Thursday Island Paddling [40]

By Mike Snoad

See also the trip story, the croc incident story, the fishing story, the camp oven, the sailing story.

It’s late afternoon and warm. As we glide along the only sound is the gurgle of water against our hulls. The Torres Strait water is a bright, almost painful to the eyes. It’s an unbelievable iridescent green. Our destination TI (Thursday Island) is still a couple of hours away. The gentle breeze working on the square rigged sail on Paul’s kayak ( a Rosco built in Queensland) is our only motive power. Rees and I in the Rosco double are rafted up with Paul to get a tow. Apparently this laid back approach to kayak travel is the norm in Torres Straight. Rees, in the front cockpit of our double is leaning back against the esky in its deck well between the cockpits. This is a true mother ship. Heavy duty folding picnic chairs are in the rear compartment along with all manner of creature comforts. Paul and Rees live on Thursday Island and form the nucleus of an informal sea kayak club there. They have both been generous hosts during our ten days sojourn on TI.

This is too good to last. We don’t want to admit it but despite the pleasant gurgle of our wake, a periodic bearing on the bulky Prince of Wales Island on our left (sorry, port side) reveals that we are not going anywhere. The tidal stream in this relatively narrow channel that drains the Gulf of Carpenteria is running at about three knots against us and increasing. What a bummer. On any other day in the last week and a half of our stay, we would have been flying along with a 30-knot south-easterly trade wind behind us. However this day of relatively light winds has been kind to us. Paul and Rees have had to abandon this trip several times in the past because of the relentless head winds. Our lunch time destination of Zuna Island, 20 Km south east of Thursday Islands where we visited some local identities was special. We had lunch on our deck chairs in the shade of coconut palms looking out over the coral reef fringed sparkling waters of the narrow channel between Zuna and Prince of Wales islands. There wasn’t much wind but the tidal rip in the channel was creating small standing waves and the water was boiling up and rolling in an interesting way. We had to cross that channel on our way home! Our earlier crossing of the channel on the way to Zuna was a worry. Paul had positioned himself to ferry glide across to our selected beach landing. Not having been here before Rees and I made a bee line to the beach only to realise that we were not going to make the beach or even the island without a big effort. We could miss the island altogether and end up in the Gulf of Carpenteria for a very long, possibly permanent lunch!

Reading the tide charts up here is a bit of a nightmare. It was high tide at Zuna Island when we landed, but at the same time at Thursday Island only 20 km away it was low tide. Tidal rips in excess of 10 knots are common in the channels between the islands. This combined with the 30 knot trade wind and the resultant wind over tide effects, can make the timing of a sea kayaking trip somewhat problematic.

Several hours later as we approached our landing spot on Thursday Island we were again working hard trying make progress in a lumpy sea created by the wind over tide effect in the channel. As we rounded Hospital Point with the huge red orb of the setting sun silhouetting the islands to the west, there was a loud call from the hospital verandah. It was Arunas Dundee Pilka clad only in his hospital issue shorts and bandaged leg. Today is his last day in TI hospital recovering from the crocodile attack. He still has a lot of mending to do. Tomorrow Dave, Arunas and I start the long trip home after what was a memorable sea kayaking adventure trip and an experience that none of us will forget.