Friday, 19 August 2016

Bad weather + bad bureaucracy = How to waste a week at Orpheus Island

12-19 August 2016

Dawn yet to break over the marina in Townsville as we prepare to get underway.
With our Customs Clearance from Border Control  safely tucked away in the Nav Station, we were up early and moved Our Dreamtime out of her berth and across to Breakwater Marina’s fuel dock where we topped our fuel tanks and jerry cans to the brim. We then threw off the lines slipped from the dock and packed away our fenders for what we planned to be quite a long while. Our passage to the Louisiade Islands of Papua New Guinea was now officially underway.

Group selfie to mark the start of our passage to PNG.
Unfortunately the weather forecast was far from favourable for venturing outside the reef so our first step was a forty-six mile downwind sail to Pioneer Bay at Orpheus Island. We would shelter there from some strong winds and big seas before making our way out through the reefs via the Palm Passage for our Coral Sea crossing.

Passing Townsville's Cape Pallaranda.

Palm Island.

We had a fairly uneventful but pleasant day in fairly mild conditions and arrived in Pioneer Bay at Orpheus Island well before sunset. There are four moorings installed there but all were occupied so we found ourselves anchoring in reasonably deep water but the holding was excellent so it wasn’t a concern.

Townsville to Orpheus Island – 46.3 Nautical Miles – 8 Hours 54 Minutes Average Speed 5.2 Knots – Max Speed 7.1 Knots
Our first night's anchorage at Orpheus Island

The wind began to build the next day as predicted but we were well sheltered by the high hills of the island. It was a brilliant sunny day so we took the opportunity to do some exploring over the nearby coral reefs in the dinghy after lunch. The coral looked very healthy and we spotted a number of very large, giant clams. The whole area is a conservation Green Zone with no fishing of any sort permitted so of course the marine life was abundant. At one stage we had two massive manta-rays with wing spans of around two and a half to three metres circling the dinghy. They were mesmerising.

Lynda and Karen enjoying our exploration of Pioneer Bay

We were able to drift over the reef at low tide with great views of the coral and giant clams

Two huge manta-rays circled our dinghy.

Humpback whales were regular visitors just outside the bay.

Roast duck cooked on the BBQ capped off a pretty good day.
As did the sunset over Lucinda and Hinchinbrook Island.
What we saw through the clear waters convinced us that we really did need to get in amongst things and made plans to do some snorkelling the following day. When we did our Customs Clearance the officers asked us to email them if our departure was delayed more than 48 hours and then email them again when we actually headed offshore. With the wind howling at 30 knots in the anchorage on Saturday we did the right thing and emailed as requested. The wind may have been pumping but thankfully the sun shone again and we had a couple of amazing hours swimming over the reef at low tide. We have never seen such a concentration of giant clams anywhere in our travels. The fish were prolific and the corals amazing.

Karen enjoying the underwater wonderland.
One of many colourful giant clams we snorkelled over.

The coral was fantastic.

Another giant clams

The smaller ones have more intense colours.
We would have preferred to be a couple of days on our way to the Louisiades but our couple of days at delay at Orpheus Island had been very nice. However the reply we received from Border Control was not what we expected. To quote “…because you won’t be departing within the 48 hours your clearance will be withdrawn and you will need to present again for clearance. This can be done at Breakwater Marina or alternatively you can contact Cairns office and clear out from there.” They have to be kidding right?
The wind kept blowing, the rain came and stayed and the seas outside the reef were reported at four metres plus. Not surprisingly we stayed right where we were, safe at anchor.

We kept communicating with Border Control to try to sort something out,  but guess what, we were still required to report back to Townsville. We don’t blame the officers. It appears because our email was on record showing we didn’t depart within 48 hours their hands were tied. It’s just an unsafe policy to impose on sail boats. Good seamanship is to shelter in dangerous conditions not put to sea because of a time on a piece of paper. We had been watching the weather very closely working different departure planning and weather routing models. It appeared a Friday departure to the Louisiades was on the cards but the wind was going to keep blowing until then preventing us getting back to Townsville. Moral of the story - if leaving Australia on your boat, once you obtain your clearance certificate from Border Control, shut up, say nothing and do not contact them. Then just sail away when it’s safe.
Knowing we now had to return to Townsville for a new Customs clearance we had no qualms going ashore on Wednesday and catching up with friends who were also sheltering in Pioneer Bay, Gary and Anne off Chances and Brian and Petra from Bella to enjoy a great walk up to the ridge line to enjoy the views.
Abandoned shepherds hut on Orpheus Island

View back over Little Pioneers bay

L-R: Petra, Lynda, Brian,Anthony, Karen, Anne and Gary on the ridge top at Orpheus Island.

Brian and Rob checking the conditions on the seaward side of Orpheus Island.

By Thursday the winds had eased to the mid – high teens so we motored bow on to them from Orpheus Island bouncing our way to anchor at Fantome Island to shorten the next day’s trip a little but weren’t looking forward to the big bash.

At anchor in the shelter of Fantome Island

Pina Coladas at sunset improve the worst of days.
We upped anchor at 6.00 o'clock for our run under motor back to Townsville and were greeted by rain, a fair sized swell and 20+ knots smack bang on the bow from the time we rounded the point of Fantome Island. That was our lot for the next seven and a half hours to Breakwater Marina where two Border Control Officers met us at the fuel dock, looked at our passports and handed over a new clearance certificate. The whole process took them 90 seconds.
22.4 knots of wind on the nose, waves and rain. Not fun.

Bouncing along.
We joked about Border Control sending FA-18s to make sure we came back probably being a bit of overkill.

It was almost dark by the time we reached Magnetic Island
We naturally took the opportunity to top up our fuel and water tanks plus Karen managed a dash to the supermarket for more fresh fruit and veg. Then we were off again. This time on our way to Horseshoe Bay at Magnetic Island where we anchored for the night just before after clocking up 54.4 miles

Fantome Island via Townsville to Magnetic Island - 54.4 Nautical Miles - 11 Hours 46 Minutes.
Now the time has finally come. We will set sail for PNG via magnetic passage early in the morning. It may be some time before our next blog update as it will have to wait until we find some internet service somewhere. We MAY be able to organise some Facebook updates via our Iridium Go Satellite Coms but that's yet to be tried. In the meantime we hope you follow our progress via the Predictwind Tracker linker on the right hand side of our blog's home page. It updates every hour. Cheers!
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