Wednesday 28 December 2016

Middle Percy Island – The cruiser’s Great Barrier Reef ‘Must Visit’.

24-25 November 2016

Next stop - Middle Percy Island.

The waning moon in the pre-dawn light as we throw off the lines in Mackay Marina.

After a week on the dock in the Mackay Marina we were finally able to cast off the lines in the pre-dawn light to continue our Great Barrier Reef meanderings. The strong south easterlies were now gone, replaced by gentle breezes from the north east that saw us motor-sailing over calm waters.
Clearing the Mackay Harbour breakwaters as the sun rises.
We were off to the cruisers’ Mecca of Middle Percy Island with its beautiful palm lined beaches, crystal clear water and iconic A-Frame gathering place for sailors from all over the world.
Obviously we would have preferred to have enough enough wind to be sailing but the smooth conditions were perfect for our new crew member, young Master Kristian, to settle in and get his sea legs. Our 8 year old grandson was to be on board Our Dreamtime for the next month or so as we made our way down the Queensland coast to Brisbane. 
Kristian on his first watch aboard Our Dreamtime.

One of the flotilla of boats leaving Mackay after the southerly blow.
After the extended run of adverse winds we were part of a small flotilla that exited the marina headed for ports south. We made our way through the mooring field off Hay Point where bulk carriers weight at anchor for their turn on the long jetty to take on coal for export all over the world. Sailing close by these monsters was an all new experience for Kristian. He was very impressed at just how big they are.
Sailing by a bulk carrier at anchor awaiting loading off Mackay
We passed by Prudhoe Island and ran along the eastern side of the Beverly Group before the final run across to West Bay at Middle Percy Island. Fortunately the wind did pick up on this leg and we were able to enjoy a bit of a sail.
Keeping an 8 year old occupied on a 9 hour passage was a new challenge for us. Here Kristian's looking for dolphins.

The book idea worked for about 15 minutes.

What's next Nanny?
Letting Kristian loose with a camera proved a winner.

Sailing at last when the wind picked up.

Mackay Marina to Middle Percy Island – 58.9 Nautical Miles – 9 Hours 37 Minutes  - Average Speed 6.2 Knots – Max Speed 7.6 Knots.
The near sixty mile trip took over nine and a half hours so it was a bit of a trial for an eight year old. We worked at keeping him busy so fortunately we didn’t get asked ‘Are we there yet? , When are we going to be there?’ too often. Once we anchored up we got the dinghy down off the davits fairly smartly and headed straight into the beach where young Master Kristian was able to tear around the sand and burn up a good supply of pent up energy.

'Kristian loves Mummy'

Time to burn off some energy on the beach at West Bay

Kristian exploring the A-Frame at Middle Percy Island.
He was particularly impressed with the A-Frame literally packed to the rafters with memorabilia left behind by the crews of thousands of cruising boats to mark their visit to this bay so high on most sailors ‘must do’ list. To Kristian it was a huge cubby house full of ‘really cool stuff’. He had a ball exploring every nook and cranny before inviting himself to assist one of the visitors who was building a fire in the pit in preparation for barbecuing their dinner.  Suffice to say there was no shortage of wood added to ensure the fire built would have been capable of cooking an ox. Following our foray onto the beach, we all turned in for an early night after dinner on board ready for a full day of activity on the morrow.
For more on the history of Middle Percy and how it evolved into a haven for crusiers see our previous blog from our first visit here last year.  Eating wild goat stew on Middle Percy Island.

Kristian having his first snorkelling lesson in the lagoon at Middle Percy Island

All OK.

Hi Poppy!
 Number one on the next day’s agenda was Kristian’s first snorkelling lesson. One of the other cruisers we met at the A-Frame suggested we take him into the small inner harbour to begin his underwater adventures. The harbour is accessed by a narrow passage in the rocks but only at high tide. The entire inlet dries completely on the low.  Earlier in the season friends with a multi-hull had sheltered inside with five other catamarans from some strong westerly winds for a couple of days and spoke about the surreal experience of walking to each others’ boats for sundowners.
For our purposes the small inlet provided totally calm, clear water to teach Kristian how to use a mask, snorkel and fins. Having had weekly swimming lessons since he was a few months old, we were confident he’d pick it up quickly and weren’t disappointed. One mouthful of salt water ingested was enough for him to get the hang of the snorkel then there was no holding him back. He was instantly enamoured with the world underwater pointing to every fish that swam by and enjoying the unique experience of snorkelling around the mangrove roots before we did a fast drift with the outgoing tide through the narrow passage and out into the bay.

Swim time.
Our Dreamtime and La Jorja anchored in front of Middle Percy Island's A-Frame
 Our friends Matt and Debbie on the boat La Jorja arrived during the morning and it was great to have a meet up on the beach. We hadn’t seen them since Michaelmas Cay off Cairns so we had plenty of catching up to do.  As always, the weather forecasts and what they meant for our trip south were a major subject of discussion. We were not getting any mobile phone/internet service in the bay but Rob had heard you could get reception on the top of the headland. We did have access to the Predictwind Offshore forecast via or Iridium Go but we do like to have more than one forecast model to look at where possible. so he decided to go for a trek to see what he could pick up.

Rob got some nice photos on his trek in search of phone service.
The beach at West Bay and the A-Frame near its centre

The West Bay anchorage


La Jorja at Middle Percy Island.

Even climbing a tree didn't help get phone service.
The climb through the bush was simple enough and he was able to take some nice photos courtesy of the elevation but as far as internet was concerned it had to be classified as a fail. It was possible to get a sniff of phone service showing on screen but it continually dropped out before any weather site could be accessed despite even climbing a tree to gain a little extra elevation. Such is life.
Keeping  Kristian out of the water for a reasonable space of time after lunch was a real effort. Having discovered a whole new world under the water, his excitement levels were off the Richter scale. A large slice of the afternoon were spent snorkelling along the northern edge of the bay where we discovered good numbers of colourful fish of all sizes. It was also Kristian’s introduction to some of the huge range of hard and soft corals that make up the Great Barrier Reef. He also got the hang of the concept of free diving within no time and was soon reaching three and four metres down.
Kristian proved a very quick learner when it came to snorkelling

A nice stingray we saw.
Later we enjoyed sundowners onboard Matt and Debbie’s boat. Their 50 foot catamaran’s expansive salon made an instant impression on Kristian. With the direct honesty only found in children, his response when Karen asked if he liked La Jorja his instant response was, ‘Yeah! It’s better than your boat’.

Sundowners on La Jorja with Matt and Debbie

Photo by Kristian
 West Bay at Middle Percy Island well deserves its reputation as a MUST for cruisers sailing the Queensland Coast. We’d had two very enjoyable days here again. While we’d hoped to take the walk up to the homestead the following day, the weather forecast dictated that our stay at the Island would be short one this time as things looked good to make our way south to Great Keppel Island via relatively short hops to Hexham Island and then Pearl Bay over the following three days. Hexham Island became a real favourite of ours when we spent a couple of nights there last year – see Another Tropical Island Paradise all to ourselves  – and we were keen to revisit.

Good night from Middle Percy Island.
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Monday 12 December 2016

Mackay Marina – On the dock waiting for a weather window

16-23 November 2016

Normally we try to avoid set schedules but sometimes it can’t be avoided. We had to be in Mackay on Friday for a crew change with John flying home and our eight year old grandson, Kristian, flying in from Canberra  for the rest of the trip down the coast with us to Brisbane. We would have preferred to make the twenty nautical mile run south from Brampton Island on the Thursday but the forecast indicated 20 knot south-easterlies returning after a day of 15 knot nor-easterly turning easterly on Wednesday so Wednesday it was.  

We raised the anchor soon after first light hoping to take advantage of the more favourable morning nor-easterly but found ourselves sailing to windward from the time we rounded the western point of the island. What followed was a bumpy and uncomfortable beat for the next four hours with genoa, main and mizzen all sheeted in tight.

In a typical example of Murphey’s Law, we caught a good sized queenfish about an hour into the trip after failing to hook anything while sailing over smooth seas for the past couple of weeks . Being a fisherman’s daughter, Karen is the super-proficient one on board with a filleting knife and had the unenviable task of cleaning and filleting our catch on the heeling and heaving aft deck. As always she did and outstanding job of hanging on and hacking at the same time but with blood and guts going everywhere, John did suggest it all looked a scene from a Hollywood slasher movie.

Not the best conditions for Karen to be slicing and dicing a big Queenfish.

The boat was not only heeling pretty well but really bouncing over the swells.
Our Dreamtime sails quite well to windward at wind angles better than 45 degrees or so and we managed to make quite reasonable time against a contrary tidal current. Surfing through the breakwaters of Mackay Harbour into its flat water was a relief for all of us however. It was enough for John to say he really wouldn’t be keen to face days of similar conditions on a bluewater passage if he could ever avoid it. We pointed out that under normal circumstances we the wimpy type of cruisers who sit and wait for favourable winds rather than choose to sail to windward unless absolutely necessary.

Brampton Island to Mackay Marina - 20.4 Nautical Miles - 4 Hours 06 Minutes
Average Speed 5.0 Knots - Max Speed 8.4 Knots
The gardens and surrounds at Mackay Marina were our home for a week
John doing it tough on his final day on board Our Dreamtime.
After getting most of our boat jobs ticked off in the marina that afternoon, we spent a fairly quiet Thursday relaxing before enjoying a farewell with John at the very good Thai restaurant in the marina.  His 11 days on board were a ton of fun but had wizzed by as they often do when we have guest crew.

Rob and Karen about to enjoy some great Thai food at a restaurant in the marina.

Next morning we hired a car from the marina office and headed for the airport. As luck would have it, John was flying out on the very plane that Kristian was arriving on. Very convenient in deed. There was much excitement as young Master Kristian was escorted through the arrivals gate by a flight attendant to begin his month or so with Nanny and Poppy.

Eight year old grandson, Kristian, was very excited to be our new crew member.
We would have loved to have been able to sail away southwards the next morning but unfortunately we had to wait a full five days for the 25 knot south easterly wind to abate. In the meantime we hired the car again for a trip into the hinterland to visit the national park rain forests at Eungella. We also kept our small man occupied with walks out the long breakwater to see ships entering the harbour and a trip into the great swimming lagoon in Mackay to cool off.

Brilliant views down the Pioneer Valley from Eungella.

The rain forest walks at Eungella are fantastic.

Kristian with Poppy at Eungella.

And clowning around with Nanny.
Kristian on the breakwater with Our Dreamtime in her berth over his left shoulder.

Watching tugs assist the latest visitor into Mackay Harbour to take on a load of sugar.

Mackay's swimming lagoon was a hit with Kristian.
We also achieved a bit of a mile stone while we were in Mackay when our blog passed 150,000 page reads on the all time counter and topped 11,000 in a month for the first time. We're really pleased people are enjoying our scribblings and photos.

Finally with the winds abating and favourable weather forecast, Our Dreamtime all fuelled up,  water tanks full and loaded with fresh provisions we were ready to cast off the lines to begin our month or so passage south to Brisbane. Next stop Middle Percy Island.
Good night from Mackay Marina.
We love to receive comments on our blog from readers. If you do leave a comment and you also have a blog, please leave a link as well. We'd like to click over for a visit and leave you a comment too.
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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.