There is something slightly romantic about an uninhabited island destination, even more so when you plan a series of island hops. This week this is what we have in store for you.
The weather is way too windy for the outer reef, so we are sailing along the coast from isle to isle: little hops, scenic anchorages, a few walks among the Percy, Northumberland and Southern Whitsunday Islands.
Middle Percy is the quintessential island paradise, or so it seems. Look at those palm trees! Can you hear the ukulele music? We often stop there on the way north and we always swear never to do it again. West Bay, the designated anchorage in a southeast, is the pits in fresh conditions with swell rolling into the cove, making life very uncomfortable. But the picturesque spot with its quaint A frame hut, the honey, the walks ashore, the visit up to the homestead for a chat and a real lemonade seem to lure us each time, especially if we have guests on board.
The reality is that it is one of the few anchorages where we wish we had a gimbaled stove so the pots would not go flying as we cook, and we are glad our beds are oriented east west! Sleeping is easier when the bed moves head to toe and you don’t roll over your partner, or worse, roll out of bed! And if it is bad for a wide cat like Anui, imagine what it is like on a monohull rolling from gunnel to gunnel!
But two nights at West Bay were enough, and we sailed 20 miles further to Digby Island for some respite. This spot is an attractive anchorage tightly set between several islands: Digby itself, Henderson and Keelan, with Still Islet standing out by itself, looking like it should have a monastery at the top. It is never totally quiet, but after the extreme roll of West Bay, it feels comfortable. We were there with a prawn fishing boat overnight.
We got there at low tide and were intent on going ashore although it is a challenging dinghy access to the beach at anything but high tide. There are rocky platforms but also a multitude of oyster covered rocks ready to attack feet and inflatables. So we anchored the dinghy out, waded in awkwardly and checked out the beach and the wreck, the victim of a storm a few years ago. Beach combing was excellent with Ann finding a rubber mallet!
The next 40nm hop was to St Bees in the Southern Whitsundays. A painfully slow passage to start with, it livened up for the last few hours with 20 knots of SE wind on the back quarter.
The highlight was catching a Spotted Mackerel on the trawling line, something we had never managed on Anui before, always believing she was going too fast to catch anything! Well it did not deter this beauty! There was enough tasty fresh fish to feed a hungry crew of four plus pussycat for a few meals! Sashimi, Ceviche, fillets crumbed in Panko and finally fish curry tickled our taste buds for the following four nights.
We picked up a public mooring at Horseshoe Bay on St Bees to start with, needing phone coverage for a telehealth appointment, but ended up moving to the northern end of St Bees to hide from swell and wind. We stayed there for several days while 25+ knots were blowing, unable to do much.
In desperation, we even tried a snorkel, but were disappointed although not surprised. The coral is well and truly dead, covered with horrible invasive algae, there is hardly any fish and the visibility is so bad it is… well, spooky! It is very sad to see how St Bees has deteriorated so much, just like nearly everywhere else in the Whitsundays. We revisit posts, photos and magazine articles we wrote back in 2019 about this region and shake our head. Three years later we have now reached the stage of feeling it is not even worth trying to snorkel here anymore because it is pointless and depressing.
The next day we were getting itchy feet… it was time to sail twelve rowdy nautical miles on, and visit Brampton Island. We did not have far to go but with 25 knots on the beam, it was a chaotic passage!
We stayed a couple of nights, enough to time our shore excursion with the high tide and absence of rain! Once a tourist hot spot, Brampton sits deserted and derelict, like many other Queensland island resorts. The ruined owners have typically walked away from them, after a combination of post GFC tourism downturn, cyclone damage and then years of disrepair and neglect. But at least, Brampton Island being a National Park, some of the tracks are maintained. So we headed for the top of the hill! Here are a few of the sights we enjoyed: Blue Tiger and Common Crow butterflies, some fungi, a caterpillar, nice ferns and not a bad view!
With a forecast of rainy and windy weather, we snuck in another 25nm hop, this time to Shaw island, just before the rain set in.
After five weeks on Anui, our friends Greg & Ann are now getting a taste of life aboard when you can’t get off. They will have experienced it all on this voyage! As we post this, we are still at Shaw Island, battening down for a soaking. There is not much hope of pleasant conditions over the week ahead, so we will make our way to Airlie Beach in a few days after the rain has eased and our friends will leave us there.