Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Living the cruiser's life at Sea Eagle Bay, Thomas Island

9-11 November 2016

According to latest forecasts, the best chance of us finding a sailing breeze was earlier in the day so we upped anchor and said farewell to the delights of Turtle Bay on Whitsunday Island and set a course for Sea Eagle Bay on the southern side of Thomas Island. We had spent five fantastic days anchored on the northern side of Thomas Island back in July (READ THE STORY HERE) but this was to be our first visit to the other side of the island.

In his excellent cruising guide ‘ 100 Magic Miles of the Great Barrier Reef’ David Colfelt describes Sea Eagle Bay thus, ‘”This is a lovely anchorage with a beautiful sand beach that is readily accessible at all tides through the break in the reef. It has a truly ‘South Pacific’ atmosphere.” That was easily enough to gain our attention and we were all very keen to see if the reality lived up to the hype.

John's photo of Sea Eagle Beach on the southern side of Thomas Island is spectacular.
On our way to Thomas Island.

Passing Pentecost Island.

Our guest crew, John, doing it tough on Our Dreamtime.

One of the Whitsunday Islands along the way.
Unfortunately the morning breeze was weaker than we would have liked and we had to resort to motor-sailing against the flooding tide past Pentecost Island to round Jesuit Point on Maher Island.  Once we had cleared the point and turned southward we were able to shut the motor off and enjoy a very pleasant sail along Shaw Island with good views of the cliff lined islands laying off its eastern side. We soon rounded Fairlight Rock and turned to wind to furl our head and mainsail and drop our mizzen. We were then free to motor into our anchorage on Thomas Island.

Turtle Bay, Whitsunday Island to Sea Eagle Bay, Thomas Island
18.8 Nautical Miles - 4Hours 11 Minutes
Average Speed 4.5 Nautical Miles - Max Speed 6.6 Knots
Full track details can be seen here -NAVIONICS
Sea Eagle Bay proved to be every bit as attractive as Colfelt had reported, although John felt it lacked the one element needed to make it ‘truly South Pacific’, palm trees. Surprisingly there was not one coconut palm to be seen in the entire bay. We suggested he may have been a little picky as the bay and beach certainly delivered in every other way.

We were able to anchor in five metres over good holding sand again with the water clear enough for us to see the set of our anchor clearly from the deck. We had more than adequate swing room to the coral reef lining both sides while the head of the bay was clear all the way up to the tree lined, golden sand beach waiting to be explored.

Rob snorkelling the reef at Thomas Island

A nice coral trout on the reef in Sea Eagle Bay.

The level of coral bleaching we saw at Thomas Island was sobering.
First though, the fringing reefs were calling. We were all in snorkelling gear within minutes of securing the boat and swimming across the clear water to check out the coral. Disappointingly, we discovered the most wide spread coral bleaching we’ve seen anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef this year. There were a few colourful patches but most was quite bland. Fortunately the fish life was quite abundant though including  good numbers of sizable parrot fish and coral trout. More than enough in fact for Rob to resolve to have a crack at a bit of spear-fishing on the next morning’s low tide.

Despite the clear water, Rob dove down the five metres to check the set of our Sarca Excel anchor. No problem there.

Our Dreamtime is still looking good after her six plus months roaming the Great Barrier Reef.

After six months underway we're very pleased with her anti-foul but the Prop Speed is already gone on the blade tips.
We then all headed for the beach with some  Sushi Rolls Karen whipped up for lunch and a bottle of bubbles to wash them down with. As beautiful as the bay appeared from the boat, it looked even better sitting in the shade of the trees behind this wonderful stretch of sand.  After devouring our delicious snacks, the boys climbed the rise through the bush behind the beach to get some photos while Karen was content to laze in the shallows enjoying surroundings. The rest of the afternoon was spent alternating between submersing ourselves in the crystal clear waters and lazing about the beach - all achieved quite effortlessly really.

Karen dishing out her delicious Sushi Rolls on Sea Eagle Beach.
John, Karen and Rob celebrating the cruiser's life on Sea Eagle Beach with Our Dreamtime in the background.
John looking for the perfect spot to take a photo on Thomas Island.
Glorious Sea Eagle Bay.

Our Dreamtime awaiting her shore party's return.

Looking north to Mansell Island from Thomas Island.

John taking in the view.
Later back on board, Karen spoiled us all with sundowners of her special Pina Coladas in fresh coconuts accompanied with some  great cheeses  and crackers.  

Pina Colada time

Karen and Rob enjoying the cruiser's life.
It was very easy obvious that Sea Eagle Bay was well worthy of a longer stay than simply overnight so in true cruiser tradition we elected to remain here the following day and maybe longer. The following morning, we again migrated to the beach where we set up camp amongst the trees with our hammocks. Karen and John were soon suspended above the grass engrossed in their books while Rob donned his snorkelling gear, gathered up his spear gun and assumed the role of hunter/gatherer,

If this isn't paradise we don't know what is.
Karen alternated her time between the hammock and water. Cruising's such a tough life.

Rob with the parrot fish he got.

This sweetlip was chosen for our BBQ dinner.
Before long he had bagged a collection parrot fish, sweetlip and a  fish we originally miss-identified as a spangled emporer. Further investigation revealed it was in fact a juvenile chinaman fish which are known to be full of ciguatera poison so, needless to say, it went over the side pretty quickly. This experience did reinforce the need to properly identify any fish caught before turning it into dinner. We may have all become extremely sick if we had eaten this one.  

The juvenile chinaman fish - full of ciguatera poison
Beside our campsite under the trees someone had built a fire pit in the sand which had clearly been the location of many campfires since.  Karen’s suggestion we that make use of it to have a beach barbie for dinner that night and roast the sweetlip in the coals of the fire was well supported by the rest of the crew who were quick to gather more than enough kindling and larger dry driftwood to achieve the goal.

A quick trip back to the boat saw the fish prepared along with vegetables. foil wrapped and ready for roasting. The cooler bags were loaded with drinks and snacks  plus our ready to cook feast and off we went to the beach. Rob put his long dormant boy scout skills to work and we were soon enjoying our sundowner drinks and snacks with an excellent fire burning as a backdrop.

Karen was lazing in one of the hammocks enjoying her wine when she spied an uninvited guest making its way along the beach towards our campsite. ‘There’s a snake over there,’ she commented rather off hand idly and was met with a two voice alarmed chorus of ‘Where?’ from Rob and John.

Sure enough there was a rather large, brownish snake approaching the far side of our fire. It was about a metre and a half long with a bulge in its belly which we guessed was an unlucky, small ex-resident of the island that the snake had recently feasted on. Karen thought it was an Eastern Brown while Rob suggested it could be a Taipan. John was soon Googling snakes on his phone looking for the answer. Regardless, we were fairly certain it was highly venomous and not to be taken lightly. (More detailed investigation later revealed it was most probably a taipan)

Terry Taipan had no dinner invite but crashed our party.
With a full belly, the snake unfortunately took a liking to the heat from our fire and seemed very content lazing on the sand beside it. Despite our willing it to move on it showed no desire to go anywhere. This was clearly not compatible with  our cooking our feast in the coals. Rob decided to try to encourage it back into the bush by lobbing pieces of pumice stone close to it – from a very safe distance of course. Terry Taipan (as we christened him/her) took absolutely no notice and the Cruisers versus Viper Mexican standoff continued.

After twenty minutes or so of staring at each other at thirty paces we decided to capitulate. Our problem was that sunset was almost upon us and even if Terry Taipan slithered away before then we didn’t fancy the idea of cooking and eating our dinner wondering if he was about to reappear out of the darkness. However, we also couldn’t just leave with  the fire still burning. We had a large bucket of water ready to douse it but couldn’t safely get close enough.

We carefully packed up all our goodies and circled around well clear of our unwanted guest to load the dinghy and then resumed our wait. Fortunately Terry Taipan grew tired of the game and finally slithered oh so painfully slowly into the bush behind the tree line. We then wasted no time putting out the fire and making sure there was no chance of re-ignition before scooting back to the boat to cook our, by now, well marinated fish on the BBQ.

Our sweetlip was still beautiful eating despite not being cooked in the coals.
The following morning the weather was again glorious sunshine with a northerly wind still blowing so we pretty much just repeated the previous day’s activities, without the attempted beach barbie and snake encounter of course.

Karen and John hamming it up for the camera while lunching on Sea Eagle Beach.

Karen's Vietnamese Rolls with Satay Sauce were spectacular.
This time when Rob went off spear fishing on the reef he had direct orders from Karen for coral trout or crayfish. No sign of crayfish was seen but he did manage to bag a good sized coral trout much to the Admiral’s delight.

Karen cooling off, again, at Sea Eagle Beach on Thomas Island.
Like many of the awesome anchorages we have experienced on the Great Barrier Reef, we could have stayed much, much longer at Thomas Island but we limited ourselves to just three nights as a south easterly change was approaching and we wanted to check out the southern side of Goldsmith Island just to our south before it arrived and we would need to shelter at Brampton Island.

Previously in his weekend sailing and seven day chartering, John had never spent more than a single night in one anchorage as there was always the desire to keep moving  to ‘make the most’ of the limited sailing time available. The secret to cruising is to be able to stop and truly enjoy the places you sail to without having to rush off.  We’re pleased to say John was leaning well and managed to SLOW DOWN enough to get a taste of the cruising life.

Lesson two was coming up.


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