The first challenge on leaving the anchorage at Southport at the end of April, affectionately known as ‘Bums Bay’, was weaving through all the excitable locals in jet ski’s who it seemed had no regard for others using the shipping channel. Being Anzac Day, a pubic holiday, the area was even more chaotic than normal and as I steered Fathom along the channel towards the Broadwater a jet ski at full speed came so close alongside that it sprayed me, and my coffee, with wake. Some friends of mine who live on the Sunshine Coast describe the Gold Coast as a sunny place for shady people. That morning I would have definitely agreed with them. The next days I travelled alongside Dave and Rosie on ‘Alfresco’ stopping at the pretty Jumpin Pin and Slipping Sands anchorages. The crab pot given to me by William and Alison at Southport had its maiden outing and was an instant success catching six Blue Swimmers at the first attempt which made for a tasty lunch.
The plan was to haul Fathom out and apply some fresh antifoul at Mooloolaba but after stopping at the Moreton Bay Tralier Boat Club in Manly for a couple of days discovered that they had a small boat yard and availability the following week so why not get on with it. A very busy few days were spend preparing the hull, re-antifouling, polishing the topsides etc. Thanks to Bob from Robara who would drop by every day with a cup of coffee and a sandwich to keep morale up. For the first time I had PropSpeed applied to the propeller so will be interesting to see if it works better than propeller antifouling I have used previously. At the club I met a local sailor called Alen who very kindly offered to make a spare tiller for the boat free of charge. I had intended to have a spare before leaving home but had run out of time. A huge thanks to Alen and another example of the friendliness and generosity of fellow sailors I meet on my travels.
‘Alfresco’ caught me up at Manly and once Fathom was back afloat we buddy boated through Moreton Bay to the anchorage at Tangalooma and then after a 3am start north to the harbour at Mooloolaba. It was a really great few days here where I enjoyed the generous hospitality of family friends Nick and Gail, some delicious home cooked food and even a night ashore in a proper bed! I also managed a catch up with Neil and Chris from ‘Tusitala’ who had me round to their unit for lunch and a couple of beers. A really nice and sociable stopover.
55 miles north of Mooloolaba is the Great Sandy Strait which offers a calm water alternative to remaining at sea around Fraser Island and provides a final escape from the south setting East Australian Current which I had been battling on and off since Sydney. In order to get into the straits the Wide Bay Bar needs to be crossed which has something of a bad reputation. The bar is unusual due to the duration spent crossing it the most uncomfortable section commonly known as ‘The Mad Mile’. Like the bars I had crossed further south it is important to cross with low swell conditions and incoming tide to avoid standing waves. In the end it wasn’t too bad the local marine rescue centre provided coordinates to avoid the shallow areas and ‘Alfresco’ and ‘Fathom’ reached the calm water anchorage at Inskip Point without drama. Dave and Rosie had caught a good sized Tuna during the afternoon so we celebrated a successful crossing of the bar with sundowners and Tuna steaks for dinner.
There are some pretty anchorages in the Great Sandy Strait and by working the strong currents to your advantage it’s easy to find a good place to stop within a few hours sailing. Sadly it was time to say goodbye to Dave and Rosie and after tying alongside ‘Alfresco’ near Turtle Island for a goodbye coffee we went our separate ways. The sail across Hervey Bay to Bundaburg was fantastic in 15-20 kts breeze from the south east and flat water, Fathom making good speed with her new bottom job and at long last no adverse current to slow us down. A bit too early in the season to see Humpback whales unfortunately.
After a few days spent at Bundaburg next up was a long day sail to the anchorage at Pancake Creek where I stayed a while to let some strong winds and rain pass through. Another solo sailor, Warren from ‘Wunjo’, suggested a walk up to the lighthouse at Bustard Head where we got a tour from the caretaker who lives there. The lighthouse is 20km from the nearest settlement and was the first to be built in Queensland in 1859. Once the weather had bucked up an overnight stop at Cape Capricorn before heading to the marina at Rosyln Bay to stock up on provisions. They offer a free courtesy car for two hours which makes provisioning a lot easier. My birthday fell on a Sunday and that evening the marina bar & restaurant was so quiet it only contained Warren and I but that didn’t stop the chef and waitresses bringing me out a chocolate mouse with candle for desert accompanied by them singing ‘happy birthday! A nice touch.
The following five days were spent sailing up to Mackay with stops at Pearl Bay, Middle Percey and Curlew Island which are close to an area called Broad Sound which experiences the biggest tides and fastest tidal streams on the east coast of Australia. I purposely waited for neap tides before travelling through here to make life a little easier. The S.E trade winds were blowing consistently 15-20 knots so ideal conditions and flatter water now that the Great Barrier Reef was blocking the ocean swell. A strong blow then came through so I was forced to stay at Mackay marina a little longer than planned but it gave a chance to catch up with some friends from the Oyster World Rally and keep on top of boat jobs. Despite being moored up in the safety of the marina as the wind howled in the rigging I found myself for the first time in a while feeling quite daunted about the huge length of coastline still to sail until Darwin not to mention the challenging Indian Ocean to come afterwards. I didn’t like Mackay either, the town centre had a seedy feel to it with tattoo parlours and strip clubs at every corner and there wasn’t much else going on. Two days after I left I heard on the news the town was in lockdown after some local nutter started walking round shooting off a gun. Luckily no one was hurt and it all ended peacefully.
Next up the Whitsundays, a fantastic cruising area with a 100 mile stretch of islands to explore but sadly time was ticking so I had to rush through with only a few stops. Airlie beach did provide some civilisation though, a cold beer or two and a chance to stretch the legs with a good hike up to the Honeyeater lookout. On the way north from here I had a message from Dave on ‘Tomboy’, a local sailor I had met down at Pittwater and an excellent source of local knowledge on the coastline. Dave suggested I look out for some friends of his on yacht ‘Bogart’. It just so happened that we were in the same anchorage so I met up with Tony and Lindsey on several occasions over the next week as we day sailed towards Horseshoe Bay on Magnetic Island. A nice evening was spent having dinner on ‘Bogart’ at what turned out to be the worst anchorage I have been to in a long time – Cape Bowing Green. Minimal protection from the tradewinds and big enough waves to cause Fathom to pitch heavily made for an uncomfortable motion but I slept well after a double portion of Lindsey’s excellent homemade curry.
A nice few days at Horsehoe Bay but with so much coastline still to sail it I had to get some more miles under the keel. The paddle of the Aries steering gear was leaking again despite being rebuilt in Pittwater so I decided to bite the bullet and order a new one from the manufacturers in Holland. It would be waiting for me in Cairns all being well. Sadly the tradewinds went on holiday for the next week with dead calms most days so a lot of motoring all the way up to Fitzroy Island after stops at Orpheaus and Dunk Island. Dunk island once had an internationally famous resort and was viewed as the jewel in Queensland’s tourism crown but after Cyclone Yasi hit in 2011 it now lies in ruins. It was surreal and slightly eerie to walk through the deserted resort and see all the damage. You could almost believe the storm hit yesterday.
Fitzroy Island was a highlight. After a long day motoring from Dunk I arrived at the island just on sunset and was delighted to beat a large motorboat to the last free mooring by a matter of seconds. They were not best pleased as one of the crew was poised at the bow with a boat hook but I definitely got there first! Nudey Beach on Fitzroy, not a nudist beach as the name suggests, has been voted the best beach in Australia but after visiting I can’t see how it won. It’s nice but more of a coral beach than a sand beach and i’ve been to much better beaches further south. A hike up to the summit on Fitzroy was a great way to stretch my lazy boat legs before sailing a few hours to Cairns a couple of days later. It felt like a bit of a milestone to get to Cairns. Sailing up from Sydney single-handed had not been easy at times and on occasions I would find myself becoming somewhat overwhelmed by the distances and passages still to come. After two and a half months of near constant moving I was looking forward to stopping for a couple of weeks and not having to worry about the next protected anchorage or good tidal window. There would be much more of that to come.