Wednesday 6 July 2016

Sailing North to Pearl Bay

29 June - 1 July 2016

Finally we escaped the seductive clutches of Great Keppel Island with a pre-dawn departure bound for Pearl Bay in the heart of the Shoalwater Bay Military Exercise area. This remote section of the Queensland coast is closed to all shipping at times of the year for the Green Machine, Navy and Flyboys to practice blowing stuff up. It was all a no go area on our last trip north and we had to sail overnight well off the coast to keep clear. No such problem this time.

The sun was yet to rise over Great Keppel Island as we began our passage north to Pearl Bay
The anchorage at Pearl Bay had been talked very highly of by every cruiser we’ve met who has been there so we were really looking forward to seeing it. The forecast was for moderate south easterly winds later in the day which wasn’t ideal as our destination was north west putting the wind directly behind us. In the early morning light though, the breeze was yet to strengthen and settle so we motor –sailed across to round North Keppel Island’s eastern shore. We need to run the engine for a couple of hours a day to charge our batteries so we prefer to do that underway when possible rather than sitting at anchor. If we’re burning diesel we may as well be going somewhere.

Managing consistent six to seven knots we were very happy with how Our Dreamtime sailed through the morning.
When we cleared North Keppel we were surprised to find the wind was coming from the south west which gave us a reasonable sailing angle not too far off our rhumb line. Looking back towards GKI we could see a small fleet of yachts and catamarans in our wake plus another group of sails coming from Keppel Bay Marina that were on their way along the coast. The great northern yachty migration to enjoy the tropical winter is underway in earnest.

With a one and a half to two metre swell pushing through from behind us, we probably should have left the mizzen sail packed away in its sail bag for the deep downwind conditions. We have found in stronger winds it has a tendency to push the stern around making life difficult for the autopilot but as the breeze was sitting around the fifteen knot mark we raised it and gladly accepted the half knot increase in speed.

Initially the wind angle saw our track closing the coast with a plan to gybe back to seaward for a bit before resuming our port tack to pass between the headland and inshore  island at Cape Manifold. We were pleasantly surprised when the wind strengthened and veered just enough further westward for us adjust course and run through on the single tack. The big swells crashing onto the rocks either side of the narrow channel were enough to have us play it safe with Rob hand steering the engine running in case required.

The steep rocks of Manifold Island to our starboard

And the rocks of Cape manifold to port.
The wind shift to the south east finally arrived soon after. We sailed towards the long golden sand beach then gybed out to sea to clear Cape Clinton. By now the wind had piped up over twenty knots so we reefed the mizzen before gybing back for the run past the entrance to Port Clinton and around into Pearl Bay.

The wind piped up further once we passed Cape Manifold
As soon as we altered course the combination of wind, waves and mizzen saw the boat corkscrewing down the swells and overpowering the autopilot at times. We gathered the rest of the mizzen into the bag but with full mainsail up were still a bit overpowered so it was back to hand steering for the last hour of the trip. Surfing down the face of the big swells we were topping 10 knots keeping Rob busy on the helm.

Swells smashing on to the rocks as we pass between the headland and Delcomyn Island

Entering the peaceful and very welcome waters of the Pearl Bay anchorage.
Through another gap between headland and island, furl the headsail away,  turn to wind to bring the main down  and motor into the delightfully calm waters of Pearl Bay. It was great to drop anchor and relax after what had been a great sail.

Great Keppel Island to Pearl Bay - 48.8 Nautical Miles - 7 Hours 40 Minutes
Average Speed 6.2 Knots - Max Speed 10.4 Knots

This satellite image illustrates the remote location of Pearl Bay
Two catamarans had arrived just ahead of us then a procession of boats followed including our friends Gary and Anne on Chances who arrived about half an hour later. By the time we joined a number of other cruisers for sundowners on one of the cats, fourteen boats occupied the anchorage.

Pearl Bay is beautiful anchorage
Pearl Bay is a popular stop on the trek north
Pearl Bay is a very attractive piece of the Queensland Coast with a number of nice long sand beaches, small rocky islets close to shore and high cliffs that provide good protection from any wind coming from south west through to south east. A bit of the swell running outside did occasionally find its way around the headlands at times but was quite small and far from a problem. We still enjoyed a very solid night’s sleep after our long day.

Our intention had been to continue on to Hexham Island early the next morning but when we set sail we found we had no autopilot at all. With a big swell still running and the wind whistling around twenty knots we elected to turn around and return to Pearl Bay where we could trouble shoot the issue in a calm, stress free way.

We were far from mobile phone service but thanks to our Iridium Go we were able to make a call via satellite to our ever helpful tech wizard, Jake at SeaProTechnologies. We quickly established that Rob had accidentally caused the problem. When he was changing a setting in our plotter he didn’t realise he’d wiped the autopilot’s setting. Jake was then able to talk us through a full dockside reinstall and gave us the instructions for finishing the process with the sea trial calibration. Jake is a superstar in our eyes who has been incredible with his after sales backup. We completed the sea trial installation next morning in calm conditions out in the bay before returning to the anchorage for a relaxing afternoon of fishing from our dinghy.
Karen got the first fish but Rob caught the biggest

Looking back to the entrance to Pearl Bay

Our reef fish went straight on the BBQ for a sunset dinner

Rob enjoying sundowners with the high cliffs behind him that protect Pearl Bay from southerly winds
We managed to catch some nice sweetlip, flowery cod and parrot fish at the reef bordering the anchorage on the turn of the tide. No prizes for guessing what we had for dinner that evening as the sun dipped.

Goodnight from Pearl Bay.
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