This is the story of 3 years living aboard our yacht Dream Weaver 1, and cruising the coast of Australia from East to West and back again.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Cairns to Gladstone

We had been ready to sail for at least a week and a half but due to the low pressure system onway, we had to wait …..and wait…. and wait….
We now have cyclone Hamish to contend with. It’s about time they gave a cyclone a male name. The joke at the marina is at least it will be predictable.

Sunday 8th March 09 dawned with blue skies and not a breath of air. We had said our goodbyes to friends around the marina the day before, so all we had to do was throw off the ropes and sail

Negotiating the sand bar at the mouth of Moon Creek, in which Blue Water Marina is built, we exited on high tide and turned starboard into Yorkeys Knob Marina for fuel. Pulling into the fuel pontoon at Yorkeys Knob was the most relaxed and finely executed piece of work in our 3 years of sailing (this was where Dream Weaver1 was purchased 8 years before so maybe she knew her way around).

We had a favourable tide, a long straight run onto the fuel pontoon and for once I could step down, and not have to scramble up to tie the springer rope while Cam manoeuvred Dream Weaver alongside the fuel bowser.

Over the years we have had some questionable wharfs and some terribly rude people to navigate whilst in the pursuit of fuel.

Some wharfs were so high I couldn’t reach the walkway to tie up, while others were so busy with large ships we would breathe in and hold our breath while manoeuvring into the small space allocated for us to gain access to the diesel hose.

Sitting behind the rock wall at Yorkeys Knob on the fuel pontoon, it is hard to imagine that 2 days ago we were all on cyclone alert.

The first 2 rows of boats in Yorkeys Knob had to be moved to another creek, sheltering from the onslaught of the open seas. Today there is only a gentle swell and no breeze and it was quickly becoming quite warm.

We amused ourselves by watching the locals fishing. A small girl was pulling in Grunter to the envy of the more seasoned fisherman while the boat ramp was starting to look like Central railway station. With the beautiful weather and one day left of the weekend, boats were heading out to the reef for fishing and pleasure cruises. Outside the wall a few yachts were attempting to sail but at this point we only had about 2-3 knots of breeze from the east.

After leaving Yorkeys Knob we motor sailed to Fitzroy Island with the intention of diving on the prop to make sure we had no debris growing on it. Whilst we had tide assist, we were making 6.5 knots. Deciding all was well we continued further south with no particular anchorage in mind sailing by the motto of make haste while the sun is shining and the winds are favourable.

We admired the towering green mountains hugging the coastline
with sandy beaches and water falls running off the cliffs straight into the sea and mourned the fact that our time in Cairns had been so short. We had really been looking forward to spending time here exploring the tropical lush bushlands and diving on the Great Barrier Reef. Another adventure put aside for another time.

The water while usually a clear rich green, was slightly milky in colour and we noticed large logs floating just below the surface marked only by a twig or bump. After all the flooding and rain washing the debris out of the creeks into the sea this could be a hazard to us sailing at night.
While the hull is made of steel a large log hit the wrong way could cause damage to the keels or prop. Any thought of hitting the unknown is enough to frighten almost every sailor.

As we passed Flying Fish point a large storm was brewing behind the hills. The hills would light up with sheet and fork lightening, the sky still showed blue with streaks of vivid purple and yellow making spectacular photography opportunities.

During the hours sailing we kept a close eye on the storms surrounding us and as we stayed within eye sight of the coast we had broadband most times. Having internet access was great so we were able to track the storm and cyclone activity down the coast.

We dropped anchor at midnight out the front of Dunk Island and settled into a comfortable night. It was airless and still but we had no trouble dropping off to sleep. Our first day back at sea and it was a 17 hour day.

Our body clock isn’t back into sailing mode yet. We slept in until 6.30 am. Looking over onto the beach at Dunk Island I could see one early morning walker but the resort appeared to be still sleeping. We had a small port side breeze as we motor sailed out of our anchorage.

The day has been uneventful with only a handful of ships spotted on the horizon but no yachts. Even the sea seems devoid of life. For a whole day of sea gazing I saw one large pale coloured sea snake and a school of flying fish. Only one tern flew past. Is this the effect of the cyclone?

We have been out of broadband range for most of today so we are again cut off from the world. Just the way I enjoy it. Today has gone so fast. We poured buckets of warm sea water over each other on the fore deck. Tonight I have taken first watch. I took over at 7.30pm, just as we passed Magnetic Island. We had our 3 sails up but before Cam went to bed we furled the stay sail. I wanted to be able to change sails quickly if something changed in the night.

On arriving in the Whitsundays group of islands we could see Airlie Beach in the distance. We were tired and the wind was on the nose making it a little uncomfortable. The forecast was 15 -20 knots South Easterlies so making the decision to head for Airlie Beach and anchor in Muddy Bay was an easy choice. It would give us time to catch up on sleep and hope the winds would be more in our favour in the next day or so. Unfortunately it was to be nearly 3 weeks before we could make our escape again.

Airlie Beach is a busy tourist town with Saturday morning beach front markets of local crafts and produce. The main street is full of bikini clad 20 something male and female bronzed and toned bodies, browsing the shop fronts. The shops are struggling to get tourists in the door for more than window shopping and part them with their hard saved dollars.

Here rents are expensive with a small street frontage shop paying $5200 a month. When you add wages, stock, power, etc, you can understand many struggling to make ends meet let alone carve out a good living. There are more than one or two empty shop fronts.

I didn’t really enjoy Airlie Beach so every opportunity I had, I would head to Mackay were I own a business and catch up with friends.

Anchored out in the bay in front of the Whitsunday Sailing Club it would become very choppy and it was disconcerting to look out the port doorway and see the yacht next to us sunk with only its mast sticking out of the water.

Looking out of the starboard door one morning, we spied a half sunk tender tied to another yacht. The people were away so we quickly raced across to bale it out. Just as we arrived the tender took a small roll and tried to sink completely. I lay across the bow to level it the best I could holding our tender close, while Cam busily baled.

During the day a small bi plane took tourists for stunt rides over the bay. They would spin, climb, and roll than swoop low over the boats at anchor making quite a bit of noise. Every day I would watch and pray he would pull out of the dive before he hit us.

After 3 weeks of SE 15-25 knots forecasts outside, we have a 10-15 knot forecast for a few days with the afternoons promising NE breezes. We will take the chance and leave while we can.

We motor sailed out of Airlie Beach at 7.30am to a beautiful day. We passed inside Daydream Island where the large cats were dropping day travellers off, Shute harbour is to our starboard with the morning sun reflecting brilliant white off the buildings on the hill and boats at anchor.

Long Island is further forward off to starboard. Today tourists are making the most of the weather change of sunshine and calm seas by visiting the islands that sit so close to the main land.

We would usually take advantage of the conditions and explore the islands and beaches ourselves but we want to get as far south as possible in this weather pattern.

During the day we maintained our course through the islands passing Keswick and St Bees to starboard just as the sun was setting behind them. We have averaged a motor sailing speed of 6.2 knots all day. We caught a good tide out in the morning and in the afternoon had wind assist. At St Bees the tides churned around the islands between Scawfield and St Bees
and we had large swells with erratic currents making us having to manually helm for a few hours.

We called up VMR in Mackay and asked them if there were any closures on Shoal Water Bay. This is an army training bay and sometimes areas are closed due to training. If the weather becomes unfavourable we may have to stop off there for awhile. Other yachties have been ordered out of the bay even in very unfavourable weather and dangerous conditions, we don’t want to be put in that position so are making plans for further anchorages available.

Our conditions are good and we are hitting speeds of 7.2 knots or more. I usually take the first night watch, we usually do 5 or 6 hours each time but tonight we are both tired so we will start with a 2 hour watch each then sleep following out to 3 hour watches. My glass of red wine is making me drowsy and the weather is so comfortable and calm I have to sit on deck to stay awake.
Having passed an uneventful night, dawn saw us passing the group of islands near Allandale Island.

Again this morning we have encountered huge slow moving swells.
We listened to our shortwave radio weather forecast every couple of hours only to find that by Thursday we will have to find shelter. This was as we expected with Gladstone still our destination.

Starting the new day with bacon and cheese on toast, we planned the day. With the chores of bread making, hair washing, reading and studying maps for our journey south, the day was settling into a routine.

Today we passed 2 catamarans heading north but no yachts going in the same direction as ourselves. This is a little late to be travelling south with the South Easterlies blowing.

We will reach ‘The Narrows’ by tonight and shelter until morning before making our way through tomorrow. This is a channel of questionable depths running between the mainland and Curtis Island; if we reach it at the wrong tide we will become stuck. We need a minimum tide of 3.5 metres.

We anchored just inside ‘The Narrows’ in a bay out the front of the old signalling station. The houses on Curtis Island were typical old fashioned government style homes. They look like small boxes on legs but practical for their time.

The mosquitoes almost carried us away.

The next morning we motored almost to the boat ramp across from cattle yards that were built into the water and waited for the rise of tide. While waiting we took our GPS and motored through the worst couple of kilometres in ‘Ethel’ our tinny, checking for a suitable channel through. At the top of the tide we made it through in Dream Weaver with the depth sounder showing zero water underneath us. If we didn’t hurry we would soon be stuck with the tide on its way down.

We passed a few fishing boats and with the amount of white buoys bobbing around I guess the crabbing here is promising.

At the southern end of The Narrows is Gladstone. It was nearing the end of the day and still very pleasant with enough wind to sail the remaining miles. We called up Gladstone Marina and booked a berth for tomorrow morning. It was just too nice to head in yet.

The amount of industry in Gladstone is astounding.
We anchored outside the Tanna coal terminal for the night and watched the large ships being loaded.
Gladstone terminal loaded 45.2 million tons of coal in the 2005/06 year. Queensland Alumina Limited operates one of the world’s largest Alumina refining plants, refining 8 million tons of bauxite a year.

Boyne Smelters Ltd is Australia’s largest aluminium smelter, producing more than 510,000 tonnes of alumina a year. BSL produces 20% of Australia’s aluminium and injects $350 million back into the local community for goods and services.

The next morning we made our way onto our allocated berth. The marina is large, and along the shore it has a huge park with the marina office built in the style of a 1950s school. It blended so well into the park, I though it once was a school. Asking, we were told last year it celebrated its 20th anniversary. There is a wooden walkway along the water front and the park is user friendly with large shade trees and well used BBQs. This is one of the most tranquil marinas I have visited.

This Sunday it is the start of a week of festival and will have all the entertainments associated with a festival. There is a street parade, live bands, fireworks, and boat races not to mention the Russian circus. The highlight will be the finish of the Brisbane to Gladstone yacht race.

After registering at the marina office we walked into town and bought a few supplies for a BBQ tonight. I had invited my cousin and her husband for dinner. I hadn’t seen them for about 5 years so with all our chatter I have no doubt we kept our neighbours awake until midnight. Knowing full well tomorrow night is an all night sail, we should have gone to bed at an early hour but time just got away from us.

That’s to be expected when good food, wine and family all come together plus two cousins trying to catch up on 5 years of news in 5 hours.

Tomorrow is another day and our journey south will continue.

Copyright - J. Williams (9-4-09)

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