Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Rough Ride to Cairns

Our passage from the Whitsundays up to Cairns had the same weather forecast for the entire period: Strong Wind Warning: 20 – 25 knots, gusting to 30. We had it on the first day (and every day after that), seeking shelter the first night behind mighty Gloucester Island, in a bay called “Squally Bay”. It looked promising, Gloucester Island having peaks of 560 meters in spots, which, in theory, should have provided good shelter from the SE trades, but maybe we should have taken more notice of the name of the bay, as it lived up to its reputation, with a terrible night spent getting hit by the wind “bullets” and the never ending easterly swell making its way around the island, and shaking us from side to side all night long.

Sunrise behind Gloucester Island as we left on Friday morning

The next day was another day of very strong wind and with little in the way of shelter along this coast, we opted for an anchorage in Bowling Green Bay. When we saw what was offered in the way of an anchorage, we came very close to just carrying on, and sailing through the night, but both Dave and I were exhausted from little sleep the night before, and a long day of tough sailing, so we bashed our way into the wind for almost 6 miles, in order to get as tucked in as possible into the SE corner of the bay to try and escape some of the relentless swell. There was not much in the way of height to protect us, Cape Bowling Green being the lowest cape on the coast, and really just a sand dune that extends out into the sea, so we still had the wind to contend with, but we managed to get a slightly calmer corner out of most of the swell, and anchored there for the night. 

Our track from Airlie Beach to Bowling Green Bay
We both managed to get some sleep, and set our alarms for 4:00am. We were up in the pitch dark, lifted an extremely muddy anchor, raised the mainsail and off we went. It was another strong wind day, but much of it was in the lee of islands, which cut the swell down considerably, and we actually had a relatively pleasant sail most of the time. Getting up early allowed us to do an 89 mile day on Saturday, entering the Hinchinbrook Channel at about 4:30pm, and finding a spot, about 8 miles down the channel an hour later. It was beautiful! If only the weather would have cooperated, it might have been even more spectacular. 

At the southern end of the Hinchinbrook Channel lies the small town of Lucinda, and this 5km long jetty that loads ships with bulk sugar from nearby agricultural lands
Hinchinbrook Island is often seen as the beginning of the Coral Coast’s true tropical region, and the channel is described in the cruising guide as “the most scenic, calm waterway on the east coast of Australia thanks to Hinchinbrook Island’s magnificent peaks and valleys and the rugged Cardwell Ranges opposite on the mainland” ("Cruising the Coral Coast"; pg 215). The calm anchorage was very welcome after the last two nights we had endured!! 

Entering the Hinchinbrook Channel...we had about an hour to go before sunset

Hard to see because of the overcast weather, but it was our first glimpse of the tropical landscape...lush, green forests and a waterfall way in the distance

Gaby enjoyed playing with the mud that remained on the anchor from the previous night. We normally would wash it off as we pull up the anchor, but since we did it at 4:00am, it stayed on for the day, not even being washed off by the day's sail! It was really more clay than mud, and Gaby put it to good use before we lowered the anchor again into the water in the Hinchinbrook Channel!

Our muddy anchor and anchor chain!

Gaby makes the most of it!!

Sunday May 7th weather forecast was the same as the day before: Strong Wind Warning. Winds 20 – 25, gusting 30 knots, 80% chance of rain, and today the weather forecast was accurate! It started off well enough, which allowed us to enjoy the 20 or so miles of the Hinchinbrook Channel, but soon we were out of the protection of Hinchinbrook Island, and just before lunchtime, we saw the first squall on the horizon. It hit us quickly, with the wind increasing very quickly from 18 to 19 to 20 and up to 30 knots! The swell was from the side, so the ride was uncomfortable. Poor Rosemary hung on for dear life. Not exactly the nice exotic vacation she had signed up for!! The squalls just kept coming. Every time we thought we were in the clear, another one loomed on the horizon, and soon was upon us, with winds and torrential rain! (at least the boat got a good wash down from the green water we had taken over the bow the day before!). 

The spectacular peaks of Hinchinbrook Island (and calm water!)

And then the squalls came...

There was so much rain and wind, this was the view out of the salon
This little guy even took a rest on our solar panels for quite a while.
He didn't even move when I went out there to lower the mainsail!!
Due to the forecast weather, we planned a stop in Mourilyan Harbour, rather than sail overnight to Cairns, and we couldn’t reach it soon enough!! The entrance to this interesting little harbor is hard to spot, being a narrow cut between two steep hills known as Georgie and Hilda. The small harbor is a bulk sugar port, and that’s all that’s there! A sugar wharf, tram and sugar shed.  But it was heaven on earth for us, after the day we'd had!

Approaching Mourilyan Harbour

A tug was tied up to the jetty, and quite a few boats were tied to the public pile moorings, most looked like they had been here a while. The harbor provided the much needed calm we sought after a very tough day at sea! Rosemary has taken to ending the day with a glass of wine to calm the nerves…yes, I’m training her well!! (In fact, I think that day she asked for her glass of wine after the first squall hit!)

Calm inside the little harbor
We left early the next morning (Monday), destination: Cairns. We couldn’t wait to get there, tired now of the miserable weather and wind! The only thing that kept our spirits up, was seeing how far north we’d come, but other than that, it was the same as the days before…strong, cold wind…lather, rinse, repeat! We were thrilled to finally round Cape Grafton at about 3:00pm that afternoon, and make our final approach to Cairns!

Leaving Mourilyan Harbor at sunrise

Sails Up!  (with a rare glimpse of blue sky!)

We finally reached Cairns!

Now, I'd like to put in an order for a large amount of sunshine and calm seas, please!!