Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Whitsunday Islands

A couple of days ago I said my goodbyes to Allan, as I have to slowly get moving again. Whilst sailing is fun and efficient, it is not the fastest way of transportation. So after a big clean up in the morning and washing everything I could get my hand on, I left Allan, Huey and Mackay to travel up to Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays I had heard so much about.
Arriving there after a short drive (two hours, nearly neighbours in Australia) I went to one of the hostels that had good reviews and booked in for two night. At the reception I got a load of brochures for boats that go throughout the islands and do at least a bit of diving. I haven't dived in months and really want to do it close to the Great Barrier Reef. The crew I went with frequent the fringe reef and the outer reef would have obviously been a better choice, but as I wanted to see a lot of the islands, too, it was a good choice.
 On Sunday we (three others and me, all the others from the UK) left the hostel to met up at the harbour and get on to our boat. The boat adventure of our choice was called Summer Time, run by skipper and owner Brad, first mate Daniel and deckhand Caity (who also had the most important job of cook). We met up with nine others, three couples (one from France, Italy and Germany) and three others from the UK, Scotland and the US. Daniel greeted us at the marina and trolley'd all our gear down to the boat, whilst we got on. “Summer Time” is a nice timber boat, built in 1945 as a fishing boat and fairly long. All in all we where 16 people on board, which is a nice number.
So for the first day we set of for Whitehaven Beach, pretty much the picture everybody thinks of when they hear the Whitsundays. Brad took us out from Airlie Beach whilst the rest of us got to know each other. We had Chris, Emely, Sophie, Sylus and Cery from the UK, Chrisy from the US, Martin and Kerstin from Germany, Machello and Antonia from Italy and the two French people. Time flew by and we ended up in a Tongue Bay, a bay just on the opposite side of Whitehaven Beach. A map of the Whitsundays on the right.
 After “Summer Time” had anchored Daniel took us around to Whitehaven Beach in “Little Summer”, a dingy, in two groups. Being at the front of the first Zodiac group Sophie and I can probably say we where the first to see the famous beach, and also the wettest. All the spray from the waves was on us and Daniel played a joke on us at the beach where the two of us ended up in the water prior to everyone else. Did a small swim to the white sandy beach and just took in the site of the tropical island. Whilst Daniel was off getting the rest, all of us took heaps of pictures, videos and had swims in the sea. All of us constantly wore stinger suits, as whilst it is still a bit to cold in the water for the infamous Australian jellyfish (box and irukandji) there still might be a straggler here or there that could show up. Nothing of the kind happened, so once the rest of the group had arrived we all took a walk along the beach and had a look at things like stingrays in the shallows of the beach, soldier crabs (being hunted by mentioned stingrays), cone snails and a heap of other stuff. Trekking along the beach Cery found a discarded sting of a sting ray and Daniel enjoyed his music. After a while we all set of up to a lookout from which you can get some of the beast terrestrial pictures of Whitehaven Beach. The only view to beat that one would be from the sky. We hung around the lookout for quite a while, before we headed back down to the other side (back at Tongue Bay) and took “Little Summer” back to “Summer Time”. In the evening a nice meal whilst journeying to Stonehaven and a couple of drinks before bed.
The next day was corral day. For most of the others that meant snorkelling, but for some of us who had their diving certificate it meant scuba diving. Some of the others tried their first dives with Daniel after he had taken all three Germans (Martin, Kerstin and me) down for the dive. Our first dive took place in Mantaray bay. I was forever on the lookout for sharks, but alas, no luck on the first dive. Instead we saw heaps of other fish whilst I tried getting accustomed to diving again, after over a year of not doing so (last time was with Iain and family in Sydney). One of the greatest highlight I had down there all throughout the day was the whales. We didn't see them as they are to large to come in to waters where we were diving, but the sound of their calls reverberated all throughout the times we where down under the water. Whilst Daniel took the beginners down for their first try, us three Germans tried warming up with tea and cookies. Shortly after we where back in, this time on a different portion of the bay. Once again same luck with the sharks, though I'm not giving up jet. Instead lots of coral and fishes again. After we where out Brad and Caity took a dive further out and to what luck both of them see an eagle ray, one of the rays I have only seen one wing of. Brad also caught video of a White Tipped Reef Shark, so damn. 
The next dive was in a different location, between Stonehaven and Resort. Lots of really colourful corals, whose vibrancy has only been surpassed in Egypt for me. Saw some pyjama snails (all guides seem to love those) and a sea cucumber. Once we surfaced that was it for the dives for us. In the meantime most of the rest of the boat had been out snorkelling. We heard (and saw part of) a rescue mission for an osprey. We where on a buoy when someone on the boat spotted a juvenile osprey in the water. A nest was close by, and the parents where making a lot of fuss, so Sylus (being a trained vet) went out with Brad, save the bird from the water and dropped it of at the beach bellow the nest (slicing his leg in the process). We then carried on enjoying water activities, occasionally checking the juvenile. By the time we had to leave the tide was coming in and the bird of prey was in danger of landing back in the water. Sylus went back out with Daniel, caught the osprey (and it didn't put up a fight it was so knackered) and dropped it back of in to the net. One of the parents came down a while after he left and checked up on it and brought some fish. All good we went back to Stonehaven to anchor for the night. No luck with sharks, but interesting bird activity. A good meal again, a bit later night and then some sleep. 
The next day saw us in kayaks, paddling along the beaches and mangroves along Stonehaven. I ended up in a boat with Caity, so I got a more local tour. Daniel took us all, though and showed us stingrays hiding from predators, baby sharks doing the same (though I didn't see any of them -sigh-) and explained a bit about mangroves in general. We spent a while on a rock locking out over the lagoon we where in and then went back to “Summer Time”. Our days on the timber boat were drawing to an end, so we had lunch on board whilst Daniel got the boat ready to leave and Brad set us on a course for Airlie Beach. The sea was nice and calm this time round and we had a beautiful run back to the marina where we docked on and got thing organised for the nightly meet up. All three couple won't be joining us, so we said our goodbyes to them (me totally screwing up and Italian good bye) and went back to the hostel for a shower that lasts longer than one minute and to write most of this blog.

In the evening a long night out with quite a bit of beer and some meagre fish and chips. I should have gone with some chicken parma instead, that dish looked absolutely wonderful. Back in bed at one o'clock getting ready for the trip down south and out of the tropics again.  
Whitsundays, just wow. Especialy Whitehaven Beach. Anybody passing by, deffinetly check out Whitehaven Beach.
Most pictures I made that day can be found here.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Sailing Gladstone to Mackay

Well, well, well. No update for a month and with so much still happening. I'd actually thought that I would manage to write more whilst I'm sailing, but my laptop currently only likes 240V of power and the boat only has 12V most of the time. Producing 240V just takes up to much excessive power (though heat). We did run in to a marina half way to where we are, but due to... circumstances (which will be told) I didn't write whilst there.
We left Gladstone after a while and the last blog. The aim was to go though a stretch of the sea called “The Narrows”. They are a very shallow estuarine between Gladstone and the above lying Yappoon/Great Keppel Island. We only wanted to navigate them with a local close at hand, as some spot along the way we would be scraping with out keel on a high tide. Luckily Allan had meet such a local in the form of Dough with his catamaran “Cruise Missile”. So we set of out of Gladstone relatively late in the day, as we had to get to the section of the ocean before the Narrows and then spend the night there to use the optimum tides at that day. Said and done, we had a very peaceful night in the protected area around Gladstone. Though Dough did mention something off sounding in the night which may have been a crocodile. The next day we waited for the right tide to take and then set of up through the Narrows. We passed over the first two shallow parts with at least half a metre of water under the keel, but Allan was visibly nervous and I was trying to keep us on the track that Dough was setting for us. Trusting in local knowledge I was pretty relaxed about the whole endeavour.
 Huey was passing within a couple of metres of some of the channel markers, but if we where to stray of, we might have run aground. Not something you want to happen when you are already there with the highest tide of the day. Coming up to the thirds and one of the longest shallow parts “Cruise Missile” did a U-Turn and came straight back at us. The reasoning soon became clear. Dough told us the water was to shallow for us to pass further up stream. Both boat skippers had compared depths prior to setting of and Dough had calculated that we wouldn't make it at the current rate. So we bade him good bye and whilst he carried on (catamaran, not a lot of keel, reason they fall over a lot) we turned round and anchored in the same spot as the night before. The next day we re-fuelled in Gladstone and spent the night just out of Gladstone before we sailed around the protection of Curtis Island and in to the open ocean. Whilst the Great Barrier Reef does over some protection from the Pacific Ocean it is still not the largest section of it and some swell does come through. We sailed for a long time that day, courtesied to the coast around Cape Capricorn not being the most friendly looking. Night fell before we reached our planned anchorage of Great Keppel Island. We settled in a safe looking spot (as far as we could see to spend the night). Due to our newly installed anchor watch app, the night was a peaceful one, with only a slight amount of swell coming through. The next day we where greeted with warm weather and clear waters. Dough from “Cruise Missile” was hanging around the other side of the island in a better protected beach of the island (where the swimming conditions also looked fantastic and I really wanted to go swimming) so we turned the engine on, put up a sail and set of around the island. After about an hour of going around nice islands and on course to the beach we wanted to go to Allan heard the bilge pump running and went down under the deck to have a look what was going on.
 Meanwhile I was on the helm, steering the boat to where it was supposed to go. Next thing that happens is that Allan comes up from bellow frantically talking about a metre of water in the boat. He grabs the helm and steers it for the nearest beach while I start pumping out the boat with the manual bilge pump (the automatic one couldn't keep up with the amount of water coming in). We beached the boat on one of the island with a surprised but not very concerned looking catamaran next to us, all the while Allan was calling out a mayday to the nearest Coast Guard. We received an answer from the ones in Yeppoon and they diploid their rescue boat to come and assist us. Whilst we where trying to get Huey up the beach as far as possible so none of our possessions get water lodged I reported to Allan that the bilge was empty. Somehow I had managed to catch up with the water flowing in and had pumped it empty. By the time the Coast Guard arrived we had deducted that we could probably make a run for the nearest marina with repair facilities. So after the coast guard pulled us off the beach we got pulled to Yappoon where we spent two weeks wasting around waiting and doing some repairs.
Obviously it was a lot more complicated than that, but I wont go to much in to detail, as it was a frustrating endeavour. Summed up, the marina was ok. The repair facilities where a joke. No access on weekend, no living on board, which is especially hard on Allan as his boat is his home and a lot of other things of that kind. We ended up spending nearly all the time in a camp site which we had to take the bus to. Due to that I got my car up from Bundaberg one day, as it made things a lot easier. After the repairs where done (the stern gland had to be replace) we went back in to the water and anchored outside of Rossling Bay Marina, waiting for some still due parts. The next day we received them and left for the northern part of Great Keppel Island, to anchor and then carry on toward Mackay and the tropics close to the Whitsunday Islands. Reaching the Northern Island we had lunch and looked at the weather forecast. After that anchor up and up the coast as fast as possible. A storm had been predicted and we didn't want to be close to Yeppoon and possibly have to take shelter in the marina there (again). We managed to get as far as a bay called Port Clinton, where we spent the night. The next day we carried on to a creek which is named Head Island Creek, close to a military exercise area. They where due for an exercise but we didn't notice any of it. We spent four nights there, weathering out the storm, but a bit more restful, thanks again to the anchor watch app. Having no phone service made it a bit more boring than Pancake Creek, especially after running out of books.
As soon as the weather had cleared up we carried on to the Percy Islands, further north and closer to Mackay. We set up some speed records for that day, highest I saw on the GPS was 10.5 knots. Low for a racing yacht, but Huey has a “theoretical” top speed of 6 knots, so yeah. We spent the night in a semi protected area at the Percy Islands, thanks to a yacht which we called and told us the place was good. It was well protected from the wind and waves, but we had a bad night with the swell coming in. The next morning we left early (after some minor incident with the electric anchor winch) and set sail for Mackay. We weren't sure if we would stop at one of the numerous islands on the way or head straight for the marina. Along the way we saw a large amount of whales. Ever since Great Keppel Island they have become more numerous, but that day was the highlight for whales. The first was off in the distance and was slapping it's tail on the water frequently. After a while it passed us about 50m away. 
The next one I just missed, due to the sail being in the way. Allan saw it leap out of the water about 50m away again and it made a huge splash upon landing on the water. I didn't see the whale myself, but I saw the massive splash it had done. So we carried on with whales around and a dolphin cutting in front of Huey. Close to nightfall we had some minor GPS problems but decide in the end to carry on to Mackay through the night. On the horizon the glows of the cargo ships heading for Hays Point (a port just bellow Mackay) where visible and we took a shortcut through one of their anchorages. In one of them while Allan was having dinner and I was making sure nothing goes wrong, something went wrong. One moment we are sailing along nicely, the next “bang”, “shudder” and a wail. We had hit a sleeping whale going at about four knots and the cry it let out was heart wrenching. From what I saw of it we had run over it about half way before it could swim out the side of the boat. Calling through to the coast guard we told them about what had happened and that nothing visible was wrong with out boat. The condition of the whale was unknown, but the anchorage was taken of the map for the time and all passing boats where warned about the incident. We have heard nothing from anyone so far so we hope that the whale made it out. Also Greenpeace hasn't been here yet, so we should still be good.
Late that night we made it to the marina through strong currents and low visibility. We anchored at the nearest convenient spot in the marina and slept through the night in the calm waters of the sheltered area (me at least). 
The next morning Allan booked us in, we met some people we had met in Pancake Creek and Yeppoon, I talked to a guy who had sailed from the Czech Republic to here and I went and got my car from Yeppoon the next day. I'll probably be leaving Allan in the next few days and head up to the Whitsundays by car as my time on the East Coast is running out slowly.

Tracks all the way from Gladstone can be found at GPSies.
(Gladstone - Great Keppel Island) here
(Yeppoon - Great Keppel Island) here
(Great Keppel Island - Port Clinton) here

(Port Clinton - Head Island Creek) here
(Head Island Creek - Percy Island) here
(Percy Island - Mackay) here