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It’s sad to say this will be the final blog post of our Whitsunday adventure. I am writing this a full week and a half after arriving back in the Pittwater and maybe I’ve been dragging the heels a bit because it is like signing off that our first adventure is over. In some ways it all feels like a dream from long ago now, it’s amazing how a change of lifestyle makes time seem to have suddenly passed so quickly by.
Coffs Harbour was again a very enjoyable place. This time it was a lot friendlier than the huge swells we encountered there on our trip up. We realized that yes, you could actually anchor here in comfort in the right weather conditions, ‘tho we were safely in the marina enjoying the TMM status once again (Tallest Mast in Marina). We spent 2 enjoyable days there waiting for the southerly wind to change to northerly. On the first night we caught up with an old skiff sailing compatriot Evan Beeby and his friend Kirsty, burgers at Attitude burgers which were delicious, finally satisfying a seed that had been planted a few weeks back by young Drew Randall: “I feel like a nice hamburger for dinner!” The girl serving us looked exactly like an older version of Sarah Rodgers, daughter of our good friends Brian and Julie – it was uncanny. The burgers were so good we went back for lunch the next day. On the second night we went over to the yacht club for drinks and happened upon the meat tray draws which Lyn managed to win twice. This continues a long history of Lyn’s luck with meat tray draws and I’m waiting for it to translate to a big Lotto win soon (our retirement plan). Silus loves Coffs, especially the awesome main beach, which is a dog leash free area. If only other councils would follow this lead!
We had a lovely trip from Coffs to Newcastle, partly motor-sailing and part downwind with poled out jib. We had a magical encounter with a huge pod of dolphins off Port Stephens before the southerly came through and we motored into it for the last couple of hours to Newcastle. Newcastle is like our second home and so close to Sydney that it really felt like this was our arrival home. Joey had arranged a berth for us right out the front of the boatyard and the club, what a pleasure, especially when Anthem arrived the next day and was berthed right alongside us. We had a re-union with Chris and Katrina at Joe and Belinda’s place and a good time and drink was had by all! Chris and Katrina caught a cab home and decided they may as well leave the car for us to use whilst we were up there – fantastic!
Keith and Merle caught the train down to Sydney to continue their search for a home for when they finally come to Oz permanently early next year. With my work and I deciding that I may as well only start work again Monday week, we were able to enjoy a really cruisy few days in Newcastle, a great way to relax before getting back to the true reality of work and Sydney. Thanks to having the car to use I was able to have a fun kite at Nobby’s beach. The wind was marginal but good enough for the 17 meter kite and I had a few moments skimming over the reef as it sucked dry in the waves but all in all a really fun place for kiting (not for beginners).
Adrian (of Anthem) invited us (and Joe and Belinda) to join him, Claire and Laura at their beautiful house in the Maitland (Woodville) countryside for dinner. Mike who has come out from Colorado to sail with Adrian for a while was also there. He’s an interesting man who has lead an extremely adventurous life including a long stint in the Antarctic, rock-climbing all around the world and kiting with skis through the snow. Needless to say, the fine wine flowed freely as we devoured Claire’s delicious curries.
By Thursday it was time to leave. The forecast was really good for the trip to Sydney and I was fearful if we stayed for the weekend I would have to once again risk my Laser sailing reputation in the NCYC fleet which is growing ever stronger. We had a wonderful sail down to the Pittwater. No need for the motor and most of the way we had the Gennaker and single reefed main up in about 12 to 18 knots of north-easterly. Nice as it was to have Keith and Merle join us for a while, it was fitting that the final leg be just the two of us. The leg was punctuated by a bit of action as the gennaker furled poorly outside broken bay and we had to take it down in the increasing wind. This was soon sorted and we had the gennaker stashed in the sail locker and headed towards Lyn’s (previously) favourite island Lion Island, sailing beautifully downwind under main and poled out jib.
It was very special to be welcomed into the Pittwater by the full complement of parents (Keith, Merle, David and Joliette) at the West Head lookout (Lyn is Vice Commmodore of West Head – Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club). To add to the occasion, we had frisky whales breaching just off Barrenjoey and the kite surfers were out in force at my local spot Palm Beach. We cracked open some cold beers as we sailed gently down the Pittwater, all the way to Longnose point, before picking up our favourite mooring in Morning Bay and enjoying the sunset and champagne with our friend Kelly Ambrose (and Kango) who had been looking after our commuter boat for us. Then it was over to Church Point Café for a lovely welcome home dinner with the parents. Home is not so bad a place after all 🙂
28 October 2014
(To the tune of Woo Hoo by Blur)
Lyn finally caught a fish, it tasted just delish
It wasn’t easy, but nothing is no
Total chaos ensued
If it bites you you’re screwed
But Lyn gave it whisky and we soon had delicious sashimi
Pleased to eat you!
The wind had started building gradually from the East, replacing the glassy calm with small spreading patches of ripples as we motor-sailed across the calm ocean. Bruce: “It looks like something is dragging on the fishing line, must have snagged some weed or something”. Lyn: “Maybe it’s a fish!” Bruce: “Maybe, doesn’t look like it though.” The fish was dragging fast behind, mouth wide open, not skipping along the water like I’ve seen before.We excitedly pulled it in on the hand-line, no fight, it must be dead already. As it gets close to the boat it starts to fight with what it has left, my hands are getting cut by the tracer wire. “Get a towel or something!” We manage to get it onto the sugar scoop – it’s big! Lyn jumps down with a knife and cuts it’s throat, it’s still struggling a bit, pours whisky in the gills, still struggling. Eventually with the head almost cut off it hangs still from the pushpit by its tail. It’s a huge wahoo, our first fish!
Last Tuesday at Abel Marina, Airlie Beach Cattsy (Paul Catts) arranged to meet us at Sorrentos bar for drinks after work. As chance would have it I bumped into Craig Parsons (Ocean Star) on the way to the showers. He had just arrived back after flying down to the Central Coast for his daughter’s engagement party. We ended up having almost a re-union of the drinks and pizza of a few weeks earlier with Cattsy, Emma and Craig, except this time at Sorrentos and with the delightful addition of my Mom Joliette.
On Wednesday we headed out in the direction of Happy Bay. With the wind still blowing strong from the South East we kept the sails down and motored with Lyn driving and me working down below, a truly mobile office! We stopped at Bauer Bay on South Molle Island for lunch on the boat, picking up one of the resort moorings. The resort is closed and Lyn and Joliette took Silus ashore to have a look, but were chased off by one of the staff. We continued on to Happy Bay, where the Long Island Resort has a much more welcoming policy. After work it was to the shore for some very expensive but delicious cocktails. Mom and I had the Toblerone, which is a bit like an alcoholic chocolate milkshake – delicious, whilst Lyn went for her own customized version of the Capriosca.
The next day was largely uneventful, with me doing my software work and the girls and Silus relaxing on the boat. Late in the day Anthem arrived, just in time for sun-downers at the beach bar. We had a hilarious evening of cocktails and dinner at the beach bar. Farm boy Adrian couldn’t resist catching one of the scavenging Curlew birds, with Lyn to the rescue releasing it. There was a brief moment of concern as one of the resort staff had some stern words for the cowboy, but all was soon forgotten and more cocktails consumed.
Friday was the last day of my two week remote work stint. No more need to stay in internet zones – yay! We arranged to meet Anthem out at Chalkies Beach as we wanted to show Joliette this lovey place before she had to fly out on the Saturday. We motored against the South-Easterly in the afternoon, with me completing my work with the last of the internet before we turned into Solway Passage. Anthem were invited to dinner, delicious chicken on the barbie washed down with Adrian’s fine wine. As chance would have it Joliette, Julie and Phil were all on the same flight out of Hammo so the two boats headed off for Hammo in the morning. We moored the boats on the Hamilton Island moorings in Dent passage and took the travelers across to the marina in the dinghies. It was sad saying goodbye to my Mom, we always so enjoy her company but we will see her again soon back in Sydney.
Setting off back to the boats Adrian took a sharp left turn out of the Marina and up to the airport runway. When we saw him standing up in his boat waving both arms we thought: what a sweet guy he is, waving goodbye to his friends so enthusiastically! We thought nothing more of it as we let go of the mooring and started motoring off. Then we saw someone in the distance rowing his dinghy furiously across the tide and being swept way down-stream of the moorings. It was Adrian. He had run out of fuel and his waving had been for us to rescue him. We felt terrible that we had not realized as we gave him a tow back to Anthem.
Now the race was on! Anthem versus JoliFou versus time itself. It was 1pm when we left Hammo and the destination was Bait Reef. The wind was a good moderate South Easterly and the tide was ebbing Northwards in our favour, but it was going to be touch and go to do the 35 miles and get to the reef before sunset. We sailed Northwards inside the islands before turning out through Hook Passage for the crossing to the reef. There was some discussion at this point about the advisability of continuing or rather overnighting at Butterfly Bay. The thing is, the wind was really good and was going North East tomorrow so it would mean a long motor against wind and tide in the morning. On the other hand, continuing on would mean arriving at Bait Reef at sunset. Although we are now quite familiar with the place (this would be our 4th time there), we had never before anchored there and we had to be prepared for the likely scenario that all moorings would be occupied. After some thought and discussions with the Cowboy (Adrian, he voted yes of course) we went for the “fortune favours the brave” approach.
We arrived as the sun was setting. Adrian went to investigate Manta Ray mooring as an option but it was way too exposed and bumpy. There was one private mooring available inside the stepping stones, which we knew had no mooring line on it, so would require us to thread our own. We decided to have a go at it, but after a highly stressful time trying to snag it and breaking the boat hook in the process whilst dodging bommies either side in quite fresh wind, we decided that anchoring was the better option. It was now getting quite dark. We followed Adrian to a spot on the chart, north of the stepping stones, where we had seen boats anchored before. The bottom was 15 meters deep with a mix of coral and sand, but the anchor held to our relief and we were settled, albeit ending up much too close to Anthem as we both tried to get set as soon as possible. Oh well, we are all good friends. Adrian was kind enough to pick us up in his dinghy to save us launching ours and we went across for steaks for dinner on Anthem (and fine red wine of course).
It was a restless night with us getting much too close to Anthem in the wind and strong tidal flow. In the middle of the night I let out more chain which improved the situation and we got some sleep. Next morning it was beautiful, with the wind dropping away. A boat left a mooring at the stones and we decided to take Anthem over there with all of us and our dive gear and leave JoliFou by herself on anchor (by now we were very confident of the anchor holding).
We left Silus down below on Anthem and took our dinghy with dive gear up-tide and over to Anaconda III who agreed that we could tie it on their mooring. We had a very pleasant dive on the stepping stones, drifting down-tide and somehow managing to land up exactly under Anthem. To our great surprise a madly barking Silus had managed to find a way out onto deck although we had had him in the pilothouse with closed door.
Time for some different reef exploration, we set off for Fairey Reef 15 miles to the North West, motoring in the light breeze. This time we arrived in good time at about 3PM, which was just as well because we were the only boats there, did not know the place and took a while to figure out that the Navionics chart position of the lagoon entrance was wrong by at least 100 meters. We are starting to realize that although the electronic charts are superbly accurate in the oft frequented areas, in the remote places they definitely cannot be trusted. With Lyn standing on the pulpit at the bow, me steering and Adrian following close in our wake on Anthem, all with hand-held radios we picked our way in through the bommies of the entrance area and anchored in a sandy area. Absolutely gorgeous clear blue water!
After filling the tanks on Anthem Adrian and I set off for a dive whilst Lyn opted to relax with Silus on Anthem. We started at a nearby bommie but the fish life was un-inspiring so we took the dinghy all the way out to the outside of the reef entrance. Here it was much more interesting with many large fishes including a few huge Maori Wrasse. It was approaching dusk, feeding time and the fish were frisky, including three or four reef sharks who were being quite aggressive in their approach to us. Whilst I was occupied with something Adrian disappeared up a gulley and I couldn’t find him. It was starting to get quite dark under water now and I elected to head back to the dinghy. I had a few worried moments sitting in the dinghy and concerned for Adrian as it got progressively darker. Lyn had the same concerns as for the second time recently she saw only one person in the dinghy and didn’t know if it was Adrian or I. She started heading over in the JoliFou dinghy, but Adrian soon popped up and all was good. We stayed on Anthem for barbecue fish that Adrian had caught earlier (some kind of sweetlip). Then it was time for bed, exhausted we slept really well in the quiet anchorage and light winds.
Next morning dawned with perfect still glassy conditions. Two boats alone, seemingly in the middle of the ocean in perfect clear sparkling water. Lyn and I took turns going to the top of the mast to take photos and enjoy the view of the surrounding reef, then a swim and breakfast before our next dive. We took the dinghy out to the same area we had been at the previous afternoon, south side of the entrance. We started in a gorge just inside and worked our way out and around to the outside wall. The visibility was stunning and it was an amazing dive – best ever on the trip with much fish life including a huge Queensland Grouper and a large turtle. At one point we saw a large black tip shark, I followed it and it swam into a cave-like narrowing gully. The others came over and we swam carefully into the cave.
The shark was lying on the ground facing away from us, Lyn snapping photos madly. Then Adrian started further into the cave and the shark swam upwards up the gully with Adrian and I following. It then started to get that trapped feeling and turned around, heading straight back at us! Adrian and I hugged the ceiling, trying to get out of the way as much as possible as the shark swam beneath us. Lyn had not seen it turn and was right in its way, getting a huge fright as the shark suddenly appeared underneath me. The shark was probably the most frightened of us all and turned again up and out the top of the gully/cave into the shallow reef and away. We were all really elated after the dive as we cruised slowly across the clear water back towards the boats. We passed over what must be the Henries Bommie dive site as we saw a huge giant clam in a gully in the middle of it.
Unfortunately the time had come for the JoliFou to start heading south and now was the right time with the wind forecast to blow from the north for the next few days. We bid a fond farewell to Fairey Reef, following our track on the plotter back out of the lagoon with Lyn reef spotting up front. Sadly we were also parting company with Adrian and Anthem for at least a while, as he was staying in the island for a few more days awaiting delivery crew arrival. We hope to catch up with him in Newcastle later if he doesn’t manage to overtake us on the way.
Motoring in glassy flat conditions outside Fairey Reef there were swarms of birds with plenty of fish activity. Anthem and JoliFou were weaving along trying to hook something on our trolling lines, but with no luck. Later we saw a large fin cutting through the water and altered course towards it, with Lyn on the bow identifying it as a huge hammerhead shark, shortly followed by another. The wind filled in gradually and the sails went up and we had lost interest in the fishing line out the back when we hooked the fish. The enormity of this catch must be seen in context of the fact that Lyn has been trying to catch a fish for a very long time. Neither of us have ever done much fishing and the plan was that this would be Lyn’s thing. It started months ago in the Pittwater with Lyn getting much advice, loaned gear etc. from our keen fisherman friends there (thanks Dal, Jonty). Despite many hours with a line over the side the efforts only yielded a couple of tiny snapper which were released. Then on this trip we have been trolling a line for much of the time, heeding valuable advice from James and Leah and Craig Parsons (who seems to catch more than his fair share). But nothing, nada, couple of nibbles, one straightened hook, no fish. We were beginning to lose hope, so this huge wahoo is a significant milestone indeed in our journey towards being proper cruising sailors.