The North Queensland Coast

The photo above is of Balding Bay, Magnetic Island's 'Nudie Beach', if you believe some of the locals. We didn't. But it's a beautiful spot, far nicer than the photo implies, and the walk there from Horseshoe Bay is excellent.


Saturday, 19 May 2018

Before leaving Townsville I was told that although the weather was no good for reef cruising it might be alright to visit Havanna, a small island at the southern end of the Palm group. But with 20 knots of wind blowing we figured even that would be unpleasant and so we settled on two places: Casement Bay at the end of the Palm Island runway, or Pioneer Bay on Orpheus Island. Unsurprisingly, we didn't go for anchoring at the end of the runway — from previous experience I know the planes seem awefully close as they scream overhead on takeoff. 

After leaving Townsville we spent a night and a day at Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island, mulling the alternatives and wishing the weather to change. After a while we worked out that no amount of wishing and hoping was going to stop the south east trades from blowing 20 knots or more. So we stopped trying to get to the reef and decided on Pioneer Bay.

We arrived about 1400 after a fast sail from Horseshoe Bay. The swell was about 1.5m and the biggest waves were unpleasant. Coming upstairs into the saloon I was greeted by the monitor flapping about at the end of its mount, wacking into the wall with each roll of the boat. As I made a grab for it the monitor separated itself from the mount and I was left swaying about the saloon holding the damn thing.

The main computer has a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. I also use bluetooth to connect with the sound system. I was having the usual difficulties getting bluetooth to carry sound to the stereo and had the brainwave of turning off bluetooth on the PC, and then turning it on again. I turned it off easily enough but the blockage in my brain hadn't accounted for the fact that I now had no way to turn it on again as neither the mouse nor keyboard worked anymore!

Pioneer Bay is OK, a little bit of slop is making its way into the bay but we'll sleep fine. I went for a swim off the back of the boat but had no desire for diving. Visibility was so poor that I could not see any of the sharks or crocs we'd been promised.

From Pioneer Bay in the morning I spotted a 'ship' on the horizon. Thru binoculars the ship turned out to be the Lucinda sugar jetty. It is huge at nearly 6km in length. It's about 10nm to our north and we will be there in a couple of hours.

Haycock Island, Hinchinbrook Channel

Sunday, 20th May 2018

We are anchored behind Haycock Island in the Hinchinbrook Channel at 18 28.1280 S 146 13.1296 E on a rising tide, so the current is with the wind and the anchorage seems secure, protected and calm. The only issue may be when the tide turns this afternoon and we get held up to the wind. There is so little chop that I don't think it will matter much. There are three other boats anchored directly behind Haycock Island. We are off to one side.

Getting here was easy. There are two jetties at Lucinda: the gigantic long sugar jetty visible from miles away, and the old derelict molasses jetty which only sticks out a short way off Lucinda Point and which you only see when you are close to it.

Lateral navigation marks are laid to the derelict jetty on Lucinda Point from the north (ie for a boat arriving down the channel from the north). But the channel has an entrance from the south as well, through which we entered, so we had to bear in mind that these lateral marks are backwards for a boat such as us arriving from the south. The first lateral marks are just off the derelict jetty, and they are red. Keep red lateral marks to starboard all through Hinchinbrook channel when arriving from the south.

Coming from Orpheus Island we could see the 3nm long Lucinda sugar Jetty before we even left Orpheus! We found the fairway mark just to the north of the jetty, and then followed the leading light. Confusingly, there are two set of leads into Lucinda from the south, both are on the sugar jetty. I followed the light but there are also a couple of triangles. They are almost, but not quite, the same and it would probably be fine to follow either. The light is flashing white when you are on course, red when you are to the left and green when you are to the right. So keep it white and you're OK.  We came through just after the bottom of the tide and had 1.6m of tide on a minimum tide of 1.6m LAT making 3.2m. Despite having come through here several times in the past I was a bit nervous but just followed the leads to the sugar jetty, and then turned parallel to it when we got there. Keep going parallel to the sugar jetty until you have the two red marks off the old derelict jetty aligned, turn to parallel the old jetty passing about 20m off.

Past the old jetty, as you start to cross over to the Hinchinbrook Island side of the channel, you will find yourself looking for a yellow mark and then a red mark well beyond that. Don't be confused by the row of red marks leading into the Port Lucina Creek — ignore them.

Because we were on a rising tide it was a fast trip across the bar and up the channel, with an extra knot of tide helping us.

The biggest incident on the trip over from Orpheus was the loss of my morning coffee in an unexpected roll. My sense of humour went overboard with it.



Our track through the southern entrance to Hinchinbrook Channel.



We anchored to one side of Haycock Island

Picnic Beach

Monday, 21 May 2018

Life on a boat has one big downside — lack of exercise. You might think that all that running about changing sails, grinding winches, hauling on halyards, hanging off the spinnaker pole in 10m seas to fix a new sheet (ok, well maybe not the last) would keep you fit. But Anjea has electric winches and the only exercise I get is running up and down the companionway steps and pulling on the excessively expensive rubber exercise band that I bought to make up for the lack of exercise because of the electric winches…Yeah, nuts.

The reality is that sailing mostly involves long periods of inactivity, interspersed with occasional exertion to change or adjust a sail, or save the boat when things go pear shaped. Most of our efforts go in deciding how to go one tenth of a knot faster or arguing about why I should care. Lesley always wants to go faster. I don't care. So mostly the argument goes something like this: 

"We could go faster." says Lesley.


"If you look at the polars we are well under our target."


"We should have the spinnaker up."


"Do you want to put the spinnaker up." (This is not a question)

"Not really." (Now that was a mistake, Dave, you knew it wasn't a question)

"How about we pole out the heady?"

"Yeah ok." (Vast concession that will come back to haunt me)

"Do you want to go forward?"

"No". (Mistake number two)

"What's wrong with you Dave?"

"Mumble, mumble, I like a peaceful life, mumble…"

"When I was with someotherboat we trimmed sails every 13.56 seconds all the way across the Pacific! Why don't you want to get there faster?! What's wrong with you?"


So, both for exercise as well as for a change of scene, every opportunity to get off the boat and go for a walk is sought out and pursued. Our sailing guide for this coast is written by the famous Alan Lucas, whom I met, ever so briefly, in Yamba. I was walking down the jetty as Alan approached. The guy in front of me stopped him for a chat and to say thanks for all your hard work. I couldn't resist asking as I approached "Don't you get tired of being recognised everywhere you go?"

"Nope" was the answer, delivered with a giant ear-to-ear grin.

Anyway, Alan Lucas has written that the only places to get off the boat onto Hinchinbrook are at the north end of the island. I get where he's coming from. He should have said the only safe places to get off onto the island are at the north end. So, ignoring Alan's advice, we motored out to Picnic Beach, pretty much the most southerly exposed point, and called out to a fisherman in a dinghy "What's your depth?"

"8m" he replied. So we went in a bit further and dropped our anchor. By the time we finished anchoring Anjea was in 6m of water and the rocks on shore were perhaps 50m behind us, on a lee shore. I tested the anchor carefully and there was no sign of it budging so we dropped the dinghy and rowed ashore.

There are several hours of walking between us and the end of the beach so we set a limit of about midday before we needed to retrace our steps. If we leave it longer than that the tide will be so high that we'll be forced to walk along the soft sand right at the top of the beach, which is littered with trees and all sorts of rubbish from fish lures to empty drums of herbicide. It's a National Park so who gives a fuck apart from a few greenies.

Lesley wants to see a waterfall. She has worn her bikini underneath specially so she can shower under a waterfall. I use the clock in my camera to keep track of the time and as midday approaches and it still looks like a very long way to the end of the beach where we think the waterfall is, I decide to turn and head back.

When we get back to the boat I look at the clock: 12:15. What? The clock in my camera is wrong and we turned around an hour before we needed to.

A short while later two guys in a fishing boat show up looking very serious and stern. "G'day" I say, a bit surprised, it being unusual for fishermen to approach yachties.

"Not a good place to anchor" says the spokesman of the two.

"Why not?" I say, thinking he knows something about poor holding or terrible currents here that we don't know about. He looks down at the tide rushing in at a couple of knots, then looks back at me with a strange pained look on his face confirming I am definitely the simpleton grotty yachtie he thought I was before he approached.

"Oh, yeah, I s'pose there's  bit of tide running" I add. He is right of course, anchoring on a lee shore with a fair bit of wind and current isn't ideal but I trust my anchor and anchoring technique, and besides, we are heading back up the channel, where the current, funnily enough, is exactly the same as here.

I have now been using the 25kg Rocna anchor for about 4 months and have had no problems with it. When I was researching before buying it I found some evidence that Rocnas had trouble resetting after being pulled in the opposite direction. But the conditions under which that test was done were unrealistic: they reversed the boat at several knots directly over the anchor. In practice I cannot see that happening. When the tide or wind changes direction it tends to do so slowly, not instantly going 180 degrees. I've used the Rocna in rivers, estuaries and deltas where the tide changes direction every 6 hours or so and have yet to experience any dragging at all, even when anchored in the same spot for several days. It would help that I chose an anchor a bit bigger than recommended and I have an all-chain rode with no rope. Also, I have the version without the trip slot, which is a feature I am mistrustful of because of the possibility of the chain pulling to the wrong end of the shank when the tide changes, and tripping the anchor out. It would probably reset after that, but why risk it? I sleep better without that feature.

After lunch we up-anchor and sail quietly back to Haycock Island, where we had spent the previous night.

Taylor Reef

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

We left Haycock Island in Hinchinbrook Channel just after dawn, after a catamaran left heading in the same direction. "Just watch to make sure they don't run into us" I told Lesley. Monohulls hate cats of course: two hulls, won't go to windward, stays upright (or upside down if you're careless), costs twice as much to buy, twice as much to park, twice as much to maintain, has two engines to go wrong  you get the idea. I'm sure catamaran owners think it's just a bad case of penis envy.

Anyway, they did not, of course, run into us and we both motored north in the beautiful early morning stillness. Life is good. Even if there isn't enough wind to sail this morning.

Wild gyrations, round and round we go trying to point the boat head-to-wind so we can raise the mainsail. The problem is not too much wind but the lack of it! We are motoring faster than the wind, making our own breeze, and instead of moving forward as we turn into the wind the apparent wind moves aft. Add to that a lack of room to manoeuvre and the dicey breeze coming off the mountain and we shudder to think what the guys on the cat think — we look like a couple of maniacs! At least we can be sure they won't anchor anywhere near us tonight.

The insects in Hinchinbrook Channel are a presence. They're not as bad as some other places but about 20 minutes into the first evening at anchor in the channel we were prompted by the advance airborne division to put up the insect screens. This morning Lesley walks around in a very small bikini and complains of being bitten by insects. Next she will be complaining of sunburn. She wants to close off the boat and light a mosquito coil inside to drive them to extinction. This from someone who hates 'chemicals'.  It is not a priority for me. She cannot understand why it is not a priority for me.

We arrived at Taylor Reef about 30 minutes ago. We will stay overnight, anchored behind a tiny patch of sand with a handful of birds on it, which provides just enough protection from the seas to make anchoring tenable. It is blowing 15 knots from the south and the forecast is for 15 to 20 overnight. However, we are approaching the top of the tide and as it drops we should get more protection as the reef is exposed, thus tempting us with the thought of a reasonably quiet night. Maybe.

We are anchored on pure sand and it appears that the sand extends all the way from the island with no reef between. We will know more tomorrow but for now we're happy that the anchor is secure in good holding ground. If we can move closer to the island tomorrow we might be more comfortable.

It was by no means a certainty that we'd be able to anchor here at all. In fact, as we came around the island the sea was such that even in the lee of the reef anchoring would be out of the question from a comfort point of view. Fortunately, as we came closer to the island the seas dropped enough for us to contemplate staying.

The forecast for tomorrow is more of the same, with Friday being slightly calmer. To stay on the reef you really need less than 10 knots. Well, we're not likely to see 10 knots this week so it will be uncomfortable, but we feel safe enough.

This evening we are both feeling the cold. It is down to just 24 degrees (25 degrees in the water).  We joke that if we had internet here we could look up the temperature in Hobart to make ourselves feel warmer.

The Next Day

Thursday, 24 May 2018 (morning)

This morning I was torn between staying in my relatively comfortable bunk or getting up with the sole purpose of taking the boat somewhere where waves don't exist, maybe even trading it in on a land yacht. The night was everything I predicted: safe but not comfortable. Lesley fared better and slept well. I awoke feeling exhausted.

A red sunrise lit up a mackerel sky -- a sure sign of wind.

We dropped the dinghy in the water and scouted around for a better anchorage. Lesley found nice coral in a small reef before the beach but anchoring on that would be sacrilege and although the waves were half the height it was by no means quiet so I pulled the pin and stated we were going back to the coast. It was disappointing but no amount of coral and fish was going to change my mind.

Back on board the dough had risen and we treated ourselves to a fresh-baked loaf as we set off. It was the right decision with dark clouds building all around. Strangely, we had no rain until we got in to Mourilyan Harbour where we had a few brief showers.

Mourilyan Harbour

Thursday, 24 May 2018 (afternoon)

Mourilyan Harbour is in the mouth of the Morseby river. The entrance is between two high headlands and has been blasted to a good depth for the bulk sugar and iron carriers that use the harbour. Yachts are packed into the shallow area to south. The harbour provides excellent protection in any normal weather, but there are reminders that even here things can go bad with a yacht rotting on the bank in the mangroves. Despite appearances of safety and protection the harbour is a trap in a cyclone and big ships are moved out. Small yachts are moved up the creeks and tied to the mangroves until the cyclone passes and floods subside.

We arrived at Mourilyan about 1500 after a 4 hr downwind sail. On the way we saw a yacht anchored on the north edge of Eddy Reef. Braver souls than me, or maybe they had a better anchorage than we did.

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