CHAPTER 4 June 25 – July 19
Very heavy skies as we left the lagoon, but it was much easier to navigate through the reef with a falling tide. As we sailed through to North West Island at the top end of the Capricornia reefs, we saw whales again. Two early in the morning were about 150 metres alongside, then about an hour later a huge whale broached about 500 metres directly in front. John was very quick to turn on the sonar so we made our own pings as a warning.
We had a visit from the crew of Barefoot Bound –they had been in Lady Musgrave and again were anchored near us at North West. The passenger was a young girl from Slovenia and she became very excited when once more whales were sighted – took off in the dinghy to get closer. On our beach walk we met the leaders of a church group who were the advance party for over 100 teenagers who were due to descend on the island a couple of days later – minimalist camping was definitely planned! We dinghied along the beach through the shallows and disturbed over 20 very large stingrays –they took off very quickly. I was glad I wasn’t wading! North West Island is still one of our favourite places to anchor, the water is clear and the sea life is prolific.
Our next stop was Great Keppel Island (midge central!). We dinghied around to the resort side to find it all shut up and fenced off. The word is that it is going to be ripped down and rebuilt – seems such a waste as some parts are quite new. I felt sorry for the “tourist” shops and activity centres along the beach –some had just closed their doors. There were 22 boats at anchor in the bay when we were there – once again saw Barefoot Bound and another ketch Blue Master whose crew came from Narooma. We had planned to go to Pearl Bay, but once again the Shoalwater area was closed for wargames and the only available anchorage was in Port Clinton. The warning this time was not to look at the planes because they are using laser sighting for the firing. The winds are much more variable, so there is constant sail resetting. The flotilla left Port Clinton early in the morning, but we faced our first diesel day with glassy seas. After a long day we finally made it to Hexham and were very lucky to be the first yacht in, so we managed a good anchorage. Hexham is such a small bay, that if you aren’t in the sweet spot, you are in for a rolly night. Blue Master was anchored there too and again the next day when we reached Middle Percy Island. Crew from about five of the yachts gathered for sundowners and a BBQ at the “A Frame”, where all the mementos from visiting yachts are placed. It is fascinating to read the boat names and stories that have been left there over the past 50 years. Two of the boat crews we met we had heard about on the VHF over the past few days, as both had lost their dinghies –don’t give much for their finding them!!
Curlew Island was our next stop – John didn’t get to climb the Phantom Rock face, but we did get to the sand spit which is exposed at low tide and almost makes the anchorage a lagoon. I did my good deed for the day and rescued a starfish and long fish fingerling caught out of the water.
As we then progressed past Mackay, we thought we would be able to test the AIS as so many cargo ships are anchored there, but to no avail. Something is wrong with the connection somewhere – more work required. Found an excellent anchorage in Refuge Bay on Scawfell Island –spectacular scenery and sunset. Blue Master joined us again at our next stop at Brampton Island, so of course they joined us for the obligatory sundowners!. We stayed at Brampton for a couple of days, walking the beaches and doing some general maintenance (That is never-ending). Goldsmith Island was our next anchorage, where we saw turtles in the bay –again a very picturesque site. Further north to Shaw Island the next day, we were startled when another huge whale surfaced beside us and stayed there for several minutes. I was glad it was beside and not under us! At anchor that evening dugong surfaced at the stern –very breathy noises.
The winds had been steadily increasing over the past few days, hitting over 30 knots at times, so going into Hamilton for water and supplies was quite peaceful. John bought dinghy fuel ($2 a litre) and saw diesel was $2.37 – sign of things to come. Fortunately we have hardly been using the motors, most of the diesel is being used in the generator to keep the batteries topped up.
We decided to spend several days in the Whitsundays, staying mainly in the northern anchorages because of the strong southeasterly winds. We stayed two days at Whitehaven Beach (along with over 40 boats in the day time, though at night the numbers thinned out). Walking along the beach with that fine sand is so good. We watched the tallship Solway Lass leave after a very convoluted process to rig the sails, and once again were joined by Blue Master, who are planning to stay at Airlie for quite a few months before heading south again.
Wednesday evening we heard a Mayday on the radio at 5pm– the ensuing conversation with Marine Rescue was both alarming and astonishing:
VMR: “Do you have a name?”
Seconds of deathly silence, then:
VMR “I mean, what is your name and do you know where you are near?”
Response: “Oh! Jason. No I don’t know where I am.”
Turns out that the distress was from a sinking kayak, somewhere between Cape Conway and Cape Hillsborough – a huge area! The paddler had one flare and a handheld VHF radio. It gets dark at about 5-5.30, so with Police Rescue, helicopters and boats out looking for him, he was lucky to be sighted by a motor boat in the area!
Our next mooring in Cateran Bay on Border Island was comfortable, despite the strong winds. John went ashore and climbed the saddle, while I persevered with the AIS and was finally successful. It is quite funny, as every time we hear a blip on the computer, we both rush in to check out the acquired ship! Talk about kids with new toys. Tracking the cargo and container ships is interesting – most of the time the name and details of the ships is sent as well as speed and course. Some are going to really obscure destinations in Asia.
Our first snorkel for the year was in Luncheon Bay on the north side of Hook Island. Incredibly clear water and myriads of fish all around you as you swim. There were several tourist tall ships anchored in the bay for the night. One, Whitsunday Magic was about 70 metres away. You can imagine the excitement when a large female whale with a very new calf surfaced between our boats, about 40 metres away, playing gracefully on the surface for ages, before a final jump and tail wave, disappearing beneath the surface. Our next snorkel at Blue Pearl Bay was a little disappointing, very milky water, few fish and lots of dead coral. Young Endeavour was anchored near us overnight, along with the usual “party” tall ships.
Our last night in the Whitsundays was spent in Butterfly Bay, overcast and drizzly. We dinghied around the northern bays of Hook Island, the clear waters a contrast to Hayman. John really wanted to sail through the Gloucester Passage, and the winds gave a good sail with the screecher across to the mainland. We had planned to anchor off Monte’s Resort, but the anchorage was really exposed to the SE winds, so we moved to the lee of Gloucester Island to Bono Bay. The rain set in again overnight, so we experimented again with water collection systems. The next morning it was cold and rainy – porridge and hot chocolate morning! Despite the rain it was a good sail to Cape Upstart, 47 nautical miles away. The AIS earned its keep as visibility was quite poor, and it identified two cargo ships well in advance and allowed us to thread our way safely between them. We couldn’t actually see them until they were 1 NM away!
In the lee of Cape Upstart, the winds died, so sails were put away and motors started. We noticed a small monohull Phinn in front of us had done the same, when suddenly his sails were up again, flapping uselessly. As we came abeam of him, he hailed us – he had broken the shaft on his motor and wasn’t that far off the rocks on the headland. Allikat is now called Rescue 1! We threw him a rope and towed him round the Cape into a safe anchorage for the night. Now, there aren’t any roads into Cape Upstart, so there was no way he could have anything fixed. We all decided that he would sail to Townsville, leaving early in the morning. We would follow a couple of hours later, so we could pick him up if he got into trouble.
Well he left at 4am for the 60 NM trip, we left at 7am. The longest day trip so far and it’s Murphy’s Law that it was the lightest winds. We rounded Cape Cleveland at 5pm, poor Phinn dropped anchor at 8.30pm. What a long day! The next morning, he attempted to sail across the bay to Townsville(about 10 NM), but again the wind died, so we picked him up again and towed him into Breakwater Marina at Townsville, negotiating the marina entrance without mishap.
We haven’t stayed in Townsville before, so we have decided to spend a week here and explore a little. Along the foreshore they have created a huge park and recreation area. At the marina end, there is a pool and BBQ areas, further along the walkway there is a water fun area, with water appliances, the most spectacular of which is a huge bucket at the top of a climbing structure. The bucket fills with gallons of water and overbalances to send a cascade of water onto the play area. The kids were having a ball. Further along are enclosed playground equipment areas, and an amphitheatre for bands and entertainment, while right at the other end is a rockpool which has water constantly being refreshed 24 hours a day. Along the beach are several netted enclosures for swimming. It is a really well thought-out concept, and well maintained.
J & P