Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Tropical North Queensland

Tropical North Queensland, (Airlie Beach to Magnetic Island…)
After just two days in Airlie Beach we got a Sou’easterly breeze and it was anchors aweigh, out across Pioneer Bay between Double Cone Island and Armit Island sailing on a broad reach, turning to the west running with the wind we put up the spinnaker sail and headed for Gloucester Passage “Full Sail” !!!. Destination tropical Bowen “The Big Mango” if you’ve seen the Bruce Brown’s surf movie Endless Summer you’ll know what I’m talking about. Bowen is just 39 nautical miles from Airlie Beach but a different world. Arriving late afternoon, we tied off between two floating cans, (secure moorings) provided by Queensland Transport for $9.50 a night in the Bowen Boat Harbor. It was couple days before the Bowen Fishing Derby so the harbor was full of activity. Hiroko and I spent a few days here on our trip North two years ago, we both love this town of 8000 people, great beaches, fantastic fishing and no Seven/Elevens or corporate fast food outlets. Our last night in town we had to check out the North Queensland Cruising Yacht Club for sundowners.
Bowen to Cape Upstart is 45 nautical miles; Sailing around the headland along Kings Beach schools of fish were jumping and dolphins chasing baitfish….I had two pink squids and a silver spoon trolling behind Areté at 6~7 knots feeling lucky…It was a great day on the water, calm seas and just enough wind for a comfortable sail North. About mid~day crossing Abbot Bay, 8 miles offshore I had a huge strike that hit my lure like a freight train, took the pink squid, wire leader and didn’t even slow down…As I was reeling in my line I saw a sea snake coming right at us…It was at least 8 feet long, two tones of brown and absolutely no fear...He was awesome, I’ve heard they are either curious or aggressive, he sure looked like he was on the attack, but attacking a 11 meter catamaran ? This encouraged me to investigate (I’ve got lots of books on board) = There are 32 reported species of sea snakes here in Northern Queensland, all poisonous. As I researched further I found out Australia has more things that will kill you than anywhere else….
Of the worlds 10 most poisonous snakes, all are Australian!
We have five creatures; the funnel-web spider, box jellyfish, blue ringed octopus, paralysis tick and stonefish are all most lethal of their type on the planet.
80% of all that lives here; plant & animals exists nowhere else on earth.
I’m not even going to talk about sharks or salt water crocidiles…

Cape Upstart to Cape Bowling Green 39 nautical miles,
The Nor’easterly wind caused us to anchor tucked way back in Upstart Bay trying to get some protection. A nice rain in the middle of the night gave Areté a nice bath and made for good sleeping. The following morning was grey, cloudy and breezy, but that’s what makes the boat go, so we did and it was truly a great sail! I lost another lure early in the day and later sighted a couple big sharks swimming along the surface, before landing a nice School Mackerel (between 2 and 3 feet long). It was one of those near perfect days sailing, one of my best days!!!!
Cape Bowling Green is like a long sandy finger that sticks out into the Coral Seas it’s the lowest cape on the coast. By the time we got around it and got the anchor down the wind was blowing pretty hard (a solid 15~20 knots, gusting higher). The Townsville weather forecast at 5:15pm said we could expect a couple days with 20 knot winds so we let out a bunch of anchor chain and settled in for some down time….There is always something to do on this boat, Areté is a great boat but you can’t just expect perfection without putting in lots of TLC. It kind of fun and when you fix something it feels good, makes ya feel intelligent, also that pride of ownership is a great feeling.
A couple days of beachcombing, as this is a long way from anywhere and except for cruising yachties Cape Bowling Green gets no footprints on it’s beach. This leaves lots to see and shell collecting is excellent here.
The following day Tuesday Sept.25th in light winds, we sailed around Cape Cleveland into Horseshoe Bay at Magnetic Island 39 nautical miles. No fish but another huge strike and lost my favorite lure...O~well that's what it's called fishing not catching I guess....
Captain Cook named this island when he visited in1770 thinking it had magnetic powers as it effected his ships compass.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

September in the Whitsunday Islands..
Leaving Areté in the Mackay Marina while we returned to Tokyo for Michiko’s wedding gave us a break from the sailing and the opportunity to catch up with some family and friends. Our flights went through Sydney and Brisbane so we had the views of the Great Barrier Reef both coming and going. On our return flight September 5th as we were approaching Mackay airport the clouds opened up with a clear view of the marina and Areté tied off in berth # T-43. The wedding was maybe the best ever and the hospitality at Funi-san house is always world class but it’s truly a great feeling to be back aboard..”home is where the boat is”…that’s what our card says and everyone knows the feelings of being home….I’d hoped to sail out the following day, the Mackay Marina is not cheap, but I am. We arrived to the same winds we left a week before 25~30 knots from the SouthEast. Weather Mackay forecasted lighter winds in a couple days…Hiroko hit the Caneland Shopping Center for serious victualling. I bought 40 liters ( two 5 Galllon jerry cans) of unleaded fuel and borrowed a garden hose from on of my yachtie neighbors to fill my water tanks….Later when I returned the hose I found out they were also from the USA and invited them to join me for happy hour at the yacht club for the $1.50 pots of beer… Three interesting people from San Francisco one was a political activist, one was a vet tech and one was a lawyer who worked to make sure developers and city planners provide for affordable housing. They took six months off and came to OZ bought a boat and had planned to sail it to New Caledonia, Vanuatu, PNG and back to Australia put the boat up for sail and head back to the states…They had many a run around with the bureaucracy and needed to Australian register the boat, they opted to sail North from Brisbane to the Whitsunday Islands and put the boat up for sale with the brokerage at the Mackay Marina.
We had planned to sail out the following day, though it was blowing 30 knots in the morning and next to Areté was one of those 1 million dollar catamarans, on our lee side I might add…This also being a Friday, it didn’t take much to convince Hiroko to stay in the fancy marina one more night….It’s a sailing superstition is never to start a voyage on Friday ( though we were technically just continuing our trip North after a break) The British Navy back a couple hundred years ago built a ship of the line (a sailing battleship ) Named it “Friday”, they hung the keel on a Friday, launched it on a Friday and it left port on it’s maiden voyage on a Friday….It was never seen again..
Saturday September 8th; I’d hoped to get away about sunrise as the wind comes up soon after sunrise. I’d explained to Hiroko just how we’d get Areté out of the berth without bumping anything especially not the French fancy Catamaran next to me…We removed all the mooring lines leaving a stern line and bow line, I was to drop the stern line, jump aboard and pop the motors into reverse and Hiroko was to walk the boat along the finger using the bow line and the cleats to keep the boat from drifting downwind into the Frenchman’s catamaran. The wind was side on and blowing pretty hard, somehow I got out without a bump and I looked at the dock and there is Hiroko standing there not onboard. I guess I’d forgotten to explain when to step aboard…Either way we were away and back in the wind, sailing downhill to Brampton Island. There is something special about the Whitsunday Islands kind of like the feeling I had when I first visited Yosemite, majestic or whatever it sure ain’t just another place…The anchorage at Brampton has a fringing coral reef like most anchorages here in the Whitsunday’s. We has an Angle fish of some type swimming around us at sundown that was 2~3 feet, top to bottom…The weather forecast said Northerly winds and that was not what I wanted to hear….The following day we motor sailed about 20 nautical miles to Thomas Island we had whales swimming past us headed South and I started to realize that maybe we are too late in the season…?
Thomas Island is quite a magic spot itself…Three white sand beaches, rocks with oysters at low tide for Hiroko, tropical fish swimming around Areté and turtles popping up every few minutes. It was not difficult or dull spending the next three days on the hook in light winds, sunshine, and views of a half dozen islands in the distance. One evening about sunset I spotted a group of whales breeching a few miles away with the sun setting behind them it silhouetted them and their huge splashes in peachy colored shades…
Every morning I turn on the VHF radio at 6:15am to listen to the weather forecast and everyday it was “North by Northeasterly winds 10~15 knots with afternoon sea breezes”.
September 12th we weighed anchor and sailed slowly again the whales we saw were waving to us with their tails as they headed South and we tacking trying to get North…
We anchored in Chance Bay on Whitsunday Island with lots of the fancy charter barebaots they rent here in the Whitsundays. A huge flock of Cockatoos in the trees ashore about sunset, not a bad place at all…With the light winds and sunshine we decided to head for Whitehaven Beach the following morning on the North side of Whitsunday Island. This is the beach you see on all the travel brochures as it’s one of the prettiest beaches on the planet.
In light winds it’s quite the spot too….we dropped the pick, anchored off the white silica sand beach 30 meters offshore in about 20 feet of crystal clear blue water. Water temperature was 22 degrees, (that’s about 72 degrees in the old way of counting)…We enjoyed the next 4 days in swimsuits or less, swimming off the back steps, paddling the kayak and playing on the beach. Hiroko does yoga and I tinker with my boat, we had a large squid that seemed to be guarding the anchor chain and a huge Stingray seemed to like the shade Areté provided. There were helicopters and sea planes landing right off our port side. I guess at the exclusive 5 star resorts they fly honeymoon couples out to Whitehaven to sip champagne….one of the gals wore her wedding dress ( I hope it was a rental). There are lots of backpacker tourist boats and bareboat charter boats and they all anchor down at the end of the beach opening up miles of space between Areté and the rest of the pack, just the way I like it too! One day we went up into Hill Inlet with the tide. Now we are 11 days out of Mackay Marina the food stock is in need of a few things and no change in the weather so we decided to motor sail up and around Whitsunday Island stopping in at Macona Inlet for the night before crossing the Whitsunday Passage and into Airlie Beach.

Being unemployed for the past three years and living on a yacht without TV I’ve had the opportunity to read a few hundred books, some of them a couple times…I often write down things I like from these books and one that comes to mind is what Ernest Hemmingway said; “ Never forget the weather” as I look back and proof read this blog I think he would see I took that to heart. Living on a cruising catamaran weather is top priority. I talk a lot about anchorages and location because “without geography you’re nowhere”…Mark Twain said “Write what you know about”. So I guess I should talk a bit more about the fine home brew beer I brew onboard. O~well maybe next time….