An interesting first day for the Hardens as we sailed through Fitzalan and Solway Passages to Whitehaven Beach with strong winds against tide -good sailing though as we ‘raced’ one of the charter yachts to Solway. After a leisurely swim, we sailed on up to Border Island and then through Hook Passage before anchoring for the night in Macona Inlet, to give us an easy run to get Carol back to Abel Point to connect for her flight the next day.
After reprovisioning, we had an excellent sail across to Blue Pearl Bay – Allikat reached 12.7 knots! (then I made John bring the screecher in). Tuesday was spent swimming and snorkelling and playing with the batfish. That night there were five schooners anchored with their backpacker crews – made for a lively night with night diving and partying. The next day saw us anchored on the north of Hook Island, giving access to our favourite Whitsundays diving spot – Manta Ray Bay. John and I took the dinghy there and were just tying up to a mooring when a huge Maori Wrasse surfaced beside the dinghy – almost poking its nose over the side. We could actually pat it!! It swam beside us for over 10 minutes as we snorkelled. The fish life there is still varied and the corals are all different types and colours.
Strong wind warnings came into force for the next few days, and even the more sheltered anchorages were getting 40 knot plus wind gusts. After exploring Langford reef and lunching at Stonehaven, we moved to the relative quiet of Nara Inlet for the next two nights, dinghying ashore and exploring the aboriginal cave paintings. We met a sailor from Perth who had just arrived in north Queensland – he had taken fifteen years to get there on his 35 foot Adams yacht (via the Mediterranean!).
Another trip back to Abel Point for the Hardens to connect with their flight to Noosa. This time we hired a car to pick up the fuel and provisions and also to pick up the spinnaker which had been sent from the sailmaker at Coomera – yet another learning curve for us as not only did we have to learn to sail with it, we first had to work out how to install the fittings. The humidity is really starting to increase as we get closer to November.
Darby and Joan then set off north again – southerly winds still very strong – but that made for great sailing. After 68 nautical miles we anchored for the night at Cape Upstart. Along the way we passed the very long jetty for the coal loader at Cape Abbott – yet more bulk loaders anchored offshore. As one was filled and left, the next came in. Cape Upstart is quite striking – massive boulders and rocks almost pink in colour with grey lichen in the shady sections, in some places looking almost buttressed and terraced. Around the point, the bay is shallow, and all along the foreshore are holiday shacks – not quite sure how you get to them. Quite a few boats were anchored there, most heading south the next morning.
Heading to Point Cleveland the next day saw more bulk loaders and yachts heading south. The reason why Cape Bowling Green acquired its name soon became evident – it is actually a very long flat sandspit that extends for miles out into the bay. We anchored for the night off Townsville (again a very shallow bay, before settling down for a couple of days at Nelly Bay Marina on Magnetic Island. The island itself is still very old style, with only small parts being updated. Nelly Bay is undergoing major construction and is now the main ferry terminal. The marina itself is attached to Peppers Blue on Blue resort, where the facilities are all new as the resort has only been open a couple of months. Marina staff are very friendly and helpful and a berth costs half what it does at Abel Point. It became a perfect place to work on spinnaker fittings – and we didn’t lose a thing into the water (it is amazing how handy string is). We bought an all day bus ticket that allowed us to explore the different parts of the island at our own pace. Horseshoe Bay is the most laid back place with quite a number of boats anchored in the bay. My favourite spot was Alma Bay (in a place called Arcadia) – a small bay with steep rock sides. We had visitors for dinner that night – sailing tips from Richard’s cousin who has just returned from sailing in Asia for the past 18 months -our boat was very different from his.
Heading further north, we crossed Halifax Bay (used as a bombing range, but fortunately not then!) The winds were light so we used the conditions to practise setting and retrieving the spinnaker. The sock makes it much simpler to collapse. En route we were buzzed by a customs plane -and five minutes later they called us by name on the VHF to get our details. Overnight anchorage was at Orpheus island, part of the group of Palm Islands – a brilliant sunset over Hinchinbrook Island. It was quite an international anchorage with two yachts flying NZ flags, and on a Canadian.
As we set sail the next morning after a very hot and humid night, dolphins were fishing in the channel, swimming round in circles to trap the fish. Another long jetty jutted into the channel at Lucinda -marking the entrance to the Hinchinbrook channel.
Great drama seemed to be unfolding as we approached the Dunk Island anchorage that afternoon. In the middle of the channel a naval patrol boat came charging towards us and then appeared to have stopped the Dunk Island ferry, with the navy inflatable in the water, along with another dinghy. Suddenly the dinghy took off, pursued by the inflatable and the patrol boat. Very strange. All was to be revealed the next day when we hard on the radio that warship Broome was entering Mourilyan harbour for a circuit. Approaching Kent Island we again sighted the patrol boat – with a circling helicopter – and as it passed close astern, we clearly saw the name Hammersley written on the side – Allikat might yet be a TV star on Sea Patrol!!!
After a very hot, humid and hazy day we finally dropped anchor for two nights at Fitzroy Island. My memory of this island from earlier diving expeditions is of a quite primitive ‘resort’ and it certainly hasn’t changed much. The existing facilities are run down, and there is major construction being undertaken for unit complexes, so everything is dirty and dusty. We were quite surprised then to see one of the large Captain Cook Cruise liners throw anchor and ferry the passengers ashore for the afternoon (not sure what they actually did on the island). It would the last place you would include on an itinerary! Its only saving grace is a secluded coral sandy beach around the corner of the island.
We finally reached Cairns on Tuesday 30 October, securing a berth for two nights at the Marlin Marina. Coursemaster had arranged for the replacement of our forward looking sonar unit here, so hopefully the new unit won’t have the boat doing 300 knots while at anchor, in depths that vary from 5 to 52 feet in the same spot! They keep assuring us it’s just a software (and hardware) glitch. The winds have picked up again, and the rain showers have been increasing – that and the humidity are signals for us to start our journey south tomorrow.