Friday, July 26, 2013

Whitsunday Wanderings

Beating out to Border Island
It felt like the southeasterly tradewinds would never ease but eventually they did and I set off to explore the Whitsunday Islands. Heading out from Airlie Beach toward Nara Inlet it was still a wet ride close reaching across the trades but it wasnt long before I eased sheets and ran down into Nara Inlet. With Moonbvow anchored I headed off to find the Ngaro cave paintings which were well presented. Sitting near the cave I thought it was a pretty good place to live an aboriginal life. A good cave with water views, sheltered waters for the canoes, lots of seafood and a waterfall nearby. I headed to the waterfall in the late afternoon and washed in the stone pools above the waterfall.

Sailing out the next day I came across Vicki who had worked as a forecaster at Casey Station last summer. She had chartered a yacht for some cruising and it was great to see her. Clear of Nara I beat toward the passage between Hook and Whitsunday Islands where the current was running strongly against me. From there on, there was no protection and the short beat out to Border Island was exposed.

The discomfort was worth it and Border Island has some great snorkelling. Batfish were quick to gather round me when I launched into the water, and all the corals and fish in the books were there to see first hand.

The next stop was Hazelwood Island and by then the wind had eased considerably. A light southeasterly saw me set full sail with the genoa. Dropping the anchor just outside the coral reef I was quick to get ashore for a walk, finding a vast amount of plastics washed up on the windward side of the island. Bushy on the Tiki 26 dropped by the next morning for a quick chat and then I headed off for Whitehaven Beach but the tidal flow took me north. Instead I stopped at Esk Island for a morning snorkel and lunch before heading into Tongue Bay. 
Lunch at Esk Island
Tongue Bay is heavily used by charter vessels and a bit of a zoo. The up side is a track leading over to Whitehaven Beach with the magificent view up Hill Inlet that appears so often in tourist brochures. 
The Iconic Hill Inlet - Whitsunday Island
The tradewinds continued to ease and by the next day it was completely out of puff. I drifted off the anchor and crawled into Dumbell Island for another morning snorkel and Lunch. The wind filled in gently by midday and I joined the drifting whales. Their breathing could be heard for a  mile in the calm conditions. It was a day for the spiunnaker and it hauled Moonbow gracefully round the tip of Hook Island. I saw Guy on his Tiki 21, sailing on the horizon and as I sailed into Butterfly Bay there was Pete on Sand Dollar moored up. Sundowners on the Tiki with Guy, Josh and Pete we were joined by Lars and B who arrived in the last light aboard the Mini transat 'Wings". A beautiful anchorage with great company.

I headed to Stonehaven around the corner the next day in search of phone reception. The previous day whales had been playing amongst the moored yachts but I didnt get that show. Apart from mobile reception, Stonehaven didnt really appeal, having been spoilt by some five star anchorages over the past week so the next day I headed for Airlie Beach. A good place to wait out the increasing trade winds.

It look like the next lull might come next week and I think it might be time to start the move south.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Down the Trade Wind Funnel

Sailing into Airlie Beach this morning with a blustery trade wind belting down over the hills I realised how far away I wrote the last blog. I was in the Moordor that is Gladstone and from there I headed up the inside of Curtis Island to negotiate what is called The Narrows. It is here that cattle from Curtis Island are driven across to the mainland during low tide. There is in fact one spot on the channel that sits 2.5m above low water datum. Oddly you only need 1.5m plus vessel draft to get through due to the water heaping up at the narrows. I had an easy run with no less than 1metre under the keel which made my trepidations in Gladstone seem out of place.

Emerging at the north end of the narrows I could see the Keppel Islands in haze on the horizon and a sea breeze filled in to get me there after a brilliant sunset. The next morning revealed crystal clear water and a snorkel revealed an electric drill alongside the anchor chain. Odd!!

I had been scheming with my friend Nick to rendezvous in the islands as he sailed south and I north. He rang in the afternoon to say he was held put by strong headwinds and to let me know that the coastline between us was about to be shutdown for a military exercise. No time for resting in the beauty of the Keppel Islands. I headed for Rosslyn Bay to get some extra diesel for Nick and the next day was on my way north again. An overnight stop in Freshwater Bay and then on to the Percy Islands.

We had organised to meet at West Bay, Middle Percy but as I approached it became apparent that West Bay would be very uncomfortable. I managed to raise Nick on the VHF just a few miles from West Bay and after hearing he had tried to get out, I quickly tacked around and headed for South Percy Island where I found some shelter.

Waking the next morning I found I had anchored next to a lovely yellow Wharram Tiki 26 with tan Sails. I could see an energetic guy busy about the deck and  I knew he would be an interesting character. I caught up with "Bushy" on the beach after some beachcombing and got some stories of his subsistence life along the coast over some coffee.

Percy island Sailing
The wind eased in the afternoon and so I thought I had better take the opportunity to catch up with Nick before we started chasing each other round the island group. A great sail took me round to West Bay where I found no yachts at all, so remembering he had mentioned North East Island I carried on and sure enough, that was where Nick and everyone else was.

The Open 40, Spirit of Downunder, that I raced against in the 1999 Osaka Race was on its way back from yet another Osaka Race. They were amongst a lovely group of people who met on the beach around a drift wood fire for a top evening. The next day the wind again eased briefly and the bay emptied quickly with everyone going their own ways. Nick and I headed off to South Percy Island and enjoyed a great day of sailing.

Nick and Mackroro

It was sad to up anchor and set sail from the Percy Islands and I took a short twenty mile hop to Digby Island which I found all to myself. The next morning I woke to find a thick cloak of fog had descended on me. Sailing out of Digby Island I felt my way along the string of islands that stretched toward Mackay. Gaining confidence I set the spinnaker and by mid morning the fog lifted and by late afternoon was rounding the Mackay breakwater for an overnight resupply.

Digby Island

Brampton Island was the first stop out of Mackay and what felt like the beginning of the Whitsunday Islands. On final approaches I converged with the Neuroamance crew coming in from St Bees Island and we shared the anchorage at Brampton. The resort at Brampton was shut and looked like it had been for several years. The resort's legacy was a great network of tracks in the National Park but their lack of use means that they are starting to be overgrown and indeed the whole island has a distinct feeling like the LOST series.

The tracks of Brampton starting to be reclaimed by nature
Pressing on I anchored at Goldsmith Island. Its intense wind bullets drove me out to Thomas Island the next day, but its rolly and blustery anchorage had me heading for Lindeman Island the next day. Lindeman Island was idylic initially but returning from a hike ashore, the rock n roll had returned. Finally I found a calm anchorage at Cid harbour, Whitsunday island the following day. A hike ashore led up to Whitsunday Peak and an amazing view despite the cloudy skies. On a clear day it must be breathtaking.

Snugly anchored off the sailing club at Airlie beach I will wait till these days of 25-30 knot trade winds abate. A circuit of the Whitsundays seems like a logical next step.