We left Bundy at dawn (sorry Terry) for the long trip north to Pancake Creek. 64 miles at an average cruising speed of 5 knots makes for a very long day and to get there in daylight meant we had to really push things along.
We made it in just over 11 hours in the end at an average speed of 5.9 knots. Motor sailed most of the way with less than 10 knots of wind from the south-east (right over our right shoulder) but we managed to turn the motor off for about 2 hours or so during the trip. A very roly day on the water.
Pancake creek is a nice anchorage and we had fond memories from the last time we were there but this time round, it took three goes to get the anchor to hold! The first two times in different places we hit rock shelves and trying to set the anchor just gave rumbling noises as the anchor dragged over the rock. We got it to set at the third attempt finding some sand deep enough to grab. Both of us were a bit pissed off by the end of the exercise but we were heartened when the next boat in had similar trouble :-). We had pancakes for tea!
After tea, I expected to have hot water after running the engine most of the day but no, the system I set up to heat the water from the engine had failed! A pump I bought to circulate water from a heat exchanger through the hot water tank stopped working and was blowing the in-line fuse. It's a year old and dirt cheap but still.. Bugger.
We spent three nights there in the end with "sundowners" on two different sand banks. It's an odd feeling to be sitting down drinking wine with fellow yachties and you find yourself surrounded by water as the tide comes in. In the end, it's a bit of a rush to get everything packed away in the dinghies to get back home before the chair legs get wet.
|Sundowners on the sand bank at Pancake Creek|
|Nothing happening here!|
From there we headed out to Lady Musgrave. We missed this stop the last time we came north due to weather conditions so we were determined to get there this time. It's the southernmost coral cay in the Barrier Reef chain and part of the Capricornia group of islands. A magic spot with an island at one end of a huge lagoon surrounded by coral reefs.
I had a cunning plan. It went, we head off from pancake creek and sail to Lady Musgrave arriving just at slack water on the low tide. Slack water because the lagoon empties through a very narrow channel so going in on an ebb tide is a bit dodgy. So we dawdled along with me feeling quite smug as another boat that left before us headed off at top speed.
We arrived next to the reef entrance about 1 hour before low tide at 16:00. Nope, this wasn't part of the plan, it was a screw-up. The sea around the entrance to the channel was a totally confused mess with eddies and whirlpools. At that time, I figured out that the tide app on my phone was an hour out for some unknown reason as it's been pretty accurate all along. An hour till low tide and another hour before the flow subsided meaning if we waited, we would be anchoring in the dark amongst coral outcrops.
So, we headed into through this really narrow channel with thousands of tons of water headed the other way. It was probably the absolute worst time to enter the lagoon and decidedly dodgy! About 50 meters before we entered the channel, Venture was turned through almost 45 degrees one way and then the same again in the other direction due to one of the eddies. It was really tricky holding a straight course through that mess. After some heart-stopping moments, we entered the channel with the engine at top speed making about 1.5 knots over the ground and close to 7 knots through the water!
Inside the channel, the water stabilised into a lamina flow so no more fighting the wheel, just a very slow passage over about 100 metres of maybe 15 metre wide channel and that was when we saw what makes the lagoon waters so special. We could clearly see the coral on either side sloping off down to the sandy bottom about 8 meters below us. The water was like glass, an absolutely amazing sight!
We were both gob smacked all the way up through the lagoon to the anchorage. You could see the coral outcrops clearly and it was quite easy to find a big patch of sand to put the anchor down. I could watch the anchor settle on the bottom, 7 meters below us and as I paid out the chain, I could see it turn over and start to dig in.
Through all this, we took not one single photo! We were both stunned but thought that the conditions would be the same the following day so we basically lazed around and planned what we would do the next day.
Then the weather changed. For the whole of the next day it was blowing at about 10 to 15 knots and cold, the sea was choppy and there was a swell running especially when the reef was covered at high tide. We knew we would only have one full day there as there was some bad weather coming and the lagoon can be a very uncomfortable place in a developed strong wind. We did take the dinghy to the beach and had a nice walk around and across the island but no snorkelling. Bugger.
|A pretty poor panorama of the beach at Lady Musgrave|
We left the next day and headed back to Pancake Creek to wait out the predicted northerly blow before heading north again. The cunning plan was a total bust! If we had not dawdled over, we would have had a much easier passage through the channel and the afternoon to mess about in the glass like conditions but no, too clever by half.
We spent another couple of nights in the creek before heading off at dawn again (sorry Terry) for Hummocky Island, just on the other side of the tropic of Capricorn. The tropics. We celebrated by having a tipple of (what I thought) was Dubliner (whisky liqueur). Terry took one sip and nearly spat it out. I'd poured McAllister (cheap mixing scotch) instead :-) After hunting through the boat for at least 10 minutes, we finally came up with the bottle of Dubliner which Terry had put in a very safe place and had our "cheers" moment!
|Crossing into the tropics. Cheers!|
The weather forecast let us down this time. We chose to go on a day with some nice strong South Westerly winds which would put Venture on a beam reach in perfect sailing conditions but by the time we left, the forecast was downgraded to only 5 to 10 knots and that was what we got. The motor was on almost the whole way yet again.
On the way, we crossed the tropic of Capricorn and entered the tropics.
|Venture at Hummocky Island.|
The rocks on the left here looked a lot closer from the boat!
Hummocky Island was nice! A big bay on the northern side of the island with good clean sand for the anchor and protection from the expected strong southerly overnight. On the way in, we saw some big sea caves so we dropped the dinghy and motored around to have a look inside.
With torches in hand, I turned the dinghy round and backed slowly towards the first cave. There was about a 1/2 meter swell running and it was quite disconcerting to see this hill of water disappear into the cave and the surge was quite strong. I was just getting the hang of balancing the motor against the intermittent surge to slowly move backwards into the cave when there was this loud hollow boom somewhere inside the cave. It was really quite eerie. So we chickened out and motored around to the other cave. This one had a wider opening and looked more promising except the roof sloped down to a small opening at the back maybe 10 meters inside the cliff face.
|The opening was about 3 meters wide but the surge|
and weird booming noises were a bit much for us brave souls
|This one was wider but not very deep into the cliff face|
except for the tiny opening at the back
Not quite the adventure we expected. Terry was wearing a head band torch the whole time but we never got out of the sunlight :-)
Daryl and Ruth were in the anchorage with us in their boat so we had sundowners on the beach. Daryl and I swapped stories while Terry chased Max (2 and bit) all over the place. Nibbles and wine were consumed until well after sunset. Both Max and Terry slept well that night but I hung around in the cockpit trying to figure out if we were getting closer to the rocks as the tide dropped.
|Sunset at Hummocky Island|
At one stage, I was using a narrow torch beam, a level app on my phone and the formula "tan Θ = distance_to_rocks / height _above_water" (I'm a tech head, what do you expect!) to figure out the distance. I discovered that it's really tricky to hold a phone on top of the torch as high as possible while simultaneously pointing the torch at the rock and reading the angle on the phone on the back of a moving boat! After 3 attempts I averaged out the results and came up with 30 meters! The plan was to repeat it an hour later but I fell asleep in the cockpit. Math is fun but a laser range finder would be so much better :-)
The following day we headed off to Rosslyn Bay for some provisioning and another couple of odd jobs. Another motor sail in 5 to 10 knot breeze. We are really putting some hours on our new motor!
|Sunset at Roslyn Bay (Keppel Bay Marina)|
Highlights: Some nice sailing up the coast and crystal clear water at Musgrave
Lowlights: The engine water heater failed. Bugger.
For those that are interested, here's our current track Northbound since we left Tweed Heads. It should open in Google Earth..