Surfing and sensational beaches are what Coff’s Harbour is known for.
Highland Fling did her best to arrive in ‘Aloha’ style a month ago, surfing downhill for 60 nm in 25-30 knot north winds.
Since then we have been home to visit family and just moved back onboard last week.
We looked at the weather more than a week ago and thought we would be here for another week. No problems, this is why we cruise rather than race.
This week now looks like it will become two full weeks. Three days ago we had the unique situation where we had a trough to the north, generating strong north winds whilst at the same time we has a ridge forming to the south, generating strong sourthly winds.
Should we stay put?
The day before yesterday looked promising, except for the thunderstorm warnings…
We are glad we stayed as they lasted two days and the total rainfall for just last night was a whopping 159.8 mm or 6.4 inches!
I don’t think we would have been able to sleep if we were the only yacht in a solitary bay further south. Far better to stay hidden here amongst the taller lightening conductors!
The pictures below show Coff’s as we have found it this week. The picture of the fuel dock shows an area where four days ago we had to take a very large step UP to the wharf. Big tides at the moment.
It’s amazing how quickly the weather varies here. Last night it was all fire and brimstone and this evening it is the essence of serene placidity!
I spied a small turtle as I walked the marina this evening.
Surfing and sensational beaches are what Coff’s Harbour is known for.
Keen to get south while the weather and tides stayed favourable we were up at dawn and heading out across a mirror calm bar at 0700hrs. We were in company with four other yachts heading south and the day promised easy sailing.
We transited the bar through the southern entrance and remarked to each other that that was one the last bars we would need to cross for some time. We felt very pleased with the crossing and it was all smiles until just a half a nautical mile along the engine stopped. We restarted it and it stopped again. With 60 nm of light to variable winds to get to Coffs Harbour we reluctantly decided to turn the bows and attempt to sail back in. We had crossed the bar at the top of the rising tide an so now had the daunting prospect of tacking back across the bar, through the gap in the middle wall and through the winding Yamba Channel in order to get to Yamba Marina. The wind was blowing directly down the river, on the nose for an incoming yacht.The Skipper and crew of ‘Roseanne’, a big bilge keeled steel Adams yacht very kindly offered to drop their sails and give us a tow. We gratefully accepted, feeling bad because we knew this would put them behind in their sailing.
And so it was that Fling crossed the bar again, only this time under tow for the first time in our history of owning her! Roseanne’s crew did a fabulous job, especially considering they hadn’t entered the Yamba Channel themselves in years and that the channel is very narrow and very shallow.
Once in the marina we contacted the marine diesel mechanic who came and diagnosed fuel contamination. A last farewell (or fare-less-well) gift from Queensland! The last time we had left Fling in Moreton Bay we had left her with full tanks and biocide but this was not enough to save us from the dreaded fungal growth. Andrew and John, the mechanic spent the entire day draining and cleaning out the tanks. We refuelled with our reserve fuel, knowing it was nice and fresh. Satisfied the problem was fixed we turned our attention to the weather. Alas southerly winds for the next two days. A promising northerly the day after became useless as a southerly change of 25-30 knots later in the day did not allow enough time to cross the bar and make the sixty nm passage to Coff’s before the change came in.
Finally on the Saturday morning a northerly of 15- 20 knots was forecast. Dead low tide was at around 0700 hrs. We decided to give it a go. The only challenge was exiting the Yamba Channel in almost no water. With 0.0m of water under the keel we passed through the two very shallow spots to the main river channel. With plently of water under the keel we exited the bar straight out through the centre as it was again perfectly flat calm.
How good to be out on the ocean again! Fling’s motor purred as the first two hours offered up no wind of any kind. As the day progressed we had the heady in and out, a full main up then eventually sailed with double reefed main and no headsail.
The wind remained dead astern and built to 25 knots, kindly going to the ENE and allowing us to gybe as we approached Coffs Harbour. What a day!
We lost count of the number of whales we saw, sometimes in pods of five or six. We estimate around thirty sightings. Amazing really that such large aminals can hide so effectively in the water as soon as a camera is pointed at them! Andrew saw one whale completely clear of the water, but had his hands full with the helm at the time.
Nine and a half hours had us in Coffs, where we will leave Fling for a few weeks as we return home to spend some time with family.
After an incredibly windy day or two everything settled. Except the Ballina Bar.
A couple of yachts left early in the morning on the top of the high tide. We wished them well and worried for them.
Late afternoon a trawler left the river. We saw him again an hour or so later, anchored across the river. Without the VHF on we didn’t know he had been advised by the VMR to reconsider leaving the river.
At dusk the VMR towed him across to the public berth where we were tied up.
The trawler, whose bow is a clear twelve feet above sea level had taken a wave straight on and it’s entire front windows were blown out. A domestic fridge in the wheelhouse had it’s door torn off by the force of the water entering the cabin. It washed out of the back of the cabin, and the whole back wall of the wheelhouse was pushed out several feet.
The trawler broke it’s solid steering cable but was fortunate enough to turn and drift with the still incoming tide to a place where they could anchor. Amazingly with all the force of the water and crew who were out on the back deck, no serious injuries were sustained. Local trawlermen call this ‘getting waved’. According to one of the fisherman this trawler had only managed to cross the bar once in the last month, hence their need to head out as soon as they thought they could.
We had planned to leave the next morning, and slept little.
At 06.30 hrs the VMR calssified the bar as Caution – Extreme Caution.
We rolled over in our berths to get some more sleep. No going out today we thought.
At 07.30 hrs the call came over VHF to say the bar was passable, but to proceed with caution. I called VMR and asked re breaking waves. Their response was that there were none presently , but if I had asked five minutes ago, they would have said yes!
We decided to sail out for a look and elected to give it a go, with a plan for a fast bail out by the VMR tower if it looked too dangerous. Just at the most exciting point ( 2-2.5 m swell, sometimes breaking) our depth instrument decided it was confused and decided the depth was 0.0 m! We sallied forth…
At 08.18 hrs we sucessfully transitted the bar, getting a congratulations from the VMR on such a ‘tidy crossing’!
In fact we made it through with no green water over the bow, just very shaky hands and very dry mouths.
Remembering our last passage through Yamba bar some 18 months ago we dawdled along, expecting we wouldnt be able to get in before high tide, in the early evening. With only 35 nm to travel we weren’t rushing.
Fourteen nautical miles out from Yamba we heard Alchemy, a Buizen who had left Ballina an hour before us call up VMR Iluka Ballina. VMR stated the bar was calm and able to be crossed at any tide.
On with the sails and Fling more than doubled her speed.
A cruising yacht we had seen and admired many times during our time in Queensland hailed us on the radio. Kurranulla welcomed us and guided us into the Iluka pond, assisting us to avoid sandbars and find enough water to anchor in. We thanked them and their response?
‘Thats OK you owe us two now!’
Curious, we invited them over for sundowners. It turned out that they were the dark hulled yacht we nearly dragged anchor onto during the storm in Pancake creek on our way north! We had seen them in many anchorages since and they always waved to us, but we had never met. Good to catch up and apologise! Kurranulla are returning to their home port of Westernport Bay and it will be good to see them when we return.
What a difference a day makes. Last night’s blissful sunset ( Red sky at night….?) gave over to today’s very strong winds. We have had on average 30 knots of wind driving right into the stern of Fling. From breakfast on we have had the stormboards in to stop spray and waves invading Fling. No leaving the boat today. Instead we have been on fender watch….
Hopefully it will blow out in another few hours and we can then relax a little.
Ballina is proving to be a nice stop off spot. Today we found hot showers at the swimming pool and tonight we were treated to a spectacular sunset and dolphins swimming around our wharf.
So here we are again. Fling has been resting in Manly harbour for the last ten months. Boat sales are slow and we feel like we’ve been hibernating in Melbourne without a boat. We have decided to sail Highland Fling home to Melbourne where we can at least enjoy using her while we wait for a buyer. Two weeks of waiting for bits and pieces, lots of odd jobs to do and finally we are ready to sail.
We chose to sail the Canaipa Passage down through the broadwater to Southport and spent our first night at the RQYS outpost on Russell Island. A tranquil anchorage with lots of local turtles and a whole bunch of Curlews, who staged an all night rave! Thank goodness they are cute, otherwise they’d be extinct!
Coming to the south end of North Stradbroke Island Andrew spied a 1.5m shark which leapt another 1.5m out of the water! No swimming today we decided!
After all the natural beauty of the passage Southport was a shock to the senses. Southport YC hosted two weddings during the weekend we were there. Imagine our surprise to find pretty young things in heels which equalled the local highrises teetering up and down the wharf!
Happily we put the Glamazons behind us and headed south for Byron Bay. We had a two day weather window to get to Yamba and planned to break it up at Byron. A glorious sail was had, playing Änimal Spotto on the way. The count? One turtle, several dolphin, a couple of flocks of mutton birds, several spectacular flying fish and just before Byron Bay, whales!
Bryron turned on what could only be called a perfect evening. Great sunset, no wind, almost no swell. Perfect tranquility!
We left early, at dawn, expecting to make it to Yamba by mid to late afternoon. Unfortunately this was not to be. The forecast strong winds from the N-NW were expected to come in early and we revised our passage plan to include Ballina. A delightful three hour passage with many whales and a couple of turtles thrown in.
We have heard much about the Ballina bar, and not much of it good. We entered the bar at one hour before low tide with our hearts in our mouths. Stormboards in, lifejackets on, Andrew looking forward and steering, myself looking backward and calling the waves. It’s not the sort of bar where you can wait out the set of waves and duck in before the next. It’s quite a way before the waves settle. Happily we made it in and are now snug at the public wharf. We expect to be in here for the next three days or so.
There’s always a place where you call it quits, and for us it is here in Manly Harbour.
After ten months, thirteen days, five hours and twenty five seconds (for those pedantic people amongst us!) we are tied up at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron marina in Manly Harbour, Moreton Bay ending our sojourn from Royal Brighton Yacht Club on Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Victoria, to Cairns and back here to Moreton Bay near Brisbane in Queensland.
It is our final destination, and the end of a very long passage for Highland Fling as our family yacht. We have owned her since 1999 and she has been a faithful friend and welcoming house to us for all those years.
She has seen our children grow, taught them how to sail and is now well ready for a new family and their own adventures.
We also are ready for a change, but as we pack up our belongings it is with more than a little sadness. Thirteen years is a long time to love a yacht…..
We left Mooloolaba early in the morning and headed out against the last hour of the incoming tide. Once offshore the passage was brilliant, a great big sparkly day of sunshine and beam reaching in 12-15 knots! Bellissimo! The Fusion was belting out U2’s Beautiful Day (which should only be heard on a beam reach, it’s cruelty to have to listen to it on a 30 kt beat in cold weather) and we enjoyed our time in Spitfire Channel.
Spitfire Channel is the main shipping channel out for the Port of Brisbane. The last time we left Moreton Bay we came across the bay from Scarborough Marina and decided to take the more inshore passage, the appropriately named Skirmish Passage and although we sailed in some tight confines, we missed the adventure of looking over each shoulder to see who was sneaking up on Fling!
We passed five ships at close proximity during our passage and as we approached Moreton Island, the winds built. Eventually we did a very careful jibe, and dropped both sails.
Entering Tangalooma anchorage from the north is a little frustrating as passage has to be made south by a couple of miles to clear the sandbanks which protect the anchorage.
We anchored, were unhappy with our choice so up-anchored and set it again. Much better!
A very camera shy turtle hung around as we got settled, then took off as soon as I pointed the lens at him. It’s kind of nice to still see them this far south though, somehow I had decided that they stopped swimming south at Fraser Island.
The beach and the water are for once, exactly as the travel brochures claim!
Tommorrow morning will start a whole new chapter in Highland Fling’s life…
We always enjoy Mooloolaba, and not always for it’s great beaches, user friendly marina or it’s fantastic shopping and dining. Behind Mooloolaba there is a hidden hinterland of small towns and communities high upon the ridge behind the canefields. The Sunshine Coast is indeed one of our most favourite parts of the Australia’s East Coast and a place which we think would be most enticing to live upon.
We visited our friend Ken at Maleny Wagyu and were amazed at the progress of his family’s Farrier Trimaran which is taking shape in the farm’s shed. It was great to catch up and as before we left loaded with good fresh produce from the Maleny Wagyu farm. (Despite the fact that we are supposed to be eating the boat out before Brisbane) Fresh rocket, home grown banana’s, coriander and macadamia pesto, lettuce and more of those grand macadamia’s from the driveway! The very best we could offer was a lunch onboard Fling the next day, as Ken hadn’t seen Fling in 10 years.
After leaving Ken I claimed my birthday present, a lunch at the Spirit House restaurant in Yandina. The day was misty and rainy in the hills and it served well to highlight all the lush greenery the spirit house gardens are surrounded by. We enjoyed lunch watched carefully by a beady eyed water monitor or two!
The rest of the week passed quickly, having Ken down to lunch onboard Fling, seeing a movie and enjoying a beach walk and swim every day.
Yesterday we spent time with Deb and Neil from Zolibato. We have loosely sailed together for months now and it seems a bit strange to realise that we will be heading back off into different worlds soon.
We are now so very close to the end of our cruising year…
We picked our way through the Sandy Straits and settled into the Inskip Point anchorage at sunset. Andrew spent a sleepless night waiting for the alarm clock and at three am we were up and ready to beard the dragon of Wide Bay Bar in her den! Good thing we chose the catch her in her sleepy mode because she was a dream to cross.03.55hrs was the top of the flood tide and the predawn light made it easy to isolate the lead lights from the low scrubby background.
With the Mad Mile crossed in reasonable comfort we headed south to Mooloolaba. Not much wind to set us off, but eventually a decent wind filled in. How lovely to enter the Mooloolaba river and see it clear and blue again, as last time we were here it was stained the colour of dark coffee from all the rainfall. I just love standing on the deck and looking at all the fish below.
How great to be on the Sunshine Coast again!
The Marina was hosting a boat show, their first I think, and it was great to see that the yacht club has finally again opened for buisiness after a five year delay! We spent the evening with Dianne and Mark, owners of Mustang Sally ,a Hunter 44 DS and fellow sailors from Port Phillip Bay, Victoria.
We will spend a few days here, catching up with friends and just enjoying this lovely cosmopolitan environment before we head south to Moreton Bay to prepare to leave Fling and return to Melbourne.
We planned to leave on the Monday from Bundaberg. No go. Less than half a nm out from the marina Fling’s engine coughed, skipped a beat then stalled. I quickly turned her into the incoming current while Andrew raced downstairs to diagnose the problem. We had an air leak into the fuel filter system. When we removed it we found an adjustment fitting broken. We rejected the onsite chandler’s incomplete replacement part ($100.) and caught the marina bus into Bundaberg where we found a complete replacement kit for half the price.
Returning to Fling we quickly fitted the new unit, tested it briefly and felt we had spent a good day. We donated the missing part from our old unit to the chandlers. Early the next morning we put our marina key in the deposit box (again) and departed the marina. This time we made it almost to the heads before Fling misbehaved. Again we returned. Andew again pulled the system apart, looking for the tiny air leak which was causing our problem. Eventually he found it, but not before having to blow into the inlet tubes of the diesel pump. We again reassembled the filter system and this time ran the engine under load for an hour in the marina. All good! Plans were made for leaving the next morning. Marina key retrieved again and another day’s fee’s paid. At six am we prepared to depart, once again leaving the marina keys in the safety deposit box.
We felt confident and MORE than ready to depart. We backed out of our pen and almost immediately ran aground. Not enough tide just yet….. An hour later and casting off our lines for the fourth time in three days we were underway.
And Fling’s engine just purred….. it must have been all that loving attention!
We spottted lots of dolphins as we closed on Urangan Harbour. Today finds us at Kingfisher Bay Resort which has great day facilities (a lovely swimming pool, showers, a small local shop and restaurant/ bar all close to the pure white sand beach).
We bumped into Reg and Rhonda from Ocean Addict today and enjoyed some time over lunch, although anyone watching us might have been surprised by our strange behaviour…. the March Flies were out in squadrons (think squadrons in D Day numbers!) and if you couldn’t hear our conversation then you just might have wondered why we kept on slapping each other! By body language we looked like we had a perculiar form of Tourette’s syndrome which causes one to slap rather than swear! Average conversation along the lines of… “Oh Reg… watch out, four on your shoulder…( insert slapping motion, with gusto! ) , and where are you headed next?”…We all wondered what the overseas tourists would remember the most of their experience on Fraser Island, worlds largest sand cay…epicentre of annoying insects
The pool and the boat were the only safe havens….and we enjoyed both. Any thoughts of Buddism were quashed by the quiet glee we felt watching the March Flies fail to learn to swim in the pool!
We just caught up with the P2P rally group again for sundowners on the marina lawns. The crew had been resident in the marina for a month and the final count was 400 kilo’s of Cocaine, not the 40kg of Heroin as we had originally thought, announced by the Cruising Yacht Club,and yes, the lovely Spanish crew did indeed win last week’s prize for the best dressed pirates……….fitting, eh?
We spent another day relaxing at Pancake Creek. In the morning we checked the crab pot, but alas, no crabs. We repositioned it and headed over to the other side of the inlet to enjoy looking at the small coral reef while the surface was flat and calm. Thoughts of our friends shark ravaged crab pots kept us from swimming too far from the beach.
As the tide made it’s way out we walked the ridges of sand flats, looking across to where the bushfire in the Rodd Peninsular National Park still burnt, coming seemingly closer to our shore all the time. All that smoke made for another grand sunset and moon rise which we veiwed from behind the security of our insect screens! Laughably our crab pot had become stranded again by the tide and was proving to be a comfortable perch for a huge white bird who would have deterred even the dumbest of crabs! We left just predawn, rounded Bustard Head and headed south to Bundaberg. On the whole a great day’s passage, but slow with the wind on the nose the whole way. By late afternoon we were down to a double reefed main but at dusk we removed the reefs when the wind died out significantly.
We made our way into the Burnett River and tied up at seven pm. The smell of curry wafting across the marina had us ravenous and as soon as Fling was sorted we dashed to the Baltimore Cafe searching for the delicious smell….
Foiled! It was being cooked aboard another yacht so we sated our hunger with pizza’s and chilled white wine, totally unaware of the drama unfolding just across the lawns of the marina.
The marina is quite full at present with Port to Port rally yachts. A total of 84 visiting and returning to Australia yachts have been filtering into Bundaberg Port Marina since early October, crossing the Coral Sea from Port Vila. One, which arrived five days ago, sailed by a young Spanish crew will not be leaving anytime soon. During our dinner on Friday evening a large team of Australian Federal Police, Customs agents and Forensics specialists descended on the yacht and commenced searching it. Cars coming and going through the roundabout near the Marina were also searched. The search on the yacht continued all the next day and they removed somewhere between 40-45 kilo’s of heroin. (Local word has it at 400 kilos!) This morning the yacht was removed from the water and impounded. SV Friday Freedom has now been dubbed S V Friday Lockup by the rally participants! Our bus driver told us the young Spanish couple had recently won an award for ‘best pirate costume’ during the rally!
Today we joined several rally cruisers on the courtesy coach to the Shalom Markets. I found it quite interesting to hear their first impressions of Australia. One cruiser was astonished to see so much birdlife, whilst others were amazed at the low cost of fresh food at the market. Another cruiser suggested we should have been at the market at 6am to get the ‘best pickings’, and I reflected he had probably not yet had a chance to realise Australia’s bounty after crossing the Pacific. We came back to Fling loaded with Mango’s, Avocado’s, Limes, Spring Onions and a huge bag of fresh mint, coriander, basil and dill which, given that we really didn’t need much speaks volumes of the quality of fresh food available at very reasonable costs.
The fish marketing factory next door has just opened a factory door shop, so this afternoon I topped our fridge up with Panko crusted whiting fillets, cooked tiger prawns and the local speciality, spanner crab meat. All local, and all for very reasonable prices.
Tomorrow we will head off to Hervey Bay, getting closer and closer to our end destination….
We left Great Keppel island early in the morning as the wind had shifted East-South East and made for an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe anchorage.
We weren’t the first to go, by dawn four other boats had moved on. We made our passage down to Cape Capricorn, just about ON the tropic of Capricorn! Another yacht from GKI was already anchored there and we had heard great things about this lovely spot. We gazed up at the old railway which used to cart all the provisions to the lighthouse. A very steep incline to say the least!
Alan Lucas says this place is remarkably unaffected by swell, even in established SE winds. That’s great but by now our wind had shifted and was staying firmly in the East- North East. A very, very unpleasant night at anchor, rolling and lurching in the greasy swell. Not much sleep had by any of the three yachts sharing the bay.
Our neighbours from GKI (Ocean Addict:a Jeaneau 43 DS) left just after daylight. The other yacht headed north. We waited for the wind to abate and left around nine am. The first hour of rounding Cape Capricorn was long and slow. Riding up the swells and down. It seemed to take ages. Once clear we could set a better course south and were much more comfortable. A double reefed main and one reef in the headsail were all we needed for comfortable sailing. Comfortable but not a pretty day, grey clouds and a lumpy unhappy sea.
We revised our plans and headed through the East Channel for Gladstone Harbour. Last time we were here the harbour looked busy but now it looks about three times more hectic!
There’s heaps of industrial development going on further up the harbour and the place is jam packed with vehicle landing barges from all over Australia, all working around the clock to deliver machinery and people to service this incredible industrial growth. Sailing along the outside of Curtis Island we marvelled that no sign of the city or such development was visible at all during the day.
Port Gladstone Marina is set in a man-made basin and surrounded by a lovely parkland. To get into town you must cross the opening bridge and walk uphill. Best to taxi back if you have more than a few provisions. We enjoyed a few nights of good sleep, some provisioning and a lovely dinner on the balcony of the Yacht Club. At dusk we watched hundreds (if not thousands) of Flying Foxes make their passage north to roost for the night. You could barely hear a person speak for the sound of hundreds of Rainbow Lorrikeets which flocked to the pine trees next to the yacht club .
We set sail this morning for Pancake Creek, happy to revisit another favourite destination. As we passed the Rodd Peninsular National Park we could see a significant bushfire in progress. The Rodd peninsular makes up the northern boundary of the Pancake Creek area.
Picking our way in with the tide we settled in, put the outboard on the dinghy and set our new crab pot …. Ocean Addict’s crew came by the boat to tell us that three of their four pots had been attacked by sharks last night and were completley shredded!
As we digested this thought we looked around us at a true paradise…Miles of inlet,the Bustard Head lighthouse winking, amazing sandbanks, the full moon rising to Starboard, and a smokey sunset happening to Port…..
We spent three or four days at Rosslyn Bay Marina, resting and getting our engine issues resolved.
Two blades of the raw water impellor had dislodged and were preventing the coolant from circulating effectively. Quickly fixed, once someone could attend to do it. We serviced the engine, restocked Fling with all sorts of goodies and celebrated Melbourne Cup Day in fine style with Neil and Deb onboard Zolibato. Deb came up with a most creative facinator, and the local prawns and Debs avocado dip were sensational.
Yesterday we happily fled the marina, heading over to what I think is possibly my most favourite island on the Queensland coast, Great Keppel Island. It’s just eight nm offshore but the water is clear, the beaches pristine and it has both southerly and northerly anchorages. Sadly it is about to be redeveloped to include a golf course, many more accomodation buildings etc… We like it as it is!
This morning we walked the beach, pure fine white silica sand. We encountered fresh turtle tracks in the sand where a turtle had made her way up the beach last night to carefully dig a precise hole to deposit her eggs in. All neatly buried, her tracks led back to the beach. We wish every one of her 100-150 little babies the best of life and hope they all make their way into life safely!
The water here is crystal clear, this morning I could see the track our anchor chain had made in the sand in 5m of water. We finished the day off with more of those lovely prawns from the Rosslyn Bay Fish Market, this time served as thai coconut prawn miang with a watermelon curry salad. A perfect way to enjoy the sunset!
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.
Meet Finn, our new Helmsman! He comes to us with two plus years of sailing experience, and local knowledge! Pretty damn good considering he’s just two and a half! Still, he started his life out sailing on Port Phillip Bay in winter and would happily sail anywhere. He made short work of tidying our ropes and was an exemplary crew member!
During our enforced week at Airlie we took time to catch up with Finn’s parents, who we cruised with ten years ago. We also met their lovely new daughter, Saskia. She’s just a little young for the helm yet ( can’t walk or crawl so far) but she did seem to be pretty happy to be afloat! That’s always a good sign.
Caught up again with Paul Lobsten and his crew from Shearwater, and met some new friends, Greg and Annette on Antidote, a Seawind 1180. Most cruisers are heading south now and there’s a sense of keeping an eye out for each other as we all head south of the cyclone region.
We left yesterday to head for Shaw Island where I was determined to try out my new crab pot. Alas! Shaw’s beach is closed due to bird nesting, and with the tide against us, we detoured into Cid Harbour for the night.
The decision was made easier by the distraction of a mother and baby humpback broaching out in the middle of the passage for a good hour or so. Hard to go forward when that was to be viewed and enjoyed!
Today we were up with the Welcome Swallows, our little avian alarm clocks who love to wake us about an hour before we ever wanted to be awake! Good thing though, we left Cid at 0530 hours and caught a magic carpet ride down the Whitsunday Passage just letting the current sweep us along. We’re now anchored at Goldsmith Island and from here will make our way into Mackay Harbour tomorrow. Lots of turtles here and a peaceful anchorage for our last night in the Whitsundays. As we anchored we wondered how long it would be before we ever made our way back through here again…..
Two long days of sailing found us back at the Whitsundays. Our first day of sailing had us on the go from 0730hrs. We left Townsville behind us and rounded Cape Cleveland, aiming on an anchorage off Cape Bowling Green by early afternoon.
Typically, Cape Bowling Green was it’s usual unwelcoming self in the afternoon seabreeze, so we sallied forth to Cape Upstart another thirty or so nautical miles along. The water’s fairly shallow here, so when a sea breeze blows against a tidal push it can get a bit unpleasant. Which it did.
We arrived at Cape Upstart at 2030 hrs, anchored in the dark and fell into a deeply needed sleep.
Off the next day to Montes at Gloucester Passage and we were happy to arrive in time to pump up the dinghy and venture ashore for another great meal. There are few places on the east coast of Australia as welcoming and relaxed as Montes. The food is always good and the relaxation factor of eating right on the beach at sunset is magical! The following morning we made our passage down through the northernmost Islands of the Whitsundays. These, we feel are the unknown gems of the Whitsundays. Quietly isolated from charter yachts, they sport beautiful beaches and are set in clear turquoise water. The Mainland offers several large deep bays giving great protection from the SE trade winds.
We sailed on, heading for Airlie Beach and seeking shelter from the next week of strong South Easterly winds,arriving on Friday afternoon.
Sunday provided a weather window to escape from the marina for a day. We headed out into the oily eerie calm which we have noticed usually descends on the Whitsundays the day before a well established SE blow. We motored across the passage to Bali Hai island, also known as Black Island. It’s just off Hayman Island and opposite the Stonehaven anchorage. Even before we picked up the mooring line a school of large batfish buzzed us. The water, thanks to the recent northerly winds was flat and clear. The snorkelling was fantastic, great coral and lots of fish. A turtle circled our boat at a safe distance. We hand fed the batfish, who were mostly polite, just occasionally mistaking our fingers for food! At two pm we noted the cold air clouds high in the sky and headed back to the marina. A gift of a day in what will be a week of marina locked life! Today the forecast wind has filled in and we have kept ourselves busy with boat tasks. Our topsides are now gleaming and varnishing the navigation desk and oiling the teak is on the to do list for the rest of the week. No good weather for sailing south until Saturday at the least!
There are things which draw you to this town. It’s not just the colonial architecture, the broad coastline parks, the markets…. it’s the people.
I’d start with the local marina. We were last through here several weeks ago and yet when we contacted the marina by radio to advise that that our arrival was imminent, we were greeted by our first names, despite our correct radio transmission which only gave our yacht name and call sign. Tired and grumpy as we were on arrival we expected a friendly hand to assist us to tie up to the fuel wharf. Nobody came. Eventually the woman from the office came down to greet us cheerily as we attempted to drive/drag Fling upwind to the low pressure fuel pump.
She apologised, the person who would normally catch our lines and assist us was currently helping an injured marina resident into the shower. We felt bad for feeling so grumpy and selfish.
Our marina neighbour has a progressive, degenerative disease which prevents him from speaking. But he has all the friends and communication in the world. People constantly stop by, call out and ask if he needs anything and chat with him, allowing him to answer in his own way. Today I overheard a live-aboard cruiser asking him if he would like to drive her to the shops to get his groceries. This warmed my heart to see someone who recognises that even though one skill is lost, the others should still be recognised. Our neighbour has all his skills, except speech and it was wonderful to hear someone acknowledge that. Every night our neighbour feeds the marina fish. Never let anyone tell you that fish have a poor short term memory as these fish gather and mill around a good fifteen minutes before they are fed at exactly 1800hrs each evening!
During our five days stay here we have enjoyed the Friday Night Market on the Strand and ‘Cotters Market’ the Sunday market which fills the main street in town with fresh local produce and local art works. We have chilled out in the Tobruk Pool each afternoon, where the 1956 Olympic Team trained. We also caught up with Paul Lobsten and his crew for a dinner at the CYC on their magnificent deck.
We have repaired our anchor winch and our new halyard is reeved, so tomorrow we will be off. The northerlies look like holding until the end of the weekend so hopefully we will find ourselves in the Whitsundays by then.
We left Cairns at six in the morning, the sky eerie and still blanketed by smoke. Light and shifty winds assisted us past Cape Grafton and we rounded the corner for our southbound passage into an unexpected headwind of eight to ten knots. Not the predicted northeasterly wind we had planned for our passage to Mouriliyan Harbour.
The south-south easterly kept steady for a while and whilst our friends on Kalani attempted to encourage us to stop at Fitzroy Island to watch the AFL Grand Final we were intent on sailing south. The winds built slowly but consistently until we were abeam of High Island when they accelerated to twenty five knots with larger gusts. We abandoned Mouriliyan Harbour for High Island, a delightful little continental island with a coral and sand beach. Anchoring is deep as it is steep to and we duly anchored in 8 m of water and put all available chain out. A single Parks moorings exists but it was occupied by a trawler whose gantry’s we had keep a constant watch on given the tiny space we both had to share. When he left we gladly took the mooring, but found that the solenoid switch on the anchor winch had failed so Andrew hauled in all our chain, heavy 10mm, many metres, by hand whilst I wondered if I would shortly be a widow!
Once on the mooring we felt more secure, still getting blasts of 20-25 knots but surer of holding than we would have been in coral rubble at anchor.
Sleeping was something we were looking forward to, but not to achieve as our mooring was placed in one of those unique spots where the wind and tide create a back eddy so all night the mooring buoy sailed and danced around Fling knocking violently on her sides. Try sleeping with an apartment neighbour testing out his new battering ram and you might get an idea of how noisy our night in paradise was! We vowed to leave at dawn and duly set the alarm. The wretched iphone still thought it was in Melbourne and so woke us at 0430 hours instread of 0530 hours. No great problem really as we had been awake all night and as it turned out would be all the next night also! The wind blew as strongly as it was unpredicted by the BOM and continued all the next day. So we stayed.
Another dawn later and we slipped our mooring, careful that it hadn’t wrapped itself around our keel in it’s midnight meaderings. We were ready to continue on to Moriliyan Harbour but found that after a few hours of stronger winds the seas abated so we continued along another twenty nm to Dunk Island, arriving at 1600hrs and picking up a sadly now disued resort mooring.
We passed Instant Karma on our way into the anchorage and they came by later. We motored along the beach to view the resort that they had visited as cruising sailors for the last few years. It was frightening to see the level of destruction that cyclone Yasi had caused up close.We certainly didn’t realise the complete extent of the damage from our anchorage on our last visit when we stayed aboard Fling. Paul and Kathleen were able to point out to us where they used to walk through dense rainforest, just a few tree trunks now, sky showing clearly between them. We realised that the piles of sand near the beach had been dumped there from the reforestation project, as masses of sand had blown inshore during the cyclone.
Instant Karma headed north and we south. We settled on the Hinchinbrook Passage after some consideration of the weather and our limited anchoring prospects. Rockingham Bay proved to be her usual self with a lovely fast and bouncy ride across to the passage in rapid time. Enormous clouds threatened but happily didn’t deliver. With the wind in the East we received many catabatic bullets coming along the passage. Discussion was held as to reducing sail. When we did, a problem occured with out main halyard. Two hours and many trips up and down the companionway to check the plotter and safely navigate the tricky channels whilst trying to lower the halyard we finally achieved both dropping the main and arriving at out anchorage, exhausted.
It is spring here and the insects are out enmasse! We almost feel like we are under house arrest as we hunker down in our insect screened safety zone.We passed a fisherman today as we entered the anchorage. He was completely covered, including a face mask. Five bites by Marchflies just whilst anchoring and I can easily see his point! Total confinement tonight as we wait for tomorrows tide to get us to Orpheus Island, a pity about the new crab pot…
The exit tide for Lucinda Bar was not until very late afternoon, so we caught up on sleep and relaxed until just after lunch. At the first available chance we crossed Lucinda Bar and headed for Little Pioneer Bay at Orpheus Island. We arrived at sundown and to our dismay found all the moorings full. Anchorage is deep here and without a functioning anchor winch we moved on. At Hazard Bay we checked the depths again and after conferring with some other cruising sailors decided again to move on. The sun was almost down so we bypassed Juno Bay at Fantome Island as we couldn’t see well enough to spot the bommies. A night sail took us a further thirty plus nm to Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. We arrived just before two am and were happy to enter the wide shallow bay. Nothing could have kept us from sleeping once the anchor was set! A short sail around the Island had us in Townsville the following day.