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Step 1: get on the boat. Step 2: head north.

A week later and we were sailing past Cape Capricorn, The water is up to 23°C and blue and the breeze is a nice 13 knots on a perfect beam reach giving us eight knots over the water. It’s flat enough that Vicki’s Champagne doesn’t even look like falling over!

OK, it’s not that easy and there is always some detail to be looked at. We had been planning our six week break for  about a year. However as my daughter Katrina was working in the snow, we decided to go visit. On day two partner Vicki fell over and broke a leg, needing a plate and some pins inserted. So it was six weeks non-weight bearing, then six weeks hobbling with a temporary cast.

This took the edge off the trip while we waited until she could walk without sticks. So it was a few weeks late, August 27, that we sailed out the Southport seaway at 0640 and turned left. The transponder showed water temp at 19.5°C.

Rushing north

Our long-term plan is to retire for a few years and go sailing, so we saw this trip as a shake-down cruise for the new items: the watermaker, dive tank compressor and other stuff.

We have had our Seawind 1000 for seven years and all other systems are good. We have done a return Sydney trip and even a few Brisbane to Gladstone offshore races. However, with the broken leg and resultant unsteadiness, we could not safely do any overnighters so it was to be day-hops and see how far we could get.

Before I go further, I know watermakers and compressors are heavy but the rationale is this: if I can wait until I get down  to 100 litres of water, then make 100 litres, so we carry 200 litres total, it means we save 240kg by not carrying the normal 440 litre tank. This means we save 240 kilograms of potential load that can be allocated to other gear such as scuba tanks, weights, cameras, generator, spare fuel etc. Plus, for those of you who collect rainwater, we were away for five weeks and did not experience a single rainshower!

The Monday night was spent on the northern side of Moreton, safely out of the 10kt southerly and swell.

The next day was a quiet sail up to Double Island Point, again, a gentle southerly. Early next morning we crossed Wide Bay Bar just on the calm of the high and continued up to Garys Anchorage for the night.

I had a couple of days work planned in Urangan, so we spent two nights in the marina enjoying the café’s and the take-away at the boat club, plus some quick shopping to top up the fresh tucker.

The local limousine service is quicker and cheaper than the taxi’s and actually turned up on time – unlike the taxi! It was while checking the boat over the next morning, that I discovered that the forward beam tensioner cable had suffered a number of cracked strands. So I rang Seawind who put me onto Tempo Spars and a replacement was ordered to be waiting for us at Keppel Bay Marina in Yeppoon in a few days.

Saturday, first day of spring! We got out early and used the nice Sou’wester to head north under reefed main and screecher.
With the wind behind there is no load on the forward beam so I had no concerns about the tensioner.

A beautiful Queensland spring day and cool 18kt westerly enabled us to sit on nine knots and had us arriving in Bustard Bay, named by Capt Cook in 1770, outside the town of the same name – 1770 -  just on sundown. Time to pour a celebratory rum and enjoy another superb sunset.

This was also the full moon with no cloud and easing breeze with no swell at all. The log showed 92nm travelled, average speed seven knots with a burst to 12kts. This was one of those days where everything just worked!

Sunday was Fathers Day and as Sunbird continued north, I took calls from Liam and Katrina as we passed Pancake creek. Ta kids!

The water was up to 210C, wind remained SSW and we passed smelly Happy Rock and Facing island with its carpark of tankers and cargo vessels. Arriving in the Tropic of Capricorn at 1530, we pulled in early on nice sand behind Cape Capricorn where the lighthouse rail line comes down to the beach. Went ashore with chairs and wine and watched another sunset. Again, a quiet anchorage, Vicki cooked up some fresh ingredients and we had another gourmet feed.

A relatively late start the next day and sailed the 10nm to Hummocky island where we had a late breakfast anchored in five metres of sandy bottom on the north side. Lovely spot!

Then on to Great Keppel island, ashore again for a paddle and a wine. We rang Yeppoon marina and organised an overnight berth to pick up our forestay tensioner.

The marina experiences four metre tides and the fore-and-aft moorings are interesting, we counted seven other Seawinds on our floating jetty.

The marina café has an excellent feed and they also provide a courtesy car, free for two hours. Booking is required and all we had available was the 0730 to 0930 slot so, next morning, I went into town for some supplies and more lures and line to replace what the fish had stolen!

The tensioner cable turned up as promised (many thanks Tempo) so a quick hour to slacken shrouds and forestay, remove cable, refit and tension and tighten shrouds and forestay again. I had replaced the shrouds and forestay when the boat turned ten, so was familiar with the procedure and tensions required.

Wednesday we left early again, eager to be heading north. Pulled into Port Clinton for breakfast and it was during this stop that the anchor winch gear seized. Bugger!

Then again, it was 13 years old and had heaps of use as a charter boat in the Whitsundays.

I actually have a spare anchor winch assembly, which was attached to the electric motor I replaced when the boat turned ten. I had left this bit of gear at home. So I rang the neighbour, told him where to find it and got him to despatch it to Keppel Bay.
As we were only anchoring in five to eight metres of water at a maximum, hauling by hand is not that difficult for a little while. You have to expect some wear and tear with older vessels and as Sunbird turns 14 next year, I can’t complain.

We parked the night in Island Head creek, which is in the Shoalwater Bay military zone. Anchoring is permitted if nothing is going “boom” at the time, but you are not allowed ashore. The anchorage extends about five mile back into the hills, with plenty of sheltered spots. There is still the four metre tide to worry about and what looks like a nice spot can turn into a muddy spot if you are not careful.

Another lovely quiet night, big moon. If you are up this way in summer, watch for the mossies and sandflies. We had a few, but being September it was pretty quiet. Water was now 230C.

This was our last chance to get north, so we got up early to listen to the Rocky Met broadcast on repeater 21, hoping for a favourable outlook. E/NE to 15 knots for a few days, then a quick northerly, then a big southerly coming in four days. Time to go!

Using the mainly easterly breeze, reefed main and screecher, we got up to 10 knots on the last leg, bearing 3100 magnetic. We arrived at Middle Percy island at 1500.

Middle Percy mooching

Water was 24.50C, the bottom sandy and clean and the bay is protected from everything except westerlies. There is a small lagoon, entered on a high tide with permission from the caretaker, which dries down to 0.5 metres on a low tide. Good cyclone hole but not for a mono!

We went ashore to experience the A-frame museum and found mementos of a few of our known cruising friends, and memorabilia going back 100 years. It seems if you don’t have a carved wooden boat relic, you can write your details on something personal and hang it somewhere. A flag, an old camera perhaps or a toilet seat. I counted three prosthetic legs!
We organised a BBQ for the next night and returned to the boat after watching another sunset under the coconut trees. The next day we helped unload some donations being given to the caretakers, bought a few kilograms of pure honey from probably the only apiary in Queensland still unaffected by disease, had a look around and organised sundowners and a BBQ.

There is a continuous stream of cruisers dropping in, sharing stories and maps and anchorage knowledge, swapping recipes and books and phone numbers. Many a friendship has started here. Contact Queensland National Parks to express your concern that they wish to return it to “natural”; i.e. no A-frame, no caretakers, no bees, no cruisers, no boats, no history, no heritage, no people.

The sundowns, the beach, the water, the history, the fellow cruisers, the weather, it just goes on. The Percy islands are definitely a worthwhile destination.

Lazy return

The return trip involved timing our runs south to avoid the worst of the SE/SW winds that had helped us get here, choosing which islands to park behind and the best places to stop and watch the whales: which turned out to be Rooney Point on North Fraser.

It took two days to get the old anchor winch housing out, remove the gearbox and shaft and have them separated and refit the new one. I cleaned up the electric motor and cleaned the brushes at the same time. A bi-annual strip/grease/reassemble is on the books in future before the rot sets in again.

Everyone I know who has suffered winch failure has spent three days on the job. If you are going seriously offshore, get it done early.

We took ten days to get to the Percys and three weeks getting home, via The Narrows, Lady Musgrave Lagoon, Lady Elliot island and the Great Sandy Straits to Tangalooma. Taking our time and revisiting the highlights of the trip up. The verdict: well worth the effort!

And yes we are going again next year. We attended the Shag Island Cruising Yacht Club presentation night at Royal Queensland on the way back, where they presented a cheque for over $30,000 to the Prostate Cancer Council. For 2013 there is a serious rumour that Jimmy Buffett might be doing Shaggies (the SICYC Rendezvous) next year. Members only of course so get onto it.

See you on the water.

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