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Below is author and historian Peter Caunt's review of a recent
voyage on board Seaswift Ltd's MV Trinity Bay
The freighter, "Trinity Bay" operates from Cairns, Queensland to
the Torres Straits Islands of Horn and Thursday Islands and then to
the mainland port of Seisia, port for the town of Bamaga on the Cape
York Peninsula. The voyage was advertised in the Sunday Telegraph's
Travel Pages in February 2008 and sounded interesting. It revived
memories of stories from my Father who took holidays on freighters
around the Irish Sea from Liverpool to Irish ports during the late
1920's and early 1930's.
At this stage I should point out that I have never been a keen traveller as such, having suffered from motion sickness from a very early age. Often, I had to alight from buses about a mile before my own bus stop to walk the last distance due to feeling ill from the motion of the bus. Trains - and much later, planes - were not much better. Not having a car, it was not until much later that I found problems with these as well, unless I was driving. My similar experience with ships started once I began visiting the Isle of Man, always using the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company from Fleetwood - and later Liverpool. Many of the trips were accomplished without problems but some found me lying on the seats under the deck rail trying to forget where I was! I have started to use wrist bands that press on to a vein in the wrist and seem to reduce the effect of motion sickness. I used these on the air journey to Cairns, on the train to Karunda and on the Skyrail Cableway and, of course, on "Trinity Bay". As far as I am concerned, they work!
My wife and I had intended to visit Cairns for some time so started to think of combining this sea trip with a visit to Cairns itself and this took place between the 27th August and 8th September 2008. We flew to Cairns on Wednesday 27th August and used the Thursday to visit a local mountain town of Kuranda via railway and returning on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway from which extensive views can be had of the rainforest and the environs. A bus then returns visitors to their hotels in Cairns.
On the Friday, we took a cab to the Seaswift Wharf on the Trinity Inlet at Cairns to board the "Trinity Bay" The name comes from the bay on which Cairns stands and other ships of the fleet are named for other bays around Queensland. Seaswift has a number of ships that support local fishing fleets and collect catches in refrigerated containers for collection by "Trinity Bay" and other vessels to be taken to Cairns. Supplies for the fishing fleet support vessels are also brought out by these vessels.
This is not a flashy "Liner" type operation with white-coated stewards serving the passengers' needs! Service is excellent and friendly and the crew are seen in jeans and shorts with uniform fluorescent coats and hard hats when working on loading and unloading. A Purser, a lady, looks after the passengers, guiding them on and off the vessel at wharves to ensure that no one strays into the path of loading vehicles or containers. Food is plentiful and very good - self-service being the serving method with ample space for seating and eating. A separate lounge on the ship allows passengers to watch TV or videos or just read. On the starboard side, when leaving the dining area, is a TV screen plugged into the ship's navigation system that shows where the ship is with an arrow showing its intended course and which can be enlarged or reduced to give a wider or closer view of the area through which the ship is travelling.
We had a cabin on the same deck as the dining area and cabins vary between those with and without en suite facilities. Some cabins are on the next deck down. En suite facilities are usually booked to those making the full five-day round trip. Several passengers were making the trip to Seisia only, so that they could then join a tour that would take them down Cape York by road - others do the reverse and join the ship at Seisia. One couple had their four wheel drive with them and off loaded at Seisia to drive themselves home - to Melbourne!
Before departure, the Purser told us how the ship operated where passengers were concerned and during this talk, pointed to a red freighter passing and told us it was the "opposition" - this was "Pacific Discovery" and we had met a guest at our hotel who was waiting for a taxi to go on that ship whilst we awaited our taxi to take us to the Seaswift wharf. That vessel only takes a few passengers, however.
Departing at about 3.00pm on the Friday, we left Cairns Trinity Inlet and headed up the channel to the sea lane inshore of the Great Barrier Reef. After leaving the Cairns Channel, we dropped the pilot who then returned to Cairns. This reduces some of the sea movement but there is still a swell and gaps in the reef are noticeable by their effect on the ship's motion! We travelled overnight to reach Lloyd Bay (Lockhart River) in the mid morning of Saturday where we met the landing craft "Wadjemup" and off loaded some cargo to her. The landing craft have the usual front ramp that allows them to unload on river banks using a fork lift truck to get the containers ashore. On our return from the Islands, we again called into Lloyd Bay "to collect the empties", sort of thing!
Watching the loading and unloading is interesting. People are usually familiar to different degrees with containers. They are now a universal way of carrying goods between towns, cities and countries all round the world. However, moving the containers is something about which few people need to know. Watching the unloading, I saw the frame placed on the container and then slacked off by the crane operator and then lifted, with the container attached, to its next location. The frame had "The Sniper" painted on it and talking to the Captain on one occasion, he said that the crew had done that since it could creep up on the unwary if you did not keep an eye on it. It is officially a cell frame. However, I noticed that when it was on a container to be lifted, the crane operator lowered the chains and a thin wire in the middle had what looked like a luggage label halfway down! When this "label" got to the cell crossbar, the chain was raised and at the same time, a locking device locked the cell to the container and then whole was lifted from the deck. When loading a container, once it was in place on its stands, the same happened but this time, the movement unlocked the cell so that when lifted off, it left the container in place and the cell frame could be moved to the next container. On the ends of the cell frame, the frame has "Open" at each end and the end cross bars have "Closed". A metal arrow turns with the locking motion and points to the appropriate position so that the crane operator can see the status of the locking system.
Beyond Lloyd Bay, we continued north and by morning were in the
area of the Torres Strait Islands. We actually went round the outside
of the islands, past Wednesday, Hammond and Good Islands, picking up
the Pilot who then took us past Thursday Island to moor at Horn
Island wharf. Unloading then started with some of the cargo being
unloaded on to landing craft of the Seaswift fleet which had their
ramps down on the harbour foreshore. "Malu Titan" and "Malu Warrior"
were the two in the wharf area whilst "Malu Chief" moored alongside
During these operations, the tug "Cossack" that had assisted "Trinity Bay" into the wharf, was now seen bringing a ramp ("Comal") into Horn Island Wharf area, later taking it towards Thursday Island with a van on the ramp.
The passengers who had opted for a tour of Horn Island now disembarked to join two Toyota Coasters from Gateway Torres Strait Resort and the tour commenced. Vanessa SeeKee was our driver, her husband driving the other tour bus. Vanessa is the curator of the Torres Strait Heritage Museum on Horn Island and is passionate about ensuring that the Island's effort in the Second World War is not forgotten or overlooked. Grants have been obtained to improve the remains of gun emplacements and slit trenches used by the Forces on Horn Island during the war and several wrecks of aircraft have been found since the war and preserved either in site or at the museum. After the tour, a visit was made to the museum which is part of the Gateway Torres Strait Resort. Since the ship was still unloading, we were taken to a ferry at Horn Island wharf and transferred to Thursday Island where we took another guided tour conducted by Sue Peddell who drove our coach, this time a full size modern Denning design. This again included the local museum at Green Hill Fort where Sue opened the doors of the museum for us. After the tour, we were set down in the town close to the Post Office where we were due to meet the Purser from the ship to re-embark once it arrived from Horn Island. Some of the passengers also chose to visit a local pearl shop that had opened for us and enjoyed learning about the old Pearl Industry in the Islands. We reboarded the boat about 6.00pm, ready for our evening meal but loading was not complete until about 11.00pm when we then started to make the journey to Cape York and the Seisia, the port for Bamaga, where we arrived about 1.30am. Needless to say, we were in bed by this time and only heard some noise of the engines when we were manoeuvring alongside at Seisia.
The Monday morning at Seisia found the ship busily unloading - one
of the containers being especially interesting to two of the
passengers since they had their four wheel drive in it ready for them
to depart on their trip down the Cape York peninsula leading
eventually to Melbourne. Fourteen other passengers left the ship to
join the Oz Tours trip down Cape York to Cairns whilst a similar
number joined us from the Oz Tours coach having come up the Cape York
peninsula. They then had the "easy" trip back on "Trinity Bay" via
its "Marine Highway"!
The ship was partly unloaded on the starboard side to allow the gangway to be rigged and passengers were then able to leave the ship including those who wanted to have about an hour ashore in Seisia. We went ashore and had a look around the township, looking at the garage - maps were useful to buy there - the supermarket and then the shop at the resort. Here, postcards could be purchased that showed the area so much better than one could show it from one's own photographs so a set were bought for our album of the holiday.
Returning to the ship in time for lunch, the afternoon was passed watching the loading and unloading and being impressed with the expertise of the crane operator and the crew. The landing craft "Kestrel Bay" was alongside on the port side and later in the afternoon she left to deliver her quota of cargo to other communities. A catamaran yacht then came alongside and it was said that she was to be taken aboard since her owner needed to get to Cairns as soon as possible and this was one way of getting the yacht to follow him quickly! The crew of "Trinity Bay" quickly boarded the yacht and fitted the cables to it ready for loading much quicker than the yacht's owner could even think of doing it! The yacht was loaded and parked on old tyres on the deck of the ship and quickly secured in place.
We left Seisia during the evening, headed for Cairns again.
However, the following day we called into Lloyd Bay to "collect the
empties" from our outward trip, I suppose. This was done in a windy
environment and with choppy seas and one container brought aboard
would not lock into a forward position and was placed in an
alternative place on the ship - the only time I noted this happening
during the voyage. The crew were experts at loading and unloading and
never seemed to be beaten by bad weather until now. Nevertheless, the
container was locked in place successfully and this despite having to
take the load around the yacht filling a large space on the ship's
We continued on an uneventful trip back to Cairns, arriving there at about 3.00pm on Wednesday 5th September, virtually five days exactly since we left. A thoroughly enjoyable and educational trip in most unique circumstances to places that one would rarely have the opportunity to see. Our thanks to Seaswift and the entire crew of "Trinity bay".