2017 Cruise North to Queensland in Helios, Integrity 380
This cruise nearly did not happen. After so much preparation too.
As we motored through the Heads, the bilge pump alarm came on. On opening the engine hatch, John found that the hose to the seawater cooling system had blown off and water was gushing in! As he held the hose on as best he could, like the little boy with his finger in the dyke, I motored to a quiet spot and turned off the engine and we drifted. Amazingly, in 20 minutes all was secured, the hose clip tight and the bilge pump doing its stuff. We breathed a sigh of relief and began all over again. (It seems that this hose only has one clip unlike every other hose fitting in the engine!)
So now, 10 days into our cruise north, we are anchored in Iluka harbour and heading today for Ballina.
The winds have been consistently S or SW and the swell has been anything from 1-3 metres, but being on the stern quarter, this has been no trouble at all. We have surfed down some of the waves reaching 10+ knots.
Our cruising speed has averaged at 7.5 knots which makes the different hops from one safe place to another very manageable.
We have anchored or picked up moorings when available. Anchorages used were Brisk Bay, off Patonga in Pittwater, Pirates Point, just inside Newcastle Harbour – A lovely little beach on the north side with only the occasional roll from tug boats coming back into harbour. A good quick exit was the greatest advantage and the opportunity to walk the breakwater and talk to a few fishermen. We lunched in Fingal Bay, a delightful anchorage near Port Stephens and then onto the Broughton Islands, where we picked up the one courtesy mooring off Providence Beach. Up until this we had had 10 to 15 knot forecasts, but these were now about to change and become stronger so we headed off first thing for Forster/Tuncurry.
Using the new webcam system showing bar conditions is a great help in decision making. We entered the bar with no difficulty and found a good anchorage by the fish co-op as stated in Alan Lucas. Easy to go ashore and stretch the legs, although the wind was pretty wild on the breakwater.
Good to be off the next morning with an increasing swell building behind us – quite dramatic looking back. The only options we had for today were Crowdy Head ( not that appealing having been there before and tied up alongside their rickety jetty) or carry on to Port Macquarie.
We chose the latter. Again the bar camera was a great help and we entered without issue. There are 3 courtesy moorings not far off the wharf, but the skipper thought we would go for a look around first.
The tide was falling. We motored past the Marine Rescue centre and having decided that there were no more options, turned and ran firmly aground. The next high tide was 2am. A good lesson not to ditch crawl on a falling tide. Marine Rescue tried valiantly to pull us off, to no avail. So they laid a kedge anchor for us and left us to a long evening. At 12.30 she floated enough to move onto a nearby mooring. The mooring owner turned out to be the marina owner and his boat was in Pittwater. So he kindly lent us his mooring and we settled down for two nights. Port Macquarie is going ahead with lots of development and harbour landscaping. Excellent coffee everywhere and the best bakery I’ve found in a long time. The baker is there kneading as we eat his scrumptious Danish pastries.
A curious craze has emerged along the harbour wall – rock decorating! Some are celebratory, some commiserations for lost lives, some remembering family holidays in PMc over the years, some just plain quirky. We leave Port Macquarie at dawn and cross the bar with a bank of dark woolly clouds on the horizon giving the impression of land and obstructing the sun as she rises. The trip to Coffs Harbour was to be the longest we did in a day – just over 70NM. We decided to enter the marina and buy fuel and then pick up a courtesy mooring by the jetty. The fuelling berth was well fendered and was adequate with one pump operational 24/7. No one to explain the card system, but we worked it out. We were last in the marina 8 years ago and sadly it does not see to have improved much since then. Hard to understand why it is not a commercial proposition to have a smart marina in Coffs Harbour.
We are making good progress and tomorrow’s weather continues favourable and so we set off, turning north at the harbour entrance and heading for the Clarence River. Iluka has a delightful harbour, entered through a hole in the harbour wall, guarded over by a community of pelicans and seagulls, with frolicking dolphins making entry a little hazardous. Once in, there is ample anchoring and as the sun goes down total silence is all you can hear.
Our final bar crossing was to be Ballina – not the easiest of bars apparently and the bar camera was little help. We made enquiries of the Marine Rescue and they were reassuring that the bar was like a mill pond that morning. Alan Lucas gives very precise information about the ideal time you enter this bar and it worked for us, although a bit lumpy. A very cheerful MR volunteer waved as we passed their station and was pleased we accepted his suggestion of anchoring at Mobbs Bay, again accessed through an almost hidden training wall. Fortunately there were lit buoys showing the wall and a long line of resting sea birds decorating the almost submerged top edge.
This anchorage was magic – still and quiet with few other boats. High on a pole, specially constructed, were two nesting sea eagles and we watched them through binoculars as the light faded and the sky became burnt orange.
The next morning we left at daybreak, and with 66 NM ahead of us to reach Southport, we were a bit daunted by the confused sea once through the bar. Very soon it became an easterly swell and then as the wind settled down, south westerly. We were accompanied for a while by three whales – just cruising and not showing any inclination for gymnastics. Lovely to see these giants of the sea, particularly as I learnt that by the late 60’s only 100 had survived a mass post war slaughter, particularly by the Soviet Union, who allegedly took, illegally, 25,000! As the day progressed the sea calmed and the wind dropped and we watched as a Catamaran struggled to find enough to sail. He moved out to tack down wind, we moved in to smoother waters – difference of sail over motor.
Past the beautiful Cape Byron and watched over by Mt Warning right up to the Gold Coast, we entered Gold Coast Seaway nine and half hours later. The setting sun made it impossible to see any leads (this had been the situation on most of the bars,) but we found our way easily turning north to an anchorage on the edge of South Stradbroke island, opposite Anglers Paradise. A small tawny coloured wallaby watched us anchor and then continued on with his evening foraging. Another lovely spot unless one of those large cruisers goes by creating the biggest wash possible!
A couple of days in Southport Marina sets us up for the next leg. We headed off early for Broadwater and the challenge of navigating the shallow areas, concentrating on red / green buoys and other navigational aids. I had the Beacon to Beacon book in front of me – great tool for getting through this area without mishap. After four hours of concentration by both of us, we virtually were out of the most difficult part and we anchored for coffee and rest before setting off again for Peel Island and a safe anchorage off the northern side of the island. Following us through this morning were dark clouds and as we set the anchor and retired for a G&T the rain started. That night as the tide rose, we were rolled around and the wind blew, but as the tide changed everything changed and we slept soundly, waking to a grey and gloomy morning.
So what to do next. We studied weather forecasts, in fact we constantly study weather forecasts, and decided to head off for Moreton Island. The wind seemed to be easterly and we thought we would have more shelter there. As we headed NE we gradually left the weather behind us and by the time we passed Tangaloona we had broken skies and gentler seas. No longer shipping it green we felt optimistic about reaching Mooloolaba 55 NM that afternoon. It was definitely the right decision. The seas calmed down to a rolling easterly swell, the sun came out and all seemed well with the world. Looking behind us, Moreton Bay was covered in rain clouds.
We enjoyed an uneventful trip to the entrance of Mooloolaba harbour. As we approached we heard from coast guard that they were dredging the entrance which had shoaled and to give the southern breakwater a wide clearance. Kayaks abounded, surfers were riding the waves alongside the south wall, fishing boats were coming in and out, but again Helios and her skipper managed all the chaos with aplomb. We headed up river to anchor as we hadn’t booked a marina berth and in the ‘Pond’ we found a space and dropped the hook. It didn’t feel right so I lifted it again and found a dirty old cray pot hanging off the anchor. Quick action and we got it off and tried again in a different place. Here was a buoyed cray pot, so to be on the safe side, I dragged it up onto the stern platform for the night, leaving the catch of two mud crabs in the water. No one came by to collect it and the next morning it was returned to its spot, away from our prop.
With a rather dreary weather forecast for later in the day, we finally got a berth in the Marina at the Mooloolaba yacht club. The day continued glorious, the bay a perfect crescent with perfect rolling waves. People everywhere were enjoying the beauty as the sun went down. Everyone here smiles and says ‘hello’ – there is a real feel good factor at work, not surprisingly as it is such a divine place. The day was completed with a dinner at a very local Japanese restaurant with the freshest of sashimi.
But perfection rarely continues for ever and the following afternoon the rain that had dogged Sydney, then the north coast, the rain we had been keeping ahead of, finally caught up with us. It rained and rained and the vibrant happy Mooloolaba became like any other rain soaked beach resort – dismal. John spent this time hosing out his bilges after the incident on our departure. I left him to it and spent my time having a well deserved massage and pedicure!
Now the issue is when can we cross Wide Bay bar? The tides are not favourable and the swell has been building. Coordinates are procured from Coastguard Tin Can Bay with advice to enter no earlier than 2 hours before high water. With that instruction, we are left with two equally unattractive possibilities. One is to leave at 2 am, so as to arrive at the right time for the tide, or two, go the day before and anchor at Double Island point for the night. The latter is described by Alan Lucas as offering little to no comfort in S/SE winds – which of course will be blowing. However, after lots of research by John and discussions with coastguard, we are heading off in the morning and anchoring for the night.
A seamless departure with a couple of neighbours seeing us off and no problem passing the dredge, we set off at 8.30am. The sea is not very pleasant and the wind is building and it is still raining off and on. However, the passage goes well and as we near Double Island point the wind abates. A mizzly rain produces a complete rainbow over the point and we come into a large bay bordered by the appropriately named Rainbow Beach. A few 4WD vehicles are scattered along the beach, obviously a favourite place for sand driving. Amazingly, the bay is calm with just a gentle swell coming underneath us.
We wake to a dull picture and heavy showers, but by the time we leave for the Bar, it is clearing and the swell as we leave the bay is very manageable. By 11.30am we approach the first reference point that Coastguard has given us. There is a metre to a metre and half of swell and no breaking waves, but plenty of turbulence and breaking waves to the left of us. It takes 25 minutes to clear the bar, relax, but only briefly as we then have to navigate the shallows as we head north along the west coast of Fraser Island.
Conditions now are ideal, with clearing sky and sunshine and calm waters. By late afternoon we are ready to anchor at McKenzies Jetty, a little south of the Kingfisher Lodge, Fraser Island’s resort.
We are now within striking distance of Bundaberg and decide to have a day exploring Fraser Island’s little inlets by dinghy or kayak tomorrow. This decision was probably not the best and the planned anchorage for the night was subject to unpleasant swell. With no feasible plan B by the time we realised the mistake, we slept fitfully and could hardly wait to be out of there. At first light we picked our way through the shoals and headed for Bundaberg. Being an important port, the buoyed channel starts way out at sea. We cut into it and head about a mile into the river to Bundaberg Port Marina – fuel up and settle into a berth for a few days before two of the family from UK arrive. BPM is an old friend, having visited several times before, and it is good to reacquaint ourselves with the staff and facilities. Even better is the news that the weather is settled for several days, allowing us to visit Lady Musgrave Island.
End of Part 1 of the cruise.