Sunday, September 25, 2016

And Now for the Big Passage!

Arlie Beach Race Week 20
Since we have been in Australia having arrived last November, we have done coastal cruising. First we went from Newcastle south to Sydney Harbor, stopping in Pittwater in both directions. Then we sailed north from Newcastle to Bundaberg with an overnight anchored off Fraser Island and a five-day weather break in Bundaberg.  Then we made the run up through the Great Barrier Reef islands stopping for overnights on our way to Mackay. From Mackay, we cruised the Whitsunday Islands and Hamilton Island.

It isn't always smooth sailing. Here the gimbaled stove is
swinging and I am trying to keep the food in the pan!

Since it was Arlie Beach Race Week, we took a pass on Arlie Beach. The word was we would have loved if we were 40 years younger. A party town - especially during race week. As we left the Hamilton Island Marina, we were sailing just outside of the race course so we had a close view of the first turn.

Then other times, life is a beach - or aft deck!
We know a couple of Aussie gals who were racing and were lucky enough to see their boats on the AIS as well as on the water. I called Heather on La Quilta to say HI and wish them well. When she took the radio she stated "We are in a race!" I said, "I know. We are right here watching you make the first turn! Good Luck!" Trudy's boat was in a different class and was well ahead.

The passage from Mackay to Darwin is nearly 2000 nm. We had not been looking forward to it! Having Sheila join us has made it more pleasant with the watch schedule plus we have a lot of fun! She is a scuba instructor and loves the water so we find places to snorkel. I am still nursing bursitis in my right hip from that Kings Canyon trek several months ago, so I can't enjoy hiking paths and beach walks right now.

Dennis and Sheila bringing in a tuna. She will make sashimi
and Poisson cru for them. I will eat cooked tuna!
To make the passage more interesting, we stopped at several anchorages for overnight rests along the way. Much like the California coast, there are not a lot of places to tuck in for an overnight. To get in, you need to go up a river and often that means crossing a sandbar, which must be done at the correct tidal flow. Timing is everything!

Also the rivers in Queensland and the Northern Territory are full of Crocodiles! We have been warned many times not to take a dinghy into a river or mangrove area anywhere in these territories. At least two people were taken by crocs this year. And no swimming!

Sheila's joke on Dennis!
Even some of the islands off the mainland are guarded by crocodiles! Our goal from Hamilton Island was to reach the anchorage on Gloucester Island in Bona Bay in the southwest corner. This required going through a tricky winding shallow cut between the reefs extending out from Cape Gloucester and Gloucester Island. We would arrive in Bona Bay before the sun set, but would be looking into the setting sun as we searched for navigation aids. It didn't help that one boat was anchored in front of a buoy in the cut where we needed to turn! It was a challenging passage with very little water just meters away from us.

We are sailing with S/Y Brizo, our British friends, so it makes it more interesting visiting places together and chatting on the VHF. They had caught two fish before we ever got a line in the water!

On board S/V Trillium, we were having a fishing contest. Before Dennis caught the first tuna, Sheila reconfigured Dennis' line with the "Catch of the DAY." We had a good laugh. Of course, Sheila was responding to the trick Dennis had played on her.

This is what it looks like at night when you can't see what
is out there is the dark. Gotta trust those cartographers!
She sets up her line with an audible alarm: with a rope tied around a water bottle, we are supposed to here a crackling sound when a fish bites. So Dennis went below and squeezed an empty water bottle outside our cabin porthole. Sheila got very excited about catching a fish so quickly. I was trying hard no to laugh and give it away. Fun time!
Then when Sheila caught her tuna, she got so excited that she put on her life vest, but did not buckle it. Not much good if she had gone overboard in her enthusiasm! Her's was a blue fin.

Here we had just passed a converging shipping channel.
You can see two cargo ships coming together. We are
the black boat symbol on the chart plotter.
Sailing within the Great Barrier Reef is more comfortable - most of the time - than sailing outside of it. The challenge is avoiding the hundreds of reefs and islands within the Great Barrier Reef. And a number of large cargo ships in the two way passages. It is well marked, but you must be vigilant while on watch duty.

Happy Sails to You, Until We Meet Again!
From Bona Bay, we would sail overnight to Magnetic Island to have a day on shore and night at anchor before leaving early for Cairns. We had a number of overnight sails ahead of us. We can make 55-70 nm in daylight, but that doesn't always get us to a place where we can stop for the night. And anchoring at night is risky business.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Snorkeling On the Great Barrier Reef

Here comes our ride to the Great Barrier Reef
Although Dennis had signed us up for scuba diving lessons and we both were certified before leaving on this adventure, I prefer snorkeling. I really don't like going deep and can see enough from the surface. I did a dive in Bora Bora two years ago, but not since then. Of course, you can't come to the Great Barrier Reef and not going exploring in the water.

Several of the WARC yachts sailed out to Bait Reef where the scuba boats take divers. A number of WARC boats carry their own scuba gear. We chose the easy way: berth the boat in the marina and take a day tour out to the reef. It turned out to be a lovely day trip complete with breakfast, lunch and snacks and included wetsuits and snorkeling gear. No hassles with anchoring, permits, etc.

The trip out to the reef took two hours on a huge catamaran. On the way out and back we saw numerous whales. These are some of their birthing grounds. One mother was comfortable enough to allow her baby to swim between her and the tour boat. This was quite unusual.

Every year the whales migrate up from Antarctica to the South Pacific Islands and the Coral Sea to give mate and return the following year to give birth and teach their calves survival skills. In the fall, they will swim all the way back to the Antarctica and stay until the next season when they repeat the cycle. The ocean is full of these amazing and entertaining creatures. They do not show in the photos as they are too far away for my underwater camera.

Once we got to a place called Reef World, which is a large floating pontoon at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef just east of Hamilton Island, the fun began. First, we boarded a submersible viewing vessel that took us along the wall of the reef. A marine naturalist explained the reef system and identified coral and sea life passing by us. Since we were at low tide, we were viewing the lower part of the reef where we would not go just snorkeling.

One of the few passages through the reef.
After a nice buffet lunch on the catamaran, we went to the platform and donned our snorkeling attire. The wetsuit helped keep us warm so we could stay in the water much longer. We swam along the reef for over an hour and then worked our way back to the platform.

Much to my surprise, when I first jumped in from the platform, I found myself surrounded by beautiful blue fish. I am fascinated by the various blues in nature. Other than the sky and the oceans there is not a lot of blue in nature. Swimming along with a camera and trying to focus on fast moving fish while keeping yourself off the reef itself was challenging with the current. So most photos are a lucky break when it turns out well.  

Unfortunately we were not close enough to take this shot!

Reef World at Hardy Reef

The view from Google Earth
On the way back to Hamilton Island Marina, we saw many more whales. Since the vessel was not a registered whale watching vessel, we had to slow down and let the whales have the right of way, so to speak. There are rules about approaching whales for your safety and theirs.
The Hamilton Island Yacht Club looks like a manta ray.

All in all, it was a great day and worth the price.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

More of the Whitsunday Islands

Since Dennis and I had planned a snorkeling trip to the Great Barrier Reef outer reef, we started working our way to Hamilton Island Marina. We were planning the tour date around the weather as it had been very windy and grey for a few days. We wanted less wind and more sun for a better snorkeling experience.

Along the way from Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island, we spent a night at Nara Inlet on Hook Island where we had a peaceful calm night of sleep and a trip ashore to see the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings.

Australia has done a nice job of preserving area of ancient Aboriginal culture and traditions. The negative is, of course, that they have declared Aboriginal land as National Parks and Marine Preserves and moved the indigenous people further interior. Many of these groups were fishing cultures and had their villages along the protected bays.

The Aboriginal people seem to like to stay away from the towns and have their villages well back from roads. There is limited access to their land. If we want to go ashore in any of the areas designated as native land, we must have an invitation from the village chief or elder before you set foot on it. Some villages are more friendly than others, so we have heard surely as a warning not to go ashore. So no stopping along the shore in these designated areas.

Trillium at anchor in Nara Inlet, Hook Island,
Whitsunday Islands of Australia

Sheila is always up to a challenge!
In search of whales in the area, we sailed down and around CID Island and up into Sawmill Bay on the west side of Whitsunday Island, where we went ashore for a walk. Sailors were carrying buckets of water from a fresh water stream. After exploring the beach, we had a very calm anchorage for a peaceful night of sleep. (They are always so peaceful as you roll with the waves or tide.)

More "steps" to climb to see the ancient
cave paintings.

Interesting tree bark onshore at Nara Inlet

This was interesting: This boat gave us AU Census forms
to complete even though we told them we were not AU
citizens. They wanted to count everyone in the country, but
we didn't have an address, etc. to complete it. Weird!

Shell Seeker?
The following morning, we headed through the Fitzalan Passage and down the Dent Passage to Hamilton Island Marina.

Hamilton Island is one of the only developed islands in the Whitsunday group. Some islands have a resort or two, but Hamilton has an airport and a lot of resort property. I think it is the one purchased and developed by the Oates family, owners of racing yacht Wild Oates XI, a winery and a whole lot of other things. It is a nice development with golf carts as the main mode of transportation and a free bus that makes a continuous loop.
Entering Hamilton Island Marina

The "other" Heather: Chemist not sailor
(until tomorrow!)
The little village has shops, banks, a general store (pricey) many restaurants and a pharmacy where our friend Heather Sutton is the pharmacist. She owns and races S/Y La Quilta. We met Heather when she was crewing in WARC 2014. I surprised her at the pharmacy, which Aussies call chemist. It was good to see her again as it had been a year since we were all helping out in Vanuatu.

Actually, I caught her at the right time because she was heading to the mainland for two weeks of racing in the Arlie Beach Race Week and the Hamilton Island Race Week. Her friend Trudy was going to be racing on another boat and was already on the mainland. On our way out of the Whitsundays heading north to Darwin, we saw both boats racing. Fun!
Wonderful Asian Fusion spare ribs! Yummy!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Exploring in the Whitsunday Islands

Like New Zealand's Bay of Islands, the Whitsunday Islands are Queensland's premier cruising grounds. Unlike the Caribbean Virgin Islands, there are no restaurants or shopping on most of these islands. A local cruiser was kind enough to give our group an impromptu presentation on where to go and anchoring the Whitsundays. It was very helpful.

We had a friend sleep over - under the boat at Tongue
Point anchorage: a huge Grouper!
Actually, we chose a counterclockwise route because we wanted Sheila to see Whitehaven Beach. This time we visited Hill Inlet from the Tongue Bay side. The path joined the path to the viewing platform. Again it was breathtaking. There is so much beauty in nature and we miss so much rushing through our daily routines.

The sand and water pattern is different every tide.
From Tongue Point, we sailed north to Manta Ray Bay. Our lovely weather made a turn and kick up 30-35 knot winds. This turned out okay since we were sailing with it from behind the beam.

If we had been going on the route as described, we would have been bow crashing into it. As we rounded the corner of Hook Island, we could see all of the moorings in Manta Ray and Luncheon Bays were taken so we when on to Butterfly Bay to find one.

Dennis and Sheila went snorkeling, but there were jelly fish so it was a short trip. On land, they made a discovery described as "magical." So the next day I went ashore to see this magical thing. And it was!

It was hard to photograph the mass of butterflies in flight.
The forest was filled with thousands of butterflies. They were fluttering everywhere. And whenever you made a sound, they all took flight again and again. We just stood and watched for a long time.

Capturing them as a phot or video was challenging. This also explains the butterflies we had seen flying near other islands further south within the Great Barrier Reef.

Our next stop was at Blue Pearl Bay on Hayman Island. Back at Butterfly Bay, Dennis and Sheila decided we would tow the dinghy; I expressed my concern, but it fell on deaf ears. I had just had that unsettling feeling. While trying to snag a mooring buoy in Blue Pearl Bay, we managed to flip the dinghy and lost our oars and anchor. These were the oars we had struggled to find on our way to St. Lucia in 2013. Now the search is on again.

Sheila (who is a professional dive master) donned Dennis' diving gear and went down in search of the items. The water was dark and murky so she couldn't see much, but she found the floor of the bay covered with lost item like flip flops, snorkel equipment, junk and even a few boat hooks. She surfaced with a paddle, but could see our oars. After cleaning it up, it became ours. Since we were occupied with the mooring buoy, we weren't sure where the dinghy actually flipped. Mission Not Accomplished.

Then Dennis and Sheila went snorkeling in Blue Pearl Bay, which was much better than Butterfly Bay - and no jellyfish. Enjoy Dennis' photos: