Friday, 19 November 2004

"Happenings" Number 12 - 2004

‘Envy’ Discovers More Missing Links

Following ‘Envy’s’ cruise through the South Pacific during the past two seasons, we cleared Customs and departed for New Caledonia and Vanuatu last August after long and protracted delays, but an Alternator malfunction forced our return before we’d hardly started. By the time the problem was remedied, it was imprudently late to head off into northern latitudes across the Coral Sea, so we opted for plan ‘B’ instead, a return cruise to the Whitsundays.

Though we’d cruised the Coral Coast several times before, there were still numerous places un-visited, so we decided that our 2004 route would take ‘Envy’ to places new to us, to discover some of our ‘missing links’ along the central Queensland coast, and the new anchorages they offered.

Our previous pattern had us bolting up the coast from Moreton Bay around the outside of Fraser Island, non-stop to Lady Musgrave Island, then on to the Capricorn Coast with barely enough time to stop and smell the roses along the way.

Mid September was a late start as we sailed to Mooloolaba for an overnighter in ‘the pond’ and off again next morning beating into a 15kt N/E as a whale put on a diving display for us off Coolum Beach. But the breeze died during the night to very light E/NE, as it continued for most of the next two weeks, with ‘Envy’ motor sailing most of the time.

Arriving in Lady Musgrave lagoon, we were disappointed to see a newly placed line of zoning buoys prohibiting anchoring within 1km from the island, supposedly to prevent boats lights from spooking the hundreds of turtles that seasonally lay in the dunes. There is talk the zone may be relocated to 500 metres from shore. Being the breeding season, there was much turtle activity all through the Bunker Group.

Following eight good days at Musgrave we moved on to Fitzroy Reef, a few hours’ sail further up the Bunkers, and another ‘first visit’. We almost don’t want to talk about it for fear of spreading the word, for it is indeed a very attractive lagoon with fewer visitors, good anchorages, excellent coral and fish, and we enjoyed continuing perfect light weather for our 3 days there.

With only 2/3kts of E/NE breeze ‘Envy’ motor-sailed on to Heron Island, another ‘missing link’ where we anchored in 15 mtr beside the island resort. Being within a totally protected ‘no fish’ zone, we marvelled at the size and quantity of marine life in the small man made boat harbour, counting numerous large fish and 29 Stingrays, all quite undisturbed by our dinghy’s presence. Heron Island is a most attractive coral cay with a Marine Parks Office and UQ Research facility in addition to the Resort. The M/Parks living coral and reef fish displays are well worth a visit.

Then we headed for North West Island, another ‘first’, a very popular fishing and camping destination four hours north of Heron. We again anchored in light airs adjacent to the reef on the SW corner, went ashore to reef walk at low tide, and were rewarded with some of the best coral varieties around, with numerous live baby Clam Shells so amazingly beautiful with their bright colour combinations of orange, brown, green, purple, blue, turquoise, yellow and white.

The next day we arrived at Great Keppel Island early after noon, having sadly lost two strikes on our trolling line, so we changed the lure in the hope of future success. The continuing E/N/E breeze made Monkey Bay an ideal anchorage for a couple of days before a N/W change sent us around the corner to Long Beach where we spent time happily reminiscing with cruising friends from our 2001 Louisiades trip. We went ashore and walked the airfield track to the resort for the usual newspapers, bread, emails and ice creams, enjoying a pleasant 4-day stay.

After constant light northerly sector headwinds and much motor-sailing since the start of our trip nearly three weeks before, at last a S/E change was forecast. We departed Long Beach GKI in early morning pre-dawn darkness and had a marvellous day’s run sailing wing to wing, doing 6’s & 7’s in the 15/20kt S/E breeze, along this most picturesque, island dotted coast with its picture postcard small sandy coves, and entered Island Head Creek by the southern channel to join the sixteen boats already there.

Island Head is a large, attractive sandy anchorage with good holding, and apart from a sandfly or two, our stay here was wonderful, and all the better for the oysters and fish that we feasted on, and the new yachtie friends made during our three days of perfect weather here.

Then it was off to Hunter Island in the Duke Group, where we spent the day hiking all over this relatively small island whose grassy ridge tops offer scenically stunning panoramic views over the surrounding islands.

After another lovely quiet night at Hunter, ‘Envy’ moved on to Curlew Island where we came upon the heart-wrenching sight of a yacht high and dry up on the western coast rocks, having been lost there just a few days previously.

We heard it dragged anchor when the wind changed direction & strength during the night, putting it onto a lee shore. During evasive action to motor off, a loose trailing line caught and fouled the propeller, immobilising the small yacht and causing it to be swept onto the rocks. Being steel, it was salvaged a few days later, slightly broken and dented, though engine, electrics and contents were all thoroughly immersed, no doubt resulting in considerable loss.

On our way to Mackay, we sailed through 33 bulk coal ships anchored in the greater roadstead off Hay Point coal loading facility, awaiting their turn, and reflected on the costs associated with this idleness. Nevertheless, this mammoth display of tonnage and variety was very interesting.

Mackay Harbour Marina was home for three days for laundry and watering requirements, and the obligatory visit to town for provisions. With a fresh Northerly blowing, our marina outer edge berth proved to be more rolly and less comfortable than most of our island anchorages, and furthermore, we had to pay for the (dis) pleasure.

‘Envy’ enjoyed another good day’s sail as we ran at seven knots up to the Whitsundays, where we arrived mid October, 33 days since departing Brisbane, and having crossed many yachts already heading south on their way home.

We spent the next two weeks cruising around various anchorages, some of which we had not visited previously, including Macona Inlet, where we enjoyed beach BBQ’s, playing Petanque, and ‘Club Margarita’, with other CCCA members. Dugong Beach, Daydream Island and Shute Harbour were others, before turning our bow southward for the 500+ nautical mile trip home.

Following overnighters at beautiful Thomas and Curlew Islands, our next destination was Middle Percy’s West Bay, considered by many as a ‘must see’ stop on the Whitsundays run. After a nostalgic look-a-round checking out our earlier signature plaques in the beach ‘A’-frame and Woolshed we retired around to White’s Bay, a beautiful picture postcard anchorage, from where we walked the track up to the homestead to visit Mick, who purchased the lease from Andy Martin for $10 a few years ago. The walk from White’s to the old homestead is more interesting than that from West Bay, and the panoramic vistas it offers to the south are music to the soul.

With a 30 kt S/E change forecast, everyone headed for protected anchorages, and we bolted out of the Percys for the refuge offered at the extreme top end of Island Head Creek where ‘Envy’ spent the next several days in comfortable solitude, before heading southwards once more.
On the run to Great Keppel we caught another of the several School Mackerel that our new spoon lure lured along the coast, which compensated the losses of our blue Rapala lure that took many large strikes but couldn’t hold the catch. It’s now tooth scared all over with a broken tail.

Around this time it occurred to us what a splendid entrepreneurial opportunity presented itself for weather forecasters to have equity in Marinas, as the VHF crackled out with request after request for berths immediately following a storm or strong wind forecast. Five days were happily spent socialising with other yachties at GKI, avoiding afternoon storms, whilst awaiting tide conditions to suit our run through the Curtis Island Narrows and visit Gladstone, both of which we’d never done during previous years’ long day’s runs from GKI to Pancake Creek.

Badger and Graham Creeks were both excellent anchorages before and after the buzz of the strong tidal race on our first negotiation of the Cattle Crossing, enroute to a very hot Gladstone, where we found the Marina well deserving of the many acclamations of other yachties. After four days here visiting friends and the surrounding district, it was again time to move on, topped up with water and diesel.

A light N/E breeze found us motor sailing again, dropping anchor in busy Pancake Creek during mid-afternoon amongst several old friends. Next morning we walked up to Bustard Head Lighthouse to meet Stuart & Shirley Buchanan and Dudley Fulton, both ex lightkeepers who’ve recently superbly restored the vandalised houses at this, Queensland’s historic first lightstation.

Then off to Bundaberg where being land gypsies with ‘rellies’, playing golf, going to the movies, touring the district and some boat maintenance, followed by four days of 25/30 kt S/E winds, kept us domiciled there for a pleasant ten days, meeting and making new friends.

Finally, conditions improved to the point that we could scamper out of Burnett Heads and head south to Hervey Bay. A favourable windy start soon petered out, necessitating the ‘iron sail’ again til mid afternoon when a very fresh sea breeze started to build, soon after which we tucked in behind Big Woody Island, which proved to be another (first) excellent overnight anchorage.

For some time now we’d been keeping an eye on the tide times to run through the Sandy Straits which, with their several shallow spots, require some navigational prudence, as does the crossing of Wide Bay Bar, and decided to do both given suitable conditions the following day.

Departing Big Woody anchorage, we ran with the morning flood to pass through Boonlye Point shallows where the Straits tides merge, towards the top of the tide, then continued on with the south bound ebb to for a quick and easy run to Elbow Point at the bottom of Fraser Island, where we anchored mid afternoon to await the tide for our passage across the Wide Bay Bar that night. Weighing anchor about an hour before high water, the notorious I mile ‘washing machine’ was not working at all, and we motor sailed across a relatively smooth bar at 2200 hrs in company with others, enjoying a pleasant easy overnight sail to Mooloolaba. Five days were spent here catching up with overseas yachtie friends and visiting the Eumundi Market, whilst awaiting the next weather window through some showery weather.

Light breezes found us making a slow passage down into the Bay, anchoring off the Sandhills at Moreton Island, where a N/E breeze developed overnight. Next morning the N/E’er was blowing 25kts against the strong ebb flow which, together with very heavy rain extended a dubious wet–n-wild welcome back into home waters, and a quick run down to our Karragarra Island mooring.

Whilst our 2004 cruise was only 1100 miles over four months, ‘Envy’ visited many new islands and anchorages, discovering more of our ‘missing links’.