Posts Tagged ‘Pearl Bay

Gladstone to Shaw Island

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Photos Australia/Gladstone-to-Mackay

The next stop after Gladstone was Pearl Bay.

22° 26’.620 South

150°44’.068 East

Described as one of the prettiest anchorages along that part of the coast, with steep wooded cliffs descending to the sea and a small, perfect beach, it was all those things. It was also where we found out that our depth gauge is badly calibrated. This became obvious when the boat began bumping on the ground at low tide while the gauge mendaciously insisted there were still 5 feet of water under the keel.  We quickly hauled anchor and The Captain did a Boy Racer – gunning the engine – and we settled again further out like a huffy gull that’s been disturbed after thinking it’s nicely roosted for the evening.

One old boy in Brisbane told us no one’s really ‘done’ the Queensland coast until they’ve been stranded on a bar or stuck at anchor. Not surprising. The tides here are terrific – often 20 feet or more – and measurements aren’t always accurate. The sea around each bay and island has its own rhythm, tides vary depending on the moon, sand shifts during storms, and nature is generally disinclined to be corseted. Depths here are relatively shallow even between islands and often measure a metre or less in the river mouths during the lowest tides. Many areas are only accessible if one ‘works’ the tides. The channel between Fraser Island and the mainland just north of Brisbane, for example, is usually navigated on a rising tide if one comes from the south, timing arrival at the shallowest point midway through to coincide with the tidal high, so one can then follow the ebbing tide to deeper water northwards. Get it wrong, and you’re well stuck in the sand for 12 hours. We won’t be playing these games!

We’ve had other minor hiccups with the electronics. These The Captain mostly sorts out by re-booting or by occasionally reverting to mankind’s traditional solution when faced with a piece of recalcitrant technology: a good thump. Fridges and freezer are still a bit temperamental, loos still not working properly, and random problems resulting from the hammering the boat suffered en route from NZ still surface occasionally. But these minor issues are pretty much compensated for by the new anchor – which has held first time, every time so far – and the new automatic anchor winch controller: crew now presses buttons to raise and lower the anchor and no longer has to wield a rubber mallet to release and control the rate at which it descends. Sweet! And we have also had a 3G wireless network installed, so we can get the internet in our bunks even while anchored in idyllic island coves as long as they aren’t more than about 50 miles from a phone mast. Very civilised!

Next stop was:

Hexham Island

22° 00’.720 South

150° 21’.804 East

En route from Pearl Bay we watched a humpback whale less than 100 yards away, breaching again and again. It would launch a full three quarters of its body length into the air then land in the water on its arched back with a crash. Then it slapped its vast flukes against the water’s surface 7-8 times in a row, then lay on its back waving long flippers in the air. We didn’t even try to take photos but watched awestruck. It seems impossible that a creature of such size and weight should be able to indulge in acrobatics.

We anchored in a small bay with a small, curved beach embraced by two rocky headlands. We were completely alone until early evening, and the silence was broken only by the occasional mewing gull and screech of the resident osprey, which perched on one of two small rocky peaks on the western side of the bay to tear at a fish it had caught.

The sunset was exquisite. They do especially good sunsets in this part of the world, Cecil B. DeMille productions almost every evening, with phalanxes of orange and pink clouds or clear skies shading imperceptibly from deepest blue overhead to gold at the horizon. The impressive and varied cloud formations may have to do with the fact that we’re close to where two separate weather systems meet.

Come evening the crescent moon rose. Here in the southern hemisphere the moon lies on her back, cradling the globe of her shadowed side between two glowing horns. Venus, the evening star, is always very bright. Later the Milky Way appears – stars like handfuls of glittering dust on black velvet. It’s only when one is far from any man-made source of light that one understands how the night sky could be regarded with such awe and wonder by our ancestors.

Curlew Island

21°35’.413 South

149° 40’.080 East

Curlew Island is part of the Guardfish Cluster of islands, and was the last stop before we arrived at Mackay. We anchored for the night just around a headland which offered protection from the prevailing south-easterly wind and left very early in the morning in plenty of time to arrive before dark. The day before, we’d averaged 6 ½ knots for the journey, but there was no guarantee the winds would remain favourable.

The approach was littered with islets and isolated rocks. It brought home how deceptive the view from the deck of a boat can be. On a chart, islands are laid out nicely with their fringing reefs, each distinct from the other, passages between them clear. From the deck of a boat, islands merge into each other. What looks like a rocky shore can change within a few minutes and a few degrees’ change of perspective into a group of several islands. Channels appear and disappear in a most disconcerting way and the entrances to harbours usually only become clear when one’s practically in them. It would be easy to sail by a perfect bay and in the past exploratory vessels often did so. Even Captain Cook missed a few!


21°06’.479 South

149°13’.301 East

The Mackay Marina was rather more up-market than the previous places we’d stayed at. Expensive apartments and restaurants line the marina’s edge. Mackay is a former sugar town, now losing some of its character as sugar prices have plummeted and coal mining has become one of the big earners in Queensland. Most of the sugar storage sheds next to the marina are being put to other uses and the surrounding cane fields are being sold for developments.

The fishermen still come in though and I was able to buy a coral trout off them before the rest were shipped off to Hong Kong – live – in large oxygenated tanks, for sale at astronomical prices. As one of the men said, ‘This lot fly First Class!’

The tiny lighthouse at one end of the marina is amusing. Once inside, one has to stoop a bit to avoid the ornamental ironwork supports. It runs by clockwork, so had to be wound up every 2 hours by the men who tended it. The prisms were hand cast and polished and are beautifully smooth with subtly rounded edges. It was relocated here from Pine Islet and was the last kerosene powered lighthouse in Australia. It’s since been restored, and is now the last fully functional kerosene lighthouse in the world.

Right now we’re anchored in the S.E. corner of Kennedy Sound, off Shaw Island, and are now officially within the Whitsunday Group of Islands.

20°30’.104 South

149°02’.927 East

The wind blew up during the night and although 25 -30 knots here within the Great Barrier Reef aren’t accompanied by huge swells, the sailing won’t be very pleasant and launching the dinghy to go exploring will be a bore, so we’re staying here for the day, as are the two neighbouring boats.

Our daily bit of excitement was just provided by one of them: it was dragging its anchor and rapidly being pushed out toward nearby shoals. We repeatedly tried to raise the skipper on the radio but got no answer. Obviously no radio watch was being kept and there wasn’t an anchor alarm to let them know they’d broken loose. Tsk-tsk. Someone from the other boat went over with a dinghy and must have woken the crew of the drifting vessel because a man appeared on deck, raised the anchor and then motored in and re-set it. Then he moved and tried again, then moved off with a tiny handkerchief of sail up, presumably to try anchor somewhere else. We’ve let out extra chain and look to be set rock solid, which is pleasant; our previous anchor wouldn’t have done the job.

Almost five hundred miles north of Brisbane, the temperatures are already much warmer in spite of the wind and the air much more humid – brilliant!

Love from us both,




Written by mnestis

July 21, 2010 at 10:22 AM