We have made it to the Whitsundays Islands. Friends and cruisers keep asking us how far north we are going. Well this is probably it. Having started our tropical cruising very late with the COVID lockdown, we gave up on the idea of returning to Far North Queensland for reef explorations. We would have had to rush to get there, only to turn back at the end of September to be out of the cyclone zone for summer. It has been too hard a year for us and we are still both struggling with our health, so opted to take it easy. There is always next year!
We have had some strong winds again as well as rain and had to hide at Refuge Bay, Scawfell Island for four days, which meant no internet nor phone! So this is why we were unable to answer comments on our last post until several days after its publication! Despite the forced internet detox, Refuge Bay is a really beautiful anchorage, probably the best in the area in strong southeast conditions. Although the wind blows hard up high, the tall hills protect the anchorage very well and you sit comfortably in flat water even if the boat swings around a fair bit. Two moorings in the little bay and two in the main bay have been installed, a great addition. We were on one of them. However there is plenty of space to throw the pick over a sandy bottom if the public moorings are taken.
This anchorage is very scenic, although there are no walks up the hills unless you want a serious bush bash. So it has been a time for playing the piano, reading, fossicking among the rocks for a feed of very tasty oysters, baking on rainy days or going for a paddle on the kayak to the little beach near us when it was a little calmer.
Talking about kayaks, ours are Walker Bay Airis, good quality inflatable crafts that only weigh 7 or 8 kilos and pack neatly into a backpack. They weren’t cheap but we have had them for years. Unfortunately we made the mistake of leaving them strapped to the bows of Anui fully inflated since the Keppel Isles to be able to readily use them. One of the two came apart at the seam on the nose. It may be repairable and we will hopefully get this done at Airlie Beach, the mainland hub for the Whitsunday Islands, but it is a reminder than we should have deflated them a bit when not in use. As the day warms up the air inside expands and puts pressure on the seams. You get a little lazy and don’t want to go through the entire set up and pack up process every day, and you don’t have to, but it is wise to take some air out when you come back from a paddle, particularly in the tropics. Now we know!
We left Scawfell on Monday. We were originally going to linger among the more southern islands, but needing internet and phone coverage, we headed straight for Shaw Island where we knew we would have communication. It was a pleasant six hour downwind sail in 15-20 knots with the tide pushing us along. One of the things we found in previous years is that you need to use the tides in this area as it can mean 3 to 4 knots of current working with you or against you!
By the time we rounded Burning Point at the southwestern end of Shaw Island, the wind had picked up to 25 knots from the ESE and there was more of the same for the next few days! But this is another very protected anchorage.
Although the water looks an inviting aqua, it is actually really milky. You dangle your feet at the back of the sugar scoops and they disappear in a soup of chalky silt and sediment – welcome to the Whitsundays! We are reminded of the words of a professional abalone diver Wade used to work with: «the shark you don’t see is the one that gets you». There won’t be much swimming happening in these parts!
We braved the strong wind on our second day there to go ashore for a walk. Looking at the image above, we left the dinghy at low tide on the beach starting roughly in front of Anui’s bow, and hoped to find a way across the gap in the hills you can see on the left of the picture to reach the other side of the island. The challenge with dinghying ashore is that the beach shoals a long way and you don’t want to have to drag a heavy dinghy so far! We timed our walk with near low tide and left Speedy Gonzales anchored in the shallows.
Our curiosity piqued by a couple of blue ropes hanging from a tree on the back of the beach, we searched around for a passage and found a rough path among the grass trees and bushes marked by more blue bits of rope and plastic.
We eventually got to the eastern beach, which we immediately christened Bunnings Cove (for non Aussie readers, Bunnings is a building and hardware chain of stores). Being exposed to the prevailing SE winds it collects lots of floatsome… and now we know where all the bits of plastic marking the track come from: dust pans, gloves, boxes, the ubiquitous thong, even a boogie board!
Next stop: Airlie Beach for provisioning and maintenance in preparation for Wade’s cousins Grant and Deb joining us for two weeks at the end of the month. Exciting! More on this next time!