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  • Writer's pictureRuth Mcbride

We’re on our own!

Day 63/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Thursday Island, Far North Queensland, Australia.

T.I. Waiben. Waibene. That is where we are! Who ever heard of Thursday Island before going there today, or knowing it was in our itinerary? I certainly had never heard of T.I. With a population of 2,983 people Thursday Island is only 3.5 square kilometres or 1.4 square miles and has been populated for thousands of years by the Torres Strait Islanders. A lucrative pearling industry was founded on the island in 1884, attracting workers from Asia, including Japan, Malaya and India. The pearling industry declined in importance but was focused mainly on harvesting the pearl shell which was used primarily to make shirt buttons. Green Hill Fort was built in 1892 at Battery Point because the islanders feared being invaded by Russia when relations between the British Empire and Russia deteriorated. The Island is one of two bases for the Torres Straits Pilots who are Master Mariners and who pilot ships through the Straits and down to Cairns. Navigation through the area is tricky due to the extensive reef system.

There were only two options for tours today:

  1. Thursday Island Independent Exploration

  2. Thursday Island Helicopter Flightseeing

We had chosen the Independent Exploration on Thursday Island and our tender was leaving at 9:15am. Yesterday we had received notice that the tender ride that was suppposed to take 25 minutes from the ship to T.I. was going to take 45 minutes. Viking even put the message on our tv screen and had us acknowledge the long tender ride. When many people received the message about the longer tender ride, they bailed on going ashore, electing to stay on the ship for the day. Our thinking was we have 3 more sea days after T.I. before we reach our next port, so that would give us 5 sea days since we left Cairns, so breaking up the trip, by being able to get off the ship seemed like a good idea.

Our tender ride to T.I. ended up only being 20 minutes, but then another 10 minutes to try and dock the tender.

Our tender waiting to take on passengers who had come over earlier on the 8am or 8:45am tender. Our thinking on taking the 9:15am tender was the stores probably didn’t open until 10am, so why go over any earlier?

As soon as we got off the tender it started to rain. Oh no! Not a good day to forget our umbrellas and rain jackets!

As we started to walk down the promenade by the pier, the history of T.I. was written on the paver stones we walked on.

What an interesting way to display the island’s history.

There was a small tourist tent set up with maps of the Island being distributed to help us to explore T.I. independently.

The colour of the water was gorgeous. The temperature of the water was warmer than the air which was 82F.

Birds on the beach in T.I.

What a great idea! A 10,000 steps map of T.I. If it wasn’t rainy maybe we would do it!

These metal monuments were a fitting tribute to T.I.’s history of Pearl and Shell exports.

By now it was really pouring, so we were able to find shelter in Anzac Park, until the rain let up a bit.

We were hiding under some wooden shelters trying to figure out what they were used for. Other people were hanging out under the bandshell in the distance.

The war memorial commemorates those who have served in the various conflicts in which Australia has been involved.

I started walking over to the bandshell and then Richard followed me. I could see that if we continued walking down Douglas Street we could probably use the overhangs off the buildings to try and keep the rain off us.

He wasn’t so thrilled about walking in the rain…but I said “I’ve played golf in a lot worse, so let’s go!”

Douglas Street, downtown T.I. You can see the rain is absolutely pouring off the metal overhangs.

We found a couple of stores to browse in while we were waiting for the rain to let up. One department store had a really nice plaque that I thought we should buy to bring home with us.

I may even use this as my calligraphy quote instead of the Ghandi quote. Why not?

When we were in Mona’s Bazaar we heard word that the Captain had called everyone back to the ship. It was about 11am when we got the word. We were not sure how people had heard the word, since we don’t have our phones on a data plan, so we cannot receive messages on our phones when we are on shore.

I was shopping for a sewing kit because the hem on Richard‘s black pants had fallen down and I needed to repair them. I know I packed a sewing kit, but I couldn’t find it so while I had one in front of me, I thought I should buy it.

While Richard was buying the sewing kit I saw this really nice dot art item and thought that it would be a good, lasting souvenir from Australia.

A dot art leather purse! The purse had a nice little card on it saying that the purse was made by Jessica who is a descendant of the Burri Gubba and Kuku Thaypan tribes of North Queensland. She started painting when she was 6 years old and her main influence is her father who is a talented craftsman, himself creating various tools used in traditional hunting rituals. A part of every purchase goes towards improving the lives of Jessica and her family. The leather is hand painted goat leather and the pattern is meant to be ‘Watching Sea Turtles from the Great Barrier Reef swim around the corals providing a profound sense of serenity and freedom!’ I am very pleased with my new purse from T.I. Which I know I will get a lot of use out of, as I prefer a small purse these days, rather than lugging a big shoulder, boulder around!

We walked a bit further in town trying to find a grocery store and we finally found one, but it did not have much in it unfortunately. The other IBIS grocery store was at the far end of town near the war memorial and we did not have time to walk back there, since everyone was now walking back to the tender docked at the pier.

Our waiting tender. We were not allowed to go to the tender yet, so people were all milling around near the washrooms on the pier.

Everyone who was called back to the Neptune, waiting to board the tender. All everyone could talk about was why we had been called back? How would we know if we had gotten everyone on the tender? Lots and lots of questions were being asked, without any answers provided by Viking’s staff, other than “The Captain said get everyone back”.

We finally boarded the tender around 11:25 and we sat, and sat, and sat…apparently there were less than 10 people still missing somewhere on this small Island and we were going to be the last tender off the Island, so we had to find these people. Taxis had been dispatched by Viking to try and find the missing people, since the taxis would know where to find people. What a day to have to find people, since we were on our own for independent exploration; it was going to be difficult to find everyone, but we had to find them or we could not leave T.I.

When we were boarding the tender we saw a guy carrying a small suitcase and his hat said Marine Pilot.

Ports North Marine Pilot aboard the tender.

While we were waiting to leave T.I. the Marine Pilot revealed to us that the real reason we needed to get back to the Neptune was that the currents had increased after our morning tender had left the ship, and the Neptune had actually drifted 1 full nautical mile! Oh my! Because the currents had increased, we were going to be in for a very rough tender ride back to the ship.

While I was standing on the pier, I saw 2 women jump out of a taxi, and then about 10 minutes later their husbands arrived on the pier. I was standing on the pier, because the tender was very hot and there was no air and we were told some of us could leave the tender to get some fresh air. Finally 4 more people showed up, walking down the beachfront, at about 12:15pm and the Viking staff packed up all of the supplies they take onshore with them, and our tender finally left at 12:20pm. We left the port in T.I. almost a full hour after we had boarded the return tender.

The initial ride in the tender was ok. At 6 knots, we were able to have the side doors to the tender open, and we were enjoying the nice ocean breeze coming through the doors of the tender, but that did not last for long. The Marine Pilot aboard was looking at his charts on his IPad and actually said out loud that the current is going to get stronger soon and sure enough, the tender started rocking and rolling with the increased waves. It was actually quite scary, especially when I saw that the Viking staff on the tender were preparing to hand out sea sickness bags. Yikes! From where I was sitting I could not see the Neptune, so I kept asking Richard if he could see our ship and how much longer we had to go. Richard said our ship is pointing a different direction and we still have a long way to go. I kept asking how long we have been on the tender since we left port, because by now the doors were closed and it was actually very hot in the rolling and swaying tender. Yeesh! The nice pleasant 25 minute tender ride earlier in the day, certainly didn’t compare to what we were experiencing!

As. we approached the Neptune, it got really bad. It felt like one big wave was going to send us sideways or flip us. I’m not sure which it was going to be for our tender, but Richard’s leg sure got a big squeeze from me as I hung on to him for support. He reassured me that as soon as the tender turned left, the ship would protect the tender from the crashing waves, and we would be ok. It would be ok. And he was absolutely right. We were able to come along side the Neptune without having to reverse to position ourselves properly next to the ship, and everyone was told to hold one hand on a railing and one hand for our stuff. The Viking seamen were excellent at helping everyone off the ship with the tender going up and down alongside the Neptune. PHEW! I think we just survived something, but I’m not sure what you would call it! Someone took a video of our tender and posted it on Facebook, so Richard shared it on his Facebook feed. Its quite scary looking at it now, realizing that I was on that tender!

When we got onboard and went to lunch we met up with Gene and Margaret and found out that the tenders had been stopped at 10am, because the seas were too rough to send anymore tenders out. So anyone who was supposed to go to Thursday Island for independent exploration didn’t get away after 10am. I guess we were lucky? If you could call it lucky? to have gotten off the Neptune when we did to see T.I.

We knew we would soon be leaving Australian waters after Thursday Island as we are now sailing in the Arafura Sea. We knew we would be on our own with just the Viking crew piloting the ship after today, since we have had a reef pilot onboard since we started going through the Great Barrier Reef. We knew the Neptune would have to slow down at some point to let the pilots off, and sure enough around 3pm we felt the ship slow down to 6 knots.

There is the pilot that was on our return tender from T.I.

And there goes the reef pilot who has been on the Neptune for quite some time guiding us up through the Great Barrier Reef. We listened to the lecture this guy gave and he was hilarious. He could have been a stand up comedian if the Reef Pilot thing didn’t work out for him!

The strangest thing happened next though! We had offloaded two pilots to the waiting pilot boat, but there was another boat waiting in the wings to come alongside the Neptune.

Another pilot ship! We slowed down to 5 knots to get this pilot boat alongside the Neptune. We were wondering if we were getting another pilot onboard, but that didn’t make any sense since we are in sailing in the middle of the sea.

The guy waving to everyone is a Viking employee! Maybe he was going on shore leave? Maybe he was needed on another ship? Richard will have to get to the bottom of this mystery on why we were losing a Viking employee in the middle of the sea?!! And away the Kelani went, with the Viking employee aboard.

After such an exciting day so far, it was time for some mind numbing stuff I needed to do for our Ship Building contest. We want to be finished our ship by tomorrow, so today everyone was working independently on bits and bobs, so that tomorrow we can hopefully pull it all together in one last, final push. The ”Sea Trials” as they are being called are being held on February 27th, so we don’t want to leave anything until the last minute if we can help it!

I also went to the gym for an hour at 4pm when I knew it would not be very busy, and I was right, it was almost empty. A good way to finish off an exciting day on an exercise bike, sweating and reading my Kindle!

Gone are the nice calm seas we had sailing up the West Coast of Australia!

We really are on our own now. There are no more pilots for a few days until we arrive in Komodo, Indonesia. We were on our own today in T.I. and that sure did not last for long! I’m not sure why we even stopped in T.I. if our anchor couldn’t hold the Neptune from drifting. It seems like a bit of a wasted day for everyone who chose not to go ashore, and also for those of us who did go ashore. I’m sure that many of the people I’ve spoken to would have preferred another day in Cairns, Sydney or Geelong, rather than a visit to the remote outpost of Thursday Island. At least we can now say we have been to one of Australia’s Islands. Not the most northern Island of Australia though as that distinction belongs to Boigu Island which is uninhabited. Good thing we didn’t stop there for the day!

Our upcoming ports of call are all very foreign to both of us and we are really looking forward to the new and exciting places that we will experience together.…and we still are not even half way through this Viking World Cruise!

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Allan Yoshimura
Allan Yoshimura
Feb 24, 2023

Too bad about the rough waters for the tender trip. Once stopped at Thursday Island aboard the Paul Gauguin. Seas were calm that day. Had an interesting talk from the pilot about life and responsibilities of a pilot on Thursday Island. Interesting part of the world. More to come! Enjoy!

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