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Sunshine Coast to the Coral Sea

Hugh & Heather Bacon

Argonauta I
Beneteau 440
November 29th, 2018

In the last article from Memories of a Circumnavigation Hugh and Heather continued to explore French Polynesia and shared their cultural experiences in Vanuatu before going on to Australia. Lets continue to follow the adventures of Argonauta I, from when they began their journey in 1997 in the Caribbean, until the completion of the circumnavigation in 2006, when they crossed their 1997 outbound Caribbean track.


Land fall Australia in November 2000 was a tangible achievement and an exciting adventure. Along the way we had loosely established what we called, “get off” points. These were based upon places where we might sell the yacht. French Polynesia was one, another was Fiji. Australia offered excellent disposal opportunities. Since July 1997, we had sailed some 12,000 nautical miles from the British Virgin Islands. Now though, with one ocean behind us and two to go, we decided to avoid any precipitous decision.

Home Base became Lawrie’s Marina (now Kawana Waters Marina) in Mooloolaba, on the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, about 100 km north of Brisbane. We planned to be there until April 2001, nominally the end of cyclone season.

There we did lots of boat work including replacing the standing rig, engine maintenance as well as hatch replacement and some interior re-design. First though, we had to adapt the yacht to 220 Volts/50 CPS electricity. The $600 solution is depicted below.

 

Heather sent this e-mail December 2000:

“There are many “live-aboards” at the marina, with a good cross‑section of Aussies and overseas visitors including a few Canadians.  I’m a superannuated “Key Kid” with my key to the gate and washrooms around my neck. Conversations take place between shower cubicles as we luxuriate in unlimited hot water. Wisdom is exchanged while watching the machines go round in the laundry room. There is ample opportunity for parties: Barbie Friday, Chuck Tuesday, birthdays and boat launching rituals. We just hosted a Pancake Breakfast to share our can of Canadian maple syrup. We’ve brushed up on Aussie vocabulary: arvo, sticky beak, barracking. In shops people tell me they love my accent..MOI?”

“Oz is wonderful and I have achieved most of my short term goals. I’ve been led down the Primrose Path with Sunday lunches that last from eleven ’til dark and I won $30 at the racetrack. We had a lovely six days on Lady Elliot, diving, snorkeling and watching birds. Despite the sunshine, Christmas carols are playing in the stores. We’ve booked a trip on the Indian Pacific Train, crossing the Nullarbor Desert. We will return to mystical Red Centre, last visited in 1995. Sydney is glittering after the Olympics and I want to be there on New Year’s Eve. Many people ask, “What next?” On the high seas I fantasized about a villa in Tuscany, a bookstore with a dog at my feet, even a supermarket in suburbia. My husband dreams of sailing to Thailand, the Red Sea, or maybe Africa.”

By the time April 2001 rolled around, we had completed many exploratory land trips, including a marina reconnaissance drive north to Townsville on the Coral Sea, and had decided what was to follow. We joined the locally referred to Aussie Navy; cruisers who sail to central and northern Queensland each April. Local yachties go north on a south easterly wind and return end season around September, with a north westerly breeze. We intended to go as far north as Townsville with this loosely formed flotilla, as many of the crews had become good friends. In Townsville, we planned to haul the boat and leave her on the hard throughout next cyclone season, spending the interval in Canada and Europe.

Conditions on the Sunshine Coast in early April had been severe. A cyclone south of New Caledonia created havoc. The infamous Wide Bay Bar, which accesses the inside passage behind Fraser Island, was a maelstrom. At low water, the bar is only 3 metres deep and with 7 metre seas running, it was nothing but foam and spray. Wide Bay Bar is on the itinerary of most north bound yachts. When the weather improved, yachts began to move north. Our weather window featured clear skies, winds SSE 10/15 K, seas about 1 metre. We departed Lawrie’s Marina at 0230 hrs Friday, April 20 in order to cover the 60 NM to the bar by 1400 hrs, two hours before high water.  Locals advised that such timing was the best. Our bar crossing was smooth and we dropped the hook in Garry’s Anchorage, Fraser Island by 1700 hrs. Even in mild conditions, bar navigation is not simple. A week after our crossing, a Dutch yacht reportedly missed the leads and subsequently foundered. Fraser Island, as the largest sand island in the world with over 100 fresh water lakes, offers wonderful hiking although one needs to be on guard against dingo attacks. A few days here allowed us to readjust to life on the water before moving further north.

Coastal waters of Australia are shallow, varying from 40 to 200 feet in depth. Winds above 20 knots can whip up sharp, choppy waves, making for very unpleasant seas. We were fortunate and enjoyed a stable weather pattern as far as Great Keppel Island, some 180 NM north northwest of Fraser Island.

Early evening found us sailing close hauled in a light northerly wind as we approached the rocks off Bustard Head, which we needed to leave to port. About midnight we started the motor to be sure to clear the rocks. After about a minute, the motor died. Silence! What to do? We immediately reversed course and let the autopilot steer, while I went into “fault analysis mode”. I found the fuel system full of air. Eventually, I traced the source of air to the Racor filter assembly. Some air bubbles were visible in the glass settling bowl. The water drain plug had cracked. We removed the cracked drain plug, replaced it with one of Heather’s soft rubber ear plugs and sealed it in place with some fast-set 5200 sealant. I then bled the air from the fuel system. We put the other ear plug in a jar of diesel to monitor its vulnerability to fuel. For the record, rubber ear plugs proved resistant! Thus repaired, we resumed the passage. By morning, we had crossed Latitude 23 degrees 30 minutes south, The Tropic of Capricorn: “Tropo” once again!

Despite violent thunderstorms as a trough passed through the Great Keppel Island anchorage, the weather quickly settled. At first light we left Great Keppel heading for the Percy Islands, sailing wing on wing for about 30 NM until the southerly wind died. It was a motor boat trip for the remaining 20 hrs or 96 NM. Incidentally, the coastal passage north to Townsville is inside The Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is situated about 60 NM east, becoming closer to the mainland as one progresses north. Understandably, then Lieutenant James Cook, during his 1770 exploration voyage up the Australian East Coast, was unaware of the existence of the reef; that is until his vessel grounded on it just east of what is now Cookstown, where HMS Endeavour was repaired.

The Percy Islands were delightful. We arrived early morning and anchored off an uninhabited island to enjoy some isolation. Next day, we moved to Middle Percy Island, which over the past century has been the home of a series of interesting characters. Traditionally, yachties have anchored here, placed a plaque with their boat name in a lean‑to on the beach and trekked 4 km to the old Homestead where Andrew, a rather eccentric longtime resident, would kill a feral goat and serve it up. Andrew eventually reached infirmity and left the Island to yachtie caretakers. We discovered that a gifted and personable young man, Mick, had just acquired the lease and had taken up residence only six weeks before. He and his wife, Sue, and three children were living in the homestead and wanted very much to encourage yachties to visit. Along with three other cruisers, we spent an interesting evening with the family.

Many visiting cruisers seem to race through the islands south of the Whitsundays. This might be because of weather concerns. Another reason for a fast passage to the Whitsundays is that most visitors are en route to Asia and beyond. Many Australian cruisers, on the other hand, seem to take their time going north, being sure to visit island groups such as the Percys. Our enroute stops still reflected a passage somewhat too fast to do the many islands justice. May 14, we reached the Cumberlands, of which the Whitsunday Islands are a part. The whole area is an Aussie sailing mecca.

With 8 to 10 knots of wind from the southeast, we were able to sail about half the 45 NM to Keswick Island. The island is unremarkable but it is a good place of entry into the cruising ground. Next, we opted to continue to Thomas Island, some 24 miles north. We anchored on the sheltered north side in an idyllic bay, which featured four sandy coves and excellent snorkeling. We lazed away the next day. Our mobile/cell phone was live, albeit somewhat patchy, and we made contact with friends on Only Blue who were in Cid Harbour, off Whitsunday Island, servicing their anchor winch. We carried on next day to rendezvous with them and had the inevitable party. I had been concerned to find that the sacrificial anode on our shaft had been improperly replaced and was rotating freely. I did not have enough puff to replace it with just a snorkel, so I borrowed an air tank from our friends, used our SCUBA gear to remove and replace the anode. It took 1,000 psi of air to do the job!

May 21, we moved to Airlie Beach on the mainland. It is the largest of the re-provisioning options in the Whitsundays, the others being Hamilton Island and Shute Harbour. Most of the islands are national parks with no commercial development, although there are several posh resorts scattered about. Some of these resorts welcome cruisers; some do not. None are inexpensive, as they cater to wealthy offshore clientele, although some of the more modest establishments are reportedly reasonably priced. The two available marinas at Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach charge triple and double the normal rates respectively, found in other parts of Queensland. Some anchorages incur a charge levied by the presiding resort, but otherwise there is no cost to visit any of the islands.

Airlie Beach offers a lot. It is a backpacker centre and young adventuresome types are there from all over the world. This brings a certain vibrancy to the place. There are many restaurants and communication facilities and the local business people were friendly and accommodating. We took a high speed dive boat, Reefjet, out to Bait Reef in the Great Barrier Reef. It was a perfect day and a delight to see the natural wonder once again.

Dave, of Sail Whitsunday, let us use his slips at Abel Point Marina to leave our dinghy, and he and his wife kindly invited us to “tea”. Tea is usually dinner and “champers”. “Gidday Gidday , you’re Canadian, come for tea,” became a familiar and welcome greeting. Aussie hospitality was a much appreciated aspect of our time in the country. Later, we linked up with more of the Lawrie’s Marina crowd to climb Whitsunday Mountain (437 metres) for a spectacular view of the islands and afterwards a  beach barbecue.

Next day we decided to take up an offer from Sail Whitsunday to spend a day or two in the Abell Point Marina, Airlie Beach. There we replaced our RACOR filter repair and had an outboard motor serviced. Time was moving on though, so we decided to continue north. With a steady 20 to 25 knots of wind behind us, the final 180 NM to Townsville took little diesel and provided some excellent sailing. We decided against a non‑stop passage and enjoyed a couple of nights at sheltered Cape Gloucester and another at Cape Upstart. We departed Cape Upstart at 0330 hrs June 8 for the final 70 NM to Magnetic Island, just off Townsville. We were anchored by 1500 hrs, now some 575 NM north from Mooloolaba.

Magnetic Island is a weekend destination for locals. We rented a “moke” vehicle for an Island tour and a delightful al fresco lunch at The Mango Plantation. It was a long weekend, so we delayed our arrival at Townsville’s Breakwater Marina until Monday. We sailed the short 5 NM to the Marina and began to prep Argonauta I for haul out. Several of our buddy boats were also in the Marina doing final maintenance before the long haul over the “Top End” to Darwin and thence to Asia and the Mediterranean or to South Africa. We had a final couple of evenings together and then feeling somewhat wistful, we bid them goodbye, vowing to meet again somewhere.

A few busy days were spent eradicating mildew from the cabins, pickling the water maker, changing engine oil and filters, shutting down the fridge, removing sails and all canvas: the list was long. Three helpful marina denizens agreed to act as crew for the haul out, which I had fixed for 0830h Monday, June 18 at Rosshaven Marine, 4 NM away and about a mile up the Ross River. The crew arrived as arranged at 0700 hrs and in early morning, light airs, we motored to the haul out facility and were on the hard 15 minutes later.

Argonauta I was pressure washed and lowered into a cradle designed to keep her secure in the event of a cyclone. I was delighted to find the hull in perfect condition, with no sign of osmosis. The next two days saw us complete final securing before bidding our no longer floating home goodbye. We flew to Canada June 28, expecting to return to Townsville mid-March 2002. We would then splash the boat and, by the end of April, set out on the 1300 NM passage to Darwin. From there we planned to continue to Bali, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. By now we were committed to sailing at least as far as the Mediterranean.

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