M.V. Trinity Bay to Cape York and the Torres Strait Islands.
Which way to the tip?
It seemed a pity to go as
far north as Cairns without visiting Cape York, Australia's most
northerly mainland point. However, as I previously mentioned,
beyond Cape Tribulation there is only a thousand kilometres of dirt road
so taking the caravan was out of the question. Driving the Pajero there
was a possibility but we'd heard stories of cars taking such a beating
on these roads that they were brought back by sea. Now, we're very fond
of our Pajero and we need it to give us a lot more good, reliable service,
so we were hesitant.
One evening a fellow camper told us of a cargo
ship which takes up to fifty passengers on a five-day cruise from Cairns
to Cape York and back, calling at a few islands en route. It sounded wonderful but the trip was so popular it was always book out a year in advance.
Anyway, with nothing to lose we made enquiries at the SeaSwift offices and they had a cancellation! A week later we sailed
from Cairns on board the Motor Vessel Trinity Bay
The M.V. Trinity Bay And Her Crew
Let me tell you a few things about the Trinity Bay
and her crew. SeaSwift makes no pretence that the ship is a cruise liner
- she's a cargo boat and her prime function is to carry cargo. Passengers
must fit around her schedule and accept that things may change due to
weather or cargo considerations.
M.V. Trinity Bay
The Trinity Bay :-
- Does not have luxury accommodation, though we found her perfectly comfortable.
- Does have Adrienne, her purser, who looked after us, our welfare and our
comfort so well throughout the voyage that by the end we all loved her.
In return we nearly drove her crazy.
- Does have Paula, a five star chef who serves just the best meals you can
imagine, ably assisted in the galley by Renée and Peter.
- Does have Chris, her excellent skipper who could put the boat alongside
the wharf so gently you could hardly feel her touch. He is assisted by
two ship's mates. Skipper Chris invited me onto the bridge several
times and good naturedly answered all my stupid questions.
- Does have engineering staff and deck hands who work incredibly hard, especially
when transferring cargo at sea at three o'clock in the morning.
The Trinity Bay was built in Korea in 1996. She was then a sand dredger
. In 1998 SeaSwift bought her and had her converted in
the Philippines to a container ship with the capacity to carry passengers.
She has a dead weight of 3,200 tonnes - whatever 'dead' means
in this context - and she is 81 metres long. Her single Caterpillar main
engine develops 1,500 kW and drinks 420 litres of diesel fuel per hour.
She also has four other diesel engines and I would guess two of them
power electric generators, the third is for the crane and the fourth drives
the bow thruster. Between them they consumed 30,000 litres of fuel on
The ship's bridge and Captain Chris in the boss's chair.
Our neighbours from the caravan
park, Greg and Marilyn, kindly took us to the boat where we boarded on
time and were 'shown the ropes' by our purser, Adrienne, who
is pictured (below left) with her fiancé Jim. Jim is the ship's
Passengers had limited access on the ship. All the deck forward
of the bridge was cargo space and out of bounds for safety reasons. We
had ample space, however, in the mess and on the deck above the mess.
We also had access to the bridge area except for the wheelhouse which
was by invitation only. From up there we could watch loading and unloading
operations. While the ship was at sea the bridge area provided wonderful
360° views, shade and a lovely cool breeze.
We shared the mess facilities with the crew of thirteen and the bar was
open from noon until two, and then from four thirty until ten. Adrienne
was the bartender - in fact Adrienne was almost everything - but the crew
was forbidden alcohol during a voyage, so we had to try and compensate
for them. Didn't do too bad a job, either!
Left: Adrienne with Chief Engineer, Jim, her fiancé.
Right: Paula, our Five Star Chef -
Nice ring, Adrienne!
the reason for our weight increase!
The 'galley slaves', Peter, the Galley Hand and Renée the
So now you've met the members of the crew
with whom we interfaced most. There was no formality among crew members.
From the Captain down they were all called by their first names. I noticed
that when the Captain wanted something done, he phrased his order as a
request and suffixed it with
. The crew always worked
smoothly and efficiently together.
The passengers, as you'd expect, were a fairly mixed bunch. Some
were quite gregarious, others preferred to spend their time more quietly.
However, without exception, they were all very nice and - thanks to Paula's
delicious meals - we quickly began to 'grow' together (as the
bathroom scales later confirmed!) We had soon made many new friends.
To Lockhart River
And so, one Friday afternoon, the Trinity Bay slipped
from the wharf at Cairns and set course for the first stop at the Aboriginal
Community at Lockhart River, a day away. When I say
I may give the impression that she whispered away. Trinity
Bay did NOT whisper! Especially when we were below in our cabin, sleeping.
That Caterpillar engine, its reduction gearing and propeller shaft liked
you to know just how hard they were working while we lay resting. The
passengers were warned of this and issued with ear plugs but, after the
first night, our ear plugs were discarded and we slept like babies.
Next morning I learned my first lessons in taking a shower at sea. I'm
a slob, I admit it. I stepped out of my shorts leaving them on the tiles,
dropped my T-shirt on top of them and closed the shower curtain behind
me. Half way through my shower I noticed that the soapy water was not
all going down the drain. Each time the ship rolled, a wave of soapy water
disappeared under the shower curtain.
I wonder where that's going?
My clothes were doing a magnificent job of soaking up the soapy water. Then, as the
ship rolled and my eyes were full of soap, I stumbled into the hot tap,
knocking it full on. My 'follicley impaired' scalp copped
water at two million degrees Celsius - right on the sunburned bit. I had
to dash back to our cabin with just a towel around my waist, clutching
my soaking clothes.
However, back to the voyage. It took a full day to reach Lockhart River,
the ship's speed being a sedate 12 knots. As the whole distance between
Cairns and Cape Grenville was within the protection of the Great Barrier
Reef, the sea was always calm. The weather was warm and sunny and we entered
Lloyd Bay during the Saturday afternoon. There are no docking facilities
at Lockhart River, just a barge ramp, and the water is very shallow. Trinity
Bay reduced speed to a crawl as she entered the bay and anchored offshore.
Another SeaSwift boat, the Temple Bay, a 23 metre landing barge, was waiting
for us and tied up alongside.
MV Temple Bay manoeuvred alongside the Trinity Bay
and cargo was transferred at sea - starting with a forklift which was recovered before we departed.
In the meantime, Trinity Bay's big yellow 40-tonne
crane had come to life and the deckhands were nimbly scrambling all over
the cargo, securing chains and ropes. The first object to be lifted across
was a forklift truck already carrying a small container. The forklift
was used to unload stores from the next item to be transferred, a larger
freezer container. It then tidied up the deck as the crane returned the
first container to Trinity Bay and lifted across further cargo. And so
it went on, ending with the forklift being hoisted back onto Trinity Bay.
The transfer of cargo took an hour at most, and then we headed back into
deep water and 'Temple Bay' returned to the Lockhart River barge ramp
to lower her bow door and unload.
On To Horn Island
We rounded Cape Grenville during the Saturday night
and approached Horn Island in the Torres Strait on Sunday morning. The
Torres Strait lies between Northern Australia and Papua New Guinea. It
was named after a Spanish navigator who first made contact with the Island
people in 1606. The Strait has over a hundred islands including Tuesday,
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Islands. Many of these islands are actually
a northern extension of the Great Dividing Range of mountains.
The ship docked at Horn Island with the aid of Cossack, a small tug boat.
As we disembarked on the port side, a landing barge was tying up on the
starboard side. Later the Cossack towed another barge across Trinity Bay's
bows. Cargo was transferred in all directions, mostly from the larger
ship but some was loaded too.
The Trinity Bay and one or two similar vessels
are the lifelines of Torres Strait communities; there is no road access
for freight. Trinity Bay was carrying small boats, trucks, fuel and a
host of other cargo, including food in refrigerated containers.
Left: Trinity Bay coming alongside the flimsy jetty
at Horn Island helped (centre) by the SeaSwift tug, Cossack. A landing barge
(right) approached and tied up to Trinity Bay's starboard side to take on
cargo bound for other islands.
While the deckhands worked hard, we passengers went
off on a tour of Horn Island. This concentrated on relics of WW II, even
to inspecting trenches and a heap of broken bottles left by the military
of that time. The island was bombed several times by the Japanese during
the war. Our tour guide, Liberty, and his wife, Vanessa, have established
a museum of WW II relics and native artifacts. I think Pam was more impressed
with it than I was.
One story I did find interesting. A Wing Commander Lambert, taking off from
Horn Island airfield in a P47 Thunderbolt in 1944, 'collected'
a couple of parked P40 Kittyhawks as he tried to lift off, piling them
into a third before he 'landed' as shown in the picture on
the right. Two of the Kittyhawks were destroyed and you can see what happened
to the Thunderbolt. According to the story, Wing Commander Lambert escaped
with minor injuries.
The wreckage of the Thunderbolt lies where it fell
On completion of the tour we re-boarded the Trinity Bay and crossed over
to nearby Thursday Island, the administrative centre of the Torres Strait.
Thursday Island is always referred to locally as T.I., much as Kangaroo
Island is known as K.I. in South Australia. The crossing was so short
and the water so calm that the Trinity Bay crew didn't need to 'park'
the crane boom for the crossing.
There were two tours organised on T.I., the first being a tour of their new
Cultural Centre of which they are justifiably proud. However, Pam and
I had some time to spare before the tour and Adrienne had told us that,
of the four pubs in the town, one had the distinction of being Australia's
most northerly hotel. Well, some things you just gotta do! We found the
Torres Hotel without too much trouble though it did worry me a little
that Pam seemed more interested in the Catholic church across the road.
When I finally got her into the bar it worried me even more that she shunned
a glass of 'red' in favour of a Diet Coke. I'll just
have to accept that I'll never understand women - I mean, they're
not even interested in engines, they prefer looking at babies!
The Cultural Centre was very new, and very nice. We were given a talk
rather than a tour. A young Torres Strait Island man told us all about
their culture and beliefs which was very interesting. He explained that
they believe in respect for each other and each other's property. This
accounted for the low crime rate, he said. I hope Mrs B. took note; she
has the opposite philosophy. What's hers is hers and what's mine is hers.
After the talk we were free to wander around the Centre.
Given that the crime rate was so low, Pam and I wondered why we had seen
more police in one afternoon on this small island than we saw in a week
in Cairns. However, there was a major search in progress for five people
missing from a boat in the Strait which probably accounted for it. The
disappearance was quite a mystery as the sea was calm, the boat had two
engines and was fairly new, and the area is dotted with islands. Some
days later, when there was still no trace of the five or their boat, there
was talk of them being taken by pirates.
We quickly realised that the Islanders are substantially different from
the mainland Aborigines though they are frequently bracketed together.
We found them happy and friendly people. They would make eye contact and
returned our smiles.
Our second T.I. tour was of the old fort and museum, followed by a drive around
the island. The scenery was very nice to look at, as was our guide, Christine.
But quite frankly, one old cannon is much like another, one diving helmet
is much like the rest, one lighthouse lens is much like others. Anyway,
after Christine dropped us off we had time to return to the Torres Hotel
with fellow passengers, Tom and Ann, who took our photograph outside,
just for YOU dear Reader. So here we are. (You're not really supposed
After we staggered out of the Torres Hotel (Mrs B. was off the Diet Coke
by this time) we were escorted back to the boat by our lovely purser,
Adrienne, who met us at the Post Office. We weren't allowed to wander
onto the ship on our own because cargo loading and unloading was still
in progress. Poor Adrienne had the patience of Job! For safety reasons,
only three passengers were allowed on the gangplank at any one time. How
often did she tell us that? But some of us would always forget. Adrienne
was a blend of sergeant, mother, sheepdog (in the nicest way), guide and,
most of all, friend. And she always got the balance right.
The Trinity Bay left Thursday Island that Sunday
afternoon and sailed for Seisia (pronounced Say-shah) on the mainland,
arriving after dark. Seisia is Cape York's port - if a jetty and a crane
can be so described. With very little room in the channel, Captain Chris
somehow seemed to turn the ship on its own axis and manoeuvred it alongside
the jetty where the only people were some Aboriginal women and children
who were fishing.
As the ship edged in, crew members threw weighted pilot
ropes on to the jetty so that the heavy mooring ropes could be hauled
across and secured to capstans. An Aboriginal girl grabbed a rope and
tried to pull the mooring rope up out of the sea but it was too heavy.
At this point all we 'expert' passengers up on the bridge
joined in, shouting,
Help her, help her!
to the other women
on the jetty. Soon several were pulling on the pilot rope and slowly the
heavy mooring rope came up out of the water and slithered onto the jetty.
The first girl grabbed it and, after a struggle, looped it over a capstan
to a great round of applause from the passengers on the bridge. The women
were delighted and danced around as cameras flashed away on the ship.
No cargo transfer took place that night and the main engine was silent
so we slept to the sound of the generators only.
Next morning we were up early as the tour to the northernmost tip of
Cape York and the Australian mainland departed at 7:30. Against all the
odds, Mrs B. and I were actually on time. Adrienne again escorted the
party off the ship (
Only three at a time on the gangplank!!!
and along the jetty to the waiting vehicles. Our driver was from Fiji
and his name was abbreviated to something that sounded like Roo, to which
he answered happily. He drove at breakneck speed along rough, dirt roads
through bush and rainforest while we clung on, arriving forty minutes
later at a parking area among the trees. From there we walked. Soon we
saw the sea through the foliage and emerged onto the beach to find a 'thong
tree' growing. Having never seen one before, a photograph was a
The theory is that a thong (known in less developed
countries as a flip-flop) may have been washed ashore on a high tide and
stranded. It put down roots and found the nutrients in the Torres Strait
soil, and the high salinity, to its liking. It thrived and after several
years, flowered and bore fruit. Botanical experts from Cairns claim that
this Thong Tree is unique - a world first - in that its fruit is multi-coloured
as the picture shows.
An immature Thong Tree (Podiatum Latex)
bearing early fruit.
Unfortunately the fruit, known as a 'pong'
due to its obnoxious odour, is not edible. It may however, be the answer
to Australia's cane toad problem if it can be genetically altered and
cultured in a biomagnetic laboratory. Early experiments have proved only
partially successful but are continuing. It has long been known that thongs,
particularly when moved downwards with force, can cause the demise of
a cane toad.
Success in reducing toad numbers is also claimed by other
latex products using a different technique. These are known variously
as 'Bridgestones', 'Dunlops' and other proprietary
Leaving the thong tree, our party continued along the shore in an easterly
direction. The going was rocky and tough on the 'fair sex',
if they can be so described in this day and age. Since none exhibited
evidence of body piercing or tattooing in the small of the back, the description
is probably valid.
In due course we came upon a small sign at the water's
edge and knew that we had reached our goal.
This text appeared reasonably unambiguous (shown inset in the picture
below) and was reinforced by a crude map, should any doubt remain. We
were there. We had made it. We could die happy.
At the time of that last thought, it never entered my head that I would
be pronounced dead by ambulance officers within 48 hours, and a white
sheet pulled over me as I lay on the hard, stony ground. Yet that is,
indeed, what happened.
Our group at 'The Tip'. Guide, 'Roo',
is closest to the camera. Pam is on the far left. The sign is behind Julian,
Carmel and Danny being photographed on the right. One of the many Torres
Strait islands is in the background.
However, having achieved our goal, we needed to
return to the Trinity Bay with all due haste as Captain Chris might have
completed the cargo transfer and be anxious to catch a tide . . . or something.
I confided this thought to one of my fellow passengers and was reassured
with the words,
He won't go without us, the company would crucify
And so, on our way back to the ship, we stopped off for a 'smoko'
(a.k.a. a tea break) where we enjoyed either tea, coffee or a cool drink
I need not have fretted, the Trinity Bay was not delayed by
our sojourn and Adrienne was waiting to escort us aboard (
three on the gangplank!
), just in time for an excellent lunch.
We never had anything less than excellent meals on that ship. Paula, your
blood is worth bottling.
Where were we? Oh, yes, back aboard the Trinity Bay. While tied up at
Seisia the bar was closed and all alcohol placed under lock and key. This
was the law on the mainland, but it had not applied while we were visiting
the islands. As soon as cargo transfer was completed we set sail on the
Back To Lockhart River
There were three immediate landmarks of interest
to look out for as we left Seisia, all places we had passed in the dark on
the outward journey :
- Possession Island where Captain James Cook claimed the continent
of Australia for the British crown in 1770
- The Tip, as we passed to the north of it, and
- Albany Passage, a narrow channel between islands through which
Trinity Bay passed.
Most passengers remained on deck and took pictures of these places. Possession
Island, while of historical significance, looks little different to many
other islands so I won't reproduce a picture of it here. Similarly, the
Tip was viewed between two islands and a picture from the sea would mean
little. As we passed through Albany Passage I was in the wheelhouse, and
able to capture a Captain's Eye view ahead.
Passing through Albany Passage - the view from the
bridge. In the foreground is a jig used by the green and yellow crane. The
jig located into sockets at the corners of each container and locked in.
When the crane driver lowered the container, the jig released automatically
requiring no intervention from the deckhands. A clever idea. Beyond the
jig is the forklift under a green tarp. Behind that is a red truck, recently
lifted on board.
Night fell as Albany Passage fell astern. Our estimated
time of arrival at Lockhart River was three o'clock in the morning. We,
the 'old guard' that had been on board since leaving Cairns,
declared that having seen the Lockhart River cargo transfer in daylight,
no way were we getting up at 3 a.m. to watch it again. However, some passengers
had disembarked at various stops and a batch of new ones had boarded at
Seisia having travelled north on a four-wheel drive tour. There was initially
a division between the two groups as the newcomers all knew each other
but didn't know us - and vice versa. However, this soon broke down.
The slowing of the main engine woke me just before three and my conscience
pricked me. What if you, dear Reader, would like a night picture . . . and so, collecting a mug of coffee on the way, I
stumbled up to the bridge to find six other passengers already there!
They all belonged, however, to the 'newcomers' group.
Left: Once again the
Flying Forklift was hoisted across to the Temple Bay.
Clouds of vapour as the freezing air from the container mixed with the warm,
moist night air.
Temple Bay (white light on the left), sails away
as the moon shimmers on the water. The barrel shapes on the right are some
of Trinity Bay's life rafts. My digital camera left a lot to be desired in the dark and on a moving platform.
was nothing to report on the Lockhart River night operation other than
it all went smoothly and efficiently. The other six spectators soon returned
to their beds but it was so warm and peaceful up there that I stayed and
watched the moon on the water for an hour and a half.
Return to Cairns
After leaving Lockhart River we had one full day
and night left before arriving back at Cairns. The final evening was both
merry and sad as the passengers sang
For they are jolly good fellows
to our hosts and we all exchanged email addresses, phone numbers, etc.
and vowed to stay in touch. As you do.
However, the fun was not quite over yet. The next morning, we were told,
there was to be a full scale emergency drill when we docked in Cairns
around 8 a.m. It had been in the planning for many months. There was to
be a simulated engine room fire on Trinity Bay. The ship's siren would
sound seven short blasts followed by a long one. That was the signal for
all passengers to disembark the 'burning' ship in a calm and
orderly manner. All the Cairns emergency services would be rushing to
assist and the television and newspaper reporters would be watching.
Now here's the good part - the passengers were asked to volunteer to
be casualties. Each casualty would wear a card around his or her neck
stating the nature of their injuries so the paramedics could treat them
accordingly. Two passengers would remain in their cabins to see whether
they would be missed in a real situation.
After breakfast the next morning, the Cairns Fire Chief came aboard with
a smoke generator and briefed us on what to expect. He also thanked us
for our participation. We then wandered around the ship, pretending it
was a normal day, and waiting for the alarm to sound.
Left: On the wharf the television crews waited.
Right: The Fire Chief briefed us.
Finally the siren sounded and we all trooped calmly
to the exit wearing our placards around our necks. Pam had 'a severely
burned left arm and an object embedded in her eye'. I was suffering
'severe shock'. We were surprised to find that the 'only
three on the gangplank' rule was still enforced. So we queued patiently
while the boat burned under us. Eventually our turn came and we left the
boat, trooping across to the muster point near the wharf gate. Some acted
out their roles with enthusiasm making the others laugh. At the muster
point we stood around in the hot sun, waiting for the emergency services
Getting bored I decided to 'ham it up' a bit and wandered in a dazed fashion
back towards the ship - severe shock, see? I imagined my
wife was still aboard. Renée chased after me and guided me back,
one arm tenderly around me, the other holding my hand.
is all right
, I thought, and tried it a second time a few minutes
later. It worked again! I considered pushing my luck and trying it a third
time but good old Adrienne had the presence of mind to move us just outside
the wharf gate where there was shade from the burning sun. There was still
no sign of assistance from the emergency services so we sat around and
waited. And waited. And waited.
Eventually the fire engines and ambulances rolled up and the paramedics
shifted all those who could walk, straight back into the full sun! When
my turn came for attention, the officer got me to lie down on the ground
while he checked me over. Clearly he didn't like the look of me at all.
They put imaginary drips into me, gave me imaginary oxygen, took my blood
pressure and pulse for real, then stuck a red sticker on me to indicate
I was a critical case.
Poor Pam only rated a yellow sticker and I could
hear her complaining bitterly that she was in terrible pain, had something
stuck in her eye, and nobody cared. In the meantime they had rolled me
into the recovery position which was bloody uncomfortable on the hard,
All these ambulances. How about a lift home for Pam and I? Can you stop for a carton of milk on the way?
I kept asking where my wife was in what I imagined was a confused voice.
The officer asked me her name. Feeling a bit mischievous I gave him the
name of my first wife.
Anyone here called Peggy?
He might not be dead yet but just wait till I get
said a voice right next to me. Oh-oh!
Is this your husband?
asked the officer.
No, he is not!
Damn right I'm not. Oops, this joke is starting to backfire. I had closed
my eyes and pretended to pass out to avoid embarrassing questions when
a voice whispered in my ear:
I'm an assessor. You're having a fit. Jerk your left arm around.
Okay, that was easy enough.
How am I doing?
Is this how shock victims
behave or am I being a total dickhead?
You're doing fine
he reassured me.
My 'fit' brought the ambos running. I heard a voice say
that my left leg was starting to jerk as well - I think it was the assessor
- so I jerked that around too. They fussed over me again and after a minute
or so declared I had 'arrested'. Perhaps I should have been
arrested for over-acting.
Next thing, imaginary paddles were placed on my bare chest, everyone
was told to stand clear and a few thousand imaginary volts were applied
to my heart. I've watched enough television to know the drill. I arched
my back and jerked violently. It seems that my heart still wasn't having
any and they repeated the shock twice more with ever increasing voltages,
and I gave proportionally increasing jolts. They then declared me dead,
stuck a black sticker on me in place of the red one, pulled a white sheet
over me and walked off!
I coundn't believe it! My corpse was full of eminently transplantable organs and they walked away and left me to cook in the sun. And just
as I had started enjoying myself! No heart-lung machine to preserve
my organs or anything. Cheapskates. I spotted Renée close by and
told her that if she gave me mouth-to-mouth I was sure I would come to
life. She laughed but walked away. Damn! Worth a try, though.
And that was just about the end of our cruise. We re-boarded the boat
for our luggage, said goodbye to everyone, issued an open invitation to
my funeral and caught a taxi home. Pam appeared briefly on the evening
news on two television channels.
As for me, the only fatality and the
greatest actor since Richard Burton, I didn't rate a mention.
But so not to end on too serious a note, this sign (right) was placed
on the wall above the toilet bowl in one of the ship's lavatories.
Pam and I would like to thank all the crew of the
Trinity Bay for giving us a fabulous cruise, and our fellow passengers
for making it such a pleasure. And I mustn't forget our hosts at the Cool
Waters Caravan Park who looked after our car and 'van for no charge
while we were away. Thank you all.
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