Tregoning

20 November 2020 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg QLD, Australia
12 November 2020 | Near Mouth Island Head Creek, Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, QLD, Australia
09 November 2020 | Upstream in Island Head Creek, Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, QLD, Australia
05 November 2020 | Public mooring in Homestead Bay, St Bees Island, Southern Cumberland Islands, QLD, Australia
01 November 2020 | Victor Bay, Keswick Island, Southern Cumberland Islands, QLD, Australia
29 October 2020 | Billbob Bay, Shaw Island, Whitsunday Group, QLD, Australia
28 October 2020 | Coral Sea Resort and Marina, Airlie Beach, QLD, Australia
27 October 2020 | Grassy Island, Northern Whitsunday Islands, QLD, Australia
25 October 2020 | John Brewer Reef, Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia
23 October 2020 | Taylor Reef, Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia
22 October 2020 | Howie Reef, Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia
20 October 2020 | Sudbury Cay, Great Barrier Reef, QLD, Australia
18 October 2020 | Fitzroy Island, Queensland, Australia
12 October 2020 | Anchored in Trinity Inlet, Cairns, QLD, Australia
04 October 2020 | Anchored in Trinity Inlet, Cairns, QLD, Australia
30 September 2020 | Atherton Hotel, Atherton, QLD, Australia
28 September 2020 | Daintree Riverview Lodge, Daintree Village, QLD, Australi
26 September 2020 | Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge, Julatten, QLD, Australi
24 September 2020 | Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge, Julatten, QLD, Australia
22 September 2020 | Marlin Marina, Cairns, QLD, Australia

Bundaberg Update

20 November 2020 | Bundaberg Port Marina, Bundaberg QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: A green turtle at Lady Musgrave that was apparently very tolerant of snorkelers
We arrived in Bundaberg a couple of days ago after a few days of snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. We had mixed fortunes there, visiting three of the southern Swain Reefs where the coral was severely damaged, presumably due to excess heat and coral-bleaching. It was very depressing. At one reef, we changed our mind about snorkeling after I was approached by a shark that was behaving very strangely. We did survey another reef to find some small patches of soft corals and a reasonably diverse community of fish. But after two days of disappointment and increasing depression concerning the outlook for the GBR, we made sure that we could stop at Lady Musgrave lagoon for one night and two long snorkels.

With turtles and birds galore, our spirits were quickly restored by the healthy corals and teeming fish. These may have been our last snorkeling opportunities for the year so it was good to be exposed to such beauty at Lady Musgrave Reef.

We will probably stay at the marina in Bundaberg Port for about 10 days so that we can celebrate the US Thanksgiving holiday with fellow Americans, Sue and Larry on SV Serengeti, and new friends Laura and Dick on SV Maia. We are inviting anyone else at the marina to join us for a potluck, so exactly how much people will get of Randall’s roast turkey is hard to tell. Afterwards, we will continue to Fraser Island where we hope to catch-up again with Anita and Mike (SV Curried Oats). Much of the northern half of the Island has been burned over the last four weeks in a bushfire caused by an illegal campfire that was improperly extinguished. Just like the Swain Reefs, it will be sad to see this beautiful place so damaged by human actions. Then we will continue southward towards Mooloolaba and Moreton Bay, but we will not be taking Tregoning out of Queensland. That will probably have to wait until we can get doses of Covid-19 vaccine.

Note: I have added blog posts for 12th October (Cairns) to 12th November (about to leave Island Head Creek for the Swain Reefs). If you are short of time, I hope that you can spin through and enjoy the pictures. I will be working on the Swain Reef entries next.

Learning to be social again

12 November 2020 | Near Mouth Island Head Creek, Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Island Head is just to the left of the entrance (beyond sand bar) to Island Head Creek
We spent five nights in the placid waters upstream in Island Head Creek waiting for the southeasterly winds to pass. It was a joy to watch white-breasted sea-eagles, whistling kites, ospreys, and Brahminy kites fly back and forth across the creek each day. We kept ourselves busy and tracked the weather forecasts via single side-band radio emails.

We did not bother to uncover and inflate the dinghy as there was nowhere along the potentially crocodile-infested mangrove shoreline that we wanted to land. We waved at our neighbors on SV MAD as they went back and forth to visit their buddies further upstream. We only managed to talk briefly on Tuesday morning (10th November), when both boats passed us on their way to the head of the Creek, where they were planning to walk on the beaches.

By the time we followed them down-creek the next day, those boats had left for Great Keppel Island but we were now anchored near two Amel boats, Gradiva and Lady Annabelle. We could not anchor as close to the beaches as we had hoped. It was too breezy and far to try rowing to them and our enthusiasm for walking in a military training area did not quite overcome the effort that would be required to launch the dinghy with the outboard and pack it up again the same day. A bit hard to believe in retrospect but what can I say, we were feeling lazy and wanted to be ready for our departure to the Swain Reefs the following morning.

Luckily, we were able to get to shore thanks to the kindness of strangers. Mid-afternoon, Adam from Lady Annabelle stopped by in his dinghy and asked us if we would like to join him and Rachel for a campfire on the beach that evening. It was exceptionally kind as they offered to ferry us back and forth in their dinghies. At the arranged time, Scott from Gradiva arrived to be our taxi service and we had a marvelous evening swapping cruising stories and learning about our four new friends.

It was possible to have a campfire because this was not a National Park, and this also allowed Scott and Rachel (yes, there were two Rachels) to exercise their dogs on the beach each day. We were greatly impressed and encouraged that they were so respectful of the rules when in National Parks, such as on many of the Whitsunday Islands, because we have seen so many other boaters take their dogs ashore where they are prohibited.

Due to Covid-19, we have become rather out of practice for making new cruising friends other than chatting to each other from the distance of our dinghies. We were all pretty confident that we were healthy and would not have been exposed to the virus recently but I still liked to bump elbows instead of shaking hands. Scott and Rachel were from Tasmania and will be returning there for the summer. We had probably been pretty close to each other while we were down there earlier in the year. Adam and Rachel are from Sydney but, like us, they are reluctant to leave Queensland in case the border has to be closed again.

They were heading to Great Keppel Island the following day and seemed a little bemused that we were planning to bash our way into the easterly wind and waves to try to get to the southern Swain Reefs. However, they had been there before and their comments encouraged us that the area was worth visiting. It was very reassuring to be able to chat about some of the specific reefs and it made us feel much more confident that we would find suitable anchorages.

We hope to meet these new friends again further south. We also hope that if we are able to visit some of the Swain Reefs that coral bleaching will not have got there first. The 2020 map of coral bleaching that we had studied when at Taylor Reef had red dots showing severe damage next to green dots for minimal damage in the very area we planned to visit. If we are going to be able to spend a few days out there, we sincerely hope that we can find some of the reefs represented by green dots.

Something good did happen!

09 November 2020 | Upstream in Island Head Creek, Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area, QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Rocky headland on the west coast of St Bees Island
During Wednesday (4th November), several other sailboats had joined us in Homestead Bay. Presumably, like us, they were heading south. Unlike us, they all left early the following morning. We assumed that most of them were either going to stop for the night at the Percy Islands (about 60 nm south) or keep going overnight to Great Keppel Island or Keppel Bay Marina. Since our destination of Island Head Creek was only 110 nm away, there was no advantage for us to leave early because we would might then arrive before sunrise.

After raising the anchor at 7 am, instead of turning south, we turned north to go through the Egremont Passage between Keswick and St Bees Islands. From the moorings, we could see the south end of a private air-strip, in and out of which a helicopter seemed to fly most days, so I was curious to see the rest of it. Keswick Island is 78% National Park but there is also a development lease that permits construction of up to 1,000 "eco-conscious" dwellings (with their own water collection/storage and power generation). As of 2018, only 22 such houses had been built and there was no sign of the planned marina or permanent jetty. Currently, a floating dock can only be used at high tide. Going through the Passage, we could see a few houses which range from the size of a mobile home to a huge multilevel house on the southernmost hilltop. Apparently, camping, glamping, and a self-contained holiday house are available for visitors without boats, and there are some trails through the National Park.

Less predictably, Keswick Island has many hives of purebred Caucasian bees which are free of the diseases affecting hives on the mainland, and can thus be used as breeding stock for mainland colonies. A queen bee will mate in flight within an 8 km (5 mile) radius of her hive. Thus, Keswick Island is isolated enough to ensure that queens there will only mate with drones from hives on the island, keeping the genepool pure and the hives free of disease. One has to wonder why the hives were established on Keswick Island when it would seem more appropriate to be located on the neighboring St Bees Island.

Named not for the insects but for the coastal town in Cumberland (the former county in northwest England that is now Cumbria and these Australian islands are in the Cumberland Group), the whole of St Bees Island is National Park. It was first used for sheep grazing in 1907 and this persisted for long enough that the eastern side of the
Island is still largely devoid of trees. This may be why it looks to me so much like the heavily grazed parts of Cumbria and to Randall like the dry, treeless parts of central California. Since Lt. James Cook named these islands after the Duke of Cumberland, long before any sheep were introduced, perhaps the shape of the hills reminded him of the northwest of England, or it was just a coincidence that those places now look similar.

There were three houses at the head of Homestead Bay, where we had been moored, and, given the Bay's name, these presumably pre-dated the National Park. Inshore of these buildings, the western side of St Bees was forested. According to our cruising-guide, St Bees became of special interest to wildlife officers in 2011 "when it was realized that the island had the largest group of koalas in a habitat unaltered by human activity." This seems to ignore the influence on the island of the sheep-grazing, but we assume that the koalas stayed on the forested side and the sheep on the other side.



St Bees Island: top - forested west side seen from Homestead Bay; bottom - formerly grazed east side looking to Randall a bit like central California

The tide was against us initially, but once we motored through the Passage and came around the north end of St Bees Island, the wind and current were very much with us and we were soon sailing in very pleasant conditions. As we passed Mackay, which is about 20 nm southwest of Keswick and St Bees Islands, we noticed on the chart-plotter more than 30 AIS icons for commercial vessels in, or near, the ship anchorage. The economy of the town of Mackay is dominated by sugar and agriculture with a small sector based on tourism and access to the Whitsunday Islands. Not quite 10 nm south of Mackay, Hay Point has massive equipment for loading coal onto ore ships. Our cruising-guide warned us that dozens of such ships might be anchored in wait for their turn at the coal loaders. Other than on either side of the Panama Canal, I am not sure that we had ever seen so many ships anchored in such close quarters. We wondered if the current spat between Australia and China, which had stopped the northward shipment of coal, was responsible for so many idle ships.



Chart-plotter showing ship the anchorage off Hay Point: violet circles with a blue anchor denote a designated anchoring position for a ship; black triangles are AIS icons for ships - Tregoning is outside the top right corner of the picture and Mackay is at top left

As forecast, the northerly wind strengthened during the night. By this time we had furled the jib and were sailing downwind on just the mainsail at a perfect average of 5 knots which would bring us to Cape Townshend, just north of our destination, around dawn. Or that was the theory, but at 3 am the wind backed by 50 degrees and dropped from 18 to 10 knots. Of course, it was my watch and we were threading our way between some small islands, so when the mainsail suddenly started flapping, I was galvanized into action and had to gybe quickly to regain control. We crept through the remaining islands and by the time Randall appeared, it was obvious that we had slowed down so much that we needed to start the engine if we wanted to get to the anchorage before dark.

Island Head Creek is cut out of a peninsular of the mainland that is on the east side of Shoalwater Bay and Broad Sound. Although they appear to have good shelter from southeasterly winds, few areas in these large bays are recommended for cruising boats. These bays have the widest tidal range and fastest tidal currents on the east coast of Australia. With many islets in Shoalwater Bay and extensive sandbars and shallow sections, this can be a hazardous area in anything other than neap tides and calm conditions.

Most of the shoreline of Shoalwater Bay and all the coast to 30 nm south of Island Head Creek, are within the Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area. As the Vietnam War loomed, the Australian Army needed to expand its military training in an area with tropical conditions. Starting in 1961, the federal government took-over from Queensland Parks and private cattle stations, 2,700 square km (1,053 square miles) of land south and east of Shoalwater Bay. The army arrived in mid-1965 and immediately dug Vietcong-style tunnels somewhere within the mountainous landscape.

The Training Area is completely closed when large-scale exercises are underway but, judging by the date of the last such Notice to Mariners, it appears that this has not happened for a few years. The rest of the time, it is permissible to use anchorages in the Area but going ashore beyond the beach is not allowed. Since the stated reason for such prohibitions is due to the risk of unexploded ordinance, we were not sure that even a beach walk would be very relaxing and wondered about the certainty of not finding such ordinance with an anchor.

We entered Island Head Creek very slowly because the diagram in our cruising guide (2014 edition) showed two deep channels separated by a middle shoal, whereas our more up-to-date electronic charts showed a single, central, very narrow channel. It was high tide and although we never saw water shallower than 4 m (13 ft), it suggested that we will also have to time our departure for high tide. Once inside the creek, however, water depths increased again to as much as 21 m (70 feet). Although the creek was initially very wide, with drying sand flats not far away we had to keep an eye on the water depth to make sure that we did not stray into a steep-sided wall of the channel.



Our surroundings in Island Head Creek: top - looking northwest; bottom - looking south

We crept upstream to where the distance between the mangroves on either side of the creek was about 0.3 nm. We dropped the anchor in mid-channel and it was time for lunch. That night we were alone in the anchorage with no signs of human influence in the mangroves and hills around us. Once dark, there were no sign of any human lights, not even the glow of a town on the horizon. Needless to say, until the moon rose, the stars were spectacular.

During the night Randall had to shut a port-light because he could hear cicadas. I had noticed them in the mangroves when in the cockpit but this was much louder and the next morning I found two alive and one dead one on the aft deck. We wondered if they were attracted by the solar lights on the stern. We took the lights below the next evening.



The dead cicada we found on Tregoning's deck in the morning (about 3 cm or 1.2 inches long)

The next day, three other boats joined us, including one, MAD, that had arrived in Homestead Bay the day before we all left. This boat is from Newcastle, NSW, and we are pretty sure that we had seen it several times in Port Stephens or on the way north along the Queensland coast.

One consequence of being so isolated was that we could not get service on our cellphone...at least not without raising it up the mast. Even then, texts could go in and out but we could only sometimes get sufficient data coverage to connect to the internet. Talking on the phone was also ruled-out because even if we had wanted to climb the mast, it would have been too windy to hear anyone. Luckily, we could get weather and brief news headlines via the single side-band radio.

This isolation had seemed like a good idea when we were sulking about the possibility of Trump being reelected. However, as we caught-up with snippets of news headlines, this started to seem less and less likely until, finally, on Sunday evening (four days after the election) we got the news that we so desperately wanted to hear. Joe Biden had won the US Presidential election - Hurrah!!!!

I am a little sorry now that I dissuaded Randall from going up on deck and blasting off our fog-horn in celebration. I was afraid that our neighbors might think that we were in distress and were trying to signal them. I would have felt bad if they had launched their dinghy to check on us but, in retrospect, I think that they would have understood if they saw us dancing a jig on the deck. Still, we did eat the last of our chocolate and made ourselves cocktails to mark what, at least for us, was a very happy occasion.

We personally may feel a huge relief in this result, but this is not a time to gloat. We appreciate that the President-Elect faces daunting challenges in the midst of the pandemic, climate change, and with such a bitterly divided electorate. Solving such problems in the US and the world will not be quick or easy. We also understand that our Republican friends may be disappointed and frustrated that recent policies, that they endorsed, may be slowed or reversed. But our strongest sentiment by far, is the ending of an administration that has treated blatant lying, the generation and acceptance of fake news, the focus on self-serving policies, and the cold-hearted abandonment of leadership in the face of the pandemic, as acceptable behavior for the nation's leader.

While many voters clearly supported his in-your-face assertiveness, readiness to fire even loyal associates when things go wrong, ignoring and ridiculing dissenting experts and scientists, and his proud espousal of incivility, in our opinion, Donald Trump has been an appalling role-model for the nation's children and a laughing-stock of most international opinion. We are not blind to the fact that many ardent Trump supporters will feel bitter, betrayed, and disenfranchised. However, their so-called leader has callously managed to make much of America's middle-class and many minorities feel that way for the last four years. We hope that amongst Trump loyalists, reason and resignation rather than vitriolic or violent reaction will prevail.

In this election, the choice of one old white guy or another became inevitable. But we hope that, in the long-term, intelligent, energetic, and younger leaders will emerge on both sides of the political divide. We see the election of Kamala Harris, to the highest position ever held by a woman in the administration of the US, to be a hugely positive step. We trust that she will be given the opportunity to provide a visible and creditable role-model of a woman leader, resulting in the eventual acceptance of a female president.

Without Trump in the White House, the press and comedians will have to work a little harder to find stories that shock or entertain the public. But they should not relax from rational criticism and poking fun at the new administration. Our sincere wish would be that critical appraisals be based on fact and logical extrapolation, rather than the recent emphasis on fear-mongering, conspiracy theories, and the exaggeration and proliferation of unsubstantiated conjecture and misinformation. OK, that is a pretty optimistic wish but who are we if we are not wishful-thinking liberals?

So endeth this blog's political (and probably pompous) diatribe for today!

A birthday (happy) and an election (undecided)

05 November 2020 | Public mooring in Homestead Bay, St Bees Island, Southern Cumberland Islands, QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Looking north up Egremont Passage: Keswick Island left, St Bees Island to right
Bouncing for 3 nm in an inflatable dinghy does not appear to be a miracle-cure for a sore back but, thankfully, by Monday morning (2nd November) it did not seem to have set Randall’s recovery back too far. This was especially good because this was his birthday and it would have been rather disappointing to spend it lying down taking pain-killers.

Instead, he enjoyed a few treats (bottle of gin, bars of chocolate, lemon birthday cake, and artichoke dip) and a very relaxed day. Our only significant action was to move out of Victor Bay as soon as the wind started to turn southeasterly. We had considered going to Horseshoe Bay at the north end of the Egremont Passge but finally decided to take one the four public moorings at the mouth of Homestead Bay, on the west side of St Bees Island. The location was not perfect because the strong currents in the Passage can create waves that slightly roll the boat at certain stages of the tide, but on the whole it was tolerable.



Our neighbor in Homestead Bay, a Queensland Marine Parks workboat

A catamaran eventually joined us on the moorings followed by a boat from Queensland Marine Parks. We wondered if the crew of the latter would insist that we move-on after 24 hours but with the stiff southeasterly winds keeping other boats from moving in this area, the three of us stayed on the moorings for two nights. The Marine Parks boat left on Wednesday morning, while we had planned to wait one more night until the winds became northerly again on Thursday and we could head out to the Swain Reefs.

Frustratingly, Wednesday’s forecasts showed us that it was not going to be calm enough for long enough to go out to the Swain Reefs. So we decided to bolt for Fitzroy Reef (about 220 nm away) or Lady Musgrave Reef (22 nm further) in the Capricorn and Bunker Group of the southern Great Barrier Reef. We know these lagoons well and would feel comfortable staying there when the winds turn southerly again on Saturday. While it is disappointing to be bypassing most of the Swains, there is still the possibility that we could catch the last of the southerly winds to return to the southernmost Swain Reefs for a few days.

In addition to waiting for the northerly winds, another reason for staying in Homestead Bay on Wednesday evening, was that we could get some data coverage on the phone and hear the results of the US election before we left. We spent the night of the last Presidential election (2016) in Heather’s house in Denver, and I vividly remember how painful it was as it became evident that Trump was going to win. I had been pessimistic from the start and went to bed long before it was finally announced. Randall watched with incredulity not that a Republican was winning, this was not entirely surprising after eight years of Obama, but that someone as un-statesmanlike as Trump could become President of the US. And that the pre-election polls had been so wrong.

Despite Biden’s lead in the polls, I was still very concerned that the incumbent President would squeak-out a win through the Electoral College, if not the popular vote. So, unlike Randall, I just wanted to know the final result, not the nail-biting stagger to it which he was following online. Hillary had suggested that we get together on Zoom with her and some friends she had invited to an election party. Forgetting that Sydney was an hour ahead of us (daylight-saving time is not observed in Queensland), we were late to join the group and our internet connection was not good enough to support Zoom, so we talked on the phone. By this time, (late evening in the US) things were not looking good for Biden as several key states seemed to be swinging towards Trump. The Senate did not look as though it was switching to the Democrats as we had hoped, and they even appeared to be losing some seats in the House.

One news source was leaning towards declaring Trump the winner, but most pundits realized that with Covid-19 there would be a much larger number of mail-in ballots than usual. In the critical states where the vote was likely to be close, this would slow-down the count. Hillary was marvelously optimistic that Biden still had a good chance to win but, still pained by the last election, we were much more resigned to the idea that Trump might somehow win a second term. After a chat with Stephanie who seemed as anxious about the result as any American, we said good-bye and immersed ourselves in an escapist movie for the rest of the evening.

By this morning (Thursday in Australia), it is apparent that it could be days before the election results will be known. Following Hillary’s example, this should give us hope but we both just feel resigned to, and depressed by, the idea of another four years of Trump. If this were to happen, we would feel increasingly remote from the American nation in which we are citizens. This morning’s weather forecast did not cheer us up either.

Not only were the southeasterly winds forcing us to bypass the Swain Reefs, but they would be strong enough to make even Lady Musgrave and Fitzroy Reefs bouncy at high tide. The strong wind would also make snorkeling at those sites unpleasant and difficult so what was the point? So now we had to study the cruising guide again and look for a suitably sheltered anchorage within 150 nm. We soon picked Island Head Creek on the mainland coast about 50 nm north of Great Keppel Island. There would still be a chance to sail from there to the southern Swain Reefs after the southeasterly winds abated. However, this would only be worthwhile if there followed several days of calmer conditions before we turn towards Bundaberg. Let us hope for something good to happen!

We have the maps – use them!

01 November 2020 | Victor Bay, Keswick Island, Southern Cumberland Islands, QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: Multicolored rock on the beach in Victor Bay, Keswick Island
The Swain Reefs may be one of those areas that we fantasize about visiting but can just never quite get to, at least, not in the conditions that would make it pleasant and worthwhile.

That was the sentiment that we were starting to feel as we looked at the weather forecasts on Friday morning (30th October). It appeared that the southeasterly winds were now going to arrive earlier and be stronger than previously predicted, so we reluctantly decided to skip the trip out to Cockatoo Reef. If we knew what the anchoring would be like there and whether the reef afforded any significant protection from the waves, we might have made the excursion. But all we knew was that it had been suggested as a possible anchorage by the marine policemen we had chatted with in Keppel Bay. For winds in the 15-20 knot range, that was not good enough, especially as it would require careful navigation between reefs in potentially rough conditions to escape if the anchorage was not suitable. It was not worth it.

Now we needed to decide whether to hang around in the Whitsunday Islands, where there would be plenty of options for sheltered anchorages and we could have another try at the northern Swain Reefs later. Alternatively, we could continue moving south and hope that we could, at least, visit some of the southern Swain Reefs before going to Bundaberg.

Conscious of the impending cyclone season, we selected the second option and, after studying the charts, decided to aim for Keswick and St Bees Islands where there should not only be a choice of anchorages but was alleged to have several snorkeling and diving sites. It was a very pleasant day of sailing and motor-sailing to get there and there was only one other vessel in the lee of Keswick Island in Victor Bay.

Initially, we anchored fairly close to the other boat, well-outside the part of the bay that was marked on our electronic charts as possibly containing reef. However, when the tide changed, we found that we were in an annoying swell generated by tidal currents off the nearby headland. As well as making life bouncy, our sailboat moved differently on the anchor to the other powerboat and we were worried about getting too close. So delaying our prepared dinner, we quickly raised the anchor and, using the last of the day’s light, we nosed further into the corner of the bay. Although the chart made it look as though we might be in an area with reef, the depth-sounder showed the bottom to be smooth, so we felt confident that we were anchoring in sand. A few minutes later, the other boat also moved further into the bay beside us.

The following morning, we launched the dinghy and explored the shoreline in Victor Bay. The water was milky with very limited visibility and when I looked over the side of the dinghy with my snorkel and mask where it was shallow enough to see the bottom, it was covered with small boulders...of rock, not coral. Not very interesting and very few fish. We continued closer to shore to investigate the source of a clear birdsong that we could hear from the boat and concluded that it was pied currawongs, of which there were at least 20 flying around the Bay. We had also seen osprey, white bellied sea-eagles, and some pied oystercatchers.

We briefly walked on one of the small beaches and I then snorkeled for about 10 minutes from the beach out to a nearby point, while Randall brought the dinghy to meet me. It was all a rocky bottom but, even in that short time and limited visibility, I did see seven species of fish including three types of tuskfish, blue-, graphic-, and blackspot-tuskfish.



The dinghy on a beach in Victor Bay with the small point that I snorkeled along

On the way back to Tregoning, we stopped briefly to meet our neighbors, Tony and Sue. At first, I was not quite sure what she meant when she asked us not to come back and surprise them in the evening, until she reminded us that it was Halloween. We respected her request and, needless to say, had to eat all our own Halloween candy!



Twilight on Halloween seen from Victor Bay

On Sunday, we decided to try one of the snorkeling sites on the southeast corner of Keswick Island that was described as having very pretty coral gardens. The recommendation was to visit two hours before low tide. This was not possible because the low tides were around 6 am and 6 pm (we generally do not snorkel after 4 pm – sharks typically feed at dawn and dusk) but maybe it would not matter too much. This was overly optimistic because the tidal range can be very wide in this area (up to 6.9 m or 23 feet) and with the murky water, the 5 m (or 16 feet) of extra water for the current high tides would make a huge difference as to whether we could see the bottom.

It would also have helped if I had not completely messed-up our navigation in the dinghy. For some reason, I had convinced myself that our destination was around the headland that we could see about 1 nm to the southwest. Since I would recognize the site by the “no-anchoring” moorings, I did not bother to bring a map. We set off going downwind nice and quickly in the dinghy. We were both worried about how well Randall’s sore back would tolerate the bouncing but he put on a brave face.

Having rounded the headland, I was surprised not to see the “no-anchoring” moorings but we pressed-on because I was sure that they would be around the next point. And so it went... It was a very attractive coastline and, as expected, there was another island beyond us. It did not seem to be as big as we had anticipated St Bees Island to be and looked unlikely to provide sufficient shelter from southeast winds, as we had hoped. I was very puzzled about the absence of the “no-anchoring” moorings but after peering into the water with my mask and snorkel in some of the small bays, I concluded that the coral gardens had been lost and the moorings removed.

Once we had given-up and returned around the original headland, we had to motor slowly into the wind and waves. As we were doing this, we both noticed a channel off to our right that appeared to cut completely through Keswick Island...ahh...the penny drops! No, that was Egremont Passage between Keswick and St Bees Islands and we had just been around the southern headland of St Bees Island, exploring its southeastern coastline and seeing Aspatria Island off to the east...duh! If only I had brought a map with us.

With me suitable chastened, we went over to the correct bay on Keswick Island that had the “no-anchoring” moorings. I peered over the side but it was not possible to see the bottom and there was clearly no point in trying to snorkel under these conditions. So we made our way back to Tregoning and while Randall expressed enthusiasm for having seen the attractive coast on the far side of St Bees, I hoped that the merciless pounding in the dinghy had not seriously delayed the recovery of his sore back.

Later in the afternoon as it approached low tide, I happened to look out of the cockpit and realized that we could now see the edge of the rocky “reef” to the west of us. Although we were suitably distant from it while the wind was from the north, if the wind direction changed to easterly or southeasterly during the night (earlier than forecast), we would swing perilously close to these rocks. They were probably deep enough not to be a problem most of the time but we could not be certain about this at low tide without getting in the dinghy with the hand-held depth sounder. Rather than do that, we decided to raise the anchor and move just a few boat-lengths further away from the rocks. We both slept better for this and I made sure that it was the final, safest location that I recorded for this Bay, just in case we ever returned here. Moving our anchor on two evenings out of three in the same bay may be a new record for us.

Smoke or a thunderstorm?

29 October 2020 | Billbob Bay, Shaw Island, Whitsunday Group, QLD, Australia
Alison Stocker | Photo: A huge plume of smoke or a narrow thunderhead forming over the mainland
By the time we had filled the diesel tank and left Coral Sea Marina, it was about 7:30 am on a beautifully sunny day. The wind was variable all morning so we motored south down the Whitsunday Passage against an increasing tidal current. It was a route that we had not taken during the previous year so I read from our "100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef, The Whitsunday Islands" book by Colfelt and Colfelt, the histories of various island resorts that we passed. This included resorts on the Islands: Daydream, South Molle, Long, Hamilton, and Lindeman. Over the years, several resorts have been damaged by severe storms including Cyclone Debbie in March 2017.

Our route crossed paths with a few boats dashing back and forth between the mainland, particularly around Shute Harbour, and the Whitsunday Islands. But it was nothing like the number we would expect to see during the peak season from about June to mid-October...or in pandemic-free years.

As we approached Shaw Island, we were surprised to see a huge plume of cloud, or smoke, stretching up from the mainland and arching over us, despite that direction being against the wind that we were experiencing at sea level. If it was a thunderstorm cloud it was remarkably narrow and tall but, at least, the head of it was being blown away rather than forming the ominous anvil-shape we were used to seeing in Florida. If it was smoke, then it was an impressively tall plume from a large fire.

By the time we anchored in the sandy Billbob Bay in the lee of Mount Arthur (250m or 820 feet) at the south end of Shaw Island, the plume appeared to be dissipating. We were certainly glad that it did not develop into a thunderstorm cell that drifted over us, as had happened on our way to Grassy Island.



Anchored at Billbob Bay with Mount Arthur on the right and the cloud/smoke plume rising from the mainland at left

The wind was predicted to be light northerlies for a few days followed by stronger south-easterlies from Monday night to Wednesday. Thus, our plan was to dash out to see what the northern part of the Swain Reefs looks like, specifically at Cockatoo Reef, then dash back to Scawfell Island where we would be well-protected from a southerly blow. After that, we could hopefully go back to visit the southern Swain Reefs when the lighter winds resumed.
Vessel Name: Tregoning
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan Classic 41
Hailing Port: Gainesville, FL
Crew: Alison and Randall
About: We cast-off from Fernandina Beach in north Florida on 1st June 2008 and we have been cruising on Tregoning ever since. Before buying Tregoning, both of us had been sailing on smaller boats for many years and had worked around boats and water throughout our careers.
Extra: “Tregoning” (rhymes with “belonging”) and is a Cornish word (meaning “homestead of Cohnan” or “farm by the ash trees”) and was Alison's mother’s middle name. Cornwall is in southwest England and is where Alison grew-up.
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