Saturday 14 March 2015

Leaving the Tropics

We wanted to stop at Great Keppel because of its fame, being heavily promoted in the 70’s. “Get Wrecked on Great Keppel” I think was the promo.

Well, the place is near dead, the big resort is closed, from lack of water, or a cyclone a decade ago..  depends who tells you..
In its place there’s very little left. There’s a water shortage so no use resupplying and no shop to provision. But at least the beach is nice, it’s white, like a WA beach…  The only tourism left are the Rockhampton locals arriving on the daily ferry, which rafts up on the beach and drops a ramp. The anchorage is not the best either, on the first night we dragged 80m. But we were a fair distance from the other boats, anchoring closer in found better holding. But it was a rolly anchorage (we pitched, other boats rolled). Then a sizable ketch attached itself to a mooring ball near us, which appeared to be too close. So we went to the trouble of re-anchoring Ashiki 100m away. Then we saw the ketch release itself from the mooring and anchor out. Thanks, all our trouble for nothing! Half an hour later the Rockhampton ferry picked up the mooring, looks like it was them who told the ketch to shove off, it was their mooring. Next day a catamaran wanted to anchor on top of us, Susie popped her head out the companionway and let the guy on the bow know that’s a little close to us. He apologised and moved elsewhere.

We didnt do any exploring of the island outside the settlement area, we looked around the resort ghost town, fenced off. There’s a sign showing off the proposal, colossal $1 billion project complete with canal and marina. Its approval was withdrawn by Canberra on environmental grounds, the investors are back on the drawing board me thinks.  One plus for Great Keppel, the one pub on the island serves up very decent meals.

Then the weather forecast turned ominous, a 65 knot gale was predicted and the Coast Guard even motored past checking on boats in the anchorage if they knew of the weather warning. My preparation consisted of dropping a second anchor and hoping for the best. Actually, our second anchor, the cheap (and heavier) plough, we believe is better than the SARCA. It has never let go in sand while the SARCA has, usually by unsetting itself in 180˚ wind changes and tide reversals. The plough has a hinged stock and has never dragged even in tidal streams. Several boats upped anchor and headed for Roslyn Bay marina eight miles away, many stayed here with us. Result was, we waited and the most we got was 20 knots. The big blow never came.

I noticed a few folks were braving the jellies and swimming without stinger suits, so I threw on some full length clothing, mask and goggles, jumped in to check out the hull. What I saw was the rest of the Great Barrier Reef on the keel. Big fat chunks of white coral, plenty to slow a boat. That explains the loss of 1 knot going to windward and motoring. Hmmm.

Four days at Great Keppel and winds were ripe for our exit. We weighed anchor without bothering to motor and started our 120 mile passage to Bundaberg. Since we’ve drunk plenty of their rum we might as well see the place too!

One of 23 ore carriers off Rockhampton

Cruising downwind

Eight hours later we rounded Cape Capricorn and officially sailed out of the tropics. This is significant as our mission from Darwin was to get out of the tropics as quickly as reasonably possible during cyclone season. There were no cyclones in QLD so far this wet season (this being mid January). We’ve have been quite fortunate as there was a risk to this voyage. The consolation was the QLD coast has many cyclone holes to escape to when the seagull droppings hit the fan. Though we’ll really feel better when we’re in NSW, the border being another 350 miles to go.

I counted 23 ore carriers anchored in the roads off Rockhampton, providing quite the obstacle course for Ashiki, towards Gladstone there were another load but being very dark I wasn’t sure how many. This is the second biggest port in Australia (after WA’s Port Hedland #1).

24 hours later after a very fine sail, we were absolutely surrounded by thunder storms, 360˚. The air was thick with static. Storm cells were moving seemingly everywhere, the wind was varying from all angles, quite a hand full to keep up with setting sail. At one point while both of us were in the cockpit (most the time we are down below), the wind died off almost completely, then I saw a ripple in the distance, it appeared to be coming at us fast. We dived for the halyards and reduced three panels on each mast a few seconds before a 40 knot squall hit us. It took us all of 5 to 10 seconds to reef and we pulled it off. Ashiki heeled only 15 to 20˚ and drama averted and highlighted yet again the advantage of the junk rig. But the fork lightning continued, I didn’t like it one bit and couldn't watch. If one of those things hits us it’s the end of all our electronics for a start. Worst case is a hole blown in the hull and we sink! Hopefully the bonding of the masts would prevent that. I stayed below for most of the show, waiting for Ashiki to sail out of the cauldron. Susie was happy to watch, calling it nature’s fireworks, listening to her making “ooo” and “aaah” sounds. At one point she saw a lightning hit the water only one or two hundred metres from Ashiki! Sheesh, glad I didn’t see that… 

Ashiki was making way only a couple hours from the mouth of the Burnett River, entrance to Bundaberg, and what a relief it was to eventually look back and see all the thundering storm cells miles astern. We managed to survive that one! The race was on to reach the mouth river by midnight, before the tide turned against us. But what bad luck the wind happen to back to the West making it a headwind for our entry into the river. Looks like our little 6hp will have its work cut out for it. Ashiki motored at 2.5 knots the outer channel and made the Port of Bundaberg just at slack tide (high tide, no current - theoretically). After a tense little motor in the dark, identifying the sometimes confusing channel markers, passing the marina, fishing docks and port facilities we dropped anchor just outside the port limit as no anchoring in the port area is allowed. Plan is to motor onto Bundaberg itself, 8 miles upstream with the flood at 7am the following morning.

Another thunder storm, Bundaberg anchorage

Monday 2 March 2015

Great Keppel

After ten days waiting out the SE gales on Magnetic we were on our way again, after the first 24 hours close hauled and one tack the wind backed to the north and Ashiki commenced a glorious reach toward Airlie Beach. We made the 124 Nm in under two days, the last 24hrs covering a creditable 85 Nm, and approached the built up resort town of Airlie Beach at dawn. It looked like a mini Monte Carlo with buildings ascending the mountain slopes, an interesting place to explore maybe, but as we closed in the gloom we saw the boats at anchor, maybe a hundred of them, all heaving, bows violently rocking up and down against strong onshore Northerly. Not very appealing so we gave it a miss and try the other Airlie anchorage, Shute Bay which would be sheltered. As we rounded the point, the Northerly stayed as strong as ever and even though the sight of the Whitsunday Islands was tempting, we really didn’t want to waste this wind. Our mission was to get to NSW after all thus set Ashiki gull winged and surged on through the Whitsunday Passage at 5 to 6 knots. We can always explore these islands next year on the return voyage north. The winds increased throughout the day, and being behind us Ashiki, like most boats tends to roll side to side when sailing downwind in swell.  To minimise this we ended up sailing with main only and 4 panels of the foresail sheeted in the middle. 

Engineless again
We anchored in Sandy Bay that evening, a few miles north of MacKay. The next morning the outboard stalled after weighing anchor and refused to start again. Seemed to be an issue with either flooding or fuel hose but I couldn’t coax it to do anything. The wind was very light and we ghosted along at 1.5 knots as I changed the spark plug. Without luck we crawled for 10 miles to a settlement called Bucasia on the chart, decided today was a dead loss as far as making miles were concerned and anchored, engineless, a mile off the beach. Bucasia turned out to be a Northern suburb of MacKay, we dinghied ashore and walked a mile to the local shops to stock up on fresh goods. At least we ate well that night, but I was confident the motor would start if I gave it a rest overnight, a rest from me attempting to start it that is, I had spent most the day yanking on the start cord and grew a new blister to show for it.

Engined again
Next morning the motor started second pull. Strange beast. It pushed us the 5 miles around the point in the sunny near calm conditions. Passing the thriving metropolis of MacKay to starboard, winds remained on the beam but light, but we were quite content to turn off the motor and cruise at 2.5 knots for the rest of the day, with 170 miles to go to Great Keppel Island. 

What was next was three days and two nights of gentle cruising, sunny days and nights of lightning thunder storms over the distant shore. This seems to be the rule over most of Australia, well the part we have cruised, is regular thunderstorms over land through summer months. Us being out to sea we avoid this electrical activity, but it is an entertainment each night. We passed over Viscount shoals, weaved through Northumberland Islands and rounded Shoal Water Bay. Not fast but at least we could hold the rhumb line, the gods still providing the NE winds we need. At one point the Tiller Pilot started acting strangely, changing course in a random manner. Susie thought it was a faulty connection under deck, I said nah, it’s Raymarine, their tiller pilot likes to recalibrate itself and act strange anyway. To placate her I pulled out the multimeter and checked the voltages around the circuit. 11.8V at the plug on deck and 12.8V at the battery. Well 11.8V isnt great but is still enough to run a tiller pilot, but why the one volt difference? I found a loose connection at the battery…  Fixed that and TP resumed working properly. Doh!

After entering the anchorage at North Keppel Island in the dark, we made the last six miles into the beach anchorage on Great Keppel Island the following morning, completing a 375 mile passage from Magnetic Island.

Great Keppel Island anchorage