After very little sailing last year we spent an eventful winter in Europe the highlight of which was the birth of our grandson Edward Ian on 31st December. Vanessa and Antony were equally delighted with the event and we enjoyed contributing to his care in the first few weeks of his life. An amazing skiing season followed as Chamonix had the heaviest snow for 20 years so it was a lot of fun.
Spring arrived and we returned to Baringo in Bundaberg Port Marina where she had spent her second winter ( Australian summer ) on the ground. Luckily she was in good condition just the usual tattered cover and musty air below but no serious problems. We felt lucky as there had been a serious storm while we had been away during which a catamaran had been lifted up by the wind and carelessly dropped again with severe damage, and the foresail of another boat had unfurled causing it to topple over and land again on one of the metal supports with the result that the hull parted company with the keel and there was a large hole in the hull. Fortunately we had not been parked near either of them and we realised that all the hard work removing the sails was certainly worthwhile although we had left the mainsail on the boom this year, a habit Jimmy Cornell slipped into so we thought we could as well, and indeed it saved us a lot of hard work preparing the boat for sailing again.
The antifouling was already underway and the pulpit repairs to the stanchions were almost complete, one stanchion had become very loose for reasons unknown but was easily fixed.
So we were ready for launching on Thursday 12th April, always an anxious event but all went smoothly and we were back in the marina to start work in earnest. The weather is almost always dry and sunny with a light breeze blowing up the Burnett River so pleasant conditions to prepare everything although finding the optimum moment to hoist the sails can be tricky and is usually very early in the morning. We needed to service our liferaft in Brisbane and John had also discovered a leak in the hot water tank which had been repaired twice in Raiatea, Polynesia. Luckily we found a new one in Brisbane so it was a fruitful visit and included visits to Magnus Dyer (ex Hong Kong) and Olivia in their wonderful Queensland home in Brookfield and Robin and Jane in Ashgrove with whom food and wine are a real treat .
We returned with a new 4 man liferaft rather than the old 8 man which might have been difficult for just two of us to manage, and the new hot water tank which was masterfully inserted after removing the old one, not an easy task but masterfully done by Jay Roll a marine plumber.
We continued the tasks with which all sailors will be familiar, rigging checks, engine and generator service, complete change of cooking gas equipment ( australian regulations ) and myriads of small repairs that make up the bouillabaisse of pre-voyage preparation.
The gold star went to John for repairing the holding tank after about four years of inactivity; but with the Whitsunday islands on our route where they are mandatory we had to get it fixed so rather than get a new one he masterfully took the old one apart and it now functions perfectly! We had to replace the large port winch which had seized last year for reasons unknown as we have regularly them ourselves and this had never happened before. It is always a satisfying job as the engineering of the parts is wonderful and the way they function with such huge loads on them always seems rather miraculous.
Once ready to go of course the weather which had been prefect turned into an offshore gale so we decided to wait, as much because of the difficulty getting off the pontoon, we were being seriously pinned on, and after so little sailing last year we felt a gentler start would be advisable .
We finally departed on 2nd may and anchored in the Burnett River for a couple of hours to do some finishing touches and at 10.00 am we headed for open sea. An amazing “runway “of lights leads into the Burnett river so we followed this out making a turn northwards just before the end and it looked like Bye Bye Bundaberg after Baringo’s 15 months in residence. It is an excellent facility and the work if expensive is of high quality and the staff all very pleasant and friendly. The wind was still strong 20 kts and the swell built, as it does, as we jibed our way north west in a south east wind. We had not really got our sea legs and were not looking forward to the planned night sail. By chance we heard another vessel on the radio who was advised to anchor a little further up the coast in Roundhill which we had initially discounted as being too shallow but hearing the conversation we called up ourselves and found we could anchor there overnight although not in the optimum spot. With unanimous agreement we chose this option and even through it was a night entry we had clear instructions from the local VMR ( volunteer marine reserve ) and we anchored easily in the very capacious Bustard Bay. The price to pay was significant swell through the night but at least we were stationary. It seems that all the way up the Queensland Coast there are stations that monitor vessels and check on their arrival and keep you on their log and also give twice daily weather forecasts which so far have been very accurate. It is like aircraft moving from one ATC to the next and a very welcome service.
The next day we sailed a few miles up the coast to Pancake Creek which we decided was named because the water is so flat so a very welcome respite after Bustard Bay, and it was a pleasant restful day.
We made an early start next morning to make Hummocky Island before dark about 50nm away. We passed the industrial area of Gladstone an important aluminium city and then Curtis island with plumes of factory smoke rising to the skies. The wind was much lighter now and the sea calm and the anchorage on the north side of Hummocky was very pretty and the sea was calm through the night.
The last step of the way was a 16 nm sail to Great Keppel island named by Captain Cook, as many places along this coast have been, after Admiral Keppel. We seem to be in his wake again 148 years later and it is amazing to think how he managed although he did come to grief on the reef that is now called Endeavour, lets hope the modern technology and surveys save us from the same fate. We needed to go through a buoyed narrow channel at high tide to gain entrance to the northern side of Great Keppel island off Leeke’s beach and for us this needed the high tide. The water is generally quite shallow along the Queensland coast so many anchorages are out of bounds for Baringo, hence the popularity of catamarans here. However, the bay is large and so plenty of anchoring and swinging room and we had a pleasant walk along the beach after deploying the dinghy for the first time this year. We can go ashore in more boisterous conditions now as the outboard was serviced in Bundaberg and has much more fizz. The main worry here is salt water crocodiles which are a protected species so have increased in number, also the stinging jelly fish in the water which can be rapidly fatal and also deadly snakes in the bush! Alan Lucas’s excellent pilot book of the Queensland coast devotes a whole chapter of graphic detail about all the dangers, so unfortunatley there is no encouragement to swim or hike which are the two main pleasures of coastal cruising apart from the actual sailing itself!
The next day the wind picked up considerably confining us to the boat and by afternoon we had 35-40kts blowing steadily .The wind generator howled away which always increases the level of anxiety and is not inducive to sleep .Luckily the swell did not increase and our anchor and snubbers help despite the severe strain .It was not an easy night as the wind did not abate until the morning when we found the wind speed indicator had given up …obviously overworked! It was calm enough to hoist the dinghy on deck before leaving for Keppel Bay Marina but the rain had replaced the wind to ensure a wet passage over but it was only 9 miles so the discomfort was short lived and we tied up easily in the calm flat water of the marina.