The Great Southern Migration.

October 31st 2015
Published: February 25th 2016
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The Great sail south from Airlie Beach to Brisbane

Capt’n’s log;

Voyage south started in Airlie Beach at 06:00 hours on the 20th of October and ended 14 days later in Newport Marina, Brisbane at 09:45 on the 2nd of November having covered 595 nautical miles. Total time spent moving 114 hours and 31 minutes giving an average speed of 5.2 knots.

Before we get into the trip south a few words about why I was going to Brisbane and not New Zealand via New Caledonia.

During October, the main wind patterns in the Coral Sea are the South East Trades (SE Trades). I was hoping that these winds would have dropped off to be replaced by the very helpful northerlies’ however, this year was looking like a year with few and weak northerlies, so back to SE Trades. As the direction from Mackay to the bottom of the reef is southeast and then onto New Caledonia is east, this would mean headwinds requiring frequent tacking within the reef system, and maybe a tight reach to New Caledonia, no thanks.

Added to this November and December are the start of the cyclone season in the southern hemisphere. Though rare, early cyclones can develop in the northern Coral Sea during these months. The main months for cyclones are January through to April. Whilst it was predicted that this season would see fewer cyclones off north eastern Australia with about the normal number around New Caledonia, it was expected to be a higher than normal year in the rest of the South Pacific. This pattern is due to the impact of the current strong El Niño. During this strong El Niño there is a large tongue of very warm water along the equator from Central America towards Fiji while there is colder water in the northern Coral Sea.

Given these factors and after an email conversation with Bob McD., the sailing weather guru in New Zealand, I decided not to head to New Caledonia but head south to Brisbane and then look at going to New Zealand from there.

The first impact of this decision was that the crew who was lined up for the New Caledonia trip decided to not to sail down to Brisbane. So be it.

I had to wait about a week for a northerly weather system to arrive, so I advertising for crew around Airlie Beach but to no avail, so I decided to do the trip solo. Thus, on Sunday the 19th, I loaded up with food and on Monday morning I took Hakura into the marina and watered up and brought the last of the fresh milk and ice. I checked the fuel and decided that it was not worth fuelling up for the remaining 10 litres (do remember this event later on). Then we left Airlie Beach and began the run south.

I had enjoyed Airlie Beach, the people and the shops. The anchorage could be a bit lumpy and I had been told that in a northerly it could be really uncomfortable. Anyway, I was going to use the northerly to head south. When I say there was a northerly, well it had not yet arrived, so as I wanted to get a bit south to maximise its use when it did arrive I headed off into a good SE Trades on day one. The target for the day was the southern end of Shaw Island, where Fred and I had stopped on the way north way
Possible red tide off the Percy GroupPossible red tide off the Percy GroupPossible red tide off the Percy Group

You need to look closely for the stuff floating at the surface. It could have been an algal bloom.
back in 21 August, two months ago.

I started the trip with just the main sail and the motor, and as the wind grew used the headsail to tack towards Shaw Island. After several hours I arrived to find the quite a few vessels in the anchorage, most I suspected also heading south.

The next morning several boats had left before I had got up and more left as I had breakfast. The wind had died over night though stayed from the SE. After a quick breakfast I headed out motor sailing on a close hauled tack towards the south. This took me close to Smith Group of Island and we ended up sailing to the western of Hammersmith and Goldsmith islands. After a warm sunny day of light airs, the day ended at Keswick Is, 15 Niles northeast of Mackay.

The wind had not developed into the 10 to 15 knot nor’easter as forecast, and as evening approached it dropped to less than 5 knots. This made for another flat night, though it did not look good for the long leg planed for the next day.

I had originally planed to sail to Middle Percy Island, a popular stopping over point on the way north and south. It was a leg of about 80 nmiles so a full day thus I was up 04:00 and away by 05:00, after a good breakfast. The early breakfast was due to the lessons of the pervious two days. There really is no opportunity for breakfast once we were underway.

Again, several vessels left around the time I got underway, though as many were 45 footers (13.75 m) or multihulls, they would travel faster than Hakura, which provide to be the case. Thus during the day I was left behind by these vessels and overhauled by others.

It was a light wind day with a slight tail wind so just the head sail and the assistance of the motor. As the day progressed, I decided to make an over night leg of it and get to either Port Clinton (in the eastern edge of the Shoal Water Bay Military Training area) or even as far as Great Keppel Island.

The weather was fine with excellent visibility so Hakura and I made steady progress past the islands leading up to the Percy Group. At this stage, at about 19:00 that evening, the course changed more southerly to take us through the Northumberland Islands and well north of Board Sound and Shoal Water Bay.

Part of the reason to stay away from these areas were their large tides, being the largest tides on the eastern seaboard of Australia, with tide ranges of 9 to 10 metres. I did not wish to have to deal with anchoring in these areas. The main reason for this long leg, however, was to take advantage of the northerly winds and make as much smothering as was possible before the SE Trades came back.

We passed to the west of the Percy Group during the early evening and as the evening moved on we headed more southerly. We ended up passing Port Clinton during the early hours of the morning and we were now heading due south towards Great Keppel Island.

This brought a common issue to the fore. Which anchorage should I aim for? The usual ones are on the north and west coasts of the islands. They were the preferred ones during SE Trades, but the forecasts were for solid northerlies. If one goes by the forecast the anchorages on the south coast was the answer, but the wind was neither the forecasted northerlies nor the usual SE Trades. Really it was very light and variable. In the end I went to the southern anchorage based on the forecast and over the rest of the day as the wind increased from the north this provided to be the correct option.

But I am getting ahead of myself. As the sun rose, I noticed that the water was now very clear, more like oceanic waters than the cloudy waters of the Whitsundays. It was good to see and this change may be due to having past Shoal Water Bay and its large tides. Another observation was that the dust I had been seeing on the sea surface since around Shaw Island was not just on the surface but I could see it for several metres below the surface.

I say dust, but I was increasingly of the opinion that it was an algal bloom, the red tides of some parts of the world. This one was more a dark red orange colour. An algal bloom is where the populations of one or more species of the microscopic phytoplankton explode forming very dense shoals. Such blooms can occur naturally during the spring as more light leads to greater growth of the plants. They can also be the result of increased nutrients in the waters, often due to greater mixing due to spring gales.

What I can say is that I saw signs of the bloom all the way from Shaw Island south to the Great Sandy Strait, a distance of more than 400 nmiles. Sometimes the areas covered were small whilst on a couple of places the bloom appeared to cover out to the horizon.

I spent a relaxing day anchored off the southern coast of Great Keppel Island and got a good night’s sleep. As the northerlies were still blowing I decided that in the morning I would make another long day of it and head for Pancake Creek, just south of Gladstone Harbour.

Come morning and the wind had died and I was motoring off to the southeast, however, as the morning developed the wind sprang up from the east meaning that I was now hard on the wind tacking towards Gladstone. During the day I did several short tacks back offshore to allow for the long tracks towards Clew’s Point, just off the entrance to Pancake Creek.

During the afternoon we left the tropics by passing across the parallel of 23o 26’. 14S, thus Hakura had been in the tropics for 10 weeks. Also during the late afternoon we passed through the 20 plus bulk currieries anchored of Gladstone. More coal to power the world’s industries and more CO2 for the atmosphere to deal with.

As the light faded around 18:00 so did the wind, though not sufficient to require motoring directly towards Clew’s Point. After a couple more short tacks we arrived off the Point around 20:00, so it was going to be a night entry and I hoped the leads were working and the handheld GPS was spot on. Both worked well and I dropped anchor in the outer reaches of Pancake Creek at 20:20, another full and successful day.

After I had a quick chat with another yacht that had passed me during the afternoon and found out they also had their motor on while tacking, I went below and had a good sleep. I decided to have a rest day on the 25th, partly as Pancake Creek was an interesting location. Generally, the tidal stream was stronger than the wind, except for about half an hour at the top and bottom of the tides thus we would either face into the creek during the falling tide or out towards the sea during the flood tide. This meant that I only had internet/phone connection during the first three hours of the falling tide. I think there was a local hot spot that Hakura was in during this time.

I had a choice of two options concerning the next leg. Heading either to Bundaberg Harbour (a trip of about 50 nm or 10 hours) or across Hervey Bay to the top end of Fraser Island in Platypus Bay (a trip of about 90 nm or 18 hours). The advantage of the longer trip was it put us in a better position for the following leg into the Great Sandy Strait, a trip of about 30nm plus the angle to the wind was better whether it stayed in the north or swung to the SE, as forecast. I opted for the longer trip to Platypus Bay, mainly due to the possible wind change.

Thus, another early start, this time we left the anchorage at 04:50 and had a great sail across Hervey Bay in a light nor-Easter wind. The highlight of the sail was sighting a large shark just off our track. It swam off to starboard and then after we had passed it returned to where it had been before. This was only the second shark sighting during the whole voyage (in nearly 18 months). Dropped anchor just inside the northwestern corned of Fraser Island at 20:22. So ended a long day of nearly 17 and a half hours during which we covered 93 nm at an average of 5.4 knots.

Now one of the factors that was keeping me move was to make as much progress south as possible before the SE Trades set back in. Another was that if I got to Brisbane before Saturday, I might be able to watch the ABs play the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup Final (the ABs are the All Blacks, the national men’s rugby team for New Zealand and the Wallabies are the national men’s rugby team for Australia). I had an offer from my uncle David, who lives in Brisbane, that I could watch it at his place. Five days left and four stages to go, entirely possible. All I had to do was get through the Great Sandy Strait (2 days), then cross the Wide Bay bar (yep another bar and possibly a real bad one at times) and get to Mooloolaba (one day), and finally a short hope down to Brisbane. The big issue was would the sea and weather be right for crossing the bar?

On the morning of the 27th we headed south towards the many sand bars of the northern entrance to the Great Sandy Strait. It was a good sail with a light tail wind. We left at 10:00 so as to reach the entrance with a rising tide. This was to ensure sufficient water and to have the tidal steam from the rising tide pushing us into the strait. All went well, even if it was a bit hair rising when crossing some of the shallower areas. At 18:30 we dropped anchor at the halfway mark in a small offshoot of the main channel, off the South White Cliffs. It was certainly time for a stop as I had been finding it increasing difficult to concentrate on staying in the channel.

That evening I sat in the cockpit and watched a spectacular thunderstorm that was off to the south. As the evening progressed, it did pass nearby though only a little rain fell on Hakura.

Next morning we started the passage of the second half the strait, leaving at 09:00. The latish start was to enable Hakura to cross the shallowest part (which was in the halfway area and very near where we were anchored) at high tide and have the out going tide push us south through the strait.

There were five vessels crossing the shallow area before us (four heading south and one fishing boat heading north). This was very helpful as the channel often changes making the chart in the Handheld a bit of out of date. I was able to follow the other yachts (don’t ever follow launches in shallow water as they only draw 0.5 metres as against Hakura’s 1.8 metres). It was another good day of hand steering, checking charts, cruising guides and the handheld. After the initial section, there were no other changes in the positions of the channel markers and we were making very good progress with the tidal stream behind us.

At one mark the channel was very narrow making the tide stream very fast and Hakura and I had to work hard to stay in the middle of the channel. I was altered to this issue because the catamaran in front suddenly changed course back into the middle of the channel as it approached the marker. No problems, we got past the maker OK.

Well it is time to come clean. I ended the 27th in Tin Can Bay Marina, not sitting out off Pelican Bay, at the southern end of the Great Sandy Strait, which is by entrance to the channel and near the leads to the Wide Bay bar. This change of plans occurred after it, the motor, cut out when we were less than one nautical mile (or 2 km) from the anchorage.

My first thoughts where “Oh shit what now”!

I dropped anchor and we stayed put. We were safe and not going to be blown back up the strait or taken out to the bar by the tidal stream.

A quick check told me why the motor was not going. No fuel left in the tank. After firing the chief engineer, who in his defence had only taken on the position because he was out of the room at the time the appointment was made, I filled the tank from the spare containers and went to bleed to system. Unlike petrol motors, diesels need to have all the air bleed out of their fuel lines otherwise they will not run, swim or even cough loudly.

After a quick check of the engine manual, I followed steps 1 to 7, but still no fuel coming through. So I called up the Tin Can Bay Coast Guard to see if they had anybody who was good at getting engines going. Nope but they would come out and tow me into Tin Can Bay (8 nautical miles or 15 km away) where I could get a mechanic.

Well 2 hours later I was in the marina and enjoying not being stuck out in the strait.

The next morning the mechanic came on board and had the system bleed and the motor going in five minutes. He did what I had done, except he did shift the cam around so that the fuel pump would work. In addition, the motor has now been fully serviced and we also know the engine stopping problem is due to a stuffed solenoid ($300 plus gst to fix).

Anyway I had access to fresh milk, ice and ice cream, so all is well in the world.

Now there was still time to make it to Brisbane, however, the weather decided not to assist and the next few days have stiff SE winds. Not good for crossing the bar or heading SE to SW to Brisbane. The solution was to stay at the marina till Sunday when the wind was predicted to drop and swing back to the north. This would also allow me to stock up on food and watch the rugby.

I had heard from some fellow kiwis that one of the local restaurants was going to be showing the game. This had two advantages, I could watch the game and I would not be alone if the ABs lost. This was always a possibility when they are playing the Wallabies.

During the couple of days leading up to the game, I fuelled up Hakura and stocked up on fresh vegies, meat, bread and milk. I also brought some ice to use in the cooler. The food and ice came from the local shops, all of which were within 20 minutes walk of the marina. One really good thing was that the local shops included a good butcher who made very good sausages. All the sort of things a growing lad needs, plus the odd ice cream. Overall, I found Tin Can Bay to be a very good place to visit.

Come the early hours of Sunday morning (the final was being played Saturday evening in London so it was being showed Sunday morning here) we all gathered in the outside section of the restaurant and waited for the start. There was the usual rubbish before the game, then finally the all-important Haka.

Well, us kiwis enjoyed the game, along with some of the Aussies. A few Aussy supporters got upset at the referee, and said they had been robbed, but it would not be an Australian crowd without some of these guys. In short, the ABs clearly won the game. Then off to bed for a few hours then a late morning start to get to the bar about high tide.

I finally managed to cast off the lines at 11:46 and slowly headed out of the marina and Tin Can Bay. It took nearly 2 hours to get to and cross the bar. The wind was down and there was only a very small swell so the crossing went well. There were a couple of long straight sections leading unto the actual crossing, with some small surf breaking on either side, though the crossing was quick and nothing like I remembered it from 1979. It may have changed a lot or my memory could be out (or most likely both), whatever, we got through and where heading pass Double Island Point towards the overnight run to Brisbane.

As it was a run of about 100 nm and I wanted to arrive off Brisbane in the morning light, one of the main aims was to travel at about 4 knots or less over night, then we could use the motor to get up to 5 knots as we got closer. The plan worked well, though I did have to roll in most the headsail to slow Hakura down.

We passed Point Cartwright at Mooloolaba at quarter past one in the morning. There were several vessels further offshore, including some fishing boats but thankfully nobody came close to Hakura during the whole trip. We were motoring along the outside of Bribie Island as the sun rose. It was a smooth morning as the wind had died over night. I saw several dolphins and sea birds fishing as we headed south past Bribie Island, whilst on land the early morning walkers and joggers were out in force. Morton Bay has lots of sand banks and gets very shallow in places; however, we managed to stay within the western channel, well away from the main commercial channels.

I had emailed several marinas in the Brisbane area seeking a berth and the only one to replay was the Newport Marina on the northern side of the Redcliffe/Scarborough Peninsula. So this marina was our target, which was very useful as it was one of the closest marinas to the northwestern channel. After navigating the long narrow entry channel, Hakura and I were safely tided up in Berth C7 by 09:45 Monday 2 November.

Well we had made the trip safely from Airlie Beach to Brisbane, albeit with the help of the Tin Can Bay Coast Guard.

What now?

Well I had to either find two new crew members for a crossing from Brisbane to Whangarei or have Australian Custom clearance to stay another year in Australia and find work in Brisbane.

I started the former and advertised on several websites including Find-A-Crew (where most of my crew have come from), Gumtree an Australian trading website that has a travel section and on Couchsurfing, a speciality site covering accommodation and share travel for travellers.

I did get several responses, however, I was not able hear from two people at the same time. I would get a keen young man who would wait around for a week or so but then have to start moving again. A couple of days later there would be somebody else asking about the trip.

In the end I decided to stay and find work. I had already begun the process with Customs, having told them that I was having trouble getting some crew. Australian Custom officials were helpful and came down to Hakura to issue her with an extension to 1 November 2016.

The upshot is that I am now in Brisbane till the end of April 2016, working as a relief support worker for people with disabilities, I have a car (to get to work), a car GPS (to find where I am working) and new smart phone (all the other ones had died), a new IPod touch (the IPod Classics had all died) and a bike (for shopping and fun rides around greater Redcliffe). I plan to sell the car and take the rest back to NZ with me later in 2016.

What of the future? I am now looking at sailing back up the Great Barrier Reef, starting May and going at least as far north as Townsville and even Lizard Island (north of Cairns), then either heading off to Darwin and East Timor (not very likely) or back to NZ via New Caledonia (again). Well this will be the last blog until after I start cruising again. Enjoy yourself and thanks for reading my blog.

Capt’n Doug


25th February 2016

Good read
Interesting trip. Hope that solenoid is fixed for good now.
25th February 2016

Nope have not fixed the solenoid yet, though will do before heading north. The string is still working, though I only run motor for an hour ever two weeks or so.

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