Whitsunday Islands: June 1 2008
Just like clockwork we met Jane and Andy in Airlie Beach at the Whitsunday Sailing Club...10am on May 17. They are friends from Scarborough who drove 14 hours to spend a few days hopping around the islands with us. Wonderful provisions, fun friends and knowledgeable, weekly catamaran racers...we are in for a great few days. Once back aboard Barefeet we all looked at the weather grib and planned our first night...based on wind direction...Dugong Inlet in Cid Harbour was the winner. Additional aides to decision making were two cruising guides...100 Magic Miles by David Colfelt and Cruising the Coral Coast by Alan Lucas. Both are tried and true favorites for the area and compliment each other well. The Whitsunday Islands are a stunning collection of 74 islands (only 8 are inhabited) with gobs of anchorage options...coves, bays, beaches...each one more beautiful than the next. The Whitsunday's were formed at the end of the last ice age when two mountain ranges became drowned and cutoff from the mainland. Their colors are amazing; teal green and aquamarine waters with ribbons of beach bordered by rocky shores and wooded hillsides...the same flora and fauna found on the mainland. Underwater corals, multicolored fish and swimming turtles and dolphins further enhance the scenery due to the islands' location smack, dab in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. Captain Cook arrived on Whit Sunday (Sunday, June 3 1770) thus naming the Passage after the day of his arrival...and he was more complimentary of this area than the other locations along the Eastern Australia Coast, saying, "Everywhere good anchorages...Indeed the whole passage is one continued safe harbour." We certainly agree. Our sail to Cid Harbour was magic...for some reason the ocean was flat as a mill pond but we had 8 knots of wind at 180 degrees...so we flew the spinnaker. Wind came forward to about 110 degrees and the apparent wind picked up to 11 knots. We started to zip through the water at about 6 knots. There were NO waves and we "hissed" along the surface. It was so smooth we got the deck chairs out and set them up on the bow...we just sat on the bow chatting while we drifted along the coast without having to touch the sail or the wheel. That kind of thing is just rare for us. Once anchored we sipped freshly squeezed margaritas and nibbled fresh, homemade guacamole as meat was grilled and potatoes were mashed (with caramelized onions and butter). Guacamole: 3 ripe avocados peeled and roughly cut, one chopped tomato, 1 small white onion (chopped), half clove chopped garlic, 1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro, dashes of Tabasco, juice of one lime, salt and pepper. Mash together and season to taste.
The next day (May 18) we walked the trail from Dugong Inlet to Sawmill Bay. It is a shaded trail from beach to beach through tall pines...a mill was operated here from 1888 to 1904.
Then it was off to another anchorage...Butterfly Bay on the North side of Hook Island. This bay is littered with coral and edged by fringing reef...great for snorkeling but bad for anchoring. Therefore, the National Parks have installed triangular mooring buoys...and if you arrive after 3:30pm...you can stay the night (otherwise it is a two-hour limit and self-anchoring is your only option). We were lucky and found an available mooring. No sooner were we attached and secure (geeze, the rope from the mooring could have secured a tank) than we changed into swimsuits, on with the stinger suits and we were into the water snorkeling. Visibility was pretty poor but up close you could see the varied and colorful corals...like purple tipped staghorn coral...and reef fish...including swarms of yellow-tailed fusilier. Back aboard we had a visit from a boat who was originally from...you won't believe it...Boston. They even spent a couple of winters in the Constitution Marina of Charlestown...bbbrrrr. They are on the same track as we are and we will likely continue to cross paths as we both move North and West. May 19 was a windy morning so we opted to head out for Whitehaven Bay rather than try to snorkel. Once around the corner of Hook Island the wind really piped up and the seas were sloppy...a bit exciting with winds up to 30 knots but okay for us with the main triple reefed. Once into Whitehaven Bay we anchored just off of Whitehaven Beach...one of the world's most famous beaches...and we were not alone. There were no less than three sea planes, two helicopters, a jet boat (200 person capacity) and several motorboats and cruising sailboats. We walked the length of the beach (5-kilometres)...an incredible expanse of pure white sand (that squeaks when you walk). Kinda funny to pass the romantic couple with champagne in a bucket...just deposited by air for the afternoon...followed by the family of seven posing for a group shot in the surf. Fortunately, once the sun began to set the day-trippers departed and we were left with only a few cruising sailboats as neighbors...the island is completely undeveloped. During sundowners we took turns spotting turtles surfacing to take a breathe just feet from the boat and later, the moon positively illuminated the beach and nearly obscured the stars...unbelievable.
More great spinnaker sailing (May 20) as we returned to Muddy Bay because Jane and Andy needed to return home. It was a great several days and fun to share the new destination with friends. As for us, we decided to stay a few more days in Airlie and became honorary members of the Whitsunday Sailing Club (www.whitsundaysailingclub.com.au)...more of a formality, really, at a cost of $8.50 for five days. It is a casual place that welcomes cruisers...complete with restaurant, bar, laundry, trash bins, dinghy pontoon, etc. Wednesday night is the big night at the club with twilight sailing races followed by a roast dinner buffet (May 21). We thought about volunteering on a boat but felt a bit sluggish. Instead, we read books and watched from the verandah. The roast dinner was tasty and complete with all the fixins...even apple crumble for dessert. Because it was a big night they had a raffle to raise money for the junior sailing program...we were just ONE digit away from winning the meat tray! Drat, that would have been great for the freezer. Ah well, the evening continued to be festive with the grudge match rugby game...Queensland Maroons vs. the New South Wales Blues...televised all around the place. A NSW guy kept yelling, "Let's go Blue!" At that, a six-year old kid looked at his Dad...who nodded and said, "You better go sort him out." The kid would leap up out of his chair, run across the bar and stick his fork into one of the guy's big blue balloons and pop it. Very funny for all involved! But we are pumpkins and we couldn't stay up to see the end of the game. Always a bit more trying to dinghy back at night at low tide...but we did not hit the prop on anything and had a good night.
Jane and Andy were not kidding when they mentioned that they are good weather, good luck charms. Since they have left clouds, rain and wind have moved in. Ah well, a few days hanging out in Airlie Beach gets a few more items off the "To Do" list. Plus, we got to visit the Farmer's Market (always a highlight for Erin). Our favorite stalls were the fresh fruit and veg, fishing rod dealer (provided a new tip for our snapped rod), artists (www.coralseajewellery.com), plant seller (we bought basil and cilantro) and locally roasted coffee. After a couple of days, conditions improved and off we went for Nara Inlet on May 25. Nara Inlet narrowly cuts into Hook Island creating a fiord feeling with steep hills edging either side. We kept an eye on the depth and scooted all the way to the back...it was almost like having the anchorage to ourselves. Ashore we followed the track to a must see...the Aboriginal cave paintings. No water sports here because it is said to be a breeding ground for hammerhead sharks. Back aboard Barefeet for sundowners where we watched and HEARD the antics of a flock of sulfur headed cockatoos. These are pure white birds except for the splash of yellow head feathers that stand straight up on top of their head. They are easy to spot against the backdrop of dark green pine trees...and seem to move from one tree to the next one at a time...finally entirely covering a single tree much like ornaments on a Christmas tree. But their voices. Yikes! This is no "tweet, tweet" bird. Rather, it is a prehistoric screech that could raise the dead. Chris calls them Squakatoos...but even that is too gentle a name. The night took over the day and they (thankfully) seemed to sleep, as well. All that was left were the sounds of crickets and water slowly lapping on the rocks ashore.
May 26 we bit the bullet and took some wind on the nose in order to make the quick dash to Gulnare Inlet. Unfortunately, we also got wind against tide which made for some real bouncing around. At least we learned that all of our new storage systems are secure and stable...nothing moved. Gulnare Inlet is a well-protected spot in any wind direction...our choice with 20-25 knots of wind in the forecast for a couple of days. The entrance is a little tricky due to shallow spots and coral at the entrance...and the chart plotter detail is less granular than desired. However, the cruising guides provide a back bearing for when to make the turn into the channel...the south-east tip of Pine Island is held in line with the north-west tip of Dent island. Erin was at the wheel and Chris was an extra set of spotting eyes. In we went...a bit nervous for sure as we came within 4 feet of going aground...but entering on a rising tide we would have floated off of the soft mud if we had gotten stuck. Eeek. Thankfully, the depths did get deeper and we anchored in 14 feet of good holding mud. And we now have a track on the chart plotter to follow when we exit - yippee. We kayaked along the mangroves and spotted a few fish...including a Toadfish. Chris has been interested in Toadfish (member of the puffer family) ever since reading about Thomas the Terrible Toadfish. Thomas was photographed in 1979 after unsuccessfully attempting to eat the sneaker-clad toes of a fisherman wading in shallow, harbor waters. No joke...these guys are nasty...and tenacious. Even pursuing retreating fisherman while being jabbed with fishing rods...pursuing them almost to a state of beaching themselves. These toothed critters have been known to take walnut-sized bites out of legs and even entire toes. One more Australian critter to keep a watch for. May 27 we took the dinghy further up the inlet viewing more mangrove shores that gave way to pine covered hills...not a single mark of the 21st century anywhere. Amazingly, this dense vegetation is just on the other side of Whitsunday Island from Whitehaven Beach...quite a contrast!
May 28 we headed back to Airlie Beach due to winds being forecast at 35 knots from the S/SE. It was a comfortable sail with the wind...just the genoa sailing at 6 knots (and a bit of current helping, too). The tourist boats were out in abundance...90 foot purple catamaran, 12 meter America's Cup boat and others...all with full sails and zipping along. We returned to Muddy Bay and nuzzled into a spot as close to shore as we felt comfortable...trying to reduce the fetch as much as possible and keep dinghy rides as dry as possible. Hey - it's Wednesday again...roast dinner and twilight sailing races at the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Great wind for the races with lots of heeling seen from the veranda. Not wanting to be left out...even a kookaburra flew into the bar for a drink. Dinner was again delicious and as the full dinghy dock showed...it is always a popular night at the Sailing Club.
May 29 the winds were downgraded to 25 knots on-shore but remained 35 off-shore...now the weighing of pros and cons...when do we leave to keep heading North?! We stayed snug in Airlie as the winds and rain arrived. We busied ourselves on Barefeet. Erin cleaned the filters of the watermaker and made the courtesy flags for Indonesia and Singapore. Chris did some engine diagnostics...hhhmmmm...still some issues. There is a knowledgeable engine shop in town (likely lured by the largest charter fleet in the South Pacific) and Brett came out to Barefeet for a look-see (5/30). The kitchen was in disarray due to the engine location under the kitchen floorboards which did not leave much time to prepare dinner. Erin consulted James Villas' Crazy for Casseroles cookbook and quickly put together a savory casserole that cooked as we had sundowners. Baked Penne with Broccoli, Ham and Cheese: 1/2 lb penne pasta, 3 Tablespoons olive oil, 1 small onion (finely chopped), 1 large tomato (finely chopped), 3 Tablespoons flour, 2 cups milk, salt and black pepper to taste, 2 cups cheese (cheddar, colby or jack), 2 cups broccoli (chopped), 1/4 lb cooked hap, diced. Cook pasta according to package until just tender, drain and transfer to large mixing bowl. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease 2-qt casserole, set aside. In a large heavy saucepan, heat oil over moderate heat, add onion and tomato, stir for 2 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the top and continue to stir for 1 minute. Gradually add milk, stirring rapidly until sauce is smooth. Season with salt and pepper; add 1 cup cheese; still until it melts and sauce is smooth. Add cheese sauce, broccoli and ham to pasta. Toss well and scrape into casserole. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top and bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes.
We decided to stay a few more days in order to have parts arrive and fixes made to the engine throttle controls. But first, the wind died so we scooted over to the fuel dock. Diesel tanks and propane tanks are now full...and we are ready to leave at a moment's notice...but no one works on Saturday or Sunday so we will wait. Another visit to the Farmer's Market (May 31) and a discovery of a donut machine! They were amazing...hot and soft and lightly sugared...we made a few stops throughout the day.