Airlie Beach July 2020
06 August 2020 | Airlie Beach, Australia
Friday 31 Jul, it was quite windy, and the forecast was for 20 knots, rising 25 knots at times. Saturday could well see 30 knots. Time to find a marina, Port Airlie marina.
We had booked a berth but could not arrive before 1200. The 15nm passage would normally take about 3 hours. The wind was up and even the usually Cid Harbour was getting a bit choppy, so 0930 we raised anchor.
As we cleared the shelter of Cid Harbour we were glad we had put a reef in the Main and the Yankee as the wind was indeed 20 to 25 knots. Still, Tai Mo Shan was beautifully balanced and we made a good 7 knots or so. The current increased and the water got choppy, to the extent that the Freddy Furuno, our autopilot, was having a bit of trouble keeping course. Paul got on the wheel and hand steered. Now some old, crusty, yachtsmen with strong opinions they just have to voice will state there is nothing better than sailing a well powered up yacht through chop. In our opinion, well, they are absolutely right! We might have mentioned that we cruise and so do not race, unless two boats are going in the same direction … We had a couple of catamarans, one ahead and one behind. Enough said! Beam reach, 8 knots or so, Paul’s grin was ear to ear! We blasted past the first cat, the second was gaining. Unknown to us the front furler line slipped and the sear disengaged; we had full Yankee and held 9 knots pretty consistently! Oh yes, face splitting grin, even as the second catamaran (a race machine with a nice carbon sail set) crawled past us after 10 miles.
Brilliant sailing but, we arrived early. Still we had to drop sails, and then call the marina to get the berth number, and get someone to help with the lines. We then had to go down the entrance channel. An interesting point. Port Airlie is a new marina. Our CM95 set of charts are dated 2010, and did not show the marina or entrance channel, only drying mud flats. Fortunately the channel was well marked by posts. And we were secure in the berth at … 1200; perfect timing!
Port Airlie marina is quite new. Originally it was to be private berthing only with the berths linked to the houses and apartments surrounding the marina. How many times have we seen developments like that? However, not everyone who bought a house or apartment had a boat or wanted the additional cost of a marina berth, so some berths became available for commercial enterprises such as dive and sightseeing, and some for visiting recreational craft. Again, COVID19, came to our aid. Normally the marina is fully booked June to November, but not in these strange times.
The facilities for visitors were clean and in very good condition, if a few in number; 2 unisex showers/toilets and one washing machine and one dryer. Still they were there, along with a spotless well appointed visitors lounge. Perhaps the best facility was casually asked by the marina office staff; did we want to use the courtesy car? It had a 2 hour limit, but was free of charge! Even better, it was available that afternoon. What a bonus! Airlie Beach has some supermarkets (Woolworths and Coles) but they are a few km from the marina. That is a pain if walking but no problem in a car. And a very nice car; a Toyota Kluga (a large SUV with Port Airlie emblazoned on the sides). So Friday afternoon was a big restock at Coles!
Saturday saw Helen walk the short distance to the Saturday market. It was only small, some four stalls but we had forgotten to buy fresh garlic, and one of the stalls sold fresh produce; a result. We also used the washing machine and dryer to do our laundry. The lounge allowed Paul to catch up with tax paperwork and payments. Oh yes, the Australian Tax Office want’s its due with a quarterly Business Activity Statement (and tax paid), and the annual GST return (and more tax paid!). Still, the lounge was a pleasant surrounding for this necessary task.
Paul’s phone had been getting temperamental with the battery not always charging and often discharging rapidly. Reluctantly we decided to get a replacement. And the car was not booked for that Saturday afternoon! So a trip first to a phone repair stall; he was unable to help. Then in to Big W. iPhones started at $750 (and got lots more expensive!), a Motorola G8 was $250; decision made, it was the Motorola. Later that day and we realised our dinghy fuel (unleaded petrol with 2 stroke oil added) was running low. The marina did not supply fuel and closest petrol station was a few km away. Cue the courtesy car! And Paul was able to buy a new spark plug for the outboard as well.
We had planned to stay in the marina for only 2 days; however, Paul felt a bit unwell Sunday morning, and the forecast was for continuing strong winds. The bullet was bitten and we stayed an additional day. So Sunday, the additional day, allowed us a quiet day just walking around Airlie Beach. It is not large and very tourist focused. The main ‘strip’ consists largely of souvenir, beach fashion and tour/ excursion shops along with many take away and dine in eateries. The largest buildings though are the pubs. COVID19 had hit tourism hard and several places were closed, most permanently. However, we did find a good meal deal at one of the pubs. Perhaps reflecting the trading conditions, the large building was curiously quiet for a weekend lunchtime with only a few customers. The food and beer was good though. (Yes, Paul had fully recovered by Sunday lunchtime!)
The annual Hamilton Race week had been cancelled, but the Airlie Beach race week was still on for the 6 to 13 August. The COVID19 restrictions had resulted in fewer entries than usual; some 60 instead of 120. However one entry was on our pier. B52 was a 52 foot race boat that usually resides in East Coast Marina. Indeed, Paul had crewed for a few local club races some 5 years ago! We hailed the skipper and crew. The skipper, and owner, Darren aka Dan, was the same and we renewed acquaintances. We planned for sundowners but unfortunately this did not eventuate; possibly just as well as it was sure to have been very social!
So a quick but very productive visit. Monday saw fresh winds forecast and us preparing for the short 10nm or so hop to our next stop; South Molle Island.
Picture: The nice new marina, and you can still buy berths!
Cid Harbour July 2020
06 August 2020 | Cid Harbour, Whitsunday Group, Australia
Tuesday 28 July and after breakfast we weighed anchor just off Shaw Island at 0910. The forecast was for a light south to south west wind with sunny weather. And the forecast looked to be mostly right as the morning was nicely sunny, albeit with a moderate southerly wind.
We were soon clear of the anchorage and raised sails. We then had a nice broad reach for some 9 nm past Lindeman Island and into the channel between the islands close to the mainland (Long Island and Pine Island) and the westernmost island of the Whitsunday Group, Dent Island. Even with the moderate wind we still made an easy 7 knots. We noticed one of the large cruising catamarans had raised anchor some 10 minutes after us and was now following us. Now we were cruising and so not racing, of course not. But then, the definition of a yacht race is two boats going in the same direction! The catamaran should have been faster off the wind and so we watched carefully, as he steadily dropped behind us – oh, yes!
As we entered the passage between Pine Island and Dent Island the wind swung behind us. We altered our sail plan to the usual ‘pole and prevent’ and continued downwind on a run. The tide was now flowing and we noticed we had about one knot of current against us. Dent Island is long and thin (about 2.8nm north to south, by 0.6 east to west). Our cruising guide noted that it housed the golf course for Hamilton Island. As we cruised past we looked carefully, and could just about, perhaps see one of two of the greens. We clearly see the small lighthouse halfway up its steep rocky slopes. There appeared to be no land access to the cluster of buildings around the lighthouse, only a lift on rails ascending from the sea. The shore was rocky and we surmised that it would be quite a task to get ashore in calm weather, and very difficult in any kind of sea. And to complete the picture a whale gently broached about 400m away from us; the huge body taking several seconds to rise up and disappear again after the blow.
5nm or so later and we rounded Loriad Point of Whitsunday Island to go through the gap separating Cid Island. The wind was blanked by the headland and the tidal current raced through the gap. Our autopilot started to struggle so it was a case of hand steering to hold Tai Mo Shan on course. A mile later and we were into the calm waters of Cid Harbour. This was a large shallow bay protected to from the north through east and south to southwest by the bulk of Whitsunday Island, and further protected to the west by Cid Island. The shoreline was rocky bluffs separating a few sandy beaches. The land behind was the (now usual) steep bush covered slopes. This was a popular anchorage and already had more than a dozen boats at anchor. Fortunately it is also extensive and could readily house perhaps five to ten times that number. We looked for our friend’s (Brian and Gillian) boat, Maxedout, and soon spotted its unsupported mast. Maxedout is unusual in having a self-supporting mast. This makes the boat simpler as there are no shrouds at the side supporting the mast but, of course, means the mast must be stronger. The concept, from the 70s and 80s, did not really catch on.
We dropped sails and motored to perhaps some 150m away from Maxed Out. On our way in we noticed small white triangular buoys. These are normally placed by the Park authority to mark out reef protection areas. These areas contain coral reefs and anchoring is prohibited. However, we were in a popular anchorage. As we passed the buoys seemed to have a no swimming sign on them. We were focused on finding an anchoring spot and so had no time to investigate further. A few minutes later, at 1240, we were anchored some 400m off the rocky bluff near Sawmill Bay.
We had the dinghy in the water after lunch. First, those buoys. We headed to the nearest. It did indeed have a no swimming sign, along with the warning that sharks inhabited Cid Harbour. OK, no swimming then.
Next we headed to Sawmill Bay. En route we saw that our friend’s dinghy was not at their boat. We went ashore and saw our friend’s dinghy being moved up the beach. The couple moving the dinghy informed us that our friends were walking the track to the peak, and had been concerned about their dingy drifting off as the tide was coming in and the walk was taking some time. We noted that we carried long lengths of line and had tied our dinghy to a tree at the top of the beach.
We explored Sawmill Bay with Helen doing her usual beachcombing. There was a park picnic area with tables and seating. In addition, a large noticeboard told of two paths. One, headed to Whitsunday Peak, some 460m high, was labelled difficult. Another went to an adjacent bay, Turtle Bay. We returned to our dinghy and decided to ‘tikki tour’ the coast. Well, it was easier than walking to Turtle Bay!
On our return we noticed that the tide had risen further and was very close to our friend’s dinghy. We returned to the beach and pulled the dinghy up further, securing the painter to a rock.
Later our friends called on us. The path was good, but steep and so the walk had been taxing and they were sore and exhausted. We would catch up with then the next day.
Wednesday and yes, Paul just had to do the summit walk. Helen, perhaps with more sense, decided to remain on Tai Mo Shan. So mid-morning Paul was ashore, backpack on, boots on, stick in hand. The walk through the bush was on a good, well defined, if somewhat uneven and rocky path. However, it was also all uphill. Rock steps helped, but still uphill and then more uphill. An hour later and Paul reached the peak. The lookout was on a bare rock area, with superb views to the north and west over Cid Harbour and across to the mainland. The sun was shining and the colours in the water simply beautiful clearly showing the varying depth of water. It also showed that the tide had receded and Sawmill Bay beach was now dry some way out; the dinghy would need to be dragged a distance. The only downside was that the boats at anchor were obscured by a smaller bush covered ridge. And to make it better, there was a path to another lookout. Again, this was a bare rock area with superb views to the south and east. If anything the colours in the water were more pronounced as this view included the shallower waters near Hamilton Island. It was somehow fitting that there was not a manmade structure at the peak as the views really showed Whitsunday Island in all its glory; well worth the climb. And another COVID bonus, Paul had only passed one pair of walkers on the way up. The peak and its views were all his!
The walk down was, well a bit easier, if quite hard on the knees. The path was almost deserted, only two couples on the way up. Of interest as the path skirted and crossed a stream it was possible to make out the straight lines of the remains of the dam used by the loggers to hold the water to help with their milling process (apparently they used a steam powered mill).
Back on the beach and fortunately one end of the beach (where the dinghy was) was quite steep so the long pull to the sea was avoided.
Paul passed Maxedout and sundowners on Tai Mo Shan was soon arranged. That evening was a good social evening, good friends, good wine and good chat.
Thursday was a general chill out day as we remained aboard Tai Mo Shan and drank in the scenery. However our supplies were running low and we needed to restock. Our Internet enquiries showed that Hamilton Island, some 10nm away, had a marina and local grocery store. But Hamilton Island Marina charged about $100 a night! Airlie Beach was some 15nm away. That had full facilities including a couple of supermarkets. One marina, Coral Sea, was almost as expensive as Hamilton Island. The other, Port Airlie, was still expensive at $80 a night. Hmm. The alternative was to sail some 45nm to the settlement of Bowen. This had a very small marina, with pile moorings and a very few berths. OK, we decided on Port Airlie. An email confirmed that they had a berth available, just call when close by. So Port Airlie it would be on Friday.
Picture: Views from Whitsunday Peak – top to the north and west, bottom to the south and east. Just don’t swim in the water!
Shaw Island July 2020
29 July 2020 | Shaw Island, Australia
We stayed at Goldsmith Island for two days. The second day saw quite strong winds, so we decided to remain secure on our mooring the second day. However, a rolling motion set in on the second night; we had noticed that this was prevalent at many of the island anchorages we had visited. So, on Monday 27 July we raised anchor for the short, 14nm, passage to the next island, Shaw Island.
The voyage was notable for the gusty winds, which would increase to 25 knots, and then drop to 10 knots; sailing was interesting. Still we made progressed and were anchored within 3 hours.
Shaw Island is long and thin; some 5 nm north to south and between 0.3 and 1.6nm wide. Our anchorage was off the north west facing beach. The beach was shallow and so we had to anchor a way off, over 500m. This gave us good shelter from the wind-driven waves, but the wind was still noticeable. There were a few other boats in the bay including one that had anchored closer to shore. The tide had gone out and the bow was now sitting high and dry. Fortunately it was a catamaran and so sat upright; just embarrassing!
We had a large charter catamaran next to us and watched as their dinghy went close to the rocks to fish. A short time later a canoe departed for shore. We thought this was brave in the strong, gusty wind and moderate cross current. However, in this time of COVID19 the canoeist was well protected by a facemask!
On the other side was a large cruising motor boat; triple decked with all the toys including jet skies and central console launch. The launch had already gone ashore and the smartly dressed occupant in white uniform (paid crew?) had erected a couple of blue beach shelters. Perhaps the owners were planning to rough it with a beach picnic later.
Shaw is another continental island. The usual description applies! The north west coast consisted of several beaches interspersed by rocky headlands. All were fronted by shallow, turquoise sea, and backed by green bush. The island was not particularly high, but steep in places with the rock outcrops clearly visible.
We took the dinghy ashore and walked a few beaches. Helen hunted for shells but, like the other islands, found the pickings slim. Back on board and we had intermittent internet access. Our friends Brian and Gillian on Maxedout contacted us to tell us that they were at Cid Harbour. Their anchorage had plenty of space and was well sheltered with practically no boat motion. Outside, the wind blew past Tai Mo Shan and the chop gave a joggling motion. It was late afternoon, so we would wait until morning to head to the calm of Cid Harbour.
Pictures. Our neighbours; poor peasants and the well protected canoeist: beach (Helen in the background, with her footprints the only ones on the beach) and stream.
Goldsmith Island July 2020
29 July 2020 | Goldsmith Island, Australia
The 14nm passage to Goldsmith Island on the morning of Monday 27th July was largely uneventful. A light to moderate south easterly wind meant we were sailing well off the wind. Unfortunately the constant gusty winds off Brampton Island meant we had been unable to properly secure the errant batten. We therefore had to sail with our Main Sail heavily reefed to hold the batten in place within the boom. This had a noticeable effect on our speed. Nevertheless, we were secure off Goldsmith Island in 3 hours and 5 minutes.
Goldsmith Island is irregularly shaped about 2nm north to south, and up to 1.2nm across east to west with deep, usually shallow bays. There was a small (0.3nm by .15nm) island, Farrier Island, just off the east coast. The bay at the north east end of the island, Roylen Bay, offered good shelter. Even better, the island was a national park, and our mooring map showed two substantial mooring buoys in the bay. Sure enough as we rounded Farrier Island from the south we could see the blue buoys, and they were both vacant. With no one else in sight we dropped sails and motored the last few hundred metres to the southern-most buoy. Interestingly, our charts showed us on drying land! Fortunately we actually had a minimum of 3m water under our keel.
Goldsmith Island was like so many of the other islands we had visited recently; beautiful. The clear sea changed in colour from blue to turquoise as it shallowed out near the shore. Occasional rocks and reef showing as black patches. The shore in the bay consisted of that lovely yellow sand backed by verdant green bush. On the headlands, the sea lapped against red-grey rocks, the rocks rising up in bluffs showing through the omnipresent bush. Bird calls accompanied the sound of the small surf breaking on the beach and rocks.
The wind had dropped so we took the opportunity to pull out our Main Sail, secure the errant batten, check all the others, and refurl the sail. After a short lunch we hopped into the dinghy and headed ashore. We walked the beach, exploring the areas behind where the streams exited the bush and dried on the beach. Helen, eyes down, looked for treasure; pretty shells. This was a national park, so the sign had the usual restrictions. At least camping was allowed here, complete with the facility of a composting toilet in its own building.
Out to sea, three other boats had arrived. The lucky first had grabbed the vacant buoy; the others had anchored.
We returned to our dinghy and decided to cross over to Farrier Island to explore there. Farrier Island had a few private residential buildings. These were in various states of repair. The longest building varied from units in construction, through some with neat roller shutters to others that clearly needed some tender loving care. Behind, new large steel sheds looked new with the construction detritus still on the ground. Of main interest were a couple of palm trees, complete with fresh coconuts at the base just off the beach. We liberated some coconuts that still passed the ‘slosh’ test (i.e. we could shake the coconut and hear the milk inside).
Back on board Tai Mo Shan we took the husk off the coconuts, enjoyed the milk and meat. They were not as fresh as the ‘off the tree’ ones we had enjoyed in Fiji. But then we had not had to scale to the top of a 20m high palm. The clear water showed that a large shoal of small fish had decided to call Tai Mo Shan home. We watched them swim in formation close to the hull. Where there are smaller fish, there must be larger fish, so we threw some lines in the water. Well, Helen had a large bite, that cut clean through the tough 60lb trace; a small shark? Otherwise we had nibbles, enough to remove our soft plastic lures, but nothing more; ah well.
So, sunset on Tai Mo Shan, red sky, calm seas, coconuts, barbeque, glass of wine … could be worse.
Picture: Sandy beach, rocks, fish and the facilities behind the sign.
Brampton Island July 2020
29 July 2020 | Brampton Island, Australia
Scawfell Island was great but with no bush walks after a couple of days we felt it was time to move on. So, Tuesday 21st July saw us raise anchor at 0945 ready for the 21nm sail to Brampton Island. With a fresh south easterly wind allowing us a nice broad reach we made good time to the end of Carlisle Island, making ground at 7 to 8 knots.
Brampton Island on half of the Brampton Carlisle group. Measuring some 2nm north west to south east, with a central peninsular heading some 0.75nm south west from the rest of the 0.75nm wide island, it forms a somewhat irregular shape. As it seems with most of these continental islands, the island is primarily rock with steep slopes rising to a central ridge and peak of some 200m or so. The island is mostly a national park and covered in bush. The coastline is mostly rocky, but with those lovely yellow sand beaches in its bays. The chart belies the benign nature of many of these bays, showing shallow coral rock shelves and shoals filling the bays presenting quite a hazard to unaware sailors. Fortunately our anchorage on the north side of the island had good depth and good shelter, albeit with shallow rocks and sand forcing us to anchor some 300m off.
Carlisle Island is certainly worth a mention. It sat just 500 to 600m to the North West of Brampton Island and, indeed, the two islands were connected by a drying sandbank. The island is rocky and bush covered with few beaches. However, it was Carlisle Island’s profile that was remarkable. Measuring just 1.6nm by 1nm it had Skiddaw Peak rising 400m at the north end. The profile seen from the south east, that was our approach from Scawfell, was a near perfect wedge. This made it a readily recognisable landmark helping navigation.
Our passage to Brampton Island meant passing the north end of Carlisle Island. The fresh wind held until we were alongside the bluff of Skiddaw Peak. The almost vertical 400m high lump of rock really affected the windflow and caused significant turbulence. We had anticipated this and furled our sails as the wind’s power failed. All went well until we looked at the main sail and saw one of the lower battens had nearly slipped out of its sleeve. (The battens are fibreglass poles that fit horizontally into the sail and help the sail maintain its shape). Some 80% of the batten was dangling in the air behind the sail, and the sail was starting to flap as we took the power out of the sail to furl it. We furled the sail until the batten was just above the boom. It was then a case of Paul at full stretch grabbing the batten and feeding it back into the sail. It was too difficult to properly secure the batten but with most of it in the batten pocket we could at least furl the sail and, in doing so, prevent it falling out.
Sail emergency over; we motored past the turbulent wind off Carlisle, to shelter behind Brampton Island anchoring at 1310, and ready for lunch. Despite being sheltered the wind was still quite significant and the skies grey threatening rain. We therefore decided to remain on board Tuesday.
Wednesday saw slightly less wind but still grey skies with low clouds scudding by; indeed, Skiddaw Peak on Carlisle Island was often obscured by cloud. Occasional showers blew through. Still, in a gap in the showers, we decided to head ashore and explore. Of interest were a large number of buildings near the shore. We landed the dinghy on sand between moderate sized rocks and walked the beach. Brown lines at the top of the shore, edging the bush, soon resolved themselves into the remains of a narrow gauge railway. A little further was a sign indicating national park walks. Great! A faded sign showed a route looping the island, with a spur heading up the peak to a couple of lookouts. A little further and we came to the building complex. From the sea these looked to be in good repair, but close up this was not the case. Many of the buildings were damaged with extensive undergrowth between them. Large signs declared this was private property and warned all to keep out. Occasional red net fencing blocked possible entry routes, vegetation blocked the rest.
As we walked on the beach it started to sprinkle rain. This soon increased and so we sought shelter under the eaves of a beachside hut. As we stood there a figure appeared at the first floor balcony of the adjacent building. This was the caretaker. We carried out a shouted conversation at distance. The caretaker did 3 days to a week on site; it varied. He was then replaced by another. The buildings were a holiday resort. This explained the remains of a beachside pool we had passed, and the sealed airstrip just around the corner. The resort had shut down in … about 2011, yes, some 9 years ago. We could not tell if the effects of a cyclone (which had caused some damage and removed much of the sandy beach to expose extensive rocks) or simple economics (the resort had not made money) had led to its demise. However, some interesting facts emerged. The resort water came from a desalination plant (which was expensive to run). The rails were part of a passenger railway! Apparently guests arrived by boat at a small jetty and then caught the train for the 1km ride to the resort. Alternatively of course, they arrived by plane. In fact, the caretakers took the plane, so the aerodrome was still in use.
The rain eased and then ended so we continued our walk along the beach to the end of the airstrip and then back to the dinghy. Back aboard the rain resumed, and continued on through Thursday. It was a case of aboard watching DVDs and making noise on the guitar.
Friday saw drier and less windy conditions. Time for a walk. After some consideration Helen decided the 2km uphill walk and the 8km or so island walk would be too much. So, pack on, boots on, ‘stick’ in hand, Paul headed ashore.
The peak and lookouts were first. The start had an information sign with a map. It was faded but still legible. The track was wide and fairly well maintained. The only problem was that it just seemed to go up, and up, and up. It was not overly steep; it just kept going up, switching back occasionally to ascend the steep slope. Occasional information boards, also faded but legible, gave information on the local fauna. Eventually the path flattened out; Paul was near the peak. The first lookout was fenced off; the structure was damaged. A closer look revealed that the structure was not damaged, it simply wasn’t there! Still the views down and to the south were great, with the clear water showing bays filled with reefs. The path continued for a couple hundred metres and ended in a well maintained wooden structure perched on a rock bluff. This looked out northwards across the aerodrome and resort, the shallow sandy strait, and up Carlisle Island; great views.
Back down the path; much easier downhill. The path heading around the island was near the bottom, about one km from the start. It wasn’t worth going back, so on around the island! This path was wide but getting overgrown. Still it was quite easy to follow. After a while it came to Turtle Bay. The path disappeared but a nearby information board had the, faded, map. A bit of close peering revealed that the path continued on the beach. Not a problem, walking along a wide soft sandy curved sweeping beach backed by bush is not really a hardship! Finding the path at the other end took a few minutes, but sure enough there it was rising up some rough natural rock steps. The path now was getting overgrown. Paul wondered if this was actually 9 years growth. The further he went, the more certain he was that it was! The path kept close to the coast, but the steep slopes meant that it often went quite high and offered some really good views. Half way around and in a rocky scrubland the information board was there but the map was so faded as to be illegible. A bit of scouting around revealed the faint trail and so it was a case of onward, through the bush to perhaps two thirds of the way around. Here the bush opened up to more rocky ground, and the path became pretty faint. Some bare, eroded earth, showed the location of perhaps a picnic area, but nothing now remained. And the path had also faded away. 20 minutes search did not find it, so there was nothing else to do but turn back.
The return included walking on Turtle Beach. There was only one set of footprints, heavy tread boots. These were Paul’s on the way out. No one else had passed by; quite a thought.
Saturday saw only partly cloudy skies and a reasonable wind; time for the short passage to the next destination; Goldsmith Island.
Picture: the resort complete with Jetski Rides and beachside pool, and views of shallow, reef filled bays.
Scawfell July 2020
23 July 2020 | Scawfell Island, Australia
We left Mackay Harbour Saturday 18 July at the very sensible time of 1000. Before casting off from the berth we called Hay Point VTS (who controlled Mackay Commercial Shipping) on the VHF radio to ask for permission to transit the commercial harbour. There were no ships in the harbour, and the earliest was due that afternoon, so permission was readily granted. We then had an uneventful 27nm passage to Scawfell Island. The light south easterly breeze meant the wind was beam on so, despite the low wind strength, we were still able to make good progress and were anchored at 1505hrs.
Our anchorage was Refuge Bay, which was actually 2 bays, the larger to the east. We saw two other boats already at anchor in the eastern bay and, as this seemed to offer the best shelter made our way there. As we approached we could see two park moorings with one already occupied. Some of these moorings have time limits of perhaps 24 hours. As we did not want to be so tied we elected to anchor (and so be able to stay as long as we wanted). This was just as well as approaching the anchorage we saw a traditional style catamaran enter the eastern end of the bay. The crew saw us heading to the anchorage as they suddenly increased speed, the bow wave becoming very visible, and made a beeline for the mooring; they wanted to use it and were happy to race for it! We anchored safely and watched the catamaran complete its charge to the buoy.
Scawfell, like most of the islands in the area, was a protected national park; hence the park buoys. Whilst most of the island was steep to the sea, the bays in Refuge Bay had sandy beaches. These were fringed by rocky reef, complete with coral outcrops. To protect this the government place white pyramid shaped buoys just beyond the reef. As with Pancake Creek, these buoys warn of the protected reef and prohibit anchoring. As with Pancake Creek we had no intention of trying to anchor on reef, but still the buoys were really useful at indicating the extent of the foul ground.
Scawfell Island was roughly circular with a diameter of approximately 2.5nm, Refuge Bay takes a 1nm bite from the north west. The island consisted almost entirely of steep slopes with peaks and ridges rising between 200m and 300m from the sea. These slopes were covered in bush, the only exception being the many sheer rocky outcrops. Dry streams ran into Refuge Bay, creating the beaches and cutting heavily into the slopes. The shoreline was mostly rocky, with the two beaches an attractive yellow sand leading to fine gravel. The tides were significant, some 3m plus, and at low tide the flat rock and coral shelf was revealed. The larger beach also had an extensive sand shoal exposed at low tide. The only buildings on the island were a picnic shelter and composting toilet on the larger eastern beach. The park-erected sign indicated this was a camp ground.
Our explorations ashore showed that the only flat land was close to the dry streams as they ran into the beach. Even at the eastern beach this only extended 100m or so inland before the slopes rose up. There were no paths or tracks and the bush was impassable. We were therefore very much limited to the beach area. Still, the dinghy allowed us to go over and so see the coral. There were some areas of fairly colourful coral, primarily reds, so this was living coral. However, mostly the coral was an unexciting brown. We did not see any of the small colourful fish we are used to seeing in droves on the reefs of the South Pacific islands. Ashore at low tide the exposed coral was small and dull coloured. Interestingly, whilst fish were almost totally absent from the shallows and pools, the reef was teeming with small black crabs up to 3cm across the shell. Typical crab attitude, first they skitter under a rock, and then they turn, claws up, ready to fight; come and get it! The sandy shoal on the eastern beach had occasional small rocks with a healthy growth of rock oysters on them. Some of the oysters were a useful size and Paul soon had his knife out and enjoyed a feed of really fresh oysters; perhaps not as sweet as cold water oysters but delicious nonetheless.
Refuge Bay provided excellent shelter from the trade winds and, secure, with a beautiful outlook we stayed 3 days. We tried out our new fishing lures from the boat but, contrary to the fishing shop prediction, not a bite! Ah well, it was great looking at the wildlife, turtles close by, butterflies struggling manfully to the island, a few seabirds soaring, and the raucous clamour of crows, parrots, parakeets and a host of other unseen and unknown birds in the bush. Not bad at all.
Pictures: Scawfell Island – deserted beaches, a national park, and a turtle close by.