Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Sailing Around Australia; Home Alone

Airlie Beach, QLD

23/9/2015  Home Alone

Our sailing around Australia adventures have taken a bit of a back seat at the moment as the first mate (Leanne) has flown to Cairns to help our daughter out for a few weeks.

It is actually the first time I have been home alone on Easy Tiger for more than a few hours. I must say it did feel a little strange for the first 24 hours.

We anchored at Airlie Beach, as it has a ferry terminal that takes people to the Hamilton Island Airport, where Leanne flew to Cairns from.

Within a short space of my own time, I realised how fortunate Leanne and I are, that we both enjoy the day-to-day experience of our sailing around Australia adventures.

I also feel quite blessed to have a partner who is very capable and enjoys the boat, when we see the many single handed sailors. These people have my appreciation as I imagine picking up a mooring or anchoring in windy conditions and such tasks could be quite difficult if you are on board alone.

That is not to say that every day is absolute marital bliss. When you spend 24/7 together in a confined space there are bound to be some “moments”. There are a few tasks like shopping for Leanne and fuelling for me that we prefer to do alone, to get a few treasured hours away from each other.

We also enjoy the company of other boaties who help to break us out of the “normal” day’s events. Even if it is joining others for a hike or sailing in company for a few weeks, they add so much to our experience.

So far, I have really enjoyed a week to myself. I have been able to decide what I do when I do what I want without having to discuss it with any one else. While I have whittled away at the never-ending list of jobs to do, it has been at a pretty pedestrian pace.

The downside is of course that the daily tasks that 2 people do now fall to one. So I have brushed up my cooking cleaning and maintenance tasks that I find take a fair proportion of the day.

I do miss having Easy Tiger’s first mate, my life partner, wife and friend when she is not around. But after long periods of being together 24/7, a bit of space here and there can be a refreshing time.

I miss the entertainment...

The alert and at the ready deckhand.

drinks o'clock has been a bit dull

We are blessed that we both enjoy our sailing adventures.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Sailing around Australia; Joining the Shaggers

Gloucester Passage, Queensland

14/9/2015  Joining the Shaggers

Our Sailing around Australia adventures aboard Easy Tiger have brought us to the mecca of cruising sailing in Australia, the Whitsunday Islands. The capital of this cruising sailing heartland is the town of Airlie Beach.

Airlie Beach is home to a number of yacht and catamaran charter companies. This is where many a novice sailor (including us seven years ago) can simply hire a yacht or catamaran just like hiring a car.

For aspiring cruising sailors, we would highly recommend this avenue that gives a true test or try before you buy.

Our first experience involved flying in to Airlie Beach. Then a four or five hour briefing starting at the front of the boat and ending with us anchored in the middle of Funnel bay, just around the corner from Airlie.

The next ten days were an absolute delight as we sailed our way to the more popular destinations like Blue Pearl Bay, Whitehaven Beach, Hamilton Island and Nara Inlet. We were really disappointed to have to give the boat back when our time was up.

Now it is so nice to be here again, this time in our own boat. We will be able to explore further than the charter bareboats are allowed, and we won’t have to give the boat back, before we feel we’ve had enough.

After a couple of nights in Airlie Beach, we caught up with Neville and Amanda on Bossa Nova. Rather, they caught up with us. We departed Airlie Beach in quite stormy conditions, about half an hour after Bossa Nova departed Hamilton Island.

I decided that with the wind behind us and storm clouds in front, that we would just use our headsail, as it is the easiest to put away if the winds picked up to any great strength.

The fearless crew on Bossa Nova threw up all their sails and made some great speed surfing off big swells in Whitsunday passage.  We know this because they sent us photo evidence of their chart plotter!

By good management, more than good luck, we made it to Gloucester Passage and Shag Islet almost in a dead heat.

Our destination, Gloucester Island, is another beautiful tropical island type location. We could almost be accused of being a little complacent about the beautiful beaches, turquoise waters etc.. etc… but I assure you, we aren’t.

Here, there are two resorts on the beach, Montes’ and The Gloucester. These both offer the land base cabin accommodation with swimming pools, bars and cafĂ© type dining. Yesterday we went to Gloucester for lunch with Bossa nova, their guests and Chris and Ian off China Grove. Their was live music and a well priced lunch, although we had trouble keeping our lunch on the plate due to the strong wind whipping through. One ladie's lettuce ended up a few tables away.

A small islet sits on the corner of the mainland across the Gloucester passage from the Island. On the chart it is called Passage islet, but  the cruising guides and everyone you speak to calls it Shag Island, due to a high number of shags (birds) that occupy it.

A few years ago, Ken Thackeray and some others, decided to start a unique sort of club and named it after Shag island. It is now known as the Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club.

The concept was created to provide a network for Cruising Yachties and individuals who enjoy boating. When you join, everyone becomes a “Vice Commodore” representing an individual Nautical Location ie an Island, Islet, River, Bay, about which they have some knowledge so as to be able to provide advice or assistance to other "Vice Commodores". However, they say, in SICYC, your social commitments could be the most demanding responsibility.

At the end of August each year, the Shag Islet Cruising Yacht club members (of which there are now 3800 vice commodores) or “shaggers” as they are called, gather for four days of music, mirth and mayhem here at Gloucester passage.

Normally, as this year, there are over an hundred and fifty boats anchored and three or four hundred people take part in the activities. This is all presented with the main purpose of raising money for prostrate cancer research. To that end I heard that over $80,000 was raised this year alone.

Seeing as we are here in the “shagger” home base, Leanne and I set to and became shaggers right away. Leanne is now vice commodore of Koombanna Beach and I am the head shag or vice commodore of a place called Eagle islet. (near Hinchinbrook island).

Our official shirts and small flag or burgee should arrive any day and we will wear them with pride.

The first catamaran we hired at Airlie beach.

Leanne in snorkel mode during our first visit to the Whitsundays

The new skipper... hasn't changed a bit in seven years?

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Sailing Around Australia; Middle Percy Island; Another Tick on the List

Airlie Beach, Queensland

West Bay, Middle Percy Island

7/9/2015 Another Tick on the List

When I first came up with the desire to go cruising sailing, I started buying sailing magazines, both for information about types of boats and information about destinations to aim for.

Since leaving Mandurah WA in November 2013, we have stayed at least 1 night in 73 different locations. From out of the way  deserted bays, to magnificent marina and resort developments. Each of these places has had some sort of appeal, but none have really matched the dream destination.

My dream was crystal clear turquoise waters lapping lazily onto white sandy beaches fringed with coconut and palm trees. Pretty much the quintessential deserted tropical island was what I had in mind as my ideal destination.

One of the first articles I  read in a sailing magazine was about a destination in Queensland called Middle Percy Island.  The article described with pictures of beautiful clear water, white sandy beaches and you guessed it… palm trees fringing the beach.

I also read about a curious tradition where passing boats leave an item with their boat name and date they visited the island in a hut on the beach.

The article really got my attention and fueled the spark of my cruising sailing dream. I tore the article out and it was the first of a dozen or so that I put into my destination file.

Yesterday, there was a feeling of elation combined with an air of surreal. After nearly two years on our sailing adventures, after visiting 73 destinations and approaching 3500 nautical miles, we arrived at Middle Percy Island.

As described in that first article, Middle Percy Island is a very beautiful place. With a wide sandy beach punctuated by a small creek leading off one end, a triangular roofed hut in the middle and a rocky outcrop on the other end it is postcard perfect.

The water we anchored in was bright blue and clear enough to watch a group of garfish follow our anchor down to the bottom. After settling our anchor, we dropped the dinghy and headed for shore to explore this paradise as quickly as possible.

On first view the hut looks like a junk yard of which Steptoe and sons would be proud. But once you are close enough to see all the boat names written on various items hanging, nailed or just written straight on to the building it seems to make sense.

My guess is that there are more than 500 boat names written on at least 100 different items. There are old life rings, the odd fender, many floats, flags, old oars and the face of a guitar all proudly displaying the name of the boat and the crew, then the date that they visited the island. For an hour or so we just sat taking in all the memorabilia. The earliest boat and date I saw was form 1977, but I am sure there were earlier ones there.

From the information in the hut, we found that Middle Percy Island is occupied by 5 people. The main deed holder is a descendant form the first ever lease holder, who had tried to establish sheep farming. 

While we were at the hut, we met Roy and Elizabeth, fellow boaties who were on their sixth or seventh visit to Middle Percy. Roy was going to hike up to the homestead, so not knowing what to expect we tagged along with them.

It was indeed quite a hike. It was up hill all the way and we walked mostly in soft beach sand.

On arrival at the homestead, we met John who invited us up for a chat. We were also glad to find internet cover was available here for a weather report.

John and Cate are the official occupiers of Middle Percy under a deed of use from the government. They are waging an uphill battle to be self sufficient. They grow their own vegies and have a small goat herd to compliment the many feral goats that occupy the unused parts of the Island. They also have bee hives that produce honey for sale to passing yachties. John said that they cannot sustain themselves on the Island and they have to venture to Mackay for supplies on a regular basis.

It used to sound so appealing, living on a tropical Island being self sufficient. But after talking to John about how much money they have had to put in just to the homestead, the difficulty of getting anything to and from the Island (the nearest services are a hundred mile boat trip) the huge battle against mother nature (cyclones, drought and feral goats) and the fact that it all reverts back to the government in 20 years, any appeal we had quickly disappeared.

We also met Ernst, another of the 5 inhabitants of the Island. Ernst has built himself what can be best described as a two story shelter.  It is basically three tin walls on a steel frame sitting on top of a flat rock. He urged us  go to his place, go up to the second story and take photo’s of the amazing view. We did and weren’t disappointed. The view out over the hills and down to West Bay was indeed spectacular.

The hike back down to the bay took us along a different path. This path went down into a valley. Once we were in the lower part of the valley we were swarmed with butterflies.

Bright blue spots made the butterflies stand out in the green foliage, but swarming onto a single branch made them look like leaves. The slightest movement or sound sent  flapping  wings in every direction until they all settled together again.

Back on board Easy Tiger for a sundowner (5 o’clockers) with Roy and Elizabeth, we met another semi permanent resident of Middle Percy Island.  Bob came out in his dinghy and came aboard with notebook and camera in hand. Bob and his partner KK, are the producers of a sailing magazine called The Coastal Passage. First I’ve heard of it, but seeing as we will be mentioned in it, will be avid readers of the next few issues at least.

Bob and KK are living aboard their catamaran in the creek at Middle Percy Island. When the tide goes out their boat is left high and dry on the mud. Not an ideal way to spend time on a tropical island. Their catamaran was de-masted at the Whitsundays and they are waiting at Middle Percy for new rigging, repairs and sails etc… to be ready for installation in Mackay.

In order to follow the tradition, we used our old, broken dinghy oar and applied the name Easy Tiger. We then took it to the hut and hung it up under the upstairs balcony. Easy Tiger was here.

This morning we hoisted our anchor and set off for Scawfell Island and the Whitsundays beyond that.  As we ticked off another “must do destination” we were both commenting that after all the articles and information we had read and the anticipation of getting to Middle Percy island, it exceeded our expectations by a long way.

Names, names, names

We added our own piece, an old broken oar from our dinghy.

The Queen is on he balcony, doing the royal wave

The view from Ernst's camp.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Sailing Around Australia; Underway

Scawfell Island, Queensland

5/9/2015 Underway

To the non-boater or the layman, having the boat underway may seem like the most exciting part of a cruising sailing adventure. But, on Easy Tiger I must say that I am finding being underway or “on passage” is the more mundane part of our adventure.

For example as I write this blog, we are underway or passaging from Pearl Bay to Hexham Island. It is a beautiful day, the sun is shining there is not a cloud in the sky. The sea is practically dead flat, offering only the occasional roll to remind us we are on a boat.

There is no wind. Our wind indicator instrument is showing about 2 knots but the arrow showing wind direction is spinning in circles, not knowing where to settle.

So with one engine droning away we are progressing along our course at 5.5 knots.

We are passing through by some lovely coastline on our port side and a fair sprinkle of islands off our starboard.  This has been our scenery since leaving anchorage at 7.00am this morning. As we are moving slowly and the islands are some distance away, it takes a few hours for the scenery to change.

Of course there are mandatory things to do while on passage. One must keep a good lookout for anything untoward all around Easy Tiger. Ships can appear and sneak up behind us quite quickly. Boats that are fishing or stationary are often quite hard to spot but must be avoided as well.

Also whoever is on watch (in charge of the boat) must make sure that the boat is on course. Sideways currents and wind can mean that regular course adjustments have to be made.

If there is enough wind for us to be under sail, there are regular sail and steering adjustments to be made as the wind direction moves around.

Leanne and I usually take three hour stints at the helm. I must also declare that I tend to stretch my shifts out a bit longer as I prefer to be on watch where there is more to do.

When one is not on watch, on the odd good day there is reading or computer work (Facebook or blog writing) but on a slightly rough day these can be the fastest way to a bout of seasickness.

Mother Nature has helped keep us amused since Fraser Island. We now see two or three groups of whales each day. The whales often put on a show for us by hurling their huge bodies out of the water then crashing down in a big splash.

Dolphins are another daily occurrence. They appear out of nowhere and frolic underneath our bows in groups of a dozen or more. These shows go on for about twenty minutes or more, then the dolphins disappear as quickly as they arrived.

Things do brighten up as we get closer to our destination. There is checking the books and references for the best anchoring spot, looking for obstacles and seeing if there are already other boats in situ.

On arrival, there is the routines of anchoring, packing away sails, tidying ropes and switching instruments off. Then the best part... a celebratory drink, Ginger beer of course.

On a slow day, our destination creeps up very slowly

Three hours later....

Nothing much to do but enjoy the sunshine.

Kepping a look out.