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Published: December 4th 2013
Well my laptop is still just showing nothing but squiggly colourful patterns so I have used the iPad for this entry, it's better than the phone but the on screen keyboard takes some getting used to.
Last time I wrote I think we were just leaving Dunk Island. With the northerlies still blowing we made the most of it and in a relatively short time we are now back in the Whitsundays.
I am now sitting in the cockpit at Sawmill Bay, Cid Harbour on a dreary afternoon with about 20 other boats, like me probably wondering where the strong winds are that we're predicted. It's been raining on and off and I just got a dribble of water blown off the bimini onto my my left knee in a small wind gust, splashing onto this iPad....whoopsie!
After Dunk we had a good sail downwind toward the channel between Hitchenbrook Island and the mainland. It became a bit rolly as the wind picked up to 20 knots but this pushed us south quickly, and within the channel we had a calm flat sail about five miles to Scraggy Point where we decided to stop for the night. Lightening
lit up the clouds along the coast as we sailed all afternoon and clouds shrouded the surrounding high peaks. Just as I had to go up front to drop the anchor it suddenly poured down and I quickly got soaked to the skin. I got back to the cockpit, stripped and towelled myself dry and we realised we had anchored closer to the beach than planned. We couldn't be bothered to move as we thought it would be ok but had a bit of a fretful evening as the wind turned southwest and blew us closer to the beach. It was of course at a moment like this when you worry about the depth of the water you're in that the depth sounder started to play up.
The next day we sailed off the anchor in light northerlies and had a delightful serene cruise down the channel that narrowed as the morning progressed. The wind shifts kept us entertained as we gybed too and fro. Of course we chose this route described as some of the best scenery on the coast only to have all the steep peaks still covered in cloud. I thought it was probably quite similar
to sailing down a Scottish loch but hotter. The channel widened again as we came around the southern end of the island and the wind petered out in its shelter.
We drifted for a while and then were hit by head winds and had to start tacking. Put the engine on to save effort especially as I knew I would want it later as the channel up ahead was narrow and shallow by Lucinda.
In short space of time we had 15 knots headwinds coming from the northeast and our calm sailing experience changed drastically as we were bouncing through the waves in open water. Motor-sailing with the main only, I got quite nervous as we passed the narrow gap of only about 10 m between the old pier and the markers. I couldn't help imagine the engine suddenly conking out and the wind blowing us straight back onto the old rough concrete columns. That didn't happen and we got the lead markers in line as we went out to sea - one is painted to side of the mammoth 5 km long pier. Fortunately we were doing this at high tide and we never saw the depth
below 4 m as we went over the shoals.
When clear of the pier end, we veered to the right, let out the jib again and made a speedy sail to Juno Bay, Fantome Island. We chose this spot as you can tuck under the neighbouring Orpheus Island for good protection from northerlies but when we arrived the other five boats were anchored further south which was good in the northeasterly at the time. So like sheep we joined them.
When a strong northwesterly wind blew up at 1 am we regretted this. It was getting bouncy and the prospect of dragging anchor onto the reef now straight behind us was a worry. The large power cruiser next to us left and headed out to sea. We decided to leave too and with a head torch on I went up front to pull up the anchor as the bow swung up and down, almost nosing into the oncoming waves. We motored the dark half mile over to the vague outline of the hills on the southern end of Opheus, hoping the chart plotter wasn't too inaccurate as to where the reef edge was. I got a scare as
the depth dropped from 12 m to 7 m in no time, so we quickly backed off and dropped anchor. It was by no means a flat anchorage but certainly better. We slept well and in the daylight could see we had dropped the anchor close to the reef... lucky the wind stayed consistent and kept us off it.
The next day we motored out of the bay and were soon sailing passed Great Palm Island. Once we had a clear path toward Townsville though the wind gradually dropped and became more and more frustrating until we motored again, for the last few hours. Steered around the west side of Magnetic Island, bringing townsville into view in calm water, and came to anchor in Picnic Bay, just off the end of the old pier.
We had plans to stock up in the marina but there seemed to be one more day of northerlies left. After a brief stop on the beach we found two playgrounds for Alex, there was no where to get milk & bread, three of the four springs on our dinghy wheels were missing, and our old jerry can had a new crack in it
rendering it useless so it went in the bin with a couple of other bags we brought from the boat. We had not been on land for a few days so let Alex enjoy himself and then headed out of the bay once the wind picked up. Soon as we had, the wind dropped again so we motored the first hour until it picked up again. By late morning the lighthouse on Cape Cleveland was disappearing into the distance.
We were quite close hauled and conscious that the wind would be shifting more easterly today so intentionally went further out to sea and skirted the shipping lane to give us a better angle for when it did. This bit of coast line is quite baron with poor anchorages for northerly winds so we were expecting a night sail. We made good speed and by late afternoon we were passing Cape Bowling Green, and at times could have expected to get our planned anchorage by 2 am.
Night fell and a catamaran passed us, annoyingly being able to keep closer to the wind than we could because by this time we needed to. It was a clear night to
start with, and with no moon made the stars bright. As always a little anxious about doing a night sail and I wasn't pleased that the wind picked up making the ride more wearing. Some clouds were on the horizon and we would see the occasional flash of lightening in the distance in front which made me more nervous but we never hit any bad weather.
The wind turned easterly a couple of hours earlier than we would have liked which had me veering us close around some anchored ships off Abbot Point just about midnight when I woke Naomi up for her shift. Sleeping was not too easy as the boat was on a lean and the ride a bit bumpy although the waves were rarely larger than a metre. Naomi managed to tack a couple of times by herself but this woke me as I had to swap ends of the bed.
I took over at 4 am, and dragged myself up to the blustery rocking cockpit, still close hauled in about 17 knot winds. But the moon was out now and first light came soon after as I worked us toward Gloucester Island.
I had my plan of attack thought out but this all fell to pieces in the variable winds as I got closer to the high peaked island - shifting direction and ranging rapidly from 9 to 18 knots. By the time Naomi was up again I was getting fed up with the poor progress and we motored the last few miles to Bona Bay arriving before 7am. At 22 hours and about 115 miles this has been our longest passage and makes me wonder if I'm really cut out for long trips sailing. It's quite stressful, wearing and hard to rest. We now had the fortune of a flat anchorage to rest for the rest of the day.... not sure how I would feel if we had to do it all again.... and then again the next day.
We stayed at Bona Bay for a couple of nights, enjoying the shelter of the steep forested mountains akin to Hawaii ... appropriate as we have started watching the TV series Lost. There's a nice beach there for Alex and I took a walk north along it, took some great photos which I cannot share without the laptop, and found a couple of creeks with some small pools of trickling fresh water.
On Friday when the wind was looking ok again we motored through the Gloucester passage and then headed for Airlie Beach. The wind was light so progress was slow and Naomi got frustrated, itching to get to the marina. Once there she needed some rest time to recover from her sea-sickness. Walked into town via the lagoon, and had an early dinner at McDonalds.
Saturday, we got our usual marina jobs done, including a food delivery from Coles and we were back on the water just after noon. The wind was north-northeasterly but the next day was predicted strong south-easterlies so we weren't sure where the best anchorage that was at least someway south would be. Started heading toward Linderman but with the wind right behind and fighting a current it was way too slow, so we turned on to a beam reach toward Cid Harbour. This now meant passing through the unfairly named "Unsafe Passage" but it is a tight squeeze between rocks and coral and doing it under sail alone had me nervous as the winds shifted all over the place.
Crossed Whitsunday Passage, coming close to a catamaran who should have given us right of way but didn't so ended up tacking behind him to avoid shoals .... bastard!
Fortunately the wind had shifted more to the east so the waves were not large as we settled at Sawmill Bay giving us a little roll and confident the Whitsunday Peak would give us the shelter we wanted the next day.
I am now writing this at Brampton Island. We spent four nights in Cid Harbour watching the charter boats coming and going. Tinkered around the boat doing little jobs, including cleaning the outboard carburetor but its still not quite right.
Left early this morning riding the strong spring tide current south, at one time making 9 knots over ground, down the Whitsunday Passage. The wind and current dropped off just after lunch and we motored over to Goldsmith island and dropped anchor in the inlet in the reef. Rested and found we have 4 episodes of Lost missing!
Around 4 pm the wind picked up so we left and had a good sail down to Brampton Island. Dropped the anchor just before dark in Western Bay. Tomorrow we have a long sail to reach the Percy Islands.
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