MY GROUP of fishing buddies has been going on annual trips to Hinchinbrook Island since 1996, chartering a houseboat from Hinchinbrook Rent-a-Yacht. We’ve learned a few tricks along the way that you should find useful when hiring a houseboat on the Gold Coast, or on other cruising grounds up and down the coast. Many of these tips can also be adapted to other camping and boating situations.
Storing cold goods for seven guys over five nights is always a bit of a challenge. Even though the houseboats have very good gas fridges, the immense volume of items that need chilling makes storage a bit tricky.
Our annual trips are always in December, and the 30-degree heat puts a strain on cooling facilities. Freezing the likes of meat and milk and then slowly defrosting them in the onboard fridge helps to keep the fridge extra cold. This helps the fridge along, especially with so many people accessing it. We keep the bait frozen in the freezer until we need it. Any fresh bait is kept in the eskies in the runabouts or in the main ice storage esky.
On our last trip, chef extraordinaire Bruce Cordiner brought all our meat vacuum-packed and frozen, which offered a couple of advantages. It easily stayed fresh for the five days of our stay, and could have lasted just chilled for weeks. The extra thick and strong plastic used in the process means there’s no chance of blood and juice leaking through the rest of the food (unless you pack them near whole fish).
Chilling beer is too hard on the fridge, so we keep it exclusively for food storage. We run three other eskies. The beer eskies consist of the large built-in esky on the top deck which is stacked each morning, and block ice is then broken over the top. This large esky is opened only to put beers into a 44-litre esky, which is kept downstairs out of the way under the dining table. This smaller esky is accessed whenever the thirst needs quenching.
We keep a 250-litre esky up on the top deck under cover and use it for ice storage and keeping large whole fish and some bait. It holds 11 blocks of ice and is opened as little as possible. On our last trip, minimising the use of this storage esky meant we required only two extra blocks of ice to be delivered to get us through the week.
With seven blokes onboard it’s easy to go through a stack of bait, much of it unnecessary. Too often I would wake in the morning to find two or three packets of half-used bait on the back deck, or packets that had been left out in the heat so long they were useless.
The waste really got under my nose (to say nothing of the stench), so on our last trip I brought along frozen prawns in small zip-lock bags, as well as plenty of spare bags to store any fresh bait. This worked really well, as the guys still took out a packet at a time but the quantities in each packet were much less (10-20 baits per bag) and most times it got used before it went off.
If you run out of ice, food, fuel or refreshments, or have someone joining or leaving the group during your stay, Hinchinbrook Rent-a-Yacht can organise a delivery on the almost-daily ferry which plies the Hinchinbrook area.
During the twice-daily radio sched’ it's simply a matter of teeing it up with the ever-obliging Ros or Bruce Walker and your goods will arrive on the next ferry. The service doesn't run every day, so check in advance to find out the dates. It's then just a matter of fixing Ros up for the cost on your return.
On our early trips we used to run into Cardwell to restock at least once during the trip, and that job usually fell to me because I have the bigger boat. It was half a day lost to fishing and relaxing, so I really appreciate the ferry service.
A highlight of every evening is the array of hot smoked delicacies that flow out of Bruce's galley, as a prelude to the main meal. Smoked almonds, oysters or fish are a nightly appetiser.
Bruce always brings along ‘The Nipper’ – a stainless steel metho-fuelled hot smoker. Smokers generate a lot of heat during operation and much of this heat disperses downwards, so DO NOT place one on any surface that can’t take extreme heat. This basically leaves the top of the barbecue plate as the only place where you can operate a standard smoker, unless you bring along an insulating board of some type. I once tried using a 40cm square floor tile on top of my filleting table at home, and the heat from my smoker was so great it cracked the tile.
Bruce has modified the slide-out base of The Nipper, making a frame with legs that he’s pop-riveted to the base, along with an alloy flange at one end (see photo). The lid is turned upside down and slides back into place to create its own legs, offering enough clearance to stop the transfer of heat so that the smoker can be placed on any flat surface.
The flange comes into its own when the box is in storage mode. It blocks off the hole used for lighting the metho so the bag of sawdust, metho bottle and metho burner can be stored inside without fear of them being lost in transit, out through the hole in the end.
In the days of the fruit fly quarantine we were unable to carry any fruit or vegies from Cairns to Cardwell, so we had to buy them in Cardwell. We found this very effective, as it kept our perishables as fresh as possible and reduced our weight and volume during the road trip. What started as a necessity continues to this day, and we purchase all our fuel, fruit, veggies, bread and ice on our arrival in Cardwell. This makes a significant difference to our storage capacity and overall weight during the trip from Cairns, as well as injecting a bit of cash into the local economy.
Many of the islands and headlands in the Hinchinbrook area have an abundant supply of black-lip oysters, which are a real treat. The tides are not always conducive to easy access but our chief oyster collector, Terry McClelland, has found a safe and effective way to collect the oysters in the shallow water without the risk of being stung by a box jellyfish (although you always have to keep an eye out for crocs). Many oysters are just out off the bank in shallow water and there is the real possibility of stingers, so Terry raids the good wife's drawers for a couple of old pairs of pantyhose and wears these under his shorts when oystering. This always brings a chorus of lewd comments from crew onboard as he suits up.
Being in and around water for five days means footwear is an important issue, especially when undertaking the likes of oyster collecting. Terry and a number of the crew bring along dive booties for wet work and they seem to do a great job.
I use a pair of Gordon All Terrain sandals on the trip, and wear them pretty well all the time. The big advantage of these sandals over dive booties is they allow your feet to dry out between dips, so there’s no need to take them off except to go to sleep.
1) The ripper Nipper kipper box, with modified base.
2) Gordon All Terrain sandals make great all purpose fishing shoes, that protect your feet but allow them to dry out.Reads: 1131