We commenced our assault on the Whitsundays at a more sedate pace, a lovely sail for most of the way from Mackay to Shaw Island, where we met a friendly local, a solitary bat fish that is rather curious, obviously other boaties must feed him, but given we had none of his proper diet on board of crustaceans, we just admired him.
We spent two nights at the anchorage at Shaw Island, we attempted to go ashore and have a swim, but with the tide out the ankle deep water went out quite a way.
The beach was uncomfortable as there was no breeze in there to cool the scorching sun, so we went back to the boat and read books, took a nap, and then moved onto the usual sun downers of cheese and biscuits or guacamole and corn chips.
We then moved onto Cid Harbour, a familiar but favourite spot, it is a good all weather anchorage and because of that becomes more like a floating caravan park every evening, which ruins it a little, but none the less it has gorgeous aqua blue water and lovely sunsets across the Whitsunday passage.
Shopping used to be a 15 minute exercise on the way home from work, now it takes a full day, buses and the organisation of a small military operation!
While it was a little difficult to leave Middle Percy Island after such a lovely couple of days, life must go on and so we did, a short passage this time, only 25 nautical miles to Digby Island… how our perspective has changed! 6 months ago Pittwater to the Harbour (18 nautical miles) seemed a very long way!!
Digby Island is a rather small island with a little fringing reef. We anchored quite well, I thought, however after Craig dived on the anchor we discovered the anchor chain across a couple of low profile rocks/ bombies, adding a little anchor anxiety, which then proceeded to scrape (the chain across the rocks) all night. However the noise was minimal from the aft cabin and the anchor came up well the next morning. Phew!
Digby is a pretty little island with a nice beach that is sand at one end and rocky at the other. We went ashore, played in the sand and attempted a walk up the hill to seek a couple of bars of phone reception to let family know that we were in fact alive and well, having been out of phone reception for most of the week.
We saw some curious turtles, who would often pop their heads up and check us out as they came up for breath, but getting a photo of them, near impossible!
The next morning we then headed for Mackay, the trip was fairly uneventful, dodging the ships past Hay Point as we came through the shipping channels. We have stayed at Mackay Marina for a few days to regroup, reprovision, repair the bilge pump with the new part that we had delivered to Mackay and refuel.
We are now anchored in West Bay, Middle Percy Island. This place fulfils most peoples picture of a deserted tropical island. Palm trees, a beautiful sandy beach, inviting blue water, coconuts.
It is a famous Aussie ‘yachtie’ spot, maybe notorious because despite it’s immense beauty other than too yachtie’s it doesn’t exist. You won’t find it in any Tourism Queensland brochure, there is no day spa, and there are no tourist boats. There is however the ‘Percy Hilton’. An A frame hut with amenities like running water, shade and bits and pieces to help the visitior enjoy paradise, it is also where you can leave a memento or plaque with your boat’s name.
After anchoring we wandered ashore and chatted with some of the other yachties before searching for friend’s plaques around the A frame(ours is not yet finished we will leave it here when we head south).
On the way to Middle Percy we caught a Spotted Mackerel, so dinner back aboard was a spicy Thai-inspired take on barbecued fish with coconut rice and salad.
All the other boats in the bay had left by the time we finished breakfast the next day, and so we had the place to ourselves. We sat on the beach and read and swam, drunk fresh coconut juice and argued about what day of the week it actually was. Sophie built some sandcastles with me, played contently and slept.
It is at times like this that it is hard to actually remember our lives before we left, the pace of what we used to do and all the frustrations. Our daily priorities and routine at the moment are so different.
We left Great Keppel Island Yesterday and after a fast but uncomfortable passage are now in Pearl Bay in the Shoalwater Bay defence training area. This whole area is closed alot of the year for military training exercises and is what one would call remote.
No mobile reception at all, and no track or road let alone a settlement within 100km in any direction. The bay however is breathtaking with a beautiful hard sandy beach you can walk along on knowing yours are the only set of footprints there. A Dugong swam past the boat today and we have seen quite a few turtles.
We left Pancake Creek early o’clock initially bound for Great Keppel Island, but unsure of the weather over the next few days, we decided to head into Keppel Bay Marina on the mainland instead. A pleasant but notoriously shallow and muddy marina, we used the opportunity to do spot of shopping and caught up other RPAYC boats Silk Road, Southern Cross, Cariad and Red Undies and swapped stories about the rough passages and rotten weather we all had!
Eager to not spend anymore time in marinas we headed out to Great Keppel as soon as we could as we were now in the tropics and it was time to start to enjoying it!
Great Keppel is different to most of the other Queensland islands in that it lacks fringing reef. So while the snorkeling isn’t great it, makes for sandy, beautiful and immensely swimmable beaches.
Discovering that we had a problem with our manual bilge pump, we however spent a beautiful sunny day, anchored off a tropical island with our heads stuck in our engine bay repairing said pump (a circumnavigator we once spoke to, told me that cruising was simply the art of doing boat maintenance in exotic locations).
The next day however with the repairs a success, we explored, walked and swam, and enjoyed the balmy weather.
Heading over to the other side of the island we ended up having a long lunch at the island cafe with Red Undies. The burgers took an hour to come, and Ken waited an hour and a half for a Frappe…..but none of us seemed too worried. Can you imagine if that happened it Sydney?? The outrage! However this was GKI, we were sat 5 metres off a sandy beach under a palm tree and we all had nowhere to be and nothing much else to do…..the owner came out casually and chatted to us for a while, the deep fryer was busted again….she would eventually try and get a tradesman out to the island…. meanwhile she would have to use a pot on the stove.
After that lovely rainbow off Kingfisher Bay Resort (could not find that elusive pot of gold that some speak of) we headed across Hervey Bay to Bundaberg.
Considering it is suppose to be the place to see whales we thought we might see some, but no. The wind was up a little and the swell not very kind, but it was an overcast day and the sailing happened without incident. We arrived to the warm welcome of some RPAYC members who were there already, waiting to take our lines. We spent 2 nights at Port Bundaberg to refuel and reprovision.
We set off to Pancake Creek yesterday, the wind was reasonable, but the swell and seas making for a very lumpy passage and a little queasiness, but at least nothing compared to the chuckiness that occurred between Coffs Harbour and Southport. The weather however was not enjoyable, the rain poured down on us regularly and the wind was astern (coming from right behind us) the whole trip making it hard to get a nice sail trim. All this made it, as one of my crazy sailing instructors once said, a sport for babies: big smiles and wet bums, although I’m not sure that there was too much smiling going on, especially from the anchoring committee (yours truly) who after a few nervous moments when we nudged yet another sand bar and was then anchoring in the torrential rain.
We are at Pancake Creek for the day today. We went across to the drying sand bar this morning and met some of the local wildlife and hope to build sandcastles this afternoon.
We have well and truly caught up with two friends and we will all set off for the Keppel Islands tomorrow.
So since you last heard from us we have sailed from Southport to Mooloolaba over night on Sunday night, which was a nice bit of sailing to start with but then as we have been accustomed to, the wind died in the middle of the night and we had to turn on the engine again. We arrived at Mooloolaba mid morning to find a dredge stuck in the channel and a few boats waiting to get through, so after a bit of a wait and a few nervous moments as we picked our way through the channel, hoping for enough depth under the keel we made it into the Harbour. We do love the advice provided by Queensland Maritime on approaching the channel: “Mariners are advised to take caution, always ensure that you have adequate water under you boat.” Well, ummmm der.
We spent a couple of nights in the marina to do the usual re-provision, laundry, refuel and enjoy a nice long hot shower, as well as tasting the fresh fish from the Fish Co-op. Our only hiccup was that Sophie doesn’t like wearing a hat and showed her distaste by throwing her hat over board in blustery conditions well out of reach, which then dutifully sunk to the bottom off B arm in the marina, so we also went hat shopping, this time for a hat with a string.
We set off from Mooloolaba on Wednesday night for Wide Bay Bar, as this notorious bar is best crossed in the early morning on a rising tide. We had only 50 nautical miles to cover and had a lovely sail up the coast for the majority of the night, which was much more pleasant without the noise and smell of the diesel engine. We arrived at Double Island point in time to anchor for a spot of breakfast and to regain our composure for the bar crossing; which in the end we managed with out too much hassle, as the conditions were right and we followed the directions of how to cross from Coast Guard Tin Can Bay to a tee.
We anchored for the night at Garry’s Anchorage, which is on the west side of Fraser Island near Lake Garry. It was a very quite still anchorage and a pleasant night sleep was had by all.
Friday morning we set off for the next treacherous part to our journey, crossing Sheridan Flats. There is a good reason that it is called ‘Flats’ as it is very shallow, thankfully our boat has a 1.7m draught and there was a 3m high tide, as there were places there where there was only tide height below us. It is also very disconcerting seeing water all around that looks deep enough and knowing from the charts that there is only a very small margin for error in the narrow channels through. But we made it through without any dramas and anchored off Kingfisher Bay Resort for the evening.
After an unplanned but pleasant week in Coffs Harbour the weather improved enough for us to leave on Thursday morning, so we promptly left close behind another yacht Escape Pod with Peter and Nicole onboard.
We leapfrogged with them all night but it did provide some comfort knowing that we weren’t the only ones out there dodging trawlers and tankers!
We saw a sea turtle, cruising the EAC; another whale and quite a few dolphins. For the twitchers amongst you we have also seen sea gulls (boring!), a few albatross or maybe they were shearwaters (not sure as Jo is still twitcher in training) and possibly an Australasian Gannet or two… hmmm, next time we will have to have the bird book closer at hand.
After arriving in Southport we anchored in what is just known as “Bum’s Bay” (due to all the ‘Bums’ that use to anchor there permanently; until they put a time limit on length of stay) behind the Seaworld Resort, exhausted but keen to get off the boat for a night we prettied ourselves up as best we could and went out to a lovely dinner at the casino with Jo’s Uncle Ray and Aunty Diane.
We did try today to make our way up the Broadwater thinking we might take the inside route to Mooloolaba but after hearing a yacht call Marine Rescue yesterday to report that they had become stuck hard in shallow water mid channel near Jacobs Well, we ourselves only got as far as Jacobs Well before also touching bottom. Fearing this might be the case we had approached very slowly and were able to reverse off. We tried again 4 or 5 times to find enough water but despite being sure we were in the channel we kept hitting even though there is supposed to be at least a 2m of water and we only draw 1.65. With a low tide expected in an hour we made the decision to turn around and head back to Bum’s Bay.
Tomorrow we will leave for Mooloolaba via the big blue to try and make up some lost time.
We left Sydney early last friday morning in the dark for Port Stephens in fairly lively conditions. After a couple of hours of being thrown about like a washing machine and after the third of fourth wave to completely drown the cockpit and its inhabitants, we promptly turned around and went back into Broken Bay and spent the night in the Basin. Our Journey north had begun, we had only made it three miles but slow and steady wins the race!
The next morning, refreshed and more prepared with calmer seas we again set off for Port Stephens getting into Nelson Bay about 3pm. With a day off the next day to refuel and have a wander around Nelson Bay, we then left for Coffs Harbour Monday morning. Sophie seemed to quite enjoy her first overnight passage, plenty of dolphins and a whale kept us company, as we fought with the EAC dude( Finding Nemo reference for those not into Disney films)! It is at it’s strongest at this point on the coast, and despite the Boat flying along at a 7.5 knots we were only making 4 knots speed over the ground.
We have safely arrived in Coffs Harbour, but look to be be stuck here until probably Thursday with big seas and strong winds for the next few days. We were going to head for the small town of Yamba next, but with the delay here and time getting away from us we will probably do another overnighter into Southport on the Gold Coast.