14/06/2013, Scawfell Island, Cumberland Islands, Qld
We left Mackay in overcast skies and hoped it would clear - keen to get to our first tropical islands. At least the wind had died to a reasonable level.
We wanted to stop at Keswick and St Bees Islands having heard of beautiful clear water and great fishing. As we neared the islands they just disappeared! Completely - right into fog, cloud, rain and goodness knows what else. Amazing!
Then the rain hit us and rained like the heavens opened up. Within 1 nautical mile we gave up on Keswick and St Bees for another day - when you could actually see them. We made our way to Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island where we had planned to spend a few nights. The rain just poured as we anchored - we were like drowned rats - drenched to the skin.
When the rain finally stopped we went ashore to explore - only to get rained on yet again. Three changes of clothes for the day and we are still drying out equipment, clothing and towels from the day!
Scawfell is quite an amazing and beautiful island - being reasonably steep and high. It too was in shrouds of fog and mist continually.
We woke yesterday to more shrouds of mist and cloud - quite spectacular.
As Graham ate his breakfast he also caught dinner off the back of the boat - 3 threadfin bream.
By midday the sun was shining, and we were able to enjoy the glorious sandy beaches, water and warmth. Then 1000's of blue butterflies started flying past Echo Beach and across the bay - they were everywhere and went all afternoon - probably the first time they could fly after all the wind and rain.
Then a try at snorkelling - the anchorage has quite a few corals and bommies right where you think it would be OK to anchor - so it's a reminder to stay true to the advice books here.
We had a calm, cloud free evening with drinks on the deck watching the sun go down before savouring the freshly caught BBQ fish.
Today we woke to a perfect day - and with the 3 other boats in the bay leaving early, we were alone and had the most sensational sunny calm and flat water tropical day - all by ourselves.
We walked along the beach, swam, read, floated amongst the coral (you didn't need to snorkel - it was so calm and clear you could see it all from the dinghy) with not another sound or soul around. In sunshine, the water is such a glorious colour - blues, greens and everything in between. It doesn't get much better than this.
Graham was keen to catch fish for dinner again so we returned to the beach late in the afternoon and true to form he caught it - brassy trevally which made a delightful meal.
The wind has picked up now, and although not ideal, we will be safe and comfortable tonight with plans to move on to Brampton Island tomorrow.
Sensational Scawfell is just that!
Breaking news!!! - and just as sensational is the news we learnt while here that we have a new little grandson, Josh Cooper Rimmer, has joined the world courtesy of Graham's daughter Belinda and partner Matt. He's a little cutey and we can't wait to see him in a few weeks when we will return to Sydney and Perth.
10/06/2013, Mackay, Qld
Well here we are in the tropics waiting to see some sunshine - at least it's still shorts and polo shirts.
Mackay Marina is a good quiet spot - surprisingly big with a massive rock breakwater around it - must be 10 metres or more high. The tides are interesting as the marina sits well done below the breakwater and the ramps to the floating marina jetties get quite steep at low tide - bearing in mind we have 6 metre tides here.
We were amazed at the amount of driftwood (drift trees) on the beach south of the marina - it doesn't bear thinking about this all floating around in the Coral Sea!
We also caught up for a drink and meal with Mark and Sharon O'Driscoll. GJ knows Mark from Westpac and we were able to share stories about the O'Driscoll's motor cycle adventures and the Jennings' adventures at sea - a very pleasant Sunday afternoon/evening.
So yesterday was shopping day and you try not to bring the shopping back at low tide! Sitting low however does keep us out of the weather somewhat - oh! that weather - the South East wind and showers just don't stop - 24 x 7 - it's like airconditioning that's in your face.
Anyway we have reprovisioned with food, diesel, water, drinks, laundry and just waiting for the mechanic to turn up and service 'Victor' the Volvo.
We plan to leave here later today or early tomorrow - there is a promising weather outlook looming - and we would like to offset all the marina time we have had by staying out in the islands as long as we can.
Basically from here we go to Keswick/St Bees Is, Scawfell Is, Brampton Is, Goldsmith Is, Thomas Is, Shaw Is, then other Whitsunday Islands - our biggest decision hopefully will be whether to go to Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach for our next reprovisioning - probably Airlie Beach.
If the weather acts up we should be able to find a hide out somewhere in the islands - so that's the plan.
As usual 'Murphy' and 'Hughie' will be guiding factors that we can't control.
'Murphy's Law' is ever present and you try and anticipate as best you can.
Like going to the fuel jetty yesterday (which is also a Customs Clearance 'quarantine' location) the same time as 2 overseas yachts arrived. Customs approached us and I thought we were going to get the 'big search' - it would have been embarrassing for them to see our wine cellar! Anyway we could refuel (though the several pumps were broken down - except for one 'high flow' diesel pump) and in the meantime an overseas arrival blocked us in and we were under strict instructions not to talk to any overseas arrivals or touch them, their belongings or yacht! So talk about going from low stress to high stress refuelling - and it was now a 2 hour process to fill up 100 litres of diesel - and of course not possible to get any outboard fuel from the broken down unleaded pump! - so need to solve this one before we leave. How do you anticipate 'Murphy'?
'Hughie' can be with you, or making it tougher - basically farmers want 'Hughie' to 'send it down' (rain) and sailors call on 'Hughie' to 'blow' for wind - then we whinge when we get too much or not enough of either - or get it at the wrong time - which is sort of inevitable - like 'Hughie' listens? Anyway enough because we want to stay on good terms with 'Hughie'.
To manage all this as best we can we use www.seabreeze.com.au which gives a great 7 day wind and wave forecast - it also hotlinks to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) marine forecasts and their synoptic charts which show the high and low weather systems for the next 4 days.
The other site we like is www.passageweather.com which has the BOM wind maps, surface pressure and wave heights. The surface pressure maps really show the air pressure differentials in relation to where you are and the surrounding areas. Air flows from high pressure areas to low pressure areas - that is wind - and the greater the differential the stronger it will be. I am very pleased to see the barometric pressure on my watch at 1018 hPa at present - it has been in the 1020's for some time and the top of Cape Yorke is usually around 1010-1012 - so bodes well for less wind.
www.willyweather is good for the tides, and you always want to know if it spring or neap tides up here - plus falling tides carrying you North and you fight rising tides heading that direction.
Anyway enough from the 'Echo Beach' meteorology bureau - the mechanic is now here to see 'Victor'.
We are now safely tucked up in Mackay marina with the wind howling through the rigging... We will be here until at least Tuesday - we have to get the engine serviced (200 hrs for warranty) and being long weekend, the earliest they can do this is Tuesday.
The weather is clearing from Monday so we will be keen to take advantage of it for a week or two before our planned trip back to Sydney and Perth.
On Friday we woke at Curlew Island early to grey skies, wind and rain - not the best ingredients for a dawn exit between the sandbanks and rocky islet. Awake earlier than planned because of the noise of the wind and current against the boat, we fell into all sorts of reflections and fun at 4 am cursing 'Murphy' but at the same time remembering those glorious moments that we have had so far - Middle Percy the day before being just one of those. Did we tell you how perfect it was amongst a week of weird weather? Check out the pic.
So our reflections went something like this....
There are six essentials on Echo Beach that keep us safe, on track and able to do what we are doing. They are:
1. "James" (named after Captain James Cook) - our navigator and pilot: he has the maps, over charted rocks, sandbanks and obstructions, he steers us through thick and thin (although has been sacked on a few occasions when it gets too rough for James and the true skipper comes into his own) and tells us where we are when the weather determines that we can't!
2. "Araldite" (AKA 'Aral') - the anchor : Trusty 'Aral' sticks when we need him to even when its howling 25kts overnight and we are swinging between rock shelf to sandbank. He doesn't care what he's thrown into - infested mangroves, coral, sand, slimy mud. He sticks to them all!
3. "Gretel" - the hand held Garmin GPS. In the middle of the night Gretel keeps a watch on Araldite (like all good women) and tells you when he is not doing his job. Yes, she is high maintenance needing new batteries every night - but well worth the investment when in exposed anchorages and tidal ranges of 6 metres mean a lot of chain for high tide and a lot of slack at low. So Graham goes to bed with Leanne in one arm- and "Gretel" on anchor watch in the other!
4. "Victor" - the Volvo engine. He's the marine machine, ticks over like a swiss clock and is due for his check up while we are in Mackay. Victor powers through crashing waves and big swell and breaks the back of these bar and river entrances. 'Vic' keeps us going when the wind doesn't.
5. "Molly" the modem: the way we stay in touch and connected with what's happening out there - weather, news and family and friends. The trick with 'Molly' is that we can hoist in a little pouch up the mast to get that extra internet coverage that you can't get at sea level - but every now and then she gets sick of being hoisted by the skirts up 18 metre mast and left to swing wildly in the breeze for an hour or two - but is a godsend and we couldn't do a trip like this without her.
6. And of course us - the final two - the Skipper and First mate (skipper elect!). Two of the more complex essentials each with their own unique operating system. Skipper plots the course, watches the gadgets, supports and trains James, catches crabs, has a chat with the locals and does a superb job of chillin.. Its a different kind of work though believe it or not with always something to do and lists of things to be done - and he still is yet to read one book!
Leanne first mate expertly bounces from one end of the boat to the other as she keeps us fed, watered, clean and clothed, at the same time as being chief radio operator for each journey. She is now also a superb gymnast amongst the anchors and ropes (sorry lines), and is getting expert at fenders, marina berthing, and last minute social/event planning. Currently working on learning a few more knots.
So... that's the cast of essential characters on Echo Beach - what a crew. No, the sun hasn't gone to our head yet (there hasn't been enough!) but its always good to reflect on why and how it can happen, what makes it doable, manageable - and to be especially thankful for those great moments that we have had and will continue to have over the next 6 months or so. Molly send this one....
06/06/2013, Curlew Island, somewhere in Qld
We saw the weather window so took off early and out through that scary entry to Island Head Creek in grey skies and fairly rough weather. That big 55hp Volvo came into it's own as we crashed through the incoming ocean swell.
We had a plan - first Pine Trees - however it was too rough - so we pushed on to Hexham Island.
We had a strong South Easterly wind (gee that's unusual, not) pushing against the Broad Sound tides which produced a delightful washing machine effect (not) under grey wet skies (yuk).
We were making slow progress North against a 2 knot tide and had to abort our planned overnight stop in the Duke Islands.
It was also too far to push on to the Percy Islands at this speed - so not too many plans landing here, and not too many options that we could make in daylight - in fact only one option, Plan B was stay at Hexham Island which we did.
Hexham Island would ordinarily be a very pretty spot, nice beach, high green hills - dramatic rocks and coral lining our anchorage!. We had big bullets of wind belting through the little bay, and a nice sloppy swell rolling around the corner. We anchored in the middle of the bay and it was going to be a long rock n rolly night.
In the morning the latest forecast confirmed the weather was going 'pear shaped' again (30 knots winds Saturday Sunday) so again aborted the Duke Islands plan, and headed off at first light for Middle Percy Island.
The wind was OK for a sail and it was sunny - so we quite enjoyed the trip and we were at Wests Bay, Middle Percy Island by 9.30am on a tight schedule as we now planned to get out of the weekend weather and get to Mackay on Friday via Curlew Island (which is sort of on the way). So 'action stations' - we needed to put the dinghy into water, go ashore, and put our boat name plaque in the legendary 'A' frame hut of the Percy Island Yacht Club (this is a tradition for all passing cruising yachties), have a look around, have a swim - and be gone travelling to Curlew Island by 11am if we are to get there at a reasonable time.
In the midst of all this Middle Percy Island turned out to be an oasis of perfection - the grey sky that had developed cleared to perfect clear blue, the water was perfect, beautiful clear blue and warm, the beach sand white and lined with coconut trees - and we had it all to ourselves - no one was there - perfect - we drank it in and had a swim.
At 11am we headed due west for Curlew Island where we are now anchored - back in the grey skies, South Easterly wind (though we anchored in the lee of the island in a nice bay), and yes we have a bit of swell rolling through - though so far not a patch on last night - Murphy's Law is always around the corner so we will see what the we hours bring.
We will head to Mackay tomorrow (8 hours North) and get out of the strong weather forecast for the weekend here.
We certainly have been getting a lesson in the Broad Sound tidal flows - apparently the strongest in Australia apart from Broome - and the South East breezes don't mix well with them.
03/06/2013, Island Head Creek, Qld
Saturday we made the break from Rosslyn Bay with a good 20 knot breeze and 3 metre seas sneaking past the lee of North Keppel early morning for that last bit of shelter then into the open ocean.
It was about a 6hr trip to Port Clinton which has a huge bay entrance. There were still fairly large seas so we decided to push onto Pearl Bay and have a look.
Pearl Bay is a beautiful spot however a swell rolling and it was an overnight option so we continued North to Island Head Creek where we are now anchored.
The entry to Island Head Creek looked very interesting with the seas rolling up the island and rocks lining the entry where we had to stay close to get inside of the sandbars.
Leanne went very silent and just didn't look - finding other ways to keep her mind distracted. The water however was very deep and it felt a safe entry. It is just strange operating with no navigation markers at all as you feel your way into these places.
We spent the first afternoon and night about half way down Island Head Creek in a big open water area. We enjoyed majestic views of the surrounding large tree covered hills, bays and mangroves. It really is an amazing vista in a very isolated location (no radio, internet or phone reception) that looks like it has not been touched by humans - no evidence of any activity at all - just natural bush and bays. The sunset was amazing and we dined out the back on a warm evening - completely flat water, calm, no noise, no insects - just the sounds of turtles coming up for air.
Graham threw out a fishing line -caught no fish although something big bit through the line taking half the leader, hook and bait.
The wind was forecast to pick up again so Sunday we moved further down Island Head Creek to the bottom anchorage which is very sheltered among the mangrove creeks. There are acres and acres of mangrove flats down here with creeks running for miles all through them - a huge maze. We don't want to think about how many crocs live in here - anyway there is no swimming and nowhere to get off the boat and walk around.
It is however incredibly beautiful with the backdrop of very high hills and huge valleys - it is like a mix of NZ, NT and Cowan Creek in NSW.
At night the water was like glass, and with no moon the sky was extremely bright with stars. It is the first time that we have seen the 'night sky in the sea' - yes the reflection of the stars was amazing and it looked like they were at the bottom of the black water - hard to explain the effect - you need to see it.
Crab pot is out further down in the mangroves - though only 1 blue swimmer so far.
Leanne has read 1 novel here already - very peaceful.
We have managed some internet reception hoisting the 4G modem up to the top of the mast - so hopefully this blog gets through.
We plan to use a weather window over the next few days to get to Hexham Island, the Duke Islands and Percy Islands and then head into Mackay in due course - we shall see.
31/05/2013, Rosslyn Bay district
Well we are still in Rosslyn Bay - not the plan but this weather..... 20/25 knots wind mostly all day all night, mixed with rain one day and some showers on others. Even the locals are complaining and saying it isn't normally this way! (sure....) Apart from that, the frustrating part is it has been mostly sunny and quite pleasant away from the ocean! We are keen to move on and further up the coast (around Port Clinton and Island Head Creek) in this small window of weather opportunity before the next bad weather period hits early next week. We are then hoping for a break in the weather later in the week to get some island time - around the Duke Islands and Percy Isles which are reasonably remote.
Regardless - we have enjoyed some relaxing days - they go just as quick on land! A long walk to Cooee Beach one day then on to Yeppoon.
Graham found the perfect sized crab pot - so they are now on board.
Ended up just chillin' on the boat another day reading into the morning, doing general clean up, laundry, etc. We reprovisioned another day taking advantage of the courtesy car provided by the marina.
We had considered leaving this morning (Friday) but after looking at the sea and the continuously changing (adversely!) weather forecasts we decided to wait until early tomorrow morning. After a late breakky at the restaurant the spur of the moment thought was to hire a car for the rest of the day and go and check out Rockhampton. It is a surprisingly nice spot says Leanne... gorgeous Botanical gardens which we wandered through, some lovely homes, old colonial buildings and hotels (had a late lunch at the Heritage Hotel) - a very gentrified and growing place. Of course Graham had to give Leanne the tour (having been here many times with work) and yes, we added the cattleyards, the Beef Week venue and all other things agri to the trip.
Had a wonderful meal last night at the marina restaurant and on other nights it has been drinks on various boats with the great variety of people that you meet in these places.
Everyone is just waiting out the weather as we are so with passage plans pretty much the same as others, we are sure to continue to enjoy the company of people we meet at other spots along the way.