CHAPTER 3 July 7- July 30 2009
John continued to work on the desalinator installation as we sailed our way up the outer reef. Our next anchorage was Fitzroy reef, a huge lagoon with a tricky dog-leg break in the reef to allow access to the calm waters of the lagoon. As we followed the Pacific side of the reefs, we noticed what looked to be a large floating log abeam about 100 metres. On closer inspection, the “log” turned out to be a humpback whale, basking on the surface, seemingly drifting with the currents! We spoke with the crew of Two Easy who were snorkeling along the outer reef and they said they could hear the whalesongs underwater.
The winds continued to pick up during the night reaching 39 knots, and although the anchorage was protected, at high tide the waves broke over the reef, creating a choppy swell. North West Island promised protection behind the island, so we had a brisk sail north, but the swells had increased and the anchorage was very rolly overnight. We had decided to go into Rosslyn Bay (Not all the bits had been supplied with the desalinator – surprise, surprise) and a quick trip (topping 15.6 knots in wind speeds of 37 knots) saw us safely berthed in Keppel Bay Marina. Although the port is some distance from Yeppoon, one of the marina services provides 2 hours’ access to a courtesy car, which allowed us access to a hardware store, and also to a gasfitter to provide some gas line repairs. The restaurant at the marina also has a difference – the steak they serve is supplied from the owner’s property inland, where cattle are raised for the export market. Very tasty!
On our trip north we had been hearing on the VHF details about the closures at Shoalwater Bay (again). This time all anchorages in the area were closed for wargames involving Australian Defence and the Americans. One disconcerting report was a yacht questioning a Securite warning –turned out the warship was practicing mine laying and had declared a 1000 metre exclusion zone around the ship – as if you would be silly enough to go closer. The problem was the ship was in the middle of the Capricornia Channel between Gladstone and Lady Musgrave Island – the prime passage route.
As we headed north from the Keppels we were surprised to see a very large police boat come astern of us, then alongside. With policemen on each bow and one at the helm with a loudhailer, we were instructed to answer their questions –a microphone on the loudhailer would pick up our responses. They wanted to know our destination –when I replied Middle Percy Island, I scored a thumbs up; then they asked whether we were aware of the exclusion coordinates –another thumbs up! The police boat then disappeared to the north. As we came abeam of Townshend Island, a distant speck became clearer – a US warship (Warship 85) was heading south with helicopters doing touch and go practices from the rear deck. This continued for hours as they disappeared south. The Australian Warship Brunei seemed to be having communications difficulties with the shore parties –every half hour they tried to raise troops on the emergency channel 16 on the VHF, with little success. When finally contact was made, their transfer arrangements were made on the same channel, including giving out the landline number of the exercise commander on the mainland! The exclusion zone had forced us to continue north into the night, and we were relieved to anchor at West Bay just after midnight.
After a protracted legal battle, the leasehold of Middle Percy Island had been returned to the original connections, so some much needed improvements had been made ashore by yachties and the new holders. The A frame hut where all the boating memorabilia had been accumulating over the years had been cleaned up and reroofed and the whole area was much more inviting. Local honey and limes are available under an honesty system. We explored the creek behind the inlet by dinghy –there were five boats moored inside, careened at low water for maintenance – would make a great cyclone refuge. Chris and Andrew from Phlat Chat joined us for sundowners, and both boats moved round to Whites Bay the next day as the winds were to come in from the north. Although we had planned to head further north, the winds changed our plans and we has an exhilarating sail across to Curlew Island.
Scawfell Island was our next destination –we used every sail to combat the failing winds, and finally succumbed to the cast iron “sails” as we motored the last fifteen nautical miles. More than 35 cargo ships were at anchor off Mackay –a very expensive exercise as they wait for a turn at the loader.
During our run to Thomas Island at the southern end of the Whitsundays, we were astonished to see a huge whale come completely out of the water, its whole body horizontal with the water’s surface before it fell with a tremendous splash. Our traveling compatriots (we keep meeting them at anchorage), Free Spirit from Batemans Bay, and Aquavista were also at Thomas –sundowners were the norm. The anchorage was very calm for several days, and we spent time exploring the area in the dinghy and working on the boat. (definition of a boat holiday – going to a great anchorage to do boat maintenance).
Further into the Whitsundays saw us anchor at Boat Harbour on Lindeman Island, a tricky anchorage as the bottom comes up very quickly and you have to manoeuvre to get the best holding position. The entertainment was provided by two other boats anchored nearby. A dinghy with 7 people aboard had cast off from the catamaran, but hadn’t started the motor and now couldn’t get it started. As it drifted away, another mono, instead of setting off in the dinghy, pulled up its anchor and proceeded to follow the dinghy out, securing it alongside before returning to reanchor. We subsequently counted 16 people on the two boats, as later one dinghy towed the other ashore to explore the area.
A turbulent sail to Solway Passage, with a brief side stop to dinghy into Hamilton to access the Post Office, took us to Whitehaven Beach. A huge turtle hung around the stern of the boat –must be used to yachts anchoring, as it was still there the next morning. The southern swells persisted, and although initially calm at evening, the anchorage became rolly overnight, so it was with some relief that we motored north to Tongue Bay the next day. Other boats must have felt the same as there were 22 at anchor! The walk up to the lookout at Hill Inlet is really interesting and the views at the summit are spectacular – this is the outlook of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven Beach that appears on all the postcards.
An excellent screecher run the next day took us to the top of Hook Island an a lunchtime anchorage at Luncheon Bay (appropriately named) and an afternoon snorkel before an overnight mooring at Butterfly Bay. Round to Hayman Island and Blue Pearl Bay for the next two nights gave us more snorkeling and swimming – the waters are quite warm and there are beautiful fish and corals on the point.
AS we logged into the coastguard in the morning, we received a call on the VHF from another yacht Seahorse, who had heard us – wanted to say we would have a good run across the passage. This type of contact proves to me that yachties are a really close community! Once again the winds were picking up as we headed across Whitsunday Passage to Gloucester Island and what proved to be one of the worst overnight anchorages we have ever had. Initially it was calm and still in Bona Bay on the lee shore of Gloucester Island, but as the winds died overnight, the swells from Whitsunday Passage came around the point causing Allikat to lie abeam of the swell, and the rocking from side to side became quite pronounced. We were both glad to up anchor in the morning and head for Cape Upstart. Despite the strong wind warning, the breezes inshore were quite light and we were able to practice our spinnaker techniques – not quite down pat yet. We were again joined by two humpback whales cruising south of Cape Upstart. We have seen more whales while cruising this year than before. Although dolphins are favorite companions, seeing the whales is very special –they are such graceful creatures. Another day of light winds brought us to Cape Bowling Green. You seem to sail forever along this long, low sandspit. It never ceases to amaze me how it stays with strong seas eating away at the sand. However, it provides a comfortable anchorage as the sandspit hooks around at the point.
At sunset, pods of dolphins began fishing around the boat. One even got up on its tail and finned backwards –showing that what the trained dolphins do in shows is really a natural behaviour. About 6 dolphins formed a circle, blowing air and tightening the circumference to trap the fish. Sea birds joined in the feeding frenzy, divebombing into the flapping fish. This continued for almost an hour. Once it became dark, we were surrounded by a semicircle of fire as the cane fields were set alight –spectacular blazes, one after the other.
It was an easy run to Magnetic Island and our berth for the next month at Nelly Bay, as we are leaving for NZ and skiing (really seeing the family!). Time to clean Allikat and put her in hibernation until we return in August. We have decided to delay commissioning the desalinator until we return, as this means we don’t have to pickle it straight away –you have to put preservative in the membranes if you are not running it for more than 7 days.