Thursday, January 30, 2014

Where pirates abound

AK was eager to visit Dingo Beach (21nm north from Airlie and 12nm south from Bowen) so the anchor was raised at 1000hrs for the 6hr trip north. As the beach is very shallow our plan was to anchor in Jonah Bay, near Saddleback Island. "the island has been reported to have a considerable number of death adders on it (which could possible mean that it's someone's favourite fishing spot, or that there's buried treasure there....or that there are a large number of death adders"). 100Magic Miles. It was very rough, windy with short choppy seas so we continued on through Gloucester Passage (waving to the dingoes as we passed) to seek shelter - short circuiting our treasure hunt!
Leaving Jonah-photos never depict sea conditions!
"Gloucester Passage marks the favoured route to Bowen from the Whitsundays and takes you in between a vast and lofty wind generator, Gloucester Island and the mainland." 100 Magic Miles.

As it was dusk it was full steam ahead to find an anchorage prior to darkness. The passage was well marked with beacons although very shallow in parts.

heading toward the passage, Gloucester Island on foreground right

It was a surprise to come out the other end as our intended anchorage was chockers with yachts. A little strange we thought. With very little room we headed around Shag Islet to the next anchorage, passing a cruising shark as we left the passage. This anchorage was also pretty full but had room for us, so as the showers commenced we dropped our anchor in the bay outside Cape Gloucester Eco resort. Once settled we noticed an array of dressed yachts, many flying a pirates flag. A little strange we thought.

At least the wind sock indicated the wind!

The next morning we dinghied to the nearest beach where non-boating locals informed us it was "that yearly gathering of grubby yachts". Further inquires - Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club annual meeting. Our friend Sue who had been a member for a few years had told us about the club- everyone becomes vice commodore of a location which gives reciprocating rights at any yacht club. They have thousands of members and the annual meeting has become a mecca for some. You don't need to sail to become a member, it appears to be a finger salute to snotty yacht clubs. We met some friendly people over the weekend, attending a few functions, which was centered around Monte's Reef Resort and featured drinking and music. Unfortunately some members take their pirate image too seriously, with some of our clothing stolen. The girls had a great time romping on the dog friendly beach and partaking in some serious swimming. It was a beautiful location so after the majority of yachts left we stayed an additional week, soaking up the vista and enjoying coffee stops at Montes and indulging in dinner at the Eco Resort.

the perfect sunset with Shag Islet in the background

Ahh peace at last

AK checking out the view with the skipper of SY Prudence at Montes
AK was due to return to Mackay for TAFE so Bowen was our next stop. Townsville Hospital was offered as clinical placement so our plan for cruising to Cairns was altered. Plan V in our cruising life!

Onward to Nara

It was showery as we left Hamilton Island with the races in full swing. We took Manatee around the back of Dent Island as AK hung off attempting to get mobile and internet coverage. It was very exhilarating to make 9kts in Whitsunday Passage (wow, what strong currents!) We ended up hovering off Hamilton to get coverage. After much gnashing of teeth we dropped Manatee's anchor at Joe's Beach Whitsunday Island for lunch. Lots of dolphins frolicking eased AK's blood pressure- gotta love bureaucracy!

Joe's Beach

"Because the anchorage is either in, or very near, the narrow channel between Cid and Whitsunday Islands, these locations are subject to tidal influences and are not really satisfactory overnight anchorages."  100 Magic Miles was spot on, it was very entertaining to watch yachts doing 360 turns in the current. I'm sure the bare boat charterers would have been thrilled to see their hire boats "doing donuts".

We moved down to Cid Harbour for the night.

Winds were forecast 25-30kts from the south-east so we stayed put for another day and night in the very full anchorage.

Eventually the wind dropped to 10-15kts so we headed over to Nara Inlet on Hook Island. Ooh la la! Nara Inlet is gorgeous. Clear water, splendid beaches, no mobile coverage, wondrous rock formations, peace, unspoilt bush and the remains of Indigenous rock art. In the wet season apparently waterfalls abound. The inlet is also a hammerhead shark breeding ground - so no swimming.

We all jumped in the dinghy to explore and on returning to Manatee Marg managed to embed our trolling lure in her wrist. Ouch. AK found it impossible to dislodge so after a VHF call for assistance, Laura a Finnish A&E nurse who had a crew position on Coral Trecker ("sail the Whitsundays on a square rigger") came over to remove it. Apparently lots of Finnish fisher people lodge hooks in various body parts so she was very experienced!

The next day we trekked up to the Ngaro cultural site to view the art- amazing! The art has been dated to 9000 years and due to dust and age some bits have faded. Although the Ngaro were seafarers, travelling the coast in bark canoes, when Nara Inlet was first used as shelter by the Ngaro people it was part of the mainland. Melting ice changed that!
                                        Ngaro Cultural Site

What remains

What was

Ngaro oral accounts are provided at the cultural site through this cool speaker. It is clear that there would be many sites like this on Hook Island- this is the one Ngaro people like us to visit.

After a few amazing days it was time for us to continue north before the weather turned nasty.

We were grateful for the time we spent at this magical spot.

Friday, January 10, 2014


We had our anchor down in Driftwood Bay, Hamilton Island at 1030hrs. Race week was just about to start so we cruised past some interesting sights.

just a few crew to keep it running!

We changed our position an hour later when we glanced over the side of Manatee and saw a bommie. Our depth sounder showed .4 under our keel....oops. Lots of reef here.

Driftwood Bay used to be a very popular anchorage, but with the increase in air traffic to the island it is no longer considered "peaceful" as it is late finals with a northerly. But....AK loves sitting on deck watching aircraft!

We all had a fabulous time here, lots of swimming and walking for us all. The reef in the bay was pretty good although freaky when visibility was minimal as the reef sharks appeared out of nowhere.
Beautiful Driftwood Bay

 Dogs welcome here

Salty Marg

The beach was fantastic and only visited by yachts in the anchorage or the visitor prepared to walk from the "resort side" of Hamilton. We intended to check out the resort but we were having too good a time. TAFE then contacted AK to inform that her clinical placement was in limbo and Cairns was no longer an option, so up anchor to head into good mobile reception to deal with bureaucracy!

Race colour

Marg helmed while AK stood on the back deck trying to find mobile range as the colour of the races materialised.

Anni, noticed on your blog you where up for race week, would have loved to have caught up with you. Next time!

Cairns via the Whitsundays

After the hard stand we spent a few days "putting Manatee back together". Due to a busy boatyard we were put back into the creek late at night to work the tide back to Airlie. AK stood on the deck with a spotlight while Marg helmed down the narrow mangrove creek. It was with great relief when we made the anchorage at Airlie, with only a few mangrove scratches (AK and Manatee!) and very frayed nerves (all of us).
So the next few days were spent cleaning decks, putting tools away and fixing the leaky cutlass bearing which meant AK spent days with her head in the bilge. The existing stern tube oil lubrication system was now redundant but leaked badly! Gee modernisation can be hard.
It was bliss when we moved to nearby Funnel Bay to test the new system and found it leak free. We were planning to spend a few more weeks in the Whitsundays before cruising up to Cairns where AK had a clinical placement booked and where we would work and wait out the cyclone season.
Our first stop was Whitsunday Island (again). Marg pulled the anchor up at 1045 and we headed out in N/W-N/E winds at 5-10kts via Fitzalan Passage which is between Whitsunday and Hamilton Islands. The passage can have currents running at 3-4kts and is known to be turbulent which was quite exciting after our sedentary few weeks. We decided to anchor overnight at Whitehaven Beach so needed to go via Solway Passage where we were treated to the antics of whale and calf- waving, playing and gawking at the tourists!
Solway Passage can have currents of 5kts and has lots of overfalls and whirlpools due to the reef (our depth sounder read 34m and then 62m within minutes) but we made it to Whitehaven without Manatee doing spins. We anchored in a very crowded anchorage at 1500hrs.
The anchorage cleared out early next morning so just before the tourist cats disgorged their daily fill of passengers we humans headed to the beach for a swim and walk leaving our very disappointed girls to relax on deck.
Why can't I go too?

100 Magic Miles states "Whitehaven is an incredible expanse of pure white sand, the legacy of a geologic era when the sea level was lower. It is a magnificent beach, and one that is understandably popular with all and sundry.." 

Whitehaven Beach early morning
We walked the 5 kms to Hill Inlet which AK was interested in visiting after reading about this idyllic anchorage in cruising publications. It is a large estuary with lots of sand banks and reportedly one of the best fishing spots around the area. A few catamarans in the anchorage had clearly been at anchor for some time and it appeared to be a decent cyclone hole.
On our walk back to our anchorage it was duck for cover as numerous helicopters landed on the beach to spew their groups of picnickers onto the sand. The tourist cats had also landed and the beach was busy with groups swimming, playing ball games and lunching. A seaplane also made frequent stops, landing amongst the busy anchorage. But of course no dogs allowed! Jacki was keen to catch a helicopter. The smell of avgas and suntan lotion was in the air.

We spent another very rolly night before leaving for Gulnare Inlet the next afternoon. We spent the following day exploring the inlet.

"There are endless opportunities for exploring in the dinghy. It is possible at high tide to go for miles up the estuary through mangroves....about half a mile from the anchorage on the right there is a mangrove creek that turns back to the south. Around the turn of the 20th century Martin Cunningham built a tramway to move timber from the surrounding hills along the flat and into the inlet, from where it was towed back to the sawmill at Cid Harbour (Sawmill Beach)....A cruise ship anchorage has been established (just outside the inlet). Keep well clear of any ship in this area, as it will have its hands full just manoeuvring in this current swept area."

Next stop Hamilton Island.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Whitsunday Island

It is 14nm from Airlie to Cid Harbour, which is between Whitsunday Island and Cid Island. Our first stop was Sawmill Beach on Whitsunday Island. Ruby was sooo excited to see dolphins leaping about the anchorage. We were excited to see a lazy dugong and plenty of turtles.

Anchorage at Cid Harbour
The next day was showery, so we dinghied about and then walked to Dugong Beach when the weather improved, being careful to not step on any cranky goannas.

View from Whitsunday Island

spot the goanna

Dugong Beach
 As it is all National Park, our limit was a few glorious days as the girls got very restless.
We returned to Airlie so AK could attend classes in Mackay and then we had a road trip to Southport to empty the unit's storage area where we has been keeping our remaining treasures! On our trip back to Airlie we came across a whale in Whitsunday Passage which was very exciting for us all. We spent ten days "down south" before returning and lifting Manatee out at Edges Boatyard to give her bottom a scrub and replace her stern tube with a cutlass bearing- we are getting modern!

Hmm Airlie!

Positives about Airlie- the Saturday markets and the place where our unit sale was completed!

The beach in what used to be Muddy Bay is very nice, we had some lovely days relaxing there. The walkway to Cannonvale was also very pleasant.

Airlie main beach

dugong on Cannonvale walk
There was evidence of the destruction storms have caused, with wrecks still on beaches and rocks. I cannot believe owners would leave their boats at anchor or on moorings during any weather as we found it very unpleasant with winds above 20kts.

the uninsured on the beach at Muddy bay

Boat maintenance for dummies

We needed to stay over a week to access civilisation- decent phone reception, banks and JP's.

As soon as business was complete- bye bye!

Happy, happy Bay

After spending the day on Manatee in foul weather we departed Goldsmith Island at 1140hrs with S-SE winds easing to 10-15kts. Our plan was to spend a few days in the Shaw Island/Lindeman Island vicinity. As we approached the area the air was thick with smoke from Island burn-offs conducted by National Parks. One of their helicopters was also buzzing overhead-relaxing not!

Smokey anchorage

The great thing about cruising the Whitsundays is that there are plenty of anchorages not too far apart. Unfortunately on this day most of them were very smokey! We headed off to Long Island anticipating that if we anchored on the western side the island would absorb some of the smoke. We were doing 6kts under mainsail so entered Long Island Sound (waterway between Long Island and the mainland) where the eddies reduced our speed to less than 2kts. We were very pleased to find Happy Bay where we anchored at 1730hrs.

Happy Bay anchorage

There were three resorts on Long Island when tourism was big business, the first called Paradise Bay on the southern end of the island appeared to be shut, The second, Palm Bay had pretty much closed until a caretaker opened it to yachties on a BYO basis. We later met crews who visited regularly. The third resort in Happy Bay appeared to be functioning, with a seaplane dropping visitors off at the jetty which kept us entertained the next morning.

100 Magic Miles states "Happy Bay...opened in the 1930's and it went on in a homely style for many years. Happy Bay has a sense of history about it, cannonballs and old wrecks having been found on the beach, testimony that the island and Port Molle used to be a favoured stopover for early ships - including beche-de-mer fishermen and survey ships, some of the latter probably having some gunnery practice while at anchor."
The next morning was bright and sunny and Ruby alerted us to dolphins around Manatee. Happy, happy day! 
We left after lunch to have a gander at Shute Harbour and Daydream Island (actually called West Molle- but not sure that name would entice visitors!)
Shute Harbour

Once we left the protection of Long Island, our fabulous sunny day became hazy with smoke. We headed north until the air was clear, anchoring at Airlie Beach at 1500hrs.

Touring the Smiths

We left Brampton Island trolling and caught a beautiful (huge) mackerel within a few minutes.

We cruised slowly, enjoying the sight of the Sir James Smith Group of Islands. Tinsmith, Ingot, Bullion and our anchorage at Goldsmith Island, in Minnie Hall Bay. We had to find a sandy spot between reefs in a low tide of 2.4m. The recommended anchorage at Roylen Bay was very crowded as the weather was expected to turn nasty. Once we felt sure that Manatee was secure we jumped in the dinghy to explore this uninhabited island. We found lots of camp fires but no sign of campers.
Our log reads " heaps of turtles and fish jumping. Overnight it was marine Pitt Street with things that go bump in the night."
Finger and Thumb rocks

Goldsmith Island
Manatee at anchor Minnie Hall Bay

The next day the weather did turn, so the day was spent on Manatee. Our time here will be fondly remembered as a real estate agent from Southport rang and asked if we were interested in selling our unit. Are we what! Yep he had a buyer interested. Hallelujah.

Beautiful Brampton

Our log on 13th June reads "E-SE 5-10kts. Beautiful day- blue skies and flat seas. Anchor up 1205 for trip across to Brampton Island. Anchored near jetty at 1355hrs. Beautiful."

Lucas records Brampton "was originally used as a coconut plantation, most of the Coral Coast's coconut palms being transplants from here. It was settled by the  Busuttin family who, after experimenting with chinchilla rabbits, raised cavalry horses primarily for the Indian Army. With mechanisation came the demise of this endeavour so they started a small resort in 1933. They sold out in 1959 after which it changed hands twice."

The closed resort on Brampton Island
Voyages Resorts closed the resort down in 2011 and re-development was supposed to happen in April 2012. The resort was in a perfect location with the reef directly off the main beach, snorkelling amongst beautiful reef within minutes.

Runway at sunset

The reef is still beautiful, boaties having the place to themselves. The National Park campsite in neighbouring Carlisle Island also appeared to be a non-event, overgrown with neglected facilities.
Carlisle Island campsite beach

Is this beautiful or what?

The next day we all explored in the dinghy, finding Turtle Bay on the south eastern side of Brampton. Our log reads "swam and Marg snorkelled. Lots of small turtles and one massive girl who at first glance appeared to be a rock-on close inspection she was 1/2 dinghy size." 

Life guards watching snorkelling activity
The nights in the anchorage were extremely rolly, we learnt after the first night to tie everything down or our morning would be spent cleaning and tidying. Our days were spent swimming, reading, walking and exploring. We fished from the dinghy one day and Marg caught and released a small cod. At times there were 8 other boats in the  anchorage.
Locals playing on the golf course
Main resort pool, now home to fish!
More locals enjoying resort living!

We left 5 days later-very happy and very relaxed!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Oops! It's 2014 already.

New Years resolution....I must update our blog more often lest friends think we are still in Mackay- hi Phil and Stu!!

We actually left Mackay in June.

We headed off in variable winds with seas less than 1.7m at 1150hrs. Hooray.

Keswick/ St Bees Islands were our destination, referred to as the "first of the Whitsundays." They are about 16nm Northeast of Mackay and are part of the Cumberland group of Islands. 

The swell was an easterly at 1m so the trip out was a little rolly and just as we were within eyesight of the Islands the rain came down and we experienced a whiteout.

 Egremont Pass visible after front passes over

We held off the islands until we could see and entered Egremont Pass between the two islands at 1400hrs. Manatee sped along the pass, the channel propelling us forward as we glimpsed settlements and an airstrip (which became very entertaining at anchor) on Keswick.

Keswick Island general store passing in a blur

We anchored just outside of the moored boats in an area mooted for a marina. We chilled to the sound of birdsong and woke next morning to the roar from chainsaws!

Aircraft on late finals at Keswick

Leaving St Bees/ Keswick on a clear day
St Bees was settled as a sheep property by the family who started the resort on nearby Brampton Island which was our next destination.