Wednesday 20 January 2016

A Bundy good time with nesting turtles, new cruising friends, rum and awesome seafood while the wind whistles.

December 3-7, 2015

We certainly got our timing right by getting into the Port of Bundaberg Marina just before a strong South Easterly weather system moved up the Queensland coast. The wind built through the night and by morning our gauge was bouncing up well up into the 30s as it gusted rarely dropping below 20 knots at any stage. While Our Dreamtime was snug and relatively peaceful on her blow off marina berth inside the river, the view out to sea from Burnett Heads was anything but. It looked ugly. The forecast was indicating we’d have anywhere up to a week of these conditions so we resolved to make the most of our stay to show Marc around Bundaberg.

First up though we performed our customary complete clean up of the boat below decks and freshwater wash down of everything topside we do on the first day whenever we come into a marina. It’s amazing what you discover when you clean your boat. We’ve often found split pins missing out of rigging, chaffed lines, damaged blocks etc during this process but on this particular morning we discovered something a bit scary. Laying on the foredeck against the port toe rail was a stainless steel locknut. Clearly it had come undone from something but what. We’d been sailing in 20 knots the previous day so the thought that something had become unbolted in those conditions was a little unsettling to say the least.  So too was the knowledge that if the nut had bounced a few centimetres further and fallen overboard we wouldn’t even know anything was wrong now.

Just what you don't want to find laying on the deck after a passage.
We began scouring the rigging including peering through binoculars at every bolt on the spreaders and all mast fittings but when this didn’t reveal the source of our wayward lock nut Rob decided a trip up the mast in the bosun’s chair was going to be required.  Just as he was preparing to go aloft, the source of our angst revealed itself at the base of the mast. The nut had come off the boom housing’s  gooseneck fitting. Fortunately the bolt had stayed in place but we hate to think of the result if it had worked its way out while we’d been bouncing around in 20+ knots and three metre seas. It was soon back in place nice and tight and now included on the list of things to be checked regularly.

After much searching we found the offending bolt right in front of our eyes.

With that and our list of other boat chores done, we kicked back to have a relaxing afternoon on the boat catching up on some blogging and the like. On the other hand, Marc decided to do a bit of exploring of the local Burnett Heads area on foot. That's when it finally happened. After all our English mate's paranoia about Australia's wildlife and the possibility of him coming to harm on his trip down under by being eaten by sharks or crocodiles, bitten by venomous snakes, spiders or blue ringed octopus, stung by stonefish, box jellyfish or stingrays, now he was actually threatened by an Aussie species we hadn't warned (or was it teased) him about. We'd forgotten it was nesting season and Marc found himself under persistent aerial attack from a pair of swooping magpies determined to defend their nest from any pedestrian or cyclist who dared cross the field nearby. On his return later in the afternoon he greeted us with, 'Chaps, I was right. Australia is a dangerous place. Even your birds are bastards that want to hurt me.' We're not sure our raucous laughter was the sympathy he was expecting. A magnificent dinner that night in the form of the marina's special $30 seafood platter quickly reminded Marc why it was worth risking life and limb to be in Australia and all was forgiven.
Ocean Pacific Seafood at the Port of Bundaberg do these awesome platters for just $30 for marina clients.
Marc getting photographic evidence to remember another Aussie seafood feast
We then had a very sociable time over our five day stay in Bundaberg enjoying the company of cruisers from places as far afield as Malta, Sweden, the United States and many points along Australia’s East coast.
Marc and Karen about to sample the product at the conclusion of our tour of the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery.
We also took a very interesting tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, and finally managed to tick off one of Karen’s bucket list boxes by getting to experience sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.
Mon Repos Conservation Park is a national park containing an important turtle rookery located just a few kilometres from the Port of Bundaberg Marina. It hosts the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and supports the most significant nesting population of the endangered loggerhead turtle in the South Pacific Ocean. In far smaller numbers the Flatback and Green turtles and, intermittently, the Leatherback turtle also nest along the Bundaberg coast.

Rob on Mon Repos Beach during our previous visit in August before the turtle breeding season

The Mon Repos Conservation  Park's visitor information centre is excellent.
We had visited the excellent information centre at Mon Repos back in August on our way north but were too early in the year to see turtles nesting. Their breeding season runs from November to March. The adult female turtles come ashore at night to their lay eggs in the sand dunes and about eight weeks later young turtles emerge from the eggs and begin their journey to the sea.

One of the nesting  Loggerhead Turtles we were able to get very close to at Mon Repos Beach

We were permitted to take photos for just a very brief time when the turtles are totally focused on laying their eggs in the nest they have created. At this point virtually nothing will distract them from the task at hand.
We joined one of the turtle encounter tours operated by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers during the breeding season. Beach access is managed to ensure that the impact of humans on the nesting sea turtles is minimal with only tour participants are allowed on Mon Repos after 6pm to witness this incredible natural journey.

Nesting turtles are easily disturbed by artificial light and movement especially when leaving the water, crossing the beach and digging their nests. Hatching turtles emerging from their nests are also disorientated by lights so people are divided into small groups and escorted everywhere by rangers.  When it was our groups turn, we were guided down to the beach in darkness once a turtle had been spotted making her way up the beach. We were asked to keep close together, move only where and when instructed, make as little noise as possible and not display any light at all, including phone screens.

Through the long night we were rewarded with the opportunity to get very up close and personal with three different loggerhead turtles and witnessed the whole process of dragging themselves across the sand up into the dunes where they dig a deep hole with their rear flippers and lay their clutch of eggs. They then fill the hole back in and make the long, slow trip back to the water. Females nest up to three times in a season. Being so close to these beautiful creatures as they layed their eggs was an incredibly moving experience we will never forget.

Despite getting to back to the boat around 2.00am, we managed to be up early the following day to catch the free shuttle bus the marina provides for a trip into the Farmers Market where we were able to stock with awesome fresh fruit and vegetables straight out of the fields. Held every Sunday morning at Bundaberg’s Shalom College this really is one of the best produce markets we’ve encountered in Australia.

Yet more seafood, this time lunch in the marina with new American friends Tom and Lilly off the ketch Tigerlilly.
The rest of our stay included sundowners hosted  by a Swedish couple on their very nice Swan they’d sailed from Europe that we had met on the markets trip and a yachties get together over more seafood platters in the marina’s cruisers cove. As good a time as we were having, we were still very pleased when the weather began to ease and we could make preparations to continue on our way South. Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Straights were calling.

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Friday 15 January 2016

Goodbye to the Tropics – Great Keppel Island to Bundaberg

November 29 – December 2, 2015

We spent three nights and two very relaxing days anchored off Great Keppel Island’s Long Beach. Marc spent some time exploring a couple of the island’s walking tracks while we organized ourselves a very full schedule of not a lot. Perfect.

On the second afternoon we did manage to get ourselves over to Seabreeze for a very enjoyable sundowners session with David, Nerida, Rick plus a few other cruisers anchored in the bay. It was also a chance to say ‘See you later’ to the trio as they were leaving the next morning while we had decided to wait an extra day before pushing further south. They had been great cruising companions for the last few days and no doubt our tracks will cross again.

Sundowners on Seabreeze at Great Keppel Island

When we did weigh anchor it was an early start again as we had another long passage ahead of us for a day hop. Our anchorage for the night was going to be in Pancake Creek almost Seventy Nautical Miles away. While the creek mouth is well marked and can be entered at night it’s not something we’d do by choice so leaving before sunrise improved our chances of arriving before sunset.
By the time the sun was up so was enough wind to sail.
Initially we needed to motor sail in the still conditions but soon after the sun made an appearance so did around 10 knots of North Easterly breeze filling our sails and providing us with a nice square reach.  

Very happy with 6.1 knots of boat speed in 9.3 knots ow wind.

Before long we were passing Hummocky Island which had been one of our most favorite anchorages on the way north. Check our blog about it here Naked Nirvana - Hummocky Island We would have loved to have been able to stop in the island’s delightful bay again but it faces north and would have been very uncomfortable in the nor-easter.

Hummocky Island was calling to us loudly but the anchorage there is only good in winds from the Southern quadrant.

The next major landmark we left astern was Cape Capricorn and its picturesque lighthouse and, reluctantly, crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn. There were long faces all around as we officially exited the tropics. (For now. We will be back to stay as soon as possible.)

Karen sketching Cape Capricorn as we depart the tropics

Our melancholy mood was blown away very shortly afterwards when we landed a nice spotted mackerel just in time for lunch. Karen quickly converted most of the fish into mackerel steaks but within ten minutes of being caught, the tail section was on the BBQ for lunch. You can’t get much fresher than that.
11.30am Marc and Karen show off the nice spotted mackerel that had just been landed
11.40am - Rob has the tail portion of the fish in the BBQ and baking nicely
12.05 - Mackerel lunch is served with a nice spicy salsa Karen whipped up. You can't get fresher than that.

The wind held in the 10-15 knot range all day. The boat loved the conditions and cruised nicely above six knots on our long, single tack all the way from Great Keppel to Clews Point and the mouth of Pancake Creek. The tide was running out colliding with the northerly wind and swell which made the waves stand up sharply as we turned into the wind to drop our main and mizzen. We then had a fairly slow trip into the creek and up to our anchorage motoring against current.

Our anchorage well inside the sandy channels of Pancake Creek

We were securely anchored up well before sunset. It was a good thing to as we just had time for our traditional post passage beers and to BBQ some of our newly acquired mackerel steaks before the sandflies began to make their presence known on deck. We are very thankful the boat is fully screened and we can zip down our clears totally enclosing the cockpit. No bug worries amongst the mangroves for us.

Great Keppel Island to Pancake Creek – 68.2 Nautical Miles – 11 Hours 34 Minutes 
Average Speed 5.9 Knots – Highest Speed 8.2 Knots
The entrance to Pancake Creek is well marked which is a good thing as the channels between the sandbanks are narrow.

Pancake Creek sunsets are always spectacular.

The North Easterly winds were predicted to last one more day before being replaced by a strong South Easterly system expected to produce near gale force winds so our stay in Pancake creek was restricted to overnight. By now our early morning departures were wearing thin on some of the crew (ie. Karen and Marc) but Captain Rob knew the trick to getting all hands on deck. The smell of strong coffee brewing in the galley would be wafting through the boat before he made any attempt to rouse anyone.

A single dose of caffiene administered immediately on rising was followed by the promise of a second once the anchor was up and the boat underway. It proved to be the perfect strategy to prevent a mutiny and we had cleared the creek and rounded Clews Point by the time the sun was above the horizon.

Clews Point rounded and on our way to Bustard Head
Bustard Head Lighthouse

We carefully threaded our way between Inner and Middle Rocks beneath the Bustard Head lighthouse and set our course for Burnett Heads Sixty Nautical Miles Distant. This morning the wind was blowing from North North East aft of our beam. We elected to experiment with leaving the mizzen in its bag in the downwind conditions and compliment the full mainsail with our asymmetric spinnaker.  Up she went and we were soon making good speed despite the very modest wind strength.

We love flying this baby.

We did altar course briefly to a square reach giving us the opportunity to directly compare the performance of the spinnaker/mainsail combination compared to the previous day’s genoa/mainsail. Let’s hear it for the asymmetric spinnaker which was a knot faster despite having less wind strength. No wonder we love that sail. That was about the full extent of the trips excitement for most of the day as we ran South East for hour after hour.

The spinnaker was faster in less wind. What more could we ask.

The wind strengthened mid afternoon and began shifting towards the East so we dropped the spinnaker and unfurled the genoa. It kept on swinging and what had been an easy downwind run through most of the day turned into a close hauled beat to windward to clear the shallows off the mouth of the Burnett River. It was clear the coming strong South Easterly system was going to arrive earlier than expected so we were very pleased to tie up nice and secure in a pen at the Port of Bundaberg Marina just inside the mouth of the river. You couldn’t ask for a much nicer spot to sit out some crap weather.

Pancake Creek to Burnett River – 65.1 Nautical Miles – 11 Hours 44 Minutes 
Average Speed 6.1 knots – Highest Speed 8.3 Knots

We were nice and snug in Port of Bundaberg Marina before the strong South Easterlies arrived.

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Wednesday 13 January 2016

Discovering some limits - Island Head Creek to Great Keppel Island

November 28, 2015

We followed our previous day’s track on the chart plotter downstream in the pre-dawn light to clear the mouth of Island Head Creek before the lowest of the tide. We were surrounded by four other boats including our friends on Seabreeze and Howzat clearly with the same idea in mind. Sticking very close to our track made exiting the creek much less stressful than the entry had been. The theory being,  if we didn’t hit the bottom anywhere we went yesterday we shouldn’t hit it there today either.  We did see some readings in the two metre levels again inside the mouth but successfully cleared Island Head without bouncing off anything. We love a theory that works.

The sun rising as we depart Island Head Creek
Again the seas just outside were quite rough and confused and we were very happy that our Leisurefurl in boom mainsail is so easy to raise from the safety of the cockpit. The mizzen can also be reached from the back of the cockpit so with those both raised we soon had the genoa unfurled and set course for Great Keppel Island 60 nautical miles to the south.

Rick and Howzat disappeared into the distance again in the downwind conditions
The coastline here is all part of the Australian Defence Force’s Shoalwater Bay Exercise Area and as such is completely uninhabited, unless the Army, Navy or Air Force are there blowing the place up again in which case we cruisers are forced to sail by well offshore.  The geology is quite dramatic with many small, rocky islands rising vertically out of the water to quite significant heights.  As soon as the sails had been trimmed and the boat was settled on course, Karen had her sketch pad our recreating a number of the more dramatic looking scenes along the way.

The modest wind blowing around ten knots from the Nor Nor East through the morning saw us edge away from the coast to maintain a workable sail angle so progress was comparatively slow. We gybed back and forwards a couple of times but eventually settled on a long run further offshore in attempt to keep the boat speed somewhere near respectable. The breeze  was forecast to strengthen later in the day so we were hoping to pick up the pace in the afternoon or we may be arriving at Keppel in the dark.

Well offshore from Cape Manifold we gybed again back towards the coast. The wind was picking up at last but also swinging around for a while before finally settling in the mid to high teens from almost due North.  With our destination now almost due South we poled out the genoa on the opposite side to the main and mizzen and began sailing wing on wing directly downwind consistently making better than seven knots.

Our Dreamtime charging downwind wing on wing approaching North Keppel Island.
With our sails well filled and Our Dreamtime charging along nicely as ever bigger swells rolled under our hull it was far from the perfect time to hear the ratchet on our game rod suddenly start screaming . We had hooked a large fish that was reeling line off at a scary rate while it was impossible to even slow down the boat let alone stop and back it up on the fish the way you would on a game boat.

Rob grabbed the rod and progressively increased the drag until the speed at which the line was disappearing slowed to a trickle. The fish managed another couple of decent runs but each time Rob was able to manage and then finally stop the loss of line. Eventually he was able to start retrieving line but whatever it was, this fish was not going to give up easily and would try to run again. The battle ebbed and flowed for a few minutes before the stern of the boat was picked up by a good sized swell which we surfed down the face of at nine knots or so putting too much strain on the line. Goodbye fish and goodbye favourite lure. Bugger. Fresh fish for dinner at Great Keppel Island would have been nice.

Mid afternoon the wind began to strengthen further and by the time we were approaching North Keppel Island we were seeing regular gusts over 20 knots. These conditions began to test Ben & Gerry. (The nick name for our new B&G Autopilot)  The big swells often swung the stern which presented much more of the mizzen and main to the wind overpowering the genoa. This pushed us off our dead downwind course. The Autopilot was then overwhelmed a number of times as it tried to correct finding  the weather helm too strong to overcome.

Reducing sail or even dropping the mizzen completely would have balanced the boat up more but  that would mean turning around into the wind and seas to reef and or drop. With the shelter of Great Keppel Island in sight just across the waters we decided to leave things as they were but with Rob taking over the helm from Ben & Gerry.

David on Seabreeze got this photo of Our Dreamtime wing on wing
 as we sailed side by side towards Great Keppel Island.
By the time we approached the passage between Middle and Miall Islands about an hour and a half later he was questioning  the wisdom that decision. The wind was now a steady 25 knots and gusting above that quite regularly. The swells were also standing up steeper and higher in the shallower water. This combination made hand steering physically hard work.

As he constantly worked the wheel back and forward countering the best efforts of wind and wave to send us off course, Karen had the camera out snapping photos of our friends David and Nerida having their own fun and games aboard Seabreeze in the spirited conditions. Marc meanwhile was sitting back engrossed in solving the cryptic crossword in that day’s London Times he’d just downloaded when we regained Wifi service after our days in black hole territory since we reached Digby Island. Rob’s comments about it being hard to get good crew seemed to fall on deaf ears all around.

Our friends on Seabreeze hull down between swells near North Keppel Island

Once in the lee of Middle Island, we were able to turn to wind in reasonably flat water and drop all sails with Rob letting out a huge sigh of relief as the helm resumed its normal feather light feel. We were then left with just a short motor around into the well protected bay at Long Beach on the southern side of Great Keppel.
Island Head Creek to Great Keppel Island - 62.7 Nautical Miles – 11 Hours 25 Minutes
Average Speed 5.5 Knots – Highest Speed 9.6 knots

The run from North Keppel Island through to the passage between Middle and Miall Islands was spirited to say the least.

Nice and calm in the anchorage off Long Beach on the southern side of Great Keppel Island
This was always intended to be a shakedown cruise to learn our boat and we had definitely discovered some new limits. Our autopilot problems and experience hand steering in the strongish, downwind conditions convinced us that in future we would probably be better off leaving the mizzen sail in the bag when we sailed wing on wing if the wind was likely to get up.
Sundowner drinks on Long Beach after our spirited passage.
Later that afternoon we hit the beach for sundowner drinks with David, Nerida and Rick where we compared tales of the days passage and told other tall stories. That’s what cruising is about isn’t it.

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Monday 11 January 2016

Who to believe when the charts and pilot guides don't agree.

November 27, 2015

Middle Percy Island to Island Head Creek

Rising to the alarm before dawn is not easy sometimes and getting the Our Dreamtime crew up and operational this particular morning after a very social evening was a challenge. We’d had a late night in the Percy Hilton with other cruisers enjoying wild goat stew and the odd bottle of red wine so no one was keen to leave their bunk but we had a fifty nautical mile passage to Island Head Creek ahead of us.

The cats Seabreeze and Howzat at anchor under the pink, pre-dawn sky at Middle Percy Island's West Bay
Once we’d all downed a good, strong coffee our productivity improved dramatically and we soon had the boat prepped  for sea and the anchor up. We slipped out of Middle Percy Island’s West Bay as the eastern sky began to lighten. Breakfast was despatched underway and we had left the island well astern even before the sun appeared over the horizon.

We’d raised the main and mizzen sails in anticipation of a predicted gentle north easterly breeze but relied on the engine for propulsion for the first couple hours of the trip. As the breeze began to fill in a little we were able to get our asymmetric spinnaker up and flying. It’s always a great feeling when the motor is turned off and we’re able to ghost along downwind in near silence.

We love flying our asymmetric spinnaker.
The new friends we’d met over goat stew the night before, David and Nerida from the catamaran Seabreeze and Rick on Howzat had weighed anchor soon after we had so it was nice to have some company around us. With the benefit of a huge screecher, Howzat had no trouble overtaking us once our engine went off and disappeared into the distance but we were able to keep Seabreeze to our stern right through the long day. You know the story, two boats or more in sight means there is a race on, particularly on a light winds days when nothing much else is happening to keep you occupied.

Fair winds, smooth seas, sunshine and a sketch pad makes Karen a very contented cruiser.
The wind did strengthen into the low teens in the afternoon seeing us get up over seven knots for a while but overall it was a fairly uneventful trip until we approached the mouth of Island Head Creek. The tidal run around the point here causes quite confused seas and we found waves standing up steeply despite the moderate winds. This made the time spent on the foredeck dropping the spinnaker in its snuffer and getting it stowed away a little more lively an exercise than normal. The mizzen was also dropped and main furled away before we motored in towards the river mouth.

This would have been a very impressive land slip at Island Head when it occurred.
Both pilot guide books* we had on board indicated there was a wide shallow bank mid stream in the creek mouth with narrow channels each side. Both recommended steering very close to the rocky cliffs on the north side. In direct contrast, our Navionics chart showed the deepest water smack bang in the middle. It was near low tide so we were a bit worried about which may or may not be correct. To further confuse the issue, the Navionics was also showing a set of cruiser contributed waypoints for entry that seemed to align with what the pilot guides suggested rather than the contours shown on the electronic chart.  After some discussion, we decided to go with the pilot guide advice and hugged the northern shore. We found ourselves in a narrow channel with over 15 metres of water under us which eased our nerves about the steep cliffs only metres off our starboard side.

We carefully eased by close to the rocky northern side of the Island Head Creek entrance.
As we cleared the rocks and had nothing but sand around us we began to relax - until the bottom shelved almost instantly. Rob threw the wheel hard over to port, hit reverse and slowed the boat down to a couple of knots as the depth gauge dipped to 1.8 metres. We have a fairly modest draft at 1.5 metres but any depths as shallow as we were now in scare the pants off us, particularly if unexpected.

Edging back towards centre stream the gauge slowly climbed to three metres,  four, then five and we began to breathe again. We proceeded very carefully well up stream to the area we’d chosen to anchor. Seeing a couple of boats, including Howzat already there made us feel a little more comfortable about our choice. However, we still found it quite shallow and eventually dropped anchor in just a bit over two metres satisfied that the evening’s incoming tide would provide a more comfortable depth.

Middle Percy Island to Island Head Creek – 52.6 Nautical Mile – 11 Hours 16 Minutes 
Average Speed 4.7 Knots – Highest Speed 7.8 Knots

After electing to trust the pilot guides over Navionics, our track shows our entrance skirting the northern rocks. We had 15 metres of water under us where the chart indicated as little as 0m. The black dots are way points contributed by a cruiser "Silver Sailor' in September 2014 before Cyclone Marcia. The first three of these suggested way points worked for us near the rocks but we almost ran aground on the way to the fourth where you see a sharp turn to port. The white areas mid stream are shown to be up to seven metres deep at mean low tide but our friends who went with that option with their catamaran reported threes and fours along with a very shallow sand bar about in line with where we had a scare.
The Google Earth image shows the shallow sandbar midstream inside the creek mouth. I often check anchorages on Google Earth before entering them but had no Wifi service in this area at all and only saw this image later.

This part of the coast was ground zero when extreme Cyclone Marcia made landfall early this year as evidenced by the many trees still with only a thin amount of foliage showing. The area also experienced massive flooding so we can only assume that the creek mouth may have experienced some silting with banks and channels moving since last charted. David and Nerida on Seabreeze entered the creek shortly after us and, after facing the same dilemma as we did, elected to take the Navionics option and steer their Lagoon Catamaran straight down the middle. They reported depths of over three metres most of the way but also crossed a very shallow sandbar just when they thought they were through and safe.

Whatever, we would recommend using extreme caution to anyone navigating  the Island Head Creek mouth, particularly if entering or exiting anytime other than on the high tide.

We anchored well inside Island Head Creek where we were well protected if the northerly wind picked up overnight.
Our post passage beers tasted extremely good once all was secured and we could truly relax. Karen was very pleased to free up some more room in our backup fridge by producing another awesome meal from our declining stocks of Wahoo which we enjoyed on the stern as the sun set.

Our dinner view of the sun dipping behind the mountains.
It was a very peaceful night on the hook well protected from all directions. We slept soundly in the knowledge that the tide would be a little higher when we left in the morning and if we followed our own track back out through the creek mouth we would have enough water to be safe all the way.

*The pilot guides we had on board were Alan Lucas' Cruising the Coral Coast and Noel Patrick's Curtis Coast.

It's hard to photograph a rising moon from a moving yacht but Rob got close to pulling off.
Good night from Island Head Creek.

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