Thursday, August 8, 2013

Is that a monkey chattering in my ear?

A blow from the north was forecast for the next morning so we headed around the Island to White's Bay to seek shelter for the day. It was very pitchy and rolly so we had a day of relaxing (and doing a little maintenance/planning) on Manatee before enjoying sun downers with other cruisers. The blow was set to intensify so most yachts were planning on heading over to Curlew Island for shelter. Not so Manatee! We had a few slight problems so needed to head directly for Mackay-the first being our new generator (a Honda purchased from Mackay)-which refused to start! Our main issue however was fuel.....we had a lot less than we should. Margot being, at times, an impetuous Aries did not want another delay to re-fuel prior to departing Mackay, assuring AK we had "plenty of diesel". AK at times being "too cautious", and reminded often by Margot of this, did not insist on a re-fueling stop. Hmmm, not good. We also couldn't agree on how much we had exactly, but we did agree on the fact that we needed "some" wind assistance to make it!

The next day, after having enough of the rolly conditions at White's Bay, we up anchored and headed over to North East Island. The forecast was for WSW 10-15kts by the afternoon and SW 15-20 the next day. The anchorage at North East was uncomfortable so we prepared Manatee for a 0400hr departure to make the most of the current and wind.

We both were awake at 0230 with Manatee on a lee shore. Winds were 30kts (N) and the swell was 2-3M. We departed the Island at 0300 into rough seas, unable to raise the sails due to conditions. We were abeam Digby Island by 1030hrs-a leg that should have taken 4hrs! Thirsty Sound VMR was still giving weather of SW 10-15kts with seas 1.2-1.7 and a swell less than 1.5. The reality was SW 25-30kts with seas/swell 3-4M. It was a very unpleasant trip. Marg was very heroic at the helm while AK continued to woman the deck, attempting to raise sails. We were both getting very bruised and battered while the girls were safe down below deck.

We were abeam Purdhoe Island around 1500hrs with very low fuel and a tattered headsail. We discussed anchoring here and re-grouping but decided to keep going.Just outside Mackay Harbour (at 1730), a tanker radioed asking for a clear passage into the departure channel as they had limited manoeuvrability causing further stress- would we make it inside the harbour prior to the fuel running out?

Of course in our attempt to tie up at the fuel wharf we had the current against us and with this and a combination of very little sleep and a 16hr rough trip, we were both very short tempered and uncoordinated. We scraped Manatee into the fuel berth at 1900hrs with an impressive scratch down her starboard hull. AK kissed the ground and vowed to not continue until agreements were made about safety. We had 2.5 litres of fuel in Manatee's tanks.....goddess bless her.

We remained at Mackay marina for 2 weeks-negotiating, waiting for the generator to be repaired (7 days-it was a 1 in a million fault!) and due to strong wind warnings. Marg painted Manatee while AK made a dinghy cover.

We left Mackay with several lessons learnt, new resolves and a monkey chattering about the Percy Islands.

strong wind warning at Mackay- that's why the palm tree trunks have a bend!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Visiting the homestead

The homestead sits on the hill of the island and was a reasonable walk uphill. The girls had to be on leads part of the way due to the odd feral goat who calls Middle Percy home. We were offered a lift up in the island's ute but we get as much exercise as we can, when we can.

It was a picturesque excursion, slow due to AK's dodgy hip, which Jacki was glad of due to her dodgy hip!. Pockets of forest were interspersed with wondrous views and Andy's hand written signs (see the previous post for an explanation of "Andy's signs").

We walked through patches of forest that were buzzing with hundreds of the butterflies that are found in the Whitsunday area. A memorable sight.

We experienced a level of hospitality that Middle Percy is famous for over lunch. Cate regaled us with stories of Middle Percy and it's infamous history, chooks and dogs roamed the open verandah and friends were made.

Cate & Lucy (Bronte's mum)

AK and Marg in front of the homestead

Steve (who also lives on the Island) invited us over to his "many sided" dwelling (built by the Hicklings) after lunch, an invitation we were glad to accept before slithering down the short circuit back to the beach. Steve grew up on Pine Islet which is just west of Middle Percy as the son of the lighthouse keepers which was automated in the late '80's. The lighthouse is now at Mackay Marina. Steve and his small family of goats plus his dingo cross live a very peaceful life on Middle Percy working hard to keep the facilities maintained.
Jack & Bob goat were fascinated by the little creatures (Jacki & Ruby)

We managed to get back to Manatee before it got dark, all very tired and very happy.

paradise at Middle Percy

The trip over to Middle Percy Island demonstrated winds of 10-15kts from the SE, so we were reasonably relaxed when we set the anchor at lunch time in West Bay. The vision was splendid- jewel like water, clear enough to see the sandy bottom and an inviting white sandy beach with the famous A-frame beckoning from amongst the coconut palms.

We all jumped into the dinghy, excited and eager to explore. Before we hit the beach we encountered a big, wet, brown dog who waded out to meet us- the girls didn't wait to see if it was friend or foe-they jumped off the dinghies bow and splashed and hooted to the beach....ahh freedom! Bronte was friend, her tail whipping about so much with pleasure it is a wonder that she didn't suffer whip lash of her rear end!

There were few other people about, the one couple we met decided to head out early the next morning when we asked them if they has heard of the low that Kay had spoken about, even though they hadn't heard of any weather concerns. What is it about this place that we don't know?

We spent the afternoon investigating the A-frame, looking at mementos left by boaties and surprised that we recognised so many names. Marg, who previously thought the whole idea a little unappealing even had a tear in her eye when she saw some of the poignant tokens from the 1960's. We vowed to leave an appropriate reminder of Manatee.

The next day was stunning, we spent the morning making our Manatee token (it took days)before heading over to the beach where Jacki spent the afternoon mucking about like a dog with Bronte, while Ruby, Marg and AK enjoyed more noble pursuits-like sun and water worship, bird watching and planning leisure activities for the following day.

is this paradise or what?

Another glorious day saw us exploring the island's lagoon in the morning, cooking lunch over a fire and then spending the afternoon swimming, walking and reading. Although the lagoon is a reasonable size, a sand bank closes access at low tide.

view of Manatee from within the lagoon

Boats came and went from the anchorage, we met lots of friendly and social people and we all had a chillingly good time! The girls were more relaxed after spending time free ranging and exhausting their pent up energy (so many islands/so many of them National Parks!)

We met Cate (the leaseholder) on the beach one afternoon and scored an invite for lunch at the homestead the next day. We were happy with Manatee's remembrance sculpture so tearfully hung her from the rafters of the A-frame where she can gaze out to sea, gently blowing in the breeze, ensuring constant movement.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hello Percy!

As soon as we could leave Mackay we turned Manatee's bow to the Percy Islands, often described as the boaties mecca. The weather was perfect, but as usual, not for sailing! We were heading SE and the wind was SE at 5-10kts. The seas were glistening.
We managed to snag a massive fish on our new lure when trolling but couldn't land it as it was so big and feisty. AK wasn't really sad to see it get away, although losing our new lure was a tad tragic.

An overview of the recent history of Middle Percy Island is on this link.....

It is around 65nm to the Percy's so we broke the trip up with an overnight stay at Double Island where we anchored at 1700hrs. We all enjoyed a peaceful night, sleep interrupted by fishing boats shining spotlights on Manatee intermittently. Must be a good fishing spot!
Anchorage at Double Island

The following day brought fine weather with S-SE winds at 10-15kts. We had trouble raising our anchor due to the rocky bottom so headed on to Percy (still 28nm away) at 1020hrs. After orientating ourselves to the Percy's (there are 3 islands-Middle, South and North East) we let out Manatee's anchor at 1720 at South Percy in Rocky Shelf Bay. Lucas describes this anchorage as having 'a difficult to define fringing reef of rock and coral which can prove hard to see except at low tide.' We managed to get Manatee's anchor to set in sand, which had good holding.
Anchorage at South Percy

We enjoyed a quiet night with two other yachts in the anchorage. Marg braved a swim the next morning and reported that the sea wasn't too cold.. The winds were forecast to turn NE 10-15kts (just our luck!) which would turn our anchorage into a lee shore. We headed over to Middle Percy looking for another anchorage only to find the latest weather (midday) was winds SW/SE at 20-25kts. As we were contemplating West Bay- the site of the A-frame- radio scanning conveyed a fishing boat reporting that there was a 'white-out' with very gusty winds and horrible seas. West Bay started rolling and the lone yacht at anchor was bucking so we upped the throttle and took off. We had a southerly chasing us!

 The roll of grey/black cloud was similar to a blanket being pulled up. It caught us on the eastern side of Middle Percy- we got hit by winds to 32kts-it was very uncomfortable-especially when visibility dropped to less than 50', but we were reasonably protected by the islands cliff face. We decided to head for Blunt Bay at North East Island but had to hold our heading as we were getting hit by broken 3m swell on our beam. Marg, who was helming did a large arc and we arrived at Blunt Bay at 1410hrs, just as the front menacingly rolled on its journey north. We had only been out in it for 1 1/2 hours, but it felt like days-needless to say we had a very quiet afternoon and evening!

Anchorage at Blunt Bay

The next morning a woman from one of the other yachts at anchor came over to check that we were OK- both yachts had been watching us during the front and were glad that they were at anchor. We spent the day exploring in the dinghy- what a beautiful spot!

The other two yachts headed north the next morning with a warning that a low was coming and they weren't hanging around! Kay said the Percy's had been 'a monkey on their backs' and they were glad to have had a reasonable visit (this time) but wanted to get going before the monkey grabbed them again!

We couldn't get radio coverage at Blunt Bay so headed over to the Middle Percy anchorage at West Bay.


Friday, June 14, 2013

(F)Airlie Ordinary

We took a quick road trip up the coast to check it out and to assess possible anchorages near Mackay (AK has one semester in a diploma of nursing (done in Mackay) remaining and was making the trip regularly from Rosslyn. Although a return to nursing is a shock, the idea is to pick up remote area contracts occasionally so that our plan of travelling to Asia can come to fruition (finally!). After completing a placement at a GP clinic attached to the Mater Hospital, the concept of nursing again became pleasurable!
The river in Mackay was not an option as it is not navigable at low tide and even Manatee would be sitting in the mud.
We drove up to the Newry Islands which are just north of Mackay and a dinghy ride from the mainland. The creek looked a little croc thanks!
So off we went to Airlie Beach. We weren't planning to sail into Airlie as we had been told by some yachties that it didn't have much to redeem it, so a road trip into the area seemed like a good excuse to check it out. The yacht club was great, the views from the verandah fantastic and people were very friendly.
view of the Whitsunday Islands from the verandah
a casualty of Oswald still on the rocks

The town was sad though, many shops closed and the main road undergoing road works which meant it was difficult to walk down the street.

So after a day of sightseeing (lots of sugar cane) we resigned ourselves to being in Mackay marina for the three weeks.
a little bit commercial shipping/a little bit marina

Islands tantalisingly close over the break wall

Manatee snug in her berth

Sunday, June 2, 2013


We awoke to blue skies with patches of heavy cloud. The pitching eased around 0300 but we still kept rolling. We up anchored at 0700, destination Mackay. It was an uneventful fish, no dolphins, no wind. Then we came across the charted restricted area just outside Mackay-it was a parking lot for cargo ships waiting to pick up at Hay Point just south of Mackay.

Recreational boats are restricted to transiting the area with no anchoring allowed. Who would want to anchor in between cargo ships?
Just outside the harbour entrance we saw a strange looking yacht. Out came the binoculars. Ah it's Greenpeace. We were admiring the A frame masts and commenting on its size when we noticed a small cruise ship slowing to approach the yacht.

                                                     Ah of course it's the police!

Greenpeace's yacht is rightfully named Rainbow Warrior and is the first ship built specifically for Greenpeace. She is one of the most environmentally friendly ships ever built. More about her at this link.

The Rainbow Warrior was on the east coast to bring attention to the fate of the Great Barrier Reef with the impact of coastal developments and coal exports. A week after we saw them in Mackay, activists had boarded a coal cargo ship in Bowen.

We tied up in Mackay Marina at 1355 and as we (AK) needed to be in the area for three weeks, pledged to find somewhere to anchor.

About Mackay: In 1860 John Mackay led an expedition to seek pastoral opportunities and they came across the coastal ranges, now known as the Pioneer Valley. Within a few years sugar became the dominant industry. The prosperity and confidence of the city is reflected in the fine older buildings. Sugar production ensured Mackay was Australia's fastest growing town in the 1920's & 30's.

Customs House Mackay
 Sugarcane farms are now being razed for highway developments and coal is now the biggest industry which is reflected in the prices (especially for accommodation) in Mackay. It does appear more 'cosmopolitan' than Rockhampton. As the official start to the Whitsundays, tourism was a major industry. There are signs in the marina for island trips, especially to Brampton Island. Most island resorts have now closed.

The dogs were excited to be in a marina again. They love promenading with other boat dogs. Marg and AK got stuck into repairs, purchasing a new generator and assignments.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


After a few glorious days at the Dukes we set out for Curlew Island, again catching the tide. We had brilliant blue skies, flat seas, variable winds and a dolphin for company-can't get much better than that.
Curlew Island is considered by many to be the jewel of the area with golden beaches and covered with open forest. It has a spectacular ridge that is similar to 'the phantoms cave'.

Manatee with Phantoms cave in background
 We anchored inside Tinonee (sand) Bank in 3 metres of clear water. We swam, walked, fished, ate oysters off the rocks, explored and relaxed. Perfect!
postcard perfect
one relaxed girl
another relaxed girl
 The island is national park and coconut trees have been cut down, with some stumps remaining as evidence of a 'island postcard'. What a shame.
In the middle of night three the winds shifted to the west, causing the swell to break over the sandbank, so we didn't enjoy a rolly, pitching we go to Mackay 

Friday, May 31, 2013


We had no VHF reception for weather so when we awoke to overcast skies with wind from the SE we caught the flood tide to the three 'main' Dukes, Marble, Hunter & Tynemouth Islands.
Generally yachties travel Island Head direct to the Percies. We hoped to spend a few weeks out at the Percies as AK's study commitments necessitated us being in Mackay at the end of the month. So plan B was to explore the Islands less travelled. The Dukes (which include Hexham Island) are usually bypassed due to tidal rips (up to 5knots), shoals with over falls and 'confused' seas. So it is important to work the tides!
Marble, Hunter and Tynemouth Islands are owned by the Duke Island Pastoralist Company and are currently for sale, well worth the 12m asking price. Beef were grown here and cattle yards and infrastructure were visible but there appeared to be no cattle. Backpacker sites recommend the islands as a "Hotel California experience" - you can check out but never leave...until the light plane returns you to the mainland. All provisions must be carried for this unique 'farm-stay'.
We spent a few days here, revelling in the calm anchorages and clear water. Beaches were pristine with signs asking visitors to contain their ramblings to the sand. We managed to give Manatee's hull a wipe over, Marg fished catching the usual remora and a strange millipede type creature.
We were anchored in a beautiful bay in Hunter Island which gave us two beaches to explore, apparently if one climbs the bluff, mobile coverage is possible, but we were now accustomed to being isolated.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Hello Hexham

We arrived at Hexham Island at 1315hrs after managing to ride with the tide which moves NE at around 3 kts.
Hexham is a beautiful but rugged island with sparkly clear water and a very enticing beach.

Beautiful beach and as it is National Park, Jacki has been photo shopped on!

We all swam and walked 'till our hearts were content. We went for a dinghy ride and saw huge turtles, fish leapt and we thought if we were braver snorkeling would be amazing.
'river pebbles' on the beach
The sunset was exquisite.
It was very rolly in the bay overnight but the night sky without the impact of any human-made light was magical.

What a difference coming from croc creek with its murky waters to this magnificent spot!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Up the creek with the crocs

The winds picked up over night and the Pearl Bay anchorage became very rolly. Going on deck the next morning around 0700 revealed that we had been joined by a new yacht and our anchorage companions had departed. Was it our chanting or was it the weather forecast? We decided to leave. We up anchored at 0900 and were waved off by the new hindsight maybe not waving goodbye but signalling "don't leave the bay!"
As we let out the genoa we realised the winds were at least 20kts and AK managed to wrench her shoulder (again). So we motored into rough open seas, destination Island Head, a protected creek just around the headland. It took us 2.5hrs!!!
Island head Creek is a wide, 25 km long tidal creek draining a large estuary that enters the sea in the lee of Island Head Island. The inlet is 1 to 2 km wide at its mouth and we found it very difficult to see as it appears you are heading straight for a rocky island, a bit of a leap of faith! Allan Lucas in 'Cruising the Coral Coast' reckons it is a fantastic cyclone anchorage....I wouldn't want to get in and tie up to the mangroves!
We anchored close to a sand bar in 5+ metres of water and found that there was a 3-4M tidal range. At least we were protected from the increasing winds.
The next day was overcast with rain patches and we were unable to receive weather on VHF. There was no mobile/internet coverage either so we set to work painting the saloon.
Overnight the wind howled, objects banged on the hull with the tide changes and we heard strange noises in the mangroves. Although we were all eager to stretch our legs, there appeared to be no clear area to promenade on so we kept on with our maintenance tasks, trying to ignore the pleading eyes of the girls.
We managed to receive the 1700 weather and there was a strong wind warning-no surprise there! In between maintenance and squally showers we sat on deck and fished. Occasionally we saw dolphins, but little else, including birdlife.
Just before sunset on day two, a few waterbirds walked the sand bank close by our anchorage. There was an almighty roar, water rose and a waterbird disappeared....yep crocs live here.  

Anchoring in these spots gives rise to various emotions- the beauty of the country, bliss in the solitude but also fear if something goes wrong- we are a long way from help in an emergency. The next morning we decided to move anchorages, we didn't want the sandbank croc to consider dog as an appetiser.
We headed downstream to the creek entrance where there were a couple of sandy beaches, hoping to give the girls a run. The current was running at 4+knots which made anchoring too difficult so we headed back up the creek to another spot. At least we charged our batteries as the generator was becoming more and more temperamental to start.

                                                reasonably calm water up the creek

We were stuck here for 11 days. Occasionally blue skies would appear, we would all get our hopes up only to find the forecast was for squalls to 40kts. We played lots of backgammon, painted and Marg polished the engine. We gave up on the generator when she refused to start. Our Waeco fridge also gave a shudder and died. We spent lots of energy trying to fix both things with no luck. We had lots of party time eating all of our perishable food. Fishing was non-existent and we were worried about attracting crocs too close to the boat. AK celebrated her birthday here, we had planned to be in the Percy Islands but cruising is all about being flexible!

                                           bit rough near Island Head (at the entrance)

Our log reads "strong wind warning" and "we are all bored" day after day. On day ten we started preparing Manatee for departure. AK went up the mast to untangle the lazy jack leads which had managed to catch and restrict the main halyard. We considered getting rid of the lazy jacks (sail bag attached to boom) altogether as they are usually a pain, catching sails and halyards at whim.
On day eleven (Monday 15/4-our blog is slow!) we up anchored at 0645, ever hopeful that we could depart. A fishing boat at the Clara Island group (near Island Head) reckoned it was "pretty ordinary" but we had a beautiful blue sky with peaceful water. The forecast was 10-15kts S/SE-perfect. We were prepared-the main was reefed and we were well rested with everything tied down- out we went- destination Hexham island.