Paul's Around Australia Trip 2011

Leg 5 Hamilton Island to Cairns


Lani Westcott

David Wood

Kate Brandon

The Coral Coasters

The next crew has arrived!!

The sprightly Lani Westcott, David Wood and Kate Brandon have entered the cabin. Spent a lot of money at the General Store on provisions, holding up the 5 o’clock rush, then spent half as much on provisions at Bob Oatleys Liquor Shop. Confirm that white and red goon bags have been purchased.

Had a mandatory sunset drink at the spectacular boat themed Hamilton Island Yacht Club, and about to hit the strip to have some fish and chips and tofu (Lani is a vegetarian, Kate is not), our first and only planned meal out before we hit the high seas of the Coral Coast.

Day 2

We set off for what promised to be a fabulous day – swimming at Whitehaven Beach, then snorkelling at Blue Pearl Bay and the outer reef. The weather however had different plans. A strong south easterly developed overnight and as we left Hamilton Island Marina we were the only boat to be seen. Reaching Whitehaven the rain set in further, but we still went ashore for a lovely walk up to the lookout and along the beach. Our re-entry back into the rubber ducky was far from text book, with 4 waves crashing over us and drenching us all. Not so lovely.

All our other plans were hence aborted and we set sail after lunch hunting Butterfly Bay to the north for some protection overnight. To get there Dave had to steer us through a hefty swell of white capped waves, with winds peaking at 30 knots and the tide against us. The sea was very angry that day my friends...

Got one of the last moorings in the bay just on dusk, then battened down the hatches for “southerly bullets” running off the surrounding mountains, combined with an early morning storm.

Day 3

Awoke to the engine starting and Paul declaring “I want to leave now” – our new free wake up call service! We had all agreed that with the non-beautiful and definitely not-perfect Queensland weather that we should get some miles under our belt. Destination;  Cape Upstart – 75 nautical miles North West. The day was grey and windy, with light persistent rain, making us wet through to our bones. There was some welcome distraction with a mother and her baby dolphin following the boat for a while, otherwise it was grey, grey, grey. We made Cape Upstart in time to find a good anchor protected from the swell, but otherwise, everyone was exhausted and crashed into bed after a BBQ of steak and veges at 8:30pm.

Day 4

No wake up call required with everyone up and at em at 6am to get some tucker in our bellies before setting off on another 72 mile day. With a South Easterly over our shoulder we screamed up the coast, averaging 9.2 knots an hour at one stage, past Cape Bowling Green and into patches of sun! Hoorah! The defrosting began as we headed towards Magnetic Island. Dave nearly even landed us a massive mackerel, but alas, it was the one that got away just as it pulled up beside the boat. Phoned ahead and sought out a berth at Nelly Bay, Magnetic Island, where we arrived at around 4:30pm, just in time to see the sunset. We could definitely feel a XXXX coming on and had some drinks on the deck with some locals, followed by hot showers and a load of washing in the dryer. Simple things make for very happy sailers.  

After 2 huge days of sailing we are mooring at Magnetic Island for 2 nights to explore. Fingers crossed that tomorrow brings some more sunny weather. Lift Queensland weather, lift! Give us a postcard !

Day 5

Hello beautiful sunny day after a cosy, calm, quiet night in Nelly Bay Marina on Maggie Island (Magnetic Island, just off Townsville for non XXXX drinkers)! Lani and Dave were even allowed a bonus sleep in till 8am! Bacon and egg wraps off the back of a boat, cafe latte’s from a proper cafe, hot showers and clean clothes – does life get any better...

It sure does when you hire a mini-moke for the day! We were channelling Paulie Westcott back in the 70’s with a gear box we nearly lost on our first gear change and brakes that you had to “pump going down hills”. The highlight was a walk up to the top of the island to the old WWII forts, with koalas along the way and views from the top up and down the coast. Had a relaxed lunch, walk, swim and sunbake at Horseshoe Bay. Paulie was very happy as he even had a bay swim in his Whale Beach logo budgies. It was such a glorious day even Dave cracked a smile for the camera!

Tomorrow we set off for Pioneer Bay, Orpheus Island. There are no fancy marinas planned for the next 7 days, only island anchorages, and we’ll move up the coast past where Cyclone Yasi hit recently. Communications may be sketchy but rest assured we are well stocked with red and white goon bags, muscat, tinnies & creamed corn (Dave’s new version of baked beans).

Day 6

After some early morning lattes and other fancy coffees from the resort, we set off from Nelly Bay. Destination: Little Pioneer Bay, Orpheus Island (part of the Palm Isles). Lani rocked channel 22 for the day, logging our destination over the radio with Townsville Coastguard. Her voice was quite a change from all the crusty old sea dogs who normally log in.

We put the Spinnaker for the first time which was very exciting. We passed the time reading the book of knots and practising Monkey Fists - a spectacular type of knot. (Photos to come!) Kate’s was definitely the best effort, it was truly a work of art! There was a jolt of drama when the fishing line started spinning. 30 minutes of heavy duty reeling for Dave only to have it escape  10 m from the boat. It truly was the one that got away!

At around 4pm we picked up a public mooring at Little Pioneer Bay and no sooner had we dropped anchor when Paulie jumped ship and went for a pent up “fang” in the rubber duckie. We were the only boat moored off this beautiful, deserted island though. The day finished with drinks and a BBQ on the back of the boat as we watched the sun set over the Hinchinbrook channel. 

Day 7

It turned out to be a rocky night due to the westerly which picked up as soon as we went to sleep. Lani looked like she’d had a long night on the chardy’s but she was just a little sea sick J.

We went to shore to go exploring on a track we had read about to an old settlers hut. Our nice walk turned into a Bear Grylls style bush bash through angry weeds with burrs and spikes. Lani and Kate were not happy Jan – the boys were in heaven. (The girls will concede that there was a spectacular view at the top of the island.) After our pain and suffering we decided we needed a swim off the back of the boat. Beautiful clear water, and no crocs in sight (except for Lani and Dave’s shoes).

After a yummy lunch we left pristine Pioneer Bay in search of a calmer nights sleep up the Hinchinbrook Channel, a world heritage listed wilderness area – aka croc central.

We waited until 4pm, just off the 5.3km bulk sugar jetty at Lucinda, to allow the tide to turn 1m, before starting to navigate the shallow sandy straights of the channel. The shallowest point was 1.6m at low tide, with Guinevere drawing 2.2m. We lined up the lead marker lights, had done all our maths and were creeping through at 3 knts. Calling out the depth reading “3.0m, 3.0m, 3.1m, 2.9m, 2.7m, 2.6m, 2.4m, 2.4m, 2.4m, 2.2m..............” Boom boom. “Reverse.... Reverse. Oh Oh....Nuts” (not what was said). To confirm in black and white – yes readers – we had hit the bottom and were stuck. All eyes turned to the skipper, as the keel kept bumping violently into the bottom with each rise and fall of the swell. “Not to worry, the keel is gently kissing the bottom. Put down the anchor so we don’t drift and we’ll wait a bit longer for the tide to turn.” Waiting, waiting, waiting. We watched a car ferry navigate the channel successfully, helped the passing yacht “Devil Bird” communicate with the coastguard, sent Dave into the galley to cook his signature cannelloni for dinner and watched the sun set over Hinchinbrook Island until the depth gauge reached 3.3m.

(For those interested, Yacht Crash Investigations had a post crash interview with skipper Master Paul Westcott. “So Paul, in hindsight, what happened? Where did it all go wrong?” “I stand by my decision to go at 4pm. We had allowed 2.7m at its lowest point. I think 2 things were at play which caused the keel to “kiss” the bottom – the sea bed was higher than the charts indicated plus the tide turned later than we had allowed due to the full moon. Impatience had nothing to do with it...”)

At 6pm, the skipper gave the all clear, and we attempted to go through the channel again. We navigated the narrow and tricky passage for over 2 hours in the dark, under the light of the full moon. Our destination Haycock Island, was like a millpond when we arrived, and well worth the effort. The cannelloni was perfectly cooked just as we arrived, proving that some men actually can multi-task. All slept very soundly that night.

Day 8

Waking up in the Hinchinbrook Channel was very special. Quite and serene, the light slowly broke over the surrounding mountains to reveal a network of mangroves and creeks at their base. We went for a cruise around the mangroves in the rubber duckie – no croc sightings unfortunately as it was high tide, but you could feel their watchful eyes. After bacon and egg sandwiches cooked on the barbie, we set sail for Dunk Island, 25 miles north, sitting 10 miles off the mouth of the channel.

As we moved through the channel, and closer to where Cyclone Yasi crossed the coast, the mangroves and trees got barer and barer, with the channel edges covered in upturned roots and debris. The area we were moving into was hit by up to 280km winds and a 5m sea surge. Even 4 months after the event you could still see the devastation.

Lani and Paul were interested to see how Dunk Island had faired as they had fond memories of family holidays there. As we approached the island at around 4pm you could clearly see from the sea unfortunately the Dunk Island they knew was no more. The resort had been completely shattered, the jetty was only half there, the tropical trees and undergrowth had only limited regrowth close to the trunk and sand and debris had swept through the pool and restaurant. We could only walk as far as the tide line, as the rest of the island was off limits, with big stop signs warning you not to land. We had a pleasant walk along the beach though but headed back to the boat a little bit somber after seeing the full effects of Yasi.

Day 9

A 6.30am departure from Dunk Island to tackle our last big day of sailing, a 64 nautical mile trip north to Fitzroy Island, just off Cairns. Dave revealed a few more of his secret culinary talents, cooking us pancakes for breakfast.

The sailing started out slow with only 7 knot winds, having to motor for the first 15 miles. Out came the spinnaker as the winds picked up to 12 knots, and we charged up the coast. As the wind picked up to over 20knts, we even hit a max speed of 9.5knts under spinnaker. (Note that this was while Paul was napping and Dave was at the helm. On hearing the stats in his dreamlike state, Paul quickly woke, and assessed that it was time to pull down the spinnaker. He now knows that the spinnaker can handle over 20knt winds J)

Later there was high drama when we hooked not one, but two fish at the same time. Once again, Dave declared it was a big one. We weren’t arguing as when he picked up the rod he nearly flew off the boat. Alas the allure of catching two fish at the same time was short lived. We think the 2 fish got together under water and crossed the lines, allowing them a little slack to break free. So far Big Fish five versus Dave & Paul, zero....

With our record breaking speeds we arrived at Fitzroy Island ahead of time, and were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. A beautiful calm bay protected from the continuous south easterlies, a long sandy beach, dense tropical forests and a neon sign that read “Foxy’s Bar and Cafe”. We knew we would be happy here for the next few nights after a late afternoon explore of the bay. Frolics on the beach, cafe lattes at the cafe, a long walk around the island and refreshing cold showers at the camp ground, here we come.