Wednesday, 11 May 2011

It's not the leaving of Bundaberg...

The Great Barrier Reef

We had been away for a year and it was time well spent in England, we now have a home base of our own there and we did get to see our family, the absence of which is the hardest part of our travelling life-style.

However back in Oz, Bundaberg to be precise and re-united with Ellida it's nose to the grindstone to bring her back into cruising fettle. We expected to be greeted with a soggy boat after the extreme flooding that Bundaberg has had to endure over the last six months, but no, she was dry and no mould was evident.

After a couple of weeks polishing and painting, we were ready to launch. We suffered a temporary glitch when the engine refused to start, but the fault (a blocked exhaust manifold) was soon identified then cured and we were back in business.

We departed Bundy on 11th May just 2 years and 7 months after our arrival here from Vanuatu. This time we sailed north on an overnight sail to Great Kepple Island (the photo is our first seascape sunset in over two years). Or so we thought. But Elli had other ideas.

At about midnight, the engine developed a fault and after going through the usual first aid procedures, it became apparent that it was not a quick fix. Fortunately we could move under engine - at just over tickover speed, so we decided to divert into Gladstone.

As we have come to expect in Australia, nothing was too much trouble. Craig, the young diesel engineer was on the case without delay as was an electrical engineer (because we also discovered a battery charging problem) and within just a couple of days we were ready to go again. But our freedom was short lived as the same old problem cropped up again, just half an hour after leaving the marina. So back we came for a second time.

We got to know Gladstone quite well! The replica of Capt Cook's 'Discovery' was in port for some of the time

...and Gladstone has several sights of interest as well; for example, the marina taken in the late afternoon.
Passenger ferry entering the marina from the sea channel.
 The Auckland Inlet a little before sunset
 The porch supports on this church reflect the shape of the bottle trees which are a feature of the Gladstone area.

We also met up with Jeremy and Kathy whom we had first met in Bundaberg. A super couple from Preston who have raced here in just 3 years aboard their 36 foot Westerly Solway, 'Sal Darago'. They are also on the Sail Indonesia Rally and so our sailing plans are quite similar.

We left Gladstone on the same day, but as they have a much shallower draught than us, they were able to take a significant short cut and they were away for slates, not to be caught ...for months!

We made our way to Middle Percy. From its name, it wont surprise you to know that there are more than two Percys, North East (which is quite small), South Island and Middle Percy. It came well recommended as an island offering a choice of sheltered anchorages suiting most wind directions. We chose White's Bay on the South East side, which as quite a deep bay proved to be a very good anchorage.

After a brief stop our next destination was Scawfell Island. Not the spelling we are used to, but the names of the islands in this section of the Great Barrier Reef are all very redolent of home. Names like; Whitehaven,St Bees, Keswick... the list goes on.

After a brisk sail we arrived at the northwest facing Refuge Bay. The wind was blowing over 25 knots as we approached and we were convinced that the name was going to turn out a misnomer, but as we progressed deep into the bay, the winds changed from frantic to manageable, then as the day wore on - to mild. A lovely anchorage after all with delightful views - this one taken at sunset just as a small catamaran was entering the bay.

The following day we eased our way between Carlisle and Cockermouth Islands... one of the most delightful anchorages on the Reef, Goldmith. A long bay with only two other boats in sight, northwest facing and beautifully sheltered.

A peaceful night, we would love to stop and have a snorkel, but we must press on.

It's the kind of day sailing distance that we enjoy, 28 miles only to Sawmill Bay on west of Whitsunday Island, facing Cid Island, a renowned beauty spot. We are entering charter-boat territory now. The anchorages are more crowded and channel 16 (the VHF hailing channel) is constantly busy; but it is beautiful and we enjoyed another calm and tranquil night's sleep.

Onwards and ever northwards, we have a 40 mile trip that takes us around Gloucester Head to Bona Bay. Just a convenience stop really, it's perfectly good, but somewhat of an open roadstead. As ever, our journeys are governed by how much we can do in the daylight. Anything over 60 miles is, to us, a 'night run'. We much prefer to travel by day not only because it's safer, but also we enjoy it more. We are greeted by a dugong swimming past as we arrive.

Next stop Cape Bowling Green. It sounds as if it should be flat and calm if the name is anything to go by. The pilot book advises a wide sweep approaching the anchoring area, and as we approach we realise why; the depths are shallow. We need at least 2.5 metres to float and we were quite a long way off with the depth gauge showing 5's then 4's.  Hmmm... anyway, it turned out to be a very gentle slope and we anchored in lovely peaceful waters and enjoyed a glorious sunset.

However it was not to last. All hell broke loose at about 4:30 to 5:00am and the water surface was incredibly turbulent, the wind strength had increased from a gentle zephyr to a stiff 17 knots. No option but to up anchor and get out of the bay. There was only one other yacht in the bay with us and he was doing exactly the same in the breaking light of dawn.

Our next target was Magnetic Island. A well known and popular tourist spot, very close to Townsville, one of Queensland's biggest townships, and served by a ferry from there. It does however have a marina in a resort/condominium development. Our friends Beth and Bone (Splinters Apprentice - a fellow Saltram) had passed this way just a few weeks earlier and had emailed us to recommend it. We took their advice and pulled in. We were met by a very helpful and friendly marina manager, who got us well situated and outlined all the facilities - which were superb. We resolved to stay a couple of days just to relax and enjoy the island.

The Marina in the early morning light:
 Unusual rock formations on the approach to Picnic Bay:
 Hawkings Point from ground level:
 ...and just around the corner, from a high viewing point.
 A young Kookaburra:
 The old jetty in Picnic Bay:

We were recommended to do the Forts Walk because as well as providing a good viewing point we also stood a chance of spotting koalas. So we took a bus ride to the start of this walk. The track follows a ridge behind the bays and arrives at the ruins of the Forts complex operated during World War II. The lookouts did afford excellent views of the Palm Island Group in the north to the infamous (in anchorage terms) Bowling Green Bay National Park in the south. This walk is also famous for spotting Koalas in their natural environment ...and we did! Two of them, both doing what koalas do best (sleeping) but nonetheless there to be photographed.

A Koala, seen on the way up the Fort walk:
Views from the top (1):
 Views from the top (2):
 We spotted another one on the way down:

Our few day's respite passed all too quickly and we were off again, first to the Northeast Bay on Great Palm Island, an easy 33 mile trip and we anchored in shallow waters but with a very pleasant view of the coastline.  When darkness was approaching we saw a small power boat heading straight for us.

The little motorboat hailed us as he approached and it turned out to be just two Aussie fishermen possibly even a little older than ourselves. "You don't happen to have a 12v pump for inflating an air bed do you?" one asked. As luck would have it, we did, left over from our camping trip, "Yes we do." I shouted back. At which point they proceeded to come alongside and the transfer was made. They set up their sleeping arrangements very quickly and they were off again. You meet the nicest people cruising!

At this point were were passing close to Hinchingbrooke Island, of the major beauty spots on the east coast of Queensland. Normally, cruisers sail between the mainland and the island and although a twisty route and shallow in places under normal conditions, after the drama of Cyclone Yasi which struck land at this point on February this year, the navigation markers are still unreliable and some of the sandbanks have shifted. So for that reason and also because we were short of time, we opted to take the outside route. Our anchorage for the night was Agnes Island. A bit short on shelter, but it turned out to be just fine.

Next stop Dunk Island. The island gained it's moment of fame when in 1969, James Mason and a young Helen Mirren and all the necessary entourage came to film 'Age of Consent'. It is a holiday island with a resort, but at present it is under reconstruction - after Yasi of course. Nonetheless it was a perfectly good anchorage for us, we didn't go ashore, but we had excellent scenery.
 The jetty that may be the one that features in the film, or it may have been reconstructed several times since then!

Just 22 miles on to Mourilyan Harbour, but an early start and we are rewarded with some spectacular sunlight and cloud effects.

A frighteningly narrow entrance to this natural harbour, which opens out into a well protected inland sea. However we still have to be very cautious as it is extremely shallow outside the bounds of the actual harbour even though it looks as if there is infinite space. We could see yachts moored in line down a passage of reasonable depth, but we were amazed to find that one of those masts that we could see had no hull! We assumed that it had sunk on the spot - perhaps another legacy of Yasi.

We are getting very near to Cairns now. It's just too far for a single shot in daylight, so we take 44 miles off the distance by overnighting at Fitzroy Island. Only 15 miles short of Cairns, but necessary. It was a bit difficult to anchor - deeper than we normally like and it was a very open roadstead. However the other 20 or so boats didn't seem to mind, so we dropped our hook in about 18 metres of water and had a peaceful night. It seems that Fitzroy is a resort island served by pleasure ferries from Cairns. However it still looked very green and pleasant.

Ahhhh, Cairns. It was always in the mind as a target. There was BC and AC, before Cairns and after Cairns. We had discovered a crack in the kicker bracket that hung off the boom. It didn't look dramatic, but we resolved that Cairns was the next major city at which we could hope to effect a repair.

We were directed to a berth in Marlin Marina and we set about getting one or two things. Firstly, full marks go to the chandlery; managed by Jenny Gangell, we were able to top up our propane, buy several boating essentials and she even managed to source and collect some vital diesel filters for us. Big thanks to Jenny.

Cairns is an attractive town, we think. Particularly the waterfront. So here are a couple of photographs taken in that area.

A bit of a shock though to find out that a place the size of Cairns has no rigger. The nearest is in Port Douglas, just 20 miles up the road. Furthermore, the master-rigger has been admitted to hospital and is out of action, but he does have an assistant, Dan, who by a supreme stroke of luck was in Marlin Marina on another job. He called by and we talked about rigging and examined the kicker problem and also the rest of those parts of the rigging that were visible from the deck. To our surprise he found a broken strand on one of our aft lower shrouds - a vital part of the rigging especially for downwind sailing. It has to be replaced. Dan however, says that we must take Ellida down to his workshop in Port Douglas for this to be done. Now I've seen the chart for the Port Douglas entrance and it has a bar of 1.5 metres at the entrance! "No problem," says Dan "we have over 2 metres of tide - come in at high water."