Saturday, 1 April 2017

Episode 57 The Whitsundays to Mackay and Cyclone Debbie

Lorelei’s Sailing Adventures

For Episode 56 we spent a month in The Whitsunday Islands with Paul’s parents George and Chez.
We sailed, explored in the Tinny, snorkelled, SUP, kayaked and even went out to the Great Barrier Reef twice.
We saved the best until last with a 4 day glass out at Little Black Reef which was over 70nm (120km from the mainland).

Our location for this episode

Our route for this episode

We hired a car on the 23th February to drop George and Chez back to the airport and then spent the next 2 days doing a massive reprovision of both fuel and long term food stores that would hopefully last over 3 months.
We had a stack of parcels at the Post Office that were spares, replacement parts and some new items to install.

We then sailed out to Nara Inlet and spent a further 2 days stowing all the provisions, installing the new parts and getting the boat back to normal cruising for 2 after having 4 of us on-board for the month.

With all the chores done, we linked up with friends Les and Kathy off the yacht Sea Temple and did a lot of great activities with them.

One awesome parcel that had arrived was a new stand-up paddleboard (SUP) for Lisa.
Les, Kathy and Paul all had one but up until then, Lisa was using her kayak.
 It was great for us to all have one each.

The SUP came from close friend Kahlee Andrews who worked with Paul at Adreno in Brisbane.

Kahlee’s cruising yacht is called “Kuna”, so when Kahlee ventured into the SUP designing and importing business, she named the boards “Kuna Boards”.

Unlike many inflatable SUP’s on the market, Kahlee’s boards are 6 inches thick and therefore much sturdier to stand-on and paddle with the added bonus of being able to hold weights of up to 180kg.

We were very impressed with the performance of the board compared to Paul’s Hawaiian epoxy board. It not quite as good – but its close and the best we’ve ever seen in an inflatable….

Kahlee’s Kuna Board website is:

We paddled with Les and Kathy each morning for a week with most paddling sessions being around 2 hours with a fun beach swim at the end to cool off.

After a few days we moved from Nara Inlet further south to Mays Bay to have a change of paddling scenery.

We took some fun photos of Les and Kathy’s yacht Sea Temple under sail as we sailed south past South Molle Island.

At Mays Bay, Les and Kathy took their Cobb slow cooker ashore one night to cook a Lamb Roast.
It was only when we got ashore we were told it was their 35th wedding anniversary so we celebrated with a few drinks at sunset.

The Cobb was taken back to Sea Temple and a fantastic meal was devoured with some more drinks and a yummy dessert.

When the SE winds picked up again, we decided to head around to Tongue Bay so Paul could kite the famous Hill Inlet for a few days at the north end of Whitehaven Beach.
The inlet is full of shallow sand bars and from the lookout we climbed the month prior (with George and Chez) it looked like a kiting mecca in the right wind conditions.

Paul pumped up the kite on the southern sand spit and mounted a camera in the kite strings. Lisa also had a camera on the shore.

At first it was a little bumpy as it was mid tide, but it was spring tides that day and the tide was dropping rapidly.

As the tide dropped, the surface conditions smoothed out leaving almost glassy sections over very shallow sand banks.

The flat shoreline made for perfect high speed carve turns.

As the tide dropped even further, Lisa went for a swim.
Paul jokingly gybed around her once and it looked like it would make a good photo so we tried it a few times with some great results.

The best one was a perfectly timed shot of us doing a hi-5 at speed.

The outer sand bars had small waves on them. It wasn’t huge surf but a lot of fun on a twin tip board.

The super low water meant a few stacks were inevitable.
Paul misjudged the water depth once over a sand bank and came to a screaming halt. It made for a funny 4 shot sequence.

The kite camera can sometimes produce some weird and distorted photos.
This one looks like a tsunami is about to hit.
And I had to thank wifey for patiently waiting for me during a long session and taking some great photos.

It was so much fun that we did it all again the next day.

When the wind dropped we moved back around to Cid Harbour.
Sea Temple and Katfish were both there (we met Katfish when in Gove) and we had a nice sunset with Sea Temple in the foreground.

When Sea Temple left, we decided to do a series of walks that we had not yet attempted.
The first one was the toughest climb in the Whitsundays and is the Whitsunday Peak walk starting at Sawmill Bay.
It was tough going through the humid and dense rainforest with lots of steep steps.

The summit at 434m is the highest peak in the Whitsunday islands and the view from the top is terrific.
There are 2 viewing spots facing both north and south.

Looking south to Hamilton and Lindeman Islands

Looking South East to Gulnare Inlet and Whitehaven Beach

Looking West to Cid Harbour, Dugong Inlet and Airlie Beach on the mainland

Looking North with a rain squall going past over Hook and Hayman Islands

On the way back down we saw some birds, lizards, insects and even a 2.1m/7ft snake that was in the middle of the path that reared up and had a strike at Lisa.
Fortunately Lisa saw it and backed away very quickly. As it was so aggressive, we thought the better of trying to photograph it but after a lot of searching Snake ID websites, we still couldn’t identify it.
So we photographed the more placid lizards instead.

With the big tides still present, we decided to try fishing up in the dense mangrove system of Dugong Inlet.
We had been up there with George and Chez but didn’t take any fishing gear so this time we wanted to flick a few lures around.

Lisa won the fishing contest (as she always does) but we only caught Cod and let them all go.

We did however see a lot of wildlife – both in and out of the water.
Paul casted his lure into a tree and got it caught in the foliage.
When we went to retrieve it, we looked up to find a stack of Wasp’s nests hanging above us.
Needless to say we had to be very careful not to disturb them.

We saw lots of stingrays and turtles in the water too.
We weren’t anchored and didn’t have to run the motor as the run out tide pushed us back down the river.
So the animals were coming very close to the boat as we slipped quietly by.

When we returned from fishing we noticed our friend Anthony from the cat Liquid Desire had anchored next to Lorelei.
We first met him in Palau as he was running a charter business and Paul used to surf with him in between charters.
We then bumped into him in Lizard Island last year and had hoped to see him in The Whitsundays as we had planned to be in the area around the same time.

Anthony is also a keen photographer, so he and Paul walked the Sawmill Bay track that afternoon taking shots of the rainforest.
It had just rained so the undergrowth and trees were wet making for great shots using the tripod in the dark conditions.

Late in the arvo, the sun started to poke through the dark canopy pushing light rays down into the rainforest.

That night we had a BBQ on board Liquid Desire with lots of food, music, surf videos and a little too much to drink.
It was a heap of fun until we all passed out on the lounge….

Despite being a little dusty the next morning, the 3 of us loaded up our tinny and we travelled 6nm across the Whitsunday Passage to South Molle Island to do a series of walks.

The resort has been closed for a long time and the wharf is de-commissioned but we were told that it has been purchased along with the neighbouring Daydream Island (sadly by the Chinese – another 2 iconic landmarks lost to overseas investors….) and they are both in the process of being re-developed.

Fortunately the walks are on National Park land and we were able to be escorted by building staff through the resort grounds to access the walks.

The first stop was a short 1km walk up to The Balancing Rock.

From there we ventured 3km to the islands highest peak, Mount Jeffreys.
The track winds along the side of the slopes giving fantastic views out to the surrounding waterways and islands.

The peak was brilliant!
You could stand on a rock and turn 360 degrees and see amazing views in every direction.

As we walked from Mount Jeffereys to Spion Kop, we passed whole mountain sides filled with Grass Trees.

There were also lots of palm trees loaded with fruit.

The view looking towards Spion Kop and across to the main Whitsunday Islands was spectacular.

The lookout out at Spion Kop has views over the islands and a newer section looks back over the resort and North Molle Island.

Overall we think the walks on South Molle are by far the best in The Whitsunday Islands.
The Spion Kop walk is the most popular but we think Mount Jeffereys has much more diverse views with its 360 degree view at the top.

For us it turned into a 6 hour / 9km walking session to cover all 3 sites – but we thought it was well worth the effort.

With slightly tired legs, we all braved a long SUP from Cid Harbour down to the southern areas of Nari’s and Joe’s Beaches.

Anthony even took Splash, his dog along for the paddle.

With all the extra things we wanted to do ticked off the list, we returned to Airlie Beach to make final preparations to leave and continue our cruising south.

But first we had one final job to do and that was take our sails back to Doyles Sail loft do some restitching and minor modifications.
After nearly 30 000 miles, we wanted the team (who made them for us) to have a look and see what needed to be done to bring them back up to perfect working order.
Getting them down and off Lorelei was a little easier said than done with only 2 of us. Trying to roll up a 60kg main sail that is fully battened and has an 8m/27ft wide foot was a challenge.

Lisa trying to work out how to get a 60kg and 8m long sail into a 4m tinny….

With NE swell and winds forecasted (that make for horrible conditions at the Airlie Beach anchorage) we motored back out to Nara Inlet and spent a week there while the sails were being repaired.
Considering how rough it was at Airlie, it was beautiful and glassy at Nara Inlet.

Each morning we would SUP for about 2 hours and over the week explored nearly every part of the inlet paddle boarding.

On the higher tides we were able to quietly meander up into the mangrove areas,
We saw lots of fish, turtles, rays, sharks and even some goats!

On the first day we wrote a list of jobs that needed to be done around Lorelei.
We came up with over 60 things on the list that ranged from a 5 minute fix to much longer and more complex jobs.

But we plugged away and after a week had over 90% complete with the final 10% requiring parts to be purchased.

We were so happy. Lorelei was looking great, fully serviced and ready to go for another 6 months.

One job we did on a rainy day was to plan the next section of our adventure which was the Swains Reef System at the outer southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

Friends had given us pages of hand written GPS co-ordinates for anchorages and fishing spots around The Swains and it took a full day to upload them into our charting software, take satellite images to overlay and work out the zoning for that location.

We were so happy to have that information as we had done a lot of research on the net about the area but sadly there was not a lot available.

In Nara we also met Anne and Michael who own an amazing cruising cat called Suite 2. Sunset drinks on their boat was enjoyable and very comfortable.

With the jobs done and the sails ready we returned to Airlie for a final time to pick them up.
We also noticed a small tear in the cockpit canopy and Doyles was also able to do the repair.
So we loaded the sails back on, got the spare parts we needed, did a food shop and were so excited to have done it all in a single day.

Lisa hoisting the mainsail back onto the boom

The downside of owning a large sailing boat – having a Genoa headsail that
has a 8m/27ft long foot. Not exactly easy to get back onto the furler.

That was until just before sunset when we were putting the canopy back on and Paul ripped it again. This time it was a long tear and it had to go back to Doyles again the next day for another patch.
Fortunately Bryn the head sail maker had his yacht moored next to Lorelei and he was able to easily pick it up and drop it off on his way past.

We enjoyed a great sunset and post sunset colours over Airlie Beach before leaving the next day after the cover was re-installed.

Right at about that time we noticed a deepening low pressure system forming off the NE tip of Australia.
Some weather models had the system crossing the coast between Townsville and Airlie Beach as a category 3 cyclone.
Whilst it was only a low probability, we didn’t want to take any chances so we took off over to Nara Inlet.
We just left Airlie before it got hammered with an intense storm.

We had rainbows over the Molle Islands as we crossed the passage.

We stayed at Nara until 2am when the tide turned and we set sail for Mackay which was 70nm south.
The current assistance past Hamilton Island was significant and gave us at least 20-30% more speed.

However it wasn’t to be all plain sailing and by daybreak we had torrential rain that had visibility down to less than 50m for most of the trip.

We were pretty rattled by the time we got into the marina.
We had received over 200mm of rain during the 12 hour trip and the swell was building at the entrance to the harbour as we arrived.

With the low pressure deepening, we decided to hire a car the next day so we could pick up our new batteries, reprovision with fruit and veg and have a bit of a look around town.
It was interesting to note that despite being only 70nm (a long day sail from Airlie Beach), the car hire and marina berth rental was ½ the price and the marina staff 5 times as nice.

The batteries turned into a mission.
They were 6 x 2 volt Gel cells that weighed 52kg each.
The battery company brought them out to the car with a fork lift and we had to break open the timber carton and hand lift each cell into the leg area of the back seat.
Needless to say the car was fully loaded.
Fortunately we organised the pick up at high tide so the ramp going from the land to the marina wharf was at its least steep angle.

Paul used our trolley to move each one to Lorelei’s berth before struggling to get them on board and downstairs.

Paul with 312kg worth of 6 x 2v 830A/H cells.

With the low intensifying, we decided not to install them for a few days until the threat had passed.
It turned out to be a very good decision.

So we took advantage of the hire car to explore the break wall around the marina.
Conditions weren’t too bad and we were able to get out to the end and have a look at the harbour entry and lights.

It was cool to see that the wall construction team had made some interesting tables and chairs out of stone.

The wind and swell on the break wall wasn’t too bad – but that was going to change….

The next day conditions had deteriorated and the low had been named as Tropical Cyclone Debbie.
So we spent the morning stripping Lorelei’s decks, removing the canopy, securing sails and putting extra lines to the marina cleats.
By lunchtime, Lorelei was spider web tied into a 25m double berth and bow facing the east which is where the onslaught was due to come from.

We did another walk out to the break wall after lunch and conditions had changed drastically.

Despite the weather we went out again for sunset with the tripod.

By the time we went to bed, it was pouring rain and very windy in the marina.

Overnight conditions went from bad to worse.
We hunkered down on board but at lunchtime we received a text message asking us to evacuate the marina.

We were very fortunate to have 3 options where to go (the cyclone shelter and friends Mark & Tamara who live in Mackay) but we chose option 3 to go and stay with fellow yachties Kerry & Sue from the sailing cat Billaroo.
We didn’t know them but they kindly offered us a bed in their penthouse apartment which overlooks the marina, Billaroo and Lorelei.
We were so very thankful and the view from our bedroom was incredible.

The balcony gave us excellent views over the marina and beyond.

Around the same time, communities between Ayr and Mackay had started sandbagging and boarding up businesses and residences.

That arvo and evening we were all in a little panic as Cyclone Debbie’s track started to turn further south and was heading straight for Mackay.
The forecasted location for crossing the coast had changed from the Townsville to Ayr region and had shifted to somewhere between Bowen and The Whitsunday Islands/Airlie Beach as a severe Category 4 system.
For us that was very bad as it put Mackay into the region that would receive very destructive winds coming from the worst quadrant and probably the heaviest rainfall of all locations.

That night it blew so hard with winds 50-75 knots (100 – 150km per hour)
and we didn’t get very much sleep.
The wind was whistling into every minute crack and gap in the windows forcing in water which pooled onto the sills and the floor.
By daybreak it was a blinding white-out outside and we had dozens of towels at the base of all the windows.

We could barely see Lorelei and with winds increasing, all we could do was hunker down and wait.
Fortunately we still had power and were able to watch TV to find out the latest reports.

Debbie’s direction was as forecasted but unfortunately it had slowed down and it would hit the coast later than expected. This meant that it would take more time to cross land and that area would receive super destructive winds for a longer period of time, thus causing much more damage.

Channel 7’s Sunrise Show was reporting from a balcony only meters from us which was great for family and friends as we told them what they saw on the TV was exactly what we were experiencing.

The view from the TV

The view from the apartment balcony

In between rain squalls, Paul braved going out onto the balcony to take some photos of the marina and the ocean conditions.

Finally the eye crossed the coast between Bowen and Airlie Beach at around 2pm.
The power had gone out but fortunately we brought our generator up from Lorelei 2 days prior and were able to get the fridge, some lights and the TV operating.
The TV forecast was horrifying and we were able to see reports from the region.

The first reports were from Hamilton Island as it was first to receive the full impact.

Then the reports from Airlie Beach started to come in.
It appeared that this area was going to be the hardest hit.

It was then that reports slowly started to emerge from Shute harbour that is about 10km south of Airlie Beach.
It faces south and would have received the full impact of the initial S-SE winds.
There is no marina there but the harbour is filled with swing moorings for private and rent-a-yachts.
Out of the approximately 75 vessels in the harbour, less than 1/3 were still afloat after the cyclone had passed.

A few hours after the eye crossed, Paul and Kerry braved the conditions and went and checked both Billaroo and Lorelei.

The wharf around Billaroo was breaking up and Kerry and fellow boat owners had to try and make temporary fixes so it held together.

Lorelei was in very good shape as the SE winds were coming straight onto the bow and we only had minimal chafe on some of the ropes holding her in place.

We thought we were over the worst of it as the eye had crossed – but we were very wrong.

Night 3 was by far the worst conditions for us as the wind turned to the north.
The wind was still 50 knots but there were very violent gusts exceed more than 1.5 times that.
At 2am we thought the windows in the apartment would shatter as they vibrated uncontrollably.

At daybreak we woke to carnage in the marina.

With the north winds came the north swell which was pushing through the harbour entrance and into the marina.
The swell was causing the pontoons to buck wildly and some of the more exposed pontoons started to break up.
Unfortunately this was in the area where Lorelei was moored.
We all went down to the marina at 6am and ended up spending 3 exhausting hours fixing lines, securing vessels and assisting with helping secure the broken pontoons.
The winds were still really strong and the palm trees were going inverted.

Lorelei had received some damage as fenders were ripped off or destroyed and she was slamming onto the wharf.
There was also some severe chaff in 20mm ropes that needed to be replaced.

When we returned to the apartment, we had only been there for 5 minutes and had changed into dry clothes when the phone rang asking for more assistance. So Paul and Kerry put their wet gear back on and went back down to help.

At the midday high tide, it was way too violent to be on the pontoons and the waves were crashing over the wall, so all we could do was wait at the apartment for things to settle before we could go back down again to resecure vessels and assist in helping with the marina pontoons.

Lisa and Sue watching the waves come over the wall from the apartment balcony

We watched the TV for more reports and this time there was a lot of news about Bowen.

We lived in Bowen many years ago and Les and Kathy’s yacht Sea Temple was there. Whist it survived, sadly it has damage to the canopy, external stainless steel and cockpit. What was even sadder was that looters had stolen their electronics from out of the cockpit.

This Bull Shark made headlines when it swam up a river north of Bowen and was caught on a road as the waters subsided.

One of the biggest survival stories that went viral around the world was of “Debbie” the Cockatoo that survived the cyclone and was rescued by a lady news reporter who nursed it back to health.

The higher tides and north winds also made a terrible impact on Mackay.
Mackay area had received the largest rainfall of any area.
The rivers and creeks were swelling and most low lying areas were flooding.

Even in the afternoon, the waves were still crashing over the break wall.

Finally on night 4 we were able to have a decent night’s sleep despite a lot of rain still falling.

By daybreak the worst of the storm had passed.
So the clean-up began.
There was still no power or water but we were able to hang out the scores of towels and rags that were used around the apartment to limit the water coming in around the windows and doors.

Then we went down to Lorelei and Billaroo to start airing out the boats and cleaning up.

Paul took some more photos of the damage in the marina.

In stark contrast to 24 hours prior, that afternoon the marina glassed out with no wind, no swell and a very red sunset.
Paul had a blast running around taking photos.

The helicopters and emergency teams turned up, the prime minister few over, and the large scale clean up began.
However we started getting reports of damage and flooding further south in SE QLD and northern NSW as ex-tropical cyclone Debbie continued south across the land.

We continued to bring Lorelei back to cruising trim over the next few days as we packed away the lines, re-installed the canopy and washed, dried & tidied up.

For our last night in the Marina we had our rescuers Kerry and Sue over for dinner and a few drinks. We all celebrated with a bottle of Penfolds Grange that they brought them…..

Starting Monday the 3rd April we will continue on with our plans to cruise down the coast and explore The Swains Reef, Capricorn Coast, Bunker Group and maybe if we’re lucky, The Coral Sea.

The TV reports keep talking about the residents of north QLD being a resilient lot and band together in times of crises.
And we can certainly say that is 110% true.

We are astounded by the mammoth effort Ben the Mackay Marina Manger and his team did during the cyclone.
They constantly walked the pontoons – fixing lines, resecuring or moving boats and trying their best to minimise damage to the marina itself.
The guy deserves a medal, a carton of beer and a week off.
Sadly not many people know of Ben and his teams behind the scenes effort during very testing times…..
We received regular emails and texts from the marina staff and overall the communication prior, during and after the event has been excellent.
It’s in stark contrast to the reports we are getting from fellow yachtie friends who had their boats in marinas at Airlie Beach…….

Above all our biggest THANKYOU goes out to Kerry and Sue from the sailing cat Billaroo.
They opened their home to us, housed us, fed us and kept us safe and well for 5 days.
Their excellent apartment location overlooking the marina was a key factor in Lorelei’s survival as we were able to keep an eye on her and run down when required to tend to something.
Being there was the difference between Lorelei having minor damage to something far worse.
We simply can’t thank then enough……!!!

And the last thought from Paul….

Lisa spent a lot of time looking at cyclone prediction models, forecasts and previous cyclone tracks when the low developed in the Coral Sea.
Despite being days away and no cyclone ever having hit the Central QLD Coast after March 6th, Lisa was adamant we head south to Mackay from Airlie Beach – despite many other people telling her she was over reacting.
When we left, all our other yachtie friends stayed.
It was a terrible trip but looking back now it was the best decision as we missed the direct hit and therefore received much less damage than our other friends in Airlie Beach Marinas.
Lisa has successfully navigated us around the world (Paul doesn’t do any of the planning and navigating) and once again she has put us in the best position possible for the conditions we had.
In some ways it was a guess as to where to go, but for Lisa it was a well calculated one – and it paid off…..

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