It's time to make a break for the shore. The forecast calls for a brief shift in wind direction lasting just long enough to potentially make a final push through the Great Barrier Reef. I'm not entirely confident in the weather break, but I gain some confidence when I see the wind slowly shifting southeast as predicted. I'm contemplating the duration of the anticipated wind shift, what angles I can expect during the shift, and the overall wind speed. It's not looking great, but if I miss this window, it's looking much worse for the following 3 or 4 days. In a different world, I might've waited for a better window, but today my family and friends are landing in Cairns, giving me a little taste of get-home-itis. I obviously don't plan to sacrifice safety, but I'll probably have to push the limit of my capabilities should I commit. It's still about 2 hours before the wind should reach its final angle-intensity arrangement, so I take the opportunity to rest in anticipation of an arduous day ahead.
I wake at 10:45 AM and make a final assessment of the weather. The wind shifted southeast enough and the wind speed is calm enough. The waves aren't going to help, but I should be able to make the angles I need. It's slightly precarious, but I decide to commit. Once I detach from the mooring, there's no going back. I'll either make safe waters, or I'll end up drifting north of my planned destination. The intention is to aim for the shark and crocodile infested waters of Mission Bay, anchor overnight, then make a break for Cairns first thing in the morning. Luckily, if I can't make the cut to Cairns, I still have divert options to the north. I take a final look at the gray skies, prepare for immediate rowing, then make my way to the bow. I open the bow hatch, pull in the line attaching Emerson to the mooring buoy, reach the shackle and disconnect. I'm back on my own. I quickly run the line over the top of the bow cabin and back to the rowing area. I close the hatch and immediately start rowing away from Flynn Reef towards Cairns. It's 11:00 AM.
The first few minutes show that with no rowing, I'll drift well north of my intended destination. This is slightly disconcerting. Rowing with both oars at moderate intensity, I'm still about 10 degrees short of what I need. This is more disconcerting. Rowing with both hands on the starboard oar at a slightly increased intensity gives me what I need, sometimes slightly more. I should be ok. As I'm getting a feel for the 20+ miles ahead of me, I spot a diving catamaran attempting what looks like a close pass. When the catamaran is within shouting distance, I see the tail end swing towards me, exposing the stern and 20+ people giving me not one, but two jubilant cheers. I wave back. Yes, I think I'll be ok. But nature has yet to have her final say for the miles ahead. Of course, this means squall after squall, and nudge after nudge north of my intended course. After 6 hours of rowing, it's nearing 5:00 PM, the overcast sky is darkening, and I'm barely maintaining.
As the skies give way to darkness, I attempt a quick rest break. The second I stop rowing, I immediately start losing angles to the north. I can't afford breaks. I eat as quickly as possible then get back to it. Quitting isn't an option at this point. It's the last major push towards shore on day 335 at sea; I'll row until something breaks. Up to this point, I've only lost a one or two degrees off my desired course, so there's still a chance I can make my planned destination. The hours press on, the squalls keep coming, the miles slowly count down, and I begin to feel the effects of fatigue. I'm approaching Cape Grafton with the hope that I'll reach somewhat sheltered waters once I'm clear to the west. However, instead of shelter, I encounter currents from the south which seem accelerated by the underwater terrain near the cape. I can no longer hold my course; I'm suddenly off by 10, then 20 degrees. The currents are bad. No matter how hard I row, nature is taking the upper hand. It's almost 01:00 AM and time to think about diverting.
It's clear the initial marina of choice is no longer in the cards. I stop fighting the winds and currents and adjust my course for Yorkeys Knob Boat Club, the next available marina to the north. I'm no longer working non-stop, which finally gives me a second to realize that I'm fully embraced by the glimmer of cultural lighting for the first time in nearly a year. I see the lights of anchored ships, the clearly defined shoreline, and the various navigational lights defining safe passage though the harbor. The entire scene is further accentuated by the orange city lights reflecting from the low clouds above. I made Cairns Harbor; I'm clear of the Great Barrier Reef. I'm not safely anchored in Mission Bay as planned, but I'm in Cairns Harbor. I row for the next 2 hours admiring the lights around me until I clear the main shipping channel. The clock reads 2:45 AM and I'm 5 miles from my new destination of Half Moon Bay; it's about time for some rest.
After 16 hours of nearly non-stop rowing, I find a spot on the charts that should be clear of corals; I don't want a stuck anchor in the morning. I see 30 foot waters, drop the anchor, and glide safely to a stop. I make sure I'm not drifting and get ready for sleep. Day 336 will be upon me within hours; I should probably rest before the Australian Volunteer Coast Guard arrives in the morning. The QF9 Flotilla in Cairns is generously planning on escorting me during the final 5 miles. Before resting, I update the Coast Guard, my shore team, and family of my new anchor location and new destination. Since Half Moon Bay isn't an official port of entry, I also need to get additional approvals through the Australian Border Force. It's going to be a busy morning. It's now past 03:00 AM, it'll be here before I know it.
Keep After It
P.S. I'll finish the final day in the next post.