Tag Archives: whitsundays

Back to the land

The weather forecast is for winds at twenty to twenty five knots.   It’s already blowing white caps on the waters and whistling in the rigging.  We’re up early for our trip back to port.

Checking the chart once again, I can see that it’s going to be an exciting journey.   We will make our way down around the southern tip of Whitsunday Island, through a narrow channel called Solway Passage.   There will be reef on one side, rocks on the other and a lumpy sea from the action of the wind against tide.  Once we are out in the deep water to the South of the island, there may be some swell before we head through another narrow channel, Fitzalan Passage, to curl around the north of Hamilton Island and back to the marina.

The crew downs their doses of ginger seasickness remedies.   We recheck that all the hatches are closed, and we are off.

Richard grips the wheel and helms as I point out the marks and obstructions along our route.   The wind is growing stronger and stronger.   It’s gusting thirty to thirty five knots as we motor towards Solway passage.  

The reef extends out underwater from Haslewood Island to port and we need to keep close to Whitsunday Island to starboard.   The water on our left looks like a surf beach and to the right like a boiling cauldron.  Richard tightens his grip on the wheel and we push ahead.   We glance at the electronic chart for reassurance as we continue on a bearing that appears to take us directly into a rocky crag sticking up from the water ahead.

As the water gets deeper, the catamaran climbs and dips In the growing swell.   Olive whoops from behind me.   This is fun!

Hang on everyone, I call.  Able Seaman Jeffery is checking that the life ring rope is free of tangles in case of emergency.   We turn around the South of the island into deeper water.   We are on a roller coaster.  Safe now from the underwater rocks and reefs Alida is rocking and rolling in the motion of the waves and the two metre swell.

Hamilton Island resort can be seen in the distance.  It’s high rise blocks are distinctive in the green vegetation of the islands.   We point the bow in their direction and enjoy the rolling ride.

The island provides welcome shelter from the worst of the wind.  We turn into Fitzalan Passage and the sea bubbles and hisses over the reef to starboard.  Then the excitement is over.  Despite the thirty knot winds we moor safely in the marina.  It’s good bye to Alida and the Whitsundays.

The ferry trip back to Shute Harbour seems much quicker than it did six days ago.   We overnight at Airlie Beach, then drive all day to Cairns to meet up with Dominic and Suzanne.   Ready for the next adventure.

We are sailing

Cid Harbour is a sheltered anchorage.  We share it with four or five other yachts.   As the sun goes down, we see their white anchor lights shining around us.   We dance with them in an evening waltz, each yacht swinging on its anchor chain, back and forth to the music of the wind and the waves.

There is an air of anticipation about the crew.  Tonight is Gilligan’s Island night.  Each of us has been given a character to play from that ancient US TV show.   The identity of our alter egos has been kept secret until now.   Costumes on, we emerge from our cabins and attempt to stay in character through the evening meal.   

Ginger steals the show, with her firey red hair, black evening gown and dark sultry looks.   She makes a fine figure casting fishing lines from the bow of the boat as shoals of tiny fish leap in the moonlight.

In the morning we rise early for a day of swimming and snorkelling at Butterfly Bay.  Time to relax and enjoy the warm sunshine, to slip off the back of the boat into the turquoise blue water and to head off with snorkel and flippers to explore the underwater life of the coral reef.  

The next day the wind is blowing a good fifteen knots and the sails go up.  We are sailing!

Heather proves to have a sensitive hand on the helm, getting the yacht to move at a respectable 7 knots.   Richard tightens up the main to eke out a little more speed, while Max trolls his lines from the stern.   As the sun rises in the sky, the crew get sleepy in the warm sea air.   Suddenly there is a shout and Max is reeling in a glistening blue mackerel.   The boat comes to life with calls of encouragement.   Reference books are consulted to identify the precise species.   Everyone wants to take a look.  The fish is too small to keep and is thrown back to the ocean depths, but the buzz lingers to liven up our sleepy passengers.

We tack down the coast, watching out for other yachts.  We admire the sleek lines of thoroughbred racers that glide past, overtaking us with ease.   A turtle swims alongside, lifting his head on his wrinkled neck to survey the surface before diving back down.  A whale, or is it a dolphin, slips past.

Our destination is Whitehaven.  The fine white silica sand squeaks underfoot as we walk the length of the beach.  Day trippers disappear on to the tourist boats. We climb into the jetty and return to the yacht.   

The evening ends with a huge full moon rising over the water, glowing pink against the azure blue sky.  The reflection of the moonlight on the surface of the water is broken only by gentle ripples in the cool breeze.  

Tomorrow we return to dry land.   Thinking back, it’s been a great few days on the water.  We have had no sea sickness.  Able Seaman Jeffery has manfully tackled every sailing task, proving it is possible to swim from shore fully clothed.  Gourmet meals have been cooked by the ladies in the smallest galley kitchen I have seen.  Entertainment every night has had us roaring with laughter.  

Howard has explored the underwater world.  Max has caught two fish.  Richard has managed the boat and engine in all conditions, forward gear or not.  And I have had a great day’s sailing.

Oh, and the skipper with his blokey ways will stay on the island, with Ginger.

Worse things happen at sea

Let go the mooring line!

She’s away.

Richard puts the yacht into reverse and we move away from the mooring.   A stiff morning breeze blows across the water.   The crew are up and about, ready to sail to Stonehaven Bay on Whitsunday island.

Crunch, clonk, clank.  All heads turn.  What was that? 

A grinding noise is coming from the stern as Richard pushes the motor into forward gear.   The mooring is drifting away to port and we are being carried north by the tide.

I can’t get any forward gear, he calls.   He pushes the lever forward again and the crunching noise grows louder.  

Can we pick up the mooring again?   

I don’t think so Debbie, it’s over there.  Malcolm points at a blue dot on the water in the distance.

Richard shouts, I can get reverse.   I’ll try to reverse back on to the buoy.

Yachts will reverse under motor, but steerage is poor, especially into the wind with the tide against you.  We are moving, but the mooring is out of reach.

Shall we put up the foresail?  I ask.  We’ll at least get some forward motion then.

Let’s keep trying the engine, I don’t understand what’s wrong with it.  It sounds terrible.

The yacht is holding its ground against the tide in reverse, but we just can’t get any forward motion.   

I look at the inexperienced crew around me.  Many of them have not been on a sailing boat before.  Sailing to another mooring is an option, but not an attractive one.  We are on a charter boat in unfamiliar waters.  While the channels are deep around the islands, there are hidden underwater obstructions, coral reefs and rocks.

I feel a little sick.   Not from seasickness, but from a sinking feeling inside me.  I have brought these people out on to the water to experience the exhilaration of sailing, to share something I love, only for the yacht to fail us on the first day.

I decide to call the charter company on the VHF radio.   We can hold our position in the deep channel under reverse gear quite safely for some time.  If the engine fails altogether, we will put the foresail up and sail into the main Whitsunday channel where there is plenty of water.  We are safe, but it’s getting uncomfortable out in the channel with the waves rocking the boat from side to side.  We could see some green faces if we don’t get moving soon.

Richard keeps working to try to get the gears to engage.  No joy.  We have to accept the gears have failed and we will have to suffer the ignominy of a tow back to port.

I pick up the VHF microphone.  Sunsail, Sunsail, this is Rhythm, Rhythm, over.   

Rhythm, this is Sunsail base, go ahead.

The radio exchange continues.   Sunsail Base asks us to get back on to the mooring if we can.   They will see if they can send a boat out to assist.    The conversation ends.

I ask Beryl to sit below and listen to the radio and let me know when Sunsail calls back.

The mooring buoy is truly out of reach.  I am soon calling back on the radio to request assistance again.  We’ve been sitting out in the channel for 20 minutes and no sign of the rescue boat.  The boat is bouncing around on the waves and although everyone is upbeat, we all know this is not a good situation.  I consider the option of putting some of the crew to shore in the dinghy if seasickness hits.

Sunsail are on the radio, calls Beryl.   I go down below and explain our situation again.   We switch to mobile phone to finish the conversation and they confirm a fast boat is being sent to tow us back to the marina.  We spend another twenty minutes bobbing up and down in the deep water before we see the fast boat coming towards us in the distance.   

There are two men on the boat.  It’s a charter fishing boat with two huge 220 HP engines on the back.   The younger man jumps aboard the yacht as they come alongside.  He first tries to put the engine into gear, to prove to himself that there really is a problem.  The crunching and grinding sounds convince him quickly.

He ties the two boats together side by side.   I’ll steer, you provide the power, he shouts to the older man in the fast boat.

The engines roar and we begin our journey back to base.  Lance, the younger man, is a kiwi.  He chats to us as the boats drive forward into the wind and waves.  Every so often a wave crashes over the bow of the fast boat, showering the helmsman, John, with water.  Lance roars with laughter.  You owe me a beer for this, calls back John.

We pass a white monohull, from the decks two people wave.  They live full time on that boat, Lance tells us.

He makes a few phone calls as we motor along, trying to find us a replacement boat.    It looks like the only option is a catamaran.   Neither Richard or I have sailed one and they have a reputation as floating caravans amongst serious sailors.   But, we can tell it’s going to be the only option if we are to continue the sailing holiday.

As the two joined boats enter the marina, I feel relieved, but a black cloud descends on my mood.  It is so disappointing I can hardly speak.   I’m not good company.

At about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we hear the new yacht is ready.   It is a 38 foot cat, named Alida.   To our surprise it is John, the helmsman of the fast boat, who shows us around her.    He tells us he owns the company which has just taken over the local Sunsail franchise.    No wonder Lance was so amused when his new boss took a soaking on the way back to port!

My mood lifts as we head out on the water again.   The sun is setting over the ocean when we find a sheltered anchorage at Cid Harbour on Whitsunday island.  We are back at sea and tomorrow is another day.