11/18 - 11/19: What was originally planned to be a long day became longer once we decided to go to Phuket.
We now had to fly from Phuket to Bangkok, wait a couple of hours, and then start our long trip to Hamilton Island.
Got our of Phuket and Bangkok without incident. Flight to Singapore was great.
Most comfortable plane we've ever been on. We heard lots about Singapore Airlines service, and they did not disappoint.
Food was great, had our choice of 9 movies at a time, and the seats we huge and comfy.
Singapore looked pretty from the air. Lots of water. We'll have to return there someday.
The airport is probably the nicest we have been to. They have tons of stores, an
entertainment/movie center, a "quiet area" where one can sleep, and lots of places to eat.
The club room was also the best we have been in. It had shower rooms, Internet access, streaming stock quotes for the business types, and food for days.
The only downer was that our flight was delayed about an hour. We did not worry about it much because we had a 4 hour layover planned in Brisbane.
Little did we know how much the delay would cost us. When we got to Brisbane, after sleeping about 2 hours all night, we saw that there was a 7:35 flight to Hamilton Island.
Ours was scheduled for 11:55. We landed at 6:50 and hurried to baggage claim.
After about 10 minutes, they said that our bags would be delayed because the plane had not been properly sprayed for quarantine in Singapore.
They are really particular here about what comes into the country. Bags arrived about 15-20 minutes later.
We hustled to the transfer check-in point. She said, "10 minutes earlier and you would have made it ..... now you don't have a chance".
Then Don's boarding pass got jammed, delaying us another few minutes. We groaned a bit but there was nothing we could do.
Took a bus to the domestic terminal. The 7:35 flight was still boarding.
We asked the check-in person there if we could make it. She checked and said, "Awe, they just went to final ..... two minutes earlier and you could have made it ... plenty of open seats".
Ugh!!!! Got Don's boarding pass and headed for the gate of the 7:35 flight ... just in case.
On the way, we hear a call for a certain couple to that flight. We start running.
On the way, we pass them with an Ansett employee. Happy are we. We get to the gate well before them.
We ask if we can get on. He says we cannot because we checked our bag and must fly with our
bags. We said this is just like flying standby. He says it's not, but cannot tell us how it's different.
He says the only reason the plane is there is because of a medical offload.
We did not care why the plane was still there. We only knew that it was.
The other couple passes us and boards. He says sorry and sends us on our way.
"Pissed" does not begin to express our feelings on this one. We're so tired and our family all arrives in Hamilton before us, so it would have been nice to get there sooner.
After a few hours in the club room playing solitaire and trying to stay awake, they announce that our flight is delayed.
We headed to the gate a bit later because we just could not stay awake any longer.
We curled up on the floor near the gate, in front of a window. Slept on our day packs for about an hour and a half.
Only woke up because Don set the alarm on his watch so we would not miss our flight.
We awake to find that the flight is further delayed. When we finally depart, we have been in Brisbane for 8 hours.
Could have been there for 30 minutes if the guy in Singapore had sprayed the plane OR the boarding pass had not jammed OR the guy had let us on the first flight ... the one with all the empty seats.
Our families waited for 3-4 hours for us at Hamilton. We had been traveling for 24 hours when we finally made it.
Despite the fatigue, we were very happy to see everyone. It had been a long time without seeing a familiar face.
The weather was less than desirable. We read on the flight that MacKay (south a bit on the mainland) had
received a month's worth of rain in 2 days. We were later told that this year and last year have had the earliest starts to the rainy season in 20 years.
Unfortunately, the weather would not cooperate much with us on this leg.
We took the shuttle to our room. The room was great, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a large balcony.
After some showers, we headed out for a walk. Even with the drizzling, we could see how beautiful it was there.
We made dinner reservations and checked out a little
souvenir shop. We had a seafood dinner at the marina and then walked back.
We could barely keep our eyes open at dinner. Saw what we thought was a kangaroo in the bushes on the way back.
As we went to bed, Don spotted several of them below our balcony. They were pretty small.
We were later told that they were
wallabies. Looked like roos to us!
11/20: Oly was sitting on the balcony in the morning when a parakeet looking bird flew up to him.
You're not supposed to feed them, but we might have let a piece or two "fall".
Before we could bat an eye, there were 3-4 of the birds there. They are green, with yellow, red, and orange on their chest.
As pretty as any bird in a pet store. A large white cockatoo with a yellow head arrived also.
He later brought a friend. Some of the birds got on Oly's hand, and we seem to recall that one ate something out of his mouth.
It was a great start to the day.
Dawn and Don headed for the marina for a 9:00 check-in on the boat. All paperwork said 9:00.
After a half hour or so, and no boat, the marina called our charter company.
They said they never check-in before 11:00 on Hamilton. Guess the 9:00 time was only for mainland
check-ins. We start the checkout at about 11:30. The family is shopping (clothes, fishing supplies, etc.) and hanging out, driving their little golf carts about.
The boat is gorgeous, as you can see from the photos on this page, and the rest of them on the Cumberland web site.
All our food is there. The fridge is packed. The check-in process is pretty simple.
The guy spends a lot of time telling us about not hitting reef and such. He talked a bit too much.
We were eager to go. We finally got underway at about 2:30, after getting some ice for the
"Esky" (Ozzie name for a cooler ... derived
from Eskimo .... should we now call Oly an Esky??). We motor to our first anchorage.
The rules are that we can only sail between 8:00am and 4:00pm. This is one of the ways that they can allow people without experience to sail.
The anchorage that the guy selected for us is a bit narrow and shallow. The chart shows a depth of 2.1m at low tide.
We have a draft (keel depth) of 1.7m. So, we're a bit nervous about getting a deep enough spot between the shore and the reef.
We grill some "shrimp on the barbie" and have a wonderful dinner under the stars.
So many stars!!! As the night wears on, we can see some clouds in the distance and some lightning.
We realize that we forgot to get bait. So, we fish off the bottom with prawn heads from dinner.
One must be resourceful when the fish are jumping, and they are definitely jumping on this night.
While about to fall asleep, Don gets a hard hit on his line. After a bit of a battle he gets it to the boat and Dawn grabs it in the net.
A nice silver fish with big eyes. The crew agreed that he was about 6 pounds despite Don's contention of 8-9 pounds.
Not too bad for an opening catch. Diana fished a bit later. About 2 minutes after she gave Don the pole so she could go to bed, Don landed another of the silver fish.
He's pretty happy about now. In the night, the rains come. We have to close the hatches, so it gets pretty warm in the boat.
While we are fishing, an alarm goes off telling us that we are in less than 2m of water.
That leaves us a little over a foot before we scrape the mud, and the tide is still two hours from low tide.
The tidal range in the Whitsundays is huge. Where we are, the range is about 3m (10 feet) from low to high.
This creates a lot of issues with anchoring, getting dinghies caught on coral, and strong tides through narrows.
Dawn and Don stay awake to watch the boat. We are sure
are going to scrape or lay the boat over. The tide keeps dropping. We use the manual depth gauge (like a plum-bob with meter markers) to check the depth, which shows about 2 meters more than the computer.
The computer gets to 0.1m. That means we should be sitting in about 4 inches of water, which we obviously are not.
It's clear that the charter company has decided to offset the computer to keep people from hitting the bottom.
We're not too happy about this because it caused us a lot of stress and resulted in little sleep.
11/21: The family is up early. Jet lag is tough with an 18 hour time change. They will be up before Don and Dawn every day, often by 3 hours. We set sail for the Molle Islands. The wind is 10-15 knots (roughly miles per hour), with gusts close to 20 knots. We go between some islands and have lunch in a little cove off South Molle Island. Then we set out for Nara Inlet. The inlet is an "all weather anchorage", providing protection from all directions. It's a large inlet, and there are probably 30 boats in there. It's also a bit deeper than the first night, although not by much. Had some great fish for dinner. It rains again on this night and the wind blows something fierce. Gusts in the 25 knot range. This is our first time at anchor on a windy night. Nobody sleeps very well as we are worried about dragging our anchor and drifting into another boat or some coral. We never moved
though. We are all glad to have been in Nara, and we think about what people outside of such a safe anchorage must have felt like.
11/22: We awake to a nice sunny day. The days have been mostly sunny thus far, with rain coming at night. On the way out of Nara, we see a few sea turtles in the clear blue water. They are neat to see because they move so slowly and smoothly. We head north towards Hayman Island.
Hayman is a very exclusive resort. We discuss having lunch there, but decide not to. They charge $85 (Australian ... about $50 US) to enter the marina, and then everyone has to have a $75 lunch. We don't figure it's worth that. We make our way around the northern tip of Hook Island. There are a number of dive/snorkel spots with moorings in this area. The whole area is protected so there is no fishing. We luckily got a mooring at a place called Manta Ray Bay. A boat was just leaving one of the two moorings there. Time for some
snorkeling!! Well, after we perform our customary leaps from the boat as soon as we moor or anchor at a spot. The water is like 26 degrees
Celsius (close to 80 F).
Diana and Shirley head out for the first snorkeling experience of their lives!! They are a bit nervous, but do quite well. Oly starts to
snorkel, but quickly realizes that he cannot get a seal from his mask because of his mustache. Don offers to shave it off for him, but oddly Oly does not seem interested in his offer. The
snorkeling is fabulous. It's as good as what we saw on the Great Barrier Reef during our honeymoon. There are many types of coral (brain, fan, some tree-like ones), clams, and fish of all shapes and colors. "The Moms" are very excited by the time they get done
snorkeling. This has been a very good stop. The place looks like all the pictures we have seen. Clear calm water and white sand beaches.
After a lunch on the mooring, we make our way to Stonehaven Anchorage. The 6 moorings in the northern anchorage are all taken.
Moorings are for 2 hours max. There's an unwritten rule that if a boat is moored after 3:00, they have the mooring for the night. We learn that the 3:00 line is more like 1:30. So we head for the four southern mooring in
Stonehaven. The first two are taken. We head for one of the two open ones further along. Dawn is steering and Don is on the bow keeping a lookout. Good thing too. Don spots some coral and Dawn quickly backs the boat down and reverses out. Turns out that the four southern moorings are separated into groups of two by a long reef. We have to go around the reef to get to the other moorings. We are very glad to have seen the reef. Could have been a quick end to this leg of the trip. Whew!
We finally catch the mooring and jump in. We're all glad to have a mooring since we expect to sleep better with the mooring than an anchor. Yeah right!! After a swim, we took the dinghy through
the coral and to a beach for a little exploration. Because it is so shallow, Don walks the dinghy in the last several meters. While walking, he spots 2-3 stingrays zooming across the ocean floor. They are a sandy color, with spots. Quite pretty. Don shuffles his feet to avoid stepping on one, even though he is wearing his sandals. After exploring, we headed back to the boat. On the way, we saw two catamarans heading for the last mooring. the loser must anchor for the night. One of the cats is coming straight across the reef we narrowly missed before. Cats run more shallow (i.e., have less draft) than our
monohull, but we're sure he will scrape the reef. The guy coming over the reef is winning the race when the other one (going by our boat) turns on the afterburners and gets
there first. We later learned from Oly, who had stayed on the boat, that the boat coming over the reef had been late to the mooring and was actually trying to steal it from the other boat. He did not succeed though.
We try to fish a bit, but we only have lures and do not catch anything. The night is horrible. This
anchorage is subject to "bullets" in with winds from the south-east, which is where they are from. Hook Island rises up rapidly to the south-east of the moorings. Wind comes over the top and then accelerates down to the water. You can hear it coming much of the time. It hums in the rigging and moves the boat around a lot. We made a couple of errors that made the night worse. First, we forgot to remove the halyard from the mainsail. Don remembered this in the night and wanted to remove it and secure it. It's possible, although unlikely, that the sail could catch wind and raise if the wind were strong enough. So, we detached the halyard and secured the mainsail.
As the tide comes in, the boat drifts past the mooring if the wind stops for a bit. When the wind picks up, the boat starts swinging. In certain circumstances, the mooring
buoy starts slamming against the boat. It is very loud, especially in the forward berth, where Don and Dawn are. The boat shudders at times from the smacks against the
buoy. One time the sound was louder than normal. We investigated in the rain. We learned of our second mistake. We did not tie the back of the dinghy up at night. The front is always tied, but the back swings free. The dinghy has swung all the way around to the bow and smacked hard into the boat. No damage but the sound woke everyone. Don climbed down into the dinghy to get
the line and tie it on. It was raining quite a bit and the wind was howling, but the desire for sleep required us to tie the thing up. We estimate winds at 30+ knots on this night. The Moms later heard a story at Hamilton of a
fisherman caught out at sea during that night's storm. He said he thought he was going to die. He says he registered gusts of 60 knots. The difference between 15 and 25 knots is the difference between a casual sail with beers and a
severely healed boat with uncomfortable passengers. The difference between 25 and 60 knots is something we hope to never experience. Without our Beaufort scale in front of us, we think that 60 knots is somewhere near a hurricane. It's at least a strong gale.
11/23: We are now very tired of rainy, fitful nights. We decide to head to Hamilton Island. We will sleep much better in a marina ..... and we need cigars, ice, and bait. It's a nice sail back to Hamilton, although against the wind and tide. Somehow we are always against the wind!! We have to motor hard for the last hour plus to make it before the
marina office closes. We're pretty happy when we get there. We had a nice dinner at a
restaurant. The Moms did some laundry, which they seemed pretty pleased to have the opportunity to do. Don and Dawn finished the night at the local bar, listening to a band and knocking a few back. Not sure what the alcohol limits are for dinghy piloting in a harbor, but Don may have tested them. Somehow we managed the 100 yard ride back to the boat though :)
11/24: Off to Whitehaven Beach today. This beach is like 7km of white silica sand. It's on all the postcards. We hoped for sun, but were soon wearing raincoats as we moved through Fitzlan Passage. We could see the weather in the distance. Sails up anyway. Started off alright. Kind of fun sailing in the weather ..... at least Don thought so. Swell started to pick up as we headed towards Solway passage, which can be a bear in contrary winds. At this point, we start taking a lot of water over the bow. It's splashing against windows of the cover in front of us, which is about 25 feet or so from the bow. Everyone is nervous, but Don ploughs on. Wiser minds finally prevail and ask Don to take down the sails. He's not happy about it ..... but perhaps a bit relieved. Don stands at the mast to take the main sail down. We go over a large swell, such that the bow comes well out of the water and slams down on the back of the swell. Don later says he felt his teeth rattle. He's now pretty glad to have the engine on :) We finally make the turn and get into the comfort of Solway Passage .... the thing we originally feared.
We head over to Whitehaven, which is pretty even in the rain and clouds. However, we decide to head across to Chalkies Beach to set anchor for the night. It looks more protected in the south-east wind, and other boats are already heading in. We try to set anchor like 3 times, but it keeps dragging. We finally get it set and pile into the water. The
snorkeling is great, even without much sun. The "Snorkel Moms" headed out also. There was lots of new coral and everything was pretty shallow. Don followed a stingray for about 90 seconds. It was about 2 feet long.
Explored a bit on the land. Oly stayed on the boat to fish. As we returned to the boat, we saw Oly pull out a fish. Good timing!! It was about2 feet long. Funny looking thing, with black and white stripes. Sort of looks like a shark, but not quite. Unfortunately, Dawn and Don would get a closer look at one a few days later.
Did some fishing in the evening. Diana caught one. Don had one get away. Shirley caught one (or maybe it was the next morning?). Wind was howling again in the night and the anchor made dreadful noises, even though it was snubbed with a rope on the boat. We feared that we were dragging. With so many boats near us, and the coral not too far towards the shore, we decide to setup a watch system. Don takes the first watch ..... so he could fish more. Caught 3 fish. The Dawn/Diana shift came on at about 2:30 and early-morning Oly took his standard 5:00am shift. The boat never moved, despite all the noise. We decided that the chain was dragging on rocks but the anchor was not moving.
11/25: We quickly decided to stay at anchor this day. Everyone is tired from the restless night.
Snorkeled a bit, but the water was cloudy. Tried diving too, but it was just too shallow where it was clear and cloudy where it was deep. Oly and Don went out to troll for tuna from the dinghy. There were boils in the water, but they quickly move around the bay. We caught nothing. Saw another boil later, and headed out again. Don
steering and Dawn trolling. We got right into a couple of boils. Fish were jumping clear of the water all around us. It was exciting. As we were about to head back, we got into
another boil. Strike!! Fish On!!! Dawn starts working the fish. The thing is fast and powerful. She finally gets him to the boat,
and we see that it's a barracuda, not a tuna. Many small sharp teeth. Line is wrapped tight around his mouth. We get him in the net, but realize we forgot pliers to get the lure out. No way we go near those teeth. We drag him back to the boat to get the lure out. When we almost have it out, he breaks off with the lure in his mouth. We doubt he will live, and we feel pretty bad about it. This is the downside of fishing. Rest of the day is spent napping, playing scrabble, and eating. Almost everyone slept better..
11/26: The plan is to head back to Hamilton in the morning and go deep sea fishing on a charter boat in the afternoon. The crew leaves on the morning of the 27th. We get underway a little after 7:00am The skies are dark and rain is falling in the opposite direction that we are heading. We get through Solway Passage without incident, but quickly encounter large seas. We are under power and still scared. On our desired path, we are taking 2m plus swells straight on the side of the boat (i.e., abeam), causing us to roll a lot. It is very rough; the roughest we have experienced sailing. We forgot to let the dinghy farther back on the line, so it is very close to the boat. It bounces up and down a lot. We take lots of water over the bow and even some over the stern when we turned. We discuss what to do a couple of times, but plough ahead. Then Diana says, "the gas tank is gone". The tank from the dinghy flew out of it's container and into the ocean. We make a run to pick it up, but the boat hook is fastened to the bow of our boat (for picking up moorings) and there's no way we're sending anyone up there in these conditions. We again discuss what to do. Diana says, "Let's go back".
Until now, no passenger has said what we should do. They usually say they will do whatever we think is best. This sudden declaration about going back told us that we really needed to head back. So back we went, less one gas tank. Not sure what that will cost us.
Once we got back into Solway Passage, everyone was relieved to be safe. Experienced skippers would not be so concerned in these conditions, but we are far from experienced ...... and we were terrified. So, we took the long way around to Hamilton Island. Went fast, so we actually made it in time, but they cancelled fishing. They only cancel if the winds are over 25 knots, and they were 25-30 the whole day. We
unfortunately picked the day with the worst weather to fish. So we napped instead!!! The charter company had a gas tank waiting for us when we got back to Hamilton.
11/27: The crew flies out around mid-day. The morning is spent on last-minute shopping and packing. We are sad to see the crew leave. It has been very nice to be family ...... and friendly faces that we know. We never felt very alone on the trip until everyone left. On top of that, the weather started to look better. The night brought fairly clear skies, a great sunset on the bow, many stars, and very little wind. The days that followed had better weather indeed. How does it go? "The best laid plans of mice and men ......". We just relaxed at Hamilton for the rest of the day, glad to not be in heavy winds.
11/28: We decide to do some sailing today. Seems like we have not sailed in days. Actually, we haven't. We sailed to the west of Long Island, and then up to Stonehaven Anchorage again. We just about gave up a mooring when Dawn spotted someone leaving theirs. We raced over to it and got it. Very lucky. We gear up for a dive. The water does not look great, but we figure we can dive and get more air the following day. We're down about 10 minutes when a fish starts
swimming near us. It's the exact same kind that Oly caught a few days prior. We shoo it away, but it comes right back. It swims right at our fingers and our faces. This is not cool!! After struggling with it for a bit, Don darts for the surface. Glad that we are not very deep. On the surface, the fish persists. We punch him and kick him, but it does
no good. We are a good 100m from the boat. We start swimming while fending the darn thing off.
We are pretty scared, despite it's small size. We think of the small "Compys" in
Jurassic Park. We finally make the boat, the fish chasing us the entire time.
We even see him from the boat. We later realize that Don had handled bait earlier and the fish might have smelled that.
It does not explain why the fish chased Dawn, who was sometimes 20 feet away.
We want this fish dead. We will see him again.
Don puts some bait on a hook and
throws the line in the water. The bait falls off (nice job) and the hell
fish darts from under the boat and eats it. As Don reels the line in, the
fish bites at the empty hook, almost getting caught. After donating a bit
more bait to the fish, Don switches to a smaller hook. Catches the hell
fish on the first try. The thing swallowed the hook. While we tried
to remove the hook, the fish flipped over on its back and made some odd
noise. It had stuck its head to the deck on the back of the boat.
Took a while to get it off. We learned later (in Tahiti) that the fish is
a sucker fish that attaches itself (via the suckers on its head) to large
fish. They are also know to attach themselves to diver's tanks, fins, of
stomachs (if not wearing a wetsuit). So, he was not trying to bite
us. He was only looking for a large creature to cling to. We saw
several more of them in Tahiti. This one did not make it though. The
hook was just too far in his mouth. We felt bad, even though we wanted to
chop him into little pieces only 10 minutes earlier.
Don fished until dark with the
trusty hand-line he bought at Hamilton Island (Oly took the rods and reels home
since we did not want to not carry them with us the rest of the way).
Including the hell fish, Don caught 6 fish that night. Three of them were
barely visible, coming it at about 4 inches in length, but all were fun on the
hand-line. We had feeding Tuna nearly run into our boat, but we did not
catch any of those. Would have been a treat on the hand-line.
Stonehaven treated us to ugly winds
again on this night. At least we had the boat properly tied down for this
night this time. We saw a gust of 30 knots on the indicator once, and we
know we heard stronger winds at other times. A good night's rest is tough
to come by while at anchor!!
11/29: We headed for some nice looking reef near Hayman Island this
morning. We caught a mooring and took the dinghy in for some
snorkeling. The wind was strong and the water was a bit choppy, but the
water was clear under the surface. The small island we went to was
connected to another smaller island by a sand bridge. We saw a large fish
(about 3 feet long) wiggle his way over the sand bar when the water started to
rise. The fish was trying to get into the water that was unreachable at
low tide. After our snorkel, we started walking across the bridge.
The water was about mid-thigh deep, and the walking was tough. We turned
back after going about 1/4 of the way across. Good thing. After we
ate lunch on the boat, we look at the sand bridge and it was totally gone.
There was almost no sign that it ever existed. We would have been
castaways on the smaller island until the tide came down (about 6 hours or
We sailed up around the west side of
Hayman to check out the snorkeling. The water was beautiful shades of
blue. We wanted to snorkel, but could not find room to drop anchor.
We finally gave up and sailed to Nara Inlet for the night. Don went out
with the dinghy to fish again. As he was just about to head back, he
caught the first of three fish. Not a bad little trip. Hand-line
fishing is really fun. Lots of starts on this night, and no rain.
This is the first night without rain. We kept the hatches open and watched
the many stars from our bed.
11/30: The wind is supposed to be light today (10-15 knots), so we
decide to sail to Whitehaven. We have not yet seen this popular beach in
the sun. As soon as we are out of Nara Inlet it's clear that the weather
report is wrong AGAIN. They always seem to estimate too low. We
decide to just sail back to Hamilton since we do not want to be in the
unprotected waters while the wind is up. We cannot afford to lose another
gas can!! On the way back, we had steady 15-18 knot winds, with frequent
gusts in the low 20s and a few gusts in the 25 knot range. The trip to and
from Whitehaven would have been ugly. Instead, we had a really good sail
all the way back to Hamilton, often doing 6.5 - 7 knots.
12/01: Today is our
last day in the Whitsundays. Someone arrives on the morning ferry to check
us out and take the boat back. He just asks us for feedback and wishes us
a good journey. Very easy process. We head for the airport and our
flight to Brisbane.
This leg was a good one. We
got to see family and experience some wonderful scenery. It was also
unnerving at times, with the heavy weather. It was sad that the family had
such poor weather and then things cleared up the day they left. If you're
going to the Whitsundays, go before November. The books say that November
is dry, but they lie. The last two years have apparently been wet in
November. October may be a better time to go.