Monday, November 08, 2021

Great Keppel Island

[Kyle]From Pearl Bay, we had a long sail down the coast to Great Keppel Island (Known as GKI). After almost a week of strong southeasterlies, there was supposed to finally be enough north in the wind that we could do the bulk of the trip without having to tack. It worked out that way, for the most part, but the wind was still twenty to thirty degrees ahead of us than the forecasts predicted. This meant that instead of sailing the direct course on a fast beam reach, we ended up close hauled, riding every wind shift and pinching as hard as we could into the wind to get around every point. It was a real nail-biter. We knew that if we had to tack, we would probably lose half an hour, which our ETA was looking like we couldn’t really afford.

There was a Lot of algae patches in the water that we've been seeing for weeks along this stretch of coast. At first I'd thought it was coral spawn, but since it's been around so long, that is clearly not the case

The wind shifted just enough to get us around the point, then the next, then the next. We made it to the big bay at Long Beach with just enough time to tidy Begonia up and have dinner before the falling darkness and our early start made our eyelids too heavy to keep open.

By the next sunrise, we’d had a full night’s sleep and were hankering for a bit of walking around. The last time we were here (back in May of 2020, we were on the completely opposite side of the island at Svendson's Beach. This time we were able to spend a whole day going up and down the island’s trails without intersecting any of the one’s we had done last time. Thus, it seemed like we were visiting a whole new island.

The Covid pandemic was in its second month back then and all of the commercial interests on the island were shut tight. Now, things in Queensland are pretty much back to normal, so we actually had a choice of places in which to spend our lunch money. We had lunch at the resort, which was good, but it was also really full. Most of the crowd seemed to be going for a douchey Jersey Shore vibe, which killed any motivation to linger over dessert. Instead, we went to the ‘other’ place for ice cream bars. It had a much more laid-back Polynesian atmosphere. We both immediately wished that we had held out and eaten there. Oh, Well.

Aside from finding the trash dump of the island, the walk was pleasant and with plenty of great views

A few more ups and downs got us back to Long Beach, while helping us to work off our lunch. On the way, we got a text from Jan and Richard aboard Morpheus, saying they were anchored right behind us. We have known them for years, but we always seem to be leapfrogging each other. Rare have been the days when we actually get to see each other in person. They said they were leaving tomorrow, so we decided not to risk going home and instead headed straight to Morpheus from the beach for a catch-up. Their long-term plans have changed and now they are looking at importing Morpheus to Australia so that they can either sell it or possibly just use it as a southern hemisphere vacation home (they are British).

When Jan was telling the story, I couldn’t help but notice that there was something familiar about the boat behind her. I thought about it for a minute and then realized what it was: It was the Screamers! There was not actually any screaming going on at the moment, which was strange (good). How did they get here? Keppel is several days of sailing from Keswick and the weather most of the time has not been nearly as good as it was the night they headed off at sunset to find a better anchorage. There’s NO way I would have imagined them getting this far. Perhaps the non-screaming was coming from the new owners on their new boat, enjoying their delivery cruise home. The mystery deepens…

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Pearl Bay – Again!

[Kyle]Darren had done an amazing job (progressing with the Estate management) in exhuasting and frustrating conditions, and finished all he could in Arizona . He was finally returning home to California, so we figured it was safe for us to be away from the internet ourselves for a few days. We had one day of light northerlies before reinforced trade winds were supposed to park over the area for a week. It was a good time to leave Marble Island and head as far south as we could in daylight, which in this case, turned out to be Pearl Bay on the mainland .

Light wind sailing to Pearl Bay

We had anchored here before last year on the way north (back in May of 2020). Pearl Bay is very pretty, with the eastern end of the bay protected by the pine-topped Hervey Islands. However, it also has crocs and murky water, so swimming is out. All of the adjacent land is a military training area, so going ashore is not permitted, and sometimes even anchoring there is not allowed as they practice blowing things up. There is also no cellular service, so there really is nothing to do but enjoy the view and wait for the weather. There are lots of big turtles in the bay, though. They would regularly surface right next to the boat to have a look at us. As soon as we would move, they would always startle and dive away.

We beat the approaching weather there. When we arrived, there was one monohull already anchored. They were just lifting their dinghy in preparation for the coming winds. Two hours later, the wind started gusting and the increasing swell was coming around the point. We started to roll around a lot, but that poor monohull was all over the place. At first light the next morning, they put out a second anchor to hold them bow to the swell, which made them more stable than we were.

Once they finished re-anchoring, a solo sailor on a beat-up looking trimaran appeared. It took us a while to figure out what he was doing as he seemed to be sailing by, tacking with just his jib into big winds and seas. Why on earth would anyone want to be going that direction in this weather? For a while, he seemed to be having trouble avoiding the rocks at the entrance. Then he tacked and headed straight at the monohull, occasionally stalling when blanketed by the cliffs. We guessed he had no engine.

He rounded up next to the mono. We thought he was going to drop his anchor there, but a gust caught him and he sped for us, just keeping a boat width from the beach. Before he got that far, another lull stopped him, so he decided to roll up the jib and throw out the anchor. We were relieved. We didn’t trust him not to drag and he didn’t look like he had insurance.

During low tide at Pearl Bay, the swell subdues to a gentle roll. We all came out on deck for a bit to enjoy it and gave each other a wave. When the water came back up, we were all getting thrown around quite a bit, even the monohull on their bridle.

When the morning high tide rolled us out of bed, so to speak, I went outside and saw the tri heading north, back the way he came when he arrived. Perhaps he was trying to make his way down the coast, thought this bay would be more protected, realized it wasn’t and then retreated a bit. Perhaps we’ll see him out there again when the weather improves and all of the boats start going south again.

On our last full day in Pearl Bay, we lowered the dinghy and had an extended tour of the Hervey Islands. There was still a fairly big swell outside of the islands. When combined with the fast currents, it made for some alarmingly rough seas on both their windward sides and in the channels in between. There would be no circumnavigations today. We stuck to poking around the inlets on the protected side.

A dinghy tour around the Hervey Islands

When we were done, we landed the dinghy on the beach and walked as far as we could below the high tide line. Going ashore according to our cruising guide is not allowed, but everyone told us it is tolerated as long as you stick to the beach. Closer inspection of the ‘No Entry’ signs for the military area verified our interpretation that we would be allowed ashore as long as we stayed on the beach and didn’t go inland. It was good to get off of the boat and stretch our legs a bit.

A walk at low tide

Back at Begonia, preparing for the next morning’s departure, we were out turtle spotting. Maryanne noticed that one of our turtles was especially big and gray and smooth. She'd spotted a dugong! Then we saw the calf swimming next to her. Our first Australian dugongs!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Marble Island (Duke Isands)

[Kyle]The hundred miles or so between the mainland cities of Mackay and Yeppoon are generally without cellular service. Paperwork and communications from our lawyer had been coming in at a trickle, rather than the torrent we had hoped. My brother Darren really needed us to stay in close contact with him later than any of us had originally anticipated. To help stay in touch, we decided to change our plan from eight day-sails to one big leap down to the Keppel Islands, just off of the coast from Yepoon.

That was the plan anyway. As we were sailing about five miles north of the Duke Islands, Maryanne got a phone signal and suggested we turn right and check it out at the anchorages there. If we lost the signal again, we could carry on as before, having lost only about thirty minutes.

We lost the signal going through the Lolo-Mantes Passage between Hunter and Marble Islands, but it soon returned once we had line-of-sight views of the mainland. Our timing turned out to be pretty good. We were right at high tide, so we saw neither the five to seven knot currents or the big standing waves that happen in the channel during maximum flow. We tucked into the bay on the western side of Marble Island and settled in to stay for the remainder of Darren’s time at Mom’s before he went back home to California.

The weather didn’t calm enough for us to consider going ashore until the third day, which we did when Darren finally fell asleep in his time zone. The Duke Islands are privately owned. Maryanne found the number for the caretakers and asked if it would be okay if we came ashore to stretch our legs a bit.

Caretakers Dave and his wife, Kerry, couldn’t have been nicer. They said we were certainly welcome and to pop over for a cup of tea when we land. With them to greet us was Lindal, one of the owners. Not only did they have tea, they had also baked us a cake! They were very thankful that we called and asked to come on the island, instead of just landing ashore like a many of the boaties. They may be planning fires to clear the brush on the day you visit. The island is an active cattle ranch and they frequently host hunters in order to keep the deer population in check. Spooking a bull or rustling through the bushes on the next ridge from some enthusiastic hunter with a shotgun could both be bad.

As there were currently no hunters on the island, they said we were safe from that. Dave said he’d recently disposed of most of the ornery bulls. Otherwise, keep the herd on one side of you. That will keep any protective parent from head-butting you into the sea if you get between them and one of their calves. After our tea, cake and welcoming chat, Dave gave us directions to the trail, “Walk down the runway (grass) and take a left. You can’t miss it.”

We made it about twenty paces from the Caretaker’s cottage, when we were stymied by our first obstacle: a bush gate. At the fence, I saw the piece of wire holding the gate closed and disconnected it. Instead of opening a gap that Maryanne and I could walk through, the whole fence collapsed into a heap at our feet. We tried to put it back together the way we found it, but the jumble of parts didn’t look like they would fit together in any way that looked like it did before I touched the thing. I could see the wire hook I had undone, but it wouldn’t even reach where I had detached it. Oh, I wish I had been paying more attention to how it was all put together before I opened it.

After a few minutes, we had to call Dave over and admit we just broke the fence we were now trying to hold up. He then came over and gave us a lesson on how to open and close a bush gate. It’s really very simple. The thing I hadn’t noticed was the free-floating horizontal post at the top. We were trying to put the fence back together with that piece vertical, which made the whole thing fall down. Well, now we know. He told us we were going the wrong way anyway. The path to the runway was over there.

As soon as we got on the airstrip, we encountered the whole herd of cattle marching towards us with purpose. They did not look like they were planning on giving way to us. They seemed to not be bothered by us and were heading on their merry way until they got right next to us. Then they all stopped and turned to stare. We assumed it was just the usual country cow stare, but it also looked like they might be getting ready for a face-off. They definitely looked like they wouldn’t like it if we went over to try to pet one of them. Fair enough. We’ll keep walking.

We got the hang of the 'bush gates' after a quick lesson from Dave, and the cattle were clearly wondering what we were doing ashore

Coming along with us was Lindal’s dog. I guess she decided that what we were doing looked like a whole lot more fun than sitting under a tree at the cabin. That dog was good to have around. If the cattle came too close, she would herd them away. She seemed to know where we were going and charged ahead of us. Finding the trail was as easy as finding the dog.

We enjoyed our exercise, the stunning views, and the great company of the dog that was temporarily on the island

She was in absolute heaven. When she would get too far ahead of us, she would turn and gallop back, taking side trips for anything that moved. She chased butterflies, she chased grasshoppers. Her favorite thing, though, was chasing rats. We saw the first one after she spent some time snuffling in the undergrowth. Then a rat popped up and jumped ten feet before hitting the ground again. I had no idea they could leap that far. That one managed to find the safety of another hidey-hole.

We loved exploring the trails and kept discovering new vistas to linger over

The next rat wasn’t so lucky. A mad chase ensued where the dog plunged through thickets with no apparent regard for her own face. Then there were a few seconds of high-pitched screaming and we knew the rat had lost the battle for its life. The dog bounded proudly towards us with the corpse in her mouth, but before she got to us, something else rustled and she dropped her catch in pursuit of new prey.

She must have covered twenty times the distance Maryanne and I did, almost all of it at a full run. Like all dogs, she wasn’t good at pacing herself. By the time Maryanne and I flopped down at the conveniently placed picnic table at the viewpoint at the top, she was looking pretty sorry for herself. She immediately plunked down in the rectangle of shade beneath the table. We tried several times along the way to give her some of the drinks that we had brought, but they were flavored water, which she didn’t seem to like. By the time we made it to the top, she sounded like a steam train under that table. Then Maryanne was able to persuade her to drink out of her cupped hands.

We stayed enjoying the view until the dog’s panting morphed back into regular breathing. As soon as we started moving, she was off again, chasing anything that moved in the blazing heat. During lulls in the action, she would return to us and then plop down on the trail in what was clearly some kind of “carry me” message. No can do, buddy. We’re hot too and someone drank all of our water.

We crested the last ridge and the dog took off again, making a high-speed beeline for one of the cattle’s watering holes. She returned a minute later, dripping, with bits of dirt and grass stuck to her. Suddenly, she was a brand-new dog again that was SO excited about going on a long walk with us, as if she hadn’t just been running at full speed for the last two hours. She then disappeared into the bushes in a blur. Wow. That dog is having the best time!

All of the boats that had been anchored in the bay when we arrived were now gone, apart from one powerboat that had moved across to Hunter Island to anchor there. In the afternoon, a dinghy appeared from around the corner and sped right toward us. Aboard were a couple from the powerboat. We invited them aboard for some tea.

They were a pair of Russians who met in Japan and immigrated separately to Australia. Andrey was an engineer, who designed their boat, Pobeda (meaning ‘Victory’ in Russian). Tania did VIP tours all over the world and has been to more countries than any of the rest of us. We talked about travel and Australia and what we all did during Covid. We also talked about boats, of course. When Andrey said they had three freezers, Maryanne quipped that they must have ice cream aboard. Andrey bellowed out a big laugh. “I never get craving for ice cream, but TODAY, I want ice cream!”

They left to go retrieve Pobeda, saying the anchorage at Hunter Island was too rolly for them. No sooner was their anchor set than they sped over in the tender. When they approached, Tania handed over a box containing two ice cream bars! Maryanne ate hers right away, but I stuck mine in the fridge for tomorrow.

It was great fun to share the anchorage with generous owners of Pobeda (Andrey and Tania) - who delivered ICE CREAM to us aboard Begonia (so appreciated!)

The next day, we received a text from David, saying that three coconuts had fallen from one of the trees overnight. This was in response to Maryanne saying earlier that she was really missing snacking on scavenged coconuts. He also asked if she cut my hair. His was overdue for one and he was hoping Maryanne could give Kerry some pointers. “Not really”, she said, “Kyle does his own, but we can bring our kit and offer plenty of moral support.”

Dave and Kerry (the current caretakers, and ex cruisers themselves) were excellent company

On the way to the beach, we were planning on swinging by Pobeda to say hi, but they were just pulling up anchor to go to the Percy Islands. When they saw us approaching, they stopped what they were doing and invited us aboard. As soon as our feet hit the deck, Tania offered us cappuccinos. Why, don’t mind if I do.

Pobeda is beautiful with lots of light and air and space. It was like a little miniature Mediterranean villa. Andrey showed me around the helm, which has full control of the boat’s integrated systems. He took me through the various screens, which reminded me of the pictorial systems pages on next generation Boeings. Touch the screen here and this bilge pump will run. Touch it there and that valve will close. He then took me down to the engine room, which is bigger than our whole boat. I didn’t have to duck once. Everything was laid out immaculately and so well thought out, with lots of redundancy for each system. Tania said Andrey could go on all day, but we were eager to get ashore before it got too late and they were supposed to already be gone, so we gave them each a big hug and wished them Bon Voyage.

After more tea and cake ashore and a few words of encouragement, we were given directions to the highest point on the island (with 360 degree views). While we were gone, Kerry took a whack at Dave’s do.

By then it was the hottest part of the day. As soon as Maryanne and I left sea level for the climb to the top, our walk became a slow trudge. The dog stayed behind today.

When we finally crested the last rise, we were pleased to find yet another picnic table, upon which we could admire the view while resting our weary bones (and proving just how much we needed the exercise!).

It was a privilege to be welcomed ashore and to explore the island trails

We took a chance and found a shortcut back, which had the added benefit of being shadier and making a loop of our trail. We got back just as Kerry was finishing up Dave’s hair. It looked pretty good. We would never have guessed it was a first attempt. There followed more tea, and some wine, and plenty of sailing stories. I had not mentioned it before, but Dave and Kerry had previously lived aboard a ketch that they had recently sold. They have sailed this coast and parts of Asia for many years.

When it finally got late enough that I was worried about getting home by dark, we reluctantly pulled ourselves away. Dave took us to the coconuts, which turned out to already be too dry to eat. Undaunted, he grabbed a big pole with a hook on the end and he and I went about harvesting a few direct from the tree that were in a better stage of ripeness. While we were doing that, Kerry gave Maryanne the garden and freezer tour, which ended up with Maryanne standing in the middle of a big, generous pile of food. Added to my coconuts were veggies from their garden, lemons the size of grapefruits, a dozen fresh free-range eggs (we’d met the chickens earlier, they were very cute) and a week's worth of frozen beef from the island’s own cattle. Jeez, all we brought them was a packet of biscuits to share with a cup of tea, and we found those tucked in the bottom of the bag on our return home.

Back in the USA, delays ensused, Darren continued working all hours getting the house emptied and cleaned ready for sale. But on his last business day of his planned stay in AZ, he literally got everything done in the last fifteen minutes before the close of business. He got it ALL done, though. Then he finally even got a few minutes to grab a very late breakfast and take it back to Mom’s empty house. When he was done eating, all he had to do was put everything that was left in the bed of his truck and pack it for the drive back to California. It is going to be so relaxing for him to go back to working full time. Maryanne had been spending all her spare time at the computer too, but Darren did so much physical work, AND had the stress of all the delays and surprises - we are SO grateful to him.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Curlew Island

[Kyle]After almost a week of having a cellular signal that seemed to get worse with each passing day (that’s how they get ya!), we decided to risk trying to head further south in the hope that we may be able to pick up something along the way. With the wind still strong out of the north, our only real option within day sailing distance was Curlew Island.

Kyle loved the conditions
and the fact that he finally beat (trounced) me at yatzy

We had another lovely spinnaker sail on a broad reach. Most of the other boats that had been in the anchorage with us at Keswick also departed, but gradually diverged towards the Percy Isles. By the time we got to Curlew, we were the only one there. There was one AIS target that also seemed to be heading to the same place. It looked like they would get there about an hour after we did.

We actually managed to maintain a pretty good phone signal until we were tucked pretty far into the bay on the southeastern side of the island, then the high ground surrounding us blocked it out. Oh, well. We tried.

A couple of other boats had added community edits about the bay on our various cruising apps. They agreed the anchorage could only take a few boats and mentioned a bottom of patchy sand. The locations for these were plotted in the middle of what appeared to be a sandy patch on the satellite imagery.

We arrived right at the top of a four-and-a-half-meter tide and slowly eased toward the previous boat’s coordinates. Before we even got that far, it was looking bad. After our depth sounder started climbing from the teens, we could clearly see a thick barrier of coral between us and the enticing patch of sand beyond. The bottom shot upwards in the same manner as it had back at Keswick to depths that we knew would ground us at low tide, so we beat a hasty retreat back to deeper water.

The visibility through the water was not great. Since the place reminded us of both Tinsmith and that coral-strewn anchorage on the south end of St. Bees, we decided to send me down to look at the bottom before dropping the anchor. Even more so than at Tinsmith, I found mostly live coral with a few small patches of sand. That left us the choice to stay or to continue on overnight to somewhere much further south. We decided to try to make it work like we would sometimes have to do in French Polynesia. Since the visibility was not good enough to see the bottom from the surface, nor the boat from the bottom, Maryanne sent me down holding onto the anchor with the idea that I could maneuver it to a good landing spot at the end. Then we let out the rest of our scope, Pardey-style, in a big pile next to it with the hopes that the light winds forecast over the night would mean that we wouldn’t actually need to pull on it.

Once I was back aboard, the other boat arrived, saw us in the deep water way in the back and headed for the sand in front, apparently unaware that we had already tried that. They got almost to the sand, as we had, then gave up and started reversing like mad. They backed up about a boat length and then dropped their anchor on what just had to be coral.

They stayed in that spot for a bit, and then apparently decided they didn’t like it and moved a few meters to re-anchor. That one also didn’t work for them, so they did it again.

Another boat arrived from another direction that looked like it was the same make. They went halfway to the other boat and then came back to anchor almost on top of us. Before I had to say anything, they pulled their gear back up with difficulty, presumably because it was fouled on coral, and started milling around nearby for another spot.

Watching all of this was making me increasingly nervous about our chain. I decided to go back overboard to have a look at it again and to attach a trip line and float to our anchor. This was less to aid us in its retrieval than to help us see from the boat if its position was changing at all relative to Begonia. The float ended up about where the second other boat had anchored, which I think they may have taken as a hint to shove off. Not really, but I didn’t want them too close to either us or our ground tackle, so it worked out for us anyway. I was still a little distressed that neither of the other two boats were seeming to be worrying too much about the coral. The reasoning seems to be that if you can’t see it, it’s not coral.

There was some sort of plankton bloom going on just then, which I was worried might include Irukandji. I got stung mildly several times, but so far am still alive, so I guess it was just regular jellies. Still, I’m not going back in there again if I don’t have to.

Back aboard and dried off for a second time, I noticed the first other boat already had their dinghy in the water and were heading for the beach. They got about halfway, came back and then started milling around the front of their boat about where the anchor would have been. Then we saw swimmers, then the dinghy returned to the bow.

We heard chain coming over their windlass, but before they got far, there was a lot of banging and crunching and shaking coming from over there, alternating with what was clearly full power on both engines. The tide was now going down fast and we were pretty sure they were soon going to be calling for help on the radio when they realized they were stuck.

They didn’t, and somehow managed to free themselves. They moved to where they should stay afloat for the whole tide cycle and then dropped the anchor there. Again, I am certain they were over coral. We had been over the exact same spot at high tide and backed off for just that reason. Once they were settled, we thought they would be spending their time diving, looking at the damage. Instead, they headed over to their sister boat for sundowners.

Around then, we saw a big ketch sailing by. We forgot about it until almost an hour later, when a set of lights and a dim outline of a ketch arrived into the bay and started milling around. They anchored in three or four different places before settling on one just to leeward of Begonia. They were just enough further out to be caught in the currents streaming by, which had a few overfalls at maximum. By the behavior of their lights, it looked like they were having a pretty boisterous night. I got up at around 11pm to investigate a noise and saw that they were much more stable. Another check at 3am found them nowhere to be seen. By then, the rolling would have started again, no doubt accompanied by the sound of grinding coral telegraphing up the chain, so they clearly decided to just get up and leave.

We were holding pretty steady relative to our trip line float, so we decided to chance another night of calms before moving on. The boat that grounded left. The other stayed, but then more arrived to anchor in random places as if it were all sand down there.

That is one of the problems with crowd-sourced info. Once one boat goes there and leaves a comment, others follow, figuring it’s fine. Based on where the anchor icons were located over the sandy patch on the satellite photos, Maryanne conjectured that the comments were made by tinnies or possibly jet skis stopping for lunch at high tide. For the record, both spots were about a meter above the edge of the water at low tide. Just in case some search engine digs up this entry, the anchorage here is NOT suitable for anything bigger than a tinnie, unless you are prepared to send a diver first to find sand. Most of the coral here is alive, not dead, and there would be almost no way to anchor without killing more of it. If you’re not worried about the coral, be worried about damaging your boat and ground tackle. It is cheaper and safer to stay at sea for the night in deep water.

At the next high tide, we made a quick trip to the beach with the aim of climbing a hill to search for a phone signal. We got stymied by thick undergrowth before we could gain enough elevation to get any, so we beat a hasty retreat to Begonia to do some more fretting about our swing. At least this side of Curlew is very pretty with lots of high, multi-colored rock surrounding us.

Ashore at Curlew Island - we tried to climb a hill but only found ourselves blocked from any phone signal by another hill

Another lovely stopover - and the island lived up to its name when we spotted beach curlew (a species of bird) on the beach

Since we had no signal and since we were kinda freaking out about all of the coral, we were up early to get the hell out of there.