Keppel Island to Airlie Beach

We left Baringo in Rosslyn Bay, at Keppel Bay Marina, and went to Hong Kong for a short unscheduled visit  which was of course busy but fun I returned  to the boat on Tuesday 15th May and John arrived a week later after doing some work in Beijing. We left the marina the next day Tuesday 22nd May and sailed a couple of hours over to Keppel North, the island just north of Keppel island where we had anchored before. We anchored there to make the final preparations for the forthcoming voyage  north .We knew the weather was going to deteriorate so planned to sit this out off South Percy island a recommended trade wind anchorage . The Alan Lucas pilot book of the Queensland coast is excellent, very detailed and with lots of drawings of the islands and their anchorages so an invaluable companion.

View of Keppel Bay marina

Rosslyn bay beach

evening time at Keppel Bay marina

Anchorage at Keppel North island

We left the next morning at 06.00 as we had 47nm to cover to the next night stop either Pearl Bay or Island Head Creek a little further north .This latter had been highly recommended by a Queensland coast sailor we had met on the pontoon, so we favoured that one as possible .We had good wind and jibed our way up the coast with 25 knots of wind behind and it was not too rough as the previous few days had been quite calm. We passed Pearl Bay mid-afternoon as we had made good time and tried to enter Island Head Creek. There were sand banks and rocks either side of the passage and no marker buoys to guide us so after a near miss with a sandbank we found some deep water to get further down the creek where we could see other boats anchored but they were mainly small motor boats rather than  yachts .Some seemed to be uncomfortably close to a visible sandbank so we tried to anchor off the beach in a recommended site but between the tide and wind the chain was going under the boat rather than in front so we decided to give up here and hurry back to Pearl Bay .We followed our route out which was as nerve wracking as the journey in and decided estuaries are not really suitable for us. We just made pearl Bay with the last of the sun’s rays and had a quiet night there thankfully.

The next day was another 06.00 start but the weather had changed and the sky was full of darker clouds so we knew the bad weather was on the way as forecast. We started with an easterly wind so  for our north westerly course we needed the main sail but as the wind strengthened, became more south easterly and the rain came we dropped it and continued on jib alone. The tides are significant along the Queensland coast and today the wind was changing direction rather frequently necessitating several course changes during the day. This led at one point to us having to decide which side to pass a rather unpleasant rock with  tide favouring one side and wind the other all very annoying as we were surrounded by so much open sea ! John thought this situation would make an excellent exam question. In the end there were so many frequent wind shifts and we had jibed the jenny so many times which for us requires furling and we were getting tired so we resorted to the iron sail which would probably not have been the correct exam answer. We passed the nasty rock safely and continued to South Percy island where we planned to sit out the bad weather.

The awkward rock!

It is a barren island and the recommended bay is Rocky Ledge bay off the north coast of South Percy in the channel between it and Middle Percy Island. We were pleased to get the anchor down as the conditions were not improving .We also decided to use the anchor buddy for extra holding power, which we have not used often since we bought the Rocna anchor. We had wind over tide moving the boat in a very strange way  with respect to the anchor which meant that the chain went under the boat during the ebb resulting in abnormal stresses on the bow roller in the 30 knots wind and the most sickening grinding as the chain moved over the rocky bottom. We used the snubbers as usual but because of the odd angle of the chain they did not work all the time so we tied on extra ropes to the chain on deck to take the strain off the windlass but by next morning they had broken and the snubbers had come undone and the chain which was taking the  load was pulling out and had nearly got to  the end. We immediately used the motor to take the strain while we pulled the chain in a few meters but the anchor buddy was stuck on the rocky ground pulling the bow down as the tide rose and the boat bounced in the not insignificant swell. It had obviously dropped to the bottom as the tide ebbed so not a good idea for tidal water anchoring. We got the Buddy off and some chain in, retied the snubbers then John had the great idea of using the anchor hook to take the strain when the snubbers were not. This had lain in the locker unused for several years but its moment had arrived and it really worked very well. The wind increased again accompanied by very unpleasant bullets at regular intervals during  the afternoons. One we think reached 60 knots and was enough to snap one of the snubbers. It was all a very uncomfortable experience and one we could do little to improve it. We contemplated moving but as we had no idea about the other anchorages nearby so we decided to stay at South Percy until the weather improved despite the chain grinding sickeningly and the regular bullets. We finally left on Sunday 27th May with great relief especially when the anchor came up without any problem and we were delighted to see South Percy fade into the distance and the past. Much to our surprise we found the thick metal of the anchor hook had bent under the strain of the three days of such strong winds!

Anchorage at south Percy island- looked very calm initially.

Broken snubber- obviously under some force.

We sailed a short way to Curlew island which has flat water and a sandy bottom and a very pretty anchorage behind a sand bar all of which we really appreciated after the last few days.

Large typical rock en route to Curlew island

We set off the next day after a quite night and our next stop was Scawfell Island and oh joy another protected anchorage with flat water although there was some wind. We arrived here at low tide which was lucky as there is a large  irregular fringing reef and some  rather unpleasant coral heads which would not be visible at high tide and another welcome peaceful night.

Alarming drying rock in Scawfell bay

And reefs appearing at low tide.

Looks good with nothing visible at high tide.

We have continued to use the snubbers and the hook for anchoring as the strong tides and wind do make the boat swing in a curious way at anchor . We left Scawfell on Tuesday 29th May and had a pleasant sail under jib alone as the South East trades are in full swing now so at least 25 knots every day and we are always downwind so the new jib is getting well used and at least we feel the purchase was justified . We reached the Whitsunday islands today and anchored off Shaw island in the company of three other boats but again it was a beautiful anchorage and sheltered. We needed to arrive in the Port Airlie Marina by morning and the tide would be against us so we decided to sail overnight to get the tide with us and luckily it was full moon and a clear calm night. We left at 00.30 and had a magical sail in flat water with at least a two knot lift from the tide arriving in the anchorage outside Airlie beach just as the tide turned. We could  see all the island and navigation lights clearly but of course al the electronic navigation aids take a lot of the guess work out of any journey now. We slept for a few more hours at dawn and then checked into Port Airlie marina.

Approaching Whitsunday islands

Cute small bird welcome to Airlie Beach.


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