July 31, 2009

Cape Bowling Green

Cape Bowling Green is, presumably, so named because it is as flat as. In my opinion, it's not really a cape at all, more of a long sand spit enclosing a shallow bay. We had no intention of stopping there, because it's so flat that it is little use as protection, and because a number of people had warned us that it is a pretty uncomfortable anchorage.


Nevertheless, after a nice day's sailing before 10-20 knot winds, we found ourselves coming abeam of the Cape with gusts in the mid-thirties and swell that was big enough that we were surfing down it. Clearly last night's gale was coming back to blow again, and we decided that we really didn't want to be out in it.

The wind itself wasn't too much of a problem, as even in 30 knots we were comfortably cruising at 6-8 knots under full sail, but controlling gybes while surfing is tricky enough in daylight, and we didn't fancy tiring ourselves out with it at night, especially if the developing swell was going to get any bigger.

We tucked around the end of the sand spit and anchored in 4 metres with plenty of rode and an anchor alarm (we're learning...). There was nobody else in the enormous bay apart from a couple of humpback whales who were gently cruising around in the shallows. I guess they like to get out of the swell as much as the next mammal.

The wind went straight up over 30 knots and stayed there. Although we were sheltered from the big sea swells, we were still far enough downwind from the sand spit to experience some pretty big waves as they built up across the shallows, and Pindimara began to do a passable imitation of a nodding dog. Still, it was all on the bow and pitching is nowhere near as bad as rolling. We didn't exactly sleep the sleep of the just, but by the morning the wind had died down enough to move on. The sailing conditions were just about perfect, and we had a wonderful cruise into Townsville.

July 29, 2009

Sitting out the gales

With the dawn came the promised gale. We wrote off the morning and did some advance passage planning instead. At around lunch time, a few yachts crawled into the bay and dropped anchor, much closer to shore than us. They seemed to be much more scared of the wind than of the shallows. Presumably it was a bit rough out there.

The wind died to a more reasonable 20-25 knots over lunch, but leaving then wouldn't have got us anywhere useful in daylight hours, and we were pretty convinced from our detailed poring over the GRIB files that the night was going to get gnarly. Still, we had bread to bake and schoolwork to do, and a new batch of novels that we'd picked up in Bowen, so Townsville could wait.

The afternoon died in a sky of lowering maroon clouds shot through with fiery red flashes. With sunset came the real winds. They came up over Cape Upstart and slammed down onto the boat at over 30 knots. Pindimara reeled with the punches. Like any keeler she is designed to point into wind, but the sheer force caught her on the bows and lifted her up and over, first to one side and then to the other, whipping her almost broadside on before the anchor chain hauled her back so that the wind could slam into the other side. This continued on relentlessly, time after time, two or three times a minute, for hours on end. The anchor chain stretched out, but looked as if it would hold.

The view from deck was somewhat alarming, but down below it was surprisingly calm, if you ignored the demon howl of the wind in the rigging and the frenzied hum of halyards vibrating like violin strings above.

We thought it prudent to consult the Bureau of Meteorology website, but (in common with many of our Queensland anchorages) the only internet connection that we could get involved standing on deck and balancing the laptop on either the dodger or the targa frame. With the boat thrashing from side to side and the laptop threatening to tear itself out of my hands and fly away, this was not the easiest task, especially when we started to get waves over the bow. I saw enough of the forecast to tell me that conditions would probably improve overnight, and went below.

With nearly 40 metres of chain out, we would usually expect Pindimara to swing through a wide arc and would set the anchor alarm acordiingly. In this strong wind, she was dancing on the end of her stretched-out chain and not swinging at all, so we set the anchor alarm for a much smaller radius. After a couple of trips around the deck attempting to tie down or move all the more obvious bangs and rattles, we went to bed.

The gale continued to rage, but our bodies were quite tired from endlessly rebalancing our bodies and so we fell quickly asleep.

In the middle of the night, the anchor alarm went off. I was instantly awake and ran onto deck, but then started laughing; the wind had gone, and we were still firmly anchored but drifting aimlessly around the chain. We reset the alarm radius and went back to bed.

July 28, 2009

Red Tide

The anti-swell kedge-anchor worked! We had a beautiful undisturbed nights sleep, while the other yachts in the bay were obviously rolling badly.

Strong winds were forecast for the next few days, but they looked like reliable trades and we thought that we could quickly run the hundred mile trip to Townsville in a night and a day. We set off optimistically in light morning breezes, expecting things to pick up later. The sou'easter stubbornly refused to materialise, and we spent a couple of hours drifting along marvelling at the orange bloom on the turquoise sea.



According to some news reports (thanks, Virginia) these particular blooms are caused by Trichodesium and Townsville is waiting in some trepidation for their arrival, as it seems that they wash up on the beaches and start to rot.

Eventually our speed tailed off to less than three knots, which is our usual sign to reluctantly start the motor. After this, we made good time until late afternoon, when the wind finally started to blow, and we hoisted the sails and were screaming along at 6-7 knots. Thinking idly about dinner, I unwrapped our brand new trolling line (replacing the old one that mysteriously snapped) and began to unwind it overboard to see if we could snare our second ever fish. The spoon had barely hit the water when the reel was nearly snatched out of my hand, and before very long we'd landed another mackerel.

By the time we'd filleted, cooked and eaten it (yum) the wind had died again and we were becalmed. The promised gale was clearly somewhere else entirely, and we didn't have enough fuel left to motor all the way to Townsville, so rather than bob around in the dark we dropped the anchor in four metres of water in Shark Bay, under the lee of Cape Upstart.

With seven times rode out and an anchor alarm, we settled down to some schoolwork before being distracted by some loud splashing outside. Shoals of Long Toms were leaping out of the water around the boat, and we found that we could trigger mass flights by shining the spotlight onto them.

Tired out from all this excitement, and hoping for wind on the morrow, we went to bed and drifted off to sleep.

July 26, 2009

Some New Tactics

We had a terrible night on the mooring although just for a change it was not the fault of the mooring itself, which behaved impeccably. Following last night's grounding, we kept waking up at the slightest sound or movement and running up on deck to check the surrounding anchor and navigation lights. Even in our dreams we were still listening out for the 'thump' of a grounding keel.

At dawn we gave it up as a bad job and began clearing away the debris of the rescue attempt. The decks at this point were cluttered with ropes, chains and bridles, and liberally spattered with bottom mud. The interior looked as if a bomb had hit it after the boat was purposely knocked down to free the keel.

The wind continued to blow, and we realised that we weren't going to get peace of mind until we went somewhere else where the memories weren't as fresh. Fortunately Queens Bay was only around the corner, which had the advantage of being spacious and uncrowded but the disadvantage of being renowned for its beam swell.

On anchoring with most of the afternoon still ahead of us, we worked out a few modifications to our nightly routine. Although our ship-board GPS comes with an anchor alarm which warns you if you stray too far from a pre-set position, we have only rarely used it because the only way of powering up the GPS is to turn on all the navigation systems at once, which unnecessarily uses up a lot of valuable power. I rewired our GPS onto its own circuit so that we can fire it up on its own for use as an anchor alarm. It is on now.

Secondly, we had time and space to try an idea that we have been discussing for some time. The problem with swell is that it doesn't always come from windward, so that the boat (which always tries to face into wind) takes the waves on the quarter or on the beam, which produces an uncomfortable rolling action. We reasoned that we could hold our bow into wind by putting out a kedging anchor at the stern and hauling it in until we were angled into the swell.

We've never seen this idea discussed anywhere in the literature. However, given our success with the kedging anchor during our grounding, we applied our newly honed skills and tried it out. It worked perfectly, and while we can see that all the other boats in the bay are being thrashed abominably, we are pointing directly into the swell and are only experiencing a pleasant rocking motion. Hopefully we'll be able to get a good night's sleep, our first in three days.

Dragging: A Hard Day's Night

Over 20 knots of wind and a 3 metre swell blew up from the south-east and our anchor dragged. The first we knew about it was the sound of our keel impacting the ground , not something that I ever wanted to hear again, although I was to hear it many times that night.

I tried to reset the anchor while motoring to maintain our position, but found that it was wrapped in a blue nylon and rubber sheet, presumably somebody's discarded wet weather gear which had caused our anchor to slip. We were pretty much wedged on the sand alarmingly close to shore. After running uselessly at full throttle - we weren't going anywhere - the engine overheated and had to be shut down. A quick check revealed that the seawater coolant tubes were dry. I assumed a mud blockage in the sail drive intakes. The night was pitch black. The depth sounder was reading 0m under the keel. The GPS showed that we were 600m from where we had originally anchored.

I started to kedge, which means that I carried our spare anchor out in our dinghy, with waves breaking over my head, dropped it somewhere vaguely close to where I wanted us to be, and then climbed back on the yacht to haul us along the anchor rope by hand. Then repeat. It's back-breaking work, and after moving the yacht a little over ten metres, we stuck fast and I could not move us further. I left the kedge anchor in place because it was stopping us from drifting further inshore.

I called for assistance on the emergency Channel 16, but none of the relevant authorities were listening, which was not surprising given that it was the middle of the night. Eventually I was answered by Reef Watch, a commercial organisation related to the coal industry, who passed on our message to Townsville Water Police who passed us on to Voluntary Marine Rescue Bowen. A sleepy VMR Bowen crew arrived on a small catamaran shortly after dawn and tried to tow us off, but failed because we were completely stuck.

We agreed to wait for later in the thankfully rising tide. Pindimara was bobbing, but seriously listing to one side and slamming into the ground with every wave. Tony from neighbouring yacht Loyalty arrived and coordinated the second rescue attempt, using his own dinghy attached to our masthead spinnaker halyard to drag us even further over until our gunwhales were in the water, thus releasing the keel from the mud. Alarmingly for him, his outboard kept cutting out, which meant that Pindimara would stand up and lift him and his dinghy backwards out of the water until he could get it started again. Meanwhile Matt from VMR and myself worked on the increasingly wet and sloping foredeck to kedge us out on our two anchors while the little VMR rescue boat attempted to tow us out on a line. Eventually we came unstuck, and since our engine was disabled and the local harbour was too shallow for our 2m draft I requested that we be towed to one of the many private mooring buoys in the area.

Once secure, with the assistance of Tony from Loyalty we cleared our blocked intakes and started our engine. We could engage forward gear but not reverse, so I guessed that we had a problem with our propeller and dived on it to remove several metres of chewed-up rope which was jamming our propulsion.


Finally, we seemed to be in the clear. It had been a long morning.

During the process we'd met the crew of not only one, but two nearby schooners, Tony on Loyalty, and Annie and Robyn on Joshua C .



It seemed reasonable to spend the evening celebrating.


July 24, 2009


It was very shallow squeezing between Gloucester Island and the mainland - only a metre under the keel - but we got through just before some nasty looking weather. There were some mooring buoys bobbing around close in to the shore where we intended to anchor. They said 'Eco Resort' on them but there was no phone number and the resort didn't respond to VHF, so we picked one up. As it happened, the squall passed us by, but the bay remained calm so even though it was only lunchtime, we decided to hang around until the next morning.

What a lovely calm mooring it was! The buoy was well behaved and didn't bang against the boat at all - or if it did, it was made of nice soft plastic and we probably wouldn't have noticed. Mooring makers, take note! It is possible to make your buoy out of something soft and squishy instead of something hard and sharp that rings like a bell on impact.


There was little swell and we scotched our plans of an early start and had a luxurious long lie-in instead.

It was a long slow calm trip over turquoise calm seas to Bowen, where we dropped anchor and took the dinghy in through the astonishingly shallow channel (we didn't dare try it in the yacht) to get some provisions. On the way there, we'd noticed a catamaran with 'Jailhouse Steak House, Launceston' on the side, which we'd seen at almost every marina on the way up, so on the way back to Pindimara, loaded to the gunwhales with provisions, we chugged over and said 'Hi'.

Don, who had built Cisco in Tasmania and is sailing her up to Darwin (The steak house had once sponsored him in a race), was glad to see us and we spent a lovely evening drinking wine and shooting the breeze, after which he kindly illuminated our yacht with his spotlight so that we could get home, because we couldn't see anything in the dark.

Back on board, we put on some music and tucked into some welcome fresh meat and vegetables, followed by our first gin and tonics in months. The swell blew up a bit, but it was all on the nose and so just made the yacht buck a little, and didn't disturb our sleep.


We decided to stay for another day so that we could explore Bowen itself. The town is small, pleasant and friendly, and adorned with striking murals on every spare wall. It seems that there is an annual mural festival, and new ones are continually being added, usually commemorating the history of the area.


We had a very pleasant time hunting them all down, along the way acquiring a great many bags of shopping, including torches and lamps and fishing gear and an eclectic selection of books from the local charity shop.

We also checked out the local pubs and ended up at the one that seemed to hold the most promise, the Grand View. Sure enough it didn't take too many pints before we were chatting to some prawn fishermen, and the night degenerated into a pleasant blur.

There was no wind forecast for the following day, so we pottered gently around the boat, reading our new books, having a bath in the cockpit, and generally being nice to our hangovers.

The wind got up in the afternoon, so we'll be moving on tomorrow.

July 20, 2009

Hamilton Island

Hamilton is a resort island currently owned and run by the Oatley family corporation, and there is very little room there for independent enterprise. This gives the whole place a slightly surreal and unearthly flavour, perhaps a bit like if Disney owned the Isle of Wight. The road system is tiny, but everybody drives around in golf carts, which are provided to staff and hired by the day by tourists.


Most of the restaurants and cafes are stamped with a lowest-common-denominator sameness, and it is slightly strange to keep meeting the same staff serving in each cafe.

There is no beach on the island, so they made one by bringing in sand from Whitehaven and dumping it on top of rocky drying mudbanks in Catseye Bay. The effect is a bit strange if you look closely, and is anyway somewhat marred by the large amount of floating pumice that has since washed ashore... you can't mess with geology.



On the other hand, Hamilton is a pleasant enough place and everybody seems to be reasonably happy. Even the nightclub bouncers are friendly. Payment of your somewhat outrageous marina fee allows you to use any of the resort facilities, which is just as well as the official marina shower blocks aren't really up to scratch.

We were also lucky enough to be introduced to residents Pam and Bill (thankyou, Nicky) who made us very welcome indeed and showed us some sides of island life that we would not have otherwise seen. And we drank a lot of wine with them. Oh yes.

We had only really intended to stay on the island for a couple of nights while we did some chores at the post office and laundry, cleaned the salt off the boat, and overhauled the toilet system (hopefully for the last time). However, we had such a grand night at the steak house, pub and nightclub that we overstayed the third morning, and anyway Pam and Bill had invited us over to dinner, so...

July 18, 2009

Completing the Circuit

We woke after a comfortable night under Shaw Island to find turtles browsing the reef, and a whole school of 40 cm batfish cleaning the bottom of the boat.


After breakfast it was time to close our circumnavigation of the Whitsundays Group and take Mikayla back to Hamilton Island airport.

Good things and bad things happened on our trip up through the Whitsunday Passage. There was a fair wind, but a quartering swell. We didn't get any bites on the trolling line, but we did get a spectacular aerial display from a young humpback whale and her calf. Then, as we were admiring the picturesque lighthouse on Dent Island, something enormous must have sneaked up and eaten not only our hook and spoon, but also half of the metal trace line. All we got back was a few frayed metal ends.

The forecast was for southerlies, but we were getting northerlies, so we decided to drop anchor in the protection of Refuge Bay in Nara Inlet. It was a little crowded but we found room to squeeze in and anchored in millpond conditions as the wind raged overhead.

We woke up at 4 am to give Mikayla a taste of night sailing. The southerly was finally blustering through as we raised sail under the stars, and Mikayla took us up to seven knots toward South Molle Island as the first touches of dawn tinged the sky, topping it off by baking a bread loaf that was crusty perfection itself.



You're not allowed to go ashore at South Molle because it is a private resort, but we anchored just off the cliffs for a leisurely brunch before tackling the fast tack across the somewhat wild strait to Hamilton Island. At the marina they actually had a valet waiting outside the entrance to guide us in, which I suppose is the flip side of paying nearly $100 a night for a berth.

Then... showers! Blessed unlimited streams of piping hot water! Followed by a leisurely beer as we watched the golf carts bimble up and down the waterfront, and then an enjoyable fresh fish dinner at the rather nice Mariners restaurant. Not a bad end to a great little holiday. Next week we start cruising again.

July 16, 2009

Mikayla sails us to Lindeman

Our next plan was to go back to Lindeman Island and to have another attempt at exploring it, after abandoning our previous attempt due to an uncomfortable swell.

Lindeman lay a few hours to the south. Mikayla did the whole of the day's sail, from motoring off the anchor to putting up the sails, through steering all the way to Lindeman Island, to dropping the sails and the anchor when we got there.


There really wasn't much left for us to do apart from laze around on deck.


We were running low on fresh food, so we put out the trolling line to see if we could catch our second ever fish. On the way through the fast-running Solway Channel we hooked something silver, but didn't have too long to get excited about it because it jumped off what turned out to be a blunt hook. We didn't get another bite all day, and made a note to get out the sharpening file later that night.


Because the wind had come round to the north, we headed for a lee shore on the other side of the island from our previous visit. We wandered around the beach and I hoped to connect with the national parks trail that we'd seen on the northern tip, but the plant growth was so thick that we couldn't get more than a few tens of metres inshore.

Giving up on walking, we explored in the dinghy, and found a pebble beach where we spent a happy afternoon looking at stones and coral.


Exhausted after our gruelling day, we returned to the boat, where Bronwyn knocked up a fine repast from dried and canned ingredients. No more fresh food until we get to Cairns.

The night was reasonably comfortable but the forecast gentle northerly turned into a proper storm as the promised ridge came through early. The boat got thrashed about a bit, but the swell stayed on the bow so we weren't overly unhappy.

The ridge brought with it a southerly change, so instead of continuing our exploration of Lindeman, we decided to hop over to nearby Shaw Island where there was a convenient lee shore. Before we left, though, Mikayla and I went back to the pebble beach and collected enough spheroidal rocks in different colours to make up a set of boules, along with a chunk of white coral to use as a jack.

Once ashore on Shaw, we put them to the test, and had a fine boules tournament up and down the beach.


July 13, 2009

Whitehaven Beach

We spent a gentle day circumnavigating the northern half of Whitsunday Island, finishing up at the popular Tongue Bay. A line of yachts was wedged in against the south-eastern shore, but as we approached the pack broke up and many of them left. Quite a few of these seemed to be old J-class racing yachts, apparently being run by the tourist resorts as they each had over a dozen people aboard.


Those of us that remained suffered a mild but unusual swell for the rest of the night. I went up on deck a few times to see if I could work out what was happening, but although throughout the night the wind and tide had us facing almost every point of the compass, on every point we were getting a mild broadside swell. Very odd.

After breakfast we popped around the corner to the famous Whitehaven Beach, apparently home of the finest white sand in the world.


It was a glorious day. We anchored a couple of hundred metres from the shore and then swam in. The sand was almost painfully white, and the consistency of flour. We amused ourselves by following nicely defined animal tracks in the dunes, and watching the numerous sting rays foraging for food in the shallows around our feet. I've never seen so many rays being so bold. They weren't bothered by us at all, and one big one was perfectly happy for me to wade alongside it as it swam slowly up the beach.

Apart from some clusters of resort folk over a mile away at each end, we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. After swimming back to the yacht for lunch, everything changed; power boats and jet boats roared up to the shore and discharged dozens of people with cool boxes, and a helicopter flew in to deposit another load. Tenders came in from two super-yachts out in the bay, one of them an astonishing mirror-finished ketch which must have been a hundred feet long. It was time to leave.


There was no wind at all, but the forecast was for a northerly change, so we motored over to nearby Hasleton Island and anchored up against the reef in Whites Bay. There was nobody else there, which made a nice change, although a small liveaboard showed up later. The skipper commented in passing that he'd been hoping for some peace and quiet, and then anchored so far away from us that we could barely see him in the gathering dusk.

Standing in the dark with the moon still below the horizon, we noticed intermittent flashes of light in the water. This wasn't the usual phosphorescence of tropical plankton but something different. We spent a happy half hour or so hanging over the rail with a spotlight trying to work out which of the myriad creatures was making the light. We narrowed it down to either the millimetre swarms of zooplankton, or the yellowish thumbnail-sized fish that were feeding on them while simultaneously either laying eggs or defecating, or the finger-sized silver-blue fish that were coming up from below to feed on everything else.

Satisfied that we had in fact no idea what was going on, we settled down to a quiet evening of baking, eating, and cribbage.

July 11, 2009

Whitsunday Island - Cid Harbour

Having picked up Mikayla from the airport, there was no real point in staying amongst the resort high rises of Hamilton Island. We were all tired of being tossed about on the mooring in the continuing gale, so we headed north to see if we could find a quieter spot in Cid Harbour on Whitsunday Island.


The availability of anchorages in the Whitsundays is to some extent ruled by the presence of bare boat flotillas. Cid Harbour is famous for its calm anchorage, but is also very close to the charter base at Hamilton Island. We had assumed that, since it was Friday and most charters begin and end on a Saturday, Cid Harbour would be packed with holidaymakers enjoying a final night. There were about twenty boats there when we arrived, but there was still room for us to squeeze into Sawmill Bay where we had beautiful flat calm and an undisturbed night's sleep. Thanks go to John and Nancy for suggesting it.

Following on from our discovery of Alan Lucas' misnaming and misrepresenting a bay a few days ago, we began to suspect that he hadn't actually been to Cid Harbour either. Although it is indeed a fine anchorage, Lucas talks about showers and barbecues, and there is certainly nothing of the sort there, and no sign that there ever has been.

Turtles and dolphins swam all around the bay, and there were four coral beaches to explore.


We also found a short bush trail leading from the main beach to nearby Dugong Inlet, and half way along this we noticed a minor tributary trail heading straight up the hillside. A passerby told us that this led, after one and a half hours, to the top of Whitsunday Peak (434m) from whence, he said, there were marvellous views of the the island.

Naturally I was champing at the bit to climb it. The girls were more inclined to sit on the beach, so they went for a swim at Dugong while I set off. It was quite a climb, and obviously didn't see much traffic, but the trail was reasonably obvious and the vaguer parts had been unobtrusively marked with surveyor's tape.

After an hour of hard climbing, I came across a scattering of dome tents in amongst the trees. A little later the trail improved markedly to a neat path, and I began to hear the sounds of voices and tools. Half a dozen park rangers were working on the trail, painstakingly chopping out roots, marking its edges with a border of stones, and where necessary fitting steps by half-burying large boulders and packing them with dirt. They were glad to stop for a chat, and told me that they had been there for about forty days, and were expecting to finish in another month or so. When they were finished with this particular trail, they would set up camp on another part of the island and start work on another one. They had been living and working in the Whitsundays for at least a year. It struck me that this would be my perfect job.


The views from Whitsunday Peak were spectacular. I could see our anchorage in Cid Harbour on one side, and across to Hamilton Island on the other. A vast expanse of islands and coral seas stretched to and merged with the horizon. It really is a lovely piece of paradise.


Back down at the beach, Bronwyn and Mikayla had had an enjoyable if slightly cool swim, and had attracted the attention of a hungry crow and a pair of young goannas, not to mention some members of the tourist subspecies of homo sapiens. One particular group arrived after the arduous 1100 metre trek from Cid Harbour and rang their yacht to send a tender round to pick them up. They assumed that Mikayla and Bronwyn were resting before the laborious trek home!


By the time that I had clambered back down to sea level, we had the beach to ourselves and were all glad of the chance of a good wash in the clear waters.


Suitably refreshed, we headed back to the boat and fired up the barbecue for a nice veal roast before sleeping for a full eleven hours.

July 10, 2009

A Tirade Against Mooring Buoys

There are two ways to construct a mooring buoy.

One is to attach a rope to a heavy weight on the bottom. At the free end of the rope, you attach a small plastic floating ball. In order to moor, you pick up the floating ball and bring it aboard, tying it to something. Your boat is then attached to the heavy weight on the bottom of the sea.

The other method is to attach a large floating buoy to the end of the rope, and then to attach a second rope to the top of the buoy. In order to moor, you pick up the end of the top rope and bring it aboard, but the buoy stays in the water.

The first method is simple, effective, has few parts and is trouble-free.
The second method is more complicated to build, and if there is any tidal flow at all, then the big buoy will spend at least a third of any 24 hour period banging against the hull. Naturally, almost every public mooring is of this second type.

I spent a lot of the night at Hamilton Island fending off the buoy and creating ever more ingenious cradles of fenders and ropes as it repeatedly smashed into our soft fibreglass hull with thunderous booms. Every now and then the whole buoy vanished beneath the surface and scraped its way laboriously along the bottom of the hull before popping up on the other side and starting to bang there. Stupid thing. It is quite possible to hate an inanimate object.


July 9, 2009

Lindeman and Hamilton Islands

We had a pleasant enough sail to Lindeman Island, and then some amusement trying to find an anchorage that would protect us from the SE wind and the persistent SW swell. Lucas' cruising guide was a bit vague, with some clear inaccuracies on his chart, but we decided to try his recommended anchorage of Boat Point anyway.

Once there, we took the dinghy to shore and found a delightful little beach, very muddy but full of life - hermit crabs and snails underfoot, cockatoos and lorikeets above, scattered with attractive mangroves.



A National Parks trail clearly led around the island, and although we didn't have time right then - the tide was coming in and the dinghy was quite far out on the mud flats - we thought that it would be great to come back here later in the week.



The anchor set well and the land gave us protection from the wind, but the SW swell continued to roll in and throw us around. It wasn't very pleasant. We took to sleeping crosswise across the cabin, which was much more comfortable but not ideal as there is only just enough width.

Early next morning we motored round to the other side of the island to try to get out of the swell. We found a suitable bay to eat breakfast - toasted bagels and cream cheese, fresh avocados - but the sea was still disturbed even though not overtly swelly. Some of this was likely attributable to the 20+ knot winds.

Now a fast run to Hamilton Island Airport to pick up Mikayla, with whom we will spend a week circumnavigating the Whitsundays. Conditions were a bit gnarly, with washing-machine swells and 30 knot gusts, but it meant that we got there pretty quickly and picked up the biggest mooring rope from the biggest mooring buoy I have ever seen. The rope was so big that it wouldn't fit around our deck cleat, so I had to quickly make an extension for it.

It was a bit of a wild ride across to the airport because the moorings are on the opposite side of the channel, up against neighbouring Dent Island, and the wind was still blowing nicely.

Wandering around waiting for the plane, I was bemused by all the holidaymakers decanting from nose-to-tail flights and piling into golf carts. There were golf carts everywhere! When Mikayla had arrived and we were walking back to the marina where I had tied up the dinghy, we were passed by streams of them on their way to their hotels. We got some strange looks; it's the Club Med set, and they obviously don't get many pedestrians in Hamilton.

The water in the channel to Dent Island was still running pretty fast on the way back and we got a bit of spray into the dinghy, but the scariest thing was watching Pindimara bucking around and flinging from side to side in some huge surf. Now we could see why they'd over-engineered the mooring buoy. Poor Bronwyn was inside trying to cook lunch.

On the way over, we'd noticed that one of the smaller free public buoys had become available, and that the water was much calmer mid-channel, so we let go our marina buoy and motored over to the other one, not only making everything so much calmer, but also saving ourselves an overnight fee.

July 7, 2009

Goldsmith Island

We bade a leisurely goodbye to Mackay Outer Harbour, and ran gently up the coast before a light breeze. It was a beautiful day and a relaxing cruise in a turquoise millpond sea.

At one point we saw a big old turtle, drifting backwards in the current, his shell completely invisible under a waving portable reef. Bronwyn saw another snake. An enormous eagle flew out from a wooded island to see if we were edible. And those were the day's excitements. Very serene.


We had planned a route that would take us through three island groups, all with suitable anchorages. We just kept going to see how far the wind would take us, with Harriet steering and the human crew lounging around on deck reading books.

We got as far as the Sir James Smith Group, where the cartography is delightful. Rather than the usual dull names that litter Australian charts (Black Rock, Flat Island), some unsung hero had waxed lyrical on the theme of "Smith". Thus Goldsmith Island is flanked by the Ingot Islets, Specie Shoal, and Bullion Reef. Similarly, Blacksmith Island is accompanied by Hammer, Bellows, Forge, Pincer and Anvil Islands. Off to the south of Tinsmith Island is an islet with the name of Solder. And so on. Very cute.


There were only two other yachts in the main anchorage at Goldsmith Island, but there was a lot of reef lurking beneath the surface and it was hard to see if there was enough swinging room. In any case we couldn't get our anchor to bite, so we moved around to the north west and got it down in the next cove up. We'd had sou'westers all day, and it was now blowing from the north east, but since the two arms of the cove had both of these directions covered, we thought that we'd be fine.


It was quite comfortable until the middle of the night when we mysteriously got a developed swell coming in from the north west, broadside on and very uncomfortable. Shortly after dawn it got noticeably worse and the wind start to howl in the rigging, so not even stopping for coffee we quickly upped anchor and went back to the shelter of the first anchorage, where the anchor bit first time. While we were manoeuvring about, the depth sounder showed some very deep holes in the sea bed, which may have accounted for our problems on the previous night.

As we poured the coffee, a sou'easter blew up at close to 20 knots and dark storm clouds rolled in overhead. There was no internet reception, but I plugged in the satphone and got a forecast for 20-30 knots and rough seas. We changed our mind about exploring the island by dinghy and made breakfast instead.

July 6, 2009

Mackay Outer Harbour Marina

We popped in to Mackay on the mainland to provision for our upcoming sojourn in the Whitsunday Group. The harbour is completely artificial and there isn't anywhere to anchor, so we reluctantly rented a berth at the marina.

It has to be said that the marina is excellent. It is not unreasonably priced, and is clean and secure. It is handy for a selection of waterside restaurants and a pub, and there is a bus service that takes you into town for shopping.

After a welcome shower to rinse the thick layer of salt out of our dreadlocks, we checked out the restaurants. After some weeks of cruising, most of out fresh supplies had run out and we urgently felt the need for fresh food. There were a number of restaurants in different styles from cafe to pub steak to haute cuisine, but since all the prices were the same - $30 a main - we plumped for the best, the very highly recommended Latitude 21 restaurant underneath the Clarion Hotel. The food was excellent, the service was superb, the ambience was just what we needed to ease us back into civilisation.

We had lost track of the days, and anyway had forgotten that there are things like Sundays when the shops aren't open, so the next morning we found ourselves with a day to kill. We spent most of it catching up on paperwork and then headed off to the Sails pub, where we had a very good time, met a number of interesting people, drank far too much and ate far too little.

Shopping in Mackay was a bit of a shock. It was the school holidays, and the mall was packed. Who'd have thought that there were so many people in the world? Still, nursing our hangovers over fruit juice and coffee, it gave us a chance to see what the burghers of Mackay are like, and the word that sprang to mind was: prosperous. It's a good looking and manicured town full of good looking and manicured people. From the bus we also notice that there were a lot of infrastructure projects in full flow, so business seems to be booming. Certainly there were a great many bulk carriers outside the port waiting to get in.


The supermarket was a real eye-opener. After the rather sad and wilted selection of fruit and vegetables at the Woolworths in Gladstone, the Mackay branch of the same store presented us with a stunning array of beautiful fresh produce. It was hard to stop ourselves from filling our trolley with more than we have room for.

We're now provisioned up, watered up, and stuffed to the gunwales with fresh meat, fruit and vegetables. We've had a brief fix of night life, and even managed to hose some of the salt off the decks. Tomorrow morning we'll refuel, and then it's back out to sea.

July 3, 2009

A Fishy Tale

We were anchored in Whites Bay, Middle Island of the Percy Isles, hiding from a surprisingly strong nor'wester. The forecast was for another change, this time from the south, blowing a healthy 15 knots directly into Whites Bay some time between 22:00 and 04:00. The dual attraction of a decent sailing wind and getting out of the bay before the swell started, saw us going to bed early with the intention of leaving as soon as the southerly change came through.

The change woke me at 03:30, and seemed to contain rather more wind than forecast, up to 20 knots inside the protection of the bay. Still, the developing swell was rapidly making it too choppy to sleep so we decided to stick to the plan. After a quick breakfast on deck to acclimatise our eyes to the darkness, we motored out of the pack of sleeping yachts and into the Percy Islands tidal race which was, for once, running with us rather than against us.

The southerly wind was working against the incoming tide to build some pretty big waves, and we had a bouncy time getting out of the group. Once out into the open sea, the wind ramped up to over 30 knots, officially gale force. With triple-reefed main and our cruising jib, we soon found ourselves creaming along at over 9 knots. The log records a maximum speed of 9.54, the fastest that we have ever gone.


Since we were moving in a straight line, we thought that we may as well throw the trolling line over the stern. This line has a long history. Several months ago, Bronwyn decided that she wanted to learn how to catch a fish while cruising, and we made a deal that if she can get one on board, then I'll kill, clean and fillet it. Since then she has been chatting up fishermen and pestering tackle shop owners in an effort to find out the easiest way of catching our supper. It was surprisingly difficult to get a straight answer. Most of them said "Ah, you just throw a line over the back and you'll catch something. No worries", but when you actually tried to pin them down for some specific advice, such as "What line? Which lure? How deep?" they would often as not change the subject or offer wildly divergent advice.

My theory is that since it is quintessentially Australian to be born with a fishing rod in one hand and a barbecue spatula in the other, it is not manly to admit that you've never done one or the other. Certainly when I announce that I have never fished in my life, I attract pitying stares and an embarrassed shuffling of seats. Much better for a woman to do the asking.

Bronwyn did eventually manage to find a couple of guys who seemed to know what they were talking about, and by May had put together a dream kit of all the tools necessary to catch, land, and process a small tuna. Since then we've tossed the gear over the back whenever we thought about it, but never got a sniff of interest.

Back to the story. There we were, screaming along in excess of seven knots in gale force winds, alternately burying first the gunwales and then the bow into mountainous swell. Naturally this was the moment that I glanced back into our foaming wake and saw a large fish tail-walking at the end of our line.

We had repeatedly memorised all the necessary steps for landing our first fish. After making sure that the hook is firmly set, we were supposed to stop the boat. Yeah, right. The obvious solution was to heave-to, but in these conditions this simply meant that we were making six knots backwards instead of nine knots forwards. Still, the important thing was that while hove-to we could forget about steering for a while and concentrate on the fish.

With four pairs of hands we managed to land a rather spectacular Spanish Mackerel, some two thirds of a metre long and weighing about seven kilos. We were quite impressed!


Now we had to quickly regain control of the boat before we ended up back in the Percy Isles; in the excitement we had gone backwards for over four miles. Back on our beam reach, we shared our bucking and heavily slanted cockpit with a washing bowl full of salt water and a very large and slippery dead mackerel. By the time we reached the Guardfish Cluster, our feet were soaking wet and there was a lingering fishy smell, but our mackerel was intact and, thanks to a swaddling tea-towel, relatively cool.

As we approached the first turn inside the Cluster proper, I again glanced out of the stern and spotted a young humpback whale practising a series of launches out of our wake. Beautiful.

Once we were safely anchored between the drying shoal and the rocky reef, I hauled out our shiny new filleting knife and reduced the mackerel to four enormous fillets.


Three went in the fridge, and the fourth we had for lunch, gently heated it in a little olive oil. It was sweet, succulent, and absolutely delicious.


July 2, 2009

Middle Percy Island

We had intended to move on from South Percy Island the next day, but the forecast was for a light nor'wester and our route was to the north west. Tacking for hours into a light wind held no attraction, and we didn't really have enough fuel to spare to motor it, so we decided to stay another night at South Percy. With only light winds for the previous few days, I had become a bit complacent about the weather. Although I knew that the nor'wester would blow right into our little bay, I just assumed that it would maintain the same negligible wind speed that we had become used to, and in this assumption I was supported by the GRIB file that I had downloaded (via satphone: no internet out here) that showed a predicted wind strength of a barely perceptible 3 knots.

As the evening wore on, the nor'wester began to blow a good 10-15 knots and brought with it an uncomfortable swell. By the middle of the night we were being thrashed around as Pindimara bucked like a bronco, being held side-on by the tide to an ever-fiercer north westerly swell.

We decided to wait til dawn and then run for cover in Whites Bay, a SE-facing shelter under nearby Middle Island. In fact I was up well before dawn, washing up and generally tidying away, so that by the time it was light enough to see, we were ready to go. The sideways swell was getting really rough, and it wasn't possible to stand upright without hanging on.

Whites Bay was only a few miles to the north, and we could see that there was a single yacht already at anchor there. When we were about half way across, a whole stream of yachts appeared around the south western corner of the island, all heading in our direction. We guessed that they had been caught out by the wind change while anchored on the western side of the island, which is the usual tourist destination because of the world famous "A-Frame" cruisers' meeting place on the shore. This was later confirmed by Jace on Eveready who said that there had been a bit of a sundowner at the A-Frame the previous night, and by the time they'd all got back to their boats, the wind had already changed and nobody felt up to moving on.


Once we had all anchored, Bronwyn and I went over to the shore for a walk. There was a dune which I inevitably climbed, and which proved to be very interesting only a few metres from the top where the steep surface had been hardened to the consistency of concrete before being lightly sprinkled with fresh sand. Very slippery.


We didn't explore very far into the island, though, because we intended to go to bed early and leave in the middle of the night.

July 1, 2009

An island of our own

There were two other yachts close in to North West Bay on South Percy Island, but we anchored farther out in our usual 10 metres, which put us a good half a kilometre off but still out of the tidal race that runs between South Percy and nearby Middle Island to the north. After a meal and a rest, we chucked the tender over the side to go take a look at the beach. We considered rowing, but were aware of the three knot tidal rip and invisible reefs, so we clamped on the outboard instead.

We spent a pleasant afternoon pottering about on the beach, after which Bronwyn sat down and sunned herself while I clambered about on the rocks and erosion gullies behind the tide line.




Over breakfast next morning, we noticed the other two boats sailing out of the bay. It was only when Bronwyn said "Great! Now we have the island to ourselves!" that I realised that this was what I had been waiting for. Great Keppel had been nice, and I had been expecting to make use of the extensive hiking trails around it, but when it came down to it I'd been happy that we had gone snorkelling instead. Now we had the whole of South Percy Island to ourselves, and I had seen on my brief expedition the day before that there were no trails or paths at all. Perfect for exploring!

We packed some vittals and took the tender over to the headland. We landed on a different beach which showed a few footprints and signs of human passage. Behind it was a pebbled gully full of flotsam, mainly timber and empty coconuts that must have floated in from Polynesian or Indonesian vessels, although there was an interesting pile of pumice on the high tide line.

Above the gully, though, the green hills beckoned. I started the long climb to the top, and found it hard going. The tufty grass was ankle deep and crunchy, hiding rocky voids and small clumps of prickly pear cactus. This was excellent news, as it seemed to me pretty unlikely that most people would persevere, and I could continue my daydream of exploring a deserted tropical island.



As is the way with these things, the top revealed another higher peak beyond, and then a third one. From there, though, I had a great view of the surrounding ocean and islands, and of the bay far below where Pindimara sat patiently at anchor.


There were no trails or any other signs of human activity. I jumped up and down and waved to the little dot of Bronwyn far below, who years ago decided that I am a loony and best left alone in the presence of climbable peaks.

Later that day we decided to explore North West Beach, which looks like a great anchorage on the chart but which is described as having a difficult-to-see reef line. We went at low tide, in the tender. The tides here are four metres, and so at that time of day we could clearly see parts of the reef that you would normally only see when snorkelling or scuba diving. It was a curious feeling to be first motoring, then rowing, and finally walking along towing the dinghy through gardens of soft coral scattered with small fish and giant clams. I had to be very careful not to put my foot on anything that might get damaged, but it was an amazing experience.



As the tide comes in over a reef, fish that have been hiding in rock pools or beneath the sand emerge and head out into deep water. We saw a few schools of fish milling around in the shallows waiting for their opportunity, and then suddenly realised that we were wading through the school of sharks that were waiting for them. We're still not sure what species they were, but they were a metre long, brown with orange black-tipped dorsal fins, and very wide. They obviously detected that we were much bigger than them because they stayed at least five metres away, but it was still a weird experience to be paddling through a school of big and clearly very hungry sharks.