Tuesday, 30 August 2011

... but wait, there's more

Mog and Kal's last day at sea was capped off by another sighting of a whale and her calf, just off Henning Island, as we neared Hamilton Island for an overnight mooring before our farewell today.
The mother appeared to be having a rest, lying like a huge log on top of the water. No resting for the calf though. It was splashing around then diving down and coming up for big leaps and bigger splashes.
This went on for about 15 minutes until the big whale rose up and did a major splash - all went a bit quieter after that.
The last few days have been amazing with the number of whales we have seen, not to mention other wildlife like the big manta ray in Nara Inlet whose wings looked like two shark fins swimming side by side until it got closer to the boat and we were able to identify it..
Unfortunately I won't be able to include photos on the blog for a while until Olympus tell me what they're going to do with my (not) waterproof camera.

Monday, 29 August 2011

WOW - whales.

Humpback off Hook Island
We've been out of phone and internet range for quite a few days .... days filled with snorkelling, whales, dolphins and dead calm.
After picking up Mog and Kal from Hamilton Island, we were holed up in Gulnare Inlet (Whitsunday Island) for three more days while the 30 knot wind blew itself out (even some of Hamilton Island's yacht races were cancelled).
In the chilly morning ....

... and in the afternoon
We had an overnight in Cid Harbour before heading to the northern bays of Hook Island for some snorkelling. Thursday brought great sailing weather and with main and head sail set we were coasting along at a comfy 5 to 6 knots when the first, of what was to be many, whale and calf appeared just south of Nara Inlet.
It was a taste of what was to come. As we neared the passage between Hayman and Hook Islands, another whale and calf were making their way through the passage ahead of us.
They gave us a spectacular show as we held back to let them pass.
An overnight mooring at Maureen's Cove gave us access to some beaut coral reefs. We followed up with another dive in the morning before shifting along to Manta Ray Bay.
We hadn't snorkelled there for years but our memories of it weren't diminished.
Along with Cataran Bay, it offers some of the best snorkelling in the Whitsundays. We agreed we all could have spent longer looking at the coral except the water was a bit chilly and the shivering sent us back to the boat.
It was in these bays I discovered that our newish (Dec 2010) Olympus underwater camera didn't function too well underwater at all. In fact it stopped working within seconds of getting wet. Very disappointing. Luckily Mog's on board with his camera to capture these wonderful whale pics.
Heading off from Manta Ray Bay around the east side tip of Hook Island to overnight closer to Whitehaven Beach, we again came across whales. Two adults and a calf. They were so beautiful to watch.
The sea over the past two days has been like a mill pond and there has been low cloud giving the Whitsundays a misty effect - at times more like thick fog. But when the sun breaks through it is glorious.
More whales were spotted when we motored over to Cataran Bay for another great snorkel.
We're currently anchored in Nara Inlet at the base of Hook Island.
Mog and Kal have to be back on the plane tomorrow. We'll miss them. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2011


Racing around Hamilton Island.
Hundreds of racing yachts are calling Hamilton Island marina home this week and into next - not the best time to calling in for a visitor pick-up, especially right on the end of a race.
However, after much manoeuvring around the 100 or so racers we managed to gain entry to the marina yesterday but the spot we were to tie up to was already home to a big cruiser.
What to do? What to do?
Mog and Kal had landed (after a Jetstar cancellation and a diversion through Sydney) and were waiting around the marina for directions on where to go to get on to Sea Piper.
To the rescue came the beaut, cool and calm marina staff.
The bloke in the tiny runabout that races around getting everyone safely `housed' in their spots came up alongside to see what he could do to help then motored over to where Mog and Kal were, loaded up their back packs then got them to stand on the bow hanging onto the console while he ducked and weaved amongst the incoming racers to deliver our guests over to Sea Piper.
Classic! We haven't had visitors arrive like that before.
Personal water taxi.
We headed out of the marina as quickly as we could in the wake of the ferry. We figured everyone would get out of its way - we figured right.
With a 25 knot blow on our tail we threw out the Code Zero and within the hour we were back, safely anchored in Gulnare Inlet (Whitsunday Island).
We'd arrived there from Goldsmith Island on Sunday following a change of weather forecast of strong wind warnings from Monday to Wednesday. We figured if we got within cooee of Hamilton, we had the best chance of getting Mog and Kal on board.
We'd had a beaut sail from Mackay to Goldsmith on Saturday with wind and waves going with us. Ditto for Sunday's sail.
A highlight just out of Mackay was whales breaching about a kilometre away then later in the day a whale swam past us (probably only 100 metres away) headed in the opposite direction.
On Sunday it was the turn of the dolphins with two separate schools making an appearance as we sailed along.
Prior to that our week in Melbourne, Rochy and Benalla went all too fast but it was great to catch up with everyone.
Our plane trip back north had a couple of hiccups however with the late departure from Melbourne leading to missing the connecting flight to Mackay on Friday evening.
Virgin put us up in a nice motel with (a very late) dinner and breakfast, so it wasn't too bad to bear.
In the end we got to Mackay around 10.30am Saturday, did a quick fruit and vege shop on the way to the marina, unpacked, cast off and were away by 12.30pm - not much later than we'd planned in the first place, given the tides.
At the moment we are firmly anchored in the Gulnare Inlet mud and will probably stay here another night while this front blows itself out.
The forecast for the days following looks good so we should get some snorkelling and exploring in.
Right now, we're waiting for the fish to start biting but they seem to have ducked for cover out of the weather as well.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Discovering a gem or two

Newry Island, Outer Newry, Acacia Island and Rabbit Island are clustered outside the small town of Seaforth, north of Mackay, and what little gems these islands are.
Perfect weather helped of course.
Tethering the dinghy for a walk on Newry Island
We set out early Tuesday and sailed along the coast in close to ideal conditions. Approaching the Newrys, the landscape gets more rocky with some fantastic formations lining the way or else erupting from the sea.
With so many rocky islands to dodge, including Wedding Cake Rock (looked more like a birthday cake with all those pine tree candles), Concertina Rock and Mausoleum Island, it's hard to see where the gap is to get into the bay to access the sheltered anchorages of the Newrys but what a treat it is when you sail through.
Crocodile rock (not its official moniker)
We dropped the pick in a quiet little bay to the west of Outer Newry. Craggy mountains and rocky peaks dotted the landscape. Some old fish traps were exposed in the low-tide mud in front of us along with an old wooden boat `Wayward Wind' which floated up every high tide then sat back down again as the tide ebbed away.
One of several former resort cabins on Newry Island
A quick trip in the dinghy took us to Newry Island, home to an abandoned resort built in the 1940s and added to by various owners over following decades before fading away again. It would have been gorgeous. There were (very small) individual cabins made of rocks from the bay and right on the beachfront was the former Beachcombers' Bar with its handpainted facade and tiled beer tables.
All the islands here are now National Parks and we were surprised at how well kept they are (ie no rubbish and slashed grass).
On Outer Newry, we followed a track to the east of the island and found a rocky bay with what looked like a swimming pool complete with bommies and coral. We doubt it was man-made but it was so squared off up one end you'd have to wonder. Maybe Newry Island resort owners got bored in the off-season?
Lagoon on Newry Island
Several circuits of the bay between Newry and Outer Newry at various times didn't yield us any fish. This was hardly surprising as, at one point, we counted 11 small boats doing the same thing so we gathered this area is a pretty popular one with the local fishos. Can't imagine how busy it must be on weekends.
After two blissfully peaceful nights we pulled anchor at dawn this morning to take advantage of the forecast northerly (a rarity) and flooding tide to sail us back to Mackay in good time for our early flight out on Saturday. It was a very peaceful and quick trip back with wind and waves and tide all going the same way we were.
Sunrise off Concertina Rock - beautifully calm and with a tail wind filling the Code Zero
While we would have loved to have stayed another day and night, the wind is set to swing around strongly to the south-east again tonight and remain that way all tomorrow so we figured we could live without another hard slog against the elements.
It's so much nicer when we go with them.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Wait a minute ... it's stopped blowing

A good downpour washed the salt off the decks.
We woke this morning to silence. The wind has finally stopped roaring through and, oh, the activity in the marina this morning as boats that have been waiting weeks to sail south, finally untied lines and motored out of the marina.
The breeze is at 10 to 15 knots and dropping. The swell is definitely less than the two to three metres it has sustained for over a week now.
The forecast predicts we may have three or more days of calm in succession so we're predicting we may head out, yet again, to explore the offshore islands of Mackay.
We made an attempt last week and anchored off Keswick Island. Lots of coral and lots of bommies. It's very pretty but the on-shore signs are hostile. Private Property. Keep Out.Not the welcome you'd like.
Anyway, a foray in the dinghy indicated we needed to anchor further out of the northern bay to compensate for the 5.8 metre tide change that evening, which meant lots of anchor chain out and a wide swinging circle. Being further out meant riding an increasing swell which was very uncomfortable so we decided to shift our anchorage to the Egremont Passage between Keswick and St Bees Islands.
There were two other yachts anchored there, tucked in tight to the coral reef, which provided its own challenges.
However with nearly 50 metres of anchor chain out, we felt reasonably secure even though the tide dominated the wind and pushed us every which way except the direction we expected to be sitting. It was weird and resulted in not much sleep as we took it in turns to stay up and check our position during the night.
The next morning we were tired out and the weather was deteriorating so we made the decision to head back to Mackay and the marina. With wind and tide assisting we were sometimes flying along at eight knots but as we got closer to Mackay, the seas were churning and we were struggling to maintain four knots. We were happy campers when we finally tied up to the marina berth.
One of the other yachts at Keswick came into the marina the following day and said that we'd looked like we knew what we were doing with our anchorage so as soon as we'd left it they shifted to where we had been. It just shows you can fool some of the people some of the time. We all had a good laugh over it.
Because of our extended stay here we've managed to catch up with a few people and explore a fair bit of Mackay on our bikes. The city has a fantastic 21 km Bluewater Trail bike and walking path. It's about two metres wide, either bitumen or concrete the whole way, and takes you along the Pioneer River, through wetlands and mangroves, along the foreshore and through the Botanic Gardens (the latter is a treat on its own).
It's a fantastic ride (rather a long walk though) with plenty of birdlife along the way.
The marina is 7kms out of town so we're keeping pretty fit exploring, doing a bit of shopping and going to markets.
When it's windy, cycling's a bit like yachting, I reckon. Going one way you fly but when you want to go back it's a bit of a battle. However, if you're on our bike, you can always get off.