THE ADVENTURES OF THE GOOD SHIP “ALLIKAT”
CHAPTER 1 September 11-September 23
After returning from a week thoroughly spoiling our granddaughter Amalie (and having a great time with Josh and Kate), we set off to Port Hacking to provision, fuel and water the boat ready for the expedition north. I’m sure Woolworths were very happy to see me come to shop! That took so long, we decided to stay at the wharf at RMYC overnight, to enable us to stow things in some order so they could be found later (You’ve heard about washing machines eating socks, well boats eat everything!).
Wednesday 12 September saw us leave Gunnamatta Bay and we had a great sail up to Sydney Harbour, mooring at the visitor wharf at Wondakiah in Wollstonecraft. Some minor tasks completed there, a visit from Allison for dinner and we were ready to head off on Thursday on our adventure north.
An excellent sailing day in the morning, but very light winds from Broken Bay saw us motor sailing to Swansea (Lake Macquarie) were we picked up a courtesy mooring. En route we saw a humpback whale fishing along side, as well as a seal just basking on its back in the middle of nowhere, flippers flopping around. As we were crossing the Swansea Bar, another monohull asked us to call the depths to see if he could get through, as he had the bridge opening booked for 5pm – he just made it, touched bottom at 1.5m. A strong wind forecast had us deciding to stay put for another day.
Saturday 15 September we were off again to Pt Stephens, threading our way through the 30+ bulk loader/container ships anchored along the Newcastle coast, waiting for berths. Light winds most of the day, but the screecher sail works well in those conditions. We picked up a courtesy mooring in Nelson Bay, as we planned to be there till Tuesday as John had to go back to Sydney on Monday for an appointment. I spent the morning on the boat, but the forecast gale winds picked up at lunchtime and it was much more comfortable ashore than bouncing around on the mooring. Overnight was very rolly with 30+ knot winds from the SW.
Fortunately by Tuesday the winds had abated to 25 knots as we set sail for Tuncurry/Forster. We checked the BOM site before leaving – the gale warning was to abate during the morning. The going was quite rough – seas up to 3-4 metres. By midday, all had quietened down and we were joined by a pod of dolphins doing acrobatics with the bow pressure wave. Off Cape Hawke a whale spouted dead ahead- they are certainly on the move. As we crossed the bar into Tuncurry, we were escorted by another pod of dolphins that continued fishing up and down the river until well after sunset. This was an excellent anchorage – very calm and still.
Wednesday was the battle to Port Macquarie – straight into northerly winds at 20-25 knots – by 3pm we gave the sails up and hit the motor. Not a pleasant way to travel! We made a transit login call to Harrington Inlet Coastal Patrol and received a radio call from the yacht “Rubicon” travelling south – turned out to be a colleague of John’s from Integral who had recognised our call sign. He was on his way back from holidays in the Whitsundays – small world. Just as we were about to turn into Port Macquarie harbour another whale broached in front of us – good for the adrenalin. When I was marking, I had checked out the bar into Port Macquarie and was not very impressed with the way the water ran – and with good cause, as quite a swell was running and we took water over the back! We picked up a mooring at Port Marina and decided to stay for an extra day – yet another gale warning of 40 knots. When the winds hit we actually moved to another mooring because of the way boats were swinging –a little too close for comfort.
Thursday was a layday – a chance for some domestic chores. Facilities near the marina were good – laundry, shopping centre and club within 300 metres. We had planned to head for Coffs Harbour on Friday, but with favourable winds from the south, we sailed overnight to Ballina, anchoring at lunchtime on Saturday – just before yet another strong wind hit. My first overnight sail was uneventful (I don’t count waking John at 1pm because the lights of the container ship coming up behind us seemed a little close -actually about five miles away when it passed). Not sure about short sleeps between taking the helm being very effective. I was lucky the weather and seas were favourable.
We seemed to have worked out a system – when you get to a port, you make sure that you are moored close to a decent club or pub that is within easy dinghy reach. Well, the system seemed to work until we decided to go back to the boat from the RSL at Ballina – torrential rain, thunder and lightning, so of course we were slightly damp by the time we were back aboard, not to mention the volume of water that had to be bailed out of the dinghy first!
The plan is to head for Southport tomorrow – time to visit the Lightwave factory with our list of tasks for them. Chapter 2 will come from Queensland.
CHAPTER 2 September 24 –October 4
Our plan to leave Ballina early hit a minor snag – the bar was completely closed out with waves – too dangerous for Allikat to venture forth until the high tide at 3.30 in the afternoon, so we had a night sail ahead of us. Finally crossed the Seaway at Southport at 4.00am and anchored at 4.30. An early start saw us at Coomera at the Lightwave berth for warranty repairs which took us through to midday on Tuesday, with a further service on the boom scheduled at Manly Yacht Club (Moreton Bay) on Wednesday morning. We set off through the marked channels of he Broadwater (it doesn’t pay to miss one!) anchoring overnight off Coochiemudlo Island (whoever thought of a name like that?) Boom attachments completed we sailed across Moreton Bay anchoring overnight at Tangalooma on North Stradbroke Island. The voyage was made more interesting by the huge container ships passing us 200 metres away as they followed the shipping channel in and out of the port of Brisbane.
Thursday 27th was almost like old home week as we sailed for Mooloolaba. Definitely whale watching season as families of whales passed heading south. The babies played around on the surface for ages. More whales again on Friday as we headed towards Fraser Island, just off Mooloolaba and again off Noosa. It was dark by the time we reached Wide Bay and negotiated the bar to Inskip using the computer and lead lights to navigate.
Later that night the wind really built up and with a combination of 30-40 knot wind gusts and a falling tide caused a few problems and some excitement– mainly the anchor slipping and our ending up on the other side of the sandspit. Gave us a good chance to check out the condition of the hulls before the tide came back in at 9am – we used the motors and the anchor which we had put out into deeper water with all the chain out to pull us off the bar. The forces on the chain were so strong they turned the stainless steel bridle ring into an oval one!
Motoring through the Great Sandy Straits on Saturday was much less eventful. These straits are well marked, but I wouldn’t like to negotiate them at a falling tide – in some places the depth was only two metres. Keeled yachts must have interesting times. We anchored halfway off Bookar Island – a low-lying midge nursery which was in full production. I have now found at least two repellents that don’t work, and constantly wear the noise device Kate bought for me in Buderim. The screens on the boat help a bit!
We took a berth at Hervey Bay Boat Club –right in front of the club itself for the next two nights, taking time to visit the Tazewells (friends from Goulburn) and providing entertainment for the locals with John installing the radar reflector on the spreaders at the top of the mast and changing the anchors over for the reef country ahead. This time we didn’t have to dinghy to the club. Right opposite our berth were the charter boat berths and each day there were constant processions of people lining up to go out and take position so whales could come and watch them! There were at least a half dozen big power cats ready for the tourists and each made four or more trips a day.
Another overnight sail from Hervey Bay to North West Island (part of the Capricornia Cays National Park). Pods of playful dolphins en route, and lots of huge jellyfish that make the Clyde River ones look like babies. Seas were very calm and half moon made the visibility good. We sailed between the reefs off Erskine Island and Masthead Island in the Bunker Group of reefs and islands before being ushered into the anchorage by another pod of dolphins. North West Island is a coral key with fringing reef about 50 nautical miles off the coast and about 40 nautical miles east of Keppel Island. It is a popular camping area – campers are brought over by boat and left with dinghies. The supply boats bring big drums of water to resupply the campers. The area is beautiful, clear aqua water and coral reefs, huge turtles and dolphins. It was calm when we were anchored there, and such a peaceful place. John tried out the blow-up canoe (after fixing the leaks), with a safety line out as the current was running so fast. Water temperature is about 25 degrees C – we are definitely in the tropics.
An early start Thursday morning saw us sailing back to the mainland heading towards Shoalwater Bay. The coastline here is quite spectacular, beaches and bays with cliffs in the background. Having driven the dry and monotonous road through this area to Mackay many times, the coastline was unexpected. We anchored the night in Pearl Bay, a secluded cove tucked away behind a narrow opening through rocky outcrops and islets that opens to a half moon beach. There were 4 other boats already anchored for the night, most of whom we had heard on the VHF radio checking in.
The coastguard and volunteer marine rescue units provide a terrific service tracking boats as they move along the coast, as well as providing weather forecasts and marine warnings. It is interesting listening to other vessels logging in – quite a few having only two on board like us.
Tomorrow we head further north to meet up with the first visitors –and the next page in the Allikat adventures!
CHAPTER 3 October 5 –October 13
Pearl Bay was a peaceful hideaway – a small keyhole in the coastline. As we left in the morning, a pod of whales were playing off the port bow, a family, as the young whales threw themselves out of the water seeming to try to make the biggest splashes. We saw the most yachts in the same area as we have seen so far, most heading south, but a few intrepid souls battling against the persistent northerly winds.
We headed for Middle Percy Island, a place with some history. There were some strong currents between the islands, which was to become a regular event as the cluster of islands became more frequent. Anchoring in West Bay late afternoon, we were treated to a glorious sunset. Ashore at Middle Percy, is an a-frame that has been visited by passing yachties who have left a collection of memorabilia of their yachts which has accumulated over time.
Saturday saw us heading for Scawfell Island. Another granddaddy whale flung himself out of the water about 200 metres from the boat several time, and wallowed on the surface flipping flukes and fins and making tremendous splashes. He moved from one side of the boat to the other (thankfully staying at a distance!)
The closer we came to Mackay, the more bulk carriers we saw anchored – over 20 this time – we presume for coal (there can’t be that much sugar!!). The northerly winds were strengthening, so we changed our destination to the southern side of Keswick Island, a more protected anchorage. Finally connected the antenna booster, works well on the mobile when there is signal available, but it overwhelms the internet for some reason.
We have finally reached the Whitsundays proper, anchoring in Plantation Bay off Lindeman Island. We had sailed past the Ingot ad Anchor Islands. Someone surely had fun naming these – Goldsmith, Tinsmith, Solder, Farrier, Blacksmith, Hammer, Anchorsmith, Bellows, Ladysmith. The coastline of each varies, and you see every detail as you sail quite close as you thread your way through.
Time to pick up the first of our guests at Abel Point Marina on Monday. This area has changed greatly over the past three years. The marina has been extended to cover the Shingly Beach area (with some silting issues apparently) and the fuel wharf has been relocated and is now much more accessible. Of course, the mooring costs have increased to cover the re-development! (It is now more expensive than Hamilton). P&O’s Pacific Star was anchored off Pioneer rocks and there were lemming tourists being ferried back and forth. After picking up Carol, we had an excellent sail to Macona inlet – Allikat flew!
We are back in familiar territory now. Most of the popular diving and snorkelling sites have moorings to reduce anchor damage to the coral. Butterly Bay still has some pretty spots, but the amount of bleached and dead coral has increased since we were here.