06/07/2013, Port Abel Marina, Airlie Beach, Qld
We're now back in shorts aboard 'Echo Beach' after our circuit through Brisbane to Perth then Sydney and then back through Hamilton island.
Airlie Beach is very warm and humid after the cool fresh southern weather. There was a strong wind warning issued today for the coast with 30 knot winds for the rest of the week! - so we have decided to stay at the Port Abel Marina and just enjoy Airlie Beach.
We have met a few people here - already had drinks with Peter from 'Valhalla' (Dufour 385) at sunset yesterday. Peter is a past winner of Hamilton Island Race Week and will be competing again this year.
Ken Thackeray came over and introduced himself. Ken has 'Mystique' a sister ship to 'Echo Beach' - he has impeccable taste and an eye for good design! Ken and his wife Rhonda set up the Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club (SICYC) which now has over 2,000 members including GJ (Leanne will join tonight). SICYC was set up for fun and fund raising for prostate cancer and the membership is growing rapidly in Australia and overseas. Everyone that joins is appointed a Flag Officer (Vice Commodore) of SICYC so one of the side benefits is the privileges afforded when you travel to snobby yacht clubs that will only allow Flag Officers of visiting Yacht Clubs entry. GJ is Vice Commodore, Cottage Rock, NSW. The biggest privilege however is contributing to a great cause. There is also the opportunity to participate in lots of fun sailing events and sundowners. Ken invited us to the SICYC Sunday drinks at the Hogs Breath Cafe at Airlie Beach tonight so we will go along and Leanne will be signed up to a great cause. www.sicyc.org
Our trip went well - mission accomplished. We stayed in the Swan Valley though didn't get time to visit one vineyard. We spent most time with GJ's Dad and caught up with his sisters and many of their kids along the way. Weather was brilliant (though GJ worried about the WA wheat growers who look like they have yet another dry year). The mornings were very crisp for our walks (4 degrees is a bit of a shock after the tropics) around the golf course and the dry weather seems to have brought in huge numbers of kangaroos . It was good to see the growing band of bankers in the family - most banks now covered.
Sydney was a highlight - meeting grandson Josh for the first time - and seeing Myah who is growing up fast. It was also great to spend time with Belinda, Matt and Mandy. Josh enjoys his sleep during the day and wants to party at night - so we saw him at his most angelic time.
Time for our morning stroll around Airlie and we'll see what this week brings - apart from the wind....
26/06/2013, Sawmill Bay, Cid Harbour, Whitsunday Islands
After a night to refuel, rewater and reprovision in Arlie beach we left the marina with brother Jeff on board and headed for Stonehaven for the night. A brisk windy sail across and the wind and swell didn't really abate once moored in lower Stonehaven/Caves Cove. We tried fishing in the dinghy in somewhat extreme conditions - at least for the little dinghy - first time no fish!
What followed was an uncomfortable night courtesy of a difficult mooring, wind and tides all working against us. In the morning we discovered the mooring line caught under us between keel and sail drive - a crazy mooring design which allowed it to apparently move under a 2m keel and get caught between the keel and rudder - jamming the mooring float up against the side of the boat. We have since discovered it has caused scratches and markings on the underside of the boat. The moorings have all changed since we have been here before and you need a few hefty people just to lift the darn thing up let alone secure it to the boat in a wind.!! Anyway first lesson - don't use blue moorings - way too big!! We will do a note on our experience to Qld Marine Parks.
We moved on to Blue Pearl Bay off Hayman Island for some snorkelling and while still brisk in the wind, the sun was warming during the day - it was getting better. The water was a little murky and still high tide so visibility not great - but still very pleasant - lots of fish, pretty coral. We then headed to Butterfly Bay for the night and enjoyed a relatively calm night (after some mooring adjustments!) and drinks with the gang from Lunacy.
On Monday we moved on to Luncheon Bay - a beautiful spot of blue green water and white coral beaches, and had the pleasure of enjoying it in relative solitude early in the morning before other boats and backpacker charters arrived! There has certainly been an increase in boats on the water in the last few days, school holidays no doubt but also a huge number of catamarans rather than yachts. Makes for interesting crowded anchorages.....
There seems to have been a lot of damage from the cyclones and weather over recent years - the beach shape has significantly changed and is very steep, there is also quite a bit of dead coral. The snorkelling was still good with variety of fish around and we haven't really been able to see it in ideal low tide/low current and wind conditions yet. Plenty of time we hope! It was a nice warm sunny day and pretty near perfect anyway. We moved back to Butterfly Bay (other end) for the night - it was full however we jagged a mooring in the anchorage to the left - it turned out to be quite rolly again. Starting to get used to swinging in the night!
Woke to a smoky horizon again - the controlled burning has spread now to most of the Whitsunday Islands and is causing a little discomfort around us - and no doubt many others. Apparently they are burning the Islands for weed control! The weeds have grown since they culled the goats on the Islands! Bring back the goats! Qld Marine Parks may have cooked all the fauna on the Islands to kill the weeds - where does an animal go when the Island is burnt one end to the other!
We had planned to spend the day at Cateran Bay, Border Island but it was very cool and windy and hardly enticing to get wet! Decided to move on to Tongue Bay which was a great decision as we were able to go ashore at the right high tide to climb to the lookout and see the amazing spectacle of Hill Inlet and Whitehaven in the distance. Just sensational views in the perfect tide and sun conditions.
Then a dinghy ride (in extreme conditions on the ocean side - for the little dinghy!) around to the beach side for a stroll at low tide. Planned swim again abandoned in the cool and breezy conditions - saving ourselves for Whitehaven tomorrow! Boy's only caught 2 dart, their efforts at fishing have been very poor these last few days and we remember now from past trips that they will probably continue to be very barren until we move south or north out of the main island group. Freezer stocks have been welcome!
Last night we didn't learn our lesson from the other day and picked up a blue mooring - yes it got caught again - but we discovered this and moved at 10.30pm so at least we got a reasonably uninterrupted sleep.
A gorgeous sunrise this morning (helped by the smoke haze!) then onto Whitehaven for a swim and walk while it was warm and sunny. Classic Whitehaven - lots of charter boats and day trippers boats spilled onto the island . Interesting spectacle all by itself - but understandable as Whitehaven is really a great spot in the right weather which we generally had (although still on the cool side - 20 degrees).
A leisurely afternoon sail saw us arrive at Cid Harbour where we are spending the night before returning to Abel Point Marina in the morning to clean up, pack up before we fly out to Perth. We will be away for a week (half of which look like flights and airport waiting times.....) with visits to Perth and Sydney, then back on board 'Echo Beach' next Friday night.
22/06/2013, Whitsundays, Qld
We have spent the last few days island hopping in some of the lesser known and southern islands of the Whitsundays.
We had a short sunny sail from Brampton Island and arrived at Goldsmith Island - sandy beaches, reasonably well protected anchorages and it was still warm. We explored on shore in the afternoon, a swim, then enjoyed drinks on board 'Esoterica'.
The following day we moved to Thomas Island - a lovely island with 3 small white sand and coral beaches - one named Naked Lady Bay and no doubt features in many cruisers photos (this lady did not get naked in case you were wondering). The wind had picked up a bit and while many 'bullets' of wind came, it was comfortable enough.
Skipper knows the island from past trips and as it had delivered on the fishing front at that time, he went off with tools and all sorts of paraphernalia to catch us dinner. Without any real fanfare at the time, he then promptly returned to the boat and held up a 51 cm coral trout! Amazing. At the same time we had been invited to dinner on 'Nari' (Di and Derryn from Devonport,Tasmania) together with 'Estoterica' so it goes without saying that we had a great meal of coral trout to contribute. It was an enjoyable night.
We had planned to stay another day on Thomas but the wind was picking up, so we decided we might as well go a few miles to Lindeman Island to check that out. It was now overcast and very cool. Lindeman proved not to be as attractive as thought so on we went - this time deciding to go to Long Island as Matt and Ally ('Lunacy') had been in contact and had found a little hideaway there at Palm Bay. One of the great things now that we are in the Whitsundays proper is that trips are quite short (2-3 hrs) and you can actually island hop all day if you want to. On the way we watched a fantastic sight - helicopters doing controlled burning of a number of the islands - Lindeman being one - so glad we didn't anchor there! The flames, smoke haze combined with clouds and shimmer of sun patches made for great and very different pictures of the islands.
We met up with 'Lunacy' - we had not seen them for some weeks. The Palm Bay Hideaway Peppers resort here is no longer courtesy of the GFC and cheap Bali holidays - however all the resort infrastructure and facilities are still in place and the bures are now privately owned. Backpackers work for free accommodation to keep the island going at minimum maintenance to service the few guests that do come. It's basically a BYO island hut - bring own food drink etc and use great cooking facilities, open common areas, pool, tennis court etc. So after some attempts at tennis with the kids, we cooked up dinner in the resort facilities (including the last of the coral trout) - and sat in front of the big open fire! Here we are in the Whitsundays, with pants and long sleeves and enjoying an open fire - crazy in the tropics!
The following day it was still overcast and cool and it was as good a time as any to head to Arlie Beach marina. Leanne's brother Jeff had a spur of the moment opportunity to get to Arlie Beach for a few days R & R so we were meeting him on Saturday so he can come out on the boat as the weather is forecast to be favourable. It is also a good opportunity for us to go back to Perth and Sydney when Jeff leaves us.
17/06/2013, Brampton Island, Qld
All our intentions to leave Scawfell for Brampton Island on Saturday went pear shaped overnight - yep, 25-30 kt winds yet again came howling through in the early morning and continued most of the day. These were not forecast at all and Echo Beach rocked, swayed violently 180 degrees and the anchor and snubber grinded in disgust. Leanne was up and on watch from 2 am - no point sleeping and it was in fact quite scary! Of course Graham, after many expletives and declaring that 2 days of great weather for 2 weeks of crap just wasn't worth it, believed sticking his head under a pillow and ignoring the noise and potential anchor issues was the best option.
When first light finally came, we were dumbfounded and anxious - we couldn't get any internet or phone coverage at all to check the latest forecast , we were tired and angry at this crazy weather (to the point of exclamations from skipper that we would just put the boat in a marina as soon as possible and go to Europe for the rest of our break). We yelled at 'Murphy' and issued all sorts of unrepeatables and were basically rendered immobile by it all.... We were afraid to up anchor and move to another part of the anchorage as we had a lot of chain out, it did all sorts of strange things during the night and if it got snagged or we had hassles pulling it up in this wind - well, it wouldn't be a pretty sight. Mid afternoon the wind seemed to reduce a little so we did in fact move, after a few anchor lifting attempts (yep, it did get stuck!). The decision was a blessing - as was an easing of the wind as the new spot was better protected and at least we could venture outside - all in time for sunset drinks which at this stage were well deserved. Skipper of course elected to catch dinner for the third day in a row and as the sun set, he pulled in 2 good sized brassy trevally - by now the wind had dropped and it was back to a pleasant evening - the fish were well enjoyed before an early night after, quite frankly, a very low morale day!
We woke the next morning to a cool but sunny day with 10-15 kt wind and left Scawfell Island after breakfast - a place that has some of the best memories but also one of the worse so far - and made our way to Keswick and St Bees Islands first. (these are the islands that 'disappeared into cloud, fog and rain a few days earlier). They are quite pretty and Keswick has some current and future development which is easy to see coming to fruition in a few decades time. Going through the pass wasn't really practical with strong winds on the nose and a strong current - so we kept going to Brampton Island where we had planned to stay the night. Anchoring in mid afternoon and having a swim (after chasing the black tip reef shark away), we declared it a glorious anchorage and yes, with the weather approaching ideal conditions, we decided we were staying as planned!
We went to the jetty to go ashore for a quick look late in the afternoon. I must report with smug satisfaction the 'true to form' 30 minutes of wasted time with overly complex solutions to what should have been a simple attempt to secure the dinghy to the jetty. This skipper caught the painter (rope) around a jetty pole, and we had 'laurel and hardy' attempts to dislodge it - all to no avail. We are now on the jetty with dinghy stuck in an inaccessible spot metres below and with an outgoing tide running - remember we have 5 metre tides here, so it was not going to get any better. So when all else fails, the skipper had to strip off and dive from the jetty into the water and free the painter. I have never seen him swim so fast as he did to that dinghy. Leanne of course is used to all this by now, walks off cursing with pleas to learn from past errors, then returns to ensure at least some of the farce is captured on film! Skipper blames 'Murphy'.
Monday (today) was perfect - calm, warm, sunny. We had decided to do the walk to the lookouts on the top of the island, eventually meeting up with Kerryn and John from Estoterica (who we had met and spent time with in Island Head Creek and Rossyln Bay) and Di and Derryn from Tasmania. The walk is a good solid climb with 360 views to die for.
We were all keen to understand the fate of the resort and while being initially chastised when we returned from the walk by the sole caretaker/security guy (Chris) for the resort, we then enjoyed a great discussion and brief tour offered by Chris. It such a shame the resort is not being used - it is truly one of the most naturally blessed spots with aspect, protection, sandy beaches, tidal sandy spits to adjoining Carlisle Island, bushwalks, and a short distance from a growing Mackay district.
We then had a great swim around the tidal sand spits out between Brampton and Carlisle Islands in crystal clear, warm waters - it looked like we were swimming in the middle of the ocean.
Graham then decided to try and catch dinner again - and yes, he succeeded with 2 parrotfish (Leanne's words are simply 'they are so pretty - do we really have to eat them???') and a scarlet breasted maori wrasse. Following a very diligent and lengthy check of all available fish books and resources, Skipper declared that yes, there were good to take, and they were superb to eat!
There was no time to prepare them though as we were already late for drinks on 'Estoterica' where we enjoyed a fantastic sunset (almost dinner) drinks with Kerryn and John, Di and Derryn and a local Mackay couple Ray and Eve who retired about 30 years ago when Ray was 46. The latter own their second Swan yacht (a Swan 44) and have done 150,000 nautical miles of sailing each. Their motto - 'do it now or you are leaving it too late'. They have crossed the equator 5 times. Many tales and 'yarns' were shared until we finally retired back to our boat to enjoy our freshly caught BBQ fish.
Brampton is a lovely anchorage and a gorgeous island, and we have had great weather to enjoy it in. We now plan to move on to Goldsmith Island tomorrow.
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'.