-guru N and I prep pancakes on the barbie with fruit salad, yoghurt and honey (the maple syrup went out in sympathy for the armies of bananas which have fermented on this trip). A lovely long brekky with coffee and tunes.
It’s a fitting start to our Sunday after Pelican's four huge days supporting a group of Hope Vale community members to retrace, by kayak, a sea route used by the Guugu Yimidhirr Aborigines to Lizard Island to collect (you guessed it) food: wild arrowroot and yam, clam shell, sea gull eggs, turtle, wangay, fish, dugong and pigeons. The original inhabitants paddled in dugout canoes from the main camp at Cape Flattery to Lizard, via Rocky Island, South Direction Island and North Direction Island.
Our first night’s anchorage is at Rocky Isle, a protected rookery for Torres Strait pigeons. We have time for beachcombing before picking up the kayakers who will arrive after their first day's paddle. The shoreline is paved with flat white stones and the sand is spangled with driftwood, prongs of bleached coral and manmade flotsam. We return to the boat with the kayakers and an armful of rubbish and rouse a few hands to help prepare the meal: freshly-hooked barbecued fish, jacket potatoes and salad. Camping is not permitted on Rocky so Pelican sleeps with 29 people under her wing.
On day two, the kayakers paddle from Rocky Isle to North Direction Island, which rises like a pudding from the sea. Our mooring there is tenuous, with gusts bulleting the boat, and reefs surrounding us. So after unloading support people and camp gear, Pelican and crew depart for the sheltered waters of Watson’s Bay at Lizard for the night and a quiet meal of ganguruu (kangaroo) and mediterranean vegies on the barbie (with thanks to E and crew for giving me the night off!).
We motor back to North Direction on day three to pick up all the kayakers. With 25-30 knot winds and a messy two-metre swell, some paddlers are not keen on completing the last leg to Lizard Island. With them aboard, we sail back to Lizard and moor at Mermaid Cove, a secluded bay where a rock ledge shelters a lively reef. It's decided that we'll wait to see if conditions ease enough to complete the last leg tomorrow. After a tiring day of loading and unloading people and gear, N and I squeeze in a late afternoon snorkel. Sunlight streams through the water onto bright blue, fat-fingered starfish. Giant winking clams and baby clam nurseries ogle us from below. Neon reef fish duck in and around coral bommies. We stick our heads up just in time to catch a sunshower. As we return to the boat a turtle swims by. What a world! After visiting the shore camp we enjoy a late dinner of baked spangled emperor, rice, cucumber salad and coconut-lime sambal.
Day four and we are three paddlers short. The kayaks must all be returned to Lizard. In the interests of logistics, I, along with two other Pelican crew, put my hand up to jump in a kayak. Not without nerves, as the instructors focus us on how to handle a capsize and our skipper talks about retrieval procedures. Conditions are still rough, with 25-30 knots, frequent gusts and lots of chop, but we're paddling downwind and have Pelican close by. As we launch the kayaks from North Direction Island, an eagle circles us overhead. I'm too busy staying upright to notice, but those remaining on Pelican declare goosebumps. This is the final leg of an historic voyage. After an hour’s paddling, we approach the shallow waters of the lagoon at Lizard, all eight kayaks with sails up, cruising the rest of the way in. A welcome party of three ngowia (turtles) greets my paddle honcho J and I as we are among the first to arrive.
What a journey. Kudos to the kayakers who completed it, and brought to life part of their cultural heritage. It is hard to imagine making this voyage in pursuit of food, as the Guugu Yimidhirr once did.
*Yummy food in Guugu Yimidhirr