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Published: July 28th 2013
16th July - Before some pre-passage checks - I've made a list from previous bad experiences - Naomi's dad invited us to check the VHF radio with him before we left. It had been fine the day before. We called him but never heard a reply via the repeater station and also never got the usual brief bit of static from the repeater after transmission. So we called the coast guard on Ch 16 and could talk to him OK but not on the repeater channels. Meanwhile, we later heard, Naomi's dad had heard our calling message, said a few things and goodbye, and signed off thinking our radio was fine! Curious but since we could still use Ch 16 it did not put off the trip.
With trepidation we started our overnight passage at five pm to give us enough time to round North Keppel while there was still light. After the sun set there was still some light from the half moon, and once we got used to the unsheltered wind of 15-20 knots and motion from the 2-3 metre swell + waves, we started to get down to normal things like making dinner.
Early in the
evening we did see the light of another boat ahead of us but its lateral light kept changing from red to green every minute or so. I was a bit confused by this as it meant the boat was meandering strangely towards us. I bore off to starboard 20-30 degrees to avoid him and as he got ever closer I could see the steaming light illuminate his front stay but no sails were up. Then even when we were abeam of the boat he seemed turned to head towards us still! Fortunately we passed him, and left him to meander south.
Other than hearing an american captain of a warship talking on the VHF and a vessel picked up on the AIS 15 miles away we had no other contact with boats that night.
I had our course set to skirt the military zone quite closely, which brought us on the inside of a couple of islands. They were at least 2 miles away but appeared unnervingly closer in the dark. I got tired around midnight and suggested Naomi take over watch as the next few hours were straight forward, as she doesn't have as much confidence with
navigation. Unfortunately for her as soon as she left the cabin she started to feel sea-sick and spent much of her watch leaning over the side throwing up. Which also meant she couldn't pass time like I had with reading a book, or as she always dreamed of, with her PS Vita console.
I had a disturbed sleep, checking on her and also taking Alex to our bed as was waking when things got rolley, and then took over again, just before 5 am. As we came around the coast the wind started coming from behind so had to start gybing to stop the sails from flapping in the swell, but managed this OK on my own in the now moonless dark.
It wasn't long before the sky became lighter to the east, and with dawn came the same reassurance and relief that I had had on previous overnighters. Put on my expensive heavy weather Gill jacket for the first time to cut out some wind chill, a pullover would have done but I've had it for a year and never used it.
Naomi and Alex joined me in the cockpit around 7 am, as I was
still gybing toward Hexham Island. I had logged on with Thirsty Sound Coast Guard and had no radio problems this time. Naomi was still feeling sick so we put on the engine so we could head straight to the anchorage as this would half the remaining journey to two hours.
The tide was against us so the passage to the east of the island was a bit rough with a little surfing involved, but we came around the headland and to our delight found the anchorage was deserted. Its a beautiful nook - a white arc sand beach, clear water, protected to the sides by the strong arms extending down from the green steep hills - we dropped anchor to the west of the small bay to keep clear of the coral on the other side.
Soon after we arrived Alex played the fun game of throwing his new pink ball off the boat, so when I came up on deck the wind had already pushed a few hundred metres away. Had to quickly drop the dingy and race after it. Headed to the beach to stretch the legs and cure Naomi's still lingering sea-sickness. As the boat's
angler she got excited as we saw the flashes of colour of fish as we got near to the shore.
She caught a dart and a small flathead while I kicked the ball around with Alex and then went for the rocky walk up the hill. From the top there were great views of the bay and surrounding islands. Took the dart back to the boat as bait. After we all had a midday nap, Naomi had no luck but I tried mine and caught a small "stripey" and then my next catch bent the rod violently and the line broke almost instantly. Will always wonder what that whopper would have been if I had used a bigger rig.
Had a brief shower and found the water wasn't draining away and the pump sounding like it was straining. Found the pump had a filter before it that looked pretty full. The pump was dated 1993 but looked almost new. The filter appeared to have a click mechanism to take it apart but couldn't get it to work so took the whole thing off and blew water in the opposite way to clear it. This didn't get it all,
so stuck in a cable tie and pulled out a small matted clump of body hairs. We hadn't used this shower so probably the hairs of the previous French owner - gross! Once reattached the shower drained well, so it was an unpleasant but easy fix.
We were later joined in the bay by an old trimaran that anchored quite close to us and a larger new catamaran further out. There was a strong wind blowing down hills onto the bay with frequent bullets, but got to appreciate this breeze when it dropped off in the evening. Without it we drifted to the east side of the bay which for one had me worried we would be getting close to the coral, and secondly put us sideways on to the small swell which gave us a rolley night, and lastly the trimaran was now hanging just in front of us. With all these worries it wasn't a peaceful night for me as I was frequently up checking our position
The multihulls left in the morning and we returned to the beach. We both fished off the beach and lost the remaining the worms to the sea.
Saved the last 2 for the drift back to the boat on the dingy but just got snagged on rocks.
Had pizza quesadillas for lunch, pulled up the anchor - so nice to have a working winch - and set off east for the Duke Islands. Still couldn't sail straight there as the wind was right on the bum but it was a beautiful afternoon trip, and Alex slept most of the way. Came between the islands where the water gets a bit confused and around the bottom of Hunter Island to anchor with 2 other boats on its west side. Its now 10pm as I write this and the motorboat is still running its noisy generator !
Hunter Island has a special place in our hearts as we took refuge here from strong winds for a few days 3 years ago when we were bringing our old yacht down. We loved exploring the picturesque wild skinny island, and the comfort the calm anchorage gave us.
Next morning, after a peaceful night except for the continuing drone of the generator, went to the beach and I took some photos from the top of the hill.
Brought back lots of memories of our lovely time here before. The tide was dropping and our dingy was now a long way from the quickly receding water's edge. We have wheels on the transom but its was hard pulling the boat through the soft sand initially. Then the sand gets firmer but flattens and is speckled with lumps of dingy tearing jagged dead coral. Took a lot of careful heaving to get back to the water, especially as Naomi was barefoot, and Alex cried as he thought he was getting left behind in our haste. We won't make that mistake again!
A relaxing afternoon finishing off the Pina Colada mix and cooking up some sausages on the BBQ to eat in the cockpit. This is how I imagined the cruising life to be. Took a brief visit to the beach in the afternoon and near the old rusty "No Trespassing" sign found a camping table and 2 chairs either side of a "Shagger's" flag - the emblem of a cruising group.
Three motor-cruisers turned up in convoy at the anchorage before evening. We recognised one of them from our finger at the Yeppoon Marina.
Next morning they all left together - with little wind and flat seas it was a nice day to be on a motor-cruiser. We took the dingy around the southern tip of the island, finding a gap in rocks on the waters edge to reach the beach. There's a small island here and as the tide was getting low, we crossed the now exposed rocky causeway to it. The initial climb is almost vertical so Naomi and Alex stayed behind while I went for a short exploration, and revisit the eagles nest we found here last time. We cheered as we saw the motorboat that continuously ran it generator leaving.
Motored around the small island, passing many small pike in the water, to another beach. Played frisby and Alex was keen to try - he has his own special 2 handed full body spinning throw but sometimes it was successful - and had a little swim to cool off and Alex loved being skimmed over the water and kicking his little legs like an egg-wisk.
Returned after lunch to the first bay as Naomi was keen to fish from the dingy. Only had snails for bait and didn't
catch a thing apart from a rock that snagged my line. Naomi had collected a large pebble to break the snail shells, but with only one and nothing else hard to hit against we had to use some pliers. Alex grabbed the pebble and dropped it on his foot which he wasn't very happy about and then when we pulled up the anchor to leave all we got was rope! Seems the snap on shackle had twisted open.
Sunday was a beautiful calm day so took the dingy around the south end of hunter, up the Lola-Mantes passage and around to the north side of Marble Island. Landed on the one of the few beaches around that still had a sand landing as the tide was getting low and found a medium sized turtle quite high up the beach. It looked weak and didn't react much when we approached. Couldn't see much wrong with it, so decided to carry it down to the water. Half way there Naomi rested and it made some way down the beach itself. I took it the rest of the way and once in the water it took off well. Then about
10 metres away came to a worryingly abrupt halt, took a few gasps of air, and then headed on until out of view.
Next to the beach found a mowed flat expanse of land which we later figured out was a runway. I came across a house half way along it while Naomi took Alex down to a huge perfect rock pool area. I kept out of sight incase I wasn't welcome. There are "No Trespassing" signs dotted around the island but they are so old rusty and faded its hard to know how seriously to take them. These islands are used for groups of hunters, mostly americans, to come and claim a set of deer antlers for their mantelpiece. We saw about ten traversing a steep slope as we came into the bay.
Cruised back around to the south end of Hunter Island where we lost the anchor and tried to spot it by hanging over the side of the dingy with a snorkeling mask on but no luck. Back at Luna Ray at low tide we could see our anchor curled around the boat on the sea floor and not looking dug in. It was obvious
that if the wind picked up from the west at a low tide we would be grounded so tried to carry the anchor further out. Never done this before from a dingy and it was surprisingly hard. Managed to pick up the anchor, while I held it over the dingy edge Naomi gunned our 2.5 hp engine. Its weight just made it impossible to steer after just a few metres. Got a little further going backwards but then gave up. Before dusk we weighed anchor properly and dropped it in a better spot further out.
Monday, knowing that it might be the last day of good weather for a while, we were torn between heading further north on our travels to the Percy Islands, or exploring a neighbouring island and perhaps hunting for the anchor we lost properly by snorkeling over the area. We took the latter less sensible option.
Motored the dingy south to Tynemouth Island, over the line of rocks we had seen surfaced at low tide that trail off from the northwest headland. Passed these the beautiful crescent shaped bay was revealed to us, a perfect beach fringed by shading Poinciana trees and
a landscaped collection of rocks at either end which lead inland to steep hills covered in long grass swaying with mixtures of green and golden brown. Discovered an old cattle enclosure with a fenced path down to the beach, and a wooden and corrugated iron hut slowly falling down next to it. Saw a couple more deer on the beach. I walked all the way to the south end and looked along the bottom of the island and back to the mainland.
Came back to find Naomi fishing - there had been some encouraging big splashes in the water. We were about to all take the hike up one of the hills when a large tinnie with centre-console beached itself next to us. One guy jumped off and headed behind the trees whilst the other explained that he worked on the island and they were back burning the grass on the islands today. We talked a little more and by the time they left things were getting pretty smokey. Good thing we weren't up the hill at the time or we may not have been able to get back to beach through the flames.
As the smoke and
bellowing ash grew we left soon after. You could see the drop in water height as we flew over the rock line, this time visable only a couple of feet below the water. Came around to the northern side of the island and landed again. Naomi took up her fishing rod again while I went for a climb up the hill. As I was heading toward the fire-line I knew I could always retreat away from it. It was a steep climb, especially at the start and I was glad I had my old trusty hiking boots with me, not only for scrambling up the boulders but nearer the top as my feet were often lost in the long grass my toes often met with hidden rocks.
At the top found a small flat patch with short grass - would make a great campsite with 360 degree awesome views, from the beach we had just visited with the line of rocks we had crossed that were now more exposed and making the water look like wild river rapids, south to the mainland and north to Hunter Island where Luna Ray now sat alone in the bay.
View from part way up hill
You can see Luna Ray at Hunter Island in the distance
downhill using some goat tracks (well deer tracks really) traversing sideways to take some of the steepness out of the descent. As my step glanced a rock it felt more sensitive than usual on my left foot and I immediately thought I may have torn the side of the boot. Looked down to find the whole of the sole had fallen off! I retraced my steps to find it and fortunately the inner sole was giving me some protection from the rocks but this didn't last long as it worked its way off the boot as my foot pushed through.
I contemplated the steepening slope and was thankful that at least I had my right foot to rely on as my other only had sock cushioning it, and now I had one handhold busy carrying boot parts. However it was short lived as my right boot followed suit and fell to pieces too!
From here I could now see Naomi and able to throw boot parts down to the beach, and the complete final steep part on socks, hands and the bum of board-shorts.
Motored back to Luna Ray for bangers on the BBQ on the back
of the boat. At 4pm we headed back to bay where we lost the dingy anchor to hunt for it again at low tide. This time I was in my wetsuit ready for a proper snorkel but the water was no longer clear and not worth pursuing so we tried a few spots for fishing. I did get a fish on the line using a lure but it broke off before I had pulled it in. On another cast the far end of rod flung off and flew into the water! I pulled it in thinking it would come up with the lure but it got snagged and along with anchor rested on the seabed for good.
So in summary we had been unsuccessful finding the anchor and I lost my fishing rod and boots on top.... not sure if staying the extra day was a good idea.
Got back to Luna Ray to find the fire on Hunter had worked its way up wind of us so ash was dropping on the deck but the flames in the dark made for a special view from the boat as night fell.
Next day the wind
strengthened and was coming more from the south sending waves into our anchorage. We knew our next destination The Percy Islands' West Bay would be uncomfortable in these conditions so were not keen to move but by around 11 am when we did lift anchor waves crests were breaking around the boat. I was very pleased the anchor winch was working well as I pulled in the chain, as the nose of the boat was riding up and down about a meter or two in the waves.
As soon as we were underway things got a lot more comfortable. We came through the turbulent water south of Hunter Island and tore up the Lola-Mantes Passage (known for its strong currents) at over 10 knots. Came around the north side of Marble Island (where we had been 2 days earlier in the dingy) and headed for the bay at the east end where 3 other boats were anchored. We had had a horrible night here 3 years ago but today although the wind was still strong the water was fairly flat.
We dropped anchor after our brief 3 mile trip, and were approached by someone in their dingy who
Anchored at Marble Island
Stolen Kiss on left; This Way Up on right
we had seen leave their catamaran This Way Up as we came into the bay. I instantly thought he had some problem with us, perhaps being too close to his boat or something but in fact he invited us to afternoon tea at 3pm. We have long read about this sort of impromptu socialising with other boats sharing an anchorage and this was our first such invite. We had previously wondered why it hadn't already happened but I think it occurs more often as anchorages become more remote. Perhaps a sign of needing social interaction after time alone at sea or perhaps a surge in camaraderie amongst others that had made the same efforts to get to this isolated spot.
We were both a little nervous but just after 3pm when Alex had woken up we dingy'd over to the large cat to join the owners and the couple currently cruising with them, as well as 2 couples from the 2 other boats. The couples from This Way Up and Stolen Kiss had both done lots of cruising and had plenty of advice about cruising in Asia, including a strong recommendation about not taking the route along the archipelago
of Indonesia that we had in mind as there will be no wind when we are there. Had coffee, cake, pikelets and pistacios (Alex had a habit of trying to chew on the shells). The couple from "Silver Fox" had some concerns they were anchored too close to rocks so when they left to move their boat, the rest of us also headed back to our own boats.
We tied the dingy up to float behind Luna Ray and settled down for the night with plans to probably delay going to The Percy's another day or two until the weather settled a bit.
24th July - as I took my weekly shave around 8am Naomi warned me there was bad news.... our dingy was gone !!! The rope had snapped and the dingy and its engine was nowhere to be seen in the sea to the north of us which is where it would be blown in the 20 knot winds, but of course this could have happened anytime in the last ten hours. We quickly got the boat together, pulled anchor and headed downwind in the hope of spotting it. This happened to be in
the same direction at the Percy Islands. Informed Thirsty Sound Coast Guard in case they had any sightings reported and the guys from This Way Up told us they would soon be behind us as they were heading to the Percy's and would keep an eye out.
The sea was fairly rough and after about 10 miles we had pretty much given up any chance of finding it however I kept scanning the horizon with binoculars all the way to West Bay at the Middle Percy Island. This Way Up had already radio'd to say they were there and about to leave as it was too rolly and indeed they did about 10 minutes after we arrived.
We stayed at West Bay that night and are now in Mackay with plans to leave tomorrow. However our toilet has just stopped working properly so we may be delayed. This entry has become very long and its late so will continue it another time. If we do get away tomorrow this may be some time as I'm not sure how much internet coverage we will have as we island hop up the Whitsundays.
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