Opal Lady is Heading North Again

January 2022

6:20am (What is with all these early morning starts?) Sunday 2nd January sees us leaving Airlie Beach after a wonderful 5 months stay, bound for Cairns and then on to Port Douglas. 

We felt like the ‘last horse to leave Dodge’ – the marina was so empty when we left.  The commercial operators stay, but most of the recreational boats have headed back down south due to the risk of cyclones. We have negotiated with the insurance company about spending the cyclone season above the 26th parallel and handed over the requisite increase in premium (there is no getting around it and we have to be insured to access the marinas – it’s now just a number we build into the budget).  We want to explore that big Reef North of Cairns and the calm weather during cyclone season, between cyclones, provides the best opportunity for extended time out there. [We have since been told by a crusty old cruiser (yes it’s you John Mac) that the long calms we experienced last November and December coming down the coast from the top, ONLY happen during Nov and Dec. We checked the wind roses for the coming months and the crusty old cruiser was right. But given the state of things down south (weird wild weather and covid, we’re happy to sit up here and keep exploring the Daintree until international cruising opens up again.]

So off for a week’s choogle to Cairns.

Gloucester Headland heading north

We had to send a photo to the Mothers as they were worried because the news was full of Cyclone Seth battering the Qld coast; but it failed to mention which bit of the coast, and there is a lot (or possibly the Mothers just panicked – it happens).  Seth had passed us New Year’s Eve (he was well out to sea), just before being named. He was now further south and indeed causing a bit of havoc down there.  So, we are cruising up north in the delightful weather behind him.  We did the same thing last year coming down the coast (following behind a cyclone) – it works as long the cyclone doesn’t start getting creative with its path. In the photo Peter sent, approaching Gloucester headland, we had S <10knt winds, gentle winds behind us.  But just after this photo was sent, we encountered some whirlpool action off the headland and the winds changed to N and built up to 15knt over the day – nothing lasts.

The terminal looks so small from out here

We passed the coal loading terminal of Abbott Point mid-afternoon (25km north of the town of Bowen).  The ship loading facility is located 2.75km off the coast connected by a conveyor jetty to the land.  We didn’t get too close and anyway we had somewhere to be.

I never tire of sunsets at sea; this one is at Cape Upstart.  Overnight here was very hot and there were just enough pesky mozzies to be annoying (nothing the screens and bit of chemical warfare couldn’t take care of). 

We couldn’t complain about the view as we left for Cape Bowling Green the following morning – very blue.  Again, it didn’t last long.  It seems the weather this time of year is a bit of a tease.

Storm Front Coming – at least we can’t complain that it’s rough…

Spoke too soon.

The danger marker buoy off Cape Bowling Green gets moved by the authorities to match the sand banks that constantly change and lurk under the very murky waters here.  Our Navionics got its knickers all twisted up when we passed directly over where it was supposed to be – hehe (I have included the site for checking for marker movements/new location co-ordinates in the Cruising Comments).

Cape Bowling Green is indeed as low and flat as its name would suggest; and definitely not green. I was going to take a photo looking behind us at the Cape but there isn’t really anything that shows up on a photo – it is that flat; and the sunset was so much prettier anyway.

Sunset at Cape Bowling Green

While anchored at Cape Bowling Green we thought we would test how noisy and economical using the aircon at night would prove as the heat was ongoing and unusually warm.  The difference to how well we slept was amazing; it is so nice to sleep without sweating.  Peter sent me an article discussing the benefits for the battery bank of running an aircon through the night, as the generator is effectively charging them through the night instead of having to do a big recharge first thing in the morning.  So, we will be spending some time trying out different combinations of aircon/genset and fan use/timing and battery management.

Cape Cleveland from the south

Next morning, we up anchor to Magnetic Island located just off Townsville.  It took quite a while to pass Cape Cleveland which gave plenty of time to appreciate how large it is, dwarfing the white buildings associated with the lighthouse, and in this photo also the lighthouse itself.  The lighthouse, automated in 1987, has a total elevation of 64m and the light shines in red and white sectors designed to keep craft off Salamander Reef.  We saw a red light last night, which was where we thought it should be which also meant we were where we should be, so all good.  The boat was visited by a noticeable number of black butterflies as we approached the Cape, I hope they got back to the land and didn’t all become fish snacks.

The winds were so light there was no apparent direction, N-NW-SE-S, which just meant that there was not enough breeze to keep a cat cool. To take our minds off this, halfway to Magnetic Island, we passed a huge school of tuna hitting the surface furiously, but for once Pugwash didn’t have the fishing gear out!

Horseshoe Bay anchorage (northern side of Magnetic Island); what you can’t see is the many mooring buoys here (private), in two long lines, but there is plenty of room for boats to anchor.  There aren’t many boats here at the moment, but the village had a goodly number of tourists wandering around.  The village is very laid back; kiddies running around the beach, older tourists lounging on chairs under the trees watching the younger ones heading off on jetskis.

We went ashore for lunch and found lots of tourists at the Marlin Bar Tavern, obviously agreeing with one of the signs on display. After a most satisfying burger each we went for a walk around the little village.  It has a range of shops, accommodation and a bus to other areas of the island and is all very relaxed. 

I’m too old for this ###

We got back to the boat to find an overheating cat, so he got a bath.  Unfortunately, it is very humid, so wetting down can be more of a steaming thing if Neon moves away from the fan.  We are also finding it hard to keep up with our water intake again.

Lunch at the Pub was so big, we only had cheese and crackers for tea.  This is fortunate as the gas to the oven is playing up again – the supply keeps being cut off by the safety unit; there is always something. [This something turned out to be a faulty sensor]

A fan and an ice block – luxury

After a pleasant night at Magnetic Island we left for Hinchinbrook Island with choppy seas which had the cat putting out claws every now and then but otherwise quite pleasant cruising. Neon seems to have really taken to the ice pack we put between him and his fan – it is still 36o on the water.

Blue and blue and floating birds

Passing Palm Island, we came across a plethora (good word eh) of logs, of varying sizes, but each overloaded with terns negotiating for log real-estate. The way the current was positioning them I thought they were a line of cray pots – the eye wants to find a pattern.  The scenery is delightful and that wonderful restful blue-on-blue-on-blue that so often happens up here.  The serenity is only spoilt by the fishing tinnies zipping all over the place – but I should not complain.

When we arrived at Zoe Bay on the East coast of Hinchinbrook Island, the winds were light and variable so we didn’t tuck up into the north corner as far as we would have if the winds were likely to get higher.  There was also a cabin cruiser anchored there and we wanted to run the aircon overnight (we usually run a quiet boat, but we are experiencing something of a heat wave and Neon is not well) and we didn’t want to disturb them).  There were tinnies running all over the place here as well. [We have since found out that our genset makes next to no noise that can be heard an anchored- boat-distance away, which is good to know].

What is this?

About 4ish in the afternoon I sent this out for the ‘Friends and Family Quiz Question’ for identification. The best suggestion that came back was ‘last night’s tea’. In fact due to the ongoing heat we decided to shave Neon again. It is quite amazing, as soon as it is done he perks-up back up to normal.

Sunrise at Zoe Bay

Peter had me up at 5am the next morning to make the most of the tide for getting in to the beach to do the 20 minute walk to the waterfalls before we headed off.  Mother-in-Law had already seen these on her iPad.  We showed her how to use Google Earth and she was having a ball exploring where we are going, before we get there (technology can be wonderful). 

Not quite the view I was expecting

The path to the top of the Falls was an easy walk although here is a slightly confusing section where you need to cross the creek.  There was a bit of a climb at the end to get to the water holes above the falls (I preferred the actual Falls). 

Looking north over Zoe Bay

The view from the top was impressive.

The delightful Zoe Falls

The Zoe Falls water was clear, cool and most refreshing after coming back from the wee climb to the top of the Falls.  The waterhole was full of totally fearless Jungle Perch. We could have stayed there for ages, but we had a tender to get back to.

We came across three couples doing the full hike of the Hinchinbrook Trail that runs north south through the island.  It is a 34km trek that takes 3-4 days with no services provided.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be hiking, today it will be 38o – some people are keen.  The couple we spoke with were on their 3rd day and she had been bitten to bits by March Flies – the dip in the falls was a blessing for her, poor thing.

Just off the track back to the beach we noticed what we thought was a Mallee Fowl mound.  It doesn’t show up well in the photo as it is really just a pile of dirt and leaf litter – that is the idea after all, that you don’t notice it.  It was impressively big and looked well maintained.  After a spot of research (yes, those of you who know me will not find that surprising) to find out if it could have contained eggs, I found out that it was the work of a pair (or more) of Orange Footed Scrub Fowl.  The name describes them well; chickens with a blue chest, top knot on their head, bright orange feet and a penchant for scratching. One of the three mound builders in Australia; we are familiar with the Mallee Fowl from the drier areas.  Yes, it was the breeding season (July to March). The poor lady Fowl lays an egg that is 20% of her body weight and the young just fly off on their own, once they dig themselves out! The things you learn.

This walk is absolutely worth the effort.  Most of that effort is in securing the tender so that we could get to it when we got back .  The beach is more of a mud flat and we were on a rising tide, so we had dragged her out of the water as far as we could, turned her to face the surf and let out a lot of rope to her little anchor (it takes me back to Broome, 2019).  I wanted to put out all the rope, as I envisioned coming back and having to wade out to get to her, while scanning for crocodiles. But I was assured “she’ll be right”.

“Not Happy Jan”

And guess what happened? “She wasn’t right”, in fact she was a bit grumpy. Pugwash had the starter, so he wasn’t the one standing up to his knees holding the tender into the surf while “someone who should have been starting the engine” was instead arguing with an admittedly huge March Fly.  If we had been watching ourselves from the boat, we would have been saying “that guy should stop faffing around and get going so she can get out of the water”. But we did get the walk and swim in, dinghy up and were off before 9am (today was a 10 hr run); so all up a good morning and we would definitely stay there again. 

Sunset over Cowley Bay

Cowley Beach, our next anchorage, is a lovely spot 20km south of Innisfail. This time we did tuck up into the north corner, close enough to shore that we were in a shadow area where the swell coming around the headland was funneled behind us by the islands off the headland.  This anchorage is not mentioned in the standard references we are using.  There is a jolly big swell that rolls into the bay at the north end and in the usual cruising season SE winds this would be a pretty miserable anchorage.  We saw one yacht anchored out at the island as suggested in the guide, but in the N-NW winds we are having it would be iffy.  Sometimes you just have to go off-book (hopefully after you have gained a wee bit of knowledge to not get into too much trouble).  

A photo of the headland and islands looking north east-ish.  Our photo makes a lovely calm contrast to one taken last year during Operation Sea Explorer in 2021, of amphibious craft, helicopters and other watery military stuff coming into the beach past these islands (https://sldinfo.com/2021/07/exercise-sea-explorer/  ref the top photo by WO2 Max Bree).

There is a training camp behind the beach and obviously exercises are held here occasionally; maybe that chinook we saw back in the Whitsundays was lost?  I couldn’t find anything in the Notices to Mariners for this, which makes me wonder ‘How do you know that you won’t wake up with a ruddy great amphibious landing craft coming up your rear’.

We know it needs to be in the water to work

As the seas were lovely and calm, we decided to calibrate the new setup on one of the flopper stoppers.  We lowered it down to surface level and then dropped it 3m down and tied it off to create a permanent loop at that depth (no more guessing).  According to our back-of-the-envelope calculations, 3m depth required us to pay out 9m of line.  To check this we will actually dive down to measure that the 3m is correct (sometime in the future, out on the Reef where there are no crocs). We’ll also do loops at 4m and 5m to allow for different anchorage depths.  This new setup for the flopper stoppers makes things sooo much easier.  Peter replaced the chain with Dyneema rope (very light and strong alternative to chain) and installed pulleys at the top of the boom and on the plate – it makes deploying and retrieving not just easier but safer too.

We saw lots of Jelly fish. One looks like the Frilly Barbara Cartland model that stung Peter in the Mediterranean a number of years ago. There were quite a few of these (I think they were upside down jellies or drymonena) and an ethereal Moon Jellie (very big one at 40cm compared to the  5cm babies we were surrounded with last year at Fife Island).

The next day we headed to Fitzroy Island but there were no moorings available or room to anchor, so we headed across to Wide Bay on the mainland and anchored at Wangu/King Beach.  On the way I made a rookie mistake and instead of clicking the auto pilot to change course by 3o I hit the 10o button 3 times; so there is a bit of a kink in our track across to the beach – oops.

The following day, Saturday 8th February, we pulled into Cairns Marlin Marina; just a week and 313nm after leaving Airlie Beach.  We had planned to be back in a marina before a Low, bouncing around further north, decided to do something exciting [It became cyclone Tiffany and brought a lot of rain to Far North Queensland and the Northern Territory].  The Marina is very convenient, located right next to the Cairns CBD.  Its facilities are great, but the price is very expensive compared to other marinas along the Queensland coast.  Access into the marina is easy and the marina staff are almost manic about being there to help with berthing and are very friendly. 

Neon Notes:

There is nothing I can say

Nothing from Neon this entry as it is too hot and he is not moving away from his fan to put paw to keyboard. 

The track for this cruise

Cruising Notes:

[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 depth).] I have only included the Coast Guard that are monitored 7 days a week.  There are also a number of daytime/weekend stations, but they are not listed here. All stations monitor CH16 (and various others, but also not listed here)

For this section of the coast, the tide floods (rises) southwards and ebbs (falls) northwards. With the light northerlies we had for this trip it wasn’t an issue, but if the winds increased it is worth bearing in mind (especially for timing around headlands and capes), as the seas do get choppy and you can get some nasty standing waves if you cruise during wind against tide conditions.

Anchored Cape Upstart: 2/1/2022, at 19 43.966S, 147 44.838E, in 5.8m water with 1.8m tide, 50m chain, scope ratio HT 5:1 (tide up 2.2m), exit 320o. Winds N <10knt, 2 thunderstorm through night, no rain. Became rolly at change of tide. Good holding, mud stuck to anchor. [Marine Park Zoning Map 8 – Cape Upstart, Qld Govt, 2019 (or https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/access-and-use/zoning/zoning-mapsfrom)] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg266] [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg34] [Chart AUS826] [Weather Zone – Tropical Waters Cardwell to Bowen] [Coast Guard Townsville VMR408]

Anchored Cape Bowling Green: 3/1/2022, at 19 21.197S, 147 21.238E, in 5.6m with 2.2m tide, 50m chain, scope ratio HT 8:1 (tide down 1.9m), exit 340o. Winds WNW <5knt, rolly at tide change. Check the “Qld Notes to Mariners – North Coast Outside Pilotage Area” (https://www.publications.qld.gov.au/dataset/north-queensland-outside-pilotage-areas-notices-to-mariners) regarding the location of the danger marker off Cape Bowling Green as it gets moved to match the moving sand banks. [Marine Park Zoning Map 8 – Cape Upstart, Qld Govt, 2019 (or https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/access-and-use/zoning/zoning-mapsfrom)] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg265] [Chart AUS 826 Bowen to Cape Bowling Green] [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg34] [Charts AUS827, AUS826] [Weather Zone – Tropical Waters Cardwell to Bowen] [Coast Guard Townsville VMR408] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg265]

Anchored Horseshoe Bay, Magnetic Island: 4/1/2022, at 19 06.578S, 146 51.578E, in 5.6m with 2.5m tide, 40m chain, scope ratio HT 6:1 (tide down 2.5m) exit 320o. Winds NW <10knt. [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg261-263] [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg34] [Chart AUS827, AUS826] [Weather Zone – Tropical Waters Cardwell to Bowen] [Coast Guard Townsville VMR408] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg261] In 2018 commercial power boaters and jet ski operators were petitioning for a no-anchoring zone in the bay, the petition was rejected by the MSQ in Aug 2019. There are public mooring buoys of our size at Florence Bay on the eastern side of Magnetic Island.

Anchored Zoe Bay, Hinchinbrook Island: 5/1/2022, at 18 23.661S, 146 19.745E, in 3.8m with 1.6 tide, 40m chain, ratio HT 8:1 (tide down 1.2m), exit 70o. Winds NE <10knt (gusts up to 20knt NE came through during the night). No phone reception once inside the Bay. [Marine Park Zoning Map 7 – Townsville, Qld Govt, 2019 (or https://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/access-and-use/zoning/zoning-mapsfrom)] [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg34] [Chart AUS828, AUS259] [Weather Zone – Tropical Waters Cardwell to Bowen] [Coast Guard Townsville VMR408]

Anchored Cowley Beach, North end of Double Point Bay: 6/2/2022, at 17 39.223S, 146 08.639E, in 5.5m with 1.6m tide, 50m chain, ration HT 7:1 (tide down 1m), exit 120o. Winds NW <10knts. Military training area. [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg34] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg250] [Chart AUS829] [Weather Zone – North Tropical Waters Cooktown to Cardwell] [Coast Guard Cairns VMR409]

Anchored King Beach (north end), mainland opposite Fitzroy Island: 6/2/2022, at 16 54.689S, 145 56.650E, in 5.0m with 2.2m tide, 35m chain, ratio HT 7:1 (tide down 1.6m). Winds NE <10knts. [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg 33] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg246] [Chart AUS830] [Weather Zone – Tropical Waters Cardwell to Bowen] [Coast Guard Cairns VMR409]

Berthed Cairns Marlin Marina: [Rob’s Passage Planner – East Coast Australia Lizard Island to Hobart, R. Starkey, 3rd ed, 2014, pg 78 (marina map)] [Chart AUS830]

Banner Photo – Sunset over Zoe Bay, Hinchinbrook Island

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Hey Suz!
    I have some serious catching up to do with your posts! I have been wondering how you are doing as I hadn’t heard from you in quite some time. A search in my junk mail folder answered that question. Grrr.
    I’m quite a fan of far north Qld, and might be slightly envious of you! My dad hails from the Atherton tablelands.
    Another enjoyable read.
    V x

    1. Greetings Vona, I have the same problem with emails! The Atherton Tablelands is indeed beautiful (I would like to retire-retire there). We are hoping to spend more time here doing a spot of land touring; so maybe I’ll be able to put up some green photos a bit later for you. Hope you are keeping cool in those heatwaves in WA. Suz

  2. Hi Suz! I am on so I have bookmarked it.
    it was great to catch up!

    1. Greetings Mel, It was indeed good to catch up with the Q mob the other day. Thanks for joining the blog mailout – the emails will let you know where we actually are (as I am constantly late with the blog updates). Suz

  3. Gday captain pug wash and loyal decky suz. Greetings from Craig and Kay. Just found your blog sort of by accident. Trust all well

    1. Big Hellos Craig and Kay, so wonderful to hear that you accidentally found us. We were just talking about you guys and ‘Next Chapter’ with the Macs the other day. I didn’t see any turtles at Port Clinton to match the lovely painting you gave me Kay. Hope land life is suiting you both. Suz and Pugwash

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