Monday, 2 November 2015

Running the big ship gauntlet to St Bees & Keswick Islands

16 October 2015

After a very good night’s sleep at Curlew Island we were up and away early for our 48 nautical mile hop further North to an anchorage between Keswick and St Bees Island. The wind was again around 20 knots from the South East so we were running down wind with poled out headsail yet again. A fair sized swell was rolling under our hull which saw us surfing down the face of some of the larger ones.
Our course took us through the bulk carrier anchorage off the Hay Point coal loading terminal which provided some minor fun and games. We would be heading for a path between anchored ships only to have one of them get underway to take on their load of coal for transporting to energy hungry countries such as China, Japan or India. We managed to thread our way through safely and were just beginning to relax when we hooked a good sized fish.
Ships on the horizon, a large swell about to sweep under the stern of the boat and a very happy Karen with her catch.
It was Karen’s turn to land the nice spotted mackerel which she efficiently beheaded, bled, gutted, steaked, bagged and stowed in the freezer in minutes. A sterling performance considering how bouncy it was out on the stern in the lumpy sea state. After doing such a fine job Rob considered it unfair for her to have to prepare lunch so whipped up his specialty tailor made for when things are bumpy in the galley.

Not quite up to Our Dreamtime's usual culinary levels but a cup of hot noodles was the perfect lunch in the bumpy sea.
As we drew level with the port of Mackay our AIS (Automatic Identification System) warned us of a ship heading our way. As we veered around rolling with the swells, it indicated that if it and we maintained our current course and speeds our CPA (Closest Point of Approach) would see us pass in front of the ship by somewhere between one nautical mile and zero. We consider anything under a mile as too close for comfort and zero is a collision course which would really spoil our day.

From here one nautical mile away this ship traveling at 10.6 knots could potentially run us down in less than five minutes. Many ships travel much faster further reducing the timeframe.
Our AIS display provides all the data needed to make informed decisions to avoid potential disasters including the name and call sign of the other vessel so we can call them on radio and verify each others intentions. 
In this situation we would normally slow the boat down and alter course to pass behind the ship but sailing downwind with poled out headsail it’s easier said than done. We elected to start the engine to speed the boat up a bit so we could cross in front earlier but we also took some insurance. A great beauty of AIS is that it identifies the approaching ship by name so we called up Thrasher on the radio and were able to make sure they were aware of us ahead. We advised them of our plans and they kindly said they would alter course to starboard to provide a greater margin of safety.  You have to love the combination of technology and a considerate ship’s master.

Thrasher punching into the swell and passing safely astern of us after we sped up and it altered course to starboard.
We were able to sail right into the channel between Keswick and St Bees Island before furling away the headsail, main and dropping the mizzen. Picking a spot to anchor where we would be clear of the fringing reefs and not have our mast shortened by light aircraft landing on Keswick’s strip was the next challenge. The current through the channel runs quite strongly so you can expect to change direction by 180 degrees as the tide changes so you need to allow plenty of swing room which can be easier said than done in the depths you need to anchor in to avoid the coral.
Curlew Island to St Bees/Keswick Islands - 48.3 Nautical Miles - 7 Hours 49 Minutes
Average Speed 6.0 knots - High Speed 8.0 knots
At anchor in the passage between Keswick and St Bees Islands.

We anchored just out of the approach to the airstrip and were over flown a few of times.
We baked some of the day’s catch in the barbecue for dinner that night which provided a great full stop on an interesting day's sailing.

The BBQ baked mackerel was very nice after our slightly more basic lunch on passage.
You can find many of Karen's recipes in the Our Galley page of our blog.
Our progress North since leaving Rosslyn Bay Marina.

Sorry! No sunset photo this time as the high hills of Keswick Island blocked our view. Good night.

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