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.