Working our way south…

We slipped into Mackay after a wonderful day of zooming across mirror flat sea’s, watching butterflies and the odd dolphin grace the surface of the water. The continual ‘Red Tide’ algae bloom we have seen since we left Townsville persists, but on a flat calm day gives the ocean an almost silky texture. When sailing up to a patch of red tide the air smells almost of ozone. We have seen so much more algae this year than previously and wonder if the early northerlies had an effect on surface water temperatures.

In Mackay we caught up with Jenny Wright (Another Dimension) and Deb and Neil (Zolibato). We had all cruised together on the Northern NSW coast and we have been in touch with Neil and Debbie during the Whitsundays. The last time we saw Jenny was here in Mackay, some four and a half months ago. We shared a great dinner, catching up before we made our seperate ways south. Jenny and the Another Dimension crew were heading off for a non stop delivery to Mooloolaba. Zolibato and Highland Fling were heading south to Yeppoon.

It’s a lonely bit of water, the 200 plus miles between Mackay and Yeppoon. A beautiful cruising ground with multiple islands and a course which puts you mostly offshore. There are no townships or ports to visit, as much of the mainland area is owned by the Department of Defence, and during this passage much of that land and sea was off limits due to the live firing of shells by the military who use this area for training.

Mariners notices are posted about these events and a reasonable amount of safe anchorages are kept free for the cruising sailor.

Coming south we had a few surprises, my first being the sight of a ship looming high above me from my galley window! We had picked our way through around thirty ships at anchor outside of Mackay, but I was below decks and didn’t quite see this one coming up! Andrew had fun surprising me with it’s close proximity!

We sailed to Curlew Island that day and were treated to the spectacle of a single handed sailor in a seriously low freeboard catermaran ghost into the anchorage just on dusk, sail through the boats whilst under spinnaker, then casually throw out his anchor, drop his kite and settle in for the night. Pure poetry in motion and such a delight to watch!

My next surpise was having a small shark leap out of the water next to the boat just next to our boat as I helmed  our passage out from Curlew Island the following day. It must have just been sunbaking and was as startled as we were when we passed.

The very next surprise was when we decided to take a course between a shoal( 0.2m)  and Hunter Island. 0.3 nm, (approx 450 metres) from the shoal crossing our engine stopped. We needed it to get us through the tricky chicane of the passage. Up here the tides rule, and the currents are to be respected. With no engine: no crossing the passage. Andrew went down and diagnosed overheating. We tacked away and used every means possible to cool our engine. After half an hour we tested it again and made our cautious way through the shoals. Another seven miles and we were anchored for the night behind Hunter Island. I swam the boat and scrubbed the raw water intake and Andrew replaced the water impellor. We thought we had it all fixed.

The following day we were again up before the sun and on our way. This time we had to transit the Broad Sound passage which has very strong tidal currents. ( Mackay has the largest tidal range on the East Coast of Australia, our tides were 6m)

We plotted our course, but had to keep clear of Cape Townsend by 4nm, due to the military activities.This made the passage difficult as the tide wanted to press us down and we could have sailed faster out of the mainstream. Passing Island Head the tide vs wind was at it’s peak and poor Fling slammed into the waves. Just past there we could lay off the wind and we made a smoother passage to Pearl Bay…until the engine stopped again! ( AND immediately after I had logged us off with the Coastguard!)

This time it was much less of a drama, as we could happily sail at 7 knots toward our destination, an easy bay to enter.

During the course of the morning we heard a single handed sailor radio the coastguard to announce he had struck a submerged object and was taking on water. An hour or two later he radioed that he was managing to control the leak with his bilge pumps and was 16 nm off South Percy Island. When we arrived at Rosslyn Bay we read in the local paper that sadly his batteries failed and he was unable to call the coast guard again. His vessel sank and he commenced rowing his dinghy after activating his EPIRB. He was rescued by helicopter after two hours of rowing. He estimated he had another four hours of rowing to reach South Percy Island. The tenacity of the solo sailor….

We left Pearl Bay at 5 am on Sunday morning to sail down to the port of Rosslyn Bay near Yeppoon. We had a great sail, Andrew spied a sunfish, some turtles and we saw loads of tuna leaping out of the water.

We are now in the harbour and will have out engine cooling system looked at before we depart.

Seven days of sailing, but we are happy to be further south and we salute the crew of Another DImension who have sailed nonstop for the last four days to deliver their yacht safely to Mooloolaba.

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