Sailing Yacht SEA BUNNY

Australia 2007-8

Major land tour, boat maintenance and, at last, heading north

The year started with a major land tour to southern Australia followed by what was intended to be a short maintenance period gettin ready for the trip north to join the Sail Indonesia rally in Darwin.  However, the short maintenance period truned into a major job replacing the fuel tank hidden away in the bowels of the boat.  In the middle of which, Richard's father died in the UK, so a trip back was quickly arranged.  On our return and completion of the maintenance it was too late to get to Darwin, so we settled for last year's planned voyage to explore North Queensland up as far as Cairns.  Summer was spent in Mooloolaba, north of Brisbane with a UK trip in early 2008, before heading, at last up to Darwin.


Land tour January - March

In mid January we set off on a 10-week tour to Victoria, southern New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, South Australia and Tasmania.

Scarborough

After returning from the land tour three weeks were spent getting Sea Bunny ready for the trip north.

Mooloolaba/Buddina

Mooloolaba/Buddina

An uneventful trip up to Mooloolaba in moderate winds was followed by the discovery of a significant quantity of diesel in the bilge. Over the weekend this necessitated several trips to the waste oil dump and a rescheduling of our p was craned out and we set about removing the fuel tank. This required disconnecting a substantial proportion of the electrics and plumbing in the engine compartment and significant surgery to the structure of the boat, including cutting out the sidewall of the engine compartment. It took is the four days of the Easter weekend. We only got it out of the main hatch with a millimetre to spare!

Great Sandy Strait

First stop after leaving Mooloolaba was Tin Can Bay, an inlet off the Great Sandy Strait inside Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.

Here we met up with our friends Pam and Len, former members of the Channel Sailing Club, now based there. We spent a few days ashore with them before heading through the Strait (high water required, preferably springs). A bush fire burning near the Mary River put us off stopping there because of the smoke. On trying to leave the anchor windlass was not working, so a visit to another marina to fix it was called for.

Bundaberg

The windlass problem was easily fixed - just a corroded connection. There were a few other jobs to do though so we stayed a few days in this very friendly marina.

Pancake Creek

Pancake Creek

We are now north of where we arrived in Australia in 2005 and headed for the tropics. The first few trips are fairly long - 60 miles. As it is winter and the days are short this means early starts.

Pancake Creek is well sheltered. We look for the walk up to the lighthouse but fail to find it.

Great Keppel Island

Great Keppel Island

Another daybreak start gets us to Great Keppel Island (72 miles) at dusk. We have to motor-sail to maintain speed to achieve this. It isn't noticeably warmer although we are back in the tropics, having crossed the Tropic of Capricorn!

We spend a couple of days here. On the first we walk to the resort on the SW side of the island, where we acquire a map of walks. The next day we "do" the walk to the light on the NE corner, about 15 km round trip. Legs are slightly sore afterwards!


We divert for a couple of days to Keppel Bay Marina at Rosslyn Bay to collect some gear at the chandlers and top up with fuel and then return to the island ready to make an early start for another long day trip.


Pearl Bay

Next stop up the coast, another 60-odd miles, is Pearl Bay. This is inside the Defence Department's Shoalwater Bay military training area and is subject to extensive closures. It had just re-opened after a month-long closure. The entrance from the south is fairly narrow inside a small islet. There were several boats already there when we arrived, requiring us to anchor fairly well out from the beach. Looking at the other boats this didn't seem to make much difference to the amount of rolling.

We stayed in Pearl Bay several days while a period of strong winds blew through. Although access beyond the beach is not allowed because of the risk of unexploded ordnance, there is a long sandy beach, good for exercise.

Hexham Island

Once the winds dropped it was a shorter sail up to Hexham Island. The anchorage off the beach on the on the north side is fairly small and there were three boats already there and deep water outside them. We edged in and found a space closer to the beach. We stayed two nights. There did not seem to be any access from the beach to any walks.

Middle Percy Island

Middle Percy Island

After another 60 mile day trip we reach Middle Percy Island sighting a humpback whale and calf on the way.

The anchorage off West Bay is reputed to be permanently rolly with swell coming round the south of the island. We struck a period of calm weather and corresponding lack of swell. We left a record of our visit in the A-frame shelter on the beach, explored the inner lagoon by dinghy and tried out the sailing kit on the new Walker Bay dinghy. Unfortunately the ability to get a meal at the homestead has been ended, apparently because of state bureaucracy.

Digby Island

Digby Island

It's a fairly short trip from Middle Percy to our next stop at Digby Island. We are motoring, as there is still little wind, fishing unsuccessfully and reading. We discover that, even in calm sea, it is not possible to tow the Walker Bay dinghy at seven knots as it swamps, perhaps through the dagger board slot.

The anchorage at Digby Island is very sheltered, with islands all around. There are a couple of boats there which leave and are replaced early next day by Maritime Express and Little Wing. We meet the new owners of Maritime Express on the beach and join them for a walk up to the hill at the west end of the beach.

MacKay

A fairly early start has us motoring to MacKay in a light southeasterly. There is another whale sighting shortly after we leave.

Off MacKay there are some 30 ships at anchor waiting to load at the Hay Point terminal.

MacKay is a large, somewhat impersonal marina. It suits our purpose however as we want to confirm our status with Customs, restock stores and then head off for a short trip up to the Eungella National Park.

Brampton Island

Brampton Island

On leaving MacKay it's another short trip to Brampton Island, wherewe anchor off the jetty in MacLeans Bay.

Brampton has a resort at its northeast corner and has excellent walking trails to the peak of the island and also right round the island. We take a packed lunch and get our bit of exercise. views are excellent. At the beginning of the walk there is a stretch of path with thousands of blue tiger butterflies (tirumala hamata).

Lindeman and Shaw Islands

Lindeman and Shaw Islands

From Brampton a 50-mile passage takes us to Gap Beach on the north of Lindeman Island. There was actually enough wind to enable us to sail for a couple of hours.

From the anchorage in Gap Bay on Lindeman Island there are walking tracks leading to the top of Mount Oldfield (289m), where there are panoramic views to the adjacent Shaw and Pentecost Islands and north to the Whitsundays.

We could not find any cleared tracks from the anchorage off Burning Point Beach on Shaw Island, but the beach itself is long and gives good opportunities for walks, except during the nesting season, when part of it is closed.

In the shallows around stream mouths and mangroves there were several rays and turtles at high water.

On to the Whitsundays - Whitehaven Beach

On to the Whitsundays - Whitehaven Beach

From Shaw Island it is a short sail to the Whitsunday Islands. Passing through the Solway Passage between Whitsunday and Haslewood Islands we have about 3 knots of tide under us. The sail is got down north of Martin Islet, where there is significant water disturbance as the bottom goes down to more than 100 m. Our intended anchorage was off Chalkie's Beach on Haslewood but, as the books say, it was very deep close to the reef. As light is not very good, the wind is gusty and there appears to be significant tide we decide that this is not a good place. The alternative off Whitehaven on Whitsunday is fairly busy with large motor boats, most of which leave before dusk, several yachts and a seaplane. It's a bit rolly, but not too bad.

Whitehaven Beach is billed as one of the best in the world. About 5 km long, ofpure white sand, it is nearly deserted except where the tripper boats and seaplanes land at the southern end, where there is also a camp site.

Chalkies Beach - Haslewood Island

Chalkies Beach - Haslewood Island

On our second attempt at anchoring at Chalkie's Beach we go in further south, close to where a large dive/snorkel boat is anchored. Anchorage is in about 7 m with deeper water fairly close. Having secured, a couple of bommies within our swinging circle are surveyed with the lead line from the dinghy - depth over them is 4 m, which will just give us clearance at low water.

Snorkelling on the fringing reef is surprisingly good, with lots of live hard and soft corals. There is more soft coral in the mix than we have been used to in the islands.

Border Island

Border Island is about 10 miles to the northeast of the main Whitsunday Group. We have a good sail up on a cloudy day and anchor in Cateran Bay on the north side, the one visitor's buoy for our size being taken.

Snorkelling here rewards us with good coral and medium size fish.

There was rain overnight and it is grey and wet in the morning. A catamaran anchored near us has dragged a bit and has snagged her anchor. There is quite a foredeck party going on. We hope they get it up as the weather isn't conducive to a dive to assist. They eventually succeed.

Airlie Beach

We visit Airlie Beach on the mainland a couple of times over the next few weeks for necessary shopping and rubbish disposal. There is a large shallow anchorage off the sailing club, which is very welcoming. We enter the marina once for fuel. It has two sections; one, very crowded is where the tripper boats operate from. The other section, fully equipped with pontoons is virtually desterted. We find this puzzling, particularly as we are told on enquiring that the marina has no free berths. The puzzle is eventually resolved when someone explains that the developers omitted fully to check the seabed and there is a rock ledge blocking access. Apparently the residents of houses perched on the hillside close by have objected to any blasting operations to clear the ledge, lest their houses slide down the hill!

Hook Island

Hook Island

During our stay in the Whitsundays we visit several anchorages around Hook Island, mostly for the snorkelling. The best was on the north side, which is fully protected marine park. Availability of visitors' buoys is fairly limited and anchoring is prohibited close to the reef which makes most afternoons a race for available buoys.

The very best snorkelling was in Manta Ray Bay where we are visited by huge Humphead Wrasse (Fat Albert) as soon as we pick up the buoy. Apparently when he dies one of his harem of females will change sex and become the dominent male.

Shelter from some strong winds was found in Nara Inlet on the south side of Hook Island, where a short walk leads to some Aboriginal rock art. We think the main image is of food baskets, or fish traps, but it looks like a snow-shoe!

Bait and Hardy Reef

Bait and Hardy Reef

Bait Reef is some 15 miles north of the Whitsunday Group and comprises a shallow lagoon with a deeper area to the west protected by a line of coral heads. These coral heads, The Stepping Stones, are a popular dive and snorkelling site, visited by commercial operators on a daily basis when conditions permit. There are several public moorings laid by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. These nominally have a two hour limit unless you arrive after 1500, in which case you can stay till 0900. The limits appear to be widely ignored. Anchoring is also possible to the north of the Stepping Stones.

Bait Reef is only a sensible location for an overnight stop if the wind is less than about 15 knots and from an easterly direction. During the trade wind season the winds are usually from the east but 20 to 25 knots. We were fortunate to get a spell of lighter wiinds which enabled us to stay for a few days, enjoying some excellent snorkelling and a few dives. There were some large fish around, humpback wrasse and trevelly.

Hardy Reef is some 5 miles north of Bait. It is a totally enclosed lagoon with three passes on its western side. Two are only suitable for dinghys but the third, The Waterfall, is about 8-10 metres wide and can be used by larger boats. At low water a torrent of water drains from the lagoon through this pass, giving it its name. As the tide rises the levels inside and out equalise, the reef "stabilises" and the pass is usable. We entered at high water, when there was about 4 metres depth and conditions were benign, as the photo shows. For an idea of what it is like at low water Click Here.

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The snorkelling on the inside of the reef was not as good as Bait Reef. We understand that on the outside of the reef, where the commercial operator Reef World has a large pontoon structure for commercial trips, it is very good but casual visitors to this are not accepted and the tide through the channel between Hardy and the adjacent reefs can be strong.

Townsville

Townsville

From Hardy Reef we had a 24 hour passage to Magnetic Island where we stayed overnight before going over to Townsville for a few days of restocking and sightseeing, including a visit to the excellent Museum of Tropical Queensland and the adjacent Reef HQ aquarium.

We wondered if the appeal for blood had been too successful and water shortages were beginning to bite!

Townsville to Cairns

Townsville to Cairns

On leaving Cairns we spent a night in Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island before a fairly leisurely start to Little Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island in the Palm Island Group, a very pleasant anchorage with Great Barrier Reef Marine Park moorings.

The next morning we crossed to the southern entrance to the Hinchinbrook Channel between Hinchinbrook Island and the mainland. This entrance is fairly shallow. We entered about 1 1/2 hours after low water, very slowly, and saw a least depth of 2.3 metres, which just happens to be our draft! We anchored for the night off Haycock Island some 8 miles up the channel and shared a brilliant sunset over the Cardwell Ranges on the mainland with the pair of welcome swallows which were checking out our boom and sail covers as potential nesting sites. Fortunately one of the pair felt they ought to try another real estate agent before committing themselves!

Next stop, after transitting the rest of the Hinchinbrook Channel, was Dunk Island. Unfortunately the wind had swung round to the east which made the anchorage rather uncomfortable and we decided to move on the next day rather than stay to explore as we originally intended.

Mourilyan Harbour, another sugar port, provided shelter in the shallow and well sheltered river the next night and Mission Bay the one after. Mission Bay is very shallow and we were anchored nearly half a mile out in about 4 metres.

It was then an easy step to Cairns, where a dredger turning in the narrow channel just outside the entrance provided interest!

Cairns

Cairns was our base for a 10-day land tour of Far North Queensland as well as a refuelling and restocking location.

Heading south again

With the cyclone season approaching and some northerly winds forecast we decided not to go any further north this year and began to retrace our steps in the middle of October.

The route took us back to Mourilyan and the Hinchinbrook Channel, where we spent three days waiting for a bit of strong southerly weather to go through. Fotr the first two nights we were in one of the creeks in the mangroves and had sandflies for company. We saw no crocodiles but a friend anchored nearby decided that cleaning fish on his bathing platform was inadvisable when one approached!

A longish day trip took us from the Hinchinbrook Channel to Magnetic Island.

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island

We spent a week in Horseshoe Bay as some more southerly weather blew through. Several of the cruising fleet were there. We enjoyed some very pleasant walks, including one to the wartime radar station, which gave excellent views. We even had a night out in a dinner theatre!

Magnetic Island to Bundaberg

When the northerlies reestablished themselves we continued our trip southwards with an overnight trip to Port Clinton, passing through the Whitsundays without stopping, and then a day sail to Great Keppel Island.

The anchorage off Long Beach on the south side of Great Keppel was well sheltered in the fairly strong northerly. Staying for 3 days we were able to take a walk over to the resort and along the beach.

With another overnight trip we arrived in Bundaberg on the same day as the majority of the Port2Port rally from Vanuatu.

Bundaberg

Bundaberg

Having been made very welcome by the marina and the Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Club when we entered Australia in 2005 on the Port2Port we again joined in the festivities, except those exclusive to participants. We met quite a few old friends.

As before the highlight was the Melbourne Cup lunch in the marquee. Susan won the prize for her costume and came close to winning for her hat!

The weather again turned southerly so that most of the boats remained for a week longer than intended.

Great Sandy Strait

Once the SE wind eased and went more to the east we left Bundaberg for a fairly rough day sail to the Great Sandy Strait. The first night in the Strait was spent anchored at Sheridan Flats, just before the shallowest bit of the Strait. The next morning we negotiated the shallow sections just before high water,

We spent the next night in a "gutter" at Snout Point. When we were ready to leave inn the morning we observed a Norwegian boat which had followed us in attempting to leave and running aground. On speaking to them we discover that their depth sounder is not working so we suggest they follow us. The technique of finding the edge of the channel and following this using the depth sounder does not work too well when the channel is ill defined. We ran aground several times before both boats found the deeper water.

We reached the Wide Bay Bar just as a rain squall reduced visibility severely but this cleared as we reached the main part of the bar, so we were able to see the leading mark. A least depth of 5.2 m was seen, some distance after the chart shows deep water.

We arrived at Mooloolaba at 1900, just after dusk.

Mooloolaba

We decided to stay in Mooloolaba for the summer. In many ways it is more convenient than Scarborough as shops and restaurants are within walking distance, so we can take the dinghy up to the boatyard close to a large shopping complex.

We removed a lot of gear from the boat into a storage unit to give better acces for the necessary jobs.

The major work to be completed during the summer include:

- Replace the second fuel tank

- Replace the standing rigging, which is now 10 years old

- Replace the sprayhood which, although only 3 years old, has been badly affected by mildew and has lost some of its waterproof qualities.

North again - to Cairns

After a delayed return from a UK visit we did not leave Mooloolaba until 9 June, almost 6 weeks behind our original intent. We sailed direct from Mooloolaba to Cairns, taking 6 days.

We spent a few days in Cairns, catching up with some maintenance and stocking up on supplies.

Over the top

Over the top

From Cairns we sailed to Lizard Island, where we spent a few days sitting out some very strong winds. There were a couple of days when we did not get off the boat as the RIB was threatening to flip as we launched it. The winds prevented us from getting out to Cod Hole on the outer Great Barrier Reef

Eventually the wind moderated and we were on our way north .again in day hops of overnight passages. We stopped at Bathurst Bay, Morris Island and Portland Roads before rounding Cape York at the northernmost tip of mainland Australia and reaching the small harbour at Seisia.

Seisia

Seisia

As there were several boats in Seisia a barbeque was arranged ashore on the Saturday night - most enjoyable.

On the Sunday we hitchhiked 13 km into the main settlement of Bamaga as Susan had developed a severe allergic reaction to something on her hands and arms which needed professional attention. We received excellent care in the modern hospital, with an off-duty doctor being called in to examine her. Tablets and ointments provided welcome relief.

Across Arnhem Land

Across Arnhem Land

We decided not to go to Gove to obtain the necessary permits to go ashore in the Aboriginal areas of Arnhem Land as Susan had a dentist appointment in Darwin and we wanted to do some land touring there. Instead we sailed across the top of the Gulf of Carpentaria, stopping at Two Island Bay at the north of the Wessel Islands and then on to Darwin, pausing only to wait for the tide past Cape Don.

Darwin

Darwin

With the large influx of boats intending to leave on the Sail Indonesia rally the marinas in Darwin were full so we were anchored in Fannie Bay off the Darwin Sailing Club, together with probably 100 other boats. The bay is very shallow so we were about half a mile out. As the wind tended to be SE in the morning and a sea breeze in the afternoon one could get wet both going ashore and coming back!


The sailing club did quite good meals and the bar tended to be the congregating point for the rally participants. There was, however, only one washing machine and one dryer! The staff were excellent with answering queries and acting as a mail drop location for all the last minute spares.


After a week or so we headed off in a camper van, to Kakadu National Park, Katherine Gorge and Litchfield National Park, returning for a final week af preparations.


 


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