Monday, 12 June 2017

Episode 59 The Keppel Islands to Hervey Bay


Episode 58 was one of the most testing episodes of our entire cruising trip.
We had 6 weeks of mostly terrible conditions with only very small windows of fine weather. For the rest it was strong wind warning after gale warning combined with huge seas, rain and storms.
For the final 2 weeks we were stuck up Island Head Creek riding out very bad weather before managing to sail south to Great Keppel Island.

Rough weather sailing south to Brampton Island during Episode 58

Finally we had sailed to The Keppel Islands overnight and enjoyed a nice sunrise the next morning to start this Episode.


Our Location for this Episode

Our Route for this Episode

With just a few days of nice weather forecast before the strong winds returned, we made the best of it by exploring Great Keppel Island (GKI).

GKI is a large island and has many bays and beautiful beaches, some of which are rarely visited as they face south into the prevailing SE winds and swell.

With light and variable winds for the first day, we decided to pack the tinny for a full day trip with walking & swimming gear and a picnic lunch before heading out to circumnavigate the island.

First stop was a delightful little bay which had some short but very steep sand hills which we climbed.
They were a little too narrow and corrugated for sandboarding but the view across the bay was excellent.



Further around were some rocky headlands that looked great with the rising sun on them.


Some of the beaches were small and had no footprints on them at all.


We found a long beach to have a stroll, a picnic and a swim.




All the way around the island both on the grassy areas behind the beaches and up on the rocky headlands we could see wild goats.
There were hundreds of them!!
Paul was able to climb up over the sand dunes and quietly sneak up on a few that were in the bushes.


We diverted over to the nearby Hummocky Island which was stunning with a great beach, sand spit and picnic/camping area.


Small waves rolling in around the end of the sandspit


When we were almost right around GKI, we stopped in at the main beach and the resort area.
The main resort was closed many years ago but there seems to be a rebuilding of the area and tourists are slowly returning in greater numbers.
There are a few shops open, a bar/restaurant and a couple of options for low budget accommodation.

We found a place that sold ice creams. It was the first shop we had seen in over 6 weeks so needless to say we had to have one.


Overall it was a super fun day and sooo good to finally be out in great weather and sunshine exploring somewhere new.
We covered almost 20 miles in the Tinny circumnavigating the island.

A spearfish was on the list of options for the following day but with the possibility of going out to the reef in a few days, we decided to go for a full day bushwalk to Mount Wyndham (GKI’s highest peak) instead.

The walk started at Leeks Beach and we had to walk past a wetlands area that was full of wildlife, birds circling overhead and sand-flies!!!


Around the side of the wetlands is a homestead that was from the 1920’s and is now Heritage Listed.

The homestead has an old tin shed not far from it that is down on the edge of the wetlands.
It would have been an excellent dusk photography location if it weren’t for the sandflies…




The homestead cottage was open and we were able to walk inside to see the old furniture, sewing room and kitchen area.





Outside we found lots of old farm machinery.


Next to the homestead is a shearing shed and a series of paddocks with fencing.


Despite the paddock gates being open, there were hundreds of goats inside happily relaxing or feeding.



Paul managed to get very close to a small kid (baby goat) as it munched on the grass totally oblivious to Paul’s presence.
It got a big shock when it looked up to see him only a few meters away.


As we continued up the track to Mount Wyndham, it got progressively worse.
At first there were a lot of washouts and fallen trees from torrents of water, possibly from the cyclone.


Then the track got smaller and overgrown, it was obvious it was rarely used.
We came to a clearing with awesome views over the southern islands.


However from here we couldn’t find the walk to the summit.
We tried a few goat tracks (literally…) but they all came to dead ends.
After 30 minutes Paul finally found a small and very overgrown track through the bushes that led to the peak.

On the way we saw a lot more goats but most were on their own around the rocky outcrops.
We had fun stalking them to see how close we could get with the cameras before they saw us and fled. Sometimes we got very close using the bushes and trees as cover.


The summit has excellent 360 degree views and we found a broken sign indicating we had indeed reached the right place.


Lisa couldn’t lift the heavy timber sign so this was her version of the
“Mount” Wyndham peak photo.


The views on the way back down the ridge from the other side of the peak were stunning.


Yay!! It had been other great day (wow – two in a row…) and we had walked almost 10km with nice mild conditions and no rain.

The fine weather sadly didn’t last.
On return to Lorelei, she was uncomfortably rocking in the rising easterly wind and swell and all the other cruising boats had already left.
So we moved around to the very shallow resort beach and anchored at the back of the pack of coastal cruising catamarans with just inches of water under our keel at low tide.

For two days it poured rain and we rocked and rolled as there was a primary and secondary swell from both the east and south which pushed swell into every anchorage around the island.

Most boats either sailed off towards the north or went into the marina at Yeppoon.

For us neither was appealing so instead we left and tacked south as there was a forecast of lighter 10-15 knot winds for only 48 hours.

It started well in the morning with ESE winds and we could head due south but then it fortunately turned south and we were able to head east out to sea.
We passed under the forming ridge that brought cold weather and a lot of rain but fortunately not strong winds or storms – yet!!
 By the afternoon it was clearing and it looked like we may be able to do an overnight sail and reach the Capricorn Bunker Group of reefs so we continued on into the night.

By 11pm we were happy as we were still sailing in perfect conditions and doing 6 knots.
 By midnight it all changed……

The wind dropped and the swell rose.
No problem – we simply started the engine and continued on.
By 1am the swell had risen considerably from 2 directions and we had very confused and ugly seas pushing Lorelei over in all directions.
Then the storms started.
It was 30 knots one minute, then nothing, then 25 knots from a different direction.
We had sails up then down, in then out and we tried to not only get speed and momentum, but to also reduce the violent rocking.

With the super violent motion, things were put to the test and soon some things started to fail.
We snapped 3 ropes in 2 hours, did damage to boom and deck fittings, and then the tinny shifted on the davits as we snapped two fittings and a cross bracing rope that held it in place.
It was moving about causing metal on metal rubbing on the tinny’s hull.
It was very difficult to work down the back in the rain and violent motion to try and fix it. We had 3 attempts over 2 hours and got it secure - but far from perfect.

At 3am Lisa could hear pumps working and we raced downstairs to find the engine room bilge (which is a dry bilge) flooding with salt water.
We had a serious leak and soon found the culprit was a PSS seal that had let go on our engine/propeller drive shaft.
It would have been a simple fix in a calm anchorage but we had to stop the engine which put us at the mercy of the swell. Additionally trying to source tools, get hatches off and for Paul to go upside down in the bilge next to a hot motor and do the repair, all the while being tossed about like a cork in the middle of a pitch black night was not fun.

Needless to say Paul was a mess when finished and very, very seasick.
And for 6 hours he never recovered. He was vomiting and dry reaching every 30 minutes until he was too weak and incoherent to do anything else.
There was still 20nm to go to get to Lady Musgrave lagoon, so all Lisa could do was take control and slowly motor on until we arrived at 8am, very thankful to be in.

What a night!!!!!!

Lady Musgrave Lagoon and Island from the air

We entered through the channel during a fast run out tide and had the engine at the highest revs we’ve ever pushed it (which was still only three-quarters throttle) and only just made headway at 2.5 knots boat speed.
There were other boats in the lagoon but it was very overcast, stormy, eerie and no one was out playing.


Paul was still so sick and could only stomach a strong powerade mix and we went to bed soon after anchoring.
He slept 18 of the next 24 hours and could only manage a caramel milkshake during that whole time.

We woke on day 2 to an eerie morning of very overcast conditions with strong winds, rain and some really big swell breaking around the edge of the lagoon.



Looking back towards the island, we could see more cruising boats and rainbows overhead.


Despite the swell outside, it was reasonably flat inside the lagoon, particularly at low tide so we dropped the tinny in and went spearfishing around the isolated reefs within the lagoon.
It was actually better than we thought and we ended up with 3 Coral Trout.

That afternoon a large cat turned up that had big Cabrinha Kiteboarding logos on the bow. They launched 6 kites and had their guests kiting around the inner lagoon.


They had all the latest Cabrinha gear including a foil board which Paul was most interested in.


For Paul conditions were perfect for his 12m kite so he pumped up on the back swim platform, launched and went kiting too.

The overcast conditions made for an interesting sunset that night.




Finally the weather started to clear and the swell dropped dramatically overnight enabling us to go spearfishing and diving around the outer edge of the coral lagoon.
We were amazed at the amount of fish life there was compared to when we were here last (which was over 5 years ago).
There were loads of Coral Trout around the reefs and we had no problem spearing a few for a feed.

Whilst we were spearing we drifted over the Manta Ray cleaning station bommies and were excited to see a few hovering around the area.
So we returned home, packed away the spear gear and rigged up the dive gear and cameras so we could do a few days diving and hopefully get some Manta photos.

We linked up with Lee & Sara from the sailing yacht Catalpa and their 2 great kids Taj and Bella.
Alex from the yacht Gipsy jumped into one of the tenders and came along too.
Like us they are all keen divers and were excited to be diving outside the lagoon for a change.

When we arrived at the dive site, the current was very strong but there were 8 Manta Rays on the surface so we anchored up amongst them and spent almost an hour clinging to ropes off the tenders whilst the Mantas came hovering past – sometimes very close.

At one stage Lee & Bella were in front of our tinny holding the anchor line and had 4 Mantas around them while we sat on the bow of the tinny looking down over all the action.
With the crystal clear water it was fantastic.

When the current backed off as the turn of the tide approached, we put on the scuba gear and went for a dive.

We expected to see Mantas and Turtles but instead we saw a family of very large Marbled Rays and a school of Bludger Trevally that completely surrounded the whole group of divers.




Paul even managed to get close to some Red Emperor for a few photos.


Despite only being 10 and 12, Bella and Taj are excellent divers and made great UW models too…



We all had so much fun that we decided to do it all again the next day.
However as we went out to dive on the turn of the tide, the wind and swell picked up and we had no choice but to find a calmer location.
Lee suggested we try around a series of 3 bommies just near the lagoon entrance.
From the surface it looked great and the viz was good.


Sadly there was not a lot of fish life and coral but we did see a few Turtles and some very curious Red Throat Emperor that followed as around for the entire dive but not quite close enough to photograph.



On the way home we spent some time playing around in the entrance channel as the tide raced through it.



The next day the weather came good again and was forecast to stay that way for a few days at least.
By lunchtime there were loads of cruising boats anchored in the lagoon.


The dive that day was excellent.
The conditions were really good on the surface and we were able to sit and wait for the tide to turn and look back over the island.



With no current on the bottom, we swum from the point of the reef out to a deeper slope filled with larger bommies and a lot of fish life.


As we were photographing a Wobbygong Shark under a ledge, it went dark overhead and we looked out to see Manta Rays hovering around the bommie.
One even photo bombed our Wobbygong photo!!

Can you see the very well camouflaged Wobbygong Shark?
Note the Manta Ray in the far left of the photo



On the way back up the slope we saw Turtles, Sharks and a lot of smaller fish schools.


With the nicer weather, Paul went onto the island late in the afternoon to photograph the sunset.
As he walked alone through the centre of the island just before sunset, the light rays were coming through dense forested areas making great photo opportunities.



He went out to the sandy beach facing the setting sun and set his tripod up for a series of photos.


There were a few larger birds like White Egrets sitting on the large pieces of drift wood that have washed up on a lot of the beach shoreline.


The drift wood made for great subjects during the sunset.





There were thousands of smaller birds flying at speed over the water between Lady Musgrave and the nearly Fairfax Islands.


With the tides advancing each day, it was at a stage where both turns of the tide were during daylight hours.
We had a high tide at 7am and a low tide at 3pm.

This enabled us to do 2 dives a day while the conditions allowed.

The morning dive was excellent with some great up close Manta action and a few Sharks but surprisingly much less fish life than the afternoon dives.





After the dive we relaxed and played on the surface and had some fun in the warm sunlight (unlike the arvo dives which were cold when we hopped out….).

This is what 2 tenders, 6 people and 6 sets of dive gear
looks like from underneath…


The arvo dive produced the best Manta experience of our time at Lady Musgrave as 2 Mantas hovered around us for over 10 minutes.
While Paul took a lot of photos, Taj and Sara got a lot of great video footage on their go-pros.




Paul was tucked up against the bommie taking Manta photos when a large school of Batfish came past. He managed one shot on the manual exposure setting he was using for the Mantas and surprisingly it worked out.




Paul was still out filling scuba tanks at sunset.
It was a looong but fun day.


With the glassy conditions the next morning we went over the reef edge at high tide. It was very shallow but we managed to not hit anything!


We tried to dive the southern outer wall of the lagoon as we had seen dive boats there previously but after a lot of searching we couldn’t find a decent spot.

So instead we headed across to Fairfax Island which was 4nm away.
The area around Fairfax is a green zone (protected area) and the islands are off limits to people.
It showed as the coral we could see from the surface was in excellent condition and the area around the islands pristine.

We searched for a dive location and found lots of gutters in the coral on the southern side.



We ventured around to the more protected northern side and marvelled at the water clarity.



The southern side looked like the better option so we transited through a shallow lagoon as fortunately it was high tide.



The dive was a fun shallow coral dive and a play in the gutters at the end as we missed the turn of the tide and any time we tried to go deeper, the current was too strong to swim into.




Paul was setting up to take a shot of some plate corals while looking into the sun. It took a little setting up to get exposures and strobe angles right.
Finally it was right and he took the photo – just as Lee unknowingly swam into the photo….


Sadly after 10 days, we downloaded the forecast to find stronger winds coming and large seas. So for us it was time to go and push the final 70nm south to reach Fraser Island.

It was bitter sweet the next morning as it was still a glass out and perfect for diving. But we knew we only had 1 day to get to Fraser so we had to leave.
However the morning sunrise was incredible and probably one of the best we’ve ever had out on the Great Barrier Reef.







We sadly said goodbye to Lee, Sara, Taj and Bella and hoped we would catch up with them again soon.
We admit we are not too social when it comes to diving and prefer to dive alone, however it was super fun to dive and hang out with them and it won’t be the last time we all dive together….

Before leaving, Paul climbed up into the crow’s nest to guide Lorelei out as we exited the lagoon.





As we motored south we had Dolphins come and play in Lorelei’s bow wave.
We put a camera on a pole and managed to jag a few photos.



We arrived in northern Platypus Bay at Fraser Island after dark and stayed overnight before transiting another 15nm south along the edge of the beach to meet up with our friends Barry & Maureen from the yacht Spirit of Kalahari.

We first met them whilst cruising back in 2001 on board our cat Purranha.
16 years later we have reunited on the water again.
Between the two couples we’d visited dozens of countries, sailed over 75 000 miles and done 1000’s of dives.
So needless to say, there was lots of catching up needed and scores of stories to tell.


The sunsets looking back over Hervey Bay from the Platypus Bay area are excellent and their old-school light on the transom made a great subject.



We did a walk with them along the beach close to Arch Cliffs.
The beach had a high sand ridge (from all the cyclone storm action) that created a long gutter of water at high tide.


Along the beach edge were loads of Pandanus Palms with fruit.



There were also lots of Banksia trees in bloom.
Paul was able to photograph all the stages of the Banksia trees flowering.


We walked a long way down to Awinya Creek and noticed a lot of Nipper holes in the sand when we walked up the water course.
It was a good sign for us to do some Whiting fishing in the following days.





We stayed 2 days as it was due to get very windy from the S-SE but it came in from the S-SW at midnight on the second night making it very swelly and rolly and a most uncomfortable night.

So we sailed south the next morning in a very brisk wind and with the current assistance were flying along at nearly 9 knots.
The downside was the spray from the waves and chop and despite only a 2 hour sail, the boat was covered from bow to stern in saltwater.

We stopped at the mouth of Coongul Creek just north of Moon Point and it was much better anchoring conditions and a lot flatter.

The creek also had loads of Nipper holes so we loaded up the Tinny and went fishing.
We pumped Nippers on the creek sand flats as the tide flooded in.


Just up from our Nipper and fishing spot was an area full of Pelicans.





The fishing turned out to be quite successful despite catching many undersized ones in between keepers.



Barry won the award for the smallest Whiting of the session.


We had so much fun that we went back the next day but this time we took the Tinny up into the creek rather than anchoring it outside and walking in as we had done the day before.
The tide was still running out and the strong tannin water colour was in stark contrast to the clear blue water of the rising/flooding tide.

It was so low that Lisa had to jump out and pull us along in just inches of water depth under the keel.


On the way up we found a 4WD wreck in the creek. It appeared to be a Mitsubishi L300 4WD van that attempted the creek crossing and failed.


The fishing was a little slow so we packed up on the high tide and ventured further up the creek.
There was a small offshoot that had a creek bed full of dead trees.
It made for excellent photography and was a little eerie.




While Paul took photos, the girls continued to fish and caught bream, fingermark and other species around the driftwood and snags in the water.



The next day was Barry’s Birthday.
We started with breakfast on Lorelei which needed to be a team effort from both boats as supplies were running very short.


It rained a little and was overcast for most of the day and we had numerous rainbows.


 So with the cold and yucky weather we stayed on board until dinner when we met up again with Maureen and Barry for Bazza’s birthday dinner bash of yummy Lemon Butter Coral Trout.

With food stocks at an all-time low we simply had to get to the shops soon.
It had been over 9 weeks since we last shopped and that was in Airlie Beach so it was long overdue.
Running low on fresh fruit and veg was tolerable but when the long term stores of chocolate, milo, tomato sauce, satay peanuts and golden syrup had run out, it was a serious issue!!!

So with an abating weather forecast for only one day, we loaded up the tinny with 2 tanks of fuel and Paul, Lisa and Maureen left at 7:30am for a 12nm run across from Coongul Creek to Hervey Bay to do a trip into Woolworths.
It was a rough trip over and we all got pretty wet.
Fortunately we all took a change of clothes and must have looked like bum yachties stripping off in the tinny at the public wharf to get changed.

While the girls headed into the shops, Paul had a look around the marina precinct.


We went to all 3 marina offices to secure a forward booking at a marina for an up and coming family holiday 4WDing on Fraser Island and an additional few weeks of family commitments.
The holiday was booked so we really needed to get a berth for Lorelei.
The problem (as it always is) is securing a 20 meter berth as they are usually in limited numbers and sometimes fully booked.

There are 3 marinas in the Hervey Bay complex and he tried the first 2 and struck out.
Fortunately the 3rd one had one left so he grabbed it for a month.
Phew – lucky!!!!!


The trip home on the low tide was a lot better and we only ran around on a sand bar once…….

Finally we had fresh food!!!!
We spent the arvo making salads and pigging out on BBQ chickens for dinner.

With a SW change coming overnight, we took off at 6am the next morning to take advantage of the high tide and head to Big Woody Island’s protected SW anchorage.

The pre-sunrise colours looked great as we hoisted the anchor.


As we past the creeks along the island, there was a lot of stream coming off the warmer creek water as the air temperature was a very cold (well freezing cold for us) 12 degrees.



We had to skirt very close to Moon Point to avoid a lot of shallow sand bars.


We gave Maureen and Barry a head start but overtook them with just a few miles to go.




We made more yummy food that arvo and had sushi rolls using 2 big avocados amongst other new ingredients.



Big Woody has an old decommissioned lighthouse that is fully restored so we did a walk up to that one morning.
It was sooo cold and we were all rugged up on the way in to the beach.




If we stood in a certain position, we could photograph the sun reflecting in the glass and mirror at the top.
It made the photo look like the lighthouse was working.


It was really cold all day and by 3pm Barry had lit a fire on his boat.
Yep sounds crazy to most, but they have a terrific slow combustion stove in their saloon as they have sailed around the world and have used it extensively in colder countries.
It was the first time we’ve ever seen it lit and it was a novel way to spend the evening drinking and having dinner around the fire – with more fresh yummy salads!!!



Despite the cold, the sunset over the point of Big Woody Island was great.
There are not many SW anchorages in the area so by late afternoon, there were a bunch of boats at anchor in the bay.


One big advantage of anchoring at Big Woody Island is the close proximity to the Roy Rufus Artificial Reef which is only a few minutes boat ride from the anchorage.
The reef is scattered over a large area and consists of sunken ships, barges, cars and a series of man-made artificial reef structures.
During the winter it is a popular area to target Winter Reds (Snapper).
Two days after we arrived at Big Woody, the fishing Almanac forecasted a 5 star fishing period of 2 mid-week days with the peak times around midday.
It was perfect to target the Snapper with no crowds and maximum heat of the day as the morning and evenings were freezing!!
However Paul mustn’t have listened to the brief and came home with Spotty Mackerel instead….


For the following two days we cleaned up, did about 15 loads of clothes washing (after Paul finally fixed the washing machine) and prepped and
packed for our family holiday 4WDing on Fraser Island.

On the Monday we took Lorelei to the Marina for her extended stay as we were about to embarked on a few different land based travels – starting with the Fraser Adventure.

On the way in we motored past the long Urangan Pier which is very popular with fisherman and tourists.




The marina looked very busy when approaching from the bay.


It was easy to get in and we had Lorelei safely tied in her new temporary home.


The marina precinct is very busy during the whale watching season but that was still about 4-6 weeks away so fortunately it was quiet and we were able to have a look around.



At dusk as we washed the boat, we enjoyed a great sunset over the marina before crashing into bed sooo tired but prepped and ready for the start of our next adventure the following day.


So that’s it for another month on-board Lorelei.
Compared to the previous 6 weeks, it’s been pretty good overall with lots of different activities, some great seafood meals and spending time with new and old friends.

The next blog (Episode 60) will be a little different with 4WD and Motorhome adventures with family covering 2 states of Australia.

Paul and Lisa Hogger
Yacht Lorelei






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