Skippers log 2/2022: Bundaberg, Queensland towards Darwin, Northern Territotry
Bundaberg rain, rain, rain.
We sat for five days alongside in the Port Bundaberg Marina.
This gave us an opportunity to repair the pawl on our anchor windlass which gave up the ghost in Byron Bay. The rachet which stops the windlass flywheel from spinning backwards under load is critical for safe winch operation. We designed a pawl made from an old half inch shackle with help from local tall ships captain Kit Woodward. He was on the dock first thing when I turned to on our first morning in town offering assistance and local knowledge and in his case a lifetime of cruising know how, thanks Kit.
The Walducks living in Kingaroy 3 hours west and previously of Franklin, dear friends of the Yukon family, were also on the scene and it was lovely to catch up.
We have been meeting up with loads of precious friends on our way up the East Coast of this massive continent, some are sailing mates from the past 40 years, some more recent. As a visiting vessel to a port one can’t help but hold a sort of triumphant vulnerability, achieving land fall, yet arriving newly hatched into an unknown town or city, cars to supermarkets and utes to workshops for bits and pieces makes for the richness of a successful landfall.
Day 32 Saturday 23rd of July the log reads 0830 Let go all lines. Motor out of the shipping channel. Set main sail, jib square and raffee, great to be underway again quartering wind and sea making good way at 6 to 7 knots, fresh vegies in the box. New guests on board. Next stop Great Keppel Island.
24th July 0440 we cross the tropic of Capricorn …peel of those layers, bare feet, bathers and turtles. It’s great to be feeling the change in temperature, seeing the change in the water colour and seeing the new varieties in plant life ashore. After Great Keppel we head up to a favourite cruising haunt Middle Percy Island.
West Bay on Middle Percy Island has a long history of cruising sailors dropping in and leaving a memento of some description, initially in an old shed which was the old telephone shed, this has now been taken over by the A frame building just a little further up the beach. It’s chocka block full of boats names, carvings, paintings and mementos, it’s a rewarding ponder to absorb all the fleeting and perhaps some not so fleeting visitors to this lovely island. Most of the crew wandered up to the occupied homestead to be entertained by Kerry and Malcom who have been caretakers on middle Percy for the last 6 months, they were treated to lemonade and tropical fruits and tempted by the idea of spending a few months volunteering on this beautiful Island. Later that evening we all went ashore and baked pizzas over the barbeque fire behind the A frame, met up with a stack of other folks, some heading south some heading north, was a great chance to exchange stories and information.
The beaches are getting better, and the water is getting warmer, a couple more islands Keswick and then Shaw with some great sailing in between and then it was our arrival into the Coral Sea Marina at Airlie Beach. It’s a big marina I think Yukon was the smallest boat on our pontoon loads of white shiny powerboats and a couple of ex tassie boats as well notably the Derwent Hunter who sails charter out of Airlie.
It was a great few days with good facilities and time to pursue a leak that has been bugging us over the past couple of weeks. We eventually located it down on seam number two on the port quarter well done Aron and Kristopher, I am not so good at diving having spent most of my working life trying to stay above the water so with much moral support and help from our new gadget a floating Hooka pump, which pumps air to a mouth piece and regulator, and a bit of coaxing from the deck by myself, we managed to plug the pencil head size !!!!hole to the joy of the yours truly, wooden ships always take a bit of water, it helps keep their bilges fresh but there are limits .
Tuesday the 2nd of August, we muster all hands and do our obligatory safety brief before heading out into the beautiful Whitsunday islands a short 15 miles to our first anchorage in Cave Bay on Hook Island. There are heaps of Humpbacks around mums with calves, they slap and breach, throw themselves out of the water. It’s amazing at night, when all is quiet and we lay in our bunks, we can hear them sing through Yukon’s two-inch oak planking. The world is beautiful.
From Hook Island its out to Bait Reef, taking advantage of a lull in the Tradewinds which blow incessantly this time of year. Bait Reef is spectacular clear water, heaps of fish and snorkelling on the reef reveals considerable bleaching in areas, yet we are still provided with some amazing displays of living coral. A couple of nights anchored out in the middle of nowhere, in dead calm and with the nearest visible land 23 miles away is a surreal experience. We wind our way out of this lovely lagoon, with Kristopher’s eyes aiding from aloft, early on Sunday the 7th of August and head toward Magnetic Island just off the mainland coast near Townsville.
This is our first overnight passage for this leg and we find it helps everyone settle in. Horse Shoe Bay is a beauty big round red granite boulders and white sandy beaches and koalas apparently. Northwards we push up toward Orpheus island, north of Great Palm Island, and then to Dunk Island with its storm ravaged resort, before finally anchoring at Fitzroy Island just outside of Cairns. There are a lot of visitors to Fitzroy Island as it’s an all tide beach which Cairns cannot offer, in fact I think everyone who lives in Cairns was there that day.
Our arrival into Cairns ends leg 4. We had a couple of days to prep for the next leg. It was also a chance to catch up with a few old friends from the sailing world, who had gathered to wave us off, what a treat some faces I haven’t seen in 20 years and first time for Ea. its funny how we all still look the same just a few more wrinkles.
With a fresh mob of folk onboard we head north once again, bidding the fair town of Cairns farewell escorted by Fred and Don. We make for Low Isles a tiny island sporting a story book like light house we spend 2 nights here at anchor. It’s great snorkelling and the island has a small museum which discusses the lifestyle of light keeping families over the years, a sobering story peppered with isolation, lonely continuous work and watchkeeping in the days before automated lights.
Ooops! Aron tests positive to covid, we all agree that it was only a matter of time before covid 19 found its way on board. All on board are vaccinated and the currant variant is not so severe, it would seem, in a matter of days it’s gone through the ship like a dose of salts, the only folk that don’t catch the virus are those that have recently caught it over the previous six months.
The story of James Cook and the Endeavour is very much intertwined with this region, his attempts to clear out to deeper water outside the Barrier Reef are incredible. I can’t imagine how stressful it must have been for the early mariners in the days before the reef was so well marked, beaconed and charted. After touching on Endeavour Reef, Cook limped into what is now The Endeavour River and Cooktown, to effect repairs. It’s high tribute to the ability of these mariners to envisage bringing a vessel Bark Endeavour’s size into Cooktown.
A brisk Tradewind blowing and an almost non-existent anchorage at Cooktown prompts the plague ship Yukon to lay alongside the public wharf. Everyone on board is wearing facemasks and stinking of hand sanitiser, the locals don’t seem to notice. The following morning after a much needed sleep, we clear out for more tropical islands.
The Tradewinds are well and truly blowing peaking each afternoon at around 30 knots, we are flying up the coast, double reefed main and square 7 to 8 knots of speed. I decide due to sickness and a love of sleep to try and daytrip all the way to Thursday Island, so it’s a 6 o’clock turn to, up anchor, set the gear and woosh we are away. Cape Flattery, Lizard Island and Cape Melville. On Yindayin (Stanley Island) in Princess Charlotte Bay we spend the morning ashore and check out some amazing cave paintings done by the Yiithuwarra people, they were inhabiting these superb caves as recently as 1940 when the island was unfortunately evacuated due to the feared invasion by Japan during the war.
We are very croc conscious as we move about or swim, it truly is croc country, so we keep checking out suspect looking logs on beaches through the binoculars. No positive sightings as yet.
Hannah Reef gives us respite for the night, just north of the now defunct Port Stewart a lot of the small ship infostructure is abandoned or laid waste after cyclones, never to be rebuilt. The remoteness of these anchorages are part of this coast’s feeling, isolated settlements such as Portland Road just in the lee of Cape Weymouth. We ease sheets at Bligh’s “Restoration rock”. The story goes that Capt. William Bligh on his famous Bounty long boat voyage fearing attack on the mainland stopped and killed birds for food on this small island, we don’t know how lucky we are as we feast on School Mackerel freshly baked in Yukon’s oven.
Friday 26th august we enter the beautiful Paluma Passage in the Family Islands which cuts the corner of Cape Grenville anchoring up for the night in windswept Shelbourne Bay.
Saturday 27th August, Day 67 our final day on the East Coast of Australia 2600 nautical miles from Franklin to Pioneer Bay on Albany Island and a rough old evening, it turns out to be with steep seas exacerbated by the south going tide against wind Yukon rounds Albany Rock and let’s go anchor in the relative calm of Pioneer Bay. This our final anchorage before Thursday Island 20 miles to the west .. Yes the west at last we can start sailing west.
A glass of whiskey is raised under Doctor James’s recommendation in salute to fair passages on a long coastline.
The following morning, we coast easily past Cape York, we can see heaps of fellow travellers standing on the shore on the very tip of this otherwise ordinary looking headland, Australia’s most northern point we wave to them, they wave back. On to Thursday Island and anchor in the lee of neighbouring Horn Island.
The atmosphere ashore is friendly and laid back T I is only a small community, we bid our guests farewell, grab a meal ashore in the Wongai Beach hotel on Horn Island before spending the following day cleaning and restocking in preparation for our next leg .