After 14 days in Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island, we are getting a little antsy to get going again. We have our fingers crossed that we should be able to leave on Sunday morning (12th September) and make our way to Mackay Harbour. So far, we spent two weeks in Cairns after learning from Australian Border Force (ABF) about our 25th October deadline to be in Brisbane, and it looks likely to be two weeks at Magnetic Island. In theory, even if we can only make leaps of about 150 -200 nm every two weeks, we should be able to get to Moreton Bay by our deadline. Hopefully, wind conditions should improve both as we get further south and as spring, with its October northerly winds, arrives. Cairns and Magnetic Island have been excellent places to wait-out the strong southeasterly trade-winds, so I hope that we can find somewhere equally safe and interesting after our next one-to-two day jump.
Waiting for a gap in the southeasterly trade-winds, we saw an unusual cloud formation with a round gap in the clouds at dawn
What has been so great about being stuck in Horseshoe Bay at Magnetic Island?
Let me count the ways...
1. Safe and reasonably comfortable anchorage
With southeasterly winds gusting up to 32 knots and steadily above 15 knots for days, it has been good to be anchored fairly close to shore so the waves are not uncomfortable. Our anchor has held firmly in the sandy sediments and no one has dragged towards us.
We did watch a mid-sized cabin-motorboat drag out to sea during one of the windiest spells, but a couple of local guys went out in a trailer-powerboat to stop it, presumably by letting out more anchor chain. It was rough enough that they had to jump into the water then climb into the runaway vessel rather than try to step from one boat to the other. They returned later with a third person, who was able to start it and return it to the anchorage where it has remained since. Randall was one of several people who called the Townsville Coastguard but, like many others around us, in the rough conditions outside the Bay we were hesitant to try to do anything from our little inflatable dinghy. Chances were high that, without the ability to start the motor of the dragging boat, we would need rescuing next. Considering there have been about 80 or so boats in the Bay most days, having only one problem boat is not bad.
Our chance for redemption came 10 days later, when we noticed a kayak drifting out to sea. This
we could handle! So we launched our dinghy and chased after the kayak. It was before 7 am so there were not many people around to notice that they had lost it. We put out a message on the VHF radio with no response, so we took it to shore and left it next to another, apparently abandoned, kayak well above the high-tide mark. We had noticed a large motor-vessel with an identical kayak on the back but no one appeared to be awake. When we returned to Tregoning, we were going to stop at the motor-vessel but it had gone. Luckily, it not only had a memorable name, but its own website as a charter boat. We called the number and the grateful captain told us that he had lost a kayak and he would arrange for someone local to keep it for him until he returned a few days later.
On the topic of charter boats, the three-masted luxury schooner Southern Cloud followed us to Magnetic Island and anchored nearby. For a few nights, somewhat less well-appointed accommodation appeared to be available on three boats that also anchored near us. These were army landing-craft that had perhaps been involved in some sort of exercises at the nearby Halifax Bay Bombing Range.
The first of three army landing-craft that anchored near us
Horseshoe Bay can be prone to swells wrapping around from anywhere north of due east or west, which can lead to boats rolling. This is not a so obvious when the wind is strong from the southeast but did set us rolling a bit during the rare and short-term lulls. Still, it was quite tolerable and we have been in much worse conditions.
2. Excellent company
We entered Horseshoe Bay about 1 hour after Laura and Dick on SV Maia arrived from Cape Bowling Green (to the south). We had not seen them since April, so it was fun to trade news. We were able to anchor fairly close to Maia and near a boat called Tobyrruf (the name has a long story related to being read backwards...). Kara and Levi had just started cruising this year and Laura and Dick had become mentors for them. The four of us enjoyed various social gathering together, including a game of the famous Maia Chicken-feet dominoes.
Laura, Randall, and Dick on one of our hikes on Magnetic Island
Kara and Levi left after a week for an overnight sail to Cairns, where they are to attend Levi's sister's wedding. Laura and Dick are planning to head that way around the same time that we go south. Also heading north, Rachel and Adam arrived a few days ago on SV Lady Annabelle and we enjoyed getting together for sundowners to hear what they have been up to since we last saw them at Great Keppel Island.
Then at the last minute, as we were resting at a picnic table after our hour-long walk or run this morning, who should come walking towards us but Cheryl and Mark from SV French Curve. They had arrived the previous afternoon and this morning had seen Tregoning without her dinghy, so they knew that we were ashore. We had assumed that they were still in the Whitsunday Islands so it was great fun to see them even if it was just a brief get-together. They have not been this far north before in their boat so we tried to give them a quick rundown of joys of Magnetic Island and the reefs and islands on the way to Cairns. They had been planning to fly back to the US in September but after that flight was cancelled, they rebooked for October. Now that flight has already been cancelled and they were told to try again after 30th November. This is despite paying $5,000 for two one-way tickets!
3. Convenient dining and buses to stores
The lunchtime dining opportunities in Horseshoe Bay are quite pleasant, from fish and chip and bar food to a couple of gourmet cafés. There is a convenience store, for the things you really cannot do without, and the buses run about hourly to Nelly Bay which has an IGA supermarket, hardware store, etc. I had managed to resist patronizing the local gelato café for about 12 days, then I planned to have that treat yesterday, on our return from Nelly Bay. And after waiting two weeks, did I indulge in a triple cone? NO, their freezer had broken down...agggh! We should have offered to eat all of their melting ice-cream but they seemed sure that the electrician would be arriving sometime that afternoon. When we returned hopefully this morning...they were still trying to re-freeze the gelato. Apparently, it was just not to be, so I had to settle for a packaged ice-cream from the convenience store...
Dinghies and kayaks on the shore near the bus stop in Horseshoe Bay
4. Excellent trails for hiking and running
Randall and I have been glad to get back into a bit of a routine of heart-healthy walking and running, respectively, around Horseshoe Bay. There are enough local roads and trails to give us some variety away from the main road.
We have also enjoyed further hiking on the National Park Trails particularly in the company of Laura and Dick, and sometimes Kara. We enjoyed the hike up to The Forts early in our stay. The weather for this was not as pleasant as it was in July, with grey skies eventually showering us with a light drizzle. This rather reduced the views from the top, but it did not prevent us from finding four adult koalas, one of which had a good-sized joey (all marsupial babies are joeys, not just kangaroos).
A sleepy koala seen from below at The Forts
Another morning, Laura, Dick, Randall, and I took the bus to The Forts, but this time we started walking in the opposite direction. With a light mist to keep us cool for part of the climb, we took the 6 km (4 mile) National Park trail to Nelly Bay. This was the opposite direction from when we had done this walk with Anita and Mike in 2020. Eliminating part of the climb by starting at The Forts, Randall decided that this was definitely the better way to go!
Part of the anchorage in Horseshoe Bay seen from the Nelly Bay trail; red arrow shows Southern Cloud with Tregoning nearby
Arriving in Nelly Bay we went out to the breakwater on the north side of the harbor entrance. From here, we could watch the start of the first race of Magnetic Island Race Week. It was a grand sight to see so many yachts of various sizes tacking back and forth in the strong breeze. We were not really sure of the location of the start line or course, but it was fairly obvious when each class of boats changed from milling around to heading off in the same direction.
Race yachts accelerated across the start line (wherever it was) in the first race of Magnetic Island Race Week
There was a wide variety of sizes of boats including both monohulls and catamarans. Some were clearly highly competitive race boats, others were enthusiastic cruising boats with solar panels and other items not strictly needed for racing. In the stiff wind, we would have had reefs in the mainsail and jib, but the conditions did not put these racers off using their full sails. In most cases, this was used to good effect but one small boat apparently was over-powered and before the race had been started, was limping back to the marina with a broken mast. Closer inspection as we walked past the marina suggested that the mast had broken in half on a section that had been previously repaired. The crew were apparently undaunted because we watched them carrying the mast to a workshop to get it repaired within a couple of hours!
The dismasted vessel (center) surrounded by other race-boats as a tanker passes in the ship-channel from Townsville
While standing at the designated viewing area on the breakwater watching the race-boats, Randall noticed that we too were being watched. Our observers were a couple of allied rock wallabies (a.k.a. weasel rock-wallabies).
An allied rock-wallaby (to 70 cm or 28 inches) on the breakwater rocks
These were the elusive creatures that we had failed to see when we walked from Arcadia to Nelly Bay in July. As we looked closely, we realized that there were several more scattered across the breakwater.
Where's wally? There are nine rock wallabies in this view of the breakwater with the closest being in the bottom left corner...
These diminutive jumparoos, have thick fluffy fur, long eyelashes, and much thinner tails than kangaroos. This species is endemic to the central latitudes of Queensland and tends to live in small colonies.
The long eye-lashes and whiskers of an allied rock-wallaby
Although most of the rock wallabies stayed in rock crevices, in the shade and shelter from the wind, we were able to watch a couple hopping across the rocks. Sadly, I did not manage to capture it on video but there was no hesitation as they bounded from rock to rock. Although they are naturally nocturnal feeders, we concluded that someone must have been feeding them for them to be so fearless. One came right up to the railing around the viewpoint but it did not receive any hand-outs from us.
An allied rock-wallaby poised to start hopping apparently effortlessly across the boulders of the breakwater
Another morning, Laura and Dick joined us as we took the National Park trail from Horseshoe Bay to Balding Bay. I had made the detour there on my own back in July but Randall had not been to this particular beach before.
The creek on approaching Balding Bay
Like many other bays on Magnetic Island, Balding Bay has an attractively curved sand beach bordered by headlands of granite boulders topped with Norfolk Island pines and casuarina. Unlike most other beaches, it appears that many people regard this as a clothing-optional beach. We were unaware of this until several men emerged from the water without the clothing option.
The beach at Balding Bay
5. Wildlife and birding
As will have already been made apparent, one of the reasons that we love Magnetic Island is because of the opportunities to see wildlife such as koalas, agile wallabies and, now, allied rock-wallabies. There did not seem to be quite as many butterflies as last year but perhaps that is because it is a bit earlier in the year.
Blue tiger butterflies on the flowering spike of a grasstree
On the walk to Balding Bay, we spotted at least two thin snakes winding between the rocks alongside the trail. One of them was certainly a collared whip snake and the other was likely to be the same or a similar whip snake. This species is venomous but is not considered dangerous to humans. A bite could be very painful with much local swelling but is unlikely to be deadly.
Collared whip snake seen on the Balding Bay trail (to 70 cm or 28 inches long)
We have only seen one other wild snake before in Australia (larger but unidentified in Victoria) but given that there are some deadly species around, we are quite happy to keep the number of these interactions low. We are much more likely, and happy, to see various lizards, of which Australia has a very diverse fauna. There are five families: skinks, dragons (like the water dragons), monitors (a.k.a. goannas), geckos, and flap-footed lizards (a.k.a. legless lizards or snake-lizards). We have seen examples of each family expect the last one.
An unidentified skink (about 10 cm or 3 inches long) seen on the Balding Bay trail
Of course, we have also been looking for birds. For example, on our Balding Bay walk we identified 16 bird species, and walking around the outer neighborhoods of Horseshoe Bay we recorded 27 species. These included wedge-tailed eagles, osprey, Pacific baza, bush stone curlews (bush thick-knees)...
...female red-tailed black-cockatoo (to 61 cm or 24 inches)...
...male figbird (to 29 cm or 11 inches) with particularly bright red skin around the eye...
...and male blue-winged kookaburra (to 46 cm or 18 inches).
On our provisioning trip to the grocery store in Nelly Bay with Laura, Dick, and Rachel, we got off the bus in Arcadia and met Maryanne from SV Begonia, who led us along part of the trail back towards The Forts. The reason for this detour from the otherwise direct trail to Nelly Bay was because at a particular spot she had twice previously seen two southern boobook owls (named for their boo-book call). While we were all peering around in the trees, she redirected our gazes to a little cavern under an overhang of soil and roots.
A pair of southern boobook owls (to 35 cm or 14 inches) roosting in a shady cleft in the hillside
It was amazing that she ever noticed these owls because, from most angles, they were hidden by tree branches and leaves closer to the trail. We could get a good view from one particular position and we all had a good look with the binoculars and our cameras. Despite being common, we had not seen any owls since we arrived in Australia, so Randall was particularly excited about this sighting. We were very appreciative of Maryanne's keen eyesight.
With seemingly a bit of a frown, one of the boobook owls decided to stare back at us
Of course, we have also had plenty of boat projects to keep us busy during the last two weeks, such as me writing the blog and Randall varnishing the cockpit table. We thought that we might be able to leave last weekend but with a pressure trough passing through, the forecast looked a little dodgy after we passed Cape Bowling Green. With little to do ashore there, we did not want to risk stranding ourselves for a week or more. We were not quite that desperate yet.
We also had a day of roller-coaster emotions when we received an email from the ABF saying that as our Control Permit was expiring in October, they were letting us know that our three options related to the boat were to: import, export, leave the country. Agggh!
What happened to the "Restricted to Port" option in recognition of the extenuating circumstances" of the pandemic?
We first heard about this email when the phone rang one evening as we were watching a movie. It was Phil (SV Silhouette) and Al (SV Irie II) on a three-way call, having just received the same email. They had also previously been advised about the option to be "Restricted to Port", so we were all shocked and frustrated that the policy seemed to have changed for a second time. Initially, we had been advised by the ABF that there might be three-month extensions to the Control Permits. In fact, this was why we had felt that it was reasonable to go all the way to Cairns. Once there, we had asked again and learned that the extensions could not be permitted within the existing legislation. Instead, we would be "Restricted to Port" but would not be required to immediately import the boat, as would occur in normal circumstances. That was why we had left Cairns in a hurry and were trying to get to Brisbane, as a safe place south of the cyclone belt to be "Restricted".
The cyclone warning sign at Nelly Bay...we want to be sure to get somewhere without such signs for the summer
Now it appeared that we would have no choice but to import the boat after all, as we could not leave just before cyclone season with nowhere safe from Covid that would accept us, and too late and expensive to arrange to export Tregoning. Needless to say, the next morning we spend an hour or so composing a polite but frustrated reply to ABF explaining what we had already done to try to comply with their earlier policies and asking whether the option to be "Restricted to Port" had really been rescinded.
Quite promptly we received a reply saying that, of course under the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic, the option to be "Restricted to Port" was available as we had previously discussed. We could think of a few choice things to say in reply, having spent the last 20 hours trying to work out where we could best get the boat valued and submit the paperwork for importation. But, we responded that we were very grateful for this provision and would continue making our way to be in Moreton Bay by 25th October.
We assumed that the confusing email that precipitated this latest exchange was an automatic message that was always sent as Control Permits approach their expiration dates. All seems to have ended well but it was a reminder that even though we have been far less impacted than most people in the world by the pandemic, like many others, we do have a cloud of uncertainty hanging over us. We have no idea when or how quickly the gracious provisions of visas and restraint from imposing the importation taxes will be lifted and our pandemic tenure in Australia will have to end.
An unusually straight border of clouds that continued from horizon to horizon at sunset
So, now that we are sure that we are continuing our southward migration, the forecasts look good for departing from Magnetic Island tomorrow. This will be two weeks after we made a 4 am departure from Little Pioneer Bay, Orpheus Island. After that departure, we motor-sailed for 45 nm to Townsville Breakwater Marina where we filled Tregoning up with diesel and got petrol for the dinghy. As we squeezed onto the fuel dock, we almost touched the bow of another boat. When they came to leave, we moved Tregoning as far forward as possible and I helped to push their bow off the dock, but in a strong gust of on-dock wind, they scraped gently alongside Tregoning's aft port side. Randall and their crew member were able to stop the boats from damaging each other but we made sure that no one else tried to join us on the dock before we were ready to leave.
Now we are loaded with food and fuel and can "make water" once we get out to sea, we hope to get to Mackay before the southeasterly winds strengthen again. We have not been to this harbor before, so we plan to stay in the marina for a few days, rent a car, and go inland to Eungella National Park. If we are delayed for some reason, there are plenty of places to hide in the southern Whitsunday Islands. We were sad to say goodbye to Laura, Dick, Rachel, and Adam, who are using this reduction in winds to continue north and visit the reef. We are also sorry not to be spending more time with Cheryl and Mark. But chances are that we will see them all again in Moreton Bay during the summer, and we have thoroughly enjoyed sharing with them our magical time at Maggie Island.