As much as it is a wonderful adventure to discover new places, there is also a joy in re-visiting familiar places that you know and like. The familiarity allows one to be a lot more relaxed on arrival as you know the terrain, know how things work etc. Our trip back to the Pittwater had quite a few such re-visits and was the better for it.
31 October 2014
We were supposed to be back in the Pittwater by today. We are a long way from there, off the coast of Gladstone and approaching the town of 1770 which will be our next stop. Time has lost relevance in our lives over this trip, which is a wonderful way to live, but reality is setting in as I need to get back for work commitments. More importantly Lyn’s parents Keith and Merle arrive today for a 3 week visit and we certainly don’t want to miss seeing them. As I write this the sun is just rising over a calm sea, reflecting off the sides of 20 tankers at anchor outside Gladstone. Lyn and Silus sleep below having done their dog-watch earlier. We are motor sailing in light North Easterly wind making good time.
The crossing from Fairey Reef to Percy Isles was fairly uneventful after the fish event (see previous blog). The wind was moderate northerly and sailing with full main and Gennaker (sometimes poled out) and some motor assistance at times. With the wind from the north we had an opportunity to see the other side of Middle Percy at Whites bay, which the Alan Lucas guide describes as “an excellent anchorage in delightful surroundings”. Well I concur absolutely and would even go so far as to say that this (in Northerly wind) is the nicest anchorage we have come across to date. The bay is framed by a couple of small islets in the north east side, white sandy beach and high dunes in the middle and beautiful rocks either side. The shelter from swell (at least when we were there) is absolute and the holding in the gently sloping sand is excellent. The water is crystal clear, none of the siltiness that spoils much of the Whitsundays and the place just has an atmosphere of beauty and safety. Middle Percy Island is now probably our favourite island, a really happy place for us for many reasons.
Our friends Pete and Sue from the schooner Argos arrived a bit later and stopped by for sun-downers. We gave them some wahoo, pleased to be able to contribute to the revolving credit of fish after being benefactors a few times. The original plan was to spend just the one night but, after an excellent sleep, on our way up the walking track to the homestead we decided that this place is too good and we had to extend at least another night. The track from Whites bay is beautiful, following a ridge ever upwards, with stunning views along the way, and especially at the top. At the homestead we were re-united with John, Ernst and Donny and met Steve and Martin. Kate was unfortunately away on the mainland recuperating from a hip operation. Silus got on much better (than our previous visit) with Bronte the Labrador and the other resident dog who were ever so keen to make acquaintance with a new dog.
We went on to have a look at Ernst’s new house. It is absolutely charming with a clever design of a fold-up deck that has one of the world’s best views down the valley to West Bay. Ernst is quite a character. In about his mid-thirties (I guess), he has lived on the island for 10 years now, helping out at the homestead, hunting goat and using his extensive handyman skills to help maintain stuff and build himself a house. He says that he dedicates his life to the island and he has never had a partner. It must be a lonely existence which I for one could not do, but he thrives on it. Back at the homestead we enjoyed a glass of the famous honey and lemon water and were able to get an internet connection for messages to the loved ones letting them know where we were up to.
We invited the homestead boys to a wahoo dinner on the JoliFou, if they were able to get there. Steve couldn’t make it but the others were keen. Transport of the four of them would be a quad bike and Ernst’s motorbike down the walking track (and up again in the dark) – sketchy! We had intended walking back down via an alternate route recommended by John, past the old airfield and down the valley. On the way there Silus had a complete mental moment (as he sometimes does) and took off into the bush after some goats. He usually always comes back and finds us so we continued along the track, but after some time and no sign of him we started getting concerned so turned back to look for him. For about half an hour increasingly fraught shouts of “Silus! Siiiillluuuuus!!” could be heard across the hilltops as we split up and tried to find him. No sound of him (usually you hear the barking) and him not coming to us was a big worry, visions of finding him bleeding to death from a goat horn wound creeping into the thoughts. Eventually I heard loud panting and found him in a shady part of the path further back. He was absolutely buggered, lying on his side and panting, but otherwise okay – pheeww. I ended up carrying him most of the way down the path because I was worried he might do himself some damage if those little old legs took any more strain.
We met the homestead crew on the beach for sundowners followed by dinner on JoliFou including a catamaran crew, Will and Tina, whom we had just met. The homestead boys were quite pleased to hear there was no beer and that rum would have to be the drink of choice and we had a lovely evening with a delicious wahoo meal. Later on the way back to the beach in the dinghy Donny says to me: “You know Bruce, I am 70 years old. The Penis is gone, the heart is still strong. I just love cuddles from beautiful women and my cuddles from Lyn and Tina tonight will last me a very long time.”
7 November 2014
It was with a tinge of sadness that we departed Middle Percy the next morning, we will be back. The wind was from the North and the going good. The original plan was to stop the next day at Pancake creek but when we heard from our friend Jarrod that he was at 1770 we decided to go there rather and pop in to see him on the way. Arriving quite early the next day and with the wind still good from the North we were thinking to just stop for lunch, catch up with Jarrod and then carry on South. After a tricky and shallow entrance into beautiful Round Hill Creek we dropped the anchor right next to Jarrod on his Lagoon 42 catamaran and he came across with some beers (we had run out). It was great to see Jarrod, a new friend but an absolute kindred spirit. One drink lead to another as we went ashore to the bar, bought a case of Corona, drank some, had lunch, drank some more Coronas. It was becoming clear we weren’t going anywhere on this day and by now drinking rum on Jarrod’s boat seemed a much better idea. We met the two young Brads from another trimaran and had a hilarious drunken evening entertained by Brad (Bluey) who should be on stage as a standup comedian. In the drunkenness of the evening we left the remains of the Coronas on Jarrod’s dinghy so still no beer on the JoliFou – oh well Jarrod will enjoy them for us.
Mindful of how shallow it was entering Round Hill creek, we wanted to leave on a high tide, but with high tide at 3AM we were certainly not leaving in the dark so we left at first light on a falling tide. Jarrod’s advice was to hug the fuel dock side on the way out which we did, but shortly after it started getting really shallow. Lyn said she could see stingrays on the sand both sides of the bow, and shortly after we nudged on the bottom. We reversed off, very confused as to where to go. Eventually we figured out that we had to be VERY close to the mangroves on the starboard side, it was still quite shallow but we made it through. After a few more nervous moments we were finally into the deep sea again.
The goal was to get to Mooloolaba before a southerly change came in and we needed to make good time to achieve this. We had decided to go outside Fraser Island rather than through the Sandy Straights which would have needed us to be exiting wide bay bar at night time, not a wise move. We had a good reach to the northern tip of the Breaksea Spit and then it got even better as we found ourselves sailing down the east side of Fraser in 3 to 4 knots of current. Down wind and down tide is the best way to go, no doubt, and it was awesome to be seeing 12 to 13 knots speed over ground for sustained periods, probably averaging over 10 knots for at least 4 hours and we had at least 2 to 3 knots with us most of the way to Mooloolaba. I don’t think it’s always this good, but we got it good indeed! We also had many dolphin visits which was great as this was something the Whitsundays seems to lack for some reason. This was all very fortunate indeed because we had no sooner tied up in the marina at Mooloolaba when the Southerly started building. After a shower and catching up with some sleep I took a cab down to the beach at Cotton Tree Parade where Lyn had been told was the good kite surfing spot. I had a really fun kite surf in small waves off the beach and then got a lift back to the marina from one of the other kiters.
Next day was a big day for visitors. We had a very old family friend David Mildren and his partner Colin drive up from Brisbane and not long after they arrived Lyn’s parents Keith and Merle arrived from the airport. Keith and Merle are in the process of immigrating to Australia from South Africa and had flown in to Sydney a couple of days previously. They are sailors so decided to fly up and join us for the rest of the trip. It was wonderful to see Dave and Colin again, it has been too long and we love their company, such great people. We all had lunch at a seafood place near the marina then there were chores to do, laundry, shopping etc. In the evening a good friend of Lyn’s from school days, Kerry came by and we had dinner together at the yacht club.
The original plan was to leave at 1AM in the morning and take the route inside Moreton bay and through the Gold Coast canals, exiting at Gold Coast Seaway. Why 1AM? This time meant we would be able to navigate the channels and exit the seaway bar in daylight hours and we would also have favourable tide most of the way. The forecast had indicated the wind would be lighter and have swung from the south east to a more easterly direction, so all looked good. Well unfortunately the reality was soon discovered when we ventured out into the dark sea. There was still plenty of south in the wind and plenty of wave action too, extremely short and steep due to the shallow waters in this area. After about 3 miles of bashing up against it we decided to abort and turned tail back to Mooloolaba. A lovely little adventure for the in-laws first up, we were all quite relieved to get back safely tied up at the marina. We ended up staying for the day as the wind was still not co-operating, but it was Melbourne Cup Tuesday, so we went to the yacht club and Keith picked the winner!
The next morning the wind had gone round to the north east and we set off bright and early, but in daylight. The waves had decreased a lot and the going was quite pleasant as we motor-sailed with full working sails. The plan had changed and we now were headed outside Morten Island by way of Cape Morten. Once outside the islands we picked up really nice favourable current of about 3 knots. We saw dolphins many times and they spent long periods playing at the bow, seeming to almost be scratching their backs on the hull as we watched from above. Lyn got wet in the bosun’s chair hanging over the bow but it frightened them off, but I was able to touch a dorsal fin with my foot dangling down from the bowsprit.
That evening, in the vicinity of Ballina, the thunderstorms were brewing inshore and headed our way. We monitored the radar and the seabreeze wind and it appeared that we would only get a little rain and no squalls but we had decided to motor with a triple reefed main and no jib anyway because the forecast was calling for up to 30 knots northerly winds. It was lucky we did because during Keith’s watch in the late evening all hell broke loose, howling wind and rain squalls. The reefing line nappy somehow came free (it transpired I had tied it wrong) and the main was flogging. Half an hour of drama and Keith Lyn and I getting soaked as we dropped the main, then fixed the problem and re-hoisted later when the squall had passed. After the weather settled down we had a nice peaceful night motor-sailing downwind. In the morning we pulled up the full main, poled out the jib and had a very pleasant sail for much of the way towards Coffs harbor, where we would stop due to a southerly change coming.
Approaching Coffs in the early afternoon the thunderstorms were brewing again. We were taking no chances this time so it was sails down, motor on and full wet weather gear. We were ready, but in the end thankfully the main storm passed north of us and we only had a little rain before we were docked in the marina.