On the 18th August 2021, it was a 17nm motor sail, from Cairns to Fitzroy Island where we picked up a Parks Board mooring in Welcome Bay. We spent two nights here and had Mike and Anita McMahon from “Curried Oats” over for drinks. We got some exercise by doing the walks to Nudey Beach, Secret Garden and the lighthouse. We left Fitzroy at 1:00am on the second night as the weather forecast indicated relatively light South-easterly winds.
Mourilyan harbour with its sugar loading wharf was a welcome anchorage at 11:30 after working against the wind and current for 37nm. We set off again at 17:30 for the next leg to Cardwell at the North entrance to the Hinchinbrook Island channel. We anchored opposite Cardwell at Hecate Point at 02:30 the next morning. You may well ask, why these odd hours of sailing?
At this time of the year, the prevailing South-easterly winds off the North Queensland coast is on the nose, so going south is hard work and you have to try and take advantage of any change in wind direction or lessening of the wind strength. We motored South through the Hinchinbrook channel that separates the big Hinchinbrook Island from the mainland in the wind and rain. Fortunately we had seen the magnificent scenery before, in sunny conditions.
The town of Lucinda is at the Southern end of the channel, with its sugar loading conveyor stretching 5km into the bay. We anchored off the derelict molasses wharf which was damaged by a freighter years ago and afterwards hammered by Cyclone Yasi. The bay has a shifting sand bottom and you have to navigate the shallows carefully. We got stuck here on a sandbar for 3 hours waiting for a rising tide, 5 years ago. Very embarrassing!
It was a 62nm, 12 hour motor sail to Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island the following day, where we anchored in the bay at 8:15pm. There were about 30 other boats of all descriptions at anchor, most of which had just completed the “Beyond the Barrier” rally. The following day we had a great beach walk followed by beers at the Great Northern Brewery Pub.
After the second night in this lovely bay, we woke up to a thick browny red layer of dead plankton on the water, so we set off at 8:30am to motor sail the 37nm past Cape Cleveland, to Cape Bowling Green. Our going was so good though, with flat seas and constant 10 knot winds, we decided to carry on to Cape Upstart, a further 38nm away, where we anchored at 8:15 pm.
After a bumpy night due to an unforeseen southerly, which left us exposed to the swells, we left Cape Upstart early, for a 38nm crossing of Abbott Bay to Queens Bay, north of Bowen. For the first time, just off the Abbott Point coal loader, we heard a Mayday call on VHF 16. Kaylene, a 31ft yacht with a solo sailor onboard, had hit a reef and she was taking on water and was sinking.
Our position, 25nm away to the South, was too far away to assist. On VHF 16 we followed the impeccable management of the emergency by Abbott Point Coastal Rescue as they contacted two cargo vessels in the coal loader roadstead to assist the sailor, which they reluctantly couldn’t, as their RIBS were too small for the weather conditions. Abbott Point then dispatched the Bowen Rescue vessel and a helicopter from Townsville to the position recorded by the sailor’s EPIRB – they were on the scene in 40 minutes.
The outcome was good, as the sailor didn’t have to abandon ship – the Bowen Rescue vessel had pumps aboard to stem the water inflow to the vessel and took Kaylene in tow, back to Townsville. We had often thought of this scenario in the middle of an ocean, with no land closer than two weeks away and it was comforting to know that we were back in a part of the world where help was within a reasonable distance.
Queens Bay was a pretty and sheltered anchorage for the night and it was a short 12nm or 2 hour motor sail across the bay to the Shag Islet anchorage, which we had been working towards for the last week, for a good party. We anchored off the beach with about 60 yachts, after a 300nm journey from Cairns to Shag Islet. A gin and tonic at lunchtime was in order, before we joined the Shaggers at the Cape Gloucester Resort for a meet and greet.
The first people we bumped into were David and Kay Norman on AFRICA (Another F*cking Race I Can’t Afford), who said: “You were here five years ago and told us of the new 2 litre wine casks!” That set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, which was spent meeting a bunch of new cruisers.
For the record, David’s card reads:” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming WOW! WHAT A RIDE!” We concur.
The next day was the Shaggers get together on Shag Islet. Again, a pleasant time was had meeting more people, who had one thing in common – their love of cruising the oceans. Saturday was a lay day as the reggae party on Saturday evening had been cancelled due to a double booking for a wedding at the resort. Ironically, the wedding reception had to be cancelled due to the Covid lockdown, so the Shaggers carried on partying at the resort.
Back in Tahiti, our friends the Bellamy’s had told us about the Oldfield’s from their yacht club in Western Australia who were cruising in NSW. Saturday morning on our way to the beach for our morning walk: Voila! A Jeanneau 42 called Zofia, with Brian and Eva Oldfield aboard, inviting us in for a coffee. We returned the compliment by inviting them for sundowners in the evening.
It had been a long and liquid evening with much laughter due to the Oldfield’s sparkling repartee, so late Sunday morning, after a handful of Panadol’s, we set off to the final party and charity auction for prostate cancer, the SICYC Pirate’s Party. The reason for the existence of the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club and its more than 7,500 members in 14 countries, is to raise awareness of and raise funds for prostate cancer research, for which more than $650,000 had been raised over the last 9 years. (And to have fun while doing this!)
Monday morning the 30th August at 11:00 we said our goodbyes and motored through the Gloucester Passage on our way to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, on which we will report later. Cheers for now!