Page 16

Aboard 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.

MV Trinity Bay

M.V. Trinity Bay

The Trinity Bay :-
The Trinity Bay was built in Korea in 1996. She was then a sand dredger named Faseco 103. 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 our voyage.

Bridge and Captain

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 Chief Engineer.

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/Jim, Right Paula

Left: Adrienne with Chief Engineer, Jim, her fiancé.                               Right: Paula, our Five Star Chef -                  
                Nice ring, Adrienne!                                                        the reason for our weight increase!        

Peter and Renee

The 'galley slaves', Peter, the Galley Hand and Renée the Apprentice Chef.

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 please. 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 slipped from the wharf 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.

Oooo! I thought, 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.

Temple Bay

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.

Operations at Horn Dock

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.

Thunderbolt Wreck

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 in 1944.

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.
Thursday Island

Torres Hotel

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.

Us outside the Torres Hotel

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 to laugh!)

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 must.

Thong Tree

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 designations.

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.

The Tip

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 him. 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 and cake.

I need not have fretted, the Trinity Bay was not delayed by our sojourn and Adrienne was waiting to escort us aboard (Only 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 homeward leg.
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 : 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.

Albany Passage

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.

Lockhart at Night

Left: Once again the Flying Forklift was hoisted across to the Temple Bay.
Right: Clouds of vapour as the freezing air from the container mixed with the warm, moist night air.

Moonlight at Lockhart River

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.

There 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.
TV Crews and Fire Chief

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 to arrive.

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.

Hey, this 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, stony ground.


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 shouted.

Pam's voice: He might not be dead yet but just wait till I get him home!

I'm Peggy 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? I muttered.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!

Toilet Sign

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.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 16 was completed on 19 March 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.

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