Wednesday 28 October 2015

A cracking sail to Curlew Island

15 October 2015

After our restless night, dawn saw us begin slowly winching up the sixty metres of anchor chain we’d laid out and flaking it in the locker so it wouldn’t mound up and jam. Rob was concerned the anchor may be jammed in the rocky bottom but fortunately it came up without a problem.

Sunrise over the Percy Groups' South Island signalled time to up anchor and get out of the place.

Before long the all sail was raised, fishing lines deployed in anticipation of more success and a course set for our next anchorage at Curlew Island. The wind was in the high teens low twenties again but had shifted from South East to East and we found ourselves sailing a little below of our lay line which kept the sails filled and the boat moving along very nicely. We are falling more and more in love with how well Our Dreamtime sails.  It was a very pleasant  morning sitting back in the cockpit watching the water rush beneath the hull as she made her way. It would have been even better if we'd caught another good fish but it wasn't to be.

As we approached the passage between Curlew and Bluff Island we came to starboard and more onto the wind which saw her pick up her skirts and make a consistent eight knots. That was until we turned to wind to drop the mizzen soon after and furled away the genoa and mainsail to motor into our anchorage in a wide and very attractive bay on the North side of Curlew Island.

It doesn't matter how rough the sea is the camera always flattens it. Passing Bluff Island was quite boisterous.
South Island to Curlew Island - 33.6 nautical miles - 5 hours 37 minutes
Average speed 6.0 knots - Max speed 8.0 knots
The bay at Curlew Island may be a bit shallow but it is a good anchorage in any wind from South through to East.
You do need to take great care allowing for the large tidal range in these islands when anchoring. The tide at Curlew Island drops over 6 metres from high to low. We like to leave a minimum safety margin of a metre of water under our 1.5 metre draught making 2.5 metres at low tide our magic number.  We entered the bay a while after the high so we checked the tide charts and did our calculations before dropping the anchor in 7 metres of water. At the low late that afternoon we were down to 2.6. A yacht that arrived after us and dropped just a little closer into the beach was bumping the bottom long before it reached the actual low point of the tide and had to hastily up anchor  and move further out before they found themselves in real trouble.

This yacht found his keel bouncing on the sand bottom after not allowing enough for the huge tidal range in these waters.
Curlew Island was very appealing to us and in normal circumstances we would have dropped the dinghy into the water and done some exploring ashore that afternoon but our restless night at South Percy Island was taking its toll. We were both very tired and opted to simply relax on board for the afternoon and have an early night ready for a longer day of sailing on the morrow.  We certainly hope we get the chance to spend a day or two on the island on our way back south or at some other opportunity in the future.
In the four days since leaving North Keppel Island we'd made good progress on our trek North.
Good night from Curlew Island
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Tuesday 27 October 2015

The Percy Islands – Another step northwards.

14 October - 2015

After having such a glorious time ashore, we could have easily been tempted to stay another day at Hexham Island but the call of the North was strong. We felt we really needed to keep moving up the coast before the northerlies arrived. As a result we hauled up the anchor and pointed our bows towards the Percy Group of Islands. We were hoping to stop in at the famed cruisers favourite, West Bay on Middle Percy but were reserving our decision to see what the breeze would do later in the day.

We were sorry to leave Hexham Island and its magnificent beach in our wake but the North was calling.
We had about 15 knots from the South East when we set the sails just outside the bay at Hexham and were soon making good speed. We had just settled down in the cockpit when a fish took the lure on the one of the lines we were trawling. We soon had a good size mackerel on board with Karen quickly wielding the knife and making short work of turning our catch into mackerel steaks ready for the BBQ. Our day had got off to a great start.

At 95cm our mackerel was big enough to put a smile on any fisherman's face.

Karen was raised on her parents' game fishing charter boat so really knows her way around a filleting knife or, in this case, how to steak a mackerel in just minutes.

The Percy Islands ahead
The wind continued to strengthen to 20 knots gusting beyond 25 giving us a great downwind sail getting up to 8.5 knots but we reluctantly made the decision that West Bay would not be a suitable anchorage in the conditions. It has a reputation for being very uncomfortable in anything above around 15 knots so we opted for our Plan B of spending the night behind South Island as was reported to be a secure anchorage in South Easterlies.
Hexham Island to South Percy Island - 21.1 nautical miles - 4 hours
Average speed 5.3 knots - Max speed 8.5 knots

Our cruising guides indicated we could expect less tidal run and swell rolling around the island at towards its eastern half however, we did find we had to anchor in over twelve metres of water and a fair way from the beach  to avoid the fringing reefs. This reduced the protection from the wind provided by the hills. When we reversed to set the anchor it worryingly pulled across what felt like a rocky bottom before firmly gripping into something. We gave the engine a good long blast in reverse and found the anchor holding rock solid so felt confident it was secure.

We found we needed to anchor further off the beach at South Percy Island than we would have liked.
The locals were friendly though.
Forget the shrimp, throw some mackerel on the barbie.
Conditions were comfortable enough through the afternoon and we had a fine first meal of our freshly caught mackerel appropriately accompanied by a chilled white and magnificent sunset. The night was far less comfortable with a considerable tidal run holding the boat beam onto the modest sell penetrating around the point inducing enough roll to make sleep a stop start experience. We were relieved when the sky began to lighten in the pre-dawn and we could prepare to up anchor and move on. In more settled conditions it could be a nice spot to spend some time but if we find ourselves at the Percy’s South Island again in a strongish South Easterly we will anchor close to the beach near the Western end and try our luck there.

Good night from South Percy Island.

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Monday 26 October 2015

Another uninhabited tropical paradise all to ourselves - Hexham Island.

13 October - 2015

We awoke shortly after sunrise to the sound of chicks squawking loudly in their nest high on a rock outcrop directly behind Our Dreamtime’s stern. The brood was raucously letting their mother know they were hungry and ready for more food. What we hadn’t heard was every other boat in the anchorage upping anchor in the pre-dawn and beginning their run south over the waters we’d covered the previous day. We were alone at Hexham Island. Once more we had a private tropical paradise all to ourselves and we were going to make the most of it. The coffee was soon brewing and a quick breakfast prepared and enjoyed in the sunshine on the stern as we planned our day in paradise.

This bird was very busy keeping the food up to her brood of hungry chicks in her nest high above the anchorage
Karen was quick to sketch the high rock outcrops and nest behind our stern in Hexham Island.
We were then soon on our way into Hexham’s golden sand beach in the dinghy.  Karen set up camp under a shady tree ready for a morning of sketching while Rob donned his hiking boots for a walk to the top of the island to see the views. Most of the island is covered in forest with lots of pine trees. There are no trails. It would be very tough going in any of the treed areas of the island due to the thick underbrush but the western end is far more open with a covering of half metre high grass. Like its neighbours we passed the day before, Hexham Island shows the scars inflicted by Cyclone Marcia nine months previous. There are many broken and downed pine trees still evident and greenery is a bit sparse on those standing . As nature does though, the foliage is recovering and the cyclone will be a dim memory in the island’s long history before long.

It was fantastic to have a tropical paradise all to ourselves at Hexham Island.

Karen doing a bit of beach combing.

Settled into to her sketching spot for the morning.

For more of Karen's art have a look at her Facebook page Karen Oberg - Artist

The walk up the rocky, grassed slopes required a fair bit of care with every step placement. It was reasonably slow going but the views over the bay and surrounding islands were magnificent.


It was fantastic just sitting on a large rock at the top for half an hour and soaking it all in before commencing the tricky descent. Next a shorter but equally scrambling climb at the eastern end beckoned for some photos from the other angle. Once more the view made the effort well worthwhile.

Our Dreamtime in paradise at Hexham Island
On returning to the beach all the hiking gear was quickly shed for a refreshing soak in the bay’s crystal waters. We then dried off in the shade of our little campsite with a nice bottle of bubbles and some appropriate snacks. This private island business has a lot going for it.

Time to cool off
Mid afternoon sails began appearing of boats headed for the bay to anchor for the night so we made our way back to the boat after some exploring of the island’s coastline in the dinghy.

By the time we were treated to another spectacular sunset there were four other boats anchored  peacefully around us.  Our magical day had firmly put Hexham Island well up our favourite places list.


We try to be fairly easy going cruisers. Naturally some things other boaties do can be irritating but there’s a very good reason to keep those irritations to yourself.  Out on the water, you never know if that skipper you just gave a mouthful about anchoring to close to you with his noisy generator today may just be the person you need to help save your skin in an emergency tomorrow.

One thing really does get up our nose though. Many of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Islands are protected National Parks. They are places of great natural beauty with wildlife insulated from many dangers including the threat of physical harm or disease from domestic pets. By law dogs are not permitted on these islands.

Despite this, we see many sailors who cruise with dogs on board dinghy them to the beach to do their business. Most are very responsible, keep their dogs below the high water mark then bag and remove their droppings thereby minimising any risk to the environment or native fauna. We have been dog owners all our lives and, for a period of time, showed and bred thoroughbred Airedale Terriers, so we are far from pet haters.

Unfortunately some boating pet owners are a long way from being either responsible or considerate. The powerboat that interrupted our morning at Hexham Island stopped for one reason only. They eased in close to the beach then let their two dogs loose before backing off into better depth. The dogs both took dumps then raced around the beach barking up a storm chasing birds for about twenty minutes while their owners drifted in the bay. They then took their boat back in close and called the dogs out into the water, hauled them aboard and high tailed out of there to continue on their day trip. WHY THE HELL take dogs on a day trip to National Park areas and, if you have to take a dog ashore, how hard is it to take any mess with you and dump it offshore later. Rant over.

Not what you want to find on the beach of a protected national park.
Good night from Hexham Island!

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Friday 23 October 2015

Sailing at Night - North Keppel to Hexham Island.

12 October - 2015

The alarm buzzing beside your head telling you to get out of your nice cosy bunk at 11.00pm after just a very brief sleep is not the most welcome sound in the world but it was signalling time to get underway from North Keppel Island on our first night passage on Our Dreamtime. We have done quite a bit of night sailing on other boats and in good weather we both quite enjoy the experience of gliding through dark seas under a starlit sky.

First things first, the kettle went on the stove top. We are procaffeinators and can’t do a thing until we’ve had our coffee. A cup each was ingested and the thermos filled for later doses. Karen then went about securing below decks for sea which involves making sure EVERYTHING is safely put away in its proper place where it won’t leap off its temporary home at anchor on a bench top or wherever and fly across the boat down the first large swell we hit. Meanwhile Rob unzipped sail bags, attached halliards, set the running backstay, preventers and did all the usual  tasks on deck to prepare for raising sail.

We both donned our PFDs (Personal Flotation Device or Lifejacket) before raising the anchor. We have a policy of always wearing a PFD on night passages regardless of weather. These are top of the line, offshore models with personal EPIRBS and AIS locator beacons attached. We also use our tethers to harness ourselves to the boat even when snug in the cockpit. Rob clipped his tether onto the jackstay line that runs to the bow and brought up the anchor while Karen helmed. Safety is paramount  and going overboard is a sure way to spoil your sail, particularly at night.

We had originally planned to day hop up the coast and spend a few days in Port Clinton and Island Head Creek on our way north to the Percy Islands. Unfortunately both are inside the Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise area and the Defence Force boys and girls decided to close the whole area for war games from October 8 to November 26 so they could play games with live ammunition.  As a result we now had to sail well away from the mainland and cover either eighty nautical miles to an anchorage on Hexham Island or just over a hundred (180klm) to Middle Percy Island. Hence the need for the dark o’clock departure to ensure an arrival in good daylight to see any reefs or other hazards when coming to anchor.

North Keppel Island at bottom and our plans A and B destination options a long way north.
We motored a safe distance from the shore of the island before turning into the wind and raising the main and mizzen sails. Although the wind was only blowing around the 15 knot mark at this point, we stuck with another of our safety rules for short-handed night passages and went with reduced sail at the first reef mark on both.  It may be a little slower at times but if a squall suddenly appears out of the darkness from nowhere, as they do, the single person on watch will definitely find the boat a lot easier to handle.

We then came off the wind to settle the boat on course to our first way point almost ten nautical miles (18klm) offshore. With the sails trimmed to the east north easterly breeze we were pointed to close to the wind to make way on sails alone and set the boat to motor sail to the first mark. Here we would turn to port and hopefully have a more workable wind angle. Despite the metre and a half to two metre swell the boat was riding reasonably comfortably and Karen was able to return to the bunk while Rob stood the watch.

Unfortunately it was a totally moonless night so it was very difficult to see into the distance. It made us all the more thankful for the AIS (Automatic Identification System) we had recently fitted to the boat. Any AIS equipped boat or ship approaching shows up on our chart plotter while we likewise appear on theirs. All commercial vessels are now required to be equipped with AIS which is great however not all recreational boats carry the system. At this time of year many cruising yachts are returning south so all through the night Rob’s eyes were peeled for the sight of navigation lights ahead. 

People often ask us how we stay awake let alone alert through the night staring into darkness. A thermos of coffee helps but each sailor seems to have their own method. Karen finds bopping along to lively music keeps her going while conversely music tends to acts as a lullaby for Rob and rocks him to sleep. Instead he downloads “Conversations with Richard Fidler” from ABC Radio and finds these one hour long interviews with people from all walks of life with interesting stories to tell keeps him upright and eyes open. We know of other cruisers who prefer audio books but regardless, it’s essential you just use one ear piece so the other is able to hear any noises that may alert you to a problem with the boat or hazard ahead. It’s worth sacrificing stereo sound for safety.

The other concern sailing the Queensland coast at this time of the year is migrating whales. Although a rare occurrence, without the sound of an approaching motor to warn them, it’s been known for yachts under sail to literally run into whales taking a nap on the surface. With only starlight to aid vision, avoiding any such mishap would be purely up to chance. When we altered course at our first waypoint the wind angle improved as expected providing more drive for the sails so they could take over the hard work from the motor however the swell came from closer to beam on rolling the boat more. Rob found a few engine rpms smoothened the ride and with the off chance of running into Moby Dick in mind, elected to keep the motor ticking over until the horizon began to lighten in the pre-dawn which would greatly improving forward vision.

Normally we would work to a three hours on watch, three hours off rotation but as the passage involved less than a full night, Rob has elected to go through to dawn and let Karen sleep. As it was, the dark hours passed uneventfully with Flat and Peak Islands successfully avoided along with the Navy, Army and Air-force. In fact not another vessel of any kind was sighted.

Dawn is always a very welcome event for the watch keeper when sailing a night passage.
Once Karen and the sun was up, the reefs were shaken out of the main and mizzen sails to catch more wind although we now found we needed to pole the genoa out to keep it filled in the rollie downwind conditions as the wind swung to the southeast.
It was very annoying sailing straight past places such as Port Clinton and Island Head Creek on the mainland that we had been keen on visiting but were now out of bounds for a military exercise.

Our Dreamtime sails quite well dead down wind with the genoa poled out. Those solar panels make lots of power for us too.

As we approached the northern limits of the military exclusion zone we needed to decide whether we would turn more to the northeast and make Hexham Island our landfall or push onto Middle Percy Island another four hours further in the distance. Hexham and the thought of an earlier post passage beer won the day so we were soon sailing dead downwind with the main and mizzen held out on the starboard side and the genoa poled to port. This set up proved quite good with a favourable tidal current running boat speed sitting constantly over the six knot mark.
Sailing past Steep Island we could see the after effects of Cyclone Marcia which passed through this area in January. All the trees are still very bare of leaves with the ground littered with fallen trunks and broken branches.

We sailed through acres and acres of this disgusting sludge disgorged by bulk carriers pumping out there ballast tanks before they load up with coal.
Unfortunately the tide turned when we about an hour out from our destination and despite the wind strengthening a little into the high teens, forward progress fell below four knots. Sticking with sail alone would see that last hour stretch to two or more and with the taste of that post passage beer beckoning we fired up the engine and motor-sailed the last bit of the way.

The tidal run through the passage between Hexham to the west and Alnwick and Shield Islands to the west was running at a good two and a half knots against us and the wind which saw the waves stand up quite strikingly giving us a spirited finale to our overnight passage but we soon turned the corner. We dropped all sail in the lee of Hexham and entered a lovely calm bay on the northern side occupied by only a sole catamaran.

North Keppel Island to Hexham Island 14 Hours 35 Minutes - 78.9 Nautical Miles
Average 5.44 knots – High Speed 7.40 knots

The anchorage was quite comfortable in the moderate south easterly conditions
The only other occupant of Hexham Island when we arrived.
We dropped anchor onto sand in seven metres of clear water making provision for the almost four metres the tide still had left to drop. After making sure the anchor was well buried and set in the sand we tidied all the lines up on deck, got the sail covers on main and mizzen, cleaned up the cockpit and cracked that cold post passage beer.
The beach looked inviting but would have to wait until the following day.
We both had a fantastic, refreshing shower in the sunshine on the stern and feeling re-invigorated enjoyed another beer, OK two, alright it may have been three, as we watched another five boats arrive from the north through the remainder of the afternoon progressively filling up the anchorage.

Using the deck hose to shower in the sunshine on the stern is a great pleasure after a long passage.
Rest assured, we were curled up in bed fast asleep very shortly after mother nature turned on a nice sunset for us to end our long day.

We’ve said from the beginning that this was to be our shakedown cruise and we would report the good bad and ugly of it all so here’s the how we fared on our first night passage.

What worked.

Our passage plan with two alternative anchorages as option A& B.

What didn’t work.

Even with the instruments set on the lowest illumination setting the light inside the cockpit made it impossible to see through our glass windows on the moonless night so it was necessary hang your head out the side of the enclosed cockpit to keep watch ahead. With any sort of exterior light available we think this may not be as bad.

What we did right.

Elected to anchor in the nearer anchorage as adverse currents would have made it difficult to get to the Percy’s in daylight.

How we screwed up.

We should have gone to bed straight after sunset to get more sleep before setting off. Rob was a pretty tired lad by the time we anchored.

Good night from Hexham Island!

To stay right up to date with what we’re up to  and see lots more photos check out and 'like' our Dreamtime Sail Facebook page at Dreamtime Sail on Facebook


If you have only recently discovered our blog and would like to read how it all started, or work through our previous adventures, click the link to go back to our first blog entry. Stuff it. Let's just go sailing anyway.  We hope you enjoy reading the previous posts to catch up on our story.