Chapter 6 November 12 – November 22
Guess what? We again woke to a strong wind warning from the south east but decided to head south through the Whitsunday Passage as usually the winds are lighter in the morning – and they were – 25 knots! We had good sailing until the afternoon when wind strength increased to 30+ knots and the swell (read chop!) went up to 3 metres. Allikat handled the conditions well, and I have decided these conditions are excellent for isometric exercising. We anchored off Shaw Island, south of Lindeman overnight, but even there still had wind gusts of over 30 knots and heavy squally showers. Snug inside though! We were surprised on anchoring to find the port bow dolphin seat missing – the screws were still there but the seat had been taken out by a wave – John is already planning a different system for the seats.
Tuesday came overcast and raining as we sailed across to Laguna Marina in Repulse Bay in limited visibility and strong winds. The navigation program works like a dream and plots exactly where you are. The entrance to the marina through the leads and in the harbour is very shallow. We went in an hour off high tide and at times only had 2.2 metres of water under the boat. Groundings are apparently common! It had been over 10 years since we had seen Laguna Resort and it has really been let go. The only thing really maintained well is the golf course; the main lodge has apparently been condemned because of white ants and looks like it hasn’t been touched for years. Reception is now near the pool and accommodation is in villas or condo apartments. Blocks of land have been subdivided around the golf course and most have been sold although little building has taken place.
We booked the Marina Tarago to go into Proserpine for shopping on Wednesday and spent time on the boat doing routine maintenance (I have decided this is a neverending task) and talking to other yachties. Many people moor their boats here for the cyclone season, and there are also some long-term marina dwellers. We ended up spending 4 nights here as the weather showed no signs of improvement, and everyone was starting to get edgy about cyclone Guba off Cape York, especially as it was pulling winds from the south. John spent time modifying wiring systems and making permanent connections for the antenna booster, but was starting to show symptoms of “marina fever”. After much discussion, we escaped the marina at 5am (high tide) on Saturday morning to try to head south and made it as far as Brampton Island with innumerable tacks. Once again the afternoon wind increase really stirred conditions up, so it was a relief to anchor off the resort in calmer water. More minor repairs replacing the boom reef rope that had started to wear through from a twisted aluminium fitting. Temporary repairs will allow us to reef the mainsail. At this anchorage we had a resident large green turtle that spent most of its time circling the boat.
Sunday saw winds with more easterly, so an excellent sail was had for half the day, before a shift saw us back in the bouncies. I was very glad to have ice in the freezer – next time I will put the boom sheet round the block before I release the block – rope burn is not fun! We found a quiet anchorage at Curlew Island (in the Guardfish Cluster), passing between Wallace Island and a wide sandbank that protected the shore. There are spectacular rock formations on the island – as the book says, it is the Phantom’s cave!
Our trip to Hunter Island in the Duke Group followed the predictable pattern, a good sail in the morning, but then as we moved east, we had 25 knot winds on the nose, gusts up to 30 across the deck and 2-3 knots of current against us! That was a long bash for 18 nautical miles! Tidal variations are increasing in this area and we have been experiencing falls of 5-6 metres – you really have to do your maths before dropping anchor.
Today we made a short trip to Hexham Island. Hexham Island is a small island with a narrow beach on the northern side and fringing corals. At the moment the wind is gusting over 25 knots, so we are really hanging into the wind, but the bay is relatively calm. Outside the bay the ocean is again a washing machine with strong tidal currents running against the wind. We have had to rethink our plans as the army are playing games in the Shoalwater region and marine areas have been closed because of a live firing range, restricting possible anchorages to one (Pt Clinton) before we can get to Keppel Bay. Don’t really fancy being used for target practice (let alone consider the fines, gaol terms and relocating costs!). The best news is a northerly forecast for Thursday!!
The area around Shoalwater Bay is a black hole for VHF radio, TV, internet and mobiles, to the extent that Coastguards ask you to login before you go into an anchorage. Even with the booster John only has one bar of reception – so that makes it a video night. We had just finished watching Crimson Tide, a movie about nuclear submarines and nuclear war, and were packing things away, when there was a tremendous sonic boom overhead. We raced out into the cockpit to see glowing afterburners vanishing over the hill on the island, and then saw another F111 coming towards us from the north west –couldn’t hear anything though so we blocked our ears as the plane passed directly overhead at about 500 foot and then we heard the boom. Sure got the adrenalin running!! Hexham Island is only about ten nautical miles from the defence exclusion zone. There had been a small jet fighter circling the area earlier in the afternoon, so they knew we were here, as well as from our calling in our exact location on an open VHF radio channel earlier in the day. It was a really different experience from seeing planes at airshows where you know they are coming and that they are not armed with live ammunition with safeties off!!!. I don’t think the heart rate has gone back to normal yet.
Early Wednesday, we headed further south, skirting around the edges of the military restriction zone. At about 9am a reconnaissance jet came over us three times, obviously plotting our course and speed. At 10am, we were about 7.4 NM off the mainland when the F111s again came overhead on a bombing run, but at a much higher altitude than the previous night. There were two huge explosions on the mainland, then 6 rockets were fired from one plane and you could track them in. The final bomb exploded in a huge orange flash with clouds of smoke rising in the air. Later that afternoon, we heard on the VHF the rangemaster calling a boat that was in the firing range near Cape Townshend to get out. This happened again on the next day – you would have to be crazy to be there, especially with recon planes buzzing you!! We continued our sail into Port Clinton, a shallow wide bay absolutely teeming with fish – jumping out of the water everywhere. There were some large “somethings” there too – the vegetable scraps hardly had time to hit the water. Needless to say, there was no swimming. John took advantage of the calm water to go up the mast to relocate the radar reflector to stop the halyard catching on it.
The winds continued more to the east on Thursday, giving us a first screecher sail for weeks down to Great Keppel Is. (John was suffering screecher withdrawal). We went ashore to midge central again for a walk along the beach, then explored the NW side of the island in the dinghy. Someone had taken great trouble to set up a cyclone boat refuge up a creek in the mangroves. Ashore a tree had been decorated with flotsam, 20-30 floats, buoys and even a lifering, as well as CDs and other bits and pieces were tied to the branches. Quite peculiar! We were anchored at Leekes Beach on the northern side of the island. There were two houses sheltered behind a point and a large wind generator was on top of the hill behind them. After a relatively calm night (some rolling), we plan to head out to Heron Is on the reef on Friday.