Monday, 20 June 2016

Bundaberg to Pancake Creek – A favourite Anchorage

16 -20 May 2016
The sun was yet to appear over the eastern horizon as we slipped the lines and reversed Our Dreamtime out of her berth at Port of Bundaberg Marina. The strong winds of the past two weeks had abated overnight but we knew there was still a fair sized swell waiting for us outside. With this in mind we made our way into the centre of the channel before turning into the slight breeze to raise our mainsail in the calm of the river.
Mainsail is up and we're heading for the river mouth in the pre-dawn light
We thought we were up early, but stretching ahead of us was a conga line of eight yachts and catamarans making their way out through the leads to resume journeys that had been temporarily halted by the extended heavy weather of recent days. We joined the procession climbing up and over the swells running straight up the channel. Every boat turned to port after clearing the shallows and joined the migration North.
A southerly was predicted to fluctuate in the 12 to 18 knot range and swing more towards the east through the day but at this hour it was yet to gain strength. We motored for about the first hour of our 65 nautical mile passage thankful there was enough breeze in the sails to steady the boat to a degree as the swells rolled under us. Our destination was Pancake Creek, a very secure anchorage located on the coast between the Town of 1770 and Gladstone. It’s a beautiful, unspoiled piece of Australia that can only be reached by boat. We’d stayed there on two previous occasions and were very much looking forward to returning.
As the breeze strengthened to around 10-15 knots we silenced the engine and found we were able to make five and a half knots with main and genoa. We’d normally be quite happy with that sort of cruising speed but with the short winter days we would need to go faster or face navigating the narrow and very shallow entrance to Pancake Creek in the dark.
We hadn’t raised the mizzen as we have found in a strongish following wind and good swell it tends to generate weather helm and can overpower the autopilot, however with no sign of the breeze strengthening at this point, up she went and we picked up another half knot or so.
We then found the autopilot starting to struggle to maintain course from time to time when we got pushed around by a larger than average swell. This puzzled us a little as it’s never been a problem in these conditions before.  We really couldn’t afford to slow back down and, in reality, needed to go a bit faster still to reach the anchorage in daylight. So with the wind strength appearing to have stabilised we elected to bring out our asymmetric spinnaker with a view to killing two birds with one stone by  speeding the boat up while also counter-balancing the power of the mizzen a bit better.
The camera always flattens the sea but conditions were reasonably lumpy.
We do love our coloured sail. The instant it blossomed our boat speed picked up straight into the 7-8 knot range and faster when surfing the swells. Happy days, until the autopilot alarm sounded as it was again unable to maintain course. Continuing on with Rob hand steering, we began to go through a trouble shooting process. With the current conditions and sail plan the autopilot simply should not have been having problems so something else must be wrong.
First up we tried a good old fashioned reboot and turned the whole B&G integrated plotter, autopilot and gauges off for ten seconds then back on. That’s when we noticed there was no rudder angle showing on the autopilot gauge. That would explain the autopilot’s lack of performance but why wasn’t the rudder angle working? We surmised something must have been upset when the rudder stock stuffing box was repacked in the boatyard. Despite a very painful wrist she’d injured the day before, Karen took over the helm while Rob went below to investigate. The rudder quadrant is located in our stern cabin so off came all the linen from the nicely made bunk. The heavy, innerspring mattress was wrestled into the narrow companionway leading forward and Rob was  soon head down, bum up, rocking and rolling around in the lumpy conditions with a head torch. Our first suspicion was that the linkage between the rudder angle sender unit and rudder arm may not have been reconnected after the stuffing box was repacked but there it was, clipped in place. He then went looking for any wiring that may have been left unconnected or some other obvious cause. When nothing glaring could be found quickly and with Karen in obvious pain helming , deeper investigation would have to wait for the calm of the anchorage.
And so began a long seven hours of very physical hand steering for Rob. The good news was that the wind was fairly slow to swing to the east so we didn’t have to steer too far port from the rum line to maintain a sail-able wind angle and good speed.   We closed the coast a little of short of Round Hill Head at 1770 before the breeze became too close to the stern to continue to fly the asymmetric spinnaker so Karen resumed the helm briefly while Rob doused and stowed it.
With the wind now directly astern and no spinnaker we weren’t able to maintain the speed we wanted to ensure a daylight arrival so we decided to add the engine back into the mix for the last couple of hours. We also tried something new and motor sailed dead downwind with the main all the way out to starboard and the mizzen to port but no headsail. It worked a treat and stabilised the boat quite well in the big swell pushing us along consistently over seven knots at low engine revs.
After clearing Bustard Head and Clews Point we turned to wind, furled away the main and dropped the mizzen before the run into Pancake Creek. We brought up our previous GPS track from our entry last November and lined up on it for the first port marker which is located well to the western side of the wide creek mouth.
Ahead of us, we were surprised to see a catamaran heading straight up the middle with a yacht following. The making tide was about halfway between the low and high so we thought the cat may find just enough water to get over the sandbanks guarding the entrance but were quite sure the keel boat would not. Watching us maintain our course well to the west probably combined with fast shallowing readings from his depth gauge soon generated some indecision in the mind of the skipper of the yacht who slowed dramatically before reversing, coming about and working his way over to follow our line.
The catamaran did make it over the first sandbank then continued straight across the channel and onto the huge expanse of sand that totally dries at low tide. We’re sure he touched  bottom before backing up and looking lost. We were a bit busy winding our way in ourselves but were about to hail him on the radio when one of the boats already at anchor came on and suggested he head back towards the entrance, find the leads and come in the channel.  Oops!
Port of Bundaberg to Pancake Creek - 65.9 Nautical Miles - 10 Hours 10 Minutes
Average Speed 6.5 knots - Max Speed 10.7 Knots

Anchored amongst the sand banks in Pancake Creek
Other than at low tide, all these sandbanks disappear making the entry a little interesting.
An exhausted Rob was very relieved to step away from the helm after we anchored close to where we had dropped on both our previous stays. Ten minutes later the boat was all secured with halyards off, sail covers on and bubbles popped ready to enjoy the fast approaching sunset.
A suitable conclusion to a day under sail
 Karen had once again planned ahead and while we bumped and bounced up the coast, a nice juicy piece of silverside and vegetables had been cooking away in the Shuttle Chef thermo cooker using no power at all. It’s fantastic that when we arrive in anchorage tired after a long passage, all that’s to be done is serve it up and enjoy.

You have to love a meal that cooks itself. This was so tender and juicy it melted in our mouths.

A motor cat arriving in Pancake Creek as the sun dips.
Unusually for we night owls, we were both fast asleep by eight o’clock.
The best thing about Silverside for dinner is the leftovers turned into corn beef fritters for breakfast the next morning.
Sitting at anchor the following day Rob again worked through all the connections between the rudder angle sender unit at the rest of the B&G system and again found nothing glaringly amiss. We like to be self contained as much as possible to try to fix problems but it was now time to call the cavalry to the rescue.

Our electronics upgrade was done in early 2015 by Jake Rudge of Seapro Technologies. We discovered the company at the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show and were very impressed at how much time Jake spent with us asking all the right questions to work out exactly what we wanted to achieve and working out the best, most economic options for us. The quote he provided was the most competitive by a long, long way and we quickly agreed to the deal and paid the deposit. A new B&G autopilot, chart plotter, AIS, depth/log sender and gauge were all fitted on time and on budget and Jake again spent considerable time with us on a sea trial calibrating everything and explaining all the systems features.  Now we were even more impressed. It all worked beautifully unlike a lot of expensive work we’d previously had done by an East Coast Marina based marine electrician.

We called Jake to see if he could provide some trouble shooting guidance. Despite the fact we hadn’t spoke to him in over twelve months, Jake quickly recalled the boat and its systems. When we explained our problem and that it occurred immediately after the rudder stock stuffing box had been repacked he immediately suspected the culprit but first he talked us through some basic checks at the autopilot computer to make sure the system itself was operational. He asked if the linkage rudder angle linkage was on.  ‘Yep, first thing we checked,’ was the quick reply. Then he asked, ‘Is it on 180 degrees out?
That was when the light bulb illuminated with the blinding flash of the obvious. A quick check revealed that the sender unit had indeed been spun 180 degrees out in the boat yard before the linkage was reattached.  It took all of five seconds to rectify that and the rudder angle miraculously reappeared on the gauge. All fixed. THANK YOU JAKE! It was a huge relief to know we wouldn’t be hand steering all the way to the Whitsundays before heading offshore.
The arm on the rudder angle indicator should be facing forward, the same as the rudder arm.
Jake then spent another ten minutes or so on the phone to us asking about how everything else on the boat was going and talking about our cruising plans. He revealed he checks in on our blog from time to time to see what we're up to.  If you are in South East Queensland and need absolutely anything in the marine electronics realm, make sure you talk to Seapro Technologies. We could not recommend them highly enough.

Now we could relax and enjoy a few days kicking back in Pancake Creek before continuing North and that's exactly what we did.
This was the line up of boats that anchored outside the mouth behind Point Clews ready to for an early Friday morning departure before the weekend's bad weather arrived. We preferred to sit in the security of the anchorage and let it blow over.

Karen went ashore and had the watercolours out while Rob got on with some blogging.

The BBQ got a workout as always. This time it was salmon fillets and salad.

Then it was steak and BBQ roasted vegetables.
As predicted, Sunday was not nice with heavy rain and winds gusting to near 40 knots at times

We had put extra anchor chain out in preparation for the wind but when it came from the West we were blown very close to the sandbanks for a while when it all stretched out.

After a stormy Sunday, Monday at Pancake Creek was beautiful but with the wind blowing from exactly the direction we needed to go we sat it out for another day.

This guy jumped into one of our crab pots

So Karen got to work and came up with this

Fresh mud crab sushi for lunch - yum oh! Yes we do eat well on Our Dreamtime,
Good night from Pancake Creek.

If you would like to find out more about Pancake Creek check out our blog from our first visit to this great anchorage at Exploring Pancake Creek and the Bustard Head Lighthouse.
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  1. Hi
    We came from Ipswich years ago, going to willow bank when the races first moved from the Ecca and presently live on the gold coast. After spending 2.5 years in Lae NG motoring around in a boat I built myself using WW11 charts [ scary ] and then another 2 years in Boganville. You don't show up on AIS do you have a transponder.
    Bruce and Carole Ellen

    1. Hi Bruce, Great to hear from you. We are nervous about navigating PNG waters with all the gadgets we have now let alone WW2 charts. You certainly have our respect. We do have AIS which transmits when we have our plotter turned on. We turn it off at anchor. We also use a Spot-tracker with a link to our location on the home page of our blog. We hope to add a more detailed tracking page soon. Cheers!

  2. Just discovered you blog - looks great, and cant wait to read through it from the beginning.


    1. Thanks Xavier, we hope you enjoy the journey with us. It's been quite a ride.

  3. Wonderful post and beautiful photos. You have a lovely blog; thank you so much for sharing. :)

    1. We're so pleased you like our blog Linda. We started it for our family to follow along but, over time, it has attracted thousands of people from all over. It does take a fair bit of work but comments like yours make it worthwhile. Hope you enjoy following along with us on our coming travels. Cheers!

  4. Can I come live on your boat? The food looks delicious! I don't know how Karen pulls off meals like this continuously. So jealous :-)

    1. Hi Ellen. I am a very lucky man. Karen is a creative person and this aspect of her character is not limited to her art. She loves coming up with new ways to cook great food on board. Many of her recipes are posted on the Our Galley page and there's a stack more to go up when I get some time. All have been created in our tiny galley and most are actually fairly simple to cook. My only small problem is she rarely cooks the same dish twice so even when I absolutely LOVE something I'm unlikely to get it again as she would rather come up on a new recipe twist next time. Clearly it's not the worst problem to have. Rob.


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