In the tropics

As always, waiting for the perfect weather can be a double edged sword. While you are waiting, you are watching good conditions go to waste! We had another 3 nights at Pancake Creek, carefully watching the forecast oscillate from good for the reef, no good, good again to unlikely to eventuate. A crappy little trough settled off the QLD Coast, bringing confusion to the BOM and a series of high wind forecasts during which we only really saw the lowest end of the forecast wind. Even PredictWind had a deal of uncertainty, so knowing we were unlikely to see a series of 10-15 knot or variable days, we decided to head north.

Our chosen destination was Hummocky Island, as this would still allow us to approach the reef, should conditions change. Both Lucas and Patrick had good things to say about Hummocky, though Lucas in his usual dour way predicted “an active anchorage” with swell curling around the northeast headland and into the bay. As there was not a great deal of swell about, we thought we would see what happened.

Google earth showing our anchorage
Hummocky by Google Earth. The little boat is roughly where we were.

We departed the Creek once everyone else around us had left, including 3 cats and a mono, all clearly heading north. Pete was excited that it was to be another race day! Of course in his excitement, he approached things in a hurry and we proceeded to have a series of mishaps, despite a clean weighing of anchor. Once through the shallows of the creek exit, we hoisted the main, but the head line got caught around the centre hatch, leading to a problem at full hoist. In addition, the third batten was inside a lazy jack, and the third reef was caught around it. The head line was caught on the top two battens. Pete eventually managed to release the batten from the lazy jack by manhandling the lazy jacks and using the third reef. But he could not get the head line free. Only one thing to fix it, bring the sail down and start again.

Dropping the main was ok, but the head line remained trapped in the sail leach and Pete became infuriated trying to free it. I called him back to steer, climbed into the boom bag and freed it up. I then coiled it carefully to try to keep it free of all the stuff it can catch in. On the hoist, Pete managed to keep the the head line in one hand to ensure it didn’t tangle, and we finally got the main up, set and clear. We then poled out the headsail, and started sailing along very comfortably at around 7-8 knots. I had noticed a funny hot oil/burning rubber smell below as we were motoring out, so Pete decided it was a good time to check it out. Turned out to be a tube, carrying oil, sitting across the engine and perishing from the heat. Replacing it seemed an easy task, and Pete set to it.

I sat on deck and kept a general look out while Otto did the work. It was very pleasant sitting in a sunny spot watching the seas roll by, if a little rock and roll. Of course this didn’t affect me on deck, but it did have an impact for poor Pete working on the engine. There was general muttering and cursing going on, which I ignored, other than asking if my assistance was needed. The answer was of course no. Then there was a crash and a stream of very loud expletive, and when asked if help was needed the response was “Don’t talk to me!”. I decided that I would take over from Otto, to see if that would alleviate the roll, which it did to some extent, and eventually Pete finished and came back on deck, looking grumpy and sounding terse.

Luckily, the dolphins had been monitoring the situation and decided it as time for our daily dolphins, and about five came over to play with us, three weaving back and forth with our bow. It doesn’t matter how bad you are feeling and what the cause is, dolphins just somehow make you smile! Before long, Pete was happy and laughing again, and we had a grin about the mornings exploits. Later that afternoon, we had even more reason to be happy, when we got a message from SailExchange to say they had sold one of our spinnakers. This was brilliant and unexpected news, made even better when Pete got in touch with them, to find it was actually two of our spinnakers. Not only would we have enough to replace one of our scarily expensive snatch blocks, but we may have some left over for dinner at Rosslyn Bay when we head in there later in the week!

The wind gradually died, and we decided to put the sails away and motor, giving Pete a couple of hours fishing so he could catch dinner. While this was going on I baked scones, so we would be able to have afternoon tea on our arrival!

Cape Capricorn

As we passed Cape Capricorn, we celebrated finally making it into the tropics! The Cape is just a little north of the actual tropic line at about 23 degrees 27 minutes south, and at Gladstone we had been pretty close, but of course had headed south from there. So this was the first time this trip that we had crossed the tropic line. We could see Hummocky Island, our intended destination, standing out on the horizon, getting bigger as we approached. As we rounded the eastern headland, the swell died away and the little Bay opened up to show one other yacht there, looking pretty snug. We circled about to check depths and found our anchorage about 200 meters from the other yacht. As we settled on to our anchor, eating our afternoon tea, Pete realise that we had seen the same boat at Musgrave, and decided to swim over to say hi. I swam two laps of WDS, then had a shower and waited for Pete to get back. As we drank our sundowners, Pete fished and caught a whiting, so we had that for dinner, with some left overs and salad.

The day was not done with mishaps yet as trying to use my new bottle of olive oil proved impossible. I had been buying Red Island EVOO as it came in a useful plastic bottle, which was squeezy, and it had a controlled pour top. I have been using them for a while and find them perfect on board. However, I was starting a new bottle, and no matter how hard I squeezed I could not get any oil out. I didn’t want to go mad in case the whole lot came out over my galley, so wondered if I needed to pierce the top first, which had never been required before. Pete weighed in and said the top was reversed, pulled it out and tried it the other way round. This didn’t work either, and on checking my old bottle, the original way was correct. So Pete forced it back in, thought it was working and squeezed – an olive oil fountain hit the ceiling, then rained down on me! Unamused, I watched Pete try again, say it was ok, then proceed to empty the bottle into the fry pan and all over the cooker! Needless to say, dinner was preceded by a great deal of cleaning up, and a desire to provide feedback to Red Island! (See later for this).

It had been a beautiful evening, very still and calm, but as I was finishing my jigsaw before heading to bed, we started to roll in a bit of a swell. By the time Pete came to bed, we were swinging madly in 20 knot bullets tearing down the hillside over the beach, and the stern was slamming as the incoming tide waves fought the offshore breeze. The anchor watch alarm went off a couple of times, but mostly because it lost its GPS fix. In the end Pete switched to the phone app as it was more reliable. I didn’t think I would ever get to sleep, with the motion, the wind noise, the hull slamming and the anchor snubber squealing under pressure. However we did end up sleeping ok, probably once the tide turned and the wind over tide activity abated. There ended the day from hell (mind you, rather this day from hell, than one of those I used to get with several ASIC notices arriving at the same time, and unachievable due dates!).

We woke late, and were in complete accord about moving on. By this time we had abandoned hope of getting to the reef in the next week, and had decided we would go to Great Keppel, and then into Rosslyn Bay for fuel, gas and provisions. Keppel was just 16 miles north, so we slowly prepared, had coffee and breakfast, then weighed anchor and headed out of the pretty, but somewhat uncomfortable, shelter of Hummocky. Deciding to take it easy and maybe see if we could improve on the single whiting, we only put the jib out, poled out to port, as we were dead downwind. The roll was hard going, but not much improved by human assistance, so we left Otto to for most of the way. No fish were keen on the lures, and we didn’t see any other wildlife until arriving at Keppel, where a sea eagle soared gracefully over the anchorage. We gratefully dropped the anchor as close in to the beach as we could, with just a slight roll, and a good breeze, but smooth and very clear water. It already felt better! We had lunch, then launched the Goon Bag ready for drinks on the beach later, and Pete retired to his office to work. I had a swim, my usual lap of the boat, then relaxed on deck in the sun. We had only been to Keppel once before and that was with Clare and Paul on Pilgrim. I had very  happy recollections of that day, particularly the beautiful evening on the beach, with the full moon, and then leaving for the reef the next morning as the moon set in the west and the sun rose in the east.

We packed sundowners and headed to the beach around 4:30, along with plenty of other yachties, and joined the crowd at the little shelter and fire pit. We got chatting to a couple we had briefly seen at our first Pancake Creek stop, and compared noted on the use of plotters. They gave us a great idea for mounting our tablet on a stand attached to the bimini – something we will try if we can find the right shaped stand. We also chatted to a couple on their way to the Shag Islet Yacht Club (Shaggers) gathering at Gloucester Island. They were to be volunteers, so were very keen to encourage others to join, but as we were doing Hamilton Island Race Week, we would be unable to join in.

The sunset was as glorious as the last time we were at Keppel, setting over the islands and mainland, viewed through the fine needles of the casuarina under which we sat. As dusk fell a dolphin patrolled the shore, causing smiles all round. Many of the sundowner crew had brought their dinner in and cooked on the beach fire, but we hadnt and we had also omitted to put our anchor light on before coming in, so we headed back to the boat for dinner and a couple of rounds of gin rummy before bed.

The next morning was a little overcast, so we decided that we would head ashore and do some walking. We found a map of the island showing walking trails, and thought we would pick something up from the beach. It would be good to get to the lighthouse, but it was a pretty long hike at 6 km each way, and I wasnt sure if I would be able to make it. We set off to the beach with trainers and some supplies in our packs, and had trouble locating the path, and actually set off in the wrong direction. We walked north east and visited 2 beaches before climbing a sand dune and trying to find a way through dense bush. Pete led the path finding expedition using his orienteering skills, and led us into an area thick with bush and butterflies. Not just small mothy things that stick to the ground, but huge, flappy butterflies that seemed to want nothing more than to get to know me. I started to freak out (those of you who know me understand that I have a deep and abiding phobia of butterflies), Pete realised his mistake and finally led us away from the terrifying ordeal! He found a path leading down to the next beach and from here we started to climb uphill.

We knew we were on the right path when we passed another boat couple heading down, and they indicated there was a path back down the to the anchorage at the summit of this climb. As we reached the summit, there were good paths and markers for other destinations. From here, the lighthouse was indicated as 3 km, so we decided to keep going setting a turnaround time of 1pm if we had not reached it by then. Along the track, someone had carved and painted smooth stones as the markers, with quips and quotes to describe the view or track. It was lovely that such care has been taken in maintaining the tracks and allowing visitors to see the best of the island. One view was called Sailors Lookout, with a view straight down to Svensons Bay, and there was WDS sitting pretty on her anchor.

The track was clear and open, but rocky and gravelly in places, and in some places pretty steep. We were largely going along the ridge line, but it was the ridge line between 5 hills of varying incline, the steepest being the drop down to the final ridge to the lighthouse. We saw goats here, more than anywhere, which belong to the Svensons of Svensons Beach! The lighthouse was a little disappointing compared to our other lighthouse visits. It was a short square tower with a small light not much bigger than our mast head light! However, we had arrived at 12:50, in advance of our turnaround time, and treated ourselves to chocolate and gatorade as a reward!

 

As we resumed the hike back, and laboured up the steep slope away from the lighthouse, we passed three girls from the resort, heading down the track. Sa Dev and Suze – they were just lining themselves up for the same shot we took at Barrenjoey!!! Luckily we passed them before they were ready! From the final summit, we took the quick route down the hill to the anchorage, and realised that if we had started the walk from where we had parked Goon Bag, it might have been a bit shorter and we wouldnt have had to run the butterfly gauntlet! However, back on the beach, we gratefully pulled off our shoes and socks, dumped our shorts and teeshirts in the boat and had a swim, to refresh our sweaty, achy bodies.

tired dusty shoes
tired and dusty trainers

Back on WDS by 3pm, we ate the last of the scones and I had a stretch session while Pete did a bit more work. Checking my email, I found that the Red Island Olive Oil people had received my feedback, and wanted to send me a replacement bottle! Great response and service by them. We were pretty tired so decided not to head into the beach, but just have a quite evening on board, and I cooked up a curry which we ate on deck. We hoped to do some snorkelling in the morning, then would probably head into Keppel Bay Marina, so we could get in on a high tide, before a weather change due on Sunday.

 

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