We have been living aboard in Townsville
for nearly 2 years now. It has been a pleasant lifestyle, a mix
of boat repairs and occasional short cruises to nearby islands
and as is always the case when yachties are around, a time liberally
spiced with an active social life. Our long-term intention was
to focus on improving Lyndall's health - a task which has been
only moderately successful. She has a blood disorder that leaves
her starved of oxygen and therefore of energy. At this stage
she has a blood transfusion every 3 weeks which means week 1
is one of adjustment, week 2 is great and we're off to conquer
the world and week 3 is a tapering off period as she gets slower
each day. We feel we are coping with the situation quite well
and this led us to decide to sail north, planning each leg of
the cruise to fit in with the medical visits.
North of Townsville is a great part
of the world. The Great Barrier Reef closes the coast so daily
anchorages can be coastal harbours, islands or coral reef cays,
depending on the weather. The area we cruised is shown on the
Next door to Townsville, Magnetic Island
has anchorages protected from the predominant SE Trade winds
as well as for Summer Northerlies. The most popular, Horseshoe
Bay on the north side is a pleasant 2 1/2 hour sail from illywhacker's
berth at Breakwater marina. The marina channel is somewhat silted
and with a draft of 2m, we find it necessary to wait for the
right tide. On the day of our departure, high tide was around
1400 hrs so an afternoon departure was looking good. With time
to spare we sat down to a light lunch of cheese and crackers
- it was then that Lyndall broke a tooth. Telephone calls around
the local dentists soon found us one with vacancy at 1400. He
put in a temporary patch, warning that proper surgery was needed.
Due to Lyndall's weakened immune system such an operation would
have been an infection risk. We'd just had a few months in and
out of hospital from a previous infection so we weren't going
to rush into another one. Especially as we wanted to go cruising.
The unscheduled delay of 2 hours still left us time to gingerly
work our way through the channel after a 1600hrs departure.
Horseshoe Bay has a wonderful beach and moderately clear water. There are a few shops, restaurants
and hotels at the southern end while to the north is an area
of beautiful wetlands adjacent to the National Park. The whole
of Magnetic Island is a haven for birds and native animals, including
koala, all living in plenty of native bushland with very little
threat from industry. 3000 people choose to live here for the
tranquility of life on a tropical island. If the developers have
their way though, it will be home to 30,000 living in huge hig-rise
apartments and glamorous beachfront homes. Ironically the advertisements
highlight the peaceful lifestyle where the lucky ones can fish
from their docks in solitude. Sadly, even the wetlands are scheduled
for a concrete makeover.
We spent 3 days enjoying Magnetic Island
waiting out a strong wind warning. There can be a nasty swell
in the bay following a lengthy blow sometimes and while we were
there, one persisted for most of the time. Walking along the
beach was therefore a pleasant pastime.
|Horseshoe bay wetlands
||Peter and Lewis from Mistral X walk Horseshoe Beach
HINCHINBROOK ISLAND - Inside Passage
The SE winds held for about 4 hours
on the day of our departure only allowing us to sail for half
the 33nm distance from Horseshoe Bay to Orpheus Island. The rest
of the passage past the Palm Group was under motor and we anchored
in Pioneer Bay around 1600hrs. High tide slack water at Lucinda
entrance was at 0800 and this necessitated an 0630 start.
On the previous occasion, our entry into Hinchinbrook Passage was marred by
a chance meeting with a mudbank due to careless navigation. This time there
were no such incidents and we had anchored in Gayundah Creek by 1130.
Keen fishermen delight in driving around
the creeks of Hinchinbrook all day hoping for a big barrumundi
to strike or for incredible mudcrabs to fill their pots. We saw
the fishermen but no strikes or writhing pots so decided our
day would be spent in quieter pursuits. The yacht "Distant
Drum" (which I think is a great name) was anchored further
upstream and we had mail to deliver. After our lunchtime siesta
we dinghied over for a chat and a cuppa. A few drinks later and
it was evening - the day had passed very pleasantly!
Dawn next morning reminded us that this
was one of the quietest anchorages ever.
|Early morning at Gayundah
Creek, Hinchinbrook Island
||Mourilyan Harbour sugar
MOURILYAN HARBOUR and FITZROY ISLAND
The ebb tide swept us out of the Hinchinbrook
Channel and stayed in our favour all morning. With a SE breeze
we were making good time and had a perfect sail towards Dunk
Island. Mid morning we sighted a Humpback whale and her calf
slowly heading south. As usual the camera wasn't handy at the
time. Dunk appeared off the beam at 1430 but the large number
of tour boats and jet skis convinced us to press on. We finally
anchored in Mourilyan harbour at 1730 after an easy day's run
of 47 nm.
The country around Mourilyan and Innisfail
10km to the north is the heart of North Queensland's sugar cane
country. Cane railway tracks run beside the roads and sugar mills
every 100km belch steam from their stacks into the azure blue
sky. It is very attractive country to drive and the coastline
is only very lightly habitated. anchoring in Mourilyan requires
one to stay clear of the ship swinging circle. The harbour entrance
is a tight squeeze for larger cane ships and they must turn 180
deg to exit. As a protected place to stop it is bulletproof.
A 40nm run, again with a SE pushing
illywhacker along, brought us to Fitzroy Island in just over
7 hours. Another resort island but more low-key than Dunk with
a backpacker clientele and a National Park camping area, Fitzroy
offers reasonable SE protection in clear water. There are several
walks and the surrounding coral makes for interesting snorkelling.
We like taking the dinghy along the foreshore seeking out deserted,
usually tiny beaches from where we swimm and snorkel.
|A hideaway beach on
||Coral at the water's
edge on Fitzroy
CAIRNS and REEFS
Cairns is just 15nm from Fitzroy Island
but what a difference. Cairns Marlin marina where we tied up,
is a hive of activity from very early morning until late at night.
It is adjacent to the Esplanade, which together with several
streets behind is also given over to frantic tourism. Sometimes,
30 flights a day arrive from Japan and rapid sightseeing is the
order of the day. It's busy in town and the tour boats, aircraft
and helicopters do a thriving business, fortunately taking tourists
to well defined areas which can easily be avoided by recluse
The Great Barrier Reef is showing signs
of degradation due to coral bleaching, crown-of-thorn-starfish
infestations, overfishing, soil runoff from farms, new developments
and tourism. The managing authority have introduced zoning plans
to restrict activities and allow some areas as fish nurseries
to facilitate recovery but the outlook is grim. Global warming
will undoubtedly have a major impact. It all means we have been
very lucky to have seen this part of the world early in our lives
but we are fearful for the future.
We spent several days at Vlassof Cay,
a small sand island on the outer reef some 20nm from Cairns.
Entrance is by winding a path around the coral bommies to find
a clear patch for the anchor in about 5m depth. I was able to
use our hookah dive compressor to explore the adjacent coral
and to meet the friendly local fish population. One morning we
dinghied across to walk the 100m around the tiny sand island
when a small seaplane landed and taxied right to the beach. The
pilot assisted a young Japanese couple ashore complete with a
champagne breakfast. We tried to be invisible as the occasion
was obviously designed to be very special. It was a beautiful
morning and was no doubt, an experience for the newlyweds that
will provide memories of paradise on a remote tropic island for
years to come.
|Entering the reef surrounding
||Coral beach at tiny
CAIRNS to ZOE BAY
October is the month cruising yachts
look forward to a change in the weather. In late September there
appeared to be no let up in the strong southerlies often with
rain squalls. We took a drive up into the Tablelands and enjoyed
the cool mountain climate. On our return, the prevailing SE winds
slowly gave way to NE sea breezes and calm nights.
Our passage south started on 6 October
and true to form the winds were variable with light northerlies
during the afternoon. These winds allowed us to stop at the fabled
Zoe Bay on the eastern side of Hinchinbrook. Wide open to the
SE it is a fabulous stopover in winds NW - ENE.
||Entering the Northern
end of Zoe Bay, Hinchinbrook Island
|Zoe Bay - entrance
to a small lagoon which is behind camera
||Freshwater pool 1km
inland at the southern end of Zoe bay
HOME IN TOWNSVILLE
is now tied up at Breakwater marina in Townsville. Although
Lyndall found this cruise tiring she loved every minute
of it. She appears to be unable to deal with the heat as
she used to so we have taken a reluctant, albeit we hope
temporary step and rented an apartment. We are on the 6th
floor above the marina and can see north towards Hinchinbrook
and south to Cape Bowling Green as well as keep a close
eye on illywhacker from above.
We hope this will give Lyndall
time to recuperate and although it is expensive, she
can do it in style - as she so richly deserves.
|View from our northern
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