Here I am sitting in the salon (lounge/dining area) typing away, listening to the background hum of the engine and the hissing of the surf at the back of the boat, and thinking “life is good”. We are FINALLY heading back up north with the intention of cruising the Whitsunday Islands until November. Neon has a fresh prescription of anti-inflammatory, Peter has had his second COVID vaccination and mine is waiting for me at Airlie Beach; we are all good to go.
Fresh fish is back on the menu, so Neon is a happy feline. He has slowed down these last few months and is getting more unstable on his back legs (so we have to carry him to the kitty tray for a little seasickness business once we are under way), but he still insists on jumping across to the counter at tea time and walking a lap of inspection around the boat to point out the jobs that I still haven’t gotten around to.
You would think that having been in one spot for four months (yes four!) I would have a completely empty ‘To Do’ list, but alas it is not so. Yet if I look back at the diary, there was a job listed for every day – and not a great deal of sightseeing either.
One of the jobs I set myself was to spend an entire week re-arranging things so that we could comfortably accommodate some friends who were coming to visit us, but the outbreak in NSW put the mockers on that. Turns out it is quite difficult turning a ‘comfortable for two people and a cat’ setting into a ‘comfortable for two couples and a cat’. The front bed on a 43’ Nordhavn is called a double which would be perfectly comfortable in cold climes for a pair of petit persons, but not in warm weather for averaged sized-friends (and we have been canal-boating with these friends, so it’s not like we aren’t used to living in each other’s pockets). But accommodating others in our little abode can be done, it’s just a matter of re-arranging things. And as an added benefit I got to rediscover some of the items in deep storage and even discovered some new storage areas. Once you properly come to terms with the fact that on a boat, nothing is going to be just at your finger-tips, finding additional storage becomes easy. It’s recording where everything is that is really important – photos, photos and remembering to update the Blue Book (our bible for where everything is).
But back to last Friday, 23rd July…
It’s not often I am happy seeing a sunrise, but this morning it is glorious. We have finally thrown off the lines, Airlie Beach here we come.
It is cold and raining and definitely time to head back up north. I’m finishing off a pair of mitts for myself (left over from the batch I did for the unemployed Arts students). Hopefully I won’t need them for long.
It takes quite a deal of time to actually get out of the Broadwater area of the Gold Coast. We decided to anchor for the night at Godwin Beach (near Bribie Island) before heading out into deeper water. Neon had fun playing with the Welcome Swallows that insisted on partying on our railing for the afternoon.
We passed Mooloolaba on the afternoon of the following day, intending to stop there and do a quick trip to Noosa(1). But the conditions weren’t good for crossing the bar so we decided to keep going. We made quite a few changes in the travel plans during this trip. Instead of negotiating The Wide Bay Bar again (near Tin Can Bay), as we did when coming down the coast early this year, we decided to run up the outside of Fraser Island (east side). It is usually quite rough on this side (there are wrecks to prove it), but the forecast winds were from the west and the island would provide good cover. It turned out to be a really comfortable ride. The weather looked ok for the following few days, so we kept heading for a few days stop at Island Head Creek. [Island Head Creek is part of a military range and they do hold full-on exercises there, so I checked that there will not be any live firing going on when we intended to be there (2) – always check before just turning up].
Also travelling on the outside of Fraser Island and a bit further north were pods of whales. These are probably the last for the season. Here is one trying to impress from a distance. We did have some crossing quite close in front of the boat, but the camera was not within reach at the time.
And the usual hitchhikers [this one is a Booby Bird and he stayed with us for most of the day].
The overnight trip past Fraser Island was uneventful, with plenty of lights along the beach from campers. The next morning, we crossed over the top of Fraser Island before heading for the Kepple Islands. This part of the ocean has quite a few different currents meeting and we found ourselves in very steep seas which was quite uncomfortable (one wave caused a bit of rearranging in the galley as the boat rolled – there seems to always be something I have missed when battening down). This lasted about 45 minutes and then suddenly we were back in relatively calm seas with the wind behind us. We passed close by Lady Musgrave reef around 10pm that night. There were lots of boats anchored in the lagoon but we had been warned against attempting the entry at night, so with calm seas we pushed on.
I also fancied checking out the Kepple Islands which we passed the next day (only because I recognized the name), but we were now en-route to Port Clinton for an overnight stop, and tides wait for no man/woman/boat.
What are the chances, after three days choogling, that another Nordy would be pulling into Port Clinton at the same time as us? Apparently within the bounds of reality. As we approached the entrance we spotted and then followed ‘Sally Forth’ (quite literally, as they were ahead of us and had been here before, so we tracked their path in – there is a little hook turn to the left over the bar that you really, really do not want to miss). Anchors down and time for a refreshing beverage with Mark and Sally on their incredibly tidy 52’ Nordhavn, ‘Sally Forth’. We found out ‘Sally Forth’ was previously owned by Oz and Nat who were some of our other Nordhavn friends (it’s a small world). Mark mentioned that he had some crab nets that he hadn’t used and Peter confessed that he hadn’t caught any crabs yet, so they made a plan for the morning.
By this point we had decided to stay at Port Clinton as it was very pretty and we were enjoying ourselves.
Left to right (ignoring the inconveniently placed catamaran in the background); 52’ ‘Sally Forth’, 43’ ‘Opal Lady’ and 68’ ‘Karajas’. The photo was taken by Mark using his drone. The photo shows why it was such a comfortable anchorage; we are behind a headland from the ocean on the west and the mainland is behind us.
We didn’t get to meet Bob and Pam of ‘Karajas’ as they had decided to quarantine on the boat after discovering that they had left the Gold Coast just before a lockdown was called (all turned out ok for them).
The boys caught no crabs the next day, but Peter then went out fishing to see what was around. There was plenty of action resulting in several fresh trevally. He let several others go and got smashed by something big so he was quite happy.
Of course, Neon is now full of fish and very happy. With plenty of fresh fish we had Sally and Mark over for tea. Sally liked the way Peter fries the fish in lemon and butter and we all agreed its hard to beat fresh fish.
Not deterred by the lack of crabs the previous day, the boys were determined to give the crabbing a decent go. They only caught one crab….. but what a monster he was.
It took a while to get him safely out of the crab net and then…
Singapore Crab for tea on ‘Sally Forth’ that night.
The next day Sally and I went for a walk on a little bit of beach we found. It was really good for the heels of your feet as the sand was that rather course crushed shell that is so common along this coast.
Vowing to come back for an extended stay here (as I have done for so many other lovely spots we have stopped), we weighed anchor after three days and headed off for Middle Percy Island, our next stop on the way to Airlie Beach.
Thursday 29th July. Perfect conditions but we had barely got into our choogling routine when we noticed we had a boat approaching us on a collision course! The photo below of our AIS shows a a closest approach distance (CPA) of 0m for another boat out there.
The AIS finally came through with the identity of the stalking boat – it was our friends John and Tracy taking ‘TexasT’ (a very large cruising motor yacht) up to Hamilton Island for the new owners.
I know it’s you John. He then sent us photos of their AIS (with slight alterations) for a giggle.
Really? (That’s an upgrade that wasn’t mentioned in the specs for the boat)
Oh ho ho ho, very funny John.
‘TexasT’ (renamed ‘Simba’) is a good looking, ocean adventure boat, with a good turn of speed. We weren’t within coo wee of each other for very long, but it is fun ‘bumping’ into some friends out on the water. (We’ll catch them later, after they return to the Gold Coast to bring their boat, ‘Mad Mac’s’ up for the summer).
Later that day we arrived at Middle Percy Island anchorage – we were boat nine of ten anchored here (everyone is heading north it seems). It was a rather rolly anchorage, but ok with the flopper stoppers out.
[Middle Percy Island is one the largest of the islands in the Percy Group, which is itself part of the Northumberland Islands Group. Most people, and the tourism industry, keep it simple and just lump the various the island groups together and call it all the Whitsundays.]
30th July; The seas were behind us for the run to Scawfell Island the next day, which made for a very comfortable ride. When we arrived at Scawfell we found a spare mooring buoy in our size(3), so pulled up on that for the night before heading for Shaw Island the next day.
[Scawfell Island is in the South Cumberland Group of islands. It was named in 1879 when the SS Llewellyn was tasked with surveying the islands. Cook had previously named the area the Cumberland Group and Staff Commander Bedwell (of the Llewellyn) followed his lead by naming the individual islands after villages from the county of Cumberland in England. My favourite grouping, name wise, is the Sir James Smith Group. I think someone decided to have a bit of fun with the Lord’s name as islands in this group are called Blacksmith, Tinsmith, Goldsmith, Ingot, Anvil and Pincer etc. It must get tiring having to keep coming up with original names. I recall back in the Montebellos (WA) the chart read as if someone had gone through their cellar to name the bays – Rum Cove, Champagne Bay, Sherry Lagoon and Claret Bay. I like to imagine a Captain asking the crew to list their favourite garden flowers when it came to naming the islands – Primrose, Bluebell and Crocus featured. The things you ponder when on shift.]
On a mooring buoy at Scawfell Island for the night. Peter is enjoying a well-deserved wine. Mother-In-Law said he looks like a rich guy on his boat – only problem with that is of course he isn’t and he isn’t (the boat is mine – hahaha).
The next day we kept moving north to Shaw Island only to find more friends already there.
[Shaw Island is part of the Lindeman Group – I did warn you there were a lot of these groups of islands. It took quite a few missions to get all the islands properly surveyed and I am so glad they did, as you wouldn’t want to accidentally bump into any of them, especially the really low-lying ones that seem to only pop out at low tide. John Bates lists 32 shipwrecks for the area in his book’The Last Islands’ (not all of them actually hit reef though, this area is also known to mariners for it’s strong tides and big winds too – so much to look forward to). The whole Whitsundays is so big (13 000 square kilometres) that VMR Whitsunday (sea rescue) can only go as far south as here despite their name].
We had pulled up at the southern end of the bay and amongst the other ten boats parked up we noticed another Nordhavn at the northern end. We quickly identified it as more friends of ours from Sanctuary Cove, Terry and Jenny on ‘AraRoa’ (a 60’ Nordhavn).
We don’t usually drop the tender for an overnight stay, but we did to pop over to ‘AraRoa’ for drinkies, as they couldn’t come to us because their tender davit was playing up. This ugly photo was for The Mac’s, in response to the ‘hello’ that Tracy had given us earlier when they passed. Tracy insisted that it was a traditional boatie greeting, but Jenny and I are not convinced.
August arrives and we leave Shaw Island in beautiful weather for the last leg in to Airlie Beach. We made such good time that we had to anchor up outside the marina for a nap until we had a good depth of tide to get to our berth in the very well-appointed Coral Sea Marina.
Reflecting on this latest trip, we both agreed that day cruising between anchorages is very comfortable and if we plan in the flexibility to stay longer when we wanted, it would make for very pleasant cruising. With that in mind we have booked a berth for the next three months to use as a base for exploring the Whitsunday Islands. I am looking forward to this, as when we came down the coast earlier this year, I only got to wave at the Whitsundays on the way past.
Sunny, 24o, berthed at the rather swish Coral Sea Marina and relaxing with a GnT.
We finally escaped the cold down south, Dad starts pulling his weight and fish arrives at the back of the boat, all is as it should be. So why are we now back in a marina where I can’t eat the fish (and there are sooo many teasing me from under the boat)?
(1) We had always intended being based out of Noosa; the closest port is Mooloolaba. Having a physical address is incredibly convenient for a liveaboard boater. So often I have had a conversation with a bureaucrat in which I explain that I live on a boat, they say ‘how nice’, and then ask what my house address is (kind of missed the point of the ‘how nice’). We have a mailing address with a company called Landbase Australia (they hold our mail and send it on when we are in a marina for a few weeks), but there are times, mostly when completing official paperwork online, where you just can’t continue without a physical address (and marinas can be quite tricky to enter online as well).
The only thing to note here, for a change, is that the new engine room fans are keeping the temperature down to around 37o.
This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFiGo booster. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level height).
(2) Here is a link to the website (it is not easy to navigate) for firing notices for Island Head Creek. I believe there is a Facebook group that also puts out notices. Capricorn Coast outside pilotage areas: Notices to Mariners – Datasets | Publications | Queensland Government. A number of references give this number for sea closure times, 07 49373030.
(3) In many locations along the Queensland coast, public moorings have been provided and they are colour coded to boat size. We are a 14m monohull boat which means we should use a green buoy, but we are allowed to use a larger blue buoy if a green is not available. We are too big for the brown (tenders only) and yellow (10m monohulls) moorings. Just to confuse things slightly, all the public buoys are made of blue plastic with the colour code on a strip around the buoy.
(4) The History, Stories, Legends and Tales of the Whitsunday Islands – The Last Islands, J Bates, 3rd ed., 1997. There is a range of interesting information in this book although the writing can be a bit dry in places. I (like all the owners of Lonely Planet travel guides) find it adds to the enjoyment of the journey to read about an area as you travel through it.
23rd July anchored at Godwin Beach in Deception Bay; 27 06.036S, 153 06.408E; in 1.9m with 0.3m tide; 20m chain out; strong wind warning N>NW but only rolly at tide change; sand and sticky mud bottom. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg.61]
Mooloolaba Beach has a shark net parallel to the coast; I have tried finding details, but have so far been unsuccessful; we saw a long series of buoys in pattern, large orange, small white, medium red.
Sandy Cape/Breaksea Spit (Top of Fraser Island), 1m standing waves in 23m depth. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 69]
26th July anchored at Port Clinton; 22 33.135S, 150 45.447E; in 9m depth with 0.3m tide; 30m chain out, exit angle 0o. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 133]
29th July anchored at Middle Percy Island; 21 38.743S, 150 14.560E; in 11.1m depth with 3.24m tide; 60m chain out, exit angle 270o; winds NW, rolly. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 150,152]
30th July mooring buoy at Scawfell Island; 20 51.812S, 149 36.011E; green buoy in 5.8m depth. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 159] [100 Magic Mile of the Great Barrier Reef -The Whitsunday Islands, D Colfelt, 2020, pg 238]
31st July anchored at Shaw Island; 20 30.119S, 149 03.157E; in 6.7m depth with 1.35m tide; 50m chain out, exit angle 270o; winds NE, comfortable; this is a large anchorage that can accommodate a large number of boats safely; very muddy bottom with excellent holding. VMR 442 [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 176] [100 Magic Mile of the Great Barrier Reef -The Whitsunday Islands, D Colfelt, 2020, pg 219-220]
1st August anchored in Pioneer Bay; 20 15.388S, 148 42.382E; in 3.1m depth. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 191]
Coral Coast Marina; The entry to the marina is clearly marked and deep. We were berthed on S pier which is close to the shore and prone to soft mud build-up. We have got down to 0.2m below the keel (in the berth) on a low tide, so we choose to come in and out on the higher end of a tide. [Cruising the Coral Coast, A Lucas, 2014, pg 191(but called ‘Abel Point Marina’, it’s former name)] [100 Magic Mile of the Great Barrier Reef -The Whitsunday Islands, D Colfelt, 2020, pg 153]