Queensland Coast: May 17 2007
The 80 mile, overnight trip from Kingfisher Bay on Fraser Island to Lady Musgrave Island (May 5) was wonderfully uneventful. However, it did take us each some time to settle into the blackness of the night again, aaggghh. Thankfully, as expected, the sun came up...and Chris already had the fishing line in the water...a good thing, too...Barefeet caught a hefty skipjack tuna at 6am. Still plenty of fight left in him once reeled aboard with blood splatters spraying the deck...but we finally got alcohol into the gills and him into a trash bag and into the fridge. Conditions were good (light winds and bright sun) but entering the atoll of Lady Musgrave Island was still a bit tricky. Chris was at the wheel and Erin was on the bow eyeballing the coral...do not go an inch beyond the channel or you will hit a coral WALL. Once inside we were reminded of the Pacific anchorages with sandy bottom and scattered bommies (coral heads). The anchor was dropped and it was time to fillet the tuna and swim in the clear water.
May 6 we continued exploring and headed ashore at high tide...a must since coral went right up to the sandy shore of the island. The island is a Maritime National Park with loads of birds...primarily the burrowing shearwater and the black noddies. The burrowing shearwater builds its nest, as their name suggests, by burrowing into the ground...nearly 5 feet of tunnel to a final nesting spot. Due to the tunnel aspect of their nests it was important to stay on the path and avoid collapsing nests. We thought that was a funky bird but we were unprepared for the next...a weird relationship between the black noddies and the pisonia tree. The adult black noddies build nests in the pisonia trees for laying eggs then depart soon after the eggs hatch...okay, normal enough. The pisonia tree has a nut which is sticky and often "glues" the unsuspecting black noddy to the tree...the black noddy then dies of starvation, falls from the tree, decomposes and thus provides nutrients for the pisonia tree. Wacky! But no joke, as we walked along we would periodically see dead birds scattered around the ground. The park rangers even post signs telling people not to interfere in the macabre process and allow "nature to take its course." The strong smell of guano, birds nesting under the ground and dead birds falling from trees quickly made the place feel creepy and we left for the normal ecosystem of the ocean. However, there were no flies, bugs or stench of decomposing flyers on the island...another weird characteristic of the place. Back aboard Barefeet we dug out the scuba gear and jumped right off the boat into the coral lagoon. We saw squids attached to our anchor chain, sea turtles, rays and many multi-colored fish swarming the coral. After the fun we went back for a bit of bottom cleaning work...scrapped the props, shafts and hulls below the waterline. Clean as a whistle and the bottom paint appears to still be active - all great news. Dinner was baked fish, potatoes and cole slaw. The cole slaw is one of our new favorite items because cabbage keeps forever in the fridge (way outlasting lettuce). Cole Slaw: chopped green and red cabbage with dressing. Dressing: 3/4 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 Tablespoons sugar, 1 Tablespoon celery seed or celery salt and salt and pepper to taste. Mix dressing separately and modify to personal preference. Drizzle over chopped cabbage and toss. Erin is more comfortable following a recipe than a "wing it" kinda cook but this is always improvised (thanks Ems)...if you have it, also add several leaves of fresh basil, chopped.
As we continue to work our way North along the Queensland coast we mostly have day hops, like today. May 7 we headed approximately 55 miles to North West Island. There was not much wind so we motored most of the distance and arrived just before sunset...but first...Barefeet caught another fish! It was another hefty one...a black skipjack tuna...but cleaning had to wait until we were anchored. Erin was at the helm as Chris dropped the hook...entertained by several dolphins and several big turtles. Wow! This spot is literally a raised spot in the ocean with no meaningful protection from wind or swell so the lack of wind is perfect for tonight. Once anchored, Erin cleaned the fish into four nice fillets. These were vacuum sealed (thanks Jen and Jeff) and popped into the freezer. The meat of both tunas was dark and firm and easy to handle. Dinner was Mexicali fish and Spanish rice. Mexicali Fish: place fish fillets in baking dish, rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with chopped and sautéed onions and green pepper, chopped jalapeno, salsa and grated cheese. Bake until fish is cooked and cheese is bubbling.
It's time for some fuel and provisioning...so into Yeppoon we go (May 8 and 9). We left early hoping to sail all the way and giving us time flexibility because we did not think the wind would be very strong. Boy were we wrong! Conditions were great with wind and current working together we screamed along at 7...8...even 9 knots. We were in by Noon! We heard of this spot from the cruiser/fisherman anchored beside us in Garry's anchorage (the provider of the flat head fish). And it is, indeed, a nice spot...complete with showers, laundry, wifi, water to wash down Barefeet, trash bins, cruising club and even a courtesy car (free, and loaned out in 2hr blocks). How cool is that?! It is the Keppel Bay Marina in Rosslyn Bay (www.keppelbaymarina.com.au). Back on the water cruising we are again bumping into folks we last saw in the Pacific...like s/v Ruby Slippers and s/v Blue Moon. It is fun to catch up over sundowners to compare notes of the past few months and swap ideas about future routes and ports.
May 10 we left the marina and made a quick hop to Great Keppel Island. Captain Cook passed through in May 1770 and named the area after Rear Admiral Keppel. We have never heard of the fella but we are not really sure if the naming was a compliment. It seems that Captain Cook was fairly unimpressed by most of the East coast of Australia...and went so far as to specifically describe the Keppel Islands as, "having an appearance rather of barrenness than fertility." Well, everyone has their own opinion...but we now have a pretty good mental picture of what Rear Admiral Keppel must have looked like (tee, hee, hee). May 11 we headed 49 miles to Pearl Bay. Both engines were on initially due to rolly conditions created by so many islands...but once beyond the islands we had a great down wind sail going wing-on-wing with the new genoa off to one side and the screecher off to the other side...making 6 knots of speed. Pearl Bay had a taste of Maine with rocky shores and dense pine tree woodlands...and a fishing trawler at work in the bay. The night was pretty rolly due to ocean swell and wind gusts so we decided to make another overnight hop straight to Scawfell Island (approx 120 miles away). Unfortunately, the bouncing and rolling continued and Erin was in a continual state of nausea. Chris fared better and had a full dinner while underway. Squalls passed throughout the night (hitting 30 knots of wind). After several sail changes we finally kept the sails rolled up and motored at low revs with one engine. After arriving at Refuge Bay on Scawfell Island we could appreciate the name. It is a wide anchorage with a sandy bottom and good holding. We were the third boat into the anchorage May 13 but by the time we went to bed there were fourteen boats...a real confirmation of the spot as an ideal stepping stone to the Whitsunday Islands. We played tunes, grilled, had margaritas and watched as boats kept arriving well after dark. The next morning we were again one of only three boats...clearly, lots of sceddadling going on.
No sceddadling for us. The sandy beach beckoned beach chairs, beers and books for a lazy afternoon. Erin is once again in shell country and loving it. Also, we have both taken swan dives back into reading. Chris amusedly cackled his way through Nelson DeMille's Plum Island and is rediscovering a great six book series by Robert Jordan called the Wheel of Time. Erin dove into the Aussie institution known as Bryce Courtenay by reading Brother Fish. It was awesome and now other Bryce Courtenay books are on the radar screen. May 15 we hauled up the anchor from Scawfell and ambled to Goldsmith Island. The naming of islands must get tiresome with sooooo many islands and rocks around...each with an individual name. Goldsmith Island is part of the Sir James Smith Islands...can you see a pattern; Bullion Rocks, Ingot Islets, Forge Rocks, Pincer Rocks, Hammer Island, Lady Smith Islets, Blacksmith Island, Tinsmith Islands, Silversmith Islands and on and on. Goldsmith Island puts us soundly into the Whitsunday Islands and by is it lovely. The water is an amazing teal or blue/green that is simply gorgeous (apparently a high particulate count is the main reason for the color). However, there is loads of seaweed floating on the surface...honestly, the size of hedgehogs. We decided to pull in the fishing line...but not before too much seaweed attached and broke off the tip. Drat but a bit of epoxy and fibreglass should fix that. May 16 we arrived in Airlie Beach, the center of tourist activities for the Whitsunday Islands. We anchored in Muddy Bay and headed for a walk about town.
Airlie is very much a young persons town and the giant swimming lagoon is Exhibit A. There are so many dangerous water critters (jellyfish, sharks, toad fish that eat toes, etc.) that manmade lagoons are a welcome option to the scary Australian ocean. A few gathered provisions later and we sat on the veranda of the Whitsunday Sailing Center for a dinner of burgers and fries. Tomorrow we will pick up Andy and Jane for a few days buzzing around the islands together. They are friends from Scarborough who had us over for dinner, Chris went surfing with Andy and sundowners aboard Barefeet. Really nice folks.